Home » Guest Blogger
Category Archives: Guest Blogger
A warm welcome today to our guest blogger, Rachel Brimble
My Favorite Victorian books, films and TV shows…
What A Woman Desires is my third Victorian romance for eKensington/Lyrical Press and I am in the process of writing my fourth. I love the Victorian era! Many people initially think of Queen Victoria in mourning, Dickensian poverty or cruelty, or ladies dressed in high-neck dresses, looking down their noses at anyone even thinking an immoral thought, let alone acting on one.
These passing assumptions are not entirely true…although they are true of some people and places from that time. If you have read any of my previous books, you will know my Victorian romances tend to be darker than most on the market, and focus on the lower classes of society, rather than the upper-middle and middle classes.
It is my mission to prove even people not born into money deserve a happy ever after!
Many authors, including me, garner a lot of inspiration from what we read and watch. It is because of my favorite books, films and period TV series that I became so interested in Victoriana. I am lucky enough to live just a short drive from the city of Bath, England in one direction and the beautiful Cotswolds in the other. It would’ve been a sin for me to not take advantage of my location in my books.
What A Woman Desires and my previous books (The Seduction of Emily & The Temptation of Laura) are all set in and around Bath. Here are some books and viewing I highly recommend…albeit most of them are set in London. Enjoy!
Tipping The Velvet, Affinity & Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
A Glimpse at Happiness by Jean Fullerton
The Victorian House by Judith Flanders (non-fiction)
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun
North & South – (British TV)
North & South – (US TV) – these are two VERY different stories!
Bleak House – (British TV)
The Young Victoria – film
Gangs of New York – film
What a Woman Desires
From country girl to actress of the stage, one woman dares to live her dreams—but is she brave enough to open her heart…?
Monica Danes always wanted more than the village of Biddestone had to offer. After a failed courtship to a man of her parents’ choosing, she fled for the city of Bath and never looked back. Today, Monica is the undisputed queen of the theater—a wealthy, independent woman. But when she is called home in the wake of tragedy, Monica returns—intending to leave again as soon as possible.
Thomas Ashby has been a groom at the Danes estate since he was a boy—and has been enamored with Monica for almost as long. He knows he isn’t a suitable match for his master’s daughter, despite the special bond he and Monica have always shared—and their undeniable attraction. But now that she’s returned, Thomas has one last chance to prove himself worthy—and to show Monica a life, and a love, she won’t want to give up…
Thomas clenched his jaw as Monica tightened her arms around his waist. He longed to feel the weight of her head on his back, too, but knew well enough she would not lean on him considering the dark cloud under which he left Marksville the night before. He purposely kept Jake at a slow walk, wanting this closeness between him and Monica to last as long as possible. He’d been foolish enough to wake this morning, thinking the night apart had strengthened his resolve and he would be strong enough to accept her as his employer and nothing else.
Now he was with her, the notion was laughable—but one he must adhere to.
He needed to play nice and convince her staying at Marksville wouldn’t mean the future she dreaded. If he could do that, he would keep his father’s legacy intact and maybe, one day, his son would take the reins and become a groom to the Danes family as two generations had before him. She had to understand positions like his and Mrs. Seton’s weren’t just jobs, they were a livelihood, a lifestyle, and treasured way of life.
He’d come out of the stable yard astride Jake, and as soon as he had seen Monica standing alone, her head back and her breasts thrust forward, nothing of his job entered his mind. Only pure, unadulterated attraction had surged through him. The sun glowed on her dark hair like a million dancing lights and, with her hands on her hips, her delicate figure taunted him with forbidden possibility that had lingered in his subconscious forever. Even in mourning, the woman was beautiful.
Rachel lives with her husband and two teenage daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. After having several novels published by small US presses, she secured agent representation in 2011. In 2012, she sold two books to Harlequin Superromance and a further three in 2013. She also writes Victorian romance for Kensington–her debut was released in April 2013, followed by a second in January 2014 and the third is released Jan 2015.
Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America, and was selected to mentor the Superromance finalist of So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family and beloved black Lab, Max. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England.
She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!
Let fall the robe and reveal yourself as a Neoclassical Victorian goddess. Slide into a gossamer slip, and step onto a marble veranda by the Mediterranean sea. You are in a world of mythical creatures, gods and legends in the Tarot of Delphi.
