Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Gunter's!

As Marissa has mentioned, ice cream was just as popular among nineteenth century ladies and gents as it is today. While few places in England get as hot as the American southwest (or my lowly abode, which saw triple digit heat the last few weeks), remember too that for most of the period there was no mechanical air conditioning or refrigeration. Overhead fans and personal fans had to be moved by hand (your servant’s or your own). If food was cooled at all, it was on ice delivered manually. And on warm summer days, there was nothing finer than scooping into a dish of icy cool ice cream.

Of course, it would have been a little difficult for these scrumptious treats to have been delivered by cart. Instead, in London, the fashionable flocked to a little confectionary shop at 7-8 Berkeley Square owned by James Gunter and his family.

Gunter’s was extremely popular for several reasons. For one thing, the food was delightful, with ices and sorbets in flavors like pistachio, pineapple, jasmine, white coffee, and elderflower. For another, it was right across the street from a park with maple trees, so you always had a place to go in the shade to eat your treat.

But the most important reason Gunter’s was so popular was the curbside service! Gunter’s was one of the first drive up eateries. During a time when it would ruin a young lady’s reputation to be seen eating alone with a man inside a restaurant, it was perfectly acceptable to be seen eating outdoors with one! So, a gentleman would drive his carriage up under the shade of the trees across the street, and waiters from Gunter’s would dash across traffic to take his order. They’d then dash back across traffic to get the ices and return them to the gentleman and his lady. The lady would sit in the carriage and eat her treat while the gentleman generally lounged against it and chatted with her while eating his.

I’m sure her seat gave her quite the vantage point. After all, part of the fun of eating at Gunter’s was seeing who else was eating at Gunter’s.

Not quite the same as those ice cream trucks, huh?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It wasn’t an easy weekend around my house, with my son having scheduled surgery and my husband an unscheduled (and painful) trip to the emergency room, but it got me thinking about how we deal with pain in the early 21st century and how 19th century people dealt with it.

My son had his impacted wisdom teeth removed. He had general anesthesia during the surgery, novocaine to deaden the immediate post-operative pain, and oxycodone (an opiate derivative) to take care of the pain after that. He had hi-tech gel packs that can either be frozen or heated in the microwave to keep on his cheeks and jaw to reduce swelling, and antibiotics and a sterilizing mouthwash to keep infection at bay. Impressive, what would a 19th century dentist or doctor be able to give his patients to control pain during surgical procedures?

The answer is, during the earlier decades of the century, not much. There was ingesting large amounts of alcohol, or there was laudanum, which is opium dissolved in an alcohol base and which had been in use since the 16th century…but the problem with using these during surgery is that it’s extremely difficult to judge how much the patient should get to remain unconscious during the entire procedure. Surgeons usually had several strong men on hand during operations to hold the patient down in case he or she woke up partway through!

Surgery wasn’t a common practice, and it was usually a last resort treatment because of the problems of dealing with pain. But what about medical events that weren’t surgical—like childbirth? Unfortunately, medical professionals did not feel that alleviating women’s pain during labor and birth was necessary or even desirable; some took the phrase in Genesis "in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children" to mean that women should suffer while giving birth, as punishment for Eve’s transgressions.

But starting in the 1840s, that began to change. Advances in the study of chemistry in the 18th and early 19th centuries led to the study of gases, among them ether and nitrous oxide. American doctors in Boston and in Georgia began experimenting with using ether during surgery, with growing success. Nitrous oxide, after some initial problems (during its first public use in a dental procedure the patient woke up too soon and began to scream) came into wide use. But it was the development and use of chloroform that really opened the field of pain control in surgery. It was developed in 1847 by a Scottish obstetrician named James Young Simpson who wanted to find an anesthetic to give women in labor. Although many doctors fought against its use because of that supposed biblical injunction, its popularity and widespread use were guaranteed after Queen Victoria chose to use it during the births of her son Leopold in 1853 and daughter Beatrice in 1857 and was vocal in its praise, even in the face of censure from Britain's premier medical journal, The Lancet. After having born seven children without the benefit of anesthesia, she knew what she was talking about!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Changing of the Guard

It’s summer, and that means bumping into tourists just about everywhere you go. One of the most popular London tourist attractions remains the changing of the guard at the Horse Guard Parade between Whitehall and St. James’s Park. What’s not to like about red coats and shiny boots? So, it’s no surprise that the daily event was just as popular in the nineteenth century.

The idea of a standing army to protect the monarch dates from the 1600s, when Charles the Second decided he needed a little more personal security. The unit stationed near St. James’s Palace came to be called the Horse Guards, even though not all of them are mounted. The current Horse Guards building and parade ground was designed and built in the mid-1700s on the site of the previous Horse Guards building. Writers at the time called it a “noble edifice” and “a neat and compact piece of architecture.” But truly it was the military muscle people came to see.

