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?