Tuesday, March 29, 2016

NineteenTeen’s Young Bluestockings Read Cranford

This week on NineteenTeen we’ll be discussing what is probably Elizabeth Gaskell’s best known and loved work, Cranford. Were you all able to find copies (freebies are available online since it’s not in copyright)? Have you read it before, or was this your first time?

Cranford started out life as a short story published in Charles Dickens’s Household Words magazine in December 1851. Readers were delighted with the story of a village of “Amazons” who still seem to be living twenty years (at least!) in the past, and though Gaskell was busy with other writing (her novel Ruth) Dickens prevailed upon her to write more—which accounts for the episodic nature of the story-telling. Her Cranford pieces appeared in random order until 1853, when they were compiled and published in book form.

As a result, there isn’t much of a plot, or only a very loose one—the events in the lives of a group of genteel if poor gentlewomen in a country village, still clinging to many of the outmoded mores and customs of their youth. A few new faces are periodically introduced, and old ones leave and, of course, anything that does occur (or even seems to occur) in the village gets blown into enormous proportions—to often comic result.

It had been some years since I read Cranford, and while I remember loving it at that first reading, I’d forgotten just how very funny it is. Gaskell is working on a small piece of ivory much like Jane Austen’s, but I find her humor leans more toward the droll, though she too uses a healthy dose of gentle irony and satire. But that’s not her only goal—though one may laugh quietly at some of the antics of the ladies of Cranford (the gray flannel pajamas for Miss Barker’s cow! The rescue of Mrs. Forrester’s lace from the inside of poor puss! Miss Pole’s seven brooches worn to call on Mrs. Jamieson!) there’s also a great deal of poignancy in the quiet tale of Miss Matty’s thwarted romance with Mr. Holbrook and her adoption of widow-ish caps after his death, and the death of her mother after Peter runs away to join the navy.

Ah, Miss Matty. She’s a delight, is she not? A little silly, a little naïve, but so thoroughly sweet and kind that any amount of silliness (like that over sea-green turbans) can be forgiven her. Even the ladies of Cranford, generally less good than their friend and often the target of Gaskell’s humor (notably Miss Pole), rally round her when her savings are lost in a bank failure.

But overall it’s the funny little details and turns of phrase that are dropped that make this book for me:

“...even Miss Pole herself, whom we looked upon as a kind of prophetess, from the knack she had of foreseeing things before they came to pass—although she did not like to disturb her friends by telling them her foreknowledge....”

“But I was right. I think that must be an hereditary quality, for my father says he is scarcely ever wrong.”

“...the contemplation of it, even at this distance of time, has taken away my breath and my grammar, and unless I subdue my emotion, my spelling will go too.”

So, NineteenTeen readers—what did you think of Cranford?

  • Any favorite or not-so-favorite bits? (I’m not overly fond of the coincidences and the deus ex machina arrival at the end which saves the day. How about you?)

  • Any points of history you’d like to discuss? (I enjoyed the many fashion references, of course, including a mention of gigot sleeves!)

  • Which characters did you like or dislike the most?

Discuss!  And if you haven’t read it yet, get started and jump on in!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Congratulations--Great Books!

As some of you know, this past week is the time when many a romance author sits sweating at her computer, trying not to pick up her phone every few minutes to see if anyone called. That’s right, this is the week when the RitaTM finalists are announced.

The Rita awards are akin to the Academy Awards for the romance writer’s world. Either an author or her publisher enters the book initially into the contest, where it is judged for its ability to beguile. Romance as a central theme and a satisfying ending are a must. Those books that score highest become finalists and undergo a second round of reviews before one is awarded the coveted prize at a red carpet ceremony at the Romance Writers of America® annual conference in July.

While there are a number of categories (and I congratulate all the finalists!), here are the novels most likely to be of interest to those who love the nineteenth century. One warning—I did not check level of sensuality, so some of these may be HOT:

A Noble Masquerade, Kristi Ann Hunter
Bella and the Beast, Olivia Drake
Earls Just Want to Have Fun, Shana Galen
Falling into Bed with a Duke, Lorraine Heath
If the Viscount Falls, Sabrina Jeffreys
It Started with a Scandal, Julie Anne Long
Say Yes to the Marquess, Tessa Dare
Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress, Theresa Romain
The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, Julia Quinn
Tiffany Girl, Deeanne Gist
Tremaine’s True Love, Grace Burrowes

While none of my books was a finalist (sob!), I am absolutely thrilled to report that Would-Be Wilderness Wife won a prize of its own. RT Book Reviews, the premiere review magazine for the fiction industry, bestowed upon it the Reviewers Choice Award for best book of its kind for 2015. What an honor!

Aren’t we fortunate there are so many wonderful books to read?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Accessories, Part 3: Gloves

We’re back for another installment in our fashion series on NineteenTeen focusing not on dresses and gowns (gorgeous as they are) but on the little things that complete a fashionable ensemble—hats, shoes, gloves, purses, and other accessories.
Today we’ll have a look at gloves. They were essential to any well-dressed woman’s costume—really, to anyone who pretended to the least social standing. Think about it—if you wore dainty white kid gloves all the time, you sure as heck weren’t a member of the laboring classes, were you? Gloves were an important social cue to where their wearer stood in the social hierarchy.

Gloves appear to fall into a few basic types, based on the time of day and occasions for which they were worn.  During the day you'll often see shorter (wrist length) gloves in a dark buff color: these were known as York Tan (though not all were made in York), and they remained popular for day wear for decades for a very simple reason--they camouflaged dirt far better than white gloves would. And since no lady could be seen in soiled gloves, wearing tan gloves to start with made oodles of sense. Though I have not seen references to them in any Ackermanns' prints, "chicken-skin" gloves in a similar shade were also popular--not truly made of chicken skin, but of the skin of unborn calves (and sometimes kids and sheep). They were made in Limerick, Ireland and were of such thinness that they were packaged in walnut shells to be sold (what a sales gimmick!) Gloves dyed to match specific outfits were also seen slightly later in our period.

For evening wear, longer gloves of white kidskin were de rigeuer; fashions for decoration and embellishment (I adore the ruffled ones!) came and went.

Look for lots of images rather than commentary, though I’ll try to supply original text if I have it—the point is to be able to examine multiple examples of each item. Images are drawn from my collection of prints from British publications including Ackermann’s Repository, La Belle Assemblée, The Lady’s Magazine, Phillips’ Fashions of London and Paris, and others. However, Ackermann’s had the most detailed plates, so the majority of images you’ll see will be from that publication.  These date from 1809-1821.  Enjoy!

 Evening Full Dress, January 1809:

Opera Dress, March 1809:

Walking Costume, August 1809:

Morning Walking Dress, November 1809 (note that York Tan gloves often had the stitching detail on the back of the hand):

Morning Dress, March 1810:

Morning Walking or Carriage Costume, December 1810 (gloves dyed to match the mantle?):

Evening Dresses, January 1811:

Mourning Dress, December 1811 (notice the black glove):

Evening Full Dress, March 1812:

Ball Dress, June 1815:

Evening Dress, December 1815 (note the ruffles!):

Carriage Dress, February 1817 (gloves AND a muff!):

Evening Dress, January 1818 (again, black for mourning):

Evening Dress, September 1818:

Walking Dress, May 1819:

Evening Dress, July 1819 (notice the bow decorating the top edge):

Evening Dress, October 1819 (more decorative touches, this time a sort of ruff):

Evening Dress, January 1820 (another bow decoration):

Evening Dress, April 1820 (another bow):

Evening Dress, June 1820:

Walking Dress, October 1820 (another example of dyed gloves):

Friday, March 18, 2016

Two Delightful Signs of Spring in Regency England

Are you seeing the signs of spring where you are? Here, daffodils and crocuses are blooming (even if the wild bunnies are eating the latter before they can bud). Tulips are poking up, my camellia has the loveliest pink blossoms, and the forsythia is a blaze of yellow. But when I was in England a few years ago, I noticed a two different signs of spring than I am used to in the Pacific Northwest. And they would have been seen in the Regency as well.

