The Great British Baking Show!

I’m finally starting to feel better after nearly a month of being down with a sinus infection. It’s really hard being that sick when you live alone. One thing that helped me through were friends who checked in on me and brought Robitussin and neti pot salt when I ran out. Another thing that helped was comfort TV—including the Great British Bake Off.

I’m sure many of you have already watched. I had been resisting, fearing it would be too much like some of the US reality TV, which a friend described as putting rats in a cage and watching them eat each other. I was relieved to see that TGBBS is totally different.

A few things I love about it that provide some faint justification as research:

– It is set at English country estates, and baking episodes are interspersed with vignettes of scenery, sheep and wildlife. Very atmospheric!
– Contestants come from all over the British Isles, so there is a diversity of accents and dialects, also many of them draw on their local traditions and foods for inspiration.
– A few of the baking challenges involve historical foods that might have been made during the Regency.

Other aspects I love:
– The baking challenges are difficult and the standard of judging is high, but there isn’t the kind of gimmicky, almost practical joke style stuff thrown in randomly to add to the difficulty.
– The judges critique the baking but are supportive to the contestants as aspiring bakers.
One actually can see many of the contestants learning new skills and developing more self confidence throughout the challenges.
– There is competition but not the sort of backstabbing too often emphasized in reality TV. People cry and hug at the end of the session when someone is picked to leave.
– Silly baking puns and jokes like “10 more minutes to polish your choux” and “30 minutes remaining on your mirror glazes. On reflection, 29.”
– I enjoy the insights into the creative process, the choices of when and how to take creative risks while still striving to reliably create something beautiful and delicious.

Probably most of all, I love how the series showcases home bakers—people who show their love for friends and family by making delicious things. I think this correlates with the fact that the contestants are such overwhelmingly likeable people who act more like a team than competitors. (One even called the group a team.)

Also, I really want to try making some of the things they make (though not my own phyllo dough, thank you very much!)

For those unfamiliar with the show, here is a clip of Top Ten Moments:

Here is a wonderful interview with the 2015 winner, Nadiya Hussein.

And here’s a link to one of the recipes I want to try: Kate’s Sticky Toffee Apple Caramel Cake.

Does anyone else love this show? What do you like best about it? Have you tried any of the published recipes and how did that turn out?


Posted in Frivolity | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fun with Primary Sources

I absolutely love reading firsthand accounts of the era in which I set my books. I’ve been reading Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763 again. It’s nice, because the entries are small and I can read one or two whenever I have a moment to spare from whatever else I’m doing.

As these were his private journals, he’s quite frank in them. And it’s interesting to see just how a single man about town whiled away his time. For example, here is a typical entry, dated Saturday 4 December (1762):

“I breakfasted with Dempster. He accompanied me into the City. He parted from me at St. Paul’s, and I went to Child’s, where there was not much said. I dined and drank tea with Lady Betty Macfarlane. We were but cold and dull. The Laird was low and disagreeable. I resolved to dine there no more; at least very, very seldom. At night, Erskine and I strolled through the streets and St. James’s Park. Were were accosted there by several ladies of the town [whores]. Erskine was very humorous and said some very wild things to them. There was one in a red cloak of a good buxom person and comely face whom I marked as a future piece, in case of exigency.”

This entry has a footnote which also gives Boswell’s daily memoranda of the same day (yes, the man kept TWO different forms of journal of his daily life!).

“Breakfast first at home. Then in Bath [coat] and old grey [suit] and stick, sally to City. Send off North Britons to Digges. Get the one of the day. Go to Child’s, take dish of coffee, read Auditor, MonitorBriton. Then come to Douglas’s and inquire about parade. Then Leicester [Street], dine. Be comfortable yet genteel, and please your friend Captain Erskine. Drink tea. Then home, quiet, and wind up the week’s journal in grey and slippers. Be always in bed before twelve. Never sup out. Breakfast R> Mackye Sunday and take franks [get Mackye to send his mail for free].”

Clearly, I need to see about tracking down a copy of Boswell’s memoranda (as well as other volumes of his journal). I love this kind of daily minutia. It really helps me fill out my scenes, understand how my characters would have spent their time, and how they would have thought about the world. And can you imagine the scandal if someone wrote a little too frankly in his journal and it was stolen and published? Oh, glorious plot bunny!


Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Regency, Research | 1 Comment

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I am still holding onto the vision of having a nice writing room, but progress is slow. Here are my new bookcases, or should I say, five of them. I ordered six of these stackable bookcases, but found that the bottom shelves on two of them were broken, apparently damaged in transit. I duly called up the store and they said no problem, put the broken ones out for UPS to collect and they would ship me new ones. So I thanked the nice customer service person and did as she recommended. I packed up the two broken units, lugged them down the stairs and put them out, thinking at least I didn’t have to lug them back to UPS.

About a week later, two more arrived and I crossed my fingers that they would be intact, despite the fact that the boxes looked even more roughed up than from the first delivery. So I was not entirely surprised to find that the first box I opened contained yet another bookcase with a broken bottom shelf. At least the second one I opened was good. Once again I talked to a very nice customer service person and put the broken bookcase out for UPS to collect. I really don’t know what I’m going to do if the next one arrives damaged–maybe I’ll have to drive to the nearest store that carries them. There isn’t one within 100 miles, but at least I could make sure the bookcase makes it home intact.

Also in the things-not-working-as-hoped department, I need some roller blinds for the master bedroom. I measured the desired width–37 inches. then apparently I went downstairs and wrote down 27 inches. Again, I worked with a very nice lady at the store I ordered from, and despite it being my error, she took the blinds back and ordered me new ones.

I am grateful for good customer service people, but I’m also longing to be settled in and writing on a regular schedule! Please tell me that will happen eventually. Also, please feel free to share any recent misadventures or bloopers, so I know it isn’t just me. Thanks!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Something about snuff

The habit of taking snuff is one of those areas of very authentic period life that seem distasteful to our modern sensibilities. If I wrote a hero who took snuff, be honest –wouldn’t your reaction be “eeeuwww”? He would instantly seem less attractive, wouldn’t he? Snuff-users, if we have any in our stories at all, are more likely to be dandy-ish best friends or even perhaps villains.

As fiction writers, we authors always walk a fine line between recreating an accurate picture of the historical world our characters live in and the attitudes of the modern age we and our readers inhabit. Today we know the dangers of using tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine. I have to admit, after recently visiting a historic snuff mill near where I live (birthplace of American artist Gilbert Stuart), I came away wondering why more of the snuff-using fashionable people in our period didn’t all have brain cancer! (More on this below)

That said, I thought I might share a glimpse into snuff and the process of making and using it, since it actually was such a popular habit. Did you know that Queen Charlotte (Prinny’s mother) was such a snuff fan that she had an entire room at Windsor set aside for her snuff supplies? Or that she was called “snuffy Charlotte” by some (clearly irreverent) subjects? Prominent snuff-users in our period included Keats, who penned the line, “Give me wine, women and snuff, until I cry out – hold, enough!”, also Wellington, Nelson, Napoleon, and the Prince Regent himself, who had his own proprietary blend. Members of Parliament would take snuff before debating matters, and to this day a communal snuff container is provided in the House of Lords.

Snuff is dried, cured tobacco ground into a powder of varying consistencies and taken by inhaling through the nose. A special grinding apparatus is used to achieve the fine powder. Its history traces back to ancient times in Brazil, where the Spanish first encountered it and brought it back home. From there, the French picked it up and spread its use to the rest of Europe and even into the Far East. As its use became more and more popular, it grew from a luxury only for the rich to a habit also shared with the professional middle class. In general it was never adopted by the poor who smoked their tobacco instead.

Like tea at this period, snuff was blended to unique and very individual tastes. The types of original tobacco plants could vary, as well as the many different methods used for curing it. Many additional ingredients might be combined with the various kinds of dry ground tobacco to affect the scent, which lingered in the nose long after the initial fast “hit” of the nicotine. Spices, fruits, flowers and more substances were all used for this purpose. Users took pride in their own specific recipes. Prinny was hardly alone in having his own blend, although others might not have the power and position to attach their name to theirs.

Snuff was most often taken by holding a pinch between the thumb and index finger, or placing a small amount on the back of the hand to “snuff”. Sometimes rabbits’ feet were used to wipe away the residue under the nose. (Sneezing was considered the sign of a beginner, although many snuff sellers also sold handkerchiefs.) Enough people placed their pinch of snuff in the concave space between the wrist and outer base of the thumb created by cocking one’s thumb out that the spot acquired the anatomical name “snuff box”.

Actual snuff boxes, however, were a necessity for users, and very quickly became status symbols. Because dried snuff loses its flavor quickly when exposed to air, portable pocket-sized boxes that held only a day or two’s supply were needed as well as larger boxes at home, or for communal use. Pocket snuff boxes were often given as gifts, the more elaborate the better. Boxes were made by jewelers and goldsmiths, made of gold, silver, tortoise shell, ivory and many other materials, decorated with jewels, portraits, mosaics, and more. The famous jewelers Rundell & Bridge received £8,205 for snuff-boxes given as gifts to foreign dignitaries at Prinny’s wedding.

