I just started reading a book that I've heard about for some time, called Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier. It's set in Holland in the 1660's, which is fascinating for me.
Why? Well, for one thing, I'm also very interested in genealogy, and with the help of other researchers have traced my roots back across the Atlantic ocean to the British Isles and Europe.
Although we have heard that some of our German ancestors were part Dutch, one, a woman named Magarethe Henrietta Willems was just tracked to a birth date in Amsterdam in 1769. I love to read fiction about this early period and imagine how my ancestors lived.
Obviously their lives and work load were much harder than ours today, and people (especially women) did not travel much. Often they spent their entire lives working and living in their own village. And clothes? Surely they had only a few. Here's a description from the first few pages of this book, where the main character (at age sixteen) is leaving home to become a maid for a wealthier family:
"To the few things I was taking with me my mother added another cap, collar and apron so that each day I could wash one and wear the other, and would always look clean."
Quite a stretch to think of the closetful of fashionable clothes many young girls expect today, isn't it?
And how about working? Filling large pails of water from the canal for doing the wash,
"I would be laundering every day, my hands chapped and cracked from the soap and water, my face red from standing over the steam, my back aching from lifting wet cloth, my arms burned by the iron. But I was new and I was young - it was to be expected I would have the hardest tasks."
Reading historical fiction and imagining the lives of my ancestors (especially the women) in the centuries preceding my life gives me a deeper understanding of where I come from and who I am, as well as a keen appreciation for everything I have now: running water, electricity, a relatively easy lifestyle, and plenty to eat. It also gives me an understanding of the struggles, war, and strife that brought my ancestors to this country, hoping for peace and prosperity for their families and descendants.
Do you like historical fiction? What time in history do you love to read about?