1.      Daffodils. Yes, I have daffodils in my flower bed, but in England it’s common to see them naturalized, raising their golden heads from every grassy nook and across wide fields. They certainly inspired the poet, William Wordsworth, who wrote about them from the Lakes District in 1807.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
 Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

2.     March hares. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, anyone? Even though that book by Lewis Carroll was first published in 1865, young lords and ladies in Regency England would have heard the saying, “Mad as a March hare.” European hares, or brown hares as they are often called in England, do appear a bit mad this time of year as they hop about during mating rituals. With a top speed of 45 miles an hour, they are England’s fastest land animal. Apparently, the lady uses her back legs to force away overly amorous gentlemen. Though approaching endangerment today, they were far more numerous in the 1800s. Even when they aren’t mating, these creatures have been known to jump hedgerows— forwards and backwards! Now, that’s a sign to watch for!

Any interesting signs of spring in your area?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Regency Fabrics, Part 9

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today we have four fabrics from February 1810; their overall condition appears to be excellent.

No. 1. A royal embossed satin: a splendid and elegant article for robes and pelisses. The trimmings for robes of this material should be of properly contrasted fur or thread lace. It is sold by Harris, Moody, and Co. silk-weavers, Pall-Mall.

My comments: Vibrant is the word that comes to mind! The fuchsia is almost too bright against the navy background. The pattern is woven in; this is a very finely woven silk with a noticeable sheen (which unfortunately has not scanned well) and I’m sure would drape beautifully, but it seems to be of too light a weight to make a good fur-trimmed pelisse!
No 2.  A superfine imperial orange bombazeen, particularly calculated for ladies dresses. Black velvet and silver trimming are most pleasing and appropriate ornaments for robes of this article. It is sold, of every colour, by Messrs. Waithman and Everington, No. 104, Fleet-street.

My comments: Hmm. An orange bombazine with black velvet trim would be very Halloween, wouldn’t it? ☺ I’m having a hard time coming up with a comparable modern fabric to compare this to: the fabric looks almost like a fine linen but is rougher almost scratchy (I’m wondering if it isn’t a silk/wool blend as it does have a bit of a sheen like silk.) It’s a fine weight and would have been attractive for ladies’ gowns.

No. 3. An imitative angora shawl dress, of blended green and amber. Amidst the variety of these articles for some time exhibited, we have seen none more entitled than the present to the attention of those females who wish to comprise, at once, fashion and utility. It is sold by Messrs. Brisco and Powley, No. 103, New Bond-street, from 38s to 50s per dress.

My comments: Another nice dress material of what appears to be a fine wool, with the dark yellow and white vaguely botanical pattern woven in. Though wool it's lightweight enough to have wanted a lining fabric, and has a lovely soft hand. Perfect for a morning dress!

No 4. An India rib permanent green print. A patent has lately been obtained by Hewson, Higgins, and Ilett, for printing green on cotton goods, a discovery never before offered to the public. Figures are printed of all descriptions of ladies’ wear. Sundry cotton goods for waistcoats are printed exclusively for Kestevens, York-street, Covent-garden. The pieces are all marked on the edges, “Patent fast green.” 

My comments: I wonder if this is one of the waistcoat fabrics--it's stiff and heavy and sturdily-enough woven to almost resemble a pinwale corduroy, though without the nap. The printing is sharp and clear.

And a brief reminder--don't forget our Cranford group read coming up the week of March 29. Details are here...and don't forget that free ebooks of Cranford are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Project Gutenberg.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Five Pinterest Pages You Might Want to Follow

Okay, I admit it. When someone first mentioned Pinterest I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh, swell—another social media site I’m supposed to join.” I have dragged my feet for years and finally decided that 2016 would be the moment Regina Scott set up her own Pinterest page. After all, I slog through Facebook and hide under the radar on Goodreads. How hard could adding one more task be?

As it turns out, not hard at all. In fact, I love it!

I am not the most social person (introvert, anyone?), and I find Facebook a little like attending a party with the cool kids, where I’m stuck in the corner. But Pinterest involves looking at pretty pictures and telling other people how pretty their pictures are. Even an introvert like me can handle that!

Even if you never pin a single picture, you might want to join just so you can see what others are posting. For a historical writer or reader, it’s an absolute treasure trove! Here are five pinners you may want to check out:

The Beau Monde. Romance Writers of America’s Regency special interest chapter has pinned information on historical romance novels, research, and special reports (including a collection on Georgette Heyer’s works). Plus they’re just some of the coolest ladies out there. Just saying. 

Regency Regalia. Though the company makes authentic reproduction clothing and accessories from the Regency era, the boards they build on Pinterest include thousands of original pieces of art and photographs detailing period wear. What a resource! 

The Victoria and Albert Museum. This is one of the best museums in England, and the curators have made available more than 3,000 pictures of various artifacts and exhibits. It’s the next best thing to going there! 

Sydney Paulsen’s Fort Nisqually Board. Fort Nisqually, located in Point Defiance Park, is one of my favorite places for inspiration when writing my Frontier Bachelor series, in large part because of the incredibly talented re-enactors who make the past come alive. This board of Sydney’s covers the 1850s and 1860s. 

Tall Ship Lady Washington. Ah, you know my fondness for our state’s tall ship. She is a lady of the first order. See some of the places she’s gone and the wonderful memories folks have made on her. 

And of course, you can always follow my boards to see inspiration for various books, book covers, my own growing cache of tall ship pictures, and more.

Are you on Pinterest? What historical boards have you found to love?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Peace of Amiens, or, All Major Credit Cards Accepted

It’s 1802. Great Britain and France have been at war since 1793, when the brand new French republic went on the warpath as surrounding European kingdoms, hoping to nip this republic idea in the bud, sent troops to help restore the Bourbon monarchy. They failed despite various alliances and coalitions and, to everyone’s surprise, France started expanding its borders, thanks in no small part to a certain up-and-coming young Corsican artillery officer.

By 1801 that artillery officer, one Napoleon Bonaparte, is First Consul of the French Republic. British Prime Minister William Pitt,  a resolute foe of Napoleon, is forced out of office in February and a less hawkish PM takes his place.  Austria, Russia, and the Kingdom of Naples had all sued for peace a few years before.  And both France and England agree that some peace might be nice for a change. After much negotiating, wheeling, dealing, and making of secret clauses over the summer and into the fall of 1801 the two countries reach a preliminary agreement at the end of September. In November the Marquis Cornwallis (yes, the same one who surrendered at Yorktown) is sent to the French town of Amiens to negotiate the final terms with Napoleon’s brother Joseph and Talleyrand. Though it takes months and is unsatisfactory in many ways to the British (they in particular are unhappy over the ambiguous disposition of Malta) a final agreement is signed on March 25, 1802 and in October King George officially declares peace.

And Britain goes shopping.

Before you snort, "yeah, right," think about it: for much of the 18th century, France had been the center of European culture...and Paris had been its apotheosis. French fashions, French art, French food, French manners, all had been admired and imitated; an upper class young man’s education was not considered complete until he’d spent a year or so wandering the Continent—especially France. But for the last ten years, Britain and France had been at war, which meant no visiting most places on the continent. Now the war was over thanks to the Peace of Amiens, and the English descended on France to satisfy their craving for all things French.

They flocked to the Palais Royal for expensive souvenirs and to the modistes and milliners for Paris gowns. They ordered jewelry and sets of china, and went to the galleries to buy art. Artists arrived in droves, not only from England but from all over Europe to visit the Louvre and see not only the latest art but also the Roman and Egyptian sculpture brought back by Napoleon. They visited sidewalk cafes, strolled in the parcs (though Paris was, alas, looking rather shabby after the depredations of the Revolution and ten years of war.) Even scientists came, among them astronomer William Herschel to visit the Paris Observatoire. And politicians came, both for all of the above reasons and, if they could, to catch a glimpse of the First Consul. Napoleon very obligingly received several of them, most notably Charles James Fox (who took the occasion of this trip to France to formally present his heretofore secret wife, former courtesan Mrs. Armistead.) And expatriates took the opportunity to visit their homeland, from which they'd been cut off for so long.

Unfortunately, this amicable state of affairs did not last long. The tensions and discontents created in the Treaty of Amiens were its undoing, along with Napoleon's efforts in other arenas to exclude Britain as much as possible from European affairs. Britain again declared war in May 1803, rather to France's and everyone else's surprise--in fact, over a thousand British tourists ended up imprisoned in France until 1814, when Napoleon was sent to Elba. I hope the shopping had been worth it!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Rushing for the Gold

The 49ers, the Yukon, Fraser River—where I come from, these names evoke images of dirty men, digging and panning feverishly, in hopes of striking it rich. I was poking around a little this week, pondering sending one of my younger Frontier Bachelors to a gold rush, when I discovered research gold. You see, the nineteenth century truly panned out as a mother lode of gold rushes, and not just in the American and Canadian West with which I was familiar.

Turns out, people have been rushing after gold across the world for centuries. As early as the late 1600s/early 1700s, adventurers discovered gold in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. According to some sources, nearly half a million Portuguese were drawn to the area in hopes of leaving wealthy.

The first major gold rush in the United States was a result of a 12-year-old boy’s fascination with treasure. Conrad Reed found a 17-pound gold nugget in 1799 and brought it home. It must not have looked much like gold, for his parents used it as a doorstop for three years. Only when the boy’s father took the rock to a jeweler did he realize his son’s so-called treasure really was gold. And that set off more than 30 years of panning, placer mining, and even deep vein mining in the area.

Next up was Georgia in 1828. The Blue Ridge Mountains had been rumored to be the site of Spanish mining from the 1600s, but no one had been sure of the location of the mines. Nuggets found in various creeks resulted in boom towns springing up. At one time, inhabitants numbered more than 10,000 (the population of Washington, D.C. was only a little more than 13,000 at the time and was the ninth largest city in America).

The 1840s and 1850s saw gold rushes in California, British Columbia, Colorado, Nevada, and Australia. Idaho, northeast Washington, New Zealand, Arizona, Montana, and Oregon followed in the 1860s.

Gold mining flourished in Wales from 1862, with up to 10,000 prospectors journeying into the area. In 1868, gold fever hit the Scottish Highlands. Finland and South Africa followed, with South Dakota and Wyoming right behind. 1883 saw a gold rush in distant Tierra del Fuego, with people coming from all over the world to participate. They built the first towns in the area. Finally, near the turn of the century, the Yukon and Alaska beckoned, with more than 100,000 prospectors all told.

All in all, those following the gold rushes settled new lands and pushed back the frontier. They left parents, wives, sweethearts behind. Some made their fortunes in the rich mineral deposits. Others made their fortunes selling supplies to the needy miners. Unfortunately, they also drove out indigenous peoples and, in some cases, started wars.

All for the sparkle of gold. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fashion Forecast: 1836, Part 1: The Great Deflation of 1836

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1836?

