Friday, March 30, 2012

Red-Headed Step-Children of the Cover World

Did you know there are rules to cover art? Sacred dogma passed down through the millennia? These secrets vary from publishing house to publishing house and I suspect editor to editor. Some will tell you that books with blond heroes on the cover sell poorly. So, while an author has full freedom to write about a blond hero, the fellow on her cover will have dark hair. Prussian heroes don’t sell (yet Arnold Schwarzenegger took that all the way to the bank). Older heroines don’t sell. Widows in mourning don’t sell (all those black clothes-br!). Books with clinches (passionate embraces) are passé/don’t sell well/sell like hotcakes.

But two things that many publishing houses seem to agree on is that heroes with reddish hair should not be on covers (so that poor fellow can forget about making a splash as a cover model), and readers find men with beards and mustaches shady (and hence, you know, they should not be on covers). They are, pardon the pun, the red-headed step-children of the cover world.

Given all this, I knew the hero of my July book, The Captain’s Courtship, was doomed to live out his life between the pages and never on a cover, for he has auburn hair, beard, and mustache! I was resigned to seeing a dark-haired, clean-shaven hunk, er gentleman on the cover. Imagine my delight when I received a copy of my cover this week and saw what the artists had done. There is Captain Richard Everard, in all his russet-haired, bearded, mustachioed glory, standing by his favorite place at Dallsten Manor, the pond. There is Dallsten Manor, pretty much the way I pictured it. And goodness but look—Lady Claire is dressed in her black widow’s mourning, and looking rather dashing, I think.

Very likely this means my book is doomed to fail, but I like to hope it will rise against the odds, just like Richard and Claire.

Care to guess who I asked the artists to use as examples for them? Here’s a couple hints. The lady has not only acted in Jane Austen movie adaptations but directed one. When it comes to historical movies, the gentleman is better known for his role in an American miniseries, and the closest he’s gotten to Jane Austen’s period is a Napoleonic war naval uniform on the holodeck.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lady Smith!

One of the most engaging and romance-novel-like yet true stories of the 19th century has to be that of a lady named Juana María de los Dolores de León Smith, whose long and busy life took her from Spain to England and on to India and South Africa, all because she fell in love. Ready for a wonderful story?

Juana was born on March 27, 1798 of a noble Spanish family who claimed the explorer Juan Ponce de León among its forbears. But she came into the world in perilous times; Napoleon had begun his gallop across Europe, and swallowed Spain in his stride. Little Juana was placed in a convent school by her family, where it was thought she would be safe, but in 1812 she was back in her hometown of Badajoz, most of her family wiped out in the Peninsular Wars, with only an elder sister to look out for her.

Now, here’s where the romance novel bits begin…Badajoz was, of course, the site of several battles between the forces of Napoleon and his nemesis Arthur Wellesley, soon to be Duke of Wellington. When the city was captured by the British for the last time, in April 1812, the British forces ransacked it…but now, let’s hear what happened from an eyewitness, British officer John Kincaid of the 95th Rifles:

"I was conversing with a friend the day after, at the door of his tent, when we observed two ladies coming from the city, who made directly towards us; they seemed both young, and when they came near, the elder of the two threw back her mantilla to address us, showing a remarkably handsome figure, with fine features; but her sallow, sun-burnt, and careworn, though still youthful, countenance showed that in her 'the time for tender thoughts and soft endearments had fled away and gone.'

"She at once addressed us in that confident, heroic manner so characteristic of the high-bred Spanish maiden, told us who they were–the last of an ancient and honourable house–and referred to an officer high in rank in our army, who had been quartered there in the days of her prosperity, for the truth of her tale.

"Her husband, she said, was a Spanish officer in a distant part of the kingdom; he might, or he might not, still be living. But yesterday she and this her young sister were able to live in affluence and in a handsome house; to-day they knew not where to lay their heads, where to get a change of raiment or a morsel of bread. Her house, she said, was a wreck; and, to show the indignities to which they had been subjected, she pointed to where the blood was still trickling down their necks, caused by the wrenching of their ear-rings through the flesh by the hands of worse than savages, who would not take the trouble to unclasp them!

