The actual loss to government by the sudden destruction of the Custom House cannot be calculated

History Hoydens post up on the London Customs House fire of 1814! The fire destroyed not only the Customs House and all the records of the Revenue Service (including the irreplaceable notebooks kept by revenue officers stationed all over England), but also many of the surrounding buildings—partly because a rumor started that there were barrels of gunpowder stored in the building and the firemen refused to get near it…

Come and tell me about your favorite disaster!

“Bitches, man”

I was walking past the 5th Avenue Public Library when I saw a sign for their temporary exhibit: “Shelley’s Ghost: the Afterlife of a Poet.” Shelley’s posthumous reputation is very interesting to me because to us, he’s such a huge part of the Romantic poetry movement, but his poetry was almost unknown in his own time.

I read once that in England, Shelley was more famous for his atheism than for his poetry, and that in the mid-Victorian years when some Oxford students were getting up an informal debate about his merits, many of their teachers had never heard of him and thought there must be a mistake in the name.

That didn’t turn out to be a focus of the exhibit, though. It was mostly manuscripts and first editions of Shelley and people who knew him. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. But I saw the manuscript of Frankenstein! And two heartbreaking notes Mary Wollstonecraft wrote to Godwin in childbirth, assuring him she would be fine.

Some thoughts:

1. In theatrical posters and reviews of Frankenstein, the Creature was referred to using dashes or dots: “The Role of (***) by So-and-So.”

2. Whoever wrote the placards for the exhibit hated Godwin. Just hated him. Constantly referenced how he asked Shelley for money and criticized him for making some snarky comments about Shelley in a draft of a letter to his daughter which he then cut out of the final version.

If I were Godwin and my married student in his twenties abandoned his pregnant wife to run away with my sixteen-year-old daughter, taking one of my other teenaged daughters with them, I wouldn’t be best pleased either! I mean look, I’m very fond of Shelley myself, but that doesn’t mean no one can criticize his behavior.

3. Placard Writer (P.W.) was really, really indulgent towards both Shelley and Byron, though. The placard on Claire Clairmont read something like this: “Byron had many ardent fans. Claire Clairmont was one of those who seduced him.”

Now, I have no wish to deprive Claire of her sexual agency, and good on her for making the first move if indeed she did, but I think that’s a pretty ballsy statement considering that she was 16 and he was 26. I also think it’s rude and misogynistic to make her sound like a predatory fangirl.

4. In the section about Shelley’s death and Mary Shelley’s journals, P.W. made sure to tell me that maybe Mary Shelley didn’t always treat Shelley right by choosing for the quoted passage: “Oh my beloved Shelley — It is not true that this heart was cold to thee.”

5. P.W. quotes a letter Shelley wrote about Byron, describing it as “prejudiced”:

“He associates with wretches[…]who do not scruple to avow practices, which are not only not named, but I believe seldom even conceived in England.”

I’m pretty sure it didn’t give any more context than that! If I hadn’t already known that it was a homophobic reference and that it originally read “wretches who seem almost to have lost the gait and physiognomy of man” I would have thought maybe Byron was going to BDSM clubs. I can’t help feeling they cut out the really awful part of the remark to make Shelley look better. Or else gayness is just too shocking to be mentioned in a library.

6. Shelley edited Frankenstein before its publication. I would not want my husband editing my work, but I guess they had a really close relationship. Anyway, on the pages on display, he changed “handsome” to “beautiful” and added in that the Creature had “hair of a lustrous black.”

7. His only poem that was available in England during his life was “Queen Mab,” which was passed around by radicals in pirated editions. I’ll have to read it!

8. His family called him by his middle name, “Bysshe,” which (I never realized) was pronounced “Bish.” Yes. Shelley went by “Bish.” So adorkable!

9. The “Life” heading in his Wikipedia entry has the subheadings:

1.1 Education
1.2 Marriage
1.3 Byron
1.4 Two suicides and a second marriage
1.5 Italy
1.6 Death

(Title of this post from the Kate Beaton comic.)

The Art of Governing a Wife

Today went to the local used bookstore in my uncle’s town. The bookstore has two parts–the regular second-hand bookstore and a rare bookroom across the street. Today the rare bookroom had two Rowlandson prints! I couldn’t tell if they were original, but one of them was priced at $250 so maybe. My uncle said they make a lot of their money in lending out old books for movie sets–if you need 200 feet of matching bindings, they are your guys. Neat! I bought:

Many Thousands Gone: the First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America by Ira Berlin

Ladies of the Grand Tour: British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Brian Nolan, which I think is going to be a little too exceptionalist, but maybe that was just the back-cover copy writer: “According to the 1747 publication The Art of Governing a Wife, women in Georgian England were to ‘lay up and save, look to the house; talk to few and take of all within.’ However, some women broke from these directives and took up the distinctly male privilege of traveling to the Continent to develop mind, spirit, and body.” I just feel there’s a way to talk about restrictions on women without (a) overgeneralizing and (b) making women who follow those restrictions sound like their lives are meaningless wastes.

