Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Treasures from the Past

Used bookstores. Is there anything better than an afternoon spent hunting through the shelves and stacks in one? As delightful as a new bookstore is, visiting a used bookstore is a trip into unknown, mysterious waters: who knows what treasures might be found on the shelves?

One treasure I found in a used bookstore (and I can’t even remember which one, now) several years ago is Maud, edited by Richard Lee Strout and published in 1938. It’s the diary of a Miss Isabella Maud Rittenhouse (who generally used her middle name), a comfortably middle-class young lady from Cairo, Illinois, down at the very bottom of the state where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet (which made for a very watery city—it did, and still does, flood regularly.) She kept it between 1881, when she was sixteen and a junior in high school, to just before her marriage in 1895 at age thirty. And oh, what a diary!

Maud paints herself as small and ugly, but she was evidently extraordinarily charming, based on the number of friends and admirers she had. She was also quite energetic, and not only went to art school in St. Louis, but also maintained an art studio, acted and sang in local amateur theater, and became a frequent contributor of stories and articles to national magazines.

Her writing talent is clear in her amazing diary. Some entries run thousands of words long and describe outings to New Orleans and the Chicago Worlds’ Fair, or boating on the spring floods, or the dresses she makes and the china she paints, or the people who come to life from her pen. The prose has a remarkably fresh, modern, alive feel to it, even as the people and events it describes are very 19th century. What's most remarkable, though, is that the story of her younger years actually has a plot: she has many beaus and suitors and falls in love several times, but keeps coming back to one young man to whom she doesn't feel much connection but respects enormously for his integrity and honesty...until mere weeks before their wedding, it's revealed that he has embezzled thousands of dollars from his former employer. Poor Maud is devastated but meets a new sweetheart and becomes engaged...until her new fiancĂ© breaks the engagement. Five year later, he proposes again...and this time Maud and her handsome doctor get to live happily ever after.

I see that used copies are available online (check Abebooks, for one, and eBay.) If you should ever run across a copy at your favorite used bookstore, I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What a Circus!

Many Regency romances, my own included, mention Astley’s Amphitheatre as a place where equestrian feats could be enjoyed. But there was another theatre that rivaled it for a time, a theatre that could not quite make up its mind what it wanted to be.

South of London's Blackfriar’s Bridge, on Great Surry Street stood the Royal Circus and Equestrian Philharmonic Academy. Opened in 1782, burned down in 1806 and rebuilt, the Royal Circus was initially a collaboration between Charles Didbin, who wrote plays, songs, and pantomimes, and Charles Hughes, a trick rider who had trained under Philip Astley and became his chief rival. Besides a variety of animal acts, they hired children to perform in various plays and musical numbers Didbin created. Didbin dreamed of the place being a training ground for young actors.

Unfortunately, the theatre didn’t do as well as he’d hoped. In 1809, new management converted it to a theatre proper, the Surrey Theatre. In the picture you can see that the arena for the horses has been opened to a form of standing pit for patrons, though the ground still appears to be dirt to me. Good thing, too, for  another change in management saw the theatre converted back to a circus in 1814, a format it kept until 1827.

But just south of the Royal Circus on Great Surry Street was another. St. George’s Circus was one of London’s first traffic circles or roundabouts as they call them in my neck of the woods. Built in 1771, the center featured an obelisk with four oil lamps. It was inscribed to King George and marked the distances to key landmarks such as Palace Yard, London Bridge, and Fleet Street. Though it was removed at one point late in the 19th century, it has now been returned (without its lamps).

So, you can still go to the circus south of Blackfriar's Bride, if you like.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Such Language, Part 29

Our next installment of 19th century slanguage from that veritable bible of colorful cant, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Have fun!

Gallows bird: A thief, or pickpocket; also one that associates with them. My brother’s new friends that he met at the prize-fight last week are quite the collection of gallows-birds.

Ralph Spooner: A fool. Papa told him not to be such a Ralph Spooner and stop going about with them, but when has my brother ever listened?

Dished up: To be totally ruined. I fear that if he persists in seeking their company, he’ll be dished up in no time.

All the kick: in fashion. Apricot-colored neck ruffs may be all the kick right now, but they make me look alarmingly liverish.

Cannister: The head.  I haven’t the faintest idea how Lord Creepey got it into his cannister that I’ll dance with him at Almack’s tonight.

Sherry off: to run away. In fact, I’ll cheerfully sherry off first.

Thornback: An old maid. Indeed, I’d much prefer to be a thornback to encouraging his suit.


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Celebrating The Governess’s Earl and Timeless Love Giveaway

A new book is always reason to celebrate at my house, and particularly because The Governess’s Earl, the fourth book in my Grace-by-the-Sea series, was nominated for a Swoony Award on Goodreads within days of release. The Swoonies are a Reader’s Choice Award recognizing excellence in sweet, secular romance. I may swoon!

Rejected by the man she loved, quick-witted bluestocking Rosemary Denby is determined to win the position of governess to the temperamental Lady Miranda, daughter of the Earl of Howland. Surely helping another young lady find the joy in learning is just what she needs to regain her confidence.

Drake, Earl of Howland, is struggling to find his footing as a widowed father, new earl, and suddenly penniless owner of the castle near the cozy spa village of Grace-by-the-Sea. But the new governess has him even more off balance. He loved once and saw his wife die in childbirth. The more he learns about Rosemary, the more he begins to wonder whether he can open his heart again. As danger once more draws closer to the castle on the headland, he and Rosemary must work together to keep the village and his daughter safe. Could his bluestocking governess be the one to teach him a lesson, in love?

You can find the book in print and e-book at fine online retailers like



Barnes and Noble 

Apple Books 


Another reason to celebrate is a giveaway taking place between February 1 and 15—multiple winners will win a print copy of 18 romance novels crossing the ages, including The Governess’s Earl, and books by Karen Witemeyer, Laura Franz, Rachel Fordham, and Jen Turano. Enter here and join the celebration.