The Absent Role of Tobacco in the Novel "The Yard"

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I am reading The Yard by Alex Grecian (Berkley Books, 2012).



The novel takes place in Victorian England, in 1889 to be precise. A new inspector is investigating murders of fellow colleagues, and Saucy Jack's shadow is kind of present...

An interesting novel if it is, however, tobacco is non existant in the story. I'm at page 205 and I have yet to read about one of the characters smoking a pipe, a cigar or a cigarette. Even snuff is absent from this story.

One may choose to acknowledge, or not, the existence of tobacco in today's era. However, choosing not to acknowledge it in a novel featuring Victorian England is not only a serious breach to historical accuracy, but somehow damages the ambience on e would expect of the era.

Personally, continuing to read this novel will prove very difficult because of this lack. Imagine Sherlock Holmes's investigations, or Charles Dicken's novels, but with all the references to tobacco wiped out. How can one feel in Victorian England? :affraid:

A pity, truly. I would suppose that The Black Country and the other novels featuring the Yard "team" are alike.
 

tslots

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Some Amazon comments show you are far from alone:

"... My copy carries an endorsement from Jeffrey Deaver promising that it is "rich with detail, atmosphere and history." It isn't. The descriptions of London (such as they are) are feeble and generic, and the language - so vital in generating a sense of period - is ludicrously inappropriate. The dialogue in particular is absurd. This is supposed to be London in 1889 but within just the first few pages people use such phrases as "no worries", "I'm right on it", and "he's heading up the investigation." These weren't in use in London in 1989, never mind 1889 and phrases like "Where was the beat cop?" still aren't. Conversation is liberally sprinkled with "yeah", "sure" and the like. It's all as phoney as Dick van Dyke's cockney accent and it destroyed any possible atmosphere or authenticity... "

"... The plot was not bad but the subplots seemed tossed in to make the story more than what it is -- overall the story simply has a one-dimensional quality to it. It is predictable as well and the characters are one dimensional as well. The dialogue is poor and fluctuates between the "authentic" and, strangely enough, colloquial US talk. Additionally, some of what happens is just plain silly ..."

"... The beauty (to me) of historical novels are that they are rich in language, culture, and serve to transport you back to different place in time. This book did none of that. After reading this book I realized why I like Sherlock Holmes so much - authentic language and descriptions of of Victorian England ..."

 
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Yes, tslots...
If one is to write a novel, or any work, on another era, one must impregnate himself or herself with all the ways of said era. Writing a novel about the Victorian era and keeping one's 21st century's mentality, especially in this case, an obvious anti - tobacco mind and apply it to an era where tobacco was part of a lot of gentlemen's daily lives, can only give sad results. Not even a single mention to cigars and brandy after supper. I say, shocking!
 

riff raff

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I enjoy historical fiction novels (Jeffrey Archer, Rutherford, etc) but I almost never read any references to pipe smoking. I gather that modern writers just have no current point of reference. I think in those days, finding someone that didn't smoke a pipe or cigar would be difficult to find.
 

Richard Burley

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So-called politically correct characters, attitudes, and dialogue are laughable in any setting; in historical fiction, it's a disaster. Besides the lack of authenticity, you get the distasteful impression of the author being a low-grade parasite trying to cash in on an established genre. For me, even one line of dialogue can ruin the story. It's an integrity thing.

But having said that, I can't recall a novel or story, Victorian, Edwardian, or otherwise, other than the Holmes series or Mark Twain's oeuvre that featured much pipe smoking. Rhett Butler in GWTW smoked a lot of cigars, if memory serves, and hardboiled detectives smoke a lot of cigarettes. You occasionally "see" a pipe in Agatha Christie, or John Dickson Carr. Wait! There's the poor bastard in Dostoevsky's Poor People, a novelette. Any more?...there's gotta be.
 

RobJ

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Heck Santa and Frosty aren't seen with pipes anymore.
 

monbla256

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riff raff":poen5b42 said:
I enjoy historical fiction novels (Jeffrey Archer, Rutherford, etc) but I almost never read any references to pipe smoking.  I gather that modern writers just have no current point of reference.   I think in those days, finding someone that didn't smoke a pipe or cigar would be difficult to find.  
I think riff has nailed it ! The number of tobacco users of all types has diminished substantially since the time of Conan Doyle etc. Take the time honored "news room" of most major newspapers which were a haze of smoke from all the tobacco use back in the early part of the twentieth century to todays goup of "writers" who work in smoke free environments and who are probably non-smokers themselves have no reference point for tobacco use in life !! As most writers of novels reference their own experiences, living in a world of no tabacco use would explain so much !! Worse than the no tobacco use to me is the LANGUAGE !! 21st century catch phrases have NO place in a novel such as this and only point out the authors ineptitude at their craft !! :twisted: :twisted:
 

DrT999

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Richard Burley":t5de71hl said:
So-called politically correct characters, attitudes, and dialogue are laughable in any setting; in historical fiction, it's a disaster. Besides the lack of authenticity, you get the distasteful impression of the author being a low-grade parasite trying to cash in on an established genre. For me, even one line of dialogue can ruin the story. It's an integrity thing.

