Friday, July 29, 2011

Shelf Space

Oh, those lovely dresses Marissa shows us! They make my little larcenous costumer’s heart go pitter-pat. I’m certain any number of nineteenth-century young ladies had a similar reaction when they saw the prints in their favorite women’s magazine. We’ve talked about some of the ways those dresses became reality. But once you had them, what did you do with them when you weren’t wearing them?

The closets we generally take for granted did not exist in the nineteenth century. Oh, there were rooms for storing things, and a wealthy lady might have a dressing room devoted to her gowns and accoutrements. But the hanger (wire or wooden) wasn’t in wide use until the twentieth century, and most closets were not designed to hold hanging clothing. Instead, you or your maid gently folded your gowns into a clothes press.

I must admit, I had these envisioned all wrong. Somehow I had in my mind what my family calls a hope chest—a large cedar box. I’d also thought they might look a bit like a wardrobe ala The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Thank goodness I’ve never written a scene with great detail on the things, because this week I discovered my error.

Here are some examples of clothes presses. This first one is of the low variety, made of mahogany, dating from the early nineteenth century. Inside the center panels are five sliding trays. You pull them out and lay on your dresses. The drawers are for your fripperies like fans, shawls, and gloves.


Then there’s the higher version, also from early in the century. This is also mahogany, with birds eye maple banding. Looks a bit like a wardrobe, doesn’t it?


However, instead of a space to hang things, you’ll find those pull out drawers again.


Some, however, were quite fanciful. Check out this one, inspired by Chinese influences.


Or this one, from 1840. The door panels are inlaid with ebony, and the drawers are lined with oak.


It also actually has places to hang clothes on either side, although they may have been added later, as they are separate pieces from the clothes press.


They are lovely pieces of furniture, but I can’t help wondering how many I would need. As I have confessed before, I am something of a clothes horse. Think my husband would mind building a dressing room to store all my clothes presses? Or maybe a small house?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fashion Forecast: 1822

What was the well-dressed young lady wearing in 1822?

1822 was a rather more interesting year, fashion-wise, than the quite dull 1821…but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!

This Evening Dress sports spectacular puffed (and probably stuffed) applique trim around the hem as well as on the sleeves. Note the shawl, probably an import from India (Ackermann’s Repository, January): February’s Ackermann’s brings quite a spectacular selection of Head Dresses, including bonnets at upper left and lower right, a pair of elaborate turbans at upper right and middle, and heaven knows what at lower left—something between a toque and a turban, perhaps. Feathers were definitely in, don’t you think?I wish I had the original text on this Full Dress (Ackermann’s, February)—it isn’t listed as a mourning dress, so the color is unusual…but the lace appliques at hem and on the bodice and sleeves contrasts handsomely on the dark background. Note that waists are still very high this year: What a cozy Walking Dress! I love the ermine trim, military-looking frog fasteners down the front, and Elizabethan ruff collar (Ackermann’s, March): Yes, those enormous ermine muffs are still in fashion! The asymmetrical look seems to be gone this year after being popular in 1821, and several walking or Promenade Dresses (like this one) from this year feature the large bows down the front rather than to one side. Note also another handsome India shawl: Another totally fluffy Court Dress! This June number from Ackermann’s must have been challenging to wear: note the deep rows of puffed applique around the hem, with more of it all around the long court train! I wish I had the text for this dress too, as it would have been interesting to know whether the fabric was printed with little pink dots, or if it was a white overskirt with slashes to reveal a pink petticoat: Here’s a handsome Evening Dress, also from the June Ackermann’s—I like the blue appliques on the coffee-colored fabric, and the little military-style frogs on the bodice. Some quiet elegance, after that Court Dress! Speaking of elegance, this Morning Dress from the October Ackermann’s is also worthy of note: there’s quite a bit of lace and eyelet on the hem, bodice, and sleeves here. Note the lower waist, unusual this year, neatly belted in pink, and the frill there as well: The 1820s ushered in the start of the craze for all things Scottish, led by the King himself, that would be taken to extreme lengths by Queen Victoria in the 1850s and beyond…here’s a tartan Evening Dress, with elaborately appliqued sleeves and a slightly more restrained hem: How’s this for the ultimate winter Promenade Dress? I love the mulberry-colored velvet with cord appliques at the wrist and shoulder, trimmed with chinchilla bands around the hem and a matching chinchilla tippet and muff (Ackermann's, December):


What do you think of 1822’s fashions?

Friday, July 22, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 3: Checking Out the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Well, obviously one of the things I did was forget about our drawing! I blame it on all the fun I had with Marissa in Newport and on Cape Cod. :-) The winner of the Irresistible Earl prize package is Janine Mimi! Janine, please contact me via my website with your address, and I’ll send it right out to you! Thank you all for your comments! Please keep in touch. Marissa and I miss you when you’re too quiet.

Anyone ever bought a map to the homes of the stars in Hollywood? Or driven by the biggest house in town just to dream? In the same way that Marissa and I ogled the Newport Mansions of America’s Gilded Age, so young nineteenth century lads and lasses traveled during the summer to visit Great Houses of the wealthy and titled. You may recall that in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet travels with her aunt and uncle to visit the north of England and ends up touring Pemberley, the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Some think the inspiration for Pemberley was Chatsworth, home of the Dukes of Devonshire. In the nineteenth century, the house was open for people to tour, and once a month the staff even served dinner to all who were there.

Chatsworth is a stunning home, remodeled and contoured over several centuries even by the nineteenth century. It boasted a conservatory made from wood, iron, and glass that covered nearly an acre and was filled with exotic specimens from as far away as the Americas and the Orient, contoured gardens designed by the famous landscape architect Capability Brown and improved upon by Joseph Paxton, and a statue gallery with works from Greece and Rome. It was also filled with priceless artwork, pottery, and other collections. So, allow me to give you your own mini-tour:

The sculpture gallery


A dining room


The formal gardens



However, one of the other attractions for a good part of the nineteenth century was Chatsworth’s owner. William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, was called the Bachelor Duke. He rose to his title at the tender age of 21 and was handsome, charming, and generous. I can’t help but wonder how many young ladies wandered through his home hoping for more than a glimpse of the eligible gentleman. Their hopes were dashed for two reasons: the duke owned seven other stately homes and a thriving political career, so wasn't often in residence, and he never married. Some say he was in love with Caro Lamb, Lord Byron's infamous mistress. On his death, his estate passed to a cousin.

Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Victoria’s Children, Part 7: Arthur

It’s often said that the middle children in families tend to get lost in…well, the middle. But Prince Arthur, seventh of Victoria’s nine children, somehow managed to avoid that fate. In fact, the Queen frequently called him her favorite child (that's her with baby Arthur at right.)

So what earned Arthur his Most Favored Child status?

Prince Arthur William Patrick Albert was born on May 1, 1850, at Buckingham Palace. As he shared his birthday with Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who by now had reached mythic status as the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke was asked to be one of his godfathers and lent the new royal baby his name (that's the old Iron Duke giving his namesake a first birthday present below). The Queen seemed to dote on this well-behaved, easy-going child from the start. She “adored little Arthur from the day of his birth”--unusual, for she was not fond of infants; he was her “precious love” who “has never given us a day’s sorrow or trouble” and was “dearer than any of the others put together” (phew!) Young Arthur seems to have shown up well compared to his two older brothers, Bertie and Alfred, which might be the source of his mother’s doting upon him: raised as an only child (her half-brother was much older) she’d had no experience with the occasional boisterousness of some boys…and Bertie and Affie could be boisterous!

Arthur was tutored at home—no school for Victoria’s children, thank you very much—and seemed to have borne well his mother’s restrictions and demands (no fraternizing with Eton boys while at Windsor, rooms must be kept no warmer than 60°). He was delighted to take up the career in the Army that had been chosen for him from early childhood (another tie to his godfatherly namesake) and entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1866, at age 16. He acquitted himself creditably during his training and eventually settled into the famous Rifle Brigade, of which the Duke of Wellington and then his father, Prince Albert, was Commander-in-Chief. In the early years of his career he saw service in South Africa, Canada (where he was made a Chief of the Six Nations by the Iroquois), and Ireland.

The Queen made him Duke of Connaught and Strathern in 1874, and was delighted when he married Princess Louise of Prussia in 1879. Their marriage was a happy one, and produced three children: Margaret (later Crown Princess of Sweden), Arthur, and Patricia. In his later years, and especially after his wife’s death in 1917, he was close to Leonie Leslie, aunt of Winston Churchill.

Arthur continued to perform both his army and royal duties, was made a Field Marshal (though he was disappointed never to become Commander-in-Chief of the Army as his mother hoped he would) and in 1911 became Viceroy of Canada, the only member of the royal family to have served thus. After his return from Canada (where he was quite popular and well-liked) he didn’t hold any further official positions but continued his ceremonial and advisory duties right up to World War II, dying in 1942 at age 91. Not a bad life, when you consider it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Up, Up and Away

The nineteenth century saw the birth of many inventions we take for granted today, but few were viewed with greater awe and anticipation than the hot air balloon. Crowds gathered every time the basket and uninflated balloon arrived on a wagon and watched as the bag was filled and the balloon rose into the sky. Ascensions, as they were called, were plentiful around London, from the various parks and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Young ladies swooned over the prospect of being lifted aloft, and young men dreamed of being aeronauts. One of the most practiced in the art was Charles Green.

