SVM things.

It is not a terrible secret that Sookie, Eric, and I had kind of a bad breakup and I’m just not ready to be friends again. You hear things though, from time to time. I mean, you can’t avoid it. My friend saw Bubba outside Walmart last week, and he said to say, “hi.” Pam keeps drunk-texting me.

I haven’t exactly kept up with the fandom for a while, but it seems that a new group has gotten together and is putting out a round of awards for SVM and TB stories which are now open for voting.

I don’t really know a lot about it, but the You Want Blood Awards appear to be a collection of ultimate fandom favorites. It just so happens that Flight of the Bumblebee, Birds of a Feather, and Faux-Da are all nominated, which is quite flattering. Finite Anarchy is also nominated for her superior beta skills, so if nothing else you should vote for her. They’re even calling it the Eagle Eye award, which we can all pretend is in honor of Gellert. 😉

The competition looks pretty stiff – heavy on a few very talented and prolific writers – but the great thing about contests like this is that we get a ton of lesser-known and lesser-read gems to sort through. More things to read! Here are the nominees. (Edit: Fixed the link…For some reason they re-made the page with a new title!)

I will admit to being slightly disappointed that Dead Memories was overlooked for best WIP, and that none of my demons or shapeshifters or even mettlesome society ladies got nods for best original characters – but finding myself on the list of favorite SVM authors ever is amazing, and pretty much makes up for it. I haven’t written nearly as much as some, but I’m so happy what I’ve put out has been well-thought-of.

I understand they are also preparing a tribute to EricIzMine, a very popular writer who passed away a few months ago. It’s a very nice touch, and gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies regarding community and kinship.

So yes, go have a look.


Chapter 6 & All Those Servants

Well, here is Chapter 6 of A Bird in the Hand.

Happy Spring. I hope you’re all able to celebrate by having sex outdoors or, failing that, by enjoying being out and about. My knee is coming right along. I thought we would talk about…

All Those Servants

This is a pretty expansive topic, so I’ll go ahead and label this Part 1

During the Regency, about ten percent of the total population was employed “in service.” Today, we have a real fascination with the idea of servants and the elegance and extravagance they engender, but that’s only a small piece of the reality. All but the poorest families had some kind of permanent domestic help. It wasn’t strictly a symbol of status; it was just plain necessary. (Understand, however, that more than 60% of the total population counted as “the poorest families.”)

It’s important to remember that most of our technology ultimately exists to replace or expedite tasks that have historically been accomplished through manual labor. This is an era that predates electric power and for the most part, indoor plumbing. Picture your house or your apartment. Now try to imagine keeping it clean without the use of a vacuum cleaner, all purpose sprays, Swiffers, Pledge, paper towels, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, etc. If you want hot water, you need to go and get coal or wood, build a fire, go and get cold water, drag it into the house (or down the street) and then heat it up. All of your meals need to be prepared from scratch. All of your clothes and linens need to be washed, mended, and in many cases made by hand. Also, there are probably some kids running around the place, and there’s no such thing as public school.

It all adds up to more than one family can handle. If you think about all the services and conveniences we readily pay for today that simply weren’t available back then, it’s not so hard to imagine that you might be able to afford room, board, and a subsistence-level wage for a maid-of-all-work.

Subsistence-level might be too generous a term. The average salary for an experienced maid was something like £14/year. Even adjusting generously for inflation, that’s only about £600 or $1000 in today’s money. Per year. Then again, she works 14-16 hours a day and she wears hand-me-down dresses, so what exactly does she need money for, right? Hey, for that price, you could probably take on a few more! And you definitely would have, because as I mentioned, there’s a lot of work to be done around here.

The majority of all servants were women, and the default servant was the female maid. This was the case for several reasons, none of which pertained to the intensity of the labor:

  • There’s something deeply ingrained in human culture that slates women to be the caretakers of the home. Even in modern times, male domestic help is very uncommon. (Mannies, male nurses, male housekeepers, etc.)
  • Men could find work in other professions; women could not. Domestic service is one of the few places women could be freely employed, and so they were.
  • Women could be paid a lot less than men. Women have always been paid a lot less than men. I think this has to do with the assumption that men will at some point have wives and families to provide for, so it’s really more a case of men being paid more – but the end result is the same. During the Regency, women in comparable positions earned only about half as much as men.
  • Male servants were specifically taxed by the government. From 1777 on, employers had to pay 1 guinea/year (£1.05) on each male servant. (This tax was first introduced to help fund the American War for Independence.)

