Our Dirty Little Secret

Here’s a dirty little secret we historical novelists share.

We cannot reproduce the past, which is made up of endless detail, social habits, ways of thought and culture we don’t even know about anymore.

And if we did, it would be impossible to reproduce all of it.

For instance, in the nineteenth century, men often used their initials rather than their given name: R.B. Clark, E.W. Robb.

For instance, how often riverboats blew up, killing everybody on board (often burning them to death); how often ships went down at sea, and even on the Great Lakes, and that was referred to as being “cast away.”

Train schedules were like today’s plane schedules. You rode “the cars,” for instance, from New York to Chicago, then changed trains to travel to Omaha.

If you were traveling west after 1869–when the last spike on the intercontinental railroad was driven–you could take the cars all the way to San Francisco, looking out the window and watching the endless buffalo herds.

The past IS a foreign country and once it’s past, nobody can return.

The above wonderful painting is “Enigmatic Long House” by Curt Walters.

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