Friday, May 30, 2008

Nineteenth Century Movies!

Well, actually, there weren’t any! The moving picture industry got its start a bit later than that. However, Marissa and I thought you might enjoy seeing the book trailers for Bewitching Season and La Petite Four. They’re both created by the talented lady at M2 Productions, and we couldn’t be happier! Two very different trailers, two different books. Come back next week when we officially launch La Petite Four, with character interviews, a fun quiz, and a book giveaway. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Partying Hearty: The Ball

The quintessential 19th century party, the one most celebrated in thousands of Regency and Victorian novels, is the ball. And what’s not to love? Dresses and jewelry to die for, handsome young men in evening clothes, and license to flirt (discreetly, of course) with several of them over the course of an evening…it just didn’t get better for a nineteenth century girl.

Early on in the century, balls could be public--held in a town’s Assembly Rooms (a sort of public gathering place) and attended by anyone who paid the subscription fee--or they could be private parties, by invitation only. Assembly balls fell out of fashion by the 1830s, and thereafter most balls were private parties thrown by an individual or by a private organization (for example, charity balls for fundraising purposes).

So what happened at a ball?

Well, dancing, of course. But it was also customary to provide a room for elderly or less spry guests to play cards for the evening while the younger and more active folks danced. There was also generally food--ices and cool drinks in a room near the ballroom for a quick pick-me-up between sets, and a supper buffet served sometime in the wee hours of the morning.

So say you’re the Honorable Miss Petunia High-Instep, dressed to the nines like the young ladies in the prints I’ve posted here (note that the dresses worn to balls are a little shorter, presumably to avoid anything so catastrophic as tripping on one’s hem). What happens when you go to a ball?

You’ll arrive with your parents or other relatives…certainly not alone and without a chaperone! You leave your cloak or other wrap in the ladies’ cloakroom (staffed by a maid who was available to repair wardrobe or hairdressing mishaps). You might be greeted by the host and hostess if it’s still early in the evening (sometimes you might attend two or even three balls in one evening!) and then your mother or aunt or married sister or whoever has accompanied you will set up camp on the chairs lining the ballroom, preferably near friends to chat with…and you seat yourself with your gown becomingly arranged and wait for an invitation to dance.

When a gentleman approaches, he'll ask you to dance…meanwhile, Mama has a few seconds to check him out and nod approval. If you (or she) don’t like his looks, you can refuse…but that means you're doomed to sit that dance out, as it was not done to refuse one man and accept another after that. More than likely you say yes, both because it's dreadfully boring to sit there and watch other people dance, and so that you won’t appear to be a wallflower whom nobody wants to dance with.

You make some amount of polite conversation during your dance, and then the gentleman escorts you back to Mama and either leaves you there or asks permission to take you to the refreshment room for a quick glass of lemonade (if he's cute and you want to prolong the encounter, you can encourage this by fanning yourself and dramatically proclaiming how parched you are as he walks you back to your chair). If you're lucky, someone you like asks you for the “supper dance”, the last dance before the musicians take a break and everyone troops down for the buffet supper.

As you go to more balls, you get to know the usual crowd and learn whom you like and whom you don’t, which men are definitely worth encouraging (wealthy, titled or heir to a title, well-behaved and interesting) and which aren’t (younger sons who wouldn’t inherit much, utter boors/bores, rakes who are only looking for a good time).

Balls could be great fun if the music was good, if there were more men than women (which would help cut down on the percentage of wallflowers), if the guests were amiable…or they could be dreadful if the reverse were true. But everyone went to them.

There’s a lot more to talk about--the types of dances, for one thing--but we’ll cover that in a future post.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What Do (May) Flowers Mean?

“April showers bring May flowers.” You wouldn’t know it to look at my garden right now. We’ve had a few more May showers than usual in my part of the Pacific Northwest. I haven’t even had a chance to plant flowers yet, and the raspberries I put in a couple of weeks ago are struggling with our bouncing temperatures.

