Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Janeian Postscript

First, the exciting part: the winner our our random drawing for a fun assortment of Jane Austen stuff is...

Christina Farley!

Christina will be receiving Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson, So You Think You Know Jane Austen? A Literary Quizbook by John Sutherland and Dierdre Le Faye, Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross, a box of Jane Austen notecards and, of course, the amazing Jane Austen action figure! Christina, can you please e-mail me via the contact form on my website so we can arrange mailing sometime after this holiday weekend?

The noodling around on the internet that I've done as we held our Jane Austen extravaganza has pointed up an interesting fact: Jane Austen is big business. Look at the books we're giving away above...what other 19th century author has spawned such titles? Can you picture, say, Thomas Hardy's Guide to Living Happily Ever After, or Henry James's Simple Country Living Stylebook? But joking aside, I don't think any other author has inspired modern books like these.

And then there are the Jane Austen continuations and fictionalized biographies. My November issue of The Historical Novels Review had reviews of no fewer than six Jane Austen "sequels" or other Jane-related fiction: Eliza's Daughter by Joan Aiken, Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley, The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman, Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt, Lydia Bennett's Story by Jane Odiwe, and Impulse and Initiative: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds. And there are dozens of others, some more fanciful and free-wheeling, others as close to JA as their authors could make them.

What about Jane on the silver screen? Every one of her completed novels has been made into a movie, be it for Hollywood or for release on television--some of them several times. Battles rage between Laurence Olivier-as-Darcy fans and the Colin Firth supporters (not to mention Matthew Macfadyen), and the Keira Knightly movie vs. the A&E miniseries. (I have my preferences, of course...can you guess?)

Lastly, there's fan fiction and the internet. Googling "Jane Austen fan fiction" showed nearly 90,000 hits for hundreds of sites, and included Yahoo Groups for JA fan fiction not to mention fabulous sites like The Republic of Pemberley for all things Jane. Um, wow.

So to close our Jane Austen celebration, I'm going to ask you a few questions:
  • What is it about Jane Austen--why do you think she still speaks so clearly to people today?

  • What's your favorite JA sequel or JA-related fiction or movie/TV version of JA?

  • Are you a secret (or not-so-secret) JA fan fiction writer?

And finally, Regina and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2009, thank you for visiting and chatting with us at Nineteenteen over the last year, and hope you'll continue to do so in the new year to come!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jane Austen: International Woman of Mystery?

Writer, wit, woman ahead of her time. Jane Austen has been called all of those. But what about her private side?

Though her books deal with romance and marriage proposals, Jane never married. That doesn’t mean that she was never in love. Those of you who saw Becoming Jane know that supposedly she had a tendre for young man named Tom Lefroy. A few years older than Jane, Lefroy was the nephew of the family at a rectory near Jane’s home in Steventon. Jane said of him, “He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man.” They had a lovely flirtation over the course of the winter in 1796 when Jane was 20. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, who was at the time up in Berkshire visiting her fiancĂ©’s family, Jane wrote, “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.” Go, Jane!

But Lefroy wandered out of Jane’s life, and nothing more happened (despite Hollywood’s pretensions). In the next 5 years, Jane received and refused at least one other proposal of marriage. Then, when she was around 25, she and Cassandra spent some time along the seashore. There they met a splendid gentleman, passionate, determined. He and Jane fell madly in love.

And then he disappeared.

Jane and Cassandra heard shortly afterward that he had died. Jane was so upset she stopped writing for several years. She was to receive at least two more proposals of marriage, one of which would have allowed her to live a life of leisure in her beloved hometown. She refused.

So, who was this gentleman? We may never know. The story goes that Cassandra was so worried about Jane’s depression that she cut all mention of the fellow from any letters or materials available to spare her sister’s feelings. Jane’s true love remains shrouded in mystery.

Not so the winner of our Jane extravaganza! Come back Tuesday when Marissa will whip out her trusty Red Sox hat and pull forth the name of the winner. You have until this Sunday at midnight to a post comment to be in the running.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is It Jane?

I love giving you quizzes...maybe I was a teacher in a previous life.

One of the things that sets Jane Austen apart is, of course, her language and her wit. Authors of historical and especially Regency-set fiction strive to match her sly sense of humor and lightly satirical touch. Do they succeed? Well, why don't you decide?

Below are seven quotes...some are by The Jane, and others are by (ahem) various authors of historical fiction. Can you tell which are true JA, and which aren't? Answers will be posted in the comments section...and don't forget, all commenters during our two-week Jane Appreciation Fortnight will be entered in a drawing to win a delightful bag of Janeian books and other goodies.

Good luck!

1. "A scoundrel prides himself on his ability to turn a lady's head. I do not trust sweet words. They rarely lead to anything but trouble."

2. "My love, you contradict everybody," said his wife, with her usual laugh. "Do you know that you are quite rude?"
"I did not know that I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred."
"Aye, you may abuse me as you please," said the good-natured old lady. "You have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you."

3. "Dancing was not to his liking; in fact, it was he who had first been heard to utter the now-famous epithet that dancing represented society's sanction, in public, vertical expression, of what were essentially private, horizontal desires."

4. "A kaleidoscope of gowns in every shade and tone, topped by headdresses sometimes charming, sometimes fearsome, swept by her in all directions as ladies who had probably taken tea together just hours before greeted one another with insincere shrieks of joy and cries of admiration."

5. "You are inimitable, irresistible. You are the delight of my life. You are worth your weight in gold, or even the new silver coinage."

6. "The doctor snorted. 'Romantic indeed,' he said. 'But then everything is romantic to young ladies these days, isn't it?'"

7. "A family of ten children will always be called a fine family, where there are heads, and arms, and legs enough for the number...."

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Jane Austen Ate, for Dessert

That’s part of the title of an interesting book on the nineteenth century and the works of nineteenth century writers like Jane Austen (What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool). But it’s also a subject that’s fascinated readers and writers alike. For instance, there’s The Jane Austen Cookbook (Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye), with recipes from a family that was good friends with the Austens. When Marissa and I decided to dedicate these two weeks to the delightful Miss Austen, we both thought a lovely recipe that she might have used would be just the thing for the Friday before Christmas.

However . . .

Little did I know what I would find when I dug deeper into my files than the names of the dishes. Syllabub and trifle and plum puddings sound delightful, but they aren’t exactly easy to make. For one thing, many of the ingredients used in the nineteenth century aren’t available today (shredded suet, anyone?). Even their twenty-first century equivalents aren’t easy to come by (can you say demerara sugar?). In addition, almost every recipe I found had alcohol in it! Yes, of course, wine should cook away in the process, but I was surprised that so many things from cakes to main dishes included a more than healthy ration of wine, sherry, liquor, or brandy.

