One marvelous thing about setting a book in Venice is that so much hasn’t changed. True, today there are far fewer gondolas than in Byron’s time, and the few are for tourists. He would not have seen a gigantic cruise ship bearing down on the fragile city or heard motors. Still, he would have found today’s Venice far more recognizable than today’s London. This made my research for Your Scandalous Ways quite a bit easier. I could read his letters and the entries in his friend Hobhouse’s diary, peruse other contemporary travel guides and accounts--and, for the most part, find every location mentioned, even when the names of places had changed or, as in the case of La Fenice opera house, when it had burned down.
But when I decided to set a climactic (ahem) scene in the Campanile, I was on my own. The building had fallen down early in the 20th century and been rebuilt; now it has elevators, and no one climbs up, apparently, and so it took some digging to find out what the interior was like in 1820. But thanks to the magic of the Internet, it wasn’t hard to find pictures of the view from the top. And most important for my love scene were the bells. In that case, Byron couldn’t help me. A bit of video is worth a thousand words, even by him. So if you want to know what Francesca and James heard that morning, turn up your speakers and listen here and here.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.