"Self-Professed Cuckolds of Ticehurst" would be a good name for a band. Maybe too long.

Another gem from The Folklore of Sussex. She’s talking about various customs requiring men to dress up wearing horns:

Book title page reading "A FROLICK to HORN-FAIR, with a WALK from CUCKOLD'S-POINT thro' Deptford and Greenwich."“Bawdy humor of this sort is exemplified in Sussex by the eighteenth-century Cock Fair at Ticehurst, at which, according to the Sussex Weekly Advertiser‘s report of an unfortunate street accident which spoilt the fun in 1788, the landlord of the Cock Inn was ‘according to local custom presented with a load of wood, on condition he could get it drawn home by men having the appellation of cuckolds, of whom he had assembled a sufficient number and provided them with a waggon for the purpose.’ Whether the self-professed cuckolds of Ticehurst were expected to wear the symbols of their state the newspaper unfortunately does not say; but a grotesque expression of this sort is known to have taken place regularly in Kent up to 1768, at the famous Charlton Horn Fair[…]”

I just want to hear the stories of every single guy in that group.


I’ve got an interview up over at Kat Latham’s blog! She asked really cool questions which is always exciting–I may have gone into embarrassing depth on the whole “Jane Austen vs. Charlotte Bronte” thing. I’m also giving away a book!

A sample:

My relationship with Jane Austen is really complicated and my relationship with Charlotte Bronte is really simple.

I adore Jane Eyre on every level. Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed by how earnest Charlotte is about everything and wish she had more of a sense of humor. Okay, I’m done.

When it comes to Jane Austen, though, there’s a whole Dostoyevskian love-hate thing going on, where I love her and then I resent her because I love her and that gives her the power to reject me. Here’s the thing: I identify with Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. I talk too loud and I love things too much. I’m not particularly elegant or refined or reserved. I’d probably shamelessly ogle militia officers, too.


Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now?

Went to the new staging of Les Mis at the 5th Avenue Theater on Saturday! So freaking good!

Barricade scene from Les Mis.  Enjolras stands in the center in a bright red and gold vest.

Enjolras was my favorite as always! SUCH a crush on that guy. So I was in luck as he was played by Jeremy Hays, a fellow who 1) was very talented and 2) has REALLY GOOD HAIR. He has in fact been in Hair previously. For obvious reasons. Look at him in the center of that promo shot. Those are the flowing golden locks of a born leader.

I really loved him in this staging. Awesome acting choices–he actually reminded me of some of the activists I knew in college. Plus, he was wearing a normal vest in his first couple of scenes, but when it was time for revolution, he put on his special red-and-gold revolution vest! Then he put on his special barricade tricolor sash! He was really really good at brandishing a rifle! All the other guys fell backwards off the barricade, but he fell forwards! Like a leader! ♥

ENJOLRAS: [singing] Is this simply a game for rich young boys to play?
ME AND THE BFF: Um….look around you at your friends, sweetie. They don’t seem to be taking this very seriously. That one guy has done nothing but pretend a wine bottle is his penis ALL SHOW LONG.

ENJOLRAS: Hey all my rich-kid friends from school, you want to be in the revolution with me?
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: Will there be beer?
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: Wine’s okay too.
ENJOLRAS: Okay we can have the meetings at that nice little wine bar we like.

ENJOLRAS: [to Marius, singing] Who cares about your lonely soul? We strive towards a larger goal! Our little lives don’t count at all.
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: No wait we want to hear about Marius’s new girlfriend! Is she hot?
MARIUS: She’s totally hot you guys but I don’t know if she’s technically my girlfriend yet. I mean what happened was…
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: [listen raptly]
ENJOLRAS: [facepalm]

Sometimes Enjolras thinks he should try to expand the movement. Maybe bring in some actual poor people. But he tried! He handed out pamphlets! No one showed up for the meetings. He thought about trying to go out and talk to some poor people in person, but it would be so awkward. And besides, they probably wouldn’t understand political science and stuff.

Poor kid. I really do love him. He just needs a hug! And maybe a consciousness-raising group. And someone to give him a nice scalp massage. Running a revolution is stressful! I volunteer. What can I say, I’m a giver.

The one thing that really, really made me angry about the staging [SPOILER COMING] was that Eponine was shot offstage while climbing the barricade to bring Marius news of Cosette. I can’t actually say if this was a change from the previous staging because I saw it in high school and don’t remember, but I know it was a change from the book.

In the book, Eponine takes a bullet for Marius. She gets to make a choice, even if it’s a choice to lay down her life for someone who hasn’t actually treated her with that much respect. She gets to be a hero.

In this version, she went from having agency to being a passive victim who immediately becomes nothing but a symbol of the enemy’s cruelty (women in refrigerators, anyone?), and her story became even more about Marius and his man-feelings than it already was. Once again, I’m so glad I read and write romance where women’s lives and choices are in the spotlight.

That said, I love this show so much! Glad I brought tissues with me.

I carried a watermelon

When a friend read my upcoming A Lily Among Thorns, she pointed out that my heroine is good at everything. She said it got a little improbable.

It’s a totally fair criticism: I did originally intend Serena to be the female version of the “good at everything but feelings,” dark-pasted alpha hero.

But the hidden truth, the one I should maybe have played up a little more in the book, is that there are plenty of things Serena’s bad at. Millions of things. But, up to the point where she meets Solomon, she’s very carefully arranged her life so she only has to do things she’s good at. It’s a major limitation in her life, and something that’s always at the background of her consciousness: “If I might not be in control of my image while doing this, I can’t do it.”

I had the realization recently that I have a tendency to do the same thing. Not, obviously, to the extent that Serena does. But I really, really don’t like doing things I’m not good at. Even if I want to do them. I never learned to ride a bike because I didn’t learn when I was a kid and then when I was older everyone else already knew how and it was easier to say, “I don’t ride,” than to wobble or fall in front of friends (or strangers!). I rarely have the courage to sing karaoke or dance in public. I hate working out where other people can see.

You might notice a trend in this list: I have always thought of myself as a klutz, someone who’s good with her brain but not very coordinated or sporty. But the truth is, I love sports. I played soccer and basketball as a kid…but it wasn’t until I started fencing in middle school that I found a sport I really could love wholeheartedly.

Edwardian postcard showing a man and woman fencing

At the time, I thought I was so much happier fencing because I was better at it. Looking back, I suspect it’s because it was less awkward for me socially. The other fencers were mostly geeks like me, and because it wasn’t a team sport, no one got mad or blamed me when I lost. (Plus, come on, fencing! To a history nerd, it’s the most glamorous sport EVER.)

I’ve found myself swooning over dancing in movies lately. All kinds: tap, krumping, swing dancing, Broadway musical, ballroom, popping and locking. It just looks like so much fun!

Johnny shows Baby some basic partner dancing at the watermelon party

I can’t do that, right? I have no sense of rhythm! I’m uncoordinated! I have two left feet! I’ve never done any kind of formal dancing in my life unless you count that British folk dancing class in college where I could only really do the English country dances, not the Scottish ones, because the English ones only required me to remember where to walk and the Scottish ones required me to learn special footwork and keep a beat! I can dance at parties, but I certainly can’t dance with anyone without feeling hopelessly foolish!

And the thing is, I’ve always just thought of this as part of who I am. It’s something I’m not good at, something I can’t do. But I don’t really believe in natural talent. We’re good at things we care about enough to work at and spend time on. I’m a good writer…because I’ve been reading and writing stories consistently since I was a tiny child. I’ve never put the effort into music or dance. Partly because I was busy with other things, and partly because the other things I was busy with didn’t give me a sneaking sense of inadequacy.

I think maybe it’s time to step outside my comfort zone and sign up for some beginners’ dance lessons.

When’s the last time you did something outside your comfort zone? Did it work out? I could use some inspiration!

The majority took the matter good-humoredly

This folklore book continues to be fascinating. There’s a section on pseudo-legal rituals created to get around perceived problems with the law. The most shocking and interesting is of course wife-selling.

circa 1812 Thomas Rowlandson cartoon of a man exhibiting his wife for sale wearing a halter.

“That invaluable repository of scandal, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser, describes several cases: at Ninfield in November 1790 a man sold his wife one evening for half a pint of gin, duly handed her over next morning in a halter, but later changed his mind and bought her back ‘at an advanced price’; at Lewes in July 1797 a blacksmith sold his wife to one of his journeymen ‘agreeably to an engagement drawn up by an attorney for that purpose’; while at Brighton in February 1799 a man named Staines ‘sold his wife by private contract, for 5s and eight pots of beer, to one James Marten of the same place,’ with two married couples witnessing ‘the articles of separation and sale.’

“The custom persisted into the nineteenth century. Harry Burstow mentions three cases in his Reminiscences of Horsham:

I have been told of a woman named Smart who, about 1820, was sold at Horsham for 3s. and 6d. She was bought by a man named Steere, and lived with him at Billingshurst. She had two children by each of these husbands. Steere afterwards discovered that Smart had parted with her because she had qualities which he could endure no longer, and Steere, discovering the same qualities himself, sold her to a man named Greenfield, who endured, or never discovered, or differently valued the said qualities till he died.

Again, at the November Fair, 1825, a journeyman blacksmith, whose name I never learned, with the greatest effrontery exhibited for sale his wife, with a halter round her neck. She was a good-looking woman with three children, and was actually sold for £2 5s, the purchaser agreeing to take one of the children. This ‘deal’ gave offence to some who were present, and they reported the case to the magistrate, but the contracting parties, presumably satisfied, quickly disappeared, and I never heard any more about them.

The last case happened about 1844, when Ann Holland, known as ‘pin-toe Nanny’ or ‘Nanny pin-toe,’ was sold for £1 10s. Nanny was led into the market place with a halter round her neck. Many people hissed and booed, but the majority took the matter good-humoredly. She was ‘knocked down’ to a man named Johnson, at Shipley, who sold his watch to buy her for the above sum. This bargain was celebrated on the spot by the consumption of a lot of beer by Nanny, her new husband, and friends. She lived with Johnson for one year, during which she had one child, then ran away–finally marrying a man named Jim Smith, with whom she apparently lived happily for many years.

What fascinates me about this is how often it’s clearly a form of abuse—treating your wife like a commodity that can be traded for money or alcohol—but how sometimes it seems more like a form of consensual divorce…and how blurry the lines between the two are in a patriarchal society. One likes to imagine that the blacksmith who sold his wife to his journeyman with a legal document did it because his wife wanted to marry the journeyman, but we can’t ever know.

Has anyone ever seen a romance with this premise? I don’t count Mayor of Casterbridge!