Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter

November2022

Lesley-Anne McLeod Contemplates November...

I must admit, November is not my favourite month of the year. The autumn has passed for the most part. The glorious golden trees, the occasional bonfire, the excitement of harvest, the great migrating flocks of geese and crows and the subtle disappearances of song birds, all are over, at least where I live in western Canada. We await the snow.

In England, November follows much the same path, though there are some flowers still, and green grass. No snow, however, it is a rarity there. An old saying warns "A warm November is the sign of a Bad Winter." But a warm November would accommodate the myriad celebrations and special events of the month. This was especially true in the England of the Regency--the early 1800's--where I spend a great deal of my time. Thanksgiving, the premier holiday of the United States, was unknown in England but there were still festivities to look forward to.

After All Hallows' Eve, a scary and uncertain time, came All Saints' Day on November 1 and All Souls' Day on November 2. Candlelit processions, bell-ringing, and 'souling' were undertaken in various parts of the country. Souling, like carol singing, involved going door to door, asking for alms, or selling 'soul cakes' (rather like a hot cross bun).

On the 4th of November, Mischief Night lingered in many counties. All sorts of naughty things were done--the main idea being to put things in the wrong place. Also coal might be collected against the coming cold months, as one might collect alms. In a few areas, this was called 'Jolly Minering' with its own songs, and festivities.

Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night was held then as now on November 5. Until 1859 church services were required to be held to celebrate the foiling of the plot to blow up the British Parliament, and celebrations were held throughout the day, culminating in a great bonfire, often with the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes, and fireworks.

During the Regency the 9th of November heralded the Lord Mayor's show in London which has been held since the 13th century. It is centred on a parade, and the celebration must have awed the ordinary folk of the Regency.

Martinmas Day--the Feast of St. Martin--occurs on November 11. It was among the days that 'hiring fairs' were often held, which sometimes included feasts and a great deal of disorderly behaviour. That day has now been radically transformed by Remembrance Day which has overtaken it.

On the 22nd of November, St. Cecelia's Day was an occasion for concerts and recitals as she is the patroness of music.

The last Sunday of the Church Year, the Sunday in November before Advent, is called 'Stir-up Sunday. This was the day Christmas puddings were often prepared and everyone in the household gave a stir to the batter and made a wish. The notion came from a famous collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer:

"Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people..."

My new book, The Tower's Peculiar Visitor takes place mainly in October. No doubt the celebrations of November were enjoyed by the residents of Kenning Old Manor, after the upheavals they experienced in the autumn. They had neither leisure nor inclination during the sojourn of the 'peculiar visitor' to enjoy the season.

I won't be exerting myself this month, unless I have to shovel snow. I prefer to withdraw to the indoors in November--to comfy chairs before the fireplace, to flickering candles, with stacks of books just waiting to be read, hot drinks and warm cookies, soft blankets and cuddly pets. I hope your November is cozy!

~*~

Lesley-Anne McLeod has long been one of our favorite Regency storytellers. Like Jane Austen, she writes of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, and shows that ordinary life can be as fraught and as exciting as that in the beau monde. She reminds us that there are far fewer noble folk than those not blessed with titles, that those ordinary lives are just as interesting, just as exciting, just as romantic--and sometimes just as troubled--as dukes', earls' and marquis'.

A few years ago, though, she offered us a story about a nobleman--an earl--who faced a unique challenge, one that had little to do with his rank. He was the owner, you see, of an ancient structure, a Red Tower in which unexplainable phenomena sometimes occurred. The Earl's Peculiar Burden was a woman from the Thirteenth Century, who had no way to return to all that was familiar. A while later Lesley-Anne gave us The Governess's Peculiar Journey, a tale of a governess (and her pupil) who walked through a door in 1865 and emerged half a century earlier. We hoped for--and eagerly awaited--the next Red Tower story, but Lesley-Anne made us no promises.

But at last she sent us The Tower's Peculiar Visitor, which tells of a man from the future who is neither anxious to adapt to Regency life or reluctant to loudly--and sometimes indiscreetly--compare it to his own time, two centuries in the future. Governess Jane Gladwyne is inclined to disbelieve tales of the Red Tower's oddity until the day when a brash, oddly dressed young man appears there. She and Caleb Debray, son of the estate steward, attempt to keep the visitor from revealing the secret of the tower to superstitious neighbors, disrupting daily life on the estate, and perhaps destroying any chance they might have at finding happiness together.(The Tower's Peculiar Visitor: ISBN 978-1-60174-262-9, $7.99)

The Tower's Peculiar Visitor cover

We hope we've given you a bunch of new holidays to celebrate in November. After all, here in the Northern Hemisphere we're heading into the darkest time of year, so a few new reasons to revel are always welcome. Perhaps this year we'll stir up a Christmas pudding; and next year we might burn an effigy. And regarding that, here is a poem about Guy Fawkes Day.

And of course, there is always Thanksgiving, celebrated in quite a few countries around the globe. As always, we are thankful for all of you out there who read ebooks from Uncial Press.

Star & Jude