January 4th, 2016

(no subject)

What I'm discovering right now is that there was so very much cultural change in late 17th century England that I'm having to revise what I read and why. Books on science from 20 years earlier may or may not give the science I need for the novel. Likes studies of demonology. Politics completely changed but so, it seems did a lot else. The eighteenth century is easier for us to read about, as moderns, because the seventeenth century went through an amazing flux.

It's spectacular stuff. My part of the Middle Ages also went through a series of giant cultural shifts. The thing is, though, that there are fewer sources for the Middle Agse, so fine interpretation of a limited number of sources is how one gets at it. For my current project, I need a different approach.

What this means is that my 150 books for January have diminished rapidly, for most of them give me the indications I need of where different parties and different places stood. I'm down to less than 80 books. This is not an 'already' - it's taken much hard work. But it's faster than I expected, for most of the books only had a half hour's work in them. The last 80 will be much tougher and slower, for they're where I get my mindset changes from, and I need those mindset pages before I can flesh things out and write the novel. This is the month where I address the worst of the things I think I know and transform them into understanding and new knowledge and can write about the period in a way that isn't just a modern pastiche.

This was the point of reading so many primary sources. Telling detail for the novel, plot points: all these are important. The most important thing is one I learned from examining the fiction of others: we carry our culture around with us and unless we address it directly, it informs every single thing we write about. I decided I didn't want to write about the modern assumptions of myself or others unless intentionally. I want to be in control of my story.

'Control' means finding out how 17th century England was shaped, in their minds.

From February I can add modern historians into the mix, for I have a better base to understand them, and, as I put it the other day, to argue with them. December and January were the toughest months, however, for using strategic reading to confront one's assumptions and to build an understanding is never easy. it's one of the happiest things i can think of in terms of growth (both intellectual and personal) but it's not easy.

(no subject)

All sorts of people are giving me very useful suggestions on general studies that will help me understand the Stuart Age. I just wanted to thank you all for not doing this. I don't need overview modern studies. I also don't need to be history-splained...

I've said it before but I'll say it again here, just in case it helps (mostly in case it helps me - I feel a need to rant): I didn't start off as a Medieval historian. I did much Medieval literature as an undergrad and as a postgrad (this is how I became both a historian and a literary historian, it also meant I got to study Chaucer with Sister Frances, which was just unbelievably cool) but my undergrad history degree covered quite different areas. I don't regard them as advanced history, because a couple of units on the change from medieval to modern economies or a unit on magic and witchcraft in 15th-17th century Europe as an undergrad are not terribly advanced compared with post-PhD stuff, but they definitely gave me the general background I needed to get this project started. I also got to read a lot of critical sources that underpin what I'm doing now. Books I've been reading (17th century books) refer to Jean Bodin, for instance and I've read Bodin cover to cover.

I had amazing teachers and they loved it that I also could deal with the literature and they pushed me far more than most undergrads are pushed. I know the work of Sebastien le Tillemont, for instance, because my Roman Historiography teacher (Ron Ridley) said "Gillian, you're going to read 22 volumes of 17th century French for this 3rd year essay and there is only one secondary source and that's also in French and I can't help you, because my French isn't enough. You're going to have to sort out the whole Jansenist/Jesuit thing before you can write that essay, BTW." Ridley was an inspirational teacher and I read all the volumes and got a handle on why he thought the religion was important and it's magic now, because I can unpick and start to understand attitudes I only just glimpsed when I was 19.

When I talk about secondary sources, the sort of things I need are (since my list for next month is gradually growing) a really cutting edge biography of Titus Oates and the implications of his actions for the wider community and for local congregations (I need several of these, to be honest, for the likelihood that Australia has the best of them is ... unknown) and a really good study of regional and gender differences in basic education. I also need to know educational methods. Not for boys at schools, but for educated girls.

I will re-read some of the introductory works to fill in gaps, but I can find those for myself for they glare at me from bookshelves everywhere. They even glare at me from my own. Right now, I'm questioning them as I question myself: I do not rely on them to build up a period. For this novel, I don't want the publicly accepted 17th century, with rationalism used to explain the death of witchcraft and etc. That strand of thought has existed since at least the 16th century (I was looking at Reginald Scott briefly today, for instance) and the whole point of the novel is that I want to take the path less taken, the path that leads to actual magic. I am, after all, writing a fantasy novel. And it's not enough to take our world view and then add magic. I have to understand the world view that sees the magic, and I have to understand it from closer to the inside than I can do with the big modern books about the period.

All this is me trying to understand why people are telling me to start at the very beginning. It's a very fine place to start... but I did that over 30 years ago. Also, why would I ever choose a setting for a novel when I didn't even have a basic understanding of the setting? How would I know that the novel would work the way I wanted if I just said "Seventeenth century England is sexy - let's set it then"?

This is not an explanation of what writers do. It's a rant about a writer-historian who's been told to do basics, again.