Posts Tagged ‘Victorian’
Welcome to the Dashing Duchess’s House Party, held annually in the month of November! We say hello to returning friends and new visitors, and encourage you all to stop by often this month to meet the Duchesses, learn fun new historical facts, and participate in a parlor game or two.
When I realized I had signed on for the first post of the party, I knew I needed the perfect festive topic to put everyone in the right mood… coming so close on the heels of Halloween, I was led to the Victorian phenomenon of spiritualism, with the séance elevated to both art form and parlor game.
Spiritualism (or a belief in the ability to communicate with the dead) rose to prominence in the Victorian era, my favorite historical period to write about and study. Many theories abound as to why the Victorians developed such a strong sense of spiritualism, from the sometimes oppressive atmosphere of Victorian society, to Queen Victorian’s obsessive mourning after the death of Prince Albert, to the rise of the upper middle classes, who had far too much time on their hands. While one may be tempted to prescribe religious importance to such beliefs, in truth spiritualism was also rooted in the burgeoning scientific beliefs and discoveries of this era, and a need to seek an outlet from religious expectations of propriety.
With etymological origins in the French word for “seat”, seances were meetings where people gathered for the express purpose of communicating with the dead, assisted by an expert medium. Beginning in 1848 with the famous Fox sisters (right) of New York (who could produce a remarkable array of “tapping” from almost any inanimate object), séances soon spread across the pond and became wildly popular in Britain. The process of assembling friends and family for the single-minded purpose of communicating with the dead offered wealthy women a chance—perhaps, even, an expectation—to shrug off the conventions of Society while simultaneously upholding Victorian notions of family as the center of their universe. Séances captured the imagination of educated, intelligent figures, including Mary Todd Lincoln, who held several such sessions during house parties and while in residence at the White House to communicate with her deceased children. These were attended by President Lincoln and other prominent members of Society, which no doubt lent some weight of authenticity to the process.
Among the higher social classes, spiritualism collected ardent and devoted followers, and séances became popular as social pastimes and party games. Artwork and etchings from this time period show women and men dressed in stunning evening wear, awed by such events as “table-turning” and “spirit-rapping”. Levitation of people and things, mysterious floating lights, raps and tapping, pinches and hair-pulling—all delighted and terrified Victorian audiences, especially during parties. Where else were you not only permitted to dress up and hold hands with a member of the opposite gender, but it was absolutely necessary for the process?
Cynics loudly decried such activities as the work of talented heisters. There were certainly elements of showmanship to a successful séance—most agent mediums were female, and many were beautiful, desirable, and scandalous.
One such medium was Cora Scott Hatch (left), who from the age of 15 enthralled audiences with her beauty and supernatural elegance (and who was married a jaw-dropping four times). Scientists obsessively studied mediums who claimed they could communicate with the dead, seeking to expose them. While some objectors became convinced of their authenticity (and presumably enamored of their feminine charms), others decried the talents of such mediums as “sorcery”, or, worse, “frivolity” (truly, was there anything worse in the Victorian era than to be called useless?) Some outspoken critics of the Fox sisters claimed their famous “rapping” sounds originated from beneath their long, full skirts, but who would dare try to expose them (and their ankles) to the truth? The increasing use of props like “spirit trumpets” (which magnified the whispers of the dead) and “spirit slates” (on which would magically appear messages from beyond) seem to confirm the idea of stage magic being prominent to the process to the modern reader. But imagine, if you would, how exciting—and titillating—such things must have been to the strait-laced Victorians.
Have you ever attended a séance at a party? How to did it influence the mood and interactions of the guests? I would love to hear about your encounter, and compare them to that of the Victorian experience!
Jennifer McQuiston writes Different. Historical. Romance set in the Victorian era, and tries to avoid Ouija boards at all costs. Her first book, What Happens in Scotland, was a NYT bestseller, and her second book, Summer is for Lovers, is available now. Her third historical, Moonlight on My Mind, is available for Pre-Order and will be released March 25 2014: given that it is a murder mystery, she is already regretting not writing a scene with a séance in it! Follow her on Twitter at @jenmcqwrites, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jennifermcquistonauthor
If Jane Austen didn’t precisely write such words, she ought to have.
Where else but in a world of wealth and privilege would gentlemen be so bored as to place a bet of £3,000 on which raindrop would reach the bottom of the bow window at White’s gentlemen’s club first? (A genuine fortune at the time, it was an amount roughly equivalent to $600,000 today!) White’s famous betting book provides solid proof of such hijinks in the historical record. One has to imagine, however, that such wagers were merely the penultimate example of crass betting behavior, and that untold numbers of bets passed between gentlemen daily without ever being recorded in the books.
My new release SUMMER IS FOR LOVERS features the Victorian seaside resort of Brighton as backdrop, and an indelicate wager between bored gentlemen plays a central role in the story.
When she is still a child, my heroine, Caroline Tolbertson, saves a struggling young man from drowning off Brighton’s rough coast, and in the process reveals her painful secret: she swims, and better than most grown men.
(No, no, he isn’t drowning in THIS scene. This is…er…later. Much later.)
Now eleven years later, Caroline is a young woman who must marry to rescue her family from insolvency, but finding a suitor to save them is proving difficult because Caroline just doesn’t quite fit in. Tall, athletic, and socially awkward, she finds herself struggling against the prejudices of Brighton’s summer set down from London, particularly a London dandy named Mr. Dermott who has kissed her on a bold wager and then spread tales far and wide.
Caroline Tolbertson knew she would never forget her first kiss … even though she desperately wanted to.
It wasn’t the mechanical part of the act that bothered her. One almost expected some discomfort in a first kiss: a bump of noses, a clash of teeth. Technique could be learned and practiced, and she had mastered far more difficult tasks in her twenty-three years. No, the execution of the kiss was not the problem. It was the aftermath she couldn’t tolerate.
And that aftermath was heading straight for her.
Caroline froze, distracted not by the sound of seagulls or the chatter of nearby strollers along the Marine Parade, but by the perforating sound of Brandon Dermott’s laughter. And just like that, the kiss she had tried so hard to forget came flooding back in all its inglorious detail.
The awkward parting of lips. The amused frown on Mr. Dermott’s face. And the next day, the cupped hands and whispers among the vacationers down from London.
“It was like kissing a boy,” Dermott had told them all. Not the kind of notoriety a girl wished for.
Especially a girl like Caroline.
Our hero, David Cameron, has brought his ailing mother to Brighton to take a sea water cure, where he is reunited with the girl he first met by happenstance over a decade ago. Only, she isn’t a girl any longer—and she has apparently never forgotten him. Struggling with a painful past that he believes makes him an unsuitable choice for an innocent young woman, he is bound and determined to keep Caroline at arm’s length, for her own good. But he cannot help but feel protective when he sees first-hand how she is being treated by the summer crowd in Brighton.
Finally, someone cleared his throat. “How did it go then, Cameron?”
David fixed the inquirer with a stern glare. “A gentleman does not kiss and tell.”
Mr. Dermott snorted with laughter, a harsh, mean-spirited sound. “Oh come on, it’s just a bit of good sport. We all want to know. Was it like kissing a boy for you too? Took a bloody impressive wager to get me to kiss her, I can tell you.”
The snickers he had detected earlier from the crowd returned, growing in volume and meaning. Clarity descended, swift and unfortunate. Young men were infamous for such wagers. During his years at Cambridge, he had been little different, having once wagered—and lost—an entire month’s allowance on the outcome of a race between two very uncooperative snails. He had no idea why young men did such things. Perhaps it was because their brains were not yet fully formed.
Or because their cocks unfortunately were.
No matter the reason, men of a certain age were undeniable idiots. They hurt people for no reason other than their own sport or their own selfish, shortsighted needs.
He ought to know.
David sets out to convince the eligible young men of Brighton that Caroline is a woman any man would be proud to call wife—as long as it isn’t him. But David can’t stop thinking about the unconventional Caroline, and soon finds himself wondering if he has just made the biggest mistake of his life. As the contenders for her hand begin to line up, her future seems assured…provided David can do the honorable thing and let them have her.
The Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpznycdbreE
To celebrate the release of SUMMER IS FOR LOVERS, I will be giving away a fabulous prize pack that will make you think it is still summer, including a free signed copy of SUMMER IS FOR LOVERS and a box of vintage salt water taffy. To enter, share with us the most outrageous bet or dare you’ve ever taken. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Friday, September 27th.
Jennifer McQuiston writes Different. Historical. Romance. She lives in Atlanta with her family and the pony she promised her girls if “mommy ever got a book deal”. She would rather be at the beach than anywhere else in the world…and apparently so would the characters in her head. Her first book, What Happens in Scotland, is also available now, and her third book, Moonlight on My Mind, will be released March 24, 2014.
My darling duchesses, today I am especially delighted to sit down to tea with fabulous historical romance author, Zoe Archer. Her grace and I happen to share the same agent and editor so I can personally vouch for her good taste. Ms. Archer is visiting us to discuss her latest release, Sweet Revenge, and to answer a rousing round of questions.
Sweet Revenge is the first book in her new NEMESIS, UNLIMITED series, and it came out this week! Zoe calls the new series “gritty historical romance that’s like Burn Notice/Leverage in Victorian England.” Ooh, it does sound delightful, does it not? So please gather round and grab a teacake.
One lucky commenter will win a copy of Sweet Revenge!
Duchess Valerie: Thank you so much for joining us today, Duchess Zoe.
Her grace, Zoe Archer: My pleasure.
Duchess Valerie: Let’s begin with a bit of writerly fun! Since becoming a writer, what’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to you?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: Selling a four-book series to Kensington was pretty amazing (The Blades of the Rose), and then getting a RITA nomination for Rebel was also incredible. When I got the call, my heart was pounding and I thought I was going to pass out…in a good way.
Duchess Valerie: Yes, the good kind of passing out. I completely understand. Now, on to food. (This teacake is distracting me.) If you could choose one dessert or snack food that you could eat as much as you want of (and never gain an ounce!) what would it be?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: Baking is one of my favorite non-writing activities. And of all the different kinds of desserts and baked goods I’ve made over the years, my favorite is a blondie—preferably with toffee bits and chocolate chips.
Duchess Valerie: Hmm. I want one right now. Where is the butler? Speaking of sweet, how did you get the idea for Sweet Revenge?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: My husband is Nico Rosso, who’s also a romance novelist, and we’d been talking about a secret organization in Victorian England. This organization would right wrongs perpetrated against those without power, like women, and those in the middle and lower classes. We started thinking more and more about this idea, and it really intrigued me. Victorian society was so stratified, and geared toward privileging men, especially men of wealth. It seemed like the perfect setting for gritty, exciting stories that could also be deeply romantic. And so Nemesis, Unlimited was born. Sweet Revenge is the first book in the series.
Duchess Valerie: Ooh, I do adore that idea. Power to the people! What kind of research did you have to
do to bring this story to life on the page?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: It’s not a spoiler to say that Sweet Revenge opens with the hero, Jack Dalton, breaking out of prison. And he’s been in prison for five years. So I did a lot of research into Victorian prisons, and based Dunmoor Prison on Dartmoor Prison. That was some pretty grim stuff. And then I just researched a lot about the structure of Victorian society, especially in London, and the ways in which women and the poor were disenfranchised. Victorian England may have worn a very proper face, but it was also quite brutal, and it took a tremendous amount of
strength to survive within it.
Duchess Valerie: I think that same thing every time I read a Dickens novels. Tell me, your characters seem so alive and real…what’s your secret?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: I try to think of them as people, rather than characters in a romance. So their responses and thoughts don’t necessarily have to adhere to romance conventions. They can be rude, angry, melancholy, afraid of their needs. I think that helps keep my characters rounded and real.
Duchess Valerie: On that note, who’s your favorite character in the book and why? Who was the most fun to write?
Her grace, Zoe Archer: I do love the heroine, Eva Warrick. She’s a woman who won’t tolerate any foolishness, and has a backbone of steel—though that isn’t to say she doesn’t have a softer side. But I absolutely loved writing Jack. He’s rough, tough, a little crude, and driven. Jack grew up in Bethnal Green, one of London’s toughest slums, and did some thieving before he became a bare knuckle brawler in underground boxing matches. Then he became a bodyguard to a wealthy peer. There’s nothing genteel or refined about Jack. He’s not a gentleman. And there’s nothing more fun to write than a character who’ll say or do anything.
But, in truth, it was fun to write the crew of Nemesis, Unlimited, from Simon, the well-bred gentleman to Marco, the spy, and the squabbling (but secretly intrigued) Harriet and Lazarus. I liked creating the dynamic between them, and that, even though they all work together for the same goals, they don’t always have to get along. Kind of like the Avengers. *wink*
Duchess Valerie: I’m loving this already, especially Marco, the spy. If your book were to be turned into a movie, would your dream cast be?
Duchess Valerie: I can’t stand it any longer! Tell us a bit about the book itself.
Sweet Revenge: A Nemesis, Unlimited Novel
The first in a breathtaking new series about the dangerous business of undercover revenge—and the undeniable pleasure of passion…
In the business of vengeance
When Jack Dalton escapes from Dunmoor Prison, he has only one thing in mind—finding the nobleman who murdered his sister and making him pay. But when he reaches the inn where the Lord Rockley is rumored to be staying, three well-dressed strangers are there to meet him instead. And the pretty blonde is aiming a pistol right at his head …
Desire is always dangerous
Joining Nemesis, Unlimited has made Eva Warrick much more than the well-mannered lady she appears to be—one who can shoot, fight, and outsmart any man in the quest to right the injustices so often suffered by the innocent. She’s not afraid of the burly escaped convict, but she is startled by their shared attraction. She and her partners need Jack’s help to get to Rockley, but Eva finds she wants Jack for scandalous reasons all her own…
Zoë Archer is an award-winning romance author who thinks there’s nothing sexier than a man in tall boots and a waistcoat. As a child, she never dreamed about being the rescued princess, but wanted to kick butt right beside the hero. She now applies her master’s degrees in Literature and Fiction to creating butt-kicking heroines and heroes in tall boots. She is the author of the acclaimed BLADES OF THE ROSE series and the paranormal historical romance series, THE HELLRAISERS. She and her husband, fellow romance author Nico Rosso, created the steampunk world of THE ETHER CHRONICLES together. Her new gritty Victorian romance series, NEMESIS, UNLIMITED, launches this Spring. Zoë and Nico live in Los Angeles.
Take a look at the tantalizing trailer!
Have any burning questions about Victorian prisons? (I know I do!) Leave a thoughtful question for Zoe for a chance to win a copy of Sweet Revenge! (US and Canada only)
Ash: Greetings, and welcome today. I’m very excited because my debut is coming out tomorrow, and…
Ash: Oh, you’ve heard. It’s the day before my book release. It’s called A Most Scandalous Proposal. Thank you for dropping by to congratulate me. *smile smile*
Jen: Erm, actually… It’s the day before my book releases, too.
Never in my wildest dreams had it occurred to me that I would one day live in Budapest. Little old me, a girl from Minnesota, living in Hungary? A former Communist country? Eastern Europe?
What a remarkable and beautiful city Budapest is. What fascinating history. I have fallen in love with it all. It just so happens that my favorite royal fell in love with this country as well. The Empress learned the language, considered to be the second most difficult language in the world, and was so loved by the Hungarians, she became a historical icon. They built a summer palace for her just outside Budapest. One can find any number of statues bearing her likeness throughout the city, and one of the bridges crossing the Danube that connects Buda to Pest is named after her.
Society ladies, resplendent in multi-hued ball gowns, exchange on-dits behind plumed fans. Gentlemen, the stark black of their eveningwear broken only by well starched cravats of pure white, eye the card room, but dare not removed themselves just yet. From the ballroom, the strains of a waltz rise on a lilting note, but, for the moment, no one is tempted to take the floor. Anticipation and excitement infuse the air about the entrance, for the latest gossip has proclaimed this to be an exceptional event.
Three newly invested duchesses are to make their appearance in society for the first time. They are, quite naturally, fashionably late.
What’s this? I do believe I’ve heard the sound of imminent arrivals. I push myself onto my toes and crane my neck in the direction of the double doors. All around me, conversation gives way to a silence so profound, I can hear the rustle of my silk skirts. Even the orchestra has ceased playing. Read the rest of this entry »
As summer winds to a close, this Duchess always breathes a sigh of relief at being excused from public viewing. It isn’t that I don’t love the beach – it is my chosen vacation spot, and I count a beautiful beach on St. John as my favorite place in the entire world. But why can’t I swim in shorts and a T-shirt, as I suspect would be not only more comfortable, but also more functional? Why must what I wear while swimming be dictated by fashion standards that reward youth and beauty over skill and experience? Because let’s face it… if given the choice, this Duchess would always rather be able to swim to shore than look cute while drowning.
Whether you are of the modest variety of sea bather or a more daring sort of sun worshiper, a glimpse at what defined “swimwear” in bygone days is an interesting topic of study. I developed an interest in historical women’s swimwear when I was researching my current work-in-progress, a Victorian-era romance set in the British seaside resort of Brighton, and I found the topic and the visual examples I uncovered both fascinating and cringe-worthy.
Not all Victorian heroes were tall, dark, and brooding. Come to think of it, not all Victorian heroes were handsome. Case in point? Dr. John Snow, a Victorian doctor who arguably saved thousands of lives in the mid-nineteenth century by proving cholera was transmitted by water. Hero face? Err… not so much. But heroic heart? I think so. And while the face of the man who inspired not only my choice of career but also the period about which I write might not be swoon-worthy, his brilliant yet simple theories certainly were.
I became interested Dr. John Snow when I first set out on a career in epidemiology, which is the science that tracks the origins of diseases and develops ways to prevent and control them. Every year, “The Pump Handle Award” is given to an epidemiologist who has made important contributions to the field. Curious, I set out to research the history of this award, and discovered it traced back to Dr. John Snow. In learning about the man who inspired an entire discipline of science, I unwittingly unleashed a love of history, especially facts centered on science and medicine in the Victorian era.
A warm Duchess welcome to the ‘Incandescent’ New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Milan.
***Duchess Leigh: Tell us a little about Unclaimed. Courtney Milan: Unclaimed is the story of Mark, the youngest Turner brother, who’s written a famous book about chastity. His enemies are sick of hearing about him, and decide to ruin him by hiring a courtesan to seduce him. Of course, it’s not that easy. No, it’s never that easy. I loved her reaction to his fame. Read the rest of this entry »