Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Christmas!

The wonderful day is only a week away. Marissa and I will be spending the next two weeks with family and friends, but we wanted to start our holiday by wishing you and yours all the best.

And to give you Christmas presents. J

First, if you need inspiration for decorations (or you simply like to ooh and ah), check out these pages showing the 2015 decorations at Windsor Castle. The decorators went with a Regency theme, with a nod to the Battle of Waterloo on the year of its 200th anniversary. Squee! 

Then, while you’re waiting to eat your roast goose, you might play this fun online memory game featuring characters from Jane Austen’s novels. 

Finally, as you’re relaxing at the end of the day, you might wonder about which novel to read next. The Bluestocking League has put together a collection of long excerpts (not the full novels, just enough of each story to whet your appetite) from our books. It’s available free online in a variety of formats. 

Happy Christmas, my dears! Here’s to a New Year filled with good stories and great friends to share them with. We will see you on January 5 when we celebrate the launch of Instant Frontier Family.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What to Give your Favorite History Geek for Christmas

A few weeks ago, Regina gave us her Literary holiday shopping list (I lurve the red dress!) Now, 2015 was quite a year for us history geeks, seeing as it did the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and 2014-2015 saw the publication of several excellent history books on life ca. 1815. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for yourself or for the history geek in your life, have a look at a few of these:

In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow; published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015 An amazingly detailed snapshot (though at over 800 pages, that may not be the right word) of life in England over twenty plus years after the end of the Peace of Amiens. The book covers everything from politics and economics to art and literature to how ordinary people, both city and country, lived their daily lives. Extensively illustrated (especially with a lot of Gilray and Rowlandson cartoons of the time) and very readable.

Jane Austen's England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods by Roy and Lesley Adkins; published by Penguin Books, 2014 Here on NineteenTeen we will confess to something of a bias toward writing about life in aristocratic circles, because (let’s face it) it’s just so darned much escapist fun to twitter on about ball gowns and court presentations and that sort of thing. Of course, historically speaking, the “upper ten thousand” made up a very small percentage of the population. So if you’d like a clearer view of how the middle and lower classes lived--the people, in fact, who appear in Jane Austen’s novels--then this book is for you. Again, exemplary research, with useful illustrations, maps, and timelines.

Of course, in this 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo, a definitive biography of Napoleon Bonaparte would seem to be just the thing, and Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts (Penguin Books, 2014) precisely fits the bill. It’s a doorstop of a book at 800 pages, but they’re very readable pages (yes, I read them) and paint a balanced picture of one of history’s more controversial figures.

For a definitive look at Waterloo itself, popular historical novelist Bernard Cornwell has brought us his first work of non-fiction in Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles (Harper, 2015), I’ve not had a chance to read it, but its reviews are outstanding and I intend to get my mitts on it as soon as possible.

And for you historical foodies out there (I'm raising my hand), Dining with the Georgians by Emma Kay; Amberley Publishing, 2014 is a delight. Covering the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it covers an important time in gastronomic history when many of our own eating habits were being established and foods we love today were establishing themselves as part of regular diets (hello, chocolate!) There appears to be a soon-to-be-released follow-up as well, Dining with the Victorians, which I think I’ll have to go see about...

Feel free to print this entry out and leave it lying about somewhere conspicuous. ☺ Are there any history books published in the last few years that you’d recommend to NineteenTeen readers?

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Surefire Way to Weed Out Books

I would wager you have too many books. I certainly do. They overflow my shelves even though I stack them as tightly as I can. They congregate under my dresser and crowd my beside table. I am fortunate that my family allows me to take up copious amounts of space (“It’s research for my writing, really!”) with all the books I’ve read, hope to read, and plan to read again.  But sometimes, you simply have to let some go.  (Shock!  Noooo!)

When my wonderful critique partner had to move across the country for a two-year assignment (and pay for every pound each direction), she asked my help in coming up with a way to determine which books made the cut, and which were to be left behind.  What follows is a surefire way to cull your precious copies down to something more manageable.

