Words of the day: fichu, chemisette and fraise

Elizabeth Huntington wearing a fichu, by Simon Fitch (Huntington Museum)

Fichu:  (French) From the past participle of ficher, to fix.  Indicates a light-weight kerchief folded into a triangle and fixed either with a knot or pin in the front (think a very small, triangular shawl).  Alternatively, it could be tucked into the bodice of the gown.  Used to hide excessive décolleté  in day gowns and to keep the neck and chest warm in cold weather as well as for decorative purposes.  Fichus were made of linen, silk or lace and could be decorated with lace or embroidery.  In Pride and Prejudice 1995 Jane Bennet (played by Susannah Harker) frequently wore fichus.

Countess Bucquoi wearing a chemisette, 1793, by Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée-LeBrun

A similar article of clothing would be the chemisette (French, diminutive for shirt, “little shirt”), a partial shirt (with or without a collar) worn under a gown and tied under the bodice (at the waistline of Regency and Empire gowns) to keep it in place.  Also known as a tucker in England.  This article of clothing served the same purpose as the fichu: to fill in a low bodice for a more modest or decorative daytime look.

The chemisette was not the same as a chemise (French: shirt), which was an article of underclothing; a loose shirt worn under stays.  The purpose of the chemise was comfort and to keep the outer clothing free of perspiration.   It was a simple garment shaped like a T with short sleeves, underarm gussets for free movement, and a simple drawstring neckline which could be adjusted as needed for the bodice of the outer gown.

Lady Elgin wearing a fraise over a chemisette, 1804, by François Gérard

The last neckline decoration worn in the 18th and 19th Centuries which I want to mention was the fraise (French (archaic): neck ruff).  The modern meaning of fraise is “strawberry” but the original meaning was an embankment for protection from attack (i.e. rampart).  The same term would have been used for the rigid ruffs worn in the 16th Century, but the Georgian and Regency version was made of several soft layers of lace which came up high on the neck.  They were most popular with older women, who liked the way the fraise would disguise a double chin.

Teamwork: Part II

Today I welcome back Erica McFarland and Jennifer DeWoody, better known to Twitter followers as “Regency Ladies.”

Carey:   Let’s go into some of your inspirations for your writing…Are you fans of Jane Austen?  Georgette Heyer? Other Regency historical fiction?

Erica: My Jane Austen addiction started in ninth grade, on a summer vacation to Florida (my current residence).  I found Emma in a bookstore, and from there on, I was hooked.  I’ve slowly made my way through almost all her works, with only Mansfield Park still outstanding.  For me, Austen has come to mean a quiet, comfortable place, almost like home.  I know that when I read her books, there will not be graphic details, that the stories will be poignant and romantic.  There’s something about the simplicity of her writing that really resonates with me.

Inspired by Austen, I studied British literature when getting my undergrad in writing.  I read Eliot, Collins, Dickens, and then studied the Romantic poets with avidity.  I started to read Georgette Heyer when I embarked on my first regency writing project.  She had come up in so many of my reference materials as the undisputed “Queen of Regency.”  I’ve only read about six of her novels so far, but I’m absolutely in love.  She has definitely been formative for me in my writing of regency.

Jenny:Yes, yes and yes.  I am an Anglophile at heart.  I have recently finished Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer, an author that Erica actually introduced me to, encouraging me to read several of her works.  I find that I really enjoy immersing myself in Heyer’s style and wit.  She has a way of setting a scene that paints it so vividly in the reader’s mind that it almost feels as if you are in the room with her characters.  Her attention to detail, I think is something that Erica and I are really striving to emulate in our own writing.

As for Jane Austen, she is and always will be one of my favorites.  Pride and Prejudice is the novel I credit with introducing me to my love of reading and for that reason alone it will always hold a position of great import in my heart.  Austen’s style, like Heyer’s after her, is very entrenching, and I think her characters and the way she portrayed societal interactions is something any self-respecting lover of the genre and the historical era would cherish.

Carey:   Do you have a timeline for your current collaboration?

