NECESSARY SINS by Elizabeth Bell > The Uniqueness of Charleston, S.C.

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message 1: by Elizabeth (last edited Jan 27, 2020 12:52PM) (new)

Elizabeth Bell (elizabethbellauthor) | 15 comments The main setting of my Lazare Family Saga is the South Carolina Lowcountry around Charleston between 1791 and 1873. Charleston is probably my favorite place on Earth. In addition to the Lowcountry’s natural beauty, Charleston is a history buff’s dream because so much of the city’s past has been lovingly preserved and restored. I took literally a couple thousand photos on my last research trip.

Charleston is a port city situated “where the Ashley River and the Cooper River form the Atlantic Ocean,” and it has both European and Caribbean elements. For a century, from the 1680s to the 1780s, Charleston was a walled city, as seen in the 1711 map by Edward Crisp, which you can view here:

Although only small portions of the colonial fortifications remain visible today, they shaped the city’s character, giving rise to the Battery (sea wall) and to narrow pedestrian walkways. One of these picturesque alleys, Longitude Lane, plays an important role in my novels.

In the 1670s, many of Charleston’s founders came from Barbados, an English colony in the West Indies. In the 1790s, some of the French colonists fleeing the Haitian Revolution settled in Charleston, including two of my characters. Charleston’s climate is semitropical, as evidenced by its lush gardens and palmetto trees.

Charleston’s Caribbean influence can be seen in its architecture, specifically the popularity of “piazzas,” which is what Charlestonians call their columned porches. Piazzas protect a house’s windows from the sun and catch sea breezes to mitigate heat. Piazzas are transitional spaces between the public and the private. A unique Charleston architectural style is the “single house,” one room deep and two rooms wide with a central hall and the narrow end toward the street. What appears to be the front door on the street actually leads onto the piazza.

You can see these piazzas, bits of garden, and the sea wall in this 1831 painting:

To me, Charleston's alleys and piazzas, along with the city’s walled gardens that can be glimpsed through gates and fences, give off an air of the forbidden. You’re in a public space, but you’re so close to something private. Maybe you shouldn’t look, but the beauty beckons to you… Often the threshold between public and private is unclear, and maybe you’ve trespassed already… Of course I play with this feeling in my work. ;)

During my 2018 research trip, I was able to cross that threshold in a way that exceeded my craziest expectations. As part of the Festival of Houses & Gardens, I got to step inside the private home that sits where my character Tessa’s house is located, on the corner of Church Street and Longitude Lane. When you buy the tickets months in advance, you don’t know which homes you’ll visit. So that was surreal: to stand in the very place where on some other plane, my characters were arguing and embracing.

Is anyone in this group lucky enough to live in the Charleston area? Who’s been there? What was your favorite part of the Lowcountry? If you’ve never been, what have you heard about it and what would you most like to see?

message 2: by Dyana (new)

Dyana | 189 comments I have been to Charleston one time. We have old Air Force friends that live there. My husband's health problems have kept us from going back. We lived in Myrtle Beach, SC, after my husband joined the Air Force. There is no longer a base at Myrtle Beach. There is a charm and history about the area that stayed with me.

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