Friday, July 04, 2008

Common misconceptions from history...

It's funny how certain ideas become engrained in common knowledge, things that are often, in fact, wrong.

Case in point - the Bastille was a Paris prison, but it was never used as one during the French Revolution. In fact, it was destroyed during the summer of 1789, following its storming by the mob on July 14. Yet when I mention that my heroine was in a prison in 1793, inevitably people assume I'm talking about the Bastille. This happened just last week on a list I'm of which I'm a member and the historian in me was compelled to clarify. I even found a reference to it being used as a place of detention in an extremely popular novel, much touted by many reviewers. Alas, that evidence of lack of research added one more negaitve to the book as far as I was concerned.

As writers, we must remember to check EVERYTHING. Especially those things we THINKwe know, things that have entered into commonly accepted knowledge. Do NOT be fooled into believing you don't have to research facts and ideas to which you've been privy for years. That way madness (and irritation on the part of your readers) lies.

Case in point # 2 - I had my hero and heroine wander into a coffee-house together in 1793 London. During one of my final passes of the ms (I'm planning to submit it yet again), it jumped out at me once more, having niggled at me for months. Sure enough, some quick online and book reasearch (thank goodness for my private library) informed me that there was no way my heroine would be allowed in. So now I'm rewriting that particular scene and setting it in a tea house instead. One I've found ample evidence of through original sources available on Google Books.

If by some miracle this ms had been accepted and passed through various copy-edits without anyone catching this, I would have been mortified when a reader pointed out such a huge mistake. To some people it may not seem huge, but for me it is. And all because I wrote that scene without really thinking much about the little details, such as the presence (or not) of women in coffee-houses in 18th century London.

Do you have a similar near goof-up to relate?

Oh, and, Marie Antoinette never did say "Let them eat cake!"

1 comment:

Melissa Marsh said...

I have become almost fanatical about checking all my facts on my current manuscript - largely because people who lived during this time period (WW2) are still alive and can tell me if I'm wrong!