A Constitutional Plum Pudding


In 1848, revolutions broke out all over Europe, and even in some parts of Latin America. Over 50 countries were affected. But everything remained quiet in Great Britain. A cartoon published in an edition of Punch, and titled "John Bull Showing The Foreign Powers How To Make A Constitutional Plum-Pudding," explains why.

The picture shows John Bull sitting proudly at a table, with a fork and a knife in his hands. In front of him, the Magna Carta is laid out as a table cloth. Upon it, there's a plum pudding inscribed with English values: Liberty of the press, Common sense, Order, Trial by jury, Religion, and True liberty of the subject. European and Asian sovereigns look on, with sad and even skeptical expressions on their faces.

The shape of the pudding is not casual either. It's round, like that of a globe. John Bull, with his knife and fork, is boasting of his ability to carve up the world as he likes, while the other crowned heads stand by and watch on, without being able to do anything about it. Therefore, the cartoon is also a celebration of the British Empire and the British identity.

All was not well within the empire though. Some revolts broke down in some distant parts of it, showing that not everyone saw the British people in the same way they saw themselves...

Further reading:
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times. by Graham Everitt



Book Reviews: Girl On The Golden Coin, The Gondola Maker, & Getting Waisted

Hello everyone,

this week I'm reviewing two historical fiction novels and a biography. Ready? Let's get started:

Girl On the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson
I've always had a bit of a crush on Charles II, the merry yet rather melancholic Stuart monarch who presided over the glittering court of the Restoration era. His long string of mistresses is equally fascinating, so I was expecting to love Girl On The Golden Coin, a novel about Frances Stuart, a cousin and lover of Charles II. But I couldn't. It was just ok.
Frances and her family, exiled from England, spent years in the household of the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria at the court of Louis XIV of France. When Frances refuses to become his mistress, the French King orders her to seduce Charles II to convince him to form an alliance between their two countries. The Queen Mother, a fervent Catholic, also wants Frances to became her son's mistress, replacing Lady Castlemaine in that role, and then influence him to convert to Catholicism. If Frances refuses, her mother's secret will be revealed, and her family will therefore be disgraced. But then something unexpected happens. Frances falls in love with Charles, and feels guilty at all her lies and plots. Trapped in a web of political machinations, she is torn between her love for Charles, who considers her an angel and believes that she can help him became a better man, and her duty to protect her family.
There is the potential for a great story here. Sadly, the book is quite boring, and not just because the pace is quite slow. After all, many great novels flow slowly. It's just that nothing really ever happens here. The plot is quite uneventful, really. And almost until the end, I felt like I was reading a High School novel set in the Stuart court. The political machinations and squabbles between mistresses remind me of teenage dramas in modern TV shows. The characters too fit into standard, stereotyped roles. Lady Castlemaine is the mean girl who throws a tantrum whenever things don't go her way, King Charles is the rake who strives, and fails to be good, and Queen Catherine the poor girl everyone takes advantage of and makes fun of behind her back. It doesn't help that the story is told in the first person, so while we have access to Frances' thoughts and feelings, we don't really know what makes the other characters tick and what prompts them to act in the way they do.
Another thing I dislike is that the characters mostly talked about, rather than lived, the events of their time. Because the novel is told by Frances, any event she doesn't take part in must obviously be related to her, or by her when talking to someone else. It's a common problem with this approach, and one that doesn't help to enliven the plot. Unfortunately, using a first person narrator has become quite common lately, which is a pity because it works for very few novels. This one certainly hasn't benefited from it.
And that's a shame because Jefferson is a skilled writer. She has obviously done her research and her prose is beautiful. Despite all its flows, Girl On The Golden Coin is not bad as a first effort and I look forward to reading more from this author. I hope she will choose the narrator of her story more carefully next time, though, because it was using the first person that, to me, caused the problems that have turned a story with the potential to be gripping and thrilling into a boring high school drama. Overall, though, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Frances and Restoration England, both a figure and a period sadly often neglected by historical novelists.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3/5

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli
This is what I call a descriptive novel. That's a novel where the real protagonist is the city, or place, where the action takes place. In this book, that's, of course, Venice. Morelli is obviously in love with the city, its traditions, and its history. She describes every palace and canal, its inhabitants and their roles, in minute detail, making 16th century Venice come to life.
The other protagonist is Luca Vianello. Heir to an esteemed gondola making family, Luca's whole future, including what job he'll do and who he'll marry, has already been decided for him. But Luca longs for the freedom to make his own choices, and, after her mother's death, he leaves his family and tries to make it on its own. It seems, though, that Luca can't escape from gondolas. It's his ability with them that gets him hired by a famous painter as a gondolier. In his house, he also meets, and falls in love, with Giulana Zanchi. She belongs to a noble family, and his love for her will land him in prison.
Like Girl On The Golden Coin, The Gondola Maker too uses the first person narration, and features a pretty uneventful plot. Luca spends more time taking care and repairing his gondolas, or relating what he sees while sailing through the canal (all things which are very detailedly described), than just living his own life, or reflecting on his feelings and actions. This will make you either hate or love the book. Me? I liked learning all this stuff about gondolas, yet, it's undeniable that it bogs down the book somewhat. At times, The Gondola Maker reads more like a lovingly written essay than a novel, so I was surprised to discover that I still cared quite a lot about Luca and what happened to him.
Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Gondola Maker provides a fascinating insight into the Venice of its time. If you love Venice, gondolas, or this kind of descriptive novels, I think you will enjoy this book very much too.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Getting Waisted: A Survival Guide to Being Fat in a Society That Loves Thin by Monica Parker
I hate the way our society treats fat people. Yes, obesity shouldn't be encouraged, but bulling people and making them feel inferior for the way they look and how much they weight is hardly the best way to fix the problem. It's wrong, it's demeaning, and it just makes things worse. Being fat is not just a matter of eating too much and exercising too little. Often, these bad habits are linked with emotional and psychological issues, and the incessant scrutiny and criticism these people, and their bodies, are under every day only aggravates them. That's why books like this are important.
Monica Parker has been overweight pretty much all her life. In her memoir, she bravely shares her struggles with her weight, her desire to shed the pounds, the many fad, often dangerous diets she tried, the huge amount of money she spent in her efforts to lose weight, and the many insecurities and self-esteem issues she has about her body.
As Monica tells the story of her life, the reader gets to see both how the environment she lived in and the issues she had to face throughout the years contributed to her weight gain (and, at times, loss), as well as how her weight affected all areas of her life, thus creating a vicious circle that's hard to break. And yet, Monica never lost her sense of humor. Her bright and fun personality always shined through, helping her, despite all her problems and insecurities, to make her dreams come true and form a family with a lovely man who loves her just as she is. She is truly a wonderful woman.
Getting Waisted is not really a survival guide, though. It doesn't really give you practical tips to survive in a society obsessed with being thin. It also ends rather abruptly, missing the opportunity to reflect, and expand, on her struggle with her body and what she learned from it. But maybe that was never her intention. Instead, Getting Waisted helps you understand what goes on in the mind and soul of a fat person. Those who are overweight will be able to relate to her struggle, while those who have always been thin will learn what it is like to be fat in our modern society, and what fat people go through every single day. It's not pretty. I highly recommend this everyone, but especially those who struggle with their weight and aren't happy with their bodies.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Have you read these books? If so, what did you think of them? If not, would you like to?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Princess Helena Of The United Kingdom


On May 25, 1846, Queen Victoria gave birth to her third daughter, and fifth child, Princess Helena Augusta Victoria. The long name was, soon, affectionately shortened by her father, Prince Albert, in the German diminutive Lenchen (Helena in German is Helenchen). Prince Albert, together with his friend and counsellor Baron Stockmar, also chose her tutors. Princess Helena's childhood was quiet and carefree. But in December 1861, tragedy struck. Her beloved father died. The whole family, and particularly Queen Victoria, was devastated. The Queen would wear mourning clothes for the rest of her life.


