19th Century Fashion: The Unmentionables

Imagine you are a fashionable woman getting dressed in the nineteenth century. You might put on your clothing in the following order:

First, stockings made of silk, wool, or cotton. Hold those stockings up with garters above the knee. Then add shoes. If stocking and shoes  are not put on first, you might not be able to fight through all the layers of clothing to don them once you are fully dressed.

Second, drawers, open-crotched for elimination purposes. They are often made of cotton, are knee-length, and button in the back..

Third, an undershirt or chemise.

Fourth, a short, knee-length petticoat.

Fifth, a long petticoat.

Sixth, a corset that begins under the armpits and goes all the way to the hips.

Seventh, a corset cover.

Eighth, as many extra petticoats as your fashion sense and budget allow.

Now that you have donned all the underwear, or unmentionables as they were then called, you will need to fix your hair and put on your hat before you put on your dress.

Why?

Because the sleeves of the bodice are so tight that you cannot lift your arms above your shoulders.

Who in For Want of a Father would wear all of the above? Aunt May, the society-conscious banker’s wife. Aunt Hilda, the minister’s wife would have fewer petticoats and dresses of more subdued colors. Aunt Hannah would wear even fewer petticoats and sometimes leave off the standard form of dress and wear bloomers.

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for want of a father final copy

 

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Character in Progress: Justin Quinn

I’ve made some changes to Justin’s life as I imagined it in my previous post. The great thing about filling out character profiles is that changes are easy to make. If you make up lives as you write the novel, there are dozens of places background facts are tucked in that have to be ferreted out in case of a change of mind (the author’s). I am using a standard character sheet that begins with personal, professional and story goals, and then goes into physical appearance. From there, important childhood events are listed along with the size of the family and the character’s place in it. Religion, education, best friends and worst enemies are some of the other details to fill in. Most of the information will never make it into the novel, but it is necessary to know what motivates the character and have ready those tiny pieces of life that can be used to evoke the reader’s emotions and empathy.

Changes

As I began filling out Justin’s biographical information, I realized 43 was too old for his current age. Somehow, I had messed up on my math. (That math thing is why I became an English teacher.) Justin is now 40. He was born in 1819 in Illinois. I also decided that being the son of a soldier wouldn’t work because in Book 1 of the series, he is uneducated, which would not have been the case for a soldier’s son living at a fort.  Instead, Justin is the oldest son of a farmer and his wife. He has three younger siblings: a brother and two sisters. His father dies when he is seven, leaving his mother to support four children by sewing and doing laundry. She barely makes enough to feed them, so something must be done.

Circumstances

When Justin is eight, his mother learns of a farmer a few miles away who needs help. She signs papers making Justin an indentured servant. He is to work for the farmer, Ezekial Boggs, until he is eighteen. In return for Justin’s work, he will receive room, board, education, and farming knowledge. It turns out the room and board is meager and the education non-existent. He does learn farming, something he grows to hate.

Abandonment

His mother visits Justin only twice in the year following his indenture to Boggs. The first time, she says she has come to make sure he is being treated well and adjusting to life with the farmer. She stays only a few minutes. The second time she comes, she tells him she is remarrying and going to California with her new husband. They are taking his brother and sisters, but since he is bound to Boggs as a servant, he cannot come with them. It is the last time he hears from her or his brother and sisters. When he was first bound to the farmer, he had felt some pride at being able to relief the hunger of his younger siblings by working elsewhere. When his mother leaves him behind to move to California, he feels loss that turns to resentment as years go by with no word from her or anyone in his family. Mixed with the resentment is the feeling of somehow not being worthy of love, a feeling that affects all future relationships.

Runaway

At 16, Justin runs away.  The year is 1835, and he has heard trappers are making piles of money and wants his share. Little does he know that the heyday of the fur trade is almost over.

Who is next?

Now that I know something of Justin’s background, I will leave these facts to stew around. In the next post, I’ll explore one of the three other major characters in For Want of a Father: Cordelia (Justin’s biological daughter), Hiram Pierce (Cordelia’s stepfather), or Lucy Pierce (Hiram’s biological daughter). I’m not sure which one at this point.

What else would you like to know about Justin Quinn?

You can help me develop Justin’s character with your questions and comments. Please ask, and I will answer in an upcoming blog post.

 

Creating Characters: Justin Quinn

I know a few things about Justin Quinn from Book 1 of the Pierce Family Saga (coming out on October 20). He was thirty-nine years old in 1855, so when Book 2 begins, he will be forty-three. He has a two-inch scar on the left side of his face as the result of an argument over a card game. He is Irish, six feet tall, and has red hair and green eyes. He is Cordelia’s biological father, and he deserted her mother, Minerva, before the woman knew she was pregnant. He was a fur trapper and trader when he met Minerva but has likely changed professions since the decline of the fur trade.

How are you feeling about Justin so far? Interested or not so much? Is he a hero or a villain? Hard to tell. We know some physical details and a few actions but there isn’t much in what I’ve told you to capture emotions or imagination.

How about this? Near the end of Book 1, Cordelia asks Aunt Hannah if her father knew about her. The answer: He could have figured it out if he’d wanted to. So now, we really have to dig in to Justin’s character. Did he want to know? Why or why not? Did he figure it out when Cordelia was a baby? Did he never figure it out but was told years later when he met someone? Does he not know until Cordelia is on his doorstep–if he has a doorstep? How does he react when his seventeen-year-old daughter finds him? But wait? Does he find her instead? Which course of action will produce the best story? There are so many decisions to make, and many of them  will come out of what happened in Justin’s own childhood since those experiences will have shaped his morality and thoughts about what it means to be a father.

Currently, I am considering having Justin’s father be a military person, perhaps stationed at some fort on the frontier, at least near the time when he would have left home at the age of seventeen or eighteen. I am currently reading Children of the Western Plains: The Nineteenth-Century Experience by Marilyn Irvin Holt in an effort to learn more about how children were treated at the time, information that will allow me to develop childhoods for all my major characters.