Posts Tagged ‘books’

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.

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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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Have you ever finished a book and immediately went to search on wikipedia, just to have some themes and symbols explained, or to see how other people interpreted the book? Or have you ever missed reading books in English class, where every detail could be explained, words and actions put in the right context, and you get so much more from the book then when reading it on your own? If so, I have some very good news for you! Recently I read the book The Annotated Emma and let me tell you, I want all my books to be annotated now. Regular books just won’t do any more.

The Annotated Emma
is the original text by Jane Austen printed on the left side, and the annotations by David M. Shapard (PhD and 18th century expert) on the right side. This makes the book very nice and easy to read, since you don’t have to flip to the back of the book or keep up with footnote numbers, and there is plenty of space for the notes and images to go. According to the official website the notes contain: 

-Explanations of historical context
-Citations from Austen’s life, letters, and other writings
-Definitions and clarifications
-Literary comments and analysis
-Maps of places in the novel
-An introduction, bibliography, and detailed chronology of events
-Nearly 200 informative illustrations

In this way, I learned that the word “afternoon” was used only for the hour or two between dinner and the full onset of evening, as a result the word was used more in summer. And that mr. Knightly used his farm horses to drive his carriage, which was much cheaper than keeping especial carriage horses (mr. Knightly was a thrifty man when it comes to dating!)

If you love Jane Austen, or enjoyed Emma (the book or the series), you will definitely enjoy this book. You will pick up on more hints and symbols in the text, words and habits are explained, and you get maps and a chronology. It’s an excellent book to read, whether you’ve read a lot of Austen (because you will learn many new facts) or whether you’re an Austen novice and a little scared of a text this big and old (the notes will explain everything!)

The downside (since every review needs one): This book is HUGE! You could bring serious harm to people just by lugging it around in your backpack. That is, if you’re able to lift your backpack with this book in it. Unlike many classic English literature paperbacks, this book is printed on really good quality paper, but this makes it even larger and more heavy. Definitely read at home, preferably at a steel-reinforced table.

Okay, all kidding aside, a book that I heartily recommend. It has just been released and you can purchase it here.

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If a book about a Little Lord Fauntleroy and his little velvet suits is to sweet for your taste, how about a book about opium and homelessness? In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) Thomas de Quincey tells the tale of his laudanum addiction, the way opium is taken, the way it works upon the mind and body, and how he finally managed to get clean again.
The book is supposed to be a cautionary tale, because telling of the joys of drugs was not something the Victorian Era agreed to. The book is split in parts, for example The Pleasures of Opium and The Pains of Opium. I think the part about the pleasures is a beautiful and enjoyable read, and the part about the pains is mostly quite boring, but you might feel differently.

You can read the e-text here. (And if you like to see some opium use in a movie, watch From Hell with Johnny Depp, it’s a most excellent movie!)

Unrelatedly, if you’re looking for affordable books on various topics, have a look here. I think these books would make excellent gifts to history-lovers!

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Girls & make-up

In the victorian era, a healthy and natural complexion was valued (or pale and delicate look), especially for young people. However, makeup was used, but it was a bit of a taboo and certainly not to be revealed to others. Here is a fragment from An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa M. Alcott, the writer of Little Women. I would not recommend it for reading since it’s quite full of Victorian morals for young girls and therefore quite boring, but it does have some good bits.


Maud went; and as soon as the door was shut Tom rose on his elbow, saying, in a cautiously lowered voice:

“Fan, does Trix paint?”

“Yes, and draws too,” answered Fanny, with a sly laugh.

“Come, you know what I mean; I’ve a right to ask and you ought to tell,” said Tom, soberly, for he was beginning to find that being engaged was not unmitigated bliss.

“What makes you think she does?”

“Well, between ourselves,” said Tom, looking a little sheepish, but anxious to set his mind at rest, “she never will let me kiss her on her cheek, nothing but an unsatisfactory peck at her lips. Then the other day, as I took a bit of heliotrope out of a vase to put in my button-hole, I whisked a drop of water into her face; I was going to wipe it off, but she pushed my hand away, and ran to the glass where she carefully dabbed it dry, and came back with one cheek redder than the other. I didn’t say anything, but I had my suspicions. Come now, does she?”

“Yes, she does; but don’t say a word to her, for she’ll never forgive my telling if she knew it.”

“I don’t care for that; I don’t like it, and I won’t have it,” said Tom, decidedly.

“You can’t help yourself. Half the girls do it, either paint or powder, darken their lashes with burnt hair- pins, and take cologne on lumps of sugar or belladona to make their eyes bright. Clara tried arsenic for her complexion, but her mother stopped it,” said Fanny, betraying the secrets of the prison-house in the basest manner.

“I knew you girls were a set of humbugs, and very pretty ones, too, some of you, but I can’t say I like to see you painted up like a lot of actresses,” said Tom, with an air of disgust.

“I don’t do anything of the sort, or need it, but Trix does; and having chosen her, you must abide your choice, for better or worse.”

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You might have noticed there have been less updates lately, and there might be less in the near future. I’m very sorry, I’m just too busy right now.

In the mean time, I picked up an absolutely marvellous book by Hugh and Pauline Massingham called The London Anthology , which consists of fragments of letters and journals describing all kinds of events in London, from the 14th century up to the 1950s. I’ll probably be quoting from it a lot. Here is something funny that Dickens wrote about the Great Exhibition of 1851.

July 11, 1851:…I find I am “used up” by the Exhibition. I don’t say “there is nothing in it”–there is too much. I have only been twice; so many things bewilder me. I have a natural horror of sights, and the fusion of so many sights in one has not decreased it.
I am not sure that I have seen anything but the fountain and perhaps the Amazon. It is a dreadful thing to be obliged to be false, but when any one says, “Have you seen…?” I say “Yes”, because if I don’t, I know he’ll explain it, and I can’t bear that

[T]ook all the school one day. The school was composed of a hundred “infants”, who got among the horses’ legs in crossing to the main entrance from the Kensington Gate, and came reeling out from between the wheels of coaches undisturbed in mind. They were clinging to horses, I am told, all over the park. When they were collected and added up by frantic monitors, they were all right. They were then regaled with cake, etc., and went tottering and staring all over the place; the greater part wetting their forefingers and drawing a wavy pattern on every accessible object.

One infant strayed. He was not missed. Ninety and nine were taken home, supposed to be the whole collection, but this particular infant went to Hammersmith. He was found by the police at night, going round and round the turnpike, which he still supposed to be a part of the Exhibition. He had the same opinion of the police, also of Hammersmith workhouse, where he passed the night. When his mother came for him in the morning, he asked when it would be over? It was a great Exhibition, he said, but he thought it long.

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From Lord Byron’s Don Juan:

Than I resign thine image, oh, my fair!
Or think of any thing excepting thee;
A mind diseased no remedy can physic
(Here the ship gave a lurch, and he grew sea-sick).

“Sooner shall heaven kiss earth (here he fell sicker),
Oh, Julia! what is every other woe?
(For God’s sake let me have a glass of liquor;
Pedro, Battista, help me down below.)
Julia, my love! (you rascal, Pedro, quicker) —
Oh, Julia! (this curst vessel pitches so) —
Belovéd Julia, hear me still beseeching!”
(Here he grew inarticulate with retching.)

I found this very funny, especially considering there was a great debate in the nineteenth century about the proper subject matter in poetry: was the own era worthy enough of poetry, or should a poet retell the stories of the Classics? Poets like Ruskin, Carlyle, and Patmore saw the poet as a prophet, whose poetry entailed hidden truths and divine messages, so poetry was crucial for a proper and developed society. I think from the above excerpt you might know Byron’s opinion on a poet’s subject matter! You can read all of Don Juan here, it’s a great poem, and very readable and entertaining.

Also for you smokers out there: J.M. Barrie writes 13 chapters on the art of smoking. It’s really quite a good read!

Lastly Serial Sensation is publishing Mrs. Henry Woods’ East Lynne in small bits every week, so you can read it as a series, as it appeared in Victorian newspapers.

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You know how, while fun, Victorian books can be a little slow at times? Here you can read your favourite books, condensed to about four lines. Some are a little awkward, but some are really great, too. My favourite is from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad:

Mr. Marlow

I’m the good side of mankind, upstanding and respectable.

Mr. Kurtz

I’m the bad side of mankind, once honorable, now mired in depravity.

The Jungle

I’m the heart of mankind, home to sinister darkness and corruption.

(Mr. Kurtz dies. Mr. Marlow is reborn.)


The actual Heart of Darkness is quite a magnificent story, a bit gothic and spooky, and very symbolic. It deals with empirism, and the corrupting power of society, the nineteenth-century trade with Africa, and colonialism. You can read it online here!

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One of my favourite Victorian novels is Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. Even though it is meant as a satirical novel and most characters and events are probably exaggerated, it seems to give quite a good image of Victorian society.

The book started as a series in the newspaper, which is visible in the many, many subplots. It is almost like a Victorian soap series! It deals with a bussinessman, who swindles people with crooked railway stock, a young baronet who tries to elope with a lady to use her money to gamble, a hack writer who tries to seduce newspaper owners so they will give her good reviews, and a girl trying to choose the right man to marry.

the novel is available online but in this case, I’d advise to buy an actual copy (it’s sold for around 11 USD on amazon) since the book is very long.

Want to read more? Here are two interesting essays:
Anthony Trollope
Reimagining Heroism on Victorianweb

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Southern Gothic literature builds on the traditions of the larger Gothic genre, typically including supernatural elements, mental disease, and the grotesque. Much Southern Gothic literature, however, eschews the supernatural and deals instead with disturbed personalities. Southern Gothic is known for its damaged and delusional characters, such as the heroines of Tennessee Williams’ plays. Instead of perpetuating romanticized stereotypes of the Antebellum South, Southern Gothic literature often brings the stock characters of melodrama and Gothic novels to a Southern context.

My favourite writer was only born three years before the end of the nineteenth century, so I hope you’ll forgive me for posting it here.

William Faulkner is an American fiction writer whose work is deeply rooted in the Southern United States, particularly in his home state of Mississippi. William Faulkner, who lived from 1897 to 1962, had a unique, stream-of-consciousness writing style and was far more experimental with his texts than many of his fellow writers were. Though relatively unknown for much of his career, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Today, William Faulkner is considered to be one of America’s greatest Southern writers, along with Mark Twain.

Probably his most well-known story is “A Rose for Emily,” which is both romantic and creepy. You can read it online, here.

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