Rhys Bowen: When I read the first book in D.E Ireland's series featuring Eliza Doolittle as a sleuth I thought what a brilliant idea it was (and also why didn't I think of it first!) These books are such fun and I'm looking forward to reading GET ME TO THE GRAVE ON TIME that debuts this month. And I'm happy to have the two ladies who write under the joint pseudonym come to visit on Jungle Red today. Take it away ladies:
With the third book in our Eliza Doolittle/Henry Higgins series debuting this November, we thought it both fitting and gracious that Jungle Reds has invited us to visit for a third time. The series’ latest installment, Get Me To The Grave On Time is an Edwardian version of Four Weddings And A Funeral. Naturally, brides – and murder – take center stage. While our heroine Eliza is not saying “I do” anytime soon, she does find herself a bridesmaid or a guest at all the nuptials. However, given the events that transpire in the first three books, Eliza is not quite the young woman she was at the beginning. Nor should she be. We’d like to examine how everyone’s favorite Cockney flower girl can transcend not only her circumstances, but her creator’s original intentions.
Hold up a kaleidoscope, look through the eyepiece, and marvel at the delightful array of colors. Now imagine that colorful mosaic as a character in a book – and twist the kaleidoscope again. The colors fall into a different pattern, one just as lovely and intricate. A literary character can also change with only a few twists of the writing kaleidoscope. When that character is one of the main protagonists in a series, the author has to be careful not to rearrange the pieces too much, or else the original character might become unrecognizable. As co-authors of the Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mystery series, we decided early on that the kaleidoscope known as Eliza Doolittle would include more colors and surprises than her creator George Bernard Shaw ever dreamed of.
When we first had the idea of using Shaw’s characters, we were aware that much of the initial hard work was done for us. Shaw had already created Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, the stars of his play Pygmalion and the popular musical it inspired, My Fair Lady. And he also gave us the remarkable transformation of his main character Eliza Doolittle. Due to Professor Higgins’s desire to win a wager he made with his friend Colonel Pickering, and Eliza’s equally fierce determination to better herself, this “guttersnipe” flower girl is turned into an elegant lady by the end of the play.
According to Shaw’s essay on the subject, he never intended Eliza and Higgins to become a romantic couple. Instead, Shaw envisioned Eliza marrying the hapless Freddy Eynsford Hill; the young couple go on to open a flower shop, but their lack of business sense land them in financial trouble, requiring the kind assistance of Colonel Pickering. We thought this seemed a banal future for the resourceful and unstoppable Eliza Doolittle. So we twisted the kaleidoscope.
At the end of Pygmalion, Eliza – the ‘ideal woman’ in Shaw’s view – announces that she wants her independence. Well, we gave it to her. In Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, the first book in our series, Eliza has gone off to teach phonetics with Emil Nepommuck, one of Higgins’s biggest scholarly rivals. When the Hungarian is murdered, Higgins finds himself the prime suspect, leaving Eliza to track down his killer and save the Professor from prison. At the end of the book, Eliza is truly on an equal footing with the irascible, stubborn, and demanding Henry Higgins.
We twisted the kaleidoscope once more in Move Your Blooming Corpse, when we brought Eliza back to 27-A Wimpole Street. This time, she takes up residence as a fellow phonetics instructor, not a student. Given the political climate of 1913, we also created a female character devoted to the suffrage movement. Through her, Eliza becomes involved with the suffragettes and deepens her understanding of the larger world. While her teaching fees have given Eliza more financial security than she’s ever known, we wanted to widen her prospects even more. Time for another change in the kaleidoscope pattern.
The obvious choice would have been to introduce her to an aristocratic young man; wedding bells would follow, allowing Eliza to become a lady indeed, titled and privileged. But that seemed too Edwardian, and 1913 is on the cusp of the modern era. So we used Book Two to involve Eliza in the horse racing world, beginning the fun at Royal Ascot. When Eliza winds up as part owner of a winning racehorse, she is at last financially independent. A far cry from Shaw’s vision of her as a penurious shop owner with a boyish husband who lacks ambition and ability.
We have no plans to stop changing the patterns of her character. In our most recent book, Get Me To The Grave On Time, Eliza will find herself not only caught up in murder, but in the fun and furor of four weddings. Inspired by all the bridal couples, her suitor Freddy becomes increasingly ardent. But Eliza realizes that she is far too young to settle down, despite the cultural norm at the time. For now, our Eliza wants nothing more than to enjoy her new life, which includes politics, teaching, romance, and spending her money on lots of fashionable clothes. She is, after all, only twenty years old.
In many ways, Eliza represents the new century: brash, energetic, bold and pioneering. Like the 20th century, such a character deserves an ever changing pattern of colors and complexity. And we have no intention of putting down the kaleidoscope.
D.E. Ireland is the pseudonym of long time friends and award-winning authors, Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta. In 2013 they decided to collaborate on a unique series based on George Bernard Shaw’s witty play Pygmalion, which inspired the musical My Fair Lady. At work on Book Four of their Agatha nominated series, they also pursue separate writing careers. Currently both of them write cozy mysteries for Kensington under their respective new pen names: Sharon Farrow and Meg Macy. Sharon’s Berry Basket series debuted in October 2016, and Meg’s Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear series will be released in May 2017. The two Michigan authors have patient husbands, brilliant daughters, and share a love of tea, books, and history. Follow D.E. Ireland on Facebook, Twitter, and www.deireland.com
RHYS- Did you know that Shaw's original play had Eliza marrying Freddie? What was he thinking!
Now I'm wondering if Eliza and Henry will ever be a romantic couple. Do you think that would even be possible, given his impossible nature?