1) Historical Era - It's important to have a general understanding of the historical period that you are writing about. What were some of the important world events and who were some notable figures of the time, and mores specific in your setting. Discern what general elements of history affect your novel as a whole.
- Consider periods of war, famine, industry, etc. that may impact your story.
- There are many sources to obtain historical accuracy and it is important to verify your facts. Wiki is good, but not a true encyclopedia. First hand accounts are excellent, but sometimes have the stuff of legend. Period costume dramas and historical novels can be a great source of inspiration, but sometimes have factual error.
2) Setting - Know what makes your specific setting unique. What was the area like during your time period (population, statehood, industry, etc.)? What type of language was used, daily life, customs, dress?
- In Colonial New England a woman could ride through the countryside unescorted.
- In Puritan times a woman could be fined for wearing an expensive scarf unless it was proven that her family could afford. For many centuries, a man in a shirt without a waistcoat was considered in his undergarments.
3) Communication - In addition to understanding the language used in your setting and by your particular characters it's important to understand the acceptable communication between genders at the time. Can a man and a woman speak in public? What language was appropriate to pass between a male and female. How did they address one another at certain stages of their relationship? What words and phrases were in use at the time?
- In Victorian times a lady might communicate with the language of her fan.
- Intimate body parts in days gone by were seldom mentioned between the sexes, including limbs.
4) Interaction - The acceptable interaction between genders is also important to take into consideration. Are the couple's meetings mostly at public events? When are personal calls permitted? Are chaperones required? Under what circumstances might the couple be found alone?
- In mid to late Victorian times it was not proper for a woman to greet a man on a sidewalk without an introduction by another party. There was also certain etiquette to consider when paying a call to one of the opposite gender.
- The exchange of a handshake may not be considered a proper greeting in a particular region (Gaskell's North & South).
5) Customs - Courtship and marriage have had their own customs through the ages, sometimes more lenient in rural areas or among a lower social class. How involved was the family involved in making a match? What restrictions might prohibit a relationship? At what age or circumstance is marriage allowed? Is love a factor in this courtship or marriage? What qualities were considered attractive during the time period?
- In Colonial times a man might use a courting mirror to propose to his beloved. In early colonial times (17th century) the ceremony was not performed by a minister since marriage was considered a civil union and vows were sometimes forged over an anvil. Bundling was done in colonial New England, but not in the mid or southern colonies (faux pas in The Patriot).
- A widower with children was often expected to remarry as soon as possible after the death of a spouse, while a widow may have to wait until her required mourning period were over.
- How can I make an archaic tradition be considered romantic to the reader?
- What non-typical situation or setting could challenge this custom and lend to the story's interest, irony, or romantic element?
- What typical or non-typical circumstances do I wish the couple to meet, grow their relationship, acknowledge their love, find obtacles to their relationship, and cement their relationship?
Here are some links for your perusal:
Courtship in Early America
Courtship & Marriage in the 18th Century (Colonial Williamsburg)
Courtship, Sex, and the Single Colonist (Colonial Williamsburg)
Colonial Love & Marriage (17th century America puritans and colonists)
Regency Wedding: White Wedding Dress
Notes on Education, Marriage, Status of Women (Pemberly)
Courting the Victorian Woman Marriage in the Victorian Era
What are some of your favorite romance novels with authentic historical detail?