Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield REPOST

For the next 12 days I’ve scheduled a series that may assist with your resolutions for 2013  (naw, probably not, but I’m trying here).  I didn’t get many blog hits back in 2010, so with any luck these reposts will be fresh for the majority of you.

I’ll be on blog vacation through the second week of January, but will be responding to comments, as usual.

Happy New Year, readers!  Here’s hoping that 2013 gives you the best it has to offer.

Originally posted 12/26/10

In the spirit of bettering oneself in the New Year we make resolutions to be fitter, richer, and, if we’re all lucky, kinder. But do we ever resolve to be wiser? Common sense suggests a well-turned out mind is earned through experience over tutelage, but in the case of the 18th century upper classes, les maniéres nobles were gained through rigorous adherence to a social code that demanded one improve upon politesse.  An enviable restraint in animal spirits–virtually extinct today–was what afforded ladies and lords the power to glide through fashionable circles with few incidents to mar their family name.

Given our current fall from social graces, we thankfully possess Lord Chesterfield’s correspondence.  It serves as a guide to what may seem like many a muddled affair of dead persons to the uncritical observer, but I assure you, the advice is pertinent.   For the edification of us all, please allow me to introduce you to our guest, Philip Dormer Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield . . .

Best known for his letters to his namesake son, his preeminent work involves schooling his heir on lessons most of us suffer to learn through painful trial and error.  His excessive sophistication at times seems foolish (“In my mind there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. . . I am sure that since I have had the full use of my reason nobody has ever heard me laugh.”) but on the whole, his advice is suprisingly apt.  Think of his letters as an 18th century version of the popular book by Dale Carnegie, How to Make Friends and Influence People.

Tomorrow I will begin the first of a seven day course for those interested in how to improve wanting social graces, 18th century style.  We’ll call it Dear Lord Chesterfield (a refined Dear Abby) but for the moment, I’ll leave you with a few fine words from his lordship on achievement dated October 9, 1746:

“. . . I have discovered [in you] laziness, inattention, and indifference; faults of which are only pardonable in old men, who, in the decline of life, when health and spirits fail, have a kind of claim to that sort of tranquility.  But a young man should be ambitious to shine and excel; alert, active, and indefatigable in the means of doing it . . . Without the desire and the pains necessary to be considerable, depend upon it, you never can be so; as without the desire and attention necessary to please, you can never please.

I am very sure that any man of common understanding may, by proper culture, care, attention, and labour, make himself whatever he pleases, except a good poet.”

A Merry Christmas Quiz

What’s better than a holiday that erases Monday and Tuesday from the work week? Okay, maybe nothing. What’s better than spending Christmas with your Aunt Tut-Tut and Uncle Lurch when no Russian Federation vodka is within reach? The bar has been set low but you’ve guessed it: Baroque dancers in full court costume from the English Baroque Festival is the correct answer. I find the lady in red a particular delight.

In all seriousness I hope you readers have a lovely day whether you get your celebrating on with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Yuletide (and whichever other special days I’m missing here).

To good cheer and tangling beneath the mistletoe!

Running after ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ with Bonbons in Hand

In the spirit of the holidays–generous, frenzied, lots of bonbons making everybody very, very merry–Life Takes Lemons has been selected to join a club of bloggers who, if their lucky stars are aligned, will receive a 6-starred ‘Blog of 2012’ award.  I’m overwhelmed with this blog love, guys, and I really don’t know what to say except . . .

As this is the eleventh hour of 2012, I’m joining the festivities as an ode to all those who’ve made 2012 merry for me. Thank you to the two bloggers who have each given me a star: La Dauphine, she of the jewels and tiaras that brighten up the wintriest of days, and Madame de Pique, a pink-hued blogger who never ceases to entertain me with her posts.

To my faithful readers, I promise to not invite annoyance with further blog posts about awards and whatnot.  If I’m fortunate enough to gain more stars, I solemnly swear to make amendments to this post and not clutter your inbox.  The 18th century is, after all, waiting.  She’s a greedy madam and I cannot refuse.

How ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Behaves

1 -Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award

2- Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.

3- Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award  and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)

4 -Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them

5- You can now also join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience

6- As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…

These are a few of the bloggers who have filled my laptop screen lately and whose day I hope will be made all the happier for receiving a star for their efforts.  Congratulations!

