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


***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Noble's Life in Medieval Times Workshop

Eliza Knight will be presenting A Noble's Life in Medieval Times in an online workshop through Hearts Through History. The class will begin Monday, 12/5/10 and will be approximately three weeks long.  There is still time to register, and participants are able to register up until the day the workshop begins.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email Eliza at writer@elizaknight.com

Workshop Synopsis:

Life in medieval times was so much different than the way we live today. When readers sit down with their favorite medieval historical romance, they are taken away to another time and place.

For most readers, this is where they learn about medieval times, and it is the duty of the author to be as authentic as possible. That being said, you don’t want your book to be a history lecture either, but to just flavor it enough.

This workshop will teach you how people, particularly nobles, lived in medieval times, in order for you to be truer to the era you write about. This is an open discussion workshop, questions and comments are welcome and encouraged. The lessons will be presented as follows:

Lesson One: The Medieval Castle
Lesson Two: Medieval Entertainments
Lesson Three: Day in the Life of a Medieval Lord and Lady
Lesson Four: Medieval Medicine
Lesson Five: Medieval Clothes

Click here to register:  http://www.heartsthroughhistory.com/medieval.htm

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Edit Your Book in a Month Workshop

2010 is almost over!  If you've completed a novel, then now is the time to edit it.  Have that story completed and ready for submission in the new year!  The workshop begins on 12/1/10 and runs through 12/31/10. 

Eliza will present tips on editing, most common mistakes made in manuscripts, what editors and judges are looking for and show you how to evaluate the following:

Overused/Weak words
Weak verbs
Use of the 5 Senses
Tightening up those sentence
Hooks - beginning and ending
Show vs. Tell
Active vs. Passive
Goals, Motivation, Conflict
Story Development / Plot / Characterization / Setting
Inconsistencies (Ex: heroines eyes are blue in ch. 1 and brown in ch. 2)

With each new item presented, Eliza will show you how to use the information to edit your manuscript. Throughout the workshop participants will be able to post excerpts from their WIP for review and critique by Eliza and fellow classmates.

By the end of Edit Your Book in a Month, your WIP should be clean and ready for submission! The skills learned during this workshop can be used for your future manuscripts as well.

Click Here to Register

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: A Darcy Christmas

With the holidays quickly approaching I was excited to receive my copy of A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen, by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart.  This was a light-hearted, quick read, and quite enjoyable.

Back Cover...

Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Wish You a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Share in the magic of the season in these three warm and wonderful holiday novellas from bestselling authors.
Christmas Present
by Amanda Grange

A Darcy Christmas
by Sharon Lathan
Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol
by Carolyn Eberhart

Product ISBN: 9781402243394

Price: $14.99
Publication Date: October 2010

My Review...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I never tire of Elizabeth and *fanning self* Mr. Darcy--one of my all time favorite heroes.  Naturally, when I have the opportunity to read a book that continues the genius that is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice I will nearly always pick it up.

I am a junkie for reading holiday stories during the holiday season.  My radio station is permanently channeled to whatever local station is playing holiday music 24/7 and the Hallmark Christmas marathon is on every television in the house.  (Hmm... you may wonder how I get any work done with all that noise, but seriously, I love it!)

As am I, many of you during the holiday season are running around, shopping, wrapping, cleaning, preparing, cooking, traveling, finishing up last minute deadlines, etc... the list goes on, and so you find very little time to squeeze in some reading for enjoyment.

Poof!  The perfect solution: an anthology!  A Darcy Christmas will get you in the holiday spirit with debut author, Carolyn Eberhart's Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)/ A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) tribute titled, Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol.  Amanda Grange's Christmas Present, is a cheerful romp with all your favorite P&P characters--a fabulous rendition of Mrs. Bennett as well!  Sharon Lathan's A Darcy Christmas, for which this book gets its name, will have you smiling from ear to ear and remembering why you loved P&P in the first place.

This was a fabulous holiday anthology and I highly recommend reading it.  The stories are easy and quick reads, that you can squeeze in between hectic holiday running, or just curl up and read before a fire with your hot cocoa.

'Tis the season to read A Darcy Christmas!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Author, Elyse Mady on 18th Century Pleasure Gardens

Today on History Undressed, I am pleased to introduce to you another debut author, Elyse Mady.  Today she will be discussing gardens with us.  But not just any gardens--pleasure gardens.  Enjoy!

