Monday, September 25, 2006

Victorian Nudes, Drawing Fine Lines at Fig Leaves

The Victorian era witnessed a political push for indecency laws.

On any given day in any given city in nearly every neighborhood, foot traffic and passersby would be compelled to overlook the shockingly common sight of partially clad prostitutes and lower-class mistresses seeing Gentlemen into their gilded coaches at curbside.

As a side effect of the rise in Industry and the increase in technology, old and new artistic mediums were being utilized for increasingly visible pornography, shocking polite sensibilities.

Legislation began to be passed during the 19th Century to regulate Centuries-old traditions of pornography and nudity-in-public. Queen Victoria’s social influence in such matters belied the fact that her political opinions were being poppy-cocked in the Houses of Lords and Commons, alike. It came into fashion to adopt her moralistic stances as well as her embellished and prudish fashions, nostalgic d├ęcor, and gracious entertainments.

Hotly contested terms were applied to nudes and displays of nudity. The 19th Century revival in interest in the Renaissance era brought to the forefront historic painted nude portraits typical of royal and courtly ladies that were considered the equivalent of a modern family portrait during the Renaissance. Society during Victoria’s reign, however, required moralistic lines to be redrawn. Determinations were made as to whether new nudes or displays of nudity were to be considered classical, or not.

As Victorian-era artistic mediums evolved, photography of boudoir ladies, in particular, became increasingly available albeit driven underground. Any number of named and undisclosed models graced many a Victorian photographer’s portfolio for posterity to view. Art galleries of today are still known to display art shows from such Victorian photographers.

Acceptable nudity in artwork during the Victorian Era included a central attraction at the Great Exhibit -- the First World’s Faire -- of 1851. A nude sculpture by American artist Hiram Powers entitled Greek Slave [displayed top right], was considered acceptable for family viewing. Since the sculpted figure had a hand strategically draped, it was reviewed on the levels of a Sistine Chapel Garden-of-Eden occupant. The statue is housed at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Polite Societies separated themselves from the undereducated masses by defining pornography, as well as determining new additions to the realms of Classical Art. Ultimately, the powerful Elite Minority triumphed, shutting out displays of public nudity and pornography.

No longer tolerated were previously typical public entertainments such as troupes of bare-breasted liveried female equestrians riding through crowded Central Parks while picnickers and strolling families gaped.

Not all municipalities passed the same laws at the same time regarding pornography and public nudity, nor cared to do so. In some parts of America, all one had to do was ride over the county lines to indulge.

By Kristin-Marie

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Whiskey or Whisky?

Let’s have a drink and talk about this.
The spirit has been around long before Victoria’s reign, but at least two of us refer to it in our WIPs, so I thought it worthy of discussion. I must start off by saying I hate the stuff–and I don’t know what you mean when you use the word.
According to my liquor store (or LCBO as we call it), there is American Whiskey, here referred to as Bourbon. Brands include Jack Daniel’s and Wild Turkey, and the interestingly named ‘Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon Whiskey’ (and its not cheap!) Bourbon is not terribly popular here in this part of Canada, and there are only three pages of brands.
Then there’s Canadian Whisky, or Rye. The LCBO site has twelve pages for this category, and include such brands as Alberta Premium, Canadian Club and Crown Royal.
The next category is Irish Whiskey (and I have no idea what we call it). Although there are three pages of brands, I’ve never heard of any of them, but they include Jameson, Locke’s Irish Whiskey, and Paddy Old Irish Whiskey.
Then we come to Scotch Whisky and–good lord, there’s twenty pages of the stuff! We call this stuff Scotch. Black and White, Chivas Regal, and Glenlivet are familiar names, but there’s another ELEVEN PAGES of something called "Scotch-Malt Whisky" and I don’t know what the difference is except I’ve never heard of any of these.
From Whisky Web comes this information:
What is the difference between Scotch, Irish, Rye and Bourbon whiskies?
Scotch whisky is whisky which has been distilled and matured in Scotland. Irish whiskey means whiskey distilled and matured in Ireland. This information, apparently, for the brain-dead. Whisky is distilled in Scotland from malted barley in pot stills and from malted and unmalted barley or other cereals in patent stills. The well-known brands of Scotch whisky are blends of a number of pot still and patent still whiskies. Irish whiskey distillers tend to favour three distillations rather than two, as is general in Scotland in the case of pot still whiskies, and the range of cereals used is wider.
As regards Bourbon whiskey, the United States regulations provide:
(i) that Bourbon whiskey must be produced from a mash of not less than 51% corn grain;
(ii) that the word Bourbon shall not be used to describe any whiskey or whiskey-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.
Rye whiskey is produced both in the United States and Canada but the name has no geographical significance. In the United States, rye whiskey by definition must be produced from a grain mash of which not less than 51% is rye grain.
In Canada, there is no similar restriction. The relevant Canadian regulation states:
Canadian Whisky (Canadian Rye Whisky, Rye Whisky) shall be whisky distilled in Canada, and shall possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian Whisky. Gotta love our Canadian lawyers, eh? Does this mean ANYTHING??? But then, I couldn't find the regulation they refer to. Canadian whisky is in fact often referred to simply as rye whisky or rye.
So there you have it. American and Irish: WhiskEy. Canadian and Scottish: Whisky

