Would you like arsenic with that?

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m back, finally, with a historical post.

The book I’m working on now is more mystery than romance–my penchant for killing people off in my books suggested I ought to go in the mystery direction, although so far I’ve killed off fewer people in this book than in all the others. Go figure.

Arsenic makes an appearance in the book, largely because it was hands down the most prevalent poison in the Victorian era. Believe it or not, many of the deaths from arsenic poisoning were actually unintentional. Arsenic was a component of many commonly used products, including cosmetics and soaps, fabric, and wall paper. 

Arsenic cleared the complexion of blemishes and produced the pale skin popular at the time. (Of course, they used lead too, which is another issue entirely.)

 

Arsenic was also the main component of lovely green pigments and other colors that adorned Victorian walls–wallpaper was very trendy (between 1834 and 1874, the number of wallpaper rolls produced in Britain rose by 2,615%), and the same colors were used on toys, clothing, even artificial flowers women wore in their hair.
Although doctors began sounding the alarm of the dangers of arsenic exposure in these materials in the early 1850s, they were dismissed as hysterical. It wasn’t until the demands of the market changed in the 1870s (and after Queen Victoria had all the green wallpaper removed from Buckingham Palace in 1879) that British manufacturers began to change their practices. It has even been hypothesized that Napoleon was murdered by wallpaper.

 

There was plenty of deliberate arsenic poisoning in the Victorian era as well. In 1851, Parliament passed the Sale of Arsenic Regulation Act, which required those who sold arsenic to maintain a written and signed record of sales (as we do in the U.S. now with pseudoephedrine), and it demanded that no one could sell arsenic to someone unless they knew the purchaser. It also required arsenic, with some exceptions, to be colored with soot or indigo before sale.

When I first started researching this, I discovered the 1851 act as originally written only restricted children from purchasing arsenic, but I also found several articles which noted an amendment to the law, added at the last minute, restricted women as well.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any proof of this, which is making it somewhat more challenging to write the book. I may actually have to darken the doors of my law school library. Update: Some days I’m unable to stop researching, so I found this snippet about the provision barring sales to women, which in the end was NOT included in the final legislation: “…sales would be restricted to those of full age though not, as Carlisle, the PMSA, and the Pharmaceutical Society would have preferred, to men only, the decision to discriminate against women being dropped ‘owing to the indignant remonstrances of ladies’.” Thank goodness for indignant remonstrances of ladies. 🙂  And now excuse me as I head off to rewrite three or four chapters…

James Marsh

Arsenic poisoning was so prevalent that it was one of the first compounds for which a toxicology test was created. Although a test to detect the presence of arsenic had been developed in 1775, in 1832, British Chemist James Marsh was asked to analyze a cup of coffee that had allegedly been used to poison a man. Marsh did so, but by the time of trial, the substance had deteriorated. The man, John Bodle, was acquitted. When Bodle later admitted he had actually committed the crime, Marsh was determined to develop a more stable test that could be successfully used in court. By 1836, he had done so, and the Marsh test was first used in France to convict Madame Marie LaFarge of killing her husband.

And now, just for fun, I will leave you with this clip from Arsenic and Old Lace

Sources:
http://www.historyinanhour.com/2012/09/08/the-dawn-of-forensics/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/12/most-dangerous-beauty-through-the-ages.html
http://hyperallergic.com/329747/death-by-wallpaper-alluring-arsenic-colors-poisoned-the-victorian-age/
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/contents/enacted
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1851/13/pdfs/ukpga_18510013_en.pdf
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2335464/Whats-poison-Easy-buy-tasteless-lethal-tiny-doses-arsenic-regarded-perfect-murder-weapon.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsh_test

 

Book Blast Friday: Cover Reveal!

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with breathless anticipation–or possibly not–but finally, the time has come to reveal my beautiful cover for my third book featuring the Tenwick family.

Tempting Mr. Jordan is set six years after my first book, Stirring Up the Viscount, and features Jonathan Tenwick’s younger sister, Julia, all grown up.

