Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How I Spent My Weekend, plus a little Shameless Self-Promotion and a Giveaway or Two

I’m delighted to announce that Betraying Season is being released today in paperback from Square Fish/Macmillan!

For an excerpt and other notes about the story, please visit my website.

For on-line ordering info, you can check out your local independent bookseller or Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's, or the Book Depository (which has free international shipping!)

And to win a free copy, just post a comment today or on Regina’s post Friday. I’ll be picking two winners this week!

Now, as for my weekend...

I'm lucky enough to live in a part of the country that's seen a fair bit of history, and once a year, not too far from me, some of that history comes to life. Every fall for the last forty years at the Wayside Inn, the Annual Colonial Faire and Muster of Fifes and Drums has delighted visitors with a mock battle between reenactor minutemen and Redcoats (need I say whom always wins?), craft demonstrations of 18th century life, and best of all, a full day of fife and drum music provided by the fifteen or so fife and drum corps invited from all over New England. I can't, alas, play you the music, but I can give you an idea of some of the wonderful costumes worn by the reenactors. Makes you understand why Lydia and Kitty are constantly swooning over Wickham and his friends in Pride and Prejudice, doesn't it?

These folks of the Middlesex County Volunteers wore wigs and all--very sharp!
Have to have Minutemen, of course (the Stow, MA Minutemen, to be precise):
And Redcoats to skirmish with the Minutemen:
And let's not forget the Navy, both the officers...
And the sailors. Some of these guys went barefoot, which takes reenacting to a whole different level of dedication:
Don't you love...

...a man in a uniform?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvesting at Assemblies

Have you brought in your harvest yet? It is officially autumn, and September 22 marked the traditional time of Harvest Home in nineteenth century England. Harvest Home celebrated the end of hay-making, when all the hay and other crops had been gathered for the winter. If your dear Papa owned lands, he probably offered his tenants and farm laborers a gift of money in thanks for a good season. If your dear Papa was one of those laborers, you’d have probably spent Harvest Home celebrating with him at a big dinner with all the workers, followed by jokes, stories, and songs. Here’s how a gentleman from Dorset remembered it in 1832:

“The conversation commonly turned on the incidents of the summer: how the hay-makers overtook the mowers, or how the rain kept the labor back; how they all crept in a heap under the wagon in a thunderstorm; how nearly some of them were crushed under the load that was upset; who was the best mower or reaper in the village; which field yielded the best crop; and which stack was most likely to heat.”

Either way, the harvest time was a jolly good time for a ball.

We’ve talked about public and private balls before. Public balls were generally held in assembly rooms and so might be called assemblies. Jane Austen talks about going to assemblies in her letters to her sister Cassandra. Take this one from Lyme Regis in September 1804:

“The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for Thursday. . . Nobody asked me to dance the two first dances – the next two I danced with Mr. Crawford – and had I chosen to stay longer might have danced with Mr. Granville, Mrs. Granville’s son – whom my dear friend Miss Armstrong introduced me to – or a new, odd-looking man, who had been eyeing me for some time, and at last without introduction asked me if I meant to dance again.”

You see, the primary “harvest” of an assembly was acquaintance. You went to meet old friends and make new ones. At the assembly, you danced, you promenaded about the room on a gentleman’s or a girl friend’s arm and whispered confidences, you partook of light refreshment and strong gossip. If you were on the lookout for a husband, you flirted and visited and preened to catch the right fellow’s eye.

In the mood for dancing yourself? A group recently introduced themselves to us, and so we pass along the introduction. Mostly Waltz RI is just beginning its season this Sunday with beautiful live music. In addition to the waltzes, the program includes a basic waltz lesson and waltz mixers along with occasional other couple dances. If, like me, you don't live anywhere near Rhode Island, look for other contra dance or English Country Dance groups in your area.

Who knows what you might harvest?

And speaking of harvesting, return next week to reap of bounty. I hear someone will be giving away books.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Such Language! Part 6

Well, first things first. Thank you all so much for your suggestions during our birthday week--we'll be incorporating them into Nineteenteen over the course of the year. And don't forget, we're always open to suggestions and feedback, whether it's our birthday or not.

