Along with a lot of people, I’ve been sucked into the marvelous Starz adaptation of Outlander. The cast is terrific, the production values are top-notch, and I’m really enjoying the scripts. But Outlander clearly illustrates something that, as a historian, I realized a long time ago: a lot of us modern ladies would be an absolutely catastrophically bad heroines for a time-travel romance.
Let’s leave off the modern conveniences (like birth control, running water, and legal equality in marriage) that just about any woman would miss in the past. Why are some of us at AAR much better off in the present?
Caroline: I’ve never seen a time-travel heroine with lousy vision. People get motion sick just trying on my glasses, which I rarely wear because they’re not good at correcting my astigmatism. If I were sucked back in time at a random moment, I’d most likely be wearing my contacts – my disposable contacts, which have to come out that night and soak in a saline solution I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find in any time prior to the 1950s. Sure, Jamie Fraser is good looking, but after the first ten hours I spent in the past, I wouldn’t be able to see him. He’d be wasted on me.
Blythe: My malady is basically the same as yours. I am blind as a bat, with eyes that are two different levels of correction. Vastly different. So if I am sucked back I’ll just hope it’s before I get home from yoga, because then I’ll still have my glasses on instead of contacts.
Lee: I have asthma and use two inhalers so would be having a hard time breathing after a while if I didn’t have them with me while time traveling. The inhalers would eventually run out. I do wear orthotics in my shoes but I suppose I could fashion something similar out of some type of material, but of course who knows what kind of footwear I would be wearing once my shoes lost their soles through constant wear?
Haley: I was going to say contacts as well. Other than a total lack of general survival skills, mine would probably be that I have a skin allergy, so I have allergic reactions to random soaps, metals, lotions, etc. Any handmade soap I’ve ever used gives me issues so I can only imagine that in the world of lye soap (and generally poor hygiene) I’d be a walking rash.
Dabney: Bedding. I realize that sounds paltry but it’s so key to me that when I try and imagine sleeping on mattresses stuffed with hay, I cringe. I’m a lousy sleeper and I am thus deeply wedded to my super comfy bed, soft cotton sheets and forgiving pillows–I use three. I couldn’t cut it in a time where sheets didn’t smell nice, beds didn’t squeak, and blankets didn’t scratch.
Maggie: I am the same as Lee – I have asthma and would need inhalers. I also have allergies so just about everything would make me sick. I’m also not used to censoring my speech – I don’t think I would come close to surviving in an environment where that was necessary. I’m Hispanic so in most places in the world I would face racism. The only way I could time travel comfortably would be to do it like in Judith O’Brien’s “Ashton’s Bride” where the heroine’s consciousness inhabited the body of girl who would otherwise have died. She went from being tall and gangling to small and curvy. Works for me.
Cindy: Mine is odd – I can smell the faintest trace of anything. Years ago while living at home I kept telling my family that I could smell gasoline but no one else could smell it so they shrugged it off. Finally my dad discovered a jerry can of gasoline in the garage that had a slow leak and gas had been making its way slowly down the wall. When visiting my parents’ house I noticed a smell by their fireplace that others noticed but didn’t affect them like me. I would sit and hunt for the smell and decided it was a plant they had. For years I noticed the smell but stopped saying anything because they would get annoyed as the smell, to them, had dissipated. They were sheepish and surprised when they finally had their chimney cleaned and discovered a petrified squirrel carcass in it. This might not seem like a handicap but I can’t deal with human/animal secretions as the smell makes me gag so just getting meat/hunting/fishing would be a nightmare – but I hope I would grow used to it with exposure. And as I get older I’m able to deal with more I think through exposure.
Jenna: Holy cow, Cindy, you’d never survive all of the horrible stenches I imagine must have existed with no running water, flush toilets, poor sewage, unwashed bodies… whenever I read an historical or watch a period movie, I can’t stop fixating on how dirty and smelly everything must have been.
