Tag Archives: Historical Personage

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

Diving into a research maze

1880-miss-bernhardt-the-ocean-express-miss-bernhardt-with-person-in-deep-sea-diving-gear-standing-alongside

Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, circa 1880. Image from the Library of Congress

 

This is a story about how a writer can waste an entire day excited by an image, to come up empty handed. I come across the above image, of a pretty woman seated beside a man dressed in a diving suit, about twice a month. This is probably because the photograph conforms to the ‘Steampunk’ genre and aesthetic – contrasting a Victorian beauty with the ‘high tech’ of the diving suit. Then I stumbled across the photograph below, of the same woman wearing a dive suit!

girl-dressed-as-diver

Miss Sarah Bernhardt, as the Ocean Empress, in Diving Gear, circa 1880.              Image from the Library of Congress.

Well, I was excited. Maybe the young woman was an adventurer, like lady aviators, exploring under the horizon instead of above it. The only problem was the image of the young woman had been shared so many times, that I couldn’t follow it back to the original posting. Then I tried searching for ‘Victorian era woman diver’. Alas, I was both lucky and unlucky. It turns out this is the actress, Sarah Bernhardt, dressed as the Ocean Empress. So I discovered the original images in the Library of Congress, but no evidence of a lady diving adventurer.

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Mrs Mitchell, one of England’s first female deep sea divers, before beginning her workday inspecting ships’ hulls at the Tilbury Docks. (From “Ein seltener Frauenberuf,” Die Welt der Frau, no. 47 [1908]: 752.)

As far as I can tell, the earliest mention of female divers was around 1908, just missing the Victorian era. I do think the picture of Mrs Mitchell is more than awesome, however. Look at that confident smile! She had to be physically strong to even walk in that suit! If any of you know of earlier instances, please feel free to correct me.

In my Steampunk Work-in-Progress (yes, I know, you are all waiting for me to actually finish it), my protagonist actually does don a diving suit. The ‘modern’ diving suit was invented in the 1700s.  The British engineer, Augustus Siebe, developed the standard diving dress in the 1830s, the metal and glass helmet fitted to a full length watertight canvas diving suit, with tubes attached. The first commercially successful closed-circuit scuba tank was designed and built by the English diving engineer, Henry Fleuss, in 1878, while working for Siebe Gorman (founded and run by Augustus Gorman). His self-contained breathing apparatus consisted of a rubber mask connected to a breathing bag, with the oxygen supplied from a copper tank and carbon dioxide scrubbed by rope yarn soaked in caustic potash; the system’s functional duration was about three hours. This means that in 1871 – the era of my setting – it would not be too outrageous that she might have used a prototype of the scuba tank.

After all, it’s MY story. *grins* The fact it might not work as planned only adds to the suspense.

 

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Filed under Feminism, Historical Personage, History, Sarah Bernhardt, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, The Writing Life, Uncategorized

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.

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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.

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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

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

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.

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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

Jenny: one of the poem’s buried with Elizabeth Siddal and exhumed by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

“Vengeance of Jenny’s case! Fie on her! Never name her, child!”—Mrs. Quickly

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Rosetti’s marriage portrait of Elizabeth Siddal

