Friday, February 27, 2009

Guest Blogger Sarah MacLean: Anything but Rotten!

First, I have to say how incredibly excited I am to be guest blogging here at Nineteen-teen! I’ve been a clandestine reader for AGES…where was this blog when I was in high school and secretly hiding my Regency novels inside my Geography book?!

As you know from my interview earlier this week, I write Regency romances, set in London and focused on British aristocracy, collectively referred to as the ton (the word came from French, literally meaning “tone” but used to describe people of fashion). Young women of the aristocracy had copious free time to do things like visit their friends, shop for dresses and ribbons, pretty themselves for the marriage mart and tool around Hyde Park.

Hyde Park is gorgeous—an enormous park in the center of London, covering more than 350 acres. I've been in love with it since a morning walk I took there at 6:30am on my first day in London a few years back. It has a fantastic history…for the Tudors fans in the crowd, Henry VIII took the space (which belonged to Westminster Abbey) in the early 1500s to use it for deer hunting. It belonged to the Crown for years, and then, finally, under Charles I, was turned into a public space. I could go on and on about its history without ever getting to the 19th's a quick overview.

The King or Queen of England’s official seat is St. James Palace, but William III (who ruled with his wife Mary in the late 1600s) preferred the landscape of Kensington Palace, which at the time was far enough outside of London that it felt more rural. Because he had to travel back and forth from Kensington to St. James, he commissioned a private pathway that ran the length of Hyde Park and lit the path with 300 oil lamps, creating the first artificially lit road in England. William used the pathway all the time, and it was christened Route de Roi, which means “King’s Road” in French. Either the English couldn’t pronounce it, or they simply didn’t care that much…because that road is now called Rotten Row.

By the mid 18th century, Rotten Row was much more than a King’s private pathway. It was where everyone, EVERYONE would go to see and be seen. The road itself is a dirt pathway, so that was reserved mostly for horses and curricles or phaetons. Along the side was a length of green...and that was where ladies and gentleman of the aristocracy took their meandering (and I like to think gossipy) walks. It depends on what you read, but definitely by the mid-1800s, this was THE place to be, for both women and men, during the early afternoon--the fashionable hour. Charles James Apperley said of it:

"On any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

For young women, Rotten Row was one of the places where they had a chance to show off and check out the rest of society--from women wearing the height of fashion to men in new and extravagant curricles. It was on Rotten Row that the ton got a look at those couples who were courting, the rakes who were on the lookout for wives or mistresses, the Prince Regent himself. When young ladies were on the marriage mart, a ride on Rotten Row--either on her own mount or inside his curricle with a chaperone at a discreet distance--was a broadcast to all and sundry that she might soon be off the market. Outdoor excursions gave young women a chance to spend time with the gentlemen who were courting them without risking their reputations.

Of course, the best thing about Rotten Row is that it makes for pretty neat fictional food. My favorite scene in my whole novel is one where the heroine and hero ride in his brand new curricle on Rotten Row to see and be seen. The history of Rotten Row is enough to send your imagination running away...without you!

Thanks for spending the week with us, Sarah, and best of luck with The Season! Don't forget that everyone who comments on either today's or last Tuesday's post will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Sarah's book!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Author Interview: Sarah MacLean!

We're taking a quick detour from our series on dancing to welcome author Sarah MacLean, author of the forthcoming The Season, just out from Orchard Books. Today we're featuring an interview with Sarah, so have fun and be sure to leave a comment in order to be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Sarah's book!

Nineteenteen: You're among fellow history geeks here, so tell us--what first turned you on to history and historical fiction? And what drew you in particular to the Regency/early 19th century period?

