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The Victorian Sickroom – a guest post by Charlotte Betts

cb Charlotte BettsI’m delighted to welcome  Charlotte Betts to my blog today, with her lovely informative article on the Victorian sickroom. Charlotte Betts is a multi-award-winning author of romantic historical novels and draws inspiration from the stories of strong women at turning points in history. Her careful historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place. She is currently working on The Spindrift Trilogy, set in an artists’ community in Cornwall at the turn of the twentieth century.

Charlotte lives on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders in a 17th Century cottage in the woods. A daydreamer and a bookworm, she has enjoyed careers in fashion, interior design and property. She is a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association, The Society of Authors and The Historical Novels Society.

 

The Victorian Sickroom

‘All women are likely, at some period of their lives, to be called upon to perform the duties of a sick-nurse.’ Mrs Beeton

The duty of nursing the sick within the home has traditionally fallen to the woman of the house, whether she is emptying basins and making cough linctus herself or overseeing her servants while they carry out the necessary tasks. In households where there were a number of children, a maiden aunt or a grandmother might also be called upon to assist in the sickroom if there was a bout of measles or mumps.

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management states that the main requirements for a nurse are ‘good temper, compassion for suffering, sympathy with sufferers (which most women possess), neat-handedness, quiet manners, love of order, and cleanliness. With these qualifications there will be very little to be wished for; the desire to relieve suffering will inspire a thousand little attentions and surmount the distaste which some of the offices attending the sick-room are apt to create.’

cb Sickbed

From the 1880s, home care manuals advised the importance of cleanliness and separating the sick from the well. Soft furnishings and ornaments were frequently removed from a sickroom to make it easier to keep it clean and free from dust. Fresh air was advised, though the night air was considered dangerous. Items that might be brought into the sickroom were basins and kidney bowls, a commode, flannel for rubbing the patient’s limbs, stone hot water bottles and an oilcloth for protecting the mattress when giving the patient a blanket bath. A rope might be tied from the head to the foot of the bed to assist the patient to sit up without assistance.

Women were deemed fit to carry out the most tedious and mundane of tasks such as sitting by the sickroom bedside all night, emptying the slops and feeding the patient with teaspoons of calf’s foot jelly, toast water or bone broth, but a (male) doctor was often called upon to pronounce the correct course of treatment. In the early Victorian period, this might have included leeches or a purge. Adhering to a prescribed strict diet was advised, or perhaps a poultice or blister applied to the skin to draw out the ‘poison’. As a child, I frequently had chest infections and I remember my mother making hot poultices to place on my chest beneath my liberty bodice.

cb Household Management

Cholera, TB and smallpox were rife at this time and the medicines to cure these diseases didn’t exist until later. Whole families died from TB, or Consumption, as it was then known. Scientists Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur discovered that contagious diseases could be passed from one person to another by microscopic organisms that were too small to see with the naked eye. Once this was understood, the number of infections and deaths fell. Robert Koch built upon Pasteur’s work and in 1882 identified the organisms causing tuberculosis, prompting extensive public health campaigns. Anaesthesia enabled surgeons to operate more slowly and therefore more carefully on patients and, combined with cleaner operating theatres, a patient’s odds of survival improved.

In the home, a medicine chest was an essential item and it was the first port of call when illness struck, in the hope of avoiding the expense of sending for a doctor. Home remedies such as rose hip syrup would often be made by the woman of the house but a wide range of patent medicines were available from a pharmacy. Chloroform, morphia or laudanum, all derived from opium, could be easily purchased and were considered an efficacious treatment for toothache and headaches.

cb Laudanum cb Smedley

Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodine was a popular treatment for indigestion that, even as late as the 1960s, used to be in my family’s bathroom cabinet. Chlorodine contained kaolin and morphia for diarrhoea and stomach pain. I remember it as being very effective. Remedies for infant colic contained opium and, unsurprisingly,were known for successfully calming a baby. Steel’s Aromatic Lozenges promised to ‘repair the evils brought on by debauchery’, a veiled reference to syphilis, but frequently resulted in painful inflammation. Dr James’s Fever Powder contained antimony and ammonia. Coco leaf, from which cocaine is extracted, was available from a pharmacy as a muscle and nerve tonic.

Once the patient had either recovered or died from an infectious disease, the sickroom would be thoroughly cleaned. Bedlinen would be aired in the sunshine, boiled or burned.

Wallpaper was washed down with carbolic acid, stripped from the walls and burned. Then the room was fumigated. It was sealed by pasting paper over the windows and fireplace. Four ounces of sulphur was placed in a metal dish over a bucket of water and a shovelful of hot coals added to it. The door to the room remained sealed for five or six hours. To complete the process, the room was lime-washed and left with the window open for a week or so.

cb A doctor's adviceWomen proficiently managed their households and guided the education of the children. In the sickroom, they were seen as, and expected to be, capable nurses. Despite this, they were considered by men to be frail creatures subject to fits of the vapours and outbursts of hysteria. Reading apparently inflamed a woman’s brain. A doctor had no time for a mere female to question his medical advice and rarely agreed to accept a second opinion from another doctor, even if the patient wasn’t improving.

Many women suffered from headaches and were happy to retire to their bedrooms for a day or two with a bottle of laudanum. Some women, perhaps depressed by being oppressed by a male-dominated society, made a whole career out of being an invalid.

And who can blame them? A few quiet days in bed with a fire glowing in the grate, a new novel secreted under the covers and a tray of tempting morsels at meal times sounds like heaven to me!

cb The Light Within Us cover high resThe Light Within Us from award-winning author Charlotte Betts is the first book of the Spindrift Trilogy.

Talented artist Edith Fairchild is looking forward to a life of newlywed bliss with her charismatic husband Benedict. He has recently inherited Spindrift House near Port Isaac and Edith is inspired by the glorious Cornish light and the wonderful setting overlooking the sea. But then happiness turns to heartbreak. In great distress, Edith turns to an artist friend for comfort. After a bitterly-regretted moment of madness she finds herself pregnant with his child.

Too ashamed to reveal her secret, Edith devotes herself to her art. Joined at Spindrift House by her friends, Clarissa, Dora and Pascal, together they turn the house into a thriving artists’ community. But despite their dreams of an idyllic way of life creating beauty by the sea, it becomes clear that all is not perfect within their tight-knit community. The weight of their secrets could threaten to tear apart their paradise forever . . .

Buy The Light Within Us here: mybook.to/LightWithin   www.charlottebetts.co.uk

Twitter:  @CharlotteBetts1      Facebook: Charlotte Betts – Author     Instagram: charlottebetts.author

Tomorrow’s Tour stop – A 20th Century artist’s colony http://www.charlottebetts.co.uk

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The Dressmaker’s Secret – puts the history into historical romance

DressmakersIf you are after a well-written historical romance, then this could be the book for you.

Set in Regency Italy and England in the years from 1819, it is a story about a mother and daughter, Sarah and Emilia. Sarah is on the run from her past in England, and from her violent husband, but Emilia has known no other life than her life with Sarah, which has been one of constantly moving from place to place in their work as itinerant dressmakers.

Now Emilia is tired of never being able to put down roots, and when they find a plum job in the wealthy Italian household of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, Emilia is determined that this time they will stay. Of course the handsome Alessandro, friend of the exiled Princess Caroline, might have something to do with it! A violent incident causing Sarah’s death means Emilia and Alessandro are destined to part, and Emilia needs to leave for England to find her family and unravel her past.

As well as a romance, this is a fascinating look at Princess Caroline, estranged wife of the then Prince Regent – she is a character who comes across as generous-spirited though unconventional. Because of this she both earns the adulation of the populace, and their disgust, and finally their pity. It is an insightful look at the shifting and unstable mob mentality of the era, the chauvinist politics of the British monarchy, and it was also something I knew little about. You cannot help but feel Queen Caroline was a woman ahead of her time, but unsuited for the stringent proprieties of the 19th century royal household. The descriptions of the riots caused by her appearance in England, and the sad furore over her funeral procession are particularly interesting.

Charlotte Betts provides historical notes afterwards to give more context, but seeing Princess Caroline leap off the page in this novel was a treat. Emilia too is a courageous heroine, who has to battle with the discovery of who she is, and the fact her new family may turn out to be both a dream and a nightmare.

The Dressmaker’s Secret is an exciting read, that will keep you turning the pages, but also has more than enough real history about an earlier Princess of Wales to educate as well as entertain.

Thoroughly recommended.

BUY THE BOOK

Queen_Caroline_of_BrunswickCaroline of Brunswick was Queen of the United Kingdom by marriage to King George IV from 29 January 1820 until her death in 1821. She was the Princess of Wales from 1795 to 1820

Charlotte Betts’ website is at http://www.charlottebetts.com/

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Recommended Regency Historical Fiction – The House in Quill Court

house-in-quill-court-mmpb-cover

Multi-award winning author Charlotte Betts is renowned for winning the Historical Romance category in the Romantic Novelists Association Awards, not once but twice. Having just finished The House in Quill Court I think that the romance label does her a disfavour, because readers  are expecting only a romance, and her books are always so much more. This one is no exception, and takes us into the seamy underbelly of the London of stolen babies, prostitution, and extortion. Those expecting a sweet romance to be the core of the novel will find that it is still there, but that they are confronted with much more depth than they expected, and plenty to think about.

Venetia Lovell discovers after her father dies that he has had a secret life – and another family. When the two families are brought together there is friction aplenty, not least from handsome Jack Chamberlaine, who takes some time to appreciate that Venetia has skills that can turn around their interior decorating business. Regency furnishings and design form the background to Venetia’s world, but the story also focuses on the family’s maid, Kitty, who soon becomes embroiled in something much darker and more sinister. The fate of women like Kitty is explored with eyes wide-open, and adds a contrast to the ‘above stairs’ life. The descriptions of polite drawing rooms in 1813 are pitched against the seedy brothels and thieves’ dens that form the hidden side of London. At this time, there was no Police Force, and the streets were controlled by powerful ‘mafia-like’ gangs, who demanded money for protection, or sought a cut of the takings from any business. Venetia’s business falls prey to one of these men, but she is determined to ake a stand against them. Betts cleverly interwines the two stories of the maid and the mistress into a nail-biting page-turner of a book. Very highly recommended.

Like the darker side of Regency London? Try this post on a tour of Regency prisons.

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Award-winning writer Charlotte Betts reveals her favourite English chateau

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I have just finished Charlotte Betts’s latest novel, Chateau on the Lake, which is yet another gripping romance from this award-winning novelist. I first came across Charlotte because she has written several books in one of my favourite periods – the seventeenth century, but for this novel we are invited to explore the 18th century and Revolutionary France.

 

After the death of her parents Madeleine Moreau must travel to France to search for the relatives she has heard of, but never met. The meeting proves disastrous and she is given shelter at Chateau Mirabelle, a breathtakingly beautiful castle which is home to the aristocrat Etienne D’Aubery. Of course there is a little competition for Madeleine’s affections, with the handsome Jean Luc, and plenty of dark secrets in the Chateau’s past.

 

Charlotte Betts recreates the detail of the period painstakingly, whilst still providing a pacy and satisfying romance. The sense of the course of the French revolution with all its horrors – the guillotine, the starving peasants, the mob violence – all these are faithfully depicted, whilst never losing the forward momentum of the plot. It is a hard thing to do, to juggle romance against such gritty realism, but Charlotte Betts does it seamlessly.

 

I wondered, after the attractions of France, which was Charlotte’s favourite English chateau in which to spend a quiet afternoon –

Corfe Castle is one of my favourite historical sites to visit. We often holiday in Dorset and I love the way the castle is the focal point of the village. It’s always been sunny when I’ve visited and I like to sit quietly in the sunshine and allow the tourists’ voices fade away. If I close my eyes and listen to the echoes of time it’s almost possible to unlock the secrets of the past. I conjure up a vision of Lady Mary Bankes who, when her husband was away, led the defence of the castle during a six week siege by the Parliamentarians. What a wonderful novel that would make! Perhaps I shall write about that one day.
Charlotte 
National Trust
Corfe

With her talk of English Civil War sieges, I might just beat her to it! (Only joking!)

Find out more about Charlotte Betts on her website

 

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Throwing mud at a wall – my writer’s process

Charlotte Betts is another fan of the seventeenth century and writes fantastic award-winning romantic novels set in the Restoration period. She invited me to take part in this writing process blog hop and you can find her blog on her writing process here:

I have done my best to answer the set questions, though it is very tempting to meander off the point!

What am I working on?

I’m working on two things, one a big thick adult novel, and the other a slimmer title suitable for young adults as well as my adult readers. The big novel is a novel based around Pepys’s diary. I have used Pepys’s Diary for so many years as reference material for my other books that I just could not resist! It tells the story of Pepys’s most famous obsession, his wife’s companion Deborah Willett. I have to say, it does feel slightly odd writing about someone with the same first name. Fortunately Pepys himself soon shortens it to Deb, which feels a little more comfortable!

The second smaller novel is part of a series of novellas based around the life of highwaywoman and royalist Lady Katherine Fanshawe – see my previous post. The first volume was told from the point of view of her deaf maid, and is awaiting editing. I’m on the second volume now which includes the Battle of Worcester in the English Civil War, and is written from the point of view of a ghost. This is a slightly scary thing to do, but very enjoyable. I turn to that when I get stuck with the big book, or at night when it’s dark!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Rather than writing about Kings or Queens –  immensely popular in historical fiction, just look at those shelves groaning with books called ‘The Queen’s —‘ (fill in blank, but no, The Queen’s Doughnut’  is not acceptable) – my books are written about ordinary people. I love reading those books though, I recently read ‘The Queen’s Exiles’ by Barbara Kyle and it was a wonderful read.

When I say ordinary, that doesn’t mean the characters are dull, in fact the opposite. They are the movers and shakers that shift society into different ways of thinking. I like to have multiple points of view in my novel, so that a broader view of the historical period is painted for the reader. I often write from the male as well as female perspective, so male readers are often pleasantly surprised to find that the book works for them too.

Book dep slipperMy books embrace themes that matter to me. For example the underlying question in The Lady’s Slipper is: who owns what grows on the land? Is territory something worth fighting for? The setting of the English Civil War, and the battle for the lady’s-slipper orchid’s survival meshed perfectly together to explore these themes. My other two novels, equally, are underpinned by ideas that I wanted to look into for myself. I enjoy meaty, complex reads with adventure and romance and a strong sense of atmosphere, so I expect that’s what I’m trying to produce!

Why do I write what I do?

I fell into writing historical novels by accident, when I was studying for an MA. The first novel started as a writing exercise, but it just kept on growing! By then I’d found that I loved it. Historical fiction uses some of the skills I learned in my previous job as a designer for stage and TV, such as the ability to reearch and plan, and manage my own time, and the ability to think around insurmountable problems (essential when plotting!). I am passionate about the past, and love anything old and interesting. My ideal day out would encompass a visit to a historic house or museum or archives, followed by afternoon tea (with scones and jam, naturally!). When I launched A Divided Inheritance we had exactly that sort of afternoon at Leighton Hall, and I hope my guests enjoyed it as much as I did.

How does your writing process work?

divided_Inheritance_fc_I wish I knew! To be honest I’m a bit chaotic whilst I’m writing. I’m like a magpie, picking up scraps of this and that and scribbling snippets in notebooks. I have a big batch of research books and far too many ‘favourites’ on my google task bar, of things I am reading as part of the initial ‘throw mud at a wall’ process. I’m also really motivated by pictures, so I collect a mass of visual information, postcards, and more web favourites. This can take a few months, but happens whilst I am finishing and editing the previous books. Only by doing this can I know if I have enough material and interesting stuff to sustain a long novel and eighteen months worth of research and writing.

After this, some of the mud sticks (I hope!) and I start to draft. At this point I have a solid idea of the story, and the historical basis for it,  but no details. On my word doc I lay out arbitrary chapter headings and start to fill in the detail. My first draft is what other people might call an outline, and it follows the chronology of the real history I’m writing about. But – if there are scenes that excite me I can’t resist having a go at writing them, so I don’t torture myself, I just go ahead and do it. Once I’ve done that sort of a draft, with some scenes fully written and others just noted as ‘Chapter 5 – Mother dies’, I’m ready for a second go at it. In this draft I try to fathom out how to make the scenes I haven’t written yet more interesting or gripping until I have to write them. This involves more research and book gathering and tinkering with the plot.  And so it goes on, draft after draft. The actual writing is like re-living the scene as I put it onto the screen. Eventually I end up with a full novel, all of which I enjoyed writing. At this point I’ll put it away and work on something else for a bit to get distance.

When I pick it up again I start editing, and this sometimes involves re-structuring and sometimes only nit-picking. Mostly it is about re-ordering the story into a logical flow. This is the point where I realise what the novel is really about, so I go back through it again and re-write with that in mind.

GildedLilySo you can see, it is not exactly a quick, streamlined process, but it’s more of an organic building-up over time, where the plot events accrue significance as I’m working.

I wish I could be the sort of person who sits down with a perfect plan and writes to it, but I’m just not. Initial ideas are always the most obvious ones – I  need the juxtaposition of a lot of different stimuli to delve deep enough and make the right sort of connections to get a juicy story.This is why I think I’d be hopeless at writing crime – where I expect you have to know exactly who has done it from the outset, and why, and everyone’s alibis! My method gives me a lot of ‘wiggle-room’ if I find a better or more interesting idea. I do love books on the craft of writing  though, and fantasising that I’ll be that super-efficient writing machine next time. . .

Next week Eliza Graham will be taking up the baton to tell us about her writing process.

Eliza Graham writes historical fiction under the pen name Anna Lisle. She also writes  fiction set in contemporary times but with a historical twist. Her most recent book is The One I Was.

The One I Was

1939. Youngster Benny Gault, a Kindertransport refugee from Nazi Germany’s anti-semiticism, arrives at Harwich docks, label flapping round his neck, football under his arm, and a guilty secret in his heart. More than half a century later, Benny lies on his deathbed in his beautiful country house, Fairfleet, his secret still unconfessed. Rosamond, his nurse, has a guilty secret of her own concerning her mother’s death in a fire at Fairfleet, years earlier. As Benny and Rosamond unwind the threads binding them together, Rosamond must fight the unfinished violence of the past, now menacing both Fairfleet’s serenity and Benny’s last days.

The One I Was is a novel about shifting identities and whether we can truly reinvent ourselves.