Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research
14 April 2014
06 April 2014
The Hamlet Connection
Malcolm and Suzanne have always liberally quoted Shakespeare. It's a sort of code—they can use quotes to express feelings they can't put into words for themselves. I've written scenes set at the theatre during performances of Shakespeare plays and even scenes at rehearsals, but I loved the idea of making a Shakespeare play a central part of my book and using Hamlet seemed singularly appropriate as themes of fathers and sons, lovers who may be working for the enemy, and the younger generation unraveling the secrets of their parents tied into the next story I wanted to tell in Malcolm and Suzanne's world.
I was thinking recently about the myriad works of art that have a Hamlet connection. Quotes from the play lend titles to work as diverse as Edmund Crispin's mystery The Glimpses of the Moon and the comic adventure movie Outrageous Fortune. Lee Blessing's play Fortinbras picks up the story where
Hamlet ends. A friend and I saw a workshop production in Greenwich Village of a musical that tells the story from Ophelia's POV. Lisa Klein's young adult novel Ophelia is also a retelling from Ophelia's viewpoint. Michael Innes's wonderful mystery Hamlet, Revenge! centers round a production of Hamlet at a country house party. There are thematic echoes in countless books, movies, and television shows. The X-Files and Arrow come immediately to mind.
Hamlet, after all, is a story that can be enjoyed on a multiple levels. It is a political thriller, a psychological study, a coming of age story, a family drama, a tragic love story. It's themes dealing with the nature of life and death, power and love, parents and children grapple with core issues of human existence and can be analyzed endlessly. Yet, as a friend remarked to me at intermission during a wonderful production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, "I forget what a good story this is." Watching the play unfold, one finds oneself simply wanting to know what will happen next.
Do you have a favorite book inspired by Hamlet or another work of literature? A favorite memory of seeing Hamlet? Can you name other plays, books, and movies inspired by the story of the Prince of Denmark or that take their titles from quotes from the play?
31 March 2014
Georgian Gossip Columns
But the fabulous Susanna Kearsley shared with us a very clever way an author can get around this if they NEED an engagement to be in the papers: Gossip columns! She even posted several examples:
26 March 2014
Nick Dymond enjoyed the rough-and-tumble military life until a bullet to the leg sent him home to his emotionally distant, politically obsessed family. For months, he's lived alone with his depression, blockaded in his lodgings. But with his younger brother desperate to win the local election, Nick has a new set of marching orders: dust off the legendary family charm and maneuver the beautiful Phoebe Sparks into a politically advantageous marriage.
One marriage was enough for Phoebe. Under her town's by-laws, though, she owns a vote that only a husband can cast. Much as she would love to simply ignore the unappetizing matrimonial candidate pushed at her by the handsome earl's son, she can't. Her teenage sister is pregnant, and Phoebe's last-ditch defense against her sister's ruin is her vote—and her hand.
Nick and Phoebe soon realize the only match their hearts will accept is the one society will not allow. But as election intrigue turns dark, they'll have to cast the cruelest vote of all: loyalty...or love.
Nick, my hero, is a huge Byron fan, and early on Nick and Phoebe (both from very political families) discuss Byron's maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the Frame Breakers Bill. In this excerpt, Nick is trying to make polite conversation and has asked Phoebe if she likes Byron. Not realizing he's a fan himself, she gets annoyed.
"No," she said. "Not every woman is precisely the same as the next, you know. We don't all copy Lord Byron's verse into our commonplace books from memory simply by virtue of our sex. I haven't read a word of his silly poem, and I don't intend to. I do not care a straw about his tragic past or his tragic profile or how many women he had in the East."
He blinked. "You sound like my mother."
That brought her up short. "I do?"
She had made that speech before, or something close to it. Byron was all the rage; he came up in conversation. Suddenly, she remembered that there had been a time when she had read every fashionable book she could get her hands on. She'd pored over the lists of new publications that London booksellers sent to the newspaper. Now she sounded like someone's mother.
"She thinks him an embarrassment to the Whigs. She called his speech on hanging the frame-breakers 'theatrical'."
"I cried over that speech," Phoebe admitted, subdued and strangely unsettled. "Jack—that is, Mr. Sparks, my brother-in-law—printed it in the Intelligencer. [the local newspaper]" Did she dislike Byron at all? Or had she simply spouted an unexamined opinion, to be contrary?
"It was brilliant," Mr. Dymond said hotly. "But it was not in the style of the House of Lords. Passion and compassion have no place in well-bred politics."
She hid a smile. He wasn't, after all, much more tactful than she was. "I didn't mean to be rude. As I said, I haven't read his lordship's work. I might like it. Plenty of others do."
He smiled. "No, I do believe rudeness comes to you quite unconsciously."
Byron's speech, which can be read in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates along with the debate surrounding it, is pretty well written. Probably that surprises no one. It is also, to my modern eye, extremely formal, and while scathing, hardly shockingly so.
