Anyone else wonder about the appeal of stories set in another century? Just what’s the attraction?
The future, of course, is one direction, a whole set of “what if” projections that for now cannot be tested against historical development. (Admittedly, Orwell’s 1984 certainly has become an exception in the years since I first read it, gee, was it ’64? As has the movie 2001.)
The past, however, seems to be the more romantic option, beginning with historic period romances and Westerns. I suppose it’s not that far removed from those who inquire of astrologers or palmists or mediums about their past lives, although what I’ve always found most fascinating there is how many people who do so claim to have been Cleopatra or Anne Boleyn or Helen of Troy or the like, rather than one of the common, suffering, exploited populace. No, the stories tilt toward royalty, court intrigue, the power struggles of the rich and mighty – the glittering elite far removed from everyday life. (Maybe that’s our fascination with celebrities, too, as if wealth and beauty leads to true love and happiness, not that it ever seems to hold over the long haul. In pure weight, tragedies trump over comedies.)
My wife sometimes jests that I would have been more at home in 18th or 19th century America, especially in a context of the Enlightenment, scientific advancement, and perhaps opera, along with a flourishing Quaker culture. (Never mind that the Quaker discipline of the time banned music and fiction as superfluous, vain, and untrue.) Again, though, the projection is toward a place of refinement, culture, and ease rather than the long, hard, physical labor of the masses.
So what, ultimately, is the attraction of historical fiction? Is there some time or place you’d willingly be relocated to, if it were possible, even if you could never come back? And, while we’re at it, what about the importance of location, even over time itself? Who and where would you like to be? Just what is it about other eras? Ah, the intrigue! To say nothing of the underlying connection.