Here’s hoping you make enough room on the shelves for the books you’ll be getting for Christmas. J

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fashion Forecast: 1835, Part two

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in the second half of 1835? (I’ll give you a hint—big sleeves. Helium may have been involved. ☺)

I’m sure she would have turned heads in this vibrant Walking Dress. I unfortunately don’t have access to the description of this dress, because I would love to know what’s up with the fabric—is it a print? The sleeves are enormous (a trend in this second half of the year) and slightly drooping so it’s hard to see the cuffs. The bodice has crossed pleats and a small lace pelerine collar, all topped by a lace cap and bonnet trimmed with green ribbons and flowers. (August, Court Magazine):

Prints are once again to the fore in these Breakfast and Dinner Dresses; I’ve not seen the appellation “breakfast dress” before. I’m guessing the fabrics are muslins; the breakfast dress has matching trim in what might be chenille, more enormous sleeves and a self-fabric pelerine plus lace ruffles at the neck. The Dinner Dress has a pleated wrap bodice over a lace tucker at the breast and wide lace epaulette-like capped sleeves with voluminous gauze oversleeves. Both ensembles are finished with bonnets; the Breakfast one with a lace cap beneath, and the Dinner Dress with trailing ties. (September, Court Magazine):

A similar look to the Dinner Dress above can be seen in this Evening Dress from October’s Court Magazine—a print fabric and similar wide gauze oversleeves, but the bodice is not wrap-style. Note the handsome shawl, probably from India:

I have one question about these Morning Dresses, also from October’s Court Magazine: how could anyone move their arms in these? The print dress at left has an enormous tiered pelerine that extends below the elbows and ends in a lace flounce over fully inflated sleeves (hence my wondering about helium!) The dress at right has an equally oversized pelerine that actually looks like it might restrict movement. It’s interesting to note the scarf that seems to go through the pelerine and belt to flutter down in front. Extreme dresses!

A third Dinner Dress with those wide gauze oversleeves, but this time the gauze is “figured” (patterned) which I expect was rather pretty. The Morning Dress at right is in a print with a multicolored rainbow ruffled trim up the skirt and around the edge of the pelerine, which is finished with a lace collar...and gosh, more big sleeves. The hairstyles and millnery in this print are a little different—the Dinner Dress coiffure is a simple braided bun with short side ringlets, unlike some of the loopier hairstyles we’ve seen this decade, and the Morning Dress cap is an unusual style with lace ruffles and lavender ribbons. (November ?, Court Magazine):

November also brings a Carriage Dress, in what looks like black satin discreetly trimmed with ruffles and a demure white lace collar...and a red bonnet and vibrant flowered scarf to liven things up. The Dinner Dress at right is also more restrained, except for the deep lace flounces and a very Dr. Seuss-ish hairstyle. (Court Magazine):

For December, more severe styles (except for the pelerines and sleeves, of course) prevail, with a beige Morning Dress trimmed in a double row of scallops around the hem, down the front of the skirt, and around the pelerine. A surprisingly casually tied pastel scarf lends a little color to the whole. The Carriage Dress features a purple mantle belted close to the waist over the green dress and odd sort of caped sleeves, built large to accommodate the inevitably large sleeves of the underlying dress. And I’m not quite sure why, with a green dress and a purple habit, her hat is trimmed in red... (Court Magazine):

What do you think of the second half of 1835’s fashions? Hold on to your hats, fashion lovers: 1836 is going to see some big changes!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Literary Christmas Wish List, 2015

Some people hate Christmas shopping. I love it. Every year, I am amazed by the myriad of choices available to delight my friends and family, particularly those of a literary bent. So, in case you need inspiration for yourself (or to suggest to others for yourself), allow me to point out a few items.

Perhaps you or your loved one favors jewelry. You might invest in the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw, which proves the owner is endowed with the characteristics of this noble house of Hogwarts: intelligence, wit, and wisdom. 
Lost Diadem Costume cosplay Tiara Crown Hogwarts Jewelry

Or maybe it would just be nice to have a book hanging around.

Book Necklace, Book Jewelry, Miniature Book Mini Journal Necklace, Book Lover Gift, Literature Jewelry, Medieval Edwardian Victorian Jewelry

Then there’s the modern rivalry between e-books and print, spelled out on this coffee cup

My Book Smells Better Than Your Tablet Mug - Quote Mug - Unique Gift Coffee Cup - Book lover - Library - Funny Gift - Book Cup

And of course many would covet this adventuresome journal to write down thoughts.
Bombay Brown Leather Wrap Journal with Tie (4

Have a special gentleman in your life? Help him to dress like Darcy. J

Jane Austen Gift Men's Light Pajamas

Or maybe you’re the one who prefers to dress with a more historical flare

And don’t forget the books! Here are a few that looked interesting and were reasonable:

Deadly Victorian Remedies, 12 cases of medicine gone bad. 

