History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 August 2014

Family road trips - then and now

I'm at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland this week with my two-and-a-half-year-old Mélanie  (there we are above at the Member Lounge upon our arrival and below shopping on a trip  to Ashland last May). In the whirl of organizing things for the trip for myself, Mélanie, and our cats (who travel with us), I thought of what travel would be like for my characters Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch and their children in the Regency/Napoleonic era. I realized there were actually some surprising similarities.

We drive to Ashland (it's about a six hour drive with one stop). The Rannochs do a lot of their traveling in their carriage (though they take sea voyages, just as we sometimes take airplane trips). Mélanie has a DVD player to watch in the car (purchased for our trip in May and worth every penny). Malcolm and Suzanne's have a traveling coach, rather than a post chaise that only seats two, to accommodate themselves and their two children as well probably as Malcolm's valet Addison, Suzanne's maid Blanca, and Laura Dudley, the children's nanny/governess.  The coach includes traveling chess and backgammon sets (I recently wrote a couple of scenes in my WIP in which characters used both).

Our luggage fills the trunk of the car and usually the front passenger seat. The Rannochs would have their portmanteaux and bandboxes strapped to the back of the carriage, but I'm sure they would also have bags and hampers inside with toys and refreshments for the children. Some things are univeral in any era when traveling with children. 

The Rannochs stop at posting houses to change horses roughly every fifteen miles  (they would send their own horses home at the first stop and continue with hired teams).  They would have a private parlor at the posting house where they could refresh themselves with cakes or meat and cheese or even a full meal. The adults could have coffee, wine, or ale while there would be mugs of milk for the children, Colin and Jessica. As the eccentricities of the wealthy and well-connected would probably be tolerated, I imagine they'd be able to bring Berowne the cat in with them as well. 
Mélanie and I don't need to stop for gas on our drive to Ashland as we travel in a Toyota Echo with quite good mileage, but we do stop at a Starbucks for a latte for Mummy and milk for Mel and a scone or lemon bread. And while Suzanne would be able to nurse Jessica in the carriage, Mélanie and I need a nursing break :-). Our cats, unlike Berowne, stay in the car during the break.

Of course if Mélanie and I lived in Regency England, we'd probably travel by mail coach, if we were lucky, or else the common stage. Assuming we could afford to travel at all. Still, it's fun to think of the similarities and to imagine the Rannochs on their traveling adventures as we set off on own road trip.

Do you enjoy road trips? What are your favorite travel scenes in books?

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04 August 2014

Halloween in August

It feels a bit odd to be thinking about Halloween in August.  People are still sporting tank-tops and flip-flops.  There are no paper cut-outs of black cats and witches' hats in the drugstore.  And, most telling of all, the Starbucks sign is still dominated by frappuccino promotions, with not a hint of pumpkin spice in sight.

But I have Halloween on the radar because, tomorrow, my very first Halloween book, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, hits the shelves.

I call this my Halloween book because it's set in October, in that season of mist and shrinking daylight hours, of changing leaves and that sudden, sharp chill in the air.  And part of the book, the part that's set in Cambridge (the American one) in 2004, really does deal with Halloween.  My modern heroine, Eloise, is having her English boyfriend Colin to visit in her tiny studio apartment in Harvard Square, just in time for the annual grad student Halloween masquerade bash.  There's even a plastic pumpkin filled with those pot-bellied candy corn pumpkins and mini-Twix with bats on the wrappers.

But in England in 1806, where the bulk of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla takes place, there is no Halloween, or, at least, not Halloween as we know it.

I did a bit of scrounging around, to see what rituals and practices my characters might have been familiar with, and here's what I discovered:

The tradition of the evening of October 31st as a night on which ghosts walk goes back a very long time. One version has it that Halloween originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when the dead wandered among the living, and was later transformed by Pope Gregory IV into a Christian holiday, Hallowmas, in the 9th century.  The name “Halloween”, or “Hallowe’en”, comes from the festival of Hallowmas: All Hallows Eve, All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, and All Souls Day, in which the dead are remembered.

The modern holiday of Halloween, with its costumes, jack-o’lanterns, and trick or treating, is generally held to be a mid-nineteenth century Irish export to America.  “Mumming and guising” were popular in the Celtic fringe (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), but they don’t seem to have taken much of a hold in England.  

There was a form of trick or treating: going door to door collecting “soul cakes” to pray for those in purgatory.  Bonfires were lit, to guide the souls to heaven or to scare them away from the living, depending upon whom you ask.

The Reformation appears to have put paid to many of these practices in England.  In the seventeenth century, the introduction of Guy Fawkes Day—a commemoration of the 1605 plot to blow up King and Parliament—meant that the bonfires moved over a few days, to November 5th.  Elements of the older holiday remained in rural communities in England, with bonfires, carved turnip lanterns, bobbing for apples and other traditions which varied by locale, but the gentry did not observe these rituals.  

The bottom line?  Halloween, as we understand it, would have been unknown to Miss Sally Fitzhugh or the Duke of Belliston, although they might have been aware of the superstitions attached to the night as practiced by the tenants on their estates.  

I wasn't able to use Halloween in the historical part of my narrative, but I did have October itself as an asset-- that season of leaves fallings, light dying, mists rising.  My historical characters might not have Halloween, but they had the atmosphere of Halloween.

Minus the candy pumpkins, of course.

What's your favorite season?

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