NELSON (THE RASCAL)

One of the fun things about writing historical adventures is the opportunity it presents to have real historical figures interact with your fictional characters. In “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” I’ve included such notables as Talleyrand (Napoleon’s duplicitous but oh-so-effective Foreign Minister), Talleyrand’s sexually-liberated wife, Catherine (what a find she was!), William Pitt (the ex-Prime Minister and Darcy’s arch-enemy), William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (given the name ‘Fitzwilliam’ I couldn’t resist making him a relative of Darcy and, anyway, his Irish connections were very useful with regard to my plotting) and Horatio Nelson.

Laurence Olivier as Nelson
Laurence Olivier as Nelson (with eye-patch)

Nelson only makes a brief appearance (basically to explain how concerned everyone was in 1802 that Napoleon was set to invade England) but brief though it is I had to make sure I drew him correctly. In popular myth, Nelson is always associated with an eyepatch (this largely thanks to Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Nelson in 1941’s “That Hamilton Woman”) but it seems that though he lost the sight of his right eye from injuries sustained during the assault on Calvi in 1794 the eyeball was undamaged. Hence no eyepatch: (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/mar/07/arts.artsnews).

Emma Hamilton by George Romney
Emma Hamilton by George Romney

But it wasn’t only Nelson’s appearance about which I had to be careful. The books I’ve read (“Horatio Nelson” by Tom Pocock is a stand-out) don’t, in my modest opinion, make enough of the personal impact the adulation heaped on Nelson by an adoring public after his victories at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen (this is pre-Trafalgar, remember) had on the man. I think it went to his head a little. This, combined with him having quite an eye (sorry!) for the ladies would have made him something of a handful in mixed company (especially, as in my book, when Emma Hamilton wasn’t around).

Having said this I think the headline in The Metro of the 19th October – ‘Love-rat Nelson Banned Wife to Be with Mistress’ – a trifle excessive. Nelson’s marital arrangements and infidelities were pretty much par for the course in mid-Georgian England so the opprobrium he suffered at the hands of the beau monde (he was ‘cut’ by a sizeable number of them) was, I think, a consequence of their being envious about his popularity with the mob.

Still I have the feeling that when Nelson was confronted by a woman as attractive as Elizabeth Darcy, the result would be inevitable. This is the scene when Elizabeth and Nelson are using a telescope to study the invasion preparations the French are making in Boulogne harbor:

Nelson turned the telescope back over to Elizabeth but if anything stood even closer, his thigh now pressed hard against hers and a steadying hand placed – rather unnecessarily – on her back. Elizabeth found it difficult to concentrate on the invasion preparations being made in Boulogne when invasions of a more personal nature were being initiated in Dover.

‘Your husband’s intelligence tells us that the intention of the French is to excavate Boulogne’s tidal basin,’ Elizabeth heard Nelson saying. ‘They are doing this to increase the capacity in the port such that twelve hundred of Boney’s invasion barges can find a safe berth there.’

‘Twelve hundred … so many.’ Elizabeth had to suppress a squeak as Nelson’s hand inched lower. She was presented with something of a conundrum. Any other man paying her such attention would be sent packing with a flea in his ear but this was no ordinary man. This was Nelson, hero of the hour.

I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from http://doverhistorian.com/2015/03/21/packet-service-to-1854/
I could only find a picture of Dover harbour c. 1800, this one is from http://doverhistorian.com/2015/03/21/packet-service-to-1854/

‘Indeed, which is why Boney needs three days to execute his invasion,’ Nelson went on, his hand now only inches away from beginning its exploration of Elizabeth’s derrière. Elizabeth wondered what would have been her fate if Nelson had two hands with which to conduct his survey of her nether regions. ‘Only two hundred vessels can clear the harbor in a single tide therefore it will need six tides to get the whole fleet out to sea and en route for England. He will also need the most clement weather which is why I am convinced he will come at us in the summer.’

‘Yes,’ answered Elizabeth. ‘I am advised that coming at anything in the winter invariably leads to disaster.’

Nelson didn’t appear to understand the message Elizabeth was trying to send. ‘A summer onslaught is also necessary because the barges, brigs, pinnaces  and gunboats the Frogs will be using to transport their army must be keel-less to allow them to make land on our beaches. This, in turn, will result in them having lubberly handling, none capable of sailing close-hauled. They must run before the wind and such a wind is only certain in July and August.’

Elizabeth stood away from the telescope. ‘But the Royal Navy …?’

