Friday, October 29, 2010

Things That Bump Off in the Night

Sunday is Halloween, so I thought perhaps you could use a little of the macabre to get ready. Nineteenth century England didn’t celebrate Halloween as we know it. But they had plenty of things to scare people, and one of the most vile, in many people’s minds, were the resurrection men.

Resurrection men stole corpses. They’d sneak into cemeteries late at night, dig into fresh graves, break open the coffins, and pull out the bodies, then sell them to medical schools to be dissected in anatomy classes. Sounds grisly, doesn’t it?

You’d think medical schools would protest. I mean, how many people walk up and try to sell you a dead body? Apparently, quite a few. You see, the Murder Act of 1752 required that only people who had been executed could be used for dissection. In the 1700s, as Marissa and I have mentioned, you could be executed for hundreds of pretty minor crimes, so there was no lack of fresh bodies. But in the 1800s, magistrates began balking at making everything a death sentence, and, as a result, there were a lot fewer criminal bodies available when the medical school, by some accounts, needed upwards of 500 bodies. So, resurrection men stepped in to fill the lack.

And a lucrative business it was. They received 8 to 10 guineas a corpse, more for a fresher one. One team admitted to stealing between 500 and 1,000 bodies over 12 years. With a guinea being worth a little more than a pound sterling, and a fellow being able to live nicely for a year in London for 100 pounds, the resurrection men made good money!

Families, of course, were appalled to return to the cemetery with flowers for dear Aunt Florence only to find that her grave had been dug up and her coffin emptied. They turned to a number of ingenious ways to safeguard their loved ones, such as standing guard over the grave, circling the grave with an iron fence, burying their dead in iron coffins that couldn’t be broken into, or covering the grave with a stone so heavy it couldn’t be moved, like this mort stone. The protections didn’t have to last forever; they only had to protect the body until it had decayed enough that it was no longer useful for dissection.

But some resurrection men got greedy. Fresh bodies were worth more, so why not create a few? They begin murdering the homeless and the orphans, the teens who were doing odd jobs to make ends meet. In 1830, for example, John Bishop and Thomas Williams were found guilty of enticing several people to a dark part of town with offers of cheap lodging, drugging their victims, and dropping them into wells to kill them, then selling their stripped bodies for cash. Their case was so publicized, and the public outrage so great, that the police decided to make a bit off the case too. They opened the house where the murders had occurred to the public for 5 shillings a look. Supposedly, the viewers ripped off pieces of the house as souvenirs, until nothing was left. In a quirk of fate, both Bishop and Williams were hanged for their crimes, in front of 30,000 people, and their bodies given to a medical school for dissection.

Partially as a result of these dark deeds, Parliament passed the Anatomy Act in 1832, which allowed bodies found and not claimed and ones that relatives donated to be used for dissection. It also required that anatomy teachers be licensed, which was supposed to make them more honest and less likely to buy dead bodies that showed up mysteriously at their doors. The changes affectively cut into the resurrection men’s trade, and the practice faded away like a tired ghost.

And for that I think we can all be thankful! Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Miscellany

It's warm and sunny out today (after an alarming episode of sleet last week) and I'm having a hard time concentrating. It could be I'm still recovering from the fun time I had this past weekend at the New Jersey Romance Writers conference (that's me with my and Regina's agent, Emily Sylvan Kim, and another of Emily's clients, Opal Carew) I'm going to play the grasshopper and metaphorically hop about in an irresponsible and carefree fashion, presenting several items that have caught my fancy lately.

1. A few weeks back I promised I'd post the Ackermann print I'd recently acquired that shows the inside of a carriage. Well, here it is, from the June 1823 edition:
I'm having a hard time figuring out how the window worked, but suspect there was a panel of glass that could slide up and down in the door as her elbow is obviously outside and there is a tiny bit of what looks like a handle by her hand (and note her quizzing glass!) The seats and sides all appear to be cushioned or upholstered; there's even a little swag at the top of the window. Quite an elegant conveyance, wasn't it? My guess (based on the wonderful pictures in a little book called The Elegant Carriage by Marylian Watney) is that this is possibly a type of carriage known as a private drag, a gentleman's private coach developed during the Regency period and used to attend race meetings (it evidently had a tailgate that could be let down to serve as a buffet table for picnics!) and to drive to meets of the Four-in-Hand Club (hmm, I'm sensing a new post topic in our future...!)

