Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Victoria's Grandchildren: Marie of Romania

Considering that she had so many of them, it’s hardly surprising that Queen Victoria’s grandchildren were, in many ways, a varied bunch. We’ve already met Wilhelm, the near-caricature Prussian…and today we’ll meet his cousin, a woman who was queen of a nearby country but couldn’t have been more different.

Marie Alexandra Victoria was born on October 29, 1875, at her parents’ home in Eastwell, Kent—her parents being Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and second son of Queen Victoria, and Grand Duchess Marie of Russia, only daughter of Tsar Alexander II. Baby Marie, soon nicknamed “Missy” was an unusually pretty child from birth…and not just because she was a princess; she really was genuinely lovely as you can see from her pictures. So lovely, in fact, that from an early age, her cousin George—later King George V— was quite smitten with her. But Marie’s mother loathed most of her English in-laws and did not want any of her children marrying their English cousins…so she stage-managed her innocent and eager-to-please daughter into an engagement to Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Romania (that is the pair at right, at about the time of their marriage). He was a shy, awkward man, ten years older than his bride-to-be. The pair were married in January 1893, just a few months after Marie’s seventeenth birthday.

Life in Romania was difficult for Marie. King Carol, Ferdinand’s uncle, was a stern, austere man, and his wife Queen Elisabeth, who called herself Carmen Sylva and had exaggeratedly artistic tendencies and didn’t care to be upstaged by a beautiful young princess. Romania itself was only 15 years old and not very stable. And when she became pregnant within two weeks of her wedding, she wondered why she felt so ill—no one had told her the facts of life. She gave birth to a son, named Carol after his great-uncle…and with a few months was expecting once again. She was subject to the whims of her husband’s aunt and the control-freakishness of his uncle, and was, in a word, miserable.

So it was no surprise that eventually, she would rebel. She had a series of love affairs, and it is more than probable that the last three of her six children were not Ferdinand’s. But she was discreet (mostly), and she and her husband remained, if not devoted to each other, at least committed to preserving the outward appearance of their marriage. She also began to defy King Carol’s strictures and lead a more public life, endearing herself to Romanians in the process not just with her looks, but with her genuine interest in their welfare.

It took adversity to really bring out Marie’s best qualities. With the outbreak of the Second Balkan War and then WWI, she became a nurse, not only directing nationwide nursing efforts but herself working in wards…and then, only a few months later, became queen after King Carol’s death. Her enormous popularity only grew, and at the end of the war she herself went to Paris to take part in the peace negotiations and obtain aid for her battered country. She also discovered a passion for writing, publishing books of fairy tales and fables, travelogues, and eventually her memoirs.

But what should have been golden years afterward were marred by the antics of her eldest son Carol, heir to the throne. He was spoiled and mentally unstable, and had already run away once during the war and illegally married a commoner. Though that marriage was dissolved and one to a suitably royal princess contracted, Carol remained unsteady, and in 1925 ran away with another woman, abdicating his position as heir to the throne…until Ferdinand’s death two years later, after which he schemed and plotted and finally returned to Romania, overthrowing his own small son and taking his renounced throne back, and doing his best to drive his brother, sisters, and mother from the country.  Furthermore, the 30s saw upheavals in Greece and Yugoslavia, countries into which her daughters had married, and increasingly paranoid Carol instituted a police-state style of government that she hated. So it was perhaps a mercy that she became ill with liver disease and died in 1938, and did not live to see Romania dismantled by Hitler and Stalin, and ravaged later by a Soviet-backed takeover.

This is, necessarily, a highly truncated look at an interestig woman.  For a more in-depth look at Marie's life and times, I highly recommend Hannah Pakula's The Last Romantic, now sadly out of print but still available used through on-line booksellers.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice!

Next week marks the official 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s classic. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy have spawned a cottage industry, with everything from books that retell and extend the original story to stamps and custom dolls.