‘If at hand, then we will most assuredly board them and blast them, you may have no fear of that, Mrs Darcy.’

‘Ah yes. I am told that officers in the Royal Navy are very skilled at boarding.’

Nelson gave a leering smile. ‘That we are, Mrs Darcy, but as with all talents some captains are more skilled than others, especially when the vessel they are intent on taking is a handsome craft, well-rigged and possessed of sleek lines.’

‘Then it is a pity, Sir, that I will not have an opportunity of seeing you in action. This is one vessel which refuses to be boarded by anyone other than her own captain.’

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I’ve Visited Again… Part 2: Advertising

The second surprise of my trip to Moscow came almost as soon as I disembarked from the plane and was on the train en route to Paveletskaya station: the billboards lining the track were either empty or advertising the advertising space. It was the same on the underground – the Metro to us Russians ‒ all the posters had gone.

Znak Kachestva, or the Seal of Quality
Znak Kachestva, or the Seal of Quality, the version of the Russian Wikipedia; though I seem to remember the actual words “znak kachestva” somewhere on it, and the “USSR” being not as pronounced as it is on this picture. I wish I could find the real thing – well, still looking!

When I came to the UK for the first time, I remember being aghast by the number of adverts: everywhere you looked, something was being sold to you. As I am a big fan of architecture and once was even thinking of a career of an architect, I remember being particularly upset about all these ads covering the beautiful London buildings. It is difficult to imagine this now, but in the Soviet Union advertising did not exist. There were “brands” but they did not compete against each other. There was usually only one brand for something; for example, the “Moskovsky Kartofel” for crisps; “Moloko” for milk, which used to come in blue or red – depending on the fat content – pyramid-shaped cartons; “Maslo” for butter, etc. Some foodstuffs would have a special sign of approval – Znak Kachestva. There were several types of toothpaste, or washing powder, and of course, a great many Soviet perfumes. But in general life was a lot easier, as you did not have to constantly make decisions on what exactly you wanted to buy.

As capitalism moved in, adverts started appearing everywhere. Moreover, many adverts were advertising Western goods, because western companies had the money and the marketing  acumen to spend it on advertising their products. I have to admit, that when I first saw those adverts on my beloved clean pure white spacious ceilings above escalators of the Moscow underground, I did not like it. It felt like travesty.

The Evropeisky shopping centre - are we in Vegas?
The Evropeisky shopping centre – are we in Vegas?

It is incredible to think now how we used to live without adverts. All communist newspapers were plain black on white, with an occasional photograph of a labour peredovick (champion). Although overall the papers were full of communist propaganda, the content was stronger and more diverse compared to Western papers I read now: there was more information, in particular, on world affairs and science. All buildings in Moscow were clear of advertising and there were no billboards advertising products, only billboards with placards of drawings of Soviet workers, farmers and general communist calls for devoting one’s life to serving society or citations from Lenin, like “The Party is the brain, honour and conscience of our epoch”.

On the right - The Evropeisky shopping centre, on the left - Kievskaya Railway Station. Funny effect.
On the right – The Evropeisky shopping centre, on the left – Kievskaya Railway Station. Funny effect.

I, similarly to Tonia Voronina in “Ghost Love”, witnessed all this change. In the second half of the 1990s billboards adorned with photos of beautiful models grew along all major routes into and out of Moscow. On one of my previous trips to Moscow I happened to pass a huge shopping centre near the Kievskaya railway and underground station. In the Moscow twilight it looked weirdly like a piece from Las Vegas. I am sure, it is serving its purpose, but I am not so convinced that the architectural ensemble of the Kievskaya Railway Station, built in 1914-1918, is entirely in accord with this modernity.

Sviblovo Tube Station - free from advertising
Sviblovo Tube Station – free from advertising

Now, once again the beautiful white domes above the Metro’s escalators are poster-free, all the adverts dismantled. As I say, I was never a fan of those, and neither, apparently, was Mr Putin, but one wonders if his dislike is the only reason behind their disappearance. Rod is of the opinion that during hard times a company’s advertising budget is the first to suffer … TO BE CONTINUED

REGENCY RESEARCH PART TWO: THE SPECIFICS

In a previous post I reviewed the books I’d referenced in building up a general picture of the Georgian lifestyle. In this one I’ll feature those books which cover more specific areas, namely dancing, dressing, dining, travelling and celebrating Christmas.

