History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 February 2015

They keep a man servant, do they ...

One of the discussions I see rather frequently on social media is about the lack of servants in a lot of books. I think a lot of modern people (especially Americans) are uncomfortable with the idea of servants. But our characters wouldn't have been! Basic living was HARD. Cooking was HARD. Cleaning was HARD. Caring for your clothing was HARD. See the theme here? Anyone who could afford to pay someone else to do all these menial tasks, did. And not just because they were HARD, but because they were time consuming and a person can only do so much themselves.

An aside: my best friend from college is half Turkish. Until recently, his family still had a place in Istanbul. The first time I went, I was uncomfortable with the servants. Several of them didn't even seem necessary, which made me even more uncomfortable. Then my friends dad said something that really stuck with me: They didn't have servants because they needed them; they had servants because as wealthy people (he's a cancer surgeon) they had a duty to employ people. That really stuck with me and made it easier to understand the mindset my characters might have had.

So, I was flipping through my copy of The Complete Servant before loaning it to a friend and I found some very frank discussion of costs and how many servants (and what type of servants) various households would be expected to keep. Someone with only 100 pounds a year would have still kept a maid. Elinor and Edward after their marriage in Sense and Sensibility would have had several (a cook, a maid of all work, a man servant to act as footman and groom, and perhaps a gardener). Bingley and Jane would have had a full complement, and Darcy and Lizzy, still more.

09 February 2015

A Visit to Houghton Hall

Over the holidays, my daughter Mélanie and I made two delightful visits to Houghton Hall, an English country estate built by Robert Walpole. But we did it without leaving the San Francisco Bay Area. The Legion of Honor Museum had a wonderful exhibit (currently touring the United States) which brought Houghton here. The exhibit included furniture as well as art treasures from the estate. And by projecting photographs on the walls, they actually recreated rooms so that one had the experience of walking through the estate (or castle, as Mélanie called it).

We arrived and had the experience of strolling up the house.

We explored the marble hall.

And strolled into the library.

Mélanie was delighted by a child's bed in the bedchamber.

And by coronation robes.

It was wonderful writing inspiration - like walking into one of my books. Watch for the exhibit to come to a city near you.

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03 February 2015

Fabulous 18thC Dressing Presentation

I'm testing out the Blogger App ... a friend posted this very cool video to FaceBook today, and I thought you might all enjoy it. Not sure the app will embed it properly though. My apologies if you have to follow the link to youtube.


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