After four unsuccessful London seasons, Lady Julia Tenwick despairs of ever making a love match. With spinsterhood looming on the horizon, she and a friend set sail for America on one last adventure. When her travels take her to northern Maine, Julia meets a reclusive but handsome artist, whose rudeness masks a broken heart Julia feels compelled to mend.

Still haunted by the betrayal and death of his pregnant wife two years before, Geoffrey Jordan is determined never to risk his heart again. Certainly not with the gorgeous and impetuous aristocrat who intrudes upon his small-town solitude, and is far too similar to his late wife to tempt him to take another chance on love.

But when Julia and Geoffrey find themselves united in a reckless plan to save Julia’s friend from ruin, they discover that temptation is impossible to resist.

So without further ado, here’s the cover, designed by cover artist extraordinare, Rae Monet:

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Stay tuned for a release date! In the meantime, check out my Pinterest page for some of my inspiration for this book.

Happy Father’s Day!

Wishing all the fathers out there the happiest of Father’s Days. And because I am far too lazy today to write two blog posts, I will direct you to my post about Victorian fathers at Heart-Shaped Glasses.  I hope you’ll take a moment to stop by.

Victorian Fashion

I am not a fashion maven. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, unless I’m wearing Chico’s Travelers Collection, which look stylish but feel like pajamas. (Need I say more?) I have one favorite pair of shoes for each season and I wear them until they fall apart, at which time I spend hours online looking for the exact same pair. I almost never wear shorts because of my pasty white Cleveland legs, but the pair I don’t mind being seen in I bought in 1998. Seriously.

Despite my embarrassing anti-fashion proclivities, I am a writer of historical romance, and in the Victorian era, women of a certain class were very concerned with fashion. And if I am to write about them, I need to care about what they wore. Or at least how to get it off them. 😉

To that end, I spent Saturday taking a field trip with my NEORWA chapter mates to the Kent State University Museum of Fashion. The most interesting exhibit, at least for me, was one called Inside Out, which featured clothing literally inside out so you could see how it was constructed. And they had Darcy’s puffy shirt! Colin Firth wasn’t even it–more’s the pity–and we were all still drooling. You can find pictures at https://insideoutksum.wordpress.com/–I can’t get WordPress to cooperate with the photos I took. 

The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, and fashions changed drastically during that timeframe.  And don’t even get me started on men’s facial hair–that is deserving of its own post.

In the 1830s, as at right, the ideal form was a long torso with a slim silhouette, so corsets were tight and movement was restricted. (Isn’t that an odd picture? The upper half seems oddly disconnected from the bottom, but I sometimes wonder if that’s how women felt…)

 

Starting in the 1840s, skirts became wider–the fuller the skirt, the more petticoats underneath, which was a sign of wealth. I love this relaxed portrait of Queen Victoria and her prince from 1841.

Illustration of cage crinoline from Punch, 1856

 

The 1850s saw the invention of bloomers, as well as the cage crinoline–a miraculous contraption that held the skirts out in lieu of a dozen petticoats, returning women to a comparative freedom of movement.

 

There is an adorable scene from Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford in which a fancy cage from Paris is ordered for Miss Pole’s bird. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong type of cage. It’s just the first minute and again at about 3:45, but if you like BBC period programs, you have to watch the whole series–it’s delightful.

The 1860s saw skirts at their widest and waists at their narrowest–remember this scene from Gone With the Wind?

 

In the 1870s, skirts deflated quite a bit, hoops replaced by a flatter front and layers in the back, as in this painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir from 1874.

 

 

In the 1880s, the bustle was the dominant feature in women’s fashion (and the top hat for men) as seen in this 1883 painting by James Tissot.

 

 

 

The last decade of the 19th century brought big sleeves, sharply defined waists, and slimmer skirts, as in this fashion plate from 1893…

 

 

 

 

…and this John Singer Sargent painting from 1896.

 

 

The turn of the century brought us more masculine attire for women, the Gibson Girl–see the Sargent painting at right from 1903–outrageous hats, and the rise of haute couture.

