Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Things Got Done (and an edit update)

For my fellow historical writers, or anyone interested in learning how things got done in and around the house during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, have I got a book for you!



OUR OWN SNUG FIRESIDE, Images of the New England Home 1760-1860, by Jane C. Nylander (Yale University Press) is the best resource of this kind I've yet to find.

Don't let the words "New England" in the title put you off, if like me you're writing during this time period but your setting is a southern state or a frontier farm. Many of the topics covered in this book were far more widespread, such as:

How did clothes get washed?
How and how often did folk bathe?
How did they heat/clean/light/decorate their homes?
What standards of cleanliness prevailed?
How did one hire help? Or get oneself hired?
What were the work expectations placed upon each family member, at which age?
How did a newly married couple "go to housekeeping"?
What articles of clothing did a person own?
What household items were made at home, and which were bought?
When were candles made? Or soap?
When was the best time for firewood to be split?
What foods did they eat? How were they prepared, preserved and stored?
What were the first cook stoves like and how did they work?
How, when, where and with whom did they socialize?

From Library Journal: "Soon after the American Revolution, New Englanders began to idealize their rural farms and homesteads as bastions of security in a rapidly changing world. Some reminiscences stretched back to the 17th century, drawing on memories, artifacts, and a sense of history. In particular, four remarkable women cited here kept extensive journals of daily life for more than a half-century."

The book is broken up with many headers within the chapters, so finding a particular subject or passage is easy. I checked the book out at my local library, but have since ordered my own copy. I know I'll refer to it repeatedly, especially when my story does move to the northern states (which it will do in the second book, should KINDRED be published and I have reason to write on). But even with a setting in North Carolina, this book has supplied details of daily 18thC work that I'd so far missed gleaning in nearly five years of research (i.e. whittled wooden clothespins were originally called "cleft sticks." Who knew?).

And speaking of KINDRED, here's the edit update for the week:

Starting word count: 286,598
Current word count: 239,998
Down by: 46,600

Plowing through that word count like a tractor in low gear....

2 comments:

  1. I have Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle, written in 1898, which is pretty good. But this one sounds even better. I may just buy a copy. Thank you for the tip! Hope the editing is going well!

    Hugs,
    Joan

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Joan,

    It's going, bit by bit, and I'm trying not to entertain thoughts that I might be attempting the impossible here! I have a second beta reader coming along behind me on this edit, and from what I've seen so far from her feedback she'll have some suggestions for me, regarding cuts. However, she did comment that lately she isn't seeing anything significant she feels should go, and maybe this is one of those stories that need a lot of room to be told. Which would be wonderful, as long as an agent and an editor (and all the approving committees attached to him/her) feel the same way!

    ReplyDelete