Can you, then, wonder that in times like these, when bankruptcy, convicted fraud, and imputed felony are found in a station not far beneath that of your lordships, the lowest, though once most useful portion of the people should forget their duty in their distresses, and become only less guilty than one of their representatives?
Frame breakers, 1812.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
But at the time, presumably in part because of Byron's snarky delivery, it was considered inflammatory. Byron writes: "I spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence, abused everything and everybody, [and] put the Lord Chancellor very much out of humour."
Was the speech a success? At this distance, it's impossible to tell. Presumably it was like most talked-about creative productions: a lot of people loved it, a lot of people hated it, a lot of it had to do with your personal feelings about Byron, and which opinion was fashionable changed depending on your audience.
(Honestly, on reading even just that small excerpt, darling as it is, I can't help feeling that Dallas was not so much a friend as a frenemy. I found a hilarious sum-up of his biography and the legal trouble surrounding it, which opens, "The Recollections is at once one of the most valuable and most disappointing of the Byron memoirs.")
But this same Lord Holland wrote in his Memoirs that the speech was "full of fancy, wit, and invective, but not exempt from affectation nor well reasoned, nor at all suited to our common notions of Parliamentary eloquence." Was he kindly encouraging a fledgling Whig orator in the hopes that one day he'd improve? Or did he like the speech at the time but no longer feel it would reflect well on him to say so by the time his memoirs were published three or four decades later? Once Byron was famous, and then disgraced, no one discussed him without an agenda.
Mr. Frenemy Dallas also felt the need to mention that Byron rehearsed parts of the speech with him in advance, but that "his delivery changed my opinion of his power as to eloquence, and checked my hope of his success in parliament. He altered the natural tone of his voice, which was sweet and round, into a formal drawl, and he prepared his features for a part—it was a youth declaiming a task."
A "task" was a type of school assignment, involving, I think, the recitation of memorized passages from the Classics. Moore's biography of Byron also mentioned this in connection with his second speech in Parliament:"His delivery was thought mouthing and theatrical, being infected, I take for granted (having never heard him speak in Parliament) with the same chanting tone that disfigured his recitation of poetry, — a tone contracted at most of the public schools, but more particularly, perhaps, at Harrow, and encroaching just enough on the boundaries of song to offend those ears most by which song is best enjoyed and understood."
The whole thing makes me feel embarrassed and protective on Byron's behalf (okay, I'm sure he laughed all the way to the bank, but also he was so self-conscious!), and it also makes me feel very, very fond of him.
Here's how Byron discussed the episode in his journal, years later: "[Sheridan] told me[...]I should make an orator, if I would but take to speaking, and grow a parliament man. He never ceased harping upon this to me to the last; and I remember my old tutor, Dr. Drury, had the same notion when I was a boy; but it never was my turn of inclination to try. I spoke once or twice, as all young peers do, as a kind of introduction into public life; but dissipation, shyness, haughty and reserved opinions, together with the short time I lived in England after my majority (only about five years in all), prevented me from resuming the experiment. As far as it went, it was not discouraging, particularly my first speech (I spoke three or four times in all); but just after it, my poem of Childe Harold was published, and nobody ever thought about my prose afterwards, nor indeed did I; it became to me a secondary and neglected object, though I sometimes wonder to myself if I should have succeeded."
Tell me about a youthful ambition of yours, or a popular book or movie that you are just too contrary to try!
One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a free e-book of Sweet Disorder, and one commenter will be chosen from the entire blog tour to receive an awesome prize package that includes tie-in pinback buttons, bookmarks, bacon-scented candles, a bookstore gift card, and much, much more! (This drawing is open internationally. Void where prohibited.)
25 March 2014
Jackie Barbosa Giveaway
As many in our small community already know, Jackie Barbosa lost her eldest son (Alpha to all of us on Twitter) in a head-on collision. I honestly can't even begin to imagine how Jackie and her family must feel. A Memorial Fund has been set up, with the goal of funding a scholarship in Julian's name, but I wanted to do what little I can to support Jackie in other ways too, so I'm going to give away ten copies of one of her her eBooks. Any of them, winners can pick. I'll buy them wherever I'm allowed/able to gift from, even if I have to set up an account to do so.
So leave a comment and I'll put your name in the hat along with the Twitter entries and then we'll see tomorrow who gets books. And if you can donate to the Memorial Fund, I know it would be greatly appreciated.
24 March 2014
a hair of the dog that bit you : an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover.
17 March 2014
For St. Patrick's Day: Exploring my own Irish Roots
Dear Rhonda, who is an irrepressible comedienne, quipped, "She has Irish hair-- with Jewish roots."
In truth, I do have Irish roots through a single ancestor, Captain William Haggerty (b.1797), my maternal grandfather's great-grandfather.