Anachronism: Something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time. I love the word, but I don’t love finding them in a book or a film where anachronisms are not intentionally placed to somehow benefit the story. For example, I adore the movie Moulin Rouge partly because it is full of interesting anachronisms. While the story unfolds in nineteenth century Paris, the music is entirely modern. The characters are singing Madonna, Elton John, and The Police while frolicking around in Belle Epoque costumes and settings.
As a writer of both Regency Jane Austen variations and time travel fiction, I have found it is important to be very careful of, or intentional about, anachronisms. For the most part, I dread them popping up in my Regency JA variations because of an unnoticed gap in my research. Like most writers of historical novels, I try to be very careful that the things my characters say or do, or the things they wear, their manners, etc., are all appropriate to the time period. On the other hand, fiction being fiction, I feel it’s okay for a tiny historical error to appear here or there, as long as it doesn’t distract from the sense of reality in the story. Besides, I think even the most knowledgeable Regency writers, and I’ve noticed there are some genuine scholars out there, sometimes take liberties with historical accuracy in the interest of a great plot. And maybe it doesn’t always matter, because I think most readers are looking for that great story first, and accuracy second. While I hope that my readers will cut me a little slack if they find a small flaw in my Regency accuracy, I am equally forgiving of other authors who might lapse, as long as I really enjoy the book overall.
In my Regency time travel novel, The Time Baroness, I purposefully use anachronisms as a way to point out that my time-traveling characters do make mistakes. That’s part of the fun: that a time traveler is often in danger of committing faux pas by saying or doing something that no one in that time period says or does, or worse, bringing something into the past that can only exist in the future. Lots of time travel movies and books use this device, and it usually makes for some interesting plot points.
What inspired me to post about anachronisms now was that I was watching a movie the other day in which someone was playing a piece by Chopin on the piano, and I thought it was the same piece that is used as the theme throughout the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film. Well, I got all up in arms, knowing that Chopin couldn’t have written the piece in the time period in which the film takes place since he was born in 1810. I stormed around about the absurdity of a filmmaker not taking more care with historical accuracy, until I did some simple research on IMDB and found that the piece is called Dawn, and it was written for the film by composer Jean-Ives Thibaudet. Boy, did I feel dumb. My only remaining argument was that the piece sounds like Chopin, which maybe you could argue feels somewhat anachronistic.
Then I got inspired to Google Anachronisms in Jane Austen Films and several things showed up on IMDB. Here are a few fun ones:
In the 2005 Pride and Prejudice: Lizzie is clearly wearing Wellington boots in many scenes.
In Ang Lee’s 1995 Sense and Sensibility: When Mrs Dashwood stands alone looking at the paintings on the wall in Saltram House, there is a portrait of Oscar Wilde. The movie takes place in 1810, he would not be born for another 46 years.
In the 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow: Emma plays and sings the song “Silent Worship”. Although it’s based on an aria from George Frideric Handel‘s opera “Tolomeo”, the version in the film was arranged by Arthur Somervell in 1928.
In the 2007 Persuasion, starring Sally Hawkins: Anne plays Gymnopedie no. 1 by Eric Satie on the Piano – this was not composed until the late 1880s.
Have any of you experts caught anachronisms with your own eyes in the film or television adaptations of Austen’s novels? If so, please share!