Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest post: Walk Like an Egyptian

Today we're welcoming back Jen Bradbury, author of Wrapped, with a seasonally appropriate guest post.

In honor of the spooky season, Marissa and Regina invited me to share a bit about a key plot point in Wrapped: mummy unwrappings. To that end, here is what I know.

They happened.

That’s sort of it.

But I should back up a bit.

During the nineteenth century, Egypt mania took over the western world. Archaeologists and expeditions from all over Europe and the Americas converged on Egypt, seeking knowledge, treasure and, of course, mummies. The lost empire that raised the pyramids and apparently covered everything else in gold wormed its way into the collective imagination of the culture. Its influence could be seen in fashion, architecture, and literature. And when Napoleon took 40,000 troops into the Nile Delta in 1798, the move was motivated by political and personal ambitions. Even he was fascinated by the mystique of Egypt, fancying himself something of a pharaoh. As artifacts from Egypt began to make their way back to museums in Europe and beyond, public fascination and curiosity grew. But the centerpieces of these collections were always the mummies—objects that spoke to the scholarly and macabre interests of people simultaneously.

Somewhere along the way, individuals began acquiring mummies privately. Nell Gwynn, mistress of Charles the second, was thought to have owned a mummy given her by one of her admirers. The most famously cited piece of evidence for the parties themselves comes in the form of an invitation from 1850.

“Come to Lord Longsberry's at 2 p.m., Piccadilly, for the unwrapping of a mummy from Thebes. Champagne and canapés to follow.”

But despite knowing that they happened, there is some debate as to the context in which they did occur. According to legend (and as the above invite suggests), they became en vogue among the upper class for fun as they discovered trinkets tucked into the wrappings (like a piñata! Only deader!). Still others contend that unwrappings were conducted primarily in the spirit of scientific inquiry. As a writer of fiction, I love the ambiguity of it all, the room it gives me to embroider and create a story touching on so strange a practice. But not everyone shares my enthusiasm in that regard.

So why don’t we have better details and evidence about the practice of mummy unwrappings? We may never know, but I have my own pet theories. I suspect that those who participated in the practice maybe later realized it wasn’t the sort of thing they really wanted to brag about after all. Or perhaps, the curse of the mummy they disturbed caught up with them in the end, and they didn’t survive to tell the tale.

Is it bad that I hope it might have been the latter? ‘Tis the season, after all.

Thanks, Jen, and thank you for visiting Nineteenteen! Don't forget that all commenters this week through Halloween night will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Wrapped!


Rose de Guzman said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's very interesting and makes me want to go to an unwrapping party.


Lo Hughes said...

I might be able to handle an unwrapping party if champagne was involved :-) ... thanks for the great interview!

Cara King said...

Really creepy! And interesting, of course. :-)

QNPoohBear said...

This is one of the most bizarre ideas for a party I have ever heard. ICK! Personally, I agree with Agnes.