Catherine Jenner, the youngest member of the party at twenty-eight years old, who has just come out of her first confinement.
Edward Jenner is a real historical figure: the country doctor who fought for the idea that inoculation with cowpox could prevent people from developing the more dangerous smallpox. This became the first vaccine. He married Catherine Kingscote and they had their first child in early 1789. Nearly a year later, Edward would experiment on his own child by inoculating him with swine pox to see whether that would prevent smallpox.
And Miss Bell, ostensibly Miss Lytton’s companion, in much the same way that Jane is ostensibly Alice’s companion.
Miss Lytton and Miss Bell are based on the "Ladies of Llangollen", two Irish woman named Eleanor Butler and Sarah Posonby, who lived together in a country house in Wales for 50 years. Their cutlery and glassware bore both their initials and they did everything together, including adopting the marvelous habit in their old age of wearing top hats.
“We never can be sure, but so long as His Majesty remains able to perform at least some of the functions of his office, all our Whig hopes for democratic reform must be tempered,”
King George III suffered from an unknown illness that incapacitated him for several months in late 1788 and early 1789. Parliament prepared for a regency, urged on by the somewhat radically-minded Whig politican Charles James Fox, who would probably have become prime minister. But then the king recovered his health, for the time being.
“But what must that mean for the anti-slavery movement?” Mrs. Jenner continues, and all of the white-skinned people at the table very studiously do not look at Prudence Zuniga in that moment.
The abolition of slavery was a topic of debate in the British parliament during the late 1780s and early 1790s, although it would not be abolished in the British Empire until 1833.
Jane sips her tea. “The Royal Society has made it quite clear that I shall not gain entry, Dr. Jenner, no matter how many birds I cut open.”
In 1835, Caroline Herschel and Mary Somerville became members of the Royal Astronomical Society, and Herschel, discoverer of coments, presented a paper to the Royal Society in 1786. But the Royal Society didn't start admitting women as fellows until the 1940s.
The Princes in the Tower again?”
This is a reference to Edward and Richard, a young king and his brother, who were put into the Tower of London by their uncle in 1483 and were never seen again. I love the novel The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, which treats this as a mystery story. I can see someone like Auden itching to use his time travel device to solve it.
She takes a few comfits, like tiny white pearls of rice, from her plate with a silver spoon. The sugared seeds brighten her tongue, benumb it just a little, as the earthy warmth of the caraway spreads through her mouth.
I've made caraway comfits with a bit of sugar in a cast iron pan. They're easy to make and very nice.
“I hope you pay little attention to the scurrilous libels in the London newspapers, Miss Payne. Certainly there are women who amuse themselves with Sapphic romances, but there is no true carnality in . . . playacting.
The sculptor Anne Damer was top of my mind here; she had a reputation as a lesbian and was the subject of gossip in the late 18th century. She's the subject of the excellent novel Life Mask, by Emma Donoghue, one of my favourite writers.
The third button, and a circle of flames shoots up all around him. A dozen jets of fire, from hidden pipes in the earth.
The modern blowtorch probably had its birth ith a device patented by Theodore Pierre Bertin in 1798, although devices using similar principles had been around for a long time. So could Jane have created something like the fire trap I describe in this chapter in 1789? As with most of Jane's inventions, I asked myself not whether the thing actually existed, but whether I could reasonably assume Jane would understand the basic principles and have access to the materials. And she's a time traveller. And it's science fiction.
Alice depresses a final button and she’s in darkness again, with no trace except the hoofmarks on the road and the clean, oily smells of Jane’s fire-trap. It always reminds Alice of Jane’s study, with its Argand lamps and strange spirits in bottles.
The Argand lamp, patented in 1780, was brighter than earlier lamps and burned whale oil, seal oil or vegetable oil.
There are few sounds in the dungeon. A faint trickle somewhere deep within or beyond the stone wall; the clinking of the chains whenever Wray shifts in a futile attempt to unknot his neck; the occasional moan from the dungeon’s other occupant.
In the first book, we only ever see the story from Alice's and Prudence's perspectives. I knew that I wanted to include Wray's and Jane's points of view in this novella, but it was a big risk: four points of view in a 30,000-word book, especially one that jumps around to different times and places, can be confusing.
He has been a prisoner before, and escaped before. That bitter march southeast from the battlefield at Saratoga. That long winter in the cold barracks. When the spring came, and the officers were paroled out to work in the fields with the old men and their wives and daughters, still he waited.
In the autumn of 1777, the Americans forced a British surrender at Saratoga, NY, which marked a turning point in the war. The Americans then became responsible for nearly six thousand prisoners of war for a while, and many of these POWs escaped as they were being marched around the colonies or housed in barracks.
As Wray’s body reacts, ducking his head down into his chest, hunching his shoulders, some small analytical part of his brain manages to think, So the pommel comes into use, as
The swords of 13th century Europe tended to be short, one-handed ones, often used with a shield or a buckler.
“You said,” she says between her teeth and between chisel blows, “that as a royal prisoner, Arthur would be kept in comfort. You said he’d be riding horses. Eating almonds. On a curtained bed.”
