Sunday, September 13, 2009

Loving the Georgian era

Who can explain the allure of love? The romance writer least of all, but recently I’ve fallen in love all over again. With Georgian England.

After a year or so of reprints at Samhain, we’re ready for the new Richard and Rose books to come out, and I’m plunging back into the historical romance. Sometimes the muse comes and goes, and it did with me and the historical, but now it’s back, and in part it’s due to some cracking new non fiction books.

I have a lot of history books on my bookshelves. A lot. And I consult them regularly. I have what I consider the essentials, most of the Oxford History of England series, including Watson’s “The Reign of George III” and Basil Williams’s brilliant “The Whig Supremacy.” I know, hardly titles to bring amazed delight to the average reader, but believe me, pure gold to anyone who writes Georgian set historical romance.

The Georgian era lasted from 1727 to 1820, and the period known by historians as “the long Eighteenth Century” from the Act of Succession in 1689 to the advent of Queen Victoria in 1837. I tend to stick to the Georgians, but I spread out a bit sometimes. I have books by JH Plumb and JB Priestley, gems by Amanda Vickery and Donald Low. I have original texts, newspapers, journals, sadly not in the original, but they’re valuable to me for all that.

But for the new series I’m envisioning, I wanted to go in a slightly different direction and I needed to do some extra research. I went looking and I discovered some new-to-me books that I’m finding enthralling. So I wanted to share the love.

Lucy Moore’s “Con Men and Cutpurses” describes some of the most notorious criminals of the Georgian era. It’s subtitled “Scenes from the Hogarthian Underworld” and it’s a cracking good read. Combined with verbatim accounts of some of the most colourful criminals I’ve ever read, from Jenny Diver the cutpurse to Earl Ferrers, the last nobleman to be executed for murder, it is packed with stories that make my fingers itch. All set in an era when the law was something different, when guilty of the same crime meant you could be sent to the colonies as an indentured slave, executed in public, or let off with a warning, depending on the jury, the judge, the time of day or your personal story. It’s a slice of life, a view that shows the modern reader how different the Georgians were – and how achingly similar.

“Dr. Johnson’s London” by Liza Picard starts with a tour from one part of London to another. The first, the East End, where the riff-raff rubbed shoulders with respectable citizens, at the same time the wealthiest place in the world and the poorest and most miserable. And the second was the West End, a new development in the Georgian era, where the wealthy lived and spent their money, but also where charitable establishments still going today were established and the new developments in science and art had a home.

Riveting stuff, and although the book is rigorously researched, it is written in an accessible, lively style that brings the era to life right before our eyes.

Why try to impose modern dilemmas on the past when we have stories like these to write, times like these to try to bring to life? Different yet the same. I can hardly wait to get going.

The new series? Not telling, not yet. I know, I’m a tease, but I don’t want to discuss it when it’s only in its planning stage. Like Corin’s book in the Triple Countess series, it might not work (but I’m still committed to doing his story – it will just be something different). Or like Antonia from the Secrets series, it might want to bide its time and I’ll come up with something completely different. That’s the magic of writing, and a major reason why I do it.

I am so glad I decided to take the plunge again. Now all I have to do is write the book!

Note: "Dr. Johnson's London" is available from many outlets, and here's the Amazon reference:

"Con Men and Cutpurses" is here

And just in case you've forgotten, my author page at Samhain is here:


Becky said...

I love ALL historical romance. Love learning about the history of different cultures - especially if romance is involved. For instance just finished a great one titled, "My Splendid Concubine" by Lloyd Lofthouse- a great book about China in the 19th century, during the opium wars- learned some great facts, but also loved the love story intertwined with the history. I will check out more of the Georgian era books. Thanks for suggesting it.

Jane Jackson said...

A fascinating post, Lynne. You are going to really enjoy writing the new series.

Alison said...

I love Con Men and Cutpurses! Nice to see another fan :)

Lucinda Brant said...

Very interesting article, Lynne! Cutpurses and Conmen is a great read. Another fascinating title you might already have is The Hanging Tree Execution and the English People - although it starts rather late in 1770 and goes through to the Victorian era. Still plenty of interest. Love your Georgian historicals and mystery series and can't wait to read the new series!