When you write a novel of historical fiction, there are always too many facts to put in. So many lovely details that you want to include, but you can’t for fear of overwhelming your reader. In Prisoners in the Palace, my heroine is Liza Hastings, a young lady fallen on hard times. She takes a job as Princess Victoria’s maid at Kensington Palace. We see how Victoria lives through Liza’s eyes. And I couldn’t resist having Liza notice a lot of those lovely details…and Liza interprets them based on her own experiences.
For instance, while bathing the Princess, Liza notices a strange scar on her upper arm. She learns that it is a small pox vaccine. The vaccine had only been developed a few years earlier and it was by no means common. Victoria’s mother had insisted that Victoria receive it. Liza, who has just met a woman in London’s poorer districts whose face was covered in pox scars, reflects how unfair it is that Victoria is protected, while everyone else is not. But that wasn’t Victoria’s only experience with uncommon medical techniques. As a baby, she was breast fed by her mother, an unusual move since almost every child born into privilege at that time was farmed out to a wet nurse. Victoria’s mother believed in “maternal nutriment.”
Victoria had her own ideas about maturity. She had nine children with Prince Albert. Ironically, she hated being pregnant and detested childbirth. In her journal she wrote, “One has a strong wish to give a husband a good, strong ducking…what humiliations to the delicate feeling of a poor woman, especially with those nasty doctors!”
Beyond having to cope with doctors, Victoria had strong feelings about the very process of giving birth. She wrote a letter to her eldest daughter the Crown Princess Of Prussia: “What you say of the pride of giving life to an immortal soul is very fine, dear, but I own I cannot enter into that; I think much more of our being like a cow or a dog at such moments.” Zing! Of course, it didn’t help that doctors at the time didn’t believe in pain relief for women in childbirth – many doctors and the Church believed a woman was supposed to suffer.
By her fifth child, Prince Leopold, Victoria had had enough! Defying medical and religion convention, she insisted on trying the new chloroform to ease the pain. She called it “That blessed chloroform…the effect is soothing, quieting, and delightful beyond measure.”
Her doctor, Sir James Clark, oddly had very little experienced with women. His training was in the British Navy. His position was an odd one – he had to give the best care possible to the Queen but also justify his treatment to the nation. He reported this about the Queen’s confinement. “Chloroform was not at any time given so strongly as to render the Queen insensible, and an ounce of chloroform was scarely consumed during the whole time. Her Majesty was greatly pleased with the effect, and she certainly never has had a better recovery.”
And where the Queen will go…the good ladies of Great Britain will follow. Victoria became a pioneer in the development of modern anesthesia.
As a two-time mom, I salute you!
If you are interested in more information about Prisoner in the Palace, please visit my website, www.michaelamaccoll.com. Thank you for letting me visit.