The RNA defines a historical novel as one set 50 years or more ago in the past. Technically, that means a contemporary novel is set within the past 50 years. That got me thinking about the meaning of such labels. A Victorian novel could be set in the late 1830s or any year up to 1901. Yet in 1837 there was no railway, no motorcar, no bicycles, no telephone, no Origin of Species, no electricity, no sewing machine, no typewriter or camera A lot of inventions arrived during Victoria’s reign. Then again, if the reader resided in Australia or BC, it could have an entirely different meaning, relating to geography rather than date.
So a contemporary novel could be set in the 1970s, before many readers were born, and also before the advent of the world wide web, emails and all the electronic communications we now take for granted. As a young adult I taught in rural central Africa on a school compound without electricity. Our refrigerator was powered by paraffin and we had to learn the vagaries of oil lamps for lighting after dark. During my 2-year contract I rang home once, on the occasion of my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. I had to book the call and experienced the several second time delay as we took turns to speak. I wrote and received a lot of letters!
If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I recently read a number of Betty Neels’ romances, many set in the 1970s/80s, and recently produced my own tribute novel (Joanne). I like being able to slow things down, so communication is not instant. It gives more time to describe the journey and the feelings along the way. In the present climate of uncertainty as the world tackles a life-threatening virus, might it be true that people want a comfort read and a bit of nostalgia. The word nostalgia in fact comes from the Greek for return to pain! Since I’m after a return to comfort, what shall we call it as a genre? How about nostfort?