Friday, 26 March 2010

The Year of the Hat 1814

One could call 1814 the Year of the Hat. The fashionable young lady of the time was quite spoilt for choices, some of them quite extreme. There was always the turban, which was still in, though in lighter materials. But if you really wanted to be all the rage, then you had to be aware of two things. The first is that height was important – some of the hats could easily compete with a man’s top hat for height. The second was that elaborate trimmings were essential. If you were able to combine flowers with lace with different coloured silk, then you could count yourself successful. (Image from Clarmont College Collection)

Which leaves young ladies such as Georgiana Darcy with a difficult choice. Should she be fashionable, or should she not? Her cousin Clarissa advocates that she needs to take more risks with her outfits, and convinces her to buy a rather conspicuous hat. But is it the right choice? The following excerpt from The Darcy Cousins illustrates the difficulty of making such onerous decisions.

“We have bought ourselves new hats,” said Clarissa, glancing sideways at her reflection in the window. “You must tell us what you think. You must be perfectly candid, mind.”
“I congratulate you on your choices, for you look very dashing indeed,” said Mr Channing. “You, too, Miss Darcy. Your hat is charming, but of course, so is its wearer.”
His eyes lingered on her face. She had intended to give him a dazzling smile, but her smile wavered under his intense scrutiny. He continued to gaze at her until Clarissa thanked him very prettily, and he turned to respond to her.
Still, Clarissa could not be satisfied when the other gentleman in the carriage had not yet expressed an opinion.
“Mr Gatley, you have said nothing.”
“I think your turban very pretty. It suits your character well, and it is exactly what I would have expected you to wear. I cannot make a judgement on Miss Darcy’s hat, however, for it is too modern for an old-fashioned gentleman such as I.”
Considering the exquisite and expensive tailoring of his navy waistcoat, matched with a cravat that was a masterpiece of white perfection, one could be forgiven for thinking him more concerned with fashion than he admitted.
Georgiana understood his comment as a rebuff, and turned her face to hide the conflicting feelings which were surely branded on her face. On the one hand, she was chastised, for she knew she should not have allowed Clarissa to convince her to buy the hat. She should have trusted her own judgement. On the other hand, she – very naturally – resented the slight.
“Look at what you have done now, Mr Gatley,” said Clarissa, “you have made my cousin sad.”
“Come, Gatley, must you be so thoughtless?” said Channing. “Surely you can do better than that.”
“I am not as skilled at flattering ladies as others of my acquaintance are,” he said, his colour heightened. “I never study my compliments. When I pay tribute to someone, it is because I mean it.”
Georgiana, further annoyed now by Clarissa’s interference, deemed it time to speak, if only to show how very little Mr Gatley’s opinion mattered to her.
“Some gentlemen seek to stand out from the crowd by professing to be harsher than others, and so lay claim to the higher moral ground. That is how they assert their own superiority,” she said, in a light, dismissive tone. “In such cases, I believe, it is far better not to give their remarks too much importance by taking them seriously.”
“How so, Miss Darcy?” cried Gatley, “When I am endeavouring to be as sincere as possible?”
“By George!” said Channing, bursting into laughter. “I think she has your measure, Gatley!”

© Monica Fairview. This text may not be reproduced except with the express permission of the author.

Friday, 19 March 2010

12 Days to Launch: Darcy Cousins in the US

I can't believe there are only twelve days left for The Darcy Cousins to come out. And of course it's always thrilling to start reading the reviews and see all the different perspectives people bring to your writing. I've already had two reviews that I enjoyed very much -- Laurel Ann's over in Austenprose, and Jean Wan's on All About Romance.  

Meanwhile, I've been having a great time reading Jane Austen's Sanditon with the group read, and following the guest posts on Austenprose. I've certainly learned a lot about the fashionable resorts of the time, what ladies wear to promenade, and Jane Austen's attitude towards the world of taking the waters.

I particularly enjoyed learning that Colin Firth's modesty in Pride and Prejudice's wet shirt scene was actually historically inaccurate, since males at the time generally bathed nude in lakes and rivers. Well, the filmakers missed their chance...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Swan Protest

My attention was captured today by the picture on the left, especially because I loved the caption The Guardian attached to it:

‘This brave creature made a one-swan sitdown protest in the middle of Kew bridge, south-west London, causing traffic chaos for over an hour before it remembered that is was mute and therefore incapable of communicating its demands or having them met. Whereupon it flew gracefully away. And the Daily Mail Scoffs: As excuses go, it sounds unlikely - 'Sorry I'm late, I got held up by a swan'.

The picture resonated with me in several ways. The first was that it reminded me the flock of geese that impeded Caroline Bingley on her way to Pemberley in The Other Mr Darcy. She certainly had the excuse: ‘Sorry I’m late, I got held up by a flock of geese’.

It also resonated with my new novel, The Darcy Cousins, in which swans are featured as a centerpiece -- so to speak. Both editions of my novels have swans on the cover, a reference to a boating trip Georgiana Darcy takes on the river Thames. And of course Kew Bridge is down the road – or river – from Richmond, where an important scene in the novel occurs.

Fortunately for Georgiana and her companions, she did not take her boating trip in the third week of July, otherwise she would have found the river rather crowded, since that’s when Swan Upping takes place.

Swans have been part of the Thames landscape since at least the 12th century. In the 15th century, a Royal Charter established Swan Upping, in which a swan census is taken and young cygnets are marked. By this Charter, the swans on certain areas of the river were divided up between two Livery companies and the Crown, the “Seigneur of the Swans.” Accordingly, three different groups of skiffs round up the swans on the river and mark them: those collected by the Dyers (cloth dyers) are marked once on the bill, those collected by the Vintners’ (wine merchants) are marked twice, and those caught by the Queen’s skiffs are left unmarked, since by law all unmarked swans in a certain area of the Thames belong to the monarch (the marks have been replaced by identity markers). While originally this was done because swans graced the royal table, this has not been the case for a long time, and the ceremony now serves an environmental purpose, which is the protection of mute swans.

This ceremony takes place only in specific areas of the Thames. Traditionally, the swans in other areas had other owners, and were marked in various ways to indicate ownership. To see the markings that were still registered in Georgian and Regency times, follow this link.

Mute swans have for the longest time symbolized harmonious love, since they mate for life, and their lives in the wild can be as long as twenty years. Male and female swans also share equally in taking care of their nest and their young cygnets.

And then there is of course the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’, in which an ugly duck that ostracized by its fellow ducklings because it doesn't fit in grows up to become a beautiful swan. In the novel, Georgiana’s tries so hard to fulfill Society’s expectations, yet feels somehow that she doesn’t belong. The swan plays an important role in her understanding of who she is and what she wants.

All this to explain why I loved the picture of a swan sitting in the middle of the road, asserting its existence, and daring anyone to deprive it of its right to be there!