Madame de Pique

Jeanne de Pompadour

Isis’ Wardrobe

‘La Rose Mal Défendue’: Debucourt’s Reply to Garnier

I owe this post in its entirety to the kindly gentleman @Dezilvereneeuw who sent Philibert-Louis Debucourt’s reproduction work of  ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ my way.  This version, ‘La Rose Mal Défendue’, dates from 1791, the year Michel Garnier painted ‘The Letter’, his follow-up work to ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’.

Philibert-Louis Debucourt | La Rose Mal Defendue | 1791
Reproduction work of Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’

The fantastic thing about Debucourt’s ‘Rose’ is the spin he’s put on the vignette.  What’s different?  First off, the lovers have been transported to the bedroom.  The seduction appears to have been a fevered pursuit–our (anti) gentleman is practically yanking off the lady’s shawl.  But–and this is so lovely–the lady is in possession of the rose.  Is she going to give it away freely?  Or will the gentleman overcome her?  I do wonder; she has a coy expression.  Methinks this lady doth not protest enough!

Debucourt’s foreground also mirrors Garnier’s.  Almost every prop is in disarray, from the tipped chair and hat to the rumpled bedding and ribbon/sash spilling from a drawer.  Interestingly, the book in Debucourt’s version is closed.  @Dezilvereneeuw has pointed out that Garnier’s book is believed to be a songbook, which makes sense given the caged bird (does it sing?) and the lovers who will soon sing a song together.   All and all I think I prefer the theme of Debucourt’s over Garnier’s.  The 18th century was rife with depictions of women being taken advantage of, and it’s refreshing to see a lady with a bit more agency than a Pamela or a Clarissa.

What do my readers think?  I’d love to hear it.

If you missed the post on Michel Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ and ‘The Letter’, find it here.

For more information:

Before & After Lovers: Garnier’s ‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ & ‘The Letter’

Michel Garnier (1753-1819)

Garnier was court painter to the Duc de Chartes, later Phillipe Egalité, and was afterwards a pupil of premier peinture du roi, Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre.  His scenes are taken from aristocratic Parisian life and show up-to-date period fashion. Many of his vignettes, like the scenes below, focus on erotic and romantic sensibilities.

The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789
The Poorly Defended Rose | 1789

‘The Poorly Defended Rose’ is a companion piece to ‘The Letter’.  One is executed in the moments prior to full seduction, just when the gentleman has been assured of his conquest.  The background symbols in the ‘Rose’ indicate her impending loss of virtue.  The vase on the floor is shattered. a book is splayed wide open, and a bird resides safely in its cage high up on the wall.  The gentleman reaches the single blooming rose before she can demur, but her posture remains retractable.  She not sure of what she’s doing, but the result is inevitable.

In ‘The Letter’, the gentleman has sent his lover a miniature portrait to gaze at in his absence.  The letter, presumably, is full of excuses, as the young lady looks unimpressed by his offering.  A posy of roses are set in a gilded vase, indicating multiple rendezvous between the lovers, but the lady’s dress is more somber, her hair grayer and tied with a yellow ribbon, no longer pinned with the blossoms of youth .  Upon the young lady’s prompting, the older woman hunches over for a closer look and in the process knocks over an object on the tea service.

The Letter | 1791close-up
The Letter | 1791
close-up – full size here

Garnier’s work has been compared with Louis-Léopold Boilly’s and Marguerite Gérard’s.  Beyond being a genre painter, very little is known about his life.

The Constant Lover
The Constant Lover  | Louis-Leopold Boilly
Le Petit Messager
Le Petit Messager – Marguerite Gerard

A Review of ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’

Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publication Date: January 1, 2013

There’s magic in reading a book that’s destined to stay with you through the years.  The act of discovery is reactive.  It ripples into perspective, tearing off rose-colored glasses or placing them back on.  As with the best books, this alchemy alters everything.  The world is suddenly different.  And this is wonderful.

The terrible part comes next.  There’s that twinge of sadness when the first impression is over because there is only one first time, one exhilarating intake of those perfect moments of pleasurable reading.  Pride and Prejudice evokes these feelings in the happy souls who experience love at first read, and the loss is enough to make readers inclined, if only for a heartbeat, to go about wailing like Mrs. Bennet.

The good news is that Janeites can save themselves the trouble.

Much like rereading P&P, spending a few hours with Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece is a balm to the dismal fact that there is but one P&P among myriad imitations.  It’s a bonus that Fullerton’s enjoyment in writing the commemoration is palpable; what the book tries to accomplish and indeed does is evoke the delight of what Austen called “my own darling child” by exploring what makes the novel unforgettable.