Period Quotes

Thought I'd pass along these interesting period quotes I came across in a special edition of The Citizens' Companion, a periodical written for Civil War civilian reenactors. These are from the August, 2006 special edition:
"In private, watch your thoughts; in your family, watch your temper; in society, watch your tongue."
Original Source: Civil War Etiquette; Martine's Handbook & Vulgarisms in Conversation
"The ladies' dressing room is a sacred precinct, into which no gentleman should ever presume to look; to enter it would be an outrage not to be overlooked or forgiven."
Original Source: Martine's Handbook & Vulgarisms in Conversation; R.L. Shep - Mendocino
An Etiquette lesson from Civil War Etiquette Martine's Handbook & Vulgarisms in Conversation :
"Ladies may walk unattended in the streets, being careful to pass on as becomes their station-neither with a hurried pace, nor yet affecting to move slowly. Shop-windows, in New York especially, afford great attractions; but it is by no means desirable to be seen standing before them, and most assuredly not alone. Be careful never to look back, nor to observe too narrowly the dresses of such ladies as may pass you. Should any one venture to address you, take no heed, seem not to hear, but hasten your steps. Be careful to reach home in good time. Let nothing ever induce you to be out after dusk, or when the lamps are lighted. Nothing but unavoidable necessity can sanction such acts of impropriety."
Ladies, we've come a long way.
Source: The Citizens' Companion; The Voice of Civilian Reenacting; Special Edition - August, 2006
pp. 29, 35 & 61

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Heraldry, Fashionably Revived if Under-regulated

An interest in classical heraldic elements was revived during the Victorian Era, hand-in-hand with the revival of Elizabethan and Renaissance Eras and nostalgia for pageantry.

Most heraldry designed in the Victorian era was intentionally presumptuous. It crowded as many illustrious affectations into as small a space as possible. The result was beautiful and increasingly detailed heraldic artwork, sometimes used for show and sometimes just for contracts.

The historic Rothschild coat-of-arms displayed at right is typical of the times. The Victorian-ilk heraldry bears great resemblance to the re-popularized and ostentatious Renaissance styles.

Copper-plate engravings of armorial bookplates - available by custom order - were quite in demand with the General Public and sometimes commanded royal prices.

In general, armorial shields could be spotted on the sides of coaches, or worked into stained glass designs, or even displayed or disguised in Victorian architecture. University fraternities, such as Psi Upsilon, were going to great lengths to define and register their heraldic coats-of-arms.

A friendly web page with articles and resources is at The Heraldry Society Other good reference sources exist with cultural historical groups, such as The Hispanic Society of America which often displays armorial textiles.

Debates arose, officially and unofficially, during the Victorian Era over whether a true 'gentleman' carried a coat-of-arms, or not, and about whether he could be considered a true gentleman if he didn't. Definitive answers were unavailable, as heraldry even to this day is largely under-regulated.

Attempts to redefine and consequently regulate popular usage of heraldry were made by barrister Arthur Charles Fox-Davies. His tome, The Art of Heraldry – An Encyclopedia of Armory, [0 906223 34 2] attested to his status as an expert on heraldry during Victorian times. His angle, though, was to disprove most usage of heraldry by any but certain registered armorial families in English and Welsh domain. (His studies didn't cover other countries or groups, for the most part.)

