In writing a turn-of-the century story, I wanted to include as much detail from the period as was practical, to give the characters a real world to live in. Young people in New York in 1900 would definitely have gone to the shore and visited the amusement park. Steeplechase Park opened in 1897 and more or less created the template for all the amusement parks that would follow.
The steeplechase ride the boys go on in A Most Personal Property looks fun and exhilarating, but it also seems very possible for people to just fall off the horses and break their necks.
The steeplechase ride was definitely in place in 1900, but I can be less sure about Blowhole Theater. References indicate that some version of it was always part of the steeplechase ride, so I chose to include it. The video is quite obviously from the mid-1920s, but you certainly get the idea!
Verisimilitude note: Today, the season at Coney Island ends at Halloween, and I have it ending in October in the book. However, it’s likely that in 1900 the season actually ended in September. I really wanted to send them to an amusement park, but it just wouldn’t have worked in the September timeline, so I used the modern schedule.
Martin is working on a piece of music throughout the GQ series and I never name it, but I definitely had a specific piece in mind. I am not deeply knowledgeable about classical music or musicians, but I know what I like, and I absolutely love the Bach partitas and sonatas for solo violin, especially Partita No. 2 in D Minor and its challenging chaconne.
I have recordings of these works by a variety of musicians, and originally the version of the chaconne I had in mind for Martin was by Lara St. John, a favorite of long standing. I searched on YouTube to find video of her or anyone else playing the chaconne, and I came across this:
I’d never heard of James Ehnes. With his brown suit and conservative haircut, he looked more like an insurance salesman than an artist to my critical eye. My expectations were low when I hit play.
OH MY GOD. Plaintive, sobbing notes full of longing, played with precision. It is more than a little sexy to me! Every time I listen to this (and I listen to it a lot), at the 6:30 mark I always have to actually stop what I’m doing and watch him play.
Mr. Ehnes performed with the symphony here last year, although unfortunately he didn’t play Bach. But I took binoculars so I could watch his hands and was as excited as a tween at a One Direction concert. I’ve got his studio recordings of both this Bach and the Elgar I actually saw him play, and while the recordings are beautiful and among my favorites, I think he’s a performer whose playing becomes much more expressive and impressive in the presence of an audience.
Anyway, I am definitely not claiming that Martin would play this terribly difficult piece nearly this well, but only that this is what he would have in his head; this would be the ideal version he would be attempting to match or surpass when he practiced the piece.
In writing a Gilded Age fantasy, I wanted to use much that was factual about the time period. The depiction of slavery in my story is decided non-historical, of course, but the clothing and the settings and the means the boys find to amuse themselves are based in reality. However, there are a few factual things I deliberately left out or ignored for storytelling reasons.
In 1900, upper class gentlemen would likely have been wearing gloves when they were in public. However, putting gloves on Henry’s and Martin’s hands would have meant then having to make them take off their gloves anytime I wanted them to engage in some surreptitious touching in the carriage or on the street. I certainly think a story could be written where gloves and their removal might actually be an erotic component, but this wasn’t that story.
The average upper class gentleman of the era would have put quantities of scented oil in his hair, and I left this out because, frankly, the idea of Henry having oily, floral-perfumed hair is just gross to me. I’m not even sure how to address the hair oil issue when a man has very long hair, as Martin does. When reading the story, please assume that their hair is clean!
Finally, underwear of the period would likely have been a one-piece affair, but putting Henry and Martin in union suits introduced any number of logistical problems and would have changed the act of undressing in a way I found unappealing. While it’s possible to have sex while wearing a union suit, I definitely didn’t want to write that. My main RL experience of union suits is by way of my old-fashioned grandfather, so they are pretty much the opposite of sexy to me! Putting Henry and Martin in undershirts and drawers allowed them to undress a little more conveniently.
I love doing research, and I did a great deal of it for this series. Despite the glaring anomalies presented by the depiction of slavery, the majority of the details are as historically accurate as I could make them, and I’ll have future posts on the real places and things that were the basis for story elements.
With Ganymede Quartet, I tried to make all the things that weren’t slavery in the 20th century as historically accurate as possible, and that included the language I used. Here are some words that would have come in handy but were not appropriate for the time period.
- “Sexy.” You don’t realize what convenient shorthand this word is until you can’t use it. Modern usage of sexy dates from the 1920s. Apparently “sexful” would have been all right in 1900, but I wasn’t about to refer to any character as sexful for what I think should be obvious reasons!
- “Asshole” as derogatory term/insult. Calling people assholes didn’t see common usage until the 1930s.
- “Jerk” as a noun/derogatory term, though it could be used as a verb, as in “jerk off.” Referring to people as jerks also dates from the 1930s.
- “Wank.” Dates from around 1950.
- “Come” as a noun, as in the product of ejaculation, though it could be used as a verb. The verb form actually dates from the 1650s, but referring to semen as come is as recent as the 1920s.
- “Blow job.” This one really wasn’t a surprise. Dates from about 1948.
A gentleman by the name of Jonathon Green, creator of an English language slang dictionary, has made extremely handy timelines of sex terms, which you can access from his page. Very useful for historical smut :)
Penis, vagina, and alcohol terms: http://jonathongreen.co.uk/timelines/
Intercourse terms: http://jonathongreen.co.uk/timeslines-continued/