Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Flirting Made Easy

"All girls flirt with soldiers: they can't help it, no more can the soldiers, or they would.
Cornets or Ensigns, Lieutenants, and Captains are flirted with the most. Only very bold girls indeed would try to flirt with a General!" Flirting Made Easy by C.H. Ross
Although "Flirting Made Easy: A Guide for Girls" (1882) is a little before my time period, I just couldn't resist this tongue-in-cheek etiquette guide by a man who is "not prepared to believe that any male thing could possibly be 'disgusted' with the flirtings of a nice girl, unless the nice girl happened to belong to him, and he had to sit out in the cold whilst the flintiness went on with other fellows."

Although the eBook is available for free on Google Play, I haven't been able to find a single review, and it appears few people read it at all nowadays. For those who do, it is a passing fancy, interesting only in the pursuit of one subject or another that it touches on in its pages. I write this blog post hoping to change that.

Flirting Made Easy tells us a lot about late-Victorian slang, and perceptions of gender. A "deuce" is like cool or swell. "Bosh" and "a jolly crammer" are words for lies. And it's not bosh that Ross thought "Bar Young Ladies" were deuce.
The Bar Young Lady is essentially a modern institution, called into life by a general demand. She in a great measure owes her existence to Charles Dickens, who, in his Christmas Number called "Mugby Junction," was possibly the first to print a diatribe on the iniquities of the railway station sandwich. Long before that everyone had suffered, and, it is only right to ass, suffers still; but great reforms in this particular were at the time talked of, and in some particulars actually effected. One or two enterprising firms took possession of the refreshment-rooms, and handsomely decorated them, and the Bar Young Lady was born and flourished. 
Hitherto there had been barmaids and bar-girls, waitresses and female attendants; but these gave place to the Bar Young Lady, and she was a big success. She came and saw and conquered. She not infrequently married money. 
She was no longer of that sisterhood which were only Pollies, and Mollies, and Mary Annes. She was Miss Pamela Andrews, Miss Clarissa Richardson, Miss Barlow, Miss Sandford, and Miss Merton - (mark well the nomenclature) - not Fitz-Talbot, De Vere, or Montmorency. There was and is an intensity of propriety and respectability about the Bar Young Lady that is absolutely crushing.
What is in a name? These forms of address have so much meaning, even surnames connote class. To many of Ross's peers calling a lady by her first name meant you intended to marry her. Victorian London was also an extremely classist society, and the treatment of lower-class women differed from the treatment of "respectable" women. Ross inadvertently identifies this and the changing expectations of how working women should be treated in his discussion of the "Bar Young Lady."

While Ross's work is intended to be humorous, I can not overlook the fact that the book claims to be "A Guide for Girls," but rarely speaks to women. On many occasions, Ross directly addresses his male friends. For the most part, Flirting Made Easy is a collection of anecdotes, through which Ross pretends to instruct women.

By way of example, I will leave you with a short chapter from Flirting Made Easy that is most appropriate for this blog.

Shy authors are probably to be found here and there, but they are not plentiful. There are authors who have not much to say for themselves in the society of other authors, but their silence must not always be attributed to excessive modesty. Occasionally and author sits apart and smolders. Take them altogether, they have a pretty good opinion of themselves, and the shyest one out, most likely, harangues his poor suffering wife upon the subject of himself and works until she gasps again - or gapes. 
I do not, however, speak from experience. The lady members of my household have assured me again and again that they are only too happy to listen to me. Some men have a way of imparting information that carries their readers with them. For my part, I know nothing more delightful than to listen to a witty man with a brilliant flow of language, and this opinion is shared by my sisters, my cousins, and my aunts. 
But I do not want to talk about authors. It is rather authoresses I would converse. I have since childhood's hour had a burning desire to make the acquaintance of literary ladies. I should like to have known Miss Martineau. "Is it a man or a woman, or what sort of animal is it?" the good dame said who met her at Ambleside. "There she came, stride, stride - great heavy shoes, stout leather leggings on - and a knapsack on her back, and they say she mows her own grass and digs her own cabbages and potatoes." And poor L.E.L, "a comely girl with a blooming complexion," who, in spite of her sentimental verse, was fond of "a little quiet dance," and with opinions wild as the wind, flying from subject to subject, lighting up each with wit, "fairly talked herself out of breath." "Hey!" cried Ettrick Shepherd when he met her, "but I didna think ye's bin sae bonnie." 
And Maria Edgeworth, whom Byron described as "a nice little unassuming Jeanie Deans-looking body, who one would never have guessed could write her name." And Charlotte Bronte, who, according to a writer in the "Quarterly," was "a person who, with great mental powers, combined a total ignorance of the habits of society, a great coarseness of taste and a heathenish doctrine of religion." And Mrs. Hemans, whose "silken hair unbraided flowed around her like a veil." and the Countess of Blessington, whose person, when N.P. Willis saw her, "preserved all in the fineness of admirable shape," and she wore a dress of blue satin "cut low and folded across her bosom in a way to show to advantage the sculpture-like curve and whiteness of a pair of exquisite shoulders." 
I should have been a bit afraid of "Holy Hannah," as Walpole calls Mrs. More, and I fancy Anne Radcliffe might have frightened me, though I can find nothing about her personal appearance, and both ladies were rather before my time. But I would willingly have made a little journey to see the authoress of the "Simple Story," whose own account of herself is here before me. Her age, she says, was then a little over thirty. She was above the middle height - rather tall. Her figure was handsome, but a little too stiff. "Shape, rather too fond of sharp angles. Bosom, none." Her skin, by nature fair, but a little freckled. Her hair, a sandy brown. Her face, beautiful. Her countenance, full of spirit and sweetness, "excessively interesting, and, without indelicacy, voluptuous." And her dress, "always becoming; and very seldom worth so much as eightpence." With the figure she describes she might possibly have had threepence to spare if she bought glazed calico. 
It might be urged by an authoress reading these remarks that I make small mention of the mental qualities of most of the ladies I have alluded to. Well, I plead guilty. So many other fellows have already said such a lot upon the subject, and when I think of authoresses, I chose to think of them as women, which to the best of my belief, most of them are. Why, I have heard of one was married twice. 
There is an enthusiasm about the adorable sex when it goes in for anything out of the beaten track. When it writes books, or paints pictures, or makes speeches, or gets itself appointed drum-major to a "Salvation Army," that is delightful to contemplate; but it has then not time for love-making nonsense. 
Where, I have often asked myself, do lady novelists go for their heroines? The heroine of the lady novelist is, as a rule, the very reverse of her own self, if we may believe the nasty cynical male writing things; but, if this be the case, great heaven! where are the illusions of my youth? Is everything different to what it is said to be? Is nothing properly described? As Truthful James asks: "Do I sleep? do I dream? do I wonder and doubt? Are things what they seem, or are visions about? Is our civilization a failure, or is the Caucasion played out?" I don't go so far as to say that I entirely follow T.J. In these observations, but I ask, Are we being deceived by the women who write of women? Are not any of them taken from real life? Do even authoresses, like the rest of their sex, join issue against the unmarried male creature in one great sham? I feel frightened when I think of it. 
Now there is my good friend Boodler, novels, dramatist, poet, critic, and writer of slashing leaders for a great daily. In a print explosive, in private life of the mildest, wearing spectacles. Well, he is an honored guest at the house of a nobleman with whom I have the honor to be acquainted, and of one of that nobleman's daughters was he deeply enamored. Deceived by the graciousness of the dear girl's manner, an impulsiveness amounting almost to gushingness, poor Boodler fancied that he was not wholly indifferent to her. Gently would she lead him forth and trot him out, and he would prattle a long while at a time - with clasped hands and great grey eye, gazed into his spectacle-glasses and seemed to drink in every utterance. 
One day, the wretched man, thus deceived by appearances, and finding himself alone with her, ventured upon tenderness. Happily for him, he was more than usually vague, and preoccupee. She did not understand him, but when he began offering the devotion of a life, she thought - the artful little thing! - she saw a chance she had long been lying in wait for, and proposed that he should exert his influence with the publishers to sell her first novel. Then, right off and without taking a breath, she told him the whole of the plot, the narration of which occupied more than three quarters of an hour. 
Utterly crushed, poor Boddler had not the presence of mind to dictate terms, which in his place some villain might have done. He took the MS away with him. He did his utmost to move heaven and earth and the planets in Paternoster Row, but her could not get that novel bought. He went so far as to say to old What's-his-name, "My dear sir, if you only knew the young lady personally - the loveliest, the most charming in all the world!" "Oh!" said old What's-his-name; he would not buy the novel. Since then she has married - not Boodler. He does not visit at her new home.
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Aristotle at Afternoon Tea" by Oscar Wilde