"For herself, she said, she cared not; but for the agitated and almost unconscious maiden by her side, whom she had but lately received over from the hands of her conventual instructresses, she was in despair, and knew not what to do; and that, in the rapine and ruin which was at that moment desolating the city, she saw no security for her but the seemingly indelicate one she had adopted–of coming to the camp and throwing themselves upon the protection of any British officer who would afford it; and so great, she said, was her faith in our national character, that she knew the appeal would not be made in vain, nor the confidence abused. Nor was it made in vain! Nor could it be abused, for she stood by the side of an angel! A being more transcendingly lovely I had never before seen–one more amiable I have never yet known!

"Fourteen summers had not yet passed over her youthful countenance, which was of a delicate freshness–more English than Spanish; her face, though not perhaps rigidly beautiful, was nevertheless so remarkably handsome, and so irresistibly attractive, surmounting a figure cast in nature's fairest mould, that to look at her was to love her; and I did love her, but I never told my love, and in the mean time another and a more impudent fellow stepped in and won her! But yet I was happy, for in him she found such a one as her loveliness and her misfortunes claimed–a man of honour, and a husband in every way worthy of her!"

That “impudent fellow/man of honour” was a twenty-five-year-old brigade-major named Harry Smith, well-liked and known for his fiery spirit and bravery in battle. From all accounts, it appears to have been love at first sight between him and young Juana. He married her two days later, borrowing a Catholic priest from an Irish brigade to officiate, and for the remainder of the Peninsular War Juana accompanied her Enrique (as she called him) from battlefield to battlefield, traveling with the baggage train and sleeping in the open. Her beauty, courage, and unflagging spirits earned her the devotion of the men of the 95th and she became something of a pet to Wellington, who avuncularly called her “his Juanita’. Apart from the months when Harry went to fight in America during the War of 1812, they were never separated…including at the Battle of Waterloo, where the now 17-year-old Juana waited anxiously in Brussels (and incidentally left a fascinating account of her experiences, which included being mistakenly told that Harry was dead).

After Napoleon’s defeat, life did not calm much for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Harry (and Juana) served in South Africa, India (where he earned his knighthood and a baronetcy as well as the rank of major-general), and then back in South Africa again, where he was made governor of Cape Colony…and where the city of Ladysmith was named after Juana. They finally wound up back in England, where Harry, now a lieutenant-general, continued to serve as commander of the army’s western and northern districts until his death in 1860. Juana herself lived until 1872, missing her Harry but much loved by her friends and Harry’s family.

Now, how’s that for a romantic life?

If you’d like to learn more about Juana and Harry, check out Georgette Heyer’s extensively researched novel, The Spanish Bride, and Harry’s own memoir, published in 1901 and available free online.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Celebrity Chefs of the Nineteenth Century, Part 2: Mrs. Beeton

Prinny’s favorite chef wasn’t the only one celebrated for culinary excellence. One of the go-to sources for recipes and household management in nineteenth century England, then and now, is Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. The illustrated book, collected from columns Isabella Beeton wrote over 24 months for her husband's magazine, numbers at over a thousand pages, and basically tells a lady all she needs to know about taking care of her home and family. It also included advice for servants. But more than a collection of recipes, Mrs. Beeton strove to help her readers understand the "why" behind the "how."

"I have followed the animal from his birth to his appearance on the table; have described the manner of feeding him, and of slaying him, the position of his various joints, and, after giving the recipes, have described the modes of carving Meat, Poultry, and Game," she says in her preface. She is also credited with developing the form of recipes we still follow today as well as focusing on presentation of food rather than just its mixture.

You would think that someone who instructed generations of Britains would have been well educated in domestic practices, perhaps run a sizeable household herself for many years. At least, that's what I thought when I went looking for more information on her. Imagine my surprise to find that Isabella was only 23 when she began writing the columns! She'd been educated at a school for girls in Germany, and she married her husband when she was 20. She had four children, two of whom died when they were very young, and she herself died shortly after birthing the fourth, at age 28. Yet she left a legacy that helped thousands of young ladies just like herself function with style as wives and mothers. Pretty impressive!

From project Gutenberg, here is her general advice on my favorite part of the meal, dessert:

"Pines, melons, grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries, apples, pears, oranges, almonds, raisins, figs, walnuts, filberts, medlars [fruit from a deciduous tree in the rose family], cherries, &c. &c., all kinds of dried fruits, and choice and delicately-flavoured cakes and biscuits, make up the dessert, together with the most costly and recherché wines. The shape of the dishes varies at different periods, the prevailing fashion at present being oval and circular dishes on stems. The patterns and colours are also subject to changes of fashion; some persons selecting china, chaste in pattern and colour; others, elegantly-shaped glass dishes on stems, with gilt edges. The beauty of the dessert services at the tables of the wealthy tends to enhance the splendour of the plate. The general mode of putting a dessert on table, now the elegant tazzas are fashionable, is, to place them down the middle of the table, a tall and short dish alternately; the fresh fruits being arranged on the tall dishes, and dried fruits, bon-bons, &c., on small round or oval glass plates."

