Friday, December 28, 2007

Late Christmas Presents

I promised to tell you the answer to my teaser last week: what was wrong with the picture in my Regency Christmas post. Clever Jen recognized that the stocking hanging on the mantel is an American custom. Here are the other two issues: the Christmas tree and the present in the gentleman’s hand.

Marissa’s little queen may have had a tree in 1832, but earlier in the nineteenth century only those of German descent (which, hey, includes most of Queen Vic’s family!) put up Christmas trees. For most of England, it was an unknown custom. Likewise the giving of presents: the upper classes were more likely to give presents on Boxing Day (December 26) and only to those who had given them good service in the previous year. Boxing Day was also a traditional day to go hunting, in full regalia on horseback with your loyal hounds. (And thanks to the online Britannica Student Encyclop√¶dia for the spiffy photo.)

The other time you might give a present, and then a present of food, was New Year’s Eve. After midnight, the first person in your door was supposed to bring gifts of food for all. If this “First Footer” was male, he brought good luck to you for the year. On New Year’s Day, you feasted, and the King and Queen heard an ode by the Poet Laureate, the lead poet in all the land.

While I can’t claim to be a Poet Laureate (okay, I can’t claim to be a poet at all!), I do have some (hopefully) interesting words up on the web. My book’s webpage is now live, and I’ll have a new surprise every week. I do hope you’ll stop by.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas, 1832 Style

The following is an entry from Queen Victoria's diary from 1832, when she was 13. That's five years before she became queen, in case you're wondering. The picture here shows her at about that age, along with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. I've abridged the entry slightly to get rid of some not-very-interesting and not-relevant-to-Christmas bits (like who came over for lunch, that sort of thing.) Some things about Christmas then and Christmas today are surprisingly similar: though they exchanged Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, they had Christmas trees with candles and ornaments and presents arranged around their foot.

I hope you find this interesting--and Merry Christmas to all of you!

Monday, 24th December

"...At a 1/4 to 7 we dined with the whole Conroy family and Mr. Hore downstairs, as our Christmas tables were arranged in our dining-room. After dinner we went upstairs. I then saw Flora, the dog which Sir John was going to give Mamma. Aunt Sophia came also. We then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room. After Mamma had rung a bell three times we went in. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed around the tree. I had one table for myself and the Conroy family had the other together. Lehzen [Victoria's governess] had likewise a litle table. Mamma gave me a little lovely pink bag which she had worked with a little sachet likewise done by her; a beautiful little opal brooch adn earrings, books, some lovely prints, a pink satin dress and a cloak lined with fur. Aunt Sophia gave me a dress which she worked herself, and Aunt Mary a pair of amethyst earrings. Lehzen a lovely music book. Victoire a very pretty white bag worked by herself, and Sir John a silver brush. I gave Lehzen some little things and Mamma gave her a writing table. We then went into my room where I had arranged Mamma's table. I gave Mamma a white bag which I had worked, a collar and a steel chain for Flora, and an Annual; Aunt Sophia a pair of turquoise earrings; Lehzen a little white and gold pincushion and a pin with two little gold hearts hanging onto it; Sir John, Flora, a book-holder and an Annual. Mamma then took me up into my bedroom with all the ladies. There was my new toilette table with a white muslin cover over pink, and all my silver things standing up on it with a fine new looking-glass. I stayed up till 1/2 past 9...."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Regency Christmas

Bah, humbug! That phrase has certainly been heard often enough through the years. Charles Dickens’ character of Ebenezer Scrooge is a Christmas icon. But his attitude toward Christmas is not so far off for the first 40 years of the nineteenth century. Only after Marissa’s beloved Queen Victoria had been on the throne for a while did Christmas begin to take on the glow we know today.

But it wasn’t all tedious and staid. Those who liked to celebrate brought in evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, laurel, bay, and a pale white Christmas rose to decorate their homes. Mistletoe was less common, because it grew mostly in the western and southwestern parts of England and was mostly used among the lower classes. Like today, it was hung in doorways and watched by young gentlemen in hopes of catching a pretty girl to kiss. In some places, it was the custom to pick a berry for each kiss. When all the berries were gone, no more kisses could be taken.

Ah, but far more fun was the kissing bough, a hanging structure made from evergreens, apples, paper flowers, and dolls representing Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, with wire and bright ribbon holding it all together. Like the mistletoe, the bough was hung from a doorway or chandelier. And its kisses didn’t have an expiration date.

Probably my favorite custom, though, involves the Glastonbury Thorn. This hawthorn
tree is said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his tomb for the disciples to lay Jesus’ body after the Crucifixion. Legend has it that Joseph came to convert the Britains, landing at the Isle of Avalon and climbing Wearyall Hill to what is now Glastonbury Abbey. There he planted his staff, which budded and bloomed. Ever after, the Glastonbury Thorn miraculously budded on Christmas Eve and bloomed on Christmas Day, unlike other trees that huddle in winter’s gloom. People took slips from the famous tree and planted them elsewhere, where they took on the same amazing aspect as their parent. By 1850, there were 11 such thorns in England, and people came from far and wide to see them and marvel at Christmas.

Today, the Queen of England has a spray of flowers from a tree descended from the Glastonbury Thorn on her table on Christmas Day. May your Christmas be as bright and blessed!

And if you need a little brain teaser between now and next Friday, look closely at the first picture in today’s post. It’s part of the cover from a previous book of mine. The setting is warm and cozy, and romance is in the air. Unfortunately, there are at least three rather large historical errors in plain view. Can you tell me what they are?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

You'll have to forgive me for (a) being late with this post and (b) going off-topic. It's been an exciting few days for me and Regina and twenty-six other authors of debut kids' books as we enter the final count-down to January 1st and the launch of the Class of 2k8.

The Class of 2k8 is a group of first-time authors of middle-grade and YA books being published in 2008. We banded together to help promote our books and have been working since spring on deciding what efforts we would pursue and how we'd go about getting the word out about 28 amazing new books and 28 new voices in children's literature.

The reason these last few days have been both hectic and exciting is that in ten days, our website will be fully up and loaded with information about our books, including our two January releases, Liz Gallagher's The Opposite of Invisible and Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me. We'll be showcasing all our books as they're released with videos and virtual launch parties, and our blog ( is already up and will be updated daily. We've also got MySpace, Facebook, and Jacketflap presences, and... well, there will be a lot going on throughout the year.

