Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Britain’

Well, this was a great day. I got out of work early (long story, don’t ask), which allowed me to finish the third draft of The Pure World Comes around 5:30 PM. And that was great, because by coincidence I was going to meet some friends who had also had their vaccinations for dinner and drinks. So I had the opportunity to turn a good night out with friends into a celebration.

Of course, then I had to wait till I was good to drive before coming home. And then I had to take a shower and check my email and whatnot. Hence why I’m writing this so damn late. Sorry about that. But hey, sometimes that’s life.

So, if you’re not aware, The Pure World Comes is a Victorian Gothic novel I wrote last year revolving around a maid who goes to work for a man who could be charitably called a mad scientist. I did a second draft a few months ago and sent them off to some beta readers for feedback. After getting their feedback and finishing the latest draft of River of Wrath, I started on the third draft. And after only a week or so, the third draft is completed!

Now, this story has always been a lot of fun for me to work on. I’m a huge fan of the Victorian era of British history (see my reasons here), and this novel was a love letter to that era. But this draft was especially fun because I got to read my beta readers’ comments while I worked. They really enjoyed the story and had a lot of good suggestions to improve the story. It’s great hearing what people think of your story (which is why it’s so important to leave reviews after reading an author’s story, by the by). But getting such positive feedback while the story’s still being refined was especially nice and made me hopeful for the story’s future.

Speaking of which, what is the future of this story? Well, it’s late, so I’m not going to do anything further with it tonight. However, tomorrow I’m going to try to submit it. As I said when I finished River of Wrath, I usually start shopping novels after the third draft. And based on the feedback I got on the second draft and the improvements I’ve made, I think this draft has a good chance of finding a home pretty quickly.

As for my next writing project…tough to say. I’ve been mulling a few ideas for short stories, especially ones I could write for specific anthologies. On the other hand, I recently had an idea for another story set in Victorian England, and I at least want to develop it a bit more. Problem is, that story has a good chance of becoming a longer project, maybe another novel if I’m not careful (and I’m not always too careful about word length). So, I might have to mull it a few days.

Whatever I choose, so long as I’m having fun with it, it’ll be okay.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m heading to bed so I’m not a wreck at work tomorrow. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and please consider getting vaccinated if you’re able to. It’ll protect your health, the health of others, and maybe allow us to move out of this insanity of a pandemic sooner.

I made a nice graphic for “The Pure World Comes.” It’ll work till I get a proper cover for the story.

My first major achievement of 2021 occurred this morning at around 2 AM (yeah, I’m not sure how I’m functioning right now, either). After a crap ton of editing and a bit of Doctor Who, I finished the second draft of The Pure World Comes.

Now if you don’t know what The Pure World Comes is, it’s a Gothic horror novel I wrote back in Spring 2020 and started editing last month. The novel, which is set in Victorian England, follows a young maid who goes to work for a mad scientist. Beyond being a fun and exciting story to work on, it was my love letter to the Victorian era and a great opportunity to showcase my theory of who Jack the Ripper was.

Yeah, I worked Jack the Ripper into the story. And I think it worked as an addition.

Now, if you remember my post about prepping to return to Victorian England, I had some specific goals with this draft. Namely, I wanted to make the story feel more authentic by improving the dialogue, explaining all the odd ideas and customs of Victorian England (*cough* mourning rituals *cough*), and adding little details like steam engines, Covent Garden, and bath tubs heated with giant metal contraptions. While I’m still iffy on the dialogue, I think I did a great job with the other stuff. I tried to give readers some explanation or context for some of the things that were common then but would be considered odd now, and I think I added enough little details to make the story feel authentic.

Of course, I’ll leave that up to the beta readers (more on them in a bit).

Also, did I mention how much this story has grown since the first draft? The first was 214 pages (8.5 x 11 inches, double spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font) and 59,333 words. The second, however, was 228 pages and 64,269 words! That’s an increase of nearly 14 pages and nearly five-thousand words! Yes, a lot of that comes from explaining some things or expanding some sections so they’re less confusing. Believe it or not, it might’ve been more, but as I got further into the draft, I ended up cutting a ton of material as well.

So, what’s next? Well, I’m going to hand the novel off to a couple of beta readers to look over. I’ve already gotten confirmations from two colleagues who are well-versed in historical fiction (as well as my work) that they’ll take a look, and I’m reaching out to a few others who are big horror fans themselves. With any luck, I’ll find out not only if The Pure World Comes is any good, but what I can do to improve it in the third draft before trying to publish it.

