Interview with Bestselling Historical Novelist C.S. Harris

813djule6wlI am so excited to bring you today an interview I recently had with bestselling historical novelist C.S. Harris. You may know her from her wildly popular Sebastian St. Cyr thrillers, or maybe under her other names Candice Proctor or C.S. Graham.  Now she’s out with a new Civil War-era historical novel, Good Time Coming, which I was fortunate to be given a copy of through the Historical Novel Society. I’ll be writing a feature article on it that I’ll share once it’s published, but I was also lucky enough to get to sit down with C.S. and ask her a few questions. And I have to say, this is one of the best interviews I’ve ever had here.

Most people know you for your Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries. What made you want to change from writing Regency historical thrillers to straight historical fiction set during the Civil War?

I am still writing my Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series—the twelfth installment, WHERE THE DEAD LIE, will be out in April 2017, and I’ve almost finished #13, tentatively entitled WHY NOT THE INNOCENT. But it’s all too easy for an author to get into a rut writing the same kinds of stories with the same characters and settings. So I think it’s important for any writer—and especially one with a long-running series—to occasionally venture outside her safe zone and try something different. For a while I was also writing a contemporary thriller series, but I found keeping two series going at the same time too stressful. So a standalone seemed the best answer.

What was your inspiration to write Good Time Coming?

C.S. Harris

C.S. Harris

My very first historical mystery, Midnight Confessions, was set in Occupied New Orleans (the book has been revised for republication and should be available early next year). In the process of researching that story I became fascinated with the effects of the Civil War on the population of Louisiana (spoiler: it was pretty horrific), and I’d been wanting to write a straight historical about that ever since. What happened to civilians in the Civil War is a virtually untold story.

 

Why did you choose to make your protagonist a 12-year-old-girl?

Some of my favorite books have been coming of age tales, and it seemed the right way to tell this story. Children bring an unblinking honesty to their experiences that I felt was particularly appropriate for the complexity of the issues I wanted to explore. The journey from child to adult is basically a loss of innocence, and to watch that development happen to someone in the midst of an experience as horrendous as war is truly gripping.

And Amrie is a girl because we already have countless books about the experiences of boys and men in war. This is about war as seen through the eyes of the women and children left behind to cope with a world falling apart in every way imaginable.

What kind of research did you do to make the book historically accurate?

I researched this book for almost a dozen years. I read hundreds of letters, journals, and memories, along with general histories of the Civil War and more specific monographs. I visited the story’s various towns and battle sites—Port Hudson and Camp Moore, Bayou Sara and Jackson—and spent many a day wandering around St. Francisville’s haunting churchyard. I basically took the real incidents recorded by people who lived through the war and wove them into a story. With the exception of the central incident in the book—Amrie’s killing of the Federal captain and the events that flow from it—I made up very little of what’s in this story. And that is truly terrifying to think about.

 

How hard was it for you to work from the point of view of the South when traditionally history is told by the victors, and therefore our country has glorified the role of the North? How did this influence the way you told your story?

I had to make Amrie’s family staunch abolitionists; I simply could not have been sufficiently sympathetic to them as main characters otherwise. Plus I liked the way this shifted the dynamic of their interactions with their neighbors, both white and free people of color. But when it came to the actual events in the story, all I did was stay true to what actually happened to the women and children of St. Francisville. It really was brutal. As a professional historian, I’ve always been irritated by our cultural tendency to both glorify war and forgive the sins of one side while focusing endlessly on the sins of the other. This book doesn’t shy away from the sins committed by either side.

And I should probably state for the record that the only Civil War veterans on my personal family tree fought for the Union; one great-great uncle even died at Andersonville.

One of the things that struck me the most about this book was your willingness to challenge long-held beliefs and viewpoints about the Civil War (i.e. President Lincoln was a hero, he abolished slavery out of the goodness of his heart, the Northern soldiers were the good guys and the Southern the bad, etc.) Can you please tell me a little about your motivation behind this and what kind of a reaction you’ve received so far?

I think it probably comes down, again, to my training as a historian. I have long been bothered by the all too common tendency to turn history into a series of comfortable myths that we as a nation tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about our past. It’s incredible to me that here we are 150 years later and both sides of that war are still telling themselves “feel good” distortions and outright lies. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a wonderful thing, but that shouldn’t lead us to distort the explicit reasons he gave for doing it, or overlook the truly heinous things he also did. Likewise, too many Southerners still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge just how horrific the institution of slavery was both in theory and in practice. I don’t spare either side in this book. I guess in a lot of ways this story was an expression of my frustration with myth-making. I wanted to write about what really happened because it is so important to acknowledge that and finally have a real conversation about it. Unfortunately, myth busting is not popular!

In the Author’s Notes to the book you talk about a reticence of history to admit to rape being employed as a weapon of war during the Civil War. (I came up against a similar circumstance when depicting Guinevere’s rape by Malegant in Arthurian legend – most people either don’t know its part of the myth or don’t want to think about it.) Can you please talk a little about your reasons for including it and how you came to understand it would be important to your story?

When I first started plotting this book, I believed the commonly accepted “truth” that rape in the Civil War was rare. But as I read all those original sources written by the women who actually lived through it, I realized that was just one more myth.  Rape has always been a part of war. What we’ve seen in our own lifetimes in places like Bosnia and the Congo isn’t something new; it’s the reality of war, and it has always been. But historically, women who were raped in wartime did not talk about it. Why would they, given their societies’ traditional ostracization of women who were raped?

As I read these women’s accounts, I also came to realize the importance of the fact that the people of 1860 weren’t very far removed from the time of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. That meant they knew exactly what had happened to their mothers and grandmothers in those wars (something else we don’t talk about). It’s one of the reasons the people of the South were so afraid of those armies of men marching against them. And they were right to be afraid. The North’s battle cry was “Beauty and Bounty!” In other words, Rape and Plunder! Yet 150 years later we still don’t like to admit it.

To be honest, I didn’t realize just how controversial this aspect of my story would be. Many of the editors who read the manuscript cited the rape part as their main reason for rejecting it. I guess as a writer you can kill people by the thousands, but you’d better not have a woman raped by American soldiers.

What do you think are the key themes of this novel? What do you hope readers walk away from it knowing/believing/feeling?

This book is about women’s resilience in the face of crushing adversity, about the way friends and neighbors can come together to survive great hardships, about love and loss and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.

But the main theme of this book is the idea that there is good and bad in every person and every nation. I am frankly shocked by some of the things I am seeing in our country today. I never thought I’d see Americans screaming “Sieg heil!” and panting swastikas on tombs, or hear talk of the Nazi-style registration and internment of a religious minority. Somehow we have failed to learn the right lessons from history, and I think the tendency to mythologize the past is one of the reasons for that failure.

If you could summarize your experience writing Good Time Coming in one sentence, what would it be?

Oh, wow; that’s hard! I’d say writing Good Time Coming forced me to move outside my comfort zone in many different ways; to confront my own prejudices and assumptions; and to think long and hard about what it would be like to experience things I hope I’ll never have to face.

Do you plan to write more straight historical fiction like Good Time Coming? What can readers expect from you next?

I do plan to continue writing other things as I also write my Sebastian St. Cyr series. I’ve just finished a novella set in World War II that will be part of an anthology due out probably in 2018. That was a new experience for me because I’d never written anything that short before. It’s a very different format, so that was a challenge.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t touched upon?

I find it unfortunate that coming of age novels these days tend to be seen by the publishing industry as “young adult novels.” They don’t have to be, and in fact some of the best were never written to be. I also find it curious that editors think young adults can handle large-scale massacres, zombies, vampires, and the end of the world, but not non-graphic rape. What does that say about us?

