Monthly Archives: June 2010

My WordPress spellcheck seems to be set to British English. Huh.

Anecdote cited in a footnote of Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England, concerning “treating,” or the practice of patrons providing free food and drink for electors prior to a poll:

At the 1768 Northampton contest, the Earl of Halifax exhausted his store of mature port and turned in desperation to his choicest claret, whereupon the “rabble” deserted his side and joined the forces of the Earl of Northampton, “turning up their noses and vying ‘never to vote in the interest of a man who gave them sour port to drink.'”

Also, in one of the significant contested elections in Norwich, the incumbents were named Harbord Harbord and Edward Bacon. That’s just beautiful. They should have, I don’t know, a comic book series or a buddy cop show about them.

One copy of Proof by Seduction is still up for grabs in the comments of yesterday’s post–let me know if you want it!

In which I recommend one book, give two away, and…talk about dresses

1. My beloved critique partner Susanna Fraser recently sold her Regency-set historical, The Sergeant’s Lady, to Carina Press. It’s coming out towards the end of August, and it’s a really great book. I’ll be posting more about it when it’s available for pre-order, and I’m hoping Susanna will come here on her blog tour, but for now I’ll just say it’s about a gently-born officer’s widow and a common sergeant in the Peninsular War who end up having to fight their way across half of Spain together.

Actually I will also say, because I cheat, that I have it on good authority that the hero looks a lot like Captain Mal-era Nathan Fillion:

and that he wears one of these lovely green uniforms:

Mmmmm. She’s posted an excerpt at her blog. Go read!

2. Courtney Milan posted a response to the History Hoydens post about the importance of historical accuracy in historical romance that I linked to a few days ago. I really love what she says about the ways “the past is a vehicle for the present” in her books. It clarifies some things for me about my own use of history.

In honor of the awesomeness of her post, I have a confession to make: I seem to have acquired no less than three copies of her book, Proof by Seduction. Don’t judge me! There were library book sales involved! It was a really good book! I can’t be held responsible!

Now, I obviously need to keep one of these copies for myself, but I’d be happy to mail the other two to the first two people to comment and tell me they want one. Put your e-mail address in the comment so I can contact you for your shipping information. (NB: Both these copies are in good used condition.)

3. I’m going to a family wedding next month, so I went dress shopping today…and in addition to the dress I bought for that, I seem to have…accidentally acquired an evening gown? One very much like this one, only mine is this beautiful shimmering deep blue, and it was on sale, and it fit me perfectly (dresses NEVER fit me perfectly), and I could not leave it there. I tried. But I went back.

Maybe I can wear it to one of the dinners or parties at the RWA National Conference next year? Will I look overdressed? It is already way too dressy for pretty much EVERYTHING ELSE in my life, and also it kind of looks like something Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl would wear to pretend to be a grown-up at a soirée, but I don’t even care, I adore it.

To prove the world was round? REALLY? Who writes this stuff?

1. There’s a really interesting discussion going on about anachronisms in historical romance over at History Hoydens. As you can see from my looong comment, this is something I’ve given a lot of thought to yet totally failed to come up with a coherent policy. I evaluate anachronisms on a case-by-case basis! My anachronism ethics are situational!

But you know what I do hate unequivocally? Apocryphal historical anecdotes repeated as fact! Like how Columbus wanted to prove the world was round, or how Queen Victoria didn’t believe in lesbians. Now this is frequently a mistake made in good faith but I think that is what annoys me the most–how these lies become so ubiquitous they completely obscure the truth. Which leads me to:

2. It’s the anniversary of Waterloo this week (June 18th)! My January book A Lily Among Thorns is set in London in the two weeks before the battle.

But…they’re not actually the two weeks before the battle! They’re the two weeks before the news of the battle reached London, which is actually several days later–late on the night of June 21st. The news quickly spread, turning into an impromptu parade through the streets of London. It must have been so thrilling!

Of course, Nathan Rothschild knew about the outcome of the battle first. The popular story is that he went to the ‘Change and purposely led traders to believe he knew the battle had been lost! There was a panic and he was able to buy up “consols” (OED: “An abbreviation of Consolidated Annuities, i.e. the government securities of Great Britain”) at a very low price, seizing control of the Bank of England and making his fortune.

I totally believed this! You read about it everywhere! I included it in the first draft of A Lily Among Thorns. But oops, it is FALSE. Here’s what The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson has to say (link goes to the Kindle edition because I seriously could not find the paperback even when I looked at “other formats”–I kept getting the second volume in the series and I don’t know if the links are broken or if it’s out of print or what):

No doubt it was gratifying to receive the news of Napoleon’s defeat first, thanks to the speed with which Rothschild couriers were able to relay a newspaper version of the fifth and conclusive extraordinary bulletin–issued in Brussels at midnight on June 18–via Dunkirk and Deal to reach New Court [the location of the Rothschilds’ bank] on the night of the 19th. This was just twenty-four hours after Wellington’s victorious meeting with Blücher on the battlefield and nearly forty-eight hours before Major Henry Percy delivered Wellington’s official dispatch to the Cabinet as its members dined at Lord Harrowby’s house (at 11 p.m. on the 21st.) Indeed, so premature did Nathan’s information appear that it was not believed when he relayed it to the government on the 20th; nor was a second Rothschild courier from Ghent.

He then explains why Waterloo was actually financially disastrous for the Rothschilds, who were financing the British army and had all their money tied up in things that were suddenly no longer necessary–and no longer likely to be paid for by the gov’t.

In London, a frantic Nathan sought to make good the damage; and it is in this context that the firm’s purchases of British stocks have to be seen. On July 20, the evening edition of the London Courier reported that Nathan had made “great purchases of stock.” A week later Roworth heard that Nathan had “done well by the early information which you had of the Victory gained at Waterloo” and asked to participate in any further purchased of government stock “if in your opinion you think any good can be done.” This would seem to confirm the view that Nathan did indeed buy consols on the strength of his prior knowledge of the battle’s outcome. However, the gains made in this way cannot have been very great. As Victor Rothschild conclusively demonstrated, the recovery of consols from their nadir of 53 in fact predated Waterloo by over a week, and even if Nathan had made the maximum possible purchase of £20,000 on June 20, when consols stood at 56.5 and sold a week later when they stood at 60.6, his profits would barely have exceeded £7,000.

He goes on to demonstrate that the brothers were in dire financial straits all through 1815 and beyond although they did come out on top in the end, of course. He also talks at length about their disorganized accounting practices. The whole chapter is incredibly detailed and fascinating–I haven’t read the whole book yet but I want to.

There is a GREAT post on this topic at Risky Regencies here. I really recommend watching the video even though it’s kind of long–and if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at LEAST watch the first couple minutes so you can see the clip from a Nazi propaganda film showing an exaggerated version of the apocryphal consols story.

What’s your favorite/least favorite apocryphal historical anecdote?

She must have been assisted in the stile spelling and diction

A really interesting excerpt from Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture by Ghislaine McDayter, on the early 20th-century published collection of some of Byron’s fan letters (“To Lord Byron”: Feminine Profiles Based on Unpublished Letters, 1807-1824…which makes me sad because it seems to be the ONLY published collection of Byron’s fan letters and they’ve left out all the ones from men! Which are more relevant to my interests at this particular time even if there were probably less of them…):

“Henrietta writes to Byron asking for his ‘intellectual’ love, and the editors argue that such desires can only be disingenuous. They refer to a second letter as proof, this time from an older and more famous woman, Harriette Wilson: ‘Harriette Wilson even—the most notorious courtesan of the period—recently solicited [Byron’s] acquaintance, adding in a postscript to the effect that what she wanted was not love but an intellectual understanding!’ For these editors, the concept of a courtesan, let alone a starstruck virgin, being interested in a non-sexual relationship with Byron (and equally the concept that he could possibly be interested in such a thing) is dismissed as absurd. Yet, the women who write to Byron repeatedly make it clear that they are interested in some ‘other’ sort of relationship with him. Many speak of their fantasies of befriending his ex-lovers and his future wife, and if, as was sometimes the case, Byron did make a sexual advance on these women, he was often spurned. The “notorious” courtesan was particularly adept at putting Byron in his place, remarking curtly that although she had written in praise of Byron previously, she had merely ‘alluded to your understanding and common sense, not to your —— which I conceived to be entirely out of the question.'”

I haven’t read Harriette Wilson’s memoirs (yet) but she was obviously a snappy writer. Here’s what Sir Walter Scott had to say about her:

“She must have been assisted in the stile spelling and diction though the attempt at wit is poor—that at pathos is sickening. But there is some good retailing of conversations in which the stile of the speakers so far as known to me is exactly imitated.”

I love his assumption that since she’s a courtesan she must have had to be heavily edited! If the Byron letter is an example her “stile” and diction are excellent in their natural state.

New cover and new contest!

The cover for A Lily Among Thorns arrived in my inbox a couple of days ago! So, without further ado:

Isn’t it lovely? While those people don’t physically resemble my hero and heroine very much (the woman would if she didn’t curl her hair and dressed differently, though), the vibe between them is perfect. And I love the outdoors London backdrop! You can see a larger version here.

The back cover copy for this one has been up at the website for a while, but I can’t remember if I ever posted it here. Either way, I love it and here it is (again?).

###

HER SAVIOR

It was him. Serena couldn’t breathe. She’d been looking for him for years—the man who’d lifted her out of the dregs of London’s underworld. She remembered that he’d looked like an angel. But either she’d embellished or he’d grown up. Because he didn’t look like an angel now. He looked like a man, solid and broad, and taller than she’d thought. And now he needed her help.

HIS SIREN

Solomon recognized her as soon as they were alone in the dark. He’d not forgotten that night five years ago either. But Serena had changed. She was stronger, fiercely independent and, though it hardly seemed possible, even more beautiful. She was also neck-deep in trouble. Yet he’d help cook a feast for the Prince Regent, take on a ring of spies, love her well into the night—anything to convince her that this time he was here to stay.

###

How great is that?

Plus, I have a new contest up! I’m giving away a (Region 1) DVD copy of High Plains Invaders, the costume drama monster movie starring James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) I reviewed a few months ago. You can watch a preview for the movie and enter the contest here. (I’ll ship anywhere in the world!)

And finally, an adorable addendum to my recent post about Luddites and John Henry. I talked about Byron’s speech in the Lords opposing the Frame Bill. I just found this in Byron’s Romantic Celebrity by Tom Mole:

“Byron learned his speech by heart, and practised some parts of it in front of Robert Charles Dallas, who reported that ‘he altered the natural tone of his voice, which was sweet and round, into a formal drawl, and he prepared his features for a part–it was a youth declaiming a task.'”

I didn’t fully understand the use of “task” in this context, so I looked it up in the OED. Definition 2b reads “A portion of study imposed by a teacher; a lesson to be learned or prepared[…]Now arch.[archaic]”

Awwww. ♥

Just call me the Marlon-Brando-in-"The-Wild-Ones" of teen soap viewers

So I may have mentioned that I’ve been watching Gossip Girl. I’m halfway through Season 2, and while I’ve noticed a decline in quality in terms of plot coherence (also: understanding how to correctly use the term “slander”), I still love all the characters so I’m willing to overlook it.

There’s something else the show does really, really well that’s important to me: it doesn’t judge its characters.

Here’s what I mean by that: say Blair just did something awful, like (WARNING: mild SPOILER for season 2 coming up!) posted a fake rumor to a gossip blog trying to destroy a teacher’s career because they gave her a bad grade. Why did she do this? Here’s the show’s answer:

1. Blair has problems with lashing out.
2. Blair has a lifelong dream of going to Yale and is afraid this grade might affect her admission.
3. Blair is under a lot of pressure this week because her divorced father (whom she adores but isn’t very close to) is visiting from France with his boyfriend.

Etc., etc. The answer is NEVER, “Because Blair is a bitch.” Sure, Blair often acts like a bitch, and has more feelings of anger and resentment than many of the show’s other characters, but that’s pretty much a non-issue for the writers.

The specific meanness of posting the rumor, whether it was justified, and what, exactly, the consequences are for Blair, the teacher, and various innocent bystanders, IS an issue, but that’s very different. Blair is never on trial AS A PERSON. When a scheme of hers backfires or hurts someone, it never feels like a judgement from the writers, but simply a plausible outcome of her behavior.

I could go on for hours about why I like this in a book or movie, but I think the two most important factors are:

1. I hate it when I feel like an author is bullying a character. Okay, that maybe sounds a little silly, but it actually really affects my reading. People root for the underdog, right? Well, I also root for what I call “narrative underdogs.” If I feel like an author is stacking the deck against a character or setting them up to look bad, it bothers me.

If an author creates a character just to be a terrible person and then punishes them for it, my first thought is “Well you MADE that character the way they are!” This is especially true if the terrible person’s punishment involves public humiliation and I can practically hear the author snickering gleefully. Which I think leads pretty well into factor 2:

2. I’m contrary. I instinctively rebel if I feel like I’m being told what to think or how to react. I have an irrational hatred of feeling as if an interpretation is being shoved down my throat. For example, if a hero and heroine exchange some charming banter, and then the heroine thinks, “Oh my, HERO is the MOST delightfully witty man I’ve EVER met!”…my first instinct is to say, “I’ve met wittier.”


“What are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?”

Of course no author (or person, for that matter) is unbiased, but it’s a “show vs. tell” thing. If the writer shows me character A behaving like a jerk, probably I’ll think character A is a jerk. I might or might not LIKE character A, but either way I’ll think she’s a jerk.

