Friday, May 29, 2009

Yo Ho, Yo Ho . . .

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for good, old-fashioned pirates. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is one of my favorite movies (my favorite is still The Pirate Movie starring Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkin—we won’t go there). I’ve loved sailing ships since I was a child. So, it was with great delight that I learned that our state’s tall ship, Lady Washington, and her companion ship, Hawaiian Chieftain, were sailing up the Columbia River and right into our little neck of the woods.

If you follow the Pirates’ saga, you may recognize Lady Washington. She starred as the Interceptor in all three movies. She’s a full-scale reproduction of the original Lady Washington built in the British Colony of Massachusetts in the 1750s. She originally carried freight between colonial ports until the American Revolutionary War, when she became an American privateer. So, you see, she has pirate leanings too. In 1787, after the war, she was refitted, and, in 1788, she became the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America. She was also the first American ship to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong, and Japan. Lady Washington opened the black pearl (aha!) and sandalwood trade between Hawaii and the Orient when King Kamehameha became a partner in the ship. The topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain is a replica of a typical European merchant trader of the turn of the nineteenth century..

So, if you’ll so kindly indulge me, let us embark on a journey across the seas (or downriver as it were). Beware, though. Pirates lurk in these waters.

Allow me to be the first to welcome you aboard the Hawaii Chieftain.

Lovely day for a sail, don’t you think?

Our flag is flying proudly.

The crew knows their jobs.

Wait, what’s that?

A ship on the horizon.

Dear me! Is she friend or foe?

She’s priming her guns!

Pour on that sail, me hearties! We can outrun her.

No, she’s coming alongside!

Run out our guns!

She’s firing!

If you hope to save your skins, lasses, haul line!

We’re pulling ahead.

I think we lost her.

Now, bring me that horizon.

(Special thanks to Kris and Meryl for being willing to join a zany writer on her quest for authenticity.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Flirting with Props, Part 3

I hope you all had a pleasant Memorial Day weekend! Here in New England we had a little foretaste of summer on Thursday and Friday, with temperatures in the low nineties…definitely fan weather! So today we’ll be learning about how to flirt with fans (preferably the handheld model and not the type that requires electricity!)…but first we need to announce the winner of last week’s Name That Mystery Object contest!

The correct answer was indeed a skirt lifter—a lady could fasten the toothed clamp end onto the lower edge of her dress, and be able to lift her skirt slightly to avoid muddy or dusty areas (or otherwise unpleasant patches of ground—remember that this was the age of horses!) when out promenading. Jane, you were correct about it being a skirt lifter, but a chatelaine is an entirely different thing--it was a brooch or clip with chains to which a lady could attach little necessities, like a notepad, scissors, needle-case, pencil, or thimble-holder (here's an image of one.) And the winner, drawn from among the correct guesses, is Ammietia!

Ammietia, please send me your mailing address through the contact form on my website so I can get an ARC of Betraying Season out to you. And stayed tuned for next month when I have another mystery object for you all to puzzle over!

Now, on to how to flirt with fans. Mr. Shafer’s intro to fan flirtations in his Secrets of Life Revealed (Baltimore, 1877) is short and to the point:

The fan is also used for flirtations, and the following rules govern the subject:

Carrying in right hand: You are too willing
Carrying in right hand in front of face: Follow me
Carrying in left hand: Desirous of an acquaintance
Closing it: I wish to speak with you
Drawing across the forehead: We are watched
Drawing across the cheek: I love you
Drawing across the eyes: I am sorry
Drawing through the hand: I hate you
Dropping: We will be friends
Fanning fast: I am engaged
Fanning slow: I am married
Letting it rest on right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on left cheek: No
Open and shut: You are cruel
Open wide: Wait for me
Shut: I have changed
Placing it on the right ear: You have changed
Twirling it in left hand: I love another
With handle to lips: Kiss me

Well! Again I see a lot of potential for miscommunication here, especially for those of us who tend to be klutzy! Then again, we might end up with a wide circle of acquaintances that way…

Come back next week when I'll finish up this series with parasol flirtations.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Exhibitionists

The sun is shining, the air is warming—spring is moving into summer, and the bravest are starting to sport some skin! In the nineteenth century there was another way to exhibit oneself in England. One of the highlights of summer was the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Everyone who could afford the 1-shilling entry fee strolled through the galleries to view paintings and sculpture from England’s most renowned artists.

And a few not so renowned.

The Summer Exhibition, which ran from May to August, was open to amateur artists as well. All you had to do was submit your work of art to a jury of members of the Royal Academy of Art. This Selection Committee deliberated for days to choose around 1,000 works of art to be featured in the exhibit. Supposedly footmen carried in the art and placed it before the jurors, who gazed on it and gave a thumbs up/thumbs down kind of vote. Pieces that received enough thumbs up were allowed in the exhibit.

But there was a second hurdle to jump before a piece actually appeared to the public. Pieces approved by the Selection Committee went before the Hanging Committee, who had the unenviable job of squeezing all the pieces into the galleries for viewing. As you can see from the picture, they literally crammed everything into the space. Sometimes, a painting that was approved by the Selection Committee was rejected by the Hanging Committee because they just couldn’t make it fit!

But can you imagine the excitement of a young lady or gentleman getting that final letter of acceptance? Your work is going to be sitting alongside Constable, Turner, Rowlandson, and other household names of the art world! You got to join these impressive talents a few days before the exhibit opened to schmooze and add “finishing touches” to your piece. And if your piece was hung “on the line,” a railing that ran around the room and served as an anchor for the paintings, that meant you had truly arrived. After all, inferior pieces were hung in the stratosphere, where the audience needed a telescope to see the details.

Today, the opening of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is still a red carpet event bringing notables from around the world. What would you expect from a bunch of exhibitionists?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mystery Object Contest #3: What is it?

Well, here it is:
I told you it would be diabolically difficult!

This little metal 19th century whatchamacallit measures 5 inches long and 2 inches at its widest. The black cord attached to it is 3 feet, 10 inches long and has a loop at its end. I am not quite sure of what the material is—perhaps steel, as it is quite sturdy, or maybe German silver (an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc.)

As you can see from the pictures, the little circular piece with a daisy on it slides up and down the shank, permitting the object to open and close quite securely. The flat disks at the bottom which almost meet when the object is closed have what looks like desiccated rubber pads with a somewhat worn but still noticeable raised "tooth" pattern on their insides.

Care to venture a guess on the identity of this very useful (at least to a 19th century lady) item?

All correct guesses on the identity of my latest Mystery Object left in the comment section between now and next Monday night will be entered in a drawing for a signed review copy of Betraying Season…if no one guesses correctly, I’ll draw a winner from among all the commenters, so go for it! Don't forget to stop by next Tuesday when I'll tell you what this is, and post the list of fan flirtations--just what you'll need to know as warm weather approaches!

Friday, May 15, 2009

In the Night Garden

No, that’s not a title to a M. Night Shyamalan movie, and I’m not going to discuss the children’s television program. There was a different kind of garden in the nineteenth century, a garden that was truly best by night: the Pleasure Garden.

The idea was that landscaped grounds illuminated by lanterns were both breathtaking and mysterious. People paid to come and walk around, perhaps listen to a concert, perhaps sneak off for a little kiss behind the willow. Who knows what could happen under the canopy of the stars?

The most famous of the Pleasure Gardens was Vauxhall, on the south bank of the Thames near London. It opened generally in May and ran Monday, Wednesday, and Friday starting at 7:00pm hrough the summer months. Like Disneyland today, the entire arrangement was designed to transport you to another place, a fairy land, for one night.

You might arrive by carriage after crossing Westminster Bridge, but just as often you would take a ferry across to Vauxhall Stairs. The dark water crossing was part of the show. Once at the garden gate, you paid the entrance fee of a few shillings. Such a low fee guaranteed that people from all walks of life could enter. That also was part of the show. You never knew who you’d be rubbing shoulders with at Vauxhall—the laundress who did your shirts or the Prince of Wales himself.

