In the fifth installment of Historical Fiction 101, Diane Vaughn discusses including romance in a work of historical fiction.
Historical Fiction 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Historical Fiction
Part 5: Romance
by Diane Vaughn
Does your story have an element of romance? Most of my stories, modern or not, have romance in them to go along with the other plot points. If you are writing romance in your historical fiction, it is important to keep in mind that dating centuries ago was much different than it is in modern times. In modern times, a man and a woman usually go out to dinner and engage in some type of social activity such as a movie or dancing, and they do this without the interference of family. We have much more sexual freedom in modern times thanks to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s as opposed to past time periods where a woman having sexual relations before marriage was considered so taboo that men often did not even consider her for marriage, although it would be wrong to say that premarital hanky-panky did not happen.
In the past, dating was called courting, and it was often a ritual by which a man would choose a woman as his potential wife. The average coming of age was often as young as thirteen years old due to the high mortality rate of bearing children. After choosing a potential mate, the young man and his parents would arrange a meeting with the object of his interest and her family and set up a meeting where the young couple to be could get to know one another better (with the parents having tea in another room). A ‘date’ between potential couples often involved attending dances at the local church in the company of family and friends.
Marriage in upper social circles was more often an arrangement of convenience with little thought to love because most marriages were arranged for mutual benefit of the families. The son and his family would have to sit at a negotiating table and convince the family of his bride that he had the means to support his new wife in the manner to which she was accustomed. The father of the bride was expected to provide a dowry, usually in the form of land or money that would set the contract for the union between the son and daughter. In these higher social circles, the social status of the potential husband or wife was paramount, and could be the deal maker or breaker. In other words, the governor’s daughter would realistically not be allowed to wed the blacksmith.
In lower social circles, it was not as imperative to wed for property since people were generally poorer. It was much more feasible for a man and a woman to marry for love as well as mutual benefit, and they often did not need the approval of their parents, although obtaining the blessing was still an honorable thing to do. Once an engagement happened, the couple would take out the Banns, which was an announcement of engagement in their church and was much cheaper than purchasing a marriage license.
A great resource for reading more about courtship and marriage can be found here.