Romancing History

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Character Interview with Lord Henry Sedgwick

I’m so excited to introduce everyone to Hannah Linder. Hannah is a debut Regency Suspense author with Barbour Publishing. I had the privilege of meeting Hannah at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference last spring and knew I wanted to host this promising young author on Romancing History to help spread the word about Beneath His Silence.

Hannah is going to introduce us to the hero of Beneath His Silence, Lord Henry Sedgwick

Be sure to visit the Giveaway section at the bottom of the post to learn how you can enter to win a print copy of this intriguing debut.


Meet the Character

My name is Lord Henry Sedgwick of Wyckhorn Manor. I pray you have not heard whispers of me, though it is far more likely you have. Has not everyone? That is why I must remain in my manor, far from the rumormongers of the village, where I might raise my son without the torture of their speculations. But tortures reign here, too. The manor is cursed with silence. My son is motherless. Bloody shirtsleeves are hidden in my upstairs bedchamber, a painful reminder of all I must keep buried, even from the new and charming governess. That, however, may be harder than I realized. Especially when she begins unwinding my heart.

Fast Five

Lord Segwick, please tell us five things about yourself.

I Like . . .

  1. Brushing down and stabling my own horse, Miss Staverley
  2. Playing along the beach with my five-year-old son
  3. Avoiding balls and social obligations
  4. Assisting my tenants, especially those who are old or poor
  5. Accepting apologies from my son’s amusing governess

Character Q & A

RH: What is your greatest fear? What keeps you up at night?

LS: My greatest fear is that the lies will be uncovered and people will know the truth—that my son will know the truth.

RH: What is your biggest pet peeve?

LS: I detest coy, conniving, maidenly smiles that only mean to entrap me. I shall not be fooled again.

RH: What is your greatest achievement?

LS: Raising Peter, my son.

RH: What is your biggest secret?

LS: The bloody shirtsleeves hidden in my bedchamber. I pray to heaven no one ever knows what I have done.

RH: What book are you reading right now?

LS: The Bible. I have placed one outside Miss Woodhart’s bedchamber door, but I hardly know if she will read the book. I cannot help wondering why it should matter to me so much if she does.

RH: What does perfect happiness look like to you?

LS: A manor with no curse and no silence. A mother for my son. A heart that does not writhe in guilt. A woman, perhaps like Miss Woodhart, who could be true to me and love me and smile at me without pretense. But I do not know if such a woman exists. I do not know if I deserve her if she does.


About the Book

Will Seeking Justice Lead to Her Own Demise?

A Gothic-Style Regency Romance from a Promising Young Author

Second daughter of a baron—and a little on the mischievous side—Ella Pemberton is no governess. But the pretense is a necessity if she ever wishes to get inside of Wyckhorn Manor and attain the truth. Exposing the man who killed her sister is all that matters.

Lord Sedgewick knows there’s blood on his hands. Lies have been conceived, then more lies, but the price of truth would be too great. All he has left now is his son—and his hatred. Yet as the charming governess invades his home, his safe cocoon of bitterness begins to tear away.

Could Ella, despite the lingering questions of his guilt, fall in love with such a man? Or is she falling prey to him—just as her dead sister?

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About the Author

Hannah Linder resides in the beautiful mountains of central West Virginia. Represented by Books & Such, she writes Regency romantic suspense novels. She is a double 2021 Selah Award winner, a 2022 Selah Award winner, and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). In way of career, Hannah is a Graphic Design Associates Degree graduate who specializes in professional book cover design. She designs for both traditional publishing houses and individual authors, including New York Times, USA Today, National, and International bestsellers. She is also a local photographer and self-portrait photographer. When Hannah is not writing, she enjoys playing her instruments—piano, guitar, and ukulele—songwriting, painting still life, walking in the rain, and sitting on the front porch of her 1800s farmhouse. To follow her journey, visit hannahlinderbooks.com.

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Giveaway*

This giveaway is now CLOSED!

Congratulations to our winner, Cherie J.!!!

To enter the giveaway for a print copy of Beneath His Silence, let us know what era of history you’d like to visit if you could step into a time machine.

*Giveaway ends at midnight EDT, Wednesday, November 9, 2022.

Book Review: On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue & a Giveaway

About the Book

Title: On Rumors Deadly Tongue
Series Info: Return to Trowleigh, Book #2
Author: Deanna Rutledge
Genre: Teen/YA, Historical
Book Info: Stout Castle Books, November 22, 2021, 27 pages


From the Back Cover

ENGLAND, 1193 A.D.
William Oliver, 14, loves telling scary stories, but his older sister, Lady Alix, reminds him that back at Trowleigh castle their priest said, “Such tales open the mind to great wickedness.”
They learn just how deadly exaggerated stories can be when two young refugees come to Fairfield Priory, where William and Alix have taken refuge. They have escaped the massacre of the Jews at the City of York, and are seeking sanctuary.
At once, the old, vile rumors begin to spread like wildfire in the priory village, and hostility toward them rises. The prior blames Alix and William for the trouble and wants them gone. But, urged on by the mysterious Lady at the Inn, the villagers decide to take matters into their own hands.
Meanwhile, Ivar the Dane pursues the Irish maid, Brigid, demanding to know where the Olivers are hiding. But it is obvious there is a soft place in his heart for the young maiden

Available on Amazon


My Thoughts

Although I don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction, I was intrigued by the title. Of course, being a history nerd, it was hard to pass up the offer to read a novel set in the Middle Ages.

I thought Rutledge did an excellent job capturing the flare of this historical time period through riveting dialogue and excellent descriptions of castles, clothing, and customs. The plot moves along at a perfect pace, keeping readers engaged with a story line filled with chivalry, action, villainry, intrigue, and plenty of suspense. Through it all, Rutledge expertly weaves a Christian message of  redemption and grace.

I did find the POV shifts jarring at times as the author wrote in Omniscient point of view.

I did not read the first book in the series so I can safely say that On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue reads fine as a stand alone. I can whole-heartedly recommend On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue to fans of Young Adult/Teen or historical fiction.

I was given a copy of On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue by the author. I was not required to leave a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.


About the Author

A long-time teacher of classic literature, Deanna noticed that her students were especially captivated by fiction set in the Age of Chivalry and High Adventure. “We finished Ivanhoe and the Tales of King Arthur and they wanted more,” she said. That inspired her to write fiction of her own, set in that era. So far, two books have been published in the Return to Trowleigh series: A Far and Distant Cry (Book One) and On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue (Book Two). Book Three will be released in 2022..

Recently, Deanna and her husband, William, moved from Honolulu to Virginia to be near family where the adventure happily continues.

Connect with Donna on her website or follow her on Facebook.


Giveaway*

Leave a comment below to be entered to win an eBook copy of On Rumor’s Deadly Tongue, and a copy of the first book in the Return to Trowleigh series, A Far and Distant Cry.

*Giveaway ends at Midnight, Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

 

Book Review: Midnight’s Budding Morrow and a Giveaway

Welcome to the I Read with Audra Book Tour for Midnight’s Budding Morrow, a Regency-era novel by new-to-me author, Carolyn Miller.

While most stories set in Regency England focus on the rich, the young, and the beautiful, award-winning author Carolyn Miller decided she wanted to give readers something different for a change. Her new Regency Wallflowers series follows the commoners, away from the hustle and bustle of 1810s London, out in the Lake District of England. She tells the stories of women who are slightly older and have few prospects for marriage, women who might be considered “wallflowers.”

Midnight’s Budding Morrow is the second book in the Regency Wallflowers series and reads fine as a stand alone. The first book in the series is Dusk’s Darkest Shores.

Don’t forget to visit the giveaway section to enter the drawing for a print copy of Midnight’s Budding Morrow.


About the Book

Title: Midnight’s Budding Morrow
Series Info: Regency Wallflowers, Book #2
Author: Carolyn Miller
Genre: Historical Romance, Regency
Book Info: Kregel Publications, May 31st 2022, 383 pages


Blurb

Can real love grow between a wallflower
and an unrepentant rogue?

Sarah Drayton is eager to spend time with her best friend at her crumbling Northumberland castle estate. Matrimony is the last thing on her mind and the last thing she expects to be faced with on a holiday. Yet she finds herself being inveigled into a marriage of convenience with her friend’s rakish brother.

When James Langley returns to his family’s estate, he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his responsibilities as the heir. War is raging and he wants only distraction, not serious tethers. But his roguish ways have backed him into a corner, and he has little choice but to obey his father’s stunning decree: marry before returning to war, or else. Suddenly he finds himself wedded to a clever and capable woman he does not love.

Sarah craves love and a place to belong, neither of which James offered before returning to the battlefront. Now everyone around her thinks she married above her station, and they have no intention of rewarding her for such impertinence. It isn’t until her husband returns from war seemingly changed that she begins to hope they may find real happiness. But can she trust that this rake has truly reformed?

When tragedy strikes, this pair must learn to trust God and his plans. Will they be destroyed . . . or will they discover that even in the darkest depths of night, the morning still holds hope?

Click here to read an Excerpt

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My Thoughts

Midnight’s Budding Morrow is the first book I’ve read by author Carolyn Miller. This marriage of convenience story gripped me from the opening pages with its themes of forgiveness, mercy, and redemption, and never let me go.

Miller’s characters wound themselves into my heart. I adored sweet Sarah from first meeting her. It’s hard not to bond with a heroine who is a bit lost and longs to be loved and needed. It took a bit longer for me to warm up to James who agrees to marry Sarah to pay off his debt. The author did an excellent job flipping our rogue leading man into a swoon-worthy hero. I always like when characters are imperfect because it is more realistic, and I enjoy seeing their growth throughout the story.

I really liked that the author wove some deeper topics into the story, such as depression and alcoholism. Characters wrestle but don’t succumb. Instead, they learn to build deeper trust in one another and in their relationship with God. As the parent of two children who’ve struggled with depression, I found this hope-filled yet realistic aspect of the story line very encouraging.

I received a copy of the novel from Read with Audra. I was not required to leave a positive review. All opinions are my own.


About the Author

Carolyn Miller is an inspirational romance author who lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children.

A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English literature and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. She enjoys music, films, gardens, art, travel, and food.

Miller’s novels have won a number of RWA and ACFW contests. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Australasian Christian Writers.

Learn more about Carolyn at website, or find her on Facebook , Instagram, and Twitter.


Giveaway*

Use the Rafflecopter link below to enter the drawing for a print copy of Midnight’s Budding Morrow.

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*Giveaway ends 6/28/22.

Bicycles, Baby Carriages, and the Nazi Occupation

I’m thrilled to have fellow historical romance author, Linda Shenton Matchett, on my blog today sharing some of the interesting history she highlights in her latest release, Love’s Rescue.


What would you resort to in order to stay alive? Would you break the law? Go into hiding? Consort with the enemy? During the occupation of France by the Nazis during WWII, French citizens asked themselves these very questions.

The danger of being sent to Germany or German-occupied countries to perform hard labor was high for men, young and old. Other citizens faced arrest and torture, often for little or no reason. Still others were seized and shipped to concentration camps. Until the liberation in 1944, living in France was a difficult and frightening time.

Despite the risk, many women chose to resist the Occupation: some officially by joining La Résistance; others informally by refusing to adhere to the numerous mandates put in place after the Germans arrived.

Nazi Occupation of Paris

Teenage girls transported messages in their bicycle handlebars, and mothers hid contraband and supplies under their infants in baby carriages. Jews and other “undesirables” were concealed in wine cellars or smuggled out of the country, while downed pilots and escaped POWs were passed along various routes to freedom.

Then there was the unknown number of women who used sexual relationships with Nazi officers and soldiers to receive special favors, such as food, clothing, petrol, extra ration books, and other hard-to-get items. Reviled, these women were shunned, humiliated, or worse, tried and executed after the war.

In an interesting twist to the treatment of those women, professional prostitution was legal, and in fact, the industry became a booming business during the Occupation. Regulated by the Germans, the brothels did quite well and multiplied exponentially. Reports indicate that the number of prostitutes rose to more than 10,000 in Paris alone. Because prostitution was their vocation, these women did not face charges when the war ended.

Fortunately for the Allies, some prostitutes used their jobs to obtain intelligence about troop numbers, locations, and movements, then sent the information to the military through La Résistance cells, no doubt increasing the ability of the armed forces to succeed. Does their assistance justify their employment?

My recent release, Love’s Rescue, is a modern retelling of the story of Rahab. Set in the final weeks before the liberation of Paris, it tells the story of Rolande Bisset, a professional prostitute who comes to know God and must reconcile her new faith with the need to survive the Occupation

What would you have done?


About the Book

A prostitute, a spy, and the liberation of Paris.

