2011 Golden Heart Winner of the Historical Category with her dark and passionate Victorian set novel, The Dark Lady, Maire Claremont is a lover of all things slightly twisted. After receiving her M.A. in Theater Maire moved to Ireland for a year with her husband and soaked up as much sweeping scenery, awesome pubs, and travel as she could. She is now living in Colorado, working towards her Ph.D and researching the uses of morphine and insane asylums during the Victorian period so she can keep writing the dark characters she loves so much.
Find Maire on Twitter @Maireclaremont
Back in 2008 I was an aspiring Regency writer. I adored the costumes, the comedy, the houses. What wasn’t to love? And at the time I had every intention of finding my niche in that very popular genre period. I was even on my way, I’d had agent requests and an editor request for my Regency.
And then it happened. Love at first sight. . . Ahem. . . Or first read.
A book that year was getting a lot of buzz at the San Francisco Romance Writers of America Conference. I picked up a free copy of Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows, a mind blowingly passionate novel set in India and London during the 1850s. That book gripped me and then it never really let go. It inspired me to start listening to the darker characters in my head and suddenly, my happy, sunny Regencies disappeared, replaced by atmospheric, dark, and tortured characters in Victorian England.
Now as a career move, this was crazy. Dark wasn’t selling, but I was in love and isn’t that what romance writers do? Succumb to love?
There’s something about Victorian England that is utterly captivating. There is such a cultural contradiction going on. On the surface, there is this incredibly rigid society, mirrored in the metal grommet corsets and restrictive skirts of the women and the surprisingly confining costumes of the men. Underneath all this outward austerity dwelt a fantastic world rife with scandal, insanity, and sex. Torture porn was all the rage. There were houses of prostitution that specialize in whipping (for men!). In the 1850s there were about 9,000 prostitutes in London alone, and yet extreme innocence (to the point of girls having no idea what sex was or that babies did indeed grow inside a woman’s body) was one of the most valued characteristics in ladies. No doubt, it was this lack of accessibility to women that encouraged such a vast numbers of prostitutes. After all, a wife was strictly meant for breeding and good women didn’t enjoy “the act”. This strange sexual duality in Victorian London is absolutely fascinating to me simply because it was made of such opposing factors.
And then there’s the drugs. Drugs were rampant in Victorian England. Opium hit London and enveloped it like wildfire. There were no drug laws. You could buy opiate derivatives at the chemist’s, no prescription necessary. Laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, became a huge hit. Victorians chugged that stuff like it was candied water. There are so many notable users at this time I could write a blog entirely based upon those names. A few are Elizabeth Siddal (the famous model to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Lewis Carrol, and Elizabeth Barret Browning.
Godfrey’s Cordial was especially popular and was used to keep babies from crying. Oh yeah. Opium for babies. But what you also must understand was that laudanum was handed out left, right, and center to women for the cure of hysteria, mental cramps, and nerves. Ultimately, looking back through my contemporary lens, it was also used as a cure for female boredom and lack of purpose.
And then laudanum’s big brothers heroine and morphine came to town. There were actually jeweled hypodermic syringes and cases so that women could carry them around in their reticules. Ladies maids were trained to inject their mistress. Wow. Wow. Wow, right? Um. . . Isn’t this supposed to be the era of gentility and morals?
Now, all this seems pretty crazy and dark, yes? Why would anyone want to dwell for months in this world writing about people who are sexually repressed and strung out on drugs in a restrictive society? But here’s the thing, I get to write daily about characters who go right up to the edge of self destruction and come back. They find love, they find peace, they find a way to cope with the monsters inside and around them. To me finding love in the midst of the horrors of life is the ultimate romance.
And I love writing about second chances. All my characters are coming back from horrible pasts and finding the beauty in each other. So for me, this is what makes the historical set in Victorian England such an incredible read and an incredible genre to write in. Now, go forth and read Victorians!