Cartier cigarette case

I went to the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia today. Amongst all the *very* sparkly diamonds (so many sparkly diamonds) and pieces with fascinating stories attached (including Grace Kelly’s engagement ring; a massive duck-egg-sized sapphire that is part of a lost set of jewellery belonging to a Russian Grand Duchess and the tiara that both Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton wore at their weddings, but NOT Meghan Markle, because it was here in Australia ), there was this, which I think was my favourite piece.

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This cigarette case is decorated with an actual fragment of an Ancient Egyptian tablet inset into all those chunks of emerald. Imperialist tendencies to loot the antiquities of other civilisations aside, what a marvellous story prompt…

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The iceberg

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If you are a writer, you have probably at some stage of heard of something referred to as ‘the iceberg principle’. It’s pretty simple really. The premise is based on the idea that 90% of the iceberg lies invisible, under the water, with only 10% visible above the surface. This is a metaphor for what you know about your story, world and characters, vs what actually makes it onto the page for your reader to see.

Just by way of example, here’s a sentence from one of my WIPs:

If she had been at home, she most likely would have been abed with a hot brick and one of her housekeeper’s restorative tisanes.

That might have taken you all of two seconds to read. And it probably took me a couple of minutes to craft the actual words that went into it. But that sentence also represents at least 45 minutes worth of internet research on:

  • 18th Century remedies for period pain
  • Lydia E Pinkham
  • Liquorice root, including where it grows and what its medicinal properties are
  • the medicinal properties of Dandelion root

Which is basically just my way of reassuring myself that it’s OK to have only produced 200 words after getting up at 5.30 am and writing for 1.5 hours before the family gets up and we all have to get ready for work/school/etc. And also goes some way to illustrating why it takes so damn long to write a bloody novel.

And now I have had that stupid Lily the Pink song stuck in my head all day. Yeah. You’re welcome.

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Awesome words: fart

Canons fire from a tower down onto a group of men in 18th century military regalia below. The men are crawling on their hands and knees, buttocks bared, farting back at the canons. A ship can be seen in the distance.
British cartoon mocking the failed French & Spanish siege of Gibralter, 1782

In keeping with the theme of Wednesday’s post, here’s an extract from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, available through the Gutenberg Project.

FART. He has let a brewer’s fart, grains and all; said of
one who has bewrayed his breeches.

      Piss and fart.
Sound at heart.
Mingere cum bumbis,
Res saluberrima est lumbis.

  I dare not trust my a-se with a fart: said by a person troubled
with a looseness.

FART CATCHER. A valet or footman from his walking
behind his master or mistress.

FARTING CRACKERS. Breeches.

FARTLEBERRIES. Excrement hanging about the anus.

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This week I’ve been back at work after a lovely two weeks off in which I got a huge amount of work done on the WIP (but didn’t finish it – boo.) One of the pleasures of writing is all the bits and bobs of interesting research I get to do. This can vary from a quick check on Google images to make sure I’ve got a thing right in my mind’s eye, to a two hour rabbit hole from which I emerge blinking and cursing myself. Research topics over the last week have included:

  • Interior decoration of 18th Century upmarket London brothels (see my post on floor coverings)
  • Greek myths, particularly in relation to the Trojan War
  • Medieval herbal remedies (now I know what dragon’s blood is)
  • The history of medical treatment for certain ailments (did you know incubus started out as a digestive complaint? Not a demon in sight.)
  • Baths in the Georgian/Regency era (thank you, Mr Darcy)
  • 18th Century architecture in Clerkenwell, London
  • 18th Century firearms
  • Christ’s temptation in the desert
  • The effect of varying degrees of blood loss on the human body.

And now, this :

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What a handy little chart.

More things that make you go “Hmm…” – Ganymede

I have been doing some research on pre-18th century paintings of Greek myths lately, and I came across this interesting description by the Museo Del Prado of the Peter Paul Rubens painting “The Rape of Ganymede”, which is in its collection:
Jupiter was so taken with Ganymede´s beauty that he transformed into an eagle to carry her off to Mount Olympus, where she became his cup-bearer. Rubens drew this story from the classical poet, Ovid´s Metamorphoses (X, 155-161). He depicts the moment when the eagle catches the young shepherdess and lifts her into the air.

GanyrubnUh…just one problem. Ganymede was a bloke. The story is otherwise bang on.

 I am fascinated as to how or why the Museo Del Prado has fluffed this one up. The fact that Ganymede is male is key to the enduring fascination with this particular story. By all (other) accounts, the Ganymede myth was held as an expression of the acceptance of homosexual relationships in Ancient Greece.

And it’s not like you could actually mistake the Ganymede in Rubens’ painting for a girl. It also doesn’t look to me like Rubens was tiptoeing around the core element of this story. I mean, look at the placement of that quiver, for goodness sake.

It’s all very strange and a little bit hilarious.

Things that make you go “Hmm…”

I’ve been doing a bit of trawling through Wikipedia today, building up a list of historical personages to use as extras in my current WIP. And I came across this lady:

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The Duchess of Leinster as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the 1770s;  courtesy of Wikipedia

Emily Lennox was (according to Wikipedia) married to James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare (and later Duke of Leinster), in 1747, when she was “almost 16”. That is, when she was FIFTEEN.

Apparently the marriage was a happy one.

Well, good. Because the couple had 18 children. That was not a typo. Here, I’ll write it out, just to make sure: eighteen.

Actually, there were 19 children “of the marriage”, but the last kid, born in 1773 was actually the son of the tutor of the Fitzgerald brood, one Mr William Ogilvie. When James Fitzgerald died, in November of 1773, Emily married Ogilvie the following year (which, understandably caused something of a sensation.)

She then went on to have THREE MORE CHILDREN with her new husband!

So that’s a total of 22 children. In an age where childbirth was absolutely a matter of life and death for the mother. No antibiotics. No blood transfusions. No safe surgical procedures. No anaesthetic.

Wow.

Sadly, and predictably, twelve of her children predeceased her. Of those, nine died by the age of 10. Her eldest child, George, died when he was 17 and two others died in adulthood.

Just one other interesting thing I noted concerning the difficulties posed by such an enormous amount of offspring: obviously finding suitable names posed a challenge. She had two daughters named Louisa, two named Charlotte and two named Caroline, as well as two sons called George (ironically, George and George were her eldest children by each of her two husbands.)

Beilby’s Ball

For anyone writing about or interested in Britain in the 18th and early 19th century, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: a dictionary of buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence, brought to you by Project Gutenberg, is an indispensable resource.

Here’s a little gem I came across today:

BEILBY’S BALL. He will dance at Beilby’s ball, where the sheriff pays the music; he will be hanged. Who Mr. Beilby was, or why that ceremony was so called, remains with the quadrature of the circle, the discovery of the philosopher’s stone, and divers other desiderata yet undiscovered.

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Map of Tyburn gallows and immediate surroundings, from John Rocque’s map of London, Westminster and Southwark (1746), courtesy of Wikipedia.