Sunday, February 28, 2010

Letters from a Regency Lady

Regency Letters Three

To Captain Robert Jenson, from his sister Lady Horatia Melton. 22nd February 1816

My very dear Robert

It is with the greatest sadness that I write to tell you of our sister's loss. Words cannot express what I feel for her and I know that you too will feel as I. She is prostrate with grief and cannot be comforted. Mama has begged me to go to them and so I shall. Melton is not pleased but for the moment his feelings shall not weigh with me.

It is confirmed that Melton is unfaithful again. The lady in question was at pains to make the situation clear and if I am to believe her she is already carrying the child of their union. Perhaps I should have confronted him and demanded the truth but I find that I mind less than I once did. I shall go to my sister and stay for as long as she needs me. Melton may fetch me when he is ready to be a husband again. You will be shocked, dearest, when I tell you that your sister has contemplated divorce. If it were not that I know Melton would never agree, I should have spoken to him. No, do not frown and lecture me, Robert. It is only in my letters to you that I would discuss such a shocking step.

You will think your sister only writes to you of bad news so I shall tell you that I have made a new friend. We met first at the Regent's ball and again a few days later. However, our friendship did not truly begin until we both visited the new art gallery in Bond Street. It seems we have the same taste in pictures for we both stood staring at one particular picture of a child with a dog. I said that I should like to purchase it but must wait for my allowance next month. He offered to make me a gift of the picture. Naturally I refused. We walked together in the park and parted on the easiest of terms. This morning the picture was delivered to me. There was no message of any kind. However, I need none for I am certain that my new friend bought it for me.

I ought to return the gift for it would be most improper of me to keep it, but do you know, I think I shall. Now you will think your sister entirely lost to impropriety and perhaps I am. I shall not tell you the name of my new friend for if you think hard you will know.

I shall write again soon, most probably from Bath for it is there that Lady Bathurst intends to take the water.

Your loving sister Horatia

I hope you are enjoying the letters. Love to all, Anne Herries

Monday, February 22, 2010

Inspired by the Sir John Soane's Museum

How to describe the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London? Aladdin’s cave? A Time Travel experience? A Gothic extravaganza? It is all of these and more – and an absolute treasure trove for a 19th century historical novelist.

When Soane, one of our finest architects, died in 1837, he left his house and collection to the nation on condition that they remained as he left them. As the house was both office and home, we have a sort of time warp of how Soane actually lived.

His home is quirky in the extreme, from the vibrant Pompeian red walls of the library with its hanging arches placed in front of mirrors just underneath the ceiling to trick the eye into thinking there’s space behind, to the sophisticated sulphur-yellow drawing-room and the eerie Monk’s parlour. One of the most fascinating things about the rooms is how they’re lit. Almost every wall is covered from floor to ceiling with either paintings or architectural features from his collection, which leaves little room for windows. Soane’s ingenious solutions include high windows immediately under the ceiling, or even in the ceiling itself. The breakfast room, for example, has a saucer dome ceiling with a lantern window in the centre.

The basement is a hotch-potch of sculpture, ranging from an Egyptian sarcophagus to statues, sections of cornice, rosettes, bas reliefs; anything interesting that took his fancy. There is a picture gallery at each end, one of which contains his superb collection of Hogarths. Heaven knows what Mrs Soane made of it all. It must have been like living inside a Gothic novel.

I particularly love Soane’s tiny study with his specially made desk with a top which slides out, and his dressing-room beyond with the original wash basin, together with a mahogany-cased pump with a handle to bring the water up from the well.

In the museum shop, I pounced on a copiously illustrated book The Soanes at Home by the museum archivist, Susan Palmer, which examines the Soanes’ domestic life in fascinating detail: where the servants slept and what they did, the household bills, what the washing arrangements were and so on.

This house is guaranteed to inspire you! And it’s free, too.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Henry Tilney's Diary

Little did I think, when I started writing Henry Tilney's Diary, that other projects would overtake me and I would end up writing Mr Darcy, Vampyre and stories for Loves Me Loves Me Not, The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance and A Darcy Christmas before I finished it. But I'm glad those projects overtook me, firstly because I loved them and secondly because it gave my ideas about Henry more time to mature.

It's been the most demanding diary to write, firstly because of the Gothic element and secondly because Henry is Austen's funniest hero. But it's also been great fun to write because of those extra elements.

