From The Angel Out of the House, discussing Sarah Scott’s 1762 novel Millenium Hall, about a charity-working proto-commune for unmarried gentlewomen:
“What the narrator first notices about the ladies’ schools is that the pupils are ‘perfectly clean’ and always busy. The narrator uses the word ‘clean’ every time he brings up the subject of the poor who are served by Millenium Hall. This preoccupation with cleanliness–an ‘article of unspeakable Moment,’ as one charity sermon put it–is a key element in the philanthropic goals of restoring both the health and morals of the nation’s working population. If the poor are clean, they are understood to be deserving, and the charity bestowed on them can be expected to achieve its desired goal.”
Reading this book and its descriptions of women’s charitable work was pretty upsetting. Charity work and activism was one of the few socially acceptable substantive outlets for women’s energy (I’d say profession, except that these women usually didn’t get paid). This was important work that needed to be done, and no one else was doing it. And yet (this is so painfully familiar) it’s often really a way of getting power for upper- and middle-class women at the expense of poor people (and that’s not even getting into all the messed-up stuff in the Abolitionist movement). Look at this:
“Along with the implied power that philanthropy gives to the benefactor in [Hannah] More’s vision of an ideally functioning society comes the right and responsibility of the philanthropic woman to superintend those she relieves. Philanthropy creates an unrepayable obligation; it also affords the upper-class woman the right to supervise the household of the poor. One of Lucilla’s [from Coelebs in Search of a Wife] philanthropic projects, for example, involves her orchard and garden. When one of the servants or a girl from the charity school marries–’provided they have conducted themselves well, and made a prudent choice’–Lucilla ‘presents their little empty garden with a dozen young apple trees, and few trees of other sorts, never forgetting to embellish their little court with roses and honeysuckles.’ This, recollects Charles, explains the ‘many young orchards and flourishing cottage gardens’ in the village that ‘embellish poverty itself,’ rendering it pleasing to the eye of the tasteful rich. Besides nourishing their aesthetic sense, these flowers, although transplanted to the gardens of the poor, still evidently belong to the rich–another characteristic of a gift exchange economy. Charles cuts a bouquet of roses for Lucilla from the bush outside the cottage of one of ‘her poor’ without even mentioning it to the inhabitants of the cottage present in the room.”
Something about that moment of cutting the roses without asking is just so chilling, it turns my stomach. One of the ongoing struggles of writing historical romance is the politics of accuracy (which is not to say that classism is a thing that only existed in the past, or anything!). On the one hand, writing a heroine who behaves like Lucilla is gross and offensive. On the other hand, writing an upper-class heroine who is so amazing she does charity in a way miraculously free of problematic attitudes that were completely entrenched in the British society of her time has the potential to be equally gross and offensive, by erasing the experiences of Regency poor people. And my Lydia is from a staunchly Tory family which makes her not only conservative for our time, but conservative for hers.
My current strategy seems to be to greatly soften what I would consider “period-accurate” behavior–since I know I wouldn’t want to be reading a fun love story and suddenly have my stomach turned by classism (I can always go to Georgette Heyer for that…look, I love her, but every so often there’s just that worm in the apple, you know?)–while still giving Lydia hints of prejudice that are either questioned by Lydia herself, or undercut by the narration.
“Pin-and-girdle” and “prick-the-garter” are two names for the same game, in which a belt or long piece of cloth is doubled and then folded a number of times, then held in the swindler’s hand. The flat is given a pin and bets that he can stick the pin in the belt at the place where it was doubled. Of course, the game is rigged and he can’t. This game dates back a good long way. This game has many names and variations, but one of its earliest names was “fast and loose” (attested 1578, and using “fast” in the sense of “immobile, fixed” as in “stand fast”), which is where the idea of “playing fast and loose with” something or someone comes from!
Do I even need to say anything about this book? Or can I just link to the 2012 AllAboutRomance reader poll, in which this book won in SEVEN CATEGORIES?
I’ll just list those categories, shall I?
Best Historical Romance Not Set in the U.K.
Biggest Tearjerker (Tied with Eloisa James’s When Beauty Tamed the Beast)
Best Romance Hero
Best Romance Heroine
Most Kickass Heroine
Best Romance Couple
So there you have it. Personally, I imagine it had to be a close-run thing in Best Love Scenes too. That one with the tree in the rain…let’s just say I remember it very vividly.
It also won a RITA.
I can see that I was equally tongue-tied in my goodreads review, which reads simply “★★★★★ It was wonderful to see more of Justine and Adrian. I love these characters so much, and they love each other so much, and <333! I've been waiting for this book a long time, and it was worth it!" Yeah, that about sums it up.
He is her lover.
He is her only hope.
Someone is stalking agent Justine DeCabrillac through London’s gray streets. Under cover of the rain, the assassin strikes–and Justine staggers to the door of the one man who can save her. The man she once loved. The man she hated. Adrian Hawkhurst.