2. Thinking about holiday shopping yet? I am...and here's the perfect place for it: an all-Jane Austen Zazzle shop. I rather fancy the coffee (or should I say tea?) mug with the famous quote from Mrs. Bennet ("You take delight in vexing me. Have you no compassion on my poor nerves?") and particularly this t-shirt, which I would love to have in cocktail napkin form:

3. And if you're looking for an extra special gift for an extra special person, check this out: It's a purse made from an actual copy of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, made and sold by an incredibly talented lady on Etsy. Pardon me while I go leave this link open on my husband's computer...

4. And finally, a look at Elizabeth Bennet's inbox from, of all places, a website called Email Marketing Reports. Who knew those marketing folks had such a sense of humor?

Hope you enjoyed today's miscellany!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Beloved the World Over

I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life, though I realized fairly early that I probably needed some other vocation to fall back on when those rejection letters piled up. In the nineteenth century, many young ladies were taught the opposite. They were told to learn how to be wives and mothers first, and maybe they might have to fall back on a accomplishment like writing well if they ended up spinsters. That was certainly the case for nineteenth-century writers Ann and Jane Taylor.

Ann and Jane were born in 1782 and 1783, respectively, into an accomplished family. Their father and grandfather were engravers who illustrated books and sometimes set portraits, first in London and then in smaller towns around England. Ann and Jane had an unusual education: their father taught them at home then started Sunday Schools for poorer children, where they were expected to help teach. They learned reading, writing, math, history, and geography by working through practical problems such as artillery attacks on local towns, engraving issues, and household chores. Between learning and chores, they were busy from sunup to sundown, but that didn’t stop them from writing.

They wrote essays on various topics, they wrote little plays and put them on with the neighboring children, and they wrote poems. At age 15, Jane was invited to join a local society for reading essays and improving the intellect. When Ann was 17, she responded to a puzzle in the Minor’s Pocket Book, an annual publication for children, with a poem, and the editor was so impressed he asked her for more. By 1804, both Ann and Jane were providing poems to the magazine. Over the next few years, they put together collections of children’s poems, some by friends, family, and acquaintances but mostly theirs. When the first book brought in money, their mother decided writing wasn’t so bad. She graciously allowed them a half hour a day to devote to it!

But that seemed to be enough. Each of their children’s poetry books grew more popular. Their books were translated into French, German, Russian, and many other languages. They were so successful, in fact, that their mother decided to start writing too! She published nine books between 1814 and 1825, all explaining how important it was for women to marry and take care of their families.

Ann Taylor married a minister who had written her a fan letter for her work. She stopped writing for a time to raise eight children, then took up the pen again until her death in 1866. Jane never married and was the more prolific writer. Sadly, she died of breast cancer when she was only 40.

Perhaps because they wrote for children, you don’t often hear their names today. But I’ll wager you know this poem, written by Jane in 1806 and beloved all over the world:

Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky.
Did you know it has four more stanzas?

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark!
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveler in the dark
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle little star.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Country Life, Part 2

Back at the end of August, I discussed the importance of a house and land in the country for the wealthy classes of England…and the fact that if you had land, then you had money and power. Before the 19th century, you may have owned thousands of acres of land…but visited them rarely, if at all. London was truly the seat of power, because that’s was where the king was…and the king was the source of royal patents, monopolies, and all the little jobs and perquisites that the rich and powerful wanted in order to become even more rich and powerful.

But that began to change in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Thanks to the influence of writers and philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, the idea of Nature with a capital ‘N’ along with the Romantic movement meant that the country began to exert a new allure on the upper classes. Along with this came the not-very-romantic realization that paying attention to their country estates and land could yield a vastly increased income. Technological improvements in transportation made getting to the country easier…all of which combined in a perfect storm that meant the golden age of the country house

So for a good part of the year, when Parliament wasn’t in session, Papa might be in the country breeding better beef cattle or discussing field rotation or enclosure with his farm bailiff or steward. What might his daughters do in the meanwhile?

1. Be outside! Riding and walking were always popular, to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and exercise. If science was an interest, then botanizing or bird-watching might be on the menu. Country scenery offered plenty of inspiration to the young lady equipped with sketchbook and pencil. And if sports were it, there was fox-hunting (in season) or quieter activities like lawn tennis, croquet, or boating on a handy river or pond.

2. Go visiting. If one was of a charitable bent, those walks and rides might be to visit the poorer families that lived nearby, in order to keep an eye on their needs and wants (and perhaps offer words of guidance that might—or might not—be gratefully received.) The more conscientious landowning families could be extraordinarily charitable to their poorer tenants and employees. If one was sociable, a visit to the nearby gentry might be on the list—the local vicar and his family, perhaps, or friends at other “big houses” nearby.

3. Indoor activities. When the climate or inclination did not call for being outside, there was plenty indoors to occupy her, just as there was in London: reading, needlework, writing letters, and tagging along after Mama to learn how to run their own country house some day.

4. Party! The 19th century was also the heyday of the country house party. The opening of rail travel in the later 1830s allowed much more movement just for the fun of it…but it was still enough of an event to mean that longer visits of a week or more remained the norm, especially in the autumn.

Want to know more? I recommend Mrs. Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes From Regency Life 1812-1823 (watercolors by Diana Sperling, text by Gordon Mingay), featuring the charming watercolor drawings of gentry life in the Essex countryside, and the compulsively readable non-fiction books Ladies of the Manor by Pamela Horn and The English Country House Party by Phyllida Barstow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite!

Good night
Sleep tight
Don’t let the bedbugs bite!

My mother used to say that to me before I went to sleep. It was just a silly rhyme that made me smile as I snuggled beneath the covers. But for a nineteenth century young lady, the rhyme had greater meaning.

“Sleep tight.”

Before the nineteenth century, many bed frames were strung with ropes. You had a little wooden or metal tool that allowed you to wind the ropes tightly enough that your mattress didn’t sag. So, sleeping tight meant the ropes were wound just right, and you’d get a good night’s sleep. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, most beds had wooden slats holding the mattress in place.

Of course, not everyone even had a bed stead (the wooden or metal railings around a mattress). A lot depended on your social status. Poorer young ladies were likely piling on a tick (a cotton bag stuffed with straw or leaves) with other members of their families with wool blankets and homemade quilts. The stuffing was changed periodically (and that might be your job as a teen). If you were fortunate, the tick was set on a wooden frame with slats to hold it in place.

The daughter of a gentleman farmer might go to sleep in a box bed built into the wall of her cottage, particularly in the north of England.

But if your family was well-to-do, or had been, you might sleep on something more substantial. Your mattress might be covered in linen and filled with cotton, feathers, wool, or horse hair. You might sleep in a walnut tester bed like this (the tester being the canopy that covers part of the bed).

Or a bed with fancy hangings like this one from a duke’s castle.

Or this one from a more modest manor house.

Or if this you just wanted a little nap or to relax with a good book, you might curl up on one of these.

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

As the century wore on, beds became less ornate and more simple; mahogany and satinwood replaced walnut. The first coil spring mattress wasn’t invented into 1865. Wood frames were gradually replaced with metal frames. Why? They took up less space, and they were less likely to attract bed bugs. Bedbug bites were nasty things like welts. No one wanted the bedbugs to bite!

Which reminds me of the second verse of our rhyme, which a good friend once taught me:

And if they do
Take your shoe
And beat their little heads in two.

Sleep well tonight!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1816

What was the well-dressed young lady wearing in 1816?

If she were a client of Mrs. Bean of Albemarle Street, she might wear this Carriage Dress (Ackermann's Repository, January 1816). It is "A high dress, composed of the finest dark blue ladies' cloth; it is made up to the throat, but without a collar, has a slight fulness in the back, and falls very much off the shoulder; the front is tight to the shape, and the waist very short. The trimming is in dark blue satin, to correspond; it is cut byas (on the bias) laid on double and very full: long plain sleeve, finished at the wrist with satin; French riff of very rich lace. Head-dress a la mode de Paris; it is a cap composed of white lace, and ornamented with two rolls of ribbon to correspond: the form of this cap is in the highest degree original." Perhaps our young lady wore it when going to view the former Emperor Napoleon's carriage, which was a popular display at Bullock's Museum this month:

