Saturday, August 26, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Four score and seven years ago . . .
If you thought this was gonna be a blog about the Gettysburg Address, you'll be disappointed, at least for a while. (I'm sure one of my blogging buddies will get there.) No, this blog is about how years were referred to in Victorian times.
In my WIP I have a reference both to "one-and-twenty" and a little later on, "thirty years". To be historically accurate, I should be saying "one score and ten" for the thirty years--but I didn't know what a score was, so how can I expect my readers to know it? Okay, maybe you're not as big a dummy as I am, and already knew a 'score' was twenty years.
But did you know why they called twenty years a score?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term arose from counting sheep, then putting a notch on a stick for each twenty. According to Wikipedia, a base 20 numbering system is called a vigesimal system, and is used in French, Dutch, and Celtic languages to name a few. There is some controversy over whether it began in Basque country and spread to the other languages, or whether it originated with the Normans and spread out that way.
All very interesting, but what I really wanted to know was when they stopped using score in reference to the passage of years. That answer I've been unable to discover, but I imagine like most words and phrases it happened over time. My quick perusal of the internet would seem to indicate it slowly fell out of fashion sometime between 1871 and 1900.
And one last question I can't find an answer to. If they used 'score' to denote twenty years--why on earth did they say 'one-and-twenty' when referring to age?? Why not 'score and one' (which I think just sounds silly, but still).
I've spent the day researching this topic and annoying my poor other bloggers. For two words in a manuscript of over 75,000, mind you. Even worse, the two words could easily be changed to "a long time" without hindering the storyline. So if you wondered why I took so long to complete the draft of my story, now you know.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Ambitious and regarded as suitable work for a monarch to expend great levels of energy developing, the World Fair showcased the famed Crystal Palace exhibition hall which was ostensibly inspired by a noble’s topiary garden. During January of 1851, cart-horses were utilized to raise trusses for the central aisle of the steel and glass “Crystal Hive.” The exhibit got underway.
A quick link for statistics on the Great Exhibit can be found at http://www.earthstation9.com/index.html?1851_lon.htm
Due to the fact that the Exhibit was closed on the Sabbath, Sunday, only the wealthy and privileged were able to attend. (Commoners who worked six days a week were seldom allowed days off, except for Sundays.) Millions of attendees traveled mostly by railway from theoretically every country, since every nation was allowed to showcase their arts and industry.
Many Victorian era journals recorded the thrilling moments of attending the Great Exhibit, experiencing the wonders of the future on display. Whether drawn by nouveaux artists’ sculptures, on the one hand as the nobiliary Rothschild’s recorded of their experiences, or by the new technology on display, attendees were not disappointed.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
"Lina" and Nancy Astor were obviously different sorts of women - their personalities, appearances and lives were worlds apart. But, in three ways, they were alike - each was born in the Victorian era, each married an Astor, and each became more famous and influential than her husband.
"Lina" was the former Caroline Webster Schermerhorn (1830 - 1908). She was a member of New York's Dutch aristocracy, the descendants of the city's original settlers, and she married somewhat beneath herself when she became Mrs. William Backhouse Astor, Jr.
For the first few decades of her married life, Lina was typical of her class and time - she was preoccupied with raising her five children and running her household properly. In 1862, she and her husband built a fashionable brownstone mansion. It occupied the land where the Empire State building now stands, and was next door to her husband's older brother, John Jacob Astor III. The two families were next door neighbors for 28 years - but the brothers didn't get along.
After the Civil War, New York grew at an astronomical rate, and keeping the nouveau riche would-be socialites in their place became Lina's new cause. Her husband, a notorious womanizer, had little interest in Lina, their marriage, or the "social whirl," so Lina threw herself into her new mission. She took on the burden of being the unchallenged grande dame of New York's estalishment, and demanded that she be addressed as "The Mrs. Astor."
Working with her distant cousin, Ward McAllister, a so-called social arbiter, Lina came up with "The Four Hundred," the only people who counted, the only ones who belonged to New York's "Fashionable Society." Lina and Ward didn't arrive at the amount based on the size of Lina's rather small ballroom, but that's still accepted as the origin of the magical number.
