The advice new writers frequently hear is, “Write what you know.” That’s why I wrote my first novel, Pulse and Prejudice, about a Regency-era vampire! Well, that is slightly true, as I had developed an intimate knowledge of Jane Austen’s classic not just through multiple readings but also through analytical papers in college. Mr. Darcy had always struck me as the “Byronic hero”: intelligent, arrogant, introspective, and cynical. He is also dark and brooding, suave and debonair, as any self-respecting vampire should be. Darcy shares many qualities with Lord Byron, the model of Polidori's The Vampyre.
Thus I wrote Pulse and Prejudice: The Confession of Mr. Darcy, Vampire as a stand-alone adaptation (no prior knowledge of Pride and Prejudice required!) from Mr. Darcy’s point of view as if Miss Austen had always conceived his character as a vampire and had just failed to tell us!
Due to my love of history (as well as a certain British historian), I devoted 18 months researching Regency England and vampire lore and legend in that era.
So when I began working on the sequel, Dearest Bloodiest Elizabeth, I thought bringing the action to my home state of Louisiana would reduce the amount of effort the historical research would require. Au contraire! Instead, I spent over two years pouring over the rich history of Antebellum New Orleans immediately following the War of 1812.
I found everything I learned about Nouvelle Orleans so compelling – from Creole Society’s reaction to the Louisiana Purchase, to the fears of how the “Americans” would upset the tenuous racial balance, to the infamous quadroon balls – I couldn’t stop myself! Even as I walked around the French Quarter (formerly known as the Place d’Armes) taking the photos for this blog post, I complained to my companions about all of the details I wished I could have included, but then I would still be writing it!
I did include many actual events, such as the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans and the breaching of the levee that flooded the French Quarter in 1816, as well as real people and places that one can even visit today.
I modeled the Darcys’ home on Chesneau House on Rue St. Louis (“rue” being the French term for “street” and not to be confused with a “roux,” a topic for a different blog!), although I relocated it north of Rue Dauphine, past an actual livery stable that existed on the corner, so it would not be affected by the above-referenced levee breach. They attend a ball at the home of Mayor Nicholas Girod in a building known today as the Napoleon House due to a persistent rumor that Girod had hoped to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from exile and harbor him there. Even 200 years later, revelers dance in that ballroom for weddings or during Mardi Gras. Across the street, one may still relax at Café Masperos, where in my novel Mr. Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam frequently meet.
The bar itself no longer extends down the city block, but the entresol – something like an attic separating the first from second floors for both storage and insulation – can still be seen. The plantations they visit to investigate a soldier hanged during the Battle of New Orleans have long since given way to industry or the elements, but I based the plantation where the enclaver of vampires reside on the still-thriving Houmas House in Ascension Parish, also used as the setting for the film Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte.
Ballrooms, plantation homes, and cafés notwithstanding, Nouvelle Orleans at the turn of the nineteenth century lacked many of the comforts of the older, developed European cities. I could not imagine how residents of the area withstood the heat when I can barely tolerate leaving my air conditioning long enough to walk the dogs! I have included many of those little details in the novel as well, and I have even incorporated some of them into my own home such as using a sheer curtain on the doorway to the veranda to allow in light and a breeze whilst keeping out mosquitoes.
The harsh contrast between the formal parlors of Regency London versus the wilds of young, untamed South Louisiana comes across vividly in a letter that the newlywed Elizabeth writes to her father Mr. Bennet upon her arrival there with Mr. Darcy:
Proceeding up river, I began to fear that the city would be savage and undeveloped, the only signs of humanity being the occasional rustic hut. We were surrounded by such verdure, such lush vegetation and thick woods, the likes of which I had never known. Long grey beards hang from the trees, which I find delightful. (I later learnt it to be called Spanish moss, although I prefer the idea of elderly men living in trees.) But upon our arrival we were greeted by an open square with a massive cathedral with two towers not even a furlong from the river, with identical twin buildings on either side. It presents a fine prospect despite the disarray of many of the buildings aligning the sides of the Place d’Armes.
Already I had my fears allayed as we approached the port by the site of an impressive structure stretching across the levy with a tile roof and arcaded sides. We discovered it to be a market house, and you know well enough of my character to guess that I had to investigate this marvel. Indeed, it did not disappoint. The variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as meats and fish and shellfish, to be sure, as I have never seen, provided enough amusement even to divert you, though my preference for the characters, men and women, always inclines me more to the company than the site—and, oh, what a variety of people! Creole women with dark hair and alabaster skin in red and yellow gowns, Negroes as dark as the ebony keys on the pianoforte, and every shade in between. Elegant ladies the hue of tea with milk wearing colorful turbans. Fear not that I will go further with this sartorial description of finery, other than to say that the Indians—yes, Papa, Indians!—wear scarcely anything at all! You can imagine Mr. Darcy’s disapprobation of a gentleman’s daughter being subjected to the spectacle of masculine bare flesh covered with nothing more than a skirt of feathers! I truly wish I had learnt to draw so that I might capture this picturesque scene to share with you.
When writing about Southeast Louisiana in 1815, the topic of slavery cannot be avoided. Unlike other states during that tragic era in the history of our young nation, the influence of French and Spanish ownership of the area (the Creoles being the first generation born in Louisiana from immigrants from France and Spain) created a much different racial atmosphere even in regards to slavery.
