My Favorite Bit: Sarah Smith talks about WHITEHALL: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Sarah Smith is joining us today to talk about Whitehall: Complete First Season. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Whitehall is set in the 17th century court of King Charles II and focuses on his queen, Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Her journey to find her place as the foreign wife in a court riddled with political and religious intrigue – not to mention the many mistresses of Charles the “Merry Monarch” – is a tale of perseverance only a true queen could endure. Love mingles with betrayal before a sensual renaissance of art, culture, and sex in this lush historical serial.
What’s Sarah’s favorite bit?
Years ago, in a fit of giggling, Ellen Kushner (she of Tremontaine) and I made up a genre. In Big House Romance the love interest isn’t a hero; it’s a house. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” “Maria…lived in an enormous house in the wilds of Northamptonshire, which was about four times longer than Buckingham Palace, but was falling down.” From Beauty amazed by the Beast’s library, to Hogwarts, to the snow falling on the conjoined maze of houses that is Riverside, the Big House is a world, peopled by its own denizens, rich with its own possibilities.
Whitehall is the Biggest House of all.
It really existed. It was the largest building in Europe, possibly the largest building that has ever existed in Europe. It covered the whole of London between Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament. Whitehall was larger than Versailles, larger than the Vatican. If you discovered a new room in Whitehall every day, it would have taken you five years to find them all; Whitehall had somewhere between 1500 and 2000 rooms.
The government was centered there; the Queen and King (and the King’s mistresses) lived there, and so did most of the rest of the nobility, in tiny apartments viciously fought over. It was as changeable as a fairy castle, rooms created and torn down, mutating purpose and ownership according to the latest dictates of favoritism and need. Policy and wars were made at Whitehall; the future of England was plotted in its twisting corridors; fashion came from Whitehall too, and no actor, or especially actress, flourished unless they succeeded in Whitehall’s eyes.
Here it is. One building, a huge maze built higgledy-piggledy over half a thousand years, spreading over acres and acres: ancient stone married to new white granite, wrought iron springing from old wood, and brick filling in everything. A small town on the outside; a Fabergé Easter egg inside, glittering with fabulous paintings, jewels, gold, and statues. Gardens, a tiltyard, a cock-fighting pit, a laundry, the Queen’s aviary …
And the most delicious part of Whitehall? Just when Charles and his Queen Cat were living there, somebody described the whole thing. Drew a plan of it, wrote down where everybody lived, what the rooms looked like, even what some of them smelled like. “In the Guard Chamber [let] there be noe Tobacco taken in Smoake, … no ill Savour of Beere … in the Morninge [let] the Dores and Windowes be sett open, and something burnt in the room to take away the Scent of ye Watch of ye Night”–you can smell the wet wool, the fusty air, the farts and dog breath and illicit tobacco and beer.
Read the descriptions of Whitehall, look at the pictures, and here’s a world. We know these people through their rooms. A driven ex-soldier king making a country out of glitter and theater; his grasping mistresses trying to get what they can, his politicians trying to control him; the shy foreign queen who, perhaps alone of all of them, loves him. There is no mercy in crowded Whitehall: King Charles’s Catherine and his demanding mistress have apartments just around the corner from each other, so Catherine has to avert her eyes not to see Barbara, has to stop her ears not to hear her rival’s laughter. King Charles’s council chamber has been taken over for someone’s apartments, so he has taken over Cat’s audience chamber; while Catherine lies near death from a fever, his Privy Council is deciding her future almost outside her bedroom door. The King and his awkward Queen have separate apartments, but Jenny discovers the secret passage between Catherine’s bedchamber and Charles’s rooms, the expression of their secret love. When Clarendon pleads with Charles to betray Catherine and his country, they choose the Matted Corridor, where steps are muffled and statues provide hiding places to whisper secrets.
Even religion has its rooms in Whitehall. The Chapel Royal is just by the Great Hall, Whitehall’s theater; churchmen and actors put on their robes in the same rooms. Catherine’s private oratory, like her religion, is a far more hidden space.
Such a gift! Such a place to live, and such people in it! Jenny the maid sees it: “all Whitehall, the grand gilded places and the famous people, the suitors crowding the presence chamber and the eating hall, the pages like Edmund who wanted to be knights—precious little use, any of them—and, skittering like mice, the servants, hordes of servants, Meg and Tamsin, Mavis and herself, bearing pails and mops and linen, dishes and food and clothes. Making everything run. Without us there would be nothing.” Catherine sees “Whitehall of schemes, Whitehall of enemies, Whitehall of lies.” Charles sees Whitehall as a place of fools and whores, but illuminated by love and unexpected honesty.
It’s the biggest house of all, and I love it.
Welcome to Whitehall.
Originally presented in 13 episodes by Serial Box, the Whitehall: Complete First Season has been gathered together and is available at your favorite eBook retailer. Whitehall was team written by Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Barbara Samuel, Sarah Smith, Madeleine Robins, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Learn more at SerialBox.com.
Sarah Smith is one of the writers of WHITEHALL, the Restoration drama about one man, two women, and a palace, now available as a complete first season at www.SerialBox.com. Sarah is sarahwriter on Facebook and Twitter; read all about her books at www.sarahsmith.com.