Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fashion Forecast: 1811

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1811?

A lot of things, as it turns out. 1811 was a banner year for fashion in my opinion because of the all the lovely variations that occurred in women's clothing. No one style predominated, as we'll see happens in later years. For example, look at these high-waisted Evening Dresses from the January 1 edition of Ackermann's Repository (don't you love the way the artist sneaks in a back view?):

But just a couple of months later, this Opera Dress ensemble shows an open jacket-like garment that sits at the natural waist (Ackermann's Repository, March 1):

And there's no waist at all in this Carriage Dress, also from the March 1 edition:

Primrose yellow was definitely in, as can be seen in this sprightly, spring-like, and also waist-less Ball Dress from April 1's Ackermann's:

As in the first image, the focus is on the bust in this pretty pink Full Dress, set back at the natural waist (May 1, Ackermann's Repository):

This elegant Riding Habit also sits at the natural waist. Note the length of the skirt in back, meant to drape gracefully once the rider was ensconced in her side-saddle (Ackermann's Repository, October 1):

Similar to the Opera Dress from March with its yellow over-dress, here's a Walking Dress from October 1st's Ackermann's:

I love this next dress because it is comfortable-looking and handsome...but would you have guessed 1811? (Evening Dress, October 1, Ackermann's Repository):

Again, I think this Walking Dress could have as easily hailed from 1911 as 1811 (and oh-so-cozy with that ermine lining! November 1, Ackermann's Repository):

Equally cozy and charming is this Carriage Dress from November 1's Ackermanns:

Closing out this year of elegance is a Mourning Dress (though I've been unable to figure out for whom mourning was ordered.) I have the descriptive text for this December 1st Ackermann's plate: "A round robe of fine iron-grey cloth or velvet, with long sleeves and demi-high front, trimmed down the center of the figure, at a measured distance, with chenille fur, and clasped in the center, from the bosom to the feet, with lozenge clasps of jet; the belt confined with the same. Antique scolloped ruff of white crape; cuffs to correspond. Hungarian mantle, with double capes, trimmed with chenille fur, composed of the same material as the robe, and ornamented with rich cord and tassels at the throat. A small Eastern turban of grey and silver tissue; short willow feathers (alternately grey and white) drooping on the left side. Ear-rings and neck-lace of jet. Gloves of grey or white kid. Slippers of black queen silk, with jet clasps. Fan of black crape, frosted with silver.--This dress is furnished us by Mrs. Gill, Cork-Street, Burlington Gardens."

What do you think of 1811's clothes?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas!

Marissa and I aren't quite as heavenly as these two darlings from an early Christmas card, but as our Christmas present to you, we offer these two short videos on nineteenth century dancing. The first group is the Quadrille Club, dressed in early nineteenth century costume, dancing to Duval’s lancers at the National Trust’s Ham House to celebrate a Regency Christmas in 2007.

And this group, dressed in later nineteenth century costume, is dancing to the 4th movement of Hart’s Lancers at the Wallace Collection museum in London.

Marissa and I wish you all the very merriest and brightest of Christmases and a wonderful new year full of books to share and family and friends to treasure. We certainly treasure you!

Happy Christmas, all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hark the What?

Christmas is only a week away! My thoughts are turning to cookies and stockings and presents. And music! There’s nothing quite like a Christmas carol, whether sung off-key by a group of three-year-olds at a church pageant or in soaring harmony by a talented multi-voice choir in a major concert hall. But for the first part of the nineteenth century in England, carols were another thing entirely.

For one thing, you weren’t likely to find the better sorts out caroling. People singing songs door to door were more likely to be parties of drunken hooligans hoping to find more liquor along the way by performing or children begging. You wouldn't find elegant carolers like the ones in the picture until after Marissa's beloved Queen Victorian had been on the throne for a while. For another, a carol, or any music, was only sometimes sung in church services, and then only by the adults.

Of course, people did sing Christmas songs at home among family. Some Christmas music familiar today that would have been around then includes “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” and “Hark! How All the Welkin Rings.” Don’t recognize the last one? Here’s the first stanza:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
"Glory to the King of kings;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
universal nature say,
"Christ the Lord is born today!"

