Do you see what I see? Gems from historical research

One of the great parts about writing historical fiction is getting lost down the rabbit hole of research. There’s always some little gem – absolutely useless but endlessly fascinating – waiting to be discovered.

In Through a Different Lens, Mr. Darcy has Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. He manages extremely well, but he is subject to sensory overload. Noises, smells, rough fabric – all of these can bother him to the point of distraction. Bright light is another sensory experience that can cause him great discomfort, and so he has a pair of sunglasses. These are common enough now, but in Regency England, they weren’t exactly available at the local general store.

I found this great tidbit on sunglasses on the College of Optometrists‘ website.

“The Venetians, ever at the forefront of developments in spectacle design, were wearing early proto-sunglasses with green-tinted lenses to guard against the sun’s reflection on the ripples of the lagoon. The pair illustrated dates from around 1790. They were popularised by a famous actor and theatre manager called Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793). Then, as now, everyone wanted to copy what the showbiz celebrity was wearing. It is arguably the first ever instanced of a celebrity endorsed eyewear style.”

Venetian sun spectacles circa 1790
Goldoni-style tinted spectacles from c.1790

Can you imagine Mr. Darcy in such a trendy pair of shades?

Here’s an excerpt from Through a Different Lens.

“You had, before, taken Tuesdays and Thursdays for your own affairs, Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth teased as they walked in the park after tea. The sun was unusually bright this particular day, and Mr. Darcy was wearing an odd pair of spectacles with coloured lenses which she had never before seen. Miss Pierce and the children raced ahead to try the paper boats they had recently completed, with a promise to feed the birds and ducks afterwards, leaving Elizabeth to quiz her companion in some privacy. “And yet,” she continued her question, “today is Tuesday and you are here. Is it only to make my young cousin happy?”

The gentleman chuckled. “Master Samuel’s happiness has a direct influence upon your own, Miss Elizabeth, and your happiness is of great interest to me.”

“Very prettily said, sir!” she returned with a light voice. “But surely you have business that needs attending.”

“Indeed, I do. However, I find that for short periods, I am able to discharge the most necessary of my affairs in the later hours of the day. I have planned my schedule, and if I adhere to it strictly, I am in no danger of neglecting my obligations.” They walked for a few moments, enjoying the warm sunlight and the light breezes that stirred the verdant spring foliage around them, then Mr. Darcy continued, “But I admit I shall miss Samuel when he is away. You might think me strange for entertaining the friendship of a twelve-year-old boy, but the truth of the matter is, I enjoy his company. He is most intelligent and his youth reminds me that I need not carry the weight of the world upon my shoulders. I have never before known someone who thinks as I do, and who finds the same fascination in those areas that consume me. His facility with numbers is marvellous to behold, and his comprehension of statistical probability rivals my own.”

“You are a modest man, Mr. Darcy.”

“No, I do not believe I am… Oh, you are teasing me! There is no need for false modesty when one knows one’s abilities are superior. It is not boastful, merely factual. But once more, I beg we return to the topic. He has become interested in my collection of lenses, which delights me, for few other people will spend so many hours examining the properties of these gems.”

“Lenses such as the ones you wear now?” Elizabeth could not help but wonder if Mr. Darcy’s spectacles had inspired his interest in the subject, or if it had been the reverse.

“These are not lenses in the true sense of the word,” he replied in a voice that brought to mind a stern governess delivering a lecture on some obscure aspect of German grammar. “These do not bend light, for they are but plain tinted glass. I wear them for the benefit of the green colour, which helps to diminish the extreme brightness of the sunlight as it reflects off the water. When I heard of today’s plans and saw the sky, I chose to wear them in an attempt to lessen the brilliance of the light, which can trouble me. I had this pair made by my uncle’s spectacles-maker after the practice of the Venetians, who live surrounded by such reflections of light on the water, and after the style of the actor Carlo Goldoni. Signore Goldoni was…” He seemed ready to engage upon another monologue, but Elizabeth stayed him with a touch to his arm. He turned to her, his mouth open to continue speaking, but then took a breath and paused. “Yes. I see by your eyes—how they flit away and then return in an unnatural manner, as if you are forcing yourself to maintain your regard—that you are losing interest. Your smile, too, is not the relaxed smile of true mirth, but is somehow stiff and forced. See, I am an adept student, am I not?

Through a Different Lens is available for pre-order at Amazon (and soon through other distributors), and will be released on January 21st, 2019.

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