As a fan of historical fiction, I end up reading a decent amount of reviews for books in the genre. Something that I’ve recently noticed is that there are reviewers who get annoyed with historical fiction for using modern language. This is something that honestly doesn’t bother me at all and that I actually like in historical fiction so today I want to talk a bit about why this may or may not be something to complain about. This should go without saying, but obviously, this is all personal preference/opinion!
As I mentioned, I’ve noticed a few reviews of historical fiction books recently complaining that characters in the novel(s) use phrases, words, or general speaking styles that are more modern than the setting in which the book in question takes place. They note these as anachronisms that shouldn’t have been included in the book, as the phrases were not in use at the time and therefore their inclusion hurts the authenticity and accuracy of the novels. But personally, I don’t mind if historical fiction relies upon modern language. In fact, I often prefer it as it makes it easier for me to read.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand where these reviewers are coming from. If you want to really feel immersed in the time period the book takes place, having dialogue with modern language may interfere with that and make for a less captivating reading experience. And depending on the language being used, this could really annoy me, too. If it’s supposed to take place in the 1800s and yet there are characters using modern slang, it would certainly get frustrating.
But most of the time, I don’t really mind. Like I said, I usually prefer books to use more modern language even if it doesn’t fit 100% with the story’s setting because it makes it easier for me to understand. If the whole book – whether it be the narration or character dialogue – uses language solely from that time period, then it can become difficult for a modern audience to really understand what is being said. This becomes truer and truer the farther back in time a book takes place. I mean, can you imagine reading a book set in the 1500s that only uses language from the 1500s? A lot of people (perhaps even most people) wouldn’t be able to understand it. It’d be as if everything was written like Shakespeare and come on, those “No Fear Shakespeare” books exist for a reason: it’s hard to understand. It’s practically an entirely different language than the modern English we speak.
So I don’t mind if historical fiction uses phrases and language that wouldn’t have been used during the book’s time period. The exception to this is if the author is using modern terms for things that didn’t even exist yet. For example, if a character has a pocket watch in a book that takes place during the 1300s, that would be a problem, not because the author uses the term “pocket watch,” but because those weren’t invented (or at least weren’t commonly used) until around the 1500s. But this is more than a language issue – that is the author inserting a relatively modern invention into the past.
I’m sure there are probably books out there that would include modern language in a way that would annoy me or make it difficult for me to truly feel immersed in the historical setting. I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m not trying to say this is an unreasonable complaint or one that I would never agree with. But simply put, the majority of the time, I don’t mind if historical fiction uses modern language because it makes the story easier for me to understand and thus easier for me to connect to.