But flowers had a whole other meaning in the nineteenth century. A seemingly innocent bouquet could spell the difference between a proposal of marriage and an offer to duel to the death. Why? Because of a little thing called The Language of Flowers.

Each flower and plant meant a specific sentiment, and the way you combined them told a story. Wild tansy was a declaration of war. A single rose meant love.

Ah, but it didn’t stop there. Even the kind of rose was meaningful. A white rose declared that the giver was worthy of the one to whom it had been given. A yellow rose stated that love was in decline. Rose buds meant different things than blooming roses, and a rose tree meant something else entirely!

Here’s a few bouquets a young lady might hope to receive from a young gent she fancied:

--Calla lily, a moss rose bud, and green locust: Your beauty is magnificent, and I will love you from now to beyond the grave.
--Dwarf sunflower and peach blossom: I adore you and am captivated by you
--Monkshood and forget me not: My true love, I will be your knight errant.

And here’s a few she’d prefer not to receive:

--China aster: You are but an afterthought
--Japan rose: Beauty is your only attraction
--Spiderwort: I like you, but I’ll never love you.

So, what’s that bouquet on your table really saying?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Vic!

This coming Saturday (the 24th) will be Queen Victoria's 189th birthday. Pretty appropriate for Memorial Day weekend, isn't it? I'll be thinking of her as I plant my vegetable garden and herb pots.

Victoria took her birthdays very seriously and always discussed her personal goals for the coming year in her journals:

(on her 18th birsthday in 1837): "Today is my 18th birthday! How old! and yet how far I am from being what I should be. I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study with renewed assiduity, to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and to strive to become every day less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wills it, I'm someday to be!..."

No mention of presents in this entry, but for her 16th Victoria certainly got a fair amount of loot:

"I awoke at 1/2 past 6. Mamma got up soon after and gave me a lovely brooch made of her own hair, a letter from herself, one from dearest Feodore [Vic's half sister] with a nosegay, and a drawing and a pair of slippers done by her...Dear Lehzen gave me a lovely little leather box with knives, pencils, &c. in it, two small dictionaries and a very pretty print of Mdlle. Taglioni [one of Victoria's favorite dancers]...At 9 we breakfasted. I then received my table. From my DEAR Mamma I received a lovely enamel bracelet with her hair, a pair of fine china vases, a lovely shawl and some English and Italian books. From dearest Feodore a lovely enamel bracelet with hers and the children's hair; from Charles [Victoria's half brother] some pretty prints; from Spath [one of her ladies] a very pretty case for hankerchiefs embroidered in silver; from Sir Robert and Lady Gardiner a very pretty sort of china vase; from Sir J. Conroy a writing case; from the whole Conroy family some prints; and from Mr. George Hayter a beautiful drawing done by him. I quite forgot to say that I received a beautiful pair of sapphire and diamond earrings from the King and a beautiful prayer-book and very kind letter from the Queen...."

Not a bad haul, I think, though the jewelry made from various people's hair is a tad eerie. On the other hand, the earrings sound pretty good.

Once Victoria became queen, she no longer had to submit her journals for her mother to read. So let's hear the report on Victoria's 19th birthday:

"...At 25 m. past 10 I went with the whole Royal Family into the other Ball-room through the Saloon [not what you're thinking--"saloon" was just another word for large receiving room] which was full of people....We then went into the other room, and danced a regular old English country dance of 72 couple, which lasted 1 hour, from 3 till 4!...It was the merriest, most delightful thing possible. I left the Ball room at 10 m. past 4, and was in bed at 5--broad daylight. It was a delightful Ball, and the pleasantest birthday I've spent for many years!..."

Not so different from a teen birthday today, really.

Happy Birthday, Vic!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Nineteenth Century Bad Boys, Part II: The Heroic Poet

We see them today: celebrities who burst into the public eye, develop a massive group of followers who live for any crumb of information about their heroes, and eventually self-combust. One of these first meteors was the poet, Lord Byron.

A minor baron with chestnut curls, a club foot, and a brooding attitude, George Gordon, Lord Byron, might never have been noticed in social, let alone literary, circles if it hadn’t been for the publication in 1812 of the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. This lyric poem detailed the Grand Tour, a trip around Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey, of a rather cynical young man who bore a strong resemblance to Byron himself. The book became an overnight success, and Byron was welcomed everywhere.

The young ladies of the time buried him in letters, professing admiration, adoration. They followed him around at balls and parties, hanging on every word. Each girl was certain that her pure love would heal the wounded spirit so eloquently evident in his poetry. Lady Caroline Lamb, a young married hot-head, called him “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” and then threw herself at him, repeatedly. Byron-mania was so high that, in 1814, his work The Corsair sold 10,000 copies the first day it was published!

[Note: 10,000 copies in one day will likely earn you a respectable place on the New York Times bestsellers list.]

[Note: most young adult books today don’t even get 10,000 copies in the first printing, let alone sell them in one day.]

Sadly, less than 2 years later, Byron had 1) married badly, 2) behaved madly, and 3) been put in danger of Debtors Prison by his creditors. He escaped to the Continent and died in 1824 while trying to rescue the Greeks from Turkish oppression.

On a happier note, my publisher is sufficiently pleased with the response to La Petite Four that he moved up the publication date by 5 weeks! That means it goes on sale May 29!

This month! Where are my smelling salts?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Presenting...the Winner!

Not that everyone who commented isn't a cherished reader...but the name I pulled out of my Red Sox World Champions cap is...


Andy, please stop by the contact form on my website ( and send me your mailing address so I can send a copy of Bewitching Season to you as quickly as possible.

And thank you, all, for stopping by and commenting. Regina did a fabulous job with the interview questions and quiz, and I'm looking forward to returning the favor in the not too distant future.

In the meanwhile, speaking of "Presenting..."

May was the height of "the season", that London social whirl (and marriage market) that coincided with the sitting of Parliament just after Easter. An important part of a girl's first season was being "presented" to the king/queen/another royal filling in for the monarch, at either an afternoon "drawing room" (where young girls usually first made their debuts) or an evening "levee". Being presented meant that the monarch recognized you socially--which meant you were eligible to attend court events. Not everyone could be presented: for example, the wives and daughters of clergy, military and naval officers, barristers, and physicians could be presented...but those of merchants and businessmen, solicitors, and general practitioners could not. Girls were presented when they first came out in society, then again when they married...assuming their husbands were of acceptable rank or profession, of course!

The act of being presented to the monarch was quite an event...think of high school graduation, but way more formal and solemn. For example, there were rules about what you could wear, especially later on in Victoria's reign...these dictated everything from the neckline of your gown (you needed a note from a doctor if you wanted to wear a high-necked gown!) to the height and number of feathers you wore in your hair to what you carried (a bouquet was standard, or at least a beautiful fan) to the length of your train (and yes, you had to have one--a minimum and maximum length were given). The guys had rules about what they wore too, depending on who they were (military or civilian, for example), time of day, and so on.

Then you had to go through the acrobatic act of the presentation itself (I discussed this back in October) with walking backward while curtseying and having your train tossed to you...but then the real fun began: the parties!

Look for future posts about how the nineteenth century teen partied till she dropped.

P.S. There are some very cool books on this topic that you can probably find in your local library if you want to learn more. I recommend The Party That Lasted 100 Days by Hilary and Mary Evans, Splendour at Court by Nigel Arch and Joanna Marschner, Gilded Butterflies by Philippa Pullar, and To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

Friday, May 9, 2008

Quiz: What Do Marissa and a Nineteenth Century Miss Have in Common?

Fun Facts about Marissa Doyle and the Honorable Persephone Leland

People always ask about how much an author puts herself into her books. There are some surprising similarities between Marissa Doyle and the heroine of Bewitching Season, Persephone Leland. See if you can tell which is which!

