One reason it’s taking me forever to get really rolling on Goddess of Beauty is the amount of research I’ve had to do. Egads, have I done research. I chose the plot and setting of Goddess of the Hunt (comedy of manners at a Regency house party) partly because I wanted a story I could write quickly, without getting bogged down in research.
Well, now I am bogged, mired, and drowning in research – on topics from the history of pigments, to the British anti-slavery movement, to sailing terminology, to the physiology of colorblindness, to exactly which paintings were exhibited by JMW Turner at the Royal Academy from 1815-1820. It’s tremendous fun, and GOB will be a much richer book for it, but it’s time-consuming.
But mostly I’ve been reading first-hand accounts of transatlantic voyages during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Most of these are written by men. They write about storms, and the birds and fishes they see, and the birds and fishes they see killed and eaten, and any skirmishes amongst passengers or the crew – all very useful information, but rather lacking for my purposes.
And then, I finally found an account penned by a woman: Journal of a Lady of Quality;
Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies,
North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776, by Janet Schaw.
What a revelation! Ms. Schaw – bless her! – writes not only beautifully, but she writes about all those little details the men’s accounts are lacking. What they wore, what they ate, how they passed the time, how they bathed. And, not surprisingly, she writes about romance:
Could love be quenched like common fire, surely not a single spark would have remained aboard the Jamaica Packet, yet if we may believe the word of an Abigail, this is far from being the case, and the little deity finds as good sport in shooting our sea gulls as your land pigeons. If I am not mistaken Mrs Mary has herself got a scratch, tho’ she was a very prude at land. Love is not a passion (says a philosophic friend of mine) but inspired from situation.
How then can the poor maid be blamed, there are two or three handsome fellows aboard, on one of whom I suspect she has Cast the eye of affection. He is no Joseph, I dare say, and as Mary keeps the keys, I make no doubt she will be successful. It is wonderful how this gentle passion has sweetened her temper, and we think ourselves much obliged to David, for so he is called, for her good humour.
We were all like to be overset, with our new friend Davy this morning. Scandal, that sad amphibious monster, that can thrive both by land and water, has given much disturbance to poor Mary, who entered the Cabin this morning all in a flutter. “Dear Ladies,” cried she, “what do you think; to be sure ’tis no wonder we had such storms; for a judgment must follow such doings, to be sure I make no doubt we will all be cast away.” “Pray, Mrs Miller,” said I, “what’s the matter?” “I intend to tell,” said she, “but who would ever have thought it, that handsome man. But now I think he is not handsome a bit, for handsome is, that handsome does.” She run on a great while longer, but to relieve you sooner than she did me, I will tell you that she had been informed he had another fair one on Board, to whom he paid more attention than to her, and to add to the injury, the very wine which she gave him, had been converted to the use of this favourite Sultana. He has contrived to make up matters, and she now says that if there were not bad women, there would be no bad men. ‘Tis a constant maxim with us always to throw the blame on our own sex, when a favourite Lover is unfaithful, we never fail to discover he has been taken in by art to deceive us.
*shakes head* Mary, Mary, Mary. He’s just not that into you.
What about you? What kind of research have you been doing? Found any interesting primary sources penned by members of the fairer sex?