Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Country Life, Part 1

Hello, everyone! We hope you had a wonderful summer. Now that September’s almost here, we’re slipping back into our regular posting schedule once again…did you miss us?

A couple of posts ago Regina blogged about country house visits. We thought it would interesting to delve a little more deeply into the country house...the place where our young ladies of fortune retired to when they weren't gallivanting about in London, going to Almack's and flirting with handsome young men.

An estate (or often more than one) in the country was home for the upper classes in 19th century England. More than the aristocracy of other European nations, the English loved country life. Houses in London, Bath, Brighton, or whatever other urban setting might come and go, but the ancestral estate was always there.

There was a darned good reason it was always there: ownership of extensive amounts of land was the noble family's source of wealth. Don't forget that English titles of nobility were usually tied to a geographical location, a relic of the giant land giveaway that happened after the Conquest. A wealthy landowner's income, whether he was titled or not, came chiefly from rents on land and buildings and commercial property: you rented land for farms out to farmers, houses and shop buildings in your villages to shopkeepers and professionals. But there was also substantial money to be had from from crops and other products of the land like mining, forestry, and animal husbandry, and from manufacturing.

In addition, if you were a member of the House of Commons (open to non-peers), you generally counted on your tenants (the ones who could vote, anyway) to vote for you. Prior to the 19th century seats in Parliament were almost looked at as family perquisites that could be handed down father to son; while that assumption was less true in the 19th century, it hadn't entirely gone away.

In short, if you had land, you had money and power.

Not everyone was enamored of country life--not a few wealthy men dedicated themselves to life in politics, the law, or court life, which necessitated living in the city. But the country house was always there in the background, like a safety net one could fall into during times of illness, disgrace, or surfeit with city life and high living. It was the place you called home.

Stay tuned for more detail on just what life in the country entailed.

And it's nice to be back!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Have It on Good Authority That . . .

We’re back! Well, almost. Marissa and I told you we’d take a little break this summer by reposting some of our past personal favorites. I’m actually getting a jump on September, because I finished my manuscript a few days early and I just had to celebrate with a new post. The Irresistible Earl is winging its way to my editor’s desk, and I am going to spend the next week reading, a treat I had to deny myself for awhile to get everything done. I’m halfway through The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor and loving every minute. I’m even going to splurge a little and go out to dinner with my husband at his favorite restaurant, Gustav’s in Leavenworth, Washington.

But if I were a young lady in nineteenth century England, I wouldn’t have to splurge on eating out. As long as I had a story to tell, I’d be welcome everywhere.

Remember this was a time before telephones, televisions, Internet, and many of the other sources of amusement and information we use today. One of the best ways to be entertained was to ask witty people to dine with you. And if they had a good story to tell, so much the better.

What kinds of stories? Well, some would have qualified for the evening news: disasters like fires or floods, crimes, and skirmishes with the enemy. “No, no, I swear to you, the Thames just swept them out to sea! You wouldn’t think a petticoat would act as a sail, would you?”

Celebrity sightings were also quite popular. “My dear, did I tell you I saw Prinny today? He was wearing a corset! I distinctly heard it creak. And what was he doing on Bond Street when he was supposed to be closeted with his ministers? I do believe it was his own closet he was furthering, if you take my meaning.”

Then there was family drama. “I have it on good authority that Lord and Lady Makebait intend to cut off their youngest son’s quarterly allowance. A bit too much of those funds made their way to the ponies and the ladies, and neither was particularly happy about the event.”

Or awards and honors. “Yes, and that’s how I was awarded the Grand Order of the Hippocampus Post Mentos, Second Degree.”

And romance. “I do believe an offer is imminent. Why else ask me what size shoes I wear?”

I teased Marissa that if this was the nineteenth century, I could dine out for a month on the story of how she won her latest literary award. What about you? What story would you tell if you have to sing for your supper?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fun in the Sun...Not

Been warm enough for you this summer? In the northeast we're finally getting cool, rainy weather after weeks of nothing but hot sun (and dead lawns and suffering garden plants)...rather nice to use an umbrella again! Of course, I could have been using a parasol instead all this time... This post originally appeared in March 2008.

This parasol is not Victorian--I'm guessing it's early twentieth century--but the tassel and beautiful repousse silver handle ( I wish it showed up better in the photo) are a definite reminder of earlier days.

The ideal of feminine beauty up until the early twentieth century was a fair, white complexion. To some degree, this probably had its origins in economics: if you were pale and soft-skinned, it meant you didn't spend your time out of doors working in the fields or taking care of farm animals...which meant your family could afford to have other people do that work for you.

Of course, that didn't mean you never stirred out-of-doors...but it did mean that when you did go out for a stroll around the garden or a gentle trot down the Ladies' Mile in Hyde Park, or for a visit to the seashore, you used a parasol, wore a hat (and often a veil swathed over your face) and wore gloves to keep the skin of your hands equally white. Like this young lady of 1815, attired for walking.

And if (oh, horrors!) you were negligent and let your parasol drag behind or used it to keep obnoxious suitors at bay, then you rushed home to apply one of the dozens of commercially prepared lotions, like "Godfrey's Extract of Elder Flowers...To be had of any respectable Perfumer or Medicine Vendor in Bottles at 2s. 9d. each" which promised to "...communicate a refreshing coolness and softness to the skin, and completely remove Tan, Pimples, and cutaneous Eruptions...."

By the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, this attitude had changed. As more young women of the lower economic classes took jobs in factories and shops and offices, having a tan (a light one, mind you--just a glow) implied that you had the leisure time to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits like tennis or golf or riding and weren't stuck indoors all day, working for a living...in other words, a completely opposite attitude!

And one final word for today: don't try to take pictures on the floor when there's a nosy rabbit around. I wonder if the orange fabric gave him hopes of a giant carrot?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Visit to the Country, Anyone?

School’s gearing up to start here, but many places are enjoying a last few days of summer before returning to the hallowed hallways of learning. For the aristocratic young lady in nineteenth century England, August heralded the start of the country house visit. The following post ran in August 2008, but I’ve found a few new pictures of country houses I’d like to visit. See what you think!

August in London was hot, sticky, and stinky, with the Thames wafting up all kinds of odors in the summer heat. With Parliament generally out of session, everyone who was anyone found an excuse to leave town for cooler climates, often in the north of England. August 1 was also the start of grouse season, so if your dear Papa was fond of shooting the little birds, you probably headed to Scotland, where the best hunting was to be found.

If you didn’t have a lavish country seat where you could retire, you angled for an invitation to someone else’s country estate. This was a chance to lengthen the Season, to be with a select group of friends in a different setting. You might visit a distant relative or the family of a dear friend. If one particular gentleman had shown his interest, he might invite you and your family to the ancestral pile to meet his extended family and have a little more time to get to know each other. Such invitations came with the expectation that the young man was going to offer marriage, and soon!

Country house sounds small and quaint, doesn’t it? Don’t be deceived. The term “country house” was used to distinguish the place from the house you used when you were in London, your “townhouse.” Here’s a few I'd love to visit:

Stansted Park, Sussex

The Duchess of Bedford's hunting lodge, Devon

Burton Constable Hall, York

Kelmarsh Hall, North Hampton

You can imagine the upkeep on some of these babies? But even if you were the guest, going to house parties in the country cost a pretty penny. First, you had to have sufficient outfits for breakfast with the family, tea in the afternoon, formal dinners at night, balls in the local assembly rooms, riding, walking to visit friends or nearby architectural wonders, boating in the nearby river or lake, lawn bowling, and many other interesting activities. Then, you were expected to provide vails (tips) to the servants who supported you while you were visiting—the groom who held your horse, the maid who cleaned your room, the cook who made your favorite raspberry scone, the porter who handled your baggage on your way to the estate, and so on. Some people even opted to stay in the stench of London rather than incur the costs of tipping every servant from here to there!

So, how are you ending your summer? Country house visit? Or, like me, more likely camping trip?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is it Jane?

This post first ran in December 2008, during our Jane Austen Appreciation Fortnight. However, I've updated it a little with quotes from my and Regina's forthcoming books. I suppose that's cheating a little...

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

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

Below are eight quotes...some are by The Jane, and others are by (ahem) various authors of historical fiction. Can you tell which are true JA, and which aren't? Answers will be posted in the comments section...good luck!

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

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

3. She sometimes wondered why she'd bothered following her father when he searched for sea shells to catalogue. He never acknowledged her presence, rarely responded to her questions with anything more than vague grunts. Oh, but when he found the perfect shell, when he knelt and pulled it from the sands, his face held such an awed reverence that she knew she was looking at the very handiwork of God.

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

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

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

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

8. “My dear Mrs. Carswell,” Aunt Isabel began.
Sophie braced herself. When Aunt Isabel my-deared someone, it was because she felt the person thus addressed anything but dear.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Almost the Waterloo of Democracy

Back in June Marissa posted the story of Waterloo, where Napoleon was finally defeated. Thousands of soldiers on both sides lost their lives that day. But August 16 marks another day when many nineteenth century people bled for their ideals, and not in a war.

England had been struggling for some time to hold back much-cried-for reforms. The revolutions in America and France and rebellion in Ireland had frightened the aristocratic politicians to their cores. What if the great unwashed masses rose up in England too? Every orator calling for changes in government was seen as a potential enemy, set on toppling Parliament. But the general population liked listening to a good debate, and men like the radical reformer Henry Hunt toured the country, speaking from hastily built platforms in village squares. Nearby communities often massed under colorful banners and matched to the square to hear the orators speak.

On August 16, 1819, people from all around Manchester, England, marched into St. Peter’s Fields, a small square there, to hear Orator Hunt. They came in groups of tens and hundreds and even thousands: men, women, teens, and children. Eyewitnesses say the atmosphere was like a county fair: bands playing, people singing, banners waving. By the time everyone had arrived and happily greeted each other, more than sixty thousand people packed the square.

What they didn’t know was that at least some of the houses overlooking the square held government agents, from local magistrates to Parliamentary representatives. What those agents saw looking down into these happy masses terrified them. Determined to end the demonstration, they ordered the 15th Hussars (a cavalry unit stationed in the town) and the local yeomanry (also on horseback) to disperse the crowds.

Shortly after Orator Hunt began to speak, and all eyes were focused on him, the cavalry units arrived at the back of the group. But instead of ordering the people to leave, they rode into the masses, trampling people and slashing with their sabers. Chaos erupted. People tried to escape but were hemmed in on all sides by others. Women and children pled for mercy and were give none. Within a few minutes, over 600 were wounded (100 of them women) and a dozen lay dead.

A vicar from a nearby town was watching from a window of one of the houses. He said:

“Shrieks were heard in all directions, and as the crowd of people dispersed the effects of the conflict became visible. Some were seen bleeding on the ground and unable to rise; others, less seriously injured but faint with loss of blood, were retiring slowly or leaning upon others for support.”

Orator Hunt was driven from the platform, beaten by the constables who arrested him, and stuck over the head with a stick by one of the military commanders. The newspapers reported the acts as shameful and dubbed the event the Peterloo Massacre. People all over England decried the savagery.

And what did their government do? Parliament and the Prince Regent commended the magistrates for their quick thinking in dispersing the “dangerous” group of unarmed men, women, and children, then enacted even tougher laws to prevent things we take for granted: free speech and freedom to assemble. It would not be until 1832 before more radical thinkers were finally able to reform Parliament and the electoral system in England.

And we worry about bad luck on Friday the 13th!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

R U There?

I recently read that textspeak--all those linguistic shortcuts like gr8 for great--are falling by the wayside as newer smartphones now feature miniscule QWERTY keyboards that remove the need to use txt abbreviations. It reminded me of this post which originally ran in November 2008.

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, August 6, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Marissa and I love the annual RWA conference because it gives us an excuse to get together. You see, she lives on the East Coast, and I live on the West Coast. Location was important during the nineteenth century too--it affected what you grew up to do, who you could marry, and how you'd live out your life. Here's a fun post from March 2008, after my most recent trip to England, about some prime locations in Bath. Enjoy!

Imagine your family has decided to relocate to Bath before the Season (so it’s late winter, early spring). Your mother is certain taking the waters will return the bloom to her cheeks. Your father wants to sit around commiserating with his wealthy peers about the frightful state of hunting last year. Your older sister is angling to renew the acquaintance of a dapper half-pay officer she met last Season. And you’d like a little time to scope out the Eligibles before joining these handsome gentlemen in London after Easter.

Where do you stay? Take the following quiz and find out!

A. The house is immaterial. You’re here to party! You’d like a decent house in a reasonably fashionable location, as close as possible to the fabulous shopping, festive assembly rooms, and crowded Pump Room. You intend to be busy, busy, busy while in Bath. You only need a place to sleep and eat, that is, when you haven’t been invited to some fabulous ball or other social event. If this is you, you’d be likely to pick this prime location.

B. You want an oasis away from the hustle and bustle. Yes, it would be nice to be in walking distance to the assembly rooms, but closer to the gardens of Sydney Park would be even more delightful, as would wandering the many hills surrounding Bath. Shopping is fine, as is a nice coz with a good friend. If this is you, you’d be likely to pick this fashionable spot.

C. You prefer that your family home, even a rented one, reflect your impeccable tastes. You intend to invite friends new and old to tea in your lovely garden, to literary events in your spacious library, to dinner in your elegant dining room. You prefer something solid, comfortable, distinguished, a cut above all that riff raff farther down the hill. If this is you, you’d be likely to pick this venerable neighborhood.

D. You want your home to make a statement about your prestige, your position in Society. You may be going to Bath, but you fully expect the rest of Bath to come to you. Your family has achieved the pinnacle of Society, and that must be reflected in where you stay. If this is you, you’d be likely to pick this famous sweep of property.

So, where are you staying? Complete our version of Bath’s famous arrival’s book by leaving a comment and let us know! Me? I’m definitely a B.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Playing Catch-up

No, "catch-up" is not a polite Regency period game well-born young ladies played...it's me trying to get back into reality after a splendid trip to Orlando with Regina for the RWA National Conference. Today has been all about unpacking, laundry, going through the mail, getting back into real life (whatever that is), and sharing a few fun tidbits with you.

I ran across this advertisement in a 1910 issue of McCall's magazine when doing some research for a possible future book set in the early twentieth century:

So even one hundred years ago (this ad was in the August 1910 issue) it was thought necessary to post ads in national magazines asking for courtesy when using the telephone. The more some things change...

And speaking of catch-up...or ketchup...or stage blood...Regina and I both got a giggle from this:

The combination of two completely different literary forms--in this case 19th century comedy of manners with modern dark fiction--is being called "mash-up". Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is probably the best known example of this, though there are plenty of others. In fact, I had the pleasure to meet Sherri Browning Erwin, author of Jane Slayre (yes, Jane Eyre meets the undead), this past week at RWA. Have you read any of these 19th century mash-ups? If so, what did you think?