Friday, February 21, 2020

A Tale of Writing Spaces

I love that laptops and tablets have made it easy to write anywhere. That wasn’t always the case. Jane Austen may have written some of her novels at a little table. Gentlemen might have a lap desk to carry with them when travelling and much larger desks at their homes. This lady philosopher is said to have gone into raptures after solving a knotty problem at her desk. 

Mine is a different tale. I didn’t have a desk at home growing up. We did our homework and wrote our papers on the kitchen table. I scribbled in notebooks and journals. Sometime in high school, I figured out how to take two particle-board bookcases, turn them side by side, put a plank across one end, and make my own desk. Surrounded by books, I typed stories on an ancient Remington that had belonged to my grandmother. My parents were convinced to purchase me an electric typewriter when I started college.

That funky little make-shift desk followed me from home to my first apartment to a better apartment in another part of the state. A slightly bigger version held the massive electronic typewriter that showed a full sentence at a time—imagine!—and then an actual word processor.

It wasn’t until my sons were in elementary school that my wonderful husband insisted on a real desk for me, oak, with a hutch over the top to store books and room for a printer as well as a computer. And we added three floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases to match. Oh, the luxury. My office grew from a corner of the bedroom to a bedroom of its own—first the smallest, then the mid-size as one son went off to college and finally the largest room when they both left home.

Five and a half years ago, we moved across the state to a smaller house and a fixer-upper at that. I took the smallest room for my office, but it is a very nice size with plenty of room for desk and bookcases. But immediately we ran into problems. My lovely bookcases wouldn’t fit through the door upright, and the turning radius was too narrow to allow them to be angled in, from any angle. We ended up bringing them in through the window, with a burly mover inside and out. They will not be moving until other burly movers appear.

Next, my floor plan was stymied by a defunct baseboard heater. It sticks out six inches from the wall under the window. We should have removed it before bringing in the furnishings, but there were those handy burly movers about. So, a second desk now presses up against it, and the floor plan mostly works.

The third problem we have yet to master. You see, the room used to belong to a teenager with a vivid imagination and an indulgent father. She painted two of the walls teal, two turquoise, and added random hot pink circles of various sizes wherever she fancied. And she painted all the wood trim and the defunct heater purple. (I did mention the house was a fixer-upper.) I fully intended to paint it (a nice Wedgwood blue, perhaps?), but I realized I would have to empty and re-position those bookcases again.

The décor is growing on me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Universal Advertising Sheet, Part 5

Let’s see what interesting shreds of personal and social history we can read about, courtesy this week of the Monthly Compendium of Literary, Fashionable, and Domestic Advertisements from the August 1810 edition of La Belle Assemblée...


JOHN FELL, sole inventor of the PORTABLE WIND-UP SHOWER BATHS, respectfully informs the Public that he has ready for Sale, a number of the above universally approved Machines, at his Warehouse, 161, High Holborn, near Broad-street. This invention has received, as it is undoubtedly entitled to, unlimited Patronage. There is a Moveable Cylinder, so admirably contrived as to furnish the utmost facility in filling, and afterwards by gradually elevating it, to produce a shock in such proportion as the feelings, age, or habits of Bathers may require. It is, moreover, made to take to pieces, and pack up most conveniently.—Price from Five to Seven Guineas.—N.B. J.F. is Inventor and Vender of the Corking Machines so much in present use.

Showers weren’t so much used for getting clean as they were for a sort of do-it-yourself  health treatment, rather like sea-bathing was done for curative, not recreational, purposes. Interestingly, when I went to look for more information on Mr. Fell, I found mention in 1887 of a John Fell and Co., suppliers of bath and lavatory valves and beer machines and bar fittings—which covers both his shower baths and the Corking Machines mentioned in the ad. 


The Clubs met with great success in the last Lottery at HORNSBY and Co.’s, Cornhill; part of the 20,000 l. sold by them, was divided among Thirteen jolly Watermen of St. Catherine’s; besides Shares in the Borough, and many other places in the Metropolis; and also at Liverpool, Bath, Chester, Taunton, Leith, and Deal—Many Clubs are now forming from Gravesend to Richmond, and every other place in the Kingdom; and additional £20,000 in the present Lottery, to be drawn October the 19th, creates a strong desire of adventuring.

Lotteries were quite the thing at this time, as Regina once posted about here...but I love the “Thirteen Jolly Watermen of St. Catherine’s” touch in this particular ad.

