Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Video: Mark Twain, 1909

Friday, August 31, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

This short, silent clip is doubly rare: not only is it the only known film of humorist and author Mark Twain (1835-1910), but it was shot by his friend, inventor and pioneer filmmaker Thomas Edison (1847-1931). While it seems ironic to have no more than a silent record of Twain, a man known for his keen wit and entertaining public speaking, this minute-and-a-half still manages to capture his personality. You can imagine Twain joking with Edison while he strolls down the path, puffing on his cigar as the wind ruffles his white hair, and imagine him, too, laughing with his two daughters as they drink tea – or at least pretend to. And don't miss one of his daughters anchoring her hat against that same breeze with a lethally long hatpin!

Mark Twain with Daughters Clara & Jean at "Stormfield," Redding Connecticut, 1909, by Thomas Edison. From the Internet Archive.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Corner Store in WWII

Thursday, August 30, 2012
Loretta reports:

Last week two writer friends and I paid a visit to the Strawbery Banke Museum in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  We were there to check out an exhibit of historical clothing, Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012, about which you will hear more anon.

The clothing, rather than being displayed in one space, as is usual in such exhibitions, appeared in different houses, depending on which historical period it belonged to.  At Strawbery Banke, that covers quite a stretch of time:

 “The 10-acre site, with its authentically restored houses and shops,* period gardens, and costumed role players, presents the daily lives of ordinary people who lived here - from Colonial times to World War II, from the mundane to the elegant, from economic boom to war time austerity.”

En route to the 1950s, we paused at the Marden-Abbott Store, whose era is WWII . . . and stayed for a while—yes, my friends are history nerds, too—studying the goods, the signs, the packaging.  It was interesting to see how many products we’d still find on grocery shelves today, and how many items have not changed their packaging at all.  Though it was before my time, the environment wasn’t unfamiliar.  It reminded me of the Mom & Pop stores that used to be much commoner than they are now.

*You can read more about the Heritage Houses at the Strawbery Bank Museum Heritage Houses blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What the 18th c. Bridegroom Wore

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Readers – and writers – love weddings. A joyful wedding, well-described, can end a book on a satisfying note, with all crises resolved and the newlyweds blissfully paired for life. In the world of romance, weddings are the ultimate HEA (happily ever after.)

But writing historical weddings can be a challenge. The majority of my books take place before 1800, when weddings were not the cast-of-thousands extravaganzas that they are today. Eighteenth century weddings were small affairs, usually attended only by family and close friends. The bride wore a dress that would become her "best" dress, more of a dress worn to her wedding rather than a wedding dress. While white was a popular option, it represented luxury and nobility, not purity or virginity; that came later, in the 19th c. Aristocratic Georgian brides like the Duchess of Devonshire would often wear the dresses again when they were presented at Court beside their new husbands.

There are a surprising number of 18th c wedding dresses in museums and other collections (see our Pinterest board featuring Wedding Gowns of the Past), and fashion plates and descriptions of many more. As a result, it's easy to envision the perfect dress for a wedding-bound heroine.

Bridegrooms are another matter entirely. There are no fashion plates of bridegrooms, and no more descriptions of what the groom wore than there are today. There are a few examples in museums of wedding clothes for royal bridegrooms (I was especially lucky with the 17th c wedding suit of the future James II, described in The Countess & the King, and in the collection of the V&A) like the one, left, worn by Gustav III of Sweden. Georgian gentlemen were very much male peacocks in their attire; surely they wouldn't have been content to wear a plain dark suit to their weddings.

But as Loretta proved in her blog yesterday, research is never predictable, and sometimes the answer appears in the most unexpected place. My noble-Georgian-bridegroom puzzle was solved in an unsavory source: the Newgate Calendar, that lurid collection of criminals and executions published in the 18th and 19th c. Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, (1720-1760) was a violent (and perhaps mad) bully who murdered his steward, and for his crime became the last member of the House of Lords to be hanged in England, on May 5, 1760. The Calendar devotes a lengthy entry to the earl's evil deeds and just end – you can read it here – but what caught my eye was how he was dressed for his date at Tyburn:

The Earl was attired in a white suit, richly embroidered with silver; and when he put it on he said: "This is the suit in which I was married, and in which I will die."

"A white suit, richly embroidered with silver": I had my documentation and my inspiration, too – though I promise the inspiration was only sartorial, and no hero of mine will ever follow the same wicked path as Earl Ferrers. But a villain....

Above: Embroidered silk wedding suit, worn by Gustav III of Sweden, 1766. Collection of the Royal Armory and Hallwyl Museum.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Search of Ramona

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Loretta reports:

Doing one of my favorite research things, reading old magazines—I mean really old, not “old” as in the ones in the waiting room—I encountered the following:


I look it up, first, in the dictionary because the simplest solution is usually the best.

Peering into my trusty volume of Elephant’s Breath and London Smoke, I find only this cryptic bit: “Ramona – fashionable colours are . . . ramona and various shades of brown, Court Magazine*, December 1835.”

