As promised, I have some wonderful authors who will be at the Olde City New Blood con visiting the blog this week! For more information about the con, please visit my post HERE.
Please welcome my guest today:
(Click cover to go to Goodreads)
Click HERE for a full listing of Cooper's books.
(Click title to go to Amazon)
Tarnished (The St. Croix Chronicles #1)
Gilded (The St. Croix Chronicles #2)
Karina's leading lady, Cherry St. Croix, has an addiction to opium in The St. Croix Chronicles series. I love heroines with...er...issues...and I asked Karina to tell us what its like to write a character with an addiction and make her still likable.
Heroine With A Heart of…Opium?
Opium is often portrayed as the stuff of dreams. A smoke inhaled through an elegant hookah, much like Alice in Wonderland’s smoking caterpillar. Who are you? An existential question the likes of which only the delicate tendrils of opium might uncover.
What most don’t know is that opium is the pre-cursor to that life-destroying, dangerous substance that frightens us today—heroine.
Opium cultivation hasn’t changed in thousands of years. That’s right, thousands. Evidence of poppy harvesting has existed since at least the Neolithic Age, which kind of gives the whole thing a respectable, historical air, doesn’t it? Opium relieves pain, a fact that made its use widespread across a multitude of cultures—Egyptian, Sumerian, the Arabic Empires, Greek and Roman, Persian, and so on.
While most would think of China as the home for all opium traders, this wasn’t actually the case. Using the drug for fun didn’t start in China until the 15th century, and was rather fiscally prohibitive for a majority of the population. It was just too expensive to produce. By the 17th century, though, they knocked out most of those obstacles, and trading it became more common. Even though China levied an opium ban across its provinces, opium use skyrocketed—much like the United State’s own Prohibition of alcohol.
England, concerned by the fact that China’s debt was in the black and was—good for China, bad for Britain—causing England’s silver stock to decline in value, had more than a little hand in China’s soaring opium abuse. They smuggled it in through colonial India’s ports, which led to China’s Emperor confiscating shipments—which, in turn, led to two Opium Wars, where Britain suppressed China and traded opium all over the world. By 1905, fully 25% of China’s male population was addicted.
Which brings us to England.
Opium in Victorian Culture
There was, from the late 1700s to early 1800s, a little trick used by nannies, governesses, and orphanage nurses too overwhelmed by (or lacking in temper to deal with) children. Different measurements have been given different names—Godfrey’s Cordial is the one Cherry references in the St. Croix Chronicles, while others would be called Dalby’s Carminitive, Mother’s Helper, Infant’s Quietness, and so on. It was given, often without any doctor’s advice, to children who were too fretful or suffering from colic, to those suffering from severe dehydration, to just about any child for any reason.
The “trick”, as it were, was opium. Often mixed in a ratio of one grain to two ounces of treacle—a sugar syrup—and generally addictive. Common knowledge has it that parents who worked during the Industrial revolution could not afford to lose any sleep, so had no issues drugging their children to sleep through the night. Infant death to opium was common, addiction by children was even more common, and it’s really a wonder that anyone survived to tell about it, isn’t it?
This practice died down by the late 1800s, but was still—as is often the case in many home remedies—utilized by pockets of traditionalists across Britain.
Laudanum was another such “trick”—a remedy given for everything from hysteria to fits to acute pain. This mixture, an “adult” version of the Cordial, was often opium mixed with alcohol. This was the go-to medicine of the period, and heavily prescribed by physicians even after the Cordial craze died down.
Which brings us, roundabout fashion, to Cherry.
Cherry St. Croix
The first question anyone asked me was, “Can you make a drug addict likable?”
When popular media presents drug addiction, they always go one of two ways: the toothless, despicable creature who will do anything and everything possible for that next hit, or the recreational user who isn’t addicted so much as simply in it for the laughs and good times. Only rarely does it take it into a middle ground, that point where addiction is addiction but the user is functional.
It’s a term we associate more common with alcoholism: functional alcoholic, we say, to indicate that one is an addictive drinker, but who can still function normally in the world. Or normally enough that few might suspect.
The long-running hit show House explored this with its cantankerous protagonist. Dr. Gregory House. Churlish, vindictive, smug, and, of course, addicted to vicodin, Dr. House held his audience—and his medical team—by the throat for most of the series’ run. But was he likable?
Cherry was given Godfrey’s Cordial as a child. Given what we know of Cherry’s behaviors today, it’s quite easy to imagine her as a rambunctious toddler, right? She probably got more than her fair share of the usual dosages, knowing her. As she has explained, she was nine years old when she picked her first pocket as a member of Monsieur Marceaux’s Traveling Show, and the monsieur was no stranger to the opium and treacle.
When the children grew too old—or the treacle too costly—opium direct would do. A fine “reward” for his little working souls.
Is it any wonder that she was addicted by the time her guardian’s barristers located her? She makes references to this, though she herself has not used the word “addiction” just yet. Instead, she admits that she “suffered terribly” upon arriving to her new home. She experienced “night terrors” and indicates a paranoia that she attributed to her raising as a pick pocket and a thief. Laudanum, prescribed by the physicians, would allow her to sleep—which, of course, made her more adaptable to her new situation.
You and I, we know better. The signs of addiction can be so easily explained away, yes? Laudanum, with its dosage of opium, eased withdrawal, even allowed the strong-willed Cherry to shape her addiction into something much more manageable.
This, in part, is what helps Cherry be a likable heroine—likable even as she displays all of those “classically unintelligent” signs of a woman in denial. Who likes to admit they have a problem? What functional abuser would be likely to admit that they are, in fact, abusing a drug? A drink?
Those that are well and truly hooked live in constant fear. Fear of where they are going. Fear of what will happen if they speak up. Fear of admitting, even to one’s self, that they are less of what they should be, weak, powerless. Fear, most especially, of losing that thing they can not live without.
Cherry is a functional addict, a woman addicted to opium and unwilling to admit weakness before her extremely judgmental peers. Yet the irony of this is that she will display every other weakness she may possess, all to avoid admitting to the one.
Is she likable?
For many, it seems so. She has dreams of freedom in an extremely structured world, seeks her own path. She can be funny, and she can be passionate, and she can be very dogged in her pursuit of what she sees as justice.
But she is flawed, and for some, those flaws are insurmountable.
She lies, and she can be childish. She makes poor decisions—ultimately fueled by her conflicting needs: opium and freedom. Cherry has been known to string others along for what she can get out of them, but is that the woman or the addiction? Is there, in the long run, a difference?
Millions of viewers tuned in to watch Dr. Gregory House treat people terribly. Is there, then, a fascination for the addict, or was it more about Hugh Laurie than the substance depicted? If you enjoy Cherry’s exploits, is it because of or despite her addiction?
Do you want to see her overcome?
Withdrawal is not a pretty picture, but difficult and dangerous and, yes, messy. Would you wish that on anyone? On Cherry? Or is her ongoing addiction one of those things that keeps you reading?
If you lived in Victorian London, would you reach for the laudanum?
About the Author:
After writing happily ever afters for all of her friends in school, Karina Cooper eventually grew up (sort of), went to work in the real world (kind of), where she decided that making stuff up was way more fun (true!). She is the author of dark and sexy paranormal romance, steampunk urban fantasy, and writes across multiple genres with mad glee. One part glamour, one part dork and all imagination, Karina is also a gamer, an airship captain’s wife, and a steampunk fashionista. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with a husband, a menagerie, a severe coffee habit, and a passel of adopted gamer geeks. Visit her at www.karinacooper.com, because she says so.
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