As revolting a concept as the sale of human beings is 200 years later, in Louisiana families could not be separated when sold. Laws were enacted to protect slaves from mistreatment, which is not to say it did not occur, but slaves could – and did – sue their masters for mistreatment. Particularly during the war with the British, which severely impacted the export of cotton, many of the plantation owners could not earn enough to provide for their slaves; so they gave them a patch of land upon which to grow their own vegetables and even allowed them to take up occupations outside of the plantation. Many of them earned enough money to buy their freedom.
In New Orleans itself, the racial makeup at the time was about a third white Creoles, a third slaves, and a third free people of color. Indeed, most of the slaves were owned by free women of color, working as domestics whilst their mistresses carried on their own businesses as seamstresses and haberdashers.
After Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have lived in Nouvelle Orleans a few months, Colonel Fitzwilliam and his betrothed Mina, the Comtesse de Calmet (first introduced in Book 1) join them and are quite taken aback by the attitudes toward slavery. (Pardon the racial terms used; they are historically accurate.)
Elizabeth scratched on Lady Calmet’s door, saying, “Mina, it’s Elizabeth. Fitzwilliam said you needed me?”
Once the door opened, Elizabeth was shocked to see the Comtesse in her dressing gown with her hair still damp and flowing freely. “Oh, Elizabeth, I know you’re no lady’s maid, but I hoped you might help me dress for dinner.”
Mina stepped back for Elizabeth to enter, closing the door behind her. “I believe the hotel staff should have a femme de chamber available. If not, we could hire one for you during your stay here.”
Mina turned and put her hands over her face. “I could not believe it. I requested a bath, and then one Negro after another came in with hot water. I never before felt so ashamed—that I had actually engaged slaves! I dismissed them all and took my bath alone. You are correct, the hotel did send a femme de chamber, but she, too, is a Negress. I don’t know what to do. My own maid refused to make the trip. Are any ladies’ maids in New Orleans not slaves?”
“Mina, not all the Negroes you see are slaves, and those who are slaves most likely are not owned by the hotel but only work here for wages.”
“They work for wages? I do not understand you.”
“I fear what you shall think of me.” With warmth rising in her face, Elizabeth turned away and lowered her head. “You see, our housekeeper is a slave.”
The Comtesse jerked around and gaped at Elizabeth. “Do not tell me that you own a slave!”
Wringing her hands, Elizabeth forced herself to meet Mina’s eyes. “No, we do not own anyone. She is a slave on a plantation upriver; but, you see, most planters near New Orleans permit their slaves to take employment outside the plantation. The girl who works for us does so to gain the means to buy her freedom. Her husband sells vegetables at Congo Square sometimes, also hoping to buy their freedom. It is just how things are done here. But upon my word, most of the Negroes you see in the Vieux Carré are truly free people of color.”
“I have never heard of such a thing with regards to slavery!” said Mina, her accent tinged with incredulity.
“Nor had I until our arrival here a few months ago. From what I collect, it is unique to South Louisiana. You may be pleased to know it is because of your adopted country. French ownership of this land countenanced the Negroes here to have more protection and rights than in other states. I am embarrassed that the British colonies do not have the same laissez-faire attitude. That is not to say that some owners even here would scruple to mistreat their slaves; but to be sure, more free people of color in New Orleans own slaves than do those of European decent.”
“Negroes owning Negroes?” Mina shook her head. “I am shocked by the proposition.”
“Let me call back your lady’s maid and we can ask her.” Elizabeth opened the door and, taking a few steps down the hall, found a male Negro servant. “Pardon me, would you be good enough to have the Comtesse’s femme de chamber called back here to her room?”
When Elizabeth returned to Mina’s room, she found her sitting on her bed, gripping the counterpane in her fists. “I see I shall have a great deal to learn if I am to become acquainted with the society.”
I found the entire experience of writing Dearest Bloodiest Elizabeth as illuminating as did Madame de Calmet! Oh, and did I mention it has vampires as well?
Now this is a sequel, and whereas readers need not be familiar with Miss Austen’s novel to enjoy Pulse and Prejudice, I fear that they must read book one of The Confession of Mr. Darcy, Vampire, before proceeding to book two.
I do hope that after reading Dearest Bloodiest Elizabeth, many who have yet to visit New Orleans will be compelled to come here to experience this living, breathing time capsule.
I am giving away a signed paperback edition of Dearest Bloodiest Elizabeth~Book II: The Confession of Mr. Darcy, Vampire – not yet available to the public! Please leave a comment and your contact info for your chance to win!
Colette Saucier, a bestselling and award-winning author under multiple pseudonyms, began writing poems, short stories, and novellas in grade school. She is now a full-time author of fiction.
Colette’s first novel, Pulse and Prejudice, was named “A Most Inventive Adaptation” by Elle Magazine (April, 2016) added to the numerous other awards its won.
Due to her obsession with historical accuracy, she devoted more than two years researching Creole Society and New Orleans for the sequel to Pulse and Prejudice, entitled Dearest Bloodiest Elizabeth.
Colette lives in South Louisiana with her historian husband and their two dogs. When not writing or researching for her next novel, she enjoys wine, music, reading, and cooking gourmet meals with her husband.
Visit her website and pages for a more detailed bio and more information on her work.Website, (in process of updates): http://www.colettesaucier.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ColetteSaucierAuthor/
Terribly neglected blog: http://colettesaucier.blogspot.com
Southern Girl Press
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