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Friday, April 26, 2013

Britain's Top 10 Authors' Sites

Those of us who love the Regency era would probably select Jane Austen's house in Chawton as our favorite literary site in Great Britain. While it did make the cut in the recent 90 Places You Must See in Britain published by British Heritage, some of the choices are surprising.

The British Heritage booklet is sort of a top 10 compilation. There are the top 10 gardens, top 10 castles, top 10 stately homes, etc.  British Heritage claims these must-see sites are selected by their editors. Anglophiles may take issue with some of their picks.

Abbotsford - Sir Walter Scott's Home
Though I don't consider myself an expert on literary sites in Great Britain, I was surprised that the top pick under literary sites was D.H. Lawrence's Birthplace in Eastwood, a Nottingham suburb. Because I have never visited Lawrence's Birthplace, nor ever heard much about it, I cannot claim the expertise to pass judgment. But. . .

What about Stratford-upon-Avon, for pity's sake? The city Shakespeare put on the map comes in at paltry sixth on the list.

For many years I've made it a point to visit authors' homes when I travel in England. Of course I made the pilgrimage to the Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in the Lake District, which fills the number 4 spot on the Literary Sites list. Outside of Stratford-upon-Avon (where I visited the bard's birthplace as well as Anne Hathaway's Cottage), the only other author residence on the top 10 list that I had visited was the Dickens House Museum in London's Bloomsbury, which was the ninth pick.

Two more homes that made list are high on my list of wanna-sees. They are Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford (5) and Rudyard Kipling's Bateman's in Sussex (7), both purchased after these two enormously successful authors made their fortunes writing.

The other sites rounding out the British Heritage list were Thomas Hardy's Cottage in Dorchester, Dylan Thomas's Boathouse in Laugharne, Wales, and the Writers Museum in Lady Stair's former Edinburgh home. That museum honors Scotland's three most noteworthy authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage
Conspicuously absent from the list was the Bronte Parsonage in the West Yorkshire moors – which has always been high on my want-to-see list.

I am chomping at the bit to see one of the latest literary houses to open to the public: Agatha Christie's Greenway near the South Devon coast. It just opened to the public in 2009.

Authors' places I've enjoyed include Thomas Carlyle's home in London's Chelsea, Ruskins' Museum in the Lake District as well as Wordsworth's Rydal Mount, also in the Lake District, and Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm, also in the Lake District.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours at Keats' House in Hampstead. That wasn't really Keats' house since he was a boarder there, but the home is now used as a museum to honor the poet. He was engaged to marry the daughter of the house before he was claimed by tuberculosis at age 25.

I have also visited Dr. Johnson's house in London's old City and Churchill's Chartwell in Kent, where he penned his bestselling non-fiction.

Discussing Britain's literary associations is a whole other topic, which would fill a book. In fact, I possess that book. I highly recommend the The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles, touted as an A-Z of literary Britain. I got my copy at an Oxford University Press book store in the U.K. Mine is a 1980 paperback containing 413 encyclopedia-style pages, listed by locale rather than the author. In addition, it offers a map appendix.

Here is just one little sampling in the voluminous section on London:

St. George's Church, Hanover Square is an early 18th-c. church where the following were married: Shelley and Harriet Westbrook in 1814 after a ceremony in Scotland following their elopement, Disraeli to Mrs. Wyndham Lewis in 1839, Marian Evans (George Eliot) to John Cross in 1880, and John Galsworthy to Ada Galsworthy in 1904.

If my home were in flames and I could save just one book from my extensive library, The Oxford Literary Guide would be that one book. – Cheryl Bolen

Friday, April 19, 2013

Regency Life...a Bouquet of Roses?

When I write Regency romance novels, I like to include as a variety of sensory details to help the readers feel as if they are really there. The easiest sensory details to remember to include are sight and sound, but I also try to put in how things feel, smell, and taste. Smell is the hardest unless the character is eating or drinking anything. But the next hardest for me is smell. I often forget to include smell, probably because, let’s face it, things in the good old days were often not so sweetly fragrant, especially in the big city of London.

One of the reason I like the Regency is because by then most people had developed a habit of bathing regularly as opposed to earlier eras when they only bathed a couple of times a year. *Shudder* Even though they bathed, there were no deodorants, so human perspiration was still probably a prevalent smell. And the older generation hung onto their habits of rarely bathing so they wore massive amounts of heavy perfumes to cover up their body odor. Heavy musk was common with older gentlemen and heavy floral perfumes with older ladies. Only the younger generation who bathed wore the lighter perfumes. The younger men often wore bay rum aftershave, which I’ve never had the pleasure of smelling but have heard it described enough to wish I could get some for my husband.  But I digress.

One of the most prevalent scents during the Regency would come from the horses. I like horse; they’re beautiful and back then were an essential part of transportation but let’s face it; horses smell. They build up sweat that froths wherever the reins rubs.  It stinks.  This is why people always changed clothes after riding and refused to enter the drawing room “in all their dirt.” And the stables smelled the same then as they do now—of hay, straw, horse, and manure, not to mention the smell of the stable boys who worked there all day.

London, too, had its own smell. Most of the wealthy classes left London for the summer, partly because once Parliament was no longer in session, the lords returned home to oversee their estates, but partly to escape the unpleasantness of London’s air. During the summer, the Thames let off an unforgettable stench. It was, after all, an open sewer. When in London, even during the cooler month, the wealthy Londoners spent their outdoor time in Hyde Park, which is a long way away from the river and its odors. At Hyde Park, they had the cleansing effect of grass and trees. But the manure was still there, of course.

So if a character goes to London after being in the country for several weeks or months, the smells would be different from what they experienced at home. The most prevalent scent would be the piles of horse manure in the road.  Every horse in London dumped about 22 pounds of dung a day. Street sweepers swept it to the side during the day and picked it up at night, but it was always there.

The fashionable Mayfair area did not have the sewage smells of others areas.  Houses had cesspits in the back where slops were emptied.  These were cleaned out periodically by nightmen, but there would be some lingering smell.  However, other areas had no drainage, with slops emptied into the street, so add human waste to the mix. 

In addition to the smells of waste, meat markets had a blood smell around them because they were not as clean as today’s butcher shops.  Fish boys delivered fish to homes, some of it not entirely fresh. During cold months when people burned coal to keep warm, the ordinary city smell would include the acrid smell of coal smoke.

But not everything smelled bad, and after a couple of days in town, most people no longer noticed the manure smells or heavy perfumes. The streets abounded with other scents.  Piemen offered hot pies, girls sold flowers, and bakeries always smelled of fresh bread.  As our characters walk down the street, they might notice the smell of beer and food as they go by a pub. They might also pass a perfumery and notice the bouquet of perfumes.
As I set a scene in my Regency romance novels, I try to include the pleasant scents the character would notice, especially if it’s during a romantic or pleasant interlude between characters, and I downplay the other, less-pleasant odors. After all, writing historical romance involves a bit of fantasy. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gretna Green: Part II

In coaching days, a blacksmith's shop was an obvious stop for any carriage—wheels often needed repair and horses often needed shoes replace. The blacksmith’s also became a prime spot for many eloping couples to stop and wed before parental pursuit caught up with them on the trip north and stopped any marriage. An elopement to Gretna became known as a “wedding over the anvil,” and the “blacksmith priests” were the ones to ask for to perform the ceremony.

In fact, however, many couples wed at the inn, or at other Scottish villages, and any man could set himself up as an “anvil priest.” It could be a lucrative trade, for a fee had to be paid, along with a handsome tip, which could be upwards of fifty guineas. According to Romances of Gretna Green, "...the man who took up the trade of 'priest' had to reckon on the disapprobation of the local Church authorities..." but that was the only requirement for the job.

Between 1780 to 1790, a second village took shape about a half a mile from Gretna. Springfield was built on land leased from Sir Patrick Maxwell. Small, with one streets, it was a weaving town, but David Lang (or Laing) set up as an anvil priest to marry couples at the Queen's Head Inn.

But Gretna had its own anvil priest, and as the first in the wedding trade, he kept most of the fame and business.

Joseph Paisley had begun marrying eloping couples in Gretna in 1753 when the Hardwicke Act had passed but had not yet taken effect. It is said he continued to wed couples until his death (which Robert Elliot reports as 1811, but other sources give 1814). Paisley had been a smuggler, and reports paint him as, "grossly ignorant and insufferably overgrown mass of fat weighing at least twenty-five stone....who drank a good deal more than was necessary to his thirst." He had been a fisherman, and reportedly kept "...a store for the sale of groceries and odds and ends...," but he made weddings his main trade. He is also said to have drunk a Scotch pint (or three English pints) of brandy a day. He must have reeked like a distillery.

Paisley, however, had a comely granddaughter, Ann Graham. In 1810, Robert Elliot courted Ann, and they wed a year later. Elliot stepped into what had become the family business of wedding lovers who came to Gretna or Springfield.

Robert Elliot began marrying couples in 1811. The son of a Northumberland farmer, Elliot had worked at various trades, most of them involving coaching work. When he went to work for a Mr. Wilson, keeping his coach horses at Springfield, he met Joseph Paisley.

Elliot quite liked his grandfather-in-law, and says of him, "He was an upright, well-disposed man, beloved by all his neighbors, and esteemed by all who had his acquaintance." But he also reports, "Over a mixed glass of mountain dew, or good smuggled cognac, would our village patriarch relate...the most remarkable events he remembered." So perhaps Elliot found nothing amiss with a man downing a Scotch pint of brandy a day.

Elliot continued to perform weddings until 1839. In 1842 he published his memoirs, which sold in private subscription at one guinea each, and this is all we have of the records of marriages performed. The story goes that Paisley and Elliot's records were stored on a bed canopy, and were lost when Elliot's daughter set fire to the bed, unintentionally killing herself and destroying the records.

All told, Elliot laid claim to having married almost 4,000 couples, from 1811 to 1839.

Some famous couples who eloped to Gretna include John Fane, the tenth Earl of Westmoreland, who ran off with Sarah Anne Child. As the daughter of Robert Child, of the famous Child’s Bank, Sarah Anne stood to inherit a fortune. But when the earl went seeking Mr. Child's consent, the banker is said to have replied, "Your blood, my lord, is good, but money is better."

And so the earl talked Sarah into running away with him.

They were chased to the Scottish border by an irate Mr. Child and barely made it across to be wed. Child never forgave them. He changed his will to leave his wealth to Sarah Anne's second son, or to her eldest daughter, so that no Earl of Westmoreland would inherit. But, as in a good romance, Sarah and Westmoreland were happy enough, had six children, and the eldest daughter, Sarah Sophia, inherited Child's riches.

Interestingly, Sarah's granddaughter, Lady Adela Villiers (Sarah Sophia's daughter), also eloped to Gretna, to avoid her mother's matchmaking and wed her beloved Captain Charles Parke Ibbetson. Runaway marriages seem to have run in the family.

The trip to Gretna from London could not have been pleasant, even in a well-sprung coach that would absorb most of the ruts and swaying. It was some 300 miles or so from London to Gretna. The trip would be longer if a couple, in fear of pursuit, chose to stay to side roads in an attempt to throw anyone following off the scent. To travel fast, the horses would need to be changed every 10 or 20 miles, meaning at least 16 stops along the way. And the cost of it! A post chaise and four might cost as much as 3 shillings a mile. Plus there's the hire of fresh horses, tips to encourage fast changes, food and drink to be bought, and a room to hire as well as the wedding in Gretna to pay for. There is also the cost of the return trip home. A man might spend from £50 to £100 for his elopement if he were in a great hurry. But such expense would seem as nothing if the bride came with a fortune attached.

I used the discomfort of an elopement in Border Bride, but I only had my couple (and their best man) making the journey from Yorkshire north. But the trip itself could still turn into an adventure, as it does in Border Bride, particularly with snow, mud, and weather conditions making for adverse conditions. Or with the bride perhaps having second thoughts on if she has indeed chosen the right groom for her wedding.

The trip would also be tedious. Horses can average 8 to 10 miles an hour, with the occasional “springing them” for short bursts that might net you 14 to 16 miles an hour for perhaps a quarter hour. With this in mind, the trip from London to Scotland might take as little as 25 hours, with very good horses and frequent changes. But the delays of a horse going lame, a wheel falling off, floods or other hazards could slow the pace.

To give a more exact time estimate, the Royal Mail left London for Carlisle at 7:30 PM and arrived at 10:00 PM on the second night. That's two full days on the road. But a private coach could make better times since it would be lighter and therefore faster.

After such an ordeal, if a couple arrived still inclined to wed—instead of kill each other from exhaustion and too much of each other's company—that would seem to bode well for a long and happy marriage.

To wed in Gretna, a couple had only to find one of the anvil priests. He would call on his neighbors to have the necessary two witnesses. The ceremony was brief and went like this, according to Elliot's Gretna Green Memoirs:

"The parties are first asked their names and places of abode; they are then asked to stand up, and enquired of if they are both single persons; if the answer be in the affirmative, the ceremony proceeds.

"Each is next asked: 'Did you come here of your own free will and accord?' Upon receiving an affirmative answer the priest commences filling in the printed form of the certificate.

"The man is then asked 'Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, forsaking all others, kept to her as long as you both shall live?' He answers, 'I will.' The woman is asked the same question, which being answered the same, the woman then produces a ring which she gives to the man, who hands it to the priest; the priest then returns it to the man, and orders him to put it on the forth finger of the woman's left hand and repeat these words, with this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, with all my worldly goods I thee endow in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen. They then take hold of each other's right hands, and the woman says, 'what God joins together let no man put asunder.' Then the priest says "forasmuch as this man and this woman have consented to go together by giving and receiving a ring, I, therefore, declare them to be man and wife before God and these witnesses in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen."

In 1856, and with railways coming into their own, a bill finally passed to make a Gretna wedding ceremony illegal, and that effectively ended the days of a runaway marriage.

Since then, wedding laws have relaxed somewhat and Gretna Green is again a popular spot for weddings, but for romantic rather than legal reasons. Gretna's Blacksmith Shop now houses a museum, with a collection of 19th century coaches, including the State Landau used during King William IV's reign, and a stage coach that ran between the Lake District and Scotland.
While legislation has done away with the need for couples to flee to Greta Green, the village thrives by playing on its association with star-crossed young lovers and desperate romantic rides through the night for a happily ever after. And what more could any romantic wish for?

The Gretna Green Web site at
The Family, Sex and Marriage: In England 1500 - 1900 by Lawrence Stone
Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635 - 1839, Alan W. Robertson

Shannon Donnelly Bio
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her Regency romances, including A Dangerous Compromise, can be found as ebooks on all formats, and include four novellas now out as a collection with Cool Gus Publishing.

Her Regency Novella, Border Bride, can be found as an ebook, or in print in her collection of Regency Novellas.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Does Historical Accuracy Really Matter?

File:View on Egeskov Castle from english garden.JPGOn my on-line writing group for those of us who write Regency Romance novels, some of us were bemoaning the fact that so many novels labeled historicals are historically inaccurate. In the 80’s, historicals were pretty much anything goes. A few authors did a great job of blending a great story with historical accuracy, but many best-selling authors didn’t seem to worry about it. Unfortunately, publishers let them get away with it and readers swallowed it. Now don't get me wrong, they crafted wonderful stories with wonderful characters, but they created their own rules which many readers accepted as fact but were, in fact, myth.

A prime example of this is the myth that in Regency or Victorian England, marriage could be quietly annulled if it wasn’t consummated. I don’t know who started that, but it is unarguably false. There was an ancient Scottish tradition that allowed for annulment in certain circumstances if the marriage was not consummated, but for all intents and purposes, marriage in England was permanent--especially in England. Furthermore, in England, annulment was messy and scandalous and never, ever happened quietly. It also socially ruined both the husband and the wife. Even divorce was difficult to obtain until King Henry VII legalized divorce in England, and even then, never became an easy thing to do until late in the 20th century.

Today, more and more publishers are looking for historical accuracy, but still not enough to satisfy many history geeks. The winner of a nationally recognized historical contest began her Regency Romance novel with a grand wedding full of descriptions that are modern inventions which never happened in that era. Why did she win? Probably because it was a lovely fantasy that blended history with modern-day traditions, and she was a good writer. Too bad the judges overlooked the fact that it was historically inaccurate. A few hours spent in research would have won her not only the contest, but the respect of other regency authors and the well-informed readers who know better. However, she probably understood that readers have a certain expectation and wanted to meet that instead of rely upon historical accuracy.

Why do I care about historical accuracy? Several reasons.

First, because it’s true. The fiction comes from the plot and the characters, not the setting.

Second, it helps preserve our heritage. Though I am a true American mutt, I have strong English lineage on both sides of my family--and so does my husband who can trace his ancestry back to William the Conquerer--and holding fast to the facts helps me stay in touch with my roots.

Third, we can learn from the past. The good old days weren’t all that good which helps me appreciate our day. But aspects of the good old days really were wonderful and should be treasured--and remembered.

Fourth, many readers (and writers) are fascinated with that era and want sources to guide them through it so they can explore it without having to turn to a history book. When readers connect with characters, history is lived, rather than simply read about.

Fifth, keeping an accurate backdrop helps shape the characters. Research is more than just learning about the clothing or what kind of carriages they drove; it’s about society and people, how they behaved and what their expectations and frustrations were. It’s a realm long gone and our only doorway back is through painstaking research.

Some say, “Oh, well, it’s the story we want and the fantasy that entertains us.” To that I say, “Well, fine, then label it a fantasy, not a historical.” If you’re going to call a novel Historical, or Historical Fiction, do the research. I know it's a pain. For years ago, characters nagged me to write their stories but I resisted because I didn't want to do the amount of research that would be required. Finally, when they wouldn't leave me alone, I broke down and began researching. It's hard, and frustrating, and very time consuming. But it was worth it. The fruits of my labor became the Rogue Hearts series, beginning with The Stranger She Married and The Guise of a Gentleman. Now, I love the research aspect of writing historicals.

In the midst of the on-line ranting that occured on our writers group, one of the published authors in my group shared with us her philosophy:

As a writer, my job is threefold:

1) do my homework well enough to please my fellow history geeks,

2) make the story compelling enough to hook readers who don't care whether or not it's accurate, and

3) don’t stress over writers/readers who prefer the fairytale.

It resonated within me. I hope it helps you, too.

Image found on Wikimedia common