Friday, February 27, 2015

City Girl, Country Girl, 1866 Style

As you can probably guess by the pictures we post, Marissa and I are rather fascinated with the clothing our heroes and heroines might have worn in the nineteenth century. So as I began plotting my Frontier Bachelor series, I eagerly perused fashion pages from magazines dating from 1865 and 1866.  Those wide skirts, so different from the styles of the early 1800s, left lots of room for embellishment.  Take these beauties, for example:

But as I turned to writing the scenes, I quickly realized that the full-skirted gowns so prevalent in the magazines were simply impossible in the situations my heroines faced.  For example, try wearing any of these when traversing the narrow byways of a sailing ship. 

And where in a frontier cabin would you fit any of these little ensembles?  I think you’d struggle to even get one through the door! 

Then there’s the sleeping arrangements.  Some cabins had nothing more than an iron ladder reaching up to the sleeping loft.  You’d knock over half the furnishings and give your companions quite a view.

So what did ladies wear on the frontier?  Things that were far more practical.  Like this.

And this.

As you can see, my fashion expectations had to change when my East Coast heroines ventured West.  But for those of you back East today, particularly if you’ll be in New York City on Monday, March 2, stop by Lady Jane's Salon, New York's only monthly romance fiction reading series, where Marissa will be reading from By Jove. The Salon meets 7-9 pm at the wonderfully atmospheric Madame X, 94 W Houston Street.  Click here for more info. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: "Belle" in March!

Young Bluestockings are those shocking young persons who READ.  (Gasp!)  Yes, we are all of us bluestockings, and proud of it!

And sometimes, we branch out into the other arts, such as that delightful new invention known as "cinema."  (Some of us modern young creatures call it "the talkies" or even "the movies" -- for the figures on the screen do indeed talk and move!)

And sometimes, we Young Bluestockings all watch the same movie in the same month, and then come back to discuss it with our bluestocking friends here at NineteenTeen, while sipping virtual tea (or actual tea).  Well, it's that time again!   (Drumroll, please....)

Please join us one month from today, on Tuesday March 24, when we will discuss the lovely historical film "Belle"!  (It's available on DVD, Blu-Ray, instant video, and various streaming services).

An excellent time will be had by all.   

So please join us!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Can't Live Without Cant?

Marissa has shared some delightful posts on colorful language used in the early nineteenth century in her Such Language series.  (In case you missed them, I’ve provided all the links below).  Now author Stephen Hart has taken matters one step further by creating an online database of 18th century and Regency thieves’ cant. 

Thieves’ cant was slang developed among the criminal element, generally in the larger cities like London or Bristol. Some of it may have arisen to keep nosy types and the law from discovering what was what.  But, let’s face it, every trade has its own jargon, and the thieves were no different.  Jargon serves as shorthand, making conversation quicker.  It also tells us who is inside the group, and who isn’t. If you were a thief or someone who had to hang about with some, you needed to be able to talk like them or at least understand what they were saying. Surprisingly, the gentlemen of the upper orders were fascinated with the language and loved to throw in the slang among themselves as well.

Hart pulled language from several dictionaries or memoirs published between 1737 and 1819, including the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, with which Marissa is so amused.  He made various entries available online but also created a searchable database of terms.  Be warned, it can be addicting!  The left navigation bar on his site includes other databases from his research, such as London directories and clubs and taverns.

But if you’d like some of the most witty entries online about the so-called vulgar tongue, do check out Marissa’s posts.  I’ll be nuts upon myself if you don’t find it a great frisk.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Victoria’s Grandchildren: Victoria Melita

Princess Victoria Melita...such a pretty, euphonious name. Unfortunately, it was probably one of the only euphonious things in an often tumultuous life.

Victoria Melita, nicknamed “Ducky”, was born in 1876, the third child of Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, and his wife Marie, daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. She was also the younger sister of the future Queen Marie of Romania, whom we have already met. She was born while her father, Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, was stationed in Malta with the Royal Navy--hence the unusual second name. Unlike her sister Marie, Ducky seems to have been of a darker, more brooding, and often tempestuous temperament, but despite their differences, the sisters were close and would remain so throughout their lives...even when Marie was married off to Ferdinand of Romania in 1893 at 17.

