Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Perchta and the History of Oliebollen

It's the night before New Year's Eve and Willie Wilde's best friend, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (Tex) comes to call on him at Lady Jane's house. A Dutchman, Tex brings with him a basket full of pastries and, knowing how much Lady Jane loves folktales, a story! This might, or might not, have happened, but is the pretext I'm using to write about olibollen.

Oliebollen are a traditional Dutch food eaten at New Year's. The name literally translates to "oil balls" and they were the inspiration for the American invention of the donut. I was always made to understand that these treats are so fattening that it would be bad for you to eat them more than once a year, but the history of Oliebollen and the story Tex would have told Lady Jane are the real New Year's treat.

Imagine, Willie, Lady Jane, and Tex sit around the fire. Lady Jane's servant, Mrs Faithful brings them a warm plate of oliebollen and three cups of whiskey and eggnog. Willie and Lady Jane get powdered sugar on their faces and clothes, as they take their first bites of this doughy pastry with bits of apple, raisins, and dried cranberries, and Tex tells them about Perchta.
Family portrait: Perchta, Krampus Jr., Krampus, and Angel.
James Mundie (2012).
"Perchta – Derived from an early Germanic word meaning “bright or “glorious”. Perchta is famed for her dual nature. Her grim aspect is known as “Perchta the Belly Slitter”. Perchta is alternately described as kind or violent, as a monstrous hag or a willowy maiden" - source.
Perchta is a pagan witch, or Germanic goddess (depending on your point of view), who plays the role of guardian of the beasts, during the twelve days of Christmas. At Yuletide, Perchta flew around the Netherlands with evil spirits looking for food and would cut open the belly of anyone she came across to steal their food. However, if you had been eating oliebollen, the fat in the dough made it so that her sword would slide of your belly.

Young woman with a cooking pot filled with
oliebollen (Aelbert Cuyp, ca. 1652)
While records indicate that the Dutch have been eating oliebollen since medieval times, the first recipe appears in "De verstandige kock" (1667). At that time, they were still oliekoecken (oily cookies); it wasn't until the 1890s that the word oliebollen became the more popular term, appearing in an 1896 Dutch dictionary.

Everywhere in the world that I have travelled, Dutch people serve oliebollen to their friends on New Year's Eve, so I'm pretty sure that Tex would have had some for the Wildes in London in the 1890s.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Flirtation, Calling, and Escort Cards: the social media of the 1890s

It's Christmas card time and I stumble upon the headline: "The 19th Century 'Escort Cards' with Pick-up Lines You Definitely Haven't Heard Before." The cards are lovely, but the headline is baiting. The escort card was one of many innocent types of Victorian cards. Escort, or "flirtation," cards were so commonplace that one American grocer adopted their style for an advertisement in 1900.

A commercial ad variation on the flirtation card,
issued by a grocery store. Circa 1900. Source.
1880s and 1890s flirtation cards came in two varieties: the calling card, and the escort card. The calling cards were used to formally introduce oneself to an acquaintance. A gentleman looking for love might have had a set of these printed up with his name on them to be used as an icebreaker at formal gatherings. The escort card was a novelty, reserved for more casual interactions.

Mid-century advancements in print making led to a proliferation of ephemera, like these and a great variety of other cards that helped people navigate the strict rules of middle-class etiquette. Like acronyms on the internet today, the verbal and non-verbal messages on the cards were a short-cut to communication understood by all who used them.
"To the unrefined or under-bred, the visiting card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of social paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it, combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude, even before his manners, conversation and face have been able to explain his social position." John Young, Our Deportment (1890).
Most commonly the calling card was left at the house of someone you wanted to visit. If the recipient wanted you to visit, they would send you their card. If no card was sent, or your reply card came back in an envelope, you weren't to return. The size of a gentleman's card indicated his marital status. Women's cards were always bigger than men's. During a first visit, a gentleman would leave a card for each lady in the household. Blank spaces on the cards could be used to write notes. Flirtation and escort cards filled those spaces with prepared messages.

If there was a late-Victorian social pastime greater than flirting, it was mourning. The symbols and decorations on mourning communicated the social status of the mourners and social status was, as it is, aspirational.

These cards were presented to everyone who attended the funeral.

When public figures, like Abraham Lincoln, passed, print shops around the world manufactured and sold the cards as collectibles and people most certainly collected them.

Set of three Lincoln mourning cards.
Albums for collection and display of cards were a common fixture in Victorian parlours. Printing a new card was like writing a Facebook status update in that you used it to communicate what you were interested in at the moment to your peers. Because the printing of cards was relevant to a wide range of social activities a collection of cards served as an entertaining record of all that had passed in your social network. When people didn't follow the proper usage of cards (like oversharing on Facebook), they faced social consequences (blocked/unfriended).

Wedding card (1883).
Assorted Victorian dance cards.
Like the Facebook newsfeed, card collections weren't limited to personal cards, but included photographic cabinet cards, advertisements, political propaganda, and cards with uplifting or humorous images and messages.

Someone said recently that in the age of social media, millennials have begun remembering their lives in the present moment, by documenting and sharing everything that happens to them. Cards were the Victorian way of doing the same thing - even allowing young couples to flirt in plain sight.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

How to Eat Like a Victorian

At the end of one month, I plan out the details of mine and my husband's menu for the next month. Part way through Thanksgiving weekend, as I look toward Christmas, I feel compelled to keep us from gaining too much weight. As a Victorianist, I remembered reading recently that Victorian diets were some of the healthiest in history - if, of course, you practice better sanitation and avoid gimmicks, like arsenic wafers (those were never good for you)!

It's easy to find meal plans, like what I normally make, online and I often turn to them for inspiration, so I did the same thing in search of a Victorian menu, with no such luck. Of course, this was complicated by the fact that I don't want to eat like a poor Victorian, who ate weird street food and rotting vegetables. I also don't want to eat like a rich Victorian because they spent too much money and wasted too much food. I wanted a practical Victorian diet.

Excerpt from William Banting's Letter on Corpulence (1864)
In my effort to create a meal-plan for the Victorian middling sort, I consulted the Letter on Corpulence (1864) by William Banting, and certainly took his advice on tea and alcohol, but I also consulted numerous other sources to decide what we would eat on a typical week in December in 1889. As the woman of the house, I would be arranging the menu, as I am today, but I would have had a servant to cook it for me. Otherwise, we wouldn't have so many homemade baked goods and puddings.

Cold puddings!

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, a biscuit, preserves, broiled bone, and devilled kidneys.
Lunch: bread, with cold leftover beef and asparagus/potato, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or three glasses of madeira, shrimp creole, spinach, rice, and a pear.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of madeira, and a little more shrimp, or a pear.


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, dry toast, a soft boiled egg, and ham or bacon.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, chicken baked in rice, asparagus, carrot, and walnuts.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, another piece of chicken, or some nuts.

Eggs for breakfast in the 1890s (source).

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, bread, bacon, and eggs.
Lunch: cold chicken sandwich, a cup of warm broth, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, a pear, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, curried fish (preferably cod), carrots, turnips, and nuts.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, and another small piece of fish.


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, leftover fish, a fried egg, and a biscuit.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of good claret, Spanish stew, with bread, salad, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of good claret, another meatball,

Kitchen utensils.

Breakfast: a large cup of tea, savoury eggs, and bread.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea: a cup of tea, grapes, and a pudding.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of sherry, fried fillets of sole, green peas, and grapes.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of sherry, and small piece of sole.


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, and leftover fish on buttered bread.
Lunch: a couple pieces of buttered bread, a slice of meat, and a cold pudding.
Tea:  a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner: 2 or 3 glasses of white wine, beans & bacon, sauté breast of marinated chicken, boiled potato, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of white wine, and another piece of chicken.


Breakfast: a large cup of tea, beans & bacon, with savoury eggs, fried potato, and toast.
Lunch:  cold chicken sandwich, a cup of warm broth, and a cold pudding.
Tea:  a cup of tea, an apple, and a biscuit.
Dinner:  2 or 3 glasses of good claret, beef, potatoes, asparagus, and sliced apple.
Supper: 1 or 2 glasses of good claret, and a little chunk of beef.

The breakfast bread, bacon, and eggs of modern brunch was well-established by the Victorian era. Eggs were typically boiled, fried, or poached. Wootton Bridge Historical has several good Victorian recipes for morning eggs, including: egg fritters, curried eggs, and Turkish eggs. Broiled bones and devilled kidneys, however, were just as common. Devilled kidneys were lambs kidneys cooked in a spiced sauce. Also common was the leftover cold meat from the previous evening's meal. Friday's savoury eggs are scrambled and fried with the Spanish meatballs from Thursday's meal.

To be practical and not create a lot of waste, food from the previous evenings meal could be eaten at lunch too. Preserving food was an important part of life in a Victorian kitchen. Potted meats could easily be used at lunch and I found a recipe for potted rabbit here. I think potted meat was the reason anyone ever thought of suggesting SPAM as something to eat. In the absence of leftovers, it could be spread on bread, during lunch. My suggestion of a "cold pudding" is based on James Greenwood's Seven Curses of London (1869), as quoted here.

I will have nothing new add to existing conversations about Victorian tea. I borrowed these recommendations from Banting.

It is easy to find out about what Victorians ate when they were entertaining, but what about when it was just the family at home? Did they always have 14 course dinners? Often not! During my quest for Victorian dinner recipes that my husband would eat, I found some one-pot meals, like the chicken baked in rice, which is like a meat pie with a meat crust and none of the vegetables. I added vegetables to this meal. For dinner, most records suggest a meat dish, two vegetables, and a bit of fruit for dinner.

For dinner, I would use Wootton Bridge Historical's curried fish recipe, and found many other recipes there too, including the fried fillet of sole and on the same site, Spanish stew recipe. Sunday dinner after church was always beef.

Dinner was the main meal of the day. It happened in the afternoon, or early evening. Supper was the Victorian equivalent of a late-night snack. By all reports, most people just picked at what was leftover fro dinner when suppertime came around, as they seemingly did for all their other meals.

When all is said and done, however, I'm having a hard time believing the five glasses of alcohol a day are really good for you, but maybe because so many preservatives and weird sugars have been cut from our diet, maybe...

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Victorian Teenagers Gone Wild

The girl in the top left corner
has a mischievous face.
Throughout history, teenagers have rebelled against their parents. Popular psychology maintains that youthful rebellion helps young people build their own identity, separate from their parents. It happens in every class, culture, and race, so of course it happened in the Victorian Era.

You may say: "but Victorians were so proper!"
"Myths about the Victorian family are almost as numerous as those about the American West. Many regard the institution as a model for modern life, full of dutiful children and loving parents. Others see it as an example to avoid -- rigidly patriarchal, unloving, and riddled with class and gender restrictions. Both views, though too generalized, contain some truth, partly because of the tremendous variety of family lives during Queen Victoria's reign. Good or bad, families were the most important factor in a child's success in life" - Ginger S Frost.
 Even today, we tend to attribute the tendency to rebel with trouble in the individual, sometimes linking rebellious behaviour with the early signs of a psychopathic personality. Though teen rebellion often seems selfish, fed by boredom and glib, it generally has nothing to do with those traits in the person, but more to do with what one is rebelling against.

Young middle and upper-class Victorians became social reformers, committed to mending the injustices perpetrated by their society and sometimes within their own families. Young Victorians, like Bram Stoker, became aware of the problems associated with alcoholism and other addictions. The era saw the rise of the suffragette and educational reforms to help the poor. Of course, some young women started smoking and drinking to irritate their parents and some young men dressed below their station, so they could sneak into the poorer neighbourhoods for a bit of slumming - not all rebels are altruistic. We all had that friend who made us aware of broader social problems by personifying them.

1909 woman smoking opium.
Although teen rebellion was wide-spread, two particular people come to mind, when I think of 1890s writers, who were rebellious teenagers: Edmund Gosse and Constance Wilde.

Philip Henry Gosse with his son Edmund (1857).
Frontispiece to the first edition of Father and Son.
Obviously, Gosse comes to mind because of his memoir, Father and Son (1907), which bore the subtitle: "a study of two temperaments." His father, Philip Henry Gosse was a deeply religious scientist, who rejected the theories of his contemporary, Charles Darwin. In Father and Son, Gosse focuses on his father's rejection of the theory of evolution and his own coming of age through the rejection of his father's religion.
My own state, however, was, I should think, almost unique among the children of cultivated parents. In consequence of the stern ordinance which I have described, not a single fiction was read or told to me during my infancy. The rapture of the child who delays the process of going to bed by cajoling 'a story' out of his mother or his nurse, as he sits upon her knee, well tucked up, at the corner of the nursery fire—this was unknown to me. Never in all my early childhood did anyone address to me the affecting preamble, 'Once upon a time!' I was told about missionaries, but never about pirates; I was familiar with hummingbirds, but I had never heard of fairies—Jack the Giant- Killer, Rumpelstiltskin and Robin Hood were not of my acquaintance; and though I understood about wolves, Little Red Ridinghood was a stranger even by name. So far as my 'dedication' was concerned, I can but think that my parents were in error thus to exclude the imaginary from my outlook upon facts. They desired to make me truthful; the tendency was to make me positive and sceptical. Had they wrapped me in the soft folds of supernatural fancy, my mind might have been longer content to follow their traditions in an unquestioning spirit.
As Gosse grew up to be a poet, it's safe to say that his life was formed through his parents' teachings - though not in the ways that they intended.

Constance Lloyd
(before she married Oscar Wilde).
Constance Wilde had a terrible relationship with her mother. Franny Moyle, Constance's biographer, called Constance's mother "a selfish and difficult woman." Her mother's conduct toward Constance may be characterized as abusive. It was a relationship that Constance survived through forming a rich internal life and getting away to school by taking classes at the University of London. The 1871 and 1881 censuses describe Constance as a scholar. As was the case with Gosse, Constance's rebellion was ideological, but also deeply personal.

The outfit that Constance is pictured in above was typical of young aesthetes in her day, which was viewed as both a fashion and an intellectual movement - almost the way that hippies, or people who only wear vegan clothing can be viewed as participating in both a fashion and intellectual (or moral) movement. Constance's brother mocked her dresses and the rest of her family, including an eventual step-sister, encouraged her to dress more like them. But Constance married the Prince of the Aesthetic Movement and realized her independence through marriage - a trope in young Victorian women's lives.

Gosse and Constance's stories critique the Victorian Era as a whole and represent examples of positive social changes (women's education and learning in general), but not all teenage rebellions go so well.

Teen pregnancies are often used as a symbol of teenagers gone wild, so it is worth noting here that during Queen Victoria's reign the rate of premarital pregnancies hovered around 20%, according to Eurostat. It's likely that number was much higher. Yet, there is something twisted about viewing sex as an act of rebellion.

Boys marching out of the London Foundling Hospital for the last time (1926).
For more on the London Foundling Hospital, click here.
The "fallen woman" was a blanket term that Victorians applied to any unmarried woman with sexual knowledge of any sort. This term covered rape victims, prostitutes, and unwed mothers alike; in some families, it might even be applied to a woman who read French novels.

The "new woman" represented another kind of rebellion, closer to what young Constance Wilde was up to.  This term was popularized by Henry James in the 1870s and referred to an emerging feminist ideal.
"In Victorian England, as men clung to the sanctity of the patriarchy, they were increasingly becoming more and more frightened of their own women. Bram Stoker capitalized on this fear in his iconic novel, Dracula. In 1897, a "New Woman" was emerging in Victorian society, coinciding with the women's suffrage movement throughout England. This New Woman, riddled with feminist awareness, would be the cause of fodder for Stoker's heroine, Mina Harker. Because this New Woman was aspiring to be independent of patriarchal male dominance, (or had already obtained said independence) to the old guard of Victorian society, she was viewed as perverse. The New Woman was a mutation of the woman the patriarchal society wanted her to be. The New Woman's strides towards economic and sexual changes in society as a whole should be viewed as terrifying. Stoker takes these beliefs, and applies them to his female characters in Dracula" - source.
Even Bram Stoker's wife might have been viewed in terms of the new woman for her interest in aesthetic, also called "hygienic," dress, she ran in the same circle of women as Constance and even once dated Oscar Wilde.

"New Woman — Wash Day" (1901)
Oscar Wilde's youthful romance with the future Mrs Stoker was also a kind of young rebellion because she was penniless, while he came from an upper-class family, whose fortune was waning.

There were lots of ways for young men to rebel, especially in the 1890s. Any society that oppresses one group, the way that Victorians repressed women, also represses the dominant group by making the perceived characteristics of the oppressed group taboo. Oscar Wilde rebelled by incorporating long hair and feminine characteristics into his interpretation of aestheticism.

Young people help refresh the human population, getting rid of the old ideas that aren't working anymore.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

10 Steps to Hosting Your Own Victorian Seance

Belief in the evocation of the spirits of the dead is as old as Humanity. At one period of the world's history it was called Thaumaturgy, at another Necromancy and Witchcraft, in these later years, Spiritualism. It is new wine in old bottles. - The Spirit World Unmasked, Henry Ridgely Evans (1897).
The rules for hosting a seance haven't changed much since the late nineteenth century, though some of the equipment is now fancier.

1. First, you need a location for the seance.

Choosing a location could be dependant on the reason for the seance. Sometimes, a particular room may be chosen for its connection to the departed, but the Victorians loved hosting them in their sitting rooms, at least according to the spiritualist and artist, Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884). Though her life and writings, Houghton seems more familiar with the spirit world than anyone; she used to let herself become possessed by ghosts so she could paint.

Her book, Evenings at Home in Spiritual Séance describes a small room with nothing but the table, seating, and equipment used in the seance, which leads us to the second step in hosting a Victorian seance:

2. Minimize distractions.

Distractions aren't helpful when communicating with the dead, limit electronic devices, minimize the amount of light in the room, and remove objects that will otherwise interfere with the seance.

3. Gather your equipment.

Although anything can be used in a seance, a candle is pretty standard. It's good to choose one with a wide base so that it's less likely to fall over. Also, lighting and extinguishing a candle can signify the beginning and end of the seance. Houghton used the act of extinguishing the candle to cease communications when she encountered frightening spirits.
At the very instant that I put out the candle, the slate [used for automatic writing] was taken from before me, and we heard sounds of its being written upon in the air, at about the height of our heads. It was put back upon the table, and when we had struck a light, we found written upon it:
e l b u o r t  ll a h s I
you no more :
which meant "I shall trouble you no more;" the first words of the sentence having been spelt backwards.
The skeptical Henry Ridgely Evans described automatic writing as the act in which a psychic or medium "gives information transcending his conscious knowledge of a subject," while in a state of hypnosis. If someone is going to do automatic writing at your seance, in addition to your candle, a slate, notebook, or Ouija board may also be helpful.

Ouija boards were invented to capitalize on the seance trend of the late Victorian era and are supposed to work by letting unseen spirits communicate through your fingertips by pointing the planchette at the letters and numbers on the board.

Spiritual Telegraph Dial
Ouija boards weren't the only gadgets for talking to spirits. Hudson Tuttle (1836-1910) of Berlin Heights OH invented the Pychograph, or dial planchette, many years before the Ouija board hit the market. The Spiritual Telegraph Dial was being used by mid-century and adapted to test whether people who claimed to be psychics were actually frauds.

Without automatic writing and in the earlier years of the Victorian era, a spirit in a Victorian seance might communicate by shouting letters through a medium, or using a binary code by using a series of taps. The latter was known as "spirit rapping" and was popular enough that an American wrote a song about it. According to Lisa Hix, the table is all many Victorians needed to communicate:
Before long, word got out that if you and your friends or family put your hands on a small- to medium-sized table and waited, it would eventually start moving. Naturally, people believed it was the spirits trying to communicate, through what became known as “table-tipping” or “table-turning.” A scientist by the name of Michael Faraday studied the physics of the phenomenon in 1851 and concluded that the sitters were, in fact, unconsciously moving the table, a phenomenon now known as the “ideomotor response,” but his findings didn’t deter anyone - Source.
Since you're not going to let that deter you from hosting your Victorian seance, put your candle and means of communicating on your seance table, surround it with chairs and fill those chairs with enthusiastic guests.

3. Invite guests.

The Fox sister were famous mediums and
great to have at a seance.
If at all possible, you should invite a Countess and more than one medium, so that the medium who is not performing the seance can look at the habits of the performer with judgement and suspicion. It's fun to invite someone, who totally believes in ghosts (for their enthusiasm), and someone who doesn't (but frightens easily).

When you invite your guests, encourage them to bring sentimental objects, if there's a particular spirit they wish to communicate with.

4. Set up cameras!

 The step before actually beginning your seance, is setting up your recording equipment. It may seem un-Victorian to set up a hidden video recorder, but many Victorians documented their seances in the best ways they could, so they could capture images of ghosts and catch anyone tipping, or rapping on, the table.

5. Form a circle.

Instruct your guests to sit as quietly as possible around the seance table and to identify any noises they inadvertently make, so as not to misread a fart as a communication from the other side.

6. The Lord's Prayer.

Once everyone is seated, it adds drama to say a prayer of protection. Houghton always said the Lord's Prayer before a seance.

8. Light the candle and begin asking questions.

Ask the spirits to join yours circle and to communicate through the method you have provided.

Be polite. Don't only ask questions about yourself. Ask their name. Ask if they have anything they want to talk about, but also try to focus on the purpose of your seance.

9. When you are ready to end your seance, say good-bye and extinguish the candle.

If someone is scared, you can extinguish the candle abruptly and tell the spirits to leave you alone, but it's always best to be polite ...if you can.

10. Review the evidence.

Did you catch any ghosts in photos, or video?

Did you catch anyone trying to trick the others into thinking a spirit was present?

Henry Ridgely Evans was an American magician and skeptic of spiritualism, who wrote prolifically on the subject - publishing two books in 1897 alone. He claimed to have sat with many famous mediums, who produced "little to convince him of the fact of spiritual communication." Maybe you'll have better luck.

For all of your other Victorian seance needs, visit: the Victorian Web, the Museum of Talking Boards, and the Mysterious Planchette.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Ghost Club

Founded in London in 1862, the Ghost Club is the oldest paranormal investigation and research organization in the world. The organization is still active today and its members have included: Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W.B. Yeats, and Siegfried Sassoon.

The Ghost Club was seven years in the making, having started as a conversation about ghosts between Cambridge fellows at Trinity college in 1855. Naturally, it attracted some banter in the Times, but with Charles Dickens and some Cambridge men among their ranks, the Ghost Club soldiered on.

The Davenport Brothers and their spirit cabinet (1870).
Like real-life Victorian Ghostbusters -- though maybe they were more like Myth Busters, the Ghost Club investigated spiritual phenomena, like the Davenport Brother's spirit cabinet. The Davenport Brothers were travelling American magicians and the spirit box was their most famous illusion. In the spirit box illusion, the brothers were tied inside the box with some musical instruments. When the box was closed, the instruments played, but when it was opened, the brothers remained tied in their original positions. The Ghost Club never published the result of their investigation.

Members of the Ghost Club (1882).
Following Dickens' death, the Ghost Club became inactive during the 1870s, but was revived on All Saints Day 1882. It remained a select and private organization of earnest ghost hunters, who really believed that ghosts existed. They met monthly and women were not admitted.

Investigations into the spirit world were referred to as 'physical research,' and the growing popularity of Spiritualism at this time attracted people like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sigmund Freud to its meetings. Many members treated Ghost Club as a kind of refuge, where they were able to conduct the kind of research and have the kind of conversations that they were unable to have elsewhere.

At each meeting of the Ghost Club a list of all the members, dead or alive, was read. Deceased members were said to sometimes make their presence felt during this activity.

Sir Arthur Grey of Jesus College, Cambridge, immortalized the Ghost Club as "The Everlasting Club" in 1919 - a ghost story that, around Cambridge, some still believe to be true.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Three Common Victorian Baby-Killers

I wouldn't have survived infancy in the Victorian Era.

There were truly bizarre ways of dying in the 1890s, but you could also die from the very mundane. If you were a woman, you might die from child birth. If you were a baby, the wallpaper, or the way that your bottle was designed could kill you. Buzzfeed once wrote an article on bizarre Victorian deaths.

Reportedly: in 1875, a man was killed by a mouse in South London.
“That a mouse can exist for a considerable time without much air has long been a popular belief and was unfortunately proved to be a fact in the present instance, for the mouse began to tear and bite inside the man’s throat and chest, and the result was that the unfortunate fellow died after a little time in horrible agony.”
Which is horrifying, but, typically, the things that killed you in the 1890s were far more commonplace and children were the most vulnerable. Wallpaper (arsenic), germs (everywhere), and milk were three incredibly mundane baby killers at the time.

1. Arsenic and arsenic-laced wallpaper

From the 1850s until the 1890s, green wallpaper was a silent killer. Arsenic was used to create a shade called Paris Green. Once on the walls, the arsenic entered the air. After exhibiting symptoms of diphtheria, patients generally died of asphyxiation. The worst part: treatment usually involved being confined to a cold room with no circulation, but usually green wallpaper because it was already present in the home.  Such a death usually claimed children first. Paris Green was not identified as the silent killer until the end of the century.

Before it was recognized as a killer, the Victorians thought arsenic possessed many health benefits. A health spa in southeast Austria was home to the arsenic-eaters. People who travelled to the area would take ratsbane in their coffee. It became trendy to take ever increasing amounts of arsenic, until you got diarrhea. While many people consumed doses strong enough to kill a healthy person today, they believed it improved their complexions and aided their respiratory system.

2. Germs, surgeons, and baby bottles.

Germs weren't known to cause disease until 1867, and even then, it took a lot of work on the parts of Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch and their supporters to adopt methods that protected patients from germs. Methods that protected patients from germs included washing your hands before performing surgery. One doctor, Joseph Lister made great strides in gaining acceptance for the germ theory of disease and preventing infections by keeping bacteria from entering the body through wounds and sores, through the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic.

A Victorian surgeon in barber college
(source and date unknown).
Can you even imagine a world where surgeons need convincing to wash their hands before operating? Surgical practices were bad enough without conducting the surgery with dirty hands. Rich people paid the doctor to look after them in their homes, so only the poor went to hospitals. If the operating room in the hospital wasn't clean, you stood a one in four chance of dying from a fever caused by infection after the surgery. Most wealthy homes didn't have a proper operating room at all, so it is no wonder that surgeons didn't have the respect they do today and were seen as butchers!

Often patients would die in shock on the operating table because the only anesthesia available was ether, or whiskey.

But I'm getting off track discussing the horrors of surgery... the point was that most doctors didn't even believe in germs. Germaphobes wouldn't be considered crazy to worry about eating or touching anything the nineteenth century.
In England during the Victorian years, approximately HALF of all babies born alive died prior to their first birthday.  Even worse, only two out of ten ~ a staggering statistic ~ reached their second birthday.  Sanitation was deplorable, and people did not yet understand the value in sterilization.  Hygiene was essentially unheard of - Source.
A baby bottle that attached a nipple to the end of a rubber feeding tube was popular for decades after doctors condemned it because the feeding tube was impossible to clean.

3. Milk and tuberculosis. 

If the baby bottle and wallpaper didn't kill your beloved baby, the milk in the bottle might have. Mrs Beeton recommended adding boracic acid to milk to remove evidence that milk had gone off. In 1882, 20,000 samples of milk from homes were tested and one in five samples proved to have been adulterated this way. On its own, boracic acid causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Combined with milk, the slow-growing mycobacterium bovis found in milk flourishes and causes tuberculosis.

If this post wasn't morbid enough for you, look at my photos of Victorian dead people and have a safe Halloween!

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Feejee Mermaid and the Fur-bearing Trout

Freak shows and taxidermy: these two trends coincided with horrifying results in the Victorian era.

The popularity of freak shows saw its first rise in the Elizabethan era and examples of taxidermy in apothecaries date back to the middle ages, but something special happened in the nineteenth century when American circuses began touring Europe and exporting their ideas. That special thing was P.T. Barnum's Feejee mermaid.

The Feejee mermaid began its life in Japan, where some fishing communities had long histories of creating taxidermy hybrids out of monkey torsos and fish tails, which after is what the Feejee mermaid actually was. An American sailor, Captain Samuel Barrett Edes bought the mermaid in Japan for $6,000 and displayed it in London in 1822. No big deal, until it was sold to the Boston Museum after Edes' death in 1842.
Barnum media advert.

The museum presented it to P.T. Barnum, who confounded a naturalist with it. Though confounded, the naturalist would not attest to its authenticity because he simply did not believe in mermaids. Barnum saw a certain appeal in the mermaid and leased it from the museum for $12.50 a week, then wrote fake letters to New York newspapers from around the country, which served to fabricate a new origin story for the Feejee mermaid. Through an elaborate ruse and the assistance of Dr. J. Griffin, Barnum generated enough publicity to launch the Feejee mermaid's new career as a public curiosity.

This original Feejee mermaid was most likely lost to one of multiple fires in Barnum's museum, but it was such a popular and controversial attraction that the idea was copied many times - often with the correct spelling of Fiji.

The copycats grew increasingly innovative, giving rise to the dime museum in London and the United States. Dime museums were designed to entertain and 'morally educate' the masses (lower classes), although the 'moral education' involved appears to centre on the perverse logic of the anti-masturbation movement. As a social trend, dime museums reached their peak in the 1890s and began to peter out in the 1920s.

If you thought the Feejee Mermaid was bad, dime museums gave us the fur-bearing trout. Fur-bearing trout purportedly live in the coldest parts of the rivers and lakes of the Northern reaches of North America. Supposedly, the fur-bearing trout either grew its hair to keep warm down there, or because someone accidentally spilled four jugs of hair tonic in the Arkansas River.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about dime museums was that they were able to convince many people that their exhibits were real and these people would go on believing in ridiculous things for a very long time. A Canadian, Ross C. Jobe purchased one of these taxidermy trouts, which he presented to the Royal Museum of Scotland, where the fish was found to be covered in rabbit fur.

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Victorian Clowns and Clowning

Symptoms of coulrophobia can include sweating, nausea, feelings of dread, fast heartbeat, crying or screaming, and anger at being placed in a situation where a clown is present. - Source
1890 Occupational Photo of Circus Clown
Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. It's Halloween, so don't unfriend, or unfollow me, for writing this post. Last October, I wrote a series of scary posts and I'm up to the same tricks this year.

Grimaldi and son.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, one of the most influential clowns was performing in London and his name was Joseph Grimaldi (1776-1837). Gimaldi was a Regency era stage performer, who expanded the role of the clown in British pantomime in the early 1800s. Grimaldi so dominated the comic stages of London that the harlequinade role of clown bears his name, "Joey," and his whiteface makeup design remains in use to this day.

Grimaldi's son tried to follow in his footsteps, but was never as successful as his father and, like his father became an alcoholic. He took his financial problems out on his parents, until his life came to an early end. After the son died, Grimaldi and his wife attempted suicide together, but failed and resolved to go on living what had turned into an impoverished life. Grimaldi outlived his wife by three years.

Duburau as 'Pierrot Laughing' (1855) by Nadar.
Meanwhile, in France, Jean-Gaspard Deburau (1796-1846) was going to court for killing a boy with his cane, after the boy insulted him on the street in 1936. Deburau was famous for playing the clown, Pierrot.
Certainly the violent and sometimes sinister cruelty that Debrau brought to his role had at least part of its source in the brooding rancor of his own temperament. On a spring day in 1836, he had shown to what lengths this rancor could carry him, when, while strolling with his young wife and shildren, he had warmed to anger under a street-boy's taunts and brought his heavy cane down on the young man's skull, killing him with a single blow. The court had acquitted the fashionable mime, but his act seemed to darken the already deepening shadows of Pierrot's billowy tunic. - Robert F. Storey, Pierrot: A Critical History of a Mask, 2014.
Having been acquitted of murder, Deburau carried on his clowning career. He didn't by any means invent the character of Pierrot, but introduced the signature black skull cap and collarless shirt to the role. Pierrot, as a character, leaves a lot of room for actors to express their own clowning style; eDeburau is not even seen as the most influential incarnation of Pierrot in that era.

Paul Legrand as Pierrot (1857) by Nadar.
In 1839, Paul Legrand (1816-1898) took to the French stage as Pierrot. Legrand is said to have brought dramatic realism to the role, greatly influencing pantomime as an art form.

Félicia Mallet as Pierrot (1895).
Félicia Mallet played another version of Pierrot toward the end of the century. Although she became better known as a singer, than a clown, George Bernard Shaw said of her role as Pierrot that:
Felicia Mallet is much more credible, much more realistic, and therefore much more intelligible — also much less slim, and not quite so youthful. Litini was like a dissolute "La Sylphide": Mallet is frankly and heartily like a scion of the very smallest bourgeoisie sowing his wild oats. She is a good observer, a smart executant, and a vigorous and sympathetic actress, apparently quite indifferent to romantic charm, and intent only on the dramatic interest, realistic illusion, and comic force of her work. And she avoids the conventional gesture-code of academic Italian pantomime, depending on popularly graphic methods throughout. - George Bernard Shaw in James Huneker, Dramatic Opinions and Essays by G. Bernard Shaw: Containing as Well A Word on the Dramatic Opinions and Essays, of G. Bernard Shaw, 1913.
While, Pierrot dominated France, Grimaldi's work was still more influential in London.

James Frowde
Grimaldi's signature red triangle cheeks reappeared the face of James Frowde (1831-1899) and many other clowns throughout the world. Frowde was an English clown and evangelical preacher, who married an equestrian performer from a circus family. While families, like Grimaldi's, suffered financial hardships, Victorians considered circus performers little better than beggars in England. That being said, not all circus families were so hard up. Frowde's father owned the circus he performed in: Hengler's Circus.
Hengler's Circus which prospered during the 1850s travelled under a series of different headings such as 'Hengler's Colossal Hippodrama and Grand Cirque Variety', Hengler's Colossal Moving Hippodrama and National Circus' and Hangler's Mammoth Circus and Great Equestrian Exhibition'. Even its catchphrase 'Amusement for the Million and Reational Recreation' reflects a switch to more demotic and pragmatic ambition as an impression of royal appointment is traded in for a democratically minded image of a judiciously balanced mass entertainment. - Helen Soddart, Rings of Desire: Circus History and Representation, 2000.
In that variety of names I see the clown shifting from the theatre with its stationary stage to the art of the spectacle and its travelling rings. I see the family politics of showcasing Frowde's equestrian wife. I also see an industry that had to compete with the American's Buffalo Bill's Wilde West Show.

1880s playbill for Hengler's Grand Cirque.
As American culture penetrated circus and theatre clowning in Europe, it's important to mention Dan Rice (1823-1900), an American clown, who is seen as the inspiration for Uncle Sam and was so popular that he ran for president in 1868.

Keeping up with the competition of the times, he coined the "One-Horse Show" and "Greatest Show" terms. Rice became one of America's first pop-culture icons and helped make the circus what it is today by combining a variety of acts, like animals and acrobats and, of course, clowns.

Dan Rice
For a period in the 1840s, he even performed in blackface. As his fame grew, he starred in song-and-dance parodies of Shakespeare, including "Dan Rice's Version of Othello" and "Dan Rice's Multifarious Account of Shakespeare's Hamlet." He's said to have been vaudeville before there was a vaudeville.
Rice was not simply funnier than other clowns; he was different, mingling jokes, solemn thoughts, civic observations, and songs. - David Carlyon, Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of, 2004.
Gilbert and Sullivan's first collaboration incorporated a pair of clowns who adopted the mannerisms of both Grimaldi and Rice. Harry (1833-1895) and Fred Payne (1841–1880) were collectively known as the Payne Brothers.

Harry & Fred Payne
Harry was Covent Garden's clown throughout the 1860s, a role once played by Grimaldi.

Grimaldi's Leap Frog act at Covent Garden (1812).
Harry was to clowning in London what Dan Rice was to the United States.
Every Boxing Day Harlequinade at Drury Lane opened with Harry's cheer-filled somersault and catchphrase: "Here we are again!" His obituary in the Times said:
Mr. Payne was at once an actor, a singer, and an accomplished humourist. Probably he owed something to the tuition of his father … whose mimetic feats he would seek to emulate as much as the altered conditions of pantomime entertainments would permit.
 Sadly, his younger brother, Fred's career relied more on their father's and Fred died many years earlier.

These were by no means all of the clowns that had an impact on the art of clowning in the nineteenth century, but they were the best ones I could find with pictures. I would love to hear more about why Deburau was acquitted for killing that boy who insulted him in the street. If you know more, please share in the comments.

In the meantime, enjoy these photos of clowns in the 1890s:

Enrico Caruso as Canio, Italy (1892).
Sara Bernhardt as “Pierrot the Assasin” by Nadar (1893).
World's Fair in Chicago (1893).
Do-Re-Mi, a musical clown trio (1895) more info.
Clown Band, Ringling Brothers Road Book (1897).
Clowns (1897).
Natalie and his Educated Pigs, Ringling Brother Road Book (1897).
Natalie and donkey at Stampede in Vancouver (1897).
Guillaume Tell et le clown Melies (1898).
Clown, New York (1898).
The stars Drury Lane's Harlequinade, 1898-99 season (including the Payne Brothers).
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