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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 April 2010

Four-legged characters

As historical authors we pride ourselves on the accuracy of our research from clothes to carriages and everything in between. And not only should our characters walk, talk, dress, ride, and converse as they might have done in our chosen era, but we like their furry companions to be period-accurate as well.

For those who’ve known me for a while, or who have visited my web site, it’s no secret that I have a passion for Cavalier King Charles spaniels—although the way the breed looks today is not exactly the way it did back in the 17th century.

For a detailed history of the Cavalier King Charles, visit this link: http://www.barkbytes.com/history/cavking.htm

Charles II as a pre-breeched toddler; with Tricolor Cavalier

Cavaliers were named for England’s Charles I and II; the first half of the 17th century was sometimes known as the Cavalier era in England and France (think the Three Musketeers in thigh-high boots, wide collars, and lage-edged turned back cuffs).

Cavaliers were companion dogs, and at the time were also known as flea-catchers—attracting the icky critters themselves to spare their owners (and their bed linens, bolsters, testers, etc.) Over the ensuing centuries they became one of the breeds favored by royals as a lapdog. The aspiring classes as well were fond of Cavaliers.

In the first portrait George Romney ever painted of the teenage Emma Hamilton, she is posing as “Nature” with a Blenheim (maple brown and white markings) Cavalier. The original hangs in the Frick Museum in New York City; and for many people is their first encounter with Emma—who had a Cavalier sort of personality herself: utterly devoted, warm, cuddly, and prepared to stick like glue to her “master.”
If you've read TOO GREAT A LADY, my historical novel about Emma, you might sense that I’m as much of an Emma Hamilton devotée as I am of Cavaliers.
I even have a fairly good copy of that painting in my home office. And on my web site, I sought to recreate Romney’s “Nature” in one of the photographs. Austin, the Blenheim Cavalier in the photograph was borrowed for the photo shoot, though it remained my dream to own my very own Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I knew exactly what I’d name her, too.
During my research for ROYAL AFFAIRS, which covers several of Charles II’s dalliances, I came to admire Nell Gwyn even more than I had before I began writing about her relationship with King Charles.
Perhaps the fact that she was petite, if bosomy, redheaded actress with a huge heart and a bawdy sense of humor had something to do with it. So of course my Cavalier would be called Nell.

Here’s my Nell herself, a Tricolor Cavalier puppy. We’ll be picking her up from the breeder at the end of May. She has the same coloring as a famous royal Tricolor—the young Queen Victoria’s “Dash.” If you’ve seen the recent movie “The Young Victoria,” the dog trots away with every scene.

And in another month or so, sweet Nell will be sitting at my feet as I write.

Do any of your characters have dogs, and did you research their breed and temperament while you were writing (or already have that information) so you could suit your four-legged character (or not) to its fictional owner?

Do you like reading about, or writing about, dog-owning characters? And what depth or nuance, or even perspective, do you think it adds to a character to make them a pet owner?

36 Comments:

Anonymous Arleigh said...

This is such an interesting post! As I said on FB, this is the breed of dog I would want if I had the time and space to give. The part about using the dogs to collect fleas is funny, but I see where they would have had need for that. Poor doggies :( I'm still working on Royal Affairs... trying to get through all my assigned ARCs. 2 more and I'm free to read entirely for pleasure for a while!

5:40 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Hi, Arleigh! Cavaliers have also been my dream dog for a long time, and for the past few years I've been researching the breed as a potential owner as well as with my historical author hat on. I found the tidbit about their being flea magnets both fascinating and a bit disturbing. Frontline, here we come!

No rush on ROYAL AFFAIRS ... I know you've always got a lot on your plate!

7:31 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh, congrats on the puppy!!! There’s just something so delightfully plucky about Cavies. I just picked up a little pit-bull rescue for my mom last night and he's sooooooooooooo cute! He looks a lot like my last dog, the sainted Dorothy Parker (black, with ears that tend to fall over right at the tip). If he wasn't so small compared to my mastiff, Clancy, I'd be tempted to keep him myself. *grin*

I love dogs in books. Heyer's dogs are some of my absolute favorite: the scrappy little terrier in Arabella; the wonderful giant mutt in Frederica; the pug in Friday’s Child; the spaniel in Venetia.

And I love writing dogs. I can’t seem not to, really. They’re just a natural part of life for me. When my characters “come to me” they often have a dog (or need one, which becomes part of the book). My first book features Caesar, the Neapolitan mastiff (who makes a cameo in my second book) and my upcoming book, Ripe for Pleasure—due to my editor on Saturday *ack!*--has a staring role for a mongrel mastiff who was inspired my dog’s sisters (who belong to my sister and my best friend).