Londoners in front of Harrods, 1909

There is far more to seventy years of fashion than I have the time, energy, or inclination to share here, but if you’re interested in learning more, click on the link for each decade above, and check out these sites for more information and lots more pictures:

http://www.victoriana.com/Victorian-Fashion/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_fashion
http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/art/costume/index.html
http://www.fashion-era.com/the_victorian_era.htm
https://www.buzzfeed.com/niaalavezos/proof-the-victorian-era-had-the-greatest-fashion
http://www.fashionlady.in/victorian-era-fashion/855
http://vintagefashionguild.org/fashion-timeline/

 

Motherhood, Victorian-Style

‘Tis Mother’s Day in the U.S., the day we celebrate Mothers and all they do for their children. In my household, I have only one rule for Mother’s Day: I do not have to cook a single meal ALL DAY. This generally means that we go out for every meal, but whatever. I am greatly looking forward to this, as I am extraordinarily tired of my own cooking, and even more tired of having to decide what to cook.

This year on the blog, I thought I would head back to the Victorian era for thoughts on motherhood. Queen Victoria, of course, set quite the example–the “Grandmother of Europe,” she was the model of marital harmony, utterly devoted to her husband, even after he died, and their nine children. Women during the Victorian period were expected to marry, bear children, and provide domestic stability to their families. Periodicals and books of the day–Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Cassell’s Household Guide, and many, many others–all emphasized that the role of women was to be exclusively with the realm of the household, and provided many hints for domestic success.

cassellshousehol02londuoft_0009Cassell’s Household Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy and Forming A Guide to Every Department of Practical Life was published initially in 1869. Running into several volumes, it offered advice on such diverse topics as household chemistry, raising animals for profit (“Pigs”) and for pleasure (“The Silkworm”), how to make fans, ornamental soap (“We believe that most people are aware that scented soap is bad for the skin…”), cooking, the manufacturing of artificial manure (who knew?), the mechanics of chimneys and gas meters (complete with mechanical drawings), and, of course, how to rear one’s children.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share with you some tips from Cassell’s. The more things change…

“When a woman is about to become a mother, she ought to remember that another life of health or delicacy is dependent upon the care she can take of herself; that all she does will inevitably affect her child, and that mentally as well as physically. We know that it is utterly impossible for the wife of the labouring man to give up work, and, what is called, “take care of herself;” as others can. Nor is it necessary. The “back is made for its burthen.” It would be just as injurious for the labourer’s wife to give up her daily work and exercise, as for the lady to take to sweeping her own carpets or cooking the dinner. Habit becomes second nature.” 

“A nursing mother should live well. She may take a glass of porter or ale at dinner.”

“The aspect of a day-nursery should be light, airy, and, if attainable, exposed to the south. It is impossible to over-estimate the worth of this situation in the attempt to rear children in full health and buoyancy of spirit.”

“In more advanced childhood than we have hitherto spoken of, the importance of sleep is undiminished, and should be observed with regularity. No invariable rule can be laid down for general observance, but most children between the ages of four and seven years require, at least, twelve hours’ sleep. Ten hours are supposed to be needful for schoolboys, and eight for adults. Few children under ten years of age can be kept out of their beds after seven o’clock without injury to their health. When once awake in the morning, they should be accustomed to rise without delay.”

“The best dress for the crawling age is one in which little French children are usually attired – a sort of knickerbocker suit, warm and loose, with trousers and vest all in one piece. The over-all pinafore, so much in favour in our nurseries, is a capital contrivance for keeping the under-garments clean, but sadly impedes the free movement of the limbs, by being apt to get twisted round the child’s legs, and it should always be taken off when they crawl.”

“There is not a single duty which a mother discharges towards her babe which may not be rendered the medium of conveying the highest principles of morality.”

“A contrary course of conduct is unfortunately liable to be pursued by parents, who, either from excessive fondness, impatience, or want of intelligence, habitually give their little ones all they ask for. No more effectual mode of spoiling a child can be pursued than by so doing. By thus inverting the order of things, and making themselves instead of their rulers, slaves to their children, they create a double misery — neither themselves nor the children are happy.”

