Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

This weekend we're going to do something a little different with our Heroine! This week marks the anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, in 1813. It's been giving enormous pleasure for 197 years now (and looks no older than 20!) . To mark the occasion, and give thanks for this marvelous book, a few favorite quotes:

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit"

"'He likes to have his own way very well,'...but so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor"

"I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can"

"To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love"

"I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!"

"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other, or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least"

"You could not have made me the offer of your hand in any possible way that would have tempted me to accept it"

What is your favorite Austen quote?

And be sure join us over the Riskies today, as we launch my new book Countess of Scandal (complete with giveaways!)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Poetry Friday

To celebrate the release of my first Laurel McKee book, Countess of Scandal, with its Irish setting, I'm going to feature Irish poem and paintings all this month (and Irish Heroines of the Weekend, starting next Saturday!). This Yeats' poem is one of my very favorites....

When You Are Old

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Things I Love Thursday

What I love this week--ice skating! The Winter Olympics are coming up in a couple of weeks, and the US Championships just finished, so I'm looking forward to plenty of sparkly costumes, strange music, and amazing athleticism. Yay! (I especially love ice dancing--they're far more likely to have costumes and routines that are just absolutely freakin' crazy than the others--though the men are no slouches in that department, either...)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hester Thrale, Muse Extraordinaire

Today, January 27, marks the birthday of Hester Thrale Piozzi in 1741! Thrale was best known as a diarist/writer and patron of the arts, especially in her friendship with Samuel Johnson. She's an excellent source of information for life in 18th century England.

She was born at Bodvel Hall in Wales to wealthy parents of an old Welsh family (said to be descended from Katheryn of Berain). But her father went bankrupt in ill-fated investments, and in October 1763 she married a bit beneath her, to rich brewer Henry Thrale. They lived at the fine house of Streatham Park and had 12 children (the eldest, Hester, married "up" and became a viscountess). Despite the fact that the marriage was not a particularly happy one, it gave her the freedom and money to enter London society and associate with the artistic, intellectual circles she loved. She became friends with Johnson and Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, Fanny Burney (who she traveled with to Bath), Bishop Thomas Percy, and many other literary figures. Her home was a magnet to people like this.

Her husband died in April 1781, and she went on to marry in 1784 (rather scandalously!) the Italian music teacher Gabriel Mario Piozzi, which caused a rift with her dear friend Johnson (only mended shortly before he died) and earned the disapproval of Burney (who ironically later went on to marry the impoverished French Catholic emigre Alexander D'Arblay! Pot=Kettle). With her second husband Hester went to live at Brynbella, a specially-built country house in Wales.

After her friend Johnson died, she published her Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and a volume of her letters. Along with her diaries (the total collection called "Thraliana" by scholars of the period!), she gave a more complete view of Johnson than Boswell's famous Life. She died in Bristol on May 2, 1821 and was buried in the churchyard of Corpus Christi Church near her beloved Brynbella. A plaque in the church reads "Dr. Johnson's Mrs. Thrale. Witty, Vivacious, and Charming, in an age of Genius She held ever a foremost Place."

A few interesting sources on her life (besides the info that can be found in various Johnson bios):
A chapter on her in The Lives of the Muses, Francine Prose
Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Johnson's "Dear Mistress", Ian McIntyre
And a great novel, Beryl Bainbridge's According to Queeney

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Risky Tuesday

Over at the Riskies today, talking about book launches, Emma, opera, and lots more! (including this brand-new cover from my December release, Duchess of Sin...)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Emma" Tonight!

The new Emma is finally on PBS tonight, yay! I can't wait--I love Romola Garai. Has anyone seen this yet? What did you think? (See the NY Times review here)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

"Somewhere in every one of us, no matter how deep it may be hidden, is a latent germ of beauty...We dance because this germ of beauty demands such expression, and the more we give it outlet the more we encourage our own instinct for graceful forms. It is by the steady elimination of everything which is ugly--thoughts and words no less than tangible objects--and by the substitution of things of true and lasting beauty that the whole progress of humanity proceeds." --Anna Pavlova

When I was younger, I was very into ballet! Classes every week, attending performances whenever I could, all of that. I still love the art form very dearly. One of my favorite heroines of those days was Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova--and now she our Heroine of the Weekend here at the blog, on the anniversary of her death (January 23, 1931).

