Friday, January 18, 2013

The Patron Saint of Virgins

January 21 marks the feast of St. Agnes--which makes January 20 a date of even more significance, at least in terms of English folklore. If you were an unmarried girl living during the regency, according to superstition, by following the proper steps on the night of St. Agnes’s Eve you could expect to see your future husband in a dream.

This 17th century painting of St. Agnes by Massimo Stanzione shows her with a lamb, her iconographic symbol ("agnus" being the Latin word for "lamb," and sounding like the Greek word for "pure one").
The original Agnes of Rome was a girl of patrician family, born in the third century. When she was just twelve or thirteen, the son of the prefect Sempronius fell in love with her, offering her "rich gifts and possessions" if she would marry him. She was a committed Christian, however, and so, as the Archbishop of Genoa wrote in The Golden Legend nearly a thousand years later, Agnes told the young man, "Go from me thou fardel of sin, nourishing of evils and morsel of death, and depart, and know thou that I am prevented and am loved of another lover, much more noble of lineage than thou art, and of estate... To him I have given my faith, to him I have commanded my heart...and when I take him then am I a virgin, this is the love of my God."

The young man was so disappointed that he took to his bed. When Sempronius attempted to get to the bottom of Agnes’s refusal to marry his son, he discovered she was a Christian. Sempronius had her condemned, but since it was against Roman law to execute a virgin, Agnes was given a choice: "One of two things thou shalt choose, either do sacrifice to our gods with the virgins of the goddess Vesta, or go to the [brothel] to be abandoned to all that thither come, to the great shame and blame of all thy lineage."

Agnes chose the brothel, and "was delivered naked," but a miracle saved her modesty: "anon as she was unclothed God gave to her such grace that the hairs of her head became so long that they covered all her body to her feet, so that her body was not seen." In addition, an angel clothed her in such brightness that none of the brothel’s customers could look at her. Then, as The Golden Legend puts it, "At last came the son of the provost with a great company for to accomplish his foul desires and lusts. And when he saw his fellows come out and issue all abashed, he mocked them and called them cowards. And then he, all araged, entered for to accomplish his evil will. And..anon the devil took him by the throat and strangled him that he fell down dead."

Fortunately, Agnes prayed for the young man, and he was raised from the dead. For some reason this failed to mollify his father, who had a lieutenant named Aspasius cast Agnes into "a great fire." Once again divine protection came to the girl’s aid, saving her from the flames.

Not one to give up easily, Aspasius had her run through with a sword.

"They told her how, upon St. Agnes Eve/Young virgins might have visions of delight" -- Illustration from Charles Wentworth's 1885 edition of Keats's "St. Agnes' Eve."

So Agnes became a martyr, and the patron saint of virgins everywhere. In the best slumber-party tradition, unmarried girls came to believe that on St. Agnes's Eve they could conjure up a vision of the man they would marry.

Though there were numerous versions of the proper ritual to be followed, Keats gives one popular version in his poem St. Agnes’s Eve:

As, supperless to bed they must retire,
And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

Chambers’ Book of Days gives this version of the ritual:

Or, passing into a different country from that of her ordinary residence, and taking her right-leg stocking, she might knit the left garter round it, repeating:

"I knit this knot, this knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
Not in his best or worst array,
But what he weareth every day;
That I tomorrow may him ken
From among all other men."

If you’re a single woman, you might consider giving it a try this St. Agnes’s Eve.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's debut regency romance, Ruined by Rumor, is currently available from Carina Press, and her second regency, Lord of Secrets, will be out March 25, 2013. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Comparing My Kindles

Are you considering buying a new Kindle or interested in learning more about the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9 as a reader? If so, I am presenting a comparison of my two Kindles, old and new. My photos are not that great because of the lighting in this room but you will get the general idea.

My older Kindle is about 2 years old and it is the model with keyboard. The new one is the Kindle Fire HD 8.9.

As you can see in picture #1, you have color! Yay! Plus Kindle Fire 8.9 is much larger overall. On the old Kindle, the screen is 5 X 31/2. The Kindle Fire is 8 X 41/2. 

The text display can be altered to suit your needs as can the screen. I have left mine on white/black because I like it and to me, it looks more like a book. Vertically, the screen displays much more text on the Kindle Fire than on the old Kindle. Also the Kindle Fire can be flipped horizontally and you will be able to read the same text as 2 pages.

Okay, so what I LOVE most is the touch screen. No more clicking little buttons to change pages or punching home and menu. I never really liked reading on my Kindle because I thought it was such a pain to have to go to that stupid menu screen.  No more of that on the Kindle Fire. Just tap the screen for the menu stuff. You see the orange percentage bar at the bottom? All you have to do is tap it wherever you want to go and you are there!  I was like OMG! Also on the right hand corner is  "Home". Just tap there to go to your book cloud. The color covers look great and just tap on a cover to open the book.  Also if the book has a table of contents, all you do is tap on the chapter number to go there and to change the page, just swipe and keep reading.

Of course, the Kindle Fire HD is a tablet. You can check your email, Tweet and watch movies. I watched some of Thor the other night and it does have a great picture. No problems with the streaming. The processing speed is great. But I will primarily use it as a reader, I think. 

Price-wise, it is more expensive than the other models. There is a 7" Kindle Fire HD that is very nice. I have seen that model. There is about a $100 price difference and I think the screen size of the 8.9 is worth the price difference. It is like reading a trade-size book. I like the larger screen. I did get a bundle package which included a bubble-free screen protector and a case. 

If you are considering buying a Kindle, I would say to go with one of the Kindle Fire models. I think you will be a lot happier with the product. I have not seen the Kindle Paperwhite, which is a reader only. I had considered it because it is a touch model and I prefer a white screen, but a friend convinced me to get the Kindle Fire and I don't have any regrets.

Patricia Preston

Monday, January 14, 2013

Family Trees

We recently acquired an account. I’d given it try once, many years ago, when it was new, but didn’t have the time to put into it.  And, because it was new, it didn’t have some of the great features it now has.
Learning to use the account has been interesting.  It tries the memories of the older folk, who know their history but not necessarily proper names. You learn your surname wasn’t always spelled THAT way.  And you learn some new information.  For example, we learned last night that a great-grandmother had been previously married.  You can access birth, marriage, and death certificates, military documents, census pages, and more. 
A lot of hard work goes into family genealogy.  I know, because I’ve watched my mother do ours.  On, you can connect with others who have information you need.  A lot of these users are private, and you have to contact them and request they share data, because in the genealogy world, information is jealously guarded.  Why?  If you put that much work into it, I’m betting you would be hesitant to share with anyone who wasn’t as serious as you.  It's like a stranger asking to see your first draft. Or your mother.
This is a great tool for writers.  If there’s nothing interesting in your family history, check out someone else’s!  See what famous names have unknown siblings or children that might have an interesting story to tell.  If nothing else, period-era names are a gold mine—probably not enough to justify a monthly fee, but the free 14-day trial will get you all you want.
Ancestry also allows you to build your tree as you think it should be.  So even if other users share information, the building is all up to you.  If you’d rather leave that crazy cousin off the tree, you can. But be warned, someone, someday will be looking for him.  It’s like anything else on the Internet.  Not everything is always, 100% correct.  We’re all familiar with the woman on the State Farm commercial who believes everything on the Internet is true. Don’t be her, even on

Saturday, January 12, 2013


In honor of the unveiling of the Duchess of Cambridge’s official royal portrait (see it here), I want to discuss portraits. I won’t offer an opinion on her portrait except to say, I’ve seen better, and if I’d paid for it, I’d get my money back. But I digress.

Portraits. They’re a window into the personalities of the past, a fleeting and perhaps not too honest glimpse at the people who continue to captivate us today.  In the painted or sculpted eyes, we look for traces of the person we’ve read about while projecting our own ideas and opinions of that person on to the image. Whatever you may think of Pharaoh Akhenaton, if you think of him at all, you can’t help but be awed when standing beneath one of his massive statues. To look on the sculpture of Thutmose III, perhaps the greatest Pharaoh Egypt ever knew, is to see nothing of the person and everything of the image of Pharaoh. This is true of most portraiture up until the Renaissance. Though there were quick flashes of individuals during the late Roman period, for the most part, history has left us with stylized images of figures both great and small.

I’ve heard it said by historians that Henry VIII and the Tudors enjoy the lasting fame they do because they were the first monarchs to be painted in a realistic way. Personally, I think Henry having had six wives and killing two of them might have something to do with his notoriety. However, I’m a romance writer not a historian, so I could be wrong. We are fascinated by Henry VIII and his descendants because we feel we know them, or that we can see something of their true personalities in the beautiful paintings of Holbein and others. The Tudors come to life in a way prior monarchs had not, and the tradition continued until the advent of photography.

With photography, the painted portrait has waned. Everyone who is no one can now have a great shot of themselves, or perhaps a not so great shot of them drunk and posted on the internet for all to see forever. Future generations will have a vast photo-record of our great people and may perhaps lose the wonder of standing in front of a painting and feeling the mystery of the person staring back. I love photographs as much as the next person, but in documenting every nanosecond of our lives, we might have lost something and deprived future generations of the sense of mystery or wonder of standing in front of a portrait.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

There's Magic in a Kiss

Close your eyes and imagine the perfect kiss. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Got the picture set in your mind? Good. Believe it or not a kiss requires 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles. The facial muscles are a given but postural? I’m serious. 112 muscles that relate to your posture are also involved. Of all these 11 muscles the most important is the orbicularis oris muscle, which is used to pucker your very sensitive lips. It’s your kissing muscle. We’re not talking about French kissing where your tongue, also a muscle, is the primary player. I’ll save that for another blog.

Kissing has many health benefits. Affection in general has stress-reducing effects. Kissing in particular reduces stress which increases relationship satisfaction and lowers cholesterol. And it doesn’t stop there. Kissing can also encourage the release epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline and noradrenaline) into the blood which will cause an adrenaline rush and increased cardiovascular activity. That’s why when you kiss that certain someone your heart races off. See, it’s magic.
There are also a lot of different types of kisses: 
  • Romantic Kisses are an important expression of love and erotic emotions. This kiss is not only about lips touching lips. This kiss requires some intimacy.
  • Affectionate Kisses express feelings closeness without the erotic element and symbolize loyalty, gratitude, compassion, sympathy, intense joy, and profound sorrow. 
  • Ritual Kisses are formal, symbolic or indicate devotion, and respect. We see this type of kiss in the wedding ceremony when the bride and groom kiss. We also see this type of kiss when national leaders meet. 
  • Kiss of Peace demonstrates deep spiritual devotion. It was used in the early Catholic Church and also in secular festivities. In the Middle Ages the kiss of peace sealed the agreement with enemies. Even knights kissed each other before they went into combat-a way of forgiving each other all their wrongs.   
  • Kiss of Respect was reverent and has an ancient origin. This kiss represents a mark of fealty, humility and reverence. The kiss on the forehead considered a ‘kiss of homage’ showed utmost respect. 
  • Kiss of Friendship is used in America and Europe as a greeting between friends. Once only between women, today it is not uncommon to see a man kiss in greeting.

Ancient cultures threw kisses to the sun and to the moon, as well as to the images of the gods. Persians were the first to kiss the hand. Here are some different kinds of kisses from various cultures. 

  • In Ancient Rome and some modern Pagan beliefs, worshipers, when passing the statue or image of a god or goddess, will kiss their hand and wave it towards the deity. 
  • The holy kiss or kiss of peace is a traditional part of most Christian liturgies, though often replaced with an embrace or handshake today in Western cultures. 
  • In the gospels of Matthew and Mark, not Luke or John, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. This is the basis of the term "the kiss of Judas". 
  • Catholics will kiss rosary beads as a part of prayer, or kiss their hand after making the sign of the cross. It is also common to kiss the wounds on a crucifix, or any other image of Christ's Passion. 
  • Pope John Paul II would kiss the ground on arrival in a new country. 
  • Visitors to the Pope traditionally kiss his foot. 
  • Catholics traditionally kiss the ring of a cardinal or bishop.
  • Catholics traditionally kiss the hand of a priest. 
  • Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians often kiss the icons around the church on entering; they will also kiss the cross and/or the priest's hand in certain other customs in the Church, such as confession or receiving a blessing. 
  • Hindus sometimes kiss the floor of a temple.
  • Local lore in Ireland suggests that kissing the Blarney Stone will bring the gift of the gab.
  • Jews will kiss the Western wall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and other religious articles during prayer such as the Torah, usually by touching their hand, prayer shawl, or prayer book to the Torah and then kissing it. Jewish law prohibits kissing members of the opposite sex, except for spouses and certain close relatives. 
  • Muslims may kiss the Black Stone during Hajj-their pilgrimage to Mecca. 
This is all very nice but dare you tell me what type of kiss you really like best?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Courtesy Titles, Part 1

Both of the protagonists of my little series on titles and forms of address are younger sons--Lord Peter is the second son of a duke, Wellington the third son of an earl. And younger sons make useful protagonists for fiction. Eldest sons of peers, destined to assume their father's titles, have careers in estate management and the House of Lords marked out for them by accident of birth. While an aristocrat's younger son is backed by his family's influence and support, he has a wider range of professions open to him, a certain freedom the head of his family lacks.

So they're great to write about. But the rules for what to call them (and their sisters) can be a little tricky.  You must learn the ways of the courtesy title.

A courtesy title is given to certain close relatives of a peer. They remain legally commoners, lacking such perks as a seat in the House of Lords, but they're addressed as lord or guessed a courtesy. We'll hold off on the special courtesy titles given to eldest living sons of peers for the time being, revisiting them when we meet Lord Peter's nephew and Wellington acquires a peerage and a son. Today we'll concentrate on daughters and younger sons.

All daughters and younger sons of dukes or marquesses (the two highest ranks of the peerage) are addressed as Lord or Lady Firstname. Therefore, as the second son of the Duke of Denver, Peter Wimsey is Lord Peter or Lord Peter Wimsey. He is NEVER Lord Wimsey. The "Lord" goes by the first name. Also, any man who is NOT the younger son of a duke or marquess is NEVER Lord Firstname. That's probably the most common error I see in fiction, calling John Biscuit, the Earl of Pastry, Lord John instead of Lord Pastry. That's wrong. WRONG. Don't do it. Daughters follow the same pattern, so Lord Peter's sister is Lady Mary Wimsey. (NOT Lady Wimsey.)

So, in a way, you're always on a first name basis with daughters and younger sons of dukes. You show that someone is intimate with your character by dropping the Lord or Lady. There's a nice bit in Dorothy Sayers' wonderful Gaudy Night where Harriet Vane, Lord Peter's eventual wife, calls him Lord Peter in front of others as they're solving a mystery together even though she's called him, and thought of him, as just Peter for ages. Ever polite, he matches her by calling her Miss Vane throughout the scene.

Earls' children are tricky. The daughters bear the courtesy title of Lady, just like dukes' and marquesses' daughters, but the younger sons do not bear the title of Lord. So Wellington, as a younger son of the Earl of Mornington, was NOT addressed as Lord Arthur before he started accumulating titles of his own. His sister, however, WAS Lady Anne. I don't know how this quirk got into the system, but that's the rule. In everyday speech younger sons of earls are just plain Misters, but they too have a courtesy title of sorts--"the Honorable." So, should you find yourself flung back in time and needing to talk to Wellington as a very young man, before he became an officer, call him Mr. Wesley (NOT Wellesley--the family changed their name around the time he started his rise in the world, and I'll discuss how easy it was to change your name in a future post), or Mr. Arthur Wesley if you need to distinguish him from his brothers. The Honorable only comes into play if you need to address a letter or otherwise make formal written reference to him. Then he's The Honorable Arthur Wesley (often abbreviated to Hon.).

Got that? Good. If your characters are the children of the two lower ranks of the peerage (viscounts and barons), sons and daughters are both Honorables. Simple. It's just earls who are confusing.

Stay tuned next month for what to call these younger sons and daughters and their spouses after marriage. Then we'll start to trace Wellington's rise with a post about knighthoods, and maybe I'll fit in that digression about name changes. Beyond that, we still have plenty of ground to cover.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year's Eve Regency Style

I would imagine that the elite of Regency society would celebrate the new year at their country estates, entertaining family and friends. As well as the usual card games, presumably there would be parlour games, too.

These are some of the antics that might have raised chaperones’ eyebrows.

Snapdragon involved placing raisins in a bowl of heated sherry and then setting on fire. The idea was to pluck the raisins out and eat them without getting burned. I can’t help wondering why!

Bouts-Rimees or Wit required participants to come up with impromptu rhymes. There was a list of rhyming words supplied and each player had to make up a verse to go with the words.

Charades has stood the test of time and requires no explanation.

I remember playing Blind Man’s Bluff as a kid myself, so that one’s endured, too. One member of the party is blind-folded and a member of the opposite sex sits on a chair. The blindfolded person used his or her hands to touch and feel the other person, trying to guess their identity. This is where I imagine the chaperones reaching for the smelling salts!

Le Baiser à la Capucine was a French kissing game. I assume that refers to the country of its origin and not the type of kiss delivered!

In party situations that old favourite Chess was sometimes livened up by playing for articles of clothing rather than money!

Anyone know of other games?
Happy New Year to you all.