January 02, 2017

Article at Authory

A Memo for Historical Romance Novelists

Every so often, I feel the need to burst into Historical Details for the benefit of romance writers who do not do sufficient research before taking quill to parchment to pen my favorite novels. Consider this my way of giving back. Which sounds so much nicer than having to admit that I'm a cranky reader who gets thrown out of a carefully crafted story world by historical anachronism.

Today, we'll learn about the correct use of titles in nineteenth-century England.

British aristocracy and gentry did not run around introducing themselves by their titles. It was considered rude, pretentious, and completely unnecessary in a society in which everyone knew how to address each other once provided sufficient information.

For example, no gentleman in his right mind would refer to himself as "Lord Joseph Penwarren." If he had a title, say the "Duke of Dorchester," he'd refer to himself as "Dorchester" (just "Dorchester"). If he was a younger son, he'd refer to himself by his family name of "Penwarren." A young woman would never refer to herself as "Lady Camellia Gibbons" or "Miss Camellia Gibbons." She relied on someone else to perform introductions, and did not speak to strange men she did not know (in public anyway), no matter how good looking.

So, in practice, say you want to introduce your hero and heroine to each other in a bookshop. You need a character who knows them both, and who can say, "Miss Gibbons, I'd like to introduce you to Lord Joseph Penwarren, the youngest brother of the Duke of Dorchester. Lord Joseph, Miss Gibbons is the eldest daughter of Squire Gibbons and is a dear friend of mine." (An unmarried woman's given name would only be used if she was the daughter of an earl, at least, or if she was a younger unmarried daughter in a family of unmarried daughters.)

If the two meet under unmentionable circumstances though, then they can bloody well refer to themselves by names and/or by relationships. Such as, "I'm the daughter of Squire Gibbons" (which lets him know to call her "Miss Gibbons"). He, in turn, can call himself, "Joseph Penwarren, of Dorchester." (Since English gentry knew their noble families, she will know Dorchester is a dukedom, she will know that Penwarren is the family name of the dukes of Dorchester and that he is not the duke, and so she will know she should call him "Lord Joseph.")

We now return you to your manuscripts in progress, dear authors, so you may set about to the ever-continuing work of eradicating anachronism from your story worlds. Carry on.

(Image: Manuscript with drawings of steam engine and Victorian lady, Pixabay.)