• Gareth Williams

Political correctness in historical writing

Recently, I have joined a couple of Facebook groups for people writing historical fiction. It's nice to interact with people doing the same sort of thing. However, some of the issues raised puzzle me. A significant number of writers are 'worried' about how to handle terms that might give offence. More specifically where there is a racial component.

An example given was 'gypsy'. I accept it would likely give offence to describe certain groups by this term in 2021. However, if writing a book in Victorian times, it would seem inaccurate to airbrush the word from characters' speech.

After all, we might use the 'salty' language of the time. Where to draw the line? Never write about anything that might give offence? No books on Hitler then, nor slavery. Obviously that is ridiculous.

There is a profound difference between writing something with the intention of disparaging a person or group and crafting a convincing picture of a previous era.

Another illustration of the problem is where the terms are contested within the group described. For example, the indigenous peoples of North America are split over the use of Indians and Native Americans. It is not my place to pass comment. However, in the book I am currently writing, it is 1790. No one talked of Native Americans. They referred to Indians... so that is what my characters do. I have included an Author's Note at the start to explain my approach.

I hope my readers will understand - if I can secure a publisher!


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