Jenny: I think we have bandied about the idea of trying to get a working draft, that is a fully functioning, readable draft completed in a year and considering the progress we’ve made in just a few short months I think even this goal may prove to be conservative.

Erica: While this is not my first attempt at historical fiction, it’s the first time I’ve really embarked on a project of this magnitude.  My first novel attempt was simply that, an attempt.  We both come from a freewriting background with historical fiction, so this has been a learning experience for us to try and formalize our thoughts in a coherent book.

We are about half-way through our first draft now.  We’ve gotten to the point now where we’ve become so familiar with these characters that they are second nature, and I think that’s starting to really show in our prose.  Chapters are becoming longer, and we’re tweaking our basic outline as we continue to find new ways to make the story more effective.  We hope that by next July we would be able to have a marketable product, either to send to agents in hopes of going the traditional route, or for self-publishing.

Carey:   What other writing have each of you done?

Erica: Since about the fourth grade, I’ve known that I wanted to be a writer.  I went to school for writing, so during that time I wrote for the University of Tampa’s newspaper and their literary journal.  Post-graduation, I’ve been a prize winner in a few local writing contests for fiction.  My most recent foray into journalism has been with a magazine in my town called Pulse, which focuses on creative nonfiction with an upbeat take.  Most of my experience outside of fiction comes from opinion pieces, so this new brush with magazine writing has been interesting.  I also run a blog called Hello Writer, and do some freelancing.

Jenny: I am still somewhat of a novice when it comes to writing.  For the past two years or so I have been heavily involved in a play-by-post, Victorian Era game called Era of Elegance.  Most of my writing has been done within the construct of that game, as it has been a great exercise in the creation and development of characters, which for me are always the heart of every story.

Carey:  What do you do in “real life” and how long have you known each other?

Erica: For the past three years, I have been employed as a secretary for a Trust Department.  I take down dictation and format business correspondence, while dabbling in basic graphic design for our marketing materials.  I’ve learned a lot about technical writing through this job, and I do appreciate the opportunities it presents to refine my style.  But I consider myself to be most importantly, a writer. Jenny and I have known each other since about April of 2011, but it feels like much longer.

Jenny: In real life I am a barista at Caribou Coffee, where I have worked for almost a year now and before that I worked as a bookseller and barista for Books-A-Million.  I have only recently begun to identify myself as a writer and this new way of thinking has lent me a great purpose to my life, for which I am eternally indebted to Erica as she is the one that really made me realize that being a writer is something that I very seriously wanted to pursue.

Carey:   So, Jenny, I assume that your writing is fueled by coffee!  Diet Mountain Dew is my stimulant of choice.  Where can we see more of you? Facebook? Twitter? Blog? Website?

Jenny: Together, we have a twitter account: we are Erica and Jenny @Regencyladies.  We also have just started a blog which can be found at: http://hellowriter.org/rl/.

Erica: I can also be reached through Facebook at http://facebook.com/HelloWriterCo and through my website of hellowriter.org, which features my personal blog as well. Jenny and I are in constant contact, so we send any information we receive to each other.

Thanks Ladies!  I think I would be more productive if I had a writing partner waiting for me to finish my part, although it would be important to find the right (write?) person.  Best of luck, Regency Ladies!

Teamwork: an interview with Regency Ladies, Part I

Today I am interviewing Erica McFarland and Jennifer DeWoody, a pair of writers who have joined forces to write their first Regency novel, styling themselves “Regency Ladies” on Twitter.  Although they have not yet published together, I think their story is interesting for writers (and wannabe writers).

Carey: How long have the two of you been Regency Ladies?

Erica: We have been writing together since about mid-April, when I finally relented and joined a friend’s historical game.  I liked Jenny’s writing style, so I hunted her down on the game and from there, we started to develop different storylines.  When we started to develop the plotline for the characters used now in our novel, I realized that it had a lot of potential and could become something more.  I petitioned Jenny and asked if she’d want to start this project with me, terribly hopeful of course that she’d say yes.  She did, and the rest as they say, is history.

Jenny: I believe the Regency Ladies moniker got its start as early as the beginning of July when we opened up our joint twitter account, which Erica then promptly ran away with, but in our hearts I believe we have always been Regency Ladies, or if not with the capital letters at the very least, Regency ladies.

Carey:    What made you decide to write together?

Jenny: I think, at the heart of the matter is our shared love of the history of the era, our love of reading the works produced both in that era and of that era.  It also helps that we met on a Victorian Era role playing game and hit it off famously from the start, I believe. We found, through the process of plotting and writing in that game that our styles complimented each other nicely and that we worked well together, our temperaments suiting in such a way that it almost seemed destined that we embark on such a journey together.

Erica: As Jenny said, we bounce off each other very well. She’s pretty mellow, while I’m an extrovert with a tendency toward sap.  We’ve managed to achieve a balance in our working relationship that really helps us to keep up the fast pace we’ve set for this first draft.  I think one of the most important things in doing a project like this with someone else is that there is an element of trust.  With Jenny, I know that I can always count on her; not only to carry through with the writing in a timely manner, but to support me as a person and give me her honest opinion.  It’s that faith we have in each other, I think, that makes us such good partners.

Carey:   Why did you pick the Regency Era?

Jenny: I think a large part of why we picked the Regency Era is that it is a time period so rich in culture and beauty and decadence as well as intrigue and politics that there is a wealth of topics that as a writer it is fun to explore.  The way the people related to each other and the strict societal paradigms that were constructed have always been fascinating to me. And it has always been a point of interest to me to analyze and pick apart the way people interacted with each other whether it be member of the ton at a grand society ball or the interaction between a nobleman and a servant, as a surveyor of human nature in general the era lends itself to some very interesting as well as entertaining and thought provoking study.  Plus, Erica had already done an obscene amount of research on the era and is a veritable history buff when it comes to all things Regency.  That, and as Erica will attest, the dresses were pretty.

Erica: The dresses are pretty, indeed!  I am a self-confessed fashion addict, and so I gravitated toward the regency era because of the real elegance to the costumes and just the entire style of being.  The concept of dandies and debutantes fascinates me, and I love the idea of being able to make those kinds of characters come to live for a generation of readers entrenched in the twenty-first century.  Like Jenny, I enjoy dissecting the different interactions between the  social spectrums; we cover this a lot in our novel, as our hero is a commoner and our heroine the daughter of a Baroness.  While my fondness for this era stemmed from my love for Jane Austen, I’ve found that I truly enjoy researching all the different aspects of life.  I think the constrictions of the period help to give me structure in writing, in contrast to my previous work in science fiction and fantasy where the world was entirely of my creation.  The dialogue of this era has always felt very rich to me, and as a writer I aim to mimic that.

Carey:  Besides, you don’t have to wear a corset in the Regency…always a plus!  Thanks Jennifer and Erica and we will see the rest of the interview tomorrow!

Word of the Day: aigrette

Snowy egret (photo courtesy Karen Gallagher)Aigrette: (French) egret or silver heron

Aigrette: (French) egret or silver heron

An aigrette was a popular ornament for hats (men’s and women’s) or women’s hair in the 19th Century.  Often fashioned with a lace or ribbon piece attached to a fastener to hold the egret plume to the hat or hairdo, the term aigrette later was used to also refer to a similar decorative piece of jewelry, often set with diamonds or other gemstones.

Egret is a general term used for a number of species of white heron, and egrets can be found in tropical climates all over the world.  Like other herons, egrets have an s-curved neck and fly with their head pulled back onto their back (rather than “craned” out straight like a crane).  They live near water and catch their food by standing and wading in the water, spearing their prey with their beaks.  They will eat any type of fish, or other water-dwelling animals which are small enough to swallow whole.

Great Egret contour feather (top) and breeding plume (bottom). Photo courtesy of Karen Gallagher

Unfortunately for the egret, during the breeding season they develop long, wispy feathers in a crest on their head and neck, and it is these feathers that were considered desirable for decoration.  During the second half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century hunters by the thousands invaded the wetlands of the southern US for these birds and egrets were hunted to the brink of extinction to obtain these fashionable accessories.  Stringent protection has brought the egret back and is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act.

GF Handel: a Georgian anecdote

George Friedrich Handel, 1749

George Friederich Handel (1685-1759) was a Baroque composer contemporary with Bach and Scarlatti.  He was of German extraction and in 1710 was named Kapellmeister (basically, court composer) to Prince George, the Elector of Hanover.  He worked for the Elector two years and then asked his sponsor if he would allow him to go to London.  The prince said yes, but that he must return after his visit.  Instead of returning, Handel stayed in England and became the court composer for Queen Anne.

Two years later, Prince George became King George I of England.  Handel was in a serious quandary.  Fortunately for his career, he wrote the beautiful Water Music and George forgave him.

King George I, 1706

George I ruled both England and the Electorate of Hanover until his death in 1727, spending about half of his time in each of his kingdoms.  He never learned to speak English, but began the Georgian Era which continued until 1811, when the Regency Era began with the Regency of Prince George, later George IV.  The descendants of the house of Hanover continue to rule England.

This tale is from an audio course on How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, taught by the lively and funny Robert Greenberg and sold by The Teaching Company, which I highly recommend for anyone with an interest in music.

Gout: From the 19th Century to the 21st Century

1799 caricature of gout by James Gillray

Gout is a metabolic problem that was very common throughout history and is mentioned in many historical novels (it is a great excuse for a grouchy personality if needed in a story).  The first known description was in Egypt in 2,600 BC, and it was well described by Hippocrates in ancient Greece, about 400 BC.  The uric acid crystals which are the cause of gout were first seen in 1679 by Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

This painful disease is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in  a joint, the base of the big toe (called podagra) being involved more than 50% of the time.  Other joints may also be affected, such as in the hands, elbows and knees, and other tissues can also be affected.  Uric acid crystals can deposit in the skin (gouty tophi), kidneys, tendons and other tissues.  High fever can also be associated with this problem.  The uric acid build up is caused by decrease in the breakdown of uric acid because of an enzyme deficiency, or increase in production because of dietary factors; in fact genetics and diet are both important factors for most people with clinical gout.  It has been known through history as “rich man’s disease” and “the king’s disease” because until the Twentieth Century only the wealthy ate enough of the foods that cause it.

Very simply, when uric acid crystallizes in joints, an immune response occurs and the subsequent inflammation makes for a hot, red joint.  Cold seems to be one of the precipitating factors, which might explain why it tends to involve the extremities such as toes and fingers and tends to begin at night.  The most common mimic of gout is septic arthritic (and infected joint), which a physician would suspect if the presumed gout does not respond to treatment.

In the Regency Era:

Physicians were aware that gout was caused by over-indulgence in elderly men and it was thought that red meat, rich food, and red wine, especially port wine, caused flares of gout.  Treatment of an acute gout attack included keeping the painful foot bandaged and elevated.  Bleeding or leeching would be used to decrease the inflammation and laudanum (tincture of opium) would be used for pain.  Various other treatments, such as soaking in mineral baths at spas such as those in Bath, England, as well as drinking the mineral water in the Pump Room were held to be helpful.  An acute attack of gout will resolve on its own in 5 to 7 days, so every physician has his own regimen that he felt worked, but none of these treatments, except dietary restriction, made a difference in the long term incidence of recurrent arthritis.

In the 21st century:

Modern medical science has learned that the precipitating factors for people predisposed to gout (which is most common in those with metabolic syndrome:  abdominal fat, type  diabetes, high blood lipids, and high blood pressure). The incidence of gout has doubled in the past twenty years, along with an increase in obesity and metabolic syndrome.  It is still more common in older men as well as post-menopausal women.

