Watch this space…

Voltaire Welcoming His Guests, by Jean Huber

Tomorrow, my very first guest blogger will be posting. Grace Elliot is a talented historical fiction author with four books to her credit, a contributor to the English Historical Fiction Authors’ blog, and has her own blog Fall in Love with History (http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com). In her other life, she is a veterinarian! I know you will enjoy her post, so please be here tomorrow! Don’t forget to share!

(Illustration: Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Jean_Huber_-_Voltaire_Welcoming_his_Guests_-_WGA11785.jpg/388px-Jean_Huber_-_Voltaire_Welcoming_his_Guests_-_WGA11785.jpg )

What Matters In Jane Austen?

Any fan of Jane Austen’s novels has become accustomed to seeing new books about her, her novels and her writing skills almost on a daily basis. I recently purchased and read WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN? Twenty Crucial Problems Solved by John Mullan (Bloomsbury Press, 2013). I found this to be an enjoyable read, and a useful work. Mr. Mullan has presented a collection of essays dealing with certain concepts that appear in Jane Austen’s novel, and explaining their significance. Questions of age, the importance of the weather, who speaks or (just as importantly) who never speaks, illness, blushing and other topics all are examined. In each of these chapters, Mr. Mullan’s insights gave me additional perspective on each novel. These new perspectives have made me more aware of points of view, mores of the time, Austen’s subtlety, and other things that have deepened my appreciation and enjoyment of Austen’s writing.

For example, in the chapter about weather, Mr. Mullan indicates that Jane Austen is the first novelist to point out weather shifts that might occur during any normal day, and to use them to highlight and to move her plots. While I cannot address his contention that Austen is the first to use weather in this way, I can say that, after reading this chapter, I have a much keener awareness of and appreciation for the significance of the weather throughout her novels. It isn’t that the reader is unaware of the impact of the weather on the various stories; Mr. Mullan’s discussion has a way of highlighting the significance of the weather and its changes in context. Many modern readers live in a climate-controlled situation. Going to visit a friend on a rainy day means going from one’s door to one’s car, barely dampened by the rain. The real effect of walking three miles on a rainy day in a muddy lane doesn’t have the immediacy for us that it would have had for Jane Austen’s contemporaries. After reading Mr. Mullan’s essay, I am much more aware of the significance of the mentions of the weather in the novels, and have found that this increased awareness has brought even more life to the stories. Sometimes he addressed things that I felt, but had not consciously thought about in reading the novels. The other chapters have had a similar effect for me. It was interesting to find that some topics that seemed obvious had depths I had not previously considered sufficiently.

Mr. Mullan’s writing style is very easy to read, with a conversational tone. It is rather like reading letters from a friend who explains why he liked something or found an idea important. He is obviously well versed, citing Austen’s letters and the novels in support of his ideas very convincingly. The chapters are titled, and each reads well. He provides notes and a bibliography, so the reader can study further. I enjoyed reading it, and especially enjoy the fact that my appreciation for Austen’s writing has only increased.

Here is a link to this book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/What-Matters-Jane-Austen-Crucial/dp/1620400413/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369686970&sr=1-1&keywords=what+matters+in+jane+austen

Hearts Through History Hop

From February 10-16, 2013, I am participating in the Hearts Through History Blog Hop.  There are 24 blogs involved, each with a special giveaway in honor of Valentine’s Day!   (A list is at the end of this post.)  Our blogs will feature our favorite romantic anecdotes.

One of the most romantic real-life love stories is that of poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, a love story that began through poetry and grew in their letters.  During their correspondence after their meeting, before Elizabeth consented to their elopement and marriage, Robert wrote, “…Will it help me to say that once in this Aladdin-cavern I knew I ought to stop for no heaps of jewel-fruit on the trees from the very beginning, but go on to the lamp, the prize, the last and best of all?….”  [Letter dated September 16, 1845]  They finally married secretly on September 12, 1846 at St. Marleybone Church, almost a year to the day.  I am not, in general a fan of poetry, but their correspondence and poems, when read together, are simply exquisite.  To be the prize…   (Sigh!)

