As both a writer of historical fiction, and an avid reader of historical fiction, I am often asked, “If you could go back to one time and live there, which historical time period would you choose?”
What’s my answer?
Because I know too much. It isn’t a romantic game to me, because I know the hardships, toils, and mortality that people of the past had to endure. So for this Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to say that I am thankful for:
Running Water. Have you ever used an outhouse? I have. Have you ever dug a hole in the ground in woods? Me too. Can you imagine doing that everyday? What about basic sanitation—that you know to wash your hands?? Diseases like cholera, dysentery all stem from this basic lack of hygiene.
Antibiotics. Though there is a long and fascinating history of trial and error regarding antibiotics, but the modern isolation and reproducible science came in 1928 at the hands of Scottish researcher Alexander Fleming. It was an accident, due to his messiness with his experiments, but the end result was penicillin. I would be dead many times over without this. I have been in the hospital with sepsis before, getting blood drawn from both arms every four hours to track the progress of the infection. Hallelujah antibiotics!
The Antiseptic Method. Championed by Joseph Lister, and yes, Listerine was named after him, he spread the good word about basic hand washing prior to surgery. There was actually a case that had a 300% death rate. Patient died, surgeon died, and an audience member died (and in those days, it was called an operating theatre for a reason). All those Clorox wipes you’ve been using? Saved millions of lives already.
The Suffragettes! 100 years ago, American women got the right to vote. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but in order to pass this amendment, the Supreme Court had to DEBATE whether or not women were people (The 15th Amendment already stated “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”). To clarify this, the 19th Amendment was ratified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Thank you, suffragettes, for starving, marching, being beaten, jailed, humiliated, ostracized by your mothers, fathers, and brothers because today, I am a person. And I’ve never questioned it.
The combustion engine. With the first gas powered turbines appearing in the 1790s, and further inventions appearing throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. These later gas powered turbines have allowed me to live all across North America. It allows me to view the 40 miles between me and my parents as nothing but a short drive. Our cars are getting greener, more efficient, dramatically safer, and it has shortened the idea in our minds of a mile.
The Printing Press. The first known press started its run in the first millennium in China. Moveable type, a huge coup for authors, was invented by Bi Sheng in Hubei, China somewhere between 970-1051. In 1450, Gutenberg caught Europe up to technology. Using a press traditionally used for pressing grapes for wine or olives for olive oil allowed him to get paper flatter, allowing faster printing. Today, our information is speeding up, the internet makes a free-for-all of information, but so does each iteration. In Europe, this opened the world from just the ecclesiastical world to the rest of us, printing in the “vulgar tongue.” Literature and learning flourished amongst the masses. The printing press gave the world a way to exchange ideas over long distances and over long periods of time. The written word is truly remarkable, but fewer are able to marvel if they are unable to get a copy.
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay or find her on her website, www.ediecay.com