Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties

The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties is a resource for historical fiction author, and lovers of Victorian culture.

This dictionary will differ from other resources that are available by only including words that entered the language during the ninetieth century. In order to be more accessible to authors, it will also be organized by category (adjectives, insults, expressions, niceties, etc.) to make finding the right term easier for the reader.

Writing about a specific period? The year that the word first entered the language will be included with the definition.
chattermag (1844) an overly-talkative woman.
It’s a resource that I would like to be able to offer for free, as a beautifully designed eBook. To make the ebook beautiful and free, I would like to included beautiful and relevant Dickensian-style adverts.

Not only did he teach us how to celebrate Christmas, Charles Dickens helped define the Victorian Era. His novels were first published in instalments, filled with adverts for the products of his day. Victorianists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, even celebrate Dickens’ advertising with an online image gallery.

I would like to mimic those styles in the Dictionary with one magical difference. Because the first edition of the Dictionary will be an ebook, the ads can be electronic, which means that I can link them to my sponsors’ web sites.

For more information, or to be part of this exciting project, contact

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Where did your favourite 1890s writer go to school?

What did it take to be a successful writer in 1890s London? Did Education have anything to do with it? While managing the Lyceum, Bram Stoker used to receive manuscripts from aspiring playwrights of all walks of life. Though Stoker seemed skeptical about some of the aspiring writers he came across, a study into the educational backgrounds of some of 1890s London's most successful writers demonstrates that they did indeed come from all walks of life.

Of course, access to education was influenced by gender and social class. Women's education was topical in the 1890s, and formed the basis of some of these writers' works.

J.M. Barrie was educated in his native Scotland before moving to London, and becoming a writer. Barrie started school at the Glasgow Academy at age 8. At 10, he continued at the Forfar Academy, before moving on to the Dumfries Academy at age 14. He had a lifelong love of reading, and devoured Penny Dreadfuls as a kid. Barrie knew he wanted to be a writer, even though his family wanted him to go into the church. Determined to study literature, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh, where he eventually earned his M.A. in Literature in 1882.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, like most Victorian women, was privately educated. It helped that she married a publisher.

Hall Caine grew up in the Isle of Man, but attended the Hope Street British Schools until age 14.  After school, he articled with John Murray, as an architect and surveyor. During this time, he still loved reading, and spent a lot of time at Liverpool's Free Library, leading him to insist that he was mainly self-taught.

Marie Corelli was the love child of the Scottish poet and songwriter Dr. Charles Mackay, and his servant Elizabeth Mills. Consequently, she was educated by a series of governesses, who, according to biographer Annette Fredrico, "fled from her intellectual exhibitionism and her intimidating sense of her own brilliance." Without a governess to look after her, Corelli was sent to a convent, most likely in Paris, where, according to Fredrico, "she concocted private theatricals about love and murder." Corelli left the convent at age 15. She published her first novel 16 years later, after a career as a musician.

Arthur Conan Doyle came from a broken home. His family actually had to split up because of his father's alcoholism, and lived in squalid tenement flats. With the financial support of his uncles, Doyle went to a Roman Catholic Jesuit preparatory school at age 9, then Stonyhurst College, until he was 16. Next, he spent a year at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria (also a Jesuit school). He left that place agnostic, and went to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where writing became a hobby for him. He finished school at 28 with an advanced medical degree, and tried to be a doctor, until he got really good at his hobby, and the world became obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.

Richard Bernard Heldmann a.k.a. Richard Marsh used his pseudonym to practically assume a new identity, which included a claim to having graduated from Eton and Oxford. These claims have recently been proven false. Marsh adopted the new name, and life, to recover from the scandal of serving eighteen months’ hard labour, during April 1884, for forging cheques in Britain and France in 1883. He started using the name "Marsh" upon release from jail. Stories by ‘Richard Marsh’ begin to appear in literary journals in 1888, followed by two novels in 1893. Marsh wrote prolifically during the 1890s, and the early years of the 20th century. However, we're still not sure where he really went to school.

Ellen Buckingham Mathews a.k.a. Helen Mathers attended a boarding school in Chantry, near Frome in Somerset, which made it into her first novel,"Comin' thro' the Rye." In that book, she explores her experiences at school. "Mr Russell" in the novel was Rev Fussell in real life, who was the Lord of the manor and founder of the school. In the novel she calls the village Charteris.

W. Somerset Maugham studied medicine at St Thomas' Hospital in Lambeth, London. He was still studying there in the 1890s (I mostly include him in this site because he is one of my husband's favourites). During this time, Maugham felt he got the education he needed for writing from the streets, by hanging out with the "low" sorts of people that he didn't otherwise get a chance to be around. He saw them on the streets, and in the hospital: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief ..." As a medical student, he wrote at night, and published Liza of Lambeth in 1897, which was a big success.

Sometimes, more is made of Bram Stoker's education before he went to school than during. An unknown illness kept him in bed, listening to his mom's horror stories, until he inexplicably recovered and went school at age 7. Of being a sickly kid, Stoker wrote, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years." His private school was run by Rev. William Woods. Stoker's early illness left him with no further major health issues; he even excelled as an athlete at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated with honours as a B.A. in Mathematics. Stoker actively participated in the College Historical Society, 'the Hist', and became president of the University Philosophical Society, writing his first paper on "Sensationalism in Fiction and Society".

One might say education was a habit in the home of Mary Augusta Ward a.k.a. Mrs. Humphry Ward.  She was born into a prominent intellectual family of writers and educationalists in Tasmania, Australia. Ward was the daughter of a literature professor, the niece of the poet Matthew Arnold, the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, the famous headmaster of Rugby School, and she was Aldous Huxley's aunt. She attended boarding schools, including Shifnal in Shropshire from ages 11-15. Her schooldays inspired one of her novels, Marcella (1894). When she wasn't at school, she was at home with her family at Oxford University. She eventually married a writer and Oxford educator, and continued to live at Oxford, at 17 Bradmore Road, where she is commemorated by a blue plaque.

Oscar Wilde was educated at home until age 9, focussing on languages with a French bonne and a German governess. Then he was off to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. At university, Wilde read Greats; he proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford. He developed a prominent role for himself in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. By the time he was finished school, Wilde was basically the poster boy for aestheticism.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thornley Stoker: Creepy and Caring

Bram Stoker's mother told him horror stories, when he was a little boy and too sick to get out of bed. His oldest brother, Sir Thornley Stoker, 1st Baronet, became the Inspector of Vivesection for all of Ireland. Vivisection comes from the latin words: "vivus" and "sectio," which mean "alive" and "cutting," it's a term used to refer to experimental surgery on living organisms, typically animals. Human vivisection has been perpetrated as a form of torture.

Suddenly, the Stokers seem more like the Addams Family.

Now, now, now... Surely, Thornley couldn't have been as bad as all that!

Sir Thornley Stoker
1st Baronet
Bram and Thornley's stories are both a little rags to riches. Not actual rags, but their dad was an under appreciated civil servant, who only got one promotion in the course of his whole career, which he had to ask for. Any spare money the family had went to educating its boys: Thomas, Thornley, George, Richard, and Bram. Their sisters, Margaret and Matilda, got a little education too, as Abraham Stoker Sr. deeply wished his children would aspire to greater social heights than he had.

Medicine and military exploration of India were top choices on the list of careers, Papa Stoker wanted for his boys, and Thornley chose medicine, eventually becoming an eminent Irish medical writer, anatomist, and surgeon.

After a few years in medicine, Thornley became a surgeon at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital. In 1873, he transferred to the Richmond Hospital, and soon became chair of Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, a position he held for many years. Thornley really liked titles and power. He governed over both Swift's Hospital (founded by Jonathan Swift), and the Richmond Hospital.

So, what about vivisection? Thornley succeeded his brother-in-law, Richard Thomson, as Inspector of Vivisection for Ireland in 1879. But they weren't just family, they were colleagues. They cofounded the school of nursing at Richmond Hospital, and oversaw the construction of surgical facilities there in 1899. All the while, Thornley was writing volumes about his work, and the work of other doctors in Ireland.
Taxidermy Shop

Victorians don't have the best reputation for being kind to animals, and most certainly were experimenting on live animals. The French physiologist, Fran├žois Magendie (1783-1855), and the Scottish anatomist, Charles Bell (1744-1842), founded the field of neuroscience through their experiments on live rabbits, and puppies. Magendie got further than Bell did because he was more ruthless with the puppies. Bell wrote:
I was deterred from repeating the experiment by the protracted cruelty of the dissection. I therefore struck a rabbit behind the ear, so as to deprive it of sensitivity by the concussion, and then exposed the spinal marrow.
And this essay argues that Bell would have been more successful had he not worried about the rabbit's suffering.

Thornley was most interested in the work of Magendie and Bell, in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science, he frequently expresses his special interest in surgery of the spino-cerebral cavity. However, the position of Inspector of Vivisection was in accordance with Ireland's 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. Thornley's fascination with the medical breakthroughs being made with vivisection were tempered by his awareness of the ethically murky waters that surrounded such experiments, and kept Bell from forging ahead.

Meddling in morally murky waters does not a monster make. Sometimes, the creepiest people are the most actively caring because they are able to look straight on at the horrors of this world, then take action to end those horrors. Thornley campaigned against the use of vivisection in the training of surgeons, as well as many other cruelties of vivisection during his tenure as Inspector. He recorded the number of animals experimented on in Ireland every year, ensuring that nothing was done without the proper licenses and permits.

Today, we attach a lot of meaning to the way that people treat animals; we believe that people, who are cruel to animals, will likely be cruel to people in need, whereas we believe that people, who are kind to animals, are just lovely human beings. I think, we believe this, in part, because of people, like Thornley, who worked to protect animals from medical experimentation, and campaigned against the Workhouse System. He also blended a love of art with his love of science, becoming Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Hibernian Academy, and a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Thornley resigned from many of his medical duties in 1910, due to fatigue. The following year he was created a baronet, of Hatch Street in the City of Dublin. That part still confuses me a bit because I imagine being made a baroness of say... the street where I grew up, but when I imagine it that way, all of the children I grew up with would make fun of me for having an essentially meaningless title. Maybe Thornley was too close to the end of his life to care what other people might say, and just appreciated the gesture. After all, he did collect many titles throughout his lifetime. Thornley only outlived Bram by a few months, and died in June 1912, aged 67, when the baronetcy became extinct.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to Dress Like a Gentleman: Coat, Jacket, or Blazer

The 1890s gentleman in London was different than his predecessors. He was tired of being repressed, and ready to look a little dangerous. He cut his hair short, and pointed the beard beneath his full mustache. The look was long, and lean, and athletic. But we want particulars...

Frock Coat
Lounge Coat
In the 1880s, men wore frock coats for most occasions. 1890s gentlemen replaces these with lounge coats (called sack coats in the US). As you can see by the examples (left and right), the lounge coat is shorter than the old-fashioned frock coat.

Three-piece suits, called "ditto suits," "lounge suits," or "sack suits" in the US. consisted of a lounge coat, with matching waistcoat and trousers. One might make the ensemble a little more edgy by sporting a contrasting single-breasted waistcoat instead.

Sports blazers followed the same style, but were made of more interesting colours, or patterned flannel, with patch pockets and brass buttons. In the 1890s, calling a blazer a "sports blazer" meant that you actually wore it while taking part in sports, like sailing.

Another popular sporting option was the Benjamin Norfolk jacket, for shooting and rugged outdoor affairs. It had a youthful, adventurous air about it. One often sees pictures of Victorian boys wearing this belted jacket of sturdy tweed with pleats over the chest and back. It became the "Norfolk suit," when worn with breeches, knee-high stockings and low shoes. It was also suitable for bicycling or golf, if you couldn't find a safari, or a gun, which, in London, you couldn't.

Norfolk jacket worn with long pants.
Cutaway Morning Coat
Of course, the cutaway morning coat will always be fashionable in the city. The only thing this coat has to do with morning though, is that it's not generally worn "out" at night. Morning dress is formal wear, but it's the daytime equivalent of evening formal dress.

Dinner Jacket
At night, of course, a gentleman wears tails with either a light or a dark or a light waistcoat, a white bow tie, and a shirt with a winged collar. That being said, no one will turn away a man in a dinner jacket or a tuxedo.

Tuxedos jackets had, and still do have, a shawl collar with either silk or satin facings, and usually just one button.

Dinner jackets are what a gentleman wears when an invitation says "dress for dinner." Dinner jackets were basically tuxedo jackets that you could stretch out in. No tails, looser fit.

The topcoat literally topped it all off. These were knee-length. Oscar Wilde nailed it with the fur trim when he got his jacket in the 1870s because this was still the fashion in the 1890s, and he was right to miss it when his brother sold it.

Want more tips on how to dress like a Victorian gentleman? Read my post on the waistcoat. 

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Music Halls and the Star with a Top Hat and Cane

Walter Lambert's ‘Popularity’ - A vast painting depicting the Music Hall Stars of the early 1900s
When a Mail representative found a respectable looking, rather portly gentleman with an eyeglass, a frock coat, a tall hat, and a walking stick, occupied in the dingy daylight of a mid-day rehearsal, and tra-la-la-ing a tune over to the leader of the orchestra, the figure turned out to be no other than that of the composer of a hundred comic songs which have been whistled, sung, played on barrel organs, yelled at free-and-easies, and otherwise tuned to the world. - The Era (July 1890)
Arthur Lloyd, as depicted
by Walter Lambert
That portly gentleman is none other than Arthur Lloyd, a Scottish-born music hall singer, songwriter, comedian and stage producer. The first major star of London's music hall scene, Lloyd wrote more than 185 songs, all of which have since been forgotten, except "Married to a Mermaid," which, I must confess, I never heard of before. He was even, on occasion, called to do command performances for the Queen.

In the Era, Lloyd professes that his father was a comedian. Before his own career in musical comedy got under way, Lloyd made money selling his songs directly to the publishers, and it was as if the trend of the late-19th century was tailored for him. Music halls were constructed, like great palaces, all over the city, but especially where land was cheaper in the East End.

In doing so, the music hall took institutionalized music out of the hands of the wealthy and created commercial music for the masses, helped along by the Copyright Act of 1842, which protected the reproduction and performance of music and created economic stimulus for writers, performers, and publishers. In the years that followed, the tavern concert room increased in size, until these purpose-built halls arose.

Arthur Lloyd performed in music halls all over London. A full program from the Royal Trocadero Music Hall, dated 24 June 1890 in available online, and includes other acts of the evening, including: a troupe of acrobats!

Lloyd's music to have appealed to the general public. Titles include: "The Postman," "Three Acres and Cow," "The Brewer's Daughter," "Ill Used Organ Man,""Mounseer Frenchy," and many more!

I will leave you with the lyrics to "Drink And Let's Have Another" (1891).

Drink And Let's Have Another

Billy Tomkins, McNab with Montgomery and Brown, 
And myself t'other night at our club all sat down; 
And every one swore he would spend his last "brown"
In treating his pals all around. 
And after we'd had a few drinks in the place, 
Billy Tomkins arose with his jolly red face, 
And said, "I will not be outdone in the race,
For I shall stand glasses round!"


Drink up boys and let us have another,
That last round's made me feel fine; 
Drink up boys and all your troubles smother,
You've stood your round and I'll stand mine!

We drank that round quickly to keep out the cold, 
And a precious good story Montgomery told; 
But e'er we broke up poor Montgomery rolled,
And helplessly lay on the ground. 
Then Brown, undertaker ,who ne'er makes a noise, 
But in miserable fashion his liquor enjoys, 
Said, "Now then I hope you'll allow me my boys,
This time to stand glasses round!"


I told you Montgomery was down on the floor, 
But whenever he heard orders given for more, 
Said he'd have another, which made us all roar,
As he struggled and rose from the ground. 
And when he'd drank that, he said, "Now it's my shout!" 
We laughed but he said, "I know what I'm about!" 
Though to-morrow I'll have a good fit of the gout,
We will have another round!


Although every one there was more or less boozed, 
When I looked at McNab I was vastly amused, 
To see that he wasn't the least bit confused,
Though he'd had fifteen drinks I'll be bound. 
He scouted me when I suggested that then 
We should go home to bed like respectable men, 
And said we maun hae doch and doris ye ken, 
And this will be the last round!

Chorus: Drink up chaps and let us hae anither ,
That last round's made me feel fine; 
Drink up chaps and a yer troubles smother, 
You've stood your round and I'll stand mine!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Images of London in 1897

In May, Oscar Wilde was released from Reading Gaol. In June, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. In July, the Tate Gallery opened. In August, London got its first horseless taxicabs, and taxi driver, George Smith became the first Londoner charged with drunk driving that September. W. Somerset Maugham discovered that he was destined to be a writer, not a doctor, that year, when he published Liza of Lambeth.

This is the year in pictures.

Outside the Bank of England 1897
Horseless carriages would be a good thing
because people were really starting to worry
about horse poop. You can see why!
A Bersey Cab in London 1897
The Royal Gun Factory in Woolwich 1897
Regent Street and Waterloo Place, London, 1897
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Parade moving
down Whitehall in the City of Westminster London, 1897
Diamond Jubilee procession, London, England, 1897
New Palace Yard, Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) 1897
Leadenhall Market 1897
Newgate Prison and the Viaduct Tavern 1897
Exhibition at Earl's Court
Illustrated London News 1897
Coventry Street, Piccadilly 1897
London City Council 1897
Tower Bridge Hotel, Bermondsey, London 1897
Robert Koch in the London Illustrated News 1897
Oxford Street 1897
Fire on Oxford Street 1897
The workshop of Charles H. Fox,
Theatrical, Historical & Private Wig Maker and Costumier,
25 Russell Street, Covent Garden, London 1897
Old woman on roller-skates 1897
Guy's Hospital 1897
Upper Richmond Rd. 1897
Colonial troops in London for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee 1897
The Jubilee celebrations 1897. The Scotch Stores Trades Wagon.
London United Tramways horse tram 1897
Construction of the Central Telegraph Office 1897

Want more? Go further back to Images of London in 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893,18941895, and 1896.

If you really want to see more of London in 1897, this other site has a cool collection that compares 19 pictures of 1897 London to the present day.

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