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Religion in Historical Romance
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1480
Location: America

PostPosted: Sun Dec 02, 2007 9:08 pm    Post subject: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

I just completed Claiming The Courtesan and was struck suddenly by the many mentions of prayer, redemption, forgiveness, and the like. Then I recalled that many historical romances use this device and that many contemporary romances I've read(at least the non-African American ones) rarely, if ever, mention God, redemption, forgiveness, etc in regard to their hero and/or heroine's characterization and conflicts. Is the historical setting hardwired to be more "religious", stock phrases and characterizations familiar with the historical romance, or is it something else?

One thing I do find interesting is that religion, despite being a large part of the lives of Medieval society, has little play in the characters of Medieval romances of today. The only places I've found it to be are in the works of Roberta Gellis.
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Suzanna



Joined: 28 Mar 2007
Posts: 210

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 12:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Off the top of my head I can't think of many recent historicals that make much use of religion, either. One is Lynn Kerstan's "Lady in blue" - the heroine is a vicar's daughter who becomes a mistress because she needs to make money. It's an average read, but does have unusual features - her decision to take up this life is carefully calculated, not a grand gesture, and she's always aware that's it's sinful. She eventually makes a vow to give it up in exchange for the hero's life, after he's attacked and nearly dies.

Dinah Dean is an older author who wrote medieval to Regency - religion is part of her characters' daily lives without the books ever being preachy-they attend church, pray, and accept religion as a natural part of their lives.

Jane Aiken Hodge made what I think is a very accurate observation on Georgette Heyer's medievals, which are detail-heavy, over-archaic in style and barely readable. She thought that Heyer was a rationalist by temperament, and couldn't think herself into the medieval mindset, which was very much influenced by religion.

Maybe there's an ATBF lurking here somewhere???
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ladynaava



Joined: 11 Apr 2007
Posts: 938
Location: California

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 1:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Even in my mother's day the church was the center of life for a small town, providing charity, organization, things for people to do as well as activities and a meeting place for young people.

I think the church can and should be mentioned. No one wants to be sermonized to.. (well some might), but including religon would add more authenticity to a story.


N
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Vellorine



Joined: 12 Oct 2007
Posts: 106

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 3:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

One book I can immediately think of is Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm since the whole book plot is driven by the heroine's religious calling.
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 1069

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Particularly in a historical, it would seem that if not the actual faith then the politics of religion would have to be taken into some account. Most religious characters I've run across have been like the Vicar in Anne Perry's Cater Street Hangman - pompous, bloviating, hypocritical idiots. They're either villains or simply set up for a spectacular fall to show how stupid and wrong they are.

You very rarely get someone like Christy in Gaffney's To Have and To Hold, someone who actually has honor and integrity. I think he shows you can have someone acting in accord with a deep faith (or struggling with his failure to do so) without sermonizing. I suppose most authors avoid it because it can be a divisive issue in current society, and if (mostly unmarried) sex is going to be a key feature of your novel, there's an inherent problem.
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KayWebbHarrison



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: SE VA. USA

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wasn't the hero of Liz Carlyle's A Woman Scorned changing his profession from soldier to parson when the book started?
Kay
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lijakaca



Joined: 28 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read one of Jo Beverley's medievals a while ago (can't remember the title, it was the one where the heroine is a widow who is looking for her baby that was taken away after he/she was born), and it had a lot of references to religion because it really was a big part of their lives. Plus, it was set in the Tudor period, and Mary Tudor was a semi-important character, so there was a lot in it about the clash of Catholicism and Protestantism (IIRC). It wasn't sermonizing, it was just a fact of life that religion was a big part of daily activities.

I think medievals should show how religion was a big part of life; I'm sure a lot of people just accepted it and went about their daily life without thinking about it much. If I was reading a medieval and the main characters went around thinking and talking about religion all the time, it would be tough to enjoy - I'm reading for the romance after all, and frankly if a character is extremely pious and devoted, it's hard to make me believe that they would put love before religion (i.e. stop becoming a nun/priest/monk for love).

As for the actual 'language' of religion, I think that authors avoid it in contemporaries unless they're writing inspirationals, but the words are still quite powerful and evocative, so they use them in historicals where different language is accepted. It's kind of a shame, because the words themselves are not inherently religious - being saved, forgiveness, etc.
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Natalie



Joined: 25 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 11:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In Uncommon Vows, Mary Jo Putney's only medieval, both heroine and hero were trained in the abbey/monastery. The hero especially is in conflict between the higher morals that Christianity asks from him and what he has to do as a lord and a warrior, and his own dark desires. I found it very fascinating and true to the period.
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georgie Lee



Joined: 17 Sep 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 3:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Terri Brisbin in The King's Mistress includes a priest who is very instrumental in brining the hero and heroin together. Also, the heroine works closely with another priests to transcribe his Latin. Ms. Brisbin does a good job of showing how influential the clergy were in learning and politics during the middle ages.
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cawm



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 210
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 3:50 pm    Post subject: Re: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

NoirFemme wrote:

One thing I do find interesting is that religion, despite being a large part of the lives of Medieval society, has little play in the characters of Medieval romances of today.


