Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Queen's Indian Servants, Part 2

As we discussed here in Part 1, Queen Victoria decided to employ some Indian servants in her household, and Mohammed Buksh and Mohammed Abdul Karim duly joined the Royal Household in Windsor in June 1887, their first duty being to serve Her Majesty’s breakfast. The Queen enjoyed their presence, and noted in her diary in early August that she had learned a few words of Hindustani in order to converse with them in their own language. By the end of that month, she had asked Karim to give her lessons in Urdu, the variety of Hindustani used by Muslims, and had arranged for extra tutoring for him in English to facilitate their communication. She had taken a definite liking to him above and beyond his being a window into an exotic world she knew little about; she liked this cheerful, good-looking young man (he was twenty-four at the time he came to England), who though not particularly well-educated and certainly unsophisticated, seems to have been genuinely fond of his mistress. The Queen returned his fondness, signing herself “your affectionate mother” in notes to him and giving him permission to bring his young wife and mother-in-law to England, whom she visited frequently.

When Karim told her that waiting at table was beneath his social station because he had been a clerk in India, the Queen named him her “Munshi”, or teacher. Gradually, he took on more secretarial duties for her...and this was where he ran into trouble.

While the Queen herself was amazingly free of racial prejudice, her Household was not. The Queen’s Household was its own little world; the people who served in the various secretarial and “waiting” positions were often the children and grandchildren of people who had served the Queen in the past, and outsiders found it difficult to be accepted into what had almost become a hereditary “caste.” When those outsiders had skin of a different color and spoke accented English... Resentment quickly arose when the Queen made it clear that she expected the rest of the Household to accept Karim as one of themselves.

It is difficult now to know whether complaints of high-handed and arrogant behavior on his part are true, or simply the outrage of those of the Queen’s Household who could not imagine treating an Indian native as an equal; he left no memoirs, while they left several. Add in the different cultural expectations for behavior, and it made for a tense atmosphere, especially after Karim was given John Brown’s old room at Balmoral—a sign of the Queen’s definite favor. Accusations that Karim was leaking state secrets to Muslim agitators and others, though they persisted for years, were never proven; there is no evidence he engaged in any political behavior of the sort. Karim was also excoriated for asking the Queen for a grant of land in India for his family (which he received after a great deal of hemming and hawing from the Viceroy), and for asking to be made a nawab (peer). He was instead made a Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire and the Royal Victorian Order, honors which acknowledged his personal importance to the Queen but lacked political overtones.

Perhaps the most telling detail of the relationship between the Queen and her Munshi came after her death in 1901. The new King Edward dismissed Karim and arranged to send him and his family back to India after the Queen’s funeral, but first he was commanded to hand over all his correspondence with his late mistress...which he did, without complaint, even handing over signed photographs the Queen had given him. He lived quietly at his home outside Agra until his death in 1909.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good Day, Sunshine

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, there’s a good chance it’s sunny where you are.  How sunny is it?  Well, our local chamber of commerce claims we have at least 360 days a year with at least partial sun.  That’s pretty sunny for the Pacific Northwest!

Measuring the amount of sunshine received in a day has been around since the nineteenth century.  Two surprisingly different men furthered the science. John Francis Campbell first invented a sunshine recorder in 1853.  He was best known as a Gaelic linguist, author, and folklorist, traveling around Scotland to collect the old stories, but he also served as a barrister and a government official as well as a scientist.  His recorder, sometimes called a heliograf, was a glass sphere set in a wooden bowl.  The sunlight shining through the glass burned a line on the wood.  The longer and deeper the line, the longer and stronger the light.

Perhaps physicist Sir George Gabriel Stokes wanted a bit more quantification.  A talented scientist dedicated to education, he changed Campbell’s stand to metal and added a changeable card that records the line made by the light. 

The result is the Campbell-Stokes Recorder, which measures the number of hours of bright sunlight in a certain period. The UK Met Office stores cards from various locations dating back to the nineteenth century, and the design is still widely used today. Hammacher Schlemmer even sells a version. 

But if you’d like something more than measuring sunlight to occupy your time, you might check out my summer bonus, which I posted this week.  “Master Thief” is a free, short online story set between Art and Artifice (formerly La Petite Four) and the soon-to-be-released Ballrooms and Blackmail.  More on that soon.  In the meantime, have some fun in the sun!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fashion Forecast: July 1917

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in July 1917?

A lot of interesting things, as it turns out: there are several new trends in this month’s women’s magazines. First, this from McCall’s Magazine: the first set of patterns for war service-related clothing that I’ve run across: two nurses’ uniforms and two outfits for outdoor work, overalls, and a shorter skirt with bloomers to wear underneath:

On a related note, in this month’s The Ladies’ World magazine is a two page spread on “the New Ready-Made Clothes.” This page features fashions from The Hamilton Garment Co., The Bradley Knitting Co., and The Betty Wales Dressmakers:

As always, The Delineator has some beautiful color prints. I like the pink dress on the right, with the tassel variation on the barrel-style skirt:

And here’s McCall’s color plate for July. A rather different artistic style from The Delineator, no?:

According to McCall’s, gingham was the rage, and checks and plaids do seem to be popular this month:

More bold geometrics in The Delineator:

This being July, we have to talk about bathing suits. Here’s The Delineator’s beachwear for the month. Note the girl's suit at left--not much different from Mom's:

McCall's bathing suits feature less busy designs:

And I suspect "seeking comfort in kimonos" is code for maternity wear (McCall's):

Finally, some teen fashions from The Delineator:

And also from The Delineator (I love the title at the top of the page!):

What do you think of July 1917's fashions?