Friday, May 28, 2010

Nineteenth Century Heroines: The Source of Innovation

Even though the nineteenth century was a time of industrial innovation, farming was one of the mainstays. From tiny hamlets and villages all over England, farmers planted, and tilled, and harvested their crops as they had for generations. Their teenage sons and daughters were enlisted, of course. My heroine for this month was one of them, growing up on a farm, going through her day-to-day tasks, helping first her father then her husband grow potatoes in the Cumberland area. She even helped haul manure to fertilize the crops.

But one day, Mary Jackson happened to notice something. Growing near her potatoes was a single stalk of oats, and one that was different from any other stalk she’d ever seen. The grains were whiter, the plant more sturdy. She decided to preserve the grain and used it for seed the next year. I imagine her husband thought she was a bit daft.

Until the crop was a huge success. It was such a success (the period paper called it to “a very extraordinary degree”) that their friends and neighbors begged for some of Mary’s seeds. Mary’s “potato oats” spread throughout the country and were soon considered “the best oats in England.” Industrious captains carried them across the seas to America and Australia. By 1881, American Cyclopedias, those compendiums of knowledge treasured by many a farm family, were advising farmers that potato oats were the best possible crop they could grow.

Mary Jackson was widowed at 42 and died forty years later, still living on her farm. Though I could not find so much as a picture of her, her death was reported in the leading gentlemen’s magazine, La Belle Assemblée, and newspapers as far away as Australia. All reports commented on how she had been greatly respected throughout her life.

But then, what else would one expect from a nineteenth century heroine?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Court Dresses and Tea Cozies

It's May, and we're in the height of the Season...or we would have been, two hundred years ago. And in addition to husband-hunting, the Season meant something else important: being presented at court. We've discussed the ins and outs of being presented in previous, due to a delightful recent purchase, I'd like to talk about what exactly our young ladies wore to court--namely, court dresses.

Court dress--what one wore when being presented to the Queen--had throughout the 18th century been very specifically prescribed by royal decree: large skirts (which were the fashion for most of the century), along with a train, lappets (streamers of lace suspended from the back of the head), and a headdress of feathers, often arranged in the Prince of Wales style (three feathers with the center one slightly taller--see above left). The dress of course was supposed to be of particularly splendid design and fabric, because after all, why else did one go to court but to show off (and go through doors sideways, as anyone wearing this dress would have had to)?

But starting in the 1790s, fashion changed. The enormous hooped skirts fell from favor until by 1800, a very different silhouette was in style--the classically inspired, high-waisted and narrow-skirted shape now known as the Empire style, which you've seen plenty of in my Fashion Forecasts over the last few months.

However, fashion did not necessarily rule at court. King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte were conservative in taste, prefering Handel to newfangled Mozart...and the powdered hair and old hooped skirts of their youth. Which meant that what was required at court presentations in 1808 wasn't all that different from what was required in 1788: enormous skirts and feathers. But modern fashion couldn't entirely be shut out...which is where tea cozies come in.

Doesn't this poor lady, who visited court in 1808 on the occasion of the King's birthday, look like something popped over a teapot to keep it warm? This La Belle Assemblee (yes, this is the recent purchase that has so tickled me) print shows what happened: bodices followed the prevailing high-waisted style, while skirts continued to follow court regulation. It made for several years of hilarious and ungainly drawing-rooms, I'm sure, and most people thought the dresses ridiculous...but Queen Charlotte remained steadfastly attached to hoopskirts until her death in 1818.

It wasn't until her son, the Prince Regent, became king two years later that hoopskirts were banished as court attire and presentation dresses could reflect everyday fashion more closely. What a relief that must have been for young ladies who didn't want to adopt the tea cozy look! A train, lace lappets, and feathers (quite a few feathers, in this case!) remained regulation attire as you can see in this Ackermann's Repository print from July 1820, but that seems like a reasonable bargain.

So let me guess...when would you have preferred to be presented? 1808, or 1820?

Friday, May 21, 2010

It Pays to Do Your Research!

Marissa originally started this blog (and invited me to join her) to share the cool things we discovered while doing research for our books. As of last week, the reverse also provide true: the research I did for this blog ended up selling a book!

