History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

27 December 2011

Happy New Year!

The Hoydens will be back in 2012 with more history, more books, and more great guests. Have a merry and safe New Year's celebration and we'll see you soon.

23 December 2011

Silhouettes with Candice Hern

Happy Holidays to everyone! And many thanks to the Hoydens for hosting me again.

I recently traveled to London and, as always, brought home a few treasures.  This time I added new pieces to my collection of Georgian painted silhouettes, specifically silhouette jewelry, and I am going to share these pieces with you today. You can read more about painted silhouettes on mywebsite, but let me briefly explain what they are. 

Rather than silhouettes cut from black paper, the silhouettes I collect are painted. You still get the profile of the sitter, but painting allows for more detail in the hair and clothing. Silhouettes, which were called profile miniatures or shades, were painted on paper, plaster, and ivory, and reverse-painted on glass.  The pieces I am featuring today are all painted on ivory, which was the most common medium for jewelry. The black pigment used was generally made of lamp black mixed with beer, though fine details were sometimes done with India ink. Bronzing – the technique of adding details in gold against the black – was done using either gold or bronze powder mixed with gum arabic.

Profile artists, or profilists, offered a cheaper and faster alternative to the fully painted portrait miniature, which was hugely popular during Georgian times.  The sitter's profile was typically traced using a pentagraph or other mechanism, which took only a few minutes.  The sitter need not be present for the profilist to finish the work, painting in the profile and adding hair and fashion details. The original profile could be saved and used again.  For example, if the original commission was for a single framed profile miniature, the sitter or his family might later want more copies, or perhaps smaller versions set into jewelry. The pentagraph could reduce the profile to any size.

The most famous profilist of the Georgian period was John Miers, who worked from the early 1780s until his death in 1821. He worked strictly in black, ie no bronzing or colored details, and his delicate rendering of ruffles and lace and other fashion details is extraordinary. His most famous protégé was John Field, who came to work in Miers' studio on the Strand in 1800 and stayed until Miers death, after which he set up his own studio. Field is best known for his bronzing details, which are extremely fine. All of the pieces shown here are either signed by or attributed to John Field during his tenure in the Miers studio, ie from 1800 to 1820. As you look at these images, remember they are VERY small, so all the details of hair and clothing, and even eyelashes, are teeny-tiny.

This first piece, shown above, is a locket set in gold with a lovely braid of hair (presumably from the sitter) surrounding the profile. The profile, painted on ivory, is signed "Miers" in Field's hand. The lack of bronzing places is early in Field's career, probably before 1810. It measures 1" x ¾". I especially love the rendering of the neck ruff. The addition of the braided hair marks this as a sentimental piece, but whether it was a love token or a mourning token is not clear.

The second piece is also a locket set in gold, though much larger at 1¾" x 1¼". The reverse is encased in glass, which would have held a lock of hair, though none is present. It is painted on ivory, and though unsigned, is attributed to Field. The interesting thing about this silhouette is that it came with a tiny handwritten note stuck to the back that says, "Robert Lowrie, killed in Peninsular War." A bit of googling led me to Captain Robert Lowrie of the 91st Foot. He died on Oct 3, 1813 from a wound suffered in the Battle of the Pyrenees on July 28. He was 36. A tablet was erected to his memory in St. Martin's Church, Lincoln (where he was born), by his brother officers as a mark of their esteem. Field's skill, learned from Miers, is particularly evident in the shirt ruffle.

The third piece is a small brooch set in gold, measuring 7/8" x 5/8". Painted on ivory and signed "Miers" in Field's hand, it shows his skill at bronzing, picking out details of hair, jewelry, and dress.  Whenever bronzing was used, the face was always left in solid black, though ears, as here, or a man's whiskers might be bronzed.  Doesn't this one look like a perfect Regency Miss?

The fourth piece is another brooch, even smaller at ¾" x ½". Painted on ivory and set in an octagonal gold frame, this profile is again signed "Miers" in Field's hand, and is likely another early piece. Once again, the neck ruffle is wonderfully painted, especially considered the size.

The last of my new pieces is another locket, measuring 1¼" x 1". Painted on ivory and signed "Miers" in Field's hand, the profile is edged in black inside the gold frame. This marks it as a mourning piece. The glass case on the reverse is completely filled with braided hair, presumably from the sitter. Silhouettes were very popular as mourning jewelry as they could be copied and sent to friends and family of the deceased – a much more personal memento than a mourning ring.

I have been collecting silhouettes for years as I find them more haunting than fully painted portrait miniatures. And I am amazed at the level of detail that can be attained in simple black.  I got started collecting years ago when I fell in love with a lot of about 6 silhouettes at an auction in San Francisco, and luckily placed the winning bid. As it happens, all the silhouettes shown here were also purchased at auction, this time in London.  Collecting is a terrible addiction!

21 December 2011

Holiday settings

A very quick post from me today, as eight days ago I gave birth to a new hoyden - my daughter, Mélanie Cordelia. We're both doing great, but I haven't had time for much beyond settling in with her this past week. However, I have been thinking about the holidays and particularly holidays in literature. My mom and I wrote a couple of Christmas novellas, but I've never written a Christmas book, like Lauren's wonderful The Mischief of the Mistletoe. However, I have had holiday scenes in a few of my books. The epilogue to Vienna Waltz takes place at a Christmas Eve party given by Dorothée Talleyrand (who really did give a party on Christmas Eve in 1814 at the French embassy in the Kaunitz Palace in Vienna). And my historical romance, Rightfully His (which I just released as an ebook on Nook and Kindle) begins over the holidays in 1822.

In both books it was fun weaving in holiday traditions - Vienna Waltz allowed me to have a Christmas tree, a custom Dorothée brought with her from Berlin. I also made a mistake in anticipating the composition of Stille Nacht by two years. It's always the things I think I know and don't look up that trip me up... Rightfully His has scenes of Yuletide decorating, aholiday party, and assembling Christmas baskets. I was trying to remember today why I chose to start the book over the holidays. I'm not sure it was a conscious decision, but I think perhaps I wanted to juxtapose the holiday cheer against the less than cheerful events that begin the story. Which is quite different from the novellas my mom and I wrote where our aim was to evoke an atmosphere of holiday warmth and cheer.

What are your favorite books or stories that feature any of the mid-winter holidays?

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19 December 2011

Word Abuse

A few of us were having a grand old time on Twitter recently with the OED. Yes, we’re geeks of first order. It was brought on by my semi-regular #RegencySlang postings, wherein I highlight words from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785/1811; yes the editions are different). I’m often surprised by words that were clearly in use at the time. Bedfordshire, for example (as in “I am for Bedfordshire”, i.e. going to bed) seems very modern to me (it’s also one of the words that’s in the 1811 edition, but not the 1785 edition). I also like to highlight strange or fun words that I think should be added to our collective Georgian/Regency vocabularies. Beau Trap is one that I love. It’s that loose stone in a cobble street that splashes dirty water onto your shoes and stockings when you step on it. Brilliant! And Bedizened (over-dressed, awkwardly ornamented, gaudy). Sounds like “bedazzled” and I think in context any reader would get it (as in this quote from the OED: “I took him for a Captain, he's so bedizen'd with Lace.”).

The discussion segued (as happens on Twitter) into a mea culpa discussion about words that we knowingly use even though they’re not period. One of my main contenders is Mount. The act of climbing into the saddle (1330) or sexual intercourse (1475) are both perfectly period for my 18th century settings, but—and this is a big but for me—the use of mount as a synonym for horse is Victorian (1856). Even knowing this, I use it anyway, as I tend to write “horsey” characters and the need for synonyms is pressing.

I don’t make this decision lightly. It comes down to whether or not I think the usage breaks the historical mood and is likely to make the reader stumble and think, “When the hell was this book set again?”. And I don’t think it does. I think you could get away with “His mount snapped his teeth at the rider beside them.” in a book set in Roman Britain as well as a 21st century Texas.

Are there any words that you know aren’t period, but you can’t resist using? Come on, fess up?

From the OED

a. intr. To get up on to the back of a horse or other animal (occas. on a person's shoulders) for the purpose of riding. With on, upon, †to.

c1330 (1300) Arthour & Merlin (Auch.) (1973) 9230 Þo mounted Arthour, Bohort, and Ban Wiþ alle her wi't compainie.

a. To climb on to (a partner or mate) for the purpose of sexual intercourse. Also intr.In early use freq. with punning allusion to sense 13c; and in quot. c1564 to sense 5b.


[implied in: a1475 in F. J. Furnivall Jyl of Breyntford's Test. (1871) 31 The leste fyngere on my honde Is more than he [sc. the penis], whan he dothe stonde‥Sory mowntyng come there-on. [at mounting n. 1]

a. orig. colloq. A horse, bicycle, etc., on which a person is mounted or which a person rides or drives; a horse, etc., provided for riding.

1856 ‘Stonehenge’ Man. Brit. Rural Sports 363/1 The jockey‥receiving information from the trainer as to the peculiarities of his mount.

16 December 2011

Frankly, my dear . . .

Every single year I watch “Gone With the Wind” again, and every single year I thrill to the burning of Atlanta and Rhett’s impassioned kiss as he goes off to join the army and I weep at the sight of hundreds of wounded men lying untended in the railroad yard. This year I decided to re-read Margaret Mitchell’s book, which I haven’t done since I was 16, and I must admit I learned a great deal about writing.

First, it’s very, very difficult to read heavy dialect such as Uncle Peter’s and Mammy’s. Mitchell grew up in Atlanta, a Southerner through and through. She began working on the book in 1926 and understood instinctively that simplifying the dialect of the 1860s would not have been authentic. Consequently, I ploughed through passages like “Dis Miss Scarlett, ain’ it? Dis’ hyah Peter, Miss Pitty’s coachman. Doan step down in dat mud … “You is as bad as Miss Pitty an’ she lak a chile ‘bout gittin’ her feets wet. Lemme cahy you.”

I now understand why my editor says “go easy on using dialect.”

Second, Mitchell has pages and pages of inner thought for Scarlett, and as fascinating a character as she is, after a while the reader tires of such extensive ruminating. Today’s readers (as today’s editors understand) have much shorter attention spans; hence, passages of inner-thinking are more limited.

Third, I see why the screenwriters limited the number of characters. In the film, Scarlett’s first child, Beau, conceived with Charles Hamilton, is omitted entirely. In the book, Scarlett’s treatment of Beau as an encumbrance and an annoyance shows her selfishness, but in the film these qualities are shown through her actions, her speech, and her facial expressions. Consequently, Beau is not really needed.

I take this to heart as a writer who tends to sprinkle secondary characters here and there simply because they are interesting to me. They may add background color, but they don’t augment the plot.

Fourth, I note that the scene choices made by the screenwriters are limited to the most memorable, most character-revealing, most action-oriented ones: Ashley and Scarlett in the library at Twelve Oaks; Melanie’s birth scene; Scarlett’s discovery of her mother’s body when she returns to Tara and her oath after eating the radish; Big Sam and the “Hoss, make tracks!” line; Rhett’s proposal after Frank Kennedy’s funeral; Bonnie’s death. And of course, Melanie’s death, which for the past 25 years has left me sobbing.

As a writer I learned from the film’s screenwriters to make my scenes full of action, visually memorable, and emotionally moving.

Finally, as to the epic scope of a novel: In the book there are long, long passages of war strategy and the ups and downs of particular battles. As a history buff I thoroughly enjoyed these episodes, but as a writer I realize most readers won’t. The screenwriters limited such exposition to written summaries scrolling across the screen and a few “telling” scenes of wounded soldiers, ragged refugee, and Twelve Oaks burned out to a single staircase.

Of great interest to me as a writer is Mitchell’s method: she jotted down bits and pieces on the backs of notebooks, working from the last page to the front (I thought I was the only one who did that). She began work on the manuscript in 1926 and wrote until poor health made her stop. She forgot about it until 1935, when Macmillan Company first read it and immediately decided to publish it. Three weeks after publication in 1936, the book had sold 176,000 copies; after one year, 1,383,000 copies had been printed. In 1937 Mitchell won the Putlitzer Prize and in 1939 the motion picture version was released.

Over 20,000,000 readers have read the work; 26 foreign language editions have been printed, and it has appeared in both Braille and Talking Book forms for the blind.

To the question, “Did Scarlett get Rhett back?” Mitchell consistently said she didn’t know. To her, the book ended where it ended. In 1949, Margaret Mitchell died in Atlanta.

Each time I see “Gone With the Wind,” I note something new that a writer such as myself should pay attention to. Now I await next year’s screening . . . .

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12 December 2011

Rodney for ever

I love novelty mugs. My roommate and I have a pretty hefty collection.

And I love looking at other people's mugs when I'm in their kitchen. It's not as good as snooping in their bookshelves, of course--but then, what is?

A Lily Among Thorns has a scene where my hero makes hot chocolate for my heroine after she wakes up from a nightmare.  I knew if Solomon were living today, he'd be one of those guys who owns six mismatched plates and four mugs, all of which were given him by his family ("Team Jacob" from his little sister, "Chemists do it on a table periodically" from his uncle, and a Moulin Rouge souvenir mug from his twin brother's semester in Paris).  But I wasn't sure what the Regency equivalent would be.  Turns out the Regency equivalent is novelty mugs!  Consumer impulses haven't changed much at all.  There were commemorative mugs, mugs with political cartoons on, souvenir mugs from places...

I ended up giving Solomon one that said "A Present from Swansea" (he's from Cheshire, which borders Wales), and one with Nelson's portrait on it. I took the first one directly from this lovely plate in the Swansea Museum:

It's from 1855, but I couldn't bring myself to care. I'm a little in love with this plate, to be honest.

Nelson memorabilia was a huge thing. You can see lots more of it in this Molly Joyful blog post and this auction website, but here's one of my favorites (from that second link), a Staffordshire jug with Nelson on one side and Hardy on the other. The site gives it a tentative date of 1810, but all the other similar ones I've seen were released closer to Trafalgar, so who knows. (Any Nelson/Hardy 'shippers in the house? If you haven't seen this Kate Beaton comic, you definitely should.)

Amazingly, I found another example of the EXACT SAME JUG, only painted to say "Captain Berry"!  I like to imagine that it was common for girls to ask each other, "Are you Team Hardy or Team Berry?"

Here are a few of my favorites from Martyn Edgell Antiques, a great resource for these. This one was apparently put out for an election. The caption says, "Sir Philip Musgrave was elected M.P. for Westmoreland."

Neatly painted blue-and-white plate reading 'Sir Philip Musgrave Bart. and the Constitution' over crossed flags

Why don't politicians do this now? Or do they and I just don't know about it?

 Here's one that I almost want to leave without any context because it's so amazing:

Rodney for ever! You can see some more angles and the outside of the bowl at the site, here, which says "Pearlware bowl commemorating Lord Rodney, circa 1790." Turns out he's another British naval hero. My favorite line of his Wikipedia entry is probably, "In London he suggested to Lord George Germain that George Washington could 'certainly be bought--honours will do it.'" (But the whole thing is really interesting!)

I'll end with a couple of cool Queen Caroline mugs:

Short round white mug with a wide painted red rim and a black-and-white design. In the center is a faded portrait of Queen Caroline surrounded by the text 'If you wish, to know a Bright Star of the Morn, That cheers a whole nation, all lost and forlorn, 'Tis that Feminine Planet long may she shine, Heaven protect her, our QUEEN CAROLINE'

The site says this is to commemorate her death in 1821.

mug with a metallic rim, missing handle, and black and white portrait of the queen with 'God save Queen Caroline' written below it

This one's in the Museum of London. Apparently the other side reads:

As for the Green-Bag crew 
Justice will have its due 
God Save the Queen! 
Confound their politicks 
Frustrate their knavish tricks 
On HER our hopes we fix 
God Save the Queen! 

("Green-Bag crew" is a reference to the royal divorce trial, when George IV submitted the alleged evidence of his wife's adultery to the House of Lords in two green bags.)

Tell me about your favorite mug!

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05 December 2011

New Hoyden: Rose Lerner!

I’m beyond thrilled to announce that Rose Lerner is joining History Hoydens. Rose writes the most amazing historical romances, with a Heyer-esque feel (and I mean that in the best sense possible) and heroines that are endearingly real and wonderfully tough in their own, special ways.

Rose’s debut novel, In For a Penny, crashed into the romance world with a great deal of very positive buzz. Eloisa James called it “charming and original”. I know those words are often attached to books, but in this case they’re utterly true. Rose’s follow up, A Lily Among Thorns was equally well received. Courtney Milan claims to have loved it even more than In For a Penny, which is saying something! The fact that she was voted best debut author for 2011 by readers over at All About Romance tells its own story.

Rose is also a major research wonkette, like so many of us here, so I expect her contributions to the blog will be insightful and very, very interesting.

Please join me in welcoming her to the blog!

02 December 2011

History in the Attic

Did anyone see the 150
year old photo of slave children that has recently turned up in an attic estate sale? A rare photo, very haunting, but a testament to a dark time in American History. The boys, one who is identified as John (and who was purchased for a price of $1150) are looking straight into the camera and the sadness and suffering is so apparent. This particular photo was taken around the end of the civil war so they might have been recently freed (one can only hope) but they still look so lost.

I've found some history in the houses I have lived in: old medicine bottles with the labels still on them. Dr. Whitaker's Elixir (cures gas, chilblains, sort throats, melancholia and diarrhea....); old Civil War photos of family members who were soldiers, a post card from the front in WWI from a sad soldier who feared his sweetheart had forgotten him. I've found a stash of 1888 ceramic beer bottle caps with the brewers stamp still readable and a life-sized poster of John Wayne from the 1940s. My friend found her great grand mother's Parisian opera fan (ostrich feathers!) in a trunk, circa 1900.

Finding these things makes me think about the person who owned them and what their life was like. The monetary doesn't matter so much, but the history to me is priceless. What have you found in an attic, basement or behind the mantle piece? Anything interesting?

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History in the Attic

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