Ask A Wench – Who’s Grumpy?

“Why, Grumpy… You do care.” Snow White discovers Grumpy’s compassionate side. Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench and a topic that has caused much discussion among the Wenches lately. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Alex Patel). “Adjectives to describe heroes have changed over the years.  "Grumpy" seems to be popular these days.  What does this mean to you? Are there other such adjectives you've liked or hated for heroes?” Christina here and I don’t actually mind grumpy heroes, if they have a reason for being that way. Recently, I’ve read quite a few contemporary stories and the grumpy heroes usually …

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The Qualities of a Gentleman

A_Gentleman_at_Heart_posterNicola here. An astonishing twelve years ago, I wrote a blog piece about what constituted a gentleman in the modern era. Is it dress, manners, background or behaviour? I was thinking about this again recently (and indeed, wondering what makes a "lady" in the equivalent sense) after reading a depressing article in the paper at the weekend which claimed that everyone is getting ruder as a result of the pandemic making us forget how to relate to one another and the pressures of modern life being to great. The article cited stories of drunken fighting in the theatre and abuse of waiting staff in restaurants, of cities like York overrun with Hen Parties and places like Cheltenham  (surely not that centre of Regency society!) becoming no-go areas at night when the races are on. And yet, if you go online, there are any number of websites giving advice on the sort of qualities a modern lady or gentleman should cultivate. It seems there is still a demand for guidance on good behaviour. And a lot of us are still entranced by the manners and mores of past times.

It was all so much more clear cut a few centuries ago. In 1583 Sir Thomas Smith wrote: “One who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port (deportment) and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be taken for a gentleman.” The luxury goods and extravagant clothing of late 16th and 17th century London were an avenue to social mobility. Sumptuary legislation – the laws that governed the types of clothes that the different social classes were entitled to wear – had lapsed and a consumer revolution was taking over. Eighty years after Smith was writing, the diarist John Evelyn complained: “How many times have I saluted the fine man for the master, and stood with my hat off to the gay feather, when I found the bird to be all this while but a daw.” In other words, in the 17th century smart clothes and an appearance of wealth made the gentleman. Or perhaps gave the appearance of a gentleman.

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Battle Babies!

TreeNicola here, talking about names. Back in July, Christina posted about names and saints’ days, and recently a previous Wench guest, Elizabeth Hawksley, wrote a fascinating piece on her own blog here about why the name Thomas fell out of popularity in 1532. It seems to me that whether we’re talking about about choosing names for characters in books or how we feel about our own names, it’s a perennially fascinating topic.

This time around, my interest was sparked by the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are, which returned to our screens in the UK last week with a new series. The first programme explored the family history of actress Jodie Whittaker. Among the family stories that emerged was one relating to her grandmother, who was called Greta Verdun Bedford. This was the moment I learned something completely new to me – that in the past, babies have been named after battles.

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Austen —romances or not?

Anne here. P&P
Yesterday I was on several panels at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and for one of them, the topic we were given to discuss was Unpicking Classic Romances — with particular references to historical classics, rather than those 20th century novels regarded in genre romance as "classics".

ClareToni&meMWF2019I don't intend to write a full report on it, but I thought wenchly readers might be interested in the topic, and could offer their own thoughts on some of the questions and discussion points. Here are the three writers who were on the panel — from left Clare Connelly, Toni Jordan and me. Calla Wahlquist, a journalist from the Guardian (Australia) and also a budding academic, chaired the panel and asked some thought-provoking questions. Sadly by the time we remembered to take a photo of us all, she'd left.

Jane Austen's novels came up for quite a bit of discussion, as did those of Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontes. Thomas Hardy got a mention, and we even did a brief  drive-by of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. And someone in the audience raised Gone with the Wind. But for this blog, I'll just stick to Austen.

So, on to Austen.
Clare and I felt strongly that Austen's novels were romances, but Toni argued that while the books were definitely courtship novels, they were not romances. She argued that Austen spent much more time in her books, describing and dwelling on the parts in the story where things fell apart than when love was declared and celebrated. And she supported her case with quotes, one of which was the very last paragraph of Emma, which sums up the wedding of Mr. Knightley and Emma Woodhouse thus:

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Mothers and sons

Blue2 . Jo here, pondering mothers and sons in historical romance, in part because the heroine of my MIP, The Viscount Needs a Wife, keeps mentioning or thinking about the subject.

Also,  two things came at me in close succession, and got me thinking. Why don't the heroes of historical romances have deep bonds with their mothers?

So, first question — am I wrong? Do you know any historical romances in which the hero has a deep bond with his mother that plays a part in the book?

Let me explain the two things that caused my pondering.

The first was an article about Dorothy Dunnett's writing, which reminded me of the emotional intensity, and the complexity of her character Lymond.You can read the article here.

The second was a reminiscence piece on the radio about World War 2 soldiers who returned to Jersey after the war. The Channel Islands were the only part of Great Britain occupied by the Nazis. Click on the link for more about that.

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