History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

09 January 2017

Illumination





A brief post because my weekend was disrupted by a major storm in the Bay Area. My daughter and I were unable to get home for a while on Saturday night due to road closures and took refuge in a restaurant (photo above). When we finally did get home, our power was out. Not an unusual occurrence when one live sin the country, but the length of time was a bit unusual. We didn't get it back until 3:00 Sunday afternoon, meaning it was out for about 23 hours.


It was, as I told my five-year-old Mélanie, an adventure. It threw my writing schedule off (battery ran down on the computer). But it also proved to be its own type of research. As we struggled to brush our teeth and wash our faces and read books by the light of (battery) candles, I thought about the characters in my books living by candlelight. Candlelight is quite dim, even when one masses a lot of candles together. What was it like for my fictional Suzanne Rannoch to remove her eyeblacking, clean her teeth, or change a nappy, let alone try to read a book or write a letter? One begins to realize the attraction of mirrors and gilding. In fact, at a friend's wedding a few years ago in a beautiful baroque settling, I realized that white and gold walls and mirrors, which can seem garish in the glare of electric light, look beautifully muted by candlelight.

But I can't but think about what a challenge it must have been to just complete every day activities after dark (or even as we discovered Sunday morning, on a gray day), especially for those who couldn't afford a profusion of wax tapers (there was a candle tax too). Greasy rushlights would be even harder to see by. The Argand lamp in the late 18th century with a cylindrical wick and chimney, much brighter than candles, and also cheaper and clean burning, was in high demand and one can see why.


Do you have moments as a reader or writer when you find yourself experiencing first hand some small detail of what it was like to live in an era you write or read about?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Lynne Hess said...

In November 2015 we had the nearest thing to a hurricane that Washington State has ever experienced - 73 mph winds and massive power outages in Eastern Wash.! It made me greatly appreciate the little things like heat and light. I can't imagine how hard it would have been to live without electricity as the Rannochs did. Candles in the best of times are messy. And imagine how hard it would be to do basic housework or cooking...the servants deserved sainthood for completing those projects. Reading historical fiction is a good way to learn how life was without our modern conveniences and realize how fortunate we are. On the other hand, you couldn't see the wine spots on your gowns, could you? ;-)

8:15 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So true, Lynne - it real makes one appreciate the most basic of modern conveniences. At the same times, yes, I realize those white muslin dresses might not need laundering as often as they would today. Candlelight can be very forgiving :-).

9:57 PM  

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