History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

06 February 2012

Eyeliner and pink nails: A glimpse at daily life in Constantinople

by Anna Randol
Available now!

A rare beauty, raised in the exotic heart of the Ottoman Empire, Mari Sinclair knows it’s time to end her career as a British spy when she narrowly avoids a brush with death. Unfortunately her employers think otherwise—and they are not above using blackmail to keep Mari in the Game.

Saddled with a handsome, duty-obsessed “minder” to ensure that she completes—and survives—one last mission, Mari is incensed…for her guardian, Major Bennett Prestwood, is simply too dedicated, too unbending, and too disarmingly attractive. But in the face of dark secrets and deadly treacheries, as the true peril to Mari is slowly revealed, loyal soldier Bennett realizes that, to save and win this extraordinary woman, he will have to do the unthinkable and break the rules—rules that passion and desire have suddenly, irrevocably changed.

When I decided to set my debut novel, A Secret in Her Kiss, in Constantinople, little did I know the difficulty I’d have researching it! It turns out that 1816 wasn’t a big year for the Ottomans. The glorious peak of the civilization was long past, but the true decline had not yet officially begun. Even the Greek revolution, which would so entrance Lord Byron, was still a few years off. What little I could find had to do with general political reform. How was I to find out what a British woman would have seen and experienced on the streets on Constantinople?

Luckily, in my research, I stumbled across the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife to the British ambassador to Constantinople. Although she was a little before the time of A Secret in Her Kiss, not only did she give great detail on what she experienced in the city, but as a woman, she was able to have access to the private, female-only portions of society that were much different than what previous male travelers had imagined. 

Mary was quite a keen observer and shared details many male travelers had didn’t think important enough to mention. For instance, she went into detail on a typical Ottoman woman’s make-up. “They generally shape their eyebrows, and the Greeks and Turks have a custom of putting round their eyes on the inside a black tincture that, at a distance or by candle-light, adds very much to the blackness of them. I fancy many of our ladies would be overjoyed to know their secret, but it is too visible by day. They dye their nails rose colour; I own I cannot enough accustom myself to this fashion to find any beauty in it.”

Pink nails and black eyeliner? I definitely needed to let my heroine know!

Mary went on to cover subjects from bridal parties to Turkish baths. The treatment of criminals to the ornaments adorning the walls of the palaces. She even was one of the first to introduce the Turkish custom of inoculation against small pox to the British over a decade before Jenner introduced vaccination.  But not only did I find her letters fascinating, her letters are credited with inspiring many British women to chronicle their journeys on paper. 

Thanks to Mary, my heroine is able to enjoy lush gardens and white marble fountains, my hero can overhear women calling to each other from the secluded privacy of their second-story windows, and countless other small details that I wouldn’t have thought to imagine. 
And although while researching I read many other traveler’s descriptions of Constantinople, in the end, it was through a woman’s eye that I found the vision of the past I was looking for. 

Who is your favorite woman from history? What do you love about her?

Anna lives with her family in Southern California. She writes sultry, adventurous Regency romances for Avon. Her debut novel, A Secret In Her Kiss, is set in Constantinople and earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it a “...masterful debut…[that] spins a tale replete with mystery, espionage, and memorable romance.” When she’s not plotting fun, sexy storylines, Anna’s usually eating dark chocolate, having wild dance parties with her kids in the living room, or remodeling her house one ill-planned project at a time. She loves hearing from readers at her website www.AnnaRandol.com or on Twitter at @AnnaRandol!


Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Welcome to the blog and congratulations on your debut! I'm so curious to read your book. Constantinople/Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s beautiful, and has such an amazing wealth of history.

There are so many interesting women in the past, but among the ones I’d love to meet is Lady Hester Stanhope. She had an amazing life filled with adventure. Get and her and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu together for drinks and I bet you’d have quite the night!

8:38 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Thanks for having me on the blog! Hester and Mary would definitely have a night of wild stories to tell!

8:42 AM  
Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I'm at the scene in the bathing room, and I want some orange oil to scent my bathroom! :) Your details have certainly brought this gorgeous book to life. It's a mini-vacation.

I'd love to travel back in time and spend one day with Caroline Herschel. She was the first woman to discover a comet, and was given a salary by the King in 1787 to act as her brother William's assistant. She must have been fascinating.

Congratulations, Anna!

8:57 AM  
Blogger Anna Randol said...

Thanks, Gillian! I am always amazed by these women who did incredible things even though the time period they lived in should have made it impossible!

10:05 AM  
Blogger Amy Valentini said...

Hi Anna,
Sadly, I was interrupted with another quick read but I am back reading ASIHK now. I just passed the bathing room scene, too, and I could nearly smell the scent of orange oil in the air. Love it.
Not sure I have any one woman from the past that I could call a favorite but I truly admire the women who found our proud country. I live in Virginia which abounds with history and over the years, I've learned just how difficult and trying life was in the colonies. Don't know that I would have had the same strength to survive it. 21st C spoiled.
I'm hoping to get your lovely book finished and reviewed soon. ; )

12:44 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I do have to say I'd love to meet Jennie Jerome or Madame CJ Walker--the latter to watch her build her empire, and the former to just catch a bit of the fascination she wielded over Edwardian society. Plus, they were both pretty outspoken, tenacious, and innovative women. Congrats on your debut, Anna!

2:56 PM  
Blogger Anna Randol said...

Thanks, Amy and Evangeline! All those American heiresses are fascinating. I would have loved to see how their charm measured up next to their wealth.

And I've always had a secret fascination with Colonial Williamsburg. (Or perhaps I just want an excuse to get dressed-up...)

3:47 PM  
Blogger Grace Burrowes said...

Harriette Wilson. I desperately want to know the things she didn't put in her memoirs. Great post, Anna. I came across Lady Mary when I was looking for poetry to use in another Regency. Her "Between Your Sheets" is witty, heartfelt, and a little naughty, probably like the lady herself.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Georgie Lee said...

I've read about Mary and she did have an interesting life. There are so many interesting women in history, it is hard to pick just one. One I read about recently was King George III's sister Charlotte Mathilde. It was amazing what she accomplished before she died in her early 20s. Makes me feel like a slacker.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Maria D. said...

I enjoyed reading A Secret in Her Kiss, especially the descriptions you gave of what a woman in Turkish society experienced. As for a favorite woman in history, I'm not sure I really have one, there are so many that have contributed so much that it's hard for me to choose a favorite.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

I love anything set in an exotic locale. My favorite characters tend to be based on history of the time - be it Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, James I, or any host of other British/Scottish monarchs. I've now started reading about other locales and find them highly entertaining just for the historical aspect alone.

3:38 PM  

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