Pavlova was born prematurely on February 12, 1881 in Ligovo, a suburb of St. Petersburg, to a poor laundress named Lyubov Pavlova (the identity of her father is now known; Anna later claimed he died when she was 2, while the St Petersburg Gazette said in 1913 that her father was a banker named Poliakov, and her mother's second husband Matvey Pavlov adopted her when she was 3). Her passion for ballet was born early when her mother took her as a special treat to see The Sleeping Beauty at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater. When she was 8 she was taken to audition for the famous Imperial Ballet School; she was first rejected due to her "sickly" physique (skinny, with long, thin limbs--now the standard for ballerinas), but was accepted at the age of 10. She made her debut as a cupid in A Fairy Tale, which Petipa staged for the students of the school.

Her student years were not easy, as the rigorous technique of the Russian method did not come easily to her. The standard for ballerinas of the day was a small, strong, muscled, compact body, while Anna had very arched feet, thin ankles and wrists, and long legs. Other students called her "The broom." But she was hugely determined to succeed, taking extra classes and working long, hard hours every day. She found champions in the famed teachers Gerdt, Legat, and Ekaterina Vazem. The work paid off in her final year at the school, where she took on solo roles, and on graduation in 1899 at age 18 she entered the Imperial Ballet company as a coryphee (a rank ahead of the corps). She debuted with the company in a variation in The False Dryads, which gained glowing notices from the hard-to-please critics.

The public (and St. Petersburg was very picky when it came to their ballet!) was not sure about her style at first. The Russian style was rigorous when it came to technique, and Anna often ignored the academic rules, with poor turnout, bent knees, and incorrectly placed port de bras and turns. Her weak ankles caused her troubles, especially when she tried to emulate the athletic prima ballerinas of the day. Her style was more an old-school romantic one. Her teacher Pavel Gerdt told her "You must realize that your daintiness and fargility are your greatest assets! You should always do the kind of dancing which brings out your rare qualities instead of trying to win parise by mere acrobatic tricks." Once she did this, critic Nicolai Bezobrazov declared praise for her "natural ballon, lingering arabesques, and frail femininty," and the public were won over.

Pavlova continued to work on improving her technique, ordering specially designed pointe shoes reinforced with hard wood on the soles and the curve of the box. This is much closer to the design of modern shoes, which make pointe work less painful and much easier on curved arches.

She rose through the ranks quickly, with lead roles in Petipa ballets such as Paquita, Giselle, and Le Roi Candaule. After a great triumph in Giselle in 1906 she became a prima ballerina, followed everywhere by her legions of fans, called Pavlovatzi. When the prima ballerina assoluta (aka head girl) of the Imperial Ballet, Mathilde Kschessinska (a former mistress of Tsar Nicholas II) became pregnant, she personally coached Pavlova to take over her role of Nikiya in La Bayadere. She had an ulterior motive; she was sure Pavlova would fail in the role and her place would remain preminent in St. Petersburg. This backfired when audiences adored Pavlova, and considered that her frail, delicate look suited the ballet perfectly.

Eventually Pavlova left Russia and went on tour around the world, in search of new audiences and new challenges. She worked with Diaghilev in the early years of the Ballet Russes, but they parted ways as his company became more avant-garde (she turned down the part in Thje Firebird because she did not care for Stravinsky's modern score). She prefered a more traditional style, and by the mid-1900s had formed her own company and took it on tour around the world. Her signature dance was The Dying Swan, choreographed for her by Fokine in 1905 and set to music by Saint-Saens. She made her home in thse years in England, at a home called Ivy House in the Golders Green section of London (now the London Jewish Cultural Center), where she lived with students, company members, and Victor Dandre, her manager, companion, and maybe husband (she never said for sure).

In 1931, while touring in The Hague, Pavlova was told she had dangeroue pleurisy and required an immediate operation, but she was also told she could never dance again if she had this surgery. She replied, "If I cannot dance, I would rather be dead." She died three weeks later, at the age of almost 50. She was cremated and after a memorial service at the Russian Orthodox Church in London her ashes were placed in a niche at Golders Green Crematorium, her urn adorned with a pair of her ballet shoes.

