Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen...

We're winding down our Nineteen Reasons why We Love the Nineteenth Century series this week, so post a comment explaining what you love about it and be entered in a drawing to win a genuine 19th century fashion print...or if you'd rather, let us know what topics you like us to discuss over the next months and you just might win a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.

14. The slang: Did you read the series of posts I did over the summer about 19th century slang? Then you'll probably agree that for sheer inventiveness without resorting to obscenities, the nineteenth century had it all over modern times when it comes to slang. From mushrooms to cat lap, chicken nabobs to caper merchants, and whipt syllabub to kickshaws, you just have to admire its creativity.

15. The books: I'm not talking about the content here--I mean the actual physical objects. Books were beautifully bound in leather, decorated with exquisite gold leafing, adorned with facings of elegant marbled paper and gilt edgings. often with a silk ribbon bookmark bound in...truly works of art. And so much more satisfactory than today's mass-market paperbacks--so much more presence, such heft and gravity--don't you think?

16. Coming out: On the bad side, you had girls who'd barely spoken to a male outside of family and servants being plunged into the social scene of London or the other large cities of Britain to look for husbands, girls who one month were in the schoolroom and the next month being presented at court...imagine what that was like. On the good side, those girls got to play Cinderella in real life, and understood that once they came out, they were adults and had to conduct themselves as such....whereas today adolescence can sometimes linger well into the twenties. But the clincher is, of course, that what would we writers of historical fiction do without the whole coming out phenomenon to write about?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Need More Reasons?

We’re not done yet! We promised you nineteen reasons why we love the nineteenth century. We really appreciate all the comments and suggestions for the blog. Keep them coming and you might win a genuine fashion plate or a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. So, here are three more reasons:

11. Dancing. The steps were elegant or joyful, the movements refined. And the eye contact. Oh, my blushing cheeks. You can slow dance all you want. Give me a few moments in a set with a Regency gentleman gazing at me in appreciation. Can you hear my heart beating faster?

12. Shopping. We shop. We flock to malls and wander along eying the displays. Ever notice that a lot of it looks the same? In the nineteenth century, virtually everything was made by hand. Oh, machine looms were starting to make stockings mechanically, displacing hundreds of workers, but, in general, if you wanted a new dress, someone had to take your measurements, design it, cut it from fabric you’d chosen, and sew it by hand just for you. Same with shoes, gloves, jewelry, fans, bonnets, and hats. Now there you could certainly make a fashion statement all your own! Everything was a designer original!

13. Candlelight. Florescent lights are energy efficient, but they make me look pale and sickly. Candlelight provides a golden glow that flatters almost everyone. Even today we think of it as warm and inviting. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with candles. Romantic dinners for two are often bathed in candlelight. Can you imagine dancing under crystal chandeliers alight with over 1,000 candles?

Well, okay, I do like fire extinguishers too and air conditioning. Very handy. What about you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More of those Nineteen Reasons

Thanks so much for writing in with your comments on what you love about the Nineteenth Century and what you'd like to see us discuss in NineteenTeen--keep them coming! Don't forget that doing so enters you into drawings for a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card or a genuine 19th century fashion print.

So here are a few more reasons why I love the nineteenth century...

7. The Manners. So maybe having to remember to curtsey to your elders and social superiors and always speak and carry yourself gently and quietly in public could feel restrictive to young women. But it also meant that in general, people didn't behave badly in public. Is that a fair trade-off? Would you prefer the more formal manners of the past? I know I would...

8. Horses. Say what you like about hot cars, but honestly, they're soulless things made in factories and one looks pretty much like another in my eyes. Horses on the other hand are individuals with personalities and differences and strengths and weaknesses that add a layer to life that we no longer have, for better or worse. And at least their emissions can be recycled.

9. Hats. I suppose that this could go under "the gorgeous clothes for women" category, but there's more to it than that. Hats are meta-clothes: they have their own language that can reinforce or give lie to the messages given by a dress or coat. A fluffy hat worn with a demure dress can give the message that the wearer has hidden depths, for example. It can flirt by giving a glimpse of partly concealed locks of hair or gracefully accenting the face, or cover up bad hair days. Women lost something when hats went out of fashion.

10. Jane Austen. I made the mistake of trying to read Pride and Prejudice when I was twelve, and didn't get past the first chapter. Even though I was a very advanced reader, I just didn't get it. But when I read it at seventeen, I realized how wonderfully funny it was and read all the other Jane stories as quickly as possible. Don't pick up a Jane Austen novel expecting something big and dramatic and passionate like Wuthering Heights (though Persuasion is a beautifully romantic story). Read it for the quiet, ironical humor and the finely drawn characters and the glimpse into nineteenth century life. If you're not a total history geek, look for a foot-noted edition that explains some of the more obscures references--it will deepen your appreciation of the humor and give you a better picture of 19th century life. Jane was one of the first authors EVER to write about ordinary people and ordinary things and yet make them totally fascinating. That's not only very important for literature as a whole, but also very cool.

What do you think?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Three More Reasons Why

Happy birthday to us! Thanks so much for adding your comments on why you love the nineteenth century. Don’t forget, commenting or suggesting a new topic for us enters you to win a wonderful fashion plate or a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble! We’ll draw the names when we get to our nineteenth reason why we love the nineteenth century in a couple weeks. So, here are some of my reasons why:

4. Marissa mentioned the gorgeous women’s clothes, but I love the sophisticated gentlemen’s clothes even more. (And no, it’s not because I’ve been known to masquerade as a dandy!) Those tailored jackets, the polished boots, the high-crowned beavers, all speak of prestige and power. And a man in a black cape, white shirt, and breeches still makes me swoon! The basic suit that developed in the nineteenth century is still the mark of a well-dressed man today. Though I wager none can swagger quite as well as Byron or Brummell.

5. The elegant equipages: There’s something fine about riding high, feeling the strength of very real horses pulling at the reins, knowing you control their motions with a flick of your wrist. You can keep your sports cars—give me a sleek barouche and set of prancing pairs any day of the week.

6. The imaginative architecture: From columns, clean lines, and crisp stone to fanciful
gingerbread, the nineteenth century saw its shifts in architectural vogue. There’s something solid, permanent, and impressive about the earlier styles, but I must admit to a fondness to the later ornamentation. It looks more feminine, kinder, sweeter to me, speaking of tea and cakes and Aunt Bess playing the pianoforte in the background. I can just see myself living here.

So, what are your favorite things?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to Us, and Nineteen Reasons Why We Love the Nineteenth Century

One year ago this week I logged into Blogspot and wrote about 19th century girls defending themselves with fans, not knowing if anyone would actually read it. To my surprise and delight, somebody did. Regina and I were thrilled…could it be that others shared our preoccupation with all things nineteenth century?

So in celebration of our first birthday, we’re going to take a week or three to talk about just what it is we love about those hundred years…and we invite you to chime in with your love notes to the century of the Prince Regent and the Queen-Empress. All of you who post a comment to tell us why YOU love the nineteenth century during our birthday celebrations will be entered in a drawing to win a genuine 19th century fashion plate from my collection, matted to a standard frame size. Put on your history geek hat (mine is a Regency-period amethyst purple silk turban with feathers, like this one) and write in.

Now about those nineteen reasons why…

1. It had Queen Victoria
Does it amaze you as much as it does me that this tiny woman (not even five feet tall) towered over this century? That a female so influenced a time when men still held all the power? That a monarch who “reigned” rather than held decisive ruling power so shaped the course of her country?

2. The gorgeous clothes for women
One of the cool things about 19th century women’s clothing is the wide variation in style across time. From the opening years of the century when women aspired to look like Grecian columns to the huge bell-shaped skirts of the fifties and sixties to the enormous projecting bustles of the seventies and back to a narrow profile in the late nineties, it’s one long kaleidoscopic parade of change. You may hate some of it (those enormous bustles just look plain goofy to me) but you can’t help being fascinated and (generally) charmed.

