Dress Shopping, Victorian Style

january1843fashionsI do love a good makeover: That scene where the heroine discovers the perfect clothes to bring out her best features. They make me want to fist pump and say ‘Go girl! Bust out that bustle (or crinoline or redingote, depending on the era)!’

As in life, women in literature dress for other women – namely their female readers. But how did one actually go about putting together that killer outfit guaranteed to turn the hero’s head and bring him straight to one’s side? In 1840, the internet did not exist, Mr. Selfridge’s father was still a boy, and Mr. Harrod, having given up on the linen draper’s business, wouldn’t move his grocery and tea enterprise to Knightsbridge until 1849. Mr. Harvey did sell linens, but he had only hired clerk James Nichols the year before.

Until sewing machines were invented, every last hem, flounce, tuck and bead was stitched by hand. Ready to wear clothing consisted of shawls, simple hats and bonnets, smocks and the shoddiest of work clothes for the poor, referred to as ‘slop-ware’.

It amuses me when romance novels feature female characters going to the dressmaker’s or sending for one, as if buying several gowns at £200 – £300 apiece is no big deal.

 

Fashion Plate A

In an age where middle class income ranged from £100 – £1,000 a year, believe me, for most women this would be a big deal.

 

What you wore depended on what you could afford combined with what you knew how to make. The ‘slop-ware’ mentioned above was worn by the poorest working classes, for dirty jobs. As England had no compulsory education during the early Victorian era, girls in the poorest families could not count on coming into contact with textile crafts in sewing classes. They might learn to sew at home provided their mother or another female relative had picked up the skill. To avoid widespread public nudity, families depended on charity, or used clothing vendors.

Large numbers of Victorians wandered the streets in second-hand clothing. Even in the best families, new clothes were time- and money-intensive. Children customarily wore hand-me-downs. Even oldest children could find themselves in a cousin’s outgrown suit or dress. If the family had a trunk of grandma’s old dresses, that might be raided for free cloth.

A woman at the pinnacle of society, whose family income stretched into the tens of thousands of pounds or more, could afford new wardrobes of the latest fashions every year. She would customarily give her outmoded gowns to her lady’s maid to dispose of. The privilege of claiming her mistress’ cast-offs was a valuable benefit of that servant’s employment, and was often included along with her wages.

Once in possession of a second-hand garment, a lady’s maid could keep it, refurbish, or wear it. (Ideally not where her employer would catch her.) If she sold it, dealers would come to the mews or servants’ entrance and buy them for their shops or stalls. After going through multiple owners, used clothing ended up in places like Petticoat Lane, where vendors would pull goods out of enormous bags to present to working-class customers. Men and women alike found gowns, trousers, mantles, frock coats and more for a few shillings each. When a common laborer could expect to put by maybe one or two shillings a week for clothes, outfitting a family even in these dirty and worn clothes took a chunk out of his savings.

Daytime BodiceIn the middle class, women often did learn at least basic sewing, which enabled them to take advantage of new-fangled paper patterns, introduced in the 1830s. The wives and daughters of artisans and middle class perused fashion prints as enthusiastically as wealthy women did, though with the intention of using cheaper material and simpler decoration. Patterns often came with one skirt design and two bodices, one high-necked and with longer sleeves for a respectable daytime appearances, and one with a lower neckline and shorter sleeves for evening events. Thrifty women would make up both bodices to get more wear from their garment.

Once they had a design and a pattern, there were several steps between the page and the finished product. They would start at the linen draper’s (seller of general dry goods) or mercer’s (seller of textiles only). In the 1840s, the choice of dress materials ranged from wool and cotton to silk, velvet, satin, and lace. Within types of material, quality varied. ‘Wool’ encompassed everything from merino to cashmere; cotton ranged from cheap calico to fine batiste.

It was not unusual for a dress to require 20 yards or more, so once all that cloth was cut, it had to be hand-stitched.  Sewing women could be hired for this, some of whom might have workshops of their own. Some establishments could deliver a gown the day after it was ordered, for during the London Season, they would employ a workshop full of seamstresses that were required to work up to 20 hours a day.

Do you have any favorite makeover scenes in movies or books? Some of mine are Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Penelope Featherington in ROMANCING MR. BRIDGERTON by Julia Quinn, and just to keep in mind men can benefit from The Makeover as well, Philip Jettan in Georgette Heyer’s POWDER AND PATCH. (It takes place in the 18th century, not the 19th, and the heroine is decidedly childish, but it’s still entertaining.)

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Mom, Apple Pie & Birth Control

Old-Birth-Control-Devices-245x300This post first appeared on Authors by Moonlight on March 23, 2012. It has been slightly edited.

As a writer of historical romances, I guess you could say I have a professional interest in birth control methods of the past. Basically, humans have been trying to prevent pregnancy, with varying levels of success, ever since we figured out what causes it. People think of the Comstock Laws and don’t realize that contraception has been part of American life since the beginning.

Colonial women grasped the implications of controlling their reproduction early. Before obstetrical medicine developed, 1 out of 10 pregnancies ended with the mother’s death, according to centuries of parish records in both Europe and America. Add to this the number of deaths from complications, infections from dirty hands exploring the birth canal, and general lack of basic hygiene, and maternal mortality approaches 25 out of every 100.

One less mouth to feed meant more resources were available for a family‘s existing children, and eased the husband’s economic burden. Women could not compel their husbands to use abstinence (and probably didn’t like it much themselves) or withdrawal. Breast-feeding provided some protection, but lacked dependability. Vaginal sponges and condoms don‘t seem to have been common. That left plants in cottage gardens that could be used to induce abortions. There are North American plants with similar qualities, and I would be very surprised if Native American women did not know how to use those.

During the nineteenth century, Americans continued to search for ways to manage the size of their families:

1839: Charles Knowlton publishes the first pamphlet in America describing various methods of contraception, aimed at married couples. He advocated douching after sex as the best method. A hundred years before the FDA, no one realized that douching has a 90% fail rate and can lead to painful pelvic inflammations. The same year, Charles Goodyear invents vulcanized rubber, enabling the manufacture of rubber condoms in the 1840s. Compared to the porous condoms made of animal skin or intestines since the 16th century, the 50% fail rate of these ‘capotes’ and ‘cundrums’ is hailed as a miracle by married couples.

February 1840: Queen Victoria, a figure of fascination for many Americans, marries Prince Albert and discovers sex, which she privately describes to her doctor as “fun in bed”.

November 1840: Queen Victoria gives birth to her first child. She does NOT consider this fun and discusses birth control with her doctor. He suggests she and Albert use the rhythm method. At the time, doctors believed that a woman’s ‘safe’ days were midway through the woman’s menstrual cycle. You know, the days when she is actually most fertile. To her dismay, the Queen went on to have eight more children. She never lost her passion for Albert, although she shared a dread and loathing of pregnancy with women on both sides of the Atlantic.

1842: German physician W. P. J. Mensinga invents the diaphragm. Copies are soon available in the U.S.

1860s: Newspapers from New York to Charleston to Cleveland carry adds for ‘capotes’, douching syringes, penis caps, ‘wife protectors’ (rubber cervical caps or diaphragms), sponges and ‘female solutions’. Quality was dubious, making them undependable and in some cases dangerous. They become connected with the sex trade and promiscuity in the minds of many who might otherwise have taken advantage of them.

1873: The Comstock Laws, a series of anti-commerce laws are passed, which define contraception as ‘obscene’ for the first time. The U.S. becomes the only country in the Western world to criminalize family planning. Dr. Edward B. Foote advocates the benefits of ‘fertility limitation’ for married couples, citing improved health for mothers and infants as well as relief of the husband’s economic burden. (Sound familiar?) In spite of the Comstock Laws, he distributes birth control devices and information about them.

1876: Dr. Foote is tried for breaking the Comstock Laws and sentenced to a fine of $3,000, equivalent to $67,000 to $73,000 today. When he asks for help paying it, 300 people come forward to offer support.

1879: Connecticut passes the stiffest anti-contraceptive law in the country: Even married couples cannot legally obtain from a doctor birth control to protect the wife’s health. For both health and economic reasons, It is regularly flouted for nearly 100 years.

