Curse you, English language!

Words I can’t use to describe the Army and their supporters in 1648, because these political terms weren’t invented until much later: radical, extremist, republican, revolutionary.

What the hell am I supposed to call them, except “those guys with the sentiments that freaked the shit out of many seventeenth-century English but look pretty familiar to those of us living in modern democracies”?

(And that’s a whole separate problem — figuring out how to present Antony’s feelings on the Levellers and their ilk, when many of the things the Levellers stood for are the conservative end of ideals we cherish dearly today. The easy solution would be to make him a sympathizer to their cause, but that’s what we call an author cheesing out on historical accuracy. Most people at the time thought the Levellers were trying to destroy the fabric of society. So: find ways to say Antony thinks democracy is a bad idea, without making readers dislike him for it. Somehow.)

0 Responses to “Curse you, English language!”

  1. fenrah

    Republicans. lol.

    People often like a character who is kind to animals and children even if he appears to hold unattractive political views. (If he’s not kind to animals and children…um, we just may not like him.)

    • Marie Brennan

      So I should take out that scene where he drop-kicks a flaming teacup poodle into a wagon-load of orphans and gunpowder?

      • squirrel_monkey

        I’ll give you five bucks if you put that scene in!

        Seriously though, I would imagine that in the society predicated on the god-sanctioned rights of the few, democracy would be quite easy to disagree with in a logical manner.

        • Marie Brennan

          Logical, yes. But sympathetic to your average reader? That’s harder.

          • squirrel_monkey

            I’m not so sure — considering that people who like historical fiction usually go for accuracy rather than a modern sensibility. Loyalty to the crown/oath/whatever usually helps with the unsympathetic aspect.

          • Marie Brennan

            I’m probably okay with historical fiction readers, yes. But I also want to think about fantasy readers for whom historicals aren’t their usual bag.

            And unfortunately, this period defies that kind of loyalty. To be loyal to the crown, Antony would have to be deluding himself that Charles intends to keep any of his promises — or else be so power-hungry himself that he’s all for unchecked monarchy, because he thinks he can profit from it. To be loyal to Parliament, Antony would have to overlook the rampant corruption and illegal measures they’ve been taking for the last six or eight years, in the course of prosecuting their grievances against the crown. (He’d also have to be a hell of a lot more Puritan than he is.) The only other major side — insofar as me dividing this into sides even makes sense, which isn’t much, given the Gordion knot that is affiliation in this period — is the Army, backed by the Levellers, who at this point are talking about whacking off the King’s head and getting rid of monarchy, peerage, and episcopacy entirely, not to mention the current (corrupt) Parliament.

            I can say, and it will be entirely true, that Antony doesn’t like Leveller sentiments because the last thing England needs is more chaos. But when you get down to it, what the Levellers want is an expanded franchise that incorporates even the “meaner sort” of men, and regular elections so Parliament will be answerable to the people for its actions. Opposition to that, in seventeenth-century terms, mostly boils down to a belief that the lower classes can’t be trusted to run the country as well as gentlemen of breeding can.

            Which doesn’t go over so well nowadays — at least not in such overt terms.

          • squirrel_monkey

            One can be loyal to the idea of parliament/throne instead their imperfect execution. But of course the belief in inborn superiority has to be in there — it just could be downplayed, IMO, if it bothers you.

      • moonandserpent

        No, that should be the new focus of the book!

      • fenrah

        Oh, man. I take it back. I’ll read the book for that scene alone!

  2. moonandserpent

    This is why I have embraced anachronistic language out the ying yang. Because that shit drives me nuts!

    But you, on the other hand, do not treat historical accuracy as a two-dollar whore.

  3. drydem

    mob rule?
    a cobbler telling a king how to run a country?
    an end to property rights?

    • Marie Brennan

      Similar things, yes — but I want an adjective, dammit, so I don’t have to stop my sentence dead for a descriptive phrase every time.

      • drydem


        • Marie Brennan

          Really, the period word I’m looking for is “Leveller.” But that isn’t immediately transparent to people who don’t know who they were.

          • mindstalk

            Surely you won’t be avoiding the word ‘Leveller’?

            I’m imagining a passage wherein he or someone rants about the Levellers, which gets across what they want.

          • Marie Brennan

            No, I’m not avoiding it, and yes, I do have a bit giving context to the term. But even if that were the suitable word in all contexts (which it isn’t), it gets repetitive pretty fast.

          • mindstalk

            Wikipedia says the term ‘agitator’ was invented at the time, and that the Agitators had somewhat similar ideas to the Levellers. And pamphlets involved a lot; ‘pamphleteers’, with a tone of contempt for grubby political activists? “disruptive elements”? “Dissenters”?

            Heh, The Putney Debates of 1647 starts Chapter 2 with a note that the fallen angels in Paradise Lost promptly had a parliamentary debate.

          • Marie Brennan

            The Agitators were specifically-designated individuals in the Army; it wasn’t a general term yet. Pamphleteers could and did publish for a wide variety of causes, not all of them radical. Disruptive, yes; dissenter carries particular echoes nowadays wrt to the Church of England.

            I never should have let myself start looking things up in the OED.

          • mindstalk

            Heh. Well, all this led me to Googling ‘levellers’ again, which led me to a Christian pacifist blog, which led to me defending an idea of effective cops not armed with guns (even when the criminals are armed, so don’t bring up bobbies), and then later to googling up aikido (which I studied a bit as a kid) and hapkido… chain o’ associations. And pacifism makes me think of the Nox on SG-1.

