Uninhibited History

Various ramblings, musings, film reviews and fantasies of a couple of history geeks and their guests

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Twisting History

The course of history is marked by a series of turning points—the most important actions of an age; the moments and decisions that caused a country, group of people or even an individual to change in an important way. We learn history in school that way too, with the development of civilization broken into eras and punctuated with seminal issues and events. But authors, given to asking, “What if…?” sometimes are tempted to tinker with the past and by doing so create a new or appreciable different timeline.
Alternate histories, in fact.
This often neglected sub-genre of romance in particular has undergone a bit of resurgence recently with the advent of Steampunk, where authors ask, “What if the Victorians had more advanced, steam driven machinery?” But there are so many other ways this thought process can be used to create exciting and intriguing worlds for characters to inhabit. Below are a few examples of some interesting questions that could lead to a completely different world than the one we know or read about in the history books.
What if the Persians had won at the Hot Gates?
What if Boudicca had won against the Romans?
What if Christianity had never taken root?
What if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen?
What if Hitler had conquered England?
What if the British had defeated the Americans during the Revolution?
What if Texas had become a country?
What if the Irish branch of the Catholic Church had triumphed over the Roman branch?

The list is endless, and each question leads to more questions, until a writer can make herself crazy just thinking about the ramifications! The trick is, I think, to make whatever you’ve changed make sense. Some authors can get away with simply saying, “In my world, this is what is happening. Don’t ask me why, or to explain how—just accept it,” but most readers need a little more. Usually, it helps to start with the “What if…?” question and move forward, but sometimes characters and situations can just jump into your head fully formed, and then comes the hard part—figuring why they ended up the way they did. What changed in the past to bring them to the place they are at the time the novel starts?

In Beyond Prudence I imagined a one-two blow to England, with an influenza-type disease following a few years of drought and poor harvests decimating the population—in particular the women. The rich have used their money and influence to spur development of the machinery necessary to uphold their rather indolent lives. Also, because of scarcity, women of the higher classes are considered assets to be protected. When William Foreman, son of an unmarried tannery worker, meets the Honourable Prudence Hastings, he knows there can never be anything between them. Prudence, who has already experienced the vagaries of life, has her work cut out convincing him otherwise!

It was a great deal of fun imagining the world and—because it is, at heart, fantasy—peopling it with automatons with as much personality as the humans! Personally, I’d like to see more books in this kind of vein, but then I’m also the person who likes historical romances set in unusual places or times. The trick is not to overwhelm me with so much erroneous detail I feel like I’m reading a history book, but give me enough to make the era or setting come alive. And, of course, still give me a love story that will make me sigh happily.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Interesting Women in History: Marie Bonaparte

Interesting Women in History

I love discovering the lives of women who forged their own paths, and in this post I’d like to introduce you to Princess Marie Bonaparte.
“Bah,” I hear you say, “Not another royal!”
But wait…Princess Marie, great-grandniece of Napoleon I, was definitely not a traditional princess.
As a descendant of one of Napoleon I’s disinherited brothers she had no claim to the French imperial throne, but inherited great wealth from her maternal grandfather, who was one of the principal developers of Monte Carlo. She married Prince George of Greece and Denmark (uncle of HRH Prince Phillip, Elizabeth II’s consort) in 1907, towards the end of La Belle Epoché, that time of peace and prosperity that died with the advent of World War I.
I first became aware of Princess Marie when I was researching the work of sculptor Constantine Brancusi and came across his series of sculptures, Princess X. This was Brancusi’s vision of Princess Marie, and consisted of a stylized penis.
You know I had to find out more about this woman.
As it turned out, Princess Marie was a woman who enjoyed her sexuality and is rumoured to have had diverse affairs after her marriage. But, because of the prevailing ideas that masturbation and clitoral stimulation led to mental imbalance and the only good orgasm was a vaginal one, she felt unfulfilled and worried about her ‘frigidity.’ She began to do research and decided that women whose clitorises were closer to the vagina were most likely to achieve orgasm during intercourse (which seems to be defined as having sex in the missionary position.) Women with a greater distance between the two were less likely to have vaginal orgasms. She then went ahead and had surgery moving her clitoris closer to her vagina, not once, but twice! OUCH!
Now I understood—Brancusi’s sculptures seem to encapsulate her obsession with sex and her need to achieve vaginal orgasm.
Apparently the operations didn’t solve her problem, and she became involved in the world of psychoanalysis, eventually consulting with Freud and being mentored by him. She was instrumental in arranging Freud’s ransom from the Nazis, and was a well-respected practitioner of psychoanalysis until her death in 1962.
Princess Marie Bonaparte was very much a product of her time, but took the prevailing mores one step further, turning her intellectual prowess towards solving what she saw as a wide-spread problem. She was at the forefront of the development of psychoanalysis and was, I’m sure, a great inspiration for women of the era and those that came afterwards. Even if I can’t agree with her methods, times having changed as they have, I find myself agreeing with her when she said:
On the one hand, then, in the reproductive functions proper—menstruation, defloration, pregnancy and parturition—woman is biologically doomed to suffer. Nature seems to have no hesitation in administering to her strong doses of pain, and she can do nothing but submit passively to the regimen prescribed. On the other hand, as regards sexual attraction, which is necessary for the act of impregnation, and as regards the erotic pleasures experienced during the act itself, the woman may be on an equal footing with the man.”
Amen, your highness. Amen!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Origins of some words

I was talking to a friend who was writing a book, a paranormal involving men kind of trapped in a time bubble and could only speak English relating to the late 1600's.

She was having problems because a lot of the words we use now weren't invented then. Especially when writing an erotic romance.


I too had this problem when I was writing, Fox's Bride. (Which btw is currently 0.99 cents at Ellora's Cave, a Value from the Vault!)

It was a can of worms. I was about fifty years too early on many of the words I had chose, words which were historical, but weren't invented until much, much later. D'oh.

I felt my friend's pain KEENLY.

So I thought I would share with you the origins of some naughty words thanks to Etymology Online.

Cock: Referring as slang for penis didn't show up until 1670.

Pussy: Referring to female genitalia didn't show up until 1870. When referring to a cat or a rabbit, it came about in 1715 and as a term of endearment (for men and women) it was used as early as 1580.

Wuss: A form of wussy is a recent invention to our dialect, it was first used in 1982. Which means I am older than the word. 0_0 (I only know this because it was below the word pussy.)

Penis: Came about in 1670.

Tit: Came about 1928, however Titty was around as early as 1746.

Erection: Showed up in both means "putting up a building" and ... well you know around 1590.

Clitoris: Used first around 1610, however anatomist (This is directly from Online Etymology) "Mateo Renaldo Colombo (1516-1559), professor at Padua, claimed to have discovered it ("De re anatomica," 1559, p. 243). He called it amor Veneris, vel dulcedo "the love or sweetness of Venus." It had been known earlier to women."

So when you're thinking about writing a historical, especially erotic, be mindful of your word choices!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

So You Think You Want To Dress Victorian?

So, you want to dress up Victorian. Do you crave the look of Steampunk? Did you know that dressing up Victorian means you're taking your own LIFE in your hands?

Dressing up Victorian is a time commitment, and a hazard unto itself, but darn it's fun! During the mid-1800's fashion changed dramatically within a fifty year time period.

In 1860, women were tightly corseted from their youth, trying to achieving the perfect lift to their bosom and that desirable 20 ¼-inch waist. Because of a tightly corseted silhouette women's ribcages were severely narrowed, their internal organs compressed. After years of being corseted women's muscles would atrophy, and without the use of the corset they had a hard time standing or even walking.

Around 1880, again women were corseted at a young age, the bosom uplifted but the middle was thicker and there was definition on the bum. This was of course when bustles made the scene. Bustles were not used to accentuate a huge butt, but as status. The more fabric you could drape back there, the higher your status.

In the 1900's the "mono-bosom" (or uni-boob as I like to call it) look was in. Women would still wear the corset, but they would stuff their chests to get a rounded bosom. The look was an "S" curve look.

I think the most interesting time period of dressing as a Victorian lady was 1860. Ahhh, 1860, you're a lady and you've just woken up from a lovely slumber. QUICK be decent; put on your wrapper aka your bathrobe. Whew, now that you've finished your ablutions it's time to get dressed.

Peeling off the wrapper, we see you're wearing the most intimate of your clothing. Your chemise. The chemise was comprised of intricate tucks and a scoop neck front, which would loosen and allow you to wear a more off-the-shoulder neckline.

First, let's get on your drawers, your crotchless drawers. Kinky. Not really, in the 1860's it was a sin for women to wear breeches so drawers, pantaloons or pantalets were not allowed to have a crotch because it was too close to a man's breeches. Of course it also helped when one needed to squat over yonder chamber pot.

Next, after our drawers are slipped on it's time to get on those socks and shoes. What? You say I missed a step. Nope, you have to put on your socks and shoes now because once you're in your corset and stays you aren't going to be bending over. Socks were brightly coloured and garish. In 1859, the knitting machine had been invented and women benefited from brightly and tightly knitted socks, which they would garter with suspenders, slung around their hips. Some socks even had elastic woven into them to garter them. After the socks came the new thing, left and right buckled shoes. Before 1860, the woman wore straight shoes, slipper like, which were interchangeable.

After we have our socks and shoes on next is the corset, comprised of metal or whalebone stays. A good tightening of a corset could shed about three to four inches off your waist.

After the corset came the crinoline, hoop or cage skirt. Before 1856, which brought the advent of the crinoline, women would have to wear six or seven flannel horsehair petticoats to achieve the desired fullness. Can anyone say heat stroke?

Over the crinoline came the petticoat, with an elaborate flounce that helped with fullness.

The skirt came over the petticoat.

The silhouette so far is a wide one. So much so, that approximately 40,000 women died in England alone from their skirts catching on fire. YIKES! I told you it was hazardous to your health now didn't I?

Oh yes, next came the bodice. The chemise could be adjusted depending on how much shoulder you wanted to show. Sleeves were not really a permanent part of the dress, so under-sleeves were worn. A broach was fastened to the collar.

After this, a snood (knitted hairnet) was attached to keep the hair up. Over this went the bonnet and next the gloves.

There, you're all dressed and ready to enjoy a day on the town.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dressing (or Undressing) the Georgian Lady

I have a fascination with clothing, perhaps because one of my first jobs, back in the dark ages, was as a dressmaker. In those days I was trying to recreate designs found in magazines for my clients and, in the course of those endeavours, really learned a lot about fabric, fit and construction.

Well, none of that served any purpose when I got involved with 18th Century re-enactors. Like every other facet of life, clothing, and more importantly clothing construction, has changed and evolved over time. But that’s one of the things that makes writing historical novels so interesting, and provides one of the pitfalls for authors setting their books in the past. It takes research to get things just right.

For example, my latest WIP is Georgian set, but I couldn’t leave it with so wide a designation. There were lots of changes in fashion within the period, so I had to narrow it down. I picked a year—mainly by looking at the various political issues and choosing a particularly factious one that would keep the hero in the House of Lords on a regular and protracted basis. Once I had a year picked, I could start looking at the clothing popular during that time.

Strangely enough for someone with my background, I rarely go into long descriptions of clothing. Yes, the outfits were elaborate and costly, many covered with fine embroidery or precious metals. It wouldn’t be that difficult for me to wax lyrical about these things, but it would probably bore the socks off most of the readers. As a writer, just because I’m familiar with a topic doesn’t mean I have to spew all the information onto the page.

I also think it’s unrealistic. Not everyone is obsessed with clothing and, if you belong to a certain group and are used to seeing others dressed a certain way, unless clothing is your ‘thing’ you probably wouldn’t take note of what everyone around you is wearing all the time. If a Goth goes into a Goth club, are they going to stand at the door and notice what all the other Goths are wearing? Probably not. What they would notice is if someone is not dressed like a Goth, so unless my characters are thrown out of their milieu, or being hyper-aware of fashion is part of their character, I don’t make a big deal out of their clothing.

What I do try to get right (being an erotic romance writer) is what they’re wearing when the clothing starts to come off, or if naughtiness is taking place while they’re still dressed. How do they get to the action? What are the impediments? How long will it take? What are the various layers? I found that in the Georgian era the clothing made trysts easy enough, but getting bare a bit of a production. So here’s a brief primer on what a Georgian lady went through to get dressed…

Closest to the skin, the shift, made of thin linen, low cut with or without a drawstring at the top. It had tight sleeves and was slightly flared at the bottom because of the side gussets. On the legs, the hose, made of silk or wool, coming up over the knees and held in place by garters, which could be ribbons (ribbands) tied or buckled.

The next layer would be the stays, which separated the breasts and flattened the front of the silhouette. Some stays laced up the back only, others had lacing both front and back. These shouldn’t be confused with corsets, which were more tightly laced and lifted the breasts into more of a shelf arrangement. From my research the stays weren't tightened to the extent of later foundation garments, which sought to narrow the waist to an extraordinary extent. For the contrast between waist and hips, the Georgian lady turned to…

…the panniers, or a bumroll, depending on the outfit and timeframe. The panniers were those inverted basket-like arrangements that made the skirts wide, while the bumroll sat over the bottom to put the junk in their trucks. These went on over the under-petticoat, but under the rest of the petticoats, of which there could be several.

Over all of this came the gown. This was a bodice and attached skirt, the skirt usually being open down the front to expose the topmost petticoat. There were various styles of gowns, the variations most notable in the back, and in earlier parts of the era a stomacher was also worn, with the edges of the bodice being attached to it. You might also wear a fichu, a square of linen or lace that goes over the shoulders and is tucked into the front of the low-cut bodice.

Step into your shoes (finally) and you’re ready to go.

So, from an erotic point of view, there is a great deal of mileage to be had from the slow undress, because it would be a fairly laborious task. But for trysts, it’s even better. They didn’t wear any kind of underwear—no pantelles or panties or bloomers. There is great scope for the hand under the skirts or the tossing of the petticoats over her face or up on her back if doggie is your style. The men would get a bit more dishevelled under those circumstances, because of the shirt being tuck down into their breeches, but those were the only layers keeping the penis in check. So what if he had to re-tuck and re-button afterwards?

What my research taught me is, as much fun as it is to imagine and even wear some of these outfits on occasion, I’m so glad I can get up in the morning and pull on a pair of sweats and a hoodie…getting dressed back then sounds like it could take all day!

As an aside, women of the lower orders, although not as burdened by clothing, still wore basically the same under garments. The difference was in the topmost layer, and the lack of the panniers or bumrolls. Unlike the gentry, these ladies needed to be able to move freely and work.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King's Speech--Amy Says

Ah, for me it wasn’t just Colin Firth which dragged me to the movie …although I won’t lie, it was a huge selling point. For me it was the story of two people who I have admired for a long, long, long time. Now, I never lived when George VI reigned. In fact I was five when their grandson Prince Charles had his fairy tale wedding to Princess Diana. I come from a LONG line of United Empire Loyalists, so the history of the monarchy has been ingrained into my brain.

I am a Royalist. Faithful to the Crown through-and-through. From a young age I have been captivated, by what I feel is a true story of courage and romance, with King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon aka The Queen Mum.

I knew every moment coming. I knew exactly what to suspect, but still the movie utterly enthralled me; froze me to the spot with the magnificent acting of Academy Award Winner Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter. When David spoke harshly and teased Bertie mercilessly I was shaking my fist ready to leap through the screen and wring his selfish neck. I have never thought David and Wallis’s story romantic. To me, it was selfish. I was also ready to smack Wallis as she made fun of the Queen Mum.

Anyways, I digress. I wept when Bertie wept, I felt my throat constrict as he tried to speak and cheered him as he delivered a speech which captured the British Empire. I felt a great swelling of pride for my heritage, as I come from English roots.

I could go on and on, boring you with numerous historical facts, but let’s just say it was an Oscar well deserving. I usually don’t watch the Oscar’s, but I had to watch and see if The King’s Speech won, and it did. It was well deserving. Congrats Colin Firth, and to the writer who also overcame his own speech impediment.

As far as historical movies go, The King’s Speech has moved to the top of my list. By the way, did you notice that Jennifer Ehle (Elizabeth Bennet) played Mrs. Logue, and I fan girl squee’d the moment she curtsied in front of the king (Mr. Darcy). I know, I’m such a nerd. 

The King's Speech--Anya says

Not long after Amy Ruttan and I decided to do this blog, we went together to see the movie The King’s Speech. Even if I wasn’t a history buff, I would have wanted to see the movie, because, well, Colin Firth is in it. Always and forever he is, for me, Mr. Darcy and, having seen his performance in Pride and Prejudice, I would pay to go see him stand on his head and read his grocery list.

So imagine my intense disappointment on seeing his face for the first time on the screen in this new movie…
He looked so old, so weary. A man under all the strain life could throw at him. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t disappointed. Colin Firth is a dish, and it was clear there would be no eye candy for me.

And then it didn’t matter.

I was totally sucked into the movie, into the agony of Bertie’s disability, into his wife’s desperate need to help him. There is a scene, at the very beginning of the movie, when Prince Albert stands before the microphone, frozen. The audience in attendance at the function waits. We wait. Bertie struggles, trying to move past his fear, his inability to form the words. I found myself cringing and as I looked away in sympathy I caught the moment when everyone on screen did the same. That was when I knew I was captivated—when I felt exactly as I would if I were standing watching someone in real life go through the same painful moment.

From a historical perspective, I found the story compelling, although I have no way of knowing exactly where or if artistic licence was taken. I am really only one generation removed from the time period. My parents lived through WWII, and my grandmother spoke with great distress about the abdication, although she loved both George VI and his queen. In those days all blame for Edward VIII’s abdication was placed on Wallis Simpson. This movie gives us a wider, and I dare say more realistic, view.

David’s choice was between a life of hedonistic enjoyment, embodied by his relationship with Wallis, and his duty to his country. He was not the first man to face such a choice, nor, most likely, will he be the last. Selfishness won over and, personally, I’m glad it did. The outcome of WWII would most likely have been much different.

Yet how my heart ached for Bertie when he realised his personal demons had just morphed into entirely different beasts by his brother’s actions. What had, to that point, been a more personal battle was suddenly going to have to be fought in front of the entire country, the entire world. This was a man who deeply felt his responsibilities, be it to his father, his family or, most of all, to his country. He was human, frail in some ways, strong and determined in others, and showing that, in all its facets, is the true genius of this movie.

I had grown up hearing stories of George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s courage during the Blitz and, for me, this movie only increased my admiration for that couple. All well and good to tell ourselves that royals, like the rest of us, put their pants on one leg at a time but it’s a different kettle of fish to see it, even just in a movie. I’d recommend this movie to anyone interested not just in history, but in the human condition—the fight to move past what has been holding you back, the importance of love, friendship and the dedication to what is right. Bertie was an inspirational figure, both in his personal and public lives.

And now I love Colin Firth even more…