Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Trouble to Check Her...Maria Grace

Available on Amazon
The Trouble to Check Her is the latest release by author Maria Grace. It is my pleasure to have Maria Grace visit at More Agreeably Engaged and tell us a bit about her research for this book. I must say that the things she shares about housework in the Regency era does take a bit of the glamour out of the time and definitely adds to the reality of it. Those that were gently born certainly had a life much easier than the maids. They had to be tough women to do the things that were required of them. 

This novel follows Lydia at Mrs. Drummond's School for Girls. Lydia gets to learn first hand some of these chores that she was used to the maids doing at Longbourn. Don't you know she felt that quite beneath her dignity?

Maria Grace, I enjoyed reading about your research and the excerpt. I am ready to continue reading your story that is getting so many good reviews! Best wishes on your book, The Trouble to Check Her.


Thanks so much for having me Janet.

I confess I’m a bit of a research nerd. One of my favorite parts of writing is the research I get to do along the way. I love getting into the nitty-gritty of people’s lives in the Regency era.  One surprising place I’ve ended up is researching how housework was done. Housework had a big part to play in my latest book, The Trouble to Check Her, in which Lydia Bennet finds herself doing a great deal of it.

All the things we take for granted, like specialized cleaning produces, vacuums, clothes and dish washers, irons, even just detergents were not available in the Regency era. So they had very different methods to keep things clean.

Here are a few of the most interesting tidbits I learned in the process.

Dust was a HUGE problem in the era. Coal dust and fire soot were everywhere. Maids spent a great deal of effort dealing with it. It was so bad that before rooms were dusted or floors swept, large dust cloths were placed over the furniture and curtains pinned up away from the floor to keep the dust from dirtying them. Then damp, used tea leaves or damp fine sand was sprinkled on the floor to help give the dust something to cling to as it was swept up. Maids would get very dirty with all the sweeping and were required to don large ‘bed making aprons’ before touching bed linens and other things that might be soiled by their dusty gowns.

Speaking of beds, they generally had at least two or three mattresses, each stuffed with something different. The lowest, called a paillasse was stuffed with straw. It was turned once or twice a week. This of course meant removing EVERYTHING on top of it. Upper mattresses might be filled with horse-hair, wool, flock or down. Well-to-do houses might have four or five mattresses stacked on top of each other. These required turning and shaking every other day or so. The mattresses were supported by ropes along the bottom of the bed. The ropes required regular tightening using large wooden pins. All of that had to be dealt with before the bed clothes were addressed. Makes me glad I only need to turn my mattress once or twice a year!

In addition to dusting and straightening, houses needed a great deal of scrubbing. Floors, stairs, hearths, stone floors, stoves, fire irons…I get weary just thinking about all of it! Elbow grease was the first ingredient in any cleansing preparation.  After that there were three basic ingredients, an abrasive, a base to carry to abrasive and something to apply it with. The abrasives ran the gambit from coarse sand and brick dust, to pumice, fuller’s earth and rottenstone. The bases it was mixed into could be as simple as water, milk, small beer or sweet oil, or might include various soaps, washing soda, or lye. Salt, lemon juice and even vitriol (sulfuric acid!) found their way into cleaning preparation. These would then be applied by bare hands(!) with hair or bristle brushes, flannel, wool, soft carpeting, soft leather, even feathers!

Kind of puts a new spin on cleaning day, doesn’t it?


Here’s a snippet from the book of Lydia tackling her first bout of housecleaning at the girl’s school to which she had been sent:

The Trouble to Check Her


Bright morning sun streamed into her room. She pulled the sheets over her head.

Why did it have to taunt her misery?

“Did anyone explain our Sunday routine to you?”

Why was Juliana so cheerful?

“No.” Lydia peeked above the covers.

Whatever it was, she was not going to like it.

Juliana waddled into the sunlight and stuffed her feet into a pair of worn slippers. “I will go downstairs for some wash water and explain it all when I return.”

She padded away.

Lydia groaned and ducked under the bedclothes. Perhaps if she fell back to sleep before Juliana returned, she might be left in peace.

The doors squeaked open.

“We were very lucky today. Cook had a kettle steaming when I got to the kitchen.”

She huffed a bit as she placed a ceramic jug on the wash stand.

“What good fortune.” Lydia rolled out of bed.

“You have the first turn—only pray, leave me some warm water.” Juliana shuffled aside.

Lydia sloshed water into the wash basin and then added a bit more. What right had Miss Waddles-About to tell her how much to use?

She washed her face and hands and turned to find Juliana in her chemise and stays, wearing a hopeful look.

“Could you help me with these again?”

Lydia huffed and flung a hand in the air. “I suppose so. Shall I do your hair as well?”

“Thank you, no. It is all hidden under my cap so there is little point.” Juliana turned her back to Lydia.

Gah! Was the girl too stupid to recognize sarcasm?

Lydia pulled at the laces. “These are near to breaking.”

“Do not pull them very tight. I cannot afford new ones.”

Lydia nearly dropped the laces.

Not able to manage so minute an expense? Surely she exaggerated … but why else would she wear such ridiculous stays?

“That is perfect. Thank you. I am sorry to keep bothering you with them.” Juliana trundled off and began to wash.

Lydia dressed, appreciating her own short stays as never before.

“Now we must clean our room.”

“Excuse me?”

“Each Sunday before holy services, Mrs. Drummond requires we clean our rooms.” Juliana slipped her apron over her head.

“She … I … but …”

“It will not kill you. And we never know, one day we might have to find employ as maids.”

“I shall never be a maid.” Lydia tossed her head.

“I hope you are correct, but it is a better fate than starving in the streets. Either way, we must clean the room.”

She was serious? They were actually going to do this?

“No matter, I will show you. It is not so bad once you get accustomed to it. Go downstairs and get a kettle of boiling water and a pail for the slops. I shall start on the beds whilst you are gone.”

Who was Miss Waddles-About to order her around?

“Would you rather work on the beds and I get the water? I have already fetched water once today, and only thought it fair we should share the job. But, if you disagree, here is the dust rag.”

“Why would I need that?”

“To dust the chairs before you turn the sheets on to them.”

“Oh, I suppose I will get the water.” Lydia hurried out lest Juliana invent another chore for her.

Joan met her on the stairs, water jug in hand. “So you have been sent to fetch water, too?”

“I am to bring boiling water.” Lydia wrinkled up her face into a mockery of Juliana’s expression.

Joan choked back a laugh. “Did you not have hot water to wash with?”

“Juliana brought some up.”

“Why do you need more? We always use it for cleaning, too. What is the point in climbing the stairs more than we must? She’s just seeing how much work she can make you do.”

“I thought she was demanding far too much.” Lydia stomped into the kitchen.

Mrs. Drummond presided by the stove near Cook, adding kettles and pots to heat.

“I need wash water,” Joan said.

“And a boiling kettle and slop pail,” Lydia added.

“Provide Miss Bennet with her request whilst I have a talk with Miss Colbrane.” Mrs. Drummond took Joan by the elbow to a far corner.

Cook wrapped the handle of the kettle in a towel and handed it to Lydia. “Mind yourself not to get burned.”

Lydia could just make out Mrs. Drummond scolding Joan’s attempts to take short cuts in their cleaning. It sounded as though they would be cleaning the teachers’ bedrooms as well. Amelia would be so angry!

Perhaps it would be best to listen to Juliana for now. She seemed to have garnered some favor from Mrs. Drummond. If she played Juliana’s friend, she might share in it as well.

She trudged back upstairs, burning herself twice along the way.

Juliana met her at the door. She took the kettle and set it on the hearth. “I have the windows open and the beds stripped. Empty the wash basin and chamber pot into the slop pail, scald the vessels, along with the water jar and tumbler and empty them into the pail.”

“Why am I to do all the work? I brought up the water.”

Juliana turned aside as though she had not heard. “I will cover the large furniture with the dusting sheets and fetch the supplies to clean out the fireplace. Just be happy we do not have a carpet to drag outside and beat.”

Unpleasant though it was, emptying and scalding the vessels and discarding the slop pail did not take very long. So, she was sent to fetch damp sand for the floor and a fresh pail of scrub water.

Just how many times had she climbed the stairs this morning? Surely Juliana was inventing errands.

Juliana finished the fireplace and ordered her to dust the windows and furniture while she did the walls and ceiling.

How often had the lazy girl stopped, huffing and panting, unable to catch her breath? A clever way, indeed, to leave Lydia with all the work.

Dusting finished, Juliana took the sand jar, leaving Lydia to drag all the small furniture to the center of the room.

