Thursday 14 January 2016
'Sensationally' Yours ...an Old Genre has a New Outing
As some of you already know, I write Victorian Crime Fiction, featuring two members of the detective division of the London Metropolitan Police, DI Leo Stride and DS Jack Cully. Their latest adventure is being marketed as a Murder Mystery but you, canny person that you are, may notice that it actually says: A Victorian Sensation Novel' on the cover.
The Sensation Novel was a particular genre of fiction, dating from 1860 -1880. The Victorian Web defines it thus: The Sensation Novel features a beautiful, clever young woman who, like Magdalen Vanstone in Collins's No Name (1862), is adept at disguise and deception —such women are doubly dangerous and generate social instability because they possess and threaten to use secret knowledge.
Other strategies employed by Sensation authors include the exposure of hypocrisy in polite society, intentional and unintentional bigamy, adultery, hidden illegitimacy, extreme emotionalism, melodramatic dialogue and plotting, and the brilliant but eccentric villain with gentlemanly pretensions. Reginald C. Terry in Victorian Popular Fiction, 1860-80 employs the term "detailism" to describe yet another aspect of the Sensation Novel, its rigorous realism that catered to a contemporary "taste for the factual" in its descriptions and settings, a feature that novelists such as Collins skillfully blended with the exciting "ingredients of suspense, melodrama and extremes of behaviour".
In addition, Terry notes how the plots of such novels often utilized "the apparatus of ruined heiresses, impossible wills, damning letters, skeletons in cupboards, [and] misappropriated legacies". P. D. Edwards adds yet further "ingredients" to the Sensation formula: "arson, blackmail, madness, and persecuted innocence (usually young and female), acted out in the most ordinary and respectable social settings and narrated with ostentatious care for factual accuracy and fulness of circumstantial detail" . To all of these features we should add the realistic and sympathetic investigation of individual psychology and an exploration of the female psyche.''
I loved the idea of trying to write a Sensation Novel, albeit slightly pared down for modern taste, but as the book features Detectives Stride & Cully, who also appear in the first two books, it is easier to shuffle the book into the previous genre (especially as Amazon, Barnes & Noble don't have a category for Sensation Novels)
Anyway now you know what to expect from the book, here is a little taster from the opening:
'' London, 1862. It has been a cold summer – the coldest on record, they say, and the autumn nights have come early and bitten hard. Wind batters the city, rattling the windows and inn-signs, whipping up the Thames into white-capped rage.
Wind whirls rooks into the sky like cinders. Wind prowls across narrow quadrangles and round unsuspecting corners, blowing dead leaves into nooks and stairwells. In weather like this, right-thinking people wrap up warm and stay indoors in front of the fire.
Not all of them though. Look more closely.
A tall man is making his way towards King’s Cross station, his shoulders squared, tilting forward as he walks. He is darkly handsome, the sort of man who causes women’s heads to turn when he enters the room. He knows this. His name is Mark Hawksley (though not all of the time).
As he reaches the entrance, a gust suddenly rocks him on his heels forcing him to make a half-step backwards. He takes a deep breath, the wind pummelling his face, the richness of the oxygen making him feel temporarily light-headed.
Steadying himself, the man enters the shadowy arch of the station and heads for a specific platform where a train is expected to arrive at any minute. In the station air he can hear it coming, the sudden frantic chugging of a locomotive, a series of clanks as it passes over the final set of points, then a long exhalation of steam as it pulls alongside the platform and comes to a halt by the buffers.
Instantly all is bustle and bedlam. Dogs bark, porters shout, and trolleys are hurriedly trundled towards the baggage carriage at the back.
Two respectably-dressed men alight from the front carriage of the train, turning to help down a small female figure, heavily-veiled and clad in deepest black. They escort her along the platform, steering her carefully through the milling throng of passengers, the meeters and greeters, the mounds of luggage, and the cabbies touting for fares.
Reaching the barrier, they hand over three tickets and are allowed through and onto the forecourt. They glance around apprehensively, their faces clearing as Mark Hawksley steps forward into the light, lifting his top hat in a smooth elegant gesture.
“So here you all are at last,” he says.
“Here we all are. Just as we telegraphed you,” one of the men replies.
Hawksley gestures towards the heavily-veiled woman.
“May I?” he asks.
“Be our guest,” the other man nods.
He lifts the thick veil, then steps quickly back, uttering a gasp of surprise.
“Amazing,” he breathes. “She is exactly as you described her in your letter. You might almost believe … But come, we need to get our guest to a place of safety before she is recognised.”
Mark Hawksley steers the little party to where a line of cabs are patiently waiting. He signals to one driver, gives him careful instructions, then bundles the group into the rear of the cab. He closes the door. The driver whips up the horse. As the cab rattles away into the night, Hawksley’s handsome, chiselled features break into a wide smile.
“Oh yes,” he murmurs. “You will do nicely. Very nicely indeed.”