Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Dialogue with Devils of 1890s Writers: Theurgy


My quest to understand the spiritual nature of writers in London in the 1890s, who participated in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, has taken me to strange places indeed. I began, today, by looking into theurgy and wound up at the Book of Ceremonial Magic (1911) by Arthur Edward Waite.

Theurgy describes the operation or effect of supernatural or divine agency in human affairs. In Esoteric Christianity, this benefits a person by bringing one closer to God. As I discovered through my exploration of Christian Mysticism, the Order supported the notion that such a union may be attained through performing acts, in the form of rituals or spells, to gain knowledge. Through this knowledge, I presume, members of the Order felt that they were getting closer to God. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn claimed to teach a type of theurgy that would help one ascend spiritually, while learning about the true nature of the self and its relationship to the Universe.


Best known for his role in creating the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck in 1910, Waite joined the Order in 1891. Waite moved to London from the United States as a child and was scarred by the death of his sister in 1874. Biographers use his sisters death to explain Waite’s attraction to physical research, a term used to describe the attempt at scientizing mysticism in the nineteenth century. Waite had a successful career, as a mystic, before entering the Order, and wrote the Book of Ceremonial Magic before leaving the Order in 1914. He also participated in the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, on top of becoming a Freemason at the turn of the century.

In his book, Waite makes a distinction between White and Black Magic.
The history of this distinction is exceedingly obscure, but there can be no question that in its main aspect it is modern--that is to say, in so far as it depends upon a sharp contrast between Good and Evil Spirits. In Egypt, in India and in Greece, there was no dealing with devils in the Christian sense of the expression; Typhon, Juggernaut and Hecate were not less divine than the gods of the over-world, and the offices of Canidia were probably in their way as sacred as the peaceful mysteries of Ceres.
To Waite, the real difference lies in the user’s intent.
White Ceremonial Magic is, by the terms of its definition, an attempt to communicate with Good Spirits for a good, or at least an innocent, purpose. Black Magic is the attempt to communicate with Evil Spirits for an evil, or for any, purpose.

Or at least an innocent purpose? That's the slippery part and it's only not dangerous, if you don't believe in theurgy, which I sometimes wonder whether Waite did. I have never believed in any of this stuff really. Communicating with spirits for an innocent purpose reminds me of being in the eighth grade, using a Ouija Board with my BFF, Kari Lozinski. I'm sorry, Kari, wherever you are. I moved the pointer. Ok... so are Ouija Boards a form of theurgy? The first advertisements for the talking board appeared in 1891. The ad claims:

The Ouija is. without doubt, the most interesting, remarkable and mysterious production of the nineteenth century. Its operations are always interesting and frequently invaluable, answering as it does questions concerning the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy. It furnishes never-failing amusement and recreation for all classes, while scientific or thoughtful its mysterious movements invite the most careful research and investigation - apparently forming the link which unites the known with the unknown, the material with the immaterial. It forces upon us the conviction that a great truth was contained in the statement of the Danish Prince: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than were ever dreamed of in thy philosophy.” Price $1.49
In that the Ouija board aims to contact spirits, I would say it is a form of theurgy. The famous occultist and member of the Order, Aleister Crowley, advocated use of the Ouija Boards. Like other forms of theurgy, users ran the titillating risk of unleashing the diabolical.

Diabolism, I have to wonder, might have been part of Bram Stoker’s interest in the Order, since he was writing and researching Dracula, when he participated with its members. Dracula’s plot is all about people with innocent intentions, who inadvertently unleash a monster, a monster, who can damn them to hell. Van Helsing says to poor Mina:
”...All this without that diabolic aid which is surely to him [Dracula]; for it have to yield to the powers that come from, and are, symbolic of good. And now this is what he is to us. He have infect you—oh, forgive me, my dear, that I must say such; but it is for good of you that I speak. He infect you in such wise, that even if he do no more, you have only to live—to live in your own old, sweet way; and so in time, death, which is of man’s common lot and with God’s sanction, shall make you like to him.”
Guilt by association. Mina was bit by a kind of devil and will be damned to hell, unless through certain rituals they can bring her closer to God again by ridding the Earth of this vampire.


It’s relevant that Dracula was a high-born male and that his victims were either feeble-minded or women, especially when reading the Book of Ceremonial Magic. Waite believed that magic was most dangerous in the hands of “The class of people to whom such [selfish] considerations would appeal were those obviously--and as I have otherwise indicated--who could not obtain their satisfaction through the normal channels--the outcasts, the incompetent, the ignorant, the lonely, the deformed, the hideous, the impotent and those whom Nature and Grace alike denied.” Of course, the Victorian social-stratification of society played a role in one’s ability to access other worlds.

In spite of the fact that he slept in the vampire's house, Mina's husband was able to avoid being bitten, even though he had a luscious night with three diabolical women. Poor Mina only wanted to save her friend.

The Ouija Board might have been for everyone, but the Book of Ceremonial Magic and the secrets of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn most certainly were not.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Occult Magic of 1890s Writers: Hermeticism


Writing about Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, Maude Gonne, and Constance Wilde’s involvement in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, made it tackling the idea of hermeticism inevitable. Although the term is often used to describe the occult “sciences” in general, hermeticism, as a religious philosophy, is based on the adherence to the body of ideas set forth in hermetic writings.

Hermeticism and its writings date as far back as the first century B.C, and the bulk of its texts were completed before the second century. This corpus hermeticum was uncovered in the Byzantine libraries by by the court of Cosimo de Medici in the late-fifteenth century. If you are especially keen, the Corpus Hermeticum is available online.


These writings were attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Many Christian writers of the Renaissance and the Reformation, including Lactantius, Thomas of Aquinas, Augustine, Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Campanella and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola saw Trismegistus as a wise pagan prophet, who foresaw the coming of Christianity. They called him ‘Thrice Great' because the writings claimed he understood the secrets of alchemy, astrology, and theurgy. I think hermeticism's connection with those three “sciences” is how it came to be associated with the occult in general.


I call alchemy, astrology, and theurgy “sciences” only to make the link between them and the late-Victorian urge to understand everything by turning into a science. Proponents of ideas like these, and something you might be more familiar with - psychoanalysis - felt they were really getting somewhere in the late-nineteenth century, if they got people to believe they had uncovered a “real” science.

Historically, hermeticism had its greatest influence on the world between 1300-1600 A.D. through the development of the sciences. Hermeticism gave scientists the idea that they could influence or control nature, leading many of these early scientists to experiment with the hermetic arts. So... scientists experimented with magic for three-hundred years. By the nineteenth-century, it had gone on, albeit to a lesser extent, for more than five-hundred years. What changed?

The Victorian pursuit of science changed everything for hermetics. Through the misadventures of people, like Frederic William Henry Myers, some things became unsuitable for scientific research relegating the pursuit of those ideas to the margins and labeling the people, who continued to pursue them, as quacks. That’s why Arthur Conan Doyle’s belief in fairies seems so incomprehensible to us today, and W.B. Yeats’ involvement in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn seems cooky. The writers, who participated in the Order, stopped seeing alchemy, astrology, theurgy, and divination as heretical, checked it out and, for the most part, decided it was a bunch of hookum, or at least, through their experimentation, convinced many of the people around them it was hookum.

I don’t know whether Constance Wilde ever actually gave up her belief in hermeticism, though she eventually stopped participating in the Order, but because Victorians began allowing themselves to look at Christianity differently, developing their own understandings of God’s relationship with the universe, hermetic philosophy blended well with Christian beliefs.

Hermicism uses the concept of God, the All, or the One, as synonymous with reality. It is incredibly monotheistic, while also accepting the existence of things, like angels, in the universe. As we saw with the reputation of Hermes Trismegistus, Christians had been reconciling hermeticism with Christianity for a long time.


The thrice great things, Trismegistus comanded, would fall under the Victorian microscope, by which I mean to say that they looked closely at them. Alchemy easily loaned itself to the Victorian definitive experiments with science. For astrology, they got to look through telescopes and blame the stars for each other’s wacky behaviour. And theurgy became part of the ultimate goal of Christian mysticism, a step on the path to a closer relationship with God, the All, or the One. Isn’t that where AA gets some of it’s language from?

Hermeticism gets weirder when we move on to magic. Arcane laws and limits govern the use of hermetic magic. Many of these have roots in antiquated notions of the human body, such as the balancing of the four humors and twisted ideas of how contagions work, but understanding these laws and limitations was important to being able to perform magic spells.

