Monday, January 28, 2013

Traveling Along Fleet Street

I found this picture on Flickr. It's a view of Fleet Street in the 1890s.

Upon closer examination (or rather by taking a few steps back in the photo below), what looks like tents along the sidewalk on the left side actually appear to be the awnings of various shops.

We can already see the electric lights; before the end of the decade, London would have it's first electric taxis, which were, for obvious reasons, referred to as horseless carriages.

It's funny to think how much the street must have changed in such a short time. Those early electric taxis were set up so that the passenger could cover up the windows because many people wanted to ride in them, but didn't want to make a spectacle out of themselves.

I'm thinking about this place because, as I mentioned in my previous entry, Fleet Street was the location of news reporting. Highly imperialistic tones characterize journalistic writing of the era. With all of these changes happening and the architecture in the background, it is easier to see why. Today, as writers, we are told to write about what we know. Newspaper journalists in the 1890s knew this place well.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

First Lady of Fleet Street

Fleet Street was already known in London of the 1890s as the haunt and workplace of news reporters. By the 1890s, journalism was beginning to be an "acceptable" career for women. Perhaps, the most exceptional of these early women journalists was Rachel Beer, who has been made the subject of a book that acknowledges her contributions.

Beer won her place in journalism history by capturing the world exclusive of Count Esterhazy's forgery of the letters in the Dreyfus Affair. Beer was born into the famous Sasoon family and, although she always remained proud of her Jewish roots, she faced prejudice throughout her life and career. She converted to Anglicanism when she married Frederick Beer, whose influence in the publishing industry admittedly afforded many of the opportunities that led to her success.

Still, it takes amazing strength of character in the face of so many obstacles to achieve all she did.

The following is a 2011 Guardian review of the book about her life: First Lady of Fleet Street.
Next month sees the publication of a book about the remarkable Rachel Beer, the woman who famously edited the Sunday Times and The Observer simultaneously.
As the title indicates, she was First Lady of Fleet Street because she was the first female editor of national newspapers.
It helped that they were owned by her financier husband, Frederick, but she proved to be a woman of enormous energy, writing with equal enthusiasm for each paper for several years in the 1890s.
When editing The Observer she was credited with overseeing what would now be called, rightly, a 'world exclusive' - the revelation in 1896 that the document that had been used to convict the French military officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason was a forgery by his fellow officer.
Beer was regarded as both a rebel and a pioneer. At a time when women were still denied the vote, she was barred from frequenting the London clubs that fed her rival male editors with political gossip and also from the press gallery of the House of Commons.
Undaunted, she raised her formidable voice on national and foreign politics as well as taking a controversial stand on social and women's issues.
She was wealthy in her own right, as the scion of the Sassoon family that had amassed a fortune in Indian opium and cotton. Her marriage to Frederick Beer brought together two wealthy dynasties.
But it also brought her strife because her husband's father abandoned the Jewish religion, which led to Rachel being disowned by many of her proudly Jewish family. When her husband died, her family conspired to have her certified.
No wonder the book's sub-title refers to "the fortune and tragedy of Richael Beer". It was written by Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev, and is due to be published on 24 April.
The book is available through Random House for $30.00.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stenographic Writing

The novel, Dracula uses developing forms of storying in the 1890s, like the typewriter, the gramophone, long-distance telephone lines, and undersea telegraph cables. Dracula also appeared about the same time the first steampunk novels were being produced, while joining in with the Victorian era's celebration of technology through its love of the machine.

In her essay: Phonograph, Shorthand, Typewriter: High Performance Technologies in Bram Stoker's Dracula, Leanne Page examines the influence of writing machines on Victorians. Stenographic writing is another term for shorthand, something that dramatically pre-dates Stoker, but was being innovated through the Victorian love of the machine.

In Dracula, Mina writes:
I feel so grateful to the man who invented the "Traveller's" typewriter, and to Mr. Morris for getting this one for me. I should have felt quite astray doing the work if I had to write with a pen.
Those of us, who can even remember typewriters, imagine something with a qwerty ketboard that packs up, like a suitcase, but portable typewriters, at the time Dracula was published in 1897, looked more like this:

Page includes an ad for the above typewriter in her essay:

Another "portable" typewriter, from Page's essay that somes closer to what we imagine, looks like this:

Yet, as a writer, I rely more heavily on technology for my work than Bram Stoker did for his. Every word, all of my notes happen on my lap top, iPad or phone. Although, Stoker's characters practiced shorthand; used typewriters and a gramophone to record their diaries, the original manuscript of Dracula was written in Stoker's own hand. Essentially, Stoker advocated the use of technology for writing, but didn't practice it himself.