Despite the dominant presence of women in domestic service, we know there were plenty of male servants too. We’ve seen them in their wigs and that ubiquitous 18th century livery. There’s a reason for that; we were meant to see them. While female servants were strictly necessary to keep a household running, male servants became a luxury. As such, they were only found in the wealthiest of households, and were outfitted in more and more elaborate uniforms to reflect their showpiece quality. Footmen, coachmen, grooms, and butlers were part of a family’s public face. They were seen with a family on the street, or attached to the coach. They answered the door, and they served the guests. The romantic notion of the strapping young footman does not come from authors’ imaginations. Being tall and handsome were important qualifications in men whose job it was to be visible.

Female servants were drab in comparison. They didn’t wear uniforms; that was a Victorian invention. They wore modest, serviceable dresses in light colors that reflected the simpler trends in women’s fashion at that time. They were largely unseen – and were certainly unnoticed – even by members of the household. The housekeeper acted as the liaison between the master, or more usually the mistress, of the house and the rest of the female staff, with the exception of the personal ladies’ maids, and the sometimes the cook. The romantic notion of female servants having affairs, or even regular interaction, with the master of the house largely does come from authors’ imaginations.

The idea that female servants were forced to submit to their male masters’ pleasure is completely medieval, whereas the idea that men might form romantic attachments to their servants is entirely too modern. There simply isn’t any evidence of this happening. This was a highly repressed, highly moralistic, highly rigid society where the ideal state of living was focused around domestic felicity and the propagation of legitimate children. Regency gentlemen did have affairs – most commonly with widows and other men’s wives. There is plenty of evidence here, in both letters and personal memoirs, but these affairs were generally not conducted across class barriers nor inside their own homes.

There’s one loophole here, which is that they may have been conducted in other people’s homes. Some sources suggest that male guests and lodgers (single men in boarding houses) were known to have seduced female servants, being indifferent to the havoc such actions could wreak within a household that wasn’t theirs. I haven’t found any direct accounts of this, but there are enough warnings and concerns expressed to conclude that it probably did occur. Female servants were also known to willingly or unwillingly engage in sexual relationships with other male servants. Unfortunately, most of these scenarios would likely result in the dismissal of the female servant – especially if she happened to become pregnant.

But it wasn’t all bad…

The reason we hear the word “household” used interchangeably with “staff” when referring to domestic servants pertains to the way they were regarded by their masters. As much as they were employees, they were also viewed as dependents. As such, masters were responsible for both the moral and physical well-being of their servants. Servants attended church. If they became ill, they saw the doctor. It was common to make monetary provisions for long-term servants in one’s will, or even pay a pension to a loyal servant allowing them some semblance of a modern retirement. There are a number of other habits, such as paying for school and apprenticeships for the children of servants, providing severance or other gifts should they need to let them go, that were totally unexceptional. These things weren’t guaranteed, but they were customary. In an era that predated any form of public assistance, the habit of private assistance was a real godsend. These sorts of benefits weren’t available in any other industry – those hundreds of thousands of people toiling away in the Lancashire manufacturies did not have 401k plans or tuition assistance programs. Domestic service wasn’t easy work – especially for the women – but it offered more protection and more opportunity than pretty much anything else at that time.

I think next time I’ll talk more about the specific jobs and salaries.

Many of the references in this post come from The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams. They published this in 1825, upon their retirement, after a respective 50 years of experience working in service. Anyone with an interest in Regency life should take a look. Beyond the instruction sets and job descriptions, it contains a ton of information referencing things expected to be common knowledge in daily life, such as post schedules, market weights, styles of address, coach fares, French phrases, and so on. It is available for free on Google Books.

So, once again, here is Chapter 6.


The Post & Chapter 5

 Here’s Chapter 5 of A Bird in the Hand.

I do have plenty of good excuses for the delay, up to and including a torn MCL from which I’m still recovering, but we won’t dwell on all of that. Instead, we will talk about something far more interesting…

The Post Office

In this chapter I mention the postmasters. I thought I would share the rather interesting fact that from 1691-1823, there were actually two Postmasters General in Great Britain: one Tory, and one Whig. This was done to prevent either political party from having too much control over the central means of communication. It strikes me as a terribly enlightened idea – recognizing that some structures are too vital to be politicized.

We tend to take the post office for granted these days, but if you stop and think about it for even a minute you realize that a national post office is basically a miracle. At the very least it’s a marvel. I can’t really think of any other agency of my government that functions as reliably on that kind of scale, can you? Every single home and business. Every single post box. Every single day. (Or close enough.)

In many countries, these institutions have been in full-scale operation for more than 200 years, and amazingly there isn’t much of a time differential between now and then for deliveries. Before video chats, texts, cellphones, the Internet, televisions, telephones, carrier pigeons, radios, telegraphs, semaphore lines… the only way of communicating complex information over large distances was via human messenger. Postmen and Post Offices formed the first wide-spread, wide-scale structures for disseminating information (such as news) to and between the general public. They were the first communications networks.

There’s a wonderful article here written by Susanna Ives, that does a fabulous job explaining how the early modern post office worked, and so I won’t repeat what she’s already covered so well. It’s worth a read.

The other reason I raise the subject of the post is to give some context on the idea of stamp taxes. When the price of stamps rises every few years, perhaps it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I certainly never fully grasped the revolutionary fervor surrounding the Stamp Act of 1765 when I was in grade school, nor why the Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act was ‘lumped in’ with the other infamous Six Acts of 1819, which pertain mostly to preventing people from meeting to discuss, plan, and train for violent rebellion. (Incidentally, that’s the legislation our dear Lord Masen is currently drafting in the story.)

The idea of paying to communicate is almost a foreign concept to modern citizens. We may pay for communications services, but not for the privilege of speaking in and of itself. Imagine if the government forced you to pay a dollar every time you sent an email, or forwarded the link to a news story, or retweeted a politician’s opinion. That’s what stamp duties amounted to, and whether by design or as a byproduct, they had a serious impact on freedom of speech. It wasn’t just about the government taking money from people, but from where the government was taking that money, that made it so oppressive.

Once again, here’s Chapter 5.


Dead Memories – Chapter 11

FiniteAnarchy has posted the next chapter of Dead Memories! I wrote this… do take a look!

Chapter 5 of A Bird in the Hand will be up soon. It will be Lord Masen’s POV.

Stay warm, folks!


Chapter 4 & Children

Hello and Happy New Year!

Here’s Chapter 4 of A Bird in the Hand! I’ve posted a last-chapter recap at the top, and will be doing that from now on.

On the Subject of Children…

Pregnancy has always been a dangerous venture, but it seems to have reached an all-time low by the beginning of the 19th century. This was the tail end of the Age of Enlightenment, and learned physicians had decided they better get involved in the business of obstetrics. Can’t leave that stuff to the midwives – women might run the risk of surviving the ordeal.

I have an extremely low opinion of doctors when it comes to the female anatomy, even in modern times. History is riddled with gruesome accounts of the grossest malpractice, but I doubt I’m the only one who has heard her share of far more recent horror stories. The best that can be said of ‘doctoring’ in the eras that preceded the acceptance of hand-washing and basic sterilization as valid medical practices – is that at least it also preceded the use of invasive surgeries. During the Regency, physicians were still operating on the 4-humours theory of medical knowledge – black bile, yellow bile, phlegmatic temperaments…bloodletting and blistering to cure indigestion, that sort of thing.

I’ve read a lot of figures about various mortality rates of pregnant women, but the mean seems to fall in the range of 20%. That’s 1 in every 5 full-term pregnancies ending in the death of the mother. Often wasn’t a result of the birth itself. Commonly these deaths resulted from sepsis or other infection in the days following the delivery – a range of maladies collectively known as childbed fever. Later-term miscarriages were equally, if not more, life-threatening.

Child mortality rates were higher still – nearly half, for children under 5 years of age. This is one of the reasons why women continued to run the gauntlet of childbirth. They were by no means assured that one or two instances of success would keep the job done. Women had to keep going to properly secure heirs, often as long as their bodies would hold out.

Pregnancy itself was a private affair. You would never see a hugely pregnant woman in any public place – except maybe women who were too poor to stay at home. Today we know that exercise and normal exertion are good for pregnant women, but in days gone by they knew no such thing. Women were confined to their homes, and closer to the birth (up to 2 months before) they were confined to their rooms, and to bed. Today doctors only prescribe bed-rest during high risk pregnancies. In those days, every pregnancy was a high-risk pregnancy, but I can’t imagine that the stale air and unwashed linens that women endured in these cloisters did them much good either.

In the event that a woman did not die as a result of childbirth (yay!) she needed to be “churched” before resuming any place in society. Since confinement was one of the few valid reasons to be absent from church services for any length of time, this was her first stop upon emerging. Churching occurred about six weeks after the birth, and consisted of giving thanks for good health and receiving blessings for continued same. This often occurred after the Christening of the child. Only the godparents needed to be present for that event, not the mother.

Typically, upper-class women did not do all the breastfeeding, as a matter of personal preference. Wet nurses were common, and might have been brought in immediately, or after a few months. Nurses (wet or not) did take on the job of raising or helping to raise young children in households that could afford them.

Both girls and boys were educated at home when they were very young; the typical reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. This instruction was conducted by the mother or by a governess. Governesses were gently raised and moderately well-educated young women who taught out of primers, and taught what they knew. Results would vary.

Education will be the subject of a different post, but briefly, it diverged around ages 7-9. For the middle and upper class boys, it was off to boarding school to pursue a classical education in preparation for university. Girls’ education was more skill-based; arts, crafts, and languages. Schools for girls (with this same sort of curriculum) did exist, but most were educated at home. Among the lower classes, education was largely vocational – gained through paid apprenticeships or direct employment.

The age of majority was 21. Typically, girls were considered marriageable from ages 17-18, while men were strongly discouraged from marrying before their mid-twenties. Men had to establish (or inherit) a means of supporting a family first. Also, as we know, a man hardly resembles a real grownup before the age of 25, so this was for the best. 😉 Average ages for marriage were in the range of 23F, 26M, but these are just that – averages.

There are many examples of older men marrying much younger wives. We moderns might be inclined to look askance at large age disparities, but the historical basis is rooted in practicality more than proclivity. It was about maximizing the window of fertility. An older man might have much more in common with a 30 year old woman, but a 20 year old woman would have a much greater chance of producing healthy heirs. And so the cycle continued!

And once again here’s Chapter 4.


Chapter 3 & Regarding the Climate

Here’s Chapter 3 of A Bird in the Hand!

In this chapter I touch on something that had a major impact on the amount of popular support that the reform movement was able to generate…

The Year Without A Summer

Between 1812 and 1814, there were several large volcanic eruptions throughout the world, which played havoc with global weather patterns. This activity culminated in the eruption of super-colossal volcano Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. Basically, the largest eruption in recorded history. To give an idea, the Volcanic Explosivity Index describes level 4 eruptions as “cataclysmic. ” This was a level 7. The scale only goes up to 8.

Due to the volume of ash and various gasses spewed into the upper atmosphere, the northern hemisphere was subject to incredibly anomalous weather and a drop in the average global temperatures in the following years. 1816 was known as “The Year Without A Summer,” with freezing temperatures recorded in the temperate zone as late as June and as early as August. 1816-1817 were marked by excessive rainfall, which was then followed by drought. This was an agricultural catastrophe. Worldwide crop failures resulted in global famine, which in turn led to outbreaks of typhus and cholera.

It’s only in the last 30 years or so that scientists have begun to connect volcanic activity with global climate and weather patterns. At the time, people had no idea that a volcano erupting in the East Indies could possibly be responsible for the hardships they suffered at home. Not that knowing would diminished their suffering in any way.

An interesting aside:
The dreary English weather drove Mary Godwin, her lover, and their infant son to seek out better climes on the Continent in May, 1816. They ended up staying with their friend Lord Byron in Switzerland, but the same colds mists were plaguing the shores of Lake Geneva. The friends stayed indoors, amusing themselves by reading German folktales and ghost stories. Eventually, Byron challenged the others to compose their own tales of supernatural horror. It’s safe to say that Mary won the challenge. She married her lover later that year (three weeks after his wife committed suicide), and 1 year and 2 days later, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein. Thanks, Mt. Tambora!

Again, here is Chapter 3.


Chapter 2 – Marriage and Money

Here we are, A Bird in the Hand, Chapter 2.

Marriage and Money

Without getting too deep into the myriad of infuriating ways in which our foremothers were hard done by, I’ll simply assume it is a well known fact that historically, women were not mistresses of their own financial security. In some ways, this is true of the Regency gentleman as well. Unless one happened to be the first born son of a wealthy father, both men and women were reliant on making a good marriages to secure their financial stability.

The question of working to make one’s fortune doesn’t even come into it. A genteel woman facing the alternative of abject poverty could become a teacher or a governess. There are a few more options lower down the social ladder (domestic servant, factory worker, prostitute), but she would be placing herself out of the chance of marrying any respectable man by taking them.

Options for gentlemen were similarly limited. By definition, a gentleman did not work. That’s what made him a gentleman. There were a few professions that could keep a man within the same social class though. These were: political appointee, elected member of Parliament, clergyman of a wealthy parish, army/naval officer. Note that these positions require that you already be a wealthy, well-connected upper-class individual. That’s what they were – positions. Definitely not the same as jobs where you would do work. That would mean *shudder* being in trade.

For reference, the man of lowest standing at the Dartmouth dinner table is Mr. Hale, the banker, despite the fact that he may be almost as wealthy as Lords Masen or Clallam. It’s not just about money; it’s about how you get your money. This is something that gradually changed over the next century as the economy shifted from the agrarian to the industrial, but as shows like Downton Abbey inform us, some people held on much longer than that.

I digress.

We like to imagine Regency London as a very romantic place and time. Every spring, eligible ladies and gentlemen of worth would pour into Mayfair with one aim in mind: get engaged. There were parties, dinners, dances, rides through the park, tours of the gardens, trips to the theatre… all designed to throw beautiful young women in the way of rich, handsome, slightly older men, looking ever so dashing in those new-fangled trousers.

Thanks in large part to the growing popularity of fictional novels, people of this era were a lot more inclined toward the idea of marrying for love. In reality, the social constraints placed on unmarried people, particularly unmarried girls, deprived them of the opportunity to really get to know their suitors. More often than love, people married for lust and infatuation – what we modern folks would call a crush – and frequently it was done on very short acquaintance. If a deep and long-lasting affection developed over time, then that couple was particularly lucky. Ultimately it didn’t matter, because husbands and wives could have very little to do with each other if they didn’t wish to.

This meant that marriage remained a commitment that was approached practically, bearing in mind that marriage was the primary means of upward mobility. It was generally a case of choosing the person you liked most among the field of candidates who met your needs. Failing that, you took the best you could get. A man with a title but not much money would fall in love with the prettiest and most agreeable rich girl he could find. This worked out perfectly because she would be looking for the handsomest and highest ranked man that her money could buy. Oh, l’amour.

Once a suitable match was made, it would be time to hash out the particulars.

The marriage contract was a bit like a modern prenuptial agreement. Stipulations were made for all money and property that a wife brought to the marriage, and what would happen in regards to financial matters at the end of the marriage. Note that “the end of the marriage” is a euphemism for the death of one of the spouses.

This was done for the wife’s protection. The second they married, all of her assets would become the husband’s property. Unless matters were sorted out beforehand, in a formal and legal document, she was entirely at his mercy.

There are some terms that may come up:

  • Marriage portion – the dowry, the actual money she brings to the marriage
  • Pin money – a wife’s spending money outside the household accounts, sort of like an allowance
  • Jointure – money paid annually to the widow from the husband’s estate in the event of his death
  • Settlement – dictates that certain assets or property brought to the marriage by the wife revert to her control when the marriage ends. She might specify that in the event of her death, her marriage portion be divided among her children, instead of added directly into the husband’s estate. In this way, younger sons and daughters can inherit things. In the case of the husband’s death, this money might revert to her. This could be separate from the jointure.

It can get far more complicated depending on people’s individual circumstances, and of course the terms had to be decided in a way that was agreeable to both the wife’s family (father) and the prospective groom. You might be wondering what good the dowry is to the husband, if it can be effectively tied to the wife or the children. Remember that the husband controls everything for the duration of the marriage. He doesn’t have to keep that money in a sack in the back of the closet. He can deposit it into a bank and profit off the interest. If she should happen to have property of her own, he can rent out the house, or the fields, etc. for the duration of the marriage.

Furthermore, a husband might readily agree to a settlement if he knows he will be unable to provide a jointure. The famous entail from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice would probably have prevented Mr. Bennet from making agreements on behalf of his estate after his death. It wasn’t truly his – he simply controlled it for the duration of his life. Knowing this, Mrs. Bennet’s father would have demanded the settlement on her dowry, as a stop-gap to save his daughter from absolute poverty in the event of Mr. Bennet’s death.

One of the reasons elopement was such a terrible idea for a young woman is that she forfeited any of the protection afforded her by the establishment of the marriage articles. Although provisions could be made in a postnuptial contract, the husband was under no obligation to do so. These contracts were also not very secure. The groom would essentially be making a legal agreement with himself; the bride’s family no longer had a say in her affairs. As such, they could be changed at any time, and were also easier to contest after his death.

I haven’t stumbled across any information on how the marriage articles apply in relation to divorce. Getting a divorce was difficult, literally requiring an act of Parliament. Between 1750 and 1850, less than 300 divorces were granted in England. Even that bastard George IV couldn’t manage to get one, although not for lack of trying.

Slightly more common was legal separation, during which a husband was no longer obligated to support his wife financially. This would have applied to her general maintenance, and prevented her from doing any business in his name (such as incurring debt). I am unsure if it applied to any strict provisions made for the wife’s discretionary allowance (pin money). I do know that the other terms of the marriage articles were upheld throughout the separation until the death of one of the spouses.

As you can see, it’s all a lot more complicated than what modern couples go through (except the divorce). All that blank ink kind of smudges up the dreamy pastel world as we like to imagine it.

Again, here’s Chapter 2.


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