You may remember my “ball at the beach” series last summer. I originally intended writing a post on Brighton, but then I realized I should probably include Lyme Regis. I didn’t know all that much about the latter, so I did some – you guessed it – research! And that led me to Scarborough. You can find the original post on the fair town here.

Suffice it to say, I fell in love with Scarborough! The red-tiled houses hugging the shore, the sweep of golden sand, the church with its choir of orphans, the elegant assembly rooms, the warmth of the people, the sharp tang of the spa waters—I could go on and on! (And I think I just did.)

So, when I was offered the opportunity to try to become one of the first Steeple Hill authors of Regency-set romances, I decided to take a chance and set the story not in London or Bath or Brighton as is usually done, but in my beloved Scarborough.

I am very pleased to announce--drum roll please!—that I have agreed to a 2-book deal with Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Historical line. The first book, set in Scarborough in 1811, will be out in June 2011 (appropriate, eh?). We’re working on a title for it as well as a concept for the second book. My editor is delighted, and I am over the moon!

All because of a love of research and a desire to share it with others. May your efforts prove similarly rewarding!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keeping Track of the Little Things

First Little Thing: I'm back from the Teen Book Festival in Rochester, NY...and it was truly an amazing event. Picture 2500 or so book-crazy teens...yeah! I gave three workshops with Alisa Libby (that's us at right) on historical fiction for teens...and we didn't get a single repeat question. Those were some seriously smart kids, and it was an honor to meet them. As well as fun!

Love the cake they served us at dinner!

Second Little Thing: Don't forget that on June 8 we'll be opening our discussion of Georgette Heyer's Cotillion. Have you found a copy and plunged into Kitty's and Freddy's London escapades yet? I'm very much looking forward to this Young Bluestockings meeting!

Third Little Thing: Regina and I have been tossing around the idea of having a future Young Bluestockings meeting center on a film instead of a book, particularly one of the recent releases set in the 19th century like Bright Star or The Young Victoria. Any thoughts? Is this something you might enjoy?

Fourth Little Thing: Having to keep track of little things is not a modern phenomenon. The young (and not so young) ladies of the 19th century, who didn't always have pockets in their dresses, had a delightfully practical and decorative way of keeping at hand all the little things one might need over the course of the day, like a notepad and pencil, or scissors, or needles, or stamps, or penknife, or pillbox, or smelling salts, or buttonhook, or thimble-case, or keys, or...well, you get my drift. It was called a chatelaine.

The section at top contained either a pin or a clip so that the chatelaine could be pinned to a dress or clipped onto a belt, and then whatever little tools were preferred could be suspended from the multiple chains. Chatelaines could be workmanlike--a pair of scissors and a needlecase hung from a ribbon--or works of jeweler's art
like these.

Fifth Little Thing: Well, it isn't at all fact, it's pretty big...but you'll have to wait until Regina tells you about it later this week because (a) I'm a dreadful tease and (b) I'm very happy about it.

How do you keep track of the little things in your life?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bored? To the Tower!

We’ve talked from time to time about things teens of the nineteenth century did to entertain themselves, particularly in London. Today, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions is the Tower of London. It was one of the most popular attractions in the nineteenth century too, and for many of the same reasons.

For one thing, until 1834, the Tower housed the Royal Menagerie. That’s right, you went to the Tower to go to the zoo. They had monkeys, ostriches, lions, and tigers, and the first grizzly bear in England. Personally, I’m not fond of animals in cages, and these poor animals would have lived entirely in iron-barred cells surrounded by stone walls. They also didn’t always get the best care. One ostrich died from eating nails!

Okay, so maybe you don’t want to see the animals. There’s always the Royal Armory! The Tower held armor and weapons from England and the nations that paid it court, from Asia to Africa and all points in between. Said an 1809 tourist publication:

The horse-armoury contains, among other appropriate articles of curiousity, the effigies of the kings of England, clad in armour and on horseback, inclusively from William the Conqueror to his late Majesty George II. They are as large as life, and some of them appear in the suits of armour which those sovereigns actually wore.

