Be Careful What You Wish For....

Recently A Reader's Respite was lamenting the use of modern vernacular in historical fiction novels. There's not much that will ruin a novel quicker than a 16th-century character using 21st-century language.

But exactly how authentic should the language be? After all, the Old English commonly spoken all the way up to the 13th-century would have completely unintelligible to English speakers of today:

a portion of Beowulf in Old English

So most historical fiction authors tend to use the modern English language, albeit guarding very careful against modern vernacular.  And to be fair, English wasn't even spoken by the nobility in England until around the 1300s -- they spoke Anglo-Norman.

Where is all this leading?  A Reader's Respite recently discovered that too much authenticity in historical fiction dialog can distract from a story just as much as not enough when we picked up a copy of The Conqueror to read for The Classics Circuit's latest tour spotlighting author Georgette Heyer.

Now it should be noted at this point that A Reader's Respite had never actually read a Heyer novel prior to this book.  We've certainly noticed that her novels (and apparently the woman was as prolific as Jean have a huge fan base and that's usually naught for not.  Besides, the novel is about William the Conqueror, one of our favorite historical figures...what's not to love?

So it was that we sat down shivering with anticipation (okay, maybe not shivering, but you get the idea) and began to read.  Hmmmm, thunk we.  This use of dialog was....ummmm....different:

'Trechery, by God!' FizOsbern cried.

'Very like,' said William. 'We will try our strength against these bold chevaliers.'

Roger de Montgomeri blurted out: 'Beau sire, they outnumber us five to one.'

A challenging look was directed at him, 'Ha, do you fear them?' asked the Duke. 'Who follows me?'

'If you must go, beau sire, be sure we all follow you,' growled De Gournay. 'But, before God, it is madness!'

'If we do not scatter this rabble, trust me never!' said William, and led them over the wooded ground at the gallop.

The Conqueror, by Georgette Heyer. Page 85.

What say you?

We say that it took us *forever* to get through this book.  The plot was fabulous and the characters were fascinating, but their dialog slowed us down to a snail's pace just to understand what they were saying.

Zounds!  Forsooth!

To be completely fair, quite a few Heyer fans warned A Reader's Respite that The Conqueror might not be the best introduction to this beloved author.  But did we listen?  Noooooooo.  Boy, did that ever come back to bite us in the butt.

So here's the moral of the story:

  1. Always listen to your bloggy friends
  2. Be careful  what you wish for, you just might get it

And here are our questions for the day:

  1. How do you like your historical fiction dialog to read?  Authentic or no?
  2. What Heyer book should A Reader's Respite read?

FTC Disclaimer:  We bought it at a used bookstore, so back off!

Who's up for giving this one a try?  Anyone?  If you're feeling brave, leave us a comment and on April 3rd, we'll draw one random winner, so be sure to check back then.  (International entrants always welcome!)

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