Friday, July 30, 2010

Emily Brontë and Claudette Colbert

On this day in 1818, English novelist, Emily Brontë, was born in Thornton, near Bradford in Yorkshire, to Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell. From Wikipedia: "She was the younger sister of Charlotte Brontë and the fifth of six children. In 1824, the family moved to Haworth, where Emily's father was perpetual curate, and it was in these surroundings that their literary oddities flourished. In 1847, she published her only novel, Wuthering Heights, as two volumes of a three volume set (the last volume being Agnes Grey by her sister Anne). Although it received mixed reviews when it first came out, the book subsequently became an English literary classic. In 1850, Charlotte edited and published Wuthering Heights as a stand-alone novel and under Emily's real name.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

This Day in History - July 29 - A Busy Day

1836 – Inauguration of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Although the Arc was erected to celebrate Napoleon’s victories, I always picture American G.I.s of the 28th Division marching through the arc and down the Champs de Elysees to celebrate the liberation of Paris from the Germans in August 1944, and they kept on marching, because they were in pursuit of a retreating German army. They would go on to fight in the Hurtgen Forest, one of the bloodiest campaigns in the European Theater.

1981 – A worldwide television audience of over 700 million people watched the Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Nora, Asta, and Nick Charles
1802 - Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian and author of Democracy in America (d. 1859)
1883 – Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator (d. 1945)
1892 – William Powell, American actor (d. 1984) (See picture at right with Myrna Loy.)
1938 – Peter Jennings, Canadian-born journalist - ABC News (d. 2005)
1953 – Ken Burns, American producer and director - the Civil War series

1833 – William Wilberforce, English abolitionist (b. 1759). His story was told in the film, Amazing Grace.
1890 – Vincent van Gogh, Dutch painter (b. 1853) - Poor Vincent. "The world was never meant for one as beautiful as you." Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean.

1983 – David Niven, English actor (b. 1910) - Played the straight man to Cary Grant's angel in The Bishop's Wife. I think Samuel Goldwyn got it backwards. With his devilish grin, Niven would have made a terrific angel. Grant played the angel too seriously, and it fell flat. Even so, I watch this movie every Christmas.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, a Book Review

Tea with Jane AustenCome, come, Miss Prissy, make it up,
And we will lovers be,
And we will go to Bagnigge Wells,
And there will have some tea;
It’s there you’ll see the lady-birds
Upon the stinging nettles,
And there you’ll see the waiters, ma’am,
With all their shining kettles.

“The Prentice to His Mistress” - 18th Century Song

Tea with Jane Austen is a charming book, a lovingly told tale, of the importance of tea in the life of those who lived in the Regency Era. It is all here: How to make tea, tea and toast for breakfast (the usual breakfast fare for all but the wealthiest households), seeping the tea leaves, tea caddies and miscellaneous utensils, shopping for tea sets, and the different types of teas. In Austen’s time, tea was a valuable commodity that was kept under lock and key. In the Austen household, Jane was the keeper of the keys to the tea chest.

But, for me, the most interesting part of the book was Jane’s excursions into London to buy the best tea from Twinings warehouse. “[Jane] would have walked through a doorway that looked virtually the same as it does today... Once inside, she would have been greeted with the aromatic scent of many different sorts of teas… [S]he would probably have smelled the tea to judge its fragrance and character before she bought it.”

This was the most expensive way of buying tea, but there was a reason for buying the best. Tea was regularly adulterated with things you don’t want to think about. Dregs were sold out the back door by kitchen maids. After being dried, they were mixed with “leaves, twigs, and sometimes floor sweepings.” That’s if you were lucky. “The dyes used on adulterated tea were often quite poisonous.”

Although the afternoon tea we associate with the British belongs to the Victorian Era, there were rituals aplenty in the Regency Era, and this book shows how important tea was to Jane Austen and her contemporaries. Five stars.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mr. Darcy Takes the Plunge

May I introduce you to J. Marie Croft, the brilliant author of Mr. Darcy Takes the Plunge, "a pun-filled tale featuring Jane Austen's, Pride and Prejudice characters with some added or addled, missing or missish, modified or mortified, healthier, wealthier, or wiser."

This wonderful novel will be published by Rhemelda Publishing in November. If you love humor, puns, and excellent writing, or if you need a break from a hectic day or just a laugh, you need to pre-order this book. Over the years, I have read hundreds and hundreds of book, but it is a rare find when you can pick up a book that makes you laugh out loud. Mr. Darcy Takes the Plunge is such a book. I hope you will visit Miss Croft's website by clicking on the link above. More info as it becomes available.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quote of the Day and Word Fun

"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it." Samuel Johnson

Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

Word Fun (from - Words that use all the vowels (a, e, i, o, and u):
longest word with each vowel used once, including y: uncomplimentary
longest word with each vowel used once: subcontinental, countermanding
shortest word with each vowel used once, including y: eukaryotic (an organism)
word with each vowel used once in order: facetious
word with each vowel used once in order, including y: facetiously
word with each vowel used once in reverse order: subcontinental
shortest word with each vowel used once: sequoia

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mary, Queen of Scots - This Day in History

On July 24, 1567, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate and was replaced by her one-year-old son James VI of Scotland, and the future James I of England, the founder of the Stuart dynasty.

Mary, Queen of Scots (born 8 December 1542 – 8 February 1587) was Scottish queen regnant from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V. When Mary was six days old, her father died, and she was crowned nine months later.

Mary’s first husband:

In 1558, Mary, who was very tall (nearly six foot) married Francis, Dauphin of France, who was very short and stuttered. He ascended the French throne (with the help of a step stool) as Francis II in 1559, but less than a year later, he was dead.

Mary’s second husband:

After Francis's death, Mary returned to Scotland, and in 1561, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Mary had fallen head over heels in love with the “long lad,” as Queen Elizabeth called him. (His height might have been part of his attraction.) On the other hand, Elizabeth felt threatened by the prospect of such a marriage, because, as direct descendants of Margaret Tudor, the elder sister of Henry VIII, both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the English throne. The union enraged Elizabeth. Because Darnley was an English subject, Elizabeth felt that her permission should have been sought.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Day for Anne Elliot, A New Beginning - Review and Interview

Anne Elliot, A New Beginning: A Persuasion Re-imagining
When you self-publish a book, you put it out there, cross your fingers, and wait, hoping that someone will notice your efforts and like it.. Today that happened. I received a wonderful review from JJ at Citivolus Sus. Here is a part of her review:

[Anne Elliot] is at heart, a love story that ends the way you want it to end, with some nice turns and a few surprises along the way. Let's put it this way, I read it in two days - which is unheard of for me - I had a hard time putting it down - damn good job Ms. Simonsen.

Please click on the link above to read the rest of the review, and if you posted a comment, both JJ and I would be happy.

The second reason that today is a good day is that Irena at This Miss Loves to Read has interviewed me about Anne Elliot, A New Beginning, and she is also hosting a giveaway of the book. This is open to everyone in the whole wide world, so please visit Irena's blog and find out what an incredibly interesting person I am.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Monsoon Season Has Arrived in Arizona

Most of the year, the humidity in Arizona is very low. For example, a few weeks ago, it was 11%. Compare that to Houston or New Orleans, where you can ring the water out of the air with your bare hands. But come July, everything changes. The winds shift from west to east to east to west, and with the change, comes humidity and the hope of rain. From now through mid September, Zonies will experience temperatures anywhere from 105 degrees to 119 degrees. (That is the hottest for me.) Storms pop up quickly and are occasionally preceded by a sandstorm called a haboob in which Mother Nature picks up a goodly portion of the desert and moves it somewhere else. Storms are usually of short duration, but they can be violent with high winds, hail, and lots of thunder and lightning. Here in the Sonoran Desert, we rely on the monsoon season to fill our reservoirs so that people may have green lawns and golf courses, but it makes me cranky. It is hot and sticky, and your clothes cling to you. And I am way past the point of where clinging clothes is a good thing.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

This and That

I have just found the blog, Citivolus Sus, by JJ, which has a post on Jane Austen and Beer, among many other interesting posts, including a review of Georgette Heyer's These Old Shades. I hope you will have a look, especially since she has included Anne Elliot, A New Beginning in her Austen II Challenge. She obviously has excellent taste. LOL

Meredith at Austenesque Reviews has Part 1 of a Comprehensive Guide to Pride and Prejudice Sequels and a review of A Truth Universally Acknowledged edited by Sussanah Carson, which is "a collection of essays from literary scholars, contemporary authors, literature professors, critics, novelists, playwrights, and academics, to name a few."

For those who are interested in stories about World War II, Tony has an excellent post at London Calling. This is the story of a personal tragedy that happened in his family during the Battle of Britain.

It was on this day in 1817 that Jane Austen past away in Winchester with Cassandra by her side. She left behind her a remarkable body of work that millions of people around the world continue to enjoy. I could write about her death and funeral, but, instead, I will acknowledge her passing by reading a favorite passage from Pride and Prejudice, possibly Lizzy's refusal of Mr. Collins, OR you can read Laurel Ann's post at Austenprose OR Jane Austen Today.

The conclusion of Mr. Darcy Steps In will be posted sometime tomorrow.

Enjoy your Sunday. Mary

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners

Josephine Ross's  Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners, Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (with illustrations by Henrietta Webb) is a little book, duplicating the size of Austen’s original volumes. (Pride and Prejudice was published in three volumes.) It fits perfectly in my delicate feminine hands. The book is chock full of rules that kept everyone on the straight and narrow (at least for the middle and upper classes). For example, all ladies and gentlemen should carry calling cards, and once you visited with someone, you could not call again until the visit had been returned. This might leave someone twiddling their thumbs for a very long while if the visited party chose not to come a-calling.

Of course, the rules for young people were quite exacting, and if a lady was able to secure the affection of a gentleman, there was a whole other set of rules to observe, most especially, avoiding open shows of affection. Kissing, at any time, was out of the question. And so it went through marriage, child rearing, maturity, and death.

Occasionally, the author includes an interesting tidbit, such as “Manners Makyth Man is, of course, the famous motto of Winchester College, where the Authoress’s much-loved nephews were pupils; and it is no coincidence that… she gave the name of Winchester’s revered headmaster, Dr. Goddard, to the fictional proprietress of the modest little ladies school in Emma.” But mostly, it is a recitation of those rules that governed the lives of Jane Austen and her contemporaries.

Since we live in a time where just about anything goes, it might appear that people living in the Regency Era walked around in a cultural minefield. On the other hand, think how thrilling it would be for a young girl, new to society, to learn that a gentleman had approached a master of ceremonies at a dance for the purpose of seeking an introduction. It could almost make you swoon. Ladies, get out your fans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

She Done Him In - 1793

Today is the day in 1793 that Royalist supporter, Charlotte Corday, stabbed French Revolutionary, Jean Paul Marat, a supporter of Robespierre, to death. Because he suffered from a skin disease, Marat often spent hours in his bath, and it was there that he met his death. Corday did not try to escape and was sent to the guillotine four days later.

The painter, Jacques Louis David, was a disciple of the Revolution. He had visited Marat the day before his assassination and was able to recreate the scene of the crime.  However, he depicted an idealized version of Marat, free of all evidence of his skin disease.

With Robespierre's overthrow and execution in July 1794, David fell out of favor and went into exile in Belgium. Fortune signed on him once again with the rise of Napoleon.

David's death: "When David was leaving a theater, a carriage struck him, and he later died, on 29 December 1825. At his death, some portraits were auctioned in Paris, they sold for little; the famous Death of Marat was exhibited in a secluded room, to avoid outraging public sensibilities. Considered a regicide of King Louis XVI, the body of the painter was buried at Evere Cemetery, Brussels, while his heart was buried at Père Lachaise, Paris.

"In one of history's great coincidences, David's close association with the Committee of Public Safety during the Terror resulted in his signing of the death warrant for Alexandre de Beauharnais, a minor noble. De Beauharnais's widow, Rose-Marie Josèphe de Tascher de Beauharnais would later be known to the world as Joséphine Bonaparte, Empress of the French. It was her coronation by her husband, Napoleon I, that David depicted so memorably in the Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine, 2 December 1804." Wikipedia

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mr. Darcy Steps In

(A short story in four parts)

Charles Bingley was standing in front of the drawing room window looking longingly in the direction of Longbourn Manor. Because the Bennets were entertaining a visitor from Kent, Charles had decided that he would leave the family to their company and not call at the house. This would be the first time in two weeks that he had not ridden to Longbourn, so that he might be with Jane Bennet, and it explained his doleful countenance.

“Bingley, here, drink this,” Darcy said, handing his friend a glass of port. “And cheer up. It has been only one day since you last saw Jane Bennet, and you will see her tomorrow. The Bennets will not object to your going to Longbourn. It’s not as if they have been overrun by hordes of guests. It is only one person.” And, knowing how eager Mrs. Bennet was to have Bingley as her son-in-law, Darcy was completely sure of the accuracy of his opinion. “By the way, who is this visitor?”

“Their cousin, a Mr. Collins, who is a clergyman. I can tell you that Jane was not looking forward to his coming,” Bingley said, shaking his head at the thought that this unwanted intruder was keeping him from his Jane. “He wrote them a letter of such length, explaining the reason for his visit that Jane said they all nearly dozed off before their father had finished reading it.”

“Well, what was the reason for such a lengthy introduction?” Darcy asked.

Bingley mumbled something, which Darcy could not hear, and even though he was often guilty of doing such a thing himself, Darcy knew that when it came to matters of the heart, Bingley was equally capable of being moody and uncommunicative. In his present state, it made conversation more like pulling teeth, but Darcy’s only other option was to leave the pining lover to his musings and join Bingley’s sisters and Mr. Hurst for cards. However, he had little tolerance for Caroline’s biting comments, Louisa’s giggling, and Mr. Hurst’s frequent belches.

“The Bennet estate is entailed away from the female line to the benefit of Mr. Collins,” Bingley finally said. “Mr. Bennet suspects that he has come to find a wife from amongst the daughters as a way of easing his conscience about inheriting the estate. If such a marriage can be arranged, when Mr. Bennet dies, they will be able to remain at Longbourn. At least, that is what is hoped.”

“Well, with the eldest daughter very nearly engaged,” Darcy said, smiling at Bingley, “I would guess that would mean the middle daughter, the plain one, may have an opportunity to marry.”

“I doubt it,” Bingley responded. “Although Mary Bennet is very nice, she is rather plain and lacking in accomplishments. I would imagine he would direct his attentions to Elizabeth.”

Darcy nearly spit out his wine. “Elizabeth Bennet, the wife of a clergyman! Don’t be ridiculous. If there is any female who is obligated to say little and to keep her opinions to herself, it is the spouse of a parson. They must spew platitudes and banalities, so that they might curry favor with their husband’s congregation and whomever provides the living. Elizabeth is quite incapable of doing either.”

“I agree that it would be a challenge for her. However, Elizabeth’s situation is unenviable. Jane tells me that the Bennet daughters have meager dowries and a pittance for an allowance, and once Mr. Bennet dies, this preacher can put them out of the house as soon as the documents are executed.”

Darcy was stunned by this revelation. To his mind, Longbourn appeared to be a profitable enterprise, and he assumed that Mr. Bennet had provided adequately for his children. Apparently not. And being a man of the world and understanding how things worked, Darcy knew that Elizabeth certainly wouldn’t be the first woman forced into a loveless marriage as a way of avoiding spinsterhood and its accompanying poverty. He was sure that with Jane Bennet’s marriage to Bingley, things would be less dire for the Bennet sisters, as Charles had a big heart and would take care of his sisters-in-law and their mother. But he also knew that Elizabeth was quite capable of refusing her sister’s generosity so as not to be a burden to her.

Although Elizabeth and he had a strained relationship, he greatly admired her. She was intelligent with a sophisticated wit and a smile that could make a man go weak at the knees, and despite some biting exchanges between them, he liked her—a lot. And he did not want to think of her in a marriage bereft of love. In fact, he didn’t like the idea of her being married to anyone at all.

* * *

Friday, July 9, 2010

What's Going On in Austen World?

It's time to catch up on what is going on in Austen World.

London Calling: Why do we want to visit Chawton? Beautiful picture of Jane Austen's last home.

Austenprose: Everything you ever wanted to know about dining in Regency England. Excellent post.

Austenesque Reviews: Interview with Cheryl Cory and a giveaway of her novel,  Must've Done Something Good. You must enter by July 17th.

Bloom and Quill: New Jane Austen Fan Fiction site.

This Miss Loves To Read: A review of Tea With Jane Austen.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's Coming Up on This Blog?

This past week, I have been editing my second novel, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, for my publisher, Sourcebooks, which will be in bookstores in December. This is my last opportunity to go over the book and make changes before it goes to proofs, where I can only correct typos. As a result, I haven't been paying too much attention to my blog. However, sometime next week, I will have a short story to share. In the meantime, I will post different "stuff" until I can get my story up. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let's Hear It for the Girls!

Before leaving the topic of America's celebration of its independence from Britain, let's hear it for the girls. In very different ways, two women, Martha Washington and Betsey Loring, performed well in advancing the cause of liberty. Let's begin with our first First Lady. Every winter, while the armies ceased fighting, Martha would join George Washington at his winter camp, wherever that might be, including Morristown, New Jersey (1779-80) where the Americans were experiencing an even more wretched winter than the infamous winter of Valley Forge (1777-78). In addition to proving to be a morale booster for her husband, she provided the same service to the common solider. She visited with them, talked with them, sewed for them, prayed with them, and encouraged them to remain in the Army. (Desertions were mounting.) Wherever Martha went, she was roundly cheered for her services to her country.

On the other hand, Mrs. Joshua Loring's contribution was inadvertent, but very possibly, critical. Betsey Loring (see picture*) was the daughter of a Loyalist family living in the Boston area, who became the mistress of General William Howe during the British occupation of that city. In return for her favors, the general placed Betsey's husband, Joshua Loring, Jr., in charge of commissary for prisoners. As long as the money kept rolling in, everyone was content with the arrangement.