Is anyone else suddenly hungry?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sir Saffron Goes A-wooing

I’m about to embark on another non-19th century, non-historical, personal post…but I can’t resist putting a historical spin on it, just for fun.

Sir Saffron Bunny Doyle, a beautiful French lop, is resident lagomorph in the Doyle household. Poor Sir Saffron lost his sister and dear companion, Miss Asuka Bunny Doyle, last year to a sudden infection and has been alone ever since, with no one to snuggle or nibble his parsley with. (That's Asuka giving Saffron nuzzles above.) And so the human members of the Doyle household thought that it might be time to find Sir Saffron a new companion.

It started out with a visit to the House Rabbit Network, a New England foster-home based shelter for rabbits. Might they have a young lady bunny looking for her happily-ever-after in the form of a handsome lop-eared boy and a bunny-crazy family? Well, it seems there just might be…

The first young lady we met was Carlotta, a charming, buxom miss…Then there was the lovely Dallas, definitely Miss Personality...And then there were Powder and Cloud, a pair of adorable fluffy white spinsters… What to do? Well, obviously, introduce our diffident young bachelor to these eligible ladies. Since Almack’s is not yet open for the season, we opted for meetings at the home of the HRN’s president, who is a noted bunny matchmaker. And the results?

Alas, Miss Dallas was a complete non-starter, as sparks flew between her and Sir Saffron…and not of the romance novel, destined-to-be-together kind. Miss Carlotta definitely seemed interested in him, though his interest was less clear. By the time we came to introducing Misses Powder and Cloud, poor Sir Saffron was not in the best of moods…but that didn’t stop these misses from taking a very marked interest in him, as you can see!

The results? Inconclusive…but these affairs of the heart take time. Another meeting is definitely indicated, perhaps over tea and carrot cake, and then we shall see if Sir Saffron might find a new companion to snuggle with. Or maybe two. Stay tuned...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Scientists of Sundry Varieties

Not too far from where I live is a major national laboratory where amazing things are discovered on a regular basis, and I count myself fortunate to have worked with some of the fine scientists and engineers over the years. In fact, some families are on the second and third generation of scientists working there. But if you were a young gentleman of a scientific bent in the nineteenth century, your journey to greatness might have taken an entirely different path.

To begin with, the very term scientist was relatively new. Those interested in observing natural phenomenon and developing and testing theories about it were more likely called natural philosophers in the early part of the century. That’s why the journal of the Royal Society, Britain’s oldest chartered scientific association, is called Philosophical Transactions. Then too, you didn’t need an advanced degree or any degree at all to call yourself a natural philosopher. William Herschel, who is credited with the discovery of the planet Uranus, began life as a talented musician and composer. Humphry Davy, who discovered the properties of laughing gas and the elements calcium, magnesium, boron, and barium, had a grammar school education and once hoped to be a poet.

There was one requirement of a natural philosopher, though. You had to have someone willing to foot the bill for your efforts. Sometimes that might be your family. Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society for many years, came from wealth and was able to pay someone to tutor him in his chosen field of study, botany. Other times, you apprenticed to someone already working in your field of interest. Michael Faraday, the noted chemist and physicist, worked as secretary and valet for Humphry Davy for a time. And if you were wealthy enough, you could pay all the costs yourself and putter away to your heart’s content. The term used for this last category of natural philosopher is Grand Amateur, and Phileas Fogg of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a memorable example.

If you wanted to make a living at science, however, you had two choices. One was to lecture or run a laboratory at an established institution. The premier of these was the Royal Institution in London. It had been founded near the turn of the century to bring attention to advances in science and technology among the public. Your other choice was to discover something noteworthy like a new element or unknown planet or build up such a body of knowledge that the Royal Society would take note and elect you as a Fellow. The Royal Society was nearly 200 years old by the mid-nineteenth century. At the beginning of the century, it comprised both scientists and wealthy peers those scientists hoped would pay to sponsor their work. By 1847, however, Fellows were elected based on their scientific prowess alone.

