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1815. A momentous year and one with which any reader of Regency romance should be familiar. It was, after all, the year of Waterloo, the battle that defeated Napoleon once and for all.static1.squarespace

We are all looking forward to the two hundredth anniversary of Waterloo this year. In fact, our Susanna Fraser is planning to attend! As is my Australian friend, Lisa Chaplin, whose first historical fiction book, The Tide Watchers, is going to be making a big splash when it is released in June, the month of Waterloo!

1815 is famous for another battle, too, though.

Freedom to Love by Susanna FraserAs Susanna told us last week, January 1815 was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, another battle that ended a war, although in this one, the British lost to the Americans. (Don’t forget! Susanna’s new book, Freedom To Love, that takes place after the battle is out now!)

Did you know there was another war that ended in 1815? It began in 1815, too. March 15, 1815, Joachim Murat, King of Naples, declared war on Austria, starting the Neapolitan War. Murat was Napoleon’s brother-in-law, married to Napoleon’s sister, Caroline, and had been a charismatic and daring cavalry officer. Napoleon appointed him King of Naples and Sicily, but when Napoleon was defeated at Murat2Leipzig, Murat switched sides and reached an agreement with Austria to save his throne. At the Congress of Vienna, though, he realized he had little support, especially from the British who wanted to restore King Ferdinand IV to the throne. When Murat heard of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he switched sides again and declared war on Austria. The war ended in May after a decisive Austrian victory at the Battle of Tolentino. Ferdinand IV became King of Naples and Sicily and Murat was eventually executed.

1815 is famous for other things, too

Royal_Doulton_3916699266_64f808e041 The Corn Laws were enacted by Parliament. The Corn Laws were steep tariffs on imported grain designed to keep Great Britain’s grain prices high. Food prices were steep and the laws were opposed by Whigs and workers.

Jones, Watts, and Doulton started a stoneware pottery in South London that eventually becomes the Royal Doulton Company.

Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies erupted killing almost 100,ooo people and sending sulfide gas compounds into the upper atmosphere. It is thought that the gases blocked sunlight and led to 1816 being called the Year Without A Summer. Temperatures dropped, crops failed, famine was widespread in New England, Canada, and Europe.

Geological_map_-_William_Smith,_1815_-_BLWilliam Smith published the first national geological map of England, Scotland and Wales.

Jane Austen’s Emma was published, as were Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering and Lord Byron’s Hebrew Melodies, a collection of poems including “She Walks In Beauty.”

Speaking of Byron, 1815 is the year he married Anna Milbanke. And is also the year his daughter Augusta Ada is born. Augusta became an early computer pioneer, and is often considered the first computer programmer.

99px-Emma,_Lady_Hamilton_by_George_RomneySir Humphry Davy invented the Davy lamp, a coal mining safety lamp.

Anthony Troloppe was born in 1815.

Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress died in 1815. So did James Gillray, the famous caricaturist.

What other momentous events took place in 1815?

Diane Health Update: My back is much better. It still hurts some, though. Luckily, the dh’s pneumonia is all gone so he can do the heavy lifting!

As I’ve probably posted here before, I love movies. I’m by no means a Cinema Expert, like a friend of mine who was a Film Studies major. I don’t much like going to the movies with him because afterwards he always wants to talk about camera angles and filters and other techie stuff I don’t understand. I just want to talk about the characters. And the dialogue. And the costumes. All much too amateur for him. 🙂

Anyway, I do enjoy movies. So, I’ve been following the news out of Cannes this week. I love Cannes, too, for being so goofball and overblown and, well, so French. Who else boos movies? Not the Canadians, I bet. Toronto is probably far more civilized and not nearly as much fun. I’d like to know what all those actresses are thinking when it comes to their gowns, though. Kirsten Dunst, who I like because she’s usually so quirky and cute, gets herself up to look like Fraulein Maria at the abbey for her big premiere??? Monica Belluci in a Christmas tree skirt trimmed with feather dusters??? This is France, people! FRANCE! (Sofia Coppola sure had some great shoes, though).

