Thursday, September 30, 2010

Little Women

Today marks the anniversary (in 1868) of the publication of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women! This was one of the books that fed my childhood addiction to history (along with stuff like Anne of Green Gables, I Capture the Castle, Secret Garden and A Little Princess, the "Little House on the Prairie" books, and Jane Eyre). I was addicted to all things Victorian, and if the story featured a heroine who wanted to be a writer, so much the better! I also loved the family dynamics between the March sisters (since I always wanted a sister myself). I think I need to find my old copy and do some re-reading this evening....

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week, everyone! Check out the ALA for info on events in your area, books that have been banned or challenged, all sorts of info. And be sure and read a banned book this week!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Versailles on TV!

I just read this about a proposed new TV series about Louis XIV's France called (approprioately!) Versailles! With writers from Mad Men and shot on location at Versailles! I'm beside myself with excitement...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

The deadline for my WIP is zooming closer (where did September go???) and I am going crazy, but I had to take time out for today's Heroine of the Weekend! I've also had some suggestions for future Heroines--if you have anyone you particularly like and would want to see them here, let me know. I am always looking for lesser-known heroines (or even well-known heroines who deserve another look!).....

Today's Heroine is poet Felicia Hemans, born September 25, 1793. Until I found a book called British Women Poets of the Romantic Era at a library book sale, I didn't know much about her beyond "The Boy Stood on the Burning deck" (which is actually called "Casabianca") and I loved learning more.

She was born in Liverpool, the 5th of 7 children of merchant George Browne and his wife Felicity, the daughter of the Austrian and Tuscan consul. After the failure of her father's business, the family moved to Wales, and she came to regard Wales as her true home ("Land of my childhood, my home and my dead"). Like so many of the Heroines we see here, she was a precocious child who started reading at a very early age, learning several languages and becoming proficient at music. Her sister said she "could repeat pages of poetry from her favorite authors, after having read them but once over." Her first book of poetry, Poems, was published when she was 14 years old, dedicated to the Prince of Wales. It received some harsh reviews, but also attracted the attention of Shelley, who she corresponded with for a short time (until her mother put a stop to it!). She then quickly published "England and Spain" in 1808 (inspired by her brothers' military service in Spain) and "The Domestic Affections" in 1812. That same year she married Captain Alfred Hemans, an Irish army man several years older than herself.

She moved with her husband to Northamptonshire for a few years, and then back to Wales. The couple had 5 sons, but the marriage faltered and in 1818 they separated. Captain Hemans went to Rome and they never saw each other again, though they did correspond about their children. Felicia was left to support herself and her children, and moved back to live with her mother, where she continued to write. Some of her work in this period included "The Restoration of the works of art to Italy" (1816) (which Byron praised), "Modern Greece" (1817), and "Tales and historic scenes" (1819). She deeply grieved her mother's death in 1827, and her own health declined. Her 2 oldest sons went to join their father in Rome and she returned to Liverpool, but she didn't like it there and spent much time in Scotland and the Lake District visiting other poets such as Wordsworth and Scott.

In 1831 she moved to Dublin near her younger brother. She had become very popular, especially among female readers (which may have contributed to her later reputation as "not serious"!), though her attempt at playwriting, The Vespers of Palermo (1823) failed at Covent Garden. She published 19 volumes in her life, many of them concerning familial ideals (her strong moral reputation meant she sailed through her separation with no loss of reputation). She died May 16, 1835 of a weak heart at the age of 41.

Some sources:
Susan J. Wolfson, ed. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials (2000)
Gary Kelly, ed. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Prose and Letters (2002)
Emma Mason, Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (2006)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Portrait Friday

In honor of autumn, Vertumnus and Pomona (1669) by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Improper Ladies" Winners!

Snow White and Kirsten, you have both won copies of Improper Ladies! Please leave your email addresses in the comments here, and I will be in touch ASAP. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

This weekend we have another heroine to add to the musical parade we've had here lately! Francecsa Caccini, Italian composer, singer, lute player, and teacher, was born on this day in 1587.

Caccini was born in Florence, the daughter of musician Giulio Caccini (like most female musicians and artists of the day, she was following in the family business and had an early teacher in her father), and she received a rare-for-a-woman classical education of Latin and Greek, modern languages, and mathematics and sciences. She first appeared as a singer at the wedding of Marie de Medici and King Henri IV of France in 1600, and Henry told her "you are the best singer in all of France" and invited her to live at his court. But she returned to Florence and went on composing and performing in her father's home, as well as taking pupils. Her whole family, including siblings, were well-known for their performances and talent.

