Friday, May 20, 2011

On Meddling

I wanted to post something about Anne Boleyn yesterday, on the anniversary of her execution, but I got busy with studying for finals and writing the novel, so we're just gonna be a day late with this.


For those who aren't familiar with her, Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second wife and Queen of England. Henry courted Anne for roughly seven years before marrying her and making her his queen. After failing to produce a much-needed male heir, Anne's enemies took advantage of the King's displeasure with her and plotted her downfall, ultimately leading to her execution on May 19th, 1536 on false charges of adultery, treason, and incest.

(This is the Sparknotes version, however, and I'm greatly simplifying a long, fascinating tragedy that I would encourage anyone who's interested to research more about.)

Anne's lasting appeal can be credited to a variety of reasons -- her tragic fate, her romance with the notorious Henry VIII, the strength of her character, the enigma of a woman taking a man's world by storm. For me, personally, I've always admired Anne's spirit, particularly her courage in the face of incredible adversity, often overcoming problems with her intelligence and wit. She was not physically beautiful, reports indicating that she was of only moderate good looks, yet her vivacious personality captured the heart of a King and court. Anne was bold, brave, and indomitable. A modern woman by many of today's standards, an anachronism.

When I think of Anne, one of the first things that comes to mind is her speech on the scaffold:
"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."
One line that has always stuck with me is this one: And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. It's been interpreted as meaning that Anne was asking future historians to review her case and judge her by the truth of their findings, as opposed to believing the guilty verdict delivered by a jury of people who hated her. 

And that got me thinking.

As a writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, I feel like there's an opportunity to be the champions for the dead. We can be their voices, give an alternate account of what happened and maybe why. We can explore the what if's and why fors. We can't change the past, but we can explain and interpret it to the best of our abilities, given the evidence available. In effect, we can "meddle" with Anne's cause, hers and many others from bygone times.

Of course, we'll never know everything, and it's likely we'll get some things wrong, but we can bring an awareness of our history from a more human, more personal perspective. Because Anne, like so many historical figures, was not just a name in a textbook -- she was a woman who lived, and loved, whose life was cut tragically short, and she shouldn't be forgotten.

P.S. Spoiler alert! Anne's only daughter, Elizabeth, goes on to become Queen Elizabeth I, reigning in a golden age for England, and becoming arguably one of the best English monarchs. Take that, Henry. ;)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Foray into Historical Fiction

So I've finally started a new novel! I'm writing historical fiction set during the 1950s, centered around the studio and star system. And maybe there will be a young!Elvis cameo later on in the decade. Possibly. Probably.

I mean, come on, look at him! So cute.*

More seriously, though, writing historical fiction has been an interesting challenge. Reading around, there seems to be two camps in terms of how much research you should do before attempting a novel set in a different time period. While I did some cursory investigating to familiarize myself with my era, there was plenty I didn't know going in. I'll be the first to admit that it probably would have behooved me to do a bit more research than I did, but I really don't think there's any way to anticipate everything you'll need to know while writing. Inevitably, you will have to stop and look up what sort of hairstyles were in vogue, what model of telephone was in use, whether or not your lady characters wore underpants beneath those pencil skirts. Those sorts of things that will probably not but wouldn't it be cool if it did? come up in Trivial Pursuit one day.

What year did they remove the 'LAND' from the HOLLYWOOD sign? 1949. Yes, I know that off the top of my head. No, that's not weird.

Ironically, it was this fear of being unprepared that prevented me from writing historical fiction for so long, contrary to my love of reading it. What I've found, though, is that I love learning about all of this stuff as I go along. Yes, it sometimes interrupts my writing when I have to stop and Google the odd historical fact, but it's a thrill to come across some neat piece of information that will lend authenticity to my book. It probably doesn't hurt that I'm a History major and adore learning new things about the past either.

Long story short, I'm having a ball with this novel. Although it's slow going, it's the most fun I've had in a long while, and I think I may have finally found a genre that fits me. Only time will tell!

* Yes, this is pretty much an excuse to put an Elvis picture on my blog. I regret nothing.