Nov 1, 2010

Slumming it...

Emily May

What I'm reading: Tempting the Negotiator by Zana Bell

Listening to: Salmonella Dub

Watching: Outback Wildlife Rescue

Making me smile: the snowball tree is flowering!

This month my third Regency romance, The Unmasking of a Lady, is out in the UK and North America. This is what I call my 'slum' book. Yes, there are glittering ballrooms, but my hero and heroine also venture into London's slums on several occasions.

To research the slums, I turned to Charles Dickens. He's a little after my time period, but he had personal experience of the slums. I thought I'd share some of his truly flavoursome descriptions, ones you can taste on your tongue!

From Bleak House:

...a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people ... these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch, vermin parasites appear, so, these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever...

Also from Bleak House:

...Mr Snagsby passes along the middle of a villainous street, undrained, unventilated, deep in black mud and corrupt water--though the roads are dry elsewhere--and reeking of such smells and sights that he, who has lived in London all his life, can scarce believe his senses. Branching from this street and its heaps of ruins, are other streets and courts so infamous that Mr Snagsby sickens in body and mind, and feels as if he were going, every moment deeper down, into the infernal gulf.

And from Oliver Twist:

The kennel was stagnant and filthy. The very rats, which here and there lay putrfying in its rottenness, were hideous with famine.

Can't you just smell that rat? Fabulous stuff! I had a lot of fun writing the slums scenes. Thank you, Dickens, for painting such vivid word-pictures!

Any Dickens fans out there? Or not? I have to confess that I find him rather wordy and a bit over the top at times, but he's great for dipping into for descriptions like those above. And there have been some marvellous BBC adaptations of his books!


  1. Oh please don't make us taste CD's slumming flavoursome descriptions on our tongues!
    I agree his descriptions are wordy but it takes you there. It does paints vivid pictures in the mind.


  2. Those descriptions are very vivid, makes me super super glad I don't live there!!
    Congrats Emily on the release of your third regency romance!
    I have quite a few Lovecat books on my bedside table, time to read a few more! =)

  3. I agree, Nas -- he sure paints a vivid picture! I should read more Dickens; he was certainly a master of the English language!

  4. Absolutely, Mel -- SUPER glad. Yeah, lots of LoveCat books out there. I have a pile too and am working my way down it. Thoroughly enjoying Zana's TTN at the moment!

  5. Amazingly evocative descriptions, Emily. I can't think of a better author to go to for research into the Victorian slums of London.

    I love Dickens. Yes, he's wordy and his novels are loose and baggy monsters, but so exuberant! I sometimes think I love them because of their flaws. Have you read Our Mutual Friend? Bella Wilfer is my second favourite heroine of all time.

    Am so looking forward to reading The Unmasking of a Lady :-)

  6. Loose and baggy monsters -- what a marvellous description Michelle! I haven't read Our Mutual Friend. Actually, I haven't read many of his books. I'm thinking I should make a resolution to read one a year. Might start with Nicholas Nickleby.

  7. Emily, it's been such a long, long, loooong time since I've read Dickens... in fact, I think it was Great Expectations in high school. But after reading your blog, I think I'll have to revisit his books. Your first quote from Bleak House especially gave me the shivers - that phrase "in maggot numbers"! Powerful!

    Can't wait for The Unmasking of a Lady - will we see it on the shelf here next month?

  8. That maggot line is great, isn't it Sharon! Yes, The Unmasking of a Lady is out downunder next month, in the Summer Blockbuster with three other titles. I'm expecting the author copies any day now!

  9. I LOVE Dickens! After Austen, he's my favourite. My goal in life is to read ALL his works. I'm halfway there ;-)

  10. Wow, Jo, I'm impressed! I'm nowhere near halfway. Guess I'd better get started!

  11. I keep getting interrupted by teaching/writing/studying...and other authors ( a certain E. May!) Plus I feel that the next one I read should be A Tale of Two Cities, but it starts so slowly...

  12. Now that's one I have actually read, Jo! I must read it again, but like you say, there's so much other stuff that keeps interrupting. Dickens' books aren't quick reads!

  13. I have to confess, I like the BBC adaptions better than the books themselves but having read such enthusiastic comments, I'm beginning to feel like I ought to go back and try him again. I don't think I've read him since uni.

    Well done Em, on your latest. Really looking forward to it.

  14. Yes, I know, Zana, the BBC adaptations are excellent! I often find that TV and film make classics more accessible, e.g. Shakespeare, which I struggle to read, but love on film, and ditto Dickens. The wordiness that makes the written works daunting is eliminated, but the wonderful story and the flavour of it all still remains.

  15. Emily, those descriptions are so evocative!

    By the way, I have great news to report: today I snaffled myself a copy of Beauty and The Scarred Hero. Yay! There were only 2 copies left on the shelves, so it's lucky I didn't leave it any longer to make the trip to the shops.

    Can't wait to start it!!

  16. I hope you like it, Rachel. There are no slums in it, but quite a few stray animals!