In 1607 she went to work for the Medici court, after the great success of her Carnival masque La stiava. She worked there as a teacher, performer, and rehearsal manager for many years, writing music for at least 16 staged works. That year she also married, to musician Giovanni Signorini. They had one daughter, Margherita. It's known that she wrote a great deal of music for the theater, but little of her work survives, except for a collection of 36 songs (solos and duets) called Il primo libro delle musiche.

When her husband died in 1626, she married again, to a nobleman named Tommaso Raffaelli, and for a time she no longer performed publicly and had a son, though after this second husband's death she went back to service with the Medici and taught her 2 children music. She left the court in May 1641 and nothing more is known about her. But in her time she was a popular and well-known composer and sought-after teacher, "a master of dramatic harmonic surprise."

Some sources:
Suzanne Cusick, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (2009)
Carolyn Raney, "Francesca Caccini" in Historical Anthology of Music by Women (1986)
Kelley Harness, Echoes of Women's Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence (2006)

Classical Composers Database

Music Academy Online

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


A new review of Improper Ladies! Happy middle-of-the-week everyone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Risky Tuesday

Over at the Riskies today, talking about what I've learned from my favorite TV shows! What are yours?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Contest!

Happy Sunday, everyone! I got a few more copies of Improper Ladies and decided what we need is another contest! I will give away a signed copy to one commenter here in the next couple of days--just let me know what you're reading this week (romance or not!) to be entered...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

This weekend's heroine is one of the most famous singers of the 19th century, the "Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind! (September 11 marks the anniversary of her first concert in the US, in 1850). I didn't know a lot about her when I started looking at some resources about her life, just that she was a singer (and I love opera!), very popular in her day, and there's a crib named after her (though I'm not sure why). I found out she was also a great humanitarian and philanthropist who used her talents and earnings to help others.

She was born Johanna Maria Fellborg on October 6, 1820, the illegitimate daughter of a schoolteacher named Anne-Marie Fellborg who married a man named Lind when Jenny was about 14. In her mother's school for girls, the arts were one of the subjects on offer (music, dance, etc), and Jenny became popular in the neighborhood for her beautiful voice at an early age. One day she was heard by the maid of a famous dancer at the Royal Swedish Opera, who soon became her mentor and arranged an audition at the Royal Theater School. By age 10 she was singing onstage, and by 17 was quite famous at the Royal Swedish Opera. By 20 she was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and a court singer to the King of Sweden and Norway.

In 1838 she made her debut in a leading role, Agathe in Weber's Der Freischutz, and never looked back. She traveled on tours around Europe to enormous acclaim (despite suffering from stage fright!), studied in Paris, picked up some famous suitors along the way (Hans Christian Anderson, Chopin, and Mendelssohn who begged her to elope with him), and was copied widely for her hairstyles and gowns. During the 1840s she performed mostly in Germany, and made her debut in London in 1847, a performance before Queen Victoria of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable at Her Majesty's Theater. That same year she was devastated by the death of her erstwhile suitor Mendelssohn, and couldn't bring herself to perform the soprano part of his oratorio Elijah (which he wrote for her), until 1848 when she appeared at a performance to raise funds for a Mendelssohn Scholarship (the first recipient was Arthur Sullivan). She often appeared at fundraising performances and sponsored charities and up-and-coming musicians.

In 1849, the showman and entrepreneur PT Barnum made Lind an offer for a tour of the US under very generous terms--$1000 a night plus expenses for up to 150 concerts in the US. She agreed, as she wanted to fund new schools and hospitals for children in Sweden, but her contract called for the total fee to be deposited up-front with her London bankers. Barnum usually paid his performers once the performance was complete, and had to get several loans for the $187,500. From the start her tour was a smashing success. Before she even left England, Barnum's publicity machine made her a household name in America, stating "A visit from such a woman who regards her artistic powers as a gift from Heaven and who helps the afflicted and distressed will be a blessing to America." She arrived September 1, 1850 in New York with 40,000 people to greet her.

Jenny gave 93 concerts in the US, earning over $250,000 (she re-negotiated her contract, earning not only the $1000 fee but the remainder of each concert's profit after Barnum's fee of $5500 was paid), and gave much of her earnings to charities, including several in the US. Barnum earned over $500,000. Her first 2 concerts in America were at the Castle Garden Theater in New York on September 11 and 13, charity concerts with thousands attending. The first "Regular Concert" was on the 17th. She toured much of the country before returning to Europe in May 1852. She wasn't alone--while in the US she married pianist Otto Goldschmidt in Boston and went back to Europe with him. They later had 3 children, Walter Otto, Jenny Maria, and Ernest.

