the cutting room floor

As I’ve discussed before, history isn’t tidy. I made some strategic cuts to the story at the outset, mostly for my sanity. Now I’m cutting even more as they don’t add to the story I’m trying to tell, which is a damn shame as Dee and Kelley generated So. Much. Weird. that begs exploration. Just not by me:

Dee and Kelley’s possible ties to Shakespeare – interesting if true, but not relevant to my story

Nuances of alchemical process and symbolism – you’ll get your furnaces and flasks but not painstaking detail because I’m not a chemist.

Dee and Kelley’s sojourn in Poland courting the patronage of Stephen Bathory (yes, cousin of that Bathory). It’s not the story I’m telling and someone already has anyway.*

A series of incidents in which Kelley apparently conjures demons and poltergeists outside of his actions with Dee – and this breaks my heart because I so, so want to play with what was going on here! I found this delicious story in the footnotes of part 9 of I.R.F. Calder’s thesis but it’s so divided from the rest of the spiritual actions that I can’t justify including it.**

The possibility that Jane Dee was from a recusant family. I could only find one reference (since removed), and there’s more narrative tension if Jane is solidly Protestant in Catholic Bohemia.

And there’s probably more. What are you cutting, and why?

animated gif of little girl and men in suits sawing/drilling away on a piano
Hacking away. Courtesy gfycat.

*Looking forward to reading this after I finish the WIP.
**Actually, I might do a short story based on this.

you’ll never walk alone (even when you need to): servants in Elizabethan households

I don’t think I’d have lasted 24 hours in the Dee household without tearing my hair out.

Paging through his personal and spiritual diaries I catch glimpses of people who, while colorful, I’d never want to meet: Dee’s cranky alchemical apprentice; two maids who accidentally set fire to their room twice in one year; the manservant he fired for getting drunk and cursing out the rest of the staff. That’s just a sampling and while there’s no full list it seems Dee had at least nine servants and probably more during my 1583-9 time frame.

The Dees weren’t unusual. Almost everyone of middling rank or higher had live-in staff. If you didn’t have servants you’d likely be one because up to a quarter of the population was in service. And even if everyone was nice as pie there was never, ever a break from their company. Servants worked in all parts of the house and some slept on their masters’ bedchamber floors (dedicated servants’ dormitories were rare). Houses were often designed with linked rooms so even if your maid or man had a private bedchamber they probably passed through yours to get there. Decorative elements like wooden screens and bed curtains compensated for this lack of privacy, but only just.

Great Bed of Ware
The Great Bed of Ware from the V&A website. A representative Elizabethan bedstead in all but size.

More on the Great Bed of Ware with photos and videos of assembly.

In short it was damn near impossible to be truly alone*, a fact that makes my inner introvert blanch while my writer’s mind reels at the potential mayhem.

Pro: lovely opportunities to endanger my characters! Dee and Kelley were into so many questionable things that any sudden walk-ins could easily create panic and rumors of Dee’s “conjuring” that Jane would struggle to explain away. Hours of amusement!

Con: a massive narrative hurdle. I’ve got to get the servants out of the house for their infamous “crossmatching” incident, which the Dees and Kelleys swore to keep secret on pain of death. Dee’s spiritual diary offers no details beyond a terse “pactu factu” (pact fulfilled) so I have free rein, but how do I empty the house believably? Send everyone to a market fair (if there was one)? Hide in an unused wing (ditto)? Bribe everybody (though they’re poor)?

I’m almost done with the first draft (!) and am still unraveling this snarly plot knot.

*Even more so if you take children and visitors into account.

Selected Sources:

Cooper, Nicholas. Houses of the Gentry 1480-1680. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999.

Dee, John (author), Stephen Skinner (editor), and Meric Casaubon (Preface). Dr John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries (1583-1608): Being a reset and corrected edition of a True & Faithful Relation of what Passed for many Yeers between Dr John Dee…and Some Spirits.
 Woodbury MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2012.

Orlin, Lena Cowen. Elizabethan Households: An Anthology. Washington DC: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1996.