Monday, November 23, 2009

A is for...

Atonement by Ian McEwan. (Response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

I'm shocked at myself, that this didn't pop into my head after first ponder of the "A" challenge. Atonement is one of my absolute, all-time favorite books, yet it didn't come to mind as a response to the Alphabet Challenge until I saw it on my shelf tonight. I think this is because Atonement doesn't fall neatly into my categorization of historical fiction, in two ways. One, it is also literary fiction. Literary on a level that meshes beautifully with the historical setting (one might even say becomes a part of it), but still not strictly, solely a historical. Second, for part four, which does take place in the present.

Regardless: In short, Atonement is the story of coming of age during WWII, learning the ramifications of the consequences of one's actions. Part one jumps from perspective to perspective, slowly fleshing out the story of what happened one day and one night at the Tallis family house in the late 1930s. Somehow, McEwan makes over a hundred pages of the same day completely engrossing. Part two focuses on the experiences of Robbie, the love interest of the older Tallis sister, as he struggles across the French countryside to reach the evacuation point known to history as Dunkirk. Part three shadows Briony, the younger Tallis sister, as she trains as a nurse, is tested in the days following Dunkirk, and decides to face the past and the unintended consequences of her actions (a rather fitting theme, given the time period--who wasn't thinking of how long the echoes of a single action could sound with WWII coming to a breathtaking climax?). And then part four turns the whole story on its end, effectively examining how we create stories, how we tell them, and why.

This might be one reason I like the book so much--at its core, it's a story about stories, and how sometimes the story is more impactful than the truth. Fascinating...

On a personal level, Atonement serves as one of the texts I study when it comes to my own writing. Not in terms of imitation (I coudn't) or in concept (clearly, this one can only be done once), but more in the way a novice watches a magician turn a scarf into a bird--"How did he DO that?" And so I find myself rereading paragraphs over themselves, and opening to a random page and drinking in the language, for the joy of it.

This was also one of those in which the movie managed to capture a good deal of the essence of the book, particularly by repeating the same scenes from different perspectives and timings and with the haunting score, heavy on the typewriter keys. Of course, Keira Knightley was nothing as I imagined Cecilia to be (McEwan calls her horsey--erm, yes, well, casting had a different interpretation of that one). Strange, too, how the film painted it as a love story, when I found the novel to have an entirely different flavor (though still with the bittersweet of a love story tucked in there, too).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Historical Fiction Challenge

Because I love to read (and write) historical fiction, I keep up with a couple fun blogs on the subject. Historical Tapestry (fabulous name, don't you think?) recently posted a challenge with a fun premise--the alphabet in historical fiction--and a great payoff--reading material suggestions gleaned from fellow bloggers! The concept is simple. Every two weeks a new letter is posted (starting, fitting enough, with "A") and particpating bloggers post about a book or author relating to the letter of the fortnight. The letter can be the first letter of the title, the first letter of the author's first or surname, or of a main character's name.

I'm having some trouble thinking of an "A" book on the fly...but this could be because I'm having Friday brain frizzle. The only thing I can currently think of is the name of a girl who was in a ballet class a friend of mine taught. Abelind Peach. Is that not the best name you can think of for a sassy Southern character?

Looking forward to posting more...and consider joining the challenge if you enjoy historicals :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

How to Charleston

My husband and I have danced east-coast swing together for years--it was actually our first date. We even won a competition once...admittedly, it was at my alma mater high school and our stiffest competitors were the show choir kids. But still, a proud(ish) moment.

Lately, we've been wanting to explore other dance styles. I know lindy, but it really isn't my preference. We've found that we love earlier-era music--twenties and thirties pieces--so thought Charleston would be a fun avenue to explore.

It's not currently being taught anywhere in our town, so we turned to the internet...only to find that the dance called "Charleston" as shown in films like It's a Wonderful Life, is not the dance called "Charleston" by modern dance instructors. We were hoping to pick up basic steps, but it seems that most people are looking at the single Charleston, not the partnered dance shown here: (yes, the best version of this on youtube is apparently in Russian).

Then we stumbled across this littl beauty--an original instruction film from the twenties. Clearly, there's more to Charleston than this step. But it's a start--and we're hitting up the kitchen floor to practice!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Wants it.

List this gown as "project I really want to start this winter but probably won't given the more pressing needs of new shifts and a new pair of stays." The robe a la francaise, or sacque-back gown, is probably one of the more evocative images of the eighteenth century--people see this style and see Marie Antionette and royal balls and start hearing chamber music. But this one is different--and that's why I love it. Most robes a la francaises have very wide pleats--from the back, you cannot see the wearer's waist. The pleats in most gowns like this originate at the shoulders very much like an undersized, structured cape. These pleats are, by comparison, practically in miniature, and I love that the waistline is still visible. Plus, the fullness is pushed toward the back of the gown, rather than to the sides, dating this piece to later in the eighteenth century. Images of the eighteenth century are usually synonymous with the wide hips achieved by paniers, but later in the era, the fullness began to reorient itself toward the back of the gown rather than the sides, particularly for daywear. Because I reenact the mid 1770s through 1780, this "false rump" style is the height of fashion--I'd look horribly outdated in wide paniers. We couldn't have that.

