Thursday, 30 December 2010

Kindle - a bonfire of this week's Kindling

My first four days of Kindling has been most interesting. As I mentioned in my last post, I find that the stuff I am downloading to Kindle is a complement to my print library not a replacement.

That book in many's eyes doth share the glory, that in gold clasps locks in the golden story
The one exception is a book which has long been lingering on my amazon wish list - The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson by the notorious Harriette Wilson. I was about to purchase the new (print) edition of this, when I found the original as a free downloadable ebook on the Internet Archive In some respects it's a disappointing version. Whatever software was used to scan the text into a digital format has scrambled some of the words. Where 'rn' is written, for example, it is consistently read as 'm'. The Marquess of Lorne (or Duke of Argyll) is therefore presented as Lome throughout the book. Luckily I'm familiar with most of the names she mentioned, so this doesn't bother me too much - but it was jarring for the first few pages. Pretty soon however, I stopped noticing it entirely. Harriette's voice is so fresh and funny that she has me caught up in her world before I realised what was happening. She is irreverent, tongue in cheek and contemporary in a way I would not have believed possible. It is absolutely fascinating. I am just at the start of her adventures, but I want more. Thank heavens to those gentlemen who, like Wellington, declared "Publish or be damned!" If they had all acquiesced to her blackmail demands, we would not be in the possession of such a wickedly amusing record of regency London's gentlemen.

The other book I am halfway through is Stephen King's On Writing. I would never have thought that a guide to writing could be so enthralling (though when I think about it, it stands to reason that it should be so). It's as much a gripping autobiography as it is an treatise on creative writing. I love it - it is completely unputdownable.

So that is a 5/5 rating for the two autobiographies so far, if typos are to be ignored.

I also downloaded and rapidly hoovered up Mary Jo Putney's The Wild Child - in fact it has the distinction of being the very first novel to make its way onto my Kindle. I am a latecomer to Ms Putney's work, but a big fan. I was pretty much blown away by the richness of her Silk series, especially Veils of Silk, which I loved. I didn't think the Wild Child was in the same league, being slightly dubious about Meriel's rapid recovery from the post traumatic stress which had kept her dumb and otherworldly for the best part of two decades. However, I did very much enjoy the blossoming romance and the unconventionality of both the hero and the heroine. They have a very believable attraction and Dominic, the hero, is particularly likable. Mary Jo Putney often touches upon unusual themes in her works (impotence and miscarriage to give two examples) and this novel is no exception, dealing with mental health and spirituality in an engrossing and non-didactic fashion. Even when not at her best (in my humble opinion), Mary Jo Putney is still really good. She just sets the bar high.

The other book I chomped by way through (as a Kindle freebie) was Cheryl Brooks' Slave. It's a science fiction erotic romance and to summarise, it deals with a cat/man former slave and a human woman who set off to rescue the woman's kidnapped sister on a planet which resembles a jolly soft-porn version of The Handmaid's Tale. In the midst of their adventures, Cat-Man manages to receive fellatio from a number from a number of alien women whilst our heroine looks on, smiles and allows a large number of men to masturbate on her beaky nose. Erotic? I laughed my socks off. I can't help but think the author did too. Dodgy erotica aside there is the blossoming of a rather sweet romance and it is that more than anything which kept me turning the pages and ultimately, enjoying the novel, despite the heroine's annoying cowboy-esque way of speaking. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a sensitive souled cat-slave whose planet was destroyed because the men were too damn good at making love and had ecstasy inducing spunk. I didn't find it remotely erotic, but it was fun and I enjoyed it.

...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...
Science Fiction is also a bit of a departure for me. I've always loved Science Fiction and Fantasy but haven't read much for years. One pleasurable aspect of Kindle has been reacquainting myself with the likes of Andre Alice Norton, Philip K Dick and J G Ballard. I've now got a ton of Science Fiction/Fantasy to work my way through and I'm also interesting in exploring the related romance genres. I've stumbled across a few blog posts of late which question whether Science Fiction/Fantasy romances should rightly be included in the 'best of romance' lists. I don't get that. A romance is a romance whether it takes place in the present, in the past, in outer space or amongst supernatural types. It's just two (or more!) people falling in love.

I would argue that there are a lot of similarities between supernatural romance, science fiction romance and historical romance. They all set their stories in a world removed from the every day, which enables us to suspend our disbelief and not to judge the characters by our own cultural touchstones. Perhaps that's the reason I'm not a great fan of contemporary romance; I find myself saying 'but people don't do that!' Setting the romance in a different world allows me to dispense with that type of incredulity. I can have a lot more fun.

O Joanna, Joanna, wherefore art thou, Joanna Bourne?
On a different note, my sad discovery about the Kindle (from a brief internet browse) is that it doesn't seem to support adobe epub files, which seems to be the format used by a lot of romance publishers for their e-book stores. Sadly, therefore, I've got some time to wait before I can download the Joanna Bourne novels I fancy. They aren't available on the UK Kindle store, worst luck, and after reading The Spymaster's Lady (a definite 5/5 from me) I am hungry for more.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Kindle for the Aspiring Romance Author

It was with trembling hands and huge excitement that I unwrapped my a large square Christmas present three days ago to find the graphite beauty that is my very own Kindle lying inside. I have long been curious about the Kindle and desirous of possessing one so it is arrival coincided with an avalanche of brownie points for my husband for his good taste. I immediately got stuck into browsing the Kindle Store and quickly downloaded my first Kindle book (Mary Jo Putney's The Wild Child).

Now, I am not a tech-head so I won't go into detail on how comfortable Kindle is to hold, or how it is easy on the eye and downloads at the speed of light. There are lots of places on the internet where reviews of that nature can be found.

I am more interested in working out how Kindle slots into my life and more importantly, my library. Will I be filling it with Georgette Heyer's (like my book shelves) and downloading the whole of my amazon wishlist?

The answer is... no. My amazon wishlist comprises books such as The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson and Sisters of Fortune - in other words, lots of biographies of 18th and 19th century women, explorers and adventurers. Sadly the Kindle Store seems rather thin on that sort of content. Furthermore, there aren't huge cost savings on the type of fiction I like to read. A Dorothy Dunnett for example, will set you back £14.99 on Kindle but can be picked up for £3.50 in the Amazon marketplace.

I pondered and scratched my head and then stumbled across the beauty that is free books. The Kindle Store has a ton of free books available for download. Pretty much any classic you care to think of - the Complete Works of Jane Austen; the Brontes. Those that aren't free are offered at negligible cost - £0.74 in many cases. Furthermore, once they are on your Kindle they are searchable. Want to find a reference to - for example - gold? You can search your world, browsing all your library in an instant.

The real gem for me, though, has been in the sheer volume of primary source material available online in Kindle compatible format. The truly genius idea that is Project Gutenberg (hats off to the volunteers there) offers more than 33,000 volumes online, much of which is 18th or 19th century literature and primary source material. Memoirs and observations from the likes of Charles Greville, Captain Gronow and the Marquise de Montespan can all be downloaded in an instant and for free, making for the most wonderful repository of material for anyone interested in that period. Some of the titles which can be found in the Kindle store or on other Kindle compatible sites are out of print, making them all the more precious. Another great site is The Internet Archive on which I did actually find The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson. One word of caution though - many books which are free on Amazon USA store are not on the UK store, which is somewhat disappointing.

I have also fallen in love with the opportunity Kindle provides to sample books before I buy them. Instead of having to assess whether I want a book from the synposis and the opinion of other reviewers, I can try a couple of chapters and see whether it is actually what I'm looking for. Lots of books are offered by Amazon for free (often on a time limited basis), which means it is possible to sample new authors allowing for a lot more experimentation and potentially some interesting avenues of reading. I've just finished one such freebie which was the first novel by Cheryl Brooks, which I enjoyed enough for me to keep an eye out for her in the future.

I also love Kindle's integration with the world of forums, blogging and twitter. It's interesting to see what's hovering up the bestseller lists with huge numbers of downloads - often not what you would expect. I was interested to see just how popular the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is: more than 5,000 downloads from Project Gutenberg to date. Clearly I am not the only one interested in knowing an addlepate from an arbor vitae.

I am looking forward to many more adventures with my Kindle - a complement rather than a replacement for my print library, but no less wondrous for all of that.

Useful Links:

Kindle Users Forum: for tips, discussions and a heads up on the latest freebies from Amazon

Project Gutenberg: for more than 33,000 free books and other resources. The website is supported by donations.

The Internet Archive: for a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form, free for researchers, scholars and the general public. The website is a registered charity.

Feedbooks: for original books and free public domain books. This is a reviewed site on the Kindle User Forum.

E-books re-write bookselling: an article on the Wall Street Journal on the impact of e-books and readers like Kindle on publishing companies.

Idea Logical: a blog on the future of the e-publishing industry

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Lady Entrepreneurs of the Regency Period

"To remain single was thought a disgrace and at thirty an unmarried woman was called an old maid. After their parents died, what could they do, where could they go? If they had a brother, as unwanted and permanent guests, they might live in his house. Some had to maintain themselves and then, indeed, difficulty arose. The only paid occupation open to them a gentlewoman was to become a governess under despised conditions and a miserable salary. None of the professions were open to women; there were no women in Government offices; no secretarial work was done by them."- Louisa Garrett Anderson (daughter of pioneering physician, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson) on attitudes to women in the 1860s

The experiences of working class and upper and middle class women in 18th and 19th England were vastly different, but they had this much in common: it was difficult for them to earn money of their own - and when they did it wasn't their own. Prior to the 1882 Married Property Act, a woman's wealth passed to her husband upon her marriage - so did her any money she might earn after her marriage. Affluence did not therefore guarantee power and influence, as Wendy Moore's excellent biography of heiress Mary Bowes demonstrates with devastating impact.

Women did work; by 1851 women comprised 30% of England's workforce. However, generally speaking they worked in low skill, poorly paid jobs. In 1780 women earned about 5 shillings a week and men made 10 to 15 a week - three times as much. The industrial revolution changed the pattern of work for working class women. Before the onset of the industrial revolution, women worked in rural roles alongside their family members, labouring in fields and orchards. By the mid-1800s, they were heavily employed in the factories, providing a cheap, adaptable workforce. 50% of all workers in textiles factories were women. Other industries included pottery, confectionary, breweries, laundry, retail and sewing. Many working class women lived at the poverty line. In the mid-1800s, Henry Mayhew uncovered the working conditions of some of these women:

"I am a shirt-maker, and make about three shirts a day, at 2 1/2d a piece, everyone of them having seven buttonholes. I have to get up at six int he morning, and work till twelve at night to do that. I buy threads out of the price; and I cannot always get work. I am now living with a young man. I am compelled to do so, because I could not support myself... Sometimes we have been for two days with a bit of bread and cold water."

As the quotation at the top of this post demonstrates, the lot of upper and middle class women was not much better. They might be able to eat, but they could not support themselves. They were largely dependent on the goodwill of their menfolk, and any marriage was felt to be preferable to none despite the risks involved in an unwise match. Women, after all, belonged to their husbands along with all their worldly goods. Male adultery, for example, was not grounds for divorce and if a woman did leave her husband her children belonged to him. She did not even have the right to see them. The account of Mary Eleanor Bowes' violent marriage to Andrew Stoney demonstrates just how difficult it was for a woman to extricate herself from even the most horrendous of situations.

Given the challenges involved in women making and keeping money, and in their gaining power and influence in their own right, I am always absolutely fascinated when I stumble across examples of female entrepreneurs. I referred in an earlier post to Teresa Cornelys, who established the masquerade in England with her fabulous events at Carlisle House. This week I came across two other examples of women with successful 19th century careers in both traditional and non-traditional female industries.

The first I stumbled across in Douglas Hill's Regency London, a great little guide to some of London's regency gems. The guide reads: "note also the 'Coade stone' doorways (a special composition material whose basic ingrediants remained a secret throughout the widespread use of it in late Georgian building)." The reference was enough to intrigue me to dig further. Imagine my surprise when I found that Coade stone was the invention and product of not a Mr Coade, but a Mrs Coade - Mrs Eleanor Coade.

Mrs Eleanor Coade (1733 - 1821)

Mrs Coade was not, in fact, a married woman at all. She used the title Mrs in business circles, presumably because it provided her with greater status and respectability.

Eleanor Coade was the brains behind the Coade stone empire. She called her product, Lithodipyra a pseudo-Greek name which referred to the twice-fired process of its creation. Coade stone was a kind of ceramic and one which was used widely in the building boom of the Regency period, particularly by Robert Adam. The wikipedia entry for Coade stone tells us:

"The showrooms of Mrs Coade's Artificial Stone Company, in Westminster Bridge Road, provided a huge array of 'off the shelf' solutions for builders and architects, ranging from small keystones for over front doors to corner and window features and almost entire façades. The factory was in Lambeth, London, where the Royal Festival Hall now stands."

Mrs Coade was not without rivals. Richard Holt was already manufacturing (a different) artificial stone in the area of her factory and around 1730 Holt was in "a business and advertising war" with another business man, Batty Langley. In 1767, David Picot announced he had set up "a manufacture of artificial stone" and George Davy also ran similar adverts. Despite being a woman in a male dominated field, both Mrs Coade and her stoneware enterprise were more successful and longer lasting than any of her competitors. She outlasted them all, numbering amongst her clients George III.

She died in 1821, aged 89 leaving bequests to the Baptist minister at Lyme Regis, the Independent Minister and the Church of England Vicar. The bequests were for distribution amongst the poor.

Mrs Bell

My second female entrepreneur was a married woman both in name and in truth. Her husband is well known to all fans of Regency fashion as the brains behind the much cited La Belle Assemblee: Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine - the Regency equivalent of Vogue. La Belle Assemblee frequently showed designs invented by Mrs Bell - Mr Bell's better half. Mrs Bell was a top London milliner and modiste, with fashionable premises (initially) on Upper King Street, Covent Garden. Her products ranged from bridal gowns to riding habits.

Mrs Bell's designs included the 'Chapeau Bras' - a hood which folded away into a bag and the bandage corset, which was worn by no less than the Duchess of Kent, to support her stomach when pregnant with Queen Victoria.

In 1824, Mrs Bell ramped up her self publicity by becoming director of The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons, another Mr Bell production. Another elegant monthly magazine, its editorial comment provided considerable advertisement for Mrs Bell's latest shop the Magazin des Modes at 3 Cleveland Road opposite St James Palace.

Mr and Mrs Bell's clever publicity and promotion ensured that they gained and maintained pole-position as both fashion retailers and trend-setters in the Regency World.

I love stories about women like Mrs Bell and Mrs Coade who, married or unmarried, managed to find success and credibility in their own right in a society where the odds were stacked against them. Their stories are fantastic tinder for the imagination - a basis for future heroines! I'm not the only one interested in female entrepreneurs of yesteryear - last year, Kingston University ran a competition looking for nominations of inspiring female entrepreneurs through history. The full list of twelve is here.

Mrs Coade
Hill, Douglas, Discovering London 7: Regency London
Kelly, Alison Mrs Coade's Stone, as reproduced on The Churchmouse Website.

Mrs Bell
Ashelford, Jane, The Art of Dress: Clothes through history 1500-1914

Women in the 19th Century
Ashelford, Jane, The Art of Dress: Clothes through history 1500-1914
Thompson, E.P., Yeo, Eileen, The Unknown Mayhew: Selections from the Morning Chronicle 1849-50.
BBC History
Marriage in the 19th Century (Spartacus)
Roles of Women in the Industrial Revolution

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Regency Frost or How to Celebrate the Snow

"Edinburgh - The frost is still intense, and the fall of snow has been so deep in the Southern parts of the country, that the different mails have arrived with difficulty, and much behind their usual time."
- The Annual Register, or A View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1814

Today I really found myself longing for a sledge. In early November, the shelves in every hardware store were teeming with them. By close of play on the first day of snow, they were bare. I was too slow. For the last fortnight, I have paid the price for my lack of action as I have been carrying, cajoling or dragging (in a buggy) my recalcitrant three year old through the icy wastes of snow and ice which were once called pavements in Edinburgh. We are snow bound and Edinburgh has transformed itself into Narnia (though strictly speaking, I haven't yet heard any animals speak).

The weather got me to wondering how our 19th century ancestors coped with the big freezes of their generations? Living in houses without central heating and adorning themselves in the prevailing fashion for thin muslin dresses, did they not shiver themselves to death? What did they do to entertain themselves?

Without a doubt there were big freezes. The period between the 16th and 19th centuries is commonly known as 'The Little Ice Age'. The severe winters and wet summers which occurred frequently throughout this period had a dramatic impact on agriculture, social unrest and health in certain parts of Europe and North America.
“Caesar was ne’er so much your enemy as that same ague which hath made you lean”
- Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, 2.2.24-25

One of the diseases commonly referred to in historical and fictional texts from the period is ague: fevers and chills which correspond to the symptoms of malaria (odd to think of a tropical disease spreading in a cold climate). People also suffered from malnutrition and hypothermia.

But of course it wasn't all bad. Human beings are resourceful and the merchants of London more so than most. The Little Ice Age made possible one of the most evocative entertainments of the 19th Century: The Last Frost Fair of 1813-1814.

In 1813-14 the Thames froze over. The February entry for the Annual Register of 1814 describes the river's condition as follows:

(Feb 1st) "The Thames, between Blackfriars and London Bridges, continued to present the novel scene of persons moving on the ice in all directions and in greatly increased numbers..... we observed several booths erected on it [the ice] for the sale of small wares; but the publicans and spirit dealers were most in receipt of custom."

It goes on to write:
(Feb 3rd) "The number of adventurers increased. Swings, book-stalls, dancing in a barge, suttling-booths, playing at skittles, and almost every appendage of a fair on land appeared on the Thames. Thousands flocked to the spectacle. The ice presented a most picturesque appearance. The view of St. Paul's and of the city, with the white foreground, had a very singular effect ; in many parts mountains of ice upheaved, resembled the rude interior of a stone quarry."

(Feb 4th) "Each day brought a fresh accession of pedlars to sell their wares, and the greatest rubbish of all sorts was raked up and sold at double and treble the original cost. The watermen profited exceedingly, for each person paid a toll of twopence or threepence before he was admitted to the fair; and something also was expected for permission to return."

Other sources suggest that the enterprising watermen broke up the ice, forcing people into paying the entrepreneurial men of the Thames into ferrying them back to shore after their wintry entertainments.

There is a long a glorious history of Frost Fairs on the Thames. The first recorded frost fair was in 1564 and featured Londoners dancing on the ice and archery being practiced. Subsequent fairs added wild beast shows, commemorative prints and inspired verses and etchings in their honour. One verse printed at the Frost Fair of 1684 is as follows (extract):
"Behold the Wonder of this present Age,
A Famous RIVER now become a Stage.
Question not what I now declare to you,
The Thames is now both Fair and Market too.
And many Thousands daily do resort
There to behold the Pastime and the Sport."

- Printed by M.Haly, and J.Millet, and sold by Robert Waltor, at the Globe on the North-side of St.Pauls-Church, near that end towards Ludgate. 1684. The full verse can be viewed online at the Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide website entry on Frost Fairs.

The Frost Fair was made possible by the old (medieval) London Bridge. The medieval bridge had 19 small arches, and the narrowness of the arches meant that it acted as a partial barrage over the Thames, restricting water flow and thereby making the river more susceptible to freezing over in winter because of the slower currents. The construction of the new London Bridge in 1831 increased the flow of the river and diminished the likelihood of freezing and thus, of Frost Fairs.

The most recent mention of the Frost Fair I have come across is in the dashing entrance of Ben, Lord Hawksmoor in Nicola Cornick's thoroughly enjoyable Lord of Scandal. Well worth a look!

Sadly, the era of the true Thames Frost Fairs is therefore past - destroyed along with the old London Bridge long before Health and Safety legislation could make it an impossibility. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't find ways to entertain ourselves.

The severe winters of the Little Ice Age are also credited with the flowering of certain strains of literature. In 1816, known as The Year Without a Summer; The Poverty Year; Year There Was No Summer; and Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death, severe summer climate abnormalities destroyed crops in Northern Europe, the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Many Europeans spent the summer huddled around the hearth entertaining themselves as best they could.
We will each write a ghost story.
- Lord Byron

In 1816, at Byron's rented house by Lake Geneva (the Villa Diodati), Byron and his physician Dr Polidori met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The literary neighbours read aloud from Tales of the Dead an English Anthology of horror. Inspired, they accepted Byron's challenge and embarked on their own stories. The two most successful have become hugely influential - arguably spawning genres in their own right. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Dr Polidori's The Vampyre broke new ground for horror writing in the English language and sowed the seeds for much supernatural fiction today.

I may not have a sledge or a Frost Fair but I do have a fireplace and an imagination. Now repeat after me, We will each write a ghost story....

Thursday, 18 November 2010

19th Century Marriage Vows

The story I am currently working on is set in 1825 (the year of large sleeves and small corsets) and one its crucial plot elements centres around the vows in the Church of England Wedding Ceremony. That being the case, getting the correct era-appropriate vows is essential. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I stumbled upon Laura Vivanco's Teach me Tonight blog featuring a thoughtful and extensive essay by guest blogger Virginia on the history of wedding vows through the ages. It is a truly excellent reference for anyone with an interest in the subject - thoughtful, scholarly and absolutely fascinating.

To read "Oh Promise me! Marriage Vows through History" click here.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

19th Century Costume: A Glossary

I have always been one to enjoy a fancifully written menu, with a goodly amount of French thrown in to give it that certain je ne sais quoi. You know the kind of thing I mean. Take Le Gavroche's menu as an example: Fricassée de St.Pierre Facon Bouillabaisse (fish soup). Sublime!

So it is my belief I would have made an avid reader of
La Belle Assemblee or Ackermann's, because there is nothing that your regency lady enjoyed more than a superbly romanticised description. Unfortunately for us, it makes some of the descriptions on costume plates well nigh indecipherable.

It was with great joy therefore that I turned to the back pages of Ackermann's Costime Plates: Women's Fashions in England, 1818-1828 edited and with an introduction by Stella Blum, to find a three page long glossary of fashion terminology from the period. Wonderful!

Below is a selection of some of the most commonly used (by my reckoning, nothing scientific there), followed by some of the most delightfully fanciful:

Most Common Terms

Á la militaire.
In the military style.

Á l'antique. In the manner of the Greeks of antiquity.

Bandeau (pl. bandeaux). A narrow band worn either on the head or on the costume for decorative purposes.

Blond lace. A lace made of fine mesh with patterns worked in silk producing shiny satin-like pattern. Blond lace could be natural coloured, black or, occasionally in other colours, such as green

Bombasine. A textile having a twilled appreance with a silk warp and a worsted weft. It was usually black and because it was lustreless, was often used for mourning.

Cambric. Very fine thin linen.

Coquelicot. Poppy red (see pictured turban).

Corsage. Bodice or upper part of a lady's dress.

En gigot. Sleeves shaped like a leg of mutton.

French crepe. A thin, wrinkled silk, cotton or wool.

Fichu. Kerchief or small scarf, generally of thin, filmy material, that was worn around the neckline.

Gros de Naples. An Italian silk with a corded surface.

Jaconet. A thin cotton fabric somewhat like muslin.

Kerseymere. A fine woolen fabric with a twill weave having a special texture with a one third of work threads above and the rest below.

Leghorn. A plaited Italian wheat straw used in hats.

Rouleau (pl. rouleaux). A strip of fabric loosely stuffed into a tube-like shape and used to trim dresses, generally at the hem.

Round gown. A closed one-piece dress.

Sarsnet. A thin silk with a taffeta weave and a slight sheen.

Vandyke. A pointed tooth-like border of lace or other material similar to those in the works of Van Dyck.

Delightfully Obscure and Fanciful Terms

Ailes de Papillon. Cloth ornaments arranged to suggest the wings of a butterfly.

Bouilloneée. Puffed or bubbling out.

Couleur d'oreille d'ours. Colour of Polyanthus, the oxlip or some varieties of Narcissus.

Folia peltata. Leaves with stems attached to the underneath part instead of to the edges.

Noued. Bow or knot.

Soie de Londres. Satin or satin-like silk.

Toque de Ninon. A toque, possibly in the style of Ninon de Lenclose, a fashionable french lady (1620 - 1705).

Zephyrne. Light-weight fabric of silk or wool.

For many more terms along with gorgeous fashion plates with full descriptions (both colour and monochrome) I highly recommend Stella Blum's book.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Louis X IV and Mickey Mouse: Branding Brothers

I just got back from an interesting trip to Paris, which encompassed the Palace of Versailles (a treat for me) and Disneyland (a treat for my daughter). Visiting both sites within 24 hours, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities. It's almost as though Louis XIV had been employed as Brand Consultant by Disney - not because the two places look the same (they don't), but because the masterminds behind both clearly Knew Their Stuff.

Let's take Versailles for example. The humble visitor approaches up a wide avenue towards the palace, which rears up before her like The Mothership. It's an awe inspiring sight, huge, gilded and gleaming. Supposing you were seeking an audience with the King himself, or that you had been invited to a levee. Before getting within spitting distance of the Monarch you would be required to pass through chamber after chamber each adorned with artworks bearing testimony to the Greatness of Louis.

Once we had passed the fifth portrait of the Sun King, my husband was heard to mutter "I think it's fair to say this guy had ego issues!". We have Louis on horse back, Louis represented in myth, Louis as Alexander the Great, Louis' marriage blessed by the gods. Each room is more splendid and more gilded than the one before - and that's before you reach the glittering grandeur of the Hall of Mirrors, a breath-stealing sparkling royal wonderland overlooking regal gardens. Only once you have made it through these areas do you reach the King's Chamber (unless he had decided to receive you in the throne room).

The Gardens at Versailles were designed along similar lines. World famous and designed by Andre le Notre between 1662 - 1700, they were the finest example of Garden à la francaise to be found anywhere, as well as being the largest gardens in Europe. The gardens were laid out on an east-west axis which followed the course of the sun: the sun rose over the Court of Honor, lit the Marble Court, crossed the Chateau and lit the bedroom of the King, and set at the end of the Grand Canal, reflected in the mirrors of the Hall of Mirrors.

"The views and perspectives, to and from the palace, continued to inifinity. The king ruled over nature, recreating in the garden not only his domination of his territories, but over the court and his subjects."
Lucia Impelluso, Jardins, potagers et labyrinthes, pg. 64

Like my husband said, the guy had issues.

Architecture, landscaping, art and ornamentation were designed to tell one story: that of Louis XIV as absolute monarch and supreme power. His court resided with him at Versailles, to ensure that he had them under his control. No one was about to be allowed to up and start up their own faction, they were subsumed into the absolutism of Versailles.

Just like Mickey Mouse. Okay, so I'm not trying to say that Mickey Mouse is an absolute monarch.

However, there are parallels. Disney is instantly recognisable world-wide and its brand is incredibly strong. Those brand values are captured in Disneyland and the visitor is left in no doubt as to the power and reach of the Disney message. You want magic? Come to the world authority on the magical world of childhood.

Once you pass through the golden gates into Disneyland, the visitor is faced with a long avenue lined with all things Disney. This leads out into a central courtyard (the centre point for dance and spectacle, loved by Disney and Louis XIV alike) and the visitor is hit by the sight of Sleeping Beauty's enchanted castle, full scale and spectacular, dominating the skyline. That's a castle which is familiar to anyone who watches Disney films: it's the logo and title sequence for Walt Disney Pictures. Like the Parthenon in Athens, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Castle is the point around which the visitor can orientate herself and from its foundations the different zones (Adventureland, Fantasyland etc) spread.

The magical message is built into every aspect of the place: from restaurants to shops, to rides and entertainments. It's difficult not to be enthralled and impressed: my toddler was enchanted.

Promotion, PR and Branding are a full scale industry these days - Louis IVX didn't have the benefit of working with Saatchi and Saatchi but his strategy was undeniably effective and consolidated his position for the 54 years of his reign.

His tools as a self publicist were similar to those available today. He used spectacle: in 1653 he danced as the Sun King in the Ballet royal de la nuit, establishing not only the definitive icon but also the practice of his autocracy. The image is captured in paintings from the 1650s such as the one included here.

Visual imagery was significant, both in communicating symbolism and in the veneration with which it was treated. In Louis' absence, a portrait of him took his place in the throne room of Versailles and it was an offence to turn one's back on the portrait even as much as it was an offence to turn once's back on the King.

The association of Louis and Alexander the Great was made through art and the King's long relationship with artist Charles LeBrun was profitable to both of them. LeBrun helped to create the King's lasting image and autocratic sun king and shaped the Palace of Versailles, the King paid his wages and gave him a preeminent position.

Alexander is not the only figure from the classical world to feature strongly. Apollo too is featured throughout Versailles, as a sculpted centerpiece to the Gardens and on murals and paintings throughout the Palace. The Apollo Room is itself a tribute to the magnificence of Louis XIV. The ceiling shows Apollo awakening France and Magnificence by rising from the waves in his Sun Chariot: a fitting emblem for the Sun King.

Louis' image adorned coins and was the subject of poetry, theatre and satire. His written words were controlled just as carefully: many of his letters were ghost-written by authorised secretaries, including his love-letters (demonstrating the usefulness of delegation!).

Louis' public image did not come about by a happy accident, it was the result of long planning and intense concentration not only by Louis XIV himself, but also by his advisors. Louis XIV was packaged and marketed using ideology and propaganda and manipulating public opinion with a professionalism more than equal to anything which exists today.

The legacy of his cult of celebrity echoes down through the ages, in a popular fascination with high profile figures in our generation and those in the intervening years. The association of environment and brand, once the preserve of royalty (Brighton Pavilion and the Prince Regent) are now more frequently the creation of multinational corporations who wish to make a statement about themselves.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Newhailes: "the most learned room in Europe"

I'm pleased to share some more pictures from my local source of inspiration, Newhailes, the former home of the Dalrymple family which now lies in the hands of the National Trust for Scotland.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, Newhailes is a Palladian mansion which lies between Musselburgh and Edinburgh. The original house was built in the 1680s by an architect, James Smith, for use as his own home. Unfortunately for him, Smith went bankrupt and in 1701 the estate was sold to Lord Bellenden, the second son of the 2nd Duke of Roxburghe. In 1707, it was purchased by Sir David Dalrymple (c. 1665-1721), fifth son of Viscount Stair, as a country seat outside of Edinburgh. Sir David, an eminent lawyer and statesman changed the name of the house from Whitehill to Newhailes after Hailes Castle near East Linton, which was also owned by the Dalrymples. By the mid 1700s, the house had been extended by William Adam and Sir David's grandson, Sir David Dalrymple (1726 - 1792) who became Lord Hailes had added to his grandfather's magnificent collection of books and created a wonderful library. Samuel Johnson described it as the most 'learned room in Europe.'

The Newhailes Library collection was given to the National Libraries of Scotland in 1978 in lieu of death duties. Together with manuscripts also acquired from Newhailes House, it is the most important contemporary collection to survive from the Scottish Enlightenment. The collection consists of c. 7,000 volumes and a number of pamphlets, broadsheets, prints, maps and music; British and foreign works, of the 16th to the 18th century, with three incunables and some 19th century material (see website of the National Library of Scotland).

Among the papers is the manuscript of Lord Hailes’s Annals of Scotland, annotated by Samuel Johnson, and letters of his contemporaries including Hume, Robertson, Beattie and Burke. Sir David's brother Alexander (1737-1808) was the first hydrographer to the Admiralty and a writer on geographical matters. The Newhailes Library collection also contains his private and East India Company charts, published between 1769-1786, as well as the books of his East Indies nautical memoirs.

The spectacular oak-panelled library is itself fascinating. Added in the second decade of the 1700s, the two-story library was built to open from floor level out onto the Cabinet Garden, an architecturally cut clearing or room within the woods (pictured below). As an extension to the library, it was designed as a place for discussion and contemplation and is an example of the interweaving boundaries between the house and the landscape which is a theme throughout the estate. The Newhailes library provided a forum for key figures from the Scottish Enlightenment (1750-1800), such as David Hume and James Boswell.

The interface between intellect, debate and the natural world was very much of its time and reflective of the politics and philosophy of the day.

In the 18th Century, the concept of "Landscape" or "English" gardens was spreading across the continent, promoted by the philosophers and revolutionary thinkers of the 18th century. The Landscape garden, as epitomised by the work of Capability Brown, provided a naturalised, idealised look. This was a direct contrast to its predecessor - the garden "à la française" or French Classical style which was modelled on the symmetry and grandeur of Versailles and associated with autocracy and France's ancien regime. In the garden à la française man dominates nature, forcing rationality and authority upon the natural world and placing the house or palace at the centre. As absolutism became challenged, so too did the strict formality of the garden. The movement towards the natural, picturesque style represented rebellion against autocratic rule and a desire for natural freedom.

"Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains," Rousseau

Newhailes is an early example of the natural style from a transitional period: it references classical thought but also has the features of a Rococo garden: regular irregularity and architectural incident (such as the grotto and the Tea House) on a scale that is small rather than grand.

The mid-18th century Tea House was situated at the Northern extremity of the estate's water gardens and was designed as an eyecatching endpiece to the Newhailes stretch of Brunstane Burn. The Tea House is a contemporary copy of the famous Palladian Bridge built by the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House, Wiltshire. The Tea House exemplifies early-mid 18th-century neo-Augustan ideal. It is intended for quiet contemplation and bears the inscription "nos humilem", a reference to Horace "for my self, I will sacrifice a humble lamb...". Information on the archaeology of the Tea House can be found here and an image of it as it once was is below.

The other key feature of the water gardens is the Shell Grotto which I discuss more in my earlier post.

THe interaction between the house and gardens at Newhailes helps to capture the atmosphere of a particularly fascinating period in our history: the birth of the modern world. In the 1700s the dominance of intellect and reason led to an explosion of scientific and economic progress, much of which was led by Scotland. In reaction, in the 1800s imagination, romance, creativity and the natural world became highly prized leading to the preeminence of the romantics in the visual and literary arts. The formal, splendid structure of 18th century costume with its towering hair and painted faces gives way to the soft, empire-style muslin robe and tumbling natural curls. Satire gives way to romance and nature is allowed to shine in the natural artifice of the landscape garden.

This is a fertile environment to allow the imagination free reign. How exciting it must have been to have been privy to such intellectual progress and confusing it must have been for the autocrats of the early 1700s to understand the romantic inclinations of their children and grandchildren.

Newhailes is a magnificent resource for anyone with an interest in this period - there will be more images to view in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Primary Sources for Regency Romance: The Mother Lode

I have just stumbled across the BEST site for primary sources on the web! I am so excited! Whether you are looking for an image of an historical figure, such as dancer Madame Celeste (pictured here as the Maid of Cashmere, V&A) or an example of a 19th century wedding dress (pictured, V&A)you will find them by searching on Creative Spaces.

Creative Spaces pools images of more tan 300,000 objects from the wonderful collections of the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate, the Imperial War Museum, the Sir John Soames Museum, the Wallace Collection, the Natural History Museum and the Royal Armouries Museum. For those of us who live outside of London and have little access to these phenomenal national collections, this is a godsend.

Once you have found your desired object, you can add it to an online notebook with comments. This enables you to build up your own personal online collection - invaluable for the historical author. You could, for example, have a collection of objects from 1825, or of historic figures of the regency era, of waistcoats, or 19th century wedding dresses. The possibilities are endless. You can even use the site as a social networking resource, to find others who share your interests.

Having found this resource I cannot wait to start exploring!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Finish writing your book

This evening, I found myself looking over my blog and feeling depressed. One reason I keep a blog is so that I write regularly. It's good practice and sharing the things I have stumbled across and explored keeps me excited and motivated.

So what depressed me? In the course of writing this blog, I have started and semi-abandoned about five different stories. Semi-abandoned because I haven't given up on them, precisely. It's just that between about 20,000 and 30,000 words, I've sort of run out of steam and hit a temporary hiatus. Or I have got excited by something different.

First there's my spy romance - that was my first writing start, a Georgian spy romance. I researched it to death but I couldn't get the writing to come real. So then I moved onto a contemporary vampire spy romance, but I was struggling to make my hero well... vampy enough and to get into the head of my heroine. Then there's my selkie romance... that starts quite strongly, but then I get a bit stuck. What next? A failure of imagination.

