Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

After Lauren and I watched the The Scarlet Pimpernel mini-series from 1999 we decided it was high time we read the book.  Which worked out quite well for me since I had joined the Classics Challenge from Stiletto Storytime. The best thing about reading classic literature? You can find it for free at your library like I did; my bank account rejoiced. 

The Scarlet Pimpernel was first a play written by Baroness Orczy and it was so popular that she transcribed it into a novel in five short weeks.  The story follows the french émigré, Marguerite Blakeney who is the toast of society in London but who is unhappy in her marriage to the fop, Sir Percy Blakeney.  Meanwhile on the Continent the French Revolution rages on and a new hero has emerged from it.  The Scarlet Pimpernel is responsible for saving the lives of numerous French aristocrats destined for the guillotine.  But when Marguerite's brother falls into the hands of French authority she is forced to turn in the grand hero, that is if she can discover his identity.

After a slow beginning I found myself encapsulated in the wonderful world of 18th century London.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the book was totally different from the movie.  Marguerite seemed like she was modeled after Georgiana; at one point she was described as the leader of fashion.  But it was Sir Percy who stole the show! Bored with society, and always amused with himself, this fashionable fop was not just amusing but a bit mysterious.  I can't explain why he turned into a literary crush, but he did! Sadly though, as the book went on I found it dragged in all parts that did not contain Sir Percy.  I think I can pinpoint this to when Orczy's main character went from a strong female to a weak, trapped female role.

Still, I really enjoyed The Scarlet Pimpernel despite my need for more Percy! Any historical romance lovers should give this book a try.  Although the novel is labeled a mystery I find it more romantic than anything.  The true mystery is why I can't help but be attracted to a fop!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yay or Nay? Queen Charlotte

Last week we viewed Princess Louise Auguste in her gualle gown and learned from an anonymous commenter that this painting underwent the same criticisms as when Marie Antoinette poised in her gualle gown.  Very interesting!  There weren't many criticisms over here for the gown though, and the princess earned a Yay.  After my visit with Thomas Lawrence this week I can't help but offer one of his works and one of our repeat fashion icons/offenders.  I'm curious as to your fashion opinions since the queen rejected this portrait.

Thomas Lawrence paints Queen Charlotte (1789) in a gown of grey which the artist added lavender to so as not to wash her majesty out.  Yay or Nay?

[The National Gallery]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

If you go to the Yale Center for British Art's newest exhibition Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance on a weekday morning, you'll have your own private showing of a wonderful exhibition.  Well, maybe not private, there was a whole lot of loud talking from museum staff while I was there.  But perhaps they were just buzzing about their newest showcase! I would gladly take the talking over the crowds that will undoubtedly be trekking to see this exhibition.

I will start out by saying the YCBA has a different sort of exhibition space.  It's good for the permanent collection but a little awkward when you are directing traffic such as curators are supposed to.  It was nice having the space to myself so I could backtrack and make sure I didn't miss any of the paintings.  I found myself actually going in circles in the midst of a big circular exhibition space which was slightly tedious.  The other thing that bothered me about the space was how it was continuously mentioned that two of Lawrence's portraits brought him fame, Queen Charlotte and Elizabeth Farren.  So it would make sense for the two paintings to be together at the beginning, right? Instead they were split up, with the Farren portrait at the end.  Now, with that slight criticism out of the way I can flatter the exhibition!

As a whole Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance was absolutely wonderful.  It is explained that early in his career Lawrence got some well-meant advice from Joshua Reynolds who basically told him to lay off the portraits and try history paintings.  However, upon viewing one of Lawrence's few history paintings, while well-painted, the passion is missing.  Look around at the numerous portraits and you can see where' Lawrence's talents lie.  Thank goodness he didn't take Reynolds' advice!

Having Lawrence's greatest works together allowed me to noticed that he has a similar technique to Gainsborough; effortless paint strokes on the face, labored rendering on clothing or objects.  But what really struck me was the fabulous backgrounds he put his sitters in, backgrounds easily missed in small book reproductions.  Lawrence tended to sneak in a building that had meaning to his sitters such as their home, school, or a home landmark.  The exhibition also featured many of Lawrence's drawings, some of which I had seen at The Intimate Portrait such as Mrs. Hamilton.  Normally drawings are hidden away so you have to wait for exhibits such as these to see them in all their splendor.

As mentioned before, the famous Elizabeth Farren and Queen Charlotte (who rejected the painting, btw) were there.  I was also pleased to see the NPG's newly acquired , John Kemble as Cato which has an amazing presence and is quite stunning in person.  Ultimate Regency hunk, Granville Leveson-Gower was there, as well as the man who made the Regency possible, The Prince of Wales.  The sitters are too numerous to name but there was one lavishly-ringed sitter who Lawrence had the pleasure to draw when she was 62 years old.  Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire, or Bess, as we commonly know her, came with this comment: "Although we cannot be sure if it was the duchess's vanity or Lawrence's ability to flatter that accounts for her youthful appearance."

If you are on the fence about visiting Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance it is my personal opinion that you should affix your slippers or cravats and go!  Although it could be considered small in scale, the retrospective is packed with Lawrence's greatest works which makes it an exhibition wellworth your time, especially since its time at Yale is its only North American stop. My advice- go during a weekday so you can keep Lawrence all to yourself; you just might have to share with all those chatty staff members!

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be at the Yale Center for British Art through 5 June.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance Opens Today at Yale

Coming straight from the National Portrait Gallery in London the first Thomas Lawrence exhibition in the US since 1993 is coming to the Yale Center for British Art.  Excuse me for selfishly not covering it while it was in London, I was feeling a bit jealous for not being in London with it!  However now that the exhibition is in the Colonies I have no problem being the late-to-the-scene reporter.  Here is the press release from the Yale Center For British Arts:
The Yale Center for British Art will be the only North American venue for a landmark retrospective of the great Regency painter, Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830). Opening February 24, 2011, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will showcase outstanding works by the most important British portrait painter of his generation. It will also explore the development of Lawrence's career as one of the most celebrated and influential artists in Europe in the early nineteenth century. Organized jointly with the National Portrait Gallery, London, the exhibition will feature more than fifty stunning portraits from collections around the world, including The Royal Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Palace of Versailles, and The Art Institute of Chicago, as well as works from a number of private collections, many of which have never been seen by the public.
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance opens today and runs through 5 June.  Review to follow shortly!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hunk Alert: John, Earl Talbot

SWM, Politician and peer
Likes: Travel, classical antiquities, kids, and dogs

At first glance I may seem like your average aristocrat: rich heiress mother, fashionable pink attire, predestined place in Parliament, but there is much more to me! I enjoy traveling.  But that doesn't mean you should, since I'm looking for a woman to settle down with.  Oh, and I like classical antiquity, so that kind of makes me stand out...a bit.

I'm looking for a child-bearing sort of girl.  Wealth or family history of birthing males are extra pluses.  Otherwise, a nice (looking) young lady with an appreciation for Classical art would be most suitable.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mother Knows Best

"You have acquired already a reputation as a mother, do not go and lose it for the first little temptation that comes in..."

Lady Spencer to Lady Duncannon
October 1781

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gin: England's Drug

As we may recall from our adolescent health classes, heroine came to being due to a medicinal need.  The same is true of Gin, a drink that became an epidemic in early 18th century England.

Beer and wine have existed and been popular for centuries but it wasn't until the middle ages that hard liquor came to being.  Thank you Italy.  Aqua vitae is what they called it, and it was something like our modern brandy (burnt wine) and used for medicine rather than having a good time.  To make brandy you needed grapes, a fruit not exactly bountiful in the climates of northern Europe.  By the 15th century the renaissance mind figured out how to create grain alcohol and drinks, such as whiskey, soon followed (The Scots took up that trade, even exhausting their wheat fields in their excitement).  In the mid-17th century the Dutch invented gin and less than one hundred years later it was nearly outlawed.  Perhaps the Dutch Prince (cough, cough William!) running England could be partially to blame for the introduction of the Dutch-made liquor which caused such problems in London; after all, their arrival coincided.

Gin was an alternative to Brandy which had unpopular French connotations, so naturally that helped elevate gin's popularity.   As a country fond of their beer, the working class ordered their gin in the same quantities as their beer, unaware of the fatal results.  People (poor people, usually) would consume such large quantities they would literally drink themselves to death, sometimes in one sitting.  Soon people made the connection of the sudden increase in public fighting with the popularity of gin.  What especially seemed to horrify witnesses to the Gin Craze was its effect on women.  Many of the bloody brawls were cat fights, The Grub-Street Journal reporting of a woman "beating off" another's nose.  There was also a story of a woman tearing off her infants clothes to pawn them for a drink.  Although gin mostly terrorized the poor, the rich were also subject to its charms.  Queen Anne was known for her love of the drink.

If you are morally outraged by hearing that, you now know how others felt when these many reports reached their ears.  England had a drug problem.  In 1736 the Gin Act was created and the cheaply-produced liquor was now heavily taxed.  You also needed a license to distribute gin which was quite expensive and had to be renewed annually.  Only two people actully took the license out.  The gin craze would and could not be stopped.  The government then set about rewarding informers who tattled on unlicensed gin distributors.  That caused even more violence. 

The gin laws were revised with the Gin Act of 1751.  Instead of being a strict reaction to the trouble caused  by gin, the new laws made it so that one didn't have to go through hoops to drink gin, but you still had to be better behaved.  Following the second Gin Act, the consumption of the liquid nuisance went down.  However the bad grain crops that ironically occurred at the same time and consequential rise in prices are more to blame for that than the revised law. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yay or Nay? Princess Louise Auguste

Royal blue tends not to be a spring color, but it's all about how you accessorize.  Just ask the Duchess of Osuna who gained a Yay for her look.  Personally I think a walking stick could make just about any outfit!  This week my longing for spring has an influence on the gown, but will this gown be pleasantly received?

Jens Juel paints Princess Louise Auguste (1787) in her gualle gown with pink accents, veil, and black slippers.  Yay or Nay?

[Frederiksborg Castle]

Friday, February 18, 2011

Excuse the Interuption

I had a poll a little while ago asking if readers would be interested in another book group, this time with the fabulously entertaining, Evelina by Fanny Burney.  The book is a must-read for Janites and 18th century fans, so there is plenty to discuss among friends, hence the idea of having a group read.  But before I begin piecing together another salon I needed potential participants' input.  Keep in mind Evelina is about 450 pages long but I had no problem reading it in a month despite a busy schedule.  Have any helpful input?  Excited by the prospect? Please leave me a comment!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scottish Giants

Dog dorks like myself tuned in to the Westminster Dog Show this week.  Big shaggy dog fans like myself also may have shrieked like a banshee when the the underdog (though never underfoot), Hickory, the Scottish Deerhound won Best in Show.  Big dogs never seem to win, and a Deerhound has never won the Westminster despite the breed having the advantage of being one of the firsts to show (Bonnie Robin, 1886). 

The Deerhound, like my personal favorite, the Irish Wolfhound, has been around since the time of the Romans, perhaps even longer.  They became "deerhounds" for their skill in hunting bumblebees deer.  The dogs became so valued for their hunting ability that to own a Deerhound became a reserved right for VIPs.  By the eighteenth century those VIPs were Highland Chieftans since the highlands were one of the only places you could still find a healthy heard of deer.  You know how some snooty dog-breeders sometimes have special requirements for those who buy their pups? The chieftains were the same way and wouldn't give out their beloved Deerhounds to just anyone!

When the Jacobites lost the battle of Culloden the English made the Scottish pay with their clan system which collapsed, and with it, the breeding of Deerhounds.  By 1769 the breed, so valued for its deer-hunting skills was close to extinction.  The Deerhound however, is a comeback kid, and in 1825 a restoration of the breed was undertaken by the 1st Baron Colonsay and his brother.  The restoration was successful and if it weren't we couldn't have been celebrating Hickory's victory today.  Enjoy that Sardi's steak, Hickory!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pehr Hilleström's Kitchen

Pehr Hilleström was a Swedish artist with whom we can thank for creating many delightful genre paintings (scenes of everyday life) that easily transform the viewer in the late 18th century Sweden.  While many of his paintings depict the high life, A Maid Taking Soup from a Cauldron shows a servant in a transitional phrase, transferring soup into porcelain before it is taken to those upstairs in what we can only assume to be in an opulent setting. 

Although the small scene shows a rather simplistic kitchen we can still learn about the historical kitchen from it.  The painting centers around the hearth.  This particular hearth has a space for the storage of logs underneath with the actual fireplace/working area at waist level.  Imagine cooking on your counter tops! If we zoom in on the scene we can see that, like any good cook, there are many things cooking amongst the burning logs.  To the left is a trivet, a three-legged stand used to support cooking vessels such as kettles.  If the concept of working in a work area that consists of burning logs seems slightly hazardous remember most servants wore wool which was not as flammable as cotton and their hands became accustomed to the strong heat such as blacksmiths' would.  Sometimes hearths like this one would have a small opening on the side, a baking oven.  Embers from the fire would be placed in here to heat up the oven and then removed when the oven was hot enough to begin baking. 

On the mantle are more common tools which seems oddly out of easy reach.  On the left is a mortar and pestle to grind spices.  To the right is a coffee grinder, further showing that the home owner is someone who is well-to-do. 

On the floor is the one kitchen item that seems out of place, a large copper kettle or perhaps even bake-kettle (Dutch Oven).  While everything else in the kitchen is organized and in place this one giant pot is on its side just waiting for a rushing servant to trip over it.  Perhaps the pot has just been washed and is drying in this strange place on the floor.  Or perhaps it is a reference to a Chardin painting which also has the same large tripping hazard. 

Like any well-planned kitchen this one is tiled for easy cleaning.  Notice the fancy-handled broom in the corner; a clean kitchen is necessary for producing yummy food.  Now all it needs is the precursor to the vacuum-cleaner: the kitchen dog!

Monday, February 14, 2011

The College Art Association Conference: A Review of Sorts

I am still getting back in the swing of things after Lauren and my trip to the CAA's annual art conference.  Some of you may have followed our tweet updates on the conference, some of you may have been there, and some of you may have been just plain bored by the change of routine! I happened to have a wonderful time and am proud to say had a seat at every session, which others can't boast of since the conference was so packed that some people were limited to sitting in the aisles!

I missed my first planned session due to rush hour and the fact that the registration line for anyone with a last name beginning in A-C had to wait in a mile long line.  Luckily I can live without learning about new technology for the art history classroom.  In the afternoon we attended the session on Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe in which we heard about the Renaissance painter Bazzi fondly known as Sodoma by James Saslow, who was a particularly gripping speaker. I highly recommend that those interested in Italian Renaissance art, the Medicis or homosexuality in art look him up!

The fullest and most 18th century-esque day for us was the second day of the conference.  It began with a talk on Horace Walpole's gothic-worshiping home, Strawberry Hill.  Following this was HECAA's session which had an interesting talk on Madame de Pompadour's active role in designing her own jewelery.  Kristina Kleutghen reminded us that the 18th century may have had a trend for chinoiserie but the Chinese emperor at the time had such an interest in Europe that he created his own European palace, complete with a European village for him to wander about in.  Don't you love when speakers engage you in something you would otherwise not be interested in?  The Rococo session was surprisingly popular- and populated.  Colin Bailey, the Associate Director for the fabulous Frick Collection gave a fascinating talk on Fragonard's Progress of Love which he painted for Madame DuBarry who rejected the works for more sub-par ones (imho).  The other stand-out speech was by Allison Unruh talking about Warhol's early work and how it is oh so rococo.  True!  I found the last session by the American Society for 18th Centuries studies to be the most disappointing for the day.  It was supposed to be about Cosmopolitanism in  the 18th Century which sounds amazing but the session failed to impress. 

There is nothing quite so refreshing as controversy in the morning and that is what we got at Juriprudishness which explored law and art in the US.  All the speakers had incredibly interesting topics such as Mormon erotica photos in the early days of photography and how the US mail had to ban lynching photo postcards from traveling in the mail.  Dr Matthew Lodder spoke on the legal action against tattoo artists in the 1970s while being totally bedecked in gorgeous bodyart himself (college-age me would have missed the whole speech due to crush-factor). 

---Then Lauren and I went to the see The Eagle since we can't miss any movie on Ancient Rome; it wasn't bad!---

Refreshed from movie violence we went to what was easily the best session of the week, New Approaches to the Study of Fashion in Western Art 1650-1900.  As most of you fashion history-aholics can imagine, we were hanging on every word.  It began with late 17th century mantuas where we learned there are only five remaining original mantuas in the world.  Amelia Rauser, who has written on Georgiana before, talked about regency style gowns and Heather Belnap picked up the topic where Rauser left off, discussing how a regency mother could also be a fashionable mother.  Fashion plates of the time actually marketed to middle-class mothers, informing them they could be trendy.  Hmm sounds familiar doesn't it?

I fear I have gone on too long so I will leave off an account of Saturday since the sessions I attended aren't anything to write home about.  Did anyone else attend the conference?  I have heard from some readers but would love to hear from more if you're out there!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yay or Nay? The Duchess of Osuna

Woops! Please excuse my tardiness in delivering the news of Olga Zherebtsov's victorious Yay. Although her hair may have earned her a nay Olga's good taste in clothes won many over.  For this late-edition of Yay or Nay we will leave the cold country of Russia for the warm coasts of Spain.

Francisco Goya paints Doña María Josefa Alonso-Pimentel y Téllez-Girón (1785) in her blue polonaise and straw hat.  Yay or Nay?

[Kunsthistorisches Museum]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Out of the Salon: The 99th CAA Conference

From now until Saturday Lauren and I will be out of the salon, away from our computers , yet in a healthy distance of our Twitter-infused smart phones.  The annual CAA conference is in our part of the country this year so how could we not attend?  The weather, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be in our favor so if you happen to see elegant ladies arriving by litter you'll know it's two gossipers who can't stand to get their mules wet.

Posts will not be going up until after the event, however both of up plan on keeping up to date on our twitter accounts, delivering any sort of 18th century deets we may happen to hear.

Here is a small sample of some of the lectures that have me all sorts of curious:

Madame de Pompadour's Indiscreet Jewels: Boucher, Reproduction, and Luxury in Eighteenth-Century France Susan M. Wager, Columbia University
Warhol's Rococo Allison Unruh, independent scholar, New York
Cosmopolitanism and Art in the Eighteenth Century 
 Neoclassical Fashion in Art and Life in the 1790s Amelia Rauser (love her!)

It's not to late to attend! The daily rate for each day is $45 and Thursday is filled to the brim with 18th century art topics.

A Gift I Could Use

Amadeus fans should recall the scene where a maid shows up on Mozart's doorstep as an anonymous "gift" from an "admirer."  Of course the gift-maid is really a spy sent by Mozart's rival.  But did you know gifting maids was not just something that occurred in fabulous movies?  Gifting servants, be it anonymously or not, was a way to show appreciation to a special someone by lending them a hand...although not your hand.

The idea of human gifting may seem a bit barbaric, but don't worry, maids weren't the only people being sent as gifts.  You could also gift a prostitute to a good friend.  Which begs the question of whether the old pizza-delivery trick was ever used.  What a delectable vengeance to gift a prossie to your enemies' house during a party!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Immortal Companion: Catherine the Great

Nothing is quite so sad as the loss of a pet.  Just ask the empress of Russia. 

Catherine II, didn't earn the name Catherine the Great by sitting on her tush and letting others rule for her.  She took charge of her large country and made sure her court rivaled those of the bedazzled European countries.   That takes a lot of work!  On her downtime you would see the empress with her dogs.  While many monarchs of the time favored the ever-popular pug, Catherine has a thing for Italian Greyhounds.  She also had a thing for unique dog names; Sir Tom Anderson and Duchess Anderson were some of her other Italian Greyhounds.

Amongst the many different dogs Catherine had as pets, the favorite was Zemira.  This little greyhound was named after the heroine from a Beauty and the Beast opera, Zemira and Azor.  Zemira slept in her mistress' room in a pink silk-lined cradle and joined her for her daily walks.  When Catherine had the artist, Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky paint her in 1794 she chose him to portray her doing something she enjoyed most, walking in the park with Zemira.  Sadly, "the beautiful Zemira" had been dead for almost ten years when the portrait had been painted, yet art historians believe the portrait is a posthumous dog portrait rather than one of Catherine's dog at the time.  Other sculptures and porcelains of Zemira exist too, proving just how beloved the dog was to the Russian monarch.

When Zemira died Catherine was inconsolable.  She shut herself in her room for days.  Zemira was buried in Catherine's pet cemetery under the largest tomb, etched into the stone was, "Beloved dog of the Great Queen."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

For the 18th Century Enthusiast- Fun Distractions During the Superbowl

Looking for something to distract you in between Superbowl commercials?  I am, and if I had planned ahead I could have made a great post with fun links and distractions, however the genius idea didn't strike me until just now so the choices are limited but hopefully just as distracting!

Learn Georgiana's favorite card game and play a saloon?
What Color Should You Powder Your Wig?
Marie Pigtoinette
Best Promo Ever
Walking on Broken Glass Pop Up Video
Georgiana Gossip
Her favorite compliment
The Georgiana Queen Victoria Connection
A Toiling Schedule
Another Toiling Schedules
Why Canis isn't all that Bad
Horrible Histories
 The 4 Georges
Georgian Doctor
Georgian Make-Up
Benjamin Franklin
How to Make a Clock
Drunk History

Yay or Nay? Olga Zherebtsova

Well that Yay was heard loud and clear!  Comtesse Regnault de Saint-Jean d'Angely and her green gown were showstoppers and perhaps the most popular Yay or Nay yet!  It's a little daunting to come up with a followup to judge.  But then again, where would the fun be if we always had Yays, especially showstopping Yays. 

Jean Louis Voille paints Olga Zherebtsova (late 1780s, early 1790s) in purple sulk and white gauze.  Yay or Nay?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tart of the Week: Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes is both the name of an opera singer and the name of a murderess.  Take a guess which one we shall be discussing based on the above mugshot.

The more bloodthirsty Catherine Hayes was born in 1690 and was a teenage runaway.  She made a living through prostitution and as a servant, leaving her no easy life and at least two illegitimate children.  In 1723 she was hired by a wealthy farmer with two sons.  The eldest, John, fell in love with Catherine, even though she was slightly older than him and with a shadowy past.  They married in secret and moved to London.  Catherine earned a reputation as the white trash of Tottenham Court Road: arguing with neighbors, conducting adulterous affairs, and fighting with her husband.  The marriage was strained but things became worse when Catherine convinced her husband to take in a teenage lodger named Billings; a lodger who just happened to be her son.  Neighbors whispered of Catherine having an incestuous affair with Billings but one can only wonder about that accusation.

After a particularly bad argument with John, Catherine the sociopath decided he must be killed.  She recruited Billings for the task and a second lodger who she had convinced him that John has killed two of their children.  So the plan was hatched.  The three binge-drank with John until he was black-out drunk.  Then, like a scene ripped out of the pages of Party Monster (the similarities are uncanny*) the three went about murdering John.  They hit him over the head with a hatchet and then cut up the body into pieces to be disposed in the Thames.  Catherine actually wanted to boil her deceased husband's body to remove the bones which just shows how sick in the head she was!  However, that plan was thrown out.  So, long gruesome story short, body parts were dropped off in various ponds and the Thames due to poor planning.  Poor planned murders always lead to spoiled murder plans and that is exactly what happened to Catherine and her followers.

John's head washed up on the shore of the Thames and Catherine, Billings, and the lodger accomplice were detained and put on trial where they confessed to the crime.  Catherine was charged with the crime of petty treason.  Because men were considered more valuable than women, if a lady or servant murdered their husband/boss it was considered treasonous due to the act being against the natural order of things.  Naturally, the trial was quite the scandal so when the date of Catherine's execution near Tyburn arrived, there was quite the crowd appearing to spectate.   Catherine watched as men were hung at the infamous tree, including those for sodomy, theft, and even her accomplice Billings for the crime he committed with her. Catherine's grim destiny lay elsewhere.  Her punishment was to be burned at the stake.  Catherine had begged the executioner to strangle her with the rope around her neck, a common means of mercy for executions by fire, however the smoke blew into his eyes preventing him from the act of mercy.  All eyewitness reports describe a very dramatic ending for dear Catherine, complete with her pawing to move the fagots of wood away.  She put on quite an end show that was rather gruesome...but then again, it would seem she was quite deserving of it.

*In this true story, murder was committed by parties under the influence of drugs.  They hit the victim over the head with a hammer rather than hatchet, cut up the body and put it in a box to be disposed in the Hudson rather than Thames.  However the box was lined with cork and floated.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

This year I decided to undertake my first reading challenge which quickly led to joining a second.  To commence Austenprose's Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge I chose Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (I will refer to it as S&S&S for brevity's sake) and picked it up from my library.  I had been curious about this book ever since I finished Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I loved P&P&Z; it was clever, funny, and liked how it incorporated Jane's story in a zombie apocolypse context.  I wasn't the only one.  The popularity of the book paved the way for books such as S&S&S, and boy did that show when I was reading!  When I think of S&S&S, the word, "hasty" comes to mind.  This was a product created on the coat-tails of the first Austen/Monster mashup's success and for me, it failed.

Firstly, I think P&P&Z's success was that the book was reconfigured in a familiar sci-fi situation; an epidemic which turns people into the walking dead and therefore turns the world, and likewise, society upside down.  S&S&S took the same concept but replaced zombies with all sorts of blood-thirsty fish.  The Dashwood sisters lived in this environment and therefore are accomplished in the arts of fish-defense, as well as driftwood carving, and sailor songs.  I must confess, I was hoping for the Dashwoods to be ignorant of sea monsters until their move to Devonshire which would introduce them to the monster-slaying expert Colonel Brandon.  That would have been more creative, and separated the book from P&P&Z more.  Brandon may have been skilled in slaying but he also happened to be half sea monster himself, sporting a beard of tentacles from an affliction brought on by a sea witch, which explains Marianne's disinterest in him.

I think what really made Ben H. Winter's mash-up unsuccessful for me was the haste in producing it.  The author didn't seem to know Austen (he actually used "indifferent" erroneously, in the modern term, rather than early 19th century meaning) and I caught two typos, which also implied a haste in producing the work.  I know many will disagree with me, but I feel Seth Grahame-Smith's heart was in the right place when he made P&P&Z and I can't say I feel the same about S&S&S.  My advice is to skip over this mash-up and move try another.  When is Persuasion...In Space! supposed to hit shelves?

London Lock Hospital

In such a hedonistic century, STDs were far from uncommon.  You could even go as far as saying venereal diseases were a national epidemic.  A big statement, sure, but there were actually hospitals dedicated solely to the treatment of these diseases!

Lock Hospitals came to England in the thirteenth century.  They were mostly for the treatment (if you could call it that) of lepers and evolved to other diseases that were dangerously contagious, hence being "lock" hospitals, to lock up the disease.  By the eighteenth century leprosy wasn't an issue, but syphilis ran rampant.  In 1747 the London Lock Hospital opened.  Like the modern-day health clinics, sufferers of the neither regions who were short of cash could line up in hopes for some sort of relief.  There were thirty clean beds for the patients but this being a time when there was no successful cure of syphilis the hospital probably only served as a place to get out of the rain and a hot meal.

Still, the charity-funded hospital was considered a success in the forward-thinking Age of Enlightenment which had also birthed, the Foundling and Magdalen Hospitals.  In 1792 a sister-hospital opened up, Lock Asylum for the Reception of Penitent Female Patients.  This was a rescue center for fallen women who were treated at the lock hospital and was meant to get them on their feet again.  The lock hospital remained working throughout the centuries, eventually becoming a gynecological center before closing down in the 1950s.