Today I am so pleased to welcome Darrah Glass to Joyfully Jay. You may have seen my reviews for her Ganymede Quartet series and I was so crazy about them I asked her to stop on by and chat. Darrah has come to talk to us about the series and has brought along copies to give away! Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
The Ganymede Quartet series is set in an alternate history version of New York in 1900, and it’s recognizable as turn-of-the-century New York except that the richest families have households staffed with slaves instead of paid servants. The slaves fill the same roles as real-life servants—butler, footman, coachman, cook—but there are also companion slaves, personal slaves that the members of rich families acquire upon coming of age. This companion serves as valet, tutor, confidant and, yes, bed partner. This is a romantic fantasy, after all! The books tell the story of a relationship between a young master, Henry Blackwell, and his companion slave Martin.
The idea for the GQ series was sparked when I watched the first season of Downton Abbey several years ago. I was taken with the setting and costumes, of course, but I was particularly interested in the depiction of the servants. They’re shown as being very deferential to and almost worshipful of the Grantham family, and yet shockingly familiar with them. None of this seems likely to be true to any real-life experience of servitude, but it was intriguing nonetheless. In considering the behavior of the DA servants, the phrase “slavish devotion” came to mind, and it didn’t take much for me to go from thinking about “slavish” servants to thinking about actual slaves. Once I started thinking about slaves, I couldn’t stop. I became interested in the idea of a devoted slave who was proud of his pedigree and training and was eager to prove himself, with a lot of his self-worth tied up in the expression of servitude. I felt an interesting counterpart to such an enterprising slave would be a master who was not nearly so confident and who would be hesitant to make full use of the slave’s skill set.
As you can see, the premise went pretty far afield of Downtown Abbey right away!
I chose the year 1900 as the setting for a few reasons. I wanted to write a romance with slavery as a significant component in order to explore that dynamic, but I definitely wasn’t interested in writing a story about historical slavery in the US. I really don’t think there’s anything remotely romantic about historical slavery, so I hoped that setting the GQ series well outside that timeline would make it clear that this is an alternate universe, a fantasy with a different history. The depiction of slavery in the GQ books is not meant to represent historical slavery, nor is it meant to suggest that slavery is a benign thing. It’s storytelling scenario, nothing more.
To further separate the GQ story from historical slavery, slavery in this universe is not based on race. While there are black slaves in the series, there are also black masters. The two main characters in the GQ stories happen to be white. In the early years of European migration to North America, indentured servitude—a sort of temporary slavery—was extremely common, and most indentured servants were white. It was with these white European indentured servants in mind that I conceived of slaving Houses that would breed and train mostly white slaves for specific jobs.
The household slaves in the GQ books know no other life and have been conditioned from birth to accept their roles, and most of them do, to greater and lesser degrees. There are some unhappy slaves, but overall it’s not a story about slaves railing against their bonds. It’s definitely a fantasy.
I also liked 1900 for its combination of modernity and antiquity. Electricity, telephones and indoor plumbing were common, but refrigeration and central heating existed only in the houses of the very rich. Most people still drove horse-drawn carriages, but they shared the road with electric-powered commercial vehicles. There were no radios or record players, but the Brownie camera was making photography accessible to the masses, and people were being entertained by early versions of moving pictures. Psychiatry was bringing attention to sexuality—but the word homosexual was scarcely known outside medical and academic circles.
Attitudes toward sexuality in late-Victorian/Edwardian times were, of course, different than modern views. Many authorities believed that masturbation was detrimental to people’s health. It was believed it would turn people away from appropriate procreative partners in favor of wallowing in self-pleasure. There were varied opinions as to what should be done about it. Sex with a partner, even a socially-inappropriate partner such as a prostitute, was seen by some as preferable to any solitary pursuit. The young masters in the GQ books are given companion slaves to serve a wide variety of more respectable functions, but of course the one the young men focus on, at least initially, is that of sexual release valve. Henry’s friends are not all gay by any means, but they’re young and horny, and it’s socially acceptable to behave in this way with a slave provided you’re not doing anything romantic. Romance with another boy is queer; strictly proscribed sex with a companion is healthy.
I had a lot of fun building this world, and wanted everything that wasn’t slavery in the 20th century to be as much like the real New York of 1900 as possible, to make it immersive and believable, and hopefully I have been successful!
Darrah Glass is a writer and generally inquisitive person who likes her fantasies to be as historically accurate as possible. She loves research, sex scenes, and researching sex scenes. She’s married and happily childless, does yoga, never cleans her house, likes shoes and toenail polish, and is vain about her hair. As far as her priorities are concerned, she’d rather write than do just about anything else, and she drives a 15-year-old car but carries really nice purses.
Darrah has brought a copy of either A Most Personal Property or A Proper Lover to give away to THREE lucky readers! Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Friday, January 30th at 11:59 pm EST.
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