Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Eighteenth-Century Writer

I've been reading John Brewer's comprehensive and insightful review of eighteenth century cultural life for the past week: The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. As I was reading the chapter entitled "Authors, Publishers and Literature Culture," I was struck by the similarities to the publishing culture of the 21st century. Celebrities such as aristocrats had a much easier time getting published (think of the numerous celebrities today receiving book contracts), though unlike today's celebrity authors, the 18th century celebrity author shunned monetary compensation (Brewer 145). Writers such as Samuel Richardson and Jane Austen struggled to get into print. In fact, as I was re-reading the Broadview edition of Northanger Abbey, I was appalled at the terse communication she received from Crosby & Co., the first publishing house she submitted her manuscript to (I remember hearing this story in a Jane Austen course years ago and even then thinking it was very shabbily done). Crosby & Co. paid 10 pounds for the manuscript but then declined to publish it, and when Austen announced her intent to market her work elsewhere, they replied "there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it. Should you or any one else we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it" (cited in Claire Grogan's Appendix A of Northanger Abbey).

Much like self-published authors today, writers such as Samuel Johnson had to get creative to make it in the restrictive publishing world of the eighteenth century. Johnson was both a printer and a publisher, and he used these avenues to have his first novel published (Brewer 125-27). The following line will also sound familiar to authors pursuing publication in this modern age: "The world of eighteenth-century publishing is best understood as an expanding maze or labyrinth, and it offered the potential author many entrances and numerous routes to eventual publication, each full of hazards, pitfalls and dead ends" (Brewer 140). The booksellers had  a monopoly on the marketplace, and writers such as Oliver Goldsmith labored long and hard to succeed and achieve publication. As Brewer wryly remarks, when writers applied to booksellers to publish their works, "the author's reception was rarely warm, occasionally tepid and often cold" (Brewer 155). Eighteenth century authors pursued two strategies, both of which could be helpful today. First, they could make sure to target a publisher they knew was interested in their subject matter (Brewer 156). Second, they could seek the help of  published author, whose connections could help the aspiring writer (Brewer 158).

One thing that Brewer mentions and that I wish still existed in the 21st century is the literary salon. The opportunity to socialize with other writers and to discuss politics, literature, society, etc. must have been incredibly stimulating. Although writer's conferences do reproduce this experience to an extent, they can be expensive to attend; in most cases, it's difficult to find active groups of writers in some communities, so I would champion the introduction of salons.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Regency Fashion: Walking Dresses

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Victoria & Albert Museum has a wonderful collection of fashion plates available. This print was originally published in the June 1808 edition of La Belle Assemblee. The description provided is as follows: "Engraving with hand-colouring, showing three women in white high-waisted dresses walking together. The woman in the foreground wears yellow gloves and shoes, and has a fob hanging from her waist, and is wearing a flat straw hat tied on with a yellow scarf with a face veil. She holds a blue parasol by its ferule with the cover at the top. To the left is a woman in a puce spencer jacket with military-style braid details and matching puce turban, carrying a green parasol or reticule. To the right is a woman wearing a pale blue short-sleeved coat with a wrap front and short, cutaway skirt over her white dress. She wears elbow length white gloves, a straw hat and a long yellow scarf."

The slim lines of the dresses accentuate the women's movements, which were governed by strict rules of etiquette. Promenading in public parks- dressed in the latest fashions, of course- was a  popular pastime during the Regency era.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Elizabeth Hancock

A few years ago, I took a graduate seminar on Jane Austen's novels. As I was reading several biographies of her life, one family member, in particular, stood out: Elizabeth Hancock.

Elizabeth Hancock was a key figure in Jane Austen's life. Born in 1761, she was one of Austen's favorite (and certainly most glamorous) cousins. Over the past ten years, Elizabeth has gained more recognition as Deirdre le Faye published a biography of her in 2002. In 2010, Jill Pitkeathley published a fictional account of Elizabeth's life, entitled Dearest Cousin Jane. Claire Tomalin also devotes a number of pages to Elizabeth and her mother, Philadelphia, in Jane Austen: A Life (I highly recommend this book, which will appeal both to scholars and casual readers).