I don’t suffer from anything life-threatening if it weren’t treated (like asthma), but I imagine I’d be a fall-down mess around that time of the month without Advil for cramps. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started experiencing what I think may be migraines, where my head hurts so bad I feel sick and the light hurts my eyes, so I’d be in pretty bad shape without any kind of pain meds to help with that. I also confess that the idea of low oral hygiene would send me screaming back to modern times – I don’t need Hollywood shiny, white, straight teeth, but the idea of the rotting messes that I’m sure were common means there would be absolutely zero romance in my life should I be sent back in time.
LinnieGayl: Count me as another AAR staffer with asthma and allergies. If I don’t use several medicines on a daily basis I have major problems breathing, and will also be sneezing nonstop. My eyesight is also miserable, and without my glasses or contacts I’d just see fuzzy images. And then there’s the two-time cancer survivor thing. While it’s not something I think about on a daily basis, the fear of not being able to have my regular check-ups tests would be hard to handle.
Melanie: I’m an absolute mess and wouldn’t survive traveling back in time (or the zombie apocalypse). I’ve got terrible vision (though hopefully my glasses would last for a while), but the real kicker would be the daily meds. I’ve got bad allergies, including food allergies which would be tricky to work around, asthma issues, thyroid issues, severe migraines, and joint issues (because it’s fun to fall apart in your 30s. Really.)
Lynn: I love historicals and have spent lots of time romanticizing what it would be like to live in Tudor England, Renaissance Italy, or colonial America. But then reality hits and I remember that I probably would have been doomed from the very beginning. You know those tiny preemie onesies you see in stores? Those were loose on me when I was born. It’s only very recently that preemies started to reliably survive and thrive, so being born in the age of modern medicine was probably a good thing for me.
Caz: I’m another of those with terrible eyesight (short sighted but the long-sight kicked in in my late 40s, so now I’m consigned to varifocals!) I was diagnosed with asthma seven years ago – never knew I had it until it landed me in hospital – and while it’s controlled, and I rarely have problems, I still have to take the meds every day. Allergies – I’m allergic to dust and animal fur, so no lovely fur coverlets for me. I have to be careful with makeup and face lotions etc because my skin is sensitive, so in addition to sneezing my head off, I’d be covered in spots or a rash from whatever variety of ye-olde-soap was available! I have a dodgy back, so like Dabney, I would really miss a nice comfy bed. On top of all the other issues people have mentioned, like good hygiene and diet, I probably wouldn’t have survived the birth of my first child, let alone have gone on to have a second. So while I sigh over the fancy frocks and the chaps in their tight pantaloons and boots… I’m more or less content to leave them in books or on the screen while I sit on the comfy sofa with my kids!
Heather: You can certainly add me to the list of doomed individuals. My eyesight is atrocious. It’s able to be corrected to a certain point fortunately, so my glasses would probably be a necessity. And I do take life-sustaining medication, so time traveling would be seriously problematic for me. I had surgery five years ago to remove three tumors from my pituitary gland, the pea-sized gland that is at the base of your brain which controls your entire endocrine system. The tumors and the surgery itself damaged my gland to the point that I have to replace nearly every hormone it produces, leaving me with secondary Addison’s Disease. With Addison’s your body doesn’t produce enough of its own steroid hormones, those substances that control your fight or flight reaction. A stressful event or physical trauma (even something as minor as a cold) can quickly send your body into shock and be fatal. As long as I have my meds/injectables, I’m fine. Without them, I wouldn’t last long – like a matter of hours.
Mary: This might not be a calamity for many, but placing me back anytime before the printing press was invented would be sheer torture for me. I cannot imagine life without TONS of books to read. Books are not a convenience…they are a necessity!!
Shannon: My eyesight cannot be corrected, for there is none to correct. :) I think a blind person would be a terrible time travel heroine. I rely very heavily on all kinds of technology. Plus, I have a guide dog. Would the dog travel back in time too? Hmmmm. I can see a fair amount of badness in such a story. (Side note: All AAR staffers agree we would love to read “The Blind Romance Reviewer’s Time Traveling Guide Dog.”)
What about you? Are you a hale, hearty Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser ready to take on another century? Or are you, like us, just as happy to stay where you are? Why?