Like most historical writers, I do a lot of research before, during, and sometimes even after I write a book, so I’m always on the lookout for research books and other resources. Half Price Books held a huge warehouse sale this weekend at Dallas Market Hall. All books were two dollars or less, which was a good deal for hardcover and trade paperbacks, some of which were brand new.
I’m a librarian, so naturally I’m very particular about how books are organized. When I visit a library or bookstore, I always reshelve books that are out of place. I simply can’t stop myself. Given this tendency, I approached the warehouse sale with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the books had at least been sorted into loose categories (I’m using the term loose loosely here).
I immediately headed for the History section. Books were stacked in long rows three across on top of the tables, and haphazardly piled in boxes below the tables. I would have classified most of the books as political science or current affairs, but there were a few true history books sprinkled between them. I skimmed the titles on the table, turning books so the titles were all facing the same direction and righting books that were upside down or backwards as I went. I can’t help it. The librarian in me will not be denied.
After making a few good finds on the tabletops, I turned to the boxes underneath the tables. The boxes really set off the librarian in me. The books were piled haphazardly, and horror of horrors, some were even bent. So of course I had to organize all of the books into rows with the spines facing up.
In all, I managed to find ten books, but I was so exhausted from all the straightening, I didn’t have the heart to look through any of the other sections. I did walk away with a book about the history of royal roads in Great Britain, castles of Britain, defending Britain from attack, and markets and marketplaces of Britain to name a few.
Have you made any good research finds lately?
Ally Broadfield writes historical romance set in Regency England and Imperial Russia. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December. She would love to have you visit her website or Facebook page.
Virginia Clemm (1822-1847) was thirteen when she married her twenty-six-year-old cousin, Edgar Allan Poe.
“Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away” (Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, “Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe”)
Virginia Poe, painted hours after her death
She was never in good health but always supportive of her husband, keeping his writing pens neatly arranged and looking on adoringly as Poe wrote his stories of horror.
They had been married ten years when Poe wrote “The Raven.” It was an instant sensation and soon Poe was receiving letters of admiration, including amorous ones. Notable among these letter-writers were two women, both married and writers themselves.
Frances Sargent Osgood (1811 – 1850) was a member of a prominent New York writing circle and her poetry had received a rare accolade from Poe, who wrote columns as a literary critic. Her childlike demeanor and “invalidish” mannerisms resembled those of Poe’s wife, who was also suffering from tuberculosis. Virginia encouraged her husband’s acquaintance with Osgood and an exchange of passionate love poems ensued between the two.
The other woman was Elizabeth Ellet (1818 – 1877), author of the formidable Women of the American Revolution, still studied today. This lady also made amorous overtures to Poe but he scorned them all, “simply because she revolted me.” Nevertheless, Ellet gained access to the Poe residence and became acquainted with Virginia, who allowed her to view some of Osgood’s correspondence with Poe.
Ellet began an elaborate campaign to sow discord in Poe’s relationships, first advising Osgood that she ought to reclaim her letters to him before they found their way into the press. This was accomplished to Poe’s chagrin and he suggested with great venom that “Mrs. E” might had better look after her own letters.
Whether there were any letters from her or not, Ellet’s brother threatened to kill Poe. Then Virginia began to receive anonymous letters about her husband’s supposed indiscretions arrived. Rumors that Poe was insane and prone to fabricate liaisons between himself and married women began to surface in the press.
Virginia took all of these indignities to her deathbed, where she pronounced “Mrs. E. is my murderer.” Poe was distraught and took revenge on Ellet in his writing. The poem “Hop Frog – or the eight-chained orangutans” is a short story written about revenge a dwarf takes against his master who abused the girl he loved. Poe’s fury and grief was poured into his macabre tale, in which Ellet, represented by the king who struck a defenseless girl, is induced to dress up in a costume, along with her “friends” and hoisted in the air by means of trickery, is set ablaze in front of the court:
Elizabeth Ellet – “hell hath no fury”
“In less than half a minute the whole eight ourang-outangs were blazing fiercely, amid the shrieks of the multitude who gazed at them from below, horror-stricken, and without the power to render them the slightest assistance.”
Poe would visit his wife’s grave, frequently being found there in the snow and bitter cold of winter. His poems of dead or dying young women, and the lovers who mourn them, must have been inspired by Virginia. Osgood was later heard to say that his wife was the only woman Poe ever loved.
Years later, the cemetery where Virginia was buried was destroyed. A family friend happened upon the scene the very day the sexton was about to throw out her bones which he had scooped up on his shovel. The bones were gathered in a box and kept until the day Poe was reburied in a magnificent tomb. His wife’s little box laid alongside his left breast.
“The box!” vociferated Mr. Wyatt, still standing–“the box, I say! Captain Hardy, you cannot, you will not refuse me. Its weight will be but a trifle–it is nothing–mere nothing. By the mother who bore you–for the love of Heaven–by your hope of salvation, I implore you to put back for the box!”
— The Oblong Box, Edgar Allen Poe (1850) about an artist who would rather die than leave his wife’s body, sealed in a box, to go down in a shipwreck.
People often ask how I decided to write Kentucky Green, as it set in an unusual time period, the frontier in 1794. I grew up reading historical novels, which I now realize contained a definite ‘romance’ element even though they weren’t labeled as such. When I took a ‘how to write’ class the advice was to write what you like to read. And being a history teacher (US History and Western Civilization at the community college), I looked back to see what novels that I loved.
One of my favorite novels was The Kentuckians by Janice Holt Giles (1905-1979). This novel takes place in Kentucky during the American Revolution. I loved the characters, David Cooper and Bethia the woman he loves, but can’t have. All this against the background of the Americans, outnumbered and ill-equipped as they fight against the British and their Indian allies. Being a history major, I really enjoyed the historical information Giles added to the story. (more…)