Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

And all through the house, not a creature was stirring . . . except for Marissa and me, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! May your hearts be full of wonder and joy this blessed season, and may the New Year bring nothing but happiness to you all! You’ve certainly brought some happiness to our lives this past year with your comments and camaraderie!

We will be taking next week off to celebrate the holidays with our families, but we’ll be back at the keyboards in January. Look for more fashion forecasts, historical tidbits, and even a book club reading or two in the coming months.

In the meantime, as our present to you, enjoy these nineteenth-century themed Christmas movies. First up, scenes from Chatsworth, the home of the Dukes of Devonshire. This beautiful estate has been used to represent Fitzwilliam Darcy’s estate Pemberley. A kind gentleman provided these pictures from the 2010 Christmas tour.

Next up, a short, but heartfelt wish for a Merry Christmas.

Have a wonderful holiday, and see you next year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List--What Would Queen Victoria Want?

Regina's wonderful Christmas Wish List posts got me thinking about some other 19th century present lists I'd seen before...namely, those listed by Queen Victoria in her diaries. She kept careful note of presents given to and received from family, friends, and servants, especially in her childhood and teens.

So...what was on Queen Victoria's Christmas Wish List?

1. Jewelry Well, of course the future Queen of England had a taste for jewelry, even as a child. She lists gift of an opal brooch and earrings, amethyst earrings, a "massive gold buckle in the shape of two serpents", a gold chain with a turquoise clasp, a turquoise ring...and later, Prince Albert often gave her jewelry made from the teeth of stags he'd killed (ew!) or lockets with strands of their children's hair.

2. Art Several of her diary entries list gifts of prints, drawings, and reproductions of famous works of art from her mother, her governess Baroness Lehzen, and others; she also gave away her watercolors and sketches (and yes, she was a fairly skillful watercolorist). She and Albert also shared a love of art, and often commissioned pictures and scupture from important artists as gifts for each other. This 1843 portrait of her at right is one she commissioned as a birthday present for Albert, for his eyes only, so to speak; it was meant to be a picture of Albert's wife, not of the Queen...isn't that romantic?

3. Handmade items You might have thought that princesses and queens expected slightly fancier gifts, but Victoria loved getting and giving homemade presents from family and friends, including embroidered bags and clothing, fancy aprons ("a very pretty black satin apron trimmed with red velvet"--wow!), handkerchiefs, sachets, fabric covered boxes...the list goes on. And it didn't stop once she became Queen; she sewed quilts and blankets for all her grandchildren at their births and many of her great-grandchildren as well. I wonder if, buried away somewhere like Windsor Castle, are trunks full of items like these? I do know that in a museum in Canada is a scarf crocheted by her; during several of Britain's wars she and her daughters knit and crocheted socks and scarves for the war effort. (And if you'd like to make your own version of this scarf at left, check out this delightful blog!)

I love making presents for family; I've knitted sweaters and mittens, made quilts, and made glass bead bracelets. Are any of you following Her Majesty's example and making homemade gifts?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List—What Would YA Writers Want?

Well, actually, what would Regina want? I’ll allow Marissa to comment if she sees fit.

We’ve talked about the young ladies and lads of the nineteenth century and what they might have put on their Christmas wish lists. What of those who write about these wonderful characters? Who secretly long to live in their world, at least for a few hours? I shall show you some of my wish list, but please note that I’m not hawking these products. It seemed only fair to include the links as well as a picture or two, but I haven’t ordered from any of these places, so I cannot vouch for their good business practices. Buyer beware. Nuff said.

So what would a writer of nineteenth century YA want?

--Perhaps some lovely note cards so she could thank all those who are so kind about reviewing her work or supporting her blog.

--Or picture hangers so she could put up a few framed covers. (Of course, I personally don’t have a picture rail at the top of my walls, but I might be able to talk my very handy husband into putting a few in.) Doesn't this just take you back to another time?

Or music so she can get in the mood while writing.

Or faux nineteenth century clothing! (Actually, I want her gown, the settee she’s sitting on, and perhaps the carpet at her feet. Oh, and Santa, maybe make my short hair grow about a foot overnight too?) Wouldn’t that be fun for the booksellers and readers to see when she walked into a signing?

