Category Archives: Victorian Era

The Benefits of Developing Habits

Weekly stats for week ending 31st Sept 2019

I run a Facebook site called Steampunk Sunday, for all things related to Steampunk. It’s been going since 2013. I’ve watched other sites come and go, while I just pottered away. I post whatever attracts my attention. It’s become a habit to update it.

This past week, over 100,000 people read my posts. This is a new high for me. Facebook has now implemented a two tier level of security for my sites.

I never know what is going to catch the attention of my Constant Companions (my nickname for the longterm followers of the site). They get excited over anything teapot related – as do I. They like gadgets. But the post that caught the attention this week is this one:

Image may contain: one or more people, text and indoorAs an Australian, I’ve had problems when I search online for anything Victorian. I’ve learnt to use ‘Victorian-era’. However, I’m guessing this was a new concept for all those overseas Steampunk Enthusiasts. I was amused at this … I’m glad I’m not the only one!

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Filed under Humour, Steampunk, Steampunk Sunday, 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.

abandoned-1882-james-tissot

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.

henry_savery_memorial_stone_isle_of_the_dead_tasmania

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.

195936866

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

letter-on-corpulence-by-william-banting3

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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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, William Banting

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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Filed under Ghosts, History, Horror genre, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

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.

french-vintage-antique-portrait-of-a-baby-girl-posing-with-her-bebe-jumeau-doll-c-1890-1900

victorian-era-girl-with-her-doll

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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Filed under Dolls, Fashion, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

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

Fumsup

Fums Up 02

The Fumsup charm was popular at the end of the 19th century and up until WW1. This sort of lucky charm went with many a soldier to war. Fumsup is baby talk for ‘Thumbs up’. The luck was in the wooden head – touch wood – and in the cheery gesture of thumbs up!

I only just found out about this charm, and had to share straight away.

Fums up!

For Luck.

Behold in me

The birth of luck

Two charms combined

TOUCHWOOD–FUMSUP.

My head is made

Of wood most rare

My thumbs turn up

To touch me there.

To speed my feet

They’ve Cupid’s wings: 

They’ll help true love

’Mongst other things.

Proverbial is

My power to bring

Good luck to you

In everything.

I’ll bring good luck

To all away –

Just send me to 

A friend to-day.

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Charles Dickens’ Midlife Crisis: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

The ‘dick’ in Charles Dickens name is well deserved. As much as I admire his writing and his social activism, he was just a man, and not a very nice one where his wife and mistress were concerned. He treated them both quite shamefully, privately and publicly.

Catherine Hogarth Dickens in her prime

Catherine Hogarth Dickens

Catherine was the eldest daughter of George Hogarth. George Hogarth was a Scottish journalist for the Edinburgh Courant, later becoming a writer and music critic for the Morning Chronicle where Dickens was a young journalist, and later the editor of the Evening Chronicle. I may be a cynic, but I can’t help wondering if Dickens married Catherine as a way of furthering his own career.

Catherine Hogarth Dickens in her youth..jpg

Catherine in her youth.

In many biographies of Charles Dickens, I have seen Catherine characterised as dull, ugly, compliant, and a terrible mother and housekeeper … all words used by Dickens when he was validating his separation from his wife of twenty years. And yet, in 1851,  Catherine Dickens published a cookery book, What Shall we Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons. It went through several editions until 1860. She took minor parts in plays produced by her husband. She had ten children – which would be a strain on any mother and housekeeper. Portraits of a young Catherine prove she was an attractive woman, and even in middle age she certainly wasn’t ugly. As usual, history has taken Dickens’ version to be the correct assessment of his wife; he blamed her for their ten children as if he had no part in their births.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens as a young man.

Catherine’s two younger sisters, Mary and Georgina, also lived in the Dickens household as companions and aids to Catherine. There has been much speculation that Dickens had romantic relationships with both of these women as well. Little Mary entered the household at fourteen, when Charles and Catherine married, and died four years latter at seventeen. If Charles Dickens did romance her, it makes him a paedophile at the very least, which is a distasteful prospect. Georgina was fifteen when took Mary’s place in the Dickens’ menagerie.

Catherine Dickens in middle age

Catherine Dickens in her middle age.

Like many married men today, Dickens shed his wife for a younger model when he had his midlife crisis. It became a well-known rumour that Dickens was behaving badly, and Dickens publicly humiliated his wife, children, sisters-in-law, and his mistress by putting letters of ‘explanation’ in various newspapers and magazines.

“Some domestic trouble of mine, of long-standing, on which I will make no further remark than that it claims to be respected, as being of a sacredly private nature, has lately been brought to an arrangement, which involves no anger or ill-will of any kind, and the whole origin, progress, and surrounding circumstances of which have been, throughout, within the knowledge of my children. It is amicably composed, and its details have now but to be forgotten by those concerned in it….By some means, arising out of wickedness, or out of folly, or out of inconceivable wild chance, or out of all three, this trouble has been made the occasion of misrepresentations, most grossly false, most monstrous, and most cruel – involving, not only me, but innocent persons dear to my heart…. I most solemnly declare, then – and this I do both in my own name and in my wife’s name – that all the lately whispered rumours touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth”.

I translate this as “I am a literary genius and I can do what I damn well want!”

Ellen Ternan 1858

Ellen Ternan around the time she met Charles Dickens

Dickens’ mistress was eighteen when the affair started, while he was 45. Ellen Ternan was a from actress from a family of thespians. She has been described – again using Dickens’ very own words – as ‘clever and charming, forceful of character, and interested in literature and the theatre’. And the evidence? She remained invisible once she took the role of mistress; that doesn’t say ‘forceful’ to me. Dickens – who bitched that his wife had kept him poor by having ten children – was able to afford a residence for Miss Ternan, who lived there under an assumed named and Dickens visited her under an assumed name. Again, that isn’t very forceful. There is no evidence to her wit or cleverness, but photographs do show her to be a pretty woman. (And Ellen resembles Catherine Hogarth at a similar age.)

At the same time that Dickens became enamoured with this new paramour, he started finding fault with his wife. He insulted her intelligence, her weight, her looks, her housekeeping and labelled her an incompetent mother. He was a man running down the mother of his ten children, because he wanted her to be the villain of the piece. As a literary genius, he felt he deserved a pass card to take a young mistress and blacken his wife’s good name. Not cool, Charlie, not cool; then or now, a man in a midlife crisis is not a pretty sight.

Allen, Harry M., active 1907-1937; Charles Dickens, Aged 45

Dickens at 45.

And so, Dickens separated from the stoic Catherine, with him keeping nine of their children, the family home, and her sister Georgina, while Catherine went to live with their son, Charles junior. Some people have judged Georgina harshly for staying – to look after her sister’s children. Was Georgina siding against her sister, as the accepted theory? Or did she remain to give those children some security for her sister’s sake? Personally, I am inclined to believe the situation was complex, and Georgina loved those children for their own sakes, as well for her sister’s sake, and maybe even out of family affection for Charles Dickens. She remained with Dickens until his death, and went on to collect and publish his papers (with Mamie Dickens) after his death.

Georgina-hogarth

Georgina Hogarth

Charles Dickens died in 1870, aged 58, and Catherine died in 1879, aged 64. On her deathbed, Catherine gave the collection of love letters she had received from Dickens to her daughter, Kate, with the poignant parting shot: “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once”. Ellen Ternan married six years after Charles Dickens’ death, to man she kept in the dark about her role as Dickens’ mistress. They had two children, and it appears that Ellen accepted and treasured respectability in the last half of her life. The Dickens family were complicit in keeping their patriarch’s dirty little secret, until all his children were dead.

I can’t help but admire Catherine Hogarth for her grace and her forgiving nature. Even though Charles Dickens obviously broke her heart, she did not stoop to his level of name calling. I feel sorry for poor Ellen Ternan, who was ‘taken under the wing’ of a powerful, famous man who hid her away all the years of her youth. I am sympathetic to Georgina Hogarth, who put the Dickens children first, and I pity poor Mary Hogarth who died before her time. I do NOT feel any sympathy for Charles Dickens, who acted as if his midlife crisis was all the excuse he needed to act in the most dastardly manner.

I have witnessed this same process happening first hand, when married men want to justify  their bad behaviour. They demonise their wives, to make themselves the heroes in their own narrative. It is nasty and cowardly, laying blame on the wife rather than being a grownup and taking responsibility for your own actions. Dickens was a great writer, but he used the cliché that ‘the wife doesn’t understand me’ to ill effect in his own personal narrative. Shame on him. Lazy writing made real.

 

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era