Posts Tagged ‘England’

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

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A portrait of King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler. Probably not what he looked like at all.

So this is a bit outside my normal wheelhouse, but I decided to write a post about it because I’m all fired up about the subject (and really, isn’t that the reason we write anything anywhere?).

Recently, I’ve become very interested in King Arthur. Specifically, I wanted to know whether or not he was real, and how this whole story of him, Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere, his sister/lover Morgan le Fay and his nephew/bastard son Mordred came to be. I mean, do we really believe a guy who didn’t know he was the bastard son of the previous king was taught by a magician, pulled a sword from a stone, had an idyllic kingdom stretching across Europe for a few years, only for it to be undone by his affair with his sister and his wife’s affair with one of his knights, to be gospel historical fact? I wanted to know the truth, and I wanted to know it as in-depth as possible.

This new obsession of mine started after one of the YouTube channels I follow, Overly Sarcastic Productions, produced a video about Arthur lore, and how that got built up over the past fifteen-hundred years (click here to watch the video, as well as here for their follow-up on some of Arthur’s lesser-known knights). These laid the groundwork for me to get interested in the subject, and to want to find out a bit more. From there, I downloaded a lecture  series from The Great Courses company (college level lecture series you can listen to while you work or drive. Definitely check them out, they’re very informative) on Arthur, narrated by Professor Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University, and an expert on the subject of Arthuriana.

If you don’t have time to watch either video or to listen to Professor Armstrong’s lecture series (though you should at least spend a half hour on that first video), let me do my best to put it really simply: probably ninety-five percent of what you think you know about King Arthur is complete and utter fiction. There’s some evidence to suggest that during the late 5th and early 6th century, the invasion of the Saxons in England was stopped and in some places reversed, keeping the peace for a few generations, and that someone probably lead a war effort that caused that peace.

This figure was probably the basis of Arthur. The name Arthur, by the way, doesn’t appear until after this time period, but then becomes quite widespread among Bretons. This possibly means that the name “Arthur” wasn’t this figure’s real name, but maybe an acronym, abbreviation, or nickname based on a Celtic or Latin name. A number of figures listed in history annals from around or after that time have been pointed to as possibly the inspiration for Arthur, but documentation from that time is scarce, so no one really knows if any of these figures were Arthur or given that name as a title or nickname.

So, Arthur was possibly real. We’re not sure, because there’s only so much evidence. He could be as made up as Harry Potter, and was a folklore character adapted by the Bretons for their current predicament.

Pages from the Historia regum Britanniae, the first King Arthur bestseller ever written.

At the very least, the legend of Arthur cemented itself and grew over time. From a local warlord to king of all the Bretons, and then other elements started getting added on, such as Merlin, who was probably based on a mad bard who lived a couple of centuries after the Arthur figure. Eventually, a man by the name of Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote this huge book called Historia regum Brittaniae, a pseudo-history of Britain that dealt quite a bit with Arthur. It was spread across the European continent, where other writers from as far as Italy, Scandinavia, and Russia started adding their own spins on Arthur’s story and adding their own elements. These elements include Lancelot, who was the invention of a French writer, Excalibur and the Holy Grail, and Mordred being Arthur’s incestuous offspring. And as years passed, storytellers just kept adding elements and remixing the already-available tales until we have all the Arthur stories available today.

It’s like what might happen if, a thousand years from now, George Washington was known as Walsh; his historicity was debated; he was credited not only with defeating the British but conquering the entire continental United States; had Superman’s powers; and was taught by Mark Twain, who’s been combined with Nikola Tesla and has lightning powers.

Yeah, kind of crazy. Also a huge simplification, but it’s a blog post. What do you expect of me?

Like I said, anyone can add to the Arthur canon. Doesn’t mean it’ll be good.

Anyway, it’s just mind-blowing how great an influence one man who may or may not have existed and probably only ruled a small area of land if he did exist has had on Western society. Most likely, if you’ve lived anywhere English culture has reached, you’ve heard something about Arthur. You just probably never realized that there was so much debate around him or there’s no real canon about him, because so much about him is in flux from storyteller to storyteller.

It’s also very inspiring, in a way. You can write almost any sort of story about Arthur, and it can be considered part of the canon (whether or not it’s any good though, is left up to the storytellers and their audiences). The possibilities are kind of endless, as long as you keep an open mind. I’ve already had an idea for a short story involving the historical Arthur figure and the subsequent works written about him. I plan to write it at some point this year and then submit it to my publisher, Castrum Press, for one of their anthologies (they’re doing some anthologies, BTW. Check them out here if you’re interested. All are welcome to submit). Hopefully it gets accepted, and maybe some people will like it. We’ll see.

Whatever you know or believe about Arthur, it’s undeniable that he’s had an influence on the world. His legend is constantly growing, morphing, and mutating. And all from one man, a man we don’t even know if he was real or not. It’s definitely a mind-boggling, cool, and inspiring subject, and I’m so glad I decided to dive into it.

I hope, if anything, this post makes you curious enough to dive in too.

You know, I think every horror writer has a story that has a title that sounds a lot like this one. “The Woman in the Coffin”; “The Pit and the Pendulum”; “The Lady in the Water.” Okay, that last one isn’t a horror story, but it is pretty horrifying. And you get my point, right?

Anywho, in my last post I said I was going to take a break from Full Circle and work on a few short stories. This is the first of those: “The Woman in the Coffin,” a short story about two cousins living in the English countryside who find a coffin with, you guessed it, a woman inside. In a way, it’s similar to my previous short story “Buried Alive,” which also revolved around someone buried in a coffin, but the whole coffin thing is really where it ends. Especially when you consider what the woman in the coffin in this short story does.

Do you think I have a thing for coffins? I have always wanted one that I could convert into a bed. That would be cool.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing this story. It only took me four days to get it down, which is a record for me (though considering this is my first short story written almost entirely with Dragon software, maybe this will be a new norm). I also had a lot of fun writing British characters. Normally my characters are in the States and talk like they’re from the States. I had to draw on all my years of reading British literature and watching British films and television to make it sound like they were actually British and not Americans in a British setting. I’ll probably have to work on that further when I get to the editing phase with this story.

It’s also shorter than most of my short stories, at about 6,550 words (for me, that is short. Most of my short stories average around 8,000 words). And I think there’s a lot of material I could cut out without sacrificing quality. If I can do that, I think it’ll be much more likely that a magazine or an anthology will want to publish it. And wouldn’t it be cool if that happened?

Anyway, it’s getting late, so I’m going to sign off. Next I’m going to edit my short story “The Playroom,” and then I’m going to write a quick short story that takes place in a location we’ve all heard about and hope never to visit. Hopefully I’ll be done with all that in the next two weeks.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares!

It’s Friday again, so you know what that means. It’s #FirstLineFriday!

Now, if you don’t know what #FirstLineFriday is, let me explain it to you. On Fridays, you:

  1. Create a post on your blog entitled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  2. Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  3. Post the first one or two lines of a potential story, a story-in-progress, or a completed or published story.
  4. Ask your readers for feedback, and encourage them to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs (tagging is encouraged but not necessary).

For this week’s entry, I’m doing another novel I’ve had the idea for since…I can’t remember when. A long time. And this Monday I finished reading a book on living in Victorian England, which is when this novel would take place (I’ve got several ideas taking place around that era, it’s just such a fun, fertile era for stories), and I felt like posting potential lines from that book. Especially since I know a lot more about that era now (speaking of which, if you ever have the luck to get a time machine and head back to Victoria’s reign, STAY AWAY FROM DOCTORS AND PHARMACISTS! The stuff they give out is usually full of opiates or poison. You’re better off not taking anything, or just packing some OTCs from this age before you go). Anyway, enjoy:

When I found out I was the daughter of a noble family and was rescued from the West End, I almost expected something out of a popular novel, with a love triangle between me, a rough but kind old boyfriend, and a roguish but gentle young duke; a rival who would try to bring me down for being beautiful and somewhat naive about upper society; and all that other tosh that people love in their books.

If only that had happened, because what actually happened continues to haunt me even to this day.

Thoughts? Errors? Let me know in the comments below.

I won’t be tagging anyone this week (I feel like giving you all a reprieve from my torture), but I still encourage you to try #FirstLineFriday on your own blogs. It’s easy, a lot of fun, and for us writers, it’s great practice for writing openings. In fact, I think I’ll tag someone–oh wait, almost went back on my word there. Sorry folks.

That’s all for now. I’l probably have another post out later today or tomorrow, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, have a great weekend, my Followers of Fear. I plan to, though I don’t have any plans at the moment.