Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, October 23, 2009

Guest Blogger Donna Goode on The French Lady's Maid

Today we have special guest blogger, Donna Goode with us. She'll be talking about the fascintaing world of the French Lady's Maid...I can't wait! I give you Donna...

Hello! My name is Donna Goode and I'm a writer of historical romance set in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War period and pre-Revolutionary War period. I grew up in the Land of Enchantment but my husband took me away from all that. I've been married—to the same guy—for the past 38 years. He’s a retired Naval officer and we've lived all over the United States. We built our home in the beautiful hills of Northeast Tennessee about eleven years ago and this is where we’ve lived happily ever after. My wonderful husband is my hero—the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. We have one daughter who’s married with a young son of her own and living in a galaxy far, far away—in Northern California. She’s also an author and an RWA member!

I’m a registered nurse and have practiced Pediatric nursing for the past twenty years. Pediatrics is my first (nursing) love as historical romance is my first writing and reading love. I’ve been reading it since—pre-birth! My first book was Anderson’s Fairy Tales! My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. Happily, my copy of it is leather-bound. Unhappily, I’ve read it so many times I’ve nearly worn the gold lettering off its cover! I’m not joking, by the way. I’ve read it at least once each year—and sometimes more than that since I purchased it—in 1977!

History has pretty much always been a passion of mine and the Revolutionary War period is perhaps my favorite and is, thus, the setting for my books. Welcome to my world!


There were various classes of ladies’ maids—and it pretty much depended on who you were as to the class you hired. There were fine maids and lowly maids, intelligent maids and maids without any affectation of ingenuity. “There were maids who were their mistress’s ‘right hand’ as it were, coadjutors in all that concerns the interest of the household; and maids who were mere automatons, who performed the duties required of them in a mechanical manner” and who were more concerned with their own interest than that of the lady they served (gasp).

The French lady’s maid was usually hired by the highest ranking ladies in society: ladies who “went out a great deal” and who spent a great deal of money on their wardrobes. This, of course, suggests a large home with many servants. It was said that “a Parisian maid out of her orbit is not a treasure”.

In other words, she could make your life quite miserable if she should be hired to serve out of her element. And, don’t even expect her to remain! Let’s consider the task of hiring one of these, shall we? It hardly needs be said that you will be a lady with a nearly unlimited budget for clothing and hiring the best household staff money can buy. And please…remember that your schedule must be full. She will expect it!

She will rank second in importance to your housekeeper in the household servants’ hierarchy. She will answer to nobody at all except you—just in case you have a house steward who dares to think he’s actually in charge of her. She will expect to have under-lady’s maids under her command who perform the menial tasks of cleaning your bed-chamber, and sewing, mending, hand laundering and starching your clothing. She will assist you in selecting them if you are not yet in possession of qualified individuals.

You may expect her to have a thorough knowledge of dressmaking although she will not actually sew any but your shifts, nightgowns and other intimate garments and your less expensive dresses for day wear—you will, of course, have your couturière design and sew your evening wear. You may certainly expect her to possess experience in doing needlepoint and fine embroidery, washing your fine linen, starching your tiffanies, caring for your delicate needlepoint laces and mending it all when necessary—although she may not perform these tasks herself but assign the task to her under-maids.

Possessed of the highest standards, your French lady’s maid will be an accomplished coiffeuse so that you will never be expected to seek the services of another for this service and her skillful application of make-up will leave you looking perfect, no matter the occasion. You will be entirely cared for by her and her staff: your skin, your nails, your bathing, your hair will all receive her personal attention and leave you nothing at all to complain of. She will be on hand to lay out every piece of your complicated wardrobe requirements for the next activity in your busy schedule and will supervise your dressing. She will anticipate your return from your appointment and be on hand to assist you to change for the next one on your schedule. Your chambers will have been cleaned and put into good order in anticipation of your arrival…she will have seen to it. She will assist you to change and bathe before your evening engagements. You will be coiffed and your make-up will be delicately applied to show your best features and hide any flaws—should your perfect complexion possess any. Your perfectly cared-for precious jewels will be brought out for your approval and will be put on you before you leave your chambers. She will also be on hand with at least one assistant when you return in order to assist you to change out of your clothing and prepare you for bed…and your lord’s pleasure. Before she retires she will put away all your clothing and jewels and neaten your dressing room.

You may trust her to supervise your entire personal staff and all your belongings. Woe be it to any hapless under-lady’s maid who begs ignorance of one or another of these tasks for she will be certainly be instructed in it! Who would consider hiring such a person for such a coveted position if she didn’t already possess the required skills, I ask you?

When you are ill or confined by your pregnancy, she will play music for you and perhaps even sing for you if her voice is pleasant. She will read to you for your amusement. She will be utterly discreet and keep all your secrets—your illnesses, your personal failings (should you possess any, of course), your failed love affairs are all safe with her.

If you choose to keep a pet dog or dogs she will see that they are washed, fed and walked. You may assure yourself that she will share your fondness for your dogs!

You will certainly not wish to advertise in a newspaper for your lady’s maid! No lady in any landed household would consider doing such a thing. No, you will request an agency to place a discreetly worded advertisement in The Times and they will find a number of applicants for you to interview in the privacy of your sitting room. Your house steward will send a letter to her previous employer on your behalf to seek her ‘character’. You need not fear that she will see any portion of it. Some of the questions that will be asked of her include:
* Is she thoroughly trustworthy, sober and honest?
* Is she quick and obliging and kind in illness?
* Is she a handy dressmaker, blouse maker and renovator, a careful packer and handy traveller?
* Has she a good memory and is she tidy and methodical in her work and duties?
* Has she a good temper or is she easily irritated?
* Is she thoroughly discreet and not inclined to make friends all over the place, and is she really reliable?
* Is her health good and has she good eyesight?
* Do you know if she is engaged to be married?

The results of this enquiry will determine her fitness for the coveted position she that will be hers should her character be determined to be satisfactory to you.

Before you engage her to your staff you must not forget to settle your expectations of her, including her wages, perquisites, dress and hours. If she is to be given your cast off clothing to wear she may only wear them on her afternoons off. She may also sell them to increase her wages. If you choose not to permit this arrangement for your own personal reasons then she will expect to be compensated for the loss of the perquisite. You will find that it is commonly expected by them. You must establish your schedule with her and she will expect to be informed of any changes to it. You must inform her in sufficient time to pack your luggage before your trips to visit friends or family for house parties. She will accompany you to these, of course as will your husband’s valet. It goes without saying that she and her assistants will form part of your retinue when you and your lord retire to your country estate for the summer. She will expect to have her afternoons free while you are engaged upon your appointments so you must not fail to inform her ahead of time if there is a change to your schedule.

You will, of course, expect your French lady’s maid to dress stylishly, but simply. You will, of course, not wish her to be as fashionable as you are. She must be pleasant in her appearance at all times. When she accompanies you on your afternoons out nobody must mistake as the mistress.

Now admit it, ladies. Doesn’t the employment of a French lady’s maid sound like a lovely prospect?


Sources for this article:
The Duties of Servants: A Practical Guide to the Routine of Domestic Service
Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House, by Pamela Sambrook
The International Guild of Professional Butlers
Not In Front of the Servants, by Frank Dawes

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Historical Book Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

I had the pleasure of reading Hilary Mantel’s latest release, Man Booker prize for fiction winner, Wolf Hall, and a truly genuine pleasure it was. I am now a great fan of Ms. Mantel and will be perusing her other works in the very near future.

Jacketflap Blurb:

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Author Bio:

Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

My Review:
To read Wolf Hall is to be a fly on the wall of the Tudor court, and the very very close friend and confidant of one Thomas Cromwell, a man who came from nothing to becoming one of the most powerful and influential men in King Henry VIII’s court. The reader is drawn into his world, privy to his intimate thoughts and memories… Ms. Mantel paints a perfect picture of the Tudor era and its people. Tapestries with vivid colors, textures and scenes grace the walls, jewels, fabrics, clothes, meals all drawn out so you as a reader “see” what Cromwell sees, taste what he tastes, hear what he hears, and feel what he feels. We have a realistic view of what happened—not sugar coated like a marzipan doll. There was sickness, death, fickle leaders, religious fanatics, the constant worry of whether or not you were in favor. You had to have your eyes and ears focused at once in front of you, but never take your focus from behind either.

Her study of the real life characters is obvious in their gestures, facial expressions and words. It’s almost as if while reading, you travel through time and experience the story for yourself. As a person obsessed and enthralled with history, the Tudor era in particular, I was impressed to say the least.

I liked her depiction of Cromwell. From most sources, both fiction and non-fiction, he often comes off as a cold, hard figure, calculating, which he was, but he was also a person. In Ms. Mantel’s point of view, he is still all of those things yet mindful of others. He cares for his family, for the people of London and beyond. He is charitable, a patron of the arts, a lover, father, friend. In her version of Thomas Cromwell, he works for himself, but also has the constant question on his lips, whether he voices it or not, “Do I look like a murderer?” Having this thought makes him infinitely more human.

Each time I sat down to read, the pages flew by as I was quickly drawn in and held captive by the eloquent, yet dark, starkly real and sometimes bawdy words written by Ms. Mantel. She is a literary genius with a writing style I haven’t seen done in a long time, if ever. It was like watching a realistic play, acted out on a stage inside my mind. Her voice is alive and unique, her research well done, her story intriguing, characters superb.

Wolf Hall is filled with dozens of life-like characters, based on courtiers from Henry’s court. They take you through an epic journey across almost six-hundred pages. Ms. Mantel is bold in her ability to build these characters and their actions through research and her creative writing talents.

I highly recommend Wolf Hall to readers of historical fiction, especially those as enchanted with Tudor history as I am. In fact, this book will remain upfront and center on my bookshelf—I plan on reading it again and again.

Buy link