(A romance I read recently that did this incredibly well was Eloisa James’s A Duke of Her Own. Way to create a full cast of characters, have some of them behave very badly indeed, and yet let me draw my own conclusions about all of them!)

But if the writer tells me repeatedly that character A is a jerk, very likely I’ll start looking for excuses for A’s behavior, no matter how awful it is, or be pushed into siding with her against character B, whom the writer keeps telling me to like.

And that’s the great thing: Gossip Girl never forces me to choose sides. It provides me with every character’s perspective and lets me decide for myself whether I think Serena is being passive-aggressive, or Dan is being unfair, or Nate is being adorable (hint: Nate is ALWAYS being adorable). It gives me the space, as a viewer, to figure out how I feel about the characters and situations. And that means that, most of the time, I can love all the characters even as I acknowledge their faults, and be on everyone’s side.

Are you a contrary reader? (“No” is an acceptable answer! I’m just curious!)

A man ain't nothing but a man

I have a pet peeve. And a blog. Match made in Heaven!

I know language evolves. I like that about it, actually. But the way the word “Luddite” has evolved seems disrespectful to me of the original Luddites, who I learned a lot about while researching In for a Penny.

Nowadays, people use the word to mean someone who’s irrationally mistrustful of technology: “My grandmother’s such a Luddite, she won’t get a cellphone.” But here is the original meaning of the word (quoted from Wikipedia—the whole article is great):

The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the nineteenth century who protested—often by destroying mechanized looms—against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt was leaving them without work and changing their way of life.

Many of the mechanical looms were called “frames” because of their design, so the Luddites were also commonly referred to as “framebreakers.”

These people weren’t opposing technology on philosophical grounds. They weren’t superstitiously afraid of the coming time when the robots would rise up against their masters and enslave them in return. Nor were they simply stubborn and old-fashioned. They were losing their jobs, and there was no provision at all made in the shifting economy to absorb or retrain them.

The textile industry was changing rapidly in this era. Before the Industrial Revolution, skilled weavers worked out of their homes (their cottages, hence, “cottage industry”) in rural areas, using hand looms.

Then new machines were invented that moved weaving into factories in new industrial cities, and required only low-paid, unskilled labor to run them.

Of course, that’s an oversimplification, and the machines may have been not so much themselves the object of the workers’ wrath as simply an easy way to economically damage employers; here’s a great rundown from my current research book, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity by Tom Mole:

[The textile industry] went into crisis in the early 19th century, when economic depression at home and the loss of export markets in Napoleonic Europe and Revolutionary America hit hard. Wage cutting was endemic in the industry, and many workers suffered drastic hardships as wages fell or failed to keep pace with rising prices. A parliamentary committee investigating the situation in 1812 heard that wages were on average one-third lower than they had been in 1807 and before. The workers’ distress was exacerbated by at least three other factors, including the practice of payment in truck [my note: basically the “company store” system]; the introduction of cheaply produced low-quality stockings known as ‘cut-ups’; and the possibility of hiring juvenile and unskilled laborers owing to the lapsed apprenticeship laws, which flooded the labor market and further depressed wages in a practice known as ‘colting.’ The use of new wide weaving frames, which weavers were forced to rent from their employer or from an independent entrepreneur, often at exorbitant rates, also had its part to play in the industry’s degradation.[…]Between 1780 and 1830 workers were reduced from comparative prosperity and independence to crippling poverty and complete dependence on their employer.

Smaller, similar acts of violence to framebreaking happened all over England, directed against new technologies that threatened working families’ ability to make a living. In Penny, the 1816 rioters fired the elder Lord Bedlow’s barn with the new threshing machine inside of it. New threshing machines eliminated an entire large income source (threshing with the flail) for agricultural laborers; I’ll talk about that in another post.

What’s relevant here was that this was almost a culturally recognized form of protest: the workers smashed things up and made demands, and sometimes they got concessions. For this reason one scholar, Hobsbawm, described Luddism as “collective bargaining by riot.”

During the early 19th century, the Combination Laws prohibited trade union activity or collective bargaining for British workers. They weren’t repeated until 1825, and even then union activity was severely limited by law. Requests for changes in company policy backed up by property damage wasn’t a great or safe system, obviously. But anything more orderly and official was equally subject to legal repercussions and much less anonymous.

The framebreakers, of course, were not successful. They lost, and they were punished. The offense was originally punishable by up to 14 years transportation. In 1812 the Frame Bill was passed, making it a capital crime.

