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A Woman’s Place in History by Brita Addams (Historical Tidbit!)

A keen understanding of the evolution of women’s rights allows us to understand our female characters as they lived in their era. A misstep we sometimes take is viewing the past through today’s prism. We are much more enlightened than our ancestors, borne of accumulated experiences and the hard work done by the strong women who fought so we might, for instance, vote and enjoy the rights we have today.

Prior to the 19th century, laws strictly dictated a woman’s behavior, as well as their right to property. Ever gallant, men of the era protected the “delicate sensibilities” of the ladies in polite society by preventing them from the “vulgarities” of traveling in the funeral procession or attending funerals, even those for close family members. Reflecting on such a dictate makes one wonder if the women of the day balked at such a notion, especially as their closest relations passed on.  

In 1848, New York passed the Married Women’s Property Act which bolstered the rights of married women to own property. At last, women had the agency to conduct business on their own behalf, assume ownership of gifts they received, and file lawsuits. The 1860 Act Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife acknowledged “mothers as joint guardians of their children.” This allowed married women the legal authority over their own sons and daughters. Can you imagine that such a law needed to be enacted?

Over time, other states emulated and improved upon New York’s laws, which proved a boon for women. By 1900, married women gained significant control over their property. The suffragette’s work culminated on August 18, 1920, when the right to vote gave women a voice in their own destinies. Women still needed their husband’s signature in all financial matters, until the 1970s, when they attained the right to have a credit card in their own name.

The patriarchal society of the past began to crumble as women sought their rightful place in all matters. What a shame it would be if we, as authors, forgot about the struggles of our long passed sisters, and portrayed them with 21st century attitudes and actions. As a writer of historical fiction, I feel compelled to depict my characters, male and female, as they existed in history.

Were there feisty, kick-ass women before the twentieth century? Of course. But overall, most women lived within the laws and expectations of their time. They also dealt with ideas of propriety, held dear by those elders still living. One need search no further than Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey to understand how dearly they held Victorian values. Remember, Lady Grantham is completely entrenched in the prior century. This exchange sums up this point:

Lady Mary: “I was only going to say that Sybil is entitled to her opinions.”
Lady Grantham: “No, she isn’t, until she is married. And then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”

This encapsulates the attitudes so deeply ingrained in our ancestral sisters. Though laws slowly changed, the elders reinforced the subservient stance of women. As they passed on, a more youthful view took hold, but with a painfully slow transformation. I remember a great deal of male dominance in my childhood home in the 1960s. Father ruled the roost, Mother did as my father told her. Believe me, she had no choice, defiance wasn’t an option. Like other men of his time, he denied her authority over her children. I asked permission once to attend play practice at the high school, and she gave permission, as my father wasn’t home. When I got home, he grounded me, because I hadn’t called him, at work, to ask permission. “Asking your mother is equal to asking your brother.”

I remember the days when women lived this way, though certainly not as restricted as in the 19th century, but restricted nonetheless. I use those memories to construct female characters who, like my mother, are subjected to authoritarian rules, with one big difference. My father’s attitudes toward a woman’s place wasn’t based in law, but in his own upbringing. He emulated what he lived, as did most men throughout history.

As the elders aged and died, so did their antiquated ways. The prevailing attitudes caught up with the laws, and we are better for that.

I’ve heard the unflattering phrase, “too stupid to live” assigned to female characters in historical fiction and romance, who are portrayed as subjects of their father’s, brother’s, or husband’s dictates. They don’t, in any meaningful way, fight back, but accept their place as fact. As a writer, I find this phrase disheartening. These characters behave according to the customs, laws, and mores of their times. Yes, they eventually find comfortable circumstances, but they all are aware that they are the anomaly of their time.

Should we read historical fiction or historical romance, and expect that every female character has 21st century sensibilities? I say no. We either write true to the era, or we’ve simply created a costume drama, with little to associate it with reality.

As a reader, I want reality in character portrayal. That means a female character learns to live within expectations, and if she’s clever enough, she might learn to circumvent some of them. That reality didn’t make the women of the past stupid, and it certainly doesn’t make well-crafted characters stupid either. Realistic? Yes. Full of promise, yes. After all, women have molded men to their will for centuries. I want to believe that women inspired the changes in laws, after they convinced the men the idea was theirs.

Understanding the centuries-long struggle is essential to understanding true characterizations in historical fiction and romance. I remain firmly in the ‘portray women within the restrictions of their times’ camp. Otherwise, we’re simply creating 21st century women in costume.

About Brita Addams

Prompted by her love of history, writer of historical fiction and historical romance, Brita Addams has tromped around old cemeteries and dusty town hall basements for over twenty years as a non-professional genealogist. She’s uncovered some juicy stories about her ancestors that may or may not have already found their way into her writing. For several years, she lectured on genealogy aboard cruise ships, as part of their Enrichment Programs.

Having grown up in blustery Upstate New York, Brita has lived in the sultry South for many years. She has a loving, supportive family, including her native New Orleanian husband, who makes killer gumbo and potato salad. After years in the Big Easy, she and her husband moved to the Frog Capital of the World (yes, that’s a thing,) to be closer to two of their three grown children.

She is Grammie to grandpuppy, Fiona, a maltipoo who has stolen her Grammie’s heart, as well as a treasured grandson and granddaughter. She never misses a chance to relate stories of the past to her grandchildren, as she celebrates life everyday, well aware of how fragile life is.  

On her website and blog, readers will find a complete listing of her works. http://britaaddams.net

Fifty Shades of Chaste! Dakota Johnson Jane Austen’s Persuasion (Press This! Daily Mail Online)

Fifty shades of chaste! Sorry, after chuckling, I had to share.

It’s a long way from the sex scenes that made her name in Fifty Shades Of Grey. Dakota Johnson has traded bondage gear for a period outfit in Bath for the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Source: Fifty shades of chaste! Dakota Johnson films an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion | Daily Mail Online

Why Did I Wait So Long to Read Jane Austen? (Press This! Literary Hub)

I came to Jane Austen late. As a lifelong reader, I do not have a simple explanation for this omission, but when my family decided to read Pride and Prejudice as a family reading project soon after the pandemic forced us into isolation, I jumped at the chance to fill in the gap in my literacy.

Source: Why Did I Wait So Long to Read Jane Austen? ‹ Literary Hub

7 People Who Hated Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” (Press This! Salon.com)

The story of how Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s disdain for the wealthy, prideful Fitzwilliam Darcy turned to love has never been out of print, and has sold more than 20 million copies since its first appearance more than 200 years ago. Austen’s family, however, probably didn’t see much of that success: She sold the novel’s copyright to her publisher for £110 (just over $10,000 in today’s dollars) and died just a few years later, in 1817. Though the novel was reviewed positively and was well-received by the upper classes at the time, it was no widespread sensation. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the book and its author were rediscovered and lifted to the rarefied place in the English literature pantheon they hold today.

Source: 7 people who hated Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” | Salon.com

The Clever Folds that Kept Letters Secret (Press This! BBC Future) Historical Tidbit

A fascinating article worth the keep in our Historical Tidbit section of letter locking.

Mary Queen of Scots was far from the only person who was skilled in the art of “letterlocking” – the technique became common throughout Europe during the Late Middle Ages (1250-1500) and Early Modern periods (1500-1815). By folding and cutting letters in various clever patterns, people attempted to hide their correspondence from unwanted readers, and the “locks” came in myriad types.”This isn’t something special that people do on special occasions. This is how you send a letter before the envelope is invented,” explains Daniel Starza Smith, a lecturer in Early Modern English literature at King’s College London. “So, if it’s a business letter, if it’s a love letter, if it’s a spy letter, if it’s a diplomatic letter, they’re all using letterlocking. So it’s not something confined to experts, royalty or spy masters. Anyone who is capable of sending a letter is using letterlocking.”

Source: The clever folds that kept letters secret – BBC Future

First Persuasion Images Show Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding in Netflix Adaptation (Press This! Collider)

Take a look at the new shots from Netflix as they film the new Persuasion. We can never get enough of Jane Austen, can we?

Netflix has released the first images of Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding, and Cosmo Jarvis in their adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Source: First Persuasion Images Show Dakota Johnson, Henry Golding in Netflix Adaptation

“Coming Out” During the Early Victorian Era – About Debutantes” (Press This! Kate Tattersall)

Extensive article on the subject and great read.

During the Regency and into the Victorian era, the London social season was particularly busy from April to the end of June, but events were held throughout the winter, starting when Parliament returned in late January and included military reviews, dinner parties, and charity events, and went on to the end of July. Débutante (French for female beginner) balls were a highlight, hosted at the grand houses of the aristocracy. Lord Byron referred to these galas as marriage marts, because it was the best venue for young ladies to encounter possible suitors.

Source: “Coming Out” During the Early Victorian Era; about debutantes | Kate Tattersall Adventures

Tea at Cranford: Charlotte Bronte and the Great Victorian Tea Fraud (Press This! Elizabeth Gaskell’s House)

I have had the great pleasure of visiting this fine home in Manchester during one of my many trips hunting for my ancestors. If you need a bit of a reminder, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, Wives & Daughters, Cranford, and other works, many of which have been made into major television series.

During my visit to her home, I pulled the same doorbell as Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, standing in the same places. If you would like to see pictures of this fine Georgian residence, please visit my website here for information.

Below is an excerpt from their blog, which always has informative information.  If you like to research the past or love any of the stories Elizabeth penned, you should visit often.  It’s a wonderful place for authors and readers.

Tea plays an integral role in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Cranford. Grown in India, a British colony, and imported by the East India Company, tea became a national beverage which could be found in practically every household. But tea was more than just an infusion of dried leaves it was he beverage that was consistently turned to when spirits were in need of reviving. It is a word that prefixes so many others to indicate its numerous uses and association. Just Read more>>

Source: Tea at Cranford: Charlotte Bronte and the Great Victorian Tea Fraud – elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk

Julia Quinn On ‘Bridgerton (Press This! Bustle)

I don’t remember how they came about. I figured out recently that I would have started writing The Duke and I in 1998. So this book now, if it were a person, it could drink legally. I honestly don’t remember how the Bridgerton family was born… But while I can’t remember how I came up with the Bridgerton family, I can tell you how I came up with Lady Whistledown. You probably know this since you’re a writer, the term “info dump.”

Source: Julia Quinn On ‘Bridgerton,’ That Controversial Sex Scene, & What’s Next

The Price of an E-Book

Today while I was checking out the Amazon Best Seller list, I glanced at the book prices. A few caught my eye, thinking they were outrageously high. You might assume that books on sale would sell more copies and rise to the best seller list. Apparently, that’s not the case, because many books in the top one hundred are priced far above a 99 cent price point.

To be frank, I wouldn’t pay some of the prices that are being asked by the traditional publishing houses. Nevertheless, others are buying them based on their popularity and the author. Fifty-four of the top one hundred are in Kindle Unlimited, so pricing isn’t necessarily the factor that makes them hit the best seller list — it’s page reads. Yes, it’s that convoluted system that Amazon uses on your Kindle. If you pay for the Kindle Unlimited subscription, then the author you are reading gets paid only when you flip a page. That’s right. When you flip the page with your index finger, an author makes a royalty. Most of the time it’s about a penny or less. Regardless if the book is in KU, it still has a sale price for those not enrolled in the subscription service. Those prices vary, as well as the royalties an author receives from that price point.

What’s the going rate for historical romance? My sampling of the price ranges today on the historical romance best seller list top one hundred are as follows:

21 priced at 99 cents

3 priced at $1.99

10 priced at $2.99

13 priced at $3.99

18 priced at $4.99

2 priced at $5.99

3 priced at $6.99

15 priced at $7.99*

5 priced at $9.99

1 priced at 11.99

2 priced at $19.99**

Odd pricing ranges:

$4.73

$5.49

$5.68

$6.95

*These are all books in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series

**These are two boxed sets which contain three books in the Bridgerton Series ($6.66 per book)

As an author, I tend to price my books based on length. $2.99 for novellas, $3.99 for full-length novels of 80,000 words or above. I do have one perma freebie in the mix, as well as one perma $0.99 as enticements to a series. Most of the time, I think I under price myself in comparison to others.

The range of independently published books seem to be 99 cents to $4.99, while higher priced books are those from main-stream publishers.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the industry news, Amazon and big trade publishers are in hot water, having been recently sued over price-fixing.

Amazon.com and Big Five Publishers Accused of eBook Price-Fixing.” Amazon.com and the “Big Five” publishers – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices, in a class action filed by the law firm that successfully sued Apple and the Big Five on the same charge 10 years ago.

The end result of price-fixing means higher prices on eBooks for consumers and bigger profits for publishers. The definition of price-fixing per the Federal Trade Commission is:

Price fixing is an agreement (written, verbal, or inferred from conduct) among competitors that raises, lowers, or stabilizes prices or competitive terms. Generally, the antitrust laws require that each company establish prices and other terms on its own, without agreeing with a competitor.

As a reader do you have a price point? How much are you willing to pay for a book? If you’re on a budget, Kindle Unlimited with a flat monthly fee to read as many books as you want might be the way to go. Otherwise, you will pay the price set individually for each book.

Independent authors generally are cheaper. No doubt that is because they put more in their pocket from the royalties they make, but also have expenses to publish a book. A traditional author doesn’t have the expenses, because the publishers pays for the editing, covers, distribution, but they price the book is higher. The publisher takes their profit from each sale, leaving the author with a much lower royalty rate, and perhaps even an agent who gets a cut as well.

For me, I’ll pay up to $4.99 for an eBook. Any more than that, I figure I might as well pay for the print version for a few bucks more and have something tangible to hold. That brings up another subject — electronic or print? Hmm, perhaps I’ll wait to poke at that decision in another post. In addition, I can talk about those crazy resellers on Amazon who have used copies of $10 books for $1,000. Another racket.

Happy purchasing!

Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses (Press This! GetPocket.com)

Worth the chuckle!  “They did not hesitate to use the worst punishments they knew—excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death. Steal a book, and you might be cleft by a demon sword, forced to sacrifice your hands, have your eyes gouged out, or end in the ‘fires of hell and brimstone.'”

They did not hesitate to use the worst punishments they knew—excommunication from the church and horrible, painful death. Steal a book, and you might be cleft by a demon sword, forced to sacrifice your hands, have your eyes gouged out, or end in the “fires of hell and brimstone.”

Source: Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, With Horrifying Book Curses

What Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Teaches Readers (Press This! GetPocket.com)

Before she was a writer, Jane Austen was a reader. A reader, moreover, within a family of readers, who would gather in her father’s rectory to read aloud from the work of authors such as Samuel Johnson, Frances Burney, and William Cowper—as well as, eventually, Jane’s own works-in-progress. Northanger Abbey illustrates the dangers of undiscerning reading—of mistaking fanciful tales of mere entertainment for those that offer truthful insights into real human experience.

Source: What Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Teaches Readers

How to Read the Bridgerton Books in Order (Press This! Radio Times)

Can’t wait for season 2 to come out? Here’s our guide to how Lady Whistledown would want you to read the Julia Quinn novels. Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series begins with The Duke and I, published in 2000, and ends with On the Way to the Wedding, published in 2006 about Gregory Bridgerton – although there’s an epilogue, The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After, focussing on Violet Bridgerton.

Source: How to read the Bridgerton books in order – Radio Times

A Romance Writer on the Bridgerton Books (Press This! The Spinoff)

Oh my gosh. I’m laughing hysterically at this chart. That tells it all.  Great article!  Don’t miss out.  Worth the read for sure.

AJ Lancaster celebrates dukes, the new and improved Eloise, and the death of the Halfway Hymen.In real life my values (left wing, feminist) almost diametrically oppose everything dukes represent. In fiction, though? I love them – and I’m not alone.Regency romance is perennially one of the most popular subgenres.

Source: A romance writer on the Bridgerton books – and why the show is even better | The Spinoff

Sanditon Renewed for Seasons 2 and 3 (Press This! PBS)

For those who may have been left brokenhearted after the end of the continuation of Jane Austen’s story, Sanditon, as done by ITV/Masterpiece, after much hell raised by the Sanditon Sisterhood on how the series ended, BritBox/PBS is continuing the series with two more seasons. Eventually, it will be in book form like season one. Stay tuned for 2022’s continuation.

The acclaimed seaside drama based starring Rose Williams as Charlotte will officially return to MASTERPIECE on PBS for two new seasons! #SanditonPBS

Source: Sanditon Renewed for Seasons 2 and 3 | Masterpiece | Official Site | PBS

Bridgerton’ Season 4: Plot, Cast & Everything To Know (Press This! Bustle)

Neverending Bridgerton news! If you haven’t heard the latest, reports are already on the Internet about Season 4. If you’ve missed the others, here’s the scoop on Seasons 2 and 3 as well.  They are currently filming Season 2, scheduled for release late this year on Netflix.  Follow the article to read more.

Season 2 will focus on Anthony, the eldest Bridgerton sibling, as he looks for a viscountess. Because this tracks with the trajectory of Julia Quinn’s novels, on which the show is based, we can safely guess that future seasons will each correspond to a different book. Season 3 will be Benedict’s story, and Season 4 will match up with Quinn’s Romancing Mister Bridgerton, which is all about Colin and Penelope.

Source: ‘Bridgerton’ Season 4: Plot, Cast & Everything To Know

RWA 2021 Vivian Finalists

The RITAs are no more. If you’re not familiar with the award it was formerly bestowed for excellence in published romance novels and novellas but was retired in 2020 after the Romance Writers of America meltdown. If you missed all the articles about the controversy at the RWA, you can search for prior posts. You can check out the past winners and hall of fame for those who won multiple RITAs at this LINK.

Now it’s the Vivian Award from the Romance Writers of America. “The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope–because happily ever afters are for everyone.” Vivian Stephens was the founder of Romance Writers of America.

Below are those books nominated for the historical romance category. Winners will be announced July 31, 2021.

Historical Romance – Long (80,000 Words or Longer)

The Clothier’s Daughter by Bronwyn Parry

His Secret Mistress by Cathy Maxwell

Once a Spy by Mary Jo Putney

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke by Loretta Chase

Historical Romance – Mid (50,000 to 80,000 Words)

For This Knight Only by Barbara Bettis

The Footman and I by Valerie Bowman

A Song of Secrets by Robyn Chalmers

A Study in Passion by Louisa Cornell

There is also a Historical Romance Short Category for books 20,000 to 50,000 in length, but there were no finalists.

Here are list of the 2021 Rules here FYI.

What’s Up With Red Brick Media?

Beautiful dresses. Stately homes. Titled aristocrats. Wealthy yearly incomes. Those are usually the things that readers love to fantasize about when they read historical romance.

The best-selling books on the market are not about the miserable lives in the Regency or Victorian era. Readers would rather not think about the squalor 90% of the population in nineteenth-century England experienced. Nevertheless, the authors who lived in those eras – like Dickens and Gaskell – had no qualms about penning reality in their stories because they were important social issues.

Toil Under the Sun is a historical fiction book I wrote loosely based on my ancestors who were from Manchester. It’s somewhat Dickenish in a few chapters for which I make no apology. There are no beautiful dresses, stately homes, or wealthy characters. Instead of dukes in canopy beds, most people slept on hard, lumpy horse-hair mattresses set on a platform or the floor. Those with no home slumped over a rope in a doss house to get some shut-eye or paid a few shillings a night to share a wooden hay-filled box with a lice-ridden individual. 

There was no running water, so people bathed at washhouses if they could afford to pay the price. Public fountains were around town to fill up your buckets for water and carry them home but were a cesspool of germs. I’ll spare you the gory details about where and how people relieved themselves because you’ll die from the stench alone or some related disease. Some parts of Manchester were called hell on earth in those days. (Read More Here)  I was shocked to learn that my third great-grandfather, Henry Holland, lived two blocks away from the slum area in this article during 1851, and he was a journeyman bricklayer that could make a wage.  It broke my heart.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness…” (Angus Reach, a London Journalist 1849)

When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, she lived in Manchester. (I’ve visited her home and you can read about here on my author blog.) Even though she chose Milton as the make-believe town where Mr. Thornton had his cotton mill, the hell as penned by Margaret to her friend was described as, “I’ve seen hell and it’s white.” Perhaps that was true inside, but outside the air filled with smoke from the chimneys of factories, and the brick buildings were blackened with soot.

The idea of children being cared for by nannies and brought up by governesses is a far cry from the reality of young children who worked in factories to help with family finances. Rarely, did a child have the opportunity to learn to read or write. The boys were taught more often than the girls even in the middle class. Quite a few of my ancestors, including my second great-grandfather, merely put an “X” on the marriage bann because he couldn’t scribble his own name.

Nevertheless, out of poverty, one person can rise above and build an empire of wealth for his family and descendants. My second great uncle, Robert Holland, in Manchester came home to find his mother had hung herself using a nail in the wall. In 1862, the newspapers reported the incident. “Suicide of a Female. On Thursday morning, a woman resident in Bamber Street, named Phoebe Holland, was found dead, hanging from a nail in the wall of the house. An inquest was held on the body the same day before J. Taylor, Esq., and a verdict of Self-hanging, whilst in a state of unsound mind, was returned.” Phoebe is my third great-grandmother, and mother to Robert Holland. At the time of her death, she lived with Robert in his household.

A few years later Robert married and somehow managed to drag himself from the slums of Manchester to become a wealthy brickmaking and construction company by 1920. He was also a political success, having run and won, serving many terms as Alderman for the City of Salford (just outside of Manchester). He died a rich man, but his sons squandered their inheritance. (Certainly a story to be told there).

How my second great uncle accomplished the task of making a success of his life in the world described above is beyond my comprehension. The one ability he possessed was to read and write, which certainly worked in his favor. He is undoubtedly what they call a self-made man. In my ancestral research, I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of his descendants and visiting his twelve-bedroom home from 1882 that still stands today.

It is because of him that I use the name of Red Brick Media as my acknowledgment of his accomplishments and success in spite of the poverty to which he was born into.

Admin

Historical Romance Books

SWEET SAVAGE FLAME – Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Recommending this great blog, Sweet Savage Flame, filled with reviews of the bodice-ripper greats from the past.  Check it out!  I’ve posted a link on our blog page as well.

SWEET SAVAGE FLAME Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Source: SWEET SAVAGE FLAME – Bodice Rippers, Vintage Category, & Old-School Historical Romance from Avon to Zebra

Dakota Johnson to Star in Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ Movie at Netflix – Variety

My goodness! One of my favorite Austen stories. Who is playing Captain Wentworth? I hope Netflix does the new adaptation justice. For me, I think it will be hard for me to look at Dakota in such a tame role after Fifty Shades.  I wonder what, “modern, witty approach to a beloved story means.” Thoughts? Comments?

It’s strange Netflix is doing the series when Searchlight is doing one as well with Sarah Snook in the role.

Dakota Johnson is set to star in Netflix’s retelling of Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion.”

Source: Dakota Johnson to Star in Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ Movie at Netflix – Variety