Adrian wanted the treacherous beauty known as “Owl” back in his bed, but not wounded and clinging to life. Now, as he helps her heal, the two must learn to trust each other to confront the hidden menace that’s trying to kill them–and survive long enough to explore the passion simmering between them once again…
If you haven’t read a book by Joanna Bourne yet, I’d actually recommend starting at the beginning–but enter this contest anyway because you’ll get through the first three in a week and then you’ll want this one!
Just comment on this post to enter, and make sure you enter your e-mail address on the comment form–it won’t show up to other commenters, but I’ll get it and then I can easily notify you of your win. As always, if you want to be alerted when a new contest goes up, I recommend signing up for my newsletter.
NB: this is a copy I got signed at the RWA National Conference. Ms. Bourne isn’t involved in the giveaway and the book isn’t personalized. So if you want to tell her how much you loved her book, this isn’t the place. That would be her website. (But this IS the place to tell ME how much you loved it!)
Another one from The Angel out of the House:
“Sensibility posed a dilemma for men, claims Barker-Benfield [in The Culture of Sensibility], because they were caught between an older definition of manhood characterized by disorder and violence and a newer version that was more ‘decent’ but also less discernable from what was defined as ‘feminine.’ Barker-Benfield implies that men’s participation in philanthropic associations was one way to reconcile this dilemma. By joining together to raise subscriptions for charitable purposes, men of business could distinguish themselves from an older corrupt male culture, demonstrate their sympathy and public spirit, and bond together with other men of sympathy in groups that resembled old-styled clubs without duplicating the perceived excesses of such male assemblies; in addition, participating in philanthropic associations could be an effective way of making business contacts or of establishing a reputation that would enhance a man’s business affairs. Thus joining philanthropic causes was a suitably masculine way for a man to exhibit his sympathetic nature. Barker-Benfield’s contention that participation in philanthropic institutions could resolve men’s difficulties with being both sympathetic and masculine helps to explain why women were largely excluded from such participation throughout much of the eighteenth century, despite their traditional association with sympathy and charity.”
…And, of course, men were more likely to have ready access to the money needed for financial contributions to charity. Elliott goes on to say:
“The historian Donna T. Andrew does note the names of many women on subscription lists ["subscription" being the contemporary word for a charitable donation] and identifies the charities to which they were most likely to contribute. Published philanthropic writings, especially charity sermons, provide further evidence of eighteenth-century women’s participation in philanthropy by explicitly addressing women and soliciting their donations. Focusing primarily on women’s financial contributions to philanthropic institutions, however, tends to obscure the kind of charitable contribution that consisted of time and personal energy rather than money. This less historically visible kind of charity, as Andrew mentions, became more and more significant to society’s understanding of philanthropy as the century progressed–and it was also the kind of charity that women had been practicing for centuries.”
New History Hoydens post up about Regency greenhouses (and their suitability as a location for a wintertime rendezvous)!
Another quote from The Angel out of the House (p. 40):
“The figure of the ‘old maid’ attracted such opprobrium because, like the poor, she was both too dependent and too independent. Without adequate economic resources, unmarried women of almost all classes could drain the finances of their families or, in the case of spinsters of the lower classes, the parish ratepayers. If women were of age and not married, however, they were legally independent. Similarly, the laboring classes were also economically at risk and a burden because they were dependent on the resources of ‘their betters’; Ogle recognized that it was often the lot of the poor to ‘patiently submit to…Misery.’ As the poor seemed to become more numerous and more destitute than ever before, the problems of dealing with poverty became more troublesome and received more attention, as the concern devoted to reforming the poor laws suggests. The laboring classes were also, though, as another philanthropic writer worried, more independent than ever before; the English common people, writes Josiah Tucker, ‘having been growing up into Freedom for several Generations back, and are now become entirely independent, and Masters of themselves and their own Actions’–no longer subject to ‘discipline.’ Domestic ideology, however, made it possible to displace such concerns onto the figure of the ‘old maid’ or the prostitute, both of whose situations, like that of the poor, combined economic independence with a threatening legal independence.”
Oh, and I did a little art project I’m rather proud of–if you like Remington Steele and Iron Man, check it out. What if Pepper Potts was a private investigator with an imaginary boss and Tony Stark was a charming, neurotic con artist looking to make a change?
[Content warning: discussion of sexism and rape.]
Well, it’s been a while since I really posted anything here…I just got out of the habit while the blog was in maintenance, and now…I’m familiar with the phenomenon from my years on livejournal: the longer I don’t post, the more of a curious resistance I build up to posting. It’s partly that I start to feel like I can’t post unless I’ve got something really special to say, but mostly it’s just a mysterious reluctance that I can’t adequately explain.
HOWEVER I have been reading lots of great research books and have built up a huge backlog of interesting and/or funny quotes to share with you, and so, here is the first of them, from Dorice William Elliott’s The Angel out of the House: Philanthropy and Gender in Nineteenth-Century England
from an 1859 article in Fraser’s Magazine, titled “A Fear for the Future, That Women Will Cease to be Womanly,” talking about girls who are unsexed by their philanthropic work:
Any of my sons, I am quite sure, would as soon think of making love to Lord Brougham or the statue of Mr. Canning, as of uttering a word of anything sentimental to these ladies.
This is extra funny to me as I have a bit of a crush on Lord Brougham, a big-deal Whig politician and lawyer who, among other things, was Queen Caroline’s attorney at her adultery trial and made a two-full-day opening statement described by Thomas Denman as “one of the most powerful orations that ever proceeded from human lips,” by Charles Greville as the “most magnificent display of argument and oratory that has been heard in years[...E]ven his most violent opponents were struck with admiration and astonishment,” and by William Vizard as “one of the most magnificent speeches ever made in this or any other country.”
Henry Brougham, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, image courtesy of Wikipedia.
SUCH good eyebrows. And that nose! IJS probably that guy’s sons DID think equally of both but that doesn’t mean they weren’t thinking! The statue of Lord Canning would probably be more difficult. Hard to get to, for one thing. But it has an unquestionably alluring tilt to the hips, wouldn’t you say?
Photo by Runcorn at Wikipedia.
That “A Fear for the Future, That Women Will Cease to be Womanly,” gives me a thought about all those 60s and 70s science fiction stories about a dystopian future where people no longer have sex. Why on earth would society evolve to do away with sex?
It always struck me as a completely random cultural panic with no obvious cause–unlike, say, the fear of nuclear-radiation-caused monsters, the fear of a future run by powerful corporations, or the fear that machines will revolt and make war on their former masters, which all have a clear emotional logic. The best I could come up with was that it was some kind of fear of a return to 1950s repression…but that doesn’t quite mesh, does it? The dystopian futures portrayed rarely seem 50s-like (or Victorian, or puritanical, or religious, or…) at all: they’re far more likely to be ultra-sanitary minimalist monochrome futures with unisex-coverall-type fashion.
Yet despite its strangeness, it was such a popular trope that Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry parodied it in their “Crystal Cube” pilot.
Do you think it could actually be a disguised fear of feminism? The idea being that when men no longer have power over women, women will no longer be safe/passive sexual objects, and therefore will either no longer be attractive to men or will no longer be willing to “provide” sex for them?
It certainly brings the “necessary” rape in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” (one of the most famous of the genre, not insignificantly originally published in “Playboy”) into sudden sharp symbolic focus…
Wow. Eureka. Well, that’s just depressing.
New History Hoydens post up about stealing real events for my fictional characters.
I had a vague recollection of this anecdote…he ran out of ale, so he opened up his expensive French brandy? I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it, but I thought I might have posted it on my blog. After backreading for half an hour, I almost gave up. I don’t need the real anecdote, I thought. It’s fiction. Maybe I can improve on it, make it even better than the real thing.
Then I found the real thing. There is no improving on this. This is perfection. Unless it’s apocryphal and someone’s already improved on it! Who knows? Either way, I covet the glory of this anecdote for myself, and I will take it.
When the vote was based on a property qualification, women who owned qualifying property had an interest in the resulting vote!
It’s not known (yet) if women ever voted directly, but Chalus writes: “Derek Hirst’s work on the seventeenth century has revealed instances of women who believed that they had the right to vote in parliamentary elections, of candidates who tried to poll them, and of election officials who were ready to accept their votes…”
Exciting news!!! My agent and I just sold my next book, Sweet Disorder, to Anne Scott at Samhain!
Phoebe Sparks, writer of Improving Tales for children, has vowed never to marry again unless she’s sure it won’t turn into a bickering, resentful mess like her first marriage. The Honorable Nick Dymond has vowed never to get involved in his family’s politicking. But Nick’s mother couldn’t care less about their vows. Nick has moped long enough about his curtailed army career and new limp, and any local resident who marries Phoebe will be legally entitled to a vote in her small town’s upcoming Parliamentary election. So Nick’s mother packs him off to the country with strict instructions to marry Phoebe off to the first local supporter of their political party he can find. When disaster strikes Phoebe’s teenage sister, Phoebe is forced to consider selling her vote—and her hand—but as election intrigue grows darker, she has to admit that what she really wants is Nick.
Yay! I really love this book and I can’t wait to share it with everyone. (No release date yet, but it looks like it will be out sometime in early 2014.)
More details coming soon!
(If you haven’t been on the site before/in a while, my blog was hacked last fall and we’ve just got it up and running again. I’ve got lots of weird historical facts saved up so watch this space for that and a new contest!)