You may have seen some of the ways people are celebrating, such as the Netherfield Ball I mentioned last week. Here are a few more ways you can commemorate Pride and Prejudice’s 200th:

  • The Royal Mail is issuing a series of stamps, which will be available for use in February, but you can order them now. They're lovely pastels with scenes from Jane's work.
  • The Dolls House Emporium is introducing a pair of beautiful porcelain hand-crafted dolls, portraying Elizabeth and Darcy in all their finery on their wedding day. With a minimum purchase, the company will throw in supporting gifts until May, including a pretty heart cushion, complete with lace edging and "E and F" embroidery-design transfer; a watercolour painting of Darcy’s Pemberley estate; a pair of coat hangers with E and F initials; a pair of silhouette portraits; and a beautiful floral wedding garland. Note that the dolls may not be available until the end of the month--the emporium provided this sneak peek for Nineteen Teen readers.
  • If you’ll be in the Baltimore area before July 31, stop by Goucher College Libraryto view its special exhibit. The college is supposed to have the largest collection of items related to Jane Austen and her times of any in the U.S.
  • If you’ll be in Suffolk, Virginia, on March 9, you may want to attend a day of events at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.
  • If you’re lucky enough to be in the UK, Lucy Cavendish College at the University of Cambridge is hosting a conference on the book June 21-23 to discuss the history behind it and, as they call it, its "literary afterlife."
  • And the Jane Austen House Museum has its own Facebook page with information on events as well as a special page online. Pride and Prejudice, live. Be still my heart!

I’d love to keep a running list here. Anyone else seen ways that Pride and Prejudice is being celebrated? Tell us with a comment!

Then go read the book or watch one of the film adaptations one more time. You know you want to. Oh, Colin!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Chemise

The way the weather has been going lately in my part of the world, underwear is greatly on my mind—long, woolly underwear, to be precise! Brrr!

But underwear has also been on my mind because I have something very neat to show you—a recent addition to my antiques collection!

This, dear readers, is a chemise—pretty much the mainstay of women’s undergarments for many, many centuries, from medieval times up through the early twentieth century. This particular chemise probably dates to the early 19th century. It is made of fine but sturdy linen, and the seams are all handsewn and flat felled, so that there are no edges to ravel. The seamstress cut her chemise with the bottom edge on the selvage of the fabric, so that no hem was necessary. It is slightly A-lined, has a yoke top and slightly drop-shouldered cap sleeves (see photo below).

As you can see in the closeup below, there’s a drawstring around the neckline to adjust the fit: the casing for it is made of twilled tape sewn to the body of the garment. The drawstring itself is interesting—it looks initially like a knit, but on closer examination appears to be woven on the bias, which surprised me—I had no idea bias tape dated back so far. And last of all, the chemise is marked with the owner’s initials, M R, cross-stitched in red thread. The entire garment measures 40 inches from the back of the neck to the hem (probably just below the wearer's knees), 25 inches wide at the top of the underarm seam, and 37 ½ inches across at the bottom.  This chemise is on the plain side, but they might have lace or ruffles or embroidery around the neckline, depending on how much time and patience one had for fancywork!

So—what is a chemise, anyway?

The chemise was worn as a sort of multipurpose foundation garment. It went next to the skin, and everything else was worn on top of it—corset, petticoats, dresses, underskirts—everything (in the image at right, a French fashion print from 1822, the young woman is lacing her stays over her long chemise). It added an extra layer for warmth, but more importantly, protected all of one’s other garments from direct contact with the skin. In the days of no deodorant or automatic washing machines, that was a big deal: the chemise took the brunt of skin oils and sweat, and being plainly made of sturdy fabric, could be washed (which generally involved strong lye soaps and boiling water). Pretty smart, when you think about how dresses might have oodles of lace or other elaborate trimmings on them which would be almost impossible to launder. Chemises also doubled as sleeping garments, and were probably quite comfortable for that purpose.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Four Things on a Friday

Lovely conversations about "Sense and Sensibility," my dears! If you haven’t weighed in yet, please do! In the meantime, I have four things you might find interesting on this cold January day:

