Treasured–Chapter One

treasured finalChapter One

November 1, 1811

Three weeks after Reunited ends

Will arrived at Netherfield’s stables and tossed the reins of Apollo at the ready hands of a boy. Charles arrived just after him—he had lost another race. Both gentlemen had smiles on their faces from their visit at Longbourn, but Will had an extra bounce in his step that made him feel lighter than air as he walked to the house.

The last few weeks of his engagement to Elizabeth had never ceased to amaze him. He could not be bitter about the past and their separation if it created the sweetness they shared since their reunion. Elizabeth meant more to him now than she could have meant to him if he had never believed he lost her love and found her again. Now, after years of waiting, they were just over three weeks from their wedding day. Will’s heart could scarcely contain its joy.

“Ah, Mr. Darcy,” the butler said upon Will’s entry. “The mail has just arrived. These are for you.” He extended a handful of letters.

Will took them and thanked him and sequestered himself in the library. Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley would be arriving any day, escorted by Richard. Several of his Fitzwilliam relations hoped to come for the wedding as well. Lady Catherine had not been invited after Will learned she had schemed with her parson to end their engagement. Apparently, Will’s father had written to Lady Catherine about Will’s attachment to Elizabeth years ago. When Lady Catherine learned of her parson’s relationship to the Bennets of Longbourn and also learned of Will travelling to the area, she put two and two together. Mr. Collins needed a wife, all the better if it were one who would inherit Longbourn. However, once she perceived Elizabeth Bennet as a threat once more, she commanded Collins to marry her—compromise her if he must.

Will’s letter contained the usual news from his steward and housekeepers. Mrs. Annesley reported that Georgiana continued to be alternately withdrawn and angry. Richard confirmed he would escort the ladies. Lady Catherine spewed vitriol on the page. Her daughter wrote begging not to be painted with the same brush as her mother.

Weeks ago, when Elizabeth had first suggested that Will seek out proof from the post offices which might have been the source of the interference of his letters to her, he wrote to them all. He had heard from most of them by now, which all confirmed what the very first post office had indicated. Wickham paid an employee to hand over Will’s letters to Elizabeth. Why Wickham had wanted to disrupt those letters, Will had not yet determined.

He had also suspected Wickham of sabotaging his carriage. To find him, Will hired Bow Street Runners and had Richard ask around Wickham’s favourite haunts in London. Wickham had been in Lincolnshire during the time in question. It appeared the incident with the carriage was a genuine accident.

Now, Will held in his hand a letter from the last post office in Scotland. They had never journeyed further north than this office, as planned, for the fire put an end to all those plans. Even now, Will could smell the stench of burning fabric and flesh, the thick smoke which clogged his lungs and caused his eyes to burn. Merely reading the name of the town was enough to bring him back to that awful night.

Someone knocked on the door and, to distract himself, Will called for the person to enter. Charles invited himself in—after all, it was his library—and settled in a chair near Will.

“Another letter from a post office?”

“How did you know?”

“You have a certain look about you when they arrive. Is this the one, then?”

“And how did you know that?” Will was unused to Charles being so observant.

“For starters, I believe all the others are accounted for. Secondly, it’s the only one that you would avoid and put off, and I see that the seal is unopened. Lastly, your expression was the same as it always is when the fire is mentioned.” He paused and watched his friend. “Yes, that is the look exactly!”

Although Will did not have a looking glass to see what Charles referenced, he could feel the tightness of his muscles and the way his jaw clenched. It felt like turning to stone. “Very well,” Will admitted. “It is the last dreaded reply. I do not know why I bother reading them. They all say the same thing, and there is nothing I can much do about it.”

“You have always believed there was strength in knowledge. One day, you will meet Wickham again and will have your means to prove his deeds.” Charles hesitated. While looking out a window, rather than meeting Will’s eyes, he suggested, “Would you prefer me to read it?”

For a moment, Will was offended at the suggestion. Did Charles believe Will not strong enough to live with the reminder of the worst night of his life? Then, he considered how Elizabeth would react to the news. She was showing him what It meant to have unfailing support in his life. Charles had always attempted to be there, but Will would often push him out. He was working hard to overcome his flaw. It had caused enough heartache.

“I appreciate the offer,” Will answered, at last, “but I believe I can read it. Knowledge of its likely contents makes it easier.”

Swelling his courage, Will turned the paper over and tore open the seal.

Dear Mr. Darcy,

I could hardly contain my surprise at seeing a letter from you after all these years. You, undoubtedly, do not recall me, but I remember you and your traveling companions most vividly. However, I had expected a message from you many years ago.

You may ask how I can remember you so well. It is not often that our town loses its inn and its post office in one night.

Will furrowed his brows. He had forgotten in this particular town, the post office was a mere corner of the inn.

Even more so when it is a victim of arson.

Will’s grip on the paper tightened, and Charles glanced at him in concern at the crinkling noise. He could not answer his friend’s unspoken question. He had to read on.

As such, all letters would have been lost. During the investigation into the fire, we discovered an employee had been bribed into taking several letters of yours and giving them to a gentleman who he believed to be traveling with you. The employee has been cleared of starting the fire, and unfortunately, the culprit is still at large. Oil and tar were used in the fire and buckets of each were found in one of the stables. No other clues had been discovered. No motive was ever established.

The incident is still much talked about as the owner and a few others outside of your party perished. Eyewitness accounts have become a local legend and will soon fade into complete myth. It seems many believe the Greek god of fire is a lanky fellow with sandy blonde hair.

Years ago, I had expected you to be more curious about the nature of the fire or the fate of your letters, but I suppose the losses you sustained that evening and the subsequent burdens you faced were of primary concern.

I regret that I did not have pleasanter news.

All my respect,

C. Whitaker

Will’s mouth went dry as he read and reread the words. His father and Sam died in arson? Who would have cause to start the blaze? Although Will had not known any of the other guests, he supposed only one would have such a strong motive. George Darcy had just settled his will, and Wickham knew he would be amply rewarded in it. Although he had ultimately rejected the living at Kympton, he asked for a handsome sum in addition to the one thousand pound legacy left to him in Mr. Darcy’s will.

Wickham—a murderer? He had killed his own godfather, a man he counted as friend and mentor. He had murdered Sam, who once had been like a brother to him. He had been the means of separating Will from Elizabeth first by the letters and then from the effects of the fire. Dear God! Elizabeth!

The incident with the carriage—which so easily could have harmed or killed her—must have been his doing even if he were out of town.

“Will!” Charles said as he attempted to pull the paper from Will’s vice grip. “Let me see, man!”

Will let go of the paper and barely registered Charles’ tones of shock and violent anger. He too had considered it must have been Wickham.

“I never thought to ask about the source of the fire,” Charles said. “It was too painful to think about. I wanted only to leave it in the past and forget about it as best I could.”

Will silently nodded. “No investigators ever contacted me. No questions were ever asked.”

“Do you see this? A lanky fellow with sandy hair. Could it have been Wickham?”

Again, Will nodded. This time, he was walking to the door when it happened. He was just about to call for his horse when Charles pulled him back into the room.

“What are you doing? Where are you going?”

“To find him!”

“You cannot do that on your own! Think!” Charles pushed Will into a seat and thrust a drink into his hand. “If he really did this—if he was behind the carriage in some way—he is too dangerous to approach. It may even be what he wants. You have always had what he wants, and he has proved he will stop at nothing to try and attain it.”

Georgiana. Wickham’s intended elopement now meant something entirely different. He not only wanted her fortune but her claim on Pemberley.

“Contact your cousin and the Runners again. Tell them to shadow Wickham closely. Report his every movement. Tell them everything!”

“Yes,” Will said, his brain beginning to work properly again. “I shall hire guards as well. Until we have him in custody and are sure he does not have a proxy. A few here and some at Longbourn as well.”

“I had not even considered Longbourn!” Colour drained from Charles’ face.

Will noted with shock. Was his friend thinking of Miss Bennet the way Will thought of Elizabeth? Now was not the time to worry about that but it would bear further consideration later.

“Can I have my sister come? It may not be safe for her.”

“She would be safer with you than away. He could more easily have access to her then.”

“Indeed,” Will said before swallowing the rest of his drink. Charles’ words were far too true.

