I’m back on the historical fiction diatribe…
I’m about to talk a little bit about the movie “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and the book “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” by Fiona Davis. There will be small spoilers of things that happen, so if you plan on watching/reading…proceed with caution.
I recently read TLOFA. It’s basic plot is a story about a family that lives in an apartment inside the large library in Manhattan. The lions guard the outside of the library and the Lyons family guard the inside.
The message that the book is trying (emphasize trying) to impart is one of women’s rights and gay rights.
My problem isn’t with the message, both direct and indirect. My problem is the way that the indirect message is portrayed.
There is a scene in the book where two female lovers are openly kissing in front of their apartment building. In the middle of the day.
This is supposed to be 1911.
While this may have happened, I’m guessing that this probably wasn’t a common sight. There is nothing in the dialogue of the book to show that this was shocking and highly unusual- the book practically underplays the scene to the point where one could consider it common practice…
I’m now flipping to the movie switch: CYEFM is about a woman who begins forging letters said to be written by some of the greatest writers of our time. One of the reasons she gets caught is because she writes a letter that was supposed to be written by Noel Coward. In this letter, Coward purportedly writes with barely disguised innuendo about homosexuality. This leads the forger to be discovered. A friend of Coward’s who read the letter stated that Coward would never have written so openly about being gay…
Because in reality, people weren’t real open about being gay back in the early half of the 20th century…
So here’s my problem:
By rewriting history, we are taking something away from the pioneers who have fought to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and equally.
By suggesting that women normally intimately kissed one another in plain sight of everyone, as far back as 1911, will make people forget how hard the struggle was, and continues to be.
We are losing respect for the generations that stood before us.
We are losing the empathy of what others went through to achieve some of the things that we now take for granted.
Erasing or changing history does not make things better: in fact, it probably makes things worse.
Tread carefully when you read historical fiction…it may be more fiction than history…