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I’m very happy to introduce to you our first monthly sponsor! This month, I’m teaming up with Christie Stratos who wrote this awesome guest post for you! This post also answers some questions about the language of fans and flowers from an earlier post.


 

Symbolism in the Victorian Era

Symbolism was the lifeblood of the Victorian Era. Everything meant something to Victorians, so you had to be careful what you said in a letter, what you wore on any occasion, how you held your fan…you get the idea. Give the wrong signal and it wasn’t so easy to take it back. You couldn’t just walk up to a man and say, “I made a mistake with how fast I fanned myself just a moment ago. I’m not actually engaged, I just fanned too quickly!” Yes, it was that exacting! Communication back then was limited. Period dramas and novels depict it well – a lady wants to tell the man she has a crush on that she didn’t mean to do something, or that she really does care for him, but she can’t just say it. She has to wait patiently to prove it or to give him a signal. How frustrating!

1800s fan

Fans were far from the only things that sent messages to those around you. Did you just embroider your delicate handkerchief with a frog? Well that means sin, so you might want to replace it with a dog, which means loyalty. Gentlemen, thinking of giving your betrothed a gift? Send the right message by gifting a brooch with acrostic meaning. “Love” might mean a brooch with these gems place horizontally: lapis lazuli followed by opal, then vesuvianite, and finally emerald. Think carefully on the framing of the brooch too. An ivy design might not go over so well with a lover since it represents friendship.

One of the most common forms of expressing feelings in the Victorian Era was through flowers. You’ve probably heard the phrase “the language of flowers”, and that couldn’t be more accurate in reference to the 19th century. Every single flower had a particular meaning, and beyond that, many variations in color of that specific flower had meaning. Whew, that’s a lot to keep in mind before sending a bouquet!

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There is a good example of flower meanings in my novel Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, book one of the Dark Victoriana Collection. Abigail receives a bouquet from Conrad, a man who is interested in courting her. Here’s what it looked like, taken straight from the book:

“The central flowers were a vibrant red, some with bright yellow at the base of their petals. Surrounding them were smaller multi-layered flowers, some of white, some of cornflower blue, and some of pink.”

The first flowers described are red kennedia, which stood for intellect, and the second flowers portrayed are love-in-a-mist flowers, meaning curiosity. He explains this delicately in his card to her. But why did he send these flowers? A couple of scenes before, Conrad and Abigail had a conversation which spawned his sending this bouquet and in which flowers were mentioned again:

 

“What’s your favorite flower, Miss Whitestone?” Mr. Scott asked. 

“Violets,” she answered quickly, then immediately felt insecure about it. She should have said something more grand, more widely appreciated. More normal.

“Violets?” he asked, surprised, his voice higher. “I’ve never heard a lady say that before.”

She felt like a fool.

“What makes you pick them over roses? Aren’t roses what every lady wants from a gentleman?” he asked.

“You didn’t ask what I wanted from a gentleman, you asked what I like,” she said before she could stop herself. She felt brutal but she also felt more like herself with an honest answer.

“For many ladies, those are one and the same,” he said, “but not always for good reasons. Violets are common, but I agree that there is something fascinating about their vivid color and their ability to survive even when they look fragile.”

Abigail was surprised Mr. Scott was having a real conversation with her, not just something superficial anymore. He had shared an opinion on “most ladies” and what he thought of them. She must have shocked him into speaking to her as if he knew her better, maybe even as if she were a man. Did that mean a lack of respect? What did that mean? Anxiety twisted at her stomach. This was starting to feel like home. She didn’t want the gardens to feel like home. That was the whole point of the gardens: to escape.

“It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Scott. I hope the rest of your day is pleasant,” Abigail said quickly before walking away. She didn’t wait for his reply.

 

This excerpt not only shows meanings behind flowers, it also gives you an idea of how much people in Victorian times read into each other’s words. It was necessary since they couldn’t express themselves outright most of the time.