“A Dance With Jane Austen” by Susannah Tullerton

DSCF9016AAnyone writing a Regency-era story is almost obliged to include a ballroom scene, and as these were enormously complex social occasions the chance of the writer making a historical faux pas is high. A close study of Ms Tullerton’s book will ensure that such gaffs are minimalized. The book leads the reader from the beginnings (‘Learning to Dance’ and ‘Getting to and from a Ball’), through the various types of ball (‘Assembly Balls’ and ‘Private Balls’) and describes what people did when they attended them (‘Etiquette of the Ballroom’, ‘Dancing and Music’ and ‘Conversation and Courtship’), all this done in a very readable manner with excellent illustrations. A must for anyone interested in Georgian society.

An aside … having read ‘A Dance With Jane Austen’ I have now come to the firm opinion that the depiction of the Netherfield Assembly Ball (which marked the first meeting of Darcy and Elizabeth) seen in Joe Wrights’s version of “Pride and Prejudice” (the one starring Keira Knightley) is the most accurate of all the film/TV adaptations: a rumbustious, confused affair … no wonder Darcy was so disobliging!

Nelli Rating (the book): 9/10

“Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen” by Sarah Jane Downing

DSCF9021AThe year 1802 was an interesting year for fashion: with the Peace of Amiens concluded the beau monde descended on Paris to replenish both their wardrobes and their wine cellars. The impact of this is wonderfully described and illustrated in Ms Downing’s book. She also makes a number of interesting social points: that women’s fashions became undeniable sexy – all delicate muslins and sleek Grecian lines – was probably driven by the deprivations of the Napoleonic war on British menfolk (during which proportionately more British servicemen died than in the First World War). The competition for husbands can never have been so fierce. In sum, the book is an excellent and lavishly illustrated guide to fashions in the later Georgian period.

Nelli Rating: 9/10

DSCF9018A“Dining With the Georgians: a Delicious History” by Emma Kay

Not a bad book, but one which left me a little disappointed. I found it a little ponderous. I suppose I was hoping for something which majored on the dining experience while the book was happiest talking about the food itself. All kitchen and no dining room.

Nelli Rating: 5/10

DSCF9017A“Stage and Mail Coaches” by David Mountfield

A very slim volume which I bought when planning to write a scene taking place in a mail coach (a scene which never saw the light of day). Well written, well-illustrated but only confirmed Regency-ophiles need apply.

Nelli Rating: 7/10

 

As I needed to have a chapter in “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” set during Christmas 1802, I decided to invest in two books on the subject of the Georgian Christmas.

DSCF9019A“Jane Austen’s Christmas compiled by Maria Hubert”

Ms Hubert has pulled together a pot pourri of letters and extracts from Jane Austen, Fanny Austen, the poet, Robert Southey, the diarist, William Holland and a variety of other. The result – for me – is unsatisfactory: I would rather the original material were précised and then used to highlight a text on the subject. A disappointment.

Nelli Rating: 5/10

DSCF9020A“Jane Austen Christmas” by Maria Grace

Quite a slim volume but worthwhile for all that: I learned a great deal from its study. For instance, December 21st was St Thomas Day when well-to-do ladies went ‘thomasing’ distributing wheat – an expensive commodity ‒ to the needful of their estate. The section describing Morris Teams and Sword Dancers inspired me to develop Pemberley’s own Christmas tradition, which I christened ‘Plough Sunday’. A useful little book.

Nelli Rating: 8/10

 

REGENCY RESEARCH PART ONE: GETTING A FEEL FOR THE ERA

DSCF9002 blogWriting about life in 1802 is a challenge. One of the key ambitions of a writer of fiction is to be so persuasive that the reader suspends disbelief … forgets that the world and the characters he or she is reading about is make-believe. To do this the writer has to ensure there are no jarring historical inaccuracies or plot inconsistencies which brings them out of their fugue.

Pretty straightforward for those whose story is set in the present day or better yet is a fantasy world of the author’s own devising, but with historical fiction, accuracy is all and that requires a LOT of background research. This is especially with Regency fiction the readers of which are a very knowledgeable bunch.

So before I began the ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ I knew I had to do my research. I read a great many books – some good, some not-so-good – and I thought it might be useful to pass on my thoughts and recommendations.

I began by reading about Georgian London – a good chunk of the action of my story takes place there ‒ trying to get a feel for the place and the people. These are the books I referenced to help me do this:

“Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England” by Roy and Lesley Adkins

DSCF9014AIf I had to recommend just one book as an introduction to life in Georgian England, this would be it. Comprehensive yet entertaining, it provided any number of insights that helped me in the writing of my novel. For instance, the importance of almanacs to the Georgians was partly due to their being able to alert night-time travelers when the moon would be out (coach travel on a moonless night was a perilous occupation). Another example: in ‘The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy’ Mrs Reynolds advises Elizabeth that she has provided her maid with sheets for use in coaching inns, this prompted by the Adkins’ book. An excellent book.

Nelli Rating: 10/10

“Dr. Johnson’s London” by Liza Picard

DSCF9015APerhaps in terms of ‘fun reading’ this is my favorite of the five I’m reviewing. It could be criticized for being a little staccato and list-like but I enjoyed it immensely. It was by far the best at conveying the idiosyncrasies of life in Georgian London and was a treasure trove of bits and pieces to get an author’s creative juices flowing. For instance it describes ‘the language of the fan’ – how ladies communicated using their fans – which is great fun for a writer. Examples:

Fan close, tip to lips: hush we are overheard; and

Open fan, hiding eyes: I love you.

I also loved the comment, attributed to Lady Browne, that, ‘We English always carry two purses on our journeys, a small one for the robber and a large one for ourselves’. Marvellous stuff. I had Elizabeth follow Lady Browne’s advice.

Nelli Rating: 9/10

“Voices from the World of Jane Austen” by Malcolm Day

DSCF9013AFor those about to embark on writing about Georgian life this is an excellent place to start. That the book is built around passages from the journals of real Georgians and excerpts from Georgian newspapers and the like enables you to appreciate the manner in which people conversed and the things that were important to them. I think it was this book that first alerted me to the depth of the divisions that racked Georgian society especially regarding such divisive subjects as the abolition of slavery and the impact of the industrial revolution. Highly recommended.

Nelli Rating: 8/10

“Georgian London: Into the Streets” by Lucy Inglis

DSCF9009AAn excellent book and one which conveys how very confined London was at that time: one million people crammed in an area perhaps only a tenth of the size of modern day London. It was especially useful as it describes London by district so if your character finds him or herself in Lambeth (as mine does) you’ll know to make mention of the forest of windmills decorating the area these used to grind the flour needed to keep London supplied with bread. Similarly, given that my story heavily involved the intractable ‘Irish Question’ that St Giles was where the poor Irish in London congregated (and where in the mid-eighteenth century one out of every five buildings was a “gin-house”) was a very useful piece of intelligence. Well worth a read.

Nelli Rating: 7/10

“Georgette Hayer’s Regency World” by Jennifer Kloester

DSCF9012AAn excellent introduction to Regency life, well written and well-illustrated though I found it somewhat superficial. My main criticism of it is that as a writer trying to come to terms with the rhythm of Georgian speech the lack of quotes from the Georgians themselves gave it a very sanitized feel, though I suppose the title of the book should have given me a warning of that. I also thought the Appendix of slang was a little truncated (but more of that in a later blog).

Nelli Rating 6/10

Thank you, Regency ladies

Information on other blogs and things Regency.

Olga Godim writing

Cover_FibsInTheFamilyMy Regency romance novella on Wattpad, Fibs in the Family, is slowly gaining readers and Likes. On this day, Oct 12, 2015, when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to thank those who helped me write the story.

Fibs in the Family is my first historical romance, and it took some research. Most of my research was done through the internet, where I found several fascinating website and a number of very knowledgeable writers. They were very generous with their time answering my questions.

Vic Sanborn and her Jane Austen’s World blog  is a treasure trove of information about every aspect of life in Regency England, from fashion to transportation. I was most interested in family finances, and of course, she has a post for that. It helped tremendously. Thank you, Vic.

My story includes paintings by an imaginary artist. I was trying to find out what were the…

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I’ve Visited Again… Part 1

(«Вновь я посетил…» is a famous poem by Pushkin.)

I’ve just come back from my annual two week visit to Moscow and I have to say it was a visit full of surprises.  These are going to be the subject of my next few blog posts which will cover prices, taxes, advertising, dacha life and mushroom picking. A pot pourri of observations!!!!

