The 19th Century Bluestocking

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19th century, bluestocking, women, intellectual, Gilded Age, fiction, novels, family saga, 18th century

In this caricature, made at the end of the Blue Stocking Society heyday, the disbanding of the club can only be seen in terms of violence and hysteria because women who didn’t fit the mold of the “angel in the house” were seen in this way. So in the thinking of the male artist, even their intelligence and wit can’t save them from behaving like women!

Photo Credit: Breaking Up of the Blue Stocking Club, Thomas Rowlandson, 1815, hand-colored etching, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Drawings and Prints: TemboUngwe/Wikimedia Commons/CC0

In Pathfinding Women, the third book of my Gilded Age family saga, the young women of her wealthy society accuse the protagonist Vivian Alderdice, of being a “bluestocking.” Like many terms referring exclusively to women, this one has positive origins but became negative with time.

The term referred to an actual 18th-century British club called the Blue Stockings Society and was created as a place where both women and men (though mostly women) could discuss literature and the arts. The name comes from a type of casual dress style (the worsted wool “blue” stocking) which was generally not considered proper dress for anyone but the peasants (ironic, considering the group was made up of well-to-do people, and its aim was to discuss formal topics…).

The society was led by author and social reformer Elizabeth Montagu. Montagu provided a place for intelligent and privileged women such as playwright Hannah More and author Frances Burney a safe place to bring forth their passion for the arts and gain support from fellow enthusiasts. The club was active and popular until the late 18th century, and, looking back at history, we might understand why. As I wrote here, the philosophy of the separate spheres began to take precedence in the thinking of intellectuals about the role of women and men in society around this time. Women, remember, were regulated mostly to the private sphere, destined to take care of their family and limit their public interest to church and charity. Thus, intellectual pursuits for women were discouraged, and any woman who didn’t fit the mold was looked upon in a negative light.

This is also why the term “bluestocking” began to take on unflattering connotations in the 19th century. These women were seen, by Victorian standards, as unmarriageable either because they were too unattractive, too old, too educated, or any combination of the three. They were a nuisance in society, trying to compete with intellectual men (and unable to, of course). Many caricatures went out during this time about the bluestocking (like the one by Rowlandson above).

So it’s no surprise when the wealthy young women of Nob Hill in my book get catty, the first thing they do is insinuate that Vivian, because she prefers books to flirtations, is a bluestocking. At one point in the novel, Vivian laments:

“Her daily walks made her less fragile than Amber and her friends and she had heard sniffing remarks on her “bluestocking” pursuits in pockets of parties and after-dinner conversations.”

Despite the fact that Vivian is a progressive young woman, she falls victim to the stigma attached in the Gilded Age to any “bookish” unmarried woman and asks her mother in a worried tone, “Do you think he [Monte Leblanc, the man she’s pursuing] has the notion from Fern that I’m a bluestocking?” Her mother reassures her Mr. Leblanc has no such idea.

If you’d like to take a look at Pathfinding Women, you can do so here. To find out more about the series, you can go here. You can also find information on Books 1 and 2 of the series here and here. Book 4 of the series, Dandelions, will be coming out in December 2020, so come check it out here

Want to explore the nooks & crannies of history, the stuff that isn’t in the history books?Like social and psychological history and not just historical events and dates? Want in on exclusive sneak peeks, giveaways, and polls? Then sign up for my newsletter! Plus, you’ll get a free short story when you do :-). Here’s the link!

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DOUBLE COVER REVEAL!!! Waxwood Series Refresh + Dandelions Cover Reveal

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I have double whammy goodness for you this week!

I’ve been wanting to refresh the covers for my Waxwood Series for a while. While I love the idea of classic paintings on covers (I’m all about the classics), I also realize these paintings are a flashback into the past that many readers might not be attracted to. Many of us love to look at old paintings, but they don’t always speak to who we are or what we feel today, as individuals or as an era.

I think this is especially true in the past four or five years. There have been so much rushing forward and so many changes (some good, some not so good) we’re all looking ahead at life differently, and there is no going back. We can enjoy the past for what it was, but we also have to look toward the future.

With that said, here are the new covers for Books 1, 2, and 3 of the Waxwood Series.

historical fiction, series, Waxwood Series, 19th century, Gilded Age, family saga, family drama, women's fiction, coming-of-age

The Specter Photo Credit: 

The Specter Photo Credit: Portrait of Sonya Knips, Gustav Klimt, 1898, oil on canvas, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria: Aavindraa/Wikimedia Commons /PD Old 100

False Fathers Photo Credit: Karl Joseph Burkmuller, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1830, oil on canvas, Miguelemejia/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD old 100)

Pathfinding Women Photo Credit: Painting of three women in white, long-sleeved dresses, Charles Perugini, 1839-1918, oil on canvas: Needpix.com /CC0

I discovered these marvelous seascape paintings that give off the vibes (sometimes contradictory) of Waxwood as a place (and if you’d like to read more about the real seaside town that inspired Waxwood, you can read this blog post). 