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, that 1800s classic that we’ve quoted on Nineteenteen. 

Dandy Poems: The Dandy in Poetry and Song, a compilation of satirical poems written in the nineteenth century about dandies.

Hm. I think I need to add a few more things to my own Christmas list. How about you?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Which I Natter on for a Bit about Writing

This past Sunday I was happy to attend the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Handel & Haydn Society of Boston. My DH and I been doing this long enough to get to know some of the returning soloists, and I was pleased that this year’s tenor soloist was James Gilchrist, whom we first heard in the Messiah a few years back. I love his voice; it has a mobile, conversational tone of great sweetness—and I don’t mean icky saccharine sweetness, but a gentle strength that conveys emotion beautifully. And his phrasing and enunciation are perfect—his every word is audible, and never gets lost. That’s a hallmark of the H&H Society’s choir as well—their diction is never, ever muddy, but always crystal clear. That clarity—that precision—makes for an amazing listening experience.

So I spent a very happy two-and-a-half hours on Sunday afternoon, listening to an exquisitely sung performance...and it got me thinking about writing (because hey, in my world, everything leads back to that.) Earlier this fall I had the privilege of getting a critique from a brilliant editor of the first twenty pages of a work in progress, and it made an enormous impression on me—enough that I’m re-editing the rest of the book based on her feedback. Her suggestion? Stripping away anything—unnecessary narrative or dialogue, too much explanation, down to one too many words in a sentence—that might get in the way of each moment when telling a story. In other words, precision and clarity.

And sitting there listening to the crystalline singing in that darkened hall, I itched for my computer so I could chip away at the extraneous matter in my stories, and achieve that same crystalline quality. And was delighted that listening to music in a dim concert hall could inform putting words on a page. Clarity. Precision. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my edits. ☺

Friday, November 20, 2015

Food for the Heart

We hear a lot about heart-healthy recipes, but sometimes what we need is sustenance that feeds our inner being. With Thanksgiving coming, Marissa and I wanted to share a recipe for you to enjoy. Normally, I look for nineteenth century recipes, but this year, I decided to share a family recipe for a dessert that would have been around in the nineteenth century, on both sides of the pond.

My mother makes the best apple pie, hands down. Her pie even won a ribbon years ago at what is now our state fair. The secret is the addition of lemon juice, I’m convinced. It’s a family favorite and never fails to win smiles of approval. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Pastry for 9” two-crust pie
1 to 2 tsp of lemon or pineapple juice
1 to 2 Tbsp flour, depending on the fruit’s juice
2/3 to ¾ cup of granulated sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, cut in small pieces
6 to 7 cups thinly sliced, pared, cored tart apples (Granny Smith were my father’s favorite)

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine juice with flour, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Line pie pan with one of the pastry crusts. Place half of the apples in the pie pan. Sprinkle with half of juice/sugar mixture. Top with remaining apples, heaping in center, then add the rest of the juice/sugar mixture. Dot with butter; top with remaining crust. Poke holes through crust to let steam escape. Bake 40 to 50 minutes.

Marissa and I will be off next week, celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. As for me, I had news that gladdened my heart this week. Would-Be Wilderness Wife has been nominated for a coveted Reviewers Choice Award from RT Book Reviews, the premiere review magazine for the romance industry. I’m hopeful that means the book touched a number of hearts. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Death and Dyeing

A few weeks back in the Fashion Forecast for 1835 we saw a lovely Evening Dress in a vibrant green fabric. Charming, yes...and, as it happens, extremely dangerous.

The dye that created that lovely fabric--and similar green tints in things from shoe leather to wallpaper—was created from arsenic. Before the early nineteenth century, there was no color-fast green dye; in order to get anything vaguely green, fabric had to be dyed yellow, then overdyed with blue...which though popular (readers of Regency fiction will recognize this if I call it by its name of the time—Pomona green), generally didn’t hold up very well.

