Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bide a moment

A friend was saying that she found Jane Austen a difficult read because she takes a paragraph to say what we would say in four words. It's not that I find her too difficult; but if I wrote in that style, each page would be a couple paragraphs of dialog and two small figures shoved in a corner.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

I'd heard of Occupied Germany and Japan, but Austria...?

A few weeks ago I was trying to set a value on a piece of MZ china from Austria- very expensive, exquisite, hand painted china, just so you know. I saw a picture of one of their hatpin holders and idly wished I'd get to see one in person. That wish was granted Thursday.

The thing is.... it is definitely a MZ piece, but it wasn't marked with their logo, a two-headed hawk. Instead it had this curiously familiar eagle with lightning bolts in one claw and leaves in the other, and a circle of stars over its head. Do you see where I'm going with this....?

That's the Great Seal of the United States.

After some further digging, I learned that the U.S. occupied Austria just after World War II. It was considered a collaborator with Germany and many important people of the Nazi party hailed from there. But since it was Germany's first conquest, the nation was not held fully liable. U.S. forces left after only a few years. In contrast, it took Germany until 1989 to finally be reunited. I was a little girl, but I remember my father's company sending him there. He brought home a chunk of concrete that he said was from the Berlin Wall. We started eating the food that had been stockpiled in the cellar, and using the million rolls of aluminum foil that had been bought in case of nuclear fallout. That year we even wrapped our Christmas presents in it. It's funny how political events affect children even when they don't fully understand them.

To get back to the original topic, this hatpin holder is a unique item and I can find nothing to compare it to. It probably came to the U.S. as a soldier's present to his sweetheart. I know occupied Japan and Germany are collectibles, but I don't know how being from occupied Austria affects the collectability or value. All in all, it's an interesting story and I thought I would share.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Darcy, Wickham, and The Scarlet Letter

Overusing words like "honestly" and "truly" is a sign that someone is lying.

I should probably redo this page, as they are bickering in a very 21st century manner. In old literature, it seems like the more crucial it is to speak or act in a straightforward manner, the less chance it will happen. For example, in the Scarlet Letter, if Hester Prynne had only named the baby-daddy.... or pointed out her husband....there would have been no need for the three of them to suffer through several hundred pages....not to mention the number of high school students who have also suffered through the book.

Well, it wasn't that terrible. But I totally failed the essay.

Take Pride and Prejudice. Darcy, very proud fellow, millionaire, gentleman. The son of a servant, Wickham, tried to kidnap/elope with Darcy's little sister. So in the book a year later, why the hell was Wickham still alive?

If Wickham was a gentleman, they could have dueled. But you can't duel with a servant. Just not done.
You could horsewhip a servant and get away with it. I'm surprised he didn't.

In the southern U.S., this could easily have been solved with a shotgun. Murder was illegal in England, but it was difficult to press charges on a gentleman.

He could have paid someone else to do it. It's not like Wickham had no other enemies, or that anyone would cry if he met with an accident.

What Darcy did was let Wickham wander round the country at will, slander his name, and sweet-talk other ladies.

Forbearance may be a gentlemanly virtue, but seriously.
Did he have no spine at all?

I'm not a huge Darcy fan. I know some people are. I'm fond of Elizabeth and find Mr. Bennett amusing, if a bit of a dick.

I did read an interesting book lately: So Odd A Mixture, Along the Autistic Spectrum in Pride and Prejudice. If you are interested in autism.... or in a character analysis of the characters from Pride and Prejudice and why they act as they do.... check it out.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Don't bathe at Bath... in Georgian times

I thought about my post yesterday and decided some things I wrote might be misunderstood. They were not at all prudish during the Georgian Era, nor during the Regency era that followed. (That was a Victorian innovation.) With money and time to while away, the gentry spent their time in pursuit of pleasure. Of all sorts. If you've only read Jane Austen to this point, try branching out a little. Georgiana Cavendish, James Boswell, and Grace Dalrymple Elliot led interesting lives- give them a read.

The thing to understand about Bath is that people didn't bathe there for fun. It was not a happenin' place. It was visited by the old, the infirm, and the convalescent because the water was believed to have curative powers. There were no antibiotics, and all manner of diseases, everything from leprosy to tuberculosis to smallpox to syphilis. Untreated syphilis. Think about it. I have the feeling Bath passed the clothing ordinance so that the bathers would not be disturbed by each others' disfigurements.

