Archive for the ‘19th century’ Category

Some years ago, there was an internet community where people wrote about their favourite historical pairings. By using Wikipedia, you could find out that, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte and Ludwig von Beethoven lived at the same time. And then you wrote a story, or read other people’s stories, about these people meeting. For history nerds, this was a pretty exciting thing.

In the book The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, Enid Shomer did something similar: she imagined Gustave Flaubert (the writer of Madame Bovary) and Florence Nightingale meeting in Egypt. An interesting concept! Flaubert and Nightingale were in fact in Egypt around the same time, but there’s no evindence they ever met. Shomer shows us how it could have been, had they met eachother on their travels on the Nile.

The books starts out with Flaubert, who just wrote his first unsuccesful book and feels like a failed writer, with his friend Maxine du Camp, where they document the old momuments of Egypt. They meet Nightingale, who is traveling there with some friends and a maid. The book follows their travels, what they see, experience and feel while their boats slowly travel down the Nile.

Shomer is definitely a very good writer. Having published four books of poetry, it’s no surprise that she describes the surroundings and the feelings of the main characters very skillfully. It is clear she did a lot of research for this book as well: Shomer used parts of Flaubert’s and Nightingale’s diaries and memoires to construct the book, sometimes taking actual sentences and using them in their conversation.

There is one thing though that Enid Shomer did not research: etiquette in the 1850s. When Flaubert and Nightingale meet for the first time, their conversation and behaviour is… peculiar.

First of all, Nightingale starts of with scolding the two men for shooting guns in a populated area. This is not something a woman would usually do, but knowing miss Nightingale’s character, it could be possible. Then, after some minutes of conversation, Flaubert takes her hand, not for a specific reason or to shake it, but just out of a sort of enthousiasm. From Jane Austen’s Emma we learn that taking hands was not a common thing: Harriet is over the moon when Emma shakes her hand at last, after meeting several times, because this was a true sign of friendship and intimacy. Therefore, it would be unlikely for a gentleman to grab a lady’s hand so shortly after meeting.

The other thing is Nightingale’s conversation and behaviour. Still in the same conversation, with the two gentlemen she just met, she “hugged herself and stood on tiptoes”, she “drew a little closer [and said] “I am sleeping with a new invention”. After that she writes Flaubert a letter showing this invention (a sort of musquito net) where she draws herself sleeping, wearing a nightcap. This seems not something a 19th century person would do.

Lastly, she doesn’t introduce her companions to the two men. If you’ve read A Room with a View you know how important a companion or chaperone was for young women abroad. Even taking a walk outside alone would be unacceptable and cause for rumours, so it’s very unlikely that Nightingale would not introduce them first and foremost.

Oh, and in the entire book, Nightingale is called “Flo”. This itches me like people saying “King Tut” but this might just be my personal preference!

If you forget about history-nerd-nitpicking, this book is very nice. I would think it makes a great gift, the book looks amazing with cream pages, a sober black hardcover, and beautiful dustjacket (see above). The tale is romantic and thrilling. Four stars!

Read Full Post »

A long while ago I wrote a series on Victorian cooking (here, here, here, and here). Many people asked about specific Victorian recipes or dishes, either for a Victorian dinner-party or to bring a fun snack to school for presentations and such.
In the nineteenth century, cooking wasn’t really a hobby, it was either a necessity or just something you hired a cook for. Furthermore, there were no real recipe books, though at the end of the century some books with suggestions came into fashion, mostly in America. It wasn’t very commom for novels to explain what food was eaten, and food wasn’t really a topic of discussion as it is now. Therefore, it’s pretty hard to find actual recipes or dishes from the nineteenth century. I finally found a very good resource in the Annotated Emma by David M. Shapard ( who got them from E. Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper). I will repost them here.