In English Women’s Clothing of the Nineteenth Century, the color listing offers, "Ramoneur (1833)," whose modern day equivalent is "Brazil Nut."

Sadie Wendell Mitchell,"Dig"
Googling “ramoneur” brings me to a rock band and chimney sweeps.  Searching in Google Books is, as it is so often, an exercise in frustration:  It often lies to me, saying it can’t find something, when I know it’s got the word or phrase I want but prefers to be lazy and/or obtuse.

I try to leave it alone, but my inner Nerd has taken hold, and I keep looking.

“The favourite colours are ramona, violet, emerald, and light green, rose, ponceau,** and some fancy hues.”  —[French] Fashions for February 1835, La Belle Assemblée.

Then one day, when I’m looking for something else entirely, I happen upon this:

"Velvet and satin hats of a new colour called ramoneur (it is a dingy shade of brown approaching nearly to black) are now very fashionable; they are trimmed under the brim next the face with coques of rose, blue, or green riband, which descend down the sides of the face. —Fashions for January 1835, La Belle Assemblée.

Now you know.  And you can just call me Sherlock.

*It turns into the Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée in the course of its long career, and is often referenced as the Court Magazine.  But the expert on the subject of ladies' magazines and their history is not me but author Candice Hern, to whom I refer you.

**A vivid red

Illustration, "Dig" by Sadie Wendell Mitchell, courtesy  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Fine & Fashionable Captain

Monday, August 27, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Loretta and I are always marveling over how often the internet leads us to "discover" images that are entirely new to us. This portrait of Captain Gilbert Heathcote, RN, by William Owen is the latest example; the roguish-looking captain appeared this week on Twitter - thank you, @BM_AG! - and I knew at once he deserved a blog-post. (For obvious reasons, he's also been included with the other handsome gentlemen in our Pinterest board of Hot Heroic Inspiration.)

Much is made of the dramatic change in women's fashions around the end of the 18th c, when full skirts, lavish silks, and narrow bodices and sleeves were replaced by high waistlines and lighter fabrics. The change in men's clothing was equally dramatic. For over a century, flaring long coats and waistcoats had given men an almost A-line silhouette, but the late 18th and early 19th c marked a shift towards broader shoulders and a trimmer waist and hips.

Of course the physical shapes of the men themselves didn't change, any more than the new style was totally the creation of Beau Brummell. Rather it was one more evolution of fashion, a gradual transformation over the years that began in the 1780s, and was likely the work of a great many tailors rather than a single gentleman. Still, the new styles must have been shocking to older folk who could remember the older fashions, and conveniently forgot the excesses of the fops and macaronis of an earlier generation.

Which brings us to Captain Heathcote. He wasn't a fop, or a beau, either. He was a career officer in the Royal Navy, a lieutenant by the age of twenty, a commander three years later, and a captain by twenty-five. This portrait was painted some time after that, with the captain proudly wearing his glinting epaulets, gold-laced uniform, and tasseled sword. In this era, the Navy established uniform guidelines for officers, but did not provide them. Instead each officer bespoke his own uniform, with the quality of the fabric, buttons, and braid matching the officer's taste and budget. Despite his time at sea, Captain Heathcote was clearly aware of London fashion, and not only does his uniform coat displays the new narrowed waist and broader shoulders, but he's also adopted the latest cropped hairstyle, fluffed on top and brushed forward.

But what's most noticeable in this portrait is the front of the captain's breeches. The hem of his cutaway coat serves as a frame for his cream-colored breeches, sleekly fitting and high-waisted and leaving very little to the imagination. The artist has accentuated the breeches, too, almost as if he's settled a spotlight on them. There's no doubt of Captain Heathcote's manliness – or that 19th c fashion has embraced a boldly blatant new notion of masculine dress.

Above: Portrait of Captain Gilbert Heathcote RN (1779-1831), by William Owen. Copyright Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of August 20, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012
Here's your fresh weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you won't want to miss
• Testing the personalities of Henry VIII's six wives: are you a good little woman or a drama queen?
• Gallery of the style of Alfred Hitchcock.
• A look at the secret pool in the palatial Woolworth building, NYC.
• Revolutionary War Private Simeon Lyman skips church because it's too hot to wear pants in August, 1776.
• Eye-witness account of a sea serpent spotted off Portland, Maine, August 21, 1818.
• Back to school! Original pack of 1903 Crayola Crayons.
• "Are you afraid of the baffling mysteries of sex relationship?" The Truth at Last - from a 1926 ad.
• Four hundred years have passed since the hanging of the Pendle Witches, 1612.
• Collection of wonderful 19th c photos of America.
• Top Ten Chanel-isms: Coco's wise & wry words to mark her birthday this week.
• "If the land lubbers have been pumping your hold, I am off..." A romantic epistle from an 18th c sailor.
• Evocative photos of decaying 19th c Gilded Age mansion Wyndcliffe.
• The discovery of salad - Massonio, 1627.
• Myth or truth? Is it really tradition that each Scottish clan has its own unique tartan?
• A brief, accurate (and adult!) history of 19th c vibrators and female hysteria.
• Much worse than having a cat walk across the computer keyboard: inky cat paws in 17th c book.
• The tacky pink flamingo lawn ornament we all love to hate, first designed in 1957.
• The science of the wet-dog shake.
Dorothy Parker, wisecracking wordsmith and wit, born this week in 1893.
• Pictures of real life for children, 1819.
Louis XVI's birth and unhappy childhood at Versailles.
• "Or I shall be ruined." Wellington explains what will happen if he does not get a raise, August, 1812.
• Sure cure for nostalgia for the past: 19th c coroner's reports.
Divorce colonies in Gilded Age America.
French food in the mid-18th c., as seen (and likely eaten) by Tobias Smollett.
• It's fair time! An 1827 New England fair & the place of women, then and now.
• The Loch Ness Monster isn't real (probably) but we can still celebrate the legend.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh tweets every day!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Video: Got Class?

