About Death of a Dowager
In her classic tale, Charlotte Brontë introduced readers to the strong-willed and intelligent Jane Eyre. Picking up where Brontë left off, the year is now 1820, and Jane’s life has finally settled into a comfortable pattern. She and her beloved Edward Rochester have married and have a son. But Jane soon finds herself having to protect those she loves…
When the roof caves in at Ferndean, their country home, Jane and Edward accept an invitation from their friend Lucy Brayton to stay with her in London while repairs are being made. Jane is reluctant to abandon their peaceful life in the countryside, but Edward’s damaged vision has grown worse. She hopes that time in the capital will buoy his spirits and give him the chance to receive treatment from a renowned oculist.
Once in London, the Rochesters accompany Lucy to the Italian Opera House, where they encounter Dowager Lady Ingram, who had once hoped for Edward to wed her daughter, Blanche—and who’s still rankled by his subsequent marriage to Jane. In front of a group of society people, the aging dowager delivers a vicious social drubbing to Jane, enraging both Edward and Lucy. In an attempt to rebuild good will, Jane and Lucy decide to speak to the Dowager in private the next day. But the visit is cut short when the Dowager drops dead before their shocked eyes. Lucy is poised to take the blame—unless Jane can clear her friend’s name…
Author Guest Post
Diary of a Wimpy Writer
(From the Diary of Joanna Campbell Slan)
June 6, 2013
What a wimp I am. As Tropical Storm Andrea passes by Southern Florida, I’ve elected to postpone my trip to the post office and grocery store. I balk at walking ten feet in the rain to get into my car. That old beast of mine is my sanctuary, where heated seats and Sirius radio are just two of the wonderful creature comforts. But getting wet is so annoying! Instead I choose to sit at my computer and review my research for a trip from Yorkshire to London that Jane Eyre and her beloved husband Edward Rochester are making with their young son. Point of fact, I am cruel beyond belief to inflict such a journey on the Rochester family, but I have done just that in Death of a Dowager.
Imagine, dear Diary, sixty hours in a cramped stagecoach. With a toddler. I remember taking car trips and traveling by plane with my son when he was a small child. In fact, my stomach is twists into a knot thinking about it!
Even for adults, travel in the year 1820 was not for the faint of heart. In his book Early Days of the Nineteenth Century in England, William Connor Sydney writes, “Stage-coaches were to be avoided as much as possible.” A Frenchman of the time describes the vehicle en route to London as being “crammed inside and out with passengers of all ages, sex, and conditions.” Travelers who could afford the regular fare would be packed side-by-side on two facing bench seats. Their boots would rest on a floor. That surface was covered with straw to absorb mud from the road. The straw was not changed regularly, so it not only smelled bad, it also housed all sorts of vermin.
Less fortunate travelers who could not afford the full fare would “hang on” to the railing around the top of the coach. This, in fact, is the origin of two phrases we still use today. “Hangers on” refers to sycophants or parasites and references the penniless passengers clutching tightly to the coach. “Drop off” as in “to go to sleep” derives its meaning from the sad fact that those who fell asleep would “drop off” the stagecoach.
Of course, it’s more likely that riders would be “cast off” than “drop off.” The roads were rough, the wheels broke easily, and the coaches were top-heavy, making tipping over a common occurrence. When a coachman decided to drive at the dizzying speed of twelve miles per hour, the trip became even more treacherous. Stories were told of passengers who died afterward because of the stress such high speed put on the human brain. (I must remember this the next time my speedometer inches past seventy mph. Perhaps that’s a stress I can do without!)
Ah. The rain has slowed to a drizzle. Maybe I’ll go and run those errands after all.
Until later, dear Diary--
National bestselling and award-winning author Joanna Campbell Slan writes multiple mystery series. Her new book, Death of a Dowager, is a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence and is the second entry in The Jane Eyre Chronicles. Continuing the story begun in Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, these books refashion Jane into what Kirkus Reviews has called “a surprisingly canny detective.” Visit Joanna at www.JoannaSlan.com
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