To the Unknown Author of The Habits of Good Society

My copy from Amazon arrived yesterday.  It’s a classic reprint, originally published in 1872.  What a hoot.  It’s a goldmine of comments that might have you rolling on the floor with laughter.

The book appears not to be just a set of rules, but contains a vast amount of thoughts on society, social intercourse (not the kind of intercourse you think I’m talking about), private habits, and social behavior, along with the proper dress for a variety of occasions for men and women. (Ladies, only white gloves, please. The new rage of lavender is scandalous. And for goodness sake, they better not be dirty!)

I thought that I would post interesting tidbits regarding English thoughts and ways of life as I make my way through the text. Even if the advice is 143 years out of date, you might be able to apply it to all those Regency and Victorian era books you read.  Maybe the characters are not as well-bred as the author would have you believe.  Here is one example:

“Let a man be of no matter what station, he has there a right to speak to his fellow man…” The thought here is that there is no harm in speaking to a person who is not of one’s class (i.e. lower) who happens to strike up a conversation.  For example, it is considered kindly to reply to a statement from a lower-classed workman who might say, “It’s a fine day, sir.” No need to be a snob. Answer kindly. Nevertheless, there are boundaries to be kept when it comes to conversation.

“But of course, there is a limit to be fixed.  Englishmen respect nothing so much as their purses and their private affairs, and in England you might as well ask a stranger for five pounds as inquire what he was traveling for, what his income was, or what were the names of his six children.  It is a gross impertinence in this country to put curious questions to a person of whom you know little.”

Oh, and by the way, it is considered bad breeding and vulgar to ask someone how much something costs.  For example, did you just comment that you liked my gown but asked how much I paid per yard for the fabric? Shame on you!  You are definitely ill-bred.

Great References for the Victorian Era

Throughout my writing career, I have amassed quite a few books both as historical reference and to improve my writing skills.  Each story that I pen, I do a lot of research online reading articles. When I come across a book that looks like it contains the answers to my questions, I add it to my library.  Most of what I write is in the Victorian Era, so my research centers upon the long span of Queen Victoria’s reign.

If you would like to do some additional research on your own, here are some picks:

Written by Judith Flanders, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England is a book filled with illustrations and 416 pages of great information.

If you ever wondered what it was like to live in a Victorian Home, some of what you read will appall and shock you regarding the dangers that surrounded their everyday lives. The book focuses on every room of a middle-class Victorian home.  You will enter the kitchen, dining room, parlor, and bedrooms.

In addition to the life of these homes, which decor may appeal to you, are the wide variety of misconceptions that Victorians held.  As much as we romanticize in historical fiction (and I am as guilty as any other author), after reading this book it’s obvious that living in the 19th century was not exactly a pleasant task.

A few of the stark realities that we do not consider are their uneducated ways of medical care, short lifespans, and strange and crude methods of medical treatment. Of course, the fashions were quite lovely, but a Victorian gown could weigh as much as 40 pounds! In addition, if the color was green, you might even get arsenic poisoning.

If you’re interested in the day-to-day routines of Victorians, this is the book for you.

Previously, I’ve reviewed this reference before, but it bears the merit of being mentioned once again.  Victorian Women is an eye-opening journey into the lives of everyday women, not part of the aristocracy. It is filled with actual statements from women found in letters and memoirs of their life during that time.  It covers everything from sex to widowhood and their struggles to merely survive.

As authors, I think we sometimes do a disservice to the women of this era, by penning the majority of our stories about the cushy aristocratic life. We focus upon the beauty and riches of the upper class while turning a blind eye to the struggles of the lower class.

I tend to be a realist. When I wrote The Price of Innocence, which is the reality of a poor woman in Paris in 1870, I received harsh reviews for painting a depressing picture of life and then death. However, if we are really looking for strong heroines in our books, I dare say that we would probably find strong women in the lower and middle classes who struggled day to day to keep themselves out of the workhouses.

If you’re not afraid to open your eyes and look at the reality of the era, I high recommend Victorian Women.
Just recently, I stumbled across this gem written in 1859 – The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen.  I had been searching diligently online for some information on the process of debutantes being presented at court. Inside is a fantastic chapter with a step-by-step description of the ceremony, which I will definitely use.

While skimming through the contents, here are few great chapters I’ll be excited to read about and take notes.

– Individual personal habits from bathing to dressing.

– Accomplishments
– Manners – Public and Private
– Dinners and Dinner-Parties
– Behavior at Balls
– Courting, Proposals, and Marriage
– Presentation at Court

The introduction in the book states, “Thoughts, hints, and anecdotes concerning social observances; nice points of taste and good manners; and the art of making one’s self-agreeable.”  

Would you agree that the art of making one’s self-agreeable is a skill that even 21st-century individuals would do well to learn?

In any event, if you’re looking for reality in the Victorian era, these are great books.

"My Highland Spy" by Victoria Roberts (Review)

My Highland Spy by Victorian Roberts found its way to my Kindle. Reading a Highland romance is a challenge with all those Gaelic words and weird sounding accents such as, “donna” “isnae” “aye” “verra” etc., that are across the page each time a Scot speaks. Frankly, I prefer the proper English, which is at least the accent the heroine speaks. If you don’t mind muddling through those sounds, you might like this book.

Ravenna is a spy for the crown. She’s a feisty and brave lady who is carrying on the family tradition of being a spy. She is assigned to infiltrate a Scottish laird, who is in a wee-bit of trouble for not sending his son to England to be educated. The powers on the throne want to know where his loyalties lie, so Ravenna travels to his castle to tutor his boy under the guise of being a governess.

Of course beautiful young lady meets handsome man in a kilt and one thing leads to another. All the while, Ravenna is lying to his face about who she really is and sneaks about the castle listening to conversations, doing her job to gather what she can to ascertain if he’s about to participate in an uprising or behave. 

While doing so, Ravenna finds herself easily aroused by the Highlander. He is going through a bit of sexual drought and wants to bed the lass. Eventfully, they enjoy a few illicit trysts of sex. Intimacy doesn’t exactly begin because they are falling in love. Instead, it seems more like friends with benefits because Ravenna knows she will soon return to England.  She’s not exactly a stranger to bedding a man either, so this is not a story of virginity lost.

Victoria Roberts is a good author who keeps the text flowing and the story moving along. However, being privy to the big secret of who Ravenna really is sort of sets up the inevitable from the very beginning. You know deep down inside that conflict will certainly arise. A certain laird’s heart will be broken and his anger aroused once he learns the truth — it’s just a matter of time. 

When I’m on the other end and know the outcome, I personally don’t find the story as intriguing or exciting. I would have loved to have seen it written from the laird’s point of view, knowing absolutely nothing about Ravenna as she enters his world. When the big revelation arrives, I am just as shocked and appalled as the hero, because I’ve fallen for both of the characters. For me, that makes for great plot twists. However, knowing it ahead of time tells me where the story is going before it ends — the intrigue is weakened since the outcome is obvious.

Nevertheless if that doesn’t bother you and you are the type of reader who loves to read Scottish accents, this book is for you. You can close your eyes, think of his dreamy face, bulging arm muscles (stare at cover for inspiration), and enjoy that darn kilt, which you know has a prize underneath. No doubt, this story will satisfy your Scottish yearnings. (Reviewed by Countess Robin)