18th Century Pleasure Gardens

by Elyse Mady 

Just like today, entertainment was big business in the 18th century. From mechanical clockworks to public assembly rooms like the Pantheon, pleasure gardens like Marylebone and Vauxhall, concerts, plays, spectacles, fireworks, and readings and sermons for the high minded, there was always something to catch the attention of a English person with a few shillings to spare.

Fashions changed, new excitements arose, out-of-date ones languished. Yet while London’s pleasure sites were certainly the largest and most diverse, celebrated in books like ‘Evelina’ and ‘Cecilia’ and immortalized in biting drawings by Rowlandson, by the end of the Georgian era, almost every town of a respectable size could boast of being home to events of a similar nature, at least some of time.

But lest you think that whiling away a few free hours was all anyone had on their mind, behind the crowds of giddy revellers, battles of a political, cultural and social kind were being played out with a ferocious, if often unspoken, intensity. It was only after the Restoration in the 1660s that public leisure activities like pleasure gardens slowly came into their own. As a result of these new activities, Culture – its consumption, its control and its dissemination – became a battleground, albeit a polite one, during the long 18th century, as changing economic realities, new technologies, new lifestyles and the continuing urban intensification, changed how individuals across social strata viewed themselves and their participation in the cultural dialogue of the era.
The middle class not only wanted to participate in the cultural dialogue, as time went on and their purchasing power increased, they also began determining the types and varieties of public entertainment on offer, eschewing the restrictive and often exclusive privileges of the upper classes in favour of activities that were more reflective of their lifestyles and moral concerns.

But frankly, who wants to think politics when there are pleasures like New Spring Gardens, or to give them their more familiar name, Vauxhall Gardens, to enjoy? Who knows? It’s a fine summer night. There might be fireworks on display, and Mr. Hook’s music to enjoy, supper in the Rotunda and perhaps, if you’re very lucky or very naughty (or both!), you’ll head down the dark walks for an assignation of the amorous sort.

James Boswell wrote that:

Vauxhall Gardens is peculiarly adapted to the taste of the English nation; there being a mixture of curious show, — gay exhibition, musick, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear; — for all of which only a shilling is paid.

The main walks were lit at night by hundreds and thousands of lights, suspended above revelers in the trees and from stands. Crowds of up to 60,000 people filled the gardens on occasion. In addition to the wide, central paths, there were countless ‘dark walks’ along which lovers and prostitutes alike strolled. There were concerts and music, often performed by leading stars. Songs and lyrics were composed on topical events: royal celebrations, naval battles, military success, and songbooks and concert programs with the lyrics and tunes were widely disseminated. Over time more fantastical features were built: new supper boxes, a music room, a Chinese pavilion, a gothic orchestra that accommodated fifty musicians, and ruins, arches, statues and a cascade.

A 1762 guide, “A Description of Vaux-hall Gardens, being a proper companion and guide for all who visit that place” describes the scene thus:

THESE beautiful gardens, so justly celebrated for the variety of pleasures and elegant entertainment they afford, during the spring and summer seasons, are situated on the south fide of the river Thames in the parish of Lambeth about two miles from London ; and are said to be the first gardens of the kind in England.

As they are commodiously situated near the Thames, that those who prefer going by water, can be brought within two hundred yards of this delightful place at a much easier expence than by land.

The season for opening these gardens commences about the beginning of May, and continues till August. Every evening (Sunday excepted) they are opened at five o'clock for the reception of company.

As you enter the great gate to which you are conducted by a short avenue from the road, you pay one shilling for admittance. The first scene that salutes the eye, is a noble gravel walk about nine hundred feet in length, planted on each side with a row of stately elm and other trees ; which form a fine vista terminated by a landscape of the country, a beautiful lawn of meadow ground, and a grand gothic obelisk, all which so forcibly strike the imagination, that a mind scarce tinctured with any sensibility of order and grandeur, cannot but feel inexpressible pleasure in viewing it.

Advancing a few steps within the garden, we behold to the right a quadrangle or square, which from the number of trees planted in it, 15 called the grove : in the middle of it, is a superb and magnificent orchestra of gothic construction curiously ornamented with carvings, niches, etc. the dome of which is surmounted with a plume of feathers, the crest of the prince of Wales. The whole edifice is of wood painted white and bloom colour. The ornaments are plaistic, a composition something like plaister of Paris, but only known to the ingenious architect who designed and built this beautiful object of

In fine weather the musical entertainments are performed here by a select band of the best vocal and instrumental performers. At the upper extremity of this orchestra, a very fine organ is erected, and at the foot of it are the seats and desks for the musicians, placed in a semi-circular form, leaving a vacancy at the front for the vocal performers. The concert is opened with instrumental music at fix o'clock, which having continued about half an hour, the company are entertained with a song : and in this manner several other songs are performed with sonatas or concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment which is generally about ten o'clock.

