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Showing posts from October, 2013

Halloween in the Regency

Vintage Halloween postcard (Wikimedia Commons) It's that time of year again - crisp autumn leaves crackling underfoot, a chill in the air, and the excitement of children preparing to trick-or-treat their neighbors.  Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and I was happy to find that it was celebrated during the Regency, too. While some customs have changed in the past 200 years, others have stayed remarkably similar.   Here are some Halloween facts you may know: It's one of the oldest celebrations in the world – it was celebrated in Britain 2,000 years ago by the Celts. Across cultures it is believed that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest at this time of year, which is why spirits can walk amongst us. It is indeed properly spelled Hallowe’en.  The word dates to about 1745. It was originally  All Hallow's Eve , the day before All Hallow's Day , a Christian holy day now known as All Saint

The Hammersmith Ghost Murder - a Real Regency Ghost Story

Will you be dressing up this Halloween? If you love the simple elegance of a ghost costume, you may want to hear about a Regency “ghost” who met an untimely and undeserved end. In late 1803 the residents of Hammersmith (which is now a part of Greater London but was then a small village about five miles west of the city) were in a panic. A number of the villagers claimed that had seen a ghost – a few went so far as to say the ghost had attacked them. This depiction of the Hammersmith Ghost was published in Volume II of Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum , London, 1804. (Wikimedia Commons) Many believed that the ghost in question was the spirit of a man who had killed himself the year before. This man was buried in the churchyard at Hammersmith, which was actually against church law and the prevailing customs of the time.  Because suicide was considered a grave sin against God, people who died that way were not supposed to be buried in consecrated ground. (Ins

Vampires: The Regency Bites Back

When it comes to the very first vampire in literature it's natural to think of the 1897 horror novel  Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker . But Stoker was influenced by a Regency story that may have started the romantic vampire fiction genre. That story is “The Vampyre,” written by John William Polidori and published in London in 1819. The 1819 title page of  Polidori's horror story, including the false attribution to Lord Byron. (Wikimedia Commons) When it first appeared in print, this horror story was falsely attributed to Lord Byron. The mix-up is understandable, since the story may have been inspired by some fragments of a story written by Byron in 1816. Contributing to the confusion is the fact that the story’s vampire hero is named Lord Ruthven, which is the same name Lady Caroline Lamb used to thinly disguise a character based on Byron in her 1816 novel Glenarvon . (Her portrait of Byron wasn't flattering – when she wrote it she was still upset with him fo

Sleepy Hollow

It’s not often that a story that is in any way connected, even remotely, to the Regency era is made into a TV series, so when I see one I get excited! This fall the Fox series Sleepy Hollow premiered, and though the story is largely set in modern times it does link back to the late 18 th century (which isn't really the Regency, but it's close). The series is based on Washington Irving’s short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The short story was one of several stories published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.  Another is “Rip Van Winkle.”  Washington Irving in 1820. Thanks to him, "Gotham" became a popular name for New York City (you're welcome, Batman) and the phrase "the almighty dollar" was coined. (Wikimedia Commons) The Sketch Book was published circa 1819-1820, right at the end of the Regency period. It was a big success in this country and abroad, and Irving is considered to be the first international

"Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know"

Lord Byron, painted by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845) (Wikimedia Commons) The Regency produced a lot of fascinating, unconventional characters and outstanding among them has to be George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” is how Lady Caroline Lamb famously described the celebrated poet in her diary after meeting him for the first time at a ball. And it was a pretty apt description of him, especially during the years he was lionized by London society. When Caroline Lamb met Byron in 1812 he was enjoying his fame as a leading poetic voice of the Romantic Movement. It wasn't just his poems that were deemed romantic; he was also notorious for his many love affairs, especially with married women.  His bad-boy reputation only enhanced his attraction to the opposite sex.  In fact, Caroline Lamb’s assessment of Byron’s character didn't stop her from embarking on a passionate affair with him. It was punctuated with violent displays of affection, outr