Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Skirt Envy

Despite everything (sometimes annoying or whiny "stars", etc) there are two things I always love about Dancing With the Stars: 1) The terrible costumes (it was a shame Edyta was eliminated in week 1 this time around, though Karina and Cheryl are reliable on that front, too), and 2) The even more terrible music!

And this big, fluffy feather skirt of Karina's this week--It. Will. Be. Mine. RWA conference 2010 is going to be Feather Skirt Time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

What I'm reading today: The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins. A witty look at 2 of my (many) obsessions, Shakespeare and book collecting! Collins traces the history of the First Folio (and really the history of publishing in England) from Heminge and Condell through the huge book losses of the Great Fire, the glory days of the 18th century and rival Shakespeare editors (they really got down and dirty), the Victorian idea of Shakespeare, how big old Will is in Japan, to the present day (where a Folio sold at Sotheby's for over $5 million. Not, alas, to me). A great read. (The only quibble I had was the lack of endnotes and a proper bibliography--there was a lot I was curious about...)

Oh, and I'm over at Risky Regencies today celebrating the birthday of Elizabeth Gaskell, the woman who brought us North and South and thus Richard Armitage.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned Books Week

Read a banned book this week! What are some of your favorite books on the Frequently Challenged list? (I quite like the Fitzgeralds and Lawrences...)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

This weekend we'll look at one of my favorite poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, since the anniversary of her elopement with Robert Browning was last weekend! (They married in 1846).

Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born March 6, 1806 at Coxhoe Hall in County Durham, England, the eldest of the 12 children of Edward and Mary Barrett Moulton-Barrett (it seems like a good idea for her to just go by one of those Barretts...). The family's fortune originated with family plantations in Jamaica, and were later reduced by a lawsuit and by the abolition of slavery in the UK. In 1809, after the birth of Elizabeth's sister Henrietta, Edward bought Hope End in Herefordshire, and ideal place for raising a family. Elizabeth was educated at home, attending lessons with her brother's tutor which gave her a firm foundation in languages and literature. By age 10, it was said she could recite Paradise Lost and various Shakespeare plays; her first poem was written at age 8, and by 12 she had written an "epic" poem of 4 books of rhyming couplets. At 14, her father paid for the publication of her Homeric-style poem The Battle of Marathon. During this time she was known as "a shy, intensely studious, precocious child, yet cheerful, affectionate, and lovable." Her friend Mary Russell Mitford described her as "A slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most expressive face; large, tender eyes, richly fringed by dark eyelashes, and a smile like a sunbeam."

But by the age of 20, Elizabeth was felled by a mysterious illness, made worse by her use of morphine for the pain. In 1824, the London paper The Globe and Traveler printed her poem Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron, around the same time her father's Jamaica property began to go downhill. In 1826, she published her first collection of poems, but by 1830 Hope End had to be sold and the family moved 3 times between 1832 and 1837 (first to Sidmouth in Devonshire, where they lived for 3 years, then to Gloucester Place in London, where she wrote more poems and articles). Finally they settled at 50 Wimpole Street, where a family friend, John Kenyon, introduced Elizabeth to the literary luminaries of the day, including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Tennyson, Carlyle, and Mary Russell Mitford (who became her good friend, and helped her to publish more of her work).

In 1838, at her doctor's advice, Elizabeth went to live for a time at Torquay along with her brother Edward. His death by drowning there in 1840 sent her into a terrible downward spiral, and she returned to Wimpole Street as an invalid and recluse, kept company mostly by her beloved spaniel Flush. She kept writing, though, and in 1844 two volumes were published, A Drama of Exile, a Vision of Poets and Lady Geraldine's Courtship. These volumes made her one of the most popular writers of the time and inspired Robert Browning to write her a fan letter. Kenyon arranged for them to meet in May 1845, and thus began the most famous courtship in literary history.

She was six years his elder and an invalid, and it took some time for Robert to persuade her that his love was real. Her doubts were expressed beautifully in her most famous volume, Sonnets From the Portugese, which she wrote over the next several months. They finally eloped to the church of St. Marylebone and then ran off to Florence, with Elizabeth disinherited by her father (who did the same to all his children who dared marry!). But she had some money of her own, and they sold their poems for a comfortable life and happy marriage in Italy. Her health improved in the sunny weather, and in 1849, at age 43, she gave birth to their son Robert, always called Pen. Her writing went well, too. In 1850, on the death of Wordsworth, she was shortlisted for the position of poet laureate, but it went to Tennyson.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died on June 29, 1861 and was buried at the English Cemetery in Florence.