In the 1860s, Helena fell for Carl Rutland, her father's librarian. When the Queen found out, in 1863, she dismissed Rutland, who went back to Germany, straight away, and then set out to find a suitable husband for her daughter. Three years later, on 5 July 1866, Helena married the impoverished German Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, who was 15 years older than her. Because Christian didn't have any principality or crown to inherit, the couple settled in England, which suited Queen Victoria very well. This way, Helena could continue working as her mother's secretary, a position she had assumed the previous year, after the marriage of her older sister Alice.


Helena and Christian had a relatively happy marriage and six children together: Christian Victor (1867), Albert (1869), Helena Victoria (1870), Marie Louise (1872), and two sons who died in early infancy. The family resided at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Par. It was the traditional residence of the Ranger of Windsor Great Park, the honorary position bestowed on Christian by his mother-in-law. With no lands, titles or real job, he spent most of his time hunting or feeding his beloved pigeons. His wife, who loved animals, enjoyed spending time outdoors too.


Princess Helena was an unprepossessing and sturdy, but emotionally fragile, woman. Her mother described her as "most useful and active and clever and amiable” but also mentioned that she “does not improve in looks and has great difficulty with her figure and her want of calm, quiet, graceful manners.” She was also addicted to laudanum and opium, and suffered from poor health. Her mother, though, didn't believe she was ill and accused her of being a hypochondriac. Princess Helena had real health problems though. In the 1870s she suffered from severe rheumatism, congestion in her lungs, and had problems with her joints too.


Despite her poor health, Princess Helena carried out many royal engagements. This is all the more remarkable because at the time, royals were not really expected to appear in public often. The Princess also became patron of several charities and institutions. She was the founding president of the Royal School of Needlework, as well as the president of the Royal British Nurses' Association, in which role she helped support nurse registration against the advice of Florence Nightingale. Princess Helena was also one of the founding members of the Red Cross, as well as a supporter of women's rights. In addition, she hosted free dinners for children and unemployed people, which gained her great popularity. Contemporary author C. W. Cooper, said that "the poor of Windsor worshipped her".


Another interest of the princess was translations. She translated several Germans works into English, some of which were published. In 1916, Princess Helena and her husband Christian celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The next year, Christian died. Helena followed her husband in the grave several years later. She died at Schomberg House on 9 June 1923.

Further reading:
Victoria's Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard

Street Etiquette


The manners of a person are clearly shown by his treatment of the people he meets in the public streets of a city or village, in public conveyances and in traveling generally. The true gentleman, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances, is kind and courteous to all he meets, regards not only the rights, but the wishes and feelings of others, is deferential to women and to elderly men, and is ever ready to extend his aid to those who need it.

THE STREET MANNERS OF A LADY

The true lady walks the street, wrapped in a mantle of proper reserve, so impenetrable that insult and coarse familiarity shrink from her, while she, at the same time, carries with her a congenial atmosphere which attracts all, and puts all at their ease.
A lady walks quietly through the streets, seeing and hearing nothing that she ought not to see and hear, recognizing acquaintances with a courteous bow, and friends with words of greeting. She is always unobtrusive, never talks loudly, or laughs boisterously, or does anything to attract the attention of the passers-by. She walks along in her own quiet, lady-like way, and by her pre-occupation is secure from any annoyance to which a person of less perfect breeding might be subjected.
A lady never demands attention and favors from a gentleman, but, when voluntarily offered, accepts them gratefully, graciously, and with an expression of hearty thanks.

FORMING STREET ACQUAINTANCES

A lady never forms an acquaintance upon the street, or seeks to attract the attention or admiration of persons of the other sex. To do so would render false her claims to ladyhood, if it did not make her liable to far graver charges.

RECOGNIZING FRIENDS IN THE STREET

No one, while walking the streets, should fail, through pre-occupation, or absent-mindedness, to recognize friends or acquaintances, either by a bow or some form of salutation. If two gentlemen stop to talk, they should retire to one side of the walk. If a stranger should be in company with one of the gentlemen, an introduction is not necessary. If a gentleman meets another gentleman in company with a lady whom he does not know, he lifts his hat to salute them both. If he knows the lady, he should salute her first. The gentleman who accompanies a lady, always returns a salutation made to her.

A CROWDED STREET

When a gentleman and lady are walking in the street, if at any place, by reason of the crowd, or from other cause, they are compelled to proceed singly, the gentleman should always precede his companion.

INTRUSIVE INQUIRIES

If you meet or join or are visited by a person who has any article whatever, under his arm or in his hand, and he does not offer to show it to you, you should not, even if it be your most intimate friend, take it from him and look at it. That intrusive curiosity is very inconsistent with the delicacy of a well-bred man, and always offends in some degree.

THE FIRST TO BOW

In England strict etiquette requires that a lady, meeting upon the street a gentleman with whom she has acquaintance, shall give the first bow of recognition. In this country, however, good sense does not insist upon an imperative following of this rule. A well-bred man bows and raises his hat to every lady of his acquaintance whom he meets, without waiting for her to take the initiative. If she is well-bred, she will certainly respond to his salutation. As politeness requires that each salute the other, their salutations will thus be simultaneous.

ALWAYS RECOGNIZE ACQUAINTANCES

One should always recognize lady acquaintances in the street, either by bowing or words of greeting, a gentleman lifting his hat. If they stop to speak, it is not obligatory to shake hands. Shaking hands is not forbidden, but in most cases it is to be avoided in public.

BOWING TO STRANGERS WITH FRIENDS

If a gentleman meets a friend, and the latter has a stranger with him, all three should bow. If the gentleman stops his friend to speak to him, he should apologize to the stranger for detaining him. If the stranger is a lady, the same deference should be shown as if she were an acquaintance.

DO NOT LACK POLITENESS

Never hesitate in acts of politeness for fear they will not be recognized or returned. One cannot be too polite so long as he conforms to rules, while it is easy to lack politeness by neglect of them. Besides, if courtesy is met by neglect or rebuff, it is not for the courteous person to feel mortification, but the boorish one; and so all lookers-on will regard the matter.

TALKING WITH A LADY IN THE STREET

In meeting a lady it is optional with her whether she shall pause to speak. If the gentleman has anything to say to her, he should not stop her, but turn around and walk in her company until he has said what he has to say, when he may leave her with a bow and a lift of the hat.

LADY AND GENTLEMAN WALKING TOGETHER

A gentleman walking with a lady should treat her with the most scrupulous politeness, and may take either side of the walk. It is customary for the gentleman to have the lady on his right hand side, and he offers her his right arm, when walking arm in arm. If, however, the street is crowded, the gentleman must keep the lady on that side of him where she will be the least exposed to crowding.

OFFERING THE ARM TO A LADY

A gentleman should, in the evening, or whenever her safety, comfort or convenience seems to require it, offer a lady companion his arm. At other times it is not customary to do so unless the parties be husband and wife or engaged. In the latter case, it is not always advisable to do so, as they may be made the subject of unjust remarks.

KEEPING STEP

In walking together, especially when arm in arm, it is desirable that the two keep step. Ladies should be particular to adapt their pace as far as practicable, to that of their escort. It is easily done.

OPENING THE DOOR FOR A LADY

A gentleman should always hold open the door for a lady to enter first. This is obligatory, not only in the case of the lady who accompanies him, but also in that of any strange lady who chances to be about to enter at the same time.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS

A gentleman will answer courteously any questions which a lady may address to him upon the street, at the same time lifting his hat, or at least touching it respectfully.

SMOKING UPON THE STREETS

In England a well-bred man never smokes upon the streets. While this rule does not hold good in this country, yet no gentleman will ever insult a lady by smoking in the streets in her company, and in meeting and saluting a lady he will always remove his cigar from his mouth.

OFFENSIVE BEHAVIOR

No gentleman is ever guilty of the offense of standing on street corners and the steps of hotels or other public places and boldly scrutinizing every lady who passes.

CARRYING PACKAGES

A gentleman will never permit a lady with whom he is walking to carry a package of any kind, but will insist upon relieving her of it. He may even accost a lady when he sees her overburdened and offer his assistance, if their ways lie in the same direction.

SHOUTING

Never speak to your acquaintances from one side of the street to the other. Shouting is a certain sign of vulgarity. First approach, and then make your communication to your acquaintance or friend in a moderately loud tone of voice.

TWO GENTLEMEN WALKING WITH A LADY

When two gentlemen are walking with a lady in the street they should not be both upon the same side of her, but one of them should walk upon the outside and the other upon the inside.

CROSSING THE STREET WITH A LADY

If a gentleman is walking with a lady who has his arm, and they cross the street, it is better not to disengage the arm, and go round upon the outside. Such effort evinces a palpable attention to form, and that is always to be avoided.

FULFILLING AN ENGAGEMENT

When on your way to fill an engagement, if a friend stops you on the street you may, without committing a breach of etiquette, tell him of your appointment, and release yourself from any delay that may be occasioned by a long talk; but do so in a courteous manner, expressing regret for the necessity.

WALKING WITH A LADY ACQUAINTANCE

A gentleman should not join a lady acquaintance on the street for the purpose of walking with her, unless he ascertains that his company would be perfectly agreeable to her. It might be otherwise, and she should frankly say so, if asked.

PASSING BEFORE A LADY

When a lady wishes to enter a store, house or room, if a gentleman accompanies her, he should hold the door open and allow her to enter first, if practicable; for a gentleman must never pass before a lady anywhere if he can avoid it, or without an apology.

SHOPPING ETIQUETTE

In inquiring for goods at a store or shop, do not say to the clerk or salesman, "I want" such an article, but, "Please show me" such an article, or some other polite form of address.
You should never take hold of a piece of goods or an article which another person is examining. Wait until it is replaced upon the counter, when you are at liberty to examine it.
It is rude to interrupt friends whom you meet in a store before they have finished making their purchases, or to ask their attention to your own purchases. It is rude to offer your opinion unasked, upon their judgment or taste, in the selection of goods.
It is rude to sneer at and depreciate goods, and exceedingly discourteous to the salesman. Use no deceit, but be honest with them, if you wish them to be honest with you.
Avoid "jewing down" the prices of articles in any way. If the price does not suit, you may say so quietly, and depart, but it is generally best to say nothing about it.
It is an insult for the salesman to offensively suggest that you can do better elsewhere, which should be resented by instant departure.
Ladies should not monopolize the time and attention of salesmen in small talk, while other customers are in the store to be waited upon.
Whispering in a store is rude. Loud and showy behaviour is exceedingly vulgar.

ETIQUETTE FOR PUBLIC CONVEYANCES

In street cars, omnibuses and other public street conveyances, it should be the endeavor of each passenger to make room for all persons entering, and no gentleman will retain his seat when there are ladies standing. When a lady accepts a seat from a gentleman, she expresses her thanks in a kind and pleasant manner.
A lady may, with perfect propriety, accept the offer of services from a stranger in alighting from, or entering an omnibus or other public conveyance, and should always acknowledge the courtesy with a pleasant "Thank you, sir," or a bow.
Never talk politics or religion in a public conveyance.
Gentlemen should not cross their legs, nor stretch their feet out into the passage-way of a public conveyance.

AVOID CUTTING

No gentleman will refuse to recognize a lady after she has recognized him, under any circumstances. A young lady should, under no provocation, "cut" a married lady. It is the privilege of age to first recognize those who are younger in years. No young man will fail to recognize an aged one after he has met with recognition. "Cutting" is to be avoided if possible. There are other ways of convincing a man that you do not know him, yet, to young ladies, it is sometimes the only means available to rid them of troublesome acquaintances. "Cutting" consists in returning a bow or recognition with a stare, and is publicly ignoring the acquaintance of the person so treated. It is sometimes done by words in saying, "Really I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance."

AVOIDING CARRIAGES

For a lady to run across the street to avoid an approaching carriage is inelegant and also dangerous. To attempt to cross the street between the carriages of a funeral procession, is rude and disrespectful. The foreign custom of removing the hat and standing in a respectful attitude until the melancholy train has passed, is a commendable one to be followed in this country.

KEEP TO THE RIGHT

On meeting and passing people in the street, keep to your right hand, except when a gentleman is walking alone; then he must always turn aside to give the preferred side of the walk to a lady, to anyone carrying a heavy load, to a clergyman or to an old gentleman.

SOME GENERAL SUGGESTIONS

If a gentleman is walking with two ladies in a rain storm, and there is but one umbrella, he should give it to his companions and walk outside. Nothing can be more absurd than to see a gentleman walking between two ladies holding an umbrella which perfectly protects himself, but half deluges his companions with its dripping streams.

Never turn a corner at full speed or you may find yourself knocked down, or may knock down another, by the violent contact. Always look in the way you are going or you may chance to meet some awkward collision.

A young lady should, if possible, avoid walking alone in the street after dark. If she passes the evening with a friend, provision should be made beforehand for an escort. If this is not practicable, the person at whose house she is visiting should send a servant with her, or some proper person—a gentleman acquaintance present, or her own husband—to perform the duty. A married lady may, however, disregard this rule, if circumstances prevent her being able to conveniently find an escort.

