Sunday, February 28, 2010

Queen Katherine Parr

Katherine Lady Latimer became the last wife of Henry VIII. How was her relationship with her step-children? According to History Today:
The new queen’s immediate priorities demonstrated both her warm nature and her shrewdness. Katherine was determined to please her husband and to get to know his offspring. Mary and Elizabeth spent time with her before the wedding and were present at the ceremony itself on July 12th, 1543. It was a low-key affair at Hampton Court. No great celebrations or public appearances followed. The marriage licence had been issued by Cranmer but the service was conducted by Stephen Gardiner, the conservative Bishop of Winchester. Such a compromise was typical of Henry VIII – in that year Gardiner had been bent on proving heresy in Cranmer’s diocese of Canterbury. And the sweet-smelling herbs that Katherine ordered for her bedchamber were typical of his last consort, a highly intelligent but also sensual woman who had thought hard about how to make a success of her role. She took her marriage vows, to be ‘bonaire and buxom in bed and in board’, seriously. Equally important to her was to be a loved and loving stepmother.

Henry had been a distant father (not unusual for an English monarch) but realised, as old age and illness strengthened their hold, that he needed to think about the future of his family and the succession. Katherine understood his concerns and considered how she could turn them to everyone’s advantage. She was certainly aided by circumstances in the first year of her marriage. A prolonged outbreak of the plague in London meant that Henry and his new wife stayed away from the capital. They were continuously in each other’s company for almost six months. During the autumn they visited Edward and Elizabeth at Ashridge in Hertfordshire. Mary accompanied them until overtaken by recurring ill-health. They were not a family in the modern sense, since they were seldom all together under one roof, but the ties between them were drawn tighter by Queen Katherine’s attentions. She was a frequent letter writer, took a keen interest in the two younger children’s education and shared Mary’s love of jewels and fine clothes. Only four years separated the queen and her elder stepdaughter, who passed the happiest period of her adult life in Katherine’s company.

Prince Edward soon felt the benefit of the new queen’s presence. It was not often a physical one since, as heir to the throne, he had always lived well away from court. He passed his time in the smaller royal palaces on the fringes of London. Access to the prince was carefully restricted and a rigorous regime of food-tasting and meticulous laundering of clothes protected the royal person. Pampered and cosseted, he was a happy and active boy. But he could not escape his destiny. His father’s visits were infrequent but nerve-racking; the child knew he was on display. At the age of seven, his education began in earnest. Katherine Parr became his stepmother at a crucial point in his life and she was close to the group of outstanding men chosen to educate the future king.
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A French Breakfast

Delicious simplicity. Share

On Slavery and Providence

Booker T. Washington speaks.
I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extend that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. This I say, not to justify slavery--on the other hand, I condemn it as an institution, as we all know that in America it was established for selfish and financial reasons, and not from a missionary motive--but to call attention to a fact, and to show how Providence so often uses men and institutions to accomplish a purpose. When persons ask me in these days how, in the midst of what sometimes seem hopelessly discouraging conditions, I can have such faith in the future of my race in this country, I remind them of the wilderness through which and out of which, a good Providence has already led us.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on Writing Historical Fiction

When my novel The Night's Dark Shade was published last November I had a lady ask me why I wrote "romance novels." Let me just say that I do not write romance novels; I do not even read romance novels, unless I am asked to review one. Romance novels usually have a half clothed heroine on the cover, some historical background for atmosphere, with the emphasis on bodice-ripping love scenes.

Historical fiction, on the other hand, has the emphasis on creating accurate historical settings and characters in an effort to make the past come to life for the contemporary reader. Here is the Wikipedia definition:
Historical fiction is a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays fictional accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. Writers of stories in this genre, while penning fiction, nominally attempt to capture the spirit, manners, and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with due attention paid to period detail and fidelity....

Historical fiction presents readers with a story that takes place during a notable period in history, and usually during a significant event in that period. Historical fiction often presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period.

In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with actual events while depicting them in a way that has not been previously recorded. Other times, a historical event is used to complement a story's narrative, occurring in the background while characters deal with situations (personal or otherwise) wholly unrelated to that historical event. Sometimes, the names of people and places have been in some way altered.

I do not mean to sound disparaging of romance novels, since when I first started out to write The Night's Dark Shade I thought I would make it a tame sort of PG-13 bodice-ripper. I was told by an agent in New York that if I wrote a romance novel, instead of my usual historical fiction about the French Revolution, than she could make a lot of money for me. So about nine years ago I decided to try my hand at a romance novel, based on a story that came to mind when I was in Lourdes in 1994. However, as the story grew and the characters took life, and as I delved into the theological conflicts and liturgical aberrations of the time, then I knew there were too many important issues at stake to water it down into a rabid romance just for the sake of profit. I think Our Lady had her hand on me and wanted me to write something that would contain solid spirituality, while exploring the ravages of heresy in both society and individuals. The days of the Albigensians/Cathars were times that mirrored our own. In that way, history becomes relevant to the present. I hope that my novel helps people not only to understand the past but to gain insight into the issues of our own time.

One of the challenges of writing The Night's Dark Shade is that it is set in a time infamous for Catholics Behaving Badly. How does a Catholic writer deal with such moments of history, moments that are readily exploited by enemies of the Church in books and films? Do we gloss over the truth? As I told author Catherine Delors in a recent interview, only the reality of the past can help us to understand the realities of the present. I believe that we need never be afraid of the truth of history, no matter how ugly it might be, because we have to learn from it. If we present the history with accuracy then the truth of the faith will shine through in spite of the failings of the brethren. But prayer has to accompany our literary journey, as well as an understanding of Church history and teaching. In the darkest times there were saints, there were martyrs, both famous and obscure. As I wrote in the Preface to Trianon: "the darkness of the night makes the stars shine with an ever greater resplendence."

(The full transcript of my CWCO chat on historical fiction is available HERE and HERE.)

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The Versailles Glide

Author Leslie Carroll discusses how Marie-Antoinette was taught to walk in the manner of ladies of the French court, saying:
In order for Antonia to more seamlessly assimilate into the rarified and sophisticated atmosphere at Versailles, Maria Theresa imported the celebrated choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre from the Duke of Württemburg's court of Stuttgart. Noverre was a world traveler who had been the choreographer at London's Drury Lane Theatre under the management of David Garrick. Both men had very progressive views about Theatre and Dance and each was known for his introduction of "naturalism" (that term being relative, given the "method acting" styles of the 20th century) into his art. Noverre was the first proponent of the "story ballet" and strongly believed that the elements of dance within a theatrical or operatic performance be organically integrated into the whole.
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Getting a Good Night Sleep

It is vital for your health. Share

Friday, February 26, 2010

February Beheadings

February seemed to be the month of execution for Tudor queens. More HERE. Share

Citizen Belley

How Bonaparte reinstated slavery. Share

Externals

Do they really matter in the liturgy? They do indeed. As John Zmirak writes: "The old liturgy was crafted by saints, and can be said by schlubs without risk of sacrilege. The new rite was patched together by bureaucrats, and should only be safely celebrated by the saintly." Share

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Marie-Antoinette's Sisters

Author Melanie Clegg offers a lively description of each of them. Share

The Secrets of A Book Smash

I'm learning as I go, and so articles such as this one are of immense interest. (Via Claire King. ) More HERE.
The Wall Street Journal looked into the recent surprise hit by science journalist Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, to divine how the book went from zero—kicking around a number of houses and editors—to the top of the charts when her publisher, Crown, had to reprint 100,000 copies to keep up with demand created after it sat in the top 25 at Amazon (AMZN) for weeks.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Honorable Mention

I recently came across an article about Marie-Antoinette which mentions me in the same breath as Jean Plaidy. Never thought I'd see the day....
Marie Antoinette has been the focus of a number of historical fiction novels. "The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette" by Carolly Erickson, "Trianon" by Elena Maria Vidal and "Flaunting Extravagant Queen" by Jean Plaidy focus on the life of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette has also appeared in film. She was played by Joely Richardson in "The Affair of the Necklace" and most well-known played by Kirsten Dunst in the recent movie "Marie Antoinette". She was also played by Norma Shearer in a 1938 film also called "Marie Antoinette."
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A New Novel about Monet

Author Stephanie Cowell discusses her research about the life and work of Claude Monet. Share

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Film on Henri IV

Julianne Douglas of Writing the Renaissance reports:
The sixteenth century is lighting up movie screens, at least across Europe: Henri IV, an epic film by German director Jo Baier about the king who brought the bloody Wars of Religion to a close and reunited a divided France, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last week. The movie is based on the 1935 novel by Thomas Mann's brother Heinrich Mann and pits the wily Henri against Catherine de Medici, determined to keep her own brood on the throne.
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The Validity of a Marriage

Theology of the Body and canon law. There is nothing so helpful as having learned and holy priests weigh in on matters of controversy. More HERE. To quote Fr. Angelo in the comments section:
What I believe many of you really need to think about is that holy modesty is not an option to be only taught to the sheltered and overly pious. It is part and parcel of the virtue of chastity. It is reverence for a mystery. And if a mystery is not treated with the appropriate reverence it is profaned. This is not an abstract argument. The culture needs to be evangelized, but we should be careful not to confuse enthusiasm, as valuable as it may be, with deep transformation. Until many in the TOB crowd learn this, they will continue to undermine the very values that in other ways they so strenuously attempt to defend.
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Fallen Women

In Victorian art. (Via Hermes.) What father would throw his daughter and her baby out into the snow? I suppose it did happen. In fact, my great-grandmother was treated thus by her family just for marrying against her father's wishes. When she was left a widow with a small child and went to her family for help they slammed the door in her face, although she was by no means a "fallen woman."

According to Victorian Web:
Women who had given in to seduction, living a life in sin, received the name "fallen women" during the Victorian period. Though both a recognizable and sizable segment of the female population, it took some time before the fallen woman could be accepted as an allowable subject in art.

Richard Redgrave first broached the topic with his Royal Academy exhibition of The Outcast in 1851. A melodramatic painting, it showed a father casting out his daughter and her illegitimate infant while the rest of the family weeps, pleads, or beats the wall with excessive emotion. The depiction of the girl, pretty and naive though she may be, serves to warn other young ladies to avoid temptation and ruin....

However, not every fallen woman was painted with such harsh criticism. The Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and Ford Madox Brown all recognized the complex emotions within the fallen woman and her situation. In Rossetti's Found, a drover discovers his former beloved, now a prostitute, slumped against a wall. The unfinished painting focuses in on the struggle between them as the man tries to lift her, but she seems both too ashamed and self-determined to go with him. The question of why she should resist him when his face is so contorted in pity and concern, forces the viewer to look at the drover's calf in the background, trapped and struggling within a web of restraints. It seems that either the woman is too entangled in her life of sin of else she refuses to be caught in the impositions of married life, represented in the net which holds the calf. At any rate, Rossetti problematizes the all-too-easy instant condemnation of the fallen woman and her motives.
(Artwork: "The Outcast" by Richard Redgrave) Share

Annoying Words

Here are some thoughts on the abuse and overuse of certain words. (Via Lew Rockwell.) Share

Sunday, February 21, 2010

From Palace to Prison

Catherine Delors gives a brief history of the Conciergerie.
The medieval origin of the building is obvious from the architecture of the towers. Indeed in the Middle Ages, this was the royal palace, the Palais de la Cité, after the island of the same name in the middle of the Seine River. It was home to King Louis IX, later Saint-Louis, who had the jewel-like Sainte-Chapelle built within its grounds.

It was also the seat of his grandson King Philippe IV le Bel, who put an end to the worldly (but not literary) existence of the Friar Templars. We owe Philippe the magnificent Salle des Gens d'Armes (Hall of the Men in Arms), one of the most impressive examples of lay Gothic architecture still in existence (left.)

But in the course of the 14th century, French Kings abandoned the Palace of the Cité, which, though no longer a royal residence, retained administrative functions, such as the Treasury. It became the seat of the Parliament of Paris, the highest court of justice in and around Paris until the Revolution. (Read More.)
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Irish Stew

Mirella Patzer found a vintage recipe in an old Canadian cookbook. It contains just the sort of details I need for my novel.
Take the feet and legs of a pig, cut off at the hams, two will be sufficient for a family of eight. Singe off the hair and thoroughly cleanse them, removing the toes by scorching. Cut the legs in pieces suitable for stewing, put down in cold water and cook slowly for three hours. Pare and cut up nine or ten good sized potatoes and add to your stew with salt and pepper, about one half an hour before dishing. After the potatoes have been put in, the greatest care must be taken to prevent them from sticking to the pot and burning, therefore you must stir frequently with a spoon. What remains from dinner pour into a mould and it will become a jelly, which is nice eaten cold for breakfast.[Page 27]
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Empress Theodora

The Mad Monarchist has a post about one of the most colorful women who ever lived, the Empress Theodora.
Together with her husband Empress Theodora oversaw the rebuilding of Constantinople into one of the most spectacular cities in history. She helped in the building of hospices, churches and refuges for the poor. She is also credited with influencing new laws to protect women, making rape and kidnapping capital offenses, no matter if the woman was noble or common born. Women could not be forced into the entertainment industry or prostitution and could not be put in prison for debts. Instead they were to be placed under the supervision of religious women to work off their debt. This was necessary because of the rape and abuse women often suffered in prison. She cracked down hard on prostitution, buying the freedom of many girls herself, meting out harsh punishment to their captors and setting up establishments to help them get back on their feet in legitimate ways.
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Modern France

Why is it the best place to live? (I would move there tomorrow if I could.) Share

Friday, February 19, 2010

Locks of Hair


Tendrils of the hair of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette are entwined together in a ring that the Queen gave to her children's governess, Madame de Tourzel.

HERE is a beautiful tribute to Louis XVI. Share

The Counter-Reformation in Finland

I did not know that there was one. Here is the biography of Father Johannes Jussoila (1555-1604), who was tortured to death for his Catholic faith. Share

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Era of Intensity

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by author Catherine Delors about the research for my novel The Night's Dark Shade, which Madame Delors calls "a remarkable book." Thank you, Catherine! To quote from the book's preface (as the interviewer does):
The Night’s Dark Shade is a novel of thirteenth-century France. The Middle Ages was an era of intensity. People applied themselves with great ardor to every endeavor, be it art, poetry, warfare, love or religion. They were particularly fervent in regard to matters of faith. Religious convictions were not subject to indifference, as they tend to be today; rather every nuance of doctrine was of vital interest to all. Fanatics appeared from time to time, and the blood of innocents was shed. Heresy was viewed as a capital offense, for it was seen as leading to the death of the soul, which was for the medievals more to be dreaded than mere bodily death. Too often, battling heresy became an excuse for pillage, as wars arose. This is the story of the conflicts which raged in individuals, as well as in families and kingdoms, amid the tumult of the Albigensian Crusade.
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Antipodean Antipathies

R.J. Stove and Mahler. Share

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent at Versailles


Versailles is not usually associated with Lenten penance, but fasting and abstinence, as well as some mortifications, were observed there by many during the old regime. For one thing, there would be no plays or operas performed; all the public theaters were closed in France during Lent. The daughters of Louis XV were known for their scrupulous observance of fasting and abstinence, although Madame Victoire found such penance especially trying. According to Madame Campan:
Without quitting Versailles, without sacrificing her easy chair, she [Madame Victoire] fulfilled the duties of religion with punctuality, gave to the poor all she possessed, and strictly observed Lent and the fasts. The table of Mesdames acquired a reputation for dishes of abstinence....Madame Victoire was not indifferent to good living, but she had the most religious scruples respecting dishes of which it was allowable to partake at penitential times....The abstinence which so much occupied the attention of Madame Victoire was so disagreeable to her, that she listened with impatience for the midnight hour of Holy Saturday; and then she was immediately supplied with a good dish of fowl and rice, and sundry other succulent viands.
Their nephew Louis XVI was also known for his fastidious observance of Lent, as recorded once again by the faithful Madame Campan:
Austere and rigid with regard to himself alone, the King observed the laws of the Church with scrupulous exactness. He fasted and abstained throughout the whole of Lent. He thought it right that the queen should not observe these customs with the same strictness. Though sincerely pious, the spirit of the age had disposed his mind to toleration.
Some of the King's tolerant behavior included the permitting of certain games at court during Lent. During the Lent of 1780, the Austrian ambassador Count Mercy-Argenteau was shocked to discover Louis XVI playing blind man's bluff with Marie-Antoinette and some members of the Court. Count Mercy described the scandalous scene to the Empress Maria Theresa:
Amusements have been introduced of such noisy and puerile character that they are little suited to Lenten meditations, and still less to the dignity of the august personages who take part in them. They are games resembling blind man's bluff, that first lead to the giving of forfeits, and then to their redemption by some bizarre penance ; the commotion is kept up sometimes until late into the night. The number of persons who take part in these games, both of the Court and the town, makes them still more unsuitable ; every one is surprised to see that the King plays them with great zest, and that he can give himself up wholly to such frivolities in such a serious condition of State affairs as obtains at present.
Given the long hours that Louis XVI devoted to affairs of state and the fact that people often complained that he was too serious and reserved, it seems that Mercy should have been pleased to see the King come out of his shell a little and take some recreation. But then, Mercy often tried to cast Louis in an unfavorable light. As far as the Empress was concerned, however, Lent was not the time for any games. Louis' devotion was sincere all the same; he was constant in prayer and good works, observing the fasts of the Church for Lent and the Ember days even throughout his imprisonment.

The King's sister, Madame Elisabeth, also steadfastly kept the discipline of Lent in both good times and bad. In the Temple prison, the jailers mocked the princess' attempts to keep Lent as best she could. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's daughter, Madame Royale, who shared her aunt's imprisonment, recorded it thus:
Having no fish, she asked for eggs or other dishes on fast-days. They refused them, saying that in equality there was no difference of days; there were no weeks, only decades. They brought us a new almanac, but we did not look at it. Another time, when my aunt again asked for fast-day food they answered: "Why, citoyenne, don't you know what has taken place? none but fools believe all that." She made no further requests.
As for Marie-Antoinette herself, she did not fast and abstain through every day of Lent as Louis did; her health did not permit it. However, after baby Madame Sophie died in 1787, it was noted that the Queen became more fervent in her devotions, especially during Lent. Jean Chalon in Chère Marie-Antoinette (p.235) notes that in 1788 she gave orders that her table strictly comply with all the regulations of the Church. Even the Swedish ambassador remarked: "The queen seems to have turned devout."

(Photo: http://www.cyrilalmeras.com/) Share

Sherlock Holmes and the Occult

How does the recent film depict "secret" societies? (Via Spirit Daily) Share

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kitty (1945)

I had never heard of the film Kitty until about a week or so ago. It was supposed to be Paramount's answer to 20th Century-Fox's blockbuster Forever Amber. However, I enjoyed it so much more than I enjoyed Forever Amber. For one thing, Paulette Goddard can act circles around Linda Darnell. The eighteenth century costumes are magnificent and the focus of the film is on the art of Thomas Gainsborough, who is one of the main characters. To quote a review from the Classic Movie Digest:
Based on a novel by Rosamond Marshall, Kitty ~ played by the pert and very pretty Paulette Goddard ~ is an 18th century guttersnipe (i.e. wanton, poverty-stricken petty thief in this case) who tries to steal from famed English painter Thomas Gainsborough (Gainsborough's celebrated works are the figures Pinky and The Blue Boy). When she is caught, the artist is struck by her good looks under the dirt and rags she wears. Instead of casting her into prison, he hires her to pose for him (in a better set of clothes of course) and when the portrait is exhibited, all of London is enthralled with the mysterious beauty. In on the charade is the attractive but penniless and mercenary fop, Sir Hugh Marcy (Ray Milland), who takes Kitty in as a servant for the household he shares with his aunt, Lady Susan Dowitt (Constance Collier). Seeking revenge on the Duke of Malmunster (Reginald Owen, in rare form), who is fascinated with Kitty's portrait, Sir Hugh tries to pass his ward off as a lady to the Duke, with both humorous and sinister bumps along the way.
The costumes are quite magnificent, much more authentic than the recent film The Duchess. The dialog is quite witty especially with such an array of characters, representative of all walks of life. Kitty is a fun and funny film, not without poignancy, both innocent and romantic, the like of which is no longer made.
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Do Authors Really Need to Promote Their Own Books?

Yes, they do. (Via Kate Wicker) Share

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited is an Oscar-winning tale of ghosts and the redeeming power of love. While the viewer is spared any blood and gore, The Uninvited is one of the scariest stories of a haunting that I have ever seen. What makes it spooky is the normalcy and good cheer of the main characters, whose laughter and jests foil as well as heighten the effect of the poltergeist. As for the mansion, it is not a typical haunted house, especially after being so charmingly redocorated by the new owners. Whenever I watch the film, I am always ready to go live there, ghosts or no ghosts. According to one review:
There’s a scene in Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited where young Stella, the bright-eyed young thing at the crux of this ghost story, comments to beau Roderick Fitzgerald on a reckless car ride that being scared is, in fact, quite fun. This is completely analogous to the tone of this much-loved, and unavailable classic (one of the most demanded titles on TCM’s yet-to-be released on DVD list), a movie that gently reveals its spirits, and prefers buttoned-up chills to décolletage and spilled guts.
What’s morphed into gruesome household terror in films such as The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist, where “the uninvited” wreak hysteria and total panic, is treated with unusual level-headedness by the Fitzgeralds. Frightened but not necessarily threatened, Pamela and Roderick have a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy approach to their home invasion, determined to solve the mystery and protect Stella (whom Roderick’s grown quite fond of). True to the period in Hollywood history, this is where The Uninvited bridges horror and comedy, keeping the mood light with humorous asides and Roderick’s song compositions (he’s a struggling musician) while orchestrating atmospheric chills; bodiless crying in the night, a dimly lit séance with a homemade spirit board, doors and windows opening or closing without human intervention.
As the Classic Movie Digest says:
The Uninvited is somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), not in storyline as much as in atmosphere and character. Like Rebecca, the setting is a large stately house on the coast of England. The house is filled with the memory of it's former mistress, Mary Meredith (heck, it's filled with her very spirit, as she's the one haunting it), and there's even a creepy, dark haired mystery woman, who is unyieldingly devoted to the memory of the dead woman, such as Mrs. Danvers was in Rebecca. More than one film analyst has noted the obvious lesbian theme related to this character, Miss Holloway. It is a role that Gale Sondergaard would have excelled in.

The movie is chilling without the use of modern special effects, though the one camera trick that is used, the spectre of Mary Meredith, is very effective. The atmosphere is instead achieved through expert black and white cinematography by Charles Lang, whose masterful use of light and shadow earned him an Oscar nomination. Also a top asset for the film was it's haunting, romantic score by Paramount's resident composer, Victor Young, which includes the lovely tune Stella by Starlight.
Stella is abnormally obsessed with her dead mother. In the end, however, she is delivered. I love the Irish Catholic housekeeper, who after the creepy séance scene roundly scolds the characters about the dangers of the ouija board, calling it a "heathen instrument made to call devils out of hell." Her words are all too true.
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Brother of the Stranger

Some reflections on living in a small city in northern Appalachia. Share

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Effects of Porn

A new report.
When it comes to the consequences for marriage, Fagan referred to studies showing how the use of porn by husbands severely affects wives.

In many cases the wives of pornography users develop deep psychological wounds, he observed. This includes feelings of betrayal, loss, mistrust, and anger. Wives can also feel unattractive or sexually inadequate, which in turn can lead to depression after finding out that their husbands view pornography.

Male viewers of pornography, Fagan added, tend to diminish their emotional involvement in their sexual relations, which has the effect of wives experiencing decreased intimacy from their husbands. In one study husbands reported loving their spouses less after long periods of looking at pornography.

Pornography also has an impact on the physical side of the relationship as prolonged exposure fosters dissatisfaction with the other spouse and their sexual behavior.

Other studies referred to by Fagan found that pornography users increasingly see the institution of marriage as sexually confining and this leads them to doubt the value of marriage as a social institution.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Bit of Instant Mystery

Beneath the surface and behind the veil. (Via Ingrid Mida.)

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Friday, February 12, 2010

La Reine Martyre

Lucy explains why Trianon is her favorite novel about Marie-Antoinette, saying:
This book, for me, stands out as the most beautiful, most historically accurate and definitely the most moving of all Marie Antoinette novels I have ever read.

Finally a book that depicts the grande queen as merciful, kind, loving and yes- yes, faithful to her king. Surprised? Well, it has been my experience that it is mostly here in North America that Marie Antoinette is too often maligned (Hollywood doesn't help matters). I don't know if the history was taught that differently- but here in Quebec, a French province of Canada, I learned the positive sides of this grande queen. The same is true for many parts of Europe as well.

In Quebec, which was devoutly Christian for the longest time (more secular as of recently), we have been a bit more biased towards French history. And, who knows, maybe our books were reflective of that. Nevertheless, Marie Antoinette, for us here, is better known as La Reine Martyre (The Martyred Queen). As a matter of fact, when speaking of her, she is automatically referred to as such, rather than by her name.

I'd also like to clarify that in our books, the Fersen name comes up as someone loyal to death for his queen and king...not as the queen's lover. I understand this is debatable for the rest of North America, but if you come here- you'll be in the minority if you think otherwise. I've gotten used to reading books though that portray Marie Antoinette in a negative way (I actually expect it now)- and I'm not so surprised anymore. I'm just incredulous that people will actually think that this is the true context of history- a very misconstrued one.

Political debates regarding the French and English can get very heated in Quebec- often posing this province against the others just for the sake of history... let's just say that 'events of the past, are a thing we don't take lightly. History is very important around here. Same goes for Marie Antoinette- for us- dare not soil her name. Marie Antoinette is known for charity, love, faith and loyalty; a strong Catholic - forever a martyr.

TRIANON, by Elena Maria Vidal, is the perfect read if you want the most reflective story on the Real Marie Antoinette.
(More HERE.)

Thank you, Lucy, I am grateful beyond words!

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Collard Greens

A staple of the South, and good for you, too.
Like kale, cauliflower and broccoli, collards are descendents of the wild cabbage, a plant thought to have been consumed as food since prehistoric times and to have originated in Asia Minor. From there it spread into Europe, being introduced by groups of Celtic wanderers around 600 B.C. Collards have been cultivated since the times of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. While collards may have been introduced into the United States before, the first mention of collard greens dates back to the late 17th century. Collards are an integral food in traditional southern American cuisine.
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Queen's Market

Marie-Antoinette is frequently associated with shopping, but how did she shop? It is often forgotten that Versailles, being open to the public, was a place of commerce; vendors set up their stalls in the courtyards and galleries of the palace. As for the Queen, she would usually receive tradesmen in the morning while her hair was being dressed. However, she always sought ways to celebrate the life of the ordinary French people, particularly the peasants whose industry fed the nation. In September, 1777 Marie-Antoinette had a farmers' market in the park at Trianon to inaugurate the opening of her new gardens. The Queen wore peasant attire and served at an outdoor "tavern." Pierre de Nolhac describes the market thus:
A market-place was set up on the lawn...where the baker, the confectioner, and the purveyor of charcuterie dispensed their wares...and even the cook's shop was busy in the open air. All these stalls were connected by a garland of roses....

There were shows of all sorts....Actors...gave several performances on an improvised stage....The avenues leading to Trianon were lined with the booths of Paris shopkeepers who had been engaged to come, their expenses being paid.
(Pierre de Nolhac's Marie-Antoinette, 1905, pp.226-227)
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The Irish in America

They went through quite a bit when they first arrived, as shown in the film Gangs of New York. My ancestors settled in Canada where there was a great deal of prejudice, too, but not quite so violent as in the U.S.A. According to an Irish history site:
Our immigrant ancestors were not wanted in America. Ads for employment often were followed by "NO IRISH NEED APPLY." They were forced to live in cellars and shanties, partly because of poverty but also because they were considered bad for the neighborhood...they were unfamiliar with plumbing and running water. These living conditions bred sickness and early death. It was estimated that 80% of all infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City died. Their brogue and dress provoked ridicule; their poverty and illiteracy provoked scorn.

The Chicago Post wrote, "The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses...Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country."

Instead of apologizing for themselves they united and took offense. Insult or intimidation was often met with violence. Solidarity was their strength, they helped each other survive city life. They prayed and drank together. The men seemed to do more drinking than praying, yet it was their faith and dogged determination to become Americans that led one newspaper to say, "The Irish have become more Americanized than the Americans."

The Church played an integral part in their lives. It was a militant Church--a Church who fought not only for their souls but also for their human rights. After the religious riots in Philadelphia where many Catholic churches were burned, the mayor of New York asked Archbishop Hughes, "Do you fear that some of your churches will be burned."

"No sir, but I am afraid some of yours will be. We can protect our own."

Later, public officials asked the Archbishop to restrain New York's Irish. "I have not the power," he said. "You must take care that they are not provoked." No Catholic church burned in New York.

Actually the Irish arrived at a time of need for America. The country was growing and it needed men to do the heavy work of building bridges, canals, and railroads. It was hard, dangerous work, a common expression heard among the railroad workers was "an Irishman was buried under every tie." Desperation drove them to these jobs.

Not only the men worked, but the women too. They became chamber maids, cooks, and the caretakers of children. Early Americans disdained this type of work, fit only for servants, the common sentiment being, "Let Negroes be servants, and if not Negroes, let Irishmen fill their place..." The Blacks hated the Irish and it appeared to be a mutual feeling. They were the first to call the Irish "white nigger."

A prominent hotel keeper was asked why all the women servants in his hotel were Irish. He replied, "The thing is very simple: the Irish girls are industrious, willing, cheerful, and honest--they work hard, and they are very strictly moral. I should say that is quite reason enough."

The Irish were unique among immigrants. They fiercely loved America but never gave up their allegiance to Ireland...and they kept their hatred of the English. Twice they tried to invade Canada, believing that they could trade Canadian land for Ireland's freedom. In New York City, during the Civil War, they rioted against the draft lottery after the first drawing showed most of the names were Irish. For three days the city was terrorized by Irish mobs and only after an appeal for peace by Archbishop Hughes did it end. In Pennsylvania they formed a secret organization called the Molly Maguires to fight mine owners who brutalized the miners and their families. They ambushed mine bosses, beat, and even killed them in their homes. The Irish used brutal methods to fight brutal oppression. They loved America and gladly fought in her wars. During the Civil War they were fierce warriors, forming among other groups, the famous "Irish Brigade". A priest accompanied them and, before each battle, they would pray together before charging into the enemy--even against insurmountable odds. Their faith guided them. They felt the English might have a better life on earth, but they were going to have a better life after death.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Scenes from Versailles

I found a blog with strikingly detailed pictures of Versailles, put together by an American lady living in France. Karin links to many informative sites and mentions some books which may be helpful. Please enjoy her wonderful photography. The palace has been refurbished and is probably cleaner now than it was during the last days before the Revolution, when the antiquated sewage system was always in need of repair.

It is often forgotten that the royal family of France were seen as belonging to the people. As described in the novel Trianon, the palace of Versailles was open to the public; anyone could enter as long as they were appropriately attired. For gentlemen this meant wearing a sword; swords could be rented at the palace gates. The tradition of freedom and openness meant that the royal family often dined surrounded by crowds of people; the princesses were required to give birth in public. Merchants set up stalls in the grand salons, selling ribbons and snuff; beggars roamed the corridors. Security did not seem to be an issue. Unfortunately, such liberty led to Marie-Antoinette being stalked by a mental patient, but she refused to have the culprit arrested.

The grandeur of Versailles was already in place when Marie-Antoinette came to France as a fourteen year old girl. As queen, it was her duty to patronize French artisans and artists and by doing so put the money went back into the lagging French economy. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette did a great deal to economize as time went on. When the Queen tried to simplify her clothes and lifestyle, people objected that she was not living and dressing grandly enough for her rank.

Many people think that Versailles was solely a place of pleasure and luxury. That is not the case. Versailles was not only the residence of the royal family; it was the seat of government. Ambassadors were received at the palace; they expected to see French culture at its height and be lavishly entertained. There were many civil servants and government officials who had incomes paid by the King; there were retired servants who had life pensions. There were regiments of soldiers stationed there. There were the extensive benefactions of the King and Queen. All the cost of running the government was part of the expenditures of Versailles. The budget, and indeed, the tax system of the entire country certainly was in need of reform, which was why Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General in 1789. Simon Schama has a great deal more about this in his excellent work Citizens.

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Being Safe

Things your burglar won't tell you. Share

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Now on Kindle

The Night's Dark Shade has been made into an e-book and is available from Amazon's Kindle. People kept asking me if there was going to be a digital edition; Amazon made it very easy to convert the printed book into an e-book. Apparently a whole library can be kept on one e-reader and taken everywhere. It is a great idea if you are researching a project and want to travel without dragging along twenty or thirty bound books. (I could really have used one when I was in grad school.) Kindle e-readers are now available from our Trianon bookstore. For those of us who like to hold a book, The Night's Dark Shade will continue to be published in the traditional format as well. Share

Catholic Writers Conference Online 2010

Registration for the Catholic Writers Conference Online (February 26- March 5), is in full swing! Wherever you are in your literary journey, the online conference is a great way to meet other writers, known and unknown, famous and infamous. There will also be publishers, literary agents and editors present, with pitch sessions in which to get your material in front of them. The presentations were a learning experience for me last year...and fun, too. I will be giving a presentation at a chat session on February 26 at 1 pm. The conference is free of charge and all are welcome to attend. Registration ends on February 15. Hope to see you there! Share

Notorious Royal Marriages

Famous couples and how they are depicted in fiction. (A fun post, with a mention of Trianon in the comments.) Share

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blues and Whites

Melanie has some posts about two ladies who reigned at the French court, one preceding Marie-Antoinette and the other following her. I speak of Madame de Pompadour and Empress Josephine, both of whom are documented as spending much more freely than Marie-Antoinette ever dreamed of. Indeed, the Queen was stingy by comparison. The pictures collected by Melanie are quite remarkable. While Madame Pompadour favored blues and greens, Josephine was famous for her love of white. Both had exquisite taste and great charm, qualities which they shared with Marie-Antoinette.

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Death of an Archduchess

A great lady has passed away. Share

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Historical Novels Review Online

The Night's Dark Shade has been reviewed by the Historical Novel Society. To quote:
The Night's Dark Shade explores the passions of the human soul, the danger of heresy and religious fervor, and the heady enchantment of courtly love. In the wake of the untimely deaths of her family and her betrothed, Lady Raphaëlle, Vicomtesse de Miramande, is delivered into the custody of her uncle, the Baron de Marcadeau, during the height of the Albigensian Crusades. Innocent and brave, the Lady Raphaëlle is thrust into the midst of the heretical Cathar sect, falling prey to the machinations of her aunt, the Lady Esclarmonde, a Cathar Perfecti. Aided by her cousin Bertrande and the dashing Sir Martin, a Knight Hospitaller whose love for Raphaëlle challenges everything she knows about herself, Raphaëlle seeks the aid of the crown to nullify her betrothal and protect her ancestral home from an unholy alliance that will prove advantageous to the Cathari.

Torn by duty, honor, and love, Raphaëlle is a woman bound by the rules of medieval society. Unwilling to compromise her virtue, Raphaëlle stands firm, remaining true to her faith and enduring unspeakable hardships with spirit and grace.
A gripping tale filled with danger, intrigue, and adventure, The Night's Dark Shade is a fast-paced romance that recalls the tradition of the troubadours and the lais of old. The narrative is compelling and Vidal’s treatment of the moral and spiritual concerns of the time drive the story and illustrate the female experience of thirteenth-century Christianity. Raphaëlle also emerges as a well-rounded and likeable character, making this an enjoyable and highly readable novel.
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Of Olives and Olive Oil

The healthful qualities.

Among their many nutrition benefits, olives contain important amounts of carotenoids. Carotenoids are naturally occurring, fat-soluble pigments that give many whole, natural foods their distinct yellow and orange colors. The best-studied and most famous of the carotenoids is beta-carotene, but hundreds of carotenoids have been identified by scientists and many are also important to our health. Some of the other well-researched carotenoids include alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, and canthaxanthin.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are especially plentiful in olives with 3.5 ounces of canned ripe olives containing over 500 micrograms of these carotenoids. Beta-carotene is also plentiful in olives, with this same amount containing between 225-250 micrograms.

Because carotenoids are fat-soluble, they are able to be carried along in olive oils when those oils are being extracted from the olives. However, methods of extraction, temperatures used during extraction, and sequence of extraction can all make significant differences in the final carotenoid content of the oil. It can be difficult to predict the exact amount of carotenoids in olive oil due to these processing differences. However, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is better able to maintain the original carotenoid content of the olives than other extractions since EVOO is derived from the very first pressing of the olives. This carotenonid benefit is one of the reasons we recommend extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as your olive oil of choice.

In addition to providing you with its own carotenoids, olive oil may be able to help you absorb carotenoids from other foods. Researchers at Iowa State University looked at carotenoid absorption from salads dressed with fat-free dressings and compared it to carotenoid absorption from the same salads dressed instead with full-fat dressings. Salads are not only popular in a wide range of diets but are also high up on our recommended list at the World's Healthiest Foods. Many of the World's Healthiest Foods-including tomatoes, carrots, romaine lettuce, and baby spinach-make great salad components and are also great sources of beta-carotene.

In their research, the Iowa State scientists used canola oil in their full-fat dressing, and they discovered that beta-carotene from the salad ingredients listed above was better absorbed when a full-fat (versus non-fat) salad dressing was included. While we are not opposed to the use of canola oil in salad dressings or other recipes, we think it makes more sense to use extra virgin olive oil in this situation. That extra virgin olive oil will give you the same enhanced beta-carotene absorption since it will provide the additional fat needed to boost absorption. But at the same time, it will provide you with carotenoids of its own! In addition, it will give you several other key phytonutrients (like phenolic antioxidants) and, of course, a great-tasting dressing!

WHFoods Recommendations

Inclusion in a salad dressing is a perfect use for extra virgin olive oil. By avoiding heating of the oil, you are helping to protect its full spectrum of nutrients, and by including it along with a host of carotenoid-rich vegetables, you are increasing the bioavailability of those carotenoids at the same time.

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mary Cassatt

Linda has a lovely post about the American Impressionist artist, Mary Cassatt.
Born into a prominent and wealthy family near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mary began her education at the age of six in Philadelphia where her family had moved. At the age of 15 she began to study art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with a determination to become a professional artist. Although her family did not agree with Mary's commitment to becoming a professional, they nevertheless did everything to support it. Her mother went with her on European tours--an obligatory part of every wealthy young American's education at the time--but in Mary's case, this meant long stays in Spain where Mary studied and copied great works in the Prado, such as those of Velasquez, in Italy where she studied the great artists of the Renaissance, and to the Netherlands, where she studied the works of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Vermeer and Rembrandt. This immersion in great classical art shows in Mary Cassatt's paintings.
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Ancient History Sites

I received an email and was not certain at first whether or not it was spam. The fifty sites do appear to be genuine and may be of interest. Share

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mass at Saint Denis

Eleanor Beardsley of NPR was present at a requiem Mass for King Louis XVI last month at the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris. One can listen to or read the following transcript. (Via Seat of Wisdom)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Every January the Royalists of France, or is it that the Royalists de France, gather to mark the date when King Louis XVI was beheaded. His death marked the beginning of the French Republic. Yet many who remember the kings death hope that France will some day restore the monarchy.

Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

(Soundbite of music)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Organ music thunders through the stone cavernous basilica of Saint Denis on the northern outskirts of Paris. More than 800 people have gathered here, not just to pay homage to King Louis XVI, but to mourn the death of the French monarchy. Saint Denis is the necropolis of the French royal family. More than 50 monarchs, including Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, are buried here.

Unidentified Man #1: (Latin spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The mass is in Latin. The priest swings a censer of incense on a chain. The somber service in this stone-cold Seventh century church resonates with regret for a France that lived 16 centuries in the Catholic monarchy. The priest describes the day it all came to an end when Louis XVI was led to the guillotine.

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: They came at night with their torches and clubs, he says, to carry out the most abominable of sacrileges. Harold Hyman, a long time journalist who takes a special interest in the French Royalists, says the group has no chance of bringing back the monarchy.

Mr. HAROLD HYMAN (Franco-American Journalist): So they take this weird political posture - a sort of anti-progress protest against the modern world and mass culture and television and American influence, and this is, I think, what unites them all.

BEARDSLEY: Royalists say the French Revolution was ruthless, not glorious, and that Louis XVI was a progressive king with vision. After all, he did send his general, the Marquis de Lafayette, to help some unruly colonists throw off their British oppressors. Retiree Marie-Noelle Erre(ph) explains why shes a monarchist.

Ms. MARIE-NOELLE ERRE (Royalist): Its the monarchy that built the country. If it hadnt been for the revolution, there would have been an evolution with time. Beside that, King Louis XVI was a very good king.

BEARDSLEY: The Royalists are deeply divided over who is the legitimate successor to the French throne. But that question is not pertinent, for now anyway, says Dominique Emele(ph), the director of the Alliance Royale, the monarchist political party. The Royalists have practically no political support and no members in parliament, but Emele believes that one day the Party will be able to convince the French to restore a constitutional monarchy.

Mr. DOMINIQUE EMELE (Alliance Royale): (Through translator) One of the biggest problems in France today is that our president is the head of a political party. So he doesnt represent all the French. Only a king can truly represent the people, unify the nation, and solve the long-term problems of France.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: Back at the Basilica of Saint Denis, the mass closes with a requiem. The church where Joan of Arc once prayed now lies in the middle of a gritty immigrant suburb. Sixty five-year-old Michel Simoneaux(ph) emerges from the 18th century atmosphere inside the Basilica and comes face to face with modern day France.

Mr. MICHEL SIMONEAUX: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The revolution was a cataclysm from which France will never recover, Simoneaux says. Everything we admire is from before the revolution. Just look at this marvelous cathedral, and look at this town. Its the symbol of everything France has become.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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Girls and Femininity

Have we all become feminists? Share

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories

It is the book I have been searching for, edited by a reliable Catholic author, Heidi Hess-Saxton. In My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories, each story is just the right length for reading before bedtime. And I love the way Heidi works in psalms and prayers as well as quotes from the catechism. It is great for our home religion class, too, and can be read into the teen years. The illustrations are helpful in conveying the message to young children, and has already inspired some lively discussions. More information HERE.
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The Pregnancy Pact

Talking to our children. To quote Heidi's review:

What I liked about this movie is that it reminds families of the importance of talking — really talking — with their teens, long before the proverbial crap hits the fan. Most parents I know hold themselves (and their children) to high moral standards. In truth, we often expect our children’s moral boundaries to exceed what we observed at their age because NOW we see the dangers of youthful impulses. And yet, wishing doesn’t make those impulses go away. Our kids need to know how to cope with those impulses in a real, adult way — with a full appreciation of how short-term actions can have long-term consequences.

Our job as parents is to help our kids form long-term plans for their future, and to understand how their present actions can help or dash those plans. Our daughters and sons, both. They need to understand how our own dreams were helped or hindered because of the choices we made early in life.

Our daughters need to understand the difference between infatuation (based on strong feelings that pass with time) and true love (based on a lifetime of sacrifice) — in order to understand WHY sex is a gift that is best expressed within marriage. They must understand that the gift of sex, misused, makes it difficult or impossible to think clearly about whether the young man they are dating is the best choice for a lifetime partner.
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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scenes from Petit Trianon

A young architect explores Marie-Antoinette's Petit Trianon, with some detailed photos the like of which I have never seen, especially those of the grand stair hall and the guard room.

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Moors at the Scottish Court

Records have been found telling of Africans at Stirling Castle. Share

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Mob Cap

Lauren discusses the caps that women and girls always wore in the eighteenth century.
It was typically made of a white gauze or a light muslin fabric, and the edges would curve around the face. Often gathered, with a puffy crown, the edges would be left as ruffles or frill. The tyre or tire was the string or band used to fasten the cap. This term may have come from the Greek tiara or french tirant (purse/boot string). The sides of the cap were left to fall down along the side of the face, and it could be tied under the chin. Another option was to put a straw hat on top of the cap, which could be decorated with feathers, flowers etc.

The overall effect of the cap, especially if it were very ruffled, was a soft look about the face. The sides were usually left down and covered much of the face. Believe it or not, these masking qualities left it quite desirable with women who were "conservative or plain." This appeal of the cap kept it popular for many years.
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China's Cassandra Prophecy

A country without girls. (Via Joshua Snyder)

Young girls are being kidnapped within China and also from neighboring countries (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand) by organized gangs who sell them to families with boys of a similar age. The girls will be raised by the families and given as brides to their sons as soon as they reach marriageable age. Others are shipped to brothels within China for a life as sex slaves.

Needless to say China’s neighbours are not enamored of the growing practice. Diplomatic tensions have risen over the issue and China has had to establish a special police unit to help its neighbours combat the very crime its policy has created.

Even more bizarre crimes have been reported in this patriarchal society where it is believed that a wife is necessary to tend to her husband even after death. A rising practice in some remote areas of China is to dig up the corpses of single women to sell to families whose sons may have recently perished. Posthumous wedding ceremonies are held to ensure the deceased son does not have to endure the next life alone. With higher prices commanded by fresh corpses of young women the practice has led to murders of young girls by some crime gangs looking to capitalize on distraught parents enduring the loss of a young son.

It appears the CASS report has merely touched the tip of the iceberg. But it is interesting that the nation’s top Government think-tank is publicly discussing the matter. Could the public airing of the coming social problems caused by the one-child family policy mean that the Government is ready to repeal the policy? Or has CASS just made a Cassandra prophecy?
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Monday, February 1, 2010

An Interview with Gerard Webster

Last spring while flying across the Pacific Ocean I read Gerard Webster's novel In-sight; while it was the perfect book for a long trip, I would recommend it for ordinary times as well. I was delighted when Mr. Webster sent me the link to an interview which gives more information about the subject matter of the book. Here is an excerpt of the interview:
Like the prodigal son and Nabucodonosor, Ward McNulty represents those many materialistic souls who lose sight of the eternal in pursuit of the temporal. That’s basically what sin is…choosing the creature over the Creator. Worldly accomplishments can blind us to own faults and lead to a false pride. With that kind of pride, it usually takes quite a cannonade of catastrophes to pound down the outer walls. Only then, if ever, can grace penetrate the defenses. “Recovery”—whether for an addict, an alcoholic, or a professional sinner—often begins in just such a manner. Being “humbled” is nothing more than seeing yourself for who and what you really are; honestly admitting your faults. And then seeing God for Who He is. That’s the beginning of change.
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The Irish Table

Working on my Irish novel has led me to some fascinating articles, such as this one about the history of the Irish foods. To quote:
Books and legend suggest that medieval Irishmen lived well on dairy products and "corn," what we would call cereal. Herds of sheep, cattle, and goats yielded milk to be drunk sweet or sour or turned into cheeses. One ancient chronicler rhapsodized about the "great daintie" of sour curds called bonnyclabber, which is still enjoyed today. The Irish are prodigal about using dairy products in their cookery, butter, for instance, being used rather than oil. That so many Irish recipes call for buttermilk or sour milk rather than whole milk reminds us that refrigeration was not available to Irish bakers until relatively recent years.
Butter played an important role in the household in earlier times; every household had its churn. Lumps of butter were sometimes thrown into the water through which cattle were driven in order to ward off evil and to keep the cows' milk flowing. Bags of butter have been found in bogs, edible after centuries of burial. Milk was often thought to superstitions developed around dairy products and their attraction to the spirits. One called for a live cinder to be put into the churn to guard the butter from the netherworld's creatures. One prohibited a person from taking live fire out of the house during churning, and another required that if a man rekindled his pipe at the hearth, he had to take a turn at churning to ensure that the butter and churn were preserved from all harm.
Oddly enough, although the Irish today consume more potatoes and dairy products than their fellow Europeans, they consume the least amount of cheese per capita. The irony of this fact is that the Irish were the first Europeans to make cheese. It is said that the Swiss learned to make Appenzel from the advice and knowledge of Irish monks. Cheese too was supposed to be the medium chosen by St. Patrick's would-be assassins to poison him.
Agricultural Ireland was also rich in cereals. Oatmeal was the cornerstone of the Irish diet in pre-potato days. Whether made into bread or, more simply, boiled up as a "stirabout" or porridge, oatmeal was the food of the people. It is said that St. Columcille learned his alphabet by having the letters traced on an oaten cake by his nurse. In medieval times, the manner in which oatmeal was served signaled class distinctions. Royalty's children were nourished with wheaten stirabout flavored with honey and milk; the chieftains' progeny had their stirabout made with fresh milk and flavored with butter; workmen's children were fed oatmeal with buttermilk or water. Oatmeal also served as currency: As late as the 1600's rents were often paid with oaten meal and cakes.
Seafood, lamb, pork, and a variety of vegetables are part of Ireland's dietary history, but the potato is the food most intimately associated with Irish history. The unfortunate turn of events which forced the Irish into dependence on the potato started around the time of James II's defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, June 14, 1690. The two Georges who followed James enacted the Penal Laws which denied Catholics a host of rights. When rebellion inevitably followed repression, two of the rebel groups, the Whiteboys and the Defenders, scorched the land during their campaign of terror against the English. While the above ground crops could not withstand the burning, the potato, cultivated underground, survived to become the peasant mainstay. But the dependence on one type of vegetable left the country vulnerable to the diseases which wiped out the potato in 1845, 1846 and 1847.
Although the popular association of the potato with the Irish has a melancholy history, nevertheless, it could be a treat to stop by a neighbor’s cottage just as she took the boxty out of the oven. This hot loaf, still served today, is a kind of potato bread which, before baking, is always marked with a cross so it can be divided into sections, or farls: Boxty is traditionally eaten in Ireland on Halloween, as is colcannon, mashed potatoes with cabbage and butter. On Halloween, coins are wrapped in foil and buried in colcannon. Children would eat their way to where the coins were hidden. Earlier versions of colcannon began with a mixture of raw white vegetables- white cabbage, parsnips, onions, potatoes- which were seasoned with salt and pepper and layered in a giant saucepan. Champ (mashed potatoes with scallions) is another Irish staple. Leftover mashed potatoes, combined with equal amounts of cabbage and browned butter in a skillet, make a tasty dish called "bubble and squeak."
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