Sold by her parents to settle a debt, Rolande Bisset is forced into prostitution. Years later, shunned by her family and most of society, it’s the only way she knows how to subsist. When the Germans overrun Paris, she decides she’s had enough of evil men controlling her life and uses her wiles to obtain information for the Allied forces. Branded a collaborator, her life hangs in the balance. Then an American spy stumbles onto her doorstep. Is redemption within her grasp?

Simon Harlow is one of an elite corps of American soldiers. Regularly chosen for dangerous covert missions, he is tasked with infiltrating Paris to ascertain the Axis’s defenses. Nearly caught by German forces moments after arriving, he owes his life to the beautiful prostitute who claims she’s been waiting for the Allies to arrive. Her lifestyle goes against everything he believes in, but will she steal his heart during his quest to liberate her city? Inspired by the biblical story of Rahab, Love’s Rescue is a tale of faith and hope during one of history’s darkest periods.

Purchase Links

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About the Author

Linda Shenton Matchett is an author, speaker, and history geek. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life. Linda is a member of ACFW, RWA, and Sisters in Crime. She is a volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII and a trustee for her local public library.

Connect with Linda

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Receive a free short story, Love’s Bloom, the prequel to the Wartime Brides series) when you sign up for Linda’s newsletter

5 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice has been on my mind a great deal lately. I received this great sweatshirt for Christmas this year. AND, my husband has started a local theater company, and without any nudging from me (honestly), Goose Creek Players will perform Pride and Prejudice this spring. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan and well Pride and Prejudice is the crown jewel of her achievements.

Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.

Here’s 5 facts you may or may not know about the novel.

1. Mr. Darcy was the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt of his day

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but what does that mean in today’s market? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—”How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!” Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt.

2. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of the Regency era

Image result for Images of Gretna Green

In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes to Scotland with that scoundrel George Wickham. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be wed via a “marriage by declaration.” The photo above is that of the famous blacksmith shop in Gretna Green that also had a marriage parlor to capitalize on the profits a young newlywed couple such as Lydia and Wickham could bestow.

3. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it

Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had “a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney’s Evelina.” He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. It wasn’t until the success of Sense and Sensibility, 14 years later, that Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old.

4. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously

Related imageAusten didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public.

5. Austen underestimated the popularity of her novel

Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since.

Image result for images of pride and prejudice

In the 200+ years since Pride and Prejudice was published, there have been at least 11 film and TV adaptations of Austen’s novel. My personal favorite is the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy … sigh … but I digress.

What is your favorite adaptation? The Colin Firth version or the one with Keira Knightley? Or perhaps something different altogether?

Swooning, A Victorian Fad?

“Beware of fainting-fits… though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet believe me: they will, in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your constitution.”

~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/fainting1_3759.jpg

As a lover of all things classic and bookish, I find it fascinating that women in 19th century novels were commonly portrayed fainting. They faint when anything scary, shocking or surprising happens. They faint at moments of emotional intensity. They faint whenever they try any hard physical work.

In Dickens’ Pickwick Papers female characters swoon repeatedly. And who can forget Jane Austen’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (you knew I’d work that one in if I could) keeping to her rooms for fear of fainting under the stress of her daughter’s elopement with the dastardly Mr. Wickham.

Some historians suggest that fashion may have played a part.

child-corsetCorsets were very common among the upper classes. Worn around the torso, corsets were made of a durable tightly woven fabric or leather, fashioned with channels running throughout them in which vertical ribs were inserted, called boning because they were often made with whale bone. The entire device was held together, and tightened, sometimes to extremes, by a system of lacing. Girls were started in corsets at a very young age and, for them and ladies after childbirth, waist training, to shrink the side of the waist, via super tight lacing, was common. Over time, corset-wearers’ bodies changed—their ribs were displaced, their lungs were squashed, some organs were compressed against the spine and others were shoved down into the lower abdomen. In addition to making it hard to breathe, hearts struggled to pump and, stomachs struggled to digest what little food they could get down. As one Victorian lady reported, “I had only eaten two bites of my biscuit there was no room beneath my corset for a third.”

Another fashion-based theory is that a well dressed woman of this era wore an enormous amount of clothing. In addition to her corset, such a lady would undergarments, a bustle pad, a full skirt supported by crinoline petticoats, sometimes lined with steel hoops, and a bonnet. Some may have fainted from overheating, while others may have collapsed under the sheer weight of their garments and their tightly cinched corsets.

