Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Such Language! Part...um...a lot

More linguistic shenanigans from The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue...enjoy!

Barkshire: Someone is said to be standing as candidate for Barkshire if he is troubled with a bad cough, vulgarly known as barking. (“Mr. Jermyn’s cold was so bad that it sounded as though he was standing as candidate for Barkshire at the opera last night; only Papa’s snoring was louder.”)

Leaky: Apt to blab; one who cannot keep a secret is said to be leaky. (“If you are planning on running away to Gretna Green, on no account tell my sister Sally, who is leaky as a sieve.”)

Nose: to give evidence, to inform. (“Cynthia might have made it to Gretna Green with her very handsome but very poor suitor if Sally hadn’t nosed about it to Lady Biggpurse at Almack’s last night.”)

Bounce: To tell an improbable story; also, bouncer, a great lie. (“Cousin Agnes’s bouncer about the number of proposals she’s received is exceeded only by the one she told about the number of young men she danced with at her ball.”)

King’s Bad Bargain: A malingerer or soldier who shirks his duty. (“I’m glad Georgie decided not to take that commission in the Hussars—he raises such a fuss over a hangnail that I’m sure his colonel would have considered him one of the worst of the King’s bad bargains.”)

Slubberdegullion: A dirty, nasty fellow. (“Isn’t it amazing how charming and elegant a fellow Harry has turned out to be, after being such a slubberdegullion when he was at school?”)

Corporation: A very large belly. (“Lord Pudgeton’s corporation is so very prominent, I have to wonder how many years it’s been since he caught sight of his feet.”)

To flash one’s ivory: To laugh and show one’s teeth. (“Arabella will insist upon flashing her ivory every time Lord Dimkeeping makes one of his feeble jokes...of course, as he’s worth twenty thousand a year, perhaps it isn’t to be wondered at.”)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Storm of the [Nineteenth] Century

Today marks an anniversary--154 years ago, England saw one of the worst storms on the nineteenth century.  The Royal Charter Storm struck the Irish Sea with nearly the force of a hurricane, resulting in more than 800 deaths. 
An abrupt change in the direction and force of the wind mid-afternoon on October 25, 1859, heralded the arrival of the storm.  It was soon howling along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, with structures taking heavy hits before the storm rode north into Wales and finally Scotland.  At their peak, the winds reached more than 100 mph.  The storm sunk 133 ships and left 90 crippled.  Many people were killed by falling rocks or stones from buildings.

Nearly half the deaths, however, came from one source, the source from which the storm took its name.  The SS Royal Charter was a huge iron-clad steamship also capable of traveling under full sail.  She'd gained fame by carrying passengers to the Australian gold rush and had indeed traveled home from there around the Cape of Good Hope and up the coast of Africa.  When she reached England on that fateful day, she was carrying more than 400 passengers--men, women, and children--and over half a million pounds of gold bullion. 

As the storm freshened, Captain Taylor ordered the sails up, the engines shuttered, and the two anchors dropped off the north coast of Anglesey, Wales.  It is thought that he felt the chances of survival were greater riding out the storm there than continuing to the harbor in Liverpool.  Unfortunately, he was wrong. 

The storm broke both anchors free and drove the Royal Charter onto rocks only fifty yards from shore, breaking her into two pieces.  The villagers of nearby Moelfre awoke to find a sinking ship the morning of October 26.  Some of the passengers tried to swim for it but refused to leave their gold behind and sank to the bottom to drown.  One of the sailors managed to reach shore with a rope around his waist, then used it to help 39 men reach shore.  The villagers were also able to rescue about a dozen passengers before the Royal Charter was lost beneath the waves.

The nation went into mourning, with reports in every newspaper for months.  One of those chronicling the sinking was Charles Dickens.  But the Royal Charter Storm had one benefit.  After seeing the devastating results, the British Meteorological Office developed the first gale warning service, which debuted in June 1860, to give people time to prepare and respond to such events, saving countless lives in the decades to follow.

Now there's a tale to tell as we approach Halloween. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Young Bluestockings will discuss Persuasion!

When other young ladies and gentlemen doze on the sofa or stare admiringly at their reflections in the looking-glass, young bluestockings gather together with like-minded souls and have merry debates about novels, ideas, and that delightful (yet futuristic) invention, the cinema.

