Guest post: What sparked your fascination with the early 20th Century?
I was at Duke University studying literature and reading a lot of 19th-century British literature, which I love. I think it was one summer that I was assigned to help a film professor with her research—which had to do with early women filmmakers of the silent era. I was fascinated and amazed. I had no idea that so many women made films during the 1900s and 1910s, and that many formed their own production companies and managed theaters, and did all kinds of other work behind the camera. From then on, I was hooked. The more I learned about the 1910s the more I realized that it was an era very similar to ours but, at the same time, very different.
The clincher for me was when I first saw the films of the action-film heroines of the 1910s. Actresses like Pearl White, Helen Holmes, and Kathlyn Williams played characters who drove their own cars, battled villains, and brandished guns. They were independent, athletic and fearless, and as soon as I discovered them, I knew I wanted to put them into a story but didn’t know how. (I wrote an in-depth article about the forgotten silent-film heroines of the 1910s for TheAtlantic.com.)
As it turns out, Kitty Weeks, the heroine of A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR is inspired by Pearl White’s films; she wants to be like Pearl, but she’s a reporter, working for the Ladies Page of the New York Sentinel. Women didn’t yet have the vote in 1915, and although they worked outside the home in record numbers, their positions in many fields were circumscribed. So, in journalism for instance, Kitty can write for the Ladies Page (many newspapers had a page or section devoted specifically to female readers) but she isn’t allowed to write real news since women weren’t supposed to be able to go out at all hours or handle deadlines like the men.
This tension drew me to the 1910s. It’s a period during which America became modern– but wasn’t not modern yet. So much fiction is set during the Roaring 20s, or in the Gilded Age with its robber barons, but there’s not too much fiction out there about the period in between, and it’s this transition that I wanted to explore.
How did we go from of Victorian America to an essentially modern America? Many different aspects of culture, society and politics changed to make that possible. To me, that seemed like a great backdrop for a mystery series. And in each book of the Kitty Weeks Mystery series—A Front Page Affair is the first—Kitty will learn about those changes over the course of her investigations. If you want to know more about life in the 1910s—everything from cars, to books, movies, Europe’s royalty and more—please check out the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.
Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affair, comes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend her on Facebook.