Eric Horne and What the Butler Saw

Any novel, movie or TV series about the British aristocracy in the early 1900s never fails to emphasize the tremendous loyalty displayed by the servant classes for their masters.  And particularly the devotion of butlers and valets.

For single men about town their valets also performed the task of butlering. They styled themselves as  gentleman’s gentleman. In larger establishments and country houses the master of the house usually had a butler and a valet, though some butlers also valeted their masters.


Without his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s life would be a mess. In P.G. Wodehouse’s delightful stories Jeeves shows his devotion to Bertie by doing his thinking for him.


Bertie Wooster: Jeeves, I have to make one thing crystal clear.

Jeeves: Yes, sir?

Bertie Wooster: I am not one of those fellows who become absolute slaves to their valets.

Jeeves: [as if shocked] No, sir.

Bertie Wooster: Just as long as we understand each other.

Jeeves: Perfectly, sir.


In Downton Abbey there are times when one almost feels that Lord Grantham has a better relationship with his butler and his valet than he does with his own family and Carson’s devotion is as unquestioning as his lordship’s Labrador:

Carson GRantham cricket

Carson: I couldn’t work for a man that I don’t respect. And I certainly couldn’t leave Downton for him.

Lord Grantham: I shall take that as a compliment. For myself and for my house.



Dorothy L Sayer’s elegant and aristocrat detective Lord Peter Wimsey is remarkably off-hand, almost flippant, about the devoted service he receives from his man, Bunter who is also Wimsey’s humble ‘Watson’ in his sleuthing hobby:


Bunter: My old mother always used to say, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you stare them in the face hard enough, they generally run away

Lord Peter Wimsey: Your mother, Bunter? Oh, I never knew you had one. I always thought you just sort of came along already-made, so it were.



I searched for a manservant who did not offer the sort of slavish loyalty that butlers of fiction seem to provide, but treated the job as just that; a means of earning a living without being a cringing toady, and here he is.


Eric Horne was butlering at the end of the 19th century well into the 20th and he wrote a wonderful book called What the Butler Winked At from his private diary when he retired. Eric saw it all: indiscretions, infidelities, eccentricities, the penny-pinching of the exceedingly rich toward the people who looked after their welfare, drunken cooks, the tremendous snobbery that existed between upper and lower servants,. He remained unimpressed – especially by the gentry, and rarely Butler wined atkept a post for longer than two years. Eric enjoyed change.

He was intelligent and understood the personal service business so well he had his pick of butlering jobs. One of the most interesting was a seven month stint to a fabulously rich Indian Prince, a close friend of George V. Eric found the Prince to be a man of splendid disposition ‘sharp as a needle with intelligence that far surpassed that of any Englishman’ he had met. He set up the Prince’s large London establishment in a West End mansion rented for the Season where the Prince entertained society on lavish scale and, on the QT, a stream of pretty actresses.


During the shooting month of August the Prince rented a substantial castle in Scotland and Eric was there to ensure smooth sailing for the many guests. There was a railway strike and the scotch ran out, but this problem was solved instantly by Eric who had befriended a local merchant. As the castle’s major domo Eric chose the menu for twelve course dinners and played his violin during the meal.  Haggis as well as fresh local oysters were to be served at every dinner, by order of the Prince, and Eric had to nursemaid a guest who won a competition to see how many oysters he could eat washed down with a jeroboam of champagne.


Toward the end of his stay the Prince received phone call from Balmoral that the King and Queen would be motoring over to visit him the day before he returned to London. All preparations were made for a sumptuous luncheon, but there was no sign of the royal party or word from Balmoral. The Prince was mystified but too polite to telephone to find out what had happened. He departed the following morning leaving Eric to pack up the house before taking the train down to London. And of course there had been a mix-up in dates and at lunch time the King and Queen arrived and it was up to Eric to entertain them. He made the old Scottish castle as welcoming as he could; his skills as the perfect butler made him an admirable host. He conducted the royal couple around the principal rooms of the castle, with a little potted history to go with. Gave them a delicious luncheon put together from an emergency picnic, and discussed the season’s grouse coverts with the King. He might have given them a tune or two on his violin!

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Dame Nellie Melba and the Silver Voice with a Brass Tongue

At the name of Melba… crowned heads would nod respectful acknowledgment, noble lords and ladies would open their doors, newspaper editors would clear space for headlines, theatre managers would turn pale, and the house would be full.


Melba Phelia in 1889

Melba as Ophelia in 1889


Her voice was pure and pitch perfect she never slid up to her High C but merely produced it with effortless spot-on perfection.  The Tsar paid tribute; Paris, Monte Carlo and Brussels were as crowns strewn in her path. Italy was duly impressed but could not quite warm to the lady, they felt that she could not act and her voice was too cold. Germany, where they were rather more musical, was not too keen at all – she did not have what it took for Wagner.


Melba as Violette in La traviata 1900

Melba’s costume for Violette in La Traviata 1900s


At Covent Garden, where space backstage was at a premium, a dressing-room marked ‘Melba’ was always exclusively hers. At the Metropolitan her name in the roll of honor led all the rest. Escoffier named a peach and ice-cream dessert, Peach Melba, in her honor for the Coronation year of 1911.



Peach Melba – Escoffier for the 1911 Coronation of George V


Nellie Melba was not only one of the greatest voices of the Golden Age she was its greatest personality. Quick witted, outspoken and unpredictable she held her ground at center stage against rival sopranos, male colleagues and conductors. The silvery quality of her voice was the legend of the era. For fifteen years on both sides of the turn of the century she was renowned as the world’s greatest soprano. So was her tongue. The public adored her, musicians tended not to, but they praised her. Her tempestuous relationship with Puccini made any rehearsal a nightmare. On one occasion after Puccini had made her re-sing an entire aria, he threw down his baton and shrieked: “No, no, no. You sing my music. You don’t sing Melba-Puccini.” They had to wait for several days before Melba would agree to continue with rehearsals.


