Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lady Meux (pronounced "Mews")

I prefer women with a past. They're always so damned amusing to talk to. — Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) 
The history of London in the 1890s would lose much of its charm without its most scandalous women, like Lady Meux - pronounced “Mews.”

Portrait of Lady Meux by James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1881)
Lady Meux was born a butcher’s daughter in 1847 and called: Valerie Susan Langdon, but it’s probably already hard for you not to call her Lady Meux. She grew up to be a London socialite, the wife of an incredibly wealthy brewer, Sir Henry Meux, 3rd Baronet (1856-1900). That’s right, she married a really rich man, who was nearly ten years younger than her!

That’s him in the Sherlock Holmes cap and her on the banjo.

So why would a wealthy young man marry a butcher’s daughter ten years his senior in 1878? Well, Lady Meux said: “I can very honestly say that my sins were committed before marriage and not after.” And, then 22 year-old, Sir Meux might have seen her on stage, the way that Dorian Gray encountered Sybil Vane. Or he might have met in her in a far more intimate setting, as it was widely believed that Lady Meux was not the actress she claimed to be before marriage, but actually a prostitute.

Consequently, Lady Meux was never accepted by her husband’s family or “polite” society. But then, what use did she have for either when she could afford to drive herself to London in a high phaeton, drawn by a pair of zebras!

Lady Meux loved spending money, expanding and enlarging their home at Theobalds in Hertfordshire - by adding things like: a swimming pool and indoor roller-skating rink! Guests to her parties included the Prince of Whales and Winston Churchill. (I’m thinking of inviting some of the characters in my book.)

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Wilde's Last Real Friend

The Picture of Dorian Gray recently ranked 27th in the Guardian's list of the 100 best novels. Robert McCrum goes on to explain that Dorian Gray wasn't met with the warmest reception in 1891.
Of all the books in this series, Oscar Wilde's only novel enjoyed by far the worst reception on its publication. The reviews were dreadful, the sales poor, and it was not until many years after Wilde's death that this remarkable work of imagination was recognised as a classic.
While this is all true, I'm writing today to give credit where credit is due. Readers around the world didn't suddenly start rereading Dorian Gray on their own. Wilde's name was tainted by his infamous trials; his descendants still go by the name their mother assumed when she fled the country. His work became tainted by Victorian ideas of homoerotic pornography. Black market pornographers unlawfully used Wilde's name on their books in an effort to sell more copies - even after Wilde's death. Lucky for all of us, Wilde had one good friend who worked tirelessly to preserve Wilde's name as an artist, while maintaining the integrity of his Work.

That friend was Robbie Ross (May 25, 1869 – October 5, 1918), a French-born Canadian.

Ross worked as a journalist and art critic and dealer in London, but is remembered for his relationship with Oscar Wilde, to whom he was a literary executor. Ross was important in his own right as part of the London literary and arts scene in the 1890's and for the remainder of his years. He even mentored Siegfried Sassoon.

Ross grew up in Toronto and Ottawa, but moved to England to study at Cambridge. Ross began his studies in 1888 and even at that young age - in the Victorian Era too - Ross was open about his sexuality. Other students abused him for it, even with the support of one of their professors, Arthur Augustus Tiley.

After catching pneumonia from being dunked in a fountain, Ross demanded an apology. His fellow students complied, but Tiley refused. Rightfully enraged, Ross fought to have Tiley dismissed from the university to no avail. Defeated, Ross left school and came out to his family.

Robert Ross (Age 24)
Ross is widely believed to have been Wilde's first male lover. What is certain is that he became Wilde's last real friend. Ross was no stranger to homophobia, which didn't disappear when he left school. Years before Wilde went to court, the parents of a young man, who had intimate encounters with Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas, hired solicitors to take legal action, but were persuaded not to go to court.

When Wilde was released from prison, Ross was there with emotional and financial support.

Upon Wilde's death, Ross became Wilde's literary executor. Before Wilde went to prison, most of his possessions were sold off in bankruptcy, including the rights to all of Wilde's texts. Ross tracked these down and purchased them. He enlisted others, like Christopher Sclater Millard, to assist in the fight against the black-market trade in pornographic texts fraudulently published under Wilde's name.

With the definitive bibliography intact, Ross gave Wilde's sons the rights to all their father's works along with the money earned from their printing/performance while he was executor.

In 1908, he produced the definitive edition of Wilde's work. Ross hired Jacob Epstein to design Wilde's final resting place, requesting that Epstein add a small compartment to the tomb for Ross’s own ashes.

If it sounds like Ross was a little obsessed with Wilde, then I have misled you. While Ross was doing all of this he led a full and vibrant career in the arts, including management of the Carfax Gallery, a small commercial gallery in London, from 1901-1908. There, he showed artists, like Aubrey Beardsley, William Blake and John Singer Sargent. Ross went on to become the art critic for the Morning Post. During the First World War, Ross mentored a group of primarily homosexual poets and artists, which included Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

Ross suffered for helping Wilde even in death, and was wickedly harassed by Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde's Bosie and Ross's former friend), who tried to have him arrested for homosexual conduct.

During the German Spring Offensive (1918), Noel Pemberton Billing, a right-wing Member of Parliament, published an article called: "The Cult of the Clitoris," in which he painted Ross and his circle as the centre of a conspiracy by 47,000 homosexual traitors, who were betraying the nation to the Germans. Maud Allan, an actress who had played Wilde's Salome in a performance authorised by Ross, was identified as a member of the "cult". She unsuccessfully sued Billing for libel, causing a national sensation in Britain.

The incident brought a lot of negative publicity to Ross and his associates.

Later that year, Ross died suddenly, while preparing to travel to Australia, to open an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

In 1950, on the 50th anniversary of Wilde's death, Ross's ashes were added to Wilde's tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Now, if you want to get all teared-up like I just did, go watch this video on YouTube that pays tribute to their friendship.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How to Curse Like a Gentleman: the F-Bomb!

The word "fuck" was first published in 1568. It seems counter to the ideal of Victorian culture, but the F-bomb shocked and titillated Victorians. It frequently appeared in Victorian pornographic writings, such as Philocomus’s Love Feast (1865)
That night I shall never forget; We fucked and fucked, and fucked and sweat.
And My Secret Life (1890).
I was dying with want of a fuck.
And elsewhere in the same text:
At daylight we were a hollow eyed, fucked out couple.
The women had learnt a few English words explanatory of copulation—‘Me fuckee prick’ said one.
My Secret Life is the sexual memoir of a Victorian gentleman, called Walter. The first print only ran 25 copies. Subsequent copies were frequently suppressed, and subsequently pirated. Yet, the idea of "not giving a fuck" was Victorian, first appearing in print in George Augustus Henry Sala’s bawdy pantomime Harlequin Prince Cherrytop (1879).
For all your threats I don’t care a fuck. I’ll never leave my princely darling duck.
And fuck yourself appeared in New York in 1895.
By Senator Bradley: Q. Repeat what he said to you?
A. He said, ‘Go on, fuck yourself, you son-of-a-bitch; I will give you a hundred dollars’; he tried to punch me, and I went out.
The idea of being "fuckable" appeared in 1889.

The poor man had at last outwitted his careful wife and obtained a much longed for, fuckable cunt. - Charles Devereaux, “Venus in India” (1889).
Hugsome, carnally attractive, fuckable. - Farmer & Henley, “Slang III” (1893).
And in an 1862 letter from a soldier:
I together with several other officers went over to Petersburg, got drunk and f—ked out. We staid two days and nights, you ought to have seen me going to bed with a gal.
The English writer Edward Sellon has the honour of introducing the term “fuckee” to printed language in 1866.
For make fuckee business, sahib, that girl who is splashing the other one would be too much good.
But “fucker” goes back to 1598. Victorians were just having fun with it, introducing variations of the word “fuck,” such as “fuckhole” (1893), “fist-fuck” (1890), fucked (1863), and “motherfucking” (1889). Furthermore the fact that a word didn’t appear in print until 1893 doesn’t mean that it hadn’t been in use for twenty years or more.

Even I find it frustrating, as one who studies Victorian writers, that most of Victorian recorded language is preserved in the printed word. Their movies were silent, after all. The printed word differs from the spoken word greatly. Lots of great speakers don’t write well. Writing takes time and thought. It’s also subject to editing and we are all aware of the prim message that Victorian were trying to leave for posterity’s sake.

As a rule, a gentleman would never say “fuck” in front of a lady, but there were other kinds of women. I don’t think a Victorian should, or was even likely to use coarse language in front of their mothers, but when they were drunk, slumming, or one of those poor creatures who lived in the slums. In reality, Victorians probably swore about as much as we do, using many of the same terms.

“Shit” first appeared in print in 1325; “happy as a pig in shit” (1828); “the shit out of a” (1886); and “up shit’s creek” (1868). Certainly many Victorians saw the word “fuck” as classless and pornographic, but that really hasn’t changed.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The First Brunch!

According to the Oxford English Dictionary more words were added to the English language than at any other time in our language's history. One of my favourite words to hear on a weekend is "brunch," which first appeared in print on 1 August 1896 - thanks to Punch or the London Charivari.
An excellent portmanteau word..indicating a combined breakfast and lunch. At Oxford, however, two years ago, an important distinction was drawn. The combination-meal, when nearer the usual breakfast hour, is ‘brunch’, and when nearer luncheon, is ‘blunch’.
Thank goodness "blunch" never caught on. Punch is every Victorianist researcher's best friend, now I love them even more!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top 30 Obsolete 1890s Words

Today, I'm writing a scene, in which one of my characters uses some harsh late-Victorian language. This, of course, lead me to the Oxford English Dictionary, where I was able to make and study a list of words that came into use during the 1890s, but have since become obsolete. Many of those words were related to science, so I did quite a bit of sorting before I developed a manageable list. From there, I was able to narrow it down to the top 30 words that capture the spirit of 1890s London.
  1. crinanthropist n. a person who judges or criticizes other people. 
  2. herohead, n. The quality or condition of being a hero or demigod. 
  3. jobble, v. To move unevenly like a choppy sea. 
  4. mancinism, n. The state or condition of having a bias in some way towards the left-hand side of the body. 
  5. melomany, n. Enthusiasm or obsessive passion for music. 
  6. mentism, n. Disruption of rational thought by overwhelming emotion or vivid imagination. 
  7. mentulate, adj. Having a (large) penis. 
  8. mogiphonia, n. Difficulty in producing loud vocal sounds, as in public speaking or singing, attributed to overuse of the voice. 
  9. momiology, n. The scientific study of mummies. 
  10. morningly, adj. Occurring every morning. 
  11. morphiated, adj. Containing morphia; drugged with morphia. 
  12. moting, n. v. Mechanical, self-propelled movement of a vehicle. 
  13. muckerdom, n. Townspeople, as opposed to college students; the world of such people. 
  14. mythometer, n. A supposed system or standard for judging myths. 
  15. nanity, n. The condition of being abnormally deficient or underdeveloped in a particular characteristic. 
  16. ne’er-do-wellish, n. The worthless, disreputable people as a class. 
  17. neighbourize, v. To associate with others as neighbours; to act in a neighbourly fashion. 
  18. omnivorosity, n. A kind of enthusiastic wide-eyed curiousity; a combination of omnivorous and voracious.. eg.: "With the omnivorosity of youth I eagerly devoured them."
  19. opiism, n. The intoxicated state induced by taking opium; the habit of taking opium for the purpose of intoxication. 
  20. origines, n. The original facts or documents on which a historical or other work is based. 
  21. pekoe, v. To blend with pekoe tea. 
  22. pennoncier, n. A knight bachelor. 
  23. philobiblical, adj. Devoted to literature. 
  24. philo-sophistry, n. Love of or inclination towards sophistry. 
  25. pigfully, adv. In a manner befitting a pig. 
  26. plutogogy, n. Rule by the wealthy and their apologists. 
  27. poplocracy, n. Popular rule; government by the people. 
  28. proverbiologist, n. A person who studies proverbs. 
  29. pseudo-archaist, n. A person who invents or uses artificial archaisms, esp. in language. 
  30. repressful, adj. Apt to repress something; repressive.
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Monday, March 10, 2014

Spy Cameras & Blackmail

The Victorian sensation novel is evidence that Victorians loved intrigue as much as we do, with all of our murder-mystery television series. The 1890s saw the birth of the forensic sciences at the root of those shows, through the media sensationalism around Jack the Ripper and the popularity of genius detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes encouraged widespread mistrust of the police and made many people want to take matters into their own hands by becoming private detectives. As you might have seen in my post on the weirdest cameras of the 1890s, the evolution of photography was ready to appeal to their meddling needs.

Many ads were innocent enough, but others deliberately encouraged customers to spy on people. Marion’s Parcel Camera advertised that:

This Camera is made box-shaped and neatly covered with brown linen-lined paper, and tied with string like an ordinary parcel, of which it has the exact appearance. The object is to disguise its real use, and to permit a Photograph to be taken without raising the slightest suspicion.
Anthony's Patent Satchel Detective Camera illustrates how these devices worked and were evolving.

Conspiratorially, the Labouchere Amendment of 1885 made it easier for the courts to punish male homosexuals, in contexts where anal intercourse could not be proven. Most famously, Oscar Wilde was convicted under this law in 1895. In the years leading up to his trial, he and his friends were tormented by blackmailers. His Tite Street house was even broken into twice, presumably by people looking for further evidence of his affairs.

Photographs weren’t used in Oscar Wilde’s trial, but the years that followed would see a rise in photos taken with the intent of incriminating participants in seemingly private acts.

In 1920, a twenty-year-old actress, called May Levy, was used as bait to ensnare John Blake in a blackmail scheme. Blake recalled hearing a suspicious click in her bedroom, which turned out to be the noise from a camera taking a picture.

In another instance, where no photos were used, a young man name John Richardson propositioned another young man in 1887. Richardson blackmailed his victim by threatening to charge him with assault and followed him to the shop, where he pawned his watch in payment. Both youths were sentenced to ten years.

I can’t be sure how prevalent photographic blackmail was in the 1890s. Court records are difficult for me to access and many cases would have never made it to court for obvious reasons. Between the Labouchere Amendment and spy-camera technology, homosexuals would have been particularly vulnerable. Historian, Angus McLauren, who I once had the honour of taking a course with, summarizes the complex roles of blackmailers and their homosexual victims in fin de siécle London and New York.
Homosexual blackmail trials performed a variety of functions. They were used by the defenders of bourgeois respectability to depict the horrific fate of both the extortionist and the man who had been so incautious as to fall into his snare. In fin de siécle London and New York judges told men as well as women that they had to be wary of strangers, in particular young men. The press reported miscreants who threatened to charge men with “infamous crimes” and the courts dealt openly with accusations of sodomy, yet in generally asserting that the extortioners’ threat was not only illegal but untrue, judges sought to make it known that they had no intention of protecting perverts. The courts and the press careful tried to avoid using blackmail cases to explicitly discuss same-sex passions, while they implicitly warned the adventurous of the dangers of giving way to temptation. Interestingly enough, the court and press reports did not suggest that dangerous youths would necessarily appear effeminate; the stereotyped “homosexual” had not yet fully emerged. Yet because the accused included male prostitutes, the trials no doubt confirmed the popular notion of the homosexual as villainous blackmailer.
If you weren’t inside the circle of targeted victims, as Wilde was, an 1890s onlooker couldn’t have possibly understood the dangers and vulnerability of the love that dare not speak its name, when looking at an ad for a Demon Camera.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Inside Bram Stoker's House

Looking East along Cheyne Walk in the 1860s.
I've been feeling very visual in my writing lately. I also edit as I write. Sometimes, editing can be heartbreaking, so I'm sharing a passage that I just removed from my book.
Upstairs halls tell you more about a family than all of their downstairs rooms combined. Downstairs rooms are for showing off. Upstairs halls reveal the way that people live, the things they leave on the floor, the bedroom doors they leave open and shut. Truly, upstairs halls are more revealing than bedrooms. The floor in the Stokers’ upstairs hall was spotless, which is a sign of a depressed housekeeper or housewife. Elevated, Noel’s nursery was on the third floor. Mr. Stoker’s bedroom door was closed, as was Florrie's, but this she opened, allowing me inside. 
I replaced that passage with "Florrie opened her bedroom door."

Honestly, I don't know what the Stoker's house looked like inside. That was pure imagination. I've only seen pictures of the Stokers' houses on Google Street View. I do, however, have this information from the 1881 census:
Reference: 1881 Census of England and Wales
London, Chelsea, Chelsea South, District 9a, Page 1, Household 4 
Address: 27 Cheyne Walk 
1 inhabited house at this address 
Living there: 
Bram Stoker, Head. Married, male, age 33. Theatrical Manager M.A. [I'm assuming the M.A. means Master of Arts - Jill]. Born in Dublin [Ireland]. 
Florence Stoker, Wife. Married, female, age 21. Artist. Born in Falmouth [Cornwall, England].

Irving N. Stoker, Son. Unmarried, male, 15 months. [Occupation is blank.] Born in London. 
George Stoker, Brother. Unmarried, male, 26. Physician & Surgeon. Born in Dublin [Ireland]. 
Elizabeth Jarrald, Servant. Widow, female, 30. Nurse. [Place of birth is blank.] 
Harriett Daw, Servant. Unmarried, female, 21. Cook. Born in Middlesex, Nottinghill. [Notting Hill, part of London.] 
Emma Barton, Servant. Unmarried, female, 15. Housemaid. Born in Essex, Woodford. [Woodford, Essex.]
I think it's interesting that Mrs. Stoker's occupation appears as "artist." I know that she wanted to be an actress and appeared in at least one play, but I haven't seen anything about her being any other kind of artist. At that address, they lived a block from Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, overlooking the Thames.

By 1891, the Stoker family lived at 18 St Leonards Terrace. Bram's brother George still lived with them, but they had new servants, Ada Howard and Mary Drinkwater.

Not actually Ada Howard & Mary Drinkwater,
but somebody like them.
On St Leonards Terrace, the Stokers would entertain people, like Mark Twain, who remembered Mrs. Stoker fondly in one of his letters. I'm looking for photos and more information about both houses. Any help is appreciated and I will share what I learn.

April 10, 2014: To this, I would like to add that The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker lists Dr. George Stoker at 14 Hertford St, London with his wife Agnes, two children, a cook, a parlour maid, a housemaid, and a 24 year-old governess called Minna. That sounds like information the editors gathered from the census, which completely contradicts what I thought I read in the census. If anyone can double check the 1891 census, I would love to hear from you, as I no longer trust my memory on this point and The Lost Journal doesn't record a source for this information.

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