Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fit for a Queen

As reported by the Associated Press:

"A pair of Queen Victoria's bloomers, with a 50-inch waist, were snapped up for $9,000 by a Canadian buyer at a central England auction Wednesday.

"Auctioneer Charles Hanson said Queen Victoria's underpants belonged to 'a very big lady of quite small stature with a very wide girth.' She was said to be 5 feet (1.52 meters) tall. The handmade cotton knickers, which date to the 1890s, bear the monogram 'VR' for Victoria Regina. They are open-crotch style, with separate legs joined by a drawstring at the waist, a popular style in the late Victorian era.

"The royal drawers belonged to a family in western England whose ancestor was a lady-in-waiting for the queen.

"'These pants, considering their provenance and pedigree, are very exciting,' Hanson said. 'They are monogrammed and crested and we know that they are hers.'

"Also up for auction was Queen Victoria's chemise, with a 66-inch bust, which sold for $8,000. Her nightgown sold for $11,000.

"Before the auction, Hanson valued the underwear at $1,000, while the chemise and nightgown were valued at $600 each."

Additional information via The Globe and Mail (Canada):

The buyer, Barbara Rusch of Toronto, has collected Queen Victoria memorabilia of all kinds for about 25 years, but has never been able to bid on a pair of her bloomers before.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful find for me today and a great acquisition, a great treasure to add to my collection," she said.

Rusch also owns a pair of Queen Victoria's pink hand-embroidered stockings.

Read the BBC story here, The Guardian story here, and The Telegraph story here. The Mail Online previewed the auction here.

Shown here: Auction assistant Sam Rhodes models the royal bloomers.

Further Reading

Casey Finch, "'Hooked and Buttoned Together'": Victorian Underwear and Representations of the Female Body," Victorian Studies, Spring 1991, pages 337-363.

Leigh Summers, Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset (Oxford: Berg, 2001).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's Jelly, Baby

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr of London create unique sculptures of British architectural icons such as St Paul's Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, and the Eden Project. Their medium? Why, that ubiquitous Victorian foodstuff: jelly.

Bompas and Parr say that their work occupies a niche "in the space between food and architecture . . . jelly is the perfect site for an examination of food and architecture due to its uniquely plastic form and the historic role it has played in exploring notions of taste."

The Victorian period was the golden age of jelly and other gelatin-based foods such as aspics. Mrs Beeton's Dictionary of Everyday Cookery (1865) includes four pages of jelly recipes, although she notes that jellies "are not the nourishing food they were at one time considered to be." Still, they looked spectacular on the table or sideboard.

Shown above is part of the Victorian breakfast with jelly created by Bompas and Parr for Warwick Castle's 2007 celebration of nineteenth-century Christmas traditions. The 12-course, 300-ingredient, 4000-calorie feast included Scotch woodcock (scrambled eggs made with egg yolks and cream spread on toast with anchovy paste) and haddock in puff pastry. Read the BBC report here and watch the YouTube video here.

Earlier this month, as part of the London Festival of Architecture, Bompas and Parr sponsored a jelly mould competition and workshop that led to the creation of 1000 wobbling jellies consumed at a banquet at University College London.


Historic Food: Jellies and Creams

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Victorian Writers' Rooms

One of my favorite features of the online version of The Guardian is a page called simply "Writers' Rooms." Once a week or so, a photo and brief description are provided of the writing den of a famous novelist, biographer, or literary critic. These used to be primarily living authors; recently some historical figures have been included.

Check out:

The spartan shed behind a modest house in Ayot St Lawrence, built on a platform that rotated with the sun, in which George Bernard Shaw churned out his voluminous correspondence.

The Jacobean beamed study lined with Indian rugs in which Rudyard Kipling wrote, watched by a stern portrait of his wife, Carrie.

Charles Darwin's study at Down House, Kent, in which On the Origin of Species first saw the light of day (shown above).

The "perfection of warmth, snugness, and comfort" that was the Haworth Parsonage parlour in which Charlotte Brontë wrote.

Contemporary writers profiled who are of particular interest to Victorianists include the novelists A. S. Byatt (Possession), Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith) and Colm Tóibín (The Master); the biographer Michael Holroyd (Bernard Shaw, vols. 1-4); and the historian Eric Hobsbawm (The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, and The Age of Empire).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Salmagundi #7

Steampunk music? Hmm. Take a listen.

Times reporter Hannah Betts (left) plays Victorian housemaid for 24 hours under the supervision of English Heritage and lives (barely) to tell the tale.

Robert Downey Jr. will play Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's upcoming film of the same name. Reportedly inspired as much by Lionel Wigram's comic book as by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic stories, the film will begin shooting this October for a scheduled 2010 release.

The story of a murder case that gripped Victorian England has won Britain's Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction. Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: Or The Murder at Road Hill House tells the story of an 1860 child murder that tested the mettle of one of Scotland Yard's first detectives and inspired writers including Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. Francis Saville Kent, the three-year-old son of a factory inspector, was stabbed in the chest and had his throat slashed. His body was found in a toilet at the family's country house. With jealous half-siblings, a dead mother who had gone mad, a cruel governess turned stepmother and a staff of gardeners, stable-hands, and servants in the mix, the crime scandalised Victorian society. Theories about the killing were debated at dinner parties and the murder fuelled the 1860s phenomenon of the "sensation" novel. Detective Inspector Jack Whicher, one of the original eight Scotland Yard detectives, was put in charge of the case and concluded that the murder was an inside job. Whicher was 45, shabby and grizzled, and the country went wild for him, but the case left him a broken man.

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