The Reality of Romanticizing the Past

I’ve noticed an interesting theme this past week in my activities: romanticizing the past. In the book I read, the main character romanticized the Regency era; and the Renaissance Festival I went to Saturday celebrated the romantic ideal of the Middle Ages. Since I’m regularly guilty of romanticizing both periods, the juxtaposition got me thinking.

I’m a Jane Austen fan. I love the romances, but I also love the culture. The mannerisms, the courtship, the courtesy. Dancing that doesn’t involve grinding up against your partner. Very clear rules that provide structure, versus an ambiguous “let’s go hang out without defining whether it’s a date or not.” Yes, that happens to me a lot.

Of course, that’s the rose-colored glasses version. As Definitely Not Mr. Darcy explored, real life was much less romantic. Medicine included leeches to balance the humors, and cloves to cure toothaches. Women had no voice, no free will, and no purpose beyond birthing sons. Not to mention the terrible hygiene in their attempt at brushing teeth and their all taking baths in the same water.

But at least they took baths, unlike medieval people. I’m not even going to start in on their living conditions, because it’s just going to be worse than those of the Regency era. Instead, I’m more interested in the meshing of romanticization and fantasy.

The Renaissance Fair doesn’t just romanticize the past. It recreates it. It keeps the knights who value honor and chivalry, the good kings and fair ladies, tradesmen with authentic wares, and even the tavern wenches. But it also adds its own elements. An obsession with dragons and fairies, a medley of centuries crammed into one village, and the reality of magic rather than the hope of it.

Which time periods do you romanticize?

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.