Buy that art!

Wench Peep-at-Christies-GillrayLet's say you're a rich man in 1800. You own a house in town and have an estate in the country. Maybe you own manufacturies or mills. You buy expensive clothes and horses and carriages. You shower jewels upon your womenfolk. But at the end of the day, you still have more money than you know what to do with.

You could gamble, of course. Many men and women managed to subdue a rising fortune by gambling it away.

But let's say you had no taste for throwing money away on the green baize table. Let's say you go … collecting. Collecting art, in particular. Where? How? What? Inquiring minds want to know.

In the mid Eighteenth Century there was the 'Grand Tour' of course. A fashionable quest for sophistication had long sent rich young Englishmen off to the Continent to buy Old Masters and Etruscan pots and a good many well-made fakes. They carted them home to decorate the Old Manse.


he looks amiable, doesn't he?

The art auction achieved its modern form around this time. Rather than the older practice of offering a collection of artworks for sale, each with its proposed price —. this really sounds like a tag sale, doesn't it? — the collection was open for view, and then on the day of sale the auctioneer offered successive artworks and invited bids. Auction madness was born. Much more satisfying, really.

By the end of the Eighteenth Century London housed some of the major auction houses we know today, like Christie's, Phillips, and Sotheby's, as well as others now vanished like Skinner and Dyke, Langford, (with auction rooms at Covent garden,) and Bryant.

Here, to the right, is a portrait, by Gainsborough, of James Christie in 1788, rich in years and honors after two decades and more in the auction business. Sotheby's Auction House is slightly older, but spent the Regency specializing in "scarce and valuable" books rather than paintings. For instance, the library Napoleon carried with him into exile was sold through Sotheby's after his death. Phillips Auction House is solidly Regency, founded in 1796 by the senior clerk at Christie's. I'm sure there is a story behind that.

By the time the Grand Tour was made inconvenient by those troublesome sans culottes in France, the art valuables of France and later the Continent were making their own way to England, fleeing the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars. Wench catalogue henry phillips

Here's what theWench terburgh the music lesson notice of an impending auction looked like. It's the upcoming sale of drawings belonging to the "Count de Carriere", (count of the stone pit or quarry,) probably the nom d'exile of Etienne Bourgevin Vialart, comte de Saint-Morys.

And here is a typical painting that fled France on the wings of Revolution. Ter Borch's The Music Lesson. It was sold by its French owner through the auction house of Skinner and Dyke in London in 1795. Two centuries later, we find it in California where the weather is better, but it's far, far away from the Netherlands where it was painted.

Our Regency auction would have looked a little like this. The examination of the paintings before the sale is up above. Then the auction itself, below.Click on the picture for a closer look.  Notice how many women there are among the bidders, but the main action next to the picture for sale is men.

Wenches Microcosm_of_London_christies auction


Joanna Bourne talks about ROGUE SPY!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

MJP: Word Wench Joanna Bourne's long-awaited new book, Rogue Spy, will be released tomorrow! Her last book, Black Hawk, won RWA's RITA for best historical romance of the year, and Rogue Spy was named to Library Journal's list of the 10 Best Romances of the year even before it was released.

So–Joanna, could you tell us about the story and the characters?  I loved not only the protagonists, but all the delightful, kindly criminal elders, such as the Fluffy Aunts.  <G>

 JB: I'm writing a love story, of course, so the emotional mainspring of Rogue Spy is the relationship between Pax and Cami. They reach out to each other. They heal each other's wounds. They fall in love.

RoguespycoveramazonThey also unravel a a spy plot, chase the bad guy, (very bad, bad guy,) across London. and in the end avert death, disaster, and international chaos.

The usual, y'know.

 But the book is also about family. The family we're born with. The one we choose.

 That 'family' theme lets me bring in some of the wise elder characters I so enjoy writing. The Fluffy Aunts, who are only as dithery and harmless as they choose to appear. Galba, trying to manage his British Service agents. This is like herding cats, except it's cats who kill people. Bernardo Baldoni, spy lord, power broker, con man, and political plotter. His Medici ancestors would have been proud.

Read more

Riots and rebellions

J6426ct Charlie & Billy working on Jo's novel, 28UCHi, Jo here. I'm writing about social unrest. Not just here, but in a novel.

(It would be useful if Charlie and Billy could really work on my books when I'm not there! Or perhaps not — depending on what they came up with.) 

I follow a timeline in my more recent novels. I didn't in my first books, the traditional Regencies, which I think it the usual thing in most Regency romances. Some of Georgette Heyer's are fixed against events in the war, but most could be in any year.

My Company of Rogues books were pinned to time from the beginning, however, because the plot links to the time around Napoleon's abdication in 1814. Having begun, I had to continue because the seasons and pregnancies clearly mark the passage of time. I've written 16 books set between 1814 and 1817, and the time between them is often very small, but I'm pushed onward. And here I am in 1817, with peacetime bringing economic depression, unemployment, and a high cost of living.

And social unrest.

I didn't intend to become embroiled, until a man slipped into a lady's bedroom in an inn, clearly avoiding people pursuing him with unpleasant intentions.

Read more

Black Hawk

Black HawkJoanna here, talking about my new book, Black Hawk.

This is Adrian's story.  I don't know about anyone else, but I'm relieved the boy finally has his happy ending. 

We've met Hawker as a secondary character in the other books.  He's Hawker, or Adrian Hawker, or sometimes Sir Adrian Hawkhurst, depending who he's pretending to be and who he wants to impress.  He is deadly and sarcastic and maybe a bit too fond of sticking knives into people.  Naturally he has the making of a Romance hero.   
Two of the most dangerous spies of the Napoleonic War — on opposite sides, natch — fall in love.  Think Montague and Capulet.  Think Yankees and Red Sox.  Think Hannibal and Scipio Africanus.  Think about the owl and the hawk, two birds that  might share the sky for a while, but can't live together. 

Hawker rose up snarling out of the slums of London.  His mother was a country servant, forced Getty108271594 cropped for use2into prostitution when she turned up pregnant.  She dies under the fist of a brutal customer, leaving Hawker to survive alone on the streets. By the time he's ten, he's becomes the most cunning thief and the most skilled, ruthless assassin in the service of the King of Thieves.  He's rescued from that life, by the British Service who have uses for his particular skill set.

3237624_sJustine DeCabrillac, daughter of the nobility, is a woman just as formidable as Hawker.  Her parents die in the chaos of the Revolution and she is betrayed into a decadent child brothel.  She's rescued by a woman of the French Secret Police.  In time, Justine, too, becomes a great spy for France.

It was inevitable Justine and Adrian would meet.  The shifting intrigues of war and peace between England and France bring them together again and again, sometimes working toward a common goal.  Sometimes wholly at odds.  But a friendship forms between these two young spies, the best of their generation, based on common knowledge and common respect.  Spies of different nations have more in common with each other than with the armies clashing across battlefield or the civilians at home in bed. 

They become lovers.  3justine and adrian frm stk phot 4
This is a great error.

For Montague and Capulet, owl and hawk, tragedy is inevitable.  The demands of
loyalty will drag them apart. 
But they can't seem to stop.

Then, in two decisive confrontations — one on the steps of the Louvre, one outside Paris as armies advance to take the city — they hurt each other.  They do the unforgivable. They speak words that can't be taken back. 

Their love story is over.

Ironically, years later, when England and France are at peace and Justine has given up her old spy games, she learns of a plot to discredit and destroy Adrian.  She's attacked on her way to warn him and staggers into British Service Headquarters, bleeding.

As Adrian carries her upstairs, unconscious, he knows it's a second chance at love.  If they can work together, they might just find out who wants to kill Justine and frame Adrian.  If not, they'll both fall.

And, an excerpt:Adrian with beige background


His chin was shadowed with a need to shave. She had known a boy three years ago. She did not really know this young man.

I do not know how to ask. Everything I can say is ugly. I do not want this to be ugly.

She gave her attention to pouring hot water onto the tea leaves. Rain drummed on the roof. Since they were not talking, since they were not looking at each other, it seemed very loud. He said, “As soon as you drink that, you should leave. It’s getting worse out there.”

I must do this now, before I lose my courage. “I am hoping to spend the night.”  She chose words carefully, to clarify matters beyond any possibility of misunderstanding. “It is my wish to spend the night with you, in your bed.”

Hawker was silent. He would be this self-possessed if tribesmen of the Afghan plains burst through the door and attacked him with scimitars. The refusal to be ruffled was one of his least endearing traits.

Time stretched, very empty of comment, while she swirled the teapot gently and he was inscrutable.  Finally, he took the oil lamp from the end of the mantel and busied himself adjusting the wick, lighting it with a paper spill from the fire. “The hell you say.”


In the books you love, what love stories were never told? 

For me, it's the story of Cat in Sharon and Tom Curtis' Windflower.  I would love to read his story.

I'll be giving away a copy of Black Hawk to one lucky commentator.



Secrets Under Paris

Joanna here, talking about the secrets under the belly of Paris.  Women drinking beer manet
It's 1800 or so. 
There you are, sitting in a café in Paris, relaxing, wearing somethin
g Parisian with great éclat and style. 

Unless you are feeling deeply philosophical it's unlikely you wonder about what secrets lie hidden beneath your feet.   

"All secrets are deep. All secrets become dark. That's in the nature of secrets." 
Cory Doctorow

It is not solid earth down there.

By 1800 there's fourteen miles of sewers cut through the rock under Paris.  I don't know why folks always point out how far something like this could stretch, but that amount of Wiki _Nelson,_Nelson's_Column Eighteenth Century sewer would run from the Nelson column in Trafalgar Square to Terminal Five at Heathrow, neither of which was in existence in 1800, of course.  

We aren't going to talk about Regency-era sewerage, fascinating though that subject is.  We're going to delve deeper.  We're headed to the mines that lie far below that sidewalk café.

Carririere des caputchins pridian net

Paris feeds on itself, like the Worm Ouroboros chews its own tail.  The fine building stone of Paris is pulled from beneath the city's feet. 

From Medieval times onward, folks took that excellent limestone out of the ground and threw up little trifles of work like Notre Dame and the Louvre. 


Miners burrowed down sixty feet, cut blocks, hauled them out, and left behind a labyrinth of mine shafts, tunnels, and galleries under the earth.  



  Carririere des caputchins pridian net 2  Esprit de sel  escallier cc attrib no derive Esprit de sel  rue cuvier cc attrib no derive Esprit de sel  neons3 cc attrib no derive
There's 180 miles of tunnels and quarries running under the Left Bank.  When our Regency heroine sits in a café on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, she's a stone's throw above one of those old mines. Carririere des caputchins pridian net 4

And for a while there, the world crumbled from beneath.

While the miners were digging away over the centuries, they left big pillars of stone  in place, unexcavated, and built walls to support the roof of the mines.  This worked handily to keep the place upright while the stone was being removed, which was what the  miners were concerned about. 


However — you knew there was a 'however' coming — folks eventually came along and built on the ground above, having absent-mindedly forgotten about those pesky, empty underground spaces. 

Wiki Val_de_Grace_dsc04637

 It turned out the miner's pillars and walls were not so much sufficient to support the weight of cathedrals and palaces that were being built up top.  There was a bit of an 'oops' factor when some of these grand structures began subsiding into the ground. 


The French formed a bureaucracy to deal with this.  In 1777 Louis XVI — you will recall he came to a bad end — ordered the formation of an Inspection Générale des Carrières (General Inspectorate of the Quarries) to explore and map the underground, to dig wells, to control new mining, and to build stonework to shore up the old mines.  Plaque in quarries

They marked the place, so they could find their way around.   Since the tunnels tended to run under the main streets, they carved the names of those streets in the walls, matching the routes through the mines to the streets of Paris above.  


Le petit montreur de singe savant fragonard jaconde late c18


Streets and  houses stopped giving way and sinking into the bowels of the earth, much to the general rejoicing of the Parisians.





A visitor to the quarries in 1784 describes them —

"The general height of the roof is about nine or ten feet ; but in some parts not less than 30 and even 40. In many places there is a liquor continually dropping from it, which congeals immediately, and forms a species of transparent stone, but not so fine and clear as rock crystal.

As we continued our peregrination, we thought ourselves in no small danger from the roof, which we found but indifferently propped in some places with wood much decayed. Under the houses, and many of the streets, however, it seemed to be tolerably secured by immense stones set in mortar; in other parts, where there are only fields or gardens above it, it was totally unsupported for a considerable space, the roof being perfectly level, or a plain piece of rock."


When I came across these descriptiions of the quarries I just knew there had to be a story there. 

Aaajapanese fb

In Forbidden Rose I send my characters walking through the tunnels and galleries of these old abandoned quarries.  While I've never visited myself, I consulted some of the intrepid modern 'cataphiles' who do explore there.  



This is Maggie and her cohort entering the quarries: Candle light attrib florriebassingbourne

     This was what hell had been like when it was first constructed and lay empty, before the demons moved in with their cauldrons of fire and their pitchforks.  Hell would have smelled like wet plaster before it filled with the fumes of sulfur and whatever devils smell like.

     They carried candles, bringing five small points of light into this world.  Of all the uncanny occurrences since Marguerite had descended to this place, the strangest rested here in her hand.  The candle flame stood upward, only stirring when her breath fell across it.  There were no currents of air, no connection to the winds under the heavens.

     The rock around her was damp, full of minerals, without the least trace of life.  This was the Realm of the Underworld.  The Kingdom of Darkness.  Their candles did not challenge it at all. 


Author Real Life Note here:  I lived in Paris for a number of years and not once did I feel any urge to go exploring around below ground.  I don't say I'm claustrophobic, exactly.  I would just rather not walk about in dark places deep under the ground with tons of rock hanging above me just waiting to fall down, thank you very much.

Which may be why I put my characters down there . . . 

Picture attrib coffee roboppy, Carrières one, two and six by samuel marshall at pridan net, Carrières three, four and five by espritdesel, candle by florriebassingbourne.

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong.  No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always go there first, and is waiting for it."
Terry Pratchett


When you read, what's the scary environment you want to see the protagonists face? 
Or, what do you most definitely not want to read about?