Tulips, Auden, and Shakespeare

So why Time and Fevers? (The title, I mean. We don’t ask why I write books.) Unlike in the last volume, no one runs a fever in this one. The reference is to the “tulip fever” or tulip mania that seized Holland in the mid 1630s, driving the prices of certain prized tulips up to unreasonable levels. There’s a fair amount of controversy now among scholars as to how virulent this fever was in reality, which makes me glad I set George and Olivia’s jump in 1630 when it was all just a bit of a tulip sniffle, though really the timing had to do with… well, economics, since time travel companies have budgets (as well as avoidance strategies for losing jumpers to time breaches), and also with where I wanted to place certain characters. But even in 1630 the tulip they’re after, Semper Augustus, would have been staggeringly expensive for anyone who came across it. What my characters end up being charged is a significant part of what drives the plot.

The title is also a sotto voce reference to W.H. Auden’s poem sometimes called “Lullaby,” which begins:

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

(You can read the whole poem here.) It’s one of my favorites, and I think thematically appropriate to my work.

I’ve posted before about how each book in the series takes a certain literary form and dances around with it. Time for Tea had the eighteenth-century novel as its partner, and so it’s appropriate that Time and Fevers, which uses theatrical performance in its plot, should follow some of the steps and twirls of early seventeenth-century drama. There is a fair amount of Francis Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle quoted in the text, but the dramatic trickery (cross-dressing and all) is mostly Shakespearean, and George puts his memorization of Twelfth Night to good use.

There’s also a nice old-fashioned quest narrative that I had a lot of fun with, the one where the protagonists ask person A for item X and are promised it if they procure item Y, which they have to ask person B for, etc. It’s a process common to fairy tales, but for the real dance with that sort of story, you’ll have to wait for Volume Four, Not Time’s Fool.

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