Marriage for Ducky was not far behind. Queen Victoria had already decided that this grand-daughter would make the perfect wife for another of her grandchildren, Ernest, the new Grand Duke of Hesse and son of her daughter Princess Alice. Although Ernest and Ducky were great chums, Ducky had already fallen hard for another cousin, Grand Duke Kirill of Russia...but neither her grandmother or mother would hear of such a match...and though Ducky’s mother was not in favor, the wedding took place in 1894, an event almost overshadowed by the announcement of the engagement of the groom’s sister, Alix, to Nicholas of Russia.

Unfortunately, the marriage was doomed from the start. Ernest was homosexual, and though Ducky gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, before their first anniversary, they quickly arranged to live as much apart from each other as possible. A visit to Russia in 1896 for Alix and Nicholas’ coronation threw her back into the company of Grand Duke Kirill...and the pair fell in love. Although Ducky desperately wanted a divorce, her grandmother wouldn’t hear of it...and so Ducky and Ernest lived unhappily, occasionally attempting to reconcile, until the old Queen’s death in January 1901. By December, the pair had divorced, to the shock and horror of the royal families of Europe.

Ducky lived quietly with her mother for the next few years, but Kirill was never far from her mind...and in 1905, they married quietly in Germany, much to the fury of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia (who, after all, was Ernest’s sister). Kirill was stripped of his imperial allowance and naval titles, and the couple went to live quietly in Paris. Only in 1910, when Kirill became third in line to the Russian throne, were they allowed to come back to Russia.

The new Grand Duchess took to her new life until revolution ended the monarchy in 1917. Ducky and Kirill and their children, including a newborn son, managed to flee to Finland, then after the end of WWI, to Germany. Now the pretenders to the defunct Russian throne, they remained in Germany until the mid-twenties, then settled in France, where they lived a very ordinary life, playing golf and bridge with their neighbors, while still insisting on being referred to as Tsar and Tsarina. Ducky died in 1936 after a stroke, and Kirill followed in 1938. Their descendents still to this day still claim their imperial titles.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Valentine’s Day Present for Romance Lovers

I've been trying to find the perfect Valentine’s Day present for my husband, and he’s tiptoeing around as if he’s trying to do the same for me. As we've discussed here, here, here, and here, Valentine’s Day was very popular in the early nineteenth century, both in England and America.  And as a writer of romance novels, it ranks pretty high as a holiday for me as well.  But I have another reason to celebrate this Valentine’s Day.  This week saw the publication of a very special anthology, with one of my stories included.

Premiere is the first anthology from Romance Writers of America to showcase the diversity of the romance genre.  My story, set at Christmas in Regency England, represents inspirational romances.  Stories by Sabrina Jeffries and Courtney Milan are also set in nineteenth century England and represent historical romance.  Additional stories cover contemporary, romantic suspense, paranormal, erotica, and LGBT, among other subgenres. 

The stories are all built around the theme of “wrong number.”  My story, “A Light in the Darkness,” is based on that horror for Regency hostesses, wrong number at table.  It was considered the very worse faux pas to have an uneven number of ladies and gentlemen at a dinner party. That mistake ends up reuniting two lost lovers.  Can the light of Christmas guide them back to each other?

Here’s an excerpt:


With Harriet safely caught up in conversation, Ellie could focus on Percy.  How easily time slipped backward.  From the day they’d met, there was nothing they could not share, except the love for war.  They both preferred their books to be rousing romantic adventures, their politics verging toward Whig, and their faith in the Lord to lead them.  Now they shared as easily, their lives since they had parted, the activities of old friends, the loss of loved ones, his mother and her father.

Conversing with Percy was unlike talking with anyone else.  He gave her his full attention, leaning toward her, smile playing about his lips, gaze intend on hers.  He was quick to laugh at her jests, could be counted on to nod approval to her heartfelt choices.  He was always ready to ride to the rescue should she need him but equally willing to let her solve the matter to her own satisfaction.  Just sitting beside him made breath and thought come easier.

Yet when he shared his stories about life with Wellington, she heard something behind the words, saw it in the shadow that crossed his face.  There was tension in him, like a spring never released.  She could only wonder at its source.

Somewhere in the world beyond the glow of Percy’s smile came the tolling of church bells.  Percy rose and drew back the drapes as his sister and the others gathered around.  Through the wreath that hung against the glass, starlight brightened the countryside.  In the distance, squares of colored light showed where the village church was preparing to celebrate services.

“It’s midnight,” Amelia said with the delicious shiver of a child anticipating sweets.  She stood on tiptoe and pecked her husband on the cheek.  “Happy Christmas, my love.”

He wrapped an arm about her waist.  “Happy Christmas, dear.”

Even Harriet and Edmund reached for each other’s hand and stood a moment gazing out at the night, where a single star shown brighter than any other.

Warmer was the way Percy gazed at Ellie. 


Premiere is currently available in e-book, print, and audio versions.  Learn more on the Romance Writers of America website

It just might be the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for romance lovers.  Hm, maybe I should tell my husband.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Regency Fabrics, Part 3

What was up with fabrics in June 1809? Let’s have a look! As I did in the first post on Regency fabrics, I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like.

Three fabrics are up for June...

The large pattern No. 1 and 2 is a new cotton for furniture called the Oriental Pink. The novelty of this article does not consist in the design, but in the pink dye, which it has been the aim of the manufacturer to render fixed and permanent, so that it may be washed without be liable to fade. The endeavours of both foreign and native chemists and manufacturers to accomplish this desirable object, with respect to reds and pinks in particular, are well known. We are happy to observe, that in this instance Mr. Allen has completely succeeded; the greatest variety of designs of this pink are now on sale at his extensive private ware-rooms, 61, Pall-Mall.

My comments: Ermegerd, PINK POLKA DOTS! Mr. Allen certainly got his color right, because this is indeed a glorious candy pink. The fabric finish is very smooth and perhaps has a very light glaze to it, like a very light-weight chintz.

No. 3 is a lilac spotted gossamer, very fashionable for full dresses, and furnished by Messrs. Coopers, silk-mercers to his Majesty, 28, Pall-Mall.

My comments: Another dress fabric that would require an underdress, as the weave is very open...and like the lilac fabric from May 1809's post, the color is more pinkish than purplish. In texture it's a little stiffer than the gauze from May.

No. 4 is a white and green coral-figured silk, much worn for mantles and pelisses. Though we in general protest against green for ladies’ wear, yet when sparingly displayed on a white ground, it produces a shade that will suit many complexions. But our ideas on this subject have already been developed in the general observations on Ladies’ Fashions, to which we beg leave to refer our fair readers. 

My comments: Now this is gorgeous stuff!  The color comes across as more light aqua than a true green, and the coral pattern is lovely. The fabric has a subtle, handsome sheen to it and a beautiful, delicate hand; though light in weight, it has a substantial feel and would drape elegantly. The caution against ladies wearing green reminds me of Georgette Heyer's Cotillion, in which the hero Freddy, a very fashion-conscious young man, constantly complains about his sister's inerringly bad eye for color.

And for somethng completely different...for any readers in eastern Massachusetts, I'll be doing a Craft Chat tonight on writing Romance at The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA at 7:30 pm--fortunately between this past storm and the next one on Thursday!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Move Over Ackermann’s: Godey’s Lady’s Magazine Has It Going On

Marissa’s collection of fashion plates from Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle AssemblĂ©e, and Phillips’ Fashion are enough to make any history-loving lady swoon.  But as my stories moved from early nineteenth century England to mid-nineteenth century America, I discovered another publication that was the go-to magazine for the fashion-conscious young lady:  Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Godey’s was the brainchild of Louis A. Godey, who saw the growing need for a magazine tailored specifically to the lady of the house.  He hired a female editor, Sarah J. Hale, herself an author (often remembered for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), who also ensured the rest of the staff was predominantly female.  In fact, Godey boasted at having a corps of 150 female colorers who hand-tinted the fashion plates that started every issue.