I flew by EasyJet and the flight was PACKED which was the first of my surprises. Apparently as from March next year EasyJet are stopping their flights to Moscow. Now with so many people using their service this seems not to make much sense on commercial grounds so all I can think is that this is something to do with EU sanctions and that the overall number of passengers from the West is falling? I hope not. The sanctions aren’t scheduled to be reviewed before next January: I just hope for EasyJet’s (and my sake) the sanctions are lifted …

The second surprise came when we were touching down at Domodedovo airport and the Captain announced that the outside temperature was +25⁰C. Unthinkable! I wasn’t the only one surprised: all my fellow passengers immediately started taking off the coats, hats and gloves they were wearing in anticipation of facing the start of the Russian winter. And this wasn’t freak weather. During my first week it got even hotter, reaching +30⁰C: Russia’s Indian Summer of 2015 is apparently the hottest on record. In fact, according to The Economist (3rd October 2015 issue), July 2015 was the hottest month for the world every recorded. Maybe climate change is already kicking in? That’s what comes of making annual visits: changes are much more noticeable. When you live in a country changes sort of creep up on you unnoticed but they’re much more apparent to annualists like me.

I’ve been discussing this with Rod who alerted me to the controversy  Charlotte Church kicked up on ‘Question Time’ when she linked drought to the war in Syria and the refugee crisis. I have a lot of sympathy for her views. This is the predicted annual precipitation levels in 2050 (National Center for Atmospheric Research; the pic is taken from http://www.wired.com) as modeled for moderate greenhouse gas emission levels. The darker the red the more severe the drought. Studying this, buying a house in Siberia looks to be a smart move!

Climate Change; picture taken from www.wired.com
Climate Change; picture taken from http://www.wired.com

Well, Russia 2015 might be unseasonably warm but autumn is a beautiful season there with the leaves of the trees turning to such enchanting shades of yellow and red, these dappled by that special mellow autumnal sunlight which, I am convinced, only exists in Moscow. It’s a special time, that brief interlude between the end of summer and the time the sun disappears behind the heavy October clouds and winter’s ice-cold hand grips the country. It’s a time of year that always conjures up music in my head (Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons” or his wonderful “The Sweet Slumber” … “Cладкая грёза”) so it’s no surprise that it’s the time of year when I had my heroine in “Ghost Love” meet the love of her life …

GEORGIAN ESPIONAGE AND WILLIAM WICKHAM

In developing the plot of “The Formidable Mrs Elizabeth Darcy” I wanted to give Darcy some sort of backstory my feeling being a man that intelligent and resolute would never be content just to stand in the wings of history… he would want to shape history. I never saw Darcy and Elizabeth returning to Pemberley and being happy to while away their lives running the estate. I wanted Darcy – and Elizabeth – involved with the BIG questions of the day: the war with France, the abolition of the slave trade and the struggle of the Irish for independence. Having  Darcy involved in these was a challenge and – inevitably – my mind turned to espionage.

I have to admit that I had never thought the Georgians would be much taken by espionage so it came as something of a surprise when I read about the Alien Office. This was established as a consequence of the Aliens Act of 1793, this passed because of the concerns of the English parliament that amongst the refugees fleeing France and the Revolution would be those up to no good (doesn’t history have an uncomfortable habit of repeating itself?).

The Act required that foreigners had to wait at their port of arrival until the Alien Office issued them with a passport. Hence, the mission of the Alien Office was to verify the bona fides of the emigrés coming to England and then to monitor their activities, but this soon expanded until it became a fully-functioning intelligence service.

The full scope of the Alien Office’s dabblings will never be fully appreciated given that most of its records were destroyed when peace was concluded between France and England in 1815 (this presumably to protect Establishment figures from the dirt the AO had unearthed about them), but it certainly monitored mail going to and from the continent and it also managed the substantial network of spies that England employed on the continent.

What made the Alien Office especially intriguing was that for much of its existence it was run by a man called William Wickham. It says much for Wickham’s importance that before Napoleon sat down to negotiate the Treaty of Amiens he demanded that Wickham be recalled to England.

David Rintoul, my favourite Mr Darcy (1980)
David Rintoul, my favourite Mr Darcy (1980)

Now I guess you can imagine the temptation this posed for a writer developing a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice” and I will admit I toyed with the thought of making William Wickham a cousin to P&P’s George Wickham. It was a temptation I resisted. What I did do was take inspiration from William Wickham’s work in Ireland. After his return to England he was made Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1802-1804 finally resigning because he felt the government of Ireland by the English to be “unjust, oppressive and unchristian”.

This is a sentiment echoed by Fitzwilliam Darcy.