From the beginning of her life, Eliza, as she was known by her family, was associated with controversy. Some debate rages over whether Eliza was the product of an adulterous relationship between her mother and Warren Hastings, her godfather. In 1779, Eliza married the French count Jean-Francois Capot de Feuillide. Eliza was able to escape France before the worst atrocities of the French Revolution emerged, but her husband was not so lucky and was guillotined in 1794.

Eliza and her mother settled in England during the mid 1790s, and Eliza ultimately married Jane's brother, Henry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

On Friday, I was shocked to learn of the violation of the Duchess's privacy. Yes, Duchess Catherine is a member of the royal family, and yes, she is in an incredibly privileged position. However, every human being deserves privacy during intimate moments, and the photographer's actions were a gross violation of the duke and duchess's private space. I have always admired the Duchess's grace and dignity, especially in a world dominated by crass and glitzy media figures such as Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, and like much of the world, was thrilled to watch her fairy tale wedding last year (it seemed like something out of a Regency novel). She and her prince conduct their lives with decorum, and the actions of the magazines in France, Italy, and Ireland, where the photos are now published, are inexcusable.

 The French editor's protest that "the photos are not in the least shocking" seems weak, and even more offensive is the Irish Daily Star's editor's comments: "The duchess would be no different to any other celeb pics we would get in, for example Rihanna or Lady Gaga."Actually, sir, she is different. Rihanna and Lady Gaga crave the media spotlight and deliberately wear provocative outfits to titillate their audiences. Duchess Catherine, in great contrast, works hard to maintain some measure of privacy as she enjoys newlywed life, and her outfits reflect a tasteful and conservative style. Moreover, she was staying in a private residence when the photos were taken; how many of us would appreciate having cameras spying on us if we were vacationing with our families in a secluded location? Now, if she and the prince were frolicking on one of the public beaches in France, that would be an entirely different matter, but they were taking a break from the media frenzy usually surrounding them and enjoying a private time between husband and wife, and the photographer deliberately invaded that privacy.

I just saw the Chi editor's comments, and I am amazed at the ignorance expressed in his statement: ""Chi pays attention to respecting people's dignity. I don't think they hurt Kate's image." Oh, really? If it were your wife or mother or daughter being displayed on the pages of your magazine, you would still think their dignity is intact? Especially if the photos were taken without those women's consent? And that is the most disturbing element to me: these photos feel like a violation of not only privacy but also of the duchess's body.

I dislike dwelling on such a distasteful topic, so I'm ending this post with a picture of happier times. I hope the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge find some comfort in their happy memories of their wedding and of their life together.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bed and Breakfast: Sweetwater Branch Inn

Whenever I visit Gainesville, FL, I always stay at the Sweetwater Branch Inn, a bed and breakfast housed in a two beautiful Victorian buildings. Over the past ten years, I've had the pleasure of staying in most of the rooms and cottages on the property, and I recommend any of the rooms, though two I especially like are the Blue Moon Room, which is small and cozy and boasts a snug reading nook, and the cheerful Piccadilly Room, with its view of the fountain and garden outside.

My favorite room, though, is the Isadora, which is in the McKenzie Home's attic. The room boasts a separate sitting room with a window seat, so you can daydream as you look down from your turret-room.

The grounds are beautifully maintained, and you can find many peaceful places to sit and enjoy your favorite cup of tea.

Bonus: If you have time, you should visit the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History and observe the variety of butterflies and subtropical plants.

Monday, July 30, 2012

For Writers: Club 100

I first heard about Club 100 through Beth Pattillo's website; Pattillo runs a Yahoo Group to encourage writers who decide to take the Club 100 challenge. Created by Avis Hester, Club 100 has writers commit to writing a minimum of 100 words for 100 days. For writers with challenging schedules, and for those who just can't commit to an enormous challenge such as NaNoWriMo, Club 100 provides a low-pressure way to immerse oneself in writing.

Douglas Cootey has issued a 100 Words a Day Challenge, and you can find badges like the one below at his website. Like Cootey, I find the whole NaNoWriMo overwhelming; as an educator, I dislike that it falls during the busiest part of the semester, when I'm usually buried under piles of student essays. Selfishly, I often wish they would move the entire challenge to the summertime, when I have a break from grading demands. For now, I'm happy that writers such as Pattillo, Cootey, and Debbie Ohi (see my post on her word count challenge below) provide alternatives for writers.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Florida Roses

Aside from writing, reading, researching, taking tea with friends, drawing, and crocheting, I also enjoy gardening and find it a very relaxing activity. In that spirit, I wanted to share some of my favorite images from my little garden.

