Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts | @QuercusBooks @ellakroftpatel | #recommended

Today is paperback publication day for the wonderful Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts so I thought I’d re-share my review from April last year. This is one of those novels that just captured my heart from the first page and unsurprisingly, it made my list of “books of the year”.

Author : Elizabeth Letts
Title : Finding Dorothy
Pages : 368
Publisher : Quercus
Publication date : January 9, 2020 (paperback)

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy–especially when Maud heard her sing “Over the Rainbow,” a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living–until Frank Baum’s book became a national sensation.

This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud’s youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank’s early days when they lived among the people–especially young Dorothy–who would inspire Frank’s masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Sometimes you pick up a book and like magic, everything seems to fall into place. For me, Finding Dorothy is one of those books. It’s extremely hard for me to put into words exactly why that is but I completely fell in love with everything about it. The era, the characters, the writing itself … it all came together and created such a wonderful reading experience.

1939, Hollywood. Filming has started on The Wizard of Oz, based on the book by L. Frank Baum. His seventy-eight year old widow, Maud, feels fiercely protective of her husband’s story. After all, she knows all its secrets and she’s determined to make the sure the film will do her husband’s story justice. But she soon realises she may need to protect the film’s star Judy Garland as well.

Maud’s story is a fascinating one. Growing up as the daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, it seemed her life had been entirely planned out. Matilda was a fierce and determined woman who battled for women’s right to vote and for girls to be allowed a higher education. Maud ends up being one of the first female coeds at Cornell University. But her mother’s shadow follows her everywhere and Maud never really quite finds her place there. Then she meets Frank. An actor, a weaver of stories and words, a dreamer and he completely sweeps her off her feet. And me right alongside with it.

Both Maud and Frank captured my heart from the moment I met them. From traveling throughout the country with theatre shows, to living in the harsh prairies of the Dakota Territory where they struggled to make a living, to that moment where the stars align and Frank creates his masterpiece, I became utterly invested and engrossed. 

Even though Frank, who’s incredibly fickle and apparently unable to settle down, got on my nerves sometimes; even though I sometimes felt Maud needed a bit more of a backbone; and even though at times I much more enjoyed the chapters about their lives than the ones set in 1939, I found this novel immensely immersive. At some points it even brought a lump to my throat and throughout it all there’s Maud, this energetic and passionate woman whom I absolutely adored.

“Magic isn’t things materializing out of nowhere. Magic is when a lot of people all believe in the same thing at the same time, and somehow we all escape ourselves a little bit and we meet up somewhere, and just for a moment, we taste the sublime.”

This quote sums up my reading experience entirely. I have tasted the sublime. This review doesn’t do this novel justice at all but I hope it does bring across how much I love it and that you decide to give it a go and hopefully have the same enchanting and magical experience I had.

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

This Week in Books (December 11)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. 

[I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read A Man Called Ove. Absolutely loved it and if it had been published this year, it undoubtedly would have made my list of top books.]

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

Charles Dickens should be looking forward to Christmas. But when his latest book, Martin Chuzzlewit, is a flop, his publishers give him an ultimatum. Either he writes a Christmas book in a month or they will call in his debts and he could lose everything. Dickens has no choice but to grudgingly accept…

[This is about as Christmassy as things will get at Casa Novel Deelights 😄]

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own.

[I wouldn’t at all be surprised if I mentioned this one before. Every time I try to pick it up, some other book demands my immediate attention. We’ll see what happens but if I were you, I wouldn’t be too shocked if it’s not on the list next week 😂]

Still trying to reach my Goodreads challenge goal. Eight to go. Anyone want to place any bets? (No, Kelly! There are no prizes 😜)

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! Happy reading! xx

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis | @brontemysteries @HodderBooks | #recommended

Author : Bella Ellis
Title : The Vanished Bride
Series : Bronte Mysteries #1
Pages : 337
Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date : November 7, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril.

| MY THOUGHTS |

For those of who you do not know, Bella Ellis is a pen name for author Rowan Coleman and I’m getting to that stage where I’m beginning to think she can just write me a shopping list and I’ll read it and love every word of it.

A young mother disappears from her home, leaving only a big pile of blood in her bedroom but no clue as to her whereabouts. When word of this mystery reaches the home of the Brontë sisters, they take it upon themselves to go out and try to solve what happened to this young woman.

I was a little wary at first to have these three pretty iconic characters fictionalised as “lady detectors”, investigating a possible crime. But the warmth with which Bella Ellis brings these sisters to life won me over from the get-go. It is abundantly clear from reading this first instalment in the Brontë Mysteries that Bella Ellis deeply loves Charlotte, Emily and Anne and that a lot of research went into this. I soon found myself pulled along in their enthusiasm trying to solve the case of the vanished bride.

But The Vanished Bride is more than just a mystery. It highlights the plight of women in those days; how they were seen as property; how they weren’t allowed their own opinions or were definitely not allowed to voice them; how their place was at home, raising children and most definitely not running wild across the countryside. Some of these women truly suffered but they had no means to escape some of the brutal events they had to endure. These circumstances stand in sharp contrast with the peaceful lives of the sisters.

Beautifully written, hugely atmospheric and with engaging characters, The Vanished Bride made me wish I could run across the fields and the moors along with the Brontë sisters. Each sister has a distinctive voice and with each one of them getting their own point-of-view, it truly allows the reader to get to know them better. Throughout the story, I leaned more towards Emily but at the end, through all the squabbles and disagreements, rivalry and slight jealousy, giggles and love, I realised I adored all three equally. I absolutely loved The Vanished Bride and I can’t wait to spend more time with these three characters, solving the next mystery they are sure to stumble upon.

The Vanished Bride is available to buy!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

This Week in Books (December 4)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

England, 1917 

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

The Victim: A sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, neglected by an alcoholic mother. Who accuses four boys of something unthinkable. 

The Defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hardworking immigrant families. All with corroborating stories.

Someone is lying. 

Former barrister Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest young legal minds, takes up Jodie Wolfe’s case; she believes her, even if those closest to Jodie do not.

Jodie and Zara become the centre of the most explosive criminal trial of the year, in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel she becomes even more determined to get Jodie the justice she’s looking for. But at what price?

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! Happy reading! xx

This Week in Books (November 27)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.

Is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Fleetwood must risk everything to prove her innocence. As the two women’s lives become intertwined, the Witch Trials of 1612 loom. Time is running out; both their lives are at stake. Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Leah Hamilton is looking for a new life following the tragic deaths of her husband and son. Determined to bury her grief in hard work, and desperate to escape Christmas and the pitying looks of her colleagues, she rushes through the purchase of a run-down Yorkshire farmhouse, arriving just as the snow shrouds her new home.

It may look like a Christmas card, but it’s soon clear it’s not just the house needing renovation; the land is in bad heart too. And Leah’s mind starts playing tricks on her: she hears a child playing in the snow, but although there are snowballs, there are no footprints. Is this the ghost of her son, returned to her? She starts having visions of the farm’s former occupants – the young widow and her son, the cousin who’s wooing her, the maid who shares her secrets and the handsome labourer who’s hanged for the murder of a child, a murder he didn’t commit.

Is Leah strong enough to lay the increasingly malevolent ghosts and find a way to move on? Or will her ashes end up scattered over the now-covered fields?

What do you think of my reading week? Do let me know what you’re reading. I’m always looking for recommendations! Happy reading! xx

This Week in Books (November 20)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

When the body of pregnant, 15-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away. 

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking revelations and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

[I finished this one yesterday and it left me utterly broken. Definitely one to look out for!]

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril.

[Only a few pages in but loving it already]

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

FEAR 

Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.

SECRETS

Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?

LIES

Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

[I do realise this isn’t out for ages yet but I don’t think I can wait any longer.]

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! It’s been a while since I bought something (and by a while, I mean at least a week 🤣) and I’m getting withdrawal.

Happy reading! xx

Weekly Wrap-Up (November 17)

Miserable, miserable week. Cold and dark and wet and blah. Is it Spring yet?

Nothing much else to report. The other half is coming up to the busiest time of year at his job which means long, long hours and lots of alone time for me. And apparently the people in my life have simultaneously decided that three weeks is way more than enough time to spend grieving over the loss of your pet and it’s time to start socialising again. Double blah. So that’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon. With the in-laws. I feel like I’m being punished for something 😂

Reading-wise, you know, I didn’t have such a bad week. Buddy reading is such a great way to keep me motivated because I’m apparently incredibly competitive (who knew?!) and I get a kick out of reaching the checkpoints first. I even wrote a review but Netgalley screwed me over by saying the book I reviewed was published in October when it’s not actually coming until late December. 🙄

So, which books left the TBR pile this week?

| BOOKS I READ THIS WEEK |

Okay, four isn’t all THAT impressive but I’ll take it. I thought about reviewing The Outsider but to be honest, my buddy (reader) Janel did a much better job than I ever could so have a look at her thoughts right here. Furious Hours was unfortunately a huge disappointment and went right onto the charity pile. Non-fiction and I, let’s just say it’s not exactly a match made in heaven. 😂. Keep your eyes pealed for the new Jo Spain, coming early next year. It’s a goodie! As is The Guardians, which I may attempt to review next week.

| BOOKS I BOUGHT THIS WEEK |

I had pre-ordered this months ago. It’s so incredibly pretty! With the jacket on, with the jacket off … gorgeous 🥰

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

This book …. I mean, I’ve only read about 100 pages but if things keep going as they are, it may just kill me.

| LISTENING TO |

Yep. Still the same audiobook. Granted, it’s really long (have I mentioned that? 🤣) and I since I was actually reading, I didn’t have much time to listen to this one but I’m still only at 43%! Good though, really really good!

Which leads me nicely into some things I’ve been thinking about lately regarding this here blog of mine. Saying “no” to blog tours has been a lot easier than I expected and this in turn is freeing up lots of time to spend on my own TBR. A TBR that holds quite a few classics. Some of which I’m sure I read some time in the dark ages but don’t remember anything about, some that have just been sitting pretty on my shelves since the day I bought them. I think the time has come to tackle them and I fully intend to read at least one of them each month, starting in January. Think The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and many more. I’m ridiculously excited about this. Plus, it’ll give me a chance to step away from the new and shiny books from time to time, which quite frankly, in my most humble opinion, are beginning to sound a lot alike lately. As if people have run out of inspiration. Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong books 🤔

Also coming up in the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my favourite stand-alone books of the year and my favourite additions to series. As soon as I can make sense of my messy lists, that is. I may actually be able to get it down to a Top 10 this year. Maybe.

Right, that’s enough babble for this week. Time for some lunch and to mentally prepare myself for the arrival of the in-laws. Hope there’s wine. 😂

Wishing you all a fabulous week! Until next time! xx

This Week in Books (November 13)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

When an eleven-year-old boy is found murdered in a town park, reliable eyewitnesses undeniably point to the town’s popular Little League coach, Terry Maitland, as the culprit. DNA evidence and fingerprints confirm the crime was committed by this well-loved family man.

Horrified by the brutal killing, Detective Ralph Anderson, whose own son was once coached by Maitland, orders the suspect to be arrested in a public spectacle. But Maitland has an alibi. And further research confirms he was indeed out of town that day.

As Anderson and the District Attorney trace the clues, the investigation expands from Ohio to Texas. And as horrifying answers begin to emerge, so King’s propulsive story of almost unbearable suspense kicks into high gear.

Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy but there is one rock-hard fact, as unassailable as gravity: a man cannot be in two places at the same time. Can he?

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

He was framed for murder.
Now he needs a miracle. 

22 years ago Quincy Miller was sentenced to life without parole. He was accused of killing Keith Russo, a lawyer in a small Florida town. But there were no reliable witnesses and little motive. Just the fact that Russo had botched Quincy’s divorce case, that Quincy was black in a largely all-white town and that a blood-splattered torch was found in the boot of Quincy’s car. A torch he swore was planted. A torch that was conveniently destroyed in a fire just before his trial.

The lack of evidence made no difference to judge or jury. In the eyes of the law Quincy was guilty and, no matter how often he protested his innocence, his punishment was life in prison.

Finally, after 22 years, comes Quincy’s one and only chance of freedom. An innocence lawyer and minister, Cullen Post, takes on his case. Post has exonerated eight men in the last ten years. He intends to make Quincy the next.

But there were powerful and ruthless people behind Russo’s murder. They prefer that an innocent man dies in jail rather than one of them. There’s one way to guarantee that. They killed one lawyer 22 years ago, and they’ll kill another without a second thought. 

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that Bone China by Laura Purcell didn’t survive the week. That is not to say I wasn’t enjoying it but other books suddenly prioritised themselves and let’s face it, this whole reading-three-books-at-the-same-time-thing was never going to last 😂.

Have you read any of these? Would you like to? What are you reading this week? Do let me know! Happy reading! xx

Writing Regency Women : a #guestpost by Caroline Miley, author of Artist On Campaign

Happy publication day to Caroline Miley for her latest novel, Artist On Campaign. Caroline visits my blog today to talk about writing regency women in novels but first let’s see what her latest book is all about.

Author : Caroline Miley
Title : Artist On Campaign
Pages : 380
Publisher : Greenslade Creations
Publication date : October 30, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Ralph Oughtred has few ambitions – to be rich, or at least out of debt, to eventually marry his charming mistress, and to get into the Royal Academy.

An amiable rake in Georgian London, Ralph is an artist who thinks he’s got it made when he wins a big commission to paint the Duke of Wellington’s generals. But before he can put brush to canvas they’re whisked off to Portugal to fight Napoleon, and he must follow or lose the money. In a comic romp through Portugal and Spain in the train of the British army, Ralph leads the reader through war, art, sex, love, travelogue, musings on life and a lot of drinking. He’s recruited as a spy, accidentally leads a cavalry charge, makes love to an officer’s wife during the Battle of Porto, and is captured by the French.

A man of his time and an everyman bound to the wheel of fortune, Ralph travels the road of the reluctant hero from innocence to experience. But he’s intelligent and complex and his adventures will appeal to the reader who wants their history to live, their escapism to be philosophical and their narratives lyrical. The book is written with a deft, light touch; there’s just enough accurate military history, and the characters – Ralph and his friends, and the generals he paints – are varied and amusing.

Artist at Large is that rare bird, a novel that is literary, historical and funny, a stylish evocation of the history and manners of an era, and an entertainment of the highest order.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

| GUEST POST |

WRITING REGENCY WOMEN

As a historian and author of historical novels set in the late Georgian, I’m often in conflict about writing female characters. The conflict is caused by the clash between the values of today and of the past, and between historical facts and imaginary characters. The past, as LP Hartley famously said, is another country. They do things differently there. And nowhere is that more apparent for a historical writer today, than in the position of women, which has changed far, far more in the last 200 years than the positions of men. And that poses a dilemma for authors.

Dame Hilary Mantel says that women writers must stop rewriting history to make their female characters falsely “empowered”. Part of this, she says, is the desire to give ‘a voice to those who have been silenced’. That’s very understandable, but I’m with Dame Hilary. The problem is not empowerment, it’s the ‘falsely’. 

Two hundred years ago, women had few legal rights. Married women could not own property, although women from moneyed families often had specific amounts agreed to in marriage contracts. Married women had no rights, even, to their children, and depended on the men in their families – fathers, brothers, husbands – to use goodwill in managing their affairs and representing them in public spheres such as the law courts. Unmarried women over their late 20s were generally regarded as ‘poor cousins’ by society and had little status. Society had narrow views on what roles and behaviour were suitable for women and ostracized those who didn’t conform.

So what’s a writer to do? For me, the answer is in looking more closely at what women’s lives were really like, and what they thought themselves. Something that’s immediately apparent is that women didn’t particularly think of themselves as unempowered. Women of all classes – and there were enormous differences in the life of working, middle and upper-class women – exercised their powers in a large variety of ways.

The greatest freedom, as always, was to be found in the lowest and highest in the land. A wealthy woman had a great deal at her command, especially if her father had managed her marriage contract well. Lady Caroline Lamb had money and a title that no-one could take away; she was excluded from polite society because of her rampant behaviour, but perhaps didn’t care. Women like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair could shrewdly parlay their beauty and skills into social advancement. And women at the lowest levels could do much as they pleased, because they, too, didn’t care what people thought. They could fall down drunk on gin, brawl in the street, run a tavern or conduct a respectable business as a washerwoman. They still had no rights, but then, the men of their class had relatively few either. There was an equality of disempowerment. It was the respectable middle classes, such as Jane Austen’s family, who cared what people thought and tried to conform to expected standards of polite behaviour.

It’s important, too, to realise that the Regency was the last gasp of the rollicking, boisterous, bawdy Georgian era, the last before the straightlaced Victorians and their ‘family values’ and prudery about sex. Regency rakes still wore powder and patches, dampened their breeches to make them cling and wore ornate fobs dangling just above their genitals, and rakish Regency women rouged their nipples and wore transparent muslin. In the dark streets of pre-gaslit London and in country hedgerows, men and women enjoyed each other with gusto. We know this because of Sheridan’s and Goldsmith’s plays, and most of all, perhaps, from Rowlandson’s lampoons and sketches. One of the premier illustrators of his day, Rowlandson’s colossal output included a huge number of graphically sexual drawings that show men – and women – enjoying themselves with energy.

Soldiers’ wives – and the army was large at the time – lived in barracks with their children and followed their men on campaign, marching with them from place to place, carrying their children and sometimes even their man’s equipment. They might be respectable or otherwise. They could make money by doing the officers’ washing, mending and cutting their hair, and baking biscuit for the Commissaries. These women were enterprising and entrepreneurial, and endured hardships stoically. Their achievements were in many ways highly admirable.

More respectable women did none of this, but there is no reason to suppose that they didn’t enjoy their respectable marriage bed. And they had plenty to occupy themselves. They cared for the poor, visited the sick, drew the vicar’s attention to evils that needed to be remedied. They taught their own and other people’s children. They ran schools for girls and young ladies. They wrote novels and poetry and translated books. There were, in fact, many women writers of the late 18th century, although most have been forgotten today, but Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney, Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Anna Yearsley, and bluestockings like Hester Thrale were well-known in their own time.  Ann Radcliffe, author of Gothic novels, was the most popular and highest-paid novelist in Britain in the 1790s.

Women were also interested in politics, although the suffrage movement was decades away. Mary Wollestonecraft was middle class, but her more bohemian circle was more liberal in its acceptance of unconventional behaviour. Women could not speak in public or stand for Parliament, but they could read, and attempt to influence others. Again, they had to be imaginative in the ways they could exercise that influence. Women were very instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade movement of the period, for instance. Aphra Benn and Hannah More, among others, published books, tracts and poems drawing attention to the plight of the slaves, which were widely distributed. Women bought Wedgwood anti-slavery medallions they wore as jewellery and played a huge part in the very successful sugar boycott, which hit plantation-owners’ pockets, and exclusively patronising grocers who did not sell plantation sugar.

Women of the past may have had few rights and a narrow range of social roles, but there is real fascination, and countless stories, in seeing the variety of what they did with their lives within those confines, and how imaginatively and powerfully they exerted themselves in the spheres that were open to them.

I couldn’t agree more with this post if I tried. The whole idea of rewriting history is a scary thought to me. You can’t just erase historical events or ways of life because they make people feel uncomfortable in this day and age. Where do you even draw the line? That was then, this is now and I for one prefer my historical fiction, fiction though it may be, as close to the mark as it can possibly be.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Caroline, and for writing this fascinating and thought-provoking post.

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Caroline Miley is an art historian and author of literary historical novels set in the late Georgian era. Her debut novel, The Competition, won a Varuna Fellowship and a Fellowship of Australian Writers award, and was selected by the Royal Academy of Arts for its 250th Anniversary celebrations. Her latest novel, Artist on Campaign, was inspired by wondering what would happen if a rake of an artist was obliged to put up with the British Army, and vice versa.

Her interests are art, both as a practitioner and a viewer, books, films, history, travel and gardens. 

This Week in Books (October 9)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

Edinburgh, 1850. Despite being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson – a whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.

Simpson’s protégé Will Raven and former housemaid Sarah Fisher are determined to clear their patron’s name. But with Raven battling against the dark side of his own nature, and Sarah endeavouring to expand her own medical knowledge beyond what society deems acceptable for a woman, the pair struggle to understand the cause of the deaths.

Will and Sarah must unite and plunge into Edinburgh’s deadliest streets to clear Simpson’s name. But soon they discover that the true cause of these deaths has evaded suspicion purely because it is so unthinkable.

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular 12-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local Sherrif. He’s basically just walking the beat. But he’s about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute’s downtrodden playground and corridors where posters advertise ‘just another day in paradise’, Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments – even the infamous Mrs Sigsby – suspect.

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

My next read is subject to change because I’m once again finding myself in that mood where I read 20 pages of a book and put it back on the shelf, only to pick up another one. I’m just rolling with it.

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! Happy reading! xx