Alcestis Books Historical fiction History Nonfiction Recommendations

Weekend roundup: HNR, arsenic, and a cough

Lessons I have recently learned: when people say that you should only go running while sick if your illness is above the neck, they’re not kidding. I went for a short run on Friday and my lungs are still in revolt. (I apologize to everybody who had to listen to me cough my way through part of a panel at the Harrington symposium at UT yesterday!)

In nicer news, I recently received my first copy of the Historical Novels Review, the review publication of the Historical Novel Society. The February issue contains a review of Alcestis and a mention of me and the book in a short feature on debut historical novelists, as well as articles on magic in historical fiction and Jane Austen and the new gothic, interviews with writers, and more. It’s a great publication and I’m sad that I put off joining the HNS for as long as I did — my grad student poverty notwithstanding, it’s basically an organization devoted to everything I like. I’m delighted that Alcestis appears so prominently in the Review.

Speaking of fascinating historical information, check out Kathryn Hughes’s write-up in the Guardian of this book about arsenic in Victorian England (not yet released in the US, but coming in March). Hughes calls it “a lovely book, a near-perfect blend of rigorous scholarship and jaunty storytelling,” but even more remarkable than that praise is Hughes’s summary of the perniciousness and pervasiveness of arsenic in Victorian material culture:

Perhaps most sinister of all, though, was the way that arsenic insinuated itself into the very fabric of the Victorian home. The poison was used in the production of green dyes, which were incorporated into everything from ribbons to playing cards. The scene was set for a neo-Websterian tragedy in which beautiful maidens and society bucks crumpled to their deaths following a gift of haberdashery or quick game of whist. Even more fateful was the craze for deep green wallpaper, which led to thousands of families meeting their deaths as a result of their taste in home furnishings. Not that they actually licked their walls: the dye was very unstable, so the slightest breeze could dislodge a puff of toxic dust. Queen Victoria herself was so appalled by the homicidal tendencies of green wallpaper that she ordered every room in Buckingham Palace to be stripped of the stuff.

Makes you wonder which ubiquitous chemicals in our daily lives might be looked at this way in hundred years, no? Creepy.

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