Lydia shoved the broom at Juliana. “You sweep. I am utterly fagged.”

She leaned on the doorjamb to watch. How droll was Juliana, maneuvering the broom around her belly.

“Oh!” Juliana staggered and caught herself on the chest of drawers. The broom clattered on the floor.

“Juliana!” Miss Fitzgilbert rushed in.

When had Miss High-and-Mighty arrived? Probably sent by Mrs. Drummond to snoop on them.

“The midwife told you not work too hard. Come, lie down in my room whilst I fetch Mrs. Drummond.” Miss Fitzgilbert took Juliana’s arm. “You need to finish sweeping and scrub the floors.”

“By myself?”

“Can you not see she has made herself ill? Had you been a bit more considerate, she might still be able to help you.” Miss Fitzgilbert tossed her head and disappeared with Juliana in tow.

Lydia stared after them. How could she possibly be expected to do so much alone? She grabbed the broom and flung it from side to side. That only threw dust upon the furniture she had just cleaned.


Mama was very particular about how the maids did their work. What did it look like when the maid had done this at home? She closed her eyes and mimicked the motions she remembered.

Yes, that was more effective.

“Do not forget to sweep under all the furniture.” A voice called from the door.

How kind of Miss Fitzgilbert to stop and offer advice.

Lydia snatched a flannel cloth and reached under the chest of drawers. There was hardly anything under it. Underneath the beds was similarly clean.

What a waste of time.

Dust pail filled, the only thing left was to scrub the floor. Wretched task, on her knees, her hands in the cold water, by herself. She turned her back to the door and dunked the cloth in the chilly, soapy bucket. How she hated the feel of it on her hands, slippery and dry all at the same time.

Soon she would sport chilblains and cracked fingertips! How then would she be able to sew or practice the pianoforte?

She sat back on her heels and dragged her sleeve across her forehead. Only in spring and fall, when Papa demanded everything be completely cleaned did she ever work this hard. And then only if Mama did not have enough extra household money to hire an additional girl for the duration.

“I see no one has taught you to scrub floors.”

She jumped to her feet, slipping in a soapy puddle.

Mrs. Drummond loomed in the doorway behind her.

“Ah, yes, I mean no, madam.”

“Then I shall show you, but pay attention for I shall only do it once.” Mrs. Drummond minced over the sopping floor, leaving footprints in her wake. “Bring the sand. You have some stains.”

Lydia slipped and nearly overturned the sand jar.

Mrs. Drummond dropped to her knees near the far corner and beckoned Lydia down. “First, you must always begin farthest from the door and work toward it, lest you trap yourself inside with a clean, wet floor between you and the way out.” She pointed to the messy footprints.

Lydia winced.

Mama’s maid started from the far side, too. Who knew it should matter so much?

“Now to begin, soak the cloth in the soapy water and wring it a bit. Too much only makes a mess. Now rub it along the length of the floor boards, not across. This is especially important if you must scour a stain. Here, give me the sand.” She sprinkled a generous pinch on a dark spot. “Scrub with the grain of the wood until it is gone. Do not rub in circles or across the grain.” She looked up at Lydia. “I will not have my floor boards ruined.”

“Yes, Mrs. Drummond.”

“Now, when you are finished, you must use fresh water—where is your rinse pail?”

“I … I … do not have one.”

Had Juliana told her to get one? Perhaps … oh bother, she did not remember now.

“Go downstairs and fetch one. Quickly, now!”

Lydia almost tripped over her own feet as she dashed to the kitchen. Several buckets waited near the door. The cook signaled her to take one.

One never realized how heavy water was until it needed to be carted about. No wonder charwomen were so disagreeable.

Lydia staggered into her room. The pail sloshed out splashes as she skidded toward Mrs. Drummond.

“Down here with me.” She passed a clean rag to Lydia. “Dip a fresh rag in the clean water and wring it well. Rinse the soap off the floor or it will leave ugly marks and the dirt will stay behind. Like that. Finally, use a dry cloth and sop up the rinse water.”

Side by side, they wiped the clean patch dry.

“Now you have a clean floor.” Mrs. Drummond rose and dried her hands on her apron. “Finish up, and you may go to the morning room for breakfast.” She left Lydia to stare at the empty doorway.

How cruel, to leave her to this huge dirty floor all by herself.

Lydia shoved stray hair out of her eyes. Perhaps—she tucked it under her mobcap and it stayed. That was useful.

Hunkered down on sore knees, she whimpered. Why had Mrs. Drummond not brought Juliana back to help her finish? No, no such work for the headmistress’s pet. She muttered under her breath and set back to scrubbing.

An hour later, she swabbed the last bit dry and backed out of the door, dragging her pails and cloths with her.

Miss Fitzgilbert bustled past. “Bring all that down to the scullery, the rags too. You will see a great basket for them as you enter.”

Oh, how she wanted to speak her mind, but she was far too weary—and now too hungry—to do so.

She trudged behind Miss High-and-Mighty, and left her burdens in the cramped, dark scullery.

How very good it felt not to be stooped over a bucket of dirty, frigid water.

She straightened her back and stretched. Other girls with their burdens pushed past her, and she dodged out of their way.

What was that? Something smelled very good indeed.

She followed the scent to the morning room. All manner of good food graced the table. Plain to be sure, but hearty and plentiful.

Amelia waved at her to take the seat between her and Joan.

“I am so fagged!” Lydia fell into the chair and threw her head back.

“I hate Sunday mornings!” Amelia muttered through a mouthful of potatoes.

“At least we get to eat before she drags us off to hear the vicar.”

“Oh I detest the sermonizing.” Amelia rolled her eyes. “And Mr. Weatherby is so long-winded—”

“And holy!” Joan sat up very straight and folded her hands before her, eyes cast skyward.

Amelia giggled. “Very, very holy. Can you imagine being a vicar’s wife?”

“What a horrible fate, particularly with one like him. How can one do anything right in his eyes?”

Amelia leaned low to the table and whispered. “It is truly awful when Mrs. Drummond has him to dinner with us.”

Lydia covered her sigh with her hand. “Does she do that often?”

“At least once a fortnight.” Joan pouted. “I expect he will be joining us sometime this week.”

“How he likes to remind us of how very wicked we are.”

“And how grateful we should be for our situation here.”

“As if anyone could be grateful for this workhouse.” Lydia piled a slab of ham and several potatoes on her plate and reached for a platter of scones.

This is just the beginning of Lydia’s adventures in The Trouble to Check Her.


The Trouble to Check Her Book Blurb

Lydia Bennet faces the music…

Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey.  That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.
Ridiculous, she said.
Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.
Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?
Buy Links:


Author Bio:  

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year.

She can be contacted at:

Twitter @WriteMariaGrace


It has been great having you visit again. It is always a delight to have you stop by and share interesting tidbits with us. The book blurb has my mind wondering about this music master! Could he possibly be a good influence on Lydia? Oh, to read the book and find out!!! :) Isn't it great that Mr. Darcy took the trouble to check her. There may be hope yet!

Thank you again for being my guest today, Maria Grace. I hope you will come back soon with another new release.


  1. so glad for my vacuum and baking soda

    1. It does make you appreciative, doesn't it! I don't like housework and surely would not have then!

  2. What a chore housework was. I have scrubbed my unfinished wooden flpot to clean it in preparation for waxing. A soft cushion for my knees and rubber gloves are helpful.

    1. That doesn't sound like much fun either but thinking about how pretty it will look, probably made it better. Yes, I would think the cushion and gloves a necessity!

    2. Ouch! That doesn't sound like fun at all!

  3. What a chore housework was. I have scrubbed my unfinished wooden flpot to clean it in preparation for waxing. A soft cushion for my knees and rubber gloves are helpful.

  4. Oh, that tired me out just reading it. LOL! Look forward to reading more of the story.

    1. I hear you! It did me too. As I have already said, I'm not too fond of housework, something one of my sister's and mother could never understand. They seemed to enjoy it Go figure! I would rather be outside enjoying nature or drawing.

    2. I have a hard time imagining being fond of housework, but I have a friend like that too!

  5. all those mattresses... reminds me of the princess and the pea :)


    1. It does, doesn't it, Denise! Too funny!

    2. The whole story makes a lot more sense with that in mind, doesn't it?

  6. Congrats on the new release, Maria, what a lovely excerpt. Dear oh dear, Mr Darcy can't be flavour of the month to Lydia after all this :D

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Joana! No, I bet Mr. Darcy is NOT at the top of her favorite people list! lol