Friday, October 26, 2007

I take my history in novel form.



I wonder who was the twit who saw this pretty plant and said, "Let's call it Pigface." I've planted some along the side of the main veggie patch with the thought of pollination in mind, and I was appalled when Mum said that's what it was called. I suppose if you squint, stand on your head and look sideways at it then the flowers might appear to be pigs' snouts, but honestly I think there'd also have to be a major amount of chemicals running through your system at the same time. I really likes this plant, but now I've gone off it a bit. Maybe this proves that a rose by any other name DOESN"T smell as sweet.

I'll be writing more about books, after a fabulous comment I received on the last post. She reminded me about Jean Plaidy. Every Saturday morning I used to walk up to Highett library with one of those old lady wheely shopping carts filled with books and spend a halcyon hour or so browsing the shelves for my fix for the next week. Jean Plaidy was one of my favourite authors. Prolific! My God the woman could churn them out. She also wrote gothic romantic fiction under the name Victoria Holt and I sampled a few of them, but my true love was for her historical 'faction'. I learned so much history from reading her work, and I'm sure that she's coloured how I regard historical figures even today. Catherine de Medici, for example. The woman was a queen of France and poisoned people left right and centre. Towards the end of her life people got nervous if she looked at them for too long. Yet I regard her with a tinge of fondness. She had it tough when she was a girl....

Am I the only one who learned history through reading fiction? At school the only interesting year of history we did was in Year 7. Egypt, Rome, etc. Then for the next 5 years it was set down that we had to do Australian history. For the first couple of years it wasn't so bad. There's Ned Kelly, the Eureka stockade, explorers trudging off into the deserts and carking it, the gold rushes....
But we've only got about 200 years of history. There's only so much sensational things you can learn about before the mundane and dreary take over. (And yes I know the Aborigines have about 40,000 more, but they didn't write any of it down, and so we poor school kids were forced to learn about squatters and Federation year after year.) In my last year of high school I rebelled and ended up learning European history by correspondence. Yes, that was probably the extent of my teenage rebellion that year. I lived life on the edge, baby...

European history, even by correspondence was more interesting than sheep farmers and explorers dying in the desert (again). It was this subject that introduced me to Renaissance art. I still remember being blown away by the sculpture, the paintings and the absolute attention to detail. But the lesson content was still a bit dry, full of legislation for this and negotiations for that. I wanted Henry the eighth striding down a hallway in Hampton Court with his retinue around him. I wanted colour, movement and passion. In short... I wanted my historical novels.

I'm still a sucker for them.

9 comments:

lightening said...

Oh no...I just wrote you this *huge* novel length response and then forgot to hit publish (I think). *sob*. It was a true masterpiece too....LOL. Not really.

I will try again but if the other one turns up, just delete this one and pretend you never saw it....

History! I have to rate that right up there with maths!!!! Ugh.... Mind you, Australian History was our *most* interesting history. Most of what I did at school was Asian History (the beauty of changing schools - I got to cover it more than once).

I missed that many lessons in year 10 that my teacher had trouble grading me. In fact, I got a "satisfactory" for effort. Now, I don't think I had EVER been given an "s" for effort - even in maths I mostly managed a "good" (don't ask me how). Anyway, history teacher was also my form teacher who gave out the reports and I managed to get her to upgrade me to a "good". :-)

European History would have been much more interesting (although probably still as gory as Asian History - I'm not a huge fan of "gore").

I too, learnt most of what I *do* know (which isn't all that much really) through novels. Hope the writers were somewhat accurate in what they wrote.

One of my favourite books we studied at school was Wuthering Heights. One of the few books that I actually enjoyed *more* after pulling it to pieces rather than being completely sick of.

I think I'll have to see what historical fiction our library has next time I'm in town....

Kin said...

Ah yes. I found my love of medieval history through novels. The large number of biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine on my bookshelf (last count there were 5) will no doubt indicate which specific area of medieval history interests me.

I avoided history as early as possible. In fact my only "D" in primary school was an Australian history assignment. Far too boring for me and i didn't even try.

If only they'd taught crusades, the Knights Templar and any one of the wars between France and England (take your pick really) history might be a more popular subject.

Scott said...

I can just picture you with your granny trolley at the library! Havn't read much historical fiction, but I'm intending to give that noveloy you lent me about Richard III a go.

Briget said...

I love Jean Plaidy too, but can't believe I didn't know she was also Victoria Holt! I used to read Victoria Holt novels on the long train journey to work in my early twenties, but haven't read any of hers for so long. Still dip into Jean Plaidy now and again. Like getting my history lessons in such an enjoyable way.

Our Red House said...

I quite liked Australian history. I had a great history teacher who really encouraged us to think about race issues etc (thank you Mrs Davies).

I even began Australian History Honours in my 2nd year at Sydney Uni but the course was cancelled due to lack of interest (only 3 students)!

Frogdancer said...

Eleanor of Aquitaine.... what an amazing woman. I would've loved to have been around when she divorced the king of France because she'd only given him 2 daughters, and then turned around 5 minutes later and married the king of England. She then went on to have approximately one billion kids* with him, of course most of them were sons. Can you imagine the furore that would've gone on? What a woman!

*I'm not good with numbers. Their family may have been slightly smaller than I've led you to believe.

Suse said...

Me again.

I suspect we're the same vintage (similar aged boys but you're one up on me). Australian History at my school was just sheep, explorers and gold rush.

Now I'm back at uni doing ancient and medieval history and having the time of my life. In fact here I am blogging when I should be writing an essay on the importance of patronage in the art of the Ottonian empire.

ps. Flowers in the Attic compulsive reading also pins me to your vintage, I believe.

Kris said...

I can still quote you the Tudor and Stuart line of succession thanks to Jean Plaidy. I was appalled when my Yr 9 histroy teacher, who thought Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots were the same person. Didn't he know M QS was pretty and MT was an ugly old bag with a hopeless crush on her philandering and cynical Spanish husband? I love, love, loved that kind of history. The dresses! The romance! The betrayal! None of that kind of glamour in Aus. history as it was taught in my high school.

Then I went to uni and had an appalling lecturer who used to ramble on, take swigs out of a hip flask and killed my love of Tudor and Stuart history. I haven't revisited it for decades. But Aus. history, well that turns out to be pretty interesting after all, even if the dresses weren't as fancy as I would like.

But in terms of instilling an interest in social history, you can't do better than Ingalls Wilder. But is there anything like that for the Aus. context? I'd love to put them away for my girls to read in a few years time.

Frogdancer said...

The only book I can come up with at the moment is the Ruth Park novel "Playing Beattie Bow". There was a movie made of it, but I've never seen it. It's about a modern-day girl who gets transported back in time to Sydney in the 1800s. It's fabulous... plenty of bits and pieces about what life was like back then. I mean what it was REALLY like. It's not romanticised much. It's good for early teens I guess... even a bit younger if your daughter is a mature reader.