Russian History and Research by Isabel Roman
For me, hearing about the Russian Tsars is always exciting. It immediately invokes mystery and danger, lavish palaces and armies of servants. So when I decided on the setting for my latest historical, I was bound to throw in as much mystery, intrigue, deception, and lavish living as I could manage. I dare say, Kiss of Scandal has an abundance of it all!
It’s nearly impossible to find research on everyday life in Imperial Russia. Sure, most people know about Nicholas II and the 1917 Russian Revolution, but I’m not writing during then! During Nicolas I's reign (1825-1855) Russia reached over 20 million square kilometers, their previously unquestioned military supremacy was questioned, and the peasants and other repressed peoples began to openly revolt. Which is ironic, considering he tried to change the way Russia worked and give those same people more rights.
Now if I wanted to know about Victorian England, I can find anything down to the type of wax they used in the candles, how much and when the servants were paid, and exactly what time of day the street lamp lighters would make their rounds. Vienna? St. Petersburg? Daily lives in the Victorian Age?
Forget it. Fire will rain down upon me first.
All right, that’s not entirely true. But my Russian is more than a little rusty (it’s the Cyrillic alphabet) and my Austrian is ah…you get the picture.
Barring traveling abroad, I had to use my imagination, fellow writers of the unusual setting, and outlandish help lines. Ask Foy was a great help!
Researching Russian court in 1855 wasn't as easy as researching Nicholas II’s court—or his downfall. Finding anything beyond wikipedia was impossible! Luckily, I found Alexander Palace and while its main focus is Nicholas II, it was very helpful in the look of the Winter Palace, which plays a huge role in the story.
In Kiss of Scandal, I had to use all that, hope it remained the same in 1855 (seems to have) and write around what I didn’t know. I extrapolated much of the city’s surrounding areas. In order to keep the suspension of disbelief alive, I had to be careful with certain historical details.
Clothing: It’s slightly different in fabrics and texture from that of the more commonly known British Victorian styles. Russian men and women use velvets, furs, and broadcloths.
Social structure and etiquette: Far, far different than England’s. A very formal society, the class system was also based on a form of service. A peasant, assuming he could read and write, could find himself suddenly titled. But if he didn’t know how to meet and greet his now-peers, court would shun him and he might find himself dead.
For instance, there’s a very complicated way you need to greet a Bishop of the Orthodox Church. Every. Single. Time. Peers of a similar rank needed to be greeted in a specific way as well, according to their family, wealth, land, etc. Russian court wasn’t for the faint of heart.
In Kiss of Scandal, I glossed over some of these etiquettes because to describe them every time and in every detail would be tedious within the first 20 pages. However, I did research them and can tell you how far you need to bend at the waist in greeting an Orthodox Bishop.
What I may lack in historical detail due to difficulty in researching it, you can always add to in other details. For instance, Russia’s winter. Kiss of Scandal takes place February-March, 1855 right in the middle of St. Petersburg’s winter. By focusing on the weather and how it affects your characters, it draws the comparisons—or contrasts—needed in your story.
What are your research woes? What do you wish someone would write a book about?
Turning her, Nikolai met her lips. Beneath the unrestrained passion he had for her, he harbored a need for more. If he could possess her, share in her passion, she’d understand. The wall she’d built around her heart would collapse only for him.
Her taste, her scent—he couldn’t absorb enough of it. Their lips crushed against each other’s with a power that seduced him, and he knew it did her, as well. She surrendered to him just enough. Deepening the kiss, he challenged the control she held over her emotions. When she resisted, a dissatisfied growl vibrated along her lips. He slipped one hand beneath her bodice, strong fingers stroking the sensitive skin.
With a jagged breath, Katria shuddered again, pulled away. “There will be time enough after we are married.”
His fingers tightened on her shoulders, and he saw her wince. Furious with himself for hurting her, with her for denying what lay between them, Nikolai dropped his hands.
“Ah, yes.” His tone, laced with sarcasm, stiffened her pride. He watched as she took another step back, tossing her head just enough to prove her point. “I forget how proper and innocent you are.”
Eyes narrowed, she took an abrupt step toward him, then stilled. He smirked. Oh, yes, my darling, I know how to upset that delicate little balance you want in your life.
“It’s no wonder you would forget,” she snapped, her voice an odd combination of rigid and scorching. “I’m certain the company you kept before me was anything but proper and innocent.”
Stalking toward her, his anger overriding his control, he grabbed her upper arms, standing a breath away. “I do not recall any company before you.”
Kiss of Scandal now available in e-book from Ravenous Romance. And on the Home Shopping Network today at 8 am, 4 pm, and 3 am.
I’ll give away a reproduction Victorian Vice Versa handbag to one random person today!