Have you ever wondered
- how dark it was in an 18th century country house after sunset?
- what you can see in a room lit only by candles?
- how it feels to enter a room illuminated by several crystal chandeliers?
You could arrange an experiment at your home by lighting some candles at night. But this wouldn’t quite reproduce the lighting conditions of a country house, as there are less gildings, reflecting mirrors and chandeliers in the average apartment of our times.
I thus set out to experience a historic house after nightfall. My central question: What are the lighting conditions and how can a Historical Novel Writer depict them properly in a novel?
Let me take you to the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a grand chateau in France. We will wander its rooms and enjoy its park adorned with thousands of torches.
– A photo story about a traditional craft –
In the Romantic Age as well as today, high-quality watercolour-paper for artists is the so called wove paper ready-sized with gelatine. This paper is still produced at Two Rivers Paper Mill in Somerset, England. I went there to learn more about this traditional craft. You can read about my field trip to their workshop here.
This is how the paper is made:
Music fills the ball room. The English chamber orchestra The Pemberley Players strikes up. About 100 persons dressed in historical costumes dance the elegant formations of the opening polonaise, smiling and greeting each other. A glittering ball set in the Regency period begins: We are at the Grand Jane Austen Ball, pretending to have travelled in time back to Regency England.
The Museum of Creativity proudly presents “An Empire-Style Ball Gown Based on 21th Century Clothes”.
“I cannot determine what to do about my new Gown”, Jane Austen once wrote to her sister Cassandra. This is a feeling many of us can sympathize with. If you are going to attend a ball set in the Regency period, figuring out what to wear, where to get it or how to do it yourself is no easy task.
I am going to go a Jane-Austen-Ball at the end of this month. As I can’t sew, I tried to make the ball gown from everyday clothes I had found in my cupboard. But halfway through roughing out a concept for a modest white cotton gown, I stumbled upon a dazzling beautiful red lace in an oriental drapery. Though I knew perfectly well that I haven’t the sewing skills to handle the lace, I bought it. Continue reading
In my post “Falconry in the Romantic Age”, I described that falconry was still practiced in the Regency period by gentlemen and ladies alike. Just as scriptwriter Andrew Davies, who used falconry in the movie adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” to characterize Colonel Brandon, you might want to include falconry in your novel. You could create a thrilling hunting scene or have your heroine impress your hero with her falconry skills.
In the Romantic Age, Falconry was called hawking. To get an idea of how a character of a Regency novel would experience hawking, I took a discovery course in this noble sport myself when I went to England last year. I had pre-booked a half-day experience at The Birds of Prey & Conservation Centre at Sion Hill Hall, near Thirsk, Yorkshire. There are of course many other falconry centers in the UK, and also some country hotels that have similar offers.
A Falconry Experience
Many readers of Regency novels are fascinated by driving a carriage: It’s partly romantic, partly adventurous and in our accelerated times comfortingly nostalgic. Most people of the Regency period would shake their heads at such attitudes. To them, driving a carriage was mainly a means of transport and not even a convenient one: Stage coaches were crammed with passengers, accidents happened frequently, and to become sick in a carriage wasn’t unusual.
To find out how travelling in a coach felt like 200 years ago, you can visit the museum of travel and traffic, “Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum”, if you happen to come to Munich, Germany. There is a simulator of a historical coach waiting in Hall II. Climb in and experience the Regency period.
If you are really serious about researching carriages and carriage driving in the Regency period, there is a more hands-on option.
In this post:
The truth about longway dances of Jane Austen’s time
How to perform a longway dance in a historically correct way
Tips for depicting a ball in your novel
Preview: Dance instruction and music to come in part 2
Dear Regency Enthusiast
A couple of weeks ago I took part in a workshop in Old English Country Dances*. First-hand experience of the culture and techniques of the regency era can be very enlightening for writers (see my post on Five Methods of Research). Indeed I came across very helpful facts – and a dark secret of contemporary country dance teaching. Fancy that: All the longway dances from Jane Austen’s time are today deliberately taught historically incorrect. Shocking! Why are the dances usually done incorrectly? How were they really performed? And what should you know to when you write a scene with a ball for your novel? Continue reading