Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

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5 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice has been on my mind a great deal lately. I received this great sweatshirt for Christmas this year. AND, my husband has started a local theater company, and without any nudging from me (honestly), Goose Creek Players will perform Pride and Prejudice this spring. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan and well Pride and Prejudice is the crown jewel of her achievements.

Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.

Here’s 5 facts you may or may not know about the novel.

1. Mr. Darcy was the Rockefeller or Vanderbilt of his day

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but what does that mean in today’s market? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—”How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!” Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt.

2. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of the Regency era

Image result for Images of Gretna Green

In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes to Scotland with that scoundrel George Wickham. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be wed via a “marriage by declaration.” The photo above is that of the famous blacksmith shop in Gretna Green that also had a marriage parlor to capitalize on the profits a young newlywed couple such as Lydia and Wickham could bestow.

3. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it

Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had “a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney’s Evelina.” He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. It wasn’t until the success of Sense and Sensibility, 14 years later, that Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old.

4. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously

Related imageAusten didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public.

5. Austen underestimated the popularity of her novel

Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since.

Image result for images of pride and prejudice

In the 200+ years since Pride and Prejudice was published, there have been at least 11 film and TV adaptations of Austen’s novel. My personal favorite is the 1995 BBC version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy … sigh … but I digress.

What is your favorite adaptation? The Colin Firth version or the one with Keira Knightley? Or perhaps something different altogether?

Swooning, A Victorian Fad?

“Beware of fainting-fits… though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet believe me: they will, in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your constitution.”

~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/fainting1_3759.jpg

As a lover of all things classic and bookish, I find it fascinating that women in 19th century novels were commonly portrayed fainting. They faint when anything scary, shocking or surprising happens. They faint at moments of emotional intensity. They faint whenever they try any hard physical work.

In Dickens’ Pickwick Papers female characters swoon repeatedly. And who can forget Jane Austen’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (you knew I’d work that one in if I could) keeping to her rooms for fear of fainting under the stress of her daughter’s elopement with the dastardly Mr. Wickham.

Some historians suggest that fashion may have played a part.

child-corsetCorsets were very common among the upper classes. Worn around the torso, corsets were made of a durable tightly woven fabric or leather, fashioned with channels running throughout them in which vertical ribs were inserted, called boning because they were often made with whale bone. The entire device was held together, and tightened, sometimes to extremes, by a system of lacing. Girls were started in corsets at a very young age and, for them and ladies after childbirth, waist training, to shrink the side of the waist, via super tight lacing, was common. Over time, corset-wearers’ bodies changed—their ribs were displaced, their lungs were squashed, some organs were compressed against the spine and others were shoved down into the lower abdomen. In addition to making it hard to breathe, hearts struggled to pump and, stomachs struggled to digest what little food they could get down. As one Victorian lady reported, “I had only eaten two bites of my biscuit there was no room beneath my corset for a third.”

Another fashion-based theory is that a well dressed woman of this era wore an enormous amount of clothing. In addition to her corset, such a lady would undergarments, a bustle pad, a full skirt supported by crinoline petticoats, sometimes lined with steel hoops, and a bonnet. Some may have fainted from overheating, while others may have collapsed under the sheer weight of their garments and their tightly cinched corsets.

Another possible explanation for some of the swooning could have been chronic poisoning. During the 19th century, while people knew that arsenic was poisonous, they didn’t understand that external exposure from its fumes could also be harmful. The toxin was widely used in the manufacture of everything from fabrics to paints to the paper in which food was wrapped; in fact, by the end of the 1800s, 80% of all wallpaper was arsenic-laced. Arsenic poisoning has a variety of symptoms including headaches, cold sweats, and fainting.

In addition, arsenic, along with lead, mercury and other such toxic substances, were commonly found in makeup during the Victorian era. Lead was also a common ingredient in hair dyes and was frequently found in wine, along with arsenic and copper. Together, these toxins contributed to more wealthy Victorians suffering from seizures, and theoretically swooning, when compared with their poorer neighbors who couldn’t afford such luxuries.

Was Swooning a Fad?

Even more curious is that the phenomenon appeared to be more common among middle and upper class women, or so literature would have you believe. Upper-class women, especially young women, were expected to be more delicate, more emotional, and more easily distressed as opposed to women of the working classes. Leaving many social historians to believe that all swooning was nothing more than a put on. Besides potential side effects from tightly laced corsets or the exposure to toxins, fainting became expected and downright ladylike. Women of particularly of high station were expected to act the role of a delicate flower, while men were expected to be hard as nails. Swooning was simply one method for a woman to demonstrate her femininity. Well-to-do women often had something called a “fainting room,” a special location where she could recover a fainting spell in private.