  1. BBC is planning to recreate the Netherfield Ball to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice! Oh, to be one of those attending! Experts in nineteenth century dance, music, and even food will be advising. It’s supposed to be aired around Easter on BBC2 (which we don’t get—stamps foot, pouts, rails at the ceiling). See the full report in The Independent.
  2. Most of my books have been mass market paperbacks. Every once in a while, though, another publisher buys the rights to create a hard cover, and I am usually the last to hear about it! Such was the case recently when I was tooling about Amazon and discovered that a hardcover, large print version of The Rake’s Redemption is going to be available soon! Amazon shows a March 18 publication date. Thorndike, the publisher, shows a February release. It’s pricey at around $29.00, but the publisher sells mostly to libraries. Vaughn, in libraries everywhere—the mind boggles!
  3. Ever wonder exactly what an early nineteenth century wardrobe entailed? The talented misses at Historical Sewing have compiled a complete list, from undergarments to main garments and outwear to accessories. Note that Mr. Darcy, Mr. Ferris, and Mr. Willoughby are among the required accessories.
  4. You may have heard that RT Book Reviews is the premiere review magazine for the romance industry (though they review many other genres as well). I heard this week that the reviewer there has given my upcoming March release, The Heiress’s Homecoming, the highest honor: 4 and a half stars and a Top Pick for the month! I’m tickled pink!
Hope you have a similarly delightful Friday!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: "Sense and Sensibility" (1995)

Welcome back to

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema!

Several times a year, NineteenTeen invites you to join in a discussion of a movie set during the Nineteenth Century.
Today we'll be discussing the 1995 movie Sense and Sensibility!

Whether you saw the movie yesterday or years ago, please join in the discussion!

Here's a little background about the movie, to get things started:

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's first published novel, came out in 1811.

Likewise, this movie of Sense and Sensibility was the first time Emma Thompson wrote a motion picture script.  Most famous as an Oscar-winning actress (for Howard's End), Thompson (who played Elinor) got another Oscar nomination for best actress, and actually won the Oscar for best screenplay for Sense and Sensibility!  (Pretty good for your first time out, I say!)

The film was directed by Ang Lee, who was then a well-respected but still fairly new director from Taiwan. Lee has since become an Oscar-winner himself, and is up for another directing Oscar this year (for The Life of Pi.) 

With a total of seven Oscar nominations (and one win), it's the most award-winning Jane Austen movie out there!

But that's what they think.  What do YOU think?

Did you like it?

Did you find it funny, romantic, suspenseful? Boring? Confusing?

What did you think of the cast?

The costumes?

If the story was new to you, were you surprised when Marianne and Colonel Brandon ended up together?

For those of you who've seen the TV show House, did you recognize Hugh Laurie as the man behind the newspaper?    :-)

All opinions welcome!

 Emma Thompson: Elinor Dashwood
 Kate Winslet: Marianne Dashwood
 Hugh Grant: Edward Ferrars
 Alan Rickman: Colonel Brandon
 Greg Wise:   Willoughby
 Gemma Jones: Mrs. Dashwood
 Emilie Fran├žois: Margaret Dashwood
 James Fleet: John Dashwood
 Tom Wilkinson: Mr. Dashwood
 Harriet Walter: Fanny Dashwood
 Elizabeth Spriggs: Mrs. Jennings
 Robert Hardy: Sir John Middleton
 Imelda Staunton: Charlotte Jennings Palmer 
 Hugh Laurie: Mr. Palmer
 Imogen Stubbs: Lucy Steele

Friday, January 11, 2013

Uphill in the Snow, Both Ways

January sometimes seems rather bleak and quiet after the glitter of Christmas. Writers in nineteenth century England record that the weather then tended to be bright with frost, foggy, or snowy. Young ladies and gentlemen, forced indoors, might have been known to gaze out the window and sigh. Perhaps their moping even occasioned a scold from a parent on how to persevere. “Why, when I was a lad, I walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways!” Certainly the author of the January 1817 “The Naturalist’s Diary” in Time’s Telescope and Complete Almanac took great pains to describe the importance of snow in winter, as if trying to justify nature’s chill. Snow, he says, is good for growing vegetables:

“The great use of snow is to furnish a covering to the roots of vegetables, by which they are guarded from the influence of the atmospherical cold, and the internal heat of the earth is prevented from escaping. The internal parts of the earth are heated uniformly to the 48th degree of Fahrenheit’s thermometer. This degree of heat is greater than that in which the watery juices of vegetables freeze, and it is propagated from the inward parts of the earth to the surface, on which the vegetables grow.”

