Alyssa Alexander here, with a post about fans.
All the pretty fans.
Now, I am not an expert of fans of any time period, but I can enjoy them just the same. I truly feel the painted fan is a lost art form. Not the printed fan—that’s entirely different and uses machines. But the painted fan. That involved a paintbrush, a steady hand, and more patience than I have.
I took pictures of fans in both London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the fashion museum in France attached to the Louvre (darn it, I’ve forgotten the name.) Enjoy…
What fascinates me about the fan is what it can say about a woman. The design painted on it—stodgy designs or light and airy nymphs—makes a very different statement. But also, how is the fan carried and used? Women flirted with fans, used them to cover up or reveal expressions, to smack a forward man on the arm or to show elegant gestures.
I’m a firm believer in body language telling a story. I walk fast, sharp, quick. It’s not because I’m angry, but because I’m always in a hurry to get where I’m going. My husband meanders (which drives me BONKERS) because he’s not really in a hurry to get anywhere. He’ll get there when he gets there, whereas I want to get there NOW.
Fans are no different. A languid gesture versus a sharp snap of the fan, a light tap on a man’s arm versus a dismissive flick. The fan is a tool, and in later years than I write, there was even a “language.”
I have never used the language of the fan in my books, nor have I fully researched it as it’s beyond my time period. But much like typical body language, how a lady uses a fan can tell a lot about her. I figure that no matter what the time period, body language defines the emotions, so a fan can be endlessly useful…
Excerpt from IN BED WITH A SPY…
He scanned the room once more. A wave of people ebbed and flowed, came together and parted.
And he saw her. No cavalry coat. No sabre. Only a gown of silver netting over white muslin and a painted fan fluttering languidly near her face. No howling battle cry now, only the sensual curving of her lips as she bent her head toward a military officer.
Something clutched inside him as the battleground superimposed itself over the ballroom. Twirling women became French soldiers, stringed instruments became the whistle of a blade. The scent of gunpowder stung his nostrils and the pounding of artillery rang in the air. The scene swirled around the woman, though she was no longer on horseback.
Two years since Waterloo. Two years since he’d seen a bright halo of hair and pitiless eyes full of retribution. He shook his head to will away those memories. But the woman remained.
A bevy of men were gathered around her, jostling for position. Striped waistcoats of the dandies clashed with the brilliant red and dark blue of soldiers’ uniforms.
Then, like an echo of his memories, the Duke of Wellington himself approached the woman. She smiled warmly as he bowed over her hand.
The bevy of suitors stepped back in deference to Wellington, leaving him as alone with the woman as two people could be in a crowded ballroom.
“Who is that lady?” Angel spoke softly, nodding toward the woman. “The one talking to Wellington?”
“Lilias Fairchild. Major Jeremy Fairchild’s widow. He was killed aT Waterloo.” Langford raised a brow. “Did you know the major?”
“No.” Angel watched Mrs. Fairchild’s fan tap lightly against Wellington’s arm. A sign of affection rather than flirtation. “What do you know of her?”
“Both Grace and I found her pleasant enough, though one can sense a spine of steel beneath the attractive exterior. She’s known for being private, which has only increased the gossips’ chatter.” Langford lowered his voice. “She followed her husband on the march. They say when the major’s body was brought off the field, she was wild with grief. She took her husband’s horse and sabre and joined the battle.”
The gossips were correct. There had been a wildness in her that day.
Across the room, her hair caught the light of the candle sand turned a bright yellow-gold.
“I’m surprised she’s allowed into this ballroom.” A woman on the march with soldiers, one so unladylike as to fight and kill, should be ostracized by society.
“There are some doors closed to her. But with Wellington himself championing her, society as a whole has accepted her.”
“She should have died.” He’d assumed she had. Her face was the clearest recollection he had of that day, and he could not think of the battle without thinking of her. He had never considered she would live, and was vaguely sad to think such a vibrant creature had been struck down. Seeing her alive and whole seemed to defy fate.
“If you ask the troop she marched with, death was her intention,” Langford said softly. “The French called her L’Ange de Vengeance.”
Vengeance. It seemed he and the Widow Fairchild were two of a kind.
“I know her just well enough to introduce you.” Langford’s glance turned sly.
She wouldn’t remember him from Waterloo. One soldier meeting another on the field of battle was nothing. Not that it mattered. It had been only a moment. A fleeting breath of time that would barely be remembered. Never mind he’d seen her wild, vengeful eyes in his dreams as often as he’d seen Emma’s dying eyes.
As Wellington bent to speak to Mrs. Fairchild, the woman angled her head and let her gaze wander the room. She should not have seen him. Guests danced and flirted and laughed between them, blocking her view. But like an arrow piercing fog, she trained blue eyes unerringly on Angel.
There was no vengeance there this time, but still they seemed to blaze. The color of them, the shape of them, ignited a visceral beat low in his belly. As did the lush curves even the most flowing gown couldn’t conceal.
Recognition flared in the widow’s eyes. Her lips lifted on one side before she flicked her gaze back to Wellington. The duke bowed his farewell and retreated into the crush.
“You’re asking for trouble with that one, my friend,” Langford laughed. “Which means it would be my pleasure to introduce you.”