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Religion in Historical Romance
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Allyson



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
Posts: 567

PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2007 12:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not religious in the least, but I sure do wonder at the great number of historical heroines and heroes too who run about having premarital sex and never once does religion even occur to them as a reason not to. It just seems a little bit weird to me. I mean, obviously not everyone was super religious, but it not even being *mentioned* seems so odd to me...
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2007 11:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

+IHS+

This reminds me of the explicitly religious Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers. The characters are first-century Christians, but there is something unshakably modern about them. Confused Rivers seems to have based her characters on the Christians she meets at church every Sunday--which I find as sloppy as basing, say, a Regency heroine's relationship with her ladies maid on the author's own relationship with her personal assistant.

Yet I think that a Romance with more "accurate" first-century (or any past-century) Christians would just drive modern readers to distraction. Laughing With respect to all people of faith here, we sometimes tend to think that fellow worshippers from other lands or even other centuries are "just like us"--that we'd feel comfortable in their churches/temples/mosques and that they'd feel comfortable in ours. This is probably why there are so many Medievals with main characters who seem to have lived through the Enlightenment! Laughing

One writer who usually does a good job with the Middle Ages, I think, is Jo Beverley. Her novel The Shattered Rose has the most religious hero I have ever run into: he has been on Crusade and explicitly credits his stay in the Holy Land for strengthening his faith. I actually find him quite believable and endearing. Lord of Midnight is also really great for a hero who believes he has the right to kill a squire for disobeying even an immoral order (not that he actually gives one), and a heroine who believes that when one man kills another in a court battle, God was on the side of the victor. They may sound primitive and ignorant, but they're actually intelligent and noble.
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Sherry Thomas



Joined: 04 Dec 2007
Posts: 12

PostPosted: Tue Dec 04, 2007 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Shadow Heart, by Laura Kinsale.

The hero very much believed in Heaven and Hell, mostly in Hell, because he was convinced that was where he was headed.

When he finally gets to go to confession--because he'd been excommunicated earlier--and have his sins absolved, it was a tremendously touching scene.

I cried.

His beliefs, I feel, were very much in line with the mainstream beliefs of his day (late 1200s, iirc).
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someothersecret



Joined: 02 Mar 2008
Posts: 31

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Religion often plays a large part in Claudia Dain's medievals, especially The Marriage Bed and The Holding.


But not in a very medieval way. The Marriage Bed's verision of medieval monasticism is odd to say the least.

[Quote]Terri Brisbin in The King's Mistress includes a priest who is very instrumental in bringing the hero and heroin together. Also, the heroine works closely with another priests to transcribe his Latin.[/Quot]

What in the world was the heroine transcribing Latin for? We all know that only the vernacular is suitable for the woman's weak and feeble brain.

Quote:
Yet I think that a Romance with more "accurate" first-century (or any past-century) Christians would just drive modern readers to distraction. With respect to all people of faith here, we sometimes tend to think that fellow worshippers from other lands or even other centuries are "just like us"--that we'd feel comfortable in their churches/temples/mosques and that they'd feel comfortable in ours.


I think you've hit the nail on the head there...

I can't forget the way the nunnery was treated in Connie Mason's "The Dragon Lord" and how it completely overlooked the passionate relationships nuns had with god (the heroine's twin sister wanted to be a nun) and potrayed it as a retreat from a world and sexuality. There' any number of native american romances which have kind missionary priests who are accepting of other beliefs (why, why be a missionary?) starting with Cassie Edwards.

It's not just that Christianity was an part of their lives, it's also that they believed it very differently. I've yet to read of mememto mori, books of hours (the medieval bestseller, y'know), anchorites (early medieval crazy spiritual women of awesome), saints, superstitions, those passionate spiritual frienships between monks and nuns, the Icelandic priests with wives and concubines, relics salesmen...

Quote:
I'm not religious in the least, but I sure do wonder at the great number of historical heroines and heroes too who run about having premarital sex and never once does religion even occur to them as a reason not to.


Well, there's always the reading that premarital sex wasn't wrong. It's just adulterous extramarital sex.


