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.

Six More Reference Books

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

Here’s another half-dozen of books that I’ve found particularly helpful. Again, they were all purchased on-line, and used.

I’d like to mention here The Regency Companion by Sharon H. Laudermilk and Teresa Hamlin. If ever a book needed reprinting, it’s this one. It still horrendously expensive, but is a compact, thorough source of almost everything a writer needs to know about the Regency. I recommend getting a copy from your library through Interlibrary Loan, and then you can decide if it’s worth the investment, or just taking lots of notes.

Owen, John B. The Eighteenth Century 1714-1815. Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975. Lots of politics here, if you have scenes in Parliament, or a politician as a character, you’ll find plenty in here to keep him busy.

Burton, Elizabeth. The Pageant of Georgian England. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967. For all its grand title, this is a very domestic book,and covers all the little things people needed in their lives–medicines, gardens, furniture, cosmetics, etc. It provides all the little details that you’d need to furnish a Georgian home, and supplies its inhabitants, your characters, with their everyday needs.

Foreman, Amanda: Georgiana’s World: The Illustrated Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. London: HarperCollinsPublisher, 2001. This is an amazingly illustrated version of the famous biography of the infamous duchess. The text has been abridged, but you could spend hours pouring over this beautiful book.

Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. London, William Heinemann, 2005. In the course of writing her Ph.D thesis on Heyer, the author also put together a summary of all the details that Heyer used to create her own marvelous Georgian and Regency world. Readers will enjoy finding the characters and events from Heyer’s books that have been interwoven in the factual material. Even the publisher, Heinemann, was Heyer’s longtime, long-suffering publisher.

Summerson, John. Georgian London. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946. This traces the history of architecture, urban planning, and residential and commercial developments during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Need to find a fashionable new neighborhood for your hero to build his house? Need to find some architects to design and some entrepreneurs to finance new buildings? You’ll find it all here.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. With the title a nod to Jane Austen, this is another book to read straight through. The author concentrates on the lives of women in the gentry class, in the north of England, and, through the stories of their lives, looks at all the aspects of their world. Not everyone has an HEA, but their stories are more compelling for the honesty.

Now! Last chance to suggest any titles that you’ve found to be especially helpful in your research and writing.

Six Favorite Reference Books

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

Okay. Here’s the start of my bibliography. I’m not saying you need to buy these books, or even use them. I’m saying I’ve found them helpful. I always like to work with a book before buying it, unless it’s something so specialized, like Jane Austen’s Christmas that I knew it would be my best choice. My rule of thumb is that if I’ve had to get it from the library twice, I can buy it. I use my own library, and the local university library. I can get interlibrary loan books usually free from my library, and I use that to examine possibilities. I’ve always used for my purchases. I’ve never had any problem with them. So again, I’m not saying you should shop there, just that I use that website. I also make it up to the legendary used bookstore Powell’s in Portland a couple times a year, and check out what they have. (Sorry to be so insistent. We can’t advocate any commercial enterprise at the library, so I have to be clear that I’m just saying what works for me.) And I didn’t own any of these books when I started, and I still managed to find information. Unfortunately, a furniture shuffle in the house has placed a very large bookcase in my study. I feel strangely compelled to fill it. Completely.

But I don’t want anyone not writing because of research issues or a too-small personal library. okay?

I already sang the praises of the Oxford English Dictionary, and mentioned Paterson’s Roads, and Parissien’s Regency Style. I won’t go there again.

Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. Boston: Plays, Inc. 1973. These authors have turned out a fabulous series of costume books, by the century. Eloisa refers to this one in her piece in which she discusses deciding on a character’s costume. (I take credit for introducing her to the book.) I also have the authors’ book on the History of Underclothes, which is fascinating, but possibly the worst-illustrated book I’ve ever seen. I’ve found everything I’ve needed to know about all aspects of 18th Century costumes in this one volume.

Glover, Michael. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Hamden: Archon Books, 1974 An epic, fascinating, account of the Napoleonic wars that England fought in Portugal, Spain, and Southern France. (Waterloo isn’t included, but the author has another, smaller book, on all of Napoleon’s military campaigns.) What I find especially useful is an Appendix that lists the dates of arrival and departure of every British regiment that was posted to the war, and the battles they fought in. This is great if you want to track the motions of a particular soldier, or if you need to find a battle that fits a particular wodge of time.

Murray, Venetia. An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. This is one to read all the way through. This isn’t just a reference book, but a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the peculiar wildness of Regency society. The descriptions of the clubs, the spas, the individuals, the high-jinks will prove useful information, and help enliven any book set in Regency London.

Picard, Liza. Dr. Johnson’s London. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. This is a great social compendium of everything that was going on in London in the late 18th Century. Need to know what hospitals were in London at the time? It’s here. Or how streets were cleaned (or not cleaned) or who cleaned the cooking kettles, and by what method. This provides fascinating and useful information about all aspects of life in London.

Titles and Forms of Address, Thirteenth Edition. London: Adam & Charles Black, n.d. It’s all here, everything you need to know about referencing and addressing everyone from the Queen, to Mayors when Ladies to Irish Chieftans.

Weinreb, Ben and Hibbert, Christopher, (eds.) The London Encyclopedia. Bethedsa: Adler & Adler, 1986. This is a huge and good companion piece to the Picard book, as it covers a much large time span, but you have to know what you’re looking for, though the almost impossible-to-read index provides some direction. You could find a reference in Picard or another source, and then see what happened to the reference before and after Dr. Johnson’s time in here. It’s the sort of book you dip into, and continually find new interesting things to read about, while hours pass, unnoticed. It also makes you long to visit London, and see these places for yourself.

Okay. There’s a start. At some point, I hope you’ll begin to share your favorite print resources, which need not just be British, or Regency. This would be as good a time as any. I’ll do another listing later in the week.

Virtual Research Assignment

(These were initially posted on in Summer 2007.  I’m reposting them here, as they are no longer available there.)

One of the things I really loved about the much-missed Squawk Radio is the way Eloisa James, the inveterate professor, would always manage to include an assignment in her post, and everyone would have a little work to do in their response.

So let’s try an assignment here, and see if it can help develop research techniques. Here’s the situation: your Regency-set (let’s say 1812) novel has a lovely estate, and the entire park and landscape around the mansion has been recently renovated and replanted by one of the foremost landscape architects active in England at the time. Maybe the ubër-gardener would be a minor character in the book, so you need to find out more about him (we will assume his gender, for simplicity’s sake) and what kind of plants and trees he favored, etc.

I would start in Google, plugging in various combinations of words such as: landscape architect Regency England gardener foremost, etc… I know it was officially “Britain,” not just England, but I think a response would be better from using England. I would try using quotation marks judiciously, to narrow the search, hence “landscape architect” and “Regency England,” to help weed out building architects, and the forty-eleven (as my mother would say) hotels that have the word “Regency” in their name. Come up with a few names? I did this last night, and spotted a possible name right away.

Then, take your name(s) to Wikipedia, and see what comes up. I just love Wikipedia, and have found most of the information in there spot-on. I certainly wouldn’t use it for contemporary politics, or controversial matters, but it was certainly the first place I looked for information about obscure German principalities in the early 19th Century, or the Huguenots in England. Most of the articles were written by people passionately interested in the topic, and I usually verify at least some of it in print sources before I consider the entire article reliable. Is this helping? Are you getting corroboration for your name, or able to rule some others out?

Then, give Google Books a try,
and see what comes from there. It can be frustrating, as the most promising source may not allow you to read much, but it’s always worth a try.

Then, since you actually need a physical book about the gardener, try a university library. I use the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, partly because I have borrowing privileges there, and also because I have a friend, a marvelous librarian, who is also an Eloisa fan, and always willing to help.
Or use your local library, public or university’s catalog on the web.

Have you come up with a book? Are you ready to start actually reading about the gardener?

Walk through the steps, and see how far you get, and report back about problems and/or triumphs, and certainly the name & book you settled on. It’ll be interesting to see what everyone comes up with. And I’ll address questions or comments later today.