Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion, Complete with Presents

This week I had the delight of touring our state’s Governor’s Mansion, which was all decked out for Christmas. The State Trooper who greeted us had us turn off our cellphones and warned us that absolutely no pictures were allowed inside the mansion. But when I explained to the docents that I write historical fiction, they graciously granted me the right to photograph a few of the wonders inside this beautiful brick mansion.

The Washington State Governor’s Mansion was built in 1908. However, because it was built in the Georgian Revival style, it closely resembles homes our beloved nineteenth century characters would have inhabited. The grand entry hall has a sweeping stair with a grandfather clock dating from the late 18th century. To the right is the withdrawing room. Behind it is a room that was once the breakfast room but is now a library. (I caught myself wondering whether they’d accept one of my Seattle stories for the collection. 😊) On the left of the entry hall is the dining room, with a polished wood table that seats twelve easily. Next to it is the ballroom. That was the other room where I was allowed to photograph.

Interesting thing about the ballroom. It has never hosted a ball, because it is too small! However, it has a wonderful alcove above for a trio to play, and musicians have used it for other events. Also interesting is the color scheme throughout the house: green for the forests of Western Washington and gold for the wheat fields of Eastern Washington. Lighting throughout is by gorgeous crystal chandeliers. This one and its sisters in the ballroom are original to the house.

The other treat for me besides being able to photograph things was a chance to sit on a real horsehair sofa dating from the nineteenth century. Surprisingly firm! All in all, the visit ended up being a wonderful Christmas present.

And speaking of presents….

Here are a few for you to enjoy:

Dressing a Regency Cavalry Officer. Such a dashing fellow!

Love this Regency ball. I have a hunch more looked like this than the well-practiced ones we see in the movies. 😊

Wonderful photoshoot at a Regency-era home.

Marissa and I will be taking off most of the next two weeks to spend time with family and friends but look for a post from me on January 3 to kickoff the New Year. Until then, Happy Christmas and a very joyous New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

History Geek Christmas Wishlist, 2019

My goodness. By some fortuitous stroke, the publishing world has released a slew of books this fall that are setting the heart of this history geek to going pitter-pat. If you too happen to proudly claim the history geek moniker, it might not be too late to ask Santa to make some of these appear under your tree.

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson

Just released in November from Yale University Press, this is a look at the clothes worn by all classes, male and female, during the “long Regency”, 1795-1825. It’s lavishly illustrated with formal portraits, fashion plates, amateur sketches and drawings of the era, and photos of extant examples. Awesome book; I already got a copy (yay for Barnes and Noble coupons!) and I’m making myself wait till the day after Christmas to dive in, because I know I will be totally engrossed.

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

Published in April, here’s another broad overview of the history and culture of the Regency in England (covering the actual Regency years, 1811-1820). There have been a few of these published in the last five years or so; reviews are generally good, but I haven’t yet had a look at it. Anyone?

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England by Rory Muir

I’m very much looking forward to reading this one. Fiction is full of dashing young noblemen who will one day (or already have) inherited their family titles, wealth, and properties...but what happened to their younger brothers who might receive a small inheritance (perhaps from their mothers) but who, overall, usually had to make their own ways in the world? From the book’s description: “If they were to remain ‘gentlemen’, only a few options, such as joining the Church or the army, were available to them. Each of these careers had its own attractions, drawbacks and peculiarities, and Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune is the first exploration of the lifestyle and prospects afforded by these different professions.”

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

I love me a good graphic novel...and even more, I love me a good, funny, Regency-set graphic novel featuring a vampire-hunting Lord Byron and a motley fellowship including an adventure-hungry young debutante and a mysterious bounty hunter and their increasingly outlandish escapades. This one I may crack on Christmas night, after the dishes are in the dishwasher and the leftovers tucked away in the fridge.

How about you? Any good history geekish books you’ve got on your wishlist?

Have the happiest of holidays, dear readers!

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Gorge White House

No, that title is not political commentary. I had the delight of touring the Hood River country in Oregon this fall. The driving route, which starts in the Columbia River Gorge and follows the Hood River up the valley, is called the Fruit Loop, because it circles around family-owned orchards and farms that sustain generations. There are delicious tasting opportunities all along the way. And one house that stood out.

The Gorge White House is a 1910 farmhouse. From the front porch, you can see Mt. Hood. From the backyard, you can see Mt. Adams across the Columbia River in Washington. It was originally built by Martin Hill, who went by his initials, M.M. M.M bought 50 acres of land in the Hood River Valley and promised his wife he would build her the finest house in the valley. He made good on his promise. His daughter sold the house to the grandparents of the current owner in 1947.

The house is Dutch Colonial Revival. You can see the gambrel roof and balconies. The leaded glass windows still remain. While the interior wasn’t open for visitors the day we toured the area, here’s how the owners describe it:

“The interior main salon has original quarter-sawn white oak columns, coffered ceilings, floors, staircase, newel posts, doors, windows, moldings and baseboards are original in finish, patina and materials.”

The Gorge White House farm offers three kinds of pears, some heirloom apple varieties, and gorgeous flowers such as daffodils and tulips in the spring and dahlias in the summer through fall. They also grow five kinds of blueberries, three kinds of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries and stock local wines in their winery. One son, Jack Kennedy, an internationally trained chef, cooks up some amazing food at his “food cart” across the courtyard from the winery. It was absolutely delicious!

You can learn more about the family-run Gorge White House and working farm here.

