What in the Regency World is a Round Gown?

Susan Karsten here.  I love historic costumes, but am by no means an expert, even though I took the subject in college.  If you are at all like me (Regency fiction reader/fanatic), you’ve come across the archaic and forgotten term “round gown”. Again, if you are like me, you will take a mental guess what that might be, and move on, flipping pages as fast as you can read them.

Image result for round gowns are defined as

 

To the best of my research,  the round gown appears to be a pre-Regency style that hung on, or was used for day-wear even as fashion moved to a different silhouette. Marie Antoinette is said to have inspired the round gown, then a dress and robe joined together and tied in the front  Later came Josephine Bonaparte who ushered in the slim, high-waisted, gossamer thin chemise dress of the early 19th Century, that we think of first when we think of Regency dresses.

Back to the round gown, the Empire gown’s precursor. The round gown had a soft, round skirt silhouette, with full gatherings at a slightly raised waist, a train, and straight, elbow-length sleeves.  The round gown’s train, which was common for a short time for day wear and lasted until 1805-06 for the evening, would be pinned up for the dance, as mentioned in Austen’s Northanger Abbey. One shudders at the impracticality of these long white muslin dresses in England, a country renowned for wet weather and muddy roads.

So, when you encounter the term “round gown” in your favorite Regency fiction, think of probably a day dress, kept for wearing at home, and more modest than their evening counterparts. An earlier silhouette, and not in the first stare of fashion.

I so hope some of you will add to this description with more yummy details about the mysterious round gown.

What’s the Deal with Almack’s? by Susan Karsten

An exclusive venue, in the true meaning of the word “exclusive” (as in exclude!), Almack’s required membership fees (called subscriptions) and had a powerful doorkeeper.

Lady Jersey, a famous Almack's Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons
Lady Jersey, a famous Almack’s Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons

A committee of high-born ladies, known as patronesses, further added to the exclusivity factor. They controlled access to tickets and, therefore, who could enter the prized environs.

Though it cost money to get in, money alone didn’t guarantee entry, nor did birth status. Other factors considered were: wit, beauty, careful dressing, being a good dancer, or simply having good taste might tip the scales in your favor.

The despotic patronesses held weekly meetings to select attendees. Once “in”, there were still strict rules which had to be followed, or you risked being turned away. You must arrive on time, properly dressed.

Interior of Almack's via Wikimedia Commons
Interior of Almack’s via Wikimedia Commons

Six or seven patronesses ran Almack’s. Lady Jersey, daughter and wife of earls, was a chatterbox heiress, strictly maintained the cachet of the club. Lady Sefton, married to an earl, considered more amiable, was a renowned society hostess in her own right. Lady Cowper, know for her with, tact and affability, was known to smooth over quarrels. Formidable Lady Castlereagh, Icy Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, ruthless Countess Lieven, and spiteful Princess Esterhazy round out the committee.

It almost makes one not want to even try to gain entrance. Do you think you’d have made the cut? (fantasy here!)

London Lights, by Susan Karsten

How do you picture your Regency characters flitting about London by night? Until 1807, London went about by the feeble flicker of oil lamps.


Special interest groups fought against gaslight, fearing the loss of the whale-oil trade. The inflammatory Bill of 1816 (supportive of gas lighting) would also ruin the navy, the ropemakers, sailmakers, etc. etc. according to its opponents.

Yet gaslight did more for prevention of crime “than the days of Alfred the Great”. Lighting at night brought safety, but also enhanced the reputation of London as the City of Sin. “London Lights” was a slang term referring to the regency age’s gilded immorality.
Nightlife entertainments in London were hideously vulgar, and respectable citizens did not take their families out after dark to public venues. My source says the “flaring gaslight” was appropriate to the rough and tumble array of available diversions.

Information is from: Life in Regency England, by R. J. White, publ. 1963

What do you picture for lighting when you are reading or writing regency fiction? Please leave a comment.

What on Earth is Calf’s Foot Jelly? by Susan Karsten

Calf's foot jelly

If you’ve done a significant amount of reading of regency fiction, you’ve come across a female character taking calf’s foot jelly to an invalid, usually someone poor. It was thought to be exceeding nutritious, but that is not necessarily true, according to my research. It was a thrifty, economizing concoction, made from a leftover part of a beef.

Calf’s foot jelly has two forms: sweet, common in 19th-century Britain and America, and savoury–called petcha, a standard of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. Both dishes start with a long braise of split cow’s feet. The latter (for a sickroom concoction) adds garlic, onion, salt and pepper, and usually retains the meat that falls from the feet; the former (for a dessert) adds sugar, Madeira wine, brandy, cinnamon and citrus, and discards the meat. In both cases the stock is chilled until it sets, and the fat that rises to the top is skimmed.

The key component of both is collagen–a protein found mainly in connective tissue, in which feet abound. Collagen makes meat tough, but it also makes the same cut, after stewing, silky and rich. Smart cooks have long begged chicken feet from the butcher: they give chicken soup extra body. Hot, collagen imparts richness; chilled, it turns to gelatin.

To boil it down/summarize: Stock made by boiling a calf’s foot in water; which sets to a stiff jelly on cooling. It consists largely of water and gelatin, so is of little nutritional value.

Note: The New Female Instructor strongly advises against the addition of wine when the jelly is to be used for an ill person. Lemonade was often given to an ill-person along with barley water and tea.

To the readers, have you come across this, and wondered? To the fellow-Regency writers, have you ever included a character delivering this to a poor sick person?

104_2304Susan Karsten, regency blogger, author

Spiritual Truths Abound in “The Soldier’s Secrets”

Hi, all! Susan Karsten here…I’m bringing insights on the spiritual themes found in        “The Soldier’s Secrets” the latest release by our own dear Naomi Rawlings.

Not only does author Naomi Rawlings deliver a compelling read with this historical romance set during the early days of the French Republic, she gently brings home some serious spiritual truths.

The importance of honesty and truthfulness is drawn out in an unusual way. Both the hero, Jean Paul, and the heroine, Brigitte, are brought low by dishonesty. The unusual aspect of this is that some of their troubles are of their own doing. So often, we find idealistic, too-perfect heroines and heroes–this is not the case in this gripping novel.

Brigitte and Jean Paul should have abided by the following verses:

Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight….Proverbs 19:1 Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool…2 Corinthians 8:21 For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man….Proverbs 6:16-20 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.

Forgiveness is another strong theme in “The Soldier’s Secrets“. To receive God’s forgiveness, to forgive other people who sin against you, and to forgive one’s self are all treated in the midst of this historically accurate gripping story.

Here are some pertinent verses on the facets of forgiveness–we can all keep in  mind:

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you….Mark 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Matthew 6:15 But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Leave a comment to be entered in a giveaway of a copy of The Soldier’s Secrets and a History Channel documentary: The French Revolution. 

Naomi Rawlings The Soldier's Secret
French Revolution DVD

 

I hope you read The Soldier’s Secrets — I think you’ll be happy you did. Leave a comment on your favorite verse on forgiveness or honesty. Thanks!

Susan Karsten
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A Proper Prodigal, Regency Short Story (Part 2) ~ by Susan Karsten

A Proper Prodigal (Part 2)

A Regency Short Story ~ by Susan Karsten

 Upon awakening the next morning Virginia lay back with her fingertips laced behind her head. She’d just woken up from a dream. One of those that replayed again and again. A good dream, though. In it, she danced the night away with a tall man. A man who looked like Quentin Ashleigh.

A tap on the door signaled the maid with a breakfast tray, she and her mother having decided in advance to breakfast in their own rooms. The kitchen maid placed the tray on the bedside table. Next, to her surprise, a housemaid entered with a large bouquet of flowers.

“Where would ye like this put, Miss?” The maid staggered under the ungainly weight of the large display.

“Over there.” Virginia pointed to a table near the window. “Please hand me the card, Ruthie.”

Savoring the moment, she waited to open it. When both maids left, she propped and fluffed her pillows, then smoothed her hair, before prying open the envelope’s seal.

 ‘As you have danced your way into my affections, I would like to see you today. A walk in the Primrose Hall gardens perhaps? I shall call at two. Fondly, Quentin Ashleigh, Esq.’

Virginia’s hands flew up to her warm cheeks. Oh my, a beau! Nothing I ever expected here in Beckston. I’d anticipated withering away on the shelf without a backward glance. No sooner do I submit my life completely to the Lord and he brings me a man. This time, maybe a good one. The one intended for me.

There was no doubt in her mind Quentin was interested. She’d been plagued by boys and men since she was thirteen. Her looks drew them like flies and made her a target. Oh, it was sometimes fun to get the attention, but mostly it was a bother, finding a way to let them down without bruising their amour proper.

It wasn’t until Randall came her way that she succumbed to any of them. Why did it have to be? Why couldn’t Randall have aimed his potent brand of seduction at another beautiful girl? Providence could be a hard pill to swallow, but the whole experience had brought her to a place where she threw herself on the Lord’s mercy. She’d truly put it behind her. Praise the Lord the world didn’t know of her fall.

 ***

  He spotted her. She was sitting on a garden bench under an arbor, a portrait of feminine loveliness. “The maid sent me around – told me you were out here.”

Quentin picked up her hand and kissed the air above it.  He held her hand longer than necessary, then caught himself and dropped it as if scalded. “Sorry, I lost track of my mind, I mean my thoughts. For a moment.”

What a buffoon I am. Seeing her in the light of day had thrown him. He knew she was a pretty girl, but daylight revealed her true exquisiteness. Never mind that her intelligent wit and charm drew him – she was also a diamond of the first water. He hoped she wasn’t above his touch.

“I thank you for the flowers. Roses are my favorite. How did you guess?” She tapped his arm with her fan. Thank you, Lord, she’s flirting like she likes me.

“They are my favorite as well, and our succession house had some beauties in bloom. I couldn’t think of a better place for them than to grace your vicinity.”

There. That should make up for my earlier cloddishness. The combination of her lithe yet lush figure, dark glossy long hair, classic features, and soft brown eyes caused him to go silent, wanting only to drink in the sight of her.

“Shall we walk the garden paths?” She began to rise from the bench, and he slipped his hand under her elbow to assist.

“I’d love to go down the garden path with you, Miss Mortimer.” This sally brought a delightful fluttering of her eyelashes, a delicate hand to her bosom, and a smile perking the corners of her mouth. Be still my heart. She likes me so far. Good, that’s a start.

She placed her hand on his proffered forearm, and they strolled off. Quentin noticed she was just the right height for him. Not too short or too tall. He liked that.

“This is the herb garden. Mother and I make medicines and so forth with some of these plants.” She broke off a stem of rosemary, rubbed it, and passed it close in front of his face.

“My yes, I can see, I mean smell, that would be quite medicinal, Miss Mortimer.”

“Let’s go to the fountain. It’s over there.” They moved off in another direction and were soon out of sight of the house. “We should stay closer to the house, but you must see the fountain first. I think you’ll like the inscription.”

“I love inscriptions.” Quentin wanted to say ‘I love you,’ but held his smitten tongue.

“Ah, here it is.” He struck an orator’s pose and read from the fountain’s rim, “The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death. A Proverb.”

“Apropos, don’t you think?” She looked up to him, as if he held the key to wisdom.

Dropping his self-mocking pose, he grasped for a response. “Apropos? The whole of Scripture is that, Miss Mortimer.”

“I have a request, sir.” She turned from perusing the fountain to face him.

Oh no. This sounds serious. Have I spoiled it?

“Since we are going to be friends, might you call me Virginia, and I call you Quentin?”

“Indeed. Yes, that would be fine.” He almost choked with relief. She’s going to be my friend? How sweet. He’d be her best friend if she’d let him.

They moved back onto the main path and toward the house. Her parents were standing on a terrace off one of the rooms on the west side of the house. Mr. Mortimer waved. Disappointed their idyll appeared to be at an end, Quentin comforted himself that he’d made wonderful progress, both in getting to know Virginia, and in gaining her favor.

“Hello, Mr. Ashleigh. Won’t you come inside before tea? I want to show you a folio I just added to my collection.” Mr. Mortimer hooked his thumbs in his vest pockets.

Mrs. Mortimer waved Quentin on. “That’s quite fine. We’ll see you back out here for tea in a trice, when Mr. Mortimer’s done showing you his new treasure.”