Evidently dark colors were in vogue, as we can see from this very plain but elegant deep blue Evening Dress. The skirt is devoid of trim, though the bodice has gathered pleats over the bust; the lace oversleeves really sing over all this dark velvet (I think). A gold-trimmed gauze shawl completes the ensemble. In contrast is a Morning Dress of bright red, tan, and green plaid, with large bows at the waist and decorating the full skirt. A pelerine bodice of the same plaid set on the bias, lace collar, and ballooning sleeves finish the look. (January, The Court Magazine):

From February’s Court Magazine is another dramatically plain, dark Evening Dress, this time in black. Again the skirt is unornamented; the bodice also has pleating, this time crossing diagonally over the bust. The broad, flat sleeves are plain as well; only a hint of white lace shows at the bust. The dress is accompanied by a tall, high-crowned bonnet with deep pink, drooping plumes, green and pink ribbon decorations on lace, and long, broad lace lappets. Ruby drop earrings and a long chain of ruby carbuncles are set off by the plainness of the dress:

Now, here’s where the question in the title of this post comes in. I alas don’t have the prints for March though I have viewed them on-line; the sleeves remain broad and pouffy (and incidentally another black Evening Dress, though decorated with multi-colored flowers and ribbon about the hem and bodice, makes an appearance.) But there’s an interesting bit of text that appears in the accompanying General Observations on Fashions and Dress:

We have seen, since the publication of our last number, some evening dress robes made with short sleeves quite tight to the arm, and terminated by blond manchettes. After the very large sleeves to which we have been so long accustomed, these tight ones appear at first not only singular, but extremely ungraceful; nevertheless it must be owned that their effect upon a finely formed woman is highly advantageous to the shape. Another kind of sleeve, which we consider very pretty, and which holds a middle place between tight and large ones, is formed of a single bouffant of moderate size, arranged in longitudinal puffs by bands of satin or velvet.

So why tight sleeves all of a sudden?  What suddenly broke a fashion of years’ standing?

Well, there’s a hint in that same column:

Short robes, such as were worn in France thirty-five years ago under the name of Polonaise, and subsequently adopted in England, where they were called curricle dresses, are again revived. We have recently seen some of white crape over white satin, the latter with the corsage square, and rather higher than they are generally made on the bosom. The crape dress descended a little below the knee, and the drapery of the front of the corsage formed a demi-coeur. The sleeves, short and nearly tight to the arm, were finished at the bottoms by bands of ruby velvet.

So was that it? A revival of a thirty-five-year-old fashion in France led to the collapse of the long-running uber-sleeve?  Let’s see how the rest of the spring’s fashion shape up...

A pair of Evening Dresses from April’s Court Magazine display both the new tight sleeve and the bouffant sleeve mentioned above. The black dress, ornamented with multi-colored flowers and vines around the hem, sports the bouffant sleeve (which is very Tudor-looking!) with matching flounces at the sleeve and around the neckline. The blue print dress has tight sleeves with flounces of blonde lace. Note the headdresses—again, a throw-back to an earlier age, this time Renaissance:

May’s Evening and Carriage Dresses from the Court Magazine show a slight return to fuller sleeves—but only a slight one. The Evening Dress reminds me of mid-seventeenth century dresses with its very low flounced neckline and small puffed sleeves caught in and finished with flounces of blonde lace. The skirt is decorated with large bows and more puffs of blonde lace.  The Carriage Dress has sleeves tight from cuff to elbow, then moderate puffs on the upper arms, a double pelerine collar, one of blonde lace, and a tall green bonnet,which completely gives me the creeps:

June’s Ball Dress is perfect for the girl just making her debut. According to the description it is Of white satin, with folded cross body, robing and sleeves of blonde. The robing confined by wreaths of white and pink roses to correspond with the head-dress, the roses of which are arranged as a bandeau and chaplet mixed with pearls:

And also from June’s Court Magazine, a Morning Dress Of Tissue Pekin, the cape and skirt edged with a plain fold of gros de naples, sleeves made tight to the elbow, with a double fall on the shoulder; cap of light Honiton lace.  The Evening Dress is Of blue satin, the corsage made tight, with a cape of blonde tight to the figure—sleeves of white tulle, with blonde ruffles. The hair arranged low, with a wreath of blue convolvuluses:

What do you think of the Great Sleeve Deflation of 1836? Do you miss, just a little, those crazy sleeves of 1834 and 1835?