Let’s Talk Research

I believe that writers of historical fiction need this same type of knowledge base. I’ve occasionally been vilified/attacked for pointing out that some cherished facet of Romancelandia is, in fact, erroneous (men wearing wedding rings), anachronistic (scones in Regency settings), or just plain wrong (engagement announcements during the Georgian era). I’m open to being shown that I’m wrong, but doing so requires documentation (which does not consist of point out that Heyer did it in her books).

Extant silk shoe, c. 1780 Victoria and Albert Museum

I grew up in the world or re-enactors, so I have very definite ideas about what research is and what it takes to document the minutia of everyday historical life. In the re-enactment community, we talk about things being “documented” and “undocumentatable” all the time. We harp on it constantly, and argue over what is and what isn’t. We disagree about interpretations and conclusions. It’s a constantly evolving hobby, and this is part of the fun (really . . . no, really). And since we’re attempting “living history” we have to know not just the dates of battles and the names of major historical figures, but the little things like what food stuffs were available and, more importantly, common for the class and location of our persona.

There are three kinds (or levels) of sources/documentation: Primary, secondary and tertiary (and then there’s art).

Primary sources are actual items from the period (what historians call “extant”). A hat. A shoe. A saddle. Also in the primary grouping are period documents like letters, journals, newspapers, household inventories, and period books (cookbooks are invaluable). Though you have to be careful with some of these, because they function almost like secondary sources, since they are one person’s viewpoint and they often require context in order to obtain full understanding (into this group I consign the single source [a letter] that mentioned French women dampening their petticoats to make them cling; it was by an outraged Englishman who didn’t like travel or the French and I without any other source to back it up, I call shenanigans).

Secondary sources are frequently underused in the writing community (with the exception of the Oxford English Dictionary), but re-enactors live for them! If you really want to know how the clothing fastened, what it looked like, what fabrics were used, what the layers were, Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction, c. 1660-1860 (where she deconstructs and details historical garments) is far more useful than an overview like 20,000 Years of Fashion by François Boucher. Overviews, of course, have their own purposes, and Boucher’s book is on the list of “must haves” for every writer in my opinion, but it doesn’t lead you into the lived history the way Arnold’s work does.

The next level down is tertiary. These are the sources that most writers and students are using: All the biographies and history books that we snap up in the non-fiction section of the bookstore. You have to be careful with tertiary sources. In the re-enactment community, these are not considered documentation in and of themselves. Only primary and secondary count for that (hence some of the arguments). Only tertiary works which are extensively documented should ever be relied upon (look for authors who are respected experts in their field and for books with lots of citations). Often, something that looks great on the surface will be found to be less than useful when you dig in. An example of this is something like What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. The book skims the surface of many topics and fails to date them specifically within the 19th century, resulting in a mash-up of the late-Georgian, Regency, Romantic and Victorian eras. It’s a fun book, but it’s not all that helpful for an author trying to find out what her character might have served at tea (especially as afternoon tea only became an established “thing” in the Victorian era). Another is An Elegant Madness, which seems like a great book, but upon closer inspection is riddled with errors that leave my in doubt of pretty much everything the author says (such as the author’s inability to keep Frances Villiers, wife of the 4th Earl of Jersey and her daughter-in-law Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, wife of the 5th Earl of Jersey straight; some major blunders about who was having an affair with whom).

Gillray, c. 1800

Lastly, we come to art. This area can be tricky. The problem is that unlike having the physical item in your hand (for example, the actual dress), you’re looking at an artist’s interpretation of that item (so these act a lot like secondary and tertiary sources). Add into the mix that much of the art we look at is highly stylized, allegorical, political, and/or farcical (so the see-through dress over the shift with a “display” hole cut out over the bum can’t be taken as a literal example of the clothing being worn in France c. 1800) and it’s sometimes hard to know what you’re really looking at. And then there is the problem of reproduction. A lot gets lost when the paintings are photographed and reproduced. Fine details can entirely disappear. And often you have to have a strong background in the period already to know what you’re looking at, which makes art useful for the knowledgeable historian, but problematic for the novice (and it tends to be the go-to source for many novices, since it appears to be the most accessible form of documentation).

The one thing that should NEVER be cited as documentation is a work of fiction. Not my books. Not Diana Gabaldon’s books. Not Bernard Cornwell’s books. Not Georgette Heyer’s book. If you see something in a book that intrigues or inspires you, make a note of it and then double check it. Authors are fallible. We make mistakes. We fudge things. We cling to our own preconceived notions or to “facts” we were taught (which often have built-in cultural, religious, or socioeconomic biases of their own).

Some things are open to interpretation, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. For example, I like writing about strong, fast, wild, unusual women. Because these kind of women interest me, I read a lot of biographies and histories about the ones that really existed. Books like Jo Manning’s My Lady Scandalous (about courtesan Grace Elliot, aka Dally the Tall), Hallie Rubenhold’s The Lady in Red (about Lady Worsley’s disastrous marriage and divorce), the illustrated version of Amanda Forman’s Georgiana (about the Duchess of Devonshire), and Janet Gleeson’s Privilege and Scandal (about Lady Bessborough). I also read things like Harriette Wilson’s memoir, Sex in Georgian England by A.D. Harvey, and Broken Lives by Lawrence Stone.

All of this feeds in to my version of Georgian England, which is very different from the one created by Georgette Heyer or one created by one of my current peers who prefers to write ingénues or guttersnipes. Any of us being asked to justify our preference is ridiculous in my opinion, but this is utterly different than someone asking if it was really possible for Jo Beverley’s heroine Elfled Malloren to have a pair of lace stockings (and yes, it was; there’s an extant [primary source] example in a museum in Germany that belonged to Madame de Pompadour).

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Happy New Year and Twelfth Night!

How do you celebrate the January holidays? I think I have only just recovered from celebrating New Year’s Eve, when I hosted a group of old friends who gather to enjoy a festive dinner every year. My health has improved tremendously (9 months of physical therapy has helped a lot) but my stamina is still not what it was. And yet, tomorrow I am heading off to an all-day celebration of Twelfth Night (including a feast) in a beautiful Gothic church hall in Fairhaven, MA. I LOVE this event and am so pleased I’m well enough to go this year! I fully endorse the idea of twelve days in the Christmas season.

 

 

 

The characters in my new release, LORD OF MISRULE, celebrate both of these holidays in the course of the story, which begins on Christmas Eve day and ends on Twelfth Night (not counting the epilogue). On New Year’s Eve, they are traveling, so they celebrate with other strangers in the public room of an inn. On Twelfth Night they are back in the little village of Little Macclow, and they –well, I recommend you read the book, LOL.

We know that many of the old traditions surrounding Christmas and these January holidays had been forbidden by the Puritans in the mid-17th century. Celebrating Christmas in any form was actually illegal. (No doubt some families continued to celebrate secretly.) However, once the Puritans fell from power, it took time and an actual campaign by one man determined to see the customs revived to bring them back into fashion by the early 18th century. The revival faded a bit (too “old-fashioned” by Regency times) but was then not only revived again but expanded in the Victorian times, when new customs were added from the German traditions. But I only recently discovered how the revival really came to pass. While researching for LORD OF MISRULE I stumbled across a most excellent blogpost from 2009 on the Austenonly.com website, which addresses the misconception some people have that all the old customs weren’t being observed during the Regency. The article “But Surely Christmas in England didn’t exist until Dickens invented it?” talks about the role played by writer William [or Robert] Wynstanley, who through his annual publication of Poor Robin’s Almanac over a period of thirty-eight years [1663-1701] promoted the revival of Christmas traditions. How’s that for perseverance?

Later, a version under the same name was published by Ben Franklin’s brother and served as the model for his more famous Poor Richard’s Almanac. I see confusion between the different versions and end-dates that don’t pay attention to where these almanacs were published. (the researcher’s headache.) The publication continued to be issued by others (including possibly Robert Herrick whose name is also associated with it) as late as (pick one!) 1776? 1828?

From the 1664 edition:

“Provide for Christmas ere that it do come
To feast thy neighbour good cheer to have some;
Good bread and drink, a fire in the hall,
Brawn, pudding, souse and good mustard withal;
beef, mutton, pork, and shred pies of the best,
Pig, veal, goose, capon, and turkey well drest;
Apples and nuts to throw about the hall,
That boys and girls may scramble for them all.
Sing jolly carols, make the fiddlers play,
Let scrupulous fanatics keep away;
For oftentimes seen no arranter knave
Than some who do counterfeit most to be grave.”

I hope you have enjoyed a wonderful holiday season shared with people you love! We here at the Riskies wish you all the very best in 2019, and we thank you for following our humble efforts here. Do you have any special holiday traditions for New Year’s or Twelfth Night? We would love to hear about them.

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Databases of Advertisements for Fugitive Slaves

I love primary historical sources. Cornell University has just made public a database of historical fugitive slave ads, including one for a slave who ran away from George Washington! (Oney Judge escaped our first president and went on to marry a free black sailor and live out the rest of her life in New Hampshire; sounds like wonderful inspiration for a romance to me).

Advertisement for a fugitive slave in the Oppenheim (New York, 1824) (via Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, New York Public Library)

Though these ads we can discover details of the true lives of the enslaved, and hopefully find inspiration for creating works of fiction that reflect the diverse reality of the past. We can see what they wore, what skills they had, what work they did, and even what ruses they used to escape (we can also see the cruelty of their enslavers exposed in the descriptions of the scars they bore). But more than that, we can see that they were there. That they were real. That they had hopes and dreams and that they fought for those dreams every bit as much as we do today.

But, Isobel I hear you say, I write UK-set historicals. Well, there is another, similar database for researching this topic in the UK: Runaway Slaves in Britain. The ads of slave sales taking place in the UK in the 18th century send my imagination running wild. So many stories waiting to be told…

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Finally, finally!! Lord of Misrule

I could NOT be more excited to tell you that, as it says above, finally –FINALLY!! –I have finished LORD OF MISRULE. Not only that, but the ebook version is up at both Amazon and Smashwords –the Kindle version is on pre-order and will be delivered next Wednesday. Please, please head on over there and order a copy? You will have my undying gratitude.

I put “finally’ in caps because really, this is not just about the fact that the poor book kept getting interrupted and has taken a couple of years to complete. This is my first all-new book in sixteen years! Yes, THE RAKE’S MISTAKE was the last entirely new book I wrote, and it was published by Signet in 2002. (That’s the only one of my backlist I still have not re-issued. I’ll get to it, I promise.)

Coming back after that long a break is not easy. First, there’s the “rust” factor –you’re horribly out of practice after not writing for that long (teaching helps, but it’s not the same), and more, at least in my case, you lose your “voice” and have to spend a lot of writing time just finding it again. Second, and it’s related to the first, there’s the “fear” factor. Face it, writing is a scary business. You put your heart on the line every time you write a story and put it out there for people to judge. When you’re rusty at your craft and finding your way back, I think the “fear factor” is tripled! So, I have my fingers crossed and hope readers will enjoy my new effort.

But there’s another “finally” I’m celebrating with this new book. I was detoured during those years by a series of serious health issues in my family –my mom, my younger son, my husband. Each time I started to write again, a new crisis occurred and the correlation of the timing was worthy of the Twilight Zone! I began to believe I just wasn’t meant to be writing during those years, and still believe that. No guilt.

This time when I started again, the health crisis that occurred was mine. The reason to celebrate is not only because I managed to write anyway, but because I believe I have either broken the pattern, or come to the end of the period of not-writing. The joy is back, and I feel that part of my brain is working again. FINALLY! Yippee!

LORD OF MISRULE

On a snowy Christmas Eve day, a vicar’s daughter runs into the Devil himself, or is he just the Lord of Misrule? In a season of miracles and magic, can love bind two unlikely hearts in the days leading to Twelfth Night?

“a bit of Pride and Prejudice, a little Brigadoon and a dollop of Cinderella” –author Terri Kennedy

In trouble for causing a scandal in London, Adam Randall, Lord Forthhurst, is headed home to make amends on Christmas Eve day when he becomes stranded in the tiny village of Little Macclow. Before the night is over, he has become thoroughly entangled in the village’s celebration of the twelve days of Christmas, and fully intrigued by the vicar’s daughter, Miss Cassandra Tamworth.

Cassie has been raised by her widowed father to expect the worst from members of the aristocracy. Lord Forthhurst is a puzzle. Can she trust him? Or is he a devil, as he claims and warns her? Can her mind resist when her heart and body want to be his?

Note: This special full-length holiday book from Gail focuses entirely on the romance between Adam and Cassie and the shenanigans during twelve days of Christmas. In this one, no nefarious doings are afoot and there’s no mystery to be solved beyond the mystery of how two people who belong together ever manage to sort themselves out enough to find love!

BUY LINKS

Kindle:  https://tinyurl.com/y7rofpyo

Nook, Kobo, Sony, etc.:  https://tinyurl.com/y89v9odt

Have you ever had to persevere over a long period of time to complete something, or get back to something? I am so grateful to my readers who have been patiently waiting for me, and for new ones who are willing to give me a try!

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Preparing for Christmas

(I first posted this blog on Dec 3, 2012 and, really, it still applies. I still need to prepare for Christmas….)

I am the lady of this house, not an exalted country house, but a respectable one and I must not dally any further. I must prepare for Christmas. It is a daunting task in this modern age – 1820. There is so much to do.

First I must check to see if Cook has prepared the Christmas pudding. She should have done so one week ago on Stir Up Sunday. I must discuss with her all the food we shall need for the holidays, because the rest of the family and some friends will gather here and they will stay through Twelfth Night.

I should send invitations to the families near here to come for a Christmas meal. I believe I shall have my daughter write them. She has a better hand than I. Soon it will be time to send the footmen out to gather greenery and we must hang a ball of mistletoe to generate some excitement during the party.

Then there are gifts to purchase. I shall make a list and have my husband’s people purchase them in London and send them to me here. And I must exert myself to embroider some handkerchiefs for everyone, because that is the sort of generous person I am.

Speaking of generous, we will also make up baskets of food for those less fortunate than we. I am certain the kitchen staff and maids might take an afternoon away from their duties to assist in filling the baskets. My dh, Lord P–, and I will, of course deliver them to the families. It will take the better part of the day.

Elena reminded me I must make brandy butter and that it needs a great deal of tasting to make it just right.
Now I shall lie down for a bit. All this planning has quite exhausted me (not to mention making the brandy butter)

It is such a busy time!
What are you doing to prepare for the holidays??

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New Book Alert

Today I’m going to talk about my new precious: PATTERNS OF FASHION 5: THE CONTENT, CUT, CONSTRUCTION & CONTEXT OF BODIES, STAYS, HOOPS & RUMPS c.1595-1795 by JANET ARNOLD, JENNY TIRAMANI, LUCA COSTIGLIOLO, SEBASTIEN PASSOT, ARMELLE LUCAS & JOHANNES PIETSCH.

Cover

 

This  is the fifth volume of the Patterns of Fashion series, and was recently published by the School of Historical Dress. It includes patterns for 26 pairs of stays, a farthingale, 10 hoops and a rump. And it’s AMAZING. Sadly, I believe it’s also sold out and I don’t know if they’re planning on doing a second printing.

In case this series isn’t familiar, Patterns of Fashion is one of the most influential book of historical clothing studies every produced, and Janet Arnold was basically a goddess among women. Her books set the standard for clothing studies, and the people she trained are doing a great job of carrying on her work.

Just leafing it through it, I encountered information I’d never seen before in my 40+ years as a historical re-enactor and costumer. This is absolutely the best part of research, and fills me with delight. I also confirmed what I’d always thought about 17thC stays, but had never been able to find the resources to confirm (that they are in fact often built into the gowns, especially in the first half of the century).

So, what was new? Metal hoops! I’ve seen cane and reed and rope and all kinds of other stuff used, but I’d never seen metal ones in the 18thC. They appear to be very large and are most likely for a court gown (which would need the extra support). And yes, these are still collapsible.

Metal Hoops, c. 1760-1780 (German)

Here are several examples of 17thC gowns with the stays build in (or with the gown bodice boned, if you prefer). I find the Dutch ones particularly fascinating with their fancy frill. They act as stays and stomacher both.

Boned Bodice, c. 1645-1655 (English)

Boned bodice, c. 1630-1635 (Dutch)

Here is also another example of pregnancy stays, which I get asked about quite a bit at conferences. This pair has two stomachers, so basically the lady is wearing her regular stays, but adapting them to her changing figure. I’ve also seen a gown that was adapted this way in the 18thC, so this must have been a common solution.

Reproduction of pregnancy stays, c. 1665-1675 (English)

And here’s a great example of why these books are so valuable to anyone who wants to make or understand historical clothing. First, the put stuff into a larger context in the front of the books:

Detail page about Reisser & Garsault books about stay making. 18thC. French.

Information about taking measurements and construction, also from Reisser & Garsault. 18thC. French.

Then they offer details of the extant garment:

Details of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Details of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Then they have a diagramed study with even more details:

Diagram of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

Diagram of extant strapless stays, c.1760-1770 (English)

In short, this is my favorite series of books ever, and I can’t wait to see what the Historical School of Dress puts out next.

 

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Research | 2 Comments

To Autumn…again

We have just started seeing the beauty of autumn here in  Virginia. It was 70 on November 2, but brisk and sunny since. Finally the leaves are turning and getting ready to fall.

I wanted to do a Regency homage to autumn. Turns out I already wrote one on Risky Regencies in October 2010. So here it is again, because I could not do better!

On 19 September 1819, John Keats took an evening walk along the River Itchen near Winchester and was inspired to write one of the most perfect poems in the English language:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


Here’s the poem read by Ben Whishaw, the actor who played Keats in the movie, Bright Star:

I think the imagery in To Autumn is just beautiful, giving the mood of autumn as well as the sights and sounds.

The poem was included in volume of Keats’ works printed in 1820 to better reviews than his earlier works. A year later, Keats died.

You could say he wrote the poem in the autumn of his young life.

If you took a walk near your house, like Keats did, what would catch your eye? What’s your favorite part about being outdoors in autumn?

Check out the cover for my next release, Shipwrecked with the Captain, available in paperback February 19 and in ebook March 1. And sign up for my new newsletter , even if you were signed up on my old website.

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Curses, but not Foiled Again

I’ve been editing Lord of Misrule (almost finished!), and it is always interesting to see what minutiae of the period suddenly will crop up as a problem when one is at this stage of finishing. I discovered that my hero has been saying “bloody hell” in the rough draft on the rare occasions that he felt the need to swear (usually in his head, not out loud). Yes, poor man, a lot of frustration there.

The problem with that (for me) is twofold at the least: first, I believe that is an extremely strong and even today quite offensive curse in Britain, and second, I write “clean/sweet” (choose your preferred label) Regencies, and I think that is too strong a curse for many of my readers, especially the ones who like Christian romances.

So of course, I’ve had to take time out from editing to study up on Regency cursing.

I’m not fond of “By Jove” even though the phrase is period –it sounds like a popinjay to me, not a hero. Might work for a best friend; in fact I’ve used it that way. The hero of my very first book used “Devil take it” as his cursing phrase, but I don’t want to go to the same well over and over –we writers like characters to be as unique as real people are, if we have enough skill to achieve that. Besides, my LOM hero, Adam, has a tendency to compare himself to the Devil or claim to be him, so things could get confusing. J But I have discovered an assortment of articles, blogs, and other sources all dealing with this vocabulary issue. Clearly this is a common problem!

Interestingly, “bloody” which is considered quite bad even though commonly used now, was not so terrible until about the time of the Regency. Even the illustrious Maria Edgeworth had a character use it in 1801, but that is about the last time it was acceptable for a very long period. (Ref. https://www.salon.com/2013/05/11/the_modern_history_of_swearing_where_all_the_dirtiest_words_come_from/

For me, the problem with using “bloody” remains all about the modern reader’s sensibility, rather than period accuracy. If Adam uses “bleeding” instead, does the change in word form make it less offensive?

Historical sources make a distinction between profanity and obscenity in cursing –the former having to do with religious references and the latter about body parts and functions. Several scholarly articles talk about swearing and class distinctions. It seems to me after only a brief study, I’ll admit, that when looking at the differences in the way the upper class and lower class swore, at least historically, the upper class was more likely to stick with profanity and the lower classes tended toward the obscene.

That interests me, because I have the impression that often the lower classes were actually more religious than the upper class, and I wonder if there’s a case to be made of that influence on each class’s choice for bad language! Neither sort quite serves my purpose for poor Adam, so I begin to see why I am having trouble.

The problem with many of the sources is that they lump cursing and swearing in with slang in general, and an article that sounds promising may not actually have much to offer to the specific point. Slang is easy –just get a copy of the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. That isn’t what I’m looking for. But author Joanna Waugh has a fabulous list of expressions (with dates) on her website: http://www.joannawaugh.com/expressions.html

The best article I found was an old post by Nicola Cornick on the Word Wenches blog: https://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2011/03/mind-your-language-a-very-short-history-of-swearing.html  She does an elegant job of handling the topic, but some of it still deals with insults and not cursing the way I am looking for it.

 In the end, I am going to modify Adam’s swearing by making one up, substituting only slightly milder words: “bleeding blazes” works for me. It’s still strong, but no longer blatantly profane. Swears don’t have to make sense –they’re about strong emotion, not logic.

But researching this topic has made me yearn for a book I came across only once ever, gifted to a friend who later died, and which then could not be found among his effects afterwards, sad to say. It was a marvelous flip book for creating Shakespearean insults. The author had gone through all of Shakespeare’s writing, collecting the insult words and dividing them into nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The book was ingeniously divided into sections so that you could flip between them and construct your own phrases. Someday I would love to come across that book again!

What do you think about swearing in novels? Does finding profanity in a story offend you? Does obscenity belong only in erotica? If you write, have you ever created swears for your characters, or have any favorites that you like to use? Lots to talk about. Please let me know in the comments!

Nov 5: I’m back to add some material from discussion this post generated on Facebook. Plus an apology that some comments were delayed in showing up here –first time commenters sometimes need approval and the emails seeking it were in my spam folder!

Author Ella Quinn compiled the following list of Regency curses from her research and gave me permission to share it with you here. Thank you, Ella!

Words gentlemen used when they swore:
Devil it, Bollocks, Bloody, Hell, (Gail’s note: but not Bloody Hell together, several people have assured me) Damn his eyes, Damme, (Egan uses Demmee), Devil a bit, The devil’s in it, Hell and the Devil, Hell and damnation, Hell and the Devil confound it, How the devil . .

Words that could be used around a lady: Perdition, By Jove’s beard, Zounds, Curse it, Blister it, By Jove, Confound it, Dash it all, Egad, Fustian, Gammon, Hornswoggle, Hound’s teeth, Jove, Jupiter, Lucifer, ‘Pon my sou, Poppycock, Zeus.

Oaths appropriate for ladies were:  Dratted (man, boy, etc.), Fustian, Heaven forbid, Heaven forefend, Horse feathers, Humdudgeon, Merciful Heavens, Odious (man, creature, etc.), Piffle, Pooh, What a hobble (bumble-broth) we’re in.

How do you like those?  —Gail

Posted in Regency, Research, Risky Book Talk, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Dining Out while Female

London was overflowing with places for men to eat or procure cooked meals (taverns, clubs, coffee houses, supper clubs, chip houses, pubs). Many of these same options were available working class women (as were the plethora of street vendors selling pies, bread and cheese, and other portable foostuffs).  

But what was a lady to do when she found herself peckish while on a shopping spree or after a long day touring the British Museum? Obviously if she were ravenous, she could have her footman fetch her a pie, but what if she’d just attended a lecture with a gentleman? Where could they go?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a fashionable pastry shop (as anyone who’s read or seen Persuasion already knows). Anyone who reads Regency-set romances is familiar with the famous Gunter’s of Berkeley Square. But there were any other options.  

For starters, there was Perry’s: 

Then there’s Farrance’s:

And you could always make up your own (which is honestly one of my favorite options). I’ll be adding these and other locations to the Regency Places map for future reference. 

 

Posted in Food, History, Isobel Carr, Places, Regency, Research | 4 Comments

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?

Elena

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