And speaking of families, I was delighted to learn that His Frontier Christmas Family (2017) is now available as a large-print hardcover volume. You can find it on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

From My Collection, Part 2

I’ve been an inveterate haunter of antique stores and junk shops since my teens, because...well...old stuff! I love antique china and glassware and jewelry as well as fashion prints and dance cards, and make time at least once a month to check out my local consignment shops.

Last month, I hit the jackpot.

This delightful miniature of a young man (what do you think? I put him at about age 18 or 20) measures 2 ½ inches inches long by 2 inches wide. It looks to be painted on ivory; there’s a bit of damaged paint around the edges and on on his shirtfront. The craftsmanship is good but the style to me feels perhaps a little naive; it’s possible to see in he close-up at right where the lower contours of the face were corrected, evidently having initially been painted in too full. Notice the delicate points of his shirt just peeping above his stock; no dandy, this lad!

The case appears to be brass, well made with a fine rope detail around the face. What is interesting is the back of the case: there’s another smaller framed opening, in which there’s a scrap of black cloth; of course, I immediately started speculating on why it’s there (was it from the young man’s coat, maybe? Snipped off by a sweetheart, or saved by a doting mother or sister?)

Alas, there is no identification accompanying the piece. Based on the clothing (the high lapels and sloping shoulders of his coat, the black stock rather than a cravat) and hairstyle, my guess is that this miniature is from some time later in the 1820s to perhaps a year or two into the 1830s. Again, stories begin to well up as I look at it: was this perhaps a young man about to leave for university to study for the church (those modest shirt points again) painted for a doting parent? Was it (sorry to be a downer) painted after his untimely death, as his image has a certain air of fragility about it (plus that scrap of cloth...was that white stain left by tears?)

What do you think?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Nineteenth Century Wish List, 2019 Edition

I’m getting close to finishing my Christmas shopping, but I’m hoping those shopping for me are thinking about gifts for lovers of the nineteenth century. Here’s a few that might make your list too:

Some wonderful Pride and Peppermint tea, complete with bookmark.

Just how foxy do you prefer your Regency dandy? Perhaps this foxy.

Or perhaps a Regency alphabet book: A is for Almack’s. Why yes, yes, it is.

A lovely necklace reminiscent of the Regency period, and at Kohl’s no less.

Proud to show your love of Jane Austen even on chilly days? Try this sweatshirt.

And, until December 12, you will find the first book in my Marvelous Munroes series for free at major retailers. Not an e-book fan? My True Love Gave to Me is also back in print for the first time in 20 years. You might mention that to your library.

Genevieve Munroe is determined to give her newly impoverished family one last happy Christmas, including making peace with their long-time rivals, the Pentercasts. Then the handsome oldest son Alan proposes a wager: if he can give her all the gifts from the Twelve Days of Christmas song, she must marry him.

Alan’s wild gambit is intended to win Gen’s heart. After all, no Munroe would ever marry a Pentercast. But perhaps the joy of Christmas can open her eyes to the man behind the wager, a man determined to turn the twelve days of Christmas into a lifetime of love.

Best wishes on your holiday shopping success!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Retro Blast: Let There Be Light

Life, alas, has not been easy this week; those of you who have elderly parents and are involved in their care know that sometimes everything else needs to be laid aside. All I can do is offer my apologies, beg your indulgence, and promise to return next week with more of the usual. In the meanwhile, may I offer a blast from the past, appropriate in these days of early evening-fall?

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It’s early evening as I write this and getting a little dim in my just now I leaned forward and with a small movement of my hand turned on the lamp on my desk. Lovely, clear light now floods this part of the room, strong enough to read by several feet away. Electricity—it’s a beautiful thing. Had this been 1813 rather than 2013, I would have had to do a great deal more to achieve this amount of light.

 In the early 19th century, light came from fire. Period. That fire might flicker and bounce at the end of a candle—perhaps a tallow candle made from sheep or beef fat, which tended to smoke and sputter, could lend an odor of eau de barnyard to a room, and not give forth very much light. Tallow candles required snuffing—that is, their wicks had to periodically be trimmed as the candles burned in order for the candle to burn properly—with snuffers, which looked like an odd pair of scissors (see image above).

Or it might shine from a more expensive beeswax candle and provide a much steadier, longer-lasting light that didn’t require snuffing and smelled much more pleasant than a sheepy tallow candle.

Candles might sit in holders on a table or desk, singly or in many-branched candelabras. Or they might be in sconces attached to the wall, perhaps with a plate of polished metal or a mirror to reflect and increase the light they gave. Or they might perch in a chandelier (from the French word for candle) and give light from above...but alas, also drip on people and objects below them.

However, candles were expensive and heavily taxed—one pence a pound for tallow candles, 3 ½ pence a pound for beeswax. So for the very poorest, their light might come from rushlights—basically a rush (a marsh plant) dipped in drippings or some other greasy substance—that could be made for free, but didn’t provide much illumination.

Or the fire that was giving you light might come from an oil lamp, in its most basic form consisting of a chamber to hold some type of oil and a wick that served to draw up the oil and burn...but by the 19th century had grown fairly sophisticated, with special holders to lengthen and shorten the wick and so provide more or less light. Plant oils like olive oil and palm oil might be used, but whale oil was probably the most popular oil for lighting—not only in houses, but in businesses, theaters, and on the streets, where lamplighters made their rounds every evening and morning to light and then extinguish streetlamps.