Tag Archives: history

Status Update – Grow WHEN You’re Planted?

Mar 08, 2017

Steppin’ out in my city, London, in the 1890s

So on Monday I wrote about how there are times when I think that I was totally born on the wrong continent. Or at least that my heart feels like is should be in England. Well, I would like to add a little twist to that. Because after earning two degrees in History and spending a lifetime reading history books for fun, I am going to go out on a limb and say I would not have minded living in the last part of the 19th century at all.

When I say that, I’ll specify that I would have liked to be born in the 1860s so that I would be in the prime of my life in the 1880s – 1910s. There’s just something about that time period—whether you call it the Late Victorian and Edwardian Age or the Gilded Age—that I absolutely love. The fashions were beautiful, the architecture was stunning, and technology was way, way more advanced than you’re thinking right now.

Because here’s the thing… I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99 out of 100 people in the 21st century have no idea what the late 19th century was like, and in fact, they probably have a very, very warped and flat-out wrong view of how advanced it was. You! You’re wrong! Those 40 years between 1880 and 1920 were NOT dark times of dirty people with no hygiene or technology when women were considered property! You’re wrong, wrong, wrong! (Those days that you’re thinking of are the 1820s – 1860s)

I would TOTALLY have worn this costume to ride my bicycle!

The fact of the matter is, while we think life has changed and technology has developed super fast from the 1980s until now, we ain’t got nuthin’ on the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Within those 40 years I mentioned, civilization saw the development of electricity and plumbing in homes, public sanitation, public transportation (including subways), automobiles, steam ships, refrigeration, movies, and gramophones, not to mention the bicycle craze, women being admitted to universities, holding offices, and voting, the development of germ theory and sterilization for surgeries of all kinds, and the importation of food from all over the world, which drastically improved public health and nutrition. In fact, I had an interesting discussion with a doctor once in which he agreed that people at the end of the 19th century were probably far healthier than people nowadays, because there was more physical activity and less processed food.

But still, a lot of people balk and cringe and continue to operate on the mistaken assumption that just because a few things weren’t as advanced (penicillin hadn’t been invented yet, so yes, people died of infection more…but hey, they die of diabetes and weight-related illnesses in equally as great numbers today, I’ve seen the hard data that proves that) the whole era was a morass of backwardness. That phenomenon has always baffled me. It’s very black and white thinking. Just because the infant mortality rate (among the lower classes, not the middle or upper classes, mind you…I’ve seen the data on that too) was higher 125 years ago MUST mean that the entire era was gross and nasty and horrible. It just isn’t true.

Yep, this would totally have been my 1890s attitude!

Yes, there have been a lot of advances in the 20th century. There’ve been a lot in the 21st century too. But we’ve also lost things. To me, it’s not so much that life has gotten better as the years go by, it’s just that it’s changed. And I think I would have gotten along just fine 130 years ago. IF! And here’s my big, big, IF… IF I had the same family I do now and/or I had married a nice guy. Because the one thing that I can’t excuse away is that if I had lived 130 years ago, my brother Stewart would have been responsible for me if I’d never married. But Stewart would have been super cool about that, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have cared if I still wanted to be an author or live independently. Because by that era, women did. And I wouldn’t have been part of the upper classes anyhow, so who cares what the rules—which fewer and fewer people were following in that era—said.

 

(All images came from Pinterest and are public domain)

Status Update – Contemporary and Historical

Feb 26, 2017

Psst! Here’s the next historical, coming out next month!

Funny, but several times in the last week or so I’ve found myself in conversations with other writers about which genres we like to write the most, which come more easily to us, and how these days, it’s necessary to write more than one genre. This is shop-talk at its finest for me! I love talking about this stuff. So I’ll share with you.

First of all, yeah, a lot of writers agree that it’s really important to write more than one genre right now, especially if you’re an indie author. The market has become so unpredictable (especially these last few months, whew!) and readers read across such a wide variety of genres and subjects. In past years, one genre or another, say, paranormal, would be popular for years (remember all those vampire novels about ten years ago?). Reading tastes would stick around for years as opposed to months.

Months, like now. These days, genres rise and fall, become popular, then lose that popularity on much shorter cycles. One month you might find that your motorcycle gang books are selling like hotcakes, and three months later, you can’t give them away. It’s funny how genres work like that.

Personally, I’m still waiting for historical romance to gain the ascendancy again. I prefer writing and reading historical romance. It’s funny too, because a lot of people say they can’t identify with the problems and plots of historical people, but I find that I identify with them more and feel more comfortable in those worlds. But I’m also weird. We all know that. And even though I’ve been writing historical westerns for the past five years, guess what? I really long to write British Victorian novels! Yep! And by the end of this year, I’m gonna start writing and publishing them too, so watch out!