So please join us here next month (November 19) for our next "Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema" virtual outing, which will be...


The 1995 film of PERSUASION, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds!

Ah, yes.  Jane Austen!

Young bluestockings do love Jane Austen, with her wit, her wisdom, and her romances.

This version of Persuasion is a gorgeous, atmospheric movie, and if you haven't ever seen it, you're in for a treat!

But don't let me influence you -- what we're asking for are your honest opinions on the movie.  (What did you like, or dislike?  What would you have done differently?  Which home would you most like to live in?  Which actors or actresses are the most swoon-worthy?  Did you spot the person who later played a relative of Harry Potter?)

So please stop by here on Tuesday, November 19, and join our lively discussion!  We promise to brew you a fresh pot of virtual tea when you arrive...

Please join us!

The 1995 PERSUASION is available through Netflix, iTunes, Amazon (DVD or digital), and quite possibly at your local library.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ratafia: Not as Weak As You Might Think

Writers of books set in the early nineteenth century often talk about how there's history--facts and dates chronicled with exacting care--and then there's the shared world readers have come to expect based on countless other books set in that period.  One of those shared-world ideas is the notion that ratafia--a fruity drink--is weak disgusting punch that causes any heroine worth her salt to turn up her nose.  I certainly have used a character's response to ratafia more than once to show personality.  So I was surprised this week to run into a recipe for red ratafia, dated 1764, that didn't quite match my own expectations.

Take of black-heart cherries 24 pounds; black cherries, 4 pounds; raspberries and strawberries of each 3 pounds.

Any liquid that includes three pounds of raspberries is okay in my book.

Pick these fruits from their stalks, and bruise them, in which condition let them continue 12 hours; press out the juice, and, to every pint of it, add a quarter of a pound of sugar.

A quarter of a pound of sugar per pint?  Now we're talking.

When the sugar is dissolved, run the whole through the filtrating bag, and add to it three quarts of clean proof spirits.

Tradition has it that ratafia was made with brandy, but I consulted a chef I know and she said that "clean proof spirits" might have been a clearer alcohol like gin.  Either way, it's still a relatively small amount compared to the amount of juice from all that fruit.

Then take of cinnamon, four ounces; of mace, an ounce; and of cloves, two drams. Bruise these spices, put them into an alembic, with a gallon of clean proof spirits, and two quarts of water, and draw off a gallon with a brisk fire.

Now, there's the first mention of water, which in my mind is what would have made the ratafia as insipid as it is usually described.  But notice that those two quarts of water are going against a gallon of alcohol, plus it's being boiled away over a fire.  I understand this is considered a distillation.  According to my friendly chef, today's alcohol might be distilled several times along the way, making it more potent.

Add as much of this spicy spirit to your ratafia as will render it agreeable to your palate; about one fourth is the usual proportion.

So, we're adding spiced liqueur to fruit juice and sugar in alcohol.  It is possible compared to other alcoholic drinks at the time that this would be considered a weak drink, but it would still have packed plenty of punch (pardon the pun).

I wondered too whether ratafia might have evolved over the years.  Perhaps what was a strong drink in 1764 had weakened considerably by the middle of the nineteenth century.  However, I found nearly identical recipes in a popular British encyclopedia from 1797 until at least 1823.

And now I have a whole new respect for those frilly little ladies sipping their ratafia!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ackermann goes Steampunk

I’ve posted some examples of unusual furniture from prints published in Ackermann’s Repository before, but I thought these prints were especially interesting. Yes, they’re early 19th century wheelchairs!

This first one (at right), from the November 1810 issue, is called the Royal Patent Invalid Chair, and not only can be wheeled about, but reclines! Note that it has wheels set up so that the person sitting in it can operate the wheels, much like a modern wheelchair.

Even more interesting, though, is this: Merlin’s Mechanical Chair from the October 1811 edition. I have the full text for it, which is fascinating for several reasons. First, the description:

This curious machine, of which a correct perspective view is given in the annexed engraving, is the contrivance of the late ingenious and well-known Merlin. It is expressly calculated for the accommodation of invalids who, from age or infirmity, are unable to walk about, or of persons under the temporary inconvenience of gout or lameness. 