Now the fun part...the winner of our birthday giveaway is MysteryRobin! MysteryRobin, please email me through the contact form on my website and we'll get your Borders gift card and other goodies out to you.

It's been a while since we had a vocabulary lesson...enjoy these from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:

Beau-nasty: a slovenly fop, finely dressed but dirty. ("No, I didn't waltz with that beau-nasty Tom; he may dance like a dream, but his linen doesn't bear thinking about.")

Squeeze-crab: a sour-looking person ("I declare, that Agatha is such a squeeze-crab she makes lemons appear sweet!")

Horse-godmother: A large, muscular woman. ("Isn't it lovely that Pearl's being such a horse-godmother hasn't stopped Lord Brobdinang from paying her suit?")

Fellow-commoner: Cambridge University slang for an empty bottle, so called because fellow-commoners (a class of students) were not held to be over-full of learning. ("Seeing the row of fellow-commoners on the stairs outside his door, I have to wonder just what kind of an education dear Freddy is getting.")

Lollpoop: A lazy, idle person. ("Oh, don't be such a lollpoop and come walk in Hyde Park with me!")

Tickle-pitcher: A thirsty fellow or drunkard. ("Dear Freddy says his friend Hodges is much more of a tickle-pitcher than he.")

Red rag: the tongue. ("I do wish Harry would stop waving the red rag at Miss Mortimer; she looks as if her ears are in pain from his incessant chatter.")

Friday, September 17, 2010

Quiz: Is It My Birthday?

Thank you all so much for your suggestions and encouragement around Nineteenteen's third birthday! We love hearing from you!

The nineteenth century saw the invention of many wonderful technologies and the birth of entirely new courses of scientific study, art, and literature. As part of our birthday bash, we thought you might have fun trying to figure out which of the following were first created in the nineteenth century. Because 100 years is a bit of a long span to consider, we’re narrowing it to things created anywhere from 1800 to 1820.

Figure out which of these items you think was “born” between 1800 and 1820, then check the answers in the comment section to see how you did. We’d love to hear how you scored, but please don’t tell where you found your answers. You might spoil the fun for someone else.

Remember, anyone who comments on this post or Marissa’s Tuesday post will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Borders gift card (it works online too, I’ve been told, so you don’t have to have one near you) and a genuine Nineteenteen faux-Regency fan. We’ll collect comments until midnight Monday. Good luck!

1. Submarine

2. Battery

3. Wellington boots

4. Tin can

5. Plastic surgery

6. Soda pop

7. Ice cream

8. The Gothic novel

9. Poker (the card game)

10. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Happy Birthday to Us, Part 3

It’s a little—okay, more than a little—shocking to us to realize we’ve been blogging at NineteenTeen for three whole years now. I honestly had no idea we’d persist this long—I was sure we’d run out of topics by now, but they just keep on appearing. Isn't history wonderful?

As you probably know, we use our birthday as an opportunity to ask you, our readers, what topics you’d like to see us cover or what features you’d like to see more (or less) of. So here we go!

What have you enjoyed reading about most over the last year or more, and what hasn’t particularly interested you? We got rather a mixed response to our Young Bluestocking Book Club, and are on the fence about continuing it…is it something you enjoy reading, and should we persevere? Do you want us to continue to occasionally discuss movies or television of possible 19th century interest? Do you want to see more biographies of famous (and not-so-well known) 19th century people? Do you like the Fashion Forecasts? Do you want more guest posts?

While Regina and I remain devoted history geeks, we don’t blog for our own amusement—we blog for our readers. So come on, Dear Readers, let us know what you’d like more of (or less of) at NineteenTeen...and to encourage your thinking processes, all suggestions will be entered in a drawing to win a $25 Borders Books gift card and perhaps another goodie or two (we do have a handful of NineteenTeen fans left). So join us in a virtual bite of cake and sip of finest oolong served in the best Minton china...and happy birthday to us!

