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, December 11, 2012

A Health Unto Her Majesty: The Allure Of The Victorian Age by Pamela Sherwood

Today I'd like to welcome Pamela Sherwood to History Undressed! She's talking to us today about the Victoria Age--a time I find so incredibly fascinating. Also, leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of her new release, Waltz With a Stranger!!!

A Health Unto Her Majesty: The Allure Of The Victorian Age

by Pamela Sherwood

Hello, everyone, and thank you to Eliza for hosting me at History Undressed!

Queen Victoria, for whom
the era was named.
Today, I’ve been asked to explain what I find so fascinating about the Victorian Era. Well, initially, there was no fascination--at least, not that I recognized. Like many historical romance authors, I came to the genre through the Regencies of Georgette Heyer and her successors. Naturally, I expected that if I ever tried my hand at writing a romance, it would be set in the Regency: elegant, polished, witty but dramatic, a fusion of Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.

Being seduced by the Victorian Age was the last thing I expected. Not that I disdained it--my graduate work focused on Victorian poetry, after all--but surely I’d said all I intended to say about the era in my thesis, right?

Flash forward several years--never mind how many!--and I find I do have more to say about the Victorian Age, after all.

By historical standards, the Regency is an eyeblink, lasting less than a full decade, from 1811 to 1820. By contrast, the Victorian period spans 64 years, Years of sweeping, dramatic, transformative change. Years in which a sheltered eighteen-year-old princess, who had reportedly said “I will be good” when informed she would one day rule England, grew by turns into a stately royal wife and mother of a dynasty, and then the sad, but still formidable Widow of Windsor, reigning over a vast, far-flung empire upon which the sun famously never set.

Choose any decade in Victoria’s reign, and you’ll find something happening: socially, economically, politically, technologically, even artistically. The Victorians might be considered uptight, repressed, overly earnest, occasionally hypocritical, and much less dashing than their Regency predecessors, but they knew how to get things done. A series of reforms ameliorated the lot of the poor, slavery within the empire was finally abolished, a police system was established--and the British police force is still considered by many to be the best in the world. Meanwhile, new inventions--the railroad, the telephone, electric lighting--brought people infinitely closer to the world we know today.

Girton College
The vexed “Woman Question” was also being addressed.  In 1857 divorce became the provenance of the civil rather than the ecclesiastical courts, making it slightly easier for unhappily married couples to dissolve their union. Laws were changed so married women could acquire and retain rights to property. In 1869, Cambridge University established Girton College, just for women students. Ten years later, Oxford followed suit by founding Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville. Degrees were still an unrealized dream until the 1920s, but women did have the opportunity to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Towards the end of the century, women who could claim some education and training were finding jobs outside the home, the schools, or the shops, working as secretaries, telephone operators, and even journalists. And the seeds for women’s suffrage were sown as well, germinating into full-blown rebellion in the Edwardian Age.

Another dramatic change was occurring on the domestic front, as the “Buccaneers” successfully infiltrated the hidebound English aristocracy, revitalizing it with new blood, new vigor, and new money. Dynamic, determined, wealthy beyond dreams of avarice, American heiresses crossed the Atlantic in droves between 1870 and 1910, intent on securing the best husbands money could buy. “Best” being a somewhat subjective term, most often synonymous with “titled,” and many land-rich but cash-poor European peers were more than willing to be bought.

Several “Buccaneers” found only disillusionment and disappointment in these transatlantic matches. Others found purpose, fulfillment, and after some initial struggle, a love to last a lifetime, as what began as a marriage of convenience developed into a union of shared interests and mutual affection.

In my debut novel, Waltz with a Stranger, twin American heiresses Amy and Aurelia Newbold have made the pilgrimage from New York to London.  Dazzling, ambitious Amy has set her sights high: nothing less than a peer will do. By contrast, Aurelia hopes only to escape notice. Jilted by her first love after a riding accident left her lamed and scarred, she believes herself to be unmarriageable--and undesirable.
Until one chance encounter, one moonlit waltz, changes her life forever...


Sarah Richmond said...

Very interesting post. May I recommend a book called 'To Marry an English Lord' by Gail Maccoll and Carol Wallace? A wealth of information and research.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas.

Sarah Richmond

Pamela Sherwood said...

Hi, Sarah!

"To Marry an English Lord" was one of my main resources, actually. Great book, I agree, and full of fascinating details!

I recently rediscovered Marian Fowler's "In a Gilded Cage: From Heiress to Duchess," an in-depth study of five American heiresses who married English dukes, with mixed results. It was written a few years after "To Marry an English Lord."

Happy holidays to you as well.

Marin McGinnis said...

Great post! I write about the Victorian era as well, but I hadn't heard about the book that Sarah mentioned. I do find it a fascinating time as well--so many changes!

Pamela Sherwood said...

Hi, Marin, glad you enjoyed the post. And I agree: the changes that take place during Victoria's reign are truly mindboggling to contemplate in their entirety. The England of 1800 might not even recognize the England of 1900.

Margaret Mallory said...

Enjoyed the post & congrats on your debut!


Pamela Sherwood said...

Margaret, thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post.

bn100 said...

Fascinating information.


Pamela Sherwood said...

bn100, glad you found it interesting.

Tara Kingston said...

Pamela, I love the Victorian age...such a fascinating, vibrant time. Terrific post :)

Pamela Sherwood said...

Tara, thanks! Glad you enjoyed the post--the Victorian Age definitely casts a spell.

Celia Hayes said...

I like the 19th century for pretty much the same reason - optimistic, adventurous, constantly changing, nearly modern, but not quite ... and so many, many different and fascinating events and people! Within the space of a century, it seemed like everything changed. From candle and lamplight to gas and electricity ... from horse power to gasoline engine power ... from made by hand to made in a factory.

Pamela Sherwood said...

Hi, Celia!

It's mindboggling to contemplate, isn't it? How much change took place in Victoria's reign alone. I think that's what finally hooked me about setting my books in that era, even though I still harbor a deep fondness for the Regency period.