Today in Unlikely but Useful Research Topics

Via the always-delightful Improbable Research blog comes this incredibly handy piece by Oxford scholar Michael Burden: "Pots, Privies and WCs: Crapping at the Opera in London Before 1830." We here at Olivia Waite love a good opera scene in a historical romance, and this article offers plenty of rich details, just the sort of gritty, astonishing information that historical authors are always looking for:

In general, the documented behaviour of London audiences suggests that it had little or nothing in common with anything that might be experienced by opera-goers today. These audiences pushed, shoved, argued and, as the vomiting character in the centre of Figure 1 suggests, the crush could be tight. Recorded incidents in the nineteenth century include a terrific squeeze at the Opera House in 1830, where there were ‘torn clothes and a few fainting fits’;8 a Mr Jones who was knocked over and crushed, and emerged gushing blood from his ears, eyes and mouth;9 the positioning of fire engines at the stage doors in an effort to persuade the audience to remain under control;10 and a crowd ‘violent beyond precedent’ for Jenny Lind’s long-expected debut that gave currency to the expression ‘a Jenny Lind crush’.11

It's available to read online as a PDF; I highly encourage you to read the whole thing.

Places In Which I Have/Have Not Written Smut

Places in which I have sat and worked on a sex scene, some more explicit than others:

  • My kitchen counter
  • My mother's kitchen counter -- but don't tell her, please.
  • On my couch, in front of the tv
  • In my bookshelf-filled study, before it became "that room where we sort-of-temporarily put things we need out of the way for a while."
  • The public library
  • A Metro bus
  • A transatlantic flight
  • Some very dull days in graduate seminars and film class lectures
  • Coffee shops, coffee shops, coffee shops
  • Quite a few of the bars around town
  • Once, briefly, during an intermission at the opera -- though in my defense it was an absolutely terrible production of Tristan and Isolde, and if I didn't have something spicier to think about I was in danger of falling asleep in my seat.

Places I have never worked on a sex scene:

  • Bed
  • The bathroom

Today in Kickass Opera

When the Seattle Opera invited us to learn how to make stage blood as a tie-in event for its latest production, I knew Lucia di Lammermoor was going to be awesome.

Let's say you're a young woman of good family in the early nineteenth century. You're grieving your mother's recent death, and your family is on shaky political ground. You've met a dude named Edgardo who looks like an Oompa-Loompa but sings like an angel, and you've been secretly confessing your love to each other despite the fact that your brother Enrico considers him your family's greatest enemy.

But your brother has Edgardo sent into exile and is pressuring you to marry some other dude named Arturo for political reasons. (He seems okay, but you're promised to Edgardo!) Your brother even has a letter from Edgardo (a forgery) saying he's already betrayed you. Enrico threatens to curse you forever if you don't make the marriage to save his life.

So you reluctantly agree. And then! Edgardo bursts in on your wedding day, just after you have signed the contract, and curses you anways! You can't win! What on earth do you do next?

If you're Lucia, you go brilliantly, spectacularly insane -- kill your brand-new husband, strip off your bloody wedding gown in front of a stage full of horrified guests, and slit your own wrists while the audience gasps in shock.

It's almost a proto-feminist narrative, in the way it depicts the ruin of one woman's life as a catastrophic failure on the part of the men who love her. Neither Edgardo nor Enrico are particularly heroic in this story. They're childish and stubborn and it is clear they let Lucia down.

And then Edgardo stabs himself with a stiletto when he learns of Lucia's death. So we as an audience forgive him. The brother stays offstage and goes unpunished, which is disappointing, though presumably his life is pretty near ruined by the whole thing. Take that, you selfish bastard.

The staging was simply luscious. The costumes! And the set! Why stop at one spiral staircase when you can have two?

Decadence, thy name is two spiral staircases.