Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Video: Jane Eyre by Thug Notes

Friday, March 6, 2015
Loretta reports:

A while back, I offered Pride & Prejudice by Thug Notes.

In today’s video, he takes on another classic by a woman, Jane Eyre.





Image:  Portrait (edited) of Charlotte Bronte from 1898 edition of Jane Eyre.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Heels or Flats? Two Pairs of 18thc. Women's Floral Shoes

Thursday, March 5, 2015
Isabella reporting,

All the fashion pundits are predicting that floral-patterned shoes will be big for spring. We agree - and offer these shoes from the 1730s-1750s to prove that flowered footwear is always in style.

The heeled shoe, above, is from the 1730s; only one of the pair survives. I love how it's all swooping curves, from the white leather heel to the slightly upturned, pointed toe with a metal tip. It would have been worn with ribbons or laces, now missing, and probably a pair of brightly colored stockings.

What's amazing to me is that all those swirling flowers are embroidered in tent stitch, the diagonal stitch that's used for needlepoint. This is worked at a very fine gauge – from the photograph, I'm guessing it's about 20 stitches to the inch – to create the flowered fabric of the shoe. The description suggests that this needlework was done by the owner herself, and then made up by a professional shoemaker. What a delightful stitching project that must have been!

The shoes, below, likely date from the 1740s-1750s, and in an era when most women's shoes had heels, these are flats. (For another look at mid-18th c. flat shoes, see these reproductions made by the craftspeople of  Colonial Williamsburg.) Their rarity implies that they were bespoke to suit a particular lady's taste; perhaps she was an older lady who wanted the stability of a flat shoe. These shoes would have been fastened with a decorative buckle through the latchets. They are made from a costly ribbed silk fabric, lavishly embroidered with a floral design in shades of pink and green silk with silver threads. As shoes of any vintage go, these achieve that rarest of qualities: they managed to be both comfortable, and beautiful.

Unlike shoes that we've shared from various museums, these shoes are currently for sale on this dealer's site, which also has more photographs and information. If the shoes are bought by a museum, then we can hope that once they're studied, catalogued, and preserved, they'll still be available via a web site. But if they're purchased by a private collector (perhaps one of our readers?) they may disappear entirely from public view - so enjoy them now, and think of their long-ago first owners who wanted to welcome spring with a pair of flowered shoes.

Above: Embroidered women's shoe, 1730s.
Below: Embroidered women's flat shoes, 1740s-1750s.
Both from Meg Andrews; photographs copyright Meg Andrews.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Advertising for a Wife in 1835

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
1835 Bridal Dress

Loretta reports:

Some time ago I posted a letter from 1810 whose author deplored at some length and with great vehemence the practice of advertising for a spouse .

Apparently, nobody paid attention because, 25 years later, they were still at it.
 







Advertisement from Court Journal, 12 December 1835

Bridal Dress, from May 1835 Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Casey Fashion Plates Collection

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cast Across the Sea: 18th c. Children Born in India, Raised in Britain

Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Isabella reporting,

I've already heard from a couple of readers who have wondered why the sickly young heroine of my new book, A Sinful Deception, was sent all the way from India, where she was born, to relatives she'd never met in London. Considering the perils (shipwreck, pirates, war) of a voyage that took the better part of a year in the 18th c., wouldn't it have been safer for her to remain in India?

Perhaps. But India, too, was an unhealthy place for Europeans, and it was notoriously true that many failed to survive two monsoons, or two years. Yet for English parents of means living in India, the strongest reason for sending their children half a world away was an almost desperate desire that they be raised as English, attending English schools with English customs and friends.

This was a serious (and costly) step. Often the parents never saw their children again, or at least not for many years. But despite how deeply my heroine's father had embraced India, he still wished her to return to London and ultimately marry an English gentleman.

One of the saddest (to me, anyway) examples of a family torn asunder in this way is described in William Dalrymple's wonderful history, White Mughals: Love & Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India. At the core of this book is the love story of an unlikely couple: James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the beautiful, high-born Khair un-Nissa, niece of the Nizam's prime minister. Love at first sight swiftly gave way to seduction, scandal, outrage, and finally marriage. (It really is an amazing story, and I can't recommend this book enough.) Yet as thoroughly immersed as Kirkpatrick became in his wife's Mughal way of life - he even converted to Islam for her sake – he still insisted that their two young children be sent to England to be raised by his family.

Their portrait, above, by George Chinnery, was painted in Calcutta, shortly before the children sailed in 1805. Shown in the elegant, rich clothing of the Mughal court, they are achingly young for such a journey: the boy, Sahib Allum, is around five, while his sister, Sahib Begum, is only three. In the care of attendants, they left behind a father who was dying of hepatitis, and a grief-stricken mother who could not understand why her children must be sent away. They never saw either parent again. Kirkpatrick died soon after; his broken-hearted wife died ten years later at 29.

Once in England, their grandfather swiftly had them baptized as Christians. They were put into English clothes, and addressed by their English names of William George and Katherine Aurora. They were told to speak only English, and forbidden to write to their mother or her extended family. Their old lives were done, and their new ones were the only ones that mattered.

I cannot imagine the anguish that all of them, parents and children, must have suffered from what to us today seems an unspeakably cruel decision. Yet somehow William and Kitty survived, as children do, and both grew to adulthood, although William died young at 29. Kitty lived until 1889, the wife of an English army captain and the mother of seven children.

When Kitty was nearly 40, she finally was able to locate her Indian grandmother and write to her. Decades after she'd sailed from Calcutta as a child, the pain of that separation was still fresh:

"When I dream of my mother, I am in such joy to have found her again that I awake, or else am pained in finding that she cannot understand the English I speak. I can well recollect her cries when we left her and I can now see the place where we sat when we parted, and her tearing her long hair – what worlds would I give to possess one lock of that beautiful and much loved hair! How dreadful to think that so many, many years have passed when it would have done my heart such good to think that you loved me, and when I longed to write to you and tell you these feelings that I was never able to express, a letter which I am sure would have been detained, and now how wonderful it is that after thirty-five years, that I am able for the first time to hear that you think of me, and love me."

How could I not be inspired by that?

Above: The Kirkpatrick Children, by George Chinnery, 1805. Collection, Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fashions for March 1836

Monday, March 2, 2015
Velvet walking dress
Loretta reports:

According to some fashion magazines, the ginormous sleeves of the 1830s start slimming down late in 1835.  And yet not everybody got the message or liked it, because we continue to see big sleeves into 1836, as illustrated here.  This dress caught my eye because it seems a fairly sane choice for changeable March weather in London or in Paris and because it must have looked and felt so luxurious.

What puzzles me in this picture is the clock.  It looks vaguely familiar.  Does anybody know what it is?







Dress description
 

Fashions & description from The Lady’s Magazine & Museum, March 1836

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
 
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