Thank you, C.S. Harris for being with us today. Good Time Coming hits stores December 1, so you don’t have to wait long to read it for yourself. Pre-order or order it today! You won’t regret it; it really is a great book.

Questions for the author? Leave them here and I’ll let her know she can get back to you.

Reform Movements of 19th Century America

As you read this, I’m freshly back (and brain dead, in a good way) from the Historical Novel Society conference. Will post about that once my brain has downloaded all the new knowledge. Until then, we’ll explore some of the reform movements that influenced the culture and society of mid-to-late 19th century America.

Abolition/Post-War Role of Former Slaves

Abolition of Slavery by Thomas Nast (1840-1902), Umpehent, J. W. (Bibliothèque numérique mondiale) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Abolition of Slavery by Thomas Nast (1840-1902), Umpehent, J. W. (Bibliothèque numérique mondiale) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When my book begins (August 1868), the Civil War was only five years in the past, and its hot button issues of slavery, race and the meaning of freedom and citizenship were still very much in the public sphere.  In fact, the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves, had just passed a month before.

It was a conflict that dated back to the time of Thomas Jefferson and  in many ways, still continues today. Many of Victoria’s friends and contemporaries began their forays into reform through the abolitionist movement, including Theodore Tilton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Fredrick Douglass.

When Victoria attended her first suffrage meeting in January 1869, she witnessed a very contentious debate between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Fredrick Douglas, who had differing opinions on the 15th Amendment which was being debated in Congress and would give former slaves the right to vote.  Mr. Douglass said, “The right of women to vote is as sacred in my judgment as that of man, and I am quite willing to hold up both hands in favor of this right. But I am now devoting myself to a cause not more sacred, but certainly more urgent, because it is one of life and death to the long enslaved people of this country, and this is Negro suffrage. As you very well know, woman has a thousand ways to attach herself to the governing power of the land and already exerts an honorable influence on the course of legislation. She is the victim of abuses, to be sure, but it cannot be pretended, I think, that her cause is as urgent as ours.”

Women’s Suffrage

Tennie Claflin (Victoria's sister, seated in center) with suffragists, circa 1920. Photo by Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tennie Claflin (Victoria’s sister, seated in center) with suffragists, circa 1920. Photo by Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Closely related was the issue of women’s suffrage, which many suffragists believed was as important, if not more important, than suffrage for former slaves. Elizabeth Cady Stanton argued at that 1869 convention, “At this very moment, Congress is debating the Fifteenth Amendment. If it is passed, it would give black men the right to vote. But I ask you, how are we, as women, any less important? How are we to be left out of such legislation? Shall American statesmen make their wives and mothers the political inferiors of unlettered and unwashed ditch-diggers fresh from the slave plantations of the South?”

(As you can see, bigotry against former slaves and immigrants was very common at the time. Both she and Susan B. Anthony were known to refer to them as “Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung,” something we would never condone today.)

The Suffrage movement dates back to 1846, when the first debate on women’s rights was held at Oberlin College. It is thought by some historians that if not for the Civil War, women would have gained the right to vote in the mid-1800s. But as it stood in 1868, women were still fighting, having suffered a setback in 1866 with the passage of the 14th Amendment, which introduced the word “male” into the Constitution as a qualification for voting. The debate as to whether women were citizens according to the Constitution – and therefore legally allowed to vote – would continue for the next decade, promoted by Victoria herself as well as Virginia Minor, but eventually defeated. As we know from history, women would not get the right to vote until August 1920 under the 19th Amendment.

Sex Radicals

An example of one style of reform dress from the mid-19th century

An example of one style of reform dress from the mid-19th century

One of the lesser known reform movement of the period was led by the so-called “Sex Radicals” who believed in Free Love, usually in conjunction with utopian communities, in protest of the sexual slavery experienced by women. This sounds a lot like the hippies of the 1960’s, but the big difference is that in the 19th century, it meant the end of legal interference in marriage, in its binding or dissolving of ties between husband and wife. This idea allowed for divorce, as well as freedom for both husband and wife to take other partners as life presented them, but did not endorse promiscuity. (There’s a great article on Free Love on the American Experience site.)

