A Brief Look at People of Colour before the 20th Century: Part 3

"Portrait of Gustav Badin" (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg

Portrait of Gustav Badin (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg; Public Domain Image

     Gustav Badin was given to Queen Louisa of Sweden as a gift. She, in turn, educated him on the same level as her children. He was in charge of 3 Royal Palaces, had an extensive library of his own containing more than 800 books, and was, at one point, the Swedish Ambassador to France.  While Gustav many have been a slave initially, it’s clear he was a member of the Royal Family and was treated as a member of the Court. His diary is currently being translated and the original is housed at the University of Uppsala. I start off with this tidbit because now we’re entering a time period that I know very well, which is the Late Georgian/Regency period. It has always bothered me that any film depicting anything from this era has no one of colour in it, expect as an oddity or experiment. Clearly, while Gustav may have been an oddity, he became vital to the Queen and her family.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1883)

     General Dumas should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever read the Three Musketeers or the Man in the Iron Mask ( or seen the film versions). Born in St Domingue to a white Nobleman (Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and his enslaved mistress (Marie-Cessette Dumas), the father did the right thing and shipped Dumas to France, where slavery had been illegal since 1315 CE, thus setting his son free. He also helped his son enter the military. Dumas was one of 2 men of colour to have high military ranking in Europe until the 1970s. He was a major pivotal figure in the French Revolutionary Wars. He married a white French woman and had a son, Alexandre Dumas (aka Dumas-Pére), who wrote the Three Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask, etc. Dumas-fils (his grandson) was a well-known playwright. Dumas-fils’s illegitimate half brother, Henry Bauër was also involved in Theatre at this same time, as a critic. So yes, this is someone who’s never been portrayed in any film or television show about Napoleon, which is oddly weird considering how many battles this man won for Napoleon. Sidenote, “enslaved mistress” seems to convey consent where most scholars agree that consent is never given when a person is a slave. While I use the term “enslaed mistress”, it is under extreme distaste and only being used as many historical sources (published sources) list her in this pseduo state of consent while being enslaved.

Петровское. Бюст А.П. Ганнибала.jpg

Bust of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, located in Petrovskoe, Russia.

     Like Guztav, Abram was gifted to Peter the Great as a gift. There has always been a trend of “gifting” slaves to royalty and the aristocracy, but as in the case of Guztav, the “gifting” meant freedom. The Tsar freed Abram, educated him, and bestowed on Abram the status of Godson. Such a status not only made him important in the eyes of the Court, but made him a Peer of the Realm. This man was Dumas’ counterpart. He was a military engineer and General in the Russian Army. He trained in France and fought on behalf of France in the 1720s. Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, considered Abram to be a member of her family, placing him in a position of power. Elizabeth put him in charge of a large Estate in Estonia, which was one of the wealthier private Estates of the Tsars. Abram was married twice-once to a Greek woman (who proved to be unfaithful) and married (secretly while still married to wife #1) a woman of Swedish and Germanic noble descent. His oldest son, Ivan, became a well-known Naval Officer who helped found the city of Kherson and who himself attained the second-highest military ranking in Russia. When his first wife was forced to join a convent, the second marriage was considered valid and legal. Author and Poet Alexander Puskin is his great-grandson. Other descendants of this man include Natalia Grosvenor (Duchess of Westminster), Alexandra Hamilton (Duchess of Abercorn), George Mountbatten (4th Marquess of Milford Haven & cousin to QEII). Yet not many people want to learn about this man. And he’s never shown in any documentary of film about Peter the Great.

Dido Elizabeth Belle - Wikipedia

Dido Elizabeth Belle (cropped from a larger portrait by David Martin)

Dido Elizabeth Belle has become a more well-known woman of colour in recent years due to a new interpretation of the David Martin portrait of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The film Belle (2013) is an exercise in trying to tell her story but also explain slavery during this time in English History. This is what we do know: her father was Sir John Lindsay (he passed in 1788) and her mother was a slave Maria Belle. Dido was technically born into slavery in 1761. She was brought to live with William Murray, her great-uncle, in 1765. Her father let her to be educated as a free person. Very little is known about her life, except she was educated and even though treated as a member of the family, was still technically a slave in the eyes of British Law. She lived with her great-uncle 31 years, and seemed to take on the role of a secretary according to observations by Thomas Hutchinson (former governor of Massachusetts) and in the second volume of James Beattie’s Elements  of Moral Science. For now, these are the only contemporary insights we have into Dido’s daily life and existence. William Murray seemingly ruled against slavery in 1772. Dido married Frenchman John Danvinier in 1793. She was left money by her father, her great-uncle (who also confirmed her freedom in his will) and by his wife, her great aunt. She died in 1805 at the age of 43 and her last decedent died in 1975. While not much is known, the mere fact we do have a film about this person clearly shows that people of colour existed in England prior to the 20th Century.