But here’s the thing. I’ve had some amazing reactions to the contemporary romance novels I’ve written. A lot of them have sold better than my historicals. And that’s primarily because contemporary just sells better than historical. That’s the way the market is right now. And while they’re not my favorite, they’re a very close second. I do like writing them.

The funny thing is, I never thought I had any contemporary romance stories in me. I didn’t think I could write them at all. But I kicked myself in the pants a couple years ago and wrote Summer with a Star, and the rest is history. I really enjoyed writing that book. (Although I ended up publishing it at an incredibly stressful time in my life, and yes, it has a lot of typos. Alas.) Since then, I’ve found a contemporary voice that I’m comfortable with. I kinda think I write contemporary stories the way I would write a historical one, if that makes sense. But there’s a lot you can do with contemporary characters that you can’t do with historical ones.

Although I’ll get out my soapbox and say that the range of activity for historical heroines is WAY narrower than life really was for those ladies in many of the novels I’ve read. People in general don’t quite understand what life was really like back then (understandable, since very few people have degrees in history) and many people believe the myths about what life was like, even when someone points out the reality to them.

But that’s a post for a different day!

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 6

Feb 23, 2017

I know, I’m way behind on this and on the blog in general, but it’s been one of those weeks where everything suddenly piles on you at the same time. You know those weeks. I got three emails within 20 minutes on Tuesday night with important, nay, dire business stuff that I had to deal with. Fortunately, most of it is taken care of, and we can now sit back and talk about Victoria.

Read this book this winter. It’s chunky and academic

I’ve give episode 6 about an 80% on the accuracy scale. Pretty darn good! It’s historically accurate that Victoria had mixed feelings about finding out she was pregnant so soon after the wedding, but also that she kind of ignored it and ran off to do stuff anyhow. What I find interesting about the way the show portrayed that is how good of a job they did showing the “old school of thought” about pregnancy, as evidenced by Victoria’s mom, and the new ideas that were just beginning to emerge at that time. Because there WAS a huge change in thought about pregnancy and childbirth in the middle part of the 19th century. Ironically (or not, this is me we’re talking about) I just read a social history book about Europe since 1750 this winter, and there was a whole chapter dealing with changes in the way childbirth and childrearing was thought of. That’s a whole other blog post, but the gist is that people were healthier in general and medical science was (sloooooowly) advancing to more reasonable ways of treating women’s health issues.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about with this episode was the historical reality of the slow but definite transition of power from wild, young Victoria who had no idea what she was doing and had to rely on ministers to Albert subtly slipping in and influencing things. Because he did. And England was better off for it by far!

Incidentally, Robert Peel started the Metropolitain Police Force, which is why cops are called “Bobbies” over there. 😉 (c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So Robert Peele. Yes, Victoria hated him at first. Because he wasn’t fun, like Melbourne. Albert really did like him, though. They had a lot in common, in that they were both “not fun” men. And while I think they overplayed Victoria’s resistance to new technology, they certainly didn’t exaggerate Albert’s love for it. Remember, this is the guy who would organize the Great Exhibition in a little over a decade. Albert had his pulse on the modern world (which is one reason the upper classes of Britain hated him so much).

Albert not only influenced Victoria to like Peele eventually (he did, she did), but he convinced her to like a lot of other things too. My favorite scene in this last episode, one I think is very historically accurate, is where they sit down at the desk together to tackle all of the documents of state. That was a subtle moment in the show, but it was pivotal in the history of Britain. Because Albert very quickly became Victoria’s most indispensable and trusted advisor. Anyone who scoffed or suggested that Albert was really running the country…was right.

I’m interested to see where they go from here with the show. Because many historians agree that the number one most important thing Albert did for the British monarchy was to convince Victoria to back out of actual governing and just be more or less a rubber stamp. There is a lot of agreement that if he hadn’t accomplished that, the monarchy would have been abolished, like so many other European monarchies were in the 19th century. But in a very real way, Albert’s savvy understanding of the modern world saved the crown.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 5

Feb 15, 2017

Man, I really do like this show! It’s been so much fun watching the way Jenna Coleman plays Victoria so, so well (although I still like the actor who played Albert in The Young Victoria much more than this guy). And once again, they got the major historical details of Albert having a really hard time adjusting and finding a place down pretty good.

I wonder, though, if 21st century audiences really appreciate how bad it really was for Albert. We have certain expectations about the equality between the sexes these days, but even with my History Apologist ways, I have to admit that the role of women compared to men was at a historical low in the 1840s. If he had married any other woman in the entire world, Albert would have expected to be a firm head of household. He would have exercised a certain amount of control and influence over his wife and children. His opinions would have been sacrosanct, and there would be no question that he would be taken very seriously. And Albert was a very serious man.

But Albert was in the unique to the 19th century of being number two in his marriage. As much as Victoria wanted it to be otherwise (and really did work for things like Albert’s right to take her into dinner, and having parliament give him the title of Prince Consort, which they didn’t until the 1850s). We know from letters and diaries that the stress that his unique and, for the time, humiliating position was acute. He really suffered for the first few years, until he figured out how to make a name and a place for himself. Which he did by taking up various charitable causes. I’m sure they’ll get into it later, but Albert gained a reputation for hard work and competence as an organizer and supporter of causes.

But the one thing that I call shenanigans on for this episode in the whole thing with Victoria trying not to have a baby right away. That’s sort of a modern spin on things, in my opinion. Victoria wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of pregnancy and children, but she knew it was inevitable. However, according to everything I’ve read, it seems like she didn’t really know how much she was going to hate it until she was already very pregnant with her first, Vicky. So I would believe the scene between her and Albert when he catches her jumping up and down after sexy times if she’d already had Vicky and knew what she was trying to prevent. Before that? I don’t think she knew.

Victoria & Albert were really *cough* active, though. And we know this because Victoria was the queen of TMI and pretty much told everyone what they were up to all the time. Also, one thing the show isn’t good at showing is that Victoria was really almost never alone. The scene where Lehzen walks in on the two of them in the morning and Victoria tells Albert that she sleeps in the room next door? True. Very true. Only there was a big hole in the wall (I imagine it being like a window, based on what I read) so that Victoria had very little privacy ever. I always did wonder how that worked, seeing as how much V&A “enjoyed” each other.

Anyhow, if I’m remembering correctly, Victoria was pregnant within two months of her wedding, so I’m interested to see how the show handles that.

This is one of my favorite paintings of Victoria & Albert because of how telling it is about Victoria’s attitude toward motherhood. V&A are obviously lovestruck, with eyes only for each other (and the painting is often cropped to show just this part). But way, way over on the other side of the canvas, playing with dead animals? That’s Vicky, their firstborn! And that says it all.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 4

Feb 08, 2017

Victoria’s actual wedding dress, photographed when I was at Kensington Palace last summer. Dude, the woman was SHORT!

Well what d’ya know? Sunday night’s episode of Victoria did really well in terms of historical accuracy! I mean, aside from this continuing silliness about a romantic attachment between Victoria and Melbourne, and the fact that none of the servants’ stories are real.

Oh, one more note about the Victoria & Melbourne thing. I kept waiting for her to ask Melbourne if he had a mistress, since she seemed so obsessed with men and their mistresses in the middle of the episode. I would have loved to see Rufus Sewel’s Melbourne try to worm his way out of that one. Because yes. Yes, Melbourne did have a mistress, at that point in history and many before her.

But really, the episode was about Albert, and once again, they did a really good job of portraying him. (Other than my continued complaints about that actor’s vanishing German accent) Historically speaking, the allowance and the title was a super huge deal that had Albert’s knickers in a knot. He was exactly right to think that he was in serious danger of being the German stud, with no point and no power. He didn’t even have the usual power and authority that 19th century men had over their wives. In essence, Albert was the 19th century woman in that relationship (at first) and he knew it.

Albert’s actual wedding outfit

The allowance was also a big deal because it represented independence, like he said in the show. And Parliament really did screw him over on that one. But one thing the show didn’t portray very well (so far) was that the allowance thing, and a lot of other stuff Albert endured, was pure anti-German bigotry. The British people really didn’t like the fact that the queen married a German (not that she had much choice). For decades, up until he died, horrible things were written about him in the papers, and much later, in the 1850s, he was falsely implicated in a plot to…oh, take over the government or assassinate someone or something. I can’t remember what at the moment.

Anyhow, the bit where Ernst took Albert to a brothel? I’m calling shenanigans on that one. Ernst was probably historically right at home in a place like that, but from everything I’ve read about Albert, I can’t see him even beginning to consent to getting into a situation like that. BUT, if he had, he totally would have asked for a lecture and taken notes instead of engaging in the practice, like he did in the show.

One other minor detail that I’m eager to see unfold is the introduction of the character of George Anson. They’ve started out getting him right. Anson really was Melbourne’s man, and Albert totally resented him at first. (And he was ticked off at not being able to choose any of his own staff) HOWEVER, Albert and Anson became incredibly good friends. Like, Anson became one of the best friends that Albert ever had. I’m interested to see where they go with that.

And finally, Albert actually did like Melbourne. And Albert was also responsible for the reconciliation between Victoria and her mother, but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.