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

 

Taking Tea

I apologize, my friends, for my sad neglect of this blog. I have no excuse, really, beyond being busy and inefficient, and, if truth be told, possessing a certain degree of laziness. But never mind, I am back, so I hope I am forgiven.

Sitting in the queen’s chair at Hampton Court Palace (I’d been awake for 36 hours)

Lately I have been thinking about tea and scones far more than is normal for your average American. This past week I returned from a visit to England, where I traveled hither and yon with my dear college friend Helen, talking and laughing and walking and drinking tea at every opportunity in which wine (or gin, in Helen’s case) was inappropriate.

On my first day there I did obtain a scone with jam and clotted cream at Hampton Court (as one does), but all additional efforts to secure afternoon tea were for naught. We arrived at the tea shop as it was closing (as happened at Hughenden Manor and across the street from Jane Austen’s house), there was no clotted cream (said in a rather rude “even if we did have cream I wouldn’t give you any” sort of tone at the cafe in Hyde Park), or on one occasion (at the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal), I was in the mood for a cup of chocolate and a sandwich instead.

Lady Bedford, circa 1830

Lady Bedford, circa 1820

Spending so much time drinking tea and visiting historic sites last week, I started thinking about the history of afternoon tea. Although tea as a beverage has been common in England since the mid-17th century, it was not until the 7th Duchess of Bedford was feeling a bit peckish that the concept of afternoon tea as we know it today was born. The story goes that sometime in the 1840s Lady Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria, found herself desiring a snack around 4 o’clock, halfway between lunch and the fashionably late dinner. She asked for a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake. This repast was so pleasant she made a habit of it, and then began inviting her friends round to enjoy it with her.

Afternoon Tea–not to be confused with High Tea, which is another animal altogether–consists of tea, small sandwiches, cake, and scones served with jam and clotted cream. It is not only the meal itself but the ritual that makes afternoon tea what it is. Ideally, the tea should be loose leaf, served from a tea pot. Milk is added after the tea is poured, not before. (Apparently there is much disagreement on this issue–I had no idea it mattered so much.) There is also great debate about whether jam should be slathered on the scone before the cream. In the spirit of research I tried it both ways, and admit I prefer jam then cream, which gives one the ability to add far more cream than is strictly healthy.

In an effort to make up for my lack of afternoon tea while in England, I shall be baking scones, brewing tea, and eating this afternoon. (Unless I have to go watch middle school boys play hockey, or take a nap.)

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Here’s my recipe for scones:

8 oz (approx. 1-3/4 c) all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 oz (2 T) sugar
4 fl oz (½ c) milk

*Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
*Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the milk and lightly mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
*Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Spread the dough using your hands until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 8-12 scones using a 1-1/2 to 2 inch fluted biscuit cutter. Press straight down–do not twist, or the scones won’t rise properly. (Ask me how I know!)
*Place the scones on to the baking sheet and brush with milk or an egg wash.
*Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
*Serve the scones warm with clotted cream (or butter) and your favorite jam. If you can’t find fresh clotted cream in your local grocery store, or you object to paying $10 for a jar, you can find a number of recipes online. Here’s the one I’m planning to use, although it takes so long it will have to wait until next weekend’s afternoon tea: https://fearlessfresh.com/make-clotted-cream/. I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information on the history of afternoon tea:
http://www.creamteasociety.co.uk/history-of-the-cream-tea
http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/afternoon-tea/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-mirza-grotts/the-history-and-etiquette_b_3751053.html?
https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea

 

 

 

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:

perf5.000x8.000.indd

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

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

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