Victorian Women – The Unromantic Reality

Years ago, I stumbled across the book Victorian Women by Joan Perkin during a Google search and realized that it was a treasure chest of information about the Victorian era and the challenges Victorian women faced.

Studying the contents has been an eye-opening experience. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in moving beyond the romance of the era and into reality. What is unique about the book, is that it contains text from women who lived during that time period, expressing what it was like to be a woman in a man’s world. Joan Perkins includes the lives of all women, in the upper class, middle class, and working-class, to give the reader a complete picture. To be a woman in the Victorian era was frankly unromantic. Here are a few of the many items that I found informative:

  • The importance of class and gender in the Victorian era played a large role in a woman’s life. A quotation from Alexander Walker, a physiologist, in the mid-1800s had this to say about women. “It is evident that the man, possessing reasoning faculties, muscular power, and courage to employ it, is qualified for being a protector: the woman, being little capable of reasoning, feeble, and timid, requires protection. Under such circumstances, the man naturally governs; the woman as naturally obeys.” The general male opinion regarding the female sex was void of respect. Women, however, as general, didn’t buy into the fact that they were inferior to the male species. Wives who only gave birth to girls were considered failures in their marriages. A male child was considered far better not only to produce an heir for the upper class but to produce workers for the family of the working-class.
  • No formal schooling existed for children until the 1880’s. Upper-class women were taught at home by governesses and tutors. The middle upper class taught their children at home or paid for private schooling or boarding school. The lower class women were self-taught or remained illiterate. I am astonished from my own ancestry research on my family in the Manchester, UK area from the 1800s to 1890s how many of my ancestors put an “X” as their mark on documents such as marriage certificates.
  • On one spectrum, the Victorian era was one of prudish ideals. Sex, menstruation, and masturbation were never discussed in the upper and middle classes. Most women entered marriage completely ignorant regarding sexual relations or the female reproduction system. Sex was a considered a marital duty in order to produce children and should never be a pleasurable experience for a woman. Ignorance was a means used to keep daughters pure until marriage.
  • Up until the age of 21, men and women needed parental consent to marry. Marriage for the upper classes, of course, was arranged for wealth and power. Charlotte Bronte thought that romantic awakening was romantic folly. Women shouldn’t fall in love till the offer of marriage had been given, the wedding ceremony over, and the first half year of marriage had passed. Middle-class women married men that received their parents’ approval. Finding a husband could be difficult. In 1851, there were 500,000 more women than men in England, and by 1911, the number rose to a 1.5 million.
  • The lower-class women lived entirely different lives. In the 19th century over a third of women were pregnant when they got married. The farming community “indulged freely in fornication and adultery.”
  • A double standard existed in all three classes. Men were not criticized for fornication or illicit sex before or during a marriage, but women were held to different rules.
  • The mortality rates were astounding in childbirth. One in 200 women died giving birth. Most women had an average of nine children. There were crude and ineffective means of birth control, and abortion was a crime. Many poor women, however, attempted to abort babies and died in the process.
  • Once married, a woman’s property belonged to a man. Any wages a woman earned during the marriage belonged to her husband. It wasn’t until 1882 that an Act of Parliament finally gave a married woman the right to her property at the time of marriage or earned during the marriage.
  • Underpants were not worn before the 1840s. Now you know.
  • There are interesting chapters regarding what women did during the Victorian era regarding entertainment and domestic life for all classes.
  • We romanticize the Victorian era far too much. A wife was the property of the husband. Once again, the double standard held where he could be unfaithful, but the wife could not. Divorce came by Private Acts of Parliament before 1857 and was very costly and difficult to obtain. Men could divorce their wife for adultery; women could not divorce only on the grounds of adultery, but it had to be accompanied by either physical cruelty, bigamy or incest. Custody of children went to the fathers, and the rights to see the children after a divorce could be curtailed or forbidden for the mother.
  • The husband had the right to “to give moderate correction” if she did not obey. Wife abuse occurred in all classes of society. Women had very little recourse against husbands who beat them and leaving was often not an option. Not until 1878 were women able to separate from abusive husbands and receive some type of maintenance from their spouses.Because divorce was difficult to obtain, married partners would often separate and go their way. Alternatives would be living with another lover out of wedlock or committing bigamy.
  • Most women outlived their husbands by many years, and widowhood for women in all classes could be a devastating and difficult time. One in four individuals over 65 were considered paupers and ended up their lives in workhouses or asylums. Unless they had family members who could afford to care for them, widows needed to turn to other means in order to support themselves. If they were savvy enough, they may take in boarders, clean houses, or find other menial jobs in order to survive.
  • There were a growing number of women who preferred spinsterhood rather than marriage because they were free to handle their money, make their decisions, and keep their illegitimate children. Middle-class women had more opportunities to pursue skilled jobs, but they were paid a pittance in comparison to their male counterparts. Lower-class women often worked long hours in factories and other jobs, and sometimes resorted to prostitution.
The book is filled with many true details from women of the past that will shock you regarding the hardships and inequality they faced. However, there are truly inspirational stories, too, about those women who worked to bring about equality and change for women.

You can order the book in paperback at Amazon. I purchased a used copy for $6.00. When it arrived, it was an old library copy, and a bit worn. However, I didn’t mind because it’s received my pink highlighter throughout the text. After recently checking Amazon it appears that copies are becoming unavailable. If you want to read the book, you may have to search out libraries and other venues. I highly recommend the effort if you are interested in Victorian-era research.

As an author, I realize that I am guilty of writing about an era and purposely ignoring the hardships that Victorian women endured. Perhaps as modern ladies, we are merely enamored by men in ascots who look dashing, rich, and handsome. We love our dukes and titled men, the fancy houses, and the lavish lifestyles and fashions. These are the fantasy men we have chosen to fall in love with between the pages, and the lovers we have given our heroines.

However, the aristocracy of England during the Victorian era only accounted for 2% of the population. Another small percentage included the upper-middle-class, which consisted of 15% of the population. These were families such as businessmen and tradesmen, who could adequately support their families.

To write about the other 83% of the population would be depressing to most readers. Frankly, I do not think that women care to read about suffering women in romance books. I know when I wrote about the hardships of one poor French woman in 1870 in my first book, The Price of Innocence, I was severely criticized in reviews for writing a “miserable story.” However, let’s be honest with ourselves. Lives for women during that time period were for the most part miserable, which thankfully gave rise to changes in law and attitudes.

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Victorian Women

The Ladies Toilet (1872 Style)

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“Suppose then that this first and vital standing order for the toilet be stringent, and that refreshed, and therefore energetic, buoyant, and conscious of one duty being at least performed, the lady leaves her bed and prepares to dress.”  The Habits of Good Society

What duty? A good night’s sleep, of course. I suppose you could call it the need for beauty sleep in a rested young lady.

I am continuing to read through “The Habits of Good Society,” yawning here in there but also dropping my mouth open at some of the recommendations. Hang onto your Victorian hat, because here comes the next installment of life in 1872 England.

The second order of business, after getting out of bed, is the bath, which once again is reiterated upon regarding the healthy type to take to balance circulation and maintain the skin. After the bath, a lady moved onto the necessity of personal grooming of the skin, face, and hair.

Her great-grandmother, however, wore powder and only dressed her hair three times a week. She rarely washed her face because it was bad for her complexion, but merely dabbed it with a cloth. Apparently, they were afraid of cold water. Filtered rainwater is suggested in 1872 to be the best moisture for the complexion.

After the bath, the woman sits at her “toilet table,” which contains everything neatly arranged for her use. (Once again, in the Victorian mind, everything has a place and is the order of the day!) The author notes that having a pale complexion was at one time the mark of beauty and somewhat continues to be the preference of some women. “Pearly whiteness” of skin in this time period was enhanced by “pearl powder.” The use thereof is stated to be unhealthy because it clogged the pores, and if not applied correctly, was noticeable. Let’s face it, we still see a bit of clumpy powder on our faces now and then. Of course, the more one aged, the deeper the lines upon the face became, necessitating the additional application of powder. Eventually it would turn into a clumpy and undesirable state of affairs.

The thought of the day is that the extravagant use of cosmetics was evil, according to the author, who doesn’t think it’s a moral question but a physical one. Good skin should be attained by rest, exercise, and a healthy diet. If you were prone to occasional “eruptions” (which are pimples), it could be very stressful. The author states, however, to avoid such frequent occurrences that you should not rub or touch your skin unnecessarily, get fresh air, stay out of the intense heat, use pure water, and sparingly use cosmetics. Not bad advice for 1872, considering it closely adheres to twenty-first century practices for the control of eruptions (a much kinder word, I think, than pimple).

Brace yourself for hair care. The practice of some with thick hair was only brushed and not wash, which led to smelly heads. It was not the author’s preference, who focuses on the puritanical view of Victorian cleanliness. Brushing alone was not recommended. To cleanse hair, the best possible solutions are noted below. In addition, a lady’s hair should be dressed twice a day (meaning styled), but taken down during the middle of the day for a thorough brushing.

“Wash the roots of the hair from time to time with weak vinegar and water, or with a solution of ammonia, cleanses it effectually, whilst a yolk of an egg beaten up and mixed with warm water is excellent for the skin and hair; bit it is troublesome to wash out, and must be done by a careful maid.”

Whether this concoction was used by all, I have no idea. However, the thought of ammonia and its smell had to leave a residue behind. I suppose the yolk of a beaten egg might eliminate the odor. The author seems to think that any scents applied to the hair itself is injurious.

I am finally gathering that the anonymous author must be male, which I think lends to a few of his slanted views. Where he gets his information regarding best practices for the feminine toilet routine is unknown. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll be searching my kitchen stash of cleaners, along with vinegar, to wash my hair any time soon. Thank goodness for Pantene.

(By Vicki Hopkins, Author)

Victorian Cleanliness (1872 Style)

“In the beginning of the present century (19th), it was thought proper for a gentleman to change his undergarment three times a day, and the washing bill of a beau comprised seventy shirts, thirty cravats, and pocket handkerchiefs à discretion.” (The Habits of Good Society 1872)

The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen,” continues on the subject Pears'Soap02of particular interest mostly because of the stories I’ve read about the poor hygiene in centuries past. However, when it came to the Regency and Victorian era, the upper class deemed it important as a sign of good character. Not only cleanliness was a duty for the sake of health and being agreeable to one’s neighbor, but it also went hand-in-hand with obeying the scriptures as a means of exemplifying purity. Poor personal habits by an individual who neglected his body was a sure sign of weak character.

The Victorians in 1872, however, thought Beau Brummell’s idea of taking two hours to dress was a bit ludicrous. However, if you dressed in ten minutes time, surely you’ve neglected the important matters of the toilet through your speedy actions.

The bath, recommended after waking in the morning, focused on the type one took. There were a variety of baths at varying temperatures. The most cleansing bath came from warm water of 96° to 100°. If you were filthy, 108° was better, as it expanded the pores, increased circulation, and did a better job.  Then there was the cold bath of 60° to 70° that should be avoided by persons who cannot tolerate it and is extremely dangerous after eating. A tepid bath of 85° to 95° is the safest. Shower baths were frowned upon because they did not focus on the health of the individual. Then there is the sponge bath as the last means of cleansing that could adequately do the job if a regular bath was unavailable.

The next duty of the Victorian is to clean the teeth, as there is nothing so terrible as being near an individual with poor breath and black teeth – especially a woman. The usual recommendation of avoiding sweets and smoking were taught be dentists. The writer recommends hard bristle toothbrushes with tooth powder. A little water, with a good lather, will do the job. (I guess by this time, we’ve progressed beyond the twigs and chalk of the Regency era.) The mouth should be rinsed seven times with cold water, and one should brush several times a day. After all, a woman can tell when a man has been drinking and smoking, which was deemed offensive in the opposite sex. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how attractive the man appears — if he has foul breath it is unforgiving. At least now when you read historical romance in the Victorian era, you can be assured that the hero’s kiss upon the lips of the heroine didn’t include a mouthful of bad breath.

The advice continues with grooming for the nails, hair, beards, makeup, and other matters regarding the lady’s toilet. Stay tuned for the next installment of cleanliness in 1872.

 

Feminine Accomplishments

530px-George_Goodwin_Kilburne_A_young_woman_at_a_piano_1880An English lady without her piano, or her pencil, or her fancy work, or her favorite French authors and German poets, is an object of wonder, and perhaps of pity.” (The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published 1872. Copyright 2012 Forgotten Books).

 Chapter VI is another fascinating look into life in 1872 as penned by someone who lived during the time period. In order to be a member of good society, young ladies should possess a skill besides dancing. Women are discouraged from being talkers.  “We are not, we English, a nation of talkers; naturally, our talent is for silence.” (Perhaps that is where the stiff upper lip mentality comes in because one never talks of their misfortunes or petty irritations.) Since the female population should not be prone to excessive conversation, they must compensate through some form of talent to be shared with others.

Music, of course, is the number one choice because it soothes the soul. The piano keeps it’s preeminence as the instrument acceptable for society, because the harp, by 1872, is no longer fashionable. A guitar is more compatible for a man to play rather than a woman. The writer of this book, however, thinks it to be a monotonous instrument. A zither is another acceptable musical form, which is Bavarian in origin. It is considered soft, romantic, and unsophisticated. The violin is unsuitable for young ladies, even though there have been women who have cultivated the playing of the stringed instrument.

Possessing the skill to play an instrument is imperative but also choosing the right piece of music to perform. Loud thumping scores should be avoided, as well as mournful pieces or music that is too rapid. A young lady, when sitting down and using a piano, should never complain that the instrument is out of tune because it is considered rude and an insult to the owner. A single piece is sufficient rather than dominating the instrument for long periods of time thereby preventing other ladies the opportunity to play.

Singing is a form of accomplishment. One must not be too young or inexperienced before singing in public. The voice must be trained and have tone. You should choose a song that suits the audience. A simple one for a homely group. On the other hand, if your audience is more sophisticated and you possess the talent to impress, a more complicated piece is suitable for the occasion.

Accomplishments give a lady something to do. Beyond music, “Sketching and archery stand first among outdoor amusements. They are healthy, elegant, and appropriate…”  The writer seems to think that if more young ladies were accomplished, they would not appear so bored at public parties.

All this talk about accomplishments reminds me of the conversation between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth:

It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

“Your list of the common extent of accomplishments,” said Darcy, “has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse or covering a screen. But I am very far from agreeing with you in your estimation of ladies in general. I cannot boast of knowing more than half a dozen, in the whole range of my acquaintance, that are really accomplished.”

“Nor I, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley. “Then,” observed Elizabeth, “you must comprehend a great deal in your idea of an accomplished woman.”

“Yes, I do comprehend a great deal in it.”

“Oh! certainly,” cried his faithful assistant, “no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.”

“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

“I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

(Picture: George Goodwin Kilburne – A Young Woman at a Piano 1880)

Dancing 1872 Style – Notes on the Waltz

“A lady – beautiful word! — is a delicate creature, one who should be reverenced and delicately treated. It is therefore unpardonable to rush about in a quadrille, to catch hold of the lady’s hand as if she were a door-handle, or to drag her furiously across the room, as if you were Bluebeard…”  (The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published 1872. Copyright 2012 Forgotten Books).

Recently on my author Facebook page, I’ve been posting videos of period dramas with romantic scenes of waltzes. Some of my favorites are from The Young Victoria, War & Peace (2016), Cinderella, and Crimson Peak. They look so romantic with women in gorgeous gowns being swung around the room by handsome men.

According to The Habits of Good Society, there were rules to be followed if you were considered to be an “accomplished” individual on the dance floor. The introduction above focuses on how men should gently treat the lady. Apparently, if a man is too brusque with a woman while dancing, it may be an indication of how he is in his personal life.

A man should always smile when taking a lady’s hand, and bowing should still be in style.

“To squeeze it, on the other hand, is a gross familiarity, for which you would deserve to be kicked out of the room.”

I’m sorry, but it’s difficult not to laugh over at that rule. Even though the quadrille is a bit outdated in 1872, it is still danced albeit a bit slowly. Too slowly it becomes ridiculous.

The waltz, of course, is the preferred dance of this time period. In fact, the writer of this book wishes he could rave about it for days. He begins by explaining that position is the first importance, as well as the placement of the man’s hand where it should be – at the center of the lady’s waist. The lady should turn her head a little to the left. Oh, and it’s considered atrocious for a lady to lay her head upon a man’s shoulder! Position, therefore, is of utmost importance.

These points are fascinating:

  • In Germany the waltz is rapid but it slackens the pace every now and then.
  • The Russian waltz men perform like the Austrians and will dance around the room with a glass of champagne in the left hand without spilling a drop. This reminded me of the scene in Crimson Peak where the waltz was done with a candle in the man’s hand that remained burning throughout.
  • To be graceful in England, one must waltz with the sliding step. It’s up to the gentleman to steer, keep his eyes open, and watch where they are going to avoid collisions in a crowded ballroom.
  • Violent dancing (too fast and reckless) can cause injury. The author apparently had seen an occasion where the gentleman broke his ankle and the lady gashed her head.

There are quite a few more references to various dances, including the Polka. Instructions are detailed. The overall sense, of course, is skill, ability, and following the social norms of treating the female with respect.

Ah, the waltz. Let’s watch one from my favorites.

 

“How Victorian Women Styled Their Hair For Work And Everyday Life” – Another Great Article From Mimi Matthews

For balls and other formal events, fashionable women of the early 1860s often arranged their hair in elaborate styles with artificial tufts, pads, and false plaits.

Source: How Victorian Women Styled Their Hair For Work And Everyday Life

Balls in the Victorian Era – Vicki Hopkins, Author

vladimir-pervunensky-a-ball-20051-e1269940274323“The advantage of the ball in the upper classes is, that it brings young people together for a sensible and innocent recreation, and takes them away from the silly, if not bad ones; that it gives them exercise, and that the general effect of the beauty, elegance, and brilliance of a ball is to elevate rather than deprave the mind.”

The quote above comes from my favorite discovery, which is a book entitled, “The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen” by an unknown author, originally published 1872. Frankly, it’s a hoot to read, filled with, “thoughts, hints, and anecdotes concerning social observances, nice points of taste and good manners, and the art of making one’s self-agreeable.

Because of the information about life in Victorian times, I thought that I would occasionally write a post about the tidbits found between its pages. If you’re interested in purchasing the book, it is available on Amazon, but I’ll warn you that it’s a bit of a task to read. It’s been reviewed by one person – me. For authors, it’s wealth of information.

The chapter on balls humorously begins with the following. “Balls are the paradise of daughters, the purgatory of chaperons, and the pandemonium of paterfamilias.” They are a father’s nightmare, because daughters need new dresses and the brougham won’t be available the night of the affair. Of course, there is always the hope one’s daughter might returned engaged. Balls are apparently better entertainment for young men rather than drinking and gambling and a form of good exercise. There are differences in attending a ball and giving a ball.

In order to give a ball during the season, one must be sure to have a big enough room. Overcrowding is not good for comfortable dancing. One hundred or more attendees constitute a large ball, and below that number it is simply a ball. Under fifty, and you’re only attending a dance. Numbers must be proportionate to the size of the rooms, as one must be able to move around in order to meet new acquaintances. The standards for an agreeable ball are good ventilation, good arrangement, a good floor to dance upon, good music, a good supper, and good company. Remember that the beauty of the dresses worn by the young ladies is only enhanced with good lighting.

As far as music, here are the recommendations. Four musicians are enough for a private ball. A piano and violin are the mainstay. Dances should be arranged beforehand, as well as pre-printed dance cards for the ladies. A small pencil should be attached to the end of each card. Out of twenty-one dances, seven should be quadrilles, three of which may be lancers, along with seven waltzes, four galops, a polka, and some sort of other dance.

Of course, every ball has its wallflower. A young lady, even a plain one, may be a good dancer and should always have some partners. The right of introduction rests on the lady and gentleman of the house, but a chaperon may introduce a gentleman to her charge. How a lady refuses a dance must be done carefully. One should not lie that she has a headache to get out of dancing with a partner. A man should never press her to dance after one refusal. A man should ask by saying, “May I have the pleasure of dancing this waltz with you?” Just because she dances with you at a ball, it does not mean that she cares to have a relationship. On the Continent, a man should never dance twice with the same lady if she is unmarried. In England, men may choose one or two partners and dance with them through the evening without expecting to commit to marriage. And this part, I really love:

“The well-bred and amiable man will sacrifice himself to those plain, ill-dressed, dull-looking beings who cling to the wall, unsought and despairing. After all, he will not regret his good nature.”

Wallflowers receiving an invitation to dance usually give the best conversation, dance the best, and show great gratitude for the attention. At the end of every dance, a man offers his right arm to his partner, walks the room with her, and asks if she will take refreshment.

There is quite a bit more about holding a ball, attending a ball, eating at a ball, and the proper manners desired. I hope you enjoyed this peek into 1872. Now close your eyes and imagine that handsome man in the cravat coming your way. Will you accept his invitation to dance or politely turn him down? Since I’m the wallflower type, no doubt I’ll do my best to make an impression. However, I don’t know how to do the quadrille or galop. Any idea?

