Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things I Love Thursday


What I love today--champagne, of course! And party dresses and noise makers. Have a lovely, and safe, New Year's, and I'll see you in 2010...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

This year Booker Prize winner. Almost finished with it now--what a fascinating, gorgeous style this book has. Being a big fan of Anne Boleyn, I've never been fond of Thomas Cromwell (obviously!), but I like this glimpse into his world...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Risky Tuesday


I'm over at the Riskies today, talking about favorite books of 2009! (And also bragging just a bit about reviews). Come over and let us know what were some of your faves...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Contest!


There's a contest going on over at Carolyn Jewel's blog! Comment on which you would rather have, an exquisite fashion sense or unerring timing, to win 2 books by---me! (and keep watching this blog for a contest next month to celebrate my January birthday)

Hottie Monday, Holmes Edition

I haven't actually seen Sherlock Holmes yet, but am hoping to this week! Have you see it? What did you think?




Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dress of the Decade


EW wants us to vote on the dress of the decade! They have some good pics--I have to agree with the choice of the green gown from Atonement. I adore that dress, and wish I could pull off something like it (though I know I couldn't!). What would be your choice?

Holiday Movie Fest

So, I have the next week off work (yay!), and will spend most of the time getting caught up on the WIP. But I also want to get caught up on movies. (I saw Young Victoria last week and loved it). What should I see next? Princess and the Frog? Avatar? Sherlock Holmes? If you've seen any of these and have an opinion, help me out! What would you recommend?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

I hope you've all had a wonderful holiday! Around here the weather was quite frightful--snow, ice, blowing blizzard conditions. I was stuck at my parents' house for a few days! But I had a wonderful time drinking Prosecco and watching the Say Yes to the Dress marathon on TLC, because nothing says Christmas like bitter family fights over over-priced white strapless dresses.

December 25 is also the birthday of this weekend's Heroine, Dorothy Wordsworth! She was born in Cockermouth, Cumberland in 1771. Her mother died early, and her father died in 1783, causing Dorothy and her 4 siblings (including her favorite brother poet William) to be farmed out to various relatives. Dorothy went alone to live with her aunt, Elizabeth Threlkeld, in West Yorkshire. She was able to reunite with William in Dorset in 1795, and in 1797/98 at Somerset, where they determined to live together as a family again, even if at first they had to live in poverty.

Dorothy was also a poet and a diarist, though she showed little interest in becoming famous like her brother. She wrote "I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an author, and give Wm. the Pleasure of it." She did almost publish an account of travels with her brother in Scotland in 1803, but it was not published until long after her death in 1874, as Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland.

She never married, and after her brother married in 1802, to Mary Hutchinson, Dorothy continued to live with them and help look after their children. She also continued to write and explore the nature she loved. She died in 1855 at the age of 83, after having been an invalid for many years. Her Grasmere Journal was spublished in 1897, a journal describing her daily life in the Lake District, the walks she and her brother would take in the country, and portraits of the literary figures they befriended such as Coleridge, Southey, Scott, and Charles Lamb. This Journal led to a re-examination of her role in the world of the Romantic poets and how vital she was to her brother's success (for instance, he often relied on her detailed accounts of the natural world when writing his poems, and borrowed freely from her journals).

Some great sources include:
Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Wives, Sisters, and Daughters of the Lakeland Poets (I love this book!)
Frances Wilson, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Life
John Worthen, The Gang

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Things I Love Thursday


What I love today--Christmas Eve! My family always has Indian tacos and my dad's "famous" margaritas (which definitely make the holidays bright!). I like having days off work, too. No work until January 4!!!

What are your Christmas Eve traditions?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Trivia


I found out yesterday, December 22, marks the day the first string of Christmas lights was created by Thomas Edison! (In 1882). With pre-lit trees now (which I LOVE), I don't have to wrestle with strings of lights too much, but I remember when I was a kid it took my dad hours to get them untangled (why did we not wind them neatly on something when we put them away the year before? Because that would make too much sense, of course!), wrapped properly around the tree, and then turned on (because there were always one or two burned out, natch). There was unhappiness and cursing, but in the end the tree looked beautiful. And I always got to put the angel on the top!

Ahhh, memories. :)

Just a half day of work today, then I am off until after New Year's! Going to see The Young Victoria tonight, I'm so excited.....

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hottie Monday, Holiday Movie Edition

Every year around this time I get together with a couple of friends for some cocktails, some cookies, and a viewing of Love Actually! (This year we're adding The Holiday, just to make it last longer and give us more handsome actors to ogle!). This is one of my favorite holiday traditions! What are some of your best-loved holiday films?









Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Countess" Winner!

The winner of the ARC of Countess of Scandal is....Librarypat! Please contact me at laurelmckee7551@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

Our heroine of the weekend is Marie-Therese Charlotte, Madame Royale, duchesse d'Angouleme, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI! She was born on December 19, 1778 at Versailles, the first child of the royal couple after 7 years of marriage (so there was a tremendous amount of anticipation around her birth!). It was the custom at Versailles for royal births to be in public, with the privileged members of the Court invited into the Queen's chamber. On December 19, the room was so packed with observers, and the birth was so arduous and lengthy, that Marie Antoinette fainted with suffocation and blood loss. A window had to be torn out so she could get a little fresh air and be revived. Thereafter, the births of royal children took place in greater privacy. The baby was named after the Queen's mother, the Austrian Empress, and given the official title Madame Royale. Her family nicknamed her Mousseline (Muslin), for her pretty, blonde appearance.

It's said that, despite the courtiers disappointment with the baby's gender, the Queen was delighted and declared, "Poor little girl; you are not what they wanted, but we will love you nonetheless. A son would have belonged to France; you shall be mine and have all my care. You shall share in my happiness and soften my sorrows." Marie-Therese was with her mother almost until the very end.

The new princess's household was led by a governess, comtesse de Rohan, was after her husband's disgrace was replaced by Marie Antoinette's friend the scandalous duchesse de Polignac. Her father was indulgent and affectionate, while her mother was stricter and determined her daughter would be a kind and compassionate child (she sometimes invited children from poor backgrounds to meet the princess, and encouraged her children to give their toys and alms to the poor). Eventually Marie-Therese had 2 brothers, Louis-Joseph-Xavier-Francois (b. 1781) and Louis-Charles (b. 1785), and a short-lived sister Sophie-Helene (b. 1786).

Her childhood at Versailles with her family and the Court was idyllic, full of ceremony and etiquette but also a great deal of freedom at her mother's Trianon (where she had her own little garden), but France was sliding into disaster. Terrible winters and bad harvests, along with a crippling budgetv deficit, led to immense suffering and hatred toward the ruling classes (especially the much-maligned and slandered Queen, accused in nasty pamphlets of spending the country into bankruptcy as well as sexual depravity). Not only the lower classes hated Marie Antoinette, but so did some factions at Court (many of which always resented the marriage of the Dauphin to an Austrian). As the country moved closer to the abyss, Marie-Therese was most affected by the deaths of two of her siblings, little Sophie and the Dauphin Louis-Joseph (in June 1789).

The Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, as the Court mourned the little Dauphin. Her uncles and great-aunts fled Versailles, along with Marie-Therese's governess, Polignac (who was deeply unpopular). Her new governess was the stern but effective marquise de Tourzel, whose daughter Pauline was to be Marie-Therese's lifelong friend. On October 5, Versailles itself was besieged by a mob intent on finding bread (and maybe murdering the Queen). Many of the royal guard was murdered, and Marie Antoinette, after fleeing with her children through the back passages of the palace, had to face some tense moments on the balcony facing the mob. The family was forced to move to the run-down Tuileries Palace in Paris where life steadily grew more uncomfortable and dangerous, until the ill-fated flight to Varennes in 1792. After this, they were locked away in the Temple Prison. A sort of routine was established by the little family, with reading, sewing, and lessons for Marie-Therese by her mother and her aunt Madame Elisabeth.

On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI, her beloved father, was executed. A few months later, in July, guards forcibly seized her little brother from the family's apartments and was horribly mistreated, left alone for days, tortured, and forced to speak against his mother and aunt (he later died in prison). After a few weeks of this agony, listening to her child cry, Marie Antoinette was taken away to the Conciergerie prison after kissing her daughter and giving her in Elisabeth's care. They would not see each other again. The Queen was executed on October 16; Elisabeth on May 9, 1794. During most of the remainder of Marie-Therese's imprisonment, she was left entirely alone and not told what happened to her family.

One the wall of her prison she wrote, Marie-Therese-Charlotte est la plus malheureuse personne du monde. Elle ne peut obtenir de savoir des nouvelles de sa mere, pas meme d'etre reunie a elle quoiqu'elle l'ait demande mille fois. Vive ma bonne mere que j'aime bien et dont je ne peux savoir de nouvelles. O mon pere, veillez sur moi du haut du Ciel. O mon Dieu, pardonnez a ceux qui ont fait souffrir mes parents. "Marie-Therese is the most unhappy creatire in the world. She can obtain no news of her mother; nor be reunited to her, though she has asked it a thousand times. Live, my good mother whom I love well, but of whom I can hear no tidings. O my father! Watch over me from heaven above. O my God! Forgive those who have made my family die."

Marie-Therese left her prison on December 18, 1795, the day before her 17th birthday, in a prisoner exchange with Austria. She arrived in Vienna at the court of her cousin, Emperor Francis II, on January 9, 1796. She later left Vienna to live at Mitau in Courland (now Latvia), to join her father's eldest surviving brother, comte de Provence, now Louis XVIII of France. He arranged for her to marry his nephew (her cousin) Louis-Antoine, duc d'Angouleme. He was a shy, slow young man, one his father, comte d'Artois, considered something of an embarrasment, but Marie-Therese seemed happy enough to marry him and bind her family closer together. They married at Jelgava Palace in 1799, but never had any children.

Soon after the French royal family moved to England and settled in Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, the court in exile (though her father-in-law spent most of his time in his apartment in Holyrood House in Edinburgh). They returned to France at last when Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and Louis XVIII took the throne (21 years after the death of Louis XVI). On January 21, 1815, the remains of Marie-Therese's parents were exhumed from the hasty graves at Madeleine cemetery and laid to rest at Saint-Denis. Meanwhile, while happy to be "home" at long last, Marie-Therese was also emotionally exhausted from dealing with Frenchmen who may have supported Napoleon or even the Revolution, and fending off demands from people claiming to be her long-lost brother (she never met with any of them).

In 1815, Napoleon returned, and the King fled France once again. Marie-Therese, who often went on tours of the country to see the people, was in Bordeaux at the time and tried to rally the troops to no avail. At first she refused to leave, despite Napoleon's orders for her arrest when his army arrived, but she finally agreed to leave to spare Bordeaux destruction and chaos. Napoleon then remarked she was "the only man in her family." After Waterloo, the royal family was restored yet again and they returned to France.

In February 1820, the comte d'Artois's younger son, the dashing duc de Berry, was assasinated. His son was born to the duchesse a few months later (this child would later be the comte de Chambord, pretender to the throne). Louis XVIII died in 1824 and was succeeded by the comte d'Artois as Charles X. Marie-Therese's husband was now heir to the throne, and she was Madame la Dauphine. This didn't last long, though; conservative, arch-monarchist Charles X was very unpopular, and in the Revolution on July 1830 (which lasted 3 weeks) he abdicated in favor of his son, who abdicated in favor of his nephew, but it was Louis-Phillipe duc d'Orleans who became King.

On August 4, Marie-Therese went into exile again and forever, sailing for Britain with her husband, uncle, her little nephew and his mother, and his sister Princess Louise-Marie-Therese (who would grow up like a daughter to her). They lived in Edinburgh, followed by Schloss-Hradschin in Austria. Charles X died in Italy in 1836, nursed by his niece. Her husband followed in 1844, and Marie-Therese went to live outside Vienna at the Schloss Frohsdorf, where she looked after her niece and nephew, walked, read, sewed, prayed, and had quiet parties, finding a measure of peace in a tumultuous life. She died October 19, 1851 or pneumonia and was buried next to her uncle and husband at the Franciscan Monastery church of Kostanjevica in Gortz. (Her gravestone calls her the Queen Dowager of France, in honor of her husband's 20-minute rule).

Two good biographies are:
Susan Nagel, Marie Therese, Child of Terror (2008)
Alice Curtis Desmond, Marie Antoinette's Daughter (1967)
Marie-Therese also wrote her own memoirs, Duchess of Angouleme's Memoirs on the Captivity in the Temple and Memoir on the Flight to Varennes

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poetry Friday


Once in while, I'm going to alternate Portrait Fridays with Poetry Fridays (depending on how I'm inspired that week!). A couple week's ago, our Heroine of the Weekend was Christina Rossetti, and I mentioned how much I love the carol set by Gustav Holst, using her lovely, melancholy poem In the bleak midwinter. I thought I'd love to share it with everyone, since Christmas is next week...



In the Bleak Midwinter
, Christina Georgina Rossetti

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

What I love this Thursday--The Christmas Story, my all-time favorite Christmas movie! Who can resist Ralphie and his impassioned quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, despite all obstacles (bullies, leg lamps, frozen lamp posts, bogus decoder pins, etc). My whole family loves this movie, and every year around this time my dad cooks meatloaf and red cabbage and we have a viewing party. I look forward to this all year!




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Birthdays!

So, yesterday I couldn't seem to count. It was the 15th, and today is the 16th, so that means today is the last day to win a Countess of Scandal ARC! Visit my website to find out how...

Today is also a great one for birthdays.

Margaret Mead (b. 1901)

Beethoven (b. 1770)

Katherine of Aragon (b. 1485)

Jane Austen (b. 1775)

And my mom! (b. ????)

Happy Birthday to all! Now I have to go gift-shopping...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Last Day For Contest(s)!


Don't forget--today is the last day to enter my contest to win an ARC of my first Laurel McKee book, Countess of Scandal!

And all week at Risky Regencies we are giving away prizes in honor of Jane Austen's birthday, December 16! There are contests all around...

Tuesday Funny

Speaking of Henry VIII--how hilarious are these Henry 8.0 videos from the BBC???

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hottie Monday, The Tudors

I once watched a few episodes of The Tudors, and had such high hopes for that show. After all, it really seemed like the sort of thing I should love. Elaborate costumes! Castles! Sex and violence! Jonathan Rhys Meyers, way sexy but possibly the least Henry VIIIish actor I can think of! Despite its, shall we say, wildly fanciful way with historical fact, it seemed to have everything I need in an entertainment experience. (Disclaimer: I'm not generally bothered by lack of strict accuracy in historical movies or novels--they are, after all, not documentaries and biographies, but meant to tell a good story. That's why I loved the first Elizabeth movie, and did not like at all Elizabeth: The Golden Age)

Alas, I was bored by The Tudors, despite all the costumes, sex, jousting, etc, and I couldn't figure out why. I gave up and haven't watched it since. Then last week I decided, thanks to Netflix, to try again. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood back then. I was a bit less bored this time, but that was mostly thanks to the wonders of Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon. I definitely think he will be useful for inspiration for a future Renaissance story! But I'm not sure I will continue on with the show. Anyone have any opinions???






Saturday, December 12, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

Our heroine this weekend is author Mary Astell, sometimes called "the first English feminist." (Some sources quote her birthdate as being December 12, 1666 and some say November--we're going to go with December!)

Not a great deal is known about Astell's life. According to Ruth Perry's bio, The Celebrated Mary Astell: An Early English Feminist (University of Chicago Press, 1986), "as a woman she had little or no business in the world of commerce, politics or law. She was born; she died; she owned a small house for some years; she kept a bank account; she helped to open a charity school in Chelsea." Only four of her letters still exist, yet she is still considered an important early advocate of women's education and independence.

She was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1666 to Peter and Mary Astell, who had two sons as well, one of which died in infancy and the other her younger brother Peter Junior. They were comfortably upper-middle-class (if there can be said to be such a thing at the time!), her father a conservative Royalist and devout Anglican who managed a coal company. Mary received most of her early education from her uncle, an ex-clergyman who wa suspended from the Church for drunkeness. Her father died when she was 12, leaving the family in financial straits, and Mary and her mother moved in with her aunt.

When the mother and aunt died in 1688, Astell moved to London and met with a circle of literary and intellectual ladies who all lived in the Chelsea area (such as Judith Drake, Lady Mary Chudleigh, Elizabeth Thomas, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu), who encouraged her in her writing. She was also friends with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, well known for his charitable works. He helped her financially and introduced her to a publisher. Her 2 best-known works were A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest (1694) and A Serious Proposal, Part II (1697) dicuss her plan to establish a new kind of school for women, to assist them in achieving both secular and religious education. She discussed her hopes that all women should have the same opportunity as men to "spend eternity with God" and thus they needed to be educated to understand their experiences and beliefs. "If all Men are born free," she wrote, "why are all Women born slaves?"

Astell died May 11, 1731, after a mastectomy to remove a cancerous right breast. She refused in her final days to see anyone, staying alone in her dark room with her coffin to commune with God (or something like that).

A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is available in an edition from the Broadview Press. A few other sources are:
Christine Sutherland, The Eloquence of Mary Astell (2005)
Ed. William Kolbrener and Michael Michelson, Mary Astell: Reason, Gender, Faith (2007)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Portrait Friday


Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day is tomorrow! (See more information here)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

What I love today--The Nutcracker! It was my first introduction to ballet performance when I was very small (about 4 the first time I saw it). My mother and aunt took me every year, and I looked forward to it so eagerly. Even now, just hearing those first opening notes gives me a Christmas thrill! I love going and seeing the girls in their beautiful party dresses, just as excited as I was, dreaming of being the Sugar Plum Fairy in her sparkly pink tutu.

