Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Visions of Sugar Plums...Oops, Wrong Holiday

Well, okay. Maybe the young lady in this amazing costume wasn't planning on trick or treating--she was actually on her way to a fancy dress or costume ball in this 1839 print--but wouldn't she have fit right in with the Halloween crowd? Thinking about Halloween got me thinking about what was always my favorite part of it: candy. What kind of candy would an early nineteenth century teen eat?

Hint: it wasn't Nerd Ropes, Sour Skittles, or anything with a Hershey's label on it. And no petit fours either, at least not yet.

Most candy (called "sweetmeats" or just "sweets") eaten in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century wasn't all that different from the sweets eaten in medieval times. They were primarily fruit or nut based, like candied flower petals (violets and rose petals) or candied fruit (sugar plums, anyone?), pralines (sugared almonds), boiled sweets (like what we call hard candies--think Jolly Ranchers), marchpane (marzipan, or almond paste), caramels, nougat, peppermints... you get the picture. No chocolate...at least not that you ate. Drank, maybe.

Yes, for the first three hundred or so years that Europeans knew about chocolate, they knew it as something you drank. The first chocolate house in England opened in London in 1657 and became sort of a Starbuck's to the elite, for chocolate was not cheap. Over the decades, as supplies becamse more reliable, the price dropped and drinking chocolate became widespread. It wasn't until 1830 that English chocolate maker J.S. Fry and Sons came up with an edible chocolate...and from most accounts it wasn't something you particularly wanted to eat, being grainy and coarse (hmm, maybe like eating hot chocolate powder?) They worked on it, though, and after a Dutch inventor created a process to smooth the texture of chocolate by removing some of the cocoa butter (you still see "dutch-process" cocoa and chocolate today) came up in 1847 with something a lot more like what we're used to--a chocolate paste that could be molded into bars.

Later in the century the Swiss became the leaders in the field of chocolate confectionary, but as well as inventing the chocolate bar the English introduced in 1861 the first heart-shaped box of candy for Valentine's Day...but that's another holiday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No, Victoria, There Is No Halloween

As we near Halloween, it’s fun to think of elegantly gowned young ladies going door
to door begging treats, perhaps dressed like Madame Catalani here, who is acting the part of an ancient Babylonian princess. Can’t you see the Prince Regent dressed like a pumpkin?

Never happened.

Halloween as we know it today was not celebrated during the nineteenth century in England. Trick-or-treating is an American custom. Yes, I know there’s evidence it all goes back to the Druids, but during the nineteenth century such customs had largely disappeared, particularly in the large cities.

The Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England, celebrated the Feast of All Souls on November 1, when parishioners remembered those who had died. The night before was known as All Hallow’s Eve, when the spirits of the dead were thought to wander.

In the country it was a little different. On All Hallow’s Eve, local traditions might have a young man playing tricks on the neighbors like upsetting the hay cart or pitching the garden gate into the pond. Children might go door to door singing for the souls of the dead (and earning money or cakes in return). In other places, young men and ladies scurried about carrying mangel-wurzels as lanterns to ward off the spirits of the dead.

And what, pray tell, is a mangel-wurzel, you ask. It’s a humungous beet, growing as large as a human head.

Scary, huh?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rule England, But You Still Can't Study Painting

After learning more about Queen Victoria from Marissa’s posts, I stand amazed. Here a young lady became queen of one of the most powerful nations in the world, but young ladies her own age could be denied the right to study painting.

I didn’t know that when I first started researching the story behind La Petite Four. My lead character, Lady Emily Southwell, has a passion for painting. And not watercolors, oh no. She likes oil paints, the bold strokes, the strong colors. Give her a bloody battle scene or the death of a great leader any day. Originally, I thought she’d make a fine candidate to join the Royal Academy of Art. After all, famous painters Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were founding members. Surely an artist of Lady Emily’s talents would fit right in.

Or not.