So, I give to you a dessert that would have been served in Jane’s time, that the dear Jane or some other young lady would have eaten. Pretend you’d sat through two courses. The first course might have consisted of white soup, dressed lamb, chickens with tongues, and fricassee of turnips. The second course might have included braised pheasant, ragout of celery, mincemeat balls, apple pie, apricot marmalade, blanc mange, trifle, and ice cream. Yes, those are part of the second course. Are you ready for the amazing finish to this meal?

Almonds and raisins.

Yup. Almonds and raisins. Now you too can eat dessert just like Jane!

Remember that anyone commenting this week and next before the end of our Jane Austen extravaganza on December 26 will be entered into a drawing for cool Jane-related stuff. Until then, Merry Christmas, all! Or, as Jane would have said, Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Jane!

Pop quiz time!

Which author born in 1775 has her own store on Amazon.com in 2008?

Which author's name alone (not including the title of her six completed books) accounts for 6,810,000 results on Google?

Which author, a spinster who spent her entire life living quietly with her family in the English countryside, is today an action figure?

Okay, maybe it's not much of a quiz since there's a pretty major hint in the title of this entry, so let's just skip the grading part and sing a loud chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Jane Austen, whose birthday is today. We'll be spending the next few entries on Nineteenteen celebrating the divine Jane and her work, and we invite you to chime in...all commenters during our Janeian extravaganza will be entered in a random drawing to win an assortment of Jane Austen-inspired books and other fun stuff!
So who was the author of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park (most to least favorite in my humble opinion--how about you)?

Jane was born on December 16, 1775, the seventh of eight children of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra Leigh Austen, in Steventon, Hampshire (west and slightly south of London). The Rev. Austen was hardly wealthy, but he was able to give his large family a comfortable life--and what's more important, an intellectually stimulating one. The Austen family delighted in reading, writing, and amateur theatricals, and though Jane later called herself "the most unlearned and uninformed being that dared to be an authoress", it's clear that she was quite well-read in English literature, history, and French, and possessed a smattering of knowledge in other subjects. Along with her elder (and only) sister Cassandra she briefly attended school around the age of 10-11, but after that returned home to take up the duties expected of daughters of clergymen: helping around the house with sewing, gardening, preserving, and being useful to the rest of the family (over her lifetime she spent a LOT of time taking care of her many nieces and nephews).

She was known for her liveliness and wit and was very fond of dancing and assemblies (her letters in her late teens and twenties are full of descriptions of them) and even on occasion flirting; but as the daughter of a clergyman she was not possessed of a large enough fortune to make her marital prospects terribly attractive though she did receive a handful of proposals, mostly from other not-very-well-off clergymen. One love affair did seem to be more serious, but the suitor in question fell ill and died, and Cassandra removed all mention of him from Jane's letters that she saved so that his name is lost to history. The two sisters visited their married brothers and other relatives and took care of their hypochondriac mother (who would outlive Jane by many years) and mostly lived an unremarkable life...except that Jane had an unconventional hobby: writing.

She wrote several rather silly pieces as a teen, including a highly prejudiced history of England, but then settled down at age twenty to more serious writing: early versions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice date from these years. She got her first rejection from a publisher during these years as well; it wasn't until 1803 that Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) was accepted for publication...and then it never actually came out. The experience seems to have daunted Jane, for though she continued to write, she would not submit or let any of her family submit her work to publishers for another seven years.

But in 1810, the tide turned and Sense and Sensibility was released. It did quite well; and since it was published anonymously--the author was simply listed as "A Lady"--society took great delight in trying to figure out who had written it. Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813 to even greater acclaim (her brother Henry couldn't resist telling everyone about his talented sister, so the authoress's name became known), Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey together in 1817, after her death. Her authorial years included trips to London to meet with her publishers and mingle ever so slightly with the literati of London, but growing ill health put a stop to this after 1815, and she died in July 1817, possibly from lymphona.

Stay tuned on Friday, when Regina will present a most delicious post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Game for Some Christmas Fun?

The young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century were! Christmas Eve in particular seems to have been a big time for games. American author Washington Irving, who traveled to England early in the century, mentions games with intriguing names like hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snapdragon.

I originally researched snapdragon for my book, The Twelve Days of Christmas, which is now out as an electronic reprint titled My True Love Gave to Me (Regency Reads). Snapdragon today would just not be allowed! The objective was to seize raisins from flaming brandy. I can’t imagine too many parents letting teenagers play with fire, or alcohol!

To play the game, you put raisins into a large, shallow bowl, poured brandy over them, and ignited them. Then you extinguished all the lights except the fire in the fireplace and the blaze from the bowl and each person took a turn at reaching through the flames to grab as many raisins as possible. You took your turn after each verse of the accompanying song:

“Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don’t be mean to take his toll.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don’t take too much
Be not greedy in your clutch.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
But Old Christmas makes him come
Though he looks so fee! Fa! Fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Don’t ‘ee fear him, be but bold.
Out he goes, his flames are cold.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Games and merriment like this often lasted until midnight, when bells would call the faithful to Christmas services. Be sure to come back next week, when we’re going to play some games to celebrate the birthday of a very special lady and let you win something much nicer than flaming raisins.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Queen Victoria, Part VIII: Love at Last

Time for a happy ending!

When we last left young Queen Victoria in my June 18 entry (gulp!), it was 1839 and she'd had to deal with the Flora Hastings scandal, brought on by Sir John Conroy's scheming and her own rather immature behavior. But with Sir John gone, life took on a more even keel...

Or did it?

After Sir John's departure in June and Lady Flora's death in July, Victoria was at loose ends. The fun and excitement of being queen and her own mistress had beguin to pale, and she felt trapped in the round of social and public events, bored and tense. A change was needed, and several around her thought they knew what that change should be: it was time for Victoria to marry. But she resisted the idea of marriage, saying she was quite happy as she was. Her Uncle Leopold, King of Belgium, had other plans. He overcame Victoria's nervous ditherings and sent his nephew (and Victoria's first cousin), Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to visit England that fall.

Albert was the younger son of the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a small German principality comprising about 18 square miles in central Germany. He was born about three months after Victoria, in August 1819, and almost from his birth it was hoped he'd one day marry Victoria (huge squick factor there for us, but in those days it was considered perfectly all right for first cousins to marry). He was a serious, sober youth, fond of nature and beautiful scenery and not at all fond of society. He and his older brother Ernest visited England in 1836 and Victoria had a delightful time with them...but they had all been children then. Albert's proposed visit in 1839 would determine if he and Victoria would make a match of it...both of them knew it, and both of them were horribly nervous. Victoria worried that Albert would still be the slightly undergrown, sickly boy who couldn't keep his eyes open after nine at night that she'd met before, and Albert had heard dreadful rumors about Victoria's love of empty pomp and ceremony and her tendency to party all night and sleep till noon.

