Friday, March 12, 2010

Author guest post - Y.S. Lee, author of A Spy in the House

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

From Y.S. Lee:

Hello! It’s such a pleasure to be back at Rebecca’s Book Blog with the 7th of 8 guest posts I’m making as part of the T2T blog tour. As an ex-professor and writer of historical fiction, my theme is Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Victorians. Yesterday, I talked about the Great Stink of 1858 at the Story Siren. Today’s topic is Victorians and Opium.
What do you think of when you hear the word “opium”? Hookahs? Poppies? Maybe, if you’re an English major, you think of Thomas DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Today, I’m here to suggest that you may also want to think about terribly respectable Victorian ladies with their corsets tightly laced and a dose of laudanum to hand. It’s the same thing, in lots of ways.
Let me explain. Opium has a long history of both medical and, shall we say, recreational use. But it was a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of substance in Victorian England because “opium” still had very un-English connotations. Opium suggested the Far East, opium wars in China, foreign men smoking hookahs. It was also used in bohemian circles – for example by DeQuincey, mentioned above – and amongst other arty types. All in all, it’s about as far from solid, mainstream family fare as you can get.
Laudanum, however, was a liquid tincture of opium widely prescribed by doctors for pains, for anxiety, as a sleeping aid, and other general ailments for which a little light sedative might be helpful. It was unregulated in Victorian England. It was a major ingredient in lots of over-the-counter medicines, and few households were without their little bottle of laudanum. It forms a major plot point in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, where it’s used to treat both insomnia and chronic pain (with very different results). It was also used as a medicine to soothe fussy or teething babies. In her novel Mary Barton, Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell notes it was used to dull hunger pangs in the starving babies of the urban poor. In her words, “It was mother’s mercy”.One drug, two faces. It’s an electrifying symbol of Victorian society – and in many ways, of ours, too. We can afford to feel smug and superior about opium. But I’m always haunted by a vision of anthropologists, a hundred years in the future, looking back at us. What do you think they’ll see?

If you think A Spy in the House sounds interesting, be sure to check out the following links!

Enter to win a copy of the book at Y.S. Lee's website:

Visit the other blog stops from the A Spy in the House Traveling to Teens tour:


MissA said...

A drug to dull hunger pains that would result in the dulling of the senses and addiction. I hope that today mothers esepcially don't have to use a drug with two faces. My hope is that society is so modern now and new things are constantly being discovered that side effects and other warnings wil help people make decisions about taking drugs that are supposed to help.

Hooray to Britain for bringing Opium to China. Not.

Anonymous said...

How many people know cocaine was used in the Coca Cola formula from about 1880 to 1902? Opium itself may have had a bad association with Opium dens and undesirables, but its derivatives were readily available and widely used. No regulation and no real understanding of the true dangers of overuse and addiction.

Sad to say we seem not to have learned much. Our society today is way over-medicated. I am amazed at the heavy duty drugs doctors will give patients when they are not really necessary. My husband had minor surgery and was sent home with 60 oxycodone when Tylenol was sufficient. He never took any of it. There are people we know who are on a dozen different heavy duty medications. That can not be healthy. How many of their problems are caused by the medications and interactions of medications people are taking?

Hope the release of THE AGENCY is going well.

Jodie said...

Ah laudanum the family friendly drug :) Maybe it's just me, but I;m seeing an increase in historical fiction where laudanum is shown for the dangerous substance it really was, like The Journals of Dora Damage and Sleep Pale Sister, as oppossed to fiction where people are just swiging back opium with no ill effects. I recently learnt about the awful joint swelling it caused, sounds terrible.

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