Friday, October 28, 2016

It Has a Ring to It

Oh, that precious ring, the one handed to our beloved in pledge of eternal devotion. While engagement and wedding rings are commonplace today, young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century generally only had a single ring, the band of gold for the wife only. However, I was surprised to find that the October 1810 issue of La Belle Assemblée, that arbiter of all things fashionable, had much to say about rings and the mindset of the day.

It was the custom at Rome, to send to the bride, before marriage, a present from the bridegroom of an iron ring, without any stone, to prove how long lasting, durable, and firm their union ought to be, and the frugality requisite to be observed in the married state, in order to provide for a family: but luxury soon gained ground; the old custom was abolished, and the iron rings gave place to those of more cash and expence.
Not sure how I’d feel about being given what amounts to a shackle. But there are certainly ladies who hold out for a diamond, the bigger the better.

The Roman knights were distinguished from the senators by their gold rings, and it was customary, as a mark of honour, to present ambassadors with them when they received orders from the senate to depart for foreign states. After the regal power was put aside in Rome, gold rings were worn as a sign of liberty; and Hannibal, when he had gained a signal victory, sent to Carthage a bushel of gold rings taken from off the fingers of the Roman nobles and knights who were slain in the field of battle.
Okay, TMI.

Though the first inhabitants of England, Ireland, and Scotland, and the ancient Gauls were accustomed to wear the wedding ring on the forefinger, the use, at last, prevailed amongst all nations, to place it on the next to the little one on the left hand, called the annulary finger; because, according to the opinion of the Egyptians, a small nerve runs from this finger to the heart.
You can see who’s taking the credit here, all mentions of Egyptians aside.

The piece goes on to talk about an old tradition of making sure the precious stones were set in such a way that the jewel itself touched the finger. The reason? Some jewels were supposed to possess virtues:

  • Diamond—preserves against poison and the plague, expels anger, and ensures victory
  • Ruby—banishes sorrow and averts ill thoughts
  • Amethyst—gains the wearer the favor of princes
  • Jacinth—fortifies the heart and preserves against thunder and lightning
  • Emerald—cures epileptic fits and renders harmless the bite of any venomous animal
  • Opal—preserves against infectious air and prevents fainting fits.

Queen Victoria’s oldest son Edward Albert (King Edward VII) had another idea about the purpose of wedding and engagement rings. The engagement ring he gave his bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, carried six precious stones: a beryl, an emerald, a ruby, a turquoise, a jacinth, and a second emerald. The initial letters of the gems spelled out his nickname: BERTIE.

Perhaps he should have consulted La Belle Assemblée.

All these reputed virtues, whether real or imaginary, serve to shew that the first wearing of rings had in it something holy, honourable, and talismanic: the small golden fetter which binds the wife to the husband, is now reckoned the most sacred of all. The mourning ring, for a departed and dearly valued friend, or relative, claims the next place; and though valuable rings are often given as pledges of love, respect, and amity, yet there are only two, the wedding and the mourning ring, which possess and retain, through every age, the symbolic solemnity of their first institution.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Accessories, Part 5: Fans

We’re back for another installment in our fashion series on NineteenTeen focusing not on dresses and gowns (gorgeous as they are) but on the little things that complete a fashionable ensemble—hats, shoes, gloves, purses, and other accessories.

Our accessory of the week is the fan, that indispensable and multi-purpose item in any upper class woman’s fashion arsenal. Fans were vastly useful: one could flirt with them (or use them to signal the profoundest disdain!), use them as a weapon, or even—shockingly—use them to cool one’s self down after a lively set of dances. Just as the reticule was mostly a daytime accessory, the fan is only seen in prints of evening, ball, and opera dresses

Look for lots of images rather than commentary, though I’ll try to supply original text if I have it—the point is to be able to examine multiple examples of each item. Images are drawn from my collection of prints from British publications including Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle Assemblée, The Lady’s Magazine, Phillips’ Fashions of London and Paris, and others. However, Ackermann’s had the most detailed plates, so the majority of images you’ll see will be from that publication.  These date from 1799-1821. 

Happy accessorizing!

London Full Dress, from Fashions of London and Paris, June 1799


Parisian Winter Dress, from La Belle Assemblee, March 1807

"white gloves and fan"  Half Dress, from Ackermann's Repository, February 1809

Evening or Opera Dresses, Ackermann's Repository, April 1810

"fan of silver-frosted crape"   Half Dress, Ackermann's Repository, November 1810

Evening Dresses, Ackermann's Repository, January 1811

Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, October 1811

Ball Dress, Ackermann's Repository, April 1812

Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, November 1812

"Fan of richly frosted silver crepe"  Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, December 1813

"Small ivory fan" Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, October 1818

Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, May 1820

Court Dress, Ackermann's Repository, July 1820

Evening Dress, Ackermann's Repository, January 1821

Hmm. Apart from variations in size, fans just weren't very interesting, it seems...or at least, not very colorful. Even when I have the dress description for a plate, mention isn't always made of what sort of fan the illustration depicts. That makes sense in some ways--one fan of ivory or frosted crape will go with many outfits. But it would seem to me that collecting different fans for different dresses would be half the fun--don't you agree?

As it happens, fans get much more interesting later in the 1820s, as we shall see in the next Accessories post...soon.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Redeeming the Irredeemable

I try not to read reviews. Positive ones set me aglow, but negative ones sink my spirit faster than a well-aimed torpedo. That’s why, when I was researching online and ran across this review for The Irredeemable Miss Renfield, one of my earlier books, my heart quailed.

“If Utterly Devoted is Regina Scott at her best, The Irredeemable Miss Renfield is Regina Scott at her worst.”


Now, I’d like to think that a writer grows with each book, so, theoretically, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild should be my worst book, as it was my first. Of course, I tweaked it before its recent reissue. But, based on that review, Irredeemable sounded, well, irredeemable.

I was determined that that would not be the case. I made myself look at what readers had said. Most people liked the hero, Leslie Petersborough, now Marquis of Hastings on the death of his father. I will admit Leslie was one of my favorites as well. No, most concerns seemed to center around my heroine, Cleopatra Renfield, and her wild plan to stop her stepsisters from interfering in her life by misbehaving.

You see, Cleo’s parents died when she was a youth, and her much older stepsisters packed her off to boarding school to learn to behave like a lady. Now, they are determined to marry her off. And Cleo is determined to stop them.

In the original version, Cleo thought that causing a scandal would stop all suitors from pursuing her. She seemed oblivious to the serious consequences that could arise for a young lady behaving in a shocking manner in Regency England. One reviewer called her “woefully naïve.”

No more. I firmed up Cleo’s backstory, showed why a young lady like her might be driven to such extremes. I didn’t shy away from the consequences, but I showed why the alternative, marriage to someone she despises, might be worse in Cleo’s eyes. I hope readers will see Cleo as spirited, brave, tremendously loyal to those she loves, and not so very naïve this time.

The Irredeemable Miss Renfield is now available for sale at fine retailers near you. I hope you find her thoroughly redeemed.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book-ish News

Taking a pause on the discussion of the further past to focus on news from the more recent past...and the future.

First, the recent past: this past weekend I was thrilled and delighted and very, very honored to win the Best Paranormal Romance Award for Skin Deep in the 2016 Golden Leaf Contest, sponsored by the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter of RWA. Here’s my pretty award (and a gold leaf pin)...but the best part was how I found out that Skin Deep had won.

At the awards ceremony held at NJRW’s annual conference, it’s the tradition for the wonderfully talented NJRW member Anne Walradt to read aloud a sample from each category’s winning book before the title is announced—and wow, can that woman read. So when it came time for the Paranormal category winner to be announced, I was completely taken aback—then blown away to hear my words so beautifully read. So a sincere thank you, NJRW, not only for the award but for Anne’s wonderful reading.

And in future news, I’m very happy to announce that my adult contemporary fantasy By Jove will be coming out in a new edition on February 7, 2017 from Book View Café. Stay tuned for details (the new cover is in the works!) over the next few months.

Okay, back to the past!

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Seemly Seamstress

File:GMoreno.Seamstress.jpgOh, I do love looking at Marissa’s fashion prints. And I admit to being a bit of a clothes horse. I can even use a sewing machine to good effect when needed. But I can only bow in admiration to the ladies who plied the needle in the nineteenth century.

You may see various terms for a seamstress. A lady with her own shop in Regency England, for example, might have been called a mantua-maker. Later, the lady was called a dressmaker. You would go to her, look through patterns, and be measured. She might have fabric, or, in some cases, you might bring your own. Once the dress had been pieced together, you might return for an additional fitting. Those with sufficient funds or who lived farther out from the city might pay for a lady to come to them for fittings.

