Contemporary voice in a historical novel – from the Eloisa James & Julia Quinn BB

I’m currently writing a romance set in 1821 and I’ve been getting conflicting advice from people who are also writers, but who don’t necessarily read/write in this genre. I’ve gotten reviews that the dialogue and internal thinking is spot-on, but others feel that my characters are too “modern” in their thinking. My question for you is, how do you achieve a balance between setting it back in time enough to make it historical, but bring in enough contemporary thinking to make the characters resonate with a modern audience?


I wrote: One thing that’s important to remember is that all Freud’s theories, and the vocabulary of psychology to describe those theories, didn’t exist then. Words like ego, fixate, fantasize, Oedipal, which we all use so casually now, were not available in those definitions in the early 19th Century.

It’s always possible to use period terms to describe what we would now describe in psychological terms, as one could suppose an astute student of human behavior in the early 19th Century would come to many of the same conclusions as a modern psychologist, though without using the specialized terminology. For instance, where we might describe someone as having a “massive ego,” a 19th century sage could note that someone has an “overweening sense of self-esteem.”

One way is to check words in the Oxford English Dictionary, which offers dates and citations showing when a word entered the English language.

Good luck!

Does that dictionary handle idioms, too?

Yes, it does. If you have the on-line version, either purchased on-line or available through some libraries (often university,) it will take you directly to the phrase in question. There’s also the Oxford Dictionary of Slang.

Check my website under “Language” for more books about word usage.


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