Probably because I'm not religious I don't have a problem reading about faiths radically different from modern ones. Or maybe I just want someone to write about all the things I spend my time studying.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Most of the historicals I've read have at least taken religion into account, although in some it's very peripheral. Still, I don't think we know with any great accuracy whether people were truly more religious in the middle ages than they are now. One's relationship to organized religion in the middle ages was probably as much a matter of what was expected as it was a matter of greater piety and a matter of economics as well, just as it is in many communities today.
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Niftybergin



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 1078

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
Most of the historicals I've read have at least taken religion into account, although in some it's very peripheral. Still, I don't think we know with any great accuracy whether people were truly more religious in the middle ages than they are now. One's relationship to organized religion in the middle ages was probably as much a matter of what was expected as it was a matter of greater piety and a matter of economics as well, just as it is in many communities today.


I seem to have this perception -- perhaps faulty -- that relgion played a bigger role in human life in the middle ages because the church was the legal and social and educational and artistic center of life. I always interpreted it as a way of controlling the masses...and keeping the church wealthy. When I think "middle ages" I think of the Crusades and the Inquisition. I think of a feudal society in which people did what their lords told them to do. I think of a society in which anything could be considered heresy and could get you killed. I think of a society in which people weren't really taught or encouraged to think for themselves or challenge the status quo, and so they believed what they were told -- that they were inherently sinful and that they had to do everything they could to ensure their salvation in the hereafter.

Because of that perception of mine, it always makes sense to me that historical romances would touch on God more than, say, contemporary romances.
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Retrograde



Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 458

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I prefer not to read about religion, even in historicals. I read romances primarily for romance, not for complete historical accuracy. If a certain character does good deeds because of their faith, it doesn't resonate as deeply with me as it would if they did good deeds because they have strong personal morals without the aid of dogma. So in that way, it affects my opinion of the character. I'm obviously biased and a little prejudiced, because I have my own strong opinions on religion, but a romance is the last place I want to hear about it. Religion is an all-or-nothing issue IMO; I don't want to read about a devoutly religious person, nor do I want to read about a hypocrite, so I appreciate it when the issue is left out altogether.

Last edited by Retrograde on Wed Mar 05, 2008 2:26 pm; edited 1 time in total
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Niftybergin: That the church was a powerful force in the middle ages is certainly correct, but I was speaking of the religiosity of the people of that time. Certainly because of that power, most would have adhered to the "rules," as I suggested. But whether that adherence stemmed from piety or not is questionable, I think. One has only to think of papal corruption to realize that even the most eminent members of the church were not very religious. That kings, such as Henry II and John, gave the church lip-service for political more than religious purposes. And I don't know, but I'm always skeptical when the information I have about something--in this instance, the church in the middle ages--is information compiled, recorded, and retained by the same institution the information is about.
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someothersecret



Joined: 02 Mar 2008
Posts: 31

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Most of the historicals I've read have at least taken religion into account, although in some it's very peripheral. Still, I don't think we know with any great accuracy whether people were truly more religious in the middle ages than they are now.


We don't know if they were more religious, true. We don't know if they followed all the rules about not having sex on Sundays, Wednesdays, feast days, Saturdays and Fridays (Probably not) and certainly the church couldn't control everything as much as they wanted. (stopping priests and monks having mistresses, stopping nuns being lesbians, stopping silly pagan superstitions...)

Quote:
And I don't know, but I'm always skeptical when the information I have about something--in this instance, the church in the middle ages--is information compiled, recorded, and retained by the same institution the information is about.



And yes, maybe you can doubt all the bits of paper saying "Yes, Mr. Pope, all well in my quarter of the country, everyone loves you and God and Jesus" and you can see obfuscatation in the Chronicles, but I'm not sure you can question all the love poetry written to Jesus (possibly by 12th century women), the memiors of Margery Kempe (yes, you can argue religion as a means of social freedom, but they're still using it, it's present), the handbooks to anchorite, the atmosphere elicited by Geoffrey Chaucer...

But how about the incredible number of Books of Hours we have surviving from the middle ages? They are written in, used, thumbed. (there are also beautiful pristine copies and they are certainly works of art and prestige)

It can't be all accounted as simple "lip service". They had a culture different to ours. They have distinct, surviving cultural artefacts. How they used it is debatable. You can argue that most people looked at the pictures and felt that that would save them from hell and didn't read the actual text in Books of Hours. You can argue that they read it together in churches instead of alone. You can argue that they used them more as calendars, but you can't argue that they didn't use them at all.

