As I mentioned in my Theme Reveal, my A to Zs have in the past consumed all of my time and energy for all of April. In fact, for the past 3 years, I have spent most of May in a sort of creative dead zone, utterly unable to think of interesting things to write about, and nervously wondering if I could have burned through my lifetime supply of creativity in one glorious month.
This year, I was determined not to allow my A to Z Challenge to eat my life. And– it didn’t! I spent from 1-6 hours a day on my posts this year, which is pretty good, considering that in former years those numbers have been more like 6-18 hours/day (especially in 2015, the Year of the Complete Murder Mystery Novella, With Photographs).
I was also determined to have fun, and I totally did. I love The Strand Magazine, and endlessly flipping through issues seeking The Perfect Image was exactly what I wanted to be doing anyway. I have enjoyed all of my A to Zs, actually, and I fully intend to enjoy my A to Zs in the future, too.
Of course, the structure that I selected for my A to Z this year imposed certain limitations. I mean, if there wasn’t a suitable illustration for my next plot twist, I had to select a new plot twist. But limitations can be inspiring as well as frustrating, and it was a fun challenge to work within the limitations imposed by my theme. Many of the crazier plot twists in my stories this year were inspired by the images available to me. The potato-continuity in Alfie’s story is a good example of this– and though I didn’t know it was anything more than a sight-gag when I put it in, it turned out to be relevant later on. Also the whole small-dog plot-line in Annabelle’s narrative was inspired by an illustration I was just dying to use. In fact, most of the really surprising bits in my stories came from my desire to use a particular image.
I also learned a lot about what sorts of things were and were not illustrated in The Strand. I could only find one picture of a woman in any sort of violent contact with a man, for example. I should perhaps have expected this, but I didn’t. Ladies are always being kidnapped in Sensational Literature, right? But if there were any images in The Strand of a lady being carried off by a thug, I must have missed them. Indeed, that sort of image, so characteristic of the pulp magazines of a later era, was possibly considered inappropriate in the more polite 1890s, at least for The Strand. All that intimate contact between unmarried persons, I mean. Shocking!
Of course, I wouldn’t put it past Punch to have such illustrations… also, I may really just have missed such images in The Strand… also, I don’t have access to a complete run of The Strand, only the ones available on the Internet Archive… so my results are completely inconclusive, and I shouldn’t make assumptions about propriety in the Victorian era, because I have a suspicion that we rather exaggerate that aspect of Victorian life in the modern day. It appeals to us to think of Victorians being so stiff with propriety that they could barely move. It makes us feel all the more free by comparison, and it makes the era seem stranger and more alien than perhaps it was. The appeal of the notion makes me suspect that it may be partially nonsense. I also suspect (though it would require more research than I am willing to do to prove this) that we get many of our notions about Victorian Propriety from the literature of the eras immediately following the Victorian Era, and that the writers of these eras would be tempted to exaggerate, in order to differentiate their own time from the immediate past. It is, after all, fun to think of shocking those stuffy people who came before one. As Ronald Knox has it in The Body in the Silo (1933):
“I suppose,” he said, “the Victorians would have been rather shocked by all this.”
“Just a little,” admitted Angela. “But then of course they’re dead. I sometimes wonder we spend so much time trying to shock people who aren’t there.”
…And I have, it seems, veered wildly off-topic. But! I managed to quote Ronald Knox, and his mystery novels (or anyway those involving Miles Bredon, of the Indescribable Insurance Company, and Angela Bredon, Miles’ wife) are really charming, so I think I am not going to go back and delete anything, though my inner editor is even now scowling balefully at the screen, urging me towards destruction.
Right! Maybe it really wasn’t proper for men to be shown manhandling ladies. I don’t know. Anyway, I only found one illustration of a lady being grabbed aggressively by a man, and after I’d used it (Click Here to see the post I mean), I found I had to re-think Annabelle’s story. I had to make the story less about Annabelle being grabbed by various villains, and more about small dogs. There are lots of images involving small dogs in The Strand.
Yes. That seems, on the whole, as good a place to end this post as any. Look out for Part II of my A to Z Reflections, which will include some of the images from The Strand I didn’t end up using!