The Tarot of Delphi is a tarot deck illustrated with Neoclassical Victorian art from 1838 to 1913. This gorgeous deck places your life at the center of the story. You interpret your past and dream your future into being through fine art from the Victorian Era.
This full-color, 78-card tarot deck features paintings by over 20 Victorian artists, including John William Waterhouse, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Henrietta Rae, Lord Frederick Leighton and George Frederic Watts.
The Tarot of Delphi is available for a limited time on Kickstarter. Inspired by the Victorian artworks, artisan-crafted Victorian-style jewelry of genuine gemstones and pearls – as well as a tarot bag made from authentic 1870s Victorian fabric – are available exclusively through Kickstarter.
Janet D.H. Hinkel was raised in western contemplative tradition. Her writing focuses on the intersection of science and spirituality, health outliers, and the unexpected. She created the Tarot of Delphi, a tarot deck that uses fine art to explore personal stories. The project combines over 20 years as a nonfiction writer and 16 years studying tarot.
The Victorians had a reputation for beauty & grace as evidenced in the exquisite pins, brooches, strap or slide bracelets, necklaces and crosses that were favored during this time period. The ladies needed just the right piece to wear to a candle lit dinner or an afternoon stroll in the park. The elegant jewelry chosen between 1837 to 1901 clearly underscores the Victorian love of accessorizing. Known as first The Romantic Period and then The Grand Period in regards to jewelry, the Victorian years are broken down into: ‘Early Victorian’– from 1837 to 1845. ‘Mid Victorian — from 1846 to 1886. And ‘Late Victorian’ — from 1887 to 1901.
|Calla Lily Gold Locket
Photo courtesy Lang Antiques
Popular motifs throughout all three cycles were serpents (symbols of eternity), and pendants encasing locks of hair from a loved one or hair woven into beautiful pieces. Filigree gold helped to stretch the costly metal and the addition of pink coral, turquoise and seed pearls alongside amethyst, aquamarine, blue zircon, citrine, emeralds, garnets, ruby, “pinked” topaz, and sapphires caught the candlelight and warmed the ladies skin. Natural resources like bog oak, gutta percha, jet, ivory, lava, and vulcanite were also extremely popular, especially for carved pieces and cameos. Along with the precious jewels and sterling settings, popular items such as love knots and carved clasped hands were coveted. Diamonds were worn in the evening and only by the married or the betrothed woman. And the emergence of colored stones grew with the young unwedded lady.
|Civil War earrings|
|Hair jewelry courtesty
During the Mid-Victorian years we also saw a large introduction of mourning pieces due to the fact that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, died in 1861 of Typhoid Fever. Upon his death the Romantic Period ended. To narrow the jewelry field down further, the two-year period between 1861 – 1863 became known to history as the ‘Victorian Mourning Era’ and the pieces that become most popular during this sad time consisted of jet, human hair, gutta percha, bog oak or other black material. Natural Tortoise shell pieces are viewed by some as ‘Victorian half-mourning’ because the mourner would begin to re-introduce these choices only in the second year of their loved one’s passing.
|Hair braid pendant|
|Oak and gold earrings, pendant
|Civil War hair bracelet
set in 15 c gold
The Victorian years after the death of Prince Albert became The Grand Period (so dubbed because of the grand way in which gems, jewelry and metals were used) and it was during this time period, that gold was discovered. In 1849 in America and in 1852 in Australia. This greatly increased the availability of the precious metal to jewelry designers. Incredible changes took place in the overall design of jewelry. With a technique passed down from mother to daughter, we see the popularity of locks of a loved one’s hair woven into intricate designs and then enclosed in a locket. Incredibly prevalent during the Civil War years, hair jewelry was used for both Memorial (mourning of a deceased loved one) and Sentimental (remembrance of a living, but distant friend or loved one at war) gifts.
|Gold and jade watch fob
As Judi Anderson said, “The late Victorian Period, known as the Aesthetic Period or Movement (1880-1901) was a direct response to the over indulgent fashions and to the stuffy formality and strict protocol of the Grand Period. And after 27 years of mourning, even the staid Victorians had lamented enough. During the Aesthetic Period a sense of fun and light heartedness returned to jewelry. Whimsical motifs such as griffins and dragons, crescent moons and stars, butterflies and salamanders, were crafted into jewels of astounding beauty.”
Speaking of jewelry, look at the cameo necklace on the cover of Cindy’s new release, NO GREATER GLORY.
Here’s a blurb for NO GREATER GLORY:
Amid the carnage of war, he commandeers far more than just her home.
Widowed plantation owner Emaline McDaniels has struggled to hold on to her late husband’s dreams. Despite the responsibilities resting on her shoulders, she’ll not let anyone wrest away what’s left of her way of life—particularly a Federal officer who wants to set up his regiment’s winter encampment on her land. With a defiance born of desperation, she defends her home as though it were the child she never had…and no mother gives up her child without a fight.
Despite the brazen wisp of a woman pointing a gun at his head, Colonel Reece Cutteridge has his orders. Requisition Shapinsay—and its valuable livestock—for his regiment’s use, and pay her with Union vouchers. He never expected her fierce determination, then her concern for his wounded, to upend his heart—and possibly his career.
As the Army of the Potomac goes dormant for the winter, battle lines are drawn inside the mansion. Yet just as their clash of wills shifts to forbidden passion, the tides of war sweep Reece away. And now their most desperate battle is to survive the bloody conflict in Virginia with their lives—and their love—intact.
EXCERPT: NO GREATER GLORY
Seven miles west of Falmouth, Virginia
A bitter wind slammed through the tattered countryside, sucking warmth from the morning. Emaline McDaniels rocked back in the saddle when she heard the shout. She glanced over her shoulder and her eyes widened. Across the fields of ragged tobacco, her farrier rode toward her at breakneck speed. Lines of alarm carved their way across the old man’s ebony face.
Emaline spurred her horse around to meet him. “What’s wrong?”
Tacker pointed a gnarled finger eastward. “Yankees, Miz Emaline! Coming up da road from Falmouth!”
“Yankees?” Her heart lurched against her ribs. She’d heard of their thievery, the fires and destruction left in their wake. Teeth-gritting determination to save her home flashed through her. She leaned sideways, gripping his work-worn sleeve. “Are you sure they’re not the home guard?”
“No, ma’am. I seen ’em, dey’s blue riders, for sure. Hundreds of ’em.”
Two workers moved closer to listen to the exchange, and the farrier acknowledged them with a quick nod.
“Everyone back to the cabins,” Emaline snapped, sinking into the saddle. “And use the wagon road along the river. It’ll be safer.”
“Ain’t you comin’ with us?”
“No. Now move along quickly, all of you. And keep out of sight.” She flicked the reins and her horse headed straight across the fields toward the red-brick mansion that hugged the far edge of the horizon.
The spongy ground beneath the animal’s hooves churned into clods of flying mud. Aside from a few skirmishes nearby, the war had politely stayed east along the Old Plank Road around Fredericksburg. Her mare crested the small hillock near the main house, and Emaline jerked back on the leather reins. Off to her far right, a column of cavalrymen numbering into the hundreds approached. The dust cloud stirred up by their horses draped in a heavy haze across the late-morning air. In numbed fascination, she stared at the pulsing line of blue-coated soldiers, a slithering serpent of destruction a quarter of a mile long.
Waves of nausea welled up from her belly.
“Oh my God…” she whispered. She dug her boot heels into the mare’s sides and the nimble sorrel sprang into another strong gallop. Praying she’d go unnoticed, Emaline leaned low, her thoughts racing faster than the horse. What do they want? Why are they here?
Her fingers curled into the coarse mane as seconds flew past. At last, she reached the back entrance of the mansion. Quickly dismounting, she smacked the beast’s sweaty flank to send it toward the stable then spun to meet the grim expression fixed upon the face of the old woman who waited for her at the bottom of the steps. “I need Benjamin’s rifle!”
“Everythin’s right dere, Miz Emaline. Right where you’d want it.” She shifted sideways and pointed to the .54 caliber Hawkins, leather cartridge box and powder flask lying across the riser like sentinels ready for battle. “Tacker told me ’bout the Yankees afore he rode out to find you.”
“Bless you, Euley.” Emaline swept up the expensive, custom-made hunting rifle her late husband treasured. The flask followed and she tumbled black crystals down the rifle’s long muzzle. A moment later, the metal rod clanked down inside the barrel to force a lead ball home.
She’d heard so many stories of the bluecoats’ cruelty. What if they came to kill us? The ramrod fell to the ground. With a display of courage she did not feel, Emaline heaved the weapon into her arms, swept past the old servant, and took the wooden steps two at a time.
There was no time left for what ifs.
“You stay out of sight now, Euley. I mean it.” The door banged shut behind Emaline as she disappeared into the house.
Each determined footfall through the mansion brought her closer and closer to the possibility of yet another change in her life. She eased open the front door and peered out across Shapinsay’s sweeping lawns. Dust clogged the air and sent another shiver skittering up her spine. She moved out onto the wide veranda, and with each step taken, her heart hammered in her chest. Five strides later, Emaline stopped at the main steps and centered herself between two massive Corinthian columns.
She squared her shoulders. She lifted her chin. She’d fought against heartbreak every day for three years since her husband’s death. She’d fought the constant fear of losing her beloved brother in battle. She fought against the effects of this foolhardy war that sent all but two of her field hands fleeing. If she could endure all that plus operate this plantation all alone to keep Benjamin’s dreams alive, then surely, this too, she could fight.
And the loaded weapon? Well, it was for her fortitude only.
She knew she couldn’t shoot them all.
“Please, don’t turn in,” she mumbled, but the supplication withered on her lips when the front of the long column halted near the fieldstone gateposts at the far end of the lane. Three cavalrymen turned toward her then approached in a steadfast, orderly fashion.
Her gaze skimmed over the first soldier holding a wooden staff, a swallow-tailed scrap of flag near its top whipping in the breeze. The diminutive silk bore an embroidered gold star surrounded by a laurel wreath, the words, US Cavalry-6th Ohio, stitched beneath. Emaline disregarded the second cavalryman and centered her attention directly upon the officer.
The man sat his horse as if he’d been born in the saddle, his weight distributed evenly across the leather. A dark slouch hat covered sable hair that fell well beyond the collar of his coat. Epaulets graced both broad shoulders, emphasizing his commanding look. A lifetime spent in the sun and saddle added a rugged cast to his sharp, even features.
An overwhelming ache throbbed behind her eyes. What if she had to shoot him?
Or worse—what if she couldn’t?
The officer reined his horse to a stop beside the front steps. His eyes, long-lashed and as brown as a bay stallion’s, caught and held hers. Though he appeared relaxed, Emaline sensed a latent fury roiling just beneath the surface of his calm.
Her hands weakened on the rifle and she leaned forward, a hair’s breadth, unwillingly sucked into his masculinity as night sucked into day. Inhaling deeply, she hoisted the Hawkins to her shoulder, aiming it at his chest. Obviously, in command, he would receive her lone bullet should he not heed her words. “Get off my land!”
CINDY NORD, AUTHOR
A member of numerous writing groups, Cindy’s work has finaled or won countless times, including the prestigious Romance Writers of America National Golden Heart Contest. A luscious blend of history and romance, her stories meld both genres around fast-paced action and emotionally driven characters.
Indeed….true love awaits you in the writings of Cindy Nord
Buy NO GREATER GLORY from Samhain Publishing here:
Thanks for stopping by!
By Guest Author Linda LaRoque
When writing MY HEART WILL FIND YOURS, I learned a lot about nineteenth-century kitchens.
Very few homes had an ice box, the kind where a block of ice was delivered to sit in an insulated reservoir in the top of the wooden structure. They were invented for home use in the 1840s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the U.S. had ice plants that produced artificial ice. In the model seen here, the block would go in the unopened door to the left. As the ice melted the cold water flowed down the sides and kept the contents inside cool. Note the pan on the floor. Of course, in hot weather, the ice didn’t last more than a couple of days. Owners had a sign with 25 lbs, 50 lbs, 75 lbs, and 100 lbs on each side. You’d prop the side up with the amount you needed out front so when the iceman came by he’d know what size block to bring in for you. This picture can be found in an online article titled Early Days of Refrigeration at www.lclark.edu/
I found an advertisement for a model almost identical to this one. No date was given but the price was $16.98.
My mother-in-law said that even in the early thirties they kept their perishables in a spring house, a small shed built over a spring. Food was covered with dish towels or cheese cloth to keep out flies and other pests, and the flowing water kept the room cool. Some homes had a larder which was a room on the coolest side of the house or in the cellar. None of these solutions would make modern homemakers happy, but folks back then didn’t know any difference and the system worked for them.
No kitchen was complete without a cupboard or Hoosier. Here kitchen utensils were stored. Many had a flour bin (see above right in cabinet), a built-in sifter, a granite or tin top for rolling pie crusts and biscuit dough, and drawers for storage. Note the meat grinder attached to the left and the butter churn on the floor to the right with a wash board behind. Hopefully the homemaker had a sink with a hand pump with room to the side to stack clean dishes to dry. A shelf below would hold pails and a dish pan.
This picture was taken at the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas, and dates somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. The design in these cupboards didn’t change much over time so earlier models looked much like this one. Today cupboards or Hoosiers have become popular decorative additions to modern kitchens, as have old ice boxes. I’d love to have one but my kitchen is too small.
Last, but not least, in importance to the homemaker was the wood cook stove. Before the cast iron kitchen stove was invented, women cooked over hearths with ovens built into the wall, if they were well-off, or outside in a fire pit. Both methods were hard on the back due to bending over to stir food in pots suspended from iron hooks. Cast iron pot bellied stoves, used mainly for heat, could be used for some cooking, but lucky was the woman who had a genuine kitchen cook stove like the one pictured here.
This is a restored model pictured at http://www.bryantstove.com/ Many models such as this one had a copper lined reservoir on the side to keep water warm for beverages, dishwater, or bathing. In my reading I noticed some even had a kick plate to open the oven door when hands were full. Some of these models were designed to use either wood or coal oil. Restored wood stoves are popular and being added to homes of individuals who like antiques and love to cook. They aren’t for the person who wants to pop something in the oven and go about their business as the product must be watched carefully to make sure oven temperature is maintained. Also, they’re quite expensive, between two and three thousand dollars.
Managing a house hold during this era wasn’t for the weak. Just lifting those iron cooking vessels took a strength many modern women don’t possess. But, I guess carrying buckets of milk from the barn, doing the wash in the yard using a scrub board, and their other daily chores built muscles.
My time travel heroines face multiple challenges when learning to live and take care of a home in the nineteenth century. Though it’s never easy, their love for their hero gives them the perseverance to adjust to a past way of life. A LAW OF HER OWN, A MARSHALL OF HER OWN and A LOVE OF HIS OWN released from The Wild Rose Press are all set in the nineteenth century town of Prairie, Texas. In this last story, the individual to travel back in time is the hero and though he doesn’t have to adjust to cooking in a Victorian kitchen, he does have to adjust to many other aspects of life in the past.
Thanks for reading,
Writing Romance with a Twist in Time
A Marshal of Her Own, Feb. 2012 Book of the Month at Long and Short Reviews
A LOVE OF HIS OWN BLURB…
Bull Dawson, New York lawyer, mourns the loss of his daughter, who disappeared from a cabin in Fredericksburg, Texas four years ago. A history book found in his office safe leads him to believe she traveled back in time to 1888 Prairie, Texas. He’s determined that if she can time travel, he can too. Life will be different, probably hard, but practicing law can’t be so difficult back in the Old West.
Widow Dipsey Thackson scratches out a living for herself and her young son on their farm. Shunned by the locals, she keeps to herself. When a man appears in her wheat field one day, life changes for the better. Then her brother-in-law arrives, claiming the farm is his and threatening Dipsey and her son. She fears for both their means of survival and their safety.
Her dilemma will take more than a knowledge of the law, but Bull vows to do his best to protect her and her boy.
Here’s the excerpt for A LOVE OF HIS OWN:
“Whoa, boys.” Dipsey pulled the wagon to a stop and set the break. She hopped down, her leather boots hitting the road with a thud. Sam, the lead mule had been favoring his right front leg the past few minutes. She’d better take a look before he went lame.
“Let me see, Sam.” She lifted the mule’s big hoof and held it between her knees. “Ah, a rock. No wonder. Hurts, doesn’t it?” With a small twig, she flipped the stone out. “Now, that’ll feel better.” She let his foot drop and patted his neck. Joe snorted and butted her shoulder, so she turned and gave him a pat too. The brothers were jealous, afraid one would get more attention than the other. They were the same when it came to feeding time. She had to separate them lest they try to horn in on the other’s grub.
Dipsey walked back to the wagon and placed a foot onto the spoke of the front wheel to climb into the wagon. A snorting sound from behind her made her pause. Grabbing her rifle from under the seat, she whirled and peered into the field of winter wheat gently waving in the cool morning air. Sunlight glanced off the stalks giving the field a slight iridescence, but no movement caught her attention.
The noise stopped, then resumed with a loud bleating resonance. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Thomas was asleep in the wheat field, but she’d buried her husband two years past. Who trespassed on her land?
Rifle cocked, she stepped in the direction of the snoring. Thomas always said she could sneak up on Satan himself. She hoped her skill served her well today.
Lying on her precious wheat, breaking the stalks flat and making it useless, was a big, burly man. Wrapped in someone’s finely stitched quilt, he had a brown felt hat over his eyes. One arm lay across his chest, the other cradled a new-fangled model Winchester, so new the shine hadn’t yet worn off.
She snatched the rifle from his arm. The dang fool didn’t open his eyes. Dipsey thumped him on the shoulder with the butt of his weapon. He farted and rolled to his side exposing a muscled butt and legs encased in denims. She stumbled back a few steps. Disgusting man!
Linda LaRoque was born and reared in Texas and she and her husband call Central Texas home. She credits her sixth grade teachr for hooking her on the written word.
From then on, books were her best friends, and like many young people in school, she had one open when she should have been working on an assignment. Ironic, then, that she became a public school teacher. In summer months, she read.
In 1990, after reading a number of romances, she said to her husband, “I can write a book. It doesn’t look that difficult.” After several stressful months of struggle, she admitted. “It’s much harder than I anticipated.” Fortunately for readers, she persevered, and after joining numerous writing organizations, critique groups, and attending many writing conferences, finally finished her first book.
WHEN THE OCTOTILLO BLOOM was released in February 2007. Since then, she has been prolific. Check her website for the complete list of her books.
Thanks to Linda for sharing the fruit of her research today.
Unusual Animals in Victorian Times
Okay, so my latest historical romance, Starlight & Promises, is set in Tasmania and the South Sea islands in the late Victorian Age. An unusual setting for a Victorian romance. Unusual enough, you say? Not for me. Those of you who may have read my previous book know I like animals, and these critters have personalities and often play crucial roles in the plot. Sometimes it’s a dog or a cat, or both, and always horses, horses, horses. In Starlight & Promises, I hit the zenith of my flights of fancy by making the story about a search for the most unusual animal anyone could imagine: a Smilodon, a saber-toothed tiger.
But saber-toothed tigers did not exist in 1892. They became extinct about 10,000 years ago. As far as we know, they evolved only in North and South America. However, that knowledge is the result of modern science. The question then becomes: Would scientists of the Victorian Age think a Smilodon might have survived extinction? More importantly, would the mere possibility of a living Smilodon lure a reluctant scientist out of retirement?
We have to look at the state of biological knowledge during the late Victorian and how much of the world scientists had actually explored in detail. Before the modern age, many parts of the world remained unknown and inaccessible. It wasn’t quite the “sea monsters be here” days of the Vikings or the “falling off the edge of a flat earth” days of Columbus, but knowledge was limited and selective. One area garnered little intense exploration: the thousands of South Sea islands, for explorers had no hope of finding gold (their primary quarry) or other fabulous wealth—only cannibals, headhunters, and pirates. And exploration was seldom undertaken solely for scientific knowledge. Governments financed expeditions, and they expected a return on their investment. Think Columbus and Queen Isabella. His voyage was no mere joy trip to look at wildlife.
How could a creature as large as a Smilodon have escaped notice, even accidental notice? As new species, even large species, are discovered nearly every year, scientists ask that same question today. In 1900, the okapi, a large leaf-eating mammal that resembles a cross between a zebra and a giraffe, was found in Africa in the depths of the Congo.
Other notables are the pygmy hippo in 1909 in West Africa; the Komodo dragon (world’s largest lizard) in the chain of the Lesser Sundas Islands in 1912; the kouprey (ox-like bovine) in 1988 in the jungles of Cambodia; and the saola (goat-like species) in 1992 in Vietnam. However, as our world shrinks and scientific technology advances, fewer places remain where nonindigenous humans have not left their boot prints.
Thus, the search for a Smilodon becomes plausible in the late nineteenth century. But I didn’t stop there in my unusual-animal theme. My heroine is an amateur herpetologist and has an iguana for a pet, which she, of course, totes along with her to Tasmania and has named Narcissus because he likes to peer at his image in shiny objects. This is a typical behavior of reptiles and birds, in which they interpret the image as an intruder. Mammals catch on more quickly, because they rely more on the sense of smell than vision.
Would a Victorian lady have an iguana for a pet? Once Europeans began traveling back and forth at will to faraway locations, exotic pets became all the rage in London and other large, civilized cities, and many a ship’s captain made his fortune off carrying such cargo. Iguanas and snakes, even leopards and monkeys, were not that uncommon among the upper classes. Lords even kept their own zoos on their estates. Sadly, most of these animals died in capture, transit, or in their new homes, because their requirements for environment and diet were largely unknown. In some cases, the species declined to the status of endangered and remain so today.
If you have questions or comments about unusual animals in the Victorian Age, please leave a note for me, and one lucky respondent will win a signed copy of Starlight & Promises.
An uncharted island in the Furneaux Islands off Tasmania
“Smilodon,” he whispered, barely uttering the word.
“What?” Richard Colchester, sixth Earl of Stanbury, sharply turned his head. “Let me have the glass.”
James Truett grinned and slapped the spyglass in Richard’s outstretched hand. Richard cut him an annoyed look and examined the distant figure on the rock cairn. Heat coming off the sandy ground distorted the vision. Richard focused the glass again.
He gasped, and as a breeze stirred the heat waves, his eyes watered. He blinked away the moisture. A cat sat on the rocks—a cat as large as a lion. Richard laid the glass on the ground beside him and wiped his face and eyes with his handkerchief. Hesitating a moment to slow his heart, he picked up the glass again and studied the cat.
Sleek yet heavily muscled. An abundant dark mane ran along the ridge of a thick, arched neck. Bunched muscles moved under a tawny coat spotted with irregular white blotches. It moved, stretching out short front legs, warming its belly on the rock surface. Massive paws with long toes ending in sharp, nonretractable claws; a lean abdomen, plainly outlined by the ribs underneath; and powerful, densely packed rear haunches. Small, rounded ears set well back on a broad head. A wide, square muzzle, and dark green eyes, large and tilted at the outer corners. The cat washed its legs, taking leisurely swipes with its tongue, and the unmistakable gleam of eight-inch curved canines extended outside the mouth to below the jawline.
“My God.” Richard sucked in a breath through parted lips. His hands shook, jiggling the glass, wavering the image. “’Tis a bloody Smilodon.” He turned to his companion and grinned. “James, we’ve found a bloody Smilodon.”
For two hours, Richard recorded his observations, and James sketched the cat in detail. Though Richard’s primary interest centered on the island’s flora, something of this magnitude was impossible to ignore. He made notes as precisely as he would have done had the cat been a new bromeliad.
Comfortable in each other’s company, the two men—Richard a noted botanist; James a nature artist and disciple of Audubon—worked in silence. At thirty-five, James was ten years Richard’s junior. For twelve years they had traveled together through the world’s unknown corners, observing, recording, collecting samples, and sketching the plant life, producing detailed monographs with illustrations accurately depicting the vegetation of exotic locales. The scientific community eagerly awaited each new contribution.
When the cat moved on, Richard and James backed away from the sandy plain in the island’s interior and worked their way through the dense brush of the jungle toward the temporary camp they had established on the beach. A sultry breeze rippled through the thick foliage, carrying the meaty scents of decaying vegetation and the whistling calls of parakeets and cockatiels. A six-inch-long, rust red lizard scurried across their path, twirling its tail like a propeller. The trail it left on the sandy ground resembled a corkscrew. It halted at the edge of the trees, expanding its red throat sac in a display of miniature bravado. A long-tailed shrewlike animal shrieked overhead and swung off through the treetops. Still dazed by their discovery, Richard and James tramped along, their tongues stilled, each engrossed in his thoughts.
James suddenly stopped—as he was often wont to do when he sighted a strange plant—causing Richard to nearly tread upon his heels. He gestured expansively with one hand. “Just think, Richard, if that storm hadn’t caught us and blown the ship off course to this island, we never would have had this opportunity. We should give thanks to the Lord for His intervention.”
“Fate moves in mysterious ways, as do the vagaries of the ocean in these waters,” Richard replied with a wry smile. “In this case, perhaps we should extend our thanks to Neptune.”
James chuckled. “Ah, Richard, always the heretic.”