Monday, 13 March 2017

Mr Wickham Gads to Yorkshire!


Last week, I was lucky enough to take part in A Celebration of Pride and Prejudice at Marsden Mechanics Hall, part of the Huddersfield Literary Festival programme. It was a fabulous day featuring regency dancing from Regency Rejigged, some gorgeous Georgian refreshments and I was so fortunate to host a Q&A with my wonderful chum, Adrian Lukis, aka the rakish Mr Wickham. 

In an hour that passed far too quickly, Adrian discussed filming P&P, his extensive career, beards, hottubs, the pitfalls of method acting and his latest venture bringing theatre to a local London community - nothing was off limits!

We were then treated to some fantastic questions from a really wonderful audience and, as Adrian and I enjoyed a Yorkshire cuppa, the dancers of Regency Rejigged took to the stage to recreate the sights and sounds of the Assembly Rooms.

Below are photographs from the events, courtesy of Angela Dale, Anne Mellor and Robert Bray; Adrian and I had a really wonderful time, thanks to all at the Festival and Friends of Marsden Library!

Regency Assemble!
Yours truly and Adrian!
With HLF superstar, Michelle Hodgson

With FoML superhero, Jenny Hemming!

Mr Wickham and Mme G whoop it up with the Badass Bookworms Bookclub!

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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Searching for a Carousel

It's a delight to welcome Bliss Bennet, on her search for a particular illustration!

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I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of thrill rides. Whenever I visit a fair or an amusement park, it’s not the roller coasters with the most inversions or water slides with the steepest drops that catch my eye. No, it’s the friendly, colorful, and soothing carousels that draw me, bringing me back to my childhood, my mother’s arm safely holding me atop a beautiful prancing horse.

So when I was researching a fair scene for my latest Regency-set historical romance, A Lady without a Lord, I was delighted to discover this black and white drawing of what appears to be an early version of a merry-go-round, or a “round-about,” on the “Regency Illustrations” page of The Republic of Pemberly web site (http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/rgnclfil.html).

My mystery print, attributed to William Henry Pyne

 The caption of the illustration on that site is a little unclear about the actual source of the illustration, though. It reads:

Merry-go-round in an English village (probably part of a village fair), by W. H. Pyne, c. 1810. (It doesn’t conspicuously seem to be an enjoyment of the genteel classes)

Detail-oriented person that I am, I needed to know precisely when, and from what source, this illustration was taken. So I began to do a little digging. A web search for W. H. Pyne led me to the National Dictionary of Biography, which told me that Pyne was one William Henry Pyne, an English illustrator, painter, and writer who worked extensively on book projects with Rudolph Ackermann of Ackermann’s Repository Fame. Given the date listed in the caption, and comparing it to Pyne’s list of published books, I guessed that the print might be from a volume of The Microcosm of London; or, London in Miniature, which Ackermann published in three volumes from 1808 to 1810. Each chapter in this lavish guide describes a different major site in the English metropolis, from “Academy, Royal” to “Workhouse.” Volume one, which is available online through the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/b22007076_0001), includes a chapter on Bartholomew Fair, and describes a print that includes a roundabout. Had I found my source? The online book did not reproduce the accompanying prints, alas, so I couldn’t be sure.

A little more searching revealed that while Pyne had written the descriptive texts that went along with the plates in The Microcosm, the actual prints were created by two other artists: architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugh and comic artist Thomas Rowlandson. But the caption of the original piece said it was by Pyne, not just from one of Pyne’s books. So perhaps this wasn’t the right source after all?

More searching led me to Mathew Sangster’s web site Romantic London(http://www.romanticlondon.org/), a fascinating research project which “considers the ways in which the writers and works later grouped under the umbrella of Romanticism interacted with London’s communities and institutions while also examining a wide range of alternative approaches to representing and organising urban existence.” One of the texts that Sangster draws upon for his project is Pyne’s Microcosm. And his web site reproduces the prints from all three volumes!

A quick look at the print for the Bartholomew Fair chapter showed me that it was not, in fact, the same print I was looking for. But it did confirm that roundabouts of the same type existed at this time; if you look closely at the bottom left-hand corner, you can see a small merry-go-round with happy riders on board.

“Bartholomew Fair.” Auguste Charles Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson. Aquatint print from Microcosm of London volume 1 (1808). Full print and detail]


Where, then, had my original black and white illustration come from? My next step was to consult with the owner of The Republic of Pemberly web site, my colleague and fellow romance writer Myretta Robens (http://myrettarobens.com/), to see if she remembered anything about the illustration. She told me that most of the images on that page of the site had been contributed by a graduate student who had been working on a dissertation at the University of Texas at Austin at the time. A quick hop over to the UT Library’s catalog told me which books by W.H. Pyne were held by the library, which narrowed down my search considerably. I began to look at online descriptions (and occasionally actual copies) of each of those titles.

That search, in turn, led me to the web site for The Keep (http://www.thekeep.info/), an archive in Sussex, England that provides access to historical materials from the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections, and the Special Collections of the University of Sussex. A page on the site by Jo Baines, “Fashion in the Archives: Baker Rare Books Collection—W. H. Pyne and The Costume of Great Britain,” features several color prints from Pyne’s 1804 book, The Costume of Great Britain—including a color rendering of the same black and white drawing with which I began my search. I had finally found my source!

A color print from William Henry Pyne’s The Costume of Great Britain (1804) 

No reproduction copy of The Costume of Great Britain appears to exist online, so I didn’t have a chance to read what Pyne wrote to accompany his picture. The book overall is intended, Baines writes, to “show readers from other countries ‘the political, statistical, and literary characteristics’ of Britain at the start of the 19th century… by exploring occupations through costume.”  But Pyne also included some leisure activities, including the country fair round-about print. Baines writes “Pyne is very judgmental about some forms of entertainment—the round-about is described as ‘noisy,’ a ‘low amusement’ and creating ‘a scene of the utmost bustle and confusion.’”

The actual illustration, though, depicts riding the round-about as a fun activity, don’t you think? At least, the little girl on the left must think so; she appears to be asking her mother for money to ride. I wouldn’t want to be one of the poor fellows inside the round-about, though, the ones who had to push it to make it turn…

When all was said and done (and written), the round-about didn’t end up playing much of a role in A Lady without a Lord. But after all that research, I simply had to include a brief mention of it during the village fair scene.

Have you ever come across an illustration or work of art on the web that included no source information, or the wrong source? How did you go about finding its origins? 


Illustration Sources

2. & 3. Romantic London.com: http://www.romanticlondon.org/microcosm-intro/


 
Bliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance. Her Regency-set historical romance series, The Penningtons, has been praised by the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Reviews as “a series well worth following”; her books have been described by USA Today as “savvy, sensual, and engrossing,” by Heroes and Heartbreakers as “captivating,” and by The Reading Wench as having “everything you want in a great historical romance.” Her latest book is A Lady without a Lord.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Špilberk Castle – Prisoners, Empresses and Legendary Noblemen

I'm delighted to welcome Julia Meister, who is your guide to Spilberk Castle!

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The Czech Republic is a wonderful country if you are interested in exploring a large variety of castles. Due to the fact that the Czech Republic belonged to the Habsburg Empire until 1918, you can imagine the splendour and loveliness of these buildings, which can be experienced in a wonderfully old-fashioned and comfortable way by traveling through the country by train.

Brno, the second largest town in the Czech Republic and about 2 hours away from Vienna, is home to two historical buildings that very much shape the city’s silhouette. One of them is the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, towering majestically over the city on Petrov Hill, with the other being Špilberk Castle, situated on yet another hill and often acting as a stunning background for photos taken in the city centre of Brno!

While Špilberk Castle’s cream-coloured exterior might lack the Baroque embellishments so often admired in castles, it has to be remembered that during the Habsburg reign, it was first and foremost used to fight off enemies and house the most dangerous criminals within the monarchy! Even though it was originally created as a residence for King Ottokar II. of Bohemia in the 13th Century, Špilberk Castle was eventually turned into a fortress and a prison in the 16th Century. Therefore, the castle had to be solid and look as threatening as possible to those wishing to attack the city of Brno. Today, the castle’s exterior has been restored to the way it looked in the late 18th Century, and it does, indeed, feature a Baroque tower on one side of the building. This tower can be climbed for a small fee, and offers a breathtaking aerial view of Brno! Even climbing the stairs of the tower is quite the experience, and makes one feel as if one has traveled back in time to the heyday of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. 
Raduit de Souches
As mentioned above, Špilberk Castle was used as a fortress, due to its strategically convenient position. In 1645, in the course of the Thirty Years’ War, it was heavily attacked during the Swedish siege. The man who successfully defended Brno and made Špilberk Castle ready for battle was Raduit de Souches, a French nobleman who fought for the Habsburgs. He is truly one of the heroes of the history of Brno, and is commemorated throughout the city. When climbing the castle hill, one can see and pose for pictures with a bust of the man himself. His grave can also be found in Brno, namely in the Church of St. James, in the very centre of Brno. 
Špilberk Castle is quite famous for its casemates. Originally built to store weapons and house soldiers, they were eventually turned into a prison by Maria Theresa’s son Emperor Joseph II in 1783. It was intended for only the most brutal and violent criminals within the Habsburg territory. Throughout the vast lands of the Habsburg dynasty, all of its residents feared being put into Špilberk Castle, so one can’t help but wonder whether its mere existence actually helped to lower crime rates! The castle’s basement served as a last home to those imprisoned for life. No one ever escaped from that prison, even though some cheeky criminals obviously had to (falsely) claim that they did! Eventually, in 1855, Emperor Franz Joseph I. closed the prison for good. 
The castle features various exhibitions on the history of Brno and Špilberk Castle, and it is also possible to visit the famous casemates. A wonderfully spooky experience! The exhibition on the history of Brno features various historical items, such as clothes, furniture, porcelain…it really is possible to get lost inside that castle for an entire day! Make sure to also visit the Baroque pharmacy, which is situated within the castle’s gift shop. It dates back to the 18th Century and used to belong to the Elizabethan Convent in Brno.

When making one’s way back to the city centre of Brno, it is incredibly idyllic, and, dare I say, even romantic, to descend the castle hill and take in all of its nature and incredible views of the city. History and nature are combined at its best here!


About the Author

Julia Meister is an 18th/19th Century enthusiast, and is especially interested in the social history of women. She has a vast knowledge of royal mistresses and is fascinated by their political power. Whilst she loves British and French history, her main passion is the Habsburg Empire: When on holiday, she can most likely be found visiting a castle in within the former Austro-Hungarian region that has once been inhabited by Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Buda Castle, Gödöllő Palace and Vienna’s Hofburg are among her favourites). In 2016, Julia wrote and recorded the texts for Marienfließ Convent’s audioguide – the first female Cistercian convent in the Brandenburg area of Germany, founded in 1231. She is currently seeking new ways of indulging her passion for history and writing.

All content of this post copyright © Julia Meister, 2017.