From Chancery Court to Mansfield Park: A One Year Anniversary Digest

Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot, 1870.

Young Lady in a Boat by James Tissot, 1870.

Last March, a questionnaire from my literary agent about my social media presence prompted me to finally join Facebook and Twitter.  The very next day on March 23, 2015, I started this blog.  Initially, I wasn’t sure which direction I would go in, however, in real life I’m a crackerjack researcher and—according to my last boss—I write exceptionally compelling briefs.  Since my latest book hadn’t sold yet and I had no blurbs or buy links to post, I decided to focus my skills on the subjects I love best: 19th century Romance, Literature, and History.

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The Evolution of the 19th Century Gown: A Visual Guide

Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum

Individual Images of Gowns via Met Museum

The silhouette of women’s gowns changed a great deal over the course of the 19th century.  From the onset of the Regency to the end of the Victorian era, fashionable ladies saw Empire waistlines drop and classical simplicity give way to flounces, frills, and an abundance of trimmings.  Sleeves ballooned up and skirts ballooned out.  The crinoline morphed into the bustle and steam-molded corsets cinched the waist ever tighter.  Most of us can easily identify the lines of an early Regency gown or the shape of a late-Victorian dress with a bustle.  But what about those transitional years?  The 1820s, 1830s, and 1870s, for example.  Sometimes styles of these decades are harder to pinpoint.  With that in mind, I present you with a decade-by-decade visual guide to silk gowns of the 19th century. Continue reading

Literary Obituaries: Death Notices for Austen, Byron, Brontë, and Dickens

Austen, Byron, Bronte, and Dickens Black and White

Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens.

Today, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë, and Charles Dickens are generally recognized as four of the greatest authors in English literature.  But how did their contemporaries view them?  Were their works appreciated?  And how did the 19th century public feel when three of them, still in their prime, met an untimely end?  To discover the answers to these questions, one might delve into the legions of biographies written over the years or have a look at their letters, journals, or contemporary reviews of their poems and novels.  However, since it is less than a week until Halloween, I thought we might instead take a brief look at their obituaries. Continue reading

Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation). Continue reading

Shawls and Wraps in 19th Century Art, Literature, and Fashion History

(Portrait of Olimpia Łosiowa, 1818-1820.)

Portrait of Olimpia Losiowa, 1818-1820.

From the Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl.  Available in all weights of fabrics, including silk, lace, muslin, and cashmere wool, and priced for all budgets, shawls graced the shoulders of women in every strata of society.  They were no less well-represented in art and literature of the day.  Shawls were referenced in the novels of such literary luminaries as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.  They were also featured in countless portrait paintings, draping the figures of fashionable 19th century ladies of every age. Continue reading

Elizabeth Bennet, La Belle Assemblée, and Early 19th Century Fashion

“Votaries and observers of fashion, but not her slaves, we follow her through her versatile path; catch her varied attractions, and present her changes to our readers as they pass before us in gay succession.” La Belle Assemblée, 1812.

Portrait of Elizabeth, Mrs Horsley Palmer, by Thomas Lawrence, early 19th century.

Portrait of Elizabeth, Mrs Horsley Palmer, by Thomas Lawrence, early 19th century.

Somehow, I cannot picture Elizabeth Bennet reclining on the drawing room sofa, idly flipping through the pages of the latest issue of La Belle Assemblée or The Lady’s Magazine.  And yet, if she had indulged in a bit of frivolous fashion magazine perusal, what advice might she have read there and what images might she have seen?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813.  The story itself begins in the year 1811 and concludes at the close of 1812.  In June of 1812, Elizabeth Bennet is home at Longbourn, anxiously awaiting the July arrival of her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who are to take her travelling in Derbyshire.  Whenever Mrs. Gardiner visits Longbourn, she delivers to her country relatives “an account of the present fashions” in London. Continue reading

The Plight of the Pet Monkey in 19th century Literature and History

“Properly trained and looked after, there is no pet which can be so interesting or amusing as a monkey.”  Hardwicke’s Science Gossip, 1889. 

The Monkey Who Had Seen the Word by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1827.

The Monkey Who Had Seen the World by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1827.

Throughout most of the 19th century, it was not at all uncommon for a family to keep a monkey as a household pet.  Monkeys were playful, mischievous, and adept at mimicry.  In short, they were amusing.  They were also human-like enough to be regarded by some affectionate owners as no more than naughty children.  Indeed, for some, the pet monkey may even have filled the vacant role of child in a childless family. Continue reading

The Literary Governess: Depictions in Austen, Brontë, Thackeray, and Heyer

The Governess by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

The Governess by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

During the 19th century, a gently bred young lady with no fortune, no family, and no prospects had few options for making her way in the world.  She might hire herself out as a companion, of course.  Or if she was particularly adept with a needle, she might take in a bit of sewing.  Both were respectable, genteel occupations for a lady down on her luck and, as such, both are well-represented in historical novels.  However, despite the undoubted romantic appeal of the penniless companion and the impoverished seamstress, neither position provides the wealth of literary possibilities inherent in the role of governess. Continue reading