A few good sources:
Pavlova, Portrait of a Dancer, introduction by Margot Fonteyn (this is out-of-print, but it's a gorgeous book with many lovely illustrations)
Anna Pavlova, Keith Money
Anna Pavlova in Art and Life, Victor Dandre

Friday, January 22, 2010

Poetry Friday

Happy birthday (this week) to Edgar Allan Poe!

The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"- here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!" -
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never - nevermore'."

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore:
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend," I shrieked, upstarting -
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Things I Love Thursday

What I love today--archaeology! Like this story that came out this week about the discovery of the tomb of Princess Eadgyth, the oldest remains found of an English princess (granddaughter of Alfred the Great, she died in 946). I love stuff like this. In college, I flirted with the idea of studying archaeology (even took a couple entry-level classes) because of my love of antiquities and ancient history, but ended up using that in writing instead. Still, I'm a fan. :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Today (January 17) is the last day at the V&A to see their lavish Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts (which I've heard is stupendous). They have lots of great-sounding things coming up, as well. Grace Kelly: Fashion Icon opening April 17, Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill on March 6, and Serge Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russe on September 25, as well as a big exhibit on the Aesthetic Movement in 2011.

Sigh. I often wish I had a private plane on-demand, to take me to these fabulous museums around the world!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

Our Heroine this weekend is Alva Erskine Smith Belmont, born on January 17, 1853! She was best-known for being really, really rich and building enormous houses (see Marble House in Newport!), but more importantly she was a major figure in the women's suffrage movement in America.

Alva was born in Mobile, Alabama to Murray Forbes Smith and his wife Phoebe, a moderately wealthy couple of impeccable lineage (Phoebe's father, Robert Desha, was a former US Representative and a general in the War of 1812). The youngest of 4 children, her two older sisters died before she was born, and her brother died in 1857, leaving her an only child. Her parents summered in Newport, Rhode Island and took lots of European vacations, eventually settling in New York City after their son's death. Alva and her mother moved to Paris when her father had to go to Liverpool for his business (who would stay in Liverpool when they could go to Paris??), where Alva attended private boarding school and absorbed the culture of Europe.

After the Civil War, the family returned to New York where Phoebe died in 1869. At a party for one of William Henry Vanderbilt's daughters, Alva's best friend Consuelo Iznaga introduced her to a Vanderbilt grandson, William Kissan Vanderbilt, and they were married soon after on April 20, 1875 at Calvary Church. Her father, whose business had suffered reverses along with his health, died soon after.

Three children were born to the marriage, Consuelo in 1877, William Kissam II in 1878, and Harold in 1884. Consuelo proved to be an exotic beauty, and Alva (extremely socially ambitious) manuevered her into marrying the Duke of Marlborough when she was only 18 years old (ironic, considering her later fight for women's rights). The marriage was annulled in 1926, when Alva testified that she forced her daughter into the union, and Consuelo went on to marry French pilot Jacques Belsan. William Kissam II became president of the New York Central Railroad Company after his father, as did Harold later on.

Soon after Alva's marriage, she hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to build an immense French chateau-style house at 660 Fifth Avenue, and later on a retreat called Idlehour on Long Island, which was added to for years. In 1891 he was hired to design the fantabulous Marble House in Newport, Alva's "summer cottage" meant to outdo her in-laws' places. This wasn't the only volley in her campaign to make the Vanderbilts as socially prominent as they were rich. Snubbed by Caroline Astor of "The 400" fame, Alva planned a masquerade ball in her Fifth Avenue chateau that would cost $3 million. After Mrs. Astor's daughter pitched a fit about not being invited, she was forced to call and thus give her approval to the upstart Vanderbilts. When she couldn't procure a box at the Academy of Music, she founded the Metropolitan Opera Association at the Metropolitan Opera House. Marble House was built next door to Mrs. Astor's comparatively puny Beechwood.

