Sunday, May 19, 2013

Boys in Dresses

19th c. boy with whip
Don't let the pink dress and frilly collar distract you from the important detail here: this child is wielding a whip.
Take a look at the picture on the right. It's a lovely painting of a child in a dress. A pink dress. And it's a painting of a boy.

How do we know it's a boy? Well, first of all, pink wasn't always considered a "feminine" color. Until the twentieth century, it was considered appropriate for boy babies to wear pink and girls to wear blue, though the convention was far from a hard and fast rule. But more than that, we can tell the child in the painting is a boy because he's holding that most masculine and authoritative of props, a whip.

Buy why paint him in a dress at all?

Until the custom died out in the 1920s, it was common to clothe all young children, both male and female, in dresses--though in the case of boys, the frocks were euphemistically referred to as "shortcoats." They were called shortcoats because newborns started out wearing very long dresses that extended past their feet. (Even today, traditional christening gowns often retain the style.) Once a baby was old enough to begin crawling and learning to walk, the extra-long gowns were shortened to a more manageable length. Putting babies in dresses made it easier to change them, especially at a time before snaps and velcro were in use. Dresses were also easier to sew and easier to alter as a child grew.

19th c. boy with hobbyhorse and whip
Despite the impressive balloon sleeves and white pantalettes, this is a boy, as his hobbyhorse and whip reveal.
Both boys and girls were dressed alike until the boys were old enough to be "breeched"--that is, graduated from shortcoats into actual breeches. It was an important rite of passage, reflected in historical phrases like "since before I was breeched" and "since I was in shortcoats" to mean a very early point in the speaker's life. It was up to a boy's mother to decide when he was breeched, and most did it when their sons grew out of the toddler stage, at around 3 to 5 years of age. Some mothers found it difficult to let go of their boys' babyhood, however, and it wasn't unheard of for boys to remain in dresses until age 7 or 8. (I suspect those boys would have had a difficult time on the playground.)

But even though boy babies and girl babies wore similar dresses, portraits are usually careful to provide hints as to the sitter's gender.
19th c. girl with Doll
The doll this child is holding tells us she's a girl.
The whip in the portrait at top right is a good example. Perhaps because the boy in the painting above left is wearing a more elaborate dress with romantic sleeves, his painter has even given him a hobbyhorse to go with his whip. Other props considered masculine included ships, toy guns, and toy swords.

Sometimes young girls were painted with longer hair, but that's by no means a reliable clue, since boys often wore long curls, and very young girls might have their hair cropped short for easier maintenance. Once again, props came to the portrait painter's rescue. We know the child in the portrait above right is a girl because she's holding a toy meant to nurture her domesticity and maternal instincts, namely a doll. 

The Basket of Cherries by E. W. Gill
The Basket of Cherries by E. W. Gill (1828) Skeleton suits were an alternative to shortcoats for boys. Hats are also a good indicator of a child's gender--the boy on the left has what looks like a top hat behind him, while the girl with the cherries has a straw bonnet.
There was one exception to the boys-in-dresses custom, and that was the skeleton suit. During the regency period--or more accurately, from about 1790 to 1830--it was common to dress young boys in a tight-fitting suit that consisted of a jacket buttoned to high-waisted trousers. In the painting to the left, it's easy to tell which children are boys and which is the girl. The boys are not only wearing skeleton suits, but have matching action-oriented toys, a hoop and stick for trundling. The boy in back even has a very masculine-looking hat upturned behind him. The child with the cherries is a girl. We know that not just because she isn't wearing a matching skeleton suit--she could be in shortcoats, after all--but because she has a lovely bonnet lying beside her, one that matches her sash and necklace. No wonder she's smiling.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's newest regency romance, Lord of Secrets,was released March 25 and is available now. If you like angst and "tortured" heroes, you should give it a look. It joins her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor, while her third, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released in September. She hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you relentlessly.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

They Would Rather Die

If you’re anything like me, a story has to hook me from the first.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a book, short story, stage performance, or screenplay.  If you get me emotionally invested within the first five minutes, I’ll endure anything.  As proof, I offer the fact that I watched the entire season of The Following based on the first two episodes, even though the story became somewhat cliché after. How many times can a crack FBI agent get hit in the back of the head? Apparently, many.
But I digress.  When I wrote Surrender to the Roman, I well understood the need for that emotional hook.  I have a hard time with openings, like many writers. I will spew back story and then cut away all the unnecessary drivel to find the place where the story actually starts.  My start for this novel wasn’t bad, per se, “But it could be better!” said my fantastic editor. I needed to make clear who was the hero and who was the villain. I needed readers to identify their conflict right off the bat…and thereby, buy in.
So I did a little more research. The story opens in 106 AD, during Trajan’s relentless pursuit of Dacia (and it’s mines of precious metals). Dacia had long been a thorn in the side of Rome, so when the final push came, something unusual happened. Mass suicide. Rather than give themselves over to punishment, the people would rather have died. While this didn’t lend itself to a big, adventurous opening, it did make for some high emotions and set the scene for conflict between one of Rome’s greatest (fictional) generals, and the man who coveted his place beside the emperor.
Here’s a bit of the scene:
The fog cleared as they thundered through the gap in defences. No warriors met them. Marcus jerked his reins, and his horse came to a skidding halt. Dirt flew into the air as those behind him did the same, shouts of consternation echoing in the distance.

He couldn’t believe his eyes. No bloodthirsty cries from men with weapons charged at them. Instead, hundreds of motionless bodies lay strewn across the ground like discarded refuse.

Marcus turned in a full circle. What in Hades had happened here? Tertullian arrived at his side, his face full of the same questions. “Halt the advance. Post the sentries forward.”

Marcus held up his hand. “There is no resistance here. Send the first centuria to sort the bodies.”

Tertullian turned to disseminate the orders while Marcus fought against the sights and smells of the field. Not far from every stiffened grasp, an empty cup or bowl. They had poisoned themselves rather than face their enemy or be enslaved. He spit bile onto the ground and refocused his mind.

Of all possibilities, he had not expected this. Everywhere he looked, women and children lay as they fell, doubled in pain, often wound together. Their glazed eyes turned to the heavens.

Where were the men? His gaze snapped forward, to the fortified residence of the royal family.

Cheers from the troops ripped his attention away. Near the fence, a knot of his men had gathered. He rode forward to investigate, picking his way through the carnage, trying not to look at the faces of the dead.

The soldiers fell away as he neared, clearing the way for him to view Tertullian disrobing a fallen woman with the point of his sword. His second’s face contorted with disgust as he proceeded, unaware that Marcus stood by, sickened in his own right.

“Put down your sword.” Marcus enunciated each syllable with great clarity.

Tertullian locked eyes with him and smiled. “As you wish.”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all our wonderful readers. In celebration of Mother's Day, I offer you some vintage images of mothers from advertising days gone by. Prepare to be amused, and horrified. 

They grew up so fast in the past.

In the days before drinking Pabst was ironic.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Lords (but not Dukes)

My apologies for being a day late with this post--my only excuse is that we've had sort of a mini heat wave here in Seattle. Yesterday our high was 87, tied with Phoenix for the hottest city in the country, and our house only has one room with air conditioning. That room isn't my I didn't go near my computer and therefore didn't see the reminder I was supposed to be blogging today.

Here's another post from my Of Wimseys and Wellesleys series on titles and forms of address in the British aristocracy, though for the next few months I'll take a break from the topic to talk about my upcoming release, A Dream Defiant.

Today we tackle how to address all lords--i.e. all peerages below the rank of duke.

My real life example for this series, Arthur Wellesley, was granted a viscountcy in 1809 after his victory at the Battle of Talavera. I don't know why he became a viscount rather than a baron (plenty of men were granted baronies for military and naval achievements during the era), but my guess it was some combination of the fact he was born to the aristocracy rather than the gentry, his family's good political connections, and that it was becoming evident by that point that he was a damn good general. :-) (I'm pretty sure I would've wanted to strangle Wellington on a regular basis if I'd known him for his political views and elitism, but AFAIC he was second to none on a battlefield.)

At the lower ranks of the peerage, a lord's title is often the same as his last name. John Smith becomes Baron Smith, addressed as Lord Smith. E.g. the other major British hero of the Napoleonic era was ennobled as Viscount Nelson. This wasn't an option in Wellesley's case because his oldest brother was Marquess Wellesley (we'll see more of him later when I get around to who can and can't inherit and how titles become extinct). Since Wellesley himself wasn't available to be consulted, being occupied fighting the French, the College of Heralds (who keep track of such things) consulted his brother William, who pulled out the map and found a town in Somerset called "Wellington," near where their ancestors came from before going to Ireland. At that point our hero became Viscount Wellington of Talavera and Wellington, and William wrote to say, "I trust that you will not think that there is anything unpleasant or trifling in the name of Wellington." To which the new Lord Wellington replied that he thought William had chosen most fortunately. His wife was less pleased, mentioning in her diary that "Wellington I do not like for it recalls nothing."

I describe the name selection process at such length because it'd feel so odd, to me at least, to have your name changed for you, as an adult, and to just have to live with it whether you liked it or not. William could've saddled his brother the goofiest name on the map, and there wouldn't have been much Wellington (or, in this version of things, Lord Catbrain or Lord Netherwallop or or Lord Hoo) could've done about it. OK, those probably wouldn't have flown with the College of Heralds, but STILL.

Anyway. I digress. Up until 1814, Wellington kept getting regular promotions, as it were, becoming the Earl of Wellington, the Marquess of Wellington, and finally the Duke of Wellington. Until he became a duke, the proper address for him didn't change. He was Lord Wellington, addressed as "Wellington" or "sir" by those who were more or less his social equals and as "my lord" by inferiors. He signed his letters "Wellington." His wife was Lady Wellington, and she signed herself "Catherine Wellington." "Wellesley" almost disappears as far as they're concerned. (Their children are a different story, and a post for another time.)

Incidentally, when a peer holds a military rank in addition to his title, you call them Rank Lord Title--i.e. General Lord Wellington, Admiral Lord Nelson.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Classless Society?

In these so-called enlightened times, do we life in a classless society? I don't think so. Even today when everything is so much more relaxed, there’s still very much a class system, especially in England. When Lord Lucan (allegedly) murdered his children’s nanny back in the seventies in mistake for his wife, he disappeared off the face of the earth, expounding endless conspiracy theories in the process. He couldn’t have done that alone, unless he did the honourable thing and topped himself. It’s widely believed that some members of his exclusive club banded together to help him because, yep, he was one of them. 

In Regency times the class system was most definitely alive and kicking. It didn’t matter if you didn’t have two farthings to rub together, just so long as you were born into the right family. Talk about the luck of the draw!

In my novel Forgotten Heiress I deal with this issue. Seventeen-year-old Eloise is attractive, intelligent, witty and has a massive dowry, so she'll be the darling of society, right?


Unfortunately Eloise just happens to be the daughter of a banker. Yep, they weren't considered socially acceptable even back then. Perhaps they knew something we didn't. Anyway, to make matters worse, Eloise is the banker's illegitimate daughter, which made her chances of being accepted by society zilch.

Eloise doesn’t care. She's quite content to remain in the country and look after her dad, ride her horse and play the piano. Then along comes the handsome heir to a dukedom, who lavishes attention on Eloise for no apparent reason. Neighbour Harry Benson-Smythe’s suspicions are aroused and he wonders what the devil the rogue thinks he’s playing at. When Eloise’s life is endangered at the hands of her aristocratic admirer, Harry rides to rescue the woman he’s fallen for. But he’s already engaged to someone else—someone socially acceptable in the eyes of his family—so even if he can save Eloise there can be no future for her and Harry, can there…

Forgotten Heiress

Let's hear it for this most unlikely of heroines.