History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 July 2010

It was a very good year . . .

My current work in progress (a western) is set in the year 1871. Here’s what else was happening:

History Congress enacts a Reconstruction law regarding elections
Congress enacts the Ku Klux Klan Act to enforce 14th amendment
“Greenbacks” are adopted as legal tender
William “Boss” Tweed is convicted of fraud in New York
Brigham Young arrested for practicing polygamy
Fire obliterates Chicago
Race riots against the Chinese erupt in California

William I, King of Prussia, is proclaimed German Emperor
Paris capitulates; France signs armistice (Franco-Prussian War)
France cedes Alsace-Lorraine to Germany
The Commune in Paris rules for two months
Italian Law of Guarantees allows the pope possession of the Vatican
British Act of Parliament legalizes labor unions
British Columbia joins Dominion of Canada
Basutoland becomes part of Cape Colony
Britain annexes diamond fields of Kimberley
Rasputin, Russian monk, born (died in 1916)

Literature Lewis Carroll: “Through the Looking Glass”
Stephen Crane born (died 1900)
Theodore Dreiser born (died 1945)
George Eliot publishes “Middlemarch”
Marcel Proust born (died 1922)
Paul Valery born (died 1945)
Zola publishes “Les Rougon-Macquart”

Philosophy Charles Darwin publishes “The Descent of Man”
Jehovah’s Witnesses founded

Visual arts Rosetti publishes “The Dream of Dante”
George Rouault born (died 1958
Lyonel Feininger born (died 1956)

Music Albert Hall opened in London
“L’Internationale” composed by two French workers
Saint-Saens composes symphonic poem “Le Rouet d’Omphale”
Verdi’s opera “Aida” opens in Cairo

Science Simon Ingersoll invents pneumatic rock drill
Mount Cenis Tunnel opened
G.A. Hansen discovers leprosy bacillus
Ernest Rutherford born (wins 1908 Nobel Prize; died in 1937)

Daily Life Bank Holidays introduced in England and Wales
P.T. Barnum opens “The Greatest Show on Earth” circus in Brooklyn, NY
Stanley meets Livingstone at Ujiji
S.S. “Oceanic,” White Star Line launched
B.F. Goodrich manufactures rubber preserving rings
First margarine factory starts
Cracker Jacks invented
First hot dog sold at Coney Island
McCalls and Vogue paper patterns issued
Montgomery Ward, Chicago, begins catalog sales
Rubber clothes wringers invented
Double-pointed sad-iron with spring-loaded clamp-on handle patented
Roll toilet-paper developed
Wealthy Americans exchange Christmas cards
Rubber condoms sold

Sources: The Timetables of History (Bernard Grun); Domestic Technology (Nell du Vall)

26 July 2010

On Holiday

It's Romance Writers of America's annual conference this week, so most of the Hoydens are in Orlando. See you next week (unless we can't help ourselves and have to blog the conference).

23 July 2010

Names: The Good, the Bad, the Confusing (?)

I’m curious what readers have to say about character names. Me, I like the memorable ones. Jo Beverley’s Mallorens (Cynric, Arcenbryght, Elfled) and Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn’s (Freyja, Wulfric, Rannulf) are prime favorites. There’s something that appeals to me about digging down into history and pulling forth names that have been forgotten, overlooked, and left to molder. I think it’s nice to be able to play off of this with more common names (especially if the names either show you something about the character or let you play wildly against type).

I’ve got a whole set-up in my new series (tip of the hat to the aforementioned historical romance goddesses) where the parents are both history buffs, which the mother having a penchant for Scottish history and the father being a classics scholar. All of their children have one name from the royalty of ancient Scotland and one from the pages of the classics. It was great fun to come up with them (the hero of my upcoming book Ripe for Pleasure, for example, is Leonidas Roibert Vaughn).

So I’m curious, does it bother you when you don’t know how to pronounce a character’s name, or when the name is unusual, or do you—like me—think it’s a wonderful addition to the genre?

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21 July 2010

Mark Twain Visits Versailles

France has neither winter nor summer nor morals--apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.
- Mark Twain's Notebook

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as the irrepressible American humorist Mark Twain, is on record for despising the French. Although I have not been able to locate the quote verbatim, he is said to have remarked that ever since the expulsion from Eden mankind has been sinking lower and lower: "right now he is a little lower than the French."

Tart words, indeed.

Mark Twain in 1871, two years after his European grand tour and Innocents Abroad

In 1869 Twain toured Europe, sharing his mostly negative views of the lands across the pond in Innocents Abroad. But one location legendary for its opulence, surprisingly, impressed the
literary curmudgeon:

VERSAILLES! It is wonderfully beautiful! You gaze and stare and try to understand that it is real, that it is on the earth, that it is not the Garden of Eden--but your brain grows giddy, stupefied by the world of beauty around you, and you half believe you are the dupe of an exquisite dream.

The scene thrills one like military music! A noble palace, stretching its ornamented front, block upon block away, till it seemed that it would never end; a grand promenade before it, whereon the armies of an empire might parade; all about it rainbows of flowers, and colossal statues that were almost numberless and yet seemed only scattered over the ample space; broad flights of stone steps leading down from the promenade to lower grounds of the park--stairways that whole regiments might stand to arms upon and have room to spare; vast fountains whose great bronze effigies discharged rivers of sparkling water into the air and mingled a hundred curving jets together in forms of matchless beauty; wide grass-carpeted avenues that branched hither and thither in every direction and wandered to seemingly interminable distances, walled all the way on either side with compact ranks of leafy trees whose branches met above and formed arches as faultless and as symmetrical as ever were carved in stone; and here and there were glimpses of sylvan lakes with miniature ships glassed in their surfaces.
And every where--on the palace steps, and the great promenade, around the fountains, among the trees, and far under the arches of the endless avenues--hundreds and hundreds of people in gay costumes walked or ran or danced, and gave to the fairy picture the life and animation which was all of perfection it could have lacked.

It was worth a pilgrimage to see. Everything is on so gigantic a scale. Nothing is small--nothing is cheap. The statues are all large; the palace is grand; the park covers a fair-sized county; the avenues are interminable. All the distances and all the dimensions about Versailles are vast. I used to think the pictures exaggerated these distances and these dimensions beyond all reason, and that they made Versailles more beautiful than it was possible for any place in the world to be. I know now that the pictures never came up to the subject in any respect, and that no painter could represent Versailles on canvas as beautiful as it is in reality. I used to abuse Louis XIV for spending two hundred millions of dollars in creating this marvelous park, when bread was so scarce with some of his subjects; but I have forgiven him now. He took a tract of land sixty miles in circumference and set to work to make this park and build this palace and a road to it from Paris. He kept 36,000 men employed daily on it, and the labor was so unhealthy that they used to die and be hauled off by cartloads every night. The wife of a nobleman of the time speaks of this as an "inconvenience," but naively remarks that "it does not seem worthy of attention in the happy state of tranquillity we now enjoy."

I always thought ill of people at home who trimmed their shrubbery into pyramids and squares and spires and all manner of unnatural shapes, and when I saw the same thing being practiced in this great park I began to feel dissatisfied. But I soon saw the idea of the thing and the wisdom of it. They seek the general effect. We distort a dozen sickly trees into unaccustomed shapes in a little yard no bigger than a dining room, and then surely they look absurd enough. But here they take two hundred thousand tall forest trees and set them in a double row; allow no sign of leaf or branch to grow on the trunk lower down than six feet above the ground; from that point the boughs begin to project, and very gradually they extend outward further and further till they meet overhead, and a faultless tunnel of foliage is formed. The arch is mathematically precise.

The effect is then very fine. They make trees take fifty different shapes, and so these quaint effects are infinitely varied and picturesque. The trees in no two avenues are shaped alike, and consequently the eye is not fatigued with anything in the nature of monotonous uniformity. I will drop this subject now, leaving it to others to determine how these people manage to make endless ranks of lofty forest trees grow to just a certain thickness of trunk (say a foot and two-thirds); how they make them spring to precisely the same height for miles; how they make them grow so close together; how they compel one huge limb to spring from the same identical spot on each tree and form the main sweep of the arch; and how all these things are kept exactly in the same condition and in the same exquisite shapeliness and symmetry month after month and year after year--for I have tried to reason out the problem and have failed.

We walked through the great hall of sculpture and the one hundred and fifty galleries of paintings in the palace of Versailles, and felt that to be in such a place was useless unless one had a whole year at his disposal. These pictures are all battle scenes, and only one solitary little canvas among them all treats of anything but great French victories. We wandered, also, through the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, those monuments of royal prodigality, and with histories so mournful--filled, as it is, with souvenirs of Napoleon the First, and three dead kings and as many queens. In one sumptuous bed they had all slept in succession, but no one occupies it now.

In a large dining room stood the table at which Louis XIV and his mistress Madame Maintenon, and after them Louis XV, and Pompadour, had sat at their meals naked and unattended--for the table stood upon a trapdoor, which descended with it to regions below when it was necessary to replenish its dishes. In a room of the Petit Trianon stood the furniture, just as poor Marie Antoinette left it when the mob came and dragged her and the King to Paris, never to return. Near at hand, in the stables, were prodigious carriages that showed no color but gold--carriages used by former kings of France on state occasions, and never used now save when a kingly head is to be crowned or an imperial infant christened. And with them were some curious sleighs, whose bodies were shaped like lions, swans, tigers, etc. --vehicles that had once been handsome with pictured designs and fine workmanship, but were dusty and decaying now. They had their history.

When Louis XIV had finished the Grand Trianon, he told Maintenon he had created a Paradise for her, and asked if she could think of anything now to wish for. He said he wished the Trianon to be perfection--nothing less. She said she could think of but one thing--it was summer, and it was balmy France--yet she would like well to sleigh ride in the leafy avenues of Versailles! The next morning found miles and miles of grassy avenues spread thick with snowy salt and sugar, and a procession of those quaint sleighs waiting to receive the chief concubine of the gaiest and most unprincipled court that France has ever seen!

From sumptuous Versailles, with its palaces, its statues, its gardens, and its fountains, we journeyed back to Paris.

Have you visited Versailles? What were your impressions? Can you separate your aesthetic impressions from whatever your political views may be regarding the ancien régime and the events of the Revolution?

For additional Twain quotes about the French, visit http://www.twainquotes.com/French.html

16 July 2010

The American Civil War: Not a Good Mix with Romance?

My son's ideal day on his summer vacation---is spent wandering a civil war battlefields, reading all the stone markers and looking for shell casings that somehow have been overlooked by all the other tourists who have traipsed across the paths for the last 150 years.

Needless to say, while he is wandering...so is my mind. I wonder why, after hearing all the stories, the first hand accounts of love and loss, great loss, and occasionally miraculous love stories that emerged from the war, why is this historical period almost taboo by publishers of romance?

As historical romance writers, I am sure we have all heard editors and agents tell us "the American Civil War doesn't sell." We don't often write about it. Neither do we often read it.

I wonder why not? Did Gone with the Wind say it all---is there no other great civil war romance left to tell?

Medieval romance sells---a time period that was just as bloody and violent. But the American Civil War? Don't even try it, my agent says.

So, I ask fellow Hoydens and romance fans, why no romance set in the American Civil war? What makes those stories sooooo hard to sell?

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14 July 2010

The Evolution of the Rake

This summer I had the fun of serving as an historical production adviser on Porchlight Theatre's production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This past weekend was closing weekend, and I saw the show twice, two last chances to savor the richness of the story and this wonderful production. In many ways elements of the play (based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's scandalous epistolary novel of the same name published in the 1780s in the lead up to the French Revolution, which gives this post a Bastille Day tie in) are not unfamiliar to historical romance. In fact, watching the play opening weekend, it occurred to me that I was seeing the prototype of the current historical romance hero. A rake sets out to seduce a beautiful, virtuous woman. He eventually wins her, but finds he has become emotionally entangled with her himself.