Lazy laughing languid Jenny,
Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea,
Whose head upon my knee to-night
Rests for a while, as if grown light
With all our dances and the sound
To which the wild tunes spun you round:
Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen
Of kisses which the blush between
Could hardly make much daintier;
Whose eyes are as blue skies, whose hair
Is countless gold incomparable:
Fresh flower, scarce touched with signs that tell
Of Love’s exuberant hotbed:—Nay,
Poor flower left torn since yesterday
Until to-morrow leave you bare;
Poor handful of bright spring-water
Flung in the whirlpool’s shrieking face;
Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
Thus with your head upon my knee;—
Whose person or whose purse may be
The lodestar of your reverie?
This room of yours, my Jenny, looks
A change from mine so full of books,
Whose serried ranks hold fast, forsooth,
So many captive hours of youth,—
The hours they thieve from day and night
To make one’s cherished work come right,
And leave it wrong for all their theft,
Even as to-night my work has left:
Until I vowed that since my brain
And eyes of dancing seemed so fain,
My feet should have some dancing too:—
And thus it was I met with you.
Well, I suppose ’twas hard to part,
For here I am. And now, sweetheart,
You seem too tired to get to bed.
It was a careless life I led
When rooms like this were scarce so strange
Not long ago. What breeds the change,—
The many aims or the few years?
Because to-night it all appears
Something I do not know again.
The cloud’s not danced out of my brain,—
The cloud that made it turn and swim
While hour by hour the books grew dim.
Why, Jenny, as I watch you there,—
For all your wealth of loosened hair,
Your silk ungirdled and unlac’d
And warm sweets open to the waist,
All golden in the lamplight’s gleam,—
You know not what a book you seem,
Half-read by lightning in a dream!
How should you know, my Jenny? Nay,
And I should be ashamed to say:—
Poor beauty, so well worth a kiss!
But while my thought runs on like this
With wasteful whims more than enough,
I wonder what you’re thinking of.
If of myself you think at all,
What is the thought?—conjectural
On sorry matters best unsolved?—
Or inly is each grace revolved
To fit me with a lure?—or (sad
To think!) perhaps you’re merely glad
That I’m not drunk or ruffianly
And let you rest upon my knee.
For sometimes, were the truth confess’d,
You’re thankful for a little rest,—
Glad from the crush to rest within,
From the heart-sickness and the din
Where envy’s voice at virtue’s pitch
Mocks you because your gown is rich;
And from the pale girl’s dumb rebuke,
Whose ill-clad grace and toil-worn look
Proclaim the strength that keeps her weak,
And other nights than yours bespeak;
And from the wise unchildish elf,
To schoolmate lesser than himself
Pointing you out, what thing you are:—
Yes, from the daily jeer and jar,
From shame and shame’s outbraving too,
Is rest not sometimes sweet to you?—
But most from the hatefulness of man
Who spares not to end what he began,
Whose acts are ill and his speech ill,
Who, having used you at his will,
Thrusts you aside, as when I dine
I serve the dishes and the wine.
Well, handsome Jenny mine, sit up:
I’ve filled our glasses, let us sup,
And do not let me think of you,
Lest shame of yours suffice for two.
What, still so tired? Well, well then, keep
Your head there, so you do not sleep;
But that the weariness may pass
And leave you merry, take this glass.
Ah! lazy lily hand, more bless’d
If ne’er in rings it had been dress’d
Nor ever by a glove conceal’d!
Behold the lilies of the field,
They toil not neither do they spin;
(So doth the ancient text begin,—
Not of such rest as one of these
Can share.) Another rest and ease.
Along each summer-sated path
From its new lord the garden hath,
Than that whose spring in blessings ran
Which praised the bounteous husbandman,
Ere yet, in days of hankering breath,
The lilies sickened unto death.
What, Jenny, are your lilies dead?
Aye, and the snow-white leaves are spread
Like winter on the garden-bed.
But you had roses left in May,—
They were not gone too. Jenny, nay,
But must your roses die, and those
Their purfled buds that should unclose?
Even so; the leaves are curled apart,
Still red as from the broken heart,
And here’s the naked stem of thorns.
Nay, nay mere words. Here nothing warns
As yet of winter. Sickness here
Or want alone could waken fear,—
Nothing but passion wrings a tear.
Except when there may rise unsought
Haply at times a passing thought
Of the old days which seem to be
Much older than any history
That is written in any book;
When she would lie in fields and look
