Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not the Nineteenth Century: Meet Mrs. Fish

One of the most interesting people I’ve “met” over the course of doing research for my non-nineteenth century book is Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, known as “Mamie” to her friends. Mamie Fish, along with her frenemies Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and Tessie Oelrichs, was one of THE leaders of Gilded Age society in New York and Newport—in fact, they were known as the Great Triumvirate.

She was born in 1855 to a prosperous, but not particularly wealthy or socially prominent family. But little Marion (as she was christened), despite her lack of connections, married well—her childhood neighbor and sweetheart, Stuyvesant Fish, scion of an important and wealthy family. Mr. Fish was no rich idler; despite his inheritance, he worked his way up through the ranks to become president of the Illinois Central Railroad. He and Mamie were, unusually for their time and class, a devoted couple; at least once a week Mamie made sure they dined alone at home together, usually on Mr. Fish’s favorite corned beef and cabbage. She was also an involved and loving mother to their three children, all of whom turned out shockingly normal.

If Mamie were to summarized in one word, that word would probably be "feisty". Though not a beauty nor very well-educated (it was said that she could barely read and sign her name), she made up for these defects with a quick intelligence and an even quicker wit. Born today, I could see her in politics or in entertainment; but the only career open to a woman of her class at the turn of the twentieth century was social lioness, and Mamie went for it with a vengeance. She was utterly fearless, and alas, tactless…and yet it became almost something of a badge of honor to have been insulted (and in one case, run over repeatedly) by Mrs. Fish.

She came to “power” as the former queen of society, Mrs. Astor (of The Four Hundred fame) was winding down her social career. But society had changed since Mrs. Astor’s heyday, and Mamie fitted the new freer, faster pace of society to a T. She flouted convention and never paid social calls, left parties she found boring (usually loudly announcing the fact), and went to bed if she found her own parties had grown dull. In fact, she often seemed to dislike entertaining, and once announced to her guests, “Make yourselves perfectly at home, and believe me, there is no one who wishes you were there more than I do!” To a collection of ladies arrived for a luncheon in their newest Parisian couture, she said, “Here you all are, older faces and younger clothes.”

With her friend (some called him her “court jester”) Harry Lehr, Mamie did her best to shake things up. Parties became even more elaborate and costly and outrageously themed. When an enemy of Mamie’s failed to invite her to a party given in honor of the Tsar’s brother, Mamie threw her own for the Tsar himself and stole away all her rival’s guests, eager to meet the Tsar…who turned out to be Harry in disguise. It was a huge hit, and the following day the Tsar’s brother told Mamie he wished he’d been there, too. On another occasion they threw a party for the mysterious Prince del Drago of Corsica…and the guests who arrived eager to rub shoulders with royalty found that the distinguished Prince was a monkey in evening dress. Yet when she invited Marie Dressler to entertain her guests at a party, the actress sat down to dinner first with Mamie as an equal—unheard of in that day and age. She enjoyed lambasting the snobbishness of society; her mansion in Newport boasted no marble panels or stained glass windows bought from French chateax or Italian palazzi, but was built in Colonial Revival style and furnished with American art and antiques.

I can’t help thinking there’s something a little sad about Mamie—poorly educated, her obvious brains and wit wasted in parties and dinners--yet what other outlet did she have? I think this accounts for some of her outrageousness and her poking-holes-from-the-inside attitude. I also think that sometimes, she just couldn’t stop herself, as when her friend Alva Belmont came to her and angrily said, “I hear that you have been telling everyone that I look like a frog!” (which she rather did, if you look at her portraits…) Mamie demurred: “No, no…not a frog! A toad, my pet, a toad!”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Guest Blogger Judith Laik: Shooting and Coursing Dogs of the Nineteenth Century

Today we continue our series with Regency author and dog expert Judith Laik on dogs of the nineteenth century. If you have an opportunity to watch the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in February, you might see Judith’s daughter. Jennifer Laik’s CH Colebrae After Midnight could win the Best of Variety Rough category and be the Collie representative in the Herding Group!

Using dogs to search for and retrieve game birds was another popular form of hunting during the nineteenth century. Only aristocrats and landed gentry had the right to the game in the forests, and those with land suitable for shooting on their estates guarded their lands, and the wildlife to be found on them, zealously.

