Archives for posts with tag: The Victorian Era

So here’s a twist on Valentines I didn’t know about, even though it’s Victorian in nature. This article about Vinegar Valentines is fascinating. Somehow it manages to be eyebrow raising, disgusting, and a bit charming all at the same time. Far removed from our own commercially overridden holiday of love, the Victorian Era brought not only lovers to their special day, but haters as well. Googly eyed with adoration? Why, send your beloved a card with a pretty picture and prettier flowing, waxingly poetic verse. Squinty eyed with loathing? Just send along a card displaying an insulting poem, often accompanied by an ugly caricature! As time passed spinsters, suffragettes, and medical practitioners that quacked like a quack doctor could all look forward to missives of disgust. Also known as Penny Dreadfuls, these little insult bombs went off in many an unseemly heart, even as loving tributes were showered upon the beloved and beautiful. The contrast and idea of how unpleasant Vinegar Valentines must have been to their recipients make the sight of our modern store shelves, festooned with red heartshaped boxes full of everything from the disappointing questionably flavored chocolate like substance to the good stuff that’s gobbled at breakneck pace, a little more palatable. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Ever drawn to Victoriana, as a writer I was particularly interested in this article about the lives of Victorian writers. Apparently, the writing life dragged a comet tail of hardship in its wake in Dickens’ time, just as it has done since writers started telling stories. It’s difficult to believe that Dickens had no formal education. His writing is as evocative and often heartbreaking today, as it was when he first set pen to paper. Somehow I find it easier to imagine Brontes working as governesses, fitting in their writing as the demands of caring for children not their own allowed. For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve found myself imagining favorite authors’ lives, as they gathered ideas and started putting together their famous plots. Articles like this one make that more vivid, and also make me admire them all the more.

I didn’t think anything could really cheer me up tonight, after a day of news watching.  This Upshout piece proved me wrong. From the first cross eyed lady to Tsar Nikolas acting silly, these pictures of Victorians loosening their legendary stiff upper lip made me smile.

My favorite one isn’t even funny. It’s just cool. I mean, two well dressed women building a snow lady that puts any of our modern day Frostys to shame? Complete with a nice snow dress and icy hairdo, their creation is more a snow sculpture than lowly slapping together of three big snowballs, with a carrot and a couple of lumps of coal. Theirs doesn’t even need outside accessories. Her natural snowy loveliness is all the decoration required. The one above her is a bit scary, once you look closely enough. Not because of the scary face the woman is attempting. No, what creeped me out once I noticed was her waist. Modern “waist trainers” can’t hold a candle to this slave to fashion’s method…whatever it may actually be. It looks like she’s wearing two  funnels under a lot of black lace. Maybe she’s not really trying to make a funny face at all. It could be that her stays are holding in everything all the way up to her face muscles and she has to give a little help to her smile mechanism!

Beyond my fascination with Victoriana, another reason I really love these pictures is that they show how the lack of entertainment as we know it really brought out the creativity in generations of Victorian loonies. Without TV, MP3, DVDs, and the rest of the alphabet of our lives that we can’t live without, however did they survive? No matter how flip I’m being about it, I really cannot fathom life without all our technological marvels. They rose grandly to their situation, however, and well above it.

They had fun with the mundane, because the mundane was all they had. I can’t help but wonder if our Civilization Selfie is missing out. I mean some of  those group poses are really cool. Not that I want to go lifeswap with people who were thrilled when they only had to strike a pose for fifteen minutes in order to make their mark on posterity. But they did leave a legacy of awesome portraits that can make us smile with true admiration of their humor and offbeat style.

Sometimes an article I come across in my rambles around the internet ties in with something that’s already on my mind. This New York Times article about extraordinary women of science and their struggles against the misguided attitudes of their day comes just days after I watched a movie about one of these brilliant women from the past.

Actually, I should say I watched most of the movie, after coming across it on TCM. I never caught the title, but it was an excellent old black and white production about the life of Florence Nightingale. Something that was inadvertently amusing was the way her old friends and family called her Flo! That nickname somehow did not fit well with the solemn, dignified lady with the lamp.

Sadly, up until a few years ago, I probably would have continued my late night channel flipping, thinking the movie would be dull.
Perhaps it would to most people, but because of Anne Perry’s wonderful Victorian mystery novels, I know of Florence Nightingale now in the same way I know of and admire current public figures.

Perry’s courageous and intelligent character Hester Latterly is a nurse who served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. Because of this character and absorbing stories of her background under the tutelage of Miss Nightingale, I was already familiar with obscure names on a faraway map. I felt as if I walked familiar halls with Florence Nightingale, as she made made the rounds among her suffering patients in the Scutari hospital. I admired her courage as she traveled to Balaclava in order to care for the wounded in the trenches. I thought she must be mad to stand outside in the snow until wrongheaded men in charge allowed her in to care for soldiers, but that kind of madness is born out of the kind of strength of character so few of us possess.

Once a person gets beyond the sometimes dry facts, as they are briefly presented as historical footnotes of formal education, they find a rich and fascinating, deeply human story. Florence Nightingale was so much more than some kind, random woman in a cape and funny looking hat. The real person was every bit as cool before her time and intriguing as the wonderful author Anne Perry’s character Hester. The sad difference is that Florence Nightingale had only history as her storyteller, while Hester Latterly sprang from the mind of one of the most gifted novelists I’ve ever encountered.

If I didn’t read every Anne Perry novel I can get my hands on, particularly the William Monk ones, I wouldn’t know thing one about the great historical figure behind Hester’s grit and independence. And if I hadn’t read about Florence Nightingale in the aforementioned article, I wouldn’t now know that she had a “wonky side”. Seems the revered Victorian nurse was obsessed with statistics. She made detailed graphs that helped her make her case for the extreme cleanliness and compassion approach that eventually led to the saving of countless lives.

