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Archive for the ‘victorian’ Category

Victorian Fashion bookRecently I read Victorian Fashion by Jayne Shrimpton, a small but very informative book! Read on for my review.

I’ve read a lot of books on Victorian fashion, and I’ve looked at many artworks and fashion plates. So I would say I’m a pretty tough customer to satisfy when it comes to fashion books. I loved this book by Jayne Shrimpton!

This book is fairly thin at 93 pages, but gives a really great oversight over the fashions between 1837 and 1901. While some of the bigger books go into detail more, this book really gives you the overview of fashion and how fashion depended on changes in society or inventions of the time. The book is specifically meant to be an introduction that will inspire further research. To do so, lots of sources and places to visit are included in the end, which is a really nice touch.

Victorian Fashion examines the principal fashions for women, men and children, talks about how clothes were acquired, and touches upon some special themes like eveningwear, sports wear, bridal clothes and mourning clothes.

The book is very rich in pictures, some well-known fashion plates but also lots of lesser-known advertisements and photographs. This really makes the book stand out and give it a very well-researched feeling. Also, I just love looking at images of great Victorian outfits :)

There is a lot of attention for how certain fashions emerged, and how they are tied to events or happenings at the time. For example: the book talks about how a newly discovered way of pleating, where more fabric could be gathered into a pleat than before, gave way to a trend of pointed bodices and dome-shaped skirts. Or how the prevailing idea of the woman as a demure, shy and perfect angel resulted in constricting and restrained fashions like large shawls, dainty boots that covered the foot very well, and funnel-shaped poke-bonnets. It tells how the first use of sprung steel, starting in 1857, gave rise to a big fashion of hoop skirts.

I would really consider this book as a great starter book, to get into Victorian fashion in general and start your research with, or if you’re just interested and want to read a little bit more. It would definitely make a great gift, as the book is good-looking, very informative, and light enough to be a very pleasant read for everyone! For real history-buffs, it might offer little new information, but it would still be a very nice book to read and brush up on your knowledge.


Here’s some fun news! Until May 31st 2016, you can get a 20% discount upon purchasing this book! Go here: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/victorian-fashion-9780747815082/ and use the code:  VFASHION20 


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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!

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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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By accident I caught the second episode of BBC’s recent adaption of Jane Austen’s Emma this weekend. It’s beautiful! I didn’t catch the story at all but sat for an hour, fascinated by the beautiful costumes, settings, and filming.



Apparently, almost all clothes were recycled from other movies and tv shows! You can read the list here.

I got so excited, I wanted to read the novel as well, which you can find here: Project Gutenberg

And if you like screenshots and icons, or you missed the first two episodes and would like to see them on your computer, go here: Livejournal’s BBC Costume Drama community.

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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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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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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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