Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Undressing the 18th Century Woman, from shoes to shift

Mrs. Sharpe and Her Child by Joseph Highmore
Reading descriptions of women's clothing from the 18th century makes me very happy to be living in the relative simplicity of 21st century fashion! Getting dressed (or undressed) must have taken quite a bit of time out of a lady's day. Of course, they would be appalled at the t-shirt and jeans I slip into most every day. Probably have me arrested or sent off to an asylum until I came to my senses and dressed in a more seemly manner!

So, here we have the lady of the house after a busy day of tending to her family's needs, ready to get comfortable and lie down for a much deserved night of sleep:

First, off come the shoes made of leather, silk or worsted, fastened by buckles, clasps or ties. (If walking in the mud or rain, she may have overshoes, called patterns, to remove, as well. Patterns had a raised sole to lift her shoes above the muck.)

Second, with a pull of the ribbon garters poised just above the knee, off come the stockings made of wool, linen, or silk.

Third, off comes the cap, made of cotton, linen, or lace, worn alone or beneath a hat when outdoors. Caps were practical in that they protected the hair from dirt and dust and the viewer from unsightly, unwashed hair!

Fourth, off come the mitts, elbow-length fingerless gloves that keep her warm in winter and protect her skin from the sun in summer.

Fifth, off come the ruffles attached to the sleeves.

Sixth, off comes the stomacher, a triangular piece of cloth attached to the gown at the bodice to hold the front of the upper gown together.

Seventh, off comes the gown, a bodice sewn to a skirt which was open in the front to reveal the petticoat.

Eighth, off come the petticoats, an outer one was a skirt that filled in the gap left by the open-front gown and an underpetticoat was worn beneath it for extra warmth in the winter.

Ninth, off come the free-hanging pockets tied around the waist and accessed through pocket slits in the gown and petticoats.

Tenth, off come the stays (at last, whew!) Layers of linen encasing narrow strips of boning of whale bone, metal, wood, woodpaste or packthread were cone-shaped, extending from waist to just beneath the bosom and were meant to ensure upright posture. The most fashionable lady would wear one that pulled her shoulders back to the point of her shoulder blades nearly touching. Even children wore stays to create good posture!

Eleventh, off comes the long shirt-like garment called a shift...whoops, the shift stays on and doubles as a nightgown. And that, my Reader, is where it ends as there were no underpants of any kind worn at the time. I think we can all agree, however, that the dear lady was adequately protected and at least it made the use of the privy just a little easier!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fol the diddle dol..., The Essential 18th Century Playlist

The Penny Wedding by David Allan
Her shoes were bright
Her stockings white
Her buckles shone like silver
She had a black and roving eye
And her hair hung down her shoulder
With my rue dum day
Fol the diddle dol
Fol the dol th diddle dum the day
(From "I'm Seventeen Come Sunday")

Pretty catchy lyrics, eh? Songs of the 18th century mirrored the human condition of the times and, just like today, were filled with stories of love, jealousy, humor, politics, and partying. Many songs were made for dancing and as long as they "had a good beat and easy to dance to," to quote American Bandstand sages of the 1950's, they were a hit. Dancing was a very important part of colonial American entertainment. According to the Irish physician, John Brickell, who lived in Edenton, NC about 1731 and wrote a book entitled The Natural History of North Carolina: 

"Dancing they are all fond of, especially when they can get a Fiddle or a Bagpipe; at this they will continue Hours together, nay, so attach'd are they to this darling Amusement, that if they can't procure Musick, they will sing for themselves." 

An 18th century Musick lover's Playlist would surely include the following: (Thanks to for these examples and lyrics.)

 An early lawyer joke rears its sarcastic head in:
"A Fox May Steal Your Hens, Sir"

A fox may steal your hens, Sir,
A Whore your health and Pence, Sir,
Your daughter rob your Chest, Sir,
Your Wife may steal your Rest, Sir,
A Thief your Goods and Plate.
But this is all but picking,
With Rest, Pence, Chest, and Chicken,
If ever was decreed, Sir,
If Lawyer's Hand is fee'd, Sir.
He steals your whole Estate.

Ah, sweet love from:
"Enraptured I Gaze"

Enraptured I Gaze, when my Delia is by,
And drink the sweet poison of love from her eye;
I feel the soft passion pervade ev'ry part,
And pleasures unusual play round my fond heart.

What's a woman compared to a good stiff drink? From:
"The Women All Tell Me"

My Chloe had dimples and smiles I must own;
But, though, she could smile, yet in truth she could frown,
But tell me, ye lovers of liquor divine,
Did you e'er see a frown in a bumper of wine?

I could go on but my novel writing calls so I shall bid you adieu for now, Fol the dol th diddle dum the day...

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Mud Larks to Jingle Brains, 18th Century Slang You Need to Know

A Midnight Conversation  (1733) by William Hogarth 
An essential part of a historical fiction writer's job is using slang appropriate to the era. It wouldn't do to have an 18th century fellow extolling the virtues of "groovy chicks." So, dear Reader, I have rounded up 50 slang terms I garnered from  A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785)—written by Francis Grose and placed them, below, in the form of a mix/match quiz with numbered slang terms and lettered meanings. (Answers at the bottom.) After putting all this together I am feeling a bit betwaddled and absolutely swivel-eyed! You can peruse this entertaining tome yourself at:
Have fun and feel free to use them at your next gathering. Impress your friends! Confound your...non-friends! 

1-all-a-mort    2-apron string-hold    3-arsey varsey   4-batchelor's fare

5-betwaddled    6-bone box    7-break-teeth word    8-croaker

9-cacklers ken   10-dry boots    11-dog's soup    12-eternity box

13-execution day   14-featherbed lane    15-fencing ken    16-gollumpus

17-grumbletonian     18-here and thereian    19-hum durgeon    20-hop-o-my-thumb

21-India wipe    22-inexpressibles    23-jingle brains 24-jumblegut lane 

25-kill devil    26-knowledge box   27-locksmith's daughter   28-lully priggers 

29-master of the mint    30-mud lark    31-nicknackatory   32-nigmenog  

33-Old Roger    34-Old Mr. Gory    35-pin basket   36-picaroon    

37-quacking cheat    38-quill driver    39-Ralph Spooner   40-rattle and pad 

41-sidledywry    42-swivel-eyed    43-top lights   44-trundlers   

45-victualling office    46-vampers    47-unlicked cub   48-used up  

49-watery headed    50-word grubbers

a-stockings    b-verbal critics    c-the youngest child    d-a clerk, scribe or hackney driver

e-crooked    f-new still-burnt rum    g-thieves who steal wet linen 

h-a wild thoughtless rattling fellow    i-a discontented person always railing at the times

j-a diminutive person    k-a pirate    l-a coach and horses  

m-an estate held by a man during his wife's life   n-mouth    o-struck dumb, confounded

p-imaginary illness    q-a rough road    r-one who has no settled place of residence

s-breeches    t-bread and cheese and kisses    u-hen roost   v- to fall head over heels

w-apt to shed tears    x-a key    y-coffin    z-out of one's senses, confounded

aa-hard to pronounce word    bb-washing day    cc-a gardener 

dd-someone always foretelling misfortune    ee-a rough or stoney lane

ff-rain water    gg-silk handkerchief    hh-large clumsy fellow    ii-killed

jj-peas    kk-a fool    ll-squinting     mm-a duck   nn-the Devil

oo-a hog    pp-a piece of gold    qq-a sly humorous fellow

rr-a warehouse where stolen goods are secreted   ss-the head    tt-a very silly fellow

uu-the eyes    vv-a rude uncouth young fellow    ww-the stomach    xx-a toyshop

1o  2m  3v  4t  5z  6n  7aa  8dd  9u  10qq  11ff  12y  13bb 14ee  15rr  16hh  17i  18r
19p  20j  21gg  22s  23h  24q  25f  26ss  27x  28g  29cc  30oo 31xx   32tt  33nn  34pp
35c   36k   37mm   38d   39kk   40l   41e   42ll   43uu  44jj  45ww  46a  47vv   48ii
49w   50b 

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ghosts of New Orleans, a personal experience

Both my first novel, Sea Snow- the gentle haunting of a 19th century lighthouse, and the novel on which I am currently working for my series, Time Shadow, involve ghosts of one kind or another. Actually the first one is about a ghost and the one I am writing now is about a spirit. You may think of these as one in the same but I think of a ghost as a spirit that is bound to a person or a place beyond their control and have no choice but to haunt said person or place until they have come to some kind of resolution of unfinished business. A spirit, on the other hand, is that part of ourselves that lives on beyond our physical lives and exists in a different plane of existence but who may, if they so choose, visit or interact with the physical realm. (Just my thoughts as they are at the moment. I am always open to evolving ideas.) 

I have had only one interaction with a spirit but my dear, down-to-earth husband has had several, one of which occurred when we were traveling around the country on a 33,000 mile journey pulling a 13 ft camper trailer from Virginia to Alaska and all parts in between. With his kind permission I will tell you what happened to us on November 1 (All Saints' Day,) 2011 as we camped just outside New Orleans in St Bernard State Park Campground.
We had just pulled into this lovely park and were setting up camp around 5:30 pm. All the campground staff members were gone by then so we picked our spot and placed our payment into the self-pay box provided for latecomers. The park only had a few of its many campsites filled so we were able to find a good spot, far enough away from other campers for privacy but not too far from the bathhouse. (Our usual criteria.) We had a nice, level campsite, one side facing the camp road and one facing a stand of young trees. Our two dogs and I were inside the camper, which we affectionately called "Lucy," as I undertook the usual reorganization of supplies necessary when we set up camp and performing that most important of tasks, making two cups of hot tea, while Bill did his usual outdoor chores of securing the trailer. One of the things he had to do each time there was a water supply available, was to hook up the water hose from the water source to the camper. This is a job he had performed hundreds of times before with ease. This time, however, he could not get the hose end to thread properly and he struggled to securely connect it to the fresh water connector on the camper.

 As he crouched by the trailer, his frustration mounting by the second, he felt someone approaching and looked back over his shoulder. There, standing about eight to ten feet away between two narrow tree trunks at the edge of the campsite, was a slender black man about 70 years of age, curly grey hair, gold-framed glasses enlarging his kindly eyes, dressed neatly in a long-sleeved blue cotton shirt buttoned up to the neck, khaki trousers and sneakers. (As a photographer, my husband is extremely observant with a great memory for detail.) The man was carrying a bright yellow water hose that trailed behind him and was smiling reassuringly at Bill, looking as though he were about to speak and offer assistance. At that moment, Bill felt the hose slip securely into its connection and turned his eyes back to the trailer. He immediately turned back to face the man and speak to him but there was no one there. He stood up and walked to the spot where the man had been standing and looked around through the trees, no trace of his existence. He walked quickly around the trailer and looked up and down the road, no one there at all. When he looked through the trailer's screen door to ask me if I'd just seen a man outside, his face was as white as a proverbial sheet. Later, he was talking to an older man who spent a lot of time camping at the park and broached the subject of apparitions in the area. The man replied, "Oh yeah, you know this whole parish was flooded after Katrina. There're hundreds of ghosts swimming around here." Bill asked a park ranger if anyone else had ever reported seeing anything like he had witnessed. The ranger said he wasn't at liberty to say but, in his words, "It wouldn't surprise me one bit."

As time goes on, I will relate other true ghostly encounters and I would love for you to share any experiences you have had.

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Photographs on today's blog are copyrighted by my husband, William Ahearn.