It’s been a while since I last posted a blog, so I thought I would start 2019 off right.
The New Year has been observed as a holiday celebration for over 4,000 years, since ancient times in Babylon.
At that time, however, a new year began after the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. It seemed more logical to begin a new year in spring, which is generally thought of as the season of rebirth.
January 1, on the other hand, has no particular significance other than the fact that in 153 BC the Romans decided that a new year should begin on that date. But the date wasn't firmly established until around 46 BC, when Caesar ordered the observance of the Julian calendar, which would then be coordinated with the sun.
So now around the world, we celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31 with parties, festivities, and the playing of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight. But did you know that December 31 is also important for many other reasons?
Here are just a few:
For all you trivia buffs out there, here are a couple of famous people who were born on New Year’s Eve:
Those Babylonian New Year celebrations apparently lasted for eleven days, with each day having its own particular role to play in the festivities.
Today, our New Year’s Eve celebrations—known as Hogmanay in Scotland, Evacuation Day in Lebanon (1946), Grand Purification day in Japan, and the day when the Grand Imperial Ball is held in Austria—all pale in comparison with those celebrations held in Babylon.
The significance of a baby to herald in the new year began in ancient Greece around 600 BC. The baby signified the annual rebirth of their god Dionysus, god of wine and the spirit of fertility. The image of a baby was continued by the Romans but was denounced by early Christians as a pagan practice. The tradition was brought to North America by the Germans who had used this image since the 14th century.
And if you're looking for good luck in the New Year, the shape of a ring is considered to bring good luck (symbolizing coming full circle and completing the year), and in that context, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Eve will bring good fortune for the coming year! I particularly like that idea.
Cabbage is another good luck vegetable consumed by many cultures on New Year’s Day. Cabbage leaves are supposedly a sign of prosperity, and rice eaten on New Year’s Day is also considered by some to be lucky.
Whatever your beliefs or traditions might be, I wish each and every one of you a very happy and healthy New Year. And make sure that one of your resolutions for 2019 is to read more books!
Welcome back for more little-known information about Gone with the Wind, one of the most popular film adaptations.
It is hard to imagine that more than 30 million copies of Margaret Mitchell’s book have been sold around the world. The publisher offered Mitchell a $500 advance and a 10% royalty in 1936, which was pretty good at that time.
Although the movie was widely anticipated following the success of the book, there was still much opposition along the way.
For example, the Daughters of the Confederacy campaigned against Vivien Leigh playing the part of Scarlett O’Hara because she was British. But when they were told that the role might go to Katherine Hepburn, they stopped protesting, declaring “better an Englishwoman than a Yankee!”
The fact that the movie had three directors also caused many incidents on set. Vivien Leigh apparently brought a copy of the book to the set every day to irritate the second director, Fleming, because not only did she disagree with George Cukor being replaced by him, but she also thought the book was far superior to Fleming’s interpretation. When Selznick finally became the third and last director, Leigh recalled that he “shouted at me to throw the damned thing away.”
One scene called for Clark Gable (as Rhett) to resort to tears, but he refused to cry, claiming it would “ruin his image.” He even threatened to walk off the set.
Fleming decided to shoot two versions, one with Gable crying and one with his back turned away in heavy sorrow. He then managed to convince Gable that the weeping version was better as it would endear him to his audience.
Burning of Atlanta
And then of course there was the famous “burning of Atlanta” scene, the filming of which was so sensitive to many Southerners.
This scene was the first one to be shot even before Vivien Leigh had been cast as Scarlett O’Hara. It was the most expensive scene ever shot at that time at a cost of $25,000 and was a big risk for the studio to undertake. If something had gone wrong, the whole film might never have been made.
The studio chose to burn the old set of King Kong for the burning of Atlanta, and local residents thought it was so real that they called the fire brigade.
At that time in movie history, the Atlanta-burning scene was the most epic visual depiction ever shot. It managed to show the absolute terror of being trapped in a city while desperately trying to escape. It was accompanied by the brilliant Max Steiner musical score and marked a turning point in the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, when he appears suddenly and whisks her to safety on a road exiting the city but then abruptly leaves her to make her own way. This turns her emotions upside down as she resents him while not wanting to be parted from him.
More Gone with the Wind Facts
Three other things about this iconic book-to-movie saga intrigue me:
So, even if you “don’t give a damn” about whether books or movies are better, remember one more thing about this saga. The famous line at the end of Gone With The Wind spoken by Rhett as he leaves—“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”—came about with its own amount of controversy.
Producer Selznick had pleaded for months to keep the word “damn” in the film and past the Hays Code. It was an integral part of the story and summed up Rhett’s feelings about Scarlett and everything he had endured. “My dear, I don’t care,” would NOT have had the same impact. Even the dictionary definition of the word “damn” only records it as “a vulgarism.” Eventually Selznick won his point and the famous line remained.
Interesting how times have changed!
Enjoy this 1961 theatrical re-release trailer for Gone with the Wind, which marked the 100th anniversary of the Civil War in 1861.
Do you prefer to read the book before you see the movie? Or do you like to see the movie first?
Often we are disappointed and even critical, asking ourselves if the movie did justice to a brilliant piece or writing. Or did the screen adaptation improve the words of the author? Or perhaps you liked the book and the movie equally?
There have, however, been many excellent books made into movies. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, for instance, as both books and movies have been equally well received and idolized by many! But that doesn’t happen very often.
My all-time favorite book/movie is “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell.
In my opinion, both the book and the movie are excellent, considering the fact that the book was written in 1936 and the movie was made in 1939 without benefit of the modern screen techniques of today. It soon became the most successful film in box-office history and the highest-earning film made up to that point, a record it held for the next quarter of a century.
Some facts about the book and movie you may not know:
Not everyone liked Gone with the Wind. Many reviews were uncomplimentary, including Ralph Thompson of the New York Times: “The book would have been infinitely better if it had been edited down to 500 pages . . . Every reader will agree that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject.”
Unfortunately, Margaret Mitchell's life was cut short. Ten years after the release of the film, on August 11, 1949, she was fatally struck by a car as she and her husband crossed the street after leaving a movie house. She was only 48 and had never written another book.
The movie set a record with its many awards, receiving 10 at the 1939 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best supporting actress (Hattie MacDaniel), who set a record by becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award.
Production for the movie had been difficult from the start.
But the story certainly does not end there. There is, of course, the famous “burning of Atlanta” scene to talk about. That alone, and so much more about the actors and the movie, deserves another blog: next week!
What's your favorite scene in Gone with the Wind?
With all the craziness going on in the world today, both tragic and unbelievable, I thought I would take a break away from the serious side of life and work on a simpler, slightly amusing blog, while enjoying these strange "dog days of summer."
I was recently reminded of something that happened to me not long ago and it concerns dogs and cats.
I was at a meeting in the home of a friend who owns a cat. There were 14 people in the room. Thirteen of them were cat lovers. Enter one silky black cat. It surveyed the scene in typically superior feline manner and headed straight for the one person in the room who dislikes cats. Me!
Settling itself complacently on my lap despite my initial protest, I then pretended I was enjoying the attention. Inwardly I was trying to tell it—nothing personal, fella, but I’m a dog person! Always have been.
I admit that cats are definitely intelligent creatures. How else would every last one of them in the neighborhood know when there is a freshly dug border in our yard ready for planting? With an instinctive built-in radar system they all head straight for it. They then proceed to open an account and leave a deposit!
Another thing about cats is that they don’t seem to need people. Mostly they live out their nine lives as independent beings, oblivious to us humans other than for a need to be stroked, fed or to act as their obedient slave. I feel they are always judging us and more often than not we are found to be lacking.
Dogs, on the other hand, love you unconditionally. You are their pal for life. I know I am biased, but most dogs we have owned confirm this belief.
When I was a child we owned a German shepherd who was so intelligent she always knew when a visitor to the house had outstayed his or her welcome. She would stand up, stretch, walk over to the visitor and yawn very loudly. It always did the trick!
More recently we owned a dog that was part French poodle and part English Terrier known as a Terripoo. Because of his mixed heritage he was cursed with an adorable split personality. The poodle in him liked to be bathed, perfumed, fed treats, cuddled and thoroughly spoiled. His terrier blood enjoyed digging holes, chewing and eating rags and going for long walks with the wind in his nostrils and his ears blowing behind him. We named him Jake (a mixture of French Jacques and English Jack.)
Territory is always important to a dog. Jake knew exactly where he was or was not allowed to go. In our kitchen, breakfast nook, hallway and family room he was King, but he was never allowed in the front room or upstairs. The temptation for him was great, but his four tiny blonde paws never strayed across the imaginary lines. He respected our decision. We respected his control.
I could continue to extol the virtues of the dog although I have to admit that the last dog we owned, Rupert, was a little different from the rest. He was a breed apart. He was part poodle but mostly Shih-Tzu. He was lovable and cute but very stubborn and thought his Chinese background allowed him to lie on a cushion all day and guard the “palace” as his ancestors had once done.
I am sure I have already alienated myself from every cat lover I know and for that I apologize. And somewhere out there is a cat who knows I have written this piece and is lying in wait for me. He wants revenge and he means business.
So I will continue to enjoy these “dog days of summer,” an expression which dates back to ancient times when people in different parts of the world began drawing images of the sky by connecting the dots of stars now called constellations.
Among the images they drew were dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) and the brightest of the stars was Canis Major (a big dog named Sirius) which rises and sets with the sun in late July. This star adds heat causing sultry weather to follow, sometimes well into September, hence the name the “dog days of summer.”
And I think I will continue to “go to the dogs.”
But I’d love to hear from both dog and cat owners with your opinions. I have thick skin, so please let me know if you agree or disagree. I can take it!
Due to a shortage of females in British Columbia, Canada, in the 1860s four ships were sent out from England to Victoria carrying, among other things, a cargo of young women.
The four ships (the Tynemouth, Robert Lowe, Marcella, and Alpha) became known as “the bride ships” and arrived as a result of the Columbia's Emigration Society’s initiative to send women to help populate the colonies with British citizens.
The most well-known of these ships was the S.S. Tynemouth, which arrived in September of 1862, a year of great change in Victoria. Included in her cargo were 60 women aged between 14 and 20 who traveled to the new world in unimaginable, horrific conditions in steerage.
Throughout the mining camps, there was a surplus of men anxious for female companionship! The hope was that these women would marry and settle north of the 49th parallel. But their journey to the west coast was horrendous.
Only half of the 60 young women aboard the Tynemouth have been officially traced. After all, these were the frontier days of British Columbia and few records of their whereabouts were kept.
However, Frederick Whymper, an artist, wood engraver and travel writer, traveled aboard the S.S. Tynemouth and kept a journal of the events that took place. Today a mountain on Vancouver Island is named for Whymper.
Many of the women aboard the Tynemouth did eventually marry and have families, and we have learned their names and future whereabouts from the passenger list.
For instance, Mary Macdonald, a musician, later married Peter Leech, a one-time gold miner and then Victoria’s city engineer; Jane Saunders married extremely well and helped turn her late husband James Nesbitt’s biscuit company into something of an empire; and Isabel Curtis married at fifteen and went to live in what is today the town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island.
On the other hand, some of the women ended up in the mining camps along the Fraser River and made a living as prostitutes. But some did work at other things and became midwives, governesses, and teachers, thereby bettering themselves and the lives they had left behind them in the old country.
The emigration of young women was taken over by the Salvation Army in the late 1800s and after that by the YWCA. The sponsoring of British women to the west coast of Canada did not, in fact, end until just before World War II.
Although many of the so-called “brides” did well for themselves, there remained something of a stigma attached to the women sent out aboard these ships. This may have been simply because their origins were often unknown, ranging from orphans and the working poor to prostitutes.
Peter Johnson’s book Voyages of Hope, tells the story of these bride ships. It is well worth a read.
