Whatever possessed me me to try an epistolary story about Christmas in 1816 London? The challenge? Perhaps. I had the story all figured out, but it seemed -- well, lacking something. So I started over and put it into letters and diaries, in a truly antique style. Hope you will enjoy trying it out to see if it worked. But as the ads say, act now! The collection is $.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited. It will no longer be available after April 2019. Click on the notice below.
This is the cover image for my short story in the Christmas Ever After Anthology. It is a fashion plate from La Belle Assemblee, April, 1817. Here is a very brief blurb: 'Margaret is a wealthy heiress and Lawrence is a poor doctor . . . or is he?' Below are the portraits best representing how I visualize my primary characters. On the left is Lawrence Lannon, aspiring physician, in the guise of Hart Davis Jr. (1792-1854) painted in 1809 by Sir Thomas Lawrence, from the collection of Eton College. On the right is Thomas Sully's 1810 portrait of Margaret, actually Cornelia Mitchell Chamberlain, from the collection of Amherst College.
Epistolary novels have a very long history. Aphra Behn, (c.1640-1689) often credited as the first professional woman novelist, published the first in a trilogy mostly in letter format, in 1684. Samuel Richardson used the format, as did Jane Austen in several first drafts of her novels, and in Lady Susan as it was eventually published after Austen's death.
Two more recent best-sellers, 84 Charing Cross Road (actually not really fiction), published in 1970 by Helen Hanff, and the 2008 hit The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, were epistolary novels, and both were very successful films as well. You may be able to think of many more.
I am currently finishing up another short story, with the working title of Sarah and Paul, set in rural Sussex and in the town of Worthing on the coast. It should be included in the anthology Summer Escapes, to be an e-book published by Dreamstone Publishing in July 2019. So far it is not written in the form of letters! I'm also looking through my photographs to find a suitable background for the cover image. Not to mention searching for a better title. Below is a dilapidated grotto on the grounds of Calke Abbey, a model for a grotto in the story currently known as Sarah and Paul.
Guess I'll have to get back to you on the progress of these tasks!
After I showed you what I saw at my two visits to the Downton Abbey exhibition in West Palm Beach, Florida, I thought I'd feature this week my actual visit to the house that stars as the title character: Highclere Castle. It was September, 2014.
Above the main entrance (and reportedly in the dining room) is the family motto of the Earls of Carnarvon: UNG IE SERUIRAY, which (again reportedly) is Norman/French for 'Only One I Serve.' Suitably problematic to interpret?? Which ONE?
The facilities, including luncheon area and tempting shops, supply all your needs.
In the distance, the legendary source of British wealth, the ubiquitous sheep. Also required for the landscapes of Capability Brown, who laid out this park in 1770-71.
Another requirement of Brown's designs, a typical folly, a faux-ruin known as Jackdaw's Castle. Below, the house from Jackdaw's Castle.
Views of the lovely walled garden full of early roses.
We toured the main floor of Highclere Castle, seeing many of the rooms used to film Downton Abbey. Since no interior pictures were allowed (WHY??), I have appended a few selections from internet sources. On the HC site you can take a 360-degree tour and even download an app with all the information.
The main hall in which the family often gathers in the series.
The Dining Room.
Cora, Lady Grantham, and the Dowager Countess in Cora's boudoir.
In its present form, Highclere Castle was designed by Sir Charles Berry (1795-1860), the architect of the Houses of Parliament and constructed in the (neo) Jacobean style in the There is much more of interest in the history of Highclere Castle. Enjoy their website at
Here I am being greeted by Carson, the Butler, welcoming me to the Downton Abbey Exhibition in West Palm Beach, Florida. Actually I have visited it twice and loved it both times!
Costumes, sets, many REAL objects, all carefully curated to present an interactive experience, makes this exhibition worth more than a second visit to be honest. Much of it is touchable! Below, the radio and the telephone.
On the left, above, checks; and right top, 10 shilling note, below, a one pound note.
If only Maggie Smith had been there to describe this costume for her role as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham...
Or I would have settled for Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley to tell me about WWI service .
Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson holding a meeting in his office?
While Mrs. Patmore and Daisy prepared meals in the kitchen.
The sets reproduced in this exhibition represent the sets from the series as constructed in the UK's Ealing Studios to appear as the rooms might have been years ago at Highclere Castle, the house that stars in the series. Many scenes are set at Highclere itself.
Above and below, Lady Mary Crawley's bedchamber.
Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them. Below, the costumes of Bates and Anna, valet and ladies maid to Lord ad Lady Grantham, in the set or the Servant's Hall.
More views of the Servant's Hall. They not only eat and work here; from time to time they gather around the piano to sing.
Probably most spectacular were the costumes, most accompanied by recorded discussions by the designers who used both period outfits and new creations made of period-accurate materials.
Wedding gowns were frequent and glorious!
I will leave it to fans of the series to sort out which season was which, with the time stretching from 1912 onward. I was far too captivated by the bling to study the labels, so shame on me.
The accessories -- jewelry, gloves and purses, and the hats were equally admirable.
The final scene was the dining room, reproduced from the original in Highclere Castle, but allowing for the cameras to move more freely. The screen behind the table shows the portrait of Charles I that hangs in the Castle one of many versions of the VanDyck painting. The changing screen also illustrated other aspects of the series. Below, an actual photo of the Highclere dining room.
You will never guess how the exhibition ends....the Gift Shop!
The view above is a 1935 painting of Wilton House by Rex Whistler (1905-1944). Inside, the house is replete with great works of art in multiple media. Many members of the Herberts, the Earls of Pembroke and their families, were avid collectors.
Rembrandt's Mother Reading, c. 1629, by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), is one of the most famous paintings in the collection of Wilton House.
Above, Edward VI, school of Hans Holbein. The only son of Henry VIII, Edward VI (1537-1553) reigned only six years and died of lung disease at age fifteen. The first Earl of Pembroke served the Boy King as well as his half-sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Above are versions of Van Dyck's portraits of, left, the Children of Charles I, and right, Charles I. There are many more portraits of family and royalty in the Double Cube Room.
I found myself more interested in the portraits than the landscapes and other works. Below, a few more.
Above, Henriette de Querouaille, Countess of Pembroke, wife of Philip, 7th Earl, and sister of Louise, mistress of Charles II and mother of the 1st Duke of Richmond. The portrait was painted by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) and hangs on the chimney-piece in the Single Cube Room.
Catherine Woronzow, Countess of Pembroke, (1783-1856) second wife of the 11th Earl, married in 1808, and is referred to in the guide book as the "unsung heroine" of Wilton House. She was the daughter of Count Woronzow, Russian /ambassador to Britain. James Wyatt, architect, had made many changes to Wilton House beginning in the early 19th century, helping to turn the house into a modern residence. However, he had also gained the title "Destroyer" in some eyes. After he was dismissed in 1810, the Countess supervised the completion of the rebuilding and redecoration. One of her projects was to purchase William Kent furniture from the Wanstead House auction for the State Rooms; another was to design new landscape gardens. She was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Elizabeth Spencer Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1737-1831) and Her Son, by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1764.
Elizabeth Beauclerk (1766-93), first wife of the 11th Earl of Pembroke, was painted by Sir William Beechey.
Wilton House, near Salisbury in Wiltshire is renowned for its architecture, interiors, treasured artworks, and all the elegancies associated with the most distinguished of Britain’s stately homes. And, like some of the others, it is frequently the scene of major filming for cinema and television. The South Façade is the location of the State Apartments created by James Wyatt in the early 19th century, replacing the 17th century arrangement of rooms by Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1665) and his assistant Isaac de Caux.
Above, Wilton’s Double Cube Room plays Buckingham Palace in episodes of The Crown on Netflix. Below, it doubles for Pemberley in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice.
Two more films shot at Wilton, among many others. Below. left. The Madness of King George; right, Outlander, season two, used the Double Cube Room for the Palace of Versailles.
The Double Cube Room, originally called The King's Great Room, is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide and thirty feet high. The magnificence of the room defies description! The ceiling decoration is clearly in the baroque style.
The central ceiling panels show three views of the legend of Perseus painted by Emmanuel de Critz. The twelve-foot coving was decorated with swags, urns, and putti by Edward Pierce, a frequent collaborator with Architect Inigo Jones. They are dated c.1653.
Below, the painting for which the room was designed, a Family Portrait of the 4th Earl of Pembroke and his family by Van Dyck. Numerous other portraits by Van Dyck and his studio adorn the walls.
The Double- and Single-Cube Rooms were part of the State Rooms in which the monarch was to visit and mingle with Lord Pembroke, his family, friends, and retainers. The Single Cube Room, below, was the first of the State Rooms and led into the Double Cube. The furniture is by Chippendale, added in the 18th century.
Above, the Single Cube Room, 30 x 30 x 30 feet. Below, the Great Ante Room, added in the 18th century, and is sometimes thought of as James Wyatt's homage to Inigo Jones.
The King's Bed Chamber and King's Closet were redecorated in the 18th c. for the visit of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1778. Many priceless masterworks hang on the walls.
Returning to the currently used entrance on the North Front, visitors arrive in the Front Hall designed by James Wyatt in 1809. Who better to greet us than The Bard himself. According to the Guidebook, the statue "recalls the 2nd Earl's and his wife Mary Sidney's patronage of literary men and of Shakespeare above all."
Wyatt also redesigned the Upper Cloisters in a Gothic style to house treasured sculptures in natural light. The Dining Room, below, was very recently redesigned and redecorated. Sadly, I had forgotten my dinner invitation.
Numerous other rooms, more than one could count, are worthy of attention. I particularly liked the Large Smoking Room, redecorated by the current Lady Pembroke in 2017. The picture on the left below was taken before the new color scheme was installed. On the right is the yellow moiréed silk now on the walls. The huge bookcase, from the workshops of Chippendale, is a temptation I could hardly survive. What is tucked away inside?
I also found a picture, but did not actually see, the library, also recently redone and reserved for the private use of the family.
Imagine how much work you could get done here -- once you had examined the art and furniture and gazed out the windows for a month or two!
Next time, a look at more of the artwork at Wilton House.
Victoria Hinshaw, Author