She ceased her professional career after returning to Europe but still appeared in charity performances of concerts and oratorios, living first in Dresden and then in England, where she became a professor of singing at the Royal College of Music. In an 1866 concert with Arthur Sullivan, the press reported "There is still magic in that voice..." She gave her last performance in Dusseldorf on January 20, 1870 where she sang an oratorio titled Ruth composed by her husband. She died November 2, 1887 at her home in England and was buried in Great Malvern Cemetery to the strains of Chopin's Funeral March. She left most of her estate to fund schools for poor children in Sweden.

Some sources I found for Lind's life:
J. Bulman, Jenny Lind (1956)
Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt, 2 volumes
Elisabeth Kyle, The Swedish Nightingale: Jenny Lind (1964)
JMC Maude, The Life of Jenny Lind (1926)
The Jenny Lind Archive

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tuesday Tuesday

At the Riskies today, celebrating the birthday of Elizabeth I!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

While looking for possible Heroines for this weekend, I came across an interesting fact--September 4, 1893 was the date when Beatrix Potter first mailed a letter containing the story of the naughty Peter Rabbit! These were some of my favorite books as a child, and when I was older I came to admire Potter more and more for her work as an author and a nature conservationist (long before that was a widespread idea...)

Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London July 28, 1866 to well-to-do Unitarian parents. (Though they were not an "old" family--her grandfather was an industrialist and eventually an MP, her mother the daughter of a cotton merchant, but they were ambitious and wanted to rise in society). She had a lonely childhood, watched over by over-protective parents, educated at home by governesses, and with not many friends. She had one brother Bertram, but he was sent away to school at an early age. What she did have were many, many pets--frogs, bats, newts, ferrets, and rabbits, including two named Benjamin and Peter. She spent long hours observing and sketching them, and imagining the stories of their world.

In the summers her family would leave London and holiday in the country, first in Scotland for 11 years and then in the Lake District, where she fell in love with the beautiful, rugged landscape. (A friend her family made in those years was Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who was worried about the effects of industrialization on the country and later founded the National Trust. Beatrix was very inspired by him and later joined in his efforts). She became very interested in mycology, being one of the first to find that "lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae." She made copious drawings of lichens and fungi (which are now in the Armitt Library at Ambleside) and studied spore germination. In 1897, her uncle presented her paper "On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae" at the Linnean Society (women were not allowed, and in 1997 the Society offered an apology to the long-dead Potter for her treatment). After her gender prevented her from becoming a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and from having her papers published with the Royal Society, she gave in to her parents' demands and spent her time running their house and looking after them.

Beatrix had long amused herself and the children she met by making up stories about her animals and illustrating them. In 1893, while on a Scottish holiday, she sent the first Peter Rabbit story to the 5-year-old son of her former governess, Annie Moore. Moore was charmed by the tale and encouraged Beatrix to develop it into a full-length story. The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden was turned down by 6 publishers, and in 1901 she self-published an edition of 250 and gave them to friends. The addition of colored illustrations attracted the publisher Frederick Warne & Co. who published an edition of 28,000 in late 1902. It was a great hit, as was its follow-up The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and brought her an independent income. She eventually wrote 23 books

It also brought her a love interest, the youngest Warne brother Norman, but her parents were opposed to their engagement. (The Warnes were in "trade" and besides Beatrix was supposed to take care of them forever!). It caused a deep breach in the family, and Norman soon passed away and Beatrix was devastated.

In July 1905 she used some of her book money to buy Hill Top Farm in her beloved Lake District, in the village of Sawrey. Her duties to her parents prevented her from living there permanently at first, but she visited whenever she could and discussed farm business with her manager and the local farmers (who were slow to accept an "off-comer" and a woman!). She gradually began to buy other farms and expand her property in order to preserve the landscape, and in 1913 she married her solicitor William Heelis and moved to the country for good. She set about breeding and showing Herdwick sheep, judging local shows and eventually becoming President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders' Association. When Beatrix and William grew older, they moved closer to the village, and despite her lovely childrens' books Beatrix had a reputation for grumpiness among the local children!

Beatrix died at Castle Cottage in Sawrey on December 22, 1943, and her ashes were scattered in her beloved countryside. She left her property to the National Trust. Hill Top Farm is now open to visitors, attracting vast crowds every summer, and her artwork can be seen at the Beatrix Potter gallery in Hawkshead, in the building that was once her husband's law office.

A great (and very thorough!) biography is Linda Lear's Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature; Susan Denyer's Beatrix Potter: At Home in the Lake District has beautiful photos as well as biographical info. I also really enjoy the fun Beatrix Potter mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Portrait Friday

Modigliani, Portrait of Jeane Hebuterne, 1918

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Check out this gorgeous Mad Men cover on Rolling Stone! They needed to redeem themselves after that hideous True Blood cover. And I would pay a lot to be set free in that wardorbe room... (More pics in the Gallery of RS here...)