I'm now on the final part of the diary. In Northanger Abbey, the story is wrapped up very quickly. Henry and Catherine are unoficially engaged but Henry's father won't give his consent to the marriage. Jane Austen ties it up neatly with a deus ex machina ending, which is the perfect way to end a Gothic novel, saying:

What probable circumstance could work upon a temper like the general’s? The circumstance which chiefly availed was the marriage of his daughter with a man of fortune and consequence, which took place in the course of the summer — an accession of dignity that threw him into a fit of good humour, from which he did not recover till after Eleanor had obtained his forgiveness of Henry, and his permission for him “to be a fool if he liked it!”
The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry’s banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity. Her partiality for this gentleman was not of recent origin; and he had been long withheld only by inferiority of situation from addressing her. His unexpected accession to title and fortune had removed all his difficulties; and never had the general loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility, and patient endurance as when he first hailed her “Your Ladyship!” Her husband was really deserving of her; independent of his peerage, his wealth, and his attachment, being to a precision the most charming young man in the world. Any further definition of his merits must be unnecessary; the most charming young man in the world is instantly before the imagination of us all. Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add — aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable — that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him that collection of washing–bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures.
The influence of the viscount and viscountess in their brother’s behalf was assisted by that right understanding of Mr. Morland’s circumstances which, as soon as the general would allow himself to be informed, they were qualified to give.

I'm now fleshing this out and thinking of the possible ways in which Eleanor and her beau (as Mrs Jennings would undoubtedly call him) meet again, then I have all the fun of their wedding to look forward to, and their help with Henry and Catherine's affair. I see house parties ahead, with Catherine and Henry getting to know each other further at Eleanor's new home, and I see an important conversation between Catherine and Frederick. She thinks very ill of him at the end of Northanger Abbey but I think she will come to like him, and I see their reconciliation starting like this:

'I think we have more in common than you might suppose,' said Frederick.
Catherine tried to excuse herself, but he would not let her go.
'You are still angry with me for having come between your brother and his betrothed,' said Frederick.
Catherine did not deny it.
'You liked Isabella.'
'I certainly did not,' said Catherine indignantly. 'I never was more deceived in anyone in my life.'
'But you thought she was good enough for your brother.'
'Then it is as I say, we have more in common than you suppose, for I did not think she was good enough for him, either.'
It took Catherine some moments to digest this, and then she said, 'You mean you came between them deliberately?'
'Let us just say, I gave Isabella an opportunity to show her true colours and she availed herself of it,' he said.

I also have plans for a happy ending for Frederick. I see him as a cynic with the heart of a romantic, and I can't bear to see his romantic potential - oh, all right, his house and his fortune! - go to waste. But who will ever be good enough for him?

Amanda Grange

Friday, February 19, 2010

Copious Particulars of Her Majesty's Drawing-Room

On May 2nd 1816 Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and second in line to the throne, married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The marriage was to end the next year with the tragic death of the princess in childbirth, but, happily without the benefit of a crystal ball, the marriage was greeted with great acclaim.

Her grandmother the Queen held a Drawing Room especially to receive congratulations upon this significant occasion and the magazine La Belle Assemblée provided “copious particulars” of the event.

The Drawing Room was to commence at two o’clock at Buckingham House (known as the Queen’s House and later, of course, as Buckingham Palace after George IV had it remodelled) but the company began to arrive at twelve and continued coming until “past four at all the different entrances.”

“The distinguished characters who came to Court were kept in their carriages an uncommon time in the regular ranks; the carriages frequently reached to Oxford-street, and some who resided in St James’s-square had to go as far as Oxford-street before they could get into the rank.”

“The grand object of attraction, the Princess Charlotte and the Prince of Saxe-Coburg arrived at a quarter before two in state; their carriage being preceded by three others, in which were their full suites…escorted by a company of the Life Guards. The Prince Regent, the Duke and Duchess of York, the Duke of Gloucester, accompanied by his Royal Sister, came in state…”
“A few minutes after two o’clock her Majesty, with her usual punctuality, entered the Drawing Room with her numerous and illustrious family, all looking in extreme good health.”

Those who had come to pay their respects could not leave because of the great throng of carriages. “The windows of the Palace were in consequence, filled with elegantes, others promenaded the Palace courtyard and the grass-plat: and such an assemblage, in such splendid dresses, parading in the open air, must rarely have been seen in England upon any occasion.”
As well as the fashionable there was a full turn out of judges in their robes, King’s Counsel in their wigs, naval and army officers and the court servants in full state livery.

Not surprisingly there was a huge crowd to watch this spectacle – “...the top of the Queen’s guard-house covered with respectable persons, several trees filled with persons [presumably not so respectable], and the whole Park filled with people and carriages.”