Friday, August 24, 2012
Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
Loretta reports:

As one who writes about imaginary aristocrats in the early 1800s, I’m dealing almost daily with the British class system. The process of trying to create historical authenticity involves a balancing act between the way people most likely behaved, given contemporary documents, and a way that’s more or less palatable to my readers, for whom my lord's and my lady's innate sense of privilege and superiority can be tough to swallow.

Yet Americans have a class system, too.  In their 2001 documentary, People Like Us, Social Class in America,* Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker explore the subject.  This video clip is the opening tease from the film, but if you're intrigued, you can set the other segments to follow in regular succession:

*This link will take you to background info and a social class game, among other things.

Illustration:  Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769-1830, British, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower,  later 1st Earl Granville, between 1804 and 1809, Oil on canvas on canvas, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beaded Shoes to Mark a Battle & a Balloon, 1794

Thursday, August 23, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

I first discovered this pair of lady's mules from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston via Pinterest. With their exquisite beadwork and curving heels, left, these elegant mules instantly earned a place on our pin-board of Vastly Pretty 18th c Shoes.  But a closer look shows the shoes are more than stylishly pretty: they're making a political statement.

The patterned design across the vamps of the mules is worked in hundreds of tiny glass beads, and includes a balloon, trees, and riders on horses. But while these elements might simply be drawn from the needleworker's imagination, they're in fact taken from a popular print of the time, lower right. L'Entreprenant at the Battle of Fleurus commemorates an important battle in the French Revolutionary Wars that took place on June 26, 1794. The army of the First French Republic defeated the Coalition Army of Great Britain, Hanover, the Dutch Republic, and the Habsburg Monarchy, a decisive victory for the French.

Today, however, the battle is remembered for another reason. Hovering over the battle in the print is the reconnaissance balloon l'Entreprenant ("The Enterprising One"), operated by the pioneering French Aerostatic Corps. L'Entreprenant's role at Fleurus is considered to be the first military use of an aircraft to influence the outcome of a battle. The French were justly proud of both the victory and their balloon, which was considered a high-tech military advantage at the time.

So why would a French lady have had L'Entreprenant embroidered on her shoes? She might have had them made in a rush of patriotism, or perhaps she wore them to a ball celebrating the battle. Or, more intriguingly, she might have been connected to one of the victorious generals of the battle, or even a member of Aerostatic Corps. Today the lady's name is long forgotten, as are her reasons, but the shoes themselves are a fashionable reminder of an important military achievement.

Top: Pair of Women's Beaded Mules, French, 1794. Glass beads, leather sole and heel, silk lining, and gilt metal trim. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, Museum of Fine Arts. Photograph courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts.
Below: L'Entreprenant at the Battle of Fleurus, June 26, 1794. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Helen Rowland On Kissing

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Loretta reports:

I thought it was time for more (previous posts here and here) of Helen Rowland’s wit and wisdom.  This is from my favorite of her books available online, The Sayings of Mrs. Solomon: being the confessions of the seven hundredth wife as revealed to Helen Rowland, 1913.

Please click on pictures to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Signs of Autumn, Then & Now

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

I live on the edge of a large bird and wildlife sanctuary, with my overgrown back yard merging seamlessly into what my family always call "the woods." I don't need the back-to-school TV advertisements or the internet to tell me that summer is winding down and fall is just around the corner. There are dozens of other little signs all around to let me know one season is sliding into the next.

The first flowering plants - the bleeding hearts and astilbes - are beginning to turn brown and die back for the year. The midsummer glory-flowers - the black-eyed Susans and marigolds - are making a last screaming bid for attention, while the cone flowers are fading and toppled, but filled with greedy yellow goldfinches. The first green acorns are beginning to drop: thump, thump (on the driveway), ping (on the car.)