1888: Dr. W. R. D. Blackwood writes “Is it proper, is it human, is it desirable that the lot of a married female should be a continual round of impregnation, delivery and lactation?…I do not hesitate for an instant to say NO! And I look with more than suspicion on those who, assuming superior virtue, condemn any and all attempts to control conception.”

1892-1920: Gynecologist Clelia Mosher asks her married patients to fill out questionnaires on their sexual practices and beliefs. Only 45 did so over the years, but their comments are interesting. 41 of the women used birth control, including douches, condoms, and ‘womb veils’, all illegal. One woman used a rubber ring around the cervix, which was apparently painful, but not as bad an another child. Many of the 41 considered reproduction a secondary reason for martial sex.

1913: On October 16, Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, both nurses, open America’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. They see 488 women in the ten days before they are shut down. At their trial, the judge rejects the idea that “a woman has the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.”

1920s: Spermicidal gels and suppositories (some foaming — how festive!) are sold over the counter as ‘feminine hygiene products’ to get around laws forbidding the sale and use of contraceptives. Adding spermicides reduced the failure rate of diaphragms to 20%, the most reliable birth control until the Pill. Although more effective, this method as it is messy and pretty much kills spontaneity.

1936: In the face of the Depression, 70% of Americans favor birth control in a national survey. An upswing in abortion as a method of birth control also occurs during the decade. One doctor in Chicago reported after his arrest that the majority of his patients were married women aborting third pregnancies or higher. He didn’t say whether they had tried contraceptive measures that failed.

1945: Alabama becomes the first state to establish a tax-supported family planning program. Several southern states follow suit. Poor families shrink and illegitimate births drop across the region.

1950: Katherine McCormick, one of the wealthiest widows in America, finances the research that would lead the first Pill.

1955: The Margulies spiral, the first American made IUD, is invented. Its long tail intrudes into the vagina, causing “pain and trauma” to partners. Unsurprisingly, it never catches on.

1960: Enovid, the first pill, goes on sale. It causes headaches and weight gain, but users flock to their doctors demanding prescriptions anyway. It becomes the best-selling drug in U.S. history to that time, thanks to its dependability and ease of use.

1965: The first American-made IUDs prove popular long-term permanent birth control solutions. The modern IUD was invented in Germany in 1920, but could not be legally imported.

1965: The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1879 Connecticut ban on all contraceptive use and confirms that a “right to marital privacy” exists in the spirit of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In 1972, the Supreme Court extends the right to privacy in deciding to use contraceptives to unmarried people.

1971: The Dalkon Shield hits the market. Eventually two million women will use this IUD. Undisclosed problems include severe pain and a tendency to cause uterine infections. 18 known deaths are eventually associated with it, along with hysterectomies, infections, birth defects and miscarriages (not always a problem with other IUDs.)

1988: High dose pills are taken off the market.

2002: Contraceptive patches are introduced. Changed once a week, they have fewer side effects than pills, but are more expensive.

For more reading:
A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom

Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, Andrea Tone

A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman

The Weaker Vessel, Antonia Fraser

The universal flouting of the Comstock Laws amazed and amused me! What do you think is the most surprising thing about the history of birth control in the U.S.?

Also, here is a fun slideshow on WebMD on some of the things people have used in the past to prevent pregancy. Think fish bladder condoms and crocodile poop.

Revisions, I love them so

…or Surprise! Your characters had something else in mind!

 ImproperCoupleRevisions. How do I love them? Let me count the ways. They’re the writer’s version of the ‘second chance at love’ trope. You know, stories where the hero and heroine had a relationship in the past, broke up, and have met again with fear (he/she will just hurt me again) and loathing (that louse broke up with me for no good reason!). Both parties have sworn never to have anything to do with one another again. Except then that pesky author (me) keeps throwing them together, making them lean on and value one another all over again.

 

Revisions are another chance to fall in love with your characters. Seriously, I’m not the only one who finishes a manuscript and declares, “I’m sick of you people! I want to write about new characters! Go away and never darken my brain again.”

 

Someone somewhere suggested putting the manuscript away for a few months and moving on to other projects, and I heartily wish I could recall whose advice that is. I owe that writer big time.

 

Revisions are where I can get rid of talking heads, remove unneeded exposition, or add more descriptive detail if there’s no strong sense of place in a scene.

 

When I pulled out my most recent completed manuscript after a rest, I found that I really did like the hero and heroine. The baddie had a reason for his actions. Everyone had goals! They had motivations! They even had conflict, although I’m looking for ways to beef that up in the second draft. I hate making my characters hurt, but revisions are just the place to break their hearts into smithereens.

 

I even discovered an unintended theme. I started out writing about the healing power of love and the importance of forgiveness. Those themes are still in the story, but my characters all worked together to create their own idea. Every character in the manuscript is driven to protect his or her family. The hero, the heroine, the villain, even a couple of urchins that showed up in the course of the story all have family members or names or reputations that require his or her protection. In theater, this is sometimes called the spine of a play – a goal that is shared, even if unconsciously, by every character in the piece.

 

This kind of surprise doesn’t bother me. I’ve come to believe that no matter how thoroughly writers develop personalities and backstories, we know our characters better after we’re done with that draft. During the writing of a manuscript, I discover things about my characters I did not know when I started. It’s not a matter of pantsing. I write out biographies for my characters. I write scenes to show how they got their deepest emotional scars. Those won’t appear in the book, but it plumbs their emotions so that I know in my bones how much they hurt.

 

Is your writing an adventure? Do you get excited when a nugget of information reveals itself about your protagonist? Isn’t it fun?

Favorite References: A History of the Wife

HistOfWifeBorrowed from my local library.

I almost laughed out loud at the title! Yalom does a solid job giving readers an overview of wifehood. She focuses more heavily on Western marriage traditions, and later in the book on marriage in England and in America. This made sense to me, as American law developed from English common law, but I don’t know if people searching for world-wide views of marriage would find it helpful.

One of the best chapters in the book deals with the history contraception and abortion in America before, during and after Congress passed the Comstock laws (which outlawed any use of contraceptive devices, sales of the same or even mailing information about birth control). If I could rate individual chapters, I’d give that one 5 stars.

I would recommend this book for anyone wanting an overview of marriage in Westen Europe. While she doesn’t get into detailed notes about every religious and civil law that controlled, and controls, life for married women — that would take an entire library — Yalom takes a huge area of study and breaks it down for the reader, showing the development of marriage as women changed from chattels to individuals to heads of households. <br/><br/>The only reason I did not rate the book higher is that the author’s voice tends to a somewhat dry presentation of facts, which makes some sections tough going. The information presented is well worth the effort, and as a writer of historical romance, this would make a welcome addition to my reference library.

A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom, Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 5, 2002)

Blues, Shoes & Barbeque

KansasCity

 

 I’m going to Kansas City/Kansas City here I come…

…along with a slew of other romance writers and thousands of romance readers for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention 2013! Although the workshops on craft and business are a huge draw, as is having a major convention not far from my midwest home, what really makes me happy dance is the chance to get out of the house after the long winter and see hunky cover models meet old friends and make new ones. I used to visit KC often as a young child, when my grandfather lived there, and I recall what a treat it was to visit the Plaza and see some of the city’s fountains. Kansas City is known for it’s signature style of barbeque sauce, but this week, readers and writers are indulging in their favorite flavors of sweet, spicy and tangy romance!

The RT 30th Anniversary Ball should be a wonderful time — I don’t have a tiara to wear, but I do have sp?????????????arkly shoes! Stop by and see me at Club RT on Thursday & Friday morning. And I’m signing at the Giant Book Fair on Saturday, May 4th! (Alas, I probably won’t be wearing my silver slippers at either of those events.)

And although my reaction to large crowds is to hang back and check for escape routes before diving in, I look forward to the chance to connect with people, both industry professionals and readers. Writing is a great occupation for loners, but I can’t wait to get out and meet other writers, agents, editors and most important, romance fans! Nobody’s singing the blues this week!