“The law relating to the vaccination of infants is imperative in its tone, and commands the parent (or other person having the care, nurture, or custody) of every child born in England or Wales, to procure, within three months after the birth, the vaccination of the child by the medical officer or practitioner appointed for the purpose—”

“The habit of giving children much bread and butter, to the exclusion of other substances, is an error liable to be contracted from the facility of providing the meal. The practice is to be condemned, not only on the score of deficiency of nourishment, but on that of economic value. The butter sold in towns is seldom what it professes to be, and is liable to be composed of inferior fats artfully disguised.”

“The highest test of maternal love is the judicious blending of approval or reproof, according as it is right or wrong to gratify a child’s fancies. That description of love which consists in anticipating every wish and humouring every whim, is but the shadow of affection. The time comes when baby-passions are no longer to be quelled by bribes of sweetmeats and toys; and a bond of love which has been formed mainly on so insecure a foundation is ready to be broken at the first sign of opposition.”

“So important, from every point of view, is the habit of speaking the truth, that too much effort cannot possibly be made to render truthfulness a part of a child’s nature, whilst the mind is yet plastic enough to receive true impressions, and the conscience still sensitive to tender rebuke.”

For more maternal advice from Victoria’s time, check out these sources, and Happy Mother’s Day!

https://dontknowdickens.wordpress.com/presentation/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/victorian-breastfeeding-photo_n_3442872.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_home/ideals_womanhood_01.shtml
http://www.victorianlondon.org/cassells/cassells-5.htm
http://royal-splendor.blogspot.com/2012/02/queen-victoria-and-growth-of-royal.html

Victorian Houses

So you may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet here on the blog lately. Recently my husband and I decided to do what we have thought about doing for ages–moving into a smaller house. The month of March is the single busiest month of the year at the day job, which of course means it was also the month full of home repairs, cleaning, painting, and packing  all our crap clutter so we can sell our house.  I had high hopes for April, but it wasn’t much less chaotic.

I live in a Georgian Colonial style house built between 1916 and 1920 (we found a 1916 newspaper stuffed in the door jamb), which has a center hall and is, for the most part, symmetrical on either side. It features ornate crown molding which was all cut by hand on site, and nine foot ceilings. We love the house, but it’s far too big for us, so we are searching for something smaller. Which has not, of course, stopped me from looking at all kinds of houses no matter how big they are. It’s probably no surprise that I love Victorian era houses, with their nooks and crannies and gorgeous wood trim. Cleveland had a building boom in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, so fortunately for me, most of the housing stock in the suburb where I live dates from this period.

London Bridge, 1859. Image scan by Philip V. Allingham.

So with old houses in mind, I started wondering what house hunting and moving was like for the Victorians. (Doesn’t everyone?)  The population of England grew from 9 million people in 1801 to 36 million in 1911, which meant lots of new houses were built in the same period–6.5 million of them. With the easier transportation and the growth of the middle class that characterized the Victorian era, many of these homes were on the outskirts of cities, allowing families to move away from the overcrowded chaos that was London, into the clean air of the suburbs.

Many of these homes were terraces–what we call townhouses in the U.S.–rows of uniform connected smaller homes. In middle-class neighborhoods, these homes were well-built, with interesting architectural features.

In lower income areas, many of the rows were built back to back, with access only through a front door. These areas saw the erection of many apartment buildings as well, often cheaply built with little regard for safety or comfort.

Wealthy families built much larger homes with greater variety. In the U.S., Victorian houses included the Queen Anne style, with towers and turrets (in San Francisco this style of home was painted in many different colors, and became known as a Painted Lady); Italianate style, reminiscent of an Italian villa; Gothic Revival, with medieval features; and Octagon houses.

Take a look at this site for pictures and more information on these and other Victorian houses.

 

I could go on forever, but I suppose I ought to get back to work. What’s your favorite style of house?

 

 

 

Sources:
www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/homes/housing1.html
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraced_house
homeprotect.co.uk/blog/buying-victorian-property-terraced-houses
victorianchildren.org/victorian-houses-how-victorians-lived/
architecture.about.com/cs/housestyles/a/queenanne.htm
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octagon_house
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Painted_ladies

Ah, Valentine’s Day…

‘Tis the season of love, and once again the snow is piled high and the skies are dreary and gray. In light of the ancient holiday of St. Valentine, I thought I would continue the practice I started last year (hey, now it’s a tradition, hurray!) of posting selections from Victorian Valentine’s Day verse books.  I suggest reading them aloud to your beloved while drinking champagne and slurping oysters.