Let's not even talk about communicable diseases. Chlorinating water is an invention of the last century. I'm sure that bath was a germ stew. Germ theory was not adopted until the later 1800s, so they had no idea what they were spreading around. So if you're reading a Regency romance where they rendezvous in the bath at Bath...

Now I've grossed myself out. Eww. I'll write up something less disgusting for tomorrow!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What, didn't they have swimsuits back then?

So I was set to write another post about the gentry, but was sidetracked yet again. I finally was asked a question about the comic....but it was not one I expected. Of a million possible questions, 'didn't they have bathing suits back then?' took me by surprise.

The short answer is no, they didn't as such. The somewhat  longer answer is....When you think of the early, bulky, dorky looking bathing suits, perhaps with stripes....? That's from the 1830's on. Before that, bathing in private or outdoors was most likely in the nude. Yet sea bathing and seaside resorts were increasing in popularity, which made bathing a social activity. So some clothing was needed, but at first it wasn't what we might call a swimsuit. Ladies*, to preserve their modesty, would wear a sort of long nightgown with weights sewn in the hem so it wouldn't buoy up in the water. Or they might wear nothing. Accounts differ. Men, well, read this excerpt from Wikipedia's article on swimsuits:

Bath official bathing dress code of 1737 prescribed, for men:
It is Ordered Established and Decreed by this Corporation that no Male person above the age of ten years shall at any time hereafter go into any Bath or Baths within this City by day or by night without a Pair of Drawers and a Waistcoat on their bodies.
Drawers and a waistcoat do not sound like specialized clothing designed for swimming, so I don't consider them a swimsuit.

*I do mean Ladies here, not women. In the 18th century there is a distinct difference.

Finally, for the much longer answer and all the links you care to click, start with Wikipedia's articles on swimsuits, sea bathing and skinny dipping. I leave it to you.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wigs, a Secret, a sneak preview, and Name this Legend

You didn't think he had white hair naturally, did you? Practically all gentlemen of the time wore wigs and white hair powder. The trend tailed off toward the end of the 1700s and was dealt a deathblow by the tax levied on wig powder in 1795. Seriously! I don't make this stuff up!

Tell you a secret- Allan wears the big black bow because he fancies it makes his nose seem smaller.

Ok, so this week's fun find at work was a New York Times from 1866- yes, the year after Abraham Lincoln died, that century, yes. Still readable. As far as I can tell, it is an original.

Today I dealt with someone's collection of sports cards- nothing of value, though I wasted several hours on it. What else- oh, there was a plate! A hand-painted plate from Japan with an interesting scene on it. Can anyone satisfy my curiosity by telling me what legend it is from? There are four middle-aged men surrounding a young man or woman (hard to tell). The men could be samurai or they could as easily be bandits, since they have an unfriendly greedy look on their faces. They also have golden halos round their heads, like saints. Is that a Buddhist thing? The youth is well-dressed and the halo surrounds (her?) entire body. Here is a different plate depicting a similar scene. What is it about? Help me out here.
(Update: They can't be the 7 Gods of Good Fortune because there aren't 7 of them. It's possible they are the Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu or the Four Heavenly Kings. Neither theory tells me who the 5th figure on the plate is.)
And finally, a sneak peek at Chapter 6:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What is an English Gentleman, anyway?

I don't think this could be cuter. Except with bunnies. In the background, we hear more about Allan's life in London than we ever needed to know.

If there's one thing I find hard to understand about this time period, it's what an "English Gentleman" is. America, being the Land of Opportunity where anyone with enough money can be Somebody, has no modern equivalent. Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son have a great deal to say about what an English Gentleman is supposed to be. Perhaps it is an idea, or the result of early indoctrination, more than anything else. Was being a gentleman something a man tried to live up to, like poor Lord Chesterfield's son? Were the standards like a constraining and heavy suit of armor that you had to live in? I think Stephen feels that way. Or was it something that you could laugh off, as Allan does, but reap the benefits of anyway?

The annoying thing is that there are a shit-ton of rules about what a gentleman could and couldn't do, and I don't know what all of them are. This entirely alien mindset makes it hard to know what the characters are thinking at times. I flounder sometimes but hopefully I'm not doing too poorly.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Guide to the Gentry part 1

The first and most basic thing to understand the English mindset of the 18th century, is that your social class was of paramount importance. With few exceptions, the social class you were born to is the one you were in for life. Most people worked for a living in some way (as they do today). The gentry class are more or less the landlords, the leisured class, the people who matter. They considered themselves superior by birth, and looked down on anyone beneath them, any of their number who dirtied their hands with trade, the Scots, the Irish, pretty much the rest of the world, except perhaps the French, who they allowed had a flair for fashion. They spent a great deal of their leisure time picking on each other for real or imagined faults.

By being born to the gentry, Stephen and Allen have pretty much won the genetic lottery.
When Allen grouses about not having money, he has no idea of starving to death. He has the use of the family's houses (they have several!), carriages, horses, etc. What he doesn't have is personal funds to buy whatever fripperies he wants, so he can't impress people with his importance by spending money in flashy ways. Without money, a title, or some other bragging rights, he has no way to fend off criticism. This is a minor thing to you or I, but to a member of the gentry it's more of a personal hell.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Seconds from Disaster

I think my creative talent thrives on pain & suffering. Preferably not mine! I do best while listening to disaster programs. They break events down so logically that my logical brain follows the program and lets my creative mind draw without constant criticism. Seconds from Disaster were the best, but when I had seen all of those I started on Mayday/ Air Crash Investigation. I have seen all of those at this point and need some new inspiration. I prefer natural disasters like volcanos, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. Since I listen and don't watch, I like programs that have good narration and sound effects. I don't like dramatization too much- screaming, hysterical sobbing, etc, disturbs my concentration. So feel free to make recommendations! something with lots of episodes is best.

Guess I'll start my analysis of 18th century society next time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Race you!

Humans in 18th century England were not terribly different from humans today. They did not have our technology, but they did "normal" things such as get married, have children, quarrel with their siblings, take vacations (if they were lucky at birth), work at hard manual labor (if they were unlucky), snub their neighbors, and so forth.

Despite these similarities, many of their customs and opinions will puzzle the modern reader, particularly the American readers. The British had some very strange assumptions! Or perhaps assumptions that simply seem strange in today's world. I'll see if I can't detail and demystify a few over the next couple weeks.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Blasted Thorns

I view this as a work-in-progress. If I ever go and get it officially published, I'll redo all the artwork from the beginning in a celtic knotwork/art noveau style. Mostly hand-drawn with less reliance on Photoshop. Probably hand-letter as well. But in the interest of updating 3x a week, this is the best I can do.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Doctor's Bag

I mentioned a doctor's medical bag a few weeks ago in the Strychnine & Firearms Curiosa post. I finally had a look at it today and must sadly say, that it is not as old as I was told. When they said "full of tools" I was expecting a surgeon's bag, with knives and saws and such. Sadly, no.

Granted, the bag was old, if by "old" I mean "in poor condition." The bag may be older than its contents, but not, I think, by a huge margin. A canister inside had a patent date of 1906. There were some patent medicine bottles... strychnine, inoculant. A variety of needles. Several rolls of cotton thread, a well-rutted cake of beeswax. You would wax the cotton thread before stitching someone up. A wooden needle case containing a small bullet and something like a lightweight corkscrew. A wooden tool that may have been used for inoculation. A leather strap. Tourniquet? To bite down on? Who knows? One of the items was marked Germany. Perhaps it was a World War I medical bag. Anyway, I'm sorry I have no pictures. I will have another look at it next week. If I notice anything more I will add it then.

Alissa blows a gasket

 A....saxophone.... that runs on a ...player piano roll.....


Where ya been girl?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Irreverant ramblings on Galadriel & Elrond

Stephen has 3 sisters. Allan has one. He refers to her as "that harpy."

One morning this week I suddenly asked, "What is with Galadriel & Celeborn??"
"They're married?" my husband helpfully supplied.
"He hardly had any lines! He just, like, welcomes them, and lets her do all the talking. She's definitely in charge. And everyone desires her. What is it like being married to this woman that everyone else fantasizes about? Poor guy."
I rambled on that line of thought for a while, then:
"She's Arwen's grandmother-"
"So they've been married for ages, and maybe the spark died out centuries ago. Wait, if she's Elrond's grandmother, why is he ruling his own little valley instead of living in her forest?"
And so on, til: "And since he's Elrond half-elven, how come the full-blooded elves let him be in charge?"
"He has one of the rings of power. I doubt they have a choice."
Which put things in a whole new perspective. Elrond, autocratic despot. Bet you never knew.