Note that this fact would not have been encouraging to the teens in my house. Perhaps wondering whether his own teens would feel the same way, he goes on to prove to them that winter in England is a great deal better than winter other places, such as Lapland, which, he says, has the following calendar:

“June 23. Snow melts.
July 1. Snow gone
July 9. Fields quite green
July 17. Plants at full growth.
July 25. Plants in full blow.
August 2. Fruits ripe
August 10 Plants shed their seeds
August 18. Snow.”

And, of course, there’s Russia:

“There is nothing more extraordinary in Russia (observes Dr. Clarke), than the transition of the seasons. The people of Moscow have no Spring: Winter vanishes and Summer is! This is not the work of a week, or of a day, but of one instant; and the manner of it exceeds belief. We came from Petersburgh [sic] to Moscow in sledges. The next day snow was gone. On the 8th of April, at mid-day, snow beat in at our carriage windows. On the same day, at sun set, arriving in Moscow, we had difficulty in being dragged through the mud to the commandant’s. The next morning the streets were dry, the double windows had been removed from the houses, the casements thrown open, all the carriages were upon wheels, and the balconies filled with spectators. Another day brought with it the warmth of summer."
So how does he recommend that young ladies and gentlemen spend their time in January? Spreading manure on the family fields, threshing the barley in the barn, felling trees, and going ice skating.

I think I’d try the ice skating, though not uphill, either way.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Janeian New Year

Well, it’s officially 2013 (and Happy New Year to you, friends!) and the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. I’ve been featuring some Jane Austen-related books in honor of the anniversary over the last few months and have more to discuss…but first, it was definitely a Jane Austen Christmas this year in the Doyle family, as several Jane Austen-related items were purchased as gifts for family members.

First, for my husband, who has reread Pride and Prejudice a scary number of times, the Pride and Prejudice Trivia Game!

I had to take it away from him before he read the cards and answered all the questions.

And this for my son, just for fun, from The Republic of Pemberley's CafePress store:

Lastly, there are a pair of Jane Austen-related books I want to tell you about today, one old and one just released. The newly released one, A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton, is just that: it discusses the social lives and dancing activities of both the author and her characters, along with enough general information to provide context for both. There is information on music and dance steps, of course, but also on what one wore, getting to and from the ball, ballroom etiquette, food and drink, public and private balls, and more.  Engagingly written and well supplemented with numerous illustrations and photographs; if you have the least interest in the topic, I highly recommend this book to you.

An old P&P-related favorite of mine came out some years ago, but is still definitely a goodie: Flirting with Pride and Prejudice, edited by Jennifer Crusie. It’s a light-hearted literary analysis by multiple authors, in the form of a compilation of short stories (fan fic, some of them), personal essays, brief but serious analyses, and original pieces that can’t be easily classified (Pride and Prejudice as a reality TV show was laugh-out-loud funny). It’s a great follow-up read to the original, for when you just can’t let go of Elizabeth and Darcy.

And speaking of Jane Austen…don’t forget that next week the cinematic Young Bluestockings will be gathering to discuss the 1995 release of Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant. Have you been able to watch it yet? Please come back next Tuesday and let us know what you thought of it!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mission Impossible: The Frost Fair

Some of my favorite Regency romances feature the Frost Fair of 1814. Every account I’d ever read talked about the fun, the frolic, the exorbitant prices . . . But recently, I read another account that painted an entirely different picture, with danger lurking around every corner. And it got me thinking . . . . So, I give you, Mission Impossible: The Frost Fair!