I am DETERMINED not to abandon my current work: Perdita Moon, my heroine does seem real to me. I'm not getting too bogged down in research and I'm not trying to force myself into a formula. I'm just seeing where my fingers (as averse to pen) takes me and I am enjoying the process (though I do need to get the outline out of my head and onto paper).

I think I have learned something along my stop and start journey. I think my craftsmanship has improved and I think I understand myself better as a writer now. I'm not trying to be anyone else, precisely but allowing my own style to emerge which is hugely satisfying.

I remember going through this process with photography - struggling to emulate photographers I admire, who when it came down to it were not me. I have had to find my own mojo so to speak and I have. People come to me as a photographer because they like my style. I'm not even sure I can describe it, but they like it and I like it. I know emotionally when I am going off piste with photography - when I stop enjoying it and it feels like a chore. I'm going to remember that feeling and also remember the satisfaction of feeling good about a typically me image and try to apply that to writing.

I am getting there. I don't want to be hubristic or call a jinx down upon my head but I think my current story is me. The characters have sprung up from my own experiences and I'm not trying to force a style or formula that isn't me. I've found a voice that works for me - for now. One thing that has helped me do that, is writing in the First Person. Having that deep point of view is helping me to walk in the shoes of my character and because of that the right words come out of their mouths and I know how they would and wouldn't behave.

I am committed to completing this one. I REALLY want to do it. I don't want any more blog posts where I write "I'm working on a...." only to look back six weeks later and realise that it is another abandoned project. By this time next year, I want to have a finished piece of work in my hand.

If it's not great, it doesn't matter. Like with photography, I am learning. I am improving my writing style all the time and I'm reading books with a critical eye, noting elements I like and don't like, picking up tips on presentation and composition.

Poor or average work can be improved on. Nonexistent work cannot.

Here are a couple of articles I found when despairingly googling 'Not Finishing Writing Book.'

How to Finish Writing Your Book

20 Inspiring Quotes To Help You Finish Writing Your Book

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Farewell Eva Ibbotson

I was sad last week to read of the death of Eva Ibbotson who is one of the authors I fell in love with at an early age. The first Eva Ibbotson book to enter my greedy hands was A Company of Swans (1985), which combines the exotic lushness of the amazon, with whimsically drawn and utterly convincing characterisation. The next was A Countess Below Stairs , which made me entranced with Russia, showed me the power of beautiful hair and still has the ability to make me laugh and cry alternately.

Even in Eva Ibbotson's romantic novels magic shimmers below the surface. Her heroines are always offbeat, vibrant and full of belief in something - whether it be good food, joy of dancing or simply love. er heroes are thoughtful, intelligent and often wounded. Her incidental characters are humorous, lovingly drawn - aunts with bristling moustaches and big hearts, eccentric teachers and revolting cousins. There is often a theme of triumph over adversity: whether this be the horror of war (The Morning Gift), the loss of family and fortune (A Countess Below Stairs) or cruel guardians (A Company of Swans).

Much of this can be said to have stemmed from Eva Ibbotson's own life as a Jewish Refugee. The atmosphere and characters which bring her novels so richly to life spring from her own experiences, of cafes populated by refugees (Cosmo's in Finchley Road) desperately searching for wiener schnitzel. Eva also also had the experience of being a square peg in a round hole - she studied physiology at University but on her marriage left it behind her with relief and eventually turned her hand to fiction.

Eva didn't publish her first novel until the age of fifty, but as a writer she blossomed and continued writing until her death this October at the age of 85. Her last novel will be published posthumously this year. She is an inspiration.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Grottos and Tea Houses: an 18th Century Wonderland

You would imagine, having a passionate interest in pre-20th century lifestyle and customs that I might have noticed a Palladian Mansion sitting on my doorstep. Unbelievably it has taken me three years to do so and even then, I stumbled across it by accident, much like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia.

This happy accident occurred a couple of weeks ago, when we were on a family walk along Brunstane Burn and decided for a change to walk up into the fields beyond. It was then that the hidden treasures of my local neighbourhood started presenting themselves to me. The first thing we came across was the "Ladies Walk", which stretches across a field at the back. This promenade is apparently unique in Scotland. It's a raised, brick walkway which once stretched from the main house across pastureland to a viewpoint of the Firth of Forth. This image by Derek Harper shows the west side of the walkway.

Intrigued, we explored further, walking the holly-studded woodland which circled the field. The next thing we saw was the ruins of a shell grotto. This is the thing that really caught my imagination, providing a direct physical link back the 18th Century. Grottos are at the epicentre of the 18th Century Rococo movement - the very word Rococo was created from two French nouns related grottos: rocaille, the rockwork found in caves and grottoes, and coquillage, the shellwork which adorned them.

Jonathan Prown and Richard Miller write:

Naomi Miller describes the grotto as the realm of endless contradictions, a place that, like the rococo style itself, is defined by an inherent lack of definition. The grotto provides shelter and protection, yet evokes mystery and fear. It is a site of contemplation and poetic inspiration, but also the arena of intellectual chaos; a sacred underground temple, but also the location of Bacchic orgies. Miller [Naomi Miller, Heavenly Caves: Reflections on the Garden Grotto] suggests that ultimately the grotto is best understood as “a metaphor of the cosmos,” something that can be experienced but never fully understood. The grotto and, by extension, the rococo represent places where Apollonian ideas about morality confront primal Dionysian desires and where the rational, classical mind comes unraveled.

The timing of this particular discovery was about as perfect as it could be. The main character in my current story, Perdita Moon, is a very proper lady living in the London of 1825 and her secret love of the art and architecture which grew from the Rococo period is one of the things which hints at her wilder blood.

One peep around the next corner and we saw the facade of the house which is depicted at the top right of this post. I have since discovered that this house, Newhailes, is a National Trust for Scotland property and the former of home of the Dalrymple family. There is a good article about the house on the Undiscovered Scotland website. You can be sure that come April when the house reopens I will be having a good look around it.

Time pressing we walked back along the burn which ran through the Dalrymple's 18th Century Rococo water garden. The final site we came to was the remains of the Tea House - a neo-classical summer house overlooking the burn.

I am now looking forward to many enjoyable afternoons rambling through the estate dreaming up plot lines and characters to populate the ghostly buildings all around me. What a wonderful find!

Friday, 22 October 2010

19th Century Bonnets

I am really enjoying two fantastic books this week, Jane Shelford's The Art of Dress and Stella Blum's Ackermann's Costume Plates: Women's Fashions in England, 1818-1828. The latter depicts a particular period of Ackermann's Costume Plates in all their glory along with mouthwatering descriptions.

The full colour plates from this period of Ackermann's can be enjoyed online here, courtesy of the Romance Reader at Home.

The two books work brilliantly in tandem with each other. Ashelford goes way beyond the basic costumes by placing the fashions of the era in their social and historical context. Her book is peppered with stunning photographs from the National Trust's costume collections, bringing contemporary descriptions to life.

Some of the Ackermann's plates which are most enjoyable are those solely devoted to the etchings of flamboyant 19th century headdresses. The descriptions are as delicious as the menu at a Michelin starred restaurant:

Bonnet of royal purple terry velvet or velours epingle; the brim has a corded satin edge; the crown high and rounded at the top, and partially covered with a fichu of velvet, bound in satin and ornamented with a small twisted silk cord of the same colour. The trimmings in front are large; the centrer one is long and narrow, concealing the termination of those on each side. Bows of pearl-edge satin ribbon are disposed about the crown; long strings of the same inside the brim.

