Monday, March 30, 2009
Hi! I'm Georgina (1837 - 1914). How have the last few decades treated you?
I've been up to a few interesting things:
My family forbade me to see a military man, so I married him. I left when he tried to put me in the looney bin. But not without making a statement using sandwich boards and suing people first (go Married Women's Property Act, yeah!). Then, I wrote a book called How I Escaped the Mad Doctors. I make public appearances in my prison stripes.
I started an orphanage in Charles Dickens' old home. Every morning, I require all the children to yell.
I began an affair with a married French composer. He went away after I wrapped him in furs and rubber sheets, throwing buckets of cold water in his face.
When I turned 50, I was the face of Pears Soap, with the slogan, "I have the complexion of a girl of 17."
But mostly, I've been representing myself in court (over 200 cases). You see, it is my dream to constrain the limits of medical science and patriarchal authority.
And to fight for the rights of lunatics or married women or both.
Isobel Violet Hunt (1862 - 1942)
“A woman made for irregular situations.” –A friend
You may not know of Violet Hunt, but you may know of someone just like her.
Violet and her sister Venetia were the daughters of Alfred Hunt, watercolourist, and Margaret Hunt, novelist. As a family, they did things like hang out with Pre-Raphaelites together.
She, beautiful, said that Oxford and Cambridge boys were boring, and at the age of 22 had an affair with a married painter who was about the same age as her dad. Next up in the old-married-man-department was Oswald Crawfurd who dyed his hair black, took her to see prostitutes in Hyde Park, and may have given her syphilis, too.
Violet called herself a “female rake” who snubbed eligible men on principle. Some say that Oscar Wilde proposed to her in 1879.
At 46, she began an affair with Ford Madox Ford (then Ford Madox Hueffer) who was thirty-five (and, of course, married). Even so, she lived with him from 1910 to 1918. She changed her name to Hueffer–and he changed his name to Ford.
Violet was a prolific writer who wrote diaries, memoirs, biography and 17 novels including: A Hard Woman; Unkist, Unkind!; The Human Interest - A Study in Incompatibilities; and Tales of the Uneasy.
She appears as characters in other people’s books including one that Graham Greene described as “the most possessed evil character in the modern novel.” Wow.
Sir Joseph Lister, 1st Baron Lister, Lord Lister of Lyme Regis, Surgeon to the Queen (1827 - 1912)
About half of all Victorians who underwent major surgery died. Then, along came Dr. Lister.
Dr. Lister was the first to use an antiseptic in surgery. He did this by spraying carbolic acid around. He sprayed so much carbolic acid that doctors got sick, but at least the sick Victorians got better!
(Later, Dr. Joseph Lawrence would refine the product and name it Listerine. It is uncertain whether Dr. Lister appreciated this.)
Some of Dr. Lister's colleagues thought it was cool to be covered in blood. But Dr. Lister, who promoted sterile surgery, wore clean clothes and even washed his hands!
In 1854, Dr. Lister became assistant to, and friend of, Dr. Syme. Then, he married Dr. Syme's daughter, Agnes, and became Dr. Syme's son-in-law, too. Agnes and Dr. Lister spent their honeymoon visiting leading medical centres in France and Germany for three months―that's wild! From then on, Agnes helped Dr. Lister in the laboratory until she died.
He tied broken bones together with sterilized silver wire and left it inside patients!
He used rubber drainage tubes on Queen Victoria!
He saved King Edward VII from appendicitis!
Even the common Bandaid can be directly traced to his name.
“Foundlings, abandoned infants, were a common feature of life in the eighteenth century.” —The Beebs
Did you know that in the 1720s and 30s poor English children died at alarming rates? The illegitimate ones had it worst, frequently dying of neglect in parish poorhouses or workhouses. The Gin Craze didn’t help. Londoners were drinking 11.2 million gallons of spirits in a year in London—that’s about seven gallons per adult—that is a lot of gin.
The Foundling Hospital was founded* by Captain Thomas Coram who “made it” in the New World years before. Horace Walpole said he was “the honestest, the most disinterested, and the most knowing person about plantations I ever talked with.”
On his daily walks through London, Coram couldn’t help noticing dead and dying babies on streets. He decided to devote his life to pleading on the foundlings’ behalf.
He opened theFoundling Hospital in 1741 for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.” The hospital was described as “the most imposing single monument erected by eighteenth century benevolence.” It became London's most popular charity.
Some Victorian children were raised there, too. Here is possibly a picture of one of them.
Avant-garde painter? Jack the Ripper? Fistula sufferer?
Meet Walter Sickert! (1860 – 1942)
Son of Oswald the Danish-German and Eleanor the illegitimate daughter of astronomer Richard Sheepshanks. This son and grandson of painters went off to study…acting. Then, instead, he began to draw. Sickert worked from memory. Why? As a way to escape from “the tyranny of nature.” Ho, ho!
His paintings demonstrate the transition from impressionism to modernism and other 20th century avant garde styles. Confused or failed communication is the theme.
Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper baron, collected more paintings by Sickert than anyone else in the world. They reside in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. You can visit them in Fredericton today.
One night, back in the day, Walter Sickert lodged in a room that the landlady claimed had been use by Jack the Ripper. Sickert was entranced! He painted “Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom,” among other things.
One day, in the 1970s:
“My Dad was an accomplice to Jack the Ripper!”
—Joseph Sickert, illegitimate child of Walter
The widower minister’s daughters, Charlotte (1816 - 1855), Emily (b. 1818 - 1848), and Anne (b. 1820 - 1849), were enrolled at the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge. The following year their older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, became ill, left the school and died. So the surviving Brontë sisters came home.
Home for the Brontës was Haworth. The Brontë children (including Branwell, a brother) wrote compulsively in very small script so adults couldn’t see.
A little older, Charlotte, Emily and Anne published poetry under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Their book sold only two copies, and they abandoned the poems for prose.
In 1847, Charlotte, Emily and Anne published Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively. Then, Emily died. Anne published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in 1848, before dying. Charlotte stayed alive long enough to publish a few more books. She got married, got pregnant, then died.
Fighter of rich and powerful men! Attacker of double standards of sexual morality! Author of Women’s Work and Women’s Culture! “Daughters of chimney-sweeps should not be bought for five pounds!”
Many people, including Prince Leopold, considered Josephine Butler to be the most beautiful woman in the world.
Born wealthy in 1828 to Hannah Annett and John Grey who was the cousin of Earl Grey, the British Prime Minister/tea.
She had four children in five years with her husband, George Butler. In 1863, daughter Eva fell to her death. Josephine never recovered from the shock. So, instead of sitting around at home, she visited local workhouses and rescued young prostitutes from the streets.
The Butlers were anti-slavery. They also had radical sympathies like the Union and the American Civil War. None of these interests made them friends.
For such a devout Christian, Butler certainly knew a lot about sex, you might say. She campaigned against the Contagious Diseases Act, which had been introduced to reduce veneral disease in the armed forces. Someone thought it would be a good idea to imprison prostitutes for having V.D. Josephine just didn’t agree.
Butler wrote on education for women and campaigned successfully for their rights. But she didn’t get along with all feminists; in her eyes, women weren’t the same as men. Which is precisely why she thought they should vote.
Her husband died, she wrote some more books. She lived until 1906.
« Hey, look ! »
―Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre
b. 1787, Cormeilles-en-Parisis
d. 1851, Bry-sur-Marne
Father of the photographs! Inventor of the daguerreotypes! Coiner of the terms!
Joseph Nicéphore Niépce produced the world's first permanent photograph in 1826. Daguerre the diorama-maker felt that his own work was going too slow. "Nicéphore Niépce’s process would help me create more!" Daguerre thought.
In 1839, Daguerre and Niépce partnered up. Daguerre discovered that exposing a silver plate to iodine vapour, then to light, and finally to mercury fumes, formed a latent image, which a salt bath was then used to fix. Then, Daguerre announced that he had perfected the daguerreotype. Four years later, Niépce died.
Back in England, Fox Talbot was working! He also knew that this thing called “photography” would revolutionize the art world!
Back in France, Daguerre did not know what Fox Talbot was working on exactly! He protected himself by purchasing a patent.
Actually, what he said was:
"I have seized the light.”
And then he said: “I have arrested its flight."
—Possible last words of Fairy Fay, Possible Jack the Ripper Victim
One Victorian. One short cut home.
Who is “Fairy Fay”? Nobody knows for sure.
On Boxing Day night, 1887, whilst coming home from the Mitre Square pub, a woman was murdered. Was she Fairy Fay?
Who was the murder weapon? Was it a stake? There were similar attacks in 1888.
There are no records. No newspaper reports. "Martin Fido believes her death was derived from a combination of Emma Smith and Rose Mylett," one source says. "Paul Begg, however, disagrees."
Ladies with similar names (Sarah Fayer…Alice Farber…Emma Fairy) were all found to have died in Decembers of '86 or '87. None of them were meant to have been murdered, they say.
Inspector Reid headed the enquiry into her death.
Frustration forced him to close the case.
“It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.”
—Madame Sarah Bernhardt, La divine Sarah, La voix d'or (also Widow Damala or Sarah Barnum) b.1844
By 1896, Sarah Bernhardt (born Henriette-Rosine Bernard) had played 112 parts, 38 of which she had created. In 1912, she became the first great stage actress to appear in the new medium of films. Bernhardt also sculpted, painted and wrote.
Bernhardt filled her homes with chairs. She also filled them with a lion and six chameleons because she liked wild animals a lot. Some say that she once asked a surgeon to attach a tiger tail to her back. (He refused.)
She wore pants, played men’s roles, and had love affairs with men and with women. She had a son, Maurice, with Belgian Prince Henri de Ligne, but no one recognized the prince when he was standing next to Sarah Bernhardt.
She was widowed by her vicious, drug-addicted husband, Aristide Damala, even though he was 12 years younger than she. It is said that she sometimes slept in a coffin. Onstage, she preferred characters who died at the end.
In 1915, Bernhardt lost a leg and made a film in that order. She died in 1923, while shooting "La Voyante," for which her hotel room had been made into a studio.
"I am immortal! I am a film!" Bernardt cried.
Augustus John Cuthbert Hare authored the longest autobiography in the world. The biography comprises six volumes. It is called The Story of My Life.
In 1834, Hare was born into an aristocratic English family, but they lived in Rome. His parents gave him away to his Aunt Maria. She sent him to live with Uncle Julius and Aunt Esther. Uncle Julius and Aunt Esther starved and beat him. Hare finally fled to Oxford to escape. Later, he traveled the world with Aunt Maria, caring for her until her death. She thanked him by depriving him of his family inheritance. So Augustus Hare wrote travel guides instead.
Hare had an old friend called Madame Ernest Bunsen.
One day after her death, in 1903, he, too, died.
A little research shows “he knew Algernon Swinburne and Wallington Hall, where the unpredictable Sir Walter Trevelyan had him served a meal consisting entirely of artichokes and cauliflowers.”
Hare said: “Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.”
“Gruel served in a tumbler is more appetizing than when served in a basin or cup and saucer."
—from A Few Rules to be Observed in Cooking for Invalids
Isabella Beeton was born in 1836 in the charmingly named neighbourhood of Cheapside, in London. She married publisher Samuel Orchard Beeton in 1856.
Mrs. Beeton was an accomplished pianist, but is best known for writing The Book of Household Management. The book began as a series of magazine supplements before being published as a single volume. It was actually called The Book of Household Management Comprising Information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc. — Also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: With a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort. It was 1,112 pages long.
The Book of Household Management covers many topics, such as “General Observations on Beverages,” “General Observations on Quadrupeds,” “Sauces, Pickles, Gravies and Forcemeats: General Remarks” and “The Natural History of Fishes.” There are more than 900 recipes in all, including almost 100 soups, 200 sauces and 128 recipes for fish. Mrs. Beeton fed her soup to the poor children of Hatch End and Pinner during the winter of 1858. In her free time, she wrote Beeton’s Book of Needlework.
Do not be fooled! Like so many Victorians, Mrs. Beeton's life was marred by tragedy. Her father died when she was young. Her first child died in 1859. After the birth of her fourth child, at the age of 28, Mrs. Beeton died of puerperal fever, too.
“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
—Edgar Allan Poe
b. 1809, Boston
Orphaned by his parents, expelled by his alma mater, disowned by his adoptive father, dishonourably discharged by the army, prevented from marrying his sweetheart, married to his 13-year-old cousin, widowed by his wife, addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Failed by suicide.
d. 1849, a gutter, Baltimore, due to “congestion of the brain” (Baltimore Clipper)
Ooh la la! It’s Mademoiselle La la! (Her real name is thought to be Olga Kaira.)
Born in 1858 in the part of Germany that is now Poland, Victorian wirewalker and trapeze artist Mademoiselle La la swung from the ceilings of circus tents and music halls across Europe with the troupe “Follies Bergère.”
Although she was small, Mademoiselle La la possessed incredible strength. She could hold a boy, a woman and a man with her jaw while she was hanging upside down. She held a canon between her teeth while it was being fired, too.
“I have lived and slept in the same bed with English countesses and Prussian farm women... no woman has excited passions among women more than I have.”
—Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)
Who better to open the Victorian of the Month Club—not to mention the New Year—than Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) herself? After all, it was she who warned against “too great intimacy with artists, as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.” But she also said: “An ugly baby is a very nasty object, and the prettiest is frightful.”