Surprisingly, considering how prevalent it is now (and how many dance companies hang their finances on the holiday performances!) it was not a hit when it premiered in 1891. Tschaikovsky, who had just had a big hit with his score for The Sleeping Beauty, was commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theater at the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, Ivan Vsevoloznsky, to set the score for a new adaptation of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by ETA Hoffmann. The plot of the poem is much more elaborate than that of the ballet, which is divided into two acts (the Christmas party at Clara's home, where she's gifted with a nutcracker by her godfather and later dreams the gift comes to life; and the Land of Sweets, a pretty much plotless stretch where various snowflakes and candies dance for Clara).

The ballet was to have its premier in December 1892, and before this Tschaikovsky selected 8 of the pieces from the ballet to present in concert form. The suite, first performed on March 19, 1892 before the St. Petersburg Musical Society, was better received than the ballet and became instantly popular. (The ballet didn't reach its current pinnacle of success until the 1950s). Tschaikovsky himself did not care for the music as much as he did for Sleeping Beauty and was initially reluctant to take on the task, though he did warm to it eventually.

The first performance was a double bill with the opera Iolanta, on December 18, 1892 at the Mariinsky Theater. There is some dispute whether Ivanov or Petipa was the original choreographer. It was conducted by Ricardo Drigo, with Antoinetta Dell-Eva as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Pavel Gerdt as the Prince. A shortened version was first performed outside Russia in Budapest in 1927. The first complete version was in England in 1934, staged by Nicolas Sergeyev after Petipa. The first US production was in New York with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (another shortened version), followed by a complete production by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Balanchine's staging of The Nutcracker began in 1954, and is going strong to this day.

Do you have any childhood memories of the ballet? What's your favorite part? (I do love the Waltz of the Flowers, but I also adore the strangely melancholy Grand pas de deux)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Evviva il coltellino!"

I recently bought Cecilia Bartoli's new CD, Sacrificium, about the art of the castrato (young male singers castrated in childhood to preserve their beautiful, pre-breaking voices; ecstatic audiences would call out "Evviva il coltellino!" at their curtain calls--"Long live the little knife!" Ugh). According to the excellent liner notes, most of the poor young men did not find fame and fortune, but ended up in a Church choir or as a monk (or the less fortunate as beggars). But a few were the pinnacle of celebrity, sought-after, acclaimed, and very wealthy. Was it worth it? Only they could say, I guess.

Today is the birthday of one of those who found success, Baldassare Ferri (December 9, 1610--September 10, 1680), an Italian castrato said to have "extraordinary endurance of breath, flexibility of voice, and depth of emotion." He was born at Perugia to a poor family (almost all these boys came from poor, desperate rural families). It's not known how he was discovered or when the surgery was performed, but by age 11 was a chorister to Cardinal Crescenzo at Orvieto. He remained in the cardinal's service until 1650. Four years later Wladislaus IV of Poland (then a prince) secured Ferri's services for the court of Sigismund III in Warsaw; by 1655 he was at the most prestigious Imperial court at Vienna.

He received many honors and accolades from royalty all over Europe. In 1643 he was made a knight of St. Mark in Venice; in 1654, he sang before Queen Christina of Sweden. Five years before his death he retired and returned to Italy, dying an extremely rich and respected man who left most of his fortune to charity.

Have you seen the movie Farinelli (about another famous castrato) or read The Devil in Music, the last of Kate Ross's wonderful Julian Kestrel mysteries, which featured a castrato singer as a suspect?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mary Queen of Scots

December 8 marks the birthday in 1542 of Mary, Queen of Scots! (Which would make her, er, 467 years old). Her beginning didn't really augur well--she was born at Stirling Castle in the middle of a fierce winter storm to Queen Marie de Guise, while her father, King James V, lay dying at Linlithgow Palace. She was a weak baby, not really expected to live, but she soon began to thrive. When her father died she became Queen at 6 days old. She was crowned at Stirling in September, not even able to sit upright on her new throne, and at age 5 (after years of dangerous civil war) her mother sent her to be raised in France as the betrothed of the Dauphin. She would not return to Scotland until she was a grown-up young widow--and we all know how that turned out...

And if it's Tuesday, I must be over at the Riskies! Join me there as I talk about the actress Eliza Poe (mother of Edgar).