Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Beginning of Lord Byron's Marital Nightmare


Sometime this coming year, my first Regency novel will be released. Dangerous to Know is the first in a trilogy and loosely based upon the disastrous marriage of Lord Byron to Annabella Milbanke. I thought it might be fun for the next month to discuss days leading up to their marriage and the ones that followed it. The couple was married in January of 1815, and much of Lord and Lady Byron’s marriage was dramatic and unhappy, a cautionary tale of why two such types should never marry.

(By Thomas Phillips - NPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=374342)


Annabella was devout in her faith and sadly deluded in the notion that she could tame Byron’s dark, agnostic, and brooding soul. Although there was a physical attraction on both sides, the unequal spiritual state of the couple was profound. Their childhood experiences were vastly different. Byron’s father was an abhorrent character who showed no real affection for his wife or his child and abandoned them when Byron was just a little boy. Byron suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his nurse, and although well-born, his mother was a foul-mouthed glutton who did nothing for Byron’s opinion of women. Annabella had grown up, sheltered, in a small coastal town. She was a deeply loved only child raised by parents who were thankful to have any offspring at all.  In short, these young people's very different expectations of marriage and love were completely lost in a world where social status and financial viability were revered above the importance of compatible temperaments.  

(By Creator: Charles Hayter - National Portrait Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5086529)


It should also be mentioned that Lord Byron was unnaturally attached to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and most scholars agree that the pair were involved in a scandalous union. This was most likely part of the reason why Byron moved slowly toward his marriage ceremony, several days’ travel north in the county of Durham.



“Never was a lover in less haste,” said his friend John Hobhouse, who traveled north with him. In fact, the Milbankes had expected Byron by Christmas, and when he finally arrived several days later on December 30th, Lady Milbanke was so distraught that she promptly took to her bed chambers. Assumedly, she thought her future son-in-law’s delay signaled that her daughter might be spared the dubious nuptials.



Annabella had so anxiously awaited her beloved’s arrival that when she saw him, she threw her arms around him and sobbed. While looking on, John Hobhouse could only conclude that Annabella was “fond” of her betrothed as she gazed “with delight upon his animated bust.”



In the next few days, one last ditch effort was made to end the engagement. Apparently at Byron’s request, Hobhouse pulled aside the clergyman set to marry them and begged that he might call it off on the grounds that the Milbanke’s didn’t really understand they were marrying their daughter to a man who harbored the potential for violence. The attempt did not work, and the clergyman said it was too late for such words. In fact, Byron had tried to wriggle out of the engagement before, but now as the day and hour approached, it would seem his apprehension grew into a near panic. When it seemed the efforts were hopeless, however, Byron apparently resigned himself.



He shared one last evening alone with his friend Hobhouse, stating the obvious in the most morose language: “This is our last night. Tomorrow I shall be Annabella’s.”



The next day would mark the beginning of Byron’s and Annabella’s marital nightmare.



To be continued…





Source:

MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giroux. New York: 2002

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Regency Films at Christmas: Pride and Prejudice

When I was twenty-three, I was blessed to live in England for a year. During that time, the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice was in full-swing. People were going bonkers over the electric chemistry of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, played by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Over twenty years later, this version remains a favorite of many P & P fans.



The mini-series was broadcast throughout the fall of 1995, and by Christmas many of my coworkers and friends were receiving the boxset as a gift. A friend gave me the full series, and during that winter I watched it over and over again, practically memorizing every word of every episode. That was also the first year I spent Christmas away from home and family. I suffered from homesickness and loneliness, and there was something soothing about the show and the familiarity and appeal of the characters. I never grew tired of watching it.

For the past five years or so, I've made a point of watching Pride and Prejudice around the Christmas season. It reminds me of that time in my life when I lived and worked in London and tried to absorb the English culture and way of life. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy remain two of my favorite literary characters, and Ehle's and Firth's portrayal of this couple is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by other film versions.

For those who have never read the book or seen the mini-series, this is a story about manners, morality, status, and the class structure in 19th century England. If you haven't read the book, I can only suggest reading it. If you haven't seen the 1995 mini-series, I believe you will be positively changed by doing so. (I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but I can only tell you that Colin Firth emerging from Pemberley's lake in a wet and disheveled state will rock your world).

I won't waste space here summarizing the plot, but I will include a link to the first episode of the mini-series. Your Christmas will be merrier if you watch the entire series!



I wish a truly blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours and a very happy new year! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Regency Films at Christmas: Emma

Emma was the first Jane Austen book I ever read. Although it's not my favorite Jane Austen novel, it maintains a special place in my heart because it introduced me to the Regency world and Mr. Knightley.

(By Chris Hammond (illustrator) - Houghton Library at Harvard University, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34960748)

For those who don't know the story (and if you don't know it, then don't walk but run to the nearest bookstore, or computer with Internet, to procure a copy), Emma Woodhouse is a spoiled, proud, and beautiful young woman who has lived all of her life quite comfortably with her father in Highbury. She is overly confident in all of her abilities, most notably those which have to do with matchmaking and meddling in the lives of others. Although Emma has no desire to marry, she takes great pleasure in finding potential mates for all of her friends and acquaintances.

Mr. Knightley, a lifelong friend of the family whose brother is married to Emma's sister, is seventeen years older than Emma. He is a kind, compassionate, and highly principled man, and he enjoys correcting Emma in some of her erroneous assumptions and deeds. Emma sees him in the light of an older brother or cousin, and from the outset it looks as though he sees her as a younger sister, but when she is pursued by a couple of young men, Mr. Knightley is jealous. It takes longer for Emma to see Mr. Knightley in a romantic light, but the charm of the story stems from seeing her character's development and maturity. An eventual comeuppance turns Emma's heart toward Mr. Knightley's quiet benevolence and turns her eyes inward toward her own entitled and selfish motivations. The result is Emma's growth, change, and understanding.

There are several movie versions of this novel, but my favorite is the 2009 BBC mini-series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. I especially love to watch it around this time of year (even though Emma spans through all seasons), for the wonderful scene at the Weston's Christmas party when Mr. Elton makes his feelings known to Emma, and all of the guests are aflutter at the prospect of being "snowed in" by the lightly falling flakes.

You can watch the whole episode below (from YouTube), but the scene I've mentioned begins around minute seventeen. I could watch this mini-series over and over again and never tire of it.



What movies or shows compel you to watch them over and over again?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Historical Christmas Films: The Amazing Mr. Blunden


Many of us watch and enjoy traditional Christmas movies around this time of year. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Christmas Story are just some of the classic movies broadcast every year on television and watched in our homes.



Although not necessarily Christmas-themed movies or miniseries, I have a number of historical pieces I make a point of watching every year during this season. Over the next few weeks, I will feature a few of them.



Even as a little girl I was an Anglophile. I attribute this to my grandfather’s adoration of Great Britain and of all things British. He used to watch BBC television shows and sometimes I would watch them with him.



One Christmas, when I was around five years old, a movie called The Amazing Mr. Blunden came on HBO. I must have watched it every time it was scheduled, for I memorized the entire thing. I loved it so much that recorded my own version of an audiobook of the movie. I carried my little tape recorder into the basement bathroom (for purpose of acoustics—it echoed in there) and performed all of the parts, using different voices and a pretty authentic English accent for a five-year-old Tennessee girl.




Based on The Ghosts, Antonia Barber’s novel, The Amazing Mr. Blunden was made in 1972 and stars Laurence Naismith as Mr. Blunden. Mr. Blunden is a mysterious and magical London solicitor. One Christmas he appears to a poor single mother and her two children (brother and sister, Jamie and Lucy) living in Camden Town and offers them a living situation in a vacant country mansion, if they will simply look after the place and clean it up a bit.



Once there, Jamie and Lucy encounter two young ghosts, brother and sister--Georgie and Sarah, who suggest something bad happened to cause their deaths. When Jamie and Lucy learn of a potion that will transport them back in time, they drink it and wake to find themselves in a different era, solving the mystery of what happened to young Sarah and Georgie and attempting to change history.



This is a family film—there’s nothing scary in it, despite the ghosts. It’s an atmospheric adventure story—a hero’s quest with a great message. And … well, it’s very English, so what’s not to like? By the way, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube!






What was your favorite Christmas film as a child?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Regency Elopements: Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Ellen Turner


Elopements were not always based on love and desire. The Gretna Green histories chronicle some tales in which marriages were accomplished through force and/or lies. Indeed, deception and greed was at the helm of the 1826 elopement of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and fifteen-year-old Ellen Turner.


Early in his life, Wakefield served as the King’s Messenger during the Napoleonic wars, carrying letters throughout Europe. In 1816 he married (also by elopement) an heiress, who later died after complications in childbirth.



Although he had received a settlement of seventy thousand pounds from his first marriage, Wakefield was greedy. He needed more money if he was to live the way he wished and someday become a member of Parliament.



Enlisting his brother’s help, Wakefield devised a plan in which he would lure the wealthy mill’s daughter, Ellen Turner, away from her girl’s school in Liverpool with what appeared to be an official doctor's letter stating her mother was ill and calling for her.



The cruel plan worked. Eager to see her mother, Ellen left the school accompanied by her family’s butler to Manchester. There, she was led to private rooms where she met with Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a handsome, charming man who claimed to be a friend of her father’s.



