While Miss Emma Woodhouse is occupied with matchmaking among the residents of Highbury, Miss Jane Fairfax has much more serious problems.
Welcome to the May 10th stop on the blog tour for My Dearest Miss Fairfax by Jeanette Watts with Goddess Fish Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, reviews, more author guest posts, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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Author Guest Post
One of the things that everyone loves about historical fiction is the clothing. It’s part of why I set my first novel between the years 1875 and 1889; it meant I could talk about bustle dresses!
My new novel, “My Dearest Miss Fairfax,” is a retelling of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” so I set the book specifically in 1814-1815, when Austen was writing her book. This was a particularly interesting year for me to work with!
At the start of the 19th century, women’s clothing went through a serious revolution. It was very similar to the 1960s, when women were burning their bras and wearing pants as a form of social protest. In the late 1700s/early 1800s, women staged a protest against the excesses of baroque clothing. It was a very understandable protest – fashion really was getting ridiculous! Women were wearing their hair piled so high on their heads, they had to sit on the floor of their carriages to ride to a ball. The dresses were heavy, and embroidered, and held out on the sides of the hips with panniers so wide, a woman had to turn sideways to get through a doorway. Corsets were tight and uncomfortable. High heeled shoes were uncomfortable.
Over the course of the 1790s, women rebelled. Instead of all those heavy, embroidered fabrics, dresses are made of lightweight white muslin (muslin is a new fabric to Western markets, by the way – so it’s the new, exciting thing). The hair deflates. The silhouette collapses until dresses actually show the natural female form. Sometimes very explicitly! French women were not only not wearing corsets – they were barely covering their breasts. There are some very interesting paintings of Napoleon Bonapart’s sister Pauline in the early 1800s that make it extremely clear she is not wearing any undergarments. Women were also misting down their thin muslin dresses with water. Just in case the thin new fashions weren’t explicit enough! Imagine a ballroom filled with women in an oversized wet t-shirt contest.
One could argue this was just a different kind of excess, in response to the crazy baroque fashions. By 1815, things have finally settled down. A form of the corset has come back. It’s not the extreme gut-squishing of the 1700s, but women have decided they really don’t want everyone in the room knowing what their breasts look like, either.
Color has also come back into a lady’s wardrobe. After all the years of wearing white, women must have gotten tired of it. The portraits and fashion plates now show women wearing blues, and greens, and reds. This pleased me greatly! I was glad I didn’t have to write about everyone wearing nothing but white.
Another thing that is strongly affecting women’s fashions right at this time is the industrial revolution. The textile industry is one of the first industries affected by new mechanized production techniques, and now more social classes have access to cheaper fabrics and trims and lace. It’s why there is so much discussion of shopping in Jane Austen novels. It was something of a national pastime. I was able to make great use of an actual street directory from 1816 to show this mania for shopping; the ladies of the story are buying gloves, and bonnets, and silks, because the town of Weymouth is full of stores offering goods that benefit from the cheaper materials.
As an avid costumer AND a writer who likes to deviate off the well-beaten path, I loved having an opportunity to talk about the clothing in a different way than the typical descriptions of what the women wore to the ball.
About the Book
My Dearest Miss Fairfax
by Jeanette Watts
Published 14 March 2022
Genre: Austenesque Historical Fiction
Page Count: 322
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
How much would you gamble for true love? Jane Fairfax dreaded her future as a governess. But genteel solitude seemed her fate. Then handsome, charming, rich Frank Churchill asked to marry her – IF his rich aunt agreed. If their secret engagement was discovered, Jane would be ruined. Frank seemed worth the risk; but the stakes got higher when the aunt refused her consent!
When it seemed the conversation could not possibly get any worse, Aunt Bates then brought up the apples. Jane could not blame Mr Knightley too much for his rude response, “What is the matter now?”
She thought about banging her forehead against the keys when Aunt Bates brought up the fact that William Larkins had told them everything he was not supposed to about Mr Knightley’s generosity in sending all the rest of his store. She pictured putting her things in a valise and running away to Scotland with Mr Churchill that very night, rather than spend another day in this town with her gossiping aunt, the gossiping servant, and the very rude Mr Knightley. She was actually grateful to him for his rudeness on this occasion; he simply rode away while her aunt was still talking, before matters could get any worse.
The idea of everyone in the room noticing that Mr Knightley was being inordinately attentive was too awful. She did not mean to be quite so sharp, but she could not completely control her tongue when her aunt came back in the room, obviously planning on repeating the entire conversation. “Yes!” She simply could not bear hearing it all again. “We heard his kind offers. We heard everything.”
About the Author
Jeanette Watts has written three Jane Austen-inpsired novels, two other works of historical fiction, stage melodramas, television commercials, and humorous essays for Kindle Vella.
When she is not writing, she is either dancing, sewing, or walking around in costume at a Renaissance festival talking in a funny accent and offering to find new ladies’ maids for everyone she finds in fashionably-ripped jeans.
Jeanette Watts will be awarding a crazy quilt tea cosy to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway
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