Category Archives: Victorian Era

Fainting and Swooning – the Degrees of Syncope in the Victorian Era; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

fainting-couch

The Victorian era Fainting Couch

Fainting and swooning were more prevalent in the Victorian era, to the point that they created a piece of furniture for use when feeling weak and dizzy. It was mostlywomen who fainted. There are many reasons behind this cultural phenomenon; I favour the tightness of corsets, the overabundance of clothes worn by women, and Patriarchal society’s expectation that women were ‘weak’ and easily overcome by strong emotions. So, fainting could be put down to both physical and cultural pressures.

(c) Frank Julian Bayes; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Woman Reclining on a Couch, by Walter Bayes.

 

The medical term for fainting is syncope. It is a short loss of consciousness. Just before a faint, symptoms may include feeling lightheaded, sweating and trembling, clammy and pale skin, blurred vision, among others symptoms. A true faint has a fast onset, a short duration, and spontaneous recovery. It is due to a sudden decrease in blood flow to the entire brain, usually caused by low blood pressure brought on by a physical or emotional shock. A person who has fainted needs to be checked out by a doctor, as a faint can be a sign of underlying medical problems.

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Abandoned, by James Tissot, 1882

In literature, there is a difference between a faint and a swoon. A faint is something that occurs when a person gets a terrible shock – a mother reading of the death of her child – or the person is suffering from blood loss – a wounded gentleman can faint and not seem unmanly. Women swoon. They see an old lover … and swoons. A rogue tries to make love to them … and they swoon. Their father asked them a hard question … and they swoon. A swoon seems to be more ‘convenient’.

'Fainting By Numbers' (Victorian book).

A swoon involves fluttering eyelashes and an elegant collapse over a waiting arm or onto a couch. A true faint doesn’t allow for grace, the individual keels over and if they are lucky there is someone to catch them. I swoon online quite frequently … I don’t faint.

In most Victorian era novels, there are faints and swoons. It is gender specific. Fainting women outnumber fainting men by twenty to one, if not more. I could not find ONE Victorian era image of a fainting man. The best I could do was a still from a silent film.

silent-film-still-fainting-granger

I suspect this may be a swoon…

In my current Steampunk work-in-progress, I have no one fainting or swooning. It isn’t that none of my characters have shocks. It is just that I feel that swooning contributes to a stereotype. The women and men in my novel are too busy to have the time to faint. However, they are overcome with chloroform once or twice. Does that count?

young-woman-reclining-in-spanish-costume-1863-by-edouard-manet

Young Woman Reclining In Spanish Costume by Edouard Manet, 1883. “There will be no damn swooning when I look this good in Capri pants.”

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Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

Henry Savery: Australia’s First Novelist

The first novel published in Australia was a crime novel, Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery. It was published in Hobart in 1831.

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Henry Savery’s tomb stone on the Isle of the Dead, Port Arthur, Tasmania

Henry Savery  was born in Somerset, England on the 4th of August, 1791. His father was a successful banker. He grew up to be an unsuccessful businessman … so unsuccessful, that he resorted to forging bills of credit. These bills eventually amounted to over £30,000. He tried to flee to America with 1500 pounds of his partner’s money, but was caught after a rather dramatic arrest. He jumped from the boat that was to take him to America in an attempt to escape the police. He was originally sentenced to hang, but his influential family and friends managed to have that commuted to transportation. He arrived in Australia in 1825.

After his arrival in Hobart,  Savery was retained in government service and worked for the Colonial Treasurer. In 1828, his wife and son came to the colony, and arguments between the husband and wife culminated in Mr Savery’s attempted suicide. Soon after the arrival of his family, Savery was again imprisoned for debt. That was the final straw for his wife. She took their son back England within three months. This was the last Savery was ever to see of his wife.

However, it was while in prison that Savery took to writing. After his release, he was given the position of manager of Lawn Farm in New Norfolk. Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831 to reasonably good reviews from the colonial press. However, he couldn’t stay out of trouble. He managed to have his ticket of leave revoked for tarnishing the reputation of Governor Arthur in the newspapers. He gained a reputation for alcoholism and tried his old trick of forging bills to cover his debts. He was sent to Port Arthur, where he died on the 6th of February, 1842. There is some indication he may have taken his own life – after all, he had attempted suicide before.