What I'm trying to get at is that this religion is intrisically tied into the fabric of their culture. You might not Believe with passion everything the church told you. You might be skeptical about the relics people are selling around you... but it's all still there. We don't know how exactly they related to these cultural artefacts, but they're present and ingrained into the culture. And I want to see more of that culture. That different way of thinking.

You might question the reasons people had to go on pilgrimage, but archeological and historical records show that lots of people did do it...

Quote:
I think of a society in which people weren't really taught or encouraged to think for themselves or challenge the status quo, and so they believed what they were told -- that they were inherently sinful and that they had to do everything they could to ensure their salvation in the hereafter.


I daresay the middle ages was a little less of a thought-blackhole than that.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

to someothersecret: But what percentage of the population had books of hours or could read them if they did? You're absolutely right; there is evidence that SOME people were highly religious, just as SOME people today are. But, to characterize an entire era of several centuries by the actions and acquisitions of some just doesn't seem logical to me, especially when that some is the few rather than the many.
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someothersecret



Joined: 02 Mar 2008
Posts: 31

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 6:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
But what percentage of the population had books of hours or could read them if they did? You're absolutely right; there is evidence that SOME people were highly religious, just as SOME people today are. But, to characterize an entire era of several centuries by the actions and acquisitions of some just doesn't seem logical to me, especially when that some is the few rather than the many.


Are we talking about the peasants? True. There is less record of what they are up to. The further down the social ladder, the less record ther is. But no one really writes the romance of serf A with serf B.

Romance novels concern the rich and the landed. The section of population that owned said books of hours is the same as the section that most romance novels cover. Concerning books of hours, no I can't give you a percentage, but we have so very, very many surviving copies, handed down generations. They were popular. We're talking several hundred thousand surviving. And more that didn't. The bestseller of the middle ages. The book that we're presuming most aspired to own. And I'm not sure you can argue that this very significant section of the past don't have an influence on their friends and family.

Most of the civil service consisted of men with theological training. Yes, maybe they weren't religious, they just pretended to be. There were lots of feast days, which were celebrated. People named their children after saints.

I'm not arguing that everyone was very religious. I'm arguing that religion and the Church is ingrained into the culture, as said.

The number of surviving pilgrim tokens and other such aspects suggest high numbers of pilgrims. No, not everyone, but significant enough a percentage of the population that you can't live in a "secular" bubble.

Should you take, say, all the cultural bits and pieces of today, you'll find that most of them are secular without religious influence. Look at the literature, the objects, the jewellry. But it's different for the middle ages.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2477

PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to someothersecret: Most records of the middle ages that survive suggest that literacy during the period was rare, not only among the peasants, but among the barons, knights, and nobles, except, as you say, among the clergy. (Of course, that idea too, may only be incorrect extrapolation from scanty evidence.) But, in my experience in reading historical fiction, that "factoid" is often used in the plot--the heroine by some means has managed to become literate; the hero--knight, baron, or noble--has not. Or the heroine is chagrinned to discover that the hero IS literate. The point of my first post, though, was that I don't think we should hold romance authors to be historically faulty because they don't make religiosity a central part of the plot of their romances, my reasoning being that we simply don't know how religious people of the middle ages actually were. Thus, we should allow authors whatever fictions they imagine, as long as they don't stretch those fictions to the point of unbelievability.
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LizE



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 253

PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 11:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
But what percentage of the population had books of hours or could read them if they did? You're absolutely right; there is evidence that SOME people were highly religious, just as SOME people today are. But, to characterize an entire era of several centuries by the actions and acquisitions of some just doesn't seem logical to me, especially when that some is the few rather than the many.


In our day, people go to church--any church--if they like, and if they don't want to, that's fine, too. In medieval times, The Church was a part of everyday life, its teachings ingrained from infancy. The calendar was organized around holy days and saints days, stories were from the gospels or about the lives of saints. Religion was woven into the daily fabric of life, not something people did on Sunday--a thing apart from the everyday--as it is now. If people didn't believe in that, what did they believe in? Your average medieval peasant--and noble, for that matter--did not have a lot of contact with the outside world. You couldn't go to the library and pick up a book (assuming you could read at all, which the vast majority couldn't) filled with differing schools of thought on God. There was only one school of thought and whle not everyone followed "the rules," they were aware of them and the dire punishments for breaking them--both in this world and the next.

