Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Retreating to the 19th Century

I had the pleasure of attending a Historical Fiction Writers retreat this past weekend given by Moments in Time, a vintage dance group, at the amazing Senexet House in Woodstock, CT. While the high Victorian era is not a period I’ve written within at this time, I certainly had a wonderful, productive weekend. And ate a lot of delicious Victorian food!

Senexet House was built around 1886. It was interesting archi-tecturally in that while it was rather oblong and plain-looking from the outside (aside from the charming carving at the front door you can see in the photo above), inside it’s exactly what one thinks of as a Victorian dwelling: fun architectural details, fireplaces, oddly shaped rooms, and a sense of spaciousness and repose.

Not that the house saw a lot of repose, once everyone descended on it!

Dinner Friday night was lively as we got to know each other, which continued at breakfast the following morning. I fled to my room after breakfast to, you know, write...but others gathered in the living room to try on Victorian clothes and under-garments brought by the retreat’s organizers. Check out the bustle along with the corsets in the second photo at right!

After lunch, I felt virtuous enough after writing all morning to go on an expedition to an antiques mall with two other retreat-goers, and found an awesome designer purse...but otherwise showed admirable restraint. Four o’clock had us in tea gowns and some splendid hats for a delightful tea featuring gargantuan amounts of cakes, cookies, tiny scones with clotted cream, and other goodies, all from 19th century recipes (my favorites: the seed cake and the rout biscuits) Dancing followed (a good thing, after all that food!) and we learned the steps of a quadrille danced in the old resort town of Nahant, MA in the 1830s.

Dinner that evening was an elegant affair (our table at left, pre-dinner), served by candlelight and also featuring 19th century recipes...and then a talk on Victorian spiritualism, followed by some curious unexplained incidents (not joking!) while a few retreaters played with a Ouija board.

On Sunday I again holed up in my room to write all morning, and after lunch took a walk around Senexet House’s grounds in beautiful sunny October weather. The party broke up in mid-afternoon as we all said good-bye to each other... and to the manager Kit’s adorable Pomeranian, appropriately named Bear, who had kept us company all weekend.

I’ve been to a few writing retreats over the years, but this one probably tops the list for fun. If there’s another one in the spring as organizer Nicole Carlson has threatened, I will totally be there!


Leandra Wallace said...

Oh, man, I would have been all over that Victorian tea- sounds amazing!! And dinner by candlelight! *sigh* Thanks for sharing!

Marissa Doyle said...

You're welcome! It was pretty awesome, Leandra.