Sarah: I happened to be one of those kids who was surrounded by history buffs. Aside from my parents, who are European (father, Italian; mother, British) and therefore were incredibly committed to making sure that I knew and loved our family's history, I also had teachers and librarians and an older sister who were always putting great historical novels in my hands and incredible historical tales in my head. I went through phases...By high school, I was obsessed with historical fiction. I would become enamored of whole eras and read any- and everything I could get my hands on that related to them. I went through phases—the Civil War, Medieval England, the Vikings, the Italian Renaissance. And then, in the 11th grade, I found Jane Austen. And I was hooked. Here was an author (a woman no less!) who went against everything that had been written before and who birthed a genre of literature. She made romance fun . . . and funny . . . and real. Her heroines were cheeky and ironic, her heroes dark and brooding and arrogant to a fault. The combination of the two, for the teenager I was then and the twenty-something I am now, was electric. After that, I just wallowed in Regency literature. There's such a rich collection of it, that I never ran out, never got bored. And now...I get to add to that collection. Which is pretty awesome.

Nineteenteen: So give us the data dump on your about-to-be-released (next week!) debut, The Season--what is it about, and what inspired you to write it?

Sarah: The Season is the story of seventeen-year-old Lady Alexandra Worthington, who is sharp tongued and strong willed and positively loathes dress fittings—exactly the opposite of what a lady should be in Regency London. Alex, along with her BFFs, Vivi & Ella, can't seem to sit idly by drinking tea and embroidering. Instead, she gets herself tangled up in a dangerous mystery—involving a dead earl and potential treason. The Earl of Blackmoor is mysteriously killed, and the girls team up to help his son, Gavin (who happens to be totally dreamy), to uncover the truth about his father's death. As the mystery unravels, Alex and Gavin grow closer, and Alex finds herself losing her heart. But her girls are there to the end to make sure everything goes her way. The book is the result of my triple threat of obsessions: romance, YA and the Regency. When faced with those things, it's hard to imagine writing any other book than The Season. That, and the fact that Alexandra came into my head clear-as-crystal, like an avenging queen . . . I had to write her out of there.

Nineteenteen: What were the best parts about writing it, and what proved to be less fun?

Sarah: I loved writing The Season from beginning to end...the research, the character development, the story itself...I had a complete and utter blast. But my favorite parts were definitely the scenes involving all the girls. Alex, Ella and Vivi have this intense and wonderful friendship that reminds me so much of the friendships that I have been blessed with over the years. They're teasing and funny and supportive and, I hope, great models for real-life friends.
As for what was less fun, revisions weren't the easiest thing in the world...but once they were over, the book was infinitely better than it had been in first-draft much so that now I look forward to revising!

Nineteenteen: How do you think teens in the 19th century and teens now differ or resemble each other?

Sarah: I think, fundamentally, they're incredibly similar. The things that define "teen" resonate through history. I think friendships were vitally important in the early 1800s, this is something we see clearly in the writings of Austen, and now it's no different. Parents' wishes and expectations are still so important--in 1800, it was about who you'd marry; now it's about what college you're going to. And, for girls especially, your whole world revolved around making a sound match. Anyone who has ever been a teenager knows that sure hasn't changed. The good thing is, marriage isn't the defining characteristic of teenage girls anymore. And that's a huge step in the right direction.

Nineteenteen: If you could visit Regency London for one day, what place would you visit or person would you like to have a glass of ratafia with?

Sarah: Oh, I'd go straight to Vauxhall Gardens. And then shopping on Bond Street. And then sneak into Parliament. And then have tea with Aunt Jane.

Nineteenteen: You've signed to write three adult historical romances for Avon--many congratulations!! Do you think you'll come back to writing more YA books after that?

Sarah: Thanks! It's really exciting to be immersed in the Regency for multiple audiences...I'm still pinching myself about the Avon books...even though the whole thing is rather terrifying! But, absolutely I'm coming back to YA sometime soon. After all, both Vivi and Ella deserve to have their stories told...and I think they'll just nag at me until I tell there will be more YA for sure.

Nineteenteen: Anything else you'd like to tell our readers? And where can our readers go to learn more about you and The Season?

Sarah: It's preaching to the choir, I think, but one of my biggest concerns about the state of YA today is how little historical fiction there is out there--not just Regency historicals, but historicals altogether. So, I'd just say, keep reading it...because history is such rich fictional food!
I'm always happy to answer questions from readers. You can find me at, or email me at sarah (at) macleanspace (dot) com.

Thanks for talking to us, Sarah!

Don't forget to comment if you want to be entered to win a signed copy of The Season. And come back on Friday, when Sarah will be back for more Regency-inspired fun!

Friday, February 20, 2009

English Country Dance, Part II

[Stephanie Johanesen, Founder and President of the Oregon Regency Society, continues her introduction to English Country Dance (ECD). Don't forget to check out her group at We're all feet, er, ears, Stephanie!]

A piece of ECD music can be strung together into infinity. Most pieces you buy on CD are repeated seven times. At a ball, the musicians can decide when they will end it based on how long the sets are.

Here is a link to the Duke of Kent’s Waltz (this is one of my favorite dances). It’s an mp3. It is repeated four times. Listen to it. It is simply the same piece played over and over. What gives it variety is the way each set is played by the musicians. Just listening to this music, I can tell what I am supposed to do in the dance. It has a waltz tempo. One-two-three, Two-two-three…
I made a little diagram for each group of movements that go with the dance.

Ones and Twos:
Right Hand Star (4 beats)

(First gentleman takes second lady’s hand; first lady takes second gentleman’s hand beneath)
Left Hand Star (4 beats)

(You should be back in your places).

Ones (first couple) Chassée between the twos and return (4)
(Chassée = slide step waltz while holding hands)

Ones Cast Down (4)
(Turn away over your right shoulder, outside the set and fall into the place of the twos)
Twos lead up (2)
(The twos should wait two beats after the ones cast, and then take hands and dance up into the place of the ones.)

(Note: This is where you have progressed. Note that the ones and twos have switched places.)

(Here comes the best part – balancing is a waltzy step where you take right hands and dance towards each other and back.)

Balance forward on right hand
Back (2)
Balance forward
Spin under the gentleman’s hand,
And back (2)

(You are now improper) [Editor’s Note: How delightful!]

Repeat with left hand to remedy the improper position.

Balance forward on left hand
Back (2)
Balance forward
Spin under the gentleman’s hand,
And back (2)

(You should now be proper again) [Editor’s Note: Aw, shucks!]

Gentlemen take right hand of your lady’s lower neighbor (diagonal down) and perform a right-hand turn.
(Everyone should be turning except the top right lady and the bottom left gentleman.)

Left hand turn with partner.

And begin again with new set. The configuration will have changed obviously.

Here are some videos of the dance being performed by a variety of groups. When you watch them, note how people are ‘out’ at the ends. Here is the Duke of Kent’s Waltz being performed by Oregon Regency Society members last May:

A nice long movie of a civil war reenactment group performing the Duke of Kent’s Waltz:

Our mentors the Hampshire Regency Dancers perform a suite of dances that include Duple minors, Triple Minors, and Quadrilles. Can you find the Duke of Kent’s Waltz in there?

Now, gather at least six friends and give it a whirl yourself. Once you’ve got the hard bits down, you can learn more steps, and you will find that English Country Dancing is really not difficult at all!

[Thanks, Stephanie, for making it look easy! Come back next week, my dears, when we stand out for a moment on our dancing, and Marissa introduces some special posts by a new author of nineteenth century YA fiction.]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

English Country Dance, Part I

[Today and Friday we're pleased to present Stephanie Johanesen, Founder and President of the Oregon Regency Society, who has graciously agreed to offer us all a tutorial on English Country Dancing. You can learn more about her and her group at Take it away, Stephanie!]

When I decided I was going to create a Regency Society, part of that process was to learn about the dancing aspect of the period. I knew I couldn’t have an event without it. The problem was, I was starting from the perspective of an Austen fan, and the only basis of reference I had about the dancing were the various examples of it on the adaptations. It was all I had to go by. I didn’t know it had a name; I didn’t know anything about it. Google was my greatest ally.

I Googled “The dances of Pride and Prejudice” and found a site listing the names of the dances. I then Googled the steps for a particular dance and learned it was an “English Country Dance” (ECD for short) … and came up with a site that not only provided reference for the steps but also the music. That was the Country Dance and Song Society. I stumbled over a group list there and discovered, to my surprise, a whole network of groups all over the country. Wow. What’s even better; I found groups in Oregon, one fairly close to me.

