Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Realities of Life in Victorian Times

I fully intended to talk of palaces and duchesses with pearl covered tea gowns when I started this blog. And I will yet. But for some unknown reason, the research I have been doing takes me into some of the realities of life for the majority of people. And many of these realities hit hard for the aristocracy, too. Take for example:

Bed bugs. What a joy. No matter your station in life, you might be visited by the bed bug, and it was no picnic to get him to move along. You could probably blame it on the maids, but it did not give you a better night's sleep to do so. I am not aware of the modern means of treating a house for bed bugs, but even today, I hear it is not easy. One woman in the 19th century wrote about tossing 20 pails full of water on the kitchen floor trying to drown them. All the parts of her bed were then immersed in water, after which they were laid out in the sun for two days. The bed's joints were painted with mercury ointment (beware the vapors thereafter, although they were unaware of it's toxicity and probably blamed the maids for the onset of illness) and the curtains were taken down and washed. If you think that was an easy task, kindly refer to my post on doing laundry. Bedroom curtains were often thick, heavy fabric to help keep the cold out, and just getting them into the boiling pot would have taken a bit of energy. From what I understand, bed bugs can live within the walls of a house, so depending on whether you lived in a stone castle or a stuccoed Belgrave Square mansion, you may have to learn what could be done to evict them from between the stones or plaster.

Life with mattresses. The less expensive beds were stuffed with wool flocking, which became lumps. The wool might also become fodder for moths. Therefore, the mattresses would have to be disassembled and the wool would have to be washed, boiled and teased. After that, you would have to hire someone to come in and put the mattress back together. Feather beds were the more spendy type, but every third year or so you would have to pull all the feathers out to clean them. So, I wonder, where would you put them all? On the floor to air, while you washed and waxed the ticking cover. Enjoy the 21st century!

I am sure you are dismayed enough by now, but I thought that you should know why families only did their laundry every five to six weeks. It turns out that it is because of the etiquette books. One of them, for example, stated that "a family wash should be performed as seldom as possible". And one was, of course, to abide the etiquette books for fear of becoming a social outcast. One would surely not want a reputation for doing the laundry more than once a month!

Many thanks to Liza Picard's book, Victorian London. (Again.)

Friday, April 8, 2011

British and Other Period Movies and TV Series, Part Two

A while ago, I posted about a few period flicks and TV series and found that my blog has received a large number of hits. I have moved the information to another blog HERE.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen Wasylowski


The story of Darcy and Fitzwilliam is of two men who have been life long friends, competitors, relatives. They share little in common. Darcy is elegant, fabulously handsome and meticulous in manner and dress. The other one - well, Colonel Fitzwilliam is a rogue. Rough looking, brawny and possessing enough charm and love of life to sustain him through the years of England's war with France.

Their personal lives cross, with women and babies; feisty old Aunt Catherine is along for the ride. Hope you enjoy!


Both Jane Austen World and Jane Austen Today

“It’s intoxicating. It’s absorbing. It’s excellent.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Karen Wasylowski has done a fine job with these Austenian characters. She has stayed true to the original vision of their temperaments, yet brings new aspects of who they are to light. Their witty repartee is always fun, as they regularly jab at each other in non-cynical brotherly ways. Darcy and the Colonel passionately love their women, sometimes going to extremes to protect them and those they love. There is much drama in this narrative, although it doesn’t cross over into melodrama in the least.

There was more than one night when I had trouble putting the book down to go to bed! Being the men who they are, there are a few moments that are a bit PG-13 as far as language and sexual content. I mention this only for those who are particular about these issues or are considering this for young readers. Most of the bedroom material is within the confines of marriage, and Wasylowski doesn’t go overboard with frequent gratuitous moments of intimacy or colorful tirades.

Thank heavens this isn’t some tawdry bodice-ripper with blue dialog every other minute.

Darcy and Fitzwilliam was an enjoyable read. Karen provides an epilogue that occurs decades after the main story, and I think she could easily draft a sequel in the future. I readily enjoyed her treatment of these characters and hope she continues to revisit this world. Her work is page turning, humorous, maddening (Caroline!!) and touching.

This is a fine edition to the ever-growing library of Austenesque novels. It’s definitely a “bromance” worth an Austen fan’s consideration.


Laugh until your sides ache and then laugh some more with Karen V. Wasylowski's delicious Darcy and Fitzwilliam: A Tale of a Gentleman and an Officer. This absorbing, fast-moving romp of a book catalogues the often hilarious ups and downs in the enduring affectionate friendship of those brothers-in-spirit, cousins Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.

I read this entire 481 page book in one day, laughing all the way. Ms. Wasylowski has a good ear for realistic male banter, most of it uproariously funny. The best two lines in the whole novel occur when Darcy and Fitzwilliam reminisce about their youth and the hilariously disgusting things young boys do to each other. I still laugh when I think of those lines.A truly wonderful and original take on Pride and Prejudice. I can't wait for Ms. Wasylowski's next book.


Pride and Prejudice has given contemporary writers of historical fiction an endless source of ideas. Many of these novels of possibilities are very good and honor the original classic, while others are wastebasket material. Karen V. Wasylowski has turned out one of the former, a charming and believable rendering that offers the reader a look at the men in Pride and Prejudice. Austen herself would no doubt welcome Darcy and Fitzwilliam, an amusing and witty interpretation.