I find it soothing to work with my roses, as prickly as they may be, and to watch them thrive in the south Florida weather.

I hope you find pleasure in these images and have a beautiful day!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Historical Novel Society

After following them on Twitter and visiting the website a number of times, I decided to join the Historical Novel Society (HNS) today. I like that HNS appeals to both writers and readers, and they have a wealth of resources available on their website. Some of my favorite historical authors include Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory, Karen Harper, Diane Haeger, Kate Quinn, and Margaret George, along with a number of historical romance authors, such as Loretta Chase, Julia Quinn, and Elizabeth Hoyt, and I look forward to joining a community of like-minded readers and writers.

What I like most about HNS:

  1. Extensive reviews:  HNS provides over 3200 reviews, and I like how they provide a list of exemplary books, known as Editors' Choice books. Finally, I commend HNS for including books from indie publishers; the publishing landscape has changed dramatically over the last 5 years, and authors now publish through a variety of venues.
  2. Historical guides: HNS provides guides to different eras of historical fiction and also provides a useful definition of the genre of historical fiction. I especially enjoyed the guides on King Arthur and on the Knights Templar.
  3. HNS Conference: HNS will hold its 5th North American Conference in St. Petersburg, FL, from June 21, 2013 to June 23, 2013. I looked at Jeri Westerson's commentary on the 2011 conference, which included readings by well-known authors and a fashion show, and decided I had to attend the next one.
As I participate with HNS over the next year, I will provide more updates. One more thing I like about HNS: they are incredibly efficient! I just registered an hour ago, and they already have my profile posted on the HNS page. Very impressive!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Creating a Synopsis

The good news is I've made a lot of progress with my story and am now looking forward to submitting it to a publisher. The bad news is that it's time to draft the wretched synopsis, a task most writers dread. Although I've published two stories before with the Wild Rose Press, and successfully employed the query and synopsis, this part of the publishing process never seems to get any easier. I've found it helps to break the task into sections. I have five chapters in my story, and as each section is edited and completed, I include it in the synopsis (hint: focus on major plot points, not descriptive details, in your synopsis).

In the past, I've found Charlotte Dillon's website for writers to be one of the most helpful guides in writing a synopsis. Right now, I'm working with her "Writing a Synopsis" page, and though some of the links are broken, she still has a lot of information available. For instance, her "Synopsis Samples" page includes a variety of examples from published authors who generously agreed to share their synopses. I found Lucinda Betts' example especially useful, since it shows how to write an effective one-page synopsis.

I find that looking at examples of other writers' successful synopses is inspiring, so now I'm returning to crafting my own. Happy writing!

Monday, June 25, 2012

19th Century Women's Dress

Three (Affordable) Resources for Learning About Women's Fashions in the Regency Era:
When I first began researching women's dress of the Regency era, I looked up lists of books on the topic, only to find many of these resources were out of my price range. Hence, the list below for budding researchers who don't want to exceed their budgets.

1.Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen  is probably one of the most affordable books on this list. Although it is relatively brief, just 63 pages, Sarah Jane Downing includes numerous images to enhance the reader's understanding of the intricacies of Regency women's dress.

2.The Art of Dress was one of the first books I used when I began researching the history of women's dress. Jane Ashelford, a respected historian, uses the National Trust's costume collection to provide a broad survey of four centuries of fashion. The book contains a  treasure trove of images and includes information on different styles and materials.

3. Elizabeth Ewing's Dress and Undress  is essential if you wish to acquire a full understanding of the typical Regency woman's use of clothes. Ewing provides fascinating accounts of nineteenth century "bust improvers" and details on specific enhancement such as the divorce corset. This book will definitely assist romance writers and interest nineteenth century researchers in general.

Bonus Resource: The Regency Fashion Page
 Cathy Decker's website provides hundreds of images for the serious researcher. I especially enjoy Decker's Regency Style Year-by-Year page, which is helpful for writers with a specific date in mind.