Friday, December 23, 2011

A Very Happy Christmas to You!

Happy Christmas, my dears! As Marissa and I often do this time of year, we’ll be taking next week off to spend time with our families. Don’t forget to look for A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee so you can read it with us after the holidays. The Young Bluestockings will be discussing it beginning Tuesday, January 10.

In the meantime, we have a couple Christmas presents for you. The first is that I have 10 copies of my February book, The Rogue’s Reform, up for grabs. There is a small catch. I will send a copy to the first 10 people who e-mail me via my website and can promise to post a review of the book in two places (such as Goodreads, your own blog, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble) by February 14. Tell me where and when, and be among the first 10 people to e-mail me, and a free signed copy will be winging its way to you, over a month before it hits stores. I deeply regret that because of cost issues, I have to limit this offer to those in the U.S.

Secondly, what would a happy Christmas be without a nineteenth century video! This year, we’re delighted to offer a great piece showcasing actual nineteenth century dresses in a French exhibit, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion. I put the accompanying book on my Christmas list, so I hope Santa thinks I’ve been a good girl this year!

From Marissa and I, a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


A few weeks ago I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do: attend a live performance of Handel’s Messiah, performed by Boston’s famed Handel and Haydn Society in Symphony Hall. I was so not disappointed: it was gorgeous, moving, and a total, total delight!

But being the history geek I am, I was almost as struck by the fascinating history of this piece of music. For one thing, this year marked the Society’s 158th annual performance; since 1854 it’s been a part of Christmas in Boston...that's a lot of performances! The Handel and Haydn Society also gave the first American performances of Messiah, with selections performed at its very first concert in December 1815 and the oratorio performed in its entirety in 1818.

The story of Messiah is equally interesting. George Frederick Handel wrote the music for it in just 24 days, after being sent the libretto by his friend and previous collaborator, Charles Jennens. It premiered in Dublin in 1742, and so anticipated was the concert that an ad in one of the city’s newspapers requested that ladies planning on attending the concert not wear hoops, so that more seating could be fit into the concert hall!

Though the London debut was not greeted with as much enthusiasm, within a few years it had achieved the status it now occupies in vocal music. Early on, many objected to an oratorio which contained passages from the Bible being performed in secular playhouses by professional singers, who were regarded along with actors and dancers as being of suspect morality; amusingly, one alto so moved a concert-goer that he shouted, "For this thy sins be forgiven!" after her solo.

There is also a story that the tradition of audiences standing during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus dates to a performance given for King George II, who was so moved by it that he sprang to his feet (or maybe he’d just dozed off and was startled by the chorus’ exuberant opening). Of course, if the King was standing, everyone else had to stand too, and thus was a tradition born…except that there are no contemporary accounts confirming this story, and the first mentions of audiences standing date from the 1780s. Nevertheless, it’s a fun story!

I’m sure many of you have seen this before, but it seems an appropriate way to end this post. I hope you enjoy this brief musical interlude in the midst of this busy pre-Christmas week!

P.S. To follow up on Regina's reminder about our beloved Miss Austen’s birthday, check this out: has a new portrait of the author been discovered?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Blogger Judith Laik: Dogs as Companions in the 19th Century, Part 2

We're welcoming back Judith Laik, Regency author and historic dog breed researcher extraordinaire, with the second half of her article on Companion Dogs of the 19th century:

Over the course of the century a great leap took place in the history of dog breeds. Before that, and even during the early years of the century, there was no standardization of the various breeds, no central registries which kept track of the ancestry of dogs, and no shows where dogs were judged according to their adherence to a breed standard.

On the face of it, this fact may not seem of much importance, but it’s really huge. Behind all of today’s breeds there is a mixture of several breeds. (People who breed today’s “designer dogs” seem to think they have a new idea, but it’s not so!) Dog owners didn’t care much about how dogs looked; they bred them for specific purposes, whether to guard their owner’s property, to herd the livestock, to help with hunting, or to be a companion. Dogs were chosen for their abilities, not their appearance.

They started to display the distinctive conformation of their breed when trial and error showed that certain skeletal structures, head types, ear formations, etc., were the most efficient for the work which that breed was supposed to do.

However, this means we might not recognize some of the breeds we know today if we saw their early 19th century counterparts. And many other breeds popular today didn’t yet exist in the earlier years of the century.

An outstanding resource for anyone interested in learning about the various dog breeds is the website of the American Kennel Club. ( All the recognized breeds of the AKC – 175 of them currently – plus an additional 62 breeds they are keeping track of for possible future recognition are listed. Each breed entry has a link to the website of a national organization devoted to that breed, and from there, you can usually find still more sites with photos and information, on breed characteristics, history, and so forth.

What’s your favorite dog character in a book? Mine is “Fitz” from Barbara Metzger’s A Loyal Companion, although I always enjoy reading about dogs in novels.

Thank you for blogging at Nineteenteen! Judith will be back in January with more information on 19th century dogs and their owners.