And while they’re looking at the second draft, I’ll be taking a break from any serious writing for a short while. Beyond any administrative work on my various projects or the occasional blog post, it’ll just be easy street for the next week or two. After that…well, I have some ideas.

I look forward to receiving feedback for the third draft.

For now though, I’m just excited to be reaching this stage in the novel’s development and hope I get to share it with you very soon.

And if, in the meantime, you’re looking for something new to read for 2021, I have a few other projects out on the market that might fit the bill. I’ll leave the links below. All I ask is that you leave a review online somewhere if you do end up reading my stories, as they help both me and other readers.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to enjoy some dinner, some classic Doctor Who, and an early bed time. Until next time, stay safe, Happy New Year, and pleasant nightmares!

Mother of the King: Amazon US, Amazon CAN, Amazon UK

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

Snake: AmazonCreatespace, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

The Quiet Game: Five Tales to Chill Your Bones: Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo.

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I think I’ve mentioned how busy I am lately. But things have kind of calmed down a bit, so unless I hear back from a beta reader, figure out how best to edit this story I’m working on, or am lucky enough to get a story accepted somewhere, I know what I’m working on next.

You may recall back in the spring, I started writing what I thought would be a novella, but ended up being a full blown novel. This novel, The Pure World Comes, follows a maid in the Victorian era who goes to work at the manor of a mysterious nobleman, only to find mysterious and terrifying events occurring there. I haven’t touched it since then, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it and how to improve it. And now feels like a good time to get to work on a second draft.

As such, I’ve been prepping to journey back to Queen Victoria’s reign. I’ve been listening to audio books and watching movies and TV shows in that era to get that flowery, polite way of speaking down. I’ve been learning new bits of information, such as etiquette and dating advice (yes, the Victorians had dating advice). And I’ve been reviewing what I already know. After all, this isn’t just Gothic horror (or is it Gothic horror/gaslamp fantasy?) I’m working on. This is historical fiction! And historical fiction requires a lot of work to make the reader feel they’re in that bygone era.

All that being said, I have a few goals with this draft. Obviously, I’ll be looking to clean it up, fix any plot holes I notice, and cut out anything extraneous. However, I have a few other goals. This includes:

Victorian fashion. It was a special kind of extravagant.
  • Improve the dialogue. I feel like when I wrote the first draft, I made my characters speak like modern-day Americans. This draft, I’m going to go through the whole book and make sure they sound like Victorians! Eloquence and flowery language, fewer contractions, a focus on politeness and how to address different classes. Not sure I’m going to mad on the expressiveness like characters in Dracula did (oh my God, even when people were dying, they had to be so wordy and full of praise for people they admire!), though. That might be too silly and melodramatic.
  • Explain the era better. One of the problems I have as a writer is that I forget that not every reader knows the same things as me. So, while I know a lot about Victorian England and can put an odd detail peculiar to the era in, knowing exactly what that means, the average reader won’t. It’s my job as the author to explain the minutiae to the reader, be it the ritual of mourning (click here for more on that), how much a pain in the ass cleaning was, or how ice cream was made back in the day (they used to use cucumbers!).
  • The little details need to be inserted. By this, I want to include more things special to the Victorian era. You write about the 1980s, you include Walkmans and big hair and the latest pop songs. You write about the 1950s, you include Cold War concerns, soda shops in pharmacies, televisions and record players, and early rockers. You write about the Victorian era, you mention steam engines, Mudie’s Lending Library, penny dreadfuls, and so much more. I want to include more of those details in the story, so that others familiar with the era can say, “Aha! That makes it feel authentic.” And trust me, there are a lot of details like that to include.

So, that’s what I’m up to lately. Or what I’m about to get up to, most likely starting this week. With any luck, I can make a damn good draft and get this story one step closer to publication. And believe me, I aim to get this story published, one way or the other. After all, this story includes both my love of the Victorian era and my theory of who Jack the Ripper is! You know I gotta get that out there!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to dream dark dreams. Possibly taking place at balls with huge dresses and polite conversation. Still dark dreams, though. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

My friend Kat Impossible over on Life and Other Disasters did her rendition of this tag, and it looked fun. So, let’s pretend it’s Halloween year-round and answer some spooky questions about a WIP (as well as general questions on writing)! And since last time I did Toyland, I think this time around I’ll talk about The Pure World Comes, my Victorian Gothic novel that I wrote earlier this year.