Byron opposed the bill in his maiden speech in the House of Lords. The speech is completely brilliant and carefully reasoned and sarcastic and moving and you should absolutely read the whole thing here. Here’s a small excerpt:

The framers of such a bill must be content to inherit the honours of that Athenian law-giver whose edicts were said to be written not in ink but in blood. But suppose it passed; suppose one of these men, as I have seen them,—meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your Lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame;—suppose this man surrounded by the children for whom be is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault that he can no longer so support;—suppose this man—and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims—dragged into court, to be tried for this new offence, by this new law; still, there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him and these are, in my opinion,—twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jeffreys for a judge!

Mmm, I love a man who can orate. Unfortunately Byron was wrong and quite a lot of framebreakers were hanged after the bill was passed. (“Jeffreys,” by the way, refers to Baron Jeffreys, the notorious “hanging judge” who presided over the trials of Jacobites at the “Bloody Assizes” in 1685–if you’ve seen the Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood you might remember him.)

The closest thing to a modern equivalent of the Luddites in the popular imagination is John Henry, the steel-driving man who competes with the new steam drill to see who can dig the deepest. The outcome varies in different versions of the song, but generally John Henry beats the steam drill and then dies. While he didn’t react to his displacement with active political resistance, he was a powerful symbol to countless workers who did. Here’s Odetta singing it:

The story’s been reworked dozens of times by dozens of singers. My favorite is the Drive-By Truckers’ “The Day John Henry Died”:

You can read the lyrics here. For me, this part captures what makes the John Henry story, and the Luddites’ story, so sad:

It didn’t matter if he won
If he lived, or if he’d run
They changed the way his job was done
Labor costs were high
That new machine was cheap as hell
And only John would work as well
So they left him laying where he fell
The day John Henry died.

The Luddites couldn’t possibly turn back time or get rid of the new machines. The British economy was changing and growing so rapidly that it was no longer practical for farming and textiles to be done the way they had been; more needed to be produced faster and cheaper to support the growing population, and specifically the growing urban population.

Technological progress can’t be stopped or held back just because it changes the economy. Machines make our lives easier in so many ways. Why should someone have to weave cloth or drill steam by hand when a machine can do it? Why should someone have to spend their life in a factory when their job can be done by a computer?

But that doesn’t excuse the employers who leveraged new technologies to erode the established rights and wages of workers, or who exploited newly created groups of workers. And when technological advances happen without any provision for what’s going to happen to the people whose jobs are being replaced (or paid significantly less), you can’t blame those people for being angry.

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know

Today I allowed myself one of the greatest geeky pleasures: a new library card. For a $100 contribution to the Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, I got a borrower’s card! I checked out three books: Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity, and Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750-1850.

As you can probably guess, I’m thinking of writing a character who hero-worships Byron. This type of character was a stock joke in Regency traditionals: they always wore disheveled riding gear and a Belcher handkerchief in place of a cravat in an attempt to ape Byron’s fashion, disordered their hair, and wrote terrible poetry for the heroine. Often they were no good at day-to-day practical things like hailing a cab or remembering to bring an umbrella.

I guess I don’t really see what’s so awful about that? It’s not as if I’ve never bought clothes in an attempt to borrow someone else’s glamor or confidence. It’s not as if I’ve never written terrible poetry. And it’s CERTAINLY not as if I’ve never forgotten to bring an umbrella or missed a bus or left my groceries at the store because I was distracted by the characters in my head.

Plus I think, at the time, Byron was a bad-boy symbol of revolt against the politics and art of The Establishment. Like Marlon Brando or James Dean! (Did you know James Dean’s middle name was “Byron”??)

On a slightly related note: Gossip Girl fans, can’t you just see Chuck Bass and Nate as Byron and Shelley?

I also requested Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights. This being able to just check books out instead of requesting them through Interlibrary Loan from the Seattle Public Library and then not being able to renew them is heady stuff.

As I was walking back to my car, I passed two twenty-year-old boys talking loudly about how useless book-learning is.

BOY #1: What you learn in here doesn’t mean much out there.
BOY #2: Yeah, the stuff you do here isn’t necessarily applicable to the real world.
BOY #1: To make it in the real world, you don’t need all this stuff. You have to learn it out there.

It was like changes on a theme, and they just sounded pleased with how jaded and worldly they were. I couldn’t help laughing, since I was there to use the historical research skills I learned in college for my “real world” job of writing books!

Reminder

By the way, today is the last official day to submit ideas for my In for a Penny short story I’ll be posting to the website in September! You can send me your ideas via the contest page on the website, here. I’ll probably leave the form up a couple extra days, but if you’ve been leaving it to the last minute, the last minute is here!