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review 2017-04-02 02:56
Sinclair (Tales of Tooley Street Book 1) - Julia Herdman

As a debut novel, Sinclair boasts the musical language of a practiced craftsman.  The characters are vibrant, each man and woman is lovely, but terribly complex.  Although it is fiction, the struggles of the human heart are illustrated with great care.  James Sinclair is driven by his need for acclaim, only to discover that the love of a good woman suits him fine. Charlotte Leadam is a hard-headed widow, sure she will never love again, only to discover that she has the heart for new romance.  The sinking of the Sherwell, a ship from the East India Company's fleet, sets off a tale about the human capacity to make mistakes, to love the wrong people, and to ultimately find forgiveness in seemingly impossible circumstances.


I was enraptured by the multitude of plots that intercepted each other with grace. Much in the same style as the prolific Diana Gabaldon, Herdman made true on her statement to write stories of love while simultaneously introducing characters and story lines one after another.  Written in third person omniscient, the reader is privy to the internal turmoil of all the characters, eliciting, for me at least, a strong affinity with the honorable Frank Greenwood, James Sinclair's loyal companion.  Although the novel is entitled after the dutiful doctor from Tooley Street, Herdman divides her attention among his friends, his relatives, and the neighboring English milieu.  I was surprised that she had not elected to tell the tale in first person, but I was pleased with the final product nonetheless.


In conclusion, the story moved at an easy pace, made all the more enjoyable by Julia Herdman's humor and her careful execution of historical fact telling.  I can easily see how further stories may be written to expand on the lives of minor characters like Lucy and the rest of the family at Beverly, Connie and her new role as wife and mother, and William's crush on Alice.  All in all, it's safe to say I'm in need of book two!

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review 2015-11-13 13:25
A look at life in Georgian England
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery

An Englishman's home, as the saying goes, may be his castle, but three hundred years ago it was becoming so much more. In the 18th century, the English home served as a place in which its inhabitants sought to define themselves through the use of décor. As more people socialized in their homes, their living spaces became venues in which their identity could be displayed for others to see for themselves. The emergence and development of this trend is the subject of Amanda Vickery's book, which analyzes the lives of the men and women of Georgian England by examining the homes in which they lived.


In studying Georgian homes, Vickery uses a number of different perspectives. Among her goals is the reintroduction of men into the picture, which she does most notably in her chapter on the homes of bachelors. Yet as she demonstrates, the furnishing and decoration of homes was predominantly a female concern, albeit one often handled in consultation with the men of the household. Such decisions were often mundane, and focused more on simple maintenance rather than grand refurbishment, but all of them reflected the interests of the participants and were shaped by the concept of "taste" that emerged during this period, which charted a path that increasing numbers were compelled to take.


Detailed, insightful, and well-written, Vickery's book offers a fascinating examination of life in Georgian England. Because of the limitations of her sources, it is by necessity an examination focused primarily on the upper classes, yet she succeeds in taking account books, ledgers, and other mundane sources to reconstruct their lives, showing the growing importance of home life and the weight contemporaries placed on defining their domestic environment. Her success in unearthing these details and bringing the Georgian world back to life makes this book a necessary read for anyone interested in 18th century England, one that will likely serve as an indispensable study of the subject for decades to come.

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text 2014-10-14 21:51
Because I'm Still Laughing at Myself on This One
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery

Have been looking at my shelf of Books I've Read But Need to Review, and this book is going to amuse me when I finally figure out how to review it. Because the problem will be not to natter on and on about the things I found delightful. I was expecting to enjoy the references to women and crafts of the Georgian period - seriously, if you've not seen some of the fascinating things that were done with shells and paper cutting - here, I must link:


Mary Delany - her wiki page, and I'm completely biased about her art, which there isn't enough of online. Besides intricate needlework and shellwork decoration, she was known for her paper "flower mosaics" (her words for them). (More bio here in this article at the Independent from 2010.) Oh and I forgot to mention, she began her career as a cut paper artist in her 70s.


Passifloria laurifolia, by Mary Delany - a page at the British Museum website, look at the enlarged version and realize that she cut that entirely out of paper. She was so good at making these paper artworks that botonists would send her samples of exotic flowers for her to copy. This was also an era where you couldn't just order up paper in specific colors.


Physalis, Winter Cherry, by Mary Delany - another paper cut flower, British Museum


Art + Botony: Mrs. Delany's Floral Collage - a couple of other photos of her flowers here at Garden Design


Shell Grottos of Mrs. Delany - because it's really hard to find photos of shellwork home decor from this period, here's a blog post at The Peak of Chic that sums up the style with nice visuals. Though the shell work is mainly that of Jane and Mary Parminter (I blogged about them last Nov. here).


Shellcraft - at the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, in case you still want more shell info. The reason you won't find too many remnants is the same reason with any cultural fad - once it fell out of favor most of it was removed so someone could redecorate. Which is only sad in that there's now not a lot of visual documentation of it all - you can probably imagine how this sort of thing could be overdone and  kitchy/tacky, depending on the shellcrafter. I'll cheat and quote only the bit about Delany:

"...A famous practioner of shell ornamentation was Mary Delany born in 1700, but it was not until about 1734, following her second marriage, that she developed a passion for collecting shells.  At Delville, her Dublin home, she made shell decorated frames, decorated a chandelier and the walls of a room which was used as a chapel.  She also made festoons of flowers to imitate stucco work to decorate the ceilings and arches of the chapel."


Book recommendations: Mrs. Delany and her Circle by Mark Laird, which introduced me to her, and has lots of lovely photos. (And somehow it's not in my shelves here, odd.) I only just bought The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock, so I can't recommend it yet. And there's another book by Ruth Hayden (Mrs Delany: her life and her flowers) that I need to dig up as well. So if you're interested, start with those and branch out!


...So er, once I was talking about that book review I'm going to write, remember? (Fear me, I am the queen of off-tangent asides! I promise I do not do this in normal human conversations.) Originally I was going to share specifically what I was worried about nattering on over. The subject: wallpaper. In Vickery's 300 page book that's packed with all sorts of historical stories and facts I can't get the chapter on wallpaper out of my head. I may end up writing a post just about that, to try and explain why it's still fascinating. Hint: it mostly has to do with Georgian customer service letters, and how much you can learn about people just from business records. See, that sounds dull! But it wasn't! ...Or that could just be me.


Anyway, I'll work on the more seasonal reviews before going into all that. So back to looking at the Halloweenish-type review fodder...

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text 2013-11-17 23:29
Georgian England, Amanda Vickery, and History Documentaries
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery
The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery

Authors should never dismiss the odd youtube video as a means for helping discover their book. Or in my case, remind me of a book. So this week (Nov. 2013) I've been having a delightful addiction to random BBC documentaries, specifically history.


I'm not entirely sure of the title of this video (youtube link, "Contemporaries of Jane Austen, 18th/early 19th Century Britain"), but it's where I first bumped into Amanda Vickery, and then I spent a bit of time wondering why her name was familiar - until I gave in and Googled. And here's why I should remember her - I've had her book Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England on my wish list for years. No exaggeration - years. It's just never been put out in ebook format (and I'm trying to conserve shelf space these days). But after I watched that documentary I gave in and bought it in paper. (After I read it we'll see if I'll give in and get The Gentleman's Daughter.)


In that video I also learned about cousins Jane and Mary Parminter and the Devon house they designed for themselves: A La Ronde. Vickery walks through the house - which is indeed round - and shows you all the cousins' nicknacks which are still there. I really loved the art made with tiny shells - the cousins created some of it themselves, still attached to the walls/ceiling and very fragile. So far I haven't found a biography of the cousins and their house - but there really should be one, shouldn't there? I love that they decided to live alone and on their own terms, and then enjoy doing crafts/art together.


From an article in the Guardian about A La Ronde:

At home with the first feminists: the eccentric Devon home built by women

Emma Kennedy, The Guardian, 16 November 2012


"The 1790s were not a particularly dazzling time for feminists but in a small corner of Devon some signs of female independence were burning bright. Jane Parminter and her younger cousin Mary, both unmarried, decided, after a 10-year Grand Tour of Europe, that they were going to build their own house, one inspired by their travels that would stamp their intention to remain a force for female freedom long after they were gone.


...The house is rammed with trinkets. It's nick-nack nirvana. Everywhere you look there are odd bits and bobs collected from their travels, such as miniature children's books with grand names (The History of Beasts and The Gigantic History of Two Famous Giants) and the beautiful silhouette pictures so favoured by the cousins. But it's the crafting that really catches the eye.


"Look at that frieze," Salli says pointing to the ceiling of the drawing room, "that's made entirely from feathers."


I can barely believe my eyes. The Parminters had taken feathers from birds culled on the estate (mostly native game birds and chickens) and stuck them into a series of concentric circular patterns. It's reminiscent of the Damien Hirst butterfly paintings and it's beautiful."


Doesn't that just beg for a full biography and book of photos? Not a mere 15 page book of the kind sold in museum giftshops though - something meaty with a bibliography. It would be odd if Jane and Mary didn't write diaries or letters - but then I suppose they might not have been kept. If I lived in the UK I'd be planning a trip to Devon, and be ready to pester some docents with questions!


I should warn you that I've found a few more documentaries, one or two of which are Austen related. So there's probably more video linkage to come!

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review 2012-01-22 00:00
Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery WHY: should be a nice pairing with Inside Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England.
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