Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Warner Brothers Corsets

This trade card pictures Oscar Wilde on the right wearing a sunflower and obviously promotes sturdy corsets. It's interesting for a few reasons.

1. It was either printed before he and Constance were married; before he became editor of Woman's world and indicates a shift in his perspective on the rational dress movement OR it was printed without his consent to cash in on some of the pomp and circumstance of one of Oscar Wilde's American tours.

2. Warner Brothers made corsets?

3. The card tries to link wearing a corset to the aesthetic movement, when the opposite was true.

Victorian trade cards were about the size of a 3x5 index card. Like the one pictured here, they typically had a picture with a slogan on one side and advertising text or testimonials on the other side. Most of them date back between 1880-1900. Merchants and their employees would hand the cards out on the street to advertise products and services. A local store would sometimes stamp their name on the back.

Some trade cards were beautiful, some funny, some had puzzles, and some were risque. People would collect the many different cards that appealed to them and paste them into scrap books. I found this one on eBay; where it sold for eight dollars.

Find my follow up to this post here!

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The Bodley Head

When I think of controversial books in the 1890s, Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray are the first to come to mind. I also think of these titles with a sense of sadness because the authors didn't set out to write controversial books and suffered (at least a little bit) as a consequence of their works' publication. Bram Stoker didn't suffer like Oscar Wilde did, but he had to borrow money to publish it and wrote explanatory letters and apologies afterwards.

When I think of controversial books today, items off the bestsellers lists come to mind and, typically, things weren't so different during the most decadent years of the Victorian Era. At least one publisher existed to cater to the book market that thrived on getting mixed reviews: the Bodley Head.

London based, the Bodley Head was founded in 1887 by John Lane and Elkin Mathews to trade in antiquarian books. This meant dealing with an upper-class literary clientele, during the age of aestheticism. By 1894, the Bodley Head began publishing works of 'stylish decadence' that likely catered to the same readers, who bought their antiquarian books.

Some of the titles Lane, Mathews and the Bodley Head are responsible for bringing us represent the tone of the era, like the Yellow Book, while others were ground breaking in their genre, like The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen. Machen's audience denounced The Great God Pan for its sexual and horrific content and it subsequently sold well, going into a second edition.

In 1894, the Bodley Head published The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde and the first edition of A Woman of No Importance, printing 500 copies. Lane and Mathews would go on to work with writers, like H.G. Wells. The firm was still important throughout the 1970s and was sold in 1987 to Random House.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Place That Suits Me Best

The title of this post is what Christina Rossetti said to a friend about living in London. William Sharp remembered the conversation as follows:
"I am", she said, "not only as confirmed a Londoner as was Charles Lamb, but really doubt if it would be good for me, now, to sojourn often or long in the country."
"But", the lady insisted, "let me ask, do not you yourself find your best inspiration in the country?"
Rossetti's answer could not have been more emphatic: "Oh dear, no!" "My knowledge of what is called nature is that of the town sparrow which makes an excursion occasionally from its home in Regent's Park or Kensington Gardens."
"I am fairly sure", Rossetti added, "that I am in the place that suits me best." (From the BBC)
She did, in fact, spend the rest of her life there. We tend to think of her as a recluse during the last years of her life, but, in reality, her health was failing and she had found the place she liked best in the world.

Her place was 30 Torrington Square, a place that is only a square by name now. It's owned by the University of London, which has torn down most of the old houses to replace them with your typical university buildings. Rossetti's house remains and is marked with a plaque. 

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vampires or Bust

With more writers opting to self-publish every year, I thought it might be encouraging to know that one of the greatest published his best work at great personal risk.

When publishing Dracula, in 1897, Bram Stoker borrowed a "substantial amount" of money from his good friend, Hall Caine. The novel wasn't much of a success, during the author's lifetime, but it helped his widow to live comfortably. It also left a lasting impression on literature and film.

To me, this serves as a reminder that, if you feel compelled to create art, you should create art and don't waste any time worrying about whether it was worth it.

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