Edward not only calmed and assured young Ellen that her mother was quite well, but he won her over with his smile and polite manners. She was immediately smitten. When he told her that her father insisted they travel together to Kendal to meet him, Ellen obliged. Once in Kendal, Wakefield informed her that her father would not be coming. Instead, he had terrible news. Her father’s business was ruined. Wakefield produced a supposed letter from a solicitor suggesting Ellen and Wakefield marry at once in order to preserve her father’s failing fortune. Ellen eagerly obliged. She wanted to help her father, and it was in no way a hardship since this man was good-looking and seemingly benevolent of spirit. She agreed, and off they went to Gretna Green.



The marriage took place and the couple left immediately, bound for Calais, France. Fortunately, they were intercepted by Ellen’s uncles. One can only imagine the scene that took place in Calais as the uncles explained that her father was perfectly well, his money in perfect order. Much to her horror, they detailed for the young woman the con man’s intentions to lay hold of her fortune.    



A national scandal ensued known as the “Shrigley Abduction” as Wakefield stood trial in March of 1827. Convicted of kidnapping and felonious marriage, he was sentenced to three years in Newgate Prison and the marriage was annulled.



Even after this, he committed forgery (although it was never proven) in an attempt to extract more money through his deceased wife’s father’s will, but the plan failed.



Despite a sullied reputation, in the 1830s Wakefield became a politician responsible for orchestrating British immigration to Australia and New Zealand as a solution to overcrowding. He spent much of his later years in New Zealand as an influential politician and Member of Parliament.



Ellen Turner married legally and by choice at the age of seventeen to a man who shared her status and position.



Just as they have done since the beginning of time, con artists still swindle unsuspecting folks today. What do you think is the reason people fall for a con artist’s ploy?


Other sites on the topic of Regency elopement:


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Regency Elopements: Lord Erskine and Sarah Buck


During the Regency era, elopements to Gretna Green, Scotland often involved some degree of scandal. No different was the elopement of sixty-six-year-old John Francis Ashley Erskine, 1st baron of Erskine. During the course of his life, Lord Erskine was a midshipman, a lawyer, and a member of parliament (Lord High Chancellor). He wed his first wife, Frances Moore, in 1770. They were married for thirty-five years and had eight children.  Frances passed away in 1805.

(image from Wikipedia.com)


Sarah Buck was his housekeeper and mistress, and by 1818 they had two illegitimate children. Scottish law allowed illegitimate children to be declared legitimate by way of marriage (even after the fact), so off to Gretna Green Erskine went with his mistress (thirty years his junior) and two bastard children in tow.

Erskine’s eight legitimate children and heirs vehemently disapproved of the marriage (and the idea that their inheritance was in jeopardy), and when Thomas, the eldest, discovered his father gone with the housekeeper, he rode off after them into the night.  Here, two differing accounts emerge, both involving disguise and deception. The account chronicled by Peter Orlando Hutchinson insists that Lord Erskine merely disguised himself in plainclothes and declared his name a “Mr. Thomas.” A second version of the story appears to have derived from various sources. In this account, Erskine traveled in elaborate costume wearing a wig, leghorn bonnet, and a long, flowing cape. When asked, he declared himself to be Sarah Buck’s mother.

(A satirical print found at the British Museum)


During the ceremony and in accordance with the Scottish superstition, the children were supposedly hidden beneath Sarah’s cloak to give the impression that they were as yet “unborn.” The marriage took place at the King’s Head uninterrupted by Erskine’s son, who arrived too late to put a stop to the nuptials. Thomas’s reaction to his father’s newly married state was supposedly so violent as to incite a quarrel with his new stepmother, thereby causing a gathering of villager-voyeurs, who later recounted the story in what, some say, was embellished detail.

Erskine was a man of many interesting, idealistic, and romantic pursuits. He went on to write Armata, a romance novel, which apparently sold well. He also defended the cause of Greek Independence as well as that of animals. A lifelong lover of animals, Erskine introduced a bill into the House of Lords in an effort to stop animal cruelty, although it did not pass due to the gentlemen’s love of fox hunting and horse racing.

Sadly, the marriage between Erskine and his housekeeper was ill-fated, and the couple separated within a few years. After his death, Sarah did not inherit his wealth, and she ended with many children of her own to care for and only a charitable allowance upon which to live. She lived for over thirty years after Erskine’s death.

I want to take this moment to wish everyone a happy, blessed, and safe Thanksgiving!




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Regency Elopements: Mary Ann Stanley and Captain Bontein

Every year for the past ten years, I've taught Romeo and Juliet to ninth graders. Every year, students balk at the idea of a thirteen-year-old girl getting married (most of the freshman are fourteen). This always spurs discussion of shorter lifespans in days gone by--the need to marry early being greater because you never knew when you might catch a fever and die, etc.

Thirteen may have been a more acceptable age to marry in Medieval times, but in the Regency era thirteen was practically unheard of. Twenty-one was the age of consent. Before that, parental consent was necessary. Unless one eloped to Scotland ... which is what makes Mary Ann Stanley's story so intriguing.



Mary Ann Stanley was born in 1801 in Ireland, the only child of Sir Edmond and Jane Talbot. Her life up to the age of thirteen was not particularly eventful other than frequent travel with her parents and education commensurate with that of any other young lady of status.

On June 7, 1815, The Morning Chronicle announced the elopement of thirteen-year-old Mary Ann Stanley to Captain Edward Trant Bontein, a twenty-nine-year-old widower. Although Mary Ann's mother had known of the relationship with Captain Bontein, she had no idea of the serious nature of Bontein's intentions.

In a similar fashion to Lydia Bennett's famous elopement with Wickham in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mary Ann and Bontein acted under a pretense of normality before fleeing to the Scottish border town, where so many couples made secretive marriages. As The Morning Chronicle reported, "On Sunday morning, the 21st ult. the parties went to the Chapel Royal, and thence to the house of Lady BONTEIN, where they partook of a cold collation; they then proceeded in a tilbury to Barnet, under pretence of taking an airing before dinner, where a coach and four was in waiting, and bent their way for Gretna Green, with all the dispatch possible. Lady STANLEY waited dinner till 7 o’clock, and her daughter not coming home as usual, inquiries were made, and circumstances came to light which rendered it evident that the lovers had taken their flight for Gretna."



Somewhere around three-hundred marriages a year were performed in Gretna Green. If a couple traveled from London, the journey could take up to four days. Even one night alone with her intended (even if they didn't lay a finger on each other) would forever ruin a young lady's reputation. Therefore, elopements were considered scandalous, as demonstrated by the hullaballoo when Lydia departed Brighton with Wickham.

If an elopement was confirmed, a male relative or two would ride like the wind in an attempt to catch up with the couple before they reached their first night's lodging. Virtue was not the only thing to be lost during an elopement. Fortunes were also at stake, as a young heiress's money immediately became her husband's after marriage.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that many took a dim view of elopements. Mary Ann Stanley's was no exception. Whereas The Morning Chronicle simply laid out the facts of the elopement, The Northampton Mercury blatantly suggested the poor girl had been duped. "An elopement (if it will bear that term), of a very singular nature has recently taken place, which is likely to undergo a severe legal investigation. It is that of a female child of only thirteen years of age, being induced by some means yet unaccounted for, to be carried away by a captain of dragoons, (a widower), from a barrack near town, where this child was left a visitant to the officer’s mother."

There is little information to confirm whether or not Mary Ann and Captain Bontein lived happily or not. She gave birth to two children and Bontein died at the age of thirty-four, only five years after they married.

I'll be writing about Regency era elopements for the next few weeks. Next week's scandal: Lord Erskine and Miss Sarah Buck.

Have you ever known a couple who has eloped?



Tuesday, November 8, 2016

George IV: The Prince Regent


The Regency era was marked by the rule of George IV, the eldest son of King George III and Queen Charlotte.



When King George III was proclaimed unfit to rule due to mental instability, his son, the Prince Regent, took over in 1811. He ruled until 1820 when his father died. During his governance, he was often tossed and turned by whatever notion took his fancy, whether political or personal.

(comic by George Cruikshank/historytoday.com)




Even before taking over the throne, the Prince Regent was an interesting sort. I say “interesting” with my tongue snugly fitted into my cheek. He was actually considered a bit of a national joke. A notorious “ladies’ man,” he had a long list of scandals and intrigues associated with his name early on. He dressed in fashion considered ostentatious and flamboyant. Some of the nobility even went so far as to call his manner of dress “tawdry.” He also appreciated bright, lush interior decorations within his palaces (many of which still exist in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle).



He had a fetish for older, matronly women and in 1785 he secretly married a Catholic widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. Under British law, this union was considered illegitimate. (A. She was Catholic and that would never do; B. She was widowed not once, but twice). Finally, his family persuaded him to marry a suitable match—a Protestant German princess, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. George had exorbitant debts and in making this match, the debts would be paid off by parliament. In fact, George IV was often in debt during the course of his life—gambling and profligate spending were some of his favorite pastimes. The marriage seemed ill-fated from the starting point of his drunk arrival to their wedding (drinking and drugging would prove to be another one of his favorite pastimes). Other than to try for conception of an heir, the couple spent very little time together. Their only daughter, Princess Charlotte, died at birth and afterwards their marriage completely came apart.



With manufactured complaints and accusations to add credence to his claims, George IV attempted to divorce Caroline in 1820. The request was not honored, and turned him into the butt of every national joke. The country had never liked him and now they found him ridiculous.



George IV loved excess of every kind. Immoral, self-important, neglectful of his responsibilities, yet charming and good natured, George IV stands out as a ruler with some 21st century habits, tastes, and sensibilities. From his era of rule we inherited the wonderful novels of Jane Austen and the poetry of Byron; the fashion of Beau Brummell and the wonderful Georgian architecture. There is a legacy of culture from this period that we celebrate and recreate in our own century.



In the minds of many, however, he broke down the hard-won sexual integrity of built within the 1760s and 1770s, and in the words of Robert Huish, author of George IV’s biography (1830), he did more for “the demoralisation of society than any prince recorded in the pages of history.”

What is your favorite legacy from the Regency period?



____________________________________________

  

Parissien, Steve. George IV: The Royal Joke. BBC History.


King George IV. The World of Royalty.nu

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Jane Elizabeth Harley, Countess of Oxford

This is my last posting for the Wild Women of the Regency series. Today, I’m featuring Jane Elizabeth Harley, Countess of Oxford (1772–1824).



Jane Elizabeth Scott was born in Southhampton, England to Reverend James Scott. As a vicar’s daughter, she was afforded more education than most and was schooled in French Revolutionary ideology.

At twenty-two she was forced into a marriage with a man she did not love, Edward Harley, 5th Earl of Oxford. There is even some suggestion that she was somehow blackmailed or sold into this marriage at the hands of her own brother (the particulars are sketchy).

 Lady Oxford moved among the radical Whig circles and was a close friend of the Lady Caroline Lamb (disgraced by her obsessive affair with Lord Byron) and Princess of Wales (shamed and turned out by the prince after one a year of marriage).

Notorious for having numerous lovers throughout her marriage, Lady Oxford’s first was a handsome, charming, radical reformist politician and baronet, Francis Burdett. Apparently, this well-known indiscretion occurred when Lady Oxford’s husband left her in the house alone with Burdett for over a week while he traveled for business. She later confessed her affair, and the Earl of Oxford’s response was that her “candour and frank confession were so amiable” that he could do no less than forgive her.

Her subsequent affairs were hardly surprising after such a reaction. In fact, all of her future lovers were in some way connected with Burdett. In 1812, she was Lord Byron’s lover (surprise, surprise) even though she was fourteen years older and already the mother of five children (she had six in all—all with dubious paternities). The family was often referred to by the ton as the “Harleian Miscellany” for the miscellaneous fathers who were responsible for the children’s existence. 

Byron stayed with Lord and Lady Oxford in Hertfordshire after his debacle with Lady Caroline Lamb. Byron described her as a woman “sacrificed, almost before she was a woman, to one whose mind and body were equally contemptible in the scale of creation; and on whom she bestowed a numerous family to which the law gave him the right to be called father.”* She was forty when their affair began, and Byron (always one attracted to older women) described her as “a landscape by Claude Lorraine with a setting sun, her beauties enhanced by the knowledge they were shedding their dying beams.”* She had other lovers even while she was with Byron.

As per usual with Byron, after many months he grew tired of her and did not follow the Harleys in their travels abroad. Jane was disappointed and angry, and it signaled the end of their affair.

Jane Elizabeth Harley was considered to have been intellectually brilliant, highly literate, and well-informed about political and religious issues. But she was uniformly hated by Society because of her sexual behaviors. Members of Society were not above extra-marital behaviors themselves, but her open and prolific activities were too much even for them.

Indeed, Jane Harley seems to have been in search of love that she had not received from either her father or her husband. Had she lived today, she might have been labeled a sex addict, unable to ever have enough lovers as she sought refuge from whatever plagued her mind and heart. Perhaps a loveless marriage and a romanticized and idealistic education coupled with the permissiveness allowed by the nobility contributed to her weaknesses.

I have enjoyed blogging about wild women of the Regency this month, and I hope you have enjoyed reading about them. You may have noticed that most of these ladies have some connection with Lord Byron. In my novel coming out next year, Dangerous to Know—based on the marriage of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke—I have included several of them. More information about that soon.

In many ways, people have not changed from the 1800s. Everyone still suffers from heartbreak, mental illness, and loneliness.

Do you think people were all that different in the 1800s from now? Did they have it easier? Or was their life harder?  


_____________________________________________________

*Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Knopf. 1999.


By John Hoppner - http://theromanticqueryletter.blogspot.com/2009/11/still-more-ladies-of-regency.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9100548




Friday, October 28, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse and the Best Book(s) I Read in October




Today I’m participating in the Cephalopod Coffeehouse’s monthly blog hop to discuss the best book I’ve read this month.



                              

Well, I’ve been tearing through books this month, so I’m featuring not one, but three “best books.”



I’ll start with one for the Regency genre. Lord Fenton’s Folly by Josi S. Kilpack. I just recently learned about this author. She has several historical several titles to her name, and after reading Lord Fenton’s Folly, I can definitely say I will read another … and soon.





This novel is a romance, but its flavor is a little different from the usual fare.



Lord Fenton’s animosity toward his father makes him rebellious, and he assumes the role of a dandy, gambler, and drinker. By the time he is of age, his father threatens to disown him if Fenton does not mend his ways. One way of doing this is to find a wife and settle down. Although Fenton has no desire to marry, he figures his long-time friend Alice Stanbridge is as good as any woman. Alice has carried a torch for Fenton since she was a little girl and readily agrees. She is later devastated to learn that his intent is for a marriage of convenience. Even so, she goes through with the nuptials and tries to make the best of it. A few weeks into the marriage, she is unable to stand her husband’s antics and excessive drinking. When family secrets emerge, Fenton and Alice must decide whether their marriage will remain a sham or develop into something more meaningful.



Kilpack is a talented writer and storyteller. This is a page-turner with rich, well-developed, flawed but sympathetic characters. Lord Fenton is fascinating. He tries hard to be unlovable with his foppish behavior and dress, but somehow that makes him all the more attractive. Although I was not completely astounded by the ending, I was surprised at how the ending came about. I highly recommend this to Regency readers who are looking for a great story rather than hot and heavy romance scenes.






The Five Times I Met Myself is James L. Rubart’s seventh book (his eighth just came out a couple of months ago). I first read Rubart’s book Rooms back in 2010, and I was hooked. His books are spiritual, haunting, and life-altering. They strike at the very core of what so many of us struggle with—a desire to reclaim youth, repair mistakes.



Brock Matthews regrets some of the decisions he’s made in his life. Now his marriage and business are both falling apart, and he wishes he could have a “do-over” for the trajectory of his life. When he discovers a deep, psychological dream technique called lucid dreaming, he embraces the method, traveling back in his dreams (and in real life) to encounters with a younger version of himself. Unfortunately, changing the past has unexpected—and undesired—results. Brock must decide if he’s willing to let go of some of the most important things in his life and whether a do-over is such a great idea after all.



The tag line of this book is “What if you met your twenty-three-year-old self in a dream? What would you say?” This novel is about looking over your shoulder, wondering if you could have done it better, if you should have done it differently, and how to deal with the decisions that have been made—good or bad. Jim Rubart says this book will set you free, and I believe it. Powerful, powerful message. Thought-provoking fiction.





Always with You is Elaine Stock’s debut novel. It is a unique contemporary novel and a real page-turner! I could not put it down. I was up late into the night reading—a testament to Stock’s fabulous writing and gifted storytelling.



Isabelle and Tyler meet under dangerous circumstances, when Tyler saves Isabelle from a violent attack. Two people with unusual pasts, they are drawn to one another and quickly fall in love. Threatened by dark family secrets, a religious sect, and uncertain odds, Isabelle and Tyler forge ahead with love and marriage despite the warnings of friends and family. When physical danger threatens Isabelle and her unborn child, she must choose whether to remain with the man she loves or run in search of safety.



Part love story, part psychological thriller, Always with You spins a haunting tale of love and hate, truth and lies, good and evil, while delivering a message of the need for discernment and forgiveness in all our lives. And it's on sale for $.99 this week!



Read any good books lately? 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency Era: Claire Clairmont



This month's theme is wild women of the Regency era. This week I'm featuring Claire Clairmont (1798-1879).



 
Claire Clairmont was seventeen when she met Lord Byron. She was the stepsister of Mary Shelley, and it was through Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley that she met the famous poet. Like so many other women in England, Claire fell head-over-heels in love with Byron. With a passion bordering on obsession, Claire threw herself at him repeatedly until he finally gave in.

With her dark hair and black eyes, Claire wasn’t Byron’s type and he was never in love with her. “I never loved nor pretended to love her—but a man is a man—and if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours—there is but one way.” Claire later claimed that ten minutes of passion had ruined her life. By her own words she was confused about the demise of his affections. “The passion, God knows for what cause … disappeared, leaving no trace whatever behind it, except my heart wasted and ruined as if it had been scorched by a thousand lightnings.”

Unfortunately, Claire became pregnant with Byron’s child. Her daughter Allegra was raised in a convent and died at the age of five, having never known her father or her mother.

In her later years, Claire wrote a memoir in which she described Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley as “monsters.”

When I was young, I could be counted on to pick the bad boy and the wrong guy. It’s not uncommon for teenagers and young people to do that. A lot of young people make poor choices, but some of the choices have life-altering consequences.

Often, following our heart is the wrong course but the easier one. Involving our head in decisions of the heart is never easy.

Do you tend to follow your head or your heart?
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9


I decided to try out a video blog this month. Let me know what you think.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley


Each week during the month of October, I am featuring wild women of the Regency era. This week is the tragic tale of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851).

(from Wikipedia.com/painting in the public domain)




Mary was not born into a conventional household. She was the daughter of William Godwin, a philosopher and professed atheist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist. Godwin and Wollstonecraft were philosophically opposed to marriage, but they chose to formalize their relationship in order to offer a veneer of respectability for their children.



Her mother died when she was very young, and William remarried when Mary was four years old. Mary and her stepmother didn’t get along. She was never formally educated but learned to read under the eye of her father’s tutelage and was instructed in his liberal political and social theories.



She met Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1812 when he was her father’s protégé. Shelley’s family was wealthy and he had attended Eton and Oxford before being asked to leave because of his atheistic views.



In June of 1814, when Shelley was dissatisfied with his marriage, he began dining with the Godwins every day until he finally declared his love for Mary near the end of the month.



When William Godwin discovered the truth about his daughter’s relationship, he forbade contact between the two. Initially, Mary agreed to stay away from Shelley, but when he tried to commit suicide, she was sure this was proof of his love for her.



Although Shelley was still married, on the 28th of July 1814, Shelley and Mary eloped to France accompanied by her half-sister, Claire Clairmont. Her decision separated and estranged her from her father and relegated her to a penniless, disgraced, and ostracized state in England.



They were together eight years—each one of them marked by tragedy and loss.



Mary gave birth to four children, all except one died before adulthood. She suffered a terrible miscarriage late in her fifth pregnancy which nearly killed her.



Shelley’s wife committed suicide by jumping into the Serpentine Lake in 1816 and following this news, Mary and Percy were finally married.



Due to an eruption of Mt. Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the weather during the summer of 1816 was horrible. It was known as “the year without a summer.” Unseasonably cold and stormy, many crops failed all throughout Europe. It was that summer that the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont were joined by Lord Byron in Geneva, Switzerland where they set up house on the lake. As legend has it, people living across the lake used binoculars to spy on the wicked quartet and their licentious behavior.



It was here, over the course of several stormy nights, that Byron encouraged them all to come up with ghost stories. Mary wrote Frankenstein—a terrifying tale of a Dr. Victor Frankenstein, his God complex, and the disastrous monster that he created through heretical and morbid means. No doubt the story was spurred by a preoccupation with death, since Mary found herself surrounded by it, as well as the burgeoning industrial revolution happening all around them. Throw in the mixture of her own insecurities and grief, her philosophies on human nature, and Byron and Shelley with their sexual free-form and the tensions radiating within the house collided to produce The Modern Prometheus.



Percy Shelley drowned in 1822.



Despite other marriage offers in years to come, Mary Shelley never remarried. Often given to psychological turmoil and depression during her life, she went on to write other novellas and writings that reflected her grief and the darkness within her. She died of what was probably a brain tumor in 1851.



Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is often touted as a woman ahead of her time living in the restrictive Regency era, with free-thinking philosophies and early feminist leanings—an ingenious writer of the classic novel that is still so widely read and beloved. Even so, it strikes me that her tale of a creature so tragically formed through human hands is a reflection of Mary herself. Her life was constructed through the whims and experimentation of others’ decisions and indoctrination, and the result was tragedy, sadness, and death. Much like Victor Frankenstein’s poor creature.    



Have you read Frankenstein?





_________________________________________________________

Mary Shelley: A Biography. The National Theatre (documentary).

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Wikipedia.com

Andreas Teuber, “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” Brandeis.edu


Monday, October 10, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Scandalous Harriette Wilson


During the month of October, I am featuring stories of “wild women” of the Regency era. This week, I am discussing the famous courtesan, Harriette Wilson.

Picture from Wikipedia.com




Sex scandals are nothing new.



In 1825, well-known courtesan Harriette Wilson published her memoirs in a British paper, despite the warnings of the first Duke of Wellesley: “Publish and be damned.”



Harriette was born with the last name De Bouchet, but she later assumed the surname Wilson. She was one of fifteen children of the Swiss merchant, John De Bouchet (believed to have taken the name Wilson around 1801).



You will never hear me glorify or in any way condone prostitution, so I don’t wish to mislead any readers with this post. In fact, I think Harriette’s story is as sad as any other teenager who is falsely led to believe that “high class prostitution" or "escort services” are somehow better than other types. Exploitation is exploitation no matter how it’s packaged.



In the 19th century, many men of rank and nobility regularly sought out prostitutes and courtesans (what we might today term as escorts). Courtesans were not simply for sex, although that was most certainly part of it. They were worn like an adornment—taken to parties and gambling establishments. The flipside of the illustrious parties and expensive gifts was that these women were often part of the stakes in a wager. Courtesans were educated and talents were cultivated. They were expected to play piano, sing, offer charming and interesting conversation, and endeavor to be as popular as possible. It was in this way they became “famous” or “sought after.”



Harriette Wilson’s memoir begins with the line, "I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven. Whether it was love, or the severity of my father, the depravity of my own heart, or the winning arts of the noble lord…"



Whether she allowed her seduction or was coerced, once seduced by the Earl, Harriette’s options were practically nonexistent. Courtesan was the only “career” open to women once “ruined” by a man. Nevertheless, Harriette went on to become the mistress of numerous men of nobility throughout her life, even turning down marriage proposals.   