It sounds not unlike the plot of Georgette Heyer's Venetia. Save that in the case of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, despite falling in love with the woman he pursues, the rake gives her up to win a game of seduction with his ex-mistress whom he is also pursuing and with whom he also has complex emotional ties. And while he pursues the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, the rakish Vicomte de Valmont is also seducing and having an affair with the fifteen-year-old daughter of another ex-lover. (As my friend Penny Williamson pointed out when we saw the play, the text leaves open the possibility that Valmont is Cécile's father). If Valmont does in the end realize that his life is worth nothing without Madame de Tourvel, it's only after he's cruelly tossed her aside. He dies in a duel. She dies in a convent. Not exactly the stuff of today's romance novels.

All of which got to me to pondering when the rake evolved into a hero. To my knowledge, the classic rake first makes his appearance in literature in the Restoration era. Millamant in Congreve's The Way of the World and Charles Surface in Sheridan's School for Scandal both have rakish pasts, but they don't indulge in rakish behavior in the course of their respective stories. The more typical literary rake seems to be Valmont or Lovelace from Richardson's Clarissa, who cross lines no romance hero could. If they ultimately come to regret their behavior, it's only after they've done far too much damage to achieve a happy ending.

On the opera stage at much the same era, Don Giovanni boasted of his conquests and was dragged down to hell, unrepentant (and immune to love) until the end. Count Almaviva, of the Beaumarchais trilogy and the Mozart and Rossini operas, not only remains a rake after his marriage to the girl he supposedly adored, he is distinctly less intelligent than his valet Figaro (which, at least to me, makes him distinctly less sexy). A few decades later, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, rather than seducing the innocent young girl who falls in love with him, callously spurns her. He then flirts with her sister, leading his friend, the sister's fiancé, to challenge him to a duel, in which Onegin kills his friend. Years later, Onegin sees Tatiana, the girl he spurned, now a beautiful and very married woman. He decides he wants her, only to be spurned himself.

What degree of sexual experience Jane Austen's heroes possess remains open to question, but none of them are rakes. The rakes in her novels, Willoughby and Wickham, are hardly figures of romance. They may not be as devious as Valmont, but they are equally oblivious to the damage they may do. The early Victorian era offers Charlotte Bronte's Mr. Rochester, who has an acknowledged libertine past. Rochester, of course, always intends to marry Jane Eyre not seduce her. Except that he's already married, so morally (particularly given Victorian morals) the effect is the same. Unlike Valmont and Lovelace, however, he doesn't plan to seduce and abandon Jane. Which perhaps is why Rochester achieves a happy ending. He's also a much more romantic figure than his literary forebears.

Many of Georgette Heyer's heroes are rakes, though one of her earliest and most classic rakish heroes, These Old Shades's Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, was actually the villain (under a different name) of her first book, The Black Moth. Today's romantic heroes have libertine pasts more often than not. And at times they, like Valmont, set out coldly to seduce the heroine, only to be caught by love to their own surprise. But they don't wreak as much destruction and they manage to live happily ever after. In some ways the evolution of the rake is similar to that of vampire characters. From destructive (if sexy) villain to romantic hero.

What are some of your favorite literary rakes? Do you prefer the rakes of today's romances who are able to live happily ever after or the less idealized ones like Valmont? Could Valmont or Lovelace be a romance hero and have a happily ever after? Why or why not?

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12 July 2010

The Lady's Stratagem: Washing the Hair

One of my latest acquisitions is The Lady’s Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette. It’s a wonderful book that reprints sections of antique guides on all of the above topics. One of my favorite sections is about personal hygiene. Everything from caring for your teeth to recipes for makeup to directions for bathing (a subject upon which period authorities seem to have been strongly divided, which might explain why so many of us are confused).

A wonderful example of this schism of opinion can be found in the sections featuring arguments for and against washing your hair. The Toilette of Health, Beauty and Fashion is decidedly against the practice, claiming that washing your hair frequently results in “head-ache, ear-ache, tooth-ache, and complaints of the eyes” and ends its commentary with the precept: “Wash the hands often, the feet seldom, and the head never.” The Duties of a Lady’s Maid on the other hand actively promotes the washing of the hair, and says quite saucily: “Some persons have a strong prejudice against washing the hair . . . were this prejudice confined to the ignorant and illiterate, I might pass it over without notice; but as it is put forth in books, and under authority of professional men, it requires to be exposed and refuted . . .” it goes on to state that frequent washing of the head with tepid water prevents the exact same ills that the other source claims results from the practice.

What did a lady do if she did not wash her hair? There seems to be quite a lot of combing of the hair with ivory combs to remove oil and “scurf” (dandruff?) and severe admonitions against the use of a metal comb, as it breaks the hair. There are directions to wipe your hair down with dry towels, or with linen during summer to remove moisture and perspiration. And there are directions for the use of egg-yolk to de-grease the hair: “Take the yolk of a raw egg. Moisten your hand with it, pass it over your hair several times, them comb with a fine comb.” Can you imagine?

I can see a character having great fun (and trauma, a la Anne of Green Gables) if she were to get her hands on one of these books.

09 July 2010

The long arm of research

It’s surprising where research for an historical romance can lead! I’m now writing a western set in 19th century Oregon about a man who wants to try wheat farming (yes, there’s a love story, but research about wheat came first).

Wheat has been grown for at least 7000 years -- not for fun, but for survival. Wheat is ground into flour which makes bread which feeds people; were it not for wheat civilization might have petered out thousands of years ago.

Not only can wheat be eaten, it can be stored for food during winter and as seed for a new crop in the spring. Villages developed where land was available to grow wheat. Bronze tablets dating from the 9th century B.C. show the grinding of wheat and bread-making in Assyria. Ancient Egypt grew wheat, aided by its network of irrigation canals, which demanded organization and supervision.

Growing food led to trade, development of language, mathematics, and business and diplomatic relations with other villages and later nations. . Today, wheat is the world’s number one farm crop, from the poles to the equator, from sea level to the Himalayas. There are thousands of wheat strains; some suited to heat, some to cold, wet, drought, you name it.

So what’s that got to do with my romance set in Oregon? In the Old West, wheat was the most popular cereal grain grown by American farmers. In the early 19th century methods of growing and harvesting had progressed little since the days of the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Farmers, then, were used to hand labor. Mechanization was almost nonexistent

Wheat growers harvested their crops with a sickle or a scythe, cutting their way through the stalks while others followed to collect the bunches of grain and bind into sheaves. It was hot, sweaty, dusty, back-breaking work. Things improved when a cradle was added to the scythe, the curving fingers of which caught the grain as it was cut, leaving it bunched and easier to tie into bundles. Still, a strong and experienced man could cut only two acres of wheat a day.

Separating out the grain kernels was even more primitive: either a farmer beat the wheat with a flail or had his cattle tramp again and again over the wheat heads. When only 15, Cyrus McCormick invented a lightweight grain cradle, with which he could keep up with the older men in reaping, and that was the beginning of mechanized wheat production. Later, McCormick’s invention of the reaper changed harvesting forever.

The first reaper was a two-wheeled, horse-drawn arrangement; blades clipped the stalks close to the ground and a rotating wheel pushed it into the cutting blades and then back onto a platform as it was cut. But that was in Virginia. What about Oregon?

The mechanical reaper opened the floodgate and new machines poured into the farming areas. By the mid-1880s, a single Oregon farmer could handle vast acres of wheat.

Wheat flourished in the Willamette valley, despite the lack of a local market. It was expensive to ship down the river or overland, and by 1863 attention focused on the railroads, in particular a rail line connecting Portland to San Francisco. During the Gold Rush, when mining towns were provisioned by farmers in the Rogue River and Umpqua Valleys, long trains of pack mules carried loads of flour from the mills. Later gold strikes in Oregon quickly built small cities and by 1870, a wheat-consuming population created a healthy demand for flour and wheat-farming took off.

By 1867 Oregon flour was known as the highest priced and best flour on the New York market. That year, $149,065 worth of flour moved from Portland to California, where it sold for $5 a barrel. At the gold mines in California markets, it brought up to $25 per barrel. Exported wheat even reached the East Coast by a circuitous route: by ship from Astoria, Oregon, to Boston by way of the Hawaiian Islands.

