The Vicar Takes A Wife got its start as a “What if?” question: what if a modern-day prophet was told by God to marry a prostitute, just like the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament? Yeah, I know, it would cause quite a ruckus. Thus The Vicar Takes A Wife was born.
The Bible doesn’t say how Hosea felt about this rather unusual command or what other people thought (then again, prophets were known for getting some pretty wild orders from the Almighty), but it’s those very things which create much of the humor and conflict in the novel. Because, really, what would the neighbors say?
Transforming the prophet into a gentle English vicar from a quaint yet prejudiced village and the prostitute into a feisty American from Texas in the late 19th century was inspired by The Magnificent Seven TV series and me being a huge fan of all things Jane Austen and BBC period drama. Think Mr. Darcy Goes West or The Magnificent Seven Ride to Candleford (you know you want to see that). From there, the characters took on lives and wardrobes of their own (because yes, I am obsessed with historical costume). I wrote the original story as a screenplay and wanted each half of the film to have its own distinct flavor, as if you start out watching a period drama then jump to a Western and then back to a period drama.
For example, I just assumed 19th century trains had private carriages which opened onto a hallway running the length of the car; thus originally Susanna and Hosea cross from car to car to reach their private berth. Subsequent research proved carriages only opened to the outside (no hallway) and train employees had to move from car to car from the outside. Grrr . . . so I had to rewrite that scene to take place entirely in the caboose.
I also assumed what Hosea’s preaching garb looked like, which was a black robe with white collar. Turns out, as an Anglican minister, he most likely wore a black cassock with a white surplice and a tippet. FYI, he does wear trousers beneath his cassock, so when he hitches it up to mount the horse, he doesn’t shock the ladies.
And then there’s terminology. “Bottom drawers,” not “trousseaus,” is what English ladies called their collection of items for marriage back then; “bed & breakfast” became “boarding house” and “bureau” became “dresser” because it turns out a bureau is not what I thought it was.
A lot of study went into the 19th century Anglican service, even down to specific Scripture readings on certain dates (which I ended up deleting, though if you want to know, the date of the last scene in the story is June 24th, 1877). Hosea recites from The Book of Common Prayer published in England; the wedding ceremony is read from the American version.
Black Creek was invented because the story originally took place in a real town in Texas, but it turned out the railroad didn’t pass through that town until after 1877 nor run in the direction I thought it did. There were other inconsistencies which made me relocate the story.
Late in the editing process, I realized I’d underestimated the extent of Hosea’s bullet wound and recovery time, which meant adding references to his soreness and mobility and changing the way he and Susanna waltzed.
What is Real/Not Real in
The Vicar Takes A Wife
West Eastleigh, Surrey: does not exist. Neither does St. Mary’s of West Eastleigh and its famous stained glass depiction of Bible prostitutes or Eastleigh Hall. And yes, I deliberately called the village West Eastleigh as a pun, only later realizing it also represents the vicar’s wife coming from the west side of the Pond and the vicar being from the east side of it.
Brewster’s Gentleman’s Club on St. James’ Street, London: the club’s not real; the street is.
Denison, Texas does exist and was a wild and woolly place in the late 19th century when it came to prostitutes and saloons. A newspaper printed there really did report on notorious activities of the town bawds, which I included in the book. A new courthouse was built in nearby Sherman just before the events of the novel (see Ch. 5).
Basin Street in New Orleans is a real street and was known for its brothels way back when, but there’s no such thing as the Bellevue Palace.
T ravel times across the ocean, across the U.S. by train, and from Surrey to London should be fairly accurate. The Brooklyn Bridge was still under construction and the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch really were on display in Madison Square Park in 1877. Supposedly husbands and wives didn’t dance with one another at balls (I don’t know why; that’s just what I read). The hymn Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling is sung to different tunes in the U.K. versus the U.S. There are two tunes it’s known for in the U.K.; I chose the one I believe was more popular in Hosea’s time (Hyfrydol–it’s pronounced huff-ruh-dol). And when Hosea reads his Bible by moonlight (Ch. 11), he really could, for on that night (June 23rd, 1877) the moon was two days shy of being full.
Natural form gowns were all the rage around 1877, except they really weren’t natural. Ladies wore a narrow hoop under these skirts to achieve the look (it’s this type of hoop referred to when Susanna plops down in a chair “heedless of her hoop and petticoats” (Ch. 9). Perhaps the term comes from its comparison to the bustle eras which preceded and followed it (early 1870s & 1880s) where bustles created unnaturally large posteriors. Check out festiveattyre.com for a look at what goes under a natural form gown as compared to the same gown without a hoop.
church door – Dawn Hudson
village church – Jon Lunty
stained glass – Junior Libby
saloon – Alban Lika
natural form gown art – historicalsewing.com
“<a href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Choirhabit.jpg#/media/File:Choirhabit.jpg”>Choirhabit</a>”. Licensed under <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5″ title=”Creative Commons Attribution 2.5″>CC BY 2.5</a> via <a href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/”>Wikimedia Commons</a>.
“Limerick lace” by Joedkins – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Limerick_lace.jpg#/media/File:Limerick_lace.jpg