But I’m going to need a blurb first. Hmm…how about this:

Shirley Dobbins has very few wants in life: to be able to become the head housekeeper of a great house someday; to not think on her life before she started working; and to earn a reputation as a reliable maid. So when she is hired by the enigmatic baronet and scientist Sir Joseph Hunting to work at his estate after the sudden death of her employers, she can’t believe her luck.
However, things at the “Hunting Lodge,” as Sir Joseph’s home is known, are far from the ideal position she hoped for. Not only is there barely any staff at the crumbling mansion, but terrifying visions oppress those within at random moments. Those Shirley sees bear resemblances to her past. As she becomes more wrapped in the secrets of Hunting Lodge and Sir Joseph’s scientific work, she unearths a terrible threat not only after her life, but the lives of all those around her.

How’s that? Intriguing enough? Anyway, onto the questions.

GHOST: Have you ever originally put a character/scene/theme in the book and then later taken it out?

  • Character – Yes
  • Scene – kind of
  • Theme – No

I originally had this character, the eldest son of an up-and-coming merchant family, whom Shirley would have feelings for despite her practical, no-nonsense self. However, when I finally started plotting this story, I couldn’t find a place for him in the story, so I axed him out. His disappearance from the story led to some scenes that I’d originally had in mind being axed as well, but I wasn’t that fond of them to begin with, so it worked out.

BAT: Most misunderstood character in your WIP?

I had a bit of a debate on this, considering that we see things through Shirley’s eyes and once she sees someone a certain way, it can take a while for her to see them in a different light. But then I remembered that Sir Joseph Hunting is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood character. He’s not a fan of normal Victorian pastimes or conventions, and he’s squandered his family fortune in pursuit of his scientific research. And Victorians, particularly those of the noble and almost-noble classes, placed a lot of emphasis on appearances, so Sir Joseph’s anathema to them.
It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a jerk.
That being said, once you get to know him a bit, he’s actually a very sympathetic character. You also see why he devotes himself to his research, and maybe even believe in what he’s doing. If that’s not misunderstood, I don’t know what is.

JACK-O-LANTERN: What is your most common source of inspiration to write?

Is it a law that writers get asked that question at least several times in their careers?
The obvious answer is everything. Stories I’ve read, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, subjects I’ve researched. All these and more combine in my weird head to create stories for me. Some of them are even good and border on original. Those are the ones I try to write into something worth reading.

ZOMBIE: What is your preferred form of writerly fuel? Coffee, tea, etc.

Tea most of the time, though if it’s early in the day, I may have a diet soda. On weekends or certain occasions, I may have something alcoholic, but I’m not able to write as well as I would like when even a little buzzed, so I avoid it.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

VAMPIRE: Cheesiest trope that made it into your novel?

Okay, you know that trope where two people who don’t like each other spend more and more time together and then they fall in love? It was really popular in movies and a few TV shows back in the 1990s? I may have included that one in this story, though I tried to put an original spin on it.
I’ll leave it for the critics to tell me if I succeeded.

Yeah, the trope from 10 Things I Hate About You. I used a version of it. Hopefully I used it well.

SPIDER: What’s a character in your WIP that’s fine from afar, but you would NOT want to interact with if they ever got close?

I’ve mentioned before that I worked my theory of who Jack the Ripper really is into this story. Well, that’d be my answer. And I’m not saying any more on that until this book comes out!

Famous illustration of Jack the Ripper from Punch Magazine. He figures into my story, but not in a way you might expect.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Ever split one character into two/combine two characters into one?

Maybe? I can’t recall! I’ve written so many characters over the years, I’ve kind of lost track.

SKELETON: Best advice for adding character baggage without info-dumping?

Ooh, that’s a tough one, especially because it’s a tough subject. I try to spread my characters’ baggage and backstories throughout the story. Think of it like walking on a path, and you find puzzle pieces every now and then. Some are big, some are small, but they fit together perfectly. As you gather the pieces, a picture starts to form. And somewhere along the way, all the pieces come together to form a full picture. That’s how I try to spread character baggage and backstory.
That being said, sometimes I drop very big pieces sometimes if the story calls for it. Not ideal, but it’s necessary. And when that happens, if I’m able to, I at least try to just drop a big chunk here and there, rather than just a whole picture. That way, the information is palatable, rather than an info-dump.

CAT: What’s a polarizing writing/book-related opinion you have?