Another possible explanation for some of the swooning could have been chronic poisoning. During the 19th century, while people knew that arsenic was poisonous, they didn’t understand that external exposure from its fumes could also be harmful. The toxin was widely used in the manufacture of everything from fabrics to paints to the paper in which food was wrapped; in fact, by the end of the 1800s, 80% of all wallpaper was arsenic-laced. Arsenic poisoning has a variety of symptoms including headaches, cold sweats, and fainting.

In addition, arsenic, along with lead, mercury and other such toxic substances, were commonly found in makeup during the Victorian era. Lead was also a common ingredient in hair dyes and was frequently found in wine, along with arsenic and copper. Together, these toxins contributed to more wealthy Victorians suffering from seizures, and theoretically swooning, when compared with their poorer neighbors who couldn’t afford such luxuries.

Was Swooning a Fad?

Even more curious is that the phenomenon appeared to be more common among middle and upper class women, or so literature would have you believe. Upper-class women, especially young women, were expected to be more delicate, more emotional, and more easily distressed as opposed to women of the working classes. Leaving many social historians to believe that all swooning was nothing more than a put on. Besides potential side effects from tightly laced corsets or the exposure to toxins, fainting became expected and downright ladylike. Women of particularly of high station were expected to act the role of a delicate flower, while men were expected to be hard as nails. Swooning was simply one method for a woman to demonstrate her femininity. Well-to-do women often had something called a “fainting room,” a special location where she could recover a fainting spell in private.

In Bleak House, Dickens’ character, Lady Dedlock, swoons at the first hint her hidden past, a secret affair and child, may be revealed. Dickens also ridicules characters who swoon as part of a social performance. Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit is portrayed as manipulating those around her by “wilting on demand.”

Lady Revivers

Smelling salts, also known as “lady revivers,” were the most common method used for rousing a fainting damsel. However there is no salt in smelling salts at all. The active ingredient is ammonium carbonate, a solid compound that when mixed with water releases an ammonia gas that irritates the lining of the nose and the windpipe, heightening a person’s alertness.

While fashionable Victorian ladies might have a “fainting room” inside in case a sudden fit befell them, if a woman was overcome while out and about the situation might prove more perilous. Police constables of the era were equipped with small vials of smelling salts to assist afflicted women in the streets.

So what do you think? Was the sudden surge in fainting spells among Victorian upper-class women a result of tight corsets and arsenic-laced cosmetics, or was it a social fad, a way to prove your delicate femininity?

 

Knocker Up–A Legit Profession?

Related imageMorning comes early for me. Once a night owl, I’m now one of the earliest risers of my acquaintance. I have the advantage of setting an alarm clock for 4:30 in the morning and hitting the snooze button several times if I’m not quite ready to greet the day.

Before the advent of the alarm clock, an entire profession emerged for the sole purpose of waking sleepy workers to ensure they made it to work on time. The Knocker Up was a common sight in Britain and Ireland during the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the northern mill towns and big cities like London and Dubline where people worked unusual shifts in factories or on the docks, often needing to be at work as early as three a.m.

The trade spread rapidly across the country particularly in areas where poorly paid workers were required to work shifts but could not afford their own watches. Some factories employed their own knocker-ups to ensure their employees arrived on time. In return for their services, knocker-ups were paid a few pence a week.

As more people employed the services of knocker-ups, neighbors who did not desire to be woken at odd hours began complaining about the loud noise the knocker-ups made when ringing bells and rapping on widows to rouse their sleepy customers. The solution they devised was modifying a long stick, with which to tap on the bedroom windows of their clients, loudly enough to rouse those intended but softly enough not to disturb the rest.

Image courtesy of Au Bout de la Route blog

 

Some of the more adventurous knocker ups, like Mary Smith of London’s East End (shown below) employed pea shooters to hurl dried peas at windows until the sleeper within woke up.

Mary Smith

Even Charles Dickens mentioned the trade in his 1861 novel Great Expectations when one of the characters, Mr. Wopsle, loses his temper over “being knocked-up” in the morning.

Another account appeared in an article in the Huron Expositor in 1878. A Canadian reporter interviewed a retired knocker-upper about her profession. Mrs. Waters served between 35 and 95 people, mostly in the period between five and six in the morning. She also recalls the bad temper of some of her customers who, like the Dickens’ character, just couldn’t hold their morning temper when she attempted to rouse them.