Then a German chemist created the first colorfast green dye using copper and arsenic; known as Scheele’s Green, it was a hit, though it did tend to blacken in the presence of sulphur compounds. A later refinement in 1814 led to the creation of Paris Green, also known as Emerald Green—and green became an immensely fashionable color, as we’ve seen on some of the prints I’ve posted. Everyone wanted green dresses, green shoes, artificial greenery to wear in headpieces and millinery. They also wanted Emerald Green décor, so upholstery and drapery fabrics, green carpets, and most of all wallpaper became The Thing right through the 1870s. Even Napoleon in exile on St. Helena had green wallpaper in his house...which may have contributed to his death.

Everyone loved the new, rich green dye, but didn’t entirely understand its toxicity. When the recipe was first published in the early 1820s, a few far-seeing physicians cautioned against its use. Dye manufacturers tried tinkering with the ingredients to mitigate and conceal the deadly nature of Emerald Green...and eventually resorted to the simple expedient of changing its name.

By the 1870s, synthetic green dyes began to be developed and the demand for Emerald Green decreased...but not before thousands died from wearing green clothes, living in green rooms, eating confections dyed with Emerald well as the workers who made those clothes or otherwise came in contact with it. For anyone near Toronto, there’s what looks like a pretty cool exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum called Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century that details the dangers of Emerald Green and more. It’s open through next June—if anyone gets to it, let me know!

Friday, November 13, 2015

How Many Rustlers Does It Take to Steal a Steer?

No, that’s not the latest joke to make the rounds on social media. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my beloved editor has requested I take on a special project, which has plunked me down in 1895 Texas. And for the last few months, I’ve been taking a crash course on raising cattle in Texas Hill Country around the turn of the century. But this week, one of the holes in my research became glaring obvious.

See there’s a rustler. He’s stealing cattle. And my hero is determined to catch him and bring him to justice.

Sounds like a pretty simple scenario, right? Actually, it’s proving to be amazingly complex. To start off with, these aren’t the nice little brown and white cows you see grazing in their fields while you zip by on the highway. By 1895, some ranches were beginning to introduce more genteel breeds. But on my ranch, we raise Texas longhorns, tough, determined, stubborn.

And massive. One rustler isn’t going to make off with a whole herd of them. They’re simply too big and too unpredictable. So, he’s going to need help.

Right, enter a gang of rustlers led by the villain. They sneak onto a ranch and make off with 20 to 30 head of cattle. Except where exactly are they going? The area around them is crossed by ranches and farms. Not a lot of open range left in 1895. Wouldn’t someone notice strangers getting away with cattle?

Okay, so this gang of rustlers steals at night. They drive the cattle up into the hills where no one normally goes, and then . . .

Well, yes, and then. Then they have to sell the silly things, don’t they? Who’s going to buy cattle up in the hills? Not to mention the fact that the steers have brands on them. No self-respecting cattle buyer is going to buy cattle that is clearly stolen.

Unless the cattle buyer is somehow in on the theft. So, there’s an unscrupulous cattle buyer hiding in the hills, taking possession of 20 to 30 longhorns and paying off the rustlers.

So how does the cattle buyer get the steers to market?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he has another reason for wanting those cows. Yes! That’s it!

What’s the reason? I’ll never tell, until the book comes out next summer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Regency Fabrics, Part 7

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics!

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

We have four fabrics from December 1809; overall condition is very good, considering their age, with almost no apparent damage.

No. 1. A gold Jubilee muslin, particularly adapted for the dinner or evening party. Sometimes this article is constructed in a slip, with short white satin, or long lace sleeves; at others, it is blended with velvet, corresponding with the spot. The dress, formed of this animated article, should be made to sit close to the figure, where a natural roundness exists. Where the form is spare, we recommend introductions of satin or velvet, rather than a fulness constructed from the material itself. It is sold by W. and D. Jeremy, No. 148, Strand, at three guineas and a half the dress.

My comments: The ground fabric of this looks almost like a silk twill, due to its sheen; the dots look almost like an afterthought, woven in with a tapestry needle. Even without the heavier dot thread (which looks a lot like a strand of 6-ply embroidery cotton) the fabric is opaque and of a nice weight to drape well. The cost seems high--three and an half guineas!--I wonder what amount of this constituted a dress's worth?

No. 2 A Jubilee twill-shawl cambric, calculated for the wrap pelisse, round domestic jacket, and for all garments which come within the intermediate order of decoration. No trimming can be introduced with the brilliant assemblage of colours displayed in this article, except black velvet; which we particularly recommend as a becoming contrast, and sober chastisement of its attractive, but somewhat glaring colours. It is to be purchased at Waithman and Everington's. No. 104, Fleet-street, corner of New Bridge-street.

