So19 talks with ROBERT MORRISON

Over time and distance, a classic text can become a foreign country full of customs we don't quite understand, language we don't quite grasp, and history we don't quite comprehend. The creators of the best annotated editions are like skilled and sympathetic guides, giving us the insight and information needed to travel through a text with some of a native's ease. Financial equivalencies, historical and social context, inside jokes, textual corrections, explications of references and rituals, illustrations that help us visualize and connect: in offering all this and more, an annotated edition is both a wonderful companion to a classic text and a delight all its own. Today, we're delighted to share an interview with Robert Morrison about the edition of Jane Austen's Persuasion he edited and annotated for Harvard University Press. A specialist in 19th-century literature and culture, Morrison is Full Professor and Queen's National Scholar at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario; in addition to the annotated Persuasion, his work includes The English Opium-Eater, a biography of Thomas De Quincey that appeared in the U.S. from Pegasus Books and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize. (Our interview with him on De Quincey and the book appears here.) Beautifully annotated, illustrated, and designed, Morrison's annotated Persuasion has become my favorite edition of one of my very favorite books; in a chat that I'm sure will enhance your own appreciation of both Austen and the annotation process, So19 is delighted to talk with him today. —SF

So19: Before we chat about this particular edition of the book, let’s talk about Austen and Persuasion generally. You’ve commented that you consider the book Austen’s best. Tell us why?

RM: The short answer is, “Wentworth’s letter at the end.” To me, this is the most moving moment in all of Austen. Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth love each other, but they have also—for a variety of good and not-so-good reasons—hurt each other badly. The letter marks the moment when they are reunited, and after seven lost years can finally begin their future together.

So19 talks with GILL HOFFS

The tragic wreck of the RMS Tayleur made headlines nearly 60 years before the Titanic. Both ships were run by the White Star Line, both were heralded as the most splendid ships of their time, and both sank in tragic circumstances on their maiden voyages. But the eras, passenger lists, and reasons for the foundering of the two ships were very different, making both the similarities and the contrasts—as well as the pathos of the story itself—thought-provoking indeed. Today, Angela Buckley—whose own book was featured on So19 last September—interviews Gill Hoffs about The Sinking of the RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic, published by Pen and Sword Books in 2014. (We've linked the publisher's page for the book, but American readers should know that can be purchased in the U.S. as well.) Born and raised in Scotland, Gill Hoffs earned her BSc in Psychology from the University of Glasgow and built a career working with special-needs children. She won the Spilling Ink Nonfiction Prize in 2011 for her piece Black Fish, and her first book, Wild, appeared in 2012. Gill lives in the north of England with her husband and son. More information on Gill can be found on her website and Twitter feed. Angela Buckley, who chats with Gill today, is the author of The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada; you can find out more about Angela and her book in her own Society Nineteen interview here. With thanks to both, So19 is pleased to present two fascinating authors talking about ships, survivors and stories. —SF

AB: I understand that your research into the sinking of RMS Tayleur began at your local museum with a display of chipped crockery and a brass porthole complete with barnacles. What drew your attention to these artefacts, and why did you decide to investigate their history?

GH: Warrington Museum and Art Gallery (to give it its full title) is located within this beautiful old building in the Warrington town centre, on the floors above the library, and is crammed full of 1930s cabinets and all manner of oddities.  Cannibal cutlery, fertility statues with outsized genitalia, and a two-headed mermaid, are just a few of the curios on show, and yet the porthole caught my eye.  It seemed a really strange thing to have on show in this inland town.  It wasn’t unusual enough to merit being collected and then donated by a long-dead bigwig (like the cursed Tibetan carving of a monk’s head, for example), but there wasn’t an obvious connection to the local area, either. 

A curator saw me looking and told me about the shipping industry that had once flourished on this stretch of the Mersey.  He advised me to Google the RMS Tayleur, the source of the porthole I had been admiring, and read the accounts of the survivors.  I did, and it kind of destroyed me for a while.  They were so awful, graphic and pained, and full of dreadful details.  I tried to think of other things, to rid my brain of the mental images conjured up by the accounts, but in the end the only thing that gave me peace was investigating the shipwreck and memorializing the people involved as best I could.

