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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

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!

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Fern hunting

I’ve written a lot about ferns in the past and even reviewed a very ferny book, so these tidbits are a nice addition to all the fernery on this blog. These are again from A Room with a View, also known as “the book that illustrates my blogposts”. Nice.

Miss Bartlett gave a kind of wriggle, and he prepared for a discussion. He had never fathomed Miss Bartlett. As he had put it to himself in Florence, ‘she might yet reveal depths of strangeness, if not of meaning.’ But she was so unsympathetic that she must be reliable. He assumed that much, and he had no hesitation in discussing Lucy with her. Minnie was fortunately collecting ferns.

[…]

And, Miss Bartlett not favouring the scheme, they walked up the hill in a silence which was only broken by the rector naming some fern.

I thought this was very interesting, for a book published in 1908, to still be so concerned with ferns and fern collecting. It truly goes to show how big the fern craze was in the 19th century.

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One time when I was procrastinating in the library I happened upon this truly amazing book. It was a very small book, originally written for children, called When I was a Girl in Holland. It’s actually a very simple concept: a girl growing up in the Netherlands around 1880 describing her life, the routines and habits and holidays. This book and others in the series were meant for American children to get a view of how children in other countries lived.

The book is especially interesting because this sort of information is rarely given usually, it’s considered too trite. For example, how does a birthday party in 1880 look? How many people were hired to work on a farm, or why could Dutch people only visit their far-away relatives in winter (answer: they could ice-skate in winter and travel far larger distances!)

I searched for a long time and found the entire book online, it’s an amazing read. For the next few weeks, I’ll publish a few sections from the book, some things that I think would be interesting to you.

If you want to read the entire book, you can do so here.

Here’s the first snippet, about the writer being born:

During the next ten days, little blond, red-cheeked girls came trudging through the snow. Some were carrying parcels in their mittened hands, others had flat red-painted boxes. They knocked at the front door, called “Folk in,” and were led into the house. They placed the parcel or the box in the hands of the maid and timidly said:

“The compliments of mother, and here is a present.”

The present appeared to be a dress, an apron, a petticoat, or a pair of socks, if it came from a parcel, but if it was taken from a box it was bound to be a large layer-cake or several small tarts, baked by the village baker or bought in the nearest town, and intended for the party. […]

Now the girl was led into the big livingroom and seated on an old-fashioned chair with reed bottom; on the table before her was placed a dainty, crisp Dutch rusk covered with butter and sugar. This she ate, that I might grow up into a healthy and strong child.

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I am not a big fan of the poetry of John Keats (my professor says “of course, noone likes Keats” but that might be an overstatement) but his lifestory is so beautiful and sad and romantic that I wanted to share it here.

john keats

John Keats was an English poet who lived from 1795 to 1821, he died at 26 leaving an impressive amount of high-quality poetry. Before he was 15, his mother, father, and grandfather had died. When his grandmother died, he was entrusted with the care of his brother Tom, who suffered from tuberculosis, the same illness that had killed his mother. Keats left for a journey through Scotland and Ireland, but the physical exhaustion and bad, wet weather proved to be bad for his health. He had to return early, suffering from a sore throath, and what were probably the first signs of tuberculosis. When he returned, he found his brother Tom’s condition had deteriorated, and he died in 1818.
Keats moved house and fell in love with his neighbor’s daughter, the eighteen-year old Fanny Brawne. It was a very unhappy affair: while the couple did get engaged, they knew they would probably never marry because Keats was very poor (the little money he made he send to his other brother in America, who was almost bankrupt due to an unwise investment) and his health was quickly worsening.
In 1820 he was invited to spend some time in Italy by Percy Bysshe Shelley, but he writes back that he might not be able to visit, because he thinks he might die before that time. Finally he did move to Italy, where he died in 1821.

Keats was a very sensitive person, and it is said that his health was influenced by bad reviews on his poetry, which were above all motivated by politics, not by the poetry’s quality. Shelley called Keats “a pale flower” and Byron, who disliked him, said he was “snuffed out by an article.” Keats’ death later inspired Shelley to write the poem Adonais, and when Shelley’s drowned body was found (a year after Keats’ death) it had an open book of Keats’ works upon it.

Keats’ letter to Shelley can be read here.

(Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keats, the Norton Anthology of English literature, Vol II, 8th Edition.)

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It would go too far to describe the entire history of gardening in the Nineteenth Century, so I’ll just give you some tidbits:

Wardian Case: The Wardian case was invented by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, in 1829. By accident he found out that his ferns grew very well in bottles, and he developed this idea to a larger case to hold full-grown flowers. This meant a great increase in the amount of flowers available in Europe. It became easier to import flowers because they were encased in a constant climate and did not suffer from the change of air and temperature while they were transported, and it was easier to keep exotic flowers alive during winter.

(Image from Wikipedia.)

Lawnmower: The lawnmower was invented in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, and was inproved quickly from a large and difficult machine to something that could be used by hand, by everybody. (Of course, women would not mow lawns.) The invention of the lawnmower caused a big rise in lawns in garden design around 1840, where before mostly flower arrangements and grit were fashionable.

Using flowers in interior design: Of course the Victorians were keen to find new ways to decorate the interior. Flowers were increasingly used in the Nineteenth century, not just as a bouquet but arranged as large ornaments. Here are some images from the book “The Victorian Flower Garden” by Jennifer Davies.

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A popular pastime in the Nineteenth Century: an organized fern hunt. Found ferns could be added to ones fern collection, which was immensely popular.
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One of my favourite Victorian novels is Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now. Even though it is meant as a satirical novel and most characters and events are probably exaggerated, it seems to give quite a good image of Victorian society.

The book started as a series in the newspaper, which is visible in the many, many subplots. It is almost like a Victorian soap series! It deals with a bussinessman, who swindles people with crooked railway stock, a young baronet who tries to elope with a lady to use her money to gamble, a hack writer who tries to seduce newspaper owners so they will give her good reviews, and a girl trying to choose the right man to marry.

the novel is available online but in this case, I’d advise to buy an actual copy (it’s sold for around 11 USD on amazon) since the book is very long.

Want to read more? Here are two interesting essays:
Anthony Trollope
Reimagining Heroism on Victorianweb

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Last week I told about the book I read, in which Prince Pückler-Muskau tells about his travels abroad. Here are some more bits from the book.

Prince Pückler attends a breakfast at the Duke of Devonshire’s at Chiswick. It begins at three, and last until past midnight. The brother in law of Napoleon was there. There was a big chaos of coaches driving up, a cabriolet was crushed and many coaches were damaged, because everyone wanted to get as close to the house as possible. The Duke brags that the dessert alone had cost him a hundred pounds. At two o’clock he leaves for the Duke of Northumberland’s, where a small party of about a 1000 people will take place.

Description of a concert: “The rooms were choke-full, and several young men lay on the carpet at the feet of their ladies, with their heads against cushions of sofas on which their fair ones were seated. This Turkish fashion is really very delightful: and I wonder extremely that C— did not introduce it in Berlin.” [C— is the English ambassador in Berlin]

He is surpised at the press freedom: the “Great Captain” who wants to re-enter parliament is called ‘a spoiled child of fortune’ in the newspaper. In Germany, censorship was introduced in the 1820s by Klemens von Metternich.
He receives 5 to 6 invitations a day for social gatherings, and goes out quite a lot.
When he is going horsebackriding with some ladies in the countryside, air balloons are seen. I didn’t know air balloons were used (except by scientists and adventurers) that early!

Prince Pückler also shares with us some information on the dandy. “An elegant [a dandy] requires per week: 20 shirts, 24 pocket handkerchiefs, 9-10 pairs of summer trowsers, 30 neckhandkerchiefs (unless he wears black ones). 12 waistcoats, stockings à discretion.
He dresses 3 to 4 times a day: a breakfast toilette: a chintz dressing gown and Turkish slippers. A morning riding dress: frock coat, boots and spurs. A dinner dress: dress coat and shoes. Then a ball dress: ‘pumps,’ which means shoes as thin as paper.”

I hope you enjoyed Prince Pücklers adventures in England! I’ll go back soon and write down some more.

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