Victoria and her sister Tennie, as well as Victoria’s second husband, James, and her lover, Theodore Tilton, were all a part of this movement. Victoria and Tennie wore their hair short and adopted a more masculine form of dress (without the bustles and corsets common at the time) in protest of the sexual inequality between men and women. For example, at the time, it was considered commonplace, even accepted, that young men would frequent prostitutes, but their wives could do no such thing or raise a complaint. Furthermore, while their male patrons were sometimes from the highest levels of society, the prostitutes were considered the lowest, too vile even for a Christian burial.

Worker’s Rights
180px-FRE-AIT.svgIn France, the Communards were revolting, installing their own form of government that called for the economic, social and political equality of women with men; gender and wage equality; the right of divorce; the abolition of the distinction between married women and concubines; an end to labeling children legitimate or illegitimate; the closing of legal brothels and an end to prostitution. What made this movement so frightening was that it was workers rising up against those in aristocratic positions, thus threatening the “normal” balance of power.

American businessmen were scared to death of this movement, seeing how it inflamed groups like the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), which used the situation to demand an eight hour work day. Victoria’s friend and mentor, Stephen Pearl Andrews, was part of the IWA, and her husband was part of the American Labor Reform League. It is likely they were responsible for Victoria’s interest in the worker’s movement, which she eventually held on even ground with women’s suffrage.

The IWA was closely linked to Karl Marx, so Victoria felt it was important that the American people understand what they were fighting for. In July 1871, Victoria and Tennie became co-presidents of the IWA. In December 1871, she published the first English translation of his Manifesto in her paper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. That same month, she, Tennie and Stephen led a highly controversial parade in New York, protesting the murder of five Communards in France. She may have become a major player in the movement, had her philosophy of individual rights meshed more closely with Marx’s communal vision. In 1872, Marx himself disbanded Victoria’s section of the IWA, effectively ending her association with the group.

What is your understanding or familiarity with these groups? Had you heard of the sex radicals or IWA before? If so, how? What questions do you have about any of them?

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Sources:

Brody, Miriam. Victoria Woodhull, Free Spirit for Women’s Rights

Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria.

Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

Havelin, Kate. Victoria Woodhull.

MacPherson, Myra. The Scarlet Sisters.

Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement.

Strange, But True: The French Ball in Mid-19th Century New York

The 1869 French Ball. From Barbara Goldsmith's book, Other Powers

The 1869 French Ball. From Barbara Goldsmith’s book, Other Powers

One of the craziest moments in Victoria’s life – and the one that has tripped up more beta readers and agents than any other in my novel – is the French Ball that was held in New York City. No one seems to believe it is real, but I swear it is. The famous female journalist Nellie Bly reported on the tradition, and it’s even the subject of testimony before the New York State Legislature in 1895.

The French Ball was an annual tradition that is in direct opposition with the staid, laced-up view we have of Victorian society – and that’s what makes people think it’s fiction. It began after the Civil War, when a group (either the Cercle Française de l’Harmonie or the Societe des Bals d’Aristes, depending on your source) began hosting masked balls at the American Academy of Music during which the rich of the city would mingle openly with the city’s prostitutes and courtesans.

It didn’t take long for the French Ball to become a by-word for public drunkenness and debauchery. According to Timothy Gilfoyle’s City of Eros, “The Times described it as ‘the naughtiest of the respectable masked balls.’” Both men and women dressed in masks and costumes, the women opening flaunting their bare ankles and shoulders, and showing significant cleavage. One of the most scandalous costumes was that of the ballerina because of the highly revealing tutu – presumably with nothing underneath. The town’s madams were the queens of the night, occupying the boxes normally reserved for men of good name, covered in jewels and basking in the praise of hundreds of male patrons. Over time, fewer and fewer men chose to disguise their identity, openly flaunting their presence at the lurid event, especially if they were well-known public officials or wealthy businessmen/bankers.