(Click to enlarge)

This dish consists of: Transparent soup (some sort of broth?), Fricas’d chicken, Harrico (green beans), Pigeons Comport, Codsounds like little Turkies, Lambs Ears Forc’d, Fricando Veal, Pork Griskins, French Pye, Brocoli &c., Kidney Beans, Small Ham, Mock Turtle, Boil’d Turkey, Sallad, Bottl’d Peas, Sweet Breads Ala Royal, House Lamb, Sheep Rumps & Kidneys in Rice, Ox Pallets, Larded Oysters, Ducks Alamode, Beef Olives, Florendine of Rabbits, Hare Soup.

(Click to enlarge)

This second course consists of: Pheasant, Moonshine, Crawfish in Savoryjelly (sic), Snow balls, Globes of Gold Web with Mottoes in Them, Marbl’d Veal, Mince Pies, Pickled Smelts, Fish Pond, Pompadore Cream, Stew’d Cardoons, Pea Chick with Asparagus, Transparent pudding cover’d with a Silver Web, Roast Woodcocks, Stew’d Mushroomd, Macaroni, Floating Island, Potted Lampreys, Crocrant with Hot Peppers, Collar’d Pig, Pistacha Cream (pistachio something?), Burnt Cream (maybe a creme brulée?), Snipes in Savory Jelly, Rocky Island, Roasted Hare.
Wel… are you hungry? They definitely knew how to eat, then! Some of these dishes are fairly straightforward but some of them are very puzzling. If you know what they mean or feel like googling for them, please let us know what you found in the comments! I’m especially curious about “Globes of Gold Web with Mottoes in Them”.

Read Full Post »

Actually, 19th century men and women weren’t so different from contemporary men and women at all! Just as there were brooding but sexy bad boys, there were girls who couldn’t help falling for them. Who, even though they knew the dangers, sought out bad boys just because they were so interesting. Here’s a bit from Jane Eyre, all quotes from Blanche Ingram:

“It is my opinion, the fiddler David must have been an insipid sort of a fellow; I like black Bothwell better: to my mind a man is nothing without a spice of the devil in him; and history may say what it will of James Hepburn, but I have a notion he was just the sort of wild, fierce, bandit hero whom I could have consented to gift with my hand.” [...]

“Oh, I am so sick of the young men of the present day!”exclaimed she, rattling away at [the piano]. “Poor, puny things, not fit to stir a step beyond papa’s park gates, nor to go even so far without mamma’s permission and guardianship!” [...]

“Here then is a Corsair-song. Know that I dote on Corsairs, and for that reason, sing it con spirito”

The footnote accompanying this says that the fashionable taste for Corsairs, Italian bandits, highwaymen, and Levantine pirates lasted a long time. Already in 1818 Jane Austen described the attraction of the bad boy Captain Benwick, and in 1867 Trollope still wrote about girls complaining of their boring and tame lovers in The Last Chronicles. (And I think you can even see it now, for example in the brilliant TV series Lost in Austen, where Mr. Darcy charms a modern-day girl.)

Highwaymen especially held a certain charm, as this rather breathtaking and romantic poem about highwaymen shows: The Highwayman (1913) by Alfred Noyes. If you prefer that sung you can find it here or have it recited to you by a nervous redhead you can click here. I think that proves that highwaymen, Corsairs, pirates and bandits have held a certain charm to people ever since Byron put his poems down to paper.

Read Full Post »

The nineteenth century had its proper share of bad boys. Even though it’s more than a century ago, and even though some of them were not even real at all, there’s no doubting the attraction of one mr. Rochester, mr. Knightly, or mr. Heathcliff.

The nineteenth century’s bad boys are more commonly known as Byronic heroes, named after both mr. Byron himself as well as after the men in his writing, mostly in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The words “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” were later remarked about Byron by Caro Lamb, who had an affair with him.

A Byronic hero is easy to characterise: it is a man, usually a gloomy or somewhat depressed person or in any case a person with deep thoughts and intense feelings. He might be moody or unpleasant to deal with, and definitely be a little uncivil. He might be quite good-looking (as Byron himself was) or be somewhat ugly or unusual looking (as mr. Rochester.) He might have a hidden past or carry some deep, dark secret. But the most important thing, the one big element that all the Byronic heroes share, is: he is incredibly attractive. In spite of all his faults, there is something so engaging and intriguing about him, you cannot help but be interested in the Byronic hero.

