Hysterics & Hysterical: Why I dislike the words

As many of you should know by now, I have a penchant for the 19th Century. While I tend to focus on the late Georgian/Regency Era for my writing (and where the bulk of my research is, to be honest), that doesn’t mean I haven’t researched outside of the Regency period. The entire 19th Century is an amazing span of years to look at for any historian. We go from horse drawn carriages to steam locomotives and gas lighting inside the homes. We also go from paintings and drawings of people to photography. It’s an incredible century to look at and do any kind of research into. Yes, it can get overwhelming at times, which is why people tend to focus on certain areas or time periods within the century because it can be too much. So this brings me to a sort of affinity I have which is about female hysteria.

via Pinterest

Hysteria was a female malady that was still a term used in American medicine until the early 1950s. Symptoms included anxiety, loss of appetite, increased appetite. shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire, lack of sexual desire, insomnia, water weight, irritability, or as women know it as-HORMONES. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for Uterus, and many ancients (men) considered the uterus a “wandering womb” and hysteria was a result of this. Proof that men have never understood female anatomy. From the 11th Century to the 16th (roughly) it was called melancholy and most thought it appeared as a result of demonic possession.

 

Hippocrates (far right) recommending Marriage as a cure for female wandering womb (courtesy of University of Texas)

In the 16th & 17th Centuries, men dismissed the whole demonic possession for the uterus must be retaining fluid. They believed the uterus must expel the excess fluid. How? Well, they weren’t sure how to but left it to midwives to deal with. Though Physician Abraham Zacuto in his Praxis Medica Admiranda from 1637 recommends marriage and vigorous intercourse with the husband as a cure-all for this situation. Again, men only see marriage and sex as a cure for something that they don’t understand. The 18th Century gave us enlightenment and men started to see hysteria as a neurological disorder rather than a physical one. It didn’t last long.

via Pinterest

The 19th Century saw a reversal of the neurological thinking and again put hysteria to blame on a woman’s uterus. However, this led to a very interesting solution by male doctors-intimate massages to alleviate the symptoms. Men suffering from cramped hands then turned to science for an easier solution. Hence, the vibrator was born to hep alleviate a woman’s hysteria effectively and quickly. But what is important to note that hysteria was only considered a white woman’s disease. Women of color exhibiting these same symptoms were often regulated to insane asylums, or just thought to be lazy or stupid. Hysteria was seen as a consequence of too much civilization, which was clearly meant to exclude women of color because they were never civilized enough. For an era that many consider prudish (the Victorian Era), they were obsessed with sex and sexual gratification but only as it applies to white people. I should mention that with the advent of photography, erotica became an overnight seller (yes, naughty pictures of prostitutes was a big seller in those days).

via Pinterest

Now, while all of this is interesting, and it is, why then do I dislike the terms hysteria and hysterical? Mainly because it is a term used primarily by men to dismiss a woman’s feelings or even thoughts on any subject by equating them with their emotions and uterus. Hysteria is intimately connected with the female reproductive organs that I cringe whenever any woman  is deemed hysterical, even in films and television because I truly feel women are being seen as less than a person and only as a sexual organ. After all, a hysterectomy is the removal of a uterus and is while the ovaries are not always removed, the actual uterus is (ovaries are sometimes left because HORMONES). Now, no where is there a male equivalent term to hysterical. I suggest vasectical since a vasectomy deals with the male reproductive organ.  So when a man is being overly brisk, overly overbearing, I do think we should be allowed to call him vasectical because he’s clearly only the sum of his reproductive organs if we are called hysterical.

via Pinterest

So while I acknowledge the history of the words hysteria and hysterical, I do not like them being used to describe any woman in today’s society. We are more than just a uterus. We have rational feelings and thoughts. While I understand that the word may be used in writing a pre-1950s novel, it doesn’t have to be used. Too many politicians are making laws regarding women’s bodies and whenever any woman objects, she is labeled as “hysterical.” She is being labeled as nothing more than a uterus, which is the very law she is trying to protest. It’s important to understand the origins of such words because they often have a derogatory meaning and are very unpleasant for people to be labeled as.

Vasectical: the male equivalent of hysteria

More Information on Hysteria:

Grant Shreve “The Radicalized History of Hysteria”. JSTOR Daily, September 20, 2017.

Hysteria Beyond Freud (1993).

Matt Simon “Fantastically Wrong: The Theory of Wandering Wombs” Wired Magazine, 2014.

Rachael Maines’s book The Technology of Orgasm (1999)

Becoming Jane: Review

BONUS ADAPTATION! Since we’ve know talked about revisionist history and learned a bit about all of that, I thought it would be fun to do two bonuses to our Austen Adaptations! The first is Becoming Jane (2007).

Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy) and Jane Austen (Anne Hawathay)

This film is based on a book titled Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence and is considered a demi-biography as he uses the plot device of Pride and Prejudice as well as Austen’s Letters to piece together her early life as well as the possibility of her romance with Thomas LeFroy based on her mentions of the man from her letters to her sister, Cassandra. I’ve read the letters myself. She mentions him twice in 1795 and once a few years later. If that’s the basis of an unrequited love affair, color me shocked. Jane also mentions trying to find pink silk stockings with much more fervor. The Jane Austen Society does endorse the book by stating the author does seem to understand the character of Jane Austen. Endorsing the book doesn’t mean his book is accurate, only that it is enjoyable to read. I have looked on the JAS website and no where do they claim that rthis book is historically accurate. They only reviewed it as being an enjoyable read. I do think sometimes they should start off such books with a disclaimer that they don’t endorse such books as being historically accurate first off so people don’t believe it’s truthful, only conjecture (because this is where revisionist history can become an issue).

Jane being confronted by her parents, the Rev George Austen (James Cromwell) and Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters).

Firstly, the film gets many things wrong. I have not read the originally source material (the book that the film is based on) so I do not know if the author made the Austen family out to be poorer than they were in reality. If the author did not make them out to be this poor, then this was Hollywood taking liberties with the truth to make Jane seem more desperate to make a rich match than she was in reality. In Deidre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, she points out that Rev. Austen made over 300£ profit on his own farm that he rented during a “bad” year. That’s about $590 (roughly as exchange rates vary daily), but that’s still a fairly decent profit in a bad year, given how much he had to pay in rent, plus the workers who were doing the actual labor. Mrs. Austen was known to grow berry bushes, chickens and other fowls. No where have I ever come across her sowing or digging up her own potatoes. Remember that Mr. Bennet spends around 100£ a year on each of his girl’s allowances in Pride and Prejudice, so having three times that amount extra per year is not a bad thing. Yes, Jane was not from a wealthy family, but she wasn’t as poor as the filmmakers made her out to be. When her father died in 1805, they did sink into poverty, this is true. But at the time of this film (being, I believe 1795), she wasn’t poverty stricken yet.

Mrs. LeFroy (Eleanor Metheven), Jane, Lucy LeFroy (Jessica Ashworth), and Comtesse Eliza de Feullide (Lucy Cohu)

The date this takes place also beings me to a state of confusion in terms of the costuming. Looking at the above scene, both Mrs. LeFroy and Eliza are in late 1790s gowns, but Austen is in a gown closer to 1810. The young girl is also shown as being old enough to attend balls and has her hair down, which we should all know by now I have a distinct hatred for. Either she is too young and doesn’t not attend the balls and can have her hair down (which she looks old enough to start having it up anyways), or have it up.

Jane and Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox)

In real life, Jane Austen agreed to marry Harris Biggs-Wither. The next day, she called it off. From all accounts, he was not a good looking man and they had nothing in common. She was forced into accepting it by her mother, Mrs. Austen. Mr. Wisely, in this film, takes the place of Mr. Biggs-Wither, except he is much better looking and they actually have things in common. Mr. Wisley did not exist in real life.

Eliza, Jane, and Henry Austen (Joe Anderson)

Wandering waistlines aside, I don’t believe umbrellas had out modern coverings of polyurethane yet. Nice use of the pug though. Henry should either have his hair short or have it pulled back. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794, so this taking place in 1795 is historically accurate (at that point). I don’t mind the blue color on Anne Hathaway because it is a lovely color on her, but they use it a lot and the shifting waistlines just bothers me. For a big budget film, one would think they would do a better job at hiring a historical consultant (and not just the author of the book they used as a source material).

Cassandra (Anna Maxwell-Martin) and Jane

A few things they showed in this film that did happen, but they speed up in order to fit into this film. Cassandra did get engaged to a clergyman, who was accompanying his cousin’s ship overseas. They gave him the name Thomas Fowle, which is odd since his name was Robert Fowle. I don’t know why they didn’t just use the man’s name. He did die of yellow fever, but not in 1795, in 1797. His cousin, left Cassandra a 1,000£ legacy to compensate her for the loss of her betrothed. Cassandra never married. George Austen was sent to a small farm where he lived the rest of his life. No where have I found any evidence that he was deaf or hard of hearing. From all accounts he seems to have been on the Autism spectrum. Sign language did exist (there was a form of it that existed in France around the 1800s at that time, but I have no idea of what they were using in the film was at all accurate or not). I don’t recall Jane ever mentioning her brother George at all in her letters so I highly doubt she had any kind of close relationship with him. It’s possible his parents and even a few of his brothers saw him from time to time, but he spent his life away from his family. Jane Austen also never met Mrs. Radcliffe. I wish these two authors would have met in real life, but alas, that never happened!

Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith)

Now, are there any good points? Yes there are. James McAvoy is a treat to watch in this film. I have enjoyed him ever since I saw him in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was fantastic in Split and Glass. He is equally talented in this film. Maggie Smith steals what little screen time she has, so it’s always a pleasure to see her whenever she is in a film. Anna as Cassandra is overshadowed by Anne Hathaway, which is a pity since Cassandra is such a vital figure to Jane Austen’s life. Same with Mrs. LeFroy, who barely makes an appearance yet was an important figure to Austen’s life. I do like they showed a game of cricket being played, as the first game was played in Dartford in the early 18th Century (yes, I checked).

Jane & Tom; the red overdress is too 1970s with the thin straps.

The bad points: the costumes are hits and misses. A lot is made of the supposed love affair between LeFroy and Austen base don three mentions in a few letters and LeFroy mentioning years later that he had a “boyish love” for Austen in his youth. The fact is he was already engaged with he went to visit his aunt and met Jane in 1795. If he flirted, Mrs. LeFroy may have seen him as going too far and sent him on his way before he hurt her young friend. That’s probably all there was to the tale. His “boyish love” years later was most likely a bit of a crush looking back on his memories. We want to make much of this instance when there may have been nothing there. Also in 1795, based on her letters, Jane was working on Sense & Sensibility, not Pride & Prejudice, so the author using the second novel as a basis for her love affair is a little bit…awkward.

Thomas LeFroy (1798) after his marriage

Revisionist History Part 3

This part is going to focus on how people use revisionist history in books and politics, because it’s important to learn how easily facts are skewed, twisted, and manipulated nowadays.

David Alan Stuckman (Wikipedia)

David Alan Stuckman is a former Congressman who worked under Regan and has gone on to write several revisionist books on Capitalism and their history (mostly touting how Democrats have failed and how Republicans can save it). He was quoted in the Atlantic Monthly in the December 1981 issue as saying the “[Reagan’s 1981 Tax Cut] was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate…it’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down’.” He later on published a book titled The Triumph of Politics blaming Republicans for not willing to reduce spending on top of cutting taxes for the wealthy which led to the large deficit. Stuckman seems to be unwilling to see that “trickle down” economics does not work and will never work and yet has written four books praising it (his last book published in 2019 is all about trashing Trump). His primary book that is seen as wholly revisionist history (and is labeled as such by WorldCat) is The Great Deformation. While he seems to have good insight as to the workings of economics, Stuckman also tends to have a revisionist view of how to fix things, so reader beware.

 

Courtesy of Risen Magazine

Dinesh D’Szousa is a frequent guest on Fox News and has long been a student of Revisionist History. He does have a BA from Dartmouth, where he wrote for an independent student run newspaper The Dartmouth Review and outed several homosexual classmates. He ended up as an advisor to President Ronald Regan. In 1995, he published a book called The End of Racism stating that Slave Owners were painted unfairly and treated slaves really well. He followed this up in 2002’s book What’s So Great About America stating that colonialism helped lift third world countries up to Western standards of living (in Chapter 2). 2007’s The Enemy at Home had the premise that Muslims don’t hate America, just hate America’s sexuality, completely ignoring the issue of Wahhabism and the Saudi Arabia connection to 9/11. He then did a book and film with the same title, Obama’s Rage with no need to explain what it was about. He then did another book and film combination, America: Imagine the World Without Her in 2014. He was then convicted of one felony of misappropriating campaign funds, plead guilty, and sentenced to five years probation (of which he states was an Obama conspiracy). While on probation, he did another book & film combination called Hillary’s America, a hit piece connection her to Slavery, and, therefore, evil. It was just a bunch of thinly connected conspiracies which he touted as truth. Dinesh then rehashed the whole thing in 2018 with Death of a Nation, again trying to connect Andrew Jackson and the Democrats with Slavery, the KKK, and Nazis. Nothing this man writes, says, or does holds any weight historically or logically. Yet anytime he is confronted with the truth, he demands to be debated on stage. Many historians, including myself, have offered to do so. He has yet to take any of us up on this offer. Do not waste your time nor money watching his films nor on his books. If you want to read them, try the library. YouTube has clips of the films. They are laughable as they are disgusting. I cannot handle more than 10 minutes of them before my blood pressure goes up. Truly disgusting. D’Szousa has done more harm with his lies than any other public figure than I know of because so many people have been reached with his presence on Fox News and have seen his films. This is dangerous because they perceive his statements as facts, not lies. It’s an erosion of history happening in real time.

 

Robin Hanson (Wikipedia)

Robin Hanson is an Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University, which was once part of University of Virginia, until it became independent in 1972. Recently, on Twitter, Mr. Hanson has decided that there were Slaves who volunteered to be Slaves and enjoyed their imprisonment because they chose to enjoy their time this way. He routinely brought up Sally Hemmings, who at the age of 14 was raped by Thomas Jefferson, who was 3 times her age, then was 15 when he brought her to France. In France, she was technically a free person of color. But, Mr. Hanson has stated she willingly remained a Slave and returned to America. Let me help with this one here Robin. She was 15, pregnant, in a country where she didn’t speak the language and probably didn’t know that the laws in this country meant she was now a free person of colour. She left with Jefferson because she didn’t know she had another option. She was his property and was not given a choice. Robin is a blockhead for thinking Sally willingly, at the age of 15, chose to be a slave. He gave the reason that she wanted to be with her mother, who was at the Jefferson plantation and chided Sally for her foolishness. Yes, what child would want to remain with their mother when they are scared and pregnant at such a young age? I cannot believe this person is still employed by GMU and cannot believe he is a research fellow at Oxford University. He should be removed from both positions post haste.

 

Avital Ronell (Northwestern.edu)

Avital Ronell gets a mention here only because she is such a problematic figure in Academia. Most Academia Feminists flock to her and protect her, yet she is not a Feminist. I repeat, she is not a Feminist in any sense of the word. She does nothing to promote other women or other under-represented people forward. She has often been cited for being unusually cruel to her graduate assistants and recently had to pay for sexually abusing and harassing one for years. Her books are often unreadable to the point of being gibberish. Parts of her books that are readable seems to read more like essays written by her grad students than by her which makes me wonder if they are the works of her assistants over the years and she’s been taken credit for it and making money off of it. It’s  not really revisionist per se, only she it is dangerous to assume everyone in Academia is honest and forthcoming. Not everyone is nice. This is a gentle remainder of that.

 

The point of this three part posting was this: vet your sources carefully when researching historical or even modern day issues. The Internet is a terrific resource and it’s amazing how much information is at our fingertips! But the downside is there is a lot of misinformation out there too. Even at the library, there are books, which I know, we think we can trust because they’ve been edited, published, and therefore have been vetted to a certain amount, but that’s not always the case anymore. Publishing crackpot conspiracy theories is a big business nowadays and there are many books and independent films being touted as historical proof of things when they aren’t. Take the History Channel, for example. When it first came out, it had wonderful programing on all sorts of subjects and looked into all kinds of historical eras. Now, it’s mainly aliens, Bigfoot and WW2 if we’re lucky. WW2 is the only thing on there keeping it history relevant at this point, and that’s extremely frustrating as it’s also sad.

Revisionist History Part 2

For this posting on Revisionist History, I thought I’ve focus on an area that most people don’t think about much, which is the area of biographical films (or biopics for short). Now, biopics are good for introducing famous or interesting people to a wider audience, but they are also notorious for glossing over the bad parts or nasty parts of a person’s life and even changing facts to create a more palatable film. In a way, this is a bit of revisionist history because people will use films as 100% facts, not realizing that like other films, there are things that are made up in them. So, I thought it might be nice to look at some examples of this just to be a different change of place.

General Custer (courtesy of USF.edu)

Any biopic about General Custer is going to be problematic because his widow, wanting to to make her dead husband into a hero, wrote a biography on him after his death which turned him into the hero from which all film interpretations are based upon. Only one film (Little Big Man) comes close to showing him as a jerk and idiot, so it’s closer to truth. There are a lot of films in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s that glorify this man and they are laughable in many aspects. Custer was a Confederate soldier that was notorious for disobeying orders. He was ordered to NOT engage the Native Americans. He did anyway and is responsible for one of the greatest losses of human life outside of the Civil War in the 19th Century. So, always be aware of any film that portrays him as a good guy because historically, he wasn’t. It’s important to be aware of men such as Custer who are idolized to this day from the false biography his wife had written and published. It’s amazing the damage a false narrative can still cause after over a hundred years. She purposefully revised history and people not only bought it, no one wanted to believe anyone who was stating the truth!

Andrew Jackson (Courtesy of thehermitage.com)

The few times this President has been portrayed on screen, no mention of the Trail of Tears is brought up and he never swears. Jackson was known for swearing up a storm. He was racist. misogynistic, and from all accounts, an premier asshole. I would love it if we started doing more honest portrayals of our Presidents in films or even in Theatre pieces because people need to be aware of the good and the bad. People are not aware Jackson was behind the Trail of Tears because it’s not taught in schools or it’s just not common knowledge. It should be though. For some reason, there has been a deliberate push to lessen the damage Jackson inflicted on this country and to build him up a a hero when he was not a hero in any sense of the word.

Queen Christina of Sweden (Public Domain Image)

This monarch’s story has been fictionalized only a few times, which is sad (though she has a few plays and an opera) because she is so interesting! Raised to be King, she had female and male lovers, abdicated, lived her life in exile, patron of the arts, never married. I’ve only seen two films on her (and there are so many on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I). It’s hard to say if these two films are very fictionalized because from all historical accounts, she was bisexual and did travel to Rome (one film has her sleeping with a member of the Vatican). So, am I am saying is it’s possible. I also don’t know a lot about her as there’s not many biographies on her. I’m sure some liberties were taken on both films (that’s a given) but the true and accurate things that would seem pure fiction, were not. So, I included this because sometimes real life is stranger than fiction!

Biblical based films are always a little hard to judge. When they are taken from stories from the Bible, you can judge them for things like historical accuracy and if they adhered to the Bible story. A lot of the older films (pre-1980s) aren’t too accurate, but they were dealing with things like the Hayes code which prohibited certain body parts (like belly buttons) from being shown and didn’t allow certain words (even from the Bible, which is funny considering the Hayes Code was a Catholic run organization) from being said. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some of those lavish productions for the over the top costumes and sets, but they do a lot of adding in of love stories and characters that aren’t in the original source material to turn it into a workable film.

JRR Tolkien (Courtesy of the Tolkien Estate)

Now, a Tolkien Biopic is shortly coming out and the Tolkien Estate hjas stated that they did not authorize the film and do not approve of this film. Where does this leave us? Tolkien did publish letters (I have a copy) which gives insight into him as a writer and a person. There are a few biographies on his as well as biographies on people he knew such as CS Lewis. Of course, there are going to be some liberties taken with it and some things are going to be left out. I don’t expect this is going to be a film that is going to be 100% accurate. If it’s 80% accurate, I will be satisfied. It’s sad that the family were not involved and don’t approve. So it’s a film that I will most likely wait to see when my library has a copy.

David Bowie (Courtesy of the Bowie Estate)

This brings us to another issue. There is also a film coming out about David Bowie that is also not authorized by Bowie’s family. Because it is not authorized, there will be none of Bowie’s music involved and it will take a lot of liberties of the man’s life and career. There is no authorized David Bowie biography available, so this film will be pure speculation plus any interviews that are out there. This is what I would call pure revisionist history in terms of a biopic whereas the Tolkien film has resources such as Tolkien’s letters that author himself published during his own lifetime plus many authorized biographies of the author and the men he knew an worked with. That gives his film a more accurate feeling to it than this one will have.

The point I am trying to make is this: some biopics (especially the older ones) are not at all accurate and yet people will believe them as being 100% true. Remember that during the early 20th Century, film studios were trying to make money and most films were shot in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, not months like they are now. Historical accuracy wasn’t as high as a priority as entertainment value. It’s only more recently that it’s been more of a need to be both accurate and entertaining. Though there are always people put there that do films that are completely revisionist history (and they tend to be full of conspiracy theories, which is how you spot them easily). And also because there are so many biographies in terms of films, TV specials, and even books set to come out in the near future I felt it was a good idea to do this little posting on this now instead of later.

 

 

 

Character Cheatsheets

Someone sent a comment that I had all ready done a posting about character tearsheets and cheatsheets earlier. One, yes thank you for pointing that out. I am fully aware that I did a brief blog post on these subject earlier. Two, that post was very brief and not very informative,  but was me giving insight as to how I created characters and I didn’t devote as much time to explaining myself as I was currently writing and editing my novel at the same time. And for anyone wondering, no I did not allow the comment to be posted as there was some foul language and for everyone’s sake, I have the right to refuse to publish such things.

As the last blog post went in depth to discuss how to do character tearsheets and why a writer may find them helpful, I thought it would be as useful to discuss the concept of a cheatsheet. Now, this name is a misnomer because it’s not really a cheatsheet per se. On my computer, I call them Character Charts and they also exist in the novel notebook I have (for each novel) as the same thing. I refer to them as cheatsheets because having the information available to me on the laptop makes it easy for me when editing or writing instead of having to stop and rifle through the notebook to the appropriate page.  Also, I tended to add information when typing it out that is not available in the notebook of information that I decided was more relevant to the telling of the character in terms of dialogue or characterization (physical tells, etc).

From Pinterest; yes it’s for a different genre,  but look at some of the questions each section is asking here. Some of these may end up on your character cheatsheet.

character creation sheet - Google Search

From Pinterest (daddilifeforce.com); this is the basic form I used when developing my own character chart. I didn’t use all of these questions, but many of these were useful in developing my own questions I wanted to answer.

Both of the above charts were very useful to me when coming up with my own version of a character chart. I primarily used the bottom one, but I do think the top one has good references to Religion and Psychology that I did use. I changed Race to Race/Ethnicity for my own purposes and I included a View on Self for each character because a someone who’s evil doesn’t see themselves as evil and someone who’s strong may think they are weak in a certain way. Almost like an insight into their own personal view of a flaw (for me). I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way or doing these and it should be personalized to a writer’s style. I did 24 of these for my novel, each one being a word document. There is a 25th one of miscellaneous characters of just people like servants, people mentioned but never seen in the novel and I have listed stripped down, basic information: Name (and any meaning if there is any), Age, Occupation, Looks, Personality, Family. Looks would include Race/Ethnicity. There are 5 people listed on that one document (technically, 4 people and 1 Lawyer firm, but you get the general idea).

Image result for The Hero's Journey blank

From Pinterest; this chart actually reminded me of something one might do for a Character role on Stage or for a Costume Design. Yet it’s a chart and it may be a form that works for you.

My mother said this above form looks like a government issued Tax form, which I have to giggle and state it kind of does. The purpose of these is for you to understand your character. It sounds simple, but it’s deceptive and difficult. You have to know your character inside and out. You have to know them intimately, from their most sacred thoughts, to passing fancies, to even smells or foods they can’t stand. You have to know them so well that if a fan asks you a question, you can answer-or not and allow them to figure it out themselves. After all, sometimes too much information can kill one’s love of the world that was created (Rowling, I am talking about you). The best advice I ever read was to think about this as an interview. You are conducting an interview of your character and are trying to get as much information as possible. You may start off with the basics and over time, as the story develops, you will find out more. Hopefully, you will remember to update the chart when that happens so you don’t forget.

This set includes a Character Feelings/Character Traits anchor chart and 2 different graphic organizers. The Character Feelings graphic organizer allows students to track a character's changing feelings through the beginning, middle, and end of a story. The Character Traits graphic organizer gives students a tool to identify and record a character's personality traits and evidence for those traits.

From tearchersherpa.com; while this is geared towards school children, this wouldn’t be a bad way of brainstorming for a writer. I used this same form for one of my characters and it helped.

As you can see from the above example, not all charts are word heavy. And if you are just trying to get a feel for a character, I really think the above chart would be a good place to start. Most writers that I have spoken to and have read about have all agreed that you do need some way of keeping track of your characters. Charts are one way of doing this. Now, if you decide to just print out pages and fill them in, then getting a binder or having a folder is going to be your way of keeping track of the information. OIf you want a way of somehow putting it on the computer (so you have adigital copy), I think scanning them as individual PDFs would be the way to go to ensure you have a digital set with you, and a physical set as backup. Yes, I may be a little crazy of having 2 versions (hand written then type written), but I like having two copies. I can take the handwritten notebook with me when I print out my novel at FedEx and begin to edit and revise it without having to turn on the laptop. I also make sure to have my research notebooks on hand as well so I can fact check and verify any and all dates that I put in it because we all make typing errors. It’s maddening, but a fact of our profession. And I’ve learned, through trial and error, that even reading it doesn’t always catch the errors. I’ve gone really old school and read it aloud. Sometimes what looks fine on paper sounds really odd out loud. Sounds crazy but it works. Also really a good idea for working dialogue.

It is the opposite for me, this is where the love of my life found me

Pinterest

Basically, find a method that works for you. Use Pinterest, use Google. Look at all the options that are out there. Pick and chose from them to create your own chart. Because what works for one novel or even more than one isn’t always going to work for all of them. That’s the beauty of creating your own version. Because you have tailored it to fit your needs, you can easily continue to tailor fit it for your projects! Never let an author or even an agent tell you that you are doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to do this. There is YOUR way and THEIR way. YOUR way is always the best.

Presenting “Austen Spoilers” Cartoon by John Atkinson

Sense & Sensibility: 2008 Sexed Up Version

This brings up to the last adaptation and the one that’s just…weird and shouldn’t be. Andrew Davis did the adaptation and normally he’s really good at adapting Austen, but this time he really screwed up. He explicitly stated his intent was to make people forget the Ang Lee film by making this version “overtly more sexual” than previous versions because this was a novel about two sisters going on  “a voyage of burgeoning sexual and romantic discovery” (BBC Online 2008; I kid you not). The costume designer was Michele Clapton who described Marianne as a “Wild Child” and bright colors were needed to convey this wildness. Karen Hartley-Thomas (hair and makeup designer) stated ringlets seen in portraits didn’t exist in real life, and only lower classes wore makeup.

Pinterest

After my melt down at the utter pomposity of the statements I read, I did watch it. I regretted it almost immediately (thank god I checked it out from the library is all I am saying. It starts off with Willoughby seducing an underage girl, presumably Brandon’s ward, as a way to “sex up” the production. Per Davis, it was “quite interesting and steamy stuff like a lot of underage sex that goes on and is just talked about. I want to put it on the screen (Trinity Mirror 29 May 2006).” I am going to have to say that it’s not needed. You don’t need to see Willoughby behaving like the jerk we know he is because seeing it lessens the emotional impact when it’s revealed what he’s done later on. It actually ruins the reveal Austen made in the novel. Same with adding a duel between Willoughby and Brandon. The duel exists in one little segment in the novel where Brandon reveals to Elinor what Willoughby has done and that they fought. It’s not a significant moment and no adaptation has ever shown it because it’s not important. Davis used it as an excuse to add more sexual overtones to the adaptation. I wish he didn’t.

Mrs. Dashwood (Janet McTeer), Elinor (Hattie Morahan), Marianne (Charity Wakefield), and Margaret (Lucy Boyton)

Right after the seduction scene, we get the death of the father, John Dashwood Senior and the arrival of John Dashwood, his wife Fanny, and their very portly son, Henry. And I do take offense to this. It’s clear they cast a fat child for laughs and it’s really beneath the casting director at this point to be doing this in this day and age. Yes, it’s nice to cast a child for the adaptation since most don’t have John and Fanny’s son, but to purposefully go out of the way to make the son an object of ridicule is just wrong at this point in Society. Likewise the casting of Mark Gatiss as John Dashwood and Claire Skinner as his wife Fanny is just odd. On screen they look fine, but they don’t act like there’s any kind of relationship there. With the other John & Fanny pairings, I believed that they were a married couple. I didn’t feel it was believable this time.

John Dashwood, Little Henry (Morgan Overton), and Fanny Dashwood

We also have an issue with hair (quelle surprise) in this adaptation. It seems the designer in charge fail to realize that since people only washed their hair once a week to every other week, things like ringlets could be easily maintained using rags and pomade. There were also (get this) curling rods once heated up in the fireplace to curl hair. Then one would probably coat with pomade as it would probably singe the hair a little bit to lessen the frizz. Al lthis is available at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which they claim they spent a month at doing research (yes, I am doing a major eyeroll right now).

Marianne and Willoughby (Dominic Cooper)

Other issues are Marianne either has her hair up, which is correct, or down, which is not proper at all. She is technically “out” and not in the schoolroom. There is no verifiable reason for her long hair to be down in front of anyone in public. Then Willoughby looks like they are giving him a Harry Styles kind of look with enough hairspray that his hair doesn’t even move in the wind. hairspray didn’t exit yet! They won’t use makeup, even though it existed, but will use hairspray? Oh, but they did allow the women to use corrective foundation because that is period correct. Sweet lord this production is just all kinds of inaccuracies. It’s the complete opposite of the type of work Andrew Davis was putting out in the 1990s. Then he really did do research and tried to handle the material with care. This time, he’s all about sexing it up because he thinks that’s what the people want. I hate to tell you but we don’t. Don’t put sex into Austen. Don’t add sex into something that doesn’t need it. There’s enough sensuality and romance in her works without the modern titillation.

Miss Grey (the actress’ name is not listed anywhere I can find)

There are issues with the costumes as well. As you can see, Miss Grey’s ballgown is sleeveless, which is not acceptable and was not worn. This production did not use any costumes from any previous adaptation or any stock clothing and claimed it made everything fresh. They should have done better research then because they have wandering waistlines and clothing from different time periods. Miss Grey’s gown is more 1970s than anything else. Margaret’s gowns usually sit at her natural waist, which is weird for an adaptation set in 1810. Lucy Steel has a long curl over her shoulder like a woman from the 1770s with puffed sleeves more from the 1815 era. Mrs. Jennings has hair more like Marie Antoinette in a Vigee Le Brun portrait while her daughter, Lady Middleton is more 1830’s Victorian. The color palettes range from bright pastels to greys, to earth tones, which I don’t mind. Then you get these bright pops of color, which don’t make sense in the overall view. Plus with the overall grey filter they were using, everything looked dull, lifeless and was depressing.

Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett), Sir John Middleston (Mark Williams), and Lady Middleton (Rosanna Lavelle)

Now, there are some good parts of this adaptation. The relationship between Mrs. Jennings, Sir John Middleton, and Lady Middleton was all right. Lady Middleton was quite blasé and uninterested in anything, which fits from her description from the novel, accept she’s more languid in this version than one would expect.. Sir John is energetic and delightful while Mrs. Jennings is utterly forgettable as a character. That’s actually quite tragic considering Mrs. Jennings is such a fun character and Linda Bassett is a terrific actress. Dan Stevens portrays Edward Ferrars and is a much more charming and more easy going version than seen previously, though he seems to be imitating Hugh Grant at times. He also seems to stutter a bit, so there seems to be a general consensus that Edward has difficulty in speaking in all the adaptations even though it’s never mentioned in the novel. Lucy is annoying as is her sister, Anne (I always get confused as to whether her sister is Anne or Nancy because each adaptation that has her keeps changing her name back and forth). I don’t mind having the two Steele sisters, but I also didn’t mind just having the one as Ann is annoying and really offers nothing significant to the novel, other than talking about men and spilling the beans about Lucy’s secret engagement (which Ang Lee’s version has shown how poetic it is to have Lucy betray her lover to his own sister).

Edward visits and chops wood in the rain.

Trying to top his infamous Darcy in the Lake scene, Davis has decided upon Edward chopping wood in the rain. While Darcy wishing to cool down after a long ride made sense historically and logically, chopping wood in the rain does not. One, it’s dangerous because wood gets slippery. Secondly, the actor got sick because of this and was ill for most of the shoot. Never, ever put your actor’s health at risk for something this stupid. It’s not sexy and it makes no sense whatsoever. And I highly doubt Edward Ferrars would do any physical labor of this kind. This sort of labor was not done by men of his social status. Men of his social sphere boxed, fenced, rode horses-they did not chop wood.

Colonel Brandon (David Morrisey)

Like previous BBC versions, Colonel Brandon is at the ball when Marianne confronts Willoughby and Miss Steele, which is not in the novel at all. And while Andrew Davis stated he wished to distance himself from the 1995 film version, he pulled a lot of imagery and script ideas from it. Namely the relationship between Edward and Margaret, Marianne getting sick from standing in the rain at Cleveland Park and being rescued by Colonel Brandon, expanding Margret’s role from the novel, Marianne getting injured int he rain and being offered help by Willoughby (while he helps her in the novel, no where does Austen state it takes place in the rain). There’s even similar costumes and color palettes being used for the same characters.

Brandon from 1995 & 2008; similar rich tones and even striped waistcoats

Elinor 2008

Elinor & Marianne in 1995

There was also the very odd choice of making Mrs. Dashwood sensible and suspicious of Willoughby, which is the complete opposite of her character in the novel and in every adaptation. Austen describes Mrs. John Dashwood as being very much like Marianne-romantic, flighty, emotional. She is charmed by Willoughby and cannot think ill of him. To have her be suspicious of him is just wrong on so many levels. Then the trip to Allenham that Willoughby takes Marianne to is weird. There are no servants ever seen and the place looks deserted. For a place he visits every year that belongs to his aunt (and we assume she lives there year round), doesn’t it seem very unlikely that there would be no one around, especially his aunt, when they arrive? Plus her hair is down the entire time and that just bothers me to no end. She comes off of some kind of cheap floozy instead of a gentleman’s daughter.

Miss Eliza Williams (Caroline Hayes)

I don’t mind showing Eliza and the baby in this adaptation. I think it’s nice to see Brandon react and show that he forgives his ward for her mistake and that he will always see that they are taken care of. I believe I mentioned earlier that the seduction scene was not needed and I stand by that. I do think David Morrisey did a decent job of portraying Brandon, but I felt there was no connection between him and and the actress who portrayed Marianne. This Marianne just is too crazed, too unpredictable to be likable. She’s too over the top that it’s really hard to have any kind of sympathy for her. This Marianne is selfish, a bit cruel, and uncaring. One kind of hope she dies of her illness, to be honest.

Miss Steele (Daisy Haggard) and Lucy Steele (Ann Madeley)

There are some good points in this production. Lucy Steele comes across as a young girl who is unsure of Edward’s affections and is worried he is in love with another (Elinor) and so confides in Elinor hoping to persuade said woman to not pursue the man she loves. She is pitiable in her own way. Her sister is crude, they are not wealthy, and her only chance to escape the poverty she is from is to marry a rich man. Lucy comes across as being less evil and more of someone who is trying to survive.

Mrs. Dashwood & Margaret

I do like Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood. While I don’t agree with the script changes, I do like the inner strength she conveys. If this was an interpretation instead of an adaptation, I would like it much better. She would make a fantastic Lady Catherine de Burgh. Margaret likewise is really good. She isn’t as charming as the 1995 Margaret, but she is a little bit more mature, which is fine too. Though the obsession with sea shells was something I didn’t understand. And I thought it would have been nice to see Margaret being taught language and other subjects like they did in Ang Lee’s version because while it’s not int the novel, it would have been a part of a daily routine.

I have to say that this Willoughby by far was the worst I’ve ever seen on screen and I’ve seen this actor before, so I know he can act. The script played an issue here. As well the hair and costume. The hair was awful, the seduction scene just killed any kind of sympathy we may have had for him. And having Marianne overhear his confession to Elinor just didn’t make any sense. He played a straight up cad who was unredeemable and Austen does give him some redeeming qualities. A few, but they are there. Andrew Davis stripped him of those qualities.

The ending is just weird, but what else can we expect from this hyper-sexualized version. Edward proposes to Elinor, but it doesn’t end with a wedding. That would be too easy and simple. No, we must end with Brandon taming some horses while Marianne is watching. Clearly a euphemism about how he will be taming her sexually (or dominating her sexually) very soon. So, do I recommend this version? Absolutely not! I don’t understand why it got the high praise that it did, unless people just really went for the sex and completely forgot that the sex wasn’t in Austen to begin with. It really saddens me as a person who loves Jane Austen to see this progression to push more and more more sex into literature that never had it to begin with. 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, pushed a more heightened sense of sexuality into the novel that wasn’t there because they felt the novel needed it in order to make it relevant to modern audiences. Actually, it doesn’t Modern audiences just want a good, faithful adaptation that’s done well and done historically well. We don’t want sex added to it. We don’t want modern ideals put into it. We want it done faithfully and respectfully. That’s  it.

Plus, there was that weird trip to LYME COBB that is no where in the NOVEL! What the Hell Andrew Davis?! Lyme is in Persuasion! Not Sense and Sensibility!

How to Research (Part 2)

Let’s talk about the least favorite subject of mine: organization. First, I must admit that I am not the most organized person int the world. My bedroom routinely mimic the after effects of WWIII meets a tornado mixed in with an Earthquake on a good day. Yet I like to keep my books, records (yes, VINYL people), CDs, comic books, and art supplies organized (apparently because that it important to me). I try and keep the sewing and crochet/knitting stuff organized too. But I am trying to be better in all things organized. No one is perfect.

One thing I am notorious for, and very skilled at, is organizing my computer files. I have a mega file on my portable HD called Costume History with I believe a hundred files inside of it with names like 1600-1700, 1800-1900, etc. Then each file, when you open it, is broken down into subsections like Court Dress, Shoes, portraits, etc. It’s why I was always told I excelled at Costume research at both graduate schools I attended. I started this mega database during my undergrad days and was just saving images from places like JSTOR. Now, that’s all and good, but I have no idea where I got the images from because all I have are the images and no way of verifying that they are authentic. So, it’s a reason why I abandoned the project some time during my second graduate school and turned to Pinterest (I believe if you search for Sabaah Jauhar-Rizvi in Pinterest, you will find me).

An example of Pinterest Boards

So, basically I’ve sort of replicated my portable HD in Pinterest, but in a different way. I cannot have a massive board called Costume History with sub folders upon subfolders. Instead, I have boards like Costume History: 2000s, with a subheading that is for the years 2000-2009, and folders inside have labels such as Trends, Gucci, Miu Miu, etc. Now, I don’t have everything under the sun, but enough to have a basic selection in case I ever design a show based in that time period or someone who follows me needs reference pictures from that time period. Most likely, a theatre friend needs help researching and I send them a link to their heart’s content (it’s what I do and I enjoy doing it because I like knowing that I helped someone).

I found this on Pinterest!

While Pinterest is great, and it is especially to help organize things like potential images for character references, tips for writing, prompts, research images, etc, it’s also a den of misinformation. This brings us to vetting information. or verifying if the information you are taking in is truthful and accurate. The great thing about the Internet is everything is accessible. The terrible thing about the Internet is there’s a ton of misinformation out there that it can be scary to navigate. You really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is a decent resource BUT keep in mind they have volunteers correcting the pages.  I myself have tried to go and correct pages, with book and scholarly journal citations, only to have them rejected as not being true (even though they were true), which was extremely frustrating. Also, how they modify pages is very confusing is you are not a computer programmer (it’s not user friendly to those of us who are not technologically inclined is what I am saying).

So, what is a writer, or anyone trying to do any kind of research to do? Thankfully there are these great places called Museums that have exhibits available on-line. While not the same as going there in person, having access to images and artifacts that are kept in the archives available on-line is a terrific things. Take, for example, Brazil’s National Museum. It tragically burned down in 2018 and so much was destroyed and lost. Thankfully, Google did a virtual tour and those artifacts are now preserved digitally as well as people submitting videos and photographs to Brazil in order to preserve what was once a beautiful museum. So there is hope that one day there will be a digital version of the original National Museum for all to visit.

One of the exhibits at Brazil’s National Museum that was destroyed. Courtesy of thisiscolossal.com

Luckily, Museums don’t often get destroyed (though we are all still reeling from the loss of Notre Dame). Museum websites and heritage websites are some of the best resources for finding all sorts of information. Portraits, extant clothing (clothing from that time period), furniture, jewelry, even samples of preserved food sometimes makes an appearance in a museum. Heritage sites will showcase how reactors (or historians) explain how people lived, sometimes setting tables or bedrooms up in period correct ways, which is really nice to see as the earliest photograph wasn’t taken until 1826 or 1827 (the date is up for debate). I also like heritage sites because they will show the places people don’t necessarily ever talk about in history books, such as the outhouses, the ice house, where laundry was done. The places you’d think people would want to know about, but are rarely ever seen in any historical film, which is why we never think people had toliets back in Ancient Rome.

Public Toilets in Ancient Rome.Yes, they did exist. Hollywood lies. HBO lies. Courtesy of Science Magazine

So, an example of a site you can’t trust is one that is telling you that everything that is well documented is a lie. One that is stating that every known image, known portrait, known account is a lie and only they know the truth. In layman’s terms, this is known as fake history. In scholarly terms, we call it revisionist history.

Original picture of King George III of Great Britain, he was not an Albino (European) he was a Moor (so-called black). Here is the mailing address authentication of this depiction. Write to "Science Museum of London Exhibition Rd London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom.

So, let’s test your critical thinking skills here. Take this image I’ve posted above. It’s from the website momoafrica.com and has been shared on other websites including Pinterest. People are posting this as FACT. Now, IF you know basis English history, you will nkow that King George III (also known as tghe Mad King) lived from 1738-1820. And remember earlier when I stated when the fist known photograph was taken? Hard to take a photograph of a dead guy 6 or 7 years after he’s buried. Then there is the question of clothing. The clothes shown are clearly 1850s-1870s, making this thirty to forty years after the death of the King. And finally, the picture is of an African American. King George was of German, Austrian , and Welsh decent. The man was White and I do mean White in the most courteous of terms.

Detail view of King George when he was crowned. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

Now, I have gotten into an argument with the website stating that the picture is fake and they are guilty of revisionist history. They replied that I am part of the conspiracy and every person who has been in charge throughout history has been black (or of color) and it’s been whitewashed to keep black people down. Now, let’s un-package this nonsense. If everyone throughout history has been of color, then why would they have allowed Slavery? Allowed the British to colonize places like Asia, India, Africa, Australia? Why would they have allowed the Trail of Tears to occur? See how quickly and easily it is to see how what they are stating as fact isn’t?

Offered as proof of King George’s “blackness” by momoafrica.com

I was then sent the above image as “proof” of King George’s “blackness” by the same website with this above image. First, this is an engraving. This doesn’t indicate he was black or of color at all. The process of engraving is using lines or dots to indicate shadow and dimension. The same process if used on paper currency. By this logic, we can then conclude that George Washington was Green because he’s green on American Currency.

Another engraving done by another artist at the same time as the one I was sent. Same pose, different interpretation. Based off the same portrait. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

So, while I am saying use Pinterest to help organize your thoughts, organize research images, be aware that there are some sketchy and weird information floating out there. If it sounds really weird and too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to double check before pinning, Google it. If it comes up with hits that seem to come from verified sources like museums and scholarly journals telling you that this is true, then go ahead and pin it. If it comes back as hitting a bunch of conspiracy theory sites, then avoid like the plague. Trust me, this will only help you in the long run.

Places I have actually found to be really good resources are auction houses. I know, it seems like a weird resource to use, but think about it for a minute. The people who work there are experts, they research the items for authenticity and verify that they are what they say they are. Next to a Museum website, this is a really good and underused resource in the community. I love using Bonham’s, Christies, Augusta, and other verifiable, high end auction houses for research purposes. Any of them you can follow on Pinterest (which is nice) and you get to see a wide variety of items that you may never see in a museum. I’ve come across scissors from the 1600s that are meant to cut leather. I had no idea those existed. Of course, logically, they MUST have existed, but seeing an image of them was pretty neat. And they are really good about giving a nice detailed history of the item including what it is made of, dimensions, and where it was possibly made. It’s like having a cheat sheet but without you having to do all the hard work.

University and college websites are also a great resource. Sometimes lectures on certain subjects are made available to the public on the websites and are posted on Pinterst, sometimes you find them via Google. It’s really good to keep an eye out for these because not only is it valuable for giving you a goldmine of information from an academic who’s a specialist in the field, they generally list where they are getting this information (as in a bibliography) at the end or on the course website, which can lead you down further paths of research!

This comes to the last bit of research. Blogs can be great. I follow some blogs written by historians and some written by Theatre people. But there are some blogs that just copy and paste from other blogs. I’ve come across Regency blogs that copy and paste blog posts from other blogs topics you know that person probably researched and put together years ago and that’s dishonest. But that’s the nature of having a blog. Those sites generally don’t copy and paste where the information came from (as in museum sites or books), which is how you know it’s probably not a good site. Now, in the beginning of this blog, I was still learning the ropes, so if you come across one with not many entries, they may just be leanring the ropes as well (it’s a learning curve), and I generally now state where I get my images (unless it’s clipart, then I just don’t because it’s clipart).

So now you have all these great on-line resources, it’s best to organize (ha! you thought I forgot about that) them. Bookmarking them in general folders is going to be a time saver and also give you a smaller window when you first pull up the bookmark window. I just stick to the basics. One is just Museums, the other Auction Websites, then I have one that’s Social (where I have my Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Email websites saved). I have one that is for my Library, but I also keep my Goodreads account there (it makes sense in my mind). I also have the Thesaurus and Dictionary website saved under Library because you can’t always be lugging them around if you are typing in a Panera or Starbucks.  I also have folders for each of the my novels with a subfolder that specifically says characters. And for that, there two folders, one says tearsheets and the other is for cheatsheets (word documents with basic information I can pull up when typing without having to have a notebook on me-I will write about all of that soon!). the point is to have as much as possible in your notebooks to help you write, but also have some of that available on-line and on your PC or laptop so you don’t have to have this massive pile on your desk when typing. I use my notebooks when writing (I wrote most of my novel out by hand then typed it, which I think was helpful because I could edit and add at that point, so I consider it my first edit and I’ve done 7 more since then and yes, that’s normal). Just keep in mind this is a process. And it’s long and tedious. Even though I’ve done 20 years of research for my time period, that was very generic and basic. For each novel, because I am focusing on a specific time frame, I do have to go through my research and sometimes have to search for specific things for each one. So while one is done and being queried, I am now in that early stage of another. Most of all, have some fun looking around and finding what sites are out there.

Pinterest

 

How to Research (Part 1)

I’d thought it would be good to take a break from the adaptations (only 2 left and then 2 bonus reviews!) to talk about research. Research is one of those weird topics that if you try and Google or go to the library and find just basic steps on how to to it, you’ll probably go insane like poor Ophelia and we wouldn’t want that!

John Everet Millias’s interpretation of Ophelia. Don’t feel overwhelmed when it comes to research!

So, not everyone who wants to write is going to have the advantage (or the curse) or having gone to a graduate school where you get taught how to research things like Thesis and Dissertations and Papers for Conferences! It’s OK, I’m not going to bore you will all of that. However, there were quite a few tips that I find from my grad school days that do end up being quite useful. One is get to know your local library and the librarians who work there. Trust me, these people will become your best friends in the world. You may never learn their first names or exchange phone numbers, but going there and being someone they learn to recognize is helpful. Especially when you need help researching something really obscure and cannot find it in the library and are unsure how to proceed. Because they can track that sucker down through Interlibrary Loan.

The research library and archive at Sir John Soane’s Museum. I can smell the books! (soane.org)

Now, where to start? Firstly, if you have a computer at home, start a Pinterest board. I have several actually and I can talk about how to organize and what is a good pin versus a bad pin at a later time (because yes, it should be discussed). Let’s say we’re going to research Dragons because we want to write a YA novel involving Dragons. So, you might start a Board on Pinterest called Dragons and pin things like sculptures, art (anime, medieval manuscripts, etc), links to legends and myths, perhaps even books or films that feature dragons (even TV shows like GOT). Basically, Pinterest is used like a giant corkboard of where you collect ideas, even random ones, to start that complex journey into the realm of research. Good thing is that in that general board, you can then organize those pins into different categories however you see fit.

An image from a PS3/4 game called Dragon’s Crown found on Pinterest and was featured in Forbes Magazine. Pinterest is handy!

 

Secondly, go to the dollar store and buy a few notebooks, pens, post-its flags or paperclips if you don’t have any. Pens in at least 2 different colors is nice, but purchasing some highlighters or even some colored pencils or crayons will work just as well because you will take one of those notebooks with you to the library when you start to do some serious research. For notebooks, I prefer those composition books because they have a hardcover and don’t have that annoying metal spiral to contend with. Some composition books are not hardcover and that’s OK too. If you have an old spiral notebook laying around, use it! Don’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff if you all ready have it laying around. Only go and buy it if you need it (because writing is not a money maker folks).

I try to find college ruled in these, which is not always easy.

Now that you have a notebook and pens, let’s go back to researching Dragons at the library. Now, some of you are thinking that this is going to be a really hard topic to research because Dragons aren’t real and I am more of a historical person. Yes, that is true but I did work in a college library at both the undergraduate and graduate level (the undergraduate college also had a children’s section for teachers, so I was used to finding things like fairy tales, etc for both students and the public). If you know your way around the library, you’d head over to the electronic card catalog and probably type in “dragons”. You’ll come up with a lot of hits featuring children related materials, so don’t stress out! If you need, help, ask a librarian because they can show you how to change the search parameters to only feature adult related books and help narrow that filed of study for you. Though don’t discount the children’s books entirely since you are interested in writing for that YA group, it helps to read books in that field to get a sense of what is expected in terms of writing, but also what agents & publishers are looking for. Plus some of the most enjoyable books are considered YA (like The Hobbit for example, which features a dragon).

The modern card catalog is entirely an electronic database. Some of us still remember the good old fashioned card catalogs & their cabinets!

This is how you used to search!

Sticking to our theme of Dragons, places you may want to start researching would be mythology. Chinese, Japanese, British mythology featuring dragons would be an ideal place to start and take notes as to physical characteristics, habitat, eating habits, range of domain, and any pertinent information such as communication, hoarding behavior, etc. From there, one could branch out into specific areas like Arthurian legends (which are a mixture of Welsh and French), looking at the Greek origins, the Mesopotamian God Dagon, Vietnamese mythology, Norse myths, Hindu Nagas, Roman mythology (which is a rehash of Greek mythos), then modern usage. This could also incorporate a look into Sea creatures of mythology, like the Lock Ness and the Champlain Lake Monster, and could meld into a look at real creatures like Dinosaurs for comparison.

Researching a Ptesosaur could assist in Dragon research when trying to visualize the size because if there was any living creature that could come close to a Dragon, Ptresosaurs came close. (courtesy of dinoaminals.com)

 

Now, back to the library side of things. You are going to have to learn to enjoy the tedious pleasure known as reading and taking notes. Since we are researching Dragons, a good tool would be to watch how they are recreated on film and take notes (yes, I am being serious). The library may have BBC or Discovery Channel DVDs like Walking with Dinosaurs that you can check out and watch. There was this wonderful film in 2004 called Dragons: Fantasy Made Real which really went through the biological process of dragons. So if one was to research dragons, that would be an excellent place to start. So, while in the beginning, it seemed like it would be impossible to really have any real research on Dragons, hopefully I have shown that pretty quickly, one can easily have notebooks filled with bits and pieces of information just from mythology and looking into dinosaurs. We haven’t even discussed looking at scholarly journal articles that existed discussing the topic. And they exist on all sort of subjects ranging from the importance of dragons in literature to the significance of dragons on medieval tapestries. Any of these can broaden your research and led you down paths to creating a world wholly unique yet grounded in some form of reality.

An image from Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real showing skeletal structure.

When it comes to organizing the notes, this is where the highlighters, etc come in handy. Chose a color for a specific things, say physical characteristic, and go through all the notes and highlight the start of each area that pertains to that subject. And just keep doing that. And hopefully, you also kept a log of where you got all your information. Now, this is what I did, which sounds insane, but it’s how I work and if it helps you, great, if not, also great. Target has these composition books called Yoobi which are college ruled and contain much more paper than the average composition notebook. I then took all my notes and on a clean sheet of paper, write down how I wanted them organized, like how you would see it in a book (basically, I have a section called Finances, and underneath are things like pay for servants, coinage of the realm, banks, etc). So I then wrote out everything in these notebooks, sticking to my prearranged format. Each heading is written in one color, each subheading in another and the notes in general are in black ink. Each heading is also flagged with a post it note for easy access. And yes, I have the index for each notebook written inside the front cover. As for the sources, all that information is in it’s own section (a bibliography). Now I made the mistake of not indicating where each note came from (my error and I regret that I made it), but at least I do have a complete list of all the sources I used and looked at, which is where I perhaps differ from others. I write down books and places I looked and read that I didn’t take any notes from. Now, you don’t have to write down all the books you looked at and didn’t use, but it makes it handy when going back to the library and not wanting to keep checking out the same materials over and over again.

These are my preferred notebooks for compiling massive amounts of notes. I only had to buy one package to contain all my notes for 1790-1830 for my 6 novels. And those notes are all generic. I also have a notebook specific to each novel with more specific notes (I use a regular composition notebook for them though).

A hold over from my college days. These come in all sorts of shapes and colors and are useful in flagging pages of interest in books as well. Also you can find versions of these everywhere.

 

Basically, if you’ve never done any kind of research, it’s going to take some time for you to get used to doing it. And while I research actual history, I’ve hope I’ve proven that you can research anything if you have the determination and the perseverance to do this. Even if you just want to research your family tree, the same rules apply. The library is a great place to start and the librarians working there are wonderful people who are there to assist you! It’s their job and they love to do it! I cannot tell you how much attention I got when I went in one day asking for help in finding books to finish my thesis. They fawned over me and were only too happy to assist. This is what they are trained to do folks, Allow them to help you.

A Brief History of Breakfast (or for God’s sakes it’s “just” a vitamin commercial)

As many of you may have be aware, there has been a great to-do about an Asian/Chinese Centrum commercial featuring Mr. Hiddleston. The uproar over this has been baffling to me since I don’t understand the un-comfortableness people are experiencing over a basically boring commercial (no offense to Mr. Hiddleston, but the Jaguar commercials I liked much better).

It’s really quite a boring bottle, but gets the point across.

Most of the comments I’ve seen on-line relate to the question of why vegetables were being served (along with a fried egg and some fresh fruit) for Breakfast. Well, visually, the vegetables and fruit were laid out and displayed to mimic the brands iconic rainbow design, but in such a way as to not be so blatantly obvious. Clearly the intent was to showcase that the same vitamins and minerals found in these food items are also found in the daily pill. It’s very simple advertising (and yes, I took a class on Modern Art in Advertising in Grad School-it was summer and I was bored).

A screen-shot of the infamous vegetable plate with fried egg. There are blueberries on the plate as well (not shown). I am just impressed with the heart shaped egg actually (yes, I know it’s a mold).

Basically, it’s a pretty decent commercial, a bit boring and the only saving grace is the fact that Mr. Hiddleston is in it. But if you’ve ever seen commercials for the Asian markets (China, Japan, India, etc) that feature Western stars, they tend to be weird by Western standards. I believe it’s because people in the west truly don’t comprehend that there are more people who are Asian and of Asian decent in the world and yes, we’d like products featuring stars we like catered to us. Advertisements in general can be awkward and strange.

Yes, that’s Bob Hope endorsing a soda that no one has ever heard of. Hollywood has a history of endorsing products.

Nicole Kidman for Omega Watches. This advertisement was only placed in Asian countries and in Asian magazines.

While this is all well and interesting (not really), I want to address the issue many people are really having a hard time with, which is having vegetables for breakfast. Breakfast is, I think, historically a very interesting meal to look at because what was once eaten has changed over the years due to shifts in society and economy. Back in the time of Jane Austen (and generally this applies to the Georgian Era well into the Victorian Era in terms of food offered, not necessarily the times), people (not the servants) woke up before 8AM, had a cup of tea, ale, or hot chocolate and a piece of toast (maybe two). This was done in their nightwear, usually women would be wearing a bedgown/robe and men would be wearing a Banyan or Dressing Gown. They then would spot clean, get dressed and do their hair. They then exercised (walking, rode horses), wrote letters, gathered flowers (if they were into wanting fresh flowers in the home), practiced piano playing (specifically this refers to Jane herself) and then sat down to Breakfast at about 10AM.

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collectionimages/AN00101/AN00101162_001_l.jpg

Le Bon Genre 106, 1817 (Doggy Meal is the basic French to English translation of the piece); Courtesy of the British Museum; this is meant to be satire, but one gets the general idea of what a typical Regency Era meal for just family may look like.

'A Brighton Breakfast' or 'Morning Comforts' by Charles   Williams

A Brighton Breakfast or Morning Comforts (Oct 1802); drawn by Charles Williams depicting Mrs. Fitzherbert (Prinny’s illegal Catholic Wife, my ancestor by marriage Maria Weld) and Lady Lade (one of Prinny’s mistresses at the time). Courtesy of the Regency Town House website

A typical Georgian & Regency breakfast (remember, this is being served around 10AM) may include eggs, kidneys & liver (I’m not a fan of organ meat, so bleh), various cold cuts or chops leftover from a previous meal (typically cold chicken or turkey, game birds, beef, ham, etc). Kippers or some kind of fish (this tended to be seasonal and more typical for homes along a coast or access to a constant source of fresh water, so think Lyme Regis, Brighton, Bath, but not necessarily London), game pies, tongue (bleh), and perhaps jellied eel (again, bleh). More tea and hot chocolate was served, though Prinny and other Dandies at the time preferred ale (alcohol was available to drink 24/7 at this time because water was not safe to drink). Ale and Stout were also reported to be a healthy beverage to consume for breakfast, so women were encouraged to drink it to help encourage fertility (seriously, I am not kidding here). Cakes spiced with things like Caraway seeds, Ginger, citrus, fresh or preserved fruits, honey and saffron were typically seen. Hot rolls, toast, butter, preserves, French Brioche (particularly posh) along with fried potatoes and any fresh seasonal fruit was served as well. While no research (meaning my ongoing 20+ year one) has yet turned up any evidence of milk or lemon barely water being drunk at this time, I have come across both being touted for invalids and children, so I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibilities to see them made available for those that wished for them (especially if children were involved). This was mean to be a fairly relaxing, communal, and most likely lasted close to an hour as people came to eat at their leisure, which must have been a nightmare for the servants.

The Full English (well, one example of it anyways). There are many variations of it in the UK, but there are at least 2 types of meat, beans, tomatoes, toast, eggs and sometimes mushrooms (some places have potatoes instead of mushrooms). Tomatoes are also usually fried, though raw wouldn’t bother me.

Sometime in the mid Victorian Era (late 1850s to early 1860s), breakfast not only meant the Georgian/Regency meal as stated above, but a newer, smaller hot meal. The English Breakfast Society dates the Full English to the early 1800s, yet I’ve never been able to find any evidence of this. While I do believe it evolved from the Georgian/Regency meal (which did offer a variety of meats, eggs, and toast), tomatoes were NOT widely eaten at that point in time. Tomatoes were seen as poisonous and the only way people consumed them was they had to be cooked, preferably in a soup format and possibly jellied IF one wished for a cold remove for a dinner (remove is a very fancy terms for a side dish). The closest I’ve seen to a Full English is from Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management (it’s free on Kindle and yes, I’ve read it):

Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

This is her description of hot food items for breakfast. She does mention the use of cold meats, including tongue, potted meats, cold game pies, as well as bread, sweet rolls, and pastries. Typical breakfast fare for inns, pubic-houses and for the working class (servants too) consisted of eggs, bacon or ham, bread, butter, and ale.

Kedgeree is considered a typical British Breakfast dish (courtesy of the BBC)

Now, one item I have not discussed yet is Kedgeree. Now, I’m American, but I am also half-Desi and I love this dish. I have made this dish and variations that are more traditional (as in Desi traditional) when I was living on my own in Grad School. For modern eaters of this dish, it contains rice, smoked haddock (I prefer Salmon, but Tuna is also considered acceptable), hard boiled eggs, parsley, butter or cream. Some UK recipes insist on adding curry powder (which is a very British thing; curry for us Desis means it contains tomatoes), and sultanas (raisins; like potato salad, just no). This modern dish dates to about 1790 from a recipe book by Stephana Malcolm of Scotland and is believed to have been created by Scottish Militia who missed the spices and food of India once they returned home. Traditional Kedgeree (Khichri or Kishri or Khichdi) dates to 1340CE, but is probably much older. Ibn Battuta wrote in 1340CE of a dish he enjoyed and referred to as Kishri of moong dal cooked with rice (basically, lentils and rice most likely topped with butter because yes, Indian people did know how to make butter).

Masoor Dal (Red Lentil) Khichri. There are many recipes and variations of Khichri out there. Notice that vegetables play a key factor here. Yes, VEGETABLES for BREAKFAST.

The oldest known written recipe for Khichri dates from around 1590 CE and remains extremely popular in the Gurajat region of India where it’s often served with a spiced yogurt called Kadhi or Raitia (they are different dishes actually, but I’ve eaten it with Raitia, so don’t “at” me Desi brothers and sisters). Fish is and was probably added along the coastlines of India, where fish and seafood is widely eaten. Eggs are usually not part of the dish, traditionally, but I’ve added some boiled eggs on occasion. I’ve also added Paneer instead. Like I stated before, there are so many variations of this dish in the Desi community, most can find one they like. Or go with the UK version.

Seal of the East Indian Company (the British one as there was a Dutch one too). Courtesy of North Central College (Naperville, IL)

Now Kedgeree (yes, I’ve gone back to the UK spelling) is never mentioned in Mrs. Beeton’s book and is never acknowledged as being a dish served during the time of Jane Austen. For some reason, it seems to magically appear around the 1830s, disappear,then reappear in the 1880s. But briefly and only in passing (I am referring to extant novels). It is mentioned in Evelyn’s Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted (pubslihed in 1945) and Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn (published in 1984); both books are cited by Americans who blog about wanting to try Kedgeree because it’s mentioned in these two British novels (they are also often shocked at the ingredients and typically don’t like it).

An illustration depicting what a Georgian/Regency Scottish Officer would be wearing (1780s-1820s). We can thank the wife of one of these gents for writing down the first UK recipe for Kedgeree. Courtesy of Brown University (Rhode Island).

This was probably a dish that most men in the military brought back with them (because, as we should now, the East Indian Company sent Army men to India, China, Japan (and more) for close to 300 years (December 1600 to June 1874). Because Austen had no relations involved in that venture, it is possibly she never heard of it (her three brothers joined during the Napoleonic Wars-two in the Navy and one in the Oxford Militia). Tough I do find it odd that it is not mentioned by Sir Walter Scott (considering the UK version comes from Scotland). Oh well. Personally, I am fairly certain Colonel Brandon, Sir John Middleton, Colonel Foster, and Captain Wentworth would have heard of it and eaten it. Definitely Admiral Croft must be included in that list.

Corn Flakes

This brings our breakfast journey right to Battle Creek, Michigan (I’ve got family near there, no lie) and the Kellogg Brothers. Dr. Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist and hard core vegetarian. I do mean hard core. He was fine with dairy being consumed, but not meat, not eggs, no fish, etc. Hopefully you get my point. He ran a sanitarium (Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) and did some pretty shady crap. He tortured and trained a wild wolf to turn away from the instinct to eat meat as “proof” man could curb his instincts for consuming flesh. He believed in using masturbatory devices to curb unhealthy sexual activities between married couples (vibrators people); he firmly believed sex should only take place to produce children. Any “urges” had to be taken care of scientifically. Basically, he was nuts himself (see the 1994 film Road to Wellville as it’s surprisingly accurate). His brother, Will, on the other hand, was more practical. While also an Adventist, he wasn’t too keen on the whole vegetarian thing, but he was into philanthropy. Will noticed that rich people ate eggs and meat for breakfast while the poor tried to survive on oatmeal, farina, gruel (you get the point) which filled them up, but didn’t provide enough nutrients. So he came up with corn flakes, which is just toasted flakes of corn mush. It was cheap, it was filing, and because you ate it with milk, you were getting some protein. Post Cereals (now known as General Mills) copied this concept with their own version, but added sugar.

How many of us grew up with the concept of this being the normal breakfast?

This really did change the landscape for breakfast. Think about all the cereals that have come out of this concept. We have cereals made from corn, wheat, oats, and rice. And yes, I know I did not mention pancakes, waffles, etc because I don’t have time for that and I am focusing on just the concept of breakfast, not a book on the history of it. Eggs generally were eaten on weekends (at least, for me growing up) because cereal was faster to prepare.

Vegetable Stuffed Omelette from Betty Crocker’s website. No, I’m not kidding. This is an actual recipe. Chosen mainly to highlight that, yes, we do eat vegetables for breakfast.

This brings me back around to people freaking out about that Hiddleston commercial. If vegetables are in a quiche, an omlette, or a quinoa breakfast bowl, no one is bothered by it. We accept that it’s perfectly fine to have vegetables for breakfast, but only if it conforms to certain standards (meaning Western standards). But what if the commercial was done for a Desi audience and the dish he prepared was a traditional Khichri? Most people in the UK would probably recognize it as being similar to a Kedgeree and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Americans would still have a fit because it’s rice being eaten for breakfast (rice, of course, is ALWAYS Basmati; that Texas grown “Texati” stuff is disgusting). I’ve worked with people from Mexico and have had eggs smothered in beans and Cholula Hot Sauce (which I highly recommend! The beans were cooked in mole sauce and onions).

On the left is regular brown rice. On the right is brown Basmati rice.

Breakfast is simply  the first meal we eat to break our fast after sleeping. There is no wrong food to eat. There is no right food to eat. I can tell you that as while in College (and Grad Schools), I ate things like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, Khichri, oatmeal, eggs (lots of eggs, which I still do), portabello mushrooms, ice cream (I’m an adult), cereal, beans on toast (Heinz of course as I am not a savage), shami kabobs, tuna sandwiches, lox on bagels with smear (ask your Jewish or NYC friends), and on occasion, pancakes or waffles.

This is what I had today for Breakfast: homemade Paneer Jalfrezi on a bed of spinach. Followed by an apple (Envy variety! Delicious) and tea.

So yes, I have eaten vegetables for breakfast. I’ll probably continue to do so in some fashion the rest of my life. It’s really not that weird of a concept. I didn’t think the commercial was weird in showing that. FYI, the shuffling people say occurs near the end? Most likely slipping shoes on. Most Asians take shoes off at the door and put the on when they leave. This is not a creepy or weird thing. It keeps floors much cleaner. I really do think people need to learn about other cultures so things like this won’t be found to be offensive or awkward in the future.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll have some vegetables with my eggs topped with cheese. And a glass of milk. Then again, I may have a protein smoothie.

Book Review: Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

Image result for waterloo by bernard cornwell

While I am a student of late 18th & 19th Century History, Waterloo is a subject I know very little about. Actually, a lot of the battles that occurred in Europe a still a mystery to me as American schools do a very poor job of educating people in world history. American schools, for the most part, spend much time on the discovery of America in Grade School, a little on the American Revolution in Middle School (and I’m lucky to have had to study the Constitution at this time, which used to be a requirement in all 50 states, but exists in only a handful at this time), then a quick glossing over the Civil War, WWI and WWII in High School. No mention is ever made of the War of 1812, the Peruvian War of Independence, the French Revolution, The Crimea War, the Chilean Civil War, the Battle of Kalinga, etc. Basically, you get the point. America is well known for being an isolated country in part due to Teddy Roosevelt. He didn’t like to involved the US in world issues and in turn, fostered the insular need for us to remain separate from the world around us. I believe this has been a detriment to my education and to the education of many. So, I have decided, since I mainly stick to the years 1750-1830 (though I do have knowledge of of 1830-1910) to educate myself further. I feel this will not only help me understand the years that I tend to focus on better, and the life of Jane Austen with more understanding, but will also manifest itself in my writing (at least in one novel certainly) since the odd thought which occurred at 2AM a week ago and most assuredly lodged itself in my brain and this is the result.

I have looked at a few books dealing with Waterloo over the past 2 weeks and have rejected at least 5 in favor of this book by Bernard Cornwell. Once of the main reasons I chose this one over the others was based primarily on the fact Cornwell used basic English to describe the battles and didn’t relay too heavily on military lingo. While I do commend the writers who are writing and publishing books for the military aficionado, a person such as myself doesn’t understand such terms easily and didn’t relish needing a thesaurus or dictionary in order read every other sentence. In other words, his book is meant as an overview of the battle, but it also provides an in-depth view as to how the events unfolded and why certain decisions were made. He writes not expecting the reader to have any prior knowledge of the event, which works to his advantage. He proves that writing history doesn’t have to be boring and dull, but can be exciting and engaging when it is written well and with great passion.

Cornwell starts off each chapter with a map of the battle or layout of the area the chapter is focusing on, which is very helpful. They armies are color coded (Blue for French, Red for British & Prusssian) so you can understand the various positions he is describing and the movements. I wish every battle in history class had maps such as these because it does make a difference. Most people, I believe, are visual learners and having maps for each chapter did help me understand the battles and how they shaped up. He also ended each chapter with pictures (some portraits of the men he was talking about and some artistic renditions of the battle he was just discussing). The maps plus the pictures told me that the author made the effort to bring this tale to life in such a way as to make it feel relevant and easy to understand. I do think he succeeded with me.

Blucher

You do, over the course of the book, have your favorite historical persons. One of mine became Blucher, aka Marshal Forward, a 74 yr old Prussian who sometimes believed himself to be pregnant with an elephant (the father was always French it seems). But for all that, he was well loved by his men, it seems well loved by his wife, and when he found a woman in his army (who was awarded a few medals of honor), allowed her to remain in the fight. Truly, this man deserves a biopic at the very least. He was loyal to Wellington, even though they could not speak to each other without an interpretor, and Blucher just seems like an eccentric but brilliant military man whom no one really talks about anymore.

Grouchy

Another figure that I came to have a great amount of pity for was Marshall Grouchy. He is generally blamed for Napoleon’s losses at Waterloo, but to be fair, he received the strangest orders from the Emperor. He would get orders telling him to go to one town (which would be on his right), but to make sure to keep the Emperor on his left, but to also keep the enemy on his left as well. He couldn’t win either way.

Ney

Ney is another French Marshall that I ended up feeling sorry for. Unlike the other high ranking officers who fled France only to be forgiven after Napoleon’s death in 1821, Ney was tried and shot as a traitor to the Crown. He deserved better.

Wellington

Of course, you do tend to like Wellington as well. He comes off as charismatic, forthright, and a bit of a ladies man. He preferred ladies who were smart, well-read, and witty. He had many lovers, was not faithful to his wife (pity), maybe he wasn’t the perfect man but he could be calm in the midst of bloodshed, which is what the men needed in order to fight. He acknowledged the battle was won because of the help of the Prussians in all early correspondence (and for years afterwards). Alas! It seems his ego (and possibly hatred towards a Prussian who hated him-I forget his name but he worked with Blucher) may have made Wellington decide he was the sole reason the battle was won and not because he had help.

There are many, many books on Wellington as there are books on Waterloo. I even spotted a book on Grouchy in my search for a decent book on Waterloo. So, do I understand this significant battle better? I believe I understand it a bit better having read this book. I would not state I am an expert nor would I offer myself up as one. I will only state that Cornwell’s book is one I would definitely wish to purchase because it was so easy for me to understand and I do believe it would be an excellent reference book for myself.