Saturday, 13 October 2012
Saturday Rave: King Alfred and the cakes.
In a historical novel, which things have to be true?
I do wish I knew the answer to that.
What I value above all in a historical novel is some attempt at the mind-set of another age. A spooky romance set in Tudor England will, ideally, have a different flavour from one set in the Italian mountains in about 1800.
For me, a flashing-eyed heroine saying la, sir! as she gathers up the skirts of her redingote just isn't good enough.
I have to say, though, that large fortunes are made by writers whose flashing-eyed heroines say la, sir! while gathering up the skirts of their redingotes, which just goes to show how much I know.
Anyway, King Alfred. It's a nice little story. The great warrior king, hero of all his people, gets it in the neck (not literally) because he fails to notice the housewife's cakes are burning.
Is it true?
I don't know. But once you've witnessed the vicissitudes of a man's relationship with his frying pan then you have to accept that the legend isn't outside the bounds of possibility.
And you also have to accept that, fortunately for the historical novelist, some things will always chime with the spirit of the age.
Word To Use Today If You Really Must: redingote. This word started off as riding coat, was exported to France, and came back redingote. A redingote is either a full-skirted coat of the 1700s or 1800s:
This is a redingote á la hussar.
or a 1700s dress cut open at the front to show off a fancy petticoat: