Thursday, March 31, 2011

Essex Girls

The county of Essex has a rather negative reputation for its young ladies, just look up "Essex Girl" in the Urban Dictionary.  Having lived there at one point in my life there I can both say "What a silly stereotype!" and "Holy Mother, what is that girl wearing!?! This is why some stereotypes are based on truths!"  Now we all know the eighteenth century was not a prudish time; quite the opposite in fact.  Now that poses the question: Were there any Lady Essex Girls?  After all there was a Lady Jersey Shore.  Let us examine the possibilities.

The Countesses of Essex (some anyway):

Lady Mary Bentinck
Mary was one of the famous Hampton Court Beauties; considered one of the most lovely women at the court of William and Mary.  Her beauty was also given the exclusive Kit-Cat club toast, something reserved for VIP Whig ladies.
Result: Hot, but not bothered.

Lady Jane Hyde
(c. 1694-1724)
Another noted beauty, Lady Jane served as a Lady of the Bedchamber to the Princess of Wales.
Result: Yawn.

Lady Elizabeth Russell
Well behaved women rarely make history and this one barely made history.
Result: I'd rather make history.

Frances Hanbury Williams
This Lady Essex was quite fashionable but only was a Countess of Essex for five years before she expired.
Result: Not enough time to live up to her name.

What the heck.  None of these ladies qualify as Essex Girls!  No low cut dresses, no public displays of affection, nothing!  I even found a Lady Essex Mostyn.  Her first name was Essex and she couldn't even make headlines.  So sadly I must accept that there were no Lady Essex Girls in the century when they should have been making the most of the stereotype. 

Cassiobury housed these lame ducks and has a fabulous site about them.
Well thank goodness someone was able to write a book about Infamous Essex Women!
Look, another book about Essex Girls!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Country Homes: Appuldurcombe House

Location: Isle of Wight
Famous Inhabitants: Lady Worsley

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away...

I was quite proud yesterday that I was able to slip in a Star Wars reference into my post.  That got the gears turning: can we find any sort of relationships between the beloved Sci-fi series and the over-the-top century?  Take it away Google.

Mattias Adolfsson, a Sweden-based artist brings us an antiqued Star Wars

The Palace of Caserta, a former royal palace in Southern Italy was used in filming interior shots of the Palace of Naboo.  No computer animation needed for the House of Amidala!

Handel's opera Rinaldo's premiere in 1711 was the Star Wars at the time, stunning viewers with its special effects.

When I was reviewing Lydia Syson's book, I was so excited to find a Star Wars reference I had to quote it in my review.

So my fellow nerds, has anyone out there found any more Star Wars/18th Century relationships to share?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fashionably Late

A funny thing happened on the way to Grosvenor Square.  *Begins fanning slowly*

The Duchess of Atholl and her sister, Mrs Mary Graham were attending a party with Mary's husband Mr. Thomas Graham.  The coach came to a sudden stop on Park Lane and the three passengers were shocked when the person opening the door was not the footman but a highwayman wielding a gun.  Two other ruffians held the horses while the pistol-wielder demanded jewels and money.  Unbeknownst to the robber, Mr. Graham had a history of heroism when it came to his wife and her jewels.  He had once ridden all night to retrieve her jewelery box for a ball she was attending, so a brute waving his pistol in the face of his wife was certainly not going to get away with it.  The robber also didn't see Mr. Graham in the corner of the coach amongst all the puffy skirts of the ladies.  With jedi-like reflexes Mr. Graham lept across the ladies and dove for the surprised thief and proceeded to wrestle the pistol away from the thief on the ground.  The two men holding the horses wisely ran away when they realized the coach contained an action hero.  The comontion of the scuffle and the women's alarm drew the attention of the watch who relieved Mr. Graham of his heroic duties and took the purpetrator into custody. 

