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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 December 2007

Pick a Year, Any Year

In the spirit of the season, this blog is going to be short. Thus allowing you (and me) a few more minutes to WRITE, buy gifts, make gifts, do cards, decorate the house, the yard, yourself, bake goodies, wrap gifts and otherwise prepare for the holidays still to come and a Happy Hanukkah to all whose holiday is already a memory.

On my list of regularly consulted research books, is the encyclopedic volume entitled The People’s Chronology by James Trager. The cover announces that inside you will find “A year-by-year record of human events from prehistory to the present.” Personally, I do not have much use for the pre-history section but the years of the Regency are filled with useful information. It is one of the first places I look when I am starting a new book. It gives me a brief (God bless it) overview of what went on that year, what events would have influenced my characters lives, directly, indirectly or in the long run.

Let’s take a look at the year 1817 – of the thirty-nine entries, eighteen of them could have had an impact on the life of the characters in my WIP, from the publication of Rob Roy by Walter Scott to the extension of the Coercion Acts passed by Parliament to “extend the 1798 act against seditious meetings, suspend temporarily the right of habeas corpus … and has the effect of stimulating activity by extremists in the radical movement.”

Trager does seem to favor events in the United States and he does omit some events that were important at the time, but seemed to have lost historical weight over the years. One example is the death of Princess of Wales, Charlotte, in November of 1817. Overall I find the book very useful and a good jumping off point for further research. Call me lazy but all shortcuts are welcome.

Have you noticed that research books fall into several categories: books you treasure, books you read constantly, books you consult occasionally and some you have never opened? I treasure Mrs. Hurst Dancing, have read Life at Burghley more than once, consult the above regularly and have never opened (but will someday) The Complete Angler. What other categories are there? And what makes your list or tresaured, oft read and ignored?

8 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

That sounds like a fascinating book. Capsule summaries -- the quick and dirty version of what happened at a given time that can add layers of verisimilitude to a story, are golden nuggets of research.

I find myself returning to some of the pseudo-"coffee table" books on Austen's era and Bath. In no particular order, JANE AUSTEN IN STYLE (Susan Watkins), JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD (Maggie Lane) and THE ROYAL CRESCENT BOOK OF BATH. They all contain terrific, evocative photos and reprints of primary source material -- some of Rowlandson's Bath cycle of satiric caricatures, for example.

For my ROYAL AFFAIRS research, I bit the bullet and subscribed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online, which costs a bloody fortune per month if you're American, but I absolutely had to have access to biographical material, written and vetted by academics and historians (unlike Wikipedia)to supplement, and in some cases replace, information I could not afford to purchase, or didn't have the time to access through published volumes.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The book I return to again and again is The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm, by Ellen Moers. I find that it traces the contradictions and complexities of that stylistic gesture through a century better than anything else I've found. And even though the draft of my next novel (just finished -- YESSSS!) is about silver fork novels rather than dandyism, Moers' chapters about Bulwer and Disraeli told that story better than whole books devoted to the topic.

It was recommended to me some 30 years ago by a professor in graduate school. It sat on my shelves for many years after that until I decided that it was time to write a regency romance.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Will someone please write a post about Wikipedia and how accurate it is or is not -- sometime -- after the holidays maybe. Amanda, I have looked at that online biographical dictionary with longing.

Pam, there must be way more than one book you go back to again and again or is that the one that is at hand right now? Congrats on finishing a manuscript. My next is due on Jan 15 and my oh-so-supportive family is running a pool on the date I will actually finish -- not a one is before the 15th. I stand to make some money if I do it, so I suppose they are more supportive than it seems at first glance.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Good luck in the stretch, Mary.

Pam, there must be way more than one book you go back to again and again

Weird as it sounds, though I've used lots of books (and a whole new set for classical art), Moers' The Dandy really is my only true core source -- except of course the Jane Austen corpus (but I'm sure that's true for a whole lot of us), and also Vanity Fair. This is especially weird because I don't know anybody else who's read the Moers Dandy book. Now that I have time, I want to read her major work, Literary Women, mostly about 19th century writers. (Sadly, she died quite young, I think in the 1970s).

11:13 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

JB Priestley's The Prince of Pleasure and his Regency and also The Edwardians are two of my favorite research books, as well as Carolly Erickson's Our Tempestuous Day. The problem with Wikipedia is some of the information is from older encyclopedias that they've just copied and other entries are actually written by someone, god only knows who. It's one of the reasons why a lot of schools won't let kids use Wikipedia as a source for papers.

6:10 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

You ladies do realize that posting all of these research books for me to buy means that my Christmas gift cards are spent before I get them???

7:45 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Pam--congratulations! A yay for me, really, because that's one more book I'll look forward to reading in 2008 (?).

Mary, all the best. And here's hoping Santa brings you tons of writing time for the next four weeks.

Merry Christmas and a belated Happy Channukkah to everyone.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Sounds like a wonderful book! As I'm starting to plot a book, I always look at events in the months surrounding a story. Like Elizabeth, I find I go back to J.B. Priestley's "The Prince of Pleasure" frequently--it's organized by year, so it's great way to get a fairly quick overview of a year in the Regency. I also often refer to "Military Dress of the Peninsular War" by Martin Windrow and Gar Embleton, which in addition to great color plates, has a wonderful, detailed chronology of the war. And I look at Emly Cowper's and Harriet Granville's letters a lot, to see what they were discussing in a given month.

9:48 AM  

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