Comment below, and include your user name (or some way to make sure that I can contact you) to win a free copy via random drawing! Karen will ship a signed copy of her book to one winner anywhere.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Upstairs Downstairs; To Celebrate!

To celebrate the new Upstairs Downstairs, which plays in 3 episodes on PBS "Masterpiece" starting April 10th here in the US of A, I thought I would review some aspects of the old series. In this greatly loved and long running production, we learned much about the workings of an Edwardian household.

We learned, first, that the servants area, including the kitchen, was downstairs, and that it had it's own doorway. Servants were never seen coming in the front door. There was a rigid hierarchy among the servants, with Mr. Hudson, the butler reigning over the others. In a larger household, we would have seen him sitting at the head of the table, but this little kitchen had, if I recall correctly, a round one.

The upstairs family was headed by Richard Bellamy, Member of Parliament, but in the watching we learn that it is his wife, the Lady Marjorie, who deals with the staff, and mostly through her butler. She, however, meets and hires the help. Kitchen maids and the scullery maid, who gets to do the worst of the dirty work, came under the authority of the cook, Mrs. Bridges.

The house, 165 Eaton Place, was one of the smaller homes in the richest development in the world, Belgravia. Another part, therein, was Belgrave Square, which had enormous mansions, occupied by dukes and others of the highest rank.. Belgrave Square now houses mostly embassies, but once again, there are some residencies being prepared.

At the Bellamy's, we watch the ritual of the afternoon tea. Ladies in attendance would wear their hats and gloves throughout the meal (yes, it was a meal, usually with neatly cut sandwiches, as dinner was served four hours later at 8:00). If a lady was going to eat bread and butter, however, she was allowed to remove her gloves. There were, indeed, rules for everything! Should Mr. Bellamy have needed to see his wife at this time of day, he would enter with his hat and stick, the appropriate way to show that he was aware of the short length of time that it would be acceptable for him to remain in the room, and that he would comply. The butler would bring in the tea, which was to be poured by the hostess herself. In a larger household, it may have been carried in by a footman assisting the butler. Mrs. Bellamy knew better, of course, than to pour milk into cups before the tea, or she would come to be known as a "miffer", a milk-firster, and would develop a reputation as "socially impossible".

The setting, Edwardian England, was a grand time in many ways. Victoria's last decades had been marked by her endless mourning for Albert, and she was rarely seen in public. Edward, though, enjoyed the pleasures of life, and his country joined in the cheer. A sad note, at the start of his reign, was the cancellation of his coronation due to his appendicitis. No doubt a small fortune had been spent preparing, but it was all put on hold for two months. Londoners were thrilled that he moved his court from Windsor to Buckingham Palace, which he redecorated. His wife was lovely, and the family, adored. It was a golden age. All the pomp and ceremony that the Prince Regent, in the early 1800s, had initiated was carried on, and is still today as a mark of royal events.

Marjorie and her guests were stunning in their Parisian corsets, with, of course, only real whale bone, and bought at the London Corset Company. The ladies bustles contributed, as well, to their stately and elegant profiles. Should anything go wrong with a lady's clothing, her lady's maid was the one to call. Rose would have been well trained, likely as an apprentice to a seamstress, for the role. I'm sure she could also efficiently remove soil from a silk dress by rubbing it with stale bread crumbs. Where the wet wash was hung out in Belgravia, I cannot say, but it certainly would not have been out of doors.

The inexperienced house parlour maid could purchase a booklet describing her duties for 3d. An older woman would have to provide references, called a character, to show that she was already well aware of the responsibilities and had previously carried them out in a fine way. Lady Marjorie would certainly have been cautious about who she hired, but took on a maid with a false character, who, we later learn had been a jailbird! Her name, Clemence, was inappropriate for a servant, so Her Ladyship changed it to Sarah.

England was under one dark cloud, however, and Richard Bellamy was most disturbed by it. That cloud was the arrogant and distrusted Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Queen Victoria's grandson gone wrong, a major contributor to the Great War. Elizabeth Bellamy, the somewhat rebellious daughter, brought home a German Baron, much to her father's distress.

There is so much more to say about the times, but if you are still here with me, I will just relate that the actress who played Marjorie decided to leave the show to strike out on her own in movies, though she was not successful and regretted the decision, even before the show in which she was written out was aired. She was taken out of the story by traveling to America on a ship called the Titanic, never to return to 165 Eaton Place.

This great series may be available at your local library on DVD, and it is also available on Netflix. It is well worth the many hours it will take you to watch it! Much of my information was taken from The World of Upstairs Downstairs by Mollie Hardwick. Other information was gleaned in books long ago read and returned to the library and from Wikipedia.

Update: And now that the show has begun, please share your viewpoints on the new episodes!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Giveaway; Many Authors

Please join me at a Book Giveaway hosted by the author of A Very Merry Chase, Teresa Bohannon. There are a variety of books to consider and perhaps win!
Book Giveaway

You can also visit my author's page on Facebook and Like me, should you wish. Many thanks for your support! My book, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, has been published by World Castle Publications. My website for the book is Author Debra Brown.