1. This person shares her home with a loving family that includes a Lop.
a. Marissa Doyle
b. Persy Leland
c. Both of them

2. This person casts love spells.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

3. This person has a twin in the family.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

4. This person solves mysterious disappearances.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

5. This person spends summers at the seashore.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

6. This person loves magic and faraway times and places.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

7. This person graduated from a prestigious women’s university
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

8. This person belongs to an arcane society dedicated to understanding the past.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

9. This person’s story is read by both young and old alike.
a. Marissa
b. Persy
c. Both

Interesting how life mimics art. Or is it the other way around? Either way, be sure to comment before Monday, May 12, to be entered in the drawing to win an autographed copy of Marissa's book, Bewitching Season.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PSST--Comment to Win!

If you read to the end of the last post, you'll notice that we're giving away something special to anyone who comments this week. Prize to be awarded by drawing Tuesday, May 13. Read down. You know you want to.

And come back tomorrow for a fun quiz on Marissa Doyle's secret life and how it bears an uncanny resemblance in places to that of a nineteenth century young lady!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present . . . Persephone Leland

Marissa and I are very pleased to welcome two guest bloggers today, kicking off our week of celebration for the release of Marissa’s Bewitching Season. Ladies?

Priscilla: Perhaps we should start by introducing ourselves to our many fascinated readers. I’m Miss Priscilla Tate, best friend to Lady Emily Southwell, the daughter of the Duke of Emerson, and related to all the finest families in England. Our adventures are chronicled in the book La Petite Four. And you are?

Persephone: My goodness, if you're related to the finest families in England we must be cousins, then. I’m the Honourable Persephone Augusta Caroline Leland. My papa’s Viscount Atherston, and my maternal grandfather is the Duke of Revesby--Mama is his eldest daughter. We live at Mage’s Tutterow, in Hampshire, and I do believe you can learn more about us in Bewitching Season.

Priscilla: And speaking of Seasons, here we are on our first. What did you wear to your debut?

Persephone: Our presentation dresses were white silk…oh, pardon me. When I say ‘our’ I mean my twin sister, Penelope, and me. Mama chose many of our dresses the same but with differing trims so that we wouldn’t be completely alike. They were our first silk dresses...don’t you love the way silk rustles over petticoats?

Priscilla: Absolutely! But a twin sister? What fun! Do tell us what it’s like to have a twin.

Persephone: Only if you can tell me what it’s like not to have one! It must be rather lonely for the rest of you, not to have your best friend near you all the time…and Pen is my best friend, even though we’re often very different. And yes, twins can be completely different…we might have the same hair and eyes and nose and everything, but we’re not the same underneath. Our little brother Chuckles--um, I mean Charles--can always tell us apart, even when we intentionally try to fool him.

Priscilla: What’s your favorite part of the Season?

Persephone: Oh dear…you won’t laugh if I say ‘the end’, will you? I would so much rather stay at home and read and study. Besides, I…well, I don’t much care for all the strangers because I just can’t seem to chat and be sociable, the way my sister can. And besides, they’re dull as ditch water after the tenth or eleventh ball. The one time I tried slipping a book in my reticule before we left for a reception then sneaking into the hostess’s boudoir for the rest of the evening so I could read earned me two scoldings--one from Lady T., whom I surprised in the middle of a rather intimate moment with a gentleman that I’m not entirely sure was Lord T. (he hid his face rather quickly), and one later on from Mama.

But I must admit that I did love the clothes…the dresses and the gloves and slippers and shawls and everything. How can any girl not?

Priscilla: What do you think is the most important thing a young lady should remember on her first Season?

Persephone: There are several things, actually:
a. She should learn how to yawn without opening her mouth.
b. She should practice smiling for months before the Season starts. Do you know how tiring it can be to smile non-stop for two months? My cheeks began to positively cramp after the first few parties.
c. She should be careful about drinking too much brandy punch at the Gilley’s house…or anywhere, for that matter.

Priscilla: Most of us are burdened with practicing the usual pastimes--embroidery, watercolors, singing. You chose something rather unusual--magic. Why?