It's been a lot of work...and I mean a lot. As co-president of the Class I spent many hours over the last several months that I could have been writing on Class matters. But the rewards are enormous: not only the website and all, but the friendships I've gained through working with my amazing co-president Jody Feldman (The Gollywhopper Games, HarperCollins, March 2008) and all the other members of our group.

Please check in to the Class of 2k8's web homes frequently. There are some awesome books coming out in 2008!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not Quite the Twelve Days We Know

You know the song, the one that sticks in your mind this time of year? “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .” Turns out it was sung in nineteenth century England, but not quite the way we sing it today. The order and items were a bit different. And the song was a memory game, in that the first person to forget an item was out.

So, here’s what young people would have been singing to torment their governesses and tutors from December 25 to January 5:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four colly birds (colly birds were blackbirds), three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming, six geese-a laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve lords a-leaping, eleven ladies dancing, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four colly birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Phew. Maybe that will get the tune out of my head. And into yours.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Horsing Around, Part II: Good Habits

Last week we discussed horses and carriages and guys driving too fast (and probably not asking directions). This time, I’d like to talk about the other side of horsing around: riding.

As you might have guessed from looking at the clothes, there weren't many forms of physical activity or exercise that women and girls in the 1800s could do and still be thought proper--so if you’ve always hated gym, you were probably born in the wrong century. One of the few (I’ll talk about the others in a future post) was riding.

Again, we’re speaking relatively here. Grooms and stablehands did all the horse care and saddling and so on, which is half of what makes riding such great exercise. All an upper class nineteenth century girl had to do was amble down to the stables and climb aboard…after she’d changed into the proper costume, of course. You couldn’t wear something frothy made of silk and lace when you were about to gallop around the muddy countryside on horseback, so you wore a riding habit.

A riding habit was generally made of a sturdy fabric like wool broadcloth, trimmed maybe with little luxurious touches like a velvet collar or a fine linen stock (high neckcloth, like a man’s cravat). It generally consisted of a skirt and coat, cut very form-fitting. A hat, often copied from a man’s style but with a veil added in, and gloves completed the costume. Pantaloons were worn underneath it for modesty’s sake in case (horrors!) you fell off, and the skirt was cut with extra fabric so it draped nicely when you were settled into your sidesaddle.

Yes, sidesaddle. Women in polite society did not ride astride. Sidesaddles have a sort of crook that you hook one leg over while the other has a stirrup. It sounds more precarious than it actually is, and many, many women were quite dashing riders.

Horseback riding was not just for country life. A favorite activity for elegant young women during the London Season was riding in Hyde Park, either on the sandy path known as “Rotten Row” or on the Ladies’ Mile. A morning ride was a fabulous way to see and be seen (remember, you were wearing that very handsome and figure-revealing habit), gossip with friends and flirt with the boys, and make plans for afternoon shopping or evening partying. Horsing around, indeed!

Friday, December 7, 2007

License to Drive

Marissa’s in the clouds over her cover (and who wouldn’t be!), but I’m still dreaming of driving. Carriages, that is.

Now teens learn to drive cars, taking driving courses, getting permits, practicing.
Young people could drive carriages much earlier in nineteenth century England. If you were lucky and a bit wealthy, your parents allowed you a pony cart, a jaunty box on two wheels pulled by a pony, to drive about the country estate. Usually only the gentlemen graduated to something bigger, but it was not unknown for a lady to have her own curricle built for two.

Just like when you study for a driver’s license for a car today, manuals were available to study to learn to drive carriages. Here’s what Hints to Horse-Keepers by Henry William Herbert had to say in the 1890s:

“The eyes of the driver should be always on his horses, yet always about him. While he should see every strap and buckle within eye-shot, every movement of the horses’ ears, every toss or shake of their heads, and every step that they take, he should also see every vehicle coming toward him, every object by the roadside or elsewhere, which might possibly frighten his team, and every stone or uneven place in the road on which they are likely to step, or which may come in the way of the wheels. To sit in this manner, and to be thus watchful while driving a pair of lively horses, and at the same time to appear perfectly at ease, is no small accomplishment; still it may be attained by practice, and is essential to elegance in driving.”

Yeah, that’s what I want for Christmas: elegance in driving. I’ll work on that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Could Just About Burst

You'll have to wait for further entries on horses and Queen Victoria for another week. Today I am pleased (aw, heck, thrilled) to present to cover!

Regina speculated that based on the cover of her upcoming book, La Petite Four, readers would think it was about pink. I'm not sure what they'll think Bewitching Season is about, based on mine (though I know they'll be thinking that the designer, Henry Holt's Assistant Art Director Laurent Linn, is a genius and knows his historic costumes), but I hope they'll think it's intriguing enough to pick it up and read it and...oh. What is it about, you ask? Well...

Twins Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are facing the prospect of their first London season with mixed feelings...sort of. Pen can't wait for the dozens of balls and parties and handsome suitors, but Persy would far rather stay home with their governess, Ally, and continue her magic studies. The only thing drawing her to London in this spring of 1837 is the prospect of seeing Princess Victoria, her and Pen's idol.

But then Ally disappears from a busy London street and the twins are drawn into searching for her...and find that her disappearance is linked to a dastardly plot to enchant the soon-to-be Queen. Persy also discovers that a good lady's maid is hard to find, that one should never cast a love spell on anyone after drinking too much punch at a party, that pesky little brothers can sometimes come in handy, and that even boys who were terrible teases when they were twelve can mysteriously turn into the most perfect young men...

I love my cover. I hope you'll love my book. It'll be out April 1, 2008 from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Taking the Reins

Marissa’s post on carriages brought back some great memories. I’ve actually had the privilege of driving a coach, thanks to some creative friends who gave me an unforgettable birthday present a few years ago.

They rented an open carriage and coachman to drive me through our little town’s equivalent of Hyde Park, which runs along the placid green-gray waters of the Columbia River. It was a white carriage with red trim and seats, pulled by two prancing black horses. What a thrill to feel the breeze caress my face, hear the clop of hooves against pavement (okay, blacktop, but go with me here!), adjust to the bounce of the springs and sway of the seat beneath me, watch the joggers stop and stare. Easy to imagine how it must have felt to tool through the real Hyde Park during the Season. Only it would have been Colin Firth and Matthew MacFayden staring. (I said go with me!)

