In the bleak midwinter….

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Everywhere I look, I see predictions of record cold, windchill, snow and ice. Even in Florida, it’s grey and overcast, rainy and damp. It’s been weeks since the Winter Solstice on December 21, and it seems forever until the Spring Solstice on March 20. However, a bright spot is coming…

On February 2, which is this Saturday, we will celebrate Candlemas. This holiday marks the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Solstice. The Christian holiday celebrates the Purification of the Virgin Mary (a ritual of cleansing done 40 days after the birth of a child) which followed the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. In celebration of this holiday, new candles are blessed and and set up in church. Blessed candles are distributed and processions carry them into the church. Ideally, the candles should be beeswax. As candles lightened the darkness in earlier times, they came to symbolize Jesus Christ as the light of the world, which is celebrated in this procession. People celebrate at home by putting candles in the windows.

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A festival of lights, it is not surprising that aspects of Candlemas have its roots in earlier, pre-Christian times. Marking the mid-way point of winter when nights were still very long and very dark, people would light candles to frighten evil spirits away. The Romans also had a mid-winter festival which was called the Amburbium (or Amburbale), which involved a lighted procession around the city to purify it. (Their festival may have included sacrifices.)

Weather was a big concern in earlier times, specifically how much longer the cold would last, and had a bearing on the mid-winter celebration. It was not uncommon for bears or wolves to stir from their dens in mid-winter. If the animal returned, it meant the cold winter weather would continue for at least another forty days. (In the US, we celebrate Groundhog’s Day on February 2 as a variation of this tradition.)

However we celebrate, the coming of February 2 with its warm candlelight reminds us that winter is approaching its end and spring is coming.

Sources:
SacredTexts.com Miles, Clement A. CHRISTMAS IN RITUAL AND TRADITION. (1912) Chapter XVI. “Epiphany to Candlemas.” HERE

Newadvent.org Catholic Encyclopedia. “Candlemas.” Kevin Knight Copyright (c) 2017. HERE

BBC.Co.UK RELIGIONS. “Candlemas.” Last updated 2009-06-16. HERE

ProjectBritain.com “Candlemas Day (the Christian festival of lights).” Mandy Barrow Copyright (c) 2013. HERE

Wikipedia.com “Amburbium”. HERE

Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons:

Annals of the road : or, Notes on mail and stage coaching in Great Britain, 1876. HERE (No known copyright restrictions.)

Photograph of a candle – version without reflection, HERE (Public domain)

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Royal Worcester Porcelain

Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, I wrote about Royal Worcester Porcelain. Founded under the guidance of Dr. John Wall in 1751, beautiful porcelain was created for over 250 years. To read more, visit
the English Historical Fiction Authors blog HERE

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Cup c 1775-1790 in the collection of the Auckland Museum

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons HERE

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Bourton-on-the-Water: Venice of the North

In our travels in the United Kingdom, some wonderful friends took us on a day trip in the Cotswolds. We had never visited this part of the UK before, and found it to be even more charming than anticipated. One of the villages we visited that day was Bourton-on-the-Water. I wrote about it on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. You can read about Bourton-on-the-Water HERE. IMAG1285
(Photo taken by Lauren Gilbert 2018)

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Worcester Cathedral

My husband and I just got back from a wonderful trip abroad. One of the fabulous places we visited was the city of Worcester, where we were able to spend time at the Cathedral

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It was a rather overcast, misty morning as we approached the cathedral. Once inside, however, it was truly awe-inspiring.

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They were preparing for a wedding later in the day, and there was singing. It was unbelievably beautiful.

As we proceeded, the incredible architecture and the beautiful windows were almost overpowering.
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We also saw the tomb of King John, best known for signing the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, who died October 19, 1216. Amazing to think that he has remained here all these centuries.

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Worcester Cathedral is also the burial place of Arthur, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VII, who died at age 15 shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. (Note there is no effigy or likeness on his tomb.)
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The present building was built under Saint Wulfstan, with building beginning in 1084. (There had been cathedrals since since Anglo-Saxon times, which the current structure replaced.) There was also a monastery which continued until it was dissolved under Henry VIII. During the Civil Wars, the Cathedral was badly damaged (the Battle of Worcester, which took place on September 3, 1651 was the last battle, where Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army defeated the Royalists). After the Restoration of Charles II and the monarchy, a great deal of rebuilding was undertaken. The largest campaign of renovation occurred during the Victorian era between 1854-1875. The Cathedral as it stands today is a magnificent structure, well worth a visit.

(All photographs are perstonal, taken by the author, after purchasing a permit at the Cathedra.)

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Jane Austen and Fashion

A discussion on Facebook regarding cover illustrations caught my attention. The subject was clothing style depicted in cover art that was not compatible with the timeframe of the novel on which the art was displayed. Most of those who commented found such incompatibility to be disturbing. As a reader, I enjoy fashion details in historical novels. Such details bring the characters to life in my mind’s eye. Fashion, food, furniture, and other matters set the scene so that a reader can place the story in the time. A common point mentioned regarding Jane Austen’s novels addresses the fact that she does not describe her characters’ persons or their clothing in any detail, which is sometimes cause for lament and sometimes cause for curiosity. Why this lack of detail?

Jane Austen did not write historical novels. She wrote of her time for readers in her time. Some details would not have needed a great deal of stress or attention as her contemporaries would have known what she was talking about. However, one still wonders why so little attention was paid to appearances. We know Jane Austen was interested in clothes; her surviving letters to Cassandra frequently discuss clothing in detail. One example of this is the letter from Sloane Street written April 18th-20th, 1811. In this letter, Jane Austen discussed her shopping expedition, in which she purchased muslins for herself and Cassandra, bugle trimming and other items, including a new bonnet, and confessed a desire for a new straw hat.

We also know that Jane Austen had ideas about her characters’ appearances. In another letter from Sloane Street, this time dated May 24th, 1813, she told Cassandra of her and brother Henry’s visit to the Exhibition in Sloane Street, where she saw a portrait of Mrs. Bingley in which “Mrs. Bingley is exactly herself…dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments….” (1) She lamented not finding Mrs. Darcy’s portrait, and speculated that Mrs. Darcy would wear yellow.

Jane Austen’s earliest novels that were published during her lifetime were written before she was age 30: Elinor and Marianne (which became Sense and Sensibility) was written approximately 1795, when Austen was 20. First Impressions (which became Pride and Prejudice) was written in 1796, and Susan (which became Northanger Abbey) was written in 1798. Some examples of fashion during this time period are:
Wales, James, c.1747-1795; Susannah Wales (1779-1868), Lady Malet
Portrait of Susannah Wales by her father James Wales, c 1747-1795

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Man’s Fashion Plate c 1795

It is important to remember that none of these books were published until much later. In 1801, the family left Stephenton and moved to Bath upon her father’s retirement. After his death in 1805, Jane Austen, her mother and sister moved periodically until finally, in early 1809, her brother Edward made a cottage in Chawton available for the Austen women. Although Jane Austen had revised Elinor and Marianne heavily in 1798, and had sold the copyright for Susan in 1803 (the publisher did not actually produce the novel, and Austen finally bought the copyright back in 1810), none of her books had yet been published. The years between 1801 and 1809 had not been nearly as productive as her earlier years, although she had done some revisions on Susan and started The Watkins (which was never finished). Once settled in Chawton, Jane Austen resumed her work. Revisions on Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions and Susan continued.

Elinor and Marianne became Sense and Sensibility and was published in 1811. First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice, which was published in 1813. Here are some examples of fashion during this period:
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Fashion Plate Half-Dress November 1, 1810

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Five Positions of Dancing 1811

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Fashion Plate Morning Dress April 1, 1813

As we can plainly see, fashions changed significantly in the period of time between the first drafts and publication dates of Austen’s first two published novels. It is not known if the first drafts of the novels had contained any fashion descriptions. If they did, all such descriptions would have had to be found and revised or removed (not an easy task in the days before computers). If left unchanged, the details would not have added charming historical colour; they would merely have been dated, outmoded, and would have been a distraction to her readers. Jane Austen was also well aware that there was no guarantee of prompt publication once a work was completed. By removing such descriptions (if they had been included in the original drafts) or not writing them in the first place, Jane Austen allowed her readers to visualize her characters for themselves. Certainly, her later novels, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, continued this pattern of leaving such details to the imaginations of her readers. I believe Jane Austen deliberately chose not to include such details in her novels. I also believe that this technique contributes to the longevity and freshness of her novels that readers continue to enjoy today.

And that portrait of Mrs. Bingley? There were multiple possibilities, but a favourite contender was a portrait of Mrs. Harriet Quentin by Francois Huet-Villiers, painted before his death in 1813. See an engraving of that portrait produced by William Blake in 1820 here:

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Footnote:
(1) JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, P. 221

Sources:
JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, Deirdre Le Faye, ed. Fourth Edition. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011.

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

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John Dent Esquire

Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, we’re talking about John Dent Esquire.

John Dent Esquire was born August 21, 1761, 2nd son (but 1st surviving son) of Robert Dent (1731-1805) of London and Clapham, who was a banker. Robert Dent became a partner of Child’s Bank in 1763, when Robert Child became senior partner. John’s mother was Jane Bainbridge of St. James, Westminster. An old Westmoreland family with property in Appleby, his father was the son of a younger son of Robert Dent of Trainlands (1651-1702) and may have been a schoolmaster before he was hired as a clerk at Child’s Bank. John was initiated as a Freemason in 1788. As a Freemason, he served as Provincial Grand-Master of Worcestershire from 1792-1826 and as Grand Treasurer of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1813-1826.

To read more, go HERE.

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Journeys… by Prue Batten

It is my pleasure to welcome author Prue Batten to the blog today. The official release date for Michael, the third book in The Triptych Chronicle, is July 20th. Today, Prue is going to tell us about the journey to this point and a bit about Michael. Enjoy!

Journeys…
As I approach the launch of the last in my historical fiction trilogy, I’m beset with quite a few emotions.

The Triptych Chronicle was a step into a world that I’ve become comfortable with. Like pulling on that favourite sweater – the soft one that cossets on a cold day but which itches if the sun burns too brightly. So this one has itched to be written and then when I sink into the writing, feels as if I’m wrapped in cashmere.

In my own reading experience, and with the exception of Dorothy Dunnett, I had read very few historical fiction books that dealt with the insidious world of trade. Even less were there fictional writings of twelfth century trade which I felt might have been the precursor to vibrant Renaissance trade.
I wanted to read about it, so I wrote it!

Learning about trade has been a journey into gilded danger, excitement and venality as each of the various commodities traded from east to west were sourced. It seems that in writing the trilogy, I was constantly surrounded by fragrance, by glitter or by extremes of colour. It required a far stronger person than I not to be overawed by the beautiful aromas of spices, by the sheer drama of polished and sparkling gems and whispering silks or by the minerals from which the powders and pigments were acquired for great western church art. Nor could I remain unswayed by the mystery of farflung places that were the sources of these breathtaking goods. And then there were the truly fabulous commodities – in the case of my novels, the dye called Tyrian purple and a finely woven silk cloth called byssus.

So, as I approach the release – it’s not like clicking off e-Bay or Facebook. It’s saying farewell to an intrepid group of men and women who dealt in merchandise, and who tried to survive the jealousies and danger that were aroused as they strode through the streets of Constantinople and Lyon.
Which brings me to the greatest emotion of all.

Loss.

For four years now, the people I write about have been my closest friends and allies. I know every mark on their bodies, every expression, every thought. It will be infinitely sad to say goodbye. The one good thing is that I have only to pick a title off the shelf or open my Kindle to be back amongst them. A relief then, that they’re not gone for good. (Those that survived, that is. Sadly, some of the best did not…)

It’s also a time when I farewell the twelfth century about which I will have written six novels and a number of short stories. Sometimes I wonder if it will be a permanent goodbye or just a gentle ‘see you later’. Whatever the case, it’s a kind of tectonic culture shift. For me, writing about the age was like writing about an early-onset Renaissance. Never let it be said that the Middle Ages weren’t filled with their own beauty and inventiveness.

And of course, there are the range of personal emotions experienced during the four years of writing. My husband’s battle with cancer (which he won), a child marrying, another child moving to the other end of the island, a favourite dog (one of my muses) passing away and the first grandchild on the cusp of being born. Also joining with like minds in an environmental fight against salmon farms. Then my own personal battle with an obscure vestibular condition. The astonishing thing is how each of these events has imbued itself through the novels in the ranges of emotions my characters feel. They are very empathic, those people from within the trading house of Gisborne-ben Simon – the kind one would always hope to have in one’s circle.

Writing a series of novels is a journey. Not just for the characters but for the writer. One comes out the other side older, wiser and all things being equal, ready to do it all again. But then let’s face it – the simple art of writing is a journey into the cryptic corners of rather a lot of souls.
Never let it be said otherwise…

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Prue Batten’s The Triptych Chronicle (Tobias, Guillaume, Michael) has won awards, most recently, a Chaucer Award from Chanticleer for Guillaume. Each book is a standalone but each of the characters after whom the books are titled are known to each other, and each story is linked by a thread of a revenge, and each of the men feature in the other’s stories.
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To find out more about Prue and her work, see below:
Website: Here
Facebook: Here
Pinterest: Here
Amazon: Here

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