I might take a train/I might take a plane/but if I have to walk/I’m goin’ just the same/Goin’ to Kansas City/Kansas City here I come

 

Lyrics to ‘Kansas City’ by Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller, 1951er,

 

Happy New Year

RING!Happy 2013! I hope you are blessed with something wonderful to look forward to this year. My family will have our first wedding, with our oldest getting married to wonderful young man in the fall! Yes, that’s her ring pictured. Clearly he has excellent taste. (Duh, he fell in love with our daughter!)

Our youngest has fled the nest and is happy at Louisiana State University. Granted, I would be happier if LSU wasn’t a two-day drive from home,

LSU Student Union
LSU Student Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but she loves life without snow. She is doing an outstanding job of keeping her grades up, making friends and finding activities, and earning a stipend with work/study. We are extremely proud of her! Except of course for developing a football allegiance to the Tigers.

That, however, is a subject for another post. 😉

The year’s biggest challenge will be time management, but that’s always a challenge for me. :p In the face of a new job and some unexpected, but welcome, freelance work, my main goal for 2013 is: Protect the writing time! On the bright side, I spent November working out the plot of a new book that I can’t wait to get started on, so there’s something to fill up the writing time.

New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I try to focus on goals, personal and professional. Also, I know myself well enough to understand that my brain goes on the fritz as soon it sees a long ‘must do’ list. It’s best to keep the goals few and simple.

In 2013, I want to drink a glass of water for every glass or cup of caffeinated beverage. Believe it or not, this is a challenge. I’ve never been someone who can just down a glass of H2O, but the benefits are more than just staying hydrated. Water will help cut down on caffeine, which keeps me awake at night, plus according to WebMD, it’s good for the skin, helps make a person feel less hungry, and keeps the kidneys and bowels in good working order.

As mentioned above, my most important professional goal is to protect my writing time. This means adjusting my daily schedule so that there is always a block of hours to spend at the computer. I don’t do change well — just ask my family — and I’m going to have to start with something truly drastic: not hitting the snooze button. I make no promises, but I’ll keep you posted on how well I succeed (or sleep in).

So those are my 2013 goals for now. Short and laughably simple, but both chosen because they’re doable, they’ll have benefits on more than one level, and neither is something I do now. (Or rather the snooze button is something I do too often.)

This year, I want more sleep at the start of the night, and enough time to write. What about you? What do you want out of life this year? What steps are you going to take to get it?

Building Historical Worlds

World building is a familiar concept to writers and many readers of science fiction and fantasy. Writers from C.J. Cherryh to Marion Zimmer Bradley have written about the importance of pulling your readers into the world of a book, and the works of Tolkien are a primer for building an alternate world.

Historical romance is not in the business of building completely new worlds (that would be for the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal members of the Romance Writers of America), but historical romance writers still have to draw our readers in, so that they can feel themselves inside the story, wearing crinolines or a hoop skirt or a toga, traveling the high seas in a pirate ship or taking the air in Hyde Park on horseback.

World building, whether for sci fi, fantasy or historical writing, works best when the writer has done his or her homework. When building a world from scratch, that includes notebooks covering geography, history, languages, customs, religious or spiritual beliefs, the presence or absence of magic, and on and on. Lots of work!

Historical romance writers have it easier in that we can research times past to find out about the world our characters are going to inhabit. We also have giant binders full of information, of course. We just have to research existing knowledge, using the best research material we can find.

Even simple things were harder 150 years ago. Travel was a much bigger deal when Victoria ascended the throne. In an era when it’s possible to cross hundreds of miles in a single day by car, it’s nearly impossible to grasp the speed of carriage travel. Drive your car down your street at 14 miles an hour and try to imagine that as the absolute top speed you can achieve in a vehicle. The sensory description will be entirely different in the 19th century world. Hoofbeats, not the sound of tires, characterized traffic, for example.

