Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dickens' London and Mr. Darcy's, Too

“Hell is a city much like London — A Populous and smoky city” Percy Bysshe Shelley*

The excerpt below is taken from the opening paragraphs of Chapter I of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. It is a brilliant description of what London was like in 1852-53 when Bleak House was serialized. However, it is not that far off from a description of London in the time of Fitzwilliam Darcy. By 1812, there were a million souls living in London, and most of them heated their homes and cooked their meals with coal. When combined with soot pouring out of industrial chimneys and the mists and fogs of the Thames Valley, the result was London's famous pea-soup fog, a thick and often yellowish, greenish, or blackish smog caused by air pollution containing soot particulates and the poisonous gas sulfur dioxide. With the arrival of the railroads in the Victorian Era, an already serious problem got considerably worse.

Nelson's Column - Trafalgar Square
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls deified among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds…
Double-decker Bus

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation, Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery.

Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day in the sight of heaven and earth.

It would be 100 years later, after the Great Smog of 1953, when an estimated 4,000 people died prematurely, and 100,000 more were made ill because of the smog's effects on the human respiratory tract, that laws were passed to clean up England’s polluted cities.

*The asthmatic William III bought Kensington Palace, the former Nottingham House, outside of London, in 1689 in order to get away from "sooty London." 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An Interview with Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Simonsen

Today, I am visiting with Jakki at Leatherbound Reviews where I interview Mr. Darcy about time travel in connection with my new release, Another Place in Time. Previously, I interviewed modern-day time traveler, Christine O'Malley, regarding her first impressions after her initial meeting with Fitzwilliam Darcy. You can read that post here.

Christine O'Malley also visited with Maria Grace on her blog Random Bits of Fascination where she wrote about what it would be like to visit Regency-Era London. I am reposting her blog post here. 

An excerpt from Another Place in Time: Soon after the carriage exited Manchester Square, they plunged into the chaos that was London, the capital of the commercial world. The cacophony was extraordinary. Hackney drivers shouted, sellers advertised their wares, pamphleteers screamed scandalous headlines, and horses neighed. It was like New York City at rush hour, except with horses, dogs, cats, and the occasional pig thrown in for interest.

By Christine O'Malley, Time Traveler

Prior to journeying to London in 1812 with Fitzwilliam Darcy, I had visited modern London three times. I consider it to be the most vibrant city in the world—then and now. In 1812, London was the undisputed capital of the commercial world. Its main highway, the River Thames, was chock-a-block full of ships of every shape and size, and those ships carried every imaginable commodity. For the well-heeled of London, the world came to their doors with coffee, tea, spices, muslin, and so much more.

But London paid a price for its success. The only way to get around Town was by horse. As a result, its streets were clogged with even worse traffic than there is today, and you crossed the street at your peril. The most efficient way was to travel by river, but if you chose that route, you had best bring a bouquet of posies or a handkerchief dipped in vinegar as the Thames served as London’s sewer, serving more than one million people. Because the city was powered by coal, the beautiful dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral that Londoners see today was covered with soot as was Westminster Abbey and every other building (thus the reason for black umbrellas).
London Street Scene

My first stop on my tour of London with Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy was Lackington’s, also known as the Temple of the Muses, a bookstore that would be the envy of any modern urban store. After returning to the carriage, Mr. Darcy ordered the driver to take us down the Strand where we were able to catch glimpses of the river traffic, St. Mary le Strand, Somerset House, and Northumberland House (now gone). Nearby Fleet Street served as headquarters to a vibrant press, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub still in existence, was serving pub grub and ale. 

Northumberland House
Another day, while Mr. Darcy rode with Mr. Bingley in Rotten Row, Georgiana and I paid a visit to Westminster Abbey, but the familiar narthex (vestibule) was not built until the mid 20th Century. We visited the south transept and the grave of Chaucer. Because later poets requested that they be buried near the first poet to write in the vernacular, the transept would come to be known as Poet’s Corner.

Georgiana and I also visited Carlton House. Fitzwilliam had been invited to join us, but because he disapproved of the Prince Regent’s lifestyle, he declined, preferring to spend his afternoon at Brooks’s, one of London’s many men’s clubs.

