History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 June 2009


I’m going to do a simple post today on the topic of petticoats. In my books (set in the 18th century), petticoats is the generic term for all the layers of a woman’s skirts, the outer as well as the under. By the Regency, a petticoat has come to mean a specific undergarment; a layer that goes over the stays but under the gown. It serves a couple different purposes: It adds to the opacity of the ensemble (many gowns being basically see-though) and it can add warmth (esp if it’s made out of something like a lightweight knit wool).

The examples I’ve seen tend to either close in the back with Dorset thread buttons or with drawstring ties (one for the neckline and one for the waist), or they button under the arm (which was also common for habits and walking dresses which were comprised of a skirt [with a small bodice to hold it up] and a spencer/jacket).

The first image is a petticoat c. 1800 with whitework around the hem.
The second is another c. 1820. You can see that the waist has moved down and the bottom has multiple layers of cording to stiffen it and help hold out the skirts.
Anyone have any questions about petticoats or any other specific bit of underwear?

26 June 2009

A mansion in McCloud

I just returned from a delicious week spent in McCloud, California. This tiny village sits just south of Mt. Shasta, which you can see from every street in town. McCloud is my favorite place to rest and recoup, partly because my brother and his wife live there, partly because I have no agenda or to-do list when I visit, and partly because their house has a huge, old-fashioned sunny/shady front porch.

This house was built in 1904! McCloud is an old lumber-mill town in Siskiyou County, 14 miles east of Highway 5. Between 1904 and 1908, the mill owners built all the houses in town for the lumbermen and their families, and the structures are still solid as a just-skinned redwood tree. Most are two-story, with big rambling kitchens, many-paned windows, big front porches, fenced gardens, steep roofs (for the snow), and wood shingles.

When my brother and his wife first looked at the house, it was divided into two separate upstairs and downstairs apartments (nowdays you’d call it a duplex). When they bought it in 2004 it was a real mess. They converted it into a (very large) single-family house, stripped the hardwood floor, added 3 elegant bathrooms (!), modernized the kitchen, scraped off the wallpaper and painted all the walls (including the beautiful old crown molding). Then they furnished the entire place with antiques scrounged from estate sales in nearby Dunsmuir and Shasta City.

If you love big, old houses, you would love this place: four bedrooms with wrought iron double-bedstead frames and handmade heirloom quilts; 4 bathrooms, 3 with old-fashioned claw-foot tubs; oriental rugs bought at estate sales on the downstairs living room floor and on the upstairs living room floor; and a wall-to-wall windowed sun-porch upstairs that runs the width of the house.

And, of course, my favorite feature---the sublimely relaxing front porch, on which I hang out and work on my novel in progress.
And read.
And nibble cheese and wine.
And talk.
And write...
And wish I could spend year-round in McCloud.

I adore old houses. Do you?

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23 June 2009

All About Alais

People celebrate Father’s Day in their own special ways. This year, my family popped A Lion in Winter into the DVD player. As heartwarming family dramas go, it is right up there with King Lear. No one’s eyes get put out, but there’s plenty of paternal howling on the heath, filial betrayal, and general familial disillusionment. There is not a single son of Henry II who doesn’t betray him. Everyone gets disowned at least once. Stuff to warm the cockles of one’s heart. I’m just waiting it for the Plantagenet Guide to Parenting. One could shelve it right next to the Titus Andronicus Cookbook.

What I wanted to know was, what happened to Alais? For those who don’t know the story, A Lion in Winter is a (heavily fictionalized) account of the latter days of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, as their sons play parent off against parent in an attempt to snag the crown—while Eleanor and Henry play son off against son in an attempt to score points off each other in a long-standing love match turned grudge match. In the midst of it all is the sister of the French king, long ago betrothed to Richard, then Count of Poitou, sent as a child of nine to be raised in the English court, now mistress to Henry II, passed around as a pawn from prince to prince.

In the movie, Alais is the last joy of an aging king, the May in a May and December romance. Was the poor Princess Alais Henry II’s mistress? Contemporary chroniclers certainly seemed to think so. Giraldus Cambrensis claimed that Henry had plans to annul his marriage to Eleanor, disinherit his sons, marry Alais, and breed a new line of heirs to his empire. Whether those were his ultimate plans or not, the rumor that he had taken her to his bed echoed through two kingdoms. Alais was alternately promised to both Richard and John and in the end wed to neither. Not all that unlike the movie, minus the little matter of love.

So what happened to Alais after those final credits rolled? Throughout the reign of Richard, Alais was held in close confinement, first in Rouen, then in Caen. Brought to the English court at nine, she was thirty-three by the time she was finally released, traded back to her brother Philip as one bargaining chip among many in a treaty during the incessant wars between England and France. Although she was, by the standards of the day, not only used goods but well past her marital sell-by date, Philip found another matrimonial alliance for her: he married Alais off to Guillaume de Ponthieu, whose lands provided a buffer on the French frontier against those held by Richard on one side and the Count of Flanders on the other. She bore Guillaume three children, dying in childbed with the last at the age of forty.

Unlike the woman in whose shadow she spent her youth, the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine, Alais seems to have had little say in her own destiny. But one can't help wondering what it must have been like to have been at the front-lines of the Plantagenet squabbles, with all those larger-than-life characters charging about.

Someone really ought to write a book about her…. Are there any overlooked historical characters who you think deserve their own novel time?

22 June 2009

Word Of Mouth

The novel THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett is on my “What I Have Read” list. A good friend told me that I had to read it. I bought a copy and was so engrossed in the story that I did not even resent the two hour departure delay on a recent flight.

While finally waiting in line to board a fellow passenger asked me if the book was good, that everyone at a dinner party had said it was a must-read. While I was waiting for the next event at the family wedding (which is why we sat in DC waiting out a thunder storm in Milwaukee) another guest commented on how engrossed I was in my book. When she saw the title she said, “Oh my deacon at church recommended it.”

Don’t we, as writers and readers, love word-of-mouth? Not Oprah-size promotion or even the “what our booksellers are reading” post-its at the bookstore. But the honest-to-God type where the title and the story are on everyone’s heart and mind and lips.

I have seen this happen with rousing success a few times in my career as reader and writer. With Waller’s BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and more recently in the romance community with Joanna Bourne’s THE SPYMASTER’S LADY.

Who knows why it happens? I welcome all opinions. Here is my theory: that these books strike a chord with readers, that the characters are so real and so endearing that it is hard to let them go so we pass them on.

