Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

Taking Tea

I apologize, my friends, for my sad neglect of this blog. I have no excuse, really, beyond being busy and inefficient, and, if truth be told, possessing a certain degree of laziness. But never mind, I am back, so I hope I am forgiven.

Sitting in the queen’s chair at Hampton Court Palace (I’d been awake for 36 hours)

Lately I have been thinking about tea and scones far more than is normal for your average American. This past week I returned from a visit to England, where I traveled hither and yon with my dear college friend Helen, talking and laughing and walking and drinking tea at every opportunity in which wine (or gin, in Helen’s case) was inappropriate.

On my first day there I did obtain a scone with jam and clotted cream at Hampton Court (as one does), but all additional efforts to secure afternoon tea were for naught. We arrived at the tea shop as it was closing (as happened at Hughenden Manor and across the street from Jane Austen’s house), there was no clotted cream (said in a rather rude “even if we did have cream I wouldn’t give you any” sort of tone at the cafe in Hyde Park), or on one occasion (at the 1657 Chocolate House in Kendal), I was in the mood for a cup of chocolate and a sandwich instead.

Lady Bedford, circa 1830

Lady Bedford, circa 1820

Spending so much time drinking tea and visiting historic sites last week, I started thinking about the history of afternoon tea. Although tea as a beverage has been common in England since the mid-17th century, it was not until the 7th Duchess of Bedford was feeling a bit peckish that the concept of afternoon tea as we know it today was born. The story goes that sometime in the 1840s Lady Bedford, a close friend of Queen Victoria, found herself desiring a snack around 4 o’clock, halfway between lunch and the fashionably late dinner. She asked for a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake. This repast was so pleasant she made a habit of it, and then began inviting her friends round to enjoy it with her.

Afternoon Tea–not to be confused with High Tea, which is another animal altogether–consists of tea, small sandwiches, cake, and scones served with jam and clotted cream. It is not only the meal itself but the ritual that makes afternoon tea what it is. Ideally, the tea should be loose leaf, served from a tea pot. Milk is added after the tea is poured, not before. (Apparently there is much disagreement on this issue–I had no idea it mattered so much.) There is also great debate about whether jam should be slathered on the scone before the cream. In the spirit of research I tried it both ways, and admit I prefer jam then cream, which gives one the ability to add far more cream than is strictly healthy.

In an effort to make up for my lack of afternoon tea while in England, I shall be baking scones, brewing tea, and eating this afternoon. (Unless I have to go watch middle school boys play hockey, or take a nap.)

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Here’s my recipe for scones:

8 oz (approx. 1-3/4 c) all-purpose flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 oz (2 T) sugar
4 fl oz (½ c) milk

*Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
*Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the milk and lightly mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
*Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Spread the dough using your hands until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut out 8-12 scones using a 1-1/2 to 2 inch fluted biscuit cutter. Press straight down–do not twist, or the scones won’t rise properly. (Ask me how I know!)
*Place the scones on to the baking sheet and brush with milk or an egg wash.
*Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
*Serve the scones warm with clotted cream (or butter) and your favorite jam. If you can’t find fresh clotted cream in your local grocery store, or you object to paying $10 for a jar, you can find a number of recipes online. Here’s the one I’m planning to use, although it takes so long it will have to wait until next weekend’s afternoon tea: https://fearlessfresh.com/make-clotted-cream/. I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information on the history of afternoon tea:
http://www.creamteasociety.co.uk/history-of-the-cream-tea
http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/afternoon-tea/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-mirza-grotts/the-history-and-etiquette_b_3751053.html?
https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea

 

 

 

New Blog Series! Victorian Food

So lately I have been watching the early seasons of The Great British Bake-Off.  Of the five seasons aired so far, only the last three made it to network TV in the US, but the first two are available on YouTube, and they are so worth the watch. Each episode contains historical snippets about particular foods. Several of the classic items featured on the show have Victorian roots, and it gave me an idea.

I am a reasonably competent cook, but my baking efforts have been hit or miss at best. Baking is far less forgiving of the “oh, just throw in some extra [insert food item here–usually garlic]” method I typically employ in my cooking. Nevertheless, the show has inspired me to learn to be a better baker, and since Victorian food plays a part in every one of my books, I thought I might share that journey with you. So once a month (give or take), I’ll feature a Victorian era recipe and my efforts to recreate it. My husband thinks I’m a lunatic for even trying this (probably because he’s been forced to sample a hockey puck biscuit or two), but what the hell.

