If you are into Steampunk, then naturally you’re into Victoriana of one kind or another. As a writer, research is one of my favorite things, and there are three books I’ve kept on my research shelf when dozens of others have been shuffled off to less stellar spots (read cardboard boxes in the attic).
One book is To Marry An English Lord – The Victorian and Edwardian Experience Tales of Wealth and Marriage Sex and Snobbery by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace. While it’s not your typical reference book I absolutely inhaled it. It looks at the idea of marriage from a distinctly Victorian view. It discusses things such as the bidding on American Heiresses to bring money to well-titled, but financially poor English families, the protocol of calling cards, how one gave the cut direct in high society and follows the likes of the American equivalent of Victorian royalty, such as the Vanderbilts and the Astors. It shows a glimpse of what life as a married heiress entailed from luncheons to dealing with one’s spouse. So much fodder for a mind bent on imaginative fiction!
The second is What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew – From Fox Hunting to Whist – the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England by Daniel Pool. From finding out how social rank worked, to when to yell “Tally Ho!” during a fox hunt, and how one ended up in debtor’s prison (like Charles Dicken’s father), this book covers the gamut of odd Victorian social norms and customs (for instance did you know that the “plums” in a Christmas plum pudding were really raisins?) If you plan on being one of the aristocracy in your Steampunk costuming or mannerisms, I highly recommend it.
Book number three is really more of a specific book to my current work in progress. It’s A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West – The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote edited by Rodman W. Paul. It’s an autobiography written by a Victorian woman who moved West, and both wrote and illustrated western stories for such magazines as Century and St. Nicholas, but it is not a bunch of dull letters. Instead it is the vibrant account of the struggles of woman on the western frontier who longed for the cultivation and friends she’d left behind back East, but who adored the rugged beauty and opportunity the West offered. The book includes a number of her illustrations.
You see, while we writers do indulge in making up stuff for our fantastical fiction, we actually do research and immerse ourselves in the details of Victorian life now and again. Are there research books you particularly adore?