research


Charles Dance stars as Jack Wolfenden in this drama by Julian Mitchell which tells the human story behind the so-called Wolfenden report.

Fifty years ago, a Home Office committee chaired by Wolfenden, then vice-chancellor of Reading University, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality. But behind the scenes of what was to become a turning point in British social history, there was an even more extraordinary story. Jack’s son Jeremy, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, was himself gay, something his father could not bring himself to acknowledge.

From the corridors of power in Whitehall to the squalid public toilets of a Reading park, this is a story of fathers and sons, ambition and prejudice, gentlemen and players. Also starring Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Haydn Gwynne and Mel Smith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y9gx/Consenting_Adults/ (sadly only available to the UK, but well worth seeking out on DVD.)

Consenting Adults is a BBC Production which was made in 2007, and for some reason I’ve completely missed until yesterday. Just over an hour long, it’s an absolute must for anyone who has any interest at all in gay history.

It’s a simple enough story–pretty much based entirely on true facts–which relates the reasons for the instigation of the famous “Wolfenden Report”  (more correctly known as “Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957″)

You’d think that a story of a dry committee, sitting for months and discussing this subject would be incredibly dry as televisual matter, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As often happens, truth is stranger than fiction and the work done on the report is brought into sharp focus as we discover that Jeremy Wolfenden, the son of John Wolfenden who headed up the report, is homosexual. The relationship between father and son is hugely typical of that time and place – the young  man much more confident and striding (or at least on the outside) and desperate for father’s approval and attention–and neither man able even to touch each other in friendship. Wolfenden senior tells Jeremy that he’d better stay away from home while the enquiry is on.

I learned something too–like many many people I’d been pronouncing it homo (as in go go) when it should be pronounced homo (to rhyme with dom-oh) because it’s from the greek which means “same” and not the latin which means “man.” Coo, the things you learn off the telly, eh?

The Report had been commissioned to see if any changes in the law were required, not only in homosexual cases, but in the matter of prostitution, as street prostitution was increasing, causing more people to be arrested, which hit the newspapers, creating moral outrage. With homosexuality, more and more men were being arrested for sodomy, attempted sodomy, public indecency and other acts under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 –which had not been altered since the infamous Labouchere Amendment of 1885–making every homosexual act illegal, in private or no. The Labouchere Amendment had created “A Blackmailers Charter” and because men were turning each other in through fear, or, when they were arrested themselves, their phone books were finding many other men of the same inclination.

It seemed to the public at large that homosexuality was increasing in huge leaps and bounds, whereas it was simply the law, and enthusiastic police regimes which were causing the perceived growth. More and more public figures were thrown into the spotlight, having been arrested for “public indecency.”  Oscar Wilde was famously the first, but many others followed, and in the fifties, famous cases were splattered all over the headlines.

Sir John Gielgud

In 1953, Sir John Gielgud, was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.

In 1954, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then a 28-year-old socialite and the youngest peer in the House of Lords, was jailed for a year, on a charge he has always denied. He was convicted along with the Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world. It is thought today that these three arrests, following on from Geilgud’s cottaging scandal,

Peter Wildeblood

brought about the instigation of the Report.

(For additional viewing, the tale of Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu’s trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 drama-documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.)

What I found fascinating was the people who were elected to be on the Report’s Committee.  Certainly at first glance, these people seem to be the very worst of those that could have been chosen. MPs, the leader of the Girl Guides, Church leaders, psychiatrists and doctors. If you’d asked me to bet (were I to live in that time) I would certainly have said that the law would have been strengthened, not lessened, but perhaps it goes to show that even I shouldn’t take things on face value.

This committee, despite most of them being revolted by homosexuality, voted almost unanimously (James Adair, former Procurator-Fiscal for Glasgow being the only objectee) to change the law in England and Wales, that as long as homosexual behaviour was behind closed doors, between Consenting Adults (over 21 at the time, although the age of consent was eventually lowered to today’s 16) then it should not be an offence.  The law did not take into account the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, an oversight that has caused much grief, and one that was only righted very recently.

Sadly, and Laird’s reaction was an omen of this, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not take the crime of homosexuality off their statute books until 1980 and 1982 respectively. And it has to be said – even England did not race to take on board the recommendations of the Report, and it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was a startlingly intelligent young man and was approached for recruitment as a spy by the Secret Intelligence Service whilst he was doing his National Service. It is stated in the film that they knew he was “queer” – and it’s more than probable that they did. He eventually accepted their offer and went to Moscow, but his drinking eventually killed him. He was found dead in his bath at the age of 31. It is suspected that he died of suspicious causes, particularly as was playing a dangerous double game between MI6 and the KGB, that he became friends with Guy Burgess (infamous defector and fellow homosexual) whilst in Russia, and that he had been a victim of attempted blackmail after pictures were taken of him in bed with a Russian man.

What is particuarly poignant about the film is that it does not shy away from the fact that prosecutions continued vigourously up to and after the Report. Sodomy could result in life imprisonment, attempted sodomy in ten years. There are two particular stories in the film which show how sad and desperate men’s lives were in the era. Highly recommended.

China has a long history of tolerance towards homosexuality, beginning from the first references to same-sex relationships in the records of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) and ending (after a rather shaky period from 1740 onwards) with the persecution of homosexuals during the Cultural Revolution. That’s over three thousand years of a society that occasionally celebrated same-sex love, occasionally denigrated it, but more often than not, just let people get on with it.

In typical elliptic style—because direct talk of sexual matters was considered unbelievably vulgar—Chinese literature referenced homosexual acts by means of phrases such as ‘cut sleeve’, ‘bitten peach’, or by name-dropping gay historical figures. The most famous stories are of Mi Zi Xia and his royal lover, Duke Ling of Wei, who shared a peach (yutao, ‘leftover peach’); and Emperor Ai, who cut off his sleeve to avoid disturbing his sleeping lover Dong Xian, which created a court trend whereby everyone went around cutting their sleeves (duanxiu, ‘breaking the sleeve’).

Qu Yuan, an admired poet of the Warring States period (340-278 BC), wrote poems to his lover, the King of Chu. Historical documents such as Sima Qian’s Memoirs of the Historian and the exhaustive dynastic records of the Han dynasty list scores of male favourites of the ruling monarchs. Throughout the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-23 AD), ten of the thirteen emperors took male lovers in addition to the necessary wives and concubines. Sima Qian wrote that the male favourites were often admired more for their skills in war, administration, or cultural pursuits than for their beauty.


My favourite of the Western Han emperors, Han WuDi (‘the Martial Emperor’)—or Liu Che, to give him his real name—was one of these ‘bisexual’ emperors. Liu Che liked to keep things within family units, too—his male lovers included an uncle and nephew, plus the famous musician Li Yan Nian and Yan Nian’s sister, Lady Li. My novella Fall of a State (available now from Dreamspinner Press) is a somewhat fluffy version of the relationship between Liu Che and his musician. Li Yan Nian is credited with writing the ‘Northern Beauty’ song (a version of which appears in the film House of Flying Daggers when Zhang ZiYi performs for Takeshi Kaneshiro), which—due to the Chinese language having no gender for its nouns and pronouns—means the Beauty could refer equally to a man or a woman. In my story, it does both.

During the period of disunion (265-589), in which six separate dynasties ruled and overlapped, the historians of the Liu Song dynasty record that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality:

“All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.”

Efforts were made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) to restore more of a ‘traditional’ moral order. Somewhat ironically, the first Crown Prince of the dynasty, Li Chen Qian, was gay. He was later removed from succession, though not for that reason.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279), an increase in urbanisation and the introduction of paper money caused a growth in prostitution. A law was passed against male prostitution, but it seemed not to have been enforced with any rigour. The merchant classes, suddenly given a voice in the historical and literary records, had money to spend and lusts to fulfil. With their respectable wives raising families at home, the merchants went out partying with pretty young sing-song boys.

[Rest of the post cut because of explicit historical erotic images - NSFW!] (more…)

Published 1821 (this version) I think there were earlier ones.

Be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.

AT GOOGLE BOOKS – full view – and available for download.

This is a quite fascinating book -and I love the idea that a parent would buy their son this book, shove it into his hands and probably consider that was their responsibility dealt with.

Here’s the contents. I don’t even know what some of this stuff MEANS.

