History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

27 July 2014

The Nanny Conundrum

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices "designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner." But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet's nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we've done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a "dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower's proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can't believe they didn't feel some of the same concerns I've experienced myself. I've been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet---

 “I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer," Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?

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21 July 2014

Laid Low ...

I really did mean to have a blog post for you all today, but my head feels like I'm the one having a drill applied to it. Off to sit in a dark room ...

07 July 2014

Worn on the Fourth of July

We hoydens often discuss the use of the way costumes/clothes/garments/accessories in our novels denote character.

Of course, clothes do more than keep us covered, or strategically reveal certain parts of our bodies, which in itself makes a statement. Fashion has always been an expression of personal and often social standing. In some cultures during certain eras, governments enacted sumptuary laws restricting the textiles that could be worn by various social strata. And in some centuries velvet or silk, or certain colors, were purely the purview of royalty.  

The colorful tabards worn by medieval knights represented their family heraldry; moreover, one knew who was who, friend or enemy, on the battlefield. Surely this is the genesis of the concept behind sports team jerseys as well. Supporters of the French Revolution sported the tricolor cockade in their hats. Marie Antoinette was literally a fashion victim, condemned by her subjects as much for what she wore as for what she didn't. Her lavish garments, accoutrements and hairstyles of the 1770s were criticized as wretched excess as the queen became the scapegoat for centuries of France's social and economic issues that were none of her making. Yet during the early 1780s when she foreswore her furbelows for flimsy linen and muslin gowns, she was not only derided for looking more like a dairy maid than Queen of France, but for putting the French silk merchants out of work, in favor of the Flemish flax growers--citizens of her elder brother Joseph's Hapsburg Empire.

And while Nazis wore swastikas on their armbands, they compelled German Jews to stitch a yellow Star of David on their clothes and gays to sew a pink triangle to their garments as an identifying badge.




On the morning of July 4, while I was taking a walk in Washington DC, where I now live, I saw so many people dressed in red, white, and blue in honor of our nation’s 238th birthday, and especially dressed in clothes with replicas of our flag on them. In NYC, where I’m from, people only wear flags on their clothes with a sense of irony; yet here in our nation’s capital, no matter the age or gender or color of their skin, people really seemed to have awakened that morning and deliberately chosen to cover their own birthday suits with one that would honor America’s birthday—without irony, but with patriotism. At least that was the reason I was given, cheerfully and honestly, by the senior citizen I encountered by the Georgetown waterfront who lamented DC’s dearth of a good bagel store/deli (true that) to my cashier at Trader Joe’s, a young man who was as fascinated by the idea of this blog, as he was proud to be an American—wearing it on his face for all the world to see.
Did you wear red, white, and blue on the 4th of July? Do you tend to suit your outfit to the holidays (red or pink clothes for Valentine’s Day, donning Halloween costumes, wearing green [or orange, or both] on St. Patrick’s Day, red and green to Christmas parties, etc.)?

30 June 2014

6 Degrees of Harriet Granville

A few months ago when I guest blogged on Catherine Delors' site about connections between England and France during the Napoleonic Wars, my agent commented that the way certain historical figures, such as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, kept popping up in my post was a sort of Regency six degrees of separation. I started thinking about the six degrees of separation idea in relation to a real historical figure who has appeared or been mentioned in a number of my books - the Devonishires' younger daughter Harriet.

Lady Harriet Cavendish was born in 1785, the daughter of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and the former Lady Georgiana Spencer, who became a celebrated society beauty and political hostess as Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana was a strong supporter of the Whigs and their charismatic leader Charles James  Fox. She had a love affair with Earl Grey, a young Whig politician who eventually became prime minister in 1830. Georgiana bore Grey a daughter, Eliza, in secret, a half-sister of Harriet's who was raised by Grey's parents.

Lady Caroline Ponsonby was Harriet's first cousin, the daughter of Georgiana's sister, Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough. Caroline married William Lamb, son  of the famous Whig hostess Lady Melourne. Though it began as a love match, the marriage was not happy. Caroline is probably best known to history for her love affair with Lord Byron. She dramatized the love affair in Glenarvon, a roman à clef which scandalized the ton and had them madly speculating on which character was based on which real person. After Caroline's death, William, by then Lord Melbourne became young Queen Victoria's prime minister and political mentor.

William's sister Emily, Countess Cowper, was a patroness of Almack's. After her husband's death she married her longtime lover (though the love affair wasn't precisely exclusive on either side), Lord Palmerston, who later became prime minister himself. (A visiting dignitary once stumbled into an embarrassing situation by remarking on how much Palmerston's son resembled him. The young man in question was in fact officially Palmerston's stepson and the son the late Earl Cowper, though Palmerston almost certainly fathered him.). As Lady Palmerston, Emily was also a celebrated political hostess.

Harriet's childhood at Devonshire House included another Caroline, Caroline St. Jules, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who lived for many years in a menage-à-trois with the duchess. Caroline St. Jules married William Lamb's brother George (and was referred to by the family as "Caro George" to differentiate her from "Caro William"). Her marriage was not entirely tranquil either. At one point she left her husband and ran off to the Continent with Henry Brougham, a radical Whig politician who later defended Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent's estranged wife, when he attempted to divorce her after he became George IV. Emily Cowper went abroad and helped persuade her sister-in-law to return to her husband.

Harriet's aunt, Lady Bessborugh, had a love affair the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but the love of her life was Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, a politician and diplomat and younger son of the Marquess of Stafford. She bore him two children in secret who were placed in foster homes. In 1809, Granville's affair with Lady Bessborough had ended. Granville needed to marry  and produce legitimate children. Harriet was four-and-twenty and unhappy at home. Her mother had died and her father had married his longtime mistress Elizabeth Foster. That Granville proposed to Harriet, niece of his longtime mistress, and that Harriet accepted (with her aunt's blessing) is not entirely surprising given their circumstances. That the marriage proved remarkably happy is more startling ("Granville, adored Granville, who would make a barren desert smile," Harriet wrote). They had five children and also raised the two illegitimate children he had had with Harriet's aunt. Granville became Viscount and then Earl Granville. For many years he and Harried presided over the British embassy in Paris while Granville served as ambassador.

Harriet had an intriguing and seemingly quite happy life which put her within six degrees or less of a number of prominent people of the day. Do connections between real historical figures intrigue you? Writers, are have you ever found an unexpected connection between two real historical figures while researching? Do certain real historical figures keep finding their way into the pages of your books? 


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27 June 2014

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND IN 1782: St. James’s Park.


A little different than what you see there now:

"The park is nothing more than a semicircle, formed of an alley of trees, which enclose a large green area in the middle of which is a marshy pond.

The cows feed on this green turf, and their milk is sold here on the spot, quite new.

In all the alleys or walks there are benches, where you may rest yourself.  When you come through the Horse Guards (which is provided with several passages) into the park, on the right hand is St. James’s Palace, or the king’s place of residence, one of the meanest public buildings in London.  At the lower end, quite at the extremity, is the queen’s palace, a handsome and modern building, but very much resembling a private house.  As for the rest, there are generally everywhere about St. James’s Park very good houses, which is a great addition to it.  There is also before the semicircle of the trees just mentioned a large vacant space, where the soldiers are exercised.

How little this famous park is to be compared with our park at Berlin, I need not mention.  And yet one cannot but form a high idea of St. James’s Park and other public places in London; this arises, perhaps, from their having been oftener mentioned in romances and other books than ours have.  Even the squares and streets of London are more noted and better known than many of our principal towns.

But what again greatly compensates for the mediocrity of this park, is the astonishing number of people who, towards evening in fine weather, resort here; our finest walks are never so full even in the midst of summer.  The exquisite pleasure of mixing freely with such a concourse of people, who are for the most part well-dressed and handsome, I have experienced this evening for the first time.

Before I went to the park I took another walk with my little Jacky, which did not cost me much fatigue and yet was most uncommonly interesting.  I went down the little street in which I live, to the Thames nearly at the end of it, towards the left, a few steps led me to a singularly pretty terrace, planted with trees, on the very brink of the river.

Here I had the most delightful prospect you can possibly imagine.  Before me was the Thames with all its windings, and the stately arches of its bridges; Westminster with its venerable abbey to the right, to the left again London, with St. Paul’s, seemed to wind all along the windings of the Thames, and on the other side of the water lay Southwark, which is now also considered as part of London.  Thus, from this single spot, I could nearly at one view see the whole city, at least that side of it towards the Thames.  Not far from hence, in this charming quarter of the town, lived the renowned Garrick.  Depend upon it I shall often visit this delightful walk during my stay in London.

To-day my two Englishmen carried me to a neighbouring tavern, or rather an eating-house, where we paid a shilling each for some roast meat and a salad, giving at the same time nearly half as much to the waiter, and yet this is reckoned a cheap house, and a cheap style of living.  But I believe, for the future, I shall pretty often dine at home; I have already begun this evening with my supper.  I am now sitting by the fire in my own room in London.  The day is nearly at an end, the first I have spent in England, and I hardly know whether I ought to call it only one day, when I reflect what a quick and varied succession of new and striking ideas have, in so short a time, passed in my mind."

25 June 2014

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND IN 1782: The Prospect of London.

The Monument
by Sutton Nicholls, 1753
Yesterday turnout to be rather hectic, so London was delayed. But here it is. Lots of great imagery to keep in ones head as you write about (or read about) London:


"We first descried it enveloped in a thick smoke or fog.  St. Paul’s arose like some huge mountain above the enormous mass of smaller buildings.  The Monument, a very lofty column, erected in memory of the great fire of London, exhibited to us, perhaps, chiefly on account of its immense height, apparently so disproportioned to its other dimensions (for it actually struck us as resembling rather a slender mast, towering up in immeasurable height into the clouds, than as that it really is, a stately obelisk) an unusual and singular appearance.  Still we went on, and drew nearer and nearer with amazing velocity, and the surrounding objects became every moment more distinct.  Westminster Abbey, the Tower, a steeple, one church, and then another, presented themselves to our view; and we could now plainly distinguish the high round chimneys on the tops of the houses, which yet seemed to us to form an innumerable number of smaller spires, or steeples.

The road from Greenwich to London is actually busier and far more alive than the most frequented streets in Berlin.  At every step we met people on horseback, in carriages, and foot passengers; and everywhere also, and on each side of the road, well-built and noble houses, whi

Viewing Platform at the top
of the Monument

lst all along, at proper distances, the road was lined with lamp-posts.  One thing, in particular, struck and surprised me not a little.  This was the number of people we met riding and walking with spectacles on, among whom were many who appeared stout, healthy, and young.  We were stopped at least three times at barriers or gates, here called turnpikes, to pay a duty or toll which, however small, as being generally paid in their copper coinage, in the end amounted to some shillings.

At length we arrived at the magnificent bridge of Westminster.  The prospect from this bridge alone seems to afford one the epitome of a journey, or a voyage in miniature, as containing something of everything that mostly occurs on a journey.  It is a little assemblage of contrasts and contrarieties.  In contrast to the round, modern, and majestic cathedral of St. Paul’s on your right, the venerable, old-fashioned, and hugely noble, long abbey of Westminster, with its enormous pointed roof, rises on the left.  Down the Thames to the right you see Blackfriar’s Bridge, which does not yield much, if at all, in beauty to that of Westminster; on the left bank of the Thames are delightful terraces, planted with trees, and those new tasteful buildings called the Adelphi.  On the Thames itself are countless swarms of little boats passing and repassing, many with one mast and one sail, and many with none, in which persons of all ranks are carried over.  Thus there is hardly less stir and bustle on this river, than there is in some of its own London’s crowded streets.  Here, indeed, you no longer see great ships, for they come no farther than London Bridge

We now drove into the city by Charing Cross, and along the Strand, to those very

Adelphi Buildings, 1772

Adelphi Buildings which had just afforded us so charming a prospect on Westminster Bridge.

My two travelling companions, both in the ship and the post-chaise, were two young Englishmen, who living in this part of the town, obligingly offered me any assistance and services in their power, and in particular, to procure me a lodging the same day in their neighbourhood.

In the streets through which we passed, I must own the houses in general struck me as if they were dark and gloomy, and yet at the same time they also struck me as prodigiously great and majestic.  At that moment, I could not in my own mind compare the external view of London with that of any other city I had ever before seen.  But I remember (and surely it is singular) that about five years ago, on my first entrance into Leipzig, I had the very same sensations I now felt.  It is possible that the high houses, by which the streets at Leipzig are partly darkened, the great number of shops, and the crowd of people, such as till then I had never seen, might have some faint resemblance with the scene now surrounding me in London.

There are everywhere leading from the Strand to the Thames, some well-built, lesser, or subordinate streets, of which the Adelphi Buildings are now by far the foremost.  One district in this neighbourhood goes by the name of York Buildings, and in this lies George Street, where my two travelling companions lived.  There reigns in those smaller streets towards the Thames so pleasing a calm, compared to the tumult and bustle of people, and carriages, and horses, that are constantly going up and down the Strand, that in going into one of them you can hardly help fancying yourself removed at a distance from the noise of the city, even whilst the noisiest part of it is still so near at hand.

It might be about ten or eleven o’clock when we arrived here.  After the two Englishmen had first given me some breakfast at their lodgings, which consisted of tea and bread and butter, they went about with me themselves, in their own neighbourhood, in search of an apartment, which they at length procured for me for sixteen shillings a week, at the house of a tailor’s widow who lived opposite to them.  It was very fortunate, on other accounts, that they went with me, for equipped as I was, having neither brought clean linen nor change of clothes from my trunk, I might perhaps have found it difficult to obtain good lodgings.

It was a very uncommon but pleasing sensation I experienced on being now, for the first time in my life, entirely among Englishmen: among people whose language was foreign, their manners foreign, and in a foreign climate, with whom, notwithstanding, I could converse as familiarly as though we had been educated together from our infancy.  It is certainly an inestimable advantage to understand the language of the country through which you travel.  I did not at first give the people I was with any reason to suspect I could speak English, but I soon found that the more I spoke, the more attention and regard I met with.  I now occupy a large room in front on the ground floor, which has a carpet and mats, and is very neatly furnished; the chairs are covered with leather, and the tables are of mahogany.  Adjoining to this I have another large room.  I may do just as I please, and keep my own tea, coffee, bread and butter, for which purpose my landlady has given me a cupboard in my room, which locks up."

Up Next: St. James's Park

23 June 2014

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND IN 1782: Arriving

View of Dover 1746/7

Richard Wilson

I love period sources, and nothing beats a foreigner's take on a locality, as they note down all kinds of strange little observations. Charles P. Moritz was a German traveler, and his “Travels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England in 1782, described in Letters to a Friend" was translated into English and published in 1795.

Here's his take on arriving in England:

"London, 2nd June.

This morning those of us who were fellow passengers together in the great cabin, being six in number, requested to be set on shore in a boat, a little before the vessel got to Dartford, which is still sixteen miles from London.  This expedient is generally adopted, instead of going up the Thames, towards London, where on account of the astonishing number of ships, which are always more crowded together the nearer you approach the city, it frequently requires many days before a ship can finish her passage.  He therefore who wishes to lose no time unnecessarily, and wishes also to avoid other inconveniences, such as frequent stoppages, and perhaps, some alarming dashings against other ships, prefers travelling those few miles by land in a post-chaise, which is not very expensive, especially when three join together, as three passengers pay no more than one.  This indulgence is allowed by act of parliament.

As we left the vessel we were honoured with a general huzza, or in the English phrase with three cheers, echoed from the German sailors of our ship.  This nautical style of bidding their friends farewell our Germans have learned from the English.  The cliff where we landed was white and chalky, and as the distance was not great, nor other means of conveyance at hand, we resolved to go on foot to Dartford: immediately on landing we had a pretty steep hill to climb, and that gained, we arrived at the first English village, where an uncommon neatness in the structure of the houses, which in general are built with red bricks and flat roofs, struck me with a pleasing surprise, especially when I compared them with the long, rambling, inconvenient, and singularly mean cottages of our peasants.  We now continued our way through the different villages, each furnished with his staff, and thus exhibited no remote resemblance of a caravan.  Some few people who met us seemed to stare at us, struck, perhaps, by the singularity of our dress, or the peculiarity of our manner of travelling.  On our route we passed a wood where a troop of gipsies had taken up their abode around a fire under a tree.  The country, as we continued to advance, became more and more beautiful.  Naturally, perhaps, the earth is everywhere pretty much alike, but how different is it rendered by art!  How different is that on which I now tread from ours, and every other spot I have ever seen.  The soil is rich even to exuberance, the verdure of the trees and hedges, in short the whole of this paradisaical region is without a parallel!  The roads too are incomparable; I am astonished how they have got them so firm and solid; every step I took I felt, and was conscious it was English ground on which I trod.

We breakfasted at Dartford.  Here, for the first time, I saw an English soldier, in his red uniform, his hair cut short and combed back on his forehead, so as to afford a full view of his fine, broad, manly face.  Here too I first saw (what I deemed a true English fight) in the street, two boys boxing.

Our little party now separated, and got into two post-chaises, each of which hold three persons, though it must be owned three cannot sit quite so commodiously in these chaises as two: the hire of a post-chaise is a shilling for every English mile.  They may be compared to our extra posts, because they are to be had at all times.  But these carriages are very neat and lightly built, so that you hardly perceive their motion as they roll along these firm smooth roads; they have windows in front, and on both sides.  The horses are generally good, and the postillions particularly smart and active, and always ride on a full trot.  The one we had wore his hair cut short, a round hat, and a brown jacket of tolerable fine cloth, with a nosegay in his bosom.  Now and then, when he drove very hard, he looked round, and with a smile seemed to solicit our approbation.  A thousand charming spots, and beautiful landscapes, on which my eye would long have dwelt with rapture,
were now rapidly passed with the speed of an arrow.

Our road appeared to be undulatory, and our journey, like the journey of life, seemed to be a pretty regular alternation of up hill and down, and here and there it was diversified with copses and woods; the majestic Thames every now and then, like a little forest of masts, rising to our view, and anon losing itself among the delightful towns and villages.  The amazing large signs which at the entrance of villages hang in the middle of the street, being fastened to large beams, which are extended across the street from one house to another opposite to it, particularly struck me; these sign-posts have the appearance of gates or of gateways, for which I at first took them, but the whole apparatus, unnecessarily large as it seems to be, is intended for nothing more than to tell the inquisitive traveller that there is an inn.  At length, stunned as it were by this constant rapid succession of interesting objects to engage our attention, we arrived at Greenwich nearly in a state of stupefaction."

Tomorrow, we arrive in London ...

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