Historical Fiction, or just Old-Fashioned?

It’s very hard to find a picture of a scruffy old bloke reading a book when you look through the free photo library. This is the closest I could get. Most book readers, according to the free photo library, are well-groomed young women. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

In the last week I have been reading Lord Peter Wimsey novels bought via Amazon and downloaded instantly to my tablet. At 99p each they are reasonable value and available instantly. I’m dubious about paying much more than that for an eBook because it doesn’t reallt feel like you are getting much for your money.

I’ll pay more on the rare occasion I buy a new book or when I buy a reference book, but when I’m buying a book that’s been in print since the 1920s, particularly one that’s now out of copyright, I have a very parsimonious attitude. Any author reading this is probably shuddering at the idea of someone like me representing the future of book-buying. Sorry about that, if you are one of them.

Considering that I’m purchasing the license to read the ‘content’ and that terms and conditions can be altered or terminated at any time without notice I feel comfortable with 99p, but not at £4.99 and £5.99. I can buy a proper book in clean condition for that, and still have something to pass on to a neighbour or a charity shop.

Several of the editions I bought have faulty formatting, but that’s the nature of cheap eBooks. You have to put up with it.

Several of the books feature what we would now consider racism. Whenever you read books from between the wars they always seem to. I’m not qualified to discuss racism, and I’m not sure if Sayers was racist or not. However, the references to Jews and blacks (not necessarily using those words) no doubt mirror the way people talked in those days. It doesn’t necessarily means she was racist, just accurate, but it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. It’s very easy to condemn writers from the 20s and 30s for being racist, and modern commentators often do, so I’ll resist the temptation.

My other concern is that the books contain plot devices I’m not entirely happy with. There is a missing heir (which turns out to be a red herring), an undetectable poison (which turns out not to be a poison) and a case of someone claiming to be his own cousin. It’s getting close to implausible. So is the idea of a middle-aged, possibly elderly, man scaling a building to dispose of a dead body. There are, in case you didn’t know, ‘rules’ about these things. And more here.

There are good bits in the books too, even though, as I get older Wimsey and Bunter are becoming closer and closer to Wooster and Jeeves.

I’ll have to do some proper reviews soon. For now, let’s say that my tastes are more inclined to historical crime fiction than they are to classics of the Golden Age.

30 thoughts on “Historical Fiction, or just Old-Fashioned?

  1. Helen

    I treating post and interesting discussion.

    ‘The English must be ignorant if white girls date black guys’! People have said I have only myself to blame for marrying a man from Pakistan (domestic abuse), so rather than maligning past attitudes I think we need to continue work on the present ones.

    1. quercuscommunity

      Sorry to hear that., both about the abuse and the fact that people blame you for it.

      A friend of mine used to live next to a refuge and the police were often called to remove abusive partners from the premises. It’s hard to get into the mind of a man who thinks this is an appropriate way of solving problems in a relationship.

      1. Helen

        Thank you for your sensitive reply 😊

        Abuse is a subject which needs to be talked about more broadly, so that it can be understood better. That might help in reducing blame.

        The abuser him or herself is generally a troubled individual and perhaps ironically may use this issue to ensnare their victim. Thus, the victim will feel guilty about leaving, even though they have found themselves in an intolerable situation.

        In any case, the abuse is something which the perpetrator brings into the relationship, although it could be exacerbated by it – eg more abuse when stressed.

      2. quercuscommunity

        It’s very hard for me to comment because I know so little about it. As with a number of other things, there does seem to be a tendency to blame the victim. From the outside it seems to be an easy thing to walk away from but it’s clearly more complicated than that when it’s happening.

      3. Helen

        It’s brave to say when you don’t know about something. I wish more would accept that they are not an expert 😊

  2. tootlepedal

    I used to enjoy Ngaio Marsh a lot when I was young but I always enjoyed Margery Allingham a lot more. Have you tried Albert Campion? He has a reverse Jeeves and Wooster relationship with his man.

  3. Laurie Graves

    Shudder, shudder. As for books written in the 20s and 30s… you can add misogyny if the writer is male. A curious time for writing, and it is probably beyond the scope of a blog comment to give it the attention it deserves. I suppose the writing reflects the attitudes of the time. I will add that I have read a lot of nineteenth-century literature, and there doesn’t seem to be the same ugly racism and misogyny that we find in books written in the 20s and 30s. Any thoughts about this?

    1. quercuscommunity

      Yes, in general it does seem that the 20s and 30s were more racist than the previous century. Misogyny seems to have passed me by, but there aren’t many women in the boy’s adventure fiction I have tended to favour, and detective novels were often by women.

      There are many pitfalls in retrospective discussions of race, as this link shows.

      I was interested in this link – never knew any of this.


      Try this one too – I think it’s a slightly romanticised view of the British side, but it shows the difference between Britain and the USA at the time.

      We became steadily more racist from the end of the war onwards as “they” came over “to take our jobs”. This persists to the present day, as seen in the Brexit discussions.

      1. Laurie Graves

        Finally had a chance to read all the articles. All look at the subject from a different angles, and each is illuminating. To look at literature through any particular lens—feminism, racism—probably does distort the interpretation.

      2. quercuscommunity

        To be honest, I read a book for the story. That’s why I was never any good at English at school once we had to start interpreting things. 🙂

      3. Laurie Graves

        I’m perhaps a little more critical, even though I, too, read for story. Some things do jump out at me as I read—the homosexual aspects of Moby Dick, for example. But I don’t usually look for them. Same with racism and misogyny. But when the “N” word is used repeatedly, it’s hard to ignore it.

      4. quercuscommunity

        I thought it was a book about whales and obsession. Completely missed the homosexual aspects, just thought it needed a better editor who would cut big chunks out.

      5. Laurie Graves

        It certainly is a book about whales and obsession. But I when came to the part, early in the novel, where Ishmael and Queequeg are sharing a bed like a married couple with their legs entwined, I thought “H-m-m-m.”

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