This week I have a special guest! Desiree is sharing some of her thoughts on historical romance and especially adaptions like the new Bridgerton series. Read on!

Between the recently released Bridgerton adaptation on Netflix and rereading some of my old favorite books while home for the holidays, historical romance has been on my mind lately — and with it, the eternal question of accuracy’s role in such stories. This was exacerbated when, while looking up reviews for some of those favorites, I noticed a common theme: complaints of historical inaccuracy, a few of which were substantial and fair, but most of which concerned things like what guests might drink at a ball, suitable mourning practices in a given era, etc.

I’m no historian, so maybe I’ll just never just understand how apparently distressing it is to read historical romance and know that something about it is incorrect. Yet I can’t help but feel that if you approach this genre with the accuracy-first mindset, combing each book for inconsistencies so you can excoriate the author in a review, you must not be very fun at parties — and, more crucially, you’re missing the point of such stories. After all, the essence of romance is escapism, and zeroing in on this kind of minutiae is the opposite of that! Even if you ultimately find the book spotless, you’re still making it almost impossible for yourself to enjoy it.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that historical inaccuracies take the reader out of the story, effectively hindering that escapism — and to an extent, that’s true. As I said, some of the complaints I saw in reviews were fair: a heroine being unrealistically naïve about what to expect from her suitor, for example, or a ridiculous wedding ceremony in which the vicar simply subs one groom for another at the last second, like a restaurant offering Pepsi in lieu of Coke.

But these are much bigger components of a story than, say, the preferred fashions or dancing conventions of upper-middle-class women in the Regency era. They directly impact the plot or characterization, whereas the smaller details I’ve mentioned here should, at worst, throw readers off for a few moments… and only the most historically versed readers at that.

Yes, it’s always impressive when historical romance has clearly been researched extensively and includes highly specific details. But for me, this is much more of a bonus than a necessity. Most of us readers don’t consume historical romance — or indeed, any sort of historical fiction — for the factual rigor. So long as the major elements are consistent and not distracting, we should all be able to get on with the stories.

This has certainly proven true of recent period pieces like The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit; a few inaccuracies have not prevented them from being massively praised, both in mainstream public opinion and critical reviews. To which I say, why can’t we give historical romance that same benefit of the doubt?


Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and historical romance, writing short stories, and analyzing literature into the ground.

4 Comments on “Guest Post: Accuracy in Historical Romance: How Important Is It, Really?

  1. I am a historian and I couldn’t care less if the inaccuracies are not common knowledge. I don’t know nor care if mourning rituals are accurate in a fictional novel. My take is that history has been written formally anyway which brings to question how accurate is it. Our language today is used informally and with tons of slang yet we tend to write formally. How would we ever know if Jane Austen spoke as she wrote? Maybe she was fond of swear words and used them with reckless abandon. Don’t mess up hard facts such as who the leader of a country was or when major events took place and I’m fine. It’s fiction.

    Fun article. : )

    Like

    • Definitely! As a historian myself, I’m conscious that all history is written by the victors, so we never truly get an idea of what actually happened!

      Like

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