3. The different pace of life
Just think about it for a minute. No computers and Internet. No TV or radio. No telephone until well into the end of the century. Ditto for cars. If you wanted to talk to a friend, you didn’t text her. You wrote a note inviting her to call and had the footman deliver it (if you were wealthy and lived in town, that is) and if she were home she might scribble a reply for him to carry back to you. If you were about to explode because you wanted to tell her about the outrageous thing Lord Roderick said to you during the intermission at the opera last night, you asked the footman to tell the stables to prepare the carriage and you dragged your mother (or your maid, if you had permissive parents) to come out with you to call on her. Which meant changing into a suitable dress first, of course.

But maybe living life at a slower pace wasn't such a bad thing. After all, you would have been used to it. And there’s something to be said for delayed gratification. No, really. I can’t help thinking that it would have been nice to live more slowly and have more time and opportunity to think and observe and appreciate. But I’m kind of weird that way.

I’ll stop there for now and let Regina chime in with some of hers on Friday. The other thing we want to do at this one-year point is to ask you how we’re doing. Is there something that you’d like to see discussed on NineteenTeen that we haven’t yet covered? Please post a comment with your suggestion for future topics…as incentive, everyone who sends in a idea for something we haven’t yet talked about will be entered in a drawing to receive a gift certificate from Barnes & Noble. So think about it, and let us know.

I’m off to eat cake and ice cream.

Friday, September 12, 2008

September is for Celebration!

(Note: I'm posting this for Regina, who is hopefully on her way home out of Texas and Hurricane Ike's path. To our readers on the Gulf Coast, please take care!)

In the United States, the fall ushers in a series of celebrations, from Halloween to New Year's. Nineteenth century lads and lasses had their own celebrations, starting with Harvest Home in September.

Harvest Home, or Ingathering, traditionally was a dinner to celebrate the last of the grain coming in from the fields. In the 1700s, it was celebrated on September 22 in England, but the date and the amount of celebration gradually waned through the 1800s. The final harvest was generally commemorated by each farmer with a huge outdoor supper for those who had labored in the fields (men, women, and children). The last sheaves of grain were often brought in by cart and tied in such a way as to resemble a human, dubbed “John Barleycorn.” (Thanks to Jack London, the name is synonymous with alcohol, but that wasn’t the original intent!)

Supper might be a round of beef and rasher of bacon or perhaps a chicken, goose, or turkey. Laborers ate off wooden trenchers and drank from horns filled with beer or cider.

According to William Hone’s Year Book (1832), men would offer the farmer the following toast:

“Here’s to the health of our master
The founder of the feast,
And I hope to God wi’ all my heart
His soul in heaven mid rest
That every thing mid prosper
That ever he take in hand
For we be all his servants
And all at his command.”

During and after the supper, participants would treat each other to jokes, stories, and songs. The local gentry or aristocracy would provide some token of appreciation, often money, called “largesse.” After all, some portion of that harvest would trickle back into their coffers as rent, seeing them through the year as well.

And speaking of celebrations and years, next week marks the one year anniversary of Nineteen Teen! Marissa and I thank you all for spending time with us this past year and hope you’ll continue to grace us with your presence in the coming year. And to celebrate (and share some of our largesse), we’ll be offering chances to win prizes and provide input on where we go from here. Please join us!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Princess Charlotte, Part 1: The Orphan with Two Parents

So you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a just a little obsessed with Queen Victoria (and no, I’m not done with her yet—another installment of her story awaits.) Do you remember the peculiar story of her birth, with her father and all the other middle-aged male members of the royal family haring off to find brides so that they could have legitimate offspring capable of inheriting the throne? All that happened because her cousin, the ONE legitimate grandchild of King George III, died in childbirth at age 22. I thought it might be interesting to go back and have a look at that poor girl, Princess Charlotte of Wales, whose bizarre family circumstances and brief life story rivals that of any Britney or Paris today.