A gentleman will always precede a lady up a flight of stairs, and allow her to precede him in going down.

Do not quarrel with a hack-driver about his fare, but pay him and dismiss him. If you have a complaint to make against him, take his name and make it to the proper authorities. It is rude to keep a lady waiting while you are disputing with a hack-man.

Further reading:
Our Deportment by John H Young

Historical Reads: Emerald Green Or Paris Green, The Deadly Regency Pigment


Emerald Green, or Paris Green, was a very popular pigment in the Regency Era. It was also deadly, as Vic reminds us over at Jane Austen's World. To quote:

Eventually, the use of this pigment was abandoned when it became generally known that people who wore clothes dyed with the substance tended to die early. To this day the French avoid making green theater costumes. Emerald green was also used to color confectionary and cake cake decorations.

Wallpaper made with Scheele’s green was deadly, By 1830, wallpaper production had risen to 1 million rolls a year in the UK, and by 30 million in 1870. Tests later revealed that four out of five wallpapers contained arsenic. Leopold Gmelin (1788-1853), a famous German chemist, suspected as early as 1815 that wallpaper could poison the atmosphere. He noticed that the substance gave off a mouse-like odor when the paper was slightly damp. Gmelin warned people to strip their rooms of the paper and advocated banning Scheele’s green, but he was too far ahead of his time.

In 1861, Dr W. Fraser tested wallpaper that contained arsenic.The threat, he said, came from breathing the dust of the papers, especially flocked wallpaper. The warnings went unheeded, and by 1871, arsenic production had increased to the point that Britain had become its largest producer and consumer.


To read the entire article, click here.

Movie Review: Bright Star


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

~John Keats


John Keats is one of my favourite poets, so of course I had to watch Bright Star, the Jane Campion's film about his love story with his muse Fanny Brawne. I didn't know what to expect, apart from a tragic ending, but what I got was a charming, if sad movie, that, however, lacks that something to make it a true masterpiece.


Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), with her wit and her needle, captures the attention of Keats (Ben Wishaw) straight away. Fanny is a sort of aspiring fashion designer, always creating something new and beautiful with her needle (the clothes she wears in the movie, which I was actually surprised to like as I find Regency fashion terrible, are said to be her own elegant and elaborate creations). When Keats brother dies, she stitches a beautifully cushion for his grave, touching the poet deeply. But Fanny is also unafraid to speak her mind. After their first meeting, she's intrigued enough to dispatch her sister to buy his book, wanting to see for herself if he's a genius or a fool, and then, doesn't hesitate to tell Keats she didn't thoroughly enjoyed it.


Of course, love blossoms, but the path of true love never runs smoothly, especially when, like Keats, you're too poor to marry. But that's not the only thing that keeps them apart. Charles Brown, Keats' best friend, rather than supporting the budding relationship of the poet, is painfully jealous of Fanny, and quite cruel to her. And then, of course, there's Keats' illness. There's no happy ending for this couple, and yet they remain faithful and steadfast till the end. The devotion they have for each other is very touching, and what real love is all about.


However, Bright Star doesn't have much of a plot. Instead, it's more of a visual poem. Each scene features beautiful costumes, settings, music, and an emotional atmosphere. I especially loved the scene were the bedroom was filled with butterflies, all flying around in the small space. Absolutely stunning. The acting too was great. Both the leads and the supporting characters did a wonderful job with their characters and there was a nice chemistry between Cornish and Wishaw. Wishaw's portrayal of Keats and his conflicting feelings, torn between his love for his art and that for Fanny, was particularly touching and convincing.


Bright Star is not your conventional love story. It's a story of love and loss, poignant and emotional. It almost looks like an adaptation of one of Jane Austen's works, but with no unexpected inheritance or a long-awaited marriage to put everything right. Yet, the slow plot and minimal dialogue can't help but disappoint quite a few people. Does Bright Star make up in imagery and poignancy what it lacks in storyline? That's up to you to decided. It almost did for me.

A Spotless Palace


After her husband's death, the Dowager German Empress Victoria lived a quiet and retired life at Castle Friedrichshof. The eldest daughter of Queen Victoria was a demanding mistress. According to her librarian, "not a speck of dust was to be seen". She did, however, paid her servants well, 30% more of what her son, Kaiser Wilhelm, paid his.

The guests too were expected to behave and not to do anything that could cause any damage, doesn't matter how small, to the castle, which made their stay quite intimidating. Bristish Ambassador Frank Lascelles recalled:

"As soon as I reach my room, I take off my shoes and go about in my socks, for even the softest slippers might have marked the parquet, and 'She' would have discovered it... Smoking in the room was, of course, out of the question, but even to smoke out of the window was risky! 'She' might have spotted it. So I used to spread The Times in front of the fireplace, and kneeling down on it, smoke up the chimney, though it gave me a crick in the neck."

Further reading:
An Uncommon Woman by Hannah Pakula

Books Reviews: I Always Loved You, Hair Story, & The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing

Hello everyone,

I've been reading quite a lot lately and today I have three reviews for you. The first book is one of the best historical fiction/romance novels I've ever read, the second one discusses black hair and its role in the history of the US, while the third one is an essential read for every budding author who is thinking of self-publishing. Let's get started then!

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira
Belle Epoque France. American painter Mary Cassatt moved to France ten years ago to purse an artistic career but, when the Salon rejects her paintings, she's about to pack her bags and go back home. And she would have, if she hadn't met her idol, Edgar Degas, who invites her to exhibit her works with the Impressionists. Mary is sensible, independent and focused on her work, while Edgar is arrogant, unpredictable, and uncompromising. He is also a genius who helps Mary develop her talent to its full potential. They fall in love, but they are too different and yet too similar, to make it work.
Mary becomes friends with the Impressionists too, including Berthe Morisot, whose relationship with the Manet brothers, Edouard and Eugene, is also explored in the book. Through them all we also have a feel of what it was like to be a painter, and especially one who went against the strict and old-fashioned rules imposed on artists by the Salon, in Paris, striving to get their works exhibited, understood, recognized as true art and just to make ends meet. Thanks to Oliveira's in-depth research and close attention to details, their world is vividly evoked. You'll feel like you're in Paris too, just next to Mary and her friends.
However, this is not your regular love story. You know from the beginning that there won't be an "happy ever after". It's a bittersweet story, full of both the beauty and ugliness of love, of its pleasures and its pains, and the loneliness and regrets its loss can bring. And yet Mary and Edgar's love is more true and profound than that most of us ever get to experience. Theirs is a love of minds and souls, not just of bodies.
The pace is a bit slow at times, but not in a bad way. It's more Austen-slow than boring slow as the author describes in-depth the emotions the characters are feeling, their day-to-day lives, and the process of creating art works, rather than packing the story with action, twists and turns in every chapter. Instead, I Always Loved You features well-rounded, interesting characters, deep emotional insights and a beautifully-written prose. It's one of the best historical fiction/romance novels I have ever read and I can't wait to devour more works from this author. Highly recommended.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps
“Everything I know about American history I learned from looking at Black people’s hair. It’s the perfect metaphor for the African experiment here: the toll of slavery and the costs of remaining. It’s all in the hair.” - Lisa Jones, screenwriter.
Hair is a big deal to women of all colours, but while most decide how to wear theirs based on aesthetic considerations alone, for African Americans, and black people all over the world, it is still a political and social statement and a big part of their identity. The history of black hair in the US started when Africans, both free and enslaved, arrived there in the 17th century and found a culture that was hostile to them and their kinky hair. Kinky hair, and dark skin, clashed with the Western ideal of beauty which was, and still is, characterized by white skin and straight hair, and many black women, buying into this racist propaganda, spent a lot of time, ingenuity, effort, and once finally freed, money, into straightening their hair.
Things started to change in the '60s and '70s when more and more American people decided to go natural, and wear their hair in afros, cornrows and other natural and braided hairstyles, which often confused and scared White Americans. Going natural meant freedom of expression and from arbitrary beauty standards, but it could also cost people their jobs as these hairstyles weren't considered, and sometimes still aren't, appropriate for the workplace. In those decades, your hairstyle became a political statement.
These days, these traditional African hairstyles have become common and normal, and the political debate has calmed down somewhat, but there are still too few black celebrities and public figures with natural hair and, the prevalent ideal of beauty is still a Western one. Still, black hair, and black people, have gone a long way since their arrival in the States.
Black hair also gave women a way to support themselves. Madame C. J. Walker, for instance, started selling her homemade hair care products from home to home, creating an empire that employed, and thus gave financial freedom, to many black women. Today too, there are lots of black entrepreneurs that have created small companies that make haircare products for black hair, although most of the market is now dominated by giant corporations owned by white men.
Although the authors tend to repeat themselves at times, Hair Story is a well-written, well-researched, and beautifully illustrated book that tells the fascinating story of black hair in the USA, providing valuable insights into a topic too many people ignore. That's why I recommend this book not just to black people, but also to anyone who want to educate themselves about black hair and the role it has played in the history of the United States.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine
If you're thinking of self-publishing a book or already have, but with very poor results, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine, which has now arrived at his fifth edition.
The book starts by explaining the difference between self-publishing proper, a process in which the author does everything, - writing, formatting, designing the book cover, marketing and all the other gazillion of things necessary to create a book - on its own, and self-publishing assisted, in which the author pays a self-publishing company to perform most of these services. Levine is a CEO of a publishing company (which he mentions only when relevant and never insists that they're better than other companies or that you should only use their services), so it's not wonder that, while providing valuable tips for authors who decide to self-publishing on their own, he recommends they go down the self-publishing assisted route. This bugged me at first, but by the time I reached the end and realised how complicated and expensive self-publishing a book is, I see the value in getting help from the experts, if you can afford it.
The book covers all the basics of self-publishing, including how to format a book, how to promote it, how to read legal contracts, how to get your ISBN and, if you live in the US, LCCN numbers, how you can prepare your files for print, how to turn your book into a mobi or epub, how to choose a good self-publishing company that won't take advantage of you, how to price your books and how royalties work and much more. This new edition also features an entire new chapter about ebooks. It's not as in-depth as I would have liked it to be, but, once again it covers all the basics, giving you lots of useful tips on how to turn your manuscript into an ebook.
There are also several appendixes, where the author reviews and compares various self-publishing companies, giving them a grade for how well and quickly they respond to emails from potential customers, how much their charge for their services, and what their polices regarding the return of book production files are.
While the book provides helpful tips and a fascinating insight into the self-publishing world, it is also a somewhat disheartening read. Self-publishing is tough and expensive, and most authors, far from becoming the next J.K.Rowling, actually end up losing money. Levine doesn't want to discourage you from following your dream of finally publishing your book, but rather prepare you for what you're going to face, while also giving you tips to create the best book you can and market it in the best way you can to increase your chances of success. The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing is definitely a book that any author should have on his/her bookshelf.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

The Months By Robert Dighton

In around 1785, Robert Dighton, an English caricaturist, print-seller and actor, produced 12 allegorical representations of The Months. Each plate depicts a woman wearing an outfit and doing an activity that is appropriate for the month she represents. Here they are. As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.


JANUARY

A woman, seated in a chair, reads a letter. It's a very cold day. Outside, men are skating on a frozen lake.


FEBRUARY

A woman is playing a lute in front of the fire to warm herself up. The weather hasn't gotten any warmer. The landscape outside the window is covered in snow.


MARCH

A woman, wearing a robe a la polonaise and sheer apron over a quilted petticoat, and holding pieces of fabric and scissors in her hands, is looking up towards a bird in a cage. The lake is not frozen anymore, but the waves are strong and dangerous.


APRIL

Spring is finally arrived, and it's now warm enough to spend time outdoors. A woman is smelling a newly bloomed flower.


MAY

A woman, wearing a robe a l'anglaise and a sheer apron over a petticoat, and holding a book in her hand, is leaning upon her windowsill. Outside, people are dancing.


JUNE

A woman, wearing a riding habit, leans against a pedestal with an urn in her garden. In the background, farmers are gathering hay.


JULY

A woman sitting on a bench in her garden on a hot summer day. With one hand, she's holding a parasol to protect her skin from the sun. In the other, she holds a fan.


AUGUST

A woman is fishing.


SEPTEMBER

A woman, wearing a robe anglaise over a petticoat and a sheer muslin apron, is picking grapes from a wine.


OCTOBER

A woman, wearing a military-style riding habit, complete with fringed epaulettes and lapels, and a masculine cravat, is standing in her garden. In the background, men are hunting.


NOVEMBER

A woman with a muff is braving the cold outside.


DECEMBER

A woman, at whose feet a cat is sleeping, is sitting at a table beside a fireplace at night, and is about to call a servant. On the table, there are playing cards, books, and two candles, while on the mantlepiece is a vase with red berries and holly.

Do you like these prints? Which one is your favourite? Mine is August, and not just because it's the month I was born in. I like it because it's not that usual to see old pictures of women fishing. :)

Germaine De Stael's Failed Escape Attempt


Like many liberal French aristocrats, Germaine De Stael had greeted the revolution enthusiastically, believing it would bring freedom and much-needed reforms to the country. Pretty soon though, as the revolutionaries grew more and more violent and the hatred against the aristocrats increased, she became disillusioned with it. And, on 2 September 1792, the day the prison massacres started, Germaine finally decided to escape to Switzerland. But things didn't go exactly according to plan.

Germaine made the mistake of choosing to travel in her big sumptuous yellow coach, which was harnessed with six horses. Such luxury was never gonna pass unnoticed. Germaine knew it, but she naively believed that her boldness would serve as a disguise for her true intentions. In other words, she thought that by making her escape so obvious, people would think that she wasn't escaping at all. Who would be so stupid to make her intentions so blatantly obvious, after all?

It wasn't really a well-thought-out plan, and it, obviously, backfired. The horses had barely started moving when a group of old women threw themselves in front of them, and accused Germaine of escaping abroad with the gold of the nation to join the enemies of France. Their shouts attracted a larger crowd and soon Madame De Stael, who was heavily pregnant, was taken to the ward office of the fabourg Saint-Germain. Upon examining her documents, the ward officials found them in disorder. A servant was missing.

Madame de Stael realised that she wouldn't be allowed to travel further and dispatched a groom to inform a friend whom she was supposed to pick up along the way, that she couldn't make it. Then, the police escorted her to the Hotel de Ville. The Hotel de Ville was only half an hour away by foot, and yet, the coach, due to the narrowness of the streets and the throngs of people lining them, took three hours to reach it. All the time people screamed abuse at Germaine. Madame de Stael appealed for protection to the policemen, who, however, were as menacing and cruel as the populace.

Only the policeman who sat beside her in the coach was moved to compassion and promised Germaine he would protect her with his life. He kept his word when, after the party arrived at their destination, a man pointed his pike at her. The policeman stepped in with his words, and Madame de Stael was allowed to pass safely. While she was waiting in the town hall, she was noticed by Louis-Pierre Manuel, a member of the provisional municipality of Paris who had agreed just a few days previously to free some of her friends from prison.

Manuel, fearing Germaine would be hurt, locked her, together with her maid who had accompanied her mistress, in his office, where they remained for six hours, without food nor water. Only when night fell, and the assassins made their way home from the prisons where they had slaughtered so many innocent victims, did Manuel return to free Germaine and her maid. He then drove them home in her own carriage, which had remained untouched thanks to the efforts of a National Guardsman, and promised her that, the next day, he would send her a new passport.

He kept his word. The new document was delivered the next morning by Jean-Lambert Tallien, who also took her to the city gates. From there, the carriage continued its journey south and, from there, reached Switzerland safely.

Further reading:
Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France by Lucy Moore

Historical Reads: The Oyster Eater – Brixton’s Hungriest Prisoner


Christopher Impey discusses The Life and Death of Dando, The Celebrated Oyster Glutton:

Indeed it was John Dando’s insatiable appetite that frequently put him in prison. His modus operandi was simple: he feasted on what he couldn’t afford, touring London’s eateries, consuming huge quantities of food then refusing to pay.

He was committed to Brixton for a month in April 1830 charged with devouring, at a coffee shop, ‘3lbs of animal food, a half-quartern loaf, sundry eggs and washing down the whole with upwards of a dozen cups of coffee.’ But old habits died hard and the governor, Mr Green, had him placed in solitary confinement for having robbed other prisoners of bread and beef: ‘in fact so ravenous was his appetite while in [Brixton], that nothing in the shape of food, belong to whom it might, could be left within his reach that he did not devour.’

Oysters, though, were Dando’s weakness.


To read the entire article, click here.

Anne Gainsford

Originally identified as Anne Zouche, the sitter
is now thought to be Mary Zouche


Anne Gainsford was born at Crowhurst, Surrey. The date of her birth is unknown. She was the daughter of John Gainsford and his second wife, Anne Hawte, and had a sister, Mary. Anne, or Nan as she was commonly called, joined Anne Boleyn's household around 1528, and the two women became close friends.

Anne Boleyn lent Nan her copy of Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man, which advocated the divine right of kings and stated that it was the sovereign of a country, not the pope, who was the rightful head of that country's church. The book was banned, so, when, after being stolen by Nan's fiancé George Zouche, it ended up in Cardinal Wolsey's hands, Anne could have gotten in serious trouble.

But instead than being angry with her friend, Anne went to the king to complain about its confiscation. The book was soon duly returned to her. Then, Anne encouraged Henry to read it, and he declared it to be a book "for me and all kings to read"*. Henry at this time was trying, without success, to get the pope to annull his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and it is believed that this book greatly influenced him to split from the Catholic Church and have Parliament pass the Act Of Supremacy. Tyndale, though, opposed Henry's divorce, believing it to be unscriptural. He was later executed.

Anne also showed her friend Nan a "book of prophecy" that had been left in her apartments. It depicted a man labelled with an "H", a woman labelled with a "K", and another woman labelled with an "A". The latter was headless. Nan commented: "If I thought it true, though he were an emperor, I would not myself marry him". Anne, instead, dismissed it as nonsense, saying: "I think the book a bauble, yet for the hope I have that the realm may be happy by my issue, I am resolved to have him whatsoever might become of me."**

When Anne finally became Queen in 1533, Nan went on to serve her as her lady-in-waiting. That same year, Nan married her fiancé Sir George Zouche and the couple is said to have had 8 children. Three years after their marriages, Nan was forced to testify against the Queen at her trial. After Anne's execution, Nan serves her rival and successor, Queen Jane Seymour. When, years later, George Wyatt, the grandson of the poet, decided to write a biography of the unfortunate Queen, his main source was Nan. Anne Zouche died in about 1590.

Notes:
* The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
**The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

Four Times Of The Day by William Hogarth

Four Times Of The Day is a series of paintings, which were later engraved, by William Hogarth. Unlike some of his other series, such as A Harlot's Progress or Industry And Idleness, the Four Times Of The Day don't tell the story of an individual, but depicts scenes of London life as the day progresses.

MORNING



Keen blows the blast, and eager is the air;
With flakes of feather'd snow the ground is spread;
To step, with mincing pace, to early prayer,
Our clay-cold vestal leaves her downy bed.
And here the reeling sons of riot see,
After a night of senseless revelry.
Poor, trembling, old, her suit the beggar plies;
But frozen chastity the little boon denies.


It's a cold winter morning. The buildings in the west side of Covent Garden piazza are covered with snow. A woman, wearing a pretty yellow dress and a muff, is going to church. She stops to observe two rich men kissing and fondling two young market girls in front of Tom King's Coffee House (a famous venue often mentioned in pamphlets of the time), where a fight has broken out. Instead, she ignores her footboy, whose nose has become red from the cold and who's carrying her prayer book, and the beggar holding out her hands to her. This spinster is said to have been inspired by a relative of Hogarth, who was so mad at him for it that she cut him out of her will.

In the meantime, vegetable sellers are setting up their stalls, preparing for another day of work. The noises attract the attention of children on their way to school. In the background, a doctor is illustrating the beneficial effects of his medicines to an audience. He holds a bottle of his concoction is one hand, while with the other he supports a board with an image of the King's arms, which indicates to his listeners that his practice is sanctioned by royal letters patent.

NOON



Hail, Gallia's daughters! easy, brisk, and free;
Good humour'd, débonnaire, and dégagée:
Though still fantastic, frivolous, and vain,
Let not their airs and graces give us pain:
Or fair, or brown, at toilet, prayer, or play,
Their motto speaks their manners—TOUJOURS GAI.
But for that powder'd compound of grimace,
That capering he-she thing of fringe and lace;
With sword and cane, with bag and solitaire,
Vain of the full-dress'd dwarf, his hopeful heir,
How does our spleen and indignation rise,
When such a tinsell'd coxcomb meets our eyes.


Hog Lane, the slum part of the district of St. Giles. Here stands a French Church, which is attended by a group of French Huguenots. They had arrived in England in the 1680s and set up businesses, working as tradesmen and artisans. Hogarth, just like most English people, didn't like the French much, and here he contrasts the wealth and primness of the young Huguenot couple and child, with the poverty and lasciviousness of the trio across the street. The street is "divided" in two, thus separating the two groups, by the dead corpse of a cat.

While the Huguenot child is decked in his finery, the kid across the street is crying because his pie has fallen down and is now being eaten by an urchin. Next to him a black man is touching the breasts of a woman holding a pie, distracting her from her work. The black man represents a wild and dangerous masculinity that will corrupt the woman's innocence, a prejudice that was sadly prevalent at the time, and that, unfortunately hasn't been complicated eradicated yet.

Above their heads hangs the sign of the shop. It depicts the head of John The Baptist on a platter, which represents both good eating, and women's idea of a perfect man. The sign near it instead depicts the headless body of a woman, which shows men's idea of the perfect woman. Above the sign, a woman is throwing away a piece of meat as she argues, which contrast with the ideal of the good woman evoked by the sign.

EVENING



One sultry Sunday, when no cooling breeze
Was borne on zephyr's wing, to fan the trees;
One sultry Sunday, when the torrid ray
O'er nature beam'd intolerable day;
When raging Sirius warn'd us not to roam,
And Galen's sons prescrib'd cool draughts at home;
One sultry Sunday, near those fields of fame
Where weavers dwell, and Spital is their name,
A sober wight, of reputation high
For tints that emulate the Tyrian dye,
Wishing to take his afternoon's repose,
In easy chair had just began to doze,
When, in a voice that sleep's soft slumbers broke,
His oily helpmate thus her wishes spoke:
"Why, spouse, for shame! my stars, what's this about?
You's ever sleeping; come, we'll all go out;
At that there garden, pr'ythee, do not stare!
We'll take a mouthful of the country air;
In the yew bower an hour or two we'll kill;
There you may smoke, and drink what punch you will.
Sophy and Billy each shall walk with me,
And you must carry little Emily.
Veny is sick, and pants, and loathes her food;
The grass will do the pretty creature good.
Hot rolls are ready as the clock strikes five—
And now 'tis after four, as I'm alive!"
The mandate issued, see the tour begun,
And all the flock set out for Islington.
Now the broad sun, refulgent lamp of day,
To rest with Thetis, slopes his western way;
O'er every tree embrowning dust is spread,
And tipt with gold is Hampstead's lofty head.
The passive husband, in his nature mild,
To wife consigns his hat, and takes the child;
But she a day like this hath never felt,
"Oh! that this too, too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew."
Such monstrous heat! dear me! she never knew.
Adown her innocent and beauteous face,
The big, round, pearly drops each other chase;
Thence trickling to those hills, erst white as snow,
That now like Ætna's mighty mountains glow,
They hang like dewdrops on the full blown rose,
And to the ambient air their sweets disclose.
Fever'd with pleasure, thus she drags along;
Nor dares her antler'd husband say 'tis wrong.
The blooming offspring of this blissful pair,
In all their parents' attic pleasures share.
Sophy the soft, the mother's earliest joy,
Demands her froward brother's tinsell'd toy;
But he, enrag'd, denies the glittering prize,
And rends the air with loud and piteous cries.
Thus far we see the party on their way—
What dire disasters mark'd the close of day,
'Twere tedious, tiresome, endless to obtrude;
Imagination must the scene conclude.


It's a hot summer evening in the outskirts of London. It's about 5 o'clock, as can be inferred by the cow being milked in the background. A pregnant woman, her husband and their children, are walking to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which, at this time, was frequented mostly by tradesmen and their wives. The husband is a dyer, as his blue-stained hands give away. The cow's horns behind his head reveal that his wife is cheating on him and that he's not the biological father of her children, two of whom are walking behind them. The little girl is scolding the little boy, who cries. It's another reminder that it's the wife who's ruling the family. In front of them walks a pregnant dog that's longingly looking at the water. Inside the alehouse, people have gathered to have a refreshing drink, smoke and chat. In this print, Hogarth is making fun of people escaping from the stifling heat and smoky air of the city, only to recreate that environment in the countryside.

NIGHT



Now burst the blazing bonfires on the sight,
Through the wide air their corruscations play;
The windows beam with artificial light,
And all the region emulates the day.
The moping mason, from yon tavern led,
In mystic words doth to the moon complain
That unsound port distracts his aching head,
And o'er the waiter waves his clouded cane.


We're in White Hall, more precisely in a section of Charing Cross Road, where the equestrian statue of Charles I stands. The date, 29 May, Oak Apple Day, can instead by inferred by the oak branches above the barber's sign. This public holidays celebrated the Restoration of the monarchy and got its name from the oak tree where Charles II hid after the royalists lost the Battle Of Worcester in 1651. Boys are celebrating this holiday by lightening a bonfire and playing with fireworks.

Charing Cross was a central staging post for coaches, but because the road was so narrow, accidents were frequents. Here, the bonfire had caused a stagecoach to overturn. In the background, some tenants are taking advantage of the dark to escape, together with their furniture and possessions, from their creditors. In a barbershop, whose sign declares "Shaving, bleeding, and teeth drawn with a touch. Ecce signum!" (barbers also pulled out teeth at this time), a drunk barber is shaving a client, but he's not doing a very good job. He cuts his client, who bleeds. Under his window-shelf, a homeless family has sought refuge for the night.

In the foreground, a drunk Freemason (he can be identified by his Masonic apron and set square medallion as the Worshipful Master of a lodge and is said to depict Sir Thomas de Veil), walks with his guard. The dark spot on the guard's head infers that he's taking mercury pills to try and cure syphilis. A woman empties the contents of her chamber pot onto his head, which refers to De Veil's hard sentencing of gin-sellers, which was considered hypocritical, especially because he loved drinking.

Further reading:
The Works of William Hogarth by John Trusler

Book Reviews: The Forbidden Queen & Breakthrough Communication

Hello everyone,

ready for today's reviews? Here we go then:

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien
Catherine of Valois is now relegated to a footnote in history. That's because we don't really know much about her. The daughter of the impoverished and mad French king Charles VI, Catherine married English King Henry V, bringing him as her dowry the kingdom of France. Henry barely spent any time with his wife during their short marriage, too busy was he with his war with France. When he died, Catherine was expected by the council to live a chaste life, respectful of her role of mother of the new King. When Catherine fell in love with Edmund Beaufort, the council ruled that anyone who marries the Queen Dowager without the consent of the King and his council would lose all his possessions. Left alone once again, Catherine now fell for Owen Tudor, a servant in her household and a Welshman, and married him. From their relationship, the Tudor dynasty descended.
Catherine was never really involved in politics. Her husband fought a war with her brother, the rightful heir to the French throne, but the novel barely touches the subject. There is no mention of Joan of Arc, who helped the Dauphin regain his throne, nor of Catherin's elder sister Isabelle, who had been a Queen of England too (she had married Richard II). Her mad father and cold-hearted mother only make brief appearances. And so does James Stuart, the captured Scottish King held prisoner at the English court. So, if you like political intrigues, wars and battles, this is not the book for you.
Instead, O'Brien fills in the gaps in Catherine's life, imagining how she related to her lovers, what attracted her to them, and how her relationships with them affected her life. Although the focus is mostly on Catherine's love life, this book is a lot more than just a romance novel. It's more of a coming of age story which covers her entire life-span. When we first meet Catherine, she's a dirty and impoverished young princess who fights with her sister over a few morsels of bread. Her parents never paid much attention to them, finally relegating them into a convent, where it wasn't considered necessary to give Catherine a proper education.
Starved for love, the naive and insecure Catherine fancies herself in love with her formidable husband, the hero of Agincourt, and, after his death, becomes despondent and depressed as she faces the prospect of spending the rest of her life alone. Until Edmund Beaufort comes along, wooing her and making her feel alive again. That too ends in disappointment. But Catherine is slowly becoming more confident and, when she falls in love with Tudor, she's ready to fight for the right to be with him and live her life the way she wants to.
Catherine can be frustrating at times, especially at the beginning when she's insecure and desperate for love, but she's also a character most people will easily be able to relate to. The book, which is very well-written, is also a bit too long. It becomes quite slow towards the middle, but, luckily picks up speed again soon as Catherine starts to develop feelings for Owen Tudor (who makes a magnificent hero, by the way). If you like romance and coming of age stories, I highly recommend you pick this one up book.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Breakthrough Communication: A Powerful 4-Step Process for Overcoming Resistance and Getting Results by Harrison Monarth
Do you want to improve your communication skills? Then, I highly recommend you pick up this book. Harrison Monarth, a leader in the field of persuasive communication and speaker coaching, teaches you an easy-to-implement 4 step process to help you communicate better. This will allow you to establish yourself as a leader and expert in your field, and get other people, even those who don't agree with you or simply don't like you, to adopt your agenda and act on it on your behalf.
Drawing on his personal experiences, as well as those of successful businesspeople and historical figures, such as William Shakespeare and Napoleon Bonaparte, Harrison explains, in a very simple and straightforward manner, how you can turn every situation to your advantage. His system helps you to increase your confidence and teaches you how to communicate your message to get the results you want.
Although the book is aimed mostly at people who want to further their careers and become leaders in their professions, this 4 step process can be used by anyone in any situations. Parents can use it to persuade their children to listen to them more, teachers to motivate students to study harder, and citizens to get their voice heard by brands and politicians on a particular issue that's close to their heart.
If you only read one book about communication, make it this one. You won't regret it.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Would you like to read these books? Or have you done so already?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Regency Slang (Part 2)


I've already written several posts about slang and colloquial terms used during the Regency era, but I have barely scratched the surface. There are so many that I would still like to share with you. So, here are some taken from the 1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue:

Back Biter: someone who slanders another person behind their back.

Crack a whid: to tell a tale.

Fallalls: women’s accessories, such as jewellery or ribbons.

Grumbletonian: a person who is always complaining about one thing or another.

Postilion of the Gospel: a parson who hurries over the service.

Quiz: a strange-looking person.

Sauce box: a forward or bold person.

To cry beef: to give the alarm.

To milk the pigeon: to try something impossible.

Tongue enough for two sets of teeth: someone who talks a lot.

To take French leave: to go off without taking leave of the company; it usually refers to people who run away from their creditors.

Tuft-hunter: someone who courts the acquaintance of the aristocracy.

Unlicked cube: a rude and uncouth young person.

Further reading:
How People Spoke: The Regency Era
How They Spoke: The Regency Era (Part 2)
Regency Slang

Anne Seymour Damer


Born in 1748 in a Whig family, Anne Conway was the daughter of Henry Seymour Conway, a cousin of Horace Walpole. The little girl was given a good education. Her favourite subject was art history. In particular, she was fascinated by sculpture and the idea that she could create something original with wet clay, hard marble and stubborn bronze. Her love for art and sculpture was encouraged by Walpole, her guardian during her parents' trips abroad, and historian David Hume, who was Under-Secretary when her father served as Secretary of State.


Miss Conway spent hours working with wet clay, which dirtied her hands, and with marble, which left her covered in dust, rather than taking up the more refined and feminine art form of painting or indulging in the idle pursuits of women of her class. Because of this, she soon gained the reputation of an eccentric. But she didn't care, and, instead, started studying marble carving with Bacon, anatomy with Cruikshanks, and modelling with Giuseppe Cerrachi.


At 19, Anne married John Damer, eldest son of Lord Milton. They were quite happy for about a year, but their relationship soon deteriorated as John started gambling their fortune away. The couple, which didn't have any children, separated after seven years. Two years later, John, heavily indebted, committed suicide. Anne, was now a widow with lots of debts to pay. While she wasn't rendered penniless, her circumstances were considerably reduced. Luckily for her, Walpole came to her rescue. He bequeathed to her his villa of Strawberry Hill, with all its valuables, and £2,000 a year for its maintenance.


Anne, who had abandoned her art upon her marriage, now took it up again. She executed, in the Neoclassical style, many statues, including one of the King, which was placed in the Register Office in Edinburgh, a portrait bust of herself for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a bust of Fox for Napoleon, a group of "sleeping dogs" for Queen Charlotte, two colossal heads for the bridge at Henley which represented the Thames and Isis, and portraits of her relatives which can be found in private galleries. By 1784, she was an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy. She would remain so until 1818.


Mrs Damer was also active in politics. A staunch Whig, she, together with the Duchess of Devonshire, canvassed for Fox, asking for votes in exchange for kisses. She also championed the cause of the American colonies, and stood by Queen Caroline at her trial (the queen was accused of infidelity). Anne was also a gracious hostess and, in her house, entertained the celebrities of her time such as the actresses Mrs. Siddons and Elizabeth Farren. Mrs Damer loved the theatre too and frequented acted in private houses.


Anne also loved masquerades, which weren't considered a suitable entertainment for respectable women. This, coupled with Anne's love for men's clothing, caused people to speculate about her sexuality. Rumours started to circulate that Mrs Damer was a lesbian and had a relationship with the author Mary Berry, who had been introduced to her by Walpole. Whether there's some truth in it, we'll never know. It may be that the two women were simply close friends, bonding over literature. Anne was a writer herself. In 1801 she published a novel, Belmour, which was well-received.


Anne also frequently travelled to Europe. During one of those trips, she was captured by a privateer, but later released. She also was in Paris, where she met Napoleon, during the Treaty of Amiens. In Naples, instead, she was introduced to Nelson. When she was 70, Anne left Strawberry Hill, and moved into York House, the birthplace of Queen Anne. She died in her London House in Grosvenor Square in 1828, aged 79. She left her works to a relative, asking only that her aprons and tools be placed in her coffin with her (and so were the ashes of her favourite dog), and that her letters, including her correspondence with Nelson and Fox, be destroyed. She was buried at Tunbridge, Kent.

Further reading:
Anne Seymour Damer, a woman of art and fashion, 1748-1828 by Percy Noble
Women in the fine arts by Clara Erskine Clement