Neither need have worried. When Albert arrived at Windsor on Thursday, October 10, Victoria was waiting to meet him...and fell in love on sight. Her diary for that day states, "It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert, who is beautiful." (That's a sketch she made of him at right.) On Friday she confides that "Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist; my heart is quite going...." By Sunday she confided to her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, that she had decided to marry Albert, and on Tuesday, she proposed to him. (That's right--she did the proposing. As a queen, it was up to her to do so). Naturally, he said yes.

The wedding was held three months later, in February 1840, and Victoria never looked back. She worshipped her Albert, and there's no doubt that Albert loved her back. He proved to be a steadying influence on her, moderating her sometimes over-enthusiastic likes and dislikes, and becoming her most trusted political advisor as well. It's sad for Victoria that he died only twenty-one years later, leaving her to a long widowhood...and the picture most people have of her today as a sour old lady dressed in black. But I always think of her as she was on the day she became queen, addressing her ministers for the first time--a petite, slender girl who, according the Duke of Wellington "...not merely filled her chair" but "filled the room."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lighting the Way for Christmas

Oh, I’m late! All up and down my street, houses are being transformed into winter wonderlands, with glittering icicles dripping from eaves and sleighs and manger scenes glowing in the dark. Christmas is coming, and my house is sadly dark! I hope to change that this weekend.

Nineteenth century families used light to celebrate Christmas too. On Christmas Eve, many people lit a Christmas candle, which was to burn at least through Christmas Day, brightening the sideboard. If your family was wealthy, your candle would be made of fine wax instead of tallow (less smoke), and the candle could be so large you could burn it all the way until the end of the twelve days of Christmas, at Epiphany.

If your family lived in the country or had a large enough hearth, you might also celebrate with a Yule Log. Finding the proper log and bringing it home took as much consideration and merriment as picking the perfect Christmas tree does in some families today. You went out into the woods and found a tree that had already fallen, the bigger the better. In his Sketchbook (1820), American traveler Washington Irving records that even the fireplace at the country manor where he was staying in England had to be modified by removing the grate for the log to fit.

Those in the village tipped their hats to the log as your family dragged it past. When you finally pulled it into the house, everyone took a turn sitting on it, for good luck in the coming year. Then, with great pomp and ceremony, your father lit the log with a brand from the previous year’s log. It burned all night long to toasting and festivities, welcoming in the Christ child on Christmas day.

I can only hope my feeble attempt at lighting will do the same!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Regina's thankfulness for modern medical care is heartily shared by me. I spent all my Thanksgiving holiday in bed with a feverish cold, and am very grateful for ibuprofin and cough medicine and disposable tissues...none of which existed in 1815. What would a 19th century miss have done in a similar situation?

Not much, as it turns out.

In the first half of the 19th century, medicine was still barely one step up from mysticism and magic. The germ theory of disease was still decades away, as were antibiotics. Human health was still thought in some quarters to be based on the balance of “humors” in the body, and illnesses were thought to be caused by too much or too little of these humors. It was a pretty grim time to get sick, when something as simple as an infected paper-cut could possibly prove fatal.

Medicine, such as it was, was actually practiced by different classes of people, divided in a way that seems to modern eyes quite bizarre. At the top of the pyramid were the physicians, doctors who prescribed drugs (or “physic”, hence their name.) They didn’t deal with external injuries, or even do much in the way of examining patients apart from taking their pulse and examining the state of their urine: rather, they’d let the patient describe symptoms and then prescribe drugs. Physicians were gentlemen, usually with university degrees, and gentlemen did not do labor—in fact, use of the stethoscope, an 1816 invention, was slow to catch on among physicians because use of a tool implied physical labor. Setting broken bones, treating skin or eye diseases, or giving serious physical exams was the job of surgeons. Surgeons usually got their training through apprenticeship, like any other trade, which meant that a surgeon was not a gentleman. And below surgeons were apothecaries, the people who mixed up the medicines that the physicians prescribed but who often did their own doctoring as well, especially for the poor who could not afford the services of a physician.

So back to our young lady with a bad cold--what would she do?

First of all, she was sent to bed—certainly a wise idea, since central heating didn't exist. If she were very ill, a physician might be sent for. If she had a bad cough, he might prescribe her an opium derivative to soothe it (and knock her on her butt so she could rest!)--an ingredient still used today in codeine-based cough medicines. He might suggest that she eat only broths or milk products and avoid heavier foods, especially pastry. If her nursing were left to a faithful old nanny, she might be given herbal remedies. Willow bark tea was an old remedy for fever--and studies of it led to the synthesis of aspirin in 1853 by a French chemist. And she would probably be scolded for having caught the cold in the first place, and exhorted in future to not ride in an open carriage against the wind, nor remain too long in her bath, nor neglect to keep the area between her shoulder-blades sufficiently protected...all thought to be prime causes of catching a cold.

Friday, November 28, 2008

So Much to be Thankful For!

Here in the States, many of us spent yesterday eating turkey and watching football. Guilty on the latter. We actually ate lasagna. My mom makes an outstanding lasagna. We won’t discuss what happens with turkey.

But on Thanksgiving Day, we’re supposed to think about that for which we are grateful. So I thought I’d list three things we have now that they didn’t have in the nineteenth century for which I am profoundly thankful:

1. Health care. We may complain about waiting times in doctor’s offices and the high cost of care, but at least we generally have access to some! Physicians were hard to come by in some parts of England in the nineteenth century, and midwives and apothecaries (pharmacists) had to treat everything from a toothache to cancer. It would be late in the nineteenth century before they even figured out that germs caused diseases much less how to cure them. Early in the nineteenth century, it was still fashionable to bleed a patient if you didn’t know what else to do. Even poor Princess Charlotte was bled several times during her pregnancy.

2. Indoor toilets. Yes, even in aristocratic mansions of Mayfair in the early nineteenth century you had outhouses in the back garden (artfully hidden, of course). If you needed to go in the night in winter, you either squatted over a chamber pot in your room or you hurried outside shivering all the way. And someone—your maid, your footman, had to empty that chamber pot in the morning. Night soil men came to clean out your outhouse periodically. Wouldn’t that be a lovely job?

3. Refrigeration. They certainly had ice houses and the finer homes had cold storage for meats and cheeses, but nothing kept for long. Live in London and fancy pheasant for your feast? You’d better hope someone had brought some up from the country that day. Seeing carriages covered in carcasses as they brought game to town would have made me reconsider my dining choices.

I’m also thankful for all of you for reading our blog and sharing your thoughts with us. So, what are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

R U There?