These are from The Lady’s Own Fashionable Valentine Writer.

To a Frenchman:
For fashion and politeness, you may claim,
Respect from all who venerate their name,
Endowed with fertile genius you must find,
Nature has been to you a parent kind;
Careless and gay you pass life‘s hours away,
Happy you seem whate’er may cloud the day;
Monsieur, believe me, to you I incline,
And fain would have you for my Valentine,
Not doubting but in love you‘ll nobly shine.

To an Irishman (poor sod):
Indeed, friend Pat, I don’t to you incline,
Reject, I must, you for my Valentine;
l neither like shilelah, nor your bluster,
Sure you of brass a sample rich can muster;
Honor and you long since have left each other,
My Emerald lad, an ass is sure your brother,
At any rate with beasts, you nature share,
Next to your bulls I’d take you for a bear.

 

To a Welshman:
Where flows the Vye, where of’t its waters swell,
Enured to toil, the ancient Britons dwell;
Love o’er the world is known to hold great sway,
Cambria’s sons, well pleased, its calls obey;
Honest, but poor, they live in rural peace,
Making their rugged soil produce encrease,
A Valentine from such l’d gladly take,
Nor yield him up for any English rake.

To a German:
Great ugly beast! can any woman think,
Ever with such a bear her fate to link;
Rough in your manners, to tobacco prone,
Much good may do the wife you call your own;
At any rate, such state will ne’er be mine,
No Mynheer Von shall be my Valentine.

Ouch.

 

To Adam:
Abroad, at home, no matter when or where,
Delighted friends rejoice your voice to hear;
Among the throng there’s none to you incline,
More than the writer—your own Valentine.

To poor Benjamin:
Base wretch, begone! your mumming will not do,
Endless my mis’ry, should I wed with you;
Nature he made you of such vile complexion,
Juggler! you’re only fit to breed infection;
A cabbage stalk cut down to a mere stump,
Mounting upon your back a decent hump;
Indeed, indeed! you never shall be mine,
No, Mountebank!—I’m not your Valentine.

 

 

 

As I feel compelled to give the gentlemen equal time, the following verses are from Hymen’s Rhapsodies, or, Lover’s Themes, A Collection of Valentine Verses, Written Expressly for this Work, For Gentlemen, To Address Ladies in Sonnets, Superior to Any Other.  (The title is longer than some of the verses.)

To a Lady without Fortune:
I Ask not wealth—the rich, we see,
Oft wretched ‘midst their pelf:
Thy merit is enough for me;
A treasure in thy self. – –
Oh, had I bags of massy gold,
Those bags wou’d I resign, . . .
As mine, my charmer to behold,
And be her Valentine.

I had to look up pelf, which turns out to be a Middle English term for booty. No kidding. And just in case your lover happens to have some, there’s another verse for her:

To a Lady with a Fortune:
Do not suppose,
My metre flows,
‘Cause fortune is thy boast;
Ere this I knew,
I swear ’tis true,
Thou’st been my constant toast!
Oh, had I got Thy better lot
And thou wer’t poor like me !
I’d say, with pride,
None else beside
My Valentine should be.

To a Prude:
BE not fastidious, over nice,
Because the squeamish and precise,
May every chance decline;
And the capricious fair one may
Regret she did not love re-pay,
And choose her Valentine.
Be wise—for beauty soon will fade
You’ll find in me no gasconade,
Then love for love assign:
Be wise—for time is on the wing,
Nor will each February bring
A faithful Valentine.

Well, okay then.

 

 

Sorry, one more. I can’t help myself.

To a Lady of any Rank:
LIFE, they say, is but a span:
Let’s be happy while we can—
Life is short, then don’t decline
The offer of a Valentine.
There is danger in delay—
Therefore make your choice to-day:
Let me pray thee to be mine
Oh, my dear, sweet Valentine.
You’re not sure, my dearest dear,
Of a Valentine next year;
Pray then answer, by a line,
If you’ll be my Valentine.