The welkin is the celestial sphere. So, all the angels were singing. Hark! Can you hear them? (Okay, I think you probably get it by now. This was the original version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The original tune was different too.) The song was written by Charles Wesley in the 1700s but was still being published for playing and singing under this title in 1875.

And speaking of music, be sure to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jane Austen. She turned 234 on Wednesday, December 16.

See us next week for a single post on Christmas Eve. Christmas blessings to you and yours, however you like to sing!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas in a Nutshell

Before we get started... Remember that invitation to the Regency Tea and Dance party I posted about a few weeks ago? Well, you must check out QNPoohBear's blog--she went, and took lots of pictures! It sounds wonderful...and there are rumors of a spring dance floating about as well. Thanks for the link, QNPoohBear!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Regina and I have been teaching a course on Regency and Early Victorian Christmas customs for the Beau Monde Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and turning up all sorts of interesting information in the process. Did you know that Christmas as we know it is very much a 19th century invention, courtesy of Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens?

I've mentioned several times how very popular the Queen was when she came to the throne, in a media personality way that really had never happened before. Everyone wanted to know what the queen did, what her favorite perfume was, what kind of biscuits she liked with tea, and so on ad infinitum. When Victoria married her beloved Albert, that attention didn't go away...and when the public learned that Victoria and Albert enjoyed celebrating Christmas in the German way, with things like trees decorated with candles and sweets and lovely ornaments and music and lots of gifts for their children, they thought, "Hmmm...."

At about the same time, Charles Dickens published a short novella he hoped would revive his career which had blossomed with Sketches by Boz and The Pickwick Papers, then tanked with Martin Chuzzlewit. The novella was called "A Christmas Carol", and the first edition of 6000 copies sold out within days. Readers were touched by poverty-stricken Cratchit family and moved by Ebenezer Scrooge's holiday change-of-heart...and the combination of Victoria and Albert and Tiny Tim were enough to send the country Christmas-mad, aided and abetted by such things as increased access to inexpensive manufactured good courtesy of the Industrial Revolution (think TOYS) and improved transportation so that far-flung family members could reunite for the holiday. The Christmas card and Christmas crackers date from this period, and the next twenty years saw the renaissance of the Christmas carol, with most on the ones we sing today dating from the 1850s through 1870s.

Speaking of nutshells...here's a late 19th century Christmas game that I thought was charming...enjoy!

Surprise Nuts Centerpiece
Split some large, well-shaped English walnuts. Remove the meats and in their place put some small toys or trinkets. Glue them back together and then glue an 18” length of colored ribbon to one end of each walnut. Heap them in a bowl with other nuts, ribbons hanging over the side of the bowl; each of your guests can choose one ribbon to pull and claim their prize. Don’t forget to have nutcrackers on hand!

Have fun!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pudding, Honey!

One of the staples of Christmas dinner in the nineteenth century in England was the Christmas pudding. But don’t think of the pudding we have today. English pudding is more like cake, and the Christmas pudding was the crowning glory of the feast! It was generally carried in with great ceremony, sprig of holly in the top, soaked in brandy and on fire.

Many families had a secret recipe, handed down from mother to daughter. Some started the pudding as early as the first Sunday in Advent, a good four weeks before Christmas. Others insisted that you had to include 13 ingredients for Christ and his apostles, and stir from east to west in token for the wise men who came to visit the Christ child. In some families, everyone from the youngest child to the most senior adult took a turn at stirring. The Christmas pudding was so critical that housekeepers in the great houses were taught that creating it was their most important duty for the month of December! Here’s what Mrs. Beeton has to say in her Book of Household Management, published in 24 parts from 1859 to 1861:

“In December, the principal household duty lies in preparing for the creature comforts of those near and dear to us, so as to meet old Christmas with a happy face, a contented mind, and a full larder; and in stoning the plums [raisins], washing the currants, cutting the citron, beating the eggs, and MIXING THE PUDDING, a housewife is not unworthily greeting the genial season of all good things.”

Here, then, is her recipe, for Christmas Pudding:


1 ½ pounds raisins
½ pound of currants
½ pound of mixed peel
3/4 lb. of bread crumbs
3/4 lb. of suet (shortening)
8 eggs
1 wineglassful of brandy

Stone and cut the raisins in halves, but do not chop them; wash, pick, and dry the currants, and mince the suet finely; cut the candied peel into thin slices, and grate down the bread into fine crumbs. When all these dry ingredients are prepared, mix them well together; then moisten the mixture with the eggs, which should be well beaten, and the brandy; stir well, that everything may be very thoroughly blended, and press the pudding into a buttered mould; tie it down tightly with a floured cloth, and boil for 5 or 6 hours. It may be boiled in a cloth without a mould, and will require the same time allowed for cooking. As Christmas puddings are usually made a few days before they are required for table, when the pudding is taken out of the pot, hang it up immediately, and put a plate or saucer underneath to catch the water that may drain from it. The day it is to be eaten, plunge it into boiling water, and keep it boiling for at least 2 hours; then turn it out of the mould, and serve with brandy-sauce. On Christmas Day a sprig of holly is usually placed in the middle of the pudding, and about a wineglassful of brandy poured round it, which, at
the moment of serving, is lighted, and the pudding thus brought to table encircled in flame.”

Lovely picture, what? She goes on to note that five or six of these puddings should be made at one time, as they will keep well for many weeks and can be served to unexpected guests.

Or maybe unsuspecting guests?

I haven’t tried this recipe, but I did try making plum pudding one year. I didn’t own a knife strong enough to cut through it. Never did figure out what I did wrong! Maybe I should have kept it a few more days?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Royal Waterloo Bath

From the June 1819 edition of Ackermann's Repository, may I present to you with mingled delight and horror...


"This very elegant floating bath is stationed near the north end of the Waterloo-bridge, and has recently been built and completed with entirely new and substantial materials, in a style of superior accommodation, at a very considerable expense: it contains a plunging bath, 24 feet long by 8 feet wide, and two private baths, 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. The depth may be regulated at pleasure by machinery, which raises or depresses the bottom as required, secured by cross timbers, and bound with iron. To each of the baths are attached small dressing rooms, commodiously fitted up, with proper persons to attend upon visitors. These baths are so constructed, that the water, being a running stream, is changed every two minutes. The advantage of bathing in a flowing stream is obvious, and gives a decided preference over a cold still bath, which is frequently dangerous from the violence of the shock. The terms of bathing, as our readers will see, are extremely moderate:--they are--
In the plunging-bath. . £0 1s. 0d.
For the season. . . £1 11s. 6p.
In the private baths . £0 1s. 6p.
For the season. . . £2 2s. 0p.
Constant attendance at Waterloo-bridge to convey visitors to and from the bath.

Bathing is so essentially connected with health, that we cannot but congratulate the public on this new establishment. It is sigular that so few of the kind should be known in London, while there is scarcely a street in the French metropolis that has not its cold, warm, vapour, Chinese, and Tuscan baths, with a variety of others, suiting the capricious tastes of the inhabitants. Yet how deficient they are in the most important article connected with bathing every body knows, while we have a noble river filled with the purest and most wholesome waters in the world. The want of baths in London has led to the incommodious and indecorous practice of public exposure in the Thames.

All I can say is, eek! Or maybe just ick. Though the waters of the Thames might indeed have been pure and wholesome upriver, at this point it served as drainage for all the city...gulp! I applaud the recognition that bathing was associated with good health and understand the desire for cleanliness (and for getting the nudists off the banks of the river!) but do have to wonder if the writer of this article visited the baths in person. Unfortunately, no interior views were provided--it would have been interesting to see how the water depth controls worked.

I don't think any young ladies of fashion would come here; I expect it was for the working class population of London who didn't have hip baths before the fireplaces in their bedrooms and legions of servants to carry up cans of hot water to fill them.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Solid As Stone

A true nineteenth century heroine was one whose ambitions and goals surpassed their times and sometimes their own abilities! Such was the life of Eleanor Coade.

Eleanor began life in the eighteenth century in Lyme Regis. When her father George died, her mother (also named Eleanor) and her moved from Dorset to London and purchased a small manufacturing firm that made artificial stone. Many other scientists at the time were struggling to come up with a durable form of artificial stone to be used as building decorations, grave stones, and statues. They wanted something as beautiful and durable as natural stone, but much less costly. They could succeed for small things, but when it came to massive monuments, their artificial stone tended to shrink in the elements and crumble apart, sometimes within a few months! As you can imagine, a duke who paid a pretty penny to decorate Aunt Ermintrude’s final resting place didn’t want to find it crumbled to dust faster than her corpse!