Along the ground through the blown grass,
And wonder where the city was,
Far out of sight, whose broil and bale
They told her then for a child’s tale.
Jenny, you know the city now,
A child can tell the tale there, how
Some things which are not yet enroll’d
In market-lists are bought and sold
Even till the early Sunday light,
When Saturday night is market-night
Everywhere, be it dry or wet,
And market-night in the Haymarket.
Our learned London children know,
Poor Jenny, all your pride and woe;
Have seen your lifted silken skirt
Advertise dainties through the dirt;
Have seen your coach-wheels splash rebuke
On virtue; and have learned your look
When, wealth and health slipped past, you stare
Along the streets alone, and there,
Round the long park, across the bridge,
The cold lamps at the pavement’s edge
Wind on together and apart,
A fiery serpent for your heart.
Let the thoughts pass, an empty cloud!
Suppose I were to think aloud,—
What if to her all this were said?
Why, as a volume seldom read
Being opened halfway shuts again,
So might the pages of her brain
Be parted at such words, and thence
Close back upon the dusty sense.
For is there hue or shape defin’d
In Jenny’s desecrated mind,
Where all contagious currents meet,
A Lethe of the middle street?
Nay, it reflects not any face,
Nor sound is in its sluggish pace,
But as they coil those eddies clot,
And night and day remembers not.
Why, Jenny, you’re asleep at last!—
Asleep, poor Jenny, hard and fast,—
So young and soft and tired; so fair,
With chin thus nestled in your hair,
Mouth quiet, eyelids almost blue
As if some sky of dreams shone through!
Just as another woman sleeps!
Enough to throw one’s thoughts in heaps
Of doubt and horror,—what to say
Or think,—this awful secret sway,
The potter’s power over the clay!
Of the same lump (it has been said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
My cousin Nell is fond of fun,
And fond of dress, and change, and praise,
So mere a woman in her ways:
And if her sweet eyes rich in youth
Are like her lips that tell the truth,
My cousin Nell is fond of love.
And she’s the girl I’m proudest of.
Who does not prize her, guard her well?
The love of change, in cousin Nell,
Shall find the best and hold it dear:
The unconquered mirth turn quieter
Not through her own, through others’ woe:
The conscious pride of beauty glow
Beside another’s pride in her,
One little part of all they share.
For Love himself shall ripen these
In a kind of soil to just increase
Through years of fertilizing peace.
Of the same lump (as it is said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
It makes a goblin of the sun.
So pure,—so fall’n! How dare to think
Of the first common kindred link?
Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn
It seems that all things take their turn;
And who shall say but this fair tree
May need, in changes that may be,
Your children’s children’s charity?
Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn’d!
Shall no man hold his pride forewarn’d
Till in the end, the Day of Days,
At Judgement, one of his own race,
As frail and lost as you, shall rise,—
His daughter, with his mother’s eyes?
How Jenny’s clock ticks on the shelf!
Might not the dial scorn itself
That has such hours to register?
Yet as to me, even so to her
Are golden sun and silver moon,
In daily largesse of earth’s boon,
Counted for life-coins to one tune.
And if, as blindfold fates are toss’d,
Through some one man this life be lost,
Shall soul not somehow pray for soul?
Fair shines the gilded aureole
In which our highest painters place
Some living woman’s simple face.
And the stilled features thus descried
As Jenny’s long throat droops aside,—
The shadows where the cheeks are thin,
And pure wide curve from ear to chin,—
Whit Raffael’s, Leonardo’s hand
To show them to men’s souls, might stand,
Whole ages long, the whole world through,
For preachings of what God can do.
What has man done here? How atone,
Great God, for this which man has done?
And for the body and soul which by
Man’s pitiless doom must now comply
With lifelong hell, what lullaby
Of sweet forgetful second birth
Remains? All dark. No sign on earth
What measure of God’s rest endows
The many mansions of his house.
If but a woman’s heart might see
Such erring heart unerringly
For once! But that can never be.
Like a rose shut in a book
In which pure women may not look,
For its base pages claim control
To crush the flower within the soul;
Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings,
Pale as transparent psyche-wings,
To the vile text, are traced such things
As might make lady’s cheek indeed
More than a living rose to read;
So nought save foolish foulness may
