That seminal event of 1820 may have given some people nightmares: the peers who had to spend August listening to scurrilous testimony in the stuffy Lords chamber, instead of relaxing on their country estates. But why did I care? Why did I rush with trembling hands to my history books praying that I’d remembered the date wrong, or the date in my book was wrong, or somebody else was wrong.
|The Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter. All my characters missed it.|
Alas, no. I was wrong. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is set in summer 1820 and a good part of the action takes place at a very grand political house party. In July/August 1820. When the entire English political establishment was stuck in London.
How did I come to make such a mistake? I’d written the book, revised the book, gone through copy edits and galleys. And it never occurred to me. Ouch.
To be fair, national events don’t impinge on the plot. The story could equally well have been set a year or two sooner, or later. The opening bears the date 1820 because it follows on from two books in the same series, the first of which was set in 1819 for a reason I cannot now remember.
I passed from shock to resentment. Why do we have to put dates in our books anyway? Jane Austen didn’t. Georgette Heyer didn’t. Unless one includes a real event, like the Battle of Waterloo, the exact year doesn’t matter.
I was already working on the next book which has a political setting. Looking at the events of that year I came up with “the great cabinet reshuffle of 1822,” not words to thrill anyone but the most dedicated political history geek. Also, I’d invented a family (loosely based on the dukes of Portland) at the very center of English politics. So I decided to liberate myself from the day to day reality of history and select a few broad themes around which to weave my romance. I didn’t even name the family's political party, though the savvy reader will spot them for Whigs.
In Anthony Trollope I have an illustrious example. His novels feature a couple of politicians whom contemporary readers certainly identified as Disraeli and Gladstone. No, the Duke of Omnium was never Prime Minister. Heck, Trollope even invented the entire county of Barsetshire.
I’m thinking of omitting dates from future books. Meanwhile, my mistake really irks me.
P.S. The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton was published over three months ago and not a single person has pointed out my mistake.