Saturday, November 30, 2013

Top Ten Oscar Wilde Quotes

One-hundred-thirteen years ago, Oscar Wilde died. In his memory, I would like to share my favourite of his witticisms with you here. Enjoy!

10. She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm. — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

9. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. — The Picture of Dorian Gray, Preface (1891)

8. The General was essentially a man of peace, except in his domestic life. — The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

7. A man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world. — A Woman of No Importance(1893)

6. The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes. — The Picture of Dorian Gray, Preface (1891)

5. Lord Illingworth: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. Mrs. Allonby: No man does. That is his. — A Woman of No Importance (1893); Wilde liked this one so much he used it again in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

4. A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life. — A Woman of No Importance (1893)

3. Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. — Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

2. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means. — The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

1. I prefer women with a past. They're always so damned amusing to talk to. — Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Who Was the Lady of Shalott?

One of the characters in my novel is very beautiful and I imagine that, in person, she looked even more like John William Waterhouse’s famous Lady of Shalott than her identifiable portraits did. It occurred to me that the historical person I am writing about was contemporary to and geographically close enough to Waterhouse to pose for such a portrait and posing for a portrait is something she did do.

Could my character have been the famous Lady of Shalott? Surely, that would be too good to be true. It’s why I have to do so much research. I did find something interesting though.

Although we don’t know who most of Waterhouse’s whispy, nymph-like, Pre-Raphaelite models were, we now have an idea who the model for the Lady of Shalott might have been: Waterhouse’s half-sister, Mary Waterhouse.

It was also interesting to find out here that Waterhouse’s studio is still used as an artist’s studio, the light is still perfect for painting, and the lady of Shalott was painted outside the studio with the model (likely Mary) sitting in a shrub in 1888, while Waterhouse filled in the rest of the painting from his imagination.

The Lady of Shalott was inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, which was even more influential in the late-Victorian era than it is today. Tennyson was a favourite and a friend of Bram Stoker.

The painting was donated to the public by Sir Henry Tate in 1894.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Campaigns of Curiosity

Elizabeth Banks disguised as a housemaid

Elizabeth Banks was an American journalist, who moved to London in 1892, and became a pioneer in the field of immersion journalism for women.

Immersion (also called “stunt”) journalists, in the Victorian Era, immersed themselves in the story they were investigating, by, for example, admitting themselves to lunatic asylums to expose systemic abuses. These were the journalists of the 1890s, who went slumming in Whitechapel with a spy camera.

Banks grew famous for a series of articles called “Campaigns of Curiosity: Journalistic Adventures of an American Girl in London” (1894), which related her experiences disguised as a parlourmaid, flower girl, laundress, crossing sweep... well, you get the idea. She was primarily interested in servants’ rights and responsibility, as well as women’s reluctance to enter into service, also known as “The Servant Question.”

By way of training, Banks read “Duties of Servants: A Practical Guide to the Routine of Domestic Service by A Member of the Aristocracy” (1890) and placed an ad for herself in the Daily Telegraph. Disguised as a servant, Banks called herself “Elizabeth Barrows” and found work in two London homes.

The Weekly Sun serialized her findings as “In Cap and Apron: Two Weeks in Service” between 22 October and 10 December 1893. There were reprinted in Banks’ Campaigns of Curiosity.

Banks’ “stunt” sparked controversy and the Weekly Sun published letters from both sides of the debate. Many people felt that Banks had betrayed her employers confidence. One letter identified Banks as an American from her use of the terms “pitchers” and “washbowls,” which eventually forced Banks to admit that she was in fact motivated by economic need. But, hey! Good work is good work, whether or not you need the money.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Battle for Reading Gaol

The historic prison that once housed Oscar Wilde is scheduled to close today. Students of Victorian literature will forever remember the name of the place. Wilde made it the subject of his Ballad of Reading Gaol. The Oscar Wilde Society wants to save Reading Gaol. While I’m a lover of history and an admirer of the Oscar Wilde Society, I’m not sure I would like Reading Gaol to remain standing.

Wilde served two years hard labour there in the 1890s, after being found guilty of gross indecency for his relationship with Alfred Douglas. To me, this marks Reading Gaol as a historic sight of injustice and I believe there are too many of these sites in the history of homophobia already.

I do not mean to say that we should forget history that unsettles us, but I would like landmarks to lead us toward a brighter future, while celebrating the triumphs of the oppressed against certain hardship. Moreover, I can’t imagine Oscar Wilde would want that prison left standing.

I never saw a man who looked 
With such a wistful eye 
Upon that little tent of blue 
Which prisoners call the sky, 
And at every drifting cloud that went 
With sails of silver by. 

I walked, with other souls in pain, 
Within another ring, 
And was wondering if the man had done 
A great or little thing, 
When a voice behind me whispered low, 
"That fellows got to swing." 

Dear Christ! the very prison walls 
Suddenly seemed to reel, 
And the sky above my head became 
Like a casque of scorching steel; 
And, though I was a soul in pain, 
My pain I could not feel. 
- Oscar Wilde from the Ballad of Reading Gaol

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Oscar Wilde Hated His Brother

Oh, brothers! I don't care for brothers. My elder brother won't die, and my younger brothers seem never to do anything else. - The Picture of Dorian Gray

If you think your brother is a jerk, you should meet Oscar Wilde’s brother. After spending some time with William “Willie” Wilde, Herbert Beerbohm Tree wrote:
"...did I tell you that I saw a good deal of [Oscar's] brother Willie at Broadstairs? Quel monstre! Dark, oily, suspect yet awfully like Oscar: he has Oscar's coy, carnal smile & fatuous giggle & not a little of Oscar's esprit. But he is awful - a veritable tragedy of family-likeness"
If you have ever quarreled with a sibling, you probably appreciate the phrase “a veritable tragedy of family-likeness.” You might even be trying to commit it to memory for future use.

Oscar would have appreciated it as well because his relationship with Willie was turbulent, to say the least. He actually based Algernon, in The Importance of Being Earnest, on his brother Willie, during a time when the two were trying to reconcile their differences. Sadly, the time when things appeared to be easiest between the two of them was the time Willie inflicted the most damage on Oscar’s life, the time when Oscar needed his family most. The two would never speak again.

There’s so much I could say about what made Willie a “monstre” of a brother, as Willie provides the subject of a novel that I’m currently writing, but, because this is the internet, I’m going to try to limit it to the ten reasons Oscar Wilde’s brother was worse than yours, after which you should go give your brother a hug!

1. Willie publicly mocked Oscar’s life and work.

While married to the wealthy widow and publishing giant, Mrs. Frank Leslie, Willie frequented the public drinking places of New York’s rich and famous, where he would mock and parody Oscar’s writing, as well as criticize him for drug use.

Oscar would read about Willie’s behaviour in a paper that reported on one of Willie’s nights at the Lotos Club, where he had...
...hilariously entertained the club members by impersonating Oscar’s voice, parodying his poetry and immitating his aesthetic mannerisms. - Ashley Robins 
Willie’s opinions were unpopular and probably reflected insecurities about himself, for, after six months of marriage, his rich wife returned him to London and filed for divorce. She was unhappy in the marriage because Willie drank so much he could not satisfy her sexually and he didn’t do any work or writing.

To be fair, Willie didn’t keep his intentions for his time in New York a secret from Leslie, his motto at the time was:
What America needs is a leisure class and I am determined to introduce one.
2. His drinking made Willie a public spectacle.

Willie embarrassed Oscar, even when he wasn’t trying to. Beerbohm Tree later wrote of Willie:
My sister Constance came home one day and summoned my mother and me; she was quivering to tell us what had happened. She knew in advance it was the sort of thing my mother would adore. Well, Constance had been walking along the street and met Willie Wilde – Oscar’s brother. In one hand, he was carrying a huge leg of mutton by the narrow part; with his free hand he swept off his hat and bent over double in a grand, ceremonial bow. There was something so grotesquely funny in the way he did it, conveying both the mutton and the bow. We decided it was a first class thing.
3. Willie took money from old people and babies. 

Drink would eventually kill Willie Wilde, but first it would render him unable to support himself, so that he sponged money off of his mother and angrily stamped his foot at her, when she refused to give it to her. Even when Oscar was bankrupt and going to jail, his family, including Willie’s pregnant wife, depended on him for the financial support that Willie was unable to provide.

This had been going on for years, as before Willie married that woman, he was reported to have stolen the piggy bank from the children of another woman he was hoping to marry.

Much of the surviving correspondence between Willie and Oscar has to do with Oscar giving Willie money - see my post on American Cigarettes
4. Willie’s friend stole Oscar’s girlfriend.

Willie became friends with Bram Stoker, while at Trinity College, and introduced him to the Wilde family. When Oscar was at school, his parents would later hire Stoker as Oscar’s tutor. Somehow, Stoker used that position to steal Oscar’s first love, Florence “Florrie” Balcombe, later Mrs. Stoker.

Oscar wouldn’t hold a grudge and became friends with Stoker, but he always had a place in his heart for Florrie and she would always refer to Oscar as “Poor O.”

5. Willie was the Wilde family favourite.

Oscar standing on left, Willie sitting far right.

Why do so many people love a villain? No matter how he mistreated their mother, Speranza always favoured Willie over Oscar. She always made excuses for Willie and even, at times, seemed jealous of Oscar’s success. In her letters, Speranza always blames Oscar, when the two brother’s aren’t getting along: “Why didn’t you come to your brother’s wedding?” “Why won’t you accept your brother’s apology?” And so on.

As the first-born, Willie inherited more than Oscar, when their father died. When their half-brother, Henry Wilson died, he left £8,000 to charity, £2,000 to Willie and only £100 to Oscar.

6. Willie published a bad review of Lady Windermere’s Fan.

Granted the review in the Daily Telegraph, where Willie worked, is only presumed to by written by Willie, it is a negative one and typical of their relationship. Also typical, their mother continued to pester Oscar to offer Willie praise for his writing. 

7. Willie gave Oscar bad advice.

During his trials, everyone, including the judge, expected and encouraged Wilde to flee to Paris. Oscar’s friends were ready to escort him there.

Willie (and his mother) wouldn’t hear of it and threatened to disown him, if he left.

8. Willie found self-righteous joy in Oscar’s troubles.

You would think that this would be the worst part of having Willie Wilde as a brother. As Oscar put it: Willie makes such a merit of giving me shelter,” when it was really their mother’s house and Oscar had been helping them financially for many years.

Following Oscar's arrest and first trial in April 1895, Willie claimed that he gave his brother shelter when he was unable to find rooms in London. Willie told anyone that would listen that Oscar "fell down on my threshold like a wounded stag.” As if standing by his brother, Willie wrote to Stoker:
Bram, my friend, poor Oscar was not as bad as people thought him. He was led astray by his Vanity - & conceit, & he was so 'got at' that he was weak enough to be guilty – of indiscretions and follies - that is all.... I believe this thing will help to purify him body & soul.
Yet, self-righteous joy and gloating was nothing compared to what Willie still had up his sleeve.

9. Willie blackmailed his brother.

While Oscar was going to court and staying with Willie on Oakley Street, Willie got a hold of some incriminating letters and used them to control Oscar for a while.

You can’t, however, get blood from a stone. Oscar didn’t have much money left to pay. He may have borrowed some to pay Willie from his friends, since Beebohm Tree and others knew about this situation. Willie eventually sold the letters to Travers Humphreys.

10. Willie sold Oscar’s things.

Oscar, as we all know, went to prison. Before that he had been living at his mother’s house, where his brother pretended to host him. He left a trunk of clothing behind, which Willie proceeded to pawn or sell - though his wife, Lily, saved Oscar’s shirts.

Oscar was so upset by the loss of his beloved fur coat that he could no longer refer to Willie and Lily by name. He wrote to Robert Ross on the subject:
Also, I would take it as a great favour if More [Adey] would write to the people who pawned or sold my fur coat since my imprisonment, and ask from me whether they would be kind enough to state where it was sold or pawned as I am anxious to trace it, and if possible get it back. I have had it for twelve years, it was all over America with me, it was at all my first nights, it knows me perfectly, and I really want it. The letter should be quite courteous, addressed first to the man: if he doesn't answer, to the woman. As it was the wife who pressed me to leave it in her charge, it might be mentioned that I am surprised and distressed, particularly as 1 paid out of my own pocket since my imprisonment all the expenses of her confinement, to the extent of £50 conveyed through Leverson. This might be stated as a reason for my being distressed.
By this point, Willie and Lily were no longer Oscar’s brother and sister-in-law. He refers to them only as “the people,” “the man,” “the woman,” “the wife,” but never by name.

One might try to argue that Willie and Oscar didn’t get along because Willie was an alcoholic, but their personalities clashed, since childhood. Oscar once clapped his hands when Willie’s night gown caught fire in their nursery, then sulked because their governess managed to put the fire out.

After Oscar went to prison, the two would never see or speak to each other again - except of course through third parties, like those Oscar sent to track down his belongings. Willie never even bothered to write to Oscar in prison and said that “For many reasons [Oscar] would not want to see me.” We don’t have to wonder why.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

A Great Work of Weirdness with Bram Stoker

When I came upon him he was writing furiously if so rude a word may be applied to an art so gentle.
Bram Stoker wrote the above sentence in his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, a work that I think is as almost as autobiographical as it is biographical. I’ve read and reread this book to study different aspects of Stoker’s personality. Today, I’m reading it for a better understanding of what Stoker thought of himself as a writer and about writers in general.

Like many contemporary writers, Stoker saw all writing as somewhat autobiographical. In Personal Reminiscences, he even describes graphology as an exercise in empathy.
"Under stress of what emotion would my own writing most nearly resemble that?" Let [the graphologist] repeat this with each sign of divergence from his own caligraphy: and in a short time he will be astonished with the result. So it is with all studies of character. Without any standard the task is impossible; but weigh each against your own self-knowledge and you at once begin to acquire comparative knowledge of simple qualities capable of being combined endlessly.
Consequently, when Stoker writes about Irving, he bases his understanding of Irving on his understanding of himself. As readers and historians of Stoker’s life, we have no doubt about the high esteem in which Stoker held Irving. We also gain insight into the high esteem with which he beheld writers in general.

Stoker peppers his Personal Reminiscences with vanity about his own writing, referring back to a post card her received from W.E. Gladstone on November 18, 1890, regarding the copy of the Snake’s Pass that he shared with the prime minister. The card itself only serves to prove that, in 1890, the PM remembered who Stoker was and that he enjoyed getting good seats at the Lyceum.

Still, Stoker’s insights on writers and writing hold true (in many aspects) today and range from the value of age and experience to having a good teacher/master. Stoker’s master, in life, work, and his Personal Reminiscences, was Irving. In writing biography, Stoker sought to capture life as it was at Irving’s side.
In trying to formulate this I am not speaking for myself; I am but following so well as I can the manifested wisdom of the master of his craft. Here and there I shall be able to quote Irving s exact words, spoken or written after mature thought and with manifest and deliberate purpose. For the rest, I can only illustrate by his acting, or at worst by the record of the impression conveyed to my own mind.
In his attempt to capture life as it was, Stoker creates the impression that, at least part of the time, he will be able to write like a historian, in Irving’s exact words, presumably captured in documents. This, he implies, is better than recording the impressions left in his own mind or memory. In his role at the Lyceum, Stoker likely possessed a surplus of ephemera. When it came to details surrounding one of their favourite writers, the unlikely archivist (from one of my previous posts) likely supplied the documentation that Stoker relied on for his narrative.
Hall Caine was also a "glutton" in the same way. He absorbed facts and ideas almost by an instinct and assimilated them with natural ease. For instance, when he went to Morocco to get local colour before writing The Scapegoat he so steeped himself in the knowledge of Jewish life and ideas and ritual that those who read his book almost accepted him as an authority on the subject.
In his reflections on Caine, we begin to see Stoker’s belief that an excellent writer would also, of necessity, be an excellent researcher. Excellent research, like the vast amount of research that he put into writing Dracula, enabled Stoker’s ideal writer to speak with authority that readers would admire.

But that was not all!
Irving had a great opinion of [Hall] Caine s imagination, and always said that he would write a great work of weirdness some day.
“A great work of weirdness.” I just love that!

Stoker’s ideal writer did a lot of research, mixed it with imagination, and, if he or she was lucky, came up with something really weird. He must have been proud of his work on vampires!

I use the phrase “he or she” to show my preference for gender neutrality. Writing, in the 1890s, was most definitely becoming a more popular occupation for women, but Stoker used “he” either because he saw the ideal writer as a man or because that was just the common style of pronoun usage at the time he wrote his book. Ideal or not, Stoker knew that more than one kind of person tried to write.
From the experience alone which we had in the Lyceum one might well have come to the conclusion that to write a play of some kind is an instinct of human nature. To Irving were sent plays from every phase and condition of life. Not only from writers whose work lay in other lines of effort ; historians, lyric poets, divines from the curate to the bishop, but from professional men, merchants, manufacturers, traders, clerks. He has had them sent by domestic servants, and from as far down the social scale as a workhouse boy.

I’d be interested to know if the theatre ever purchased a play from the hand of a “workhouse boy.” But Stoker had something more to say about Caine. After telling his readers more about how Irving admired Caine, Stoker adds:
This critical forecast is very remarkable considering the writer’s age. At that time he was only in his twenty-second year. He had been writing and lecturing for already some time and making a little place for himself locally as a man of letters.
Although Stoker believed some approaches to writing were better than others, age experience, research, reflection, he had been surprised before and was likely to open to being so pleasantly surprised again. 

Although Stoker believed in idealistic approaches to writing, he viewed writing as an art form that could be instinctive. I believe that, as intuitively as people want to speak, people want to tell stories. Like Stoker, I believe that research helps people find something more interesting to say and, probably, helps to give them the confidence to say it well.

I tend to think of Stoker as a man of little confidence because of the subservient role he played to Irving and because of how little time, comparatively, he devoted to his love of writing. But, in reading Stoker’s own views on writing, he tried to emulate what he saw as successful approaches to writing and produced “a great work of weirdness” to say the least.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why Writers Moved to London

Bram Stoker’s Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906) is the closest thing we have to an autobiography of Stoker’s life. Moments, inside the text, reveal much about Stoker and, sometimes, appear to have nothing to do with Irving at all.

The tidbit, which I share with you today, is set in 1877, a year before Stoker married Florence Balcombe and almost two years before they moved to London, where Stoker would devote his life to the service of the actor and theatre owner, Irving.

In this tidbit, we find Stoker engaged in a conversation with Sir James Knowles, the architect and editor. Knowles is remembered as the architect, who designed amongst other buildings, three churches in Clapham, Lord Tennyson's house at Aldworth, the Thatched House Club, the Leicester Square garden (as restored at the expense of Baron Albert Grant), and Albert Mansions, Victoria Street, Westminster. Clearly, in this passage, however, Stoker is a humble writer, talking to an editor. Luckily, for me, they talk about why writers should move to London.
I may here give an instance of his thoughtful kindness. Since our first meeting the year before, he had known of my wish to get to London, where as a writer I should have a larger scope and better chance of success than at home. One morning, July 12, I got a letter from him asking me to call at 17 Albert Mansions, Victoria Street, at half-past one and see Mr. Knowles. I did so, and on arriving found it was the office of the Nineteenth Century. There I saw the editor and owner, Sir (then Mr.) James Knowles, who received me most kindly and asked me all sorts of questions as to work and prospects. Presently while he was speaking he interrupted himself to say :
"What are you smiling at?”
I answered: "Are you not dissuading me from venturing to come to London as a writer?"
After a moment's hesitation he said with a smile: "Yes ! I believe I am."
"I was smiling to think," I said, "that if I had not known the accuracy and wisdom of all you have said I should have been here long ago!''
That seemed to interest him; he was far too clever a man to waste time on a fool.
Presently he said: “Now, why do you think it better to be in London? Could you not write to me, for instance, from Dublin?"
"Oh! yes, I could write well enough, but I have known that game for some time. I know the joy of the waste-paper basket and the manuscript returned unread. Now Mr. Knowles," I went on, "may I ask you something?"
"You are, if I mistake not, a Scotchman?" He nodded acquiescence, keeping his eye on me and smiling as I went on: "And yet you came to London. You have not done badly either, I understand? Why did you come?"
"Oh!" he answered quickly, "far be it from me to make little of life in London or the advantages of it. Now look here, I know exactly what you feel. Will you send me anything which you may have written, or which you may write for the purpose, which you think suitable for the Nineteenth Century ? I promise you that I shall read it myself; and if I can I will find a place for it in the magazine ! ''
I thanked him warmly for his quick understanding and sympathy, and for his kindly promise. I said at the conclusion: "And I give you my word that I shall never send you anything which I do not think worthy of the Nineteenth Century!"
From that hour Sir James and I became close friends. I and mine have received from him and his innumerable kindnesses; and there is for him a very warm corner in my heart.
Strange to say. the next time we spoke of my writing in the Nineteenth Century was when in 1881 he asked me to write an article for him on a matter then of much importance in the world of the theatre. I asked him if it was to be over my signature.
When he said that was the intention, I said: "I am sorry I cannot do it. Irving and I have been for now some years so closely associated that anything I should write on a theatrical subject might be taken for a reflex of his opinion or desire. Since we have been associated in business I have never signed any article regarding the stage unless we shared the same view. And whilst we are so associated I want to keep to that rule. Otherwise it would not be fair to him, for he might get odium in some form for an opinion which he did not hold ! As a matter of fact we join issue on this particular subject!"
The first time I had the pleasure of writing for him was when in 1890 I wrote an article on "Actor-Managers" which appeared in the June number. Regarding this, Irving's opinion and my own were at one, and I could attack the matter with a good heart. I certainly took pains enough, for I spent many, many hours in the Library of my Inn, the Inner Temple, reading all the "Sumptuary" laws in the entire collection of British Statutes. Irving himself followed my own article with a short one on the subject of the controversy on which we were then engaged.
As Stoker goes on to talk about his relationship with Knowles in the years to come, we see more of Stoker’s deep dedication to his work with Irving, how it became part of his identity - that he wouldn’t even put his name on something that Irving might disagree with.

The Nineteenth Century, you may have guessed, was a literary magazine, founded by Knowles in London in 1877. Adorably, the title of the magazine was changed to the Nineteenth Century and After in 1901.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Baroness de Bazus, Empress of Journalism

One of the craziest Wildes I've found in my research was the one-time wife of Oscar Wilde's brother, who never used the name Wilde. The name that this American publisher enjoyed the longest was Mrs. Frank Leslie, but, rather than dwelling on her names, I'd like to record what I've learned about her Wilde life.

In 1836, Leslie was born Miriam Florence Folline to a noble Huguenot family in New Orleans, Louisiana. Although rumoured to be the product of an affair her father had with a slave, she was raised by her father’s wife, who Leslie knew as her mother. She studied French, German, Latin and Spanish as a child and was provided all of the advantages that her family's dwindling fortune would allow. Yet, Leslie claimed: "I never had any childhood, for the word means sunshine and freedom from care. I had a starved and pinched little childhood, as far as love and merriment go." Her father, personally, supervised her early education, until his financial situation collapsed, in 1846.

Due to her father's financial situation, the family moved to Cincinnati, where her father spent far less time with her, then to New York, around 1950. In New York, her mother ran a boarding house, while striving to keep up appearances, so that her daughter might marry well. I imagine Leslie got her strength and good business sense from her mother, at this time in her life. However, she also got a determination to marry and marry well.

Leslie married, for the first time, at just seventeen. Her first husband, David Charles Peacock was a jeweller. They spent less than a year together as man and wife, in 1854. Ten years Leslie's senior, Leslie's mother forced Peacock to marry Leslie under the threat of arrest for seduction. Peacock landed in an insane asylum, where he eventually died. Their marriage was annulled in 1856 and Leslie's reputation in tact.

Lola Montez

After her marriage to Peacock, in the mid-1850s, Leslie began life as an actress, under the name of Minnie Montez, stage sister to Lola Montez, a charming and legendary adventurer. The story goes like this: while entertaining in the mining settlement of Grass Valley, Califoria, Montez met Leslie’s half-brother Noel Follin, who kept Leslie apprised of his own adventures by post; Follin accompanied Montez on a theatrical tour to Austrailia, but was tragically thrown overboard during the trip; devastated, Montez travelled to New York to offer her services to his family and wound up taking Leslie under her wing.

Ephraim Squier

By 1857, Leslie abandoned her acting career to marry the archeologist and newspaper editor, Ephraim Squier. Leslie married Squier in 1858. Within a couple of years, Squier was promoted to editor-in-chief of Frank Leslie's publishing house, where he supervised the publication of Frank Leslie's Pictorial History of the American Civil War; vol. 1 & 2. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

In 1863, the editor of Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine fell ill and our Leslie volunteered to fill in. The original editor died in 1871 and Leslie got the job permanently. As biographer, Madeleine B. Stern, wrote:
To her various skills Miriam now added the arts of flowery prose writing and editorial acumen. From her editorial corner she watched the House of Leslie expand until it employed from three to four hundred assistants including seventy wood engravers and boasted an aggregate circulation of some half a million copies per week.
To her study of the arts of publishing Miriam joined an equally intense study of the arts of the publisher.

Clearly, lots of wives of editors, who worked for Mr. Frank Leslie, would have loved the job, but Mr. Leslie had been living in the Squier household since 1861. For some time, the relationship between all three became sexual, but eventually Squier appeared to be in the way of a great love that was blossoming between his wife and his boss. Stern writes:
It was inevitable that, after a sensational divorce from the now unbalanced E. G. Squier, she should acquire yet another name—Mrs. Frank Leslie. On July 13, 1874, the thirty-eight-year-old editor of a woman's magazine was married to the suave and elegant fifty-three-year-old magnate of Publishers' Row. One month later, E. G. Squier was committed to an asylum for the insane.
Under the name she liked longest, if not best, Leslie’s life becomes even more interesting.

Joaquin Miller

While the Leslies were on their honeymoon, they met Joaquin Miller, nicknamed the poet of the Sierras. The newlyweds soon began an affair with the poet and Mrs. Leslie became a character in Miller’s novel, The One Fair Woman. I imagine Mr. Leslie is featured in the book as well:
The beautiful lady smiled with an expression of sadness that was even painful, but only smiled. The husband, a handsome, graceful, Italian-looking fellow, with a small hand and a small weak nose, and a small head which was getting bald lifted his hat also, with that ease and composure which shows at least the gentleman bred and born.

Even if Mr. Leslie was bred and born and a gentleman, due to the Panic of 1873, their lavish lifestyle, expensive trips, and probably due to the time those things took away from actual work, the Frank Leslie publishing empire was in financial trouble by 1877/8. By the time of Mr. Leslie’s death, in 1880, they were about $300,000 in debt. She reorganized everything, became president of the company and increased circulation of their most popular publication by over 200,000 copies in just four months.

This is when our Leslie takes over, she put the business on a paying basis, even legally changing her name to Frank Leslie in 1881. In the early 1880s, Leslie made most of her money in the newspaper aspect of her publishing empire, by capitalizing on President Garfield’s assassination in 1881. Garfield’s illness and death provided a national demand for news and Leslie provided it by issuing three illustrated newspapers per week. At the time, her rise from near financial ruin was unparalleled in journalism history, Hailed as the “Empress of Journalism” and a “commercial Joan of Arc,” Leslie became a real-life legendary figure on Publishers’ Row.

Her success afforded her a prominent place in New York society, a place that was so secure that, by the 1890s, she could even afford a run-in with the Wilde family. Followers of the Wilde family history, even followers of my blog, will be familiar with Oscar Wilde’s mother, Speranza, and her love of “interesting” people. Leslie was interesting enough for Speranza. She was also rich and Speranza still had an unmarried son. Speranza is said to have introduced the two with the words: “I’d like you to meet your future husband.”

Leslie brought Willie Wilde back to New York and married him in 1891 at the Church of the Strangers. She had a strange year in store, for Willie was a raging alcoholic, who was jealous of his brother, and apparently couldn’t perform in bed, when Leslie wanted him to. Proclaiming that she had married “the wrong Wilde,” Leslie returned him to his mother in London.

Willie Wilde

Willie Wilde survived the marriage, didn’t go in to an insane asylum, but turned Leslie off of marriage for the remainder of her years, although she did engage in a rather public flirtation with the Marquis Campo Allegre Villaverde, Court Chamberlain to King Alfonso of Spain.

Flirting with aristocrats, Leslie was a self-made multi-millionaire, who craved an aristocratic title, so she simply made one up: Frank Leslie, Baroness de Bazus. Instead of husbands or children, she coddled a Yorkshire Terrier and held salons, similar to those to her former mother-in-law, Spernaza.

A woman, who led such an interesting life, had to have an interesting death and, unlike Willie, Leslie never disappoints. Leslie died in 1914, leaving the majority of her fortune to Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, to be used for the promotion of the cause of woman suffrage. Obviously, people claimed she was crazy. After all, she coddled a dog and made her own money... and I guess there was the whole Baroness de Bazus business.

Rose Young tells the story of what happened after 1914. Young’s tale:
records a curious tale of claims and contests with dubious foundation, which made huge inroads into the estate.
It shows how a fortune may be scaled down through depreciation, taxation, and enormous expenses, charged to administration. It shows the lengths to which claimants will go in attacking the reputation of the dead. It records the many suits, judgments and appeals involved in the settlement of the Leslie estate. It sets forth what the next of kin got, what the lawyers got, what the executors got, and, finally, what Mrs. Catt did with the portion that came to her. For suffragists it will serve as a recognition of their interest in the proper disposition of the fund left by Mrs. Leslie to further the suffrage cause, and as an official report of Mrs. Catt's stewardship of that fund.
For my part, I’m blown away by how Leslie lived before woman suffrage, whether she was crazy or not. Also, upon reviewing the images that I've gathered here, I have to say, she liked her men the way she liked her puppy... with lots of facial hair!

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Dress Like a Gentleman: the Waistcoat

When you can’t decide what to wear, begin with your waistcoat. It was clearly the focus of any well-dressed gentleman’s outfit in the 1890s and beyond. Actually, they got started, in London, much earlier than that.

Though the origins of many popular articles of clothing remain ambiguous, the waistcoat’s first appearance in English society is dated precisely: 18 October 1666.
To Court, it being the first time his Majesty put himself solemnly into the Eastern fashion of vest changing doublet, stiff collar, bands and cloak, into a comely dress after the Persian mode, with girdles or straps, and shoestrings and garters into buckles...resolving never to alter it, and to leave the French mode" - John Evelyn (18 October 1666)
...the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how - Samuel Pepys (October 1666)
This vest was the first English waistcoat. Evelyn called it “the Persian mode” because it was inspired by a visit to Shah Abbas court. Shah Abbas the Great was Shah (king) of Iran, and generally considered the greatest ruler of the Safavid dynasty. In exchange for military support against the Ottomans, Shah Abbas supported the English East India Company. Consequently, King Charles II got his fashion sense from Shah Abbas.

Pepys calls the King’s waistcoat a vest. There are two theories on where the term “waistcoat came from.” One posits that they were often made from the material left over, after making a two-piece suit: a waste coat. Alternatively and more plausibly, the term comes from the cutting of the coat at the waist.

The waistcoat’s popularity among the corsetted dandies of the early nineteenth century, who were buying into a then popular body ideal that men should have more slender waistlines, also furthers the plausibility of the term "waistcoat" initially referring to the waist.

I believe that waistcoats saw their heyday in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries because that is when we find the most elaborate and colourful designs. By the nineteenth century, people wants to appear more conservative than their predecessors, until the 1880s and 90s.

This period saw a revival of elaborate male dressing through the aesthetic movement in England. A single-breasted waistcoat would be worn with a lounge suit, during the day, usually of the same material as the suit. For formal evening wear, a tailored, longer waistcoat is usually required, with three rows of buttons, all of which are to be fastened. The colour of your evening waistcoat ought to match your tie rather than your suit. If you were an 1890s male, looking to get your fashion on, the waistcoat was a great place to begin, as your aesthete contemporaries explored new fabrics and colours in the waistcoat’s design.

For more information on historical dress, check out this free ebook. Or check out my post on deciding what to wear over that waistcoat of yours!

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