Charlotte’s papa was, as you might recall, the Prince of Wales, eldest son of King George III. Prinny led a pretty wild life: he was handsome and charming, but had zero impulse control and spent money like it grew on trees. When he was 23 he fell in love with a lady named Maria Fitzherbert and tried to make her his mistress…but the devoutly Catholic widow, several years older than he, refused.

So desperate Prinny took the astounding step of offering marriage (how he did that is a story unto itself!), and was accepted. This was blatantly illegal, as Prinny’s dad had enacted something called the Royal Marriages Act, which forbade members of the royal family from marrying without the King’s assent before the age of 25…and it was also in defiance of two earlier anti-Catholic acts. But Prinny and Mrs. Fitzherbert lived together for several years as husband and wife.

By 1794 he’d lost interest in the lovely Maria and had embarked on a series of mistresses. His family was pressuring him to produce an heir, which meant finding a Protestant princess that he could legally marry. Prinny ignored them. The clincher that finally brought him to bay was money; by this time he was outrageously in debt, to the tune of millions of today’s dollars. His creditors petitioned the Prime Minister for repayment, but the government had bailed him out once already and refused to again. However, marrying would bring him a much larger allowance from the royal Privy Purse…so Prinny consented to wed.

Two of his cousins were proposed…and Prinny chose Caroline of Brunswick based on the recommendations of his mistress Lady Jersey, who had ulterior motives…Caroline was rumored to coarse and ill-mannered, and Lady Jersey did not want a rival for Prinny’s affections in the form of a wife.

Caroline was not only coarse and ill-mannered. She was not fond of bathing and was rumored to have already engaged in several affairs, but seemed willing enough to try to fit into her new family. Prinny, however, loathed her on sight and went to their wedding three days after her arrival so drunk that he had to be supported by two dukes. Three weeks after their marriage, the Prince and his new Princess were living on separate floors of Carlton House, the Prince’s London home.

However, it seemed Prinny had managed to endure his wife long enough in that time to perform his royal duty, for it soon became known that the Princess was pregnant. One day short of nine months after their wedding day, she gave birth to a princess, who was christened Charlotte after the Queen.

Many upper class children in those days were pretty much raised by servants, with brief daily visits by their parents. But when baby Charlotte was a year old her mother moved to her own house five miles away and thereafter only visited her occasionally. Prinny himself saw her a little more frequently, but when she was five he moved her to a neighboring house and moved Mrs. Fitzherbert back into Carlton House. And, to quote the fascinating and recently published Charlotte and Leopold, by James Chambers (Old Street Publishing, 2007), “…for the rest of her childhood, Princess Charlotte Augusta, who was fully expected to succeed her father one day as Queen of England, lived in a household of her own, in the company of no one who was not paid to be there.”

Sad, huh?

Stay tuned for Princess Charlotte, Part II: The Tarnished Tiara. And stay tuned also for a fun announcement from Regina on Friday. Want a hint? Think cake…

Friday, September 5, 2008

School, Schmool

Most of us with family in K-12 are back to school in the states. I remember my school days fondly. I loved school, loved reading, loved learning. I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to be over so I could go back for more! I’m sure that’s why I can so easily envision my heroines in La Petite Four going to boarding school. So I was a bit surprised to find, in my research this week, that some women (though by no means all) were ardently opposed to young ladies going to the equivalent of high school in the nineteenth century.

Consider the words of J.M. Lacey in The Lady’s Magazine, December 1814, on the prospect of seeing her fifteen-year-old niece be sent to a boarding school for “finishing”:

“The mother of the young lady is, perhaps, one of the very best examples of female propriety, that can be found: and the daughter, from spending all her time, except that occupied by instruction with her, is as interesting as is possible for a young female to be. All the best affections of the heart, all the true fondness for home, all the genuine love for her relatives, are so commingled in her breast, that I should be very sorry to see any such feelings destroyed by the attempt at improvement above-mentioned.