Two other thoughts to leave with you this Friday: 1) today is Jane Austen's birthday! The dear girl is 236, and her wonderful prose hasn't aged a day! 2) today through Sunday, Regina will be joining other Love Inspired authors on Goodreads to share tidbits on how Jane would have spent Christmas. Stop by the Love Inspired Historical Discussion Group and say hi! You might win a book!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guest Blogger Judith Laik: Dogs as Companions in the 19th Century, Part 1

This week we're welcoming author Judith Laik to blog on Nineteenteen! Judith writes fiction and non-fiction, and is equally beguiled by the Regency period and dogs. Her research on dogs spans several decades and was originally sparked by her mother’s purchase of a Collie when she was ten. Learning that the breed originated in Scotland led her to a lifelong love of the British Isles. She currently lives on a mini-farm in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter, three horses, two cats, approximately a dozen Collies, and one Scottish Deerhound that doubles as a sofa cover.

Dogs have been the close companions and helpmeets of humans for many thousands of years, so it’s not surprising that people in 19th century England enjoyed the company of their canines.

In the countryside, dogs that helped with hunting, herding, and guarding held sway. But in the city the upper classes usually owned smaller “toy” dogs. You could see young ladies walking their Poodles and Pugs in the squares around their town houses, or taking them along when they promenaded in Hyde Park in their carriages. That's Lady Maria Conyngham in the picture above, painted c. 1824-25 with her spaniel by Sir Thomas Lawrence

The toy breeds have been bred for hundreds of years solely to be pets and companions for the upper classes. Some breeds have been championed by royalty. In the seventeenth century, the Stuart kings made the small toy spaniels, variously called English Toy Spaniels, King Charles Spaniels, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, popular. Pugs became popular when another seventeenth century monarch, William III of Orange, came to England to rule with his wife Mary.

Not as well known now, but popular then, were Italian Greyhounds, which looked very like their larger cousins, the Greyhounds, but in miniature. One might also find examples of the Bichon breeds (Maltese, Bolognese, Havanese, and Bichon Frisé), and Pomeranians, which were larger than the current tiny dogs of that breed. That's a Maltese at left, painted by an unknown British artist some time in the 19th century. Note the poodle-clipped forelegs!

Although the Terriers were usually hardworking farmers’ dogs rather than pampered pets, a number of them, with their appealing faces and happy, feisty personalities, found their way into the homes of the upper classes also.

What makes the bond between owner and dog isn’t determined by logic, and in the 19th century many different dogs were the beloved pets of famous people. Lord Byron owned – and had a memorial built to the memory of – a Newfoundland named Boatswain.

Another famous writer of the early nineteenth century, Sir Walter Scott, owned several Scottish Deerhounds, one of the largest breeds, and was particularly fond of one named Maida (who was a male despite the feminine-sounding name). Scott described the Deerhound as “the most perfect creature of Heaven.”

Queen Victoria, about whom I’ll write more in another article, owned and loved many breeds of dogs and has to be considered the ultimate 19th century dog lover.

Thanks, Judith! On Friday, we'll hear more about the dogs of the 19th century.

Friday, December 9, 2011

This and That and the Young Bluestockings Too!

Sometimes, I simply have so much on my mind that I cannot settle on a topic for my Friday post. This is one of those Fridays. So, be prepared to be amazed, delighted, and enthralled (okay, perhaps merely better informed) by four different topics in one!


Next week is dog week on Nineteenteen! When I wanted to feature a dog that was both security guard and best friend in my November release, An Honorable Gentleman, I turned to a friend of Marissa’s and mine, sister author Judith Laik. Judith has raised show dogs, made quite a study of dogs in early nineteenth century England, and even taught classes to authors writing in that time period. So who better than to write a series of guest posts about man’s, and woman’s, best friend? Check in on Tuesday next week to learn more.


Do you like to play dress up? (Imagine me raising my hand as high as Hermione Granger—me! Me!) You can indulge online. This Regency dress up doll comes with undergarments, outer garments, dresses, and accessories, and you can change her hair color and style too! One warning—it’s a bit addictive!


Interested in seeing what a home might have looked like for Christmas in nineteenth century England? Check out Fairfax House in York, the original winter home of Viscount Fairfax. The site has a lot of lovely pictures, but just stay on the main page for a moment and watch the top slide show. I’m drooling!


The Young Bluestockings ride again! Yes, thanks to popular demand (okay a suggestion during our birthday house party), we are bringing back the Young Bluestockings Book Club! The Young Bluestockings agree to read a YA book set in nineteenth century England then come together on one week to discuss our impressions. Our selection this time is The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (another suggestion). So dash out and get a copy and come prepared to discuss on Tuesday, January 10, and Friday, January 13.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Fashion Forecast: 1824

What was the well-dressed young lady wearing in 1824?

This year and next can almost be viewed as the calm before a sartorial storm: the fashions of the 1820s will become progressively more elaborate and exaggerated, until we hit the delightful absurdities of the 1830s. But for now…

If she were stepping out for a stroll, a fashionable young lady might wear this very natty fur-and-embroidery-trimmed Promenade Dress from January’s Ackermann’s Repository. The deep band of fur at the hem appears to be ermine. Note the waist creeping down from just under the bust to nearer the natural waist, the high neck with ruffles, and the adorable shell-shaped purse:

For a quiet morning at home, this is certainly a vibrant Morning Dress, in striped fabric with decorative applique at the hem and a deep frill of lace at the neck which must have been very highly starched to stand up that way! On a less fashion-focused note, did you see how the letter she’s reading was folded and sealed—we’re in the pre-envelope era here! (Ackermann’s Repository, March):

Feathers were definitely “in” for Court Dresses this year, as can be seen in this image from the June Lady’s Magazine—the poor dear’s head is nearly eclipsed by them! But the flower-trimmed pink satin train and the scalloped lace of the hem are charming, I think:
The detail on this Ball Dress from June’s Ackermann’s is lovely: note the ribbon applique on the sleeves and bodice, the ruching around the hem, and the pleated silk turban with tassels hanging coquettishly to one side…and best of all—she’s eating ice cream!
Also from June’s Lady’s Magazine is a dainty white satin Opera Dress trimmed with stuffed appliques at the hem and a pink satin cloak trimmed with swan’s down and gold tassels:
Here’s another print I wish I had the caption for: I’d love to know what the beautiful aquamarine fabric was made of. It looks to be subtly striped, with two heavy wadded decorative bands called rouleaux at the hem separated by a row of blossoms which also decorate the bodice and hem. An altogether charming Ball Dress from August’s Ackermann’s:
Here’s another elegant Promenade Dress that showcases several emerging fashion trends for this and the next few years: the sleeves caught in puffs down the length of the arm in a rather Renaissance-ish style, the larger hat with lappets left hanging free (see them also in the Opera Dress above) and the waist at the natural waistline (Ackermann’s Repository, October):
Here are those gathered and puffed sleeves again in an Evening Dress from November's Ackermann's, with a heavier wadded rouleau at the hem as well as daintier gold embroidery which can be seen as well around the low neckline. Notice her curls? You’ll be seeing lots of them over the rest of the 1820s, along with crimped waves reminiscent of a 30s Hollywood starlet. Smooth hair was definitely not in!
What do you think of 1824’s fashions?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Grand Tour, Part 2: Sailing Away!

My dears, we are about to embark on our Grand Tour! We are booked to take the Dover packet today across the Channel to Calais. From there, we’ll travel by carriage to Paris. When we’ve filled ourselves with French pastries, we will travel over the Alps to Italy and through the countryside to Venice, then down to Rome. After seeing the sights there, we will take ship for Sicily, then Malta, and then Athens. From Athens, we’ll return home by ship to England via Gibraltar. I do hope I can count you as a traveling companion!

However, one of our traveling companions is coming along in a very helpful book. I have with me the guidance of Mariana Starke, a well-traveled lady who is not at all stingy with her advice. Mrs. Starke as she was known (although she never married) lived in India with her mother and father when she was a child and resided for many years in Italy, traveling in France as well. Her books were the first truly practical travel guides for Europe, including things like how to obtain passports, how much to spend on food, and where to stay in various cities. She was the first to use a rating system (like the stars of the Michelin guides or the diamonds of AAA), consisting of a number of exclamation points.

Mrs. Starke’s advice on what to take with us in our travels is quite extensive, but I shall put what I deem the most important here:

  • Our own sheets, pillow, and blankets. She also advises that our sheets be made of sheepskin, and that we bring essential oil of lavender to sprinkle upon our beds each night to drive away bedbugs and fleas.

  • A mosquito net of thin gauze

  • A travelling-chamber lock to affix upon our doors

  • Pens, ink-powder, and wax wafers for letter writing

  • Double-soled shoes and boots to take the chill from marble and brick floors
  • A trunk covered with thick, painted sail cloth

  • Our passports

  • Letters of recommendation to all British ministers as well as highly respected persons in each of the cities to which we are travelling

  • Likewise letters of credit from our bank in London, so that we only have to carry a small bit of cash and won’t be more attractive targets to robbers

  • And a clever little device supposedly the size of a reticule called a soldier’s comfort. According to Mrs. Starke, it can serve as night-light, stove, and saucepan for cooking meats and vegetables.

All packed? Good! I’ve had your trunks sent ahead from the inn to the ship. We must stop by the Customs House in Dover and have them examine our passports. Goodness, but it’s a bit of a crush! With France being opened just recently after all the troubles with Napoleon, it seems everyone wants to be in Paris. There’s a retired general who will travel on the same ship with us, an ex-pat French aristocrat going back to see what might be left of his family, and several young gentlemen intent like us on seeing more of the world. The weather looks good for our passage, which should take about half a day, tide willing. I do hope no one gets seasick! The Channel is notorious for that.

Next stop, Calais, and then Paris!