One reason it’s taking me forever to get really rolling on Goddess of Beauty is the amount of research I’ve had to do. Egads, have I done research. I chose the plot and setting of Goddess of the Hunt (comedy of manners at a Regency house party) partly because I wanted a story I could write quickly, without getting bogged down in research.

Well, now I am bogged, mired, and drowning in research – on topics from the history of pigments, to the British anti-slavery movement, to sailing terminology, to the physiology of colorblindness, to exactly which paintings were exhibited by JMW Turner at the Royal Academy from 1815-1820. It’s tremendous fun, and GOB will be a much richer book for it, but it’s time-consuming.

But mostly I’ve been reading first-hand accounts of transatlantic voyages during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Most of these are written by men. They write about storms, and the birds and fishes they see, and the birds and fishes they see killed and eaten, and any skirmishes amongst passengers or the crew – all very useful information, but rather lacking for my purposes.

And then, I finally found an account penned by a woman: Journal of a Lady of Quality;
Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies,
North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776
, by Janet Schaw.

What a revelation! Ms. Schaw – bless her! – writes not only beautifully, but she writes about all those little details the men’s accounts are lacking. What they wore, what they ate, how they passed the time, how they bathed. And, not surprisingly, she writes about romance:

Could love be quenched like common fire, surely not a single spark would have remained aboard the Jamaica Packet, yet if we may believe the word of an Abigail, this is far from being the case, and the little deity finds as good sport in shooting our sea gulls as your land pigeons. If I am not mistaken Mrs Mary has herself got a scratch, tho’ she was a very prude at land. Love is not a passion (says a philosophic friend of mine) but inspired from situation.

How then can the poor maid be blamed, there are two or three handsome fellows aboard, on one of whom I suspect she has Cast the eye of affection. He is no Joseph, I dare say, and as Mary keeps the keys, I make no doubt she will be successful. It is wonderful how this gentle passion has sweetened her temper, and we think ourselves much obliged to David, for so he is called, for her good humour.

We were all like to be overset, with our new friend Davy this morning. Scandal, that sad amphibious monster, that can thrive both by land and water, has given much disturbance to poor Mary, who entered the Cabin this morning all in a flutter. “Dear Ladies,” cried she, “what do you think; to be sure ’tis no wonder we had such storms; for a judgment must follow such doings, to be sure I make no doubt we will all be cast away.” “Pray, Mrs Miller,” said I, “what’s the matter?” “I intend to tell,” said she, “but who would ever have thought it, that handsome man. But now I think he is not handsome a bit, for handsome is, that handsome does.” She run on a great while longer, but to relieve you sooner than she did me, I will tell you that she had been informed he had another fair one on Board, to whom he paid more attention than to her, and to add to the injury, the very wine which she gave him, had been converted to the use of this favourite Sultana. He has contrived to make up matters, and she now says that if there were not bad women, there would be no bad men. ‘Tis a constant maxim with us always to throw the blame on our own sex, when a favourite Lover is unfaithful, we never fail to discover he has been taken in by art to deceive us.

*shakes head* Mary, Mary, Mary. He’s just not that into you.

What about you? What kind of research have you been doing? Found any interesting primary sources penned by members of the fairer sex?

17 comments to “Herstory”

  1. Kelly Krysten
    · April 26th, 2007 at 9:33 am · Link

    I’m currently reading several books. ‘The Autobiography of Miss Knight,’ whom was Lady’s companion to princess Charlotte I belive from 1806-1814. Now I am in no way writing about a Lady’s companion but reading her accounts has been a great way for me to get a feel for the time, and who knows perhaps one day I’ll write a story about a Lady’s companion. I’m also reading ‘What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew’ It’s a great catch-all for the time of the regency to the victorian. I’m reading ‘The Regency: An Elegant Madness’-I’m not particuarly thrilled with the information but I like the tone. I feel it’s missing a lot. And I’m also reading ‘The Prince of Pleasure’ It’s fantastic and takes you year by year through the Regency. It has come in handy A LOT-especially as far as politics are concerned.
    I myself research before I start the book, during the book(I’ve had to change things before because of new info I’d found) and long after I’m finished. I want everything perfect even though that’s unatainable, I sure can try!

  2. beverley
    · April 26th, 2007 at 11:25 am · Link

    Luckily for me, the second book doesn’t require a whole lot of research. I have to do some on horses and shipping but I do that as I go. I found from the first book that I could literally get lost in my research. I stopped researching for my book and started reading research for myself for weeks before I started the novel. So, I learned that I will try to only research what i need to know from now on (which is still hard because it seems everything in that period is fascinating to me). Kristine Hughes. I use her book Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England 1811-1901 and many others quite a bit.

  3. Beth
    · April 26th, 2007 at 11:36 am · Link

    Tessa, it sounds fascinating! I could, and have, wallowed in research until I come up for air, dazed and confused, to realize my husband put the kids to bed hours ago and the cat is howling by the door to take off for his nightly prowl.

    I did try what Kelly described, but I kept taking one new tidbit and looking it up, which lead me to another new piece of info….which led to days passing with next to nothing written! So now I write, and every time I know I need better details, I jot it down in a notebook I keep beside me and try to keep going forward.

    Having said all this, I’m leaving in an hour to go dig through the book sale our local university is having in the history department…yummy! 🙂

    The best new book I’ve bought is Historical Atlas of the Napoleonic Era by Angus Konstam. Fun to read, loads of wonderful pictures and maps, and just gives me enough info to know where I’d need to dig deeper with other resources.

  4. Christina
    · April 26th, 2007 at 12:19 pm · Link

    I think research is my favorite part. I love to dig into other’s pasts.

    My current WIP Border Law is based in the Middleshires around 1603. There are so many interesting events that occurred during that time, most of it gruesome, but it appeals to my dark writer.

    King James VI may have been a religious man and the one who commissioned the translating of the bible, but he was also ruthless. I found several accounts where he was also squeamish, he couldn’t handle the sight of blood, go figure. No wonder so many people went around gutting others at a whim. Their King didn’t want to deal with it. I haven’t found any accounts from women yet. I have found the a proclamation against the MacGregors, which hero is a Macgregor. Anyhow, the proclamation stated that anyone who continued with the clan name would be executed. Some thirty Macgregors were hung Edinburgh that year and others were sent to Ireland. All because of the trickery of Lord of Luss, who had, some stories say up to 20 women dip shirts in lambs blood, claiming they were their husbands and parade them before the squeamish King, James was so angry by the display, that he did not investigate, he ordered the deaths of the Macgregors, or so the accounts go.

    Long account but interesting. And yes my research continues. But I love it. Even if it can be frustrating.

  5. Lady Leigh
    · April 26th, 2007 at 1:31 pm · Link

    I’m currently reading books on writing and editing- woohoo. SOO fun. I’m excited to get back into the research phase. Last spring/summer I spent a lot of time at the Colo. Univ. library looking up publishing houses in 1828, travelogues (stories of travel in the US in the early 1800’s), Native American/US relations and, of course, everything about Regency England. I went to the Iroquois Indian museum last summer when I was home with my mom. She was all excited about my ‘research’.
    Originally, my book began at the end of the heroine’s journey across the Atlantic so I did look up info on ships etc. My dad is a big sailor and was a great help. Why he knows about ships in the early 1800’s and the Thames, I can’t say. Alas, I have since cut that part of my book. I haven’t told him yet.
    Barnes and Nobles website is a great place to look for books, since they suggest books based on your interests. I’d sometimes find a book there, then locate it in my local library.

  6. CM
    · April 26th, 2007 at 2:08 pm · Link

    Right now I’m reading about bequests and the common recovery. You probably know that there were two ways to entail property (although in Britain in Regency periods, there was only one way to have property truly entailed, and you couldn’t technically create an entail).

    One was to have a condition placed on the land itself: when land was transferred, it was given “to A and the male heirs of his body.” This is what most think of as an “entail.” And in Regency Periods it’s actually not that hard to get around. All you need to do is institute a suit for common recovery, which was a polite fiction where Person B would sue Person A saying, “I’m sorry, your land really belongs to me.” Person B–who wants to break the entail–doesn’t oppose. The courts then gave Person A the land in fee simple (read: without strings attached), eradicating the entail. Person B then gave the land back to Person A. It took some money–maybe a thousand pounds–but it wasn’t a difficult maneuver.

    The other way to entail land was to entail it for a generation. That is, when Person C dies, he says, “I grant to Person A the estate for life, remainder to his male heirs. But if A has no heirs, the remainder goes to (insert another male relative here).” This is what the Bennets had in Pride & Prejudice, and it’s basically impossible to get out of. Unlike a fee tail, this interest cuts off after a generation; Mr. Collins could give Longbourne to his only female daughter, if he so chose.

    But all this is back in the days when you had a million different courts. Things were complicated enough in our country when we had courts of law and equity; back then, you had to know so many ridiculous details.

    In any event, I’m also trying to find out how to bring a case in the court of chancery, and more importantly, how to do so quickly.

  7. Tessa Dare
    · April 26th, 2007 at 5:04 pm · Link

    Wow! Fascinating stuff, ladies! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

    Kelly, I’ve got both the “What Jane Austen Ate” and “Prince of Pleasure” books. I’ve also read “Elegant Madness,” but I’ve heard it has a lot of inaccuracies.

  8. Ericka Scott
    · April 26th, 2007 at 5:45 pm · Link

    I am reading books about how to be a ghost hunter (insert music to the twilight zone here)

  9. India Carolina
    · April 26th, 2007 at 8:19 pm · Link

    Reference books currently on my table are not sooo fascinating: 2007 Guide to Literary Agents, Plot and Structure, The Sound on the Page. But that journal sounds wonderful, Eve, er…Tessa! I’d love to read it.

    I do have some upcoming research on my plate though. As Tessa and CM already know, my son just got a summer job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Co. Since I’m considering doing a contemporary with a “storm chasing” hero, I’ll be touring NCAR and hopefully interviewing one of the lead scientists while I’m in Colorado for the Romancing the Rockies conference. Shoud be great fun. I adore geeks.

  10. Kelly
    · April 26th, 2007 at 9:09 pm · Link

    Ack! CM, not future interests! Property law brings back painful law school memories …

    I’m actually at the beginning of my research, dealing mostly with societal and class restrictions. I’ve seen a few titles mentioned here that I’m going to have to check out now!

  11. Alice Audrey
    · April 26th, 2007 at 9:43 pm · Link

    Nice find Tessa! Maps and everything. I bookmarked it because it’s so much better than the sailors accounts I was dinking around with.


  12. Lenora Bell
    · April 26th, 2007 at 10:12 pm · Link

    I’ve been avoiding research in favor of emotional development. But I’m going to have to start delving into mid-nineteenth century texts soon.

    For my last book I relied on Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management–what a treasure trove of Victorian recipes, attitudes toward servants, daily household routines etc.

    (sorry–I don’t know how to make pretty links in comments).

  13. AprilsMom
    · April 27th, 2007 at 10:03 am · Link

    India, this may fall into the DUH! category (and if so, I apologize), but if you are considering a storm chaser hero, the University of Oklahoma has one of the best meteorology schools/labs in the country. If you are interested, you could contact the Oklahoma Weather Lab at:
    If they couldn’t help with research/info, they probably could direct you to someone who could. Sounds like an interesting book. Good luck!

  14. Lindsey
    · April 27th, 2007 at 10:06 am · Link

    This is all fascinating! Love the excerpt, especially the idea of love “inspired from situation.”

    As you did with GOTH, I’m trying to just do a bare-minimum-historical-research plot the first go round. Though I love research, getting a handle on just plotting & writing is plenty to keep me busy.

    In romance-related “research,” I’m reading a book of evolutionary psychology on human desire & mating – it’s fascinating! I’ll probably blog on it sometime in the next couple weeks.

  15. India Carolina
    · April 27th, 2007 at 1:11 pm · Link

    Thanks April’s mom! Not a duh at all. I’ll check it out. Especially since my son is pleading with me not to embarrass him.

  16. Tessa Dare
    · April 27th, 2007 at 1:45 pm · Link

    Thanks for the tip, Lenora!

    And Ericka – that research sounds like way more fun! Perhaps I should take up paranormals. It could be a haunted ship crossing the Atlantic!

    India – I cannot *wait* to read Love Storm! Or It’s Raining Men, or Blown Away, or Storm Surge .. or whatever way better title you give it. 🙂

  17. India Carolina
    · April 27th, 2007 at 2:03 pm · Link

    Thanks Tessa, I’m still loving your first title suggestion
    Twister of Fate