The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier by Jakob Walter

Boredom: the Literary History of a State of Mind by Patricia Meyer Spacks. This one looks really cool, it’s about how before the 18th century, boredom was a personal failing: if you’re bored, you aren’t working hard enough. But later that became complicated. It also talks about how boredom was gendered and women’s lives were equated with boredom in both feminist (“It’s not fair women can’t do more interesting things”) and misogynistic (“Women are so flighty and easily bored and also reading novels has made them impatient of real life”) ways.

I also got an essay collection called Transforming a Rape Culture which may be outdated since it’s from 1993…but sadly I’m guessing not TOO dated. Rape culture is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, especially because it’s important to Sweet Disorder and possibly to my next book as well, so I think it’s time for some reading.

Rogues' Gallery

It’s research time again! I’m still revising Sweet Disorder, but I’m researching my next project too. It’s tentatively titled “The Spare Heir” and takes place in Orkney! You might remember my trip to Orkney a couple years ago and how I fell madly in love with it.

Orkney sky
Photo credit: me.

I was originally planning to set this book in Cornwall, but as soon as I started thinking about Orkney, it just felt right. It’ll make the research harder, I think, but luckily my friend whom I was visiting works fowhere everyone has leg-of-mutton sleevesr Historic Scotland and might be able to help me out with contacts. The heroine is a governess and the hero is a revenue officer, and I’ve got two villains: the tyrannical local laird (the heroine’s employer and the hero’s biological father) and a ghost. Yes, a ghost. I know it’s a little different from my previous books but I’m really excited about it!

I’ll be posting a lot more about my research for that soon, but right now, I’m excited about my haul from the library book sale! I got:

Rites of Peace: the Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski
The Exchange Artist: a Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse by Jane Kamensky (the collapse was 1809)
Daumier: 120 Great Lithographs (I LOVE Daumier)
Mob Girl: A Woman’s Life in the Underworld by Teresa Carpenter, about a woman who was involved with many important mafiosos and became an FBI informer
Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O’Brien, about Louisa Adams (JQ Adams’s wife) traveling from St. Petersburg to France in early 1815
Rogues’ Gallery: A Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum by Michael Gross (this book gets about 200 points right off the bat for that title)
Scots Cooking: the best traditional and contemporary Scottish recipes by Sue Lawrence

A great haul, amirite?

What’s the best nonfiction book you’ve read recently? Anything amazing on your nonfiction TBR pile?

Awwww! Just, aw.

So I’ve mentioned that last week I was staying with my uncle. He has the best library of anyone I know and is a font of great historical anecdotes. Lucky for me he is especially interested in military history, since I am…well, I AM quite interested in military history but it’s never at the top of my list to read, let’s say. And I often have trouble understanding the strategy parts when I do read it, partly because I’m terrible at spatial relations.

My favorite story of this visit was this one. There was a drunk party a bunch of Napoleonic officers were at and it turned into guys doing party tricks, like “I can touch the tip of my tongue with my nose” and “I can wiggle my ears” and that sort of thing. Blücher announces that he can kiss his own brain. “Oh, you can NOT!” everyone says. “Yes I can,” Blücher insists and, going up to Gneisenau (his second-in-command), kisses him on the forehead.

AWWWWWW. A quick Google of these guys also yields:

“Blücher, when praised for one of his victories, said, ‘It is owing to my rashness, Gneisenau’s prudence, and the mercy of the great God,'” and:

“Blücher and Gneisenau were kind of a package deal.” Can they have a buddy cop show or something? Gneisenau is by-the-book and Blücher breaks every rule–but he closes cases!

And…they are on a t-shirt together. Because they were on a STAMP together in 1963. AWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

May have bought a shirt. How am I supposed to resist though?

A work of elevated imagination

When I was visiting my uncle, he took me to a wonderful local bookstore with a rare bookroom and a secondhand bookshop across the street from each other—I’ve never spent much time in the rare bookroom since it’s a bit beyond my means, but it looks amazing) and bought me some books for my birthday. I got two books about the history of English furniture, a cookbook, a book to teach me how to dress like a gentleman (which has already given me and my roommate hours of entertainment), an old pulp paperback mystery, and Sporting Art in Eighteenth Century England: A Social and Political History.

Listen to this:

[WARNING: the following paragraph contains a description of animal cruelty.]

“Meanwhile, the critical acclaim [Gilpin] initially received for his ‘Death of the Fox’ was sadly negated by the patron’s public announcement that, far from being a work of elevated imagination, the picture was in fact painted directly from nature—with carefully arranged dead dogs pinned into place as models.”

By the way, I got a tumblr! If you have one let me know so I can follow you! I am mostly using mine to reblog pictures of James McAvoy at the moment, but can you blame me?


My friend Sonia has brought something awesome to my attention! Okay, I don’t know how many of you read/have read fanfiction, but there’s a common trope in the genre called a “high school AU,” or “high school alternate universe,” where the characters are transposed into high school students (assuming they aren’t already).

Example: “Junior Lizzy Bennet is sure that only her family is holding her back from total social success. How embarrassing to have a mother who teaches at your school and tries to set you up on blind dates, not to mention a freshman little sister who’ll date anything in trousers, including the older boys from the local army base! Then Charlie Bingley transfers to their school along with his two popular sisters and his friend Fitz Darcy, the richest, handsomest boy anyone at Meryton School has ever seen–and Fitz publicly snubs Elizabeth at the Homecoming dance!” &c., &c.

Someone (Ty Roth, to be exact) has written one for the Romantic poets!

High school junior John Keats was never a close friend of schoolmate and literary prodigy Gordon Byron. At his best and worst, Keats was a distant, envious admirer of Gordon’s talents, fame, and “player” lifestyle. That changes when their mutual friend, Shelly, mysteriously drowns. After stealing Shelly’s ashes, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie Island where Shelly’s body had washed ashore and to where, according to Gordon, she wished to be returned. As they navigate obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly’s and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her premature end.

Shelley has been chosen to be genderswapped! I’m curious why the author picked him. I hope Keats and Byron have to learn to work together and discover that really, they’re not so different from each other, and that Byron also learns that it’s not nice to be a snob about Keats’s accent…

In other news about awesome things, I was at Barnes & Noble the other day and saw these in the YA section:

Twilight-inspired cover for Pride and Prejudice, with blown roses on a black background and the tagline "THE LOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL"
Twilight-inspired Jane Eyre cover with the tagline 'LOVE CONQUERS ALL'

Harper is putting them out, looks like. How great is that??? “THE LOVE THAT STARTED IT ALL”! Most of the blogs I’m pulling these images from (I’m having trouble finding official versions) seem to be mad about this, but I think it’s fantastic.

I am pretty sick of all this “Twilight is crap, Jane Eyre is what you should be reading, silly teenage girls,” stuff I see around. It’s snobby and anti-commercial-fiction and it sure isn’t making anyone want to read Jane Eyre. I think “If you liked Twilight, you would probably also like Jane Eyre” is not only less rude, it’s much more productive—and also true! Brooding, obsessive, and possibly dangerous men attracted to much younger ordinary-but-special women by a timeless soul-bond FTW!

(I’m not sure it will work as well for Jane Austen since it’s such a different kind of romance, but hey, I loved both Brontë and Austen as a teenager, so.)

What do you think? And have you seen other Twilight-inspired covers for classics running around? Link me!

One a penny, two a penny

So, in A Lily Among Thorns there’s a scene where my heroine asks my hero to buy her a hot cross bun from a street vendor. She then gets frosting on her face, and he has to wipe it off.

Or, there WAS such a scene. My English friend Cat informs me that hot cross buns used to only be sold at Easter! …And that frosting is a mostly American word, hot cross buns are made with icing. …And that actually, the cross was not made of icing back in the day, but rather a water-flour mixture, and was cut into the top of the bun. Oops. There’s always something, isn’t there? So I was looking for possible replacement pastries, and discovered that sponge cakes were already quite popular in that time period:

Ladyfingers were generally called “Naples biscuits.”
A sponge cake baked in a mold was called a “Savoy cake”.

And then I found this, on Lesley Anne McLeod’s website:

“A tipsy cake was a favourite way of using up a stale Savoy cake. A mixture of wine and brandy was poured over the cake until it could drink no more. It was then studded with almonds and a custard was poured around the base, which was garnished with ratafias or macaroons.”

OM NOM NOM. I want to eat that RIGHT NOW. Plus it’s perfect for my scene. The picture on her site is pretty elaborate, but I’m sure there were less fancy ones made with smaller moulds. It probably couldn’t be sold from a cart or basket like a hot cross bun, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be sold from a stall!

There was also a version called a “Tipsy Hedgehog” where the cake was shaped to look like a hedgehog and then a big spoonful of jam was put in front of its mouth to look like it was eating…

Drinking strong beer with the freeholders

Doing some research about women in 18th-century elections, and came across two fabulous quotes. The first one is from a letter between two politicians during the 1754 parliamentary elections; the woman in question’s husband is involved in two separate elections in different towns in Dorset and she’s helping with his campaign:

“Mrs. Pitt tells me she has been a buck-hunting three days in the week at five o’clock in the morning, and drinking strong beer with the freeholders at that hour, to convince them she is an Englishwoman. She returns to-morrow to assist her worst half at the meeting of the seventh at Dorchester.”

And a commentary from before the same election, from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, about Lady Susan Keck, an important political hostess:

“I am far from thinking that the Ladies are unconcern’d in our Members [i.e. members of parliament/parliamentary affairs], or that they should sit primm’d with their hands passively before ’em, and their Mouths drawn up like the Purse of an old Usurer, whilst we are engaged in this important Business; but then neither would I have them swagger amongst the Men, and Holla, and roar, and fill out Bumpers with an Air more becoming Colonel Bully than Lady Dainty. Much less would I have Ladies of Distinction, out of an intemperate Zeal for their Country, send away from their Houses, not only Men, but even Persons of their own Sex, so disguised with Liquor as to merit the Stocks as an Example.”