Earlier this week I read a blog post about historical fiction. The blogger was encouraging us to keep our characters true to their time. Then he said something that set me free. He was discussing the British class sytem and how much the lower classes must have resented cruel masters. “But it never would have occurred to them to question the hierarchical system . . .”
Ugh! If no one ever questioned “the way things are,” they would still be the same. That goes for the class system, slavery, indentured servents, the Colonial system and whether or not only white men who owned land could be citizens.
I’m not saying that the this questioning/challenging attitude is common in history but it does happen. When it does, it is frequently very poorly received. That’s why a mob chunked Elijah Parish Lovejoy’s printing press off the bluff and into the river on November 7, 1837 in Alton, Illinois. (Google it!)
When you write historical fiction, do make your characters true to their time. People haven’t always known about viruses, DNA or finger prints. Yes, there have been times when certain groups of people were not considered fully human but if you listen carefully you will still hear those things today. I don’t agree with people who think and say things like that but I bet that I wouldn’t have agreed with everyone 100 years ago either. Or 200 years ago. Or even 498 years ago.
I’m not certain why some people want all historic characters to think X and only X. It isn’t realistic. But if your character is going to think Y, then you need to document Y. That way you can show your editor that, although your character is not engaging in group think, they are still true to their time.