Creating a vision of history.
Alan Montgomery – Author of The Further Adventures of Gentleman Jack and Mister Twist.
One of the reviews on Amazon.com remarks how interesting it is that I include so much about living in an historic time. It isn’t so very astounding when you consider that what took place on the east coast of the United States took place at various times in the future to states farther west.
I was raised in central Indiana. Many homes in Liberty date back to mid – century and to later times. Some even predate the Civil War. General Burnside came from Liberty! With this knowledge being so present in my past, I had no qualms about creating believable spaces and movement of the period. The later period was a true echo of what existed in the east up to a half-century earlier. The rod-iron fence with spiked points that is around the front yard of Stone Manor and the presence of carriage steps in various places was an omnipresent image that I could draw on from experience. (A carriage step existed two doors from my parents’ house, while the fence existed on the corner across the street.)
My birthdate in the mid-1940s allowed me to see these sorts of things while they were still present and in similar image to the earlier date of the novel. What might be sold in a hardware shop or in a forge could vary a bit, but the way things were made (and not ordered from a catalog) was a constant reminder what to include or not.
I am a child of the mid-20th century, but those shadows of the past kept me alert to what else might have changed. Houses used to have grandiose stairways. They vanished for a while only to return when the older houses were refurbished.
This astute care I used with historic buildings had to carry over into the language used. Think how ludicrous it would have been if Dodger, meeting Oliver after six long years, had said, “Yeah, right?” Or, even worse, “Like wow, Oliver, you’ve like grown into like a handsome dude.” I cringe even thinking such things.
Attitudes of people, one to another, also appear as important in the story and in the era. When Oliver mentions that people stare at him when he speaks high-English, he is right. And they still do. (In Germany, when I spoke English on the streetcar, those of German heritage gave me “How dare you speak English!” looks all the time.) But Gobray is correct. Oliver could stand on the corner quietly, and he would garner no ill looks. But if Gobray stood on a corner, he would get presumptuous stares all the time simply because of his skin color. A lot has remained the same even to today.
The most difficult factor was the necessary avoidance of the modern idioms. At that time, the people were not called African Americans. Those idioms I mentioned above were also foreign to that period. Think of any modern slang, and you will understand the problem. Don’t tell me, “Yeah, you got that right!” because that is one of the idioms I had to ignore and omit.