From Crinolines to Cross-Dressing Balls: A Two Year Anniversary Digest

Euphemia White Van Rensselear by George Peter Alexander Healy, 1842.

It’s my blogiversary!  Today, MimiMatthews.com is two years old.  I have no idea what the two year mark of a successful blog looks like, but I feel incredibly fortunate that my site continues to receive such a positive response.  I am especially grateful to all of my wonderful subscribers and to everyone who takes the time to comment on my articles.  Your readership means the world! Continue reading

Katrina: A Victorian Ballet of Cats

Katti Lanner, lithograph by Adolf Dauthage, 1861.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical Cats was not the first production to feature a cast of dancers dressed in cat costumes.  Nearly one hundred years earlier, a ballet called Katrina made its debut at the Empire Theatre in London.  Arranged by choreographer Kattie Lanner and set to music by composer Leopold Wenzel, it featured two intertwined stories.  The first concerned the love affairs of a young student. The second—and far more interesting—took place in the Kingdom of Cats.  Continue reading

A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police on a High Speed Bicycle Chase

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

In September of 1896, British newspapers reported the remarkable use of a bicycle in a New Jersey murder case.  The case involved two men who had both emigrated to America from London in the early 1890s.  One of these men was a farmer named Mr. Haggett who settled down with his family on a farm near Somerville.  The other man was a fellow named Mr. Clossen who Haggett employed as a farm laborer.  Sometime in 1896, Haggett caught Clossen stealing.  In consequence, he not only fired him from his job, but also refused to pay him the thirty dollars in wages that Clossen believed he was owed. Continue reading

Victorian Valentine’s Day Verses for Rejecting Unwanted Suitors

The Two Central Figures in Derby Day by William Powell Frith, 1860.(Met Museum)

The Two Central Figures in “Derby Day” by William Powell Frith, 1860.
(Met Museum)

Published in 1875, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer is a book intended for Victorian ladies and gentlemen “who wish to address those they love in suitable terms.”  It contains a variety of Valentine verses, ranging from the sweet to the satirical.  The book promises that these “Love Lyrics” are harmless and that even the more comical lines do not descend into vulgarity.  But what these verses lack in vulgarity, they more than make up for in unkindness and—in some instances—outright cruelty. Continue reading

Shades of Victorian Fashion: Cerulean, Mazarine, Navy, and Blue

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum.

Individual Collage Images via Met Museum.

During the nineteenth century, blue was considered a versatile color, as suitable for elegant evening gowns and demure day dresses as it was for fashionable bonnets, slippers, and parasols. In shades ranging from the palest cerulean blue to the deepest navy, it adorned women of every age and every station, harmonizing with a wide range of hair colors and complexions. In today’s article, we look at some of the loveliest examples of the color blue in Victorian fashion. Continue reading

Overzealous Research Lands Cross-Dressing Victorian Writer in the Dock

Stroll in the Park by Aleksander Gierymski, 1891-1893.

Just before midnight on June 25, 1891, a police detective encountered two women strolling arm-in-arm down Regent Street.  One of the women struck him as being rather odd in appearance.  He approached to investigate, but when he attempted to raise the heavy black veil on the lady’s hat, she firmly knocked his hand away.  It was then that the detective realized that the lady was, in fact, a very elderly gentleman in women’s clothes.  He promptly arrested him. Continue reading

Never Bring a Dog into a Drawing Room: The Etiquette of Paying Calls with Pets

“Favorite dogs are never welcome visitors in a drawing-room.”
Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, 1866.

Lady and a Greyhound by Václav Brožík, 1896-97.(National Gallery, Prague Castle)

Lady and a Greyhound by Václav Brožík, 1896-97.
(National Gallery, Prague Castle)

In the Victorian era, etiquette books offered very specific advice on how to conduct oneself when paying a social call. In some cases, this advice differed from book to book and decade to decade, but in one respect all the etiquette manuals throughout the Victorian era seem to agree. When paying a call on a friend or acquaintance, one should never bring along one’s dog. As the 1840 book Etiquette for Ladies states: Continue reading

Victorian Advice for a Dry January: Alcohol Fasts v. Drinking in Moderation

“What have I done? Given my word not to touch any stimulants for a whole month. By Jove! what a long month it will seem.”
Bound by Fetters; or The Evils of Drink, 1887.

The Drinkers by Jean Béraud, 1908.

The Drinkers by Jean Béraud, 1908.

Though the Victorians may not have been familiar with the term “Dry January,” the custom of abstaining from alcohol for a short time each year was nothing particularly new. Medical books and journals of the day often recommended the practice to cleanse the body and clear the mind. For example, in his 1864 Manual of Diet and Regimen for Physician and Patient, Dr. Horace Dobell advises that: Continue reading

A Victorian Lady’s Christmas Gift Guide

“A merry Christmas, with Love’s gifts for the young, Home’s comforts for the old, and Heaven’s bright hopes for all, is our fervent aspiration.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854.

An elegantly dressed couple walk arm in arm under an umbrella, 1905.(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

An elegantly dressed couple walk arm in arm under an umbrella, 1905.
(Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0)

Shopping for Christmas presents in the Victorian era could be quite tricky, especially if one was a lady choosing a gift for a gentleman. Luckily, newspapers, magazines, and etiquette books of the day were only too happy to offer advice on appropriate gifts for all the men, women, and children in one’s life. They also offered advice on such thorny issues as re-gifting gifts and keeping to a Christmas budget. In today’s article we look at a few of these recommended Christmas gifts for ladies and gentlemen, as well as at Victorian advice on re-gifting and living within one’s means during the holidays. Continue reading

Charles Dickens and Timber Doodle, the Flea-Ridden Dog

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).(Bowes Museum)

Dog of the Havana Breed by Jean Jacques Bachelier, (1724–1806).
(Bowes Museum)

In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Dickens had a small, shaggy Havana spaniel named Timber Doodle. Dickens had acquired Timber during a visit to America and the little dog soon became his constant companion, even accompanying him on his travels. It was during one of these foreign excursions that Timber suffered from a very severe infestation of fleas. The solution was extreme. As Dickens relates in an 1844 letter: Continue reading