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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday Spotlight: Maeve Alpin

Victorian Sex Trivia & Steampunk with Maeve Alpin
Like most steampunk romances, As Timeless As Stone takes place in the 19th century. It's an era of contradictions when it comes to romance. Though women's sexual desires were suppressed in the Victorian era here's some titillating trivia which calls for a second look at that theory, like looking for sexy corsets, stockings, and garters hidden under layers of petticoats. 

One of the most amazing finds is a survey on Victorian women's sexual habits which began in 1892, compiled by Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, who held an MD from John Hopkins and a master's in physiology from Stanford, and indicates many Victorian women admitted to experiencing sexual desires, pleasures, and orgasms; they even used available forms of birth control. A German doctor, Wilhelm Peter Mensinga, is credited with the invention of the diaphragm in 1882 and in the 1850's the development of Vulcanized rubber lowered the cost of condoms;  they'd been very expensive previously when made from animal skins

The next bit of trivia seems a bit strange but it was popular in the Victorian era for lovers to exchange pubic hair as tokens of affection and they kept these curls in lockets and snuff boxes. If I ever go into an antique store, open up a locket or snuff box and find a whorl of hair in it, I'm going to scream. 

As Timeless As Stone is set in Paris in 1830, but the heroine, Seshat, is an ancient Egyptian priestess, and, unlike Victorian Society, the ancient Egyptians valued sex and considered it an important part of life. One fun fact is the symbol of the ankh actually represents the male and female sex organs. One of the most amazing pieces of trivia regarding the ancient Egyptians' belief in sex after death was that they attached false penises to the mummified bodies of men and added artificial nipples to the mummies of women. Another quaint custom was that of sacred prostitutes, who weren't really prostitutes;  they were linked with the divine and held in high regard and honored for the fertility rites they performed with their sexual activity, and their clothes were fascinating. They wore blue beaded fishnet dresses, and tattooed their breasts or thighs. They would fit in so well, dancing in a modern rap video.
Along with the differences in views on sex there was a tremendous difference in fashion between the Victorians and the ancient Egyptians. In the Victorian era one of the most confining things for women were the clothes--layers of them from head to toe, including hats and gloves. However, one of the sexiest things were also the clothes, all those lacy corsets.

Seshat is not impressed with layers of confining garments. As an Egyptian priestess it is a taboo for her to wear anything made from animals, such as wool, and this comes into play when the couturier is garbing her in the latest Paris fashions. Here is an excerpt: 

“Why are the sleeves shaped so oddly? No one's arms are like this. They look bigger than a falcon's wings.” She flapped her arms in front of the couturier.
Mademoiselle swept her hands dramatically through the air “Oui.” She pointed at the large sleeves then the tight waistline and flashed a broad smile.
Seshat had never felt so frightened in her life. She'd rather face Hyksos warriors than this woman babbling in that foreign language with her never-ending garments. A voice inside her head screamed at her to escape while she still could. No, she promised Ricard she'd wear the dresses he bought her. Though she wanted to return to the temple and her life, she didn't want to leave Ricard. Seshat needed to look at and be with Ricard for now.
As mademoiselle gestured to her to remove the gown, she slipped it off and laid it on the chest they called a dresser, on top of the pile of clothing there. Seshat wished she stood bare before Ricard instead of the couturier, to have his shimmering gaze rake boldly over her body. She imagined he'd step up to her, cup her breasts, mold and squeeze them. Her body throbbed with need at just the thought of what the touch of his warm, firm hands would feel like.

The loud sound of the couturier clearing her throat pulled Seshat from her musings. Mademoiselle held up a pale green floral print dress with a pleated bodice and puffy sleeves. She pulled up the skirt to reveal the white cotton lining.

The moment the couturier pulled the dress over Seshat's head, she recognized the fabric--wool, from sheep. Jerking her hands, she pushed the dress off her skin. She jumped back as if the gown was a venomous cobra. “Unclean.” Seshat pointed at the dress she'd thrown on the floor. “I am a priestess. I must stay pure for the gods. I cannot wear anything made from the flesh of animals. Wool is taboo.”
The couturier looked at her askance.

“No, I cannot wear that. Now I must take a bath to purify myself.” With her arms crossed, she clutched her shoulders, and shook her head violently. “My flesh came into contact with unclean fabric.”
Mademoiselle's face grew as red as rouge and she huffed. She laid the offending gown on the bed and picked up a dainty dress in a floral print of blue-and-yellow pastel ferns against white with a bell skirt and sleeves shaped like a leg of mutton.

Seshat reached out to touch the fabric. It was cotton, therefore wearable. Once she pulled on the dress, Seshat spun and nodded her head in agreement. Maybe the woman would stop now that she had two of these huge, confining gowns and her Egyptian shift. These were more than enough garments, and she had to take a bath to wash the touch of wool off her skin.
Mademoiselle put her hands on her hips as her gaze roamed up and down Seshat's body. “Oui.” She picked up a shawl off the bed and held it up.
Though she had no idea what the couturier was babbling about, Seshat admired the square shawl with its gold background, centered with a black star design, and large motifs lined in turquoise, filled in with hues of red, green, purple and orange. “This design reminds me of the shoot of a date palm, it is a sign of fertility.” Seshat drank in the beautiful colors. “It looks like silk.” She reached out her fingers, took the shawl in her hands, and wrapped it around her shoulders. Suddenly, she felt uncomfortable, the beautiful cloth felt strange beneath her skin. “Mademoiselle, what is this weave?” But she knew, she could tell now, it was a blend of silk and wool. Seshat screamed. “It is unclean! I am a priestess! I cannot wear clothes made from a living creature.” She threw the shawl down. “No! I have to escape the taint of these cursed clothes.” She whirled around toward the front door and pushed past a startled Ricard.

Mademoiselle chased her all the way.

Ricard ran behind the couturier, yelling to Seshat, “What happened?”
Seshat flew out the door. She shed the floral pastel day dress, leaving it lying on the street. Pulling down the petticoat, she stepped out of it. In naught but a chemise with her arms and legs, from knees to ankles, as bare as her feet, she sprinted down the hard, narrow lane, lined with tall, straight homes of timber and stone.  
For more on As Timeless As Stone, please visit my website  and publisher.

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