In 1895, Alva shocked society again, this time with the unheard-of--a divorce. She received several of the properties as well as a rumored $10 million (the grounds were her husband's adulteries, but some speculated he hired a woman to pretend to have an affair with him so Alva would divorce him...). In 1896 she married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, 5 years her junior and an old family friend (he even sometimes went on vacations with the Vanderbilts aboard their yacht the Alva). This gave her all-new architectural opportunities with renovations to their 60-room Newport mansion Belcourt and another Long Island estate, Brookholt. Oliver died in 1908, and Alva found a new passion--women's rights.

Recruited into the suffrage movement by her friend Anna Shaw (president of the National Women's Suffrage Association), Alva donated immense sums to the cause both in the US and England, founded the Political Equity League, and wrote articles for newspapers. She gave support to the strikers in New York's shirtwaist makers walk-out in 1909-10, paid the bail of picketers who were arrested, and planned a huge rally at the Hippodrome as well as paying for NAWSA's offices in New York. At Marble House in the summer of 1914 she held a "Conference of Great Women," where her daughter Consuelo (active in the cause in England) gave the speech, and she served on the executive committee of Alice Paul's Congressional Union for Women Suffrage from 1914-1916. She was later elected president of the National Woman's Party, which she held until her death (and helped them organize the first picketing at the White House).

From the 1920s on, she lived in France to be near her daughter Consuelo, with whom she had mended old wounds and formed a strong relationship, and resided in the Chateau d'Augerville La Riviere which she restored. But she didn't slow down--she formed with Paul the International Advisory Council of the National Woman's Party. She suffered a stroke in 1932 and died in Paris on January 26, 1933. Her funeral at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York had all-female pallbearers and large contingents of suffragists. She was buried next to Belmont at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Some sources:
Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age
Clarice Stasz, The Vanderbilt Women: Dynasty of Wealth, Glamour, and Tragedy

Friday, January 15, 2010

Poetry Friday

For today's Poetry Friday--Rimbaud's beautiful Ophelia, translated by Oliver Bernard.


On the calm black water where the stars are sleeping
White Ophelia floats like a great lily;
Floats very slowly, lying in her long veils...
- In the far-off woods you can hear them sound the mort.

For more than a thousand years sad Ophelia
Has passed, a white phantom, down the long black river.
For more than a thousand years her sweet madness
Has murmured its ballad to the evening breeze.

The wind kisses her breasts and unfolds in a wreath
Her great veils rising and falling with the waters;
The shivering willows weep on her shoulder,
The rushes lean over her wide, dreaming brow.

The ruffled water-lilies are sighing around her;
At times she rouses, in a slumbering alder,
Some nest from which escapes a small rustle of wings;
- A mysterious anthem falls from the golden stars.


O pale Ophelia! beautiful as snow!
Yes child, you died, carried off by a river!
- It was the winds descending from the great mountains of Norway
That spoke to you in low voices of better freedom.

It was a breath of wind, that, twisting your great hair,
Brought strange rumors to your dreaming mind;
It was your heart listening to the song of Nature
In the groans of the tree and the sighs of the nights;

It was the voice of mad seas, the great roar,
That shattered your child's heart, too human and too soft;
It was a handsome pale knight, a poor madman
Who one April morning sate mute at your knees!

Heaven! Love! Freedom! What a dream, oh poor crazed Girl!
You melted to him as snow does to a fire;
Your great visions strangled your words
- And fearful Infinity terrified your blue eye!


- And the poet says that by starlight
You come seeking, in the night, the flowers that you picked
And that he has seen on the water, lying in her long veils
White Ophelia floating, like a great lily.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Like most people, I've been heartbroken over the terrible images coming out of Haiti this week. You can contribute to the wonderful work Doctors Without Borders is doing here...

Things I Love Thursday

What I love this week--birthdays! And mine is tomorrow. (Well, let's say I partially love birthdays. I don't love the "getting older" part. I do love the cake and presents part. Maybe I should ask for botox instead of books this year???)

How do you celebrate birthdays?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At Word Wenches Today!

Over at Word Wenches today, talking about Countess of Scandal and giving away a copy! Come and chat with us...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blog Will Be Back Shortly!