Why cats? Most of the writers I know are cat people! Often their cats are as sweet as their owners! I plan to get cats as soon as I have a bigger space. Preferably a three-bedroom house with a nice front and backyard and an attached garage.
Never mind. I don’t really have any opinions like that. At least, I don’t think I do. I could tell you about some books I didn’t care for, but they’re the kind of books either people like or they don’t. Sorry I don’t have a scandalous answer. You’d get a better answer with my controversial movie opinion, so I’ll tell you that: I enjoyed The Last Jedi, problems and all. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

DEMON: Most frequent writing distraction?

Anime and TV shows. Once I get started on a binge, it’s hard to stop. Either that or my cell phone.


Well, what did you think of my answers? Do you want to read The Pure World Comes now? Let’s discuss.

Now for this tag, tagging isn’t necessary. So if you want to do it, all the power to you. I hope you have fun and make sure to link back to me so I can read it.

That’s all for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be casting magic to save this country. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren by her daughter Princess Alice, mourning their mother and sister Princess Marie.

Yes, this is another Victorian England post. Don’t worry, it’s going to be relevant to horror and to the stories I write, believe me.

During my research into the era, I found that the Victorians really had a thing for mourning. In fact, they made ritualized mourning into something of a fine art or a pseudo-religious practice (hence why I call it a cult). You know how during a funeral, it’s tradition to wear black? Victorians took that to extremes: when someone you know died, you were required to mix black into your clothing, how much depending on your level of closeness to the deceased. A widow would have to wear full black clothes, usually made from crepe fabric; a child would wear black with white cuffs and frills; and servants would wear black bands around their arms (maids could also wear one around their caps or bonnets, or fully black caps and bonnets).

Also depending on the closeness to the deceased would determine the length of the initial mourning period. Yeah, you read that right: initial mourning period. For the Victorians, there were stages of mourning, particularly for close relatives. For widows, for example, the initial mourning stage could last up to two years, during which time they could only wear black clothes and black jewelry; black clothes was hung on mirrors and windows; and they were to refuse all socializing. Any letters they sent out had black borders, and it was encouraged for them to forget the outside world to focus on the deaths of their husband.

Of course, this was slanted very much towards women: men were allowed to wear only a black armband and go out because they were typically breadwinners. They could also remarry or enter the social scene sooner, because men were expected to have wives to take care of them and a mother for any children.

Furthermore, only women from the middle or upper classes took part in the full mourning ritual. Women from the lower classes, while still wearing black, would have to go out to earn a living. If one could be earned, of course; I’m not entirely sure, but I think I read that women could have difficulty finding work during mourning, if they previously weren’t working. In fact, many women and families went into debt or became homeless by observing mourning rituals.

Why did they do all this? Part of the reason may have been Queen Victoria herself: when her husband Albert, Prince Consort, died, she went into lifelong mourning for him, wearing black for the rest of her life and refusing to remarry. For a time, she even retreated from her royal duties. This inspired the cult of mourning and its associated rituals.

Part of it may have also been (and this is just my hypothesis, but I could be onto something) the resurrection men, grave robbers who stole bodies and sold them to medical schools for anatomy lessons. Back then, there was a huge demand for bodies at medical schools, but never enough supply, so resurrection men would step in to meet the demand (as well as be paid handsomely for it).* And because not everyone could afford safeguards to keep their coffins from being raided and stealing a body technically wasn’t a crime yet, all resurrection men had to worry about was getting caught by an angry mob.

Ad for Black Peter Robinson’s Mourning Warehouse, and the image that inspired my current story.

Regardless of what caused it, the cult of mourning existed, and everyone was expected to obey, especially married women. To fail or to opt out was to be accused of never having truly loved or been family with the deceased, or to be cold and cruel.

And where there is devotion, there is money to make off it: while poorer families would dye their clothes black or got them secondhand, those who could bought them from specialized “mourning warehouses,” department stores that sold mourning wear, as well as coffins and items associated with mourning. Some even rented out hearses and horses for their clients! Some of the biggest were the London General Mourning Warehouse, or Jay’s, and the Black Peter Robinson Mourning Warehouse.

But wait, there’s more! Post-mortem photography was also popular during this period. Photography was a lengthy and expensive process, so many families would only get photographs of their loved ones when they’d just passed. They would then be posed and prepared to look like they were sleeping, often next to living family members. Rather than morbid, this was seen as a good way to remember the dead and help with grief.

A post-mortem photograph. Because of course I would include one.