So I am off to gather recipes from various sources–primarily websites and Victorian era cookbooks–and to wait for the summer heat to die down so I can fire up the oven.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this picture of the glorious Victoria Sandwich I made for the launch party for my first book.  IMG_2374The recipe appeared in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861, and was reportedly named after Queen Victoria because it was one of her favorite cakes.

Queen Victoria, 1856

VICTORIA SANDWICHES.
INGREDIENTS.– 4 eggs; their weight in pounded sugar, butter, and flour; ¼ saltspoonful of salt, a layer of any kind of jam or marmalade.
Mode.– Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour and pounded sugar; stir these ingredients well together, and add the eggs, which should be previously thoroughly whisked. When the mixture has been well beaten for about 10 minutes, butter a Yorkshire-pudding tin, pour in the batter, and bake it in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. Let it cool, spread one half of the cake with a layer of nice preserve, place over it the other half of the cake, press the pieces slightly together, and then cut it into long finger-pieces; pile them in crossbars on a glass dish, and serve.
Time.– 20 minutes.
Average cost, 1s. 3d.
Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.
Seasonable at any time.

You can find a more modern recipe, which is the one I used, here.

I’ll delve more into other recipes, as well as terms that make an American baker scratch her head (what is a moderate oven anyway?) in later posts. If you have a recipe you’d like to share in a guest post, or you have a burning curiosity about a particular topic, email me at marin@marinmcginnis.com.

Sources:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8753182/The-great-Victoria-sandwich.html
http://www.lavenderandlovage.com/2011/08/queen-victoria-womans-institute-famous.html
http://teainengland.com/2012/12/the-victoria-sponge-its-history-and-a-recipe/
http://www.picturebritain.com/2012/05/cake-fit-for-queen-victoria-sponge.html

Victorian Fashion

I am not a fashion maven. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, unless I’m wearing Chico’s Travelers Collection, which look stylish but feel like pajamas. (Need I say more?) I have one favorite pair of shoes for each season and I wear them until they fall apart, at which time I spend hours online looking for the exact same pair. I almost never wear shorts because of my pasty white Cleveland legs, but the pair I don’t mind being seen in I bought in 1998. Seriously.

Despite my embarrassing anti-fashion proclivities, I am a writer of historical romance, and in the Victorian era, women of a certain class were very concerned with fashion. And if I am to write about them, I need to care about what they wore. Or at least how to get it off them. 😉

To that end, I spent Saturday taking a field trip with my NEORWA chapter mates to the Kent State University Museum of Fashion. The most interesting exhibit, at least for me, was one called Inside Out, which featured clothing literally inside out so you could see how it was constructed. And they had Darcy’s puffy shirt! Colin Firth wasn’t even it–more’s the pity–and we were all still drooling. You can find pictures at https://insideoutksum.wordpress.com/–I can’t get WordPress to cooperate with the photos I took. 

The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901, and fashions changed drastically during that timeframe.  And don’t even get me started on men’s facial hair–that is deserving of its own post.

In the 1830s, as at right, the ideal form was a long torso with a slim silhouette, so corsets were tight and movement was restricted. (Isn’t that an odd picture? The upper half seems oddly disconnected from the bottom, but I sometimes wonder if that’s how women felt…)

 

Starting in the 1840s, skirts became wider–the fuller the skirt, the more petticoats underneath, which was a sign of wealth. I love this relaxed portrait of Queen Victoria and her prince from 1841.

Illustration of cage crinoline from Punch, 1856

 

The 1850s saw the invention of bloomers, as well as the cage crinoline–a miraculous contraption that held the skirts out in lieu of a dozen petticoats, returning women to a comparative freedom of movement.

 

There is an adorable scene from Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford in which a fancy cage from Paris is ordered for Miss Pole’s bird. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong type of cage. It’s just the first minute and again at about 3:45, but if you like BBC period programs, you have to watch the whole series–it’s delightful.

The 1860s saw skirts at their widest and waists at their narrowest–remember this scene from Gone With the Wind?

 

In the 1870s, skirts deflated quite a bit, hoops replaced by a flatter front and layers in the back, as in this painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir from 1874.

 

 

In the 1880s, the bustle was the dominant feature in women’s fashion (and the top hat for men) as seen in this 1883 painting by James Tissot.

 

 

 

The last decade of the 19th century brought big sleeves, sharply defined waists, and slimmer skirts, as in this fashion plate from 1893…

 

 

 

 

…and this John Singer Sargent painting from 1896.

 

 

The turn of the century brought us more masculine attire for women, the Gibson Girl–see the Sargent painting at right from 1903–outrageous hats, and the rise of haute couture.

Londoners in front of Harrods, 1909

There is far more to seventy years of fashion than I have the time, energy, or inclination to share here, but if you’re interested in learning more, click on the link for each decade above, and check out these sites for more information and lots more pictures:

http://www.victoriana.com/Victorian-Fashion/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_fashion
http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/art/costume/index.html
http://www.fashion-era.com/the_victorian_era.htm
https://www.buzzfeed.com/niaalavezos/proof-the-victorian-era-had-the-greatest-fashion
http://www.fashionlady.in/victorian-era-fashion/855
http://vintagefashionguild.org/fashion-timeline/

 

Motherhood, Victorian-Style

‘Tis Mother’s Day in the U.S., the day we celebrate Mothers and all they do for their children. In my household, I have only one rule for Mother’s Day: I do not have to cook a single meal ALL DAY. This generally means that we go out for every meal, but whatever. I am greatly looking forward to this, as I am extraordinarily tired of my own cooking, and even more tired of having to decide what to cook.

This year on the blog, I thought I would head back to the Victorian era for thoughts on motherhood. Queen Victoria, of course, set quite the example–the “Grandmother of Europe,” she was the model of marital harmony, utterly devoted to her husband, even after he died, and their nine children. Women during the Victorian period were expected to marry, bear children, and provide domestic stability to their families. Periodicals and books of the day–Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Cassell’s Household Guide, and many, many others–all emphasized that the role of women was to be exclusively with the realm of the household, and provided many hints for domestic success.

cassellshousehol02londuoft_0009Cassell’s Household Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Domestic and Social Economy and Forming A Guide to Every Department of Practical Life was published initially in 1869. Running into several volumes, it offered advice on such diverse topics as household chemistry, raising animals for profit (“Pigs”) and for pleasure (“The Silkworm”), how to make fans, ornamental soap (“We believe that most people are aware that scented soap is bad for the skin…”), cooking, the manufacturing of artificial manure (who knew?), the mechanics of chimneys and gas meters (complete with mechanical drawings), and, of course, how to rear one’s children.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share with you some tips from Cassell’s. The more things change…

“When a woman is about to become a mother, she ought to remember that another life of health or delicacy is dependent upon the care she can take of herself; that all she does will inevitably affect her child, and that mentally as well as physically. We know that it is utterly impossible for the wife of the labouring man to give up work, and, what is called, “take care of herself;” as others can. Nor is it necessary. The “back is made for its burthen.” It would be just as injurious for the labourer’s wife to give up her daily work and exercise, as for the lady to take to sweeping her own carpets or cooking the dinner. Habit becomes second nature.” 

“A nursing mother should live well. She may take a glass of porter or ale at dinner.”

“The aspect of a day-nursery should be light, airy, and, if attainable, exposed to the south. It is impossible to over-estimate the worth of this situation in the attempt to rear children in full health and buoyancy of spirit.”

“In more advanced childhood than we have hitherto spoken of, the importance of sleep is undiminished, and should be observed with regularity. No invariable rule can be laid down for general observance, but most children between the ages of four and seven years require, at least, twelve hours’ sleep. Ten hours are supposed to be needful for schoolboys, and eight for adults. Few children under ten years of age can be kept out of their beds after seven o’clock without injury to their health. When once awake in the morning, they should be accustomed to rise without delay.”

“The best dress for the crawling age is one in which little French children are usually attired – a sort of knickerbocker suit, warm and loose, with trousers and vest all in one piece. The over-all pinafore, so much in favour in our nurseries, is a capital contrivance for keeping the under-garments clean, but sadly impedes the free movement of the limbs, by being apt to get twisted round the child’s legs, and it should always be taken off when they crawl.”

“There is not a single duty which a mother discharges towards her babe which may not be rendered the medium of conveying the highest principles of morality.”

“A contrary course of conduct is unfortunately liable to be pursued by parents, who, either from excessive fondness, impatience, or want of intelligence, habitually give their little ones all they ask for. No more effectual mode of spoiling a child can be pursued than by so doing. By thus inverting the order of things, and making themselves instead of their rulers, slaves to their children, they create a double misery — neither themselves nor the children are happy.”

“The law relating to the vaccination of infants is imperative in its tone, and commands the parent (or other person having the care, nurture, or custody) of every child born in England or Wales, to procure, within three months after the birth, the vaccination of the child by the medical officer or practitioner appointed for the purpose—”

“The habit of giving children much bread and butter, to the exclusion of other substances, is an error liable to be contracted from the facility of providing the meal. The practice is to be condemned, not only on the score of deficiency of nourishment, but on that of economic value. The butter sold in towns is seldom what it professes to be, and is liable to be composed of inferior fats artfully disguised.”

“The highest test of maternal love is the judicious blending of approval or reproof, according as it is right or wrong to gratify a child’s fancies. That description of love which consists in anticipating every wish and humouring every whim, is but the shadow of affection. The time comes when baby-passions are no longer to be quelled by bribes of sweetmeats and toys; and a bond of love which has been formed mainly on so insecure a foundation is ready to be broken at the first sign of opposition.”

“So important, from every point of view, is the habit of speaking the truth, that too much effort cannot possibly be made to render truthfulness a part of a child’s nature, whilst the mind is yet plastic enough to receive true impressions, and the conscience still sensitive to tender rebuke.”

For more maternal advice from Victoria’s time, check out these sources, and Happy Mother’s Day!

https://dontknowdickens.wordpress.com/presentation/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/17/victorian-breastfeeding-photo_n_3442872.html
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_home/ideals_womanhood_01.shtml
http://www.victorianlondon.org/cassells/cassells-5.htm
http://royal-splendor.blogspot.com/2012/02/queen-victoria-and-growth-of-royal.html

Christmas, Victorian Style

Christmas rapidly approaches, and I suspect no one who reads this blog will be surprised to see a post about Christmas in the Victorian era. Predictability is good, right?

Although Christmas as we know it today does celebrate the birth of Jesus (even though there is evidence to suggest he was not born in December), the many and varied traditions surrounding the holiday predate that event by thousands of years. The Yule log and singing of carols are Scandinavian in origin, a celebration of the Winter Solstice. The Christmas tree and the giving of gifts, some say, have their origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia. The twelve days of Christmas are reportedly a throwback to the ancient Mesopotamian festival of Zagmuth, a celebration of their god Marduk’s defeat of the monsters of chaos each winter.

But Christmas as we celebrate it today has its origins in Victorian England. The Christmas tree was largely unknown in England until the German Prince Albert brought the tradition to his adopted country upon his marriage to Queen Victoria. After this engraving ran in the Illustrated London News in 1848, Britons flocked to put trees in their houses.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and assorted offspring around the palace Christmas tree.                 From the Illustrated London News, 1848. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843

First edition of A Christmas Carol, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, and created a resurgence in the singing of Christmas carols, giving of gifts, and giving charity to the poor.

 

 

 

 

Firstchristmascard

First Christmas card, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

 

The first Christmas card is believed to have originated in 1840s England as well. In 1843, Henry Cole, an English civil servant, commissioned an artist, John Callcott Horsley, to create a card for Christmas. In 1880, 11.5 million Christmas cards were sold.

 

Christmas crackers, which for some reason never caught on in the U.S., were invented by Tom Smith, a London confectioner, in 1847.  Originally designed to help market his own bon bons, he added a popping sound upon opening (inspired by the crackling sound of a log on the fire), and inserted sweets, and a message.  Today’s crackers also include a paper crown, a small toy, a sweet, and a message akin to that inside a fortune cookie.

Gifts given at Christmas were modest in Victorian times–small trinkets, treats, fruits, and nuts–and were hung on the Christmas tree. As presents got bigger, they were stashed under the tree. Decorating for Christmas with evergreens, a medieval tradition, was adopted wholeheartedly by the Victorians. Family, so important to the Victorians, became the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration, and that tradition too we hold dear today.

And so I wish all of you a joyous holiday season, no matter which winter festival you celebrate. May you be blessed with family, friends, peace, and happiness during this season and the year to come.

Sources:
www.historyofchristmas.net
www.bbc.co.uk/victorianchristmas/history.shtml
www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cole
www.victoriana.com/christmas/card1st-99.htm
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_cracker

Weather and Other Curiosities

This is a recycled, and late (sorry), post from a group blog that is now defunct. But recycling is good for the planet, and it’s too damn cold to think of anything but how I wish I was somewhere where my car didn’t get stuck in the driveway, where I could venture outside without Arctic outerwear, and where my heating bill didn’t creep into four figures.

******

As a native Clevelander, weather is often on my mind; when I haven’t considered the weather before venturing out, I usually regret it.  Sometimes it’s gorgeous, other times not so much, but it is ever-changing. Anyway, it got me thinking about where one might find information on such things in history:  weather, what the headline in the newspaper was, what was playing at Drury Lane, what people did for fun. So, this hodge-podge post offers a few, hopefully interesting, tidbits on random stuff I have been thinking about.

Weather

Frost Fair on the Thames, 1841

For some of you, this may be old news, but bear with me, as I am often the last to know anything.  Did you know that there was a “Little Ice Age” in Britain that lasted over 400 years, and didn’t end until the 19th century?  The Thames froze so thick that it was common to have Frost Fairs on the river during the winter months.   Google “Frost Fairs” and you will find a number of pictures and articles.  The last frost fair was held in 1841; this picture of that event is courtesy of the Daily Mail.

You can find data on average temperature (1659 forward) and precipitation (1766 forward) in England on the website of the Royal Meterological Society.  

This site has interesting descriptions of English winters from the 17th century to the present day.  For example, 1816 was the year without a summer, and on Christmas day in 1836, snow accumulated up to 15 feet, with drifts of up to 50 feet!

That last site refers to a volcanic eruption having an impact on English weather, not unlike the eruption that we all remember from 2010.  Thinking about this made me wonder about historical weather events outside of England that may have had an impact, such as this 18th century volcanic eruption in Iceland.  

Newspapers

The first issue of The Times, 1788

Although news was not instantaneous in the 18th and 19th centuries, as it is today, newspapers nevertheless played an important role in daily life, and can offer a wealth of information, including, of course, what was playing at Drury Lane (on December 4, 1788, it was Mr. Kemble in Rule a Wife, and Have a Wife).
The British Library offers online access to British newspapers from 1800 to the present day.   An article on the British Library website reports the following: “In 1800, four main daily newspapers were being published in London, of roughly equal importance: the Morning Post; the Morning Chronicle; the Morning Herald and The Times.”  

Access to the British Library collection is by subscription, although it is free if you are affiliated with a subscribing institution, such as a British university.  Another interesting summary of British newspapers is available at http://www.georgianindex.net/publications/newspapers/news_sources.html.  There are some newspapers available at the National Archives, and you can also find a number of periodicals on GoogleBooks–for reasons which escape me, there is particularly good coverage of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, with marvelously titled articles like “Wild Birds, Useful and Injurious (With Seven Illustrations)” and “Marigolds Running to Seed.”

This site offers access to a few 18th century journals for free: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/ilej/; and this one offers links to a number of other sites, including German, French, Dutch and other European papers: http://www.xooxleanswers.com/free-newspaper-archives/newspaper-archives-europe/.   You can find information on Canadian newspapers at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/newspapers.  

Entertainments

–Theatre

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1842

Much is made of theatre in period literature and in historical fiction.  It was an amusing diversion both for the rich and those less well-off, and for the former, it was a place to see and be seen.

This is an interesting article on the business of nineteenth century theatre and its personalities: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/0-9/19th-century-theatre/.  This article offers facts on the individual theatres: http://www.victorianweb.org/mt/theaters/pva234.html.  Some tidbits: The Adelphi was the first theatre to feature adaptations of the novels of Charles Dickens; the first female theatre manager in London was Eliza Vestris, who managed the Olympic Theatre in 1830; the celebrated actor Edmund Kean made his Drury Lane debut in 1814 as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

–Vauxhall

Vauxhall Gardens by Samuel Wale, c1751

What post on historical English curiosities could be without a note on Vauxhall Gardens? They were the celebrated “pleasure gardens” which feature rather heavily in historical romance novels, with heavily wooded paths and secluded arbors just perfect for trysting aristocrats.  Vauxhall closed in 1859–for reasons which will surprise no one, it wasn’t as popular after Victoria took the throne–but during the decadent Regency period it was simply the place to be. There is a marvelous description of Vauxhall from 1760 by Goldsmith, in Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in the Metropolis; With Nearly Fifty Years’ Personal Reflections, by John Timbs (p. 747, available on GoogleBooks):

“The illuminations began before we arrived; and I must confess that upon entering the Gardens I found every sense overpaid with more than expected pleasure: the lights every where glimmering through scarcely moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of night; the natural concert of the birds in the more retired part of the grove, vieing with that which was formed by art; the company gaily dressed, looking satisfied, and the tables spread with various delicacies,–all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration.”  

As I can’t possibly top that, I bid you adieu until next time,

Marin

Technology in the Victorian Era

So a couple of months ago I sat in on my son’s 5th grade Science class. They were watching a documentary on the Apollo space program, called In the Shadow of the Moon. It occurred to me as I watched that I was the only one in the room who was alive during the first moon landing–even the teacher wasn’t born until after the Apollo program had ended. Whether it’s a wholly accurate memory or not, I remember sitting in the dining room while my mother cooked, watching the moon landing on our tiny black and white TV.

One of the astronauts in the program said that his father was born around the time of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and the astronaut’s son was four when the astronaut went to the moon. The astronaut’s father could not even imagine a time when a man could fly to the moon, yet to the son, it was inconceivable that it would not be possible to fly to the moon.

When I mentioned these musings on Facebook, it led to a rousing comment thread, discussing all the technological innovations that have happened in our own lifetimes, or those of our parents. Naturally, since I am immersed in editing my Victorian era WIP, I thought back to that period.

The Victorian era was one of the most sustained and prolific periods for technological and scientific advancement in history. These advancements created significant chances in society, giving rise to the middle class and a new type of wealth.

It saw the rise of the railroad and the improvement of the steamship. The first steam-assisted crossing of the Atlantic took place in 1819, before Victoria, and took 633 hours (just over 26 days). By 1901, the year of Victoria’s death, it took only 5 days to cross. Likewise, the railway era started before Victoria’s reign, in 1825, but by 1900, trains ran regularly, and with complete safety, at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour. The first lavatories appeared on trains in the 1860s, the first sleeping cars were introduced in 1873, and dining cars came into use from 1879. (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/victorian_technology_01.shtml#three).

The Victorian era also saw these inventions that we take for granted today:

Photograph (1838)
Pedal bicycle (1839)
Postage stamp (1840)
Christmas card (1843
Rubber tires (1845)
Tarmac (1845) and concrete (1849)
Sewing machine (1846)
Gasoline/petrol (1850) and oil (1859)
Flushing toilet (1852)
Steel (1854)
Safety match (1855)
The first underground railway opened in London (1863)
Typewriter (1873)
Chocolate Easter eggs (hurray!) (1875)
Telephone (1876)
First recording of human voice (1877)
Electric street lamps (1878)
Electric light bulb, for home use (1879) (the first electric light bulb was patented in 1875)
Gramophone (1887)
The Kodak box camera (1888)
Comic book (1890)

Cinematograph (1894)
X-ray (1895)
Radio (1895)

(Source: http://resources.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/homework/victorians/inventiotimeline.html)

The Victorian period saw the serialization of novels in magazines, which made them more accessible to the public. This is unrelated to technology, but just to give you an idea of the breadth of the Victorian literary world, some lists:

Victorian novelists, in no particular order, included Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), William Thackeray (1811–1863), Emily Bronte (1818-1848), Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855),  Anne Bronte (1820-1849), George Eliot (1819-1880), Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Mark Twain (1835-1910), Henry James (1843-1916), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), and so many others I’d be here all day if I listed them all.  The era also produced poets Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), Robert Browning (1812-1889), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), A.E. Housman (1859-1936), and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Playwrights included George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) and Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). There is a more comprehensive list and some other great stuff at A Literary Odyssey.

Anyway, all of this change is why I set my writing in the period. The dramatic possibilities are endless.

Now I think I’ll go pull one of my Elizabeth Gaskell novels off the shelf, and settle in with a cup of tea.

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