Sorry for no new posts, and especially no Hottie Monday! Illness has hit my house in the form of a stomach bug, and I'm not quite 100% yet. (the meds aren't bad, though!). Look for regularly scheduled posts beginning later this week. In the meantime, Laurel McKee got another early review here!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blog Visit Sunday

Over at Romantic Crush Junkies today, with a Countess of Scandal giveaway! Come chat with me over there...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend, Scientific Edition

For this week's Heroine of the Weekend, we'll look at TWO women, both scientists, who happened to both live in the 18th century and both die on January 9 49 years apart--Maria Gaetana Agnesi and Caroline Herschel.

Maria Agnesi was actually more of a mathematician than scientist, having written the first book discussing both differential and integral calculus. She was also a linguist and philosopher, an honorary member of the faculty at the University of Bologna. Dirk Jan Struik called her "the first important woman mathematician since Hypatia." She was born in Milan on March 16, 1718 and recognized very early on as a child prodigy. By age 5 she could speak French and Italian; by 11 Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German, and Latin. She also taught these languages to her younger brothers. At age 9, she composed and delivered a speech in Latin to an academic gathering on the subject of a woman's right to be educated. When she was 15, her father began gathering regular salons so she could read and discuss philosophical questions (but Maria herself was quite shy, and asked that these gatherings stop by the time she was 18 and she wanted to enter a convent). Her father refused her wish to take the veil, but did allow her to live at home in quiet semi-retirement so she could devote herself to her studies, mostly mathematics by this time. (She also educated most of her father's 21 children by 3 wives).

Her best-known work is Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventu italiana, published in Milan in 1748. It analyzes finite quantities and infinitesimals. (Don't ask me to explain this at all--my mathematical knowledge ends with the 10s time tables. So of course I am terribly impressed by Agnesi's genius!). In 1750, when her father became ill, she was appointed by the Pope himself to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Bologna, the first woman appointed professor at the university. When her father died in 1752, she also devoted herself to the study of theology and to charity, especially in the post of directress of the Hospice Trivulzio for Blue Nuns in Milan. Eventually she herself joined the order, and died on January 9, 1799. A crater on Venus is named for her.

(And I must think Agnesi for saving my behind in my college algebra class! I was able to get enough extra credit by writing a paper on her life and work that I saved my grade and got my degree!)

Our second lady of science today is Caroline Herschel, an astronomer best known for discovering several comets (especially the 35P/Herschel-Rigollet), and for being the sister/assistant of Sir Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel. She was born in Hanover on March 16, 1750, the 4th of 5 children (at that time George II wore the crowns of England and Hanover, so Hanoverians were also British citizens). Caroline was treated as a servant in her own family's house, her obvious intelligence ignored and ridiculed, and so she jumped at the chance to join Wilhelm in England in 1772 (where he had moved in 1766). Wilhelm was by this time an organist and music teacher in Bath, and Caroline was able to take signing lessons there. When he became choirmaster at the Octagon Chapel, she took the position of principal singer at his oratorio concerts and gained such a reputation for her work that she was offered the position of vocalist at the Birmingham festival, which she declined.

The Herschels interest in astronomy began as a hobby, but it quickly grew into an obsession. In 1782, Wilhelm became King's Astronomer to George III and moved to Observatory House. He perfected his telescope building, creating a series of larger and larger devices until he had his famous 40 foot instrument. Caroline was his constant assistant in his observations, performing calculations and making observations of her won through the telescope Wilhelm made her, a 27 inch focal length Newtonian telescope (she was especially interested in comets).

In 1788, Wilhelm married a rich widowed neighbor, which disrupted Caroline's life considerably. In the end, though, it gave her more time for her own observations, and it also gave her a beloved nephew, John. During 1783--87 she made an independent discovery of M110 (NGC 205), the second companion of the Andromeda Galaxy. During 1786-97 she discovered no less than 8 comets. In 1787, she was granted an annual salary of 50 pounds by the King.

