Slip Into Something Victorian

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What a find!

Victorian Boy 2            Since I have a little boy in my story, The Colonial and the Cottontail (part of the Northern Roses and Southern Belles Civil War anthology from The Wild Rose Press), I thought I’d blog about Canadian mothers in Victorian times.

            That’s when I found this website.  I may find something about mothers and children to blog about in the future, but I’ll have to look long and hard to find something not already on here.  I especially love the pictures of her own family members.  It really brings the times alive, doesn’t it?  There is so much more to it than the first page indicates.  You really need to look on the site map for the whole thing–and even that isn’t the whole thing, as near as I can tell.  The owner tells me it is a continuous work in process.  Enjoy.


Story props

rabbit3With only three days left until the official release of Northern Roses and Southern Belles, I wanted to talk about something that has been slowly driving me insane since, oh, about the time I sent back the first round of edits on my story, The Colonial and the Cottontail.rabbit7

As you might have guessed, my story has a rabbit in it. It’s just a story prop like any other, well, that’s not quite true either. When I first started researching the actual history of the period, and began thinking about a story I could write based on this history, a rabbit hopped into my brain.

Rabbits don’t have much to do with the Civil War–at least not that I know of, no more than a squirrel, say, at any rate. Nothing in my research documents included a rabbit. And it’s not as if I am well acquainted with rabbits–I haven’t given them much thought throughout my life, not that I have anything arabbit5gainst them (as either a pet or a stew). Having said that, I have never personally owned a rabbit as a pet, nor do I ever recall eating a rabbit stew. However, the first thing–before I knew the character of my hero, and before I knew my heroine AT ALL, there was this rabbit.

Because of the rabbit, I discovered my heroine had a son and her character pretty much wrote herself after that. I had nothing to do with her development–it was all the rabbit.

But here’s the thing. A rabbit has been following me. Well, not so much following as appearing in front of me, and not so much one rabbit as a few different rabbits. I spent a week at a wonderful cottage by a river a few weeks ago, and there was a rabbit who enjoyed the bounty of the cottage’s grass every afternoon. I could go out on the patio and the rabbit would look at me for a minute and then go about his business, but when my man appeared, it would take off.rabbit9

Almost every day, it seems, I see a rabbit on the side of the road as I come home or go to work. And a rabbit has taken up almost permanent residence in my back yard. The backyard of MY unit in a townhouse complex, mind you. The one without any kind of garden whatsoever (unlike many of my neighbours). I don’t ever remember seeing a rabbit living in this greenspace before, although one has hopped through every few years or so.

Now, either Southwestern Ontario has had a sudden rabbit population explosion–in which case you’d think I’d hear about it on the news, or something else is going on here.rabbit10

Am I just noticing them now, where I didn’t before? Have you ever had a story prop come to life? Will it ever go away?

Public Reading

Queen_Victoria_1887Happy Belated Birthday to Queen Victoria (I’m only two days late), and thanks for the day off last week.  My man and I have decided that Mondays off are much better than Fridays off, because you get to enjoy them longer when you realize (every day) that it isn’t Tuesday, it’s Wednesday etc.   So do enjoy your Memorial Day week this week!

I gave a reading on May 13th as part of my library’s Writer’s Collective Evening of Readings.  It was a huge success in terms of the number of people who came out to hear us, and the polish and remarkable diversity of writing–some poetry, some essays, and stories from the whole gamut of genres. 

For my own reading, I chose the opening of The Colonial and the Cottontail, which as you may know by now, is part of the Northern Roses and Southern Belles Civil War anthology coming out this July from The Wild Rose Press.  The story I think went over very well.  Actual laugh out loud laughter, and what sounded like more than polite applause at the end.  Me, personally, not so much I’m afraid. 

Elizabeth_Adela_Forbes_-_The_Open_BookI don’t think of myself as shy, and strangely if I was sitting down I’d have been fine, but I cannot stand in front of a group of people and look around at them.  Yes, we had a podium so I had something to hang onto, there was a microphone so I didn’t have to yell, and the room wasn’t that big. 

And the thing is, I’d practiced.  I practiced the reading itself, and knew I had plenty of time.  I practiced looking up from the page and finding my place again quickly.  I even practiced looking up and smiling (just in case they didn’t realize a particular part was supposed to be amusing).  And not only had I practiced, but I’ve done this sort of thing several times now.  I knew I’d be shaking, and was prepared for that.  Still, once I got up there, my eyes were glued to the page.  Throughout the reading my brain said, “look up!”  My eyes responded with, “no damn way.”  My voice and reading ability didn’t fail me, and I’m quite proud of my story.  Only my eyes let me down. 

So, any suggestions?  Is this just me or have others experienced something similar?

Winter was the Good Season!

As I look out my window, it is dark, cold and blustery.  I’m so pleased to be inside where every room in the house is nice and warm.  I’m glad I don’t have to go anywhere because the roads are covered with ice, and snow banks make visibility at corners difficult. 