  4. dsgood

    I’ve read that John Lilburne wanted the franchise for every Englishman above the rank of servant. (And I’m told that, for example, a company president would be considered a servant.) And this was radical for the time.

    Heck, when I was growing up in the 1950s: “Homosexuality is a mental illness” was the liberal position. Southern liberals in office were segregationists, at least in public.

    What will our political views and groupings — all along the spectrum — look like a few centuries from now?

    • Marie Brennan

      I don’t know about the company president thing, but my understanding is that he originally pushed for every head of a household, but agreed to exclude servants and beggars as a part of his negotiations with Ireton et al. What’s fascinating is that apparently, somewhere during the Putney debates, it was acknowledged that heads of households aren’t always male. I don’t know if that’s true, though, and unfortunately I don’t have the time and energy to read up on the debates and find out for sure.

  5. mindstalk

    I note that sympathetic characters in Jane Austen still have conventional for the time notions of class and female submission and sexual purity, just not ideas of female incompetence, or ranking property above love or at least good sense.

    Can you find denunciations of Levellers and Diggers, to plunder for language? Or failing that, Chartists — 2 centuries later, and post-French Revolution, but maybe something salvageable.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve got a book on radical movements of the 17th century, and I’m hoping I’ll find words there — but I have a couple other things to read before I get to that.

  6. clodfobble

    Can I ask a dumb question? Why do the readers have to like Antony? I mean, I’m sure you have your reasons, but I for one like protagonists with severe flaws. Like Gaius Baltar, for example (if you don’t watch Battlestar Galactica, well, there’s your problem right there :)…) He is sniveling, cowardly, and smarmy as all get-out, and yet somehow the audience wants him to succeed and be happy just as much as the others.

    But in the opposite direction, in the fourth book of Stephen King’s Gunslinger series, Wizard and Glass, the bad guys were trying to establish a democracy. I don’t remember too many specifics of how it was presented, but I know I still sympathized with the good guys.

    • Marie Brennan

      This audience doesn’t want Baltar to succeed and be happy; I’m just shy of the end of season two, and I cannot stand him.

      In general, I as a reader have a hard time with stories that feature unsympathetic characters. It’s influenced by many factors, of course — I loved The Prestige — but one of them is, how important is this character to the story? It’s easier to get away with one unlikeable person if you have an ensemble cast, as BSG does. Antony, unfortunately, is half the novel.

      Which does not mean I’m going to make him entirely loveable and nice, because that would be a quick road to having nobody care about him. He has these political views, and they are not the views of the reader. But I also don’t want to make them repugnant and hope folks will suck it up and keep reading. What I want to do — what I’m trying to do — is present something the reader disagrees with in their personal life, in a manner that’s understandable in the context of the story. In other words, to show how Antony’s views aren’t a flaw, in the political and social environment of his time.

      Does that make sense? I may go re-read Wizard and Glass, since I’ve managed to mostly forget that aspect, and I’m curious how King presented it.

      • fenrah

        I think in Wizard and Glass, King gets away with it because (a) he doesn’t ever use the sacred word “democracy” to describe the bad guy’s intentions (I don’t remember him doing so anyway) and (b) he makes it obvious that no matter what the bad guys say, what they really want is power for themselves and their leader. Also, the bad guys are mean to the mentally handicapped. This goes a long way towards making everybody hate them.

        I guess you could have Antony dislike the Levellers on the grounds that what they want is not possible – that regular people aren’t educated enough to make it work, and so kingship would just go to someone in the shadows who was able to manipulate them. Instead of having an open king, you’d have a secret king.

        So then your character’s argument would not be that democracy is repugnant, but that it is impractical. That seems less unattractive to me.

        • Marie Brennan

          To non-Levellers, it basically boiled down to rule by the mob, complicated by the fact that it would be achieved by way of a military coup d’etat, which could easily turn into rule by the sword. If that’s what you associate with democracy, then no, it doesn’t look very good.

          • fenrah

            Question: Is Antony an anti-hero? Are we supposed to like him because he’s mad, bad, and dangerous to know, or are we supposed to like him because he’s conventionally likeable?

          • Marie Brennan

            mad, bad, and dangerous to know

            <laughs hysterically>

            Er, no. Though I may someday have Lord Byron in these books, either in his own person or in a character inspired by him, Antony is a respectable citizen with perhaps a higher dedication to his duty than is good for him.

          • fenrah

            Heehee. So, you’ve got an earnest young man. Sometimes they’re harder to like.

          • Marie Brennan

            Earnest thirty-something man, actually, with a wife and kids.

            In other words, not your standard fantasy protagonist.

  7. sartorias

    I think I’d go for interim language–phrase- and term-borrowing heavily from Henry Esmond because it makes the period so much more accessible, yet still has that ring of truth.

      • sartorias

        The full title is The History of Henry Esmond, by Thackeray. And while modern audiences pretty well get squicked by the story of a young man marrying his step-mother (and feminists barf at her kittenish submissiveness at the end that the author about bends himself backward to hint that restores her maidenhood) the rest of the story is so powerful that it really kicked off historical novels for a second wave, after Scott’s era died down. It and its sequel The Virginians. I think it’s responsible for the plethora of Cavalier versus Roundhead historicals that were produced, right down to ya novels of Geoffrey Trease, for decades afterward.

  8. airycat

    insurgents? rabblerousers? madmen? Je ne sais pas quoi.

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