Many types of birds were considered good fare for the tables of the rich, and dogs were developed to specialize in particular kinds, eventually becoming different breeds. Spaniels were developed early, by the late 1600s, and then further evolved into land and water spaniels. The land spaniels “flushed,” or frightened, game birds such as partridge and pheasant out of dense brush so the hunters could shoot them “on the wing.” Water spaniels breeds were used to retrieve waterfowl from ponds and streams. Pointers and setters helped to find the game by pointing at them. The stood in a steady pose, nose toward the birds, one front paw lifted, and their tail straight out. Their steadiness on point was a chief attribute they were bred for.

Unlike the scent hounds such as Foxhounds and Beagles, which smelled the ground to discover their prey, the “sporting” breeds scented the air to find game. Many of the sporting breeds today look very much like they did in the nineteenth century. The exception is the retriever breeds, which were a work in progress during most of the century.

However, if the dogs were used to help hunt waterfowl, even if they weren’t called retrievers, going after downed birds in the water and bringing them back to their masters was a key part of their job. The water spaniels, such as the Irish Water Spaniel, as well as early retriever specimens, were used for this type of hunting.

Shooting could be done by a solitary man with a dog, or, as one often reads in novels, a shooting party, usually houseguests at a country estate, goes out together, each man with his own gun and with several dogs accompanying the party.

And although an active, athletic dog such as the sporting dogs needed a great deal of exercise and therefore weren’t as likely to be kept as a household companion, their close bond with their owners still defined many of these dogs. Much more than in fox hunting, a dog and its master were a closely bonded pair, knowing almost by intuition what the other was communicating.

A third type of hunting, which was not as popular by the nineteenth century but still did take place, was coursing. In coursing, various breeds of hounds were used to chase down game animals. The hunter might be on foot or horseback, depending on the quarry. In earlier times, when wolves still existed in Britain and deer were more plentiful, hounds which “sighted” the objects of the hunt, chased, and brought the animals down were familiar assistants to the aristocracy, and even to monarchs. Queen Elizabeth I was known to be an avid huntswoman. But those days were mostly past by the nineteenth century. Still, dogs such as Harriers and Beagles were often used to hunt hares and other game.

Harriers and Beagles strongly resemble their larger Foxhound cousins, and, like them, are ground scenters. Most of the breeds historically used for coursing were sighthounds, hunting their prey by sight, such as the Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound. These ancient breeds, because of the decimation of their genetically programmed prey and hard times in their countries of origin, had become quite rare during the nineteenth century. Ownership of a Scottish Deerhound by Queen Victoria helped rescue the breed. Victoria’s attachment to several breeds helped assure their popularity with the general public. And that’s the subject for another article!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guest Blogger Judith Laik: Hunting and Shooting Sports in the Nineteenth Century

This week we're welcoming back Regency author and dog expert Judith Laik, whom you will recall started a series on Dogs of the Nineteenth Century back in December.

Hunting and shooting were popular pastimes for (mostly) men in the 19th century. These sports took place after the London “season” ended, when the upper classes went to their country estates.

Fox Hunting
“Hunting” referred exclusively to fox hunting. To my mind, no other sport symbolizes Great Britain so completely. Hunting season took place after the harvest was in and the fields lay empty, later in the autumn and during the winter until spring. Hunting-mad people of all ages kicked their heels with impatience through the late spring, summer and early fall months until at last hunting season arrived again. I confess my sympathies are with the poor, beleaguered fox, but the wily animals very often came out on top, escaping and “going to ground” – into their burrows. Although I’m sure many of the hunters were disappointed if their foray didn’t result in a kill, for most of them pursuing the fox was only an excuse for an exciting cross-country ride.

Taking part in a hunt was a heart-pumping thrill for a young man. The early morning gathering in the crisp autumn or winter air, the ritualistic customs of the hunt. Waiting for the hounds to catch a scent, the impatient stamping of the high-bred horses; the hounds’ baying as they set off on the chase; the splendor of the red-coated riders as they followed, over fences, across fields and streams.

The actual hunting of foxes is now illegal in Great Britain, but throughout the nineteenth century it was a quintessential aspect of the social life of the aristocracy and gentry. There were a few women who hunted, more so as the century progressed.

If you’d like to read more about fox hunting, here are three interesting websites. The first link is to some essays by Anthony Trollope, a 19th century novelist. The second one defines foxhunting terms, and the third one has a very evocative slide show with fox hunting images and sounds.

