Saturday, December 30, 2017

The fun of discovering names to use for character titles and surnames

I’ve spoken before of my obsession with names. Agonising over what title to use and what surnames to bestow upon my characters is another time-wasting phenomenon chez Bailey.

Really, I could just pick any name to go with the chosen Christian names. But not a bit of it. When beginning a book, I pore through my various sources and not only name the main characters, but make lists which I can dip into for minor characters who are bound to pop up. I need aristocratic sounding names for titles as well as names that will sound well on a valet, butler, maid or footman, or a shopkeeper. Perhaps a Bow Street Runner.

Names have got to suit the character, and very often their occupation too. So not just any name will do. The fact that it gives me so much pleasure to choose names is merely by the way, of course. Once chosen, though, it makes sense to check any name applied to the main titled characters against Google search, in case it turns out to be a real title currently in use.

I have three sources for surnames. Following the tradition set by Georgette Heyer, the main one is an old Road Atlas of the British Isles. 

An absolute treasure trove of wonderful names that roll off the tongue and are just a joy to pronounce. Just check out this little corner of one page of said Atlas.

Can’t you just see the characters popping up?
Miss Wimpstone, the governess
Marston, the butler
Paxford, the landlord of the inn, or he might be a groom
Lady Honeybourne, the dotty great-aunt
Viscount Idlicote, the annoying suitor the heroine can’t get rid of
Annabella Darlingscott, the reigning belle who is waspish and jealous of our heroine

See what I mean? Any more of this and I’ll have to excuse myself to go off and write the story.

For my next trick, there’s the invaluable Leslie Dunkling Guiness Book of Names. He’s got a wealth of wonderful surnames listed by county. Here’s the list for Oxfordshire.

I’ve already got Miss Flook from this list – she’s my widow’s companion in the current Regency Romantics anthology story, Widow in Mistletoe. Pegler is my lady’s maid in an upcoming Lady Fan. And I’ve got a definite hankering to use Bubb, Croome and Stinchcombe. I’m pretty sure I’ve already used Tuffley, but Gazard and Wintle are calling to me as well.

My last source is the fabulous Stufflebeem, Brockway & Sturt, by Shelley Keen (see top image). This gem of a book gives the origins of names, which can help with character as well as simply providing lists of names alphabetically. This comes in handy when I’m in danger of having too many names starting with the same letter. I can locate an unused letter and browse through that list to find a name that fits. 

The only name from this snippet from the book I’ve used is Lord Hetherington, the hero of the third in my Brides by Chance series, Knight for a Lady.

As an illustration of how fascinating and useful a map can be, I give you the bluestocking set in my wip, Taming the Vulture (Book 10 in the Brides by Chance series). These were picked wholesale and are genuine double-barrelled names of towns.

Pelham Ferneux, the handsome, showy literary type who actually produces next to nothing
Moreton Pinckney, the critic who panned my hero’s last work of poetry
Stanford Dingley, the historian and friend of my hero
Carleton Rode, the respected essayist
Aspatria Glasson, the champion of the rights of women

Honestly, could I have thought these up by myself? I rest my case.

Elizabeth Bailey

Friday, December 15, 2017

Regency, WW2 and 2017 - How Christmas has changed.

 In the Regency the lesser folk would have been fortunate to have anything different to eat at Christmas. However, those with money and status might well have celebrated in style.
If one was lucky one would be invited to a house party arriving before 21st December. A Yule log would be brought in but the greenery would not be put up until 24th. Christmas Day one would attend church and eat a turkey dinner. Similar to today -although I doubt many attend a service nowadays. Gifts were not given until 6th January -but not in the excess we see today.

The first Christmas of WW2  - 1939 - was the same as any other. Paper decorations, tinsel and candles on a tree, and a stocking for the children. However, there would be one present under the tree - not dozens. As the war progressed and rationing and shortages kicked in, the population did their best, but children would be lucky to get more than a few homemade gifts.
A chicken would be a luxury for many, especially those living in the cities. Country folk fared better as they could grow their own vegetables, keep chickens, and often had a shared interest in a pig.

How different it is today. The shops are full of festive things from September and families borrow money they can't afford to make sure their children don't feel disappointed on Christmas Day.
We all spend far too much, buy too much, and over indulge. I love the decorations, look out for doors with wreaths and lights outside, and enjoy peering into front windows at brightly decorated Christmas trees.
I am not religious, but love the nativity story.
For me it's a time for being generous in kind and in spirit, for reaching out to old friends and being close to family.

I wrote a light-hearted Christmas novella, Christmas at Devil's Gate in two weeks in order to give something to my readers. It's priced at $0.99 & £0.99 and is available on Amazon.

I wish you all a happy holiday, merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas, Advertising and.... Biggles!

Léon-François Comerre - The Flower Seller
CHRISTMAS is a time when we are besieged with advertisements. Things to buy, things to eat, programmes to watch.  This week I have been thinking about advertising, how we market our wares, and how that has changed over the centuries.

Shopkeepers have always used signs outside their premises to attract custom, as can be seen in this print by Hogarth (below). At one time, signs hanging over the streets were banned, because of the danger of them falling down and causing injury.

And those with trades to sell might also place ad advertisement in a newspaper, like this lovely, short piece in the London Evening Post in 1746. It appears Mr Grainger promise to teach pupils to "write well in a Month"(many of us would be pleased to have such guarantees in education today!).

The advent of moving pictures early last century was an exciting development in entertainment, and it wasn't long before advertisers recognised the potential. Who doesn't remember sitting through "Pearl & Dean" while waiting for the big picture to start?

Television gave advertisers the opportunity to bring their products right into the home, and boy, did it become an art form! For a while (until modern technology made it possible to fast-forward through the breaks) adverts were in danger of taking over from the main event- indeed, some were much better than the programmes they interrupted (although possibly not the one shown here).

Books have never been subject to quite such a hard sell. After all, as readers we like to take our time and browse, don't we? But authors  want to get the message out there, so they have to advertise, too, and we do. Via our publishers, or personally, via social media.  But it's not new.
This came home to me earlier this week, when I was trying(unsuccessfully) to reduce the number of books on my overcrowded shelves.  As a girl I fell in love with Capt W E Johns' flying ace, Biggles, and my collection of Biggles books has remained with me ever since. For years I spent my hard-earned pocket money on Biggles books, reprints like this...

....or second hand copies, purchased room an Aladdin's cave of a bookshop on the historic Christmas Steps in Bristol.  It was in one of these old books, a 1950s edition of "Biggles Works it Out", that I found a note from Capt Johns himself.   It had been fitted into the front of the book, whether by the publisher or by the book's original owner I do not know, but here is the note .

Perhaps it is because I am now an author myself, and battling constantly with demands of modern media, but this really struck a chord with me. It makes that personal, direct appeal to the reader, just as we are urged to do today.
This book, along with its message, is going to remain on my shelves for a long time to come.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and happy reading.

Melinda Hammond

You can read my homage to the WWII flying aces in my short story,

Or, if you want a little Christmas treat, you might like The Duke's Christmas Bride.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The value of Heideloff’s Gallery of Fashion

One of the most important aspects of writing historical romance is depicting the clothes. My bible is Cunnington’s Handbook of English Costume. I have the 18th century, the 19th and also the book on the medieval period. She is incredibly detailed and you get the full picture of what both men and women wore from top to toe, including changes throughout the century. It is immensely useful, but the illustrations are limited.

What helps me is seeing actual drawings of fashion from the time and my favourite of the fashion plates is Heideloff. His coloured drawings also cover my particular choice of period.

From Sacheverell Sitwell’s introduction to my book of Heideloff and Ackermann fashion plates, we learn that Heideloff’s were the first publications of coloured prints of English fashions, preceding Ackermann and La Belle Assemblée, which began in 1806. Earlier ones were French. But post the Revolution, English fashions began to predominate over French in England, and even crossed the Channel.

Heideloff was born in Germany, into a family of painters and engravers, but gravitated to Paris in 1784 in the service of a German duke. He left him and painted miniatures for a living. He fled to England as an émigré and in 1794 began the Gallery of Fashion, which appeared every month until 1802. Apparently there were 251 coloured plates done altogether.

What I love about Heideloff’s drawings is the fullness of the gowns, often with so much movement in them you can almost see the scene alive.

A lot of them are set in wonderful backgrounds and there are often two or three women together and sometimes children, usually doing something: reading, chatting, driving, riding, hurrying along or dawdling.

Although my book has quite a few plates, it’s not nearly as interesting as the images I’ve downloaded. There are few copies of the original Heideloff extant, but a Japanese university has very kindly put their entire collection online. You can even get permission to use one on covers for a reasonable fee.

But what I find so valuable is the descriptions of the clothes. These I can lift and use, adapting them a little to be understood by my readers. Each plate is accompanied by a page describing the entirety of each outfit, even to the hats and shoes, and of course it gives an excellent flavour of the time and a completely accurate depiction with the correct terminology. I have not personally come across any other fashion plate as comprehensive and detailed.

Take the image of a woman reading by the sea. It’s called Watering Place. Note the huge background scene. And if you read the description below, you can follow just what it meant by the words used. A handkerchief, for example, is not the square of linen we would suppose. That was called a pocket handkerchief. There’s “tucker” and “riband” and “petticoat” - not what we mean by the latter.

If you look at the descriptions of the morning dresses in the windy day above, you’ll see how even the way the hair is dressed is given: “the hair in bushy curls in front, the hind hair turned up into a chignon” and “the hair curled round the face; the hind hair in loose ringlets”.

There must be sixty odd of these images I downloaded, and I didn’t do the lot. Fortunately one is allowed to grab them for personal use only, and thus my readers are treated to snippets of the real thing.

As an interesting research aside, I learned that fashion colourists did their drawings inside the premises of the modistes, from the actual clothes. As close a representation as you can get!

Elizabeth Bailey

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Religious Season in Georgian Britain

We all know that Georgette Heyer was the founder of the Regency romance genre as we know it. Yes, there were certainly others, but nobody else enjoyed her level of success, then or now. However, subsequent studies have shown that Georgette was not infallible, not least in the attitudes she brought to her stories. In many ways the manners and morals are the ones from Georgette’s childhood, or from the novels of Jane Austen. Austen was very much a writer of the upper middle class, not the upper class, and in a particular part of the country, so she can’t be taken as typical of all Regency manners and morals.
Of course most authors bring a lot of themselves into a story. However, Georgette brings one omission that many subsequent writers have overlooked – religion.
I’m not going to talk about beliefs, or the developments of the new kinds of Christianity, but about how the religious year affected high society. We are, to a great extent, a secular society, and religion is a matter of personal choice, but back then religion made up a large part of the social year. Not to mention the legal one (a subject for another post!) Everybody attended church every Sunday, or they faced a fine for not doing so, and most households started with family prayers, often led by the householder. Every village had its church, and churches abounded in the burgeoning cities, so they inevitably became centres of society, where people met and gossiped after the service.
Regency society was Christian, specifically Anglican, with a few Church of Scotland and Catholic members. The monarch was the Head of the Church (and still is!) and non-Anglicans were restricted by law from many professions. So when we look at the Season from the viewpoint of secular society, we only get a partial picture. The Church was heavily incorporated into the constitution, with bishops and archbishops forming the Lords Spiritual, an important component of the House of Lords. The aristocracy were the Lords Temporal, and the two often combined by being members of the same family. The most important universities were run by men with spiritual qualifications. Society wasn’t so much about belief as it was about belonging.
Heyer assumed that the Season, the part of the year that roughly covers the spring, was the only one that mattered for the aristocracy. We known now that wasn’t true, and while the “little season” in the autumn didn’t exist by name, it did in reality. The aristocracy came to town in the autumn for the opening of Parliament and to conduct parliamentary business. Of course their families often accompanied them! Important politicians might base most of their year in London, and go to their country houses in the summer, when Parliament was not in session. Back in the spring, when Parliament came back.
But there was more to it than that. Add in another component and the Regency year makes a lot more sense. The religious component.
In the Regency people observed two other seasons – Lent and Advent. The forty days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter and the three weeks before Christmas Day were for fasting, sacrifice and contemplation. Perhaps more importantly for society, churches were not allowed to be decorated, clerics wore relatively simple robes, and celebratory events like weddings were not held.
What was the point of landing a duke if you couldn’t celebrate the union? While marriages were relatively private affairs, especially when compared to today’s shindigs, the wedding breakfast and the balls afterwards more than made up for it. And many clerics were loath to conduct wedding ceremonies during these periods. Most refused to conduct them at all, and they were certainly deterred or ordered not to hold them, by order of the bishops.
Society would not hold grand balls and great displays during Lent or Advent either. It would be considered shockingly disrespectful. They might have smaller gatherings like dinners, but these periods of the year might also provide useful breathers. Theatres were closed, as were other places of entertainment, and there were no Drawing Rooms at court.
So now we have a clearer idea of the seasons. Society might come to town any time after the end of September, when the shooting season was fading. Then they’d retire during Lent, probably to their country houses, and return (weather permitting) in January. Not all of society came to London in the early part of the year, but would wait until after Lent, at the end of March to mid-April, depending on the moveable feast that was Easter. Then, after Easter Monday, it was all go, with balls and presentations at court, and the rest of the merry-go-round, until the summer house parties began at the end of June, and the aristocracy moved out.
Some families preferred to use their power bases in the country for the majority of the year, and this is evinced by the closing of the huge London mansions, and the consequent aggrandisements of the country estate. But a few others stayed in London.
But by ignoring the religious year, an important component is missing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

RAF Slang in WW2

I have been fascinated by the terms used in the RAF during the war. I wonder how many of them you recognize and how many of them you actually understand the meaning of.
I have a wonderful little book entitled A Dictionary of RAF Slang by Eric Partridge - it was first published in 1945 by Joseph but this edition is by Pavilion Books, 1990.
Some of you might have used the term 'erk ' as in the phrase 'he's an erk' - meaning a bit of a nuisance.
It comes from  -air mechanic/ air mech/airmch/airch/erk.  I can't see how it evolved into this - but there you are. Sometimes incorrectly used as 'oik'
A plane is called a kite - it used to be, in WW1, a bus or a crate.
What about, 'He's gone for a Burton'. I always thought it was something to do with the men's outfitters. No - it's actual meaning is that someone has gone for a beer - Burton was a well known name for a pale ale. It was used to say someone had died.
We have 'to shoot down in flames' 'to shoot down from a great height' and 'to shoot a line'. All in common usage and all taken from RAF aerial warfare.
The first two mean  to defeat someone in an argument and the last to boast.
We use 'sprogs' for children today but it comes from RAF meaning a new recruit.
Here are a few  - see if you can guess what they refer to. Answers at the bottom of the page.
1. attaboy
2.the bishop
3. blood wagon
4.bus driver
5. daisy cutter
6. flap
7.fruit salad
8.genned up
9.hop the twig
10 jump on the binders
11.milk train
13.the pigs are up

Do you remember the Monty Python sketch with two RAF pilots? Miller and Armstrong did something similar too. One comes in and says:
'Top hole! Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how's your father. Hairy blighter, dickie birdied, feathered back on his Sammy, took a waspie....'
Sounds genuine - but is total gibberish . No one in the RAF talked exclusively in slang any more than we do today. They used just enough to separate them from those not part of the service.
This is second book in series - will be out in March next year.

Answers -but not in correct order- not going to make it too easy for you
an aerial battle/ the padre/barrage balloons/fully informed/ATA pilot/put on the brakes/died/major event/fighter escort/bomber pilot/medals/early morning patrol/squadron leader/ambulance/excellent landing
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Jane Austen’s novels: by her contemporaries

I want to look at what three of Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her novels: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the inventor of the historical novel, nick-named the ‘the Wizard of the North’ for his spell-binding stories; Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince Regent, who died in childbirth; and Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), author of Jane Eyre. Miss Brontë was one year old when Jane Austen died. But she has some interesting things to say, so I’ve allowed her to remain.


Sir Walter Scott’s marble bust by Sir Francis Chantry, 1841, National Portrait Gallery

We are indebted to John Lockhart, Scott’s friend and biographer, for an insight into what that best-selling novelist had to say about Jane Austen. On March 14, 1826, Scott wrote: Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
What did he mean by ‘the Big Bow-wow strain’? The 10th Earl of Pembroke wrote of Dr Samuel Johnson (he of the famous Dictionary), ‘Dr Johnson’s sayings would not appear so extraordinary, were it not for his bow-wow way.’ I also came across another 18th century reference to the ‘bow-wow’ sound of trumpets and drums. So I think we can take it to mean ‘a touch bombastic’.


Scott wrote stirring tales of battles and deeds of derring-do, which was not Jane Austen’s style. But it’s good to know that Scott was a real fan and appreciated and admired her qualities.

As he wrote in his diary, on 18th September, 1827: Smoked my cigar with Lockhart after dinner, and then whiled away the evening over one of Miss Austen’s novels. There is a truth of painting in her writings which always delights me. They do not, it is true, get above the middle classes of society, but there she is inimitable.

The stone marking the site of Princess Charlotte’s mausoleum: 'My Charlotte is Gone', Prince Leopold

Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was another Austen fan. She enjoyed what she called ‘studdy’ (her spelling was erratic) and read widely, perhaps borrowing books from her father’s library at Carlton House – and we know that he bought Jane Austen’s novels. Or, perhaps it was a birthday present for her sixteenth birthday on January 6th. Whichever it was, on 22nd January, 1812, Princess Charlotte wrote to her friend, Miss Mercer Elphinstone: ‘Sence and Sencibility (sic) I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, and you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne and me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, etc., however remain very like. I must say it interested me very much.’  

It’s easy to sympathize with Charlotte’s identification with the passionate and impulsive seventeen-year-old Marianne, who is just the sort of character to appeal a lonely and romantic-minded girl, whose life, up to that point, had been pretty miserable. Perhaps Charlotte hoped that, like Marianne, she, too, would find love. Alas, her story ended tragically, for she died in childbirth aged only twenty-one.


Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond, chalk, 1850, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte Brontë’s reaction to Jane Austen’s novels is very different.Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point,’ she wrote to the Victorian man of letters, George H. Lewes, who had been pushing them at her. ‘And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, high-cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.´
When I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s energetic walk to see her ill sister at Netherfield, ‘crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and spring over puddles, with impatient activity; and finding herself at last within view of the house with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise,’ I find myself wondering if we’re talking about the same author.
Charlotte has more complaints. ‘Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works.’

Look at Marianne Dashwood’s reaction on getting Willoughby’s letter repudiating their relationship. ‘Misery such as mine has no pride, I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world… I must feel - must be wretched…’ Surely, Charlotte Brontë cannot interpret such a passionate outpouring as cool and unfeeling.
Later, Elinor notes that,‘No attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body Marianne) moved from one posture to another, till, growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all…’
Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen, stipple engraving, published 1870, National Portrait Gallery
And what about Anne Elliot, in Persuasion; mentally comparing her cousin Mr Elliot with Captain Wentworth? She thinks: ‘Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, - but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil of good of others. To Anne, this was a decided imperfection.’ Charlotte would surely have agreed. 
I fear that Charlotte was blinded by prejudice. Once she’d decided that Jane Austen’s novels were limited in their emotional range, she refused to look deeper. Austen’s novels  might have no mad wife in the attic, as Charlotte does in Jane Eyre, but don’t tell me that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or the unpleasant Mrs Norris, or General Tilney, weren’t quite as destructive of Elizabeth, Fanny or Catherine’s comfort in their own way.    

I rest my case.
Photos of Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, October 30, 2017

A lady’s sketch paintings reveal the realities of Regency life

Among my research books is a delightful book called Mrs Hurst Dancing, which is a collection of watercolours by one Diana Sperling, who lived at Dynes Hall near Halstead in Essex. This large country house along with its surroundings is the setting for the sketches she made between 1816 and 1823 where she lived with her parents, brothers and sister Isabella.

What I love about it is the insight it gives us to the reality of how people lived in those days. There are a great many outdoor scenes which show how the countryside must have looked then, and Diana has drawn her family and acquaintances riding, driving, walking, fishing, skating and a great many other activities, in all kinds of weather.

The sketches are often amusing, as well as telling, with people falling off their mounts – donkeys and horses both, carriages coming to grief, people falling into mud and streams, leaping ditches on horseback. The family might go to an evening party on foot, braving the mud and carrying their indoor shoes, or they would go divided among a single carriage and several horses. Even the ladies went on horseback to a party!

The title of the book comes from one sketch called Mrs Hurst Dancing, but almost all of the sketches have hand-written notes to say who the people are and what they are doing. Interestingly, Diana writes of her mother as “Mum” and her father as “Pappy”, but the Sperlings were local landowners and, as it says in the introduction, “might be said to belong to the ranks of the substantial gentry, the sort of well-to-do squires who dominated village affairs”. These families were “untitled but locally prominent”. They might originate as younger sons of greater families or spring from “cadet” branches of the aristocracy.

Leaving the outdoors for another day, I’ve chosen some indoor sketches that show unusual activities on the domestic front. They also depict the rooms as they must have been, fairly open and without much furniture. Rugs rather than carpets, and the pet dog and cat usually present.

Right at the top, we have the hilarious “Mrs Sperling murdering flies – assisted by her maid who received the dead and wounded. Dynes Hall.” I love the mirror and the looped curtains at the windows.

Here we have “Papering the saloon at Tickford Park, September 2nd 1816”. The Van Hagen family, who were relations, owned this house and Diana was clearly helping to paper the walls while on a visit.

Here we are again at the Van Hagens with “Mrs Van murdering a spider, September 10th 1816, Tickford.” The ladies are dressing when the spider interrupts the proceedings.

Finally, I could not resist putting in this one, with the splendid staircase and lovely balusters. But the action is wonderful.

“May 25th. Henry Van electrifying – Mrs Van, Diana, Harry, Isabella, Mum and HGS. Dynes Hall.” I gather the object was to turn the electrifying machine strongly enough for everyone who joined hands to get a shock! Fun for all, no doubt, though I suspect the sensation was a mild one.

Elizabeth Bailey

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Was The Season all it was cracked up to be?

When Georgette Heyer talked about “The Season,” she referred to the spring. In her books everyone lives in London for a few months every year, and then go to their country houses for the rest. As we’re discovering, the truth was very different. And what Heyer referred to as “The Little Season,” the months in the autumn before Christmas, didn’t exist at all, or rather, was never referred to as such.
The truth was a lot less defined and very different. It depended a lot on who you were and what you wanted.
The Season, the period between the end of Lent and the beginning of the summer, late June at the latest, was the time when young women made their “come out.” The word debutante only came in later in the Regency, so for most of the Georgian period, it’s not really appropriate. The young girls, sometimes as young as sixteen, but more often seventeen and eighteen, were brought to London to show them off, celebrate their young womanhood with lavish balls and parties, and with any luck, snag a husband.
But everybody knew everybody else. It wasn’t as if these women were “fired off” as total strangers. The networks had already introduced them. For instance Georgiana, who became the Duchess of Devonshire, was spoken for long before she had a chance to look around her. The dynastic arrangements were made, and she had to put up with it. She symbolized an alliance between two influential families, a bit like a company merger these days. A few young women made spectacular successes of their season, notably the three Gunning sisters. The two oldest made dazzling marriages, Maria becoming a duchess twice. She was the inspiration for my “Triple Countess” series, but I passed the stories on to her children, the products of her marriages to three very different earls.
The Gunnings, daughters of a family with noble blood, had worked briefly as actresses in a semi-professional theatre in Ireland, but they didn’t continue in England. Actresses were seen as little better than prostitutes, but the Gunnings’ part-amateur status and their astonishing beauty made them the talk of the town in 1751. Not satisfied with her natural beauty, Maria, who became the Countess of Coventry, died, it is said, of the lead and mercury based make up she used on her face. But before you condemn her, consider that botox is a deadly poison, and women have it injected into their faces all the time.
These exceptions apart, the parties and gaiety during the spring months drew people to London. But some avoided it. Anyone who didn’t want to meet the young women eager for a husband tended to avoid it, for instance!
The Georgian House of Commons

Many aristocrats came to London in the autumn, when the Parliamentary year began. The actual date varied from year to year, but it was usually at the beginning of November, or even late October. So London was pretty full just before Christmas, which was traditionally celebrated in the country. The pleasure-gardens and theatres weren’t always open, and other entertainments like Astley’s Amphitheatre weren’t open, either. However, the gentlemen’s clubs were open and so were the shops. This was a quieter time, but that’s only relative, but there are accounts of frantic activity at this time of year. It would tend to the more serious, since many attended Parliament. And the gentry from the countryside, Jane Austen’s people, would come up if they were Members of Parliament. The dining rooms, inns and clubs were full, but there weren’t as many balls and flashy affairs. That isn’t to say there were none. The older gilrs might fare better at this time of year.
After Christmas, some people returned to London. Some would prepare for the season ahead, order new clothes, hire a house, and others would return to  Parliament. Until recently the pattern Georgette Heyer described was adhered to, but it wasn’t at all that way. And the court had its own pattern again. Since the royal family mostly lived in London, their life and the life of the people around them tended to centre in London.
Everything stopped for Lent. Social parties were less frequent, and there weren’t any balls, or overt celebrations. During this period churches were unadorned with flowers or any other form of decoration. Lent ended at Easter, and after the church festivals, sometimes as soon as the Tuesday after Easter Sunday, the season really got going.
In June families would filter away to the country. In August the Glorious Twelfth marked the start of the hunting season, and then, in late October and November, Parliament started up again.
And so it goes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Richard Sharpe - the history behind his life.

 I came across a companion book for the Sharpe series written by Mark Adkin. I didn't know such a volume existed – it was published in 1998 when the Sharpe series was being written. I wish I had known about it when I first read these wonderful books by Bernard Cornwell.
It goes without saying that Cornwell's books are impeccably researched and when you read one, whatever era it is set in, you know the facts are correct.
Richard Sharpe, the hero of these books, was born in the slums of London and spent his life in the service of King and country.
It was rare for a man to be promoted from the ranks, but it did happen, and Cornwell had Sharpe save Wellington's life and so get his officers' stripes. From this point on an actual hero is followed by a fictional one. No rifleman served in the ranks of a redcoat regiment buSharpe and his men do because otherwise they could not take part in the battles and excitement of the war. The South Essex Regiment is fictional but the others mentioned are real. Cornwell himself states that he made Sharpe's unit dodge from brigade to brigade, division to division, all so they could be manoeuvred into maximum danger.
To be so historically accurate is quite remarkable considering there are seventeen books in the series.
Adkin's book is a fascinating read full of maps, pictures and diagrams and it is given me the enthusiasm to start reading the Sharpe series again, but this time with The Sharpe Companion open so I can follow the actual history at the same time as the fictional hero.
Richard Sharpe (I always visualise Sean Bean even though he was fair-haired and the real Sharpe had black hair.) was not just an exceptional soldier but also lucky one. At forty-two he had killed sixty-five men in close quarter combat. There were probably a hundred others killed in the mayhem of a battle. He was 6'1" tall and weighed about twelve stone. This was all bone and muscle. I have read all the Sharpe books at least once but can't remember ever reading this information – Adkin must have gleaned this from comments made about Sharpe by other characters.
Reading The Sharpe Companion is like reading the biography of a real person. Adkins talks about this fictional hero as if he actually did all the things in the books. Every page has a boxed text with facts that relate to the fiction which makes it a perfect read for anyone writing about the Peninsular War.
My work in progress is the fifth book in my series, The Duke's Alliance, and tells the story of Lord Peregrine Sheldon,  who is an intelligence officer in Wellington's army and goes missing behind enemy lines. The duke,  head of the family, goes in search of his missing younger brother.
I am engrossed in Adkin's book and have learnt so much that will be useful. I can highly recommend it even though it is almost 20 years since it was first published.
I have just finished writing the second book in my World War II series, Ellen's War, which follows Ellie from 1939 to 1945. In the first book she was a member of the WAAF but then joined the ATA. I've read every book I could find about the female ferry pilots and have tried to stick as closely as I could to actual events. I want my readers to finish my World War II  books having learnt more about the period as I do when reading Cornwell's books. The first in my series is available on Amazon and the second, An ATA Girl will be out in January or February next year.

Until next month,

Fenella J Miller