And if someone in power, like one of those Grand Amateurs who happened to be a baron or duke, took note of your work, you might be referred to the ruler for a knighthood and even offered an annual salary. Often the salary came with appointment as an officer of the Sovereign, such as in the case of the Astronomer Royal. Even if you weren’t officially appointed to a position, there was the expectation that you would use that salary to allow you to continue working for the betterment of the nation.

Much like the scientists I know today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Celebrity Chefs of the 19th Century, Part 1: Carême

Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, Emeril Lagasse…everyone’s heard of (or seen on television) these and a dozen other celebrity chefs. But celebrity chefdom isn’t by any means a modern phenomenon. It actually began early in the 19th century with a Frenchman named Marie-Antoine (though he preferred to be known as Antonin) Carême. And just how much of a superstar chef was he? Hmm…how does working for Napoleon, the Prince Regent, and the Tsar of Russia sound to you?

Carême’s career in cookery started more or less by accident. Born in Paris to an impoverished family sometime in 1783, he was abandoned by his parents in 1792, in the middle of the Terror, to make his own way in life. Fortunately for him, he was taken in by a cook at a chophouse to serve as a lowly kitchen-boy in exchange for room and board. Cookery must have suited him, for in 1798 he left the become an apprentice to a pâtissier, or pastry and confectionery chef, in the busy and fashionable Palais Royal district of Paris.

He also became a reader, and spent all his free hours at the Bibliothèque Nationale reading about food in history and classical architecture…and soon after, began recreating the ruins, temples, and castles that he’d studied in pastry and marzipan and spun sugar. These centerpieces or extraordinaires, often several feet high and wide, gained him the title of master patissier (premier tourrier) by his 17th birthday. They also brought him to the attention of Charles Maurice Talleyrand, that wily politician who somehow managed to hold high office under every administration in France from King Louis XVI to Napoleon to the Citizen King Louis-Philippe.

In addition to being a brilliant politician, Talleyrand was also a brilliant connoisseur of food. It’s likely that Carême came to his attention via his extraordinaires, and soon he was serving as a freelance chef, supervising Talleyrand’s more important dinners as well as making his famous centerpieces. He became known to many important people in this way, and was able to earn enough to open his own pâtisserie in 1803, before he had even reached his majority. He continued to work hard, learning from other chefs, and became better and better known thanks to his continuing work for Talleyrand. He catered the wedding of Napoleon’s brother Jerome in 1808, and in 1810, made the wedding cake for the Emperor’s own marriage to Marie Louise of Austria (and the following year, one of his extraordinaires for the christening of Napoleon’s son).

But though Napoleon fell in 1814-1815, Talleyrand and Carême did not. When Tsar Alexander I entered Paris after Napoleon’s defeat, he stayed at Talleyrand’s house…and ate Carême’s cooking. Alexander’s steward offered him a job on the spot, but Carême refused for the time being. Instead he wrote a cookbook while Talleyrand went to the Congress of Vienna, and a year later, accepted the offer of the Prince Regent to be his chef for the enormous salary of £2000 per year. Prinny redid his kitchens at the Brighton Pavilion expressly for Carême, now known as the best chef in the world. But despite his splendid kitchens, the best ingredients, and the personal interest of the Prince, who actually came down to the kitchens to see his chef in action, Carême returned to France within a year, uncomfortable with the English way of life and profoundly homesick for Paris. He worked for a while for British diplomat Lord Charles Stewart, brother of Prime Minister Lord Castlereagh, and then in 1819 finally accepted that offer to become Tsar Alexander’s chef. He did not last long in Russia either, however, and returned to France, working again for Lord Charles and writing more cookbooks, before joining in 1823 the household of James de Rothschild, with whom he stayed until his early death in 1833, probably from pulmonary disease brought on by years of working in badly ventilated kitchens.

Carême’s influence on what and how we eat lasts to this day: he was the first to pipe meringue from a pastry bag and created vol-au-vents, or puff-pastry cases, and the classification and use of French sauces. He was one of the first chefs to pay attention to the pairing of wines with food, and brought back from Russia a preference for decorating dining tables with flowers rather than with displays of fruit and crockery, and for service à la russe, the method of serving food by individual courses rather than by placing it all on the table at once (called service à la française). Oh, and he created the tall white chef's toque worn by chefs to this day. Definitely a candidate for his own show on the Food Network, don’t you think?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Grand Tour, Part 5: The Palace of Kings

We’ve been having so much fun in Paris. We spent an afternoon at the Museum of Natural History and Botanical Garden, which also includes a menagerie of animals in their natural habitats. So innovative! We shopped and walked until we had to soak our feet at night. Of course we took in a drama at the Theatre Francais. But there’s one thing more we must do in this area, something many an English lady and gentleman seem compelled to do: Visit Versailles.

