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Picturing a World

Light and rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they overlap but each is slightly different in meaning and connotations. What is fashionable one decade is not in another, and terms give clues about social status as well period. Being aware of connotations helps me write with a sense of the social implications of a scene.

Similarly, correctly visualizing light helps me think through what my characters are experiencing. The layout and decor in Eastman’s painting are not exactly how I imagined the Hendricks’ hallway, but the house is certainly the right sort and the painting captures the kind of light in which Jeanette climbs the stairs to Aunt Maude’s sitting room after her arrival in New York City. (By Mattie's time in 1908, how different things are!)

For more paintings of furnishings and lighting in houses of well-to-do Americans in the 19th C, click here.

For concrete particulars about lighting in Victorian houses, click here.
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