Rational, Pleasing, and useful.
No. 14, Tavistock-street, Covent Garden.
Greatly Enlarged.

The Public are respectfully informed, that valuable and expensive Works, in every class of Literature, are daily added to this Library; which now consists of sixty thousand Volumes of modern Publications, really valuable, useful, and entertaining.

Catalogues and Cards of the terms may be had on application at the Library.

Books were expensive to purchase outright; a typical three-volume novel could run upward of several guineas for a heavily illustrated tome. Enter the subscription library, where for a fee books could be borrowed before the free public library became a fixture of philanthropic giving later in the century.  Even small towns and villages could often boast of at least one small one, and London and other cities were rife with them, and advertised their wares we can see here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Enjoy the Day of Love!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ll be spending the evening with my favorite fellow. I have a candlelight dinner planned, ending in angel food cake and strawberries. I hope you have a chance to celebrate with those you love!

We’ve talked about Valentine’s Day in the nineteenth century a number of times, including here, here, here, and here. This year, I thought you might enjoy seeing some Valentines from the era. The one at the top is a lovely Kate Greenaway version. I think it's supposed to be depict medieval times, but aren't the dresses perfect for the Regency?

The one below is by Esther Howland, dating from about 1870. She truly had a knack.

This is from 1884. Such a demure young miss!

And this is certainly something, from 1862.

Oh, and one more Valentine, from me to you. The first book in my Lady Emily Capers, Secrets and Sensibilities, is on sale until the 21st for 99 cents. The boxed set of Secrets and Sensibilities, Art and Artifice, and a special short story not available elsewhere is two dollars off at $3.99.



Friday, February 7, 2020

In Which the Author Cobbles Together Tantalizing Snippets and Calls It a Blog Post

I have a cold. Not miserable. Yet. But I looked at what I had considered blogging about today and decided it was just too much to bear. Party for pity? Yes, please. One only. So, instead, I offer you some enticing tidbits sure to warm any fan of Regency-set fiction.

Author Regina Jeffers has an interesting post on her blog about letters during the Regency period, including information on franking (basically, using something to indicate you didn’t have to pay postage) and seals. 

Author Victoria Hinshaw has a fabulous post about Osterley Park on the Number One London blog. Osterley Park is the basis for Carrolton Park in Never Envy an Earl. The blog has awesome pictures!

And author Elaine Bach, on Caroline Warfield’s wonderful blog, shares the horrifying details about Regency-era medicine

I’m taking notes on that one. Book 3 of the Grace-by-the-Sea series features a hero who is the new spa physician. I found a great medical manual dating from the late 1700s, on Google Books. I can tell you, reading it is not for the faint of heart.

Makes a cold seem positively invigorating!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Fancy Mourning Dishabille, Of Course

Ah, La Belle Assemblée never fails to inform...and delight!

Behold this marvelous “invention” of Mrs. Bell in the January 1818 issue—a Fancy Mourning Dishabille!

The accompanying text reads “Morning slip of grey Merino crape, ornamented with black round the border in ranges of leaves; the slip made low, without sleeves, and worn over a cambric spencer, ornamented with fine muslin, embroidered at the edge with black, and finished at the throat with a triple ruff of muslin, tied in front with black love. Black sarsnet French apron, edged round with a newly invented trimming of black love. Cornette of fine muslin, crowned with a garland of black flowers. Black chamois slippers.

So... why mourning? A look at the date answers that: official mourning was still in effect for Princess Charlotte of Wales, Prinny’s daughter who died in childbirth the previous November. This dress moves into the half-mourning range, as the dress is of gray crepe rather than black and includes a white cambric undershirt, or spencer, and white muslin headdress.

And the “Fancy Dishabille” part? That title and the decorative apron suggest this was a dress to be worn “at home”...but not when one’s plans included giving the dog a bath and cleaning out the
lingerie drawer! Rather, it was for when one was expecting, say, friends and acquaintances to drop by—maybe to pay “thank you for your hospitality” calls after a dinner or party, as one did.

I’m intrigued by the references to the “ black love” trimming the French apron and the hat: it looks almost like a chenille trimming of some sort, or perhaps a pleated ribbon. The apron itself—I’m not sure what makes it French, but it’s certainly a fetching enough article. And the leaf decoration around the hem definitely presages the heavily decorated dress hems that were soon to be all the rage.

What do you think? Will this be your next lounging-about-at-home costume?