Friday, December 15, 2017

Transportation and Communication Norms: Modern vs. Historical

It is hard for us, with our communication and transportation technology, to envision a world where someone in one town may never, in their life, visit another town that is fifty miles away. Stories in a historical setting have to balance a very fine line between historical accuracy and the modern reader's ability to suspend disbelief and commit to a story. Sometimes a concept is just so foreign that it is impossible to apply. In the case of Courtly Pleasures, the figurative distance between Frances and Henry can, in part, be linked to the literal distance.

Today it would take two hours and thirty-eight minutes to get from Holme Pierrepont (the basis for my fictitious Holme LeSieur) to Hampton Court Palace, depending on traffic. In the sixteenth century, it would have taken at least four days for a lady and her entourage to travel the one hundred and forty four miles -- and that's just travel time. This doesn't take into account the personal items (what a modern traveler might expect but on a much larger scale, literally. I had an Elizabethan gown and underpinnings that weighed forty pounds) and the household furnishings (I don't know about you, but I don't bring tapestries, bedding, beds, etc... with me when I travel) both for the wealthy traveler and their servants and their companions and their companion's servants... There is no guarantee of hospitality at the final destination and the hotels of the day consisted of rooms above a tavern, good only for a night's stay. And let's not forget able bodied gentlemen to act as outriders to both clear the way and ensure safety of the traveling party

And all this effort could only be successful if the roads were in good condition (no department of transportation to maintain a paved surface clear of potholes, flooding, and ruts) and free of bandits (no police force).

Travel was difficult and not undertaken lightly.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The King's Post, by R. C. Tombs

I don't mention any of this in my novel, Courtly Pleasures, because it would take away from the story. However, without laying out the challenges of distance and travel, readers may not be able to put the enormity of effort the simple act of visiting London required into context.

The challenges of travel directly impacted the communication systems of the time. With no post office, any letters would have to be delivered by a paid courier and without any guarantee when or if they would reach their destination. My main character, Frances, would have had someone on staff that she sent with missives to her mother. That courier would wait and bring a reply, but he still had to deal with traveling.

Can you imagine if the only outside information you received was filtered by word of mouth or in inconsistent letters from relatives? You may hear about goings on in the world, but long after the events occurred. You may not know that your brother's wife died or that there was a battle in Scotland or that the Queen was sponsoring exploration in the New World. Today we suffer from an overload of information. If a celebrity wore a certain dress to an event, we know it immediately, even if we don't care. It's hard to imagine a time where we would be ignorant of anything outside the immediate bubble of our household or village.

We have such a wealth of resources at our disposal that it is hard to grasp a time where people did not. I recently, in an interview, stated that I like modern times because of flush toilets and penicillin. Add to that the easy access to any question at the tap of a keyboard and the fact that I can talk, face to face, with my sister in Switzerland. The world has become much smaller...let's hope the distance between us does also.

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