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Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

The nineteenth century had its proper share of bad boys. Even though it’s more than a century ago, and even though some of them were not even real at all, there’s no doubting the attraction of one mr. Rochester, mr. Knightly, or mr. Heathcliff.

The nineteenth century’s bad boys are more commonly known as Byronic heroes, named after both Byron
himself as well as after the men in his writing, mostly in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The words “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” were later remarked about Byron by Caro Lamb, who had an affair with him.

A Byronic hero is easy to characterize: it is a man, usually a gloomy or somewhat depressed person or in any case a person with deep thoughts and intense feelings. He might be moody or unpleasant to deal with, and definitely be a little uncivil. He might be quite good-looking (as Byron himself was) or be somewhat ugly or unusual looking (as mr. Rochester.) He might have a hidden past or carry some deep, dark secret. But the most important thing, the one big element that all the Byronic heroes share, is: he is incredibly attractive. In spite of all his faults, there is something so engaging and intriguing about him, you cannot help but be interested in the Byronic hero.

As easy as it is to characterize, so hard is it to find them. Which is strange, since the Byronic hero is a fairly well-known concept and you’d expect nineteenth-century literature to be crawling with these mysterious broody men. Not so! The only few that I would name Byronic for certain are Jane Eyre’s Rochester and Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, maybe, but I seem to be alone on that. Erik from Phantom of the Opera, thought that is not Victorian but rather later. And Byron himself, of course.

Others that are called Byronic but I’m not sure I can agree: Captain Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818), Claude Frollo from Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Edmond Dantes from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844),[3] (1847), Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, and James Steerforth from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–1850).

What do you think? Who is truly Byronic, and who isn’t? And who is your favourite, in real life, novel, or movie? Let me know!

(Depending on how bright your screen is set, this Heathcliff picture is a bit saucy. But definitely shows off the brooding/sexy image. Maybe not appropriate for work? View it here.)

 

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If a book about a Little Lord Fauntleroy and his little velvet suits is to sweet for your taste, how about a book about opium and homelessness? In Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) Thomas de Quincey tells the tale of his laudanum addiction, the way opium is taken, the way it works upon the mind and body, and how he finally managed to get clean again.
The book is supposed to be a cautionary tale, because telling of the joys of drugs was not something the Victorian Era agreed to. The book is split in parts, for example The Pleasures of Opium and The Pains of Opium. I think the part about the pleasures is a beautiful and enjoyable read, and the part about the pains is mostly quite boring, but you might feel differently.

You can read the e-text here. (And if you like to see some opium use in a movie, watch From Hell with Johnny Depp, it’s a most excellent movie!)

Unrelatedly, if you’re looking for affordable books on various topics, have a look here. I think these books would make excellent gifts to history-lovers!

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Here’s a fragment from Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, in which you can see a little bit of the customs regarding compliments in the later half of the nineteenth century:

“Come here, Lord Fauntleroy,” she said, smiling; “and tell me why you look at me so.”
“I was thinking how beautiful you are,” his young lordship replied. Then all the gentlemen laughed outright, and the young lady laughed a
little too, and the rose color in her cheeks brightened.
“Ah, Fauntleroy,” said one of the gentlemen who had laughed most heartily, “make the most of your time! When you are older you will not
have the courage to say that.”
“But nobody could help saying it,” said Fauntleroy sweetly. “Could you help it? Don’t YOU think she is pretty, too?”
“We are not allowed to say what we think,” said the gentleman, while the rest laughed more than ever.


So there you have it. The name Hodgson Burnett might sound familiar: she was the writer of A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1911). Little Lord Fauntleroy was a much earlier work: it was published in 1886. I found the book to be an unexpectedly good read; it was very enjoyable, funny at times, and with a great and amusing use of language. It was so engaging even that I finished it in less than a day. You can read it online here.

An interesting fact is that this book, just like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, influenced fashion. Little Lord Fauntleroy’s velvet suit with a white collar and his soft curls are mentioned often in the book, and apparently started a fashion (mostly with mothers of young boys) for little suits and pincurls for boys!

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From Lord Byron’s Don Juan:

Than I resign thine image, oh, my fair!
Or think of any thing excepting thee;
A mind diseased no remedy can physic
(Here the ship gave a lurch, and he grew sea-sick).

“Sooner shall heaven kiss earth (here he fell sicker),
Oh, Julia! what is every other woe?
(For God’s sake let me have a glass of liquor;
Pedro, Battista, help me down below.)
Julia, my love! (you rascal, Pedro, quicker) —
Oh, Julia! (this curst vessel pitches so) —
Belovéd Julia, hear me still beseeching!”
(Here he grew inarticulate with retching.)

I found this very funny, especially considering there was a great debate in the nineteenth century about the proper subject matter in poetry: was the own era worthy enough of poetry, or should a poet retell the stories of the Classics? Poets like Ruskin, Carlyle, and Patmore saw the poet as a prophet, whose poetry entailed hidden truths and divine messages, so poetry was crucial for a proper and developed society. I think from the above excerpt you might know Byron’s opinion on a poet’s subject matter! You can read all of Don Juan here, it’s a great poem, and very readable and entertaining.

Also for you smokers out there: J.M. Barrie writes 13 chapters on the art of smoking. It’s really quite a good read!

Lastly Serial Sensation is publishing Mrs. Henry Woods’ East Lynne in small bits every week, so you can read it as a series, as it appeared in Victorian newspapers.

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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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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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