Tag Archives: victorian

Book Reviews
December 23, 2010 posted by Christina

Prisoners in the Palace – Michaela MacColl

“London, 1836. Seventeen-year-old Liza’s dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Alone and penniless, she accepts the position of lady’s maid to the young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servants’ world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the opportunity to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future Queen?”

To most, Queen Victoria is better known as the Queen of Britain, the woman to start the trend of white wedding dresses, Britain’s longest reigning monarch or simply the serious looking old woman in royal portraits who famously declared, “we are not amused”.

But before any of that, she was simply Princess Victoria. A young girl, ruled over by her over protective mother, living an unhappy existence under the oppressive ‘Kensington System’, waiting in the wings to become Queen.

Michaela MacColl’s Prisoners in the Palace is based on real life events in the three years (which have been condenced into one) leading up to Victoria taking the crown, including excerpts from the young Princess’s real journal, but have been elaborated on to create the story we have today.

Some characters are real, such as the Princess (duh), her mother the Duchess, Sir John, Lehzen and other members of the royal family. Though others are fiction, their origin is from people who lived in the time.

The story is artfully told through letters, journal entries, newspaper articles, but primarily from the perspective of the fictional character Liza. After her parent’s tragic deaths in a carriage accident Liza is left with debts to settle and her dreams of her first season in society are crushed. Instead she takes a job as the Princess’s maid and the extra job of playing spy to the Baroness, who is trying to find out what Sir John and Victoria’s mother are planning.

MacColl paints an amazing picture of Georgian London that is quite true to life. Through Liza when she steps out of the palace we see both the life the rich lived and how unforgiving and cruel the London streets could be to the poor, where the options for survival were limited, particularly for a woman.

For the Princess, Liza’s arrival to the rundown Kensington Palace (which, many years later would be home to Princess Diana) is a dream come true. Sir John’s ‘Kensington System’ requires Victoria to be completely shut off from friends, her finances and the outside world “for her protection”, when in reality it’s a system that intends to make her submissive, stripping her of her free will making her completely dependent and under the influence of Sir John and her mother the Duchess. This power over the Princess would mean that they would be running the show, with Victoria as their puppet.

With the help of Inside Boy Jones (who is secretly living within the palace walls) and Will, a London journalist, Liza uncovers their plans and does everything in her power to break their hold over Victoria.

The characters in this book are rich with personality and the interaction between them was completely engaging. Victoria’s personality was surprising since she is quite childlike and initially very compliant and under the control of her guardians. As the story progresses we see her really take ownership and finds the strength needed to not only rule her life but rule her country.

The blur of fiction with reality is what makes the story completely fascinating. We all know how the story ends, Victoria goes on to become queen, but what’s interesting is how and what happened before hand to make it happen.

Though it’s a historical fiction novel and definitely has the feel and mannerism of the period down pat, the story flows smoothly and is written beautifully so that you don’t get the feeling of being weighed down by the rigidness that some historical novels have. Prisoners in the Palace was impressive, intriguing (as the cover states) and engaging, I definitely recommend it.

Publication Date: September 2010
Rating: : ★★★★☆

Teaser Quote: “He’s been bilious since he set foot in England. What a boor!” Victoria shook her head in irritation. “I wouldn’t marry Albert if he was the last prince on earth.”

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!

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1) – Cassandra Clare
Book Reviews
August 31, 2010 posted by Christina

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1) – Cassandra Clare

“When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London’s Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gas lit streets.  Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn even deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated – and torn between- two best friends and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.”

Clockwork Angel is the first novel in the Infernal Devices series and is the prequel to the highly successful Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare. Over the past few weeks I’ve been hearing reviews mostly to the tune of “ZOMG, SO GOOD”, in regards to this book. So, not that I needed much encouragement, having already been a die-hard fan of The Mortal Instruments, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The story is set in Victorian London and centers on Tessa Gray who has just arrived from New York to join her brother Nate after the death of their Aunt. Tessa barely sets foot on English soil before she’s kidnapped by The Dark Sisters – a wicked pair of warlocks who have hidden Nate and taken him hostage. In return for her brother’s safety Tessa is tortured into uncovering a shape shifting ability she never knew she had.

The Magister knew of it though. He is the leader of the Pandemonium Club, a mysterious club where humans and Downworlders (vampires, warlocks, faeries, werewolves) mix and he wants control of Tessa’s unique ability.

While uncovering murders linked to the club, Tessa is discovered and rescued by the Shadowhunters – Nephilim who are the children of Angels and humans who have sworn to protect humans from demons. Taking refuge at the London Institute Tessa enlists the help of the Shadowhunters to find her brother while she helps them uncover the dark plan to wipe out their kind…

When Clockwork Angel arrived in the mail I did a bit of a dance, I was that excited. I was Shadowhunter starved! A year had passed since her last book release and I was missing the sarcasm that Cassandra Clare does so well, and she definitely delivered. It took a bit of time in the beginning to adjust to the new time period and things took a bit of time to get going because a whole lot of groundwork needed to be laid before the story was able to gain some speed.

There’s no shortage of action in this book and can be quite creepy at times thanks to the evil clockwork minions of the Magister, made from the bodies of the dead. That, plus London’s notoriously bleak weather give the book quite a dark quality.

For me, Cassandra Clare’s standout talent as a writer is her ability to create such loveable, dynamic characters. The new characters we meet in this story are no exception. We see a few familiar last names – Herondale, Lightwood, Wayland, all being the ancestors of the characters were knew and loved from The Mortal Instruments (including Magnus Bane!) We’re also presented with a bunch of new characters as well.

It probably wasn’t until Magnus showed up though that I realized just how much I had missed the Shdowhunter world. He was his charming self as always and even though in this book his appearance was briefer than I’d have preferred, he was still great. Plus, it’s Magnus that leaves us with a great cliffhanger right at the end.

Our main character, Tessa, definitely has spunk.  She’s a lady with all the politeness and proper manners that go hand –in-hand with the time period, but when it comes down to it she puts up a hell of a fight and has a comeback for any snarky comment Will throws her way.

Speaking of Will; this guy is badass. His only downfall is that he’s also an a-hole. With his dark hair and blue eyes he’s beautifully sexy and has the kind of wit and classic one-liners that we’ve come to love from Jace in TMI. As Jace’s ancestor it’s clear that’s one of the character traits he’s passed down. Like most characters in this book, Will has a dark and mysterious past, which is apparently the reason he’s a jerk to most people and keeps them at arm’s length. Everyone except his best friend and parabatai, Jem.

Jem though, has dark secrets of his own, secrets which are destroying him from the inside out. He’s the only one who’s been able to get close to Will and balances out Will’s snark with his calm, soothing demeanor. With his silver hair and musical skills Jem’s a charmer simply by being a gentleman. He catches your attention with his subtleties.

The blurb hypes the three of them to be caught in a fierce love triangle but it’s not really the case – at least not in this book. It seems clear which of the two boys Tessa prefers (but if she was smart she wouldn’t…) but we’ll see how that’ll unfold in the next books.

There’s no denying there’s a well thought out plot here. Though it seems the plot moves Tessa rather than her driving the plot, it still twists, turns and weaves brilliantly, especially at the end – right when you think you know where everyone stands, it gets turned on its head which was really great. It was also great to see Shadowhunters from the perspective of a Downworlder, at times it made them appear very elitist and superior.

We also get to see the role of women during the period from different angles from each of the ladies we meet in the book. From Jessamine who wants a more traditional life, to Charlotte who is bending the rules and pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for a lady to do (and without a corset too!)

By the end there are still so many questions left hanging you double check the last page to see if there’s even a sentence or two more to answer at least one, but no such luck.

This is a stunning novel and it’s going to be an agonizing wait for the next book but I know it’ll be worth it. It’s a fresh take on a period piece so expect action, many lines of great, quotable dialogue, a bit of romance and plenty of Shadowhunter mystery. A huuuuuuge thumbs up!

Pages: 488
Publication Date: August 31st 2010
Rating: : ★★★★½

Teaser Quote:  “That was enterprising,” Will sounded nearly impressed.

Nate smiled. Tessa shot him a furious look. “Don’t look pleased with yourself. When Will says ‘enterprising’ he means ‘morally deficient.'”

“No, I mean enterprising,” said Will. “When I mean morally deficient, I say, ‘Now, that’s something I would have done.”

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.