Tag Archives: history

Self-Censorship

Recently, my home office was painted, and now I’m slowly putting it back together, organizing stuff that has been in boxes for months now (since we moved house in April). One thing I stumbled across was a map of Civil War battles. It’s not mine; I think it belongs to one of my kids. But I stopped to look at it and thought, fleetingly, of writing a book set in the Old South. And then I thought:

But I’m not allowed to do that.

At least, not in a way that romanticizes that time and lifestyle.

You have to understand that 1. I grew up in the American South, and 2. I love Gone with the Wind. Which I’m also pretty sure I’m not allowed to love anymore, but while I can definitely see that it’s problematic, I can’t hate it. I used to watch that movie every time I was home sick from school. We read the book in high school, too, and I enjoyed it as well. Then I fell in love with the North and South miniseries (though I never did make it through the books). These things are just my jam.

And maybe it’s because I grew up with a fascination for history, and my area history in particular, which included a number of plantations. But the fact that I feel the need to make excuses for things I enjoy—that’s where I start to get uncomfortable. Because again, though I see and acknowledge the problems of our past, and of putting a romantic veneer over it, I still love a good Southern Belle love story. As they say, the heart wants what it wants.

But I’m not supposed to want to read books like that. Or write them. Books set in the pre-Civil War era are now meant to be serious, and to highlight the gravity of how terrible slavery was. IT WAS. I don’t even think we can comprehend it. I’m still blown away by how recent civil rights are, that my dad went to a segregated school for a big chunk of his life. Like, what??? I can’t wrap my brain around it.

And maybe that’s another part of my problem. I can understand and appreciate a love story, regardless of setting. But I can’t do that for something as enormous as our slave-weighted past. I freely admit my failings here, and I am in no way suggesting slavery was anything but a blight on our history.

Still, being told what I can and can’t like to read, or watch, or what I can or can’t write… It’s a kind of censorship. That I’m supposed to self-inflict in order to be politically correct. Sort of like not eating all the fudge because, you know, that’s bad for me and also not nice to anyone else who wanted some fudge. Writing a Southern Belle romance would be considered both bad for me and not nice to anyone who finds that setting problematic (except when being explored as a terrible thing).

I don’t write sexy books because I don’t like them. But I don’t shame writers or readers of that kind of thing. And it’s considered progressive to be “sex positive.” Yet I’m pretty sure if I wrote a historical romance set in the Old South, I’d have people jumping all over me for it. Because that’s the opposite of progressive, I guess.

I don’t really even know what I’m trying to say here. I’m thinking (typing) out loud in a more stream-of-consciousness way. It’s a fine line to walk. Big picture is the way that the PC mindset is in some ways actually restricting rather than freeing.

Books: The Talisman of Set by Sara Hylton

This is, it seems, the time for me to go re-read books I haven’t read in years. First Jack Douglas, now this one, which I first read when I was 14 or 15 years old. I’d found it at the library, quite by accident, but due to a love of gothic romances and Ancient Egypt, this was right up my alley.

The Talisman of Set is about a woman named Kathy who has vivid dreams about a princess in Ancient Egypt and comes to believe she is the reincarnation of that princess. The question becomes whether she can avoid making the same mistakes in this life. Which is set in the 1920s or 30s… She mentions being eight years old when Tutankhamen’s tomb was found (1922), but later in the novel it isn’t clear how old she is when she finally hies off to Egypt to work on a dig. I’ll assume it’s been at least a decade? It’s weirdly unclear.

Still, I remember loving this book. I never forgot it, and years later found a copy for sale online, which is the copy I own and re-read. I can’t say I enjoyed it as much as the first time. Maybe because I’ve grown since then, but this time I found Kathy a bit obnoxious. And though the cover promises “A Novel of Romance and Danger,” I’d say there’s not a ton of either of those things here.

The book itself was published in 1984, and I feel like we know more about Ancient Egypt now, or at least have better access to research about it. For example, Hylton’s princess has her hair brushed by a servant, but we know they wore wigs most of the time. Also, the princess’ name is Tuia, which I suppose might be a variant of Tuya? Because Tuia is not an Egyptian name. And she mentions jewelry made of stones that I’m not sure they had in Egypt at the time, though I’m no expert in that. In any case, I found some of these things distracting.

It’s not a terrible book by any means, and I devoured it in just a couple days. But I suppose it’s often disappointing to revisit something that’s held a special place in your mind and heart for so long. I’d recommend it to those who like this kind of story. I’m just not sure I’ll read it again.