Cap of pink and white crepe lisse, with a double border and broad strings of same. The crown is high; the back part of white crepe lisse, full and arranged by five flat pink satin bands placed perpendicularly, and inserted in the pink satin band at the bottom of the coul. The front is formed by bouffants of alternate pink and white crepe lisse, interspersed with pink satin ornaments of a paplionaceous shape, with a profusion of winter cherries of alkakengi, and rosebuds above

The story I am currently working on is set in 1825 and hats are VERY important to my heroine, so having access to these details is invaluable.

There are a ton of fantastic resources on line for the exploration of Ackermann's and also to indulge in millinary delights.

Lynn McMasters' website has a wonderful article on the turban, the Costumer's Manifesto has a great selection of Ackermann's fashion plates and Katherine's dress site is a fantastic resource with some beautiful visuals.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Myth recycled - Vampires, Selkies and Disney's Hercules

In keeping with my yoyo-ing between supernatural fiction and historical romance, this months I've been delving deep into the world of faerie and also finding out more about the fabled seal people known as selkies. I have, for some time, been working on a selkie-related story... only to find out halfway through that strictly speaking I can't use the word. At least not unless my story is set on Orkney, which it isn't. My selkie is more of an Irish type, which makes him a merrow (in the anglicised form) or something like moruadh or murúch if going for the more romantic gaelic version. The only problem is then I get into language difficulties - I'm not a gaelic speaker and it has also sorts of complexities relating to the gender of words etc which I could really quickly get bogged down in. Plus, merrow people bob about in little red hats and their menfolk are supposed to be astoundingly ugly... which doesn't fit with my hero at all. So what do I do? Give up on my seal man and start over?

Without wishing to stamp on anyone's cultural heritage, I find myself keen to define my own supernatural universe. Obviously it's more convenient to do so, but also I'm conscious that it almost goes against the nature of myth to attempt to fix them in an approved canon, like a literary fly in amber.

My academic background is in ancient greek drama and I remember my university tutor getting really excited about Disney's Hercules coming out at the cinema. Of course, I was all ready to turn my twenty year old nose up at such heresy but she had a completely different view on it. She was fascinated to see what Disney's interpretation of the myth would be, because myths are constantly evolving and the way they are represented tells us something important about the society doing the telling.

You can apply this to the huge craze for vampire fiction at the moment. It isn't the first time. Vampires were a big hit in the 19th century too - but then it was all about exploring the themes society repressed... sexual fantasies, exchange of fluids etc:

"The fair girl went on her knees and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal... I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there."
- Chapter 3, Bram Stoker's Dracula

Compare and contrast with this century's most successful vampires, Stephanie Meyer's Cullen Family, who function as a repository for old fashioned family values, for restraint, self denial and responsibility:

"I’m sure all this sounds a little bizarre, coming from a vampire. But I’m hoping that there is still a point to this life, even for us. It’s a long shot, I’ll admit. By all accounts, we’re damned regardless. But I hope, maybe foolishly, that we’ll get some measure of credit for trying."
- Chapter 2, Stephanie Meyer's New Moon

It could be argued that the popularity of Meyer's vampires with certain sections of the population suggests a longing for a time when relationships seemed to have more permanence and the personal challenge of self restraint and discipline, was one which was highly valued.

Moving into worlds which sit upon or within our world, gives us the opportunity to examine marginal or sensitive aspects of our society in a safe setting. We can transpose our curiosity to supernatural beings and explore our fantasy lives by doing so.

Which leads me back to my selkies (or murúch as I am currently favouring, name-wise). They are who we want them to be.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good reasons to...

...prop your eyes open with match sticks.

I'm tired today. Sandpaper-skinned, hollowed-eyed, dry-mouthed tired. These horrifying symptoms and my yet more horrifying appearance are of course due to a binge. Not, as you might be forgiven for thinking, an alcoholic binge but a reading frenzy. The sort of reading frenzy prompted by raging premenstrual hormones combined with a stressful week at work. I'm sure I'm not alone in finding that my credit cards leaps more readily from my purse when I'm feeling particularly hormonal. My menstrual cycle is most definitely Amazon's friend (and best customer).

The binge started early this week, after a weekend shopping frenzy. Somewhere after tucking up my toddler, making the lunches, finishing off some work and er... morning, I devoted myself to feasting on one of the few Eloisa James' Your Wicked Ways I hadn't yet read (delicious). I fitted in a couple of hours sleep somewhere along the way. Wednesday should therefore have an early night, but after photographing an Spa event, I found myself longing for the succour of a comfort read. I duly plunged into Anya Seaton's Avalon .

The recollection of Avalon was prompted by a sisterly discussion the wake of India Knight's blog post about comfort reads. The parallel's between India's list and our formative reading matter were sufficiently close to make us wonder if she had in fact, secretly grown up in the same house as the six of us. It's a great list. But it overlooks Avalon, which we concluded was a terrible oversight. Having remembered it, it behoved me to re-read it, so here I am doing so.

My other indulgence of this week or - as I like to think of it - investment, was in a small library of 18th and 19th century fashion plates. The postman was good enough to bring me a lovely copy of Vyvyan Holland's Hand Coloured Fashion Plates 1770-1899 which has some wonderful primary source visuals. But just in case I ever needed a handbag sized alternatively (the Glamour Magazine, to Holland's Vogue), I also got a teeny tiny copy of Lesley Gordon's A Gallery of Fashion, which has the advantage of being printed in colour throughout. I am now waiting with baited breath for the arrival of Stella Blum's book about Ackermann's costume plates. It will be pelisses a go go in my household, though if I start sauntering forth with ostrich feathers in my hair I will know it has all gone Too Far.

The consumption of all this reading matter is rather challenging. Somehow it has to fit in between two jobs and a daily hour or so's writing. Something has to go.

And for now?

That would be sleep.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Original source materials (Regency)

I have just been taking a wander through t'interweb to explore what original source materials from the regency (and Georgian) period are available online. There are quite a large number of well known sites devoted to historical costume which feature original fashion plates from Ackermann's etc. A few honourable mentions include:

* The Constumer's Manifesto
* Fashion Era
* Cathy Decker's Regency Fashion Page

But of most interest to me at the moment are the number of Regency and Georgian letters which have been published online:

* Eunice and Ron's Letter from the Past features a fascinating array of pre-victorian letters, plus information about postage and postal services.
* The Bevan Family letters are a project of the Regency Town House and are an archive of the Bevan and Dewar families between around 1820 and 1870s.

Lastly, it's worth pointing out a couple of sites which features a wide range of primary sources. Top of the list is A Web of English History by Dr Majorie Bloy, which is particularly good for primary source material on politics but coversa a wide range of other aspects too.

For more primary source images by Ackermann, please see the Dictionary of Arts and Artists.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A Regency Route

This week I found myself forced to walk down St James' Street in full view of the clubs and moreover with ankles on display. The horror! My chances of receiving vouchers for Almack's are well and truly shot...

Okay, okay, so St James Street these days is one of Mayfair's main thoroughfares and full of perfectly respectable (and indeed perfectly disreputable) people of both sexes wandering about their daily business. I, as it happens, had occasion to meet with someone at the Carlton Club which is located at number 69 St James Street.