The White Tower (aka Tower of London) stood high above the city, but public executions at Tyburn (now the site of the Marble Arch) had ceased to provide entertainment for the public. Although Trafalgar Square had yet to be developed, Charles I was already sitting on his horse in front of what would become, two decades later, the National Gallery. After bumping along in a carriage, dodging hundreds of other conveyances, and stepping gingerly whenever we exited the carriage, we returned to the Darcy home on Manchester Square.

While Georgiana enjoyed London during the Season and visiting the shops, Darcy loved London for its history, architecture, and energy. During his time in Baltimore, when he saw photographs of modern London, he nodded his head in approval. Although the man’s sensibilities were firmly rooted in the early 19th Century, he admired the engineering required to build the Gherkin, the efficiency of the Underground, and the crowds walking the streets listening to iTunes and talking on their smart phones because Mr. Darcy loves gadgets! Unfortunately for Mr. Darcy, cell phone reception in 1812 is terrible!

Another Place in Time is available at Barnes and Noble in e-book and on Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post by J. Marie Croft and Giveaway of Love at First Slight

Here’s to romance, laughter, and happily ever after!

By J. Marie Croft

It was once suggested in a letter to Jane Austen that she write an historical romance illustrative of the august House of Cobourg.
Austen’s response included:I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter.” 
I get a bit hung up telling people that I write what’s considered romance, because it’s inevitably presumed I mean bodice-rippers. Eesh! I could no more sit seriously down to write a steamy novel than an epic poem. I regard Love at First Slight as a Regency romantic comedy.
Snippet from favourable review: “While Love at First Slight is mostly a comedy, one mustn't forget the romance, which was just beautifully done from start to finish.”  Another critic said, “If there is a romance, I did not find it.” Readers obviously have decidedly different opinions on what constitutes romance. 
According to Wikipedia:
Romances are relationship stories that emphasize emotion over libido. 
Regency romances feature intelligent, fast-paced dialogue between the protagonists and very little explicit sex or discussion of it. 
Romantic comedies focus on sentimental ideals in humorous plots.  In a typical ‘rom-com’ the young, likable lovers are meant for each other but kept apart by complicating circumstances (class differences, family interference, etc.) until finally – surmounting all obstacles – they get together with a fairytale-style ending.
Love at First Slight is a Regency romantic comedy. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Here is the blurb from Amazon for Love at First Slight:

It may not be universally acknowledged, but the unvarnished truth is that a young widow in possession of a good fortune is not necessarily in want of another husband. 

In this humorous, topsy-turvy Pride & Prejudice variation, all major gender roles are reversed. It is Mr. Bennet’s greatest wish to see his five sons advantageously married. When the haughty Miss Elizabeth Darcy comes to Netherfield with the Widow Devonport (nee Bingley), speculation — and prejudice — runs rampant. 

William Bennet, a reluctant and irreverent reverend, catches Miss Darcy’s eye, even though he is beneath her station. His opinion of her is fixed when she slights him at the Meryton assembly. As her ardour grows, so does his disdain. When she fully expects to receive an offer of marriage, he gives her something else entirely...

And now enjoy an excerpt.
In honour of Valentine’s Day, the book’s protagonists are expected here to express their sentiments on romance. Ah! That must be the Reverend Mr. William Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Darcy now.  Whoa! Flora ... Felicity ... Casper! Why are you here?  Where are William and Lizzie?
Mrs. Bennet pats my hand.  “Due to your book’s prudery, my son and his bride arrived at the altar without anticipating their vows. ‘Tis Valentine’s Day, and they are, after all, just recently married.”  She gives me a nudge-nudge-wink-wink. “The newlyweds were otherwise occupied, so we offered to come in their stead.”
But, you three don’t seriously consider yourselves experts on romance, do you?  Never mind. Beggars can’t be choosers. However, dear readers, I’m not responsible for anything my characters might henceforth impart on the subject.  Miss Wickham, would you like to start?
Felicity twirls a flaxen lock, refers to a scrap of paper, and recites Shakespeare.  “Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?” She flutters her eyelashes at Casper Bingley. “Do you believe in love at first sight, sir?”
The dandy buffs his fingernails and flicks a shock of raven hair away from an eye.  “Certainly not, and I strongly recommend sparing yourself the indignity of asking me whether you should walk by again.”
“Humph!” The coquette pouts.  “You feign indifference, but in Meryton I had at least twenty militia soldiers violently in love with me.”
Casper sneers, “I doubt it was platoonic. Love can be a such a touchy subject.”
Flora Bennet abandons the ribald novel she’s been surreptitiously devouring in the corner.  “Obviously, you two know nothing about romance. And you,” she points in my direction, “know nothing about writing it.”  She clasps the book to her bosom and sighs. “The lovers in here just had an amorous, unexpected, secret meeting.  You should try creating a passionate plot tryst like that, dear.  Practice makes perfect; and, if you apply yourself, you might come up with a passably torrid scene sooner or later. Old romance novelists never die, you know; they just run out of – ”
Steam.  Yes, I know. Now, before steam starts coming out of anyone’s ears, could we at least have a timely, refined comment about Valentine’s Day or Cupid’s arrow … anyone?
Casper looks down his straight, narrow nose. “I do not understand why Cupid was chosen to represent St. Valentine’s Day.  When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, naked, chubby, winged tot coming at me with a deadly, barbed weapon. Ugh!”
You three characters may leave now. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.  Mary, I apologize to you and your readers.  That wasn’t at all what I had in mind.  I’m honoured to be here today and wanted this post to be special – romantic, mushy, crème de la crème, not ... cheesy. To make amends for that deficiency, here’s something meaningful – a quote from Joanne Woodward. “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades; but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”  
If you’d like a real treat – a novel with love, laughter, and happily ever after – I recommend Another Place in Time … or anything by Mary Simonsen.  She knows how to write romance. And so did Jane Austen.