I have to confess that I simply don’t care for txt. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m in love with words and with finding the precisely right one to communicate what I am thinking of. I’m sure Rebecca M’Nab Soul and I would have gotten along like a house afire.

Who was Rebecca M’Nab Soul? She was the author of an adorable little (literally little—it’s a dainty 3” by 4 ¾”) book called A New and Complete Letter Writer. I have the sixth edition, published in London in 1845. In her preface Ms. Soul states, “Of all the arts that have been discovered, and which have contributed to the benefit, refinement and happiness of man, the art of writing certainly ranks secondary to none; and of the varied species into which this art is modelled, there is none of greater utility and importance than the epistolary form.”

Okay, this probably sounds a little over-done to us…but think about it for a minute. How did people communicate when they weren’t face to face? There were no telephones in widespread use till very late in the 19th century, and no cellphones till more than a century after that. No computers, of course…and even the telegraph was only available well into mid-century and only for the briefest and most urgent communications. The only way to talk to your friends if they weren’t standing next to you was by letter.

And not only friends. Any business that wasn’t transacted face-to-face happened by letter…and here’s where Ms. Soul’s book comes in handy. It’s full of examples of letters to use in any situation, such as Letter from a tradesman in distress, to his principal creditor, requesting time for payment” to “Letter from a young man wishing to commence business, to a rich relative”.

The most entertaining sections of the book, though, are the love letters. Yes, love letters: Ms. Soul has examples of letters for (it seems) almost every romantic situation. How about a “Letter from a young lady to a gentleman who courts her, whom she suspects of infidelity” (“I desire to know, Sir, what sort of acquaintance you can wish to have with another person of character, after making me believe that you wished to be married to me.”)? Or a “Letter from a lady to a gentleman, in answer to a dishonourable proposal” (“Had any part of my conduct authorized the infamous proposal you have had the audacity to make, I should die with shame; but my conscious innocence supports me, and teaches me to scorn your baseness.”)? Or a “Letter from a gentleman to a young lady, proposing an elopement”? (“Distracted at the thought of not being enabled to accomplish my wish of making you my own, since I have exercised all the wit and ingenuity of which I am master, in endeavouring to elicit a consent from the impenetrable heart of my guardian, without effect; I am tempted to make a proposal, which from its hazardous and delicate nature, I am bound to preface with no ordinary caution, lest by too abruptly importing it, I should seal my own doom by the loss of her, for whom I would risk every danger to gain the possession.”)

Hmm. After trying to make my way through that sentence, maybe txt doesn't look too bad after all.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Bailouts, layoffs, depressed retail sales—the news is full of dismal economics these days. When people lose their jobs, we at least have a few protections like Welfare and Social Security. In the nineteenth century, if you couldn’t pay your bills, you ended up in Debtor’s Prison.

In London, Fleet Prison housed over 300 prisoners and their families. Yep, your spouse and kids went to prison with you. The prison had two wings. On the Master’s side, you and your family would live in a room about 14 by 12 feet, with your own fireplace and window, although there were several larger, grander rooms you might get if the current tenant left and you had seniority. On the first floor was a chapel, tavern, and coffee house as well as the rooms for the watchman. The prison also boasted an inner courtyard where you could play tennis or lawn bowling.

On the Common side, you lived in a room about 24 feet square with a fireplace and windows. Narrow bunks were built into the walls, seven on a side. You were supposed to have a kitchen in the basement, but an observer in 1780 noted that it was full of lumber and couldn’t be used.

And you had to pay for the privilege of being in prison. Every prison at this time had fees, and the ones in the Fleet were supposed to be the highest in England. You paid for your rooms and your food; you paid to have the leg shackles taken off. If all the rooms were occupied when you arrived, you paid some tenant for part of his room. If you were deemed not particularly dangerous, you could pay to live in rooms near the prison instead (called the Liberty of the Fleet). If you were deemed dangerous and in need of additional punishment, you could be sent to the dungeons, and you could pay to get out of that too!

So, if you were already in prison for not being able to pay your bills, how on earth could you afford to be in prison? The ways to earn money were numerous. Family and friends could provide you with gifts, which you could sell to the prison staff or other prisoners for money. You could stand by the grille on the Farringdon Street side and stick your hands out the windows to beg passersby for money. If you had any trade (shoemaker, pharmacist, minister), you could ply it in prison, and the other prisoners or visitors could pay you for it. The ministers in particular were in high demand to conduct rushed marriages (for people in the prison and for those in London). Before Parliament outlawed the practice in 1753, up to 100 couples were married near the Fleet every day!

And some people think a wedding chapel in Vegas is unromantic!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

No Slang like Old Slang…Unless it’s New

Regina and I have enjoyed presenting you with odd words and phrases used at different times in the 19th century. They’re fun to know and, for us, fun to use (sparingly!) in writing our books to help give them that early 19th century “flavor”.

But we’ve discovered that an important part of using authentic slang is sounding authentic. As I’ve researched the words and terms I’ve discussed here in Nineteenteen, I’ve found some that sound very 19th century but aren’t, and others that sound quite modern but are indeed, old—sometimes far older than the 19th century. So I’ve put together a bit of a quiz for you: below is a list of words or phrases and how they’re used. Can you tell if they’re genuinely 19th century (or before), or more recent inventions? Answers will be in the comment section so you can test yourself without peeking. Good luck, and have fun!

1. Nuts or nutty: To be infatuated. (“Sir Steven is quite nutty over Caroline, despite her appalling taste in millinery and that regrettable moustache.”)

2. Lily-livered: Cowardly. (“We thought Cecil was going to offer for Amelia, but the lily-livered lad hid in the library reading Cicero all evening instead.”)

3. Nitwit: A fool or simpleton. (“Did you hear that Freddy Hamilton ordered six mauve waistcoats with orange stripes from his tailor? He’ll look quite the biggest nitwit in all of Mayfair!”)

4. Kick the bucket: To die. (“That scoundrel John lives in daily anticipation of his uncle’s kicking the bucket so that he’ll inherit his fortune, but the old man looks quite healthy to me.”)

5. Pig: A derogatory term for a police officer. (“As he marched around Hyde Park carrying his “Give Peace a Chance: Wellington Out of Spain Now!” sign, George worried that he and his fellow anti-war protesters would be arrested by the pigs.”)

6. Fussbudget: A complaining person. (“Aunt Gladys is such a fussbudget that I’ve sworn that I shan’t take her out in my high-perch phaeton ever again!”)

7. Put the kibosh on: To stop an action. (“Mama put the kibosh on Annabel’s dancing with Lord Speen a third time by calling for the carriage.”)

8. Smashing: Splendid, wonderful. (“The refreshments at Lady Herman’s Christmas ball were simply smashing! Where did she find strawberries like that in December?”)

