Blogging from A to Z: Y is for Yellow

AtoZ2019tenthAnnFor entertainment, Erik, Gilbert and I frequented the nightclubs of Montmartre. I had never been to a follies and seen the singers and dancers there. Again, no one seemed at all shocked at a woman with two men, let alone that one of those men was masked. It was a rather more dissolute world that we inhabited by virtue of avoiding the Opera Quarter. Erik began an occasional indulgence in opium. I developed a fondness for absinthe, amused and intrigued by the so-called ritual that turned the strong-smelling yellow drink into a pale green treat called louche. I even had my own special sugar spoon after a while, shaped like the Eiffel Tower in honor of its opening. Gilbert was the only one in our trio who abstained; that way, he knew we would all get home safely. — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder

Back in 2017, the first year I did this challenge, I also used Y is for Yellow. Today’s look at the color is based not on a dress, but a drink.

Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Absinthe verte (green absinthe) starts out as a clear yellow or green liquid that smells strongly of licorice/anise. It is entirely too strong to be drunk at full strength. When you add water, it becomes what is called a louche … and it changes color to a pale, cloudy green. Absinthe blanche (white absinthe) is a clear liquid that louches blue.

By now, you know that I prefer primary experience whenever possible in my research. So yes, I’ve taken absinthe. I’ve had both types, and prefer absinthe blanche.

The ritual described in the passage above may be found in its entirety here.

Note: quality absinthe does not need to be sugared, but some people louche through sugar as a matter of personal preference.

It is worth noting that, despite its reputation, absinthe does not cause hallucinations.

There is an interesting timeline of absinthe history here.



Blogging from A to Z: W is for Walking Suit

AtoZ2019tenthAnnOn Friday afternoon, Antoinette stopped by with a package for me: yet another box from my favorite modiste.

“A gift from Erik,” she explained, “which he hopes you will wear tomorrow for the performance.”

Inside was an elegant ivory moire walking suit. I was glad that I had a duster coat to wear over it; I would not want such beautiful garments to be travel-stained.

“I will see you tomorrow, my friend,” Antoinette smiled as she departed. “Sleep well.”

There was a rare joke! It was far too long since I’d last seen Erik, and all I knew was that he was giving a mysterious concert in another town. I doubted I’d sleep a wink. Nevertheless, I would try. I wanted to look my best at this performance, knowing Erik would be there somewhere — perhaps hidden, perhaps not — and would want to see me looking well in the beautiful clothes he had sent for me. — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder

Victorian walking suit, circa 1888, via

A walking suit was an outfit that a lady might wear for a stroll in nice weather. It usually had weights in the hem in case a breeze blew up; one would not want to show one’s ankles! The skirt was also usually a little bit shorter to keep the hem out of the dust, and there were not a lot of frills or trim.

The blog at Lily Absinthe informs us that these suits were sometimes called “tailor-mades.” (If you’re interested in historical attire, you really must be following this blog, by the way.)  Many couturiers of the day did not like the more simple lines of the walking suits. They claimed that the simpler styles were for younger women only, as older ladies would look better surrounded by frills and ruffles.

Blogging from A to Z: V is for Visiting Cards

AtoZ2019tenthAnnWe had barely settled in to the house when neighbors began calling, leaving visiting cards in a salver on the foyer sideboard. I dreaded the afternoons when I was “at home” to guests. Our first caller was Lady Alice Harrington, who lived two houses away; she had iron-colored hair, a jaw to match, and a bosom like the prow of a ship. She left a calling card, and invited us to a musical evening at their home just a few nights hence. Lady Harrington informed us that her daughter, Olympia, would be performing several songs and asked that we prepare something ourselves, should we be so inclined, to share with the gathering.

I purchased my own visiting cards, which proved to be something of an ordeal. At the stationery counter at Selfridge’s Department Store, I ordered my two sets, plain ivory stock with “Madame Erik LeMaître” on the front and an address on the back of one set. The other set was blank on the reverse; those were for people to whom I did not wish to be at home. I thought the custom unspeakably impolite, but was told by the shop girl that this was what was done. She also explained, in an exasperated tone, that I could only have my own name, Claire, on the card if I were widowed. — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder

Visiting cards, also referred to as calling cards, had a rather complicated etiquette. They were about the same size as a modern-day business card, and were left at homes or handed out for various social purposes.

Example of a lady’s visiting card, giving her “at home” day. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the etiquette I described above; for example, a lady might have two sets of cards, one with her address and the other with only her name. Married women were Mrs. Husband Name, not Mrs. Her Name. If you were “at home” to someone, they would have your address because you left a card for them, and could come to visit during your “morning calls” (which were actually in the afternoon.

Another complicated custom involved bending the corners of visiting cards when handing them to a butler. This meant the card was left in person, rather than by a servant acting on their behalf.

In France, a photographic carte de visite was also popular. They were similar in size to visiting cards and carried the photograph of the bearer. They were considered highly collectable.

Blogging from A to Z: U is for Underpinnings

I’m reblogging this 2017 post on historical underpinnings; Claire’s corset from In The Eye of The Beholder is referenced. Enjoy!

Sharon E. Cathcart

uAs I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I primarily write historical fiction.  This means researching not only social mores, foods, and events, but also fashion.  When you are looking at the various women’s silhouettes that were en vogue throughout history, you have to also look at the underpinnings that created them.

2009.1.1_20140317_03_web Fashion Institute of Technology

I’m not going to lie; women essentially wore two full sets of clothing throughout most of history.  The underthings were almost as heavy as the outer garments.  Corsetry and petticoats were made to fit a given woman’s shape into the styles of the day.  Let’s go back to the earliest period in which I’ve written:  the Regency, which is when Clytie’s Caller is set.  Clytie’s stays (like the ones at the right) would have kept her figure pretty straight, in line with the Empire-waisted dresses that were in fashion at the time.

romantic era Fashion Institute…

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Blogging from A to Z: T is for Treves, Frederick

AtoZ2019tenthAnnClaire continued to make polite conversation for a few minutes and then excused herself from the box. I could vaguely hear her speaking to the box attendant, reverting to her native French.

J’ai besoin de cracher,” she said to the woman … I need to vomit. She then remembered herself. “I am unwell. Could you send an usher to find a doctor for me?”

While all of this was going on, I sought to extricate myself from the less-than-desirable company of Madame de Chagny and the Harrington family. When I finally found a break in the conversation that would allow me to exit, I too sought the attendant.

“Sir,” she said, “the lady looked awfully pale and was ill. I found a doctor, sir, Doctor Treves. He’s seeing to the lady in the lounge.”

“Take me to her. I need to be there with her.” I raked my hand through my hair, for a change heedless of my appearance. “I’ll call for my carriage.”

The usher took me to the lounge, where Claire lay on a chaise longue. I introduced myself to the physician, a Doctor Sir Frederick Treves.

“She’s resting, sir. She’s been ill at her stomach. I’m a surgeon, but I don’t think she needs operating. I think she needs observation. I can arrange to admit her to the hospital, or to see her at home.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know yet, my friend.” — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder

Doctor Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Baronet, GCVO CH CB FRCS.

Dr. Sir Frederick Treves, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

That’s quite a number of titles for a man who was the son of a Dorset upholsterer.  However, Treves, was also a renowned surgeon. He was famed for his frequent, successful treating of appendicitis — including that of Edward VII, with the assistance of Lord Lister (yes, the fellow who basically invented sterile technique.)

Among Treves’ many roles during the course of his career, he was appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria and one of several Honorary Serjeants Surgeon to Edward VII. He served as a field medic during the second Boer War, and wrote a book about his experiences there. He wrote numerous other books, including medical textbooks, a travelogue of his native Dorsetshire, and several other volumes about his travels.

Treves is most often remembered for his work with Joseph Carey Merrick, thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in “The Elephant Man.” Treves was the one who essentially rescued Merrick from work as a sideshow freak and arranged a home for him in the London Hospital.