Regency Fairytales

Old, Old Fairy TalesAre you a fan of fairytales? Do you watch the mash-up Once Upon a Time on TV? Or the more horror-oriented show Grimm? I’ve been working with a writing student whose project is focused on the life of Charles Perrault, so I’ve been thinking about fairytales a lot lately.

This enduring, and endearing, form of storytelling goes back in time well before our Regency period to the late the 17th century. That’s when Perrault published “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” as part of his collection, Tales and Stories of Times Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose in 1697. (The English translation was published in 1729.) Actually, it goes back much further into the mists of time, depending on how you define fairytale vs folktale. Many of the stories are ancient, and of course there are some very ancient story traditions in the non-western cultures. But did you know that the Brothers Grimm Early ed of grimmpublished their first three German collections of tales in 1812, 1815, and 1822? Their first English edition was published in London in 1824, illustrated by Cruikshank.

Recasting some fairytales into romances has been a popular strategy for some authors within the romance genre. Turning them back into tales for adults is ironic in some cases, as some of the stories started out as strictly adult fare. But in addition to offering us plot ideas and possible story arcs, fairytales can serve in our stories exactly as they are, as part of the cultural background for our characters.

It’s good to know that if you want a character to read fairytales to children in a Regency story, any of those collected by Charles Perrault would be authentic. That includes such favorites as Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood.200px-Dore_ridinghood However, the late date of the Grimm Brothers’ English edition means some other best-loved stories, such as Snow White or Rumpelstiltskin, were not familiar in most Regency nurseries.

It’s possible, however, that some of the stories Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm had collected up to 1815 could have been retold in England by returned soldiers or statesmen who encountered Jacob Grimm in Paris or particularly in Vienna. That is how Devenham, the rakish hero of my 2nd Regency, The Persistent Earl, knows the story of the frog prince and recounts a cleaned-up version of it to the children in that book. (Some of this blogpost is taken from the Author’s Note I wrote for that book, a time-saving step for which I beg your indulgence!)

Jacob Grimm worked for his government during the closing years of the Napoleonic Wars. Brueder_GrimmIn 1814-15 he served at the Congress of Vienna in addition to making two trips to Paris to recover important German paintings and books stolen by the French army. In Vienna he was the nucleus of a small literary salon whose members entertained each other with the telling and retelling of folk tales and fairytales. wilhelm_grimm_250(Side note: apparently Wilhelm was struggling in the meanwhile back in their homeland. A novel just released in July, The Wild Girl, by Kate Forsyth,  tells the story of the woman who loved Wilhelm and waited ten years to marry him!) Dorchen Wild-349

Many of these stories were not originally intended for children, and were only made suitable after the Grimms modified, edited, and in some cases embellished them for publication. (a Regency precedence for Disney!) Jacob’s store of tales in Vienna would have included those already published in the 1812 German Nursery and Household Tales, plus others like “The Frog Prince” about to make their appearance in the second volume.

Here is an excerpt from TPE where my naughty hero (still recovering from wounds received at Waterloo) explains about the story my heroine, Phoebe, has just overheard him tell:

“I spent a few weeks on furlough in Vienna last winter, and that is where I chanced to hear the story. In fact, if I can remember them, I heard several others I could tell the children besides that one. There was a scholarly fellow there for the Congress, part of the Hessian delegation, who collects these kinds of stories, and he had formed a little group in Vienna who delighted in exchanging them to pass the time.”

Phoebe saw the wicked light that she had learned to recognize so well come into his eyes, and she quickly turned away to fluff his pillows. What could possibly be wicked about fairytales? And where was Mullins? She realized suddenly that both he and the tea tray had disappeared.

“I must add that many of these stories had more than one version,” Devenham continued. “I saw ladies far less reputable than you put to the blush. Some of the French and Italian stories I heard were enough to curl even my hair. Of course, I would never repeat those to children.”

Over time, the Grimm brothers published some 200 tales. However, the edition we know today as Grimms’ Fairytales was not published until 1857.Perrault's Tales -late illustration

What are your favorite fairytales? Have you ever used one in a story? Have you read (or written) any romances based on one? Let me know in the comments!

(P.S. If you were wondering, The Persistent Earl is one of my backlist books that has been reissued as an ebook by Penguin Intermix. The original paperback version is out of print.)

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Greetings from Oxford

I’m currently on vacation in Oxford (and I’m typing this on my phone so that should be… er… interesting. Now when you think of Oxford, there are of course the colleges…

Christ Church
Christ Church

…and Radcliffe Camera (part of the ginormous Bodleian Library)….

Radcliffe Camera
Radcliffe Camera

…and the Bridge of Sighs, which links the two halves of Hertford College.

The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs

But what I found most impressing are the grazing sites that have been in use for hundreds of years. There is Christ Church Meadow, which as the name suggests is part of the college grounds – and it’s also home to the college’s herd of longhorn cattle.

Christ Church Meadow with the college cattle
Christ Church Meadow with the college cattle

The view across the meadow with the college in the background

And then there’s Port Meadow, where I took a long, long, oh-gosh-my-feet-hurt walk today. It is mentioned as a piece of common land in the Domesday Book, a survey of English landholdings comissioned by William the Conqueror after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. And since then, Port Meadow has been in continuous use as grazing grounds.

Port Meadow
Port Meadow

Indeed, it was used as common grazing grounds ever since Alfred the Great granted all freemen of Oxford the right to use this piece of land as a reward for their bravery against the vikings. But even before that time, the land hadn’t been ploughed for thousands of years.

How intriuguing to imagine the seemingly endless stream of generation upon generation of cows that have grazed here!


The small village of Binsey to the west of Port Meadow
The small village of Binsey to the west of Port Meadow

The history of the English countryside is not necessarily something that features heavily in our books, so walking across Port Meadow today served as a nice reminder of the importance of that history and how it has helped to shape the country we all love so much!


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A Day Out of Time.

Fun is the word whenever I welcome Lavinia Kent to the Riskies. Lavinia is a good friend of mine and though we write in the same genre we are miles apart in our approach to the period. ©Rebecca Emily Drobis ALL RIGHTS RESERVEDI tend toward the traditional and Lavinia writes hot in about a hundred different shades. I love what she has to say here. Read on and see what you think.

Belly dancers. Pirates garbed in black. Fairies with flower wings. Woodland warriors with full wolf masks. Friars, satyrs and pixies. A steampunk gentleman.IMG_2057

What do any of these things have to do with the other?

A glorious afternoon spent at the Renaissance Festival answers that question. Do any of these things belong there? No – and Yes, Yes, Yes. I love the anachronism of the Festival. I love the joy people take in their costumes even when they make no sense. Few of the costumes are directly related to England under Henry the Eighth. Somehow it just doesn’t matter.

Some of the garb is timely to the basic period but still the differences can be great, the costumes differing by centuries.

As I sat and watched the people go by, I considered how to make them work for the period, what story to tell to make each piece fit. Why was that group wearing hats of fabulously colored ribbons? IMG_2051 (1)Was somebody throwing a masquerade and required that all the guests come dressed that way?

And why was a party of pirates walking down the center of the street and nobody reacting? Was a prodigal son returning and all his friends chose to dress in a similar fashion to make him feel at home?

And where did the belly dancers come from? Were they heading to some other foreign land and after a great storm came to shore on England’s coast in all their bells and scarves? Or did some crusader knight return with a retinue of fair dancers who didn’t know how to dress for the English winter?IMG_2052-1-300x225 (2)

And the steampunk gentleman? Clearly a time traveller lost by a century or two now doing his best to fit in.

For each passerby I could find a story and a reason.

And that made me think about my own writing. I’ve always acknowledged that I am research light. I love the characters and the story more than the facts. But, and it’s a BIG but, I work hard to not get anything wrong. I may skim over a detail, if I can’t find a ready source, but if I put a goldfish in the pond I do the work to be sure that goldfish or koi had already arrived from China. And I’ve spent countless hours looking up words to see when they came in to use and whether they were used the same way they are now.

So why do I love the anachronisms of the Festival? Because the inspiration I find in them. And the same is true in my writing. I love the challenge of explaining why my heroine’s viewpoints might not be traditional for the age, why she knows more (or less) than the other women around her. It’s fascinating to explain why an elderly woman clings to the corsets of fifty years before.

I don’t like it when history is wrong, but there is something wonderful when an author can add an oddity and make it work. I worked along the lines of this premise when creating Ruby, Madame Rouge in my Bound and Determined series. I wanted to create a multi-faceted woman who could run a successful brothel, go to church with her grandparents and put on the airs of any great lady plus she had to know about textiles and how to sum a patron up by the cloth of his trousers.mastering the marquess_3_7_14

I am not going to give all the secrets of her past, but I will say that having a duke for a father and his well bred, but not quite well enough bred, mistress for a mother was an easy place to start.

And then came the fun of figuring out how to bring each heroine to Madame Rouge’s house. Surely no true lady would ever visit such a place – or would she?

A lnaked couple embracing each other in the darkness

What would make each individual make the choice to do something so out character?Answering those questions is what makes the writing such fun and hopefully the reading as well. I’ve had a different answer in each of books, Mastering the Marquess and Bound by Bliss and in my September novella, Sarah’s Surrender, I work to find one more, to explain why a gentleman would ever bring his love of years before to such a scandalous establishment as Madame Rouges.

What sparks your imagination? As a reader are you curious about what inspiration lurks behind the title?

Finally, thank you for having me. I always love the chance to stop by Risky Regencies.

Thank you , Lavinia. We all enjoy having you with us!

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Sarah Eagle book winner

LadyVengeance-330I apologize for the delay in announcing the winner of Lady Vengeance, the giveaway book by Sarah Eagle offered in her two-part post about the Waterloo Anniversary at the end of last month. The delay is entirely my fault, not hers –August has been crazy-busy!! I am happy to announce that the winner of her book, chosen at random, is faithful reader bn100. I will be emailing her to arrange the book delivery. Thank you to everyone who commented on Sally’s posts!


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Theatrical ick factors

Let’s face it, there are a lot of icky things about the Regency (dukes, for instance) as well as the things we love (well, dukes, I guess). But one of the stranger and ickier things I came across recently was the mercifully short-lived craze for child actors in the early nineteenth century: child actors in the sense of children playing major roles in a cast of adults.

For a short time, the London theater scene was dominated by child actors. Charles Dibdin offered an acting school for children at the Royal Circus, and Henry Francis Greville at the San Souci offered regular evenings of child players.

(c) National Trust, Petworth House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationPossibly the most famous child actor was Master Betty (William Henry Best Betty, 1791-1874), the son of a once wealthy Anglo-Irish family.  Mr. Betty Sr. discovered a goldmine in his stage struck son, who determined to be an actor after seeing Mrs. Siddons perform when he was eleven. Master Betty became a sensation, playing such roles as Hamlet (below) and Macbeth. His father joined forces with an unscrupulous manager, and one of their most popular money-makers was to charge gentlemen (in the widest sense of the word) to visit Master Betty in his dressing room.

hamletMaster Betty made his Covent Garden debut in 1804, following appearances in Ireland and Scotland and a bidding war between that theater and Drury Lane. A detachment of guards was hired to keep order in the house. For two years he hobnobbed with the great and powerful, and his career eclipsed those of Kemble and Siddons. But in 1806  he was hissed off the stage playing Richard III–and coincidentally when he hit puberty. He had made enough money to restore his family’s fortune, and entered Cambridge in 1808. But the life of a country gentleman was not enough–he made several unsuccessful attempts to revive his acting career, and in 1835 tried to start his fifteen-year-old son on an acting career.

miss mudieAnother reason for his downfall was the emergence of a rival, Miss Mudie. Dickens, who almost certainly met Master Betty, gave this description of a child actress in Nicholas Nickleby. The daughter of Vincent Crummle is supposedly ten years old and “the idol of every place we go into.”

The infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the same age…for five good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall.

In a rare show of good taste, the audience was revolted by Miss Mudie’s role as the heroine of The Country Girl, an adaptation of William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. If you’re not familiar with the play, it’s about a naive woman, married to an older man, who brings her to swinging Restoration London. There she meets up with a rake, whose last name is Horner, nudge nudge, who’s currently passing himself off as a eunuch so that husbands will be blissfully ignorant of his designs on their wives. And so on. Miss Mudie was eight years old and so small for her age that the actor playing her lover had to go on his knees to embrace her.

During the ensuing uproar, Miss Mudie, who had chutzpah if not acting talent,  announced from the stage, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have done nothing to offend you; and as for those who are sent here to hiss me, I will be much obliged to you to turn them out.”

Actor-manager John Philip Kemble came on to beg that Miss Mudie be allowed to continue. As a witness observed, “All was noise and confusion … the curtain fell upon the most imperfect performance ever before witnessed on a London stage.”

Now here’s a plot bunny going begging. Child star falls out of fashion, what is he/she going to do for the next, uh, seven decades? Or, an impoverished parent of a child prodigy–what’s the ethical thing to do (still a relevant question today, sadly).

Oh, and if you’re in the Washington DC, area please visit Riversdale House Museum this Sunday where we’re having an author event, and I’ll be reading/signing some of my allegedly PG-rated books. Info here.

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Stealing the Classics: Cyrano de Bergerac

Welcome Miranda Neville to the Riskies! She’s giving away two copies of her novella P.S. I Love You. See below on how to enter.

Savinien_de_Cyrano_de_Bergerac  Borrowing from history, myth, fairy tale, or other authors’ works is a time-honored tradition. The Greeks and Romans did it. Shakespeare did. And I have done it.

Cyrano de Bergerac was a seventeenth century French soldier and writer. Judging by the portrait shown here he did, indeed, have a big nose. He is best known through the 1897 drama by Edmond Rostand. The love story in the play is invented, though based on real people.

In case you need reminding, Cyrano loves Roxane but believes he his so ugly she can never love him. She confides that she loves Christian. Christian, his handsome BFF, is bit of a boob and quite inarticulate. Expected to woo his lady by letters, he had Cyrano write them for him. Roxane falls in love with the letters and marries Christian, though she has found his conversation a little disappointing in the flesh. When the latter is killed in battle Cyrano doesn’t tell the truth but preserves the memory of his friend in Roxane’s heart. Only on his deathbed does her reveal that he was the author of the letters and thus the man she loves.

The play has been translated, revived, and filmed numerous times. Roxanne (with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah) and The Truth About Cats and Dogs are movies based on the plot. According to Wikipedia the story has been adapted as an Indian musical, a porn movie, and numerous other iterations.

MirandaNeville_PSILoveYou800I therefore make no apology for appropriating Cyrano for my novella P.S. I Love You, part of a quartet of connected stories in At the Duke’s Wedding with Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale, and Katharine Ashe.

The thing that always annoyed me about the original story is that Cyrano and Christian are so bound up in their bromance it never occurs to them that Roxane deserves to know the truth and make up her own mind which man she prefers. (Mind you, Rostand’s heroine is a bit drippy. Sign of the times, perhaps.)

In my Regency version the protagonist is the badly scarred Christian, Earl of Bruton (Cyrano not being a likely name for an English aristocrat), Christian became Frank (secondary character name), and Roxane was Anglicized to Rosanne.

Handsome, dumb Frank fell for Rosanne at a hunting party and received permission from her father to write to her. Panic-stricken, he has his cynical cousin Christian dictate the letters. Rosanne and Christian fall in love through correspondence and they all meet at a ducal house party where complications ensue. Where I depart from the original is the way Rosanne, smart girl, figures out the deception and takes control.

