Why I Became Edwardian by R.J. Koreto
If you’re a fan of Downton Abby, you too might find yourself intrigued by Edwardian England, with its well-ordered society hiding a passionate, emotional reality.
Why do I immerse myself in the Edwardian era, the last gasp of grand English society, before World War I heralded the modern age? When I started my mystery series featuring Lady Frances Ffolkes, it became a source of wonder to friends and family: I am not particularly “Edwardian” in manner—I don’t even much like tea. (Although for a brief period in college, I sported an ascot.) In fact, my immersion in the Edwardian era is entirely an emotional one, a fascination with a time of order.
I love imagining life in the beautifully organized Edwardian era: at the top were the aristocrats, with their land-based wealth, and under them were the farm workers who tilled their land and the servants who ran their mansions. If you look at it as an historian, it can be rather horrifying—for every Lord of the Manor there were hundreds of impoverished workingmen and women with little chance of rising.
But for a writer of murder mysteries, life among the Edwardian upper classes is an absolute delight. I can close my eyes and imagine this stratified society temporarily upset by violent death. What possibilities! In Edwardian England, guests arrive on well-appointed trains, to be met by a carriage pulled by grey horses, or perhaps a by a motorcar from that remarkable new company, Rolls-Royce. Little changes. The butler sees to that, with the dinner gong rung at the same time night after night, year after year.
Until a death interrupts the order—but even then, the upper-crust characters try to continue. In my upcoming Death Among Rubies, despite the death of the lord of the manor, the guests dress for dinner, the kippers are served for breakfast. And everyone ignores, or wants to ignore, the forbidden love affairs and decades-old resentments, as they sip tea from fine china and discuss the weather. Today, where so little is forbidden and everything can be discussed, such a plot becomes impossible. That is why as a novelist, I love to bury myself in the Edwardian period for the tension between the stable perfection on the surface and the often violent emotions hidden beneath—until they finally break through, if only briefly.
Consider the middle-class lawyer who can’t bring himself to admit his love for a nobleman’s daughter, because of what people would think. Or this same woman who can cause shock and dismay simply by exchanging her dress for pants and a shirt when going on a country walk. It can be very satisfying to contemplate how such minor acts of rebellion can create such outrage.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, who has a sneaking admiration for Edwardian society, despite its faults. In the early 1950s, the grandsons of the Edwardian lords I write about, facing a Labor government in drab post-war Britain, went through a brief period of reviving elegant Edwardian clothes, in an attempt to return to the well-ordered life they only knew from stories. But that time had passed: Working class boys took over the fashions and started calling themselves “Teddy Boys.” And the clothes became associated with the latest import from America: rock & roll. From then on, it was going to take a lot more than the sight of a lady’s ankle to cause a scandal.
Like his heroine, Frances Ffolkes, R. J. Koreto is a graduate of Vassar College. He has spent most of his career as a financial journalist, holding senior editorial positions at the Journal of Accountancy and Financial Planning magazine, among others. Richard has also been a freelance writer and PR consultant. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America and his work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. He lives in New York. DEATH ON THE SAPPHIRE (June 9, 2016; Crooked Lane Books) is his first novel. DEATH AMONG RUBIES follows in October. Visit Richard at ladyfrancesffolkes.com
If you love historical fiction (or are an anglophile like ..
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..