In Bleak House, Dickens’ character, Lady Dedlock, swoons at the first hint her hidden past, a secret affair and child, may be revealed. Dickens also ridicules characters who swoon as part of a social performance. Mrs Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewit is portrayed as manipulating those around her by “wilting on demand.”

Lady Revivers

Smelling salts, also known as “lady revivers,” were the most common method used for rousing a fainting damsel. However there is no salt in smelling salts at all. The active ingredient is ammonium carbonate, a solid compound that when mixed with water releases an ammonia gas that irritates the lining of the nose and the windpipe, heightening a person’s alertness.

While fashionable Victorian ladies might have a “fainting room” inside in case a sudden fit befell them, if a woman was overcome while out and about the situation might prove more perilous. Police constables of the era were equipped with small vials of smelling salts to assist afflicted women in the streets.

So what do you think? Was the sudden surge in fainting spells among Victorian upper-class women a result of tight corsets and arsenic-laced cosmetics, or was it a social fad, a way to prove your delicate femininity?

 

Knocker Up–A Legit Profession?

Related imageMorning comes early for me. Once a night owl, I’m now one of the earliest risers of my acquaintance. I have the advantage of setting an alarm clock for 4:30 in the morning and hitting the snooze button several times if I’m not quite ready to greet the day.

Before the advent of the alarm clock, an entire profession emerged for the sole purpose of waking sleepy workers to ensure they made it to work on time. The Knocker Up was a common sight in Britain and Ireland during the Industrial Revolution, particularly in the northern mill towns and big cities like London and Dubline where people worked unusual shifts in factories or on the docks, often needing to be at work as early as three a.m.

The trade spread rapidly across the country particularly in areas where poorly paid workers were required to work shifts but could not afford their own watches. Some factories employed their own knocker-ups to ensure their employees arrived on time. In return for their services, knocker-ups were paid a few pence a week.

As more people employed the services of knocker-ups, neighbors who did not desire to be woken at odd hours began complaining about the loud noise the knocker-ups made when ringing bells and rapping on widows to rouse their sleepy customers. The solution they devised was modifying a long stick, with which to tap on the bedroom windows of their clients, loudly enough to rouse those intended but softly enough not to disturb the rest.

Image courtesy of Au Bout de la Route blog

 

Some of the more adventurous knocker ups, like Mary Smith of London’s East End (shown below) employed pea shooters to hurl dried peas at windows until the sleeper within woke up.

Mary Smith

Even Charles Dickens mentioned the trade in his 1861 novel Great Expectations when one of the characters, Mr. Wopsle, loses his temper over “being knocked-up” in the morning.

Another account appeared in an article in the Huron Expositor in 1878. A Canadian reporter interviewed a retired knocker-upper about her profession. Mrs. Waters served between 35 and 95 people, mostly in the period between five and six in the morning. She also recalls the bad temper of some of her customers who, like the Dickens’ character, just couldn’t hold their morning temper when she attempted to rouse them.

There was one man in particular: he had to be up at five o’clock; he was given to drink, by the way; so that he was not only hard to awaken, but he never came to the window, but he indulged in angry mutterings, and I heard at times an oath slip out of his mouth.

With the spread of electricity and affordable alarm clocks, however, knocking up had died out in most places by the 1940s and 1950s.

Yet the trade continued in some pockets of industrial England until the early 1970s and even became immortalized in songs like the one below by folk singer-song writer, Mike Canavan:

“Through cobbled streets, cold and damp, the knocker-upper man is creeping.

“Tap, tapping on each window pane, to keep the world from sleeping…”

 

What gets you up in the morning?

 

 

 

 

The Disgraceful History of the Waltz

Long before Elvis gyrated his pelvis or Miley Cyrus twerked at the VMA’s, the Viennese waltz shocked European aristocracy. Although today the waltz is considered the “Queen of all the dances,”  it has a scandalous history.

The Viennese Waltz by Vladimir Pervunensky

The Waltz had humble beginnings in rural Germany. In the mid 18th century, peasants began to dance something called the landler in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria. Set to 3/4 time music, the dance involved couples rotating around the dance floor. It eventually became known as the walzer, from the Latin volvere, meaning rotate. At the time, the aristocracy was dancing to the minuet but the peasants’ dance was so fun that some noblemen were known to sneak away to the lower class gatherings just to enjoy it.