Public gardens like Vauxhall, with their emphasis on diversion, spectacle and social intermingling played a significant role in influencing taste, introducing fashionable trends and developing new cultural precepts, both for the emerging middle class and the defending upper classes. They merged the classical with the commercial, and made the exotic accessible to the everyman. They were playgrounds after a fashion and Vauxhall, as the largest, longest lived of all the spectacular English pleasure gardens, was enjoyed by Londoners and immortalized by its authors and painters, for nearly 200 years, until finally closing its doors forever in 1859.

About the Author:

An enthusiastic and voracious reader of everything from 18th century novels to misplaced cereal boxes, Elyse has worked as a freelance magazine writer for the past several years.

Her first work of fiction, The Debutante’s Dilemma, was published by Carina Press in the fall of 2010. She is also working on a number of contemporary romance manuscripts as well as a full length historical novel set in the 1780s.

In addition to her writing commitments, Elyse also teaches film and literature at a local community college. In her free time she enjoys (well, enjoys might be too strong a word – perhaps pursues with dogged determination would be better) never ending renovations on their century cottage with her intrepid husband and two boys. She blogs at www.elysemady.wordpress.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter as @ElyseMady.

One woman in search of passion

Miss Cecilia Hastings has achieved what every young lady hopes for during her first London season…in duplicate! She’s caught the eye of not one but two of England’s most eligible bachelors. Both Jeremy Battersley, Earl of Henley, and Richard Huxley, Duke of Wexford are handsome, wealthy and kind, the epitome of proper gentlemen. But Cecelia doesn’t want proper, she wants passion. So she issues a challenge to her suitors: a kiss, so that she may choose between them.

Two men in love with the same woman

Friends since childhood, and compatriots on the battlefields of Spain, falling for the same woman has set Jeremy and Richard at odds, and risks destroying their friendship forever. But a surprising invitation to a late-night garden tryst soon sets them on a course that neither of them could have anticipated. And these gentlemen quickly discover that love can take many forms…

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Author, Stephanie Dray - Bad Girls of the Ancient World: Expanded Edition

Today on History Undressed, I'm thrilled to present to you a new author, Stephanie Dray.  I first met Stephanie earlier this year at a local writing chapter meeting.  I stared admiringly and somewhat covetously at the paper thin laptop she was using for an hour--mine is quite large--(my apologies to the speaker!) and then introduced myself. She is an up and coming author of historical fiction, her debut Lily of the Nile, a novel about Cleopatra's daughter, will release in January 2011.  In the meantime, she has presented me with a tantalizing and fun historical article.  Enjoy!

Bad Girls of the Ancient World: Expanded Edition
by Stephanie Dray
I recently co-authored a piece about bad girls in the ancient world with Jeannie Lin, author of historical fiction set in Tang Dynasty China. Together, Jeannie and I discussed how women who have been vilified in history share a few common traits whether they hail from western or eastern culture. These women were usually warriors, seductresses, or sorceresses. Sometimes, all three.

Today I’m taking on this subject solo to introduce you to the ancient bad girls of Western Civilization--those women who defied social convention and sometimes changed the world as a result. These women are fascinating and in the context of my forthcoming novel, Lily of the Nile, they also served to inspire my heroine, Cleopatra Selene.

The historic Selene was born into a dangerous political world, a civilization on the brink of change, and one that may have embraced a more egalitarian view of women if her parents had won their struggle with Octavian. Instead, the independence and power of Selene’s mother as a ruler became a pretext for war, and the misogyny of the Augustan Age took root.

It’s taken us more than two-thousand years to move away from the attitudes towards women that were fostered in Selene’s time, so let’s talk about those bad girls who inspire us and serve as everlasting examples of how ancient attitudes about women still influence us today.

Dido -- Queen of the Carthaginians

by Christophe Cochet
Though some have argued that Dido is only a mythological figure, it seems more likely that she was a real historical figure--a Princess of Tyre, granted the right to rule jointly with her brother. However, her brother wasn’t keen on sharing power so he murdered Dido’s wealthy husband with the intention of taking over the palace. What Dido did next set her apart from most other women of known history--she didn’t seek out shelter in another kingdom as a wealthy exile, nor did she try to re-marry a powerful king to help her recover the rulership of Tyre. Instead, Queen Dido led a group of settlers and government officials who remained loyal to her and founded the city of Carthage in North Africa.