But having said that, I can't recall a novel or story, Victorian, Edwardian, or otherwise, other than the Holmes series or Mark Twain's oeuvre that featured much pipe smoking. Rhett Butler in GWTW smoked a lot of cigars, if memory serves, and hardboiled detectives smoke a lot of cigarettes. You occasionally "see" a pipe in Agatha Christie, or John Dickson Carr. Wait! There's the poor bastard in Dostoevsky's Poor People, a novelette. Any more?...there's gotta be.
While Lord Peter Wimsey usually smokes cigarettes or cigars in most of the novels, he does smoke a pipe in 'Gaudy Night' (the chapter where he is punting at Oxford). I believe he and Detective Parker both smoke pipes elsewhere but can't recall the scenes (I seem to remember instances where they knock the ashes from their pipes at least once each). Of the tv adaptations, Wimsey smokes a pipe in the flashback to the trenches in the first episode of 'The Nine Tailors' -- in that tv adaptation, the actor playing the Reverend usually has a pipe in the rectory scenes, and another character (a sailor on leave) cuts up some plug tobacco for his pipe.

More recently, in the James Harriot books, one of the vets (a well known small animal vet in another town) usually had a pipe when seen in the series.

On the negative side, a hag is smoking a pipe in the Leaky Cauldron in one of the early Harry Potter books, and the petty criminal 'Dung' Fletcher is a pipe smoker. . . .
 

juanmedusa

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this thread more than you are enjoying your book I presume.
 

DrumsAndBeer

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riff raff":khs71p5b said:
I enjoy historical fiction novels (Jeffrey Archer, Rutherford, etc) but I almost never read any references to pipe smoking.  I gather that modern writers just have no current point of reference.   I think in those days, finding someone that didn't smoke a pipe or cigar would be difficult to find.  
Great point. If you don't smoke a pipe, why would you write about it?
 

Richard Burley

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DrumsAndBeer":jb9ugtsj said:
riff raff":jb9ugtsj said:
I enjoy historical fiction novels (Jeffrey Archer, Rutherford, etc) but I almost never read any references to pipe smoking.  I gather that modern writers just have no current point of reference.   I think in those days, finding someone that didn't smoke a pipe or cigar would be difficult to find.  
Great point. If you don't smoke a pipe, why would you write about it?
To "dress" your characters appropriately for the age, obviously. Not having pipe smoking in a work of historical fiction is one thing; nothing necessarily wrong with that. It's the whiff of some hack's literary ejaculate being deliberately cleansed of things offensive to modern sensibilities, but not to a certain era, that rankles.
 

DrT999

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DrumsAndBeer":j31kysqi said:
riff raff":j31kysqi said:
I enjoy historical fiction novels (Jeffrey Archer, Rutherford, etc) but I almost never read any references to pipe smoking.  I gather that modern writers just have no current point of reference.   I think in those days, finding someone that didn't smoke a pipe or cigar would be difficult to find.  
Great point. If you don't smoke a pipe, why would you write about it?
I doubt if those who attempt to write 'historical' fiction about ancient Rome have eaten dormice, drank wine & sea water, or worn a toga, and when they mess up the details for any era, those who actually know something of the period have a harder time enjoying the story. While the little details shouldn't be overdone (they can just get in the way), the right details still have to be noted in passing. If a mid-middle class or higher British group of couples have a formal dinner in the mid-Victorian period through the 1930s, and the couples sit around talking together drinking iced sweet tea after dinner rather than separating by gender with the men at least considering drinking (port and/or brandy) and smoking (usually cigars in that case), it shatters the entire illusion
 

friar_jay

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I saw The Yard at my local Ollies last night, even picked it up and looked at it. However, having previously read the post here I decided to pass on it.
 

KevinM

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I’m a bit late, but want to say that you’ve made pertinent comments about the important dimension that authenticity adds to fiction.
 

Penguin

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I have followed this thread with some interest. As a writer, I tend to avoid writing strict historical fiction, in part because of the problems presented here. Historical fiction of any kind tends to attract those drawn to the historical period in question, so the audience is bound to know more than your average reader about the particular setting.

However, the absence of smoking in a novel isn't typically a dealbreaker for many, simply because smoking is seen as taboo by many these days. Most people I know aren't smokers, and wouldn't even think about whether or not a character smokes. That's not how it should be, in my opinion, but that's been my experience.

Of course, the people I grew up around are also the type who would expect a character who smokes to be some kind of villain, so there's that.

I envy those who can write historical fiction well, without dumping so much modern thought and stereotype into it. I'm convinced some of the classics that haven't been banned from public education have survived simply because people refuse to read them.
 
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