According to the movie I saw, Florence Nightingale’s pioneering work in the Crimea led to a six percent fatality rate…down from fifty-six! That is a phenomenal contribution to modern medicine. Her practices are implemented still and help make our world safer and more survivable in times of war and epidemic. Quite a legacy for a woman so without hubris that she preferred to be unsung. Sometimes history provides us with remarkable role models…heroes even. All we have to do is mine the dirt dry facts to uncover the extraordinary.

Another of those look-what-cool-stuff-is-on-Twitter posts. I vaguely knew about these whirly early animation type contraptions, but now thanks to this Daily Mail article I know there were a lot of different versions as the technology evolved.

The one featured in the article was invented by a blind man. That alone is interesting, but it moves on to amazing when you realize how complex it is, for what it is, and had to be viewed in a mirror.

It moves into the realm of the iconic images that pop up in pop culture periodically, of a painter painting paintings of himself painting paintings of himself, etc., etc., when you think about the smartphone you’re holding in your hand (a large number of us do the majority of our daily computing on our phones, so it’s a logical assumption) to view the gifs someone with creativity and computer smarts turned these already awesome moving images into. It’s a very cool melding of ingenuity from a century passed, with the modern day ingenuity we take for granted every day. There’s a real sense of technological and creative lineage in play here.

There’s also the fact that these images were delightfully charming to Victorians and are also way cool to us. You’d think a society so accustomed to fantastic CGI in movies would be too jaded to enjoy such primitive “movies”. I’m not society as a whole, of course, but I do feel like I just found a new old toy in greatgreathowevermany granny’s attic. Now, to thoroughly enjoy it until some misguided killjoy starts up with the threat that hasn’t come to fruition over the generations of visual technology… put that thing down…you’ll ruin your eyesight.

In one of my regular rambles around the internet searching out the flotsam and jetsam of our Earth’s existence that might capture my interest, I found this article about a hot New York City summer in 1852. On the surface, as I first started reading and mentally shuddering over accompanying pictures, I thought it was very interesting. It struck a think-of-this-when-you-gripe-about-malfunctioning-AC kind of chord.

The more I read, the more I felt drawn into the scenes of squalor, illness, horrific smells, and the sickening concept of the alarming amount of manure produced in just one day by just one of the estimated 25,000 horses clipclopping their way through the streets of the city that never sleeps. I can’t really explain my interest in all aspects of Victorian living in great cities like New York and London. I just know that authors such as Charles Dickens, Anne Perry, and Caleb Carr have painted such vivid word images for me that I feel almost as if I’ve toured it all for myself. The squalid and the splendid, often rubbing shoulders physically, even as the people of either station lived in oblivious blindness to each others existence.

The above titled article sticks with the horrors, using the hot summer of 1852 and the already unbearable conditions it made worse as a spring board for social, cultural, and ethnic commentary on the times. The wider article about the 1852 article goes into ways the author was influenced by Dickens’ (an author who taught me about my own wider world) writing and how Caleb Carr (whose The Alienist is among my large list of favorite novels) was interested in the article. I really enjoyed the way this one headline led me to a fascinating old article wrapped in an equally fascinating new article about it.

Ah. Another instance of Twitter proving its worth for something more than promos, bizarre nonsequiters, and links to videos of kids, cats, and the never grows old excitement of exploding soda with Mentos. What is the plural of Mentos, by the way? Menti? Mentoses? Candies? But I digress. I followed a link to this awesome article on the equally awesomely titled Edwardian Promenade, about Edwardian baby names.

There are some gems there. From a  preGwyneth use of Apple to a list of some that Gomer Pyle might have called humdingers. After his eyes rolled back in his head, as he tried to pronounce a few, and promptly lost consciousness from syllable shock. All in one family that took name pretention to uncharted heights. Honestly, though, those unfortunate, if unique, childrens’ monikers prompted me to save that link.

I’m always on the lookout for character names. For me that’s a challenging, fun aspect of writing. It gets interesting, since I do both fiction and screenplays. What sounds right in my head for fiction may do the same for a screenplay. Initially. Then I try it out verbally and it just doesn’t work.

I fell in love with the English origin name Thane recently, but wasn’t sure how it’s pronounced. I wanted it to be pronounced as it looks–th sound and long a. I was afraid it was minus the th sound, so that even a long a couldn’t save it. Thane has an old English, courtly feel to it. My dreaded “Tane” wouldn’t do at all. It would make me think of a Dane, then Hamlet, and ruin the name/character match perfection. Fortunately, thanks to the cyber blessing of a Google search, it didn’t have to and I didn’t have to keep searching. I can’t tell you how disappointed I would have been to abandon the name that goes so perfectly with the character who chose it.

Sometimes it works that way. Sometimes I pore over baby name books or scroll through the names database in Trelby. That’s where I first saw Thane. I grew up in an area where British, Scotch-Irish (like my family) and apparently Welsh people settled in their treks so far west that they crossed an ocean and a good third of a continent, before they felt at home in their new world. There was a woman named Elwyn in my greater (meaning about a three mile radius in a farming area) community, a man named Esbert that was traced back to English nobility, and the mysteriously named neighbor, Mr. Erice. I’ve never figured that one out. It does not help that it’s pronounced Earsss, as if someone saying Ears spoke parseltongue.

So my names pool includes people I’ve known, people I wish I knew (the public figures and celebrities category), and people I’ll never know, like those long dead children whose parents liked big words and lots of them. I saw some names in that last group that immediately went into my mental file system. Exotic beauties such as Lyonella, Lelias, and Avelina. I imagine I’ll steer clear of the atrocities Ethelswytha and Fraudatifilias!

After all, when naming characters one wants to be memorable…but in a good way.