Saturday, July 08, 2006


I've mentioned one of my favorite novels a few times in recent posts. It's a book called Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It's the first book in a series about the same characters. The book begins in post WWII Britain. Claire Randall is visiting Scotland with her husband, following a long separation due to the war. She visits some standing stones (Stonehenge is an example) and is mystically pulled back through time to the year 1743.

In the book, the word "outlander" has something of a double meaning. Claire is British, and is seen as an outlander, or Sassenach, by the scots. To be a Sassenach alone amongst the Scots in 1743 is a dangerous thing, since the Scots were fomenting rebellion against oppressive British rule at the time. The bigger sense of the word "outlander" is Claire's anachronistic presence in 18th century Scotland. She is out of time and place, quite literally.

When I was a little girl, I read a lot of fiction set against historical backdrops. I was an imaginitive child, and I felt I didn't belong in modern times. I longed to go back in time and live in an era when I could wear gowns every day, ride horses for transportation and dine by candlelight. A post by Random Kath over at Ordinary Snapshots reminded me of the days when I felt this way.

Of course, I recognize all of the flaws in my childish reasoning. It is not likely that I would have been part of an economically advantaged class (although one can dream). It's much more likely that I would have had one long dress to call my own, day by dirty, smoky-fired, air conditioning-free day, and without the benefit of a washing machine. I would have been more likely to walk around avoiding the piles of muck left by the horses than to have actually owned or ridden one.

It is doubtful that I would have had much education at all, and who knows whether or not I would even have learned to read. There were common beliefs and practices in past centuries that I would find repugnant, and don't even get me started on public health issues! Most of all, the disadvantages of being a woman at almost any time in the past are enormous. Look how much the status of women has changed, just in my lifetime! Why would I want to go back?

Having said all of that, there is still the kernel of longing within me to visit the past and spy on my ancestors. I suppose I would prefer to visit as a fly on the wall, so to speak, rather than as an active participant. To participate actively, if I took my modern self and way of thinking along, could get me into a lot of trouble. I'm too vocal and my opinions are too modern. I'm too accustomed to living with my US American freedoms.

If you could go back in time, would you wish to actively participate in the culture and events of the era, or would you prefer to just observe? Which era would you choose, and why? There is a "Part II" to this post, saved for tomorrow, since this was getting to be a bit long. I'll answer these questions in reference to myself in tomorrow's post.


PaxRomano said...

I would love to visit Athens Greece during the 5th century...the art, the philosophy, the buildings. Of course, I'd have to be one of the upper class, because I do not do slavery well ;)

And, history nerd that I am, I'd love to have lived during the time of our founding fathers and witnessed the birth of the declaration of independence (though the thought of a Philadelphia summer with out air conditioning does seem brutal).

And last, but not least, I would love to have observed San Francisco during the "Summer of Love"...the free music, the belief (naive as it was) that change was possible...of course this is during my life time, but in 1967 I was only eight years old.

Merci said...

All good times and places to visit, Pax. Before I would travel through time, I'd have to be very specific about the details. Can't imagine finding myself as a serf or a slave.

MissMagnoliaThunderpussy said...

I'd like to have a permanent machine, one that could be used to go back whenever you'd like to whatever period you wanted to. I'd take full advantage of it to go shopping, since It's such a chore finding things to sell I'd take todays money to buy things at yesterdays prices, bring them back and sell them on e-bay, if I could do that, taklk about being set for life

I'd also like to go back to observe certain periods of my mother's life to fill in several blank spaces. I'd visit certain periods of my own, if only to tinker with time but I don't think you're supposed to do that, at least that's what they always warn you about when tou go back, "don't touch or alter anything". Well piss on them, if I can go back I can do what I damn well please.

I think I'd stick to the 20th Century, up until the mid 50's.

Darling, there's a marvelous Woody Allen film, if you've not seen it I urge you to, it's called "Zelig" all about a little man who could fit himself into most of the important events of the times. Also, Woody's "Purple Rose of Ciaro", where a movie on the silver screen comes down and romances Mia Farrow and takes her up from the theater into the actual movie. Wonderful films!

Merci said...

Miss Magnolia-

What a wonderful comment! I have not seen Zelig, but I truly love Purple Rose of Cairo.

There are some blanks in my 20th century family history that I wouldn't mind filling in, either. And what a great idea,to go back and purchase things to bring forward. I'd redo my house in art nouveau and art deco, maybe buy and original impressionist or two before they were discovered! Marvelous!