Easter Bonnets of the Late 19th Century

“The Easter bonnet has long been recognized as woman’s particular weakness.”
The Illustrated American, 1886.

Spring Bonnets, Der Bazar, 1882.
(Met Museum)

In the nineteenth century, Easter Sunday was an occasion for ladies of all classes to don their most fashionable bonnets.  Some of these bonnets were specially bought for the holiday.  Others were old bonnets made up with new trimmings.  In either circumstance, Easter bonnets were as essential to celebrating Easter as were eggs and bunnies.  An 1889 edition of the Ladies Home Journal even went so far as to declare that it was “an accepted fact that every woman who can buy or make a dainty bonnet for Easter-day must wear it.” Continue reading

The Dogs of Alexandra of Denmark: A Tour of the Kennels at Sandringham

Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.

Portrait of Queen Alexandra, when Princess of Wales, with Facey by Luke Fildes, 1893.

Alexandra of Denmark married Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Albert Edward, on March 10, 1863.  She was a noted dog lover marrying into a family of noted dog lovers.  The resulting menagerie of canines which she accumulated as Princess of Wales was a diverse collection which rivalled even that of her royal mother-in-law.  There were Basset Hounds, Wolfhounds, Dachshunds, Collies, Samoyeds, Fox Terriers, Pugs, Pekingese, and Japanese Spaniels – to name just a few.  They were housed in luxurious kennels at Sandringham House, the Prince and Princess’s home in Norfolk. Continue reading

Classical Cats: The Feline Muses of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel

The Piano Lesson by Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, 1897.

The Piano Lesson by Henriëtte Ronner-Knip, 1897.

One does not have to be a fan of classical music to be familiar with the works of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.  The two rivals were part of the Impressionism movement in classical music, a movement inspired by Impressionist painters like Monet, Manet, and Renoir and poets such as Verlaine and Baudelaire.  They were also renowned cat lovers who famously allowed their feline muses to prowl at liberty amongst their papers while composing such masterpieces as Clair de Lune and BoléroContinue reading

Japonisme: The Japanese Influence on Victorian Fashion

The Japanese Parisian by Alfred Stevens, 1872.

During the mid-19th century, Japan opened trade with the West for the first time in more than 200 years.  The influx of Japanese imports that followed inspired an intense fascination with Japanese art and culture.  This fascination manifested itself in the paintings of Victorian era artists like Alfred Stevens, Vincent van Gogh, James McNeill Whistler, and Claude Monet.  It also had a profound influence on Victorian fashion.  As the 2015 book of Clothing and Fashion states:

“The obsession with Japonism in fashion hastened permanent departure from the cumbersome Victorian layers and maximalist aesthetic, anticipating the minimalism of 20th-century modernism.”

Continue reading

Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation). Continue reading

The History of the Lorgnette

Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.

Lady with Lorgnette by Unknown Artist, 1830s.

A lorgnette is, quite simply, a pair of spectacles mounted on a handle.  The precursor to modern opera glasses, lorgnettes were a common sight during the 19th century at the theater as well as the opera.  And since the name lorgnette derives from the French word lorgner – meaning “to ogle” or “to eye furtively” – one can only imagine the many uses to which a curious socialite in the balcony might have put them.  Whether employed to sneakily spy on a rival across the way, stealthily investigate a young gentleman down in the pit, or to merely watch the action on the stage, a lorgnette was an indispensable accessory for the 19th century lady about town. Continue reading

Adaptations and Accuracy: Literary Favorites from Page to Screen

“If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you, you have bewitched me body and soul, and I love…I love….I love you.”
(Pride and Prejudice, 2005.)

 Photograph: Focus Features.

Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, 2005.
Photograph: Focus Features.

If you are a serious, literary-minded Jane Austen fan, it may raise your blood pressure a bit to learn that there are many people who believe the above quote was actually said by Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  Similarly, there are those who are convinced that the famous scene where Darcy leaps into the lake at Pemberley is an accurate depiction of something that Austen wrote on the page.  In fact, as most of you reading this will know, the above lines are said by actor Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice and the scene with Darcy in the lake is enacted by Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC miniseries.  Neither scene is in the book. Continue reading

A Soldier Writes Home: Letters from the Georgian Era through World War II

“The field of battle is a festival of honour; a sublime pageant.  But this is war!”    (Sir Robert Ker Porter, 1809.)

Summoned to Waterloo by Hillingford 1897

Summoned to Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford, 1897.

Whether it is touched upon in conversation between those characters safe on the home front or dealt with directly via a character who has been in the military or is still serving abroad, war is a part of many historical novels.  Indeed, there aren’t many fans of Georgian and Regency fiction who could not recite to you the salient facts of the Battles of Trafalgar or Waterloo.  However, what makes us, as readers, invested in the characters does not come down to a mere recitation of facts on a timeline.  It comes down to emotional authenticity. Continue reading

Helen of Hearst Castle: Beloved Dachshund of William Randolph Hearst

With their short legs, long bodies, and oversized personalities, the Dachshund is one of the most easily recognizable of all dog breeds – as well as one of the most popular.  Developed in Germany more than 500 years ago for hunting badgers (dachs is German for badger), the Dachshund has since won its way into the hearts and homes of such historical luminaries as Queen Victoria, Pablo Picasso, and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst and one of his Dachshunds

William Randolph Hearst and Helena, Helen’s successor.

Hearst was not the most well-liked man of his time, but as hardnosed as he could be when it came to his business, he always had a soft spot for his dogs.  His favorites were the Dachshunds he bred at Hearst Castle, his palatial estate in San Simeon, California.  Continue reading