We reached the end of the park road, and the coachman turned the horses. Then he looked at me with a grin and asked, “Would you like to take the reins?”

Would I? Oh, would I!

So there I sat, up on the box (that’s the seat up front for the driver), reins in one hand, just like a member of the Four-In-Hand-Club. The best young drivers (or at least the ones who liked to think they were the best) in nineteenth century England belonged to that club, meaning they could hold the four reins threaded through the fingers of one hand and remain in control of the horses even on turns, in bad weather, and during races.

It was thrilling and a little scary. The horses seemed massive and powerful. I swear one looked back with a smirk as if to say, “Bring it on, honey.” Could I really control them with those long, thin strips of leather? Young ladies and gentlemen in nineteenth century England did.

So did I. It was an amazing experience: setting them trotting, feeling the horses move to my commands. The flick of my wrist told them volumes. What a rush! If you get the chance to take the reins, I heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Horsing Around, Part I: Tilburys, Broughams, Cabriolets, Curricles, Landaus, Phaetons, and Barouches

During most of the nineteenth century, everyone horsed around.

And I mean that quite literally. If you wanted to go somewhere, chances were you used a horse to either ride or to draw a cart or carriage of some sort.

Relying on horses for transportation meant several things. It meant you had to have a place for them to live (stables and a paddock). You had to have people to take care of them (grooms and stable boys) and appropriate food and care (proper shoeing and veterinary care when necessary). And you had to have means to actually use them, like saddles and tack or a carriage…which in turn necessitated having coachmen and other staff.

As you might guess, having your own horses and carriage meant you were probably at least semi-wealthy--and the more horses and carriages you owned, the wealthier you were. Having an elegant carriage and matched horses to draw it (grays were the most popular carriage horses) was the nineteenth century version of having a Lexus or a Mercedes in the garage. Those who couldn’t afford to keep their own horse and carriage could rent one when necessary, usually from a local inn or a livery stable.

Relying on horses to get around also meant that you didn’t just up and hop on your horse to go to the mall or out for pizza on a whim…because it takes a while to get a horse saddled or hitched up to a carriage. It also meant that if you were traveling a long distance with your own horses, you could only go as far and as fast in a day as the road conditions would allow…and stop for the night when the horses were tired. Alternately, you could travel longer distances more quickly on the system of stage coaches that traveled between most of the major cities and towns of England, stopping at special coaching inns to change horses periodically.

Carriages came in many forms, and different styles went in and out of fashion over the years. They could seat as few as two or as many as six, could have two or four wheels, be drawn by one, two, or four horses, be open to the air or completely enclosed. A wealthy young man in the 1820s trying to impress the girls might drive a curricle, a small open two-wheeled, two-horse vehicle, or a tilbury (similar but drawn by one horse). His parents would have a handsomely-painted barouche, a closed carriage with four wheels that seated four passengers plus a footman or two hanging on in the back and perhaps also a cabriolet or phaeton that they could drive themselves.

Coaching was also something of a hobby for wealthy young men. Someone who was skilled in the “noble art of handling the ribbons” wasn’t doing his sisters’ hair wraps, but was an exceptionally skilled coachman ("ribbons" was slang for reins). Young men being remarkably unchanged over the centuries, coaching generally meant racing…and, of course, betting on those races. The Prince of Wales himself was known in his younger days as a keen coachman, frequently trying to shave precious minutes off his record traveling between Brighton and London.

By the 1840s rail transport began to boom and eventually replaced the stage coaches, and later on in the 1890s inventors tinkered with engine-driven cars, but the horse was pretty much it for most of the nineteenth century.

Next week: Horsing Around, Part II: Good Habits

Friday, November 23, 2007

Shop 'Til You Drop

That’s what some of you were doing today, admit it. Those sales sound so good I was tempted to get up before 4:00am.

I said tempted. I didn’t give in.

Young ladies in nineteenth century England had fewer temptations when it came to shopping. A village might have nothing more than an all-purpose store with a few bolts of serviceable fabric and some ribbon. A larger town would have some linen drapers (fabric stores), seamstresses, and tailors as well as furniture makers, jewelers, haberdasheries (ribbons, lace, and the like), and print makers. Only in a large city like London would you find a wealth of choice.

One of the premier shopping districts in London was Bond Street. There you were sure to find anything your heart desired. A 1794 directory of the street shows confectioners, an optician, a stationer, several watch makers and jewelers, a few toy makers, two music shops, four booksellers, several upholsterers, a shoe warehouse, a few perfumers, no less than a dozen linen drapers, and assorted tea dealers, upholsterers, embroiderers, wine merchants, and cheesemongers.

Bond Street was also where you might find businesses that were patronized by the Royal Family. You’ve seen the ads on television today: “Official sports car of the NBA,” “Official soft drink of the Olympics.” The Royal gun maker, Royal trunk maker, and Royal watch maker were on Bond Street.

Today, Bond Street remains the shopping district of the wealthy and privileged, boasting such names as Armani, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Chanel, Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, De Beers, Cartier, and Tiffany.

I’m going to see them, in February. Did I mention that? And I'd get up before 4:00am to do it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Queen Victoria Part III: Poor Little (not very) Rich Girl

In Part II I told you about the Great Matrimonial Race to beget the next heir to the British throne. So now let’s look more closely at the winner of the race and her earliest days.

Victoria’s dad was Edward, Duke of Kent, George III’s fourth son. He was a professional soldier, serving in various commanding positions in various places, including Canada. It was there that he met a young woman who became his “best friend” for the next twenty-seven years. But when the starting gun of the GMR (Great Matrimonial Race) sounded, that long-term relationship was ended and Edward went off to find someone to actually marry.

He eventually found Victoire, the widowed Duchess of Leiningen. Leiningen was one of the dozens of tiny principalities of Germany that existed in those days. Victoire was in her early thirties and reasonably good-looking, sister-in-law of the late Princess Charlotte whose death had stated the whole GMR…but most importantly she’d had two healthy children with her first husband--an important point in the GMR. Edward convinced her to marry him, then settled down with her in Germany because it was much cheaper to live there than in England and he had enormous debts (and a lot of angry creditors). But when Victoire found she was pregnant, Edward decided it was time to return to England for his child’s birth. They just squeaked in, arriving on April 24, 1819 and exactly one month later, on May 24, a fat, healthy baby girl was born. The proud papa told visitors to “take care of her for she will be Queen of England.” The baby was christened Alexandrina Victoria (Drina for short), named for one of her godfathers, the Czar of Russia, and for her mother. Amazingly, she managed to escape being named George, unlike most of her cousins.

