Guest Post ~ “The Jane Austen Project” ~ by Kathleen A. Flynn

This excerpt is filled with so much detail I felt myself there. This is what I think historical fiction does best. I am looking forward to a delicious immersion in the whole book.

Jane Austen in Vermont

Dear Gentle Readers: I welcome today Kathleen A. Flynn, author of the just-released The Jane Austen Project, a time-travel tale wherein we will find ourselves in 1815 Regency England and meet up with Jane Austen. Kathleen includes here an excerpt from the first chapter – you will want to read the rest after this intro!

The Jane Austen Project

This excerpt is from early in the first chapter. Our time travelers, Rachel and Liam, have arrived in 1815, regaining consciousness in a field in Leatherhead, Surrey, a town that is now on the edge of greater London but at that time would have been well out of the city. With only the period-correct clothes on their back and a small fortune in fake banknotes concealed under those clothes, they pull themselves together and start on foot to the nearest coaching inn, the Swan. Their plan is to take rooms for…

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Emma Hamilton

While in London recently I attended the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see the exhibit called “Emma Hamilton. Seduction and Celebrity”.   She is mainly known, if at all, as the woman who was Lord Nelson’s lover.  But, that was only one part of an interesting life.

emma hamilton

She was born in 1765 to a blacksmith and his wife, a strong-minded woman.  Her mother brought her to London about 1777 and little is known about her life.  It seems she was a servant girl, a backstage theater girl, probably a prostitute.  Then, about 1781 she, reportedly an ‘astonishing beauty,’ was “taken up” by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, a well known rake.  She became pregnant; he did not respond to her pleas, her letters, he did not take care, or apparently care.  She was friendly with (probably danced on table tops for) Lord Greville.  When she appealed to him regarding her pregnancy he agreed to take her in if she gave up her child and abandoned all those she knew except for her mother. Despite heartbreak at losing her daughter she agreed, and she and her mother became housemaids in the service of Lord Greville.   Emma became his lover as well.  When he tired of her he sent her on to his uncle, the ambassador to the court of Naples, William Hamilton.  William Hamilton was genuinely smitten and in love with her.  When his first wife died he married Emma.  During their twenty-five years together she grew into an educated, respected wife, a great beauty and entertainer, and a women of some political influence.

This exhibit was one of the most comprehensive I have ever seen.  Emma Lyons Hart Hamilton was a friend and muse for the painter George Romney.  He called her his “Divine Emma.”  From 1782-1791 he painted her portrait 70 times in historical themes, sketches, society portraits.  She was beautiful, intelligent, sensuous, theatrical…..and not yet 21 years old.emma-drawing.jpg

While in Naples the Napoleonic wars raged, putting the court of the Queen of Naples and Sicily at risk.  When Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson visited Naples, Emma and William Hamilton enlisted his aide to secure safe passage for the Queen and her retinue.  They became friends and eventually, Emma and Nelson became lovers.  This appears to have been a grand, real, passionate love.  However, because Nelson was a hero to the British (a married hero) and Emma was of poor reputation (despite a respectable marriage) she was seen as a manipulator and a bad influence.  She was not approved of because of her birth, her class, her employment (entertainer), and now because she held sway over Lord Nelson.  Yet, the lovers persisted in returning to England, living on a shared estate, having a daughter together.  He added a codicil to his will “I leave Emma Lady Hamilton therefore a Legacy to my King and Country that they will give her ample provision to maintain her rank in life. I also leave to the beneficience of my country my adopted daughter Horatia Nelson Thompson.”   Alas, when he died at Trafalger in 1805 the King and Country, so grateful to their hero but saddled with prejudice, did not honor his last wishes.

Emma Hamilton died impoverished in Calais in 1815 at the age of 49.  This wonderful exhibit goes a long way to redeeming a powerful and interesting woman who lived in an intolerant time.

A Proposed 18th Century Tax Bill Targets 27-Year-Old Spinsters…And Their Cats!

this is too wonderful not to share.

Mimi Matthews

‘As the supply alluded to is to be levied upon all old maids, beyond a certain age, and intitled to certain yearly or other income; I make no doubt but both Houses of Parliament will speedily manifest their hearty concurrence thereto.’
The London Magazine, 1777.

A Visit to Grandmother by John Raphael Smith after Thomas James Northcote, 1785.(Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium) A Visit to Grandmother by John Raphael Smith after Thomas James Northcote, 1785.
(Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium)

The 1777 edition of the London Magazine includes an interesting letter to the editor in which a gentleman—who signs himself as ‘A Friend to the Community’—has appended a proposed bill to levy a tax of ‘6d. in the pound’ on old maids. He claims that this tax will generate revenues of nearly £300,000 per annum, a sum which could then be used to help fund the British war against the American colonies. The proposed bill begins by stating:

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Aphra Behn

As I begin in earnest my research and work to write about Lady Mary Wortley Montegue I have decided to read lots of biographies.  I hope it will reveal a way clear for me to do justice to this woman whose life I believe will interest a wider audience.  I have recently completed “Reconstructing Aphra. A Social Biography of Aphra Behn” by Angeline Goreau.

Aphra Behn is credited with being the first woman to earn her living by her writing. She lived from 1640-1689.  Yes!  In the 17th century a strong, literate, adventurous woman participated in the intellectual conversations of her time in London.  She wrote many successfully performed plays and was well known, then.  If any English Majors have even heard of her it is probably by knowing of the book called Oroonoko.  That book, she claimed, was a biography of an educated African slave who lived in the colony Surinam at the same time she was there as a young woman.   The veracity of it has long been questioned.  The author of this biography has done enough research to make a convincing claim that Oroonoko was a real person.  But, even if not, then this is a early work of fiction: a novel long before Daniel Defoe “invented” the novel.

What interests me the most about this woman who wrote, earned a living, experienced adventures in the world and was known by other writers of the era is how completely she has been sidelined and mostly forgotten, instead of celebrated. This is obviously the same issue I have with Lady Mary’s reputation.

The Restoration period was a time of what was referred to as ‘loose morals’.  No doubt people reacted to being freed from the religious strictures imposed by Cromwell and his administration.  The Restoration refers to the return of the monarchy.

Aphra Behn, perhaps the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, was educated and well traveled when she settled in London. She had been to debtors’ prison once and did not want to return.  Thus, she used her skills to earn a living.  She wrote bawdy, witty plays like most of her fellow writers.  As the era waned she was increasingly condemned for her lewdness.  “It is curious that the first woman to write professionally for the English Stage began her career when the morality of English Drama was at its lowest.”  Damning with faint praise by the Cambridge History of English Literature, indeed.

She was tough minded and unapologetic.  This is the epilogue to her play Sir Patient Fancy.  “I here and there o’erheard a coxcomb cry,/ Ah, Rot it —’tis a woman’s comedy,/One, who because she lately chanc’d to please us,/With her damn’d stuff, will never cease to tease us,/ What had poor woman done, that she must be/Debarred from sense, and sacred poetry?…/As for you half-wits, you unthinking tribe,/We’ll let you see, what e’er besides we do,/How artfully we copy some of you:/And if you’re drawn to th’life, pray tell me then,/Why women should not write as well as men.” Clearly she could give as good as she got!

In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf pays tribute to her.  “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.  It is she – shady and amorous as she was – who makes it not quite fantastic for me to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”

Research is such a pleasure, especially when I get introduced to these brave accomplished women.  I plan to share them as they become known to me.

thoughts on peace

Sigh!  Peace seems so impossible these days.

Here is a poem by Yehuda Amichai that gives me hope and comfort in small ways.

Wildpeace

Not the peace of a cease-fire,

not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,

but rather

as in the heart when the excitement is over

and you can talk only about a great weariness.

I know that I know how to kill,

that makes me an adult.

And my son plays with a toy gun that knows

how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.

A peace

 

without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,

without words, without

the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be

light, floating, like lazy white foam.

A little rest for the wounds-

who speaks of healing?

(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation

to the next, as in a relay race:

the baton never falls.)

 

Let it come

like wildflowers,

suddenly, because the field

must have it: wildpeace.

 

thoughts on time

I am interested in how notions of what I have always taken for granted are, in fact, things, thoughts, ideas that have changed over history.  Time.  Time as we keep track of it is relatively new.  I don’t mean in the Einsteinian sense.  And I long ago learned about the different calendars (Julian vs. Gregorian).   No, I am surprised to learn that keeping track of daily time has been standardized for barely 100 years.  For context, let me say my father would be over 100 years old if he were alive.  So, suddenly in my ripe late middle age I’ve learned that time, as I’ve always known it, is a modern invention.

As with so much in history it came about slowly.  In the Middle Ages ‘liturgical time’ competed with ‘merchant time’.  During the Renaissance the Medici’s and The Church were intolerant of expressions of the future.  They seemed to actually want to monopolize time.  The biggest changes came with the Industrial Revolution beginning in the 18th century. The needs of capital and the mechanization of work replaced the rhythms of the natural world. Time was no longer something ‘passed’ as something ‘spent’.

This is my period of interest, where my attention is focused.  This is the period of time where Lady Mary Wortly Montagu and  Jane Austen reside. It strikes me as curious that I haven’t noticed a different kind of time there.

Time was standardized for the railroads in Britain on December 11, 1847.  They chose Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is still the worldwide prime meridian.  The USA and Canada lived with nearly 100 individual time zones until they too acknowledged GMT in 1883!  British colonies around the globe protested ‘colony time’.    Daily Savings Time created another issue.  Since I’m not a fan of it I will not go into that history, except to say in 1918 the Mayor of Bangor, Maine (a man after my own heart) actually declared local time secession in protest of the newly created standard time and daily savings time.  I’m more of a time passing, natural time girl.  That does not, of course, account for how I’m always early wherever I go, wear a wrist watch and even have a ‘dress up’ watch.

I love that before all official standardization (which is most of recorded time!) people kept time by calling noon the moment that the sun was directly overhead wherever they happened to be, or the day began when it was light enough to see the veins in a person’s hands.  It could be measured by something called a ‘pissing while’, or the time it takes to cook rice.  I found an old recipe from my husband’s grandmother in Kansas who measured how long to bake her pies by the amount of cobs needed to heat the oven.

My favorite item is that in 1835 a man named Henry Belville carried a chronometer through London giving out the correct time to the clockmakers.  His granddaughter continued the business of traveling from Greenwich to London to sell the exact time during the Second World War.  Unlikely, but true!

The more things change, the more they stay the same

This expression came to mind most recently while I was reading about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She was a woman of profound intellect with many literary accomplishments. She was, for her times, a ‘mover and shaker’.  And yet, we hardly know her.

One accomplishment that draws me to such a fascinating woman from the late 17th and early 18th century is that she is responsible for bringing knowledge of small pox inoculation to England.  She had had the disease and it left her scarred.  When she was living in Turkey in 1717 she learned about their custom of inoculating children.  She had her young son engrafted then and there.  When she returned to London she shared the information with friends, some of whom had their young children inoculated.  In 1721 London experienced another epidemic of small pox and Lady Mary watched many of her friends become afflicted and die. She began to advocate more wildly for prevention, but physicians disagreed about whether prevention or treatment was more important.  A power struggle ensued between the College of Physicians who cared for the wealthy members of society and the Apothecaries who cared for and treated the poor.  The apothecaries were charged with “quacking about in the office of physicians.” (I completely LOVE that the use of Quack in reference to false and ignorant medical skills goes back to 1659, so says the OED!)  From arguments of treatment to who administers that treatment and ultimately to religious leaders disbelief the gamut of disrespect and paranoia sounds sadly familiar to the modern ear.  I’m thinking of reactions to HIV/AIDS and, more recently, Ebola.

Reverend Edmund Massey actually preached an “anti-inoculation sermon”.  Warning that inoculation “negates the two spiritual functions of disease”: divine punishment and divine testing.  A popular pampleteer, William Wagstaffe, complained that this medical procedure came from ‘non-physicians’ and was “stemming from a country inferior.”  He could not support an “experiment practiced only by a few Ignorant Women, amongst an Illiterate and unthinking people.”  He suggested that inoculation was a poison and “an artful way of depopulating the Country.”  The opposition press to the Royal family protested that it was “female inspired and Turkish.”

In response to this outpouring of prejudice the (male) physicians who were medically progressive and advocates for inoculation decided to undermine and bury the important contribution that women played in bringing this Oriental prevention to England.  They chose to accentuate the scientific aspects only.

Thus, it has taken me 300 years to learn that Lady Mary was the progressive voice of saving lives and bringing inoculations to the West.  Who else don’t I know about, yet?

are stories from the sixties historical fiction?

I have always thought about historical fiction in terms of past centuries. By past centuries what I mean is not my own time.  But, I was brought up sharply to the passage of time and possibility of expanding my understanding of what is history because of a recent conversation.   I volunteer at the local survival center and meet a wonderful cross-section of people there.  On this particular day I was talking with a college student.  When I asked her what she was reading and she said a biography of Marilyn Monroe I was surprised, but intrigued.  The more we spoke, the more it became clear that she considered Marilyn Monroe an historical figure. That certainly gave me a new perspective on time, aging, and my reference points.