I must confess my fears that the general practice of sending female children to boarding-schools is not one which will tend to make them better, either as daughters, wives, or mothers. I do not mean, for an instant, to censure any of those who are the keepers of them, nor to find any fault with their regulations; many of both are excellent; but the very circumstance of so many children being together, tends to injury. They will not be all alike, the children of rich parents; and those, who are so, will be apt to infuse pride among the meaner ones, thus occasioning in them a sort of detestation of home and fashionable demeanor, totally unfit for the station they are to fill in life. A vast number of other, and stronger objections are to be found in the circumstances of their being so much alone together, which neither the best school-mistress, nor the most able teachers can prevent. But with me the very strongest objections are the alienation of affection, and the almost total unfitness for domestic duties, which too often follow such an education; and these are things most essential to a female. What is so dearly interesting as to see a young maiden pouring forth all that natural flow of love and regard for parent, brother, or sister, which shows a heart unpolished, a mind untainted by fashion or by folly; and in later life, what so necessary as the complete knowledge of domestic duties; and the cheerful, because habitual fulfillment of them? And how, let me ask, is this likely to be the portion of a female unless brought up under the eye of her mother?”

So, going to school would make you 1) think you could improve your life over the one your parents had led, 2) bring you closer to your friends, and 3) make you dream of being more than a trophy wife. Oh, such a dreadful fate! I can hear that finishing school calling.

Can you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I Read Over Summer Vacation

Hello! It’s great to be back to regular twice-weekly posts after our summer schedule. It’s also great to note that this is our 100th post! Thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing our history geekism—your input has kept us going.

Did you have summer reading that you had to do, either for school or for a book club? I did: I set myself to remedy a huge gap in my education, and read Georgette Heyer. Does that name sound familiar? It just might, because Ms. Heyer was more or less the inventor of the Regency romance novel.

The Regency is that period between 1811 and 1820 during which George, the Prince of Wales, served as regent for his insane father, King George III. When King George died in early 1820, the Prince Regent became king and reigned another ten years as King George IV. These years are best remembered for their style: the Prince Regent was known for his interest in the arts, and British culture reflected this. Prinny was also known for his love of fun; after years of boring, drab formality under George III, high society blossomed under his son. It’s a fascinating period, and Georgette Heyer’s books offer a delightful fictionalized view of it.

Ms. Heyer (she published under her maiden name) wrote over fifty books, mostly historicals though she also wrote twelve mysteries. The majority of her historical fiction has a Regency setting, usually involving courtship and marriage among aristocrats and wealthy members of the gentry (the so-called ton). The heroes are world-weary, rakish, fabulously rich earls or viscounts whose jaded hearts are captivated by charming, sprightly country girls or elegant, intelligent bluestockings who’ve sworn never to marry. Don’t expect reality from the plot-lines, but do expect to be entertained when a strong-minded young heroine decide to rescue the hero from marriage to a painfully prim stick-in-the mud and falls in love with him herself, or a poor but spirited young woman fabricates a family tie to a reprobate Marquis in order to get his help in introducing her beautiful young sister into society, or a girl decides to save her older sister from marriage to a known rake by proposing to him herself. The tone of the books is generally light-hearted and amusing (if not downright humorous), but surprisingly touching bits creep in when you don’t expect them.

But the best part of a Georgette Heyer book is (of course!) the look at Regency period life and customs. Ms. Heyer was an enormous stickler for detail, down to giving the names of real coaching inns and men's tailors. She tends to go a little heavy on period slang, which can take getting used to—and some think that her use does not necessarily reflect actual speech—but it’s all part of the fun…the dialogue is wonderful, sparkling, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Intrigued? Here’s a link to a list of her work: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/georgette-heyer . Until recently her books were out of print; I lucked out and found a huge lot of them on eBay, but they’re easily found in used bookstores, and several titles have been re-released with handsome new covers by Sourcebooks and can be found in bookstores and on-line. My favorites so far (I’m only about a third of the way through the list) are The Grand Sophy (wonderful fun!), Frederica, Arabella, and The Spanish Bride (based on actual people and events.)

So if La Petite Four and Bewitching Season have whetted your appetite for fun historical fiction, you just might give Ms. Heyer a try.