Our topic is dogs, however, so let’s talk about Foxhounds. They are an exception to what I said last month that people didn’t keep records and pedigrees on the various breeds. The AKC entry on English Foxhounds says the Masters of Foxhounds Association kept impeccable records of their breeding from before 1800. These hounds were bred for their scenting ability, voice, and stamina on the chase. Foxhounds are pack animals, and seldom lived as human companions, although you’ll read the occasional novel where a hunting-mad squire (usually a bachelor or widower) gives his hounds the run of his manor, and I’m sure there must have been people who formed closer bonds with their Foxhounds. But most of these dogs were kept in kennels, looked after by the Masters of the Foxhounds (for the larger packs, a number of kennel helpers would assist the Master.)

Thank you, Judith! Be sure to stop by on Friday, when Judith will discuss game shooting (and retrievers), and the ancient sport of coursing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grand Tour, Part 3: On to Paris!

Ah, when last we discussed our adventures on the Grand Tour, we had embarked on a ship crossing the Channel and were heading for Calais. The voyage was uneventful, except for the one member of our company who was hideously seasick, poor dear!

Luckily, the tide was high when we reached Calais, so we were able to sail right up to the quay. That was a blessing. At low water, smaller boats must be rowed out to the ships, and it’s always tricky getting a lady in full skirts over the side of the sailing ship and safely aboard the boats. Then too, once the smaller boats reach the shallows, there’s the question of getting from them to the shore. I’ve heard tales where men had to carry the ladies. And we are not talking gentlemen or gently!

We, on the other hand, can merely cross the gangplank onto the dock. However, the French do not seem content to allow us to do so alone. Dozens of men come aboard wishing to help us disembark, carrying our trunks and even our parasols! They are a rough bunch, but they seem civil enough and conduct us right up to the Monsieur le Commissaire, who will escort us to the customs-house. There we exchange our passports for French ones, and if we do not produce them quickly enough there is a great deal of hand-waving and exclamations in rapid French.

Everyone collected? Excellent! We had planned to spend the night in Calais, so off to our hotel, one that caters to visiting Englishmen and women, the Meurice. Our trunks will be examined at the customs-house and released, once we have paid a host of fees, including money for the captain, sailors, the commissioner, and the gentlemen who carried everything from the ship for us. My, but traveling can get expensive!

After a good night’s sleep on the sheets we brought ourselves, we hire a post-chaise for the ride to Paris. We could have taken the Diligence. It has an office very near the Meurice. But the large, lumbering coaches that carry people all over France are so much more uncomfortable than the English stagecoaches that we took pity on our still green friend and hired a carriage instead.

Mrs. Starke, from the written guide we’ve brought with us, advises us to take the road from Calais through Beauvais to Paris, as it is smoother, less hilly, and shorter. The road winds through fields of grain, and trees line the avenue as if you were going somewhere much finer than the local villages. We pass a mound, which our guides tell us once housed the camp of Julius Caesar. Roman medals and other artifacts have been found in the area.

And there’s a lovely convent, with its white walls. So French! No, wait. Is that smoke coming from the chimney? So many chimneys? It seems France has seen fit to transform many of its convents into factories, a fact that seems more sad than progressive as we head on.

And there, on the horizon, Montmartre! We’re almost to Paris!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Victoria’s Children, part 9: Beatrice—Dutiful Daughter or Half-crazed Visigoth?

Ha--I knew that would get your attention! And I’m not exaggerating too much, as you’ll see shortly. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Poor Victoria. The queen actually hadn’t wanted such a large family; but medical knowledge being what it was in the mid-19th century, her doctors gave her less-than-accurate advice on family planning. So it was more or less business as usual when her ninth and last child was born April 14, 1857…except that it wasn’t. She had discovered the blessings of chloroform with the birth of her previous child, Leopold, and was determined to utilize it again…which she did, to the continued grumbling of much of the medical establishment of the day.

Her pain-free birth may or may not have had something to do with it, but little Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore soon became a favorite with her parents, now that their elder children were marrying (Vicky married when Baby, as she was nicknamed, was nine months old). She was a pretty, lively child, and the Queen even overcame her usual dislike of infants in Beatrice’s case.

