This is a Good Picture

Actually, it’s a painting titled “Flirtation,” by Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

I like this painting for many reasons (not simply because its discovery justified an afternoon I wasted on social media).

Great paintings mean different things to different people. When I look at this painting, I immediately see in my mind the story I think the artist is telling.

Here’s the story:

Our fair young lady is a daughter of privilege and wealth. She is probably the daughter of a peer; not a duke, but very possibly a marquess.

She’s used to the very best in life. Her home is lavishly, but tastefully, furnished; she spends a good deal on clothes and hair powder; and the family budget for the daily delivery of fresh flowers (see the big spray of pink and white roses on the left) is enough to support a working-class family of four for a year.

Our young lady has been properly raised, hence the chaperone. But the chaperone has been employed by the family for years (she may even have begun her employment as nurse when the lady was a child), so she is a little lax (but not too lax) in her responsibilities.

That’s why the gentleman has been allowed to creep ever closer to where my lady is reposing on the chaise.

The lady’s attire looks like riding habit to me, although I must say that white is a daring choice for a riding skirt.

She’s been outside earlier in the day. Before her gentleman suitor arrived she picked a few wild flowers; but in her pleasure at seeing him, she forgot all about those wild flowers and discarded them at the foot of her chaise.

Or, perhaps he brought the wild flowers and gave them to her as a token of his love; but being a thoughtless young woman (Seriously, why would she want someone to bring her wild flowers when she has bushels of beautiful roses to look at?), she tossed them aside, and a few of them landed on the floor. Is it possible she could be so hard-hearted?

Suspended among the draperies directly over her head is a mirror, which makes me wonder if the artist is trying to tell us a little something about the young lady’s vanity.

What I find most intriguing about this painting is the manner in which the young lady is looking at her suitor. She’s holding up one finger, as if she is about to make an important point.

Or maybe she’s just begun to count off the reasons she cannot consent to marry him.

Or perhaps she intends to teasingly scold him for being so persistent.

Our couple’s body language is very intriguing—His is eager; hers is poised, even a little languid. And though they are looking into each other’s eyes, their facial expressions could not be more different.

There are probably a lot of ways to interpret this painting. In fact, the possibilities are endless.

But that’s the beauty of a really good painting; it tells a different story to each person who views it.

What do you think? What story would you tell about this painting?

Have you ever come across a painting or photograph that really spoke to you or touched your heart? I’d love to hear about it!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m spending a lot of time outdoors this summer, working in my yard and watering plants to protect them from the hot summer sun.

Let’s face it, gardening can be hot, dirty work, so my gardening attire usually consists of shorts, tank top, and flip-flops . . .

“In the Garden” by Carlton Alfred Smith

. . . which makes me wonder, how did ladies of the Regency era ever manage to do their gardening with all those layers of clothes they were required to wear by the standards of the day?

“The Rose Garden” by Charles Edward Wilson

The truth is that ladies born into wealthy Regency families had servants to do their gardening for them. Women who did not have the same luck of being born to wealth were probably more consumed with earning a living and feeding their families to worry about cultivating flowers and lush green lawns.

“Tea in the Garden” by Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer.

As it happens, I belong to the latter class of ladies, because I have to work for a living; but thanks to progress made since the Regency Era, I can support her family and still have time to grow and appreciate a garden of colorful flowers. And the best part is, I don’t have to wear elbow-length gloves to do it.

The Cover Art of Robert Berran

If you view any website about publishing in today’s digital age, you’re sure to see a post about the importance of book covers. For authors like me who self publish their novels and stories, creating book covers that capture a reader’s attention in a meaningful way is a science worth studying.

When I first started writing for publication, I didn’t have to worry about designing covers. That was handled by my publisher, and other than providing my editor with a cheat sheet listing hair color, eye color, and the main setting where my story took place, I really didn’t have any input about what would or would not end up on the cover of my book.

Thankfully, my publisher engaged the services of a wonderful cover artist named Robert Berran. He had a special talent for depicting the Regency era, and he created cover illustrations for my publisher, as well as others.

In 1997 I contributed a short story to an anthology titled A Mother’s Love. Here’s the cover:

That’s Robert Berran’s artwork you see on the cover, although his signature was cropped to accommodated the title, author names, and branding.

For comparison, here’s a copy of the original artwork. You can see more of the beautiful landscape Mr. Berran created, as well as his signature in the bottom left-hand corner.

With a cover like this, readers knew what they were getting: a sweet, clean Regency romance, with an emphasis on the special relationship between a mother and her children.

Here’s another example of Robert Berran’s work titled, Summer Picnic:

Based on the illustration, what kind of Regency romance would you guess this to be? Steamy and sensual? Sweet and clean? Somewhere down the middle?

I also wonder if there’s any significance to our heroine holding an apple. Perhaps she’s tempting the hero just a little?

The next Robert Berran cover I’ll share was created for a Regency romance titled Scandalous Journey.

Based on the book’s title and the cover art, I would guess the novel didn’t fall into the sweet and clean category. While it may not have been a steamy novel either, the cover seems to suggest a story that has some temptingly sensual moments, doesn’t it?

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s something about a story that introduces a dog (or a cat, or a parakeet, or any other pet) that signals a story with some lighthearted moments, and this Robert Berran cover art fits the bill nicely:

One thing I appreciate after reviewing several of Robert Berran’s cover illustrations is how well he captures the setting of the story.

He definitely knows how to evoke the beauty of the English countryside.

The next cover, with the gorgeous colors in the sky and the stately home in the distance, is one of my favorites. I have to wonder, however, how much of the background made it into the final cropped version of the cover.

And then there were the covers Robert Berran created that hinted at some action that took place in the novel itself. Like this young lady who just took a tumble on a secluded woodland path:

Or this cover, which hinted at the heroine’s talent (and if you guessed she was an artist, you’d be right!).

And then there were his action covers that leaned a little more toward the romantic, like this one depicting a heroine being carried off by her handsome groom on her wedding day:

You may have guessed by now that Robert Berran was one of my favorite cover artists. Each of his covers is a unique and lovely work of art, and I cherish the covers he created for my novels.

Did you know some of his original Regency romance cover illustrations are for sale? They pop up from time to time on various art websites. Click here to visit one of those sites.

And if you’d like to learn more about Robert Berran and his artwork, you can visit his website by clicking here. 

I’d love to have a full-size original of one of his Regency creations; unfortunately, my budget limits me to hanging framed copies of my old covers on my office walls. But if I ever win the lottery, watch out!

How about you? Do you have a favorite cover artist?

How do you think today’s Regency romance covers compare to covers created in the 1990s or 2000s?

Queen Elizabeth on the Moon

I was going down the research rabbit hole this week and came across this interesting factoid:

When Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins boarded the spacecraft Apollo 11 in July 1969 they carried with them a sealed metal container.

In the container was a message from Queen Elizabeth II, which read:

On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which have brought man to the Moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.

The message was deposited on the moon by the American astronauts on July 21, 1969, along with (among other things) an American flag and a plaque inscribed, “We came in peace for all mankind.”

I love the idea of Queen Elizabeth hitching a ride on Apollo 11 (even symbolically). And I’m also fascinated by the fact that her words (as well as those of other world leaders at the time) have a permanent home on our big beautiful moon the sky.

From SolarSystem.nasa.gov.

 

10 Books that Changed My World

During the long winter months I keep my house closed up to ward off the cold; but once the days get longer and the temps get warmer, I open up the house and begin my annual spring cleaning ritual.

I also start a “donate” box, where I collect clothes and household items I no longer use or need.

And every year I stand in front of my bookshelves and try to decide whether I should, could or can bring myself to add one of the books in my collection to the “donate” box.

It’s a hard decision, but I always manage to cut a few books from the herd and add them to the box.

Of course, there are some books in my collection that have had such a profound impact on me, I would never consider giving them away.

Here, in no particular order, are the top ten fiction books that changed my life:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I was twelve years old when I first read Pride and Prejudice, and it (and the author) have held a special place in my heart ever since. I can’t explain why this book touched me so deeply, except that it has everything I want in a novel: humor, tragedy, mystery, adventure, travel, romance, suspense, villains, heroes, and a heroine who represents the ideal young woman I often wish I could be more like.

Besides that, it’s just a darn good love story.

My tattered, well-worn copy of P&P.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

When I was a kid, as far back as I could remember, there was always a copy of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our bookcase at home. They were a set that belonged to my mother, which she purchased together when she was twenty years old.

I began reading Jane Eyre one summer afternoon when I was in middle school because I had nothing else to do, and ended up enthralled by a world of mystery and romance. At the center of the story was a plucky young woman with whom I strongly identified. Jane may not have had grand plans for her life, but knew who she was, and she was always true to herself—and that was the lesson I took from the novel.

Yes, this is the cover of my copy of Jane Eyre. This edition contains reproductions of the creepy but compelling original woodcut illustrations.

Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer.

This was the first book I read in which the author built an entire world that was previously unknown to me. I was captivated by the language, the manners, the wit, and the active, multi-layered plots Heyer created.

Regency Buck was only the first of Heyer’s books I read; it didn’t take long for me to scoop up all her other titles, too. They’ve held a place of honor on my book shelves ever since, and I reread at least one of her novels every year.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

First, the story contained in the pages of this novel is wonderful. Second, Lee’s writing style is magnetic. But the lessons I learned in this book about life and courtesy and how to treat other people have stayed with me since I first read this classic in high school. It’s one of the few books I read regularly every couple of years.

How Green was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn

I was eleven years old when I discovered this beautifully written gem in my school’s library. I checked it out for one capricious reason: the borrowing card was clean—no one had checked the book out before, and I decided I wanted to be the first.

I took it home and read it. I was so touched by the story of the Morgan family, and their simple, honest ways that How Green was My Valley instantly became one of favorite books. In fact, I checked it out of the library so often, the librarian questioned me about it after the fifth or sixth time. But that’s how good this book is; I just couldn’t get enough of it then, and now that I have my own copy, it enjoys a permanent place on my keeper shelf.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

A friend at church handed me this book and said, “You have to read this.” So I did. Then I read the rest of the series, and spent endless hours talking with my friends at church about the symbolism and metaphors and meanings in the book. Then we’d seize on passages in the novel and search our Bibles for scripture to reinforce the point we thought the author was trying to make. In a sense, this book taught me and my friends how to exchange ideas, make our arguments, and research on the fly.

Add to that the fact that the book is (on the surface) a wonderfully written story of adventure and good versus evil, and it easily earns a place on my top ten list of all-time classics that everyone should read at least once in their life.

Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dosteyevsky

When I first read Crime and Punishment, I had no idea it was written in 1866. To me, it could have been written in 1910, 1940, or even 1960; the story is that timeless.

This novel reads like a mystery, although there’s really no mystery here; we know from the outset that the main character commits murder. The author’s master stroke is the way in which he manipulates our emotions about the murderer. Should we hate him? Root for him? Feel compassion for him? That’s part of the mystery!

From this novel I learned a lot about human nature: that the face people present to you may not represent who they really are; that good people do bad things; that remorse doesn’t always lead to redemption or even forgiveness.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell

This is not a children’s book. I read it in high school, again in my twenties, and a couple more times since then. The odd thing about this book is that no matter when I read it, it seems to present a commentary on the current state of affairs in the world at the time. On the surface, it’s an entertaining story. In reality, it’s a warning about what can happen when we ignore what first appears to be a  gentle, slight slope of moral decay.

If you haven’t read it yet, I don’t want to give the story away; but I think it’s a book that everyone should read today, right now, this minute.

Testimony of Two Men, by Taylor Caldwell

This is the book that made me think, “I’d like to write a novel like this someday.”

Taylor Caldwell doesn’t just write, she paints word pictures that bring her stories to life. From the settings, to the clothing and furniture, she draws me into her books and lets me see what her characters see and experience.

In Testimony of Two Men Caldwell’s skills are on full display. It has everything I love in a novel: family drama, an engaging hero, doomed romance, and tidbits about the time period that are skillfully woven into the story. My well-worn copy is on my keeper shelf.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

My mother read Little Women to my sisters and me when we were young. We were four sisters, so it was easy for us to identify with the March sisters. I remember that I wanted to be as pretty as Meg, as brave as Jo, as gentle as Beth, and as talented as Amy.

My mother read to us from the very same book she read when she was young; it was given to her by her Aunt Helen at Christmas in 1936. My mother had just turned twelve years old. As she read to us, it was clear how much she loved this novel and the characters’ stories.

My mother was a busy woman, who always worked full-time outside the home when we were growing up; and when she got home at night, there were meals to prepare, cleaning to do, an ill husband to nurse, and a million other cares and worries for her to tend to. When I think of all she was up against, I cherish my memories of the time she took to read Little Women aloud to us.

I have to admit, there are many more novels I considered for this list; but in the end, these are the books that really spoke to me. They changed my thinking and my outlook on life and how I wanted to live it. They taught me about strength of character, honesty, and standing up for what is right; about love and commitment, and enjoying life’s simple pleasures along the way.

What about you? Have you ever read a book that made a profound impact on you? Please share it!

Mr. Darcy: A Man with a Plan

Hello, and a happy weekend to you!

Today I’m posting on the Austen Authors blog, talking about Jane Austen movie adaptations. Do you know, some of my favorite scenes in 1995’s “Pride and Prejudice” never appeared in Jane Austen’s original novel!

Here’s a hint about one of those scenes:

I hope you’ll join me at Austen Authors and share your favorite movie scenes, too! Just click on the image below.

Musical Instruments in Regency England

When I first began reading Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s novels, the pianoforte seemed to be the musical instrument of choice for every Regency era heroine.

Portrait of Geneviève Aimée Victoire Bertin by Francois-Xavier Fabre

Jane Austen often equated a woman’s ability on the pianoforte to her overall value to society as an “accomplished woman.” In her novel Pride and Prejudice here’s how Caroline Bingley described Miss Georgiana Darcy:

The harp was another instrument mentioned in Austen’s novels, but with much less frequency; once again, Caroline Bingley mentioned the harp in regard to Georgiana Darcy:

“I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp.”

Author Georgette Heyer, who wrote her novels set during the Regency over one hundred years after Austen, also wrote about female characters who played the pianoforte. She also mentioned harps in her stories but usually for comic value, such as when a male character complained about a woman “twanging” away at a harp.

In recent years I’ve come to learn that there was another musical instrument that was just as popular—if not more so—than the pianoforte and the twanging harp: The guitar.

Lady with a Guitar, by Francois Xavier Fabre

I’ve found quite a few portraits of people—women and men—who lived during the Regency era and were memorialized with a guitar.

I find this so interesting, mainly because I always associated guitars with twentieth century America. Say the word guitar and I think of a cowboy strumming “Home on the Range” while sitting with his fellow cowpokes around a campfire. I never really thought of the guitar being prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and I certainly never thought of it being English.

Young Woman Playing Guitar, by Adele Romany.

Another instrument that’s often featured in portraits of the time is the lyre. Unlike the guitar, the lyre makes sense to me, given that a majority of the early Regency years were influenced by Greek symbols and stylings.

Portrait of Hortense Bonaparte, by Fleury-Francois Richard (1815)

In this post I’ve shared a few examples of portraits I found, but I’ve collected even more examples on one of my Pinterest boards, and I’d love to have you take a look!

Click here to visit my new Pinterest board, “Musical Instruments in the Regency.” I hope you enjoy it; and be sure to subscribe to the board so you’ll be notified when I add new images. I’m pretty certain I’m going to be posting some more images of guitars and lyres and pianofortes. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come across some other surprising musical instruments to share with you!