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There’s romance in the old South. Yes, that society was built upon the oppression of a people, so there was evil in it too, and actually, that evil lent itself to the “Bluebeard” plot. What I hadn’t thought of as I began writing was how much being in such a powerful position over so many unfortunate people would contribute to the distortion of Monsieur Bernard’s personality. He could do anything (until Sophie came along) and get away with it. Also, Sophie’s growing awareness of the servants caused her to mature as a character. There has been some criticism of the fact that the servants were foils for Sophie, but I believe that STRANDS is a realistic depiction of what actually would have happened in that time and that place with those people. And Sophie is the heroine of the tale. All the secondary characters, including her family, serve as a background for her.
Of course there have been slaves, serfs, peons—whatever they were called in their particular times and places—throughout the history of the world, but the ones modern Americans are most familiar with are the African people brought to America. So, although STRANDS is primarily Sophie’s story, I wanted to address the plight of the slaves as well, and tried to do it in a sensitive manner. I was—and am—well aware of the slippery slopes in depicting this setting. It’s so very easy for even the most well-intentioned writer to offend with this issue that, since GONE WITH THE WIND, few authors have tried to write about that society, unless it’s from the point of view of the African Americans. I didn’t want to shy away from it and I wanted to get the true picture from the people who actually experienced it, without modern attitudes and opinions coloring it, so I read dozens of slave narratives. (Look them up—they’re fascinating!) These were interviews with former slaves written during the 1930’s. They helped me get some of the details right, as well as the cadence and wording for Anarchy’s and Talitha’s speech, although most of Anarchy’s dialect came straight from an eighty-year-old woman who was my friend in Mississippi. She ended every visit with “Have a blessed day.”
Because I’m familiar with Mississippi there were things I didn’t need to research. For instance, the Southern forests or weather. I know only too well the ice storms and clammy heat and insects (although I was amazed to discover that Ontario has even more mosquitoes than Mississippi).
You can’t live in small town Mississippi without having a keen awareness of the past. Elderly people still speak of “The War,” and they mean the Civil War. Antebellum houses line the streets, lots of communities hold “pilgrimages,” which are tours of the old buildings, and many of the South’s current problems have their seeds in its history. However, in every chapter of STRANDS there would be something I had to look up. And then my editor, Allison Wortche, along with the copyeditors at Knopf, also went over every bit of the manuscript with a fine tooth comb to make sure I didn’t use words that weren’t in use in 1855. I hate anachronism in historical fiction, so I was glad to have a lot of help with this.
As I wrote, the abbey and the plantation setting became another character in the book—at turns lush, romantic, beautiful, threatening, and evil. I absolutely think I made the right choice in the setting for STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD.
Jane Nickerson is the author of the recently released Strands of Bronze and Gold and the upcoming The Mirk and the Midnight Hour. Make sure to stop back by and check out my review of Strands tomorrow, and see what I thought of her setting for Bluebeard. (Spoiler: loved it.) And make sure to stop by A Backwards Story, where you can read my interview with Jane!