There’s a definite eastern influence visible in the headdress of this Evening Dress…and aren’t the blue-and-white striped fabric and blue bows adorable? (Ackermann’s Repository, March 1816):1816 saw the debut of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville…perhaps our fashionable young lady wore this Opera Dress to see it...though anyone sitting behind her might not have had a very good view! It consists of a “White satin slip, over which is a white lace skirt, finished with satin tucks, and a rich flounce of deep blond at the bottom. The body is composed of white satin and white lace; it is uncommonly novel and elegant. The sleeve, which is long, is also composed of satin and lace; its form is original, and the manner in which it is finished at the wrist is singularly tasteful and elegant. The hair is disposed so as to display the forehead, and falls in soft loose curls at each side. Head-dress the Berlin cap composed of white satin, lower part ornamented with a rich gold band, and the crown a profusion of beautiful short ostrich feathers, disposed with much taste and novelty. The Berlin cap, is, in our opinion, the most generally becoming head-dress which has been introduced for some seasons.” (Ackermann’s Repository, April 1816):White seems to have been the color of 1816; almost every dress in the prints I own for this year are white, sometimes touched with a little color. But this Evening Dress doesn’t need color as far as I’m concerned—isn’t it simply elegant with the not-too-fussily embellished hem and full sleeves? (Ackermann’s Repository, August 1816): 1816 was a year of departures: it saw the deaths of playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan and actress (and mistress to the future William IV) Dorothea Jordan. Other departures were those of Beau Brummell and Lord Byron, to live (and eventually die, as it turned out) on the continent. Also “stepping out” was our young lady in this handsome Walking Dress (Ackermann’s Repository, August 1816). I particularly like the shaped cuffs and the plain white ribbon trim on the pelisse: This Ball Dress from October is also a charmer—don’t you love the roses about the hem? Perhaps our young lady wore this at one of the balls celebrating the marriage of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Unfortunately, their marriage would end two short years later, when Charlotte died in childbirth (paving the way for the birth of Leopold’s niece, Victoria)…but meanwhile, England rejoiced at the marriage of the popular princess. (Ackermann’s Repository, October 1816): Polly want a Morning Dress? Our fashionable young lady spends a quiet moment at home with her pet parakeet, in a wonderfully frothy dress and cap. I like the tiny colorful scarf she wears about her neck. (Ackermann’s Repository, November 1816): What do you think of 1816's fashions?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nighty Night . . .

Silly things, really, bedtime routines. My dentist wants me to start brushing my teeth before I go to bed. The problem for me is that my brain seems to think brushing is a morning activity. Brushing says “Wake up!” and then I don’t want to go to sleep!

Brushing teeth was the least of a nineteenth century young lady’s tasks when she headed for bed. Talk about a bedtime routine! First you had to get out of your clothes, and, as we’ve discussed, you generally needed help to do so. For the first part of the nineteenth century, buttons were more decorative than useful; a complicated set of pins and tapes held those gowns together. For the second part, buttons could number in the dozens! Once your maid or sister or mother navigated that obstacle, there was the corset to unlace.

Once everything was off, the bedclothes came on. Very often you wore a nightdress, similar to the chemise you wore by day (and for some poorer ladies, it was the chemise you wore by day), with a single button at the high color. Sometimes a soft, short jacket went over the top. These would be linen in the summer and perhaps flannel in the winter. Until the middle of the century, nightdresses were plain and loose and handmade. Around 1850, some manufactured nightdresses were advertised with lace and frills; many people called this need to be attractive in bed scandalous.

So, you’re undressed and dressed for bed. But wait, don’t put your head on that pillow just yet. Next you had to prepare your hair, one way or another. You might brush it a hundred strokes as Marissa has mentioned. You might wrap your hair around strips of paper or rag hoping for some curl in the morning. Either way, until rather late in the century, you very likely tucked it up into a sleeping cap for the night.

Tired yet?

You also need something to warm your bed. For most months of the year, England can be clammy without indoor heating or air conditioning. You might heat a brick or stone by the fire and place it between the sheets (careful not to burn them!) or fill a warming pan with coals or hot water and run it up and down the bed.

But wait, you’re still not done. The fire must be banked so it’s ready to light in the morning. The window must be closed so no night air seeps in (many believed night air to be unhealthy). Has your dress been pressed or given to the maid to press for the morning? Stockings mended? Shoes polished? Gloves soaked to remove stains?

Okay, now I’m really ready to crawl between the covers and close my eyes. How about you?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Warm Thanks and Warm Drinks

Thank you so much for all your good wishes on the paperback release of Betraying Season and its recognition in the Heart of Denver Aspen Gold contest. As a small bit of further good news, I’m pleased to report that it is also now available as an e-book in multiple formats, including for the Kindle. Am I the only one struck by the delicious incongruity of reading about the 19th century on an e-reader?

