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Silver-Midnight
08-24-2012, 02:32 AM
Okay, even though this post could just as easily go in the Romance forum, I felt that it was still better suited here. This recently came up in a group for IR Romance I'm in on GoodReads. As most people know, Historical Fiction is a genre itself. Then naturally, Regency Romance/Historical Romance are sub-genres of Romance.

In the discussion, a lot of the replies were saying that those readers did not like Historical IR Romance. Not necessarily due to the fact that it was historical, but more so due to the racial tensions that surround either the situation or the couple. For example, most of the books or stories that the members of the group either hated or weren't comfortable took place during the American/U.S. slavery-era and typically involved the slave owner(or a relative of the slave owner) falling in love with one of the female slaves wherever the book was set.

I'm not trying to cause any issues or trouble or anything but I just felt this would be an interesting topic to discuss. How do you feel about putting PoCs in a racially tumultuous era or time period? I know that sounds like an easy question to answer but I want this to apply to both general Historical Fiction(or Historically-themed Fiction) and Historical Romance. Do you depict the era how the research that was done does or do you only put in so much of it and leave out some?

Also do you think a character's race or ethnicity could affect the type of story that is told or have an effect on the plausibility or believability of the story being told? For example, do you think it's possible to have Regency-era or around Regency-era Interracial Romance where one character was "fully" whatever racial background is chosen, meaning, again, for example, the character is fully black or white, not a mix.

So, to repeat, how do you feel about Historical and Regency Interracial stories? And do you think that because one of the main characters, if not the main character, is a PoC it affects the story being told?

Again, this is just fun discussion. No harm was meant by the questions. I just wanted to ask to get different opinions. :)

Note: I don't write in either Historical Fiction or Historical Romance. However, I was still curious about the topic.

Rachel Udin
08-24-2012, 03:17 AM
Not outing the writer or anything like that, and I fully will disclaim that this is about *what they wrote* AND not the author. Please follow suit.

I read something up for critique where the story put up that the female protagonist fell in love with this slave, felt him up and decided to buy him. She was supposed to be vindicated because the real evil one was the overseer. This was furthered by him saying that she must be a "good woman" and I had to restrain myself from losing it. If a guy ties you to a pole, a person comes and feels you up/looks you up and down, and then checks your teeth, that's a pretty big violation of basic boundaries. (Plus it earned a big eyeroll on the idea that the fault was with the overseer. No. You participate, you are also at fault. I at least got that part of my education....)

This is kind of a typical problem with putting stories where there is a higher position on one of the participants over the other. Because the question arises about obligation and deliverance.

It's like writing a story about a 13 year old boy where the teacher fall in love with him. It can be done, it probably could be done well, but it would be pretty, pretty hard to do it well without ruining the experience for everyone involved.

OK, so could one do a good historical times romance with interracial themes. I think one could, but you have to be mindful of the times and what positions the people hold.

For example, if it was an escaped slave from the South and in the North there was an Abolitionist and the conflict was about falling in love with him and going with him to Canada, then maybe.

If it was about the 1950's and there was a black man with a white woman and they were about equal economic standing, then yes. I think that has a better chance of working.

It probably would be hard to pull off in say a Japanese solider falling in love with a Korean woman that happens to be a comfort woman in his "care". Just the same as it would be weird to have a Nazi Soldier falling in love with a Jewish woman after he's raped a bunch of them. When the central issue of the interracial/interethnic relationship becomes 100% about race, that's an awkward for a romance story to pull off. Because then the focus isn't on romance. It's on overcoming the oppression and the players aren't meeting on a level playing field, which makes it awkward at best. It's not Romance then, it's more like a study of human nature, which pulls down the Romance's usual strides towards fantasy away from it.

But some things probably won't work out of the gate and you'd have to research very, very hard to even get there.

Personally, I don't think I would even attempt anything around African American slavery. I don't have the skill set. I don't have enough knowledge to pull it off and I don't trust myself. Plus I can't do better than say, Beloved, which really is worth reading. In addition, I think African American slavery has been done tons, whereas seeing cool African characters doing new stuff would be more interesting. (Ragamuffin, I'm pinning my hopes on you)

You could have a Historical Interracial Romance, say, in Ancient Rome, where the concern was more on class. They really didn't care about race back then.

