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

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

Sporting Cats in the 19th Century

The Shooting Party by William Powell Frith, (1819-1909).

When one thinks of a 19th century shooting party, one usually imagines well-to-do sportsmen in plus-fours and tweed caps, accompanied by their loaders, their beaters, and—of course—their sporting dogs.  However, according to an article in the October 29, 1880 edition of the Portsmouth Evening News, even the best spaniels and retrievers could not compete with the “great skill” of a sporting cat.  As the article explains: Continue reading

Seaside Fashions of the 19th Century

“The close of the London and Parisian Season has now arrived, and the Fashionable World has sought the invigorating breezes of the Seaside…”
The Ladies’ Monthly Magazine, 1869.

On the Shores of Bognor Regis by A. M. Rossi, 1887.

On the Shores of Bognor Regis by A. M. Rossi, 1887.

During the 19th century, there was no such thing as a holiday from fashion.  Seaside resorts in England—whether in Brighton, Bournemouth, or Burnham-on-Sea—were as much a place to flaunt one’s style as London itself during the season.  An 1869 issue of the Ladies’ Monthly Magazine even goes so far as to declare:

“…splendid as they have been in the season just ended, dresses to be worn at the Seaside, and at the mansions of our Aristocracy, often surpass those that have been worn in London or Paris, during the height of the Season.”

Continue reading

The Deerhounds of Windsor Great Park

Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot, Lory by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1838.
(Royal Collection Trust)

In his 1825 novel, The Talisman, Sir Walter Scott famously refers to the Scottish Deerhound as “a most perfect creature of heaven.”  A truly noble and majestic breed, the purebred Scottish or “Scotch” Deerhound was a rarity outside of Scotland throughout much of the 19th century.  Those that did reside in England lived under the auspices of Queen Victoria.  Early in her reign, she had a favorite Scottish Deerhound named Hector (seen in the above portrait by Landseer).  By the 1870s, there were several Scottish Deerhounds at Windsor Great Park.  And by the end of the century, the Scottish Deerhound Club was established under the queen’s patronage.    Continue reading

Cat Funerals in the Victorian Era

Inconsolable Grief by Ivan Kramskoi, 1884.

During the early 19th century, it was not uncommon for the mortal remains of a beloved pet cat to be buried in the family garden.  By the Victorian era, however, the formality of cat funerals had increased substantially.  Bereaved pet owners commissioned undertakers to build elaborate cat caskets.  Clergymen performed cat burial services.  And stone masons chiseled cat names on cat headstones.  Many in society viewed these types of ceremonies as no more than an amusing eccentricity of the wealthy or as yet another odd quirk of the elderly spinster.  Others were deeply offended that an animal of any kind should receive a Christian burial.  Continue reading