By 1797, their observations had shown that there were many discrepancies in the much-used star catalog published by John Flamsteed (which was also difficult to use, being in 2 cumbersome volumes, the catalog itself and a book or original observations). He recommended Caroline take on the task of compiling a proper cross-reference, and the Catalogue of Stars was publisjed by the Royal Society in 1798. It contained an index of every observation of every star made by Flamsteed, a list of errata, and more than 560 stars that had not been included.

Caroline returned to Hanover in 1822, where she continued her own work on comets and also compiled a catalogue of nebulae to help her nephew in his work. In 1828 the Royal Society gave her their Gold Medal--no woman would receive it again until 1996. In 1846, at the age of 96, she was awarded the Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia. She died in Hanover on January 9, 1848.

Some sources:
(On Agnesi)
Massimo Mazzotti, The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, mathematician of God
Edna E. Kramer, "Agnesi, Maria Gaetana" in Dictionary of Scientific Biography

(On Herschel)
Claire Brock, The Comet Sweeper: Caroline Herschel's Astronomical Ambition
Michael Hoskin, "Carolyn Lucretia Herschel, New Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Oh no, I nearly forgot in all my enthusiasm for garden gnomes! Guess my brain is frozen with the cold outside and the deadline WIP. Happy birthday to my dad!!! (and yes, I did remember to get a present...)

Things I Love Thursday

What I love today--garden gnomes! Maybe it's because we're having record-setting low temps outside, and it's literally freezing, but I'm having fun planning flower beds and vegetable patches for the summer. And I love to put gnomes amid the plants, peeking out at us. I know they're cheesy, and sometimes even a little scary, but I enjoy their cute little faces and pointy hats in the warm weather.

What's your favorite season?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Two Marriages

January 6 marks two historical wedding anniversaries! One for a marriage that was a great success, and one that--well, it just wasn't.

In 1539, England was in need of a queen--and an alliance with a strongly Protestant nation. Henry VIII's third wife, Jane, had been dead for a long while, and he had only one son. Thomas Cromwell, the King's chancellor, came up with the perfect solution, the sister of the Duke of Cleves. Court painter Hans Holbein was dispatched to paint her portrait, she was deemed attractive enough, and the marriage treaty was signed. Anne, who unlike Henry's first two intellectual wives was not well-educated, spoke only German, and spent most of her time in needlework and card-playing (but was deemed pretty enough, as well as virtuous and docile) was dispatched to England. That's when things went downhill.

Henry went to meet his bride, incognito, at Rochester, and was quite disappointed. (As, no doubt was she, to meet her overweight, smelly groom!). "She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported," he complained, but it seemed there was no way to end the marriage without losing the vital alliance with the Protestant Germans. They were married January 6, 1540 at Greenwich by Archbishop Cranmer. Anne's ring was engraved "God send me well to keep," but the wedding night was a non-event. Henry told Cromwell, who was no doubt very unhappy his alliance was going so badly, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse." The marriage was unconsumated, and very brief. Anne was sent away from Court on June 24, and on July 6 told of the king's decision to seek an annulment, which was granted (with her consent) on July 9.

She ended up better than any of Henry's other unfortunate wives, though. She got a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (Anne Boleyn's family home). She was often invited to Court as "the King's beloved sister,"and had precedence over all women in England except for the King's wives and daughters. She got along well with all his children, and lived until 1557, when she was buried in Westminster Abbey (the only one of the 6 wives to be interred there). So, a happy ending for Anne, but not for the marriage!

The other January 6 wedding took place 1759, between Colonel George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow, when he was 27 and she 28. They were introduced at a party by friends of Martha's, and from all accounts hit it off immediately, talking until dawn. He only visited her a couple more times before proposing to her three weeks after their meeting. They married at St. Peter's Church in New Kent County, Virginia, with a reception after at the bride's home. Rev. David Mossom performed the ceremony, which was attended by many of the couple's friends and Martha's two children. Martha wore a gown of gold, lace-trimmed brocade and a white silk petticoat embroidered with silver threads. She had a set of fine pearls, and gorgeous shoes of purple satin. (The groom ore a blue coat and white satin waistcoat!). They then honeymooned in Williamsburg, and were happily married until George's death in 1799. Unlike Henry and Anne, Martha and George started well and perservered through all the challenges of war, politics, family, and tragedy to make a life together.