The Carlton Club itself most definitely does not excite me - it was after all, founded in 1832 and thus by my lights is a Johnny Come Lately on the London scene. No, what excited me about number 69 St James Street is that it was originally the site of White's Chocolate House. There is a marvellous potted history of the site on the wonderfully detailed British History website.

I hid my frisson of excitement from the other participants in the meeting, until it was revealed that St James St also houses Berry Bros & Rudd, a wine merchant which has operated from number 3 St James St since 1698. By 1765, at the 'Sign of the Coffee Mill', Berrys not only supplied the fashionable 'Coffee Houses' (later to become Clubs such as Boodles and Whites) but also began weighing customers on giant coffee scales. The choice piece of information I discovered on Monday was that not only are the scales still on display in the shop, but so is the weighing book - featuring the weigh ins for people such as Lord Byron, William Pitt and (so I have been told) Beau Brummell. This clearly requires further investigation!

A quick stroll around Mayfair is a trip back in time to Regency London. Boodles, Brooks and Whites still line St James St, you can still purchase a hat in Locks and (if stupendously wealthy) hire yourself a townhouse on Curzon St, Half Moon St or Jermyn St, shop in the Burlington Arcade and get married (by special license, naturally) in St George's in Hanover Square(the only church to be seen in).

Sadly, Almack's is no more: on King Street an office block stands on its site, but a brass plaque commemorates its glory days. There may no longer be a herd of cows in Green Park, but it is certainly possible to trot down Rotten Row in Hyde Park to see and be seen.

Having made these tantalising discoveries, a full walking tour is clearly called for. I am now planning one for the spring in the company of my fair sisters, perhaps to coincide with a viewing of the Elgin Marbles (no, they've still not made it back to Greece) or a quick trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum (wrong period, I know) to sigh over beautiful costumes from the 1800s. The question is, whether to delicately partake of an ice, or to restore oneself with a hot chocolate. Afternoon tea, it has been decided, was brought into fashion in the mid-1800s and thus too late to form a part of our Regency day. Sigh.

I look forward to bringing some images of Georgette Heyer's Regency London to a blog near you!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Romanticisation and the Romance

Whilst hunting around on the web, I stumbled across this fascinating article by Susan S. Davis.

The article explores the implications of the findings of two studies (by the University of Texas and the State University of New York at Buffalo), which indicate that romanticisation is key to the long term success of a relationship. Successful couples are more likely to ignore each other's flaws and amplify their virtues, and their attitude actually seems to help shape the relationship to become the very relationship they had wished for.

However, the more interesting (to my mind) point that the article makes is this:

According to many psychologists, a high level of self-esteem garners a greater tolerance of vulnerability, i.e., the ability to stay open to the feelings of a partner, rather than shut down and withdraw emotionally, even during times of difficulty. While disclosing very private areas can expose one to exploitation, hurt, or rejection, it can also serve to enhance and enrich relationships

I was struck by the relevance of these human truths to characterisation and plot development in romance novels. In the romance genre, both types of couple exist. There are those that view their other half as perfection, which creates the opportunity for their beloved to live up to the ideal. In the books of Georgette Heyer, examples of this include Avon and Leonie (These Old Shades), Kitten and Sherry (Friday's Child) and Babs and Charles (An Infamous Army).

But the real tension exists where one character has to make themselves vulnerable, to risk themselves in order to attain the holy grail (true love). A great recent example of this can be found in Jo Beverley's Devilish where the omniscient Rothgar has to make himself vulnerable and to permit risk in his life in order to be united with Diana.

Sometimes, these attitudes to love coincide: in An Infamous Army, Charles idealises Babs and she must overcome her fear of commitment and of being trapped. Despite the backdrop of the Battle of Waterloo, it is Babs' inner turmoil which creates the true drama in the novel. Charles' family background as a cherished son and brother means that love holds no fear for him. He is happy to risk himself and his heart. For Babs, sold into marriage and related to fiery tempered, cruel and avaricious Alastairs (of which she is one) love has quite a different complexion: it is a source of terror. Despite her willingness to brave war for her beloved, it is her eventual commitment to love which truly demonstrates her courage and attachment.

The universality of these themes is surely one of the reasons the romance genre endures. There is something in there that we can all recognise and empathise with - and if there isn't, there should be!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Men seldom make passes...

... at girls who wear glasses. So wrote Dorothy Parker in 1926.

A scene popped into my head the other day from the Ardent Spirits story, which is stubbornly refusing to be entirely put on the backburner whilst I focus on my paranormal romance (now nominally called Blood Ties, an improvement on Spies by Night). In the scene my heroine, a woman of science, dons a pair of pince-nez in an effort to look completely serious and scientific.

This is the kind of detail that I can waste a lot of time on.

Pince-Nez. Did people in the early 19th century actually wear them? If so, who and when? Were they expensive or readily available?

Okay, so a story isn't going to be made or broken on the strength of its eyewear but I like to find these things out. I find details like this interesting and sometimes, my research into them takes me on a journey which leads to quirky plot ideas or a random bit of character development.

Anyway, back to pince-nez. My heroine is standing in a cold, damp library waiting for an interview with a potential client. She's a scientist, but she is also a woman and in Regency England her credibility is therefore, sadly, lower than a man's. She needs a bit of confidence and for Ernestina, that manifests itself in assertive body language and the donning of a pair of pince-nez.

Except it can't - because pinze-nez weren't invented until the 1840s.

(Phew, lucky I checked).

Lorgnettes on the other hand were quite the thing. According to Richard D. Drewry, Jr., M.D:

The [lorgenette's] frame and handle were frequently artistically embellished, since they were used mostly by women and more often as a piece of jewelry than as a visual aid. The lorgnette maintained its popularity with ladies of fashion, who would not wear spectacles. The lorgnette was still popular at the end of the 19th century.

Lorgnettes were even invented in England, by George Adams. The only problem is that my Ernestina just isn't a lorgnette kind of girl. Call me prejudiced but to me, lorgnette says fashion-conscious purple-haired dowager - especially if it's embellished.

So what other options were available? Well, quite a variety actually. Silver spectacles with sliding arms (a french invention, worn by Benjamin Franklin), bifocals (invented by Franklin - clearly a champion of the myopic), monocles and magnifying glasses.

On reflection, I think Ernestina might be the gold-rimmed spectacles type - and unlike many women of fashion, proud of the look. Whether she is the recipient of any passes, remains to be seen!

My top five facts (in no particular order) about eyewear courtesy of Richard D. Drewry, Jr., M.D.:

1. The Roman tragedian Seneca (born c.4 BC), is alleged to have read "all the books in Rome" by peering at them through a glass globe of water to produce magnification.

2. The first spectacles were made between 1268 and 1289, though the name of the true inventor of eyeglasses remains lost in obscurity.

3. The first known artistic representation of eyeglasses was painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352.

4. Benjamin Franklin in the 1780's developed the bifocal - as well as helping to found the USA, of course.

5. Nero used an emerald held up to his eye while he watched gladiators fight. This might not have been for use as a lens to see better, but as a filter against the sunlight. That's an expensive pair of Ray-Bans, Caesar.

For further reading on the history of eyewear, please visit the wonderfully detailed Teagle Optometry website.

Images are from Marinni's website here, which unfortunately I am unable to translate but which looks fantastic.