When everything was straightened away the group realized that this unneccesary affair had made them late for the party.  They proceeded to their destination where Mr Graham bashfully shadowed the ladies the whole night. He wasn't being overly protective, he simply meant to use his wife's skirt to hide his muddy shoes and stockings that he had aquired in the fight.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Yay or Nay? Madame Elisabeth

"My hairdresser said everything this year is going to be Turkish." Was Madame Cavalieri right when she proclaimed that? According to our panel, she most certainly was; Princess Louise received a Yay for her eastern attire.  She wasn't the only princess who had Turkish fever! But which is better Turkish authenticity or inspiration?

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard paints Madame Elisabeth of France (1788) in a gown à la Turc. Yay or Nay?

 [Private Collection]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Crimes of Fashion

When picturing the highly romanticized notions of highwaymen one tends to picture a man in black, under a heavy coat and tricorn hat. That may have been how John Rann, aka Sixteen-String Jack, looked while he was committing highway robbery but underneath the black was a wardrobe that Lady Gaga would have gone nuts for.

Jack was born just outside Bath in 1750 to humble yet innocent beginnings. He worked as a child and by the age of twelve was working as a postilion which paved the way for him to take various coachman jobs, eventually leading him to London. Jack felt alive in the busy metropolis. He was young, good looking and there was plenty in the city to keep him entertained...especially when it came to fashion. Jack soon earned himself the nickname of Sixteen-String Jack from his trademark pants which had eight strings hanging down each leg, each one a different color. When Jack couldn't keep up his fashion expenditures with his wages he turned to pickpocketing which evolved to highway robbery, which he found he was quite good at.

Fashionable Jack's new career allowed him the comforts of attending balls, picking up women, and of course buying all that wacky designer clothing. Jack was arrested several times but always seemed to get off due to lack of evidence. He once took the stand in front of Magistrate John Fielding wearing a bouquet of flowers blooming from the breast of his coat and accessorized his shackles with some comely blue ribbons. Next time he was in court for being caught breaking into a woman's window into her bedroom (was it the future Lady Lade, I wonder?) but was acquitted due to the fact that she was expecting him but had fallen asleep. A week later Jack had waltzed into an establishment, in a scarlet coat, silks stockings, and a lace hat and announced that he was a highwayman and proceeded to pick fights with everyone until a brawl broke out. I think it safe to say Jack was not just a highwayman but a macaroni.

The twenty-four year old robbed his last victim in 1774 when he was tried for heisting Princess Amelia's Chaplain. Jack showed up to the trial in a pea-green suit, fully expecting to get off due to lack of evidence again. He was quite shocked when he received the guilty sentence. Still, what's a rake to do? Make the most of the situation is the answer. He held a farewell dinner in jail with seven lovely ladies and when he arrived at Tyburn he joked with his executioner and danced a jig before his last drop.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Depression-Inducing Portrait

Thomas Gainsborough, The Honourable Mrs. Graham, 1775-7
Georgiana and her best friend Mary Graham had many things in common.  One of their commonalities is they were lucky enough to sit for Thomas Gainsborough more than once.  Their portraits by Gainsborough were highly praised during their lifetime yet both portraits were hidden away from eyes for many years after the sitter's death, to only be narrowly saved and revealed in the following century. 

Like many great paintings, elements of mystery surround Mary's portrait.  She sat for the portrait when she returned from her honeymoon.  Many accounts do not refer to Mary showing the symptoms of tuberculosis, the disease which would plague and kill her and her family, yet she was reportedly too weak to sit long for Gainsborough.  Mary is shown wearing an ornate masquerade dress of pink and silver in the Van Dyck style. A jaunty plumed hat is perched on Mary's high tower of hair.  The fantastic outfit dazzled viewers and was made even more impressive by the fact that it was purely a figment of Gainsborough's imagination.  Mary never owned the dress and supposedly her family was upset with her being portrayed in such a harlot-y sort of outfit.  Strangely I have never personally found any thoughts Mary or her husband, Thomas had on the painting which was raved about when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy.

Mary succumbed to consumption in 1792 leaving a devastated husband wrought with grief.  Thomas could not even bring himself to return to the homes he once shared with his wife.  You might imagine the effect that seeing the celebrated portrait would have on him.  Some accounts say that bricks were laid over the hanging portrait where it remained until it was found during renovations.  Most accounts tell of Thomas hiding it in storage in London.  Storage is where it remained until after Thomas' death.

In 1843 Thomas' cousin, Robert Graham received a message about his deceased cousin's paintings still being in the warehouse. He accepting the paintings not even knowing if they were worth the storage fee he had to pay for them.  Robert had the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning and intercepted the delivery cart on Dalcrue bridge and immediately began opening the crates of paintings.  Robert felt as if he was seeing a ghost when he drew out Mary's portrait which had been hidden away for fifty years.

In 1859 Robert bequeathed Mary's portrait to the National Gallery of Scotland on the condition that it never leaves the walls of the museum.  He felt that the portrait should never again be housed in darkness and should be regarded as one of Scotland's national treasures.  Visitors to the National Gallery may just feel that way upon being welcomed to museum by the elegant Mary Graham.
Side-Note: There will be a lecture on Thomas Graham at the National Gallery of Scotland on May 17. Details here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Save the Date(s)

For those who posted their opinions on the Evelina Group Read, thank you!  Your input was a big help!  I have decided to hold the group read in June since that was a popular month and if I began setting it up for April it would become a rush-job.  By popular request we will hold salons once a week (probably Thursdays) which will give us plenty of material for our witty discussions.  More details will be released with the official announcement.

On a fun note, are there any suggestions for the group read logo image?  I was thinking of using Hoppner's Young Woman as Evelina (pictured) but will take any suggestions!  The Sylph Group Read featured Eliza Sheridan who appropriately graced the cover of the Librifile book. Is there an appropriate representation for the noble and naive Evelina?

Skeleton Suits

Remember those silly articles of children's clothing that weren't very cute but since they were synonymous with childhood you were put in them constantly and ooed and ahhed over?  I spent my first years in many rompers (just like last summer!) and onesies would look ridiculous on anything other than an infant.  The long eighteenth century equivalent were skeleton suits, which well-to-do little boys were forced into.  These jumpsuits look similar to clown suits and I am sure more than one little boy gave his nurse a hard time about wearing them.  However, they present a sentimental portrait into the lifestyle of the time.  Take a look at the wide range of skeleton suits worn all over Europe.

French School, Count Strogonov and Family, ca. 1778
Johann Tischbein, Family Scene, 1778
Anne Rosalie Filleul, The Children of the Comte d'Artois, 1781
Thomas Gainsborough, The Baillie Family, 1784
Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller, Marie Antoinette and her Children, 1785
Francisco Goya, Portrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, 1787
Jean-Laurent Mosnier, Anna Muravyova-Apostol and her Children, 1799
Gerard von Kugelgen, The Family of Paul I of Russia, 1800
William Berczy, The Woolsey Family, 1809
Francisco Goya, Porträt des Pepito Costa y Bonelis, 1813
Giuseppe Cammarano, The Family of Francis I of the Two Sicilies, 1820

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Which Dr Johnson Pisses Off Chicks

Dr Johnson was never known for being delicate.  He was known for eating like a pig and having the opinions of one as well.  Despite counting Hester Thrale as a close friend Johnson had some choice words about women.  It's no wonder the two bickered! 

"Publick practice of any art, and staring in men's faces, is very indelicate in a female." An exception to this rule were actresses who in Johnson's opinion had a long history of "indelicacy." Women should also not talk more than necessary and certainly not become preachers because "a woman preaching was like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Of course when a woman called him out on his sexism, Johnson responded with little reason but with just as much dry humour.  Mrs Knowles commented to him about the double standard women face and Johnson responded with "It is plain, Madam, one or the other must have the superiority. As Shakespeare says, 'If two men ride on a horse, one must ride behind.'"

Thanks Doctor.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Yay or Nay? Louise Augusta, Duchess of Augustenborg

Last week Carlota Joaquina had our panel in a split decision. I can't remember the last time the votes were so close!  However a Nay was presented to the 15 year old for making poor choices in fashion.  This week's contestant was recommended by reader, Rebecca; thanks for the next victim suggestion!  Maybe a princess of Denmark will fare better?

Jens Juel paints Louise Augusta (circa 1780-9) in Turkish dress,  Yay or Nay?

Friday, March 18, 2011


C 1740-50, via Kyoto Costume Institute
1760, via Christies
c 1810-29, via the Met

1780s, via Christies
1775-99, via The Met
c 1790, via The Met
1780-90 vis Williamsburg
1770s? via Rocking the Rococo
1765 via KyotoCostume Institute
1770-80 via Philadelphia Museum
1770-9 via V&A
1797 via V&A
1790-1800 via Manchester City Galleries
1750-70 via Manchester City Galleries

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Colonies Celebrate St Patrick's Day

Happy St Patrick's Day!

For many of you this holiday means celebrating your heritage, for others it is a good excuse for a drinking.  Many traditions go with St Patrick's Day, strangely enough many of those traditions were born in America rather than the country so celebrated on the holiday.  While visiting Ireland I recall telling my (now) ex's mother about how you had to wear green or you would be pinched.  She thought that was just adorable!  A year beforehand I had made it to my Irish Mecca: Dublin on St Patrick's Day where Lauren and I celebrated another tradition, attending the parade.  We couldn't get over how most of the participants weren't Irish, but American!

The truth is Americans have a strong tradition of being big fans (perhaps even the biggest) of St Patrick's Day.  This tradition predates the United States itself.  The first St Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City in 1762.  Irish soldiers serving King and Country marched through the city to the sounds of traditional Irish music.

So this St Patrick's Day make sure you keep the tradition going strong, especially if it involves toasting with authentic 18th century beer and spirits!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


"I long ago made a determination never to be out of humour with Sheridan, to which I have rigidly adhered and will adhere even now..."
-Charles James Fox

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hunk Alert: Charles, Marquess of Londonderry

SWM, Soldier (Officer), Ambassador, Civil-Servant
Likes: Ireland, England, Fighting, Foxy Ladies, Drinking, Writing

I consider myself a real man's man.  I like my booze plentiful, my women available and my hats extremely tall.  A thing isn't done right unless it's done to the EXTREME.  So if there's an uprising I will squash it, if there is a woman I will grab her, if there is a beer I will drink it, and if a dispute arises I will throw punches.  But I also have a sensitive side and in my more vulnerable moments you'll find me at my writing desk.

I am looking for a woman who can turn heads.  A smart, enterprising woman of grace would be the most suitable for me.  She must also be able to travel frequently, be sociable, and deal with a sudden bursts of pure testosterone from time to time.  Heiresses welcome to make their acquaintances.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lady Jersey Shore

"She possesses all the beauty of all the Jerseys..."

With Miss Snooki gracing the cover of Rolling Stone this week, there's no denying the impact of MTV's Jersey Shore.  People can't get enough of drunken outings, bed-hopping, and drama drama drama.  But before there was a select few enraging the rest of New Jersey with stereotyping the state, there was Lady Jersey, who could Jersey them all out of Seaside.  Let's examine why.

Jersey is All Shore
Many of us know Jersey is a part of England but it is actually closer to France (which is closer to Italy, right?) than to England.  Jersey is a small island off the coast of Normandy.  So Lady Jersey is the countess of a landmass that is all shore.

Lord Jersey was twice his wife's age and too weak-minded to keep track of her.  Boy, did she take advantage!  The Earl of Carlisle, Viscount of Harcourt, Duke of Devonshire, and Prince of Wales are all on her list on conquests.  The press followed Frances every time she hopped into a new bed, keeping the public updated about the seductress' latest hookups.  Was Lady J just sowing her wild oats? Heck no; by the time she was hooking up with the much-younger Prince, she was past her prime.  Talk about cougars!

Lady Jersey didn't have friends, she had frenemies.  It seemed as though the woman couldn't enjoy female companionship unless she was making those friends miserable. If you were at a ball and you caught her looking at your man, you had every right to suddenly become all clingy. Lady Jersey was know to specifically go after her friend's husbands when looking for bedfellows.

We Have a Situation Here
One of Lady Jersey's victims was her close friend Georgiana.  While Georgiana was occupying herself with the war effort Lady Jersey decided to swoop in and steal her man.  Guess who told the Duchess about the betrayal? Lady Jersey! The skank went right up to Georgie and told her in a snide joke-like manner that since Georgiana couldn't provide her with a bed at Coxheath (where they were currently staying) she would just take the one in her bedroom.  Sadly a fight did not break out involving slaps and wig-snatching as would have happened had it been me in that situation.

The Jersey Island Dump
"Lady J. is in everything, and by everybody most thoroughly disapproved." scoffed Lady Spencer in 1795.  At age 43 Lady Jersey still hadn't grown up and was up to her old tricks.  Her latest victim was Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of her long-time squeeze, the Prince of Wales.  Lady Jersey did everything in her power to make the princess' life miserable, but her reign of terror had expired a year after Lady Spencer's comment.  Sick of her immaturity, Lady Jersey was shunned when she attended balls and her home was stoned by the lower classes.  Don't mess with Caroline of Brunswick.

Given the size of ladies in the 18th century Lady Jersey could very well have been the same height as super-shorty Snooki.  One thing is for sure though, she was definitely sporting the "pouf" 250 years earlier!

Teen Mom: Bess
Bad Girls Club --18th Century Edition

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yay or Nay? Infanta Carlota Joaquina de Borbon y Borbon-Parma

It was a close call for Jean-Dominique Fabry Garat last week.  Perhaps if he didn't sport the comb-over he would have been safe, but sadly a grown man in a skeleton suit earns a Nay.  Maybe we should have stuck with fancy gowns after all?

Giusepe Trono paints Carlota Joaquina (circa 1790) in her gauzy open trimmed with blue flowers.  Yay or Nay?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Marvel's Sense and Sensibility

In continuation of Austenprose's Sense and Sensibility Bicentary Challenge I chose for my second book, Marvel's Sense and Sensibilty graphic novel adapted by Nancy Butler and illustrated by Sonny Liew.  As an art historian I tend to categorize myself as a "visual person" so the idea of a comic book version of any Austen work was very appealing.  I am happy to report the Marvel creation did not disappoint.
In her lovely introduction, Butler discusses the challenges of adapting dialogue-rich novel into an entertaining, yet concise comic.  In the history of comic books, many tend to focus on action rather than dialogue and Austen's work tends to focus on inner-turmoils of characters (among other things) we have come to understand as a readers instead of a black and white message.  So to combine the two elements, while still staying true to each is not something that can be produced quickly, it takes a lot of care.  I think Butler and Liew succeeded in this endeavor despite Butler noting her anxiety that it would not stand-up to some Janites' high (nit-picking) standards.  Like movie adaptions some details must be lost but the most important are still contained in this illustrated tale.
The artwork by Liew was beautiful and historically accurate (Some of the illustrations in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies weren't and that drove me nuts!).  One of his special touches was to make the characters go into chibi form (a technique from manga and anime to display childishness) to visually indicate that some ridiculous characters were in play (cough cough, John and Fanny Dashwood, cough, the Miss Steeles).  Although old farts like myself, whose anime vocabulary doesn't expand beyond Sailor Moon may find this technique a bit odd and disrupting I think it computes to younger readers who are more exposed to it.  And shouldn't we expose young audiences to Jane as early as possible?  Marvel's Sense and Sensibility could just be that gateway drug to Jane Austen!
I think any Janite who has long-loved the worlds Jane Austen has painted will enjoy this visual read, it was well-worth the $7 I paid for it.  As noted above, I think Marvel Illustrated Sense and Sensibility would be a great gift for your manga-hoarding middle school niece just looking for an escape route from the norm.  Now all I need is the Marvel Illustrated Pride and Prejudice and to get to work on writing to Marvel to request some Mark Twain adaptions as well.