This isn’t exactly the same view our Victorian ancestors had of winter.  Sure, their fireplaces didn’t heat every corner of the room, or even every room.  But they were warm enough.  Most pleasantly, winter was a time to visit with neighbours and friends, to take part in activities solely because they were fun, to relax and enjoy life a little bit. 

Snow or ice on the road was a good thing–it was easier for the sleigh to get around that way.  And since they didn’t remove the snow from the roads, they didn’t create snow banks.  I suspect it might have been hard on the horses, though, stepping through all that snow all the time.  But still, at least the cold air would keep them from overheating as they exercised.  Makes me feel sorry for them in the high heat of summer. 

The Victorians were a whole lot hardier than we are today, I think.  Okay, maybe that should be than I am.  They thought nothing of spending an entire winter’s day out-of-doors, and invented or improved upon all kinds of games and sports. 

In Canada, our Scottish immigrants brought curling to us, and by the beginning of Victoria’s reign we had at least eight regular curling clubs, plus many more games played less formally.  One Scotsman on the scene, Francis Augustus Grant, noted in 1848, “There is also capital curling here but the stones are all made of iron as the frost is so hard that stone would crack and they are a great deal heavier than what we have in Scotland.”  Obviously, setting our ironworks to make curling stones is an indication of how important the sport had become. 

Other winter activities included ice hockey, tobogganing, skating on our numerous rivers and lakes, and for those “young” men with the means, sleigh racing.  I say young in quotation marks, because judging from the pictures here, many of them weren’t what I consider young.  Perhaps young at heart (or foolish) would be the better term.  Anyway, they used horses running one behind the other and small sleighs for only two passengers.  In Montreal, they particularly loved racing up the mountain, weaving back and forth almost like a slalom ski run.  Here’s a good picture. 

It wasn’t all fun and games, of course.  F. A. Grant tells of his experience on a trip from Quebec City to St. Raymond, a distance of 48 miles.  He overturned the sleigh and had to “fish horses, carriage and baggage from five feet of snow.”  The good news was, he made it to his destination in time for supper.



The thing with networking is, you never know when a meeting, contact or friendship will pay off.


A few years ago, because of my membership in the Heartsvic_14 Through History RWA chapter, I had the opportunity to have my first short story, A Frightful Misconception, published with Highland Press as part of the No Law Against Love anthology.  At the time, I invited members of my Kitchener Public Library’s Writer’s Collective to take advantage of the opportunity with me.  One person, Susan Barclay, took me up on the offer and her story was published in the anthology as well.


Susan has since gone on to develop a close relationship with a few of the Highland Press editors, and has at least one other short story in development for them.  A few months ago, Susan had the opportunity to speak to an old friend who had gone on to be an editor for a well-respected Canadian publisher.  He mentioned he was actively looking for a YA story, so Susan told him about another of our library critique group’s members.  Doris Etienne will soon have her wonderful YA story, The Jewels of Sophia Tate, published by Dundurn Press.


In the meantime, Denise Eagan brought a bunch of Hearts Through History members together to start a Victorian era blog.  While I speak for myself, this core group of women has become the most important of writing friends to me–even though I’ve never actually met any of them.  And these friendships have borne fruit, since we pitched the idea of a Civil War anthology and many of us have received contracts for our short stories through The Wild Rose Press.  It was fun to write, share research, and motivate each other–a real team effort. 


1857_men2What does any of this have to do with the Victorian Era?  Well, just that networking is not something new to our century.  Countless examples of business deals, social meetings leading to marriage, political advancements, and I don’t doubt writing opportunities were created back then just as they are today.  They certainly didn’t use the term networking, they may not even have defined the practice at all–but the Victorians were masters of this game.

It is Election time in both Canada and the United States, so I thought I’d take a look at what elections were like during Victoria’s reign.

Less than a decade before Victoria ascended the throne, the electoral situation in England (Wales, Scotland and Ireland too, but I’m not focusing on them) was badly in need of updating. The rules for who could vote changed with every borough–some ruled that every male householder who could boil a pot on his own hearth got a vote, while in other boroughs only those with a burgage property (basically, someone renting in some specific tenement blocks) could vote. There was also a problem in the size of the different constituencies. The largest borough had 12,000 voters, while the smallest had between 6 and 13 at any given election. Six! Six men’s vote was equal to the votes of 12,000! And of course, these were by no means secret ballots. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that many of these smaller constituencies were ripe for the votes being bought. Hence the term ‘pocket burough’, a borough in a (rich) politician’s pocket.

Other problems included the fact that if you owned property in more than one county or borough, you got two votes (or three or more). Then there was the fact that some areas got no vote at all.

At her death, uniform voting rules were practiced throughout England, allowing almost all adult males the vote. Most of the smaller or ‘rotten’ boroughs were done away with to make way for new boroughs, and the composition of voting constituencies were roughly equal–or at least closer in size. In addition, they now used secret ballots.

About the only thing Victoria didn’t live to see was the successful culmination of Women’s Suffrage. And surprisingly, to me at least, Victoria was against the idea. She said,

“The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Woman’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.”

With all due respect Your Majesty, we’ve come a long way since then. Sarah Palin, Elizabeth May, Hillary Clinton, Kim Campbell, Margaret Thatcher . . .

Happy Coronation Day!

“Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey about a year after her accession, — June the 28th, 1838. It would be easy to fill many of these pages with accounts of a ceremonial which has increased in splendor as it has diminished in significance. The whole ceremony was founded upon the belief that the Sovereign represented the Majesty, and wielded the power, of the great God of heaven and earth. So long as this belief was real and universal, the ceremony of the coronation, and all the complicated state and etiquette of royal life, was not altogether wanting in propriety. It was the attempt of rude and barbarous men to express their rude and barbarous conceptions of the divine government, and the sacredness and awfulness of even its poor human representative. But people no longer believe that any special divinity resides in, or is represented by, the convenient ducal houses of Germany, from which England borrows a monarch upon occasion. We need not dwell therefore upon the extremely laborious and expensive way in which the English of modern times get the crown placed for a few seconds upon a sovereign’s head.
She was queen, then, at length.”
James Porter, 1868

Way to go, James! What, a little jealous, are we? At least you knew men were ‘rude and barbarous’ even as you wrote the most rude, belittling, irrelevant piece on a royal coronation.
Now this is more like it!

”I was awoke at four o’clock by the guns in the Park and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people, bands, etc., etc. Got up at seven, feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle, crowds of people up to Constitution Hill, soldiers, bands, etc. I dressed, having taken a little breakfast before I dressed, and a little after. At half-past nine I went into the next room, dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume…”

“At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland and Lord Albemarle and we began our progress… It was a fine day, and the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen; Their good humour and excessive loyalty was beyond everything, and I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a nation.”
“I was alarmed at times for fear that the people would be crushed and squeezed on account of the tremendous rush and pressure. I reached the Abbey amid deafening cheers at a little after half-past eleven; I first went into a robing room quite close to the entrance where I found my eight train-bearers Lady Caroline Lennox, Lady Adelaide Paget, Lady Mary Talbot, Lady Fanny Cowper, Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope, Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, Lady Mary Grimston, and Lady Louisa Jenkinson, all dressed alike and beautifully in white satin and silver tissue with wreaths of silver corn ears in front, and a small one of pink roses round the plait behind, and pink roses in the trimming of the dresses.”
“After putting on my mantles and the young ladies having properly got hold of it and Lord Conyngham holding the end of it, I left the robing room and the Procession began… The sight was splendid, the bank of Peeresses quite beautiful all in their robes, and the Peers on the other side. My young trainbearers were always near me, and helped me whenever I wanted anything. The Bishop of Durham stood on the side near me, but he was, as Lord Melbourne told me, remarkably maladroit and never could tell me what was to take place.”
“At the beginning of the Anthem I retired to St. Edward’s Chapel, a small dark place immediately behind the Altar, with my ladies and trainbearers took off my crimson robe and kirtle, and put on the supertunica of cloth of gold, also in the shape of a kirtle, which was put over a singular sort of little gown of linen trimmed with lace; I also took off my circlet of diamonds and then proceeded bareheaded into the Abbey; I was then seated upon St. Edward’s chair where the Dalmatic robe was clasped round me by the Lord Great Chamberlain.”
“Then followed all the various things; and last (of those things) the crown being placed on my head which was I must own a most beautiful impressive moment; all the Peers and Peeresses put on their coronets at the same instant…”
“The Enthronisation and the Homage of, first, all the Bishops, and then my Uncles, and lastly of all the Peers, in their respective order was very fine.”
“Poor old Lord Rollo, who is 82 and dreadfully infirm, in attempting to ascend the steps fell and rolled quite down, but was not the least hurt; when he attempted to re-ascend them I got up and advanced to the ‘end of the steps, in order to prevent another fall…”
“I then again descended from the Throne and repaired with all the Peers, bearing the Regalia, my Ladies and Train-bearers, to St. Edward’s Chapel. The Procession being formed I replaced my Crown (which I had taken off for a few minutes), took the Orb in my left hand and the Sceptre in my right, and thus loaded, proceeded through the Abbey, which resounded with cheers, to the first robing-room; where I found the Duchess of Gloucester, Mamma, and the Duchess of Cambridge with their ladies. And here we waited for at least an hour, with all my ladies and trainbearers.”
“The Archbishop had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with great pain…”
“At about half-past four I re-entered my carriage, the Crown on my head and the Sceptre and Orb in my hands, and we proceeded the same way as we came-the crowds if possible having increased. The enthusiasm, affection, and loyalty were really touching, and I shall ever remember this day as the PROUDEST of my life! I came home a little after six, really not feeling tired. At eight we dined…”
from Queen Victoria’s diary
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