In my soon-to-be-released novel Providence, I have placed my heroine among these women. I think you will enjoy her fictitious story as she journeyed to the new world in search of a better life.
During the Victorian era, England saw many technological and economic changes and improvements that caused a separate group of people, the middle class, to evolve alongside wealthy aristocrats.
Sadly, there were many who slipped through the cracks—particularly the children without a family. These orphans were often abandoned in society by mothers who could no longer care for them. Most ended up in orphanages.
Many authors at that time, such as Charles Dickens, portrayed these orphanages as overcrowded and unsanitary, and most orphans were dirty and malnourished. Corporeal punishment was excessive. Often the people overseeing these facilities took a major part of the stipends themselves and spent very little on the children.
The mortality rate was atrocious. According to Dickens in Oliver Twist,
But some of the orphans placed in orphanages considered themselves lucky compared to other abandoned children. They were at least provided with food, clothing, and shelter and some minimal education. On the other hand, children sent to workhouses, were not so lucky. Life there consisted mostly of hard grind and no educational opportunities.
The ultimate goal for orphans was to be adopted or for a parent to return for them, but this did not occur very often unless a close relative came forward to take them on. Any adoption that did happen was usually on a very informal basis.
After the age of 15, orphans were expected to earn their own living in the world. As their education had been minimal, the only work available to girls was usually “in service” to the gentry as scullery maids. Boys from country orphanages might alternatively be hired on as farm laborers or gardeners.
Many orphans ended up as criminals living on the streets after the age of 15, doing menial work or begging for money in order to survive. Girls turned to prostitution.
Fortunately, some orphanages at that time actually helped children.
Two particularly philanthropic souls, the Reverend Edward Cridge and his wife, Mary, set sail from England in 1854 aboard the Marquis of Bute to take up tenure at Fort Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia.
Among their many contributions in the new world, including the betterment of education in Victoria, was the Protestant Orphans' Home, founded in 1873 to help the growing number of orphans who previously had depended solely upon the kindness of strangers to take them into their own homes. The Protestant Orphans' Home was officially opened in November of 1873.
Today, the Cridge Centre in Victoria still stands and continues the original work of hope and support for all vulnerable people, offering a women's transition house as well as children and seniors' services and a young parent outreach program.
The protagonist in my upcoming novel, Providence, begins life in a country orphanage in England in the 1840s, where I have depicted, with some poetic license, what life must have been like for those children abandoned in such places.
In my book, I have painted a more optimistic picture of life for those abandoned children who did survive, and when you read it, I hope you'll admire my heroine as she strives to overcome her miserable fate—at all costs.
In today’s world, she would have been a “Me Too” woman, encouraging other women to believe they were capable of anything— if they put their minds to it.
Let me know what YOU think.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex).
This is the third wedding I have attended in my pyjamas! Yes, my daughter and I started watching it live in Canada at the ungodly hour of 2:30 a.m. We did the same when Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married and then Prince William and Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge.)
Prior to that, I lived in England so could watch royal weddings live at a respectable hour! But having English blood pumping through my veins, I have never lost my love of the monarchy and the mystique surrounding it all. I am not ashamed to say that I absolutely wallow in all the royal traditions and history.
Once again, this wedding was well worth waking up early or staying up late for. To begin with, it was good to watch something happy for a change instead of the bad news we are bombarded with daily.
This royal wedding was a positive event, and anyone with an ounce of optimism must have seen the hope for a better world through the eyes of this young couple so obviously in love.
After all, Harry and Meghan have really achieved what at one time would have been the impossible. A prince marrying an African American, divorced woman, and an actress to boot! What would Queen Victoria have thought of that? I’m sure she would not have been amused.
But these two young lovers have brought the monarchy well and truly into the 21st century. Their wedding, executed in their own special way, was a mixture of simplicity and splendor.
We won't quickly forget the wonderful touch of humor provided by the black pastor, the Reverend Michael Curry, who delivered a somewhat lengthy, but very passionate sermon, raising a few royal eyebrows. Or the eternally beautiful “Stand by Me” provided by Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, which sent shivers down many a spine.
The wedding location was also ideal: Windsor Castle.
The castle, built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, has been home to 39 monarchs. Queen Elizabeth II spends her weekends there and has declared it to be her "favorite home."
I have fond memories of many visits to Windsor Castle when I was growing up in England. At that time, there weren't long lines and thousands of tourists everywhere.
Later visits on trips back to England were disappointing because of the crowds and all the strict security—so much a sign of the times these days. Nonetheless, I still love the quaintness of the town of Windsor and the magic of the castle where guards shout “Who Goes There?” and you are warned to stay back or else!
My family and friends in England were smart enough to watch the wedding on television rather than standing for hours in the hot sunshine in Windsor for a mere glimpse of the royals and other celebrities. I think I would have agreed if I were still living in England.
For me, this wedding brought hope for a brighter tomorrow amid all the horror in the world today. I believe Harry and Meghan will do a great deal of good throughout the world—and if I’m wrong I will eat my fascinator (that’s a hat, by the way!).
Did you stay up (or get up early) to watch the royal wedding? Were you as glued to it all as I was? Please leave a comment below.
It isn't a surprise that in the 19th century, health standards were much lower than they are today. Life expectancy in 1850 was only 40 years old.
People rarely went to the hospital, and very few home remedies really worked. Laudanum (a tincture of opium) was used for severe pain, but other drugs such as aspirin did not appear on the market until 1899.
Surgical procedures were often performed in the home under less-than-hygienic conditions. A strong shot of whisky or a rag wrapped in ether were used as anesthetics. Later, chloroform became the anesthetic of choice.
From advertisements in local newspapers, I discovered a few so-called “cures” offered by medicine men who roamed the streets in the Victorian era selling their wares to the unsuspecting:
Since the earliest days of the Fort in Victoria, BC, a plethora of these medicine men drifted in and out of town, advertising themselves as doctors but having little or no medical skill. Most were soon found to be imposters, earning them the title of “quack.”
By contrast, the professional doctor was a much-respected man, despite having few genuine cures at his disposal. He would make home calls only if someone was very sick. Most people could not afford medical attention, and if a doctor was called out, he knew that he would probably not be paid. As a result, many people turned to those “medicine men” who roamed the streets selling their wares and offering cures for “all that ails you—from hangnails to falling hair.”
Well-established doctors in Victoria such as Dr. John Helmcken were incensed by these imposters and the “quackery” they practiced.
By the time the 19th century drew to a close, a group of established Victoria physicians (Helmcken, Fraser, Hannington, Holden, Carter, Milne, Robertson and Hall) had formed a medical association to finally regulate the profession and give it the respect it deserved.
But many people still died far too young.
Women frequently died in childbirth, and people continued to expire from such simple ailments as the common cold turning to pneumonia, infections, or malnutrition over a long period.
Coroners’ reports written between 1865 and 1937 reveal many other strange causes of death, such as “poisoning while in a state of insanity” or “shooting while temporarily insane.”
I also discovered that two men in 1872 died after eating poisonous mushrooms, and two others lost their lives to a knife cut and a gunshot wound, respectively. Many committed suicide or were listed as having died from shock.
One person was attacked by bears in 1873, and another died from a rock falling on him! The following year, one man “took an overdose of a drug used for sun stroke”—perhaps sold to him by one of Victoria’s street medicine men.
Railway workers’ deaths were also numerous, especially among the Chinese population, and many inquests were held after such tragedies as the explosion on board the steamship Queen of the Pacific in 1886, the Point Ellice Bridge collapse in 1896, and the collision between freight and passenger trains on the BC Electric Railway in 1909.
So, even though we might complain about today’s medical plans, if you live in Canada and become sick, aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century?
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.
Through the years, many famous visitors have come to Victoria on Canada’s west coast. The history books and newspapers of the day describe their visits in detail.
For instance, although Queen Victoria herself never visited her namesake city, her daughter Princess Louise, came to the city in 1882. She apparently loved Victoria so much that some thought she would never leave! She was often spotted wandering along Government Street.
Another famous visitor was Winston Churchill, who came in 1929 and planted a tree in Beacon Hill Park.
Members of the British Monarchy are always visiting Victoria. In 1919 the then Prince of Wales came here after WWI and in 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited prior to WWII. In more recent years, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, Prince William, and the Duchess Cambridge with Prince George and Princess Charlotte have graced our shores.
But one man is seldom remembered when we discuss our famous visitors.
That man is Rudyard Kipling, who made three visits to Victoria (in 1889, 1892, and 1907) and included it in his poem “Song of the Cities”:
From East to West the circling word has passed,
Till West is East beside our land-locked blue;
From East to West the tested chain holds fast,
The well-forged link rings true!
Here’s more about the British poet and novelist:
Kipling loved to travel the world, but his time in Victoria, British Columbia, made a special impression on him.
For instance, while staying at the Oak Bay Hotel, he wrote a poem (unpublished) after a "night out" with John Virtue, the proprietor of the Oak Bay Hotel where he stayed in 1907. The first verse of that poem reads:
Judging from Kipling's description of coming back to his room later that night, he must have been a little the worse for wear after a good night out!
In 1908 he wrote his famous description of the city for Collier's weekly magazine in 1908 (vol. 41):
Kipling continued to travel the world for years and published many more books, poems, and short stories before his death in 1936 at age 70.
He received various honorary degrees and awards, some of which he declined, but he did accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He was the first English writer to receive this award.
The pallbearers at his funeral included UK Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, an admiral, and a general.
He is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in London. In Victoria, we still have an apartment building in Oak Bay named for him: the Rudyard Kipling.
Did you know about Kipling’s visits to Victoria? And do you agree with his description of our fine city?
Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
If you enjoyed reading about Kipling, check out this post about another historical figure who chose a significantly different line of work.
Many love themes run throughout my historical family saga series, The McBride Chronicles, set mainly in British Columbia, Canada, and taking place from the 1830s to present day.
While researching romance during those years, I discovered, for instance, that in the Victorian Era (1837–1901), there was a great deal of formal courting. In the upper classes, it was almost an art form.
A gentleman interested in a certain lady could not simply start up a conversation with her at a social event without a formal introduction. And it would be some time before it was considered appropriate to speak to her or for them to be seen together.
After they had been formally introduced at an event, the gentleman would present his card to her if he was interested and wished to escort the lady home. At the end of the evening, the lady looked over the cards she had received and then chose who would be her escort. She would then notify the lucky man by giving him her card in return.
Actual courting only took place in the young lady’s home and always with a chaperone close by, usually her parents. Eventually the courting might progress to the front porch. Any marriage proposal would usually be handwritten, after the gentlemen had first approached the lady’s father.
Fun Historical Tidbits
Here are some more facts I discovered about romance and courtship throughout history:
Love in the 19th Century
But, as I also discovered, not all courting couples adhered to the traditions of their time in history. I decided to portray some such characters in The McBride Chronicles, so I created relationships and love between different classes, women who risked their reputation for love, and love affairs during times of war, when men and women lived only for the moment.
In the 19th century, even the love affair between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was far from ordinary or conventional. She had to propose to him because of their stations in life.
There was a great love between them, despite their frequent quarrels during the marriage. When Albert died at a young age, Victoria went into deep sorrow and mourned him for the remainder of her life.
My own grandparents, Ernest Coulson and Annie Letitia Barber (their wedding in 1898 seen below), had a traditional courtship and were apparently a very loving couple who raised six children.
But judging from their wedding picture, the celebration looked to be rather a sombre affair!
I must admit I regret how love and courtship has changed over the years—even since the 1960s and 1970s when I was young.
Relationships between partners today are more informal. Many choose to live together and have children without the benefit of traditional marriage.
But who am I to judge? Everyone should do what works for them—as long as love is present. Love is really all that matters.
Please leave a comment below and let me know your views about love and romance in the 21st century as opposed to days gone by. I would love to hear from you.