They do have that tendency, with people getting hurt on both sides, and accusations being flung about with abandon.
There are some fundamental vocabulary problems at work here. That is because people do not use the same words to mean the same things.
When people talk about a “historically accurate book,” they can mean any of the following:
- an attempt to recreate a period piece, in which the author mimics the formal sentence structure and word choice of Regency-era works.
- a book, set in historical times, where the author gets all of the major (e.g., plot-dependent) details right, and the vast majority of the minor ones.
- a book, set in historical times, wherein the author demonstrates that she has done her homework by including as much detail as possible.
- a book, set in historical times, wherein the characters adhere firmly to the strictures of their time, without any deviation, no matter their (otherwise historically accurate) motivations.
I have heard books decried as “not historically accurate” or “wallpaper historicals” for failure to meet any of the above 4 qualifications.
I attempt to write books that are historically accurate as per definition 2. My personal taste does not run to books written to definitions 1, 3, and 4, although there is clearly a market for those books as well.
Right now, apropos Sarah F.’s post on Dear Author, there is a massive discussion ranging on twitter about historical accuracy. I think 95% of the disagreement is that those who are claiming historical accuracy is less important are talking about books of the 1 and 3 variety, and those who are in favor are talking about books of the 2 variety.