You could have interspecies romance as with the Homo Sapiens Sapiens and Neanderthal.

You could probably do the Abolitionist one fairly safely.

You probably could pull off a Romance between China and say, Portugal. (Portugal and Japan too.) American and Japanese in the Meiji era... a bit harder to pull off.

But notice I'm choosing eras where the races aren't pointing to each other and calling each other inferior and/or that there isn't undue balance. So the main issue isn't race. I'd prefer that. Overcoming large separations kinda becomes unbelievable in romance. It's done with class, as with Cinderella (though I'd like to see more the reverse). But race is that much more sensitive in current times.

Margorie Blackman got away with it because she:
1. Understood all issues involved.
2. Created an Alternate reality.
3. Married interracially (so was savvy to the issues first hand)

So it can be done, but I think you can't just slap characters on the page as easily and hope it works. You need to put in thought and care into doing it (more than usual)

Satsya
08-24-2012, 06:18 AM
Yeah. I don't have a huge amount of expertise here, but I think the biggest problem is not race, but the inherent power imbalance these historical relationships usually have.

A romance between a free black and free white or perhaps a black slave and white indentured servant (or more unusual combos, like Chinese laborer and black laborer) would be on a more even ground, and so probably less prone to unfortunate implications.

Then it's just a matter of doing the research to make sure you handle the racial tensions realistically but with care.

JSSchley
08-24-2012, 06:35 PM
Realism would be paramount for me, there, as well as the power implications the others have mentioned. The first because I have to buy the relationship could have happened (and most of the time, it probably couldn't have), and the second because I have to feel the protags are likable enough to want to spend a book with them. Or despicable enough that I want to watch the train wreck! :)

The other risk for me would be over exoticization (I find this problem in a lot of contemporary IR romance as well, which is why I tend not to read it); that instead of focusing on the romance, they focus a ton on the race. But when you're in an IR relationship, you think about your partner's race in terms of how others respond to you, but most people in love don't sit around thinking of their partner as, "My white/black partner," s/he is just their partner.

But a book that deals effectively with the reality of trying to have a forbidden IR relationship in a particular time period? That'd be awesome.

Kitty Pryde
08-24-2012, 08:30 PM
So can anybody name any actual stories that have this element? Besides Othello? I'm pondering but nothing else is springing to mind.

ViolettaVane
08-24-2012, 08:41 PM
I'd like to recommend Gold Mountain, which is an awesome romance set in the 19th century West, between a Chinese-American railroad worker and an African-American restaurant owner.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7806427-gold-mountain

Silver-Midnight
08-24-2012, 08:55 PM
Well, there is this book that just came out: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13324521-veil-of-pearls

This is the one that got the most attention; I admit I'm not that thrilled by it either: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13452040-the-slave-master-s-son

And there's this one, but I think this one is more literary than Romance: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6751356-wench

aruna
08-24-2012, 09:05 PM
Well, there is this book that just came out: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13324521-veil-of-pearls

This is the one that got the most attention; I admit I'm not that thrilled by it either: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13452040-the-slave-master-s-son

And there's this one, but I think this one is more literary than Romance: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6751356-wench


The first and third of those I would read -- the middle one, not so much. That cover! ***shudder***

Silver-Midnight
08-24-2012, 09:16 PM
The first and third of those I would read -- the middle one, not so much. That cover! ***shudder***

I feel the same way actually. The first and third books look the most interesting to me.

words
08-24-2012, 09:25 PM
Seems like in order to be appealing characters, the protagonists would have to be a bit anachronistic in their attitudes. For example, even an abolitionist in the 1800s would be likely, by virtue of being raised in that time period, to have some views that by today's standards would be considered racially offensive.