Unfortunately, the proud papa wouldn’t even live to see little Drina’s first birthday: he caught a chill and died of pneumonia when she was only eight months old. His Duchess found herself in a strange land, able to speak only the barest amount of English, with an infant and her daughter from her first marriage. Fortunately, her brother Leopold, husband of the late Princess Charlotte, was absolutely loaded and helped support her (remember, the Duke of Kent had been in debt up to his eyeballs). So little Drina and her mother and half-sister Feodore settled in the Duke’s apartment in Kensington Palace, and would remain there until Drina became queen at age eighteen.

The Duchess wasn’t completely alone, of course. She had her domestic (maids and footmen and so on) and household staff: a nanny for baby Drina and a governess for Feodore named Fraulein Lehzen…and her household Comptroller, a former aide to the Duke, named John Conroy. His job was to manage her household and her money, but in time he would do much more than that...and earn little Drina’s undying hatred. We’ll hear more about Fraulein Lehzen, John Conroy, and Vic and her mom in Part IV: Prisoner of Kensington Palace.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Such Language!

One of the things I love about nineteenth century England is the language. A young gentleman might be spatter his speech with “cant,” words patterned after those used by coachmen. Servants might talk with accents that remind you of the streets of Liverpool or Dublin. But even the more proper words spoken by young ladies were interesting. Here are a few tidbits:

Reticule: sounds like something the doctor might take out to examine you, doesn’t it? It’s a handbag closed with a draw string. There’s some speculation that the name itself derived from the word ridicule, as in “How can you possibly stuff so much into that little thing?”

Morone: a fancy pasta? No, a peony red color popular in fabric around 1811.

Nonpareil: A kind of sugar-free candy? Sort of — it was a gentlemen who was without equal (you know, really yummy!)

Curricle: a copper-colored seashell? No, a two-wheeled, open carriage, just right for two passengers.

Tool: something your dad has to go buy because he can never find the right one for the job? Perhaps, but also what you did in that lovely curricle built for two, by driving about.

Spencer: Princess Di’s maiden name? Well, yes, but also a short jacket (sort of like a shrug today). Legend has it that an ancestor of Princess Di, Earl Spencer, was standing before the fire and singed off his coat tails. He liked the short coat so well he brought it into style, first for men and later for the ladies.

Maggot: Ew, those squiggly little worms. In the nineteenth century, it also meant a whim, a sudden idea, as in “What maggot’s gotten into your brain that you’re staring at that handsome fellow so fixedly?”

Now, if you would be so good as to pardon me, I’ve gotten a maggot in my head to go fetch my reticule and morone Spencer and tool through the park in my curricle with my favorite nonpareil. Ta!

Oh, and if you get a moment on Sunday, November 18, stop by Risky Regencies and visit us! Marissa and I will be guest blogging.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If Music be the Food of Love, Pass the Antacids

Looking at this picture (it's from Ackermann's Repository, March 1819), can't you just tell by the way she's gazing up at the ceiling that she's singing waaaay out of tune? And maybe fat-fingering those chords as well? I just love this print.

But Regina's post a few weeks back on music as a required accomplishment for a nineteenth century miss made me think about something else...the fact that if you wanted to hear music, you pretty much had to make it yourself. There were no iPods, no downloads, no CDs, no radio. The first sound-recording device wasn't invented until 1877 by Thomas Edison, and widespread consumer use of the earliest recorded sound machines wasn't until well into the 1890s.

So there was a reason that an "accomplished" young lady learned to play pianoforte, or harp, or guitar like this girl: unless you went to a concert, doing it yourself was the only source of music there was.

For example...have you seen the A&E mini-series of Pride and Prejudice? You know, Colin Firth and all that? Remember that whenever there was a party, like the ones at Meryton or at Netherfield, a group of actual musicians was hired to provide music for dancing--no DJs or sound systems. And when people got together at someone's house, Mary Bennet always got dragged into playing music on her beloved piano that she obviously loathed so that everyone else could dance.

So our friend here strumming away on her rather squared-off guitar was probably entertaining friends after dinner or whiling away an evening around the drawing room fire with Mama and Papa. Because if you wanted to hear some music, that's how you did it.

(This is a repost of a previous posting that we had to take down because for some reason, it turned into utter unreadability when viewed on a Mac. We still don't know why. Dontcha love technology?)

Friday, November 9, 2007

It's What's on Top That Counts

I’m working in Washington D.C. this week, and the weather has turned chill. All around me, hats are popping up like daffodils in the spring. Most look snug and warm. I imagine that the beaver or silk top hats worn by young men in the nineteenth century might have offered some warmth as well.

I’m not so sure about these lovelies, from 1818. While these bonnets might offer protection from the sun, they were more likely worn for show. As you can see, the basic shape was the same, but the feathers, flowers, lace, and ribbon used made each bonnet a work of art. And the more fashionable you were, the more original the item covering your head.

I’ve often read of a chip bonnet, which I assumed was a small little thing. But books from the 1800s talk about “tremendous” and “huge” chip bonnets, so I admit I’m a bit mystified.

For evening, you had turbans, caps, and the perennial favorite, ostrich plumes. One young lady in this picture from 1808 even has a top hat trimmed in ermine, matching the ermine lining of her evening cloak. Now she looks warm!

I wonder if they still sell those here in D.C.?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

I'm posting a day early (I usually do Tuesdays) because today is an interesting date in British history, and one that somehow seemed to end up being celebrated mostly by teens for no very good reason except that it involves bonfires, fireworks, and similar fun stuff that most adults generally disapprove of. Here's why you should remember The Fifth of November.

Back in the early seventeenth century, in 1605 to be exact, King James I was king of England and Scotland. England at this time was (just like most of Europe) in the throes of religious conflict as Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other in various wars of religion and conquest. James was a Protestant, and the official church of England was Protestant, but there still remained a fair number of people with Catholic sympathies in the country, among them the family of a man named Guy Fawkes.

Guy spent a lot of his youth as a mercenary, a professional soldier who fought for whoever paid him. While fighting for Spain in the Netherlands he fell in with a crowd of English Catholics. Spain was a very Catholic country and a very military one, and it dreamed of some day conquering England and returning it to Catholicism. Whether or not it had anything directly to do with what follows isn't clear...but what happened was that this group of English Catholics decided it would blow up King James, his family, and the largely Protestant Parliament on Parliament's opening day at Westminster as a way to help restore Catholicism to England. Because of his experience with artillery (cannons and that sort of thing) as a soldier, Guy was made the leader of the plot, today known as The Gunpowder Plot.

So in the fall of 1605 he and his co-conspirators rented a cellar in the House of Lords at Westminster and managed to smuggle 36 barrels (about 1800 lbs.) of gunpowder into it. However, the lid got blown off the Gunpowder Plot when one of the conspirators, worried that Catholic members of Parliament might be harmed as well, sent a warning note to one who promptly alerted the Secretary of State. According to accounts, Guy was just about to light the fuse to detonate the powder when he was arrested. He and his co-conspirators were tortured and eventually executed, and the King and Parliament were saved.

In a way, the Gunpowder Plot was a godsend for James, who hadn't been terribly popular in England (he was Scottish) until someone threatened to blow him up. Spontaneous public celebrations in the form of bonfires sprang up everywhere, and straw-stuffed dummies meant to represent Guy Fawkes were tossed into them. And of course songs and poems were written about the Gunpowder Plot, including this one which begins,

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”

Guy Fawkes Night (also called Bonfire Night) is still celebrated today. Children and teens used to go house to house with their effigies of Guy Fawkes asking for pennies to buy fireworks (not done any more, as anyone under 18 is not allowed to possess fireworks. Most fireworks displays today are done by municipal authorities.) and between those and the bonfires, it's definitely a memorable night.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Losing Their Marbles

Like anyone on summer vacation, the young ladies and gentlemen let loose in nineteenth century London during the Season (see previous post) wanted to see the sights. Thrill seekers might visit the Tower Zoo, cringe through the feeding of the tigers at the Royal Menagerie in the Exeter ‘Change, or watch a balloon ascend over Hyde Park. For those of more historical or artistic pretensions, a visit to the Elgin Marbles was a must.

Before the marble sculptures even arrived in England, they were the center of controversy. Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin, actually made off with them while serving as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Greece. He claimed these sculptures, which once decorated the Parthenon in Athens, could be better protected in England. Seems some people (not Greeks) were breaking off the noses of statues as souvenirs.

Unfortunately, Elgin didn’t do a very good job of protecting the sculptures. One of the pieces removed from the Parthenon fell and was crushed into dust. The first shipment sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean and had to be salvaged. Then Elgin and his family were kidnapped on the way home from Greece and held as political hostages for three years!

Meanwhile, the arrival of the marble sculptures in England between 1803 and 1812 helped ignite the passion for Greek designs. Woman piled up their hair like the hairstyles in Greek pottery. Dresses turned to classic lines and draperies. Columns and friezes decorated buildings. Artists from all over England and as far away as Italy and America came to ogle the pieces and weep that their own work was so pitiful in comparison.

Not everyone was so thrilled. Several members of Parliament expressed concerns about how the sculptures had come to be in Elgin’s possession. In his Childe Harold, one of the bestsellers of the period, Lord Byron attacked Elgin for plundering history.

Elgin had hoped the British Museum would purchase the collection, but the museum offered less than what he asked. When he had to move from his Park Lane home, he stashed the sculptures in the rear yard of palatial Burlington House, where they were stacked in and around the coal shed. They remained there until 1816, when the British Museum increased their offer. It was still lower than Elgin wanted, but he was getting desperate and Burlington House had been sold, so he accepted the offer.

Today, the Elgin Marbles are still the center of controversy. They remain on display at the British Museum, but Greek patriots and English supporters continue to lobby for their return to their homeland.

And Elgin? His nose rotted off. No lie.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Visions of Sugar Plums...Oops, Wrong Holiday

Well, okay. Maybe the young lady in this amazing costume wasn't planning on trick or treating--she was actually on her way to a fancy dress or costume ball in this 1839 print--but wouldn't she have fit right in with the Halloween crowd? Thinking about Halloween got me thinking about what was always my favorite part of it: candy. What kind of candy would an early nineteenth century teen eat?

Hint: it wasn't Nerd Ropes, Sour Skittles, or anything with a Hershey's label on it. And no petit fours either, at least not yet.

Most candy (called "sweetmeats" or just "sweets") eaten in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century wasn't all that different from the sweets eaten in medieval times. They were primarily fruit or nut based, like candied flower petals (violets and rose petals) or candied fruit (sugar plums, anyone?), pralines (sugared almonds), boiled sweets (like what we call hard candies--think Jolly Ranchers), marchpane (marzipan, or almond paste), caramels, nougat, peppermints... you get the picture. No least not that you ate. Drank, maybe.

Yes, for the first three hundred or so years that Europeans knew about chocolate, they knew it as something you drank. The first chocolate house in England opened in London in 1657 and became sort of a Starbuck's to the elite, for chocolate was not cheap. Over the decades, as supplies becamse more reliable, the price dropped and drinking chocolate became widespread. It wasn't until 1830 that English chocolate maker J.S. Fry and Sons came up with an edible chocolate...and from most accounts it wasn't something you particularly wanted to eat, being grainy and coarse (hmm, maybe like eating hot chocolate powder?) They worked on it, though, and after a Dutch inventor created a process to smooth the texture of chocolate by removing some of the cocoa butter (you still see "dutch-process" cocoa and chocolate today) came up in 1847 with something a lot more like what we're used to--a chocolate paste that could be molded into bars.

Later in the century the Swiss became the leaders in the field of chocolate confectionary, but as well as inventing the chocolate bar the English introduced in 1861 the first heart-shaped box of candy for Valentine's Day...but that's another holiday.

No, Victoria, There Is No Halloween

As we near Halloween, it’s fun to think of elegantly gowned young ladies going door
to door begging treats, perhaps dressed like Madame Catalani here, who is acting the part of an ancient Babylonian princess. Can’t you see the Prince Regent dressed like a pumpkin?

Never happened.

Halloween as we know it today was not celebrated during the nineteenth century in England. Trick-or-treating is an American custom. Yes, I know there’s evidence it all goes back to the Druids, but during the nineteenth century such customs had largely disappeared, particularly in the large cities.

The Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England, celebrated the Feast of All Souls on November 1, when parishioners remembered those who had died. The night before was known as All Hallow’s Eve, when the spirits of the dead were thought to wander.

In the country it was a little different. On All Hallow’s Eve, local traditions might have a young man playing tricks on the neighbors like upsetting the hay cart or pitching the garden gate into the pond. Children might go door to door singing for the souls of the dead (and earning money or cakes in return). In other places, young men and ladies scurried about carrying mangel-wurzels as lanterns to ward off the spirits of the dead.

And what, pray tell, is a mangel-wurzel, you ask. It’s a humungous beet, growing as large as a human head.

Scary, huh?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rule England, But You Still Can't Study Painting

After learning more about Queen Victoria from Marissa’s posts, I stand amazed. Here a young lady became queen of one of the most powerful nations in the world, but young ladies her own age could be denied the right to study painting.

I didn’t know that when I first started researching the story behind La Petite Four. My lead character, Lady Emily Southwell, has a passion for painting. And not watercolors, oh no. She likes oil paints, the bold strokes, the strong colors. Give her a bloody battle scene or the death of a great leader any day. Originally, I thought she’d make a fine candidate to join the Royal Academy of Art. After all, famous painters Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were founding members. Surely an artist of Lady Emily’s talents would fit right in.

Or not.

It seems that during the nineteenth century, women were not allowed to study at the Royal Academy school. Oh, they could exhibit their paintings in the Summer Exhibition, the only one open to outsiders. But they could not sit with their equally talented fellow painters and architects, learning from the masters. Not because they weren’t as good, not because they couldn’t handle the course work.

They couldn’t join the Royal Academy because the models they’d have to draw were nude, and watching nude models was deemed inappropriate for a woman. In fact, when Johann Zoffany painted a scene immortalizing the founding members of the Royal Academy, he painted them surrounding a naked male model. Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were present only as portraits on the wall, for they too were denied that right. When they died, it wasn’t until 1936 that another female was elected to full membership in the Royal Academy.

It’s enough to make a girl take up watercolors.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Queen Victoria, Part II: And the Winner is...

You’ve heard the expression that “truth is stranger than fiction,” haven’t you? The story of how Queen Victoria came to be born is one of the more improbable stories in history. Read this and let me know if you don’t think so too.

Now…let yourself drift back in time (cue woo-woo music) to the early nineteenth century…

It’s late 1817, and there's just been a death in the royal family of England. Poor Charlotte, granddaughter of King George III and heiress to the throne of England after her dad the Prince of Wales, has just died in childbirth. The country is devastated, because Charlotte was very popular. But more importantly, she had no brothers or sisters because her parents couldn’t stand each other.

So who was going to inherit the throne after the Prince of Wales?

Well…according to the rules in England, if the king’s eldest son has no legitimate children, then the throne is inherited by his next son (and that son’s legitimate children)…and so on down the line. George III had fifteen (that is not a misprint) children, twelve of whom were still living, so that was okay…there were plenty of spare heirs there, right? And most of those children had children of their own. In fact, by 1817 George III had fifty-six grandchildren. You’d think that the last thing anyone had to worry about was the heir supply…but in fact there was a problem.

The problem was that none of those fifty-six was legitimate. Not one. Charlotte had been the only one of George III’s grandchildren whose parents who were actually married to each other. Most of George’s sons had remained single for various reasons, but that hadn’t stopped them from raising fine families. One of them, the Duke of Clarence, had ten children with a famous actress of the day, Dorothy Jordan.

This just cracks me up. Fifty-six illegitimate grandchildren for a man who was, according to all accounts, as strait-laced and virtuous as they come. Go figure.

So early 1818 saw three unmarried middle-aged English princes rushing through Europe looking for young, healthy princesses to marry (a fourth had just married a couple years before). And after that, the race began to see who could produce a legitimate child first. Our Victoria was one of those babies, arriving on May 24, 1819. She wasn’t the first--a boy named (what a surprise) George had been born in March--but because her father was the older than that baby’s father, she won…

And eighteen years later became Queen.

In a few weeks look for Queen Victoria Part III: Poor Little Rich Girl

And in case you're wondering, that's Victoria as a toddler with her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1821, by W. Beechey.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Music to Their Ears

Did you learn a musical instrument growing up? I learned to play the piano. I loved playing, but I always got in trouble for not practicing enough. And I couldn’t stand recitals. All those people watching, all those fingers flying. Not much good ever came of it, that I could see.

Fashionable young ladies in the 1800s were also expected to learn to play an instrument and to practice until they were proficient. Obviously, the young lady here has learned her lessons well. Even the cherubs have stopped to listen.

A proper young lady would never play professionally, of course, though there were plenty of opportunities to play for family and friends. Sometimes a young musician would play for the family to entertain them after dinner. Musicales, where several people took turns playing or singing, were quite popular, at least for the proud mothers. I imagine quite a few young ladies would have preferred to stay home or play cards.

The harp was a frequent choice of instrument, as were the piano and the spinet, which was a type of harpsichord. Other types of harpsichords had mostly fallen out of favor by this time, although a few likely remained in some families. Some young ladies also learned to play the flute or violin. There was also an ophiclide, a tall, ungainly horn that was the forerunner of a tuba. I made the villainess in my current work-in-progress play that instrument. Someone like her should.

Maybe I’ll even make her give a recital.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Part One: "La Ramassel"

Isn't this wonderful...not to mention amazing? It's from a series of prints entitled "Le Bon Genre", originally published in France in 1817 (a second series came out in 1822 and a third in 1827) as an amusing look at life and entertainment among the fashionable classes in and around Paris. Note the little oil lamps on posts running down the sides--wherever this was, you could evidently ride it at night. I can't help wondering if a lot of ladies lost those wonderfully fluffy ostrich plumes off their hats--you may not be able to see it very well, but the lady half-way down the slide is reaching for hers with an alarmed look on her face. And I wonder if that little girl is about to say "Can we go again? Pleeeeease?" In French, of course.