So when I began to organize our first ball, I had a caller. And I learned then that callers came with music and steps and the whole ball of wax, even sheet music. What a boon!

I look at the dancing from our first event in August of 2007, and I marvel at how smoothly we danced. Here is a medley of the dancing at our first event. It looks like we’ve done it before. At least 70% of the people present at that Regency party had never danced ECD before. [Editor's Note: don't you just feel like you were there in the nineteenth century?]

What makes ECD so ‘user friendly’ is that it can be called like a square dance. Square dancing is often cobbled together by the caller as the music goes along — which is not the case with ECD. English country dances on the most part are matched to a particular piece of music. So if you say; “Let’s dance the Duke of Kent Waltz,” you will know not only what the music sounds like, but also the moves that go with it. You do them enough, and you don’t need callers. You know the dances by heart, as they did back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

English country dances come in various forms. There are duple minors (a set of four dancers; two couples), triple minors (a set of six; three couples), circle dances, and the quadrille, which is a bit harder, but these are definitely the dances that are most accurate to the Regency period. Quadrilles are also set dances, but they are often not matched to particular pieces of music. Many English country dances performed by our group are older than the Regency period. It would be like dancing disco at a party today… but since the mannerisms are elegant and they are similar to the period dance, we are happy to include them in our events. And they are also easy to learn.

We do mostly duple minors. It’s good to choose this format because new dancers can be paired with more experienced ones, and it’s a bit simpler than a triple or a quadrille.

In ECD there is a top to the room (usually where the music is). The way it worked back then was that the highest ranked couples took the top to begin, and the lower you were toward the bottom of the room, the lower you were in the social pecking order. In some of Jane’s books, she mentions ‘starting’ the dance. That is a great honor. If the party is in your honor, you start at the top.

Duple minors are based on sets of four. Each ‘round’ of the music has a pre-determined set of movements that will occur within that set of four dancers. The ‘First Couple’ or ‘Ones’ are the couple closest to the top, and the ‘Second Couple’ or ‘Twos’ are the couple closest to the bottom. Gentlemen stand on the left side if you are looking toward the top of the room and ladies on the right. Sometimes during dances, these positions change, and when the ladies are on the left, that is known as being ‘improper.’

Each time a cycle of the music completes, a new couple will end up on the bottom and the top of the line. The ones progress down the room, the twos progress upwards. When a twos couple reaches the top, they wait the dance out one round, and go back in as ones. When a ones couple reaches the bottom, they wait out the next round, and then join back in as twos. It seems confusing — but when you’re doing it, it makes sense.

If there are an even number of couples in a line, then each round of music, the sets will either all be dancing, or one couple will be out at each end. If there are an odd number of couples, the one ‘out’ couple will appear at one end and then alternate to the other end on the next round. The trick is 1) to know when to join back in when you’re out, and 2) to remember what steps are required of you in your new role. A tip from me is to always angle yourself a bit downwards if you’re a one, and upwards if you are a two, that way, when the new couple appears in your set, you’ll always be facing them. Also, pay attention to what twos are doing if you’re a one, because chances are you’ll become a two soon enough.

Thanks, Stephanie, for that introduction. Come back on Friday, my friends, and Stephanie will walk us through the Duke of Kent’s Waltz. Formal attired recommended, but not required.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Wicked Waltz

As you’ve probably noticed in the videos and posts the last couple of weeks, dancing was far from a contact sport in the early nineteenth century. Fingers touched fleetingly, hands brushed haltingly. This crowd would have fainted to see Dirty Dancing.

But the waltz changed everything.

Waltzing had been sweeping Europe for some time, but historians disagree on when it arrived in England. Some claim the Countess Lieven brought it back from Vienna in 1813 and introduced it at Almack’s. The Countess was one of the patronesses, those lady guardians Marissa talked about Tuesday. This caricature by George Cruikshank with her dancing with a Russian diplomat at Almack’s is dated 1813. Others say it was Tsar Alexander who first danced the waltz at Almack’s during his June 1814 visit to England. One account has him dancing it with the Countess and Lady Jersey, another of the patronesses (although not both together, I would imagine!).