Magic organizations, like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, were incredibly secretive, leaving lots of room for rumour and speculation. In my search for hermetic spells, I found such speculation that hermetic witches claimed to have ended the First World War, while shamans claimed those witches were using their spells. Is anyone else thinking about American Horror Story here?


So, while I set out to learn about what made writers in the 1890s tick, I wound up learning that the magic of my favourite television witches is rooted in the hermetic tradition. Well, I know nothing about the link between shamanism and voodoo, if there is any such link. It makes sense, though, that the creators of that series would root the Salem witches' magic in these old esoteric European traditions.

Hermetic spells, like some of the spells seen in the popular TV show, involve candles and a circle. These spells require the person performing the magic to imagine certain things and are called meditation spells. Meditation spells are primarily used for contacting the spirits of people in this world and beyond, as well as seeking hidden truths. I’m not sure how they can be used to wreak havoc or end wars, but maybe I just don’t have a good enough imagination.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Perplexing Spiritualism of 1890s Writers: Christian Mysticism


Writing a comprehensive post on Christian mysticism might be as challenging as writing my novel. Yet, it feels integral to that process because I’m writing about writers in London in the 1890s, most of whom were Christian, some of whom believed in magic. When I think of all the American churches that banned Harry Potter as heretical, it’s hard to reconcile belief in Jesus with a belief in magic. Still, many people held both beliefs close to their hearts in the 1890s.

The main objective of late-Victorian Christian mysticism was to unify the soul with God. Practitioners hoped to find a way to get closer to God by uncovering and practicing forgotten or secret religious rituals. It was believed that one could be transformed through the unification of their soul with God in clear and obvious ways. The only true test for the authenticity of a mystic then would be to look for evidence of the mystic’s transformation, as well as the mystic’s transformitive effects on other people.

As exciting as it would be, I’m not talking about people being transformed physically. They didn’t start to glow, sprout wings, or walk around with a halo hovering above their heads. All the evidence that a community open to the idea of Christian mysticism needed was to be persuaded that the mystic had had a religious experience.

The American philosopher and psychologist, William James popularized the use of the term “religious experience” in the 1890s. His book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), was his manifesto on the subject. The very concept of a religious experience fostered the idea that the experience of the mystic, the experience of magic, was transformative in the sense that it supplied knowledge. Therefore, your proof of your religious experience rested in your knowledge of what happened and your ability to persuade others that you were telling the truth.

At its core, belief in transformation through a religious ritual does not fall outside of Christianity. Water baptism is one of Christianity’s oldest practices, still practiced today, and it holds deep symbolic meaning. The water cleanses the soul of impurities and we rise from it prepared to lead a new life.

Most of the Christian rituals practiced by the writers in London in the 1890s, who participated in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn [link], only consisted of meditation. One contemporary web page I found on the subject describes the need for Christian mysticism.
When a soul no longer feels realized through the traditional devotional practices, it naturally feels inclined to reach another level of “knowing” the Divine. This is the starting point for an expansion of the relationship with the “father” in heaven: the Soul abandons the old practices and give[s] itself to the Divinity [...]
Among historians, I find a need to explain the Victorian need to reach another spiritual level of knowing through a kind of collective disillusionment with Christianity in the wake of Darwinian sciences. While I accept that explanation, the need certainly hasn’t gone from us today.


What I see happening in the psyches of my writers, who were both Christian and involved in things - like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, is similar to what I see happening among my contemporaries, who are Christian and using tarot cards or participating yoga because it is supposedly good for the body and the soul. (I just think it’s a good way to exercise without sweating too much. I hate sweating!) As with yoga and Christianity, the Order blended elements of different religions, while using Christianity to make participants feel they were uncovering the mystic secrets of the religion of their parents.

That’s how I reconcile Victorian mysticism and Christianity.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Weird Magic of 1890s Writers: Enochian Magic


Practitioners of Enochian magic attempt to evoke the will of spirits or angels. As i wrote this post, I couldn't get the Black Crowes out of my head and almost called this post "Bram Stoker talks to Angels."

The word “Enochian” refers to the language practitioners use, a language recorded by Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley in the sixteenth century. The Enochian language was delivered to Dee and Kelley, much the way Joseph Smith wrote wrote the Book of Mormon, through angels. Understanding this language would uncover the secrets of the apocryphal Book of Enoch.

The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious work, traditionally ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It is not part of the Jewish biblical canon, apart from Beta Israel. However, it is regarded as canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, but not by any other Christian group.

Still practiced today, Enochian magic is primarily the result of the work of two men: Dee and Kelley.


Dee was a kind of spooky wise man, consulted by Queen Elizabeth I of Welsh. He liked math, astronomy, astrology, the occult, and making ships sail off in the right directions to go subjugate people. He religiously devoted his life to studying alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. Of course, he had a long milky-white beard! He made Christianity magical, dreamed of uniting the world in one religion, and, like Samuel Pepys, kept a fabulous diary. He believed that numbers are the root of all knowledge. He also believed he could talk to spirits.

Kelley and Dee were friends, until sometime after Kelley insisted that God wanted them to share Dee’s wife. Kelley was a long-bearded crystal ball style wizard, I mean... medium. They must have looked like Gandalf and Radagast, which makes the whole thing with Dee’s wife, Jane, just weird.


Kelley did most of the talking to angels through his crystal ball, while Dee wrote it all down. The Writers in London in the 1890s would be glad he did. Enochian occultists assume the exploits of Dee and Kelley are more or less completely true. Though many believe they were also influenced by other magical texts.

Dee and Kelley preferred the term Angelic over Enochian and there’s no evidence they ever used it for magic because the angels didn’t really want them to. Their records are records of the system rather than a log of their workings of the system.

Their work had a big influence on Rosicrucianism, but otherwise went unnoticed until the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn formed in the 1890s. The rediscovery of Enochian magic by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers in the 1880s led to Mathers working the material into a system of ceremonial “Magick” for the Order.

Constance Wilde, Bram Stoker, Maud Gonne, W.B. Yeats, and the many others, who joined the Order, used Enochian Magick to talk to Dee and Kelley’s angels, and could purportedly travel as auras into the spirit realm. The calls or keys that evoke the spirits are in the Enochian language that Dee and Kelley recorded, and can be used to enter visionary states, called Aethyrs.


The Aethyrs (numbered from 30-1, by our number-loving wizard friend, Dee) form a map of the universe.

The magic is practiced in a temple, which requires some specific decorating. What’s magic with good paraphernalia? Decorate your Enochian Temple with a table that has a hexagram engraved on top and a surrounding border of Enochian letters. You will also need seven planetary talismans, and five versions of the Seal of God’s Truth, made from beeswax and placed under the table with the hexagram on it. Some kind of crystal ball is also helpful, as is a magician’s ring, with the god-name Pele on it. Finally, there’s a black and red rod that you will want to use.

I’m just going to spend the rest of my afternoon imagining Bram Stoker and Constance Wilde setting up an Enochian Temple to talk to angels.

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Maud Gonne as the New Speranza

On 19 January 1892, W.B. Yeats published an article in the United Irishman, in which he compared the activist work of his beloved Maud Gonne to that of Oscar Wilde’s mother, Speranza. In her autobiography, Gonne promotes the idea that Yeats’ poem, “The Rose of the World” (written the same month) was about her, in which he links her to Helen of Troy and Diedre.


In his article, Yeats called Gonne “the new ‘Speranza’ who should do all with the voice all, or more than all, the old ‘Speranza’ did with her pen.” Clearly, he hoped to heap high praise upon his beloved friend, but it strikes me that of all the figures I’ve named so far, Speranza is the one we remember least. Yeats didn’t call Speranza old exclusively because of her age, but because that was the general view of her poetry in 1892 London. It was out-of-date.

Maybe, it’s because his poetry seems almost as old to me as hers does, but I’m beginning to see similarities in style between Yeats and Speranza. Take “The Rose of the World,” for example:
Who dreamed beauty passes like a dream?
And Speranza’s “Thekla. A Swedish Saga. The Temptation”:
Shivered, shattered, fades it waning
From the maiden like a dream.
Ok. Ok, dreams are common tropes.


So what of the validity of calling Gonne “the new Speranza?” Speranza wrote for the Young Ireland Movement in the 1840s. Her anti-British writings called for armed resistance and contributed to the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, which influenced generations of Irish nationalists. Gonne was in love with a right-wing French politician, Lucien Millevoye, and wanted to help him free Ireland and regain Alsace-Loraine for France. When Yeats met her, she was working to release Irish political prisoners from jail. But, when she returned to France, when Yeats was writing “The Rose of the World” for her and calling her the new Speranza, she had returned to Paris to work with Millevoye.

In the years that followed, she would have two children with Millevoye and join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Gonne’s young Ireland consisted of children’s parties.

To be fair, Gonne was always honest with Yeats about her feelings, but the new Speranza? This she was not.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Perverted Biographies of Marie Corelli

Like any other kind of writer, historians want to make their writing interesting. So, what is so-and-so had sex with so-and-so? That would be interesting!

Clearly, historians can be perverts too. This is one of my favourite examples of sexualized history in the blogosphere.
Because mine is an evil and a petty mind, suitable more to wallowing in the sordid sexual goings-on of literary giants than in reading their work, I take every opportunity I can to inform people who may not have known that Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde almost certainly had sex in 1882.
We don’t have evidence that Wilde and Whitman had sex. It would be weird if we did. They had the opportunity to have sex and Wilde liked to imply that Whitman kissed him, but a kiss is just a kiss and Wilde preferred younger, less hairy men.


I bring this up to talk about Marie Corelli and her companion, Miss Bertha Vyer. Some biographers and historians like to think they were lesbians. Why?

There are lots of reasons. An early biographer (1903) wrote:
Miss Corelli’s sole companion after her convent school-life, with the exception of Dr. Charles Mackay [her father], was her devoted friend, Miss Bertha Vyver, daughter of the Countess Vyver, a not unimportant personage at the court of Napoleon III. The friendship between Miss Vyver and Miss Corelli has always been of the closest description.
The “closest description,” eh? Wink-wink, nudge, nudge!
Since Dr. Charles Mackay welcomed Miss Vyver as his “second daughter,” they have never been separated. In all her daily life, not the least the nursing of Dr. Mackay through his long illness, Miss Vyver has been by her side helping her in home difficulties and trials as help can obly be given by one with whom there is perfect sympathy. Miss Vyver has seen every detail of all the work the novelist has done, and to-day the friendship between the two is closer and dearer than ever for the years that have passed, and the sorrows and joys that have been borne in company.
Ok. The author doesn’t come out and say they had sex, but this kind of narrative led to the belief that Corelli was a lesbian, though she never self-identified as one and fell in love with a man three years later. That romance didn’t last. He was married and didn’t return her feelings, but, with the support of her good friend, Corelli gradually moved on.


Is it possible that Corelli was gay? Who cares? Is it possible that she and Vyver had sex? Certainly, but what difference does it make.

Two people can be good friends and never have sex. Look at Watson and Sherlock Homes! Wink-wink, nudge, nudge!

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Just thinking about dresses...


This du Maurier cartoon from late-1870s Punch, strongly echoes my experience of wearing a corset for a historical reenactment. This is what such a dress looked like in the 1890s.


The fact that women wore them, in spite of what seemed like obvious problems, makes me think of many debates that exist today. Beautiful fashions, to me, seem much more difficult to wrestle with internally. I would love to wear a dress like that, but I wouldn't much enjoy not being able to sit for a whole evening. I would vert much like to look like I've lost a few pounds off my waistline, but I wouldn't much like to trade my ability to breath for it.

Would you?

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Thank You for a Wonderful Year!


A year ago today, I started this blog with my first post: American Cigarettes. I was and still am doing research for my book. A few days earlier, at the library for the University of Akron, I came across what instantly became my favourite Wildism.
I am greatly distressed to hear you and the fascinating Dan are smoking American cigarettes. You really must not do anything so horrid. Charming people should smoke gold-tipped cigarettes or die, so I enclose you a small piece of paper, for which reckless bankers may give you gold, as I don't want you to die.
Posting that was on of those “Dear Internet” moments. I was reaching out through my computer screen, hoping to find someone else as interested in the same things I was.

That first month wasn’t my most prolific writing month, but I wrote more posts in January 2013 than I have since because I started to realize that the opportunities a blog affords a distractible writer, like myself. I wanted to entertain and engage you, so that I could have someone to talk to about my research, but in talking to you I also wanted feedback. Feedback I got!

In a year, I’ve only got 31 comments out of over 14,700 page views, but I couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of emails I received - helpful emails too, emails that led me to make corrections to my posts and emails that led me to follow up certain posts with more detailed explanations of the subject matter. For example, I found an American trade card that depicted Oscar Wilde selling corsets for Warner Brothers, who I associated with movies. Thanks to your feedback I found a pair of much more interesting Warner brothers.


Also on the subject of Wilde and fashion, I got feedback via email about a book I wanted to read from the author! Oscar Wilde on Dress is now also available in a Kindle edition through Amazon and posting a review of this book is a priority for me in the coming year for this blog!

After a year, my all-time most popular post is The Ten Best Restaurants in London, which, of course explores the restaurants of the 1890s. In writing this, I was trying to get a sense of place because restaurant dining was a highly popular form of socializing and Oscar Wilde's family ate out on credit more often then they ate at home, even though they had a cook at home.

This month, my most popular posts are: Being Irish in Victorian London, a post that was promoted by the Irish Literary Society on Twitter; Weirdest Cameras of the 1890s, which looks at spy cameras (I was thinking about using a camera in my book, but decided against it and still couldn't stop looking at cameras from the period); and How to Flirt Like a Victorian. On that last post, I've since decided that Victorians probably didn't use those guides. They are just too silly!

After a year, I want to thank everyone, who has helped me with my research, and while most of you know about my research tangents, few of you know what my project really is - just the areas I’m interested in.

I’m writing a novel, historical fiction. While many of my posts are simply interesting tangents for me, many test out ideas about the history that I actually want to use in my book. In one post, I actually struggle with how I’m going to portray my narrator, but don’t actually give you her name. It’s Lily de Mattos, formerly Lily Wilde, born Sophia Lily Lees. I’m researching all of these writers because I want Lily to tell the story of her time as part of the Wilde family, but it’s more complicated than that.


I got the idea for this novel, when a dear friend of mine died of alcoholism, which is how Lily’s first husband, Willie Wilde, dies, but it’s more complicated than that.

I’m researching all of these writers because they are people that Lily would have met, as Oscar Wilde’s sister-in-law, and I’m using her narrative to explore the question of why, as writers, we write what we write.

So, if you were wondering, that is why I write this blog. That is why I’m obsessed with the 1890s. I’m using Lily’s life in the 1890s and the experiences of all these writers to understand my own life and my own experiences - not just the writers, but the culture around them that informed their lives and, at times, even encouraged them to drink themselves into an early grave.

It sounds miserable and sad, but I think my research demonstrates that it can also at times be very strange, very funny, and a lot like life today. Thank you for all the support you have shown me and please, keep commenting, sending emails, correcting me, and sharing any new information that you think I might find useful.

As always:

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Trilby


Also sometimes described as a crumpled fedora, the trilby gets its name from the novel, Trilby (1894) by George Du Maurier. I've noticed these hats have been making a comeback, since Michael Jackson died. They always make me think of the theatre, Smooth Criminal, and Fred Astaire. That last link will take you to one of my all-time favourite YouTube videos.


In 1895, du Maurier’s novel was adapted to a play and a hat of this style was worn in its first production in London. Londoners soon began to think of it as a rich man’s favoured hat and it got a reputation for turning up at horse races.


The original novel, was hugely influential in its day, selling over 200,000 copies in America in 1895 alone. The novel’s title character is a tone-deaf girl, who gets transformed into a a successful singer through the talents of a manipulative hypnotist, called Svengali. When Svengali has a heart attack and is unable to put Trilby into her trance, she is unable to sing at all and ridiculed, but can’t remember anything about her singing career. It is a study of fin-de-si├Ęcle culture and anti-Semitism.

Trilby inspired the Phantom of the Opera (1910). The name or term Svengali became synonymous with domineeringly powerful men. Herbert Beerbohm Tree was the first actor to play Svengali and the play continued to appear in threatres through the 1920s.


du Maurier also illustrated his novel and drew cartoons for Punch. He was the father of actor Gerald du Maurier and grandfather of the writers Angela du Maurier and Dame Daphne du Maurier. He was also the father of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and thus grandfather of the five boys who inspired Peter Pan.

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