how is it possible to love fictional characters this much and also have people always been this way?
like, did queen elizabeth lie in bed late sometimes thinking ‘VERILY I CANNOT EVEN FOR MERCUTIO HATH SLAIN ME WITH FEELS’
was caesar like ‘ET TU ODYSSEUS’
sometimes i wonder
oh my GOD
the answer is yes they did. there’s a lot of research about the highly emotional reactions to the first novels widely available in print.
here’s a thing; the printing press was invented in 1450 and whilst it was revolutionary it wasn’t very good. but then it got better over time and by the 16th century there were publications, novels, scientific journals, folios, pamphlets and newspapers all over Europe. at first most were educational or theological, or reprints of classical works.
however, novels gained in popularity, as basically what most people wanted was to read for pleasure. they became salacious, extremely dramatic, with tragic heroines and doomed love and flawed heroes (see classical literature, only more extreme.) books in the form of letters were common. sensationalism was par the course and apparently used to teach moral lessons. there was also a lot of erotica floating around.
but here’s the thing: due to the greater availability of literature and the rise of comfy furniture (i shit you not this is an actual historical fact, the 16th and 17th century was when beds and chairs got comfy) people started reading novels for pleasure, women especially. as these novels were highly emotional, they too became…highly emotional. there are loads of contemporary reports of young women especially fainting, having hysterics, or crying fits lasting for days due to the death of a character or their otp’s doomed love. they became insensible over books and characters, and were very vocal about it. men weren’t immune-there’s a long letter a middle-aged man wrote to the author of his favourite work basically saying that the novel is too sad, he can’t handle all his feels, if they don’t get together he won’t be able to go on, and his heart is already broken at the heroine’s tragic state (IIRC ehh).
conservatives at the time were seriously worried about the effects of literature on people’s mental health, and thought it damaging to both morals and society. so basically yes it is exactly like what happens on tumblr when we cry over attractive British men, only my historical theory (get me) is that their emotions were even more intense, as they hadn’t had a life of sensationalist media to numb the pain for them beforehand in the same way we do, nor did they have the giant group therapy session that is tumblr.
(don’t even get me started on the classical/early medieval dudes and their boners for the Iliad i will be here all week. suffice to say, the members of the Byzantine court used Homeric puns instead of talking normally to each other if someone who hand’t studied the classics was in the room. they had dickish fandom in-jokes. boom.)
I needed to know this.
See, we’re all just the current steps in a time-honored tradition! (And this post is good to read along with Affectingly’s post this week about old-school-fandom-and-history-and-stuff.
Ancient Iliad fandom is intense
Alexander the Great and and his boyfriend totally RPed Achilles and Patroclus. Alexander shipped that hard. (It’s possible that this story is apocryphal, but that would just mean that ancient historians were writing RPS about Alexander and Hephaestion RPing Iliad slash and honestly that’s just as good).
And then there’s this gem from Plato:
“Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus – his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far)” – Symposium
That’s right: 4th Century BCE arguments about who topped. Nihil novi sub sole my friends.
More on this glorious subject from people who know way more than I do
Man I love this post.
And to add my personal favourite story: after reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa in the 18th century, Elizabeth Echlin decided that she was NOT HAPPY with the ending and basically wrote her own fix-it fic. No-one dies and Lovelace (the villain) was totally reformed and became a super nice guy. It’s completely OOC and incredibly poorly written and it’s beautiful.
Also, so many women fell in love with the villain, Lovelace, and wrote to Richardson about it, that he kept adding new bits with each edition to highlight what a hideous person Lovelace was. So it’s almost unsurprising that reading novels in this period was actually considered dangerous because it gave women unrealistic ideas about men and made them easier prey for rakes.
Basically, “I want my own Christian Grey” has been a thing for hundreds of years.