Some sources:
Elizabeth Norton, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride (a brand-new title I just got a peek at, thanks to a librarian friend!)
Retha Warnicke, The Marrying of Anne of Cleves
Patricia Brady, Martha Washington

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Risky Tuesday

At the Riskies today, talking about Disney romance! What's your favorite Disney movie?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

First "Countess" Review!

My first Laurel McKee review, yippeee! I can't believe it's almost February...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

There is one thing I love about finding subjects for Heroine of the Weekend, and that is finding out that "heroines" come in all shapes, ages, and persuasions. They can be smart, witty, resourceful, dedicated to following their own paths, and good. They are devoted to many things--science, literature, adventure, philanthropy, fashion, their country or family. Or even religion. There is no one prototype of Heroine, and I love that!

Our heroine this first weekend of 2010 is St. Therese of Lisieux, "the Little Flower of Jesus," born on January 2, 1873! She was born Therese Martin in Alencon, France, the daughter of Louis Martin, watchmaker, and Marie-Azelie Guerin, a lacemaker. Both parents were devout Catholics, though were turned away from monasteries and nunneries in their youths (Louis for not knowing Latin, Marie-Azelie because the Mother Superior felt she had no vocation to the religious life. She then asked God to send her a large family to consecrate to Him). They married 3 months after they met in 1858 and had 9 children, of which 5 daughters survived to adulthood, Therese being the youngest.

Marie-Azelie's lacemaking business was very prosperous, and eventually her husband sold his own business to his nephew and worked in the traveling/marketing part of his wife's business. In 1877, when Therese was 4, her mother died of breast cancer, and her father sold the business and moved with his children to Normandy, where his brother-in-law lived. Therese had a difficult childhood, often ill and nervous. Until age 8, she was taught at home until she could go to the Benedictine Abbey at Lisieux to continue her studies. When she was 9, her sister Pauline, who had acted as a mother to her, joined the Carmelite monastery (another sister, Marie, later entered the same monastery).. Therese wanted to enter with them, but was told she was much too young. When she was 14, she renewed her efforts to join the order, but was told the same thing--too young. Her father took her and her sister Celine to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, and during a general audience she took the chance to press her cause to the Pope himself--who told her to do what the superiors told her.

Soon after, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the Prioress to receive Therese, and on April 9, 1888 she became a Carmelite postulant. After a probationary period somewhat longer than average, she was given the habit on January 10, 1889 and received the name Therese of the Child Jesus. Soon after, her father suffered a stroke and was ill until the end of his life in 1894. After his death, Therese's sister Celine, who had been his nurse, also entered the convent, as did their cousin Marie Guerin.

In September 1890, at her canonical examination before she professed her vows, she was asked why she became a Carmelite, and she answered, "I came to save souls, and especially to pray for priests." She was not able to live the life of a nun for long, though. By 1896 she had contracted tuberculosis, and she died on September 30, 1897 at the age of 24, in the monastery infirmary. She was buried in the Carmelite plot of the municipal cemetery at Liseux, where her parents were buried, but when she was beatified in 1923 she was returned to the Carmel of Liseux. She was canonized in 1925 and declared a Doctor of the Church, one of only 3 women to receive the honor. In 1944, she was named co-patron of France along with Joan of Arc. Her feast day is October 1.

Her position as a Doctor of the Church is based on her spiritual memoir, "Story of a Soul," which she began in 1895 as a memoir of her childhood, which grew into two parts. Later editions also feature her letters, poems, prayers, and the plays she wrote for monastery recreation. She is one of the most popular of saints today; thousands of pilgrims gather to pray in the presence of her relics as they tour the world, and there is a movement to canonize her parents (declared "Venerable" in 1994 and "Blessed" in 2004) and her sister Leonie, who died in 1941. (Therese was also one of my grandmother's favorite saints!)

Therese wrote in The Little Way, "Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden to me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."

(Edited to add: Oops, forgot to list sources for the post!)

Kathryn Harrison, Therese of Lisieux (from the Penguin Lives series)
John Clarke, OCD, trans. The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Ann Laforest, Therese of Lisieux: the way to love