There is another person, or two, or three, I wish to include in this posting. Yet I feel that because these people were influential and important, they each deserve their own write up and not to be included with the ones I have listed here. I did consider making a post just about the Dumas’, and may yet do so.

OMG I’m done, so what Genre did I just write; an ode to a panic attack

Now that I have finished writing, editing (five times, thank you very much), and formatting to not have academia long paragraphs (plus, punctuation corrections), I have now started my search for a literary agent. There are some who pitch ideas for books before writing, and I’ve seen loads of examples of how to write such letters in order to get an agent in that manner. However, I cannot work that way and decided to finish this first novel (1 of 6 mind you; I do have a plan to my madness) before embarking on attaching myself to any agent.

I did the most logical, sensible thing in the world-I created a Pinterest board of writing tips and guidelines which included links to how to find a literary agent(see gigantic board linked below). One such link recommended Query Tracker. This website is free (though for premium services, you can pay a fee-I have elected not to at this time). It has loads of agents listed who are actively seeking new writers in various genres. Thus is my dilemma. What genre is my novel? And I do realize that I will have to write a query letter (basically a brief summary for any potential agents) which will hopefully capture someone’s interest. But both the website and letter require me to choose a genre.

My novel is, for the most part, a variation of an Austen novel. And it’s hard for me to pinpoint what genre that good lady’s novels fit into. When I first read Sense & Sensibility at age 12, for instance, they were located in the young adult (YA) section. The same for Emma and Northanger Abbey. I’ve also seen people list Emma as being part of a comedic-romantic genre, and Northanger Abbey as a pseudo-Gothic Romance. On the other hand, I recall having to get my mother’s written permission for the librarian would allow me to check out Pride & Prejudice (again, at age 12 or 13) because it was in the Adult section and listed as a Historical Romance (hidden amongst the bodice rippers-oh my!). Mansfield Park was in the Adult Romance section (rated PG-13 for the incestuous relationship between Fanny and Edward) which leaves Persuasion (my personal favourite) being listed as straight Romance in the library.

I decided on just plain Literary Fiction because I’m not sure if I should choose Historical as while I did include actual historical fact (researched and fully vetted), it’s not the typical historical fiction. I’ve read historical fiction and this isn’t quite the same. It’s more witty, heartbreaking, and, well, to be honest, it’s more like Jane Austen. Except it’s not (and it is at the same time). I could have chosen Romance, for it is a love story, but usually people tend to think Romance nowadays includes sex and this does not contain sex, being true to the who I am as a writer. Plus I do hope to get some poems published in magazines and the like as well and do not want to be known as just a writer of romantic fiction. I do have ideas swarming inside this head for children’s tales as well. Though I am quite proud for having pointed out the Quadrille was NOT a stately, leisurely dance. It’s the little details that you can now point out in every Austen adaptation to your friends as being completely wrong. You’re welcome.


Websites I have been finding useful:

http://www.writersdigest.com (so much information, I can spend hours on it)

querytracker.net (I do think the basic free version is sufficient at this time)

On Writing: Character Charts & Tearsheets

I have notebooks (one for each of the six novels I have planned to write in the Austen Style) with a list of characters and a few lines describing each. That is not much to go on once you begin the writing process. I have found that writing (yes, in the notebooks) a more detailed list of each character, then typing it out makes it not only accessible when I am writing, but also when I am then typing out the story and want to make sure that I am not screwing up a description of said character without having to rummage for the notebook. Yes, this is a lot of work and probably more than the average person will ever go into. For me, it is easier to physically write out notes and then type from them. Call it an affectation leftover from my days of writing a paper every week during graduate school. This doesn’t necessarily mean that my entire story is written out verbatim prior to typing it out. I would state that a majority of it is there, sometimes with little notes from me stating to add a line regarding the weather or other such nonsense. But when I began typing it out, I did some editing from the written page to the typewritten screen, Some things I did away with completely; others were expanded upon. I created an entire chapter I had not planned on, which forced me to do a quick handwritten outline before typing. And while I am sure all of this is interesting, the one thing I have found the most useful is the use of Character Charts and Tearsheets.

I found a decent Character Chart via Pintrest from the website daddilifedotcom. While most of it has been useful, it distinctly reminded me of character charts I had to do as a Costume Designer and as a Theatre Major. It’s amazing how much of what I had loved and learned has translated into the writing process. I would say that if you ever happen upon a copy of The Magic Garment (by Rebecca Cunningham) and turn to the chapter of understanding the play, you will see some of these same questions, or similar, from the Character Chart given as a way of understanding the characters one is designing for. Actors and Directors go through the same process as well, so this is not an unfamiliar concept for me. I will state this, there are other sources that state you should have at least 100-200 questions answered per character to truly understand them before writing. I find that a tad excessive, except my questions ranged around 70, so perhaps it’s not that excessive after all.

The true strength is, of course, is to cater the questions to the type of novel (or even short story) that you are writing. If you find a chart or list asking questions about modern technology, and you are setting your story in the Viking Era, please feel free to disregard those questions. Not unless you’re doing some weird science fiction tale, then proceed. There were questions from that Chart I found that I didn’t answer for every character. Some character really didn’t have a favorite type of music or food. And for those, I simply stated that they had no preference. If one had an aversion to a certain color, I also gave a reason why. Such as ‘Mr. X hated black as he found it too depressing and brought up memories of funerals’. Questions not on the chart, are things like smells or touch. What if you’re character suffers from a form of Anxiety of PTSD, certain smells or sounds can bring back unpleasant memories. I use touch as a sensory too because if, say, someone was physically abused, they may find causal touching unpleasant. So, think of the chart as a way to start analyzing your character from the ground up, and even psychologically. Though don’t go overboard with it. Not every single character needs to be this thought out. A servant or random background character who has a few lines can be described with a few lines of notes, which is what I did for an office of lawyers who are mentioned, but never seen.

Tearsheets are most likely a term no one has heard of outside of the Theatre or Film Industry. It’s definitely a Designer term, but one I feel has been extremely beneficial to me and I hope will be beneficial for others. In layman’s terms, a tearsheet is a word document with an assortment of images, phrases (or both) that helps you “see” your character in the flesh. It’s a very basic Costume Design way of doing an initial concept, but I found it very helpful to use in conjunction with the charts. For example, I have a historical image of a naval uniform from the 1800s along with an image of a man in modern dress on the same page. While I am writing a historical novel, the image of the modern man, I have made a notation of, is being used for his posture. Basically, the way he is standing, the air he is giving off, is what I “see” in my mind for this particular character. I have an image of someone else because of their hair colour. I have an image of a 3 mast Frigate (I believe it’s Old ironsides to be specific here). I have an image of a few men in period portraits for hair styles. It’s a visual way of me being able to “see” this character, but it also helps, in turn, on the chart when trying to describe his eye color. I can’t say they are one thing when I’ve clearly decided visually that they are another.

Now, does this mean I will do one for every character? Heavens no! I only have tearsheets for the main characters (I believe I only have 8 in total for this novel, though I have close to 15 or 16 charts). Some characters are in the novel so briefly that a chart is sufficient enough for me that I didn’t need any visualization in order to write them. Some, especially the ones who are in it almost all the time, I did need the visual along with the written. Bear in mind that this is how it worked on this particular novel. The next may require me to have tearsheets on almost everyone or only two or three. I really don’t know until I start the writing process as the other 5 are in pure Outline stage. Not every technique I have come across will work for me, but it may work for you. I tend to use what I am most familiar with, which are techniques I learned as an English Major and a Theatre Major. If you are more inclined to just write on a laptop or PC without anything handwritten, then by all means go forth and write!

Books that I have found useful as they have great insight on how to process characters and analyze them. They can be expensive, so please use your local library:

The Magic Garment (2nd Edition) by Rebecca Cunningham

Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavki Method Introduction by Lee Strasberg and Compiled by Toby Cole

Acting in Shakespeare by Robert Cohen

Theatrical Design & Production (4th Edition) by J. Michael Gillette

Color: A Workshop for Artists & Deisngers (2nd Edition) by David Hornung

On Writing (& International English)

I was inspired by an interesting conversation on Twitter last week that was occurring on Brigid Kemmerer’s profile (@BrigidKemmerer). She is an author who specializes in Young Adult fiction and the conversation was about why people chose to become writers. Well, that is a most interesting question so simple answer is because we wish to create. For me (and I have since found out that this is true for many authors out there), I wish to write a book that I know I would enjoy. Which sounds a bit selfish or egotistical, but I believe it is more the need to create a story that I wish existed already. I don’t recall everything that was said, but I do know I had tweeted something along those lines (the need to create and share). But I feel some background as to why I am choosing to write and become an author now deserves to be told.