Maria and Captain Von Trapp dance the Landler in 20th Century Fox’s, The Sound of Music

Eventually the waltz was introduced to Vienna, in an opera called “The Cosarara.” In 1790, Baron Newman introduced the twirling dance to English aristocracy but it was Napolean’s triumphant army that brought the dance to France. Upon its arrival, the Viennese waltz shocked the church and proper society with the prolonged bodily contact not just of the hands, but of the faces and bodies of the dancers. The Anglican archbishops denounced the new fad as a “lust-inducing, decidedly degenerate action.”

While the waltz seems innocent enough by today’s standards, at the time it horrified many of the upper class. Novelist Sophie von La Roche described it as the “shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans” that “…broke all the bounds of good breeding,” in her novel Geshichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, written in 1771.

The dance was considered so provocative when it was introduced that even the morally challenged Lord Byron felt driven to write:

Endearing Waltz! — to thy more melting tune
Bow Irish jig and ancient rigadoon.
Scotch reels, avaunt! and country-dance, forego
Your future claims to each fantastic toe!
Waltz — Waltz alone — both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet, and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight
Where ne’er before — but — pray “put out the light.”
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far — or I am much too near;
And true, though strange — Waltz whispers this remark,
“My slippery steps are safest in the dark!”

What made the waltz so scandalous?

The waltz gained its scandalous reputation because of the “closed” face-to-face position of the dancers. In its day, the waltz was a strikingly intimate and sensuous dance, which was a major departure from the open group dances and stately minuets of previous generations which were characterized by a refined and stylized elegance, polite distance between the dancers, and precise movements. They were much less energetic, characterized by sternness of attitude and slow complex patterns of movement. Most importantly, earlier dances were performed at arm’s length where only the couple’s hands touched. Dancers wore gloves so there would be no fleshly contact even at this distance.

Darcy and Elizabeth dancing the formal dances of the Regency era at the Netherfield Ball, Pride and Prejudice (BBC)

In previous dance forms, the gentleman’s focus was always in steering his partner through the series of intricate steps and maneuvers to avoid colliding with others on the dance floor. Since the only floorcraft required was to keep the partners from overtaking the couple in front of them as they flowed gracefully around the ballroom, the man would not be distracted from giving his lovely partner his full attention.

The intimate postures and intense gazes that resulted were most likely to blame for the waltz’s initial disgraceful reputation. In traditional country dances, there was plenty of eye and body contact, but it was fleeting and partners moved quickly from one person to another. In the Waltz, the eye contact is continuous and unflinching and so is the body contact — with hands, as Byron describes, “which may freely range in public sight.”

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Imagine the shock in the courts of Europe when the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance as reported on the Prince Regent’s grand ball from the society pages of The Times of London, summer, 1816:

“We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”

According to Jeff Allen, author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing, “The ‘voluptuous intertwining of the limbs,’ simply referred to the close dance position of the day. The gloved hand of the gentleman was placed gently on the waist of his partner at virtually full arm’s length. The lady’s left-gloved hand quite possibly was delicately placed on her gentleman’s shoulder, and she likely held a fan in that same hand. The left hand of the gentleman remained open and acted as the shelf for his partner’s right-gloved hand. The really scandalous point of that reporter’s observation was that the gentleman’s foot disappeared from time to time under the lady’s gown in the midst of the dance. The bodies of the dancers were never in contact!”

Dance in the Country, Renoir, 1883

The fast pace and consistent twirling of the dance was also a departure from the stately minuets of the past and could prove to be an exhausting and dizzying experience. Cellarius, a French dancing master of the Regency era, warned that, “In close embrace the dancers turned continually while they revolved around the room. There were no steps forward or back, no relief, it was all a continuous whirl of pleasure for those who could take it. The Valser should … take care never to relinquish his lady until he feels that she has entirely recovered herself.”

Needless to say, the more forbidden the dance became the more anxious society was to engage in it. Some of the first members of European aristocracy to be seen publicly favoring the dance were the Emperor Alexander of Russia and Lord Palmerston of England.  When they were seen whirling around English ballrooms with grace and skill, the rest of English society quickly joined in.

Most likely it was this “lighter than air feeling” that brought the waltz into acceptance among Europe’s upper class. Johann Goethe, a German writer and statesman, is known to have enjoyed the waltz. “Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one’s arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away…” By 1820, the dance had finally reached respectability as a permanent fixture at balls throughout English society for the majority of the 19th century and early twentieth century thus earning her position as “Queen” of the ballroom.

Do you know how to waltz?

 

 

Will the Real Sherlock Holmes Please Stand Up?

My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”  ~The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

Perhaps one of the most recognized characters in all of literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has captured the imagination of generations around the world. Doyle’s brilliant private detective became known for his signature prowess at using logic and his keen powers of observation to solve cases. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short-stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Almost all were narrated by Holmes’ friend, Dr. Watson. Doyle’s work gained popularity as serialized stories published in The Strand Magazine over a period of forty years.

