Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Dollar Princesses

Ursula Houghton is a character in my current WIP. She's around nineteen years old, is American, has been raised in New York City and Newport, the daughter of a Wall Street banker and his wife. She's been raised in the lap of luxury, but her family's money is relatively recent, so the establishment families of New York society look down on her. #RichPeopleProblems

Ursula, her mother, and her brother go to Paris, then London in 1893 to see some European sights, meet some European nobles--and to find Ursula a husband, preferably with money and some kind of ancient noble title.

Ursula is a fictional addition to the many women who did this exact thing in the Gilded Age--they were known as Dollar Princesses or the Buccaneers.

Here are just a few of these ladies:


Jennie Jerome

From Wikipedia



One of the most famous of these transatlantic marriages is that of Jennie Jerome and her husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, who had two sons together, the eldest being Winston Churchill.

Jennie was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 9, 1854, the daughter of financier Leonard Jerome and his wife Clara Hall. Jennie had two sisters, Clarita and Leonie. Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill, son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, in 1873 at the Isle of Wight regatta; they were introduced by the Prince of Wales. Lord Randolph and Jennie married at the British Embassy in Paris in 1874. Jennie became known by the title Lady Randolph Churchill.

Jennie helped Randolph enormously in his political career. They both had numerous affairs during their marriage, which resulted in Randolph contracting syphilis. He died at age 45 in 1895. Jennie remarried twice after.

Consuelo Yznaga


The daughter of a Cuban diplomat and a Louisiana plantation heiress, Consuelo Yznaga was born in 1853. In 1876, she married George Montagu, Viscount Mandeville, in New York and they settled on his estate in Ireland. They had a son and twin daughters. Lord Mandeville eventually inherited the title Duke of Manchester. Her friend Edith Wharton immortalized her in the unfinished novel The Buccaneers as Conchita Closson.


Consuelo Vanderbilt


Probably one of the more famous of these marriages, Consuelo Vanderbilt was the daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt, a railroad millionaire, and Alva Smith. She was named for her godmother, Consuelo Yznaga. Born in New York in 1877, Consuelo was raised under her strict mother's eye. Alva (with the help of Minnie Stevens, Lady Paget) introduced her daughter to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Though both the duke and Consuelo were in love with other people (Consuelo was prevented from receiving the letters of the man she was in love with. When she tried to elope, she was locked in her room, then told that Alva was deathly ill over the incident, so she gave in to her mother's wishes). Consuelo married and became the Duchess of Marlborough in 1895.

The couple had two sons and Consuelo's fortune helped the Duke maintain his huge Blenheim Palace. She was involved in many charitable endeavors, but the marriage never worked and the couple separated in 1906, divorced in 1921, and their marriage was annulled in 1926. Consuelo remarried to Jacques Balsan in 1921 and wrote her autobiography, The Glitter and The Gold, published in 1953.


Mary Leiter




Mary Leiter, the daughter of Marshall Fields retailer Levi and Mary Leiter, was born in Chicago in 1870. She was well-educated and charming and made her debut into London society in 1894. She met George Curzon, who was a Member of Parliament at the time, an heir to a barony, and known as a writer and politician. They married in 1895, eventually had three daughters--George Curzon was ennobled as Baron Curzon of Kedleston and made the Viceroy of India, making Mary the Vicereine of India, holding the highest official title an American ever held in England up to then.

They sailed to India, where she set up hospitals, schools, and promoted Indian industries, particularly in textiles. She hosted English visitors (including the King), but her health began to fail and Curzon resigned his position in 1905 so they could return to England. She died in 1906, aged 36.

Minnie Stevens


Born in 1853, Mary "Minnie" Stevens was the daughter of hotelier Paran Stevens and his wife Marietta. She went to England in 1872, having inherited her father's large fortune and married Captain Arthur Paget, heir to the Earl of Anglesey, in 1878. She later became known as the matchmaker of rich American girls to impoverished English aristocrats. I wonder if Ursula has met her?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Volcano

When I was six years old, I climbed a volcano.

I should probably explain that. When I was six, my mom and her parents and I took a two-week-long trip to Japan. It was my first time there. Among the many stops we made were to visit my grandfather's family in Shimabara, which is here on this handy Google Map:



My grandpa's sister ran a kimono shop and their house was right behind the store, so we stayed there. It was probably the first time I wore a kimono--and it was the only time I met my grandpa's mother, my great-grandmother.

But back to that volcano.

The year before this trip, Mount Unzen near Shimabara erupted. It was still incredibly active when we made our trip in 1992 and yet, somehow, there was a little restaurant on one of the volcano's slopes that hadn't been burnt to a crisp. I later learned that Mt. Unzen has more than one peak, so it may be that that place wasn't near the most active parts. But still!

My mom's cousin took us there. I remember eating, then leaving the place, overhearing someone say, "There's supposed to be more ash soon! We have to go!"

The houses and buildings along the road just under the volcano were all abandoned--they were covered in ash, some of them looked like they'd been on fire at some point.

You don't forget hanging out near an active freakin' volcano.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Women's Fashion, 1890s

When I think of Victorian fashion, I think of this:


I think of a super-corseted dress contraption with hoop skirts and bustles. I think of Scarlett O'Hara and her sixteen inch waist.

But in doing a bit of research, I've realized that the clothes my characters would have worn in 1893 are not huge, scary, circus tent-looking dresses.

By the 1890s, the crinoline skirt (that hoop-skirt looking thing) had disappeared (probably because no one could figure out how to sit in it?) as did the bustle.
The bustle. 

Crinoline cage. It supported the heavy skirt.


But by the 1890s, ladies' dress consisted of a shift and corset and drawers, then a dress with a tight bodice. The skirt began at around waist-level and was floor-length.

The A-line skirt was popular.

But the sleeves in the 1890s were spectacular: they flared out on top and were fitted under that. They were called leg o' mutton sleeves. 
Evening gown, 1893.


Women also began to wear shirtwaist blouses and skirts.


They also began wearing tea gowns, which were looser dresses meant for staying indoors. They didn't require a corset.

At the time, big design houses included the House of Worth, based in Paris. In 1893, Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon opened Maison Lucile as her first store for her own fashion house, Lucile. She was famous for designing lingerie, tea gowns, and evening wear and her clients eventually grew to include celebrities and royalty. Lucy Duff Gordon was a passenger on the Titanic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

IWSG: Shared Story Worlds

It's IWSG Wednesday! This is April's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, founded by Alex J. Cavanagh, so we can release our writerly insecurities into the ether.


Two of my favorite historical romance writers released new books this week. Julia Quinn's Because of Miss Bridgerton is a prequel to her Bridgeton Family series, eight books about eight siblings meeting their spouses, marrying, and living happily ever after. Jo Beverley's The Viscount Needs a Wife takes place in the same Regency world as Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues books--a fifteen (or so) book-long series of single-title romance based around a large group of schoolboy friends, now all grown up.

Now, Viscount is not another Rogues book, Beverley has said---it takes place in 1817, therefore, it's in the same universe as her Regency historical books, which are all Rogues books.

I haven't read the new books yet, but I know there will be a certain familiarity.

Perhaps because of the influence of these kinds of expansive fictional worlds--(and because I have far too much backstory for my characters), when I scrapped The Keegans of Banner's Edge, I couldn't let it go. Pearl was like, "But you know you want to help me find my brother, miss! Besides, I'm more interesting than Mr. Keegan, begging your pardon."

She was right.

The next thing to be published, coming in late May, is "The Disappearance of Miss Mary Dawkins" in the anthology The Thing That Turned Me--and that, too, is an offshoot of the Keegans and their drama.

So, the insecurity? I'm writing a novel right now in a completely different universe, different setting, time period, characters. And that's great! But there are still stories in the Keegans that could be written...so I wonder what readers think about shared story worlds. Do you like them? Do you even pay attention to them? Have you writers written any?

I wonder if it's indicative of a large imaginative story universe or...a bit of a crutch?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunday Snippet

I'm working on a newish story ( that is, a much more fun angle to a story idea I've had in my head for two years now). I also wanted to write a blog post, but didn't really have a particular topic in mind. 

Thus, you're getting a snippet!