Monday, February 28, 2011


Gentle Readers, are you having difficulty telling who is who in War and Peace, for those of you who are brave enough to attempt reading this monolith? Be not afraid, the Amateur Historian has a helpful schema for you!

1. Does this character speak French?

2. Does this character speak Russian?
Then they're good!

3. Is this character French?

4. Is this character associated with the countryside?
Then they're good!

5. Is this character associated with the city?

6. Is this character a young woman?
Then they will marry, retire to the countryside, and lose every character trait that made them interesting.

7. Do you like this character?
Too bad, because they're going to DIE.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Costume Links

For those who are fans of historical costuming, here is a link to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's online searchable database.

You can see the real versions of these clothes:

The Beau Brummel Mystery Series!

Gentle Readers, my sincerest apologies for a long and unexplained absence! The Amateur Historian, though being but a modest student of history, is in reality a full-time student at university writing an honors thesis. Since that is (mostly) finished, I hereby swear that your Amateur Historian will again be purveying amusing historical anecdotes.

And book reviews!

The Amateur Historian, as it must be admitted, has a soft spot for dandies, and Beau Brummel is certainly the One Dandy to Rule Them All. So, when she spotted a mystery series about said gentleman, she immediately checked out several books at once. The text itself is... mostly successful. Sort of.

It is extremely clear that the Beau Brummell mystery series by Rosemary Stevens is painstakingly and wonderfully researched, but the Amateur Historian has to question both the detective ability of a man who took four hours to get dressed every morning, and the author's addiction to descriptive clause openings for sentences. If you will forgive the momentary pastiche, a paragraph reads something like: "Wearing a black bombazine dress with a high- waist and a black lace mantilla, she came towards me. Thinking quickly, I deduced it was because no one of fashion wears bombazine unless they were in mourning. As I am known as the arbitrator of fashion, she should have known better- how could she have known her rich uncle had been foully murdered when I had out-ridden the messenger come from London? Smirking, I lifted my quizzing glass...." and so on and so forth until there's slightly awkward dialogue.

The problem with having really clever characters- or using historical personages that are well known for their bon mots and on-dits and scathing wit- is that they actually have to sound clever when they're speaking. If one is not particularly clever at turning a phrase in Austen-style language, or coming up with a subtle yet scathing insult without tumbling into cringe-inducing territory, one had best get a really cracking editor. Beau Brummel was known as much as for what he said as for what he wore. There is also the matter of Brummell's love life. Though one would have certain... associations, shall we say, with basically the Regency equivalent of a male model, Brummell is staunchly heterosexual and, oh joy of joys, also receives a Mary Sue as his potential love interest, as well as (for some reason) the Duchess of York. You know, the one who was so ugly all the newspapers praised her small feet, leading Gillray to create this print?

She's apparently prettier than the Duchess of Devonshire.


On the other hand, the plotting of the mystery is excellent and the murders are always extremely interesting. They read like plots Agatha Christy might have come up with if she was writing about Regency Britain.

The Beau Brummel mystery series has the distinction of being better plotted than another series of novels solved by real life historical figures of the Regency Era, i.e. the Jane Austen mystery series. Neither of them has the distinction of having main characters as witty as their real life counterparts. The Amateur Historian's advice on the disappointing repartee in both?

If you are going to have someone famous for their wit as your main character, you have to make them witty. This is one case where shameless plagerism of someone else's aphorisms and quips is a really good idea.