The thing that excites me the most about Victorian erotica is exploring the dual nature of the era. On the one hand you have the buttoned up veneer of respectability and rules to abide by, but bubbling beneath the surface were the same passions we felt as cave people. Trying to deny themselves those feelings led to all manner of strange behaviour, from gentlemen disappearing for half the night at brothels to women having breakdowns due to frustration (among other things). It’s this internal struggle between being ‘good people’ and their primal urges that leads me to write about them again and again.
I enjoy researching specific periods in history and wondering how a real person would have felt during that time. It’s fascinating to think that at any given time, if you delve into the thoughts of any individual, you’ll find the same thought processes: Do we have enough money for food, I hope one day we can afford a nice place to live, that person was attractive, I wonder where h/she is going. It just depends on which era it is as to how guilty they’ll feel about that last thought. Nowadays of course we wouldn’t give it a second thought but a Victorian lady might feel differently and I’m very curious about that.
The main trouble with historical fiction is that you can’t really use throwaway sentences the way you would a modern piece. I constantly worry about something as simple as walking down a street – what did the street look like, was that particular street even there at that time, which shops were there? The main character can’t just buy some medicine; did that medicine even exist and what form did it take, drops or pills? Sometimes I can write whole paragraphs and feel confident and other times I’m checking something after every sentence. I’m also conscious of attitudes that might be different. I think it takes away from the reality of the story if everyone is unrealistically progressive. That’s not to say there weren’t progressive people, but not everybody was there yet.
Despite this, underneath the petticoats and top hats and corsets were people who felt things just as deeply as us, and I like stripping them of those exterior barriers and letting that side of them awaken. I think I have an urge to free my female main characters of the restraints at the time, if I can have someone run off with the circus I’ll do it. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t need to be so drastic. Another fascinating thing about the period was the tendency to drug women when they got over-emotional and label them ‘hysterics.’ In order to be free they didn’t have to leave home or start their own business, they just needed to be listened to.
All in all the period is such an alluring mix of rich and poor, manners and class, secrets and lies, progress and regression that it continually draws people in and invites them to explore it’s conflicts and hidden passions, and I learn something new about it all the time.