To our modern sensibilities, the past is an alien place, not just physically, but in mental attitudes. Victorian England was a place of overt class consciousness, where people who moved from level of society to another (up or down) were viewed with suspicion, if not outright scorn. There was a strong impetus to keep to one’s place, and not only in the upper classes. This attitude loosened up as the 19th century wore on, but even servants preferred to work for a suitably aristocratic family to one with ‘new money’. America also had its unofficial aristocracy, with Ward McAllister’s decree that truly fashionable New York society was made up of only 400 people. (He was trying to keep out those dreadful Westerners, Midwesterners and Vanderbilts at the time.)

If a writer chooses not to have her characters reflect the social mores of an era, her characters need solid motivation to explain why they think differently.

What are your favorite details about historical romance? The clothing? The food? The customs? Let us know!

Really Useful Super Powers

I haven’t seen ‘The Avengers‘ yet, although I hope to remedy that in the near future. While not at the level of comic book geekdom (her phrase) that my youngest is, I have thoroughly enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I have to ask: why can’t the writers come up with superheroes that have really useful skills?

In ‘The Avengers’ we have a guy who swells up and turns green when he gets mad, a Norse guy with a magic hammer, an American guy with a boomerang shield, a really good archer, an assassin chick ,  and a rich genius who likes to tinker in his upscale garage. They are led by a guy on anti-aging serum who at least has good organizational skills. I say this with love in my heart…but…really? These are supposed to be cool powers?

The best of the lot seem to be leader Nick Fury (never sneer at the ability to prioritize), Black Widow (but then every female should know how to kill people) and Captain America, with his potential Dice-o-Matic shield. Tony Stark could have used his resources to figure out how to make Cap’s shield small enough for kitchen use, or invented a self-vacuuming house or something. But noooo, he puts his mini-reactor into a flying suit armed with lasers that create huge, billowing clouds of dust and messy rubble. Pah.

The villain of ‘The Avengers’ at least has potential. In ‘Thor‘ we see that Loki has the ability to instantly clone himself!! But we know he is a Bad Guy Who Will Lose, because all he uses his power for is to taunt his adoptive brother. Slacker. If I could create instant multiples of myself, my house would be spotless 24/7, my freezer would always be full of home-cooked meals, and with one of myselves at the computer night and day, I’d pump out a new book (or at least a rough draft) every three months.

So (drumroll please) here are some super hero suggestions that Marvel might find useful:

Laundry Man: Never mind creepy stalker X-ray vision. This guy would have the ability to sort, clean and fold a pile of dirty laundry with one look. Toy — Super Stain Remover Ray Gun that works on all stains, on all materials. Seriously, this guy would have more chicks following him around than Tony Stark and the three Hemsworth brothers combined.

The Navigator: A human GPS, male or female, who can maneuver around any traffic snarl, red light or backup. Toy — the EMS Vehicle, whose horn sends out a small electro-magnetic pulse that stalls all cars in the immediate vicinity and allows the hero to get passengers to their destinations on time. Am undecided whether the EMSV is a green compact car or something more along the lines of a Sherman tank, however.

The Rash: The result of a freak accident with radioactive pollen while an infant suffering from diaper rash, this superhero has the ability to swell up and turn red on command. In this state, his or her touch on bare skin causes an allergic reaction, including uncontrollable itching and sneezing. With this particular skill set, the Rash could be an irritable loner with great potential to go rogue, upping the dramatic stakes in his or her stories. Toy — Super Antihistamine Spray to protect allies.

Bull Detector Woman: This would be quite a useful super power indeed, if more on cerebral side. BDW would appear to use feminine intuition (actually scientifically enhanced powers of observation combined with serum-enhanced neuron transmitters) to detect falsehood. Invaluable in singles bars, all forms of negotiations, watching infomercials and major election years. Toy — with super powers like this, you wouldn’t need toys.

If you could have any super power you wanted, what would it be?

To the Bedroom!

I do love a comfy bed. There are so many delightful things to do in between the sheets, some of which are sleeping, reading, writing, thinking, doodling; and some of which are…um, not. Ahem. Beds were not always the comfortable refuges they are today, but for opulence and beauty as well as comfort, the 19th century might have us beat.

While the middle and lower classes, and servants in large houses, had to make do with hardwood floors, unadorned furniture and hand me down rugs, the master or mistress of a great house slept in beds of rare woods furnished with feather mattresses and fine linens.  The newly rich would purchase matching bedroom furniture like this rosewood suite from the 1860s.  The armoire, washstand and commode on the left side were necessities in the days before built in closets, clothes hangers and bathrooms!

In a large house, the latter two items might have been placed in an adjoining dressing room.  Still, a number of grand houses had commodes and washstands in the bedroom itself, due to the age of the house itself or to family custom.  Retrofitting pipes into house built in the 18th century or earlier often resulted in the toilet or bath being tucked into a former linen closet or under a staircase – not something people wanted to wander down the hall to in the middle of the night!

The dressing table had some kind of cloth protecting its surface from dust.  Girls and women often received matching sets of brushes, combs, hand mirror, and bottles or jars, all resting on their own tray.  The materials for these ranged from horn or carved wood to elaborate silver.  Ivory, plain or carved, was also popular in the days when people considered wildlife a commodity.

Victorians out of necessity used their bedrooms for a lot more than we do.  A hundred and fifty years ago, most people were born at home and died at home.  Medicine cabinets could be mounted on the wall for people suffering from chronic diseases.

The custom of separate bedrooms for wealthy couples continued throughout the 19th century in both Britain and America, giving the woman a refuge from household duties.  If she was lucky enough to live in a really large house, she also had a boudoir, or small sitting room, as part of her apartment.  Otherwise, wealthy women and their middle class sisters often had a writing table, chairs, and a chaise longue or sofa in their rooms.

One thing you would not find, even at the highest levels of society, is a bed table.  Instead, a lady set her candle on a chair placed beside the head of the bed.  Reading in bed was frowned upon, for what if one fell asleep before blowing out the candle?  A good draft could send the flame into those lovely curtains, endangering the sleeper’s life.   Gas jets came in before the end of the era, but their light was often dim and unsteady.  It wasn’t possible to curl up in bed and read after sundown until electricity became common in the 20th century.

Just to end up, here is a link to a fascinating article on box beds, which I made use of in Her Scottish Groom.

What kind of bedroom appeals to you?  Small and cozy or large and sumptuous?

The Practice of Inspiration

A woman searches for inspiration, in this 1898...

Professional artists, whatever their medium, say with good reason that ‘inspiration is for amateurs’. Deadlines, word counts, record companies or editors don’t care if you’re having a good week or not. They just need your product delivered when you promised it.

Nevertheless, even the most organized, disciplined artist (which excludes me!) needs and looks for inspiration to stimulate their process or refresh their brains. If a long-term goal is equivalent to reaching a mountain-top, and motivation is what keeps us on the trail, inspiration is the impulse that started us on the hike to begin with. It could have been something as simple wondering what the view from that particular peak looks like. It’s also the moment when an unexpected vista opens in front of us as we make our way upward. It’s something to savor and take a picture of. You catch your breath and rest, and then get back on your way. Inspiration makes you eager to see what you’ll discover next.

What refreshes you and gives that little zap of energy may not do a thing for your neighbor. Just check out all the different boards on Pinterest if you don’t believe me. What we love is as individual as we are. It could be visiting a botanical garden or window shopping at the local mall. The main thing is to find out what you love and take the time to indulge it. As long as you don’t wait for your Muse to drift down on a golden cloud and sprinkle fairy dust on your head before getting back to work, you should be fine. Maybe something wonderful that you can use right now will come to you. Maybe you’ll get a cool idea that you can’t use at the moment — make a note of it somehow so you don’t lose it. Or you might not see anything that really inspires you. That’s okay, you’ve still got your long-term goal to keep you on track.

One nice thing about looking for inspiration on a scheduled basis is that it opens your heart and mind. It can come from anywhere: spiritual readings, the rock you kept since you found it on the beach at age seven, a science journal. Like anything else, finding inspiration becomes easier with practice. And you find out what things inspire you for different tasks.

Lately, I’ve been looking at a lot of Georgian houses and listening to movie soundtracks. What gets your brain cells off and running? If you don’t know, take a few minutes and see what strikes your fancy!

Sexy Historical Romantic Comedy

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