In 1883, Lina's world began to crack around the edges. The barbarians (the Vanderbilts) were at the gates. For her housewarming party, Alva Vanderbilt planned a costume ball with "entertainments" given by young society figures. At the last minute she sent word that Lina's youngest daughter, Caroline, couldn't participate, because Mrs. Astor had never formally called on Mrs. Vanderbilt. Lina chose her daughter's feelings over her own social position and took her calling card to Alva Vanderbilt.
This was only the beginning of Lina's fall from power. In 1890, her brother-in-law, who had lived next door for so long, died. His son, William Waldorf Astor, inherited his father's holdings, and by all rights, should be considered the head of the Astor family. He wanted his aunt Lina to stop using the "title," The Mrs. Astor. Lina refused and the New York papers sensationalized the conflict.
After William Waldorf Astor was defeated in his bid for a seat in the United States Congress, he decided to leave New York and his disagreeable aunt behind and move to Great Britain. He later became a viscount, but he left a parting gift for Aunt Lina. He had his father's mansion torn down and replaced with the first Waldorf Hotel. Lina was devastated. She told people "There is a glorified tavern next door."
In retaliation, Lina and her son, John Jacob Astor IV, considered tearing down her mansion and replacing it with a livery stable. But the opulent new Waldorf Hotel revolutionized how New York socialized. Unwilling to live next door to New York's latest sensation, Lina and her son tore down her mansion and replaced it with another hotel, the Astor. The two hotels later merged and became the first Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
By the time she moved into her new house facing Central Park, at the corner of 65th Street, Lina's husband had died. She lived with her son and his family until her death at age 78.
Down in Danville, Virgina, far from New York City, Nancy Witcher Langhorne was born in 1878. She was one of the five clever, beautiful and vivacious Langhorne sisters, Southern belles who became famous beauties. Lizzie, Phyllis, Nora, Irene and Nancy were the daughters of Chiswell Langhorne and his witty wife. A planter who had lost everything in the Civil War, "Chissie," made an even bigger fortune in railroads before Nancy was five, so the girls grew up with every advantage.
A big influence in Nancy's early life was Archdeacon Frederick Neve. Educated at Oxford, he came to Virginia to help poor whites in the interior mountains. Nancy worked with him as much as her father would allow and gained her first taste of a more charitable life.
The family also produced three sons, but they were eclipsed by their well-known sisters and little is known of them today. Early on, the lovely Irene was the sister in the limelight. She was the Gibson Girl who married Charles Dana Gibson. He was the famous illustrator and New York's most eligible bachelor until he met Irene, who was dubbed a Virginia society belle by Northerners.
Outspoken Nancy went to New York to finishing school as well, but she was labeled a "rustic fool" by New Yorkers. Irene tried to alleviate this by taking Nancy everywhere she went. Unfortunately, this led to Nancy's meeting and marrying Bob Shaw. Their marriage was a disaster. It lasted four years and produced one son, Robert Gould Shaw, III. The marriage ended after he agreed to the condition that his adultery would be stated as the cause of the divorce.
On a tour of England, Nancy fell in love with the place. She even met the Astor family but not her future husband. After her mother died, Nancy's father encouraged her to move there with her young son. He said it would be in keeping with her mother's wishes and also be good for her younger sister Phyllis.
*I married beneath me. All women do.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
A Lady’s Life in Mourning
Mourning dictated that ladies limit, if not eliminate, their social activities. Men and children were also limited to avoiding large social affairs or parties while in mourning, but women were set apart as the idealized example of grief in the family and community. Upon entering mourning, women were expected to cancel all social activities. Callers were received only on a limited basis and other family members were expected to field people paying their respects in the home.
A woman expected to see only her immediate family, closest friends and her minister during this time. (Servants, if she had them, were an exception as they were seen daily and the workings of the household needed to continue, but servants were also expected to enter into mourning with the family at the death of their employer and remain in mourning as long as the family did).
While in “deep” mourning a lady was expected to avoid all public meetings, shopping trips and forbidden to attend teas or parties. It was also bad luck for a lady in “widow’s weeds” to attend a wedding. If necessary, she was expected to set aside her “deep” mourning for the event or be in absentia.
For ladies who carried them, calling cards were available, as was stationery for correspondence. Both the cards and stationery were very plain, white with black borders. The wider the border, the deeper the writer was in her mourning period. Calling cards in pale grey and lavender were also available for those in “light” mourning that wished to make their condition known as well.
As a lady reached the end of her “deep” mourning period she could recognize the change by enlarging her wardrobe and gradually returning to social activities (receiving callers, attending church functions and visiting relatives). Trim and jewelry could be added to an all-black ensemble and the “weeping veil” could be set aside. Eventually, the introduction of deep violets and greys could be used sparingly in the wardrobe, as well as white trims. Over a period of months, lighter shades of grey and purple could be used. “Light” mourning could consist of lavender, grey, white, and bits of black. Finally, other colors could be worn and the mourning garb abandoned.
Upon leaving mourning as a widow, it was acceptable – and somewhat expected – to remarry. If the lady had children, it was also a necessity.
Material sources on Mourning in America:
The After Life – Karen Rae Mehaffey
Hair Jewelry, Locks of Love – Michael J. Bernstein
The Trap Rebaited: Mourning Dress 1860 – 1890” – Anne Buck
The Victorian Celebration of Death – James Steven Curl
A History of Mourning – Richard Davey
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
During Queen Victoria’s long reign thousands of British men set off around the globe., establishing new colonies, exploring new lands, fighting decisive battles, engaging in mammoth enterprises, and chasing after gold. Most left Britain willingly, but thousands of ‘undesirables’ and indigents were put on ships and sent to remote colonies. By the 1860s, scores of unattached males were living in Australia, New Zealand, and British North America. When proper British society heard tales of these men engaging in morally objectionable behaviour and excessive drinking, they were appalled.
In true Victorian fashion, they immediately devised a remedy: what these hard drinking, hard living men needed was marriage. Get them married to good women and they would settle down to become model citizens of which the Empire could be proud.
A grand delusion? Perhaps. But in the 1860s, English social reformers and religious leaders held this belief so strongly they formed societies for the purpose of offering marriageable women free passage to the colonies and the prospect of marriage.
As it happened, economic disaster played into the reformers’ hands. Across the Atlantic the Civil War had brought American shipping almost to a halt, and shipments of raw cotton to mills in northern England had slowed to a trickle. Thousands of women mill workers in England suddenly found themselves thrown out of work. Many drifted to London, but jobs were scarce and wealthy Londoners disinterested in their plight. A great many ended up plying that most ancient of trades.
The reformers had no trouble attracting hundreds of marriageable women willing to sail to the colonies. The first bride ships went to Australia, and the success of these ventures led to ships being sent to New Zealand as well. Popularly called bride ships, there was nothing romantic about them. Life on board was hard, and the voyage to the colonies was long and dangerous. Sickness was a constant threat and over-zealous chaperones made the women’s lives miserable. Many prospective brides didn’t live to reach their destination.
It is less well known that bride ships sailed to the British Colonies on the west coast of North America. Following the discovery of gold in 1858, tens of thousands of miners, along with hundreds of prostitutes, rushed to Victoria on Vancouver Island and to the lower Thompson River in what is now British Columbia, Canada. Wild tales of immoral behavior and drunkenness prompted a group of influential people, including Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale and Mrs. Twinning of the tea company, to establish the Columbia Emigration Society in 1862.
In June of that year the S.S. Tynemouth set sail from Britain with 60 young women recruited by the society. Reports indicate the voyage to Victoria was bedeviled by violent storms and episodes of mutiny. The women lived for 99 days in appalling conditions without proper access to the upper deck, fresh water, and medical assistance. Thankfully, the ship arrived in Victoria several weeks early.
Dozens of local men turned out to greet the brides in a welcome so jubilant a marine escort was required to see the women safely to an old marine barracks. One enthusiastic miner is said to have grabbed a girl out of the lineup, planted $2,000 in her apron, proposed, and when she accepted, made off with his prize.
The reform societies were confident that introducing brides into the colonies would achieve the goal they had set, but others gave the ventures mixed reviews. Many brides did marry soon after arrival in a colony or went into service, but a sizeable number joined the prostitutes in the streets. It appeared that many of the women had been there before. Nevertheless, many brides with their husbands established families whose members would play a key role in their colony’s development.
If this topic interests you, I suggest The Bride Ships: Experiences of Immigrants Arriving in Western Australia 1849-1889. By Rica Erickson. Hesperian Press, Carlisle, 1992. ISBN: 0859051625.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
‘Polar stratospheric clouds’ formed last week when temperatures dropped below 176 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Renae Baker, a meteorological officer with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology at Mawson, Antarctica and who took the pictures on July 25, 2006, “Delicate colours produced when the fading light at sunset passed through tiny water-ice crystals blown along on a strong jet of stratospheric air.”
These kinds of clouds only occur at high polar latitudes and in winter. A weather balloon put temperatures at -189 degrees that day. “Amazingly, the winds at this height were blowing at nearly 230 kilometers (143 miles) per hour,” Baker said.
It was during the Victorian Era, a time of great exploration and invention, that the first explorers traveled to Antarctica for whaling and seal-hunting, and accidentally mapped out the continent. I won’t go into the horrible environmental- and animal- loss that occurred during this time, just the basic facts.
- In 1820 Nathaniel Palmer’s ship Hero sailed from the South Shetland Islands to “to study some unusual sightings on the horizon.” They stayed there overnight and “A dense fog settled over the ship and in the morning they found themselves at rest between two ships of the Russian expedition led by Bellingshausen. The Russian charts named Palmer Land in his honor.” [see http://www.south-pole.com/p0000073.htm for more on Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshaisen]
- The official US Antarctic Expedition didn’t occur until the 1838 Wilkes voyage [see http://www.south-pole.com/p0000079.htm for more on Charles Wilkes]
- It wasn’t until the 1897-1899 expedition that the first known photographs were taken of the 7th continent. Most of the crew deserted, the ship was trapped in ice, officers died, and at least 2 survivors went mad. It took the remaining crew months to cut through the ice to reach open water, before finally, 13 months after arriving, they were free.
- Between 1901-1905 there were German, Swedish, British, Scottish, and French expeditions.
- It wasn’t until 1909 that the first settlement, commercial of course, popped up on Kerguelen Island.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
America's Gilded Age began with the legendary John Jacob Astor. He is called "the first truly diversified capitalist in America" by Brian Trumbore, editor of Stocks and News.com.
Astor founded the dynasty that was America's richest family in the 19th century. The name Astor is still newsworthy. Recent headlines about the care of Brooke Astor, the 104 year old widow of John Jacob's great-great-great-grandson, William Vincent Astor (1891-1959), prove the Astors are still high profile.
Born in Waldorf, Germany, in 1763, the first American millionaire was given the name Johann Jakob Astor by his humble parents. He landed in this country with a small amount of money and seven flutes, which he promptly sold. While crossing the Atlantic he heard about the American fur trade. Astor went to work in his brother's New York butcher shop. He dreamed of supplying Europe's need for furs and bringing back the musical instruments so prized in America. In a few years, Astor went into fur trading beyond the western borders of the young nation. Within a year he was in London selling the furs he had purchased in America and buying trade goods to take back with him.
Back in America, he somehow found time to meet Sarah Todd. She came to buy furs from him and he was intrigued to learn she actually cut and sewed furs. They married and had three children, Magdalen Astor, 1788; John Jacob Astor II, 1791; and William Backhouse Astor, Sr., 1792.
In the 1790's Astor began investing in banks. By the age of 37, he was worth $250,000 - a fortune in 1800. He also owned a ship and imported wool and arms from Europe. In 1808, Astor founded the American Fur Company. One of his subsidiary companies established the trading post, Fort Astoria in 1811. It became Astoria, Washington. Astor succeeded largely through shrewd dealings with the Indian tribes and friendships with British officials who allowed him to branch out into the Northwest Territories.
By 1835, Astor retired from the fur trade to concentrate on New York real estate. A year later he opened the Astor House, a hotel on Broadway, adjacent to City Hall. It was called "astonishing" and a "marvel of the age." During its 80-year history, both Abraham Lincoln and the future King Edward VII were guests.
WHEN THE ASTORS OWNED NEW YORK, Blue Bloods and Grand Hotels in a Gilded Age, is the title of Justin Kaplan's new book. The Pulitzer Prize winning author's title is no exaggeration, since John Jacob bought acres of Manhattan farmland back when New York covered only the lowest tip of the island. This land, a part of which lies beneath the Empire State Building, added a colossal fortune to his legendary millions.
Kaplan's book focuses on the family's mania for building luxury hotels. As the fashionable people moved steadily uptown in Manhattan, the Astors built more sumptuous hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria, and introduced Americans to indoor plumbling, central heating, gas lighting, incandescent lighting, telephones, elevators, and air conditioning - as well as silver chafing dishes and velvet ropes.
John Jacob Astor died in 1848 at the age of 84. He was the richest man in America.
Brooke Astor is the author of three books:
PATCHWORK CHILD: Early Memories. Harper & Row, 1962.
FOOTPRINTS: An Autobiography. Doubleday, 1980.
THE LAST BLOSSOM ON THE PLUM TREE: A Period Piece. Random House, 1986.
Since the death of William Vincent Astor, Brooke Astor has given away 200 million dollars.
Every year Romance Writer's of America holds a national conference for its 9500 members. It includes workshops, agent/editor appointments, and an award ceremony. The Powers That Be change the location every year in an effort to accomodate those members who live in various sections of the country. This year, this past week actually, the conference was held in Atlanta Georgia. I managed to scrounge up the money to attend and gleefully stayed an extra couple of days to play--I mean research. One of the places I visited was Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro.
Imagine my excitement when I found out I had come on the first day of a full month long display/tour of Victorian Mourning! My book Wicked Widow (shameless plug there!) is about a woman who breaks the rules and doesn't go into mourning when her first, and second, and third, husbands die, so this was right up my alley.
Anway, you'll see in the picture above that Stately Oaks is draped in black and has a wreathe on the door to tell the outside world that someone living in the house had died. In this particular case they were re-enacting the actual death of a child. Although they refused to allow me to take pictures inside the house--or a tape recorder--I did manage to jot down a few notes to share with others obsessed, or even mildly interested, in the Victorian period.
1.) The bottom floor (no one went upstairs so that didn't matter) was draped in black. This included musical instruments and mirrors.
2.) The casket was laid originally in the parlor. For a child's death a white rose (symbolizing innocence) was laid on top, with its stem broken, for the broken hearts of all those who'd lost someone so young.
3.) The parlor windows where the body was laid were draped in black.
4.) According to the tour guide, women went into mourning for 2 1/2 years. I have a book that contradicts that (Confidence Men and Painted Women by Karen Halttunen) with a 2 year period for widows. Regardless, during the first year a woman wore strictly black, from her shoes, to her hat, to her gloves and fan. After the first year she went into "second" or "lighter" mourning, gradually replacing various parts of her wardrobe with gray, violet or white.
Men wore black bands on their arms. That was all they were required to do.
5.) People brought food to the mourning family back then as they do today.
Those are the only notes I managed to jot down. The guide told me much, much more, but I couldn't remember it all, so I'll see what I can do later to write a little more about mourning rituals in Victorian America. Of course, much of this was already covered in Nicole's previous blog:
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
In the 1860s during the war between the states just how many spies were traveling back and forth across the lines. And just how did they accomplish this?
In my time travel romance work-in-progress, my heroine travels back in time into her past life. It seems she was a spy for the Yankees, who posed as a laundress in a Confederate camp to obtain information.
According to The Everything Civil War Book by Donald Vaughan, "Both sides had more than their share of spies--many of whom became both famous and infamous--as well as unique espionage technology."
Female spies like Belle Boyd, who spied for the Confederacy, used their feminine wiles to obtain information for their side and sometimes fell in love with their informants. http://www.civilwarhome.com/belleboyd.htm
Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a member of Washington society. She sent coded messages to Confederate military leaders on Union plans that were transported by women on horseback. http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/greenhow/