Two commenters from last week are the winners of a copy of the paperback edition…so would Swallow-inthe-Cloud and Ettie be so kind as to e-mail me here so that we can arrange for you to receive your copies? And thank you, everyone, for entering!

Well, autumn certainly arrived with a vengeance this week in New England, with wind and rain and cooler temperatures and me once more wearing socks (aren't they pretty?) and ordering my coffee hot rather than iced from my favorite local coffee shop. Sniffing my Pumpkin Spice coffee yesterday sent me scurrying (once I got home) to my cookbook collection to find what kind of warm drinks a young lady might have enjoyed on a chilly October day two hundred years ago.

Coffee (though not Pumpkin Spice flavored), tea, and chocolate were all drinks enjoyed in the 19th century…but I found lots of others, enough to come to the conclusion that they knew a thing or two about warm drinks that maybe we don’t. Most of them seem to involve alcohol in one form or another, but I managed to find a few that don’t. These actually date to the 16th century...enjoy!

Spicy Pomegranate Drink

1 ½ cups water
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
4 whole cloves
½ unblemished lemon
1 quart pomegranate juice

In a large enamel pot combine the water, sugar, and all spices. Bring to boil and gently simmer for seven minutes. Remove the cloves.

Finely grate the peel from the lemon and set it aside. Squeeze the juice from the lemon.

Add the pomegranate and lemon juices to the hot water mixture. Bring to a slow boil, then simmer two minutes. Serve warm with a garnish of lemon peel in each glass. Can also be drunk cold.

Mulled Apple or Pear Cider

2 quarts fresh apple cider or pear juice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon ginger powder
7 sticks of cinnamon
1 tablespoon finely crushed basil (for garnish)

In a large enamel pot, gently simmer the juice with the spices for seven minutes. Break the cinnamon sticks and put a piece in each cup. Pour in warmed cider, and sprinkle the basil sparingly on each.

Do you have any (non-alcoholic) hot beverage recipes you'd like to share?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Impressive Even Today

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I have an ongoing series, inspired by your suggestions (cough, cough QNPoohBear), on real-life heroines from the nineteenth century. Today I’d like to take you across the pond from our beloved England to nineteenth century America. You see, while Marissa was watching stalwart Minute Men clash with Red Coats on the East Coast, I was watching Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery reach the Columbia River on the West Coast. I live near Sacajawea State Park, which every September hosts Heritage Days, taking us back to the nineteenth century in what would become the Oregon Territory.

Here’s Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery camped on the Columbia River, almost exactly where they camped in 1803.

Nearby was a village of blanket traders, mountain men, and Native Americans who had traveled to the area for the occasion.

One of them was even selling fashionable gear (hey, I can’t resist the fashion!).

But the highlight of my visit was getting to meet a true nineteenth century heroine. For privacy purposes, I will call her Miss L. This is her in front of her traveling home. She was part of Heritage Days with her family. What makes her a Nineteenteen nineteenth century heroine?

For one thing, her aptitude. She made the dress and moccasins she’s wearing as well as her buddy “Killer,” the staff she’s holding (I know a few teens who would kill for that staff). She did all her own beading. She throws knives and axes in competition, and I hear she’s pretty good. She’s learning to shoot the bow and arrow (not the fancy kind, but real wood and fletched arrows, authentic to the time period). She’s a photographer too and earned first, second, third, and fourth places at our local county fair. Are you impressed yet?

Another reason Miss L is a true heroine is her altruism. I’m sure there were lots of things she could be doing on a sunny weekend in September, but she was out with her family in the park, explaining to other kids how a nineteenth century teen lived in the American wilderness. Over 2,000 children and chaperones came through on Friday alone, before I took this picture.

Finally, there’s her attitude. She’d had a long day of being on stage, but she was totally cool with having me take her picture after I babbled like a fan girl over her accomplishments. She didn’t laugh at my disposable camera (even after she showed me one of hers with a lens as long as my arm). I think I’d like to be her before I grow up.

However, I do have one more nineteenth century heroine I need to mention. Our dear Marissa did it again: Betraying Season won the Aspen Gold Award for best Young Adult Novel of 2009! I truly appreciate how she keeps winning on Thursdays so I get to crow about it on Fridays. Don’t forget: you can comment on her post from September 28 or mine today to win a chance at a paperback copy of this award-winning novel.

And Miss L, thank you for letting me write about you. If you comment or e-mail me, I would be delighted to send you a Nineteenteen fan, considering that I am quite a fan of yours.