Snuff was considered by many to have beneficial medicinal properties. Catherine d’Medici used snuff to combat migraines. People believed snuff could protect them from plague and cure failing eyesight. Some modern studies have concluded that snuff is a “safe” alternative to smoking cigarettes, because it doesn’t involve the tar and carbon products from being burned and it doesn’t impact the lungs. However, warnings against snuff usage also have a long history. It was banned at various times, and John Hill published his Caution against the Use of Snuff in 1761. People could see for themselves the damage sometimes done to the inside of the nose. The cancer-causing tobacco chemicals can have unhealthy effects on the nasal passages and sinuses they touch, and the stimulant chemicals can still raise the risks of heart-related problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Despite the fast route of nicotine directly to the brain, brain tissue itself is not in direct contact with the snuff, so brain cancer isn’t a risk. Throat and stomach cancer can be, when some of the powder travels from the nose to those lower areas.

I was surprised to learn, while researching this topic, that snuff use is on the rise again, popular among ex-smokers and others who haven’t kicked the nicotine addiction. A “less-bad” way around the smoking bans, I suppose. Dry snuff is closely related to “moist snuff”, also called dipping tobacco, which is placed inside the lip and is quite popular among professional sports players. Drug-screening doesn’t test for or count the addictive stimulant nicotine among the forbidden substances for these people. For an entertaining and interesting foray into the world of modern snuff users, read an excerpt posted by writer Julian Dutton on his blog, from his book titled The Bumper Book of Curious Clubs. Snuff has also been ridiculed by none other than the comedian Stephen Fry –check his youtube video .

Did you know taking snuff was on the rise again? Did you know that the phrase “up to snuff” originally meant someone who was mentally alert, smart –as in someone whose brain was stimulated by nicotine? How do you feel about period characters who indulge in taking snuff?

Posted in Frivolity, History, Regency, Research, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Diane in Scotland

I’m in Scotland. And the wi fi here is not letting me post photos, so let me tell you a little of what we’ve done so far. I’m traveling with Kristine Hughes Patrone of Number One London Tours on her Scottish Writers Retreat. The retreat is just starting today and we are joined by a group of ten writers and readers for seven days of visiting castles, towns, and other sites. We are staying at Auchinleck House, where Boswell once lived.

We’ve visited Edinburgh and walked the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle, shopping in between. After our day there, we went by train to Blair Atholl and toured Blair Castle. We had a shopping expedition to Pitlochry. We also took a marvelous “safari” up the mountains on Blair’s property. I wish I could show you the photos from that!

Next we went to Glasgow, the highlight of which was a bus tour with Harlequin Historical author Marguerite Kaye. We also spent a couple of hours wandering through the Necropolis, a fascinating cemetery.

The adventure is just beginning, though. I’ll post photos when I get back!

Posted in Places | 1 Comment

Looking forward to spring (I will explain)

Hello.  Some of you may know that I recently moved to a new house. I had originally planned to leave the landscaping/garden alone for a year to get a feel of everything, and start planting next spring. However, I recently realized that if I don’t plant spring bulbs now (there are just a few, sadly isolated tulips right now), I would have to wait until spring of 2020. That’s just too long!

So I’ve looking through online catalogs and thinking about what I’d like.  Where I lived before, chipmunks ate my crocuses and deer ate my tulips. So I mostly just enjoyed my grape hyacinths and my daffodils.

Spring bulbs could have been a part of a Regency family’s flower garden. One of my go-to references for Regency gardening, William Cobbett’s The English Gardener (1820), mentions many of our favorites, including snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips.

Tulips were introduced to England sometime in the late 1500s. (Here is a wood block print of tulip types by John Parkinson, printed by Humfrey Lownes and Robert Young at the signe of the Starre on Bread-street hill, 1629.) There was a “Tulipomania” craze in the early 1600s, when bulbs reached prices 10 times normal, which broke in 1637. Tulips continued to be grown after that, of course, but became more wildly popular again in Victorian times.

Some interesting information on tulips: History of Tulips from the Heirloom Gardener

To learn more about the history of tulips in England and where you might see some good displays, check out “Tulips Through Time” from English Heritage.

For my own garden, I am going with a palette of mostly blue, pink, and purple (my daughters’ and my favorite colors), along with some white.

I am thinking about Siberian squills (Scilla Siberica) for early color. Cobbett lists a type of squill in his book but I think it is Scilla Italica.

For daffodils, I am thinking of going with a variety that did very well at my previous house.  It’s called “Ice Follies”. Its cups start out yellow and fade to white, and it has a leasant scent.

I also want some hyacinths. These are listed as “English wood hyacinths” which makes them sound similar to bluebells, which I think are in the hyacinth family, but these are actually Hyacinthoides Hispanica.

I’m still mulling what tulips I would like. I’m pretty sure I want pink, but there are many kinds I like. One is called “Angelique”–I had planted some of those at the previous house, where they looked lovely until the deer bit them off, leaving sad green stalks behind. I also like lily-flowered tulips, and these more conventionally shaped ones, called “Pink Diamond”, which are a lovely color.

What do you think? Which of these tulips do you like best? Do you have favorite bulbs you like to grow?


Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Challenging a Claim to a Peerage

So, I missed my July post (sorry). I was in Denver at the 2018 RWA conference. While there, I gave a workshop on inheriting peerages. It was a lot of fun, and people got really into it. They came up with all kinds of crazy situations to ask me about. I wanted to share part of the workshop here, so that those who didn’t make it could still benefit.

House of Lords, 18th Century WikiCommons

One important thing to understand is that  the crown can’t take a title away. That power lies only with Parliament, and Parliament has already stated flat out that once a man is ennobled, this can not be changed except by an act of Parliament. This is called an act of Deprivation. As a matter of public policy it has only been done once (Duke of Bedford 1478; the man was ruled to be too poor to support the dignity, and his state was a result of his having failed to properly care for the lands he’d been given with the title; essentially he was ruled too incompetent to be a duke). The only real reasons for Deprivation seems to have been a peer being convicted of treason (even a murder conviction, as in the case of the 4th Earl Ferrers, didn’t result in the title being lost; it passed to his younger brother after he was hanged). Debt became a legal reason for such an action under the Bankruptcy Act in 1883, but it would have been very unlikely to have been used in the Georgian/Regency period. If you read the section on Deprivation and the Earl of Waterford (p. 227-230) in the law book I link to in the post you’ll see that in 1832 it was ruled that really what Parliament and the crown were allowed to take away were really only those things that the king could “have and enjoy” and this did not include dignities, but was limited to physical things such as land.

So, that means if there’s going to be a challenge, the story will have to be shifted back in time to the point when the hero was making his petition to the crown. The man who would inherit if the hero were illegitimate (or his guardian if he is a minor) would have to apply to Parliament to present their own claim and in that claim they would have to provide the proof of the first claimant’s illegitimacy.

Now here’s the second sticky wicket: English law was HEAVILY weighted in favor of all children of a marriage (all those produced by the wife) being considered legally legitimate regardless if everyone knew that she had lovers and the kid looked nothing like her husband (see the infamous Harleian Miscellany; there were open doubts about the actual parentage of the countess’s children, but no challenge to their legal legitimacy).

In order for a child to be ruled illegitimate, the father would have had to have literally had NO access to the mother for the entire period surrounding conception (not just a few short weeks, but likely at least 3 months). And by no access, I don’t mean that the husband simply states that he never touched her, he had to have been unable to do so. If there was any chance that he COULD have been the father (and merely having access to her person was considered enough) then he was the father. He might not like it, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it (this is why a wife’s good character was so important).

As if this isn’t enough to get over, once the child was accepted, there was no changing his mind. The father can’t decide when the boy is five, or twenty, or when his elder son dies, when he himself is on his deathbed that he wants to cast off a child that has been legally established as his. Again, this is about maintaining the social order, making sure children are not cast off onto the parish, and ensuring that father’s are responsible for their children. The father’s suspicion or even outright knowledge that he wasn’t the father wasn’t enough to make the child a bastard in the eyes of the law.

So, it’s not enough that the second claimant show that everyone knew and admitted that the hero wasn’t fathered by the duke. The claimant has to show that under the LAW the hero was not a legitimate child of the marriage. This means that either the duke and duchess were not married before his birth (as in the already quoted Berkeley case; side note, if the title is Scottish, even this doesn’t work, as marriage legitimized bastards under Scottish law) or that the duke was absent from his wife for a period of months and could not have sired him (and even this might not be enough if the son was publically claimed by the father and had been treated as the heir, but at least it would be something for the Committee for Privileges to gnaw on).

What this comes down to is that it is likely that all the villain of the piece can hope to do is embarrass the hero (unless you want to shift back in time and make the book about the hero’s attempt to claim the title). It’s also likely that he’ll make further powerful enemies, as there are likely other sitting peers who know full-well they were not sired by their legal father.

I hope this was helpful, and I’m happy to answer any specific questions in the comment section.


Posted in History, Isobel Carr, Research | 1 Comment

George IV Visit to Scotland

At the end of the month I will be traveling to Scotland with Kristine Hughes Patrone of  Number One London Tours. We’ll be joining her Scottish Writers Retreat in Glasgow the second week, but first we’ll visit Edinburgh and sites between.

In August 1822 there was another momentous visit to Edinburgh. George IV traveled to Edinburgh on the first visit by a reigning monarch since King Charles I in 1633. The visit was encouraged by government ministers, because they wanted to keep Prinny from attending the Congress of Verona where the fate of post-Napoleonic war Europe was being decided.

There was another good reason for the visit, though. Scotland had been humming with unrest and the government was eager to avoid the revolutions that had rocked America and France. Even though George IV was rather unpopular, his visit was promoted by none other than Sir Walter Scott, who had been invited to dine with the King after the release of his popular novel, Waverley, which presented a romantic view of the Scottish Highlands that must have captivated Prinny as well as the general public.

Sir Walter Scott worked with others to plan the royal visit which was filled with the sort of pageantry that Prinny loved. Scott persuaded Prinny that he was entitled to call himself a Highlander, because of his Stuart bloodline. The King promptly ordered a highland outfit of bright red Royal Tartan, which he is shown wearing in the idealized portrait by David Wilkie.

I will be flying from London to Edinburgh, but Prinny arrived for his visit by ship and was met with the promised celebrations that had sent lowlanders and highlanders scrambling for the proper kilts. The celebrations lasted a little more than two weeks, almost exactly the amount of time I’ll be in Scotland. It also rained a lot and I am hoping that is not true for my visit.

I’ll be thinking of Prinny as I walk in his footsteps, walking the Royal Mile from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle.

I just hope I won’t be carrying an umbrella?

Have you visited Edenburgh? What should we not miss seeing?

Read Diane’s latest!
A Lady Becomes a Governess, July 2018, Book 1 in the Governess Swap Series
Available now from online vendors.

Posted in History | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Needlework, Shawls, and More from Concord

I beg your indulgence for offering a second post based on my visit to the Concord Museum back in June, but there was just so much to love and share in that small exhibit on “Fresh Goods”! I do recommend it, if you are within a reasonable distance of Concord, Massachusetts. It runs through the end of this month. (Besides, Concord is such a great place to visit, with a rich history and strong literary connections as well. But let me not digress.)

When I hear “needlework” in connection with our Regency period or earlier times, I tend to think of those often-dreaded embroidery samplers, or funeral memorials, or other sorts of decorative needlework to be framed and hung on walls, handkerchiefs, or pew cushion covers and altar hangings to be donated to the local church.

What I saw at Concord reminded me that in those times, the essential skill of embroidery had many more practical applications.

For example, have you ever seen “pocketbooks” like these flame-stitched examples from the exhibit? (Sorry for the white dots-light reflections!) More like what we would call wallets today, they were flat and meant to fit into a man’s deep coat pocket or perhaps inside his waistcoat (but you wouldn’t want to spoil the fashionable line!). A woman could have carried one of these, also, when “pockets” were still tied around the waist and concealed underneath the skirts. Harder to do once the columnar styles of the Regency fashions came in! The design of the embroidery was a popular pattern in the late 18th century and early Regency. I’ve seen it on upholstered furniture of the same period, for instance. It is based on even older examples of needlework known as Bargello or Hungarian point. Can’t you just picture the hours of stitchery a loving wife put in to make one of these covers for her man, so he could be at the peak of fashion?

The expert quality of the embroidery on this beautiful example of a classic Regency dress was amazing, as was the effort put into making a plain muslin gown into something far more fashionable. My untrained eye could not see how the museum people determined that this dress was hand-embroidered to imitate spotted muslin, but that is what they said! I wish I had better photos of it to show you. Of course, thinking about a young woman spending endless hours working on her dress for the sake of fashion catches my imagination and tugs at my heart, since she apparently couldn’t get or couldn’t afford genuine spotted muslin. She knew just what she wanted!

Moving on from needlework, I want to share this beautiful bright red shawl (that I would have loved to take home). I am no expert on the history of dyes, so I’m not sure when chemical dyes first began to be used, but I do know that red this bright was historically a challenge to produce.  I also loved that they had a portrait of the owner wearing this shawl –it must have been a favorite of hers, clearly special! She was Ellen Tucker, who married famed Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1829. (Sadly, she died of tuberculosis just 2 years later). A quick survey of Regency fashion prints show up lots of examples of red shawls, so she was certainly a la mode!

Shawls were such an especially important accessory during the Regency, I was surprised not to see more examples of them in the exhibit, but perhaps the museum does not have many in their collection. Given the skimpiness of the ladies’ dresses in the Regency period plus the lack of central heating, well, everywhere, you can understand why shawls were an essential accessory. Just to double up, one print shows a dress made from shawls on a lady preparing to don her shawl!

 Regency shawls were generally much larger and longer than modern ones –all the better to wrap around oneself, but is it any wonder that young ladies had to be taught the proper way to drape and wear them to be fashionable? Yet another social pitfall I’m pretty sure I would have failed as a Regency lady…although here is a picture of me in costume (some 20 years ago!) wearing a shawl with my dress, just to prove it had not quite slipped off yet!

Perusing the fashion plates looking at shawls, I ran across these two plates, one 1809, one 1822, that both show the popularity and continuance of the color and style of this fabulous purple dress that was in the Concord exhibit. It doesn’t fit into today’s blog theme very well, but you can see why I didn’t want to leave it out! It shows dramatically how Regency style evolved from the very straight early styles (the white dress) to the more triangular emphasis of the 1820’s, leading toward the Victorian era.

Do you enjoy doing needlework? If so, what kind? Or would you have found it an unhappy chore if you lived during the Regency? Do you think you would have had the patience to embroider an entire dress like the white one pictured above? Or, how about shawls? Do you ever wear them? What do you like or dislike about them? I’ll be wearing one Sunday at a bridal shower if the restaurant’s AC is too cold!

Posted in Clothing, Regency, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Progress on the Writing Space!

My writing room hasn’t changed too much from the last picture I posted–boxes and boxes of books, still unpacked, alas.

However, I have been making progress on replacing the home office furniture that didn’t make it around the bend in the staircase of my new house: my big desk and a tall bookcase. I have ordered a bunch of stacking, folding bookcases from the Container Store. I had originally thought about ordering bookcases that could be assembled in the room, but then how do I get them out again? These should make it in and out (even though I AM NEVER MOVING AGAIN) and have a lot of good reviews, so I am hoping they will be sturdy enough to hold my writing library and some of my other books as well.

As for the desk, I decided to go back to a local antique store where I’d seen a lovely small desk last winter. My daughter had tried to talk me into buying it then, but it didn’t feel right to buy more furniture while trying to downsize. Luckily for me, the desk was still there, and the already reasonable price had been reduced by about 30%. Maybe it was meant to be.

Although the nice lady at the store called it “Regency”, I believe, based on the price and its similarity to some of the other vintage/antique furniture I own, that it is no earlier than Edwardian and more likely to be around 1930. Which doesn’t matter to me at all, because 1) I could afford it, 2) it will make it up the stairs, and 3) it’s really pretty! I think it would not have looked out of place in a Regency lady’s drawing room.


Early “desks” were often just portable writing boxes with a slanted top and a little storage inside, and then could be placed on top of other tables. Here’s an illustration.

Jane Austen used a portable desk like the one picture. Here’s a JASNA article about it.

Small desks like mine could be seen as an evolution: adding legs to the portable desk. Here’s an image of a lady from Costume Parisien with a similar small desk, or escritoire. This one is of a type called a “cylinder desk”, a precursor of what we call “roll top” desks.

Mine can be called a “drop front” or “slant front” desk. Here’s an example of one that is c. 1810, so they were definitely around.

Further evolutions of this sort of desk  added bookcases above and/or drawers or cabinets below.  I have seen all variations sometimes called “escritoires” and sometimes “secretary desks”. The term “secretary” does not refer so much to the occupation as the fact that there were places in the desk to “secret” things away.

Anyway, I am really happy with mine, and looking forward to bringing it upstairs once the bookshelves arrive and I can unpack all the books. In the meantime, I have been going out to local coffee shops to write. I have friends who say they work best in clutter, but I find it distracting and a bit guilt-producing, because I feel I should be cleaning and not writing.

How about you? Can you work in chaos or do you prefer a tidy workspace? Do you have any favorite items in your writing or office space?


Posted in Research, Writing | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments