Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Family Medical Receipts" - Regency Remedies and Cures

In these days of heated discussion about health care, it is interesting to reflect on the limitations of Regency medical knowledge. Surgeons were rough men for the most part, not far from the barber-surgeons of the previous century. Physicians were a step above but limited to such treatments as cupping, bloodletting and leeches. Change was coming but it was slow and it is often resisted.

For most people in most situations, the best health care was to be had in the home. And every recipe book, whether purchased or compiled generation after generation, contained cures and nostrums for every ailment.

The book ‘Modern Domestic Cookery’ published in a third edition in 1819, and written by Elizabeth Hammond, was a receipt book that covered every possible household need. From cookery to wine-making, carving to cleaning, it is full of recipes of all kinds.

Medications, remedies, therapies and treatments are found in the section titled Family Medical Receipts ; they are sobering and really make me appreciate the advances of the past two hundred years.

The first receipt in the list is for camphorated oil—a liniment—and the second recipe is for a wound ointment:

Take of bees-wax, white rosin, and frankincense, four ounces each, melt them well together over a slow fire, then add the same weight of fresh lard, and strain it into your jar while warm; this ointment is of great use in cleansing and healing wounds and ulcers.

Chapped lips were apparently as common in Regency times as in our present day, and so there is a receipt for:
Put in a jar four ounces of white wax, one ounce of spermaceti, and half a pint of oil of sweet almonds, cover it close, and put it in a saucepan with as much water as will nearly reach the top of the jar, let it boil till the wax is melted (but observe, none of the water must boil over the jar,) then put in a small quantity of alkanet root tied up in a bag; close the jar again, and boil it till it becomes red; remove the alkanet root, and add a little essence of lemon, or bergamot; run it into your pots, and keep it for use.

For headaches, the following recommendation:
This unpleasant pain may be prevented by wearing the hair short, and by washing the head daily with cold water; then rub the hair dry, and expose it to the air.

Inflamed eyes have their own disagreeable remedies:
Leeches should be applied to the temples, and when the bleeding has ceased, a small blister may be applied, and a little opening medicine taken. Shaving the head, and bathing the feet in warm water, will in some cases, be found very beneficial.

A ‘fever drink’ might sound helpful with a rise in body temperature, but the efficacy of a simple fruit beverage seems questionable to contemporary eyes:
Boil three ounces of currants, two of raisins carefully stoned, and an ounce and a half of tamarinds, in three pints of water, till it is reduced to a quart, strain it, throw in a bit of lemon-peel, and let it stand an hour.
Refreshing yes, therapeutic—well, I don’t know.

Barley water, that staple of Regency novels, is I believe still in occasional use, but I was not familiar with its preparation. Here is the 1819 receipt:
Boil a quarter of a pound of pearl-barley in a gallen of water, till it is quite soft and white, then strain off the water, and add to it a little currant jelly, lemon or milk.
Wash a little common barley, and let it simmer in three or four pints of water with a little lemon-peel. This is prefereable to pearl-barley.

And so it continues--a hopeful panacea for every ailment. After reading the remedies in this two hundred year old book, I am more than content to rely on 21st century science. For once, I don’t at all wish to live during the Regency era.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Regency Education Part 1 - The Governess

"There is nobody in the house with whom I can be on equal terms"

So spoke Ellen Weeton in her 'Journal of a Governess' and more than anything else, her statement delineates the chief difficulty of the governess' position.

The education of young girls, while sometimes involving young ladies' academies and the like (which I will discuss in future posts), was in the main left in the hands of 'the governess'. The governess was always a woman of gentle birth, with an acceptable level of education, good manners and a knowledge of society and its workings. She was also generally in reduced circumstances, in need of earning her own living.

The working day, which the governess laid out, often followed a pattern such as was illustrated in the 1809 publication "Ellinor: or The Young Governess" by Mrs. C. Mathews. "The morning after Ellinor's arrival at Selby-Grove, she commenced her task as governess. From seven to eight, the hour when the children were accustomed to take their breakfast, she appropriated to reading; the intervening time between that and dinner, was to be given to the study of French, the needle, etc.; the afternoon was dedicated to music; and the evening to rational amusement, instructive conversation, and healthful exercise."

The work day was long but not invariably unpleasant. Governesses were not always treated with the scorn and derision that literature leads us to believe. Some were treated as members of their employers' families, some were loved by their pupils, some lived with the same family their entire working life and were provided with a pension of some sort for their retirement.

"After questionings, and doubts, and anxieties, you come to the determination to teach, and you inquire after a situation; and here, again, you must be patient….It is very trying for some ladies to receive into their hourses those whom they feel to be in a reduced position; and they naturally prefer ladies who have been educated for the work of teaching, and who have all along kept this in view….On your first situation, and what it is to you, and you to it, depend mainly the comfort and success of your future career." These wise words were written by Emily Peart in "A Book for Governesses" one of the many guides to the profession available in the 1800s.

The education governesses provided their students was variable. Some were born teachers, some were only competent, others were poor educators and worse disciplinarians. The education of most Regency girls depended on the wisdom and perspicacity of their parents in choosing their governess. The governess' career depended--as the above quote indicates--on her own acuity.

The greatest challenge of the governess' life was apparently loneliness. However well-treated by their employers, they were not family. Neither were they considered servants for they were better born and bred than the servant class. Neither fish nor fowl they languished in a social vacuum, filling their off duty hours as best they could.

There was another class of governess--the daily governess--which may be a slightly later-than-Regency development. I am still researching the governess who called in each day at her employers' residence to provide education and guidance and returned to her own home in the evening. You might want to read my short story "Arithmetic and the Daily Governess" for a romantic view of the profession. If anyone has information on the daily governess, I would be interested in resources.

There are two general books on which I rely for information about governesses though they discuss the Victorian period more than the Regency or Georgian:

"The Governess: An Anthology" ed by Trev Boughton and Ruth Symes, 1997 Sutton Publishing Limited 0-7509-1503-X

"Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres" by Ruth Brandon, 2008 Walker Publishing Company 0-8027-1630-X

For Regency information, the following book has come to my attention. I'm looking forward to reading it.

"A governess in the age of Jane Austen: the Journals and letters of Agnes Porter" ed. by Joanna Martin, 2003, Hambledon & London 1-8528-5164-3

Next time we discuss Regency Education, we'll look at young ladies' academies,

Till then,

Friday, August 14, 2009

Researching and Interviewing - A Checklist

I wrote this Checklist for my writers' group, Saskatchewan Romance Writers a couple of years ago. I thought, as I am on holiday, you might find it interesting. The checklist contains ideas for writers, but it also shows how I go about my Regency and other writing research. I'll be back live after the middle of August!

Til then,

Checklist for Research and Interviewing

- primary sources of information are always best to use, but they are not always available. Ensure that the secondary sources you use are reputable and reliable.

- a good rule of thumb: consult print materials first (to get you started), internet second (to refine and define), and then real, live people if possible.

- use non-traditional sources; travel agents, shop owners, relatives (!), your local health clinic's reading room or your lawyer's library. Think outside the box.

- don't forget interlibrary loan for hard to find materials; also library microfiche and microfilm holdings can be a valuable resource.

- provincial archives, land titles offices, city records and the library's local history room have a wealth of background material to use and dozens of stories waiting to be told.

- many authorities on many subjects are now accessible via email. Send them an inquiry. Most are pleased to help; the worst that can happen is nothing--no reply.

- your research will never be 'perfect'. You can only do your best and be prepared that some reader, somewhere, will find your mistakes--and tell you about them.

- don't hesitate to make use of an 'Author's Note' for any historical or setting detail that you may have changed from the true and real. It is valid occasionally to do so, but you should note your reasons.

Friday, August 7, 2009

An Interview!

I thought, as I am on holiday, you might be interested to read this interview which Awe-Struck E-Books did a couple of years ago.

Hope you enjoy it--I'll be back live the middle of August.

Enjoy summer!



Q: What made you start writing and when did you start?

A: I started writing when I was about eighteen. Prior to that, I had been told in school that I was a good writer, but it never occurred to me that I could write books! Then at eighteen I ran out of Regencies to read. I had found Georgette Heyer and read everything I could get my hands on by her, and when I could not locate any more, I thought 'hey, I'll write my own'! And I was on my way!

Q: Who are some of your favourite authors?

A: There are so many: Georgette Heyer first and foremost; other regency authors like Patricia Veryan, Carla Kelly, Carola Dunn, and Marian Devon; Dorothy Dunnett is remarkable for the depth and breadth of her history as well as her fascinating characters; Lindsey Davis for sheer historical fun and British writers of 'homey' fiction like Miss Read and Rebecca Shaw.

Q: What type of books do you write? Is there a reason you write (for instance) historical romance rather than science fiction?

A: I have written all genres of stories and books since I began -- science fiction, westerns, contemporaries, even TV episodes (if I wanted those characters to have a specific adventure). I am currently published only in Regency romance. It settled into my favourite genre to write and research about fifteen years ago. I have an extensive research library, and I think I will always write Regency. That said, I am going back to favourite genre, western historical romance in the near future, and try to get published in that field.

Q: How do you come up with the idea for a book? Once you have an idea, do you plot it out, fly by the seat of your pants, or what?

A: Sometimes a phrase or a word will trigger an idea. For example, my short story 'Comet Wine' grew out of those two words and the suggestion that someone had made what they called 'comet wine'. Most of my books have grown out of a question. 'Clemmie's Major' grew from the thought that there must have been some Regency families that were kind, loving and complete (contrary to what you might think if you read enough regency romances). 'The Rake's Reflection' started when I wondered what would happen if two people looked very much alike, but had no idea why. In the past I have flown by the seat of my pants in developing the idea and writing the book. Now I am trying a more structured method -- outline, careful plotting, etc. I think it has improved my pacing, but I still take off on tangents.

Q: Do you ever suffer from writer's block? Have you found any effective ways for dealing with it?

A: I have always found I can write something. It may not be the book I'm working on, but it might be a short story or the germ of an idea for the next book. My biggest problem is avoidance of writing. There are so many things that need to be done other than writing. And they are all so much easier than writing! Getting in the chair and doing it is always a challenge.

Q: Do you write related books, such as series that revisit characters and/or setting you've written about in previous books? As a reader, do you read other authors' series?

A: I have always enjoyed reading series. There is a special comfort in relaxing with characters you know in a place with which you have become familiar. Then you can also enjoy a new twist in a known environment, the continued acquaintance of 'people' you know.
But I have never considered writing a series!

Q: Out of all the characters you've created, which is your favourite, and why?

A: I think my favourite character is Rupert Manningford, Earl of Torgreave, the hero from 'The Rake's Reflection'. He is so tortured, poor man. But the reason I like him is that he had decided well before he met the heroine that he must reform. He was doing it for himself because he realized he was becoming someone he didn't like. He did all the hard work of transformation alone. I admire that.

Q: If you include love scenes in your books, are they difficult for you to write? How do you decide whether to include a love scene at that point in the book, and if so, how explicit to make it?

A: Because I write traditional Regencies, the emphasis is on sexual tension rather than sexual activity. Georgette Heyer will always be my muse for Regency writing and she managed to create wonderful stories and characters without describing their sexual exploits. However I am experimenting with western romances at the moment, and these are going to include love scenes. I know it's going to be interesting and challenging to convey the emotion, the joy and the sensation without going into mechanics. And I'm sure my characters will tell me when they are ready, and how far they want to go!