So I might have mentioned that I got a huge stack of library books. I’ve been working my way through them, returning some and checking out some others. Yesterday I started a new book at work. It’s from a series that I was really looking forward to when it came out. I read the first book last year, and I remembered that I had trouble getting into it, but I couldn’t remember why. Either way, I picked up the second book and have started it.
Suddenly, I remember the problem.
I am not an authority on history. I know a lot about history, but even of the eras that I might be considered something of an expert on, the Victorian period is not on that list.
So when I find glaring historical inaccuracies in the first five chapters, it is a huge turn off. Things like someone tipping a bell boy what he probably would have made in two days. I remember a similar inaccuracy in the previous book. Gail Carriger explains it far better than I could.
The story is an alternative history; there are some changes that have been made to settings, technology, and the like for the sake of the story. That’s fine. But there are a few things that are just. Plain. Wrong.
Just to be sure, I looked up a few things. The story was set in 1897. The average yearly pay in 1900 was $436. Since this is a really fancy hotel in New York we’re talking about, I’ll give them a benefit of a doubt and even though this is a kid between the ages of 12 and 15 that we’re talking about, I’ll assume that he’s getting the average national pay, even though that average is based on adult, American men, who made the most at that time, and not a kid, likely an immigrant or the child of immigrants.
$436–that’s a little over $8 a week (working 40-60 hours; adults worked 60 hour weeks, I’m not sure about kids and teens. Like I said, I’m no expert, I’m just running off of a quick google search and some prior knowledge), or about $1.20 a day.
Now, even if our character only tipped a dollar, that’s still most of what he made in a day, and likely a lot more, considering all of the allowances I just made. This character hands out the cash without a second thought. Even if you took it as an act of generosity, it’s still extremely unlikely.
Add to the fact that this character is British, and it becomes even more unlikely that he would be handing out paper money to faceless help. The book doesn’t indicate that he has been outside of Britain before; the British used primarily coins until the 1920s. A penny would have been considered a good tip, on either side of the pond.
And that was just the first error I found.
I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to finish this book. Right now I’m giving it three strikes. One more blatant mistake, and back to the library it goes.
If someone knows more about 1897 New York and would like to correct me, feel free to do so. I’d like to give the author the benefit of a doubt, but this is just driving me up a wall.