8:35 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kalen -- I love the name Dorothy Parker for a dog!!

I have to confess that I've never read any Heyer (one of these days, I promise!) I remember Caesar, and I thought he made a great character. I do think it adds another dimension to the two-legged characters to make them dog-owners, if it's organic to the novel. And there are as many doggie breeds and temperaments as there are human ones, so it can be fun fitting the right dog (or deliberately not) to a character.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

We already had Algonquin aka Gonk the Rottie (my sister named her after the dog in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; and the name stuck) so it just seemed natural that the next dog have a name that went with the Algonquin Round Table . . . so we added Dorothy Parker aka Dorr.

I made a clean break from the theme with Clancy though. He’s named after Clancy Brown, the actor, who voices the dog character Barkmeat in the cartoon Catscratch. Favorite quote: Fear is my brother, destruction my sister, and pestilence my third cousin twice removed.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Ms. Lucy said...

I love this post! And- yes I love reading about dogs..The Cavalier is one of my favourites (the only problem is my allergies that's why I can only have non-shedding dogs, otherwise...)

Jojo used to have a pug- but you knew that! I happen to love Pomeranians (which I can't have,,) and Standard poodles,my Lola, and, I have a Yorkie too: Sire Cognac. I'm not sure of any historical characters having any of these...It would be interesting to find out though:)

Congrats on the new Puppy!

12:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kalen, that quote is hysterical!

Lucy, at least pugs don't shed (as far as I know). I love your dogs' names. Perfect. I'm very allergic to cats, and as far as I know I'm not allergic to dogs. I will probably end up brushing Nell every day to cut down on the shedding!

12:05 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a great post, Leslie! You are going to have so much fun with Nell. I have two friends who have Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and they're adorable and so sweet. I love that painting of Emma Hamilton--I still remember seeing the original for the first time at the Frick.

I love animals in books. Like Kalen I love Heyers dogs. I've had dogs and cats in a lot of my books. The hero in my romance "Rightfully His" had a King Charles and the heroine acquired a cat (I actually based the dog and cat's relationship on my dog and cat). Charles & Mélanie's cat Berowne is a gray mix who looks in my mind like my gray mix cat Lescaut. Lescaut was a feral kitten who was rescued, and Charles and Mel found Berowne on the streets somewhere. I haven't written that story yet, but I'd like to some day.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Tracy, leave it to you to name your fictional cat for one of Shakespeare's more obscure comedic heroes. I have a soft spot for LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST because I played the wenchy Jacquenetta in it and it was the production that got me my Equity card. She speaks only 13 syllables, yet they contain exclamation points (and Shakespeare only used 7 exclamation points in his entire canon).

People are welcome to dispute that figure but I got it from one of my Shakespearean acting teachers, good old Patrick Tucker.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love "Love's Labour"! Jacquenetta is a very vivid character, despite only having a few lines. I didn't realize that about the exclamation marks, though I did have a workshop with the amazing Patrick Tucker when I was a student at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival (now the California Shakespeare Theater).

1:06 PM  
Blogger Ms. Lucy said...

I looked into getting a pug years ago..and believe it or not, they shed too. And with these short-haired breeds it's sometimes worse because the tiny hairs stick like pins to everything. (that's what they say- either way I can't be in a room with either cat or dog cause of the fur- unless like i said; non-shedding)..makes me sad.
Hope you'll post lots of pictures of your new beauty:)

1:08 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Wow, Tracy -- something else we have in common!

1:12 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Lucy, I didn't realize that pugs shed, too. Now I think of Lady Bertram in MANSFIELD PARK in a whole new light. She's always petting that dog; her beautiful clothes must have been covered in dog hair. My cat-owning friends know I can't come over to visit. I use to dose myself up with Benedryl, but no amount of the stuff can knock out my allergic reaction; it just knocks me out -- for hours!

I promise to post lots and lots of pix of Nell.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Ms. Lucy, poodles and Portuguese water dogs don't have dander. They have hair rather than fur. My dog is a poodle/lhasa apso mix, and she doesn't shed much at all.

I know Leslie, I think that's cool!

1:36 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Oh Leslie I am SO jealous! A King Charles Cavalier puppy !! My second childhood dog was a King Charles we bought when we lived in England. I was nine years old and my brothers and I fell instantly in love. His name was Devonwood Roland AKA Mischief. I was 24 when he passed away and it was the first time I ever saw my father cry. He loved that dog so much. We all did. Mischief came into our home two weeks before we adopted an orange marmalade kitten from our neighbors. Tigger and Mischief grew old together and were the best of friends. I've always wanted another Cavie. They are SO sweet!

