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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

12 October 2007

Women, Smoking, and Art

Vicki's post with the image of the flapper made me stop and study that photo. I wondered what she was hiding under her skirts and it looks like a cigarette case. That got me thinking....

It's easy to forget that the practice of smoking tobacco has aroused vehement responses - both positive and negative - for a long time. In Meso-America - tobacco's heartland - decorative vases depicting smoking gods and animals had been produced for hundreds of years, but tobacco was first imported to Europe only around 500 years ago. From the 17th century on, European artists began depicting smokers. Smoking became prevalent in paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, and was presented chiefly as a fine pleasure openly undertaken by men and women. Fashionable, respectable women were often depicted smoking pipes. Check out; http://www.ramshornstudio.com/pipe_smoking.htm.

By the 1800’s the acceptability of women smokers seems to have declined. Women who smoked generally did so in private, and they were not usually depicted smoking in art unless it was to indicate their licentiousness and sexual availability. Victorian photographs tended to link female smokers as the crass type “who rode bicycles and wore bloomers.” Odalisque paintings produced during the 19th-century orientalist craze almost invariably depicted a naked woman smoking in a harem. The gypsy in Prosper Merimee's Carmen fits this mould. With the mass-production of cigarettes in the early 20th century, attitudes to women smoking changed. While suffragettes could still be lampooned as mannish-looking smokers, the advertising revolution that heralded the start of the consumer age transformed the negative stereotype. Cigarettes became fashionable - a sign of the modern, liberated woman. Cigarette manufacturers made a fortune from this new source of consumers and to this day, smoking persists amongst women. I am curious, has anybody written a historical romance heroine who smokes? I seem to recall a scene or two where the rebellious heroine shares a smoke with a friend.

13 Comments:

Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Hi Kathrynn! No, my heroines always drink. *g* No smoking.

But I've been thinking a lot about smoking lately because I've been watching Mad Men on AMC. Has anyone else watched this series? It's amazing the visceral reaction you have to seeing people not only smoking like a chimney in the office, but also smoking in the baby's room during nap time. LOL Crazy shit. (Btw, the show is set in 1960 Manhattan. One of the few shows my dh and I watch together.)

8:27 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I've got a heroine who smokes. Cleo, the ex-prostitute in "A House East of Regent Street" (Brava anthology Strangers in the Night.

I'm an ex-smoker myself -- I think nicotine is the greatest drug humankind's yet managed to rip off from nature. It focuses you even as it excites you, gives you at least 5 extra IQ points, and puts a curtain of sexy beautiful evanescent curlicues between you and whoever. If smoking were good for you, I'd be doing it right now.

And in my Carrie erotic contemporaries, Jonathan (with whom I identify bigtime) smokes and gives it up, takes it up and gives it up again, depending how things with Carrie and Kate are going.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Kathrynn! I had a hero in my contemporary who smoked and a published author who critiqued the manuscript accused me of promoting smoking!

Victoria, I love Mad Men on AMC. I think it's such a brilliant series, and yes, it seems like everyone smokes and drinks from the moment they walk into the office at 9:00 a.m. I remember the days when there were smoking lounges in offices where people could go to smoke.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Actually, now that I think about it, in my very first manuscript (never to be published), the heroine asks the hero's best friend if she can try his cigarillo. The intimacy of her putting her mouth on the same spot as his friend's gets the hero very upset. *g* Forgot about that one!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I guess I hate cigarette smoking so much (it gives me a raging headache just to pass a smoker on the street) that I wouldn't consider writing a smoking heroine. The villainess, maybe ... :)

But in my historical fiction, so far it hasn't come up. If I was writing a real-life heroine who smoked, I certainly wouldn't shy away from including it in the novel and would attach no value judgment to the character as the author. That was then.

I can't watch Mad Men -- when one detail -- an IBM Selectric -- in an episode was SOOOOOOOOOO blatantly late for the period, it made me so nuts that I wrote off the entire show. I'm a stickler for that stuff. Historical detail is where I live and breathe and when someone gets it wrong -- especially in soemthing like Mad Men, where the creators have discussed ad nauseum how correct their details are, I start hyperventilating.

Kind of like the way I get around smokers.

I like the aroma of pipe tobacco, though. But the only pipe smoker I have known was a real jerk.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Camilla Bartley said...

My heroine smokes in my WIP. Even though I don't smoke and dislike it, I consider it to be a historically accurate symbol of female emancipation in the late Victorian era. Also with all of the men in romance novels written smoking cheroots and cigars, it's a bit unfair to have a double standard for the heroines. *g*

Besides, in Russian society, both women and men smoked like chimneys and young Austrian countesses, duchesses and princesses (the unmarried ones), had their own rooms set aside for them to retire to and smoke during balls.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Wow, Camillia, I had no idea that Austrian society women had their own smoking rooms. Interesting!

I know what you mean Pam, about nicotine. I've never smokes, but I am totally addicted to caffine...I sometimes crave it more than food!

Victoria and Elizabeth, I watch Mad Men too and the show triggers vague memories of being a child in the sixties and recalling smoke EVERYWHERE. On that show, they smoke and drink so much it distracts me from the dialogue! I can't remember what the story was about, just that they drank and smoked in the office during meetings, before meetings, after meetings....

Amazing Elizabeth, that an author would accuse you of promoting smoking.

I know what you mean, though Amanad, about sometime like the smell of pipe tobacco, but cigarette smoke I can totally do without.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

And for anyone who didn't notice, I am having a particularly creative day when it comes to spelling and punctuation on the blog. ;-)

I'm in DC, hanging out in a hotel, trying to adjust to the time change while working my day-job. That's my excuse for the lack of copy editing.

And oh, I left my hotel room to only to go for a quick walk up to a local Barns and Nobel to sign DARK RIDER stock, thinking I would duck in and out...but AACCCK, the booksellers all came out to greet me, the director of PR wanted to shake my hand etc...

I looked a mess. Needed a shower. If I smoked I would have had a cigarette as soon as I got back to my room.

I just ate the biggest Snickers candybar I could find.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

How awesome Kathrynn, that you got to meet everyone, if you did think you looked a mess. More than I hate cigarettes, I hate the smell of cigars. I worked once for a group of American bankers at a french investment bank, and the bankers used to go in one of the offices and smoke cigars in the afternoon. It used to give me a headache and make me nauseous. They were also holy rollers. Thank god, that temp job didn't last!

12:56 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

No smoking heroines in Rome, lol. If I need a girl to behave a bit scandalously, I'll have her drink wine. :)

3:47 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

I don't remember reading about any heroines who smoked, but there are still lots of books out there for me to read! I am a big anti-smoker, so I am not crazy about the habit, but I am also very much a pragmatist - I know that men and women smoked during the Regency. Another thing I find interesting from a strictly 21st century POV is the things women drank while pregnant and some even took laudanum. Just interesting to think about, I guess.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hey, Gabriele,

I would have guessed they smoked SOMETHING in ancient rome, what with togas, and wine and lounging around... ;-)

Me too, Doglady. I pretty much don't care for smoking, but I can't tell you how many historical romance books I've read that open with the hero discussing his plight over a drink and a cigar. It's weird how the descriptions never fail to make me get those tastes in my mouth while I am reading.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'd forgotten until Friday afternoon when I began to review the page proofs of CHOOSING SOPHIE, my next contemporary release from Avon (written under the name Leslie Carroll), that I have 2 characters who smoke! One is dead by the time the story begins -- the heroine's chain-smoking mother who died of lung cancer when the heroine was only 16, going through a tough adolescence, and needed her most. The other character is a man, a stubborn, slightly misogynistic minor leage baseball manager GM, whose chain-smoking is a crutch, and which is often rude, annoying, or polluting. He never asks anyone if they mind if he smokes. It wouldn't occur to him to take anyone else's feelings or health into account. He's no hero.

7:28 AM  

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