La Belle Assemblée was unable to list all those presented because of the number, but the reasons for their receiving this honour were many and various – “Mrs Territt, on her arrival from abroad…Viscount Kinnaird, on his coming to his title… Capt. Toser on his promotion...Sir Simon Smart on his marriage…Colonel Thomas, of the Bengal army, by the Marquis of Wellesley…” Numerous young ladies were presented by their mothers.

There were twelve dukes present, including de Bourbon and Orleans, five duchesses, fifteen marquesses with their wives, forty seven earls and their spouses and column after column of lesser aristocracy, officers, ambassadors, bishops, right down to a list of plain misters and misses.

The magazine devoted seven pages, double column, to descriptions of the outfits worn by every female guest – in strict order of precedence.
Ladies would still be wearing hoops – ludicrous with the fashionable high waist - and ostrich plumes, and the men would be wearing dress swords and carrying chapeau bras, so the crowding must have been made infinitely worse by the clothes. Hoops were abolished by George VI and the print of Lady Worsley Holmes (above) at his first Drawing Room in 1820 shows this more rational style.

The Duchess of Buccleugh, to take one duchess at random, was wearing a white satin petticoat, decorated with rich white and gold stripes and a purple satin train. She seems to have been somewhat outdone in the bling stakes by the Marchioness of Blandford in “white satin petticoat, with magnificent gold lama draperies, elegantly ornamented with gold cord and tassels; train of purple satin, trimmed with a full lama border: headdress - feathers and jewels.”

The heat must have been incredible – and the smell of all those tight-packed bodies would hardly have been masked by perfume. And how on earth did they manage for loos – especially in those outfits? The modern mind boggles.

Louise Allen

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food - for thought.

Bread: a staple of our diet that comes in so many shapes, sizes and flavours that we are spoiled for choice.

But in the C18th the poor had no yeast. Instead, when making bread the housewife would set aside a lump of kneaded dough on a saucer and keep moistening it with water. After a few days, and by the time she was ready to bake her next batch of bread, this dough would have grown a fur coat of mildew. As for the smell - let's not go there. But it was still added to the new dough mix because there was nothing else.

In Cornwall, bread baked on an open hearth was either a “kettle” loaf, baked on a circular iron plate covered by another iron dome called a “kettle,” ( the one hung from the cross bar in the chimney for boiling water was always known as the "tay kettle") The other kind of loaf was a "manshun" (the Cornish version of the French manchet) This led to a wonderful misunderstanding by the famous miner evangelist, Billy Bray, who had chosen for his text the verse beginning; “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“Just think of that, my friends,” the preacher cried fervently. “No more barley bread up there, no more sky-blue and sinker*, but pure wheaten manshuns for one and all, once we get up to Father’s house.”
We smile, but for the people to whom he was preaching, most of whom were desperately poor, the thought of plenty of fresh wholesome wheat bread – in contrast to the coarse dark barley bread that made up their staple diet – sounded like heaven indeed.

*Sky-blue and sinker: a breakfast dish. While a crock full of water was coming to the boil, a handful of barley flour was mixed in a basin with some “scald” milk (from which the cream had skimmed after scalding.) This mixture was added to the crock and simmered for a few minutes, then poured into basins on top of crumbled barley bread. As the bread remained sunk on the bottom, all that could be seen was the pale blue liquid – hence its name.

A true story from 1928: Three children arrived at school one morning looking so pale and cold the schoolmaster asked them if they had had any breakfast. They said yes. He asked what they had eaten. “Egg broth.” “Whatever is that?” he asked. “Please sir, bits of bread soaked in the water that father’s egg was boiled in.”
Jane Jackson.
Before I sign off: I've posted a competition on my website - the prize is an unabridged audiobook of my Cornish historical romance Bonded Heart. Why not have a go?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Valentine's Day Taster

Yesterday, as we all know, was Valentine's Day. It was also the publication date of the RNA's 50th Anniversary Anthology of short stories, Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Actually, it was already in the shops. I saw it there last week and was delighted to see how stunning that cover looked.

My story in the anthology is called The Trophy Hunter's Prize. Like my novel, His Cavalry Lady, this story is set in London in the summer of 1814 when the capital was full of visiting royals, celebrating their final victory over Napoleon (they thought!). The Russian Tsar, Alexander I, got most of the attention, since he was young and virile and attractive. He could dance all night, and frequently did. But, as well as the Tsar, there was the King of Prussia, and various other princes, dukes and generals. Londoners, high and low, went wild with celebrity spotting. The crowds around their hotels and carriages were vast, as people vied with each other to catch a glimpse.

My hero, Andrew, has just returned from India. He's made his fortune and is looking for a wife in what he expects to be the ordered, London scene. What he finds is rather different, as you'll see from the start of my story...

June 1814
After the searing brilliance of India, London seemed subdued, like a water-colour by a novice artist who had mixed his paints too thin. Andrew Mortimer shivered a little, in spite of the summer sunshine.

He straightened his elegant new coat and continued to stride down Piccadilly towards the park, where there should be open space, and fresher air to breathe. Before long, however, the dense crowds slowed him almost to a standstill. Yet they seemed good-humoured. With a nod here and a word of excuse there, he might make his way through.

‘’Ere! Wot d’you think y’re doing?’ cried a large florid woman when he tried to edge past her. She looked him up and down, noting the expensive clothes and the unusually brown skin. ‘Furriners,’ she muttered darkly. ‘Never did ’ave no manners.’

Still, she had made a little space for him to pass. Andrew managed to reach up to touch his hat and said, in his most affected English drawl, ‘Why, thank you, ma’am. Most kind.’ The woman’s jaw dropped. Very satisfying.

He had gone only a few yards further when he was forced to stop altogether. The huge crowd seemed to draw breath, as one, then it let out an ear-splitting roar and surged forward towards the Pulteney Hotel, carrying Andrew with it. He had to put all his efforts into keeping his balance. When he was at last able to look about him, he saw that the Tsar of Russia had appeared on the hotel balcony above them, which was clearly the reason for the lusty cheering. And, not three yards from where Andrew stood, a small figure in a pale dress was being trampled in the crush.

He yelled a warning. No one seemed to hear. If she was to be rescued, he would have to do it himself. He flung himself at the men who barred his path. He shouted at them. No reaction. There was just too much noise. As he pushed and pushed, his mouth came close enough to yell into one man’s ear. The man moved a fraction.

Andrew forced his body through the tiny gap. He could almost touch her now. Just a yard or so more. Her muslin skirt was spread across the filthy roadway. How was it that these men did not realise the harm they were doing?

They were all gazing up at the Tsar, their arms raised, their mouths open to bellow their delighted approval of the hero who had defeated the tyrant Bonaparte. The London mob had made its choice of the young and virile Emperor of Russia over their own fat, frivolous Regent.

Andrew was close enough now to see her. She was dirty, young, and frightened. She seemed to be screaming for help. But he could hear nothing. With a huge effort, Andrew shouldered aside two men who were in danger of treading on the girl. He reached down, grabbed the little figure by the arms, and heaved.

Nothing. He redoubled his efforts and heaved again.

It was like pulling a difficult cork. One moment her body was stuck fast. The next it had popped out and Andrew was toppling backwards with her. But he did not fall. The wall of people held him upright.

In his arms, the girl was still screaming and now, with her head against his shoulder, he could hear it very well. It hurt. He used his chin to nudge aside her broken straw bonnet and put his lips against her ear. ‘Pray hush. You are safe now, I promise you.’

She uttered one final, piercing scream. Then putting her mouth against his ear, she cried, ‘Safe? You are like to ruin me, you numbskull. Look at my gown.’

He looked down. Her skirt still lay spread on the ground in a drift of filthy muslin pinioned by enormous boots. Like pressed flower petals edged with footprints. The lady in his arms was dressed in little more than a shift, and torn stockings.

Of course, if you want to know what happened next, you'll have to get hold of a copy of the anthology. I promise you the collection is worth it. There is something there for every kind of reader -- contemporaries, historicals, even a vampire story!

I hope you all had a wonderfully romantic Valentine's Day. I did! But I'm not saying a word about what went on....


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hareton Abbey and Calke Abbey


When I was little, my parents visited a different place every weekend. Usually a great country house, occasionally a historic village or town, sometimes a battlefield. We had a small family business and getting away for a longer stretch of time was often problematic.
So I saw a lot of country houses. My mother collected the guidebooks. I never thought the memories and the collections of guidebooks would be so useful. Now I visit them myself, take lots of photos, and try to “get” the atmosphere, that ethereal something that makes visiting the places so special.
When I wrote “Yorkshire,” the house I would use was firmly in my mind, in fact, it’s one of the rare occasions when the house demanded a story. This was Calke Abbey, which I visited just after it was opened to the public.
The history of Calke Abbey, in North Derbyshire, is a fascinating one, and not one that we see very often. The family, the Harpur-Crewes, never rose above the rank of baronet, but at one time mixed with the greatest in the land. One of the family’s members was a lady in waiting at Court, and on her marriage, received the gift of a magnificent State Bed. It never made it out of its boxes.
One of the baronets married below his class, which proved a severe problem to the family’s fortunes. Even that gave me ideas for books. The social network of the eighteenth century oligarchy was much more complex and close-knit than many historical novels give credence for, and marrying for love and love only could prove a family’s downfall.
The Harpur-Crewes became more and more eccentric, but hung on to the house until 1981, when the owner’s sudden death brought heavy and unexpected death duties that they couldn’t afford. So the property was gifted to the National Trust.
The National Trust originally took Calke because of the the grounds. The Harpur-Crewes were enthusiastic naturalists and collectors, and as a result the estate was a treasure trove of rare species. But when they saw the house, that became a priority. It was in an appalling state of disrepair, and the Harpur-Crewes had moved through it, abandoning rooms together with its contents as they became uninhabitalbe. At the time of the last owner’s death, he was living out of the kitchen.
The NT decided to preserve the house as it was, as an example of the way the great country houses became white elephants and fell into decay over the course of the twentieth century. So the repairs were careful to preserve the mould in the rooms, the way belongings, useless and valuable, were thrown into the rooms. That is, with the exception of the State Bed which is now, for the first time, put together and preserved under glass. It’s an amazing sight. Most State Beds are faded and tattered, but this beauty is pristine and of the highest quality.
When you walk into this place, it feels abandoned and sad. Even though most of the damp is eliminated now, you can still feel it clinging in the air, a kind of elemental ghost. The nursery is shocking, because toys have been dumped there, some of them museum-worthy. Before Calke, the National Trust preserved and restored houses to their former glory, so very few people outside the owners saw a house as it was. It’s like Tutenkhamen’s tomb or Sleeping Beauty’s castle, a once-great place in complete disarray, as if someone had just abandoned it and walked out. Which is more or less what happened.
How could I not set a book there? So Rose arrives at Hareton Abbey in Yorkshire (I moved Calke a few miles – it’s in Derbyshire, the next county down) expecting a society gathering, only to find the place in filthy disarray, a very few rooms readied for occupation and the Kerres the only other family invited. They are as put out as Rose’s family, the Golightlys, and it’s there that Richard and Rose begin their romance. A romance I haven’t finished writing about yet.
The official site for Calke Abbey is here:

And if you want to check out “Yorkshire,” it’s here:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love Story of the Year Shortlist

The shortlist for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Love Story of the Year has been announced and I’m thrilled that my Ravenhurst novel The Notorious Mr Hurst (Harlequin Mills & Boon) is included. Full details about the shortlist are on the RNA’s website

This year two Regency novels are among the six on the list – Notorious and Jan Jones’s Fair Deception (Robert Hale) - and both of them, although in very different settings, have a theatrical background.

The Pure Passion Awards 2010 in conjunction with the RNA will be presented at the Awards Luncheon on 16th March, so there’s plenty of time for butterflies in the stomach to develop, especially as this is a very special Luncheon to celebrate the RNA’s fiftieth anniversary year.

Here’s the cover of Jan’s book.

Secrets and scandal in Regency Newmarket: When Kit Kydd rescues actress Susanna Fair from disreputable Rafe Warwick, he proposes a feigned engagement to suit them both. But problems multiply when Susanna’s past beckons, her theatre company needs her, and Rafe reappears. Not a good time to fall in love, really.
Read more on Jan’s website

And here is The Notorious Mr Hurst.
Wealthy, eligible, beautiful - Lady Maude Templeton can have any man in Society. But she wants to marry for love - and the man of her dreams is sexy, talented, intelligent - and impossibly ineligible. What is more, he doesn’t believe in love.
Making theatre owner Eden Hurst realise he needs love, and her, seems hopeless - but when she puts her mind to it Lady Maude can be quite as shocking as any of her Ravenhurst friends.

Louise Allen

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Ghosts of Neddingfield Hall

The LP edition of The Ghosts of Neddingfield Hall was released this month - it's classified as "romantic suspense". I rather like the direction the publishers are going with my latest covers. What do you think?
I have "Google alert" on my book titles and name, it's fascinating to see where books end up. I discovered yesterday that they hold five different titles in Freemantle library and that my Jane Austen retelling, "Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley" is listed on an American blog as a favourite read.
I thought you might be interested to know what went on in the vegetable garden of the rich and well-to-do.
Sow small salading, radishes, onions, parsley, spinach, lettuce, peas, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, fennel,&c. The cucumber and melon plants raised last month, should be transplanted about the middle of this into new hotbeds. The ground should be prepared for planting asparagus next month.

I imagine that all this planting was done under glass, unless they had a much milder February back then, or maybe they were unbothered by sleet, snow, and freezing horizontal rain. I've not even been in the kitchen garden this year!
Fenella Miller
Two Gentlemen From London -out now - in libraries in the UK.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Jane Austen, Harriette Wilson, William Craven Connection

I'm posting a blog that I wrote for my Ashdown House blogsite this week so apologies to those of you who have seen it twice. I felt that as it had a Regency theme it might be of interest to readers of this blog too.

It seems a pity in some ways that the main claim to fame of William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven of the 2nd Creation, is that he was the first lover of the famous courtesan Harriette Wilson. (That is she in the picture on the left, taken from the frontispiece to her Memoirs). He was 31 and unmarried at the time. Harriette was much younger and does not give William a good press. Her memoirs start with the line "I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven..." but she leaves the reader in no doubt that she finds the Earl boring and old-fashioned, with his night caps and his endless talk of his cocoa trees on his estates in the Indies. What Harriette must have made of Ashdown House when William took her to the country in 1801, is anyone's guess. It is hard to imagine that Ashdown's rural isolation could appeal to this precocious and materialistic urbanite in any way.

A bad enough start for William, in all truth. And as if it wasn't a disaster to be denounced as boring by mischievous Harriette, Craven then incurred the disapproval of Jane Austen. In a letter to Cassandra in January 1801, Austen reports that Eliza Fowle "found [Lord Craven's] manners very pleasing indeed.—The little flaw of having a Mistress now living with him at Ashdown Park, seems to be the only unpleasing circumstance about him." More on the Austen/Craven connection anon.

So what do we actually know of William Craven other than these two literary references? William Craven was, in my opinion, far more interesting a man than Harriette implies. The son of the 6th Baron Craven and his beautiful, scandalous wife Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, he was a man whose family background was what would be referred to today as dysfunctional; both parents took lovers and in 1783 they finally separated after 13 stormy years of marriage, with his mother taking her seventh and youngest child and travelling abroad. After the 6th Baron died in 1791 and Lady Elizabeth, now the Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Bayreuth, returned to England, her daughters refused to receive her. William, the new Lord Craven, was also for a time not on speaking terms with her. As an interesting footnote, his elder sister Maria married William Philip Molyneaux 2nd Earl of Sefton in 1792 and became one of the patronesses of Almacks, one of thr bastions of respectability in high society.

William and his brother Henry Augustus Berkeley Craven were educated at Eton and William followed this with a distinguished army career. A brief summary of this follows: In 1793 he became an ensign in the 43rd Foot and was promoted to a lieutenancy the same year. In 1794 he became a Major of the 84th and from there to Lieutenant Colonel. He served in the 1794 campaign in Flanders and was present at the siege of Nimeguen. He subsequently served in the West Indies and was present at the capture of Trinidad. On 1st January 1798 he was appointed ADC to the King and made a Colonel. In 1799 he served at the Helder and subsequently in the Mediterranean. In 1803 he was appointed Colonel of the Reserves and was made a Major General in 1805 and served on the Staff from the commencement of war until 1809. He was appointed Lieutenant General in 1811. The Earldom of Craven was recreated for him in 1801 as recognition from the King for his services to his monarch and to his country.

Significantly for a man with the reputation of having kept a notorious mistress - and indeed having married an actress, Louisa Brunton - he was a great favourite of George III's very proper wife Queen Charlotte so must have come across as a gentleman of some moral probity as well as charm!

As Noel Chanan comments in his excellent book about the Earl's son William, Earl of Craven and the Art of Photography: "The marriage raised some eyebrows within the aristocracy but Louisa was accepted in society. The Earl was in many respects a typical Regency gentleman, profligate with his money and also somewhat careless of his personal safety." In 1809, despite the presence of French privateers, he resumed pleasure sailing in the waters of the English Channel in his own lightly armed sloop, the Grafton. Sailing was one of his great passions. He was a founder member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and celebrated the fact by purchasing a three-masted, full-rigged ship of 325 tons, which he called the Louisa for his wife. In the year of his death he bought a third ship, the Mayfly, which cannot but have added to the massive debt that encumbered the estate on his death. It seems appropriate, even inevitable, that he died at Cowes in 1825.

The Earl of Craven's family connections to Jane Austen are well recorded. Jane knew of William Craven through Tom Fowle, her sister Cassandra's fiancé, who was cousin to William Craven and served as his chaplain on the military expedition to the West Indies in 1796. Other connections are explained in the fascinating article by Lanfersieck and Looser, Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Lord Craven. This article also posits that William Craven may have been the model for John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, suggesting that Sense and Sensibility contains several parallels to Craven's life, including place names, a difficult mother figure and the resonances with a "ruined" young woman, in Craven's case Harriette Wilson.

It is entirely plausible that Jane Austen may have been inspired to draw on Craven for some elements of Willoughby's character. I confess that I don't like the idea because I have always considered Willoughby to be a morally bankrupt character in the original book and I don't for a moment believe William Craven to have been so and feel that this comparison does him no favours. Craven was a man of considerable depth, with a distinguished service record. There is more to him than the Regency wastrel even if he did possess some of the characteristics of the stereotypical Regency nobleman. In addition, I have always seen Harriette Wilson as being in control of her own destiny unlike Eliza is in Sense and Sensibility. As another aside, I'm also sceptical that William's brother Berkeley Craven was ever Harriette's lover. Poor Berkeley has already been maligned in Venetia Murray's book An Elegant Madness when she suggested that he was besotted with Harriette's sister Amy, confusing him with another Berkeley entirely.

William Craven managed to come to terms with his difficult mother Elizabeth, Margravine of Anspach, at some point after her return to England. He even sold her second husband his estate at Benham Valence, where the Margravine built a villa, close to the Earl's own estate at Hamstead Marshall. William Craven and Louisa Brunton remained happily - and faithfully -married until his death. Perhaps this was a case of real life being happier than fiction?


Friday, February 05, 2010

The Novelty of Novels in Regency England

Ever wonder why writers like Byron, Coleridge and Scott wrote their long narratives such as Prisoner of Chillon, Rime of the Ancient Mariner (illustration right), The Lady of the Lake in verse? The answer may seem obvious: they were poets. Add Image

True. But there was more to it than meets the eye.

The fact was that poetry was respectable, but novels weren’t.

Jane Austen complains about the fate of novelists in Northanger Abbey:
Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens -- there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. "I am no novel-reader -- I seldom look into novels -- Do not imagine that I often read novels -- It is really very well for a novel." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss -- ?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. (NA, Chapter 5)

To confirm this, the worldly John Thorpe dismisses Catherine Moreland’s novel reading in much the same way. When she asks him if he’d read Udolpho, he replies:

"Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do."
Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, "Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation."

While lending libraries and booksellers such as Lackington Allen's Temple of the Muses (shown below) in London were thriving on the sensationalist success of these new novels, it was the poets that received the attention. No novelist of the time received the fame and notoriety of Lord Byron, though of course this was partly due to his Bad Boy image. The majority of novelists were women, which partly accounts for the condescention with which the novels were treated. Note that Thorpe cites only male novelists as worthy of interest. But beyond that, the novel was still in its infancy. It was struggling to break into the mainstream, which was still very much dominated by poetry. It’s hard for us now to imagine a situation where, if you had a story to tell and wanted it to get the respect it deserved, you were expected to write it in verse. The novel only really came into its own in Victorian England.

An important departure from the norm was Sir Walter Scott. Even though he is now rembered much better for novels such as Rob Roy and Ivanhoe than for his poems, he almost didn’t produce any novels. Later on in his life he wrote about his long struggle and uncertainty before finally taking the plunge and moving from poetic narratives to novels. Fortunately, his first novel Waverley, published in 1814, became an instant success, though, very significantly, he published it anonymously. He continued to use various pen names for his novels for several years, even though people knew that he was the writer.

In her usual caustic way, Jane Austen had this to say about his decision:

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones -- It is not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people's mouths -- I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it -- but fear I must' (letter, September 1814).

Scott was upfront about acknowledging the influence of women novelists on his writing, particularly Maria Edgeworth. He also openly admired Jane Austen’s talent and skill. Where Jane Austen can be credited with inventing the romance, he is generally credited with inventing the historical novel as we know it.

Waverley plays a role in my forthcoming novel, The Darcy Cousins. In a scene in the novel, Georgiana Darcy and her cousin Clarissa go on a much anticipated outing to Waverley Abbey, which was believed to be the inspiration for Waverley.
The outing provides a bit of a reality check to Georgiana, whose expectations were just a bit too high. Georgiana makes a sketch of the Abbey. I would think it was quite similar to the one above, since we know from Caroline Bingley that Darcy's sister was very accomplished.
The Darcy Cousins will be released Feb 28, 2009.

Monica Fairview

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Holding out for a hero

They don't make swashbuckling pirate films like they used to(sigh). Remember those lovely old movies - Captain Blood, The Crimson Pirate, Prisoner of Zenda, Ivanhoe etc. etc? Swashbucklers are very rare these days - I suppose the Mask of Zorro was probably one of the last - and of course the Pirates of the Caribbean films came pretty close. I grew up with these old action movies and was very excited when I started formulating the idea for a swashbuckling romance of my own - and at long last it is coming out in the UK!

Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife is published this week and I have to confess this was one of my favourite books to write. Not only is it a ripping yarn but its hero charmed me from the moment he "walked into my head". Of course, heroes are very personal and we each have our own vision of what a hero might be.

I wanted a man who was an adventurer, something of a pirate, or buccaneer, with a devil-may –care attitude towards life and women – until he meets Evelina, my heroine!
We have discussed before how characters are "born" and I know other writers find that sometimes their hero is just there, waiting for their story to be written. This is how it was for me. When I first started thinking about this story, Captain Nick Wylder strode onto the stage, ready to take control!

When I am writing a book I like to know each main characters's back-story. Sometimes it comes to me piecemeal as the story develops and I realise why my characters will or will not perform the way I want. At other times, the back-story is complete before I start on the main novel. I thought you might be interested to read my notes on Captain Nick Wylder – unedited, just as they came out of my notebook!

Captain Nick Wylder b 1752 (28 in 1780). Ex sailor, well known for daring and dangerous exploits – nickname Wyldfire. Younger son of an earl. Black hair, blue, blue eyes. Gleaming smile (dimple)

Owns properties in the north of England. Went to sea as a boy and served under Admiral Howe (Richard Howe, known as Black Dick) in America – in the summer of 1776 (he was 24) he commanded one of the ships under Lord Howe when they took New York City (Washington left NYC in September 1776). Howe was known to be sympathetic to the rebels and keen to broker a peace – holds peace conference on Staten Island in September but it fails. British take Newport, Rhode Island in December 1776 When Howe resigned because he felt he had been under-supported in his peace attempts in 1778. Nick resigned too but before they could return to England they had to defend Newport (Rhode Island ) from the French under Count d'Estaing. The French ships were heavier and had a deeper draught than the British and could not cross the sand bar to meet the enemy so their assault failed. On the arrival of Admiral Byng in September 1778 Howe was free to return home (at the end of 1778). Created Earl Howe in 1788.

Now none of the above is in my book, except as a passing reference, but the experience made my hero the man he is when the book opens: brave, impetuous, a natural leader, a daredevil, used to adventure and with lots of experience of the sea.

And do you know, I think this could form the basis of another novel!

Oh, and the pictures? Well, obviously I don't have a photograph of Captain Nick Wylder, but these are just some of the heroes who have influenced me over the years (well perhaps not Jack Sparrow, but hey, who needs an excuse to add JD's photo?)

Wicked Captain, Wayward Wife is published in the UK in hardback on 5th February 2010 (paperback April 2010)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Is it Spring yet?

As I write this blog this morning and look out of my study window, the sun is shining brightly and there is is not a cloud in the sky. A great day to get out and about, return the research library books and feel the buzz of exploring the open countryside and letting the new plot for the next novel to regenerate me after the long cold winter. The birds are singing, the male blackbirds are fighting for their territory and the blue tits are investigating the nest boxes. Spring must be here.
Then I glance down at the grass and everything is covered in a thick white frost and I know it will be freezing again outside and I can feel my hibination mode settle again on me like a cosy mantle.
However the sunshine is enough that I give thanks for being a writer and can forget about the cold and still allow my imagination to fly to exotic or warmer climates or get my adrenaline refired by a scene of daring-do or high adventure from my Loveday extended family. To keep my inspiration high I have the latest Loveday cover sitting proudly in front of my wpc. It arrived as I was finishing the last two chapters for The Loveday Vendetta and I absolutely loved it, and the complicated plot ending I had been struggling with suddenly fell into place. Isn't it great when that happens?
Despite the frustration of the long weeks of rain, snow and frost I am never bored when my characters have new challenges to face and a heartwarming email comes in from an excited reader who has finished the latest Loveday and is asking when the next one will be published. The Loveday Vendetta is not published until the summer but I had to share the cover with you.
The cover for Vendetta is beautiful dramatic and uplifting. Three very sound lessons to hold when a writer is completing the final scenes and doing the final read throughs. With the typescript in the post I really would enjoy a change of temperature to get out and about more in the sunshine. Meanwhile I have a terrific to be read pile of the great novels by my associate blog contributors that I finally have the time to sit with a glass or wine and a box of chocs and lose myself in.
Stay warm, stay inspired and happy reading to you all.
Kate Tremayne