No doubt Holmes is perhaps the most famous fictional detective, and indeed one of the best known and most universally recognizable literary character, but did you know that Doyle based the his famous character on real people?

Dr. Joseph Bell, photo courtesy of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Estate

Joseph Bell (1837–1911) was a professor at the University of Edinburgh in 1877 where the young Doyle enrolled in medical school. Bell captivated Doyle and his classmates with his amazing deductive skills and often immediate conclusions regarding patient diagnoses, occupation and other personal details just by studying their appearance and mannerisms. In addition to taking Bell’s classes, Doyle served for a time as his clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where he got a further look at the older man’s diagnostic methods. In addition to using his deductive powers to diagnose diseases, he occasionally assisted the police as a forensic doctor.

Years later, Conan Doyle wrote to Bell: “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions, I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the outpatient ward.”

Henry Littlejohn – Photo courtesy of
Edinburgh University Library

Henry Littlejohn (1826-1914)  Joseph Bell was not the sole inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle also credits famed Scottish forensic scientist, public health inspector, and dissector of human bodies, Henry Littlejohn, for giving Holmes some of his personality. Part of Littlejohn’s job as Surgeon of Police and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh was to consult with police when they needed medical expertise. Littlejohn investigated accidents, tragic deaths, or murders that took place in the city. He revolutionized the way cases were solved at the same time as Doyle was writing his master slueth’s adventures. Littlejohn is credited with pioneering the use of fingerprinting and photographic evidence in criminal investigations.

During the time Doyle was writing “The Final Problem” in 1893, Littlejohn was called as an expert witness in the trial of Alfred John Monson who had been accused of shooting his twenty year old student, Cecil Hambrough, during a hunting trip. The defense claimed that Hambrough had “accidentally” shot himself in the head. According to the Edinburgh News, Littlejohn testified that the position of the wound, the scorch marks from the bullet, the damage to the victim’s skull, and even the smell of the victim indicated that the victim had been murdered.

William Gillette portraying Sherlock Holmes

William Gillette (1853–1937) This one is a bit of a stretch. Although William Gillette wasn’t an inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character, as one of the first actors to portray Holmes (which Gillette did more than 1,000 times), he has influenced the development of the Holmes character tremendously to the public. Gillette was the first to wear Holmes’s signature deerstalker hat, the first to replace Holmes’s straight pipe with a curved one, and the first (while helping Conan Doyle to write the first official Sherlock Holmes stage play) to pen the line, “elementary, my dear fellow,” which would eventually be turned by later writers into, “elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette had his own Homes-like qualities. He was an inventor, earning patents for a variety of items including a timestamp device and a system for making more realistic sound effects on stage.

Tidbits & Trivia

  • The name “Sherlock Holmes” is believed to have been taken from two sources–“Sherlock” from Doyle’s favorite musician, Alfred Sherlock, and “Holmes” from the prominent, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
  • By the late 1890s, Dr. Bell had earned quite a reputation as an investigator. So much so, in fact, that when a series of murders of “ladies of the night” went down, the police called in Bell to help. This became the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
  • Doyle continued to write adventures for Sherlock Holmes until 1927 and would pass away from a heart attack in 1930.

Which is your favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery?

 

Mapping Your Way to Matrimony

Have you ever wondered why relationships with the opposite sex were so difficult? Have you ever wished for an easier way to navigate the uncertain waters of romance? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a map or App to bypass disappointment and broken hearts and get right to the “happily ever after?”

Complete with land masses, oceans, islands, cities & towns, as well as a key for the lost, Matrimonial Maps were a huge fad in the nineteenth century. Once again, we can shake our heads at those spirited Victorians who managed to diagram the perilous journey from first blush to matrimony while avoiding the pitfalls that might lead to “Divorce Island” where one would be banished and isolated from all good society. Acknowledging that lovers would suffer agonies of confusion as they tried to navigate romantic relationships, these drawing room novelties represented emotional struggles like treachery, jealousy, pity and prudence as insurmountable mountains or hazardous caverns.

“Map of Matrimony” (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

This undated “Map of Matrimony” above was probably published in the 19th century and is part of the national collection in the Library of Congress. Promoting itself as a succinct guide for “timid lovers,” promising to help them navigate the “the orbit of affection” in order to find their way to the “true haven of conjugal happiness.” This particular map offers such geographical parodies as a “Coast of Doubt”, a “Whirlpool of Reflection,”  and “Shoals of Fickleness.” Most matrimonial maps relied heavily on the imaginative mind of its creator,  this map sports a real world location in its use of the “Cape of Good Hope.” Note the reference in the bottom right, as the ship references its longitude east from “common sense.”

The State of Matrimony, GE Moray, 1909. (Photo courtesy of Barron Maps)

Matrimonial maps survived into the 20th century like the one above designed by New York restaurant owner, George Edward Moray in 1909 as an advertising card. Moray’s map instructs the reader to “enter the State of Matrimony from either the State of Innocence, the State of Single Blessedness, or the Ocean of Love.” If you desire a quick trip to your ultimate destination, he advises you to purchase transportation on one of three railroads: “The Ceremony R.R., The Elopement R.R., or the Common Law R.R.” The only way out, according to Moray’s map, was to ride the “Divorce Rapid Transit R.R. into the State of Irresponsibility.” A unique feature of this map is that the vast majority of locations are real place names.

Victorian Valentine, “Map of Matrimony” by George Skaife Beeching, c1880. (Photo: Courtesy Barron Maps)

While many maps of matrimony were intended for wall display,  others were found on Victorian valentines like the one pictured directly above. Unlike “vinegar valentines,” These humorous cards delicately satirized courtship, offering a little social commentary on the rituals of courtship. A bachelor’s perilous journey might lead him to the “Rocks of Disappointment” or require him to  traverse the “Falls of Doubt” or crossover the turbulent waters of the “Sea of Propriety” before happily arriving in the “Land of Matrimony.” Meanwhile a hopeful female will have to avoid the “Land of Spinsters” and navigate uncharted waters in the “Sea of Introduction” before finally sailing triumphantly into the “Bay of Engagement.” But her journey rarely ends there, as she will no doubt need to visit the “Provence of Jewellers & Millners” or “Wedding Cake Land” before happily entering into the “Region of Rejoicing.”

With choices like the “Lake of Content” or “Disappointment Harbor,” these entertaining parodies on love and courtship in the nineteenth century revealed the fine nuances as well as the dangerous pitfalls that lovers can still relate to today.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you may want to consider designing a Map of Matrimony for your beloved relating the journey your relationship took to wedded bliss. My journey to the “Land of Matrimony” would begin at “Chance Encounter Cove” with a long journey through the “Gulf of Flirtation” and the “Region of Exclusive Relationship” before taking a sudden, sharp detour through the “Bay of Broken Hearts.” But not to worry, my resourceful bachelor found his way to “Restoration Island” then sailed with me to the “Land of Happily Ever After.”

What geographical feature would you put on your Map of Matrimony?

 

Victorian Mourning Etiquette

Queen Victoria mourned Prince Albert's death from his death in 1861 until her own in 1901.

Queen Victoria mourned Prince Albert’s death from his death in 1861 until her own in 1901.

Upon the death of a loved one, both men and women during the Victorian era were expected to follow stringent rules on how society expected them to act, dress and conduct themselves during a rather extensive period of mourning. From lavish funerals and horse-drawn carriages to elaborate graveside monuments, it seems the Victorians were obsessed with mourning.

So what precipitated this culture of mourning?

Quite simply, the death of Prince Albert. Widowed at age forty-two, Queen Victoria fell deep into the throws of grief and mourning and proceeded to wear mourning garb for the next forty years of her life. She required that her court do the same. The aristocracy followed suit and new mourning rituals filtered down through all classes of British society.

Adherence to these new mores was seen as essential for showcasing the wealth and class of  Victorian families. Ladies’ magazines such as Cassell’s contained articles with tips for proper mourning including stopping clocks at the moment of death, drawing curtains, and covering mirrors to prevent the spirit of the deceased becoming trapped in its reflective glass. It was not uncommon for the lady of the house to dress her servants in black as a demonstration of an entire household in mourning.

Notice the crape details on her mourning gown.

Notice the crape details on her mourning gown.

According to the Victorian etiquette manual Polite Society at Home and Abroad, upon the death of a husband, a widow was expected to go into a period of Full Mourning, also called First Mourning, for one year. During this time she was only allowed to wear black, symbolizing spiritual darkness, and could not appear in public without it. Neither was she allowed out in public without a black mourning veil, commonly known as a weeping veil, covering  her face. Considered callous and even immoral, luxurious fabrics like furs, satin or velvet were strictly forbidden. Mourning dresses were usually trimmed with crape, a hard, scratchy silk fabric with a distinctively crisp, crimped appearance.

If the woman did not have black attire nor the means to acquire any, she would die a lighter dress. Women from the lower classes or with children to support, were allowed to look for a new husband after this period of Full Mourning. If, however, she had no dependents or serious need for money, she would then enter a period of Second Mourning, which lasted for nine more months. Second Mourning meant a relaxation of the rules, or “slighting the mourning.” The veil, while still worn, could now at least  be raised when out in public, but mourning etiquette dictated that black was still the only color that was permissible for clothing. She could also exchange the uncomfortable crape from her gown for a few subtle lacy embellishments.

Example of Victorian Third Mourning dress.

Example of Victorian Third Mourning dress.

The final stage of traditional Victorian mourning was Third Mourning, or Half-mourning, and lasted anywhere from three to six months.  The color of cloth lightened now to grey tones of blue, green and purple. If she was a woman of means, now was the time that society considered it acceptable for her to start looking for a new husband.

Mourning traditions for men were similar to women in that they were expected to wear dark suits with black hat and or arm bands. A widower who had lost his wife was expected to mourn for two years, however as with women with dependents, if a man had children to care for, society did allow for him to end mourning sooner and go back to conducting business or work. An unmarried man who had lost a close relation such as a mother, sister or cousin, might carry out the full three stages of mourning, same as widows did, lasting the full two to two-and-a-half years. Children were not expected to wear mourning clothes.

 Although jewelry was prohibited during deep mourning, Second Mourning allowed for commemorative jewelry or mourning jewelry to be worn. Victorians revived the art of eye miniatures, tiny portraits of an eye of departed loved one painted on brooches, bracelets, lockets and rings. Another popular form of mourning jewelry popularized by Queen Victoria combined jet, a hard, black coal-like material with woven hair of the deceased.  It was already common practice for people to keep a lock of a loved one’s hair after their death and preserve it as a memento of their deceased relatives. Depending on the amount of hair taken from the corpse, the memento might be sent to hair weavers who would design intricate braided ropes used to make watch-chains or necklaces. Mourning lockets and rings had tiny compartments where a lock of hair or even a tooth could be stored as a remembrance.

mourningring jethairmourningjewelry mourninglocket mourningbrooch_photo hairrope

jaysmourningad

The strict compliance to the rules of bereavement meant appropriate clothing needed to be readily available to mourners. Many shops catered to the trade. The largest and best known of them in London was Jay’s of Regent Street. Known as a kind of warehouse for mourners, Jay’s provided every conceivable item of clothing a proper Victorian family could need. Considering Victorians found it bad luck to keep mourning clothes, especially crape, in the house after mourning ended, businesses like Jay’s were a lucrative business.

With the passing of Queen Victoria in 1901, much of the world left deep mourning behind but for the Victorians, strict adherence to the rituals of mourning brought constant awareness of the fragility of life. A reminder that death was an ever-present possibility and that he or she should lead a good life because death could strike without warning.

Clandestine Eye Jewelry

Eye Miniature brooch, circa 1800

Eye Miniature brooch, circa 1800

Not too long ago, a friend shared a post about Victorian Lover’s Eye jewelry on her Facebook page. I clicked on the link and quickly became fascinated by what I learned.

Eye miniatures, as they were originally known, were small portraits of the human eye painted on brooches, rings, lockets and bracelets. But not just anyone’s eye, these clandestine gifts were exchanged in secret between paramours and effectively concealed the giver’s identity. Only someone with intimate acquaintance — a lover, a spouse, a close family member — would recognize an individual’s eye, thus allowing the gift to be worn in public.

But how did this odd custom become a fad?

Maria Fitzherbert and Prince George !V of Wales

Maria Fitzherbert and Prince George IV of Wales

According to legend, the origin of eye miniatures can be traced to the prince of Wales, who later became King George IV. Young George became smitten with the beautiful, twice-widowed Maria Fitzherbert, who was six years his senior. But according to British law, the prince could not marry Maria, a Catholic. Fearing scandal, she fled to the continent. George, however, was not to be deterred and secretly pursued Maria. On Nov. 3, 1785, the prince sent Maria a written declaration of his love, including a proposal of marriage. To demonstrate his undying affection, he sent a miniature portrait of his own eye, set in a locket, painted by the miniaturist Richard Cosway, one of the celebrated artists of the day. Shortly after, Maria returned to England and married the prince in a secret ceremony on Dec. 15, 1785. The bride, not to be outdone by her prince, commissioned Cosway to paint her own eye in order that she might secretly give a token of her affection. Soon, other British nobility followed the couple’s lead and the fad spread throughout Europe, taking the contintent by storm until about 1820.

Eye Miniature in an Ivory Case with a Mirrored Lid c.1817. .© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Eye Miniature in an Ivory Case with a Mirrored Lid c.1817.
.© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

lovers-eye-ring

Eye Ring, circa1816

Queen Victoria revived the eye miniature fad when she commissioned Sir William Charles Ross to paint portraits of her children and many of her friends and other relatives. A modest resurgence of the art form existed through the the early part of the twentieth century by a few devoted followers of the style, mostly members of the royal family or the aristocracy. Attempts were made by artists at the time to bring the fashion to America with little success.

Eye Miniature with Tears Set in a Brooch with Pearl Frame c.1800. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Eye Miniature with Tears Set in a Brooch with Pearl Frame c.1800.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

In the early nineteenth century eye miniatures were adapted as a form of mourning jewelry sometimes referred to as ‘tear jewelry.’ The purpose of the eye portrait was refocused from romance to remembrance. Portrayed with a tear or depicted as gazing through clouds, these miniatures were seen as tributes to loved ones and friends and often evoked powerful emotions. Mourning eye miniatures included symbolism of the gemstones used to surround the painting. Pearls often represented tears when they surrounded an eye portrait. Diamonds portrayed strength and longevity. Garnets indicated true friendship and turquoise was believed to bring good fortune for the deceased in the after life.

Without an inscription, the identity of those painted eyes on these much sought after heirlooms remains a mystery to this day.

What do you think of the lover’s eye jewelry? Creepy, romantic, or just plain weird?

 

Three Myths About Jane Austen’s England

George IV from Huish's Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)

George IV

Historically, the Regency Period in England lasted for only nine years, beginning when King George III was declared mentally unfit to rule in 1810. The Prince Regent took over for his father until his death in 1820, when George IV became King of England in his own right.

This is the time period when Jane Austen wrote her novels. However, many novels and period dramas have Regency Era characteristics but are set outside the timeline above. Culturally speaking, the Regency Era began in the later years of George III’s reign and denoted the architecture, fashion, literature and music of the period until the death of King William and the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837.

As a lover of all things Jane Austen, I was curious about some of the social customs of the time and was surprised by some of what I learned.

Belton House in Lincolnshire (south front, above) was built in the late 17th century for Sir John Brownlow.

Belton House in Lincolnshire (south front, above) was built in the late 17th century for Sir John Brownlow.

Women Could Own Property  I’d always wondered about this one. I never understood why in Pride and Prejudice Lizzy and her sisters could not own property but the powerful Lady Catherine de Bourgh could. In the Regency Era a marriage was very much a business contract. Once an offer had been made and accepted, both families would reveal their circumstances to the other and the negotiations ensued. While it is true that once married a woman’s property became entirely under her husband’s control, an astute and wealthy family would want to negotiate a settlement for their daughter. This was land and/or money set aside for her and her children should she become a widow. Of course, a kind husband could also provide a jointure in his will which designated a pre-determined amount of land and/or money to his dependents upon his death. Mr. Bennet, however, could not leave a jointure for his widow because his land had been entailed away. An entail put limits or restrictions on the inheritance of land, usually requiring the property be inherited by the closest male heir. An entail remained with the land for several generations. It was designed to protect the property from being broken up or sold off. Power and social status were derived by land ownership. Preventing the property from being divided and sold to pay a squanderer’s debts was seen as a way to protect one’s descendants and the family name. However, if no male heirs were conceived the property would be inherited by nephews or distant cousins leaving wives and daughter’s dependent on the generosity of those they barely knew.

The first quadrille at Almack's c1815 from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)

The first quadrille at Almack’s c1815
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)

When Dancing, Women Led the Way  One of my favorite parts of any British period drama are what my sister and I call the “tippy-toe” dance scenes. But did you know that in Regency dances the women led and the gentlemen followed? The paces of the dance were designed to put the genteel young lady on exhibit. She always moved first. The gentleman’s responsibility was to steer her through the intricate steps with the hopes of avoiding any Mr. Collins’ style disasters. Many of the most popular dances of the era were a blend of both town and country culture. Following the French Revolution, many English aristocrats abandon their stately Georgian movements for steps resembling traditional country dances they were acquainted with from their summer holidays. The hops and stomps of the livelier jigs were replaced with dainty steps and baroque music and the closer proximity allowed for quiet conversation, smiles and flirtation.

“Oh, ah, let em ring again.” George Cruikshank (Servants ignoring the bell)

“Oh, ah, let em ring again.” George Cruikshank (Servants ignoring the bell)

Rank Wasn’t Just for the Upper Class  During the Regency era, anyone who wanted to portray themselves as having an ounce of middle-class respectability employed domestic help. Maintaining even a modest home (keeping it lit, heated and clean) could be a full-time job. So it shouldn’t be surprising that keeping a grand home functioning in elegant style might require up to fifty servants. Just as the members of the ton were classified by rank and precedence, so were the servants hired to maintain, clean and run their homes.  The greater the servant’s responsibilities, the closer the servant worked with the master or mistress of the estate, the higher their standing. The master’s steward stood at the top of this pecking order. Functioning much like a personal assistant, he managed all staff and household affairs. In the master’s absence, he often performed day to day tasks and made decisions in his place. Under him, the butler and the housekeeper supervised male and female staff, respectively. The lower one’s rank, the more physically demanding the work. It was not uncommon for scullery maids, lowest of the female servants, to clean and scour the kitchen for 18 hours a day.  Servants of equal job title under the same roof would be ranked by the standing, in the family line as well as society, of whom they served. The prominence of the person served was far more important than length of service to the family.

What Regency Era custom do you find most interesting?

Life in the Victorian Era, Fact or Fiction?

VictorianCouple

Despite the image of lavender sachets, lace doilies, and strict rules of social etiquette, not everything we’ve come to believe about life in the nineteenth century is true. Compare these facts to your assumptions and see  if those clever Victorians have you fooled.

Victorian women married young. False. Although the legal age to marry was lowered from twenty-one to twelve years of age in 1823, most women of the Victorian era married between eighteen and twenty-three. Upper class families actually preferred their daughters not to marry before reaching the age of twenty and it became increasingly popular for wealthy women to wait until their mid-twenties to wed.

Pink was a masculine color in Victorian England. True. The Victorians viewed their children as small adults and often expected adult-like behavior from their little charges. So its no wonder they favored lighter shades of the colors favored by themselves. Red was considered a strong, virile, masculine color and dressing boys in pink was commonplace. Blue was considered dainty and feminine. It wasn’t until the 1930s and 40s that blue became universally associated with boys and pink with girls.

Men wore corsets. True. As early as the seventeenth century, upper class males wore corsets or body belts to give their masculine physique the smooth lines that men’s fashions demanded at the time. Like their feminine counterpart, the body belt laced in the back. However nineteenth century men weren’t burdened by stiff whalebone supports. Instead, their corsets were made of lightweight cotton and often sported side buckles to prevent a pudgy tummy from escaping.

malecorset-2bodybelt-jpg

Victorians married their cousins. True. More than one marriage in ten was between first or second cousins among the Victorian upper class. Most notably, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were first cousins. The arrangement was seen as beneficial to ensure that both power and wealth remained concentrated among the landed gentry especially at a time when the Industrial Revolution rapidly created a new generations of wealthy individuals. Ironically, the evolutionist Charles Darwin, who himself was married to his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood, was one of the first scientists to raise concern that consanguineous marriages had “injurious results to man”. By the late 19th century, physicians noticed an increased number of birth defects among families where marriage occurred between close relatives. The practice was discouraged and eventually fell out of fashion eventually becoming illegal in the early twentieth century.

Emma Brownlow, “The Foundling Restored to its Mother” (1858)

Emma Brownlow, “The Foundling Restored to its Mother” (1858)

 The notion of the “fallen woman” preoccupied Victorians. True. Victorian art and literature often revolved around the theme of a virtuous woman corrupted by the vices of sexual misconduct or alcohol abuse. The fallen woman was often led to desperate measures to survive such as thievery or prostitution. Others were driven to suicide. Offspring conceived in such immorality were commonly admitted to Foundling Hospitals where the illegitimate children became wards of the state. Mothers’ names were rarely recorded and children were often left with only a ribbon, swaddling blanket, or some other trinket to identify them with the hope of a future reunion.

Victorian women removed ribs to make their waists smaller. False. Although late nineteenth century fashion favored tiny hour glass figures, Victorian women did not have their lower ribs removed to create that highly desired wasp-like physique. Vanity aside, Victorian surgery commonly left more patients dead than alive so it would have been absurd to consider such a risky procedure. However, from a young age females were wrestled into the restrictive garments as they were considered conducive to good posture and believed to keep internal organs in proper alignment.

mort-safeObsessed with Gothic tales of vampires and other monsters, Victorians protected the graves of loved ones with iron cages. False. As the demand for corpses for use in anatomical dissection rose, it became an increasingly lucrative business to steal newly interred bodies for sale to medical schools. But in nineteenth century England and Scotland, it was a commonly held belief that the dead could not be resurrected if their bodies were not fully intact. The mortsafe was invented to protect the newly deceased from grave robbing. They came in many different styles but the one thing they held in common was their weight which prevented the interred body from being snatched.

Which fact about Victorian life surprised you the most?

 

 

 

 

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