Corsets, railway carriages and a lovely free gift! By Jennie Walters
|I think Eugenie must wear a corset at night.|
Another difference I've found when writing about the aristocrats is that they have the freedom to travel around a lot more, rather than the housebound servants. I've just moved Eugenie and her American relatives by marriage to 1890s Paris - romantic Paris of La Belle Epoque, which I could spend months researching. Luckily for me, Eugenie is not particularly political or observant and has a habit of getting the wrong end of the stick, which may excuse a multitude of research omissions. I did want to get a flavour of travelling to France in this era, however, and was lucky enough to stumble across the most wonderful piece of writing by Charles Dickens: A Flight, published in 1851. Not only does this account make you feel as though you're actually on that train with him, it is so wonderfully funny and observant that I've fallen in love with Dickens all over again and may have to stop writing to read everything he's ever written. So here is the lovely free gift mentioned in the title of this piece: the link to A Flight, which IMHO is ten minutes of sheer reading joy (although I would skip over the first paragraph about Don Diego de whojimaflip).
It's hard to pick out my favourite details, but I do especially like Demented Traveller, whom unfortunately at moments of Network Rail-induced stress I much resemble, and the marvellous Mystery, who 'does such miracles in her own behalf, that, one of these days, when she dies, they'll be amazed to find an old woman in her bed, distantly like her' and who 'eats of everything there that is eatable, from pork pie, sausage, jam and gooseberries, to lumps of sugar'.
Perhaps most valuable of all for the harrassed researcher is the idea that what makes this writing so utterly brilliant and memorable is not the accuracy of the detail but the eternal truths which make one think yes, of course - that is exactly how I feel, only I could never have expressed it so perfectly. For example, Dickens observes on nearing the French coast:
'And now I find that all the French people on board begin to grow, and all the English people to shrink. The French are nearing home, and shaking off a disadvantage, whereas we are shaking it on.'
Who hasn't noticed the very same thing when approaching the Gare du Nord aboard Eurostar...
Perhaps you've made your own serendipitous discoveries in the name of research, too. Feel free to share them here!