The world was so different then, so much still unknown, a vast frightening place filled with mysteries. When night fell, it was dark in a way that most of us cannot even imagine. When winter came, it was cold. If the crops failed or you didn't have enough fuel, you died. Great plagues swept through Europe and there was nothing anyone could do but wait and see if they lived or died. Their belief in God and the saints helped make sense of the darkness and the cold and the fear, a promise that it all meant something, and that they themselves had been created for a purpose.

Now, safe in our lighted, heated homes with unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, we might see those teachings as restrictive, but looking at it from a medieval perspective, I can see the appeal of the the church--the beautiful artwork, the songs, the incense--it was so different from the drab and dreary everyday round of work, so special and beautiful, a glimpse of the heaven that was waiting for the good. The fear of Hell was just as real, just as vivid, and yes, I think people really did believe that they were destined for one of those two places, and how they lived reflected that belief. So when you say not everyone was religious, I don't think the word had the same meaning then as it does now. Not everyone acted in accordance with the prevailing beliefs of the time, but no one could possibly ignore them as we are free to do today.
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someothersecret



Joined: 02 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 04, 2008 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Most records of the middle ages that survive suggest that literacy during the period was rare, not only among the peasants, but among the barons, knights, and nobles, except, as you say, among the clergy.


I'm not arguing the literacy was everywhere. Books of hours were about mouthing your prayers and looking at the pictures, according to some commentators. They wouldn't be even allowed to read the bible anyway, but that's not the heart of religion, it's the going to Church, the arts, the rituals, the stories, the festivals... (etcetcetc), much as LizE points out.

Quote:
The point of my first post, though, was that I don't think we should hold romance authors to be historically faulty because they don't make religiosity a central part of the plot of their romances, my reasoning being that we simply don't know how religious people of the middle ages actually were. Thus, we should allow authors whatever fictions they imagine, as long as they don't stretch those fictions to the point of unbelievability.


I never tried to argue that they were all deeply religious. I never made that my point. I merely pointed out that the trappings of religion should surround them. So if she's a rich nobleman's daughter, she might inherit her mother's book of hours or be given one as a wedding gift and she can look a the pictures (and rebelliously not read it regularly). I expect them to know their birth and name saints. Maybe to own a rosary. To have had relatives or themselves have gone on a pilgrimage. To count their days according to the feasting calendar. This all does not mean that they're deeply commited or religious, only that they live in the medieval world.


Quote:
Now, safe in our lighted, heated homes with unlimited knowledge at our fingertips


Which is why I expect a degree of accuracy from my authors. If I can google when such and such a university first opened its doors to women, so can they. If I can find pictures about books of hours, so can they.

Quote:
You couldn't go to the library and pick up a book (assuming you could read at all, which the vast majority couldn't) filled with differing schools of thought on God.


But you could go wander into the many debates that were going on about the nature of God. It's what kept those courts of heresy so busy. Abelard was famously one of these theologians. He came up with the term 'theology' in the first place.

I'm only adding that there was a degree of freedom of thought if you were in the right class of people (not a peasant, which describes, as said, most heroes and heroines). But it almost always assumed the existence of God, it was the nature of it that was debated. There was wonderful, wonderful debate about it. Abelard and Heloise, we are told, fell in love whilst discussing said nature of God. (Ah! Now there would be a novel - I hesitate to say romance since I'm told my tastes constitute a different genre - I'd like to read.)
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 10:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to LizE: Seems to me you're doing exactly what you want an author to do--imagining yourself into the mind-set of a person of the middle ages--but you are setting the parameters in which you want the imagination to work. All that you write of may or may not have been true. My point is that we simply don't know for certain. Historians, just as someothersecret has done, extrapolate from what little evidence we have. IMO, that evidence is tainted by the fact that the church was so powerful and was the literate body in a possibly nearly illiterate society. Because we don't know for certain, should not an author have the same freedom of imagination that you are exercising in your post?
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