The two men looked over the folio, and Quentin was taken aback when Virginia’s father shoved it in a drawer, and said, “I wanted to speak with you.”

He mustered up his courage, and answered, “How amusing, I wanted to speak with you as well, sir.”

“You first, then, young man.”

“I, sir am a man of thirty years, of good fortune and good repute and I’d like permission to court Miss Mortimer. She’s a real treasure and I must make her my wife. Do I have your permission?”

“My, you’re a blunt one. Charging right to the point, no? I’ll consider it, but there’s something you must know. She’s more fragile than she looks. I mean her spirit. You must promise to value her, never hurt her, and be a valiant champion for her. You see, she needs that, after all.”

After all? What does he mean? “You have my word on that, sir.”

“Good. Since I have your word to prize her happiness, I shall let you proceed. We can discuss settlements another time, after you’ve secured her heart.”

***

Weeks of rides commenced, Virginia always chaperoned by Lizzy, who hovered in the background. A picnic with Annabelle in attendance, dinners and lunches at both Primrose Hall and Fairbrook took the couple to the point of knowing their minds.

On a warm afternoon, Quentin found Virginia alone in the garden when he came to call. “Hallo! The maid told me where you were.”

She watched his approach, drinking in the good looks of this man who’d become so dear. Finding true love came as such a surprise, but her secret made her sad. The time had come to tell Quentin the truth about her. She couldn’t let him propose, which she sensed imminent, without knowing all about her.

“Virginia, you must know that I have something I must ask you.”

He looked down at the ground, and suddenly she knew the time had come. He was going to drop to one knee. Forestalling him, she held up a hand face out. “Before you do, I have something I must tell you.”

A shadow passed across his face. The poor man, he probably thought she was about to let him down easy. The silly man, she’d go to the ends of the earth with him, if she could. “Sit here.” She patted the bench.

Hating what she had to say, she forced out the words. “I must inform you that I was taken from here by a cad, and cruelly mislead. The good Lord saw fit to restore me to my home without anyone else finding out about my shame. Before you say anything more, I need you to decide whether you can see past this blot on my maidenly escutcheon.”

“Say no more. This must be heartbreaking for you and your parents. But I see no stain on you, my lovely. God doesn’t either, since you’ve certainly repented, correct?” He put his arm around Virginia’s shoulders and lifted her chin with his other hand.

“Of course I have, but this society of ours – so harsh on a woman who errs, and giving a blind eye to the sin of the males. Never have thought that fair.” She shuddered and Quentin gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze.

A tear rolled down her cheek and she let it fall, not caring a whit about hiding her sorrow. “Don’t rush into this. Take the night to think it over. Make sure you can forget.”

“Darling, now I must tell you a secret. The reason my sister and I moved to the country, is that she was seduced and abandoned. Removing from society seemed best at the time. The fact that I fought a duel over her lent urgency to our departure. And I’m glad we did, because that led me to you, darling Virginia.”

In one smooth move, he went down, not on one knee, but on two. Before Virginia could get out a word of protest, he asked her to be his wife.

“My dear. I would be highly honored if you would grace my life with your presence all my days. Nothing would make me happier than to settle down with you and enjoy our life together, come what may. Say you’ll be mine?”

She couldn’t resist his dark blue eyes beseeching up at her. “I will. And I will never disappoint you. I’ll always be your proper prodigal.”

The End.

Dear readers, nay, I shall call you friends…I’d love to hear your comments! Thank you for reading this, my first Regency short story. Susan Karsten

The Parasol, a Necessary Regency Accessory, by Susan Karsten

Parasols were introduced to England from China. The earliest ones were silk and often shaped like a pagoda.

pagoda parasol

This elegant accessory was mainly to shade a lady’s delicate, fair complexion.  Jaunts through warehouses for accessories would have included buying parasols to match particular outfits.

matchy matchy

The frames were bamboo, cane, or steel. Funny for us 20th-21st century ladies to realize that suntans were extremely unfashionable until the 1920s, when Coco Chanel helped to popularize the suntan. Prior to that, only women who had to labor outdoors were tan. After the 20s, chic, wealthy women were outdoors because they alone had the leisure time for outdoor games like tennis and golf.

Bam!

Wear your sunscreen, ladies!