Sunday, September 28, 2008

Victorian Ladies Used Economy in Fashion

The trend-sensitive Victorians spent much time and effort on their wardrobes, sometimes due to matters of economy, as well as to keep fashionable. Dressing suitably for each occasion was most admired, because of one of the new trends coming in from Great Britain. That of tailored and conservatively constructed clothing, something which British attire is still noted for today and considered untrendy and classic.

Fashionistas, though, were most concerned with keeping up with the offerings from the House of Worth. Or, appearing to. In reality, very few ladies could actually afford to do so, even from the higher echelon societies around the globe.

Frivolity was kept to a minimum, although there were notable ladies who would only wear a gown once. It was perfectly acceptable for them to wear the same gown to more than one occasion on their social circuit during any given season. In fact, in respectable society they could also attend the same echelon of soirees in past season’s fashions as a statement of their household’s economic condition without losing status or eliciting comment.

Remarking negatively upon another’s economy was considered a low-class behaviour but did become more commonly heard post-Civil War for a variety of reasons that would bear too long an explanation for this brief article.

Of interest to authors and researchers trying to capture the Victorian era lady and her society would be understanding how she handled her attire with challenged incomes. Also, how the characters viewed wardrobe and utilized one can be a subtle but poignant method of layering their emotional experiences in a Victorian era story. A layer beyond the mere weight of a fabric on a heroine.

In my Civil War short story manuscript, Silver Linings, the heroine at the beginning of the story in New Orleans wears highly decorative brocades and silks which befits her station as an opera star. Although she is actually a spy from an impoverished noble household, she expresses the flamboyance expected in her role with tastes from her background.

By the end of the story, the heroine is bereft of incomes and hiding in an exotic port of call waiting to enter the Mexican Imperial Court II. Her fashion sense takes an approach that many Victorian ladies increasingly utilized, that of mixing unmatched skirts and jackets and blouses. In fact, jackets were considered an economical and respectable approach to adding life to a fading wardrobe. Even the princesses abroad under constant scrutiny were known to use such fashionable tactics.

It was the fact that a lady had put concerted thought and planning into her wardrobe to breath life into it that was admired and noted and kept her fitting into her society.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Brand New Cover

Just wanted to show off my brand new cover for my Civil War romance, Confederate Rose, just contracted by The Wild Rose Press.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Here's the blurb:

Disguised as a man to serve with her husband as a soldier in the Confederate Army, Irish immigrant, Katie Rose O'Reilly, vows to remain in the ranks and seek revenge on Yankees after her husband is killed at Sharpsburg. As she's transporting mail from Richmond back to camp, a stranger startles her, causing her to fall and almost drown in a swollen stream.

Southerner Alexander Hart, a Yankee spy, saves Katie from drowning, then nurses her through a resulting fever. He must keep his identity secret from the beautiful Rebel soldier even as he finds himself falling in love with her.

Katie falls in love with the caring gentlemen stranger, only to later discover he's the enemy. Heartbroken, she turns him in to the Confederates, but then questions her goals and beliefs. Is it possible to put aside her quest for revenge to save the man she loves?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It is Election time in both Canada and the United States, so I thought I’d take a look at what elections were like during Victoria’s reign.

Less than a decade before Victoria ascended the throne, the electoral situation in England (Wales, Scotland and Ireland too, but I’m not focusing on them) was badly in need of updating. The rules for who could vote changed with every borough--some ruled that every male householder who could boil a pot on his own hearth got a vote, while in other boroughs only those with a burgage property (basically, someone renting in some specific tenement blocks) could vote. There was also a problem in the size of the different constituencies. The largest borough had 12,000 voters, while the smallest had between 6 and 13 at any given election. Six! Six men’s vote was equal to the votes of 12,000! And of course, these were by no means secret ballots. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that many of these smaller constituencies were ripe for the votes being bought. Hence the term ‘pocket burough’, a borough in a (rich) politician's pocket.

Other problems included the fact that if you owned property in more than one county or borough, you got two votes (or three or more). Then there was the fact that some areas got no vote at all.

At her death, uniform voting rules were practiced throughout England, allowing almost all adult males the vote. Most of the smaller or ‘rotten’ boroughs were done away with to make way for new boroughs, and the composition of voting constituencies were roughly equal--or at least closer in size. In addition, they now used secret ballots.

About the only thing Victoria didn’t live to see was the successful culmination of Women’s Suffrage. And surprisingly, to me at least, Victoria was against the idea. She said,

“The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of "Woman's Rights", with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.”

With all due respect Your Majesty, we've come a long way since then. Sarah Palin, Elizabeth May, Hillary Clinton, Kim Campbell, Margaret Thatcher . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Alienist

This is not Tuesday and I'm not writing ten things. At least I'm getting a post in, though!

This book was a best seller ages ago, but I only got to reading it this last summer. It's setting is New York City, 1896 putting it comfortably in the Victorian period. I imagine many people have already read it, so I won't go into a long summary. Besides you can find them all over the web. Basically it's a book about a Victorian serial killer in New York City. The main characters of the book are trying to hunt down and catch the killer using profiling techniques used today--only they haven't been invented yet. Enter a psychiatrist (an alienist they were called back then, so we are told) who introduces the team to his thoughts on the workings of the human brain. That's it in a nutshell and if you're interested in this sort of thing, like I am, it is absolutely fascinating. If not, you may find parts of it a little draggy.

My point mentioning it on the blog, however, is of course the Victorian aspect. Caleb Carr is a historian, and brings the flavor and setting of the period to life, vividly. When reading the book you are walking down the streets of New York in the 1890's. Some of what I've posted on this blog--a discussion of Delmonico's and Jesse Pomeroy--is in this book. Of course I loved that. Some of the history I wasn't 100% certain about--I'm taking his word for it. I wasn't particularly pleased with his view of Boston in the 19th century either, but I could be a little biased, coming from that area as I do.

Of course these people are "regular" people for the most part. We aren't talking about Society or balls and such, which is what I tend to like to write about. This is the nitty gritty kind of background, delving into New York City gangs, prostitution and Five Points (which I knew nothing about before reading this). Since it's late in the era there are telephones and other conveniences, most of which aren't really found in many cities until the 20th century. Regardless, if you want to know what this city was like--and I suspect a few other Eastern cities at the time, this is a wonderful book to get the feel.

Anyone else read any good Victorian books lately?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Victorian Etiquette

As a writer, I’m usually leery of challenging myself, but there are times when it turns out to be fun. And I don’t merely mean making the leap from historical writing to contemporary and back again. I’m talking about moving outside of my comfort zone.

To put it quite simply: my heroes have always been cowboys. *G* Well, cowboys, gunfighters, lawmen, range detectives—in other words, men who don’t have “purty” manners and are basically take-me-as-I-am kind of guys. And pairing them with a heroine who will at least pretend to be offended when he cusses, spits or smokes is a lot of fun. But the hero in my WIP this time around is different. He’s a gambler, a con artist, a snake oil salesman—and he’s the kind of guy who wants to make a good impression. So if he wants to move in certain social circles, proper manners and etiquette are a must for him.

And that’s what has led me out of my comfort zone into the land of the unknown, LOL. Sure I knew the basic customs of the era, but I’ve never had a character that had to adhere to them. But here, for a late Tuesday Ten, (sorry, my internal calendar is a day off this week) are some of the more interesting “rules” I’ve learned along the way, some I knew and have had fun breaking, others were no-brainers (it’s bad manners to pick one’s teeth at the table. LOL. I’ll bet even my most trail-weary cowboy knows that one) but they were all fun.

It was not considered appropriate for a young man to approach a young lady. Even if they had already met, he must still be introduced by a mutual friend a second time before he can speak to her freely.

In a stage of courtship, the couple always walked apart - the only contact allowed was for him to offer her his hand over rough spots while walking

Women never rode alone in a closed carriage with a man who was not a relative

Women did not call on an unmarried gentleman at his home

Men could not be received into the home if a woman was there alone, a family member must be present at all times.

A true gentleman always tips his hat when greeting a lady, opens doors and always walks on the outside. (Sigh.)

When introduced to a man, a lady should never offer her hand, merely bow politely and say “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

A gentleman may delicately kiss a lady’s hand, forehead or at most, her cheek. (I suspect my heroes’ have broken this rule a time or two. *G*)

A lady should never be neglected. A gentlemen should help her with her cloak, shawl or any other outer garment she may wish to remove. (A safe bet to say my heroes are quite capable in this area.)

When ascending a staircase with a lady, a gentleman is to go at her side or before her.

Happy Writing!