So19 talks with SARAH A. CHRISMAN

Many people, including myself, are fascinated by the 19th century, but very few of us actually live it. Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman are exceptions to that norm, choosing to live as Victorian an existence as can be managed within the framework of today’s goods and infrastructure. As described in Sarah’s book This Victorian Life (Skyhorse, November 2015), the result of this decision has been a journey both practical and spiritual, challenging and joyous. Most of us will never follow in their footsteps in any literal sense, but the Chrismans’ choices are thought-provoking nonetheless. First, they help describe and document the way life felt in the 19th century, and how that “feel” differed from what our own times lead us to expect—worthwhile knowledge for anyone studying or writing about the century. Second and more importantly, their story reminds us of how many choices we all have and how free we are to shape our lives (be it by wearing corsets or being an avid Whovian). In that way, This Victorian Life isn’t about a singular path but a universal journey toward identifying, claiming, and celebrating one’s own best and authentic life. Sarah Alma Chrisman is the author of Victorian Secrets: What A Corset Taught Me About The Past, The Present, And Myself; True Ladies and Proper Gentlemen; and This Victorian Life. Her website has lots of information on 19th-century life and customs as well as her own experiments with both, and she posts frequent updates and photos on her Facebook page. Society Nineteen is delighted to talk with Sarah Chrisman about living, and loving, a Victorian life.—SF

So19: Your first book, Victorian Secrets, talks about the journey of exploration and transformation that began when your husband gave you a Victorian corset on your 29th birthday. For readers who aren’t familiar with that book, perhaps you could give us a glimpse of it, and that earlier part of your story.

SC: I've always loved imagery associated with the Victorian era and the beauty of tangible objects connected with that period. For a long time though, I believed all the vitriolic things other people told me about the culture of the era because it never occurred to me to question the dominant narrative. I blindly believed all the oft-repeated old chestnuts about the era being an oppressive time for women, and other such rubbish. I believed these stereotypes because (supposedly) they were things "everyone knows," and as I said, it never occurred to me to question them. Looking back, my narrow-minded attitude in those days was somewhat analogous to someone who loves Italian art and fashion but repeats every vile slander they hear about Italian people because they've never met one in person nor visited the country.

So19 talks with LESLIE S. KLINGER

What would Halloween be without a shiver-inducing story or two? Not the pleasurably creepy celebration we've come to know and love, certainly. Happily, distinguished editor Leslie S. Klinger has created a new collection, In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe, (Pegasus, 2015) that's ideal for the occasion. As Klinger's anthology proves, Poe is perhaps the most celebrated, but not the only, master of the scary story. Numerous other writers in his time and beyond have also done superb work in the form, reshaping it with their own distinctive voices and visions, settings and themes. In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe juxtaposes little-known works by major authors with tales of terror by skillful writers who are mostly forgotten today. With both an engaging introduction and useful annotations, the result is a volume rich with pieces that illuminate forgotten corners of literary history as well as the nature of the tale of terror itself. Leslie S. Klinger is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes. He is the editor of the three-volume set The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes; the first two volumes, The Complete Short Stories, won the Edgar for “Best Critical/Biographical” work. He is also the author of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, the Anthony Award-winning In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, and In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe. You can find out more about Klinger and his work on his website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Society Nineteen is delighted to wish you a suitably dark Halloween and to chat with Leslie S. Klinger about Poe, his brilliant if sometimes overlooked fellow authors, and the art of the terrifying tale.—SF

So19: You’re a prolific editor, anthologist and annotator whose books have focused on Stoker, Lovecraft, and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle. How did this Poe project come about?

LK: I was creating a series of books for IDW that I titled “In the Shadow of…,” consisting of public-domain, 19th-century works of fiction that had been overlooked in the shadow of the fame of prominent works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Extending the concept to general horror fiction seemed natural enough—Poe has vastly overshadowed all other writers of the century. Partly this is due to the quality of Poe’s work, but partly this is simply bad luck or bad fortune—the success of Poe made audiences clamor for more work like his, but those fickle audiences often quickly forgot the authors. With a century’s distance, few of Poe’s contemporaries are remembered today, and many deserve to be.

So19 talks with CHRISTINE TRENT

No one did mourning quite like the Victorians. From the plumes on the horses that bore the casket carriage to the special black, non-lustrous crape to the gorgeously intricate jewelry made from the hair of the deceased, they created entire catalogs of mourning goods and accessories and married those to an equally large and intricate array of rituals and requirements. Christine Trent transforms this fascinating historical material into intriguing mystery fiction in her Lady of Ashes series featuring undertaker Violet Harper. Violet’s unusual job gives her access to the households of the rich and famous, including that of Queen Victoria herself; of course, it also puts her in touch—literally—with myriad dead bodies, some of which have gotten that way in mysterious circumstances. Though the mourning customs Trent chronicles have long fallen out of fashion, Violet herself will be recognizable as a forerunner of modern working women, her husband Sam as an entrepreneur of the kind still introducing innovative businesses and products today. Trent published three historical novels set in earlier time periods before entering the world of the Victorians. Beginning with 2013’s Lady of Ashes, her Violet Harper books enjoy their fifth installment with Death at the Abbey, (published yesterday by Kensington Books). For more information on Christine and her work, visit her website and Facebook page. Society Nineteen is delighted to speak with Christine Trent about murder, eccentricity, and ravens in an interview that seems perfectly timed for the days before Halloween. — SF 

So19: Let’s go back to the inception of the Lady of Ashes series, for readers not yet familiar with it. How did you decide to base a mystery series on a Victorian female undertaker? Had you already been interested in Victorian funeral and mourning customs, for example? What did you feel that this premise might allow you to do than another might not?

