C.S. Harris returns to Regency England with her eighth historical whodunit, What Darkness Brings: A Sebastian St. Cyr Novel.
How did your academic and archaeological background help you with these books?
I suspect my years of studying European history left me with a deeper understanding of the forces at work in the period than I otherwise would have had. As an academic, I wrote an historical study of the influence of Revolutionary ideology on the development of modern feminism, and I frequently find myself drawing on that research in ways I never would have expected when I was holed up in the Bib-liothèque Nationale all those years ago.
Probably the main legacy of my archaeological background is an enduring fascination with things like medieval crypts and skeletons!
In what ways is which Regency England like our times?
The Regency period was very much a time of transition. England shifted from an agrarian to an industrial society and from the easy-going morality of the 18th century to the prudish pietism that would characterize the Victorian period. In 1812, London was illuminated by candles and oil lamps, and a large percentage of the fish consumed in the city was caught in the Thames. Within a few years, trains replaced post chaises (horse drawn carriages), gas lit the streets, and the river was a dead sewer. Decades of war brought economic hardship for the poor, and massive political unrest occurred as conservative forces fought to contain such dangerous heresies as republicanism, democracy, and secularism. Societies in times of transition are always societies in stress, and it is in that stress and the tug-of-war between conservatives and progressives that I see fascinating similarities to our own age. It all makes a vibrant set-ting for a mystery series.
What provides you with insight into the feeling of Regency England?
I think that to develop a true appreciation of a period’s zeitgeist, you need to be familiar with the preceding periods. Consider our own age and the extent to which our thinking is influenced by the hor-rors of World War II, by the cultural shifts of the ’60s, even by the toxic legacies of the Civil War. Any future novelist trying to write a story set in 2013 had better be very familiar with everything from Karl Marx to Thomas Jefferson, the Beatles to Frank Lloyd Wright, and books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There’s a temptation for writers of historical fiction to focus only on works that ap-peared in their particular period, rather than what came before.
When you write a story set in, say, 1812, many of the people you’re writing about lived through the French Revolution and the American Revolution. They read Rousseau and Voltaire, and their lives were impacted by the rebellions of 1715 and 1748 even if those events occurred before they were born. Knowing about the long-term movements in art and literature, philosophy and architecture and law—that deep history is crucial.