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