I have always been an avid reader. My first true enjoyment of reading was at the age of 7 and it was The Hobbit. I firmly blame Tolkien for my love of language and words, plus I am sure that most people fall in love with words in a similar fashion. At the age of 8, I moved onto Shakespeare and Homer’s Odyssey. Yes, this was at age 8 and I am fully aware of how unusual that must be and how hard it is to believe. I didn’t read Shakespeare’s plays at that age, I did stick to the Sonnets (which is a bit easier, I think, to start off with). But I was a very weird child with more adult tastes in literature. I recall that at school, the school was adamant that I be tested for ADHD (and to have an IQ test done) because when it came to any English or Spelling lesson, I was most likely doodling in my notebook and not paying attention. And yet I was scoring 100% every time, so the school was very perplexed. My IQ at that time was rated to be 132, which is high for a child of 8. So it seems that I didn’t have ADHD, but was just extremely bored. So I was moved into classes with much older students and was fairly content. However, they had to retest my IQ two years later because while I was advanced in terms of literature and English comprehension, I couldn’t do the advanced Math classes they had placed me in. The school, at that time, had a weird policy that if a child was gifted in one area, then they must be gifted in others. It’s difficult for a child of 10 to do middle school math when they haven’t been taught multiplication. My IQ, however, had jumped to 136 and I am ashamed to say that I haven’t been tested since, though I should at some point do it just because I am curious as to what it may be at this point given all my education and knowledge. Unlike some politicians, I don’t relish stating what my IQ was because I know it can make people feel like I am boasting, which is not my intention with sharing it. Only to be aware, perhaps, that sometimes children acting out in school classrooms isn’t always a behavior issue. Maybe, just maybe, that child is simply bored because they aren’t being challenged.

As to writing, I guess it should come as no surprise that I have always been writing in some fashion. Poetry is something I wrote in the past and still write. I recall writing very simple poems when I was about 10, but I don’t think any juvenile poetry of mine is in existence anymore as paper degrades and most likely has been recycled. I have a poem from High School still, which is something, as I know I wrote it when I was about 16. So I do have one piece of juvenile writing. But most of my poems are from 1999 onwards. And the muse comes in waves, I’m afraid. I can write 12 poems in a single day and then go for months without anything.To be fair, when I am severely depressed, poetry doesn’t come to me, so periods of nothing are usually periods of depression. Though I also didn’t when I was in graduate school simply because I was depressed, but also I was too busy trying to survive graduate school. Sometimes writing has to take a back seat to life. As to the number of poems, they are well over 200. I currently have close to 30 saved as notes on my phone (which I really should type out) and over 200 in one small journal. I have another journal with additional poems as well. One day, I hope to publish some of them in a book. For now, I will endeavor to submit them to journals and other such media to get them published.

However, writing a novel, let alone 6, is a feat I have never undertaken before. A short story is not hard for me to accomplish (and I have one that I wrote for my undergraduate that’s basically a retold fairy tale), but a novel is another kettle of fish. The 6 I am currently working on are set in the Regency Era, but the emphasis will be on historical accuracy, with wit and humor. Sort of a peek behind the rose tinted glasses we wear when we think of Regency novels. Of course, my inspiration is Jane Austen, whom I was introduced to by a local librarian when I was 12 and thus started my journey into researching the 19th Century. To be fair, I didn’t start actual research until I was closer to 16, which means I have been researching the 19th Century off and on for over 20 years. At least 10 of those while I was at university (both undergrad and grad) in any spare time I had. This, of course, means that I am a very boring sort of person who’d rather curl up with a good book and a nice cuppa than going out to the local club. Even though I have been known to go out, it has never been a must for me (although I do enjoy dancing and being with people-I’m not a complete dullard).

This, of course, brings us to what I like to call “International English” or, to put it simply, I tend to write in a blended style of American and U.K. English. Of course, this drove some of my professors mad and some never noticed (which is even more shocking).  One can, of course, blame my love of classical British literature like Austen or Shakespeare on this peculiarity of mine, but that would be unfair. I simply think colour should be spelled properly and accept that I also use a zed in certain words like “realize”. Which, I think may drive my future and yet unknown agent up the proverbial wall. Especially the editor as well. Unless, of course, I can convince them that “International English” needs to be recognized as a valid form of English. The way I write, though, lends itself to this blending, I feel, because it is how I think. I do think in more formal language when I am writing and also when I am tweeting. I really cannot help it. I’ve been told it’s presumptuous of me to be using such vernacular, but this is how the inside of my mind works. I do try to not be so formal, though it does poke out when I am feeling provoked or wish to make a witticism. Colloquial language that we use everyday has lost some of it’s spark, it’s romance and perhaps that is what I am rebelling against. Plus, using such formal language does tend to make comebacks sound oh so lovely. A minor point, but a valid one nonetheless.

As to how I write, well first I had to research. And by research, I mean I have 3 notebooks filled with information I felt I may need just spanning the years 1790-1830. Most of the information is centered on the U.K., though I did include some historical information on America. Mainly for myself (as I do love American History during the 19th Century) but just in case it should ever pop up in one of the novels. I’d rather have too much research than not enough. This does not include an almost filled additional notebook filled with writing tips, websites, and how to edit/write dialogue. Personally, I found it more useful to look at how playwrights construct dialogue than writers. That could be because of my background in Theatre but also as plays do tend to be more realistic in terms of dialogue than most novels and I do so want the dialogue to seem more realistic. Each novel has at least 2 notebooks as well-one contains the actual story that I’ve written (or outlined in 4 of these novels) and another that gives a list of the characters, short snippets of information under their name, places (i.e. settings), and sometimes a little information on money as it relates to the characters. Then I have a list of questions for each character (sort of an in-depth biography) into who they are. Some questions are basic, such as their age, hair colour, nicknames. Other’s ask questions as to their favourite food, health, and even any regrets they may have. All of which is never seen in the novel, but it helps me get into their heads. It helps me see them, speak to them and for them. Which sounds a bit maddening at times-and I assure you, it is. They all have their little quirks and even though I may not like some of them, I do enjoy writing them.

The hard part, to be honest, has been now typing out the one novel from the notebook writings. Hard because I sometimes shorten and abbreviate words when I am writing and have to remind myself to type out the entire word. But also hard as some things just change as I am typing them out. Sometimes what worked on paper no longer works on the screen so I just change it, or add to it. In a way, writing it out then being forced to type it out has been a way to do a first semi-edit in a way. I know there are some areas that I am not pleased with, but instead of focusing on them and getting worked up, I type out what I have and continue on. Anything that I am not happy with, I know I can deal with once everything has been typed up and then printed out so I can really edit it properly (red pens at the ready!). I try not to focus on word counts at this point (just an FYI, most novels are over 40K words and average around 70K) as I know it will be long enough. My one concern is, of course, that I tend to write in this blended style. Should I keep it that way and offer an explanation as to why I write like that to a potential agent? Or should I chose American or U.K. English and reformat? Personally, I’d rather keep the blended style as then it would be appropriate to be published in the U.K. and the U.S. without having to change all the words. It’s a practical form of English. One that I have invented, it seems, as I can find no evidence of this blended style in existence elsewhere. But those are musings for another day.

Ketchup, Catsup, Ketsup: What’s in a Condiment?

Per Merriam-Webster online, Ketchup is a seasoned pureed condiment usually made from tomatoes. they also have it spelled as “Catchup” and “Catsup”, which is unusual as I’ve never seen the first spelling before. Now, this definition was accessed on 3/31/2017 (yes, TODAY). Compare it to the 1913 definition of Ketchup per Webster: Catsup is a table sauce made from mushrooms, tomatoes, walnuts, etc. What a difference 104 years makes in a definition of a food item! Of course, many may think me odd to devote an entire blog post to a condiment, but I was inspired by a good friend of mine, Debbie, who is a Civil War re-enactor and how she demonstrated a peach “ketchup” the previous year. Of course, this lead to a discussion on when exactly was Ketchup what we would consider ketchup. Though, I do find the idea of a peach sauce intriguing and do think even Austen would have enjoyed it on fish, chicken, and perhaps ham? So, this led to my (brief) look at ketchup because during my research into foods of Austen’s time (and Georgian life as well), many writers will state that “yes, ketchup existed” but never explain what that implies. Are they implying the red sweet and tangy sauce that I love to dip fries (or Chips for my Across-the-Pond readers) into? The condiment that is a must for grilling burgers and tater tots? Never hot dogs please (sorry, it’s a Chicago thing!). But that’s been one of the frustrating aspects of doing research into Austen’s time-the utter fallacy of writers assuming that because a word is being used back then, it must mean the same exact thing. Again, research here was clearly lacking. And I am not talking about little unknown books either. I am talking about the major ones librarians steer writers towards because they are aimed for us: books such as “What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Knew” by Daniel Pool or “The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901” by Kristene Hughes. Both books, while interesting reads and chock full of information that can be useful, are also full of misinformation and generalities that are skewed more towards bad romance fiction than historical accuracy. I often wonder how either of those books even got published with the amount of misinformation and mistakes that they contain. Mistakes that a few hours of research was I able to dispel quite easily with very little effort. I have always believed that once I get one or two of my books published, I would love to publish some of my research for people (some, not all) just so there would be a decently researched book on Regency times available for people that has facts and a very long bibliography so others can go even further. But back to Ketchup.