That pretty liveliness, however, was not destined to remain. The deaths of both the Queen’s mother and husband in 1861 plunged the Queen into gloom, and levity was not welcomed in her household. Gradually, Beatrice’s bright personality and intelligence were worn down, until by her teens, she had become very shy and almost tongue-tied in public and her natural grace dulled. Victoria’s older daughters had, one by one, escaped into marriage, but if the Queen had any say in the matter, Beatrice would not: she would remain at her mother’s side, serving as her personal secretary and companion for the rest of her life.

And so matters continued until 1884. Though Victoria assured everyone that Beatrice was quite content to remain “the daughter of the house”, there had been thoughts of marrying her off, possibly to Louis of Hesse, her late sister’s Alice’s widower. Finding a groom for Beatrice did not appear to be an easy prospect: she was chunky, awkward and gauche in public, and just not very attractive. But at a family wedding in that fateful year, Beatrice fell in love. Her choice was Prince Henry of Battenburg, a minor German princeling. In many ways, he was the perfect choice: he was more or less penniless and landless, and could therefore quite easily move to England and become Beatrice’s husband, rather than her leaving England to become his wife. So after six months of the Silent Treatment (quite literally!) on the Queen’s part, promises were extracted from Henry (nicknamed “Liko”) and Beatrice that they would always live with her, and the pair were allowed to marry in 1885.

Remain with the Queen they did: even after the arrival of four children (Alexander in 1886, Victoria Eugenie—called Ena— in 1887, Leopold in 1889, and Maurice in 1891—the Queen’s 40th and final grandchild) the family followed the Queen on her yearly peregrinations among her residences, while Beatrice continued as her mother’s right hand. The lively “Battenbunnies” helped keep the Queen young for a time; not since the Prince Consort’s death had there been such sunshine in her life. But clouds would soon re-gather: though Beatrice adored him, her Liko eventually chafed under his enforced status as house-husband, and in 1895 got permission to join the British Army to fight in Africa in the Ashanti wars. To everyone’s horror, he contracted malaria and died while en route home.

Poor Beatrice was, of course, devastated, but her aging mother needed her more than ever, not to mention her young family. Though not a very maternal or demonstrative mother, she was, above all, dutiful, and so life continued until 1901..and the real center of Beatrice’s life, her mother, died.

You have to feel sorry for her—for the Queen had occupied almost all of her attention, all her life. And in death, she continued to do so, for Beatrice was named one of the executors of her will and, more importantly, had been requested by the Queen to edit her papers, most notably the diaries she’d kept since 1831 and her private letters. And here’s where the Visigoth part comes in, for edit Beatrice did: by the time she was done copying out what seemed appropriate to her to keep, Beatrice deleted fully two-thirds of the Queen’s diaries and letters...and burned the originals, to the horror of King George and Queen Mary and to generations of historians ever since. Imagine what was lost to history!

The rest of Beatrice’s life remained uneventful, though dramas occurred—the disastrous marriage of her daughter Ena to the last king of Spain and the death of her son Maurice in World War I. She unveiled monuments to her mother’s memory and dabbled in good works (though not to the degree that her sisters Lenchen and Louise did), and lived until 1944…and thus ended an era.

Coming soon, we'll take a look at some of the more interesting of the Queen's forty grandchildren...stay tuned!

Friday, January 13, 2012

More on The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Great insights, my dears! I do hope some more of you join in. May I freshen your tea? Plump the pillow behind you?

I too enjoyed this book, particularly the chemistry between Mary and James. I was sad to hear he was heading off to India at the end, but it seems maybe something will change his mind. Hm.

And I look forward to reading the subsequent books to see how Mary resolves her conflicts with her heritage. I didn’t know a lot about Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century, so I did a little poking around (ah, research, thy sultry call never faileth!). While Chinese people had visited England since the 1600s, the first significant number of immigrants settled in the early nineteenth century, particularly in London’s Limehouse Reach along the Thames. They were largely sailors, and many worked for the East India Company. One of their number, who went by the Anglicized name of John Anthony, took on the role of ambassador between the immigrants and the Company and amassed a fortune in the process. He was the first Chinese man to be naturalized as a British citizen, supposedly through an Act of Parliament. Another Chinese man was graduated from Edinburgh University with an MD in 1855. The first Chinese minister to Britain arrived in 1877.

So if the Chinese were wealthy and educated, why did Mary cringe at admitting her background? Perhaps these chilling words from The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, Volume 4: July through December, 1878, edited by Sir James Knowles, will show the depth of the prejudice against the Chinese:

“The Chinese are, by common ascent of all Western nations, pronounced to be an eccentric and impractical race. . . . Summarize the charges brought against Chinese immigrants by those most nearly interested, namely, British Colonists and United States citizens and these may be stated as follows: --they are pronounced to be the scum of the population of the worst districts of China; they migrate without their families, and the few women they import are shipped under a system of slavery for the vilest purposes; they introduce their own bizarre habits and ideas, and studiously eschew all sociability with colonists of other races; they outrage public opinion by hideous immoralities; they ignore or defy judicial and municipal institutions; they form secret and treasonable associations amongst themselves; they manage to afford, by their low and miserable style of living, to undersell and under work white men as mechanics, labourers, and servants; they fail to take root in the soil, making it their aim always to carry home their gains to the old country.”

What ugly rhetoric! The article does attempt to rebuke these attitudes or suggest ways to counter them. Note that the same volume has an article on why the women’s movement might bring about the downfall of society.

Either way, you go, Mary!

Another question for you to ponder: Why do you think the leaders of the Agency chose Mary? What skills would you need to be a good spy in the nineteenth century? Do you think you would make a good addition to the Agency?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Young Bluestockings Book Club reads The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Welcome to the first Young Bluestockings Book Club meeting of 2012! Dedicated to all things high-minded (usually), improving (frequently), and fun (always, we hope!), the Young Bluestockings Book Club meets to discuss books of interest to readers of NineteenTeen: books related to 19th century teens and their life. Please make yourselves comfortable—yes, I know, that horsehair-upholstered sofa is terribly slippery—refresh your teacup, and let’s get started!

First, a note—there will be spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t read the book yet and don’t want any surprises ruined…YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! :)

Ahem…now, here we go!

First, a brief re-cap of this meeting's book, The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee: 12-year-old street orphan Mary Quinn is rescued from imminent execution by a mysterious woman who offers not only life, but a place at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, a charitable institution that will give her the education to lead a useful life. Fast-forward five years, and Mary is now a junior teacher at the Academy, and has gone from being suspicious of the school to dedicated. So when two of her fellow teachers reveal the secret at the school’s heart—that it is a front and training ground for an ultra-secret, all-female intelligence service called The Agency—she jumps at the chance to join.

Mary’s first assignment is as a paid companion to the daughter of a wealthy east Asia merchant, Henry Thorold, who is suspected of dealing in stolen priceless Indian artifacts and tax evasion. The assignment is not always easy for a girl of Mary’s peppery temperament: her charge, Angelica, is a spoiled beauty who does her best to make Mary’s life a misery, and under the placid surface of the household, intrigue bubbles and swirls. Mary’s own feelings are complicated by a certain James Easton, whose brother George is one of Angelica’s suitors and who has his own reasons for wanting to know more about Mr. Thorold’s activities. And Mary has a secret of her own that not even her employers at the Agency know about—a secret she fears will alienate her from them and from the world, and which has a curious—and tragic—connection to the case she’s investigating.

Rather than listening to us spout, we want to hear from you: what did you think about the book? Here are a few questions to get you going:

  • Although the central premise of an all-women spy ring in 1850s England is, of course, extraordinarily unlikely, were you able to suspend disbelief enough to go along with the story?

  • Everyone seems to have a secret in the Thorold household...which secret did you find most intriguing and unexpected?

  • Mary has already stated that she has no interest in marriage...but then she finds herself drawn to James Easton. Do you think she'll change her mind about marriage, or do you think that her relationship with James will take a different tack? What do you think of young Mr. Easton?

  • Mary is intent on concealing her multi-ethnic birth, even from her trusted colleagues at the Agency. Do you think she'd over-reacting? D0 you suspect (as I do) that it will eventually turn into a source of strength for her?
All right, Young Bluestockings...discuss! And please don't limit yourself to these suggested talking points--bring up whatever you'd like!