Simply the fact that white privilege existed at more extreme levels than it did today would be corrupting to the white characters. Octavia Butler, in her novel Kindred, observed this through the differing attitudes of a white husband and black wife when both were transported back to the pre-Civil War South. The husband wanted to believe that the white slaveowners, who treated him with courtesy, were basically good people, in spite of how they treated black people. I always thought that was a particularly astute bit of writing on Butler's part in terms of how people have a hard time grasping the enormity of horrible institutions and actions that hurt others but not them. One of the reasons why it's so absurd that people want to paint Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings as some kind of grand romance.

Kitty27
08-31-2012, 05:22 PM
This is a very tricky genre.

If you are writing Black and White characters or White and Native American characters, it gets dangerously close to romanticizing racial relations during a certain time frame,especially anything Old South for Blacks. I imagine Native Americans wouldn't want to read a IR romance set during The Trail Of Tears era or when the west was being taken from them. I remember the old school romances set in the Old West era that always had a half Native American man and white woman as MC's. There was a world of WTF in those books that wouldn't fly now.

Personally,I wouldn't want to read it. Frankly,I would be too aware of what was truly happening during that era and just wouldn't be able to get into the book. There are some things I just can't suspend belief for. I could go for days about Sally Hemings/Thomas Jefferson. For the life of me,I cannot understand why people don't get that a slave could never give consent. If she resisted,at the least she'd be punished and at the worst,killed. It was rape and no amount of historical revision can change that.

I agree with others about ancient Rome or a similar area/era. That would be much more tolerable for me to read. Anything antebellum or Regency with IR romance is an automatic turnoff for me.

dolores haze
08-31-2012, 05:58 PM
I think the difficulty with historical IR romance would lie with the HEA. The cards would be SO stacked against these individuals.

aruna
08-31-2012, 09:27 PM
I think the difficulty with historical IR romance would lie with the HEA. The cards would be SO stacked against these individuals.

So you are thinking only in terms of genre romance that has to have a HEA? I'm thinking of something very different. Going through the diffuclties together is where love actualy begins...

dolores haze
08-31-2012, 10:29 PM
So you are thinking only in terms of genre romance that has to have a HEA? I'm thinking of something very different. Going through the diffuclties together is where love actualy begins...

Yes, I was thinking specifically in terms of genre romance.

Historical fiction is not required to sugar coat anything.

I've long been fascinated by the story of Eunice Williams (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eunice_Kanenstenhawi_Williams), 'The Unredeemed Captive." I think, in real life, she got her HEA. A story like hers might work as a genre romance, but I think it would be better as a histfic novel (the bigger the better!)

Flicka
09-30-2012, 11:16 AM
It's interesting that we immediately assume that racial prejudice would be against the PoC and not the white person, since that's not necessarily true for all societies and all times. Admittedly, genre romance is very Anglo-Saxon-centric, but there are exceptions.

One, that actually inverts the assumed power structures, is Jeannie Lin's Butterfly Swords (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8076157-butterfly-swords) about a Tang dynasty princess and a foreign "barbarian" (published by Harlequin), It got quite a lot of attention when it first came out.

Genre romance is also very limited in regards to class, which also narrows the scope for any sort of unconventional relationships. But I do think a character similiar to the Chevalier de Saint-George (http://theragsoftime.blogspot.se/2012/09/historical-hotties-chevalier-de-saint.html) might reasonably be made to work in a very traditional romance.

If one would be willing to go beyond the upper classes, I can point to a real life, 18th century romance in the life of African-born, freed American slave James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukawsaw_Gronniosaw). His biography suffers from a bit of a questionable bias, but I just love the description of his first encounter with his English wife-to-be at his boarding house in Petticoat Lane:

"The morning after I came to my new lodging, as I was at breakfast with the gentlewoman of the house, I heard the noise of some looms over our heads; I enquired what it was, she told me a person was weaving silk... As soon as we entered the room, the person that was weaving looked about, and smiled upon us, and I loved her from that moment."

Despite the bias in the biography, it seems their troubles in life really were more class- than race-related. One can obviously discuss the HEA-aspect of any story involving working class people in the 18th century, as lower class life was almost never easy, but still, it could be done I think. But yes, possibly it would be better as hist fic...

Silver-Midnight
10-06-2012, 10:33 PM
Thanks for the information, Flicka. I learned something. :)

However, I do think there is still some difficulty with writing a Historical Romance that features an interracial couple. That's not to say it can't be done, or that the bias or issue will always be placed on the PoC. But I still think pulling off the HEA would be a bit difficult.

WritingIsHard
10-07-2012, 12:15 PM
I agree that the hard part of this would be to balance the realities of the historical period and the natural desire, especially in a romance, to have the story be a happy one. It's way easier if we go way back because no one is alive to be hurt by an unrealistic portrayal of, say, Roman slavery, or serfdom in Russia. But when we deal with racial minorities that are still there and still feeling the impact of that history, it would be much worse to make light of it and make it all feel okay "just as long as they luuuv each other". And if you go for historical realism, the book will be much heavier than a regular romance and will probably just be better without that genre's constrains. A historical/mainstream book with a strong interracial romance plotline? That would probably be a better bet.

That said, I think it could be pulled off if the author didn't use the usual upper class and/or middle class as a jumping point for a character. Off the top of my head, explorers/pirates/sailors and criminals are two groups that might be a bit more accepting of people of different races in a relationship. Then again, an extreme variant of this would be just dismissing the "interracial" part of the "interracial historical romance" and keeping the race for the sake of the imagery. And that would feel icky and fetishizing too.

I'm actually pondering a bit of the same question: my NaNo project will be set in an alternative version of Victorian Era, and will concern a mixed race protagonist (half-British, half-Indian) going on adventures with her (white) father. Really wracking my head about the balance of Fantasy Egalitarianism and not just handwaving real-world prejudice...

JS Emuakpor
10-17-2012, 12:12 AM
This is a most interesting discussion. I have nothing to add, so am virtually useless. Carry on!

oakes
11-25-2012, 05:14 PM
It can't be a true romance if there is a great power imbalance like slavery. A lot of times the female slave + male master is romanticized, but how can it be genuinely pure love if he's enslaving her?

satisverborum2003
11-26-2012, 01:13 AM
I found the replies on this thread a bit troubling. I know about the power imbalance between slaves and their masters and that it could be a bit strange to write about a historical interracial romance due to those dynamics. However, if we ignore the US perspective and go to other parts of the worlds then it is not uncommon to find real life examples of interracial romances occurring at the past. In the United Kingdom there was the black author Olaudah Equiano who lived during the 18th century who eventually married a white British woman. Furthermore, interracial relations also happened a lot in Latin America and the Caribbean. I don't find the notion that two people from different races can fall in love a few hundred years ago implausible. I mean historical romance writers usually take liberties with history and have people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds marry and run off into the sunset. Whilst I find this master servant relationship a bit romantic the rational part of me knows that this is almost impossible since marriages were usually of conveniences in those eras
Furthermore, not every black people who lived during that era were slaves just as not every white people owned slaves. Other races also existed such as Native americans, Indians, Asians etc... There are endless possibilities to write an interracial romance set in the past.

Belle_91
11-26-2012, 01:26 AM
I found the replies on this thread a bit troubling. I know about the power imbalance between slaves and their masters and that it could be a bit strange to write about a historical interracial romance due to those dynamics. However, if we ignore the US perspective and go to other parts of the worlds then it is not uncommon to find real life examples of interracial romances occurring at the past. In the United Kingdom there was the black author Olaudah Equiano who lived during the 18th century who eventually married a white British woman. Furthermore, interracial relations also happened a lot in Latin America and the Caribbean. I don't find the notion that two people from different races can fall in love a few hundred years ago implausible. I mean historical romance writers usually take liberties with history and have people from vastly different socio-economic backgrounds marry and run off into the sunset. Whilst I find this master servant relationship a bit romantic the rational part of me knows that this is almost impossible since marriages were usually of conveniences in those eras
Furthermore, not every black people who lived during that era were slaves just as not every white people owned slaves. Other races also existed such as Native americans, Indians, Asians etc... There are endless possibilities to write an interracial romance set in the past.