What are your favorite romances that steal from the classics? Do you know of another romance version of Cyrano de Bergerac? I feel sure mine was not the first.

You may read an excerpt from P.S. I Love You here. The novella is currently 99ç at Amazon, Nook, iBooks and Kobo. AtTheDukesWedding-Cover2The full anthology At the Duke’s Wedding (which I highly recommend: the other stories are great) is at the same retailers. (Amazon, Nook, iBooks and Kobo)

Miranda Neville is the author of nine Regency historical romances and several novellas. Her next book is Christmas in Duke Street with Grace Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, and Shana Galen, coming in October. WebsiteFacebookTwitter
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Plot bunnies free to a good home: Jewish Regency edition

As you may have noticed, I love sharing plot bunnies, or ideas for novels I get while researching. These are books I really really want to read but am not going to write.

This month, I’ve come up with a Jewish-themed list of awesome Regency romance scenarios, since the dearth of Jewish historical romance became pretty obvious when people started asking for recommendations after the whole For Such a Time imbroglio. (To find the books that do exist, try this Goodreads list and the #jhrom hashtag on Twitter.)

You may notice that very few of my bunnies involve the Upper Ten Thousand. There were a number of Jews socializing with dukes during the Regency (you can read a bit about that in this blog post I did at AAR), but that just isn’t my personal jam.

1. There was at least one Jewish (or part-Jewish) bodysnatching gang in London during the Regency, led by Israel Chapman. I really wanted to learn more about this since my own hero from True Pretenses, Asher Cohen, was part of a Jewish bodysnatching gang as a child. (His fictional boss’s name, Izzy Jacobs, is an homage to Chapman.) Googling turned up…an article titled “Israel Chapman: Australia’s first police detective.”

Australia…I said to myself. If you were convicted of bodysnatching, you might end up transported to Australia. What if it’s the same guy?

And it is!!! Continue reading

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Susanna’s European Trip in Pictures, Part I – London, Brussels, and Waterloo

A little over two months ago now, my husband, my daughter and I boarded this plane–a LONG direct flight from SeaTac to Heathrow–for the beginning of our European adventure. I thought that over my next few blog posts, I’d share some pictures and stories from our journey, focusing on those of most interest to Regency readers.


If your vacation is going to focus on history, what better place to start than a TARDIS? (When we asked Miss Fraser what she wanted to see in London, her immediate response was “the TARDIS.” Mr. Fraser was able to track down a blue police box still standing, doubtless just for the sake of photo ops like this one of my two nearest and dearest.)


While in London we also stopped by Trafalgar Square, where we saw Nelson atop his column, and Hyde Park Corner, home of a handsome equestrian statue of my beloved Duke of Wellington.



Along the way we visited St Paul’s, where I spent some time in the crypt to pay my respects to Nelson and Wellington at their tombs, but as photography is forbidden in the cathedral, I have no pictures to show for it. Sadly, the same is true of Apsley House, the Great Duke’s impressive London home (my bored daughter’s understatement: “this IS a really fancy house”)…foiling my plans to take a selfie with the outsized and grandiose nude statue of Napoleon contained therein.

I do highly recommend Apsley House for any Regency fan visiting London, incidentally. It’s not one of the Major Big Deal Sights–which means it’s less crowded and you have more time to linger over all the portraits (many of which will look SO familiar to you if you’ve read nonfiction of the era at all), the furnishings, and the general sumptuousness of it all.

But after only a few days in London it was time for Brussels and the Waterloo reenactment. Our entire family loved Brussels. Compared to London and Paris, it has a parochial, small-city feel (despite the whole EU capital thing), and since we didn’t have tremendous expectations for it, almost everything was a pleasant surprise. It’s beautiful, in an echoes-of-antique-grandeur sort of way:


And Belgian chocolate? Even better than you’re imagining. AMAZING. When people ask Miss Fraser what was her favorite place in Europe, she always says, “Belgium, because of the chocolate,” and I can’t really argue that point. (That our Brussels hotel had excellent and reliable wifi doubtless raised it in her estimation too.) I also fell in love with the frites, especially the ones in this little storefront place across the square from our hotel with the tourist-trappy name “Belgian Frites.” I wouldn’t have tried it if I hadn’t noticed the long lines of local teenagers my second day there–after which I had frites with mayo as lunch or an afternoon snack four days in a row.

The Waterloo reenactment, however, didn’t quite live up to all my expectations. It might’ve been better if we’d been part of an organized tour with a guide to show us around. As is, it was a bit chaotic and challenging to navigate and understand what was going on.

The actual anniversary of the battle fell on a Thursday, but the organizers held the reenactment on Friday and Saturday evenings. I wanted to have the experience of standing on that ground two hundred years to the day after the battle, so on the 18th we schlepped out to the battlefield by train, bus, and long walk, and visited the Allied reenactor camp.




We didn’t get the opportunity to actually hang out with reenactors, somewhat to my disappointment–the handful of times I’ve visited reenactments in the past I’ve gotten to heft the muskets and chat with the people who carry them. Maybe it was just because the Waterloo anniversary was SUCH a big deal, but there wasn’t the same kind of approachability there.

As for the reenactment itself, it was a bit of a challenge to follow the action, even for someone like me who pretty much knows the course of the battle backwards and forwards. That said, it did give a good sense of how very smoky and confusing Napoleonic-era battlefields were:



And this was just 5000 reenactors out there for three hours or so. When you imagine what it must’ve been like 200 years before, when between the three armies involved there were almost 200,000 men engaged…whoa.

Even though the reenactment wasn’t everything I’d dreamed it would be, I’m glad I went. When I read or write about Waterloo from now on, I’ll have that much clearer a picture in my mind’s eye for having walked some of the ground and seen all those impeccably costumed reenactors. And, let’s face it, if it weren’t for Waterloo, the odds are I never would’ve gone to Belgium, and I would’ve missed out on that chocolate and those frites…

What about you? Have you traveled anywhere exciting this summer? And do you have travel tales of places that either exceeded or failed to live up to your expectations?

Next time I’ll post about our week in Paris (which exactly met our expectations–it really is that amazing). Expect lots of Napoleon…

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We’ve been having a truly awful heatwave here in Northern California. My house is overrun with ants and I’ve been hearing half the people I know complain about sudden outbreaks of fleas (no outbreak here *knock on wood*), but it got me thinking: what did people do when there was no Advantage, no Capstar, to turn to? My books are full of dogs, and my work in progress has a housekeeper squaring off with a new wife and a puppy with fleas is a perfect fight!

Well, there is actually advice on that in multiple period sources! Huzzah!!! Research! Here’s a bit of advice from a little period magazine I own (from 1819) The Complete Dog-Fancier’s Companion, Describing the Nature, Habits, Properties, etc. of Sporting, Fancy, and Other Dogs; with Directions of choosing the genuine breed, Instructions for rearing, manner of training for water and the field, Disorders they are generally subject to, Methods of cure etc. etc. (Interspersed with many curious and entertaining anecdotes of the useful and faithful animals).

Dog advice 2



Not sure I want to rub my dog in goose-grease or olive oil, but I imagine it would do the trick of suffocating the fleas. And the cumin and hellebore might work, too. I know the organic spray I have is made of mint and cloves, which a Georgian person would also be able to easily obtain (BTW, you can download a scan of this book for your personal collection HERE).

Yet more advice from Canine Pathology, 1817.

And from A Treatise on Greyhounds (1816):

From A New Present for a Servant Maid (1771):

From The Housewifes Companion (1674)

I’m hoping a few domestic battles will be fun to write and I’m having a good time looking into just what people might have done to combat the “nimble gentry” in the Georgian era.


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