If you’ve been here for any length of time, then by now you are aware of my love of media–television, books, movies. And my favorites are period pieces. So, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to look at various eras in history (primarily the early 20th century), the stories they produced and the ones that were set there, some of the cool technology and the awesome knitwear.
Since there’s billions and billions of years of history, you’ll have to forgive me if some of my distinctions–particularly the earlier ones–are rather broad. I think that I’ll save the ancient world for another time, just because it’s so darn cool.
Middle Ages-The Romantic Era (1837)
Okay, so this is easily the largest chunk of time I’m going to cover.
I find this period both fascinating and frightening. This is the period in which entire villages in England were dedicated to fiber production, from the raising of sheep and flax, to the spinning, dying, knitting, and weaving of the yarn. It’s when the written word finally became widespread, and changed the world around it. It marked the first significant change in the Church since the life of Jesus. The world grew by leaps and bounds as we came out of the dark ages and into the Renaissance. Kingdoms were carved out of Italian villages, artwork flourished, and corruption corroded what is today an entire country. Landmasses were discovered, settled, and fought over.
The Pillars of the Earth is set in the darkest time at the beginning of the period. I’ve only seen the television series myself, but it was very good, and highlights much of that fascination/fear that I have with this era. For starters, if I were to magically be transported back to England in the 1200s, I’d last approximately 15 minutes before being accused of witchcraft due to my big mouth. If I somehow managed to escape that and blend in, I’m sure that my lack of resistance to early European diseases would do me in pretty quick.
(See, this is what comes of too much Dr. Who–I can’t help but picture myself in all of these other times and places, as if I actually had a chance of visiting them.)
Things didn’t get much safer a few centuries later, particularly if you were unlucky enough to live in Italy under the rule of the Borgia or the Medici. Still, this is the period I’ve spent the most time studying, and damn, it’s fascinating. Who needs soap operas when you have the real life intrigues of the ruling families of Italy? Murder, conspiracy, cover ups, and love affairs, all of it recorded by some of the best artists of the time. The innuendo of some of the most stunning works of the time is shocking.
And in case you were thinking that the plot twists were all made up by the writers…they weren’t. Most of the depravity either actually happened or is based on historical rumor. The television series is a complete train wreck, but it’s an addicting train wreck.
(Just for the record, I’m talking about the 2011 series with John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia. I have not seen the one with Jeremy Irons. Yet.)
If we fast forward a century, in terms of setting, then we can leave a little bit of the gritty past behind as we move into more romanticized notions of the 17th century.
Written a hundred and fifty years after it was set, The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite adventure series of all time, but in my opinion there hasn’t been a really great film adaption that stays true to the book. Of course, this can be partially excused since Dumas himself wasn’t exactly known for historical accuracy. So since the source material was flawed, let’s just throw caution to the wind from the bow of our airship, and just ditch all regard for history completely:
The costumes are fabulous, the story is ridiculous, and the technology is just plain fun. It’s pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake, and that’s why I love it.
Speaking of entertainment, one of my favorite romances falls into this section: Stage Beauty. It happens to be both set in this time period, and involve entertainment from the period as it is based on the life of actor Edward Kynaston in 1660s London, and is itself based on a play.
So that brings us up to the 1700s (when the Three Musketeers and the rest of Dumas’ work was actually written), which leaves us with another 37 or so years.
The most obvious choice, if one were to talk about literature and the works based on it from the time is Jane Austen. I could do an entire blog post about how much I dislike her books, but…like Shakespeare, even though I don’t enjoy the source material, I do like the derivatives. I’m especially fond of Sense and Sensibility, the one with Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant.
I know that there are a lot of things I’m glossing over here or skipping entirely (Shakespeare and Austen being something that I’ll save for another day), but for me those are a few of the highlights of this period.
Next up: the Victorian Era.