Monday, August 19, 2013

A Beauty or Not?

Beauty is, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder. Personal preferences guarantee that no matter how gorgeous a woman may be, she's bound to have her detractors. But whether beholders agree or not, both admirers and detractors should be able to recognize the same woman in a portrait and perhaps describe her in similar terms to a police sketch artist. That's why Fanny Crewe (later Lady Crewe) leaves me scratching my head. Was she a beauty or not?

She certainly had the reputation of a beauty. Born in 1748 to the diplomat Fulke Greville and his poetess wife, also named Frances, she married John Crewe, the son of a Cheshire landowner and MP, when she was 18. Crewe had been elected to Parliament the year before (with Fanny's help, he would go on to earn a barony in 1806, making her Lady Crewe), and Fanny quickly became the toast of Whig society. Quite literally the toast--after the politician Charles James Fox won the hotly contested Westminster election of 1784, a race in which Fanny had daringly canvassed for him, the Prince of Wales attended the victory party and raised his glass with the words, "True blue and Mrs. Crewe."

A popular hostess and enthusiastic campaigner, Fanny was the subject of three portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan dedicated his most famous work, The School for Scandal, to Fanny. Sheridan had a beautiful wife of his own (painted more than once by Gainsborough), but that didn't stop him from having an affair with Mrs. Crewe. Sheridan wrote in his dedication:

Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate--
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face--
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine...

Here's one of Reynolds's paintings of Fanny before her marriage, in which (as Miss Greville) she's portraying Hebe to her young brother's Cupid:

If my math is correct, Joshua Reynolds painted Fanny as Hebe when she was only thirteen.

She looks quite pretty, and capable of growing into the woman her friend Fanny Burney praised by saying she "uglified everything near her." She looks even lovelier in the painting Reynolds did some twelve or thirteen years later, when Fanny was a married woman in her mid-twenties (here reproduced in an etching):

Lady Crewe was the model for St. Genevieve in this painting by Reynolds.

On the other hand, author Amanda Foreman writes in The Duchess, a biography of Fanny's contemporary Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, that Lady Douglas described Fanny as "very fat with a considerable quantity of down about her mouth." She does look a bit plump, albeit pleasingly so, in this caricature of 1784, in which she's shown canvassing for Charles James Fox:

"The Devonshire, or the Most Approved Method of Securing Votes" by Thomas Rowlandson. Lady Crewe is on the left, saying "Huzza - Fox for ever"; the woman on the right is Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Then there's this portrait by Thomas Lawrence. It may just be the lighting, but she does seem to have a faint mustache:

Thomas Lawrence painted Lady Crewe circa 1810.

The painting that really makes me wonder, however, is this portrait by Gainsborough:

Does this even look the least bit like the same woman from the Rowlandson caricature?

There's no sign of either fat or down in the painting, but I wouldn't call the subject a great beauty, either.

Which brings me to the point: I'm convinced Fanny Crewe's beauty was the kind best appreciated in person, because in addition to being an energetic hostess, she was also an intelligent and lively conversationalist. Her admirers included not just Fox, Sheridan, Burney and Reynolds, but also the philosopher Edmund Burke. Charles Arbuthnot called her "amazingly well-informed."

At a time when women held no direct political power, Frances, Lady Crewe was friend and counselor to the great. And I suspect it's due to that intelligence and energy, and not just due to her changeable looks, that she was so ardently admired.

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's upcoming regency romance, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released on September 23. It will join her current release, Lord of Secrets, and her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If at first you don't succeed, do some more research.

Anyone who writes historical romance novels knows how much research goes into developing and creating a story. Since I'm a voracious nonfiction history reader, this is one of my favorite parts of the process, but it can be tough. History in broad strokes is easy to discover. It’s the small details of daily life that can be elusive. Sometimes I can find the details, other times I have to take some artistic license based on my knowledge of the period. Then there are times when, despite my research and my careful fact checking, I still manage to get it wrong

I was recently editing my latest regency manuscript, and double checking my facts when I discovered I'd made not one, but many mistakes. I'd read a sentence and something about it wouldn't seem right. Off to the internet or a research book I'd go, only to find out I was incorrect. Then I’d ask myself, “How did I miss this during the umpteen times I’ve read this story?” or “I know I looked this up before. How did I get it so wrong?”

1776Since catching mistakes and making changes is part of the editing process, I can’t be too hard on myself. Also, after listening to an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian David McCullough, I know I’m not alone. When asked about his research methods, he admitted that he continues researching right through the copyediting process. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard this. If a noted historian of his stature can keep researching until the last minute, then so can I. After all, in the end it doesn’t matter when you get it right, as long as you do. 

Interested in seeing how my research is incorporated into my stories? Then check out my Regency novella Hero's Redemption, now available from Carina Press. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Double, double, toil and trouble…

… Fire burn and brimstone bubble. Witches and witchcraft date back through the ages to when people worshipped the Mother Earth or nature goddess. It was a time before traditional religion when the unexplained was called magical and people with unique talents were special.  The Old Religion which existed since the Stone Age was far from evil. These people were connected with the seasons, the plants, the animals and the planet and sought a balanced life. These special people were seers, knowers, healers, and averters of evil.

Over the centuries the nature goddess was replaced by more traditional religions and practices. The word witch only took on a negative meaning with the coming of Christianity, which taught that all the heathen gods were devils. And by association, anyone who clung to the old ways and the Old Religion was a devil worshipper.

The real roots of witchcraft and magic appear to come from the Celts, a diverse group of Iron Age tribal societies which flourished between about 700 BC and 100 AD in northern Europe.  The Celts were a brilliant and dynamic people, gifted artists, musicians, storytellers, and metalworkers, as well as expert farmers and fierce warriors much feared by the Romans.

They were also a deeply spiritual people and believed in the many gods associated with Mother Earth, the Divine Creator.  By about 350 BC, a priestly class known as the Druids had developed. They became the priests of the Celtic religion as well as teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, midwives and bards.

The religious beliefs and practices of the Celts, their love for the land, and their reverence of trees (the oak in particular) grew into what later became known as Paganism. Blended over several centuries with the beliefs and rituals of other societies, practices such as concocting potions and ointments, casting spells and performing works of magic, all of which (along with many of the nature-based beliefs held by the Celts and other groups) developed and became known as witchcraft in the Medieval Period.

There are many types of witches. The witchcraft of the Picts, the early inhabitant of what is now the Scottish Highlights, goes far back and differs from all the other types of witchcraft in Europe. This is Old Scotland and its history and legends are filled with stories of magickal workings, spells and charms. There are charms performed to increase farm production and to ensure a favorable wind for fishermen. Some seamen walked around a large monolith stone seven times to encourage a good trip/catch. Other people created charms such as the woodbine wreath. They would cut down woodbine (a form of honeysuckle) in March during the waxing moon (anytime between the new moon and full moon) and twist the boughs into large wreaths. They kept the wreath for a year and a day. Young children suffering from a fever would be passed through the wreath three times to be cured.  

Old superstitions have a strong hold on people. There are hints of the 'old ways' even today. Some in Scotland carry a lucky penny or 'peighinn pisich' that they turn over three times at the first glimpse of a full moon.

There are many cases of Witchcraft throughout Scottish history, demonstrating the zeal of the Protestants and Catholics alike, in their paranoia over possible "servants of the devil." The vast majority of Scottish Witches practiced as Solitaries (alone without a coven), only occasionally coming together for special celebrations.

Witchcraft was first made legally punishable, in Scotland, by an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament, in 1563 during the reign of Mary. Witch hunts swept through Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and were fed by a mixture of superstition, religious fever, political motivation and general suspicion. No one was safe, not the peasant not the nobleman. Storms, diseases, and misfortunes had to be blamed on something or someone—witches were an easy target. 

Types of witches:
Kitchen Witch: Practices by home and hearth, mainly dealing with practical sides of the religion, magick, the elements, and the earth.
Ceremonial Witchcraft: Mainly use ceremonial magick in their practices such as Kabbalistic magick or Egyptian magick.
Satanic Witch: This doesn't exist. Why? Contrary to the witch hunts of Europe and America, witches don't believe in Satan.
Celtic Wicca: Believe in the elements, the Ancient Ones, and nature. They are usually healers. They work with plants, stones, flowers, trees, the elemental people, the gnomes, and the fairies.
Eclectic Witch: These witches don’t follow a particular religion or tradition. They study and learn from many different systems and use what works best for them.
British Traditional Witch: A mix of Celtic and Gardenarian beliefs. They train through a degree process and the covens are usually co-ed.
Alexandrian Tradition: They are said to be modified Gardenarian.
Gardenarian Tradition: Follow a structure rooted in ceremony and practice. They aren't as vocal as others and have a fairly foundational set of customs.
Dianic Tradition: A compilation of many different traditions rolled into one. Their prime focus is the Goddess. It is the more feminist side of 'The Craft'.
Pictish Witchcraft: It's originally from Scotland and is a solitary form of The Craft. It is more magickal in nature than it is in religion.
Hereditary Witch: Someone who has been taught the 'Old Religion' through the generations of their family.
Caledonii Tradition: Also known as the Hecatine Tradition, it has its roots in Scotland.
Pow-Wow: Comes from South Central Pennsylvania and is a system based on a 400 year old Elite German magick. They concentrate on simple faith healing.
Solitary Witch: Any witch who practices alone, without a coven.

Strega Witches: Originally from Italy this group is known to be the smallest group in the US. It is said their craft is wise and beautiful.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

A beginner's bibliography of the Napoleonic Wars

While at RWA in Atlanta last month, I gave a talk titled "Beyond Trafalgar and Waterloo: Your Hero's Military History." at the Beau Monde Regency Special Interest Chapter's mini-conference. My goal was to help writers go beyond the most obvious battles and tropes when writing a military hero. (Or heroine! One of these days I'm going to finish that manuscript with a young lady disguised as a boy in the navy.) In my handouts I included a list of what I think are some of the best sources for writers who'd like to write a Napoleonic-era military or naval hero but don't know where to begin.

It occurred to me that interest in such a list might go beyond the thirty or so people who were in the room that day, so here it is. This isn't even remotely intended as a comprehensive bibliography--just a good jumping-off point if you're a writer who'd like to add more richness to your military hero's backstory or a reader who enjoys romances with military heroes or books and movies like the Sharpe series and wants to learn more about the reality behind your favorite heroes. (Note that several of these books are out-of-print and sufficiently expensive that I've only included their buy links so you'll have all the info you need to track them down via interlibrary loan.)

Adkin, Mark. The Sharpe Companion: A Detailed Historicaland Military Guide to Bernard Cornwell’s Bestselling Series of Sharpe Novels. Designed as companion pieces for the Sharpe series, this book and the one above contain a wealth of detail about the lives and campaigns of British soldiers of the era.

Barbero, Alessandro. The Battle: A New History ofWaterloo. A page-turner of an introduction to the battle.

Brett-James, Antony. Life in Wellington’s Army. A book about every aspect of a soldier’s life but battle, this is a wonderful source for understanding how your hero would’ve lived while on campaign.

Burnham, Robert & Ron McGuigan. The British Armyagainst Napoleon: Facts, Lists, and Trivia 1805-1815. Something of an encyclopedia of the British army, full of useful details such as soldiers’ and officers’ pay, cost of commissions, rations, punishments for various offenses, casualty figures, etc.

Crumplin, Michael. Men of Steel: Surgery in theNapoleonic Wars. Want to write a surgeon hero, or have your hero wounded and in need of surgical care? This book is for you.

Elting, John. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Focused on the French, but it manages to be both encyclopedic and fascinating about what made an army of the era tick.

Foulkes, Nick. Dancing into Battle: A Social History of theBattle of Waterloo. Worthwhile for romance writers for its focus on the social and cultural milieu.

Haythornthwaite, Philip. Nelson’s Navy. A short, well-illustrated introduction to naval life.

Lieven, D.C.B. Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story ofthe Campaigns of War and Peace. Not directly relevant to an author focused on British characters, but a fascinating and thought-provoking view of all the major powers involved in the wars.

Longford, Elizabeth. Wellington: The Years of theSword. My favorite of the many Wellington biographies I’ve read.

Michael O’Meara Books Ltd. Ships’ Miscellany: A Guide tothe Royal Navy of Jack Aubrey. A good introductory source on the ships of the era and the life of a sailor.

Morgan, Matthew. Wellington’s Victories: A Guide to Sharpe’sArmy 1797-1815. Yes, another guide for readers of a fiction series, but they tend to make extremely useful and readable introductions.

Park, S.J. and G.F. Nafziger. The British Military: ItsSystem and Organization 1803-1815. Bernard Cornwell pointed me to this one when I met him at the Surrey Writers’ Conference a few years back. It tells you where every regiment was during the time frame covered—invaluable in finding a regimental home for your hero.

Whipple, A.B.C.  Fighting Sail. It’s a Time-Life book—which means it’s fairly detailed and full of illustrations, and it doesn’t expect you to come into the book with an expert’s knowledge. Focuses almost exclusively on Nelson’s life and campaigns.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Saving Grace

Hypocrisy, double-standards, call it what you like, but I know the Victorians weren’t quite as straitlaced as history leads us to believe. I was brought up on the Isle of Wight—literally five minutes in distance but a thousand miles away in terms of luxury—from Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s island retreat. Prince Albert, that bastion of Victorian morals, had a private bathroom there with one wall completely dedicated to a…well, pornographic mural!

I thought it would be fun to start a Victorian series based on a band of well-heeled Vigilantes, righting wrongs that might otherwise slip through the cracks. Doing researched I discovered that the largest diamond in the world, the Koh-i-Noor,  was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition was organised in part by Prince Albert, keen to show the world that Britain had the cutting edge when it came to modern technology.

Incidentally, the Great Exhibition, or Crystal Palace as it was more commonly known—a great feat of glass and steel engineering in its own right—was moved to South London, where I lived from many years. It burned down years later and I walked past the ruins every day with my dog, wondering what it must have been like—a building before its time in a rapidly changing world.

Anyway, the diamond in question was gifted to the Queen as Emperor of India, but ownership had always been hotly contested and the diamond is reputed to bring bad luck to any man who wore it. Needless to say, someone tried to steal it during the exhibition, as they do in my steamy novel, Saving Grace.

1851 The year of the Great Exhibition in England. The largest diamond in the world has been gifted to Queen Victoria. Plans are afoot to steal it and the Home Secretary calls in Jacob Morton, the Earl of Torbay, and his highly-trained band of vigilantes to prevent the theft causing a diplomatic incident.
Lady Eva Woodstock is trapped in a loveless marriage to the man behind the plot. Throwing in her lot with Jake and his compelling associate, Lord Isaac Arnold, her dormant passions are awoken beneath Isaac’s skilful hands. But she will never be free of her husband, nor will she gain custody of her daughter, Grace, unless she can find the courage to face up to William and beat him at his own game.
How far will a mother go to secure her child’s future and protect the man she loves…

Saving Grace by Wendy Soliman Just $1.99