Hm. Dead guys on horses. The history geek in me squeals with delight, but it probably wasn’t the best choice for a young man squiring a young lady about town. But there was one place in the Tower sure to delight any young lady: The Jewel Office.

The Jewel Office was a small, dark stone room that contained the crown jewels, including St. Edward’s Crown, used to crown all British monarchs for centuries. The Jewel Office even held the silver font used in baptisms of the Royal Family. Says an 1844 visitor’s guide:

In the Jewel Office are preserved the imperial regalia, and all the crown-jewels worn by princes and princesses at the coronation, together with the whole of the paraphernalia used on those occasions. Independent of a variety of articles, many of which are inestimable, the value of the precious stones in this office considerably exceeds two million sterling.

Pretty things in slightly spooky surroundings—what girl wouldn’t hang all over her fellow to be there?

For part of the nineteenth century, the Tower was open to the public on Sundays; at other times it was open daily. The cost ranged from a shilling to see the menagerie, 2 shillings for the armories, and 2 shillings for the Jewel Office to 6 shillings for the whole shebang later in the century.

So, to the Tower with you, young misses and masters. Will it be beasties, swords and pistols, or jewelry for you?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Quick Note--TBF LIVE!

Any Nineteenteen readers in the Rochester/western New York area? I'm going to be one of two dozen authors talking books at the 5th Annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival on Saturday, May 15 from 9-5 at Nazareth College in Rochester, and would love to see you! Check out the link to their site for a full list of the day's events and the authors presenting there. I'll be talking about historical fiction along with YA author Alisa Libby, whose history geekiness tends toward the Tudors (check out her most recent book, The King's Rose, about the beautiful and tragic Catherine Howard).

I'll post pics on Tuesday. Hope to see you!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Remembering the Ladies

"I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." --Abigail Adams to her husband John on March 31, 1776

Alas. For women authors in much of the 19th century, the last thing they wanted to remember was that they were female. Because at that time, it was almost impossible to get published if you were a woman.

Not that there weren't women who published as themselves--we've talked about Ann Radcliffe, and there was Hannah Moore, a poet and writer on religion and Maria Edgeworth, a poet and children's writer. They published under their own names, but most women writers born after them--they were all born in the middle of the 18th century--did not. Jane Austen, first published in 1811 (Sense and Sensibility) and Mary Shelley (her Frankenstein came out in 1818) chose to publish anonymously or semi-anonymously. The intellectually freer 18th century had given way to a more close-minded 19th; despite a woman being on the throne, female authors were looked upon with condescension, if not contempt.

Which is why in 1847 three literary-minded sisters living in Yorkshire decided that if they were going to find publishers for the novels they'd been working on, they needed to find names that weren't quite as feminine sounding as Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. Instead, the authors of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey put the androgynous names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell on their masterpieces. As Charlotte later wrote, "Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' -- we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise."

Nor were the Brontes the last to understand the limitations under which they operated. One of the greatest of 19th century novelists, male or female, was Mary Ann Evans...more commonly known as George Eliot.

All of this is to give you a little background for a truly wonderful piece of video I ran across recently...enjoy, and remember the ladies!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Courtship and Marriage, La Belle Assemblée Style

Ah, La Belle Assemblée, that bible of style and culture read by nineteenth century girls throughout the Empire, and writers wishing to understand them. I was browsing the September 1810 issue this week. One column was labeled “Provincials, Including Remarkable Occurrences, Deaths and Marriages, &c. In the Several Counties of Great Britain,” with Great Britain meaning England, Scotland, and Ireland. There was a report of a woman in Sheerness Garrison in Kent who had given birth to 6 children in 9 months (quintuplets and twins); sadly none lived. There were several stories gruesome stage coach accidents (people trampled by horses, thrown from windows). There was even a long, grisly description of an execution of murderers in Ireland.

But what I found particularly interesting in this issue were the stories of courtship and marriage.

Sometimes, it seems, love conquers all. Take this entry: “Married: Mr. Joseph Holmes of Woodhouse to Miss M. Cooper of Hunflet, near Leeds. The bridegroom is deaf and dumb.”