Nothing says romance like knowing you’ll probably die tomorrow.

Happy Valentine’s Day, peeps.

**All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, from an 1876 collection of Valentines held by the British Library.  Click on images for more info.**

Historical Book Blast Friday: Laura Strickland’s back!

I am pleased to welcome fellow Wild Rose author Laura Strickland back to the blog, since her latest book, Forged by Love, releases today (I wish I was so prolific!). Thanks for stopping by, Laura!

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Forged by Love
by Laura Strickland

Newly returned home to Lobster Cove from the War Between the States, blacksmith Douglas Grier can’t forget the horrors he’s witnessed or the beautiful young woman he helped break free from her shackles one dark night after her master’s plantation burned. He wishes he had at least asked her name, even though she and her family disappeared into the darkness and Douglas has no expectation of seeing her again.

Josie Freeman can’t remember the last time she felt safe. Even though she and her family are freed, they’re being pursued by slave hunters hired by their former owner. When their ship is damaged on the way to Nova Scotia, Josie is thrown into contact with the one man she never expected…the very man she had wanted to see. But will her past catch up with her before Douglas can free her heart?

EXCERPT:

“Hello, folks. Sir, I don’t suppose you remember me.”

Josie stared at the man who spoke, afraid to believe her eyes. Tall and with bare shoulders that gleamed in the sun, he had a crop of wavy black hair and skin almost as dark as her own. Though he spoke to Daniel, his brown eyes sought hers and held them, his wonder evident to see.

Not remember him? From the instant he stepped on the wharf, Josie’s attention had been snagged—and not just because he was a good-looking man. No, for the pull she’d felt from the first they sighted this place heightened almost unbearably, every one of her inner instincts sitting up and howling.

Not remember him? Had there been a moment since that night he hadn’t been, somehow, with her?

Her lips parted, but she didn’t speak. Daniel’s deep voice sounded instead.

“Of course, of course we remember you, sir. How could we forget?”

“Good to see you again.” The man focused on Daniel at last and extended a hand to him without hesitation. “But what sort of happenstance has brought you here where we might cross paths again?”

“A long story, sir, and one with a full measure of sorrow.” Daniel shook the man’s hand with the innate courtesy that always marked him.

The fellow’s gaze stole back to Josie, and she promptly went breathless. “I’m very glad to see you safe. That night—well, I never did get your names.”

“Daniel Freeman, sir. This here is my son Michael, his wife Eunice, and their child Hetty. And my own girl, Josie.”

“Douglas Grier, and I’m glad to meet you properly.”

Michael leaned forward to shake Douglas Grier’s hand. “I’m happy, Mr. Grier, to have a chance to thank you. It was a fine thing you did for us that night.”

Douglas Grier smiled, and his somber face transformed as if lit from within. Josie’s heart fluttered like a wild bird before resuming a double-time beat.

Calm yourself, girl. He’s done no more than look at you.

Grier turned to her. “Josie Freeman,” he repeated as if he memorized it, and took Josie’s hand.

She promptly went dizzy as sudden images pressed upon her, blotting out the present. His hands coming at her, so strong and yet gentle, out of the darkness that night. The way he’d touched her, with such care and respect, and the way he’d looked at her as if he could see right down to the bottom of her soul.

He smiled again and Josie’s poor heart pounded in response. “What a marvel this is. I’ve wondered a hundred times what happened to you after that night.”

Forged by Love can be found at these retailers:
Amazon
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
The Wild Rose Press
Barnes and Noble
Good Reads
All Romance eBooks

Laura Strickland Publicity PhotoBorn and raised in Western New York, Laura Strickland has pursued lifelong interests in lore, legend, magic and music, all reflected in her writing. Though her imagination frequently takes her to far off places, she is usually happiest at home not far from Lake Ontario with her husband and her “fur” child, a rescue dog. Author of Scottish romances Devil Black and His Wicked Highland Ways as well as The Guardians of Sherwood Trilogy (consisting of Daughter of Sherwood, Champion of Sherwood, and Lord of Sherwood), she has also published two Steampunk romances, Dead Handsome: a Buffalo Steampunk Adventure, and Off Kilter: a Buffalo Steampunk Adventure, as well as two Christmas novellas: The Tenth Suitor and Mrs. Claus and the Viking Ship. Her Lobster Cove Historical Romance, The White Gull, is the prequel to her new release, Forged By Love, a Lobster Cove novella. Her next release will be a contemporary Candy Hearts Romance called Ask Me.

