A year ago, my first post on Nineteen Teen covered my musings on what a young lady did with her long opera-length gloves while she was nibbling at a midnight buffet. Writers of historical fiction worry about that kind of thing. That’s one of the reasons we do research (that and it’s just too much fun learning all this stuff!). And one of the reasons Marissa and I started this blog was to share the interesting things we come upon in our research.
This week was a case study in what writers worry about. There I was, working away on my latest novel, when my heroine decided to jump out a window. (She has ample motivation and the right character, but we won’t go there.) And right in mid-sentence, I thought, “Wait, can she do that?”
Seems like a straight forward action. I can certainly justify there being a window in the room. But immediately a whole host of issues arise. When was the house built? I’m guessing mid- to late-1700s. Okay, pull down Steven Parissien’s Adam Style (Phaidon Press Limited, London). Were the windows big enough to fit a person through? They seem plenty big from the pictures, and Parissien notes that some windows went all the way to the floor, so it’s feasible.
But did windows even open during that time period? Can’t tell from the pictures or his description, plus I know that at least some folks felt night air was noxious (and the daytime air was often full of soot in London), so maybe they wouldn’t want a window to open.
And then I found this. Isn’t it helpful? This is a painting of the artist Paul Sandby by Francis Cotes. It dates from the late 1700s, so it’s perfect for my story. Notice that dear Mr. Sandby is leaning OUT the window, so the sash must be open. And it would appear the opening is large enough for an industrious young lady to sit on the sill and shove herself out.
But THEN I wondered—wait, can she lift the sash when in a corset you can’t lift your arms over your head? Will her satin ball gown and petticoats really fit through the window? What’s below her? She’s on the first floor (which would be our second floor). Will anyone see her from the ground floor? What’s she going to land in? Is she just risking damage to her reputation or loss of life?
To jump or not? Who knew the decision would be just as difficult for the writer as the character?
So, would you have her jump?