Persephone: We didn’t choose magic--it chose us. Magic runs in our Papa’s family, but chiefly in the females…and my sister and I were the first Leland daughters in the direct line born since King Henry VIII’s time. We were astoundingly lucky that the governess Mama hired for us, Miss Allardyce, just happened to be a witch as well, though from what I’ve recently learned it may not have been such a coincidence.

And we didn’t just learn magic. Our dear Ally is a very accomplished woman--her father is a bookseller and scholar--so we were taught Latin as well as history and arithmetic and orthography and dancing and drawing. I just wish we could have learned Greek as well. I hope to study it someday. My sister says she wishes we could have been taught to fence, if only to help keep our brother in line.

Priscilla: And I hear you cast love spells. Have you had much success? How would I, er, our readers go about that?

Persephone: My dear Miss Tate, please don’t ask! I didn’t intend to cast that love spell--really I didn’t. But I’d just gotten back from our first party and had consumed rather more of the Gilley’s punch than I should have (Freddy just kept refilling my cup) and I felt so dreadful because I thought Lochinvar Seton was starting to like my sister Pen…not that I’d blame him, because she’s so lively and fun and not at all shy…but I know she wouldn’t care for him in that way, whereas I…well, you know what I mean. And then I found that spell in Ally’s room, and I thought, “Well, why not?” I didn’t understand the “why not” till later: do you want the man of your dreams to love you because he was enchanted into it, or because he really does love you more than anything else in the depths of his soul? Do you see the difference?

Priscilla: Oh, yes! How romantic! And I understand you’re a close personal friend of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. How did that come about?

Persephone: Gracious, I wouldn’t presume that far! But I hope Her Majesty knows how much Pen and I like her as well as revere her. Did you know we all have the same birthday? That’s part of why Pen and I were so fascinated by her, growing up, and were quite excited whenever there was mention of her in the illustrated magazines. And as for how we became friends…it’s not something that I can discuss in public…you see, we all swore mutual silence after the horrifying events and narrowly-averted disaster at Her Majesty’s coming-of-age ball…but Pen and I are thrilled and proud that we were able to be of service to her. I’m sorry to be such a tease, but really, I can’t break my oath.

Priscilla: Well, I for one want to know more! We’ll have to have a little chat another time. And if you all want to know what really happened at Victoria’s birthday ball, how Persy’s love spell ended up, and the other exciting event of the London Season of 1837, you’ll simply have to find a copy of Bewitching Season, available now in bookstores nationwide!

Thank you , my dears! And I quite agree with Priscilla! If you’d like an autographed copy of Bewitching Season, be sure to leave us a comment! Everyone who comments this week will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Marissa’s delightful debut novel. And she didn’t even wear white silk to write it!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Bad Boy of Carriages

Oh, I love Marissa’s themes! I’ll have some information on bad boys in weeks to come, but I’ve been holding off on a post and it’s just itching to get out. Maybe it’s the sunshine or the fact that my wonderful critique partner Kristin has a sporty little car she drives with the top down. Either way, I keep envisioning myself tooling down the road in one of these.

As we’ve mentioned, carriages were the equivalent of cars in nineteenth century England. Then as now, some people drove sensible sedans, some hard-working trucks, and others piled into SUVs or minivans.

And some drove sports cars.

The high-perch phaeton was the sports car of the rich and famous. Showy and impractical, it was nonetheless the most dashing of carriages. When you drove a phaeton, you made a statement.

And you drove a phaeton. There were only two seats at most, so you couldn’t very well have a coachman driving for you. The minimal number of seats also came in handy if you were a gentleman who wanted a little alone time with a certain young lady. You weren’t required to have a chaperon like a maid along in open carriages, because everyone could see what was happening anyway, but stricter mamas couldn’t very well insist on one when there simply wasn’t room.

Phaetons were also one of the carriages of choice for those who liked to race. The idea was to set a record in time from point A to point B. One of the favorite roads was the stretch between London and Brighton.

And speaking of favorites, I spotted one of my favorite books this morning in a local bookstore. Now you can too! Come back next week when we’ll be giving away a chance to win an autographed copy of Marissa’s Bewitching Season!