Child Rearing in 19th Century France

You see I cannot take my child into the country. Work forbids it. With a child I could not find a place there…it will not be long before I come back. Will you keep my child for me?” ~ Fantine, Les Misérables

Such was commonplace in 19th century France. Of children born in 1875, 93,000 were abandoned by their parents, and one out of fourteen was illegitimate. There were hospices in every arrondissement in Paris, and the poor often could not afford to work and care for their kin. Among the upper class, one would think life might have been a bit easier in terms of child rearing. But often that wasn’t the case.

Bonhams - John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Portrait of a Child 22 x 16in

Ever wish parenthood came with a manual? Instead of plunging your lower body into the fiery pits of hell to push something the equivalent of alien out of your body, only to be told to to communicate with the mute pile of smiling wrinkles and enjoy it for the next eighteen years…

In 19th century France, apparently parenthood did.

For centuries, children were viewed as second class citizens–property to be dressed like adults and worked like adults. There were strict rules of conduct placed upon them. Upper class children were afforded education, but that did not make their position in the family any higher. Daughters were to learn their place in the family and society from their mothers, and coldness and distance was a characteristic relationship between some fathers and sons in aristocratic families.

A manual in 1886 titled Well Brought Up Children instructed children thusly:

When you have the honour to be admitted into the salons of your mothers, you must behave yourself in such a manner that they do not regret having accorded you this favour… You will, rightly, not dare present yourself in a salon without your gloves. Provincials are even more rigid observers of the etiquette than we.

Its counterpart, a study of Badly Brought Up Children, instructed the way to be successful in child rearing was to be an authoritarian. “By the exercise of authority, one makes one’s sons respectful and men of duty.” This book argued that children had one instinct–a fear of being left to suffer.

On the opposite side of such literature was Paul Janet who, in 1861, praised intimacy in the family unit. He insisted this did not ruin the strength of a family but reinforced it. In years past children were neglected, respected only as far as roles of primogeniture. By following Janet’s work, parents sought to win respect by love not discipline. But like the above manual by Comtesse de Ferry, children still remained an instrument for parental aspiration and social gain for years to come.

The transformation of the family began when children rose to a position of central importance in the home, after years of neglect, and were accorded a basic right of a life different from that of their parents–when children were allowed to be seen as children and not business tools. Before this shift, there was no social gain to being a good parent or a mar to being a bad one. The family wasn’t a sentimental unit. (Yet those manuals still were being published…)

The increase families slowly took in their children didn’t mean overnight liberation from strict rules or preoccupied parents. Neglect was replaced with obsessive love (many of these manual had opposing views), often resulting in increased demands on the children to act and behave as their parents desired. These manuals seemed counterproductive. According to Ryerson’s Medical Advice on Rearing Children 1550-1900, it was preached that newborns should be purged, scheduled feedings were not needed, wet-nurses were preferred and cold baths were a good thing. Then came the manual that said warmth was better, sex play, masturbation, and discovering their young bodies was bad and thumb-sucking was a horrible thing. Heaven forbid you bite on anything whilst teething! Despite all this, a parent needed to show the child affection–but not too much! It would be wrong to over stimulate them.

This author and  mom admits to buying in to the modern manuals. I had the What to Expect books, the Happiest Baby books, the millions of pamphlets provided by various doctors, teachers, and organizations. I think there’s a reason children don’t come with manuals.

They will only eat the paper and demand a cookie chaser.



originally posted by the author on Unusual Historicalsimage Bonhams:John Singer Sargent Portrait of a Child

OCD is not an adjective.

I recently saw this video and felt it should be shared–and heeded. One of the top things that get under my skin is when people casually throw around the term “OCD.”  If they are obsessed with something they are “so OCD” about it.  If they have a quirk that makes them funny or unique, they are “OCD”  It’s a designer term used so frequently it has lessened the mental illness.

You can’t “be” OCD.  Just because you like your cookies arranged in pretty jars, have to pull and all-nighter for a report, or like your socks to match your shirt  does not mean you have OCD. If you love Christmas you do not have “Obsessive Christmas Disorder,”  you just like Christmas.  If you love coffee you do not have “Obessive Coffee Disorder”, you just like coffee. If you love sweets are you “so diabetes” about it? If you cry at sad movies and then can go out partying with your friends,  is that “so bi-polar of you?”  The mental illness is real.  OCD is used too often as an adjective… and it shouldn’t be.

Please cease telling those of us with OCD to stop being so sensitive to this.  To… get a sense of humor. I have Pure O, a type of OCD that involves intrusive thoughts, not necessarily compulsions. Let me tell you, it’s hell.  Kissing my daughter good-bye today I thought: “This is the last time I will ever see her because I am going to die in 5 minutes.”  Tell me, was that funny to you? It wasn’t to me. So I will never have a sense of humor over OCD being used causally to sell t-shirts or describe quirks. I would rather people educate themselves to what it really means for those of us that have this disease.

Walk 3 minutes in my brain and get back to me on if you are so “OCD.” Or watch this video and educate yourself….


Symbolism of Colors in The Phantom of the Opera

Our black-masked Phantom is a rather dark character, physically and mentally. Various colors are used in different ways throughout The Phantom of the Opera. What’s the symbolism behind them? The primary colors in various versions are black, white, pink, red and yellow.

People associate color with two things, natural and psychological reactions.

Naturally we associate black with night and darkness. Psychologically black is the evil color, the color of villains in old westerns, the color of Death and bad omens. Black expresses the unknown and the underworld where daylight does not reach… just like in Leroux and Erik’s lair. Black can represent bad luck or misfortune. Across the various versions, black is prevalent in Phantom. Leroux lets the reader know how steeped in death Erik is and at one point writes that people shouted at Erik: “There goes the Grim Reaper.” We see Erik in his black mask and funeral clothing depicting him as a shadowy figure and the anti-hero. Black, in conjunction with Erik, is a color to instill suspicion, fear and mistrust.

White is naturally seen as light. Psychologically it evokes purity, cleanliness and a soul passing to heaven. White becomes our hero-unscathed and perfect. In Webber’s 2004 movie version of Phantom, Raoul dashes off in a white shirt upon a white horse to save Christine– a blatant cliché if I ever saw one. In Leroux, Raoul wears the white domino, showing the reader not his heroism, but his innocence and sexual naivety. Erik and Christine are the ones wearing the manipulative and menacing black.

Red draws our mind toward many things, love, passion, blood, infatuation. Red symbolizes strong emotions such as excitement, strength, danger, and aggression. I love the use of infatuation here in terms of Leroux as Erik was driven by this emotion-not love. We lean toward passion as it relates to death in the original novel. Think of Erik as the Red Death and the red brocade fabric surrounding his coffin and the stave of the Dies Irae. These things connected to death make us discontent and passionate. In Webber we see it mostly in terms love. Think of all those red roses Erik leaves…

Yellow we naturally associate with heat, sun, etc. Psychologically, like with green, we lean toward gold and wealth. It can symbolize optimism and idealism verses dishonesty, cowardice, deceit, illness, and hazard. In Phantom, yellow can be seen as the ‘other’ color; the color that represents the outside world of Erik and one that makes him an outcast among nobles. His yellow skin is associated with oriental themes prevalent during Leroux’s time making Erik and outcast among a ‘normal’ population.

Pink… Webber shoved that down our throats! (The flowers in the dressing room, all of Christine’s pink dresses, etc) Pink is automatically associated with girls, though it was used for boys for centuries. Pink is the color of innocence, good health and good life. Think of the term ‘tickled pink’ and the hue brought to faces when we laugh or blush. It is symbolic of sexual innocence, something Webber wanted to drive forth in the theme of Christine v. Erik, as well as ‘pure love’.

How to create a compelling opening chapter, er, blog.

Opening chapter rule number one:  Grab your reader’s attention.

 “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single blog in possession of a good author, must be in want of an audience.”

Rule number two:  Ground the reader in your setting.

Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

She picked her way across the drawing room. The fluttering of her fan drown out the ball as she tried to extinguish the fire on her cheeks yet to burn out from his kiss.  The satin skirts of her ball gown rumpled in her hand as she crept about the room, not so as not to trip over her too-swollen feet, but because she didn’t want to wake the snoring loaf of bread on the settee.

Rule number three: Intrigue the reader with an interesting character.

Why couldn’t the duchess have a cat? Cats don’t care who crept into rooms after forbidden kisses. They wouldn’t give a fig if her aching feet made her trip over the rug and  fall on her nose. They’d purr and yawn then expect a better performance next time around.  But the pug… the pug was always there, stubby legs tucked under his fat body, his already smashed in face rammed down into a pillow. That dog was a sentry of  enormous proportions, ready to wake at the sound of a clementine being unpeeled,  let alone her attempts at fanning away the evidence of a tryst on her face.

Rule number four: Give the reader a puzzle to solve.

Don’t wake up the dog. Don’t wake up the dog. Don’t wake up the dog.  Don’t wake up… Eventually she’d stop repeating that, but eventually wasn’t good enough with Lord Delaford on her heels.

There was nothing to do but ride the sequence out. Anxiety wrapped tight bands around her chest, making it difficult to breathe. Well, who needed air, really? Lord Delaford would only steal her breath anyway…

Rule number five:  Always keep them reading.

Welcome to the first blog post on my new website. My old site was redesigned in anticipation of my new releases, so I am glad you found your way here. Sorry, this is not a blog about creating a compelling opening chapter, although the four steps above pretty much cover how you do it.  I’ll be blogging from time to time about anything that strikes my fancy be it the writing process, the stranger sides of the Regency and Victoria eras, or life as a romance writing single mom.*  I love hearing from my readers and eager new writers! I hope you’ll keep coming back.



*who owns a pug and a cat, and has Pure O, OCD. No shortage of stuff to write about guaranteed