File:The New Dressmaker, 1921, Ill. No. 0101.pngInside the dressmaker’s shop, several ladies might be employed, all hand sewing every inch of those gorgeous dresses Marissa has been sharing with us. Some were allowed to work from home, picking up projects and returning them as they finished. As a needle worker, you might start with simple things like interior seams or hemming and graduate to more fancy work like embroidery. The hours were long, pay not much, and some seamstresses had trouble with eyesight in later years from toiling over a lamp or candle long into the night. Even in pioneer Seattle, the newfangled sewing machines were rare.

Sometimes dressmakers branched out to other areas. Such must have been the case for Mrs. Libby and Steele, who announced in the December 3, 1866, Puget Sound Weekly that they had opened an establishment on Commercial Street in Seattle. They claimed to have millinery, dress making, and ladies furnishings, including bonnets, hats, hoopskirts, ribbons, trimmings, and flowers, along with plain and fancy sewing done to order. Ladies of Seattle and the vicinity were invited to call. Note that the way the words MRS is written in the ad, it is unclear whether it was two misters or two ladies.

Nora Underhill, the heroine of my upcoming book, A Convenient Christmas Wedding, is a seamstress, one of the first in pioneer Seattle. She hasn’t the funds to set up her own shop, but she convinces one of the general mercantiles to allow her to work out of a corner. The customers buy the fabric and notions from the store and come to her for items to be made up.

That is, until Nora decides to buy herself a husband. More on that in November. :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Newer Additions to My Collection: 1809

It’s been a while since I started doing (and finished up) regular Fashion Forecasts here...and one corollary of that is that I’ve since acquired a lot more prints for any given year. Since the last time we looked at fashions in the year 1809 was back in 2009, I thought I’d post some more prints from my collection...because, eye candy.


I do like the poses in a lot of these early Ackermanns. Doesn’t the young lady in this Dancing Dress (not Ball Dress, for some reason) look like she’s having fun? Note the shorter hemline, a feature of dresses intended for dancing in. (February 1809)

Also from February 1809, and noteworthy in that the model for this Half Dress was not a sylph-like sprite like those seen in Ackermanns from later years, but a woman of some substance.  Note the lace oversleeves and “Egyptian headdress” with a tassel falling on one shoulder.

Here’s an official Ball Dress: I love the fashion popular in these earlier years of over-dresses caught with ropes of pearls for closure...but what I love even more are her blue-striped slippers! (May 1809)

What a selection of Walking Dresses! The yellow one worn by the seated lady looks almost Renaissance-ish with those slashed sleeves...and her dainty little veiled hat is adorable. The standing figure looks right out of A&E’s Pride and Prejudice in that spencer and dress of muslin. And even the little girl’s dress is charming—if you look very carefully, you can just see that she appears to be wearing pantalettes. (June 1809)

Another figure of generous proportions for this Opera Dress...and what a delightfully insouciant pose! I’m also struck by just how baggy full-length kid gloves became after being worn for a bit—I’m afraid they would have driven me crazy. (July 1809)

I was very excited to finally acquire this plate of Mourning Dresses from September 1809; how odd to see a toddler in mourning (though she seems much more concerned with retrieving her doll!) Note the drawstring at Mom’s waist, and the delightful lions’ feet on the pedestal.

This print is full of visual delights, despite the mother’s curiously posed legs and feet (perhaps she’s a contortionist?): her Morning Dress buttons up the front of the bodice, and she’s wearing some kind of be-ruffled robe or pelisse over it. Note the fire-screen in the background...and my, that is one healthy-looking child! (November 1809)

I rather liked this Tyrolese Walking Dress from December, though more properly it’s the coat that's Tyrolese (it’s of shaded green, or drake's-neck velvet, lined throughout with amber sarsnet, and trimmed with gold or Chinese floss binding.) However, the hat is evidently English through and through: it’s described as an Amazonian helmet, composed of the same materials, ornamented with a patriotic band and and bow, towards one side; a curled ostrich feather, tipped with gold, on the other.
It’s a little hard to determine just what a patriotic band is—perhaps it’s striped like a Union Jack?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Four Things on a Friday

Things come across my virtual desk on a daily basis, and, from time to time, I think, “Oh, I must share!” So, in no particular order, here are four things you as a reader of stories set in the nineteenth century should probably know.