I wonder whether other writers or other kinds of writers employed this technology in the 1890s. Would a journalist be more inclined to actually compose his or her work on one of these types of writing machines or would the typeface composition have been left entirely to the realm of the printers?

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not that Shakespeare!

There's no denying the men's club aspect to the culture of writers in London, during the 1890s. Even the Bohemian arts movement excluded women in London in ways that women were included in France. This, however, doesn't mean that women didn't participate! One example is Olivia Shakespear.

In the 1890s, Shakespear was a novelist and she didn't just sit at home writing novels under a pseudonym. Shakespear used her real name on all of her publications. She got out of the house, was active in London's writerly circles, most notably with William Butler Yeats.

Shakespear and Yeats met on 16 April 1894, at the launch party for the Yellow Book. Shakespear captivated Yeats instantly. Of the occasion, he wrote in his memoirs:
At a literary dinner where there were fifty or sixty guests I noticed opposite me, between celebrated novelists, a woman of great beauty. Her face had a perfectly Greek regularity, though her skin was a little darker than a Greek's would have been and her hair was very dark. She was exquisitely dressed with what seemed to me very old lace over her breast, and had the same sensitive look of distinction I had admired in Eva Gore-Booth. She was, it seemed, about my own age, but suggested to me an incomparable distinction.
After that night, the two became great friends, who would share literary ideas and notions. Though they were both married, in time, they also became lovers. This romance, of course was always overshadowed by Yeats' obsession with Maud Gonne, who he met in 1889 and pursued for decades. Consequently, Shakespear's affair with Yeats was probably overwhelming intellectual. They made many friends through this affair as well. Shakespear introduced Yeats to Ezra Pound in May 1909.

Shakespear shouldn't have been having an affair anyway. Shakespear was Olivia's married name. Her maiden name was Tucker. There doesn't appear to be any relation to the bard.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bram Stoker on Abraham Lincoln

I never would have guessed that Bram Stoker was an Amerophile, but he was. He aspired to learn the histories of all the American presidents and research Abraham Lincoln extensively. I think he was attracted to Lincoln by the name. I know I'm always pretty stoked to meet someone with the same first name as myself - and I think I'd still be stoked if my first name were more common.

I was surprised to find this out about Stoker because we remember writers for their successes. I find Stoker's relationship to Lincoln interesting because it’s a writer's failures that make him/her human. Also, doing my own writing and research, it's sometimes comforting to know that even "great" writers weren't always a success.

Did I mention that Stoker wasn't a successful Loncoln scholar? No one ever thinks of him as an Amerophile because he didn't have much success as one. Moreover, I think thins might have caused him a bit anxiety and trepidation as he prepared to meet one of his favorite writers, Walt Whitman - an American. 

In 1887, Bram researched and prepared a lecture on Lincoln, which he practiced, with some success, in England, before delivering it in the United States, where he was to later meet his idol, Walt Whitman. When he met Whitman, also a fan of Lincoln, he said nothing about his lecture. Historians speculate this is because he was embarrassed, after receiving a terrible review in the New York Times.
Less than 100 people listened to a lecture by Bram Stoker yesterday afternoon in Chickering Hall, the subject being 'Abraham Lincoln.' 
Mr. Stoker has delivered this lecture with great acceptance before unenlightened English audiences, and his utterances have been highly commended by the semi-educated English press. 
On this side of the water, however, where Abraham Lincoln lived and died, and where American history is taught in public schools, a historical review of the life and times of the martyr-President, even when presented by Mr. Henry Irving's manager, is apt to fall flat. : General Horace Porter, who was an apparently interested auditor, congratulated Mr. Stoker at the conclusion of the lecture, and Major Pond, as he gazed sadly around the vast array of empty seats, said: "Well, I didn't expect any thing else. This lecture was advertised just as extensively as the readings of Charles Dickens or the talk of Max O'Reil. I spent just as much money on it. Mr. Stoker showed me some very flattering notices of his lecture clipped from the English press. So I said to him one day, 'Why don’t you deliver that lecture in New York, Stoker!' 
The fact is," said the Major, reflectively, "nobody cares to listen to a lecture on Abraham Lincoln in this country." 
We can understand, if Bram was embarrassed after reading that, knowing his hero likely read it too before their meeting. Swallowing his pride, Bram and Whitman became friends.

Bram made frequent trips to the United States, but arrived a little too late in 1894 to see Whitman for the last time. On this visit, however, he learned that Whitman had left something behind for him: an envelope with the original notes from his own American lecture on Abraham Lincoln, dated April 15, 1886. With this, was a letter that said: “Enclosed I send a full report of my Lincoln Lecture for our friend Bram Stoker.”

23 April 2014

To this, I would like to add that my opinions here were based on limited research, using source materials created in the United States. I think that I, like the others I was reading before, had trouble finding a primary source on Stoker's Lincoln Lectures. Such a source may be found in: Robert J. Havlik's “Bram Stoker’s Lecture on Abraham Lincoln,” Irish Studies Review 10:1 (April 2002).

I'm yet to find any reviews of Stoker's Lincoln Lectures in London, but suspect that research based on the American reviews is inclined to mimic the mocking tone of those reviews. Stoker's interest in Lincoln was actually fuelled by Whitman and borrowed from Whitman's research into Lincoln's assassination. Reading the Stoker essay, presented by Havlik, I found Stoker's thoughts to be balanced and elegantly presented.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Talking to the Dead

Do you believe in ghosts? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did! The idea of communicating with the dead fascinated him and leaves me puzzling over how to reconcile a personality of a person that loved logic, held scientific degrees, and still believed in ghosts.

Still married to his first wife, the creator of Sherlock Holmes met and fell in love with a spiritual medium in 1897. Her name was Jean Elizabeth Leckie. The couple married in 1907, after the death of Arthur's first wife.

Doyle had complete faith in Jean's skills as a medium. He really believed she was psychic, could predict future events, and speak with the dead. His faith was evidenced by the fact that he would later offer her services to Harry Houdini to help him contact his deceased mother.

How do I reconcile Doyle's mysticism from the logic based aspects of his personality, that I believed helped him to write Sherlock Holmes, when they seem like an utter abandonment of rational thought?

It's difficult to understand anything when you take it out of context. Many of our respected writers of the 1890s belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This was a decade when the public wanted the assistance of psychic Robert James in solving the case of Jack the Ripper. What interests me about this aspect of Arthur Conan Doyle is that none of his spiritualism worked into the solutions of Sherlock Holmes' cases; instead, Arthur preferred to write about problems that could be solved in this world.

Upon reflection, and after a visit to Wonders & Marvels, I would add that, maybe, Sherlock Holmes does hold the key to understanding his author's belief in the unbelievable.

The character, Sherlock Holmes, was based on a professor that Arthur knew in school, who had amazing powers of deduction. Arthur was captivated by the way that he could see things no one else could see just by looking at what was right in front of him. Maybe Arthur was fascinated by all unbelievable things, but saw that the most unbelievable things are right in front of us!

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Rational Dress

Thanks to Franny Moyle, I've come to see Oscar Wilde's wife as a far more complex character in the lives of writers in the 1890s. A writer in her own right, Constance Wilde wrote extensively on healthy fashions for women and published children's stories. She actively participated in the Rational Dress Society, attending meetings, exhibitions, as well as displaying her own creations (her wedding dress was on display to the public before she was married and what she wore to the theatre and parties was often the described in the press).

Many of the women involved in the artistic and writing communities of the 1890s were involved in the Rational Dress Society or the Artistic Dress Movements, including Bram Stoker's wife, Florence Stoker. Oscar Wilde promoted its ideals, during his tenure at the Woman's World. The Rational Dress Society was an organization founded in 1881 in London. It described its purpose thus:
The Rational Dress Society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly-fitting corsets; of high-heeled shoes; of heavily-weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible; and of all tie down cloaks or other garments impeding on the movements of the arms. It protests against crinolines or crinolettes of any kind as ugly and deforming….[It] requires all to be dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully, to seek what conduces to birth, comfort and beauty in our dress as a duty to ourselves and each other.

Like the New Woman, these fashion forward women were often subject to ridicule. Commentary in the press about how Constance Wilde dressed reflected these criticisms.

Nonetheless, criticism made it hard to change the way most women dressed everyday and the Rational Dress Society's greatest triumphs were in the area of undergarments and athletic wear.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Yellow Book

After reading the first edition of The Yellow Book (April 1894), Oscar Wilde quickly dismissed it as "not yellow at all." The title of the journal meant to reflect the risque nature of French fin de si├Ęcle literature. Yellow covers warned readers of a books "pornographic" content. Bram Stoker's Dracula even had a yellow cover, when it first hit the shelves in 1897.

Wilde was right, in the sense that the writing was rather tame. With contributing authors, like: Edmund Gosse, Walter Crane, Frederick Leighton, and Henry James; the artwork was by Aubrey Beardsley and that, to me, really set The Yellow Book apart.

Beardsley's best-known work is in The Yellow Book and Salome, and both are characteristic mockeries of the Victorian artistic ideal, moving toward a style that I would associate with art deco. Even in the 1890s Beardsley associated with people, who would really flourish in the 1920s, when art deco first appeared; people, like Max Beerbohm.

Most of Beardsley's contemporaries, however, saw his style as highly unnatural and grotesque, making him subject to ridicule in other periodicals. It was The Yellow Book's link to French novels, not Beardsley's art, that would colour its controversial perception though. 

As Wilde was escorted to the Old Bailey in 1895, one or two newspapers reported that he carried a copy of The Yellow Book under his arm. Not particularly fond of The Yellow Book, Wilde was, in fact, carrying an actual French novel. Since April 1894, the journal had been associated with aestheticism and decadence; after May 1895, it would also be associated with homosexuality.

To distance the journal from the stigma, Beardsley was fired for his former associations with Wilde and the editors wrote:
Aubrey Beardsley, as readers of this journal well know, was another who fell victim to the moral rearguard action and, in the wake of Wilde's imprisonment, he was sacked as art editor of The Yellow Book; all traces of his definitive illustrative work for the quarterly were removed from the April 1895 edition before it was released for publication.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Bunch of Hairy Men

Hall Caine's photo in yesterday's post got me thinking about some of the late-Victorian writers' funny faces. Hall's face especially strikes me because, while I think he looks funny with his buggy eyes and dramatic beard, in the 1890s, ladies actually found him handsome!

Facial hair was popular among men in the 1890s. Although we look back on it with jocularity, it's making a bit of a resurgence in recent years (Movember, hockey beards, etc). Even the Edwardians found outrageous styles of facial hair ridiculous. 

Hall Caine (above) and Joseph Conrad (below) wore beards and mustaches, like Kaiser Wilhelm.

Bram Stoker (above) wore his in a fashion comically referred to as "dangle swaggles" (see picture at bottom).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and Ambrose Bierce (all are below) wore matching pointy mustaches that most agreed would make men look more distinguished, a look nowadays people think they can pull off with a pair of non-prescription eyeglasses.

As a young man in the 1890s, H.G. Wells (below) wore something like a walrus, but so did Rudyard Kipling (also below), leading one to speculate that this could have been some hip young thing.

To be fair, there were lots of ridiculous ways for a woman to style her hair that none of these guys would really get away with, but there were many other hairy styles available to men as well.

Though he himself was once a hairy beast, Charles Dickens said it best, when he said:
I am no friend to gentlemen who wilfully affect external oddity, while they are within all dull and commonplace.
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Monday, January 14, 2013


From absinthe to laudanum, substance abuse was prevalent during the latter part of the Victorian era. It doesn't seem like you could be a writer in the 1890s, without dying of substance abuse or knowing someone who had. This story bookends the decade, as a reminiscence of an author, who died in 1889, from a book published in 1908.

The book: My Story, Hall Caine's autobiography. Caine (photo on left 1895) was a Manx writer, very popular in the 1890s and 1900s. During the 1890s, he was surely bumping shoulders with my favorite writers. I'm not so fond of his writing as I am of his life and interactions with others of the period.

The passage I've selected is about Wilkie Collins. I just love how in his narrative, Caine portrays himself as using Collins's first and last name every time he addresses him, though they seem to have been great friends. Collins was a prolific writer and published 30 novels, more than 60 short stories, 14 plays, and more than 100 nonfiction essays.

In this passage, Caine is astonished at Collins's use of laudanum. Laudanum was a wildly popular drug during the Victorian era. It was an opium-based painkiller prescribed for everything from headaches to tuberculosis.

Hall writes:
One day, towards the beginning of 1888, I called upon him in great excitement about a difference I had just had with a friend with whom I was trying to collaborate. I wished him to adjudicate in the dispute, and he cordially undertook to do so. 
"State the difficulty," he said ; and I stated it with much fulness. He stopped me again and again — repeated, questioned, and commented. Two hours went by like ten minutes. We were sitting in Wilkie's workshop, With proofs of his current work everywhere about us. The point was a knotty one, and a serious issue seemed involved in it. Wilkie was much worried.  
"My brain is not very clear," he said once or twice, taking a turn across the room. Presently, and as if by a sudden impulse, he opened a cabinet, and took out a wine-glass and what seemed to be a bottle of medicine. " I'm going to show you one of the secrets of my prison- house," he said with a smile, and then he poured from the bottle a full wine-glass of a liquid resembling port wine. "Do you see that?" he asked. " It's laudanum." And straightway he drank it off.  
“Good heavens, Wilkie Collins!" I said, "how long have you taken that drug ? "  
"Twenty years," he answered.  
"More than once a day ? " 
"Oh yes, much more. Don't be alarmed. Remember that De Quincey used to drink laudanum out of a jug." Then he told me a story, too long to repeat, of how a man-servant of his had killed himself by taking less than half of one of his doses.  
"Why do you take it ? " I asked.  
"To stimulate the brain and steady the nerves."  
"And you think it does that?"  
"Undoubtedly," and laughing a little at my consternation, he turned back to the difficult subject I had come to discuss. " I'll see it clearer now. Let us begin again," he said.  
"Wait," I said. "You say, my dear Wilkie, that the habit of taking laudanum stimulates your brain and steadies your nerves. Has it the same effect on other people ?"  
"It had on Bulwer Lytton," answered Collins. "He told me so himself."  
"Well, then, Wilkie Collins," I said, "you know how much I suffer from nervous exhaustion. Do you advise me to use this drug?"  
He paused, changed colour slightly, and then said quietly, "No."  
The last time I saw Collins he was in great spirits and full of the "Reminiscences" that he intended to write. He talked of all his old friends with animation, the friends of his youth, "all gone, the old familiar faces"; and there was less than usual of the dull undertone of sadness that had so often before conveyed the idea of a man who felt that he had strutted too long on his little stage. He enjoyed his wine and some old brandy that came after it and a couple of delicious little cigars of a new brand which he loudly recommended. The more serious questions of literature and morality were all banished, and yarn followed yarn. 
I can only remember a single sad note in his conversation, and it was ominous. He was talking of Dickens, and I think he said he had been engaged to visit at Gad's Hill on the very day that Dickens died.  
A few days later, Wilkie Collins wrote inviting me to lunch, but naming no particular day. I was to go what day I liked, only remembering to send a telegram two or three hours in advance. So one Sunday morning I wrote a letter telling him that I meant to visit him the following day, and asking him for a telegram to say if the time would do. Instead of Wilkie's telegram there came a message from his affectionate adopted daughter, saying that on the previous morning he had been struck down with paralysis.
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

The man believed to have uttered the phrase: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904) was considered, by many of his British contemporaries, to be the greatest explorer of Africa. On 26 June 1890, Bram Stoker was invited to a dinner by Edward Marston (his publisher) in honour of Stanley. For Bram, this was a night to remember. His recollections of the evening and of Stanley provide valuable insight into Bram and his perception of the world.
Bram's father believed his sons fortunes could lie in the exploration of Africa. Abraham Stoker Sr. was something of a pencil pusher and pushover. He didn't want his sons to grow up like him and the exploration of Africa was one of the many thing he dreamed of them doing. Bram never went to Africa, but his father's dreams probably put the continent somewhere on the list of places he would like to go.

The possibility of going to Africa crops up in Bram's reminiscence of the June 26th dinner, as does the way that he saw life and death in people that he met. Of that night, Bram wrote:

The dinner given to Stanley by Edward Marston, the publisher, on the eve of bringing out Stanley's great book, In Darkest Africa June 26, 1890 was a memorable affair. Marston had then published two books of mine, Under the Sunset, and the little book on America, and as "one of his authors " I was a guest at the dinner. Irving was asked, but he could not go as he was then out of town on a short holiday, previous to commencing an engagement of two weeks at the Grand Theatre, Islington, whilst the Lyceum was occupied by Mr. Augustin Daly's company from New York. 
At the dinner I sat at an inside corner close to Sir Harry (then Mr.) Johnston, the explorer and administrator, and to Paul B. du Chaillu, the African explorer who had discovered gorillas. I had met both these gentlemen before ; the first in London several times ; the latter in New York, in December 1884, in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Tailer, who that night were entertaining Irving and Ellen Terry. There we had sat together at supper and he had told me much of his African experience and of his adventures with gorillas. I had of course read his books, but it was interesting to hear the stories under the magic of the adventurer's own voice and in his characteristic semi- French intonation. 
In the course of conversation he had said to me something which I never have forgotten it spoke volumes : "When I was young nothing would keep me of out Africa. Now nothing would make me go there !" 
In reply to the toast of his health, Stanley spoke well and said some very interesting things : "In my book that is coming out I have said as little as possible about Emin Pasha. He was to me a study of character. I never met the same kind of character." Again : "I have not gone into details of the forest march and return to the sea. It was too dreary and too horrible. It will require years of time to be able to think of its picturesque side." 
At that time Stanley looked dreadfully worn, and much older than when I had seen him last. The six years had more than their tally of wear for him, and had multiplied themselves. He was darker of skin than ever ; and this was emphasised by the whitening of his hair. He was then under fifty years of age, but he looked nearer to eighty than fifty. His face had become more set and drawn had more of that look of slight distortion which comes with suffering and over-long anxiety. There were times when he looked more like a dead man than a living one. Truly the wilderness had revenged upon him the exposal of its mysteries.
Edward Marston, Harry Johnston, Paul B. du Chaillu, Ellen Terry... As you can see by this excerpt, Bram liked name-dropping. Bram uses Stanley's view to justify not going to Africa. The darkening of Stanley's skin could be a nod to a commonly held belief in environmental determinism. Moreover, this passage also recalls Bram's depictions of Dracula and how his age changed the more he fed.

In Stanley's defense, I've placed a photograph of him from 1890, the year of that dinner. His hair certainly is much whiter than pictured above, but he doesn't look that much older!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Character

According to a friend of Florence Stoker, she hated it when Bram Stoker was writing horror stories because he gained inspiration through acting out his characters and Bram Stoker's characters can be terrifying.

Maybe I'm mean, but the idea of Florence Stoker, sitting quietly at some handiwork, while Bram Stoker crept up the stairs and into the room, that idea just makes me smile. No wonder she hated it!

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula during the summer of 1898 at at Kilmarock Arms Hotel, Cruden Bay (from the Gaelic "Chroch Dain" meaning ‘slaughter of the Danes’), Scotland. How do you imagine he got into character?

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Friday, January 11, 2013

A Picture Worth a Million Pounds

Before and during the trials of Oscar Wilde, his friends, even the judge, hoped he would flee. One of these friends was the painter: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whom Wilde met some time before in Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec did a portrait of Wilde.

Toulouse-Lautrec was in London the night before Wilde's case would go to court against the Marquess of Queensberry, who accused him of homosexual practices. Toulouse-Lautrec wanted to paint another portrait. They met, but Wilde was too nervous about the trials to sit for a portrait.

Alone, Toulouse-Lautrec went back to his hotel room, disappointed, and painted this portrait:

The portrait is now valued at over £1m. It's believed the Oscar and his friend met that night at a male brothel or, at least, that is what is inferred by the Guardian, who reports that:
Toulouse-Lautrec "added the background sketch of the houses of parliament to locate the portrait in London, but it was a prophetic touch: in the trial Wilde was asked about the location of a male brothel in Westminster. It was, he told the court, near the House of Commons."
Wilde wasn't the only one getting a portrait done. Check out what his first love was doing while he was in court.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Bunbury is the metaphorical gun on the wall in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, foreshadowing the deceptions that are to occur throughout the play. It's a silly name and sounds like something one makes up on the spot, hard to think of real-life inspiration for Oscar when he was writing that, especially because his use of the concept is so playful.
Algernon: Bunbury? Oh, he was quite exploded.
Lady Bracknell: Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.
Algernon: My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was found out! The doctors found out that Bunbury could not live, that is what I mean—so Bunbury died.
Lady Bracknell: He seems to have had great confidence in the opinion of his physicians.

Not many people know (I didn't) that Bunbury was the name of a real person, who gained a small amount of fame in an area of interest to Oscar Wilde, while he was writing the play. On 23 January 1894, G.W. Bunbury set the world record for writing shorthand at 250 words per minute for ten minutes; thats 750 words in ten minutes!

Was G.W. Bunbury the inspiration for Algernon's fake identity? Possibly?

I can just picture the conversation,
Bosie: This Bunbury fellow can write 250 words per minute.
Oscar: None of it original.
Bosie: I don't believe he exists.
He did though.

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Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Interest in alternative spirituality and the occult peaked before the Second World War, but mysticism was already becoming popular in the late-Victorian period, after the Darwinian Revolution.

In the 1890s, Bram Stoker was involved in an occult-like spiritualist organization, called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This mystic order was shrouded in secrecy. Indeed, the order threatened to ruin people's lives, if they revealed its secrets to outsiders. However, its hermetics were based on things people  thought of before, like Freemasonry, the religion of ancient Egypt, alchemy, and tarot cards.

Other members of the Order included W.B. Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, and Oscar Wilde's wife: Constance. A new biography, Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde, goes into great detail of Constance's experiences with the Order and how being among the first to join elevated members' positions. Digging Hermetics in the 1890s got you in on the ground floor, so-to-speak, because the movement was young and still under the direction of it's founder William Wynn Westcott.

In October 1887, Westcott wrote to Anna Sprengel, whose name and address he received through the decoding of the Cipher Manuscripts. Westcott claimed to receive a wise reply which conferred honorary grades of Adeptus Exemptus on Westcott, and his fellow Freemasons Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, and William Robert Woodman and chartered a Golden Dawn temple consisting of the five grades outlined in the manuscripts. Anna Sprengel died four years after helping to found the order.

Anna Sprengel, countess of Landsfeldt, love-child of Ludwig I of Bavaria and Lola Montez, may never have existed at all, as there is no proof of her existence and it now seems she was invented by Westcott to confer legitimacy on the Golden Dawn (although I'm not sure how the support of imaginary people confers legitimacy on anything). In 1901 Mathers, leader of the Golden Dawn, briefly supported the claim of Swami Laura Horos, who had long campaigned for recognition as that countess, to have written Westcott as Anna Sprengel.

Regardless, I think it could have been the order and organization within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn that provided orderliness to previously unruly creatures, specifically Bram Stoker's vampires. Anna Sprengel was supposedly a countess and Bram's vampires were led by a count. I don't know of any other interpretations of vampires that require devotion and worship, like Renfield has for Dracula:
"I am here to do your bidding, Master. I am your slave, and you will reward me, for I shall be faithful. I have worshipped you long and afar off. Now that you are near, I await your commands, and you will not pass me by, will you, dear Master, in your distribution of good things?"
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

American Cigarettes

The second and final paragraph of this letter from Oscar Wilde to his brother in 1893 might be my favorite Wildism ever. Oscar Wilde's reputation as a chain smoker sticks with him to this day. Apparently, his aesthetic tastes extended to cigarettes as well. Though his brother, Willie Wilde, was not an aesthete, he was as much of a chain smoker as Oscar. This letter emphasizes the difference in their tastes or standards regarding cigarettes. 

He writes:
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.
By July 1893, Oscar's brother was in a state of increasing financial need, so this may have just been a pleasant way for Oscar to help him out. Ironically, a Google search for gold-tipped cigarettes brings up an American brand and I haven't been able to find a brand that Oscar would have recommended to his brother. The records don't have Oscar smoking gold-tipped cigarettes exclusively, references have been made to him smoking Egyptian cigarettes, though I suppose Egyptian cigarettes could be gold-tipped as well.

* While looking at photos for my entry on Hairy Men, I found a picture that named a brand Oscar may have recommended: Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarettes, but I can't find any reference as to when these were first produced.

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