A Blade in Her Hand–Lady Katarina’s Unusual “Hobby”

Many historical romance novels of the Georgian period (and before) make use of swordplay, one of several reasons I am drawn to the earlier periods.  In Only Scandal Will Do, I set up my heroine, Lady Katarina Fitzwilliam, to be an excellent swordswoman. One, because I wanted her to be feisty and a bit different from most period ladies and, two, because I  took fencing lessons in high school and loved the “romance” of the weapon and wanted to share that affection with my readers.

To that end, I gave Kat something of a “tomboy” background that lends credence to her penchant for a sword.  And during the course of the novel, she takes sword in hand to defend herself several times.  I loved writing these sequences because I could endow my heroine with all the skill I never had myself. :)  She’s quite National Championship material and beyond, able to hold her own against the hero and various other opponents.

The most challenging part of writing these scenes, however, was figuring out what exactly Kat would wear to fence.  Eighteenth century women’s fashion hardly allowed for the free movement necessary for such exercise.  Men usually wore breeches and a loose shirt to afford them a wide range of motion.  I thought Kat didn’t deserve a handicap, and so I came up with her “fencing costume,” and a justification for her wearing it. (Having her father be a colonel in the British Army was a great help!)

Then I went looking for a model for this outfit, never thinking that I would run across the exact thing I was looking for.  On Sharon Ann Burnston’s website, “At Home” in the 18th Century, I found the perfect model for Lady Katarina’s fencing garb. Ms. Burnston regularly costumes 18th century re-enactors and happened to have created a fencing costume for a young woman.  So Ms. Burnston came up with the very outfit I needed.   If you are at all interested in authentic period clothing, you should check out her website.  It is truly remarkable.

Having found this picture of a woman dressed in men’s clothing, I decided to have a little fun at Duncan’s expense.  Here’s the excerpt where he and Katarina are about to fence for the first time:

“Will you come meet my opponent?” Duncan grinned and led the way across the floor to where Manning stood beside Matthews, talking to a young man he did not recognize.

Duncan bowed to the men, as did Lord Trevor, but he darted glances about, looking for Katarina. Perhaps she was in another room with her maid, making last-minute preparations. “Lord Manning, may I make known to you Viscount Trevor, my second. Lord Trevor, you have already met Mr. Matthews. Good of you to come. But will you be so kind as to introduce me to your friend here, Manning?” He gestured to the young man he had come up behind, but who had not turned to greet him. “I did not know you were bringing another witness.”

“I would say we have already been introduced several times, Lord Dalbury,” said the youth, finally turning. “Do you not recognize me, my lord?” Katarina smiled merrily as she tugged on her shirtsleeves, easing them down under the coat sleeves.

Duncan’s mouth slackened with shock. The well-fitting garments that, from the back, had hidden her form showed absolutely every one of Lady Katarina’s lovely curves. His attention kept straying to the fawn colored breeches. Neatly buckled below the knee, thank God. What would he have done if she had shown her knees? The breeches hugged her hips–her hips!–defining the curvaceous body he remembered so vividly.

He forced his eyes up, relaxing somewhat at the coat that resembled a lady’s riding costume. It was, however, a man’s garment, a sleeved waistcoat, in cherry-red worsted with silver buttons down the front, over a plain linen shirt. No evidence of stays. Sweet Christ, her breasts would be unconfined during the duel. What if he injured them?

Her magnificent auburn hair was pulled back from her face, but he’d seen no evidence of locks down her back when he approached her. “What have you done to your hair?” His uneasiness at her costume became full-blown panic. God, had she cut her hair for the duel?

“It’s braided and tucked under her jacket, my lord.” Jack’s voice broke Duncan’s stupefying horror. “She does that when she fences.”

She continued her unhurried toilette, checking buttons, straightening the jacket’s shoulders, adjusting her breeches, paying him no mind. Then she dipped her fingers to her stocking and smoothed it along her calf. Like steel to a magnet, mouth slightly open, he stood enthralled by the soft, sensual look of legs he had only glimpsed before. He could no more tear his eyes away from her than a fish could walk on dry land.

My description of Katarina’s waistcoat is based directly on a photograph of a “1750’s  youth’s or small man’s sleeved waistcoat in the collection of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities” and on the recreated garment. This jacket was Ms. Burnston’s inspiration for the re-enactor’s garment.

I always picture Lady Katarina in this clothing, advancing on Duncan down the ballroom floor, cheeks rivaling her jacket in color and her eyes bright with excitement at having a blade in her hand once more.  Her passion for the sword was one of several that made Only Scandal Will Do a pure pleasure to create.

Have you used a particular piece of clothing as inspiration for part of your story?  Has clothing or the need for specific clothing played a major role in your research?  And for readers, how much attention do you pay to the description of clothing in romance novels? Would you rather we paint it with a broad brush, or a fine tip?  Thanks so much for visiting my blog today! :)

Only Scandal Will Do is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance E-Books, and the Lyrical Store.  If you like a blade-wielding heroine, you’ll want to check it out. :)

This entry was posted in On Only Scandal Will Do, On Research, On Writing Historical Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to A Blade in Her Hand–Lady Katarina’s Unusual “Hobby”

  1. Pingback: Sexy Saturday Round-Up « Lady Smut

  2. D'Ann Lindun says:

    Fascinating post! As you know, I don’t like research, but this was all very intriguing!

  3. Cera duBois says:

    I loved this scene in the book. I love a good scene with sword play. I’ve written my share of dueling scenes too (well mine were fan fiction light saber duels,but the actions are still–except for the use of the Force–are the same). But I do have one in A Hunter’s Angel too.

  4. Lol I love that scene and what struck me the most about it was, “What if he injured them”. Great post, Jenna.

  5. Love the costume. It’s exactly as I envisioned it.

  6. Absolutely fascinating! The sword fights were some of my favorite scenes. I could tell you must have done a lot of research.

  7. Brenda says:

    LOL, I love your excerpt–and this book.
    The clothing pics you posted are wonderful and really help me see the clothing you so perfectly described.

  8. Love that you take the time to do your homework, Jenna. And, we especially love a strong, vibrant heroine like Lady Katarina. Time pieces are quite the undertaking, but it’s good to see someone unafraid of the challenge and willing to step into the era themselves.

  9. The clothing pics you found are so interesting. Not as frilly as I would have imagined. Great post!

  10. Jennifer Lowery says:

    Great post, Jenna! I’ve always like it when the author describes the clothing so I can get an image :)

  11. caseamajor says:

    I love how authentic your stories feel and seem because of your eye for details and love for research! This is one of my favorite scenes in the whole book. Congratulations on it’s success!

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Thank you, Casea. I really did enjoy putting this “duel” together. And yes, research is one of my guilty pleasures. I get so wrapped up in it, sometimes I forget that I’m actually supposed to be writing. LOL Thanks for coming by today!

  12. Sue says:

    You can find almost anything on the web if your search is lucky. I know how much you love research so this story was double fun for you. Yes what if she injured her breasts! Oh good line. To answer your question, in Nineteen Hundred I had my characters take a bicycle ride. She wore bloomers and he disliked bloomers, but on her….

  13. Oh and thanks for the link. I’m definitely going to check it out.

  14. LOL. Poor Duncan. He’s flummoxed.

  15. Lindsay says:

    Interesting that you should have your character an expert with the blade. In A Christmas Surprise I have my heroine also very familiar with the sabre and uses her skills to save the hero.

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Our heroines no longer hesitate to jump in to save themselves or their man. :) A sign of our times, and what readers quite often want to read. Although there certainly were women who did not fit the normal mold, I believe they were more the exception than the rule. But they’re so much fun to write! Sounds like some surprise in your book. Can’t wait to read it, Lindsay.

  16. Daryl Devore says:

    Love that – it gives such a feeling for the time.

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Thank you, Daryl. Swords, especially rapiers, are iconic for this time period, much as the broad sword is for the medieval. My favorite movie with swordplay is the 1974 Three Musketeers. The sword fight choreography in that is breathtaking! Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I’ve always been fascinated with fencing, Jenna! A friend in college took a fencing class and complained after every one that her legs were killing her, though, and that scared me away from taking the class myself.

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Oh, she was right, Kristina. I didn’t take it as a school class, but as a class at the local YMCA. The coach had us working out three days a week, so much that I could eat anything I wanted and not gain an ounce! But I could never strategize well enough. Lady Katarina, however, does not have that problem. LOL I still love to watch it. Thanks for coming by, Kristina!

  18. What a great scene and both their reactions! I bought the book, but I really need to shuffle things around and read it soon!!

  19. Lorraine says:

    I loved that scene in your book, and the whole thing about the costume, how it’s a weapon of its own :)

  20. Carrie-Anne says:

    I love a nice description of clothing, though I’ve always been rather annoyed when there’s too much time spent describing clothes instead of moving the story forward. I still remember how I read The Age of Innocence for a book report in my 8th grade history class, by skipping all the flowery descriptions of clothes and things and only reading the dialogue and short narrative passages! And looking back on some of the series books that were popular when I was a preteen, there’s an awful lot of attention paid to what each character is wearing in every scene.

    I did love including pertinent details of 1920s clothes in my Russian novels, after the characters have immigrated to America. There are also some descriptions of clothes when they’re still in Russia. The secondary antagonist of the first two books, the Estonian-born Anastasiya, eventually realizes her childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer with her own company. Her focus is bridalwear, but she branches out into a few other lines. It’s somewhat of a running joke how she designs modern clothes while she usually goes about in overly modest (but not dowdy) clothes at least 20 years out of date. When she’s introduced in the first few pages of the first book, she’s wearing a Jeanne Paquin gown and tango shoes, one of the few times she’s in up-to-date fashions.

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Clothing description can either make or break a book, it seems. It can help develop character, as your fashion designer illustrates, or it can bog a book down in detail. I try to give enough description to set the characters firmly in the period, but not so much each time that people skip over it. A fine line. Thanks for coming by, Carrie-Anne!

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