Aristotle Pop Art
Oscar Wilde was an excellent conversationalist, but, like anyone who is brilliant at something, he was also ridiculed for it. The memorable quotes, we know to this day, became memorable to all those around him, through his constant repetition, his telling and retelling. Wilde spoke the way he wrote, and did most of his editing orally.

Today, I share, for your reading pleasure, Oscar Wilde’s “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea,” a review of J.P. Mahaffy’s “Principles of the Art of Conversation,” which Wilde calls “the nearest approach, that we know of, in modern literature to meeting Aristotle at an afternoon tea.” It was first published in the Pall Mall Gazette, 16 December 1887.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) movie
Because Wilde is a character in my book, I find “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea” to be an interesting character study. Through letters and diaries about Wilde, we know that he was very repetitive, and his most oft repeated word was "charming." In “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea,” he can’t wait longer than the second paragraph before criticizing people who do exactly those things.

Aristotle at Afternoon Tea

by Oscar Wilde
In society, says Mr. Mahaffy, every civilised man and woman ought to feel it their duty to say something, even when there is hardly anything to be said, and, in order to encourage this delightful art of brilliant chatter, he has published a social guide without which no débutante or dandy should ever dream of going out to dine. Not that Mr. Mahaffy's book can be said to be, in any sense of the word, popular. In discussing this important subject of conversation, he has not merely followed the scientific method of Aristotle which is, perhaps, excusable, but he has adopted the literary style of Aristotle for which no excuse is possible. There is, also, hardly a single anecdote, hardly a single illustration, and the reader is left to put the professor's abstract rules into practice, without either the examples or the warnings of history to encourage or to dissuade him in his reckless career. Still, the book can be warmly recommended to all who propose to substitute the vice of verbosity for the stupidity of silence. It fascinates in spite of its form and pleases in spite of its pedantry, and is the nearest approach, that we know of, in modern literature to meeting Aristotle at an afternoon tea. 
As regards physical conditions, the only one that is considered by Mr. Mahaffy as being absolutely essential to a good conversationalist, is the possession of a musical voice. Some learned writers have been of opinion that a slight stammer often gives peculiar zest to conversation, but Mr. Mahaffy rejects this view and is extremely severe on every eccentricity from a native brogue to an artificial catchword. With his remarks on the latter point, the meaningless repetition of phrases, we entirely agree. Nothing can be more irritating than the scientific person who is always saying "Exactly so," or the common-place person who ends every sentence with "Don't you know?" or the pseudo-artistic person who murmurs "Charming, charming," on the smallest provocation. It is, however, with the mental and moral qualifications for conversation that Mr. Mahaffy specially deals. Knowledge he, naturally, regards as an absolute essential, for, as he most justly observes, "an ignorant man is seldom agreeable, except as a butt." Upon the other hand, strict accuracy should be avoided. "Even a consummate liar," says Mr. Mahaffy, is a better ingredient in a company than the scrupulously truthful man, who weighs every statement, questions every fact, and corrects every inaccuracy." The liar at any rate recognises that recreation, not instruction, is the aim of conversation, and is a far more civilised being than the blockhead who loudly expresses his disbelief in a story which is told simply for the amusement of the company. Mr. Mahaffy, however, makes an exception in favour of the eminent specialist and tells us that intelligent questions addressed to an astronomer, or a pure mathematician, will elicit many curious facts which will pleasantly beguile the time. Here, in the interest of Society, we feel bound to enter a formal protest. Nobody, even in the provinces, should ever be allowed to ask an intelligent question about pure mathematics across a dining-table. A question of this kind is quite as bad as enquiring suddenly about the state of a man's soul, a sort of coup which, as Mr. Mahaffy remarks elsewhere, "many pious people have actually thought a decent introduction to a conversation.” 
As for the moral qualifications of a good talker, Mr. Mahaffy, following the example of his great master, warns us against any disproportionate excess of virtue. Modesty, for instance, may easily become a social vice, and to be continually apologising for one's ignorance or stupidity is a grave injury to conversation, for, "what we want to learn from each member is his free opinion on the subject in hand, not his own estimate of the value of that opinion." Simplicity, too, is not without its dangers. The enfant terrible, with his shameless love of truth, the raw country-bred girl who always says what she means, and the plain, blunt man who makes a point of speaking his mind on every possible occasion, without ever considering whether he has a mind at all, are the fatal examples of what simplicity leads to. Shyness may be a form of vanity, and reserve a development of pride, and as for sympathy, what can be more detestable than the man, or woman, who insists on agreeing with everybody, and so makes "a discussion, which implies differences in opinion," absolutely impossible? Even the unselfish listener is apt to become a bore. 
"These silent people," says Mr. Mahaffy, "not only take all they can get in Society for nothing, but they take it without the smallest gratitude, and have the audacity afterwards to censure those who have laboured for their amusement." Tact, which is an exquisite sense of the symmetry of things, is, according to Mr. Mahaffy, the highest and best of all the moral conditions for conversation. The man of tact, he most wisely remarks, "will instinctively avoid jokes about Blue Beard" in the company of a woman who is a man's third wife; he will never be guilty of talking like a book, but will rather avoid too careful an attention to grammar and the rounding of periods; he will cultivate the art of graceful interruption, so as to prevent a subject being worn threadbare by the aged or the inexperienced; and should he be desirous of telling a story, he will look round and consider each member of the party, and if there be a single stranger present will forgo the pleasure of anecdotage rather than make the social mistake of hurting even one of the guests. As for prepared or premeditated art, Mr. Mahaffy has a great contempt for it and tells us of a certain college don (let us hope not at Oxford or Cambridge) who always carried a jest-book in his pocket and had to refer to it when he wished to make a repartee. Great wits, too, are often very cruel, and great humourists often very vulgar, so it will be better to try and "make good conversation without any large help from these brilliant but dangerous gifts.” 
In a tête-à-tête one should talk about persons, and in general Society about things. The state of the weather is always an excusable exordium, but it is convenient to have a paradox or heresy on the subject always ready so as to direct the conversation into other channels. Really domestic people are almost invariably bad talkers as their very virtues in home life have dulled their interest in outer things. The very best mothers will insist on chattering of their babies and prattling about infant education. In fact, most women do not take sufficient interest in politics, just as most men are deficient in general reading. Still, anybody can be made to talk, except the very obstinate, and even a commercial traveller may be drawn out and become quite interesting. As for Society small talk, it is impossible, Mr. Mahaffy tells us, for any sound theory of conversation to depreciate gossip, "which is perhaps the main factor in agreeable talk throughout Society." The retailing of small personal points about great people always gives pleasure, and if one is not fortunate enough to be an Arctic traveller or an escaped Nihilist, the best thing one can do is to relate some anecdote of "Prince Bismarck, or King Victor Emmanuel, or Mr. Gladstone." In the case of meeting a genius and a duke at dinner, the good talker will try to raise himself to the level of the former and to bring the latter down to his own level. To succeed among one's social superiors one must have no hesitation in contradicting them. Indeed, one should make bold criticisms and introduce a bright and free tone into a Society whose grandeur and extreme respectability make it, Mr. Mahaffy remarks, as pathetically as inaccurately, "perhaps somewhat dull." The best conversationalists are those whose ancestors have been bilingual, like the French and Irish, but the art of conversation is really within the reach of almost every one, except those who are morbidly truthful, or whose high moral worth requires to be sustained by a permanent gravity of demeanour and a general dulness of mind. 
These are the broad principles contained in Mr. Mahaffy's clever little book, and many of them will, no doubt, commend themselves to our readers. The maxim, "If you find the company dull, blame yourself," seems to us somewhat optimistic, and we have no sympathy at all with the professional story-teller who is really a great bore at a dinner-table; but Mr. Mahaffy is quite right in insisting that no bright social intercourse is possible without equality, and it is no objection to his book to say that it will not teach people how to talk cleverly. It is not logic that makes men reasonable, nor the science of ethics that makes men good, but it is always useful to analyse, to formularise and to investigate. The only thing to be regretted in the volume is the arid and jejune character of the style. If Mr. Mahaffy would only write as he talks, his book would be much pleasanter reading.
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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Perfect Man

Fin-de-sciele ideals of femininity and masculinity usually bring to mind the tight-laced corset and the dandy, but there was another ideal strutting about 1890s that we tend to forget about. He was a German called Eugen Sandow, and they called him "the Perfect Man."

Today, Sandow is considered the founder of modern bodybuilding. Essentially, he measured the Greek and Roman statues of men in museums, and sculpted his own body to look the part, developing what was called "the Grecian Ideal."

Born in Prussia (1867), as Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, Sandow was the name he adopted when he began travelling through Europe as a circus athlete. Sandow ran away to join the circus in 1885 to avoid mandatory military service. He arrived in London in 1889, performing as a strong man, and became an instant success!

There's so much wonderful Sandow propaganda from the 1890s.

An 1890s cigar label
Cocoa for Health & Strength
Photographic card
"Here! Have a picture of my butt!"
Wearing little more than a fig leaf and a pair of tights, Sandow would imitate the poses of the statues he modelled his body after.

Sandow married Blanche Brooks from Manchester in 1896, with whom he had two daughters. Sadly, he was not a faithful husband, and his life came to an unhappy end in 1925.

Modern biographers speculate that he may have died of syphilis, but newspapers reported that it was a brain hemorrhage, brought on by great strain. According to the papers, Sandow had tried to single-handedly lift his car out of a ditch after an accident, two or three years earlier.

Whatever the cause, Sandow died at home, and his aggrieved wife refused to mark his grave.

Further reading: The Perfect Man by David Waller

After a reader asked me who the perfect woman was, I wrote a post to explain.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Images of London in 1895

The year got off to a chilly start with the Great Frost of 1895. The lowest temperature (−27.2°C) ever recorded in the U.K. was recorded on February 11th of that year. Sadly, Oscar Wilde went to prison that year. Not all was doom and gloom: the first women's national sporting association was founded, the All England Women's Hockey Association, and an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events, called the Proms, became an annual tradition that year. Circuses and menageries filled the streets, making for some lovely pictures. Enjoy!

Skating on the pond at St. James Park (1895)
The Frozen Thames (1895)
The Smithfield Meat Market (1895)
Waiting for the Prince Regent on St George Street (1895)
Print (circa 1895) of elegant ladies in a restaurant.
Is this the Dorothy Restaurant?
The Lord Mayor at Clapham Junction (1895)
London Docks (1895)
Leadenhall St. (1895)
Irene Vanbrugh as Gwendolen Fairfax
('The Importance of Being Earnest'),
by Alfred Ellis, publicity photograph
from the first production, London, 1895.
Hawaii's Princess Ka'iulani in London (1895)
Harry Houdini and the London Circus (1895)
Women's Football team in bright red uniforms (1895)
A lion in the London Zoological Garden (1895)
Blackheath Hockey Club (1895)
Blackwall Tunnel under construction (1895)
"Lionel Walter Rothschild with his famed zebra carriage,
which he frequently drove through London." (1895)
Albumen print cabinet card (1895) More...
Earl's Court Exhibition Ground,
Kensington, The Great Wheel (1895)
Dancing Bear (1895)
Day's Menagerie, Oxford St Giles Fair (1895)
Don't forget to check out Images of London in 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, and 1894.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Pictures of John Gray

Better known as the inspiration for Oscar Wilde's fictional Dorian Gray, John Gray was an English poet and translator whose works include Silverpoints (1893), The Long Road (1926), and Park: A Fantastic Story (1932).

Unlike Dorian, who came from money, John came from a working class background, and worked hard for his education, the way that many students from poor or middle-class families do today. In addition to writing, he also worked as a metal worker, a librarian, and a priest.

These are a few of his pictures:

John Gray by Reginald Savage
John Gray (1893)
Left to right: John Gray, a friend, and Marc-André Raffalovich
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