But Eleanor Coade came up with a better way. Some credit Eleanor the younger, others her mother. It may be because single ladies who excelled in business were often given the title “Mrs.” Either way, the remarkable woman envisioned a way to take broken fragments of previously fired ceramic, mix it with other materials, and fire it again into an almost indestructible material. Eleanor called it Lithodipyra Terra Cotta. The Greek word she made up; at its base it means stone twice fire.

From the 1770s through the 1830s, her stone was used by the best architects and builders of the day, including Robert Adam, Sir John Soane, Sir William Chambers, and John Nash, for buildings, statues, and funerary decorations. It was used to build the United States Bank in Boston and to redecorate Empress Catherine’s great Pushkin palace in St. Petersburg. While it looks like stone, it actually outlasts natural stone, remaining sharp and true years longer. Statues made from the material are still vibrant over 200 years later!

Eleanor Coade never married. She died a wealthy woman and left bequests to distance relatives and churches in Lyme Regis and London. The firm kept operating until 1949, but no one else was able to duplicate the formula for what would come to be called Coade Stone. Only recently has technology progressed to the point where it can be identified.

Here’s to a heroine who can stand the test of time, solid as stone!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Special Announcement: Will you give me the honor of this dance?

Our friend Gail Eastwood, who brought us the wonderful series on Regency period dancing some months back, sent us this note which may be of interest to readers in the New York/New England area:

On Sunday, December 13 there will be a tea dance to celebrate the 234th anniversary of Jane Austen's birth ( a few days early). Dance historian Susan de Guardiola from Connecticut will teach country dances of the era plus the Boulanger, the Country Bumpkin, and Sir Roger de Coverley --maybe even a cotillion or quadrille. Period costume is encouraged and admired but not required, and period refreshments will be served.

The time and location: 1-4pm, at Goff Hall, 124 Bay State Road, Rehoboth, Massachusetts

A map and directions are at: www.contradancelinks.com/rehoboth_map.html

For more info, email me (geastokes@aol.com) or Liefe Wheeler (liefe@comcast.net)

If anyone attends, you MUST send us pictures!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Victoria’s Children, Part 4: Alfred

Queen Victoria’s fourth child was born in the fourth year of her marriage, on August 6, 1844…one can’t help wondering when the poor dear had time to be Queen! But the birth of Prince Alfred Ernest Albert was a welcome occasion: he was the requisite “spare” to his elder brother, the Prince of Wales, an important thing to have in a century when disease would carry off his older sister and father as well as several cousins.

Indeed, “Affie” (as he was known in the family) was close to his big brother Bertie, whom he came to closely resemble in middle age (see photo below). But Affie’s childhood amongst his family was cut short when at age 13 he was enrolled as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, mostly at Prince Albert’s instigation. Victoria was not pleased at losing her son, writing to her daughter Vicky, married the same year, “I assure you, it is much better to have no children than to have them only to give them up! It is too wretched.” But lose him she did, first to the HMS Euryalus (on which he became the first English prince to visit the Cape of Good Hope, and later to long round-the-world trips, during which he was also the first English prince to visit Australia (it is reported that he was offered the throne of Australia, but refused it), India, and Hong Kong.

In 1874 he married the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II, the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna. The marriage was not a successful one, and rumor had it that the chief attraction of the young grand duchess was her enormous dowry. Even so, they managed to have six children (one stillborn) including the future Queen of Romania. For the next twenty years he remained in the Royal Navy, attaining the rank of admiral, though never achieving as high a position as his mother thought he should.

Perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t, because in 1893 he inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from his uncle, Prince Albert’s older brother. His reign did not last long, however, as throat cancer claimed him just seven years later, just a few months before Victoria’s own death.

Affie does not appear to have been a very attractive personality; in addition to his fondness for money, he evidently drank heavily, was possessed of a bad temper and tended to be rather a bore, according to Queen Victoria’s private secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (“The Duke of Edinburgh occupies the chair and talks about himself by the hour. Those who go [to the Billiard Room at Balmoral, the only room the Queen allowed smoking in] are quite exhausted.” Still, one can’t help feeling a bit sorry for him—always “the spare”, overshadowed by his brother and clever elder sisters.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods

I rather doubt this pair are on their way to grandmother's house, but doesn't it look like fun? That's a type of carriage known as a Tilbury, by the way, and this one was made by Thomas Baptiste at 33, rue Vivienne, Paris. Natty little thing, isn't it?

