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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 Gossip’s Choice, an interview with Sara Read #midwifery #17thCentury

Welcome to Sara Read, whose new book The Gossip’s Choice is out next week. As a fellow enthusiast for the Seventeenth Century, I was particularly keen to Gossip SR Beeston Photointerview her and discover more about her new novel.

The Blurb:

“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”

Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jasper, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jasper objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions. The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication…

What made you want to write a novel, and what was the most difficult moment in the process?

This novel grew out of my day job which is as an academic who researches aspects seventeenth-century women’s lives. I have wanted to write a historical fiction based on the lives of women I have read about over the years but it took me a long time and a few false starts to get it done. On my laptop there are several abandoned versions of the opening chapters going back a decade. Funnily enough, I found that it was not until the title The Gossips’ Choice came to me that the story would come. So the hardest part was getting started. Once I had the title it came together very speedily.

Who is your favourite minor character in the book and why?

This is such a good question, it really made me think about the novel in a different way. The answer has to be Ned the apothecary’s apprentice. He is nineteen and gets into a rowdy crowd of fellow apprentices. He has a lot to put up with since he gets teased when he has to carry the heavy birthing chair around town for his mistress, Lucie Smith. But he still finds ways around the discipline of his puritanical master and sneaks to the tavern in the evening when the rest of the household has gone to bed.

Tell me about an object or place that is important in the novel, and what it signifies.

The novel has a very strong sense of place in that it is all set in and around the Three Doves which is the name of the apothecary shop in which Lucie and her family live. Lucie has lived there all her married life and all the episodes and events which happen in the course of the novel, see her safely back at the Three Doves.  The shop is marked by a hanging sign of the Three Doves which is illustrated on the reverse of the cover of the novel, and Lucie gets a notion that the tatty and worn sign should be revamped as a surprise for her husband as they approach the 30th anniversary of their marriage. The name is taken from an historical apothecary shop in Bucklersbury Street in sixteenth-century London.

What fascinates you about 17th Century midwifery, and can you share some of your sources that helped in the creation of The Gossip’s Choice?

Gossip stool 2I first encountered a seventeenth-century midwife as an undergraduate on a module all about seventeenth-century women’s writing. Jane Sharp is the first named Englishwoman to have written and published a midwifery textbook, The Midwives Book (1671) and although she takes lot of her material from other printed sources, such as Nicholas Culpeper’s books, you can still hear her own voice loud and clear. The ideas about best practice and the recipes for remedies used in the novel are largely taken from Jane Sharp’s book. The second main source was the case notes of a midwife called Sarah Stone who published a set of around forty cases in 1737. Each case is the story of a difficult birth in which she was typically called in to help after others had failed. These cases provided me with a base for a good number of the birth tales in the novel.

Gossip seems to play a part in the novel. What form does this take? If you could have a good old gossip with anyone from the 17th Century, who would it be?

A gossip was a woman who supported another in labour. This female support circle was a major part of the birth experience of women at this time and it was reciprocal, so you would act as a gossip for a friend who would then be a gossip for you in your hour of need. Lucie Smith is the gossips’ choice because she is the midwife of best repute for miles around. However, when events take a dark turn she finds herself the topic on everyone’s lips and is the gossips’ choice for all the wrong reasons. If I could have a good old gossip with anyone from the seventeenth century I would love to do so with a woman called Mary Trye. Trye published a book in 1675 called Medicatrix, or the Female Physician in which she launches into an angry and spirited defence of her late father. This woman knew a lot of gossip, had connections to friends in high places, and was also incredibly witty. You could not want to get on the wrong side of her, but I bet she would be excellent company for a gossipy afternoon!

Huge thanks to Sara for sharing the process of birthing her novel with us!

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer at Loughborough University. She lives in Staffordshire and when not writing or teaching spends much of her time running round after her two-year-old granddaughter. The Gossips’ Choice is her debut novel.
Dr Read has also written many excellent non-fiction books about women in the Early Modern Period – find them all HERE
You can also find her at her website or on Twitter @saralread
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Ring of Stone by Diane Scott Lewis

Lewis-RingOfStone60

A decade ago, when researching my first novel, I traveled to Cornwall, England. After reading so many books on the West Country, and then seeing the countryside for myself, I became interested in the strange rock formations that the Cornish imbue with mystical powers. That’s when I struck on the idea for my recent release, Ring of Stone.

The Cornish believe there is magic in a stone ring, usually formed by centuries of wind and rain. I used such a formation in my story. A ring that would save one character from evil and encourage another to face her deepest emotions.

However, this mystical aspect is only a small part of the story that portrays a determined young woman in the eighteenth century to strive to become a physician. Women were barred from medical school in this era, though several did practice in the remoter areas of England, usually taking over after a doctor husband’s death.

My heroine, Rose Gwynn, travels to Cornwall from America with her family after her father accepts a position at a bank. In this foreign land, she defies her parents and approaches the village doctor, resolved to ingratiate herself into his practice. Dr. Nelson is hiding a dark secret, and fears Miss Gwynn’s closeness will reveal it and ruin him. While sympathetic to her wishes, he refuses her and sends her away; but the doctor’s trials are just beginning.

Meanwhile, Rose’s beautiful sister becomes engaged to a local peer. Catern Tresidder, who works in the village tavern, was molested by this man—and far more—and she is desperate to warn Rose. But no one wants to believe a former servant, purportedly jealous and out for revenge. Catern must forge a new path in her life and come to terms with her tragic past.

These three characters, Rose, Catern, and Nelson, will collide, helping and hindering one another as the story progresses. The ring of stone behind Rose’s home holds the key to her past and future—and her sister’s life—as the novel concludes on a dangerous, windswept cliffside.

To make my story authentic, I researched the medical practices for the late eighteenth-century and was delighted to find this resource online: http://www.americanrevolution.org/medicine.html. This site has a digitalized version of Dr. W. Buchan’s (a member of the Royal Society in London) 1785 treatise on medical treatment. I was surprised when reading this to discover a modern take on the importance of cleanliness and exercise.

This is the time of the French Revolution, when women were demanding to be educated the same as the men. Rose will also make these demands, though women wouldn’t be admitted to medical schools for another century.

I hope readers will enjoy this journey into the myths and realities of eighteenth-century Cornwall, and the struggles of these characters as they learn to evolve and find their own happiness.

For more information on my books, please visit my website: http://www.dianescottlewis.org