The table of contents is enough to get this reader excited.  My favorite chapter is ‘Did They all Live Happily Ever After?: Sequels and Adaptations’ as it is an amusing summary of what happens when a novel enters the public imagination.  Visually, Celebrating also has much to recommend itself.  The pages offer illustrations adorning various editions, covers on translations and teen imprints, and historical depictions of place and person.  Fullerton’s character analyses of Elizabeth as a luminously unique heroine in her time and Darcy as the mold from which many beloved romance heroes now spring are likewise irresistible.

Underscoring all is a history of the novel’s journey, from its inception in 1796, to its underwhelming public reception before it eventually reached epic literary status.  By the book’s end, Celebrating presents an engrossing study of why P&P is so appealing.  For Janeites, it is a thoughtful guide to everything P&P.  For writers, it invites us to consider the forest for the trees.  History buffs and literary enthusiasts will also enjoy a look inside the evolution of a masterpiece, from publication to metamorphosis through films, literary sequels and adaptations, and yes, merchandising.

Verdict

I believe Fullerton has celebrated P&P in a way Jane Austen would appreciate.  The tone of Celebrating Pride and Prejudice possesses nothing of the sparkly fandom that Lydia Bennet might exhibit, nor the dry pedagogical airs of Mary Bennet.  It achieves something akin to the sisterhood between Elizabeth and Jane: best enjoyed with a warm cup of tea in a room shared with an old friend. I loved it and would highly recommend giving it a read.

~ Book Description ~

“Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure,” Elizabeth Bennet tells Fitzwilliam Darcy in one of countless exhilarating scenes in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The remembrance of Austen’s brilliant work has given its readers pleasure for 200 years and is certain to do so for centuries to come. The book is incomparable for its wit, humor, and insights into how we think and act—and how our “first impressions” (the book’s initial title) can often be remarkably off-base. All of these facets are explored and commemorated in Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, written by preeminent Austen scholar Susannah Fullerton. Fullerton delves into what makes Pride and Prejudice such a groundbreaking masterpiece, including the story behind its creation (the first version may have been an epistolary novel written when Austen was only twenty), its reception upon publication, and its tremendous legacy, from the many films and miniseries inspired by the book (such as the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth) to the even more numerous “sequels,” adaptations, mash-ups (zombies and vampires and the like), and pieces of merchandise, many of them very bizarre.
 
Interspersed throughout are fascinating stories about Austen’s brief engagement (perhaps to the man who inspired the ridiculous Mr. Collins), the “Darcin” pheromone, the ways in which Pride and Prejudice served as bibliotherapy in the World War I trenches, why it caused one famous author to be tempted into thievery, and much more. Celebrating Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful celebration of a book that has had an immeasurable influence on literature and on anyone who has had the good fortune to discover it.
 
~ About Susannah Fullerton ~
 
Susannah Fullerton is president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia (the largest literary society in the country), a post she has held for the past fifteen years.  She is a popular literary lecturer, the author of Jane Austen and Crime and many articles about Austen, and the co-editor of Jane Austen: Antipodean Views.
 
For more about Ms. Fullerton and her work, please visit her website.

One Lovely Blog Award

A most thoughtful Madame de Pique, history obsessive and blogger of peculiarities, has bestowed upon Life Takes Lemons the ‘One Lovely Blog Award’, so here I am, passing on the blog love.  This, incidentally, is the best part about awards, discovering fantabulous new-to-you blogs.  There are also rules guidelines to this sort of thing, but they are generally the same across time and space:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.  (Thanks again, Madame P!)
  2. Add the ‘One Lovely Blog Award’ image to your post.
  3. Share seven things about you. 
  4. Pass the award on to seven nominees. 
  5. Include this set of rules.  
  6. Inform your nominees* by posting a comment on their blogs. 

7 Random Things about Your Host

I decided it would be more fun to reveal in pictures 7 places I’ve been . . .

Hoh Rainforest outside Forks, Washington | Olympics
Hoh Rainforest outside Forks, Washington | Olympics
Window from inside the palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Window from inside the city palace in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Crocuses in my backyard
Crocuses in my backyard
Path from Aiguille d'Midi station onto Mt. Chamonix, France
Path from Aiguille du Midi station onto Mt. Chamonix, France
Close-up of the semi-precious jewels on exterior of Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Close-up of the semi-precious jewels and flower relief on exterior of Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Random cow chowing in his field near the Blue Smokey Mountains, North Carolina
Cow chowing in his field near the Blue Smokey Mountains, North Carolina.  Possibly annoyed with me.
Sacre Couer, Montmarte, Paris
A view from the side of Sacre Coeur, Montmarte, Paris

Bloggers I recommend on account of their excellence in loveliness

Joyful Molly – Molly keeps a wonderful blog on naval history with lots of 18th century posts to boot.  Her ‘list of naval and historic resources’ is so, so useful.