Melba cloak i Lohengrin

The cloak worn by Melba in Lohengrin 1920


“…the voice, pure and limpid, with an adorable timbre and perfect accuracy, emerges with the greatest ease.” Arthur Pougin, said of her in Paris. But she was so unspeakably rude to everyone that it took the intervention of Lady de Grey (later the Marchioness of Ripon) to prevent her from being fired from the opera house in Brussels and it was only with the support of the British nobility and particularly the Marchioness of Ripon that Melba made her break through to become a world superstar.


Melba State Performance covent garden May 1914 for Georgwe V

Melba’s state performance at Covent Garden May 1914 for George V


The more famous she became the more outrageous her behavior became. She insulted the press, journalists and anyone who disagreed with her, and got away with it. She invariably would finish her concerts with ‘Home, sweet home’, leaving everyone misty eyed and begging for more. And when it was announced (not before time, some thought) that the diva might soon retire to her native Australia, the editor of The Musical Times wrote under the headline THE DIVA TO GO HOME: ‘And by all means why not? As the Diva has melodiously declared (only too often), there’s no place like it.’


Melba as Desdemona 1924

Melba as Desdemona in 1924





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The Lodger by Louisa Treger – A story of Dorothy Richardson

the lodger

If ever there was a redoubtable Edwardian Dorothy Richardson most certainly was. A major writer of the twentieth century and an important figure in the emergence of modernist prose fiction, Dorothy published her first novel Pointed Roofs in 1915, the first complete stream of consciousness novel published in English. Dorothy, however, preferred the term interior monologue

But how did Dorothy Richardson not only find herself as a writer, but as an independent woman with very developed opinions of her own?

Dorothy is the central character of Louisa Treger’s debut novel: THE LODGER, to be released by St. Martin’s Press on October 14th, 2014. This blog is part review of THE LODGER and interview with its talented author.

Dorothy Richardson

Dorothy Richardson

Women in Britain had been demanding the right to vote since 1872 but by 1905 the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Suffragettes, had become actively and often aggressively militant in their fight for emancipation. Women also began to seek careers as doctors and not nurses, leaders and not home-makers, but they were unusual. Most women from the middle and upper-middle classes married young and settled into a life of domestic bliss.

At the beginning of THE LODGER, Dorothy’s father has declared bankruptcy and her mother after years of depression commits suicide. In pre-WWI Britain young women of middle-class backgrounds without family money to support and protect them became governesses or paid companions and lived respectably within the confines of their employer’s house. But Dorothy suffering deeply from the shock at her mother’s death seeks the solace of independence and moves to London to become a working woman; earning subsistence wages as a secretary to a Harley Street dentist.

As Dorothy tries to accustom herself to the considerable hardships of a precariat existence she struggles with loneliness, inadequate food and the discomfort of a dilapidated boarding house. Then she receives an invitation from an old school friend who lives with her new husband, the writer H.G. Wells (Bertie), in a comfortable house in the country. Dorothy is desperately lonely and is grateful for an opportunity to connect with her old friend; she catches a train into the country to stay with them for a weekend.


H.G. Wells in 1890

Bertie is a compelling character: dynamic, by turns generous and astonishingly selfish, but completely charming with a voracious appetite for life and a growing interest in the sympathetic and intelligent Dorothy. The inevitable development of their relationship from good friends to lovers suits Bertie who is immensely attracted to Dorothy, but she is far from enthralled with the physical side of their relationship. Her attitude to Bertie seems to change from friendship and romantic infatuation to that of sexual generosity to the man she has fallen in love with.

As Dorothy continues to cope with the harsh realities of being a member of the working poor, she enjoys many aspects of her new life in London. Some of the book’s most delightful passages describe Dorothy on her bicycle as she pedals her way around London, keenly observant of the daily lives of those around her; details she enjoys relating to Bertie who urges her to consider writing about her experiences.

At her boarding house Dorothy is drawn into friendship with her fellow lodgers. Veronica, a vital and captivating young woman, is fascinated by the courage and determination displayed by the militant suffragette movement. Veronica and Dorothy become passionately involved in a love affair. As Veronica is drawn further into the dangers of the Women’s Social and Political Union – and the inevitable path to imprisonment and the horrors of forcible feeding and Dorothy goes through her own transformation toward emancipation. As she ends her constricting relationship with Bertie, and avoids marriage as the only opportunity to lead a protected and more stable life, Dorothy turns to writing and it is through her work that she discovers herself.


Louisa Treger tells Dorothy Richardson’s story of her early life, before she became a recognized writer, with strength and honesty. Her deft portrayal of Dorothy’s most intimate feelings as she struggles with issues entirely in context with the time in which she lives is beautifully written with sympathy and understanding and give the reader a tremendous sense of place and time.

So, the first question I have for Louisa is:

How did you discover Dorothy Richardson? She is hardly a well-known literary figure today, unlike Virginia Woolf. What was it about her personality, her life and her circumstances that drew you to her?

I discovered Dorothy completely by accident while researching Virginia Woolf for my PhD thesis. I found a review by Virginia about a writer whose name I did not recognize:

“There is no one word, such as romance or realism, to cover, even roughly, the works of Miss Dorothy Richardson. She has invented a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender. It is of a more elastic fibre than the old, capable of stretching to the extreme, of suspending the frailest particles, of enveloping the vaguest shapes”

As soon as I read this, I had to know more about Dorothy Richardson. Who was she? How had she come to re-invent the English language, in order to record the experience of being a woman? The more I found out about her, the more I was drawn to her. Dorothy’s literary achievements were remarkable – she forged a new style of fiction that became known as stream of consciousness. Her desire to find a narrative form that would render the texture of consciousness really resonated with me, for I too was striving to capture in words life’s minute to minute quality. I was as captivated by Dorothy’s life as I was by her work: she was deeply unconventional in both, smashing just about every boundary and taboo going – social, sexual, and literary.


Louisa Treger author of THE LODGER

How much of our early life’s experiences shape who we become, or choose to become? Do you think Dorothy’s sense of alienation from the rigid social conventions of the day are an indirect result of her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy?