She was a politician who not only shaped her own fate but created a new civilization. She was also, apparently, so highly religious that she is often equated with her goddess, the Carthaginian Tanit. And when she faced political domination by a neighboring country that wanted to force her into marriage, Dido stabbed herself to death and threw herself upon a funeral pyre.

But why did she come to be thought of as a bad girl in the ancient world?

Because the Romans and the Carthaginians would go on to battle each other in a series of wars for more than one hundred years, the Roman hostility towards a civilization founded by a powerful woman helped forge the Roman character and its attitude towards women. Virgil’s Aeneid, the quintessential propaganda epic of the Augustan Age, immortalizes Dido as a temptress who quite nearly dissuaded the upright Aeneas from his duty to found Rome. (Historically, it’s unlikely that Dido and Aeneas could have ever crossed paths, but a Roman historical fiction writer like Virgil couldn’t resist the temptation to imagine their failed love affair!)

For the Romans, Dido was a woman who should have submitted to her brother’s rule and never taken it upon herself to build a new city or refuse marriage to another man. And because the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, it’s their attitudes that we have inherited through history.

Sophonisba -- Carthaginian Princess and Patriot

by Giovanni Francesco Caroto
  There are a number of stories about proud Carthaginian women who chose death as an alternative to being ruled by men, or by Rome. Sophonisba is another of them. The legend surrounding her is that she was a fiercely patriotic princess who was betrothed to Massinissa of Numidia. But when her intended groom allied with Rome and wouldn’t stay faithful to Carthage, she decided to marry the Numidian leader Syphax instead.

But Sophonisba’s jilted groom didn’t forget her. Perhaps as much from injured pride as for political reasons, Massinissa defeated Syphax and claimed Sophonisba as his bride. She married him, but tried to use his love for her to turn him against the Romans.

Sophonisba never took up arms against the Romans; she wasn’t a political enemy in the conventional sense. However, the Romans were threatened by women who used their sexuality for political gain. Marking her for an enemy, the Romans demanded that she be handed over and marched in a triumph through Rome as a captured slave. Sophonisba drank a cup of poison instead.

As a young North African queen and wife of Juba II who was himself a descendant of Massinissa, Selene must have heard this story; it’s difficult to imagine that it didn’t remind her of her own mother.

Olympias -- Mother of Alexander the Great

from Promptuarii
Iconum Insigniorum
This Greek princess and supposed descendant of Achilles met her husband, Philip II of Macedon, while being initiated into the mysteries of an ancient cult. She was always suspected, ever after, of sorcery and congress with serpents. Though she was the fourth of Phillip’s wives, he claimed it was a love match, and she appears to have believed him until he started marrying other women. When Philip married a seventh time and drunkenly accused Olympias of infidelity, she packed up her things and left Macedon.

Fortuitously--and perhaps not coincidentally--her husband was assassinated shortly thereafter. Olympias was able to install her son Alexander on the throne and he would go on to become ruler of the known world. But Olympias didn’t simply fade into the woodwork; she was an active participant in Alexander’s political regime. After her son’s death, though she was in her fifties, Olympias commanded an army in the field to preserve the throne for her baby grandson. What’s more, she won. For a short time, she was the mistress of Macedonia, at the zenith of her power. Eventually, she was defeated by Cassander and executed, thought to be far too dangerous to leave alive, but she leaves behind the archetype of a fiercely protective mother.
As a descendant of Alexander’s Macedonian general, Ptolemy, Selene was a kinswoman to Olympias and probably learned about her exploits.

Cleopatra -- The Most Powerful Woman in the History of the World

Marble Bust of Cleopatra
Dating from 30-40 BC
As the consort of not one, but two Roman generals, Cleopatra earned a reputation as a seductress. Though she was a Hellenistic Queen, the Romans thought of her as foreign and exotic. Because she respected older Egyptian traditions, the Romans disdained her for worshipping all manner of strange gods. What’s more, her enemies believed she was capable of wielding magic. And if that weren’t bad enough, Cleopatra was also a warrior queen, capable of commanding her own warships.

She’s come down to us as a familiar and iconic image. Everyone has heard about the infamous Queen of the Nile, and there’s a good reason for it. She was, and remains, the most powerful woman in the history of the world. Though we’ve since had powerful queens, the geographic scope of their authority has been smaller. We’ve also had women serve as prime ministers of important countries, but their powers have been limited and sharply circumscribed. Cleopatra was not only the queen of Egypt in her own right, but in concert with her Roman husband, the biddable Marcus Antonius, she wielded unprecedented power. Until the Battle of Actium, she was poised to rule the entire world. But for some bad weather and a wildly successful propaganda campaign against her, the world might be a much different place today.

It’s difficult to wonder what lessons Cleopatra’s daughter Selene must have taken from her rise and fall. Selene herself was born in Ptolemaic Egypt, the best possible place to be born a woman in the ancient world. Raised in Alexandria, she would never have lacked for strong female role models.

Nonetheless, Cleopatra Selene was not a bad girl of history; she managed, somehow, to wield great political power and religious influence without ever falling afoul of the patriarchy. This may be because no sexual scandal touched her during her twenty-year marriage to Juba II or because she never took up arms on a battlefield.

Even so, she never forgot the important women in her life or in her legacy and neither should we.


With her parents dead, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is left at the mercy of her Roman captors. Heir to one empire and prisoner of another, it falls to Princess Selene to save her brothers and reclaim what is rightfully hers…

In the aftermath of Alexandria’s tragic fall, Princess Selene is taken from Egypt, the only home she’s ever known. Along with her two surviving brothers, she’s put on display as a war trophy in Rome. Selene’s captors mock her royalty and drag her through the streets in chains, but on the brink of death, the children are spared as a favor to the emperor’s sister, who takes them to live as hostages in the so-called lamentable embassy of royal orphans.

Now trapped in a Roman court of intrigue that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, Selene can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her flesh. Nor can she stop the emperor from using her for his own political ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined honor her mother’s lost legacy. The magic of Egypt and Isis remain within her. But can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win or die?


Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.  Visit Stephanie at http://www.stephaniedray.com/

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Historical Romance Review: Heartsong, by Allison Knight

I have been a lover of historical romance since I read my first fairy tale.  I've watched romances evolve over the years and believe me they have evolved.  Its a subtle difference, but there is a difference.  That being said, I really enjoy reading both older romances and newer romances.

Recently, I read Allison Knight's historical romance, Heartsong.  This book, while published in 2008, reminded me of older romance novels.  I think its partly the language, partly the story line, the alpha hero trying to show off his alphaness, the inherent danger to the heroine's life.

The book was a quick read at just under 200 pages in Trade Paperback

About the book...

Desperate and proud, Rhianna ap Brynn Ffrydd, a Welsh princess, is captured by a hated Englishman, Baron Garrett deShay, an agent of Edward I of England. Despite the passion he arouses in her, Rhianna must find a way to return home to her younger half sister, whom she's raised since birth. Garrett, emotionally scarred but intent on gaining the respect of his monarch by surrendering a member of Welsh aristocracy, fights an overwhelming attraction and the need to protect this woman, despite the charge of witch that hangs over her head. Can the two lovers conquer the cruelties awaiting them and their own natural animosity, to accept a forever kind of love?

Pubbed in 2008, Champagne Books
ISBN:  978-1897445792

My Review...
Medieval history is one of my favorite time periods.  There is something about the knights, ladies and castles that gets me every time.  Even their clothes and food fascinates me.  Heartsong, is a medieval historical romance, with the heroine being Welsh and the hero being English.  They were born to hate each other.  In fact the only reason they met was because he invaded her lands and captured her.  *Rubbing hands* I couldn't wait to see how he won her over!

Ms. Knight did a good job of capturing the medieval setting, with the castles, fires, furs, servants, laws, witch trials, horses, travel, food, window slits, etc... I was able to put myself into the book and visualize the surroundings. This book took me back to older Julie Garwood medievals and Kathleen Woodiwiss days--yes Ms. Knight, your writing reminds me of these medieval romance Queens!

But there were a few things I struggled with.  I had trouble with the progression of their romance.  I wish the story had been longer so I could see more reasons for her to want to stay then to return to her family.  I was a little disappointed with how Garrett treated his sister at first and his betrothed, as well as continuing to call Rhianna "wench".  I know this was in keeping with the times, and yes his sister was irritating, but I would have liked to see our hero be a little more heroic.

Now, those things aside, I did enjoy it.  I would have liked it more if it were a little longer.  The last 50 pages really had my eyes peeled open too--lots of action and drama in that last bit.  The book did have a satisfying ending.
I see after looking on Ms. Knight's website that there is a sequel to this book titled, Battlesong, which released earlier this year.  I read the excerpt, and Ms. Knight, it sounds fabulous!  I will be adding it to my TBR pile, as this one is Arthur's story, and I'm curious to check on the characters and see how his own romance progresses.

About the author...

Allison, like many authors, read a book she didn't like. Despite occasional digs from her children, she wrote a romance. "Heartsong" is her thirteenth book. A retired teacher, she's taught fiction writing and spoken at conferences throughout the country. She and her husband moved south to the land of hurricanes and sunshine. When she isn't watching the weather, she writes, creating heroes and heroines, then finding ways to make their lives miserable.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guest Blogger, Rebecca Lynn: One Bituminous Tuber (Or How the Potato Ruined the World)

Today on History Undressed, I am super excited to have guest blogger Rebecca Lynn joining us!  Rebecca has a delcious and lovely blog, Romancing the Palate that I frequent often.  So without further ado... I give you her post today on Food History and the Potato.

One Bituminous Tuber (Or How the Potato Ruined the World)

By Rebecca Lynn

Guest Blogger,
Rebecca Lynn
 Meat and potatoes. Many of Westerners, regardless of social status, find this to be the staple of their diet. In fact, the most common side dish for any kind of meat is some form of starch or potato. Mash them, bake them, slice them, fry them... we like our potatoes basically any way but raw. But food preparation hasn't always been like this. In fact, did you know that potatoes used to be forbidden? As in, oulawed! From the introduction of the potato into the Western palate, this starchy veg has gone through a true food revolution.

Aside from being closely linked to politics and social movements (like many other foods throughout history--salt, pepper, cinnamon, and sugar, to name a few), the potato was one of the first foods to come under true scientific scrutiny. Thought to be the cause of leprosy in the 16th century, the potato was outlawed for over 100 years in some parts of Western Europe because of its association with this deadly disease. After this belief was finally proven false, the reintroduction of the potato into the culinary atmosphere was so difficult, it required military intervention. Of course, potatoes were later linked to high fertility rates and a cure for diarrhea, among other positive associations. So not all potato-based mythology was negative.

Vincent van Gogh - The Potato Eaters
Still, potatoes were generally thought to be peasant food, through most of the Modern period. It was common for food-obsessed aristocrats (especially on the Continent) to look down on restaurants or parties that served potato dishes. In the British Isles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the potato became a subsistence crop for the very poor, especially in Ireland. Peasants relied on potato crops to keep their children's bellies full, so much so that when the potato blight happened in Ireland in 1845, over a million people died in the ensuing famine.
So now, we come to the obvious question. Why is this important? And as a romance novelist, why is food history important?

Food is necessary for humans to exist, and the realness of our culinary environment can place us at a very specific point in history. Like the evolution of the potato--which went from an illegal substance in the early 16th century to a marker of social status in the 19th to a staple across socio-economic barriers in the 21st--what a person eats, prepares, and serves can say a lot about who they are. You've heard the phrase, "you are what you eat"? Well, that's true in more than a health-obsessed way.

A 14th-century aristocrat in Scotland would likely not be eating potatoes (although I think you could make an argument for Scotland, of all places, because of its isolation). A 17th-century aristocrat in France certainly would not be eating potatoes. A 19th-century British aristocrat would associate potatoes with peasants. And if they were served at the table of, say, a merchant family, the way a true aristocrat would respond (especially in his own head) would authenticate your historicity. In the same way, the response of the merchant (who was, in essence, bridging the gap between the peasant and the noble) would make him seem more real, as well.

Food detail adds authenticity. And, let's face it, food history is FUN! :-) I had a great time researching this post. In fact, I found a great resource or two that you could potentially use. I'll give you one--the one where I got most of my information. It's called Food In History by Reay Tannahill, and it's a phenomenal food history resource. The other, well, you'll just have to take my food writing class to find out about all of my secrets!

What's that, you say? When and where am I teaching this illustrious Food Writing class? Well, you're in luck. It starts on Monday. It's called "Romancing the Palate", and you can register here: http://dunesanddreams.org/writing-workshops/2010-november-workshop-b/. If you can't take it this time, I'll be teaching another class in February that will last a full month. Watch my blog (http://romancingthepalate.blogspot.com) for more information on that one. And I have food history tidbits on my blog now and then, in addition to other food writing and foodie romance topics. So stop on by.

But mostly, I want to encourage you to use authentic and deep food detail in your books. Why? Because food is common to every human experience, much like love. And the more connected a person feels to your books, the more open they are to the message that romance writers deliver: that everyone deserves to love and be loved. In addition to being a political tool, a pleasure experience, and a necessary part of human existence, food is deeply connected to our ideas of love and loving. So what more perfect marriage could there be than food and romance novels?

I can think of none.

Rebecca Lynn has two Master's degrees and is very pretentious about it. Or, she's just another writer trying to get published. Only she does have some acumen in literature, history, and leadership, and she tries to use it as much as possible. She also ran her own restaurant for a number of years and has experience in the food industry, in addition to food writing. She believes that behind every good recipe is a good love story, and that food is integral to the experience of true romance. For her, anyway. She considers herself a foodie romance author and teaches food writing workshops online.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Historical Book Review: Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace, by Lucy Worsley

I've just finished reading, Courtiers, The Secret History of Kensington Palace, by Lucy Worsley, and for all of you history buffs out there, and for those of you who want to become one, I can't recommend it enough! 

About the Book...

Kensington Palace is now most famous as the former home of Diana, Princess of Wales, but the palace's glory days came between 1714 and 1760, during the reigns of George I and II . In the eighteenth century, this palace was a world of skulduggery, intrigue, politicking, etiquette, wigs, and beauty spots, where fans whistled open like switchblades and unusual people were kept as curiosities. Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers charts the trajectory of the fantastically quarrelsome Hanovers and the last great gasp of British court life. Structured around the paintings of courtiers and servants that line the walls of the King's Staircase of Kensington Palace—paintings you can see at the palace today—The Courtiers goes behind closed doors to meet a pushy young painter, a maid of honor with a secret marriage, a vice chamberlain with many vices, a bedchamber woman with a violent husband, two aging royal mistresses, and many more. The result is an indelible portrait of court life leading up to the famous reign of George III , and a feast for both Anglophiles and lovers of history and royalty.

Hardcover, Pubbed: August 2010
ISBN: 9780802719874

My Review...

Kudos to you Ms. Worsley!  I personally enjoy reading historical factual books because I'm obsessed, but for some people reading history books can be a bit of a bore.  Rest assured, when you pick up this book, you won't be bored!  (and if you are, for shame!)  Ms. Worsley has a natural story telling voice, which was active, inviting and intriguing.  She tells the story of Kensington Palace and its inhabitants during a time period I have had a brief introduction to before, but am now fully informed of, and things that I never would have found on my own.

I think this is what most intrigued me about the book, it wasn't just the story of the kings, queens, princesses, and other royals, but covered the lives of those who traipsed through the palace daily--servants too!  And all of them held secrets.  The book brought to life that saying, "If these walls could talk..." and apparently they did talk to Ms. Worsley, and we are lucky enough to hear what they said.

The book also comes with pictures, which pleased me immensely!  While I do have a vivid enough imagination to picture the people and palace on my own, seeing it while reading it makes the book that much better.

This is definitely a keeper for me!  And I have to say thank you to you Ms. Worsley, in casual conversation the other day, someone wondered when the English monarchs came from Germany, and because I'd read your book, I knew exactly when.  I look forward to reading your future works and stockpiling your backlist.


About the Author...

Lucy Worsley is the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, and Kensington Palace.  She is the author of Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion, and Great Houses.  Visit Ms. Worsley at www.lucyworsley.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Guest Author Mary McCall on Christian Symbolism Part II

In September of this year, Mary McCall, a regular guest author at History Undressed, offered up her article Medieval Christian Symbolism, and today I am eager to present to you, Part II of Christian Symbolism that Mary has written for us.  As I write this, Mary is herself in the heart of Rome--at the Vatican!  Eager readers, prepare to have your minds tantalized by Mary's prose...

Early Christian Symbolism: Part II

By Mary McCall

Let me begin by announcing this is a Purple Post. Amanda Kelsey did such a beautiful job with the heather-covered field on my cover that I’ve decided to declare November Purple Month. On any blog post I do this month that you respond to, leave your e-mail. I’ll be doing a drawing for a .pdf copy of Highland Treasure for each blog three days after it’s posted. In addition, I’ll save all the names and on December 3rd, I’ll do a drawing for a gift basket. I’m not very good at doing like the Romans. There’s no getting used to the time change here and my internet time is limited, but I will get back to make replies.

The Fish: One of the most common of all early Christian symbols is the fish, representing Christ - ever-watchful with unblinking eyes. In Greek, the phrase, "Jesus Christ, Son of God Savior," is "Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter." The first letters of each of these Greek words, when put together, spell "ichthys," the Greek word for "fish." This symbol can be seen in the Sacraments Chapel of the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Because of the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the fish symbolized, too, the Eucharist.
The earliest literary reference to the fish as Christian symbol was made by Clement of Alexandria, who advised Christians to use a dove or fish as their seal. Tertullian wrote (in "De Baptismo") "But we, being little fishes, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound." Also used as a Christian symbol was the dolphin, most often as a symbol of the Christian himself rather than Christ, though the dolphin was also used as a representation of Christ -- most often in combination with the anchor symbol ("Christ on the Cross"). During the reign of Diocletian, a common form of persecution/death for martyrs was to have an anchor wrapped around their neck and then toss them in a lake. In the catacombs, the final resting places of martyrs are marked with the method of death. It is common to see anchors, flames, axes, crosses, etc. carved into the stone.
Lamb: symbol of Christ as the Paschal Lamb and also a symbol for Christians (as Christ is our Shepherd and Peter was told to feed His sheep). The lamb is also a symbol for St. Agnes (Feast Day 21 January), virgin martyr of the early Church.

Dove: symbol of the Holy Ghost and used especially in representations of our Lord's Baptism and the Pentecost. It also symbolizes the release of the soul in death, and is used to recall Noe's dove, a harbinger of hope.

Peacock: As a symbol of immortality (even St. Augustine believed the peackock's flesh to have "antiseptic qualities" and that it didn't corrupt), the peacock became a symbol of Christ and the Resurrection. Its image embellished everything from the Catacombs to everyday objects, like lamps, especially in early Romanesque and Byzantine churches. This example is two peacocks facing on the side of an ancient tabernacle with the Chi-Rho on the lid. (The peacock, for obvious reasons, was also used as a symbol for pride, too).

Pelican: The Pelican is a symbol of the atonement and the Redeemer and is often found in Christian murals, frescos, paintings and stained glass. The pelican was believed to wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood. In the hymn "Adoro Te," St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the Savior with, "Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood." Allusion is even made to this belief in "Hamlet" (act iv): "To his good friend thus wide I'll open my arms And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican, Repast them with my blood."

Phoenix: The Phoenix is a mythical creature said to build a nest when old, and set it on fire. It would then rise from the ashes in victory. Because of these myths (believed by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Orientals), the bird came to symbolize Christ.

Ship: As those outside of Noe's Ark were destroyed, the ship became a perfect early symbol of the Church with its associations with "the barque of Peter, the Fisherman." In the same vein, the main part of a church's interior, the place where the people worship, is called a "nave," from the Latin "navis" -- ship. The Ark is also a symbol of the Temple through its shape and purpose, both having three levels, etc. And as a symbol of the Temple and Church, it is a symbol of Mary, sealed off with pitch and closed up by God Himself.

Rainbow: Sign of the Covenant with Noe. Its 7 colors (from the top down: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) recall the 7 Sacraments (7 is the sign of Covenant and completion). In St. John's vision of Heaven, a rainbow makes an appearance -- over the head of the angel who gives John a book to eat (ch. 10), and surrounding the throne of God:

Apocalypse 4:2-3:

And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold there was a throne set in heaven, and upon the throne one sitting. And he that sat, was to the sight like the jasper and the sardine stone; and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

We’ll look at more next time and eventually get into how some of these symbols led to development of heraldry. Until next time, happy reading and writing!



Can the Highlands survive a gifted soul with a tendency toward mischief?

Leonce MacPherson became chieftain after an unknown Norman slaughtered his father and clansmen. For two years he’s raided Northumbria seeking vengeance while a dream woman promises the return of his great sword, stolen in the massacre.

After escaping an abusive father, Lady Hope Nevilles, unknowingly the Gifted MacKay of her generation, has lived with animals for friends in wild Northumbria. She longs to flee to her mother’s native Highlands and find a place away from capture and torture.

When her father steals Leonce’s son, Hope takes that as a sign to journey to the Highlands. She returns the boy and the great sword to Leonce, who recognizes her as his dream siren. When he tricks her into marriage, will she keep her vow to kill herself rather than submit to any man? Can she learn to trust as her father's sin haunt her future? When she learns the truth of her ancestry and gifted spirit from a clan enemy, will Leonce accept the news, or will distrust and jealousy doom their fragile union?

You can visit Mary at www.marymccall.net or http://marymccall.wordpress.com/