Reports paint a scene reminiscent of a Roman orgy, with drunken men seducing half naked women (who likely also were drunk) on the floors and in the halls. In Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, Barbara Goldsmith writes, “Victoria glanced into the box to her right where a girl lay on the crimson velvet couch, her ballet skirts pulled up over her head while two men mounted her in full view of the public.” Men commonly got into fights inside and outside the Academy and many arrests were made each year, though unrelated to public indecency.

Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennie attended the ball in 1869, with or without Victoria’s husband, James, depending on the source. Victoria’s thoughts on the night were made clear in her letters and newspaper articles. In 1873 she wrote that the boxes at the event were used “for the purpose of debauching debauched women; and the trustees of the Academy know this.” We know Tennie was greatly disturbed by what she witnessed, because in an 1872 article in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, she wrote about the deflowering of a young girl that night by a man named Luther Challis. “And this scoundrel, Challis, to prove that he seduced a virgin, carried for days on his finger, exhibiting in triumph, the red trophy of her virginity.” This article quickly landed both Tennie and Victoria in jail on charges of libel and sending obscene material through the mail (thanks to Tennie’s description of the night and its aftermath).

I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly when the tradition of the French Ball ended, but given that the State Senate was still taking about it in 1895, it’s safe to assume it wasn’t until at least the turn of the century.

In my novel, I have dramatized the events of the French Ball based on my sources. Even though it’s a bit jarring, I wanted to include it so that by the time you get to Tennie and Victoria being arrested, you know what they experienced and why Tennie was incensed enough to risk her reputation by writing about it. Plus, it’s a fun tidbit of history I couldn’t bear to not include.

Have you heard of the French Ball before this? If so, how? What do you think about it?

Sources (in addition to those linked above)

Bly, Nellie. “Jolly at the French Ball.” The New York World, February 10, 1889. http://dlib.nyu.edu/undercover/sites/dlib.nyu.edu.undercover/files/documents/uploads/editors/Jolly-at-the-French-Ball.pdf

Gilfoyle, Timothy J. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920.

Goldsmith, Barbara. Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull.

A Primer on Women’s Life in 19th Century America

19th century womanI’m getting closer to being able to tell all of you exactly who my next historical fiction book is about. I sent it off to the freelance editor whom I worked with on the first Guinevere book yesterday, as well as the first reader. I should get edits back in 4-6 weeks, then I’ll put it out for a quick beta read and be able to finally reveal her identity.

Until then, I thought I’d give you a brief taste of what life was like for a woman during the period of my novel (mid-late 1800s in America). As with my previous post about the new book, I’m not listing my sources yet because their titles would give away who my main character is. I’ll come back and add them as soon as I can.

The early 19th century had seen mostly traditional female roles centered around hearth, home and babies. But as war always seems to do, the Civil War gave some women an additional measure of independence, mostly out of necessity while her husband/father/brothers/sons were off fighting. However, after the cannon fire stopped echoing through the valleys and the guns went silent, she was expected to resume her traditional role.

Behavior
Personal ambition in a woman was considered evil. She was expected to obey her father or her husband without complaint. The less she showed intelligence, the better off she was. In fact, the quieter and more sickly looking a woman was – frail, thin, pale, prone to fainting – the more attractive she was. (Ironically, she had little recourse if she actually was sickly. Many male doctors believed all women were inherently diseased and refused to treat them.)

There were social taboos against women speaking in public. To call attention to oneself in public was unladylike and considered a form of treachery to one’s husband because when she strayed from her proper place in the home, a woman caused him shame. An interesting exception to this rule was made for mediums, who were exempt because they were instruments of God’s will. (More on the Spiritualism craze of the day in a future post.)

Laws
Unsurprisingly, the law was not on a woman’s side, especially if she was unmarried, divorced, or widowed. Women couldn’t vote, serve on juries or testify in court.

Beating a woman was not illegal, but some laws stipulated how large of an object could be used. (Thanks for that, lawmakers.)  A married woman had no recourse if she was beaten and she couldn’t deny sex to her husband. As a result, families were large. Unwanted infants were wrapped in rags and abandoned on doorsteps or tossed in the river.

Women were considered property of their husbands. Divorce was legal, but the laws by which it was enforced or allowed varied by state. In many, adultery was the only reason a woman could ask for a divorce. And if she did, she faced steep consequences: she could lose her property, children and reputation.

Work
Some women did work, usually out of necessity, and many made barely enough to keep themselves alive. Acceptable occupations included teaching (there were even some schools for girls by the second half of the century), factory work and domestic service. Wages paid to married women went straight to their husbands.

Prostitution was very common and in many ways, much accepted, at least for men. It was expected that young, unmarried men would frequent brothels. It was also acceptable for married men to go there. After all, sex within marriage wasn’t about pleasure; it was about procreation. In many areas of the country, guidebooks to the local brothels were created and disseminated among the male population, rating the establishments, profiling certain women and giving a summary of ambiance and services offered.

Sex
In polite society, parts of the body normally covered by clothing were referred to only in whispers. Words related to sex – even pregnancy, rape and abortion – weren’t used in among anyone with class.

While a man could do as he pleased within or outside of marriage, a woman adultery was highly shamed, as was a woman who wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night.

Despite the acceptance of prostitution, the prostitutes themselves were considered the lowest class of woman. They were forbidden a Christian burial and could not get proper medical care. (Another ironic medical assumption of the day: women could carry sexually transmitted diseases, but could not become infected with them. Some doctors believed that all sexually transmitted diseases originated with women. The condom was originally developed to shield a man from diseases a woman might be carrying, not as contraception.)

Suffrage Movement
I’ll do a detailed post on the early years of the suffrage movement soon, but for now, let’s just say it was a haven for women who didn’t believe in the status quo. Most the exceptions to societies norms were involved in the suffrage movement. Women who were the first to receive degrees of higher education (especially in the areas of law and medicine) were involved. These women were not only campaigning for the right to vote; they were voices for change for women on all fronts.

Spiritualism
If a woman was clairvoyant, she could find a degree of power because she was allowed to speak and people listened. Spiritualists also sought temperance laws to protect women from abuse by drunken husbands and favored vegetarianism because they saw the killing of animals as a form of male violence. Many were involved in creating Utopian communities were women and men were considered equal and Free Love was the norm. (More on that to come as well.)

What questions do you have about women in the 19th century? What did you already know? What surprises you?

Language in 19th Century America

Merrymaking Wayside Inn by Pavel Petrovich Svinin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Merrymaking Wayside Inn by Pavel Petrovich Svinin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the interesting things I’m discovering as I write my next book (which takes place from 1868 to 1873) is that by the mid-late 19th century, American speech was both oddly similar to our modern language and yet completely different. Allow me to explain.

The need to be accurate about language choice is one of the things that makes historical fiction different from other genres. Sometimes a word or phrase seems like it would fit perfectly, but upon deeper consideration, you realize it hadn’t come into common use yet. For example, I wanted one character to use the phrase “right off the bat” in 1868, but I found out it wasn’t commonly used until 1888 (and may have derived from either baseball or cricket. No one knows for certain.) When that happens, you have no choice but to find something similar that was in use at the time.

Here are some examples of words and phrases you may think are more modern (warning: some are curse words), but aren’t, plus some that are so foreign to our understanding as to be from another language.

Seem Modern, But Aren’t

  1. Bad egg – a bad person; a good-for-nothing person. (opposite of a “good egg.”)
  2. Buddy – as in a friend or pal. Came into use in 1840-1850. Is an Amercianism that’s thought to be a reduced form of the word brother.
  3. Conniption – a fit of hysteria.
  4. Fixings – trimmings, accessories, etc.
  5. Greased lightning – anything very fast. Appears to date from around 1833. (Heck, I thought it came from the play/movie, Grease.)
  6. Horny – sexually aroused. Used throughout the century.
  7. Knocked up: Pregnant. Used as early as 1813.
  8. Let her rip: let it go. Dates from around 1853.
  9. Person of color – someone of African ancestry. Dates to 1801. (I really thought this was a modern, politically correct phrase.)
  10. Curse words such as bastard, bull, cocksucker, cunt, damn, dang, fuck, piss, pussy, screw, shit, and son of a bitch.

Not in Use Anymore

  1. Absquatulate – to take leave, to disappear.
  2. Adventuress – euphemism for a prostitute or wild woman.
  3. Big bugs – bigwigs; important people,
  4. Catch a weasel asleep – something impossible or unlikely.
  5. Cutting a shine – pulling a prank or fast one; joking,
  6. Didoes – to cut up didoes was to get into mischief.
  7. Huckleberry above a persimmon –  a cut above.
  8. Humbug – to swindle or con; an impostor.
  9. Shut pan – shut up; shut your mouth.
  10. Smile – a drink; to take a drink.

Interestingly, many 19th century phrases survive in both southern dialect and in movies/TV.  (I don’t know about you, but I always associate the word tarnation with Yosemite Sam!) Some, such as bloody and balls, began as British English slang and have since come back into fashion in American English. Others have changed meaning completely, such as dude (used to refer to a dandy, now just refers to men or people in general), hoe-down (used to mean a Negro dance, now tends to be associated with a square dance or country party), hooter (used to mean a tiny amount, now refers to breasts, and usually large ones) and shucks (use to mean worthless people or things, now used as an expression of embarrassment or humility).

Which words surprise you the most? What 19th century words or phases do you know? Which do you still use?

Sources:

A Nineteenth Century Slang Dictionary
Dictionary.com

Etymology Online
Everyday Life in the 1800s by Mark McCutcheon 

A Hint of What’s to Come…

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/category/women/page/10/

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/category/women/page/10/

Short post today since I’m pressed for time, so I thought I’d give you a little teaser of my next book, the one I’m almost done researching. I’m still not saying who my subject is (hint: her birthday is tomorrow), but I’ll tell you this…

Those who disliked her saw her as a dangerous force who was too willing to speak out in an age when women were expected to be quiet. To many, she was  a charlatan, con-artist, prostitute, and puppet for powerful men whose ideas about love, sex and married life would corrupt the sanctity of marriage. She was publicly lampooned in political cartoons as associated with Satan and her name became a by-word for the type of behavior no respectable woman would abide.

But those who supported her saw her as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice on women’s rights, the suffragist who just might get women the vote, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward.

By the age of 33, this woman who started out dirt poor had been married twice, bore two children, worked on Wall Street, became a self-made millionaire, testified before Congress, gave controversial speeches on women’s equality to packed halls across the country, and began one of only a handful of women-run newspapers in the United States. She rubbed elbows (and later made enemies) with the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe (and her whole family) and even President Grant.

By the end of her life, she ran for political office twice (unsuccessfully), caused a nationwide scandal that riveted the country for years – much like the OJ Simpson trial did in our own time – and eventually fled the country, still dogged by her controversial reputation.

And yet, she’s been largely written out of history. I didn’t know about her until I “randomly” (I don’t believe in chance) came across a pin about her on Pinterest and there’s been no historical fiction written about her in more than 30 years (a book in the ’60s and one in the ’80s, are all that’s been done). She’s one of the most important voices in the women’s suffrage movement and an important late 19th century figure in US politics and business, yet only a handful of people have ever heard of her.

That’s going to change. Look for more information on this fascinating woman over the next six months or so. Hopefully by March I’ll be able to reveal who she is. You can guess if you’d like, but right now I can’t confirm if you’re right.