How can Marilyn Monroe be history? How can movies from the 1950s be considered history?  I was alive for them!  I realize how simplistic this is when I think about my 96 year old mother’s reference points: The Great Depression, World War II.  Certainly, despite her age, she doesn’t think  of her life as history. To me, however, both of those events are historical.

This line of thought leads me to wonder whether I could market my book about my college days in Madison, Wisconsin in 1970 as historical fiction. Of course, the very thought makes me uncomfortable and reflect on my own age. But it now seems likely that 1999, which is the ‘present’ part of the book and 1970, which is the flashback part of the book could/would be read as history by some people.

Does anyone have an opinion about this?

 

Lady Mary Wortley Montague and the Turkish baths

I am reading a biography of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by Isobel Grundy. It is the most detailed and academic biography I’ve ever read, filled with footnotes and references.  These are gifts to me as I work to bring into focus what it was like for a woman to travel in 1717.

Today my intrepid, aristocratic Lady Mary has finally arrived in the Ottoman Empire. Her first visit to Eastern culture is in Sofia, capital of present day Bulgaria.  When she visits the Turkish bath house a transformative phase in her life begins.  She is delighted beyond all measure.  Grundy says, “As usual, Lady Mary was alert to what was and what was not different.”

Inside the five domed stone building where the women’s bath was but one marbled room with sulfurous hot springs she viewed 200 women.  They were naked, relaxed, drinking fruit juice, embroidering, plaiting one another’s hair, and all around appeared entirely comfortable.  Their good humor and friendliness welcomed her.  Egalitarianism was noteworthy since she did not know the status of one woman from another.  She did observe the absence of small pox scars which was something she had recently been afflicted with, and she also noted the lack of red marks from tight stays in clothing.

Grundy says “…to find unadorned, unemproved feminity free from lewdness or narcisssism or rivalry: this was a most happy denial of what her own culture had led her to expect.”

What strikes me to learn, but sadly doesn’t entirely surprise, is that when her letters describing this were published it created a scandal. She was accused of making it up, of not being delicate or lady-like.  As if that was not bad enough, in more recent times she has been accused of snobbery for not joining those women in the bath.

Reactions change according to the norms of the time, but what doesn’t apparently change is the fact that a woman reporter is judged first for her socially aberrant attitudes and then, if lucky, for what she is describing.

Fifty years after reading Lady Mary’s letters describing the Turkish bath, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres painted this from notes he had made earlier.  Her letters were a powerful stimulus to the imagination.  And they still are!File:Le Bain Turc, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, from C2RMF retouched.jpg

The Road to Writing

I keep trying to pull my thoughts together for this blog post.  I’m surrounded by research and, yet, not a cogent thought emerges that leads to either fiction or report.

It seems the process of incorporating my eclectic reading, juggling the unfamiliar aspects of the late 17th and early 18th century (the defined, rigid levels of society…..I can’t seem to care), and playing with possible scenarios and characters has not yet formed a whole.  This is either because it’s all roiling in my subconscious, or because, like baking bread, the yeast has not yet proofed. In either case, nothing has risen from within to mar the blank page/screen.

What I am reading includes a wonderful travel memoir, “Turkish Reflections” by Mary Lee Settle.  My favorite travel writing includes history, observation and personal experiences that flow seamlessly.  This is one of the best. Also, dipping into Brian Dolan’s “Ladies of the Grand Tour”.  The subtitle reads: “British Women in Pursuit of Enlightenment and Adventure in Eighteenth Century Europe.”  Needless to say, this is right up by alley! These are women who tell their tales through letters and diaries.  What especially interests me is how entirely liberating they found being away from the strictures of home.  So many of these women married for status and money.  It really was often nothing more than a fiduciary exchange among families. (Jane Austen’s women were more radical than we can imagine.) So some of these intelligent and curious and sensuous women found a new kind of freedom when traveling, mainly, it seems to Italy.  And, really, what country is more sensuous?

I continue to pursue Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  A complete biography by Isobel Grundy is on my desk and I’ve taken dozens of pages of notes, and am only on page 122!  She hasn’t yet arrived in Constantinople!

There is so much to learn about the late 17th and early 18th century before I can begin to imagine it.  What I do know with confidence, is that women struggling to become themselves against prevailing expectations is a familiar story.