In the library, or on the lawn, or gravel-walk of the pleasure ground, chairs of this kind are peculiarly useful and pleasant. They are in construction an easy reclining or arm-chair, with a foot-board, and, at the extremity of each arm, a small winch handle, easily turned by the hands of the person seated, and which, by their connection with an arrangement of wheels below, propel the chair in any required direction, or with any required velocity, at the pleasure of the operator. These operating handles are seen in the drawing at A and B. C C are two wheels on which the chair runs, having each on its flat and outer surface a brass face wheel, worked by a smaller one (marked D) fitted on the long axis of the winch handle.

E is the third wheel or castor, fitted to the back rail of the chair, and which forms a third point of support, and obeys the direction taken by the wheels C C.

The mode of operation is this: The party being seated, the small brass rod seen in the drawing, passing through the right-hand arm of the chair, is pulled upwards a little way to disengage the wheels, and the winch handle set to point forward as in the position represented in the drawing.

Now, if the two handles be both turned outwards the chair moves directly forward. If turned inwards it moves directly backwards. If the right-hand winch be turned outwards, the left remaining at rest, the chair turns sharply to the left, moving on its left wheel as a center; and vice versa of the left-hand winch if turned the same way, or of the right-hand one if turned inwards or the contrary way. If the two handles be turned the same way, i.e. both to the right-hand, or both to the left, at the same time, the chair will move sharply round to the right or left, having its center, or the operator himself, as its center.

Now here’s where it gets good (boldface is my addition):

The curious evolutions which may thus easily be performed in this chair render it the means of very considerable amusement, as well as of important use, to those who require its agency; but to the mechanical observer it possesses a new interest. It would not be difficult to contrive an arrangement for moving these wheels, or winch handles, by the action of a very small and portable steam-engine, and increasing the dimensions of the whole machine, and adapting it to a suitable upper structure, to render it a most curious mode of quick conveyance, without the agency of animal labour: indeed, it seems to require no great stretch of the imagination to form of the contrivance many other highly interesting machines.

A suitable construction might be hit upon to enable it to carry a small cannon, which should be, both for itself and its operators, completely unassailable by the enemy, as well as, by the singular rapidity of its evolution, terribly and unusually destructive.

Yep. Steam-powered tanks! Don't forget that in 1811 England was at war with Napoleon, so it's hardly surprising this concept would occur. But the jump from invalid chair to motorized tank is still a big one!

In judicious hands, the principle of the machine might possibly be advantageously used in the construction of a self-moving engine for the public conveyance of dispatches, which would have for its leading peculiarities, a rapid and certain rate of traveling, and complete inviolability as to the matters entrusted to its charge.

Of the interest and value of the contrivance in its present shape, those only can judge correctly who have experienced its singular advantages. This drawing is furnished us by Messrs. Morgan and Sanders, of Catherine-street, Strand, whose warehouses are the grand emporium for furniture combining all the essentials of elegance and comfort.

So...from invalid chair to steam-powered tank to mail truck. Not bad, Mr. Ackermann!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Covers Galore!

I have covers!  Three, to be exact.  The first two were designed by the Killion Group, and I couldn't be more pleased.  I have for a long time fussed over the title for A Dangerous Dalliance, the book that introduces my young sleuth Lady Emily Southwell and her penchant for solving dark mysteries in clever ways, and finding a little romance along the path.  Either a title comes to me, or it doesn't.  It finally came.  I give you:  Secrets and Sensibilities.

When art instructor Hannah Alexander agrees to accompany four of her students on a country house visit before Easter, she never dreams of entering into a dalliance with the owner David Tenant, the handsome new Earl of Brentfield. But one moment in his company and she's in danger of losing her heart. There are secrets aplenty at Brentfield, enough to challenge any lady's sensibilities, even those of Hannah's protégé, Lady Emily Southwell. As events unfold at Brentfield, Hannah quickly learns that loving David comes at a price, to her future plans of being a portrait painter, to her position as a teacher, and to her very life.

Lady Emily originally came into her own in my 2008 young adult novel, La Petite Four.  But I was never entirely happy with that book.  (Terrible thing for an author to admit!)  So, I have been working on rewriting it.  I am happy to report that it is currently in copyediting and should be out later this month as Art and Artifice.

Finally, I offer you a sneak peek of the cover for my December release from Love Inspired Historical, The Wife Campaign.  The second book in my Master Matchmaker series is set at a fishing lodge, and the river plays a big part in the story, so I was glad to see the artists capture both the mood and the setting. 

Whitfield Calder, Earl of Danning, would much rather spend a fortnight fishing than entertaining three eligible young ladies.  But when his valet insists that marriage is an earl's duty, Whit agrees to a house party.  He has no intention of actually proposing to anyone . . . until flame-haired Ruby Hollingsford declares she'd never accept him anyway.  Ruby might have been tricked into attending this charade, but she certainly won't compete for the earl's affections.  Yet Whit isn't the selfish aristocrat she envisioned.  And with a little trust, two weeks might be ample time for an unlikely couple to fall headlong in love.

Those of you who have been following the blog for some time know that I usually pick an actress/actor or model to help me visualize my hero and heroine, and I share this information with the talented artists at Love Inspired.  The young lady this time got an easy A for her acting abilities, even when she hung out with a squad of gangsters.  Once upon a time, the gentleman played a charming TV character who is more likely to be found wielding a sword than the fishing rod my hero favors. 

Anyone want to guess who I had in mind for my heroine and hero, Ruby Hollingsford and Whitfield Calder, Earl of Danning?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fashion Forecast: 1828, part 2

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in the second half of 1828?

This Morning Dress from July’s Ackermann’s Repository features the lowered pointed waist that will be all the rage for the next few years, as well as gathered puffed sleeves and wide ribbon ornamentation around the hem. Her jewelry—necklace, earrings, and bracelets—might be coral, and her hair is dressed in puffs and loops around a matching headdress. A very handsome ensemble, I think:

The date on this Carriage Dress may be August 1828, but don’t the large hat and almost leg-o-mutton type sleeves make this look like something from the 1890s? Note the skirt decorated with multi-colored rosettes, the lacing detail on the lower sleeves, the ruffled collar, and of course, that very large (and nicely shady) straw hat, perfect for an afternoon drive (Ackermann’s Repository):

Here’s a charming Evening Dress, also from August’s Ackermann’s. The white gauze overskirt above a blue underskirt is decorated with blue ribbon and nosegays of roses, the pointed Gothic bodice features a lace-up detail, and the sleeves are gathered gauze over blue. Very charming, topped with a coiffure of ringlets with ostrich feathers and puffs of pink ribbon:

I have the original text for this Morning Dress: Jaconet muslin dress, made as high as the throat, where it is finished with a narrow band, confining the fullness of the body; a small circular cape, drawn with blue satin ribbon, and trimmed with work half a quarter deep, commences in front of the shoulder and extends across the back: the sleeves are à la Gabrielle, being full above the elbow, and below confined by three drawings to the shape of the arm. The skirt is set on with equal fullness all around, and has a flounce half a yard deep, headed by a trimming composed of a rouleau adorned with demi-whorls, made of book muslin, gathered very full, and edged with blue braiding; a second whorl trimming divides the flounce half way: blue satin cestus [a type of belt] pointed in front. Provincial French cap of tulle made of one piece, and drawn full round the head: it is greatly elevated, and falls back from the summit in two divisions like lappets, the ends trimmed with blond lace, and reaching as low as the shoulder: bows of blue satin ribbon are tastefully dispersed; and the border, being very full, forms a rosette in front, and bows of blue satin ribbon intermingle with the curls of hair around the face. Earrings and necklace of rock coral; broad Grecian scroll bracelets of gold. Rose-colour gloves; blue corded silk shoes. (Ackermann’s Repository, September):

This print may be from October, but these aren’t Halloween masks...they’re millinery! Big hats were definitely in fashion as we can see, from the pinked-edge ruffles on the upper left to the large loops of fabric and gauze on both hats on the right. And, of course, ostrich plumes! (Ackermann’s Repository):

Again, this Evening Dress reminds me of something from a much later decade with its puffed sleeves, button-front bodice, and full skirt. The gatherings on the ruffles of the skirt are fun and must have fluttered delightfully when the wearer walked. I also like the Chinese fan and the less silly hairstyle, with its coronet of braids woven with pearls and hanging curls at back (Ackermann’s Repository, October):

This quietly dramatic Dinner Dress quite caught my fancy: I like the very full but plain skirt (of course, no one would see it under a table during dinner, right?) and neckline decorated with simple tongues of fabric. The sleeves are small puffs of the same fabric, covered with very sheer gauze, and the headdress a handsome white and blue-striped turban decorate with ostrich plumes. This November Ackermann’s print gets my vote!