It is generally agreed that his writing is more important for its historical value than its literary merit. – Wikipedia

The original edition of Quintus Servinton is extremely rare, with only three copies being listed in Ferguson’s Bibliography. These are held by Dr. W. Crowther, the Mitchell Library, and the Public Library of Tasmania. The book itself is of limited literary merit, but it was the very first Australian novel, and part of the action did take place in ‘The Colony’. For that alone, we should be grateful to Henry Savery.

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Modern reprint of Savery’s Opus.

 

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Filed under Australian Author, Historical Personage, History, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

William Banting – the first Diet Guru

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William Banting was basically the person who invented diets. He spent his working life as an undertaker. (I am unsuccessfully suppressing the urge to make the joke that “he really did put the ‘die’ in diet”.) After he retired from undertaking, he weighted over 90kg (200 pounds) and he was only 165cm (5 feet 5 inches). He considered himself corpulent, even though he claimed he was an active man; he believed his problem was that the more he exercised, the greater his appetite grew. The physician Dr. William Harvey advised him to take up a diet that restricted starchy or sugary foods. This worked well for Banting, and he reduced his weight to a more manageable level.

overeating

Banting ate four meals a day and drank a generous amount of wine in comparison to his overall caloric intake. He limited his intake of low fat meats and restricted the types of fish and meat he could eat. He ate a lot of vegetables – particularly greens – and fruit. The emphasis of his diet was on avoiding sugar, sugary foods, starchy food, beer, milk and butter. This change in diet worked, and Banting reduced his weight.

banting_quadrille

He wasn’t a man to keep his weight-loss secrets to himself. In 1869, he wrote a pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which he published at his personal expense, to distribute to friends and acquaintances. People shared the pamphlet around and word-of-mouth worked overtime. His self-published edition was so popular that he started to sell it to the general public. The third and later editions were published by Harrison of London. Such was the pamphlet’s popularity that the question “Do you bant?” entered the language.

bantingism_small_copy

With the Atkins Diet, The Palaeolithic Diet, and the low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) are all based around the original Banting diet. Low-carbohydrate diets are dietary programs that restrict carbohydrate consumption, often for the treatment of obesity or diabetes. Please Note: It is important to always consult with your doctor or dietitian before embarking on a diet that restricts food groups.

 

 

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Tag, I’m it!

Steampunk Author, Karen Carlilse tagged me into answering a series of  questions about time travel and books.

karen

See her original post at:

http://karenjcarlisle.com/2016/10/30/tag-im-it-that-bookish-time-travel-blog-post-2/

What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

This is a bit like being asked who your favourite child is. At the moment, I would have to say 1871, in England and Australia, since that is the setting for my current work-in-progress. However, I would have to say my next favourites would be Edo-period Japan and Medieval China. I love the religion and mythology underlying these cultures.

What writers would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Oh, can I make a comprehensive list?

Isaac Asimov straight up. Mary Shelley. Mary Somerville. Charles Dickens. Kipling. H G Wells. Jules Verne. J M Barrie. Diana Wynne Jones. Terry Pratchett (though I have met him). I could go on and on.

What books would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

So, what age is my younger self? Can I give twelve year old me my entire library I have now? If I have to pick just a few: The Willow Tree’s Daughter by Pamela Freeman, all of Barry Hughart’s books, The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, everything Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman ever wrote, everything by Angela Slatter, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and a list of recommendations for future purchases.

What book would you travel forward in time and give your older self?

Dear me. I’d rather my older self travel back and give me her list of reading recommendations.

What is your favourite futuristic setting for a book?

Pern, created by Anne McCaffrey.

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

I will never be limited to just one book. Dodger, by Terry Pratchett, set in Victorian England, or any of the Barry Hughart  books set in historical China.

Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book to see what happens?

Sometimes. Mainly if the book is a little dull or confusing, and I need to see if the journey is worth it. Infrequently, because I am too terrified and I need to see if the book has a happy ending.

If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

I would go back to meet the Three Marys: Mary Somerville, Mary Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and Ada Lovelace/Charles Babbage.

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods.