P.S. As a history geekish side-note, the problem of the horrible stench from the Thames was an ongoing problem in the middle years of the century—in fact, at one point, in the summer of 1858 (as detailed in the book) the odor was so bad that it nearly forced Parliament (which sits right on the river) to close and earned the title of “The Great Stink.” The problem was the explosive growth of the city of London: the huge influx of people meant a huge influx of garbage and human waste, and the old disposal method—letting it all drain into the river and get swept out to sea on the tides—was no longer sufficient. Don’t forget, too, that the germ theory of disease had not yet been postulated, and Londoners were sure that the stench from the river caused the cholera outbreaks that had become commonplace. Over the next several years, the London sewer system was overhauled and improved, removing the stink and halting the cholera outbreaks by decontaminating the local water supply.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Public Spectacles, Amusements, and Objects Deserving Notice, January

I have been known upon occasion to make a public spectacle of myself, most notably when my alter ego Sir Reginald Scott, Regency dandy and impoverished baronet seeking a wealthy wife, makes an appearance. However, I thought you might find it amusing and deserving of your notice if my first Friday posts this year consisted of all the interesting things a young lady or gentleman might have taken part in during the nineteenth century in London for that month.

So, let’s say you are a young gentleman out to impress a lady or a young lady looking for entertainment. The Season hasn’t started yet; London is rather thin for company. What could you do there in January in the nineteenth century?

Ah, there’s Twelfth Night celebrations throughout the day today (January 6). We’ve talked about family celebrations before. But there were more public activities as well. For instance, you could attend services at the Chapel Royal in St. James’s. The Bishop of London presided and presented an offering of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the music was by some of the top performers of the day. (This according to The Picture of London.) In a time when music didn’t play all that large a part of religious celebrations, I’d be interested in knowing how they pulled that off. If your tastes run more to, well, tastes, you could wander the pastry shops this evening, where Twelfth Night Cakes would be illuminated for your viewing. I’m sure you’d want to take one home.

Later this month, around the 20th, lectures commence at the Royal Institution (see below) on such fascinating subjects as chemistry and galvanism, and you can also find lectures on medicine, surgery, and botany at the various hospitals and homes of medical men. Of course, a few fashion-conscience mamas may discourage their daughters from taking part in the former (only bluestockings allowed!), and the more faint-hearted may take exception to the grisly accounts in the latter!

Now, if you’re in the mood for something more adventurous, January appears to be the traditional time for the start of masquerades. Some were held at the Opera House or the Argyll Rooms. Keep an eye on the newspapers for advertisements, and remember that anyone who could pay the price could be admitted, so these could get a bit dangerous. If you haven’t time to construct your own costume, you can hire one from a masquerade warehouse.

But of course you don’t have to wait for the newspapers to announce the most exciting event of January. We have that right here! Come back next week when the Young Bluestockings discuss Y.S. Lee’s A Spy in the House!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not the Nineteenth Century?!

Dear Nineteenteen Readers,

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been seeing another century.

It isn’t that I don’t love the nineteenth century truly and deeply. And it isn’t that I don’t intend to continue to read and research about it and plan future books in it (I have a new idea for another Regency-set YA that I love, but need to do some research on it first. Poor me, huh?) But lately, I must confess that…well, I’ve been writing a book set in another century. Just barely, mind you—this story is set in 1901, which really, just barely qualifies as not the nineteenth century. I mean, Queen Victoria lived until 1901—doesn’t that count for something?

And…er, well, maybe I shouldn’t say this…but this story isn’t set in England. Not one little bit of it. There aren’t even any British characters in it, though a French grandmother and an obnoxious young vicomte do make appearances. No, it’s totally set in America—remember that trip to Newport, Rhode Island Regina and I posted about last summer?--oh my goodness, please sit down! Do you want me to pat you on the back? May I get you a glass of water?

There, that’s better. I've made a clean breast of it, and hopefully we can all come to terms with it. So of course, I'll just have to share with you some of the wonderful bits of research I’ve come across in the writing of this book (which, by the way, is about two-thirds done—and no, my agent hasn’t yet started looking for a publisher for it yet). So look for the occasional non-nineteenth century, non-English post from me over the next few months, because some of this stuff is just too good to keep to myself.

But meanwhile, we'll still be firmly planted in the nineteenth century next week when Regina and I open the first Young Bluestockings meeting of the year with a look at The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee. Have you had a chance to read it yet? We hope so, and hope also that you'll be ready to talk about it. See you then, and Happy 2012 to you all!