Tag Archives: 1800s

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 3 (Vocabulary and Society)
Blog Things
September 18, 2010 posted by Christina

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 3 (Vocabulary and Society)

Part three of our Guide to Historical Novels takes a look at some of the vocabulary and social terms used during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Doff/Doffed – To tip or remove (one’s hat) in salutation

The Clink
– The name of a prison which was on Clink Street in the Southwark area of London.

– request, ask

Vex– to irritate or annoy

– years ago

Prithee – contracted form of “I pray thee”, i.e., I ask of you

Nary – None; absolutely nothing

The whole kit and caboodle – the entire thing

– to be whipped

Shoot one’s mouth off
– talk nonsense, untruth

The devil makes work for idle hands – if a person is not busy he will do evil things

Dander – To have one’s dander up; to be incensed, angry, resolute, fierce

Caning/Six of the best – Caning was the main form of punishment in schools with six being the maximum number of strikes you could receive in one go. Caning, as the name suggests involved being struck on your hand or butt with a wooden cane

Debrett’s – A specialist publisher, founded in 1769 that produces guides on etiquette and manners for both men and women that many members of high society swear by. It also compiles an annual publication that catalogues the biographies of Britain’s most distinguished figures.

Calling Card – A visiting card, also known as a calling card, is a small paper card with one’s name printed on it. The footmen of aristocrats and of royalty would deliver these to the servants of their prospective hosts introducing the arrival of their owners. The essential convention was that one person would not expect to see another person in her own home (unless invited or introduced) without first leaving his visiting card for the person at her home. Upon leaving the card, he would not expect to be admitted at first, but might receive a card at his own home in response.

The graveyard shift -When people realized that they were burying a great deal of people before their time, they came up with a solution. They tied a string onto the “dead” person’s hand, buried them, and tied the other end of the string to a bell and then tied it to nearby tree branch. If the person revived enough to ring the bell, a cemetery worker on “the graveyard shift” watching over the newly deceased would rush out and dig them up.

Debutante – (keep in mind this is during the 1700-1800s not today’s definition of a debutante) is a young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity, and as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal “début” presentation. It also meant the young woman was eligible to marry, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle.

Those who wanted to be presented at court were required to apply for permission to do. If the application was accepted, they would be sent a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Presentation. As well as debutantes, older women and married women who had not previously been presented could be presented at Court.

On the day of the court presentation, the debutante and her mother or other eligible lady would be announced; the debutante would curtsy to the reigning King or Queen and then leave without turning her back.

– The social season or Season has historically referred to the annual period when it is customary for members of the a social elite of society to hold debutante balls, dinner parties and large charity events. In London society, the Season traditionally began after Easter and ended with the “Glorious Twelfth” (August 12), the start of the shooting season for red grouse.

Thus concludes Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels! Hope you enjoyed it, maybe learned something new and hopefully you’ll be more inclined (and prepared) to take on a historical novel, whether it be written by a contemporary or classic writer.

Heard another unusual phrase or word? Leave a comment!

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 2 (Fashion)
Blog Things
September 3, 2010 posted by Christina

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 2 (Fashion)

Part two of our Guide to Historical Novels will cover the beautiful and elaborate fashion of the 18th and 19th centuries. Fashion reflects the political, social, and economic circumstances of  not only the wearer but of the country at the time. We learn about the clothing of the period through incredible portraits, sketches and paintings, though the majority depicts aristocracy since they had the money and the means to commission such pieces.


During this time the silhouette for women involved skirts that were not only full but very wide with the help of undergarments called hoops and panniers. This was made particularly famous by Marie Antoinette of France, who had skirts up to three feet wide.  Ladies were corseted into a long body shape that was wide along the bust and small at the back and made their shoulder blades pull back till they almost touched which gave a very stiff and straight posture.

Wigs were also particularly popular, especially among the men, which were powdered and white. Make up was also worn, as well as tiny pieces of fabric, known as patches, in the shapes of dots, hearts, stars, etc. were applied to the face with adhesive. The fashion is thought to have originated as a way of disguising pox scars and other blemishes, but gradually developed coded meanings. A patch near the mouth signified flirtatiousness; one on the right cheek denoted marriage; one on the left cheek announced engagement; one at the corner signified a mistress.

1750- 1795

This period sees skirts mostly staying the same as the first half of the century but toward the end half of the 1700s we see skirts staying full but becoming a more a-line natural shape. The big fashion trend in this era was extreme wig hairstyles, which then moved onto elaborately decorated hats. Working-class people in 18th century England and America often wore the same garments as fashionable people but they owned fewer clothes and what they did own was made of cheaper and sturdier fabrics.


After the French Revolution, no one wanted to appear to be an aristocrat, so fashion in this period did a major turnaround as clothing became very pared back and all the big skirts and embellishments of the years before are completely discarded. This is when empire line dresses (where the skirt falls from under the bust) came into play and young ladies wore soft pastels while older women wore deeper colours. A respectable woman would also make sure she never left the house without gloves and a hat or a bonnet on.

Men also let go of some of the embellishments of the years prior, ditching lace and wigs in favor of natural, short, soft curls with long sideburns.  Older men, military officers, and those in conservative professions such as lawyers, judges, physicians, and servants retained their wigs and powder. Formal court dress also still required powdered hair.


By 1837 Queen Victoria had come to power in England at the young age of 18 and was a huge trendsetter during her reign from 1837-1901. One trend in particular still stands to this day – on her wedding to Prince Albert, Victoria wore white. Previous to that girls would marry in bright colours and that dress would generally be their Sunday church outfit. Victoria opted for white to symbolize her purity and from then on, girls have worn white. The advances of communication (such as photography) meant fashion trends changed more frequently from decade to decade.

Ladies fashion became structured once again, with corsets making a comeback. Initially, wide shoulders were popular which later moved onto wide hips. Big frills and flounces featured on dresses as well as puff sleeves, bustles and bows on the back.


This half of the 19th century sees another pattern in fashion – the silhouette hits an extreme then quickly switches to a new narrower shape. By 1860 skirt hit a new level of width, this time at the hem, complete with plenty of frills. 1861 saw the death of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert and she went into deep mourning, wearing black for the rest of her life. Much of the country went into mourning with her for a while; wearing clothing with colors that were dark and muted.

The 1870s saw the big change in silhouette with the fullness being moved to the back of the dress with bustles becoming extremely popular particularly in the decade that followed. By the end of the century the skirt was still bustled but downplayed as were embellishments and big puff sleeves (that got bigger and bigger every year) were the in thing.

That wraps up fashion! I personally have a new found respect for the heroines I’ve read about in historical novels so far  – having to run around under all that fabric and in corsets, yikes!

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 1
Blog Things
August 28, 2010 posted by Christina

Christina’s Guide to Historical Novels – Part 1

Last week I made the observation that historical novels – namely ones set in the 1700-1800s, are making a comeback. For those of you like me who could never quite click with writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters even though you really, really, wanted to, these books are the next best thing. However, since you still need a good grasp of the context to understand these books 100%, as well as help the visualization process, I did my research and have put together a helpful guide of history, vocabulary, social etiquette and fashion for you guys.


Now, most of the novels are set in England, since at the time it was not only the place to be but by the 1700s Great Britain was in a position of high power on a global scale.

This is mainly because of the defeat of the Spanish Armada sent out by King Phillip to conquer England in the late 1600s. By wiping out the largest navy in the world, England took Spain’s place as naval power.
By the 1700s, with no real naval challenged able to defeat the English they were on their way to global dominance through economic exchange and colonial enterprises.

Sometimes you might hear a character say something like “I heard they sent him to Australia”. That’s because in 1788 Australia was colonized by the English. They sent convicts (criminals who were often only guilty of petty crimes like stealing a loaf of bread) there to do all the hard labor as a way of solving the problem of overcrowded jails.

England’s main religion was the Church of England and Catholics (as well as any other religion) were often persecuted and generally regarded with suspicion. Many feared Catholicism would try to rise to power via France or Spain.

England and France had a tense relationship during the 18th century as they fought over colonies in North America including Canada.

France supported the American colonists in their fight for independence from British rule – which led to war and the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

During the 19th century France was generally regarded as the traditional and most-likely enemy of England. Only slowly towards the end of the century did feelings in England change to consider the rise of Germany as more threatening.

The French Revolution in 1789 led by Napoleon Bonaparte (who later becomes Emperor) would see the end of the French Monarchy.

The 19th century was BIG as far as inventions go. By now, the Industrial Revolution is in full swing and by the end of the century we see the invention of the battery, gas lighting, steam trains, tin cans, cameras/photography, matches, typewriters, postage stamps, sewing machines (woohoo!), washing machines, the telephone, toilet paper and Coca Cola among many, many more.

The Victorian era became notorious for the employment of young children in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps.  They were also hired as errand boys, shoe blacks and domestic servants.

Bedlam – this is a place that will come up quite often, not just in historical novels but in general pop culture, it’s still mentioned. Official known now as The Bethlem Royal Hospital of London, it is the world’s first and oldest institution to specialize in the mentally ill. Back in the 18th century though, it was known for its cruel and inhuman treatment of patients, and basically – a madhouse.

Patients were initially referred to as “curable” and “incurable”. Conditions were consistently dreadful, and the care amounted to little more than restraint with violent and dangerous patients manacled and chained to the floor. Many were wrongly sentenced to Bedlam but the noise was “so hideous, so great; that they are more able to drive a man that hath his wits rather out of them.”

In the 18th century people used to go to Bedlam to stare at the lunatics. For a penny one could peer into their cells, view the freaks of the “show of Bethlehem” and laugh at their antics. Entry was free on the first Tuesday of the month.

Opium addiction was rife during the 18th and 19th centuries, in many parts of the world including England, France, Canada, USA and China, where it originated. It was often put into everyday medicines in the form of Laudanum – which was considered a cure all. Many women were opium addicts, with Laudanum being prescribed by doctors for menstrual cramps, and other afflictions. The liquid would be poured into drinks, used in cooking or taken straight. Opium dens also surfaced during this time where many would waste their lives away in a drugged out.

Opium featured quite a lot in writing from the time – either with characters using them or with the author being under the influence at the time. In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian visits opium dens as one of many shady nights in town.The poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was a heavy opium user and is said to have written Kubla Khan after being in an opium haze.

Well, that about covers the finer points of the historical context, but it’s really the tip of the iceberg. I definitely recommend looking into it a bit more, especially if you love history like I do.