History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

22 April 2014

Net Gowns

Red Net Gown
over red underdress
I've been talking about Regency gowns on Risky Regencies for a few weeks now (Colorful, Print, Red), and I thought I'd continue to do so over here at "home" with a post about net gowns. Ok really, they're overgowns, which could have been paired with any number of different colored undergowns. The prime example is this red one c. 1810-1812.

Netting was machine made (any fiber could be used, but silk and cotton seem to be the most common) and very fine. It was popular for ballgowns and other formal attire. As you can see from the detail of the red gown, the color of the undergown chosen could make a huge difference in the appearance of the gown. 
The netting itself could be embellished with "sprigs" (as in the black example) or it could have trim, embroidery, or spangles (aka sequins) applied to it).

Detail of Red Net Gown
Shown with white underdress

Black Net Gown
embellished with yellow
over yellow undergown

Black Net Gown
Sprigged ad with lace
Double Layer Net Gown
embellished with spangles
c. 1820s

Detail of Black Net Gown

Black Net Gown
over white underdress

14 April 2014

The Little Things

The Ashford Affair, which just came out in paperback last month, goes back and forth between Edwardian England, 1920s Kenya, and 1999 New York, along other stops on the way.  There are wild animals on safari, grand manor houses, fast cars-- and yet, when a reader emailed me recently, she told me the detail that really made the book for her was the reference to Mister Softee trucks, because, she said, it showed her that I knew New York, unlike so many authors, who set books there without ever having set foot in it.

(For the record, my feet have been firmly planted on the sidewalks of New York for the larger part of my life.  Usually chasing a Mister Softee truck.)

Isn't it funny what makes or breaks a book for you?  It's always the little details that make all the difference.  Way back in 2003, when my first book sold, my acquiring editor told me that one of the things that caught her, that made her keep reading, was a mention in the first chapter of my modern heroine's skirt having turned around on her while she was walking.  "Mine always does that!" she said. 

As a reader, it's those sorts of details that catch me.  Recently, I was reading Donna Thorland's latest, The Rebel Pirate.  There's drama and swashbuckling and skullduggery and even a royal byblow, but do you know what I remember?  The pins in the heroine's bodice.  Donna spent many years working at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, dealing with the material arts of just this time period, so when she describes the heroine unpinning her bodice, you know it's exactly the way such a bodice would have worked.  She knows eighteenth century costume the way I know Mister Softee.

And speaking of Mister Softee... I think I hear him playing my tune.

As I go chasing a chocolate/vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles, are there any small things that have jumped out at you as you've been reading?

06 April 2014

The Hamlet Connection

Authors often get asked where they got the idea for a book. For me, at least, the answer is usually too much a mélange of inspirations and half-formulated thoughts to pinpoint one moment. But in the case of The Berkeley Square Affair, I know exactly when the idea came to me. I was driving with my daughter Mélanie to the birthday party of the daughter of friends who was turning one (at the time Mélanie’s own first birthday party seemed far in the future, and she is now past two, which tells you something about the time that elapses between the genesis of a book and its publication). As I drove the winding back road from West Marin, where we live, to the nearby town of Petaluma, I got the idea of my central couple, agents and husband and wife Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, having a peaceful night in their Berkeley Square library. The Napoleonic Wars are seemingly behind them, But then their friend, playwright Simon Tanner climbs through the window, bloody from an attack. Because he was bringing them a manuscript. A manuscript that might be an alternate version of Hamlet. Of course, this being Malcolm and Suzanne’s world, the manuscript contains secrets beyond the identity of its author.

Malcolm and Suzanne have always liberally quoted Shakespeare. It's a sort of code—they can use quotes to express feelings they can't put into words for themselves. I've written scenes set at the theatre during performances of Shakespeare plays and even scenes at rehearsals, but I loved the idea of making a Shakespeare play a central part of my book and using Hamlet seemed singularly appropriate as themes of fathers and sons, lovers who may be working for the enemy, and the younger generation unraveling the secrets of their parents tied into the next story I wanted to tell in Malcolm and Suzanne's world.

I was thinking recently about the myriad works of art that have a Hamlet connection. Quotes from the play lend titles to work as diverse as Edmund Crispin's mystery The Glimpses of the Moon and the comic adventure movie Outrageous Fortune. Lee Blessing's play Fortinbras picks up the story where
Hamlet  ends. A friend and I saw a workshop production in Greenwich Village of a musical that tells the story from Ophelia's POV. Lisa Klein's young adult novel Ophelia is also a retelling from Ophelia's viewpoint. Michael Innes's wonderful mystery Hamlet, Revenge! centers round a production of Hamlet at a country house party. There are thematic echoes in countless books, movies, and television shows. The X-Files and Arrow come immediately to mind.

Hamlet, after all, is a story that can be enjoyed on a multiple levels. It is a political thriller, a psychological study, a coming of age story, a family drama, a tragic love story. It's themes dealing with the nature of life and death, power and love, parents and children grapple with core issues of human existence and can be analyzed endlessly. Yet, as a friend remarked to me at intermission during a wonderful production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, "I forget what a good story this is." Watching the play unfold, one finds oneself simply wanting to know what will happen next.

Do you have a favorite book inspired by Hamlet or another work of literature? A favorite memory of seeing Hamlet? Can you name other plays, books, and movies inspired by the story of the Prince of Denmark or that take their titles from quotes from the play?

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31 March 2014

Georgian Gossip Columns

I was having a discussion on Twitter (yes, I live on Twitter) about the fact that no one I know has been able to document Georgian/Regency engagement announcements in the newspapers. They confined themselves to deaths, marriages, and births (and many of these announcements don't even include the name of the lady/mother: "A son was born to Lord Soandso." "Lord Soandso has married the eldest daughter of the Earl of Blah."

But the fabulous Susanna Kearsley shared with us a very clever way an author can get around this if they NEED an engagement to be in the papers: Gossip columns! She even posted several examples:

FROM 1712
FROM 1800


FROM 1800

26 March 2014

Hi everyone! I am coming out of Hoyden retirement on the joyous occasion of my new book release. Sweet Disorder, my elections book and the first in a Regency small town series, is out from Samhain!

Nick Dymond enjoyed the rough-and-tumble military life until a bullet to the leg sent him home to his emotionally distant, politically obsessed family. For months, he's lived alone with his depression, blockaded in his lodgings. But with his younger brother desperate to win the local election, Nick has a new set of marching orders: dust off the legendary family charm and maneuver the beautiful Phoebe Sparks into a politically advantageous marriage.

One marriage was enough for Phoebe. Under her town's by-laws, though, she owns a vote that only a husband can cast. Much as she would love to simply ignore the unappetizing matrimonial candidate pushed at her by the handsome earl's son, she can't. Her teenage sister is pregnant, and Phoebe's last-ditch defense against her sister's ruin is her vote—and her hand.

Nick and Phoebe soon realize the only match their hearts will accept is the one society will not allow. But as election intrigue turns dark, they'll have to cast the cruelest vote of all: loyalty...or love.

Nick, my hero, is a huge Byron fan, and early on Nick and Phoebe (both from very political families) discuss Byron's maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the Frame Breakers Bill. In this excerpt, Nick is trying to make polite conversation and has asked Phoebe if she likes Byron. Not realizing he's a fan himself, she gets annoyed.


"No," she said. "Not every woman is precisely the same as the next, you know. We don't all copy Lord Byron's verse into our commonplace books from memory simply by virtue of our sex. I haven't read a word of his silly poem, and I don't intend to. I do not care a straw about his tragic past or his tragic profile or how many women he had in the East."

He blinked. "You sound like my mother."

That brought her up short. "I do?"

She had made that speech before, or something close to it. Byron was all the rage; he came up in conversation. Suddenly, she remembered that there had been a time when she had read every fashionable book she could get her hands on. She'd pored over the lists of new publications that London booksellers sent to the newspaper. Now she sounded like someone's mother.

"She thinks him an embarrassment to the Whigs. She called his speech on hanging the frame-breakers 'theatrical'."

"I cried over that speech," Phoebe admitted, subdued and strangely unsettled. "Jack—that is, Mr. Sparks, my brother-in-law—printed it in the Intelligencer. [the local newspaper]" Did she dislike Byron at all? Or had she simply spouted an unexamined opinion, to be contrary?

