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Thursday, June 18, 2009

prideandprejudicebbcThe research for the Ransome Trilogy begins with my falling in love with a certain movie I saw in the 1980s. As a matter of fact, we watched it in my British Literature class my junior year of high school during the two weeks after the seniors graduated (the whole class but four of us) and before the rest of us got out of school. That movie? Pride and Prejudice (the one with the best Mr. Darcy, David Rintoul).

Though it would be five or six more years before I would fall in love with Austen’s work in writing (I loved history, but my focus was on the American Civil War when I was at LSU and the few years after when I lived in Northern Virginia, thus most of my reading/writing focused on that), I trace my love of the late Georgian/early Regency era to seeing that miniseries when I was seventeen years old.

persuasionBy the time I returned to college in the late 1990s, I’d already fallen in love with Austen’s work, my favorite being her last completed novel, Persuasion, which I experienced for the first time when I was twenty-seven years old—the same age as Anne Elliot, the heroine. I connected instantly and deeply with Anne, someone who’d fallen in love at a young age, then lost that love and had never found another. And I absolutely and irrevocably fell in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth. This was helped along, I believe, by the unequaled 1995 theatrical-release adaptation of the novel, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds, which, to this day, stands as my favorite of all of the film adaptations of Austen’s works.

When it came time to write a literary criticism thesis when I was a senior in college, I wrote it on “Wealth and Social Standing as a Theme in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.” I’ve excerpted sections of the paper in these two posts:
Fun Friday–Pride & Prejudice (Part 2)
Fun Friday–Pride & Prejudice (Part 3)

Then, as I mentioned in the Inspiration post, I saw the Horatio Hornblower films, and that was what sealed the deal for me, so to speak, in my decision to try writing something set during that era. I already had the research I’d done for my lit-crit thesis, and my love of Austen’s works, to begin with as research for all of the social aspects of the story. But all I had to go on for my hero were Austen’s vague mentions of the Royal Navy in her works and what was deemed interesting enough to put on screen in the Hornblower films and Master and Commander. Where to begin?

Well, there aren’t a lot of readily available research materials on the British Royal Navy of 1814 in Nashville, Tennessee. And while I could find some information online, I knew I couldn’t depend on all of it being accurate. I needed some research books. So I decided to see what I could glean from C. S. Forester’s and Patrick O’Brian’s novels. And sure enough, there were lots of great things in there. The problem was I wasn’t sure I understood all of them. I needed to know what the command structure was. I needed to know how one went about getting promoted. I needed to know the daily schedules and duties.

POB NavyThank goodness that fans of Patrick O’Brian’s novels felt the same way. Once I started looking up information about Patrick O’Brian’s novels on Amazon, they started suggesting some nonfiction companion books I might be interested in (and while this penchant of Amazon’s to suggest things to you based on items you’ve searched for can be annoying, in the instance of research, it’s wonderful!). The first book I bought was Patrick O’Brian’s Navy, a “coffee table” (oversize) book complete with plates of period artwork and illustrations, as well as information on everything from daily food rations to duty schedules to what disciplinary action was meted out for what offenses. sowAnother book that I’ve found invaluable is A Sea of Words, a dictionary of unique nautical jargon used by the Georgian Royal Navy. But I also picked up several novels set during the era: a few Hornblower books, a couple of O’Brian books and several books in Alexander Kent’s Bolitho series. Because not only did I need to be familiar with the terminology and the technical aspects of life in His Majesty’s Royal Navy, I needed to see it “in action”—on the page, in dialogue, in action narrative.

Once I immersed myself in this research, I figured I’d never be able to watch those movies again, sure I’d be nitpicking every little bit of historical inaccuracy. But I have to tell you: they strike pretty close to the mark!

Now, when you read Ransome’s Honor (hitting bookstore shelves in TWO WEEKS!!!), you may wonder at the amount of time I spent researching the Royal Navy when William spends very little time aboard his ship in it. Well, while he may not be on his ship, we’re talking about a man who’s spent the last twenty-two years of his life—since he was twelve years old—living aboard ships, serving as a midshipman, then a lieutenant, and now a captain in the Royal Navy. I had to know all of that because he knows all of that. At least 90 percent of the research someone does for a novel will never appear in its pages . . . except for in the depth it gives to our characters, settings, and plots.

I’d asked about doing a bibliography in lieu of acknowledgments in Ransome’s Honor, but my editor didn’t go for it. So here is the bibliography of books and websites I used for research purposes when writing Ransome’s Honor. And many of them will once again be put to use in another three or four weeks as I get started on Ransome’s Crossing.

TrafalgarAdkins, Roy. Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World.

Austen, Jane. Persuasion: A Norton Critical Edition.

    Critical articles used: “The Language of Feeling” (Julia Kavanagh); “New Landscapes” (A. Walton Litz); “Moral Luck and Judgment in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” (Robert Hopkins); “Anne Elliot’s Education: The Learning of Romance in Persuasion” (Ann W. Astell); “Doubleness and Refrain in Jane Austen’s Persuasion” (Cheryl Ann Weissman).

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice: A Norton Critical Edition.

    Critical articles used: “Pride and Prejudice: The Reconstitution of Society” (Alistair Duckworth); “Pride and Prejudice and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Claudia L. Johnson); “Interpreters of Jane Austen’s Social World: Literary Critics and Historians” (David Spring); “Radical Jane” (Edward Ahearn); “A Note on Money” (Donald Gray).

Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility: A Norton Critical Edition.

    Critical articles used: from “Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799)” (Hannah More); “Sensibility” (Raymond Williams); “Sense and Sensibility: Opinions Too Common and Too Dangerous” (Claudia L. Johnson); “Wills” (Gene Ruoff); “The Novel’s Wisdom: Sense and Sensibility” (Patricia Meyer Spacks); “Taste: Gourmets and Ascetics” (Isobel Armstrong); “Mass Marketing Jane Austen: Men, Women, and Courtship in Two Film Adaptations” (Deborah Kaplan).

MoW Cross Section
Biesty, Stephen. Man-of-War: Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections.

Broadside: Home of Nelson’s Navy website.

Cawthorne, Nigel. History of Pirates: Blood and Thunder on the High Seas.

Copeland, Edward and Juliet McMaster. The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen.

Eras of Elegance website.

Forester, C. S. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower (1948), Lieutenant Hornblower (1951), and Hornblower and the Hotspur (1962).

The Georgian Index website.

Girouard, Mark. Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History.

Goodwin, Peter (Keeper and Curator, HMS Victory). Men o’ War: The Illustrated Story of Life in Nelson’s Navy/National Maritime Museum, London.

Hamill, John. John’s Military History website. “Portsmouth: The Royal Dockyard and Gunwharf.”

The Jane Austen Society of North America.

Jane Austen’s World blog.

Kent, Alexander. Beyond the Reef (1992), Cross of St. George (1996), and Sword of Honor (1998).

King, Dean. Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian.

King, Dean. A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian.

JA WorldLe Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels.

Lewis, Jon E. Life Before the Mast: Sailors’ Eyewitness Stories from the Age of Fighting Ships.

Macquarie University. Elizabeth Macquarie: 1809 Journal.

Miller, David. The World of Jack Aubrey.

National Maritime Museum website.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy website.

Norgate, Martin and Jean. Old Hampshire Mapped website.

O’Brian, Patrick. Post Captain (1972) and The Far Side of the World (1984).

O’Brian, Patrick. Men-of-War: Life in Nelson’s Navy.

O’Neill, Richard. Patrick O’Brian’s Navy.

Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England.

Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Visitor’s Guide.

Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust website.

Project Gutenberg. Reminiscences of Captain Gronow.

Ray, Joan Elizabeth Klingel. Jane Austen for Dummies.

CompanionRoss, Josephine. Jane Austen: A Companion.

Southam, Brian. Jane Austen and the Navy.

Tierney, Tom. Fashions of the Regency Period Paper Dolls.

Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life.

Turner, Barbara Carpenter. A History of Hampshire.

Wallace, Laura. “Food and Drink in Regency England.”

Watkins, Susan and Hugh Palmer. Jane Austen: In Style.