Wherever Howe went, Betsey followed, including Philadelphia, where she kept the general so happy that it was suggested by his critics that he had passed up an opportunity to wipe out the Continentals then encamped nearby at Valley Forge in order to more fully enjoy Mrs. Loring's company. Their conduct merited the following doggerel:

Awake, awake, Sir Billy, There's forage in the plain.
Ah, leave your little Filly, and open the campaign.
Sir William he, snug as a flea, Lay all this time a-snoring,
Nor dreamed of harm as he lay warm, In bed with Mrs. Loring.

If Howe had marched on Washington's army at Valley Forge, there is an excellent chance that the war would have ended in a devastating defeat for the Americans and could have decided the war in Britain's favor. Mrs. Loring's contribution to the cause of liberty is another one of history's "what ifs." However, as an American, I'd like to thank both ladies for their service.

*This is actually a picture of Peggy Shippen, the wife of Benedict Arnold, but it gives you an idea of what a pretty lass would have looked like in 1777 Philadelphia.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

There's Nothing Like a Parade

Helena, Montana (ca. 1910?)

Happy Fourth of July

The following post appeared last year on the Fourth of July.

“We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’’

Those words are taken from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, and for many of the signers, the personal cost for rebelling against the British Crown cost them dearly. American Heritage has an excellent article on these men. But there were many others who suffered because of their involvement with the cause of liberty, including Robert (Chancellor) Livingston of Clermont, New York, who served on the committee to draft the Declaration.

Life had been good to the Livingstons of Dutchess County, New York (including Philip, a signer of the Declaration). From their manor house, Clermont, on the Hudson, the Robert Livingstons could view some of their half million acres of land acquired through patent and marriage. Robert R. Livingston (1718 – 1775, aka “The Judge”) added hundreds of thousands of acres to the family’s landholdings when he had married Margaret Beekman,* a formidable woman from one of the most prominent old Dutch families in the Hudson River Valley.

When Robert the Judge died in 1775, he left Margaret and their children to face the trials of the Revolution. Most dramatic was the burning of Clermont and its outbuildings on October 19, 1777 by British troops under the command of General John Vaughan, who was throwing a hissy fit because of the surrender of the British Armies by General Burgoyne at nearby Saratoga. Once Margaret was informed that General Vaughan had burnt Kingston across the Hudson, she hid the silver and other valuables in her garden fountain. Other possessions were loaded aboard carts, and Mrs. Livingston, her daughters, servants, and slaves fled. Robert was not at Clermont during this time, but he would return to his childhood home to find only the foundation and exterior walls remained.

"Nevertheless, his mother (Margaret Beekman) energetically went about the task of rebuilding Clermont upon its original foundation and on the same Georgian plan. In order to get workmen, she wrote to Governor George Clinton requesting that he exempt skilled tenants, masons, carpenters, plasterers, etc. from military service, and he agreed. By 1782 she was able to entertain General and Martha Washington in her new home, the British forever gone from the Hudson River Valley." (Taken from the official Clermont site)

The Livingstons are excellent examples of the conundrum one faces when writing about the heroes of the Revolution. Yes, they pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors, but many had set off on that path because they were protecting their fabulous wealth. (Remember: “No taxation without representation.”) The Livingstons wanted to be free of British tyranny, but kept slaves. And they kept their heels on the necks of their tenants and were disinclined to sell their property to anyone. During wartime, Margaret Beekman had asked and had received the release of able-bodied men from military service to rebuild her house. But the bottom line is that if the Americans had not succeeded in their quest for independence, their leaders, including the Livingstons and Beekmans, would have had their estates confiscated, and Robert would very likely have been hanged. As Abraham Clark of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration, put it, they would have “freedom or a halter.”

Here is a comment from my friend, Tony, who is British:

Did you know Mary, in the 1920's the Commonwealth of Virginia wanted to present a statue of George Washington to the British people. There was one problem. George Washington had expressly wished to never stand on English soil again after The War of Independence. The good people of Virginia were in a quandry. A brilliant idea came to somebody. They dug up a truck load of soil in Virgina and shipped it over to England. In Trafalgar Square they dug a big hole outside The National Gallery, filled it with the soil from Virginia, and then plonked George Washington on top of it. Everybody was happy. Don't know about George though.

*In August 2011, I will publish a novel, Darcy on the Hudson in which Darcy, Georgiana, and Charles Bingley visit New York. The Beekmans appear in the story.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Alternate Meanings

The Washington Post has a yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words, and the winners are:

1. Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

6. Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.

9. Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

12. Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

14. Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

To read the missing numbers (which may be offensive to some), please click on comments.