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Aidan Turner Articles Caitriona Balfe Diana Gabaldon Historical Romance Masterpiece Theater Outlander Poldark Sam Heughan Scotland

Historical Romance Books Coming to Life

Okay, so I’ve been watching on Facebook and hearing everyone else talk about the “highly anticipated” Outlander television series on Starz. On the other side of the camp, all the Poldark lovers are going crazy over that series being redone by Masterpiece Theater.
Because, I knew very little about Outlander, written by Diana Gabaldon, except for what I’ve read in multiple blog posts and reader comments, I finally downloaded the first book. From what I’ve gathered in searching the net and reading reviews, there is a lot of polarization regarding the story. The disagreeable readers say this — they liked the beginning and the premise, but as the story continued were appalled by scenes that turned them off (mainly, the supposed marital rape of Claire, Jamie beating Claire for disobedience, and Jamie’s rape by Captain Randall).  I will stay clear of that hot debate.

What makes a story extremely popular is uniqueness. Outlander is apparently one of those novels (a long series), as it takes the reader back in time from the 1940’s into 1700’s Scotland. It contains all of the right elements – mystery, danger, surprise, handsome Scottish hunk, bodice ripping, passionate lovemaking, and a difficult decision for the heroine to make.  To keep abreast of the story, I added Starz for $10 a month to my Comcast account.  Though I have read the first book, I will rely on the television series for the remainder.  As an author myself, it’s impossible for me to sit down and read the entire tale without sacrificing my own time that I need writing.
After watching the first two episodes, I am very impressed with the quality of the production.  Starz has brought the story to life through costumes, location, and cast.  They have put a huge amount of money into marketing this series and it shows.  The frenzy of fans are highly emotional, as well.  Just spend a few hours in the Facebook Fan Group with 29,000 plus ladies talking about what is under the kilt.

Now, let’s go to the heartthrob. Pictures of Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, have been clogging my timeline on Facebook for months. Jamie is quite the hunk–young, virile, strong, and well-endowed, no doubt, as women think about what’s under that kilt. With his thick Scottish brogue, you just want to kiss him to shut him up, if you don’t mind the sweat and blood on his face to get there.

Claire is played by an equally talented and very beautiful Caitriona Balfe.  The others in the production are well casted and doing a fantastic job in their respective roles.  Tobias Menzies, who plays two roles in the show (Frank and Captain Randall), will make you cringe as the evil Redcoat after the Scots.

Since the Scots have been garnishing a huge amount of attraction from Outlander, the English have been feverishly working on their own series. 
Poldark on BBC Masterpiece Theater is slated for 2015 release, based on the books of Winston Graham.  It first aired on television in the 1970’s and became a hugely successful series garnishing it’s own swooning group of women over the main character, the dashing Ross Poldark, who will be played by Aidan Turner this time around.  
Set on the rocky coast of Cornwall, a former Redcoat who fought in the war of independence in 1776, returns home to resume his life and love only to find things have changed.
 
Needless to say that those who love to read historical romance, enjoy watching the stories come alive.  Of course, adaptations on television or the big screen do not always follow the books.  Already, there have been some comments regarding Outlander straying, and it will be interesting to see if Poldark is kept like the 1970’s series or morphed into something entirely new.  
Frankly, it doesn’t bother me if an adaptation isn’t religiously tied word for word to the original book.  I think that the author of Outlander is extremely blessed to see her work come alive on screen as are the readers of the series.  It’s frankly an experience that every historical author probably dreams about–I know that I do.

P.S.  If you are one of the unfortunate individuals who cannot get Starz; or if your country is not able to get the series, you can follow my weekly reviews on each episode at the following websites:

Articles Belle Movie Review Gugu Mbatha-Raw Sam Reid Tom Wilkinson

“Belle” – An Absolutely Wonderful Period Movie

Stars:Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid, Emily Watson,  Sarah Gadon,
and Penelope Wilton

Yes, this is not a book review, but a movie review that is worth sharing.  Since I actually touched on the subject of an aristocratic family, in my book The Price of Deception, making their fortune in slave trading, I found this movie both moving and inspirational on many levels.

I took the commuter train to downtown Portland to see Belle at the one theater in which it is playing. It is a shame, because the movie needs to be released in many more theaters across the country. It is, frankly, the best film I have seen in a long time. The story pulls at the heartstrings of the audience and challenges each person to consider the value of human life. The themes in the picture are multiple. Above all, it is a true story based on a woman by the name of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate, mixed-race daughter of a Navy Admiral, Sir John Lindsay.

The story begins with Dido’s (who I will call Belle in this post) father taking her as a young child to his uncle’s home, who is the 1st Earl of Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson). He has been commissioned to sail to the other side of the world and asks that they care for her while he is away. At first, they object to the idea, since the child is the product of a scandalous interracial affair between Sir Lindsay and a Negro slave. However, Belle’s father truly loves his daughter. With no other family but his uncle to care for her, he beseeches him to bring her up in the life deserving of his title and her bloodline. They relent, and Belle grows up in their household, with another girl her same age (played by Sarah Gadon), who is her cousin and uncle’s ward.
As Belle matures, enjoying her privileged life in the home of an aristocrat, it becomes obvious that her uncle and his wife do love her. However, there is still that social line of what is acceptable, such as being able to dine with the family. The lines that are drawn confuse her, but she accepts them.
When Belle learns more about the plight of slaves, she struggles with the reality of her identity and being called mulatto. Eventually, she embraces the fact that her mother was Negro and an integral part of who she is as a human being.
Belle’s father dies and leaves her a substantial amount of money, but she is not encouraged by her uncle to marry. He believes that no one would accept her, even though she is a well bred heiress. Her cousin is introduced instead and begins her pursuit for a husband. In spite of her uncle’s disbelief that Belle could catch the eye of a man, she finds the attention of two very different individuals.

The class separation is starkly portrayed, as well as the plight of women who have no inheritance and must find a husband in order to survive. (After all, it’s 1789, or thereabout, and women had no rights.) It also challenges the audience over the value of human life, the way we view others of different color, and the bravery of men and women who worked on bringing about social change. The fact that Belle was born and grew up in a family where her great uncle was the Lord Chief Justice, is by all rights providential. Their relationship forces him to examine his own conscience regarding slavery and human rights, influencing a decision in his court that changes the future of England. I found the film to be a moving story on many levels. When I shed a tear at the end and it deeply touches my emotions, it is well worth five stars.

Casting and direction were wonderful. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Belle, did an outstanding job of portraying the character in her struggles and self-realization. Tom Wilkinson was excellent as the Earl. Other names you’ll recognize – Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton (also known as Mrs. Crawley on Downton Abbey), Matthew Goode, and Emily Watson.  Last of all, Sam Reid, will sweep you off your feet, as Belle’s love interest.
A Twelfth Night Tale Articles Historical Tidbits Regency Christmas Traditions Susan Ellis

Historical Tidbit: Regency Christmas Traditions: Hogmanay by Susana Ellis

Hogmanay, the Scots name for New Year’s Eve, is pagan in origin, and probably came from the Vikings. Because Christmas was banned during the Reformation—and in Scotland for much longer* due to the very strict views of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, who believed it unbiblical—workers were required to work through Christmastide. For that reason, the winter solstice (New Year’s Eve) became the time that families celebrated the holidays with parties and gifts for the children.

Traditions of Hogmanay

The essential notion of Hogmanay (and New Year’s) is to clear out the old year and celebrate the clean slate offered by the coming year with family and friends. Not so different from most modern New Year’s celebrations, actually. But rather than making lists of resolutions, Hogmanay celebrants have other ways to celebrate.
  •  Pay your debts before midnight.
  • You may “redd up” the house and clear out the ashes in the hearth before midnight, but not before noon on New Year’s Day, because doing so would be to cast out your quota of good luck for the rest of the year.
  • Sing Auld Lang Syne (an age-old song rescued published by Robert Burns in 1788)
  • Make a toast to health, wealth and happiness in the coming year (with Scottish whiskey, of course).
  • First Foot- The First Foot is the first person who crosses the threshold of the home after midnight on New Year’s Day (Christmas Day in some places). Traditionally, the First Foot must be a dark-haired male. In most places, blonds (reminiscent of Vikings and therefore trouble) and redheads signify bad luck. Females, particularly redheads, are considered to bring even worse luck. Depending on the region, the First Foot must bring a coin, a lump of coal, a piece of bread or shortbread, whiskey, salt and black bun—representing food, flavor, warmth, good cheer and financial prosperity in the new year. The First Foot should be an uninvited stranger. It was quite common for (dark-haired) young men to make the rounds of the households in their neighborhood to ensure good luck—and ensure a good time by being invited to drink toasts with the families of all the homes they first-footed.
  • Saining – Saining a household involves blessing the house and the cattle with “holy water” from a nearby stream, after which, the woman of the household walks through the house with a smoking juniper branch to purify it from the taint of evil spirits. Of course, the smoke would get everyone coughing and require a dram or two of whisky to aid in recovery.
  • People dressing up in hides of cattle and going around being hit by sticks
  • Sticks (known as Hogmanays) covered with animal hide and used to ward off evil spirits
  • Rolling tar barrels down a hill, lighting bonfires, tossing torches.

Modern Hogmanay Celebrations

Torch and bonfire ceremonies that closely resemble the traditional Hogmanay festivities are still celebrated in Edinburgh and many other Scottish cities.

 

In Stonehaven (a coastal city south of Aberdeen), giant fireballs (representing the sun) on five-foot poles are carried by 60 men as they march up and down the street to frighten off evil spirits.

 

These days, January 2nd is also a holiday in Scotland…to give people a chance to recover from all of their Hogmanay merrymaking.

Traditional Hogmanay Foods

  • black bun (pastry with a filling of fruitcake)
  • shortbread
  • venison pie
  • rumbledethumps (vegetable fry-up)
  • haggis (the national dish of Scotland)
Although Hogmanay is traditionally a Scottish celebration, over the centuries, many of the traditions have settled into other parts of the UK as well, especially in the northern regions of England. My story A Twelfth Night Tale is set in 1813 Oxfordshire where the custom of “First Foot” is not commonplace, but the discovery of a Scottish connection motivates Andrew Livingston to plan an “English version” of the tradition as a surprise.

 

*It wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas Day became a national holiday. Up until then, it was a normal working day.

References

http://www.mystical-www.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=77&Itemid=220
http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow12.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First-Foot
http://britishfood.about.com/od/festivecooking/p/hogmanay.htm
http://gouk.about.com/od/festivalsandevents/qt/hogmaney.htm
http://www.thescotlandkiltcompany.co.uk/news/new-years-celebrations-in-scotland

Celebrate the Release Day of A Twelfth Night Tale!

 

Susana is giving away a fabulous sterling silver necklace and A Twelfth Night Tale Christmas charm bracelet (silver-plated). Click here for the Rafflecopter!

About A Twelfth Night Tale

A wounded soldier and the girl next door find peace and love amidst a backdrop of rural Christmas traditions.
Without dowries and the opportunity to meet eligible gentlemen, the five Barlow sisters stand little chance of making advantageous marriages. But when the eldest attracts the attention of a wealthy viscount, suddenly it seems as though Fate is smiling upon them.
Lucy knows that she owes it to her younger sisters to encourage Lord Bexley’s attentions, since marriage to a peer will secure their futures as well as hers. The man of her dreams has always looked like Andrew Livingston, her best friend’s brother. But he’s always treated her like a child, and, in any case, is betrothed to another. Perhaps the time has come to put away childhood dreams and accept reality…and Lord Bexley.
Andrew has returned from the Peninsula with more emotional scars to deal with than just the lame arm. Surprisingly, it’s his sister’s friend “Little Lucy” who shows him the way out of his melancholy. He can’t help noticing that Lucy’s grown up into a lovely young woman, but with an eligible viscount courting her, he’ll need a little Christmas magic to win her for himself.


Available

Ellora’s CaveAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo 

About the Author

A former teacher, Susana is finally living her dream of being a full-time writer. She loves all genres of romance, but historical—Regency in particular—is her favorite. There’s just something about dashing heroes and spunky heroines waltzing in ballrooms and driving through Hyde Park that appeals to her imagination.
In real life, Susana is a lifelong resident of northwest Ohio, although she has lived in Ecuador and studied in Spain, France and Mexico. More recently, she was able to travel around the UK and visit many of the places she’s read about for years, and it was awesome! She is a member of the Maumee Valley and Beau Monde chapters of Romance Writers of America.

Contacts

Web site • Email • Facebook • Twitter • Linked In • Pinterest • Google+Goodreads 
Susana’s Parlour (Regency Blog) • Susana’s Morning Room (Romance Blog)
Articles Author Interview Genella deGrey

Author Interview: Genella de Grey

Thank you so much for arranging our visit today! And can I say that you have a spectacularly BEAUTIFUL blog? 🙂 It’s so… ME! 😀 😉

1What inspired you to write this particular book?Aside from the fact that history intrigues me to no end, I’d written a minor character, Valerie Hempstead, in my book, REMEMBER ME, who was about to take a journey to the continent. She and her mother were often on the outs, and the first leg of her traveling would be without a chaperone – which as you know, just isn’t done, especially when your mother is a traditionalist! 🙂 But Valerie, having found not only a shred of courage but a long-hidden rebellious streak, wasn’t about to let anything or anyone stop her. I felt compelled to tell her story in The Art of Temptation, and as a writer, you just can’t ignore inspiration when it strikes with such strength!

2.  Does the book contain any underlying themes that are important to the story? Yes, two. And oddly enough, when put together, they seem to contradict each other at first. But if you’re bold and believe in yourself, you can push through the difficulties to something wonderful you may not have even dreamt of. Themes: Taking a risk, chance or leap of faith can lead you into dark places – and – if you believe in yourself, persevere and hold tight to your dreams through the unbelievably hard times, you will be rewarded.

3What kind of characters do you enjoying creating for a hero or heroine? Do you believe they both need to be strong to have a good story?  I could neither read nor write about a character who didn’t attempt to bust out of a dire situation in any way possible, no matter what the time period. And I honestly don’t think today’s sophisticated historical romance reader wants to read about the women who sat in a corner and embroidered handkerchiefs. If they did, they would be reading historical fiction and not romance.

4.  Did you do any special historical research while writing the book?

If so, what interesting things did you learn? As you might imagine, I did research on the history of the Moulin Rouge, which was awesome in and of itself, but I also got to incorporate two real dancers into The Art of Temptation: Jane Avril http://www.janeavril.net/gallery.html and Louise Weber (also known as “La Goulue”) http://theburnsarchive.blogspot.com/2010/10/la-goulue-glutton-lautrecs-muse-fallen.html

In my research, I learned that Jane and Louise were fierce rivals, which put yet another speed bump (so to speak) in our heroine, Valerie’s, plans.

There were so many different stories about the birth of the Cancan, that I needed to, for the sake of the story, fuse some of them to fit into my fictional tale. Not only that, but I incorporated my fictional characters with true historical figures, which I do in a good many of my books.

5.  What historical era do you like the most – Regency, Victorian, Edwardian, other and why? 

I truly love them all. But I will tell you, Victorian characters come to me, demanding I tell their story, more often any other time period. It was a fascinating time, especially the later part of the era, experiencing the industrial revolution and being on the brink of a new century and the origin of women fighting for their rights.

6.  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and how did you get started? After writing a very short (almost like an outline) story in high school for an English project, I must confess that I didn’t read romance for at least a decade. Then my friend Cyndi handed me a Judith McNaught’s Until You and I was hooked! A few month’s later, after I’d exhausted my friend’s cache of historical romance novels, she planted the bug in my ear that I should write one of my own. So that’s exactly what I did.

7.  What challenges do you face as an author either personally or professionally? I always have that fear that I’ll run out of story ideas. Oddly enough, that has never been the case.

8.  Tell us about any previous works or any new works you’ll be releasing in the future.I have a couple things in the works, but I’ll share with you at bit about my next release: Cat and Mouse coming soon from Total-e Bound Publishing: England, 1898. A proper lady would never steel or lie; nor would she enjoy the sting of her lover’s hand upon her posterior. See a bit more here: http://www.genelladegrey.com/books/book-cat-and-mouse-1898/

9.  Add anything else you’d like to tell your readers. For a few extras related to my book, The Art of Temptation, please stop by the official Book Page on my website: http://www.genelladegrey.com/book-the-art-of-temptation-1889/ AND, for the most up-to-date info and other assorted goodies, here are these:

Twitter: @GenelladeGrey

Facebook Page: Facebook

Website: www.genelladegrey.com – Where you can sign up for my newsletter and/or subscribe to get alerts when I blog (which is only every week or so.)

Thanks again!
Genella deGrey – Heating-up History

AUTHOR Bio:

Born and reared in Southern California, Genella deGrey longed to be your typical blonde, tanned, surfer girl but failed miserably. Unable to sit idle without falling asleep, she embarked upon several artistic endeavors. Makeup and set dressing for the entertainment industry, Resort Enhancement for The Walt Disney Company and writing sexy historical romance top the list of her favorite activities.  Genella has a keen interest in the spirit world. She loves wandering around in graveyards, traveling to battle fields and other haunted destinations, the older the better. New Orleans is one of her favorite places to encounter the supernatural, as is Tombstone, AZ.

Articles Blind Allegiance Viking Research

Guest Post: “Viking Attraction” by Violetta Rand

Many things attracted me to Vikings. I’ve been in love with history forever. As a highly imaginative child, prone to telling tall tales, reading and writing came naturally. Of course what I read and wrote is another story. It started with sneaking peeks at my eldest brother’s collection of Conan the Barbarian comic books and developed into a full blown obsession with heroes. What’s more compelling than a warrior’s tale? I can’t think of anything I like more. Combine romance, action, and a touch of mysticism and I’m hooked—in a big way.
Lacking any central authority during the early raids, Norsemen seized this opportunity and often returned from pillaging in glory and wealthier than they ever dreamed. Commoners became princes, men of reputation and honor. That’s where I draw inspiration. All Vikings, great and small, sought one common end—a seat at Odin’s table in Valhalla.
Imagining the glories of Asgard, the heavenly realm where Odin and his children lived, made it easy to develop my hero, Randvior Sigurdsson. Herculean and irrevocably devoted to Odin, Randvior might appear the typical Alpha at first glance, but he’s not. His father, Anundr Sigurdsson, decided his only son would benefit from the wealth he’d earned from seafaring. As a result, my hero received an English education. Fluent in many languages and well-traveled, Randvior anticipates change, including the expansion of the Church. He’s worked hard to establish trading rights and new homesteads across Europe. He’s tired of raiding and considers it an unnecessary risk. This wisdom gives him the ability to think more liberally and make better choices for his future. Kill or be killed might be the mantra of the Viking Age, but mercy has its advantages. Randvior demonstrates mercy when he first encounters Noelle Sinclair.
Noelle Sinclair is a young noblewoman from Durham, England. Although she’s not her father’s favorite daughter, he respects her the most because she’s shown how independent and quick witted she is under pressure. That said, Noelle is also educated and quite fond of reading. When three longships appear in the middle of the night, it’s Noelle who springs into action and leads her sister to safety. Once she realizes other women from her household are unaccounted for, she marches back to the castle to confront the invaders and save her kinsmen. This allegiance attracts the attention of Randvior who bargains with Noelle’s brother for custody of her.
Noelle has no intention of forsaking her home. She opposes Randvior every step of the way—from Durham to Norway. Each holds the other responsible for many mishaps, including the legitimacy of their opposed religions. Blind Allegiance offers a glimpse into the turbulent life of a Viking lord who offers his soul to a woman he’s not supposed to love. And Noelle knows it’s a risk of a lifetime loving a man she’s supposed to hate.
Articles Eulogy's Secret Grace Elliot Historical Romance Hope's Betrayal King's Bedroom

Historical Tidbit: A Kerfuffle in the King’s Bedroom by Grace Elliot

The Tudor court was rife with politics and power-play – and never more so than in the bedroom. Being a gentleman of the King’s bedchamber, meant intimate contact with the monarch – and so only the most privileged and trusted were admitted to the position. This was a reflection of the closeness to the monarch’s ear and possible influence on government policy.
Keys to the bedchamber became a symbol of power. That most intimate of servants, The Groom of the Stool (the stool referred to is the Tudor equivalent of the toilet) wore as a badge of office ‘a gold key on a blue ribbon’ – and had to authority to demand that ‘no other keys for the bed-chamber be made or allowed.’ Even so the king had little privacy.
See his sheets be clean, then fold down his bed, and warm his night kerchief and see his house of office be clean, help off his clothes, and draw the curtains, make sure the fire and candles, avoid [throw out] the dogs, and shut the doors.
Henry VIII didn’t sleep with his wife unless he wanted intercourse, when he visited her chambers. However, there were always attendants in the room, either sleeping on a small wheeled bed pulled out from beneath the royal bed, or even favoured servants such as Thomas Culpepper ‘ordinarily shared [the King’s] bed’.
Henry VIII had a set of household rules about how to make up his bed. He slept on a pile of eight mattresses and each night he had a servant roll on the bed, to check for hidden enemies with daggers. After this the servant would kiss the places he had touched, sprinkle the sheets with holy water and make the sign of the cross over the bed.
But over time, even Henry became tired of this invasion of privacy. At Hampton Court he built so-called ‘secret lodgings’ with a new policy for bedchamber staff. Of his six Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, only one now had the automatic right to enter – the rest had to be invited. “The King’s express commandment is, that none other of the said six gentlemen, presume to enter of follow his Grace into the said bed chamber, or any other secret place, unless he shall be called.”
Henry I employed a ‘porter of the King’s bed’ – a man with a packhorse whose job it was to convey the king’s bed from castle to castle. A royal progress was a means by which the monarch exerted his authority over his nobles. Any aristocrat seeking to impress maintained a special bedroom for visiting sovereigns. This meant having a state-bed; a colossal constructions with a canopy fifteen foot high, hung with gorgeous and expensive tapestries. One example was the state bed at Woburn Abbey, commissioned appropriately enough by the Duke of Bedford – at a cost equivalent to today of half a million pounds.
Sumptuous as a state bed sounds, sometimes there is no substitute for comfort rather than show. Elizabeth I spent her last nights of life on a pile of cushions on the floor, rather than in her 11 foot ostrich-feather bed – proving size isn’t everything.
Grace Elliot
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and an author of historical romance by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes intelligent people need to read romance – as an antidote to the modern world. She works in a companion animal practice near London and is housekeeping staff to five demanding felines, two sons and a bearded dragon.

Learn more about Grace at her blog: Fall in Love with History

Articles C.W. Gortner Historical Fiction Isabella of Castile The Last Queen The Queen's Vow

Historical Fiction with Romantic Elements – Do We Care?

Romance Writer’s of America gives guidelines as to what constitutes the genre of “Romance” and the many sub-genres that go along with it.  It’s basically two points, and I quote:

A central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. 

You get the drift.  Boy meets girl.  They fall in love.  Have a few obstacles along the way, and live happily ever after. 

What about historical fiction with romantic elements?  Are they worth the read too?  If you’re willing to take the “central love story” but not kill the author for the ending, they can be a satisfying read. Not all historical fiction books have happy or optimistic endings. Stories of kings and queens and the people they loved were largely influenced by their inherited duties and roles. Two of Isabella’s daughters, for instance, were married off for political alliances to men in other countries.  One of those daughters was Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. 

One particular book recently released by C. W. Gortner, The Queen’s Vow, has caught my eye.  It’s about Isabella of Castile as a young woman.  I read an earlier work of his entitled The Last Queen about Joanna of Castile, who was one of Isabella’s daughters who married Philip the Handsome (yes that was his name) the Duke of Burgundy.

A few years ago, I got caught up in Joanna’s story of undying love for her adulterous husband.  Definitely not a happy ending, so don’t put it on your historical romance shelf if you think you’ll throw it against the wall when you read the last page. If you’re curious about her, just Google her name and read her sad story of going mad because of her love for Philip.  And if that piques your interest, there is a wonderful foreign movie, Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad).  It’s dubbed in English, but well worth the watch.  It’s a difficult movie to find, but I’ve seen a few copies on eBay for sale. There are also clips on YouTube, if you want to check them out.

Well, in any event, I’ve come across another great Virtual Book Tour site that deals exclusively with Historical Fiction.  It’s the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  We will be receiving promotional updates for tours, and I’m going to include them in our blog.  I occasionally read historical fiction, so I may focus on a few of those in my reviews.  There is also an Amazon widget at the bottom of the page that will showcase recent releases or books on tour.

In the end, I will confess that I am more of a realist when it comes to stories. There are many personal reasons in my life that have forged my thinking and writing that way.  My Legacy Series books are historical fiction with romantic elements.  I’ve been crucified a few times over the endings in those books, but I’ve received even more positive responses for writing stories of love that deal with stark realities.

Nevertheless, I thought I would spread our wings and offer you new reads to add to your shelf.  I’ll be reading The Queen’s Vow.  I love the cover.  From what I’ve read, it leans more on the romantic side and Isabella’s love for Ferdinand.  This could prove detrimental to finishing my latest book.

Articles Charity Wakfield Emma Thompson Jane Austen Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility 1995 Sense and Sensibility 2008

The Dashwood Sisters – The Women of Jane Austen

The Dashwood Sisters.  Could there be anything more entertaining than these two women?  They are as different as night and day and both on a pursuit for husbands. Elinor bears everything with quiet decorum and sense. Marianne is outspoken and seeks the thrills of romantic fellowship with no sense at all.

Okay, I’ll confess.  Sense and Sensibility is my favorite of Austen’s works. It was her first novel written in 1795 at the age of 19 and was accepted by a publisher and put into print in 1811 (at her own expense, I might add for all you indies out there).  Though I’m not an Austen expert by any means, I’m thankful for the many resources available online about her life and works from people who are.  Unfortunately, I missed my trip to the London Library in 2011 to see one of her manuscripts on display.

I’m not quite sure what it is about this story. Perhaps it’s all that yearning for love and silent pining inside the hearts of women that draws me so strongly to their characters.  As women, we probably all have a bit of Elinor and Marianne in each of us.

Elinor, who loves the steady, kindhearted, humble man in the form of Edward Ferrars, is the sensible sister of the two.  She bears her love and disappointment with quiet restraint while dealing with her sister’s outward and passionate emotions regarding Willoughby.

Though I’ve never had a sister, the fact that they are so different as night and day is entertaining. Austen does a wonderful job with each of them telling the other about their own exasperation over the other’s personality.

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him—
that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”
Marianne here burst forth with indignation—
“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment.”

Then there is Marianne — brokenhearted Marianne whose life nearly ends because she cannot have the man she loves.  Marianne, of course, is undoubtedly the romantic at heart in this story compared to her sister Elinor who keeps everything hidden for the sake of propriety.  She’s lost all good sense when it comes to her infatuation with Willoughby.  Gregarious, passionate, and handsome Willoughby fits perfectly into her idealist qualifications of what a gentleman should be.

“Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much! He must have all Edward’s virtues, and his person and manners must ornament his goodness with every possible charm.”

Though Marianne is happy for her sister’s budding relationship with Edward, she clearly expresses her thoughts of the deficits of his personality in her eyes.

“Oh! mama, how spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!” 

For me, Marianne represents all of the girlish and hopeful feelings we possess at 16 years of age regarding love.  Our hearts are filled with romantic notions of being swept off our feet by the most amiable of men, who can recite to us poetry with heartfelt enunciation that brings tears to our eyes. They rescue us when in distress, are attentive, offer flowers, cut locks of our hair to keep with them and promise to adore us for all eternity.

Elinor, on the other hand, is the more mature young woman who sees the wonder of what love can be but also recognizes the cruel hurt and devastation it can bring to a female’s heart.  She not only sees the terrible effects of a broken heart nearly bringing her dearest sister to death’s door, but she also bears the heartache of love lost to another.

As far as modern adaptations on screen, we have been blessed with two beautiful renditions of Sense and Sensibility in film and television.  The 1995 movie version with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson is a wonderful condensed version. My favorite, however, probably because it is much longer is the 2008 BBC version starring Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.  The choice of characters for Edward and Col. Brandon excited me a bit more, as well as the cinematography.

Choose for yourself who are your favorites to play these parts?  Who do you imagine when you read Sense and Sensibility?

I give you a challenge to any of my readers if you wish to write about any of the men in this story who vie for the love of these women’s hearts, be my guest blogger.  Just shoot me an email and let me know what you think of Edward, Willoughby, and Brandon.

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Emma Thompson
Hattie Morahan
Kate Winslet
Charity Wakefield

I had thought seriously about leaving the men off this post. But, who can resist? Here you go, ladies!

1995 Movie 2008 BBC TV
Hugh Grant
Dan Stevens
Greg Wise
Dominic Connor
Alan Rickman
David Morrissey
Articles Colin Firth Darcy Elliot Cowan Fitzwilliam Darcy Jane Austen Matthew MacFayden Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s Leading Men – Part I – Fitzwilliam Darcy

Fitzwilliam Darcy. When he was conceived by Jane Austen and read by women everywhere before movies came along, I wonder how he was pictured in the minds of ladies. Of course, I’m sure that propriety forbade them to speak openly of such private imaginations. Well, let’s face it, as Jane said, a “lady’s imagination is very rapid” and who knows where it will lead besides matrimony.

As modern women, we are blessed with the advent of movies that have cast Darcy in the bodies of handsome actors. It’s here in our 21st century world when we read Pride & Prejudice, we’re no doubt picturing one of these men wearing a cravat and looking quite dashing in their period clothing.

I think it’s safe to say that most ladies love Colin Firth as the Darcy of their dreams. My tastes lean toward Elliot Cowan as my swoon-worthy Darcy. (Who you say? He played Darcy in the fictional world of “Lost in Austen.”) There was something about his appearance, characterization, and voice that made we go weak in the knees.

Perhaps, you enjoyed Matthew MacFadyen in the role, and our mothers and grandmothers kept their eyes on Laurence Olivier who moved women in 1940. There were others who made it on film to play the role in various adaptations.  No matter who your mind wanders to as Fitzwilliam, he’s still the arrogant aristocrat we find utterly fascinating.

However, our beloved Darcy does have his flaws. Before Elizabeth finally humbles him and puts him in his place, he really is annoying. The man never smiles. Of course, if you like aristocratic snobs and are one yourself, I’m sure you think he’s well behaved in his treatment of others. Wonderful Jane Austen pens the most powerful scene after Darcy declares his love for Elizabeth. After all, his love is a sacrificial gift in spite of Miss Bennet’s status in life.

“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” 

Jane Austen’s colorful characters are worth their weight in gold.  Darcy, of course, is just one of the many leading men we can fantasize about in Austen’s works.  Is he my favorite among all of Jane’s creations?  No. Now that I’ve shocked you, you’ll just have to wait and see which man moves my heart or “floats my boat” as Amanda Price would say in Lost in Austen.

Enjoy your daydreams of Darcy; and do tell, who is your favorite!

Articles Fashions Historical Romance

Romancing the Hat

Fashion in France 1908
I’m in love with outrageously large hats from long ago.  I’ve been watching Mr. Selfridge on Masterpiece Theater recently.  I’m enthralled with Lady Mae wearing her fashionable dresses and hats of early 1900’s.  

In my book The Price of Deception, I had a few passages about hats.

“Robert curiously viewed his wife as she donned her latest flashy, Parisian monstrosity on her head.” 

I also mentioned that his mother became overly excited when her daughter-in-law brought a gift back from Paris.

Jacquelyn hugged her mother-in-law tightly and immediately brought her attention to the newest purchase perched upon her head. She twirled around and flashed a smile. “What do you think? Isn’t it gorgeous?” 
Mary gave the purple silk, netting, lace, feathers, and flowers resting on top of her golden locks a keen inspection. “Gorgeous,” she complimented, with jealousy. 
I often ponder about how large hats must have messed up women’s hair when they took them off, or how in the world a man ever ducked underneath a large brimmed hat to steal a kiss without getting popped in the nose. Perhaps hats were a tactic of propriety to keep men away from the lips of women during certain eras. A hat like the one to the right reminds me of blinders on a horse so a woman’s eyes wouldn’t wander where they shouldn’t.  
There is a wonderful website on Tumblr entitled, “Hats From History” that you might want to visit.  It’s filled with a variety of hats from various eras if you’d like to check out the fashions.

My mother was born in 1912, so she grew up in an era of hats.  I remember even in the 50’s the little pill-box hats she would wear with netting over her eyes. In fact, I still have two of her old square hat boxes.  I frankly cannot remember the last time I saw a woman where I live wear a hat, unless it was a brave one on Easter Sunday morning in church.

Credit: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Abaca

In contrast to our practice in the United States, I’m very happy that the British monarchy and women of the realm have kept the hat alive and well.  Half the fun for me during some important British occasion, is to check out the variety of hats worn by the aristocracy. Kate Middleton was named “Hat Person of the Year” in 2012 by The Headwear Association.  You must admit, she wears hats very well. Kate even works with her milliner to help design the hats she wears.

As authors of historical romance, we probably write more about the love affairs of rogues, knights, or men in kilts than we do about the love of fashionable hats.  Even though I see a lot of romance covers with men in britches, boots, and naked chests, along with women in low necklines and dresses with low backs, I rarely see one on the cover of a book donning a hat. Why is that? I think all of period clothing, including what has perched upon the head of a woman, is part of the wonder of long ago love and the stories we tell. After all, fashion makes the woman, doesn’t it? (As I look at my jeans and tee-shirt, I realize I need help.)

Fondly,
Vicki

Tidbit:  Do you know where the term “mad as a hatter” came from?  The process of making felt involved toxic mercury that drove hat makers to madness. (From The Hat Museum – Portland, Oregon)

Articles Divorce Laws 19th Century Happily Ever After Historical Romance Novels Marriage

And They Lived Happily Ever After

I, take thee, to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, 
for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

 

Sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it?  Historical romance authors, if they follow the rules, end books in similar ways giving the “HEA” ending to readers.  Who wants to read about divorce in a romance novel?  However, I’m a diehard researcher that always has to look at a situation from every angle, so I took the time to discover the truth about marriage and divorce.
My research regarding divorce laws in France and England reminded me of that phrase we often say, but don’t really adhere to in the 21st century – “until death us do part.”  Let’s move the romance aside for a moment and take a look at the reality of 19th century marriage and divorce.  I discovered the following in my hours of researching the topic from a moral, religious, and civil law perspective.
Marriages in the Victorian era fell into three categories: (1) those contracted for convenience; (2) those produced by sympathy or love; and (3) those entered into from duty. The aristocracy put great importance on the background and nobility of the families they married into, as well as marrying for money. Though love in marriage might be ideal, it was not a practical reality, and people were told not to expect too much from marriage. If you found an ounce of happiness in your union, rejoice.
So what about unhappy marriages? Divorce was not easily obtained. Extramarital sexual relations were a normal feature of life in troubled relationships. After marriage, adultery was almost inevitable. Adultery, believe it or not, was preferred to divorce, mainly because divorce was difficult and expensive to obtain. Men had sex with their wives for children, and bedded their mistresses for love and pleasure. A wife had the duty to obey her husband and produce heirs, and in return for her obedience, the husband owed her protection and security.
Divorce in England and France evolved over the years, coupled with Catholic and Anglican restrictions. A married woman in France needed two causes for divorce – adultery and physical cruelty. Adultery alone was not grounds for divorce for a woman. However, a man could divorce his wife for adultery only.
To file for divorce in France, a petition had to be brought before the president of the chambers, and there had to be two attempts before the court to reconcile the marriage. If the marriage failed to reconcile, then court proceedings would continue. Upon the divorce, the children would go to the custody of the husband.  After 1886, custody was left at the discretion of the court. The wife had to take back her maiden name and was forbidden to keep her husband’s name. The husband could remarry immediately after the divorce became final, but the wife had to wait ten months after the dissolution before she was allowed to marry again.
In Victorian England, the rules were similar. “The husband could obtain a divorce for adultery, the wife could obtain a divorce for adultery coupled with cruelty or desertion for two or more years, and also for incestuous or bigamous adultery, or rape, or unnatural offenses.” (The Encyclopedia Britannica: Volume 3, Google Books)  Divorce could be a lengthy and costly process that only the rich could afford.
Of course, civil laws did not govern church laws.  Catholics could not divorce and remain in good graces with the church, and surely Anglican and other protestant branches held the same views.  Holy matrimony was just that – a holy union not to be broken. The alternative of adultery to divorce was a matter of sin and one’s conscience.  Even though France was predominantly Catholic, the church turned a blind eye to the infidelity of the male Frenchman.
Our modern day divorces are much easier to obtain.  Though we may utter those words “until death do us part,” they don’t really carry the serious consequences of marriages long ago.  Perhaps that is why readers insist on a happily ever after as a perquisite to a good historical romance.  The reality of being chained to a marriage without love for the sake of convenience, law, or religious conscience must have been an unhappy existence.  As Jane Austen would say:
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.

Happily Ever After,
Vicki
Articles Henry VIII Armor Historical Romance Authors Historical Romance Readers Historical Tidbits Knights in Shining Armor Long Ago Love Pre-Raphaelite Painters

Knights in Shining Armor

As readers of historical romance, we probably all have our favorite eras that we love to read about.  For me, it is the late Victorian era up through the Edwardian era (1870 to 1910).  I’m fascinated mostly because of the fashions, etiquette, and way of life of the upper class.  Though I’ve written about the struggles of the poor and some of the unseemly points of existence during those years, I guess like most other readers I’d rather bask in the class of privilege.
However, one era that draws readers of historical romance is the Middle Ages, where we are surrounded by knights in shining armor.  When I think of that time, I instantly think of Lancelot, that cute Frenchman that stole the heart of Guinevere.  Visions of the Knights of the Roundtable, chivalry, amour, jousting, and the crusades fill my mind. This era spans from the 5th to the 15th centuries and leaves for authors a vast time period in which to weave historical novels of love.
Many years ago, I was swept up in curiosity regarding knighthood, and in particular the Knights Templar.  I wanted to learn more about knights in general, how they came to be, what their code of honor entailed, how they fought, how they loved, etc.  I stumbled across a book at Borders (let us have a moment of silence) entitled, The Knight in History, by France Gies, published by Harper & Row back in 1984.  It’s actually available in Kindle form now.  Here is the LINK.  It’s a fantastic read, and if you’re an author or reader who loves this time period, you might pick it up.
One particularly good chapter is The Troubadours and the Literature of Knighthood, which talks about the love poems and songs written by knights. Below is a short quote from a work that has survived the test of time.

I am blind to others and their retort.  I hear not.  In her alone, I see, move, wonder…and jest not.  And the words dilate not truth; but mouth speaks not the heart outright. I could not walk roads, flats, dales, hills, by chance, to find charm’s sum within one single frame, as God hath set her . . .

While in London, I actually saw quite a few suits of armor, including those worn by Henry VIII.  Not only were the males adorned in shining metal, but their horses as well.  Below is a picture of Henry’s armor, which was quite larger than other examples. For some reason, I was shocked at the size.  No doubt I had Jonathan Rhys Meyers on my mind, rather than the hefty English king of reality.  If you enlarge the picture by clicking on it, you note the prominent area of protection around his manhood.
Let us fast forward to the Pre-Raphaelite painters during the mid-19th century who gave us inspiring works of knights in shining armor associated with beautiful women they loved, honored, or rescued.  A few of these great artists (Harper, Millais, Waterhouse) have created beautiful scenes of knights and ladies that surely give rise to inspirational stories in all of us.  Below is a small sample of some of those gorgeous works of art.
In any event, if you’re a lover of this era, our pages are open to authors who write stories about knights in shining armor.  As for me, I’ll stick with the more gentile gentlemen of the Victorian era, rather than men of steel and brawn.
Cheers,

Vicki

“Where are the simple joys of maidenhood? Where are all those adoring daring boys? Where’s the knight pining so for me he leaps to death in woe for me? Oh where are a maiden’s simple joys? Shan’t I have the normal life a maiden should? Shall I never be rescued in the wood? Shall two knights never tilt for me and let their blood be spilt for me? Oh where are the simple joys of maidenhood?”   Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe

Articles Historical Romance Authors Historical Romance Genre Jane Austen Quotes Mr. Darcy

Is the Historical Romance Genre Dying?

What a loaded question that happened to be on the Internet today.  A blog post was contributed by Jane Litte, the founder of Dear Author entitled, “We Should Let the Historical Romance Genre Die.”  A flash flood of comments were posted either agreeing or rebutting the idea.  The article was re-posted on one of my favorite sites, The Passive Voice, which generated many comments as well. It was a hot topic between readers and writers whether our Mr. Darcy-type characters are doomed to fade away into the distant past.

I commented on The Passive Voice that I don’t think the genre will ever really die, though the interest may wane because of the current trends in the marketplace. The vampire rage has paled, being replaced by the kinky millionaires and sex slaves in the bedchamber. Perhaps one day readers will want to return to the good old days for a bit of swashbuckling romance. I think new generations who fall in love with Austen’s work will want to read Regency-era stories. Of course, that genre is a bit cleaner than the 21st century, unless we start tying up and spanking Mr. Darcy for pleasure.

Frankly, authors need to make their stories more interesting, reach out to those readers who want that type of novel. Keeping a genre alive is a responsibility of not only a reader, but the author as well, who should have the incentive and imagination to bring a new flavor. If the target audience is getting bored, there must be reason behind it. Perhaps authors are just churning out too many cookie-cutter stories with not enough emotional impact to keep readers interested.

I had an after thought, too, that historical romance is no easy gig for any author.  It’s one thing to write contemporary romance, sprinkled with a bit of research.  It’s entirely another daunting job to jump into a historical era and learn all about the speech, customs, dress, beliefs, and attitudes of the day.  Without research, historical romance is bland and just a story.  You can also get crucified in reviews from staunch protectors of the faith if you dare to vary from the historical norm. I don’t mind research, because I want to develop my characters in their true surrounding.  After all, some of the research is interesting!  I always thought French letters were just that — letters.  Little did I know…

Well, I assume that in a few days another controversial post will pop up somewhere in blog land.  In the meantime, what do you think?  Is the historical romance genre dying a slow death?  If so, what can we do to spice things up a bit, without making it raunchy in content?

I’ll leave with you another wonderful photo of a period dress to ponder upon while you’re thinking of your answer. I think women must have felt so feminine and beautiful.  Believe me, my jeans and sneakers just don’t do the trick.

 “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”
― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Purple wool, velvet and lace two-piece Worth dress, c. 1890
(Courtesy of Old Rags on Tumblr)
Articles Historical English Clothing Medieval Tapestries Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria & Albert Museum in London – A Place of Inspiration

One of my goals of this blog is not only to showcase books to readers, but to make an interactive location for authors and readers to enjoy the past that we write and read about.  I’m a firm believer in using visuals for inspiration.  My favorite practice is to make storyboards for my books.  Perhaps one day I’ll share those with you.

In 2010 and 2011, I had the opportunity to live my dream of traveling to England and losing myself in the wonderful city of London.  My ancestors on my mother side are English and on my father’s Russian.  I often say it makes a lethal combination as a writer, because most of my stories have drama and tragedy before the happy ending arrives!  I blame my propensities in story writing on my heritage.

Nevertheless, while in London one of my favorite visits happened to be at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  One visit is not enough to take in the wonders of art and design that fill its halls.  If you’re an author or a reader, you’d love it as a wonderful place of inspiration.  Below is a short slideshow of some of the period clothing and furniture that were in the museum.  There are so many wonderful historical items to look at that I barely touched the surface of its treasures.

My favorite room contained a world famous collection of medieval tapestries, including the Devonshire Hunts.  The room had a protected environment with dim lights and atmospheric controls for the ancient masterpieces.  They were absolutely awe inspiring to examine up close in both color and intricate designs that covered the walls.  I think each tapestry could be the inspiration for a stunning historical romance.

I hope enjoy the pictures.

 

Articles Long Ago Love Blog Lorraine Hunt Lynn The Bartlemas Anthology Undergarments

Unmentionables & Undergarments

The Appropriate Use of You-Know-What, You-Know-Where and You-Know-How
This post was contributed by Lorraine Hunt Lynn on 5/5/13
Perhaps I’m a little odd, but I have a thing about hygiene in Historical Romance. Whenever the captain of a buccaneering vessel sweeps his love interest into his arms and carries her into his cabin, I tend to wonder when he (or she) last washed. I know, I know; we are supposed to presume that our protagonist and love interest have taken care of the essentials, but the question of love’s bare necessities remains for me.
Perhaps my obsession comes as a result of the years I spent studying history, and the need to understand it at its contextual level. As a student, I was expected to research everything and assume nothing before attempting to offer my opinion. As there were no Regency rakes hiding in 19th century census transcripts, and little mention of heaving bosoms among the Old Bailey records, the hard graft of understanding the ordinary person took precedence. Then again, my sanitary preoccupation might be the result of my addiction to Time Team, and Phil Harding’s love of the ‘good tomato growing soil’ at the base of a castle’s long drop toilet system. Regardless, historical hygiene has always fascinated me.
Paula Lofting, author of Sons of the Wolf, is a childhood friend of mine, and our shared passion for our writing and our children has seen us through most of our lives together. When Paula’s debut novel began to take shape, and her ongoing involvement with Regia Anglorum fascinated me, I recall wanting to know all about pre 1066 England. So excited was I, that my first question was, ‘So, what did the Anglo Saxons use for toilet paper?’ It’s true; the University of Oxford conferred upon me a piece of paper assuring the world of my historical abilities, and I ignored the status of Anglo Saxon women, their societal structure, architecture, medical knowledge and so much more, to ask about the act of wiping one’s nether regions!
All buccaneers, rakes, heaving bosoms and moss wiped bottoms aside, I have to wonder if this is a subject considered by other Historical Romance readers. Are the undergarments, unmentionables and undesirables better left unsaid in Historical Romance? Personally, I believe that the more of life’s ‘little things’ there are in historical fiction, the more it can lend credibility to a good story. I’m not suggesting that a hero or heroine should be portrayed as an OCD sufferer in a ritual cleansing frenzy, and nor do I believe that a manifest of undergarments should be provided each time anybody disrobes. No; what I would prefer to see is the occasional, tasteful reference to how they kept themselves clean, and to ensure that it is appropriate to the era in which they lived.
This requires a fair amount of research, but it can pay dividends in terms of believability. The practice of soap making, for instance, is an ancient one, and lye soap has been used by everybody with access to animal fat, ash and a fire since time immemorial; possibly since before the Anglo Saxons were gathering moss for the purpose of wiping themselves! Lye soap however, was only fashioned into solid cakes when mixed with salt, and was definitely not to be applied to the face in that form; not unless the heroine was intent on aging before a reader’s eyes. Soft lye soap was used for bathing, and was generally scooped from a pot with the fingers.Toothbrushes too, have been around in one form or another for centuries, and toothpaste as we know it today since at least the 19th century. Before then, salt or charcoal were the most effective dental cleansers. There were no antiperspirants in days of yore, but deodorants in the form of powders and perfumes were in common use by the middling and upper classes since the Middle Ages at the very least. As to underwear, the simple act of having one’s bloomers (the precursors to pantaloons) removed in the late 18th and early to mid 19th centuries, required the removal of two separate legs, each joined by a tied fronts piece. This is the context about which I write when discussing historical accuracy and the ‘little things’.

Often in fiction, the most unmentionable of all subjects is a woman’s menstrual cycle; something requiring a well crafted and sensitive approach by an author. It is difficult to ignore the subject if a fornicating couple is trapped by marauding abductors for anything in excess of three weeks, as the inevitable will happen; from puberty to menopause, you can generally set your clock by it. Pregnancy too, is the result of sexual activity at a certain time in a woman’s cycle, and the credibility of a story can often hinge upon such trivialities as the moon and the calendar. Historical Romance authors should ignore these realities at their own peril; but how can they be addressed without risking it being overdone to the point of distraction? I believe that it’s all about balance, and I offer the following advice to those struggling with subjects from moss to menses, and everything in between.
Heroines can simply catch a glimpse of a little soap at the base of an earlobe, thus assuring the reader that her love interest is ship-shape in the cleanliness stakes. Alternatively, the hair at the nape of his neck might be damp from his ablutions, or his own musk might mingle with the aroma of lye soap as she falls into his embrace. When crafted as a passing mention, these details don’t detract from the scene itself, but they serve to give characters substance. The requirement for a certain level of cleanliness is something we share with our forebears, and thus it can transcend the ages and allow readers to relate; something all authors continually strive to achieve.
The inevitable ‘monthlies’ (a term used in antiquity, and still common in the 1950’s) are bound to crop up in a book spanning a time frame in excess of three weeks. It doesn’t have to be spelled out in gruesome detail, but the passing mention of a heroine’s cramps slowing her morning routine can convey to a reader that she is just as human as the rest of us. Childbirth too, can be an interesting subject, but many authors struggle between providing too much or too little information. If it is essential to the plot, a well written delivery (in history, the woman was delivered of the child; the child was not delivered) can add a wonderful dimension to a story. Again, this must be done in the context of the times, and in keeping with the heroine’s knowledge of childbirth. Words such as uterus, contraction, umbilical cord and birth canal have only been in general circulation in modern times, whereas pain, cramp, urge, sting and push are timeless.
Long underwear on men is another area of fascination for me. Although the nightshirt, nightcap and long undies of antiquity predominate in modern depictions of life in Tudor England, 19th century Midwestern saloons and colonial plantations, the truth of the matter is that not all men wore long underwear. To begin with, the impoverished Dorsetshire agricultural labourer had little chance of affording such a luxury, and I can assure you that no early Australian settler in his right mind would wear long woollen undies and trousers when the mercury hovered around the 110 mark for weeks on end. The latter labouring fellow would either cut out the legs from the offending undergarment, or opt to ‘free-ball’, in order to survive the rigours of his environment.
I suspect also, that stays, corsets, crinolines and bustles for colonial working class women were reserved for the advent of company, or for venturing outside of the homestead for church, as any restriction to working efficiently would necessitate its removal. Books and electronic sources detail what people wore in a certain era, and such resources contain wonderful descriptions and drawings of clothing and accessories, equipping the historical fiction author with everything they need to put a heroine’s ensemble together. The author must however, be wary of out-thinking daily life, and should acknowledge that life’s practicalities also come into the picture; after all, the flip-flop is not a modern invention, and was worn by the Japanese for centuries. As to the aforementioned night attire, it’s all very well to rug up for a night in a Hebridean crofter’s hut, but sweltering nights in the colonial tropics are best survived by wearing as little as possible under netting, thus allowing perspiration to help cool the skin.
Finally, let us not forget the most basic function of all; toileting oneself. No romance reader, historical or otherwise, wants to be faced with the prospect of Lord Dunraven grabbing a copy of The Times and heading for his era’s version of the thunderbox; God forbid! The thought is as abhorrent as any mention of poorly functioning bowels, and any author in breach of this unwritten law should find a sturdy cane and administer themselves a damned sound thrashing. If however, mention of ‘the pot’ is appropriate to a scene, it should be tasteful, fleeting and non descriptive, and used only as a means of adding believability.
I admit that I like Historical Romances with the right doses of ablutionary reality in them, but only as a means of giving characters and situations believability and depth. I need to rest assured that a kiss allows a heroine to be the recipient of a man’s passion, and not the remnants of the pease pudding and faggots he ate for dinner. Most importantly, I strive to provide my own readers with the correct doses of subliminal reassurance that teeth are clean, nether regions are fresh and underwear is laundered, regardless of marauding abductors and the calendar.
It’s fairly late as I finish this Blog, and I’m well overdue for a you-know-what, you-know-how and you-know-where (hot cup of tea, white and sweet, in bed). I shall bid you all good night, climb into my 21st century night attire, and start thinking about my next Blog.

 

 
19th Century Morality Articles Brothels city of love

Historical Tidbit on Parisian Morality

Rolla by Henri de Gervex (1852-1929) in the Musee Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

Uninhibited sexual pleasure in the city of love during the 19th century could cause a 21st century woman’s cheeks to blush.  Prostitution and brothels were at their heyday, and they served a purpose to meet the needs of men both rich and poor. After all, marriage was an institution for producing children; prostitutes and mistresses were for pleasure. The brothel was a place of relaxation for men and accepted as normal practice in society.
How many prostitutes were there during this time period? This may surprise you. Brothels or mansions of tolerance, as they were called, housed 15,000 prostitutes in 1883. Between 1871 through 1903, approximately 155,000 women were registered as prostitutes. Each prostitute had to register at the Bureau of Morals. Afterward, they received a huge laundry list of regulated behavior for their conduct indoors and outdoors. During that time period, 725,000 were arrested by the police for suspected prostitution because they never registered.
Jobs were scare for women and survival of the poor difficult. Even married women participated in prostitution. There were roughly 125 brothels in business during 1870’s.  Brothels were considered a cleaner and more regulated system of pleasure keeping individuals from sexual perversion by giving them an alternative to the women on the streets. Pleasures for the male population were rampant on every corner, and like any other morally questionable practice, it carried consequences.
We tend to romanticize all this into lovemaking in romance novels without consequences, except perhaps a baby or two out of wedlock. Unfortunately, all those pleasures carried risks, especially contracting syphilis. How many had the disease? You might wish to sit down. Fourteen to fifteen percent of deaths were attributed sexually transmitted disease. Some reports carry it as high as 17%. One-tenth of the population contracted syphilis. You may think that’s not many, but one-tenth of the population equated to four million people. Syphilis was attributed to 40,000 still births yearly,when gone untreated, progressed into a dastardly end. Half of the cases were contracted between the age of 14 and 21. As one report put it, young people could not wait to dispel of their chastity.
Treatment for syphilis was inadequate and understanding by the medical community of the disease somewhat lacking. There were hospitals and clinics set up to specifically treat the disease, but many found it embarrassing to seek treatment. Effective treatment really didn’t arrive until approximately 1910 with the onset of better antibiotics. Earlier, Mercury and Potassium Iodide were used.

Nowadays, we’re probably a bit more sophisticated when it comes to sex and disease. After all, we’ve evolved, right? Men that sweep us off our feet today are usually wearing blue jeans and sneakers, and we can insist on blood tests before we hop in bed with them. I guess social progression does have its trade offs, but I have a sneaking suspicion with the number of historical romances sold each year women would rather fantasize in another century with handsome, well-dressed rich men.

Contributed by Vicki Hopkins 4/29/13

Thanks,
Vicki