05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Victorian High Society in New York

I’ve been reading historical romance for what seems like forever, which makes me feel old, so we’ll just say it’s been a long time, but not THAT long.

So it made sense when I first started writing to try my hand at historical romance. And I found that it’s really hard. There’s a lot of research involved, from what the characters wear and etiquette of the time to if they used coat hangers, oil lamps or candles, and a feather quill or an ink pen. I have to admit that sometimes it seems overwhelming, and yet, in a sense I love researching time periods. The tough part is deciding the when and where to set the story.

Fifth Avenue, center of Victorian Era New York high society.
For my first book, Once Upon a Masquerade, I gave a lot of thought to this question. I’m someone who likes to discover new things, so I decided pretty quickly that I didn’t want to write a Regency romance. I’d read too many. What I hadn’t read was an American set romance. That got me thinking, and researching.

Alva Vanderbilt costumed for
her 1883 masquerade ball.
During Victorian times, high society in New York was very similar to that of London. In fact, those with wealth and prestige attempted to emulate their English counterparts. They had lavish balls, their own season, and their dresses made by French and English designers.

But of course there were differences. New York City had a constant stream of immigrants who came to America for a better life, and soon the rich and poor lived right next to one another. By Victorian times, the poor were starting to rebel against their stature in society. Why were the rich considered so much better than everyone else? And it was here that I started to imagine what it was like for a servant working for an elite family. To see how the other half lived, and know that lifestyle was beyond their reach. Therefore, my first book became a Cinderella type story.

Building the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Victorian history of New York is rich with amazing feats, like the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the grand unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, and masquerade balls like nothing you’d see today. The Vanderbilt masquerade ball in the opening of Once Upon a Masquerade was based on the real thing. I was awed by the original and extravagant costumes. For instance, Alice Vanderbilt dressed as “electric light” in white satin embroidered with diamonds, inspired by Thomas Edison and his success in lighting lower Manhattan six months earlier.

There is so much to explore in this place and time, I’d like to set more books here if nothing more than to plop my characters into the history books and imagine what it must have been like.


Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for joining us today, Tamara. Very interesting post! I admire your guts and determination to do the research! I love reading historicals but the idea of doing the research is daunting.

I saw a documentary on Alva Vanderbilt and her machinations to have Alice marry an English Duke. She'd married into the Vanderbilt family and was considered an outsider by many because she wasn't from a wealthy family, etc. While I love reading English historicals, I think you've found a similar but different hook to bring readers to your books.

Every place I've lived (small town of a couple thousand) or larger city has had a societal hierarchy. Perhaps not to the extent in "Once Upon A Masquerade" but certainly visible, especially if you weren't a member of one of "The Families".

Sarah Raplee said...

And I thought Regency balls were extravagant! I love your description of the Electric Light gown.

I love the Victorian period. Your book sounds fresh and intriguing.

Christy Carlyle said...

Thanks so much for blogging with us during our Victorian Romance month, Tamara. And thank you for giving us an American angle on the Victorian era! I picked up Once Upon a Masquerade and can't wait to read it! :)

Tamara Hughes said...

Thank you for having me here! I loved learning about New York society. This was such an interesting time period. I think that's what I love best about historical romances, I get to learn so much about these new places and how people acted during that time. My next books coming out are pirate books set in the 1720's. So fascinating.

Lana Williams said...

I find this period fascinating as well! And you're so right - the research can be overwhelming but fascinating at the same time. Great post! I look forward to reading this story.

Tamara Hughes said...

Thanks! Sometime it's during the research that the book plot starts coming together. I can envision my characters at a certain event and the wheels start turning.

Diana McCollum said...

What a interesting blog! Good to see a book set in the Victorian age in America. I enjoy reading all the historical tidbits in a book.