Sadly, three of Harriette’s younger sisters also became courtesans, despite Harriette’s attempt to keep her sister Sophia from such a fate.



Today, most women “in the life” don’t make it into their thirties. And in fact, it was when Harriette began to age into her thirties that the men who had so adored her turned to younger fare.



Penniless, Harriette’s purpose for publication of the memoirs was blackmail. The men were to pay up or she would publish their names amongst her writings. Much consternation and anxiety mounted amongst the gentlemen as each week they awaited a new installment. Would their name be mentioned? John Stockdale, the publisher of her memoirs was forced to blockade against the angry gentlemen who crowded the street in front of his shop.



As is the case in any scandalous writing, the memoirs were immensely popular, and over twenty editions were printed.



In the modern world, scandals are so commonplace that they all run together. The news talks about nothing but the scandal for a few weeks, and then it's forgotten again. Remember the Hugh Grant scandal from the 1990s? No? Yeah, forgiven and forgotten.



In the Regency, however, scandals of any kind were literally that … scandals. People did not forget about them. They were outrageous and shocking. They ruined reputations, livelihoods, and lives.

  

Do you pay any attention to scandals?



----------------------------------

Ardelie, Susan. “The Magnificent Cheek of Harriette Wilson.” February 11, 2012.



Lark, Jane. “The darker side of Regency England, the story of how Harriette Wilson’s sister, Sophia, was seduced, and coerced, into the life of a courtesan.” April 21, 2013.



“Harriette Wilson.” Wikipedia.com


Monday, October 3, 2016

Wild Women of the Regency: Lady Caroline Lamb






Throughout the month of October, I will be featuring women of the Regency era who were a little … shall we say, nonconventional.

(picture from Wikipedia.com)




By today’s standards, Lady Caroline Lamb would have been labeled a stalker.


When Lord George Gordon Byron was in the throes of fame following the publication of his hit poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, Lady Caroline set her sights upon meeting him. “If he was as ugly as Aesop I must know him.” At the time she had been married for almost ten years to William Lamb (later the 2nd Viscount of Melbourne and Prime Minister).


Born Caroline Posonby, Lady Caroline was always a little off kilter. Even before she married Lamb, her wild temper tantrums and hysterics were well documented. According to family claims, doctors had been called in to calm her on more than one occasion.


When she met the famous, talented, and enigmatical Lord Byron, her first response was to turn away from him. This spurred his interest (since every other female in London was throwing herself at him and fainting in his presence). Later she wrote him a fan letter, and he visited her and brought her a rose. Byron’s initial impressions of Caroline were that she was “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.”[i]


Byron was intrigued by Caroline’s eccentric nonconformity to the aristocratic society in which she lived. She often dressed in the clothing of a page boy, and in fact, that was how she sneaked out to visit Byron on several occasions. One occasion in particular, she arrived at his rooms in St. James’s Place under the impression that they were going to elope that night. Byron had left her with some sense of this being the case, but once she showed up he either had a change of heart or was convinced by his good friend John Hobhouse that this was a mistake.


Realizing that the elopement was not going to take place, Caroline rushed to grab Byron’s dress sword (one can only assume to threaten stabbing herself) and a struggle ensued between the trio. Amidst worry that the servants would spread rumors and great consternation as to how to remove her from the premises unseen, the men concocted a plan that involved Byron accompanying Caroline a little way down the road (to appease her). Byron would then leap from the carriage and run through Hobhouse’s open door as though he’d meant to go there all along. The plan worked.


But Caroline’s pursuit of him continued. She showed up at parties he attended and threatened to kill herself (and as the stories tell it, she did stab herself but no real harm was done). She wrote him letter upon letter, forcing him to write a scathing, insulting rejection, asking her to cease and desist with all correspondence. By this time, her reputation was ruined. She was diagnosed insane, straitjackets were considered for some of her wilder fits, and her family sent her away to Ireland where she could recover would not have access to him.


Their affair lasted a few months between 1812 and 1813, but even after that, Caroline Lamb maintained a certain level of obsession. She wrote a novel entitled Glenarvon in which the main character, Lord Ruthven, a vampire, was obviously fashioned after Byron. When this novel was published in 1816, its release galvanized her descent. People were shocked and appalled, and Caroline was shunned from all good society.


Much has been written about Lady Caroline over the years. Some stories are legend and hard to confirm, but her obsessive stalking of Byron is well chronicled. As for her writing, Glenarvon received mixed reviews--mostly ones that said the novel was melodramatic--but today it makes for an entertaining read, especially when one considers the inspiration for the main character.


Have you read Glenarvon? If so, what were your thoughts about it?



MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giraux. New York: 2002.