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By Laura Moncur in The Dowager Moncur's Spectacles

Antiques in Pendleton, Oregon by LauraMoncur from FlickrThe story of the Dowager Moncur and her spectacles was born in the town of Pendleton, Oregon. Last August, on our drive home from Mount Hood, Mike and I dawdled. Between Mount Hood and Baker City, we took a walking tour of Pendleton. We were too late for a cookie at The Cookie Tree, but we were able to visit all the antique shops. Right before we headed to our hotel in Baker City, we walked past a store promising homemade fudge. Mike and I looked at each other and entered the store without a word.

Instead of chocolatey goodness, we found the store that time forgot.

The inventory of the store looked as if it had been purchased in 1986. The lip gloss, bumper stickers and plastic toys were all from my teenage years. It was like walking into my past and I had been given a second chance to buy all the crap that I couldn’t buy when I was a kid. Even the fudge looked as if it were handmade in 1986 and I swear I saw a layer of dust on it.

I passed by the fudge and the English Beat bumper stickers, but I couldn’t say no to the granny glasses with multi-colored lenses: yellow, black, and blue. I bought them all without even knowing what they would cost me. The entire rack of sunglasses was unmarked, but I snatched them up, intent on buying them irregardless of the price.

“What are you going to do with that many sunglasses?” Mike asked me. I had no idea. All I knew is that I hadn’t seen sunglasses like this since 1986 and this time I wasn’t going to let them get away. They sat in a pink bag on the floor of the Sunridge Inn and I contemplated them. “Maybe I’ll use them for my Halloween costume. Maybe they’re magic sunglasses.”

That night, I sat down at the tiny table in that Best Western hotel in Baker City, Oregon and wrote the first three entries of The Dowager Moncur’s Spectacles.

What Is Truth?

Moncur Castle DOES exist. It sits in ruin and disrepair in Inchture, Scotland to this day. You can’t see it from the road, but a walk through a cow pasture will lead you to the stones that outline what is left of the once great Moncur Castle. I’ve never been there, but Michael’s parents, Gary and Susan, visited Scotland and walked within its walls (with permission of the current owners, of course). The photograph in the story is an edited version of one that Gary took during their visit. You can see the original here: Moncur Castle by GLM303 on Flickr

Dowager Moncur's Spectacles by LauraMoncur from FlickrBerenice is a little known story by Edgar Allan Poe. The hero of the story, Egaeus, is an obsessive who falls in love with his cousin and her teeth. After her death, he becomes so obsessed with her teeth that he digs up her grave to retrieve them. The fact that he found her alive in her grave was not nearly as important to him as the retrieval of the “thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances” that he pulled from her mouth. I added Isabella’s reading of this story for several reasons. I wanted to let the audience know that the dowager had access to American Literature that she shouldn’t have known about and I also wanted to allude to being buried alive since it was one of the dowager’s options with the black-lensed glasses. Plus, it’s kind of creepy to have an old lady ask Isabella to read a Poe story within minutes of meeting her. You can read Berenice here: Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe – The Literature Page

American Notes is an account of Charles Dickens’ visit to the United States. Laura Bridgman is a real woman who was blind and deaf and learned to communicate. Dickens’ account of her is what gave Helen Keller’s family hope for their little girl. I had Isabella read this to the dowager to allude to the fact that the dowager is planning a visit to the states, one way or another. You can read American Notes here: American Notes by Charles Dickens

What Is Fiction?

I have no idea if there was ever a Lord Moncur or if he was gay. I fashioned that character on the brilliant Oscar Wilde, except Lord Moncur was strong enough not to allow himself to be lured into a marriage of convenience.

Additionally, Dowager Moncur and her inventive Lord Moncur are also entirely fictitious. I wanted to create a couple with a love for each other that matched their love for invention. The Dowager loved her Lord Moncur so much that she never remarried. No man ever lived up to the greatness of her husband. She also loved his devotion to invention and by taking care of the estate in his absence, she gave him the opportunity to be a better inventor than he could have been had she not loved his passion as much as he did.

Jane Fairfax by LauraMoncur from FlickrIsabella Davenforth was based on Jane Austen’s character, Jane Fairfax from the novel Emma. Had Miss Fairfax never met Frank Churchill, she would have been relegated to the life of governess. I wanted to give that character the life of adventure that Jane Austen denied her. You can read Emma here: Emma by Jane Austen – The Literature Page

I love all these characters so much that I’m tempted to write a sequel with Lady Dowager’s adventures in America. We’ll have to see if I am able to wring another story out of them or not.