Friday Fun Facts - 6/1/2012

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Here's Lord John in ECHO, recalling an unsettling dream about his visit to Trois Flèches, the home of the Baron Amandine:
Was it dream, memory, or something partaking of the nature of both? He had been standing in the main salon of Trois Flèches, looking at the very fine Stubbs hanging to the right of the baroque mantelpiece. The walls were crowded with pictures--hung above, below, crammed in without regard to subject or merit.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 45, "Three Arrows". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What does he mean by a "very fine Stubbs"? It's a reference to the work of George Stubbs, an 18th century artist reknowned for his very lifelike paintings of horses and other animals.

The painting above, "Mares and Foals in a River Landscape", dates from 1763-68, so I like to think it could have been the one Lord John is remembering. Click on the picture to see a bigger view. Look here for more of some of Stubbs' paintings. Aren't they beautiful?

The artist George Stubbs may or may not have been a relative of Olivia's husband, Malcolm Stubbs. But it's fun to speculate. <g>

2) The next item on this week's list was inspired by a scene near the beginning of THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.
Betty lifted her chin.

“There’s a man what wants to talk to you. He sent me to say. And I saw you come down from the loft.”

That last sentence floated in the air between them, charged like a Leyden jar. Touch it, and there’d be a spark that would stand his hair on end. Christ. Did she have any notion what it was he’d been doing?

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1, "April Fool". Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The diagram above shows what a Leyden jar looks like. This invention -- the earliest form of a capacitor -- dates back to about 1745, and I have occasionally wondered how Jamie found out about it. He obviously seems familiar with what it can do.

Here's a brief demonstration of sparks coming from a homemade Leyden jar. If you want to try this at home, here's an explanation of how to build your own Leyden jar out of a plastic water bottle and aluminum foil.

3) You may recall the story that the Cherokee woman tells Claire in THE FIERY CROSS, just before a fire breaks out in the village:
“The animals and the birds decided to play a ball game,” Anna said, translating smoothly as Sungi talked. “At this time, bats walked on four feet, like the other animals. But when they came to play in the ball game, the other animals said no, they couldn’t play; they were too small, and would surely be crushed. The bats didn’t like this.” Sungi frowned, with a grimace indicating a displeased bat.

“So the bats went to the birds, and offered to play on their side, instead. The birds accepted this offer, and so they took leaves and sticks, and they made wings for the bats. The birds won the ball game, and the bats liked their wings so much that--”

Sungi stopped talking abruptly. Her head lifted, and she sniffed the air. All around us, the women stopped talking. Sungi rose swiftly and went to the door, hand braced on the doorframe as she looked out.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It turns out that this is a well-known Cherokee legend. Here is one version of the story. I was amused by the reference to the bear "showing his strength by tossing logs and boulders into the air", just like the Scots tossing cabers at a Highland Games! <g>

4) Many of you will remember the gentleman with the very foul-smelling asafoetida bag whom Claire encountered on her journey from Inverness to Edinburgh in VOYAGER. The photo above shows what asafoetida looks like. According to Wikipedia:
Asafoetida's English and scientific name is derived from the Persian word for resin (asa) and Latin foetida, which refers to its strong sulfurous odour. Its pungent odour has resulted in its being called by many unpleasant names; thus in French it is known (among other names) as merde du diable (devil's faeces); in some dialects of English, too, it was known as devil's dung, and equivalent names can be found in most Germanic languages.
You can see more information about asafoetida bags here. After reading a little about it, I now have a much better appreciation for the reactions of the other passengers in the coach who had to put up with that stench for hours, maybe days, at a time.
Mr. Graham, a small and vivacious gentleman of advanced years who was seated next to me, was wearing a bag of camphor and asafoetida about his neck, to the eyewatering discomfort of the rest of the coach.

"Capital for dispelling the evil humors of influenza," he explained to me, waving the bag gently under my nose like a censer. "I have worn this daily through the autumn and winter months, and haven't been sick a day in nearly thirty years!"

"Amazing!" I said politely, trying to hold my breath. I didn't doubt it; the fumes probably kept everyone at such a distance that germs couldn't reach him.

The effects on the little boy didn’t seem nearly so beneficial. After a number of loud and injudicious remarks about the smell in the coach, Master Georgie had been muffled in his mother’s bosom, from which he now peeped, looking rather green.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "A. Malcolm, Printer". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

5) The photo above shows a group of longleaf pines, similar to the ones found near Jocasta Cameron's plantation at River Run.
It was pleasant country. Once in the pine forest, it was much cooler, the sun blocked out by the clustered needles overhead. Far overhead the trunks of the trees soared upward for twenty or thirty feet before branching out--no great surprise to hear that the largest part of the mill's output was masts and spars, made for the Royal Navy.

River Run did a great deal of business with the navy, it seemed, judging from Jocasta s conversation; masts, spars, laths, timbers, pitch, turpentine, and tar.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10, "Jocasta". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I have some trees like these in my back yard, in Raleigh, NC.  Even a quick glance at these longleaf pines makes it obvious why shipbuilders of the 18th century would have considered them ideal for masts. The ones in my neighborhood rise well above the rooftops, sometimes 90 feet tall or more!

Here's an article about the history of the longleaf pine forests in North Carolina and their use in 18th century naval stores.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts. And please come back next week for more!

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