Eyeliner and pink nails: A glimpse at daily life in Constantinople
by Anna Randol
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!