interesting little things

Filed under: research, writing

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’m in the middle of doing copy edits for my next novel, and I’m enjoying being really picky about my work. One of the joys of copy-editing this particular novel is that in it, the characters are historical interpreters in a stately home that’s re-creating the summer of 1814. So although the story is set in the present, the characters spend a lot of time talking and dressing like characters in a Regency novel.

This was, as you can imagine, fantastically fun to write; it was like writing a Regency romp but with a sort of knowingness to it, in that all of the characters are actually modern and are just pretending. It meant that I needed to know more about modern perceptions of Regency customs, than the actual Regency customs themselves (if that makes sense). I needed to mention the little things that actual Regency people would take for granted, but that 21st-century people pretending to be Regency people would notice. Such as knickers, or lack thereof. Or what it feels like to wear a corset when you’re used to a bra. Or how difficult it is to embroider.

Anyway, because of this, today I’ve been researching various bits of 1814 minutiae. For example, mourning periods and when one can go into half-mourning for a parent, or marry after the death of a sister. The permissible colour schemes for a hall, saloon and drawing room. The weather in the summer of 1814. Slang for “exhausted” or “beautiful”. Who would be introduced first in a room full of people of equal rank. And the precise amount of minutes one can stand still at the end of the set during “The Duke of Kent Waltz”.

One of the great parts of research like this, is that I actually know people who know the answers to these questions, or know where I can find them. People in the Romantic Novelists’ Association are hugely knowledgeable, and I’ve also met people through my research who can help me—historians, interpreters, re-enactors, dancers, costume experts. As a writer, it’s invaluable to have kind, helpful people in your corner. And I love being able to email people out of the blue and ask them about historical knickers.

Have you learned anything interesting lately?

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  1. Yes, I’ve just learnt that there are people in the know about historical knickers. I’d like to see them on mastermind now, specialist subject – Regency gussets.


  2. No such thing as a Regency gusset! The knickers were open-crotched, made up of two separate legs connected at the waistband.

    You learn something new every day…


  3. Hmm, they probably sell that kind of undie at Ann Summers shops!


  4. Easy access knickers? So that’s where the idea came from!

    I learned today that no matter how many times you tell a 10 year old to pick up his french horn and put in the car for today’s music lesson, the school will always phone you when you’re 20 miles away to say he forgot it.


    • That sounds like a lesson that may be repeated over and over again…unfortunately.


  5. Um… um…

    I’m struggling here! Okay, I learned it costs £5.62 to send a book to Jamaica. Is it sad that a trip to the post office was the highlight of my day?


    • That’s not bad, Talli, considering it cost me £3.15 today to post a book to Yorkshire. (Post office also highlight of my day.)


  6. Hmm, you do know that the stay/corset of 1814 was a very different model to the one post 1840? It is one of the reasons I tend to use the word — stays rather than corest. Corset tends to evoke the Scarlet OHara cinched waist. That was not the affect they were going for in 1814. 1814 was far more high bosom and waist — a figure that is kinder to the older woman. The next time that it happened was the 1920s but then the undergarments flattened the bust.
    The way foundation garments control figures is really interesting or maybe that is just me! I had a thrill when I saw Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and recognised the late Victorian 1877 (or thereabouts ) influence.


    • Yes, I used the word “stays” in my book, though I used “corset” in this post as it’s a more general term. I was allowed to try on a handmade Victorian-style corset at a re-enactment fair last autumn, and I could tell that if I wore one on a regular basis I would have to eat like a bird and use the loo every hour at least! It changes the way you breathe as well. You can easily understand why Victorian ladies would swoon…


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