As easy as it is to characterize, so hard is it to find them. Which is strange, since the Byronic hero is a fairly well-known concept and you’d expect nineteenth-century literature to be crawling with these mysterious broody men. Not so! The only few that I would name Byronic for certain are Jane Eyre’s Rochester and Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, maybe, but I seem to be alone on that. Erik from Phantom of the Opera, thought that is not Victorian but rather later. And Byron himself, of course.

Others that are called Byronic but I’m not sure I can agree: Captain Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818), Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844),[3] (1847), Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, and James Steerforth from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–1850).

What do you think? Who is truly Byronic, and who isn’t? And who is your favourite, in real life, novel, or movie? Let me know!

(Depending on how bright your screen is set, this Heathcliff picture is a bit saucy. But definitely shows off the brooding/sexy image. Maybe not appropriate for work? View it here.)

Read Full Post »

Recently I received something that was really pretty amazing, even for a seasoned 19th century enthousiast as I am. Someone send me a bunch of newspapers from around 1830! It was very weird to see and touch and smell something so old. They looked very nice and crisp and smelled nicely of cigars.


During the first half of the nineteenth century, duties on stamps and paper were progressively reduced, making newspapers increasingly less expensive. There was a massive growth of newspapers and news congregates during this century, and the foundations for today’s big newspapers were laid. .Newspapers of the 19th century were distinctly different from the ones we have now. I’ll give you some of my observations:

  • There was much less communication, and communication was less fast. In order to have news from all over the world, correspondents in different countries wrote a letter, explaining the happenings in their part of the world. This was printed in the newspaper verbatim. It’s like a friend writing you, it’s very nice
  • Reading the paper was pretty hard work: they did not have bold fonts, no pictures, no advertisements to rest your eyes on. All the happenings, from actual news to job offers to the times at a ship would depart are all printed back to back, in a very tiny font.
  • Newspapers were no place for funny things or mockery. Of course there were the feuilletons in newspapers, stories in parts, for which Dickens and Trollope are very famous. These were of course lighter reading but still pretty serious stuff.
  • Many people were looking for jobs. I think they were hired by their future employer just closing their eyes and pointing out an advertisement at random, there is no way to tell what kind of person someone was or what their strong points were, except that they were a shopkeeper or taylor or launderywoman.
  • There’s some really good gossip to be found! Imagine reading this newspaper and finding people who you know, offering their house up for rent or selling their chariot. Even 180 years later, you can just read between the lines and wonder at what happened.

Curious? I copied some stuff down for you:

MR. BUCKINGHAM’S lectures on INDIA, on Tuesday evenings, June 7, 14, 21, and 28, at the City of London Literary and Scientific Institution, 165, Aldersgatestreet, at 8 precisely. Tickets, 1s each. to be had at the Institution.

DISTRESSED MANUFACTURERES.– the committee, to whom have been assigned the collection and management of the fund now raising for the relief of the distress which prevaild in many of the manufacturing districts, and who have in consequence the amplest means of knowing the extent and pressure of that distress, and the utter inadequacy of the local and legal provision for its relief, respectfully, but confidently, appeal to their countrymen throughout the empire, to aid them in their endeavour to raise by general benevolence a sum proportionate to the exicengy.

DRIVING OR TRAVELLING CHARIOT.– nearly new, on telegraph springs, light, easy, and commodious, patent axletrees, lamps, drag chain, and staff, fore and hind boots with seats, and various boxes, all out of sight. The propertu of a gentleman, and will be sold for £100. Apply for reference to Honeywill, Black and Co., coachmakers, Berners-street.

ARRIVALS OF FISH.– TWO extraordinary fine perth salmon, weighing 65 lb., are now being smoked, and will be ready for sale in a few days, at Taylor’s, 43, Lombardstreet, city: the centre slices 2s. 6d. per lb. J. Taylor has lately been selling the largest and best Dutch and Dover turbots from 8s to 10s each, and cautions the public against the iced Scotch turbots now selling about town that are not worth the cooking.

BOARD AND RESIDENCE in the country.– a lady, occupying a detached cottage, which is in a very healthy and desirable situation, would be happy, in consequence of its being larger than she requires, to receive one or two inmates, to whom she can offer all the comforts of a home, the joint use of a pony and chaise may be had, and the privilege of sleeping at her house in town as occasion may require.

WASHING.– an old established laundress is desirous of obtaining a family’s, gentleman’s, or hotel’s washing, having every convenience, plenty of water, and a good drying ground. A tilted cart to all parts of town every day.

EMPLOYMENT.– WANTED by a steady respectable person, a situation as shopman, warehouseman, wharfinger, light porter &c. He writes a good hand, has been accustomed to books and trade generally, can make himself useful in any bussiness, and will engage at a moderate salary. Respectable reference.

Don’t you love that? People in the 19th century were kind of just like us! Looking for cheap cars and fish and roommates. If you want to touch and smell some old newspaper yourself, or read all about these saucy madams looking for inmates or the secondrate iced fish, you can order a newspaper from http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk. Of course, since you’re reading this blog and therefore deserving old newspapers even more, you get a discount code: enter 15today at checkout to get a discount on any original or Victorian newspaper!

Read Full Post »

A long time ago I wrote about Keats and the saddest life story: one of the most romantic poets, living a very short and unhappy life, and now being tragically undervalued by, well, by most people (except Percy Bysshe Shelley but even that was not much of a consolation!)

I found this funny remark in E.M.Forster’s A Room with a View, referring to Keats as a writer of beautiful romantic things.

“Isn’t Romance capricious! I never notice it in you young people; you do nothing but play lawn-tennis and say that Romance is dead, while the Miss Alans are struggling with all the weapons of propriety against the terrible thing. ‘A really comfortable pension at Constantinople!’ So they call it out of decency, but in their hearts they want a pension with magic windows opening on the foam of perilous seas in fairylands forlorn! No ordinary view will content the Miss Alans. They want the Pension Keats.”

A Room with a View, by the way, is a very pleasant book to read. In describing the life and choices of a young girl it shows the difference between Victorian values and the new, more free attitude of the turn of the century, and how this affects people in their everyday dealings.

Read Full Post »

Here is some art that I like an incredible lot, and you might too. It’s made in 1913, but in a very much Art Nouveau style, I do think it fits very well with the theme of this blog. This art is by Kay Neilsen for the book In Powder and Crinoline: Old Fairy Tales, written by Arthur Quiller-Couch.

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

kay neilsen quiller couch powder crinoline

I like them incredibly much, how about you? You can read all about Kay Neilsen here.

Read Full Post »

These days, thanks to the amazing Google Art Project, you don’t need to travel to see great art. You can browse paintings and sculptures by your favourite artist, timeperiod, or museum.

So for today, I curated this little exhibition for you from works that are located in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin. The museum itself is much more amazing, and in no way comparable to seeing art online, but it’s still nice to have all the art you want at your fingertips.

A little collection of romantic and impressionist artworks, closing with my favourite artist of all time.

Spring Landscape, 1862, Charles-François Daubigny

In the Conservatory, 1878 – 1879, Edouard Manet

The Grove, or the Admiral’s House in Hampstead, 1821 – 1822, John Constable

The Isle of the Dead, 1883, Arnold Böcklin

Seine Landscape near Chatou, 1855, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

The Flax Barn at Laren, 1887, Max Liebermann

Moonrise over the Sea, 1822, Caspar David Friedrich

Read Full Post »

One time when I was procrastinating in the library I happened upon this truly amazing book. It was a very small book, originally written for children, called When I was a Girl in Holland. It’s actually a very simple concept: a girl growing up in the Netherlands around 1880 describing her life, the routines and habits and holidays. This book and others in the series were meant for American children to get a view of how children in other countries lived.

The book is especially interesting because this sort of information is rarely given usually, it’s considered too trite. For example, how does a birthday party in 1880 look? How many people were hired to work on a farm, or why could Dutch people only visit their far-away relatives in winter (answer: they could ice-skate in winter and travel far larger distances!)

I searched for a long time and found the entire book online, it’s an amazing read. For the next few weeks, I’ll publish a few sections from the book, some things that I think would be interesting to you.

If you want to read the entire book, you can do so here.

Here’s the first snippet, about the writer being born:

During the next ten days, little blond, red-cheeked girls came trudging through the snow. Some were carrying parcels in their mittened hands, others had flat red-painted boxes. They knocked at the front door, called “Folk in,” and were led into the house. They placed the parcel or the box in the hands of the maid and timidly said:

“The compliments of mother, and here is a present.”

The present appeared to be a dress, an apron, a petticoat, or a pair of socks, if it came from a parcel, but if it was taken from a box it was bound to be a large layer-cake or several small tarts, baked by the village baker or bought in the nearest town, and intended for the party. [...]

Now the girl was led into the big livingroom and seated on an old-fashioned chair with reed bottom; on the table before her was placed a dainty, crisp Dutch rusk covered with butter and sugar. This she ate, that I might grow up into a healthy and strong child.

Read Full Post »


Recently I read Leah Price’s How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain. According to the publisher, this book is mostly for fans of Victorian literature and bookworms of the 21st century. And they did a really great job charming booklovers: the book looks amazing, with a dustjacket covered with paper roses, and the actual cover bound in cream linen with silver letters on the spine. It looks amazing.

The back cover promises a study of how books were used as missiles, doorstops, food wrapping, or spouse-ignoring devices. But don’t be fooled! This book will not teach you that most fish were wrapped in pages of Great Expectations, or that most fires were kindled with Jane Eyre. Despite the light summary text, this is in fact an academic study on how books were perceived for different groups and classes, what functions books would have on both a practical and intellectual level, and how books influenced people in Victorian Britain. The book is definitely not bedtime-reading material, being fully outfitted with footnotes and very long sentences. It does feature some personal anecdotes and the author speaks of herself at times, which keeps the book light and pleasant.

Nowadays in the Western world, even though not everyone likes to, almost everyone is able to read. This was different in the Victorian Era. There were large groups of people who could not read at all, and large groups of people who aspired to read, in order to appear higher-classed. This had some interesting effects: books warning their readers to handle it properly and not dirty it, discussions about whether young girls should read, and if so, what should they read? Lower classes moving from using books as sandwich wrappers to identifying themselves as readers. People buying books or dummy spines for the sole purpose of appearing to be well-read (Dickens, the book says, lined his study with dummy spines, for example “cat’s lives” (in nine volumes).)

A wide variety of themes is explored in the various chapters. In the chapter The book as go-between, the problem of servants reading books is studied. The chapter talks about the fear of books blurring social distinctions, of making servants forget their work or of them treating books poorly. And how do you get your wive to dust the books but not read them?

In The book as burden, unwanted literature is discussed. Over time, the book changed from an expensive, wonderful, wanted item into something that could be unwanted and rejected, for example certain religious tracts or Victorian junk mail.

The repellent book talks about how books can be used to avoid company or conversation. It speaks of people pretending to read in order to not be disturbed, and of marriages in which the man reads a paper and the woman reads a novel.


One of the illustrations of the book: “How to make a chatelaine a real blessing to mothers”

All in all, I thought this book was a very interesting read, nicely written and very well illustrated. I would definitely recommend it to all book-lovers and students of Victorian literature. When you know how books were viewed, received and treated at the time of publishing, it will definitely give you a greater understanding of any Victorian text you’re studying.

You can read an excerpt here: http://erb.kingdomnow.org/leah-price-how-to-do-things-with-books-excerpt/

You can purchase the book here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9714.html

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 201 other followers