Don't forget, answers are in the comments section. So how did you do?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rainy (and Foggy) Day Games

I am fortunate to live in a fairly dry and sunny part of the United States. We get about 6 and a quarter inches of rain a year. However, over half that amount falls in just four months: November through February. So, I’ve been sitting looking at gloomy skies and feeling grumpy.

Jolly Olde England in the nineteenth century had her share of gloomy days as well, not just because of the abundant rain but because the coal fires brought about horrendous fogs, particularly when a large number of people (and fires) happened to live near water (like the Thames). Breathing the air literally burned the lungs, and carriage driving was downright dangerous. So, people tended to stay indoors on such days.

While the older folks caught up on correspondence, exclaimed over the latest newspaper reports from the various wars, and even snoozed in their libraries, the young folks were looking for entertainment. They played some of the games we know today, like charades and twenty questions. One of the more popular games was Crambo, where the leader called out a word, and everyone else had to come up with a rhyme for it or you were out. So if I as the leader said “peas,” you all could say “please,” “keys,” “cheese,” and so forth.

Another popular game was cap verses, and I personally think this one would be hard! The leader makes up a line to start a poem, let’s say “Today the trees weep loud with cold.” Whoever is next has to take the last letter of the last word in the line and start her line with a word that begins with that letter. So, since my line ended in a d, yours would have to start with a d. You might say “Down dusty lanes to town we go.” Yikes! Pity the next person — she has to come up with something that starts with an O and still makes sense. Variations of the game had you naming famous people in the same way: “Trollop,” “Pitt the Younger,” “Richard the Lion-Heart,” “Turner,” and so forth. You could also play the game with Bible verses. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” “Nothing is too hard for you.”

So, would you like to play? Let's make a poem. I’ll start: “Writers are a funny lot . . .”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Such Language!, Part V

Time for a new vocabulary lesson!

Surveyor of the Highways: An extremely drunk person, presumably because he would stagger from one side of a road to the other. (“Thomas came home from dinner with his friends in such a state that Papa declared him the veriest Surveyor of the Highways.”)

Lollop: To lean with one’s elbows on the table. (“Cynthia’s lolloping on the table like that makes her look like a dying houseplant.”)

Croaker: Someone who always foretells doom and a dire outcome to any endeavor. (“I am quite afraid to tell Aunt Griselda about Sally’s engagement to a mere second son, even though they’re madly in love—you know what a croaker she is.”)

Dry-boots: A sly, humorous person (“Did you hear what that dry-boots Letitia said about Mrs. Muckinfeather’s new hat? She wanted to know if an ostrich had escaped from the Zoological Gardens and had a fatal meeting with her carriage.”)

Nigmenog: A dolt or fool. (“If Freddy Hinkle thinks I shall let him take me driving in that clap-trap phaeton of his, he’s a bigger nigmenog than I’d thought.”)

Curtain Lecture: A discreet scold, usually given by a wife to a husband. (“Did you overhear the curtain lecture Lady Pinch gave her husband last night at their rout? She was quiet enough, but I’m surprised his ears didn’t burst into flames!”)

Bartholomew Baby: One who is dressed in a cheap, tawdry way. From the Bartholomew Fair, an annual carnival-like event that was enormously popular with lower-class Londoners. (“Mary got into the attics and found some of great-great-grandmother’s court dresses, and wore one to dinner last night. Mama told her that she looked a perfect Bartholomew Baby, and I must say that I agree. But one must make allowances for twelve-year-olds, I suppose.”)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Amusements in London: The Egyptian Hall

In Piccadilly stood an impressive edifice: the Egyptian Hall. Built in 1812 by William Bullock to resemble an Egyptian temple with its front covered in hieroglyphics, the hall included lecture rooms, a bazaar, and a large central gallery. The space was also called the London Museum and Bullock’s Museum.

The museum was said to hold 15,000 items, and you paid a shilling to see them once or a guinea for a year’s subscription. At various times, the display included

--items from the South Seas brought back by Captain Cook
--a tropical rain forest with taxidermied animals.
--Napoleon’s traveling carriage, captured at Waterloo, which purportedly contained a bedroom, dressing room, pantry, and kitchen and was seen there by over 800,000 people before it was moved to Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition on Baker Street.

In 1819, Bullock sold the collection and made the space into an exhibition hall that could be rented by various entrepreneurs, artists, and magicians. Exhibitions ranged from the skeleton of Chuny the elephant from Exeter Exchange, to wax impressions and casts of Pharoah Seti I of Egypt, to water colors by Turner, and even eighteen-year-old Siamese twin singers (they came from Siam and they were connected at the stomach). The one I really would have liked to see was the 1822 exhibition of a herd of reindeer with their harnesses and sleds; a family of Laplanders, their furniture, and homes; a pair of wapiti from the upper Missouri; and a “pretended” mermaid that was supposedly the head and shoulders of a monkey attached to the body of a fish. The Laplanders gave lectures on their culture and homeland, which were well attended. In fact, over 300 people a day viewed this spectacle for six weeks before, I imagine, the Laplanders grew heartily tired of it all and decamped.

Kind of puts going the mall to shame, doesn’t it?

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Brief Departure From Our Regular Program

I'm delighted to present to you...

Yes, it's the cover for my next book, Betraying Season, coming in May 2009 from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers!

From the jacket:

"Penelope Leland has come to Ireland to study magic and prove to herself that she is as good a witch as her twin sister, Persy. But when the dashing Niall Keating begins to court her, Pen can't help being distracted from her studies.

Little does Pen know Niall is acting upon orders from his sorceress mother. And although it starts as a sham, Niall actually falls deeply in love with Pen, and she with him. Even if he halts his mother's evil plan, will Pen be able to forgive him for trying to seduce her into a plot? And what of Pen's magic, which seems to be increasingly powerful?

This companion to
Bewitching Season takes the second of the Leland twins on a magical, and romantic, adventure of her own."

And in other news...the following announcement ran last week in Publishers Marketplace "Recent Sales" column:

Marissa Doyle's WATERLOO PLOT, the third book set in the same world as BEWITCHING SEASON, in which a young witch must overcome physical and emotional scars while investigating who is attempting to assassinate members of the British War Cabinet, including her father, in 1814-1815, to Kate Farrell at Holt, by Emily Sylvan Kim at Prospect Agency (NA).

This new book will feature Persy and Pen's mother Parthenope as a major character...and I hope you'll enjoy it.

Thanks for letting me squee!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Books, Part II: Fordyce's Sermons, Mad Monks, and Silver Fork Novels

So what did a well-brought-up young lady read?