Americans in the mid-19th c would have known that August was the time for harvest, not sales on school supplies and computers. The majority of Americans were still bound to the seasonal cycles of nature, and even if they had left the country to live in a city or work in a factory, most could remember the farm worked by parents or grandparents.

The Farmers' Almanac was first published in 1818, and has remained in continuous publication ever since. This short poem in honor of August (embodied in the illustration above) from the 1842 edition has both an undeniable charm and and a respect for the land that's still worth considering today.

                                       AUGUST hath 31 days.
                                 Blossoms to fruit are ripening fast,
                                 And fields, so lately green,
                                 Assume a rich and yellow cast,
                                 And golden ears are seen.
                                 Thus Heaven bestows, with liberal hand,
                                 All that our needful wants demand.

Read more from the Farmers' Almanac of the 1840s here via Google books.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Fashionable Sofa for 1812

Monday, August 20, 2012
Loretta reports:

To many readers, this piece of furniture may seem to say “Regency” quite clearly.  It may call to mind Madame Récamier of the barefoot poses (her feet were greatly admired).  What I liked, in addition to the classic lines of this sofa, was the fact that an Agricultural Report immediately preceded it, a piece of which I’ve clipped for your edification.

The annexed plate represents a beautiful French scroll sofa, adapted for the drawing-room, which may be made of rose-wood, with gold ornaments, and covered with rich chintz or silk tabouret, corresponding with the other parts of the furniture.  It would also form a handsome sofa for the library, covered with Morocco leather, and the frame of mahogany richly ornamented with brass.  The accompanying French table forms an elegant lady’s work-table,
with silk bag, &c. en suite for the drawing room.
Ackermann’s Repository, 1812

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of August 13, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012
Here's your weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you don't want to miss.
Vintage covers from Vogue magazine.
• The original advertisement for The Great Gatsby, found in a 1925 issue of Princetonian.
• The birth of a Romanov heir, August 12, 1904.
• A treasure trove of Edward Gorey.
• The 50 most scandalous dresses in history.
• Losing one's head: the frustrating search for the truth about decapitation.
• Venison was a fail-safe gift option in the 18th c., but pickled salmon might have been the Enlightenment's fruitcake. 
Caroline of Brunswick's life and death in Hammersmith.
• It's the lady's glittering diamond eyes inside the mask that make this 18th c snuffbox so unsettling.
Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) paints his wife. 
• Investigating the allure of Chanel No. 5 perfume, and the differences between real & counterfeit versions.
• What was John Ruskin thinking on his unhappy wedding night? 
• Take a look inside Sherlock's 221B Baker Street home with this detailed rendering from 1948.
• Libby Hall, collector of vintage dog photography.
• The married poet Percy Shelley writes a letter about love, seduction, and the evils of marriage.
• History truth or myth: The word "Mayday" comes from the French for "Help me!"
Corn on the cob as street food, 1808.
• "I placed my hands before my face for very shame. But I looked through my fingers." Mark Twain & the Cancan.
• What the French in 1900 thought 2000 would look like.
• Gilded dolphin decoration.
• Romance novelist Sir Walter Scott wrote for 19th c men.
• An indecent woman, 1799.
• The unlovely & murderous Laurence Shirley, Earl Ferrers.
• More mysterious paintings from the equally mysterious artist Mrs. Rush.
• An increasingly popular George Washington quote on veterans - which he seems to have never said.
Witchcraft in Tudor England.
• The story of Civil War veteran Sergeant Duckett's hat.
• "So now what?" Julia Child copes with rejection letters for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates everyday!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Video: 5,000 Years of Dogs in Art

Friday, August 17, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting:

I can't resist clever morphing videos - they're like a crash course in Art History in three minutes. I've already shared 500 Years of Women of Women's Portraits and A Century of Men on Film. Now, for the dog days of summer, here's 5,000 Years of Dogs in Art. Woof!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Evening Fashions for August 1823

Thursday, August 16, 2012
La Belle Assemblée August 1823
Loretta reports:

As promised, here's the other August 1823 fashion print from the 1823 La Belle Assemblée.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More 19th c Faux Hair

Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Long-time readers of this blog may recall this curious hair cap from the 1830s, designed to help disguise thinning or ungroomed hair. While full wigs have exisited since ancient Egypt, they were expensive to buy and maintain, and 19th c women looked for other alternatives.

The hairnet, left, features a knotted silk mesh, enhanced with clusters of hair curls and a silk bow in the back. It's unclear whether the wearer drew her own hair through the mesh to hide it, wore a cap, or simply counted on the mesh to blend in with the hair beneath. At least she was confident that she'd have the full, bunched curls on her forehead like the ones shown in this fashion plate from 1831. By the time this hairnet was made in the 1840s, however, the style was already considered a bit old-fashioned, and perhaps the wearer was longing to recapture a look from her youth.

But hair anxiety was never more acute than in the 19th c., when the sentimental ideal of perfect womanhood always included lushly flowing locks. Consider this melancholy passage, written with an eye to the "young matron," from Godey's Lady's Book, July, 1854:

No one, until they themselves have suffered it, can understand the mortification with which one resigns one's self to the necessity of wearing caps. After they are fairly assumed, it ceases to be thought of; but when the gift of luxuriant hair is passing away, and what once was a pleasure becomes an unsatisfactory task; when no parting, or brushing, or curling will conceal the deficiency, and one is obliged to decide between the two evils – false hair or caps! – forgive our sex if we do so with a troubled and dejected spirit, nor be it all set down to a weak personal vanity by those who have never been so tried. And then the expense, and the difficulties that arise from it, in procuring new caps, or new and becoming styles – if there be pangs of vanity, there is also "vexation of spirit."

Yet false hair and caps weren't solely the solution of the middle-class matrons reading Godey's. Check out this elegant gold-embroidered mesh toque from the early 19th c. (on our Pinterest boards), complete with a band of hairline curls permanently attached to an inner band. Its owner? The ever-elegant Empress Josephine Bonaparte.

Thanks to Shoshana Resnikoff, Winterthur Museum, for discovering the Godey's quote.
Top: Hairnet, Britain, c 1840. Photograph courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The British Code of Duel

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
From The English Spy. Illustration by Robert Cruikshank
Loretta reports:

To mark the release of the print edition of Royal Bridesmaids, containing my short story, “Lord Lovedon’s Duel,” I offer an excerpt from The British Code of Duel,* a book my characters refer to a few times.

"The British Code of Duel," a little work professing to give the necessary instructions for man-killing according to honour, lays down the following rules as indispensable for the practice of principals and seconds in the pleasant and humane amusement of shooting at each other. "1. To choose out a snug sequestered spot, where the ground is level, and no natural, terrestrial, or celestial line presenting itself to assist either party in his views of sending his opponent into eternity. 2. To examine the pistols; see that they are alike in quality and length, and load in presence of each other. 3. To measure the distance; ten paces of not less than thirty inches being the minimum, the parties to step to it, not from it. 4. To fire by signal and at random; it being considered unfair to take aim at the man whose life you go out to take. 5. Not to deliver the pistols cocked, lest they should go off un-expectedly; and after one fire the second should use his endeavours to produce a reconciliation. 6. If your opponent fire in the air, it is very unusual, and must be a case of extreme anguish when you are obliged to insist upon another shot at him. 7. Three fires must be the ultimatum in any case; any more reduces duel to a conflict for blood," says the code writer; "if the parties can afford it, there should be two surgeons in attendance, but if economical, one mutual friend will suffice; the person receiving the first fire, in case of wound, taking the first dressing. 8. It being always understood that wife, children, parents, and relations are no impediment with men of very different relative stations in society to their meeting on equal terms." The consistency, morality, justice, and humanity of this code, I leave to the gratifying reflection of those who have most honourably killed their man.Bernard Blackmantle, The English Spy (p. 214), courtesy Project Gutenberg.

For women duelists, please see this Intrepid Women post.

*The book itself, which is quite rare, has not yet turned up in my searches for an online version.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of August 6, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012
This week's Breakfast Links may be a day late, but they're still packed with our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you don't want to miss.
• In search of Edgar Allen Poe in NYC.
• The Lady Mayoress of London Mrs. Fanshawe's Spitalfields Silk Dress, 1750.
• Wizards and warriors: the 12th c. chessmen who inspired Harry Potter.
• Video of Henry VIII's foot combat armour for the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament.
• Too big for any museum, quilt in memory of 25 years of AIDS victims goes digital.
• Forgotten stories of thousands of women who fought in the Civil War.
Food to die for: food preparation in the Georgian Era.
• Top hats and Victorian Speedos at the Brighton Swimming Club, 1863.
• Abigail Adams comments (disapprovingly, of course) on the original Learned Pig, 1785.
• Like a page from Dickens, an 1856 NYC asylum worked children to save them from being "drones & beggars."
Marilyn Monroe died 50 years ago this week; photos from her last days.
• When paper was scarce, invitations were printed on the backs of old playing cards: 18th c examples.
• "I'd marry the Devil, if he'd £10,000 a year!" Fortune hunting & flirting, 1860s.
• An adventure at Ranelagh: Edwardians dressed as Georgians.
• Earliest known usage of "OMG" in a letter to Winston Churchill, 1917.
• Important sculpture of tragic Dolly Sisters, icons of the Jazz Age.
• Finding the scattered parts of lost London Bridge.
• When octogenarian sex made the papers, 1800.
Lingerie dresses of the Edwardian Era.
• This week in 1812: Lady Caroline Lamb disappears, and Byron writes his good-bye letter.
• John Gould's hummingbirds: a Victorian obsession.
• Strange tales of a near-naked man in 18th c Leicestershire.
• On the front line of American history: remarkable photos of camp life during the Civil War.
• Archaeologists discover 1000-year-old hyper-caffeinated tea in Illinois.
• Married at age 2, widow at 10, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire at 22: Bianaca Maria Sforza (1472-1510).
• A cat of a different breed: Holly Golightly's costumes in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
• Victorian tradesmen scraps.
• This week in 1711, Royal Ascot racecourse was opened.
Mourning in England and America.
• Raise your glass to a good, gross king: George IV.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh tweets everyday!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Video: Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend

Friday, August 10, 2012
Loretta reports:

In my previous post about Your Scandalous Ways (eBook $1.99 this month only), I linked to an early post dealing with Francesca's jewelry—and what Marilyn Monroe sang about the subject in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Here for your viewing pleasure is that iconic performance.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

From Colonial Williamsburg: A Sack-Back Gown, c 1775

Thursday, August 9, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

I have always shared a birthday (June 1) with Marilyn Monroe. Today, I'll have something else in common with Marilyn: I'm heading to the hospital for a cholycystectomy, and will soon part company with my gall bladder just as she did. (See here if you missed all my earlier drama.) I don't really have time for a real blog today, but I will leave you with one of my favorite photographs.

This is Sarah Woodyard, one of our friends (most recently here and here) from the Margaret Hunter Milliner's Shop, Colonial Williamsburg.  Sarah is not only an obliging model, but an apprentice mantua-maker (dressmaker) in CW's historic trades program, and in most cases she has made the replica 18th c clothes she is wearing. Everything is made as it would have been 250 years ago, entirely cut and stitched by hand.

Contemporary fashion plates can present a stylized, extreme version of clothing, while original garments must be treated as the fragile textile history they are. But replica clothing can show how people of the past actually dressed. Since my current series of books is set in Georgian England, I love seeing how these clothes move, and how they come to life as they define the body inside. They even make their own sound: a silk gown like this one makes a definitely crisp swish as the wearer walks.

The sack-back gown, hat, and cap that Sarah wears left are very similar to the attire sported by Daughter Anne. But while Anne's gown and hair were exaggerated as a caricature, Sarah's shows how elegant and graceful the style actually was. I especially like how the gathered and pleated dark pink silk catches and reflects the light. Imagine how it would look in a room lit by candles!

Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day Fashions for August 1823

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
La Belle Assemblée August 1823
Loretta reports:

La Belle Assemblée's fashion illustrations are not always high quality art.  But the artist for 1823 (and several other years) did, I think, a lovely job.  So much so that I'll post both fashions this month.

Clicking on the caption will take you to the Google Books page for the online 1823 La Belle Assemblée.  Please click on illustrations to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Eloped Clara & the Combustible Lover, 1776

Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting,

Celebrity gossip is nothing new (as Loretta described here), but the 18th c was the first time that London-based magazines and journals presented panting scandal for everyone to read.

Alexander Hamilton (the publisher, not the founding father) established Town and Country Magazine in 1769, and for a generation the magazine offered thinly-veiled tattle about fashionable society and upper classes for the rest of the world to devour, along with a smattering of political commentary, poetry, mathematical puzzles, and domestic intelligence. To avoid prosecution for libel, the actual names of the participants were replaced by often-jaunty nicknames - here the Combustible Lover and the Eloped Clara - but enough other details and illustrations were provided that informed 18th c readers had no trouble guessing their identities. My characters in When You Wish Upon a Duke dread seeing themselves in print, and with good reason: at the height of its popularity, Town and Country Magazine was said to have a monthly circulation of more than 12,000.

This story appeared in January, 1776. The Combustible Lover, below, was the dashing son of a prosperous grocer who seems to have been raised to believe he is a true gentleman and handsome enough to pull it off. He wanders about the Continent for a while, breaking hearts and conducting love affairs with titled ladies, before he returns home and begins dabbling in producing plays - and seducing actresses - in the playhouse. There he meets Clara, above, "the brunette Syren," an aspiring actress. She, too, has a doting father who is a wealthy tradesman, and despite giving his daughter a lady's education, he reluctantly permits her to go on the stage - and into the path of temptation.

The Combustible Lover found [Clara's] attractions so great, that he left no method unpracticed to insinuate himself into her good graces, and with great assiduity, he, at length, prevailed. She quitted her father's house, and flew with the happy man to some sequestered place, where for a short time they remained concealed; but a father's affliction and vigilance traced them out, and the young lady, as well as her swain, were compelled to make their appearance before a certain worshipful justice, who in examining the merits of the affair, asked our hero if he had any esteem for the young lady - he replied "he loved her better than life." "Why then," said the justice, "do you not marry her?" "Because," replied our hero, "I am married already." 

The enquiry here terminated, and Miss was committed to the care of her father, who kept a more vigilant eye upon her than before; but...our hero resolved to be once more in possession of his charmer. He according laid a plan to carry her off one night after the performances. The plan succeeded agreeable to their wishes, and Clara (very characteristically) made another elopement....Incessant search has been made after the fair fugitive, but hitherto unsuccessfully. Some asserted that the lovers are flown to France, to give a'loose to their raptures unallayed, and without interruption, but there was also reason to believe that the lady lay concealed in the labyrinths of this metropolis....Our heroine is not at this period more than eighteen; so that we may, from this early sample of her passion for intrigue, suggest that her future history will afford ample matter for amorous biographers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Your Scandalous Ways—August Special Price

Sunday, August 5, 2012
Loretta reports:

I’ve blogged here often about Lord Byron, especially about his adventures in Venice.   Those adventures were one source of inspiration for Your Scandalous Ways, the love story of two damaged and jaded people:  a courtesan and an early-19th century version of 007.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this book, partly because of the protagonists, and partly because of the setting, Venice, which may well be the most beautiful city in the world—and which one day might become another Atlantis.

While I’m sorry that Venice is sinking, I’m delighted to report that that the price of the electronic edition of Your Scandalous Ways has sunk—though it’s for this month only.  For the month of August, as part of Avon’s Sizzling Summer Scandals Promo, this is one of a dozen Avon eBooks available for $1.99.*

For two dollars, here's a little of what you get:  Gondola rides, especially at night.  The Campanile at dawn (for some shocking goings-on).  Francesca’s jewel box.  An assortment of knaves and cutthroats.  A visit to the place condemned men ended up in when they crossed the Bridge of Sighs.  All this and more—not to mention Lord Byron, introducing each chapter in his own inimitable style.

And to satisfy your Nerdy History Person requirements, I’ve provided lots of background, here at 2NHG—Gondolas then & now... Casanova and the Condoms...Ring my chimes, Campanile
... Department of Quotation:  Byron in Venice

—and at Loretta Chase In Other Words:

Your Scandalous Ways: The Interview Part Uno
Your Scandalous Ways:The Interview Part Due
Francesca's Tattoo
Here today, gondola tomorrow
Your palazzo or mine?
More Scandalous: A Girl's Best Friend

And you can check out my Pinterest page for more illustrations.

*I regret to say that the eBook is not yet available in the UK or Australia.  This issue, much too complicated and tedious to explain here—not Avon's fault or mine, but a difficulty in working out satisfactory arrangements with epublishers)—has dragged on for some time, but we're hoping to have it resolved in the next month or so. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of July 30, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012
After a fortnight's sick leave, the Breakfast Links are back! A fresh serving of our favorite links of the week via Twitter, leading you to other blogs, web sites, articles, and pictures you don't want to miss.
• Clapboard Castles: Grand old hotels by the sea.
• More on medieval bras - new details on rare 15th c find.
• Why the letter Z is associated with sleep.
• A glass, c 1762-75, that commemorates the birth of George IV.
• 'A commodious Mansion, or rather Maisonette': Heathfield House, 1816, Oxfordshire - now a steal for £20,000,000!
Akin to Jane Austen: filling in the branches of the Austen family tree.
• Flashback to the '80s! MTV's House of Style now online.
• Queen Victoria's riding jacket, on display at Kensington Palace.
• A cacophony of color: glorious photos of stained glass through the ages.
• Novelty, simplicity, buoyancy, and pliancy: "Victoria Inflated Skirt", 1857.
Sherlock Holmes and his tools of deduction.
• Percy Bysshe Shelley frets about information 1821.
• Refreshing Orange Creams: 18th c dessert recipe, plus modern version and how-to video.
Lake Forest, IL: where Daisy Buchanan lived.
• Sweet Child of Mind: to celebrate chef Julia Child's 100th birthday, watch this delightful video of her "greatest hits."
• DIY: Making 18th c vinegar.
• How advertisers convinced Americans they smelled bad.
Edwardian gardens at Nymans, West Sussex.
• Almost unbearably melancholy photos of fading Italian villas.
• Women's work is never done: women's role in the white lead industry.
• Surf's up! Women's bathing suits from the 1950s.
• "Bedstead bloomers, Jack the wrong man, Mr. Ferguson, and where the Irishman hid his shilling": 19th c criminal slang.
Sex education for women, 1802.
• How Percy Bysshe Shelley celebrated his wife Harriet's birthday August 1, 1812.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh tweets every day!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Friday Video: Olympic Girl-Power

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Isabella/Susan reporting,

We'll leave the Georgians behind today, and for our Friday Video turn to the history currently being made in London by Olympic athletes from around the world. One of the few benefits to my recovery this week (from this) is that I can indulge in Olympic excess with a clear conscience. And why not? It only happens every four years - and London has never looked more glorious.

Like many viewers, I've been particularly taken by the American women's gymnastics team. It's not just their jaw-dropping skill that I love, but the fierce confidence and support for one another that these young women display. These are women who believe in themselves and one another - the true definition of teamwork - and it's wonderful to watch. I'm linking to the slo-mo version of the near-perfect vault by McKayla Maroney (NBC isn't permitting embedding yet) as a single example, though picking just one is almost impossible. Can there be a better example of "girl power" that McKayla's determination before she begins her vault? Certainly the judge in the above photo agrees - check out her literally jaw-dropping reaction! 

Hoops Fit for Court (or a Noble Wedding), 1760

Isabella/Susan reporting,

One of the real challenges - or is it a pitfall? - of writing historical fiction is historical fashion. Personally I love the clothes of 18th c. England, the period in which When You Wish Upon a Duke is set, but I have to accept that readers may not share my, ahem, infatuation.

I also have to keep in mind that while I've been wallowing in silken Georgian excess since I was a teenager, most readers won't know an open robe from a mantua, nor will they care. Nothing is more deadly than a scene that grinds to a halt while the author indulges in some heady dead-fashion reportage. The trick is to incorporate the clothes into the story with the same ease that the characters would wear them.

Which brings me to hoops. Loretta and I have written about hoops many times before (here and here and here.) I suppose we find the notion of wearing an elaborate frame of cane and linen tapes, below, tied around the waist to support the skirts, so weirdly alien that we're fascinated.

But for my heroine Charlotte, the newly-minted Duchess of Marchbourne, hoops aren't weird at all. Ordinary women did not wear extreme hoops, any more than ordinary modern women wear the highest  platform designer shoes. They might wear a modest set of hoops, or a stuffed bum-roll, but the widest pocket-hoops were reserved for grand ladies for formal and court dress. As a duchess, Charlotte is, of course, expected to wear them, and wear them gracefully. Important ladies occupied a sizable footprint on those parquet floors. There could be no awkward squeezing through doorways, or sweeping vases from nearby tables. Unlike the heavy wire crinolines and multiple petticoats of the 19th c, a Georgian lady's dress was more like a lampshade, her silks fragile as feather, and as likely to blow away, too. A lady like Charlotte had to learn to glide along with small steps to keep from  unseemly bobbing, how to go up and down stairs, how to dance, and even how to sit in a chair.

Yet Charlotte wouldn't have regarded hoops as a pain; to her they would have seemed elegant and stylish, even a glamorous status-symbol of her new rank. But her first real test comes with the formal gown, known as a mantua, in which she is wed. Aristocratic brides seldom had a special wedding gown - weddings were generally small, family affairs - but they might wear the gown in which they would later be presented at court as a newlywed (and titled) lady. Originally worn by Mary, 2nd Marchioness of Rockingham c 1760, the white silk mantua, above, inspired Charlotte's gown.

Charlotte manages to walk down the aisle without incident. But climbing in and out of a carriage before a phalanx of her new husband's footmen offers special perils, and the fragile construction of silk and cane must likewise withstand her eager bridegroom on a narrow carriage seat. Or not. But who ever said being fashionable was easy?

Top: Fitzwilliam Mantua, 1760-65, English, silk satin brocaded in silver thread with silver lace trim. Collection, Kensington Palace. 
Below: Hoops, c 1750, French. Paris, Musee des Arts Decoratifs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Loretta & Isabella Talk about WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
If you read this blog regularly, you know that Loretta and Isabella/Susan have been friends forever, a long-distance friendship that occasionally touches down in places as diverse as Colonial Williamsburg and the shoe department at Nordstrom. It doesn't matter that they live in separate states, because they talk on the phone, like, everyday. Here they talk about Isabella's newest historical romance, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE, on sale everywhere now.

Loretta: You've had several writer incarnations. How did Isabella happen?
Isabella: Most recently I'd been writing historical fiction as Susan Holloway Scott. After books filled with court politics and beheadings, it felt time to return to my romance roots, and write happy endings again.
Loretta: WHEN YOU WISH UPON A DUKE is the first book in a series. What inspired you?
Isabella: My last historical fiction series centered on the intrigues of the bawdy 17th c court of King Charles II. I started thinking about what might happen to all those royal bastards that Charles sired and made into dukes, and how their families might have evolved several generations later. The heroes of this new series are (very) loosely based on real noblemen in England in the 1760s. 
Loretta: Anyone who reads our blog knows that we love to talk about historical dress. My current series of books (including SILK IS FOR SEDUCTION and SCANDAL WEARS SATIN) features dressmakers in 1835. I like how you incorporated the gorgeous Georgian clothes into your book, too.
Isabella: As much as I'm a sucker for laces and silks, I don't ever want to make the story stop for a fashion report. I always try to make the clothes part of the action. For example, Charlotte demonstrates exactly how to undress all the fascinating layers of 18th c male attire when she seduces March.
Loretta: It's obvious that you love these characters and that you got under their skin. What fascinated you most about them?
Isabella: One of the main themes in these books in family. The heroes are cousins, and the heroines are sisters, and I loved the chance to explore how the two extended families come together, and how their relationships develop.
Loretta: So what's next for the Wylder sisters?
Isabella: Look for middle sister Lizzie's story in WHEN THE DUCHESS SAID YES, coming in September, 2012, and youngest sister Diana's story in WHEN THE DUKE FOUND LOVE, coming in November, 2012.
Loretta: Good! Now, I just found a fabulous new shoe source....
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