Beyond the Pale

The Secret Diary of a Princess: Marie Antoinette novel at a BARGAIN price, snap it up!

If you only do yourself one favour today, let it be you snapping up the brilliant must-read historical novel The Secret Diary of a Princess by Melanie Clegg (Kindle edition) for the bargain price of £2.30 from Amazon UK or $3.69 from Amazon US.

If you’d like to read an excerpt – the moment when Marie Antoinette meets Madam du Barry for the first time – head on over to Melanie’s blog, and read it there.

Portrait Of Madame Du Barry by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Now, you may well raise up your skirts and be ready to squeal that you don’t have a Kindle, well neither do I, but I downloaded the free Kindle App for iPhone (I believe you can also get them for other brands of smartphone, anti-apple people ;p) for just such occasions as this (snapping up copies of favourite books for delayed travel emergencies & moments when you simply must have a bit of historical fiction to read, in order to escape from dreadful reality).

You’ll also be happy to hear that it’s published in the usual book format, too, for £7.99. All reassuringly papery and everything. So, that’s all bases covered and everyone’s happy. 🙂

Portait of Marie Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

The secret diary of the title belongs to the young Marie Antoinette, and in it we discover her innermost thoughts whilst viewing the turbulent events that shape her life. It’s immediately engaging, incredibly well researched and yet wears that research lightly, almost incidentally, because we become friends with her, we hold her hand and gaze – as she does – in wonder at the overwhelming brilliance and the spectacular world she becomes part of. This is history with a distinctly personal touch, and as a reader you are genuinely saddened when it comes to an end – you feel you have lost touch with that friend and are desperate to hear from her.

A young Marie Antoinette by Jean-Étienne Liotard

I wasn’t quoting “brilliant must-read” by rote from anywhere, by the way. I happen to know it’s brilliant and a must-read firsthand, being lucky enough to have read it previously, before it was properly published. However, I am so excited about the fact it’s now available for Kindle (and at such a reasonable price), that I have purchased it and mean to re-read it again very soon – the perfect antidote to tedious train journeys or vapid lunch-hours.

Still from Sofia Coppolas film, Marie Antoinette

As an avid perfume fan, I was entranced to read Melanie’s descriptions of the heavy musk and jasmine in the air – indeed, the whole book is a sensory delight, with descriptions of food, drink and perfumes working together to create an intoxicating, heady experience for the reader entering this world. One stumbles out of it all slightly dizzy, wishing for the swish of taffeta and the smell of beeswax and hot chocolate all over again. I happen to match perfumes to my moods – depending on what I am reading and how I feel generally. Some may think that slightly peculiar, but I assure you it’s not at all uncommon in the world of us perfume-obsessives! 😉

For this book, the first time I read it I chose the beautiful Bal a Versailles by Jean Desprez® – because, really, you couldn’t not, could you? I still love this perfume though haven’t worn it for a while – I must re-visit it soon! I first fell in love with it at quite an inappropriately young age (it’s a fragrance of… experience, shall we say) and just the thing for a book such as this. You can read my review of Bal a Versaille at Fragrantica, by the way, in which I wax lyrical about the scent and describe it in greater detail (scroll down, my username there is Miss_Nightingale – and many more excited fans of the perfume have added their reviews since mine, I’m glad to see!)

Today I am also wearing a suitable perfume (I think, anyway) for the era and ambiance this fictionalised account of Marie Antoinette’s early years creates. Although it’s distinctly a modern fragrance, Ormonde Woman, by Ormonde Jayne perfumes, begins in a heady puff of Black Hemlock absolute (usually associated as a poison!) infused with cardamom, violet, jasmine, vetiver and a woody-amber drydown that’s all powdery, soft and veritably dripping with sensuality. I was lucky to be treated to a bottle of this by my fiance, recently, and it’s simply sublime! I certainly feel as though I should be wafting about a candlelit ballroom with it on, or applying rouge and carefully placed patches whilst a maid powders your hair.

Whether it’s a totally wonderful historical novel, or a decadent new perfume to try whilst reading it, I do hope you’ll enjoy it – I know I did!


Michal Negrin: Baroque Genius of WHIMSY

From the get-go we know this website isn’t going to be a subtle affair: crimson velvet theatre curtains pull slowly apart to reveal the bizarre, charming and – if one is honest – slightly bewildering – world of designer Michal Negrin

An explosion of colours, overwhelming Baroque pastoral scenes involving plump cupids, frolicking 18th century lovers, random Kewpie dolls, 1920’s flapper girls dangling from hot air balloons and, ultimately, a mind-blowing peek into her world of full-on, turned-up-to-eleven romantic historical WHIMSY. A world, as you may imagine, I utterly adore.

