Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Bit About Ladies' Underwear is really sad to think that in our own day a civilized woman can hang on to a cross-bar while her maid laces her waist into a fifteen-inch circle. To begin with, the waist is not a circle at all, but an oval; nor can there be any greater error than to imagine that an unnaturally small waist gives an air of grace, or even of slightness, to the whole figure. - "Slaves of Fashion," Woman's World, Oscar Wilde
In a previous post, I laughed at a trade card that pictured Oscar Wilde in one of the very things he's complaining about above, corsets! The main reason that I share this blog so widely is to get feedback and I was happy to recently discover that, as is often the case, when I see someone doing something that appears ridiculous in its historical context, there's usually a good explanation.
The trade card is an advertisement for Warner Brothers Corsets (I'm guessing it is from the 1890s, but I found it on eBay). The name of the corset company, today, makes the whole thing seem sillier and I couldn't imagine Wilde consenting to the use of his personality. However, I got a tip from one of my twitter followers, which led me to Dr. Lucien Warner.

You can tell by the beard that Dr. Warner is a pretty cool guy. Born in Cuyler NY in 1842, he took some time off from his studies at Oberlin College to serve in 150th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, during the American Civil War. He then earned his medical degree from New York University in 1867 and went on a lecture tour, which earned him an honourary Master's Degree from Oberlin College (big smartypants). He went on to be a major donor to the college, while also playing an active role on the Board of Trustees, and Warner Hall still bears his name.

The coolest thing about Dr. Warner was his commitment to women's health. Oberlin College gave him the honourary degree because he had been lecturing about the dangerous side-effects of the rigid steel-boned corsets women were wearing. Though his lectures obviously won him much acclaim, he didn't feel that enough women were listening. He might have even despaired that they would never listen. So he went home and came up with a compromise. In 1873, he created a new style of corset that gave women the fashionable shape they wanted, while leaving enough flexibility for movement to reduce injury.

If you couldn't tell by the name of the corset company, Dr. Warner had a brother, Dr. Ira De Ver Warner. The two Dr. Warners gave up their medical practices and founded Warner Brothers Corset Manufacturers.

I still don't know if Wilde endorsed the trade card that I wrote about before, but I'm no longer ruling out that possibility. Wilde toured America in the 1880s. They might have met and would have had a lot to talk about, but I doubt Wilde would have disapproved of the product. It was the first corset with shoulder straps. The company didn't stop there! In 1914, they bought the patent for the first bra from the 19 year-old peace activist Mary Phelps Jacob.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

1897 Literary Reviews of Dracula

Dracula wasn't as successful as Bram Stoker hoped it would be, when he first published it. I said that once and still believe it. I think he would be humbled by its success today. Yet, somewhere along the line, I got the impression that it was unpopular, when he first published it. Looking over some reviews from 1897, I really wonder where I ever got that idea or maybe I've become too much of a horror movie fangirl to properly read Victorian book reviews.

Hampshire Advertiser, 05 June 1897

Of Dracula, Stoker wrote to William Ewart Gladstone that:
The book is necessarily full of horrors and terrors but I trust that these are calculated to “cleanse the mind by pity & terror.” At any rate there is nothing base in the book and though superstition is brought in with the weapons of superstition I hope it is not irreverent.
And maybe that is the key to what made Stoker feel it was unsuccessful, as the reviews that follow emphasize the terror of it all with little talk of any moral teachings.
It is said of Mrs. Radcliffe that when writing her now almost forgotten romances she shut  herself up in absolute seclusion, and fed upon raw beef, in order to give her work the desired atmosphere of gloom, tragedy and terror.  If one had no assurance to the contrary one might well supposed that a similar method and regimen had been adopted by Mr. Bram Stoker while writing his new novel “Dracula.” In seeking for a parallel to this weird, powerful, and horrorful story our mind reverts to such tales as “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” “Frankenstein,” “Wuthering Heights,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Marjery of Quether.” But “Dracula” is even more appalling in its gloomy fascination than any one of these (The Daily Mail, 1 June 1897).
My favorite thing about that review is that, unknown to the reviewer (I hope), Stoker really did like to get into character when he was writing horror stories!

My affection for this next review is why I think I might not be reading them properly.
Mr. Bram Stoker should have labelled his book “For Strong Men Only,” or words to that effect. Left lying carelessly around, it might get into the hands of your maiden aunt who believes devoutly in the man under the bed, or of the new parlourmaid with unsuspected hysterical tendencies. “Dracula” to such would be manslaughter. It is for the man with a sound conscience and digestion, who can turn out the gas and go to bed without having to look over his shoulder more than half a dozen times as he goes upstairs, or more than mildly wishing that he had a crucifix and some garlic handy to keep the vampires from getting at him. That is to say, the story deals with the Vampire King, and it is horrid and creepy to the last degree. It is also excellent, and one of the best things in the supernatural line that we have been lucky enough to hit upon (Pall Mall Gazette, 1 June 1897).
"Horrid and creepy to the last degree" sounds like a compliment to me, after all Stoker admitted Dracula was "full of horrors and terrors." He couldn't have been shocked or disappointed by this review. Could he?

