Monday, April 25, 2016

Wedding Fashions in the time of Jane Austen

Wedding Fashions in the time of Jane Austen

I've just been to a lovely spring wedding, and it got me thinking about the wedding fashions of the Georgian and Regency period.

From the 1790s a wedding dress in white became the fashionable garment to wear, taking over from the white and silver dresses that had been worn by wealthy young women. Waistlines rose, sleeves became shorter and lace accessories not so regularly worn, although the bridal veil started to make its appearance at this time. Simple styles worn with less jewellery and diamonds were the order of the day, and lace veils were worn draped over the head for evening wear as well as wedding attire.

The sheerest muslin from India was the most fashionable fabric, but silk, gauzes, fine cottens and linens also formed the basis of a wedding outfit. Machine made net, often embroidered was an alternative.
The actress Elizabeth Farren who married Lord Derby at his house in Grosvenor Square in May, 1797 had thirty muslin dresses for her trousseau. Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide wrote of the ‘great number of simpletons from the ‘fashionable world’ who had ‘been to see her Wedding Garments which are superlatively magnificent - She has thirty Muslin dresses each more beautiful than the other, and all trimmed with the most expensive Laces. Her Wedding Night Cap is the same as the Princess Royal’s and cost Eighty Guineas - I have no patience with such extravagances, and especially in such a Woman.
A nineteenth century fashion plate published in France in 1813 shows the model in a short-sleeved evening dress of embroidered machine net worn over a white silk under dress. The bride wears elbow-length gloves, a floral head-dress and lace veil. The earliest British plate was published in Ackermann in 1816, and features a dress by Mrs Gill of Cork Street made of striped French gauze over a white satin slip with short puffed sleeves. The hem has a deep flounce of Brussels lace with artificial roses trimming the skirt and bodice. She wears a diadem on her head with roses, though in this case there is no evidence of a veil.
The wedding of Catherine Tylney Long and William Wesley-Pole in March 1812 was reported in the fashion magazine, La Belle AssemblĂ©e - the bride’s ‘robe of real Brussels point lace’ was worked in a simple sprig pattern and worn over a white satin petticoat costing 735 pounds, a vast amount of money in those days. The bride also wore a white pelisse trimmed with swansdown and a Brussels lace bonnet decorated with ostrich feathers and a deep lace veil. The groom wore a plain blue coat, white waistcoat, buff breeches and white stockings in contrast.

From 1813 to 1825 wedding dresses looked more like evening dresses with low necks and short sleeves, though for church weddings sleeves were usually longer and a pelisse worn for modesty. The high waistline dropped so that by 1820 the waist resumed its normal position.

By the 1830s trimmings became increasingly elaborate and though headdresses became increasingly elaborate, bonnets were often worn as a popular alternative.

I love this glimpse of Emma's wedding from Emma by Jane Austen - I think we get an insight into what Jane must have thought of some of the wedding fashions: The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. 'Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! Selina would stare when she heard of it.' But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

Finally, here are the lovely costumes that Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman wear in Sense and Sensibility - it's interesting to see the film versions of Jane Austen's weddings, but that's another blogpost!

Jane Odiwe

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Threads in the Tapestry

Having just come back from beautiful Derbyshire with my head full of my favourite places, here I am blogging about them a little more.

Deep into the heart of Derbyshire countryside, there is a delightful house with over 300 years of history: Sudbury Hall, now in the custody of the National Trust. As the guidebook informs the avid visitor, it is “largely the creation of George Vernon (1635/6 – 1702), ‘a prudent young man, sober and active’, as he was described by a contemporary [and very handsome too, as described by me :) ]. He succeeded to the estate in 1660 and almost immediately began to rebuild the old manor house of his ancestors, probably to his own designs.”

Hundreds of years down the line, it still boasts exquisite Louis Laguerre murals and painted ceilings, Grinling Gibbons carvings and the sparkling and flowery work of plasterers such as Bradbury and Pettifer. 

Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire
Photos Joana Starnes

Along with the hall, the surrounding village was remodelled and it has survived the passage of time, complete with a coaching inn, a school and even the village stocks.

Village of Sudbury, Derbyshire
Photos Joana Starnes

Lyme Park, Cheshire
Photo Joana Starnes

Sudbury’s real history is enthralling, but I must confess that I often dwell on its imaginary one. Because, along with another certain house in nearby Cheshire with its own 600 years of history, to me Sudbury Hall is Pemberley.

At every visit – and there were many, and hopefully many more – all sorts of details catch my eye and I squirrel them away, to be woven into the tapestry at some later point in time. The artistry of the carvings in the drawing room. The table set for a delightfully intimate dinner in the small dining room. The beautiful crayon sketch in the narrow hallway between the Queen’s Bedroom and the Porch Room, that could so easily be a lovingly-drawn likeness of a suitor or a brother. I know this is not the case, but one can dream.

Sudbury Hall, Saloon
Pemberley, Music room
Photo Joana Starnes
So I still dream as I look at the portraits displayed in the house and imagine them to be the ancestors of Pemberley’s master (who incidentally can also be described as a prudent young man, sober and active, who had succeeded to his estate at an early age and gave it his best).

The portrait of a stern-looking gentleman with proud patrician features could easily be Mr Darcy’s grandfather, who had married for love in his early youth, hoping for a ‘lifetime of felicity, in all human calculation’. The beautiful young woman in a dark velvet dress, smiling from underneath a hat bedecked with feathers, could be his first wife. The pretty but placidly resigned lady in a different portrait (much smaller than the other one) could be the woman he married for duty to his lineage and estate, when the love of his life was taken from him. And as she strolls with her husband and new sister and learns from them about the life stories behind the portraits, Elizabeth Darcy might muse whether the grandfather’s solemn features would still have been devoid of warmth and feeling in his fiftieth year, had his first wife lived...

And, months down the line, the parallel might become unbearably striking when times of anguish and peril revisit the Darcys. Or at least that was the inspiration for this fragment from Chapter 18 of my first novel, 'From This Day Forward – The Darcys of Pemberley’.

* * * *

The curtain twitched under a heavy hand and moved back to reveal the dreadful scene outside Pemberley House…
The dark hearse…
The coffin…
Fitzwilliam’s stony countenance, without life, without tears…
The long mournful procession going through the gates…
It is done…
It is over…
And there is nothing left…
Nothing at all…

Sobs, pitiful, broken sobs got through to her, and Georgiana awoke – drenched in cold sweats and in a flood of tears – to find they were her own.
“A nightmare,” she said aloud, to reassure – to persuade herself, and then again: “A nightmare!”
She sat up, still shaking, and got out of bed.
She had to see.
She had to be certain.
She donned her robe and tied the sash with trembling hands.
She did not light a candle – the moonlight would suffice.
She walked down the corridor and turned sharply at the end, towards Elizabeth’s bedchamber. She pushed the door open slowly, noiselessly, and only by a fraction.
And what she saw within tore at her heart.
Fitzwilliam was sitting in a chair by the bedside, his countenance as haggard and ashen as in her dreadful dream. He was holding Elizabeth’s hand, cradling it, without words, without tears.
And the mute despair in his eyes was devastating.
She turned to look towards the bed and waited, until the barely perceptible rise and fall of Elizabeth’s chest, with every breath, gave her the desperately needed answer. She withdrew and returned to her room, slowly, and very quietly. And bent to her knees, and prayed.
She prayed for her sister to survive.
For if Elizabeth did not, she knew not how her brother would.

* * * *

Quiet footsteps, eerily quiet, drew him from his trance.
He looked up – and followed.
The ghostly sound faded as he reached the eastern staircase and he took the steps two at a time, down to the bottom, where he had found her. A madman’s quest for he knew not what pushed him to the gallery. In the light of the moon, from her portrait, his grandfather’s first wife looked down upon him with the deepest compassion.
He dug his fingers in his hair.
A long, dry sob racked his chest as he pounded the frame of the unfortunate woman’s likeness, and broken gilt plaster fell to the floor.
He covered his mouth with his fist, stifling the groan.
And ran out of the deathly silent room, chased by his demons.

* * * *

If you think this was not exactly the lightest of blog-posts for a bright Sunday morning – or worse still, for a wet one ;) – and because I personally can’t bear angst unless I know the tale ends well, I have to assure you this one does too. I think all love stories deserve happy endings. Especially those involving Elizabeth and Mr Darcy who, to me, are the most romantic couple of them all.

Thanks for coming to Derbyshire with me. If you would like to see what else I might have dreamed up about the master and mistress of Pemberley, please follow the links.

                           Books by Joana Starnes on

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dilemma in Yellow Silk

This month I have a new release that I’d love to tell you about.
DILEMMA IN YELLOW SILK is an Emperors of London book. Set in the 1750’s, it concerns the continuing Jacobite struggle, when it went underground in the 1750’s, and a new threat emerged to challenge the status quo.
I’ve loved writing this series, with its mixture of history and romance, and this book was no exception. Viola and Marcus were a lovely couple to get to know!

Dilemma in Yellow Silk
The Emperors of London, Book 5
Ever ready to do the right thing, The Emperors of London act bravely—and when it comes to matters of the heart, impetuously…
Despite her cover as the daughter of the land steward for Lord Malton, Marcus Aurelius, spirited Viola Gates is tied by birth to the treacherous Jacobite legacy. Not that this keeps her from falling for the dashing Lord from afar. Despite his staid demeanor, Marcus is devastatingly handsome—and hopelessly beyond her reach. Then Viola’s father is mortally wounded and her secret identity revealed, sending her straight into danger’s path—and Marcus’s arms…
For years, he’d only known her as a wild child, the tempting—and forbidden—daughter of his trusted steward. But when Viola’s life is threatened, Marcus must act as duty—and his barely contained passion—dictates. Ferrying the bold beauty on an eventful journey to safer quarters, he offers her the protection of his name. Their tempestuous union might succeed in vanquishing their enemies, but will the chivalrous lord and his unsuitable wife surrender to the power of love?
“Lynne Connolly writes Georgian romances with a deft touch. Her characters amuse, entertain and reach into your heart.” —Desiree Holt
“Plots, deviousness and passion galore…a truly enjoyable read.” –Fresh Fiction on Temptation Has Green Eyes

Concentrating on her music, Viola nearly jumped out of her skin when a large body plumped down on the stool next to her. She shrieked, spun around, and closed her eyes. “You!”
“Why, weren’t you expecting me?”
His expression of innocence did not fool her for a minute.
“Not here, not like this. Did you run from the last staging post?” she demanded. She should not talk to the Earl of Malton like this. Right now he was less the earl and more Marcus, the boy she’d known so long ago. “Oh, my lord, sir, I’m sorry!”
She should recall her place, but she was finding the task difficult when he was wearing the same mischievous grin he’d used at nine years old.
“I couldn’t resist. Do you know what you were playing?”
The heat rushed to her face. “Yes.” No sense dissimulating. Of course she knew.
“And if you don’t stop ‘my lord’ and ‘sir’ing me, I’ll have you sent home forthwith. When we’re alone, it’s still Marcus.”
What had happened to him? Marcus had slowly moved away from her, gone from a childhood friend to a dignified, proper aristocrat. She understood the move, because he would have responsibilities to take care of, but sometimes she missed him. He’d remained a distant figure ever since, growing more pompous every time she saw him. Now he seemed to have cast all that off.
“I thought—that’s not right.”
Sighing, he shook his head. “And I’ve stopped you playing. A pity—I was enjoying that. Carry on.”
“Is that an order—sir?”
He growled deep in his throat, such a small sound she’d have missed it if he were not sitting so close to her. “Stop it. I’ll be Malton in about an hour.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ve spent the last three days in a closed carriage with my father, and I want to forget the stateliness. He would, given the chance. But with outriders and men riding ahead to warn innkeepers we were on our way, we had little chance.”
“So they commit the great crime of ensuring the best bedrooms are free. The cook is bursting from his waistcoat, trying to cook the best meal he’s capable of making. If only my journeys were so tedious!”
His laugh rang around the room. “Exactly. But we’re welcomed with ‘Good evening, my lord,’ and ‘How can I serve you, my lord?’”
“You poor thing.” She should guard her tongue, but she delighted in reacquainting herself with the man she used to know.
He rewarded her with another laugh. “I know. It’s such a hardship.” Lifting his feet, he spun around on the bench so he faced the keyboard, as she did. “You got a phrase wrong. The tune is based on the traditional one, but it’s varied in the last line of each verse. Slightly different each time. Like this.”
When he demonstrated, Viola understood exactly what he meant. But with the amusement, her heart ached. She had missed him so much. At the delicate age of nine, two years after his breeching, Marcus had begun his training, and since then, he’d become engrossed in his life’s work. Before then, the laughing boy had had no cares, and they’d played together.
Until someone remembered their different stations in life, and she did not think it was Marcus.
“Your turn.”
After giving him a doubtful glance, she copied the phrase. He sang the verse along with her, his baritone blending with her untrained mezzo. At the end of the verse they continued with the next one. Then he added one she hadn’t known about.
By the end of the song, she was quite in charity with him. The years slipped away. Or rather, they did not, because never at any time did she forget that a man sat next to her, not a boy.
Viola hadn’t been this close to Marcus for years. In this lovely room, with sunshine streaming in through the windows, they could be in another world—one of their own, a place out of time.
Playing scurrilous songs on a valuable string instrument seemed part of their world. Eventually she joined with him as his infectious laughter rang around the room.
“Do you remember this?” She played a few notes. A two-handed exercise taught to children to help them accustom themselves to the keyboard.
“Ha, yes I do.”
He joined in, taking the upper part of the tune. It was simple but capable of infinite variations. At the end of the piece she changed the pitch and they continued. Four times they went around, until she stopped with an emphatic chord.
She rested her palms on the edge of the harpsichord. “This was tuned last week. I was only supposed to check it, not play it until it’s out of tune again.”
“Do harpsichords lose their tuning so easily?”
He really didn’t know? “It’s a harpsichord. The strings are delicate. Even damp can send them completely wrong. Each quill has to be checked and replaced if necessary. Don’t you know anything?”
He shrugged. “I know how to address a duchess and how to dance a minuet. I can shoot straight and use a sword.”
“So can I. The last part.”
He widened his eyes. Such a perfect shade of blue they were. She hadn’t seen them this close for years. Far too long. “You can fence and shoot?” he said, his voice rising.
“I shoot better than I fence, but I know one end of a sword from the other. I know how to stop someone taking it off me.” Considering her position, her father had considered the training useful. The daughter of a land steward, especially an only child, needed to know how to take care of herself.
“I will certainly test you on that.” He patted his hip. “But I don’t generally travel with a sword at my side. We have them in the carriage, though. Shall I send for them?”
She bestowed a jaded smile on him. “No. Or fetch them yourself, come to that.”
His cheek indented slightly, as if he were biting it inside. Stopping laughter? Then she was a source of ridicule? No, he wouldn’t do that, not the Marcus she’d known.
But she had not known him for years. Only seen him at a distance and occasionally exchanged polite nothings.
He shook his head as his smile faded. “Why did we not tell my tutors to go to the devil, Viola? What harm did our friendship do?”
“They were teaching you to be an earl, and eventually a marquess.”
“Ah yes. That. But you continued to play with my brothers and sisters.”
She lifted one shoulder. “I hardly missed you at all.”
That was a lie. She had missed him very much. His way of talking, the way he would say what he was thinking without hesitation—but he would hardly do that any longer. People hung on his every word, at least some people did. The people wanting the ear of his father, or for Marcus to do them a favor.
“I missed you,” he said softly. “I would like us to be friends again, as we used to be.” He covered her hand with his own.
Startled, she stared at it, but she didn’t move. His warmth seeped through her, heating more than her fingers. He’d been her childhood sweetheart, but they had both known they were only playing.
He did not mean it in that way. Occasionally she’d allowed herself to dream of him, but never allowed her fantasies to creep through to real life.
Marcus had grown up tall and handsome, and unlike most men she knew, he wore his own hair tied back in a simple queue. He rarely powdered, his one concession to his wishes rather than the dictates of fashion, but he would consent to wear a wig on ceremonial occasions.
The first time she’d seen him dressed for a grand occasion had served to distance him completely from her. Without those glossy dark brown locks, and dressed in the finest London could provide, Marcus appeared a different person, one Viola didn’t know at all. So when he said he missed her, he probably meant the carefree days of his childhood.
Viola could not pass this opportunity by. She turned her hand and curled her fingers between his. He clasped her hand warmly.
She stared at that symbol of friendship, as if it weren’t her hand. “I missed you, too.”
“You’ve grown up a beauty, Viola,” he said softly.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Girl in the Title

It started with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I think. Then there was Gone, Girl, the Girl on the Train and many, many other girls in various situations, places and circumstances, mostly with a hint of danger about them. Yes, the prevalence of the word “girl” in book titles has been apparent to us all and shows no sign of waning. And it’s not just girls. At the RNA Conference last summer Matt Bates, buyer for WH Smith Travel commented that over 60% of their best selling titles that year had a female noun in them whether it was girl, wife, mother, sister or something similar.

Choosing a title for a book is a difficult business so it’s always interesting to analyse what makes a particular theme popular. I hadn’t thought that “girl titles” were particularly applicable to historical fiction until I looked at the book charts and then I realised I was quite wrong. The Girl with No Name by Diney Costelloe is at the top of Amazon’s historical fiction charts. It has a nice, mysterious ring to it. There are others - and I've used a couple of covers to illustrate.

When will the popularity of girl titles end and what will be next? I wish I knew so I could get in first and start a trend rather than follow one.  In the meantime I'm
setting a challenge. Can we get the "girl craze" to work for Regency romance? I don’t really think the Girl and the Duke has the right nuance and if I re-titled my latest book The Girl in the House of Shadows it sounds like too much of a mouthful. Yet I feel sure we could make the “girl” trend work. So I am offering a copy of House of Shadows (without the girl) to any commenter who comes up with a good historical title featuring the word “girl” or even better re-writes a classic title in that way. When I threw down the gauntlet to my husband on this he came up with “The Girl on the Moor” which I thought was inspired. Over to you!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Elizabeth Hawksley Writing Tips: 3

Good morning, Elizabeth here. Spring has arrived, a time of new beginnings, so I thought I'd offer a couple of kick-starting Writing Tips.

Sometimes scenes can get so bogged down that it feels like being stuck in a peat bog. Somehow, you need to get things moving again. Here are a couple of suggestions which work for me.

What’s at stake?
Each scene needs to push the action forward in some way and you may have lost the emotional connection with your hero or heroine. Try asking yourself: is what’s at stake strong enough? 
Fling in a problem
Chuck in something that stops the action in its tracks, and causes your hero/heroine maximum embarrassment, anguish or whatever.  Lydia Bennet running off with Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a brilliant example of this; it brings Lizzy and Darcy’s increasing intimacy to a sudden halt and throws a serious spanner in the works. Suddenly, a whole lot more is at stake.

Good luck.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photo by Sally Greenhill 

Sunday, April 03, 2016

A Busman's Holiday. Melinda Hammond explains why she enjoys getting away from it all – working!

I have just returned from a writing retreat – no tutors, lectures or seminars, just half a dozen like-minded writers who decided to get together, all writing busily during the day and meeting up in the evenings to discuss progress, problems and generally talk "shop".  On the first evening we had a quick catch up and discussed what we wanted to achieve, and we were all up early the following morning, raring to go!

This is the second retreat we have organised; last year we enjoyed a break on the breath-taking North Devon coast, looking out over rugged cliffs and rough seas, very inspiring, I think you'll agree.


 This year our numbers were depleted by illness, so in the end it was only Louise Allen, Janet Gover, Sophie Weston and myself who arrived at a holiday cottage in Oxfordshire for three full days of intensive writing. We didn't have the dramatic scenery of last year, but we did have a lovely long lawn stretching  down to the Thames, where we could wander out if we wanted a break.  Equally inspiring, but in a very different way.

At breakfast we watched the red kites wheeling and diving to the lawn for scraps  and around lunchtime we would convene in the kitchen for snacks or just coffee and a natter, then it was back to work again, each of us finding a desk or table away from everyone where we could work.

Writing can be a very lonely profession, and it was good to have company who understood the need for us to be silent and working for hours on end. There was a sort of friendly rivalry, too, as we all set ourselves targets – word count, getting to the end of a particular scene, etc. etc., but because we were working alongside other writers, we would always go just that little bit further, do an extra hundred words or sketch out another scene. And if anyone felt like slacking, the tap, tap of other writers' fingers on laptop keys was a mental slap on the wrist, telling us to get back to work.

When we came together for our final dinner on the last night we compared notes. No one had written "the end", but we all had a terrific sense of achievement, even though we all felt a certain amount of exhaustion after three intensive writing days. We came away refreshed, inspired and energised; words written, plots created, and in some cases endings resolved.
It was a real busman's holiday and I can't wait to go again!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory
Four Regency Seasons - Melinda Hammond (Kindle)
Return of the Runaway - Sarah Mallory, pub. April 2016 by Harlequin