The series has one last book coming out in December. It’s called Dandelions, and you can find out more about the book here. But for now, here’s the fourth and last cover for the series:

historical fiction, women's fiction, Waxwood Series, series, Gilded Age, 19th century, US history, family saga, family drama

Dandelions Photo Credit: Couple painting, Dionisios Kalivokas, 1858, canvas and oil, Corfu National Gallery, Greece: File upload bot (Magnus Manske)/Wikimedia Commons/PD Art (PD old 70)

Below are links where you can find out and purchase the first three books of the series:

The Specter (right now selling for 99¢)

False Fathers

Pathfinding Women

If you’d like to know more about the series itself, check out this page.

Want more fascinating information about history? Like social and psychological history and not just historical events and dates? Then sign up for my newsletter! Plus, you’ll get a free short story when you do :-). Here’s the link!

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Pathfinding Women Launch Giveaway!!!

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Release Day Blitz for Pathfinding Women!

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new release, historical fiction, women's fiction, family saga, family drama, Gilded Age, 19th century, US history, suffragism, series
new release, historical fiction, women's fiction, family saga, family drama, Gilded Age, 19th century, US history, suffragism, series

Front Cover Photo Credit: Woman standing in forest, artist signed Dobrowloski, 1910/1919, John High Collection, Czechoslovakia: Fae/Wikimedia Commons/PD Old 70 Expired

Title: Pathfinding Women

Series: Waxwood Series, Book 3

Author: Tam May

Genre: Historical Women’s Fiction/Family Saga

Release Date: September 13, 2020

There are paths in life we have no choice but to follow.

At the close of the nineteenth century, Vivian Alderdice is twenty-six, unmarried, and has no prospective suitors. Now the heiress of the Alderdice fortune, she has yet to fulfill her duty to her family and to society: to marry well and produce heirs.

Her brother’s tragic plight the year before left her and her mother on shaky ground with the San Francisco blue bloods of Nob Hill, and the only way they can re-establish their social position is to win the heart of Monte Leblanc, a wealthy Canadian in search of a wife and looking to become a member of the exclusive Washington Street society.

But a young man on the train tells Vivian things about her grandmother that shake her to the core. Even as she is pursued by the debonair Monte Leblanc, Vivian can’t avoid ghosts from the past who send her on a journey she is reluctant to take.

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price from your favorite online book retailer here.

new release, historical fiction, women's fiction, family saga, family drama, Gilded Age, 19th century, US history, suffragism, series

Excerpt

“If the horses are his only vice,” said Mr. Leblanc with a chuckle, “I should say Miss Drysdell is very lucky indeed.”

“But it isn’t.” Cecily’s eyes widened. “Elizabeth Cornwall told me it’s all over England that his grandfather and great-great-grandfather both went mad of the drink. It was like poison to them.”

“Well, my dear, all families have their skeletons,” said Mr. Leblanc.

“Oh, that’s all fine when they are ancient ones,” said Fern. “It’s the skeletons still rattling in the closets that one must be careful of.” Her eyes slid toward Vivian.

Vivian’s hands grew cold, even though the coffee Mrs. Tisher had given her was still warm. “Perhaps there would be no need for the skeletons to rattle if families told the truth from generation to generation.”

“Yes, you are a great believer in the truth, aren’t you, Vivian?” Amber asked. “No matter what the consequences.”

“‘Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.’” Vivian quoted. 

“You made that up right now?” Bethel’s voice was sour.

“I didn’t,” said Vivian, smiling. “Henry David Thoreau did.”

About the Author

Tam May started writing when she was fourteen, and writing became her voice. She loves history and wants readers to love it too, so she writes historical fiction that lives and breathes a world of the past. She fell in love with San Francisco and its rich history when she learned about its resilience and rebirth after the 1906 earthquake and fire during a walking tour. She grew up in the United States and earned a B.A. and M.A in English. She worked as an English college instructor (where she managed to interest a class full of wary freshmen in Henry James’ fiction) and EFL teacher (using literature to teach English to business professionals) before she became a full-time writer.

Her book Lessons From My Mother’s Life debuted at #1 on Amazon in the Historical Fiction Short Stories category. She is currently working on a Gilded Age family drama titled the Waxwood Series. The first book of the series, The Specter, came out in June 2019, and the second book, False Fathers, was released in December of that year. Book 3, Pathfinding Women will be out in September 2020, and Book 4 in December 2020.

Tam lives in Texas but calls San Francisco and the Bay Area “home”. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature, watching classic films, cross-stitching, or cooking up awesome vegetarian dishes.

Social Media Links

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BookBub Author Page

I’ve got a giveaway going on with 4 chances to win a prize! You can enter here.

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The Marriage Age in the 19th Century

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marriage, 19th century, gilded age, Waxwood Series, women, men

Young married couples in the 19th century knew marriage wasn’t all hearts and flowers. They were practical as well. I’m guessing this is probably an advertisement for Domestic sewing machines.

Photo Credit: Bride & Groom: Karen Arnold/PublicDomainPictures/CC0 1.0

Not long ago, I wrote this blog post about marriage advice in the Gilded Age era. Not surprisingly, age was an important factor, for both men and women, and it’s emphasized in my upcoming book, Pathfinding Women.

Today, we’re used to women (and men) marrying at any age they like. It’s significant that many women and men choose to marry at a later age. My research revealed that the average marriage age today is 35 years old for women and 38 years old for men. I can see several very good reasons for this. Both men and women are generally established in their careers and their lives by their 30’s, so choosing to marry and have a family is a commitment that can richen their lives. Many women prefer to have a career before they take on marriage and motherhood. There is also a level of emotional maturity and intelligence that comes with age that (we hope) makes relationships and child-rearing more painless and fulfilling at later time in our lives.

This is in stark contrast to the marriage age in the 19th century. The average age for women to marry was, roughly, 20 to 22, while for men, it was 26. Why were women marrying at such a young age, nearly 15 years younger than they do today? We want to remember women were not as autonomous as they are today, especially not in the first three-quarters of the century. Due to the separate spheres, many women were dependent on others for their livelihood, and marriage was the primary way they could survive when they came of age. There was also the “cult of True Womanhood” mentality where women’s destinies were to be wives and mothers, so marriage was seen as their goal in life.

Surprisingly, upper class women took the marriage age as more crucial than middle and lower class women. You would think women with social and economic privileges would be more independent than their less privileged sisters, but, in reality, family and social expectations lay heavily upon them (a theme that comes back again and again in the Waxwood Series). Women who expected to marry into high society and/or maintain their position among the blue bloods had to marry young. In her book What Would Mrs. Astor Do? author Cecelia Tichi describes actress and model Evelyn Nesbitt, whose decision to marry the rich but abusive Harry Kendall Thaw came largely from the fact that she was “now over twenty years old, a perilous age for a Gilded Age starlet harboring hopes of matrimony” (Tichi, location 3210). How much over? According to Tichi’s book, when Nesbit married Thaw, she was 21 years old.

In Pathfinding Women, the social standing of both Vivian and her mother Larissa hinge on Vivian marrying again. Vivian and her mother and, in fact, the Washington Street blue bloods that make up their social set are hyper aware of this fact:

Vivian thought with irony of the past few days. “Yes, it would certainly be peaceful for us both if I were to become Mrs. Monte Leblanc.”

“And just what you need at this particular time in your life.”

A pain shot through Vivian. “What do you mean, Mother?”

“You always accuse me of ignoring the truth,” said Larissa. “But you don’t like it when someone else shows you the truth you’ve been ignoring.”

Vivian turned up the gas lamp on the night table and observed her mother’s face illuminated by a yellow halo. “You’ve always been shrewd, haven’t you, Mother?”

“I’m trying to make you see!”

“See what? That I’m not getting any younger?” Vivian’s eyebrows arched. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it? You think I ought to grab the first man that asks me like Cousin Emma did.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that.” Her mother’s voice was reasonable. “But twenty-six is an age where a woman can begin to expect little out of life if she’s not married.”

You make twenty-six sound like ninety-six,” said Vivian, realizing she was starting to sulk.

Vivian is considered, by the standards of the 19th century, to be well above the marriage age, though she is still young, and this puts her in an awkward position matrimonially, and one that her love interest, Monte, who is considerably older than she is, doesn’t fail to grasp and try to use to his advantage.

Pathfinding Women is the third book of the Waxwood Series and will be out on September 13. But you can grab a preorder copy now at a special price here. To find out more about the series, please go here.      

Want more fascinating information about history? Like social and psychological history and not just historical events and dates? Want in on exclusive sneak peaks, giveaways, and polls? Then sign up for my newsletter! Plus, you’ll get a free short story when you do :-). Here’s the link!

Works Cited:

Tichi, Cecelia. What Would Mrs. Astor Do? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age. Washington Mews Books, New York University Press, 2018. Kindle digital file.

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