So19 talks with MEGAN CHANCE

Though many of the writers I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing here on Society Nineteen are introduced to me with the book we discuss, others were already favorites by the time we chat for the journal. Megan Chance is one of the latter. I first encountered her work with her 2004 novel, An Inconvenient Wife. Rightly reviewed as “gripping” and “wholly absorbing,” that book sent me to look for Chance’s earlier Susannah Morrow as well as to anticipate the publication of each new book since. Chance excels at embedding issues and themes that illuminate both past and present into compelling narratives, and The Visitant, which appeared this September from Lake Union, exemplifies those strengths. Juxtaposing the otherworldly with the everyday, the passionate with the paranormal, Gothic darkness with Venetian light, and family burdens with individual possibilities, it’s a ghost story, a love story, a psychological coming-of-age story and more.  After cutting her literary teeth in historical romance, Megan Chance has authored eight historical novels as well as the young adult Fianna Trilogy. Find out more about the author and her books on her website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Honored by the Borders Original Voices and IndieBound’s Booksense programs, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters. Society Nineteen is delighted to talk with Megan Chance about history, fiction, the 19th century and more. —SF

So19: Having written about the 19th century in a great variety of books and genres, you’re a woman after So19’s heart. What do you think makes this time period so rich with possibilities for you? Has it always been a passion of yours?

MC: I think it’s more that history itself has always been a passion of mine. I have always, always loved it—some of my favorite books when I was young were The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read them over and over again. I also loved biographies and research books. I have always been fascinated by the way people lived in other times. When I was about thirteen, I started actively searching for more historical fiction, and ended up reading many of the classics, which, regardless of when they’d been written, were historical by the time I got hold of them—The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Le Morte d’Arthur, Great Expectations, Frankenstein… So yes, clearly history has always been an obsession.

So19 talks with ANNA LEE HUBER


Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby novels illustrate one of the great delights of historical fiction: the way it allows us to savor the atmospheric particulars of the past at the same time we reflect on the very same issues and challenges that shape contemporary life. On the one hand, the life of Huber’s protagonist, Kiera Darby, is unmistakably that of the early nineteenth century. Most notably, her late husband was an “anatomist,” part of the illegal trade in the corpses used for dissection, who involved her in his work; though his death grows gradually more distant in time as the series progresses, the stain and scandal that attach to his widow’s reputation remain all too powerful.  Happily, it’s a rare woman indeed who will face that specific challenge these days. Yet looked at more broadly, most women today do share one or more aspects of Kiera’s experience: her quest for a separate and authentic identity; her fight to step beyond the shadows of the past; her delight in tests, quests and adventures not typically associated with women; her love for art and artistry; or just her hopes for deep and enduring love with an equal partner. Kiera Darby is fun to read, in part, because she is so different than we are—but she is moving to read, in part, because she is so much the same. In Huber’s latest novel, A Study in Death, (Berkley, Summer 2015), a portrait commission brings Kiera face to face with mysterious death at the same time her relationship with investigative partner and fiancĂ© Sebastian Gage reaches new heights of complexity. Anna Lee Huber is the author of three previous Lady Darby novels: The Anatomist’s Wife, Mortal Arts, and A Grave Matter; a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Historical Novel Society, she lives in Indiana. Find out more about Anna and her books on her website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, and be sure to look for the next installment of Kiera Darby’s story, the novella A Pressing Engagement, out in May 2016. Society Nineteen is delighted to talk with Anna Lee Huber about female perils, female strength, the wonders of Scotland, and the lure of the 19th century. —SF

So19: Let’s start with an obvious question. What drew you to the nineteenth century as a timeframe for the books? Were you inspired by reading, film, history classes, something entirely different?

AH: I’ve always been interested in the late eighteen and nineteenth centuries. I think it began with an early fascination with the revolutions in America and France, and was later fed by Jane Austen’s Regency-set novels, and the Sherlock Holmes series in Victorian England. There’s just so much exciting history in this time period. It’s a lead-up to the modern era, a time of innovation, and rebellion, and discovery. I think it appeals to my desire for adventure and romance.