Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Accept My Apology

On Monday morning, the eldest young Master Boyce woke up ill.

"I'm sorry you're not feeling well," I said as I tucked him back into bed.

Then the second one chimed in, his eyes gleaming with envy. "My stomach hurts, too!"

"I'm sorry to hear that," I murmured, shooing him along to breakfast.

He ate and got ready for school, all the while angling for a day off like his brother was getting. "I'm serious, my stomach hurts," he insisted. "I ate too much last night."

"I'm sorry," said I. "You'll feel better soon."

My son rounded on me. "Why do you keep saying that?" he snapped.


"You keep saying you're sorry! Every time we're sick or we get hurt, you say you're sorry."

"Oh," I said, a little taken aback. "I'm... sorry."

He threw his hands up in frustration and stomped off to the bus, his annoyance at me driving away his phantom stomach ache.

* * *

I apologize a lot--or rather, I use the words of apology, when I don't really mean them, at all.

"Dear Fanny: I'm sorry to hear of the loss
of your best kid riding gloves. I'm sorry, too,
that Mr. Watlingworth has not come up to
scratch, as I fully expected him to have done so
by now. I'm sorry to report Lydia is still
behaving like the veriest hoyden. Sorrowfully yrs,
P.S. -- Do write soon!

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for your loss.

I'm sorry you're sick.

I'm sorry you fought with your husband.

I'm sorry things are hard for you right now.

I'm sorry the restaurant was terrible.

I'm sorry you had a bad day at work.

I'm sorry for saying I'm sorry so much.

I don't mean it. What I mean is, "I feel sorrow on your behalf." "I empathize." "My heart is heavy for you." "I wish you weren't sick." "I acknowledge the injustice of your situation." "This should not have happened to you."

Those are the kinds of things I mean, but I use "I'm sorry" as a lazy shorthand.

Some people are really bothered by this misuse of "I'm sorry," though not as much as the use of a word I won't mention. More than once the reply to my "I'm sorry," has been something along the lines of, "Why? You didn't do it."

I know I didn't do it. That's not what I mean. I think everyone knows that's not what we "I'm sorry"ers mean. We're honestly trying to express sympathy, but some people don't respond well to it when it comes wrapped up as an apology.

So, why don't I just say what I mean? It's a linguistic rut, a thoughtless habit. But I'm going to try to be more conscientious about the words I use next time I feel "I'm sorry" trying to fall off my tongue.

Do you say "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy / empathy? Do you find it problematic? Let's discuss it in the comments!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Baby Elephants

Fear not, dear readers. I have not, in fact, fallen into the abyss. I got caught up in November madness with kid sports and Thanksgiving (How was yours, by the way? Ours was great; thanks for asking!) and then Mr. Boyce and I high tailed it out of town for one of those decade anniversary trips... Phew! Anyway, I have Returned in Triumph--over what, I couldn't say, but here I am. Ta-daaaaaaaa!

So, while catching up on the mountain of laundry that vacations produce, I was thinking about this terrible cliché one hears authors spout about their book being their baby, or how writing a book is like having a baby, or some variation thereof.

I hate that.

It isn't true, and I'll tell you why.

Look, I've had a few babies in my time. Gestating a baby is rife with physical discomfort, but it's pretty low on the mental strain. Pregnancy is as much a biological process as growing fingernails, and you probably don't put much effort into making that happen, do you? Yes, parents-to-be absolutely worry and fret over their little ones, and there's a lot to do to prepare the nest for a baby's arrival. But, you don't have to think about actually making a baby. Gosh, can you imagine having to sit down and concentrate for hours at a time to form a baby's various internal structures and organs and choosing eye color and leg length and nose shape and... wow, I'm making myself tired just considering it. And the results wouldn't be pretty.

No, the baby will gestate just fine without any creative input from you, thankyouverymuch.

A novel, meanwhile, goes nowhere without the writer's full effort. Everything is created from scratch--the world, the characters, the plot. It's a heck of a lot of thinking work. And then there's the writing work. And the submitting work. And the marketing work. And the--hey, this is starting to sound more like a job than a baby.

Another point at which the book-as-a-baby analogy falls apart is the gestational period, ie, the time itself. That baby's only going to brew for so long. Thirty-eight to forty-two weeks in normal circumstances, and then, blammo! Evicted in a relatively brief rush of pain and effluvia. Hours (or days, for the unfortunate) later, and it's all over. Baby has arrived.

I put a lot of work into this one, but you can
have it for a reasonable advance, plus royalties.
The time frame for writing a novel varies from author to author. Some can hammer out a first draft in a few months. Others might take a year or more. Editing tacks on more time, and manuscripts can languish in the submission process for years (Ask me how I know. Actually, don't. It's too depressing.). I've known an author who was picked up by the first agent she submitted to, and more authors who rack up dozens of rejections before finally finding someone to represent their work. Then comes submitting (yes, again) to publishers. Editing (yes, again) with the publishing house's editor. Then sitting in queue for publication, and then--THEN! Oh, glorious day, publication. The book is finished and released to the world. It's over. No going back, no changing, no growing.

That baby, meanwhile, which you gestated and birthed in less than a year is going to continue to develop and grow and change and require your support and help and love for the next infinity.

Likening a book to a baby is too emotional for my taste. It gives the novel an unreasonable sense of importance in the grand scheme of things. I have manuscripts and I have children. The two are not even closely related.

Of course, I put heart and effort and sweat and tears and even a little blood (paper cuts!) into my novels. Of course, I want to see them out in the world for readers to enjoy. But in the end, writing is a job. Novels are the products of authors' hard work, ones we want to sell. Submitting is the process of applying for a paying job as a novelist.

Maybe some authors really do have similar feelings about their novels and their children, but not me. I have to give myself some emotional distance from the businessy side of writing; otherwise, I'd go mad. Gestating an actual baby for nine months is hard enough. I couldn't deal with the uncertainty and stress of submitting if I thought of each manuscript as a baby. Besides, what kind of mother sells her children?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I have a difficult time naming things. One of my children was named while we drove to the hospital, just a few hours before he was born. Another's first name was finally settled on a day or two before she arrived, but she had to live the better part of two days without a middle name.

It seemed like a dignified choice at the time.
Pets haven't been any easier. At an early age, I turned to literature for companion animal monikers. Thus the cat six-year-old me dubbed Romeo. Scout, Sadie, and Marlowe followed over the years. The time I stepped away from literary inspiration, I wound up with a goldfish named Hubert.

It's just so hard for me to name things. A name is a word (or a sparse few) that is forever associated with that person, pet, or character. It isn't arbitrary, it encapsulates the very idea of a person. Sometimes a name just doesn't mesh well with who a person is. Margaret Mitchell originally named her heroine Pansy O'Hara. Can you imagine? Thankfully, her publisher convinced her to change the name, and Scarlett has been an icon ever since--fiery, feisty, passionate, bold. Scarlett. That's a great name.

Naming my own heroines hasn't been my primary difficulty, but the menfolk give me fits. My current work in progress was held up at the beginning of chapter two for nearly a week while I anguished over the hero's name. A Romance hero's name should be strong, and give a hint as to what kind of person he is (the heroine's, too, but I have an easier time with female names). You can't just slap any old name onto a character and expect it to fly. That'll never work!

Sometimes, writers will tell you their characters speak to them. I've seen author / character interviews, and my author buddies have occasionally mentioned something jolly their current favorite character said in passing. Frankly, I just nodded and smiled when I heard of such things. None of my characters has ever spoken to me. That is, until the day I tried to force a name on a hero. This particular hero (A different one than the above mentioned chapter two holdout. These guys kill me.) had driven me batty in the development stage. I knew so much about him--how he looked, how he spoke, the clutter on the desk in his study--but I didn't know his name. Finally, I decided to smoke him out. This hero is a gambler. Temperamental. Proud. Intense. Just to be spiteful, I told him he would be a hobbyist carpenter and that I was going to call him Howard. Clear as day, I heard him. "My name is Ethan, and I sail." Well. Alrighty then.

I thanked him kindly for his time. We never spoke of the carpentry kerfuffle again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Penny for the Old Guy

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

-English folk verse

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is a fascinating incident in British history. You're probably familiar with the imagery of the Gunpowder Plot--the Guy Fawkes mask, bonfires, effigies, fireworks. In the United States (and perhaps elsewhere), the details of the plot itself are not as commonly known, so I thought I'd provide a brief and woefully inadequate overview of the Plot.

English Catholics had suffered intense legal and social persecution during the rein of Elizabeth I. When James I succeeded her in 1603, Catholics hoped the new monarch would undo these injustices. The son of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, James did hold personal views much more tolerant than Elizabeth, but his administration brought about no official changes. Tired of waiting for a Protestant government to grant Catholics relief, Robert Catesby (who had previously taken part in the Essex Rebellion) devised a plan to topple the British establishment. 

Honestly, that mask could be the face of any one of these guys. Except for metro over there
on the left.

Nine seemed much older back then.
Catesby's goal was simple: Obliterate the Protestant English government and install a Catholic head of state. To achieve this goal, he and his co-conspirators planned to detonate a stockpile of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament, November 5, 1605, when the king and the entire House of Lords would be assembled in one room. With the mass assassination accomplished, they planned to install James' daughter, nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth (Not to be confused with Elizabeth I, who was already deceased. Zombie monarchs rarely work out as well as you'd hope.) as a Catholic queen.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1605, the conspirators set the stage for their coup d'état. They leased an undercroft directly below the House of Lords and purchased the gunpowder required to demolish the building above. Catesby delegated responsibility for the explosives to a devout Catholic and military veteran, a gentleman by the name of Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes is the name most commonly associated with the Gunpowder Plot, because it was his arrest and subsequent torture and interrogation that led to the complete unraveling of the conspiracy. Things went bad when William, Baron Monteagle received an anonymous letter on October 26, 1605, warning him not to attend the State Opening of Parliament. An investigation commenced at once to discover the source of the threat. Just after midnight on November 5--only hours before the scheduled State Opening of Parliament--Guy Fawkes was discovered in the undercroft below the House of Lords, in the company of 36 barrels of gunpowder and a fuse.

In the days that followed, Fawkes and his co-conspirators were arrested, tried, and executed for treason. As I noted previously, Catholic emancipation did not take legal effect in England until 1829. Following the Plot, tighter laws were passed to curtail Catholic religious observance and legal rights. In January of 1606, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act 1605. The Act declared November 5 an annual, public day of thanksgiving for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. Initially observed with sermons and other boring services leading up to the iconic Bonfire Night festivities, it has since evolved into an excuse to set off fireworks, hang out around a big fire, and drink with friends.

The sinister smile of freedom.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Gunpowder Plot conspirators did not wish to create a religiously tolerant England. Rather, they hoped to revert England to a papist state--essentially turning the persecution tables on the Protestant population. Nevertheless, Bonfire Night was observed with decidedly anti-authoritarian tones in pre-Revolutionary Boston. The Guy Fawkes mask has been adopted as a symbol of anti-establishment sentiment thanks to the graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2006 film adaptation. Most recently, both the hacking group Anonymous and Occupy protesters around the world have donned the mask as a sign of rebellion and group solidarity.

Like all political movements, the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 will continue to take on new meanings and interpretations as time passes. For some, the conspirators were regicidal traitors. For others, they were freedom fighters taking a stand against tyranny.

What would have happened if Guy Fawkes had not been arrested in the early morning hours of November fifth? Would the Plot have succeeded in killing James I and everyone inside the House of Lords? Oh, yes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, pressed the coffee, and turned on the computer, as is my custom. My intention had been to cancel an unwise Amazon order I'd placed the previous evening in a fit of nostalgia and Ambien. When I opened the browser and fired up my email program, I noticed things were running sluggishly.

And by sluggishly, I mean not at all. Page Cannot Load. Server Not Found. Flagrant System Error.  I turned to my husband still lying abed. "Hey, we don't have any internet," I informed him. He told me he'd go buy a carton of it later and rolled over.

A short time later, Mr. Boyce declared our household internet service dead in the water. This was bad news, as Chez Boyce is highly dependent on the internet. We use it for the computer, obviously, but also for our home phone and streaming entertainment to the television. Without the internet, we had been dropped into a virtual oubliette.

We had to wait until Monday for help, so we hunkered down for a weekend sans web. Saturday passed slowly. I kept thinking things like, Since I can't check Facebook, I'll just look up that recipe I've been meaning to try. Oh, wait. It's on the internet. Then I'd decide to call a friend, instead, but I couldn't do that, either, because we had no internet. I could still use my cell phone to text, thankfully, but bite-sized morsels of conversation aren't very satisfying.

Sunday wasn't any better. It's strange to realize how much you rely on something only when it's gone. I read and worked some puzzles and took a nap. Mr. Boyce kept wandering into the room where the modem lives to watch its lights flicker.

By Sunday night, despair had begun to sink in. We were alone. Stranded on a deserted island in the middle of suburbia. It felt as if we had always been isolated like this, and that we might never contact the outside world again.

After some hours, my tears ran dry.

On Monday, Mr. Boyce got word that help was on the way. Someone was coming in a life boat / cable company van. We arranged our afternoon to make sure one of us was here every moment to meet our rescuer.

The promised help never arrived.

Bitter and betrayed, we gathered the tatters of our dignity about ourselves. We didn't need the internet, anyway, I declared. We were fine without it. Just fine. I helped the Boycelings get ready for Trick-or-Treating. We had a fun evening walking the neighborhood, saying hello to neighbors, and congratulating children on clever costumes.

I realized we could still be connected without the internet--if on a much smaller scale. I arrived at a place of peace about our lack of internet. Of course, it was vexing to not be able to dial 911 in case of emergency, but we could always run to the neighbor's house if necessary. We have neighbors, a fact I sometimes forget as we isolate ourselves inside our house, connecting to everyone in the world except for the other humans in our physical proximity.

Today, obviously, the life boat arrived. I rolled out the red carpet as my hero replaced our terminally vegetative modem with a new, lively one. So here I am, reconnected. No longer alone. Alone as ever.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Finding Your Voice

Authorial voice. What the heck is it, what's it good for, and how do you get your own?

For writers, voice is a word we see in critiques and in submission guidelines under What We're Looking For, along with great plots and relatable characters.

For readers, voice is something to discuss at book club. Ultimately, it's what draws you into a story and keeps you there.

A strong, clear authorial voice is an asset to both writers and readers.

What the heck is it?

In writing, voice is simply the way an author speaks on the page. It's the summation of word choice, syntax, rhythm, and so forth.

What's it good for?

An author's voice is unique to that individual. It's how we distinguish ourselves from other writers.

To illustrate, here are brief passages from two nineteenth century novels:

Example one: Summer passed away in these occupations, and my return to Geneva was fixed for the latter end of autumn; but being delayed by several accidents, winter and snow arrived, the roads were deemed impassable, and my journey was retarded until the ensuing spring. I felt this delay very bitterly, for I longed to see my native town and my beloved friends. (Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, first published in 1816)

Example two: The first part of their journey was performed in too melancholy a disposition to be otherwise than tedious and unpleasant. But as they drew towards the end of it, their interest in the appearance of a country to which they were to inhabit overcame their dejection, and a view of Barton Valley as they entered it gave them cheerfulness. (Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, first published in 1811)
This sweet face authored your earliest

These passages are similar in both topic and theme (travel, unhappiness), and were published only five years apart. Though there are just two sentences in each passage, Shelley's feels as if there are more, due to the rhythm she creates with punctuation. The first sentence has six phrases separated by commas or semicolon. By contrast, Austen's long sentence (the second one) has only three phrases separated by commas. Shelley's pacing invites the reader's eyes to linger, while Austen's sentences can leave the reader feeling like she needs to catch her breath when she finally reaches a period. Shelley's writing employs plainer words, while Austen tends to the florid.

Despite the similarities in these two brief passages, there are sufficient differences--thanks to each authorial voice--that the two would not be confused as coming from the same writer.

This ability to distinguish oneself from other authors through a strong voice is especially important in genre fiction, such as Romance or Mystery, in which many other writers are telling similar stories. Off the top of my head, I can tell you the stand-out characteristics of a handful of Romance authors--and all those traits relate to voice. Wittiness or concise writing or lyrical prose will appeal to different readers, and keep the ones who appreciate that voice coming back for more.

How to develop a voice of your own

Whether you write a blog, a novel, a poem, or indignant letters to the editor, finding and using your authorial voice is important. How do you do that?

The good news is that, to an extent, your voice comes naturally. You probably never put a lot of thought into your conversational speaking voice. The words you choose to use, whether you inject your speech with sarcasm or humor, these are things that come naturally to you. So, too, will your writing voice.

Try it with a little Ozzy this time.
Write in the way that feels most comfortable. Don't try to force yourself to be something you aren't. For instance, I adore good snark when I'm reading a piece, but that's just not how I write. I can inject some levity into my own work, but I will never be a humorist. Follow your natural inclinations where they lead.

If you just aren't sure what your voice is like, try out different styles of writing. Maybe your prose is witty like David Sedaris, or stark like Hemingway. Try on various styles and see what fits. Be aware that your authorial voice might be dissimilar from your speaking voice, or they might be nearly identical. The two are different animals, though, so don't try to force your writing voice to be the same as your speaking voice.

Finally, write, write, write. The more you write, the more comfortable you will become with your voice, and the clearer it will be. Just as a young singer may have a sweet singing voice, it takes effort and practice to hone that voice into a clean, unique instrument.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Growing (Vocabulary) Pains

Watching children grow is bittersweet, as any parent will tell you. It's so exciting to watch those first steps, to see that first tooth, to run beside them on their first bike. Yet there's sadness, too, at leaving earlier stages behind. Those little infants I held in my arms and recited poetry to turned into toddlers who couldn't wait to run away from me at the park. The fact that they always come running back again doesn't quite soothe the hurt of the initial running away. I know that they'll never be mine quite as much as they were before. And so it goes, day after day and stage after stage. Growing and changing and moving farther away from me.

Soon enough, she'll inform you that
she never asked to be born.
The physical development of children is one thing, but it's their cognitive development that'll really break your heart. Since I'm blogging about it, of course I'm thinking about words. Their words. A child's words.

Children discover the power of words alongside learning to roll over or hold a spoon. They learn their name is a special word that refers only to themselves. They learn that calling to Mama by name will summon her as effectively as crying. Words empower children to describe the world around them and to express the world within them.

Inevitably, though, children will wield words as weapons. Their efforts at word hurling can be humorous in the beginning. It's hard to take a tiny tyrant seriously when she screams that you're a stinkyhead.

Giggle as we might, however, children deep down know that words can be just as painful as a physical blow. A child will report an incident of name calling as quickly as they tell on another child for slapping. Parents must teach children to speak kindly, just as we teach them not to hit.

 All the while a child is learning how to express himself in words, he is also learning to respond to the words of others. Hearing that he is loved, or clever, or has done something well gives a child joy. Children crave those words of encouragement and affection. Such verbal affirmations help children feel safe and secure.

A mother's pipe dream

On the other hand, sadly, children feel pain when hurtful words are thrown at them. Holding my son in my arms while he wept over the terrible things a friend said to him is one of the most trying things I've gone through as a parent. Cuts and scrapes can be washed and bandaged. Illness can be treated with medicine. But once someone hurts your child with words, there's no magic mommy kiss to make it better. All you can do is try to ameliorate the damage. Eventually, they move past it--a little tougher, a little wiser, a little less innocent.