The detail about the almonds comes from the fact that King John sent figs and almonds to Eleanor of Brittany, Arthur's sister, during her imprisonment. She was kept in custody for the rest of her life after the siblings' capture and Arthur's disappearance, but she seems to have been fairly comfortable.
Then in the spring of 1203, Arthur escaped from the castle dungeon and made his way somehow to Paris. He bided his time. By 1215, the barons will turn on John and welcome Arthur as king. King Arthur. That’s history. That’s what happened.
Of course, that isn't what happened. I had a lot of fun in these books with keeping the reader uncertain about whether our own timeline is already a fact, or in the process of being created.
But it’s exhausting. She sees her future self now in her mind’s eye, the way she will be if she spends the rest of her life living among the people teleosophers call naïfs. Exhausted by half a life spent not saying what she wants to say, because her only friends wouldn’t understand it.
“I’m afraid I don’t see how history has changed. No one knows what happened to Prince Arthur after the spring of 1203. That’s the mystery we were trying to solve. He disappeared. Everyone suspected John of killing him, but there was no evidence. As far as history goes, Arthur has left the stage, just as he always did.” “That’s how you remember it now, Wray,” says Future Prudence, her hands on her hips. “That’s what you remember being taught.”
This history created in this book, when it comes to Arthur, is our history: he disappeared. (He was almost certainly murdered, probably by John.)
“What is ridiculous,” Alice says, “is that you have cajoled every one of our friends into buying an inoculation ribbon.
The "pouf" hairstyle in pre-Revolution France was often used to make personal or political statements. After Louis XV died of smallpox in 1774, one version of the "pouf" included medical elements advocating for inoculation, and a 1785 fashion plate includes a hat trimmed with a white-spotted inoculation ribbon.
a tontine early in the century, in which the final surviving shareholder was to inherit the whole, and Alice managed to be present at both the beginning and the end of the arrangement, and a blackguard went to his grave unsatisfied.)
A tontine is an investment scheme; as each investor dies, their share of the interest is divided among the remaining investors.
She nods, trying to keep her confusion out of her smile. He’s referring to some conversation they’ll have when he’s younger. A conversation that is in the past for him, and the future for her. It’s simultaneously disorienting and comforting: there’s a possible timeline where she sees him again.
This notion of two people experiencing their relationship in reverse order because of time travel will be familiar to Doctor Who fans. I don't have many conscious DW references in these novellas, but of course it's an influence.
When Alice was a young woman, she used to tell herself that her mother did not die in Tacky’s War but instead escaped and went to live with the Maroons, or took ship with Queen Cubah in Kingston and went to sea.
A woman named Akua, whom the British called Cubah, was a major leader in Tacky's War. She was ordered trasported from the island but bribed the captain of the ship and escaped.
It is a question she intends to keep asking, until all the bodies in the universe have cooled to a point of equilibrium and all motion ceases, that is, if Bailly’s theories are correct.
Jean-Sylvain Bailly was an 18th-century astronomer in philosopher. In 1789 he was the new mayor of Paris, after the storming of the Bastille, and he would be guillotined in 1793.
“I see. It’s a bond not easily broken, I know. My regiment is called the Pattern, because it is known for being so well ordered, so disciplined. But you know what it used to make me think of? Knitting. A knitting pattern. And what happens when it unravels.”
It’s a dome of black leather, upon which a brass crest rises like the prow of a ship, and out of the crest tumbles a plume of scarlet horsehair. Three inches of sheepskin line the bottom edge, and in front, a black metal triangular plate rising to a point in the middle, with a white skull-and-crossbones painted on it. It is as though the dragoons had been unable to decide whether to go to a masquerade as pirates or as centurions.
“Women,” says Captain Auden. “Women tending to the dead.” “Or readying their rifles,” says gruff-voice. “Another thing you might want to remember about this war is that the rebels will take anyone. I’ve seen dozens of baggages and bitches toting guns or loading cannon in my time.”
There were indeed women openly engaged in combat roles in the revolutionary war. Some disguised themselves as men, but others (such as Mary Ludwig Hayes and Margaret Corbin) began as nurses or water-carriers and ended up helping to crew cannons. (There were also, of course, soldiers who today we'd call trans men or intersex, distinct from the women who pretended to be men so they could fight.)
The men usher her forward, toward the road where their fellow soldiers are loading weapons onto carts. Toward Alice. Away from a decision that might have changed Captain Auden for good. Will they find a different Captain Auden in 1789 than the man they left behind? Or was the Captain Auden they know saved from this decision already in some way, or by some other version of Jane, for some other reason?
Readers of the first book will remember that Wray Auden remembers seeing Jane in America in that timeline. My intention with this is not to fit these timelines together like a perfect puzzle; Jane's uncertainty can and should be shared by the reader, in my opinion.
“I overheard some of the soldiers talking about a man named Charles King, who was carrying letters to New York. To the Merchants, they said. I remembered seeing the Merchants Coffeehouse on one of your father’s maps. Wall Street, near the bottom tip of Manhattan, not far from the Battery. And look: there it is.”