Historically, ketchup seems to trace it’s origins to Asia and the Middle East. Some linguists state that it’s from a Chinese word for a concotion of pickled fish and spices (Koe-chiap or Ke-chiap) dating from the 17th Century. Others say it may come from what we now call Malaysia and Singapore during the 18th Century (Kay-chap) for a similar spicy fish based sauce. There’s also strong evidence for it’s Middle Eastern roots as during the 17th Century, the term for pickling with vinegar was Kabecs, but called Caveach by the British ( Escaveche by the French and Escabeche by the Spanish and Portuguese). Also important to note that in the Dictionary of the Canting Crew (basically, a dictionary of Sailor Slang complied by an unknown person between 1690 and 1720) referred to Catsup and the description was that it was a dark sauce. It seems that it was also used as a catchall phrase because some accounts refer to soy sauce as ketchup (and vice versa). Which really makes it all confusing as to what exactly is the ketchup that they are referring to? Well, regardless of where the term came from, some kind of vinegar or pickling seems to be involved (thus, the tang that we all love), but no sweetness is involved. All seem to use spices and most use fish, which is quite unexpected. And the fish in question range from Salmon to anchovies to shellfish to fish in general.

The British, liking the sauce and wanting to put their own unique spin on it, started making ketchup, but with mushrooms (sorry tomatoes, you still got a bad rap at this point). From what I’ve read, the term “ketchup” from 1750 to 1850 could refer to any kind of dark sauce made of mushrooms. In fact, we here in the United States started referring to mushroom ketchup by the 1770s and it was being made and consumed by the likes of Jefferson and Washington.  Of course, some of these recipes also include walnuts (or just walnuts and no mushrooms). And if you think mushroom ketchup no longer exists, it still does, though not as popular as it’s tomato counterpart. The UK still has companies that manufacturer mushroom ketchup (Geo Watkins has been manufacturing Mushroom Ketchup since 1830 and still is) and I’ve found a few recipes for it on my own. Actually, it doesn’t sound that bad and might be a good condiment on some grilled chicken. But I’m digressing again!

Now, while tomato based ketchup didn’t take off in popularity until the late 19th Century, it did exist as early as 1812. How close was it to our modern version? Not very much at all. the earliest known recipe comes from James Mease and was inspired by his stay in Haiti. His recipe (apparently) includes tomatoes, spices, brandy, but no sugar or vinegar. I am unsure if it also includes fish or not, but I’ve not had the time to go through his entire online database of writings to see if the recipe is there or not (or if it’s just hearsay at this point). What we do know is the next oldest tomato based ketchup recipe was published in 1817 by Sandy Addison in “The Sugar House Book.” This recipe was said to have been invented circa 1801, but how can one verify this? What is interesting is that this concoction that not only included tomatoes, but anchovies as well. It really shows the roots to the Asian sauces if she’s using fish to flavor the sauce (thankfully no sugar). The next most influential recipe is Mary Randolph’s in “The Virginian Housewife” first published in 1824. Mary was also a cousin to Thomas Jefferson and used tomatoes in 40 of her recipes (tomatoes considered very deadly at the time). She’s credited with the first recipe that uses some sugar to sweeten the recipe and she also doesn’t use fish. So, in fact, we can say that the Randolph is probably the first true ketchup in terms of what we would consider ketchup. However, her version is still runny, not very thick and still very tangy.

We can thank Jonas Yerkes for being the first American to sell ketchup commercially (1837 was when he began). While ketchup was most likely sold locally by farmers to others in the area, Yerkes really took that concept and decided to make it a business. Making ketchup, by the sounds of it, was time consuming, hot, and tiring. Having someone else do it would have been ideal for most women at that time. That led to Heinz, which was formed in 1876 and figured that thin ketchup was the result of using unripe tomatoes. Unripe tomatoes have less pectin so the riper the tomato, the more pectin it has and the thicker the sauce will be. They are the ones who truly perfected the sweet-sour combination that we all recognize as “Ketchup.” Though, to be fair, Ketchup is called “Red Sauce” is Wales, Scotland, parts of the UK, South Africa, and some parts of Asia. But we can all agree that we love the stuff and really can’t imagine life without it.

Now, as for the spelling, “Catsup” I am afraid for years has been blamed on us Americans by the British to showcase our lack of understanding of the English Language. Au contraire! It seems the blame for this spelling lies within their own backyard and not with us Americans at all! For you see, in 1730, Jonathan Swift used the word “catsup” in his poem A Pangyric of the Dean in the Person of a Lady in the North : “And, for our home-bred British cheer,/ Botargo, catsup, and caviare. ” It’s a really long poem, very witty, a bit crude a times, but enjoyable as Swift was an excellent satirist.

So while my good friend Debbie was correct in that tomato based ketchup as we knew it didn’t exist until late 19th century, ketchup  did exist in it’s own way. And while I find the idea of consuming a mushroom ketchup or even a walnut one intriguing (and high on my list of probabilities), I still can’t stomach the concept of a tomato based one with anchovies. That one still finds me a bit queasy. So, I feel the important thing to be learned from all of this is while people who publish books imparting knowledge of a time long gone can be useful, they can also be very, very wrong. And also we should never take something as mundane and simple as that bottle or packet of ketchup for granted.


Works of James Mease: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1489q3r2/

Dictionary of Canting Crew: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=eebo;idno=A39127.0001.001

Swift’s Poem: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-panegyric-of-the-dean-in-the-person-of-a-lady-in-the-north/


Annie Bell Article: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/condiments-to-the-chef-1098328.html

Smith, Andrew (1996). Pure Ketchup: A History.



Website that sells British Sauces: https://www.britishcornershop.co.uk/geo-watkins-mushroom-ketchup

Mary Randolph Bio: http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/vawomen/2009/honoree.asp?bio=1

She Sprained Her Ankle: A (Brief) Look at Some Regency Cant

As a fan and writer who is solely focused on Regency (Georgian) writings, one thing you cannot ignore is cant, aka slang. A quick Google search will bring up a few blogs, pages, and places that state they contain true Regency cant, Having researched the 19th Century exclusively for something close to 7 years now (and close to 25 off and on if you count that I’ve been looking into the world of Jane Austen since the tender age of 12), I believe I understand the fascination with Regency slang-it’s hilarious. Not only that, its an interesting look into what the people were saying in the streets, in the pubs, in the brothels, or even privately. But then, I also find terms such as “Groovy” or “the Bee’s Knees” funny at times (and am guilty of using them as well) even though they are technically examples of 20th Century slang, albeit from different decades.

Take, for example, the term “Adam’s Ale.” Now, considering that everyone at this time drank alcohol in some form or another, one would assume that this term would refer to a sort of cheap, inexpensive ale, like a house brew. Oddly enough, it’s slang (or cant, if you prefer) for water-plain old water. Not to get much into it, but “Adam” most likely refers to the Biblical Adam and that his “ale” in the Garden of Eden would be water. I am in no way an etymologist nor have I even taken any etymology classes. I have only deduced why “Adam’s Ale” means water by looking at it logically. Sherlock and Spock Prime would be so proud.

Another one that I enjoy is “Banbury Tale.” If you’ve ever read or seen a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the term will clearly strike a chord because of Algernon’s poor “friend” he supposedly visits. This wonderful piece of cant basically means a nonsensical tale or story (now that reference to the play completely makes sense, doesn’t it?). So, as someone with a background in Theatre, I appreciate Wilde’s creative use of this term as an important plot device. Plus, considering that this was slang 100 yrs prior to the play, that’s quite impressive that it was still known and still in use enough to be relevant at that time. Now, I have no idea why or how this term came about. I did some research and all I can find out is that Banbury is a town located in Oxfordshire, England. This same town is mentioned in an old nursery rhyme called “Ride a Cock Horse.” And, of course, there are Banbury Cakes. Round pastries filled with spiced fruit that date back to the medieval period and still made today. Anyone of these reasons could have inspired the meaning of the slang-or none of them. It is just a fabulous piece of cant that I truly enjoy, especially the way Wilde incorporated it. Plus there is something about “Banbury tale” that sounds very British. If you are a fan of comic book films (such as myself; I like to be a well-rounded nerddess), you will recognize that the character Luis (played by the talented Michael Pena) tells Ant-Man tidbits of vital information in a very Banbury-esque way. Never think that comics are not language strong-they are filled with some heavy literary themes.

This brings me to one of my personal favorites: Ankle. By itself, it doesn’t mean much except “pregnant.” So, in Austen’s day, if a lady was said to have “sprained her ankle,” it meant she was pregnant. How and why that even came to be in use, I cannot fathom. But I do sense a slight issue with it being used. What if a woman actually sprained her ankle? Would people assume she was with child until it was further explained that she really sprained her actual ankle? I giggle at the possibilities that such a wrong assumption could do comically. Though I do slightly cringe as well for any woman who did suffer under false rumors when they, in reality, had a painful injury. Now, my goal is to insert history back into Austen’s novels, which isn’t easy. And “ankle” has delighted me that I decided to give an example of how it could be used in Austen.

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne injures her ankle on a walk and meets the dashing Willoughby. I believe she twisted it in the novel, but it’s been a few years since I’ve read it, so let’s say she sprains it instead. Now, Colonel Brandon, hearing that this poor, young girl of 15 has “sprained her ankle,” because of his past, jumps to the conclusion that Marianne is expecting and needs someone to give her respectability. Hence the beautiful hothouse flowers. Perhaps a box of sweets from Gunter’s thrown in for good measure. Of course, upon arrival, Sir John informs Brandon that Marianne, in fact, actually sprained her ankle. Brandon leaves relieved, but heartbroken because Willoughby has now entered the picture.

Now, in the above instance, Brandon assumes one thing based on his past that we don’t know the full history of yet, which makes us question his motives. Especially given that he is 20 years her senior. But once we, the reader, find out his true past, this episode redeems him in our eyes and we see why he jumped to conclusion. And of course, this would be the most obvious choice in which to use the term “ankle” in its slang form and while I do plan on using it, it won’t be in Sense and Sensibility. Nor shall I divulge!

There is one troublesome fact that you must be aware of when it comes to researching and using slang or cant (both are correct). Some just seem to use it solely to use it. As if using as much slang as possible will make the story (or chapter) that much more authentic. Well, to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t. Take, for example, Georgette Heyer. She is considered the Queen of Regency Era Romance and I have read a few of her works. I cannot say that I’ve read them all as they tend to be very formulaic, predictable, and later works rely more on slang than earlier ones. Now, her earlier works are well-written and are still very popular. They tend to be checked out of my local library at least seven times a year (that’s per book), which is pretty decent circulation I’d say. Now, her later ones the library has as ebooks because the hard copies just didn’t circulate and I do think it’s because they tended to be more formulaic and heavier on cant. And it seemed she did it to make them “feel” more Regency or for more realism, I myself cannot say. But I personally take issue with overusing cant to make things “feel” authentic to a period. No one disputes that Jane Austen wrote during the Regency Period and she uses very little, if any, slang in her novels.Now, one could make the argument that since she was the daughter of a man of the cloth, she wouldn’t have been exposed to such language. Except that she had brothers that went into the Royal Navy who would have used such language whenever they came home (and much worse as well). No one has ever stated that Austen doesn’t “feel” authentic for lack of cant. She uses the language that would have been heard and used in polite society. No gently bred woman would have used such language and that’s where I feel writers, like Heyer, have gotten it wrong. They put slang into the mouths of their heroines. Slang would have been used by the men, the servants (privately) and the poor. Men in the Army and Navy had their own slang as well. Polite young women-never!

As for myself, yes I plan on using some cant but in order to remain true to Austen, I shall endeavor to use very little and that which is used will never be used by any woman, unless she is of a lower status. And while we can all agree that a barouche is a type of carriage during the Georgian/Regency Era, this doesn’t make the word slang. I’ve seen online dictionaries of supposed slang contain such words as Barouche, Abigail, Abbey, Curricle, Seamstress, and Fichu as slang. These are not cant, but actual words of items. A Barouche and Curricle are modes of transportation. And Abigail and a Seamstress are positions a woman can have. An Abbey is a place that Nuns reside in. A Fichu is a piece of clothing for women. The modern equivalent is someone writing a modern dictionary of slang including the terms SUV, Leggings, and Lobbyist. Any quick search will inform you that SUV stands for Sport Utility Vehicle and that they have been around, in some form or another, since the 1930s. Leggings are clothing women wear (and they are comfortable). Lobbyist is a job for many in Washington, D.C.

Such is the danger I see many authors of historical fictions fall prey to. They do very little research beyond the usual writing guides that are widely available and provide very little information. They fail to comprehend that just using an overuse of cant and terms does not give the story an authentic feel. Writers that research authors that existed during the era that they are interested in, that look at letters, advertisements (if available), even fashion plates and art are given greater insight into the world that they are trying to dive into than those that merely feel that a quick peek behind the curtain is enough. While I don’t feel that omitting all cant or terms is possible at this point (especially terms like Barouche), because its become expected of writers to include such things by readers (or publishers), it shouldn’t take over the story. We should use such things to only enhance the tale, to help define a character, or to help move a story along as Oscar Wilde did. We should never rely on it to the point that if one were to remove the cant, the story literally wouldn’t exist. And we should also question why such stories even exist as they cheapen us as writers and as readers.

Now, the best source for Regency Cant is the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. You should not have to pay for this as it’s available for free, in its entirety, via the Gutenburg Project. Regency Assembly Press has an impressive lexicon containing both slang and words of the era with their meanings. They don’t always distinguish between the two, but for the most part, they have done a very good job. Georgette Heyer’s website has a printable slang list containing all the slang that she used in all of her books. It’s a good list, but be aware that a majority of the so-called slang on the list are really terms like Barouche and not true cant.

Flash Lingo=slang, cant