My comments: Um, yes--"somewhat glaring colours" indeed! Do you maybe get the feeling that the writer wasn't too pleased at having to feature this fabric? However, unlike some of the cambrics we've seen this twill-weave fabric is of a reasonable density and has a nice, silky hand, but the colors and pattern are unexpected, aren't they? I've begun to wonder why we don't see these printed fabrics in fashion plates; it could be that many clothes were busier than one might guess from the prints in Ackermann's or Belle Assemblee.

No. 3 is an article of much novel elegance, and is called a gossamer cloth. Its texture, of silk and wool, is more happily blended than any article of prior introduction. It is calculated for robes, mantles, or pelisses: the two latter should be lined with sarsnets of agreeably contrasted colours. The adhesiveness of its qualities will not fail to recommend it to our fair country-women as an article particularly adapted to the present style of drapery. it is to be purchased of all colours; but since the happy celebration of the British Jubilee, gold and purple seem to continue to hold fashionable pre-eminence. it is manufactured by Wm. Preston, of Leeds; and sold, wholesale, at 49, Basinghall-street, and retail at all the respectable woollen-drapers and fancy-waistcoat warehouses.

My comments: This is what we might today call a dress-weight wool--it is of a nicely fine twill weave, though somewhat scratchy--hence the warning to line pelisses with sarsnet!  The "British Jubilee" referred to was the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of George III's assession, which would come to a close the following July.

No. 4. is a reasonable article for gentlemen's waistcoats, comprising at once the qualities of comfort, fashion, and elegance. This manufacture was formerly recommended in the first number of our work, as best adapted to defend the form from the chilling effects of a severe winter. It became the prevailing vest for gentlemen of the turf and whip-club; and since the present embellishment of the Indian-shawl figure on its ground-work, it is sought for with so much avidity, that the original inventor has innumerable hands employed to answer the present public demand. As imitative beings (of which the universe is composed), we see respectable citizens copying the garb of these youths of fashion. In the present instance, we commend them: for, though not exposed to the chace or the warring elements, there are situations of utility and fatigue to which they are exposed, which will render this a safeguard and bosom friend. Messrs. James Harris and Co. of Coventry (to whom we are indebted for the present pattern), are the inventors of this stylish article; which is also to be purchased of Messrs. Maunds and Co. Cornhill; and sold by the principal drapers and fancy-waistcoat warehouses in London, &c.

My comments: Well. Somehow, I was not expecting fake fur printed with a pattern, but this is more or less what this looks like. I can imagine that it was quite warm and cozy when worn as a waistcoat, but somehow I think I'd prefer Col. Brandon's flannel waistcoat in Sense and Sensibility to this one. I'm not quite sure what the inch-long fibers are made of--wool, probably--while the woven backing could be either linen or wool. Rather surprising, don't you think?

Friday, November 6, 2015

Four Things on a Friday

Sometimes things just appear online or in my inbox, and I have to share them! Thus, here are four things you need to know about, this Friday:

The Historical Fashion and Textile Encyclopedia. Oh, what a treasure trove of terminology by Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian, sewing teacher, writer, and speaker, otherwise known as the Dreamstress. She offers definitions for types of fabrics and styles, and gives you dates of first use, if known. Priceless! 

Food in Season in 19th Century England. Could a lady eat carrots at Christmas? Mussels in March? This wonderful blog entry pulls together information from period literature to show us what was available to eat when. 

New Blog for Clean Romance Reads. Eight authors of clean romance, ranging from contemporary romance to romantic suspense and our beloved historical romance, just launched a new blog, Clean Romance Reads Café. They’re giving away a Kindle Voyage to celebrate. You might want to show them some blog love. J 

Free Online Romances About Thanksgiving. And speaking of sweet reads, 13 authors from the Heartwarming line are sharing free online romantic short stories between now and Thanksgiving. They are contemporaries, but nobody is perfect.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Eye Candy, NineteenTeen Style

On some sites, “eye candy” might involve, say, sculpted male torsos. Or a handsomely-filled-out pair of jeans. On NineteenTeen, however, eye candy usually means one thing: amazing historical costumes!

I recently ran across what may win the Best Eye Candy Award for 2015 in a perfectly gorgeous book called “London Society Fashion 1905- 1925: The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank”, published this year by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. If you have the remotest interest in the fashions of the early part of the twentieth century, this book is for you.

