Friday, February 7, 2020

OK,OK: It's not every day I quote Aristotle.

I came across the following quote in Proud Destiny, by Feuchtwanger, a historical novel about Beaumarchais, the playwright who wrote "The Marriage of Figaro," and who engineered the early French support of the American Revolution.

The artistic representation of history is a more scientific and serious pursuit than the exact writing of history. For the art of letters goes to the heart of things, whereas the factual report merely collocates details. Aristotle

I believe that this can be read as an explanation of the value of historical fiction. 

I love it.

Some might think that writing a fictional story set in the past is easier than just plain writing about the past.


We historical novelists must actually do BOTH.

And if you think it is easy to put words into the mouths of historical figures, think again. What you write must be plausible, historically accurate, and appropriate to the person speaking.

In the following excerpt, I had to pack in indications that Lafayette was 1) charming, 2) often joked about himself, 3) spoke slowly and deliberately in English when he visited America in his late 60s, 4) really did have a problem getting rid of the hundreds and hundreds of flowers given to him on his Farewell Tour.

The following is a description of what happens when my fictional heroine, Clara, meets the non-fictional personage, General Lafayette.

* * *

Just then, I saw a gentleman climb down from the carriage and walk towards me. 

He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, with short brown hair and large, expressive eyes. He was dressed simply in tan nankeen pants and a blue broadcloth coat with gilt buttons. As he walked towards me, he leaned upon a cane. Despite his beak of a nose, his was a most pleasing face. It was a face that was strangely familiar—and a tiny bit chubby.

“Sir?” I called, covered in confusion as much as I was in brook water. “Why are they throwing these roses away?”

He laughed. “It is a bit of a guilty secret, mademoiselle.” His words were slow and deliberate. “You see, everywhere I go, people keep giving me roses, roses, and more roses! Whatever I ride in— be it barouche, or curricle, or coach—it is filled to overflowing with them! Because of this, every once in a while I must tell the small lie—that I must make the stop that is necessary—and that I need my privacy. Then I find a secluded nook like this and we cast out all the pretty flowers. Please do not tell anyone. I beg of you.” 

Keeping my eyes pinned to the gentleman’s face, I picked up my pocket and pulled out the fan. Snapping it open, I looked closely at it to compare the portrait printed there with the features I saw before me. “Why, y-y-you are . . .” I stuttered.

The gentleman glanced at the fan in my hand. “Oui, I am the one whose picture you hold in your hand. These pictures! They are everywhere I go! I see almost as many of them as I do roses. And they are always of my poor self as I look today, not the slender and graceful youth I was then.” He shrugged. “Oh, well, one must accept these things.”    

A Buss from Lafayette © 2016 Dorothea Jensen

I'm not sure if this "goes to the heart of things," but I am quite sure it will grab the interest of reluctant readers much more effectively than a "collocation of details" in a history textbook!


Monday, December 16, 2019

Psst! Want to know a few more things about the Izzy Elves??

Elf Invasion

I give up! I have run out of oomph to maintain two separate blogs, the one you are looking at now, and the one written by by my Izzy Elves. I've decided to let the Izzies do their writing on this blog.

In honor of that, I'm posting Elf stiuff, old and new, right here, starting today.


First of all, here is a video of me reading the opening of my first Izsy Elf story poem, Tizzy, the Chritmas Shelf Elf.

In recording this, I realized that the technology cited therein, video games in packages rather than downloaded, is terribly 20th century. I wrote this in the early 90s, when that was the way kids got hold of video games. (Do they even call them video games anymore??).

Oh, well, the principle is the same: two naughty brothers sneak downstairs far too early on Christmas morning and find a stranded elf in their living room. :  )

I had fun working in a few of the illustrations.

BTW, if you can't see this on your device, hre is a link to watch it on Vimeo:

Anyway, here's Tizzy.



Saturday, October 26, 2019

I love stepping inside history!

We then moved past the captain into what was being called “the ballroom” that evening—although it was really just the large dining room at the back of the tavern. It did look particularly grand that evening. Many candles lit up the walls, covered with elegant gold-striped paper, and the tall windows, framed by ivory damask draperies, reflected their glow. Nearly all of the dining tables had been removed to make space for dancing, and the chairs moved to line the walls.

© 2016 by Dorothea Jensen, A Buss from Lafayette

In this bit I was trying to picture the interior of the Perkins Tavern circa 1825, which burned down more than a century ago. Because of this I had to make up all the details in this description of the inn as set up for a dance I imagined that the Perkins Tavern was one of the more elegant inns in Hopkinton Village, NH, so that its public rooms might have been wallpapered. (I know that at least one home just a few doors down had wallpaper at that time.) I did, however, know what the Perkins Tavern (later called the Perkins Inn) sign post looked like, or so I thought.