Whenever the dance arrived, it caused quite a stir. Imagine, couples touching! Locked in each other’s arms! It was called scandalous, wicked, and immoral. The London Times reportedly condemned the waltz as unseemly. The infamous Lord Byron wrote a satirical poem about how shocking it was (I find it difficult to believe it actually shocked him!). As Marissa mentioned on Tuesday, the lady patronesses of Almack’s had to grant permission before a young lady could dance it there. And mothers often refused their daughters permission to dance it anywhere else!

The waltz wasn’t generally the Viennese waltz we think of today. It actually had a number of open and closed holds. I couldn’t find an exact video of the way I’ve seen it performed by experts, but this comes close.:

Not until 1816 did the Prince Regent himself bless the waltz by including it in a formal state ball. By the end of Victoria's reign, waltzing had become the dance of choice at many a private ball and public assembly, and looked a bit more like this:

Want to know more? Come back next week for some very special posts from the Oregon Regency Society!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Heaven, Regency Style

It was "the seventh heaven of the fashionable world", the "exclusive temple of the beau monde", the "marriage mart" of exclusive London society. Regency wit Henry Luttell said of it:

"If once to Almack’s you belong,
Like Monarchs you can do no wrong;
But banished thence on Wednesday night,
By Jove, you can do nothing right."

On the other hand, it served "wretched refreshments", had a "bad floor", and was viewed as shockingly dull by most young men.

So just what was Almack’s, that place that has appeared in almost every Regency-set novel since Georgette Heyer?

Originally, it was an assembly room (remember that we discussed those last week?) built on King Street (behind St. James’s Square) in 1764 by a Yorkshireman of Scottish ancestry named William Almack who began life as a gentleman's valet but soon moved up in the world. Mr. Almack opened his assembly rooms in 1765, charging 10 guineas for a series of twelve weekly balls and suppers over the course of the season. Anxious to make his assemblies appear exclusive and select, Almack enlisted the aid of a group of blue-blooded society ladies to help decide who merited admission and who did not, and thus was the famous voucher system born. If the lady patronesses did not approve of you, no matter how large your estate or noble your birth, you didn’t get in to Almack’s.

Almack’s system worked. By the Regency era, Almack’s was THE place to be if one had any pretensions to being a member of the haute ton. And as a result, the lady patronesses wielded an almost ridiculous amount of power over society; the cartoon above comments on just how sought-after those vouchers to purchase tickets were. According to one story, a man challenged the husband of one of these august ladies to a duel because his wife had been refused a voucher. Others worked out elaborate schemes to sneak in. No one who had any connection to trade was admitted, and even otherwise socially acceptable army officers and members of the aristocracy might find themselves refused admission.

Within the hallowed halls, the rules were just as rigid. There was a strict dress code for men, and even those who had proper tickets might be turned away if not properly attired (even, it was rumored, the Duke of Wellington on one occasion!) Until around 1814, dances like the quadrille and the waltz were not permitted. Even after they were, young ladies had to demonstrate that they were of modest demeanor and attitude before they could get the permission of one of the lady patronesses to engage in waltzing (which was still considered a rather improper dance). And no one was permitted to enter the rooms after 11 pm, even those with tickets. Liquid refreshment was limited to lemonade, tea, orgeat (a non-alcoholic drink flavored with almonds and orange-flower water) and ratafia (a light liqueur, also fruit and nut based); bread and butter and cake were the only munchies served.

So with all these rules and the less-than-exciting atmosphere, why was it so sought-after?

Because admission to Almack’s meant that you counted. It meant that you were the crème de la crème of English society…one of the 19th century version of the beautiful people. If you were on the prowl for a "good" marriage, it was the prime hunting ground. It meant that, as Henry Luttrell said, "you can do no wrong."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dancing: The Sport of Gentlemen?