There was one man in particular: he had to be up at five o’clock; he was given to drink, by the way; so that he was not only hard to awaken, but he never came to the window, but he indulged in angry mutterings, and I heard at times an oath slip out of his mouth.

With the spread of electricity and affordable alarm clocks, however, knocking up had died out in most places by the 1940s and 1950s.

Yet the trade continued in some pockets of industrial England until the early 1970s and even became immortalized in songs like the one below by folk singer-song writer, Mike Canavan:

“Through cobbled streets, cold and damp, the knocker-upper man is creeping.

“Tap, tapping on each window pane, to keep the world from sleeping…”

 

What gets you up in the morning?

 

 

 

 

The Disgraceful History of the Waltz

Long before Elvis gyrated his pelvis or Miley Cyrus twerked at the VMA’s, the Viennese waltz shocked European aristocracy. Although today the waltz is considered the “Queen of all the dances,”  it has a scandalous history.

The Viennese Waltz by Vladimir Pervunensky

The Waltz had humble beginnings in rural Germany. In the mid 18th century, peasants began to dance something called the landler in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria. Set to 3/4 time music, the dance involved couples rotating around the dance floor. It eventually became known as the walzer, from the Latin volvere, meaning rotate. At the time, the aristocracy was dancing to the minuet but the peasants’ dance was so fun that some noblemen were known to sneak away to the lower class gatherings just to enjoy it.

Maria and Captain Von Trapp dance the Landler in 20th Century Fox’s, The Sound of Music

Eventually the waltz was introduced to Vienna, in an opera called “The Cosarara.” In 1790, Baron Newman introduced the twirling dance to English aristocracy but it was Napolean’s triumphant army that brought the dance to France. Upon its arrival, the Viennese waltz shocked the church and proper society with the prolonged bodily contact not just of the hands, but of the faces and bodies of the dancers. The Anglican archbishops denounced the new fad as a “lust-inducing, decidedly degenerate action.”

While the waltz seems innocent enough by today’s standards, at the time it horrified many of the upper class. Novelist Sophie von La Roche described it as the “shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans” that “…broke all the bounds of good breeding,” in her novel Geshichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, written in 1771.

The dance was considered so provocative when it was introduced that even the morally challenged Lord Byron felt driven to write:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

What made the waltz so scandalous?

The waltz gained its scandalous reputation because of the “closed” face-to-face position of the dancers. In its day, the waltz was a strikingly intimate and sensuous dance, which was a major departure from the open group dances and stately minuets of previous generations which were characterized by a refined and stylized elegance, polite distance between the dancers, and precise movements. They were much less energetic, characterized by sternness of attitude and slow complex patterns of movement. Most importantly, earlier dances were performed at arm’s length where only the couple’s hands touched. Dancers wore gloves so there would be no fleshly contact even at this distance.

Darcy and Elizabeth dancing the formal dances of the Regency era at the Netherfield Ball, Pride and Prejudice (BBC)

In previous dance forms, the gentleman’s focus was always in steering his partner through the series of intricate steps and maneuvers to avoid colliding with others on the dance floor. Since the only floorcraft required was to keep the partners from overtaking the couple in front of them as they flowed gracefully around the ballroom, the man would not be distracted from giving his lovely partner his full attention.

The intimate postures and intense gazes that resulted were most likely to blame for the waltz’s initial disgraceful reputation. In traditional country dances, there was plenty of eye and body contact, but it was fleeting and partners moved quickly from one person to another. In the Waltz, the eye contact is continuous and unflinching and so is the body contact — with hands, as Byron describes, “which may freely range in public sight.”

Image

Imagine the shock in the courts of Europe when the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance as reported on the Prince Regent’s grand ball from the society pages of The Times of London, summer, 1816:

“We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”

According to Jeff Allen, author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing, “The ‘voluptuous intertwining of the limbs,’ simply referred to the close dance position of the day. The gloved hand of the gentleman was placed gently on the waist of his partner at virtually full arm’s length. The lady’s left-gloved hand quite possibly was delicately placed on her gentleman’s shoulder, and she likely held a fan in that same hand. The left hand of the gentleman remained open and acted as the shelf for his partner’s right-gloved hand. The really scandalous point of that reporter’s observation was that the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance. The bodies of the dancers were never in contact!”

Dance in the Country, Renoir, 1883

The fast pace and consistent twirling of the dance was also a departure from the stately minuets of the past and could prove to be an exhausting and dizzying experience. Cellarius, a French dancing master of the Regency era, warned that, “In close embrace the dancers turned continually while they revolved around the room. There were no steps forward or back, no relief, it was all a continuous whirl of pleasure for those who could take it. The Valser should … take care never to relinquish his lady until he feels that she has entirely recovered herself.”

Needless to say, the more forbidden the dance became the more anxious society was to engage in it. Some of the first members of European aristocracy to be seen publicly favoring the dance were the Emperor Alexander of Russia and Lord Palmerston of England.  When they were seen whirling around English ballrooms with grace and skill, the rest of English society quickly joined in.

Most likely it was this “lighter than air feeling” that brought the waltz into acceptance among Europe’s upper class. Johann Goethe, a German writer and statesman, is known to have enjoyed the waltz. “Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one’s arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away…” By 1820, the dance had finally reached respectability as a permanent fixture at balls throughout English society for the majority of the 19th century and early twentieth century thus earning her position as “Queen” of the ballroom.

Do you know how to waltz?

 

 

Historical Epic, The Promise

Last weekend, my husband, oldest son and I saw the new historical epic, The Promise. Based on the trailer, I warned my men ahead of time that it was a historical romance but since it was set on the eve of World War I, I assured them there would be enough action to make the film bearable. The film centers around Mikael (an Armenian medical Student), Ana (an Armenian woman raised in France who has returned to her homeland), and Chris (an American journalist working for the Associated Press). Although the central figures in the film are engaged in a love triangle, The Promise is less a story about a tragic romance during the last days of the Ottoman Empire than the fate of the these characters and a group of orphans as the Turkish government begins a systematic holocaust of its Armenian population.

As a student of history (I have a B.A. Social Studies education as well as an M.Ed. in History education), I’m wondering how I  managed four years of undergrad and two years of grad school without ever hearing of this atrocity. We left the theatre wondering how we could not have known about this tragedy. Now that my curiosity had been peaked, I decided to find out how accurate the history depicted in the film was.

Here is what I learned.

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government began a systematic effort to eliminate the Armenian population, the largest Christian minority within Turkey at the time, from within its borders. Many Armenians had become voices for social and political reform within the country, pressing the government for equality with their fellow Muslim citizens. Following a series of devastating losses in the Balkan Wars, a distorted nationalism spread over Turkey, infesting the government and its citizens with the misguided sentiment that the Great Ottoman Empire could only be revived if Turkey was purified of its Christian population.

Picture of a Turkish village circa 1915 as troops belonging to the Ottoman Empire round up its Armenian citizens. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph, April 22, 2017.

Turkey’s Armenian citizens had their property confiscated, intellectuals were rounded up and imprisoned if they were lucky or executed if they were not, and others, including entire villages, were force marched to concentration camps in the Syrian dessert. According to  the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, there were 2.1 million Armenians living in Turkey in 1914 and 387,800 by 1922.

According to Peter Balakian, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Ozone Journal, his book of poems recounting his experience excavating the bones of Armenian victims in the Syrian desert with TV journalists in 2009, “It’s a watershed event in the history of modernity,” because it’s the first time that the nation-state uses technology, its advanced military communications, legislation and the nationalist ideology for the purpose of eradicating a targeted ethnic group in a certain period of time.”

Photo released by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute dated 1915 purportedly shows soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley, on the Caucasus front during the First World War. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Photos of this atrocity are hard to view so I have chosen to limit what I post here because I would rather you at least read about this event then turn away because of graphic images. Click here to see photographs smuggled out of Turkey  at great risk to reporters John Elder and Armin Wegner depicting the Armenian genocide. According to this article in the U.K. Daily Mail, these images have been used to build the international human rights case against the Turkish government.

History has shown that Adolf Hitler saw the tragic events in Turkey for what they were. In an official Nazi government document used during the Nuremberg Trials, Hitler argues for the annihilation of the Polish people. He writes “Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Today, in Germany, it is a crime to deny or minimize the holocaust in public and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Although 18 countries (including Germany, Greece and France) recognize the events in Turkey as genocide, to this day the Turkish government stands by its story that the deaths were not intentionally perpetrated against its Armenian citizens but instead, were lives tragically lost during war as the government attempted to relocate them for their own safety. The U.S. House of Representative Committee on Foreign Affairs has yet to recognize the atrocities committed against the Armenian people as genocide. President Barack Obama did refer to the horrific events in a speech for Armenian Remembrance Day (April 24) as “the first mass atrocity of the 20th century,” but failed to keep his campaign promise to call the killings “genocide.”