And of course a little bauble never hurt anyone. (You’ll notice I don’t have a writerly excuse for this one!)

Also on my wish list is for all good YA writers to have great books out in 2011 that delight readers, sell well, and earn them publishing contracts for 2012. And a pony. (Well, maybe not a pony.)

What about you? Any ideas for nineteenth century-related goodies you’ve seen?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Golden Age of Christmas Music

In posts last Christmas Regina and I discussed the changes in how the holiday was celebrated in the 19th century, going from "not much at all" in the early decades to "full speed ahead!" by the 1840s. Just as Christmas grew in importance over the century, so did one of the most memorable parts of holiday celebration: the Christmas carol.

By the 1820s, the general lack of enthusiasm for keeping Christmas extended to Christmas music as well. In his 1822 compilation of old Christmas songs, Some Ancient Christmas Carols (published in 1822) Davies Gilbert writes, "The Editor is desirous of preserving them [the selected Christmas carols] in their actual forms, however distorted by false grammar or by obscurities, as specimens of times now passed away, and of religious feelings superseded by others of a different cast. He is anxious also to preserve them on account of the delight they afforded him in his childhood, when the festivities of Christmas Eve were anticipated by many days of preparation, and prolonged through several weeks by repetitions and remembrances."

"Specimens of times past away"? Fortunately for poor Mr. Gilbert, the next decades would prove him wrong and usher in a renaissance of Christmas music.

The 1830s through 1870s were the golden age of popular Christmas music, with many of the carols we still sing today dating back to this time. William B. Sandys, a solicitor by trade and an antiquarian in his spare time, published his Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833, including songs and carols culled from as far back as medieval times (many of which Sandys decided to "improve" upon, and others which he combined when finding multiple sources). Carols included in his collection include many our readers would be familiar with today--The First Noel and God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen among them.

These carols gradually made their way into the church service during this time, probably as a side-effect of the Evangelical movement's emotionalizing and personalizing of religious experience. Caroling also began to come back into fashion; it was used as a way to collect funds for church-sponsored charity and so became rather more respectable than in the past! St. Thomas's Day, December 21, was a traditional day for caroling; in elder times it was an almost Halloween-like holiday, when the poor went "corning", or "Thomasing", or "gooding" amongst their better-off neighbors, collecting portions of flour for a Christmas baking. Caroling replaced corning, and donations for the church poor box replaced gifts of flour.

So just in case your past Christmases have been ruined by wondering just where your favorite carol came from, I've compiled a list of carols with brief notes on their origins and approximate dates, from medieval times to the 19th century.

The First Noel, which appeared in Sandys (see above) is thought to have been written in 16th century England.

I Saw Three Ships is also thought to be medieval in origin. It was widely known across England in slightly different versions; the first printed version is from 17th century Derbyshire. Like The Twelve Days of Christmas it's a mnemonic, consisting of multiple repeated elements. Published in Sandys.

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen is also thought to be medieval in origin. It's quoted in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Published in Sandys.

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing was originally written by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It appeared in the younger Wesley's Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739, and again in Sandys in a modified form. Some time in the 1840s it was re-adapted to a tune by Mendelssohn by English musician William Cummings.

Joy to the World, or at least its lyrics, were written by English writer/composer Isaac Watts in 1719, based on Psalm 98. Composer Lowell Mason set them to the tune we now know in 1839, borrowing heavily from parts of Handel's Messiah.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, or at least its lyrics, date back to the sixteenth century; the music is thought to be French. It was first published in England in 1780.

O Come All Ye Faithful would have been known and sung in our era in its Latin form, Adeste Fidelis. It was written by English hymnist John Francis Wade and published by him in 1751, though he may have borrowed heavily from a 13th century song. The English translation was published in Murray's Hymnal in 1852.

Silent Night is a German carol; its words were written by an Austrian priest in 1816 and set to music (guitar, no less!) by a friend of his in 1818. The first published English translation is from 1871.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas was sung as far back as the 1500s in the West Country of England as a secular Christmas song.

Several other carols also survived from medieval origins, including Here We Go A-Wassailing, The Boar's Head Carol, The Holly and the Ivy, and Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (an 18th century translation of a medieval French song).

