Have you ever seen a person on the cover of a historical novel and thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a story world like that?”
For about five seconds.
After I came to my senses, I decided to make a list of a few things I appreciate about being able to read about historical heroines without actually being one. Enjoy!
One: I can wear sweatpants. (Also pants in general.)
Every now and then I get a twinge of longing looking at pretty dresses on historical novel covers. And then I remember that it would take forever to put on the corset and multiple layers of petticoats and the oppressive heat of that many layers and how did they even use an outhouse properly in those things? And I’m grateful for fleece leggings, sweaters, T-shirts, and jeans.
Downside: This may sound shallow, but the fact that I don’t have to lace myself into a day gown also means that the men around me aren’t obligated to wear suits. And a good-looking man in a suit…well, that might be a strong reason to get a time-travel ticket back to 1900.
Two: No expectation of constant wittiness/feistiness.
Fictional women are all way better at witty comebacks than I am. Also romantic compliments. And confrontational speeches. And persuasive arguments.
Okay, fine, so they’re just better at talking in general. That said, because I’m not a historical heroine, there’s way less pressure to come up with something dialogue-worthy on the spot. So, that’s good, right?
Downside: Maybe stepping into a historical novel would somehow endow me with the ability to fire back quotable lines all the time. Who can say? That would be pretty great.
Three: No chance of becoming a mail order bride.
This is not a particularly viable method of conducting a romance today, which I’m grateful for. Like, I don’t even know what sort of advertisement would apply to me. “Hardworking pioneer seeking directionally-challenged woman who loves eating chocolate and is conversant in moving pictures about legendary super-humans”? Somehow I doubt that one ever existed in history.
Downside: I do like to imagine how that first conversation with my husband-to-be would go if I was a mail-order bride. “Okay, you like to bake, good. But what is this washer and dryer you’re talking about?” “When I asked for experience with chickens, I meant raising them, and anyway, I’ve never heard of Chick-fil-A.” “Sure, I’m very proud of my extensive library, miss. I have four whole books!” (At this point, I’d hop back on that stagecoach and ride away!)
Four: Low chance of witnessing a murder, getting caught up in a scandal/scheme, fleeing an arranged marriage, or having my house ruined in a bombing raid.
Listen, I love these things in books. If every historical protagonist had a life as boring as mine, no one would read more than a few pages. (“Plot twist: she had yogurt and granola this morning for breakfast instead of a bagel. THE DRAMA!”)
That said, when you really think about it, a boring life isn’t so bad. Anyway, it’s way less stressful not to have an actual plotline.
Downside: Okay, I’ll admit it: every now and then I wonder, “What would it be like to race a carriage through the streets to reach a burning building in time to save a child’s life?” Come on, be honest. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought the exact same thing.
Five: I can vote.
Seriously, this took the U.S. way too long, but my pre-1920 counterparts will never know the feeling of participating in the democratic process. Yay, civic duty!
Downside: I’m not saying that I can’t stand political rants and clickbait and campaign ads on social media…but sometimes I get nostalgic for the days when your only contact with a politician would be a whistle-stop speech-giving tour. And you could throw rotten vegetables if you wanted. Hypothetically.
Six: No one actively hates me. (As far as I’m aware. If you do, feel free to let me know.)
Seriously, if I were in almost any fictional work, the odds of me having supportive parents, an undramatic romantic life, a circle of encouraging friends, and a healthy community would be very, very low.
I would have at least one of the following to add some drama: a stalker, an estranged sibling, an ex-fiancé (probably rich) who left me at the altar, a shadowy figure from my past, a nagging mother with unrealistic expectations, or a sworn enemy who wants revenge on me for complicated reasons.
So yeah…I’ll pass.
Downside: I’m not actually sure this one has a downside.
Seven: Regular bathing.
This applies to both my personal hygiene (can you imagine how greasy my hair would be if I only washed it for church on Sundays?), and the general health and pleasantness of such activities as breathing in a public space. Train rides with the barely-washed masses couldn’t have been quite as charming as they seem in books.
And have you noticed that historical romance heroes and heroines usually smell nice regardless of the availability of bathtubs? Like another character will get close and smell a whiff of lavender and a hint of cinnamon, or fresh air and lemongrass, or rosewater and hope. Meanwhile I’m over here like, “You’re on a farm in Nebraska in 1873—if you don’t smell like sweat and lye soap, take me to the general store where you’re buying your perfume, lady, because I want some.”
Downside: There’s really no excuse for me not to smell nice in today’s world, what with indoor plumbing and all. But sometimes it’s just so hard to make time to wash my hair in my shiny, indoor, hot-water shower that any self-respecting 19th century gal would kill for, you know?
That’s my list, readers. What reasons do you prefer to live in today’s world while reading about people in the past?