Green was the son of a fruit merchant. But he grew interested in ballooning in school and went on to build his own balloons and fly them. He also had a theory that coal-gas would be a more convenient and safer fuel than hydrogen gas, which was widely used at the time. At the request of the government, Green ascended from one of the London parks on George IV’s coronation day (July 19, 1821) in the first balloon filled with coal-gas. The crowds went wild.

But Green wasn’t finished with stunts. In August 1828, he took a pony aboard with him, ascended from the Eagle Tavern in London, and came down thirty minutes later in Kent. The proprietors from Vauxhall were so impressed they commissioned him to build them a balloon for the delight of their customers. He liked it so much he bought it back from them but continued to ascend from Vauxhall, taking groups of people around England.

In 1836, Robert Hollond, a member of Parliament representing Hastings, funded Green to fly the balloon from Vauxhall to Germany. Hollond and his friend Thomas Monck Mason had both dreamed of being aeronauts but had settled for more prosaic occupations. The two joined Green at Vauxhall for a grand send off, crossed the channel to Dover, and reached the countryside on the outskirts of Weilburg in Germany. They had traveled a total of 500 miles over land and sea in 18 hours. The record would not be broken until 1907. Green’s fame was assured.

But however much the crowds idolized the aeronauts and dreamed of flying themselves, ballooning was not for the faint of heart. Green set the record for a time for height, reaching more than 27,000 feet, with temperatures well below freezing. He fought his way through thunderstorms and rode the winds aloft at times nearly 100 miles an hour. He piloted a balloon where one of the first parachutes was tested (at the loss of life of the man testing it!). Once someone severed the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon, and he and his passenger had to climb onto the mesh of the balloon to survive. Still, by the time he retired, he had ascended more than 500 times!

The British Balloon and Airship Club still awards the Charles Green Salver for exceptional flying or contributions to the field of ballooning.

Me? I’m afraid I’m one of those terribly practical people who prefer their feet to remain safely on the ground!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 2: The Queen’s Doll House

Today’s Summer Vacation activity is about twenty years after the 19th century…but it’s just so amazing and fascinating that I’m going to talk about it anyway…and the neat thing is that if you happen to be in the vicinity of Windsor Castle, you too can see it.

What “it” is is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Queen Mary (born 1867, married Prince George of York 1893, became queen 1910, died 1953) was a noted collector of art and trinkets—objets d’art—with an especial fondness for miniatures. In fact, hostesses often put away their trinkets when the queen was coming for a visit because of her well known habit of staring longingly at an object and commenting on its beauty until its owner felt compelled to give it to her.

Her friend and cousin, Princess Marie Louise (one of the daughters of Princess Helena) was inspired in 1921 to create a dolls’ house for her as a gift, both personal and public. The Queen had been a tower of strength during the hard years of World War I, and such a gift seemed the perfect thank you. The princess enlisted the help of well-known architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to help organize…and the project snowballed, with Marie Louise calling on her extensive circle of friends and acquaintances in the arts (and on their friends and acquaintances) to help create a perfect miniature palace featuring three years of work and the labor of thousands...and the results are amazing:

Hundreds of well-known artists contributed, painting amazing tiny murals in the house or creating miniscule watercolors for the royal portfolio. Writers like Rudyard Kipling, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Conan Doyle, and hundreds of others donated work for the library, some of it unpublished elsewhere, and often handwriting it themselves in tiny 1” by 1 ½” blank volumes provided to them which were later bound in elegant gold-tooled leather (Ernest Shepard, the illustrator of Winnie the Pooh, designed the bookplates). Composers like Delius, Holst, and Bax contributed musical scores. The wine cellar contains hundreds of tiny bottles of actual vintage wines, from champagne (Veuve Cliquot 1906) to fine Madeira from 1820. The linens are all monogrammed. The tiny gramophone in the nursery actually works, and there’s electricity and hot and cold running water. There are working motor-cars and motorcycles in the Royal Garage, and the gardens were designed by famed designer Gertrude Jekyll.

The Queen was, of course, delighted. The house was exhibited to the public at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924-25 and later to raise funds for charities; now it’s on permanent display at Windsor. Want to see more? Check out this interactive website, which includes information on a new book just published about the Dolls' House, The Queen's Dolls' House by Lucinda Lambton (don't worry, it's available in the US as well). Fancy a visit? Go here for more information. I know that the next time I go to England, this will definitely be one of my stops!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Blogging from National, Part 3

Okay, so the RWA National Conference is now a week over, but we had so much to report between it and now that we thought we should wrap things up for you. I was so impressed with the Newport Mansions that I kind of skipped over a few things, like going to the ball.

You see, the RWA National Conference is my Season, just as so many ladies in the nineteenth century enjoyed the Season in London. It’s a time to visit with old friends and make new ones, to dress up in pretty clothes, to see the sights and learn new things, and to feel like a member of the “in” crowd for a short time. And just like the Season, it’s a time to go to soirees and balls. Every major publisher puts on some kind of event to honor their authors, but the very best, in my humble opinion, is the Harlequin party.

This year it was a tremendous crush, my dears, held at the Waldorf-Astoria and themed the Black and White Ball. Everyone dressed in black and white, and some of the dresses were worthy of the red carpet! Here’s my old friend Jenna Mindel (Season of Dreams), new friend Christine Johnson (The Matrimony Plan), me, and Dream (Love Inspired’s talented social media guru) in our party togs.

And a look at the crowded dance floor, with about 198 women and 2 men all rocking out. Too much fun!


Unfortunately, the event was so crowded that only select authors were allowed to bring guests, so Marissa couldn’t join me this year. {pout}

Alas, the Season was too soon over, but Marissa invited me to her very own house party on Cape Cod! After our detour to the Newport Mansions, we arrived in the Chatham area. Sometimes I bemoan the fact that our town is short on history. Most of the homes here date from the 1950s. Imagine my delight in visiting towns started in 1712 or earlier with extant homes still in existence!

What else I learned in Cape Cod:
  • Cape Cod houses really come from Cape Cod. They were everywhere! I adore the design and enjoyed seeing all the ways people made them unique, from different shutters and doors to flower boxes and gardens. Then there were the grander homes, like the one at the top of this post, named Hydrangea Walk.

  • To sail properly, you not only need sea legs but a sea butt. I knew enough to sit down in the sailboat Marissa’s family owns, but that didn’t stop me from sliding right off onto the floor at the first turning. I decided to stay there. You can still take great pictures from the deck. :-)

  • The dark of the moon is really dark at sea. We motored over to Pleasant Bay to watch the fireworks (which were fantastic!). But coming back, with a thin sliver of moon and hazy clouds obscuring the stars, the night quickly turned to pitch. It was extremely disorienting. As I’m currently writing my second book in the Everard Legacy miniseries and my hero is a sea captain, I wondered how he dealt with the absolute lack of sight. I also got to experience how it feels to run aground, when our boat got stuck in the shifting sand bars of the bay and we had to wait an hour for the tide to raise us off.

We are both back home and back to our usual writing schedules. We hope you enjoyed our adventures as much as we did. Look for more of our usual types of posts next week. And please continue commenting. We love hearing from you! Comments through next Tuesday, July 12, will be included in the drawing for an Irresistible Earl prize packet. I’ll announce the winner on Friday, July 15.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blogging from National, Part 2

Pray forgive the lateness of this missive, my dears. Friday was the last day of our conference in NY, and Saturday we traveled by train and automobile from the city out to Cape Cod. I adored saying this all conference long: “Yes, Dahling, I’m going to the Cape for the Fourth!”

And of course Marissa and I could not pass up the opportunity for some historical research on the way, in Newport, Rhode Island, to be exact. I know little about the Gilded Age, turn-of-the-century East Coast. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so far off from the nineteenth-century England I love.

We’ve talked about the way the aristocracy left London in the summer for their country houses, which were often far more magnificent than their London residences. The same might be said for Newport, where the summer “cottages” are multi-room mansions with manicured grounds.

Take the one above, for example. This is The Elms, patterned after a French chateau outside Paris. This picture looks at the rear of the place, facing the grounds. And down the lawn is a delightful folly that could well have graced one of the designs of the famous landscape artist Capability Brown in England. Don’t Marissa and I just look as if we belonged here?

Farther down the island is The Breakers, a 70-room mansion overlooking the ocean. This view from the veranda tells you how it got its name.
And I have never seen such tall wrought-iron gates even in England.

Ornate does not begin to describe the rooms. Anything that can be made of marble is, as is anything that can be gilded (including the marble!). Marissa was rather fond of a fireplace that was mottled in red and gray, looking a bit like flames. She thought that was much better than the columns on the stairs at another house, which she said looked like someone had eaten a buffalo mozzarella pizza and then thrown up.

A few things I noted that surprised me:
  • The servants’ stairs, though narrow, were also made of marble, with fine wood banisters and wrought-iron paneling.


  • They actually did appreciate the view, as evinced by the many windows and verandas overlooking the sea as well as this charming lawn chair with the porthole windows on either side.


  • They made use of earlier fine materials. I saw a fireplace that had been taken from an 18th century French chateau and cushions on which Marie Antoinette had once sat.

It was fun trying to imagine ourselves here, among the emerald lawns, the tall frescoed ceilings, the marble stairs ascending to private bedrooms papered in silk. We decided we liked this particular house, which was built on a much more modest scale, until we realized it was the children’s playhouse!

Look for more on our travels next week, and don’t forget to comment on any post through July 12 to be entered in a drawing for an Irresistible Earl prize packet. Happy Independence Day!