There is something else on my mind in regards to THE HELP and its distant relative THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. The idea of a public statement that “I wish I had done better,” the writing as a way to say “I wish this is what I had done.” The writer is admitting, in these two cases as regards the way blacks were treated in the south in the 60’s, that “I understand not what was happening them and this book is making it up to you the best way I can.”

They are not writing revisionist history, which was my first thought, but a heartfelt wish that they had been able to see more clearly. I know this because I am part of that world. I amreminded of the women who shaped my young life in Washington DC when it was still very much a southern town. (That's me at about age eight)

My grandmothers’ maids Sally and Ellen and our own maid, Alice, who walked me to kindergarten and listened to me chatter endlessly the whole way. Alice who walked me home from kindergarten and was there when I cried because a boy said that my drawing was the only ugly one. Alice said just the right thing (That boy liked you best of all and he say it by being mean. That’s what boys do before they’re too old to know about kissing’.) Alice and Sally and Ellen were a significant part of my life and I do not even know their last names.

So like Kathryn Stockett and Sue Monk Kidd I am taking a moment to acknowledge them and say that I wish I had understood more of what their lives were like.

What word-of-mouth books do you remember best? And what recent reading experience brought your world into clearer focus?

I am posting this from the Milwaukee airport as we head back to DC and will respond when I am home later this evening.

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19 June 2009

Seduced but Not Abandoned: Sarah Waters and Other Notes from the House of Genre

Can you remember how a favorite book seduced you?

There are lots of ways, of course, but I prefer public and shameless -- in the aisles of a bookstore when you can't bear to stop reading. You pay for the thing as you finish page two or three or four; you hold your place with your finger as you flee to the coffee house down the block.

Anyway, that's how I found myself in thrall, perhaps a decade ago, to Sarah Waters' first smart, sexy historical novel, Tipping the Velvet, from its very first page, my reader self helpless not to follow a disembodied narrative voice into a late 19th century oyster-parlor, in Whitstable, Kent, in a...

... narrow, weather-boarded house, painted a flaking blue, half-way between the High Street and the harbor...

... through the front door to the dim, low-ceilinged, fragrant room... the bill of fare chalked on a board -- the spirit lamps, the sweating slabs of butter...

... thence to take a peek where the kitchen door [...swings] to and fro...

... to see the lady frowning into the clouds of steam that rose from a pan...

... and next to her a slender, white-faced unremarkable-looking girl...

The girl as unremarkable and also as real as myself, from the moment Tipping the Velvet's heroine Nancy Astley claims her voice, from the center of the house where she grew up.

I won't deny it was the voice that got me first, but its siren call to read my way through rooms and doors and halls is one of my happiest memories of a book having its way with me.

Because fictional houses can be seductive. When Lizzy Bennet teases her sister Jane by saying she must date her love for Darcy from first "seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley," we smile but we also note the truth that glimmers through the mockery. Because we know that Lizzy has learned a lot about the house's owner from the house itself.

In popular romance fiction, we know that a great house that spans generations can function as...

-- an element of a hero or heroine's personality

-- a set of constraints on privacy or expression

-- an ensemble of tradition, responsibility, and sense of self

-- a fantasyland of escapist luxury

-- a precious hoard of knowledge from the fascinating past.

I found all of the above and more, in earlier Hoyden posts where writers confided their fascination with the historic houses they love to visit, research, and understand. And I also found (in one of my own posts) some remarks about great houses as an indispensable element in a sister fictional genre, the detective story -- at least in its venerable Country House variant.

But the house as primary fictional element is even more important in another member of the family of popular genres. I mean of course the horror story, ghost story, or gothic, where the weight of the past can be oppressive enough to threaten the house's owners or inhabitants.

Difficult, though, to put an airtight chronology to these family inheritances on the tree of genres. Jane Austen distilled the elements of modern romance novel from gothic pastiche in her early Northanger Abbey. But this shouldn't lead us to forget that the romantic adventure novel (a pair of lovers separated by abductions, pirates, wars) is the world's oldest prose fiction, dating back to second century AD Greece. (Nor to ignore the other sibling genre -- the bratty little brother sci fi, which the critic Northrop Frye calls the inheritor of the romantic tradition, perhaps because of all those space operas with their starships like little Greek boats on the Mediterranean, buffeted about in quest of home).

In any case, the house is primary in Waters' latest astonishing novel, The Little Stranger, a ghost story I read with mounting terror and anxiety, admiration and pleasure. Once again, beginning on the first page, when a narrative voice informs us (less lyrically this time) that I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old.

We don't know much about this narrator -- it must have been a boy, we think, though he's not one now. The first time he saw the house must have been a while ago -- he says it was on an Empire Day fete; even an ignorant American reader like myself must think that Britain doesn't celebrate such a thing anymore. And yes, he was a boy, for he stood with a line of other village children making a boy-scout salute while Mrs Ayres and the Colonel went past us...

He doesn't remember much about the swell people who inhabited Hundreds Hall so much as the house. Especially the inside of it -- for although there'd been lavatories set up for the village celebrants in the stable, when he needed to use it, his mother, who still had friends among the servants (still? had she been a servant there herself?) took him quietly into the house, where he gets a taste of the thrill of the house itself, as he peers in from behind the green baize curtain that traditionally separates owner from servant.

He's drawn to one of the dustless white walls, which had a decorative plaster order, a representation of acorns and leaves...

He tries to prise out one of the acorns from its setting, and when that failed to release it I got out my penknife and dug away with that...

I wasn't a spiteful or destructive boy. It was simply that, in admiring the house, I wanted to possess a piece of it.... I was like a man, I suppose, wanting a lock of hair from the head of a girl he had suddenly and blindingly become enamoured of.

After which original moment of trespass, transgression, of violence and desire, this reader was once again helplessly seduced -- again by an entry into a house, a story, even (or because) this voice is stodgy instead of lyrical, a rational even if slightly guilty outsider.

No good will come of this, my properly seduced reader self thought.

And no good does, in the body of the novel, which takes place thirty years after this initial assault -- in the late 1940s, after World War II, after the Ayres family has borne the death of one child, the serious war wounds of another, and a national economy badly damaged as well. Those surviving can barely support the money-suck the house has become; while as for the boy with the penknife, son of a former servant, he's now a village doctor, struggling to build a practice.

But that's all I'm going to tell you of the plot. Though I wish I could think of a more genteel way to tell you that The Little Stranger scared the crap out of me even as I enjoyed and admired it.

And to recommend it to you as a historical novel as well, even if it isn't one of Waters's hot, colorful, highly romantic 19th century "Lesbo romps" (her own term for the critically acclaimed Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith -- the British literary establishment seems to me less prissy than the American, having short-listed the compulsively readable Lesbo romp Fingersmith for the prestigious Booker prize).

Somber, in contrast, as its narrative voice is (and perhaps disappointing some fans, by not having an intrepid lesbian heroine busily reclaiming a century of British fiction) The Little Stranger nonetheless does some excellent literary reclamation of its own (a particularly scary scene takes place amid a failed courtship, in a grand Regency-styled saloon, built by an ancestor described as right out of Georgette Heyer -- well, it got my attention, anyway). But that's just one of the creaks and echoes in this historical house, and one of the hints at the secrets of class violence at the heart of the ghost story genre in its brilliant retelling.

Any other Sarah Waters fans out there? Some favorite ghost stories? (Click on the links to read more about Waters and her favorites).

And I always love to hear tales of readerly ravishment, by books that wouldn't let you put them down.

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17 June 2009

A marriage made in Hanover or in Hell? George I and Sophia Dorothea of Celle

George William, Duke of Brunswick Lüneburg

You know there’s trouble ahead when the in-laws hate each other long before the betrothal even takes place.

Eleanore Desmier d'Olbreuse

Sophia Dorothea of Celle was a love child, the daughter of George William, the Duke of Brunswick Lüneburg, who ruled the postage-stamp-sized Celle portion of the duchy, and his mistress Eleanore Desmier d’Olbreuse, an exiled French Protestant aristocrat.

George William had been all set to inherit the far more prestigious duchy of Hanover, but it came with strings attached: he had to marry the mannish-looking bluestocking his father had selected for him, Princess Sophia, daughter of the Palatine King of Bohemia.

Here's Sophia as a young woman, in 1644. She certainly doesn't look "mannish" to me! Then again, her sister painted the portrait. I'm guessing she didn't age well.

Evidently Sophia was so repugnant to George William that he ceded part of his inheritance, offering his Hanoverian claim to his younger brother, Ernst Augustus, if he would take the homely Sophia off his hands. The ambitious Ernst Augustus agreed, as long as George William promised never to marry and sire heirs, because they would end up rivaling their own first cousins for the Hanoverian throne.

Ernst Augustus, George's father

There was only one major problem with this fraternal bride swap: Sophia had been in love with George William and didn’t much appreciate his foisting her on his kid brother.

Seven years later, in 1665, George William fell head over heels for the dark bouncing curls, enchanting smile, and sparkling eyes of Eleanore d’Olbreuse. He had to have her, but there was that pesky promise to his brother. He got around it by arranging a sort of unofficial morganatic marriage to Eleanore, meaning that she derived no title, nor would their offspring have any claims to their father’s property.

But when Sophia Dorothea was born out of formal wedlock in 1666, Eleanore worried about the difficulties of securing a husband for a bastard daughter and began campaigning for the girl’s legitimization and for a proper marriage to George William. The process took years. By 1676, because Ernst Augustus and Duchess Sophia already had plenty of sons as potential successors to the duchy of Hanover, they no longer perceived the daughter of George William and Eleanore as a threat. Their original objections to the marriage mooted, little Sophia Dorothea was legitimatized, and her parents were legally wed.

Sophia Dorothea grew up to resemble Snow White, with thick dark hair, doelike eyes, an ivory complexion, and tiny hands and feet. With her stunning figure, she was grace personified. Flirtatious and vivacious, she excelled in all the womanly arts and talents of music, dance, singing, and needlework. To most suitors for her hand, her birthright mattered little. Besides, she had been declared retroactively legitimate.

Although Duchess Sophia despised her sister-in-law Eleanore, she recognized that the best way to get control of Celle was to keep it in the family. So she saddled up her horse and rode over to visit her in-laws, proposing that they wed Sophia Dorothea to her eldest son, George Ludwig, six years the girl’s senior.

George Ludwig (1660-1727), later Elector of Hanover and George I of England

George Ludwig had already distinguished himself as a soldier. His two talents revolved around killing things, as his greatest extracurricular passion was hunting, if you don’t count his ardor for his invariably hideous mistresses. His union with Sophia Dorothea would certainly not be the love match her parents enjoyed. It was closer to Beauty and the Beast, minus the transformation and the happy ending. Nicknamed “the pig snout,” George Ludwig lacked looks, culture, intellect, and regal bearing. Where Sophia Dorothea was lively, charming, and musical, George Ludwig was slow and sullen with a chilly disposition that masked a vindictive core.

Even his mother didn’t like him. As she cheerfully looked forward to receiving the annual installments of Sophia Dorothea’s substantial dowry, the Duchess Sophia wrote to one of her other nieces:

One hundred thousand thalers a year is a goodly sum to pocket . . . without speaking of a pretty wife, who will find a match in my son George Ludwig, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, and who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them. He does not care much for the match itself, but one hundred thousand thalers a year have tempted him as they would have tempted anybody else.

When young Sophia Dorothea learned she would have to wed her twenty-two-year-old first cousin, she rebelled, declaring “I will not marry the pig snout!” as she hurled his miniature portrait, encrusted with diamonds, across the room. But it was a fait accompli; the Hanovers were waiting downstairs. Sophia Dorothea’s father was adamant about the match and Eleanore was powerless to stop him, even as she anticipated clashes between Sophia Dorothea and the mother-in-law from hell. When the sixteen-year-old sacrificial bride-to-be was escorted down to meet Duchess Sophia and kiss her jeweled hand, she fainted. She had the same reaction a few days later when she was presented to her betrothed.

George Ludwig was just as insulted by the match. In his eyes, his luscious cousin’s looks were nothing compared to her initial bastardy.

Nonetheless, the young couple’s wishes were ignored in favor of dynastic and political goals. So on November 22, 1682, each looking like a prisoner en route to the scaffold, the pale and trembling Sophia Dorothea was wed to the chilly and distant George Ludwig in the chapel of Celle Castle. The bride’s mother sobbed loudly during the entire ceremony. The groom’s mother, having sacrificed her ego to politics, looked grim. Only the fathers were smiling at the thought of the sizeable double duchy that would be created by the uniting of their adjoining realms.

The newlyweds formally resided at the Leine Palace in Hanover. Sophia Dorothea was immediately made miserable not only by her husband’s remoteness but also by her mother-in-law’s perpetual scolding regarding her ignorance of court etiquette. Luckily for Sophia Dorothea, George Ludwig became literally distant when he embarked on various military campaigns for significant stretches of time. But he kept au courant with his wife’s activities through the reports of spies he had placed among her servants, who chronicled everything she did or said, particularly when she turned her wit on him, shredding his personality in public.

Sophia Dorothea of Celle

In between arguments, they did manage to have two children. In 1683, after Sophia Dorothea gave birth to a son and heir, George Augustus, things became more cordial. Sophia Dorothea endeavored to ingratiate herself with her in-laws and George Ludwig promised to swear off adultery. His paramour was Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegg, the married daughter of his father’s mistress, the blowsy Countess Platen. Although the countess had numerous lovers, it was widely assumed by all but the related parties that the woman Platen had placed in the prince’s bed was her daughter by Duke Ernst Augustus, making the happy couple half siblings.

In 1685, Sophia Dorothea took off on an Italian holiday with her father-in-law. While she was away, George found a new lover among his mother’s maids of honor—Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenberg—as freakishly tall and anorexically thin as Frau von Kielmannsegg was short and portly.
When the princess returned from her vacation to find that her husband had taken up with a second hideous mistress, she was livid; but the royal couple must have kissed and made up just long enough for Sophia Dorothea to become pregnant again. Their daughter—also named Sophia Dorothea—was born on March 16, 1687. But during the particularly acrimonious celebration of the little girl’s birth, after George nearly strangled his wife in public, the battling Hanovers wanted nothing more to do with each other.

Sophia was indeed far from the perfect wife. As heedless and selfish as she was lovely, in 1689 she commenced a torrid epistolary affair with a tall, handsome, and rakish Swedish mercenary in her father-in-law’s army. By the time he fell shako over spurs for the princess, Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark had left his curly black wig and shiny boots on the floor of many a European lady’s boudoir. Sophisticated and cultured, and as flirtatious as his inamorata, he enjoyed literature and dancing and all the refined and elegant trappings of polite and elegant society. His previous paramours even included the scheming and jealous Countess Platen, Ernst August’s mistress. However, his liaison with the Hanoverian hereditary princess, his soul mate and fellow sensualist, was True Love, and by 1690 he had dropped the countess like a contaminated object and become Sophia Dorothea’s paramour in every way. Their romance was filled with clandestine trysts, coded correspondence, secret signals, and a trusted confidante to act as a go-between.

Philipp Christoph von Königsmark

The couple spent as much time in each other’s arms as possible and exchanged lurid love letters. The count wrote to his beloved, “I embrace your knees” and expressed a longing to “kiss that little place which has given me so much pleasure.” But around 1692 the latter letter, and many others, found its way into the hands of Sophia Dorothea’s father-in-law, most probably through the machinations of the spurned Countess Platen.

Countess Platen convinced Ernst Augustus to exile the count, but no sooner was he banished than the handsome Swedish mercenary got himself a new post with the Elector of Saxony. However, at an officers’ party one night in Dresden, von Königsmark became a bit too voluble under the influence and dished the dirt on the Hanoverian royal family. Naturally, the trash talking got back to his former employer.
The one most injured by von Königsmark’s mockery around the punch bowl was the tall and skeletal Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenberg. She ran to her lover, tearfully complaining that his wife’s banished paramour had mortally insulted her. George Ludwig confronted Sophia Dorothea, who promptly let him have it, insisting that the real sex scandal was his affair with Melusine! A pitched battle ensued between the royal spouses and George Ludwig tried to choke his wife to death. Shoving her to the floor, he vowed never to see her again. Unlike his earlier promise to quit committing adultery, this pledge he kept.
With nothing left of her marriage, Sophia Dorothea and von Königsmark scheduled an elopement. Arriving at the Leine Palace, von Königsmark made straight for his lover’s boudoir; after enjoying a passionate reunion, the count planned to come back for her the following day.
But Countess Platen discovered the plan and reported it to Ernst Augustus, who had his guards waylay von Königsmark as he left Sophia Dorothea’s bedroom. The stories about the count’s subsequent murder are as colorful as they are varied. What is certain is that he was ambushed—either on the open road or in the Leine Palace—and that he fought back valiantly, wounding one of his assailants. The count was slain; his body disappeared entirely. Most historians believe it was buried right under the bloodstained floorboards of the corridor where he may have been summarily dispatched, his corpse covered in quicklime to eradicate the stench of decay and hasten decomposition. Meanwhile, a hysterical Sophia Dorothea was detained in her rooms, under house arrest.

George Ludwig had ignored his wife’s infidelity for years because von Königsmark was such a crack soldier and one of the best swordsmen in Europe. But enough was enough. A kangaroo court found Sophia Dorothea guilty of “malicious desertion”—a far greater crime than adultery, since desertion would create problems with the collection of her annual dowry installments. And on December 28, 1694, her marriage to George Ludwig was legally dissolved—a relief to the princess, who was now officially rid of a husband she found revolting. “We still adhere to our oft-repeated resolution never to cohabit matrimonially with our husband, and that we desire nothing so much as that separation of marriage requested by our husband may take place,” she had averred during the divorce proceedings.

All traces of Sophia Dorothea’s existence in Hanover were expunged, although her former in-laws happily continued to pocket her annual dowry installments. On February 28, 1695, Sophia Dorothea was “banished” to a lovely moated country home in Ahlden, where, after the first, exceptionally restrictive year of her incarceration, she lived out the rest of her days in what most of us would consider luxury, attended by a modest retinue. She was given the new title duchess, or princess, of Ahlden. Although her children were taken away and raised by their paternal grandmother, Sophia Dorothea would not have been the recipient of any mother-of-the-year trophies, so this sacrifice was probably for the best.

Meanwhile, George Ludwig continued to enjoy the charms of his two lovers. By then, Melusine—acknowledged since 1691 as his maîtresse en titre—gave him two daughters, who were immediately reborn as the prince’s “nieces.” She would bear a third daughter in 1701.
George Ludwig became the Elector of Hanover on the death of his father in 1698. He promptly dismissed Countess Platen from court. On her deathbed she confessed to her complicity in the murder of Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark, and the details of his brutal, bloody demise came to light, exonerating George Ludwig, who in any case had always been assumed to have been ignorant of the plot. Nonetheless, his wife’s adulterous affair and the strange case of von Königsmark’s disappearance, as well as Sophia Dorothea’s subsequent imprisonment, had been the talk of European courts for years.

Yet even as she remained under lock and key, Sophia Dorothea’s existence remained a problem. George Ludwig was actively campaigning to be placed on the short list for succession to the English throne. According to the 1701 Act of Succession, all future rulers of England had to be Protestants descended from the Stuart line. George Ludwig’s accession was a long shot at the time because Queen Anne, who ascended the throne in 1702, seemed exceptionally fertile. Anne ultimately endured seventeen pregnancies but none of her children survived into adulthood. George Ludwig’s mother, the Dowager Electress Sophia, was a granddaughter of the Stuart king James I, and a Protestant to boot, so her claim—as well as George Ludwig’s if his mother predeceased him—were genuine.

However, his divorce from Sophia Dorothea was both a political and a religious embarrassment, especially in England. She could very well manage to attack George Ludwig’s character, adding fuel to the cause of the Jacobites, who wanted to see the Catholic descendants of James II and his second wife, Mary of Modena, on the British throne.
But on April 12, 1714, the House of Lords resolved that a request be sent to Queen Anne to issue a proclamation offering a reward to anyone who apprehended and brought to justice the Jacobite “Pretender” James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of James II and Mary of Modena. Anne signed the proclamation on June 21, paving the way for a Protestant successor—which meant that George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, was next in line for the throne; his mother had died just weeks earlier, on June 8.
Less than two months after the issuance of the proclamation, on August 1, 1714, Queen Anne died.
If Sophia Dorothea had remained married to George Ludwig, she would have been Queen of England. Some historians believe that her divorce papers might not have been ironclad; this would explain why, after George Ludwig’s accession as George I of England, she was watched even more closely for fear that she might escape Ahlden and demand to share his throne. Their daughter, Sophia Dorothea the younger, had become Queen of Prussia, but her own husband was such a tyrant that he forbade her to help her mother in any way.
On November 13, 1726, lonely and all but forgotten, Sophia Dorothea died at the age of sixty; some historians cite the cause of death as a stroke or heart attack, while others claim she suffered a fever. She had been a prisoner for thirty-one years.
Evidently, as she lay dying in agony, Sophia Dorothea scrawled a letter to her ex-husband, cursing him from the grave. On her death the court of Hanover went into mourning, but George sent word from London that no one was to wear black. Sophia Dorothea had inherited her mother’s property in 1722 upon Eleanore’s death and willed it to her children, but George destroyed the will and appropriated her property for himself. Then he ordered all her personal effects at Ahlden to be burned. He insisted on her ignominious burial at Ahlden, but the ground was too waterlogged, so her coffin sat around in a dreary chamber for two months until his superstitious mistress Melusine claimed to see Sophia Dorothea’s unfettered spirit flying about in the guise of a bird.
In May 1727, Sophia Dorothea was finally interred within the family crypt in the Old Church at Celle, where visitors honoring her martyrdom to true love still place flowers on her unprepossessing lead coffin.
That June, the sixty-seven-year-old monarch embarked on his fifth excursion to Hanover since the beginning of his reign as King of England. On June 20, his little entourage stopped en route in Delden, Holland, at the home of a friend, Count de Twillet, where George enjoyed an enormous supper, overindulging in a dessert of oranges and strawberries. Despite a dreadful bellyache the following day, the king was eager to get back on the road. When he reached Ibbenburen, he suffered an attack of apoplexy.
He managed to reach his birthplace of Osnabrück, dying there in the early hours of the morning on June 22, 1727, and was buried near his mother’s monument at the Leineschloss Church in Hanover.

Some believe the catalyst for George’s sudden fatal illness was not a surfeit of fruit but an incident that occurred on June 19, 1727, when he received a mail delivery as he traveled to Hanover. It was his wife’s ghostly epistle. George suddenly remembered that decades earlier a fortune-teller had prophesied that if he were in any way responsible for his wife’s death he would die within a year of her demise.
George and Sophia Dorothea’s son succeeded his father on the British throne, ruling as George II. He ordered Hanover’s records unsealed and discovered 1,399 pages of love letters—only a fraction of those exchanged—between his mother and Count von Königsmark. His idyll was shattered: his mother was no saint and had indeed been an adulteress. But George also recognized that his father had behaved dreadfully to her. Had Sophia Dorothea lived, George II would have liberated her from Ahlden and installed her as the Dowager Queen of England.
In any event, the lesson was not fully learned. George II took mistresses as well, although for a while he did his best to be discreet about it—which, in his view at least, was his way of respecting the feelings of his purportedly beloved wife, Caroline of Anspach.
What marriages made in hell (royal or otherwise) have sparked your imagination? What are some of your favorites, and why?

15 June 2009

The Democratization of Fashion

Yes that’s a pretentious title, for a post that is uneducated speculation. I borrowed the phrase from the book COSTUME by Rachel Kemper. For her fashion became available to the general populace (aka the masses) with the introduction of mail order catalogs.

I don’t agree with her. I think fashionable styles for everyone began with the invention of the sewing machine and even before that with the use of machine produced cloth. Elias Howe patented his machine that used “thread from two sources” in a lockstitch design. That was in 1846, though there had been attempts at developing a sewing machine as early as 1755. (As an aside the patent wars surrounding the sewing machine are worth a blog if you’re interested in patent law (I’m not).)

Today Vera Wang, of the uber expensive wedding dresses, has designed a line of clothes for Kohl’s, just one of a number of designers to make stylish cloths and an affordable price.

Shopping is my great escape (note: shopping, not buying). One of my favorite things to do is check out the designer salons at Saks and Neimans and then follow the styles down the economic scale to Kohls and Target. The brilliant monologue on how color makes it way to the masses by Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is one of the best illustrations of the “democratization of fashion."

Wearing clothes with a sense of style transcends economic status as the blogger TheSartorialist.blogspot.com illustrates. But in order to do that the clothes have to be available. The sewing machine made that possible as did the mail order catalog.

After the printing press I think that sewing machine was one of the great social equalizers of all time.

Your thoughts?

12 June 2009

Henry the VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn

I love reading historical letters and Janet's post on Jane Austen's letters reminded me...this spring, the love letters of Henry the VIII to Anne Boleyn were made public. After decades in storage at the Vatican, the letters, most certainly stolen from Queen Anne, are on view as part of a major exhibition on Henry VIII opening at the British Library on April 23.

Written around 1528, five years before Anne became Queen, the words of devotion show a softer side to Henry, very different from the man who had a public reputation as a bloodthirsty ruler.

In some of the letters he assures her that "henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone," and apologizes profusely for ever suggesting she could be a mere mistress.

In many of the letters he professes a deeply passionate and committed love---and his intention to marry her (he was still married to Catherine of Aragon at the time).

He promises this repeatedly to Anne:

"The demonstrations of your affection are such, and the beautiful words of your letters are so cordially phrased, that they really oblige me to honour, love, and serve you forever....”

"For my part, I will outdo you, if this be possible, rather than reciprocate, in loyalty of heart and my desire to please you."

"Beseeching you also that if I have in any way offended you, you will give me the same absolution for which you ask, assuring you that henceforth my heart will be dedicated to you alone, and wishing greatly that my body was so too."

Anne was aware of Henry’s womanizing reputation and most scholars agree that she held out on him for at least seven years---refusing to have sexual relations with him.

Then I read the letter below, and I can’t quite tell—but maybe by this time Anne had given a little (all?) of it up? Their relationship was most certainly physical to some degree, since “dukkys” translates to “breasts” in modern English.

“Mine own sweetheart, these shall be to advertise you of the great loneliness that I find here since your departing, for I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last than I was wont to do a whole fortnight: I think your kindness and my fervents of love causeth it, for otherwise I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me, but now that I am coming toward you methinketh my pains been half released.... Wishing myself (specially an evening) in my sweetheart's arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss. Written with the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his will.

Henry's desire for Anne was one of the driving forces behind England's breaking away from the rule of Roman Catholic Church. It became the Henry’s goal to secure an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, so he would be free to marry Anne. When I read his letters (written during this time), I find them passionate and tender, and yet a little disturbing. Perhaps because I know how this all ends. Just eight years after most of these letters were written, Henry was ready to move on, still in search of a woman who could give him a son (Anne did not and had fallen out of favor). Based on false charges of adultery, incest and witchcraft, he had her beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536.

The letters show Henry did really love Anne passionately in the beginning---but he had to arrest and execute friends, fight with his family, face unpopularity, banish his wife and child, and have a crisis of faith, to wed and bed her.

So I can’t help reading these now and coming away feeling like there was a hint of something sinister (obsession?) in his writings from the very beginning. What about you? Anne may have been blinded by her own ambition but is there something in these letters that sends up a red flag and would have alerted you to the danger?

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11 June 2009

A Day in the Life

How I wish someone would publish an annotated edition of Jane Austen's letters which I'm reading, or dipping into, as part of my research for my (tentatively titled) Immortal Jane books.

I wouldn't go so far as to agree with the description of the letters as "a desert of trivialities punctuated by occasional oases of clever malice" (H.W. Garrod) but they can be hard going. I've picked a letter Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra 210 years ago, on Tuesday, June 11, 1799, and will share with you what I found.

Jane was probably finishing Susan (renamed Northanger Abbey) around this time. There's a reference in this letter to First Impressions, revised almost a decade later to become Pride & Prejudice. Jane, Mrs. Austen and Edward Austen/Knight had arrived in Bath on May 17, and were staying at 13, Queens Square. They returned home at the end of June.

Much of the letter is to do with fashion. Jane had certain shopping errands she had to fulfill in the big city, including finding trimmings for Cassandra's hat:
Though you have given me unlimited powers concerning Your Sprig, I cannot determine what to do about it, & shall therefore in this & every future letter continue to ask you for further directions.--We have been to the cheap Shop, & very cheap we found it, but there are only flowers made there, no fruit--& as I could get 4 or 5 very pretty sprigs of the former for the same money which would procure only one Orleans plumb, in short could get more for three or four Shillings than I could have means of bringing home, I cannot decide on the fruit till I hear from you again.--Besides, I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.--What do you think on that subject?

Sure enough, the Lady's Magazine of May 1799 pronounced: No woman, truly loyal to the divinity of fashion, can possibly appear now without feathers and flowers.

No mention of fruit, however, which Cassandra seemed to have her heart set on, and the Orleans plum[b] was a fairly ordinary dark-red English-grown fruit, nothing particularly exotic. To me, that begs the question of why you'd want it on a hat in the first place.

Jane mentions in the letter that they have not been out anywhere public, but in her previous letter of June 2 she mentioned that they were planning several outings, including attending
a Concert with Illuminations and fireworks;--to the latter Eliz. & I look forward with pleasure, & even the Concert will have more than its' usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.
This was Jane Austen the music lover? Or should we assume that the musicianship at Sydney Gardens was of a particularly low standard? This outing was to have taken place on June 4, George III's birthday, but rain required the event to be postponed until June 18. It had been a particularly unpleasant spring and early summer in England that year, cold and rainy. The oboist in the orchestra, which Jane was so avid not to hear, was Alexander Herschel[l], brother of astronomer and composer William Herschel.

I'll blog another time about Sydney Gardens, a fashionable pleasure garden at the end of Great Pulteney Street, complete with a moated castle ruin, bowling green, labyrinth, and many other delights.

Here's another quote from today's letter which strikes a particular chord with me:
I do not know what the matter is with me today but I cannot write quietly; I am always wandering away into some exclamation or other.
I think I've probably answered my own question of why no one has annotated Austen's letters, or, more likely, demonstrated my incompetence at an attempt. Have you read Austen's letters? Whose letters from the period would you recommend? And do you agree with Austen that it's more natural to have flowers than fruit growing from one's head?

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: A Family Record. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Le Faye, Deirdre (ed.). Jane Austen's Letters. Oxford University Press, 1997.
Snaddon, Brenda. The Last Promenade: Sydney Gardens, Bath. Millstream Books, 2000.

And now, in a blatant burst of self-promotion:
New website and contest at janetmullany.com and a chance to win a signed copy of A Most Lamentable Comedy in Pam Rosenthal's latest contest.
Plus today I'm blogging over at Risky Regencies about John Constable, whose birthday it is today, and talking about Immortal Jane at Austenprose and Jane Austen Today.

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10 June 2009

Marriage in Trouble Plots

I recently returned to reading Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, which I had started last summer and then put aside (I sometimes hit moments when I’m writing when I just can’t read anything). I was drawn back immediately by the richness of the writing and the sharp emotional details. I was also struck by comparing and contrasting the book with the recent film, which I also liked. The major events are the same, but the emotional arc is quite different (though Kitty Fane does grow and change in both). It’s rather as though someone were to film Secrets of a Lady with the same basic plot but have the story end with Charles and Mel realizing they’d never really known or loved each other but staying together for practicality.

The other the thing The Painted Veil got me to thinking about is one of my favorite literary tropes–marriage in trouble plots. They’ve always fascinated me, long before I started writing about the marital angst of Charles and Mélanie Fraser. That’s why, when I cite influences and inspirations for the Charles & Mélanie series, in addition to the more obvious ones like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, Dorothy Dunnett, and Dorothy Sayers, I mention Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, and Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson books.

Reading The Painted Veil, I pondered the fascination of this plotline. The intimacy of marriage ups the stakes in the conflict between two people. Percy’s devastation at Marguerite’s seeming lack of trustworthiness is all the greater because she has just become his wife. Betrayal, I think, is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. How much worse is it when that betrayal comes from a spouse? Years of living together also gives characters a knowledge of each other that recent lovers wouldn’t have. In The Real Thing, the hero has a wonderful speech about knowing one’s spouse, in a way that goes far beyond carnal. That knowledge can be used for good or ill. George and Martha know just how to push each other’s buttons. So, for that matter, do Maggie and Brick.

Particularly in an historical setting, marriage makes it difficult for two people to walk away from each other, no matter how poisoned their relationship has grown. When I blogged about this topic on my own website, JMM commented that I admit, I like marriage in trouble plots more in historical settings. The stakes are higher because divorce was harder or impossible. There’s a fascinating tension in two people pretending to be a couple to the outside world, while being estranged when they’re alone. Think of Percy and Marguerite keeping up appearances to the beau monde yet unable to communicate in private, Maggie and Brick maintaining the charade of their marriage (or at least Maggie trying to) in front of his family. Kitty and Walter Fane sharing a bungalow in a cholera-infested town, seen by most as a devoted couple who’ve risked infection so as not to be separated.

On my website, Stephanie commented that I tend to think of “marriage in trouble” plots as falling into two categories:

1) The marriage begins in unpropitious circumstances–a forced alliance, a shotgun wedding–and the couple has to try to make it work.
2) The marriage starts out solid, even loving, and then has to weather a serious crisis.

Kitty and Walter in The Painted Veil fit the first example. The know each other very little (hence much of the tragedy). Ross and Demelza's relationship, in Winston Graham's wonderful Poldark series, begins as the first example and then morphs into the second as they fall in love but also face various crises in their marriage. Dorothy Sayers's Busman's Honeymoon shows the very much in love Peter and Harriet weathering the first crisis in their marriage as they adjust to being a couple. (As Mélanie thinks in Beneath a Silent Moon, "Marriage was a shocking invasion of privacy.")

Lesley brought up a third variation and cited our own Pam: Another variation on the theme is Pam Rosenthal’s ‘The Slightest Provocation’, where they married young, there was bad behaviour on both sides, and a long separation, but with maturity they realise that what draws them together is more important than past mistakes.

RfP added What I love about TSP is exactly what you mentioned–the way Kit and Mary know how to push each other’s buttons. Combined with the flashbacks, Rosenthal convinces me the button-pushing is a sign of intimacy and of something worth salvaging, not a sign of toxicity.

One of the many things I love about The Slightest Provocation is the way the flashbacks are interwoven, so the reader learns about Kit and Mary’s marriage as they reflect back on it. A rich portrait of their marriage emerges.

Taryn wrote that she likes marriage in trouble books because there are so many secrets, hidden hurts, and long history to unwrap and sort through. With any married couple, there’s a past to explore–how they came to be married and why, what they both expected from the marriage, how that expectation compares to the current reality. And history is something I love to explore as a writer, whether it’s historical events or the personal history shared by two people.

Do you like marriage in trouble stories? Why or why not? Any favorite examples to suggest? What do you think makes them work? Writers, what are the particular challenges of writing this type of story? If you've written this type of book, do you find yourself spending more time than usual making notes on the characters' history?

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09 June 2009

Accuracy or Intelligibility?

Recently there has been a lively discussion about this topic on a loop for historical writers. It was kicked off by one writer’s horror upon discovering that “foyer” (OED: The entrance hall of a hotel, restaurant, theatre, etc. 1915 ‘BARTIMEUS’ Tall Ship iv. 77 There were at least half a dozen mothers in the foyer of the big..hotel.) was not a period word for the Regency setting of her novel. The proper term historically is “hall” (OED: The entrance-room or vestibule of a house; hence, the lobby or entrance passage. 1663 GERBIER Counsel 10 The Hall of a private-house, serving for the most part but for a Passage.), which led many to realize with growing horror that “hall” (in the way we use it: a corridor in a building which allows access to multiple rooms) is also not period. (OED: orig. U.S, An entrance-hall or passage leading to various rooms in a house or building. 1877 J. HABBERTON Jericho Road 173 It passed through the narrow hallway which separated the cell from the jailor's apartments.)

It’s one thing to avoid words that encompass ideas that are themselves anachronistic for our setting, such as mesmerized (OED: To subject a person to the influence of mesmerism; to lead or direct by mesmerism; to hypnotize. 1829 R. CHENEVIX in London Med. & Physical Jrnl. 6 222, I mesmerised the patient through the door.), sadistic (OED: Of, relating to, or characterized by sadism; cruel. 1892 C. G. CHADDOCK tr. R. von Krafft-Ebing Psychopathia Sexualis iii. 79 The perverse sadistic impulse, to injure women and put contempt and humiliation upon them.) or surreal (OED: Having the qualities of surrealist art; bizarre, dreamlike. 1937 Burlington Mag. Jan. p. xiv/1 Some ‘surreal’ influence haunts the regions of the Black Forest.). It’s harder to know what the best choice is when faced with using the modern term for something mundane (such as “hall”). If accuracy is the ultimate goal, then another word should be used “passage” (OED: A corridor giving access to the various rooms or divisions of a building, ship, etc., or running between two rooms; a gallery, lobby, or hall. a1525 Bk. Sevyne Sagis 2344, in W. A. Craigie Asloan MS (1925) II. 75 Ane preve passage for to mak.), corridor (OED: A main passage in a large building, upon which in its course many apartments open. Also fig. Cf. COULISSE 4. 1814 BYRON Corsair III. xix, Glimmering through the dusky corridore, Another [lamp] chequers o'er the shadow'd floor), but IMO, accuracy must be balanced with intelligibility. Somehow, as a woman of the 21st century, “passage” or “passageway” simply don’t make me picture a “hallway”. Passageways lead to oubliettes and smugglers’ dens and secret rooms.

I know. I know. I over think these things, but what do you think should rule the day: accuracy or intelligibility?

07 June 2009

Rumi: "That which frees you from your tiny self"

The Persians love poetry so much that one 10th century poet, Rabia Balkhi, wrote his last poem in his own blood. The Persian Sufi poetic tradition spans 1,000 years and is part of a living tradition within the larger tradition of Persian mysterical poetry. Jalal al-Din Rumi, born in 1207, was one of the first major Persian poets to receive attention in the West. About 80 years ago his poems were translated into accurate, word-for-word Victorian prose (English is closer to Persian than either Arabic or Turkish); later reworkings by poets such as Robert Bly took more creative license.

You are like the sun–
Without your face, the garden is yellow and pale–
Without you, the world is like dust–
Without you, the circle of love turns cold.
( The Missing Sun)

Rumi was born in Afghanistan, and fled along the Silk Road to Turkey when the Mongols invaded in the 13th century. He wrote in Persian, his native language, and his works include 30,000 verses of impassioned lyric poetry and an additional 20,000 verses contained in his master work, the Mathnawi. This is a tapestry of Aesopian fables, everyday life scenes of his time, revelations from the Koran, and metaphysics in the Sufi tradition. His work is a synthesis of all Islamic culture drawing on Arab traditions through Hellenistic, Christian, Jewish, and Persian cultures.

Rumi was regarded as a “completed” human being who embodies divine attributes.

Reason said, “We live in a world
of six directions – and that’s it!”

Love replied, “There is a path beyond,
and I have traveled it many times.”

Reason saw a market and set up shop,
but love trades in another currency altogether.

(Trading in Love's Currency)

Some Muslims considered Rumi a second Mohammad, Christians as a second Christ, and Jews as a second Moses. Sufis, the most spiritual of Islamic traditions, are drawn to the mystical and expound a religion based on Love. In Persia, particularly, the metaphor of Love, the Lover, and the Beloved was developed so vividly that metaphoric significance sometimes was mistaken for sensuality.

At breakfast tea a beloved asked her lover,
“Who do you love more, yourself or me?”

“From my head to my foot I have become you.
Nothing remains of me but my name.
You have your wish. Only you exist.
I’ve disappeared like a drop of vinegar
in an ocean of honey.”
(The Ruby)

For the Sufi, love is the cause of existence, “the hand behind the puppets.” Recognition of the Beloved (or Friend) in human form is a recognition of spiritual gifts Allah bestows on His creatures. Friendship and love are essential values, the celebration of “hereness.”

In love’s circle there’s another kind of serenity;
in love’s wine, another kind of hangover,
What you learned in school is one thing–
love is something entirely different.
(Something Different)

In poetry, very little is what it appears to be. Sufi poets, especially, inhabits many worlds simultaneously, “worlds within worlds.” Their favorite themes are spiritual separation and solitude; the experience of connectness and unity; and passion and immediacy--in other words, “that which frees you from your tiny self.”

Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of yourself
(The Root of the Root of Your Self)

Sufi works were sung or recited with music at Sufi gatherings as an outward expression of a spiritual meditation. Poems are often written in quatrains (4-line poems) with extensive symbolism. Wine = divine love; drunkenness = ecstasy of direct knowledge of God; a tavern = a Sufi gathering place; a tavern-goer = lower class, poverty, humility; rogues or profligates = Sufi dervishes. The language of love = the longing for divine nearness. When you lose yourself, you will reach the Beloved (God).

Heart came on solid footing with breath refined
to warn the best of communities.
Heart placed your head
like a pen on the page of love.

We are joyous pennants in your just wind.
Master, to where do you dance?
(Love Is a Stranger)

Sources: The Essential Rumi (tr. by Coleman Barks); Love Is a Stranger (tr. by Kabir Helminski); Love’s Alchemy, Poems from the Sufi Tradition (tr. by David and Sabrineh Fideler)

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03 June 2009

Judging Books By Their Covers

This past Monday, at Lady Jane’s Salon, Laurel McKee’s editor gave a presentation on the process by which her cover reached its final form. As publishing guru Ron Hogan played Vanna White with the pictures, we got to see the gradual development from concept to final version. Some of the changes were sparked by practical concerns, such as there being too many curlicues on the cover font for easy reading across a crowded bookstore.

The other major change, however, came about when the author pointed out that the initial color of the heroine’s dress—for lack of a better term, slut red—would have been entirely inappropriate for a lady of that period and especially a lady in morning. The dress went to purple.

I was very impressed. I don’t like to think of myself as a cynic, but my general take on covers is somewhat akin to my feelings about “historical” movies: fact is honored more in the breach than the observance and you just expect that and deal with it so long as the final result is pretty.

This has been a pretty good maxim for most of my covers so far, all of which have been gorgeous (I love the Dutton art department), but most of which have featured paintings from, well, let’s just call them neighboring time periods. My first cover was spot on in that it featured a painting of a dark-haired woman with a bunch of carnations (how they found that, I’ll never know). It was less spot on in terms of the clothing. The book is set in 1803. The painting and the dress are later nineteenth century, although they look, at a quick glance, very eighteenth century.

The most obviously anachronistic of the lot was my third book, The Deception of the Emerald Ring. The girl in the painting actually looks very much as I imagined my heroine. And it’s certainly very, very green, which was the idea. But the dress is very clearly Victorian rather than Empire. I got a few snarky emails over that one.

I’ve noticed the same phenomenon with other authors’ books as well. Karen Harper’s Mistress Shakespeare, about the secret first wife of the immortal late sixteenth/early seventeenth century bard, features the exact same picture I had in poster form over my desk freshman year: My Sweet Rose, by nineteenth century Preraphaelite painter, John William Waterhouse.

Readers, does it bother you when the cover art on historical fiction reflects the wrong time period? Authors, would you rather have a pretty cover or a historically correct one? (Well, clearly both, but if you had to pick one....) Have you ever objected to a cover on historical grounds?

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