Civic heraldry designed during the Victorian Era remained true to popular sentiments with aggrandized artistry, making for fascinating displays intended to hold audiences enrapt.

The topic was a hotbed, and as a result, many heraldic artists decided to remain anonymous. Because heraldry was mostly unregulated, bestiaries listing definitions of the elements were closely horded like State Secrets. To this day, many countries and their armigers don't share bestiaries with the public.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Robber baron causes panic 1873

Twelve years of unchecked expansion (1865-1873), the economy was bloated from inflation, an excess of speculation, and one man’s mistake combine for Panic. For 5 years after the 1873 panic, banks closed (37), brokerage houses shut their doors (2), markets deflated, American’s faith in the economy was nonexistent, and the nation seemed on the verge of collapse. It was one of the worst financial crises in America’s history.

The failure of the Philadelphia investment house of Jay Cooke & Co., who played a large role in financing the Union war effort by marketing federal bonds to farmers and workers, began when he decided to invest in just one more railroad. Between 1865-1873, Cooke's firm financed 35,000 miles of new railroads track.

The Union Pacific was a success. The Northern Pacific was not.

Railroads overbuilt, setting the stage for disastrous competition for freight traffic. Investors speculated heavily in railroad securities, and in 1873, it all crashed.

Cooke's failure drove panicked banks to demand payment of loans. Investors rushed to sell stocks in order to protect their capital.

“As stocks on the New York exchanges sunk lower, borrowers had no money with
which to pay their debts. Businessmen, many of whom had borrowed money to
expand their operations during boom times, released workers.”

It’s got to be difficult to be single handedly responsible for such a financial depression. Cooke was in bankruptcy, involved in Canadian corruption scandals, caused Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to lose his office in the 1873 election, and yet still managed to turn everything around.

By 1880 he’d met all his obligations, invested in an Utah silver mine, and was wealthy once more. Ha. Must be nice. Forced to give up his Ogontz, PA estate in bankruptcy, he repurchased it and converted it into a school for girls. Actually, it seemed he really was a nice guy.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Battle of Yalu River (1894)

It involved the Japanese and the Chinese navies, and was the largest naval engagement of the First Sino-Japanese War. The Yalu River is the border between Korea and China. This battle was actually fought at the mouth of this river, in the Korea Bay (or the Yellow Sea, depending on who you ask).

A Japanese fleet under Admiral Sukeyuki Ito was attempting to disrupt the landing of Chinese troops protected by a fleet under Admiral Ting Ju ch'ang. It’s considered a significant beginning for later battles, the so-called dreadnought technology.

"On 16 September the Japanese Navy, having carried out a landing operation at
Chinnampo, was returning to sea. Admiral Ito had with him a powerful force
comprising ten cruisers, a gunboat, an armed merchantman and a flotilla of
torpedo boats. Ito's flagship, the 4,277-ton Matsushima, mounted one 12.5-inch
and eleven 4.7-inch guns, as did her sister ships Itsukushima and Hashidate. The
Fuso and Takachiho carried two 10.2-inch and six 5.9-inch, the 2,200-ton Hiei
one 10.2-inch and two 5.9-inch and the 2,450-ton Chiyoda ten 4.7-inch guns.
Togo's Flying Squadron, the Naniwa, Yoshino, and Akitsushima, were also in

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Claim your land now! (Before all the good parts are taken.)

Considered worthless desert some years before 1893, on Sept. 16 of that year, 100,000+ people gathered in the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma to claim land the US Government had given to the Native Americans in a forced relocation better known as “The Trail of Tears”.

With one gunshot (that was probably heard by only half the people present) it began. Pioneers hungry for land raved on horseback and in carriages to stake their claims. Fighting broke out, but not too much was done – or could be done – about it.

“By 1885, a diverse mixture of Native American tribes had been pushed onto reservations in eastern Oklahoma and promised that the land would be theirs "as long as the grass grows and the water runs." Yet even this seemingly marginal land did not long escape the attention of land-hungry Americans. By the late nineteenth century, farmers had developed new methods that suddenly made the formerly reviled Plains hugely valuable. Pressure steadily increased to open the Indian lands to settlement, and in 1889, President Benjamin Harrison succumbed and threw open large areas of unoccupied Indian lands to white settlement. The giant Cherokee Strip rush was only the largest of a series of massive "land runs" that began in the 1890s, with thousands of immigrants stampeding into Oklahoma Territory and establishing towns like Norman and Oklahoma City almost overnight.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Agatha Christie is born in 1890

I wanted to do something on this, but couldn't find anything about this last day, only the war itself. So Dear Agatha is was!
In 1873, the last German troops leave France upon completion of payment of indemnity.

