Tag Archives: history

This Book is Dedicated

I’ve always been fascinated by dedications in books. There’s the intriguing possibility that they are clues to something hidden. Probably private. Possibly intense. Potentially the whole reason for the book. Thrilling or what?

stuffed bookcase

This is the second time I’ve returned to the subject in this blog. First time round I wrote about a range of books, only some of which I knew really well. No, let’s be honest. One of which I detested.

This time I’m writing about one of my great loves. Twice, under pressure of space, I’ve cleared out copies from my bookshelf, believing that I wouldn’t need to read them again. Twice I’ve bought new copies.

Which Work?

Dedicated to Dorothy GanapathyThis is a dedication which intrigues me enormously. I was reminded of it by the recent sad news that  Tim Pigott-Smith has died. He played the ambiguous and haunting villain Merrick in the BBC’s epic series about the end of the Raj, The Jewel In the Crown. 

The series was based on Paul Scott’s mighty Raj Quartet. 

Paul Scott dedicatorDedicated by Whom?

In the 1950s Scott was a literary agent at Pearl, Pollinger and Hingham (which became David Higham Associates) and a middling sort of novelist. I fell over him by picking up The Chinese Love Pavilion in the library and finding a story that was equally alienating (I had never even imagined such people — well, men — existed and it took me a while to come to terms with that fact that they did) and compelling. In spite of the alienating gender, the novel held me spellbound in its drama, its feeling for landscape and climate, its sheer conviction.

Something about his style, too, fascinated me and I read more until at last I came to the Jewel in the Crown. No longer alienated, I couldn’t stop reading, until I had finished the last volume.

Origins of the Raj Quartet

In the early 60s, Scott began to plan what became the Raj Quartet. Professor Peter Green recalls in his touching and illuminating consideration of the quartet that it was originally meant to be one book. Then in the middle of The Day of the Scorpion, (book 2, published 1968) it became three, before coming to rest at four with The Towers of Silence (1971) and A Division of the Spoils (1975).

Dedicated to the RIASC?

Richard Dimbleby, with Royal Indian Army, Syria, 1942

Scott had been an air supply captain in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) in India from 1942. So he had witnessed in situ the crucial period following the fall of Singapore, and the resulting military, social, racial and political crises of the faltering Raj. But — memory is not always reliable and, anyway, a junior rank soldier’s experience was not sufficient for his grand purpose in planning his epic on personal relationships, moral conflicts and identity crises of his huge cast.

Dedicated to Whom?

His publishers, Heinemann, arranged for him to go back to India for 6 weeks’ research in 1964. (Those were the days!) Dorothy Ganapathy, “the best of hostesses” , looked after him in Bombay. Scott dedicated Book 1, The Jewel in the Crown (1966) to her. No explanation, no specific thanks, just the name.

incl dedicated to Dorothy GanapathyPreliminary digging is tantalising. According to Zareer Masani in Indian Tales of the Raj, her father was Sir Hari Singh Gaur, Leader of the Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly. In the 1930s she herself earned a degree from Durham University. She married a colonel in the Indian Medical Service. But neither of them was permitted to go into the Europeans-only Adyar Club in Madras, to her justified contempt. And she bitterly despised the under-educated memsahibs for patronising her own use of English, which was far superior to their own.

A Falling Out

Letter including Dedicated ToMost intriguing of all, though, is that, while Scott and Mrs Ganapathy clearly developed a close friendship during his time in India, they also had a mega falling out, as revealed in his own letters, edited in 2 volumes by Janis Haswell.

He reports that she suddenly gave him a “terrible slap in the face”. The cause? Scott had been considerate to her estranged sister. Mrs Ganapathy expected him to be 100% on her side in the dispute. In her view, he had let her down. She accused him of disloyalty, and labelled it typically British.

So maybe he dedicated the book to her for more than her great kindness to him in Bombay. Maybe it was a way of making amends, too.

There is clearly a good deal of further research to do here. I have not read Hilary Spurling’s biography, for instance, which I really want to do. Although first I want to re-read the whole Raj Quartet. Maybe this time I might even re-read the coda, which won the Booker Prize and I never really enjoyed: Staying On. 

Dedicated WHY?

Dedicated Ganapathy

But at this stage I am telling myself a story about the dedication. It’s not even a working hypothesis of a decent bit of research. It’s pure fictional What If. And I’m enjoying, so I will share.

For I, too, am writing a book which turned from one to two, maybe three, who knows … And in that process, people have touched my imagination in ways I never foresaw. And they send me off down new roads into the past.

They show me unsuspected aspects of my characters and even wholly new players in the story.

One Possible Story

So what if Mrs Ganapathy was one of those? She sounds as if she had the fire to do it. She and Scott were in India at the same time, moving in very different circles, but looking out from their circle to all those others. What if six weeks of her conversation drew the curtain on those other dimensions he had seen but not understood?

Zohra Segal, Lady Chatterjee in BBC’s Jewel in the Crown

I see her as inspiring the beautiful English of Hari Kumar, which inspires one of the saddest and most profound moments of the books. I see her and her sister with their pre-war memories, giving him Lady Chatterjee. She is opinionated, wise, and morally certain. She is equally sympathetic and terrifying. Yet even she is not wholly comfortable in her changing world.

Except for the innocents, like missionary teacher Barbie Batchelor, identity is a matter of constant compromise and negotiation.

Oh, and a bonus — the late and wondrous Zohra Segal who played Lady Chatterjee on television, had a life to rival anyone in Scott’s epic saga.

 

Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle

White evening gown, 1800, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Regency evening gown, replica, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)

Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced. Continue reading

Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?

white gowns worn by Bennet sisters in BBC 1995 Pride & Prejudice

BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice

Regency gowns are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation on TV or film. We expect to see ladies floating around in high-waisted dresses, probably made of fine white muslin. We expect to see large quantities of bosom on display. But from our modern perspective of mass-produced clothing and home sewing machines, we rarely think about how these supposedly simple Regency garments were made.

By female hand and eye. Every last cut and stitch.

Continue reading

Female servants: overworked and underpaid?

female servant in Regency costume

A Regency housemaid

Most female servants had a pretty tough life over the centuries. They worked long hours at backbreaking menial tasks, they weren’t paid very much and they had little or no time off.

What’s more, they were often at the mercy of predatory men — employers or other servants. And if they fell pregnant as a result? It was their own fault, their own wickedness — of course! — and they would often end up in the gutter. Continue reading

Footmen: the Curse of Manly Calves in Silk Stockings

Male servants conveyed the right image

In the Georgian and Regency periods, higher social standing was demonstrated by having more and more male servants, like footmen. If they wore livery, so much the better. If they had little to do, employers did not care  Ostentation was all.

one of footmenIn 1777, Lord North (often called “the Prime Minister who lost America”) proposed to tax male servants at a guinea a man to help pay for the American wars. He reckoned that some 100,000 menservants were kept for purposes of “luxury and ostentation”. (The tax was increased in 1785 and not completely repealed until 1889. You can read more about it in an extensive article on The Regency Redingote.)

The cost of keeping bewigged footmen increased again in 1795 when the tax on powdered hair began to be enforced, at a guinea a head. Opponents of the then Prime Minister, William Pitt, stopped using powder themselves. They began to apply the term “guinea-pigs” to those gentlemen who still powdered their hair, and so paid the guinea in tax. Continue reading

Servants on the Page: the Downton Conundrum


Downton Abbey
 — and Upstairs, Downstairs before that — can be a bit of a curse for writers. Why? Because both show us servants, below stairs, who are human and empathetic. Because they show us relationships between upstairs and downstairs that seem respectful on both sides, even cosy. And because they aren’t always true to history.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s turn to Mrs Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) for advice:

A servant is not to be seated … in his master’s or mistress’s presence; nor to offer any opinion, unless asked for it; nor even to say “good night,” or “good morning,” except in reply to that salutation.  Continue reading

Romantic Series: Guest Blog by Sarah Mallory

Sarah Mallory guest blogs on romantic series

Sarah Mallory

Today our guest blogger is multi-award-winning historical author Sarah Mallory who has more than 40 books under her belt, under various writing names including Melinda Hammond.

Although Sarah was born in the West Country, she now lives on the romantic Yorkshire moors, within a stone’s throw of Brontë country which is, she says, a constant source of inspiration. She is also inspired by history, an abiding love, and the Hive can vouch for her wide knowledge of the Regency and other periods. Get her into a corner (with a glass of something) and the discussion flows wonderfully.

At the request of the Hive, Sarah is going to tell us about her experience of writing historical romantic novels in a series. These days, it’s the received wisdom that readers want series books. So a guide from an award-winning author sounds just the ticket. Over to Sarah . . .

Romantic Series : The Infamous Arrandales

After two years and many thousands of words, I have finished the last book in The Infamous Arrandales series. The Outcast’s Redemption will be published in July. Hurrah! Continue reading

Confessions of a Country House Tour Guide: Guest Blog by Nicola Cornick

Nicola Cornick author and tour guide

Nicola Cornick, Author & Tour Guide

Today our guest blogger is bestselling historical author (and part-time tour guide) Nicola Cornick. She has wonderfully romantic origins that seem to us to be just right for the books she writes — full of the sweep of history, and with heroes to die for.

Nicola was born in Yorkshire within a stone’s throw of the moors that inspired the Brontë sisters. She grew up in a sprawling Edwardian house full of books and went to school in a converted Georgian mansion. Her grandmother nurtured her love of history as well as teaching her to play canasta and grow rhubarb. (Buzz from the hive: clearly even rhubarb can be romantic!)

Nicola has written over 30 Regency historical romances for Harlequin Books and now writes historical mystery.

Confessions of a Country House Tour Guide

Nicola’s Confessions start with a couple of tourist/tour guide exchanges…

“Did you enjoy the guided tour?” 
“Not much. I don’t really like history.”  

“What did you think of the view from the roof platform?”
 “I’ve seen better on the road into Swindon.”
Ashdown House restoration picture by tour guide

Ashdown House

Ah, the joys of being a National Trust guide at Ashdown House! Most of our visitors are absolutely fantastic — interested, engaged, out to enjoy their day and full of questions or indeed information about Ashdown House and the Craven family. Sometimes they are people with a family connection to the house or the estate, and are able to help us fill in a part of the history of the place. We learn a lot from them. Continue reading

Finding Your Hero: Guest Blog by Louise Allen

louise allen author writes about finding hero

Louise Allen

Today, our guest blogger is Louise Allen, award-winning author of historical romances set in the Regency period and creator of many a gorgeous romantic hero. But she’s also written books set in the 17th and 18th centuries, plus one set back in AD410! She’s clearly been bitten by the history bug, big time, and her many fans are more than happy to follow her into any period she chooses.

Louise writes non-fiction about her historical interests, most recently the story of the first tourists to the Waterloo battlefield, in their own words. There is also a fascinating guide to walks in Jane Austen’s London — a boon for visitors and much recommended.

Given Louise’s very wide interests, we did wonder what she would choose to blog about…

Louise Allen finds her Hero

Where does a story come from? As a novelist I’m often asked that question and usually the answer is, “I have no idea, it just arrived.”

For one book, however, The Dangerous Mr Ryder, I am very clear where it came from, although the origins of the hero still elude me. Continue reading