Of course, a lot of this fell out of fashion in the early twentieth century, first among the upper classes and then trickling down to the lower. Cheaper funeral practices became preferred, and post-mortem photography became unnecessary as getting a photograph became easier and more affordable. Today, only characters in books and neo-Victorians still practice any of these (yes, that’s a thing, but for another post).

And yes, resurrection men are largely a thing of the past.

Why do I bring this up? Well, besides being interesting, the story I’m writing now focuses on Victorian mourning to an extent, and doing some further research into Victorian mourning practices made me want to blog about them. So thank you for coming to my TED talk (I love making that joke).

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more to rant or gush about. In the meantime, thanks for enabling my love of the Victorian era. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

*H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first recorded serial killers, did this with his victims, which leads me to think he was more interested in making easy money than in killing.

You ever read a book that came out well before you were born, or a book that came out a few years ago but set well before you were born, and throughout the book a character or even the author expresses viewpoints that, if expressed today, would not go over well? The sort of views that would make you go, “Anyone who says that today would only be applauded by the lowest dregs of society. The rest would villify them.”

It’s an unfortunate part of the writing process, but sometimes writers will have to write stories where those sorts of views are expressed, even if not their own. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my writing career, usually from the POV of a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. It’s necessary, but it’s always a trial to do it. God help me if I ever have to read something like that out loud.

I bring this up because as I said in a previous post, I’m busy doing research for a story to go into the short story collection I’ve been putting together. That story is set in Victorian England, an age that, as many of you know, I’m a big fan of. You guessed it, I bought a bunch of new books to better understand that age. And this week, while I was reading one book and seeing information I’d previously learned in another volume repeated here, I realized that, to a certain extent, I will be putting these attitudes of the age into the story.

Including the ones I find reprehensible.

There are generally four ways writers include these sorts of ideas and beliefs into their stories. An author may include a character who’s already very forward-thinking or contrarian, taking on viewpoints which their peers will not get or abhor, but the audience will sympathize with and allow them to pity the characters who don’t think like that (think Wonder Woman’s attitudes regarding WWI-era norms and gender roles in her movie). Other times, characters may start with one attitude and then evolve to a different one over the course of the story as part of a character arc (Villetta Nu’s arc in the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion towards non-Britannians). There are characters whose whole point in existing are to present a contrasting view, usually as something for a protagonist to work off of or a driver of the plot (think Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome).

And then there are times when the author says, “Screw it, there’s no way around this,” and just portrays those attitudes as authentically as possible. I have a feeling with this story, I’m going to have to go with this route.

The books I’m using as research. I think they’ll be quite helpful in creating the level of detail I’m looking for.

I still haven’t worked out the details of this story, other than the time period and certain elements/characters. I don’t know how much of the Victorians’ beliefs and attitudes will make it into the story, or which ones for that matter.* Still, they’ll be there throughout the story for the sake of authenticity. It’ll be weird writing them into a story when they may go against everything I stand for. But for the characters, they’ll be the norm, and as true as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The cognitive dissonance will be a mind-fuck.

But if the dedication to authenticity helps make the story good, then I won’t have any complaints. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it? Even if I have to write in a discussion on how chloroform subverts God’s commands on childbirth.**

What are your thoughts on including attitudes and beliefs that you don’t agree with in your story? Any fun reminiscences on the subject?

*Did you know that it was considered dangerous to give children fruit while they were young? It was believed the sweet taste would excite them and lead to delinquent behaviors. Also, while germ theory was starting to enter public consciousness, it was a slow process. In 1865, the Female Medical Society published statements asking doctors to take more steps to decrease death in women by childbirth. The medical journal The Lancet responded by calling their suggestions for cleanliness “erroneous,” and asserted that these deaths were caused by women leading immoral lives, which could mean anything from engaging in prostitution, feeling sexual desire, or enjoying pickles too much.

**Yeah, that was a debate in the 19th century. Did chloroform, when used in childbirth, prevent women from feeling the pain God ordained for women? What an age!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week. But as you know from my last post, this past week has been predictably crazy for me.

I heard about Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five and was immediately interested. The book retraces the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly and proposes to shed a new light on them. I’m no Ripperologist (someone who studies the Ripper murders), not even an amateur one, but I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject and am always interested if someone has discovered something new about the case. And the lives of the five women who made the Ripper famous finally being told? I’m in.

I dove in as soon as I got my copy from the library…and the resulting read blew my mind. You see, for over a hundred and thirty years, the consensus–the one thing that every Ripperologist agrees on–is that the victims were confirmed prostitutes. But is that really the case? Diving into historical records and her understanding of the nineteenth century’s social beliefs around women and barely mentioning the Ripper at all, Ms. Rubenhold provides a convincing case to support that we may have been looking at the “Canonical Five”–and thus the Ripper–all wrong.  In fact, only the final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was confirmed to make a living through prostitution, and there’s evidence she may have been trafficked at some point.

In fact, Polly Nichols was a wife and mother whose family gained lodging in public housing reserved for families with high moral standing; Annie Chapman was upper-middle class with an upwardly-mobile husband; Elisabeth Stride was a Swedish immigrant from a religious background who ran a coffeehouse with her husband; and Catherine Eddowes was educated for most of her younger life and often made life choices on what would allow her the most freedom. Mary Jane Kelly, we don’t know, as many of the details she gave of her life were contradictory and possibly fabricated, but she could’ve come from a respectable background, as she started out as a high-end courtesan, and they don’t let just anyone into those circles.

How did these women end up as prostitutes in the popular mind?

Well, in the eyes of nineteenth-century society, any woman who wasn’t, by all appearances anyway, a successful wife and mother with the temperance of the saint, a clean and happy household, and only had a sexual side when her husband desired sex, she was a failure as a woman. She was “broken.” Which often was equated as a “fallen woman,” which was often equated with prostitution. Often, women in these positions had to take up with men who were either not their husbands or had common-law marriages, which was also considered a sort of prostitution.

And for a number of these women, circumstances in their lives forced them to leave families and husbands and often take lives on the streets, without husbands or homes, which meant in society’s eyes they were fallen, and therefore likely prostitutes. The newspapers at the time, more concerned with selling than telling the truth, did little or nothing to dissuade that notion, even when friends and acquaintances for the victims came forward and swore in inquests the victims did not resort to prostitution. Thus a belief, and the theory shaped around it, was formed.

This is significant for a number of reasons. From the perspective of history and Ripperology, it totally changes everything we know. Ms. Rubenhold presents a good case that the Canonical Five were actually incapacitated or sleeping and not in any state of mind to fend off an attacker, rather than attacked while soliciting. This changes the entire MO of the Ripper, the field of study around the murders, and over a century’s worth of media on the subject (though some of the latter we can still find entertaining, as long as we remind ourselves how much of it is fiction).

But more importantly, this is a feminist triumph in history. For a hundred and thirty years, The Five have been dismissed and looked over except in the context of their deaths and whoever killed them. Even my copy of The Complete Jack the Ripper doesn’t go into much detail on their lives. But this book and its author, through hard work and looking over every scrap of documentation available out there, reminds us these women were just women, more often at mercy to forces beyond their control and the double-standard Victorian women faced than willful participants in the world’s oldest profession. At least three suffered from alcoholism. One got pregnant out of wedlock and developed syphilis, and was demonized for it. They did everything they could to stay out of the workhouses, which could forever ruin someone who was forced to enter them. They tried to find love and happiness. They tried to get by in an age and place where women on their own had it very hard.

Imagine if AA had been available to the Five and sobriety was understood to be not a choice but hard work. Imagine if, instead of being demonized for leaving their husbands or getting pregnant/diseases out of wedlock, the authorities looked at the men in their lives. Imagine if they were allowed to pursue lives they wanted, rather than what was expected of them, and not shamed for not fulfilling expectations.

This is especially relevant in today’s age. Despite a lot of progress, women still have their sexuality used against them socially and legally. Since I finished reading The Five, I’ve seen several articles and tweets about men getting little or no jail time for rape, simply because there was only one victim and they were unlikely to reoffend. Here in my home state of Ohio, a minor who was raped and impregnated can’t get an abortion because of a new restrictive abortion law. Clearly, on some level, society still feels women should be punished for being anything other than the ideal wife and mother, and it’s their own fault if they’re not.

This is why you should be reading Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: not only does it present convincing new evidence on a century-old case and force us to reevaluate everything we knew, but it’s a call to remind us just how much has stayed the same since 1888, and what we can do to improve that in the future. And in the future, if I ever write my own Ripper-themed story, I’ll call back to The Five as I write the story, and keep in mind the lives of these women.

So please, check out The Five‘s page on Amazon, and consider reading it. You’ll find it a revelation as much as I did.

 

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.