Who Knew?

I recently visited the MOST (Milton J Rubinstein Museum of Science and Technology) in Syracuse, NY, where there was an exhibit on the history of human flight. It began with some information on early ballooning, interesting though familiar since I’ve read a lot of books on the subject. But there was also a section devoted to Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) who invented what was said to be the first glider in 1804.

Sir George Cayley has been called the Father of Aviation. He was the first to identify the four forces that influence flight: weight, lift, drag and thrust and designed (though never built, of course) the first airplane. The picture here is of his 1804 glider. He continued to work with gliders, designing a biplane with “flappers”, which was flown in 1849 and the first manned glider, which was flown in 1853. There’s a story that the pilot was Cayley’s coachman, and that afterwards he said, “Please, Sir George, I wish to give notice, I was hired to drive and not to fly.”

This all made me think of Laura Kinsale’s MIDSUMMER MOON, in which the heroine invents a manned glider. I can’t locate my copy (I think I loaned it to a friend) and I can’t remember if there was an author’s note. In any case, what I learned at the MOST confirms that the heroine’s invention was not out of line with what real inventors were working on during the general time period.

I love when things like this are used in books, such as the blood transfusion in Mary Jo Putney’s SHATTERED RAINBOWS (which does have a useful historical note). IMHO it’s important that the cool bit of research support the overall story, which in both these cases it does.

Have you learned anything new or unusual recently through reading historical fiction? Through visiting a museum or exhibit? Any interesting bits of research you’d like to see used in fiction?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
This entry was posted in Jane Austen and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Of course my mind goes blank about any interesting research, Elena. I loved your example of Mary Jo’s Shattered Rainbows. I loved that book and appreciated the historical note. It’s a good example of how a historical note keeps us from saying “Naw, that would never happen.”

11 years ago

I’ll admit I never thought about the history of the “condom” until I ran across it in a historical romance and thought – that can’t be right they weren’t invented yet so of course I had to look it up and ended up learning the history of the condom…lol

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Maria, sometimes people just write scathing letters or reviews when they think they’ve detected an anachronism. Very wise of you to check. As an author, I appreciate that sort of thing!

11 years ago

It wasn’t recent, but I was surprised when I read Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake, and she talked about the problems of alcoholism, then sited an actual written work on the subject by a doctor.

11 years ago

Today I finished THE BARON by Juliana Garnett. She has lots of wonderful details about medieval life. It is set in Nottingham and Sherwood Forest. I didn’t realize how short a period Richard reigned before he was killed. John was worse as a king than he was as a prince. I did not realize that he argued with Rome and caused England to be under interdict. I had not realized that his barons refused to respond to his call to arms and he had to turn back from a planned assault on France. The author notes were most interesting. There was some interesting information on Robin Hood, and her visits to the area.