Now the only trouble is finding a gorgeous silk brocade like this...and winning the lottery to pay for it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Living History--A Cautionary Tale of Differing Perspectives

One thing that I notice while reading other living history enthusiasts' blogs and discussions on forums is the propensity toward discussion of method, level of authenticity, merits of first-person vs non first-person interpretation--basically, subjects of implementation. Sometimes these veer toward berating one side or the other ("First person is hokey!" "First person is the only way to present ourselves to the public" "I spent fifty hours hand sewing my underdrawers and you should too!" "No, I shouldn't!" "I don't wear underdrawers!"), but mostly these discussions are thoughtful, respectful, and give great ideas. I recently enjoyed reading The Doctor's post on how he created his persona and developped his accent, for instance.

The trouble with being involved at the administrative level of a reenacting organization, as I now am, is that you realize just how difficult it is to put any of these fabulous thoughts into practice from a "top down" approach. For example, I often hear that camp appearance--making sure that modern items remain out of sight at encampments and that camp furniture and personal mess kits are appropriate to the period--should be a higher priority. I've read embarassing accounts of events with which I've been invovled of participants eating out of plastic containers--definitely a no-no in terms of maintaining an authentic atmosphere. The problem comes in in asking the organization to do something about it.

For one, many of these requests are not universal. Though 99% of our organization would agree that eating out of a plastic containter shouldn't happen at events (99% because, as one learns at a board meeting, there is always dissent), there are other objects--like non-period eyeglasses or shoes--that aren't universally shunned because of the cost or discomfort involved in keeping it correct. Other disagreements are over the culture participants feel we should foster--some want 24 hour authentic events, while others want to break out the tennis shoes, modern camp chairs, and historically incorrect guitars and songs after the public leaves. Each side has its points--and though I'm apt to be a hardass and insist that our camp be 100% right during public hours at least, cost or discomfort be damned (after all, I'm already wearing shoes with no arch support and a pair of stays that leave a mark--who cares if I sit on the ground, too?) not everyone agrees.

And that's the crux--it's a volunteer organization. We can't afford to lose members, in my view, over whether they can wear their modern glasses or bring out their CampBuddy chair after hours. Even on things we agree about, implementing rules is as effective as herding cats. Which is why, in the end, I'm grateful for those not in board-member-roles who are putting ideas and even the occasional (justified) chastisement out there--they're the ones actually in a position to change things. So thanks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Using History to Sell Booze--like it needed help.

A friend and fellow Dean's Company member forwarded this to me--hilarious. Tun Tavern, featured in the ad, is considered the "birthplace" of the US Marines--much of the initial recruiting occured in and around this Philadelphia watering hole after the call for the formation of the Marines from the Continental Congress (hence, they are termed "Continental Marines" for this phase of history). The ad features Mullen's company, the only Continental Marine company that we know of to have red faced regimental coats instead of white faced coats. Inane detail, but there you go.

In case you can't quite read the image, it's an ad for whiskey. I think Dean's Company needs to get a bottle of this for the Christmas party, don't you think? "A Heritage to Remember" indeed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Glad to be Back

I am trying to be a reformed blogger. I fell off the wagon (or is it got on the wagon?) sometime early last spring, due in no small part to the fact that I now manage two blogs in a more professional setting, and this took the fun out of writing little snippets on my own time. Anyway, I'm now going to try to stay on the wagon (or is it stay off the wagon? where is the wagon going?) in terms of keeping up with this.

That said--I realized that my good friend Danni is also in the same wagon situation as me in terms of blogging, and her first post back was a list of things she was thankful for. Nice, Danni. So I'm going to start with "I'm thankful for Danni being a smart and beautiful woman who comes up with fabulous ideas and is my friend, and lets me copy her."

Other things, limited to last week only or this could go waaay too long:

*Locust Grove. This place is beautiful and lets us reenactors come and immerse ourselves twice a year--and thinks that we're doing them the favor.

*Pumpkin spice latte is back in season, and there is soy milk that lets lactards like me enjoy them. Yes, and a fabulous chat with a good friend over aforementioned latte.

*Actually getting requests for my manuscript from queries I sent out. This is miraculous to me. But not as miraculous as--

*Most gorgeous weather ever yesterday. I confess--I skipped church to go for a three-hour long hike with my husband. But the leaves were all golden and russet and the sky was brighter blue that it has been all fall--and probably clearer than it will be for a long time. Opportunity not to be missed--I still claim that my cathedral is a stand of birch, anyway.

Rounding things out with a pic of my "little sister" and I at Locust Grove last weekend in full retreat mode--we should have known we were in trouble when an entire company's muskets misfired at once. Err, I mean--that was planned. In the scenario script.

I'm attached to this shot because my hat looks particularly fetching...

And the action shot--I like this one because I'm holding my back like I have lumbar problems. I'm getting too old for this.

Photos from; more fun on their slideshows, including but not limited to jugglers, rat catchers, angry Germans, fixed bayonets and adorable tiny children in tiny gowns.