Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Cool and Beautiful

It’s been a hot, sultry summer here in the northeast; our usual pattern of heat wave/cool break has not occurred this year (if you happen to find it, can you return it to us?) Of course, in 2020 we’re spoiled: we have air conditioning available to us. We don’t have to grin and bear our way through hot, humid weather, the way our great-grandparents did a hundred years ago.

But our forebears had alternative ways to deal with the heat…like wearing clothing like this:

I found this amazing dress at the “yard sale” held by my local historical society a few years back, where they enabled de-accessioned items from their collections to find a new, appreciative home. I found one other fun piece there that I’ve already written about…I’m not sure what took me so long to share this one with you, but here we are. Wasn’t it worth the wait?

My guess at its age is somewhere around 1908-1912 or so—in the few years before the first world war. It’s made of a lovely sheer linen and was machine sewn, but the seam edges were finished by hand to prevent raveling. The skirt is partially tiered, which adds a little fullness, and the bodice and skirt are set in to the waistband. As you can see from the picture, it fastens with hooks and eyes along one side of the front of the bodice down about ten inches into the skirt.

And the embroidery! Yes, it’s all hand-done, but I can even begin to speculate who might have done it. No matter what, it’s exquisitely done, and appears to have been done especially for this dress—that is, the pieces were cut out, embroidered, and then made up into the dress. The back is only slightly less embellished than the front, by the way.

Now, I know that the young lady who wore it would likely have had a chemise, corset, corset cover, drawers, and petticoats under it, so it might not have been all that cool to her. But just looking at this dress makes me feel cooler, somehow—it’s so dainty and airy. Perhaps it was made for a summer wedding; the beauty and obvious care taken in the embroidery makes me imagine a young woman working hard on it all winter, thinking of the June day when she would wear it. What do you think?

Friday, August 7, 2020

Royal Toxophilites

When I was researching for the post on Regent’s Park a couple of weeks ago, I ran across a mention that had me drooling to do discover more (lovely, lovely research!). The tantalizing tidbit?

Prinny was a member of the Toxophilite Society.

I had known the Prince Regent practiced the manly arts when he was a young man and lent his patronage to a few, but I hadn’t realized he was such an archery enthusiast. It wasn’t news to the incomparable Emily Hendrickson, one of the beloved authors of early Regency romance and an avid historian. She references the matter in her Lord Nick’s Folly.

Now, Marissa told you about toxophilia or the love of archery a while ago. The Toxophilite Society was formed by Sir Ashton Lever in 1781. When the man who would become George IV added his patronage in 1787, it became the Royal Toxophilite Society. The prince also lent his patronage to the Royal British Bowmen and the Royal Kentish Bowmen. He not only shot in competition from time to time, but he also awarded the prizes at various competitions. In one case, he had a portrait painted of himself by John Russel with an English longbow in the colors of the Royal Kentish Bowmen and gave away the portrait as a prize. It is now hung in Buckingham Palace. The picture is apparently copyrighted, but you can see aversion here

Other local archery societies sprang up around the country with general meetings beginning in 1789, but each set up its own rules. Prinny is credited with standardizing the lengths of the various shooting competitions: 100 yards, 80 yards, and 60 yards. At least one Victorian-era source claims only a handful of archers ever hit the innermost ring of the target (called the bullseye later in the century) at 100 yards.

Prinny is also said to have laid out the rules for the rings and colors painted on targets. The middle circle was painted with real gold and was worth 9 points if your arrow hit it, followed by red (7 points), white (5), black (3), and then white again (1).

Today, membership in the Royal Toxophilite Society is by invitation only. If you’d like to learn more, I recommend this piece by a lady historian and archer. 

And you don’t need an invitation or Prinny’s patronage to read it. 😊

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Retro Blast: Bathing Place Evening Dress...Or Not?

Ah, the lure of bathing places in summertime...and no, I don’t mean the tub! I'm in my favorite bathing place right now, also known as Cape Cod--where it’s rather gray and windy just now as we get a flick from the edge of Tropical Storm Isaias. But there’s still a lot of summer left to enjoy...and here’s just the costume to enjoy it in. Or maybe not...

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Just in time for summer...

Isn’t this a delightful print, from the September 1810 edition of La Belle Assemblee?  I mean...she’s wearing what we would call pantalettes, complete with a triple lace frill round each leg...not to mention sandals. The style itself is surprisingly simple, buttoning up the front. It’s cute as a bug, but certainly unlike any early 19th century evening dress I’ve seen before. Since no text accompanied it. I dug around on-line and found this in Google Books:

A gown of white French cambric, or pale pink muslin, with long sleeves, and antique cuffs of thin white muslin, trimmed with Mechlin edging; made high in the neck, without a collar, and formed in points at the center of the bosom, with three rows of letting-in lace; confined down the front of the dress with small buttons; and hemmed round the bottom with three rows of deep Mechlin lace; made rather short, and worn over trousers of white French cambric, which are trimmed the same as the bottom of the dress. A cap composed of lace and light green silk trimming, tied under the chin, with a bunch of natural flowers in front. Hair in full ringlet curls, divided in the front of the forehead. A figured short scarf of pale buff, with deep pale-green border, and rich silk tassels; worn according to fancy or convenience; with gloves of pale buff kid; and sandals of pale yellow, or white Morocco, complete this truly simple but becoming dress.
And there you have it—the reason it’s unlike any other evening dress is because it’s actually a walking dress...and perfect for that. Evidently an engraver for La Belle Assemblee took a mental vacation while working on this print, and gave it an incorrect title. Can’t you see a fashionable young lady out in society, visiting Brighton at the end of the London season, tripping blithely down the sands (not that Brighton has a very sandy beach), kicking at the waves, picking up pretty seashells, and generally having a time of it?☺

Friday, July 31, 2020

Food, Glorious Food, Mount Rainier Edition

I’m working on my third book for Revell, set on and around what would become Mount Rainier National Park. This story has the latest date of the American Wonders Collection so far—1893. I shared how little and how oddly the early explorers of the Grand Canyon ate, as I discovered while researching for A Distance Too Grand (October 2019), which is set in 1871. You would think more than 20 years later, things would be better.

Not so much!

Mount Rainier was a tantalizing figure on the southeast horizon for many in the burgeoning cities of Tacoma and Seattle, not to mention the state capital of Olympia to the west of the mountain. Some of those who decided to venture onto its icy slopes seemed to be a little spare on the food. Jerked venison is frequently mentioned, as is coffee. But some of the men who climbed claimed to have only taken flour and coffee. At least one account describes each man “eating” a half cup of flour as food each day. I searched and searched to find what they added to it and how they cooked it. It appears they didn’t.


At least others came better fortified. Philemon Van Trump, who made the first successful ascent in 1870 and returned several times over the years, brought such staples as flour, bacon, coffee, canned Boston baked beans, jerked venison, oatmeal, potatoes, butter, sugar, condensed milk, and canned apricots, peaches, and pears. He did, however, have a pack horse as far as Paradise, a little more than a third of the way to the top. Little of that made it to the summit.

Some of the items he took surprised and intrigued me:

  • English breakfast tea. I hadn’t known it was named that then, but that was what he wrote in his own report of the climb.
  • Codfish balls. Apparently canned.
  • Potted tongue. Also canned.
  • Liebig’s extract of beef. This was apparently a thick, dark paste. It may have been used like we use bouillon cubes today, as there are records of “beef soup” being served in the crater by those spending the night among the steam vents.

There was one other item that was mentioned on a number of visitors to the mountain, and it’s no stranger to campfire cookery today.


S’mores, anyone?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sort of, but not quite Retro Blast: Skin Deep

Today is re-release day for Skin Deep! A slightly revised version of the story first published in 2016 is now out through Book View Cafe; while it’s the same story, it’s been polished (ask any author: once you release a book, you immediately see all the sentences you wish you’d worded differently or the commas you should or should not have used) and repackaged a little. But it’s still the same award-winning, starred-review story...and one I’m still very proud of. You can buy it direct from Book View Cafe in both MOBI and EPUB formats, as well as at all the usual on-line bookstores.
And just to remind you what selkies are...
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For those who aren’t familiar with them, selkies are a type of shape-shifter, a magical creature that can take the form either of a seal or a human.  They’re a Celtic creature, from the islands and west coast of Scotland as well as the east coast of Ireland. But unusually for shape-shifters, they don’t just change from one form to another: in order to assume his (or her) human form, a selkie takes off his or her skin and puts it on again when it’s time to return to the sea. In human form they’re said to be very beautiful, dark-haired with shining eyes—so beautiful that humans who see them often fall madly in love with them. But they also often have rough skin on their hands as well as webbed fingers.
The most common stories about selkies usually involve a human happening upon them at one of their dances, for selkies were said to gather on beaches at the full moon to take off their skins and dance together in the moonlight. Smitten by their beauty, the human (usually a fisherman out late at night to check his nets) would sneak over to where the selkies had left their skins and steal the one belonging to the fairest selkie maid, forcing her to remain in her human shape. Though she would beg for him to return her skin he always refused, and would somehow convince her to marry him (maybe she figured that if she stayed close to him she would be able to find her skin again.) They would marry and raise a family together...but years later the selkie would find the place where her husband had hidden her skin  (often led there by one of her own children, who has no idea what the soft furry cloak he or she has found is) and snatch it away to return to the sea...though in some of the stories she would return to visit her children.

It’s a beguiling image, isn’t it—the beautiful selkies, laughing and smiling as they dance on the beach with the sea glittering beyond them in the moonlight, the smitten fisherman watching them from behind a boulder, perhaps? I’m not sure if that’s the image that drew me, or the fact that seals are pretty neat creatures to begin with...but the selkie legend has always held a strong fascination for me, so it was inevitable I’d write about them one day.  But in Skin Deep, I’ve turned the selkie legend more than a little upside down...and given it a happily ever after ending.  

Friday, July 24, 2020

A Park for the Regent

I love parks—the greenspace, the sound of children playing, birds singing. It always seems like I can breathe a little easier out among the flowers and trees.

I’m not sure that was the Prince Regent’s reason for deciding to create another park in London. I’m not even certain it was Prinny’s idea, though many sources mention “the Crown” as the instigator. Whatever the genesis, 487 acres of land in what was then northern London belonged to the king and was being leased as farmland, and in the early 1800s, the Commissioner of Woods requested proposals from architects as to how it could be better used.

The proposal of John Nash, often called Prinny’s architect, won the competition. He envisioned a round park, with an Inner Circle and Outer Circle, both ringed by elegant homes. In the center would be a new summer palace for the Prince, with a grand avenue leading from it down St. James’s Palace. The Regent’s Park would include an ornamental lake and a canal as well.

Work started in 1811. Nash first excavated the lake, which was fairly deep and intended to allow boating. After an accident in 1867, in which dozens of people died by drowning after falling through the ice on top, the lake was filled in to a 4-foot uniform depth. Nash also believed in ground contouring and planting early, before construction.
Next came the villas of the Inner Circle and the townhouse terraces of the Outer Circle. The architecture is generally credited to John Nash but at least some evidence suggests that Decimus Burton, then getting started on his career, was involved, with financial support from Burton’s father, James Burton, a wealthy real estate developer. The Holme in the Inner Circle was James Burton’s home.

It was also one of the few to be constructed. Prinny ultimately decided against having his summer palace built in the park. Of the 56 villas planned, only 8 were ever built. The grand avenue to St. James’s Palace, completed in 1819, became today’s Regent Street. The Regent’s Canal that was to run through the park was moved to its northern edge and became the Grand Union Canal.

Instead of Prinny’s set, wealthy merchants and professionals leased the townhouses of the Outer Circle. At first, they and those who lived in the mansions on the inner circle were the only ones allowed to use the park, although it may have been open once a week for carriage rides. In 1828, the recently formed Royal Zoological Society leased some of the land and started the London Zoo. In 1832, the Toxophilite Society built a hall and grounds for archery. In 1838, the Royal Botanic Society moved in and continued to populate the landscape.

It wasn’t until 1835 that the park opened to the public, and then only two days a week, with access to the east side. Today, Regent’s Park welcomes visitors from all over the world and is a much beloved London park.

All that lovely green.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Blast from the Past: Flirting with Fans

It’s been quite astonishingly warm out here in New England, and all I can say is thank heavens for air conditioning, because relying on a fan to stay cool--especially a hand-held one--would have not have worked for me! Then again, fans have other uses, as we learned in this post from 2009:

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Now, on to how to flirt with fans. Mr. Shafer’s introduction to fan flirtations in his Secrets of Life Revealed (Baltimore, 1877) is short and to the point:

The fan is also used for flirtations, and the following rules govern the subject:

Carrying in right hand: You are too willing
Carrying in right hand in front of face: Follow me
Carrying in left hand: Desirous of an acquaintance
Closing it: I wish to speak with you
Drawing across the forehead: We are watched
Drawing across the cheek: I love you
Drawing across the eyes: I am sorry
Drawing through the hand: I hate you
Dropping: We will be friends
Fanning fast: I am engaged
Fanning slow: I am married
Letting it rest on right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on left cheek: No
Open and shut: You are cruel
Open wide: Wait for me
Shut: I have changed
Placing it on the right ear: You have changed
Twirling it in left hand: I love another
With handle to lips: Kiss me

Well! Again I see a lot of potential for miscom-munication here, especially for those of us who tend to be klutzy. Then again, we might end up with a wide circle of acquaintances that way…

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Incidentally, I needed a fan this past weekend, when I learned that Evergreen won the Best Young Adult Novel category of the OK-RWA's National Reader’s Choice Award! A thrill and an honor, for which I'm very grateful.