It seems that during the nineteenth century, women were not allowed to study at the Royal Academy school. Oh, they could exhibit their paintings in the Summer Exhibition, the only one open to outsiders. But they could not sit with their equally talented fellow painters and architects, learning from the masters. Not because they weren’t as good, not because they couldn’t handle the course work.

They couldn’t join the Royal Academy because the models they’d have to draw were nude, and watching nude models was deemed inappropriate for a woman. In fact, when Johann Zoffany painted a scene immortalizing the founding members of the Royal Academy, he painted them surrounding a naked male model. Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser were present only as portraits on the wall, for they too were denied that right. When they died, it wasn’t until 1936 that another female was elected to full membership in the Royal Academy.

It’s enough to make a girl take up watercolors.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Queen Victoria, Part II: And the Winner is...

You’ve heard the expression that “truth is stranger than fiction,” haven’t you? The story of how Queen Victoria came to be born is one of the more improbable stories in history. Read this and let me know if you don’t think so too.

Now…let yourself drift back in time (cue woo-woo music) to the early nineteenth century…

It’s late 1817, and there's just been a death in the royal family of England. Poor Charlotte, granddaughter of King George III and heiress to the throne of England after her dad the Prince of Wales, has just died in childbirth. The country is devastated, because Charlotte was very popular. But more importantly, she had no brothers or sisters because her parents couldn’t stand each other.

So who was going to inherit the throne after the Prince of Wales?

Well…according to the rules in England, if the king’s eldest son has no legitimate children, then the throne is inherited by his next son (and that son’s legitimate children)…and so on down the line. George III had fifteen (that is not a misprint) children, twelve of whom were still living, so that was okay…there were plenty of spare heirs there, right? And most of those children had children of their own. In fact, by 1817 George III had fifty-six grandchildren. You’d think that the last thing anyone had to worry about was the heir supply…but in fact there was a problem.

The problem was that none of those fifty-six was legitimate. Not one. Charlotte had been the only one of George III’s grandchildren whose parents who were actually married to each other. Most of George’s sons had remained single for various reasons, but that hadn’t stopped them from raising fine families. One of them, the Duke of Clarence, had ten children with a famous actress of the day, Dorothy Jordan.

This just cracks me up. Fifty-six illegitimate grandchildren for a man who was, according to all accounts, as strait-laced and virtuous as they come. Go figure.

So early 1818 saw three unmarried middle-aged English princes rushing through Europe looking for young, healthy princesses to marry (a fourth had just married a couple years before). And after that, the race began to see who could produce a legitimate child first. Our Victoria was one of those babies, arriving on May 24, 1819. She wasn’t the first--a boy named (what a surprise) George had been born in March--but because her father was the older than that baby’s father, she won…

And eighteen years later became Queen.

In a few weeks look for Queen Victoria Part III: Poor Little Rich Girl

And in case you're wondering, that's Victoria as a toddler with her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1821, by W. Beechey.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Music to Their Ears

Did you learn a musical instrument growing up? I learned to play the piano. I loved playing, but I always got in trouble for not practicing enough. And I couldn’t stand recitals. All those people watching, all those fingers flying. Not much good ever came of it, that I could see.

Fashionable young ladies in the 1800s were also expected to learn to play an instrument and to practice until they were proficient. Obviously, the young lady here has learned her lessons well. Even the cherubs have stopped to listen.

A proper young lady would never play professionally, of course, though there were plenty of opportunities to play for family and friends. Sometimes a young musician would play for the family to entertain them after dinner. Musicales, where several people took turns playing or singing, were quite popular, at least for the proud mothers. I imagine quite a few young ladies would have preferred to stay home or play cards.

The harp was a frequent choice of instrument, as were the piano and the spinet, which was a type of harpsichord. Other types of harpsichords had mostly fallen out of favor by this time, although a few likely remained in some families. Some young ladies also learned to play the flute or violin. There was also an ophiclide, a tall, ungainly horn that was the forerunner of a tuba. I made the villainess in my current work-in-progress play that instrument. Someone like her should.

Maybe I’ll even make her give a recital.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Part One: "La Ramassel"

Isn't this wonderful...not to mention amazing? It's from a series of prints entitled "Le Bon Genre", originally published in France in 1817 (a second series came out in 1822 and a third in 1827) as an amusing look at life and entertainment among the fashionable classes in and around Paris. Note the little oil lamps on posts running down the sides--wherever this was, you could evidently ride it at night. I can't help wondering if a lot of ladies lost those wonderfully fluffy ostrich plumes off their hats--you may not be able to see it very well, but the lady half-way down the slide is reaching for hers with an alarmed look on her face. And I wonder if that little girl is about to say "Can we go again? Pleeeeease?" In French, of course.

So much for Six Flags, huh?

Friday, October 5, 2007

In Vogue

It’s October, the time when I start leafing through fashion magazines to decide how to update my look. Yes, I’m a bit of a fashionista (I had a perfect score at the Fashionista Quiz ). I adore pretty clothes, I’ve tried to figure out what works on me and what doesn’t, and I’m passionate about hunting for bargains.

Young ladies in the 1800s also leafed through magazines to decide what was in fashion. Marissa and I have been using prints from some of these magazines in our posts. Anywhere you see color, it was done by hand, one page at a time, for the 1,000-some copies that were produced. Sometimes a magazine also bound in swatches of actual fabric to touch and swoon over.

One of the more popular magazines was the monthly La Belle Assemblée. It was about 48 pages long and included essays, short stories or serialized books, reviews of new books or plays, sheet music, and fashion commentary. It talked about what was new, what was hot, and what was not, including who was wearing what at Court. It also carried news of what was happening in Paris fashions with some news from Germany and Italy.

In every issue were two hand-colored fashion prints with specific detail so the gowns could be recreated. I imagine some of the seamstresses hated the week it came out. Every fashionable young lady in town must have rushed in with paper in hand. “This! I want to look just like this.”

Well, maybe not just like that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Coming Out

In the nineteenth century, teens didn't date, or hang out, or hook up.

They came out.

Hey, stop giggling. I know what you're thinking.

"Coming Out" had nothing to do with sexual identity, though in a way it did have something to do with sex...more specifically, with marriage.

In Regina's last entry, we heard about the Season--non-stop party time in London and in smaller cities around Britain...though a Season spent anywhere but London was unthinkable if you had any social ambition. A major part of the Season was basically a marriage market: young women (as young as 16) meeting men in search of wives.

So when a girl was deemed "ready" at somewhere between age 16 and 19, she would go to London with her parents or other near relative and spend a ridiculous amount of time and money at dressmakers' shops having dresses made for every possible social occasion: ball dresses, dinner dresses, evening dresses, morning dresses, walking dresses, carriage dresses, riding habits, promenade dresses...and one very important Court dress.

Once her wardrobe was full to bursting with neatly folded dresses (hangers didn't come into use till later), a young woman of the proper social standing was then able to go to the Palace of St. James on one of a handful of designated afternoons or evenings, dressed in her Court dress with a train that could be as long as eight feet and tall, nodding white feathers in her hair...and be presented to the Queen. That meant she and a gaggle of other girls her age got to walk carefully into a room where the Queen and throngs of other people waited, curtsey carefully to whatever members of the royal family were there and kiss their hands. If her daddy was someone like an earl or a duke, the Queen kissed her on the forehead.

And that was it...except she couldn't just say "toodles" and go skipping out. No, she had to curtsey again and walk backwards from the Queen's presence--wearing that train, mind you. There were several court officials who spread her train out for her when she arrived and others who lifted her train for her on a long stick and tossed it to her...so she had to back out curtseying, catch her train over one arm, and keep walking backwards till she made it out the door.

After that, she was officially an adult. If Mom and Dad felt like it, they might throw her a ball or some other event to mark the occasion and announce more clearly that she was now entering the marriage market. She'd made her curtsey to the Queen and had Come Out, and could now party to her heart's content.

And wear all those dresses, of course.