*****

Will attempted to distract himself with other matters for the remainder of the day. All the while, he longed to return to Longbourn and sweep Elizabeth into his arms. He knew it was not true, but when he held her, he felt as though he could protect her from anything and battle any foe. As it was, his enemy was nigh on invisible.

Even if the Runners could be retained again and locate Wickham once more, it may not help. They had no real proof he had caused the fire all those years ago, and they had nothing but Will’s gut pointing the destruction of his carriage axle to the man. Wickham had an alibi, and there was little use in trying to question him. He had someone else do his bidding, and while wondering how Wickham would have been able to afford to bribe someone, it was pointless to question how he came into the funds. He always did. He was worse than a cat with nine lives.

The possibility that everyone connected with Will would be a target ran through his mind without relent. If they could not find Wickham and make him confess, Elizabeth would never be safe. For that matter, if his end goal was Pemberley, neither was Georgiana. If the fiend had been willing to kill his godfather and friend, then there was nothing he would not do. Charles, Richard, the Bennets—none of them were safe and all because they knew Will.

He pushed his chair from the desk and began pacing around the room. If he put everyone in danger, then he should leave. He should call for his horse now and return to London. His valet could bring the trunks tomorrow. Only…

He had promised Elizabeth he would not leave again. Which was the greater risk? If he left, even with promises to return once all was resolved, it would break her heart. He had vowed to never be the source of her tears again. No catastrophe would draw him away otherwise. Should the worst happen at Pemberley he would direct his steward and demand a hasty marriage from Mr. Bennet or that she accompany him. He would not leave her behind again. However, if being near him put her at risk then it would be selfish to remain.

Mentally exhausted and worried he would wear a hole in Charles’ carpet, Will threw himself in a chair. Elizabeth’s visage came to his mind as he considered how he would tell her of the development. She would cry, and each tear would sting like a dagger to his heart. Would she rant and rave? No, he thought not. She would not demand he stay when she believed his honour and affection for her should do the work for her. No, she would accept his words and a piece of her love for him would die.

He had already known what it was to lose her trust and how difficult it was to earn back. Could he do that again? Could he intentionally put them through that pain once more to apprehend Wickham?

Could he risk losing her affection and love forever, any hope of a future—to keep her alive? It would be a hollow victory indeed for Elizabeth to live but never marry him.

Will had sent an express to Richard as soon as he finished speaking with Charles earlier in the day. Before he went to bed that night, Will received a reply from his cousin. Richard was leaving that very instant—as soon his missive finished—to journey to come early and escort Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana to London. He agreed that having Georgiana near Will presented a problem. However, so did leaving her unattended and Richard could not forsake his duties for long. Richard contacted the Runners once more and set about inquiries for footmen. He also asked if they should tell the Earl.

Will was of two minds on the matter. The Earl had been a very great friend to his father and had never been too intrusive in Will’s own affairs once he became master. Lord Fitzwilliam was aging, and most of his duties were now executed by his eldest son, the Viscount. Will had no quarrel with his older cousin. However, he desired to limit something so personal as his ongoing dispute with Wickham to as few people as possible. The rest of the Fitzwilliam family did not know about Georgiana’s attempted elopement with Wickham. Even Richard did not know about her continued affection for the scoundrel.

When uncertain on who to trust, Will had always kept to his own counsel. He had thought in the future Elizabeth would support him through such times. Now, there was every possibility that there was no future for them. He could not ask her to wait on him once more.

Monday Motivation– Good in every day

Good morning! It’s another Monday. Find some good in it!

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This actually reminds me of my author chat with Leenie Brown and Zoe Burton last Saturday. Our topic was “distractions” and we ended the discussion with the idea that living mindfully and intentionally looking for the good in each day and remembering your focus every day will help redirect your attention. I could get distracted by a Facebook post but no…that’s not my goal today. My goal is to write 1500 words. I could relive the horrors of a bad morning but no…the good that happened this day was that I was able to sit and write for the first time in a week.

It’s so simple and yet so powerful. Tell me about some of the good in your day!

Here’s the video I mentioned! You might have to join our Facebook group called Longbourn Literary Society.

 

Style Saturday- Caroline Bingley’s Gowns

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Be honest. Either you or someone you have known has criticized Caroline Bingley’s gowns in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation. They look shocking to our modern sensibilities–even more so when paired with gowns which fit the aesthetic of the period better. But are they really so inaccurate? I’ll be going over the Meryton Assembly and Netherfield ball gowns, both featured below.

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First of all, it’s hard to establish a specific timeline for the 2005 production. I’ve read that the director wanted it placed nearly ten years earlier than the book’s published date of 1813. Critics usually place the events of the book from 1811-1812. However, that is not perfect as there are a few dates which do not match up perfectly in any year. We know Jane Austen began writing the first draft (titled then as First Impressions) in 1796. Personally, the difficulty with dating the work doesn’t bother me. It’s fiction and it must have been nearly impossible to keep track of dates.

The dating only matters for this post in the fact that after 1795, the fashion world adopted a very different silhouette. France had a brutal revolution to change its political regime and this was reflected in clothing as well.

Caroline’s gowns seem shocking compared to what we think of for the era and compared to other ladies her age in the film. Below is the first hit I got when I googled “regency era gown,” as well as Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Jane at the Meryton Assembly.

By comparison, Caroline’s gowns practically look like something a stripper would wear. However, did the production team really leave history so far behind?

First, let’s consider how thin Caroline’s gown is at the Assembly. You can see the outline of her corset (which is not period correct but we can worry about that another time) and her shoulders and arms.

The 1798 portrait attributed to Louis-Leopold Boilly on the right shows how thin a single layer of muslin is. No wonder Mr. Woodhouse worried for Harriet Smith’s health in the portrait Emma painted of her friend. It was common in the era to see the chemise and/or petticoat underneath the gown. It’s worth mentioning that I don’t see anyone slut-shaming Elizabeth Bennet of the 1995 production for her thin fabric.

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Where is her petticoat? That’s the end of her chemise I see and then *gasp* leg!

Nor is Caroline the only one to wear such thin fabric in the production:

Ok, so thin, flimsy fabric was acceptable. What about the fact that the sleeves are barely there? If the portraits I’ve included aren’t convincing enough, here are fashion plates of the era.

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But her shoulders are so visible!

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Fine, but what about the Netherfield ball dress? She’s practically wearing spaghetti straps and those just weren’t invented yet!

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But so much exposed at once? Bosom, arms, and shoulders! No, no, no!

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I see your bosom, arms, and shoulders and raise you backs and legs!

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Have I found evidence of a thin strapped ball gown from the Regency era. No, I haven’t. However, now that I’ve looked at the portraits and fashion plates of the era and I see the wide variety of acceptable sihlouettes and also just how much skin was exposed, I don’t think they took an extreme liberty. It shows very clearly how different Caroline Bingley’s sense of fashion and style–owning to her London life–is from the Bennets of Longbourn. The first gown seems to fit the era perfectly and yet is still just as astonishingly different from her peers. At the Netherfield ball, the Bennet girls seem to fit the Regency “norm” better: white on white, high waist, puffy sleeves. Yet, Caroline has to look even more extremely different. If she had shown up wearing something just like she wore to the Meryton Assembly not only would it have not enunciated the differences in her status, education, and experiences but it could easily be mistaken for the same gown. I’m SURE Caroline Bingley would NEVER do that, especially in a place like Meryton where she must always look and feel superior.

Other productions do this with MORE. More trimmings, more fabric, lavish fabrics, more jewelry, more headpieces etc., etc. That is accurate to the era. However, so is the idea of sensual simplicity. In fact, that was the entire point of the neo-classical revival.

If Caroline Bingley is the foil to Elizabeth Bennet, then consider what values Mr. Darcy must possess to turn her down and fall for Elizabeth instead. Was it all just turning down Caroline’s wealth and accomplishments? Or was it turning down pretend passions wrapped in pretension while Elizabeth’s earthy and natural charm pulled on his heart? By giving Caroline the more alluring and thin fabrics thereby making her the more overtly sexual being, the production exposes that Darcy’s feelings for Elizabeth run much deeper than physical desire. If half an inch less on a shoulder strap exposes that, then I am all for it.

What do you think? Are you willing to give Caroline’s gowns a pass now or do you remain unconvinced?

Friday Feeling– Storms inside & out

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Parts of the US are expecting a hurricane today. I was one of them until yesterday. I don’t live on the coast, but less than fifty miles from it. Massive flooding from the rivers which surround us was a foregone conclusion. More than that, the winds would still be very strong by the time they hit my house. Faced with the idea of losing power for many days and having to seek shelter in a local school with my special needs kids, I decided to leave the area for higher ground.

It was my first hurricane and I think I over anticipated that it’s trajectory wouldn’t change. I wanted to beat the last minute evacuee traffic and so I left Wednesday afternoon and drove to the mountains of Virginia where I grew up. By the time I got there, reports came in that it’s expected path had shifted and Florence would stay mostly in the Carolinas. In fact, this area might receive more rainfall and wind than my home closer to the coast.

This trip has felt a bit like a fool’s errand. My son came down with an ear infection. My daughter is acting poorly. My fall allergies have kicked in. I’m massively behind on all work. I sleep awful in hotels. I have joked that next time, even if they’re calling for the hurricane to land right on top of my house, I’m staying put. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have adequate rest I just feel like I’m going to die. It even affects how I can handle emotional stress.

I’m currently feeling like there’s not much to anticipate about my Friday. By the time this posts, I will probably be on the road home. My husband manages a 24 hour truck stop and so many of his employees have already left the area that he might be working 20 hours or more tomorrow. So it’s not like I will have a nice break when I get home–although the kids will hopefully cooperate a bit better in our home than where everything is new and not enough to entertain.

However, I’m fortunate. So many will be without power and probably even without homes. This hurricane has changed course and so it means people who will be affected have had less time to prepare. For me, this Friday will be nothing worth feeling special about. For them, this Friday could be the end of a chapter that marks the loss of stability in their life.

I’m sure you join me in prayers and good thoughts for all who will be affected by this hurricane and the other storms to come this season. No matter where you are or what day it is, I hope you find rest. It’s essential for living and for coping with this life.

Throwback Thursday–Somerset v. Stewart

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It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Throwback Thursday post. I’m going to try to do them once a month. My post on Monday has somewhat set the tone for my posts this week. I looked at the opening of Mansfield Park this Monday, so it was only right that the Wordless Wednesday post is of Lord Mansfield and the Throwback Thursday post be about his landmark case, Somerset v. Stewart.

The short story is that James Somerset was an enslaved person in the American Colonies and purchased in Boston by a Charles Stewart, a British customs officer. Somerset was brought to England in 1769. In 1771, Somerset escaped and was eventually captured. He was then imprisoned by Stewart and destined for the slave auction in Jamaica. During his time in England, he was baptized in the Anglican faith, and his three godparents petitioned on his behalf that his imprisonment was illegal.

While Somerset’s side gathered evidence, the case drew the notice of famed abolitionists. They argued that no common law nor positive law (meaning a legislated statute) enacted slavery on English soil. The opponents argued that property ownership was the basis for English law and freeing all slaves in England would be dangerous.

After a month of consideration, John Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, rendered this verdict:

The only question then is, Is the cause returned sufficient for the remanding him? If not, he must be discharged.

The cause returned is, the slave absented himself, and departed from his master’s service, and refused to return and serve him during his stay in England; whereupon, by his master’s orders, he was put on board the ship by force, and there detained in secure custody, to be carried out of the kingdom and sold. So high an act of dominion must derive its authority, if any such it has, from the law of the kingdom where executed. A foreigner cannot be imprisoned here on the authority of any law existing in his own country: the power of a master over his servant is different in all countries, more or less limited or extensive; the exercise of it, therefore, must always be regulated by the laws of the place where exercised.

The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of now being introduced by Courts of Justice upon mere reasoning or inferences from any principles, natural or political; it must take its rise from positive law; the origin of it can in no country or age be traced back to any other source: immemorial usage preserves the memory of positive law long after all traces of the occasion; reason, authority, and time of its introduction are lost; and in a case so odious as the condition of slaves must be taken strictly, the power claimed by this return was never in use here; no master ever was allowed here to take a slave by force to be sold abroad because he had deserted from his service, or for any other reason whatever; we cannot say the cause set forth by this return is allowed or approved of by the laws of this kingdom, therefore the black must be discharged.

The Somerset v. Stewart case was ruled on June 22, 1772. In 1785, Lord Mansfield ruled that a slave who had been brought to England was not entitled to poor relief upon the death of her master because she had never been hired. Despite the groundbreaking work of the Somerset case, Mansfield later made it clear that he did not intend to rule that slavery was illegal on English soil, only that no one but the government could forcefully compel a person to leave and that in that case, slave status was nullified. In the case of poor relief, such laws were legislated and had clear legal parameters to operate in.

Unfortunately, the Somerset case meant little in the grand scheme of the international slave trade. It was but a stepping stone. However, if a legislated law was required to establish slavery, it could also be revoked. This meant that Parliament could, theoretically, have the right to abolish the slave trade and even the practice of slavery entirely. Such legislation would not infringe upon a British citizen’s right to property.

Eventually, the slave trade was outlawed in the Empire in 1807. Slavery would not be abolished in the United Kingdom and its Empire until 1833 and take the tireless work of many, many more.

Tuesday Thoughts–Authenticity

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Not too long ago, I saw a post on Facebook which claimed a specific period drama production was inferior to another because it wasn’t authentic to the era. The original poster based her opinion on matters of costuming and smiling. I’m not joking. She’s certainly entitled to her opinion. However, what upset me was that she claimed, without citing sources, that certain behaviors in the production were inappropriate for the era and productions should be more than dress up.

Well, I would agree with that. What I struggle with is the notion that because one or even five contemporary books mention a behavior as inappropriate for the era that it is conclusive proof.

As a trained historian, I would suggest people start with primary documents. Hopefully, any general information guide to whatever historical era one reads contains well-documented sources and possibly a further reading list. Such books should include many documents which discuss the matter first hand. An example of a primary versus secondary document would be a conduct book from the Regency era stating ladies riding in carriages unchaperoned was scandalous. A secondary document would quote another book (which might very well quote the primary material). The concern is that the middleman might be squeezing something to fit their argument.

The debate doesn’t end once one looks at primary documents, though. For example, the conduct book which says a lady shouldn’t ride alone with a man in a carriage is only one clue to the standards of the era. Consider in nearly ever Jane Austen novel, a lady (even the heroine) does so, and her reputation is not destroyed, and no one presumes an engagement or compromise has happened. Jane Austen was not bandied about as a scandalous author of the era. It can be assumed that society, in general, was not as rigid as the conduct book would appear to make it seem. The work doesn’t stop there either. Add other works of fiction and non-fiction to your research list. Add personal accounts and newspapers. Look at art from the era. Understand the artist and the context. Just because it was painted does not mean it was portrayed in a good light. Consider and consider again and again.

Once you have done so, remember that you have only researched to your own best abilities. Someone else might have spent twenty years in the Cambridge library and uncover documents which point in a different direction. Remember that there is an entire field of study called historiography, which is about the changing ways historians study and discuss history. Even historians can’t agree on things let alone for all eternity.

History is a living thing. It is shaped by those in the past, present, and future. If you want authenticity in history, you had better build a time machine and even then, it might vary wildly based on your own experience. For example, I have always lived in an area where there were few vegetarians and organic produce is hard to come by. However, other regions have an entirely different experience. If someone would write a book in the future about a heroine who enjoyed meat and never had organic produce, someone might scoff, but it’s quite accurate.

Now, consider what the book is attempting to tell the readers by making the heroine a carnivore with tainted produce. Does she not care about her health? Or is it part of a health regimen? Does she not believe in all the research? Is it a financial concern? Is availability a factor?

By the same token, consider that no one could have gone around and studied every single person of the gentry class and record if they smiled with their teeth. On the other hand, stays (not called corsets) and fashion prints from the era have survived, and while I am entirely sure some women likely modified them to enhance their ahem, attributes, that was not the original intent for them. One might consider why a lady would change them and what it would mean about her personality and character. What would it say about a gentleman who is attracted to a lady who does such? For that matter, if smiling with your teeth “bared” is indeed so bad, under what conditions would a person do so? What would it signal about their feelings? How might others react?

It’s important when you are considering a piece of media, whether it be film or book, and its representation of history to understand its attempt at authenticity. The first step is to educate yourself. After you have investigated history, you must evaluate your source of media. Only then can you begin to unveil the authenticity of the work in question.