Difficult Dukes #2 and Other Things

 from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert,   The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert, The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

Sometimes the writing gods gaze down benignly upon me and send encouraging rays of sunlight and gentle breezes to waft me on my way from the beginning to The End of the story.

Sometimes I have all I can do to launch my boat. Then, having launched, it promptly sinks. Or I fall overboard.  Repeatedly.

“There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.”—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

All of this is to say that Ashmont’s story is still in the process of being written and he’s being a ducal pain in the neck about it.

In other, better news:
A Duke in Shining Armor has continued to receive stellar reviews, most recently in the current (9 April 2018—Naomi Judd on the cover—lots of red) issue of First for Women, currently on the shelves of many, many supermarkets. (Yes!) The review is titled “7 books we’re loving now.” There I am with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picault.

The image was sent by my dear friend Claudia on Cape Cod.

And what do you think my amazement (and fear) was when I found out it had been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review? And when I discovered only mild snark in the review?

Another happy moment was seeing the book reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, which covers all historical fiction, not romance exclusively.

From the writer’s traveling cave:

Between storms

I’ve lived in New England all my life, but must say that the cold, snow, and dark started wearing on me a few years ago, and my husband and I started heading south during late winter. This year, due to an unfortunate series of events, we left later than we liked. But we did narrowly escape the cascade of blizzards.

We are in our last days in South Carolina. We’re on an island, and there’s a lot of marshland. Plus we have a golf course, more or less  in the back yard, which has the usual water features. In this part of the world, though, the water features harbor critters you don’t see on New England golf courses.

As I write this, it’s early evening. Today we’ve had a series of thunderstorms and we’re on the lookout for tornados. My computer is unplugged from the electrical outlet, and we’re listening to thunder, thunderous rain, and intermittent hail.

An alligator. Not ours. This one's from Florida

During the late morning thunderstorm, we watched an alligator swim toward our side of one of the golf course’s lagoons. It’s still a looong way away from us, but it was pretty thrilling. We have counted three alligators so far, on the golf course, in whose lagoons they lurk when they’re not lying on the bank, sunning themselves. The island is chock full of the kind of swampy territory they enjoy. I know this isn’t a plus for most people, but I have great respect and admiration for alligators and crocodiles, who’ve managed to survive all this time.

I feel lucky to be able to travel and make a writer’s retreat just about anywhere I go. What a job! So, yes, I bang my head against the wall, as indicated above, but you know I’ll keep at Ashmont’s story until it’s done right.



What's Blonde Lace?

The following is an expanded version of a blog post that appeared at Two Nerdy History Girls.

1833 Bridal Ensemble that appeared in several ladies' magazines. This is what Olympia wore.

There was a time when blonde lace was ubiquitous, as we learn if we look at ladies’ attire for court events. Certain magazines listed not only the attendees but also what they wore. For example, if you type “blonde” into the search box for this 1831 Royal Lady’s Magazine, you will notice that nearly every single lady wore blonde or blonde lace to the Queen’s Drawing Rooms.

This is why blonde lace features in so many of my 1830s-set books. However, the term “blonde” can be a little puzzling when we’re confronted with a description referring to “black blonde,” as happens in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Blonde lace is a silk bobbin lace. A search on YouTube will show it being made, and give you an idea why the handmade version was so very expensive and highly prized. The “blonde” part refers to the silk’s natural color, which was ecru. Once a way was found to make the silk stronger, it could be lightened, for a white blonde, and dyed, for black blonde.

Still, terminology can be confusing. “Next to Chantilly the blondes are the most important among the silk laces.” Yet elsewhere we’re told that Chantilly is a blonde lace. My impression is, the blonde made in Chantilly was considered superior. Any textile experts reading this are invited to provide further enlightenment.

These fine details, however, don’t seem to be crucial to the magazines, and definitely aren’t crucial for my books. For the purposes of A Duke in Shining Armor in particular, what you’d probably rather see are examples.

The bridal ensemble (at top) I gave my heroine Olympia includes “a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves” and “a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.”

The “French” dress she donned at the inn was based on several images, but this pink carriage dress from the Magazine of the Beau Monde, though listed for August 1833 (my story is set in June of that year), about covers what I had in mind. She wears “a black blond pelerine with square falling collar, the points descending low down the skirt and fastened in front with light green ribbon noeuds.”

However, I do think portraits capture the look of the lace much better than the stiff, stylized fashion prints. The gallery below shows some examples of each.

Images: Queen Adelaide (consort of King William IV) by Sir William Beechey, courtesy National Portrait Gallery NPG 1533; Court Dress for May 1831; Countess Julie von Woyna by Friedrich von Amerling 1832; Court Dress for April 1832; Giovannia Pacini (eldest daughter of the Italian composer Giovanni Pacini) 1831.

The two examples of court dress give you an idea of just how much blonde lace was involved. The feathers and the lace lappets were a particular feature of court dress. You can see a sample of Belgian Bobbin Lace in this lappet.  And here is a sample of French Pillow-made Silk Blonde. And this is an image of a lady in what seems to be black lace.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Putney's White Lion Inn isn't quite the same

White Lion Inn. Photo copyright 2018 Walter M. Henritze

Most of the locations in A Duke in Shining Armor are real—or as real as I can make them. Some once existed but no longer do, some have changed beyond recognition, and some are there, looking more or less the same. None are entirely the same, of course. For one thing, the extant buildings have indoor plumbing. And electricity.

The White Lion Inn, where several important early scenes occur, did and does exist, although my characters wouldn’t recognize it today, and may not have even known it by that name.

On my investigative tour of Putney, last summer, we came upon what seemed to be the right building.  At the time, though, I wasn’t sure this was the place. What I saw was clearly a late Victorian structure, and closer inspection confirmed an 1880s date. Still, the big lion on top was a clue, and I asked Walter to take some photos.

Once home, with various books at hand, I felt more certain of its identity. This did seem to be the White Lion, but extensively renovated and decorated or maybe entirely rebuilt at about the same time the new Putney Bridge went up. 

Reviewing my copy of the Panorama of the Thames, I found a place called the Putney Hotel, which a note in the text referred to as the Red Lion Inn. But this seems to be the same building Ralph Rylance refers to in his 1815 guidebook, The Epicure’s Almanack, as the White Lion.

View of Putney in 1829: Image from Inglis and Sanders, Panorama of the Thames

White Lion.
“Continuing on your way to town you come to the village of Putney, at the bottom of which, close to the Fulham Bridge, is the White Lion.[2] You may have a good dinner drest here to order, in which order you ought not to forget to include stewed eels, or fried flounders. The people here have a live stock of them in the wells of the peter-boats moored off the village.”

The footnote explains further:

[2] “The White Lion near Fulham Bridge (now Putney Bridge) dated from the early C17 and was rebuilt in 1887; it is still operating, as the ‘Australian Walkabout Inn,’ at nos. 14-16 Putney High Street.” (p. 203)

I can confirm that it (1) is no longer the Australian Walkabout Inn, (2) was closed, and (3) had been closed for some time. But its location and surroundings did fit what I'd pictured while writing the story. For the interior and stable yard scenes, I used a combination of imagination and research into 18th and 19th century coaching inns.

“Custom had decreed the arrangement of an inn plan.  There was the usual courtyard with its arched or beamed entry.  There was a hall for receiving guests, a main staircase, a coffee room and a dining parlour.  Some inns could boast a special apartment for dining coach passengers only.  In addition there were smaller apartments known respectively by the names Sun, Moon, Star, Crescent or Paragon.  From 1700 to the year 1760 the arched entries were low, for until the latter date outside passengers were not encouraged.  After the accession of George the Third, when outside travelling became more general, the inside passengers were treated as belonging to an inferior order.  Not only did landlords show increased respect to the outside passengers, but a subtle compliment was paid to the coach proprietors by the landlords when alterations to the arched entries were made to their respective inns.”
—Harold Donaldson Eberlein & A.E. Richardson, The English Inn Past & Present (1926)

Photograph at top by Walter M. Henritze, III. The image of 1829 Putney is a screen shot from the fabulous website connected with the Panorama of the Thames, a gorgeous book. I strongly recommend your visiting the website, for larger images, and tons of information. You can scroll along for the river view or search by specific locations.

These images of the White Lion at the Victorian Web show you how extremely Victorian the building is now.

Left to right: Putney Bridge & Church 1799; Putney Bridge 1793; the White Lion (my big clue).


Hackney Cabs & Hackney Coaches

In A Duke in Shining Armor, a character’s close encounter (offstage) with a hackney cab triggers events. At other times, the characters travel, for reasons of anonymity, in hackney coaches. Though some authors use the terms interchangeably, these are two different vehicles.

The photograph of a model at the London Transport Museum offers a 3D view of the two-wheeled, one horse single-passenger cab. It was also known as a coffin cab, for two reasons: (1) the vehicle looked like a coffin and (2) it was dangerous.

The model makes it easier to see the apron that protected passengers from kicked-up dust and stormy weather. Henry Charles Moore's Omnibuses and Cabs tells us, “The fore part of the hood could be lowered as required, and there was a curtain which could be drawn across to shield the rider from wind and rain.” The curtain is hard to see—and I didn’t see it until recently, when I lightened the photo, but one can just about make it out, tucked away inside. The Cruikshank illustration below emphasizes the coffin aspect.

A new and improved version, introduced in 1823, carried two passengers. In my 1830s-set books, I use the later version.

Images, left to right: Cruikshank's illustration for Sketches by Boz; illustration from Omnibuses and Cabs; detail from James Pollard, Hatchetts, the White Horse Cellars, Piccadilly, via Wikipedia.

First, let’s distinguish hackney coaches, which took individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, from the stage coaches traveling the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules. Hackneys were like taxis. Stagecoaches were like long-distance buses. In England they’re still called coaches. Here’s Charles Dickens’s description of a hackney coach, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

This chapter of Omnibuses and Cabs: Their Origin and History tells the whole story, with excerpts from Sketches by Boz.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.
**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
London had many, many hackney coach stands during the early 19th century.  This is where you’d find the hackney coach waterman.

Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered.  The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued.  A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise.  Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen.  The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.

Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain).

If you haven't yet had enough of the topic, this section of Leigh’s New Picture of London for 1834 gives a concise overview of London transport in the time of my stories.

What is a post chaise?

Detail from Pollard, The Mail Changing Horses at “The Falcon” at Walthamstowe, image from The Autobiography of a Stage Coachman, courtesy Archive.org

In A Duke in Shining Armor, my characters travel, at one point, in a post chaise.

At the Jane Austen Society of North America, you can read Ed Ratcliffe’s carefully researched and detailed paper on transport in the early 1800s. If you scroll down about a third of the way you’ll come to the post chaise part. On her website, Candice Hern covers the topic rather more briefly.

And/or you can read my, also brief, version:

Thomas Rowlandson, An English Postilion, ca 1785, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A post chaise was usually a hired vehicle, rather like a long-distance taxi-cab. They were not driven by a coachmen but by postilions or postboys (they were “boys” no matter how old they were), who rode the “near” or left side horse. The vehicles tended to be small, holding two passengers in tight quarters on a single seat. This intimacy is one reason I like to have my hero and heroine travel by post chaise.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Runaway Coach, ca 1791, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Another reason is speed. If you traveled in your own vehicle, with your own horses, you’d need to stop to water/feed and rest the horses at frequent intervals, say every six to twenty miles, depending on how slowly you travel, and road condition, e.g., level, uphill, well or poorly maintained. The rest period could take hours.

Instead, with a post chaise, at similar intervals, determined by road conditions, you stopped at a posting inn and changed for fresh horses. This change took very little time, and off you’d go again. The posting inns maintained a good supply of horses. Also, for a long journey, there would be postilions or postboys available to take over for your tired driver. About every other stop, you’d change vehicles, too, so that the owners of the operation could keep track of their property.

The photograph is from my 2009 visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Coachman Susan Billeter Cochrane stands with the horse saddled for her to ride postilion. Note that she wears a leather guard over her left boot to protect it from close contact with the other horse.