P.S. Want to give us a birthday present? We'd love to get up to one hundred followers, so if you've got any historically inclined friends, send them here!

Friday, September 10, 2010

There's Graphite in Them Thar Hills

I love research. Oh, have I said that before? You never know what fascinating tidbit you’re going to stumble upon. It doesn’t matter that experts in the subject have known the matter for years. When I find something I never heard about, I feel like I’ve been given a present, just for me.

This week my present was the history of graphite mining: you know, the stuff in the middle of pencils? I was researching the industries of the Lakes District, where my next book will be set, and graphite mining was one of the industries. It turns out that the mineral, which the British called wad, was also used to line the inside of molds for creating cannon and musket balls. The mold had to be relined frequently. As you can imagine, between the various wars and pirate chasing and just everyday hunting, England used a lot of lead balls. Then too, as pencils became more popular, the mineral was used to make them too. Given all this, the prices for wad soared.

Luckily, it was easy to mine. Unlike in other places around the world, where graphite is often in the form of flakes or shales, England’s Lakes District boasts a very pure form of graphite that comes in chunks. Once a vein is located, the miners merely had to walk up and grab the mineral by the handfuls. Some boasted that they could get as much as a thousand pounds (as in money, not weight) in a half hour.

As when anything becomes precious, wad soon required additional security. Miners were watched by security guards and overseers who regularly made them empty their pockets or even strip down to their skins at the end of a shift to make sure they weren’t carrying away the profits. Thieves snuck in at night, and sometimes were bold enough to threaten a mine in broad daylight. A whole army of smugglers worked at ferrying the material overland. One of the most famous was a woman called Black Sal. In 1752, Parliament made a law that stealing or receiving stolen wad was punishable by whipping and a year’s hard labor or being transported for seven years.

Wad was so precious, in fact, that Napoleon asked one of his experts to figure out a way to make it without getting it from England (bit hard to do with a war on). The expert figured out a way to water down wad with clay, a process that spread and so severely undercut the need for pure graphite that the mines in the Lakes District all shut down before 1900.

So that was my present this week. Be sure to come back next week because there will be a bunch of presents. It’s Nineteenteen’s third birthday, and Marissa and I will be celebrating. Please join us!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Making a Spectacle of Yourself

I am, alas, blind as a bat. I’ve worn glasses since fourth grade (and probably needed them in third), and just can’t imagine what I would do without them, aside from bang into things all the time. I’ve often wondered what I would have done if I’d been born in the 19th century instead of the 20th.

The answer? Pretty much the same thing: worn glasses, if not the nice high-tech polycarbonate lensed ones that I have now.

Eyeglasses, or spectacles as they were called, have been around since at least the 13th century and seem to have been invented in Italy; there are frescoes and portraits of saints and churchmen with rather endearing early forms of spectacles perched on their noses dating to the mid-14th century. Their use spread quickly across Europe, and by 1629 a Spectacle Makers Company had been established in London.

Most early specs were as you see in this 1403 painting from Germany--instruments that perched on the nose, which was precarious at best. Spanish spectacle makers (spectacles were quite popular in Spain, by the way, and were thought to make their wearers look dignified) experimented with ribbons attached to the spectacles to hold them onto the head. It wasn't until 1730 that a English spectacle maker, Edward Scarlett, came up with the idea of fixed metal bars that wrapped around the ears and held the spectacles in place...more or less what we know today. The idea spread rapidly, and was improved in 1752 by another English optician, Edward Ayscough, who added hinges to let the earpieces fold, making it much easier to store spectacles.

The earliest spectacles had lenses made of quartz crystal, which must have been terribly heavy on the nose--though spectacles made from smoky quartz can be considered the first sunglasses! Optical glass lenses came in during the 17th century, and by the 18th such variations as bifocals, invented by Ben Franklin, were in use.

Apart from the Spanish, however, spectacle-wearing was not looked upon with favor by most people; this led to the development of methods of vision correction that didn't have to be used all the time but could be easily carried about close to hand. The monocle was first seen in England ca. 1800 and spread to the continent; a variation was the quizzing glass, a single lens with a small handle, worn on a chain or ribbon around the neck and the lorgnette, perhaps best described as spectacles on a stick, also worn on a chain, and also an English invention (that's one at above right).

I took a look through my collection of Ackermann fashion prints, and to my surprise found that about one out of seven of them showed a model with or actually using a quizzing glass (or "sight" as it was referred to in one accompanying text), as in this Evening Dress from October 1825:

And this opera-goer from February 1810 has not only a quizzing glass around her neck (you can just see half of it below her bust), but also a monocular opera glass in her right hand:
The delightful thing is that it seems young ladies with shortness of vision turned necessity into a virtue, and made their quizzing glasses and lorgnettes into fashion accessories. If one must carry a quizzing glass or lorgnette in order to avoid unintentionally ignoring one's friends in the street, one may as well enjoy it and go for one made of gold or silver and adorned with jewels or exquisite enamel work. I know I would have.

Hmm. So maybe designer glasses aren't such a new invention after all.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Advice for the Casual Walker

School’s started or will start soon, and every young lad and lady here is being given advice for the year. Come prepared to class. Leave your cell phone in your locker. Show respect to your teachers and other students. In nineteenth century London, young ladies received advice on how to behave from their parents, relatives, older siblings, governesses or teachers, and ministers, to name a few.

They also received doses of advice from the popular magazines of the day. Consider this tidbit from the January 1814 Lady’s Magazine:

“In walking the streets of London alone, young females cannot possibly be too cautious in their demeanor; for they should constantly remember that this city contains, at all times, great numbers of idle dissipated men, who, from a variety of causes, are constantly on the look-out to annoy females who are alone. . . .Every day do I behold, as I walk along the streets, the impudent, well-dressed ruffian (it is a harsh name; but such unmanly conduct merits it) following and forcing his conversation upon some timid female, who is evidently shrinking from it, as she would from some venomous reptile. Oh! How I have longed for the strong arm and the bold determination of an honest man to interfere and protect the threatened innocence.”

Well, either that, or a good strong parasol to whap him with.
“When alone, females should studiously avoid everything that may tend to attract these hateful annoyances; and, if they find themselves spoken to, they should either by a firm reply or a positive silence endeavor to rid themselves of them.”

Hm, the silent treatment might not be the best choice for these “idle, dissipated men.” But her next point is advice often offered today: if someone is bothering you, find help.
“If they find these fruitless, I would advise them to go into any respectable shop and state their situation to the tradesman; and I am sure there are few in London who would not immediately send someone to see them safely home, if the distance were not too great.”

Her last piece of advice I found somewhat endearing, at least the part about giggling over the shoulder. But it got me thinking. Many books set in the nineteenth century insist that young ladies of character had to be constantly chaperoned by an adult – a parent, servant, governess, good family friend, or paid companion. It was a little less strict in a country or small villages, where you knew everyone. But this bit would seem to say otherwise:
“Very young persons may sometimes, quite unintentionally, give encouragement to these nuisances. The young maiden, conscious of the entire rectitude of her own heart, is yet probably of a very lively disposition, and possibly may have with her another female about her own age, and as innocently volatile as herself;--one or two of these unmanly intruders happen to be attracted to their appearance, and directly follow them and endeavor to get into conversation; the girls increase their pace; but, in doing so, continually peep over their shoulders, with a full laugh upon their faces, which, if you were to ask them, they would tell you was only occasioned by the ridiculousness of the fellows following them. This, however, is too frequently construed by these puppies into a sort of invitation to continue the pursuit; which they often do to the very homes of the females; thus probably making themselves acquainted with who and what they are, and so enabling themselves, if they think it worthwhile, to lie in wait for them, and annoy them again.”

Wait, that begins to sound like a stalker. Could I have one of those chaperones, please? Or maybe the bold determination of an honest man? Or a really big parasol? What’s your weapon of choice when a guy wants to strike up a conversation and you’d prefer not to?