Heather Firbank (1888-1954) was the only daughter of a wealthy upper-middle-class family which included her brother Ronald, who would one day become a well-known author and playwright. She was attractive and well-connected, and when she made her debut in London in 1908, her future seemed assured: marriage, probably into the lower tiers of the aristocracy, and a respected place in society. Financial reverses a few years before her coming-out sent the family on a downhill slope, but Heather’s wardrobe allowance did not feel the pinch; her family knew that making the right impression in society would be vital for her future. So the young woman (twenty the year she made her debut—two years later than usual) was launched into society with a most elegant wardrobe...and interestingly, seems to have tried to create a “brand” for herself, frequently wearing clothes in shades of purple and mauve and using heather as a personal emblem on everything from her notepaper to the embroidered monograms on her underwear.

The death of Heather’s father in 1910 meant further belt-tightening...but Heather and her mother seemed to have continued to spend prodigious amounts of money on their clothes. Though she embarked on a few secret love affairs, Heather never married, and spent the years after the war in Richmond, nursing her dying mother. With her beloved brother Ronald’s death in 1926 she packed up her extensive wardrobe and put it into storage...and upon her death in 1954 at the age of 67, the untouched trunks were offered to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This book is a record of that wardrobe...and it is simply sumptuous.

The Heather Firbank collection contains not only garments for every conceivable occasion, from ballgowns to tennis dresses, but also the accompanying undergarments, stockings, shoes, purses, and hats, representatives of which all appear in this book...not to mention ephemera like photographs of Heather wearing some of the depicted dresses, couturier bills, and sketches. The photography is beautiful, showing garments in both full length and in detail (that cover image is what first caught my eye.) The accompanying text, which details Heather’s life and examines the London fashion industry, is well-researched and written...but it is the photographs that make this book. Highly recommended!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Ghost Ship

It’s the day before Halloween in the States, and things have already been going bump in the night on television and in movie theatres. But one of the spookiest things about the nineteenth century were the legends that sprang up, including one about the Mary Celeste.

The Mary Celeste was a merchant ship from America. She sailed with a crew of ten and the captain’s family from New York City in November 1872 on her way to Genoa, Italy, carrying a cargo of industrial alcohol. But after what appeared to be an uneventful journey based on the ship’s log, the vessel was discovered on December 4, 1872, off the Azores, abandoned. She was sailing along, all by herself, with cargo, supplies, and crew’s belongings largely intact, although the navigational instruments were missing and so was the lifeboat. The last log entry was dated 10 days earlier. No one who had sailed on her was ever seen again.

So what happened?

Over the centuries, theories have abounded. Some of the barrels of alcohol were apparently empty. Had the crew drank the foul stuff and mutinied? (Note to conspiracy theorists—have you ever tried drinking denatured alcohol? It isn’t pleasant, and I would think the crew would be too busy throwing up or running to the head to mutiny.) 

Was it piracy? Unless the pirates decided after slaying all the crew that the aforesaid alcohol wasn’t worth the effort to pilfer, not likely. Besides, there was no sign of a struggle, no damage to the hull from canon fire.

Was it insurance fraud? Not a particularly good one. The salvage award wasn’t particularly lucrative, because both the ship and the cargo were in good shape.

Had they abandoned ship because of a natural phenomenon such as submarine earthquakes, storms, or a water spout? None were recorded in the area, and at the time of the ship’s last log entry, the Mary Celeste wasn’t too far from one of the islands. Surely the life boat could have made it to shore.

Even more far-fetched theories have been suggested. Was it a giant squid? Sorry, he was busy that day. Bermuda Triangle? Nowhere near where the ship was found.

Oblivious to the consternation around her, the Mary Celeste continued her career, passing through several hands before being wrecked off the coast of Haiti in 1885. That captain actually was attempting insurance fraud. But her demise didn’t stop the stories. Newspaper and magazine pieces popped up in England and America from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. In January 1884, a young Arthur Conan Doyle, the inventor of Sherlock Holmes himself, told the tale in a British literary magazine, from the point of view of a supposed survivor. He blamed the abandonment on the vengeance of a former slave, who rose against the white crew. The Strand published another “survivor story” in 1913, stating that the crew had fallen into the sea from a temporary platform and either drowned or were eaten by sharks. In the 1920s, other stories from so-called survivors claimed that the crew had colluded with that of the ship which found her to win salvage or the crew had found another ship abandoned with a rich cargo and sailed off on it instead. Radio plays, a stage version, and novels have also been written about the mystery. The Smithsonian sponsored a documentary as late as 2007; it disproved many theories but reached no conclusions.