I believe that our early life experiences have a profound effect on who we become. Actually, Dorothy’s sense of alienation from the social conventions of the day predated her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy. Her father called her his ‘son’ from an early age because she was the third of four daughters, not the longed-for heir. He admired and encouraged her intellect; her ineptitude for domestic chores was tolerated, even indulged, by him and the rest of the family. Dorothy grew up torn between admiration of him and resentment at the way he dominated her mother – she was keenly aware of the inequality of the sexes.

Dorothy’s father was the son of tradespeople, yet he aspired to be a gentleman. He sold the family business and invested the proceeds unwisely: there were years spent struggling to cling to solvency even before the final crash. So Dorothy was displaced from her class and confused about her gender early in life – her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy were contributing factors in a process of alienation that was already in motion.

Dorothy falls in love with her oldest friend Jane’s new husband and willingly becomes his mistress. She knows this causes Jane deep hurt, but she does not deny herself. How did you approach this aspect of Dorothy’s character so that the reader does not feel antipathy towards her?

It wasn’t easy, and no doubt some readers will condemn Dorothy’s behavior. I tried to portray several things about her character – foremost, her vulnerability and isolation when she meets Bertie. She is reeling from her mother’s death, and is less able to withstand his charm than she might have been if she was more robust in herself. Also, Dorothy is fully aware how wrong it is to become involved with a married man and betray her oldest friend. She genuinely suffers and feels remorseful, but the attraction is stronger than she is. Finally, I tried to show – I hope without being judgmental – that no one is the winner in this situation. Ultimately Dorothy, Bertie and Jane all get hurt.

Many of the issues Dorothy faces such as living a precariat existence, a low-paying dismal job, her decision not to marry and deal with the insecurity of living alone in a big city are similar to those young women face today. How much has changed since the early 1900s, and do you think women’s lot has really improved?

I totally agree that these issues are still relevant to women today. In many respects, Dorothy was a modern figure beset by modern dilemmas.

In certain ways, things haven’t changed that much. The gap that still exists between women’s and men’s earnings has been well-documented, as has the fact that women lose out through taking time off to have children, often forfeiting promotions, training opportunities and job progression. Of course, women’s lot has improved in other ways: we have more freedom now, more choices. But this brings its own complications. We’re told that we can have it all, but I rarely meet a woman who is completely satisfied by her particular life balance. Full-time career women tend to feel they’re missing out on time with their families, full-time mothers feel that they have no identity outside their homes and families, while the part timers believe they don’t do anything properly.

You describe Dorothy’s path to writing as she struggles to find voice and expression as a writer. What about you, when did you first start writing? Was the research and writing of THE LODGER your first experience as a writer, and what were the struggles you encountered both as a writer and in your path to publication?

For most of my life, I kept diaries and scribbled short stories – I think the desire to write was always there. I originally trained as a classical violinist, but was forced to take a year out due to illness. It was possibly the best thing that could have happened, because it gave me the opportunity to rethink my life: I realized that I wanted to work with words, not music.

THE LODGER is my second novel – there’s an apprentice novel hidden away in my bottom drawer! But I don’t look on my first attempt as a waste because I learnt so much whilst working on it.

I decided to follow the traditional path to publication: it was long and littered with rejection letters from both agents and publishers. At times, it seemed I would never get published and I thought about giving up, but I couldn’t stop writing; it was part of who I was. I’m a living example that persistence pays off.

Signing up with my present agent, David Haviland, was a turning point. He has an exceptional editorial eye and really transformed THE LODGER, shaping it into something that publishers were willing to consider. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel that my struggle has ended with publication of THE LODGER. I am always striving to be a better writer – my writing is never good enough!

Thank you, Louisa. You have written a stunning book, Dorothy is a compelling woman and her story and the way you have told it is fascinating, I felt honored to be allowed to read THE LODGER and to have the opportunity of talking to you about this remarkable account of a distinctly independent Edwardian!

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The Goddess of the Hunt and Riding Aside


Princess Mary painted by Alfred Munnings


Fox-hunting – the great pastime of the English countryman, conjures up vivid images. But women riders –  sitting beautifully upright on their great glossy horses, flowing habits cascading, top hats fixed firmly over neatly coiled and netted hair, veils secured across haughty faces, all galloping along at great speed and daringly taking all  obstacles have all my admiration. The Dianas of the hunting field. What courage! What style! How on earth did they stay on their horses?


Jules Pellier invented a saddle with two pommels to hold the rider more securely in place so she could gallop and jump in the hunting field.

Here is a perfect illustration to demonstrate exactly how perching on her horse like the fearless huntress she was, with no apparent effort or aids to stay on the horses back was achieved. Underneath the flowing skirt of her navy worsted habit was the strangest saddle imaginable. It looked lop-sided and bulky because it was. It involved two pommels a fixed head and a leaping head.  One supported the right thigh, and the second one held her left thigh secure between pommel and stirrup.When she was ready to gallop across the field and take a five barred gate she pressed her left thigh up against the leaping pommel and her right thigh downward and there was no toppling!


Master of Foxhounds – Alfred Munning

The greatest danger to a rider seated aside in the hunting field was that she was very much locked into position on her horse. Men seated astride in their small hunt saddles were thrown free if their horse fell, but riders aside were trapped in place. Imagine a 1200 pound horse falling over with you trapped in place on its side. Also because of the height of the fixed head, it was also very difficult for a rider aside to drop her hands effectively to stop her horse


The long right side of the skirt could be lifted up and buttoned behind in the small of the back. But when the rider was seated aside on her horse, the skirt fell evenly to cover her legs completely.

The riding habit worn in the early 1900s had what was called a pocket for the right leg, which sat higher on the horse and would have lifted the hem up so you could see part of the rider’s leg. So the right hand side of the skirt was diagonally longer and when the rider was seated aside on her horse the skirt fell equally to the edge of her boots, completely concealing her legs. When she was walking around this elongated right side of her skirt was lifted and buttoned up in the small of her back giving her habit a lovely line.


Riding jodhpurs with a modesty apron

In the 1900s women started to ride astride, giving them greater freedom and more contacts with their mount. They wore riding jodphurs, and over these were wrapped an apron skirt modestly covering her parted thighs! Hugely frowned on and forbidden by some hunts women nevertheless prevailed and by the 1920s it was quite acceptable for women to wear jodhpurs and ride like men.  Queen Mary most strongly objected to women riding astride, in 1913 she made a royal decree forbidding women to ride astride along Rotten Row in Hyde Park.



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Drinking Tea and the Rules of Engagement

The hedonistic age of Edwardian Britain for the idle rich and leisured classes abounded with every possible pastime, as it was out of the question to be of society and to work for a living. For men these interests varied from traditional roles in politics, government and the stewardship of their bountiful and productive acres, to archeology, architecture, breeding horses, or a dabbling interest in science. For their wives it was a far narrower field.Edwardian tea gown

In between breakfast in bed now that she was married, luncheon, tea time and dinner, the beautifully dressed Edwardian woman in London managed to squeeze in a gallop along Rotten Row, a fitting with her modiste, visits to the London galleries and perhaps a leisurely hour to herself with the latest novel, before a round of formal social occasions in the evening.


A Saturday to Monday in their country houses in summer were spent playing or watching lawn-games: cricket, tennis and croquet; picnics, boating on the lake, and visiting neighboring houses to do much of the same. In autumn and winter there was foxhunting in which women were welcomed to participate (seated side-saddle although some hunts grudgingly accepted riding astride) and wives were expected to provide support and watch their husbands shooting at various country estates, or accompany them for deer stalking in Scotland.


After dinner, no matter where they were, Edwardians of both sexes loved to play cards. Gambling was immensely popular and both men and women played for high stakes usually well into the late night hours.


And then there was tea-time that quiet hour in the day between five o’clock and dressing for dinner, when a lady was ‘not at home’ to her friends but otherwise engaged in what the French called cinq à sept and which had nothing whatsoever to do with drinking tea.

Edwardian teagown

Extra marital affairs were made fashionable by the Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII. Bertie was particularly partial to other men’s wives, especially the wives of his friends.  His current mistress was always included on the guest list of a country house Saturday to Monday.

Infidelity was a pastime; entirely accepted, thoroughly practiced, carefully organized and with only one proviso: discretion. All these clandestine tea-time visits in London, little liaisons at the National Gallery, and corridor creeping in country houses at night were never referred to.  But of course people knew, it was just never directly spoken of in society; gossip was after all another of society’s pastimes. A lady’s change of lover must never be the subject of common gossip.


The Edwardian age for the idle rich and the aristocrat was one of refined hypocrisy, with clear unspoken rules to safeguarded society from the distress of stupid blunders, quarrels at gentlemen’s clubs, and the divorce courts. Good manners counted for everything and it was considered ill-bred to show emotion. So here are some of the unspoken rules that kept infidelity in marriage a pleasant pastime.

romance.Here are the unspoken Rules of Engagement:

Only when a wife had produced an heir, and a spare, was she free to take a lover or two.

The overriding consideration was that there must be absolutely no exposure of any misconduct. Emotional displays were offensive and smacked of middle-class morality.

The unforgivable sin was to bring disgrace among those in polite society, thereby letting down the side. Respectability was for the middle-classes, discretion for the uppers.

A lady’s name may appear only three times in the newspapers: at her birth, her marriage and her death.

Divorce was unthinkable, and if one was stupid enough to seek a divorce one had to be prepared to be excised from society to live on the Continent until the rest of society chose to forget.

The hours of cinq à sept were so called because this was a convenient time for a woman’s lover to call for ‘tea’. Thus the invention of the tea-gown an elegant but, loose fitting gown worn without the confines of a corset

Country house liaisons were easy after lights out. Each bedroom door had a little card holder bearing the name of its occupant. One mischievous guest exchanged the name card of a particularly active lady with that of a Bishop. The poor man was awoken at one in the morning by a boisterous and randy earl clambering into bed with him.

A six o’clock bell was rung at country house parties, to give visiting gentleman time to get back to their own rooms well in time for valets and maids to find them there.

It was always up to the woman to ensure discretion; she must choose her lovers with care and never risk discovery. Love letters were burnt, assignations made in public by code, the thrill of planning and the chase were possibly more rewarding than the act of love itself.

Gentleman, always so much more independent in their lives, sometimes had an established relationship with a mistress. An attractive woman, not of their class or back ground and sometimes a professional entertainer, who provided them with sexual pleasure without the tedium of co-habitation. Maida Vale in London was a favorite neighborhood to set up a mistress in her own establishment.

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The Redoubtable Edwardian and the Institution of Marriage

Yes, of course Edwardians married for love, but the upper-classes usually fell in love among their own kind, shoring up their country estates from time to time with alliances to an American fortune or with the daughter of a wealthy industrialist.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

Until they were of age, Britain’s aristocratic girlhood was kept under wraps on the family’s country estates. Heavily chaperoned by their family and brought up carefully by nannies and governesses these bright young lovelies had no formal education but were able to read and write, play a little music, speak French and were often awfully good at riding horses.

Debutante Joh Singer Sargent

The business of getting heirs was of vital importance to estates that were entailed to the closest male relative, so young women were introduced into polite society when they were in their late teens and available immediately on the marriage mart.

When they were presented at court, debutantes made their deep curtsies to the king and the queen without wobbling or falling over. This simple ceremony transformed them overnight from school girls into young women eligible for marriage ­- no matter how unprepared they were.



There followed a succession of parties, balls, luncheons and at-homes during the summer months of what is known as the London Season. This ran typically from Easter until The Glorious Twelfth whilst Parliament was in session and was exclusive, grand and introduced a fresh crop of young women in early spring to avail Britain’s top families of the opportunity to take mates from other equally prestigious families.

Edwardian dancing

From Saturday to Monday the Edwardians bounded happily from country house to country house, to enjoy the pursuits of rural pleasures: from picnics to shooting parties.