I can’t quite recall when I first came across her designs, but I know exactly which item it was – a sumptuously gorgeous Victorian style skirt with overlapping romantic scrapbook-like pictures and tumbling roses. Love at first sight!

I think it would be fair to say that I rarely come across designers whose collections make me gasp and want one of practically everything, but Michal Negrin ticks all my boxes. 🙂

This is a relatively staid design from the current collection, totally wearable – I’d wear it as a day dress with a little cardi, plum colored tights, black biker boots & lashings of pearls. Just beacause.

I ALSO completely covet the other design in this style… Dreamy, misty, dusk-like colours and a cameo in the centre of the lacey trellis of a Victorian lady wearing a striped bathing suit. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Michal Negrin has been creating a unique lifestyle for over two decades with vintage-inspired designs that include jewelry, fashion, home décor, and accessories.

This full-length gown is just jaw-droppingly stunning – I think it looks like something from an Oscar Wilde play. It actually makes my heart beat faster.

Yes, yes, I know the price may also make the heart beat faster, but it’s a designer gown. We’re not doing a feature on supermarket fashion here, are we? (And I’m not being snobbish – I am currently putting together a feature about supermarket fashions I love, as it happens! – there are just different categories of clothing. I think this rivals some of Alexander McQueens last collection, but at a price that, whilst still expensive, is certainly more attainable than couture!)

This design is particularly reminiscent of that Baroque style couture – inspiration surely from cheerfully gaudily painted ceilings and the artwork one finds in those sumptuous palaces that have the power to take the breath away.

I love the colours in this skirt, they remind me of hand-tinted romantic Victorian photographs of famous actresses and noted beauties of the age.

As you can see, these softer colours are probably easier to wear for those of a nervous disposition who shy away from designs and patterns they consider ‘loud’ – this little vest top could be worn classically with a cashmere cardi & pearls, or thrown on with jeans & leather jacket. It’s all about the styling, dahling. 😉

Born in Kibbutz Naan in 1957, Michal always knew she was an individual with her own vision and this was despite being brought up in an environment that preached group uniformity.

She was driven to follow her inner passion for self-expression and spent her childhood designing. Her mother was an inspiration and supported her in fulfilling her dreams despite the Kibbutz’s conventions.

Well, there is absolutely nothing that says ‘group uniformity’ in Michal’s designs, that’s for sure. They manage to capture the spirit of those vintage collectible ‘saucy’ postcards – Victorian beauties showing a well-turned ankle or – shocking – gadding about in their under-crackers.

This skirt depicts ladies swimming through a palace as various Baroque items of furniture bob past. If you cannot love such a scene, then I seriously doubt we’d get on. I mean it. 🙂

A dramatic kimono top featuring Victorian ladies in handcarts above a vast city skyline climbing ladders into the sky… Again, I ask – what’s not to love?

It is obvious that Michal is passionate about vintage images, the bejewelled, beribboned world of Baroque, of gilded palaces, the court of Marie Antoinette, intricate Victorian scrapbook pictures, the excess of 1920’s hedonism and those gaily painted barges or gypsy caravans that gleam with brightly painted bouquets of flowers. All passions I share, so no wonder I am so giddy about her work!

Little details like the placing of the curtain-call ladies arm-in-arm, circling the cuffs of this beautiful bolero… literally make me squeal. It’s such fun, I love the sheer exuberance of these images and the way they are placed on the designs.

I have only shown you a tiny proportion of the items I love (I’d have to lead you through the entire website!) and even then have only touched on the clothes… Oh my dears, there are stunning boots & shoes, jewellery and even items for the home, too! But I shall leave you to explore those yourselves. 🙂

Negrin’s designs are more than I could normally spend, but then these are hardly your average clothes and accessories. I shall own some of her pieces one day soon, I SHALL! I long for them. 😦

Oh, I know, quelle melodramatic hand-to-the-forehead – forgive me if I sink, breathless, onto a velvet chaise lounge, but I rather think it suits these styles I so hanker after. 😉

Until next time,

Yours entirely made of whimsy,

Miss Nightingale


GirlEbooks: ebooks by the gals (FREE to Download)

GirlEbooks is a brilliant website which “aims to make classic and contemporary works by female writers available to a large audience through the ebook medium.” It’s mainly the work of Laura McDonald and her mum, Joyce, with other contributing bloggers, and I happen to think it’s utterly wonderful.

Yes, there are many websites with free ebook downloads, but I particularly like the selections on offer here – they sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

You can get ebooks in lots of places on the internet, but our ebooks are hand-crafted and professionally formatted. Each ebook has a linked table of contents and text reflow for small reading devices. We create covers, correct errors introduced by digital conversion, and offer the ebooks in multiple formats to accommodate most ebook reading devices. All of our ebooks, even the ones in the ebook store, are DRM free (no digital rights management). This means that once you download the ebook, it is yours forever.

Here are some of my favourites, which you should probably all go and download immediately…

If you have ever heard me warbling on about one of my favourite ever authors – Georgette Heyer – and wondered what all the fuss was about, well, now you can find out for free by downloading The Black Moth (her first novel, published in 1921). It was also the first book of hers I read, a mere whipper-snapper myself, and I fell completely head-over-heels in love with her wit, sense of drama and the devastatingly attractive pictures she paints of complete cads  and utter bounders. Heady stuff for a young gal and gave me a taste for very clever, sarcastic men. Oh dear.

First published in 1823, these memoirs were written by the first lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Madame Campan became close to the Queen during her 18 years in service. Her memoirs divulge details of the daily life at the royal court as well as recount the events of the Revolution from the royal family’s perspective.

I’m reading this one at the moment, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Click the picture to be whisked to the download page. Highly recommended!

The Duchess of Devonshire’s second book, first published in 1778, chronicles the life of a young, newly married lady of high society not unlike its author. Written in epistolary format, the story follows Julia from her idyllic country life to her marriage to a rich aristocrat. She soon discovers her husband is nothing other than a rake, spending all his and her money on gambling and mistresses. An anonymous guardian, in the guise of The Sylph, writes to her, giving her guidance through her troubles…but will it be enough?

Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, was Fanny Burney’s second novel and was first published in 1782. It is the story of Cecilia Beverly, a young and beautiful heiress whose army of suitors is made up of gentlemen, scoundrels, and many who are not what they seem. Admired by Jane Austen and many other contemporaries, it is said that the title for Pride and Prejudice is taken from the last pages of Cecilia.

Belinda, first published in 1801, is the story of a young woman who comes of age amid the distractions and dangers of London society. Belinda stays with both the extravagant, aristocratic Delacours and the sober, rational Percivals and molds her views on love and marriage from both. Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a comic and entertaining novel of manners.

Comedies of manners don’t always time-travel well, but in Belinda (for the most part) the comedy still remains fresh, I think, which is something that can be a bit lost in some older novels. Lavish descriptions of costumes, too, which is always a boon.

Four women, all strangers, escape the dismal English weather for a month-long retreat in an Italian villa. Once there, the company of the other women along with the “wisteria and sunshine” brings each character to a heartening realizaion about herself. First published in 1922, The Enchanted April was a best-seller in both England

Oh I still love this one – an especially good choice if you’re feeling under the weather and just want to curl up in bed with a heart-warming story that will definitely bring a smile to your lips.

You can’t beat a bit of Agatha Christie – another good choice for when you’re feeling poorly, I think. This is her first novel, published in 1920, and introduces us to the enigma that is Hercule Poirot, who went on to appear in 33 of her novels and 54 of the short stories.

Anyway, this is a mere glimpse, a veritable smattering of my favourites, but you should go and explore for yourself – GirlEbooks is a treasure-trove of good reads, and perfect for dipping your toes into the works of authors you have always wanted to try, those books you always meant to read, and some you’d never heard of!

Blood Sisters: FREE Novel
June 14, 2010, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Authors, Books, Decadence, History, Marie Antoinette, Paris, Writers | Tags:

Melanie Clegg – author, history buff, blog-writer and all-round good egg – has just published her second historical novel, Blood Sisters. What’s more, it is completely FREE to download until midnight tomorrow (June 15th)!

Click HERE to be whisked to the download page.

A stirring, dramatic and romantic tale of three aristocratic sisters, Lucrèce, Cassandre and Adélaïde that carries the reader from the splendours of Versailles to the bloodsoaked dangers of Revolutionary Paris, while all the while the guillotine looms overhead…

So, what are you waiting for? Go and get it, immediately, I compel you, dear hearts. You wont be sorry, and I am convinced you’ll be back for more from this author. Her first published novel, The Secret Diary of a Princess, was one of my favourite histroical reads of last year.

Pastel Please: Hair to Dye For. [sorry]

As Vogue recently reported, pastel hair is having its day as a trend, and I have to say I rather like it. It reminds me of Madame Pompadour style 18th Century powdered locks.

Model du jour Dree Hemingway with pastel locks

Fear not. I don’t intend to go pastel, dear readers, as anything other than dark brown or red hair looking back at me in the mirror would fluster me unnecessarily these days. I have been through every shade in the rainbow, so although my funky hair days are behind me, I can still appreciate the look on other people.

Tavi wears it very well (I think you have to be young and cute to get away with that colour and not be called a granny!) and Roxanne follows the look through to her powder pink jacket, toughening up the look with Vivienne Westwood shoes.

Young style blogger Tavi goes powder blue/grey. Cute!

Pastel blue hair, photo by ♥chimidoro

Giles Deacon’s choice of watercolour hues for the locks of his models at Paris Fashion Week are possibly responsible for kicking off the trend into the mainstream.

Ashley Olsen opted for an altogether more subtle take on the look, with streaks of different coloured pastels rather than an all-over wash, but I think it reads as a bit of a cop-out. It’s edging towards a sixth former being bored in an art class and colouring in their highlights with chalk. Sorry, dear.

Ashley Olsen's pastel streaks. Photo by Getty Images

I far prefer the braver souls who have plumped for an all-over colour with graduating tones, such as Swedish model Frida Gustavsson’s shoot for Vogue Germany’s March 2010 issue. Very Marie Antoinette Goes Biker Chick Goth!

Frida Gustavsson for Vogue Germany March 2010 (wearing Balmain jacket)

And of course Chanel had beautifully sculptured pastel-streaked bouffants a-plenty (rather more sophisticated than Ms Olsen’s I feel, but perhaps less practical!)

Pastel Bouffant for Chanel

All this pastel makes me feel rather Spring-like, even though the weather currently disagrees. Ah, how I long for the end of drizzle and ice. Anyway, if you can’t stand the cutesy sweetness of pastel hair, just opt for an accessory instead. Probably easier for most of us, in the long run, let’s face it!

Of course I had to find a selection of treasures to share with you. If you enjoy pastels, or simply prefer looking at them on other people, I do hope you’ll enjoy my selection of shops for you to browse through. 🙂

Direct links to items shown, left to right:

1st Row: 1) Urban Designs, 2) Midnight Affair, 3) PURE Natural Minerals

2nd Row: 1) Orglamix, 2) Leper Queen, 3) Minus One

3rd Row: 1) Vivka, 2) Passe Purse, 3) Timeless Design

4th Row: 1) Feather Heart Flower, 2) Ryeleigh Rose, 3) Alissa Studio

CONGRATULATIONS! Winner of the Let Them Eat Cake print is…
January 18, 2010, 7:59 pm
Filed under: Marie Antoinette | Tags: , , ,

… LML from Modern Marie wins the beautiful Let Them Eat Cake print by Blu Lima in a colour of her choice.

(LML – Just click on the picture below to be taken to the page, then click on “contact” and let Sharon know which colour you wanted and your address, and she’ll get it sent off to you. 🙂 )

Let Them Eat Cake by Blu Lima

I randomly select winners of my giveaways using and numbering comments left in chronological order. Seems the best way. 🙂

But how fitting that the writer of a lovely blog, who calls herself a “modern Marie Antoinette” should win! I do hope you enjoy the print, my dear. And many thanks again to the wonderfully generous Sharon from Blu Lima from donating this prize!

I’m cooking Jambalaya again, so am off to do some stirring. Smells good so far *licks lips*

Until next time, dear hearts,

Miss Nightingale


Ends Today: Let Them Eat Cake Marie Antoinette Competition!
January 18, 2010, 2:47 am
Filed under: 18th Century, Competions, Marie Antoinette, Pictures | Tags: , , , , , ,

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Roll-up, roll-up, roll-up!

That’s right, you saucy minxes, it’s the very last chance for you to enter the fabulous Marie Antoinette competition! I shall pick a winner by the end of the day (Monday 18th January).

All you have to do is go to THIS POST of mine and leave a comment saying which colour Let Them Eat Cake print you’d like.

That’s it.

And now, have some lovely pictures… (slightly) altered by yours truly. 🙂