Words! They Mean Things!

Just so we’re clear, this is actually a writing post, not a Pagan-y post.

Currently, I am reading a book. You may have heard of it. it is called Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn, and it’s a historical fiction novel set during the Year of the Four Emperors.

It’s also driving me batshit insane.

Now, I don’t have what it takes to do the amount of research that is necessary to write a good historical fiction novel, to tell you the truth, I’m horrible with dates, and I think I only passed that Medieval history course I took because my prof. was in a particularly good mood the day of my exam. (Medieval Studies, however, is another story.)

But I’ll tell you what really bugs me, as a person who isn’t particularly versed in historical things who knows a bit about Roman culture….

….the anachronisms.

Protip: Don’t say “dress” when you mean “stola“, especially don’t say the word “gown”, because these words, they mean things in a modern context.

This is a stola:

This is the first image that comes up for me when I search for “dress” using Google Image search:

and, since the text also uses “gown”. Here is the image for a gown:

The problem with using words like “dress” and “gown” to describe clothing like the stola is that even though the stola may technically be a dress, the word “dress” doesn’t quite convey the intended meaning, and, for me at least, it completely breaks my sense of immersion.

And really, readers aren’t stupid.

Seriously, even if a reader doesn’t know what a stola is, the context of the scene should give them some idea, and if they don’t know exactly what it is, they can at least come away with the thought that “Oh, I see, this is a piece of clothing….”

I experienced very much the same thing when I read one of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s books and didn’t know what a chemise was (it’s like a smock) but I could tell that it was an article of clothing from the context (in this case, it was removed during a sex scene).

It wasn’t explained to me, the author didn’t resort to using anachronisms, she just dropped the word in there and let me figure it out.

It’s especially annoying because, in my mind, if you set out to write historical fiction, you should go in expecting that you will need to do a ton of research, and I would think that that research includes looking at Roman clothing and figuring out ways to describe articles of clothing that don’t necessarily hinge on the use of anachronisms.

If I sound like I’m really annoyed with this small thing, it’s because it’s everywhere in this book. Everywhere.


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