To Lady’s Maid or Not to Lady’s Maid

Chocolate maid

A Lady's maid delivering hot chocolate in the morning

Joanna here.  The other day I was thinking about a discussion on Twitter that talked about the life of a lady’s maid. This related somewhat tangentially to my own life since I am trying and failing to fix my clothes washer and have thus taken refuge in philosophy.

It is better than kicking the washer and swearing, I suppose.

The Twitter thread was touched off by a video of a woman getting dressed in the 1890s.

There were many frothy bits of clothing, all of which had to be tugged up or around or pulled over and then tied or buttoned.

Folks pointed out, rightly, that it would have taken a bit of time and a lot of wriggling and gymnastics to get the woman dressed. Look at all those layers, they said. Bet she had a maid to help.

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An English Breakfast (and one that isn’t)

 

Wench eggs

Breakfast … sometimes eggs are all you need

Joanna here.

I’m about to sit down to breakfast at the hotel. Nothing too fancy. Generally speaking it’ll be toast or a bagel, some kind of egg, and some bitty piece of meat which might come in the form of a bacon slice or two. Possibly some sausage. And coffee. Lots of coffee with a healthy leavening of half and half.

 

So I’m asking myself how this would be different for my Regency protagonist — assuming my Regency protagonist was a middling sort of person like a merchant’s daughter or a member of the petty gentry or the offspring of a prosperous yeoman farmer. The Vicar’s daughter. The apothecary’s kid.

 Picture my intrepid heroine sitting there, stoking the fires for a long day of being kidnapped and fighting her way free from some sordid den of thieves with nothing to aid her but a folding penknife and her native sneakiness.

 

 

 

Wench family breakfast 3

Family at breakfast with tea and what looks like scones maybe

My young woman’s probably eating at a table with a half dozen other folks. The solitary breakfast in bed would be less common for my middling sort than for richer, more leisured, aristocratic folks. Jane Austen (and her Elizabeth Bennet) probably ate breakfast in the dinning room with her family instead of sending the poor kitchen maid running about with trays.

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Lyveden New Bield – Visiting “An Interrupted Dream”

Lyveden 1Nicola here, with another of my summer historic house travelogues. I finished my latest manuscript a week ago and in traditional fashion celebrated by cleaning the house and doing some ironing. As regular readers of the Wench blog will know, this is the time we all catch up on the thousand and one things that get neglected whilst we are in our writing caves desperately trying to get to The End. Much as a city break in Europe or even a trip to the seaside might sound nice, it’s usually the mundane things that claim our attention, partly because we don’t have energy left for much else but also because we urgently need some clean clothes.  However, when my husband tempted me with a visit to one of my favourite historical sites, I felt a lot more enthused for that than for ironing! So it was that on a baking hot day we set off very early in the morning for Northamptonshire and the intriguing Lyveden New Bield.

Lyveden, like so many country houses, occupies an isolated position. It’s set Lyveden deckchairs the middle of the glorious Northamptonshire countryside and as you approach, you see what looks like a ruin standing alone in a field. It’s an extraordinary sight. The house was the dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, a Tudor knight who was a staunch Catholic. He was a wealthy landowner who moved in the highest social circles in the county but although he was ruthlessly efficient in managing his estates to produce profit, he was also very extravagant and pursued a lavish lifestyle. It was, however, the heavy fines levied on him for following the Catholic faith that were eventually to lead to his financial downfall.

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Erotic Books of the Regency

Joanna here, taking about dirty books available in the Regency because some of you have gray weather outside and you may need cheering up.

What it is … I’m going to argue that our rakish heroes would have read erotic books. It’s human. It’s manly. It would help make them good lovers.

The-lesson-of-memory-ignacio-pinazo-camarlench

A hero reading

 

I think some of my favorite Regency heroines did the reading, too.

Perhaps not my own characters, who seem to have tough childhoods for some reason,
b
ut those dashing, brave and wise women who live on my Keeper Shelf. I think they read erotic books.

I see a heroine at ten or twelve, creeping into the library and sneaking a peek at the Song of Songs. They’ve heard about it . . . Maybe it’s the heroine and a few choice friends. Maybe they’re giggling. Maybe just puzzled.

I picture them reading,

“I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field;
let us lodge in the villages.
Let us get up early to the vineyards;
let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth:
there will I give thee my love.”

The heroine looks over at Sukey the maid and Jenny who lives in the house next door and says plaintively, “But what does that mean?”

“It’s symbolic,” Jenny says.

“Oh.”

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Meeting new fruits

Wench  John Sherrin (1819-1896)- Still lifeJoanna here. I was eating a kiwi fruit the other day. It showed up coyly snuggled next to a breakfast sandwich sold to me by the delightful ladies who run the catering and breakfast bar at the Rockfish Gap Community Center. I found myself trying to remember when I’d first seen kiwi. I was young and they showed up in the grocery store one day and my mother, who was a wild woman in her own way, brought them home and figured out how to serve them. They were just mind-bogglingly exotic to me. Furry fruits. I rather distrusted them.

Wench fruit 2

There are many different kinds of kiwi fruits, not just the ones in US supermarkets

Kiwis apparently came from China and were originally called “Chinese gooseberries” as they spread around the world. The Chinese called them "macaque peaches" but that didn't catch on so much. The fruit was popularized in the US by WWII servicemen who’d met them while stationed in New Zealand. And they seem to come to the store from California, not New Zealand. Life is a rich pageant of happenstance, isn't it?

“Hmmm,” I hmmed to myself while I was feeding much of my breakfast sandwich to the dog Mandy but eating all the kiwis, “What did my Georgian and Regency heroine encounter as new and exciting fruit as she went about her adventures?” Kiwis and avocados hadn’t arrived in her world. Apples and apricots and even dates were known from Roman times and before.

I thought of two possibles.

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