Regina and I, on the other hand, are on our way to other houses for the holiday, and would like to extend our hope that all of you traveling over rivers and through woods for Thanksgiving have a pleasant and expeditious trip and reach your destinations safely, be it grandmother's house or elsewhere...and that your holiday is filled with grace and gratitude for the blessings in your lives. We know what we're grateful for--you, our gentle readers!

Happy Thanksgiving, all. Enjoy the holiday, and we'll see you next week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Today's Characters, Yesterday

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that nineteenth century young men and ladies looked very different from people today. I disagree. Or, sure there are stylized portraits that make them look rather unworldly, and some artists have more skill than others. I’ve heard the arguments that poor dental care made mouths look sunken, or people were afraid to smile because of their teeth. Then there are those who insist that because some ceilings were lower and surviving clothing is smaller that people were a lot shorter than we are. (I shudder to think who lived in the remarkably high-ceilinged rooms of some of the country estates!) Certainly hairstyles and fashions have changed over time.

People had their portraits painted for a number of reasons: to commemorate a major event like a military victory, to announce their success in their careers, or to document their family. Recently I’ve come across a number of portraits that seem to me to be straight out of Hollywood today. See what you think.

This is the French miniaturist Francois Jean Baptist Isabey and his daughter, right around 1800. Compare him to Keanu Reeves. Ancestor, perhaps?

How about this one? Young Mr. Fleetwood is dressed for riding to the hounds, his knee hooked up over his saddle, around 1803. Shia LaBeouf, anyone?

And then there’s Elinor, either the 1810 version in this miniature or Emma Thompson’s version from Sense and Sensibility.

So, what do you think? Have we changed so much in 200 years?

Oh, and just so you know—we will have one post next week, Wednesday or Thursday, so we can spend more time with our families over the holiday. Carpe diem, my dears!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Ennui is Killing Me!

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, a popular weekly magazine published in London between 1822 and 1847, ran the following short piece in its November 26, 1825 issue which got me giggling--I hope it will do the same to you!

The Journal of an Indolent Lady

"I know a young lady who has very pretty pretensions to idleness, but who has no objection to dancing the livelong night, and who would work at a ball-dress fifteen hours at a stretch, rather than not go to the assembly. Of this young lady’s life, the following specimen...may afford some idea, and it proves her to be a real amateur:

Rose at ten. Regretted not being able to lie an hour longer. Lamented the necessity of cleanliness. Dressing a great bore. Dogs in this respect happier than men. Watch-boxes still better.

Breakfasted till eleven. Sauntered for half an hour, and played with the cat. She scratched both my hands.

Half past eleven. Sunk in an arm-chair, with a novel, read the same page three times over, and fell asleep. Got up to walk to another chair, and was told I’d a hole in my stocking. I wonder why the maid does not mend them.

Twelve. Played half a lesson on the piano. What can Rossini mean by writing such difficult music?

One o’clock. Took up a needle and thread, and looked out of the window at the cattle feeding for three quarters of an hour. Cows lead happy lives. I wonder why man does not ruminate.

At two. Luncheon.

Three. Forced to walk out. I hate exercise. Was told my petticoat is longer than my gown; but what does that matter?

Half-past four. Very tired and hungry. Played again with the cat. Made Fidelle, the French poodle, fetch a stick three times out of the water. Fidelle tore my glove to pieces. I wish my brother had been by to take it from him.

Five. Played at scratch-cradle [cat's cradle], and then three games of Trou-madame [an early table game that was a cross between bar billiards and pinball] till dressing time. Can’t think why mamma does not allow me a maid to dress me. Scolded for throwing my hair papers about the room. What has the housemaid to do but gather them up? It’s monstrous tiresome to be scolded.

Six. Dinner. After coffee sat still doing nothing till bed time. Thought half-past ten would never come. Went to bed very tired. Doing nothing is extremely troublesome, and I hate it exceedingly.—But then what can one do?"


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Boxing Day, Sort Of

Okay, so Boxing Day is well over a month away, but this week I discovered some absolutely lovely nineteenth century boxes, and I thought you’d want to see them. Why was I looking at nineteenth century boxes (you need a reason to research? Gasp!). You see, the heroine in the book I’m writing hid some very important papers in a box, and then someone stole the box. She thought he was after the papers, but what he really wanted was the box.


Oh, those kinds of questions keep writers up late into the night! It isn’t enough that I need him to steal the box to further the plot. He wants a motivation for stealing it. Why does he care? He’s just the villain’s flunky! But oh, no, he must have a reason for stealing the box. Which set me off searching for a box that would inspire the theft.

What about this one? Mother of pearl trimmed with ivory, lined with blue silk set in accordion pockets. Very useful for storing small diamond pins and earbobs. Ah, but it’s from the late 1800s, and my heroine resides in 1803. And I don’t think my villain cares for such things.

Or perhaps this. Amethyst glass and ormolu (gilded bronze), from France. Could have served as a jewelry box or merely a decoration. Hm, would it not give things away when you could see right through it?

Oh, why not this? A porcelain candy box hand-painted with couples lounging in pastoral splendor, surrounded by guilt, er gilt and lined with lavender silk. Well, at only 3 inches long, that might be too small for my heroine’s purposes.

No, this! It’s French porcelain, from the premiere factory at that time, Sevres, and in their signature cobalt blue. Very romantic scene on the lid, so my very romantic heroine would favor it, and it’s a good 8 inches long so she could stuff in a few mysterious documents without anyone being the wiser. And why does my villain want it? The fact that he can get French porcelain reserved for kings and princes says something about him, don’t you think, particularly when England and France are at war? And France is threatening an invasion along the very shore where his estate is located? Perhaps he dispatched the flunky to retrieve it before anyone noticed it.

Take that, unrepentant flunkies! Thought you had me boxed in, eh?

Now, on to the scene where the heroine’s best friend hides the vicar’s wig.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If it's November, this must be Balmoral

Queen Victoria, footloose and fancy-free?

Well, yes. As Queen of the United Kingdom, Victoria either had use of or personally owned dozens of houses and palaces. While the official home of the kings and queens of the UK is Windsor Castle, Victoria spent her childhood at the royal palace of Kensington and the early years of her reign at Buckingham Palace, both in London. Wanting a summer getaway home for her growing family, she purchased an 1100-acre estate on the Isle of Wight, where she and Prince Albert built Osborne House (that's it at above right). But Osborne wasn’t the real getaway she’d hoped it would be, so she later purchased a large estate in the Scottish Highlands named Balmoral.

So what did QV do with all these houses?

Amazingly, she lived in them, traveling from house to house several times over the course of the year, much to the dismay of her servants and staff.

Here's how it generally went: Christmas and New Year’s were spent at Osborne; some time in January she would usually return to Windsor (shown at left) and remain there for February. March and April could be spent at Windsor or abroad, in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, or the south of France (the Queen liked to travel “incognito”, calling herself the Countess of Balmoral). Mid May generally saw a quick month-long jaunt to Balmoral, then back down to Windsor or Buckingham Palace if necessary for receiving debutantes at Drawing Rooms during the Season. Mid July saw her back to Osborne for the yachting season at Cowes, then late August sent her to Balmoral till mid-November for the shooting season. Mid-November meant a return to Windsor, then back to Osborne for Christmas and the start of the cycle once more.

Phew! If I’m exhausted just writing this, just imagine how her children, household and servants felt! The queen did not travel lightly; entire trains were required to ferry her and her household and luggage about the countryside. And even up in the remote Scottish Highlands at Balmoral (shown at right), she was still queen: a member of the cabinet always had to accompany her as a representative of the government (they squabbled endlessly about whose turn it was, as few enjoyed the Queen's frigid Scottish home); in addition, the prime minister in office frequently journeyed the roughly 500 miles to consult with her as well. In addition, the special red dispatch boxes containing reports and documents requiring her consideration were sent up daily from London.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nineteenth Century Heroines: No Bones About It

It has been suggested (twice QnPoohBear, cough, cough) that we talk about some real life heroines in the nineteenth century, young ladies who distinguished themselves in the sciences, arts, or other areas. I can think of no one finer to inaugurate this series than Mary Anning.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast of England. Her father Richard was a cabinetmaker by trade, but he loved to spend his free time collecting fossils and he took Mary and her older brother Joseph with him. The cliffs near Lyme Regis are riddled with remains from the Jurassic period; they’re also legendary for landslides and sink holes. Mary spent her youth clambering over these dangerous cliffs and collecting “curiosities” that her father sold to tourists in front of his shop on Bridge Street. Jane Austen even visited.

Sadly, Richard Anning died of consumption when Mary was only 11, and the family struggled to eke out a living by selling the fossils they found. That same year, Joseph uncovered a massive head of what he thought was a fossilized crocodile. Between tides and the weather, it was another year before the children could get back to it, and it was Mary who uncovered the entire skeleton: the first complete ichthyosaur!

Now, you’d think such a find would attract considerable attention, but Mary only earned £23 when she sold the fossil to the Lord of the Manor of Colway. He in turn exhibited it in William Bullock’s Museum of Natural History, and it wasn’t until 1814 that the Royal Society (the premiere scientific organization in England at the time) published a description in its Transactions (with little mention of Mary, thank you very much). The Annings were doing so poorly, in fact, that a professional fossil collector, Lieutenant-Colonel Birch, auctioned off his collection and donated the proceeds to them. The total amount raised was £400 (enough for a family of three to live on for a year or two).

By the time Mary was in her twenties, she was the head of the family’s fossil collecting business. In 1824, she discovered the skeleton of a plesiosaurus. She sold it for over £100 to the Duke of Buckingham himself. That discovery put her on the map, so to speak, but many scientists were skeptical that Mary was the person making these spectacular finds. For one, she was a woman, and for another, she had only attended school a short period in her life. Yet when they came to talk to her, they could only scratch their heads at her vast knowledge of the creatures she was uncovering. One of her visitors credited her skills to divine providence.

Even though Mary discovered a pterodactyl in 1828 and an even larger ichthyosaurus in 1832, it wasn’t until 1838 that the scientific community was willing to grant her any official standing. That year the British Association for the Advancement of Science awarded her an annuity. In 1846, she was made an honorary member of the Geological Society (honorary because women were not admitted until 1904). She died in March 1847 from breast cancer. Only after her death did the Royal Society acknowledge her, by donating a stained-glass window to her memory to the Parish Church at Lyme Regis.

It’s never easy being a nineteenth century heroine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fashion Forecast: 1810

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1810?

Well, perhaps she was a dutiful daughter and willing to spend time with younger siblings. Here's a morning dress she might wear whilst doing so, from the August 1 edition of Ackermann's Repository:

After that, she might go out shopping or to pay calls, dressed in this Walking Dress (Ackermann's Repository, May 1):

or maybe in this "Morning Walking or Carriage Costume" (Ackermann, December 1):

This "Promenade or Opera Dress" (gotta love the multi-purposeness here!) is "A round robe of jaconet muslin, with high French ruff, and appliqued border of narrow lace round the feet. A cassoc coat or demi plisse or cerulean blue shot sarsnet, finished round the bosom with a basket border, extended on white satin, confined at the bottom of the waist with a silver or steel clasp, and to the bottom with three regular, divided silk cords and tassels. An Austrian tippet of white satin, with full floss binding, and tassels to correspond. Arcadian hat, composed of the same materials as the coat, and ornamented with full curled white feathers." (Ackermann, May 1):

Another evening or opera dress is here--note the dress on the right, which probably has removeable long sleeves (Ackermann, April 1):

I love the rich color and hat on this "Evening or Full Dress (Ackermann, February 1):

And of course, we must see a ball dress too, don't you think? The net and tassels on the overdress of this one from the March 1 edition of Ackermann's Repository are particularly whimsical:

1810 ended on a somber note with the death of King George III's youngest and favorite daughter, Princess Amelia. It's thought her death precipitated him into his final madness and paved the way for the Prince of Wales to become Prince Regent at last. Interestingly, when a family member of the monarch died, all society was expected to go into mourning. Here's an "Evening Mourning Dress" from the December 1 editions of Ackermann's Repository; note the symbolic funerary urn with a tiny portrait of the dead princess on it: