Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Glorious Georges

I wish I were going to be in London this month so I could see the Historic Royal Palaces exhibit at Hampton Court, Kew Palace and Kensington Palace. The event marks the 300 year anniversary of the Hanoverian accession to the British throne.

King George I reigned from 1714 to 1727
Each location explores the life of a different monarch. King George I is featured at Hampton Court with objects and artwork that illustrates life in his Royal Court.

King George II is featured at Kensington Palace. Visitors are invited to "explore the sumptuously restored King’s State Apartments, gamble like a courtier, enjoy Georgian music and join Queen Caroline while her ladies dress her in her finery."

King George II reigned from 1727 to 1760
And Kew Palace features King George III's reign which saw many social changes and the rise of British industry.

If, like me, you can't jet off to London this month, reading about the exhibition will have to suffice. Fortunately, Historic Royal Palaces has created some entertaining additions to their website, including a short film about the exhibit, which you can view here:

King George III reigned from 1760 to 1820
There's a lot to see and savor on this site. You can click through all the tabs and sub-menus to find little nuggets of Georgian factoids. And here's a link to one of my favorite pages under Hampton Court Palace: The Georgian Chocolate Kitchen. Be sure to scroll down to see the recipes at the bottom of the page and a video for making chocolate port. Yum.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Evolution of Love

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the old-fashioned traditional Regency romance. I devoured them back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. My office bookcase still has a dedicated favorites shelf crammed with Regencies by Rachelle Edwards, Patricia Wynn, Elizabeth Mansfield, Joan Smith, and, of course, the great
Georgette Heyer.

I often reread those traditional Regencies to cleanse my palate after reading a spate of mysteries, thrillers, or contemporary fiction.

What I like most about traditional Regencies is their level of escapism. Although they’re grounded in historical fact, they’re actually pure fantasy. A major component of the fantasy (as a general rule) is the attractiveness of the hero and heroine. You know the Regency lingo: Nonpareil. Diamond of the first water. Complexion like a damask rose. Regency heroines are usually ravishing, spirited, and enchanting, with red lips, dark curling lashes, and impossibly small waists. It’s part of the fantasy to read about a heroine that I wouldn’t mind looking like myself, if given the chance.

Georgette Heyer certainly clothed her heroines in beauty. Venetia was described as “a fine-looking girl; most would not have hesitated to call her beautiful. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth; there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features; an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of selfconsciousness.”

And Arabella was unquestionably the beauty of the family, with “large, dark, expressive eyes, little straight nose, and delicately molded lips” as well as a complexion that was “the envy of less fortunate young ladies.” Arabella enchanted her admirers by a “deceptive air of fragility, which inspired one romantically minded young gentleman to liken her to a leaf blown by the wind.”

I’m not sure how Regency heroines evolved to being such paragons of attractiveness. In Pride and Prejudice—the book that originally inspired the Regency genre—Jane Austen describes her heroine in plainer terms. Elizabeth Bennet, while certainly attractive, was not a beauty. Instead, it was her sister Jane who was the acknowledged beauty of the family. When Darcy sees her for the first time, he describes Elizabeth only as tolerable.

But that’s where the romantic fantasy of Pride and Prejudice takes hold. As the story progresses and Darcy comes of know Elizabeth, his feelings for her spark, then flame; and at the same time, the author’s description of Elizabeth changes, too, almost as a reflection of Darcy’s feelings. The more love he feels for Elizabeth, the more beautiful she becomes.

“Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”

By the end of Pride and Prejudice, she is his “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” And that brings me to the part of the fantasy I love the best . . . That every woman is beautiful in the eyes of the man who truly loves her. It's that perfect ending that draws me back again and again to Pride and Prejudice, and to many of those romances still crammed on the bookshelf in my office. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Old Trade Cards of London

Once again, The Gentle Author offers an extraordinary post on his Spitalfields Life blog. The Gentle Author posts every day (earning my admiration) and each post is filled with stories and artwork that inspire. Some of his posts have made me cry, while others have made me laugh; but always, they cause me to slow down and take time to dwell on the beauty of the images he shares.

His May 3 post is no exception. The topic is old trade cards of London. I’ve spent the last twenty minutes studying and admiring the art, language and lettering of the old trade cards he shared. You can view the full post here. While you’re there, be sure to subscribe to The Gentle Author’s blog, Spitalfields Life so you don’t miss any of his wonderful posts. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The London Coffee House

I'd like to share with you one of my favorite blogs: Spitalfields Life. The author posts info about living in Spitalfields in the heart of London; but what makes this blog special is the way the author mixes the history of the area with modern times.

One of this week's posts is a good example of that past-and-present mix. It features a marvelous map of historic coffee houses by artist Adam Dant, which, combined with text and accompanying photos, provides a thorough history and comfortable tour of London coffee houses.
Map copyright © Adam Dant

Click on the map above to visit the site; and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see some of Adam Dant's other maps. I particularly love the maps of Clerkenwall, as seen in Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, and modern times.

If you visit the Spitalfields Life home page, you'll see that the author posts a new entry every day. I read each one for their charm, the history they impart, and the extraordinary stories they tell. I've read every one and have high hopes of feeling just like a Spitalfields native before too much longer.

If you love London history and you're fascinated by the modern London lifestyle, you'll find something to enjoy at Spitalfields Life.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Regency Bonnets and Caps

January 17 is Wear a Hat Day. Hats are not much in vogue in our modern times, but in Regency England, a stylish bonnet was an essential part of any lady's ensemble when she stepped out of doors. Married women and ladies of a certain age (late twenties and older) wore caps indoors. Shopping for hats and caps and keeping up with trims and colors was de rigeur for ladies.

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe told Catherine Morland, "I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine in a shop window in Milsom-Street just nowvery like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it."

Perhaps Miss Thorpe passed a shop that looked like the one represented in The Milliner's Shop by Alonzo Perez:

Alonzo Perez
In the first ten years of the 19th Century, the poke-bonnet gained popularity. In an 1801 letter, Jane Austen wrote that she had a new bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon:

"I find my straw bonnet looking very much like
other people's, and quite as smart."

Alfred Glendening

Artist Unknown

Leghorn hats were popular, featuring a large brim in front, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style, such as this bonnet:

Annie Henniker
Here are different Regency-era bonnets, as depicted by various artists:

Carl Thomsen
A. R. Kemplen
F. Sydney Muschamp

Carlton Alfred Smith

Charles Haigh-Wood
George Goodwin Kilburne
George Engleheart

Frederick Kaemmerer

Frederic Soulacroix
Daniel Hernandez Morillo
 In Emma, Mrs. Elton accepts Mr. Knightley's invitation to be part of the party that will pick strawberries at Donwell:
"It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite
a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring
one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, —probably
this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see."

Edmund Blair Leighton

In her letters, Jane Austen wrote about re-trimming a cap:

I shall venture to retain the narrow silver
round it, put twice round without any bow,
and instead of the black military feather shall
put in the coquelicot one, as being smarter.

 This cap is trimmed with lace and black ribbon:

Edmund Blair Leighton
By 1810 the plain cottage bonnet became more elaborate. Hats became higher and were decorated with more than fabric and ribbon. Hats sported flowers, puffed gauze, feathers, and gathered or plaited fabric.

This hat bears the fashionable poppy-red color Isabella Thorpe called "coquelicot" in Northanger Abbey:
Edmund Blair Leighton

Daniel Hernandez Morillo
 In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford explains to Edmund how easy it is to tell whether a woman is out in society based on her manners and her attire:

"Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be
mistaken as to a girl's being out or not. A girl not out has
always the same sort of dress: a close bonnet, for instance."

Frederick Kaemmerer

George Sheridan Knowles

Sunday, January 12, 2014

London Calling

My latest find is a 1953 magazine featuring information on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

I was minding my own business, browsing through one of my favorite used book stores, when I was drawn to a stack of old National Geographic magazines. None of the NGs were very old, so I can't account for the reason I started digging through them, but wedged into the middle of a stack was this treasure!

Dated May, 1953, the cover features an illustration of the gold state coach. Inside is the BBC broadcast schedule so people could use it to follow the procession and coronation ceremony. I love it! It's now a little bit of English ephemera residing on my coffee table.