Perhaps at this point you’re wondering why it matters anymore. After all, it was more than a hundred years ago, the perpetrators are long since dead and well let’s face it, bad stuff happens every day in this world. True. However I would strongly urge you to consider the words of Spanish-American philosopher and poet, George Santayana, who wrote, “Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Or put another way, Balakian argues that the truth about the Armenian genocide matters because “Unresolved history is too big a burden to carry.”

I hope you will consider seeing, The Promise. It is a story well told and definitely worth learning about.

Your turn: Have you heard of the Armenian genocide before reading this post? Do you think unresolved history is a burden?

Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”  ~The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Perhaps one of the most recognized characters in all of literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has captured the imagination of generations around the world. Doyle’s brilliant private detective became known for his signature prowess at using logic and his keen powers of observation to solve cases. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Almost all were narrated by Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson. Doyle’s work gained popularity as serialized stories published in The Strand Magazine over a period of forty years.

No doubt Holmes is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and most universally recognizable literary character, but did you know that Doyle based the his famous character on real people?

Dr. Joseph Bell, photo courtesy of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate

Joseph Bell (1837–1911) was a professor at the University of Edinburgh in 1877 where the young Doyle enrolled in medical school. Bell captivated Doyle and his classmates with his amazing deductive skills and often immediate conclusions regarding patient diagnoses, occupation and other personal details just by studying their appearance and mannerisms. In addition to taking Bell’s classes, Doyle served for a time as his clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he got a further look at the older man’s diagnostic methods. In addition to using his deductive powers to diagnose diseases, he occasionally assisted the police as a forensic doctor.

Years later, Conan Doyle wrote to Bell: “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions, I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the outpatient ward.”

Henry Littlejohn – Photo courtesy of
Edinburgh University Library

Henry Littlejohn (1826-1914)  Joseph Bell was not the sole inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle also credits famed Scottish forensic scientist, public health inspector, and dissector of human bodies, Henry Littlejohn, for giving Holmes some of his personality. Part of Littlejohn’s job as Surgeon of Police and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh was to consult with police when they needed medical expertise. Littlejohn investigated accidents, tragic deaths, or murders that took place in the city. He revolutionized the way cases were solved at the same time as Doyle was writing his master slueth’s adventures. Littlejohn is credited with pioneering the use of fingerprinting and photographic evidence in criminal investigations.

During the time Doyle was writing “The Final Problem” in 1893, Littlejohn was called as an expert witness in the trial of Alfred John Monson who had been accused of shooting his twenty year old student, Cecil Hambrough, during a hunting trip. The defense claimed that Hambrough had “accidentally” shot himself in the head. According to the Edinburgh News, Littlejohn testified that the position of the wound, the scorch marks from the bullet, the damage to the victim’s skull, and even the smell of the victim indicated that the victim had been murdered.

William Gillette portraying Sherlock Holmes

William Gillette (1853–1937) This one is a bit of a stretch. Although William Gillette wasn’t an inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character, as one of the first actors to portray Holmes (which Gillette did more than 1,000 times), he has influenced the development of the Holmes character tremendously to the public. Gillette was the first to wear Holmes’s signature deerstalker hat, the first to replace Holmes’s straight pipe with a curved one, and the first (while helping Conan Doyle to write the first official Sherlock Holmes stage play) to pen the line, “elementary, my dear fellow,” which would eventually be turned by later writers into, “elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette had his own Homes-like qualities. He was an inventor, earning patents for a variety of items including a timestamp device and a system for making more realistic sound effects on stage.

Tidbits & Trivia

  • The name “Sherlock Holmes” is believed to have been taken from two sources–“Sherlock” from Doyle’s favorite musician, Alfred Sherlock, and “Holmes” from the prominent, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • By the late 1890s, Dr. Bell had earned quite a reputation as an investigator. So much so, in fact, that when a series of murders of “ladies of the night” went down, the police called in Bell to help. This became the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
  • Doyle continued to write adventures for Sherlock Holmes until 1927 and would pass away from a heart attack in 1930.

Which is your favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery?

 

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