What makes you want to write about Victorian England?
The sheer panorama of it, for a start! I first came to historical romance through the Regencies of Georgette Heyer and Jane Aiken Hodge, and years later, when I seriously started thinking of writing a romance myself, I thought for sure that it would have a Regency setting. After all, I’d spent a number of years in graduate school, studying the Victorian era and writing a thesis on Victorian poetry. So I couldn’t have anything more left to say about it, could it?
Well, as it turned out, I did have quite a few things left to say! I still love the Regency and find it a fascinating time, but it passes so quickly. The true Regency period (1811-1820) is an eyeblink in history, not even a full decade. By contrast, the Victorian Age spans more than 60 years, from 1837 to 1901, during which changes beyond imagining took place. Choose any decade of Victoria’s reign and you’ll find something interesting happening, whether in politics, religion, science, art, technology. Inventions that we take for granted today--the telephone, electric lighting, trains and cars, even canned food--all came into being during the Victorian era, and were greeted with responses that ranged from awe to horror. Victorians tend to be regarded as less exciting and less glamorous somehow than their Regency precursors--but they knew how to work. And ultimately, they changed the world.
As a writer, I love tapping into that excitement and that sense of sweeping, monumental change. My favorite decades of the Victorian Era would have to be the 1880s and 1890s, mainly because of the shifting dynamic between men and women. While men still dominated most aspects of society, women were beginning to assert themselves more forcefully. They had achieved the right to study at Oxford and Cambridge, though they weren’t awarded degrees until the 1920s; they were campaigning for the vote (another goal not realized until the 1920s); and they could seek employment outside the home, the schools, and the shops. Legal reforms made it possible for them to retain property bequeathed to them or which they earned in their own right, and they could petition for and receive custody of their children if their marriages broke down. And since I have always preferred romances in which the hero and heroine were on a more equal footing, I gravitate naturally to the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods.
What comes first a good storyline or a good character?
For me, I would have to say character. A book can have a brilliant plot, more intricate than a Rube Goldberg device, and a beautifully realized setting, but neither is going to mean much if the characters fail to come alive. Whether you’re the writer or the reader, you have to care about or at least be interested in the people inhabiting this fictional world.
My debut novel, Waltz with a Stranger, was influenced by several things, including the transatlantic marriage market and an early Tennyson poem, “The Sisters,” but ultimately it was the story of Aurelia reclaiming her true self after an accident that shattered her sense of self-worth and finding a forever love with a man who sees more than her scars. The sequel, A Song at Twilight, is set in the glamorous Victorian music world, but it’s mostly the story of Sophie and Robin, two people who loved and lost each other four year earlier, finding the courage to fight for their relationship when they’re given a second chance. As a writer, I need to be passionately invested in my characters’ journeys, bringing them through the storm to a safe harbor.
Granted, a strong storyline always helps. And there are some instances in which the plot comes first. A brainstorming writer might suddenly think, “Oh, I want to do a Cinderella story,” or “I want to do a contemporary version of Sense and Sensibility,” or “How would this trope play in such-and-such a setting?” In situations like that, you have a template that imposes a certain structure on the work--although you can take as many liberties within that structure as you like. And with the characters--to make them unique and wholly yours, rather than overfamiliar archetypes or pale imitations of the originals.
Thank you for hosting me today!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamela Sherwood grew up in a family of teachers and taught college-level literature and writing courses for several years before turning to writing full time. She holds a doctorate in English literature, specializing in the Romantic and Victorian periods, eras that continue to fascinate her and provide her with countless opportunities for virtual time travel. She lives in Southern California where she continues to write the kind of books she loves to read.
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