In the 1600s in Virginia, blacks and whites were allowed to marry. A black man could marry a white woman, but obviously, this law got changed around the mid-1700s I want to say.

Are there any good sources on the Quadroon Balls in New Orleans? I'm actually doing a paper on slavery in New Orleans and I need to read up on that.

What would be interesting to see is a white/black relationship where the master does free her in the end. Maybe they don't live HEA, but he gives her freedom and a better life. I agree with what others said that if they truly loved their mistresses, they would free them.

I think the kind of story I suggested--if done right--would be heart-breaking (because they couldn't be together) but also beautiful at the same time.

It's a tricky subject, but I think there were some cases of black and whites in a relationship and they truly did love one another.

I did an internship at a local historical house, and I used the microfilm to go through old Newspapers of Nashville circa 1827 and this was an article I stumbled across. (I apologize for an offensive material, but I find this stuff fasinating).

$50 DOLLARS REWARD
RANAWAY from the subscriber on the 23rd of February last, my Negro Slave ATTA, aged 32 years, about six feet high, trim built, a good countenance with a long forehead, sloping back—he has a mother’s mark on the side of his lower lip, not however, to be noticed, but on close examination; the skin appearing lighter, or of a more yellow cast than the rest; between his upper foreteeth there is a smart discolouring from decay; his feet are different from the generality of Negroes, the instep being high and hollow under his big and little toes, also, are in a small degree, larger than the ordinary proportion of the other toes. His complexion smooth and black, and on examination, his back will be found to exhibit the marks of the lash, given in chastisement for stealing; he is a tolerable, shoemaker, and also a great fiddler.
From suspicious circumstances, it is supposed there was an intrigue between him and a white girl of the neighborhood, who, since his departure, has eloped from her father’s house and has not since been heard of. It is supposed they aim at getting to some place where they may live in the habits of man and wife unmolested. Should such be their intention, it is probable he will attempt to pass either with a free pass or as the servant of said girl. She is rather tall and slim, her features not pleasant, eyes blue, with a quick and bold look; her nose a little short and face rather narrow and freckled—said to have gone off with a sun bonnet, homespun stripe and check dresses.
It is expected the above negro will change his name and not own it, except before some person acquainted with him. Any person who will safely secure said negro in jail, or otherwise, sp that I safely get him again will receive the above reward and all reasonable expenses paid on application to me at Randallsville Post-office, Robeson county, N.C.
NEIL BROWN
N.B Any information respecting the above persons, directed to the Post-office at Randalsville, Robeson county, N.C. will confer a great favor on the subscriber, as also, oblige the respectable friends of the unfortunate girl.

--taken from the National Banner and Nashville Wig, Saturday May 26, 1827.
In my heart, I want to believe they made it to...where ever and lived HEA. However, my mind and reasoning tell me that was nearly impossible :( However, people did try.

Brynn
12-14-2012, 12:30 AM
Okay, this is not really in response to the racial dynamic, but to the slave/master relationship (especially your original examples)...


a slave could never give consent.

THIS. A HUNDRED TIMES THIS. Even if you're looking back at Ancient Rome or Russia with serfdom, this is STILL TRUE. Could a slave genuinely fall in love with his or her master (or the master's relative)? Sure, maybe. But the thing is that no one except that slave would ever, ever know. There are a hundred reasons why it would be beneficial for a slave to pretend to love the master with the hots for her, in hopes of good treatment, freedom, not getting murdered, you name it. Even if she becomes the lady of the house (I don't know much about slavery in ancient times, but it doesn't seem impossible), it's in her best interest to never, ever tell that she hates the horny old bastard. Hey, at least she doesn't get beaten any more, maybe she can free or provide for family members, her children don't get sold away from her...

Yeah, as the author theoretically you know how she feels deep down. But personally, I'm not going to believe you if you tell me. And I'm going to think you're pretty icky for not considering that the slave is living a life of continued servitude and rape.

The only way this would work, in my mind, is if the master fell in love, did NOT sleep with the slave, freed the slave and let that person go on their way. Maybe years later, established in a free society, once the ex-slave has some financial security and legal protection of his/her own, they can get together. Not before.