The Time Machine by H G Wells is original and best! Though I am also a big fan of Doctor Who books. (Well, Doctor Who anything really. I run Osgood LIVES on Facebook).

 

What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett (because that would mean Terry Pratchett would be still alive).

 

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Filed under Australian Steampunk Author, Books & reading, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Author, Victorian Era

Ghosts as Big Business: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

the-ghost-child

Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success!  Why were ghost stories so popular?

whose-afraidscared

 

Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?

seance

The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.

the-haunting

Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?

i-feel-a-presence

 

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Why do Victorian era fashion dolls have such small features? A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

porcelain-head-doll-leather-arms-and-original-victorian-dress

A porcelain-head doll with cloth body and leather limbs, dressed in her original Victorian era clothing. 

Fashion dolls conform to what was considered beautiful in the era they are produced. The dolls are representative of the era that they come from, in both looks and the clothes that they wear. If a doll is deliberately ugly, like the cute troll doll, it is not a fashion doll. By studying a fashion doll, you get a much clearer picture of what was the standard for beauty in an era, because these ‘standards’ change frequently. I often laugh when someone is called a classic beauty – for which era?

original-barbie-doll

Take for an example how Barbie’s looks have changed. The original Barbie’s looks are very different to examples of the Millennial era Barbie. What was considered a ‘classic’ beauty in the 1950s is now considered a ‘vintage’ beauty. Women haven’t changed, but what is considered beautiful certain has. At the moment, big eyes and tiny noses in an heart-shaped or oval face are what are fashionable. In the 1980s, bushy eyebrows were queen! In the 1990’s, bee-stung pouts. Fashions change.

barbie-dolls

In the Victorian era, small, regular features were the in thing. One of the reasons that many photographs of Victorian women show them with their lips tucked in severely is because they are trying to minimise their mouths in the same way modern starlets stand side-on to minimise their hips and show off their chests. As well, porcelain dolls were favoured because of their fine translucent skin tones, as a proper European Victorian-era woman was pale and interesting.

a-clockwork-doll-from-the-1860s

Of course, little girls love their dollies no matter what they look like. (Unless, like me, you find dolls a little creepy.) Most dolls were passed down from sibling to sibling or from mother to daughter. Few Victorian dolls survived this journey because they were loved to death. On of my father’s cousins has a headless, articulated, leather doll with china hands and feet, cherished because his grandmother brought her over from Europe in the 1880s.

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Steampunk dolls are usually based on modern dolls with modern features. This isn’t a problem, since the dolls aren’t meant to historical recreations of Victorian toys. As well, Steampunk dolls aren’t confined to just wearing the height of fashion and can wear trousers and goggles and gadgets.If that isn’t a great step up, I don’t know what is!

pullip-steampunk-eos-doll

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The Artist Emily Mary Osborn: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

 

I write a lot bout the problems that women faced when trying to be professional scientists in the Victorian era, but female artists suffered from the same sorts of sexism and prejudice as their scientist sisters. The perfect example of this is the painting, Nameless and Friendless“The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, etc.” – Proverbs, x, 15, painted in 1857. It depicts the reception of a young artist presenting her paintings to a dealer.

The artist has certainly drawn on her own experiences when painting this scene. The look of resignation on the artist’s face, her brother’s expression halfway between hope and resentment, the dealer pretending to find fault with her work … and the two men on the left, gazing at her with interest tinged with hostility.

 

Nameless and Friendless. "The rich man's wealth is his strong city, etc." - Proverbs, x, 15 1857 by Emily Mary Osborn 1828-1925

Nameless and Friendless. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, etc.” – Proverbs, x, 15; painted in 1857 by Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925 )

The title of the piece is also a hint, referring to the bible proverb: The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.

The young artist and her brother are poor, and trying to make a living in a world full of men that see her as a woman first, and an artist second.

Emily Mary Osborn wasn’t in quite the same straits as the young artist in this painting. She was favoured by several wealthy female patrons, and even Queen Victoria bought at least one of her paintings. I suspect she enjoyed the freedom her success gave to her, because she died unmarried at the age of 97. But it didn’t stop her from showing sympathy to Victorian era ‘damsels’, one of her favourite topics.

The Governess

The Governess

Presentments

Presentiments  

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Filed under Art, Female Artist, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion