Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Very Clever Young Lady

 As you know, I’m an avid collector of 19th century dance cards, those delightful little confections of silver and bone and shell that young ladies carried to keep track of their dance partners at balls. As we’ve discussed before, the ones that I collect date to the middle-ish part of the century, from around the 1830s to maybe the 1870s, when printed cards or booklets given out at balls became the standard (and a clever one, too: it gave you a tangible memento of your evening.) It also made sense: it meant you didn’t have to remember that you’d promised the first polka to Mr. Twinkletoes or the galop to Mr. Fleetfoot, because it was all right there in writing. 

I recently found this delightful carnet de bal online. Four and a quarter inches long by one and a quarter wide at its widest, it’s my favorite form—for some reason, I just love the fan-shaped ones. It’s a tad rickety—the chain and ring by which it would have hung from a young lady’s finger or button is gone, as is the pencil—and the coil of brass which would have held the pencil and formed a catch to keep it closed is partially detached from the back panel. The ribbon that held the leaves in place is still there, though detached from the front panel. But what makes this little trinket so marvelous (at least to me) is that its owner was a very organized young lady who also evidently did not like to have to keep track of to whom she’d promised that first polka. Look carefully at the individual leaves:

She carefully inked a heading on each leaf! They read (I apologize for the image qualityit was very hard to photograph!) from left to right, Valses (waltzes), Polkas, Quadrille (that one was a bit hard to make out), Galops, Polka Mazurka, and Schottishe [sic]…and then below that, six numbered spaces for names. Faint traces of names penciled in and erased are there, though alas, too faint and jumbled to read.

Based on the spelling of the dances and the quick research I did on when dances became popular, I’m guessing that this carnet is French, from the 1850s, while the Quadrille was still being danced and the Schottische a popular newcomer. So its owner was evidently well ahead of her time when it came to asset management—er, keeping track of her dance partners. 😊 I like to think that she was a popular young lady who was forced to find a creative way to manage her engagements. Who knows—maybe she helped popularize the printed programs of the future to help her daughters keep track of their swains!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Blast from the Past: Nineteenth Century Heroines: Beloved the World Over

I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life, though I realized fairly early that I probably needed some other vocation to fall back on when those rejection letters piled up.  In the nineteenth century, many young ladies were taught the opposite.  They were told to learn how to be wives and mothers first, and maybe they might have to fall back on a accomplishment like writing well if they ended up spinsters.  That was certainly the case for nineteenth-century writers Ann and Jane Taylor.

Ann and Jane were born in 1782 and 1783, respectively, into an accomplished family. Their father and grandfather were engravers who illustrated books and sometimes set portraits, first in London and then in smaller towns around England.  Ann and Jane had an unusual education: their father taught them at home then started Sunday Schools for poorer children, where they were expected to help teach. They learned reading, writing, math, history, and geography by working through practical problems such as artillery attacks on local towns, engraving issues, and household chores. Between learning and chores, they were busy from sunup to sundown, but that didn’t stop them from writing.

They wrote essays on various topics, they wrote little plays and put them on with the neighboring children, and they wrote poems. At age 15, Jane was invited to join a local society for reading essays and improving the intellect. When Ann was 17, she responded to a puzzle in the Minor’s Pocket Book, an annual publication for children, with a poem, and the editor was so impressed he asked her for more. By 1804, both Ann and Jane were providing poems to the magazine. Over the next few years, they put together collections of children’s poems, some by friends, family, and acquaintances but mostly theirs. When the first book brought in money, their mother decided writing wasn’t so bad. She graciously allowed them a half hour a day to devote to it!

But that seemed to be enough.  Each of their children’s poetry books grew more popular. Their books were translated into French, German, Russian, and many other languages. They were so successful, in fact, that their mother decided to start writing too! She published nine books between 1814 and 1825, all explaining how important it was for women to marry and take care of their families.

Ann Taylor married a minister who had written her a fan letter for her work. She stopped writing for a time to raise eight children, then took up the pen again until her death in 1866. Jane never married and was the more prolific writer. Sadly, she died of breast cancer when she was only 40.

Perhaps because they wrote for children, you don’t often hear their names today. But I’ll wager you know this poem, written by Jane in 1806 and beloved all over the world:

Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.

Did you know it has four more stanzas?

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark!
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveler in the dark
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

A Horse of a Different Color: AN EVENT AT EPSOM is here!

 

Annabel and the lady patronesses of Almack's are about to embark on their sixth adventure, this time venturing farther from London for their latest investigation in AN EVENT AT EPSOM.


It’s June, which means that the fashionable of London are off to Epsom for the annual race meet. A newcomer is favored to win the Oaks Stakes—a mysterious filly who came from nowhere to win the spring races left and right. It will be up to the Lady Patronesses to discover her identity—while Annabel discovers what her true feelings are for Lord Quinceton… 

I knew almost nothing about Epsom and Regency-era horse-racing before writing this story, and barely scratched the surface of racing history. My favorite bit is probably the origin story around the Derby Stakes: in 1778 the Earl of Derby and a group of friends had sponsored the first Oaks Stakes, a race for three-year-old fillies, and decided the following year to establish a race for three-year-old colts--but what to name it? According to legend, a coin toss between the Earl and his friend and fellow racing enthusiast Sir Charles Bunbury decided the matter, though some think that Sir Charles deferred to his host--after all, the race was run on his land. Sir Charles's horse, Diomed, won the first Derby Stakes the following year--not a bad consolation prize!

And the larger story that's been simmering in the background of the series is about to come forward--so fasten your seatbelts!

An Event at Epsom is available directly from Book View Cafe as well as from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Smashwords, and others, as well as in print from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Book View Cafe

Amazon (affiliate link)

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Apple Books

Smashwords

Books2Read

Enjoy!

* * * * *


In other news, What Lies Beneath, my WWI young adult fantasy, has been gaining some exciting recognition: it is a finalist in Georgia Romance Writers' Maggies Award, in Orange County Romance Writers' Book Buyers Best Award, and in the young adult category of the Silver Falchion Award (sponsored by Killer Nashville).



Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Pilot Launches!

Ready for some more steampunk Regency adventure? Tomorrow, July 27, sees the launch of The Prince’s Pilot, the second book in the Regent’s Devices trilogy, and I can’t wait for you to see what Loveday Penhale and Celeste Blanchard are up to now!

Napoleon’s invasion of England is hidden in the clouds…

It is 1819, and Cornwall is agog at the daring of the two young lady aeronauts who, earlier in the summer, flew nearly to France and back in their homemade air ship. Much more is riding on Loveday Penhale and Celeste Blanchard’s new and improved vessel—they plan to win the Tinkering Prince’s prize, offered to anyone who can help England win the war against Napoleon.

To their dismay, they must take two local gentlemen aloft to report on the ship’s capabilities. While Captain Trevelyan and Emory Thorndyke are welcome in drawing room and ballroom, their presence on the air ship proves disastrous. Wildly off course, Loveday barely manages to bring the vessel down safely—in France! Now it is up to the gentlemen to keep the newly designed ship hidden while Loveday and Celeste secure supplies for its repair from Celeste’s former home, l’Ecole des Aéronautes in far-off Paris.

But much has changed since Celeste left the capital, and enemies lurk in its very walls. With her famous aeronaut mother dead in suspicious circumstances, and the flight school closed, there is only one thing to do—make up a story about her absence and approach Napoleon himself. He promptly makes Celeste his Chief Air Minister, and commands her to plan the invasion of England by air. Can she and Loveday stay alive in this nest of vipers long enough to help their stranded friends? Before they are unmasked as spies—and before their beautiful air ship is captured and used to attack England?

Steampunk, historical fiction, and the wits of two amazing authors blend seamlessly to give readers an adventure that will long linger in their minds. I can hardly wait to find out what happens in the next episode.” Huntress Reviews

You can find the book in ebook and print at fine online retailers like

Amazon (affiliate link) 

Apple Books 

Kobo 

Barnes and Noble 

Google Play 

And look for the thrilling conclusion in The Lady’s Triumph, coming in September!

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Retro Blast: Bathing Place Evening Dress

With the temperatures that Britons are suffering right now, I hope most of them can manage a trip to the shore...in somewhat cooler bathing attire, though. As I'm just starting a Ladies of Almack's story set in Brighton in 1810, I'm having fun picturing Annabel in a similar outfit...including the gladiator sandals, still fashionable after more than two hundred years. This post first appeared in July 2017; enjoy, and keep cool. 

* * * * *

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 dress 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:

No. 2.—A FASHIONABLE SEA-SIDE WALKING DRESS
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?☺

 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Napoleon Hearts Science

Napoleon Bonaparte was the big bag bogeyman for much of the Regency period. Nothing would have made him happier than to invade England, and the English knew it. His face and figure featured in many a satirical cartoon of the day. Boney. The Corsican Monster.

The promoter of science and technology.

From an early age, Napoleon showed a skill for mathematics, so much so that he was originally put into artillery school in the military. He was still a young general, his star rising, when he was voted into the equivalent of the French Academy of Sciences. Many would whisper the scientists were merely attempting to curry favor. But he reciprocated by insisting that more than 150 scientists join the “expedition” to Egypt when he and the French army attempted to conquer that country in 1798. On the trip, he held scientific discussions aboard ship, raising the brows of the other military leaders and crew alike. But that expedition ended up discovering the Rosetta stone and opening the study of Egyptology.

Once back in France, Napoleon put not only his political prowess behind scientific advancements but his finances. He paid exorbitant salaries to scientists and engineers and offered prizes to have the most learned men of the day come speak on emerging areas, like electricity. One of these was Alessandro Volta, the Italian chemist credited with inventing the battery.

He pushed France to improve iron-smelting skills, supposedly because he wanted to be able to build bigger monuments. After seeing Robert Fulton test his submarine in the Seine in 1800, Napoleon awarded him with a grant to continue advancing the technology. Unfortunately, Fulton couldn’t figure out the fine points of propulsion. He lost his grant and returned to the United States. A shame Loveday Penhale of the Regent's Devices series hadn’t been there to help him. Doesn't it just look like a device she and Celeste Blanchard would have created? 😊


Others remembered his work. When Napoleon was defeated and exiled to St. Helena, there were allegedly plans to rescue him, by submarine!

One biographer claims Napoleon said if he hadn’t been the leader of France, he would have been a scientist on the scale of Galileo and Newton. Now, that sounds like the arrogant emperor England loathed!

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A River Runs Through It: Turmoil on the Thames is here!

 

The Ladies of Almack’s embark on a watery adventure this month: Turmoil on the Thames releases today!

It’s the Fourth of June, the annual (if unofficial) celebration of the birthday of the King at Eton. Annabel is very much looking forward to attending, along with most of the fashionable portion of London: her elder son, William, will be rowing in the boat race, and picnics and fireworks festively conclude the day. But celebration nearly turns to lamentation until Annabel and Lord Quinceton (you knew he had to be there) avert tragedy…and the Ladies are left wondering how it happened, and what might happen next…

It was fascinating to research the Fourth of June, which became one of THE events of the social season through the 19th century and is still celebrated to this day at Eton. It was also fun to start developing Annabel and Lord Quinceton’s relationship, and begin to set up circumstances and drop hints about later events in the series.

Have I wetted—ahem!—whetted your appetite? 

Turmoil on the Thames can be purchased directly from my publisher, Book View Café, in both EPUB and MOBI formats as well as from all the usual online bookstore outlets. Print versions can be found at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Book View Cafe

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

Kobo

Smashwords

Apple

Happy reading!