I love how the next one insights paranoia.
It is an eerie and gruesome tale which Mr. Stoker tells, but it is much the best book he has written. The reader is held with a spell similar to that of Wilkie Collins’s “Moonstone,” and indeed in many ways the form of narrative by diaries and letters and extracts from newspapers neatly fitted into each other recalls Wilkie Collins’s style…. Mr. Stoker keeps his devilry well in hand, if such an expression is allowable; as strange event follows strange event, the narrative might in less skilful hands become intolerably improbable; but “Dracula” to the end seems only too reasonably and sanely possible. Henceforth we shall wreathe ourselves in garlic when opportunity offers, and firmly decline all invitations to visit out-of-the-way clients in castles in the South-East of Europe. “Dracula” is a first rate book of adventure (Glasgow Herald, 10  June 1897).

If I had to do away with visiting all my invitations to go see "out-of-the-way clients in castles in the South-East of Europe," I just don't know how I'd pay the rent!

Ok. I guess some of Stoker's contemporaries really didn't like reading Dracula.
Man is no longer in dread of the monstrous and the unnatural, and although Mr. Stoker has tackled his gruesome subject with enthusiasm, the effect is more often grotesque than terrible…. The plot is too complicated for reproduction, but it says no little for the author’s power that in spite of its absurdities the reader can follow the story with interest to the end. It is, however, an artistic mistake to fill a whole volume with horrors. A touch of the mysterious, the terrible, or the supernatural is infinitely more effective and credible.  (Manchester Guardian, 15 June 1897)
"I was able to finish the book" isn't really a compliment. Another condemning review in the Athenaeum (26 June 1897) complains that:
At times Mr. Stoker almost succeeds in creating the sense of possibility in impossibility; at others he merely commands an array of crude statements of incredible actions.
And this is where I confess. Dracula isn't one of my favourite books. Stoker isn't one of my favourite authors. The more I learn about him, the less I think I would really like him as a person. I have read almost all of his works and found them decidedly misogynistic, which I refuse to provide the excuse of context that so many others will offer because not everyone shared his derogatory view of women. I actually agree with the reviewer from the Spectator (31 July 1897), who wrote:
Its strength lies in the invention of incident, for the sentimental element is decidedly mawkish.
I don't think Stoker was a talented author, but he had a really good idea and really took his time in researching and writing it. I appreciate and respect Stoker for starting the Dracula franchise, for giving vampires charming outfits and accents, for making them shape-shifters and sexualizing them - even if a condemnation of women's sexuality was part of the original text.

Read these reviews and others in full in Elizabeth Miller, ed. Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Documentary Volume, Detroit: Gale, 2004.

Morning Post, 3 June 1897

Derby Mercury, 23 June 1897

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Weirdest Cameras of the 1890s

Off on another tangent tonight, this time it's spy cameras. One of my main characters is a journalist, so, obviously, I was captivated by the National Museum's blog post about Victorian concerns over privacy. Their blog post focuses on a wonderful concealed vest camera, a camera to be worn around the neck, while discretely taking photos.

In the early 1800s, cameras were introduced that allowed for light to be captured on photographic plates, producing an image. These early cameras took a long time to capture a photo, which meant that the subject had to stay still and the photographer needed to use a tripod (or something like a tripod) to keep the camera from moving. That's why you don't usually see people smiling in early-Victorian photographs. It doesn't matter how happy you are; if you hold a smile long enough, you start to look a little deranged. Sadly, sitting perfectly still and staring at a camera for five minutes had the same effect.

It also meant that dead people were excellent and popular models.

By the 1870s, new technology became available that allowed people to capture photos more quickly. Photos from this time on begin to appear more candid and, like our concealed vest camera above, cameras could be made smaller.

In the 1880s and 1890s, people started to take up photography as a hobby. In the 1890s, the word "Kodak" became synonymous with camera and "Kodaking" was a verb for practicing photography because Kodak introduced a camera that used a portable roll of film in 1890. Constance Wilde took one of these with her travelling in the early 1890s, but mostly used it to take picture of sights, rather than people (bummer). I find pictures of people so much more interesting than pictures of places because people change faster and are more interactive (most of the time).

Smaller and more fascinating cameras were being invented in the 1880s, like the concealable vest camera, but these were never as popular as the Kodak. Thinking of spy cameras, I've endeavoured to share a few of them with you here.

J. Lancaster & Son began producing this marvelous watch camera in 1886. More detailed images of it can be found here.

The year after that ad was printed, J. Lancaster & Son also featured a camera that was just small enough to fit in your pocket.

I have no documented evidence that this next one was ever a real product. I'd be a little horrified, but still amused if it was because I've read various claims that not only was it a camera and a cigarette lighter, disguised as a book, but it was also a gun! I suppose that was for all those times Victorians craved a cigarette, while taking a photo of someone they were about to kill?

If it was a gun, don't you think it would be difficult to aim and shoot with a book that could also set you on fire?

And yet, this isn't the only device that links guns with photography in the 1890s. E.J. Marey, a French scientist and photographer, made a chronophotographic gun in 1882, not for shooting bullets at things, but for rapid-fire picture taking to aid in the study of movement. Marey was most interested in seeing how birds fly, but also studied humans, horses, dogs, sheep, donkeys, elephants, fish, insects, reptiles, and microscopic creatures. His longest-lasting impact on culture, was a study about how cats always land on their feet. He made the world's first cat video and we know what that did to the internet. 

I love that as soon as people could start taking candid pictures, they started taking pictures of cats. We all know that a cat can sit perfectly still all day, until you try to take its picture!

Books were definitely a popular way to disguise a spy camera. In 1892, Scovill & Adams disguised a camera as a stack of three books, titled "French," "Latin," and "Shadows." This also included a classic leather strap (I don't understand how people ever used those to carry books).

The name, "Demon Detective Camera," says so much about some of these small portable cameras. The British-made Demon was a cheap simple camera. The rear bears the manufacturer's name: "W. Phillips stamper Birmingham." The patent covering the camera belonged to W. O'Reilly. Some ads reported that 100,000 cameras had been made. They must have been kidding! I hope they were kidding?

In 1885, the Marion & Company of London began producing the Marion's Parcel Detective Camera. As its name suggests, the camera was disguised as a parcel to conceal its actual purpose from the subjects of its photos. The most popular version was covered in brown paper and tied with string, like the typical parcels of the day. A more expensive version was also available covered in leather. As you can see in the ad, the gentleman holding it doesn't look suspicious at all!

More detective cameras were manufactured in the 1900s, but are beyond the scope of this blog. As fun as these cameras are, I find them a little insidious. Readers of this blog will empathize with my affection for Oscar Wilde and Victorian scholars of homosexuality in the Victorian era will know that blackmail was a problem for anyone who didn't strictly adhere to cultural norms.
The Demon Camera Depicts the hypocrisy of life and the frivolities of fashion unknown to its victims. Can be used on the promenade, in law courts, churches, and railway carriages; also in breach of promise divorce casesl in fact at all awkward moments when least expected. The artful maiden, the wily detective, the wronged wife will now collect damning evidence. The bad boy will levy black mail upon his sisters by illustrating family squabbles instead of angelic sweetness, and human happiness will now be within reach of all.
And that's from the camera's own ad!

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Parenty's Smoking Machine

After finding a list of bizarre Victorian inventions, I couldn't get the first one out of my head. It was a smoking machine. The list's author claimed that Victorians loved the smell of smoke so much that they used this machine or proposed it for use in bars and clubs, where there weren't enough smokers already.

This put the image in my head of smokers waving around sticks of incense instead of cigarettes, while people nearby react as if they are engaged in some form of aromatherapy. If this sounds ridiculous, its because it is. The smoking machine pictured in the amusing list of bizarre Victorian inventions was called Parenty's Smoking Machine and I found evidence of its intended use for cigarette and cigar manufacturers.

We produce herewith, from La Nature, an illustration of a novel apparatus, called by its inventor, Mr. Parenty, a "smoking machine." Tobacco manufacturers make their cigars out of quite a large number of different leaves, whose physical and chemical qualities have to be combined as to yield an articile that gives out an agreeable odor and burns well. Combustibility, then, is a physical quality that must be estimated for each variety of leaf. Such estimate is made by measuring the time during which a certain style of cigar, made solely from the tobacco to be tested, holds its fire without drawing on it a second time. In this comparative determination the intensity of the lighting is the element that has to be determined and regulated. To accomplish this is the object of the machine under consideration, which is so constructed as to imitate the motions of a smoker, who, at regular intervals, would inhale a definite volume of air with a definite and constant force of suction.
I am omitting the middle of the article because it focuses on the mechanics of Parenty's Smoking Machine, but if you are interested you can find it in issue 54 of Scientific American (23 January 1886).
This ingenious apparatus, which does its inventor great credit, was presented to the Administration of Tobaccos in 1884, and excited great interest at the Anvers Exhibition. 
 Producing a smoking machine for use by the manufacturers of tobacco products makes a lot more sense than using a machine that smokes individual cigarettes to fill a bar with smoke. Sadly, the inventor is only identified as "Mr. Parenty," but a more curious mind might check into the documentation from what was presented to the Administration of Tobaccos in 1884. I suspect, because this was published in 1886, the Mr. Parenty did quite well for himself with this invention.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Do Women Wear Pants because of Oscar Wilde?

I posted a quote from a blog that humourously implied that women wear pants because of Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement. I still think that's a clever bit of writing and you can see the part I quoted in this post here. Do I think that if it weren't for Oscar Wilde I wouldn't be able to wear pants in public? To say that I did would be a bit of an exaggeration.

Anyone who thinks my collection of trousers would belong to my husband, if it weren't for Oscar Wilde, is overlooking the daring and hard work of so many courageous women. I wrote about Rational Dress, like it were some kind of ambiguous headless entity, when it had many heads and courageous hearts.

Lady Haberton created the divided skirt and didn't go away quietly when she was refused service at an inn for wearing one.

Mary Eliza Haweis was a scholar and an author, who wrote primarily for other educated women. Her research focused on Chaucer and her obituary in the Illustrated News of 3 December 1898 is impressive:
Just who was Mary Eliza Joy Haweis? Wife of philandering preacher and music aficionado Hugh Reginald Haweis; mother of three semi-estranged children; daughter of failed artist Thomas Musgrove Joy; hostess of fancy dress balls; restorer of historic houses; member of the Suffragettes; and author of Flame of Fire, another "foolish effusion with which women writers attack the eternal marriage question." But Haweis was also "an enthusiastic student of Chaucer," whose works were "educationally valuable," "original in plan and conception," and "mine[s] of poetic beauty and most scholarly explanation." She tackled bookish issues—Chaucer's final -e, his accent, and his meter—and she ferreted out academic rumors and pieced together what scholarship she could verify on the poet's life. She wrote in support of the abortive Chaucer concordance that predated John S. P. Tatlock and Arthur G. Kennedy's, and she corresponded with F. J. Furnivall and Sir Israel Gollancz on matters of medieval concern. She researched medieval paintings to make her own illustrations for the Canterbury Tales correct, and she identified the seal of Thomas Chaucer, reproducing it exactly from the miscellanea at the British Museum and from MS Cotton Julius C.vii. Her recorded evidence, gleaned from manuscript rolls and records, is not always chronicled elsewhere. She was the first Chaucerian/art historian to link Chaucer's poetry to existing paintings and drawings, observing that "Chaucer and his contemporaries are as careful as Van Eyck in realizing an exact and brilliant picture, and in trying to put it before our eyes as definitely as they saw it themselves."

The actress, Charlotte Carmichael Stopes wrote one of the most definitve books of the British Women's Suffrage Movement, British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege (1894). She was a Shakespeare scholar, almost to the same extent that Haweis studied Chaucer. In 1889, Stopes famously staged a coup at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Newcastle upon Tyne, by unexpectedly adding Rational Dress to the programme. Nationwide newspapers reported Stopes's speech, spreading the notion of Rational Dress.

Much the way that our contemporaries refuse to acknowledge the ongoing War on Women worldwide, women, who supported and/or practiced Rational Dress, were subject to ridicule.

While I do feel that Oscar Wilde supported this movement in the Woman's World, I suspect that was partly due to the fact that his mother was a feminist and he married an active member of the Rational Dress Society. In other words, he did nothing to stop women from wearing pants, but I don't think his efforts were terribly significant compared to the work of all these other women.

I also can't finish without saying that I love the term "Bloomerism." Victorians were excellent at making up new words.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Sweetest Violet in England was a Bad Girl!

Isobel Violet Hunt
Courtesy the Dame Laura Knight Trust

This writer from the 1890s just barely escaped the honour of being Mrs. Oscar Wilde, though she claimed to enjoy pursuing men that others were surprised that she would want. Violet Hunt claimed to especially like older married men, but the love of her life, Ford Maddox Ford, was ten years younger.

Compared to her male contemporaries, Hunt was a prolific writer. She outwrote Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker combined, just with her list of novels and biographies of famous women. Her novels, A Maiden's Progress (1894) and A Hard Woman (1895) epitomized the New Woman in writing. She helped Ford establish the English Review in 1908. That's the same Ford with whom she started a romantic relationship with when she was 46.
Ford was thirty-five, tall and thin and fair-haired, with a blond mustache that failed to conceal defective front teeth and a mouth that always hung open. Rather gaunt, he had not yet ballooned into what Wyndham Lewis would call a 'flabby lemon and pink giant, who hung his mouth open as though he were an animal at a zoo inviting buns - especially when ladies were present.' - Barbara Belford
Having just discovered her, I'm in love with Hunt and her taste in men. She never married, but had many affairs, including a relationship with H.G. Wells. Lots of people loved her when they first met her, enabling her to make very influential friends and fostering her reputation as an excellent hostess of literary salons. She was like that bad girl all of us good girls want as our best friend, so that we can call on her for a wild time when we get bored of behaving ourselves.

Did I mention that Ford was married? If that weren't awful enough, she started calling herself Mrs. Ford, which lead to the end of her friendship with Henry James. In her diaries, she describes it as incident, like unfriended her over dinner, but James was a pretty conservative fellow.

Hunt is most famous for her diaries, which I'm yet to read, but appear at the end of her list of works here. I like finding old texts for free online, so I'll share a link to it when I am able to track one down.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Stoker and Wilde go to Whitechapel

Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde both make references to Whitechapel in their novels.

