Tuesday, 23 June 2009

First you think you're there...

... then you realise you're not. It isn't finished; there's more work to be done. You want to yell. You want to cry. But then you do the only thing you can - you put your shoulder back to the wheel, and move things on a wee bit more.

I was reading something supposedly set in the Middle Ages; suddenly one of the characters said "You snuck up on me", and I thought "Ouch! Did they really say that in the fourteenth century?". It set me to thinking, though, about how easy it is to have fictional characters talking, or thinking, or acting, out of period. It's something I've worked hard to achieve in "GY", trying to make Simon, Anne and Gabriel credible as people of their respective centuries. Simon may seem a bit more modern, but I hope untidily so, since I was careful to make him totally non-PC in his terms of reference. He's partly based on my maternal grandfather, who was an autodidact and a socialist, and pretty liberal for his time, yet happily used terms and phrases that would make the average good lefty today scream in horror. He certainly wasn't a racist or a sexist - by the standards of his time. He made sure that none of his family ever used the word "nigger" because he knew it was offensive and insulting; but he used "negro", which nowadays is equally unacceptable, all his life, as to him it was a neutral term. His view of homosexuality was "I can't say I like it but I suppose a man can't help it if he's born that way", which was extraordinarily liberal for his generation; yet he used terms like "poof" and "queer" quite happily. He championed his daughter's equal right to a good education and a good career, yet still called women "ladies" and opened doors for them and offered them his seat on the bus. He wasn't ginger, although Simon is, but he did play the fiddle, and he was one of the hardest-working, most honourable and stalwart people I have ever known.

Anyway, I sat there on my bed trying again to run through the "period indicators" I've used, and wondering if I've got them right, and suddenly thought of something I had never realised. Because Anne and Simon are going to end up as a couple I have done my best to give them similar values; but they are people of different periods - Simon is a man of the early twentieth century, Anne is born in 1782. I don't think it is out of period for her to be rather wilful and determined, as I am sure that in every era there have been people who chafed against the constrictions of their society, and thought "outside the box". But the basic foundation upon which her view of the world is built would be different from Simon's. Specifically, it doesn't make sense, in the context of her times, to have her attempts to help Mrs Viner be prompted solely by a mixture of professionalism and humanistic fellow-feeling. Compassion, to a woman born in the late eighteenth century, would be a religious, not a secular, virtue. Anne, at least when we first meet her, has to be a christian.

This is going to be a bit tricky, as I'm not one, and, too, it's hard to put myself mentally back past the Victorians, with their deep and public piety, ostentatious religiosity and occasional horrible double standards, to try and imagine what might have been the religious world view of a middle-class, rather free-thinking Georgian bluestocking. But I set-to last night and started to make the necessary tweaks. I think tweaks are all that are needed; I'm not going completely to rewrite the character. I'm too fond of Anne to effect a major transformation, and anyway, I don't think one is needed - she is already thoroughly christian (in the best sense, that is, as in moral, kind, considerate) in her actions, she just never speaks of it or shows it as a conscious motivation. That's what I have to tweak.

The funny thing was, I immediately spotted three typos I'd missed on each previous re-reading, and discovered that the pagination goes haywire at one point. So it was definitely for the best that I had opened the text up again.

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