Website alert: For historical fiction writers, a new website called After the Plague provides a wealth of information on life, health, and death in Cambridge, England, in the period ca. A.D. 1000–1500. It takes findings derived from scientific investigations of a thousand skeletons of people who lived in and around Cambridge and uses them, not only to generalize, but to reconstruct individual lives. Sixteen essay-length profiles are included.
Picturing a World
Blog post alert: Henry Mayhew's Street Traders reproduces a few of the engravings in London Labour and the London Poor of men and women who made a living on the streets in the Victorian era and quotes the text that accompanies each. The passage that accompanies this picture, for instance, begins, "I am a seller of birds'-nesties, snakes, slow-worms, adders, "effets"–lizards is their common name–hedgehogs (for killing black beetles), frogs (for the French – they eats 'em), and snails (for birds) – that's all I sell in the Summertime."
Website alert: I think I have posted a link to the digitized Panorama of the Thames before, but it seems worth doing again for anyone who needs a soothing video trip down the Thames River in 1829. You can go upstream or down between Richmond and Westminster. Perfect escape from the news two centuries later and a great resource for historical fiction.
I suppose I could save this for next year's February 14th post, but, nah—it's too much fun to hold back! While transcribing a late 19th C letter from Virginia today, I came across a reference to "Valentine's meat juice." An internet search immediately turned up an Atlas Obscura article on the very thing—turns out to be a tonic made of juices extracted from meat cooked at a low temperature to retain the structure of proteins. Isn't that an excellent detail for historical fiction? Or the little brown, pear-shaped bottles could lend themselves to stories about junk dealers or children inventing magic potions to go in one they'd found. Any other ideas?
Blog post alert: For those of you who follow a traditional calendar, this is the ninth day of Christmas. You'll be pleased by a few last glimpses of a delicious interior from Amy Merrick at Dennis Severs' House. And for those of you who think about writing historical fiction, Lucinda Douglas Menzies' photographs of the house are lovely help to visualizing the chiaroscuro of a pre-20th C winter. No wonder ghost stories are a part of the season!
Over the years I've enjoyed collecting images to illustrate terms and allusions in Greer Gilman's Moonwise. For this year's reading, it was "Who'll dig his grave? I said, the owl," which comes from The Death and Burial of Cock Robin. What specially tickled me was discovering the Cock Robin Card Game published by Mcloughlin Brothers in the latter part of the 19th C. In brief, players first have to correctly identify the verse that goes with a picture or vice versa. Then when all the cards have been identified, the rules turn it into a sociable party game of forfeits. Right there historical fiction writers have a use for the tidbit.
Blog post alert: Picturing Children's Food in Early Modern Europe at the Folger Shakespeare Library's website contains an image pertinent to my earlier query about illustrations of girl's education. This is late Renaissance, not late medieval, but still full of details about clothes and activities for historical-fiction writers to mine. Image via the Metropolitan Museum.
My favorite book dedication is Rudyard Kiplings for Plain Tales from the Hills: "To the wittiest woman in India." Now it has a close runner-up, Natasha Pulley's in The Half Life of Valery K: "For Claire, Larry, and Jacob, who put up with me telling them pointless facts about nuclear physics for the whole of lockdown." The rest of the novel is terrific, too—I only wish it weren't frighteningly apt at a time when jitters about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine are all too real.
Accounts of medieval windows generally focus on stained glass, and no wonder—they're very beautiful. But, of course, not all windows were tinted. Recently, I came across a complicated allegorical frontispiece on fol.1r of a French Mirror of History. Half the picture depicts a church being built with various kings, saints, and biblical figures as craftsmen—including these two monks. They grabbed my attention because I had never seen a depiction of glaziers installing windows.
Hamlet muses, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams." But what about good dreams? A History Blog post on a 16th C prayer bead prompts the question, How could a two-inch sphere that opens to an intricately carved interior be used in a story?