History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 January 2012

Teen Brides & Other Age Related Misconceptions

A simple question on Twitter about whether readers preferred younger or older heroines led to me want to address what appear to be rather common misunderstandings about the late Georgian/Regency period (much like my Just How Tall Were People? post, I hope this will be helpful to readers and other authors who just want the facts laid out). So we go, let’s spend a little time talking about things like life expectancy and just how old was a girl when she was deemed to be “at her last prayers”?

My go to book for this is the wonderfully detailed The Family, Sex and Marriage by Lawrence Stone. It’s full of wonderful charts such as the “Proportion of children of peers who reached the age of fifty and never married” to the “Median age at first Marriage of children of peers” and the “Median life-span of heirs of the squirarchy and above who reached the age of twenty-one”.

The editor who posted the original question thought that young (teen) brides were the norm for the Regency and that “30 was middle-aged”. Neither of these statements is true per Stone’s analysis of the historical record (and seeminly large age gaps were not the norm either).

Let’s begin with the most important question: How old were most daughters of the peerage (the most common heroines in our books) when they married for the first time? Stone’s chart shows that during the first part of the era, the median age was ~20-22. Post 1750 (correlating with the passage of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act; Coincidence?), that age jumps up to ~23-24. So, the most common age for the daughter of a peer to marry was not when she was in her teens, but when she was in her early 20s, and an unmarried twenty-five year old would not really be much of an outlier.

Among the sons of peers there is another interesting bit of information: up until c. 1725 the heirs had tended to marry before their younger brothers (~26 vs. ~28). But like the girls, the median age of heirs’ first marriage suddenly jumps up until by 1750 they are holding out until they’re 29-30 (there is no corresponding change for younger sons).

The percentage of peers’ children who had not married by the time they were 50 bounces around between 15%-20% for both sexes, with the percent of “old maids" being a steady 2%-3% larger than that of “confirmed bachelors”.

Finally, life expectancy for these same heirs is in the 65-70 year range (so about 5-10 years less than today, which is unsurprising given the huge strides medicine has made in treating disease and the care of the elderly).

So there’s a little fact-based blog post you can point people to should this crop up again on Twitter (as I’m sure it will) or should a reader ask you about why your heroine is so damn old, LOL!

25 January 2012

The Garden Intrigue

I've been in the midst of Book Launch Countdown for my next book, The Garden Intrigue (coming to a bookstore near you on February 16!). There's a reason it wound up with "Garden" in the title. A large part of the book is set in Josephine Bonaparte's famous garden at Malmaison. Since the plot was so dependent on the location, I knew I had to go check it out. (Although I was pretty sure I wouldn't run across anything like this.)

Malmaison is a bit of a strange beast– er, house, and never more so than in the summer of 1804, when The Garden Intrigue takes place. As you can see from the facade pictured here, it started out as a simple gentleman’s house, not what anyone would call humble, but certainly not a palace. It served as an informal weekend place for the Bonapartes and their friends, a place where Josephine’s teenage children and Bonaparte’s younger aides would play games of Prisoner’s Base in the back yard and the entire family would engage in amateur theatricals.

The problem? In 1804, Napoleon had himself voted Emperor. Malmaison scarcely had room for the imperial family, much less their retinue. What it did have, though, was land. Lots of land. Josephine Bonaparte had the grounds at Malmaison designed and redesigned, constantly adding to her garden. There was room to build a miniature theater for the family's amateur theatricals and also to erect temporary tents to house the growing numbers of staff required to wait upon the Bonapartes and their growing retinue.

The back of the house boasted a wilderness garden, complete with artificial stream and artfully artless follies. Here’s one of my rather lopsided photos of the back of the house:

Here’s what it would have looked like when Emma (heroine of The Garden Intrigue) was partying there:

And here I am, checking it out. (Confession: I’d broken the heel off a shoe tromping around Paris, so I was forced to roll up the hems of my jeans and resort to my only-in-case-of-emergency pink moccasins. That's why I look like a little kid playing dress-up in someone else's clothes.)

I’m standing right near the spot where Napoleon’s private theatre once stood. Unfortunately, it was torn down long, long ago– but it was there in 1804, home to the Bonaparte family’s amateur theatricals. (And, of course, to a masque by one Mr. Augustus Whittlesby!)

Sadly, not much of Josephine’s famous rose garden remains. I visited in October– and the book is set in summer– so you have to imagine all of this blooming wildly. You can also read all about in Jardin De La Malmaison: Empress Josephine's Garden .

On the other hand, Napoleon’s summer house did survive. The Emperor liked to work out here in hot weather, a detail than proved very useful for the purposes of my plot.

What struck me the most about the place-- which I hope came through in the book-- was how very small and modest it really was. You could see why they had to put servants, and sometimes their guests, in tents in the garden. More than anything else, Malmaison provides a visual representation of the odd leap from private citizen to Emperor. No matter how Napoleon tweaked the estate, it could never be a truly imperial residence.

You can find the first chapter of The Garden Intrigue here.

23 January 2012

I have a touch of the Lawrence today

Sweet Disorder, my current WIP, is set in Sussex. As part of my research I read A Glossary of the Provincialisms in Use in the County of Sussex by William Durrant Cooper, first published in 1834. I had it printed at Third Place Books on their espresso machine. The guy who worked there did a whole comedic bit: "Why don't we stock this all the time? We really didn't have this on the shelves?"

The quote says "Juvat haec obsoleta servari, aliquando profutura. --WACHTER." Any Latin speakers out there want to translate?

 Language is obviously one of my favorite things (as I suspect it is for a lot of you) so I was absolutely fascinated! (And incidentally I was able to understand some dialogue in the Cold Comfort Farm movie that previously eluded me.)  

Many of them are very specific and have to do with farming, wildlife, and the Sussex landscape, like: 

"BACKSTERS, s. Wide, flat pieces of wood, shaped to the feet, to walk over loose beach." (s. means noun, presumably short for "subject"?)

"DALLOP, s. A packet or lump of tea, weighing from six to sixteen pounds, so packed for the convenience of smuggling."

"JUG, s. A nickname given to the men of Brighton." 

 And look at this:  "BARTON, s. A yard or enclosure near a house." Barton Cottage, anyone? 

 There are a lot of words, too, which were regionalisms at the time and have now entered into the common language: "bosky," "bumptious," "cosy," "fogey," "frumpy," "gallivanting," "grumpy," "moonshine," "nudge," "ramshackle," "skinflint," "slam," "a to-do," "transmogrify" (!), and more. And look at this: "DIBS, s. The small bones in the knees of a sheep or lamb, uniting the upper and lower bones of the leg: a game is played with five of these bones." Is this the origin of "I call dibs"? 

Apparently there are also many similarities linguistically between Sussex dialect and the English of the American South! Cf. the use of "be" as the conjugated form of "to be" or "CRACKLIN, s. The hard skin of roast pork."

But some of them are just great words that I think it is a shame are NOT in common usage! Here are a few of my favorites, which I would like to reintroduce into the language: 

"ARGUIFY, v. and adj. Signify, argue. To import, have weight in an argument." I really wish there were more usage examples in this book! I imagine this being used in a sentence something like this: "Clark Kent wears glasses, which arguifies that he cannot be Superman." 

"BAIT, s. Luncheon." 

"BARNACLES, s. Spectacles." 

"BONKER or BUNKER, v. [Bon coeur, Fr. Good heart.] To outdo another in feats of agility, such as to jump better over a gate, ditch, wall, or hedge, a good heart or courage being neceassary." I'm glad he gave so many examples of things you can jump over! 

"CARP-PIE, s. To eat carp-pie, is to submit to another person's carping at your acts, &c." 

"CHAVISH, s. A chattering of many birds or noisy persons." 

"DUNNAMANY and DUNNAMUCH. [Corruptions of I don't know how many or much.]" 

"FLUTTERMOUSE, W.; FLINDERMOUSE, E.; FLITTERMOUSE, E., s. [Fledermaus, G.; Vliddermuys, Du.] A bat." The W means West Sussex and the E means East. I know that Fledermaus is just the German word for bat but I still find the word "fluttermouse" so precious. 

"GAPESEED, s. A passing object to stare at. A servant staring from a window is said to be 'sowing gape-seed.'" 

"LAWRENCE, s. A kind of imaginary saint or fairy, whose influence produces indolence, thus, 'I caunt get up, for Lawrence ha'e completely got holt an me,'--"I ha'e got a touch o' ol' Lawrence to-dee; I be troubled to git ane wud me work.' This person is also known in Dorsetshire, &c." 

"MOCK-BEGGAR HALL, s. A house which[...]has an inviting external aspect, but within is poor and bare, dirty and disorderly, disappointing to those who beg alms at the door." 

"MUCH-OF-A-MUCHNESS, and MUCH ONE. Much the same; with little or nothing to choose between." 

"SLAPPEL, or SLAVVEN, s. A large piece. Synonymous with hunk." 

"SNACK, v. [Snacken, Du., a match.] To share or be in partnership with. 'We'll go snacks;' i.e., 'We will divide.'" 

"SNOOZLE, v. To lie close together; to nestle; to cuddle; to hide the face in the bosom, as children do." 

"TOL-LOL, adj. Tolerably well." 

"WHILK, v. To howl like a dog, S. To mutter to one's self, as a person does when offended. E."

 If you could bring one word or phrase into common usage, what would it be?

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20 January 2012

Way Back Then – or Was It?

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to stumble across an occasion where I’m not sure what century it happened in.

Very early one morning, I was driving down a narrow road through a national park. A brick house rose out of the mist and forest to my right. A Civil War soldier relaxed in the doorway, rolling a cigarette, his musket beside him. When I glanced back an instant later, he’d vanished – with no signs of another modern vehicle anywhere around.

I felt as if I’d set foot on a Civil War battlefield during the 1860s.

The first time I visited Williamsburg, the weather was freezing cold and the wind howled. Very few guests came that February. Traversing the old city meant dashing from one building to the next, always hoping the door would be unlocked. By the end of the day, my family was chilled to the bone and desperate for more comfort than a historically accurate slate floor to rest our senses on.

We lunged into the last house before the bus stop back to the hotel, figuring it would be more comfortable to wait there than on a bench in the open air.

Instead we found soft pastel colors and artwork, wrapped in warmth. The mansion was a beautiful house, a loving recreation of where Williamsburg’s finest citizens had once debated the meaning of patriotism. We started to happily wander its halls but a delicious aroma caught our attention.

Soon we found ourselves downstairs, in the kitchen, staring at an enormous table covered with a feast fit for a king. A turkey, a goose, and more, glowed under candlelight, more lovely and believable than any magazine spread because I could see all the little details behind making it.

And it all smelled so incredibly good.

For an instant, I felt as if I’d been transported back to 1775 Williamsburg.

When I write, I try to capture moments like those, when my senses came alive in another time period, and use them for my characters and their world. The relaxed ease of a man, his cigarette, and a heavy musket. The enormous cave of an old-fashioned kitchen hearth with its heavy pots, balanced by the food’s subtle aromas… Hopefully, the result’s vivid enough to transport the reader back to another century.

Authors, have you ever experienced a moment when you almost touched another time? Have you used it in your writing?

Readers, have you ever read something that swept you into another time?

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16 January 2012

Welcome, Sara Ramsey!

Sara Ramsey  is a local Romance Writers of America chaptermate of mine, so I've been conversant with her career trajectory for several years now. She's a past Golden Heart winner (two of her books have finaled), and I'm really excited that these books are now being released into the wild as The Muses of Mayfair Series (with two more to come after her debut). 

HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE is a Nook First pick and will be available exclusively on the Nook starting January 23. It will release in print and on all other ebook platforms on February 23. Sara will give away an ebook copy (any format) to a random commenter on today’s post, and will be stopping by throughout the day to answer questions.

 You can read the first chapter here (and if you're anything like me, you'll be hooked!). 

One title to change his life…
A disgraced son with a dark reputation, William “Ferguson” Avenel is content to live in exile – until his father dies in the scandal of the Season. With rumors of insanity swirling around them, his sisters desperately need a chaperone. Ferguson thinks he’s found the most proper woman in England – and he won’t ruin her, even if he desperately wants the passionate woman trapped beneath a spinster’s cap.

One chance to break the rules…
Lady Madeleine Vaillant can’t face her blighted future without making one glorious memory for herself. In disguise, on a London stage, she finds all the adoration she never felt from the ton. But when she’s nearly recognized, she will do anything to hide her identity – even setting up her actress persona as Ferguson’s mistress. She’ll take the pleasure he offers, but Madeleine won’t lose her heart in the bargain.

One season to fall in love…
Every stolen kiss could lead to discovery, and Ferguson’s old enemies are determined to ruin them both. But as their dangerous passion ignites their hearts and threatens their futures, how can an heiress who dreams of freedom deny the duke who demands her love?

HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE is set in 1812.  Is there a particular reason you chose that year? Any key historical event you wanted to include (or avoid!)?

Sarah Siddons, one of the most beloved actresses of her day, retired in 1812. She doesn’t appear in my book, but my heroine is an actress, so 1812 is a subtle homage to Mrs. Siddons. Also, the next books in my series involve bits about the East India Company, the Corn Laws, and Waterloo, so it made sense to kick off the series earlier in the decade. And I want to avoid the “year without a summer” in 1816 and the mourning for Princess Charlotte in 1817, since it sounds positively miserable!

How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

I fell in love with the Regency through the romance novels I started reading (way too young, cough cough) – I started with Westerns and medievals and sheikhs and pirates, but I always found my way back to Regencies. I think the Regency is so beloved because it yields all sorts of awesome fantasies, but it’s also more accessible than earlier time periods and less industrialized than later ones. The clothes are way more appealing than Georgian powdered wigs or Victorian hoopskirts. The parties are fabulous, the houses have more privacy than in past centuries, and the plumbing is on the verge of getting better (yielding heroes whom you can believe actually bathe every day ;)

The Regency is also interesting to me because I think it mirrors 21st century America – wars fought on foreign soils without a lot of sacrifice (from a rationing sense) on the homefront; extreme divides between rich and poor; and odd, uncomfortable shifts between vast excess and prudishness. So I think books set in the Regency give authors and readers a chance to think about modern life with a glossy bit of distance for those who just want the fantasy.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

I don’t love the actual position of women in Regency society. If I lost my entire identity and all my rights upon marriage, I would either never marry, or find a tottering old (and titled, of course!) dude and hope for a quick end to him. But current romance novels tend toward heroines who aren’t meek, well-behaved, obedient wives. I’m sure strong, rebellious women existed, but I’m also guessing that – like all the dukes we’ve created – they didn’t exist in the droves that populate Romancelandia. I try to have my characters behave appropriately for the period, but I’ll happily admit that my heroines are probably more empowered than they might have been in 1812.

Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?
I completely ignored the assassination of Spencer Perceval, the prime minister, on May 11, 1812. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in a Regency romance, and I didn’t know it had happened until I was checking the timeline for the book, so I decided most readers wouldn’t notice if I didn’t acknowledge it. If nothing else, we should all just pretend that my hero and heroine don’t care about current events J

Also, I’m sure there are times when Ferguson should be wearing pantaloons instead of breeches. But let’s face it – pantaloons just don’t sound sexy. I’d rather get flak over his pants from the people who know than have modern readers incorrectly picture him in some sort of frilly bloomers!

Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find at least one after the book has gone to press. *sigh*

I found a potential gaff just this week. My hero’s father and brother die in a murder/suicide, which the family covered up as a carriage accident. But I didn’t know that suicide was such a legal issue during the Regency – I knew it was a scandal, but I didn’t know that a suicide would be punished postmortem by confiscation of property. Luckily the brother was the suicide and wouldn’t have had much left to confiscate, but if I had known that earlier, I might have referrenced it.

Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite childhood pet, or his first kiss.  Or maybe what Heyer heroine you could see him falling for?

Ferguson started out as a redhead, but after two different beta readers said they were seeing Carrot Top rather than Prince Harry, I yielded to public opinion and made him a dark auburn. And he’s definitely a schemer – he plots to get what he wants, and since he wants my heroine, you can be sure he’ll contrive some great schemes to win her. He can laugh at almost anything, so if a plan fails, don’t expect him to brood for long.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I knew next to nothing about British theatre, but my heroine, Madeleine, is an actress, so I had to do some research there. Madeleine plays Hamlet, and even though everyone knows she’s a woman, the wig and costuming help to protect her real identity. The most fascinating bit I learned about the theatre was how often women during the Regency played “breeches roles” – either roles written intentionally for women dressed as men, or originally male roles given to a woman. Sarah Siddons was the first woman to play Hamlet in the late 1700s, but these cross-dressing roles continued throughout the Regency. I had already planned to have Madeleine cross-dress at the theatre, but I was extremely relieved when my research supported my plans.

I was amused to see that you and I share an obsession with Robin McKinley’s wonderful Damar books (The Hero and the Crown  and The Blue Sword), and that most of your favorites are also on my list of keepers. Would you like to talk a little about what makes these particular kind of heroines your favorites?

I’m really drawn to all of McKinley’s heroines because they have a sort of stiff upper lip – like real people, they get worried/terrified/overwhelmed, but they just keep going and muddle their way through with intuition rather than letting all the things they don’t know petrify them. A lot of my life has felt like that – I may not be fighting dragons or demon sorcerors, but moving from Iowa to California at eighteen and pursuing writing were both leaps into the great unknown that I was completely unprepared for. So I love stories about normal, unprepared women doing extraordinary things for themselves and their friends.

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

My writing process is really, really ugly. I’m theoretically a plotter, but I’ll get halfway into the book and pants my way into a completely different ending, which requires multiple drafts to sort out. I tend to do the equivalent of 1.5 rough drafts, since I have to rewrite so much of the beginning to match the new ending; then I go through a polish draft and a proofreading draft. I’m trying to avoid scrapping every beginning, but I haven’t been successful yet – if anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!

The Golden Heart. I have to ask about it. Anything you want to share about your experience (I blathered about mine on my website, LOL!)?

Winning the Regency Golden Heart in 2009 and finaling in 2011 were an absolutely amazing experiences, and I can’t speak highly enough about the opportunities and confidence it gave me. It sped up the process of signing with an agent, and the week of Nationals felt like an extended prom – one where I was the belle of the ball, not hanging out on the bleachers with my friends (my school was tiny, and prom was in the gym...so the Golden Heart beats it by a mile).

The best part of the Golden Heart, though, was meeting so many other great writers from all over the US, Canada, and Australia. The 2009 group has stayed very active, starting the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog, and the 2011 group has also stayed in touch. This was possibly the best way to meet authors I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know, and since they’re all great writers with bright futures ahead, I feel really, really lucky to be involved with them. 

What are you planning to work on next?

I’m finishing up edits on SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, which is the follow-up to HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE – it should be out in March. The series focuses on a secret club of female artists who help each other pursue their artistic passions: HEIRESS features an actress, SCOTSMEN has an author, and the third book, THE MARQUESS WHO LOVED ME, involves a painter. If the audience loves these books, I’ve got three more in the plotting phases; if not, I’ll cry into my wineglass for a day or two, and then finish the super-secret YA project I keep coming back to before starting a new Regency series. 2012 is going to be a busy year, and I’m really excited to get my books out to readers!

Don't forget that Sara is giving away a copy and that she'll be stopping by to answer questions!

13 January 2012

Historical Romance: The Keeper Collection

Every now and then I stop reading romance. I have to, I find. Usually it's when I am in one of those moods where it doesn't feel like the stories could possibly ever really happen---no man is ever that much of a hero and no heroine is ever that beautiful and plucky, or resilient, or brave, or smart...

So I try other kinds of fiction for a while and usually come to a sad place where I feel like I might have "outgrown romance" ---as a reader and a writer.

Then I stop writing romance for a while. I can't find my muse, can't find the time, or frankly, I start feeling like I just "don't feel the love" for romance...if you know what I mean.

But then out of the blue, something happens and I snap out of it. I read a book that fires me up and excites me, keeps me thinking about it long after I've finished that last page. This time that book was published a decade ago, but one that I have only just discovered and will certainly put in my "Keeper Collection."

The book is FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, written by the wonderful historical romance writer Laura Kinsale.

Wow. What a story. A rakish duke, felled by a stroke and plotting family, is seriously handicapped and angry---and rescued by a Quaker heroine, one who is not so beautiful and who's good at math. This book is 533 pages long and steeped in conflict and characterization and in deep emotion. These amazing characters drove the story in a way that was so plausible, so real I felt for them.

And kudos to Ms. Kinsale for the incredible amount of research that made that book transport me back in time---to a place where stroke victims were thought to be lunatics because they could not understand, be understood or speak, and were often sent to an insane asylum. The author's careful attention to inheritance law, and to the facts surrounding the Quaker movement in England and yes, to the academic study of mathematics at that time is so apparent and so well done.

For a few hours on New Years Eve in 2011, right into the first few hours of 2012 I sat there reading FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, lost in the time and place, caught up in the lives of these two people (who were soooo meant to be together). I read until 2am. That doesn't happen too often. This was a book I could not put down.

What a way to ring in the New Year!

I'm back on the romance writting (and reading) wagon again. Glad to have found an old book that gave me a new, renewed enthusiasm for a genre I will always love. I will always be a fan, I know.

Has anyone had read one a "keeper" romance lately that got you going again after a dry spell? I'd love to hear about it. I want more!

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11 January 2012

The Younger Set

My daughter Mélanie turned four weeks old yesterday. It's hard to believe it's already been four weeks, but at the same time it's already difficult to remember there was ever a time when she wasn't a part of my life. Of course babies and children are much on my mind. When I got back to writing - the week between Christmas and New Year's, well before I thought I'd be able to - I found myself tending to have the heroine remember when her son (who is a two-year-old in the book) was a newborn. I can already see that Mélanie is going to influence my writing. Yet though this will be the first book I've written as a mother, there've been children in every book I've written, going back to the Regency romances I wrote with my own mom. I even wrote one book where the heroine gave birth - I've rarely done research which later proved so relevant to my own life.

I've always liked children in books. Georgette Heyer has some wonderful young characters, from Charles Rivenhall's young siblings in The Grand Sophy to Jessamy and Felix in Frederica to Edmund in Sylvester. All of them are interesting, well-rounded characters in their own right, and they also serve as interesting foils for the heroes and heroines, bringing out different sides of their personalities, creating conflict, and giving them common cause. They can cut right through the elaborate formality of an aristocratic historical setting, as Felix does with his talk about his scientific experiments and cheerful disregard for protocol.

Lauren has a wonderful pair of children in The Orchid Affair. They can be said to bring the heroine and hero together, in that the hero is their father and the heroine becomes their governess, but the children, particularly the girl, who is older, are far from fostering any developing romance. Watching the children, and their relationship to both their father and the heroine, grow and change is one of the delights of the book. The children add moments of humor and also raise the tension as the hero's enemies threaten his children as well.

What are some of your favorite child characters in books? Writers, do you like writing about children? What elements do you think they bring to a story?

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09 January 2012

Anatomy 101: The Hymen (revisited)

Over at SmartBitches, Sarah has a lovely rant on this topic, so I thought I'd dredge up and repost the one I did back in 2006. I'm really happy to see that others agree with me on this topic, and I'm glad to see it reaching a wider audience. I'd like to recommend a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves to every woman out there. Seriously, we should all own a copy of this book. It should be handed out in health classes in junior high.

The original post

Contrary to what appears to be popular mythology (at least among the writers of romance and erotica) the hymen is not a “barrier” (except in RARE cases that require surgery; 1 in 2000 per Blaustein's Pathology of the Female Genital Tract) nor is it up inside the vaginal canal as it is commonly represented to be in fiction.

It’s a tiny bit of sensitive skin that usually runs along the sides and bottom (along the perineum) of the vaginal opening. Yep, right there on the outside, and it only disappears when a woman gives birth (so it’s not a reliable method of verifying chastity). Fingers, tampons, and usually penises will slide right past it without disturbing it in the least (less than half of all women surveyed report bleeding resulting from their “first time” per Forensic Medicine: Clinical and Pathological Aspects).

This being the case, when a woman has intercourse for the first time the man is not going to encounter some tell-tale barrier membrane that he has to burst through, and even if it were, it would prevent him from inserting his penis at all, he wouldn’t be part way in and then feel it.

I’m tired of encountering anatomically impossible deflowering scenes, so today’s post is my blow for physical accuracy. Am I the only one out there who is amazed that women can be so ignorant about their own bodies? Am I the only one disturbed that editors don’t catch this? I mean come on, this is basic anatomy.

06 January 2012

Gauchos & Gumption

My new book, Gauchos & Gumption, My Argentine Honeymoon, will be released in digital format January 7th from Turquoise Morning Press (www.turquoisemorningpress.com). It’s a (fictionalized) diary kept by my grandmother, Leora Marie Banning, who as a new bride of 18 sailed off to South America to run cattle on the Argentine pampas. The year is 1910.

Far from civilization, Marie struggles to adjust to the rough life of the pampas, to be accepted for herself, and to realize what loving her husband demands. She learns to make ostrich egg omelets, converse in Spanish with the gauchos, and wear “bombaches,” the baggy, calf-length pants worn by the Argentine cowhands.

Then, camped a thousand miles from Buenos Aires, Marie discovers she is pregnant. The battle to save herself and her unborn child challenges everything she believes in.

This memoir is based on stories that Marie related to her granddaughter, author Lynna Banning, while she was growing up. The photographs included in the print version of the book are those Marie herself took during her travels using a simple Kodak box camera; these photos were later inherited by the author.

The print version of the book will be released January 22.

Below are the opening entries in the diary…

July 17, 1910

I have had a disaster, of all things. This morning old Mr. Strader’s new buggy and that horse he’s so proud of ran away with him on the way to town. I was just starting across the Floras Creek bridge when I heard it coming and saw Mr. Strader, his eyes wild, hauling on the reins and yelling, “Get out of the way, ya damn fool!”

Well, I couldn’t. The horse was coming too fast, and I was caught halfway across. I clung to the side rail and made myself as small as possible, but the mare’s front hoot caught my skirt and down I went. I didn’t feel a thing at first except for my skirt ripping, but when I tried to get up, I knew something was broken.

Something, indeed! Dr. Engell in Langlois pronounced my ankle crushed and suggested I keep off my feet until the bones could mend. It isn’t my broken ankle that was troublesome, I told him. It’s that my wedding is only four days away! “Postpone it,” he said.

But of course I cannot. Claude has booked passage on the Franklin Pierce—we sail for South America the day after the ceremony. If necessary, I have decided I will be married on crutches.

But oh, the aggravation of it! I hope the next time Mr. Strader takes that buggy out he turns it over and breaks his neck!

July 21, 1910

Crutches it was. Bulky wooden contrivances so heavy they weigh more than I do. Early in the day, Claude rode in from Dixonville and we spoke our vows under Mama’s rose arbor. Olla stood up with me, even though she is in a condition and beginning to show. She cried and Mama cried, and I could hear Papa snorting into his handerchief.

I managed to stand up for the entire ceremony and greet most of the guests from neighboring ranches with my new husband at my side.

Afterward, Papa took me aside. He called me his “kleine Molly,” but when he opened his mouth to say more, nothing came out. He blew his nose again and hugged me so tight one of my crutches toppled into Mama’s yellow Damask rosebush. Claude retrieved it while I dried my eyes.

Tomorrow I will sail far away, below the equator, and I am sad at the thought of leaving. I am the second of their seven—only Grace is older. I will miss the others, and Mama of course. But it is only Papa who seems old. He moves stiffly, as if his boot soles were weighted with iron. Streaks of gray run through his russet beard. Mama says I get my red hair from Papa. My heart hurts when I think I might never see him again.

After the wedding we drove away in Papa’s old buggy. The last thing I saw before the dusty road dipped over the hill was the flash of Mama’s yellow roses against the soft violet sky. I waved until my arm ached. And then I cried.

I am eighteen years old and frightened to death.

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02 January 2012

Some like it in the pot, nine days old

Last month I took the Regency Culinary World class offered by the fabulous Delilah Marvelle through the Beau Monde Academe program. If you are interested in food and ever have the chance to take this class, do it! I learned so much and Delilah was incredibly helpful about answering questions. Our big assignment for the class was to recreate a Regency dish. I like cooking, so I decided to do a full dinner. My menu: pease porridge, fried sausages and apples, onion pie, and potato cakes for dessert.

Me in my Agnes and the Hitman apron.

I took the recipes from Hannah Glasse's The art of cookery, made plain and easy (1774).  It's actually a pretty straightforward cookbook compared to some others I've seen from the same era; her confectionery book, which I read for Sweet Disorder, is great too.  And read her Wikipedia page, it's fascinating! (Sample: "In 1760 Ann Cook published Professed Cookery, which contained a 68-page attack on Hannah Glasse and her work. Ann Cook lived in Hexham, and was reacting to an alleged campaign of intimidation and persecution by [Hannah's half-brother] Lancelot Allgood.")

As you can see, I chose a menu that wasn't too daring, but that were still flavor combinations I wasn't too familiar with.  (I had no desire to, say, jug a hare, although I'd love to eat one if someone else did all the work!)

To make pease porridge.

         TAKE a quart of green pease, put to them a quart of water, a bundle of dried mint, and a little salt. Let them boil till the pease are quite tender; then put in some beaten pepper, a piece of butter as big as a walnut, rolled in flour, stir it all together, and let it boil a few minutes; then add two quarts of milk, let it boil a quarter of an hour, take out the mint and serve it up.
I've never seen milk used in pea soup before!  I chose this one first of all because of the nursery rhyme, and second of all because all the other pea soups required me to strain/rub them through a cloth.  That's a lot of work, and I really enjoy pea soup where you can taste the peas.  Fancy Regency cooking was VERY into smooth textures, I guess because it showed how much labor you could afford.  I did a half-recipe of this and ended up having to add quite a bit more water to keep the peas from sticking--just make sure you still end up with something very thick.  I added the full quart of milk and at first thought it would be far too much, but I just let it simmer for half an hour instead of 15 minutes, and it thickened up beautifully.

The flavor was a little unexpected, but actually quite good.  It was even better cold the next day--I haven't tried it in the pot nine days old however!  I guess when it was kept continuously hot in the kettle over the hearth, the risk level for food poisoning was...acceptable?

Fried sausages.

         TAKE half a pound of sausages and six apples; slice four about as thick as a crown, cut the other two in quarters, fry them with the sausages of a fine light brown, lay the sausages in the middle of the dish and the apples round. Garnish with the quartered apples.
          Stewed cabbage and sausages fried is a good dish; then heat cold peas-pudding in the pan, lay it in the dish and the sausages round, heap the pudding in the middle and lay the sausages all round thick up, edge ways, and one in the middle at length.

Peas-pudding is peas and butter boiled into a pudding shape by tying them up in a cloth while cooking, evidently.  Not very exciting.  I don't really understand these instructions for presentation, either--do you end up with sausages sticking up out of your pudding like weird little phalluses?  Anyway, I opted to just go with the sausages and apples--5 sausages plus 3 good-sized apples worked out well for my dinner for four, although I had to split it into two frying pans.

I wasn't able to find even remotely authentic sausages--everything at the supermarket was either Italian or German or standard breakfast sausage, which might actually be authentic but I'm not a huge fan and I already know what it tastes like so it wouldn't be expanding my horizons.  In the end I just went with my beloved bratwurst.  It took a little over half an hour on medium heat to get them cooked through, which was also the perfect amount of time for the apples.  I will definitely be making this again!  It was totally delicious and of course very easy.  I used my favorite kind of apple, Cameos, and the flavor combination was awesome.

To make an onion pye.

         WASH and pare some potatoes, and cut them in slices, peel some onions, cut them in slices, pare some apples and slice them, make a good crust, cover your dish, lay a quarter of a pound of butter all over, take a quarter of an ounce of mace beat fine, a nutmeg grated, a tea-spoonful of beaten pepper, three tea-spoonfuls of salt, mix all together, strew some over the butter, lay a layer of potatoes, a layer of onion, a layer of apples, and a layer of eggs, and so on till you have filled your pye, strewing a little of the seasoning between each layer, and a quarter of a pound of butter in bits, and six spoonfuls of water. Close your pye and bake it an hour and a half. A pound of potatoes, a pound of onions, a pound of apples, and twelve eggs will do.

I wasn't sure if "eggs" meant raw, or hard-boiled and crumbled.  I asked Delilah, who said definitely hard-boiled, and that for a pie like this oftentimes the different filling ingredients would be cooked in advance to ensure even cooking.  So I also sliced and roasted the potatoes on a cookie tray.

Mace is a spice derived from the dried covering of the nutmeg fruit seed; they didn't sell any at my grocery store so I just used regular old nutmeg instead.

Here's the crust recipe I used:

A cold crust.

         TO three pounds of flour rub in a pound and a half of butter, break in two eggs, and make it up with cold water.

Four cups of flour, two sticks of butter, and an egg would be plenty for a two-crust pie (I made a half-recipe even though in my heart I knew better and wound up with WAY too much dough).  On Delilah's advice I cooked the bottom crust alone for 15 minutes at 375 (actually, 400 because my oven runs cold, but whatever).  I then put it in the fridge until it was cool, filled it up with my layers, rolled out the top crust, and baked it for about half an hour at 350 (you can tell when it's done because the crust will start to turn golden; once it's completely lost that doughy, translucent look, you're done!).  

The crust came out nice and flaky, and it was super easy to roll, too, maybe because of the egg.  Next time I might chill the bottom crust before baking and then the whole pie once it's assembled, to see if I can get just a little more flake, but it's really not necessary.  I halved the recommended amounts and still ended up with a lot of leftover filling stuff, I think next time I'll start with one large potato, half a large apple, half a large onion, and four hard-boiled eggs.  But I just made an egg-salad-potato-avocado sandwich with the leftovers the next day (so awesome, will eat again!).  (I also used a lot less butter layered with the filling than recommended, probably only two to three tablespoons, and it came out well, but I'm going to be slightly more indulgent next time.)

I thought this was just okay (although my guests were enthusiastic), but when I tried it cold the following day, it was fantastic.  The flavors and textures combined really well cold and overnight. 

I put everything on the table for guests to help themselves, as would have been done in the Regency.  Classy!  You can also see the bottle of wine and our pig salt-and-pepper shakers...and that we don't own a ladle so we used a half-cup measure.  Oops!  I moved out of a shared house not that long ago, and it turned out a lot of essential cooking stuff belonged to my roommates.

(The little rolly cookies are rugelach--the u is an uh, not an oo, and the ch is a hard H like Chanukkah--a delicious Ashkenazi Jewish cookie that, while it did exist during the Regency, was unlikely to be on Hannah Glasse's radar.  I used a very modern recipe which I highly recommend, I get the most compliments on those cookies of anything I make ever.)

And for dessert: 

To make potatoe cakes.

         TAKE potatoes, boil them, peel them, beat them in a mortar, mix them with the yolks of eggs, a little sack, sugar, a little beaten mace, a little nutmeg, a little cream or melted butter, work it up into a paste; then make it into cakes, or just what shapes you please with moulds, fry them brown in fresh butter, lay them in plates or dishes, melt butter with sack, and pour over them. 

I definitely messed these up in that I added a little too much cream and they didn't cohere and flip nicely while frying, so be careful and stop while you still have a very thick texture.  They were still delicious though!  I totally recommend.

Sack is a old-school type of white fortified wine; I used the sweetest cheap sherry they had at the store as a substitute.  Make sure you boil the butter/sherry sauce mixture until it stops smelling strongly of alcohol and starts tasting really, really yummy (I added a little sugar into the sauce too although I might try without in future).

Happy new year, everyone!  I hope the coming year is full of deliciousness.

Tell me about the best dinner party you ever threw or attended!

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