A while back, a reader asked me for some recommendations for historical fiction, and in the process of answering her query, I remembered that one of my favourite series growing up — Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings novels — had recently been re-released in a new English edition. Since I have only ever read them in a non-English translation (from the original French), I decided to splurge and get the whole 7 volume series … and then proceeded to binge-read my way through them. By way of brief background, the series focuses on Phillip IV (“The Fair”), one of the last Capetian kings of France, his (ill-omened) descendants on both sides of the Channel (who kicked off the Hundred Year War between France and England), and a large cast of supporting characters including Mahaut and Robert of Artois, the novels’ most compelling if least redeemable figures. The latter two were, incidentally, embroiled in one of the most famous and lengthy legal disputes of the 14th century, which plays a not unimportant part in the novels’ plot.

The books are filled with drama — adultery! poisonings! trials! political machinations! — and are a fun, fast-paced read. Keep in mind that they were written in the 1950s, and reflect the mores of the author’s times (particularly in regard to characterizations of women). At the same time, Druon has been consistently praised for his historical accuracy (although these books are most definitely historical fiction). He includes extensive notes at the end of each book, which provide additional details about the background to all of the events and characters described. I would love to see a BBC adaptation of the series … if only because I always welcome the opportunity to ogle good-looking Brits on my screen.

Speaking of which, episodes 2 and 3 of Victoria did not disappoint. Is anyone else watching this on PBS? What do we think of Albert? I am a Rufus Sewell/Lord M fangirl forever, but I must admit that I warmed up to the “clockwork prince” more than I thought I would and I feel a pressing need to discuss my complicated feelings with someone. Anyone. Bueller? At times like these, I really miss Television Without Pity, sigh. [Also? I just started watching The Young Pope and I think you should too. And then we should chat.]

OK, on to some of the lighter reading I did online in the last week. The Fashion Law continues to be my go-to for thought-provoking fashion industry-related articles. This one definitely leans to the more serious side, and considers the impact of re-shoring clothes production on the democratization of fashion. The human and environmental impact of fast fashion has been discussed a lot in recent years, but this is the flip side of that discussion; with the growth of that side of the industry, access to fashion (and in particular, trends) is no longer reserved to the middle and upper classes only. Nobody likes to think of children and women being abused in the name of inexpensive clothes … but people also like their $20 jeans and $30 dresses.

This Reddit thread discusses the increasingly popular (trendy?) idea that “the most successful people wear the same thing every day” — what does that mean for people who love fashion and variety? The discussion touches on some really interesting concepts, including the impact of gender (fashion is still considered a “frivolous” female hobby). In past posts, I have talked about the difference that routinizing my life has made in terms of my efficiency/productivity, so I can see the merit in the idea of simplifying. However, I would suggest there is an alternative available to people who (like me) want increased efficiency without sacrificing personal style. I didn’t give up my varied closet; I just started to plan my outfits ahead of time, and made that planning itself an item on my (weekend) “to do” list. With that said, that does not address the discussion around the impact of gender stereotypes, which to me is equal parts fascinating (from an abstract, sociological perspective) and frustrating (from a real world perspective).

I’ve been mulling the idea of adopting a form of the 5 Piece (French) wardrobe, and I found this article helpful in better understanding what a “basic” piece means in the context of that system. My closet has consisted of at least 50% statement pieces in recent years, but I am slowly moving towards a more basics-heavy wardrobe. My current approach is to develop that as a “core” of my closet, with a smaller (constantly rotating) capsule of statement pieces. I don’t have anything more concrete to write yet, because I want to think this project through as a whole (life)style change as opposed to a gimmicky thing, but I think the idea might have legs. We’ll see.

Lastly, just a few words on something that may or may not be on your mind, but has been on mine a bit lately: the issue of what you can expect to see (and not to see) addressed in my posts here. This is not a political blog, nor a platform for me to discuss my views on social issues. Even assuming that there was an appetite on your part to read my thoughts on such matters, I am not sure I would be prepared to engage it. That is not to say that I do not have opinions (and strong ones, at that). In the current political climate, particularly south of the border, it would be impossible not to. I do not want my decision to keep the discourse on this blog to its usual, apolitical topics to be misconstrued as indifference to the very significant events that are unfolding here and abroad. My intent is for this blog to remain what it has always been; a fun distraction from the real world’s very real problems. I hope you guys are cool with that.

16 Comments on What I Read: Historical Fiction

  1. Yes, watching Victoria and totally into Lord M! I haven’t caught up with the latest episode, though, so I’ll have to get back to you about Albert. Love your blog. Thanks for all the recommendations, style ideas, and thoughts on the fashion industry. I get you on the politics thing. I have strong feelings, too, but don’t necessarily want to talk about them in every corner. Yet I worry, like you, that some may misinterpret this as indifference. Tricky.

    • Lord M is the best! It’s going to be really sad when he’s phased out of the show, but I guess Albert is going to provide (some) consolation. You’ll have to let me know what you think after you watch the episode!

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a capsule wardrobe, so your comments there are very timely. I struggle with having a lot of “statement” pieces that I love, but never wear (truthfully I’ve not worn some of them even once!) I’m not sure if I should start with a purge (I really want these pieces to go to a good home, so that’s an additional challenge).
    Also, I appreciate your commitment to not turning this blog into a political platform. Of course I have opinions on current events, but I don’t read blogs (especially fashion/cooking/beauty blogs) for political opinions. So, thanks and keep up the good work!

    • I’m still working on my wardrobe philosophy going forward, but my struggle is definitely balancing statement pieces with core ones. I’m taking a HUGE stack of clothes to consignment tomorrow, and am organizing a clothing swap next month. I can’t wait!!

  3. Your post spurred two (unrelated) thoughts 🙂

    Have you heard of the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon? They’re set in 18th century Scotland/ England/ France (with a time travel element from 1945) but focus more on relationship/ romance aspects with historical events serving as a background canvas to develop the story. There are a total of 8 (very hefty) books, of which the first three have been made into three seasons of TV shows.

    Have you ever tried the Boden brand of clothing? It’s a British brand selling online in the US. They have a good mix of basics and statement pieces and I find them very well made, though a bit pricey early in the season (they run good sales towards the end of the season).

    • I’ve definitely heard of Outlander (book and series) although I’ve never gotten into it. The romance/time travel element is not usually my catnip (which is kinda ironic given my own recent writing, I know) but I may come around. Is there graphic violence?

      I have tried Boden, and quite like it. I’ve bought a few pieces on eBay, the prices are much cheaper. My current style skews a bit less preppy than before, so Boden is a bit outside my style wheelhouse at the moment. Would recommend though!

  4. Have you ever read the series of autobiographies written by Molly Hughes called A London Family? They tell about her experiences growing up as a girl in Victorian England. A lot of the casual sexism is mind boggling (Her father-who is presented as a positive figure!- made it his maxim that “boys should go everywhere and know everything and girls should go nowhere and know nothing.”) They’re also really funny and lively, though. You might like them, if you haven’t read them. I’m reading them now as a distraction from the affairs we shall not discuss.

    Looking forward to hearing your wardrobe philosophy. I always like those posts.

    Oh, and frivolous question: what do you think of wrap coats? I’m eying a vintage camel hair wrap coat online and can’t decide if I think it’s classic and glamorous, or if the whole style is a functionally impractical glorified bathrobe.

    • No, I have not heard about A London Family. I will have to check that one out – thanks for the recc! I love book recc’s, sigh. As my every-growing stack of books by my bedside attests.

      I’ve seen a bunch of wrap coats I really like, and I think they’re quite popular at the moment. If yours is vintage, it speaks to the classic appeal (a trend that will come back again and again). I can’t speak to functionality since I haven’t got one myself, but I think they look quite glamorous. I imagine it ultimately comes down to the material. Is it camel hair? I think you’re pretty safe, if that’s the case.

  5. Thank you so much for NOT making any political comments about your neighbor south of the border. I have had to regretfully decline reading most of my favorite blogs because of the commentary. We have a new president and we need to be gracious and wish his administration well. If he is successful , the nation is successful.

  6. Another thanks for not delving into the political. It (and possibly rightfully so) dominates so much of our lives now, and I look forward to your fun yet intelligent posts. As a musician I must set aside the “heavy” on a daily basis in order to work on my craft, and I appreciate you having the opportunity to do the same.

  7. Thanks for the additional reading suggestions! Baby has arrived and I have been doing lots of reading while nursing. 🙂

    Look forward to thinking about wardrobe planning again soon.

  8. With two babies under 2, if my entire life and household was not a system or routine nothing would get done. Yet I still enjoy expressing my sense of style. The compromise I struck was this: this season, I have four pairs of pants to wear to the office (I only go in twice a week). I rotate through the list of pants, and anything I want to wear with that pair on any given day I do. I have both a system and room for creativity.

    • That’s a great system! I have a similar goal of balancing efficiency and creativity, although since I also like variety, it can all get a bit tricky.

  9. Television Without Pity! Bloody loved that site.
    And I second the recommendation for the Outlander books. There is a bit of time travel, but only once or twice per book – in fact if memory serves me correctly, in some of the books there’s none at all.

    • Were you ever able to find a replacement for TWoP? I’m still looking … I miss reading good recaps. And the commentary. I usually read Vulture recaps now but there are very few comments 🙁

      • Nope, not found a decent replacement yet. I miss the way they managed to viciously rip apart an episode of a show, while still making it very clear that they completely loved said episode 🙂