I asked Renee about her story...
What inspired this novel?
My great-grandmother was one of the first graduates of medical school in Holland. I thought about what challenges she would have faced, and how many of those challenges still resonate today. The heroine in To Charm a Bluestocking wants to be a doctor, but medical training in England is not open to female students. She is forced to travel to Europe, where attitudes were less strict. There she meets two friends and they have a series of adventures.
In the course of writing our books, there is always a fascinating piece of research that we stumble on. What stands out for you?
Amsterdam in the 1880s was a hot bed of social change. The university opened its doors to a wider patronage, and included women in its intake. Not many women were educated beyond primary level, and only those whose parents could afford private tuition were able to attend university. The first female doctor graduated in 1875, and only twenty graduated prior to 1910.
In July 1886, the poor neighbourhood of Jordaan saw the Eel Revolt occur. Eel pulling, a form of entertainment that ranks up there with bull fighting, had been forbidden by the authorities. An eel would be tied to a rope, then suspended across a canal. Contestants would boat underneath and try to pull the eel free, often falling into the canal to the amusement of onlookers. Organisers in 1886 went ahead with the contest, and police moved it to disperse the crowd. It soon turned ugly, and after two days of sword fighting between police and eel pullers, 26 people were dead and 136 wounded. Legend says that the eel involved was kept and sold at auction in 1913. Only a year later, the Orange Riots of 1887 occurred when socialist groups faced off with the police. I placed my characters into the Orange Riots. Similarly in England, there was the London Matchgirls Strike of 1888.
About TO CHARM A BLUESTOCKING
1887: Too tall, too shy and too bookish for England, Lady Josephine moves to Holland to become one of the world’s first female doctors. With only one semester left, she has all but completed her studies when a power-hungry professor, intent on marrying her for her political connections, threatens to prevent her graduation. Together with the other Bluestockings, female comrades-in-study, she comes up with a daring, if somewhat unorthodox plan: acquire a fake fiancé to provide the protection and serenity she needs to pass her final exams.
But when her father sends her Lord Nicholas St. George, he is too much of everything: too handsome, too charming, too tall and too broad and too distracting for Josephine’s peace of mind. She needed someone to keep her professor at bay, not keep her from her work with temptations of long walks, laughing, and languorous kisses.
Just as it seems that Josephine might be able to have it all: a career as a pioneering female doctor and a true love match, everything falls apart and Josephine will find herself in danger of becoming a casualty in the battle between ambition and love.
Read an excerpt...
Socialists Riot in the Streets
A massive demonstration turned ugly when socialists and Orangists, loyal to King William III, clashed yesterday alongside the Port of Amsterdam. The two groups rioted, ending in a standoff outside the socialist pub, Ship and Anchor, which was raised to the ground by revengeful Orangists. Among the great scenes of chaos, several Orangists were injured by the mob and four socialists were killed as they tried to defend the Ship and Anchor. The publican at the Ship and Anchor was counted among the dead.
The King’s military was dispatched to deal with the rioting mob, but it was several hours before the situation was diffused. The Ship and Anchor has been completely destroyed, while many other shop fronts have been smashed and vandalised.
Photos of the eel riot here: http://dawlishchronicles.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/blood-in-streets-amsterdam-1886.html
And here: http://www.24oranges.nl/2016/09/11/the-eel-riots-of-1886-ended-with-26-people-and-1-eel-dead/