This is an interesting print not just because the Evening Dress it depicts is so striking—yellow figured satin with white piping on the bodice and red on the ruched ruffles on the skirt, as well as nosegays of red and white roses—but because from here (December) on until Ackermann’s ceases publication the following year, the fashion illustration style begins to change. You’ll still see some of the same meticulous artwork in next year’s prints, but also several done in a less detailed and realistic style.

What do you think of the second half of 1828’s fashions?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Microscopic Panorama: The Stanhope

What can comprise up to a thousand acres and is as small as the head of pin?  Any Dr. Who fans out there?  I'm not talking about Time Lord "It's bigger on the inside" science.  I'm describing a Stanhope.

A Stanhope consists of microphotographs covered with a special lens modified from one originally invented by the Earl of Stanhope.  Developed by French photographer René Dagron in 1857 and debuting at the International Fair in Paris in 1859, the little device soon became all the rage across Europe, England, and even America.  Though Dagron called them microscopic photo-jewelry, that name never stuck (you can guess why), and the devices are still called Stanhopes to this day.

Stanhopes were generally made for promotional purposes.  They might include pictures from a town to encourage tourism or as a souvenir of a visit.  The picture might feature a particular building, a company, or an event like the World's Fair for similar reasons.  Portraits of famous people like kings and queens were also popular, and there were a few more titillating pictures as well. The pictures and viewers were inserted in a wide variety of useful and not so useful items, such as button hooks, canes, pins, pendants, bookmarks, letter openers, and rosaries.

The one at the top belongs to Marissa.  It's a bone or ivory propelling pencil, about 3 1/4 inches long.  The viewer in the end shows the history of the Isle of Wight with about six tiny images.  More than one image wasn't uncommon.  Dagron made history by creating one that held the portraits of 450 people!

Stanhopes are still being developed today, although with a slightly different technology.  My apologies for not having more pictures, but all the ones I found were copyrighted.  Instead, I'll give you places where you can learn more.  Here's one site that will create one for you.  You can also find a wide variety on eBay.  For more information, you might try this site by expert Jean Scott (no relation).

Maybe I should be reaching for one of Marissa's spectacles to get a better view.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Making a Further Spectacle of Yourself

Some time ago I discussed what the nearsighted young ladies of the 19th century did to avoid walking into walls and other people (though walking into a handsome young earl wouldn’t have been such a bad thing!). Since then, I’ve gotten my hands on an example of a few of them, and thought it would fun to take a closer look at quizzing glasses and lorgnettes.

Remember what quizzing glasses are? Those small lenses worn as a piece of jewelry round the neck for when the wearer wished to have a better look at something (say, a handsome young earl coming into the ballroom)? Well, here you go: This one dates to about 1820 and is made of silver, with decorative scrollwork around its rim and a simple twisted loop handle. It measures a little under three inches long. It came with a small leather holder, which suggests it might have resided in someone’s pocket or reticule for occasional use rather than being worn around the neck on a ribbon or chain. Interestingly, the glass is held in with a screw (you can just see where it fits in, between the small loop and the lens frame) so that it could be changed; the one in there works well as a magnifying glass, so maybe the owner used it for reading.

And then there’s the lorgnette, or specs on a stick. These appear to be a nice sturdy brass, about five and a half inches long with the lenses about an inch and a quarter across. But wait! you’re saying. Where’s the other lens? Well, this is pretty slick. See the small rings around the handle near the small loop at the end of the handle? They’re actually a latch: if you slide them down just a little, a catch releases and voila! The second lens is released and swivels out. This certainly makes it less awkward to wear them on a necklace. There’s some pretty ornamentation on the nose bridge as you can see in the second photo, and like the quizzing glass above, the lenses can be changed.

And just as a side note, I noticed a gent (the one in the green coat, peering at the horses) wearing specs in this 1820 illustration by Cruikshank from Pierce Egan's well-known Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom in Their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. Tom and Jerry weren't the only ones making a spectacle of themselves at this time!