Watch with hard eyes the sure decay;
And so the life-blood of this rose,
Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows
Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose:
Yet still it keeps such faded show
Of when ’twas gathered long ago,
That the crushed petals’ lovely grain,
The sweetness of the sanguine stain,
Seen of a woman’s eyes, must make
Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache,
Love roses better for its sake:—
Only that this can never be:—
Even so unto her sex is she.
Yet, Jenny, looking long at you,
The woman almost fades from view.
A cipher of man’s changeless sum
Of lust, past, present, and to come,
Is left. A riddle that one shrinks
To challenge from the scornful sphinx.
Like a toad within a stone
Seated while Time crumbles on;
Which sits there since the earth was curs’d
For Man’s transgression at the first;
Which, living through all centuries,
Not once has seen the sun arise;
Whose life, to its cold circle charmed,
The earth’s whole summers have not warmed;
Which always—whitherso the stone
Be flung—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;—
Aye, and shall not be driven out
Till that which shuts him round about
Break at the very Master’s stroke,
And the dust thereof vanish as smoke,
And the seed of Man vanish as dust:—
Even so within this world is Lust.
Come, come, what use in thoughts like this?
Poor little Jenny, good to kiss,—
You’d not believe by what strange roads
Thought travels, when your beauty goads
A man to-night to think of toads!
Jenny, wake up. . . . Why, there’s the dawn!
And there’s an early waggon drawn
To market, and some sheep that jog
Bleating before a barking dog;
And the old streets come peering through
Another night that London knew;
And all as ghostlike as the lamps.
So on the wings of day decamps
My last night’s frolic. Glooms begin
To shiver off as lights creep in
Past the gauze curtains half drawn-to,
And the lamp’s doubled shade grows blue,—
Your lamp, my Jenny, kept alight,
Like a wise virgin’s, all one night!
And in the alcove coolly spread
Glimmers with dawn your empty bed;
And yonder your fair face I see
Reflected lying on my knee,
Where teems with first foreshadowings
Your pier-glass scrawled with diamond rings:
And on your bosom all night worn
Yesterday’s rose now droops forlorn,
But dies not yet this summer morn.
And now without, as if some word
Had called upon them that they heard,
The London sparrows far and nigh
Clamour together suddenly;
And Jenny’s cage-bird grown awake
Here in their song his part must take,
Because here too the day doth break.
And somehow in myself the dawn
Among stirred clouds and veils withdrawn
Strikes greyly on her. Let her sleep.
But will it wake her if I heap
These cushions thus beneath her head
Where my knee was? No,—there’s your bed,
My Jenny, while you dream. And there
I lay among your golden hair
Perhaps the subject of your dreams,
These golden coins.
For still one deems
That Jenny’s flattering sleep confers
New magic on the magic purse,—
Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies!
Between the threads fine fumes arise
And shape their pictures in the brain.
There roll no streets in glare and rain,
Nor flagrant man-swine whets his tusk;
But delicately sighs in musk
The homage of the dim boudoir;
Or like a palpitating star
Thrilled into song, the opera-night
Breathes faint in the quick pulse of light;
Or at the carriage-window shine
Rich wares for choice; or, free to dine,
Whirls through its hour of health (divine
For her) the concourse of the Park.
And though in the discounted dark
Her functions there and here are one,
Beneath the lamps and in the sun
There reigns at least the acknowledged belle
Apparelled beyond parallel.
Ah Jenny, yes, we know your dreams.
For even the Paphian Venus seems,
A goddess o’er the realms of love,
When silver-shrined in shadowy grove:
Aye, or let offerings nicely placed
But hide Priapus to the waist,
And whoso looks on him shall see
An eligible deity.
Why, Jenny, waking here alone
May help you to remember one,
Though all the memory’s long outworn
Of many a double-pillowed morn.
I think I see you when you wake,
And rub your eyes for me, and shake
My gold, in rising, from your hair,
A Danaë for a moment there.
Jenny, my love rang true! for still
Love at first sight is vague, until
That tinkling makes him audible.
And must I mock you to the last,
Ashamed of my own shame,—aghast
Because some thoughts not born amiss
Rose at a poor fair face like this?
Well, of such thoughts so much I know:
In my life, as in hers, they show,
By a far gleam which I may near,
A dark path I can strive to clear.
Only one kiss. Good-bye, my dear.