The next time you send flowers to someone or give jewelry as a gift, think, “What would the Victorians do?” and you’ll have a gift that means more than the recipient thinks.

 


 

Thank you so much Christie Stratos for this very interesting post! Christie reached out to me because she is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself (cool!)

Interested to read more about Christie, or see what she’s up to? You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Pinterest, and Google+

Thank you so much for your contribution Christie!

We might regard the 19th century as fairly modern, but did you know that even as late as 1818 a trial by combat took place!

Ashford v Thornton is a law case about Abraham Thornton, accused of murder, and William Ashford, the defendant.

Drawing of a large, crowded courtroom

“In 1817, Abraham Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Thornton had met Ashford at a dance, and had walked with her from the event. The next morning, Ashford was found drowned in a pit, with little outward signs of violence. Although public opinion was heavily against Thornton, the jury quickly acquitted him, and also found him not guilty of rape.

Mary’s brother, William Ashford, launched an appeal, and Thornton was rearrested. Thornton claimed the right to trial by battle, a medieval usage that had never been repealed by Parliament. Ashford argued that the evidence against Thornton was overwhelming, and that he was thus ineligible to wage battle.

The court decided that the evidence against Thornton was not overwhelming, and that trial by battle was a permissible option under law; thus Thornton was granted trial by battle. Ashford declined the offer of battle and Thornton was freed from custody. Appeals such as Ashford’s were abolished by statute in 1819, and with them the right to trial by battle.”

Source: Wikipedia

I’m working on something incredible cool and in the process stumbled upon this cool resource: scanned newspapers from the late 19th century. They’re a very good read and very interesting.

Check it out:

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=TH18910109&e=——-10–1—-0–

Thank you, Papers Past!

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Today’s post is a guest post by Ben Knowles, a blacksmith of English lamp posts. He works for ww.EnglishLampPosts.co.uk. Ben, thank you for your article!

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As a blacksmith at the English Lamp Post Co, I am extremely privileged to be able to immerse myself in an art form and an era I am so passionate about on a daily basis. Having been an enthusiast of the Victorian age and all it had to offer, ever since my first breath-taking trip to Ironbridge Gorge as a child, taking in the magnificent bridge, not to mention the Victorian village, I have been hooked.  I thoroughly enjoy keeping the traditions of my craft alive and sharing the must have accessories of the Victorian age with fascinated visitors, here I would like to share with you just how I create one of the everyday Household essentials of the period.

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One of my favourite pieces to create is an authentically period candle holder, think Dickensian, Victorian style, the type of candle holder clutched by Scrooge while walking around his vast rooms after dark. Though the process is relatively straight forward I am always so thrilled to hold on to something truly Victorian in both inspiration and design.
I begin with a perfectly formed disc of iron, working each individual piece from the base to the candle stand itself at the blisteringly hot coals of the gorge. With the candle holder crafted I am able to add the finishing touch, a final flourish in the shape of a classical yet perfectly reserved and ever so Victorian, scroll handle. The handle is heated within the scorching coals and beaten in to shape at the anvil to create my traditionally beautiful candle holder.

 

With a tapered candle in place the Victorian stand looks effortlessly period and is a stunning feature for any property or room looking for an enhanced sense of character.

Drinking from saucers

Looking for something else, I happened upon these pictures:

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By Boris Kustodiev. Found here.

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By Konstantin Makovsky. Found here.

From Ingalls-Wilder’s Farmer Boy we know tea was poured from the cup in the saucer, and then drank from the saucer. This was generally done by older people, while younger people thought it was bad form or old-fashioned to drink from the saucer. Research online seems to show most drinking-from-saucers took place in Scandinavia en Russia, and that the habit was probably taken to America by European immigrants.

I wonder though, how this habit came about? It seems the tea cools faster when drank from a saucer, which is understandable for busy farmers but it seems strange that mostly people from really cold countries (Northern Europe and Russia) would like their tea to cool fast. I cannot really find an origin or reason for the drinking from saucers, except that it was just a habit. Any thoughts?

I use Grammarly for proofreading because I’m certain Victorian journalists would have used it, too, if they’d just had laptops and internet!

A question many visitors ask me on this blog is about the daily life in the 19th century. Not about the big historical happenings or affairs, those are usually fairly well-known. It’s mostly the smaller details: what people ate, what they thought about, what they did in the evenings since they didn’t have TV, that spark people’s interest.

A very good source to get a glimpse of Victorian life are children’s books. While most adult novels assume the reader knows how things in life works, and spends his words instead on greater themes like life, love and death, children’s books are slower-paced and take the time to really explain daily life to you.

The 19th century was a period in which children’s literature as a genre grew and developed at an amazing pace. The urban middle classes were expanding at a high rate. This meant there was more money to buy books, more leisure time to read books, and more children who had had enough education to be able to read for pleasure. In the 18th century and prior to that, there had been some texts especially for children. These were usually religious tracts or educational booklets. In the 19th century, many other genres of literature were developed. There was something for everyone: adventure books, schoolbooks, fairy tales and fantasy novels. But the books that are most valuable if you want to learn about life in the Victorian era, are the girl’s novels with a focus on domestic life.

These books were written partially to entertain, and partially to shape the minds of young girls and prepare them for a life of domesticity. By reading about exemplary good girls, who were happy, patient and caring, it was hoped that this spirit was distilled in little girls also. Showing girls who overcame their flaws (like impatience or vanity) or poor girls who ended up well by being sweet and good, these books meant to inspire young girls to be a valuable part of society.

By their very nature, some of these books might be a little flavorless. However, I compiled a small list of books that are not terribly exciting, yet sweet and comforting and very educating on the daily life of the 19th century. Download them onto your ereader and read some whenever you feel you need a bit of calm, and I promise you, you will get not just a great glimpse of Victorian life but really start to understand the minds and world views of those who lived in the 19th century.

Cornelia de Groot: When I was a girl in Holland (1917)

I’ve written about this book before and it’s still one of the best finds as a first-hand historical source. This book tells of a young girl growing up on a farm in a small town in the Netherlands, around 1880. The book was part of an American series about children all around the world, and therefore makes a point to really explain very clearly how things were done in the 1880s. The writer and protagonist grew up as a fairly rich farmer’s daughter in a small town in Friesland, The Netherlands. Even though the book relates many things that are country-specific (for example the national holidays or certain habits), there’s a lot of general information about daily life. The book is incredible detailed, telling you what they ate, how they traveled, how animals were kept (cow’s tails were washed weekly, just because it’s nice to have clean cows!), how the school was organized, and what it’s like being a smart and ambitious girl in a small town.

At the end of the book the writer fearlessly travels to America by steamer, and tells of the amazing things she sees. The book is at times fairly stiff because of the many descriptions, but at times really moving and personal. Most of all, it’s one of the clearest accounts of 19th century daily life.

You can read When I was a Girl in Holland here.

 Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farmer Boy (1933)

This book is part of the Little House series. While the other books in the series focus on the life of pioneers on the prairie, this book recalls the daily life of a farmer in the 1860 in Malone, NY. It gives a lot of great information on the amount of work that was done and how it was done, from sowing the seeds and hoeing the weeds to spinning and weaving cloth to make clothes. It’s very amusing to read about how much the young protagonist likes store-bought items (they were much fancier than handmade ones) and how the American national holidays were celebrated. It also shows you a good deal about the morals and kind of upbringing many young boys got (and let me tell you, it’s different from today’s!)

This book is incredibly centered on food, so if you’re ever in doubt about what 19th century American families ate, just have a read! A summary for you: lots and lots of pies, mostly apple pie and rhubarb pie, lots of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, big roasts of meat and chicken, preserves and jams. The books even describes how icecream and candy was made, and it’s described so clearly that you can try it out yourself.

Did you know? In the 19th century, rhubarb was sometimes referred to as “pie plant”. Also, vinegar pies were baked when there were no lemons to make lemon pie. Yuck!

You can read the book online here.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women (1868-67)

Joy Kasson wrote that “Alcott chronicled the coming of age of young girls, their struggles with issues such as selfishness and generosity, the nature of individual integrity, and, above all, the question of their place in the world around them.” Young and adolescent girls could find in this book examples of strong, brave and ambitious women.

Many people know the novel Little Women, most because they saw the movie. But did you know there were actually four novels in this series? If you want to learn about the role of women in Victorian society and about stereotypes, docility and feminine behavior, these books are a great way to start. These books feature four women who all navigate life quite differently. It’s a very interesting read, showing you a lot about the role of women in society and the way women dealt with their lot.  The latter books, especially the third and fourth, are not as strong on storyline or as interesting as the first book, but they’re still a pretty good read. Also in book 3, you’ll get some great tips on baking! Did you know soured milk was used to make cakes rise when there was not enough baking powder around?

The books are called Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. You can read them and all other novels by Alcott here.

 Louisa May Alcott: An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869)

Another one of Louisa May Alcott, this book is much lesser known. I’ve quoted from it on my blog, mostly because I was very surprised to find some info on make-up use by Victorian women. This is not something you’ll find in textbooks or formal history books, only literature will reveal such small but significant details. There are two books in this series, centering around the girl Polly. The books are sweet and charming though somewhat moral, and will give you a great look in the mind of people from the 19th century. Especially nice I found the passage where a grandmother tells stories from her youth. No dates are mentioned but you might assume the stories take place in the early 18th century or even late 18th century. To hear what girls did for fun in those times is truly something special.

An Old-Fashioned Girl can be read here.

(As you can see this post was sponsored by Grammarly, which I found to be an excellent and very convenient tool. Do check it out, if you do a lot of writing. It doesn’t just check grammar but also punctuation, context and even checks for plagiarism, which I know will be helpful for a lot of college students!)

ImageRecently I received the book The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne, the book I posted a trailer from earlier. If you read through this blog you will notice a lot of Austen-related subjects. It’s true, I’m a big Austen fan. I read all the books, multiple times. And then the annotated copies. So I was glad to read this book. Not just because it’s an Austen biography, but because this biography promises to show us an Austen that is “far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture […] allows”.

I am always surprised at people trying to put down Jane Austen as a modest, gentle, kinda boring woman. The short biographies on the dustcovers of the book never seem to coincide with the person you feel the author is. If you read an Austen novel carefully, really listening well, you can sort of feel that Jane Austen was a quick-witted woman, who saw many strange things in society, social unright and unbalanced situations, and saw the books as her way to remark upon that. Also, clearly she was in a sense mischievous, and addressed issues on her mind in a playful manner. Even though she was clearly also a product of the society in which she lived, she was someone who was able to look further. Reading a biography that promises to show us more of Austen, is very good news!

In the book The Real Jane Austen each chapter starts of with examining an object, after which the focus shifts to examining a part of the life of Austen. The book is a very dynamic read because of this. There is a chronological order but it’s not the leading motive, rather several subjects are examined up close, one by one. This makes you really able to envision and imagine Austen’s life.

Objects that are mentioned and researched in the book are, among others: a royalty check, researching Austen’s desire for her books to be acknowledged despite being anonymous at first; a laptop, telling us of Austen books being printed and being received favourably; the topaz crosses, recounting the stories of Austen’s brothers in the Navy. Because of this in-depth look and the thorough research, this book will definitely give the reader a well-rounded and complete idea of Jane Austen and her world.

I loved the look of this book, it being rather big and heavy with a wonderful pale greyish-blue cover, and inside filled with amazing colour plates and a pleasant font. Definitely recommend for present-giving to Austen fans.

 

To purchase the book, go here.

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