But I digress. Fashion will always do that to me. I’m here to talk about movies. I think. One movie in particular–Marie Antoinette, the one reportedly just booed at Cannes by moviegoing members of the “petit bourgeois” (according to one French critic). Now, I haven’t seen this film–it doesn’t open here until October. I’ve only seen a trailer, and I don’t know why it was booed (though I’d dearly like to find out). I will definitely see it, for the elaborate costumes, Versailles, the reported neo-punk soundtrack, and because I’m always a sucker for overblown, pre-Revolutionary shenanigans. But I have some reservations, mostly about the casting. As I said, I do like Kirsten Dunst. But does “quirky” equal “Austrian princess in powdered wigs”? Just not sure. I also don’t know who I would cast instead, if it was MY movie. Maybe Anne Hathaway? Or Emmy Rossum, if she wasn’t so tall?

Anyway, here is your task, if you choose to accept it. Let’s imagine we’re making a film about, say, the life of Byron (forget the one from the BBC a couple years ago–ours will be better!). Who would you cast in the lead parts? As Byron? (I would vote for Johnny Depp, I think. Or Keanu Reeves, if he had the acting skills to equal his looks, darn it). Caro Lamb? (Now there would be a part for Kirsten Dunst!). The Shelleys? Annabelle Milbanke? Lady Melbourne?

Serious and/or goofy answers all happily accepted! As are suggestions for Marie Antoinette. Or any other movie you choose to make. YOU are the director now! I may even give away a free book to the most, er, creative ideas…

I watched the Academy Awards last night even though I only saw one of the nominated movies–War Horse. That never stopped me from having favorites. I’m delighted that Christopher Plummer won for Best Supporting Actor and Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress. It was fun to see The Artist win so much, but I was disappointed that War Horse did not win anything.

The reason I enjoyed the Academy Awards, I think, is due to fascination with celebrities. To see what the women wore. To see the handsome men. To hear the speeches, which are almost always disappointing, and cringe at the presenters attempting to be funny.

I like to think of Lord Byron as one of the first celebrities in the modern sense of the word. I read an article that said that celebrity, as we think of it, began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the industrialization of print meant that information could be widely distributed. Lord Byron’s poetry and gossip about his life was certainly available to many.

He was wildly popular when his poetry caught fire with the public. It is said that his wife termed the adulation surrounding him Bryomania. How modern sounding is that?

He was perfectly cast for such fame. His verse was emotional and sometimes shocking and he was the quintessential “bad boy” in need of taming. His early life was romantic-his deformity of foot, his tumultuous family including his great-uncle, “Mad Jack.” His early travels in the Mediterranean and his dramatic adopting of native dress, must have exciting to women of his time, especially young fanciful girls who still today idolize celebrities. I like to believe the 19th century drawing I own is one a lovestruck fan drew of Byron.

Like many celebrities, Byron fed the gossip mills. His affair with Caroline Lamb. His later affairs. His separation from his wife amid allegations of cruelty, infidelity and incest with a half-sister. And like many celebrities, Byron met an untimely death, albeit a romantic one, dying of fever while preparing to fight in the Greek war of independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Like other celebrities, especially those who met an early death, Byron lives on in his marvelous works, his letters, and in his legend that still fascinates us.

Not so different from the celebrities at the Oscars.
Who were your favorites at the Oscars? Will Amanda do a fashion critique tomorrow?

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A while back, I picked up Kisses on Paper at a library book sale. It’s a collection of love letters by women, edited by Jill Dawson, and contains a number of letters from our period. They certainly bust any stereotype that ladies of the period were meek, demure and lacking in sex drive.

Jane Clairmont, also known as Claire Clairmont, spent a summer with the Shelleys and Byron and conceived a strong passion for Byron. Here she writes to him to arrange and overnight tryst and awaits nearby for his answer.

“Have you then any objection to the following plan? On Thursday Evening we may go out of town together by some stage or mail about the distance of ten or twelve miles. There we shall be free and unknown; we can return early the following morning. I have arranged every thing here so that the slightest suspicion may not be excited. Pray do so with your people.”

“Will you admit me for two moments to settle with you where? Indeed I will not stay an instant after you tell me to go. Only so much may be said and done in a short time by an interview which writing cannot effect. Do what you will, or go where you will, refuse to see me and behave unkindly, I shall never forget you. I shall ever remember the gentleness of your manners and the wild originality of your countenance. Having been once seen, you are not to be forgotten.”

Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer in women’s rights, engages in an affair with Gilbert Imlay, with whom she had a daughter, Fanny. A few romance novels have mentioned her (usually as an inspiration for the heroine) but I wonder how many romance readers know about this original and passionate woman.

“You can scarcely imagine with what pleasure I anticipate the day, when we are to begin almost to live together; and you would smile to hear how many plans of employment I have in my head, now that I am confident my heart has found peace in your bosom. Cherish me with that dignified tenderness, which I have only found in you; and your own dear girl will try to keep under a quickness of feeling, which has sometimes given you pain. Yes, I will be good, that I may deserve to be happy; and whilst you love me, I cannot again fall into the miserable state which rendered life a burthen almost too heavy to be borne.”

“But, good night! God bless you! Sterne says that is equal to a kiss—yet I would rather give you the kiss into the bargain, glowing with gratitude to Heaven, and affection to you. I like the word affection, because it signifies something habitual; and we are soon to meet, to try whether we have mind enough to keep our hearts warm. I will be at the barrier a little after ten o’clock tomorrow.”

Some of these letter writers showed their strength in more conventional ways, by asserting their rights within their relationships.

For financial reasons, Maria Bicknell and the painter John Constable had to wait five years to marry. Although she apologizes for the advice she gives him, I suspect the apology is more a matter of form.

“Believe me, I shall feel a more lasting pleasure in knowing that you are improving your time, than I should do while you were on a stolen march with me round the Park. Still I am not heroine enough to say, wish, or mean that we should never meet. I know that to be impossible. But then, let us resolve it shall be but seldom; not as inclination, but as prudence shall dictate. Farewell, dearest John—may every blessing attend you, and in the interest I feel in your welfare, forgive the advice I have given you, who, I am sure are better qualified to admonish me. Resolution is, I think, what we now stand most in need of, to refrain for a time, for our mutual good, from the society of each other.”

Here Charlotte Carpenter writes to Sir Walter Scott, early in their relationship:

“Before I conclude this famous epistle, I will give you a little hint—that is, not to put so many musts into your letters—it is beginning rather too soon; and another thing is, that I take the liberty not to mind them much, but I expect you [to?] mind me.”

And here is an excerpt from a sweet letter from Mary Wordsworth to William, delicately alluding to their first night together.

“Dearest William! I am sorry about thy eye—that it is not well before now, & I am sorry for what causes in me such pious & exulting gladness—that you cannot fully enjoy your absence from me—indeed William I feel, I have felt that you cannot, but it overpowers me to be told it by your own pen I was much moved by the lines written with your hand in one of D’s letters where you spoke of coming home thinking you ‘would be of great use’ to me—indeed my love thou wouldst but I did not want thee so much then, as I do now that our uncomfortableness is passed away—if you had been here, no doubt there would have existed in me that underconsciousness that I had my all in all about me—that feeling which I have never wanted since the solitary night did not separate us, except in absence…”

I rather love this picture of the two of them!

Who are some of your favorite women of the Regency? Any favorite couples who might (or might not) be inspiration for romance?


I’m in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, in a wooded vacation house with three friends, winding up a writing retreat. Great experience. It is amazing how much a person can get done with lots of quiet and no interruptions.

It made me think of another writing retreat that took place in 1816, the year without a summer. That year Percy Bysshe Shelley, his 18 year old mistress, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and her step-sister, Claire Clairmont, joined Lord Byron (by whom Claire was pregnant), and his physician and friend, John William Polidori, at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, for a holiday. The weather, however, was cold and rainy and the party was forced indoors for days at a time, reading ghost stories and discussing galvanism and the possibility of reanimating the dead. Byron issued a challenge. They should each write a ghost story.

Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story.” Byron abandoned his story but his friend Polidori used it to inspire his short story, “The Vampyre.” And, of course, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

It seems to me this is how writing retreats go. Some people are inspired and very productive (Mary and Polidori) and some make some progress (Shelley) and some get distracted and amuse themselves in other ways (Byron—perhaps amusing himself with Claire).

I fall in the Shelley category. Although I have made good progress on my revisions, I’m not quite through with them.

Have you gone on a working retreat? Writing Retreat or some other kind? How productive was it?

I do have writing news, though. The cover of my October Undone, The Liberation of Miss Finch, is here! And on Aug 23 (tomorrow), Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy should be appearing in bookstores. Check my website tomorrow for more information.

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