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Filed under 1860, Historical Personage, History, Poetry, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Fire Storms: the American conflagrations of the 8th of October,1871

Chicago_in_Flames_by_Currier_&_Ives,_1871

Nearly everyone has heard about O’Leary’s cow and the Great Chicago Fire, but that wasn’t the only fire that raged that day in America. There were fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in the towns of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, and Port Huron , Lake Huron, as well. The Peshtigo fire caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, with an estimated  1,500 people dying, and possibly as many as 2,500 … but that tragedy was forgotten in the shadow of the Chicago fire, where only 120 to 300 people died.

The summer of 1871 was a scorcher, with little rain. On October 8th, with winds blowing and no rain in sight, fires broke out in Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan. The most popular building material was wood, and the forests and fields were parched and dessicated, a fire demon’s dream come true. By the time the flames subsided several days later, thousands of people were dead, and a total of  four million acres of land had been razed.

peshtigo fire

The Great Peshtigo Fire

The Great Michigan Fire  was the fire that raged through Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron. No one was ever able to make an estimate as to how many died. By counting up missing families, a total of 500 dead was reached, but this total didn’t include all the lumberjacks spread throughout the forests and realistically the total was much higher.

Plaque

A commemoration plaque of the Great Michigan Fire

In 1883, the theory was put forward that the simultaneous fires across the Midwest were caused by the impact of fragments from Comet Biela. I don’t give much credence to this hypothesis, as the timing was all wrong and comets are made of ice. It is more likely that the fires were caused by lightening strikes – or even by hot ashes drifting from the Great Chicago Fire. The winds were fierce that week, which fanned the flames and made it difficult to fight the fires.

As my Steampunk novel is set in 1871 and 1872, it is unlikely that my characters would not refer to the great fires at some point. Adding details like this to my text adds verisimilitude to the narrative. It is the build up of small, believable details that draws the reader into the story … and then you can start spinning the fantastic.

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Filed under 1871, Historical Personage, History, Setting, Steampunk, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Goblin Market: a Steampunk Feminist Discussion on Christina Rossetti

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Ecce_Ancilla_Domini!_-_Google_Art_Project

Christina Rossetti painted as the Virgin Mary by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was the sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder and one of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and a poet in her own right. She was also a model for several of her brother’s paintings, including being the inspiration for the Virgin Mary. The most famous of her poems is The Goblin Market; one of the best paeans to Sisterhood in my own opinion.

“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”

The conclusion to The Goblin Market.

Even though it is fairly obvious that this poem was aimed at adults, it has always been considered a poem for children – probably because of the fantasy element. The society of Victorian era relegated fairies and suchlike to the children’s literary genre; a perfect example of this is The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley, intended as a tract against child labour, as well as a serious critique of the negative attitudes of many scientists of the day to new theories and innovative research. Christina Rossetti was classified as a children’s poet, even though many of her poems had serious topics, like death, animal cruelty, sin and redemption.

Christina_Rossetti_2, portrait by her brother

Christina Rossetti, portrait by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Though Rossetti received three proposals (that we know of), she never married; one can’t help but wonder at the strength of resolve she had in avoiding matrimony in an era where marriage was considered a woman’s only respectable career option. She was never officially recognised as a suffragette, but Rossetti was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870 at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, and she opposed the use of young women as prostitutes. The underlying discourse of many of her poems are feminist in theme. She published poems in the feminist periodicals The English Woman’s Journal and Victoria Magazine and in various anthologies. Like all the women on the outskirts of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, she lived by her own rules, though Christina Rossetti was never considered a rebel. A feminist by any other name is still a feminist.

Christina_Rossetti_3.jpg
Christina Rossetti was a very staunch Catholic woman to the point she even has her own feast day in the Catholic calendar. She wrote devotional poetry, as well as her poems that she wrote with the encouragement of Dante. Her obvious religious fervour balanced against her relationship to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and – after all – Dante was her brother and the Victorians valued familial bonds, so that she considered fairly respectable all her life. Her religious views flavoured the fantasy in her poetry, as she often dwelled on sin and redemption.