Every day, the three units stationed there, the Life Guards, the Blues, and the Royals, paraded for inspection. The military leaders often invited select civilians to join them. Lovely young ladies who could ooh and ah appreciatively were particularly popular. As you can see by the picture, from Ackerman’s Illustrated London, everyone from children to grandparents and the working folks to the aristocracy turned out to watch the parade. Can you imagine the thrill of watching the drilling, the precision, the nicely turned legs, on the horses? Small wonder many a young man volunteered to join the Army when the recruiters came around. Small wonder many a young lady’s heart thumped harder at the sight of shiny brass braid.

There’s just something about dozens of men in uniform, don’t you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blogging from RWA National, Part 3: History Geeks on the Loose

Okay, so in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I'm no longer in DC but am safely home...but today's post is all about what Regina and I did on Sunday, after the RWA conference was over.

So what do a pair of history geeks do on a free day in one of the country's most historic cities, especially when joined by two other history geeks? They go to museums, of course...namely, this one. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History was a very cool place to spend a good chunk of the day, even for writers who spend an alarming amount of their waking hours thinking about England, not America.

First stop on the tour was the First Ladies exhibit, to see all of the "pretty things." By the way, that's a technical historio-
graphic term in case you were wondering, and should be used only by qualified history professionals. And yes, we were all quite professional as we squealed over Abigail Adams's slippers and her fake pearls a la Barbara Bush, as well as over Dolley Madison's silk gown beautifully embroidered with butterflies and dragonflies.

Here are Abby's pearls, along with an image I found of her actually wearing them (how cool is that?)

Please pardon my photography--the lighting in the exhibit halls is a little dim, though the same adjective might apply to the photographer as well.

And here's Dolley's dress:
And of course, this wouldn't be Nineteenteen without a pop quiz, so here you go: Is this dress from 1809, or 1909?

The answer is 1909--this was worn by Helen Taft at President Taft's inauguration--but all of us agreed that Mrs. Taft could have time-traveled to Almack's in this dress and not have made Lady Jersey bat an eyelash.

We had more fun in the American maritime exhibit pondering War of 1812 privateers (did you know those bad boy American privateers were on the prowl in the English Channel itself? Talk about bold!) and spent some time in the gift shop pondering the books (I got a great Dolley Madison biography and a book on lost crafts--look for me to be slipping some of that research into a future story)--and then Regina patiently indulged my closet space nuttiness with a quick visit to the National Air and Space Museum so I could hyperventilate next to the Spirit of Saint Louis and the Glamorous Glennis (the plane in which the sound barrier was first broken) as well as a real Apollo lander. Ecstatic sigh.

So that was our trip to Washington, DC...we'll be back to our regular blogging now, but we hope you had fun with us! Bye!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Blogging from RWA National, Part 2: I Dub Thee . . .

Marissa and I have talked about the various aristocratic titles such as duke, countess, marquess, and baroness. At times too, if your loving papa did something useful to the government (fight off an invasion, pay off the national debt), he might be honored with a knighthood. There were Knights of the Order of the Garter and even Knight Commander of the Bath, each with insignia, garments, and traditions. Your dear papa would be honored at a select ceremony before his peers, and the knighthood conferred by the Prince Regent himself.

We writers have a few traditions of our own. Each year, at its annual conference, Romance Writers of America honors authors for their service to readers, that of writing the best romantic books published the previous year. We also celebrate the best manuscripts by unpublished authors. We dress in our finest, attend a lavish ceremony that seems on par with the Academy Awards, and applaud the work of our peers.

So, Nineteen Teen congratulates all the winners of the 2009 Rita Awards, but especially Rosemary Clement-Moore (Best YA novel for Hell Week) and Tera Lynn Childs (Best First Book for her YA Oh. My. Gods). We also congratulate all the Golden Heart winners, especially Shoshana Dawn Brown (Best YA manuscript for Stage Fright). You can find the names of all the winners here.

And Marissa and I would also like to apologize to anyone we missed this morning at breakfast! The buffet set up was not what we expected (okay, neither of us had seen anything like it before!), so it’s quite possible you didn’t find us in all the hullabaloo. But if you’d like to win one of our darling fans, we’ll be offering chances all through August. Look for more about our trip to the Nation’s capitol next week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blogging from RWA National, Part 1

Dateline: Marriott Wardman Hotel, Washington, DC

July 15, 2009

Or is it 1809?

If you were sitting where I'm sitting, you might wonder. Where am I? At the annual meeting of the Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

There's a four-piece ensemble playing late 18th century dance tunes as gowned women dance country dances--so called because they're danced in two facing ("contra") lines--laughing and chattering as they tread through the steps.

There are sets of reproduction playing cards printed from original 1750 plates, along with rulebooks for playing 18th and 19th century card games and gold foil covered chocolate coins to use for betting. Yes, this is how Regency authors have fun in their off-duty hours!

Don't you love these costumes? Marissa and Regina, alas, did not attend suitably attired, but we hope you'll like these:

I want that hat!

And these shoes!

However, I'm glad I didn't have to manage the graceful but very long train on this beautiful dress!

And aren't these two lovely dresses just stunning? The feathers especially made it for me. :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Shall We Confer?

From your erudite responses to our posts, Marissa and I know that some of you are writers as well. We humbly invite those who will be attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Washington, D.C., next week to join us for breakfast! Marissa and I will be at the Saturday morning (July 11) buffet breakfast, the farthest tables from the buffet, waving fans. Yes, fans—lovely sandalwood affairs quite similar to those used during the nineteenth century. Join us for scintillating conversation, and you might just walk away with one!

If you are not attending the conference, but will be in the area, we highly recommend the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing on Wednesday, July 15, from 5:30 to 7:30pm. Just standing in the massive ballroom, gazing out at 500 romance authors signing books for charity, is enough to make one swoon in pure delight! Marissa will be signing Bewitching Season, and I’ll be around eagerly collecting books from my other favorite authors. For more information and a list of participating authors, see the conference site.

Marissa and I hope to blog from the conference, so look for interesting insights and tantalizing tidbits next week.

And speaking of tantalizing tidbits, may I offer you a few fun activities while you wait?

Enjoy, and hope to see you in D.C.!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Victoria's Children, part 3: Princess Alice

Poor Queen Victoria. Once she married her beloved Albert in February 1840, she didn’t have him to herself for very long. Their first child Vicky arrived that very same year in November, Bertie arrived the following November…and on April 25,1843, baby number three arrived in the form of Princess Alice Maud Mary.

Alice (that's her in the family portrait above, leaning over the new baby along with big sister Vicky) showed early on a deeply compassionate nature; she enjoyed visiting the laborers who lived on the Royal estates at Osborne and Balmoral and was genuinely interested in their lives and living conditions. She was close to her older brother and sister, and became Bertie’s closest friend among the family. She was perhaps not as academically brilliant as Vicky (who was definitely the brain of the family), but shared her father’s broad practical streak. None of Victoria’s children were beauties, but she was pleasant-looking, as can be seen in the portrait and photograph below.

Alice came into her own in 1861, when her practical and sympathetic sides made her the natural choice in the role of family nurse. She spent a great deal of time with her dying grandmother (remember the Duchess of Kent?), and only months later, did her best to nurse her father through his fatal illness. After that she was the chief attendant of the distraught Queen Victoria, sitting with her mother through sleepless nights and tearful days. Perhaps it was to escape this difficult job that she accepted the proposal of Prince Louis of Hesse and by Rhine a few months later. He was a kindly, well-meaning man, but not the intellectual equal of Alice; their marriage, while outwardly successful in a quiet way, proved to be a source of disappointment to Alice.

Alice spent her married years producing seven children and becoming a pioneer in the creation of the nursing profession, establishing nursing schools and women’s hospitals and becoming a fast friend and correspondent of Florence Nightingale. Some of the institutions she established still exist today…but Alice is probably best remembered today as the mother of Empress Alexandra of Russia and Grand Duchess Ella of Russia, both murdered in the Bolshevik Revolution in July 1918. She is also the source of the hemophilia that plagued the Empress’s son, having inherited it from Victoria and passing it on to several of her children. However, Alice didn’t live to see these tragedies or even to see her children reach adulthood; she died in December 1878 at age 35, on the anniversary of her own father’s death, after nursing her children through a diphtheria epidemic.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Midst the Rockets' Yellow Glare

We’ve discussed various holidays on the blog before, but Independence Day wasn’t one of them (because it started in the eighteenth century and the British, um, lost). However, with the Fourth of July so close at hand, my mind turned to the traditional method of celebrating here in the states: fireworks.

Nineteenth century lads and lasses celebrated major events with fireworks too. Little Chinese crackers, then as now, were popular for lighting and throwing about. But the bigger shows were also a big hit.

Then as now, one of the safest places to light off the rockets was over water. Vauxhall Pleasure Garden, located as it was near the River Thames and boasting its own water features, let off fireworks at the end of each night’s party. Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks was first played there in 1749 in a grand spectacular. Fireworks also burst overhead as millions of people turned out for the crowning of Queen Victoria.

Then too, fireworks could mark private celebrations. Many an aristocrat ended a evening’s dinner or ball with fireworks over their private gardens. The fire masters, as the pyrotechnic engineers were often called, were much in demand to develop ever larger and more elaborate displays, from dragons fighting to a temple that transformed in billows of smoke! Even the Prince Regent’s favorite architect, John Nash, got involved in building “machines” to house the displays.

Until the middle of the century, however, the primary colors were orange and white. The photo at the top by Tim Parkin gives you a good idea what they probably looked like. In the 1830s, fire masters discovered that burning metallic salts with potassium chlorate would give them many more colors to play with. You might say they went forth with a bang.

May your celebrations be safe but just as merry!