The highlight of the wheat-farmer’s year was the harvest. When the stalks turn yellow and the kernels have fully dried out, wheat is ready to be harvested. Old-timers cut wheat using a scythe. The cut wheat was then “stooked,” or gathered by hand into sheaves. These were then brought in from the field to the threshing area, laid out on a canvas or tarpaulin, and beaten with a flail until the wheat separates from the straw. It’s still full of chaff, the fibrous outer shell of each kernel on the head, and for this the farmer needs a windy day and a lot of help. In ancient times, people tossed the wheat into the air, and - because wheat is heavier than chaff, it falls to the ground and the chaff is blown away.

Using the hand-flailing method, it takes 1 - 2 hours to gather a gallon (4 stooks) of finished wheat, which can yield anywhere from 8 to 60 bushels of wheat per acre, depending on weather, disease, rainfall, etc. etc.

After inventing the reaper in 1831, McCormick kept tinkering and improvements in farm machinery increased. These included a wire binder. Adding a binder to the reaper, pulled by four horses, a farmer could cut widths from 6 to 8 feet and dump the wheat onto a revolving canvas belt which carried it into a tying mechanism. When a certain amount of wheat was gathered, a needle was tripped which sent a long curved metal arm around the stalks and knotted it with twine.

One or two men called shockers speared the bundles with a pitchfork into shocks, five or six bundles standing upright by themselves. The bundle wagons then moved onto the field and two men pitched the bound grain onto the flat beds.

In the latter part of the 19th century, wheat farming became even more mechanized with the labor-saving threshing machine. Each year threshing crews moved from farm to farm, feeding wheat bundles into a threshing machine, usually set up in the farmyard. Here the grain was separated, the chaff flying out one end and the grain funneled out the side to sack-sewers, who bagged the separated grain and needle-stitched the gunnysacks closed at the top.

And at harvest time, when threshing crews appeared on farmsteads and the farm women cooked and served them three hearty meals each day, romance could bloom . . .

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02 July 2010

"I'm in the Romance Business..."

Well, duh.

Except the quote isn't from me or any of the usual suspects.

It's from the brilliant 20th century American pop composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, who wrote Guys and Dolls, which lots of people (including maybe me) think is the most perfect Broadway musical ever, and whose music and lyrics have taken permanent residence in my romantic imagination, and whom I'm sure is partly to be thanked or blamed for getting me into the business as well.

Tuesday was the hundredth anniversary of Loesser's birth, and the excellent folks at NPR did a lovely job commemorating it. I got my title quote from Fresh Air's Terry Gross's conversation with singer/pianist Michael Feinstein about Loesser's life and work (listen to it here and also check out the written info and links). And when Gross asked Feinstein to sing a Loesser song to close the interview, and he chose perhaps most the swooningly romantic one of all of them, "I've Never Been in Love Before" -- he introduced it with that line of Loesser's.

Unaccountably, Feinstein's performance isn't completely on the otherwise terrific Fresh Air link. But here's the great jazz musician Chet Baker doing it. I couldn't find a way to cut and paste the lyrics, which perhaps means I shouldn't, legally -- but you can read them here. As Feinstein says, they're simple. Gorgeously simple, a perfect capsule romance moment: the smart, witty, hitherto self-possessed lover (I thought my heart was safe/I thought I knew the score) newly and utterly humbled and transformed in the instant of emergent passion.

I'm listening to it right now via mp3, but I'm hearing it with the ears of my eleven-year-old self on the living room floor in front of on my parents' state-of-the-art stereo in its Danish Modern cabinet. An eleven-year-old who, needless to say, hardly "knew the score" (I didn't know anything except perhaps my own desperate desire to be that wonderfully wise and worldweary and yet that newly innocent. Mixing memory and desire again: no wonder I've always found "time-travel romance" a redundant concept).

Moving the phonograph needle back and forth over certain favorite tracks, the eleven-year-old wore down the vinyl of the 1950 RCA-Victor original cast recording as she soaked in a little romance-writer craft.

But this is wine
That's all too strange and strong
I'm full of foolish song
And out my song must pour

Since then, I've heard romance writers advise that metaphor is a good way to "heighten" emotional effect.

True enough, but there's more to say here.

Metaphor is language charged with energy. The effort to travel from point A to point B in the mind -- to make the link, let's say, between falling in love and getting tipsy -- finds its home in the words the mind finds itself shaping. Not because the lover intended to hype up the language at that moment, but because the work of making the connection, like an electrical current, took charge of the language -- transforming it as it flowed through it, and shocking everyone, most of all the astonished speaker/singer/lover.

"Physics for dummies," I call this sort of thing nowadays when I give erotic writing workshops: Because the best metaphors (or perhaps all of them) are instances of language involuntarily leaping out from somewhere not quite perceptible -- the capillaries, the forces binding the atoms of feeling and speech. In ecstasy (from the Greek for displacement).

The strange, strong wine of "I've Never Been in Love Before" would have been quite enough for one besotted pre-adolescent. But in happy fact it doesn't come by itself. It's the third element of a triptych of songs sung by the play's wonderfully, classically mismatched pair of lovers (straitlaced Salvation Army missionary Sarah Brown, and suavest of Broadway lowlife gamblers, Sky Masterson):

The first song, "If I Were a Bell," is comic, happy, ditzy. Ask me how do I feel, demands a slightly tipsy Sarah, emerging from her cocoon of pious rectitude to answer the question itself -- again and again, from simile to exuberant (if still conditional) simile: if she were a bell, a gate, even a salad splashing her dressing. Not quite ecstatically metaphoric yet, but wonderful nonetheless -- check out Doris Day doing it (from before -- as the wit Oscar Levant put it -- she was a virgin). And read the lyrics here.

The second (and my lifetime favorite) is "My Time of Day," Sky introducing Sarah to Broadway at four AM, "a couple of deals before dawn." This one (since I know it by heart), I will type out in its short, spectacular entirety, for anyone who loves big cities, rain-washed pavement, the intimacy of empty streets, the miracle of shared solitude.

My time of day is the dark time a couple of deals before dawn
When the street belongs to the cop and the janitor with the mop
And the grocery clerks are all gone

When the smell of the rain washed pavement
Comes up clean, and fresh, and cold
And the street lamp light fills the gutter with gold

That's my time of day, my time of day
And you're the only doll I've ever wanted to share it with me

Here's Peter Gallagher doing it, from a "making of" TV show about the 1992 Guys and Dolls revival and album.

In the play, as in the Gallagher clip, the song ends by Sky bursting out, "Obediah. Obediah Masterson, that's my real name." To which he adds, wonderingly, "You're the first person I ever told it to."

I've always loved the moment when you're finally able to share a secret, as well as give a name to a passion. And though at first I thought that the scene in my Almost a Gentleman -- after David learns Phoebe's real name, and wanders (ecstatic, transported) through foggy, gaslit London streets -- was inspired by "Maria" from West Side Story, it seems clear enough now that "My Time of Day" had quite as much to do with it.

Perhaps because it's about sharing a secret, for many years I thought this song was my special secret. But as I learned (also from NPR), "My Time of Day" was Loesser's favorite too. (And I notice today, for the first time, that the smell of rain-washed pavement made it into my novella, "A House East of Regent Street" as well.)

How about you?

Do you cherish a secret passion for musicals? (Or not so secret, maybe, since the advent of Glee-- not to speak of that great moment in TV history, Buffy: The Musical.)

Which are your favorites? (Because although I coyly asserted that Guys and Dolls might possibly be the most perfect Broadway musical, I wouldn't feel right without a mention of West Side Story or Carousel)

And did you know that Frank Loesser, who wrote some 700 songs, wrote at least two that I half unconsciously believed had simply always existed in nature -- "Heart and Soul" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside," (performed deliciously by Loesser and his first wife Lynn here and transcendantly by Ray Charles and Betty Carter here). Any other Loesser favorites?

And do you feel the same deep connection between song, metaphor, and romance that I do?

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