Then love can work miracles. Take the case of Mr. W. Stephenson and a widow of Derbyshire. According to the magazine, “This blooming young widow had interred her former husband about twelve weeks, and was apparently inconsolable for his loss, till within a few days of her union with Mr. Stephenson, the sight of whose athletic form drove the tear of sorrow from her eye, and replaced it with the compassionate glance of love.”

And sometimes life simply isn’t fair! One story reported how the widowed Mrs. Graham brought charges of breach of promise of marriage against Mr. Hetherington. He told her father he wanted to marry her one July, but by October he still hadn’t made good on his promise. She tracked him down to a posting house and demanded to know why. He made up some lame excuse about his friends not liking her but claimed he didn’t care what they said, he was going to marry her the very next Saturday at Carlisle.

So the poor thing goes to the church, and what does Mr. Hetherington say, right at the altar, but that he’d changed his mind! She goes home, and he follows her, kneels down in front of her and her mother and “imprecated the vengeance of Heaven on himself, if he did not, on the Monday following, fulfill his promise.” So once again she gets ready for her wedding, and he disappears!

When the Court located him and called him to appear, he claimed that 1) she was pregnant and the child wasn’t his (no mention is made anywhere in the year leading up to the story of Mrs. Graham giving birth—longest pregnancy on record—NOT!), 2) she was too old for him (well, she was the same amount of old when you proposed, buddy!), and 3) because he was so young there was a good chance she’d “ensnared” him (yeah, ensnared people generally run away at the drop of a hat). The Court found for Mrs. Graham and awarded her 100 pounds (the equivalent of about $10,000 in the buying power of the U.S. dollar today).

Personally, in a time when stealing a loaf of bread was punishable by death or deportation, I wonder why the fellow wasn’t hanged! But maybe I’m too focused on how wonderful love should be. How would you have dealt with the dithering Mr. Hetherington and much-put-upon Mrs. Graham?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1815

Time for more eye candy!

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1815?

1815 was, of course, a momentous year in European history as it saw the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte by a combined English, Dutch, and Prussian army under the Duke of Wellington and General Blucher.

In January, however, this was all in the future; the Congress of Vienna still hashed over the terms of the new Europe, Napoleon was apparently contained in exile on Elba, and England got used to the reality of peace again. Equally serene is this charming Evening Dress from Ackermann’s Repository. Note the pretty embroidered hem and the becoming upswept hair style:
In February that serenity was shattered with news of the escape of Napoleon from Elba and his nearly unopposed March on Paris, which greeted him rapturously. Was the young lady in this graceful and very classically inspired Evening Dress from Ackermann’s Repository contemplating a suddenly uncertain future?:
I just adore this Ackermann print, as one of the characters in my upcoming book has a pet parakeet who plays an important role in the plot in April 1815, when this print was published. That’s quite an elaborate cap for a morning dress, don’t you think?:
In June came the Battle of Waterloo, as mentioned above. Wellington’s “near run thing” captured the popular imagination…and led to merchandising opportunities. I don’t have a date for this print from La Belle Assemblee, but I would dearly like to know just what made it a “Waterloo Walking Dress”!:
Charming is the first word that comes to mind when looking at this Promenade Dress from the August edition of Ackermann. Note the quizzing glass, an essential item when strolling in the park in order to see and be seen. Note also that the waist has crept up on most of the dresses in 1815, after bouncing around a bit in earlier years:
I love the sleeves on this Dinner Dress from September’s Ackermann’s Repository. This very Renaissance look will stay in style for the next decade or so. I also like the Vandyke collar:
Let’s end with a burst of color! England was suffering through an economic depression caused by the end of the war, and social unrest would be a major feature if life for the next several years…but Napoleon had been sent to a tiny island in the middle of the barren South Atlantic. The long years of war were over.

I don’t have the text accompanying this print, but I would dearly like to know if the flowers decorating the hem of this show-stopping Evening Dress were real or artificial. Notice the ruffles at the hem of her gloves and the interesting chunky necklace she’s wearing! (Ackermann’s Repository, December 1815):

What do you think of 1815’s fashions?