Such incidents have happened, and will happen, again. And again. The words a child hears subtly change who they are and who they become. Even after a child develops the coordination to stop tripping over her own feet most of the time, she will still cause and receive hurt with words. Childhood tantrums become adolescent breakup speeches become adult sharing bad news. We carry the tantrums and breakup speeches and gossip and name calling with us, too, forever hurting one another. Words are the childhood trauma none of us escape.

Friday, October 14, 2011


October is my favorite month. November is a close second, but October is tops in my heart. It's my birthday month, but it isn't just the promise of my beloved cake that makes October so special. We'll get to some of the other amazing things about October shortly, but I had to share this word-related information with you first.

Every year, I wonder about the origins of the name "October," so I go read about it and it makes my brain hurt so I willfully forget until next year when I start the cycle all over again.

Is that guy's tunic doing what I think
it's doing?
October carries the Latin root octo, which means "eight." You may have noticed that October is the tenth month of the year, but it wasn't always. In the old Roman calendar, there were ten months in the year, of which October was the eighth. Now it's the tenth of twelve, but we still call it Eight. Got it?

Lots of the other months have cool etymologies, like the names of gods (Janus, Mars, Maia, Juno); or the names of historical figures (Julius and Augustus); or just really awesome words. February is named for the Roman purification festival Februa, and April comes from the Latin word aperire, which means "to open," on account of all the blossoming flowers and whatnot.

Then autumn rolls around, and we have September (septem = seven), October (octo = eight), November (novem = nine), and December (decem = ten). Numbers. And not even the right ones anymore. When January and February were tacked onto the beginning of the year, evidently no one could be bothered to renumber the calendar, or come up with any other deities or persons worth honoring with their own months.

So, that's all kind of dry. And wrong.

*Blind warrior woman and sword
sold separately.
Heaped on top of the wrong-number-for-a-birth-month-name thing, I was also born under the zodiac sign Libra, the scales. Of the whole zodiac, Libra is the only inanimate symbol. Everyone else gets scorpions and lions and virgins, but I got stuck with a side table decoration from Pier 1. I don't put any stock in zodiac stuff, but scales just aren't as inspiring as a crab, you know?

But there's lots of great stuff about October, too, which make it the very best.

There's the fact that it isn't summer. I live in the South, and summer here is pretty much hell. Hot temperatures combine with high humidity to stew us in our own sweat. Summer kicks in somewhere around Easter, and doesn't let up until late September. We just experienced one of the most brutal summers on record. The current temperatures still aren't what most people consider fall-like, but at least we're out of the triple digits until next year. October means an end to the homicidal weather. The cooler days invite us to leave our air-conditioned caves and come outside again.

October means Oktoberfest which means German food and beer. Beat that, June! Oh wait, you can't.

Pretty leaves.

Pretty leaves!

There's a feeling of good will in the air. It's all harvesty and bountiful and generous. We're not cranky from the summer heat anymore. The children are back into the swing of school, and the holidays are just around the corner. Looking forward to the good times on the horizon puts a spring in my step.

Halloween is so much fun. I love to see the kids in their costumes, dashing madly from house to house to accumulate their sugar horde. Plus, you can leave a pumpkin uncarved and it'll transition from Halloween to Thanksgiving. Pennywise porch decorations make me happy.

This gentleman knows how to get into the seasonal spirit.

Enjoy the rest of your October, dears. I know I will.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Breast Cancer Awareness, Regency Style

Every October, pink merchandise shows up on store shelves, and pink ribbons appear on media personalities. Pink has become a color of the season almost as much as the oranges and burgundies marking the trees as the year turns.

Instead of pink-washing the Ball to show my support for breast cancer awareness, I thought  we'd take a look at how a woman of the Regency era may have confronted this disease.

To begin, cancer has been recognized since ancient times. The oldest recorded observations of cancer come from Egypt, in approximately 1600 BC. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, theorized that cancer was caused by an imbalance in the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. An excess of black bile was the cause of cancer, Hippocrates believed. The second century Roman doctor, Galen, agreed with the Hippocratic view and declared cancer to be incurable. He allowed that some breast cancers could be treated by the surgical removal of tumors, but since surgery itself carried grave risks--and because the cancer often returned--operations were rarely attempted.

Galen's writings remained medical gospel for more than a thousand years, his theories unchallenged. At the time of the Regency, many physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries still accepted the four humors theory of health, which is why blood letting was practically a national pastime for centuries.

More fun than cricket.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the involvement of underarm lymph nodes in breast cancer cases was discovered, although removing them during surgery was tricky business and not usually attempted.

By the mid-eighteenth century, modern-minded surgeons had abandoned the humors theory of cancer, and brainstormed new ideas. It was observed that sometimes multiple women in the same household developed breast cancer. This led to the conclusion that cancer is contagious. Cancer patients were isolated in hospitals to prevent the spread of the disease.

Did you hear about Old Man Hunter? He's
got this crazy idea about mothers passing
a predisposition for breast cancer to their
daughters. Did you ever???
The eminent Scottish surgeon, John Hunter (1728-1793), was among a group of surgeons who arrived at a different conclusion when confronted with the above scenario: hereditary disposition. Today, we understand the genetic inclination for breast cancer between generations. In the 1700's, however, Mr. Hunter's notion was controversial and dismissed by traditionalists as phooey.

So, what could a Regency lady expect when this terrible disease struck? If she had the financial resources to choose treatment, she would decide whether to first consult a physician or a surgeon (I previously explored the British medical hierarchy here.) A physician would not conduct a physical exam, but he would suggest a course of medication.

There also arose a subset of physicians and apothecaries who claimed to be able to cure cancer with their proprietary concoctions. Arsenic was a popular choice, the idea being to fight fire with fire--or in this case, poison with poison. A recipe called Plunkett's Poultice included the following ingredients: Crow's foot, dogfennel, brimstone [sulfur], and white arsenic. The ingredients were ground together into a powder, then mixed with an egg yolk to make a paste, which was applied to the cancer site and covered with bandages. As you might imagine, arsenic-laced medications did nothing to cure cancer, and actually hastened the deaths of quite a few patients.

Surgery was also an option, and the area of medicine which showed the most success and progress in the late 1700's and early 1800's in the treatment of breast cancer. Unfortunately, surgery was carried out without the benefit of anesthesia or effective pain relief medications. Post-surgery infections were common, and blood loss during an operation was an additional risk. Lumpectomies and mastectomies were performed to ensure what John Hunter called the removal of the "whole disease." He urged close inspection of the removed tumors to ensure they were intact. Regarding a particular case, he said, "I considered that the bad success arising from amputation of the breast arose from not taking away enough." A post-op inspection of the excised tumor revealed it was not intact. Two weeks later, another surgery was performed to remove the remaining cancer.

Okay, a little bit of pink.
One of Hunter's colleagues, Henry Fearon, advocated the early removal of breast cancer--another idea centuries ahead of its time. In a 1784 publication entitled A Treatise on Cancers with a new and scientific method of Operating, Fearon laments: "In most cancers (those of the breast especially) internal ulceration takes place long before the skin shews any tendency to ulceration [...] It is unfortunately the case, that patients can seldom be convinced that there is any necessity for an operation while the disease continued in a mild state; whereas, that is beyond all doubt, the most favorable period for extirpating it." [source]

The Regency breast cancer patient had limited options for treating her disease. As today, some of the brightest minds in medicine and science worked diligently to find effective treatments, while charlatans preyed on the vulnerable. Our chances of successfully fighting this disease are much greater now thanks to the work of John Hunter, Henry Fearon, and all the other surgeons who developed pioneering surgical techniques. But as Mr. Fearon said, early detection and treatment is the key to success.

Consider yourself aware.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Research

It's no secret that I'm an incorrigible word fanatic. Words are to me like watercolors are to a painter, or like clay is to a potter. They are the medium through which I express myself, and I love spending time with them and choosing the right ones to do the job.

But if word nerdery is my college major, then history is my minor. One of the reasons I know I've found the right period in which to set my stories is that I get so darned excited about research. Learning about the British Regency is downright thrilling to me; I never tire of it.

Someday I'm going to spend hours reading out of print
books and Googling obscure terms and boring
everyone in my circle with outdated facts.
Just you watch me, Mama. I will!
I've just begun the research phase of a new project, so I'm riding high on the research thrill. Hunting down material is part of the fun. It's part detective work, part scavenger hunt, part tabloid reading. OK, so the scandals might be a couple centuries old, but I do enjoy sharing the juicy tidbits I run across in my reading. Mr. Boyce and my friends have all been subjected to monologues that begin, "You will never believe who Caroline Lamb had an affair with." I'm very grateful to the people in my life who humor my little historical tirades.

A fun aspect of focusing on a particular time period is that there is always more to learn. Just when I think I've got a good handle on the various types of carriages, I discover that my story requires I learn about horse breeds, stables, and animal husbandry. My novels have so far sent me delving into obvious topics such as fashion and manners, but also into fascinating subjects like period microscopes and botany.

I have a tiny personal reference library (more of a reference shelf, to be perfectly accurate) that I constantly turn to for guidance. A few of my old reliables: Our Tempestuous Day, by Carolly Erickson is a wonderful overview of the Regency period's social and political landscape. Regency Style, by Steven Parissien is a great reference for architecture and interior decorating, while English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington helps me dress my characters. Mr. Boyce once surprised me with The London Encycolpaedia, by Christopher Hibbert, and it has been an invaluable addition to my collection.

Whenever I read about the Regency, I find my mind spinning little wisps of stories around the people and events I discover. Some of these have found their way into my writing, some have been filed away for later. I hoard historical tidbits like precious gems waiting to be strung together.

I love the writing, I love the words, but I also truly adore the period. Researching the British Regency lets my inner historian run the show for a while. It's lots of fun, and a crucial aspect of my work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Very Slightly Damp

While I have previously discussed words, and the many ways we love them, I must now turn my attention to the unpleasant topic of words, and the many ways we loathe them.

In my years of sharing my love of the written and spoken word with all and sundry, I have discovered a curious thing. It turns out not all people are enamored of all words the way I am. Rather, some people downright detest particular words. One seemingly innocuous word consisting of five inoffensive letters keeps appearing in these revelations of disgust. When spoken, it is whispered with the lips curled back, as though the speaker is trying not to vomit. Others try not to utter it at all. When I stumble upon the hated word by happenstance, I am met with a cringe, and a waving of hands, accompanied by a hissed, "Don't say that," while the speaker looks over his or her shoulder, as if I might have summoned Voldemort by uttering the befouled mot.

So, what is this loathsome bit of linguistic torment?

Trigger Warning for those afflicted by detestable words.

And if you are someone who A) Feels strongly about a particular word, and B) Has communicated to me your abhorrence of one, you might know what's coming.

This is your last chance to look away.


The beastly word is:


Allow these adorable felines to soothe your distressed nerves.

I must admit, when I first encountered moist-hate, I thought it was an isolated thing, an eccentric quirk of a dear friend. I found it silly and endearing. After all, some of my favorite things are moist. Cake, for instance, or the warm towelette one is presented with at the end of a transatlantic flight. What could possibly be offensive about delectable pastries and refreshing towelettes? Then I learned another friend disliked the word. And then another. Befuddled, I turned to the Internet, certain I must just be trapped on some island of irrational word aversion. And this is what I saw:

Anyone with a word du jour is all right by me.

Gross? Worst? Dirty? This is a thing, this dislike of moist? Dear reader, you may color me stunned. Some more poking about revealed page after page and list after list of despised words. If moist wasn't on the list itself, it quickly appears in the comment sections. One can fall down a rabbit hole chasing links brimming with moist-hate.
The hatred hurts. Right here.

My heart knows no hatred when it comes to words. Each and every one has its proper place and usage, so this widespread loathing of dear little moist had me feeling like a loose sail flapping in the wind. I had to make sense of all the vitriol aimed at this word. Certainly, it may have to occasionally shoulder the adjectival burden of describing something unpleasant, such as "moist eczema" or "moist specimen" but then, eczema and specimens aren't always the most pleasant things, are they? And yet it's moist that takes the fall for doing its descriptive duty.

The only thing that could make my bruised heart feel better about the beating moist gets is a new, shiny word. I found one relating to the hatred of a specific lexeme.

Logomisia refers to a "strong dislike for a particular word (or type of word) based on its sound, meaning, usage, or associations." Of course, moist is thrown to the wolves in the example section of this link. Sigh.

Poor moist. I think I'll have some cake. While I do, discuss your own word aversions (or lack thereof!) in the comments.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Medicine Man

There have been some health issues afoot in the Boyce household of late, so issues pertaining to doctors and medicine have been on my mind. So today we're going to take a peek at the Regency's version of the medical establishment. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, what we would collectively term the medical field consisted largely of three levels of practitioner: the physician, the surgeon, and the apothecary.

Physicians were the most socially prestigious of the three practitioners. Only physicians were granted the title "Dr." They typically came from genteel families who could afford educations for their sons. There were no medical schools in England and training, such as it was, was wholly academic in nature. Those who aspired to become physicians studied texts centuries (and sometimes millenia) old--not for historical perspective, mind you, but for actual professional guidance. The Royal College of Physicians licensed physicians, but an additional fellowship could be obtained by those who studied at Cambridge or Oxford. Most physicians practiced in London, where they could build up a clientele with money and social standing.

I deign to touch your wrist, but we will never speak of this again.
 The licensed physician, or "physic," was considered a gentleman and therefore not technically in trade. He did nothing that smacked of manual labor. When summoned by his wealthy clients, the physician merely took a case history and offered verbal consultation. He did not give physical exams, except, perhaps, to take the pulse at the wrist. He most assuredly did not deal with blood or bones or pustules, perish the thought. What he did do, was prescribe drugs. Lots of them. These prescriptions were filled by the apothecary, who we'll visit in just a moment.

Next down the medical totem was the real workhorse of Regency medicine, the surgeon. Unlike modern surgeons, the nineteenth century surgeon was not given the "Dr." designation in his name, only "Mr." There was no formal training to become a surgeon. A young man who wished to practice surgery carried out an apprenticeship, the same system through which blacksmiths and carpenters and every other manual laborer trained.

The local "sawbones" worked in the trenches of human suffering. He set broken bones and performed amputations and surgeries and bleedings. Many of his patients would die of infection after an operation, but bacteria and sanitation were not yet understood; he did his best with the knowledge available to him. The local surgeon was summoned in the middle of the night to attend the sick and almost certainly suffered every sort of indignity as he treated all manner of digestive complaints. Food poisoning was rife, as were ailments resulting from impure water and even contamination from storage containers. The surgeon was confronted with illnesses such as influenza and small pox, as well as chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and gout.

An interesting historical tidbit: In the early nineteenth century, surgeons were legally prohibited from performing dissections on human corpses, except for the remains of executions. The papier-mâché models created for training purposes just weren't sufficient to teach real human anatomy. Necessity brought surgeons into partnership with the criminal element. Grave robbers, called "resurrection men," dug up freshly buried bodies and sold them to surgeons who used the corpses to expand their understanding of anatomy and disease.
The skeleton was a surprisingly able assistant.

Of course it will work! I wouldn't lie to you in this hat.
Also, I have an aloe plant, so you know I'm legit.
The third practitioner in the Regency medical world was the apothecary, the nineteenth century version of the modern pharmacist. He was most decidedly in trade, and had no social standing whatsoever. When a physician wrote out a prescription for a client, the apothecary filled it. He compounded medications from his store of minerals and herbs. Tinctures, ointments, salves, and extracts could all be purchased from the village apothecary. The ambitious apothecary might also concoct his own secret recipes to treat everything from itchy feet to heart arythmias. In small communities that lacked even a surgeon, an apothecary could be summoned to attend a patient. However, he was not allowed to charge for his medical advice--only for his medicines.

As the century wore on, the medical field evolved to give rise to the general practitioner, the doctor whose knowledge combined that of the physician and the surgeon. Getting there was slow going, however, and so the health of those who lived during the Regency was directly affected by the social status of the men who treated them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dressing for Work

My senior year in high school, I took AP English. It was a wonderful, mind expanding course of deep literary analysis and challenging texts. In memory, AP English ranks as the greatest class of my schooling--better even than my college literature courses, because it marked the biggest advancement in my life as someone who thinks about words and language and literature. I was in heaven. Ms Hilborn, wherever you are, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

However, AP English wasn't just an excuse for a book lover like me to wallow in Dostoevsky and Beckett. The class was meant to count as college credit, to be awarded upon passing the AP exam at the end of the year. This was the first test I ever really lost sleep over. Even the SAT was just another standardized test in my mind. But the AP exam? That was a real test. Hours' worth of questions designed to test everything I'd ever learned about a single subject.

After last-minute drills in various Shakespeare works and the particulars of Theater of the Absurd, my teacher gave us practical advice for the day of our exam. Much of it was the same advice we'd all heard for years the day before a test: Get plenty of sleep; eat a good breakfast; use the bathroom before school starts.

Her final piece of advice was new to me. She told us to dress up a bit.

Statement pieces like a great necklace really
help pull a look together.
The reasoning behind her advice was this: The clothes we wear affect our thoughts and behavior. When we put on clothes different from the ones we normally wear, it changes how we act and how we think. Comfy sweats are great for lounging in front of the tv, but they lead to sluggish thoughts. If we dress in a way that is just a wee bit uncomfortable (on account of being different from our normal mode of dress), the mind is sharper and more alert. Putting on an outfit we know flatters us helps us feel more confident, and, in turn, act more confident.

This simple bit of behavioral psychology is behind the advice for job hunters to dress their best for an interview. Not only do our wardrobe choices affect the way we are perceived by others, but they affect the way we perceive and present ourselves.

For anyone who works at home, be you self employed or a telecommuter, the ability to dress comfortably is touted as a perk. With no co-workers popping in or meetings to physically attend, why not stay in pj's all day?

Well, for me, it goes back to the psychology of dressing myself. If I wear pajamas or grubby clothes, my mind just isn't as sharp as I want it to be. It's harder for me to write fiction when my clothes are contributing to a lazy frame of mind.

For those of us who only have ourselves to rely upon for the motivation to get a job done, think about how you're dressing for work. Do the clothes you're wearing make you feel professional, or are they keeping you mentally sluggish?

I have to admit that this summer I've been less disciplined with making sure I'm dressed to get work done, and you know what? I've achieved less in my writing than I would have liked. So, this morning, I fell back on my AP English teacher's advice. I put on some makeup, slipped on a dress, and even donned some slightly uncomfortable shoes. I'm ready to tackle the day and get some serious writing done.

Whimsical footwear is advised for romance writers.

The day of the AP English exam, I followed my teacher's advice. I got sleep, ate a good breakfast, and wore clothes just a bit nicer than what I normally wore to school. My classmates did the same. In a feat unmatched by any other AP course offered at our school that year, every one of us in AP English passed that exam.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In a Sense

One of the many things I admire about language is the way a single word can encapsulate a whole concept. Take the English word "home," for instance. It refers to not just a physical domicile, but also to the emotions of belonging and peace we (hopefully) find there with our family and loved ones.

It's interesting to discover what concepts other cultures have captured in a word or phrase. Oftentimes, these words don't have a clean translation into other languages. The literal English translation of je ne sais quois is "I don't know what," but that's not quite what the phrase means. Someone or something possessed of je ne sais quois has allure and charisma and fabulousness that are hard to put into words.

Another French word the English language borrows is haute. It refers to the highest, the best of the best. We see it in haute cuisine, haute couture, and--if you're a reader of Regency romance--haute ton, which is the highest echelon of society. One could say "top cuisine," or "the best fashion," but those don't have the same sense as haute, which denotes an air of exclusivity and luxury, as well as a top ranking.

OMG, it's Jersey Shore. Change the channel, quick!
The German language is riddled with marvelous words that have no clean English equivalent. One that's become quite popular in the Internet age is Schadenfreude, which is delight at another's suffering. One that hits close to home for me is Fremdschämen. This is vicarious embarrassment on another's behalf, and is the reason I cannot watch reality television. I become terribly uncomfortable when I witness someone else behaving foolishly. They seem to have no shame, but I have plenty for us both. That's Fremdschämen.

What words--in English or in other languages--do you know that lack an equivalent in other tongues? Share them in the comments!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gorging on Books

I started writing because I love books. Adore them. Fervently. I have stories of my own to share, and books, being indescribably awesome, are the medium through which I wish to share those stories. Sadly, writing fills up a lot of the time I used to spend reading. Research material gets reading priority these days, pushing my fiction picks to the bottom of the reading pile.

Sometimes I just have to take a break and recharge the creative juices with some novels. Novels are like that old Pringles ad... once I pop, I can't stop. I glut myself on them. Eventually, I stagger away from the books for the literary equivalent of a food-induced coma.

I'm the guy in the red hat.

I've just had a reading feast, and a delightful one it's been. Blue, by Lou Aronica, was totally unexpected. I'm not sure what I thought I was in for, but this was a wonderful surprise. It's a fantasy novel mashed up with a literary look at the bittersweet heartbreak of parenting and growing up and dying.

I read Water for Elephants. I tend to run 5-10 years behind in exposure to popular books, so I'm a total Johnny Come Lately on that one. I enjoyed it. Rosie the elephant is a fabulous character.

Next, I read a novella by new-ish author Courtney Milan, called Unlocked. It's an historical romance that takes place in 1840, the period between the Regency and Victorian eras. I don't read too many novellas, but I was impressed with how fully fleshed out the characters and story are. The shorter length of the piece didn't take away from the experience at all--it was as satisfying a read as a full novel. This was a charming, lovely romance, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more from Ms. Milan.

Finally, I read the Sherlock Holmes story "The Sign of Four." I've been slowly working my way through The Complete Sherlock Holmes, reading stories here and there. Holmes is such a dark, complex character. In "The Sign of Four", we learn about his worrisome cocaine habit, as well as his generally low opinion of women and the institution of marriage. As ever, I am astonished by Doyle's intricate plot. If only my imagination were so clever!

Great fiction gives my creative brain a rest. It also gets me fired up and inspired and excited all over again about my own work, and how fantastic it'll be to someday see my novels in print. I'm ready to dive into the final push on my current manuscript, which I hope to have completed by the end of summer.

What are you reading? I'm always looking for a good book!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Please Make it Stop

Jane Austen penned six novels--two of which were published posthumously. Each has endured to see printing after printing, BBC adaptations, and dubious Hollywood retellings. Of the six, however, one Austen novel stands above the rest in fame:

Pride and Prejudice

There is no question of P&P's influence and staying power. More than any of Austen's other novels, P&P is the direct ancestor of the modern romance novel. It gives us a spunky heroine, a handsome and honorable hero and... the formula. I firmly believe that the Regency subgenre of historical romance is as booming as it is because of P&P. This novel is the gateway drug to Regency obsession.

Hellooooo, Darcy. Rawr.
First published in 1813, the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy has captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of readers. It was adapted for the stage in the 1930's, and for film in 1940. In addition to multiple feature-length films, there have been numerous miniseries adaptations. The 1995 BBC version, of course, makes millions of ovaries ache to this day at the very mention of Colin Firth.

As happens when people are smitten with a particular story, readers are left wondering, "And then what?" about their favorite characters. Fan fiction, in which an author other than the story's original teller imagines new adventures for characters, is a fun way to explore possibilities beyond The End. Most fan fiction remains unpublished. Occasionally it makes it to print.

When Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind was published in 1991, it was a Very Big Deal. Fans of the original novel and movie adaptation held their collective breath and cringed in anticipation of what Alexandra Ripley had done to Rhett and Scarlett. Reviews of the new novel were published nation-wide--most of them highly unfavorable. Readers were not best pleased with Ms. Ripley's treatment of these beloved characters.

In light of that novel's poor reception, I am all astonishment at the cottage industry that has emerged of Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels. There are just. so. many. of. them. The original story has been told from Darcy's point of view. Elizabeth Aston has published seven P&P-related novels. At least one which I have personally read (the Althea Darcy novel) portrays Elizabeth and Darcy as absentee parents. Colleen McCullough gave us a novel in which Elizabeth and Darcy have a sexless, loveless marriage (and, in fact, Darcy regrets ever marrying beneath his station.). The Darcys are a mystery solving duo. They fight a P&P character now suffering with Dissociative Identity Disorder. And there are zombies. Which now have a prequel. And a film in development.

A search on for Mr. Darcy returns 571 hits. Try Pride and Prejudice Sequels.

She's spun in her grave so many times,
the threading is stripped.

Based on the sheer number of these novels, I can only assume they make money, which answers the question, "Why are they still being published?" But it doesn't answer another question: Why are authors still writing these books? Don't they have other stories to tell? Stories of their own?

I adore Pride and Prejudice. I truly do. I don't think you'll find a Regency Romance author who can't trace her love of the period back to Austen, and probably to P&P. And while I certainly take inspiration from novels I read, I, personally, would not wish to make an entire career directly based on someone else's work. Have we not yet exhausted the general scenarios for Darcy and Elizabeth fan fiction? Eventually, the market hits saturation point. Sales and readership start to decline. Are we there yet with Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels? Whether or not the market is, I am. I'm weary of seeing two of my favorite characters paraded out for stories that never live up to the original. I don't think I'll be picking up another any time soon--not when there are so many new characters on the shelves, just waiting for me to meet them.

What do you think, readers? Have you read any P&P sequels or retellings? Have any of your favorite novels received the same third-party sequel treatment? How do you feel about them? Let's discuss it in the comments!

Monday, June 20, 2011

And The Winner Is...

A big thank you to everyone who participated in my first giveaway! I appreciate all the entries and following and sharing. You're the very best readers a girl could hope for. I wish I could send you all a prize for being so fabulous.

But, if we learned anything from Highlander, it's that there can be only one. So here we go. I'm heading over to right now to select the winner. Are you ready? I'm nervous, but you totally shouldn't be, because you're a winner in my heart, no matter what.

OK, here goes.

The winner of Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners is:


Carrie, I will contact you all private-like to get your contact info. Your prize will be winging its way to you shortly. Thanks again to everyone who entered! I hope we can do this again soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Field Trip and a Giveaway

This past weekend, I spent some time in New Orleans with my dear friend, MBG from We Bought a Project.

Whilst traipsing about the Crescent City, we stepped down Pirate's Alley and visited Faulkner House Books (As a good Southern girl, I'm contractually obligated to make pilgrimages to literary holy sites.).

What a delightful little shop! The walls are lined with shelves all the way up to the high ceiling, except for a few spots where Faulkner memorobilia is displayed.

I didn't get a picture of this, but there was another small display (on the wall just to the left) showcasing other Southern greats, including a handwritten letter from Flannery O'Connor (it was addressed "Dear Bill," in reference to William Freaking Faulkner. Isn't that wild?!?).

The shelves are lined with an eclectic collection of books--much more interesting than your typical Barnes A Million type fare. MBG and I had a wonderful time examining the offerings. If you ever get the chance to visit this gorgeous shop, I heartily recommend you do so.

I was already planning to blog about my visit to Faulkner House Books, but, you guys, when I opened the door, magic happened:

The display facing the door contained Austen and other nineteenth century British novels. Some of my favorite books, in a Southern literary landmark--it was so very, very me. And that little gem on top there, did you spot it? Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades, & Horrible Blunders, by Josephine Ross and Henrietta Webb. I saw it. I gasped. I snatched. I purchased.

And now I'm giving it to you.

And the fancy bookmark, too!

If you'd like to have this charming book delivered to your door, here's how to enter:

1. Leave a comment. Say something obvious like, "Enter me!" so even obtuse me knows it's your official entry comment.

2. For another entry, follow my blog and tell me in your entry comment.

3. For a third entry, share this post on Facebook, Twitter, your own blog, etc., and tell me that, too.

4. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 PM EST on Sunday, June 19. On Monday, I will select a winner using the Random Number Generator.

That's THREE possible chances to win! I'm so excited to share this fun find with one of you. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I Love the British Regency, Part Two: A Very Dapper Gent

In my first post in this series exploring similarities between the British Regency and our own era, we looked at political similarities. Today, we turn our eye to a much lighter topic, fashion. Specifically, masculine fashion. Specifically-er, we're going to talk about one particular man: Beau Brummel.

If you have ever worn, or admired a gentleman in, this attire:

Or this:

You have this man to thank:
He was a little less bronzed in life.

The influence of George Bryan (Beau) Brummell has endured for two hundred years, and shows no sign of flagging.

We tend to think of English high society as being the playground of the aristocracy--those born into old, titled families. While the haute ton was predominantly made up of the nobility, Regency society also embraced outsiders--so long as those individuals proved to be sufficiently diverting.

Beau Brummell (b. 1778) was just such an outsider. His grandfather was a valet, and his father was a private secretary to Lord North. The connections his father made through his work enabled him to send young Beau to Eton and Oxford, where he made the acquaintance of the future grandees of Society. Beau met the future Prince Regent in 1793, at the age of fifteen. The two became fast friends. By the time of the Regency, Beau was part of the Prince's inner circle, called the Carlton House Set. This small group led the way in dictating the Regency's tone and style.

What did Beau Brummell do that was so revolutionary? In the eighteenth century, the well turned-out gentleman donned an array of colorful silks and satins, powdered wigs, knee-length breeches, and as much lace as the ladies.
Totally GQ, yo.

Damn, I look good.
Beau stripped away the ostentation and ornamentation in men's fashion, focusing instead on elegant simplicity. He began with thorough daily grooming, which included washing, shaving, plucking, and exfoliating his face. In lieu of gaudy fripperies, Beau demanded exquisite tailoring in his clothes, in order to showcase the clean lines of the masculine physique. He wore long trousers instead of breeches. He introduced the starched cravat, and insisted on a precisely executed knot. If he made the slightest error in tying his neckcloth, it was discarded, and he started over with a fresh length of linen.

Beau's whole process of getting ready became a literal spectacle. He admitted a lucky few to his dressing room to watch his daily toilette and learn his trade secrets.

In An Elegant Madness, Venetia Murray conveys this reflection of a devotee of Beau's:

Max Beerbohm (a dedicated dandy in his youth) wrote some fifty years after Brummell's death that his hero had been 'in the utmost sense of the word, an artist' and went on to extol 'the costume of the nineteenth century, as shadowed for us first by Mr. Brummell, so quiet, so reasonable, and, I say, emphatically, so beautiful; free from folly or affectation, yet susceptible to exquisite ordering; plastic, austere, economical.' Beerbohm writes of the beau's 'fine scorn of accessories' and says that 'In certain congruities of dark cloth, in the rigid perfection of the linen, in the symmetry of his glove with his hand, lay the secret of Mr Brummell's miracles.'

Like other outsiders admitted to the heights of society, Beau's status was only as secure as his aristocratic friends wished it to be. Eventually, an unforgivable gaffe cost him his position with the Prince Regent. Again, from Murray:

Brummell overstepped the line on several occasions, treating the Prince with far too much familiarity and an astonishing lack of respect. He obviously believed his position in society to be so secure that he could get away with anything. The crash came at a ball in London, in 1814. The Prince had arrived in the company of Lord Alvanley, and stood talking to him but openly ignored Brummell. The latter, furious at being cut in public, for once lost his habitual self-control, and called out in a loud voice the fatal words: 'Alvanley, who is your fat friend?' The Prince, whose vanity was legendary, never spoke to him again.

This was the beginning of Brummell's decline in society. In 1816, he fled to France to escape his debts. There he lived, in penniless exile, until his death in 1840.

Though he suffered a spectacular fall from grace in Regency society, Beau Brummell left an indelible mark on masculine fashion. He created the image we associate with the Regency gentleman. His style was so revelatory, so revolutionary, we have not yet supplanted it with anything better. The style of neckcloths (ties) may change over time, and the size of lapels and collars waxes and wanes, but at its essence, our idea of masculine elegance is still Beau Brummell's.