In the 1890s especially, Whitechapel was known as a poor and working-class neighborhood, and famously as the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper. Keith Browning says Whitechapel...
...was probably one of the worst neighbourhoods in England. Crime and disease were rife and all the visions you might have of the evils of Victorian and Dickensian London were on the doorstep. The air was foul, the water was foul, the streets were foul... 
And, apparently, Wilde and Stoker thought it was a great setting for a horror story.

Wilde writes specifically about Whitechapel in The Picture of Dorian Gray:
"But they are so unhappy in Whitechapel," continued Lady Agatha.  
"I can sympathize with everything except suffering," said Lord Henry, shrugging his shoulders. "I cannot sympathize with that. It is too ugly, too horrible, too distressing. There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One should sympathize with the colour, the beauty, the joy of life. The less said about life's sores, the better."  
"Still, the East End is a very important problem," remarked Sir Thomas with a grave shake of the head.   
"Quite so," answered the young lord. "It is the problem of slavery, and we try to solve it by amusing the slaves."  
The politician looked at him keenly. "What change do you propose, then?" he asked.  
Lord Henry laughed. "I don't desire to change anything in England except the weather," he answered. "I am quite content with philosophic contemplation. But, as the nineteenth century has gone bankrupt through an over-expenditure of sympathy, I would suggest that we should appeal to science to put us straight. The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray, and the advantage of science is that it is not emotional."  
"But we have such grave responsibilities," ventured Mrs. Vandeleur timidly.  
"Terribly grave," echoed Lady Agatha. Lord Henry looked over at Mr. Erskine. 
"Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world's original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different."  
"You are really very comforting," warbled the duchess. "I have always felt rather guilty when I came to see your dear aunt, for I take no interest at all in the East End. For the future I shall be able to look her in the face without a blush."

Bram Stoker has Dracula relocate to Whitechapel. I think the reason that most people have never actually read Dracula is that Stoker was such a meticulous writer, which can make for dull reading (I'm sorry). In the following passage, he is very specific about where Dracula's coffins are being moved.
I found Thomas Snelling in his house at Bethnal Green, but unhappily he was not in a condition to remember anything. The very prospect of beer. which my expected coming had opened to him, had proved too much, and he had begun too early on his expected debauch. I learned, however, from his wife, who seemed a decent, poor soul, that he was only the assistant to Smollet, who of the two mates was the responsible person. So off I drove to Walworth, and found Mr. Joseph Smollet at home and in his shirtsleeves, taking a late tea out of a saucer. He is a decent, intelligent fellow, distinctly a good, reliable type of workman, and with a headpiece of his own. He remembered all about the incident of the boxes, and from a wonderful dog’s-eared notebook, which he produced from some mysterious receptacle about the seat of his trousers, and which had hieroglyphical entries in thick, half-obliterated pencil, he gave me the destinations of the boxes. There were, he said, six in the cartload which he took from Carfax and left at 197 Chicksand Street, Mile End New Town, and another six which he deposited at Jamaica Lane, Bermondsey. If then the Count meant to scatter these ghastly refuges of his over London, these places were chosen as the first of delivery, so that later he might distribute more fully. The systematic manner in which this was done made me think that he could not mean to confine himself to two sides of London. He was now fixed on the far east of the northern shore, on the east of the southern shore, and on the south. The north and west were surely never meant to be left out of his diabolical scheme—let alone the City itself and the very heart of fashionable London in the south-west and west. I went back to Smollet, and asked him if he could tell us if any other boxes had been taken from Carfax.
I only quoted the whole paragraph because the things Stoker writes about drinking fascinate me!

The address, 197 Chicksand Street, never really existed, but the Londoner of the 1890s would have placed it in Whitechapel. Dracula's coffins were being moved from Piccadilly Street, which Stoker identifies as "the very heart of fashionable London," to Whitechapel, where presumably, he'll find plenty of victims. Dracula is colonizing London. Whitechapel was, in the 1890s, also associated with immigration. Jack the Ripper wasn't the only link between that neighbourhood and crime, just the most prominent link.

The drawing I posted above illustrates the link between poverty and crime or degradation through neglect. As is indicated by the passage from Dorian Gray, many middle-class Victorians made it their mission to right this wrong. Their efforts, however, were often overly religious and terribly impractical.

Along with these good-doers, as we also see in Dorian Gray, slumming was phenomenon that was born in the 1880s and continued to rise in popularity through the 1890s. Dorian Gray visits the East End frequently throughout the novel.

Right after Dorian kills Basil, Wilde makes a visual reference to the victims of Jack the Ripper:
How quickly it had all been done! He felt strangely calm, and walking over to the window, opened it and stepped out on the balcony. The wind had blown the fog away, and the sky was like a monstrous peacock's tail, starred with myriads of golden eyes. He looked down and saw the policeman going his rounds and flashing the long beam of his lantern on the doors of the silent houses. The crimson spot of a prowling hansom gleamed at the corner and then vanished. A woman in a fluttering shawl was creeping slowly by the railings, staggering as she went. Now and then she stopped and peered back. Once, she began to sing in a hoarse voice. The policeman strolled over and said something to her. She stumbled away, laughing. A bitter blast swept across the square. The gas-lamps flickered and became blue, and the leafless trees shook their black iron branches to and fro. He shivered and went back, closing the window behind him.
Of course, this happens right outside Dorian's door, but the reference is still clear. Murder has just taken place, Dorian is evading the police, and a drunk woman wanders the streets alone wearing a shawl that recalls the scond victim of Jack the Ripper Catherine Eddowes.

As early as 1884, the New York Times identified the habit of rich young people in London seeking disrespectable amusements in London's East End.
Slumming commenced in London … with a curiosity to see the sights, and when it became fashionable to go 'slumming' ladies and gentlemen were induced to don common clothes and go out in the highways and byways to see people of whom they had heard, but of whom they were as ignorant as if they were inhabitants of a strange country. (September 14, 1884)
By the 1890s, Karl Baedeker's London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers even guided visitors to world-famous philanthropic institutions in Whitechapel and Shoreditch. Slummers sometimes disguised themselves to fit in with the residents of these areas so that they could rent a room for a night and engage in otherwise forbidden acts. According to Dr Andrzej Diniejko, "Their cross-class sexual fellowships contributed to diminishing class barriers and reshaping gender relations at the turn of the nineteenth century." Diniejko's website provides an excellent list for further reading!

After recently reading an excellent blog post on Victorian self-defense, I now imagine Wilde and Stoker on recognizance missions for their novels in Whitechapel. They're probably dressed in last year's fashions and have a cudgel or a life-preserver up their sleeve. Who am I kidding? Oscar Wilde would never have worn the previous year's fashions.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Ten Best Restaurants in London

While feeling extremely distractible and editing a scene in which my characters are out for an evening in London, I came across this wonderful blog. It quotes at length from one of my favorite recent books on Constance Wilde on the subject of Dorothy Restaurant, which was a haven for the "New Woman" in 1890s London. This got me thinking of restaurant culture in 1890s London. I'm also in the middle of writing/editing a passage in which my characters are out for a night on the town in 1890.

With this helpful guide, the internet and my knowledge of the time and place, I present my favourite restaurants in 1890s London.

10. Benekey's

Meeting a friend to discuss some ideas? Look how private the booths are in Benekey's. Public houses or pubs were not usually recommended for their food or drink, but Benekey's served one of the finest glasses of wine in London. Karl Baedeker, the author of London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers, recommends it, if for that reason alone. Otherwise, there seems to be no trace of the place. Probably because it wasn't a place to be seen, but rather to hide away with a friend and talk, talk, talk... that is what good wine is for, isn't it?

Benekey's isn't around anymore, but its booths are still there and its address currently houses to a new pub, called the Cittie of Yorke. Of the current establishment, one reviewer wrote:
The copper sign swinging over pedestrians on High Holborn speaks of ‘beer brewed at Yorkshire’s oldest brewery’; the sign just out from a mock-Tudor façade above reads ‘established on the site of a public house in 1430’.
So far, so faux, but the interior is authentically dingy, wobbly and warren-like, the kind of place in which to film a period drama. The main room is lined with conspiratorial dark wood alcoves, with old barrels over the long bar and framed portraits from Vanity Fair c.1870.
Though I don't think that review was intentionally positive, it makes me really want to go there! According to Baedeker: "In the season" during the 1890s, it was "sometimes necessary to engage a table beforehand," but that went for most of these places!

9. Claridge's

This place went through a lot of changes in the 1890s, but that was due to the ambition of its owners and its popularity and success. It was purchased by the Savoy Group in 1894, had some of the same management as the Savoy Hotel.

In the 1890s, one might enjoy an orchestra, during afternoon tea in the central court from 4-6pm and from 7-9:30 in the restaurant. Like the Savoy Hotel, it had open terraces with a view of the river. As a hotel, it has 203 rooms and suites and went on from the 1890s to have an exciting, especially in WWII when it became the birthplace of Yugoslavian Crown Prince Alexander (1945).

Unlike Benekey's, this is where one might bring their fiance's parents because it was more of an event to go there. The entertainment meant you didn't have to spend the whole time talking to the people you were with and the service/food was first class. It also would have made a really good impression.

8. The Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly Circus

The Criterion Theatre is an underground theatre in Piccadilly Circus that seats 600 people - not underground as in secret, but actually physically underground. The facade on the street is just the restaurant and box office.

Dining in the Criterion would have been an incredible experience. I imagine it full of rollicking affluent young Londoners. Baedeker talks about the paintings he saw there by "eminent artists," the mosaic on the ceiling in the Marble Hall, it had a number of rooms, including and "American restaurant," a lager-beer sloon and a smoking room. (I imagined people smoking everywhere.) Going down the stairs to the theatre would have also been an adventure, especially with the number of opiates available in the 1890s.

Throughout the era, the whole place was managed by Felix William Spiers, who served the same menu in his extensive railway refreshment rooms. A meal that you might eat on a train, like a meal you might eat on a plane, doesn't sound very appetizing today, but first class dining rooms on trains in the 1890s were quite another story! Train passengers performed their class identities by spending more to have access to these cars.

7. Simpson's-in-the-Strand

Fancy some fish and a game of chess?

Simpson's-in-the-Strand started out as a smoking room in 1828, then it quickly turned into a coffee house. By mid-century, it was known for serving traditional English food, especially roast meats and the classic fish & chips. Writers enjoyed dining there straight through the twentieth century. P.G. Wodehouse called it "a restful temple of food."

Simpson's is also located near Fleet Street, where all the journalists worked. Baedeker enjoyed fish & chips there. In the 1890s, our writers probably also enjoyed a game of chess there. Chess was a feature of Simpson's-in-the-Strand's early days as a coffee house, where well-educated gentlemen would rest, read the papers, discuss politics and play a game of chess in and on the establishments ample chairs and divans. Until it was bought by the Savoy Group at the end of the decade, it was also home to the largest mahogany table in existence.

This is the kind of place that I imagine journalists going in the morning or at lunch, but in a laid-back men's club sort of way. Unless specified, we can presume that most restaurants did not accommodate women dining alone. In some cases, women may have been barred entirely. Consequently, I would only have gone to Simpson's-in-the-Strand, if I were of that class of well-educated Victorian gentleman.

6. Holborn Restaurant

The Holborn Restaurant was part of the casino and had a ladies' dining room. Baedeker called Holborn "an extensive and elaborately adorned establishment with grill-room,  luncheon-buffets [...] in the Grand Salon from 6 to 9 p.m., with  music [...] 'grilled dinner' in the 'Ladies' Grill Room'" When Baedeker talks about "grilled dinners," he means steak. Who doesn't want to eat steak in a London casino in the 1890s?

It left a lasting impression on, British novelist and dramatist, Edmund Yates, who wrote:
The Holborn Casino was a much quieter place of resort than its rival, and was frequented by a different class: there was some element of respectability among its female visitors, while among the men the genus "swell," which predominated at the other place, was here almost entirely absent, the ordinary attendants being young fellows from the neighbouring Inns of Court, medical students, Government clerks, with a sprinkling of the shopocracy.
Contrary to what I initially suspected, "shopocracy" doesn't actually refer to government by the retail industry. It's actually just an adjective for a group of shopkeepers. Enabling women to shop was the main mission of these eateries. However, as you can see in the passage from Yates, a woman dining out was still a controversial thing, by the fact that "there was some element of respectability among its female visitors," which implies in other establishments the women weren't respectable. People often assumed an unaccompanied woman in a restaurant was a prostitute, which is why ladies' dining rooms really got their start in department stores. Dining rooms for women shoppers gave them some respectability and allowed them to shop longer.  In this busy shopping area, there was another ladies' dining room across the street, which also served steaks. Cheaper and probably not as good!

6. Dorothy Restaurant

Restaurants for women were a natural progression of the increasing independence of middle-class women. In the later part of the nineteenth century, many women would take the train into the city to go shopping. While a woman couldn't dine alone, public washrooms were inaccessible to women. Putting tea rooms in shops enabled women to stay in the city and shop all day.

Dorothy Restaurant enabled women to just hang out with other women and do things they couldn't do anywhere else to relax, like smoking and drinking. Strongly linked to the "New Woman," Dorothy Restaurant was very cutting edge, but only stayed open for six years 1889-1895.

4. Pagani's

Artists and musicians in the 1890s loved Pagani's restaurant with its art nouveau frontage near Queen's Hall on Langham Place. It first opened in 1871 and its famous Artist Room's walls were decorated with more than 5,000 notes and signatures of its famous patrons, including Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Giacomo Puccini, Cécile Chaminade, Emma Calvé, Plançon, Nellie Melba, Mortimer Menpes, Paolo Tosti, Sarah Bernhardt, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Baedeker advised visitors in the 1890s that the Artist Room was reserved for "private parties," so if you are throwing a private party in the 1890s - this is where I recommend you do it.

In the 1890s, Oscar Wilde once dined on calf's brains and lark-and-steak pie in the Artist's Room with Lillie Langtry and the Prince of Wales.

Dinners and Diners (1899) by Lieut.-Col. Newnham-Davis gives the most detailed account of a dining experience in the downstairs public room.
On the Saturday I went to Pagani’s, secured a table for the next evening in the room on the first floor, a very pretty dining-room with soft blue curtains to the windows, a blue paper on the walls, shaded electric lights, and a little bow- window at the back, which makes the snuggest of nooks. Then M. Giuseppe Pagani, one of the two proprietors, having appeared, we talked over the important matter of the menu. The difficulty that vexed our minds was whether filets de sole Pagani or turbot à la Pellegrini would best suit a lady’s appetite. Finally the sole won the day. I hesitated a moment over the Bortsch soup, for it has become almost as much a standing dish as croûte au pot in most restaurants ; but Bortsch is the customary Sunday soup at Pagani’s, so it had to be included in the menu.
This was our list completed
Hors-d’oeuvre variés. 
Potage Bortsch. 
Filets de sole Pagani. 
Tournedos aux truffés. 
Haricots verts sautés. 
Pommes croquettes. 
Perdreau Voisin. 
Soufflé au curaçoa.

For Newnham-Davis's guest, even dining on the first floor was an event: "I told Mrs. Tota that at least half the guests were musicians or singers, and immediately she was all attention." The funniest part of his description to me is part that tells us about the Artist Room and recalls The Importance of Being Earnest:
When we came to the little room with its ruby velvet curtains and mantel drapings, its squares of what looks like brown paper, at about the height of a man’s head, covered with draw­ings and writings, and protected by glass, its framed drawings and paintings, Mrs. Tota turned to me and asked me if I often brought my invalid maiden aunt to dine here.    
“Invalid maiden aunt? “ I said with astonishment, but remembered in a second that I had mentioned some such relative (or was it an uncle?) when we dined in the private room at Kettner’s. Mrs. Tota laughed and turned to M. Meschini, who was beginning to explain the various works of art.
I wonder if he ever called his invalid maiden aunt "Bunbury."

3. Ship and Turtle Tavern

It is worth a pilgrimage to the City to taste turtle soup and “fixings” at the “Ship and Turtle,” Leadenhall-street.
The above is a quote from the Dickens Dictionary of London (1879) and it was a real place that was still popular in the 1890s.

This pub was established by 1377 and was rebuilt in 1887 and again in 1969.  In its later years it was called Vino Veritas, but it closed and was demolished in 2008. For 465 years, from 1377 to 1835 it was run by a succession of widows. During the Victorian era, the Ship and Turtle Tavern even supplied several of the West-end clubhouses. To ensure its patrons they were eating real turtle, turtles were kept on display in aquariums for everybody to see!

Any place with a 500 year-long tradition of empowering women is going to make my list, even if I dislike their treatment of turtles.

2. Cafe Royal

Since about 75% of my blog has something to do with Oscar Wilde, the Cafe Royal had to be one of my top three restaurants in London in the 1890s. Above are paintings of the Cafe Royal by Charles Ginner, William Orpen and Adrian Allison. They were all painted in the 1910s, but Wilde haunted the place in the 1890s. Jonathan Black, Fiona Fisher and Penny Sparke helped me find those images and describe the cafe as:
The Café Royal, located at 68 Regent Street and depicted by Charles Ginner in 1911 (Tate N05050 fig.3), enjoyed a special reputation among artists in the early years of the twentieth century. It was opened in 1865 by a Breton wine merchant, Daniel Thévenon, as one of London’s first French-style restaurants. By the late 1890s it had become firmly established as a key location for the British avant-garde to dine and, more importantly, to be seen in. In particular, the Café’s central mirrored dining room, known as the Domino Room, served as a convivial meeting place for artists such as Augustus John, Philip Wilson Steer and William Orpen. In his memoirs, another of its habitués, the writer Osbert Sitwell, recalled the Domino Room’s pre-1914 ‘smoky acres of painted goddesses and cupids and tarnished gilding, its golden caryatids and garlands, and its filtered submarine illumination – composed of tobacco smoke, of the flames from the chafing dishes and the fumes from food, of the London fog outside and the dim electric light within’.
Thévenon fled bankruptcy in France in 1863, then changed his name to Daniel Nichols when he arrived in Britain with his wife, Célestine, and just five pounds in cash. His son, also called Daniel Nicols, inherited the Cafe Royal and it flourished under his management with a reputation for having the greatest wine cellar in the world.

Did I mention Oscar Wilde liked to hang out there? So did Aleister Crowley, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, Noël Coward, Brigitte Bardot, Sir Max Beerbohm, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Jacob Epstein, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammad Ali and Diana, Princess of Wales. In the 1890s, it had a Bohemian reputation and served both royals and rogues.

On the right, is a copy of a menu I found from 1895. If it were the 1890s, I would go there everyday and wait until I got the chance to meet Oscar Wilde!

1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Conveniently located near the heart of London journalism is that literary eatery, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I couldn't leave British Columbia until I spotted an orca whale and I wouldn't be able to leave 1890s London (or even modern London), until I dined at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese!

Its address (145 Fleet Street) has been a pub since 1538. Its vaulted cellars belonged to a Carmelite Monastery which occupied the site in the thirteenth century. Like the Criterion, it is far more than what it looks like from the entrance in the alley.

Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton and Dr. Samuel Johnson all frequented the place and many literary associations have sprung up there as a consequence. During a Johnson Club supper on 13 December 1892: eloquent gentleman, present, an Irish Ex MP, pointed out that when Dr Johnson acted on his famous suggestion "let us take a walk down Fleet Street" the Cheshire Cheese must of necessity have been included among his places of call.
The Rhymers' Club was founded in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in 1890 by W. B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys. The poets, who were its members, produced anthologies in 1892 and 1894.

I'm really afraid that, if I ever get the chance to dine there, I won't want to leave.

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