So much for Six Flags, huh?

Friday, October 5, 2007

In Vogue

It’s October, the time when I start leafing through fashion magazines to decide how to update my look. Yes, I’m a bit of a fashionista (I had a perfect score at the Fashionista Quiz ). I adore pretty clothes, I’ve tried to figure out what works on me and what doesn’t, and I’m passionate about hunting for bargains.

Young ladies in the 1800s also leafed through magazines to decide what was in fashion. Marissa and I have been using prints from some of these magazines in our posts. Anywhere you see color, it was done by hand, one page at a time, for the 1,000-some copies that were produced. Sometimes a magazine also bound in swatches of actual fabric to touch and swoon over.

One of the more popular magazines was the monthly La Belle Assemblée. It was about 48 pages long and included essays, short stories or serialized books, reviews of new books or plays, sheet music, and fashion commentary. It talked about what was new, what was hot, and what was not, including who was wearing what at Court. It also carried news of what was happening in Paris fashions with some news from Germany and Italy.

In every issue were two hand-colored fashion prints with specific detail so the gowns could be recreated. I imagine some of the seamstresses hated the week it came out. Every fashionable young lady in town must have rushed in with paper in hand. “This! I want to look just like this.”

Well, maybe not just like that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Coming Out

In the nineteenth century, teens didn't date, or hang out, or hook up.

They came out.

Hey, stop giggling. I know what you're thinking.

"Coming Out" had nothing to do with sexual identity, though in a way it did have something to do with sex...more specifically, with marriage.

In Regina's last entry, we heard about the Season--non-stop party time in London and in smaller cities around Britain...though a Season spent anywhere but London was unthinkable if you had any social ambition. A major part of the Season was basically a marriage market: young women (as young as 16) meeting men in search of wives.

So when a girl was deemed "ready" at somewhere between age 16 and 19, she would go to London with her parents or other near relative and spend a ridiculous amount of time and money at dressmakers' shops having dresses made for every possible social occasion: ball dresses, dinner dresses, evening dresses, morning dresses, walking dresses, carriage dresses, riding habits, promenade dresses...and one very important Court dress.

Once her wardrobe was full to bursting with neatly folded dresses (hangers didn't come into use till later), a young woman of the proper social standing was then able to go to the Palace of St. James on one of a handful of designated afternoons or evenings, dressed in her Court dress with a train that could be as long as eight feet and tall, nodding white feathers in her hair...and be presented to the Queen. That meant she and a gaggle of other girls her age got to walk carefully into a room where the Queen and throngs of other people waited, curtsey carefully to whatever members of the royal family were there and kiss their hands. If her daddy was someone like an earl or a duke, the Queen kissed her on the forehead.

And that was it...except she couldn't just say "toodles" and go skipping out. No, she had to curtsey again and walk backwards from the Queen's presence--wearing that train, mind you. There were several court officials who spread her train out for her when she arrived and others who lifted her train for her on a long stick and tossed it to she had to back out curtseying, catch her train over one arm, and keep walking backwards till she made it out the door.

After that, she was officially an adult. If Mom and Dad felt like it, they might throw her a ball or some other event to mark the occasion and announce more clearly that she was now entering the marriage market. She'd made her curtsey to the Queen and had Come Out, and could now party to her heart's content.

And wear all those dresses, of course.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Twas the Season

Around the country, students are either working away at their first quarter of school or about to start it. In fact, our daily lives often revolve around the school year calendar and its holidays. Not so in 19th century England. Among the upper classes in those days, the year revolved around the Season.

The Season—when everyone who was anyone packed their bags and headed for London. To hear some tell, it was one endless party: balls, musicales, Venetian breakfasts (which are held in the afternoon, but that’s another post!), soirees, routs (can someone please tell me the difference?). On any given night you could also choose among events at the many theatres, such as a famous actor reciting Shakespeare, a diva singer at the opera, or a plucky pantomime. During the day, you’d make morning calls (also in the afternoon) on anyone you’d met the nights before so you could wrangle invitations to more balls, routs, the opera, etc. And of course, you’d visit your tailor or a seamstress for new outfits, ride in Hyde Park, tour the sights, enjoy a horserace or, if you were really daring, a boxing match, and do a thousand other things only a large city like London can offer.

So when did all this revelry happen? The Season wasn’t a specific set of days, like December 25 is Christmas. This whirlwind of activity generally started spinning after Easter Sunday, which can be anywhere from the middle of March to the end of April, and ended when Parliament adjourned for the summer, somewhere between early July and mid-August. Some people think there was also a “Little Season” in the fall, but no one has been able to pin it down. It may be that the Little Season was only held when Parliament decided to sit during the fall, which happened six times from 1810 to 1820.

Even today, prices for hotel rooms in London go up after Easter and come down in the fall. How do I know? I’m going to London! (Picture me doing a little happy dance at my computer.) Yes, it’s shocking—I’ve written 18 books set in England and I’ve never been able to go there. Thanks to a whole lot of frequent flyer miles and Marriott hotel points, I’m heading to London with my wonderful critique partner in late February/early March.

Before the Season starts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Queen Victoria...Teen Idol?

"Teen Idol" are probably not the first two words that pop into your mind when you think about this lady, are they?

But if you go back about fifty years from when that photo was taken, she would definitely have won a “Most Popular” or “Most Talked About” or “Top Teen Celebrity” award back around 1840.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901) is Great Britain’s longest reigning monarch--she was on the throne for 64 years. She’s one teen diva who really got her tiara: she became queen in 1837, just a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday.

Some people call Victoria the first royal media idol, way pre-dating Princess Di or Prince William. There’s a reason for that.

For the 120 years before Victoria, England had been ruled by a bunch of old guys, all but one of whom were named George. The early Georges didn’t even speak English when they became king--they came from Germany--and were fat and ugly, or had weird or disgusting habits, or were insane (poor George III had a rare blood disease that affected his brain), or didn’t even bother spending much time in England. And at that time, royalty was kind of it for media stars. There were few singers or actors with huge popular followings because only the wealthy usually got to see them perform, and there just weren't all that many wealthy people…but everyone knew who the King was at any given time.

So the 1830s roll around, and everyone realizes that the next ruler of England is likely to be a girl. Okay, she’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but she’s lively and charming and very English (though her mother was a German princess). In other words, totally different from the Georges.

There was no television or Internet or radio or even photography at that time, but there were magazines. And the magazines loved to publish pictures and stories about the girl who would presumably be queen some day, because issues with anything about Vic sold really, really well.

In addition, Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, was probably the first stage mom. Once Victoria turned 13, Mom took her on a series of trips around England during the summers, visiting schools or factories or wherever else she’d draw the biggest crowds. You’d better believe the English public lapped it up…the Georges had usually avoided going out in public.

When she actually became queen, it got even crazier. Suddenly everything was named “Victoria.” If a manufacturer wanted to sell a new pattern of china, or a milliner (maker of ladies’ hats) wanted to sell a new style of bonnet, or a candymaker a new kind of bon-bon, all they did was call their product the “Victoria” and it would sell like crazy, because everyone was so excited about having a pretty young girl on the throne instead of a George. (Incidentally, not one of Victoria’s nine children was named George, at least as a first name. Interesting.)

I’ll be writing more about Victoria and her early years in future posts.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Judging a Book by Its Cover

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you . . . my cover! My editor at Penguin Razorbill tells me that they’re still “tweaking,” but that I have permission to post it. You’re the first to see it, outside my family and a few select friends.

Judging my book by its cover, the story is about pink. And pretty dresses. And elegance. And those yummy little petit four cakes.

Actually, it’s about four friends who make their debut in London Society in 1815 and run afoul of a handsome lord who might have more up his sleeve than a nicely muscled arm.

At least one of the girls wears pink, though not Lady Emily, their leader, who as a budding artist finds it an insipid color. They do have pretty dresses, though not Ariadne, the bluestocking, because she’s the youngest and her mother insists on dressing her in white whenever they go to dinners and such. And they try to be elegant, although not Daphne so much, because she’s the Amazon and much better on horseback than in the withdrawing room. And they never do eat petit fours. The London gentlemen call them “La Petite Four” because they are so sweet. To which Priscilla, the reigning beauty of the bunch adds, “Oh, pooh!”

And all I can say is that I want that dress!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hand in Glove, or Not

Long, lovely, opera gloves. Is there anything more elegant? Made from supple kid leather or fine silk, they embrace your arm from fingertips to elbow and higher. Well, okay, on me they have a distressing tendency to fall down. And what was a girl to do when she wanted to eat something from the midnight supper buffet?

The answer to that little question has made for avid discussion among those of us who write about the nineteenth century. Certainly if you’re eating a formal dinner, you’d just keep them on and use your fork. But supper buffets are notorious for having the nineteenth-century equivalent to finger food. I’ve tried eating petit fours with white gloves on (oh, the lengths we go to for research!); the gloves don’t stay white.

Unthinkable that a young lady would take them off. Why, your skin might actually touch the skin of a gentleman! Scandalous! And where would you put the gloves if you did take them off? Everyday gowns and cloaks might have pockets, but you’re unlikely to find one in a ball gown. I suppose you could stuff them in your reticule, but you probably would have left the little bag, if you’d brought one, with your cloak.

So, how do you eat with gloves on? One theory is that you unbuttoned the tiny pearl buttons at the wrist of your glove and pulled the portion off your fingers and hand to bare them. Then you tucked that portion inside the glove that still covered your wrist and arm so you could eat. This actually works fairly well (yes, I know from research), until you want to put the things back on. Ever tried buttoning pearl buttons wearing a silk glove?

It’s excellent research. You should try it. If you get it to work, let me know.

So, I guess I’ll never be certain what they did with their gloves while they ate. It’s one of those things that keep me up at night. Along with great books.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fan (non) Fiction

It happens in dozens of historical novels: the heroine is at a ball and has been accosted by the (a) the future hero after one too many glasses of champagne (b) the villain or (c) some other guy just in there to give the heroine the opportunity to show how plucky she is. A, B, or C says something rude or suggestive to the heroine or, even worse, tries to kiss her, so she pulls out her fan (closed) and raps him smartly (it’s always “smartly”) across the knuckles. The hero/villain/other guy is vanquished and slinks away, nursing his throbbing hand.

Uh huh. Yeah. Sure. Ever tried it? You can barely mush a mosquito with the average fan you can find at, say, a party supply store. No heft at all. Utterly useless as a weapon. Were these chicks really trying to protect their honor, or was the tap with the fan just a tease?

Just recently I got my hands on a real nineteenth century fan (I’m not quite sure of its age, but it’s definitely old.) It’s about a foot long when closed--good sized, but not outrageously huge. The ribs of the fan are made from either bone or ivory, carved, and the upper part is made of satin backed with a layer of paper (to stiffen it) covered with fine muslin. That's it, opened, in the photo above.

So in a spirit of investigation after thinking about intrepid heroines laying about them with their accessories, I rapped myself on the knuckles with it…and darn, it hurt!

The reason? The fans you can buy today are all mostly made of plastic. Plastic doesn’t weigh much. And it didn’t exist until later in the nineteenth (celluloid, the earliest plastic, was invented in the 1850s but didn’t begin to come into general use until the mid 1870s). Earlier on, they used bone and ivory where now we use plastic. And bone is much denser and heavier than plastic.

So yes, being hit on the knuckles with a closed fan would hurt. Those heroines weren’t being coy or fluffy-headed females trying to defend themselves with something about as threatening as a popsicle stick--they meant business. Sorry I doubted you, girls.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Welcome to the Nineteenth Century

When you write books, you do a lot of research. It's an occupational hazard of writing. And when you write books about other times and places, you do even more research.

It's a good thing we like research, because we write historical fiction for young adults. Our books take place in the early part of the 19th century (1800-1900) and feature teen characters. Which means we had to do a lot of research about teen life in the 1800s.

But we're writing stories, not a lot of that research doesn't make it into our books. The thing is, most of it is really interesting, and some of it is funny, and a surprising amount will seem familiar to people in 2007.

So we're going to spend most of our time here talking about what we've learned about how teens lived in the 19th century, and what they wore and the music they listened to and how they shopped and went to school and did their hair and whatever else we've run across that's interesting. We'll sometimes also talk about writing and our books and other stuff if we feel like it. We may even invite the occasional guest to talk along with us. We hope you'll join in. If you have questions, we hope you'll ask them.

And we hope you'll come back often and have fun. We plan to.