And yes, there are always dogs in my books. My first book the hero had two Scottish deerhounds - Romulus and Remus. My second book, the hero's daughter had an old border collie named Tulip and a pet hedgehog named Dash (because he bit everyone except the little girl and everyone was always saying "Dash it all he bit me again!") My third book the hero has an ancient English mastiff named Bounder. And the book I just started our heroine has a 17 foot python named Shiva and a mastiff named Breckford who bites everyone who comes to the front door. Seems he has been waiting for his master to return for ten years and any male who is not his master gets bitten. Yes, I love pets in a book. They often give you a window into the character you wouldn't normally have.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Louisa, given your previous moniker, I was waiting for you to chime in! Your non-human literary creations are so marvelously inventive, from their names to their temperaments to their backstories.

Border Collies are wonderful. For a couple of years I helped manage a dance studio here in NYC and the "alarm system" consisted of two Border Collies, Cody and Sadie, each of whom was rescued at one time by the studio's (and dogs') owners. They are an immensely intelligent breed. If you had to eat dinner there before a rehearsal, Sadie would look at you with her big, smart, sad eyes and glance from you to e.g. your french fries and back again, just begging, in her own canine cerebral way, for a fry. Cody must have been abused by people from a very specific demographic in his former life because the only people he'd bark and growl at menacingly were men who fit a certain physical description. It got to be embarrassing sometimes.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

A mastiff that bites everyone is seriously scary! I think mine would be more inclined to lick people to death* (a slow, disgusting and very damp way to die). I was accidentally bitten by my sister’s girl with she was 7 months (she was running at the park and sort of rammed into me with an open mouth, so she didn’t even apply any pressure) and I had bleeding puncture wounds THROUGH my jeans! The bruise looked like a gator got me, and now I have scars.

*of course my vet tells me I have the only mastiffs he’s ever met that he can examine and treat without having to muzzle them first, which seems strange to me since all the mastiffs (of every kind) I’ve ever known are pretty easy going.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I haven't yet given a character a dog, but every manuscript I've written so far has at least one character who's very fond of horses, and usually at least one really gorgeous horse. My book that will forever remain under my bed has a beautiful bay Arabian, and my upcoming Carina book includes a dapple gray Andalusian in addition to sundry more ordinary cavalry horses.

Have I ever owned a horse? No. Did I always want one growing up? Oh, yes.

We've promised our 6-year-old daughter a puppy in a year or two when she's old enough to manage more of the care, so maybe that'll turn me into more of a dog person and drive me to write about them.

(This is Susan Wilbanks, btw. I can't remember if I've posted here under my pen name yet.)

4:35 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ooooooooooo, yeah for the pen name! I'm so excited that you're getting to use it!!! Horses are a given in my books. In my new one I got to "teach" my heroine to ride. Super fun on every level (and yeah, I've taught a lot of people to ride, but it was interesting to try and do it in a scene between the hero and heroine).

4:39 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Susan, I love your pen name; it's beautiful.

Horses do make wonderful, and memorable, literary characters. I've never owned a horse (hard to do when you grow up in the Bronx, though my father used to take me for pony rides in Van Cortlandt Park). And although I never aspired to own one either, I always did want to learn how to ride. And it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I took lessons. I used to live near the only stable in Manhattan, the Claremont Riding Academy, which closed its doors a few years ago after about 125 years.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

That must be the one Jon Stewart always used to talk about on the Daily Show!

I've been on horseback a few times, but I wouldn't really say I know how to ride. I grew up in the country where horses were fairly commonplace, though it was mostly Quarter Horses and Western style, while my dreams were all of riding hunt seat and show jumping.

I haven't entirely given up the dream of riding (I'm in my late late 30's now), though fences are optional. If I ever get to the point where I can do this author thing full time, some of the time that goes to the day job now will go to riding lessons and taking up fencing again.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Leslie - I wrote an Irish Terrier into THE RIVER DEVIL, a very feisty little fellow who my hero rescues from being beaten to death and then firmly adopts my hero. (Soo not the result my hero expected!) I modeled him after my vet's grandfather's dog who loathed everyone except her grandfather and barely tolerated the grandmother. Cicero, named for his ability as an orator, stole every scene.

While I adore dogs and have always lived with them, I suspect an Irish Terrier would want far too energetic a lifestyle than this author can provide.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Susanna, I don't watch The Daily Show often enough to have caught Jon Stewart's references to Claremont. I loved riding in Central Park, but the cost of the lessons got too prohibitive for me to keep it up.

Diane, it must have been fun to have lived vicariously with a fictional Irish terrier, even if the breed wouldn't have been a good match with the real-life character of the author! :) And I love the character arc you created for both hero and canine. Did you plan that before you began writing, or did the dynamic of pooch adopting human take over the story and run with it, so to speak?

6:33 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

I think pets add dimension to a character. The type of pet they have reflects their personality. The type of person who has a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is different from the type who would own a Bull Mastiff or a Pit Bull. Of course after writing that , I looked at our menagerie and wonder what it says about us. We have or have had Beagles, black labs, a terrier, border collie mix and a pit bull. The Lab, terrier and pit bull are our current house mates.
Even though the breed says something about the owner, the individual dog's personalities within the breed vary so much. You can have a sweet loving mastiff or pit bull and have a very nasty tempered Cavalier or lab. That is part of what makes them such good characters in stories. You can usually mold them into whatever type of character you wand.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

Oh most certianly, pets reflect the character of their "gaurdian".. ...that's Californian for "owner". Pet-owner profiling is an up and comming science, too. Helps pet owners get matched with the right kind of dog personality. Shelters and human societies have questioneres to help the match. Ever noticed too, how the owners and the pets (especially their dogs) look like each other?

As for horses in historical romance...it's a must for me! I put them in a main characters in both my first two books. What fun!

Thanks for an interesting post, Leslie!

9:49 PM  
Blogger Gillian Bagwell said...

Great stuff, Leslie! Very entertaining and certainly more about the little pooches than I knew!

I'm pleased you're such a fan of Nell Gwynn that you have a dog named for her! I think she'd understand...

I'm a big fan of Nell myself -- my novel about her, "The Darling Strumpet" (coming in January 2011 from Berkley Publishing Group) features some dogs. Charles has several spaniels that sleep in his room (keeping Nell awake, along with the collection of clocks that chime the hour but not in synch). There is mention of one specific real dog, Gypsy, a lurcher, which according to the OED is cross "properly between the sheepdog or collie and the greyhound." And Nell has a dog named Tutty that Charles gave her.

There's also mention of a contemporary doggerel portraying Nell and her rival mistress Louise de Keroualle as battling little dogs, Tutty and Snapshort.

I think it adds a very humanizing touch for characters to have dogs - especially if they really did.

But for my next book I'm working in two (so far!) of my cats, Snug and Jack!

Gillian Bagwell
(gillianbagwell.com)

12:28 AM  
Blogger Gillian Bagwell said...

Oh, addendum! I hadn't read all the other posts when I wrote the first. I directed "Love's Labor's" several years ago and really enjoyed it. Jaquenetta's a great character.

And I also had Patrick Tucker as a teacher at the Drama Studio London at Berkeley, and learned A LOT from him about acting Shakespeare, which I used both as an actress and director.

Just tonight I watched the RSC's "Hamlet" with David Tennant (and Patrick Stewart as Claudius, and a host of other excellent actors) and was reminded that in a silly little show that Patrick directed at the Drama Studio I played the Gravedigger, among other characters. Not a role I've had a second crack at...

12:35 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Librarypat and Kathrynn, thanks for chiming in, and addressing directly the question I posed about fitting the breed of dog as well as the individual animal's temperament (or not, depending on how it affects your story) to the character of the owner -- and to real-life owners as well.

In general the Cavalier is a perfect breed for my lifestyle as a writer in that I'm home for most of the day, which is good for this breed. She can be quiet and curl up at my feet when I'm working, but she'll like to get out and exercise and turn on the energy when she's outside -- not like some terriers, for example (Jack Russels come to mind) who are very high energy all the time. That breed would never suit my lifestyle and my own temperament. I'd go nuts trying to keep him/her out of and off of everything I own.

Gillian, hooray for nontraditional casting. It's wonderful that you got that once-in-a-lifetime crack at playing the Gravedigger. Did you triple it up as the Ghost of Hamlet's Father and the Leading Player as well? I've seen it cast that way a few times -- though in your case it might have been a bit harder to imagine you as Hamlet's dad. :)

And what a little Patrick Tucker "mafia" we have going, here. Did he keep telling you (Tracy, too) that everything in Shakespeare was a dirty inside joke?! Taking that quip with a dose of salt, I did learn a trememdous amount from him as an actress and have had numerous occasions to apply it to my work. I still use some of his techniques to apply to non-Shakespearean roles. Parsing out the internal meanings of a line, if the playwright is good, and has placed them there as signposts to the actors, is a universally appplicable tool.

And I can't wait to read your novel about Nell Gwyn, dogs and all; it's terrific how you also incorporated the little historical detail about the "dogfight" (or bitchfest, as the case was) between Nell and "the Weeping Willow."

10:08 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Of course a pit bull is a terrier too . . . my BIL just found and fell in love with an itty-bitty pit puppy that is now being integrated into our pack of mastiffs (my boy goes to “day care” at my sister’s house every day). I’m sure the newly christened Bukowski will hold his own once he’s a tad larger, LOL!

Oh, and I adore Irish Terriers!!! They run like little clockwork toys, it’s so cute. Of course they do share that kind of standoff/one person temperament that you find with Airedales and Fox Terriers sometimes . . . which is ok if you’re their one person.

Judith Laik gave a wonderful workshop on dogs during the Regency a few years back. I really love the “book” I made out of her lessons. I also have a wonderful period magazine about dogs: The Complete Dog-Fancier’s Companion (1819).

11:17 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Oh Kalen ! Would love to see the workshop lessons on dogs in the Regency and I am having serious magazine envy here!

My brother and his family share their home with a huge pit bull named Harley who thinks he is a child in a fur coat. When my Mom goes over to visit Harley insists on sitting in her lap. He backs up to her chair and plops his butt in her lap. It is quite a comical picture as my Mom is a 4 foot 11 Native American woman who MIGHT weight 96 pounds soaking wet and Harley weighs at least 100 pounds if not more.

I wrote the Scottish deerhounds into my first novel because my dog sitter had recently acquired one who is absolutely a doll. You have to love a dog who when he stands up and puts his paws on your shoulders stands a good foot taller than you!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Leslie - Yes, I did plan that character arc of dog adopting human.

The book starts in Omaha, which is where the ASPCA started at around the same time. I needed a way to show my hero's willingness to be heroic, even when he thought it was stupid (yo, muddy levee above flooded river?), low profit (he expects rescued dog to abandon him for better prospects), and high risk (multiple thugs beating up dog).

But I also had fun echoing my hero's developing relationship with the heroine in Hal's growing closeness with the Irish Terrier. Hal is such a loner that his loved ones basically have to grab him if they want to have a relationship. So yes, Cicero firmly adopts Hal after being rescued, much to Hal's total surprise. Like any two males, they also enjoy doing battle together against bad guys.

But I think Cicero only accepted Rosalind, my heroine (named for Shakespeare's lady!), because Hal was in love with her.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh Kalen ! Would love to see the workshop lessons on dogs in the Regency and I am having serious magazine envy here!

I’m going to see we can get her to give it again (it was online and great). And I think I’ll bring some copies of the magazine to Nashville so I can give them to people. It’s very cool. It has info about taking care of you dog, dog breeds, and a scathing attack on blood sports!


My brother and his family share their home with a huge pit bull named Harley who thinks he is a child in a fur coat. When my Mom goes over to visit Harley insists on sitting in her lap. He backs up to her chair and plops his butt in her lap. It is quite a comical picture as my Mom is a 4 foot 11 Native American woman who MIGHT weight 96 pounds soaking wet and Harley weighs at least 100 pounds if not more.

My mastiff does this to my BIL Robbie (who loves it) and Clancy has a good 50 lbs on poor Robbie, LOL!

2:13 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I will be lying in wait to mug you for one of those copies, Kalen. Wonder if I can bring Harley to help bring you down? LOL And I do so hope you can persuade her to do the class again! That would be great. What is it with these big lovable dogs that makes them think they are literally lap dogs?

2:41 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Reading all these fun comments reminded me that in my book "Rightfully His" where the hero has a spaniel, the heroine is surprised he has such a small, friendly dog. She'd have expected him to have something more like mastiff. It's the start of her reevaluating him. So in that sense I used the type of dog as a key to the hero's inner nature, if that makes any sense.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Kalen, I'd love to see the workshop stuff, too. I have to admit, though, that I've always been scared of big dogs, no matter how gentle or friendly they are. I'm overwhelmed by them.

Tracy, that's wonderful! When I wrote HERSELF, one of my contemporary novels where a NYC political speechwriter goes off to Ireland to find herself, only to find a roguish Irishman who follows her home, at one point, he brings her a gift: an Irish Setter. Tessa expresses a raft of reactions, including surprise, which is the one emotion Jamie hadn't anticipated. "What kind of dog did you think I would give you?" demands the proudly Irish Jamie. "A King Charles Spaniel?!"

Okay, it was also my own private Cavalier joke.

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Kate Pearce said...

I have a Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Hunter and he is the sweetest natured dog in the world-really there isn't a mean streak in his body-except when it comes to guarding his food bowl from our cat George who plays him like a fool.:) He is the perfect dog for a writer. He likes to do exactly what I like to do and never complains if his walk ends up being short or hurried due to deadlines.

8:46 PM  

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