Friday, 8 April 2011

A thin veneer

Emotions are always going to remain the same no matter which period novelists write about. I've read this statement many times, and agree with the premise. But then little niggles creep out of the woodwork and I begin to wonder if it is true.

The life experiences of historical characters are so very different to ours. Surely they would make some difference to a character's psyche?

When writing about characters in the sixteenth century, I have to remind myself that religion was important to them in a way it is not to me. (But I don't want to write about religion, so I avoid it as much as possible. Still, I can't say it isn't there in clear and present form.) In that century, arguably more than any other, Christians were prepared to die rather than give lip service to a religion in which they did not believe.

It is difficult to get into focus how short a life expectancy was then. While we can confidently expect to live to be 70 or even 80, they could expect 45, and some historians say as little as 35.

In that sort of life scale, marriage at 12 and 13 seems a tad more reasonable than it does to us today. Wait until 21, and most of your life had already gone. Childbirth was deemed to be easier when the mother’s bones were flexible, and perhaps practice proved them correct, given the state of medicine and hygiene back then.

Even among royalty, where conditions would be so much better than average for the time, many children did not survive the first year of life. The King of Scotland and Mary of Guise watched two sons die within a very short space of time of each other, and could do nothing to prevent it.

There is so much today that we rely on without stopping to give thanks – medical help, education, welfare state, 24/7 news, clean water supply and wonderful transport links not only in this country but around the world.

What if glasses and contacts were unavailable? If dentistry consisted of nothing more than pulling rotten teeth with pliers and a stiff whisky? That painkillers did not exist except in herbal form? Hygiene almost non-existent, no piped running water, certainly no hot water unless you boiled it on an open fire…I can't help but feel that given such a life style, our emotions would be quite a bit different.

The pic shows a fox, admittedly blurry because he was half a mile away, spotted on out country walk on Wednesday.

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