Camille_Claudel

Camille Claudel

Christina Rossetti was considered the ‘successor’ to Elizabeth Barret Browning, and she is still studied as a Literary poet. However, her brother’s fame has always been greater than her own. It is the same for Camille Claude, whose great talent as a sculpture was overshadowed by her brother’s reputation as a poet. Dorothy Wordsworth didn’t even try to compete with her brother William, though he read her journal for inspiration. In the Victorian era, a female artist was always considered a secondary talent. Even the poet Shelly was rather scornful of Mary Shelley’s writing efforts, though he loved his wife dearly. Christina should not be dismissed as a minor Victorian poet; if Christina had been a Christian, would the poetry still be considered more suitable for children?
Christina Rossetti herself was of two minds about her poetry. At different times she claimed it was written specifically for children, and at other times she considered it unsuitable for children to read. I think her audience read into her poetry what they want to see, which is the real quality that delineates a true poetic vision. I’m gratified to see that her vision still has relevance in the 21st century.

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Filed under Feminism, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Richard Owen: the Real Victorian Dinosaur

Owen: the most distinguished vertebrate zoologist and palaeontologist… but a most deceitful and odious man.”

— Richard Broke Freeman in Charles Darwin: a Companion, 1978
Richard Owen

Richard Owen -the gifted palaeontologist who coined the word ‘Dinosaur’, and best remembered for his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

In his day, Sir Richard Owen was a controversy magnet, as well as a talented and highly intelligent English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist. However, he was also inclined to not give credit where academic credit was due, was argumentative and opinionated, and this tended to undermine his real achievements. He was a complex man, and it impacted on his legacy as a scientist.

1846_Owen_Moa

Owen with a Moa bone in 1846

The Good:

Personally, I believe Owen’s support for the founding of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington is his outstanding achievement.Work  on the building that houses the museum began in 1873 and was completed in 1880. The museum was officially opened in 1881, although the move from the old museum was not fully completed until 1883.The collection has both historic as well as scientific value, as many of the specimens collected were by scientists like Darwin or Banks.

Owen did do a lot of original work. It was Owen who first explored the differences between reptiles and dinosaurs, and went on to name Dinosauria – the terrible lizards. It was Owen’s interest in the Dodo that helped with documenting and preserving the remaining partial specimens. He theorised the existence of Moas from a single femur bone, sent to him by a Doctor John Rule of Sydney, who had received it from his nephew in New Zealand, John Harris. Owen named the new species Dinornis. It was his work on fossils that he is best remembered for in the scientific community. Several of his academic text books are still in use today, like Odontography, or are the basis for further work in the field of anatomy.

Owen's Archetype

Owen’s Archetype

Owen was granted right of first refusal on the corpses of any freshly dead animals from the London Zoo, and made significant contributions to the science of taxonomy. This created some amusing situations; Owen’s wife once arrived home to find the carcass of a rhinoceros in her front hallway. However, it was his work on fossils that he is best remembered for. One of Owen’s most notable accomplishments was his description of the vertebrate archetype. There he provided a theoretical framework to interpret anatomical and physiological similarities shared among organisms. Owen saw these mutual features as manifestations of a common blueprint. He defined the archetype this way: “that ideal original or fundamental pattern on which a natural group of animals or system of organs has been constructed, and to modifications of which the various forms of such animals or organs may be referred.”

Richard-owen2

The Bad:

Darwin and Owen started out as colleagues. But Owen was in two minds when Darwin’s The Origin of Species came out; his own theories along similar lines had been much ridiculed in the press and by the scientific establishment. Much later on, he was inclined to publicly agree in the concept of evolution, but was dead against the theory that natural selection was the underlying cause. This brought him the enmity of Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s greatest supporter and a member of the X Club. (I told you I would get back to the X Club eventually).

“I often saw Owen, whilst living in London, and admired him greatly, but was never able to understand his character and never became intimate with him. After the publication of the Origin of Species he became my bitter enemy, not owing to any quarrel between us, but as far as I could judge out of jealousy at its success. Poor dear Falconer….had a very bad opinion of him, being convinced that he was not only ambitious, very envious and arrogant, but untruthful and dishonest. His power of hatred was certainly unsurpassed. When in former days I used to defend Owen, Falconer often said, “You will find him out some day”, and so it has proved.”