 

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

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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.

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Susana’s Parlour (Regency Blog) • Susana’s Morning Room (Romance Blog)

Historical Tidbit: "The Victorian Wedding" by Vicki Hopkins

While writing my award-winning novel, Dark Persuasion, I spent a fair amount of time researching Victorian courting, wedding preparations, weddings, and honeymoons.  The entire process felt so romantic to me that I focused quite a bit about the wedding between my heroine and hero.

Below are a few excerpts from previous blogs that I’ve written regarding that research.  I hope you enjoy!

The Wedding Trousseau

In Dark Persuasion, because my heroine is blind, her sister is actively involved in preparations for the wedding. One task is helping prepare Charlotte’s wedding trousseau.

The French word trousseau refers, of course, to a bride’s bundle of personal possessions amassed prior to the wedding that include undergarments and clothing. Late in the 19th and early 20th century a collection of household wares (tablecloths, towels, linens, etc.) were also included.

My story is set roughly around the 1885-1890, so Charlotte’s collection of personal items deal mainly with fine undergarments and clothing. Below is an excerpt from Vintage Connection describing a typical trousseau around 1884. It would include the following:

“… a dozen chemises trimmed with embroidery or insertions, a dozen nightdresses, six well-trimmed combinations, a dozen drawers, nine trimmed petticoats, one French petticoat, nine camisoles, six vests, five flannel petticoats, two dressing gowns, three bed jackets, a dozen pairs of fine-quality Lisle stockings, three pairs of silk stockings, two dozen handkerchiefs, a pair of French corsets, a bustle, a satin nightdress and a lace-trimmed sachet.”

The Wedding

Everything in the Victorian era seemed to be dictated by proper etiquette. Weddings were no different. There were rules about fashion, the time to wed, and the reception. It was quite an interesting read doing research about the subject. I tried to incorporate as much as I could within my text in hopes of ducking any criticism about getting it all wrong.  Here are a few short, but interesting facts.

If the bride married in a church, a gown with a long train and a veil of the same length was the style of the era. The veil remained over the bride’s face until after the wedding ceremony. I’ve read conflicting statements regarding kissing at the altar, but I allowed a smooch anyway for my characters.

Pure white had not yet become the standard of choice in wedding dresses. Colors varied. The dress pictured in this post is from roughly 1890. I like to visualize it as Charlotte’s dress, my blind heroine, in the story. I love the detailed bodice, the fabric, and the long train (not shown here). Bridesmaids often wore the same color of dress as the bride.

Superstitions abounded. There were rhymes about what day of the week was best to wed, the color of a bride’s dress, and, of course, the famous saying: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a lucky sixpence in your shoe.”  Each item had a meaning and purpose like the sixpence, which was meant to bless the wedding with wealth and prosperity.  No one married on Sunday, but the other days all had meaning:
Marry on Monday for health
 Tuesday for wealth
 Wednesday the best day of all
 Thursday for crosses
 Friday for losses
Saturday for no luck at all.

(Obtained from The Victorian Wedding)

After the service, the tossing of rice, grain, or birdseed was used for good luck when it came to fertility. If it were a wealthy couple, a carriage drawn by four white horses waited for the bride and groom after the service to take them to the reception. The reception was usually held at the bride’s home. Weddings took place in the morning around 11 o’clock, and the reception consisted of a wedding breakfast.

An area for a receiving line would have been set up for the bride and groom at the reception. Brides were addressed first, unless the guest only knew the groom. In that instance, the groom would introduce the bride. I must laugh when I discovered that the bride was never congratulated, as the honor of marriage was conferred upon her already for agreeing to marry the groom. (Lucky spinster finally finds a husband, I guess.)

Guests enjoyed their breakfast, but there was no entertainment at the reception. Evening receptions, with dancing, only occurred at lavish wedding affairs.

After the reception, the bride changed into another dress for her honeymoon journey. Only the groom and the best man knew the location, which by tradition was a well-kept secret.

There are many websites regarding Victorian-era weddings. The link in this post has quite a bit of detail. However, the Victorian era spanned many years, as you know, so traditions changed somewhat as the years progressed.

Such is the romance of the Victorian ages.

Vicki

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