You can read more about Laura and her books at www.laurastricklandbooks.com.

 

Zombies and Vampires, Victorian Style

So I came across this picture on Pinterest the other day:

The caption is, as with so many other things one can find on the Internet, utter bullshit, but it did make me curious. The picture itself is apparently real. In the first third of the 19th century, some graves were enclosed with an iron cage, called a ‘mortsafe,’ as a way to thwart graverobbers, who were far more prevalent in Victorian Britain than zombies and vampires.

Under the law prior to 1832, the only corpses which could be dissected were those of criminals who were hanged. Changes to laws in the 18th century widened the number of crimes deemed hanging offenses, arguably to increase the number of eligible corpses. Nevertheless, demand continued to increase with advances in medicine, and graverobbers, known as ‘Resurrectionists,’ helpfully stepped in to meet the demand. Prior to the 1830s, resurrectionists stole bodies from fresh graves and sold them to physicians. (Some more enterprising gentlemen went so far as to make their own fresh corpses. William Burke and William Hare allegedly murdered 16 people in Edinburgh from 1827-1828, selling the corpses to anatomist Robert Knox.)

The Anatomy Act of 1832 made the study of anatomy respectable (sort of), and allowed researchers to use the unclaimed bodies of those who died in workhouses, hospitals, and prisons. Public anatomy museums popped up everywhere, giving ordinary people an opportunity to stare at skeletons, wax models of naked bodies, and pieces of bodies floating in jars. Titillating! In addition, the museums served as another way for physicians, as well as non-physicians, to study anatomy and learn more about diseases, without going to all the fuss of actually dissecting a body themselves. This very interesting article suggests that the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, which ultimately resulted in the closure of most of these museums, was actually orchestrated by the medical profession, and was “a strategy for creating a medical monopoly of anatomy by categorizing it as knowledge from which laypeople could be excluded on moral grounds.”

An image from the 1864 edition of Gray’s text

Notable Victorian Henry Gray, who legally obtained his research corpses from prisons and mortuaries, published Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical, the text that would eventually become Gray’s Anatomy, in 1858.

So, no there were no zombies in Victorian Britain. According to the OED, the word ‘Zombie’ actually derives from a South American term for a deity, and wasn’t used in Britain in the context we now know and love until 1900.

Vampires are another story altogether. Vampires have appeared in English literature since the mid-18th century, and I have to tell you, I find vampires fascinating.  The Victorians loved them too. Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula, of course, is the most famous, but before him there was Varney the Vampire, or the Feast of Blood. Published initially in 1845 in a series of 109 episodes in penny dreadfuls, Varney was ultimately released as a full length novel (rather more than that, actually–it is over 2,000 pages long) in 1847. Varney made vampires sexy–he had beautiful teeth and a mellifluous voice–and introduced many of the vampire tropes still in use today: fangs, hynoptic powers, and superhuman strength, although Sir Francis Varney doesn’t seem to mind garlic, can eat regular food (although he chooses not to), can walk in sunlight without either disintegrating or sparkling, and if killed or wounded, can be revived by the light of the full moon. Varney is terribly written, but oddly gripping–I downloaded a slightly abbreviated version to my Kindle and am probably going to have to go read it now. Perhaps we’ll discuss werewolfs at another time…

 

Book Blast Friday: Sheridan Jeane and Giveaway!

This week I am delighted to introduce you to friend and NEORWA chaptermate, Sheridan Jeane, who writes action-packed Victorian era romance. The third novel in her Secrets and Seduction Series, Once Upon a Spy, released this week. Welcome Sheridan!