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Note from Mary: Marie happens to be the punniest and funniest person out there in Jane Austen World. Her words leap off the page and form bubbles over her characters' heads, and you smile. The whole time you are reading Marie's stories, you smile.
Now for the specifics of the giveaway: Meryton Press has been good enough to provide our readers with a paperback and an e-book of Love at First Slight that is open internationally!!! Please leave a comment about Valentine's Day or anything that strikes your fancy. You must comment by February 17th. Winners will be announced on February 19th. Here's the really important part. You MUST leave your e-mail address as I have no way to capture e-mail addresses. No e-mail address, no can win!
Love at First Slight is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Interview with Time Traveler from Another Place in Time

In my new time-travel romance, Another Place in Time, Mr. Darcy travels through time to meet with Chris O’Malley, an expert on the Regency Era and the novels of Jane Austen. I recently interviewed Chris to find out more of her thoughts on Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Mary: Easy question. What was your first impression of Mr. Darcy when he showed up at the Baltimore Jane Austen conference in 2012?

Chris: Thanks, Mary, for having me on your blog. I feel like I already know you. To answer your question, please keep in mind that I saw the conference as an opportunity to increase my exposure in the Austen community, so when this “imposter” showed up and basically took over the session, I was not amused. What I remember thinking is that this guy is one hot dude—better than Colin—better than Matthew. But after I stopped admiring his assets, I was pretty steamed. When I spoke to him in the lobby, I thought this “actor” had Mr. Darcy’s arrogance down pat. It was all about him.

Mary: At first, you refused to help Mr. Darcy. What changed your mind?

Chris: I realized that this guy, whoever he was, was deeply in love with his Elizabeth Bennet. Because he was willing to ask for help in repairing the damage he had done when he had proposed marriage, I thought I might give him some advice. By showing some humility, he had already taken the first step.

Mary: When was your first inkling that this Mr. Darcy might be the genuine article?

Chris: Today, you practically get a smart phone at your kindergarten graduation, so when I watched Mr. Darcy using his iPhone, he reminded me of a kid in a candy store. He kept showing me all the things he could find by “Googling,” a word that delighted him. Another clue was that whenever a plane flew over, he would stop and look up in the sky until it was out of sight. Who does that now?

Mary: I think I would be nervous getting into a time capsule.

Chris: That’s because you’re smarter than I am. (Chris laughs.) The main reason I went back to 1812 was because the Regency Era is my area of expertise. I couldn't pass up a chance to see what London looked like during the Regency. Also, I was at a rather low point in my personal life. I think that was why I was willing to take the risk.

Mary: I understand that you will be talking about Regency London on Maria Grace’s blog. Is that correct?

Chris: Yes, I will. When I was in London, my guides through Town were Georgiana Darcy and Fitzwilliam Darcy. I look forward to sharing the experience with you.

Chris will be doing an interview on Random Bits of Fascination on February 12th. We hope to see you there.

Another Place in Time is available on Nook and Kindle. The paperback will be available in about two weeks.