"It was brilliant," Mr. Dymond said hotly. "But it was not in the style of the House of Lords. Passion and compassion have no place in well-bred politics."

She hid a smile. He wasn't, after all, much more tactful than she was. "I didn't mean to be rude. As I said, I haven't read his lordship's work. I might like it. Plenty of others do."

He smiled. "No, I do believe rudeness comes to you quite unconsciously."


Byron's speech, which can be read in Hansard's Parliamentary Debates along with the debate surrounding it, is pretty well written. Probably that surprises no one. It is also, to my modern eye, extremely formal, and while scathing, hardly shockingly so.
Can you, then, wonder that in times like these, when bankruptcy, convicted fraud, and imputed felony are found in a station not far beneath that of your lordships, the lowest, though once most useful portion of the people should forget their duty in their distresses, and become only less guilty than one of their representatives?

Frame breakers, 1812.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

But at the time, presumably in part because of Byron's snarky delivery, it was considered inflammatory. Byron writes: "I spoke very violent sentences with a sort of modest impudence, abused everything and everybody, [and] put the Lord Chancellor very much out of humour."

Was the speech a success? At this distance, it's impossible to tell. Presumably it was like most talked-about creative productions: a lot of people loved it, a lot of people hated it, a lot of it had to do with your personal feelings about Byron, and which opinion was fashionable changed depending on your audience.

Byron, 1816. 
Image via Wikimedia Commons
At the time, Byron was effusively pleased with the speech's reception. Robert Charles Dallas wrote later: "When he left the great chamber I went and met him in the passage; he was glowing with success, and much agitated. I had an umbrella in my right hand, not expecting that he would put out his hand to me; in my haste to take it when offered, I had advanced my left hand—'What,' said he, 'give your friend your left hand upon such an occasion?' I shewed the cause, and immediately changing the umbrella to the other hand, I gave him my right hand, which he shook and pressed warmly. He was greatly elated, and repeated some of the compliments which had been paid him, and mentioned one or two of the peers who had desired to be introduced to him. He concluded with saying that he had, by his speech, given me the best advertisement for Childe Harold's Pilgrimage."

(Honestly, on reading even just that small excerpt, darling as it is, I can't help feeling that Dallas was not so much a friend as a frenemy. I found a hilarious sum-up of his biography and the legal trouble surrounding it, which opens, "The Recollections is at once one of the most valuable and most disappointing of the Byron memoirs.")

The House of Lords, 1809.
Rowlandson and Pugin in A Microcosm of London
Image via Wikimedia Commons 
In a letter to Francis Hodgson, Byron mentioned that "[Lord Holland] tells me I shall beat them all if I persevere, & [Lord Grenville] remarked that the construction of some of my periods are very like Burke's!!—And so much for vanity."

But this same Lord Holland wrote in his Memoirs that the speech was "full of fancy, wit, and invective, but not exempt from affectation nor well reasoned, nor at all suited to our common notions of Parliamentary eloquence." Was he kindly encouraging a fledgling Whig orator in the hopes that one day he'd improve? Or did he like the speech at the time but no longer feel it would reflect well on him to say so by the time his memoirs were published three or four decades later? Once Byron was famous, and then disgraced, no one discussed him without an agenda.

Mr. Frenemy Dallas also felt the need to mention that Byron rehearsed parts of the speech with him in advance, but that "his delivery changed my opinion of his power as to eloquence, and checked my hope of his success in parliament. He altered the natural tone of his voice, which was sweet and round, into a formal drawl, and he prepared his features for a part—it was a youth declaiming a task."

A "task" was a type of school assignment, involving, I think, the recitation of memorized passages from the Classics. Moore's biography of Byron also mentioned this in connection with his second speech in Parliament:"His delivery was thought mouthing and theatrical, being infected, I take for granted (having never heard him speak in Parliament) with the same chanting tone that disfigured his recitation of poetry, — a tone contracted at most of the public schools, but more particularly, perhaps, at Harrow, and encroaching just enough on the boundaries of song to offend those ears most by which song is best enjoyed and understood."

The whole thing makes me feel embarrassed and protective on Byron's behalf (okay, I'm sure he laughed all the way to the bank, but also he was so self-conscious!), and it also makes me feel very, very fond of him.

Here's how Byron discussed the episode in his journal, years later: "[Sheridan] told me[...]I should make an orator, if I would but take to speaking, and grow a parliament man. He never ceased harping upon this to me to the last; and I remember my old tutor, Dr. Drury, had the same notion when I was a boy; but it never was my turn of inclination to try. I spoke once or twice, as all young peers do, as a kind of introduction into public life; but dissipation, shyness, haughty and reserved opinions, together with the short time I lived in England after my majority (only about five years in all), prevented me from resuming the experiment. As far as it went, it was not discouraging, particularly my first speech (I spoke three or four times in all); but just after it, my poem of Childe Harold was published, and nobody ever thought about my prose afterwards, nor indeed did I; it became to me a secondary and neglected object, though I sometimes wonder to myself if I should have succeeded."  

Tell me about a youthful ambition of yours, or a popular book or movie that you are just too contrary to try!

One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a free e-book of Sweet Disorder, and one commenter will be chosen from the entire blog tour to receive an awesome prize package that includes tie-in pinback buttons, bookmarks, bacon-scented candles, a bookstore gift card, and much, much more! (This drawing is open internationally. Void where prohibited.)

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25 March 2014

Jackie Barbosa Giveaway

One of the things I love about the Romance community is the close-knit it is. We're there to cheer when good things happen, and to provide support when the unthinkable befalls one of us.

As many in our small community already know, Jackie Barbosa lost her eldest son (Alpha to all of us on Twitter) in a head-on collision. I honestly can't even begin to imagine how Jackie and her family must feel. A Memorial Fund has been set up, with the goal of funding a scholarship in Julian's name, but I wanted to do what little I can to support Jackie in other ways too, so I'm going to give away ten copies of one of her her eBooks. Any of them, winners can pick. I'll buy them wherever I'm allowed/able to gift from, even if I have to set up an account to do so.

So leave a comment and I'll put your name in the hat along with the Twitter entries and then we'll see tomorrow who gets books. And if you can donate to the Memorial Fund, I know it would be greatly appreciated.

24 March 2014

Hangover Cures

Considering the Georgian era was a time of hard drinking and mass overindulgence, one would think that finding period remedies for a hangover would be all too easy. Not so. Either I’m simply not using the right words* to elicit hits in period books, or they simply didn’t “treat” a pounding head as we do today. I don’t find any mention of sore heads brought on by drink in books of housekeeping receipts, or in medical treatment guides, or even in The Complete Servant, which tells you how to deal with all kinds of other strange challenges.

*I’ve tried every combination of headache, head-ache, head-ake, head-ach, cure, remedy, drunken, drunkenness, over indulgence that I can think of.

So what did I find? Well, “hair of the dog” both the phrase and concept are period. From the OED:

a hair of the dog that bit you : an alcoholic drink taken to cure a hangover.

1546   J. Heywood Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue i. xi. sig. Eiv,   I praie the leat me and my felowe haue A heare of the dog that bote vs last nyght.

1611   R. Cotgrave Dict. French & Eng. Tongues at Beste,   Our Ale-knights often vse this phrase, and say, Giue vs a haire of the dog that last bit vs.

1706   E. Ward Rambling Fuddle-Caps 4   We leap'd out of Bed with a strong Appetitus, To swallow a Hair of the Dog that had bit us.

1834   W. A. Caruthers Kentuckian in N.Y. I. iv,   He presently proposed that we should go..and see some fine fellers..who were going to have a night of it. Well, said I, ‘a little hair of the dog is good for the bite.’

1841   Dickens Barnaby Rudge lii. 239   Drink again. Another hair of the dog that bit you, captain!
As close a reference as I could find in The Complete Servant

That Charles II supposedly paid five thousand pounds for the receipt of his favorite cure, Goddard’s Drops, which appear to be some kind of volatile salts (aka smelling salts/spirit of hartshorn) that were applied to the temples for relief.

Culpeper says Juice of Ivy, inhaled!
And Pliny, who most of the men of the ton would have read at some point, recommended owl eggs and raw garlic (a precursor to Jeeves’s well known “Worcestershire sauce, raw egg, and pepper concoction?), or eels suffocated in wine before being eaten raw.
Anyone out there have a source that I’ve missed?

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