Thanks so much for writing in with your comments on what you love about the Nineteenth Century and what you'd like to see us discuss in NineteenTeen--keep them coming! Don't forget that doing so enters you into drawings for a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card or a genuine 19th century fashion print.
So here are a few more reasons why I love the nineteenth century...
7. The Manners. So maybe having to remember to curtsey to your elders and social superiors and always speak and carry yourself gently and quietly in public could feel restrictive to young women. But it also meant that in general, people didn't behave badly in public. Is that a fair trade-off? Would you prefer the more formal manners of the past? I know I would...
8. Horses. Say what you like about hot cars, but honestly, they're soulless things made in factories and one looks pretty much like another in my eyes. Horses on the other hand are individuals with personalities and differences and strengths and weaknesses that add a layer to life that we no longer have, for better or worse. And at least their emissions can be recycled.
9. Hats. I suppose that this could go under "the gorgeous clothes for women" category, but there's more to it than that. Hats are meta-clothes: they have their own language that can reinforce or give lie to the messages given by a dress or coat. A fluffy hat worn with a demure dress can give the message that the wearer has hidden depths, for example. It can flirt by giving a glimpse of partly concealed locks of hair or gracefully accenting the face, or cover up bad hair days. Women lost something when hats went out of fashion.
10. Jane Austen. I made the mistake of trying to read Pride and Prejudice when I was twelve, and didn't get past the first chapter. Even though I was a very advanced reader, I just didn't get it. But when I read it at seventeen, I realized how wonderfully funny it was and read all the other Jane stories as quickly as possible. Don't pick up a Jane Austen novel expecting something big and dramatic and passionate like Wuthering Heights (though Persuasion is a beautifully romantic story). Read it for the quiet, ironical humor and the finely drawn characters and the glimpse into nineteenth century life. If you're not a total history geek, look for a foot-noted edition that explains some of the more obscures references--it will deepen your appreciation of the humor and give you a better picture of 19th century life. Jane was one of the first authors EVER to write about ordinary people and ordinary things and yet make them totally fascinating. That's not only very important for literature as a whole, but also very cool.
What do you think?