The Cabochon Emerald, my 7th Elizabeth Hawksley historical novel, which comes out in e-books on Monday 2nd August, owes its existence to a lucky find in a second-hand bookshop: The French Exiles 1789-1815 by Margery Weiner. Weiner’s book absolutely grabbed me: she follows the lives of the some of the 25,000 émigrés who fled the French Revolution and came to England: who were they? Yes, there were aristocrats and members of the clergy (in 1793, the French Government abolished Christianity), but those fleeing for their lives also also included artisans who worked in luxury industries, like jewellers or couturiers, which made them more vulnerable to being arrested. Why did they choose to come to London – a Protestant country, after all; how did they get here; where did they live; and how did they manage to make a living?
I’ve been re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion and thinking about Freddy. Many readers, I’m sure, agree with Georgette Heyer’s own comment that ‘My dear Freddy is a poppet’ . But, of course, he needs to become a hero, too. We follow his journey from an inarticulate young man of fashion to a man who is capable of sorting out a number of sticky social problems and who will show himself to be the perfect husband for Kitty.
This week, I’ve been reading up on late 18th to early 19th century’s ladies’ underwear. What, I found myself wondering, was the difference – if any – between stays and corsets; or smocks, shifts and chemises?
I discovered that the Radical essayist and poet Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), had something to say about it.
The 19th century corset – constraining or revealing?
Every now and then my local library has a book sale and some years ago, whilst eagerly scanning the book titles, one of Virago’s familiar dark green covers caught my eye. It was High Albania by a woman I’d never heard of, Edith Durham, (1863-1944). First published in 1907, it was an eye-witness account of her hair-raising travels in the mountains of Albania. Intrigued, I bought it.
I have a nineteenth century screen in my sitting-room. It comprises four hinged panels: one side has a scarlet background, and the other has a black one. It was a popular pastime for ladies to buy cut-out and varnished pictures to paste onto the screen, or perhaps into a scrap book, and create their own customized art-work.
‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very Heaven!’
So wrote the poet, William Wordsworth, about his arrival in Paris in 1790 when he was young, in love, and an ardent supporter of the French Revolution. But Wordsworth’s words could equally describe being young in the 1960s, a similarly heady period when the old social mores were chucked out, and a revolutionary, youth-led counter culture in fashion, ideas, music, and much else, swept in.
Swinging London; note the new Post Office tower – with a slowly-revolving restaurant at the top
Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) was a late Victorian artist who specialized in beautifully designed paintings of children, mainly little girls, in Regency costume to illustrate stories and poems. ‘She created a small world of her own, a dream world, a never-never land,’ said one critic, and it was one which was, financially, extremely successful.
Illustration of ‘Jack and Jill’ from ‘Mother Goose’ (1886)
1767. Young Mr Hand, a Huguenot, flees from Flanders to escape religious persecution by the French. He is not alone. Ever since the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, (which had granted French Protestants freedom of religious practice) thousands of Huguenots had fled to nearby Protestant countries – and taken their skills with them.
A formal coat for a diplomat. The first thing once notices is its weight and rigidity. This is about status not comfort.
On Friday, I went to Tate Britain, one of my favourite places. I had two paintings in mind which I thought might make an interesting blog but, to my dismay, they weren’t hanging where they should have been. A gallery attendant told me that they were on loan to Canberra, and wouldn’t be back until October. Disaster. It was Friday and I needed a blog for Sunday.
I always look forward to the annual exhibition at Two Temple Place, next to Somerset House, and this year is no exception. Rhythm & Reaction: the Age of Jazz in Britain examines the influence of jazz on British art, design, music and society over the last 100 years. It’s a lively and thought-provoking exhibition, full of amazing objects. 1920s and 30s jazz plays in the background. At one point, I was talking to two other visitors about an old gramophone on display and, within minutes, we were singing snatches of Ambrose’s Tiger Rag to each other – it’s that sort of exhibition.
New music, new instruments: left: saxophone 1938, silver-plated brass; and right: soprano saxophone, silver-plated brass, 1929