The Palace of Versailles outside Paris started as a hunting lodge, but after it was acquired by King Louis XIII and enlarged by his son and grandson, it became one of the most elaborate and extensive palaces in Europe. At one time, it housed more than a thousand courtiers and their families. By the mid-1700s, it was filled with finest artwork, statuary, and furnishings. The surrounding acres of gardens had been tamed into rigid patterns that defied nature.

The Revolution changed all that. It served as museum, then hospital, and all the major pieces it had so proudly boasted were sold, sent to museums, or otherwise dispersed.

So now, we wander through ornate rooms where kings and queens have trod, our footsteps echoing in the emptiness. The ceilings hearken back to the days of greatness, while murals, too large to be moved, hint of the grandeur that once dominated here. One can only wonder what the tree called Le grand Bourbon, planted in the Orangery and said to be over 400 years old, would tell us if it could speak. Careful not to disturb the workers manufacturing arms in one part of the palace, we make our way back to our hired coaches, sobered.

But we cannot leave Paris on such a note! Off we go to the an evening at Académie Royale de Musique, an opera house where some of the magnificence of the Bourbons lives on in the elaborate sets and authentic costumes. And don’t forget, tonight we must have the servants pack our things, for tomorrow we head out of Paris, on our way to the Alps!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Such Language! Part 10

I have far too much fun going through books like the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and others to write these posts…I hope you find them equally amusing!

Quirks and Quillets: Tricks and devices. “Lady Bertha’s dressmaker is most accomplished in quirks and quillets to make her clients look like debutantes rather than dowagers.”

To cry beef: To give the alarm. “Esmeralda’s attempt to elope with that dreadful fortune-hunter was foiled when her maid cried beef to Lord Greatpurse.”

Hulver-headed: Having a hard, impenetrable head; stubborn. “Papa can be so hulver-headed over things like letting me go shopping at the Burlington Arcade with Esmeralda!”

Sauce box: A bold or forward person. “That Susan is such a sauce box that she invited herself to go driving with Sir Francis, just as he was inviting me!”

Bobbish: Smart, clever, spruce. “My great-uncle Francis looked so bobbish at the theatre last night that I swear all the dowagers had their opera glasses turned on him rather than on the stage.”

Fallalls: Women’s ornaments, like ribbons or jewelry. “My younger sister Letitia professes a complete disdain for what she calls fallalls and folderols, but guess who I caught rummaging around in my dressing table this morning?”

Barrel-fever: to be drunk. “He told his tutor that he had to stay in bed because of the flu after he came home last night, but we know that Freddy’s real illness was barrel-fever.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Public Spectacles, Amusements, and Objects Deserving Notice, March

March appears to be a somber month in the social calendar. It is generally Lent, after all. Frivolity does not become a young lady or gentleman during Lent. And of course the Season does not start in earnest until after Easter. So if you were about town and inclined to take some enjoyment from the coming spring, what were you to do?

March begins a series of anniversary dinners. These were ticketed events celebrating the inauguration of some charitable or benevolent institution. The dinner was often held the Sunday before the anniversary, or on the anniversary itself. The morning papers would announce the day, location, price, from whom tickets might be purchased, and which eminent preacher would be giving the address before the dinner, which was generally held at one of the taverns with large receiving rooms.

In March and early April, you have your choice of anniversaries for the Welch Charity (for schools in Wales), the Marine Society (recruiting of sailors and training young poor lads of good character for careers at sea), the Benevolent Society of St. Patrick (providing charitable relief to the poor and distressed Irish living in London), the Asylum for Female Orphans, the Society for the Refuge of the Destitute, the Freemasons’ Charity for Educating Female Children, and the Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb.

Dinner not to your taste? Perhaps you’d prefer a rousing military spectacle! Beginning in March, every morning at 10 there is drilling on the Horse Guards Parade as well as a concert of military music. Those stirring trumpet calls, that shiny brass, those handsome officers! Well, I guess you know where to find me. Shall we march?