Charles Darwin, 1887

logic-quote

 

The Ugly:

Owen plagiarised the work of others, and used his influence to hinder the publication of other scientists’ work. In 1846, he was awarded the Royal Medal for a paper he had written on belemnites (an extinct Order of cephlapods).  What Owen had failed to acknowledge was that the belemnite had been discovered by Chaning Pearce, an amateur biologist, four years earlier. It was then that other scientists noted similar behaviour in regards to the late Gideon Mantell. His antagonism towards Gideon Mantell and sabotage of Mantell’s reputation as the original discoverer of the Iguanodon was uncovered. As a result of the ensuing scandal, he was voted off the councils of the Zoological Society and the Royal Society, and denied the presidency of the Royal Society. He didn’t learn a lesson from these incidents.

As he grew older, he ruined his own reputation with his arrogance and ill tempered attacks on other scientists. Not only had he alienated and offended supporters of Darwin like Huxley and Hugh Falconer, he attacked Joseph Hooker – another member of the X Club – and Kew Gardens, and joined up with the reprehensible Acton Smee Ayrton. Owen thought Hooker and Kew Gardens were threatening the success of the Natural History Museum, and again took to using his influence to ruin the reputation of others. It backfired. In the midst of his troubles, Hooker was elected as President of the Royal Society in 1873. This showed publicly the high regard which Hooker’s fellow scientists had for him, and the great importance they attached to his work.

There had been an official report on Kew which had not previously been seen in public. Ayrton had caused this to be written by Richard Owen. Hooker had not seen it, and so had not been given right of reply. However, the report was amongst the papers laid before Parliament, and it contained the most unscrupulous attack on both the Hookers, and suggested (amongst much else) that they had mismanaged the care of their trees, and that their systematic botany was nothing more than “attaching barbarous binomials to foreign weeds”. The discovery of this report no doubt helped to sway opinion in favour of Hooker and Kew (there was debate in the press as well as Parliament). Hooker replied to the Owen report point by point in a factual manner, and his reply placed with the other papers on the case. When Ayrton was questioned about it in the debate led by Lubbock, he replied that “Hooker was too low an official to raise questions of matter with a Minister of the Crown”.

From Wikipedia

Owen had worked hard to contribute to the science of biology, and in the end he muddied his own reputation more than anyone else’s. He spent the last half of his career working as the superintendent of the natural history department of the British Museum and then his Natural History Museum, and even managed to taint that legacy. In 2009, his statue  in the main hall of his museum was replaced with a statue of Darwin (oh, the irony).

In my Steampunk work-in-progress, Owen is only mentioned in passing. But I considering upping his presence…

 

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Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Dinosaurs, Historical Personage, History, Richard Owen, Science, Steampunk Genre, The X Club, Victorian Era, writing

The Most Kissed Face in the World; the Madonna of the Seine

Madonna

Is Beauty a concept that is ephemeral for a moment, or is it eternal? The body of the young female drowning victim was pulled out of the Seine River at the Quai du Louvre in Paris around the late 1880s. The girl child was never identified and no one ever came to claim her; it was assumed she was a suicide as there were no signs of a struggle on her body. However, the serene loveliness of her expression encouraged a pathologist to make a cast death mask of her face. Plaster copies of this death mask went on to decorate the sitting rooms and studios of artists and other fashionable people throughout Europe and North America, becoming the muse for thousands of artworks and literary works.

The Death Mask

L’Inconnue de la Seine means ‘The Unknown Woman of the Seine’ in French, and in America she was known as La Belle Italienne. The death mask inspired so many others with her Mona Lisa smile.

Art

Earrings

 

The death mask as art

This death mask was also used as the basis to Resusci Anne – the CPR dummy that everyone uses to learn first aid techniques. This means this face has been kissed over a million times, by people learning to save lives, including drowning victims. Not a bad way to be remembered.

Resusci Anne

Resusci Anne masks

 

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Aesthetic, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized