Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Not Quite Trick or Treat, but Almost

I was in a large party supply store a week or so ago looking for napkins. I found them, eventually, after wading through the front two-thirds of the store that was entirely given over to Halloween-related goods, from 15-foot tall inflatable lawn ornaments to every conceiveable costume--for children, yes, but especially for adults. Am I the only one to notice that over the last several years, Halloween has morphed from a children’s holiday to one just as popular among grown-ups? I guess some things never change, because people in the 19th century loved dressing up in outlandish costumes just as much…only they didn’t do it at Halloween.

The 19th century was undoubtedly the century of the costume ball. Their popularity in England probably grew with our friend Prinny, the Prince Regent, who adored “dressing up”, first in military uniforms, then later in Scottish dress as he fell in love with the romanticized Scotland of Sir Walter Scott’s novels…and from there, it was a logical progression to adoring costume balls. A few years later, his niece Victoria was equally addicted to costume balls up until the death of the Prince Consort in 1861, and they remained popular at court (though she no longer participated) and in society at large right into the 20th century. Historical and cultural themes for costumes--dressing up as someone from the past or from a different land--were probably the most usual, especially earlier on, but as you'll see shortly, costumes weren't limited to Queen Elizabeth or romantic cavaliers.

Here are a few costumes from the first part of the century for your Halloween inspiration (a post on the costume balls of the later 19th century would require its own post, as another Prince of Wales, Victoria’s bad boy son Bertie, also loved to play dress-up). Enjoy!

This first one is a "Danish Fancy Dress Worn at the Prince Regent's Fete", from La Belle Assemblee, August 1819:

And a "Fancy Ball Dress" also from La Belle Assemblee, August 1820. Perhaps she was going for the milkmaid look?

The young lady on the left is dressed as one of the waiting women of Mary Queen of Scots in this March 1833 print from The Court Magazine:

I'm not sure what these costumes are supposed to represent, though the one on the right seems to have a somewhat Russian feel, with her vaguely slavic headdress and fur-edged boots (this from a French publication, Petit Courrier des Dames, March 1837):

Medieval themes were popular, as we see in this couple from 1838...interesting to see a male costume, and how a 14th century "gates of hell" surcoat could be adapted to a 19th century corseted silhouette (Journal des Modes):

Last are a pair of costumes from 1838...first, these from La Mode--perhaps a musketeer and a revolutionary?

And last, these "15th and 16th century" costumes, also from La Mode:

Are you dressing for Halloween? Would you want to borrow any of these costumes?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Grand Tour, Part 11—A Detour on the Road Home: Malta

Alas! We had planned to visit Athens as our last stop, but war has broken out there! British travelers fleeing the conflagration meet us at the docks in Sicily and warn us not to continue in that direction. The Ottoman Pasha has besieged Athens, his war engines pounding the fair city into ruins far less charming than the ones left by the ancients. With a heavy heart, we decide to book passage to Malta instead and begin our journey home.

Malta is a tiny island just to the south of Sicily, but its strategic location, between Italy and Africa, has made it a contested place for centuries. Nearly 300 years before we set foot on it, King Charles of Spain ceded it to the Knights of St. John (and the portion of them on the island became known as the Knights of Malta). This Order protected pilgrims traveling back and forth between Europe and the Holy Land, and rescued those who had been attacked at sea. Many of the beautiful churches, palaces, and gardens in Malta stem from their time on the island. Their rule only ended with the arrival of Bonaparte.

In 1798, when the knights refused to supply Napoleon’s fleet with water on its way to Egypt, the French conquered the island and initiated radical reforms. The Maltese people revolted and asked the British government for help. The British defeated the French, so now there has been a garrison on the island for many years, and indeed, the harbors provide homes for many British ships.

So, sweeping churches, majestic palaces, peaceful gardens, stunning artwork, and . . . men in uniform! What more could a girl want?
Our two days in sunny Malta are spent touring and socializing. A handsome lieutenant assigned to us by the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet himself escorts us through the fort-like Church of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, where we find not only stirring architecture but the tombs of the valiant knights of old. We take tea with the Commander in his gorgeous residence, which the lieutenant confides was once the home of the Grand Master of the Order. He also reminds us that none other than Byron once visited these very shores, penning some of his poems here.

In the evening, we attend a ball with the regimental and the naval officers in attendance. The gentlemen outnumber the ladies by a delightful three to one, ensuring that everyone who wishes to dance can do so with a variety of partners. And a quartet of gentlemen are more than happy to sit out the dancing to play cards, promenade, and discuss the latest literary compositions of our fine empire. Quite a few can quote Byron.

On the way back to our hotel, we are verses a little more authentic: by singers playing Maltese songs, as sweet and spicy as the culture from which they sprung. We soak it all up, drink it all in, knowing that shortly, our travels must end. The next stop is Gibraltar, and then home!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: "Pride and Prejudice" (2005)

Welcome to Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema!

Several times a year, NineteenTeen will be hosting a discussion of a historical movie set during the Nineteenth Century.  Today's discussion:  the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfadyen.

So whether you saw it recently or long ago, whether you have watched it many times or just once, we'd love to know what you think!

And if you want to add some context, go ahead.

For example...have you read the book?

Have you seen any other adaptations of Pride and Prejudice?

If you've read the book, what did you think of this interpretation?

Were the characters how you envisioned them?

Do you miss what was cut out?

If you've seen another adaptation, which did you prefer? Why?

If you've never read or seen any other version of Pride and Prejudice, I'd particularly love to hear your opinion!

Could you follow the story? Did you feel you knew the characters?

In particular, did you feel you knew Lydia and Wickham well enough that their story had a real impact?  (I'm really curious about this point!)

To help the discussion, here's a list of the major characters, and the actors who played them.


Keira Knightley -- Elizabeth Bennet

Rosamund Pike -- Jane Bennet

Talulah Riley -- Mary Bennet

Jena Malone -- Lydia Bennet

Carey Mulligan -- Kitty Bennet

Donald Sutherland -- Mr. Bennet

Brenda Blethyn -- Mrs. Bennet

Claudie Blakley -- Charlotte Lucas

Simon Woods -- Mr. Bingley

Kelly Reilly -- Caroline Bingley

Matthew Macfadyen -- Mr. Darcy

Rupert Friend -- Mr. Wickham

Tom Hollander -- Mr. Collins

Judi Dench -- Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Now that I've poured you a cup of the most delicate Darjeeling, along with rich seedcake and the creamiest syllabub in London, do let us know what you think!

(All images copyright Focus Features.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Four Things on a Friday

It’s one of those weeks when I must beg your indulgence. A plethora of items has come to my attention, and I simply have to share them with you. So I give you four things on a Friday:

  1. Real Nineteenth Century Dancing. We often see in movies perfectly executed dance scenes depicting balls in the nineteenth century. I have often wondered whether every young lady could possibly keep all those steps in her head, and what would happen if she missed a step or, heaven forbid, improvised! I saw this clip on YouTube recently, and it strikes me as far more realistic for how early nineteenth century young ladies and gentlemen would have danced. Notice the fellow with the flair at twirling, the older lady chivvying the others along. That’s the kind of scene I like to write about.

  2. Jane Austen as Brain Food. Recent research at Stanford University has shown that reading Jane Austen’s materials actually stimulates your brain. Now you know why you’re all so clever, don’t you?
  3. Pictures from the Beau Monde. Leah Nash, a talented photographer who has had her pieces published by the New York Times, attended the Romance Writers of America conference this summer and took a number of pictures at the Beau Monde Soiree. Here are a few, used with her permission. You may recognize some of the, er, gentlemen. The darling lady in turquoise is author Delilah Marvelle. See Leah's website at LeahNash.com for more.

  4. The Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema. Yes, that’s right! Join us next Tuesday, October 23, for a discussion of Pride and Prejudice staring Keira Knightly, with our own Cara King. Whatever you think of this new-fangled cinema or this interpretation of the beloved classic, it’s sure to be interesting!

Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jane Austen on the Catwalk

Time to look at another Jane Austen related book…and if food was interesting, clothes are even more so. At least they’re less caloric!

Jane Austen Fashion: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, is a delightful if short (128 pages, including notes and bibliography) volume with lots of excellent illustrations, most of them reproductions of fashion plates from the years when Miss Austen was writing her books. The author, Penelope Byrde, was for many years the Curator of the Museum of Costume & Fashion Research Centre in Bath, England, and certainly knows her subject.

The book details clothing and needlework as mentioned both in Miss Austen’s life, mostly via her letters and extant examples of her handiwork and possessions (and in one case, a watercolor by her sister Cassandra showing Jane in a pretty light blue dress and bonnet), and in her books. There is a detailed overview of the changes in fashion over her life with definitions of articles of clothing and fabric names and sections on accessories, and a chapter on the making and care of clothing (how she would have loved walking into stores today, as she once lamented in a letter to Cassandra, “I wish such things [new gowns] were to be bought ready made.”

Of especial note are two of the last chapters, those on Men’s Clothes and on Needlework. The chapter on men’s clothes also includes fashion prints (those depicting men’s clothing are much less common) and commentary on accessories and haircuts; that on needlework covers both general information on the decorative needlework of the period as well as pictures and descriptions of items made by Jane Austen herself.

All in all, this is an excellent resource for readers of Jane Austen who would like to have a clearer picture of what her characters—and she—might have worn. It seems to be widely and inexpensively (under $10) available on line, and is highly recommended by this history geek.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nineteenth Century Today: Historic Dayton

I love finding little snippets of the nineteenth century in our world today. I know that may not be so unusual for some of you, but in my neck of the Pacific Northwest, anglo-history past about a hundred or so years is rare. So I thought I’d start an ongoing blog series about where I’ve found the nineteenth century, today.

About an hour east of home lies the town of Dayton. It is named after early pioneer Jesse Day, who rolled into the area with his brother and their herd of cattle in 1859. Shortly afterward, S.L. Gilbreath brought his wife to settle nearby. At 16 years old, Mrs. Gilbreath is said to have been the first anglo woman in the county. Her daughter, born in 1860, was the first anglo child. Others must have followed, for Jesse Day and his wife Elizabeth platted the town of Dayton in 1871. The town grew slowly, until German native Jacob Weinhard decided that all that barley was good for more than making bread. He started a brewery that grew into a business spanning saloon, hotel, theatre, and partial ownership of a bank.

Many of the beautiful Victorian homes built during the town’s heyday still stand. Every October, Dayton opens the doors of a few of these homes for the curious and reverent. Won’t you join me?

Let’s start with a stop at the train depot, the oldest in the state.

Or perhaps you’d care to take other transportation.

From the depot, you can see the Columbia County Courthouse, the oldest working courthouse in the state (photo courtesy of Steven Pavlov).

And as for homes, you could stop at Boldman House, now a wonderful museum.

And even the garden sheds are lovely!

And then there’s this more modern marvel, just coming up on its centennial—a 1913 Craftsman. More than 3,000 square feet, lovingly restored, gorgeous grounds on a half an acre, and a servant’s quarters out back. It’s for sale, even.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite convince my husband to relocate to the nineteenth century.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mom, Sort of

If you were a member of the aristocratic or gentry classes in the 19th century, it was almost a given you’d have two (or more) mothers: the woman who gave birth to you, and the one (or ones) who actually took care of you. She might be called nanny, nurse, or something else…but she was the one who bandaged cut fingers, gave baths, toilet-trained, administered discipline and hugs as needed, and all the other bits of day-to-day child-rearing that have to be done. Indeed, outsourcing motherhood might sometimes happen as soon as a child was born. Just as today, not all mothers chose or were able to nurse their infants; baby formula would not be invented until the 20th century, and so a wet-nurse would be found to provide nourishment. Though her mother and daughters all chose to nurse their offspring, Queen Victoria preferred to find someone else to do the same for her large family, generally the wife of a tenant on one of her estates who had an infant of her own and could provide for two (or be willing to outsource her own infant’s care). Prince Albert wrote up strict protocols and procedures for the royal wet-nurses to follow, including rules for their diet, behavior, clothing, and more.

So what did a nanny do? Well, everything: she was, quite literally, the mother, and even children’s actual mothers might follow her dictates on the assumption that a professional nanny must know what was best. Nannies ordered meals for their children, set schedules for meals, naps, playtime, and airings, and with the help of nursery-maids (younger assistants who hoped to achieve nanny status themselves some day) ran the nursery.

Children generally stayed under the exclusive care of a nurse/nanny until about age five or six. In addition to taking care of their bodily needs, a nanny was also responsible for the next level of parenting duties: instilling basic manners and morals in their charges. Most also taught their charges their letters and numbers. At about this time, a governess or tutor would step in, and while the nanny continued to be caretaker, much of a child’s time would now be spent with the governess. At some point between the ages of 8 and 11, a boy would probably be sent off to boarding school, while his sisters would remain under the governess’s rule with perhaps a year or two of school to be ‘finished’.

Salaries for nannies varied, depending on the number of children and the grandness of the household; a nanny in a very exalted household might find herself with a staff of nursery maids, laundry maids, and a nursery footman or two to supervise. Or she might be the sole employee in charge of the children. As room and board were obviously provided, a careful nanny could save much of her salary…which might be necessary, as we shall see. The Complete Servant (published 1825) lists salaries for head nurses at £18-25 guineas, with “perquisites” (tips) at christenings.

What happened to a nanny when “her” children left the nursery? It depended; the younger ones would move on to another position with a new family, perhaps to come back some day and care for the children of their own former babies. Word of mouth was important, and a nanny known to be good would be snapped up fairly promptly. In the 1880s and onward, formal training schools for nurses and nannies opened in London, along with nanny employment bureaus which went on to supply nannies to aristocratic and royal houses across Europe, as the fame of the English nanny spread.

Some employers were generous to their former nannies and provided a pension or even offered a home to beloved former nannies who had reached retirement age; others were forced to fall back on what savings they’d accrued over their careers and live in not-so-genteel poverty.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Items Deserving Notice, October: The Old Bailey

October was awfully quiet in London. Parliament is most often adjourned. Anyone who was anyone had wrangled an invitation to a house party or a shooting party somewhere in the country. Most of the theatres are closed, as are the amphitheatres like Astley’s. The weather is starting to turn gray and dripping. Ho, hum--what’s a young lady or gentleman to do for entertainment?

Perhaps take in a trial at the Old Bailey.

The Old Bailey was the central criminal court serving London and the county of Middlesex as well as crimes committed at sea. Located next to Newgate Prison, it held sessions several times a year, including October. You could pay to be a spectator and stand in the gallery to watch the trials. Prices ranged from a shilling for a lesser known offender to a guinea or more for big cases. Seats were limited, but if you couldn’t get in, you could have read the published Proceedings to see what had happened.

But it would have been a sight to see. While barristers and judges were present, most often the “prosecutor” was the person who had been wronged—the man whose watch had been stolen, the fellow whose daughter had been kidnapped. The accused stood in a box with a mirror positioned above so that light from the windows was reflected into his or her face. That way, it was believed, the jurors could see expressions better to judge the person’s innocence. Jurors generally sat on either side, with the judges opposite. Witnesses, for accused or accuser, stood directly before the judges to give testimony. Nearby were sets of manacles so those found guilty of certain crimes could be branded for the offense.

And the judges were more free to interpret the law then they would be today. For example, in May 1816, John Mackarel was indicted for river piracy, but the prosecutor didn’t show up on the day of the trial so he got off as not guilty. Wonder what happened to the prosecutor, hm?

In 1830, Sir John Gibbons had to prosecute a particularly vicious gang of poachers who were found with guns and bludgeons on his Stanwell Park estate. One of them had actually shot at him, and witnesses testified he would have been killed if it weren’t for the fact that the gun misfired (flash in the pan). Most of the men either pled guilty or were determined guilty and were sentenced to transportation for 14 years. One, a 17-year-old, asked that Sir John recommend him to mercy, which he did. The judge had him transported for seven years. I’m sure that made such a difference-ahem.

Then there’s the case of John-William Bishop AKA William Willian. Seems he married one lady under the first name and another lady under the second, within six months of each other and while the first was still living. Witnesses and church registers proved he had committed bigamy, yet he was acquitted because the judge thought the second wife’s name on the indictment was spelled wrong based on her father’s testimony! Mr. Bishop/Willian was indicted again for the same charge (no double jeopardy in those days, I guess), but it turned out her father had been wrong and the second wife’s name was originally right, so Mr. Bishop-Willian was acquitted again! At least that time, he was held over until a third indictment could be presented, but then only for an indictment of perjury. You see, wife number 2 was under aged and their marriage wasn’t legal anyway!

Bet you didn’t see that on CSI recently.

Curious to learn more? Look at the Old Bailey online, where you can search the records and read trial information from the 1600s to the early 1900s as well as details about the court’s history and legal proceedings in general.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jane Austen Nom Nom Nom

Did you know that next year, 2013, marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice? Quite a milestone…and quite a book! Not many 200-year-old books can boast of ever-growing sales and continuing reader discussion, can they? As part of the observance and celebration of that birthday, I thought it might be fun over the next few months to have a look at some of the books about Miss Austen and her masterwork—books that make my little history-geek heart go pitter-pat by offering a look at early 19th century life as lived by the author and her creations. I’ll try to stick to books that are in print or otherwise easily and inexpensively obtainable at on-line retailers like Abebooks or Barnes & Noble and Amazon’s used book sellers. I hope you’ll find them interesting. Since food is always interesting, I have a delightful book to share with you today:

The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Dierdre Le Faye (paperback reprint by M&S, 2002). Co-written by a food historian and a Jane Austen scholar, The Jane Austen Cookbook includes, as well as recipes, chapters on Social and Domestic Life in Jane Austen’s time and on domestic details mentioned in her novels and letters. Dining customs were evolving over these years, including the timing of meals and how they were presented and served, and both of these are discussed. And many of the recipes are drawn from a recipe book kept and recorded by Martha Lloyd, a long-time friend of the Austen family who actually lived with Jane and Cassandra and their mother for many years before marrying an Austen brother in 1828…so some of these dishes may have actually been seen on the Austen table. The original text and modern “translations” are included, so that modern cooks can try their own hand at such dishes as Vegetable Pie (a one-crust pie heavy on autumn root veggies, Harrico of Mutton (a lamb and vegetable casserole) Veal or Venison Cake (a terrine-like dish) and a recipe for Martha Lloyd’s own curry powder. And here’s one for Ratafia Cakes, re-written for today’s cooks:

Ratafia Cakes

1 cup ground almonds
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon orange flower water or orange liqueur
¾ cup superfine sugar
rice or parchment paper

Set the oven to 350ยบ F. Rub through a sieve or pound the almonds in a bowl to get rid of any lumps. In a second bowl, whisk the egg whites with the orange flower water or liqueur until stiff. Then mix the sugar into the almonds thoroughly and lastly fold in the whisked whites.

Cover a baking sheet with the parchment paper and place small teaspoonfuls of mixture on in, well spaced apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cakes are just fawn [very light brown]; they must still be soft underneath. Cool them on the sheet, then keep in an airtight tin. Enjoy them with after-dinner coffee. Makes 36-40.