So what really happened to the Mary Celeste?

The Brits have an answer. It seems their venerated hero the Doctor may have been involved, according to the accepted canon for the long-running Dr. Who franchise. I understand the Daleks were involved.

Now, that explains everything.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fashion Forecast: 1835, Part 1

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in the first half of 1835?

Perhaps she was seeing in the new year in black and white, as in these Dinner and Evening Dresses. The Dinner Dress is of a silk brocade in an “Egyptian pattern”, whatever that might be, with sleeves of tulle under the wing-y things (called mancherons). The Evening Dress, of white crape over satin, features black ribbon trim and an elaborately constructed headdress, and demure black silk net mitts. (January, Court Magazine):

For daytime wear, we have a Walking Dress and Carriage Dress. The Walking Dress is described as being “a deep citron ground plaided in one of the new Walter Scott patterns”—shades of the growing popularity of all things Scottish that would see its high point under Queen Victoria. I do wish the front view of this dress had been depicted, for its description indicates a pretty elaborate embellishment on the front of the skirt, including tassels! The Carriage Dress includes a velvet mantle which is supposed to be dark brown—I don’t know if the colorist used the wrong tints or if the color has altered in the 180 years since this print was made. It is trimmed with swansdown; the underlying dress is of sprigged green silk. (February, Court Magazine):

Also from February’s Court Magazine is a sweet Ball Dress, of white and gold satin. The dress itself is fairly plain; the part of the skirt and bodice edged with gld ribbon and blond lace is actually a separate tunic. As charming as it is, I can’t help wondering if the sleeves don’t get dreadfully in the way when dancing—don’t you think they might?

Another Evening and Dinner Dress duo from March’s Court Magazine. The white Evening Dress is of satin and crape, decorated with pink “papillon”, or butterfly, bows. The scarf-shawl thingy is also trimmed with swansdown, which seems to be popular this spring. The Dinner Dress is of blue velvet, with those little wing-like mancherons set above sleeves of lace-covered satin. Note the model’s rather alarmingly sloped shoulders, which seems to have been the ideal of feminine beauty—it’s a good thing modern purses hadn’t been invented, or she’d never be able to use one with a shoulder strap:

This Evening Concert Dress is just lovely, don’t you think? With a pelerine and trim at hem and sleeves of blond de Cambray and somewhat less extreme fullness in the sleeves, it’s classically pretty...and, alas, fatally toxic. Vivid green dyes of this type were very popular in the 19th century not only for fabric, but for shoe leather, wallpaper, and other consumer goods...and all these dyes were based on arsenic. (Hmm, I think I feel a future post coming on...) Maybe I’ll take that white Ball Dress from February, instead! (April, Court Magazine):

Here are a pretty green and white Morning Dress (uh-oh, not green again!); more interesting is the Dinner Dress, with its under-dress of gold satin and an open robe of violet silk lined with more satin and trimmed with blond. The Falier sleeves cover the full sleeves of the under-dress, which again must have been bulky in the extreme. Note again the lace mitts, as opposed to full gloves. (April, Court Magazine):

If it’s June, it must be time to make one’s curtsey at Court in a Court Dress of tulle over satin with blond trim, mancherons over the pouffed sleeves, and scatterings of moss roses with greenery for trim. The train of rose-colored gros de Naples brocade sports more clumps of rosebuds toed into the gauze ribbon trim. And oh, the feathers! (Court Magazine):

Finishing up June are a pair of Evening Dresses in white crape, deeply décolleté, with pleated bodices and broadly horizontal sleeves. Again, the ideal of beauty (very small heads and very sloping shoulders) make for some strange anatomy, but the dresses are so dreamily romantic! (Court Magazine):

What do you think of the fashions of the first half of 1835?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Back to the Past

This week marked an interesting anniversary. If you were online, you probably saw a number of videos and memes running about in celebration. October 21, 2015, was the day Marty McFly arrived in the future to stop his son from robbing a bank in the second film in the Back to the Future franchise. I’ve always loved those films. The opening sequence for the first film, in particular, wastes not one second of frame. But remembering those films got me to thinking.

What would a young woman from 1865, say, find amazing in 1895?

This isn’t just an academic question for me. My current series is set in 1866 frontier Seattle, but I’m working on a special project for my editor, set in 1895 Texas. And I’m getting a real kick out of what I can do then that I never could do before.

Different Words. In any year, language changes, new words get added, and former favorites fall out of vogue. For example, hen party (a get together of ladies to chat and gossip, often over tea) was first recorded around 1885, so my heroine Nancy Snowden can attend one in 1895, but Maddie O’Rourke, the heroine in January’s Instant Frontier Family, cannot.

Changes in Fashion. Check out those sleeves! Even frontier ladies, it seems, mimicked the style. Skirts were more a-line as well. So while Maddie might have to squeeze her bell-shaped skirts through the doorway of a frontier cabin, Nancy might have to take care to keep from crumpling her sleeves. Either way, if Marissa's Fashion Forecasts ever reach 1895, I'll know what's coming. :-)

New Capabilities. Living in frontier Seattle, Maddie had to make much of what she needed herself or pay a hefty price and wait months for it to be shipped from San Francisco or parts east. She also walked or took a boat if she wanted to travel anywhere, with so few roads in existence. When Nancy wanted to travel the hundred-some miles to Waco to visit her new husband’s family, she could ride on a train. She could also avail herself of canned foods and factory-made clothing if she hadn’t the time to prepare them herself and had some cash to spare.

Of course, what didn’t change, indeed hasn’t changed in thousands of years, is the process of a man and a woman falling in love with each other. That’s the story that transcends time. “That’s the power of love.”

(Lead picture copyright Universal Pictures)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Green and Pleasant Land, Part 7: Last Stop, Hampton Court—and Where I’m Going Next Time

Our final stop on the Doyle Family Tour of Southern England meant leaving Brighton (sigh!) after breakfast and heading for our last stop: we had plans to spend the day at Hampton Court Palace before heading to Heathrow Airport (a short drive away) and back home to Massachusetts.

I had visited Hampton Court on my last visit to England, but had only had time to see a small portion of it. Today we had a good five hours, and we still didn’t see all of it—much less the gardens, which would take a full day just on their own.

Hampton Court has seen centuries of use, from the early sixteenth century through the present day. It was built as a country retreat by Cardinal Wolsey, advisor to King Henry VIII—to whom he gave the palace as a gift when Henry’s favor had turned to Anne Boleyn and her political faction. Henry expanded the palace and did a lot of redecorating for Anne, including putting their entwined initials everywhere...which he had to hastily redo a few years later on divorcing (and beheading) Anne and marry Jane Seymour instead. The area where Henry’s kitchens were located have been restored to their former culinary use, which was pretty awesome to see.

After viewing all the Tudor areas (including his private Chapel and ) we visited the Jacobean and Hanoverian bits as well, viewing portraits and furniture and generally being staggered at the sheer size of this place. George II was really the last English monarch to used Hampton Court as a royal house; George III disliked it intensely, and instead rebuilt Windsor and Buckingham House for his family, and Hampton languished for a while until someone hit on the bright idea of using it as a sort of retirement village for old royal retainers and others who had done some service to the crown or country. It housed hundreds of people through the nineteenth and all the way up to the late twentieth centuries; though apartments stopped being given out in the late 1980s, a few residents linger on.

We had a delightful tea in one of the courtyards before departing for the airport and home...but I’m already plotting my next trip to England. Where will I go?
  • London, to visit the places I didn’t get to this time: Sir John Soane’s House, the Burlington Arcade, and Kensington Palace.
  • Absolutely back to Dartmoor. This time I might want to stay at Lewtrenchard House, former home of a well-loved clergyman and specialist on Dartmoor history and folklore (and author of the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers”) Sabine Baring-Gould.
  • Back to the Jurassic Lyme Regis, but also to Sidmouth, which is rife with some awesome Regency architecture.
  • The Isle of Wight (and this time we’ll make ferry reservations!) to see Osborne House as well as the well-preserved Roman ruins there.
  • And then, north! A brief stop in Cambridge, to revisit where I spent one summer at Christ’s College, and York, which is one of the most delightful cities in England, and finally on to the Lake District to stay on Ullswater and do some more tramping about the countryside.
Thank you for following along on my, where in England would you like to go?