Twelve Victorian Era Tips on the Etiquette of Ladylike Letter Writing

“The palm of good letter-writing has been universally awarded to the fair sex.”
Etiquette of Good Society, 1893.

Yes or No? by Charles West Cope, 1872.
(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

For Victorian ladies, there was much more to letter writing than simply dashing off a note. There were rules for proper correspondence, encompassing everything from acceptable shades of paper and ink to penmanship, wax seals, and conditions under which a woman must write in the third person. I can’t tackle all of these rules in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twelve quotes from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ladylike letter writing. I present them to you below. Continue reading

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

A Cure for Melancholy: Victorian Medical Advice on Treating Depression

“Melancholy is a low kind of delirium, with a fever; usually attended with fear, heaviness, and sorrow, without any apparent occasion.”
Beach’s Family Physician, 1861.

Melancholy by Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens, 1876.

What we recognize today as depression was, in the Victorian era, popularly known as melancholia or melancholy.  Like depression, melancholy ranged in seriousness from mild, temporary bouts of sadness or “low spirits” to longer, more extreme episodes, characterized by insomnia, lack of appetite, and suicidal thoughts.  While symptoms of melancholy were usually easy to recognize, medical opinions often differed on what it was that caused the condition.  As a result, treatment plans for the melancholic patient varied widely.  Below, we look at a few Victorian era medical opinions on the symptoms, causes, and treatments of melancholy. Continue reading

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

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