Interview Guest: Fictional character, Mrs. Nora Wells. Nora is an important supporting character and no doubt a woman who was way ahead of her time. Widowed for many years, Nora dazzles everyone with her youthful good looks, her style, her grace and last but certainly not least, her independence.
AUTHOR: Welcome Mrs. Wells, and thank you for joining us here today!
NW: You’re most welcome. (Glancing around shyly) Things are quite different in 2016! And please call me Nora.
AUTHOR: (Laughing) Yes – they certainly are. You are known in high society circles as being a hostess that is second to none. In honor of the Christmas Season we find ourselves in at present, I’d like to ask you to please describe what a holiday dinner party would be like in the 1840s.
NW: (Smiling) With pleasure! I have always loved parties both large and small. Where shall I begin? (Nora uses her hands very gracefully when she talks) I suppose at the very beginning, which is the planning.
(She pauses to look at me, and I gesture to her to continue)
NW: Setting a date comes first. For Christmas, this would usually be within Christmastide, from sunset December 24th to sunset January 5th. I always prefer to plan my parties for either the first night or the last – both of which are the most memorable.
The guest list is no easy task. At least not in my day it was not. Politics played a very important role in who should not only be seated next to each other at dinner – but who should be on the same guest list as well. Men were hotheads back then as much as they are today and it would not be outside the realm of possibility to find two men with opposing opinions to end in a fisticuffs or worse, a duel. Avoiding that problem is of course paramount!
Well, next invitations were sent out by special messenger. This would be a very elegant man-servant who is in posession of a good education. Proper manners and excellent English are a must. The invite itself must be the best, most expensive, velum available. Imported from France or England if there is sufficient time. While waiting for the guests to RSVP, the menu is then planned. Usually a 9 or 10 course meal is served with a frozen confection served in between courses. Wine pairings are done with the help of an expert sommelier, and once again the cost willl run quite high.
AUTHOR: It sounds like something I’d love to attend myself! Please, tell us all what it was like during the party. What did people wear, what was the usual converstation like, and give us the details about all the sights, sounds and fragrances around you. We’d love to know!
NW: (Smiling sweetly) I admit I am a lover of a grand gathering. The night of the event would be like something written in a fairy tale. Ladies in satin gowns, with elegant high hairstyles adorned with tiaras. Gentlemen would be in Morning Suits with white ties and gloves. Everywhere in the dining room, ballroom, smoking room and sitting rooms there would be wax candles burning, with the light reflected in mirrors on the walls and the crystal glass of the chandeiiers.
Heavenly aromas where present in the entire house. Cinnamon and cloves from the silver punch bowls. Ladies’ perfume and gentlemen’s cologne mingling with it to perfection.
Conversation was clever, humorous and always full of goodhearted kindness. Aside from avoiding an unpleasant disagreement between two parties – keeping the guests chatting amiably is the chief reason for selecting guests who share similar opinions.
AUTHOR: Yes. I don’t think two men pulling out pistols at your party would be a good thing!
NW: (Laughing) No, certainly not!
AUTHOR: You mentioned wax candles. Why wax in particular?
NW: Oh, they are the best quality money can buy. Wax burns without smoke and is completely without odor. No affluent person would burn tallow at a party. Or anywhere except in the cellar or other places where it may not be as important.
AUTHOR: How did you entertain your guests? Besides serving them fantastic foods.
NW: With music! There would be a string orchestra hired, with perhaps a professional singer as well. In New York City, there were always plenty of very talented performers available. Being chosen for such an event was an honor and very likely sparked many a career – considering the guest list.
AUTHOR: They performed in your ballroom?
NW: Not initially. They would be in the entry foyer, playing softly, to greet guests. During dinner they would play in the dining room. After the meal, there would be music and dancing in the ballroom. Everyone loved to dance in my day!
AUTHOR: And perhaps flirt?
NW: (Blushing prettily) Certainly there was that! It was required actually. A woman who was married or engaged would also be quite fliratious with the gentlemen. In fact, being attached allowed the lady more freedom than the single women enjoyed. We spoke a language with our fans that was the height of feminine flirtatiousness.
AUTHOR: Can you give us an example of how you used your fans to flirt?
NW: Well, Fan Language is quite extensive and does take time to learn. Two messages that were often used during a dinner party were –
Fan opened wide: “Wait for me.”
Touching the finger to the tip of the fan: “I wish to speak with you.”
AUTHOR: And…..did you use your fan in such a way?
NW: (Laughing and blushing) Oh yes! I did indeed!
AUTHOR: One last question, Nora. And it’s one that you can of course opt to leave unanswered. (She nodded politely to me) What was your relationship with Mr. Allen like and how would you like to see it end?
NW: (Pausing for a moment before speaking) I met Mr. Allen in a hotel lobby. I was travelling alone – which was unusual for a woman to do in my time – and he spoke to me. Even though it did violate the rules of propriety, I allowed a conversation to begin between us and that began a relationship that became quite special.
AUTHOR: And would you like to tell us more?
NW: I can only speak for myself, you must understand. My wish and hope for my relationship with Mr. Allen was always a serious one. You asked me how I wanted it to end. My reply is that I did not wish for it to end.
AUTHOR: Then, we can take it that you wished to become his wife?
NW: Yes. I knew he had a wife who lived a great distance away and that he wanted a divorce. That gave me great hopes for a marriage proposal from him.
AUTHOR: Dare I ask if he did, in fact, ask you to marry him?
NW: My dearest, in your day divorce and re-marriage is a common happening. In my day it was not. I’m not in the least offended, however, while Mr. Allen remains married to another – even if it is in name only – I must refrain from repeating what he said to me.
AUTHOR: Nora, you really are one of a kind. A true lady. I’m sure that we are all wishing you and Mr. Allen a very happy future. Once again, thank you for being here.
NW: (Smiling graciously) You are most welcome.
This interview is with one of the fictional characters I created in the series “CounterClockwise: A Blast From The Past Love Story”. Look for more interviews with other characters to come!