Good, Better, Best : The Alchemy Behind A Peculiar Count In Time
Writing about time travel is something I've avoided for a minute. As an authoress who often utilizes Victorian and steampunk elements, time travel seemed too expected, almost cliche. Perhaps, I thought, this was too on-the-nose for me, so - pass. Enter the Fairfield Scribes, and their upcoming publication, When To Now: A Time Travel Anthology. Oh dear.
Despite some initial hemming and hawing, I knew from the start that if I was going to make any attempt on this theme, that the Count of St. Germain would be the subject of choice; he’s the kitchen sink when it comes to fascinating, rabbit-hole types of legends. Even a cursory internet search will generate a little bit everything - immortality, alchemic laboratories, secret societies, political intrigue, treasure, science, and mysticism - his quest for knowledge would have been a dangerous one over the centuries, and perhaps because of this, St. Germain is but one of his many rumored identities.
Though he's been dubbed the 'original international man of mystery', most people aren't familiar with him, and understandably so - he's not as well-documented as say, Louis XV and Madame du Pompador, who funded St. Germain’s alchemy lab. Nor is St. Germain the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of alchemy, philosophy, politics, or music. Though his charismatic nature had him rubbing elbows with the elite, St. Germain seemed content in the background, forgoing any clamor for celebrity. For this, most reports of him come from personal correspondences and tertiary accounts scattered across private collections and libraries throughout Europe.
Among these anecdotes are hints of a man who lived not one lifetime, but many. He was a man of means with mysterious origins, frequently associated with the Freemasons, who dabbled in ideas of science and industry ahead of his time. There were those convinced they’d met him decades prior, and he often confirmed these meetings with highly personal details. His physical description never varied over the years, even by age, and he was reported to speak of great historical events as if he'd witnessed them himself. It’s easy to see how drawing a line from one legend to the next quickly becomes a web of a man weaving through time.
Not to be daunted by an elusive subject, the theosophist Isabella Cooper-Oakley spent years tracking down these miscellaneous historic accounts, and her 1912 publication of The Comte de St. Germain remains the most cited source on this particular subject to this day. It is with Isabella that inspiration for my novella, A Peculiar Count In Time, sprang forth. A highly educated Englishwoman born in India during the Victorian era, she traveled often to give international lectures, and became the first female business owner in London when she opened her millinery shop in 1885. She also opened her own lodge in Hungary in 1905. Throughout her life, she authored a laundry list of books, among them, her account of St. Germain’s legend.
My, my, what a trailblazer unbound by societal norms (in case her hyphenated surname wasn’t any indication)! Penning her own book on St. Germain was merely a conveneint coincidence - after all, only someone this emphatic could pursue the elusive “Immortal Count", and she is precisely the type of person that St. Germain would provoke into becoming an instrument of societal change, even if she was just a small piece of that world puzzle.
With Isabella and St. Germain, I now had myself more of a historical fiction in the works, which created a unique challenge for me; I typically write in the fantasy/steampunk realm, where I have a lot more wiggle room to manipulate the characters. Though the legends surrounding St. Germain can be fantastical, his existence is verifiable, as were all the people around him, and it was imperative to me honor historical accuracy as much as possible. Companies like Kodak, or those that attempted to excavate Oak Island, for example, have easily researched timelines. In addition, certain perimeters had to be acknowledged in regards to well-documented, yet exclusive groups like the Freemasons or the Knights Templar. (Un)Fortunately(?), our knowledge gets muddier the further we go back in history, leaving certain points in time - like the age of Atlantis - much more open for creative interpretation.
And so, I went from refusing to touch a story about time travel, to considering it, to exploring its options, to actually creating one. When all was said and done, I was left with a story I was quite proud of, one that wouldn't have been entertained without a prompt from the jolly folks over at Fairfield Scribes. I’d challenged myself, expanded my skills, overcome some hurdles, grown more inspired, and become all the more accomplished for it. I felt overall improved for the experience, which is what the very spirit of St. Germain - and alchemy - is all about. Whether you believe him genuine, a fraud, or simply a man who existed, his intentions are consistent : the betterment of self, one step at a time.
"Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better is best." ~Tim Duncan