Cinderella Once a Fairytale Book of Romance – Enjoy the Movie!

 

Oh to be ten-years-old again — innocent, impressionable, and mesmerized by the idea of meeting my Prince Charming.

Cinderella. How many adaptations can this story have? Apparently, not enough. One of my favorites is “Everafter” with Drew Barrymore, but this Disney version is pretty much a starry-eyed spectacle of beauty that bedazzles the childhood in everyone.

The perfect audience are females young at heart, girls five to twelve, and young teenage ladies. Although this morning on the radio I heard a middle-aged male critic gush over the movie too. Will little boys love it?  Probably not, except perhaps for the mice and cat.

The Cinderella tale is slightly modified and extended, but it does the story absolutely no harm whatsoever. For the first time in a long time I give Disney kudos for putting together a movie with a message that drills down into your soul. It’s the words of Ella’s mother before she dies encouraging her daughter to, “have courage and be kind.” The theme resounds throughout the entire movie and is played out with such precision that the message stays with you.  In an age where kids are bullying one another or being the victims of bullies, it brings a beautiful message of the meaning of courage and kindness and the good that it can bring into your life.

Your wonderful Rose from Downton Abbey, Lilly James, portrays an endearing and kind Cinderella.  Daisy the cook from Downton Abbey, Sophia McShera, plays the stepsister Drizella, accompanied by Holliday Grainger as the other mean sister. Gorgeously attired and mean to the core stepmother is played by Cate Blanchett.

Some of the cutest scenes are the fairy godmother transforming the pumpkin, lizards, mice, and the duck into the carriage, horses, footmen, and driver. Their undoing at the stroke of midnight is an hysterical scene with fantastic special effects. Cinderella is turned into a gorgeous beauty in a blue dress, who twirls around dancing in a fantastic choreographed waltz with the prince. If I were ten, my eyes would probably be bulging out of my head. At sixty-five, I had a huge smile on my face watching the transformation, the ball, and the end of the spell.

All in all, it’s an entertaining movie that is visually stunning. The anchor that holds it all together is the theme of “have courage and be kind” that is said time and time again until you believe it to be truth, witness that good prevails, and realize fairy godmothers do exist.

Oh, and Prince Charming isn’t bad looking either.
Love the soundtrack!

"Arsenic and Victorian Lace" (Guest Post by Nora Covington)

How do you commit murder? Well, in the Victorian era arsenic was a good way to do in your rivals, spouses, and enemies. My latest release, Blythe Court, contains arsenic, and you may wonder if my use is accurate. Hopefully, you know by now I do my research, even if it really does sound extremely odd when you read the story.

Arsenic, in case you need a quick education, is a chemical element. It occurs in many minerals. During the Victorian era, it was widely used in commercial products. It was also available to purchase in bottle form from a druggist—half an ounce cost a penny, enough to kill 50 people. Unbeknownst to the Victorians, they were slowly poisoning themselves from wallpaper to clothes. The poison caused agonizing deaths until they finally realized the dangers of the chemical and began putting restrictions in place.

Here are a few of the products that contained arsenic:

1. Wallpaper. The Victorians loved the color green. Scheele’s Green was a pigment derived from arsenic. During the 19th century, homes were decorated in wallpaper that emitted toxic fumes causing illness. If a piece of wallpaper flaked off and a child ate it, death arrived.
2. Dresses. Green-colored fabric in dresses and other clothing contained arsenic. “Drop dead gorgeous,” is a term I see in many articles about women wearing clothes filled with arsenic. You looked stunning in green, but your skin absorbed the poison. You swirled around a ballroom, and your dress gave off fumes dangerous to your partner and those around you. Eventually, a test was developed by simply placing a drop of ammonia on the fabric. If it turned blue, arsenic was present.
3. Other clothing and accessories: Socks, hats, gloves, underwear, etc.
4. Toys. Children sucked on toys made with arsenic and became ill or died.
5. Other products. Cookware, wine bottles, face powder, shampoo, and the list goes on and on.
The Victorian home could be a death trap, as well as your wardrobe. As the population became increasingly ill and deaths rose, Parliament still refused to ban the use of arsenic in products because it was a booming business. It wasn’t until the end of the Victorian era that manufacturing of products that contained arsenic was curtailed.
On the other side of the coin, were the accidental poisonings. If you didn’t read the label closely enough, you could pick it up in the kitchen and add it to your food in error. Arsenic looked like other substances such as sugar—powdery white. It wasn’t until 1851 laws were enacted to color the arsenic so the difference could be detected and ladies no longer grabbed the wrong thing thereby killing their entire household from a newly baked pie. Contaminated well water could also contain arsenic.

If you want to get all “Arsenic and Old Lace” about the subject, arsenic could be easily slipped into food and drinks unnoticed because it was tasteless and odorless. Enough could do you in quickly while a little sprinkle here and there could lead you down the road of a slow and agonizing death. Apparently, the greatest users of arsenic in murders cases were Victorian women wanting to do away their husbands. Can’t divorce the drunken abuser who beats you every night? Try arsenic. Here is an interesting article about famous ladies of the day killing off their husbands with this versatile substance.

CLICK HERE

The symptoms of arsenic poisoning over a period of time included white lines forming on your nails, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, hair loss, muscular weakness, kidney problems, and other not-so-pleasant medical ailments. In spite of the negative symptoms, the Victorians also hailed it as a medical cure for low libido, eczema, and other remedies.
For more information on arsenic poisoning during the Victorian era, here is a good resource:
The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned At Home, Work And Play
by James C Whorton

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.

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.

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

The Power of Point of View

A week ago, I started reading The Queen’s Vow by C. W. Gortner about Isabella of Castille.  If you’re not sure who she is, it’s time to dust off your history books or turn to Google.  In any event, I’m enjoying it immensely and am reminded, as I read the story, about how powerful point of view can be in a novel.  Point of view is that decision an author makes before pounding out 80,000 plus words — through whose eyes shall I tell the tale?

As a reader, you probably have a preference when it comes to your own books.  C. W. Gortner writes The Queen’s Vow in the first person — that is through the eyes of Isabella alone. It’s the “I” and “me” take on life.  I’ve only written one story with this point of view, which happened to be my recent contemporary, Conflicting Hearts.

  All of my historical fiction and historical romance novels are written in the third-person limited point of view.  In my books I tend to flip in and out of minds with one person at a time switching in scenes and chapters.  I prefer that take rather than the omniscient view of the all knowing god-type author, which takes a bit of skill I think I lack. Third-person works well in a complex story, because it’s here you can tell the tale from everyone’s point of view.  It makes the story richer in certain circumstances.

As I read The Queen’s Vow, I am reminded that first person can be a powerful tool in a novel. In this instance, the author is writing about the life of Isabella from her childhood to adulthood.  Frankly, I don’t think I’d want someone telling me what she’s thinking, because I’m enjoying too much being inside the head of a young woman destined for greatness. Her thoughts and emotions are richly described, as well as her growth process into the woman she is to become. I don’t think any other point of view would make the book as powerful.

Take the picture up above. It’s a scene from Lost in Austen. There is Darcy, Bingley, and snooty Caroline, his sister standing together. Each are gazing at Amanda Price, and all of them at this moment have a distinct thought about the individual who is central to the story.  In this instance, a writer could say that Darcy frowned disapprovingly narrowing his eyes; Caroline gazed pathetically at Amanda making a fool of herself; and Bingley feels quite perplexed not knowing what to think of this woman visiting the Bennett’s household. 

If we crawl into the head of one person, however, let’s say Darcy, we know that something more is brewing inside of him besides the disapproving frown on his face.  He’s going through an inward struggle at this point wondering why he is attracted to a woman who he also despises.  You could write the scene telling your readers what he’s thinking in the third-person point of view, but then you could also crawl into his head, look through his eyes, and exploit his emotions to such an extent it will make a lasting imprint upon your mind as a reader.>

Once again, Miss Price has managed to make a spectacle of herself amongst our guests. Her style and mannerisms are so unladylike that I find her disgusting on many levels.  She obviously lacks the genteel character of a demure woman that I seek in a wife. I find her outspoken, boisterous, and brazen behavior a chilling reminder of our difference in class. Even my peers avert her presence as if she is carrying the plague. On the other hand, I struggle with an odd attraction toward her, which I find deeply perplexing.  

What could I possibly find alluring in this creature that I deem so vulgar in speech and conduct?  It cannot be physical attraction, for she is but a plain woman compared to the well-dressed, beautiful ladies that fill this hall.  These carnal inklings cause me to question my sound judgment that I pride. Has she bewitched me?  If I succumb to this demonic temptation, I shall become the laughing stock of society. My status as a respectable aristocrat will come to a ruinous end.

Nevertheless, there she stands. My soul aches with each breath that I take. My heart is laden with heaviness. For at this moment, I earnestly desire to take Miss Price into my arms and silence her wagging tongue with the power of my lips. Surely, it will be a bittersweet taste. Oh wretched woman, what have you done to me? 

Well, we may never know what the wretched woman has done to Mr. Darcy. However, I think you get the drift between the various points of views.  As a reader, do you have a preference?  Do you love the minds of many, or do you prefer the intimate voice of the hero or heroine instead?  I’m beginning to think after I finish my current third-person book, I’ll be back in the first-person mode.


Warm regards,
Vicki

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!

Feeling most agreeable,
Vicki

 

 

 

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.

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)

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

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

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

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.

 

Historical Tidbit on Parisian Morality

 

In The Salon At The Rue Des Moulins
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 in 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 a 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 stillbirths 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