PDA

View Full Version : Get your time period references straight!



happywritermom
10-19-2010, 12:17 AM
Ugh!
I'm reading a very good book by a well-known author that is set in the Adirondack Mountains in the 1930s. I was enjoying it greatly until the main character pondered the "suburbs" of Albany and Utica. Then, just a few pages later, a character referred to a Model A Ford with the rear passenger seats removed and replaced by a wooden box-like structure as a "pick-up truck."
My suspension of disbelief is gone.

whacko
10-19-2010, 12:34 AM
Hi happywritermom,

I don't know if the suburb thing is a geographical reference that I don't get. But John Betjeman wrote a poem dedicated to the suburbs in the 1930s. And I'm fairly confident that Henry Ford had pick-up trucks in the showrooms from about 1915, maybe earlier.

So it seems alright to me. But I could be wrong. And I usually am.

happywritermom
10-19-2010, 12:42 AM
I did some research and I was wrong about the pickups. The first pick up was a Model T Ford sold in 1925. But the term suburb was not used to fondly describe any nonurban area until after WWII. Prior to that, it generally described the areas on the fringes of cities where the poorest people lived. In this book, he comtemplates the suburbs fondly, like he's daydreaming of backyard BBQs, beers and freshly mowed lawns.

blacbird
10-19-2010, 02:16 AM
I did some research and I was wrong about the pickups. The first pick up was a Model T Ford sold in 1925. But the term suburb was not used to fondly describe any nonurban area until after WWII.

Not so sure about this. There's a famous salacious erotic novel from the Victorian Era titled Suburban Souls. Maybe the term was in earlier use in England than in the U.S., but it definitely did exist well prior to the 1930s. For further info, I found this:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/20001376

Stlight
10-19-2010, 02:38 AM
The Victorian London suburbs were divided into areas for different classes from the aristocracy to the wealthy by trade to the upper middle doctors, lawyers and professional men having one suburb and wealthy merchants another on down to the working classes. If the trains ran to the suburbs the area was for clerks or the workking class, no trains or difficult to reach trains indicated wealth. (Reference Inside the Victorian House by Judith Flanders.

ETA: From Wikipedia The first recorded usage, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_English_Dictionary), comes from Wycliffe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wycliffe) in 1380, where the form subarbis is used.... The modern American usage of the term came about during the course of the 19th century, as improvements in transportation and sanitation made it possible for wealthy developments to exist on the outskirts of cities...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

Mr Flibble
10-19-2010, 02:41 AM
See, this is what can daunt people.

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=5429277#post5429277


It's perfectly possible for the writer to be correct - and perfectly possible for them not to be. Without extensive knowledge/research ( and even then....) what you think is 'right' may not be. Or could be. Or could be 'tweaked' for verisimilitude or....


I think writers should try to get it right as much as possible.

But someone will always cry foul - whether there is a foul or not (don't know in this case tbh). It happens in every genre. *forbears from ranting *


Interesting (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=suburb&searchmode=none) : Suburbia from 14th century, suburb from 1895. Local interpretations/connotations will vary.
Point is - was the story good?

jennontheisland
10-19-2010, 02:56 AM
Suburbia may have been in use in the UK, but in backwoods Adirondacks areas? Perhaps not so much.

whacko
10-19-2010, 03:02 AM
There's a famous salacious erotic novel from the Victorian Era titled Suburban Souls.

Famous salacious Victorian novel added to reading list.

Don't tell me it's Moby Dick. :D

BTW, Idiotsrus is getting a point for a useless self-conglatutory link. You need to scroll up the page to get the true meaning.:tongue

Regards

happywritermom
10-19-2010, 03:03 AM
Great info! My point was that the author used "suburbs" in the modern sense. The European suburbs during the industrial age were the areas just outside the city where the poorest of poor lived. Not desirable places. The term was not in use as we know it now back in the early 1930s. It was just jarring to read amongst references to Mount Marcy, Giant Mountain and Cascade.

Stlight
10-19-2010, 04:24 AM
London suburbs
Denmark Hill - Belgravia of south London
Sydenham, Highgate, Barnes, Richmond - for the very Wealthy


Other suburbs according to Flanders:
Kentish Town - doctors, lawyers
St John's Woods - authors, journalists, and publishers
Tyburnia, Bayswater, Haverstock Hill, Brixton, Chlapham, Kennington, Stockwell - City men stockbrokers, merchants, and commerical agents

Other suburbs of London were for the working classes. The very poor seem to have stayed in London.

Of course things may have been different in Europe. But if the working class were living in the suburbs there had to be a quick cheap way to get them into the city to work. I would think that New York would have fashioned itself after London rather than Paris or Rome, but I could be wrong.

mscelina
10-19-2010, 04:47 AM
Of course things may have been different in Europe. But if the working class were living in the suburbs there had to be a quick cheap way to get them into the city to work. I would think that New York would have fashioned itself after London rather than Paris or Rome, but I could be wrong.

Albany is a relatively small city in upstate New York, nowhere close to NYC. I'm reasonably certain it didn't have suburbs in 1930; at that time the conglomerate of Albany-Schenectady-Troy wasn't, well, really conglomerated and the population of the city was barely over 100,000 people. If I'd encountered the word 'suburbs' in conjunction with Albany and the Adirondacks (most mountains don't have suburbs!), I would have been knocked right out of the story too.

Stlight
10-19-2010, 04:56 AM
Okay, good to know. As I referenced my sources are all for England. It was my assumption that similarities would be closer to England than Europe.

I also admit a certain bias due to reading about how uncomfortable New York City was in the summer. I admit I didn't look up the distances involved and just had a feeling the area was close to NYC.

However from your discription of the size of the place I now suspect it would depend on the people there.

Soccer Mom
10-19-2010, 05:04 AM
I think an important component in this is that you not only have to be right in your historical context, but you need to sound right. Even if something may be technically correct, if it pulls your reader out of the story, it might need to go bye-bye. That's a case by case basis, of course, but something to consider. Beta readers can be invaluable there. If a certain word bugs more than one beta in one of my books, it needs to go, no matter if it's applicable to the time period.

blacbird
10-19-2010, 07:04 AM
Suburbia may have been in use in the UK, but in backwoods Adirondacks areas? Perhaps not so much.

Well, I doubt there are any areas you could identify as "suburban" in "backwoods Adirondacks areas". To have "suburbs", the first thing you need is "urbs".

Mr Flibble
10-19-2010, 11:33 AM
BTW, Idiotsrus is getting a point for a useless self-conglatutory link. You need to scroll up the page to get the true meaning.:tongue

Regards

Give me a clue. What is the true meaning? Is it 42? :D




identify as "suburban" in "backwoods Adirondacks areas". To have "suburbs", the first thing you need is "urbs"Backwoods anywhere isn't suburbia, indeed.

gothicangel
10-19-2010, 11:43 AM
Not so sure about this. There's a famous salacious erotic novel from the Victorian Era titled Suburban Souls. Maybe the term was in earlier use in England than in the U.S., but it definitely did exist well prior to the 1930s. For further info, I found this:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/20001376

I know this is wiki, but it's interesting. The term was definitely used in the US in the 19th century:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburb

Qbynewbie
10-19-2010, 12:32 PM
Hmmmm. I actually live in what one might consider, at a stretch, the suburbs of Albany. :)

I'm quite curious if the MC referenced by the OP was thinking of the suburbs surrounding Albany and surrounding Utica or was instead thinking of the two suburbs called Albany and Utica. I think the exact context would be interesting here and, if the OP has the time to dash down a small quote from the book in question, would appreciate seeing it.

The 1930 census lists the following city populations:

Albany, NY: 127,412
Schenectady: 95,692
Troy, NY: 72,763

The combined population of the three cities was 295,867 in 1930. The Albany Metropolitan District included another 129,392 people outside of the three main cities, giving a total Metropolitan District population of 425,259. That seems to me to be easily large enough to support surrounding suburbs and, in fact, there were many small cities and towns all along the area between Albany and Glens Falls, 50 miles to the north. At the same time, the population of Utica, NY was 127,412: also large enough to support suburbs. (These areas mostly had larger populations in 1930 than they did 50 years later or more because of the loss of population they experienced over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. )

The term suburb itself is not new. According to Wikipedia:


Prior to the 19th century, suburb often correlated with the outlying areas of cities where work was most inaccessible; implicitly, where the poorest people had to live. The modern American usage of the term came about during the course of the 19th century, as improvements in transportation and sanitation made it possible for wealthy developments to exist on the outskirts of cities, for example in Brooklyn Heights (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Heights).

Qbynewbie
10-19-2010, 12:37 PM
Suburbia may have been in use in the UK, but in backwoods Adirondacks areas? Perhaps not so much.

Even though many may consider us "backwoods Adirondacks areas", let me assure you that we really did have electric lights and indoor plumbing -- even back in 1930. :D

JimmyB27
10-19-2010, 01:22 PM
My favourite examples of historic inaccuracy come from the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. They're presented as Flashman's memoirs, and every so often there's a reference to something that never happened, or it's referenced in the wrong time frame. And they all have footnotes, explaining "Flashman must be misremembering here" or whatever.
I love it, because I always imagine some nitpicky reader going "AHA! Wrong there mister Fraser!", and then flipping to the back and going "grumblegrumblebloodysmartarsewriter". :D

It's a really hard problem because, often, it depends entirely on the reader. For example, I would never have batted an eyelid at suburbs or a Model T pickup.
Ultimately, I think I agree with Soccer Mom, believability is much more important than factual correctness.
But then, as a fantasy writer, it's easy for me to say that. ;)

happywritermom
10-19-2010, 04:09 PM
Qbynewbie, are you an Adirondacker? My hometown of Saranac Lake had the first paved road because this rich guy who vacationed there wanted to experiment with something he called "pavement." It was a strange mix up there of modern and "backwoods" thanks to the huge economic gap between the wealthy New Yorkers who vacationed there and the rest of the population.

Maxx
10-19-2010, 04:12 PM
I did some research and I was wrong about the pickups. The first pick up was a Model T Ford sold in 1925. But the term suburb was not used to fondly describe any nonurban area until after WWII. Prior to that, it generally described the areas on the fringes of cities where the poorest people lived. In this book, he comtemplates the suburbs fondly, like he's daydreaming of backyard BBQs, beers and freshly mowed lawns.

There were streetcar suburbs that were fondly remembered as in whateever musical it is that they sing "Meet me in St. Louis, Louie, meet me at the Fair." which must have represented 1902 from the point of view of about 1940.

Phaeal
10-19-2010, 05:21 PM
My childhood neighborhood in Troy, NY, was considered suburban -- outside the main city -- and many of its houses were built between 1900 and 1920, by the styles. Now I live in a "streetcar" suburb of Providence, where the houses are mostly Victorian or turn-of-the-century. So, yeah, there were suburbs back then. They were generally a lot closer to the city centers than what we now consider suburbs and so don't look so suburb-y to the modern eye.

Qbynewbie
10-19-2010, 08:20 PM
Qbynewbie, are you an Adirondacker? My hometown of Saranac Lake had the first paved road because this rich guy who vacationed there wanted to experiment with something he called "pavement." It was a strange mix up there of modern and "backwoods" thanks to the huge economic gap between the wealthy New Yorkers who vacationed there and the rest of the population.

Well, if I were talking to just about anyone else on this board, I'd simply say "Yup, I'm from the Adirondacks." :-) However, since your hometown is Saranac Lake, you won't consider a guy from Glens Falls (Queensbury, actually) someone from the Adirondacks. And, in truth, my home is six miles south of the southern border of the Adirondack Park.

Context is everything. :D :D :D

By the way, you will know this, but others may not know that the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the country, larger than and national park. And it contains more area than the combined states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (I hope; I've remember that stat for 35 years, so I hope it's right. :D) And areas in it are legislated as being forever wild. It's quite a remarkable resource for the state and the nation. :)

Qbynewbie
10-19-2010, 08:21 PM
Lori, this thread has just given me an amazing idea for a book. Thank you. :)

happywritermom
10-19-2010, 08:39 PM
You're welcome! It's also the oldest mountain range in the world. My nephew and his wife recently moved to Queensbury. He's an Air Force recruiter.

Qbynewbie
10-19-2010, 08:51 PM
Neat. It's a nice place to live. :)

Jamesaritchie
10-22-2010, 07:04 PM
Even though many may consider us "backwoods Adirondacks areas", let me assure you that we really did have electric lights and indoor plumbing -- even back in 1930. :D

Some did, the majority did not. Quite a few still do not.

Jamesaritchie
10-22-2010, 07:06 PM
Writers often get it right, and then readers get it wrong. Such is the case with suburbs and suburbia. It isn't writer error, but it may be a poor choice for the writer simply because readers often think they know something because "everybody knows it".

And as with many issues, the Internet is likely to be as wrong as the reader.