Her Lady’s Melody

Two women, both widowed on the same day, find new love after loss.

DR LUCIANA STANMORE wondered if this stoic fragility would haunt her forever. The Great War officially ended on 11 November last year, but the wounded weren’t magically healed by the signing of the armistice. Eventually, the hospital at Remy Siding near Ypres emptied enough for Luciana to head home to England, but a letter from her Oma in Amsterdam took her there instead. She should be taking the time to heal and grieve for her lover Maggie who died in the war. When the neighbour’s son breaks his arm falling out of a tree, Luciana must confront her war trauma to help him. It would be a lot easier if the boy’s mother wasn’t so beautiful and empathetic towards her shocked state. A plot to kidnap the boy gives Luciana a reason to emerge from the shell she’s built around her heart, and a reason to spend more time with Therese.

THERESE DE SELETSKY is a widow with a secret, or two. In hiding from the Bolsheviks, she lives quietly in Amsterdam with her seven year-old son, Count Pavel de Seletsky. Her husband, Alexandre, the previous Count, was killed during the Russian Revolution, with Therese watching on as she hid in the cupboard with Pavel wrapped in her arms. With Russia in turmoil, she needs to keep her son safe, so when Pavel is almost kidnapped, Therese panics. Her neighbour, the elusive gorgeous Dr Stanmore, helps her figure out the threat to Pavel, and together they must travel to England to find the final piece of the puzzle. It’d be easy, except Luciana reminds Therese of all the feelings she’s buried deep since she was pulled out of music college in scandalous circumstances and quickly married to the Count.

Content Warnings

PTSD/Shell Shock, War injuries, Gun Death, threats of child kidnapping, Spanish Flu/pandemic.

Historical Notes

I have shamelessly borrowed from my family history for this novel. My Opa was born in Helsinki in 1916 under the Russian calendar, and when Finland became independent from Russia in 1917, he was issued with a new birth certificate; with new name, and a new date of birth on the Gregorian calendar. He had a habit of using both during moments when the confusion would amuse him, like on his wedding day much to my Oma’s annoyance.

De Seletsky is a family name that most likely died out in the Russian Revolution, although the family historians haven’t been able to trace every branch. My relative Nikolai de Seletsky owned a massive estate at Gorodsk, Ukraine, and was one of the Marchel de la Noblesse at the Kiev court. He married Olga Tarasova. Their daughter, also named Olga, married an engineer, Aleksandr Goulajeff and their only child was a daughter Xenia. Xenia is my great-grandmother (my aforementioned Opa’s mother), and she married back into the nobility. Side note – my Twitter handle, dekabat, comes from her married name ‘de Kabath or de Kabat” depending on how you Anglicize it. There were approximately 700 noble families in Russia prior to the Revolutions of 1917. Nikolai de Seletsky died prior to the Russian Revolution. On 19 January 1918, the house at Gorodsk was stormed by armed intruders and shot almost everyone on the property including several of my family members. Xenia’s grandmother Olga de Seletsky (nee Tarasova) was not at Gorodsk that day and no one knows what happened to her.

Many women served as doctors during WWI, as well as nurses and ambulance drivers. The book, “Women to the Front” by Heather Sheard and Ruth Lee is an excellent resource, although it is mostly focused on Australian women doctors.

“If times were quiet, triage practices followed medical standards, i.e. the severely wounded should be treated first. However, in times of severe battle, when the need for “fresh” troops was at a peak, the interests of the military determined triage methodology. Heavily wounded patients were put aside, given a dosage of morphine (if available), and left to die. The slightly wounded cost less time and were considered of greater importance because they could be made fit for battle again.” From https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/medicine_and_medical_service

I stationed Luciana and her mother Marie at Ypres because they could speak English, Dutch, and French (which was the main language of science prior to WWI). It’s approximately 130km to the north of the Somme battles (Lady Eleanor in Her Lady’s Honor was stationed at the veterinary hospital at Abbeville, near the Somme battlefield).

Morphine dates back to the first use of opium poppies in Mesopotamia in 3400BC. From the 1600s, opium was an ingredient in the popular medicine Laudanum, as referenced in London Pharmacopoeia (1618), where it was described as a pill made from opium, saffron, castor, ambergris, musk and nutmeg. The Opium Wars between England and China were in 1839-42, and 1856-60. In 1803, German scientist Friedrich Sertürner isolated morphine from opium,(believed to be the first chemical extraction of an active ingredient from a plant). Forty years later, in 1844, the first hypodermic needle was created which allowed the mass use of morphine as a painkiller. In 1906 in USA and Britain and in 1908 in Canada "laws requiring disclosure of ingredients and limitation of narcotic content were instituted”. Internationally, The Hague Convention of 1912 decided that opium, morphine, and cocaine and their use should be confined to ‘legitimate medical purposes” and was central to future international drug control. During WWI, morphine was readily available and given to every injured soldier as immediate pain relief and as a cure-all for issues such as diarrhea and dysentry. The sale of opiates, including laudanum and morphine, were restricted in 1914 (USA), 1916 (France), and 1920 (Britain). At least 500,000 wounded soldiers became addicted to morphine during WWI, giving rise to the nickname for addiction to morphine as "the army disease.”

As a side note, both the German Army and British Army in WWI used a different drug, cocaine (first created in 1859) to enhance soldier’s stamina and decrease their appetite. The British Army called their tablets “Forced March” and it was also instrumental in the Antarctic explorations.

The Pacification Act of 1917 in Holland meant women could be voted for (passive suffrage) but not vote for others (active suffrage). Active suffrage was granted on 18 September 1919 under the Beerenbrouck government who also brought in the eight hour working day to appease socialist voices in government who were unhappy the Beerenbrouck government refused to extradite Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Prior to WWI, fashion was all about hour glass figures and long trains with the period leading up to 1914 known as the Belle Epoque. After that until the revolution in 1917, a new style, named Western A La Russe combined the slim lines of the Belle Epoque with traditional Russian embroidery. The popularity of Daighilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris made these fashions spread across Europe.

Therese’s clothes would be the peak of Russian fashion in 1916, her husband would want her dressed for high society, so the long flowing heavy skirts would be coupled with slim high neck tops with intricate embroidery. From 1910, corsets shifted lower, starting from under the breasts and down over the hips to give a cleaner line. Eventually, they were coupled with a bra (invented 1914 by Mary Phelps Jacob: see https://glamourdaze.com/2013/03/a-brief-history-of-the-bra.html) and worn with a slip over the bra and under the corset. As the 1920s arrived, a more natural school of thought came out of the fabric shortages of the war, and underwear also became less constrictive and more supportive, as well as having less layers. An excellent resource is the website: https://www.rbth.com/arts/2017/05/10/fashion-and-the-russian-revolution-how-sackcloth-replaced-lace_760091

Tsar Alexander II granted emancipation to the serfs (slaves) in 1861 (or 1866 if they were on Imperial owned lands). Serfs gained the full rights of free citizens, including rights to marry without having to gain consent, to own property and to own a business, and this affected about 23 million people. Tsar Alexander II was the grandfather of Tsar Nicholas II (who lost the Russian Revolution and ended Imperial rule in 1917).

The house owned by Luciana's Oma on Lomanstraat was built in 1913 as a series of connected terrace houses. The famous leaning Honey Locust trees would have been very small back in 1919 and I found a photo from 1930 that I've used as a basis for the description of Oma’s house.

Thundermugs is a Victorian era slang term for a flush toilet, and Luciana’s Mama uses it as a curse in her book, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, so I've kept it for her daughter as a connection between them.

During the 1905 Revolution in Russia, 3,000 manor houses were burned down by peasants (freed serfs), which was a massive 15% of all manor houses. Even so, many of the aristocracy believed that would be the end of any uprising by the people and they went back to the flamboyant ways.

When the Bolsheviks abolished the entire Empire’s criminal code in October 1917, this also got rid of Article 995 which had previously criminalised “men lying with other men.” This law had existed since 1832, and was punished with five years exile to Siberia, although it was hardly applied to aristocratic men. Previously, the first law to ban homosexuality (between men) was signed into law in 1716 and only affected the navy and soldiers. The time between 1905 and 1917 was seen as “a golden age for homosexuality” in Russia, again only in the aristocratic and intellectual classes. This law was reinstated by Stalin in 1933 (Article 121). The general public sentiment was that homosexuality was still associated with aristocratic and bohemian “elite” values. Women were ignored by the law, and very little information exists about lesbians in Russia. They were not taken seriously by the intelligentsia (being no threat to the patriarchy), and the only reason Therese’s parents would care at all about her kissing Vera would be the threat of public shame. For Alexandre, he would need an heir, but otherwise could just live his life without too much worry – provided he stayed in the right circles.

The silent film actress Billie Burke appeared in fetching pajamas in two 1916 films, "Jerry" and "Gloria’s Romance", launching a craze for cute pjs instead of the standard nightgown.

The word ‘sexy” dates to 1912.