Picture this: You’re a young gentleman of the early nineteenth century, stuck in London on winter holiday. Can’t even get back to Hilary term the roads are so bad. Lord Siddon the Home Secretary has ordered all Road Commissioners to see what can be done. Snow is heaped so high in London that your parents had you up on the roof shoveling it off for fear it would crush the house. That only made the streets more impassible. Pipes have frozen, and the good leaders of the city have opened the plugs in the streets, pushing out a stream of constantly flowing water that immediately freezes!

You can hear the river, actually hear it, at the ebbing of the tide. Huge fragments of ice crash into each other with the sound of cannon fire. And then it happens. The Thames between Blackfriars and London Bridge freezes over. Thousands flock to the site. You want to go, but your parents forbid you to attend such a rabble.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get in to the Frost Fair and out again, without notice.

Sneaking out is surprisingly easy. The maids head for bed shortly after your parents, after all. And it’s not so hard to use your spending money to hire a hack and take you down to the shore. Of course, the watermen demand a fee, even when their boats can’t actually ply the waters, but swift payment, and you’re on the ice.

The place is amazing, a veritable fair on the river! Swings, dancing on a barge, skittles, while all around in the moonlight mountains of ice heave up, making it look as if you’ve traveled as far as the fjords of Norway.

You drink, probably more than your parents would like. You eat roasted beef and chestnuts. You’re having a perfectly wonderful time. And then you hear it. A soft report, like gunfire, then another, and another. And the mountain nearby seems to be moving, creeping slowly downstream. The ice is breaking!

A mad scramble ensues. Men, women, and children rush to the nearest shore, clawing at the ice that is moving faster and faster. You could make it. You excelled at sports at Eton. Even with the upheaval, it wouldn’t be so hard. But you see a young lady, cringing in the shadows, terrified to move. What’s a young gentleman to do?

[Cue music]

You rush to her, grab her by the hand, pull her toward the dancing barge, which is tilting precariously but obviously still afloat in a landscape that is becoming wetter every moment. You scramble aboard, trying not to notice the dainty display of ankle, and show her how to anchor her hands to a bulwark. All around you, the ice groans, shrieks, shoves, until the barge is born on the tide and heading downstream.


And so is everything else. Timber from the makeshift booths hurtles past. With a crash, the printing press disappears below the waters. Lights and fires are extinguished in the roaring waters. You hang on to the barge, and the lovely young lady, as the craft careens through the night.

Up ahead are the arches of Blackfriars Bridge, still illuminated from above. The tide is rising, pushing everything before it. Will you clear? You say a prayer, close your eyes, and with a sickening lurch, you strike a pier!

The ice batters the barge, demanding that it give way. The young lady turns to you, tears rolling down her face, asking for a kiss before she dies. You’d be more than happy to grant her last wish, only you’d rather prefer it wasn’t her last!

But what’s this? Something brushes your face. A rope! You look up and find faces peering down at you from the bridge. You can see mouths moving, hands gesturing, but you can’t understand them over the roar of the river. But you know what a rope is for. As another snakes down toward you, you knot the first around the brave young lass, who kisses you anyway even though it appears you both may be saved, then tie the second around your own middle. Then it’s haul and kick your way up the stones of Blackfriars to the top, where you’re hailed as a hero by all those standing along the bridge.

The young lady offers you her name along with her thanks, begs to know your name so she may sing your praises to her parents, who are dashing through the crowd. Any minute, some enterprising chap from one of the newssheets will be by as well. You tip your hat, which is somehow still miraculously on your head, promise to be in touch, and disappear into the night, calling down a hack and arriving home just as the maids are getting up to light the fires. Taking the back stairs to your room, you collapse on your bed.

Was it all a dream, you wonder when you wake the next morning? No indeed. For a complete account of the night the ice broke, see Charles Mackay’s The Thames and Its Tributaries, 1840. And for a better description of the wonders of the Frost Fair, see Marissa’s excellent post of a few years ago.

Oh, and one other thing. Happy birthday, Meryl Birn!