Born Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller in Torquay, Devon, England, Agatha Christie wrote 80 novels, 30 short story collections, 15 plays, and 6 romances under the pen name Mary Westmacott. Knighted in 1971, she died in 1976 with more than 400 million copies of her books sold in more than 100 languages.

It was during WWI, when her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie was fighting, that she learned about poisons while working in a pharmacy. Her first novel, featuring Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), did OK, but it was her 2nd one, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) that was a bestseller and where she began her lifelong success.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Civil War Ladies' Hairstyles and Hair Accessories

When I first became a Civil War reenactor, I had a lot of misconceptions about how women wore their hair back then. Most of this misinformation, I have to admit, came from Hollywood's inaccurate portrayals of women of the period.
Just don't get me started on blue eyeshadow!
One of the biggest mistakes I myself made as a newbie reenactor, was to buy a snood for my hair. I found out later that snoods didn't exist at the time of the Civil War even though these items are sold by Civil War period sutlers. The snood came into fashion around the 1940s.
What was worn during the Civil War was a hairnet. And not all women wore these. There were two types--one was made of very fine netting that matched a woman's haircolor. The other type was a decorative net composed of strips of ribbon, velvet or other braided material with beading woven in. This second type of hairnet was worn, as a bonnet was, to conceal the hair.
For an everyday look, women of the period wore their hair neatly confined. Not one strand was to be out of place. During the 1860s, people didn't wash their hair as often as we do today. Women also used sweet scented oils or pomades to slick their hair down. Then they wound it into a bun and pinned the hair in place.
A round, wide face was the ideal during this time period. Women tried to achieve this look by parting their hair down the center, slicking it flat on top, pulling it to the back and securing it with pins into a bun at the back of the head. Older women wore their buns higher on the back of the head, while young women wore theirs low on the nape of the neck. Women of this period never wore bangs.
At balls and formal affairs, other styles commonly worn were elaborate braids arranged around the head, sausage curls or ringlets. The key was to keep the ends of the hair out of sight. Meaning a woman in period attire with her long hair hanging down her back would be very inappropriate. This look was for the bedroom only. Little girls wore their hair in braids.
Women also rolled their hair on the sides to create more width. Another trick to achieve width was to collect hair from brushes, roll it into a potato-shape and pin it to the sides of the head.
For more information on women's hairstyles:

Oh, say can you see?

Not that it has anything to do directly with the Victorian Era, but in 1814 Frances Scott Key composed the Star Spangled Banner. It was regarded as the US national anthem by the armed forces during the 19th century, however. In 1916, by executive order, President Woodrow Wilson made it officially the National Anthem.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Few Ladylike Activities

When a lady found herself with idle time on her hands, a few of her choices for spending her time included:
* charity work any or every day of the week with her church or favorite charitable society
* spending mealtime or teatime with other ladies of leisure and literary writers
* reading aloud in her chambers with other ladies, especially during the time for after dinner drinks and smokes
* feeding the birds at parks and common areas, especially during the Wintertime.


The Union Discovers "Lost Order"


In 1862, “Union soldiers [found] a copy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's orders detailing the Confederates' plan for the Antietam campaign near Frederick, Maryland. But Union General George B. McClellan was slow to act, and the advantage the intelligence provided was lost.”

Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton W. Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars, realized what it was, and passed it up the chain of command. Purely by accident, the division adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting (it was from a colleague from the prewar army, Robert Chilton) who happened to be the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee. Pittman took the paper to McClellan. McClellan crowed at his potential victory.

And then he did nothing.

He thought Lee had greater numbers than the Confederates actually did, took 18 hours to get his army in motion, and to top it all off, Lee was alerted to the approaching Federals, and sent troops to plug the gaps in his own army.

The press dubbed McClellan "Mac the Unready" and "The Little Corporal of Unsought Fields".
Ordered to relinquish command from the War Department, McClellan did so on Nov. 9, 1862. In true New Jersey fashion, he then went on to play an active roll in state politics. Yeah, we haven’t had a good governor in centuries…

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Don’t take candy from a stranger.