During the Season there were a continual array of events to attend: Royal Ascot, The Derby, Cowes week, and Hurlingham for polo; the Royal Opera House, His Majesty’s Theatre followed by supper at the Savoy or lunch at Claridges after a fitting at Madam Lucile. These events required numerous changes of clothes, often as many as five a day. Chaperones turned a blind eye if the right young man was interested in a daughter or a niece, and hopefully after a couple of seasons these teenage girls were safely married off and the responsibility of their upkeep transferred from father to husband.Bride Diana Manners


This rapid metamorphosis from nursery, to coming out, to marriage took place within the space of two years. By the age of twenty-one most young society matrons were pregnant with their second child, having hopefully produced an heir the first time around.

With no housework or child raising to eat up the hours of their day, how did rich and titled ladies fill their time? Unlike their housemaids and kitchen maids who worked from 5 o’clock in the morning until after the family had gone to bed, their days were ones of leisure. They were expected to adorn their beautiful houses, dress appropriately for every occasion and ensure that their housekeeper maintained a comfortable environment of their husband and their guests.


For most rich and aristocratic Edwardian wives their lives were actively social, but for the serious minded woman there were distractions outside of merely having fun, being perfectly dressed and visiting the children for an hour or so at tea-time. Women’s suffrage with the rise of the Women’s Social and Political Party had become a far more intense business and there were upper-class women actively involved in the cause:

Votes for women

Lady Constance Lytton and Emily Lutyens caused their families considerable embarrassment. There were many charitable organizations and the arts to support: Gladys, the Marchioness of Ripon was an influential and powerful patron of the arts. Women like Lucile Duff Gordon who started a fashion empire,  Rosa Lewis hotelier and party planner for the rich and influential, Eleanor Glyn who was a best-selling romance novelist and of course Bloomsbury-ite and novelist Virginia Stephen who later became Virginia Woolf although remarkable, in the early 1900s, were not unusual.

Virginia Woolf

Unfortunately, for most women, married far too young, raised to adorn and produce children  there was little fill their lives in what we today consider a meaningful way. The getting and maintaining of an immense wardrobe, and daily instructions to her cook and housekeeper left many young society matrons with plenty of time to devote to the great Edwardian pastime of infidelity! Which takes me to my next blog: Drinking Tea and the Rules of Engagement . . . enjoy!

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Iyntwood House and Centuries of Prudent Politics

To celebrate the cover reveal for DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN I thought it would be fun to concoct a history of the house featured in the novel.  Clearly from the cover Iyntwood House is a very grand building indeed; the sort of house that if it survived the deprivations of the last century would probably be owned by the National Trust today. So without more ado here is a little bit of background, such fun!

Geoffrey Talbot, a clerk at the Tudor Court of Henry VIII, was knighted for services to the crown and rewarded with the Iyntwood Houseland on which Maskwell Abby had stood before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541, when it was razed to the ground. It is thought that Talbot was part of Thomas Cromwell’s dissolution program which would account for his rapid rise in the court and for his being able to fund the building of what is today Iyntwood House which was completed in 1580.

During the Civil War, when many similar houses were levelled because of their owners’ Royalist support the Talbot family kept their heads, their lands and their house by providing a full Regiment of Horse for Cromwell’s New Model Army (1645) and so their magnificent home was spared.

Throughout the uncertain years following the Civil War the Talbots remained carefully moderate. But it was Talbot money that conspicuously supported Charles Stewart’s return to England (when his succession was assured and not before in 1661) to be crowned Charles II. The sum of money involved must have been considerable because despite Sir Gervase Talbot’s anti-royalist politics of the preceding years he was awarded a prominent position in Charles II’s court together with an elevation to the peerage as Earl of Montfort.

The House

Some of the best examples of Elizabethan architecture can be found at Iyntwood House: the large stone mullioned windows, with leaded light casements form a particularly handsome aspect to its façade below an ornate balustrade roofline. Within, the Great Hall which in earlier days would have been the center of activity is used today as a formal Iyntwood Long Drawing Roombanqueting hall and has a thirty-five foot high ceiling, supported by ten huge hammer beams. The original Jacobean tapestries and paintings still hang on its walls. Around 1600, a minstrels’ gallery was added to the ballroom, and in 1663 the small gallery was created to honor a visit by Charles II and Queen Catherine, who stayed overnight with their entire retinue and who had such a thoroughly good time they made many return visits.

By the early 19th century the 4th Earl considerably enriched by profits from the sugar trade, decided to ‘modernize’ Iyntwood House, and create more privacy within the original Elizabethan structure.. He employed the fashionable architect Sir Jeffry Wyatt, who introduced a sequence of splendid corridors so that reception rooms could be accessed without walking through one to the other. A new stable block and an orchid house and kitchen gardens were also built at this time.

The Iyntwood Hauntings

The Library is said to be haunted by an elderly gentleman dressed in a gold and buff padded dressing gown who habitually smokes Indian cheroots, a distinctly strong odor which pervades the library for days after a sighting. Other ghostly beings include the infamous Lady Sarah Talbot who unhappily treads the upstairs corridor known as ‘The Silver Lady’s Walk’. Crossed in love and locked up in her room by her husband for her many infidelities Lady Sarah’s ghost is still on the look-out for an admirer: Beware!

Royal Visitors

Royalty is no stranger to Iyntwood, Queen Elizabeth I was the first royal guest in 1574, although she did not apparently approve of the Countess, Lady Meredith Talbot and it was for this reason that the countess was encouraged to visit her family when Good Queen Bess came to Iyntwood.Iyntwood star guest King Charles II

The Restoration years were riotous and bountiful ones for Iyntwood. The Merry Monarch, Charles II, enjoyed the generous hospitality of Lord Talbot and made Iyntwood his haunt of pleasure during his reign. Charles and his court were lavishly entertained; plays and musical events were performed in the old Saxon moated castle on the estate, now a romantic ruin, and lavish picnics arranged in fleets of gondolas on the lake by the house. Almost financially ruined by the end of Charles II reign the Talbot family made a meteor-like rise to former financial splendor in the mid-18th century thanks to the burgeoning sugar trade in the West Indies.

