The last months, the last year really, I’ve been missing from writing. There is always something going on in my head, I suppose, and even the occasional jot in the notebook, but I haven’t had much more than the occasional bit of emotional energy for it. It had been something like four months since I last made a post on Lazarus Machine and a year now since anything on John’s Gamble. I finally did add a chapter to the former during my vacation the other week, and have, in recent weeks, had a bit more heart and inspiration about it, but the energy isn’t quite there. And then this week, I’ve been feeling physically ill on top of struggling with the emotional bits.
However, even when I’m not particularly writing, I do find myself still researching. My literary interests have still been involved with Georgian/Regency/Victorian crime, and I am in the midst of Judith Flanders’ The Victorian City, which talks about Victorian London during Dickens’ life. It covers a broad time period from the end of the Regency to the midst of Victoria’s reign, with all the daily street life detailed. Of course, mostly what this leaves me with is “How did anyone survive at all?” because between how disgusting water was even when it wasn’t infected with cholera (I just saw that Matt Damon used toilet water for his ice bucket challenge to raise awareness about clean water around the world, which is kind of ridiculous because US toilet water is exactly as potable as tap water and unless you get it from the bowl and haven’t flushed for days, it doesn’t even compare to many places around the world), and the general attitude of the wealthy towards the poor (workhouses were meant to be miserable so people would work harder to stay out of them) and no concept of cleanliness — blood simply ran in the streets outside slaughterhouses, along with human and animal and vegetable waste… ugh, I just shudder. No wonder miasma was thought to be the source of some diseases, because the stench had to be incredible. And I haven’t even gotten to the chapter about prostitution yet.
Anyway, I did have some exciting research distraction the other night. I think I was reading a blog post about the Jane Austen era… it was an article about grave robbing, as I was suddenly needing to know how much an anatomist might pay for a stolen body to dissect (they can be quite expensive, I was surprised to find) and came across a name I’d glimpsed in something before, a Mr. (Joshua) Brookes. He was mentioned regarding an incident at his anatomy school in Mayfair, but it wasn’t regarding the same incident that I’d seen before (love Google books). So, of course, I was suddenly sunk deep in finding out about these things, including locating online copies of The Lancet from the era which mentioned him several times.
One of these incidents was that he bought a body from someone other than his usual body snatchers and since they were pissed about it, they left a very ripe body outside his home in Soho and another outside his work in Mayfair to be discovered by whosoever happened to walk by. The discovery outside his home so upset the neighbors that they had to be dissuaded from giving Brookes a beating by the local constables. The second incident involved a coachman knocking on his door, which was answered by a servant. The coachman asked if the doctor would be interested in a fresh body and was told that he was. So the coachman hauled a naked body in a sack around and as the doctor and servant started to kick the body down the stairs, it flailed and hollered, “I’m alive!” Apparently, they were more afraid of the thought of the house being robbed than by a dead body waking up, and they dragged the man to the magistrate’s, where the man confessed only to being drunk on his trip into London, and then being made drunker still by someone else until he apparently passed out and woke up being shoved down the stairs.
Now, writing a Sherlock piece or two, I was quite interested in this man called Brookes, as it would so nicely coincide with Richard Brook from the show, and I found that his place of business was ridiculously close to where I’d previously chosen an address to house my final showdown. I mean, there is a Brook St in Mayfair, so I could hardly not use that, and the location I picked later housed the royal Dr. Gull who, in certain theories, might have been Jack the Ripper (ie, From Hell follows that theory though it’s not as likely as most of the other theories). My main problem with picking the location had been that at some point, the houses along Brook St. had been renumbered and I wasn’t certain when, so I wasn’t certain which house number to use. Then I told myself, this is just a fan fiction and you’re being crazy. :)
At any rate, I was now in this state of mind, so I watched two movies that had been on my Netflix queue for a while, I Sell the Dead and Burke and Hare. The first was interesting, but definitely took a supernatural turn I wasn’t quite expecting/interested in. Burke and Hare was fairly good, considering that I’m sure it took liberties with making any of the involved parties sympathetic. It starred Simon Pegg as Burke, so it couldn’t help but be a little light and silly, and I doubt that they were caught out due to early photographs, but the bit at the end showing Burke’s skeleton displayed in the university in Edinburgh is accurate.
And finally, today, due to being ill and not really having the energy to do anything outside of lay in bed and watch videos online, I watched several episodes of City of Vice, a 5 episode British series detailing the beginnings of the Bow Street Runners. It follows Henry and John Fielding and their surprisingly nefarious attempts to start up a police force within London. I say surprisingly nefarious not because the series shows them setting up a Lord to be robbed in order to gain them financial favor and a sponsor in the House of Lords, but because in the earliest incarnation of the Runners, they were operating illegally.
This isn’t the first depiction I’ve run across describing the rather rocky beginnings of the British police forces. In The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale, it describes the beginnings of things like undercover police work and how unfair and nefarious it was viewed by the general public. In 1860, when the events in the book take place, it was seen as an invasion of privacy for a detective to come into one’s home, even if it is the scene of a kidnapping/murder and poke his nose into the family’s life. Similarly, in City of Vice, the people seemed to view police as less law and order and more infringing upon the rights of free people. Because apparently it is a right for people to do as they please regardless of the law? There seemed to be a lot of laws but no real way to enforce them, especially if wealthy people enjoyed the illegal activity. (I suppose that’s not terribly different in any time period.) Even to start off the Bow Street Runners, the Fieldings were asking for a mere six men. For all of London.
The series itself has some sound issues, being that they realistically portrayed the absolute din of the streets of London at the time, but because of that, you can’t always hear the dialogue, and on hulu, where I watched it, there were no subtitles available. Still, the absolute filth, violence and debauchery of the era seemed to be accurately portrayed and the map overviews were awesome. While it is much earlier than the era I’ve been researching, I find it incredibly interesting.
Still on my TBR list are Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder, which I’ve been stalking a while but haven’t made the purchase yet, and The Poisoner by Stephen Bates, and Shocking Bodies by Iwan Rhys Morus, which I found while looking for the one I was really thinking of, Shocked by David Casarett. Not sure how many I will get around to reading, because I will eventually get squicked out by all this (much like the Cesarian in the first episode of The Knick, I am freaking horrified by C-sections) and I will eventually (hopefully soon!) finish Lazarus Machine and have less excuse for all this morbid research. :)
On one last, amusing note, City of Vice reminded me of something with their episodes on molly houses, places were gay and/or transvestite men would hang out. I mention one in John’s Gamble and when I came across the term originally, I wondered if in putting in all the are-they-gay wink-wink-nudge-nudge bits, they picked Molly Hooper’s first name as a rather obscure reference to this term. I swear, this would be the question I would forget to ask if I ever met any of them. I mean, it could just be a common British name for a female, a variation of Mary which has always been an incredibly common name in English-speaking and many other languages, or the fact that I looked up the meaning and the first website said “uncertain, maybe bitter” and while I think they meant that the meaning was uncertain, it made me laugh at its aptness. If they were going strictly Doyle, he seemed to prefer the name Violet.
Anyway, now that I’m not feeling like either 101 degrees or about 10 degrees, I suppose I ought to be off writing more than this blog post! :)