Have I missed any of your favorites? Let me know, and I'll try to track their origins down.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List—What a Lad Likes

Young ladies weren’t the only ones thinking about what Mama and Papa might be cozened into purchasing for Christmas. Home on break from schools like Eton and Harrow, the nineteenth century young man would be thinking about his future, and perhaps fondly remembering his past, when the school room was all he need be captain of and the most pressing matter was lining up his toy soldiers just so. Given that, what might a nineteenth century teen put on his Christmas list:

--A chess set. Perhaps with some practice even Father will do down in defeat!

--The Iliad in Greek. Learning those old languages has to be good for something, and what better than a rousing adventure of war?

--A dashing waistcoat. A fellow has to get out sometime, and he might as well look bang up to the mark while doing so.

--A multicaped greatcoat. Because it gets terribly cold at school. Oh, does it look just like the one the stage coach driver wears? Hadn’t noticed.

--A toy train. For collection purposes, you understand. It looks well on a mantel, I’m told.

--Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Bit of a girly book, really, but everyone is quoting them. Even the most standoffish young lady is said to swoon when you read her No. 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

--Reliable transportation. Think how much more convenient for Mother not to have to loan out the carriage and driver or detour from her own amusements to drive you around. Really, it’s entirely for her benefit.

What am I getting for the two young men in my life? I’ll never tell. How about you?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1818

First, thank you so much for your title suggestions for Book 3! I'll be using them to put together a list for my editor, and when we have a title, I'll let you know...unless I have to come back for a second round of Name that Book (let's hope not!) In the meanwhile, the winners of the drawing are Jessica and Aimeestates! Ladies, please contact me through the form on my website so we can arrange my sending you your choice of book.

Now... What was the fashionable young lady wearing in 1818?

In the early months of 1818, society was still in mourning for the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales and her son in childbirth, and fashion reflected it as you can see in this Carriage Dress from the January issue of Ackermann's Repository. This isn't the last time we'll see mourning this year: And because of Princess Charlotte's death, there was a mad rush among the brothers of the Prince Regent to marry in order to produce an heir to the throne. Maybe that's why Ackermann's featured a Bridal Dress in its April issue. Note that the waistline is as high as ever; it will stay just under the bust for another couple of years. The applique around the skirt is very pretty, but this is not as elaborate as wedding dresses will be later in the century: 1818 was, however, a good year for book lovers: it saw the posthumous publication of two Jane Austen novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and several poems by Keats. Maybe our young lady will venture forth to Hatchard's Book Shop in this Morning Dress in pursuit of one of them--the pale pink pelisse is quite pretty, but the bonnet is rather fearsome, don't you think? (August, Ackermann's Repository): On the other hand, this Evening Dress that appeared in the October edition of Ackermann's Repository features a much smaller headdress. Note again the applique work and flounces around the lower skirt; this fashion will also persist for several years, right through the 1820s. Note also her shawl: with increased trade from India starting in the late 18th century, shawls from the sub-continent in silk and wool became prized fashion accessories. And I have to admit that I love the tiny pink and white striped puff sleeves on this dress, rather like a peppermint ball! Here's another spectacular shawl, worn with a Walking Dress (Ackermann, November). On closer examination you can see she also has a smaller shawl or scarf with fringe tied round her neck. And that collar is downright Elizabethan! I said that we weren't through with mourning clothes for the year: in November, Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, died at age 74. But being in mourning did not mean being out of fashion: here's another Walking Dress with a truly monumental bonnet and very attractive rows of pleating and flounces around the hem of the pelisse, and an Evening Dress with black gauze sleeves. Note that both hairstyles involve a Spanish style comb--it's fun to track these little passing fads.So what do you think of 1818's fashions?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nineteenth Century Christmas Wish List—What a Girl Wants

My niece very kindly gave me an electronic wish list of what she wants for Christmas, complete with pictures and places to buy online. She has excellent taste, and I don’t say that just because some of it involved steampunk clothing, and steampunk is my most recent love. (Nineteenth century aesthetics meets modern thoughts on science fiction, with a dash of piracy—what’s not to love?!) But it got me thinking: what would a nineteenth century teen put on her, or his, Christmas wish list?