Until his death in 1910 King Edward VII was a frequent visitor throughout his adult life as both Prince of Wales and monarch during the shooting season. On one occasion the king was fortunate to bag 1500 pheasant during a 3 day visit.

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Iyntwood and the Chocolate Challenge

Thanks to author Martine Bailey for inviting me to take part in her Chocolate Challenge in which we choose three of our favorite books and liken each to dark, milk or white chocolate. Martine is author of: An Appetite for Violets, a suspenseful tale of obsession, betrayal and food to be released in January 13, 2015 by Minotaur Books. I have read it and it’s a fascinating and beautifully told tale.


Here are three wonderful books that still stand the test of time chosen by characters from Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman each of them matched to the very distinct flavors of chocolate.

Grown Up Chocolate for a Dark and Bitter Tale – The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Never one for modern literature Mrs. Jackson, Iyntwood’s housekeeper, is a stickler for the classics. She is well into The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and simply can’t put it down! Written in 1859 this dark Victorian thriller and compelling melodrama has a tight plot riddled with betrayal, brutality to women, mistaken identity, murder, madness and love. Mrs. Jackson is particularly drawn to the book’s perspicacious and courageous heroine Marian Halcombe with whom she closely identifies. Marian with her sleuthing partner, drawing master Walter Hartright, pit themselves against the diabolical team of Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde to save Marian’s half-sister Laura Fairlie from their pitiless clutches.

Mrs. Jackson’s worst suspicions of married life are once again confirmed with Laura Fairlie’s victimization by her newly acquired husband the sinister Sir Percival Glyde, a villain only overshadowed in black-hearted doings by his partner in crime Count Fosco.

The Woman in White

Collins’s psychological thriller has never been out of print in the 140 years since its publication.

The Simple Unsophisticated Goodness of a Box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray – A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Clementine Talbot, the Countess of Montfort, often indulges in a quiet afternoon on the lawn under the chestnut tree with a good book. This summer she is thoroughly enjoying a re-read of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Published in 1908 to both critical and popular acclaim, A Room with a View is a charming but nonetheless insightful comedy of manners that owes more to Jane Austen than perhaps any other of Forster’s works. The central character is a muddled, over-protected and rather spoilt young girl named Lucy Honeychurch, who runs from the man who stirs her emotions to become engaged to a pretentious snob, and then at the end of the story goes through a complete about face and marries for love. Its moral is as sweet and simple as a box of chocolates: throw away your etiquette book and listen to your heart!

Lady Montfort is entranced by the straightforward ease of this idea. She has one daughter left to marry-off and she is often bewildered by Althea’s determination to remain unattached and travel the world. She wonders if it would be best to allow Althea to accompany her friends on a trip up the Nile to Thebes instead of pushing her into repeating the London Season and perhaps into a marriage Althea might regret.

A Room with a View

 In Chapter Three of this book, coyly entitled “Music, Violets, and the Letter ‘S,’” the mysterious letter stands for a naughty word that is absolutely unutterable in the society Forster describes. What, you may ask, could this forbidden word possibly be? We begin to wonder what E.M. Forster’s really doing. Surely this sense of taboo indicates that this “Room” contains deep, dark, sexy depths? What does the letter S stand for? Stomach.

White Chocolate for a Great White Hunter – King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard

Iyntwood’s butler, George Hollyoak, has both an extraordinarily sweet tooth and a taste for British imperialism in his reading that never cloys. It is Hollyoak’s love of all things Empire that prevents him reading anything published after the turn of the century and his small library is brimming with the works of Rider Haggard who never disappoints him. Hollyoak is currently in the grip of Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) which in the butler’s opinion is the Most Amazing Book Ever Written. As he avidly follows the explorations of the great white hunter and man of derring-do, Allan Quatermain, who travels to Africa in search of ancient treasures and a lost fellow explorer, Hollyoak is transported from the prosaic safety of the Anglican Isles to a Continent Teaming with Savagery. King Solomon’s Mines is a veritable feast of action, suspense and Victorian romance that illuminates the politics of British imperialist capitalism and diamond mining in late nineteenth-century South Africa keeping the butler turning pages long into the night.


When Haggard had become a successful novelist, he was contacted by a former love, Lilly Archer, née Jackson. She had been deserted by her husband, who had embezzled funds entrusted to him and fled, bankrupt, to Africa. Haggard installed Lilly and her sons in a house and saw to the children’s education. Lilly eventually followed her husband to Africa, where he infected her with syphilis before dying of it himself. Lilly returned to England in late 1907, where Haggard again supported her until her death on 22 April 1909.

Next up on the Chocolate Challenge are:

Ashley Weaver whose mystery Murder at the Brightwell, a delicious novel in which murder invades polite society and romance springs in unexpected places will be released by Minotaur Books in October 2014.

D.E. Ireland whose mystery Wouldn’t It be Deadly? a reimagining of George Bernard Shaw’s beloved characters Eliza Dolittle and Henry Higgins is sheer pleasure and will released by Minotaur Books on September 2014

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Elinor Glyn and the Tiger Skin

Elinor Glyn was a best-selling romance novelist whose fame peaked in the early 1900s. She wrote what were heavily criticized as novels of ‘questionable quality and taste’ at a time when Victoria’s rigid rules for fidelity were still strongly upheld by the middle classes, even though they had have been mislaid by certain members of the aristocracy. Elinor was writing racy novels when Britain was still suffering from an abundance of hypocrisy where sex was concerned,

Elinor’s risqué novel Three Weeks, published in 1907, described the romantic escapades of a young English nobleman. Banished to Switzerland, of all places, the lonely young milord meets a fascinating woman of older years; a mysterious Balkan princess in her early thirties with ‘eyes slumberous andEleanor Glyn inscrutable’ a ‘mouth straight and chiseled, and red, red, red’ and referred to throughout as ‘The Lady.’ The Lady initiates the young milord into the delights of carnal love and the two spend three intoxicating weeks together romping around on a tiger skin. By today’s standards it is all pretty tame stuff; there are far more pages devoted to The Lady’s declarations of affection for the young man coupled with puzzling requests and an ever-changing set of rules as she plays a cat and mouse game with a young man desperate to be ‘One’ with her. Mercilessly panned by critics as ‘immature rubbish for morons,’ or more simply put: ‘Squalid!’ Three Weeks flew off bookshop shelves and kicked up a tremendous rumpus among the moral and Anglican members of Edwardian England. Edward VII would not allow the book to be mentioned in his presence and boys at Eton were beaten if they were found reading it after lights out. Elinor’s career as a successful novelist was already established, but with Three Weeks she became a celebrity.

In earlier and more innocent days the young Elinor Sutherland had always wanted to be a writer – a poetic writer. She was still very young when she married the extraordinarily handsome Clayton Louis Glyn – his dark brown hair had been blown off in a gas explosion at his prep school and his now thick silver hair reminded Elinor of the powdered wigs of the 18th century. It was all ‘too romantic for words’ and Elinor married Clayton after a brief but ‘intoxicating’ courtship. During a honeymoon that was ‘to swoon for’, Clayton hired the Brighton swimming baths so he could watch the superb naked form of his wife as she swam up and down like a mermaid with her hip length red hair streaming behind her in the water. They spent the idyllic first years of their marriage squandering what little money Clayton had, or pretended to have, and ended up horribly in debt.

The marriage began to fall apart as Clayton succumbed to his more desperate eccentricities, one of which involved sitting up all night in anticipation of eating a pear at the precise moment it became ripe. Sinking deeper into debt Clayton transferred his obsession from ripening pears to brandy and as the bank refused to extend further loans, borrowed money from friends; running through funds at an alarming rate.

It was at this point that Elinor started to write novels. They were all a tremendous success with a large and loyal readership and earned her nice, fat royalties. But however quickly Elinor churned out best sellers she could not keep up with her spendthrift husband. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, and never one for fidelity (Three Weeks was apparently based on an affair she had had with a young aristocrat 16 years her junior) it was about this time that Elinor embarked on a tumultuous affair with Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India.

curzon tiger

Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India and his wife Lady Mary Curzon photographed with a tiger large enough to feature in Elinor’s best-seller Three Weeks

Among many interests Curzon was a member of the Souls; a group of young society pseudo-intellectuals with a taste for sophisticated high jinks and chancy lawn games when they met up at the end of the week at country house parties. At Waddesdon, Mentmore, Halton and Tring, they drove around in gilded carriages pulled by zebras; spent afternoons on the river scantily dressed in leopard skins and tinsel crowns, reading poetry out loud; or played lawn tennis in the buff. One young Soul, Diana Manners, arranged for two piglets to be taken aloft in an aero plane, to prove that indeed pigs could fly. The self-adoring and deeply affected Souls embraced Lord Curzon as one of them, but heartily disliked and excluded poor Elinor.

To her embarrassment Elinor was not invited to her lover’s house at Hackwood when Diana Manners and her soulful friends were there. She was invited after they left. She was not included in Curzon’s house parties for other important peers from the House of Lords either. Head over heels in love with Curzon, who she called her ‘universe’, it must have been wretchedly painful to be so disregarded by the man she loved so constantly. Meanwhile Clayton continued to burn through the money she earned and borrow from friends. And then Elinor learned to her horror that Curzon had made a loan to Clayton. Frantic that Clayton’s inevitable non-payment would end her affair with the man she so revered, she decided she must pay off Clayton’s debt to Curzon before it went bad.

Philip de Laszio's Elinor

Sketch of Elinor Glyn by Philip de Laszlo

In order to scrape together £1,000 (a sizeable sum at the time) she accepted an offer from the Daily Express to write 90,000 words that would be serialized by the newspaper. The result was a novel called The Reason Why, and was the sort of thing much loved by her many fans; a fast-paced, page-turner with all of Elinor’s hallmark elements: a handsome hero of aristocratic lineage, a beautiful pagan heroine with a proud and savage soul, a banker with a heart of gold, and a talented writer dying of consumption in a garret. It made Elinor writhe with shame every time she read it and she must have felt very far from ever producing a work of worthy literature. Predictably, The Reason Why was a hit; Elinor paid off her husband’s debt to Curzon and kept her unkind lover.

Still desperate for Curzon’s approval and striving for literary praise for a ‘serious book of worth’ Elinor now appears to have lost her head a bit. She embarked on her ‘serious work’ of fiction: Halcyone. Written to impress, it was heavily larded with authentic quotations kindly supplied by a professor of ancient Greek. Halcyone’s focal character who Elinor described as a selfish, unkind, egotistical and  ruthless misogynist who believed that only men had souls was remarkably like that of Lord Curzon, but somehow poor Elinor did not see this. Or perhaps deep down in her sub-conscious she rescued herself from Curzon’s clear disregard of her, by ending an affair with a man that however much she loved him, would only treat her badly and cause her pain. She gave Curzon her manuscript, which he read. He made a few grammatical corrections and returned it to his ex-mistress with no other comments.

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The Redoubtable Edwardian Housemaid and a Life of Service

Run was the operative word for the housemaid as she scuttled down the backstairs — the grand main staircase was strictly out of bounds — opened the shutters in the family drawing rooms, raked out and re-laid the fires, blacked and polished the fireplaces, tidied up the mess casually made the night before, spread the carpets with damp tea leaves to remove the dust, swept up the tea leaves, then moved on to the ­dining room to repeat the process. And after that there was still the library, the smoking room, the morning room and the study; the tapestry room, her ladyship’s sitting room; all of them must be immaculate before the family awoke at nine o’clock.  And when they came dowhousemaidsnstairs to start their day, the housemaid was back up the stairs to their bedrooms and dressing rooms to empty the slops from the chamber pots; clean and dust and make their beds. Finally, she carefully swept the grand ­staircase (the only time she was allowed to tread on it) and then, and only then, she had her breakfast. A long day devoted to cleaning had only just begun.

In 1911, a national ­census counted 1.3 million domestic servants, against 1.2 million workers in agriculture and 971,000 in coal mining. There were no trade unions for domestic service. 

Throughout her day there were more fires to lay and top up, rooms to be kept spotless, always keeping one step ahead of the family’s unspoken needs, always, if possible, out of sight, so that they could glide from one perfect setting to another with not a moment’s thought, as if the rooms tidied themselves. Most country houses were vast! There was a room for every possible activity, and each must be pristine.

It might be close to midnight before the butler signaled that the family — their every whim met from morning to night — had retired, and so could she and the rest of the exhausted household. Until five o’clock in the morning when it all began again.

This housemaid might be the third or fourth of a bevy of housemaids. Each one designated a position within the servants’ rigid hierarchy that came with its own particular duties. The first housemaid was the most senior and it was she who had the privilege of assisting any of the family’s daughters now ‘out’ in society in dressing, and also ‘maiding’ a guest staying Saturday to Monday who had not brought her ladies maid. The second housemaid’s duties included taking early morning tea to the butler and housekeeper in their rooms, a servant to the upper servants. The third and fourth housemaids’ duties were restricted to domestic chores only; sometimes as young as fourteen these girls were usually in training and given the most monotonous and mundane of jobs; just one peck in the order above the scullery maid.

Undoubtedly it was the scullery maid who was the most long-suffering individual below stairs. Penned up in a smelly scullery; bitterly cold in winter stifling in summer, she worked her way through mountains of washing-up. Lead-lined sinks were used for washing crystal and delicate china. A mixture of lye soap and fine sand to scour saucepans was cruelly hard on her hands. Scullery maids had to get up in the middle of the night to refuel the enormous kitchen range. They suffered from severe chilblains in winter and worked like mad to gain a position as a kitchen maid, promoted to assist in the kitchen peeling of mounds of vegetables, but anything was an improvement over the smell of drains and standing twelve hours a day on cold, flagstone floors.

At Welbeck Abbey the Duke of Portland had more than 60 staff in the house

In charge of the female servants was the housekeeper, the voice of her mistress below stairs. In most households the cook and her kitchen maids answered directly to the housekeeper, as well as all the housemaids. The quality of life for a female servant in a country house depended entirely on the temperament of the housekeeper. The male servants, the footmen and the hall-boy were under the footmenimmediate supervision of the butler. And it was the butler who called the shots throughout the entire servants’ hall; their leader and the household’s major domo. His pantry was the command ­center below stairs. It was here that the best plate and glass were kept, under his lock and key. The butler slept in his pantry – the better to guard the family silver. His footmen – all of them must be at least six feet tall, had rooms below stairs – far away from the girls lodged in the attic and to provide another layer of security to protect the house from interlopers and burglars.

Grandees were known to fire a butler who took a wife, on the grounds that his ­attention would wander

Housemaids, scullery maids and kitchen maids slept on the attic floor of the house. Two to a room, in some houses they even shared beds. Their rooms were furnished with the barest minimum with no regard to comfort: an iron bedstead and horsehair mattress, washstand, a chest to keep their clothes and pegs to hang their uniforms, a shared chamber pot under the bed. There was no lock on the housemaids’ bedroom door and the housekeeper or lady of the house might come into their rooms and check through their belongings at any time. One small window looking out onto the roof gave them some natural light, candles were issued by the housekeeper and there must be no neglectful waste. Housemaids rose when it was still dark, washed in cold water and dressed without benefit of light in their print dresses, usually gray, blue or lilac, their hair concealed underneath a white cap, their dresses kept clean by long heavy white aprons. At four o’clock in the afternoon they changed into a black dress and donned caps and aprons that were an excess of white starched frills. Once a week they were required to take a bath, usually on a Sunday – a tepid affair in a galvanized metal tub – it was only the senior housemaid who had fresh water and the privilege of the first bath. They all took turns, top to bottom and the poor old scullery maid bathed in something as unappealing as the water she washed the pans in all day.

Rules for female servants were as rigid as the hierarchy they belonged to. They led lives of enforced chastity denied boyfriends; marriage to a fellow servant was out of the question if they wished to remain in service to the family. Breakages were deducted from their wages. They might not smoke, speak in loud voices above stairs, must flatten themselves face against the wall should their employers appear, and might not address the family unless they were spoken to first. If somehow they managed to get pregnant they were immediately turned out of the house without a character to join the ranks of the unemployed.

Female servants who had lost their jobs because they became pregnant  accounted for 60% of prostitutes in Edwardian England.  

Page boy: Where shall I put this ‘ere dish of ammonds? Butler: I’m surprised Harthur, that at your hage, yew ‘ave not learned to put the Har in Harmonds.

In a time when everyone had a servant, there are horrendous descriptions of the sort of diet servants existed on that did little to fuel them for their long hours of labor. But in most country houses of the affluent aristocracy the servants’ food was plain, simple and plentiful and strangely enough ale was provided throughout the working day. Astute servants need not spend a penny. They could save all their wages, and many did just that. Service was not a last resort but much sought-after employment, especially with a family of consequence. Many servants took pride in working for the country’s elite, and there existed a tremendous entrenched snobbery among the top families’ servants often far greater than that of the family itself.

By today’s standards theirs appears to have been a bleak existence with very little to recommend it! But there were planned outings and special occasions, even if to us they seem negligible and spare. Walking to the village church dressed in their Sunday best was a delightful change from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the servants’ hall and if the weather was inclement they were driven there and back in the estate’s wagons. They were given time off to watch the house cricket match between villagers and the male servants and family members of the house often with a picnic lunch laid on. They lobbed balls at the coconut shy and guessed the weight of prize vegetable marrows at the church fete in summer. At Christmas there was a servants’ hall celebration with roast turkey, all the trimmings and a tree. Gifts from the family were laid out under the Christmas tree in the great hall for residential servants and estate workers alike. Once a year some country houses even had a servants’ ball, and the family would attend for a few hours.




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