What to Wear in Winter Redux

I wrote the original of this blog post six years ago, almost to the day. Even though today it reached near 60 degrees F in Northern Virginia, last week we were in the teens and the midwest had reached record lows. So this blog post seemed very apropos! Here it is (with minor editing):

We’ve just been through a very cold patch of winter here in Northern Virginia, with snow and ice and below freezing temperatures. Parts of the US had been seeing even worse. So bundling up and keeping warm have been on my mind these days.

I searched “winter” on the Regency Encyclopedia, and came up with What To Wear In Winter in The Regency.

From A Lady of Distinction   –   Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811)
R.L. Shep Publications (1997)

1812 Nov

Satin, Genoa velvet, Indian silks and kerseymere may all be fashioned into as becoming an apparel for the slender figure as for the more en bon point and the warmth they afford is highly needful to preserve health during the cold and damps of winter.

The mantle or cottage-cloak should never be worn by females exceeding a moderate en bon point and we should recommend their winter garbs to be formed of double sarsenet or fine Merina cloth, rather than velvets, which (except black) give an appearance of increased size to the wearer.

Red Morocco, scarlet, and those very vivid hues cannot be worn with any propriety until winter, when the color of the mantle or pelisse may sanction its fullness.

I love the emphasis on looking slim! Some things never change.  And look how similar the colors are to what we wear in winter. I love the rich deep colors of winter clothing.

From Buck, Anne M.   –   Contrib to The Regency Era 1810-1830
The Connoisseur Period Guide (1958)

White muslin was for the whole period pre-eminent for morning wear. Only in the months of mid-winter did the hardy Englishwoman abandon it for silk, poplin or wool.

Nothing sets the dress of 1800-20 so much apart from the style before and the style which followed as the scarcity of the underwear beneath it. A chemise of linen, long, reaching well below the knee; light flexible stays; a petticoat, cotton in warm weather, fine flannel in winter; and then the gown or slip. Many of the muslin gowns were worn over a silk slip.

Straw bonnets were worn during the summer months for walking, Leghorn or fine Dunstable straw, usually plainly trimmed. Fashionable for all the summers of 1815-30, they remained comparatively plain even in the years of excessive trimming. In winter black velvet replaced them.

Black velvet hats sound divine! And note how the lady was supposed to wear as little underwear as possible! Hearty Englishwoman, indeed!

From Cunnington, C. Willett – English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century
Dover reprint of 1937 original (1990)

The summer pelisse was unlined, the winter pelisse was lined.

And more on undergarments by Cunnington, C. Willett & Phillis – The History of Underclothes Dover (1992)

The petticoat was made of cotton, cambric, linen or for winter, sometimes fine flannel.

The idea of “fine flannel” underwear sounds lovely on a cold, damp day!

De Courtais, Georgine – Women’s Hats, Headdresses and Hairstyles
Dover Publications (2006) says

In winter caps and hats (1800-1810) were often trimmed with fur to match similar edging on robes and coats, but a wide range of materials was used both for the hats and for their trimmings.

I love the fur trimmings. Now we can do this in faux fur and still be animal-friendly! And washable!

Gentleman1812

And for the gentleman, from Kelly, Ian – Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Man of Style
Free Press (2006)

Brummell also ordered surtouts or greatcoats from Schweitzer and Davidson for winter wear. They were significantly heavier garments, so much so that they were noted in the weighing books at (wine merchants) Berry Brothers. Made out of even heavier worsteds and “Norwich stuff” – another feltlike beaten wool – they were still exquisitely cut and molded.

Yum!!!

What is your favorite winter garment?

I like the wool scarf and plaid gloves I bought in Scotland while on Number One London’s Scottish Retreat.

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A Background of War

British Infantry at Quatre Bras?

Have any of you already seen movie director Peter Jackson’s magnificent documentary about World War I, “They Shall Not Grow Old”? Today it is opening in 500 more theaters around the US after the preliminary viewings have been so well-received. What, you may ask, does this film have to do with the Regency? Bear with me.

My hubby and I went out in gusty minus 15 degree wind chills earlier in January to view this film, and I have to tell you, it is unforgettable. Jackson and his production teams delved through 100 hours of old, grainy film footage shot at varying speeds on hand-reeled cameras and 600 hours of oral history recordings made available by the British Imperial War Museum to pull together this amazing experience. By choosing a narrowly focused story and using every modern film and computer technique available to enhance the material, they truly captured an indelible, brilliantly rendered experience of being on the front lines in France during The Great War.

My brain always seems to pull things into a Regency frame of reference, and I felt that this film also captured a sense of what war in the Regency period would also have felt like. It probably captures it for any time, but the differences in technology between WWI and more recent wars are legion.

What struck me is that WWI’s ground war was probably the last that still somewhat resembled what wars had been like through history up to that point. In WWI, vehicles were still pulled by horses, and many officers still were mounted. Artillery cannon may have been more accurate and had a longer range, but the experience of loading and firing them (and receiving fire) had not changed much in 100 years. Infantry still used rifles with fixed bayonets. The misery of life in the trenches had not changed much, either.

The Napoleonic conflicts were just about as long past then as WWI is to us today. Jackson’s film does not try to capture the very different experiences of the air or sea parts of the Great War, where the technology differences would be more significant. But to me, the images of men trying to release a heavily-loaded team-drawn wagon from deep mud, or of the cannons rocking back when they fire, or simply of men waiting for battle, could have been pulled from Napoleonic France with very little added imagination.

Painting of the Battle of Waterloo by artist William Holmes Sullivan
Waterloo, by William Holmes Sullivan

Britain was at war with France from 1793-1815. There were impacts at home that may or may not inform the background of our Regency stories. The reality of men coming home wounded, or men who never made it home, of news events that people talked about, all form an underpinning to the era. Four of my Regency romances all feature heroes who served in the war, and in three of those, the effects of the war are deeply integral to the story.

Even impacts after the war, when the influx of soldiers coming home led to unemployment and other social problems, can figure in our stories, as a mere mention in passing or as an important part of plot or character.

Jackson’s film, at the end, shows exactly those same kinds of problems faced by the returning soldiers from WWI. We like to think the lack of gratitude or awareness was not as bad at the end of the Napoleonic Wars –people in Britain did fear the Little General might come right to their shores. Also, the population was not as huge, and every class felt some effect of war, whether it was the aristocratic families whose younger sons were officers, or the poor whose sons risked life and limb for the promise of pay. In WWI, the threat to Great Britain was perhaps not as vivid as it was before, or after. One soldier in Jackson’s film who was able to return to his old job after fighting in the war recalls being asked, “Where’ve you been, mate? Workin’ nights?”

I recommend this film to you, for a greater understanding of what the background of war can mean to our characters, and so to enrich our own storytelling. If it isn’t at a theater near you, it is also available online, at: https://tinyurl.com/y9ae3w2r . But the large screen version will be far more affecting, and it also includes a separate, fascinating short film about how Jackson made this amazing documentary. (Just be patient through the first few minutes.)

But be prepared –it isn’t pretty, and it is very moving. I managed not to cry until the end, but when the song Jackson chose for the credits began to play, I lost it. My paternal grandfather served in France during WWI (in the American army) and he used to sing that song all the time when I was a child. Hinkey-dinky-parlez-vous is embedded in my family memories. Although I must add, NOT most of the verses I heard sung for Jackson’s film!!

Have you seen the film? Do you think the similarities & emotion translate across 100 years of time to the Regency period? What do you think about the background of war in Regency romances?

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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.

Posted in History, Regency | Tagged , | 2 Comments

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