A few great sources on her life are:
Life of Elizabeth Browning, Glenn Everett (2002)
Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Julia Markus (1995)
Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: A Creative Partnership, Mary Sanders Pollock (2003)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Portrait Friday

Mary Queen of Scots (as a young girl in France) by an anonymous artist

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

What I'm loving this Thursday--the state fair! I went last night, and had a great time. I have an inordinate love of fried, doughy things as well as useless objects bedazzled with sequins, so the fair is a perfect once-a-year indulgence of these guilty pleasures. Plus the people-watching can't be beat (for some reason there were many, many babies there last night. I'm talking tiny little babies. Is that because infants love funnel cakes?). I also love the AGTropilis building full of goats, chickens, rabbits and other farm animals, where I can indulge my city-girl fantasies of living in the country and making goat cheese.

It's an enormously fun part of the autumn ritual, but I have now had my fill of corndogs and Indian tacos for the year. :)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hottie Monday Austen Edition Part 4

For today's Hottie Monday we'll look at the two Mansfield Parks (the Masterpiece from 2007, and the feature film from 1999). I have to admit, I'm not very fond of either of these (I wonder if a miniseries, a la Pride and Prejudice, is the only way to do justice to this complex story?), but that doesn't mean its men deserve no Austen Edition consideration. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Things

Sorry no Heroine of the Weekend (or any post at all!) this weekend. I was at a writing retreat at the beautiful Quartz Mountain resort (see website here). They're best known for their Summer Arts Institute for artsy high school students (which I once attended myself!), and is a lovely, creative place. I wrote a chapter and then some, did some hiking, some reading, some eating, and had a lovely time. Now back to work!

Look for Hottie Monday tomorrow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Portrait Friday

Adelina Patti as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

So, yesterday I was feeling a bit down. It's been raining and gray here for what feels like 2,176 days in a row, and I like sunshine (I doubt I could live in the Northeast, pretty as it is there!). And I'm working on a small snag in the WIP, and I had to get a tooth filling. One thing I like to do when I get these blue-ish feelings is go to Target and wander around. Target is one of my happy places. :)

I went there yesterday, and I was so glad I did! The Halloween aisle was up, and I LUV the Halloween aisle at Target. This is my favorite holiday. There's no family tension and stressful present-buying like Christmas, just costumes and candy and Gothic-y fun. Plus it's in the autumn, my favorite season. What's not to love??? I spent a happy hour looking at talking tombstones, Disney Princess costumes for my dogs (yes, I admit it--I dress up my dogs for Halloween. They seem to love me anyway), skeleton salad tongs and bowls, and bags of chocolate. It cheered me right up, and I even thought through the snarl in my book. (plus I found a pretty dress in the clothing section).

Yay Target! Yay Halloween! I'm sure they will both be featured in many more Things I Love Thursday in the future...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Risky Party Prizes

Over at Risky Regencies today, giving away prizes for our 4th birthday as a blog! Comment for a chance to win

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hottie Monday, Austen Edition Part 3

This week we continue with our Hotties of Austen by taking a look at various Mr. Knightleys! There's Mark Strong from the Kate Beckinsale version, Jeremy Northam from the Gwneyth Paltrow movie, and Jonny Lee Miller from an upcoming adaptation with Romola Garai as Emma (I couldn't find any pics of this one, so the photo is from the version of Byron from a few years ago). Which is your favorite??? (I'm partial to Mr. Northam...)

Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

One thing I love about doing these "heroine weekends" is finding out about extraordinary women I knew nothing about before. (Plus finding inspiration for future heroines in my own books!) This weekend we look at Sarah Frances Whiting, who died on this day in 1927 and was a pioneer for women in science in the United States.

Whiting was born August 23, 1847 in Wymong, New York, the daughter of Joel and Elizabeth Whiting (both descendants of 17th century settlers of New England). Her father was an educated and enlightened man, who graduated from Hamilton College and worked as principle and teacher of physics and mathematics in various New York academies. He saw his daughter's passion for science from an early age, and encouraged her by letting her help set up experiments for his classes and tutoring her at home in such unladylike subjects as science, math, Greek, and Latin (she was well-versed in Greek by age 8, and Latin by 10!).