  1. Ever wonder what ladies with names like Albertina, Orilla, or Clementine actually went by in their day? Check out this article on historical nicknames for ladies.
  2. Ever wonder where “Rotten Row” might be or what was in Green Park? Read all about it in Kristen Koster’s primer on London parks during the Regency.
  3. Are you a fan of the incomparable Georgette Heyer, sometimes called the mother of the Regency romance? Three short stories not seen since the 1930s will soon be reissued. Be still my heart!
  4. Finally, you know how much I love sailing ships. Here’s a marvelous site dedicated to the world Patrick O’Brian built with his Aubrey/Maturin series (Master and Commander, anyone?). This page in particular has some fun nautical slang. 
Until next week, enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Nineteenth Century Bad Boys, Part 4: the Count d’Orsay

It’s been a while since we met a bad boy, isn’t it? I have to admit that I clapped my hand to my forehead when I realized that there was a perfectly splendid one that we’d missed—and yet, from all accounts, he was probably the nicest bad boy one could ever hope to meet. He’s also someone whose image you might well have seen before, without realizing his identity. And so, may I present to you Alfred Guillaume Gabriel Grimod d’Orsay, more commonly known as the Count d’Orsay.

Alfred was born in Paris in 1801, the son of a Bonapartist general and an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Württemberg. As such, he had a comfortable, privileged childhood, and as a youth was known for his charm and beauty—just about everyone who met him, including the other boys at his school, compared him to a Greek god.

The young d’Orsay followed in his papa’s footsteps and joined the army under the restored King Louis XVIII (though he remained a lifelong Bonapartist at heart). His looks and charm only improved with age, it seems, and to them he added being a faultless horseman and a ready (if sometimes impudent) conversationalist. So it was no surprise when he was asked to accompany the Duc de Guiche, his brother-in-law, as part of the official French delegation to London for Prinny’s coronation as King George IV. By all accounts, he took London by storm...and most especially, the Anglo-Irish Earl and Countess of Blessington.

Lord Blessington was a very wealthy, very enthusiastic collector of art and, it seems, people...and he was determined to collect d’Orsay. He and Lady B. left to travel on the continent the next year, and made a bee-line for Paris...and more or less acquired Alfred, who resigned from the army and joined their household as it traveled around the continent, including Italy (where they hung out with, among others, Lord Byron, who was much struck by d’Orsay and consented to be sketched by him—for as it turns out, Alfred was also a very talented artist and sculptor. The relationship among the Blessingtons and d’Orsay remains murky, though it is widely assumed that Lady Blessington and d’Orsay fell thoroughly in love. Which makes d’Orsay’s marriage in 1827 to Lord Blessington’s daughter by his first marriage kinda creepy...nor did the marriage last, as they legally separated in 1838.

Lord Blessington died in 1829, and Lady Blessington and d’Orsay returned to England and became host and hostess of one of the most brilliant literary and artistic salons of London: Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Benjamin Disraeli, and William Thackeray were all habitués (though not many women came, it should be noted, for Lady Blessington’s past was, shall we say, a shadowy one-- honestly, she deserves a biography of her own.) d’Orsay was as admired as he had been on his 1821sojourn: again, he was admired for his beauty, his talents, and his inherent kindness.

Through the 1830s and 1840s Lady B. and d’Orsay reigned over their literary, if raffish, salon...but neither were precisely known for their frugality, and the party came to an end in 1849 when d’Orsay went bankrupt. He moved to France, as all good bankrupt English nobility do, while Lady Blessington sold off her belongings in preparation to join him...but died shortly after arriving in Paris. Devastated, d’Orsay scraped along for a few years painting portraits and probably through the handouts of his enormous circle of friends, until one old friend in particular, now Emperor Napoleon III, offered him a job as the director of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1852. Unfortunately, he became ill just days after the appointment was announced, and died...and was sincerely mourned.

Now, I mentioned that you’ve probably seen a picture of d’Orsay without knowing it.  Are there any readers of The New Yorker out there? If so, you’ll recognize this fine fellow...but did you know he was based on an 1834 sketch of d’Orsay by Daniel Maclise?

I've had to leave out all sorts of fascinating detail...but if you'd like to know more about d'Orsay and his life and times (as well as the equally fascinating Lady Blessington), I highly recommend Nick Foulkes's marvelous biography Last of the Dandies: The Scandalous life and Escapades of Count d"Orsay.