GRAMMAR
Directions for Epistolary Correspondence…
HISTENOGRAPHY
ARITHMETIC
Reduction of Decimal Fractions
BOOKKEEPING
ALGEBRA
GEOMETRY and MENSURATION
DRAWING
GEOGRAPHY
CHRONOLOGY
IMPROVEMENT of the MEMORY
MISCELLANIES
Religion and Religious Sects
Behaviour and Manners
Heraldic Terms and English
Useful Receipts in Art
Miscellaneous Articles
I’m quite sure that there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found! Enjoy!
I was alerted to the book on the Inkspinners group, where one of the members, Joanna Waugh, converted some of the purchases to today’s money.  She says:

I took some time today and converted a few of the prices Kat shared with us from A Young Man’s Companion. I had to use 1830 values and a conversion date of 2008, but it still gives us an idea of the relative value of these items today. If I made any mistakes in the calculations, I apologize. I rechecked them before posting but I was never very good at math!

2 dozen of men’s 2-thread alted thread stockings…2. 8.0

£182.26/$338.02 or £7.60/$14.08 a pair

2 dozen of ditto 3-thread fine marble ditto… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 of £13.30/$24.65 a pair

9 six-thread superfine breeches, at 10s6d… 4.14.6

£358.82/$665.47 or approx £40/$74 a pair

6 four-thread superfine ditto, at 7s 6d…. 2. 5.0

£170.86/$316.88 or £28.48/$13.20 a pair

6 pair of silk ribbed stockings, stout at 14s… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 or £53.16/$98.59 a pair

6 pair of spun silk stockings at 5s6d…. 1.13

£125.30/$232.38 or £20.88/$38.73 a pair

15 yards of flowered ribband, at 2s…. 1.10.0

£113. 91/$211.26 or £7.59/$14.08 a yard

2 pair of chicken gloves, at 7s. 6d…. 0.15.0

£56.96/$105.64 or £28.48/$52.82 a pair

4 pair of fine lamb ditto, at 2s. 4d….. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £6.65/$12.33 a pair

2 fans, French mounts at 3s. 6d. …. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £13.29/$24.65 per fan

6 yards of Mechlin lace, at 12s …. 3.12.0

£273.38/$507.01 or £45.56/$84.50 per yard

1 Gauze cap and trimmings ….. 1. 2.0

£83.53/$154.91

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

(This is a crossposting, at the suggestion of Erastes.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about researching locations for writing purposes ever since my visit to Los Angeles last month. I don’t believe you need to have been somewhere to write about it. When we write historical there’s only so much we can do to see an actual location. Even if we visit a place, the feel has changed. The look has changed. The people have changed. All the same, I think most authors would agree that, if at all possible, we want to see those places, whether we’re setting a story there in the past, present, or future.

Writing something set in a existing modern or historical geographic location, which we have never been to ourselves, creates many challenges. For me, it also creates a huge sense of inadequacy. I have this terrible, screechy voice in my mind telling me other people will see right through my shallow words to the nonsense underneath and know that I have never set foot in my own setting. If travel expenses were no issue, I would personally visit every place I have any interest in setting a story, and take detailed photos and notes. But this is not an option for me. As well as for a lot of writers.

On the other hand, making stuff up is what we do best. Authors do not need to have been somewhere to tell you what it was like. That’s one reason they’re authors.

My own sense of feeling frustrated that I cannot visit every location I wish was increased by the aforementioned trip to LA:

I was in LA for less than 24 hours, yet came away with a strong sense of the city that I will never forget, and which I could never have gained from just reading about the place. There is a universal theme in California, north (which I have much greater knowledge of, having lived there for some time) or south, of examining people.

Appearance is not just important in LA. It is you. Everywhere you go, everything you do, from the way you walk to the way you dress to what you order in a restaurant, is under intense, constant, and completely unabashed scrutiny. Not exactly the surprise of the decade, right? This is Hollywood after all. Yet, it was a surprise. Not the fact that everyone was image-obsessed in LA, but the feel of that obsession. There’s a thick, palpable cloud of stares and fleeting glances; eye contact and body-sweeping gazes; and the unceasing edginess of people who know they are being sized-up just as they are sizing you up.

For someone used to Seattle, where eye-contact with anyone you pass on the street, or in a coffee shop, is about as common as talking clams, this experience was pretty horrifying to me. It’s not something I could have ever imagined the intensity of without being in with it. The cool indifference of one human being to another based on snap visual assessments, and the instant decision of whether of not this person can do anything for them, cannot really be appreciated without going in person and feeling the force of this collective energy.

Then there are other things you wouldn’t learn about LA from a guide book: Cabs not stopping for red lights: Every car in the city being no more than two years old: The atmosphere of a pool-side party after dark: And the lying. As noted, I was there for a very brief time. But in that time, I was lied to often.

These kinds of details give us a feel for location that can be duplicated even if we have never really been there. It just makes writing about the place a whole lot easier and clearer in our own minds if we have been there.

Here’s to lots of research trips down the road. :-)

~~~

You can find Jordan at http://www.jordantaylorbooks.com

We have to acknowledge that in this day and age – as it has forever been – beauty matters. Our definition of beauty is based on the media saturation which we are bombarded with on a daily basis. For instance, the idea of tanned = gorgeous has only appeared recently — it would stand to reason that with all the lead-based paints and powder that was used, pale was beautiful as it indicated that you had no need to stand about in the sun all day. As a society, we perceive people who have traits which we consider admirable: self restraint, indefatigable dedication to an idea, sacrifice to epitomise the current standards of beauty – mirrored so closely in the way we view the working world. So we end up with the size zero models and body-builders with ripped stomachs and veined arms as a societal idea.

Personally, all that leaves me completely cold. I find the rabid insistence in gay stories – but most especially gay historical – that people should conform to the current societal archetype of beauty slightly mad. Let’s be honest, it is not ALL that likely we see the majority of people conform to this ideal – if we did, it would be damn unlikely to be an aspiration! I like to see real people in books – be they consumptive clerks with weak arms and eyes from peering over the books all day, be they well-upholstered married aristocrats whose only exercise is taken between the front door and the handsome cab. While a cavalry solider would have a fantastic rear-end and muscled thighs, and depending on his weapons a certain amount of muscular development in the shoulders and back (Medieval knights looked like Props in rugby – muscle upon muscle with a massive amount of shoulder and neck development to support all the armour and thick solid waists to enable them both to shift and move and to take the impact of a swords’-blow).

black-knight

why yes, that is a plastic knigget on a my little pony

Of course, lacking a tardis, I can’t go back in time and drag examples of said bodies to parade before you. And – as any artist knows – when one is being painted, one likes to be flattered – so I can’t really tell you that the painted historical record holds true of anything other than the upper-class archetypical view (think of today, you’d think we’re all size 0 if you believed Cosmo), but what it can do, with a bit of extrapolation, is provide a basis for what was revered, and the obvious counterpoint of what was the norm.

For the time periods, I’m shamelessly nicking the structure of “The List” from Speak Its Name. If perchance you’re a new Macaroni (fresh-mac? mini-mac?) you may want to go and check out this fantastic and pretty exhaustive list of MM fiction here: http://speakitsname.com/the-list/

By virtue of available and accessible historical documentation, a lot of this going to be western-centric. Note that this is a VERY ROUGH OVERVIEW and is taking the overarching concept rather than the nitty details.

CAVEAT: This deals with beauty in the ideal form, and what was admired as can be extrapolated through art. This therefore, while based in fact, does have a certain amount of interpretation, so feel free to discuss. However (as always) discussion should pertain to the point of this, which is a holistic overview of beauty rather than the detailed nuances. If people find this interesting, I may do a post on how jobs/circumstances affected musculature which would have changed how people were actually built and how they would have looked — as Alex Beecroft pointed out — sailors for instance would have had amazing upper body strength but relatively undeveloped lower bodies from all their wandering up and down the rigging (I am sure there is a technical term for that).

ANCIENT WORLD

2006IMG_2813a

A youth - Roman Statue from Tripoli

Statue of Hermes with Dionysus -- Greek

In the ancient world, transport and war were both pursuits carried out predominantly on foot and with an emphasis on speed. Between this and the idealisation of young men, it is therefore relatively obvious that the idealised young man would be one who was lightly muscled, had low body fat, and was developed in an equal fashion across his body. He had only light armour — if any — and so did not require a heavy shoulder musculature to keep weighty armour up. The advent of the Olympics as a trial for men (as well as the ‘unspeakable vice of the Greeks’) fed into this perception of male beauty. Note that while these statues are both lightly defined, there are no striations or veins that would be the hallmark of a body builder. Instead the physique is of someone who improves themselves through normal pursuits.

DARK AGES

rugby-player-cameron-6-742x1024Shoulder musculature – really.

Plate Armour

Now, besides this being a post for me to wave about half-dressed rugby players (YAY!) and write the word “Knigget”, there is a serious point on the musculature of people who wore plate or chain mail armour, as did the Knights in the Dark Ages. The weight of the armour hung about the neck, as illustrated above. Now, while they were on a horse, this was probably not so much of a problem, but just think about moving around in that weight, in that heat, swinging a clunking great sword with all that pulling down on your shoulders. No bloody wonder a knight needed pages — they were built like – if you pardon my French – a brick shithouse, and had the same ability to move!

MIDDLE AGES

carvaggio1

A youth by Caravaggio

clip carvaggio

Detail of Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio

This was a time when there was little to eat, the peasants were being pushed on all sides –by their Lords and their Churches, who needed their tithes, and to support the great peregrinations such as those of Henry VIII (such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold) and with the massed court that travelled with them. Between this and the incessant feudal and national wars meant that the average person was unlikely to be very well nourished. One therefore finds that the style of masculine beauty tends to an almost angelically clear and smooth skin, with a slight fleshiness that belies poverty.

RENAISSANCE

Hand of Michaelangelo's David, Florence4

Detail of David's Hand - Michaelanglo

Michaelangelo_David_1

David - Michaelangelo

The renaissance was — as the name suggests — an obvious return to classical ideals. Great founts of knowledge were springing up, and the old Greco-Roman notions of patronage and taking someone under your wing (with all that entailed) reared up again. There was a near-worship for creation, for genesis. This ideal of young, male beauty was pulled to the fore, both because it suited classical ideals, and because some of the easiest models for a master artist to get their hands on were their young male apprentices. We can see from the statue to the side, though, that while there is greater definition than in the Middle Ages, it is nothing that someone who was able to do a great deal of physical labour would not have. Note the lack of striae on David’s stomach, and then contrast that with the detail of his hand — it is not that there was an accepted fluidity in the portrayal that allowed details to be glossed over. Rather, the six-pack did not exist in the idea of fundamental male beauty.

17th CENTURY

17th century dress a

17th Century Dress

dyn005_original_664_918_pjpeg_2544134_52fe42fd9b6f9d0b34eb8cab1af213aa

Louis XIV

We now move onto the 17th century where it became one’s duty is to look prosperous and well fleshed in clothing. Observe the way the coats on the 17th Century dress patterns are strained. It is quite difficult to find 17th century statues without clothing — this was the era of empire building , and the idea of nudity became associated not with the cleanliness of the Renaissance, but with the savages of the new world. There was a duty in the western world — promoted both by church and state — to show one’s superiority, which was greatly fetishized in the ridiculous accoutrements which denoted statues (see sumptuary laws). One’s body appears to have become wither a tool, or something shameful. This is one of those periods in history where you’d be more likely to consider the fact that someone is well fleshed as a positive thing.

18th CENTURY

macaroni_uwm_edu

Macaroni!

costumefamily_regency

Regency Family

The eighteenth century was very much a continuation of the same morals and ideas promulgated in the 17th, as the scope and vastness of the empires grew, but the essential avariciousness behind them didn’t. A Highly formalised pragmatism came to be seen in male dress, while women were very much idealised as ethereal virgins. In response to the growing middle class being able to ape the fashions of the elite, the dress of some members of society who were able do the Grand Tour took to aping the more outlandish continental fashions of the day. Contemporary sources cite the macaronis as being those completely jaded by life — it sounds like Pratchett got it right when he parodied it as The Grand Sneer. From a physical point of view, as the paintings show, there was still an appreciation of people being well fleshed to indicate prosperity.

19th CENTURY

brummel

Beau Brummel

dandy

Another Dandy

The 19th century was dominated by the rise of the middle class. A differentiation both in dress and in physical characteristics was therefore required. Enter the concept of the dandy — a much more subdued offshoot of the macaronis. With the idea of being beautiful for beauty’s sake, the ideals of the dandy went back to those of the renaissance. But *grin* with a little bit of help, it was in this century that the Cumberland corset etc. became common wear for men to create that pinched-waisted look that was so prized and the mark of a man who had to do nothing for his money but exist. The men shown epitomise this physical aspect, it is almost effete and feminine, which would mean they’d have little time to build muscle — that was the preserve of those who had to work for a living.

In the spirit (no pun intended) of the spooky dark nights drawing in here in the UK, I decided to do a post about William of Newburgh’s medieval stories about English vampires. Now these aren’t your usual bloodsucking beasties with fangs, capes, and a dodgy Transylvanian accent – in fact, they’re revenants, close kin to the Balkan and Greek vrykolakas, created from sin and used in a didactic manner by the historian who recorded these tales.

William of Newburgh (1136-1198) was an Augustinian canon at Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire. His work Historia rerum Anglicarum (otherwise known as the Chronicles) was written in the latter years of William’s life and is a philosophical history of England from 1066 until 1198. Modelling himself on the Venerable Bede and pouring scorn on chroniclers like Geoffrey of Monmouth (“he lies in almost everything,” William rants in his preface), William nevertheless includes several accounts of men rising from the grave and wreaking havoc amongst the living.

Le Vampire by R de Moraine, 1864

In Buckingham (Chronicles V.22), a man died and was buried but later returned from the grave and got into bed with his wife. This continued for three nights, until the wife stayed up late with her friends in order to drive away the revenant, who then went wandering around harassing anyone it could find. Interestingly, William states that the revenant walked about in daylight, yet only appeared visible to one or two people even if a group was aware of its presence – thus making the revenant seem to fit with modern ideas of a ghost.

The desperate villagers appealed to the church to put an end to the random perambulations of the revenant, and the matter came to the attention of the Bishop of Lincoln. His Grace asked his learned colleagues for advice, and was told that the corpse should be exhumed and burned. The bishop found this idea “indecent and improper”, and instead wrote a letter of absolution. The villagers opened the dead man’s coffin and placed the letter upon the corpse, and the revenant wandered no more.

This, the first of William’s revenant tales, is perhaps the most striking because the dead man has no reason to rise from the grave. As we shall see, revenants usually return to deal with unfinished business, or because they were thoroughly unpleasant types during their lifetime. The Buckinghamshire revenant seems to be more like a confused spirit, unaware that he’s died and trying to continue with his daily life. The letter of absolution also underlines the fact that the dead man was harmless – as the Bishop of Lincoln was told, evil revenants were exhumed, hacked to pieces, and burned.

William follows this tale with another three examples of similar events. A rich man in Berwick (V.23), described as “a great rogue”, returned from the grave and strode about accompanied by a pack of barking dogs. The townsfolk hired ten young men to dig up the corpse, chop it to bits, and throw it on the fire.

Melrose Abbey

In Melrose (V.24.2), a chaplain who was rather too secular in his living came back as a revenant, haunting the monastery walls and terrifying the noblewoman to whom he’d been a confessor. The lady appealed for help, and a group of men sat in the graveyard and waited for the shambling monster. Midnight came and went, and three of the men decided it was too cold to hang around any longer. As soon as the last man was left alone, the revenant awoke. But the man attacked it with an axe, driving the creature away. Later, the chaplain’s corpse was exhumed and a gaping wound was discovered in the body. With the chaplain’s evil proved beyond all doubt, the corpse was burned and the ashes scattered.

Finally, a man of “evil conduct” from York (V.24.4) fled the city to a place called Anantis (either Annan in Dumfries & Galloway, or possibly Alnwick), where he continued his nefarious doings. He married a local woman and soon became convinced she was having an affair. Pretending to go away for a few days, he hid amongst the roof-beams of his bedroom and spied on his wife, and sure enough caught her in bed with a neighbour. The shock was so great he fell from the roof and became ill. His wife told him he was mistaken in what he’d seen, and when a priest urged the man to confess and receive the Eucharist, the wife convinced her husband not to do so. The man died that very night and became a revenant, bringing with it a pestilence. The locals dug up the corpse and tore it to pieces, ripping out its heart before setting fire to the remains.

In these three tales, the revenant is a sinner during life, and his sin follows him even beyond the grave. Since each of the men had escaped punishment for their wickedness while they lived, becoming a revenant was the ultimate penalty. These men were effectively denied a Christian burial, and more than that, they were denied their human form when their corpses were exhumed, divided, and burned. A revenant was cast out of the Church and therefore out of society, and without a body and a grave, these evildoers would be permanently locked out of Heaven on the Day of Judgement – and in the twelfth century, this was a terrifying thought.

What’s also interesting is the geographic bias shown in the stories. The revenant from Buckingham is non-threatening and settles into its grave after Church intervention. Surely it’s no coincidence that the three troublesome and evil revenants are all to be found within the Scottish Borders – Berwick, Melrose, and Alnwick. William was fully aware of Henry II’s skirmishes against the Scots in 1174 (II.32-34), when the English won a decisive victory at Alnwick, of all places.

The didactic theme of William of Newburgh’s revenant stories is clear enough. As William himself remarks (V.24.1), such events are “not easy to believe” due to their “amazing and horrible” nature, but he adds that if he were to record all such examples of these stories, “the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome”, and so he contents himself with these few tales “as a warning to posterity.”

While the lack of revenants wandering down your local high street today is no doubt due to the rise in popularity of cremation, in places such as the Greek islands where it’s customary to inter the dead, the belief in revenants rising at dusk to stalk through the night still persists…

Hello All,

Like a gazelle in a field of ravening cheetahs, I am sticking my head above the wall as that rarest of rare things on the Macaronis, an unpublished author. Do not worry, Alex Beecroft has given permission for the tasty morsel to wander into your playing field.

See, I am about 5 days away from finishing my first draft of my first ever Historical Novel. Well, my first ever novel. And not being an historian, nor especially well versed in history, I thought it could be interesting for people to see how someone like me goes about writing a first draft, and how they envision the writing process.

The story I’m writing, with a working title of De Ruina Mundi (I was being clever and allegorical. Next time it will be called “Book about XXXXX” Much less hassle.) is set in late 15th Century Florence, and is a commentary about church vs. secularism, and how the two were in direct opposition at the time, much as they are today (up to and including problem teens lurking on corners! I’m not joking!). It is the story of a sculptor, a novice monk, and a young aristocrat and features Savonarola and Cosimo de Medici as what I call ‘mid level characters’

Cosimo de Medici

Cosimo de Medici

Girolamo Savonarola

Girolamo Savonarola

Now, when I started writing this, I had just got canned from the “I Do!” anthology for trying to tell a long story in less than 10,000 words.

Now, when I first started writing this, I had just got canned from the “I Do!” anthology for trying to tell a long story in less than 10,000 words.

Frankly, looking at it now, it was an unmitigated disaster., and would not have fit the anthology at all. So, I started De Ruina Mundi (DRM) pretty much from square one. I had three things on my side though, I’ve studied architectural history, I’m a highly theologically educated Roman Catholic, and I can read Italian.

Now, right at the beginning of DRM, I had to make a choice about how I was going to write it. I know that this has been brought up on Speak Its Name, actually in reference to DRM itself, so let me explain my

reasoning. As I read Italian, it means that I can read 15th Century Italian very easily, and not much has changed since then. Furthermore, Italian is written and spoken with a certain cadence and inflection that I can easily mimic in English. The thought of writing it in what I call “old-speake” seemed unnecessarily complex, and extremely anachronistic. Therefore, I decided to write it using Italian expressions and cadence, but in modern English.

So okay, now, I know that I want to write something about sculpture and art, and humanism versus the church, because I’ve always been very interested in the politics of art and architecture. But how best to showcase this? Well, how about an apprentice sculptor named Giuseppe Martedi (Johnny Tuesday! Hee!) and his friend Tomasino Rossi. They have grown up together, been friends since childhood, but now their
varying vocations are tearing them apart. They’ve always had a bit of a thing for the other, though Giuseppe is most definitely bisexual, while Tomasino pretty much only likes men. This book was supposed to be their story, a nice, 60k-ish novella about coming of age under two such defined institutions. It is not.

See, I had attempted to write the “I Do!” story with an outline, and got bored, so I figured I’d not try an outline for this one. And suddenly we had a the master-sculptor called Battista, his patron, Signor Agostino (vassal of the Medici), and his son Marco, and Signor Agostino’s brother, Fra. Benedetto, the novice master, and one of the few monks who were kept on at San Marco when Savonarola came to clear it up. And like Fleury in Standish by Erastes, the bloody buggers refused to go away! Okay, so reassess. Tie in Marco and Battista together, put some tension in between Benedetto, Signor Agostino, and Marco. Have Marco have a few horrible occurrences in his past. Suddenly, I’m 20k in, and completely confused as to where this was going.

I better interject here, that I write in a very amusing fashion for those reading along on etherpad. I do not stop writing to research. At all. So my text goes along the lines of…

“Marco and Tomasino stood at the end of the (road??? – what precisely was a road like! ) waiting for the (XXXX transport device). (Insert description of road here.) Marco turned to Tomasino and said (Foreshadow this!)… “

Which means that I kind of have a really really rough draft as I’m writing. (Note – that is a made-up example – there tend to be fewer comments per sentence). I figure that it should all be okay when I’m editing, but if you guys like this post, I’ll come back and tell you about how that all went.

Okay, sit back and reassess again. Luckily for me, my characters come with built in flaws – as a monk, Tomasino is the epitome of male Renaissance beauty. Which today would be called plump, rounded, fat.

Giuseppe is a little shit that is really up his own arse, and teases Tomasino about this continually. Ah, defensive men are amusing. And Marco is very impulsive, and very very “I look after me and mine. You are either for me or against me.” So, how to exploit those flaws?

Let’s ramp up the conflict, and introduce a nice Jesuit priest because the Dominicans were essentially founded to control the Jesuits. And boy do they hate each other. Move on from there…

At about 50k, I had a random panic. I thought I knew where the book was going to end, but how to get there and not blather on and on. (Rather like this post). I wrote an outline. It was a good outline.

Three days later I get smacked upside the head with a new ending.

Cue panic. Cue irritation. Cue new outline. Great. Ending sorted. HAH! No way. Seven chapters in, one of the characters refuses to behave himself (and it took Vashtan to remind me why). Cue soul searching. New ending appears. New ending is trite. More soul searching. New way to do that ending. Am I taking the easy way out? Am I playing to stereotype? Is the story consistent?

And so it goes. Endings have come and endings have gone. I am now about 27k away from the final word (taking a long weekend, so I can finish it off) and I am still a bit unsure of exactly how it is going to end. I have actually lost the time-line, and so my first edit is going to be retimelining the bloody thing.

There is much less sex in it than I originally thought there would be, and a lot less romance. Apparently my people never eat. Though they frequently have baths. This has ended up being a story of political intrigue, of people living and dying in one of the most volatile periods in European Catholic history. And I hope an entertaining read.

San Marco, Florence

San Marco, Florence

I know that I am going to have one hell of a job on my hands editing this. But it has been the most amazing four months of my life. I never thought I could do it. I have been supported by some fantastic people,new friends and old. It has been a fantastic journey, and now the finish line is in sight.

So if you’re thinking of thinking of writing something. Go ahead. Take the plunge. It is worth it.

So thank you Alex, and Erastes for letting me post this here. Will keep you updated.

by Kiernan Kelly

A reader recently remarked to me that he found the thought of writing a historical piece of romantic fiction intimidating. “I don’t know enough. I’m not a historian, like you,” he said.

 

After I finished laughing hysterically, I had to set him straight.

 

When it comes to being an authority on anything besides tying my own shoelaces, I’m the first to admit to my sad lack of expertise. I am not a history buff; I cannot quote the dates and places of famous battles, nor can I pull details of Victorian Age fashion, or Renaissance architecture out of my ass. I cannot intelligently contribute to discussions of pre-Greece Middle Eastern culture — or post-Greece, for that matter. I do not offhand know the difference between a brigantine and schooner; or what Edwardian men wore under their trousers. 

 

In my opinion, it’s much easier to write contemporary romance. I already know what the locations look like — even if I’ve never been there personally, there’s a good chance I know someone who has, and there’s always Google Earth, travel documentaries, and the web. I know the protocol of dating, the etiquette of the dinner table. I know from personal experience how it feels to ride in a car, a train, a plane, and on a cruise ship. I know how hot dogs taste, have eaten truffles, and understand how a thick, frosty milkshake can give you a brain freeze. I know how to rent a room in a motel, and the differences one might find between a room at Motel 6 and the Hilton. I can place a character virtually anywhere on the planet, and describe him and his setting with some conviction.

 

Writing historical romance is much, much trickier. The details of the story, the setting, the props, and the landscape are as alien to me in my personal bubble of experience as the far side of the universe.

 

All of which raises the question: why is this person, who admits to being the human equivalent of a historical factoid void, posting to a historical fiction writers’ group blog?

 

The answer is simple. While I know precious little about history, I do write historical m/m romance, and enjoy it. Before anyone begins sharpening the guillotine or fashioning a hangman’s noose, let me explain — my statement isn’t as oxymoronic as it sounds. While my brain cells aren’t steeped in historical data, I do hold both a fondness for, and interest in our species’ past. I don’t profess to be a historian, neither professional nor amateur, but I do possess a healthy imagination, a computer, and a library card.

 

That said, all I can possibly contribute to this blog is to share what I told the reader who mistakenly pegged me as an expert — my view from the short bus, the remedial history class as it were, where I sit at the back of the room trying to pass the exam by shooting my cuffs.  

 

I believe it is entirely possible to write a piece of credible, believable historical fiction without holding a PhD in Ancient Civilizations or the high score in Jeopardy. While I won’t begin to pretend to be a historian, I can discuss how I, someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cutlass and a scimitar, can write a historical romance.

 

The trick — for me, at any rate — is research, and lots of it. It isn’t unusual for me to spend as much or possibly more time researching details as it does for me to write the story. Sometimes I begin collecting data months before I even take the time to rough out a plot.

 

I’ll take trips to a brick-and-mortar library where I’ll take copious notes in chicken scratch decipherable by me alone, later to be transcribed into a Word document, and I’ll surf the web until my fingers are worn down to nubs. I’m in the process of building my own library of reference books, fettered only by the limits of my sorely overtaxed credit cards.

 

Has any of this research made me a historian? No. Again, I must remind the reader that I am not an expert. What I am is an information pack rat.

 

I keep my notes along with everything I’ve found scouring online resources — whether in the end, I use them or not — in a computer file. I never delete these files. My reasoning is that if, in the future, I decide to write another story set in that period, the research is already done and at my fingertips.

 

I never make the mistake of assuming I know anything. Aside from the entire ass/you/me thing, assuming I know something as fact is a surefire way to screw up the details, and believe you me, someone, somewhere will notice and call me on it. I once got an angry two-page letter from a reader berating me because I didn’t correctly describe the splatter pattern of a shotgun blast.

 

Two entire pages. Seriously.

 

The only other tip I can offer is never to take anything you read at face value. Wikipedia, perhaps the most oft-used — while equally oft-lamented — database on the Internet is a good stepping-off point for research, but an unreliable one. I’ll take what I’ve learned there and find other, credible sources to support the information. I’ll double-check my facts, then triple-check them to be certain. In this stage of the game, I feel free to be as obsessive as I’d like — in this instance, anal retentiveness can only stand me in good stead when I finally put pen to paper. 

 

I question everything as I’m writing. For example, if writing a dinner scene set in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age, I’ll ask myself whether my characters would know what a fork is, let alone how to use one (probably not, considering the fork didn’t make an appearance in Greece until roughly 400 AD, and yes, I had to look it up). What type of furniture did they use? What type of bowls and serving platters? What did they eat? What kind of clothing did they wear, and of which type of fabric? I’ll make a list of these questions and more, then hit the books to find the answers.

 

If I’m writing a pirate story set on one of the aforementioned brigantines during the early 18th century, I’ll research how the ships were built, find diagrams, and learn which parts served what functions. I’ll learn how many sails there should be, how they were rigged, and the difference between the forecastle and the poop deck.

 

Speaking of poop, I’ll even consider how my pirate hero might manage the most routine of everyday chores and ablutions — how was food cooked aboard a wooden ship, and how did they manage their waste? Even if I don’t use all the information collected, I feel the knowledge of the most intimate details of my character’s life will only add believability as I write the story.

 

I’ve become comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and “I need help.” When all else fails, I’ll ask an expert. The web is stuffed full of contact information for historians. I’ll send an email explaining who I am and my mission, along with my question to an appropriate source, and politely ask for an opinion. At worst, I’m ignored, and at best, get an educated response, or at least, a nudge in the right direction for further research.

 

I’ll also ask other authors for their favorite informational sources. Most, like the Macaronis, are more than willing to share their special sources, those books and websites they rely on when fishing for facts.

 

I think another invaluable tool for a historical writer — or any writer for that matter — is a strong sense of empathy. It isn’t enough to simply find the facts, to envision a ship or a castle, to stare at illustrations of doublets and frock coats, or paintings of wattle-and-daub huts, or cobblestone streets lined with gas lamps. I think a writer needs to be able to feel what it’s like to be their character in that setting, wearing those clothes, living in that civilization, in that time period.

 

As children, we found this an easy task. We became the pirates, the knights, the princes on our white steeds. We lived and breathed inside their skins, with little or no effort on our parts. As we grew older, we were taught to put aside childish nonsense, to act our ages. What a shame. The ability to pretend so easily, so completely, would do us in good stead now.

 

A writer needs to know how to recapture that long-lost freedom to believe we are the character, to look at our modern kitchens and see an open hearth and rough-hewn table, to walk the aisle of a supermarket and see an open-air market in Babylonia. That skill and the facts uncovered during research will combine on paper to form a believable, historically accurate story. 

 

Will I ever be a historian? Probably not. I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, stuck forever in the back row of the remedial history class, admiring those among my peers who’ve aced the honors course.

 

Can I write a believable piece of historical romance? Sure. I can, and I have.

 

So can you.

 

 

Kiernan Kelly is the author of In Bear Country, and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast.  

 

 

by: Leslie H. Nicoll

We live in the age of safer sex. Men who are sexually active are encouraged to wear condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Contemporary erotic authors, in an effort to respond to current social and sexual mores, generally have their characters use condoms appropriately or if they don’t, include an explanation as to why not and comment on the risk they are taking by not doing so. But stories that take place prior to the emergence and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus generally do not include condom use. If the author of a historical fiction story wanted to include characters using condoms, would it be anachronistic? Based on my recent research, probably not.

There is evidence that condoms were used by early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While some speculate that Egyptian men wore a type of penis sheath or sack to prevent against sunburn and bug bites, others have found artifacts of sheaths made from animal intestines or bladders. They were so small and covered such a small portion of the penis that they could not have been used for protection from sweat and sun and thus must have been used during sex.

Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, had some understanding that conception involved both the man and the woman. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the man’s semen was what produced an embryo; the woman was just a receptacle. Even so, both men wrote that birth control was the woman’s responsibility. Despite their advice, there were Greek men who chose to practice birth control on their own. Ancient writings discuss intercourse “not according to custom,” which might mean coitus interuptus or anal intercourse. But there is also evidence that men used animal intestine condoms, similar to the Egyptians, as a birth control device, too. Given that Greek society was sexually permissive, it makes sense that men would take some responsibility for contraception – especially those men who chose to consort with women of lower ranks or slaves.

The Romans also used condoms for contraception but it is in their writings that the notion of sexually transmitted disease prevention comes up for the first time. Soldiers recognized different types of infections and realized they were likely getting them from the prostitutes and “comfort women” (usually captives) who traveled with the legions. Soldiers lumped all such diseases together under the term Mount Vesuvius’s Rash. Legions kept herds of goats for milk and meat and the soldiers used the bladders and intestines as penis sheaths – a technique they might have learned from their enemies, the Greeks.

Except for the one little blip with the Romans, condoms were used primarily for birth control for the next 1800 years or so – and in agrarian societies that valued large families with children as workers, birth control wasn’t particularly desired, period. Much of the knowledge about condom materials and use that had been passed around among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans was forgotten during the dark and middle ages.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.

Then, in 1495, the first widespread epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease occurred. Called at first “the Great pox,” to differentiate it from smallpox, syphilis was named by Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for “Syphilis or The French Disease”) in 1530. Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. It is not clear where Fracastoro got the name of his main character, the afflicted shepherd, Syphylus, from which the name syphilis emerged. Some think he borrowed it from Sipylus, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while others think he made it up. Whatever the source, the name seems to have caught on because it did not identify any one group, country, or culture as being the source of the scourge.

Figure 1. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

Figure 2. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.

“Treatments,” none of which were very effective, abounded but it wasn’t until 1564 that anyone put forth the notion of disease prevention. Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and in it, he described the first modern condom. He claimed to have invented it which is understandable, given the fact that all prior condom knowledge was buried in ancient texts that Fallopio likely did not have access to. As an aside, if Fallopio’s name looks familiar, that is because he was an anatomist and is credited with identifying and naming the Fallopian tube.

Fallopio’s condom was linen, tied to the glans of the penis with a pink ribbon. His instructions were precise: prior to intercourse, a man should wash his genitals, then tie the linen over the glans, drawing the prepuce forward. He should then moisten the linen with saliva or lotion. Fallopio claimed to have tested his condom with 1100 men, not one of whom became infected with syphilis. To further prevent infection, Fallopio soaked the condom in a chemical solution which also acted as a spermicide. Thus his invention had a dual role: disease prevention and contraception.

From Fallopio’s writing, condom use spread. In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder, same as in ancient times. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from “fine leather” to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.

Figure 2. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

Figure 3. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

From at least the 18th century, condom use has been opposed in legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some believe is immoral or undesirable; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time, belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.

Despite this opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulphur and lye). They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at theaters throughout Europe and Russia. They later spread to America, although in every place they were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sexual education. In the US, fine “French letters” and other imported condoms were always preferred, even after “the rubber” was invented by Goodyear in the 1850s. In London, “condon hawkers” were a common sight, especially in St. James’s Park, Spring Garden, and the Pall Mall, all known spots for illicit assignations between men and women, and men and prostitutes, both male and female.

What about men who were having sex with men? Were they using condoms? Present day experts contend that they were not used by gay men until the 1950s and then only as a sex toy; however, poetry from the past contradicts this. Besides, if people understood that sexual intimacy led to infection, it wasn’t much of leap for men to realize that if they could infect their female partners, they could just as easily infect their male partners, too. As an example, the following excerpt is from the poem, Almonds for Parrots, written anonymously in 1708. While it was meant to be a satire about sex, it does give a hint about condom use by men having homosexual relations:

But Art surpasses Nature; and we find
Men may be transform’d into Woman-kind.
O happy Change! But far more wond’rous Skill!
That curse’s Loves Wounds, without the Doctor’s Pill:
Anticipates ev’n Condon’s secret Art,
At first invented to secure the Part.

Writing a sex scene that includes condom use can be a challenge for an author; putting one on is a somewhat clinical act that can interrupt the flow and passion of the moment. (People make the same argument about using them in real life but to that, the best advice is: figure it out.) Historical authors have more free rein to ignore and skip the issue altogether. But if a daring author wanted to have a male character cover his “lovely manhood” with a linen sheath and tie it with a pink ribbon, as a way to protect his lover from disease, evidence suggests this would not be an unheard of action and in fact, may be more common than previously thought.

Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit http://www.mainedesk.com and http://www.bcpinepress.com.

happy_condom

1809caribbean1

I originally needed to research the Caribbean islands as they formed an important background for the hero of my novel, CANE, which centered on slavery in the sugar cane industry of the 19th century.  It was such a fascinating subject that I learned far more than I could ever use in my novel.

Though the slave history of the islands is well known, it transpired the Caribbean had been a hotbed of slavery long before the Europeans arrived; they only found more efficient ways to make it work.

There had been native tribes living on the islands since the dawn of time, the first peoples long ago lost to history. However, the Tainos (more commonly known as the Arawaks) had been living in the Caribbean islands for hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. It was a later arrival, the Caribs, who originally came from Venezuela, who began to pray on the Arawaks, making slaves of them. The Caribs systematically forced the Arawaks from many of the islands, killing many and enslaving the survivors. However, it took the arrival of the Spaniards to finally wipe out the Arawaks in the 16th century. It was then the turn of the Caribs to become slaves to the white man. Today, there are virtually no Caribbean Indians surviving, though certain Arawak features can be found among the indigenous races of South America.

The Spaniards originally needed slaves from the islands in their quest for gold and many were shipped to South America. By the time the value of cane sugar was realised late in the 17th century, the Caribbean Indian to use as slaves were virtually gone, so new sources were needed. It was a friar from Hispaniola named Bartoleme who suggested enslaving Africans. Many of these new slaves came from Africa’s Guinea coast, taken from their homes by slave-raiding parties, which were often endorsed by the local government.

passage-01So began the infamous Triangular Trade: European ships set sail for the Caribbean colonies, via Africa where they bartered arms and liquor with the African slave traders; the captured slaves were shipped to the islands and, in the final step, sugar and rum were sent from the islands back to Europe. The trade may have begun with the Spaniards, but soon other European races were quick to see the advantage and before long the Dutch, French and English were fighting over the rights to the islands – and the slaves. The trade was thought so valuable that England went to war with the Dutch twice over control of the islands – the two countries had originally banded together to oust the Spanish.

The trade was not only ongoing, it was increasing year by year. For those that survived the harrowing sea voyage, the average life expectancy of an imported slave was only seven years, but many never even survived that long, an average of ten percent dying within the first year.

canefield2aOn the plantations, owners demanded slaves sever every tie to their homelands and they kept slaves of the same culture apart. Harsh punishments were exercised for disobedience or acts of will, and it was not illegal to kill an African man in the British Colonies until the beginning of the 19th century. The occasional slave revolts were put down with vicious force; many slaves would rather die than return to their life of servitude.

harvestingsugar

Jamaica in particular saw many slave uprisings, and was home to more slave rebellions slavemaster11than all of the other British islands combined. Tacky’s rebellion in the summer of 1760 was the most significant of these. Tacky, who had been a chief at home in Africa, led a group of supporters and moved inland. They took over plantations and killed the white plantation owners. Their plan was to overthrow British rule and to establish an African kingdom in Jamaica. However, the British authorities sent in the militia and though some of the rebels returned to their plantations many fought on until Tacky himself was killed. The last of the rebels committed suicide rather than return to slavery.

The various islands/island groups were constantly fought over and changed hands, often repeatedly as the European nations strove for dominance of the islands.

It took many years before the disgraceful trade ended, as peoples’ sensibilities changed because of the efforts of anti-slavery movements. It was a slow process – the first country to abolish slavery was Denmark in 1792 and it was not until 1882 that the last slaves in the Caribbean were finally freed.

Monument to the end of Slavery

Monument to the end of Slavery

Over at The New York Times, there’s an article about an exhibition of 17thC embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center

Pair of Gloves

Pair of Gloves

 From the NYTimes article:

“The exhibition of embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center is both a revelation and great fun. Its subject is one of the most beloved, ancient and widely pursued art forms/crafts/hobbies on earth. Its focus is 17th-century England, the site of one of embroidery’s golden ages, it turns out.

A lot happened during this period, especially after 1642. Two civil wars culminated in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. Then came 10 years of the Cromwells and all that, followed by the Restoration (1660), the Great Plague of London (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), which did much to extinguish the Great Plague. Finally a fairly bloodless revolution (1688) was quickly followed by the formation of a constitutional monarchy (1689). Throughout, endless squabbling and plotting and frequent combat transpired between or among monarchs and parliaments; Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans; and Scots, Irish and English. It is a miracle that anybody had time for anything, much less great needlework. “

The Bard Center is in Manhattan so an in person visit isn’t likely for most Macaronis; however, the article is well worth a look, and Bard have a wonderfully distracting set of past exhibition catalogs too, so do beware as they are available via Yale UP.  

The article has a gorgeous slideshow that’s worth ogling. 

Here’s the Bard’s press release:

ENGLISH EMBROIDERY FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, ca. 1580-1700: ’TWIXT ART AND NATURE

December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009

From December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture is presenting English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature. This is the third exhibition resulting from a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA).*
The exhibition, a key component in the BGC’s History and Theory of Museums concentration, draws from the Metropolitan’s preeminent collection of embroidered objects made for secular use during the late Tudor and Stuart eras. These objects have usually been regarded as a discrete body of work, removed from any sense of their original settings and contexts. However, the embroideries were created and used by the gentry of England for personal adornment and to decorate their homes, and feature designs and patterns that reflect contemporary religious ideals, education concepts, and fashionable motifs. One of the principal goals of this exhibition is to give aesthetic and scholarly credence to these often technically complex, thematically rich, and compelling objects. The significance of the objects within the social and cultural economy of 17th-century domestic life is examined by juxtaposing them with contemporary prints, books, and decorative arts.
The project is co-curated by Melinda Watt, assistant curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, and Andrew Morrall, professor at the Bard Graduate Center; and is overseen by Deborah L. Krohn, associate professor and coordinator for History and Theory of Museums, and Nina Stritzler-Levine, director of exhibitions, both at the BGC.

The Exhibition
English Embroidery is composed of approximately 80 objects from the MMA’s collection of embroideries and comparative supplemental material from the museum and other institutions and private collectors. The exhibition is presented on three floors of the BGC and is organized in sections that explore thematic and typological characteristics of the embroideries. Original printed images and texts, combined with high-quality photo reproductions, help the viewer contextualize the embroideries in a way that has not been attempted previously. There is also a special animation component, consisting of three digital videos that demonstrate stitch techniques, to enhance visitors’ understanding of this art form.

The exhibition aims, therefore, to further historical understanding of the material by combining historical interpretation with the best in museum practice. The technical sections use macro- and x-ray photography to demonstrate the complexity of embroidery techniques and the variety of constituent materials in a manner never before realized in exhibition form. The adjoining displays of the stages of girlhood education demonstrate concretely the historical process by which these techniques were learned and developed. At the same time, each section illustrates the specific social and cultural meanings of the forms and subject matter, and shows how the themes employed in needlework reflected values of domestic harmony and new ideals of social grace and gentility.
The introductory section on the first floor is centered on the theme of royalty and serves to provide historical background for the visitor. It contains objects of courtly ceremonial and domestic pieces that reinforce the importance of the idea of monarchy to court and country throughout a period in which stable rule under the Tudors was followed by civil war, regicide, and the eventual restoration of monarchy under the Stuarts. Among the ceremonial objects in this section are a spectacular burse (purse) made to hold the Great Seal of England and a lavishly embroidered Bible associated with Archbishop Laud. A number of embroidered portraits are displayed, including a unique Elizabethan portrait of a woman, possibly Queen Elizabeth herself, and a finely worked “portrait miniature” of Charles I, based on engravings by Wenceslas Hollar. This latter work testifies to the deeply intimate nature of the cult of the Martyr King that arose after Charles’s execution. Another featured object is a beaded and embroidered basket with representations of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, made in celebration of the royal marriage and restored monarchy.
The overarching theme of the second-floor galleries is the use of embroidered objects within the domestic setting. There are three specific themes: the role of embroidery in the education of girls and young women, the survival of rare and precious accessories of dress, and the production and function of domestic furnishings. On display are several samplers representative of the types created in the mid-17th century, including a rare dated workbag created and initialed by a ten-year-old in 1669, as well as exemplary literature advocating needlework skills for the well-bred young woman and pattern books from which designs were taken. A display of techniques and materials complements the presentation of embroidery as an educational tool. Several objects, including a late 16th-century pair of gloves and a highly three-dimensional raised-work panel, have been chosen to illustrate the variety and quality of materials found in 17th-century embroidery.

The display of objects related to education and technique is followed by a display of fashion accessories from the early 17th century. One rare complete garment, an embroidered jacket from about 1616, is highlighted.
Continuing the theme of objects made for domestic use, the second floor concludes with domestic furnishings produced at both the amateur and professional levels. Decorated caskets (small boxes), mirror frames, and cushions all played a role in bringing comfort and color to the home at a time when many furnishings were still transported from one home to another and most upholstery was not fixed. Two of the Met’s most spectacular caskets, as well as two equally elaborate mirrors, are shown here.

The third floor installation explores in detail two of the most popular themes in the pictorial embroidery of the period: stories drawn from the Bible and the depiction of nature. The objects here depict the centrality of the Bible in contemporary domestic life and reflect the use of exemplary biblical heroines as models of virtuous behavior in the upbringing of young women. Finally, a selection of embroideries is used to highlight the importance of the natural world in the decorative conventions of the time.

The Catalogue
The accompanying publication, published and distributed by Yale University Press, has been edited by co-curators Melinda Watt and Andrew Morrall and contains a complete catalogue of the objects in the exhibition as well as six essays. It is the most extensive examination of embroidery from this period ever published in the United States. In addition to the curators, contributors include Kathleen Staples, author of British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1998), whose essay addresses the production and usage of embroidered furnishings; Susan North, curator of 17th and 18th century dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), who has written an essay on fashion accessories; Ruth Geuter, a leading expert on pictorial embroideries, who offers an essay on the social dimensions of the embroidered biblical narratives; and Cristina Carr, associate conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who presents an illustrated technical dictionary of materials unique to these objects .

Related Programs
An array of lectures, panels, and other offerings will be presented in conjunction with English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature . For further information, please call 212-501-3011 or e-mail programs@bgc.bard.edu.

Exhibition Tours
Group tours of English Embroidery are conducted Tuesdays through Fridays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on Thursdays until 7:00 p.m.  Reservations are required for all groups. For further information, please call the Bard Graduate Center Gallery at 212-501-3013 or TTY 212-501-3012, or e-mail gallery@bgc.bard.edu.gallery@bgc.bard.edu.

Location
The Bard Graduate Center is located at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, in New York City.  Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Admission is $3 general, $2 seniors and students (with valid ID), and free on Thursday evenings after 5:00 p.m.  For further information about the Bard Graduate Center and upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.bgc.bard.edu.

Support

‘English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: Twixt Art and Nature is made possible through generous grants from the Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Upcoming Exhibitions
  Fall-Winter 2009-2010 New Amsterdam in the Dutch Atlantic

For further information, please call 212-501-3000 or e-mail generalinfo@bgc.bard.edu.

*The BGC/MMA collaboration was inaugurated in 2001.  Prior to mounting each exhibition, the BGC, in conjunction with the MMA, holds a series of courses in which a small group of graduate students learn all aspects of researching, planning, designing, and installing exhibitions of decorative objects. Class sessions are held in the storerooms of the MMA, where curators lead scholarly discussions and students work intimately with the objects considered for display. Research in this course is ultimately utilized in the exhibition catalogue, exhibition labels, and/or gallery guides. Other classes are held at the BGC and examine topics related to general museum practice, including developing and proposing the exhibition concept; identifying and arranging for the borrowing of objects; writing a script, captions, text panels, and other interpretive materials; and accommodating transport, installation, and conservation requirements. This current academic initiative offers a unique opportunity to heighten awareness of and develop a critical understanding of textiles.

 

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/index.jsp

I’m sure you’ve already discovered this site – and for any historical writer it’s an essential bookmark and a huge wealth of resource. When I first found it it only had cases in a range of about 100 years, but it expands – and now there are cases from the 1670s to the 1910s. it’s a very easy site to navigate too, and has a lot more information than first appears.

When researching Standish I found so much that I didn’t know – the offence that Ambrose is accused of – that of “consenting to an assault of sodomitical intent” sounds incredible to our modern ears, but it’s true – the person having the sodomy perpetrated upon him, could be charged and could be found as guilty as the person performing the act.

Assault with Sodomitical Intent

This charge was levelled in cases of attempted or actual anal intercourse where it was thought impossible (or undesirable) to prove that penetration and ejaculation had actually occurred. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Sodomy. Prosecutions for this offence become markedly more common from the 1840s.

What I found interesting was that the burden of proof – penetration AND ejaculation had to be attested to by two witnesses – which would have made it more difficult to prove. However people often lied, I’m sure – leading to more hangings than were necessary, perhaps.

Sodomy

Anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast. In order to obtain a conviction, it was necessary to prove that both penetration and ejaculation had occurred, and two witnesses were required to prove the crime. Both the “active” and “passive” partner could be found guilty of this offence. But due to the difficulty of proving this actual penetration and ejaculation many men were prosecuted with the reduced charge of assault with sodomitical intent. Details of sodomy prosecutions were censored from the Proceedings from the 1780s onwards. For more information on the gay communities of London see the Homosexuality pages.

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Gay.jsp

Don’t forget that a “lenient punishment” such as pillorying or imprisonment (usually in Newgate, as that prison was attached to the Old Bailey by an underground corridor) were hardly lenient at all, and could both of them mean a death sentence. Unlike Hollywood and the BBC portrayals of the Pillory, people didn’t always throw rotten fruit and vegetables to the general amusement of all. Rocks were often used, faeces and “cannonballs” of mud and stones. People died in the Pillory – John Waller (perjurer) was stoned to death – and the six convicted members of the Vere Street Coterie (men arrested at the White Swan, a Molly House, in 1810 – had to have the protection of 200 armed constables to prevent the crowds from killing them in the pillory.

And a sentence, even a small one, for a stay in Newgate depended very much on your financial circumstances.  The prisons of days before the reforms instigated by Elizabeth Fry and Dickens during the mid 1800′s were dreadful places. You had to pay an (unofficial) fee upon entrance to the warders – food wasn’t provided as a matter of course, you had to buy it – so if you didn’t have money you were in danger of starving to death.  Before you could be released you not only had to pay your fine (difficult if you were in prison and not earning money) but again, another strictly unofficial “release fee” to the warders. If you couldn’t pay this – you didn’t get out, simple as that. Of course if you had money, or a way to earn money within the prison walls, or kind friends and relations – anything was for sale inside the jail itself. Including a a cleaner or a maid, alcohol (Newgate had two bars) and sex of any type.

Here’s a small selection of cases: (more…)

Why research?

I could wish that it wasn’t necessary to ask this question; that all historical novelists naturally came with an inbuilt desire to learn all about their setting before they tried to publish a book about it. However, experience of reading historical romance proves that there are some writers who think that—for example—if they want to write about Highlanders all they have to do is watch Braveheart a couple of times.

I choked on my tea one day on reading the blurb for a book the hero of which was a handsome Scottish Highlander by the name of Seamus O’Hennessy. Possibly there was a reason for the fact that he had such a very Irish name, but the blurb did not hint at it, so I felt free to point and laugh. Seriously, that’s bad! Getting the nationality of the hero’s name wrong means that almost any reader will know, just from the blurb, that the author knows nothing about what they’re writing about, and the book is not worth reading.

There is one reason to research right there. It may be that you have a scorching tale to tell; your characters are fascinating and your plot is breathtaking. But if you get your historical facts wrong there are readers who will throw your book across the room nevertheless. Then they will ridicule it to their friends. There are readers who will pick it up in the bookshop and mock it aloud. You can guarantee that every review you get will pick up at least one mistake and shake its metaphorical head with disappointment over it.

Or to put it in a more positive way, if you do research and get things right you will garner critical acclaim. The Powers that Be will gush over your details and praise you for your erudition, and you can justifiably feel proud.

A second – and IMO better reason – is that research is (a) interesting and (b) a fantastic source of ideas.

If you’re not finding a historical period interesting – if you’re not going ‘ooh, that’s cool!’ or ‘oh, fantastic, they made false teeth out of wood!’ or ‘hee! ‘jonquil’, what a great word, I wonder what colour it is?’ – you may be better off not writing in that setting at all. It’s hard enough writing a book when you enjoy the world it’s set in. It must be purgatory writing in one you don’t.

If you’re enjoying yourself with your research, looking up more stuff than you actually need to just soak in the culture of the age, you may find inspiration hits you from the most unexpected places. Need to get Edward to Bath in time for his worthless beau to dump him in favour of a rich widow, but can’t think of a believable excuse he can tell his guardian? While you’re idly reading up on 18th Century Opera it may come to you in a flash that Edward is a big fanboy of the castrato Farinelli, and that him asking to go to Bath to see his musical idol would seem perfectly innocent. And now you also know that Edward is musical. And you can wring some extra angst out of him being dumped in front of his hero.

If I was asked that perennial question; ‘where do you get your ideas’? ‘Historical research’ would come close to the top. Researching Native American tribes for ‘Captain’s Surrender’, for example, made me aware of the massive complexity of the situation in 18th Century America. I wasn’t able to get any of it into ‘Captain’s Surrender’, but boy do I now know that there’s a fascinating setting there that I would love to explore for a future book.

When should you research?

Because research gives me inspiration I prefer to do a lot of it before I even start a book. If I don’t know what the inside of a Roman house looks like, or whether they eat breakfast in the morning or how many hills Rome is built on, I don’t feel equipped to start. I like to soak up enough for a broad brush picture before I set pen to paper. Often at this stage I will discover things which are too cool to be left out, and figuring out a way to get them into the book will influence the development of the plot.

I do know people who start writing and research as they go along, stopping to check that everything is correct as they proceed. This probably cuts down on the amount of irrelevant stuff you have to read and makes the writing process faster.

But I don’t recommend writing the book first and researching afterwards! While this approach would certainly cut down the amount of research you need to do, it will inevitably lead to big re-writes when you realize that nope, plot points x, y and z couldn’t have happened like that, characters a and b are unbelievable, and settings i-xii all have to be thrown out.

Where should you research?

Places you can go to find out more about your era of choice:

1. The Internet.

A Google search will usually turn up something of use. Sometimes it may even be exactly what you were looking for.

Advantage – it’s quick and easy.

Disadvantage – except when it isn’t.

There is a lot of information out there on the internet, but not all of it is accurate, sometimes it’s downright wrong. Sometimes it’s misguiding – without being wrong itself, it leads you to a wrong conclusion. If you need something specific, like the date when something was first invented or built, check it in at least three places before you start to believe in it.

If you’re looking for more general information, then scrutinize the facts carefully – don’t be tempted to use the cool thing you’ve just discovered until you’ve checked that it was actually known in your time, in your area of the world, and by more than the one person who invented it. Just because a thing was technically available doesn’t necessarily mean that it was actually used. (For example, 18th Century doctors could have used laudanum to anaesthetise their patients during operations, but they didn’t use it because they thought it was better that the patient be awake.)

Sometimes it’s also frustratingly impossible to find something specific on the internet – you’ll get hundreds of sites telling you hundreds of versions of the same thing, and never actually the thing you want. This is often the case when looking up information about facts specific to gay or lesbian subcultures, because sex as a whole is an area of embarrassment to the essay writing segment of the internet. If you try looking up ‘the gay subculture in medieval England’ the chances are that you’ll get porn – and it won’t even be medieval porn.

2. Google Image Search

Advantage – they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I find that’s often true, particularly for describing scenery or costume. Image search also often turns up more interesting articles than just searching on text.

Disadvantage – all the same disadvantages as plain Google search; make sure your image is of what you think it is!

3. Books

Advantage – generally what goes into history books has been checked for factual accuracy by at least a couple of people. (Don’t believe anything that doesn’t cite its sources.)

Books are also short on the ‘white noise’ factor which you find on the internet. The information they contain tends to be more condensed, more in depth, and more relevant to your needs as a historical writer than an internet article. Obviously there are exceptions, but this is what I find in general.

If you have other history mad friends it’s always a good idea to compare the books you’ve got on hand and see if you can lend or borrow anything.

Disadvantage – books are not cheap. They may not be available from your local library, or if they are, you may have to wait months for them to arrive. And of course they still may not contain the answer to that question you’re trying to get answered. There may not even be a book in print that deals with the specific thing you are interested in.

4. Contemporary Sources

Pictures, books, plays, poetry, paintings, artefacts, even film from the era in question.

Advantage – nothing can more accurately give you an insight into the mindset of the people than reading a book, play or poetry written at the time. Want to know the kind of thing an educated Roman might have thought during Augustus’ time – read Horace or Virgil. Want to know whether your 18th Century hero can get away with an assignation at an inn – read Fielding’s Tom Jones. You cannot get more authentic than that.

I would say that it’s essential to at least look up the pictures, paintings, chairs, furniture, dress styles, tableware and general paraphernalia of living for whatever era you’re writing in. Visit the stately homes and the museums, look at the flea traps and the tassels on the swords. Nothing is too small or obscure to ignore because any of it might be useful for just adding that touch that convinces your reader they’re in a different time.

Disadvantage – this may take some effort and time. Possibly expense too. But if you love the period enough to want to write in it, it will also be good fun.

5. Find an expert

Many of the larger public libraries in the US have people who will do searches on request–some of them are very helpful.

If you have a museum or university near you (or even somewhere you can look up on the internet) it may be worth emailing and seeing if there is a postgrad student or friendly professor who would be willing to answer questions for a mention in the dedication and a free book.

Other places to look

Writer’s groups – someone may have already looked this up for their book.

Local History Groups

Churches/church wardens/college secretaries (for details on Oxfordcolleges for example)

Local Libraries (ie local to the place you need)

Historic houses

Tourist information offices

Your friends-list – someone may have already looked it up, know where to look, or have local knowledge.

Yahoo groups – somewhere out there is probably a group of enthusiasts already discussing the problem. Need to know whether the Great Western Railway carried a post van? – ask a group of trainspotters.

Re-enactors – these are people who live and breathe the period they re-enact. They will often know more about the nitty-gritty of day to day life in that period than anyone in a museum, and they can give you hands on experience of what a musket/corset/hangarok/longbow etc felt like to use or wear. Chances are there is a group somewhere out there re-enacting your period of interest. You can start by looking up your local SCA on the internet, or if you’re in the UK by going to a re-enactor’s market: http://www.reenactorsmarket.co.uk/

Again, the only real disadvantage to all of this is that it takes time and effort.

6. Ask the Macaronis,

We’re not guaranteeing we’ll know, but we can always just have a good grumble together. But check on this list first, because there are an awful lot of useful sites available here: http://erastes.com/historical-research-links/

To conclude: Research is your friend, and sometimes it’s also a wonderful form of cheap entertainment, and inspiration. Good luck!

~*~*~*~

Thanks to Erastes for the wonderful resource list, and to all the Macaronis for the suggestions on how and where to research, which I’ve incorporated above.

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