White, R. J. Life in Regency England.

Wilson, Kim. Tea with Jane Austen.

(And there are probably at least a hundred other websites I accessed which I didn’t bookmark that I gleaned tidbits of information from.)

  1. Thursday, June 18, 2009 8:34 am


    I reveled in this posting about the research that is involved. Don’t you just love it? Few recognize all of the study that one must do to write a novel. “But it’s fiction,” they say. Even fantasy must be grounded in truth. Thank you, also, for the prodigious bibliography.

    Because of Christ,


    • Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:54 am

      That’s one of the reasons I’ve loved writing the Ransome series so much (at least what I’ve written of it so far)—because I love researching the era, but it’s no fun if I keep all those little details and pieces of interesting trivia to myself!

      And I’m certain this bibliography will only expand as I get further into the series. After all, I’m getting ready to send them to Jamaica. A research trip may be in order!


  2. Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:11 am

    This has been soooo much fun! I need to rent Persuasion…hate to admit it, but it’s the only JA film I haven’t seen yet. But I’m in the middle of North and South right now…RA is sooooo yummy! 😉


    • Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:55 am

      As with many, many other ladies, that’s my favorite Richard Armitage role!


  3. Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:18 am

    “and while this penchant of Amazon’s to suggest things to you based on items you’ve searched for can be annoying, in the instance of research, it’s wonderful!”

    I couldn’t agree more. Also about the 90% of research not actually ending up in the novel.

    Ransome’s Honor will be released just in time for my trip back east. I think. What is the exact date? I leave on the 3rd.


    • Thursday, June 18, 2009 10:57 am

      The official release date is July 1. Amazon shows a “receive” date (as in, when I should receive a copy ordered from them with 2-day shipping) on July 6.

      However, Menu had a ship-from-warehouse-to-stores date of June 15, and Ruth said it’s starting to hit shelves in some LifeWay stores. The ship-from-warehouse-to-stores date for Ransome is June 24 (from what I’ve heard), so it may be in stores as soon as Father’s Day weekend, if it gets out as quickly as Menu.


      • Thursday, June 18, 2009 1:32 pm

        Sounds like a good chance I can get my hands on a copy before the 3rd then. I want to take one big research book and one novel with me. That should last me for a week of busy visiting and a wedding.


  4. Thursday, June 18, 2009 1:29 pm

    Oh, I also meant to thank you for the bibliography. I love it when authors are allowed to include those in the back of their historicals. I wish more would/could. I’ve found so many great resources that way.

    And I also meant to say I haven’t seen that version of Persuasion yet, but have a friend who owns it, and I intend to borrow it asap. 🙂


  5. Thursday, June 18, 2009 2:29 pm

    Oh that Tom Tierney reference took me back – I LOVED collecting his paper doll books, and have half a dozen or so (I never cut them out or anything, just loved looking at the drawings and reading about the clothes!). Great reference! Do you actually have a copy of that or did you find it in a library or something? I saw on Amazon that it appears to be one of his collections that are OOP.


    • Thursday, June 18, 2009 2:31 pm

      I think I managed to get my copy right before it went OOP. They have a P&P one now that’s replaced this one, it looks like.


  6. Friday, June 19, 2009 10:05 pm

    And your bibliography is why I decided to stick with writing contemporary fiction. 🙂

    Actually part of my reasoning is that there’s still plenty of research to do in contemporary fiction, but at least I’m up on current foods and fashion.

    Okay, maybe strike fashion.

    The first book I wrote was set in South Carolina in 1855, a fascinating pre-Civil War time period. Maybe too fascinating. It was very easy to keep reading book after book after book and following dozens of rabbit trails.


    • Friday, June 19, 2009 11:10 pm

      I already had at least half of the Jane Austen nonfiction books before I started thinking about writing a story set during the era. What makes all the research worthwhile is that I find it all interesting and am fascinated by all the details I’ve learned/I’m still learning in this process.


  7. Sunday, June 21, 2009 2:37 pm

    I’ve never seen the older version of P&P – but I need to check it out. Really didn’t like the latest one (with Keira) but loved the one with Colin Firth. Apparently, I need to check out this one after all!



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