Upon Upon a SpyOnce Upon a Spy Cover
by Sheridan Jeane

Robert, Earl of Wentworth, isn’t a spy, and he never wants to be one, but when his brother is injured and needs his help stealing an important book from the Russian embassy, he can’t refuse.

Antonia has lost everything. If she wants her life back, she needs that book. The problem is, Lord Wentworth just stole it from the Russian Ambassador.

The reluctant spy and the daring thief find themselves at cross-purposes. Who will win in this dangerous game of nations— especially when their hearts are at stake as well?

Excerpt:

London, January 6, 1854

The turning point in a man’s life isn’t always accompanied by a crash of thunder. Sometimes it’s marked by something much more subtle and easier to miss, like the flash of a silver gown, or the rich hue of a twist of chestnut hair.

Lord Wentworth managed to dismiss his turning point.

As he caught sight of the woman across the ballroom, her strong allure caught his attention, certainly. But he ignored it, believing his immediate visceral response to be nothing more than a reaction to her beauty.

For him, there could be no future with her. Nor with any woman.

She represented a precipice. Danger. One he needed to avoid.

He chose to turn his back on the silver-gowned woman and her pull of destiny. Instead, he stepped out onto the patio to let the chill January air envelop him. It drove away some of the oppressive heat of the ballroom. 

“Robert, come over here,” his brother called to him. “Lord Percival is telling the most preposterous story.”

He closed the embassy door. The glow of the flickering torches allowed him to identify Frederick sitting with a group of men at a stone table near the edge of the lawn. 

As he strode across the paved patio, Robert considered how fundamentally wrong it was for the Russian Ambassador’s winter solstice celebration to be held in a building so overheated the temperature drove the guests outdoors.

 His brother shifted his chair and made space for Robert to join the group. The low oil lamps on the table illuminated the listeners’ rapt faces as Lord Percival recounted his latest yarn.

Everyone greeted Robert with brief smiles and nods before they returned their attention to Percival. He appeared well-groomed, with his neatly trimmed, sable-colored beard, his white gloves, and his perfectly tailored evening coat all speaking to the excellence of his valet, but something seemed slightly off about him. As expected, an aroma of tobacco emanated from this particular group, but Percival’s whiskey-laden breath came as a surprise. The evening was still a fresh, young thing, with flawless skin and a lively demeanor. Wobbly-looking Percival must have been drinking all afternoon to be so inebriated the odor oozed from his pores.

 “You’ll love this,” Frederick murmured as he glanced at Robert. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled.

Lord Percival took a puff on his cigar, pausing for effect, and said “…and I forcibly tossed him from the carriage. He landed directly in a steaming pile of manure!” He slapped his hand down on the marble table to emphasize his words, but he clipped one of the oil lamps.

The container flipped over. Oil flew out, splashing onto the table and the cigar Percival clutched. The cigar immediately burst into flame. He dropped it, letting out a sharp shriek of pain and fear. The cigar landed on the table in the spreading puddle of oil. The men jumped back, knocking the chairs to the ground. In less time than a the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, fire swept down a large swath of the tabletop. 

Frederick jumped back too, but his thin evening gloves were already drenched in oil. With mounting horror, Robert watched as his brother froze for an instant. Flames erupted from his hands.

The sickening image chilled him. If Frederick had been a performer on stage, the audience would have burst into applause, but this was no trick. No sleight of hand. It was real, and Frederick’s hands were on fire. 

Find Once Upon a Spy and Sheridan’s other books on Amazon.

 

Once Upon a Spy RB Giveaway Graphic

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Sheridan JeaneAbout Sheridan:

Sheridan Jeane writes exciting and emotion-packed historical romances set in the Victorian Era that confront issues of trust and conformity.

With the advent of the industrial age, life was changing. Many people tried to hold on to the old ways of life while others embraced the new opportunities open to them. Join Sheridan as she explores the clash between the old and the new.

Sheridan has always loved books, history, and stories about amazing people who blaze new trails.

Despite naming their daughter Sheridan because they thought it might someday look great on the cover of a book, Sheridan’s parents urged her in a more practical direction for college. Sheridan earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science with a minor in English.

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