We’ve focused on how exciting a ball must have been for the young ladies, but being able to show a nice leg was also an expectation for the young gentlemen. Much of the information we have today about nineteenth century dancing actually comes from a seventeenth-century fellow named John Playford. Here’s how he starts his The Dancing Master:

“The Art of Dancing called by the Ancient Greeks Orchestice, and Orchestis, is a commendable and rare Quality fit for young Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used. And Plato, that Famous Philosopher thought it meet, that young Ingenious Children be taught to Dance. It is a Quality that has been formerly honored in the Courts of Princes, when performed by the most Noble Heroes of the Times! … This Art has been anciently handled by Athenæus, Julius Pollux, Cælius Rhodiginus, and others, and much commend it to be Excellent for Recreation, after more serious Studies, making the body active and strong, graceful in deportment, and a quality very much beseeming a Gentleman.”

As the lady’s partner, the gentleman was expected to help the lady through the paces and make her comfortable. He’d offer his hand palm up, cradling hers in strength. Even the names of the dances evoke manly thoughts: Old Man be Full of Bones, Merry Merry Milk Maids, Once I Loved a Maiden Faire, Paul’s Wharf, Row Well Ye Mariners, and so on.

A dance that is a favorite now among English country dancers and contra dancers is Hole in the Wall, which dates from 1695. So, young ladies and gentlemen, study the steps and you might be able to dance it as ably as those from the 1996 television version of Emma. The couple closest to the music is the first couple (or ones), and the couple farthest from the music is the second couple (or twos).

First four measures: First couple casts off around second, leads up the middle back to place
5-8: Second couple casts up around ones, leads down the middle to place
9-10: First man and second woman change places
11-12: Second man and first woman change places
13-14: All hands halfway round
15-16: Ones case down while twos lead up the center to progress.
Repeat, with the twos moving up the line and the ones moving up. When you reach the end, you get to stand out for one cycle and flirt! Then you return to the dance as the other couple.

Still not ready to join the set? No worries! Next week Marissa and I will have more info on dancing. Then the week of the 16th, we’ll have special guest posts from the Oregon Regency Society on English Country Dancing. Don’t miss them!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Ball: A Primer

A ball is a ball is a ball. Right?

Well, not quite. There were actually a few different types of balls that we ought to go here we go!

Public Balls: Also known as "assemblies." Most towns of any size from the 1770s onward had "assembly rooms", often located at an inn in smaller towns or in their own building in larger, where local society met for lectures, concerts, and other cultural events (some even included lending libraries)... and of course, dancing! (That's the Bath Assembly room at left). The wealthier local families would often pay a subscription fee to defray maintenance costs and pay for the services of a master of ceremonies, who ran all events (hiring an orchestra, arranging refreshments, etc.) Tickets were required for admission, with cost varying. Jane Austen was an avid assembly-goer, as can be seen from her were her beloved creations, the Bennett sisters. Attendance at these assemblies was generally self-limited to the gentry--that class of smaller landed families and professionals who could be considered "gentlemen" (the clergy, military officers, physicians, barristers), though assemblies for other classes might also be held. This may sound strange to modern American ears, but don't forget that in the 19th century, class distinctions were very real and accepted, and members of different social classes did not, on the whole, like to mingle socially.

In London, public balls were also held at places like Vauxhall (the orchestra stand is seen here at right) and Ranelagh, a cross between a public garden and a circus/carnival fairway. Most notorious were the masked balls held here, where all wore dominoes (voluminous hooded cloaks with masks) that concealed identity and promoted flirtation and secret assignations in the shrubbery for clandestine lovers. Again, anyone who could pay the admission fee could come.

That certainly wasn't the case with private balls, which were, of course, by invitation only (though gate-crashing was certainly a common phenomenon!) The season was prime ball-giving time, and a ball given by her family was often part of a debutante's presentation to society. Of course those were the most elaborate: the flowers and other decorations, the food and drink, the musicians must be the best. But elaborate balls were also part of entertaining in the country, either for the neighboring "families" or during the house parties that were common during the times when Parliament was not in session and the ton vacated London for their country estates.

Next week I'll be chatting about that early 19th century institution, Almack's-- a peculiar cross between a public and private ball...but in the meanwhile, stay tuned for Friday's dance lesson from Regina. White gloves prefered but not required.