Vauxhall consisted acres of trees, hedges, and charming little pavilions. Some areas of the garden were illuminated by the glow of colored lanterns. One contemporary account claims the garden boasted 37,000 such lanterns. Other areas were intentionally dark, giving cover to secret lovers. You might stroll along a particular walk, nodding to acquaintances, stopping to chat or enjoy a piece of art or statue that was being illuminated that night. You also scurried to secure your own pavilion for the evening’s entertainment. Each pavilion featured a table and chairs as well as paintings by some of the most popular artists of the day, including Hogarth and Hayman.

While every attempt was made to keep the garden safe and secure, the possibility of danger was part of the thrill of attendance. The stories told in dozens of books are only too right: a lady had to be careful where she walked in Vauxhall. It was just as easy to lose your purse as your virtue.

But as long as you were careful in your connections, you could have a great time! Every night an orchestra performed a concert of the latest songs from the most popular composers, and sometimes renowned singers joined them. Half way through the concert a bell signaled the illumination of the Cascade, which was a huge waterfall display in the center of the garden. Apparently it was only lit for 15 minutes. Given the technology difficulties of uniting lanterns and water, one can imagine why. The night finished with a brilliant fireworks display.

Special occasions called for a grander show, and steeper ticket prices. In 1813 Vauxhall held a massive party to celebrate Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Vittoria. In 1814, the gardens featured a mock naval battle, complete with canon fire and ships sinking under billows of smoke.

You know, I’m thinking the Disney analogy isn’t that far off!

Bonus: When I was confirming some facts for this post, I ran across an outstanding online resource. If you are interested in learning more about Vauxhall, point your browser to David Coke’s Vauxhall Garden’s page. The author’s credentials appear impeccable, and the details, including links to more information, are all a lover of history could want.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flirting with Props, Part 2

Gloves…once an essential part of both ladies’ and gentlemen’s wardrobes. If you had any claim to gentility you did not stir out of doors without them, summer or winter. You wore them when making calls, when shopping, driving or riding, going to parties, and dancing—the only time you took them off was at a meal. In fact, letting a young man touch your ungloved hand was considered quite risqué (and very titillating as a result!) So I don’t suppose it’s terribly surprising that Mr. Shafer included a list of Glove Flirtations for the edification of fashionable young ladies and gentlemen in his Secrets of Life Revealed. Here’s his take on glove flirtations:

Like the handkerchief, the glove at times takes an important part in flirtations. The following are the known rules on the subject:

Biting the tips: I wish to be rid of you very soon
Clenching them, rolled up in right hand: No
Drawing halfway on the left hand: Indifference
Dropping both of them: I love you
Dropping one of them: Yes
Folding up carefully: Get rid of your company
Holding the tips downward: I wish to be acquainted
Holding them loose in the right hand: Be contented
Holding them loose in the left hand: I am satisfied
Left hand with the naked thumb exposed: Do you love me?
Putting them away: I am vexed
Right hand with the naked thumb exposed: Kiss me
Smoothing them out gently: I am displeased
Striking them over the shoulder: Follow me
Tapping the chin: I love another
Tossing them up gently: I am engaged
Turning them inside out: I hate you
Twisting them around the fingers: Be careful, we are watched
Using them as a fan: Introduce me to your company

Somehow, going to the trouble of turning a pair of kid gloves inside out just to tell someone that you loathe them seems a little over the top—isn’t a stony glare just before turning one’s back on someone equally effective? And what about "smoothing them out gently" meaning "I am displeased"? Does smoothing them out violently mean "I’m so mad I could spit nails"? Unfortunately this system doesn’t seem to allow for shades of meaning…

And speaking of gloves…last year I posted pictures of a couple of 19th century mystery objects for you to guess the identity of, with a drawing from among the correct guesses to win an ARC of Bewitching Season. Well, it’s Mystery Object time again…with the prize being a signed ARC of Betraying Season. Come back next Tuesday for a look at my diabolically difficult object, and register your guesses!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Which of These Is Not Like the Others?

Whether you like the earlier part of the nineteenth century in England (the Regency era) or the part when Victoria sat on the throne (the Victorian era), there is definitely something memorable about that century.

Just how memorable?

Test your skills with the following three pictures. Those who have been reading this blog from the beginning make recognize one of them. They all look like they were contemporaries with the time they were created, but at least one is a cleverly constructed fake.

A. Roller Coaster Thrills Among the Haut Ton?

B. Bathing Trunks in Bath?

C. Throwing Blossoms at Beaus?

Can you spot the difference? I’ll wait until Sunday to post the answers in the comments section. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Flirting with Props, Part 1

Regina’s post about the language of flowers last week reminded me of a delightful series of lists I found that explain how to—yes, you guessed it—use personal items to flirt and send secret communications in public. The original lists appeared in a book called Secrets of Life Revealed (wow! gotta love that title!) by Daniel R. Shafer, published in Baltimore in 1877. It included tips on how to communicate via handkerchief, glove, fan, and parasol. I have no idea how widespread this knowledge really was among 19th century misses, but I thought it might amuse you.

So let’s look at Handkerchief Flirtations first. Mr. Shafer writes:
The handkerchief, among lovers, is used in a different manner than its legitimate purpose. The most delicate hints can be given without danger of misunderstanding, and in “flirtations” it becomes a very useful instrument. It is in fact superior to the deaf and dumb alphabet, as the notice of bystanders is not attracted. The following rules are the law on the subject:

Drawing it across the lips: Desiring an acquaintance
Drawing it across the cheek: I love you
Drawing it across the forehead: Look, we are watched
Drawing it through the hands: I hate you
Dropping it: We will be friends
Folding it: I wish to speak with you
Letting it rest on the right cheek: Yes
Letting it rest on the left cheek:
Letting it remain on the eyes:
You are so cruel
Opposite corners in both hands: Do wait for me
Over the shoulder: Follow me
Placing it over the right ear: How you have changed
Putting it in the pocket: No more love at present
Taking it by the center: You are most too willing
Twisting it in the left hand: I wish to be rid of you
Twisting it in the right hand: I love another
Winding it around the forefinger: I am engaged
Winding it around the third finger: I am married

Hmm. I tried to picture just how one placed one’s handkerchief over one’s right ear without looking totally silly, and can’t help thinking a whispered comment in passing might do the trick just as well…but this is, after all, the age of disposable tissues and maybe a flirtatious young lady of the 19th century could carry it off. The jury’s still out on that one…

Next week I’ll tell you how to flirt with gloves.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day! May Day!

May 1 was once a day of merriment and rejoicing in England. Families brought armloads of flowers and hawthorn boughs in to decorate the houses, and the prettiest girl in town was crowned Queen of the May. Village lads and lasses danced around a tall pole (the May Pole) in the church yard. There was even a huge May Pole on the Strand in London.

By the nineteenth century, however, that pole was long gone, and most villages had forgotten the customs. May Pole dancing has been reduced to no more than a children’s game at best. But the beginning of May was still a lovely time in England. Flowers burst into bloom. The sun shines more often than not. It wasn’t too surprising for young ladies and gentlemen to use those flowers to communicate.

We’ve touched on the Language of Flowers last year on the blog, but I thought I’d pull out a few more entries in honor of May Day. The basic idea is that each flower, and sometimes its bud or full bloom, represents a different concept, and you could communicate with your loved one through your bouquets. The author of the 1883 Collier’s Cyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information waxes poetic on the subject:

“Flowers have a language all their own. . . How charmingly a young gentleman can speak to a young lady, and with what eloquent silence in this delightful language. How delicately she can respond, the beautiful little flowers telling her tale in perfumed words.”

Perhaps you should see what your garden or your bouquet is saying to you with these spring flowers:

  • Cherry blossoms: good education

  • Daffodils: regard

  • Dogwood: durability

  • Bearded iris: flame

  • Blue lilacs: humility

  • Purple lilacs: first emotions of love

  • White lilacs: youthful innocence

  • Red tulips: declaration of love

  • Yellow tulips: hopeless love

  • Variegated tulips: beautiful eyes.

So, does the bouquet on my table of blue lilacs, yellow tulips, and cherry blossoms mean that I have a humble regard for a good education? What else can you make of these?