Last night I watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, an homage to 1920s Paris, and to that “Golden Age” when the City of Light’s streets were haunted by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. It is a wonderful movie — whimsical and funny, but also poignant and thought-provoking.
Part of what makes the movie so effective is the insight that one generation’s Golden Age is another generation’s reality. An era we look back upon as a time of wonder and magic, may well have been a time of unbearable ennui and dissatisfaction for its contemporaries.
Let me say up front that despite setting my novels in the Colonial Era, I don’t see those heady years just before the American Revolution as any sort of Golden Age. Would I like to go back to the 1760s for a while? Absolutely. I want to meet Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Paul Revere, to name just a few. But this was an age of Smallpox and Yellow Fever epidemics; Boston was ravaged by fires and plagued by poor sanitation. I have no illusions, and I do my best in the Thieftaker books not to glorify the period.
But then, if not the 1760s, when? What is my Golden Age? To be honest, I’m not sure. Different periods come to mind. As I say, I would enjoy visiting Boston in the 1760s, or Philadelphia in 1776. I would like to witness the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, to see Ruth and Gehrig play baseball in the 1930s, or watch Mays and Mantle and Aaron in their primes in the 1950s. I would have loved to be out in the cold of Washington D.C.’s Mall to see JFK’s inaugural address, and I would have given just about anything to see Hendrix and Joplin play at Woodstock. But a Golden Age? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that such a beast exists. Every age has its heroes and heroines, it’s sublime moments and glorious achievements. And every age also has its villains and tragedies. I think I’m content to stay here in the present, and see if I can’t help my children create a golden future.