Of course, many families didn’t give gifts in the first decade or two of the century. Giving gifts was a German tradition, so families with connections to the House of Hanover and other German dynasties were more likely to have Christmas trees and presents, at least at first. But Christmas grew in popularity as the century went on in England, particularly after the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843.

So, let’s say it’s around 1850, and you’re the daughter of a fairly well-to-do family. What would you hint to Mama and Papa to purchase for you for Christmas?

--The compiled version of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, which just finished its serialization in November. The hardback edition would be so very nice, as your serials are starting to wear from rereading.

--New sheet music. Nothing better to perk up the dreary winter months!

--Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Everyone is quoting them. Why, a young man even recently read you No. 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Sigh.

--A sewing box. It truly is tiresome to go after Mother’s box every time you want to embroider a slipcover or stitch up a ruff to go with that new gown. And Father would be pleased you asked for something so industrious. Of course, he might balk at this lovely version.

--A pince-nez. Your eyes are fine, but everyone’s wearing these dainty little glasses. They’re quite the fashion statement.

What about you? What would you have put on your list?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Once Again, it’s Time to Play Name that Book!

We're pretty lucky, Regina and I, to have such fabulous readers. You've done such a good job helping us come up with lists of possible names for our upcoming books (even if most recently Regina's editor ending up moving in a different direction for hers) that I'm back for your help again…because I’m darned if I can think of a good title for my upcoming YA book, due out in early 2012.

Are you ready?

Book 3 is a companion to Bewitching Season and Betraying Season but set years earlier, in 1815, at the very end of the Napoleonic Wars. Readers of my first books might notice that one of the main characters is Lady Parthenope Hardcastle, whom they have already met as the mother of Persy and Pen Leland…but who is a teen herself in this book. It's about magic and political intrigue and love, but it’s also about a handicapped person coming to terms with how the world sees her and how she sees herself, in a time and place much less accepting than ours. Here’s a brief “jacket copy” type description of the story:

Two years ago, illness left Lady Sophie Rosier unable to walk except with a cane…and also took both her mother and her magical powers. Now it’s 1815 and time for her first London season, and a girl who once loved to dance is forced to watch while others waltz on strong, untwisted legs and flirt with boys who don't even seem to see her.

On the night of her first party Sophie’s father is nearly crushed by a falling statue, and only she knows that a magic spell was behind the “accident”. When other members of government suffer similar magical attacks, Sophie and her new best friend Parthenope decide to investigate. It’s not an easy task when she can’t rely on her slowly-returning magic to help—or keep her thoughts off Parthenope’s handsome cousin, the Earl of Woodbridge…except that the safety of England may very well be at stake.

In the glittering ballrooms of Regency London and Brussels on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo you’ll meet a sketchy fortune hunter, a magic-sensing parakeet, a long-lost love, a plant-obsessed aunt, and the Duke of Wellington…and a courageous young girl trying to find her balance in a difficult world.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind: my editor thinks that the title should focus on the magical and romantic elements of the story; it won’t be necessary to include anything historical since the cover illustration will make that obvious. And no, “season” should not be part of the title since it more or less stands alone. I’ve used "The Waterloo Plot" and "Magic in Season" as working titles, but neither of those is quite right.

And so, Dear Readers…let’s brainstorm some titles! As Regina did, I’m happy to offer an advanced reading copy (not available till late next summer, probably) if one of you comes up with the title that gets chosen by my publisher…but in the meanwhile, just for fun, I’ll also have a drawing for a copy of either Bewitching Season or Betraying Season (your choice) from among anyone who comments with a possible title.

Questions or clarifications? Ask away…and thank you!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Something Else to Slather on Your Turkey

Show of hands: how many of you Americans had cranberry sauce with your turkey yesterday? Add my hand to the mix. Cranberries, however, are a North American fruit. While they were imported commercially to England as early as 1820, they weren’t a traditional sauce for turkey there until much, much later.

Instead, our nineteenth century young lads and lasses might have eaten their turkey with bread sauce. Here’s a modern version of the traditional recipe, which should serve about 8 people (thanks to ElinorD for the photo):

4 slices slightly stale white bread
½ of a medium onion, peeled
8 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
1 pint whole milk
4 T butter, in 2 parts
2 T heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the crusts from the bread, tear the bread into pieces, then crumble it into fine crumbs. Poke the cloves into the onion. Put the onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, and milk into a heavy saucepan. Over low heat, bring the mixture almost to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and cover with a lid. Leave it to settle for an hour.

Remove the onion, bay leaf, and peppercorns and throw them away. Over medium heat, bring the remaining mixture to simmering, then beat in the breadcrumbs and 2 T of the butter. Lower the heat and return the mixture to simmering. Cook the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the crumbs have swollen and thickened it. Beat in the remaining butter and the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. To keep it warm, serve it in a warmed sauce boat or bowl.

One caveat: I have never tried this recipe, and those who know me well will understand why. I am seriously allergic to onions. I generally substitute something else for them in any recipe, but, from the sound of it, this recipe wouldn’t be the same without it. If you make the bread sauce, please let me know what you think. Until then, enjoy your cranberry sauce!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Governesses, Part 2: Educating Lady Agatha

Lady Agatha Crumpwhistle is now nearly five. Her devoted nurse, Mrs. Hoggett, has taught her to not make messes and misbehave and to be respectful of her elders, but there’s a new baby in the Earl of Crumpet’s nursery requiring her attention and it’s time little Agatha began more formal education.

So the Countess of Crumpet moves into action: she lets friends know she’s in the market for a governess, in case anyone has a recommendation—governesses do move from family to family as their charges outgrow them or if they want a change. She also reads the newspapers and magazines; governesses in search of positions often place ads in the papers with brief lists of their qualifications. And if those don’t work, she knows she can write to one of many reputable employment agencies in London. Fortunately, a friend comes through: the daughter of an old acquaintance, a well-brought-up daughter of a vicar, is looking for her first position as a governess and might just fit the bill. The Countess is happy to have her problem solved and writes to the girl.

Little Lady Agatha is not quite sure what to think about this turn of events. Why can't she just stay in the nursery with Hoggy? When her older cousins came to visit last month, Diana told her all manner of dreadful things that governesses might do: keep her tied to a board all morning to improve her posture, or pinch her if she got her French verbs wrong, or, almost as bad, not take care when teaching her so that she'd grow up quite ignorant. But Susan said they could also be very nice and teach her how to paint pretty pictures and play the piano and have grown-up manners so that she might have tea with Mama more often. Maybe this governess business won't be so bad...

In a small country vicarage in Norfolk, Miss Viola Fernall is packing her trunk with her few sober dresses and sturdy calico underclothes, her books and paints, her workbasket, and a few mementos of home. The vicarage is too small and her father’s income too meagre to permit her to stay at home as daughter of the house; now that she’s twenty-two and no potential husbands have appeared on her horizon, it’s time for her to make her own way in the world. She leaves at dawn tomorrow to take up a post as governess to the Earl of Crumpet's young daughter.

Despite her family’s poverty Papa, as a vicar, is considered a gentleman, which makes her a gentleman’s daughter. There aren’t many avenues of employment open to gentlemen’s daughters…at least not if they want to remain respectable. There’s being a companion, or there’s governessing…and Viola would rather teach small children than cater to the whims of an invalid or crotchety old dowager. And the salary is quite respectable at ₤35 per year; Lady Hunt, Mama’s old school friend, must have written her a very good ‘character’ (recommendation).

Viola’s education is not outstanding, but it’s adequate: she writes a fine hand and can speak correct if nasal French and a bit of Italian. Her playing upon the piano is just passable, but in needlework and in watercolor painting she’s quite above average, having a good eye for color. Anyway, the most important part of her job is to make sure her pupil, little Lady Agatha, learns to comport herself as befits her station in life: to speak gently and quietly, to carry herself well, to be, in short, a lady.

Viola sighs and contemplates the fact that once she arrives at Crumpet Hall, life will not be easy. She’s about to enter a twilight world in which she is of higher social status than the servants, but not quite the equal of her employers. She might become almost friends with them, or find herself treated with cold civility (or even rudeness). She might be invited to dine with the family when no guests were present or participate in less formal entertainments…or be expected to eat her dinner alone each night from a tray in her bedroom. If her pupil is sweet and well-behaved, life might not be so bad…but if she’s spoiled and willful, it might be dreadful. Her room might be comfortable and airy, or small and furnished with battered cast-offs; she might have a free afternoon each week and even a full day off each fortnight (two weeks)...or everyone might forget that even a governess needs a little time to herself. If the Crumpet family proves to be a large one, she could be employed for the next twenty years...or find herself looking for a new position in six weeks, if she's not thought suitable.

She sighs again, and closes her trunk.

Any specific questions about the lives of governesses and their pupils? Ask away! And for our American readers, have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Age(s) of Consent

Thank you all again for your thoughts on the title for my second Love Inspired Historical! My editor has decided, and the title is . . .

An Honorable Gentleman.

Yes, I can feel your confusion from here. She decided she didn’t like the term baronet overly much after all, so just about everything you and I proposed didn’t work for her. But I still think you should be rewarded for your efforts! So, I put the names of everyone who offered a suggestion in a hat and drew out Ettie's name! Ettie, please contact me via my website and let me know your postal address and whether you’d prefer La Petite Four now or The Irresistible Earl when I get the advanced reading copies.

And speaking of honorable gentlemen, one very close to me recently stopped being a teen by turning twenty. It’s hard to imagine how those years went by so fast! Here in Washington State he can’t drink alcohol yet, but he can vote, drive a car or motorcycle, enter the military, get his own apartment, work at a job and manage his own income, and get married if he wants. But for nineteenth century teens, things were a bit more complicated.

Here are a few of the important ages (and all are approximate):

--7 or 8: a boy might be sent to sea, starting his Naval career as a cabin boy and going on to become a sailor or officer (as we discussed when The Young Bluestockings Book Club read Bloody Jack).
--9 or 10: boys might be apprenticed to learn a trade
--10 or 12: aristocratic boys might be sent to boarding schools like Eton or Harrow
--12: girls from poorer families might be apprenticed to learn a trade (although they often weren’t dignified with the name apprentice)
--12: girls can marry with their parents’ permission (but note that very few actually married this early)
--16: aristocratic young men with ambitions for politics, law, or the Church might head off to Oxford and Cambridge
--16 to 18: aristocratic young ladies are introduced to Society
--21: a young lady or gentleman could marry without parents’ permission
~30: a woman is considered “on the shelf” (given up all hope of ever marrying). Note that some people put this age considerably lower (like 26 or even 20), but that real-life examples don’t seem to verify this.

What was more nebulous was when you might live on your own. If you lived in the same town as your parents, you often simply lived with them until you married, you died, or they died, whichever came first! If your vocation took you to another town (generally for boys but sometimes for girls), you might live with relatives or close family friends. While a young man of 20 might take bachelor lodgings, young ladies didn’t generally live alone until they were on the shelf. Even then, most lived with family because of financial concerns. An unmarried lady fortunate enough to be left well off still had a companion or family member living with her, because Society frowned on her living alone. And heaven forbid she do anything radical like managing her own income!

Never mind drinking, gambling, or driving your own carriage. For most of the nineteenth century, you could do that at any age, if you were a boy!

Hm, maybe I like the current century more than I thought! How about you?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Governesses, Part 1: The Original Home-Schoolers

They’re a stock figure in fiction in and about the 19th century, from Charlotte Bronte to Georgette Heyer, who populated many of her stories with ludicrous examples of them. And though in books they might be either the villainess or the heroine, in real life their lives were rarely so interesting. I am talking, of course, about that peculiarly 19th century creature, the governess.

But before we jump in, a little background. Girls’ education, alas, was not a priority in the 19th century. An upper-class young lady was expected to grow up to be an ornament to society and a credit to her future husband…which meant learning how to be a good hostess, wife, and mother. Period. And so most education for girls of the aristocracy and gentry was toward that end: they learned the basics, of course—reading, elegant handwriting (though spelling was optional), simple mathematics (enough to be able to look over household accounts and dressmakers’ bills and make sure they were in order). Beyond that, a knowledge of foreign languages was admired—French definitely (how else could you write out menus at dinner parties?), perhaps Italian if one was inclined to be artsy or German if one had pretensions to intellectualism. No Latin or Greek—those were for boys heading to Oxford or Cambridge. A smattering of knowledge of geography, history, and literature was helpful because it enhanced one’s ability to make conversation. And then of course there were the arts: a girl should be able to play the piano and sing, to dance without knocking her partner over, to do fancy needlework and paint watercolors or other crafty endeavors. Finally, a girl needed to learn how to manage a house (or several!), hire and handle servants, and keep her future husband and family happy.
School was not where most daughters of wealthy families got this type of education in the 19th century. Though girls’ schools existed, they were frequently only attended by girls of the middle class or those whose parents were away—tropical climes like India were thought to be very bad for children, so diplomatic, military, and merchant families sent their offspring back to England. Later in the century in particular there were ‘finishing schools’ where young ladies might receive a final polish to their manners and dancing and French accents before coming out (Swiss ones were the most admired). But in general, school was not an option. So how did our young ladies of gentle birth learn?

At home, of course. Some mothers had the time, inclination, and knowledge to teach their daughters, but others were too busy managing estates or supporting their husbands careers and interests…and that was where governesses come in.

Next week: Governesses, Part 2: Educating Lady Agatha

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dressing for Warmth

Note: Thanks to all who submitted suggestions for the title to my second Love Inspired Historical novel. My editor has not had an opportunity to pick the title yet, but I will let you know as soon as she does! We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Your comments on Marissa’s most recent fashion forecast got me thinking. It’s November, and I’m pulling out my warmer clothes. I’m sure most of you are doing the same. So, what did a nineteenth century young lady wear to stay warm?

For one thing, some exchanged their cotton and muslin petticoats for flannel. While sheer muslin still remained a big favorite for dresses for most of the early part of the century, young ladies sometimes exchanged it for wool. Instead of the daring necklines of spring and summer, colder-weather dresses had high necklines and sometimes ruffs. Winter dresses more often had long sleeves, and short-sleeved dresses were covered with a shawl, short cape, short jacket or all three!

When you ventured out of doors or just wanted more warmth, you had several choices:

A spencer: a short jacket coming just under the bust, with long sleeves. This might be made to match your dress, either in color or material, or it could be a contrast to your dress. As waistlines dropped over the century, so did the bottom of the spencer.

A pelisse or Redingote: a full-length coat with long sleeves, made from heavier fabrics lined with silk and perhaps trimmed with fur.

A cloak or mantle: a three-quarter or full-length cape generally made from wool or velvet for evenings. It might have a hood large enough to fit entirely over your bonnet. It might also be trimmed with fur like ermine, chinchilla, and sable.

A wrapping coat: a full-length coat with long sleeves but a lot of material so you could wrap yourself up in it. It would most likely be trimmed with fur and maybe even lined with it.

If you wanted a little extra warmth, you could cover any of these with a wool or cashmere shawl or a pelerine (a small cape coming just over your shoulders), and carry a tippet (a long thin scarf made of fur) or a gigantic fur muff. The combinations were truly up to your sense of fashion, as these ladies can attest.

Make mine a Redingote under a velvet mantle with a cashmere shawl to go, please! How about you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1817

What was the well-dressed young lady wearing in 1817?

Well, in January she was certainly keeping cozy with a simply enormous ermine muff worn with a pretty blue Carriage Dress (in Ackermann's Repository). The deep flounce of lace about the hem is interesting in light of the fact that the following month would see the last major Luddite attack against the new manufactories--this one against lace-making machines in Loughborough: Isn't this dress just charming? Alas, this February print from La Belle Assemblee is missing its caption, but I'm guessing that this is an evening or dinner dress. Note the sheer sleeves--a style that will phase in and out of fashion for the next ten years. Notice too that waists are very high this year--just under the bust, in fact:1817 saw the introduction of gas lighting at Covent Garden theatre; perhaps our well-dressed young woman wore this Opera Dress (March, Ackermann's Repository) there. I have the original description for this one: A blue crape dress over a white satin slip; the dress trimmed round the skirt with a deep blond lace, which is headed with a light and novel trimming, composed of white floss silk and small pearl beads: this trimming is surmounted with a beautiful deep embroidery of lilies surrounded by leaves. The body and sleeves of this dress, as our readers will perceive by our print, are extremely novel. Head-dress, toque a la Berri; it is a crown of a novel form, tastefully ornamented round the top with lilies to correspond with the trimming of the skirt, and a plume of white feathers, which droop over the face. Earrings, necklace, and bracelets, sapphire mixed with pearl. The hair is dressed in loose light ringlets on the forehead, and disposed in full curls in the back of the neck. White kid gloves, and white satin slippers:I had to include this Evening Dress from the May edition of Ackermann's Repository just because it is so dainty and sweet. Note the sheer overskirt ornamented with a rose garland over the pink underdress, and the matching rose head-dress. So pretty!Now, how's this for dashing? This is The Glengary Habit from the September Ackermann's, and it's a stunner--note the military-looking epaulettes on the shoulders and frogging over the bust, and that checkerboard-effect on the hat (I'm guessing it's woven ribbon). The skirts of riding habits were very long, so that women's legs would be adequately covered when up on a sidesaddle. Tally ho!1817 also saw the establishment of the famous (or infamous) Elgin Marbles in their permanent home in the British Museum. Maybe our young lady wore this Promenade Dress to view them...and let's hope no one got stuck behind her, because that's a very large bonnet! (Ackermann's Repository, October):It wouldn't be a Fashion Forecast without a Ball Dress, right? Here's one from the November Ackermann's Repository with a beautiful scalloped lace hem, unusual chevron-striped sleeves, the very high waist that was much in evidence this year, and a rather peculiar head-dress: 1817 ended on a somber note, and indeed two tragedies struck England this year: July saw the death at age 41 of our beloved Jane Austen, and November the death in childbirth of Princess Charlotte and her son. Charlotte was the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, and her death led directly to the great marital race among his sons that resulted in the birth of Princess (later Queen) Victoria. Social life did not end, but court mourning was ordered, and women of fashion followed as can be seen by this Evening Dress from December's Ackermann's Repository. It's sober, but I think it very handsome:What do you think of 1817's fashions?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Title, Title, Who Has a Title?

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a request for assistance. You see, my editor on my second book for Love Inspired Historical would like additional suggestions on a title for the book. In the past, you all have been very helpful to Marissa; this group helped come up with the name Betraying Season for her award-winning YA novel. So, will you put on your thinking caps for me?

Here’s the situation: My hero, Trevor Fitzwilliam, is a bit of a bad boy. (I picture him as looking a bit like Brandon Routh--tall, dark, and brooding.) A commoner by birth, he’s managed to use his considerable talents to help a few lords clear up embarrassing matters like blackmail and gambling debts. One was so thankful, and powerful, he petitioned the King for a baronetcy for Trevor. So, at the beginning of the story, Sir Trevor is on his way to the Lakes District to see the estate someone kindly donated to his title (the below picture shows my vision of the place, sans the cars, of course). Trevor quickly learns why someone wanted to get rid of the place. Any income from the estate came from a graphite mine that is now closed, and Blackcliff Hall is in dire need of repairs. He’d just as soon ride back to London and pretend he never saw the place, but the daughter of the former steward, Gwen Allbridge, is determined that he live up to his new title of Lord of the Manor. In the resulting struggle of wills, secrets come to light that will change Sir Trevor and Gwen’s lives forever.

My editor would like the title of the book to play on Sir Trevor’s title. Officially, he’s Sir Trevor Fitzwilliam of Blackcliff. And, of course, he’s a baronet. I had originally titled it The Bold Baronet, but she’s not keen on it. And yes, he has to stay a baronet. He’s a secondary character in my first book for them, The Irresistible Earl, and changing all those Sir Trevors to something else isn’t in the cards.

So, ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?

If you happen to offer the title my editor picks, you may have your pick: a copy of La Petite Four now or an unbound advanced reading copy of The Irresistible Earl in January or February when I get my copies. I have to have suggestions back to my editor by Tuesday, so I will take any suggestions until midnight on November 8.

Thanks! Oh, and by the way, happy Guy Fawkes Day! Today would have been a great day for fireworks in the nineteenth century. Learn more from Marissa’s original post on the subject.