From the town history, I was aware that there were at least three taverns in Hopkinton Village at the time of Lafayette's visit in 1825, two of which were the Perkins Tavern and the Wiggins Tavern, neither of which is still in existence. I had thought that the latter had burned down also. Recently, however, I learned that in 1927 a descendent of Benjamin Wiggins (the tavern's owner) had dismantled the building .He then transported it to Northampton, Massachusetts. There its interior was rebuilt as a restaurant attached to the Northampton Hotel.

I was delighted when I realized that I now had the opportunity to walk inside a tavern built and operated in the same era as the Perkins Tavern. (The two were located on the opposite sides of the small town common in Hopkinto Village.

My husband and I made a point of stopping in Northampton and eating at the Wiggins Tavern. Imagine my surprise when the first thing I saw inside was this signboard reproduction. Look familiar?

Hmmm. My first inclination was to march over to the reception person and explain that they were displaying the wrong sign. Then I looked again at the inscription at the bottom: Entertainment by B. W. As in Benjamin Wiggins.

Then I realized at the date at the top of the sign: 1786, was repeated in this plaque:

Deciding that this signboard belonged to Wiggins Tavern after all, I went further inside. I found many interesting antique implements, along with the original tavern fireplace:

This was all very well, but still I had trouble picturing dances being held here, as was the case with other taverns of the time. Then I discovered another room:

My first impression was that having uprights supporting the ceiling in the middle of a dance floor might be a hindrance to the festivities. After I thought about it, however, I realized that most dancing at that time was done in two lines: one for men and one for women, so the uprights would not be in the way. Like this (and please note the uprights right behind the men'a line):

I suspect that a dance at Perkins Tavern in 1825 might have looked far more like these pix than the one I dreamed up in my head!

Anyway, it was a great pleasure stepping into the past at Wiggins Tavern. (The food was good, too!)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Sherwood Ring: An epiphany 61 years in the making!

I decided to make some short videos about books I love that inspired me to write historical fiction.

If this doesn't show up on your device, try this YouTube link:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Jane Austen Musical Quiz #1

In 1997, my late mother, Ruth Bell, and I went on the first ever tour of England put on by the Jane Austen Society of North America. (This is the tour on which I found the inspiration to write my latest historical novel for young readers, A Buss from Lafayette.)  Before we left, we put together a audio musical quiz for our fellow travelers concerning the music used in various dramatizations of Jane Austen novels produced over the years. We wanted to see who could identify 1) the title of the Austen novel dramatization in which the music is used; 2) the name of the character who performs the piece and where, or how the music is used in some other way; 3) the date and producer (such as the BBC) of the dramatization, and (for extra credit) 4) the title and composer of the piece.

We had great fun doing this, and our fellow JASNA travelers identified nearly every one correctly.

Would you like to give it a go??

Here is Quiz #1. Enjoy!

(If you cannot watch the video above, you may access it on YouTube here.)

Send your quiz answers to me at (with Jane Austen Musical Quiz #1 on the subject line, please).

Winners will be posted on this site. I promise.



Wednesday, April 24, 2019

G. Washington: Craftier than We Thought!

A Fringed Hunting Shirt Worn in the American Revolution
(on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia)

I recently found an interesting article on the website of The New England Historical Society, entitled "Seven Fun Continental Army Facts." Here's a link so you can read the whole thing:
Several of these "facts" that were most gratifying, as they support historical bits I have included in my historical fiction. Here's an example from my first such novel for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm:
“Wait a minute,” I protested. “What about his blue-and-tan uniform like George Washington’s?” I found my history book and opened it to a picture of Washington. Geordie sprang up from the bed. “Your ignorance is vastly amusing, Lars. Early in the war, hardly anybody had a real uniform—except for rich people like Washington. And those uniforms were all different colors, not just blue and buff. Some American uniforms were as red as the ones the British soldiers wore.” He looked at the history book picture and chuckled. “Nay, country boys like Will were lucky if they had a whole pair of ordinary breeches, let alone a whole uniform. Sometimes they’d make themselves leather hunting shirts to use for a sort of uniform. In truth, Washington liked to have them wear those shirts, because the British figured everybody in one was a genuine sharpshooter. Most of those American boys couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, but they surely did look the part!   - The Riddle of Penncroft Farm,  © Dorothea Jensen 

And here's what the New England Historical Society article said on this subject:

Those blue-and-buff uniforms didn’t arrive until later in the war, and then only a few states had those colors. In the early days, Washington suggested the ‘rifle dress.’ It included a fringed hunting shirt (a long loose coat usually made of homespun) and long pants with gaiters or leggings dyed the color of a dry leaf. The soldier topped off his rifle dress with a round dark hat turned up once or three times with a cockade or sprig of green. He also had a white belt for the cartouche box and a black cloth around the neck.
Washington liked the rifle dress because of its practicality and because it scared the British soldiers, who thought only sharpshooters wore it. “It is a dress which is justly supposed to carry no small terror to the enemy, who think every such person a complete marksman,” wrote Washington.