In 1898, Elizabeth Dunning (daughter of a US Congressman and wife of John Dunning, bureau chief for the Associated Press) and her sister, Mrs. Joshua Deane, died after 3 days of terrible stomach pains from consuming a box of chocolates from a Mrs. C, whom she did not know. (I won’t even ask why she’d do such a stupid thing as eat something from someone she didn’t know, but apparently signing the letter Mrs. C convinced Elizabeth it was from a friend.)

Dear John was having an affair with Cordelia Botkin while he and Elizabeth were living in San Francisco. Elizabeth found out, left John who left Cordelia. None too happy with the end of the affair, Cordelia sent letters to Elizabeth claiming the affair continued (long distance, apparently).

Convicted in 1899 of intentional poisoning by Arsenic, Cordelia received special treatment – overnight male visitors, a lushly decorated cell, and 2 days a week into San Francisco. Eventually these privileges were revoked, and Cordelia died in San Quentin in 1910.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Oh! Susanna

Most of us know what happened today in 2001. ( and I’m lucky to be able to remember this day with a happier spin because my niece was born in 2003, so we celebrate life on such a tragic day.

Steven Foster’s 1847 hit song was first played at a Pittsburgh saloon. It was a national hit and became the unofficial anthem of the 49ers - the miners during the California Gold Rush, not today's football team *G*.

Foster wrote several other classic popular songs, including De Campton Races (1850), Old Folks at Home [Swanee River] (1851), My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night! (1853), Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair (1854), Gentle Annie (1856), Beautiful Dreamer (1862), and The Voices That Are Gone (1865).

Something I had no idea about until researching Foster for this blog. According Ken Emerson, Foster’s biographer and the All Music Guide:
“It became associated with the California Gold Rush. Yet most people don't know
many of the words--fortunately, for the song was actually a blackface dialect
number whose words contain some appallingly racist lines. However, a little
thought also makes the song's subtext clear: the singer clearly identifies
himself as an African American, yet he blithely sings of coming from Alabama,
travelling freely by riverboat to New Orleans. For all its lightheartedness,
"Oh! Susanna" depicts a slave's escape attempt.”

Sunday, September 10, 2006

British police make first DWI arrest 1893.

September 10.
Apparently, it wasn’t difficult to tell that George Smith was drunk while driving. The swerving gave him away.

Friday, September 08, 2006

First Lady gives birth to daughter!

It was a tough choice today – President Grover Cleveland’s baby’s birth, or California becoming the 31st state.

I chose the baby only because it was a first. Frances Cleveland (27 years younger than her husband and the youngest First Lady in history) was the first First Lady to give birth in the White House. Daughter Esther is the first – and only – child born to a president in the White House, on September 9, 1893. Of course Grover Cleveland was also the first president to be married in the White House (though not married while in office) and the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms.


Hurricane Hits Texan Coast (aka Isaac’s Storm)

On September 8, 1900, a deadly hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, killing between 6,000 and 12,000; it was so overwhelming and caused so much destruction, that no accurate accounts are available. According to NOAA, this hurricane’s sustained winds of at least 115 miles per hour make this a Category 3 hurricane (everyone else classifies it as a Category 4, but I’m going by wind speed here).

Since wind gauge blew away, wind speed might have been higher.

Isaac Cline was the chief weatherman for Texas, at a time when it the U.S. Weather Bureau was inundated with scandal. (Embezzlement and escape from prison, unable to accurately predict the weather to the point where astrologers were listened to more than weathermen…you get the picture.)

In an article written a few years before, 'Cline boldly declared a cyclone could never seriously' damage Galveston; anyone who thought otherwise was delusional. What he didn’t realize was that when cables arrived at the Washington Bureau headquarters about the storm off the Cuban coast was that this storm wasn’t like others that hit the Gulf.

It was a mistake that cost Isaac his wife.

Of course, hurricane forecasting technology of 1900 mainly consisted of ships at sea telegraphing into the mainland their approximate location (if they hadn’t been tossed about too much) and that they’d encountered a hurricane. To read more about this national disaster that was worse than the1906 San Francisco earthquake or the 1889 Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania, try Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson (Paperback: 0-375-70827-8).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

“A Victorian Reborn”

On Saturday September 23 at 8 pm (EST) The History Channel will be showing a one-hour special on restoring an 1891 Victorian House. As part of its Save Our History campaign, The McCubbins-McCanless House in Salisbury, NC has been restored over what looks like (from the Timeline on the site) an 11 month period. Check out the links, you can click on a room and see what it looked like, but not how it does now. That, I suppose, will be revealed during the special.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Victorian Gardens

An explosion of interest in gardens occurred during the Victorian age. This period was celebrated for its progress, invention, new ideas, and discoveries.

In Regency times, Humphry Repton had established the flower garden around the house. His style of gardens often contained rustic elements of grottos and ruins for pictorial effect, called the Picturesque style landscape. John C. Loudon developed the Gardenesque style and advocated the use of ornamental shrubberies, bedding plants, exotics, and a formal design that made each garden a work of art. But these gardens were limited to the wealthy.

By the Victorian period, the industrial revolution was at its height. The middle classes had more leisure time. Improved roads and transportation made it possible for wealthy middle classes to build villas on the outskirts of town where the air was cleaner. Seeking to display their wealth, they created showy gardens rather than landscapes that would harmonize with their location. Better printing systems allowed the spread of horticultural knowledge and inspiration. Edwin Budding’s lawnmower meant people were able to manage manicured lawns. The Allotment Act in 1887 made space for growing plants available to city dwellers at a reasonable rent.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 demonstrated the continued enthusiasm for new technologies and designs. Joseph Paxton created the Crystal Palace, for which he was knighted by Queen Victoria. Paxton also designed the new conservatory at Chatsworth and later sold small greenhouses to amateur gardeners, which, among his other business interests, made him a millionaire. By the late Victorian era, heated conservatories displayed rare exotic plants. The middle Victorian garden style was eclectic, varying from Chinese to Italianate. By the late period, fantasy-themed gardens were popular, as were those celebrating the British empire. The garden gnome made its debut along with other garden ornaments. Japanese influence increased the demand for acers, flowering cherries, peonies and chrysanthemums. The garden became a place for family pursuits, such as tennis and croquet.

The Victorian period was the golden era of plant collection. British archeologists were risking their lives to bring back artifacts from all over the globe, and botanical adventurers were returning with plants from around the world. Brothers William and Thomas Lobb were among the Victorian plant hunters. William recovered plants form North and South America while Thomas traveled to Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. George Forrest traveled to China, Tibet, and Burma and was responsible for introducing about 600 species of plants including rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, Himalayan poppies, and primulas. Joseph Hooker brought more species of rhododendrons from Himalaya. Robert Fortune disguised himself as a Chinese peasant and smuggled out cuttings of the tea plant from China into India, which enabled India and Ceylon to become established as major growers and exporters of tea. He also introduced 120 species of plants from China and Japan.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, ornamental plants popular during Victorian times included: Monkey puzzle, many species of fern, Mexican orange, Rose box, helix ivy, bamboo, slender vervain, silver ragwort, blue marguerite, fuchsia, heliotrope, trailing lobelia, pelargoniums, gentian sage, hornbeam hedge, katsura tree, edelweiss, Scots pine, Japanese snowball, araranthus, calendula, cornflower, satin flower, cosmos, California poppy, Gilia, sunflower, Virginia stock, baby blue eyes, Californian bluebell, phlox, and nasturtium. Vegetables included: broad bean, cabbage, cardoon, carrot, French bean, leeks, lettuce, onion, parsley, peas, radish, salsify, sea kale, and turnips. I was amazed to see North American plants like California poppies and bluebells, yucca, and others I think of as only grown in the Southwestern United States , Central and South America.

According to Cheryl Hurd, Victorian gardening was comprised of eight elements. 1. A front and rear lawn were imperative for a formal garden. Cottage gardens were more informal and smaller. 2. Trees were used to shade important parts of the house and to line the drive or approach to the house. Ornamental trees were popular. 3. Shrubs were used mainly for delineating property lines or marking paths. They might also hide unsightly areas or frame doorways. It was popular to mix shrubs. 4. Most properties were fenced. The more elaborate the home, the more elaborate the fence and gate. 5. Ornaments such as urns, sculpture, fountains, sundials, gazing balls, birdbaths and man-made fish ponds were all used. 6. Seating benches, seats, pavillions and gazebos were as decorative as possible. Rattan and wicker furniture was used on porches and in sun rooms. 7. Carpet bedding, the use of same height flora, was popular until Gertude Jekyll became popular. She believed each flower and plant should be grown for its intrinsic beauty and a border called for plants of varying height—lowest at front. Roses were extremely popular. 8. Vines of all types were used.

Those interested in specific gardens and influential designers of the era should read about Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson [author of The English Flower Garden], Sir Joseph Paxton, William Andrew Nesfield, and John Claudius Loudon.

"Victorian Gardening," by Cheryl Hurd, The Victorian Era Online,
"Garden Highlights," The Royal Horticultural Society, 2006,
"A History of British Gardening," BBC Gardening,
Gertrude Jekyll's Lost Garden, Rosamund Wallinger, printed in England by the Antique Collectors' Club Ltd. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Garden Art Press, 2000.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Faithless Mistress: Victorian Human Rights Symbol

Times were changing during the Victorian era for nearly every echelon of Society. Although formal mistresses were historically prominent in their roles, due in large part to the experiences of Ludwig I of Bavaria and Lola Montez, Victorian mistresses began to be tucked away, discreetly. In previous centuries they had ruled the proverbial roost, if only temporarily, but jittery Aristocracy decided to care for public opinions.

In 1847, in exchange for her role as royal mistress, Lola Montez was created the Countess of Landsfeld and awarded trappings provided by the State, which unsettled the highly religious and penny-conscious German citizenry. But King Ludgwig was in love, and had been duped into believing his mistress was true to him and somehow deserving of a gift of rank.

The German people cried out against Lola, not because of her low background as a dancer from Ireland - the fact of which had gathered a fan club from a University about her that chose to view her as a symbol of human rights worth rioting over – but rather, the people railed against paying for yet one more monarchical affaire. Unlike the King, the populace knew Lola for a selfish and manipulative woman. Ludwig abdicated for her, but discovered during the process that she was unfaithful on many accounts. As a result, she was exiled and left for America.

Lola made an historic splash as a notorious celebrity. Despite the ill omen of breaking a monarch’s heart and of being exiled after only sixteen months as mistress, Lola arrived in America heralded by newspapers and awaited by throngs. She had reached celebrity status across an ocean for her reputation as an adventuress. Living eventually in the Gold Country and dancing for a living for miners and investors, alike, she was retired to a quaint cottage in Grass Valley, California. Lola was known for her famous and sensual Spider Dance that wooed many a fresh admirer. A nicely pictorial sight about Lola is

Since Society was still holding its cumulative breath as the final results of the French Revolution were decided, despite a number of belatedly exonerated members of Aristocracy returning to the top, when the People decidedly objected to supporting mistresses through the State coffers, members of Society began to bow out. Notably, Queen Victoria’s son kept his mistresses more circumspect, as a result. Society’s gentlemen followed suit. Gone, it seemed, were the days when the most prestigious and prominent parties were hosted by a blueblood’s latest mistress, dressed to the Nines and intentionally outshining all other women and wives in the room. A useful book for comparative anecdotal passages about royal mistresses is Sex with Kings, by Eleanor Herman, ISBN #0060585440.

Once considered an indispensable accessory for centuries, men who could afford the trappings of a mistress during Victoria’s reign were less inclined to flaunt them over their wives. The more clever of men unwilling to give up mistresses were engaging financial planners for them to develop income sources that weren’t out of sacrosanct coffers or traceable from their own ledgers.

By Kristin-Marie

Friday, September 01, 2006

Victorian Wallpaper and Arsenic

Here's a little known fact I uncovered while researching Victorian wallpaper--some of it has arsenic in it. Apparently arsenic was used in some of the inks, most specifically a sort of piercing green, which had copper arsenite in it. According to a book by Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: from the seventeenth century to World War I, there were report of arsenic poisoning by wallpaper in the 1850's. It sounds to me a little like the lead poisoning problems I heard so much about when I was growing up. All right, I'm dating myself there.

Anyway, particles would be brushed off of this wallpaper accidentally and end up being ingested. This brings up an interesting question for those of us who tend to murder people in their books (that would be me). Arsenic seemed to be the poison of choice in the Victorian period. Could you blame the arsenic poisoning on the wallpaper?