Religion often plays a large part in Claudia Dain's medievals, especially The Marriage Bed and The Holding. Both books were on my Top 100 list, despite lukewarm reviews here at AAR. Mrs. Giggles has very positive reviews of both titles. ( Ignore the covers, which are horrible.)
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Sandlynn



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 5:43 pm    Post subject: Re: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

NoirFemme wrote:
I just completed Claiming The Courtesan and was struck suddenly by the many mentions of prayer, redemption, forgiveness, and the like. Then I recalled that many historical romances use this device and that many contemporary romances I've read(at least the non-African American ones) rarely, if ever, mention God, redemption, forgiveness, etc in regard to their hero and/or heroine's characterization and conflicts. Is the historical setting hardwired to be more "religious", stock phrases and characterizations familiar with the historical romance, or is it something else?

One thing I do find interesting is that religion, despite being a large part of the lives of Medieval society, has little play in the characters of Medieval romances of today. The only places I've found it to be are in the works of Roberta Gellis.


I do recall the church being an important actor, at least in the beginning of the book, in Laura Kinsale's "For My Lady's Heart". That's understandable because the church was a big power center, holding enormous wealth, commanding armies, siding for or against kings, and being, I believe, almost the only source of an education.

As for contemporary romances, although not strictly a romance, certainly Tim Farrington's "The Monk Upstairs" and its sequel would qualify as a book that includes spiritual concerns.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 6:12 pm    Post subject: Re: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

Interestingly, religion is used much more frequently in mystery novels with historical settings (Sister Fidelma, Brother Cadfael, etc.)

NoirFemme wrote:


One thing I do find interesting is that religion, despite being a large part of the lives of Medieval society, has little play in the characters of Medieval romances of today. The only places I've found it to be are in the works of Roberta Gellis.
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msaggie



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 694

PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 7:56 pm    Post subject: Re: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

NoirFemme wrote:
One thing I do find interesting is that religion, despite being a large part of the lives of Medieval society, has little play in the characters of Medieval romances of today. The only places I've found it to be are in the works of Roberta Gellis.

I think religion may be intentionally ignored in the current crop of medievals - is it part of being "politically correct" - akin to stories with aristocratic heroines being best friends with their maids ("no social class issues to be addressed"), or the excess of plantation owner heroes who are freeing their slaves long before the abolitionist movement. Religion certainly it played a very large part of medieval people's lives. Other medieval books where the is significant mention of religion in the characters' lives are in Connie Willis' Doomsday Book (reviewed here, a medieval time-travel, but not romance really), and Judith Merkle Riley's Margaret of Ashbury books.
Sandlynn wrote:
I do recall the church being an important actor, at least in the beginning of the book, in Laura Kinsale's "For My Lady's Heart". That's understandable because the church was a big power center, holding enormous wealth, commanding armies, siding for or against kings, and being, I believe, almost the only source of an education.

As for contemporary romances, although not strictly a romance, certainly Tim Farrington's "The Monk Upstairs" and its sequel would qualify as a book that includes spiritual concerns.
Laura Kinsale's Shadowheart (sequel to For My Lady's Heart) also alludes to the dominance of the church in people's thinking - e.g. Allegreto's very real fear of eternal damnation. LaVyrle Spencer's Then Came Heaven is a lovely sweet romance between a nun and a widower (it did not get a high grade at AAR).

Fantasy romance books such as Sharon Shinn's Samaria series, and Bujold's Chalion series also explore religion to some extent.
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Kass



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't particularly like having Christianity pushed on me, but given how many younger sons of the nobility were given clerical positions I'm surprised we haven't seen more books like the one I read (and rather liked) of Catherine Coulter's Sherbrooke series about the vicar brother. One can present religious people as characters without being offensive.
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Nana



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:28 pm    Post subject: Re: Religion in Historical Romance Reply with quote

msaggie wrote:
Other medieval books where the is significant mention of religion in the characters' lives are in Connie Willis' Doomsday Book (reviewed here, a medieval time-travel, but not romance really), and Judith Merkle Riley's Margaret of Ashbury books.


Fun fact: Judith Merkle Riley is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, which my brother attended, where she is famous for classes in which you almost can't help but get an A. A friend of my brother's on the Stags football team described his academic career as "majoring in Merkle."
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