Godey’s started out by carrying articles from British women’s magazines.  In fact, the magazine had its own reporter simply to chronicle royal activities across the Pond.  Though Sarah Hale (the young woman on the left) was purportedly a huge fan of Queen Victoria, she wanted more of an American angle for the magazine.  She was also a staunch supporter of women’s rights, believing that women must be redeemed from their inferior position and placed as an equal help-mate to man in every way. 

She therefore commissioned articles, essays, stories, and poetry from American writers including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also contributed.  Articles covered health and science, crafts, dancing, horseback riding, home decorating, hairstyles and fashion, and recipes.  Every issue included two pages of new sheet music for the pianoforte.  And women paid for the privilege of reading it.  Subscriptions ran at three dollars a year when other popular magazines of the time were only two dollars. 

Despite its broad coverage, Godey’s steered clear of politics.  The Civil War was never mentioned in its pages.  One source I consulted claimed that readership was cut by a third from its high of 150,000 subscribers during the war, implying that it was because of Godey’s non-political stance.  I’m more inclined to believe that the magazine’s subscriptions fell during that time because women were counting pennies as husbands and fathers went off to war.  Regardless, Godey’s popularity led it to become a major force in America.  The magazine is credited with popularizing a white wedding in America (after Victoria did so in England), the use of a Christmas tree to crown that celebration, and the creation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Godey and Hale died within 5 months of each other (Godey in 1878 and Hale 1879).  The magazine continued on until 1898 when the next owner passed away.

But the literary legacy of Godey’s crossed the plains and helped settle the West.  Beth Wallin, the younger sister of my hero Drew in Would-Be Wilderness Wife, was a particular devotee.  And now you know why.

So what about you?  Do you think you'd be an all-American Godey's girl or an Anglophile for Ackermann's?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Almack’s Again: The Marriage Mart

Somewhat to my be- musement, I’ve found myself writing a series of novellas set around that Regency institution, Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Modern readers can certainly understand how Almack’s was the place to be, the most exclusive of exclusive social venues, because that concept is timeless...but there’s one aspect of Almack’s we haven’t discussed before, and I thought it might be interesting to do so.

Almack’s was nicknamed ‘the Marriage Mart’ because it was the place for aristocratic young women and young men (or not so young ones) to go to look over the season’s marital prospects. It was Almack’s very exclusiveness that made it attractive for spouse-shopping: if only persons of a certain social class were allowed within its precincts, then by definition anyone there could be considered “safe” as a potential marriage partner. Watchful parents could relax, knowng that their romantically–minded daughters would not be solicited for the next dance by a shop-clerk or a nouveau-riche City merchant; men would not find their eyes and their fancies caught by an attractive but unsuitable young woman who dropped her aitches and didn’t know how to properly address a duchess or arrange seating at a dinner party.

Sounds kind of...well, cold, doesn’t it? Yes, absolutely, by modern standards of courtship and marriage. But the early 19th century was in flux as far as what marriage was all about.

Up until the rise of Romanticism in the 18th century, marriage was as much a financial transaction as it was about finding a husband or wife...and the wealthier the families, the truer this was. Families considered what other families they wanted to ally themselves with through the marriages of their sons and daughters for reasons of outright monetary gain as well as for less tangible but still enormously important assets like social, economic or political influence. You might decide that you wanted your son to marry the daughter of a family whose political support you sought for your career, or who might bring as part of her dowry land or other assets you coveted. And while you made some attempt to make sure the new couple would be compatible...well, that wasn’t necessarily the first consideration. But as the concept of marrying for companionship and love took hold, it fought for a while with the older view of marriage...and Almack’s was a prime example of that uneasy compromise.

It’s also hard sometimes for Americans to wrap their heads around just how class conscious England was (and still is, to a degree.) We’ve discussed that fact before—just how separately the different social classes lived their lives and the difficulty of moving from one class to another when it dictated everything about you, from how you moved and spoke to your education and expectations in life. Now, think of how that might come into play when looking for a husband or wife...and once again, Almack’s begins to be much more understandable, if not, by our standards, admirable. It’s not so surprising that Almack’s importance faded as class barriers became more fluid with the rise of the middle classes, and by the late 1830s, it had lost almost all its old cachet—not forgotten, but also, for many reasons, not mourned.