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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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.

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Here’s a fragment from Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, in which you can see a little bit of the customs regarding compliments in the later half of the nineteenth century:

“Come here, Lord Fauntleroy,” she said, smiling; “and tell me why you look at me so.”
“I was thinking how beautiful you are,” his young lordship replied. Then all the gentlemen laughed outright, and the young lady laughed a
little too, and the rose color in her cheeks brightened.
“Ah, Fauntleroy,” said one of the gentlemen who had laughed most heartily, “make the most of your time! When you are older you will not
have the courage to say that.”
“But nobody could help saying it,” said Fauntleroy sweetly. “Could you help it? Don’t YOU think she is pretty, too?”
“We are not allowed to say what we think,” said the gentleman, while the rest laughed more than ever.


So there you have it. The name Hodgson Burnett might sound familiar: she was the writer of A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1911). Little Lord Fauntleroy was a much earlier work: it was published in 1886. I found the book to be an unexpectedly good read; it was very enjoyable, funny at times, and with a great and amusing use of language. It was so engaging even that I finished it in less than a day. You can read it online here.

An interesting fact is that this book, just like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, influenced fashion. Little Lord Fauntleroy’s velvet suit with a white collar and his soft curls are mentioned often in the book, and apparently started a fashion (mostly with mothers of young boys) for little suits and pincurls for boys!

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A book I’m really fond of right now is Fashioning the Bourgeoisie:A History of Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by Philippe Perrot, translated by Richard Bienvenu.

When department stores like Le Bon Marché first opened their doors in mid-nineteenth-century Paris, shoppers were offered more than racks of ready-made frock coats and crinolines. They were given the chance to acquire a lifestyle as well–that of the bourgeoisie. Wearing proper clothing encouraged proper behavior, went the prevailing belief.

As opposed to many fashion history books, this one offers not just timelines on when skirts became wider, but tries to explain the meaning of it, the meaning of fashion both in the nineteenth century as well as in contemporary society, and researches issues such as the lack of colour in mens suits since the 1790s. It’s quite academic, (actually, I found it in the university library) and it’s great to see a more serious, scientific approach to Victorian fashion history.

The book contains a lot of interesting images and fun anecdotes, which I will post about soon. Did you know for example that buying secondhand clothes was already in use in the eighteenth century? And buying something, wearing it to a party, and returning it to the warehouse the next morning was a known occurence in the nineteenth century, as well as people who stole things compulsively, and men who visited warehouses in order to sniff women’s clothes and steal their handkerchiefs?

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I just finished reading The Glass of Time by author Michael Cox. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised! Usually I’m not a big fan of modern Victorian literature (mostly because it’s done badle quite often) but The Glass of Time makes a very nice read.

The book’s main character is Esperanza Gorst, who is send to serve as a lady’s maid to Baroness Tansor, by her mysterious Madame. By way of three letters, it is revealed to Esperanza why she is in the household and what her task is. During the course of the book, many secrets are revealed, some murders are witnessed, the beautiful architecture of the setting is described in detail, and we get to see some nineteenth-century London.
While the book at times tries to imitate actual nineteenth century literature, it’s a lot quicker than period literature and therefore makes a nice, easy read. In fact, I stayed up ’till late at night to find out whether Esperanza would succeed in her task! Definitely recommended.

The book’s not out yet but it’s up for preorder here.

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Many people with an interest in 19th century literature will have read some Oscar Wilde (or at least seen a movie adaption), but have you read the fairytales? Wilde’s fairytale are unlike most fairytales. They feature beautiful boys, and very sad endings.

During the 18th century, rational and Enlightened thinking was valued, and folk legends and fairytales were not popular at all. However in 1823, with the publication of Edgar Taylor’s translation of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, (translated as German Popular Stories ), fairy tales became, almost overnight, a respectable study for antiquarians, an inspiration for poets, and a permissible source of wonder for the young (from csulb.net)

Wilde wrote subversively to undermine stereotypical Victorian values. “He clearly wanted to subvert the messages conveyed by [Hans] Andersen’s tales, but more important his poetical style recalled the rhythms and language of the Bible in order to counter the stringent Christian code” (from csulb.net)

A (bit lengthy) essay on the fairytales and how Wilde’s psyche can be known through them

Read some stories online

My favourite part, which shows the unexpected edge to the fairytales, is from “The Star-Child:”

And they fell on his neck and kissed him, and brought him into the palace and clothed him in fair raiment, and set the crown upon his head, and the sceptre in his hand, and over the city that stood by the river he ruled, and was its lord. Much justice and mercy did he show to all, […] taught love and loving-kindness and charity, and to the poor he gave bread, and to the naked he gave raiment, and there was peace and plenty in the land.
Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly.

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More or less related, if you are interested in reading, books, and studying online and connecting with other bibliophiles, check out this great site which has links to pretty much anything book-related:
100 Places to connect with bibliophiles online

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Recently I’ve been reading Women and Literature in Britain, 1800-1900 by Joanne Shattock, and it’s an absolutely delightful book. It describes both female writers and female writers in the 19th century, through essays by various writers. And even though all contributing writers are female, it is not a feminist manifesto but seems very objective in its observations.

My favourite chapter is about women and print, and the problem of women reading. Especially at the start of the 19th century, solitary reading was deemed a dangerous activity for women, unless it was the bible or light literature. Even though female writers were already an established practice, women’s reading was monitored to make sure they would not read the wrong kind of books. It is argued that middleclass women read most, because upperclass women were busy with social resposibilities, and working class women couldl often not afford literature or did not have the time to read.
The reason that reading things was so dangerous for women was because they read in a different way then men did. While men read with their head, women read with their bodies, and where therefore more vulnerable to the effects of literature. Women were scolded for reading light, frivolous novels, but on the other hand they were banned from reading scientific books.

In addition, the book has a very interesting chapter on children’s literature (for example the genre of consolation literature, which was hugely popular because of the many child deaths. Almost 15% of all children died in the 19th century, and these books could give children some consolation.) There are also chapters on theatre, poetry, the public debate and the domestic sphere. I would definately recommend this book. (A part of it is on Google Scholar)
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Something different: I often get trackbacks of sites that cite my content, and usually they say ’19thcentury wrote a post about … here,’ but the other day I got one that said:
Henry David Thoreau wrote an interesting post today on Coffee houses. Here’s a quick excerpt
I guess it’s a mistake but wouldn’t it be interesting if Thoreau would write blogposts! (Maybe not about coffeehouses though…) It’s here

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