#GuestPost: Dollars & Cents In Historical Romance By Ursula Lecoeur
Taped on the lower left side of my laptop, in that comfortable place where the heel of my hand rests, is a square sticky note headed 1884.
Under that date, I’ve written in black pen:
$1 = $22
$10 = $220
$35 = $770
I copied these figures from a website that listed the value of a U.S. dollar today in comparison with its equivalent in 1884. My scribbled note keeps me and my writing partner, my daughter Helen, firmly in the late Victorian period when $1 had the buying power of $22 today.
Without a firm grasp on average incomes and the cost of goods in their chosen time period, writers can blunder badly. In 1884, the year The Willing Widow begins, America was in the midst of a huge business boom. Immigrants flooded into the country providing both a labor force and eager consumers. Mining, manufacturing, and shipping earned tycoons the equivalent of millions of dollars a year.
New Orleans was the second largest port in the country after New York City. Local businessmen made fortunes selling cotton to England, importing coffee and bananas from South America, and shipping American farm products and manufactured goods to foreign ports. They built mansions in a new suburb, the Garden District, and bought furnishings and fabrics from all over the world to decorate them.
To recreate this world, I scanned newspaper ads and ladies’ magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and Harper’s Bazar (now Harper’s Bazaar) to learn the price of everyday items in what historians call the Gilded Age: a lady’s drawers sold for 25 cents, six-button opera gloves for 75 cents, and “night gowns with tucked yoke and fine cambric ruffle trim” for 55 cents. An all-silk Chantilly lace parasol cost $6. Harper’s Bazar, a weekly, sold for 10 cents an issue.
Renee Desselle, the heroine of The Willing Widow, owns a millinery shop where she sells custom-made hats, each one exquisite. What was an accurate price for a hat, particularly one trimmed with ostrich feathers or real jet beads? Her shop catered to the wealthiest ladies in the city.
Luckily I found a first-person account by a visitor to New Orleans in the 1880s. Writing in a newspaper, he noted that the ladies’ hats in the city exceeded the beauty of hats anywhere in America and could be purchased for $35. That’s $770 in today’s dollars, a high-ticket item, but a price the wife of a prosperous New Orleanian could afford.
My cheat sheet kept me from mistakes. I once wrote, “Renee tipped the coachman a dollar.” A $22 tip? I changed it to three nickels, which was quite generous. The nickel coin, first issued in 1883, went far. At The Hard Times, journalist Lafcadio Hearn’s restaurant in New Orleans, all dishes cost 5 cents. A nickel in this era bought a streetcar ride across town, a dozen roses, a shot of whiskey or a pack of cigarettes.
A writer’s understanding of money is essential to creating a realistic world for her fictional characters. Helen and I hope you enjoy The Willing Widow, the first in the Love in New Orleans Series. In our next romance, you’ll learn what Ben Merritt is willing to spend on camellia bushes for Maureen Collins’ botanical experiments.
Find The Willing Widow on Amazon.com as an ebook and a paperback. http://amzn.to/1kgn5e6.
THE WILLING WIDOW will thrill fans of Amanda Quick, Madeline Hunter and Tessa Dare with intrigue, mystery, and the glamorous setting of New Orleans during the Gilded Age.
Cultures clash and collide in thrilling and provocative ways in this historical romance by debut author, Ursula LeCoeur. On Sundays, Mass at St. Louis Cathedral is standing room only, but on Mondays, the good Catholics of New Orleans are buying love potions and devotional candles from their favorite voodoo priestess. Fashionable and proper ladies dine at Antoine’s and other centers of Creole cuisine; they dance at masked Mardi Gras balls, show off their décolletage at America’s first opera house, and meet for trysts in the shadow of palatial oaks. Gentlemen idle at the Absinthe House on Bourbon Street, conduct business with relentless energy, and visit dance halls and brothels until the early morning on Gallatine Street.
From the fabled cobblestone streets of the French Quarter, to the gracious mansions of the Garden District, to the swamps and watery mists surrounding the beloved city of New Orleans, Ursula LeCoeur introduces readers to the world of two unforgettable characters: Renee Desselle is a beautiful young widow who owns a thriving French Quarter millinery. Irishman William Collins is a newcomer to New Orleans who manages his uncle’s prosperous cotton brokerage. In the midst of preparations for the city’s grand World Exposition and Cotton Centennial of 1884, Renee offers to assist a desperate society matron who is being stalked by a mysterious stranger. To help his uncle, William undertakes the search for an embezzler on the Cotton Exposition Committee. Passion ignites between hero and heroine as their investigations intertwine on a path that leads to love—and murder.
In this witty and passionate first novel, courage and the promise of new love triumph over unknown dangers threatening from darkened alleys, and the mistrust and desperation of a complicated past.
About The Author:
Ursula LeCoeur is the nom de plume of mother-daughter writing team, Mary and Helen. We set our series of romances, Love in New Orleans, in 1880s Louisiana, the Gilded Age in America. Our debut romance, The Willing Widow, is now available as an ebook and paperback on Amazon.com. http://amzn.to/1pzV834
We chose our setting because we share a love of the history, stories and traditions of New Orleans and the GulfCoast. Helen’s first novel, In the Hope of Rising Again (Penguin Press 2004, Riverhead 2005) is also available on Amazon.com. http://amzn.to/1n4rfon
We love to hear from readers. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website, www.ursulalecoeur.com, for blog posts on New Orleans history and traditional Southern recipes. Friend us at Facebook.com/ursula.lecoeur and follow us on Twitter @ursulalecoeur.
Winner’s choice of either an ebook or paperback copy of The Willing Widow.
For a chance to enter, comment with the following: If you had a chance to go back in time to Victorian times, who would you become, and what would you during that time?
G. L. to all those entering.