A patient who comes in with a red, hot joint will be evaluated with a blood test for blood uric acid levels.  If the patient clinically fits the diagnosis of gout, and the blood level of uric acid is high, then the diagnosis is made.  Unfortunately, half of patients with gout have normal uric acid levels, and other blood tests, such as the white blood cell count and sedimentation rate will be elevated for both gout and septic arthritis.  In these cases, a sample of synovial fluid (the fluid inside the joint space) is removed and examined microscopically for uric acid crystals (gout) or for bacteria (septic arthritis).

Treatment for the acute attack of gout is geared towards decreasing inflammation with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, corticosteroids such as prednisone, or colchicine.  Pain relievers may be used to help get the patient through the acute attack.

Prevention is the crux of treatment for gout, because a patient who has had an episode has a high risk of having it recur, as well as having the risks of kidney and skin problems.  Patients should avoid drugs which can precipitate gout, such as aspirin, hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic commonly used for hypertension), and long-term immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus (commonly used to prevent rejection after organ transplant).  Diet should avoid meat, fish, fructose, and alcohol.

Long-term drug treatment for those who have recurrent gout attacks include medications which inhibit the enzyme xanthine oxidase and thus decrease uric acid levels, or those which increase the amount of uric acid excreted by the kidneys. The choice of medications depends on how much uric acid the kidneys are removing, determined by a 24-your urine collection.  These drugs are generally not started until 2 weeks after the last acute attack because of a risk of worsening the attack.



Inheritance and Northanger Abbey

For the last part of my series on inheritance in the Regency Era, I will discuss Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  NA is, of course, quite different in tone than Austen’s previously discussed works as it is a parody of the gothic romances that were so popular in her time.  These novels, written by popular writers such as Ann Radcliffe, were moody, atmospheric and highly romantic, wallowing in exotic places and unnameable crimes and disparaged in public by most people and read avidly by many women of the time.

Catherine Morland, the heroine of NA, is a very ordinary girl without outstanding looks or intellect.  She is delighted when she is invited to travel to Bath with a kindly neighboring couple.  The first person she meets is Henry Tilney at one of the public dances and she likes him very much, but he immediately disappears.  In the meantime, she meets Isabella Thorpe, the daughter of a school friend of her hostess.  Isabella is very theatrical and immediately attaches the naive Catherine, introducing her to all her favorite gothic novels.  Mr. Tilney returns after a few days with his sister and soon Catherine’s brother and his friend, Isabella’s brother John, making for a lively social life.

Most of the drama of this book comes from the lies told by John Thorpe to make his friends (and therefore himself) seem more important and wealthy.  His mischief causes Catherine endless trouble as he has misrepresented Catherine’s brother to Isabella, lies to Henry Tilney to make Catherine do what he wants, and then lies even more to Henry Tilney’s father, General Tilney, turning Catherine into a wealthy heiress instead of the modest vicar’s daughter that she is.  Isabella lures James Morland into an engagement, which she is happy with until she finds out how low his income will be.  The odious general is even more class conscious than John Thorpe and decides that Catherine would make a suitable wife for Henry, who is his younger son and a minister.  To promote this match, he invites Catherine to his estate, Northanger Abbey, for a visit.  Catherine makes a fool of herself over the expected Gothic character of an Abbey and eventually the general finds out that she is not an heiress and sends her home without the slightest care for her comfort or safety.

Inheritance is only of importance in Northanger Abbey in that misrepresentation of the wealth of the Morlands by John Thorpe causes a great deal of mischief for both Catherine and James.  General Tilney’s estate is entailed on his elder son, but the most important consideration for him is marrying off his daughter and younger son is to find them rich and important matches, no matter what their feelings are in the matter.  He believes John Thorpe’s lies about Catherine being an heiress, and says that she will also inherit the fortune of the Allens (the friends who brought her to Bath) because they are childless.

John Thorpe and General Tilney are two sides of the same coin- both are obsessed with wealth, but John chooses to give his friends importance by vastly inflating their wealth and the General promotes his family’s importance by throwing Catherine out when he find that she is not important enough.  In the end he finds out that Catherine is not as poor as he assumed when he discovered she was not an heiress, which is just as well since Henry likes her and feels obligated to find out if she returned home safely and then asks her to marry him.