Whiting entered Ingham University in Le Roy, New York and graduated in 1865, at the age of 18. She taught Classics and mathematics at Ingham for a while, then went on to teach the same subjects at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary for Girls. In her spare time, she attended scientific lectures and demonstrations and followed new advances in theories and equipment, applying her learnings to her lessons. In 1875, Henry Durant, founder of the new Wellesley College in Massachusetts, approached Whiting about taking the position of Professor of Physics on the all-female faculty, and she started this job (which she would hold until she retired) in 1876.

In 1877, Durant introduced her to Professor Edward Pickering at MIT and director of Harvard's Observatory. He invited her to MIT to observe the undergrad physics lab there and attend physics lectures (which were otherwise closed to women). She went on to use this information to establish, equip, and operate a physics lab at Wellesley, the only lab of its kind for women in the US. In 1879, she went to inspect the Harvard Observatory, which was being used for astronomical investigations (particularly in the field of spectroscopy, which allowed for the observation of the patterns of spectra--lines and bands--that form when light is sent through a prism). This inspired her to integrate astronomy into the Wellesley curriculum. She created and taught the first course in 1880 under the title "Applied Physics." She also set herself the large task of having an observatory installed at the college, with the fundraising help of Wellesley trustee Mrs. John C. Whittin. The Whitin Observatory was built by converting an old organ loft on the fifth floor of College Hall, and it was opened in 1900 (with Whiting again designing and ordering the equipment herself).

She finally received an assistant in 1885, much needed considering she was almost the entire Physics Department for many years. She spent her sabbaticals and holidays traveling the world to meet other scientists and attend classes and seminars. In 1888-89, she studied at the University of Berlin, followed by a time in England observing labs. In 1896 she went to Edinburgh University (newly opened to women). In addition to being a pioneer in women's education, she founded academic groups and was accepted into previously male-only scientific societies such as the American Astronimical Society, the American Physical Society, and the New England Meteorological Society (which of course led her to establish a class in meteorology at Wellesley).

She lived all her life with her sister Elizabeth Whiting, another teacher, first in dorms and campus housing at Wellesley and then from 1906 in Observatory House, built next to the Observatory facility. They had reputations as fine hostesses, even though Sarah was a strict prohibitionist and Congregationalist (and active in the the Wellesley College Christian Association's missionary programs). In 1905 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Tufts College, and retired in 1912 to pursue astronomy full-time. In 1916 she also stepped down as director of the Observatory and moved to Massachusetts with her sister. She died at the age of 80.

Though she was a great researcher and scientist herself, she was most passionate about teaching science to others. She wrote a great deal of educational literature, including a volume that became a classic in the field Daytime and Evening Exercises in Astronomy (1912). She was responsible for the education and inspiration of generations of women scientists. American National Biography said, "Whiting's lifelong commitment to teaching women physics and astronomy, her enthusiasm for the experimental method, and her establishment of the first physics laboratory for women in the United States helped generations of women practice and understand science. Through these accomplishments, Whiting stands as one of the pioneers of science education for women."

As far as I can tell, there isn't a full-length biography of Whiting, but there are fascinating entries on her life and work in American National Biography (Volume 23, 1999); American Women in Science (1994); and Notable Women Scientists (1999).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

What I love this Thursday (except dreams about Paris with Richard Armitage, of course)...Lipstick! I have long been on a search for the right red lipstick for me (MAC's Russian Red is pretty good, but not quite It), and several people have told me to try Poppy King's Lipstick Queen brand. Lots of beauty blogs rave about this line, too. So I ordered their famous Medieval (a red I haven't actually tried yet--I have a party to go to this weekend and will experiment then), but I did find The Perfect Pink for my coloring (pale skin, brown hair, blue eyes). Saint Rose is gorgeous, and a smooth, silky texture without a hint of shimmer. Great for fall. (They have a wide range of shades in the Saint/Sinner line, and I'm going to definitely try more).

So, I'm loving Lipstick Queen lipsticks today! And also the new show Glee--hilarious. (and not just because I was a choir/theater geek in high school)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dreams I Wish Would Be True

So, last night I dreamed I was jetting off to Paris on a luxurious private plane with Richard Armitage. Then the alarm clock went off, and I had to get up and go to work. Sigh. Why can't life be more like in dreams???

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What I'm Reading Today

I'm also at the Riskies today, talking about the mystery of the death of Amy Robsart...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Hottie Monday, Austen Edition Part 2

Happy Hottie Labor Day Monday, everyone! We continue this week with Hotties of Austen. We already looked at the men of the various versions of Sense and Sensibility--this week we look at Pride and Prejudice. I've included pics of Firth and Macfadyen, natch, but also Elliot Cowan from Lost in Austen and David Rintoul from the early '80s P&P.

Now for the important question--who is your favorite Darcy? I'm a bit partial to Macfadyen, but really I am not picky--I say there is room for all!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Spirited Brides On Sale Now!

I was at Barnes and Noble last night (do I know how to party on a Saturday night or what??? LOL!), and saw Spirited Brides on the shelf! Yay! I still get excited seeing my name in a bookstore, and this is a two-in-one reissue of two of my old Signet Regencies, the ghostly stories A Loving Spirit and One Touch of Magic. Perfect stories for Halloween, and a gorgeous cover, too!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Heroine of the Weekend

September 5 marks the anniversary of the wedding of Louis XV of France and Maria Leszczynska of Poland! While poor Queen ML is usually completely overshadowed by Marie Antoinette and what happened to France after her death, she was a good queen and interesting in her own right.

Maria Leszczynska (June 23, 1703--June 24, 1768) was the second daughter of King Stansilaw Leszczynski of Poland (later Duke of Lorraine, and perhaps nest known for being one of Catherine the Great's lovers) and Katarzyna Opalinska. She was born in Lower Silesia the year before her father was made King of Poland (by the graces of Charles XII of Sweden, who had invaded the country and needed someone to watch over it, but the reign did not last very long). Maria was very close to her father and under his influence received a good education, even in exile in Sweden and Lorraine.

In 1723, Maria was on a short-list of eligible young ladies who might marry the young Louis XV. He had been betrothed for a time to a Spanish infanta, but she was a child and it was thought France needed heirs sooner rather than later. (Plus there were factions at Court that didn't want complicated political alliances with foreign powers). They married in 1723, and her name was Frenchified to Marie Leczinska.

They were initially quite happy together, and eventually had 10 children (though only 2 were boys, and one of them died at the age of 3). But Louis was a notorious womanizer, and his mistresses (especially the brilliant Madame de Pompador) eclipsed the Queen's influence and status at Court. After the very difficult birth of their last child, Louise Marie, the royal couple does not seem to have shared a bed again.

Marie was a quiet, shy woman, a devout Catholic who spent her time playing cards with close friends and members of the clergy. She had an excellent reputation for manners, grace, and piety (something Marie Antoinette should have learned from!) Her major contributions to life at Versailles were the introduction of Polish choral concerts in the chapel, and (more important) the fashion for a robe a la polonaise. She also met the very young Mozart, who she liked very much, and carried on a correspondence with Voltaire, helping to secure him a pension.

Marie died in 1768, six years before her husband, and his newest mistress Madame du Barry moved in and took over. Her death was deeply grieved by her children and grandchildren, who adored her, and she was known from then on as Bonne Reine Marie (Good Queen Marie).

I haven't been able to find any biographies dedicated especially to Marie, but Olivier Bernier's Louis the Beloved: The life of Louis XV has some good information on her life.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Portrait Friday

Angelika Kauffmann's Ferdinand IV, King of Naples, and His Family, 1783

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Things I Love Thursday

I love--long weekends! More time to write, to read, to get things done around the house, cook-outs with friends. I just wish we had more extra days off than Monday! (plus, even though it stays hot and humid here well into September, Labor Day feels like the start of autumn, which is my favorite season)

What are you planning to do this weekend?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Love Never Dies (On The Bestseller Lists, Anyway)

This whole Wuthering Heights Totally Equals Twilight rebrand is hilarious (and ironic, considering that WH is not terribly romantic, at least not in that way, and is actually dark and disturbing and complex). But I guess if it gets more readers to pick up some Bronte... See article here

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What I'm Reading Now

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Two Remarkable Families by Michael Holroyd, a fascinating bio of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and their families, a great glimpse of the English theatrical world of late 19th/early 20th century...