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!