My Malcolm and Ives characters tend to be creatures of their time, even though the Ives are aristocracy and the Malcolms are often eccentric psychics. I can finally use that term in the Victorian Age!! The term first came along in 1871 from the Greek psykhikos “Of the soul, spirit, or mind.” And because we’re on this subject instead of the history I started out to tell—King James I is responsible for psychics being called witches. For your edification—in Samuel 28 in Hebrew, Saul goes to a “woman with a divining spirit”—the derivation would be the same Greek above. This psychic contacts the spirit of Samuel. But the King James translation we all know and sometimes love translated the word from the original Hebrew as “Witch” from idolater, medium, sorcerer, and ghost whisperer. Similar words, different meanings. So in Hebrew, the woman is a psychic, and in English, she became a witch. (I love that Hebrew has a word for ghost whisperer!!!!) I know I’ll find a way to insert this in my books, but you heard it here first. (Lessons in Enchantment pre-order link)
Now back to my originally intended program—
As creatures of their time, my characters are entering the Age of Enlightenment, where science is everything and education is becoming extremely important for all levels of society. In 1870, Scotland already had public education in the form of kirk schools, although they weren’t formally organized or under government authorization. And for the first time, women were allowed to take classes at the University of Edinburgh. How can I not play with this?!
At the time, Edinburgh had two schools of veterinary medicine, although they were not associated with the university. My Malcolm animal-talker longs to attend, but these vet schools were mostly about cattle husbandry. No way was a woman allowed to learn about breeding cattle! But seven intrepid woman in 1869 forced the university to accept them in the medical department, so my heroine holds out hope. Although the original women were never allowed to graduate as physicians, they did receive undergraduate degrees, and by 1894, women were allowed to become doctors. So finally, my Malcolm heroine can take classes at a university! Being a society in transition, however, the daughter of an earl really shouldn’t be associating with the rude males attending a public college—instant conflict! Every period of transition contains weird contradictions like this as society adjusts. Sadly, we can still see this in our own times with the prejudices against race and gender, although classism doesn’t play as much of a part. Yet.
After doing all this fun research, I couldn’t resist giving the university a prominent part in another book, the one I’m working on now. And for this, I learned that the first purposely-built building at the university—all the others were old structures converted to the school’s uses—was designed by Robert Adams for the anatomy and surgical sciences. It included a tunnel to the anatomy lecture hall where corpses were dissected. Those corpses were carried in the tunnel from down the street. I attached it to a morgue, although in reality, I haven’t uncovered anything more than “residential building” at the other end. I simply couldn’t ignore a tunnel for cadavers and had to use it, even though my physician hero is mostly a researcher and not an anatomical lecturer.
After all my reading, I’m in utter awe of this university. Established in 1583, the University of Edinburgh is the sixth oldest university in the English speaking world (Oxford and Cambridge are older). In 1762, they established the very first English Literature department in Britain. The list of famous people who graduated from there is endless and includes the likes of Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I need to figure out who was there in the 1870s and see if I can’t work them in somewhere. . .
But this is the reason it’s so much fun to write historical romance. I can find plots and motivations and conflicts right there in the history—sometimes, too much. I’ve already dug into bicycles and typewriters. I’m trying hard to stay out of medical research. . .
Is there anything in particular you’d like to see covered in a Victorian novel?