I’m pretty sure I’ve started writing a Regency soap opera. I’m not at all sure if this is a marketable direction, but my Muse is temperamental. After the pandemic isolation, she became a ghost of herself—which may be why I ended up writing about ghosts. But I wanted to go back and try my hand at writing straight Regency historicals again—and soap opera is what happened. I’m calling it a mystery, but that was only after I went back in and added clues and eventually came up with a dead body.
But whatever this story is, it means I’m happily researching history again. For me, history doesn’t have to be politics, although it does help to know what is happening in the year I’m writing about. So, yeah, Napoleon escaped in 1815, soldiers who had just gone home rejoined Wellington, yadda yadda. The War of 1812 ended so my American can visit his mother’s ancestral home, nice. But those little details don’t affect my uninhabited rural manor much.
Soap operas, mysteries, and romances are about people. Developing characters and their stories are my true love, no matter what era or genre. I couldn’t have a heroine inheriting a share of a manor who wasn’t part of Regency aristocracy, so she already had shape and form. But who she chooses to spend her time with says a lot about her character and back story. Giving my heroine a half Hindu, half Jewish apothecary companion really made my Muse happy.
It might be entertaining to learn more about the apothecary’s unusual origins, but she’s a secondary character, and the plot is complicated enough already. So, her parents are dead, her father was a genuine apothecary, and she learned science from him. But what I needed to know was the laws about women as apothecaries. That’s where it pays to research the year in which the story is told—the UK started licensing apothecaries in 1815, the year of my story.
That’s when I learned that by this era, apothecaries didn’t just dispense drugs. They were essentially general practitioners, visiting households, diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing remedies—basically for the middle class who couldn’t afford a licensed—and rather rare—physician. The apothecary/general practitioner could provide your medicine, of course, but if you wanted to run out and buy a common painkiller or laxative, you would go to a druggist/chemist.
The rivalry between licensed physicians, general practitioners, and druggists is one of the reasons why apothecaries finally had to study and pass tests to be licensed. But it wasn’t just jealousy between the professions—women had been acting as apothecaries from time immemorial. As the position became more and more important (well-paid), male apothecaries objected, and they finally found a way to squeeze out female herbalists. Despite the fact that women had mixed herbs and drugs in the same manner as men from the beginning of time, after 1815, they could no longer be paid and respected as apothecaries. A female attending patients in households was frowned upon anyway, but the real obstacle to women receiving a license was that advanced educational institutions didn’t allow women to walk their hallowed halls. (The first woman graduating as an apothecary was in 1865)
So my character, who had worked in tandem with her father her entire life, could no longer call herself an apothecary. She could diagnose and prescribe as well as any man, but she was limited to standing behind a retail counter, dispensing herbals. Her father had been a man of science who had taught her how to experiment and improve his formulas, but her general practitioner knowledge would go to waste.
My heroine, being of the female persuasion, might call upon a female apothecary to help treat her mother in defiance of male domination of the market. And that is how a half-Hindu, half-Jewish druggist might end up in my rural manor as a companion for an aristocratic spinster. And in those rural environs, with no physician, bonesetter, apothecary, or any other medical professional available, my secondary character would become an essential asset, despite her gender and lack of license.
Of these tiny details, my stories are made.
Have you read any historical soap operas lately? <G> What kind of historical details do you like in your romances?