I spent this afternoon at a fabulous matinee of Werther at San Francisco Opera. The production, directed by Francisco Negrin and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, brought out the layers and ambiguities in the story and made me like the opera more than I had on previous viewings (though I still think the opera lacks the irony in the novel). Watching the opera, I was reminded that the Goethe novel it’s based on (The Sorrows of Young Werther) was wildly popular among young people in the late 18th century. A lot of young readers apparently took its tale of star-crossed love seriously, though the book can be read as commenting on the dangers of wallowing in romanticism. It’s a book most of my characters probably would have read as teens. I haven’t referenced it in my books, but I think I will in the future. It’s interesting to contemplate who would have been caught up in the romance of the story and who would have seen the ironies (Charles, I’m sure, would have seen the ironies; Gisèle might have been caught up in the romance).

I recently saw another opera that I have referenced in my books, The Marriage of Figaro. A sequence in Vienna Waltz takes place at a performance of the opera. And Mélanie’s middle name (and the name of her Vienna Waltz alter ego) is Suzanne after the Beaumarchais play upon which the opera is based (Susanna in the opera). The Beaumarchais trilogy, with its sharp critique of class structure, was a favorite of both Mélanie’s father and of Raoul. Colin’s stuffed bear is named Figaro, presumably because his parents have told him the story. When I originally wrote Daughter of the Game, I struggled to find the piece of music with a precise chord that Charles knows always brings tears to Mélanie’s eyes. After the book was published, the Merola Opera Program performed The Marriage of Figaro, and I realized that of course the piece of music that would have that affect on Mel should be the Countess’s aria “Dove Sono”, in which she asks where the happy moments of her marriage have gone. I was able to make the change in the text when the book was reissued as Secrets of a Lady.

I’ve also, as I’ve mentioned, been rereading Pride and Prejudice on my ipad. I’ve written Fraser Correspondence letters in which Mel, Charles, and Simon talk about Pride and Prejudice (with Mel and Simon comparing both Charles and David to Darcy). It’s fun to reread it thinking about how my characters would react to the story.

Does reading historical fiction drive you to seek out novels or plays written in the same era? What’s it like going from an historical novel to a novel or play actually written in the era? Writers, do you read novels and plays written in the era about which you’re writing?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is Mel’s reply to Simon’s letter from last week.