Number One London – I could spend afternoons browsing around this blog on English history and daily living in the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras.

Treasure for Your Pleasure – a tumblr curating all things Marie Antoinette (and Versailles court) that’s visually diverting.  Good luck trying not to Pin during your visit.

The Virtual Victorian –  I’m getting more and more interested in the Victorian era and Ms. Fox is partly to blame.  Her ‘facts, fancies, and fabrications’ are delightful.

Regency History – Rachel Knowles’s blog on a well-rounded variety of  topics from the late Georgian period through the Regency makes for pleasurable and informative reading.

World of Poe – a self described ‘crotchety, contrarian chronicler of the stranger and more neglected highways and byways of all things Poe’.  Pretty much, yeah.  If you like a sharp-tongue, you will absolutely love Undine.  Her tweets are amusing as well.

Dressed in Time – One of my go-to blogs for historical costuming.  Caroline’s posts make me wish I could attain the patience for sewing, but for now I have her creations & inspirations to drool over.

To the seven bloggers named above, thank you for keeping our web spaces lovely!

*If you’re curious about the ‘nominee’ part, I’m not sure either.  One supposes we are all winners by default of nomination.  Either way, enjoy!

Historical Geekery Gift Guide 2012

A selection for bookish, historically-minded folks (and yes, gentlemen, there’s something for you, too!)

Anne Boleyn blank journal from Immortal Longings, perfect for those especially moody days.  You may also choose from the Katherine of Aragon and the Henry VIII versions.  I’d personally like to have Anne’s and Henry’s side by side for a bit of dark romance.  (They also have beautiful Shakespeare journals.)

Sweet Marie before she became headless . . . These earrings have everything she would approve of: bows, French blue swarovski crystal, and her youthful portrait set in a cabachon.  Secret Jewellz also has a pair of sparkling pink bow earrings that are very pretty.

Inspiration from the grave.  Unisex perfume/cologne from Sweet Tea Apothecary which (unlike what the macabre name evokes) will come up smelling of heliotrope, vetiver, black tea, clove, tobacco, musk, and vanilla.  “This blend evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more.  The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.”

 

Damn French Desserts has the loveliest skeleton cards.  They’d look great as a framed collection, especially for those unwilling to part with all of them via post.  Choose from the ‘Victorian Goth Queen To the Bones’ and ‘Skeleton Horse Lady Godiva’ (and more)

What you can’t wash off, wash on.  Straight from the Bearded Proprietor’s shop, ‘Ill Repute’ shaving soap for the ladies and the gents.  The whole store is packed with delights to improve your morning ablutions: Madame Scodioli’s Hand-Made Soaps, Perfumes, Whisker Wax & Lovely Curiosities for One And All

Made of etched semi-gloss stainless steel, these hardcover optical illusion earrings are fantastic for any bookish lady on your list.

For those who like to play with the digital side of art, a collage sheet of hairstyles from the 15th to 20th centuries with Marie Antoinette’s belle poule at center.  FrenchFrouFrou Antiques also offers a collage sheet of French costumes and others for your enjoyment.

Because one hand-painted teacup and saucer is never enough . . .  Burke Hare Co, Victorian teacups, candles, and curiosities for peculiar people.

The Mindful Mushroom Artisan body oils are 100% vegan, cruelty free, and use a house base of hemp seed, grapeseed, sunflower, and rice bran oil.  She goes wild with her perfuming and the options are nearly endless from sweetly inspired like Faery Queen to darkling scents like Unseelie Court.  From one perfume lover to another, I am in love. Choose from a sample vials/packs, 5 ml or 10 ml roll-on.


An 8×10 inch print that’s a cute take on the song.  I would buy this for myself in a hot minute, but my darling, devilish husband would surely amend the -OOKS part. Either way, smiles all around!

Hope you guys enjoyed the gift guide.  All products are on Etsy and support independent artists.

An 18th Century Perspective on Elizabeth Bennet

In anticipation of an upcoming review I’ve been reading Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece.  I’ll be posting the full review on December 16th, Jane Austen’s 237th birthday, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you an 18th century perspective that shows just how incredible the character of Elizabeth Bennet truly was.

Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny
Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny

Jane Austen started writing Pride and Prejudice in October 1796 at the age of twenty.  She would no doubt have been exposed to the popular publications of the period, including the ever so entertaining Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex.  A few years prior to Austen putting pen to paper for what was then called First Impressions, The Lady’s Magazine published in their 1791 edition “A Letter from a Father to his Daughter on Relative Duties,” part of which is excerpted below.

“Of all the weaknesses the younger part of your sex are most prone to are pride and affectation, and there are none scarce which render more contemptible in the eyes of the thinking and sensible part mankind; therefore as you value the esteem of your friends, crush them in the bud.  The ingenious Mr Addison says “Pride in a woman destroys all symmetry and grace; and affectation is a more terrible enemy to a fine face than the small pox.  

And yet there is no passion so universal or steals into the heart more imperceptibly than pride; at the same time, there is not a single view of human nature, under its present condition, which is not sufficient to extinguish in us all the secret seeds of pride.  As nothing appears more odious and disgusting than pride and affectation, to nothing is more amiable in your sex than humility; it adds a beauty to every feature and a luster to all your action.”*

These epistolary tutelages served as continual nudges against youthful waywardness, advising sons on achievement in politics and education, and daughters on obedience and humility.  Based on works they produced, writers like the young Jane Austen must have felt the thorn in these infuriatingly narrow instructions at one time or another.

From 'Pride and Prejudice' film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005
From ‘Pride and Prejudice’ film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005

Elizabeth Bennet was a character written from the breed of proud, independently-minded women who were mightily disapproved of by the majority of gentlemen (and a whole lot of gentlewomen) during the 18th century. She is, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the ideal gentlewoman and her genius, of course, is in being appealing nevertheless.  As Fullerton says, “She was a highly unconventional, new sort of heroine, and it is easy for modern readers to underestimate just how astonishing she was for readers of the time.”  What’s interesting is that Austen made Elizabeth THE favorite daughter of her father and despite all obstacles of temperament, she is our heroine.  As Fullerton points out, according to the values of the time Jane Bennet would’ve been the appropriate choice.  I think we can all say thank goodness she wasn’t Austen’s choice, as today only Elizabeth would be ours.

*Find the full letter on page 42 here

Lady Elizabeth Foster v. Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway v. Countess of Lincoln

Another Round of Dueling Fashionistas Begins With . . . 

Source: Gibe, Wikipedia
Source: Gibe | ‘A Young Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)’

The 18th century was a glorious time for coiffures.  They were absurdly tall, sausage and pin curled, stuck with feathers and baubles and ribbons.  They housed ships and birdcages, were tools for storytelling or political/personal commemoration.  In short, they were EPIC.  Arrive at the 1780s, however, and ladies’ hairstyles fell flat.

I blame it on the hedgehog wig.   Compared with the glamorous, albeit headache inducing pouf, I’d slap the style with an ‘uninspired’ stamp, but they must have held some charm.  They were widely favored for almost two decades, from the 1780s to the 1790s.  Early adoptees touted them as a return to a more natural, effortless appearance, and they kind of are.  Maybe it’s the color–dishwater grey, like a wig that’s been trampled on in the street–or the fact that, as the name suggests, they resemble a hedgehog placed atop one’s head with a dignified curl underneath.  American Duchess replicates it with her own hair, and I must say, it’s attractive.  But the 18th century versions are frowsy.

The Analysis

If we pick the hairstyles below to pieces, Lady hedgehog #1 separates herself from #2 and#3 by wearing crown frizz.  Yes, the nemesis of modern curls was fashionable in the 1700s.  For all that I’ve lambasted this hairstyle, I believe #1’s wig is slightly more becoming.  Ladies Hedgehog #2 and #3 have smoothed their coiffures from the crown, coiled half the hair into a top knot, and curled the bottom.  The style is neater but looks like it would require a can of Elnett to keep it in place.  Hardly natural.

The Verdict

I bear a strong dislike for one and all, but I’m wondering if I’m alone here.  What do you think?  Thumbs up?  Thumbs down?  And what about the clothes? They’re pale affairs, ruffled and feminine down to the empire waist (#1 and #2) or past the fichu on #3, but not objectionable in and of themselves, right?

Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Foster | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1787
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Lady Elizabeth Seymour Conway | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781
Frances, Countess of Lincoln | Sir Joshua Reynolds | 1781

Let your vote be heard!  Who wins this edition of Dueling Fashionistas and why?