Well, there was frequently a difference between what she was expected to read and what she wanted to read. Reading material was supposed to be uplifting and improving, so the Bible was always a safe choice, as were other religious works. The most famous of these was James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women, published in 1766 but still read (and eventually laughed at) well into the 1800s. They emphasized the weakness and delicacy of young women and preached subordination to men in all things, and were dreadfully sentimental in tone to boot. So it can definitely be surmised that many a young lady may have concealed other books inside their copies of Fordyce to fool watchful parents and governesses… books like:

Evelina: Fanny Burney was a reader to Their Majesties George III and Queen Charlotte, and was evidently inspired by her job to try her own hand at penning books. Evelina, Cecelia, and Camilla were stories about young women entering society and learning to distinguish between rakes and reputable men. Nothing racy, but nowhere near as improving as Mr. F.

The Monk: This 1795 novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis (who was forever after known as “Monk” Lewis) was racy stuff, involving a young woman disguising herself as a monk and entering a monastery for love of the monastery’s abbot…except that she turns out to be a demon in disguise. If you were caught with this novel tucked inside your Fordyce, you were in BIG trouble.

The Mystery of Udolpho: Ann Radcliffe wrote several spooky, over-the-top dramatic gothic novels in the late 1790s that were extremely popular. They generally featured beautiful young heroines being somehow endangered by sinister but handsome villains in exotic locales and eventually rescued by equally handsome but noble heroes. Definitely not Fordyce-ish. Other of Mrs. Radcliffe’s titles include The Romance of the Forest, The Castle of Wolfenbach, and The Italian, or The Confessional of the Black Penitents.

Not everyone was swept up in the Gothic novel craze, with their fevered plots and supernatural overtones. Walter Scott’s 32 Scottish historical novels, the first of which, Waverley, came out in 1814, were enormously popular and actually still readable today. Those were books you might not have to hide behind Fordyce. Ditto for the novels of the divine Jane Austen, which were also very popular, from Pride and Prejudice to Northanger Abbey, which makes fun of gothic novels.

In the 1830s and 1840s, Charles Dickens was, of course, everyone’s favorite novelist. But also popular were so-called “silver fork novels”, a series of glitz-and-glamour, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous type novels released by publisher Henry Colburn, complete with mention of product names like Macassar Oil (and you thought the recent uproar over Cover Girl product placement in books was a new phenomenon?). By the time these were popular, though, Fordyce was mostly a thing of the past…which in a way was too bad. He’d been frightfully useful to hide other books behind.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns,
And, as the portals open to receive me,
Her voice, in sullen echoes through the courts,
Tells of a nameless deed.

Frontispiece of The Mysteries of Udolpho

October is fright month on many television stations here in the states, with every horror flick from the last 30 years darkening the small screen. We have a rule at our house: no scary stuff if Mom has to be in the room. My sons and husband sigh with exaggerated patience as I stick my fingers in my ears and hum while crossing their viewing point. I just don’t like to be scared.

But that wasn’t the case for many young ladies and gentlemen in the nineteenth century. Then as today, tales of horror sent delighted shivers down their spines. The first “Gothic novel” was published in 1764: Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (although the first edition was written under a pseudonym). Gothic novels combine horror and romance, but often romance in the older meaning of the word, what today we would call adventure. They featured castles in exotic locations, what the English considered romantic time periods (often the 1500s), and menacing villains threatening lovely young heroines, but not necessarily with handsome princes riding to the rescue. The haunting supernatural events were often, but not always, explained away in the end.

Some of today’s horror icons, Dracula and Frankenstein, were popularized by nineteenth century Gothic writers Bram Stoker and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, respectively. By far one of the most popular pieces, however, was The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Published in 1794 in four volumes, it has been called the first bestseller, and it was still a bestseller long into the nineteenth century. Jane Austen’s heroine in Northanger Abbey, which was written in 1798 but not published until 1818 after Jane had died, reads The Mysteries of Udolpho and begins to see the people around her in a whole new light.

So, are you looking for something scary on this Halloween? Or are you hiding out with a good book?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Her Crowning Glory

Ha! I’ll bet you thought this was going to be another post about Queen Victoria, didn’t you?

But today we’re going to talk about something completely different: hair.

The beginning of the 19th century coincides with a revolution in fashion that touched not only clothes, but personal style as well. Before the French Revolution in the 1790’s, hair was…well, weird. For formal occasions, women’s hair was made into enormous sculptures three and four feet high, supported by wire frameworks and additional hair (ew!) and decorated with everything from fruit and flowers and taxidermied birds to model ships engaged in naval battles. Oh yes…and don’t forget the powder. Everyone, men and women, wore grayish white powder that obscured their natural color. And even for everyday, hair was still dressed high and powdered.

But the Revolution helped usher in a reaction against this silliness. At first short, curly, tousled hair, called “mode a la Titus” (see right), became the fashion for both men and women—it was about as far from the old style as one could get.

This look remained popular for a long time, but within a few years was gradually modified by the rage for everything classical. Simple “psyche knots” (at left)—hair coiled or braided then pinned into a bun on the back of the head hearkened back to ancient Greek and Roman statuary.

These styles remained popular through the 1810s and 1820s. By the 1830’s more elaborate hair, once more to the point of silliness, like that of this demure young lady at right, became fashionable.

Walk into any supermarket or pharmacy today and you see aisles full of hair products. But supermarkets—and the shampoos and rinses and gels and foams there are a modern invention. What would a typical 19th century girl have used to keep her hair beautiful?

From Decorum, an 1877 publication:

“Vinegar and water form a good wash for the roots of the hair. Ammonia diluted with water is still better.

“Nothing is simpler or better in the way of oil than pure, unscented salad oil, and in the way of a pomatum bear’s grease is as pleasant as anything. Apply either with the hands or keep a soft brush for the purpose, but take care not to use the oil too freely. An over-oiled head of hair is vulgar and offensive….Those whose hair is glossy and shining need nothing to render it so; but when the hair is harsh, poor and dry, artificial lubrication is needed….

“For removing scurf
[dandruff] glycerine diluted with a little rose-water will be found of service. Any preparation of rosemary forms an agreeable and highly cleansing wash.

“The yolk of an egg beaten up in warm water is an excellent application to the scalp.

“Many heads of hair require nothing more in the way of wash than soap and water.”

Hmm. Why does this sound more like a cookbook than beauty advice?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Amusements in London: Exeter ‘Change

All right, I admit it. I am not a zoo person. The sight of animals in cages, however well designed, always makes me feel sad. So I don’t think I would have found the Exeter ‘Change very amusing.

However, thousands of Londoners disagreed. For a shilling, they gladly wandered through the Royal Menagerie at the Exeter Exchange on the Strand each year. The building, which sat where the Strand Palace Hotel is today near Covent Garden, was originally built in 1676 to house a number of shops, such as milliners, haberdashers, and perfumeries. You might say it was the early version of the malls we have today.

Beginning in 1773 until the animals were moved to the London Zoo in 1828, the little rooms on the upper floor were enclosed by iron cages to provide winter quarters for traveling circus animals. By 1814, the owner included a doorman who was dressed like one of the Yeoman of the Guard, no doubt trying to compete with the other royal menagerie, at the Tower of London. The animals changed over time, but included leopards, lions, tigers, monkeys, hyenas, peccaries, nylghau (Indian antelope), camels, ostrich, emus, and “the skeleton of a Spermaceti whale, sixty feet long.” (I have no clue on this one!)

One of the reasons you went to the Exchange was for the scare factor. These were dangerous beasties, just inches away from your tender flesh. Girls were delighted to cling to their escorts or swoon into their arms. Supposedly passersby on the street below could hear the lions roaring, and not a few horses also spooked at the sound. The most popular time to arrive was at feeding time. Rather blood-thirsty, eh?

But by far the star of the show for many years was an elephant named Chuny. Chuny was very clever: he took your shilling and gave it back, picked up gentlemen’s top hats from their heads, and opened doors with his trunk. However, as he grew older, Chuny became violent. His keepers liked to take him on a walk down the Strand every Sunday, and one sad day he ran amok and killed one of his keepers. Soldiers were brought in to destroy him. Legend has it that it took over 152 bullets. Ballads, pictures, articles, and at least one play were created in his memory, with his dramatic death the highlight. Some of the people who had paid a shilling to watch him perform paid another to watch him be butchered and later dissected by the Royal Academy of Surgeons.

Definitely not my taste in amusements. How about you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Princess Charlotte, Part III: Till Death Do Us Part

As you could probably guess from the title, poor Princess Charlotte’s story does not have a happily-ever-after ending. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Despite her suitor William’s less-than-suave behavior at her father’s party, Charlotte was tentatively willing to consider marrying him. Anything that would allow her to escape from being caught between her parents and their eternal battles —even marriage with the aptly nick-named Slender Billy—had to be a good thing, right?

But Charlotte was very aware of her position as future Queen of England…and when she learned that William would expect her to spend at least a few months of the year with him in Holland, she balked. Leave England for Holland? Never! Furthermore, William’s family and her mother’s did not get along, and William would not allow Charlotte’s mother to visit them in Holland.

So with her resolve stiffened by the sympathetic visiting Tsar of Russia and his sister, Charlotte decisively broke her tentative engagement with William, thereby enraging her father. She herself had since fallen in love with a charming but highly unsuitable prince of Prussia named August…and at about this time, she just happened to meet a dazzlingly handsome young protegee of the Tsar, a product of one of the many little German duchies and principalities named Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield.

Over the next weeks Charlotte and Leopold got to know each other during “accidental” meetings while riding in Hyde Park…but Charlotte’s father had not given up his goal of marrying Charlotte to Slender Billy. He attempted to imprison Charlotte in a small house at Windsor until she gave in, but Charlotte managed to give him the slip and ran out into Pall Mall, caught a hackney cab with the help of a sympathetic passer-by, and escaped to her mother’s house. After a long night of negotiations among the Prince, his estranged wife, a couple of royal dukes, several prominent politicians and lawyers, and a Bishop or two for good measure, Charlotte capitulated and agreed to return to her father…but she still wouldn’t marry William.

More than a year passed, and Charlotte remained more or less a prisoner of her father. But Leopold continued to write to her faithfully (via a friend of Charlotte’s who smuggled in his letters) long after her other suitor, Prince August, had given up. Gradually enough excellent reports of Leopold’s intelligence, bravery and skill as a soldier, and high principles reached the Prince Regent that he slowly softened his attitude…and at last, after Napoleon was safely exiled to St. Helena and Europe was once more at peace, Charlotte and Leopold were allowed to marry.

What started out as something of a marriage of convenience for both—Charlotte escaping from her family and Leopold escaping penury as a younger son of minor royalty—quickly turned into an honest-to-goodness love match. The pair had a golden year and a half together, and in November 1817 were expecting their first child…a pregnancy that tragically ended in the birth of a still-born son and, a few hours later, the death of Charlotte herself.

Poor Leopold—and all England with him (this mourning dress appeared in Ackermann’s Repository in January 1818)—was devastated. And even though he went on some years later to be made King of Belgium and marry another princess with whom he would raise a healthy family, Leopold never fell out of love with Charlotte, as he told Charlotte’s young cousin (and his niece)—Queen Victoria.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Amusements in London: Astley's Amphitheatre

Okay, so my heroine didn’t jump out the window. She thought about it. She even opened the sash and sat on the sill, but the hero intervened before she could screw her courage to the sticking point. So, all is right with the world.

One of the suggestions from our birthday celebration for topics on Nineteen Teen was games and activities as well as cultural institutions for young ladies. I’m not entirely sure Astley’s Amphitheatre would be considered a cultural institution, but it was certainly one of the most popular places in London for young people.

Astley’s Amphitheatre, located on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, was a magical place where amazing things happened, with horses. As you can see from the picture, it boasted an arena and, at 130 feet wide, the largest stage in England at the time. Built in 1784, it held its first show on Easter and its last in October or November each year. Surrounded by 16 small chandeliers, audiences in the three tiers of seating watched while the huge center glass chandelier with 50 lamps was lowered each night through an opening in the ceiling. And as the music from the full orchestra soared, out came the horses.

Astley called his events spectacles, and it certainly sounds like they were, with trick riders, clowns, troops of horses swirling in battle formation, even a horse race and a fox hunt staged in the arena to the calls of “Tally ho!” from the audience. In 1807, he taught eight horses to do country dances, a sight that was so astonishing to his audience that it was replayed in over 100 performances.

Sounds like my idea of fun.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Princess Charlotte, Part II: The Tarnished Tiara

Back before our birthday celebrations we had left Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent and second in line to the British throne, living in her own household…no parents or other relatives, only servants and those appointed to live with her as companions or tutors. Not a very secure atmosphere for a child to grow up in…and matters were worsened by her father’s occasional capricious hirings and firings, not to mention the fact that some of the people he hired had drinking problems or loose morals.

Charlotte grew to be a self-described tomboy, temperamental and mischievous, swaggering and coltish, a mixture of naivete and self-awareness of her high position. She was often naughty, especially towards a few particular staff whom she disliked, but just as often was contrite and apologetic for misbehavior. Her favorite subject was mathematics, and her favorite pastime was riding; she was a fearless horsewoman. At fifteen she was described as being, “…tall and very graceful….” but also “forward, dogmatic on all subjects, buckish about horses, and full of exclamations very like swearing.” Charming and natural, perhaps, but not very princess-like.

Her father as a young man had been a supporter of the Whig party and announced that the princess would be educated according to liberal Whig principles. But once he was made Prince Regent by the Tory government to rule in his mad father’s place, his Whig days came to an abrupt end and he became a supporter of the Tories’ conservative outlook. The fact that his estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick, Charlotte’s mother, was supported by the Whigs only strengthened his new Toryism.

And so Charlotte unwittingly became a political football, kicked about by her parents and their supporters to suit their political purposes. Charlotte in time came to understand how she was being manipulated when private conversations she had with them at different times appeared in print in London newspapers. The Prince was doing his best to discredit her mother (she was indeed under parliamentary investigation for her reputed gross immorality) and Caroline returned the favor, trying to paint the Prince as an unnatural, unfeeling scoundrel who wanted to separate mother and daughter. But Caroline went one further, encouraging the impulsive, romantic Charlotte to flirt with an army officer (one of her illegitimate cousins, in fact!), going so far as to lock them in her room together—alone.

Is it any wonder that when a suitor appeared for her hand when she was seventeen, Charlotte sat up and took notice?

The suitor in question was William, Prince of Orange, a confirmed Anglophile but even more delighted by the idea of ruling both Holland AND Britain. His family was disliked by her mother, but Charlotte was willing to overlook that fact if she decided she liked him. Unfortunately, their first public meeting—at the Prince Regent’s birthday party—was a disaster: every single male member of the royal party apart from Charlotte’s favorite uncle got so drunk that all ended up, quite literally, under the table. Indeed, the last to fall, the Duke of York, pulled the tablecloth and everything with it down on top of him as he fell.

Hardly a prepossessing start to a courtship!

Next week: Princess Charlotte, Part III: Till Death Do Us Part

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Things Writers Worry About: Jumping Out a Window

A year ago, my first post on Nineteen Teen covered my musings on what a young lady did with her long opera-length gloves while she was nibbling at a midnight buffet. Writers of historical fiction worry about that kind of thing. That’s one of the reasons we do research (that and it’s just too much fun learning all this stuff!). And one of the reasons Marissa and I started this blog was to share the interesting things we come upon in our research.

This week was a case study in what writers worry about. There I was, working away on my latest novel, when my heroine decided to jump out a window. (She has ample motivation and the right character, but we won’t go there.) And right in mid-sentence, I thought, “Wait, can she do that?”

Seems like a straight forward action. I can certainly justify there being a window in the room. But immediately a whole host of issues arise. When was the house built? I’m guessing mid- to late-1700s. Okay, pull down Steven Parissien’s Adam Style (Phaidon Press Limited, London). Were the windows big enough to fit a person through? They seem plenty big from the pictures, and Parissien notes that some windows went all the way to the floor, so it’s feasible.

But did windows even open during that time period? Can’t tell from the pictures or his description, plus I know that at least some folks felt night air was noxious (and the daytime air was often full of soot in London), so maybe they wouldn’t want a window to open.

And then I found this. Isn’t it helpful? This is a painting of the artist Paul Sandby by Francis Cotes. It dates from the late 1700s, so it’s perfect for my story. Notice that dear Mr. Sandby is leaning OUT the window, so the sash must be open. And it would appear the opening is large enough for an industrious young lady to sit on the sill and shove herself out.

But THEN I wondered—wait, can she lift the sash when in a corset you can’t lift your arms over your head? Will her satin ball gown and petticoats really fit through the window? What’s below her? She’s on the first floor (which would be our second floor). Will anyone see her from the ground floor? What’s she going to land in? Is she just risking damage to her reputation or loss of life?

To jump or not? Who knew the decision would be just as difficult for the writer as the character?

So, would you have her jump?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Contest Winners, Blog Awards, and Thank You!

We had fun discussing our Nineteen Reasons Why We Love the Nineteenth Century, and we hope you did too...though we just may do a follow-up someday on why we're glad we live now, per Tia's suggestion (my votes go to modern medicine and plumbing!)

So after compiling the names of those of you who commented on your nineteenth century loves and putting them into my trusty Red Sox World Champions hat, the winner of an authentic early nineteenth century fashion print is Ashley Autumn! Ashley, please go to my website and use the contact form to e-mail me so we can get mailing that to you arranged.

We're also delighted with the wonderful suggestions you sent us for future posts on NineteenTeen. While we're unlikely to run out of material to discuss any time soon, sometimes we need a little guidance as to what YOU would like to hear about...so please accept our thanks for the great suggestions, and look for them in future posts.

Again, after putting names into my hat, the winner of the $25 Barnes & Noble gift card is Kimmyl! Kimmyl, please e-mail Regina at reginascott@owt.com to claim your prize.

We were also honored to receive an I Love Your Blog! Award from Amee at The Chick Manifesto this week...aw, shucks! While we love the recognition, we're both swamped and will postpone passing the award on at this time though there are some other awesome nineteenth-century-focused blogs out there like the wonderfully entertaining Risky Regencies...and my daily fix of non-nineteenth-century-related silliness, Disapproving Rabbits.

Anyway, thanks again for having fun with our contest! We'll be doing one or two more later in the year...don't forget that December brings the birthday of one of our nineteenth century faves, Jane Austen (hint, hint!)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Final Three!

Reasons we love the nineteenth century, that is. Comment by 11:59pm Sunday, October 5, with either your own reasons or suggestions for blog topics and you might win a genuine fashion plate or a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. We’ll draw names Monday, and Marissa will announce the winners in her post Tuesday, October 7. Thanks so much to all those who have already commented. We’ve really enjoyed hearing your thoughts.

So, here are my final three reasons:

17. Fanciful food with friends. Lots of fine restaurants these days aim for food that looks as good on the plate as it tastes in your mouth. But dining by candlelight, the table adorned with fine china and draped in damask, silver utensils at your side, was definitely more romantic. And chefs vied to please: Oysters in aspic, apricot trifles, and peacock stuffed back in its own feathers. (Okay, the last one would probably gross me out.)

18. Inventiveness. The nineteenth century saw the birth of the industrial revolution, with new technologies, new ways of doing things. And while the design of some of it was pretty ugly, some of it was amazingly cool. Here’s what someone thinks a laptop would look like today if we still followed those design principles. Could someone please put that on my birthday list?

19. Colorful characters. From the scandalous antics of the royals to audaciously poetic highwaymen, the nineteenth century had more than its share of interesting people. Perhaps that’s why Marissa and I love to put our characters into the same elegant, romantic, inventive time period.

So, there you have it! Nineteen of our reasons why we love the nineteenth century and why we keep writing about it. Be sure to comment and come back next week to find out who won!

P.S. If you’re a school librarian, check out the contest on the Class of 2k8 web page!