My favorite fictional romantic anecdote comes from Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  The letter written by Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot is one of the most beautiful love letters.  “…You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.  Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.  I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago….”   The ultimate second-chance-at love story.  Who could possibly resist?

What is your favorite romantic quotation or anecdote? 

It is easy to enter the giveaway; just leave a comment for a chance to win!  The giveaway will close on February 16,  and the winner will be drawn by February 20, 2013.  I will post the name of my winner on this blog.  (Please leave contact information if you want to receive an e-mail!)   The prize will be a signed hardback copy of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, with some special surprise treats to enjoy with it.   This giveaway is open to the US, Canada, UK and Europe. 

Cover for HEYERWOOD a novel

Be sure to enter on each blog for a chance to win the prizes.   Visit each of the blogs featured, so that you won’t miss out!  The list of participants follows:

Ghoulies and Ghosties

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-legged beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

(Traditional Scottish prayer)

It’s Hallowe’en, and, at this time of year, my thoughts turn to an American classic, Edgar Allan Poe.  I grew up with the old Hammer films, and loved Vincent Price in The Mask of the Red Death, The Tomb of Ligeia, and others.  (I remember looking into and under the car in which I was travelling after seeing Ligeia at the theater!)  However, no movie ever had the ability to create an atmosphere of sheer skin-crawling creepiness the way Poe’s writing did.   In Poe’s classic stories and many of his poems, the line between this world and the next was very thin, and both sides were inhabited by beings human and… something else.  Horror and romance, love and hate, were all combined into a misty other-world.  Poe was a master of creating things that went bump in the night!

   The poem The Conqueror  Worm starts with a gala night, and proceeds to madness, horror, and an unexpected end.  The last verse illustrates the atmosphere Poe created:

“Out – out are the lights – out all!

And, over each quivering form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the angels, all pallid and wan,

Uprising, unveiling affirm,

That the play is the tragedy, ‘Man,’

And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

Of course, any celebration of Hallowe’en brings forth The Raven with all its moody repetition…

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary….”

Illustration for THE RAVEN by Paul Gustav Dore’

                     

Then, there are the short stories.  Once read, who can forget Berenice?  “…But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born.  Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.”  This musing leads to a conclusion.  “Yet its memory was replete with horror – horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity.”  (I won’t tell you what it was…)  I don’t read Edgar Allan Poe’s work as often as I once did.  However, when I do, it’s still important to have a good light, a cozy blanket and a locked door.  It also doesn’t hurt to say an old Scottish prayer just before turning out the light to go to sleep!

Good Lord, deliver us!

Sleep tight (don’t forget the night-light)!

COMPLETE STORIES AND POEMS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE.  Doubleday & Co. Inc., Garden City, NY, 1966.

Scottish Prayer, Traditional. Things That Go Bump in the Night. http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/bump.html

Image: Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Gustave_Dore_Raven3.jpg

Old Cookbooks

     Many years ago, I became fascinated with old cookbooks.  At Haslam’s Bookstore in St Petersburg, FL, I found wonderful used cookbooks.  My first treasure was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, a slightly later version of the classic ring binder that everyone’s mother had, filled with good basic recipes that always (at least ALMOST always!) come out well.  A vast array of the SOUTHERN LIVING cookbooks also tempted me. 

     One of my favorites is THE QUALITY COOK BOOK modern cooking and table service by Dorothy Fitzgerald.  This gem was published in 1932 and has fascinating illustrations.  It also provides instructions on serving, instructions and appropriate uniforms for the maid (!), courses, and, of course, recipes.  (A previous owner was particularly fond of one for Strawberry Parfait.)

     A real treasure was given to me by my mother when I got married.  The Favorite Cook Book A Complete Culinary Encyclopedia,  edited by Mrs. Grace Townsend, was published in 1894 and originally belonged to my great-grandmother.  It was passed to my grandmother, then my mother and now to me.  It is intact, though delicate, and is a delight to go through (albeit with great care).  It includes instructions and recipes for the feeding of invalids, a schedule of when various foods are in season, pages of laundry hints (remember, this was long before Oxy-Clean and dryers!), and other fascinating information, as well as hundreds of recipes for classic dishes.  One of my favorite sections is “Perfumes and Toilet Recipes” and includes a recipe for a Cure for Pimples, how to care for your teeth and ears, and recipes for perfumes and other toiletries.

    I have also acquired facsimile copies of two classics: The Compleat HOUSEWIFE or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s COMPANION by Eliza Smith (16th edition, about 1758) and THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY by Mrs. Glasse (first American edition, 1805).  Both of these books cover a wide range of information, from selecting food to pickling and preserving, and other practical information.  Some of the recipes can be easily adapted today, while others….. well, not so much.  Sometimes I don’t even recognize the ingredients.  Who knew that cubeb was the dried unripened berries from an Asian shrub with a spicy, rather peppery flavor that became popular in Europe in the Middle Ages?      Old cookbooks have much to teach us about how people lived their daily lives,  what they liked to eat, and how they took care of their family’s health.  They open a window to the realities of earlier times.  They are fun to read, and contain a treasure trove of information for historians and novelists, as well as those who like to cook.  Many classics, including Hannah Glasse’s book, are available on-line.  Take a look!  You’ll find something delicious, I’m sure…

Food In History-What is a “Pupton”?

One of the pleasures of reading history, whether fiction or non-fiction, is learning about the day-to-day living of people in the past.  I am particularly interested in the Georgian era in England, especially the Regency period.  Recently, I was reading a novel, in which a menu for a particular meal was detailed and “a pupton of cherries” caught my attention.  It sounded like some kind of sweet dish, and I wondered what was in it, so I tried to look it up.  Not as easy as I expected!

First of all, I could not find a definition of “pupton.”  Thanks to the miracle of Google books, I found several old cookbooks on-line.  In THE ART OF COOKERY by John Mollard (4th edition published in 1836), I found arecipe for a “Pulpton of Apples” (p. 251) in which quartered apples were stewed until tender, sieved, and mixed with spices, eggs, and breadcrumbs soaked in cream.  This concoction was baked in a buttered mould and served turned out on a dish with sifted sugar over it.   A recipe for a pulpton of apples also appears in the 1802 edition of Mr. Mollard’s cookbook.

Hannah Glasse, whose popular cookbook THE ART OF COOKERY Made Plain and Easy was first published in 1747, and was released in numerous editions until the last in 1843, includes a recipe for a “pupton” of apples as well.  In her version, the fruit was cooked with sugar and only a small amount of water, until the fruit was the consistency of marmalade.  She also combined the cooked fruit pulp with eggs, spices, cream and breadcrumbs, with some butter, baked it and served it on a plate.

Title Page from Hannah Glasse’s Cookbook

Both of these recipes sounded good to me, and I could see how this recipe could be adapted to almost any kind of fruit, including cherries.  However, this was not the end of the pupton! Looking over the tables of contents, I found recipes for savory puptons as well.  These sound remarkably like pate’s and terrines served today, as at least a portion of the fish, meat or poultry component is cut finely with equal portions of suet, then pounded into a paste, called forcemeat.  If used alone, the paste would be seasoned, then it could be rolled into balls and poached in a sauce or fried; it could be put into a bag of some kind (one recipe I found took a chicken, removed all the meat, made the paste, seasoned it, and put it back in the chicken skin) and stewed, or baked.  A fascinating recipe I found in THE LONDON ART OF COOKERY And Housekeepers Complete Assistant by John Farley (4th edition, published in 1787) included a “French Pupton of Pigeons” on page 127.  This recipe took a quantity of forcemeat, made a very thin layer (similar to a pie crust), and then proceeded to layer thin bacon, squabs, asparagus, mushrooms and several other ingredients (a few of which may seem odd in combination today, including cocks’ combs).  This was then topped with another thin layer of forcemeat, like a pie, and baked.  When done, it was to be served in a dish with gravy poured around it. 

Either sweet or savory, the pupton sounds like a wonderful and tasty dish!  I love this kind of detail, as it makes the people of the past come alive.   Food is something we all have in common.