Guest blogging

I’ll be at Romance University soon, talking about travel in Regency England.  There will be much more here on the topic at the newly unveiled section of this site currently also called Romance University.


Questions about Travel Times

Kathryn and I had an interesting discussion about travel times in Regency England. She wrote:

Hello! I was referred to you by Eloisa with a question.  Though it is possible that I might find the answer to this question in one of the titles mentioned above I figure I will ask any way! How do you calculate the traveling time (via coach, horseback or ship) for your authors? Is there a website that has a such a calculator on it or something to that effect? I was very curious how one goes about finding that information. Thank you!

And I wrote back:

Thanks for the good question.
Mostly, I punt. I look up the two cities the character is traveling between in Google maps, get directions, and figure the mileage that way. (If you have a Regency-era setting, all the travel distances were still in miles, so no need to do complicated metric calculations.) I figure 20-30 miles a day, for a carriage traveling, with servants, luggage, etc. In addition, I presume roads were in better shape nearer London, and travel times would be extended from someplace in the middle of nowhere. For a man or couple of men traveling on horseback, willing to change horses at every posting inn on the way, the daily distance could be greatly increased–remember Dick Turpin’s ride to York in one day. But for a middle-aged man, riding his own horse, and not changing horses, his daily distance would be closer to that of a private carriage .
Roads got a lot better as time progressed. The real progress started with when Telford and McAdam began their road improvements. so use that, depending on the date you’re working with. Even before McAdam, the popularity of stage coaches and post coaches necessitated some attempts to maintain and improve the roads.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with the books I’ve mentioned in my travel section, though I was looking at the Margetson book, and found some very interesting bits of information about stage coaches, the public transportation of the day. For instance, by the late 1700s, one could reach Bath from London, a distance of almost 120 miles, in seventeen hours by stage coach. Also, a circular from 1799 boasts that the new post coach that sets out from London every evening except Saturday, arrives in Carlisle, in northern England, in three days, and in Glasgow in just four days. The stage coaches traveled at night, and their stops to change horses at the posting inns were very brief. The poor passengers were not allowed to bring food into the coach, but didn’t have enough time to eat at the inns while the horses were being changed, so it was not a comfortable ride. Servants or tradesmen might travel by the stage coaches, but probably not the higher classes, unless there was a good reason demanded by your plot. Unlike today’s Greyhound schedules, arrival times were not predicted to the minute for the coaches. All sorts of random events could affect travelers, such as highwaymen, mechanical breakdowns, lamed horses, bad weather, etc.
For travel within a city, say, London, then you have new factors. What time of day was the journey? How far apart were the destinations? By the river? By the roads? On foot, in a hackney, on horseback? I think five miles an hour would be an adequate travel time within a City, at least if not on Market Day.
I’m not sure about travel by water. These were still the days of sail (though steam engines were starting to appear in the Thames around then) and hence, dependent on the wind, or lack of wind. I usually figure around one night with a good wind for the Calais to Dover smuggling run, but anything else would take a long time. It might well take a couple months to cross the Atlantic from England to the United States.
I think trying to imagine travel times is especially difficult for modern readers. We are so utterly accustomed to, and dependent upon, totally reliable mechanized transportation that it’s hard to imagine how unreliable and unmechnized it all was two centuries ago.
Be sure and go to my Romance University tab for more information about travel in Regency times.

Dancing to the Precipice

Agatha Christie had a quote that’s something like, “If someone gives you a book to read, there’s not much you can do about it.” Well. Consider me handing you this book, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In the end, you’ll thank me for it.

The book is Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution by Caroline Moorehead. (London: Chatto & Windus, 2009.) Lucie was born in 1770 into a prominent but dysfunctional French family. She also had Anglo-Irish connections, from her father’s side. She witnessed and endured the French Revolution as a young woman, Napoleon found her intelligent and charming. She traveled and lived briefly on a farm in New York State (which she loved), in various places in Western Europe, and died in Italy in 1853, at the age of 83. She is a marvelous Everywoman to illustrate the history of France in the late 18th and first half of the 19th Centuries.

You’ll love the illustrations. There are contemporary drawings of the people and places mentioned in the story. Her family members and friends are shown in portraits, miniature-style– beautiful, intimate revealing pictures of the people in Lucie’s world. And the very last illustration is a picture of Lucie as an old woman, looking rather Victorian in dress and pose, rather than as a proud member of the ancien regime. And I just can’t decide if it’s a drawing or a photo. Tell me if you know.

Lucie’s turbulent life is very well documented, and the upheaval of historical cataclysms in her life captures the reader in their painful immediacy. She lost several very close relatives to the guillotine during the Terror. She had to flee France, twice, to save herself and her family. She had to live secretly, bribe, lie, and connive to keep those nearest her alive. And once you know Lucie, intelligent, outspoken, amazingly perceptive, you realize how she must have suffered, however indomitable she proved to be.  Lucie was diligent and hard-working, but the horrors of the time, the unreliability of friends and relatives, and often, her (and her husband’s) inability to hew to the party line guaranteed that money would always be a problem.

Lucie’s personal life was fascinating. Her grandmother, nasty and imperious, lived openly with a bishop for many years. Her father, charming and ineffectual, nevertheless provided Lucie with her greatest advantage. Arthur Dillon was an army officer who served many years in the Americas, and told stories to Lucie about a young fellow officer he admired and thought would make an excellent husband for her. Frédéric-Séraphim de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet was also told good things about Lucie. Lucie ruthlessly refused all the suitors trotted forth by her grandmother, and was eventually allowed to accept Frédéric’s proposal. He was as intelligent, loyal, out-spoken, hard-working, liberal, and honest as Lucie, all of which landed him in trouble many times during his military and civil service careers. They had fifty wonderful years together, an overwhelming blessing in this time of cold-eyed arranged marriages.

Most of the information is from Lucie herself, and the author frequently provides Lucie’s acerbic remarks about particular events in her life. Lucie wrote in journals until 1814, and after that wrote reams of letters, most of them to an adored god-daughter. Those journals and letters formed the basis for this story.

Read it. You’ll thank me.

La Belle France

As I mentioned previously, I have the delight of working with Joanna Bourne on her new book. It’s been a most enjoyable experience, partly because it gave me a chance to brush up on my French history. I’ve found some very useful books that I’ve listed in the “Sources” section. Some of them, especially Dancing to the Precipice, are certainly worth reading for the sheer enjoyment and fascination they bring, rather than just their obvious value as reference material.

Contemporary voice in a historical novel – from the Eloisa James & Julia Quinn BB

I’m currently writing a romance set in 1821 and I’ve been getting conflicting advice from people who are also writers, but who don’t necessarily read/write in this genre. I’ve gotten reviews that the dialogue and internal thinking is spot-on, but others feel that my characters are too “modern” in their thinking. My question for you is, how do you achieve a balance between setting it back in time enough to make it historical, but bring in enough contemporary thinking to make the characters resonate with a modern audience?


I wrote: One thing that’s important to remember is that all Freud’s theories, and the vocabulary of psychology to describe those theories, didn’t exist then. Words like ego, fixate, fantasize, Oedipal, which we all use so casually now, were not available in those definitions in the early 19th Century.

It’s always possible to use period terms to describe what we would now describe in psychological terms, as one could suppose an astute student of human behavior in the early 19th Century would come to many of the same conclusions as a modern psychologist, though without using the specialized terminology. For instance, where we might describe someone as having a “massive ego,” a 19th century sage could note that someone has an “overweening sense of self-esteem.”

One way is to check words in the Oxford English Dictionary, which offers dates and citations showing when a word entered the English language.

Good luck!

Does that dictionary handle idioms, too?

Yes, it does. If you have the on-line version, either purchased on-line or available through some libraries (often university,) it will take you directly to the phrase in question. There’s also the Oxford Dictionary of Slang.

Check my website under “Language” for more books about word usage.

A nice way to start the holiday weekend.

[Also posted on the Editor & Researcher page]

Courtney Milan wrote this about me:

Franzeca is thorough, intelligent, and well-informed.  She is like a one-woman army of research assistants, and she comes equipped with an exhaustive knowledge of historical times, an unerring sense for period language, and a copy-editor’s feel for smooth prose.  She is a perfectionist, and her painstaking work has saved me from myself a thousand times.  The world would be a dark and scary place without Franzeca to help me light my way.”

Spare my blushes!  She was equally a joy to work with.

I’m working on Courtney’s new novel. It features some of the characters in Proof by Seduction, and it is an amazing book, pushing boundaries and bending rules in astoundingly effective and original ways . I even had to sneak a peek at the end because I couldn’t stand the suspense. I never do that; I never have to read the ending first. But I did this time. It is that good.

Do look for her upcoming novella, “This Wicked Gift”, October 1st, 2009 .  More on her website at

A Regency Harvest Celebration

October 6:  Last  Saturday night  I attended a Regency Harvest Celebration in Eugene. I was accompanied by fellow editor Jo-Jo and my neighbor Rene, and we all wore our closest approximations of Regency finery. The fete was organized by the Oregon Regency Society, and was just fantastic. There was a wonderful dinner with autumn fruits, turkey, quiches, delicious cheeses and rich desserts, enough to delight the most jaded palate. I understand that one gentleman was responsible for all the cooking, and he did an amazing job. The chairs and tables were all swathed in white linen and studded with silver candelabra. Some genius had assembled a huge collection of china dishes in a glorious multitude of patterns. It was simply magic.

There was dancing after dinner, ably directed by members of the Rose and Thistle,  a local  English and Scottish Dance organization. They had offered a dance boot camp on Saturday morning, which JoJo and I and other neophyte dancers attended. We tried to learn, and remember, enough steps to help us survive without embarrassing ourselves. So we were eager to take to the floor and work off our dinner, and perhaps see if Mr. Darcy would make an appearance. A gracious gentleman in a kilt and a head set walked us through the dances, and called out the steps until we all, literally, found our feet in the dance. This particular dance group meets regularly through the year, offering classes and dances, and we are looking into some more chances to dance like it’s 1811.

Perhaps the best part of all the celebration were the costumes. Many partygoers had gloriously authentic costumes, and looked simply wonderful. Two young men, probably in their late teens, were dressed as well as any extra in a Jane Austen film. They even had what we called “Mr. Collins” hats.

Jo-Jo took photos of the event, and you can access them through this site.

Here’s the link for the Oregon Regency Society:

They will be posting photos, too, as soon as possible