Category Archives: Entertain Me

The London Mermaid, 1822

This must be the ugliest mermaid I have ever seen.

The London Mermaid, 1822

 It debuted in London as a “very dry and mummy like [creature], enclosed in a glass case.”  The man responsible for the hoax?  The Bostonian sea captain Samuel Barret Eades.  Eades had purchased his mermaid from a Dutch fisherman by way of North China.  The price?  5000 Spanish dollars, a value of about 1000l. 1

The enterprising Eades acquired the funds by selling his and his partners share in the ship the Pickering–without informing the co-owner, of course.  He then conspired to fool his neighbors across the pond and make some serious bank.* When the fish with simian parts first appeared at Turf Coffeehouse in St. James’ Street in 1822, 300 to 400 persons visited daily at the price of one shilling per entry. 1  It was an immediate London sensation.  The papers of the time, including the Gentleman’s Magazine, are filled with proofs of the mermaid’s veracity.  A thorough examination was done Reverend Dr. Philip in April, 1822 and published in The London Medical and Physical Journal.  I have pulled out a few highlights for your enjoyment:

“The head is almost the size of that of a baboon.   It is thinly covered with black hair, handing down, and not inclined to frizzle…The countenance has an expression of terror which gives it an appearance of a caricature of a human face; but I am disposed to think that both these circumstances are accidental, and have arisen from the manner in which the creature met its death.  It bears the appearance of having died in agony.

“The length of the animal is three feet; but, not having been well preserved, it has shrunk considerably, and must have been both longer and thicker when alive than it is now…The canine teeth resemble those of a full grown dog; all the others resemble those of a human subject.”

Fiji Mermaid, 1822

Attribution: Fiji Mermaid by George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the mermaid’s success, Eades would eventually run into a road block: the furious co-owner of the Pickering, Mr. Ellery.  When Mr. Ellery demanded repayment of his portion, Eades threatened to flee with his mermaid.  What followed was an amusing account described in The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History by Jan Bondeson:

“In the early 1800s, it was of frequent occurrent that adventurers abducted wealthy heiresses, whom they had previously seduced, to marry without the consent of their parents.  To stop these immoral practices, the parents could appeal to the lord chancellor’s court, since the lord chancellor had the authority to make an eloped young lady his ward (a ward in Chancery); she was then not allowed to marry without his permission.  On November 20, 1822, Mr. Ellery appeared before the court of Chancery to restrain Captain Eades from moving or selling the mermaid…It is recorded that Lord Eldon, the lord chancellor, listened to his harangues with some mirth.”

In the end, the mermaid was seized by customs officials and determined a fake by anatomist and zoologist William Clift.  He deduced that the mermaid was part orangutan/baboon/fish (possibly salmon).  Eventually it was decided to be of Japanese origin.  Eades vehemently fought the decision by hiring naturalists who declared it a newly discovered species. Debates ensued, but by January of 1823 the exhibition was taken down and London was officially over Eades’s mashup creature.  This, however, was not the end of the hoax mermaid’s travels.  You can read all about it in Bordenson’s book, including where the mermaid is today and where it journeyed after Eades’s death.

*Some accounts say Eades believed the mermaid was real.  The mermaid was credited as authentic for a time, but really?  Who believes in scary ugly mermaids?

Susan Ardelie is the author of Shadow Fire Lady, the first book in the Incorporeal Lords series, a historical paranormal romance.  

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Birth Order Theory & The Georgian Family Portrait

I haven’t posted many Georgian family portraits, mostly because they tend to show domestic affairs in a retiring light, but I do enjoy John Lee and His Family by John Russell. Unlike many portraits of listless heads, John Lee’s Family appears bursting with personality.  This is despite the fact that a) the children are dressed in today’s equivalent of white t-shirts in group photos, and b) they share outgrown bowl style haircuts.  Kinda cute, actually.

Although there aren’t any definite indicators of sex like we would use today, I’m inclined to say the three central children are male while the remaining three are female.  The two golden haired children around the mother also look like twins, but again, reckless speculation.  You, readers, will simply have to give me your take as I have thrown research out the window and had my fun labeling the children with their respective (and imaginary roles).

John Lee and His Family by John Russell (1809)

click to enlarge

What do you think?  Have I got it all wrong and maligned the children?  Is birth order theory a sham?  And what about Dad?  Do you have a read on him or another interpretation of the family?  Leave me your comments. I’d love to hear them!

Susan Ardelie is the author of Shadow Fire Lady, the first book in the Incorporeal Lords series, a historical paranormal romance.  

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow Life Takes Lemons by email at the top right of the page.

Poking Fun at Georgie

In the words of JT on your birthday…

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George Washington by Valentine Green after Charles Willson Peale (1785)

This portrait just makes me laugh.  There are lots of problems I could point out, but I think you guys can discover them on your own.  Unfortunate aspects aside though, our oldest president almost pulls off dashing, especially when compared with “I’ve lost me teeth” portrait we all know and probably don’t love.

Today’s historical trivia

Is today George Washington’s birthday?  My ICal says it is but sadly, it’s wrong. Georgie’s birthday actually falls on February 22nd.  So why do calendars (and many people) still think it’s George Washington’s birthday today?  Read here.

A Review of A River in Time

A River in Time by Deborah Courville

One of the things I like about reading novels by history enthusiasts is the energy they channel into their writing. Deborah Courville, a docent a The Oldest House, and author of A River in Time, is no exception. Right off, I could tell she enjoyed exploring The Oldest House’s history, and as a charitable novella*, this absolutely works because the target audience is those who’ve visited. But I haven’t stepped foot into the ‘living museum’ in Laceyville, Pennsylvania, and prior to reading purposely didn’t Google a darned thing because I wanted to test out whether or not the story would quell my interest. I’m pleased to say it did, for whether or not you pick up this book in Pennsylvania or on Amazon, the story is sweet and charming.

A River in Time is essentially an American time travel novella circa present day and 1795. Like Courville, Izzy, the heroine, is a volunteer at The Oldest House, except she has the misfortune (or perhaps fortune) to travel back to 1795. With the ability to think quickly on her feet, Izzy assumes the identity of Countess Isabeau de Villehardouin, an actual relative of hers who lived in the 18th century, but unlike the real countess, Izzy is pretty clueless on how to deal with 18th century life. Luckily, Izzy time traveled under an oak tree at The Oldest House and into the hospitality of the Sturdevants, possibly the nicest family in Laceyville. Without family back in the 21st century, it’s not long before Izzy begins to find a place within the gentle Sturdevants. Joshua, a law student mentored by a colleague of Thomas Jefferson’s and brother to the friendly couple living at the house, takes a fancy to Izzy. Their romance is rather sweet. Guided by a balance of his forward-thinking and Izzy’s modern sensibilities, their unintended courtship presents the main conflict in the tale beyond the time traveling snafu.

Since A River in Time is a 148 pages, which straddles the lines between novel and novella, I expected a fast pace of events, but once Izzy realizes her conflict–return to her time or possibly stay in 1795–her whole thought process felt whirlwind.  In the author’s defense, love is kinda like that, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a little bit missing.  Joshua’s turnabout acceptance of his time traveling lady also seemed a bit sudden, but I honestly think this about 99% of time traveling novels and I did enjoy Courville’s explanation of how Joshua came to understand what would have been a mind blowing notion before television and Google.  Given his character, it made sense, and I like sense.  By the novella’s end, much like Izzy I got hooked on the family and found my interest in The Oldest House sufficiently fanned. I imagine a visit, with the perspective from the novella, would make it an absolute historical delight.

Recommended to lovers of small town 18th century American history, fans of sweet family romances, and anybody who thinks time travel to 1795 America might just be awesome.  Book benefactors take note: *Proceeds from A River in Time are donated to The Oldest House in Laceyville, PA for its upkeep and repair.

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A Review of ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’

How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore

Thomas Day is the ultimate 18th century misogynist.  He was also an abolitionist, philanthropist, Rousseau obsessive, and a famous children’s writer, but let’s get one thing straight: he was a complete tool.  He expected in a wife more than the average Georgian male desired in every paragon of womanhood he could possibly meet.  Instead of virtue and social poise, he wanted a precise definition of perfection, and despite chancing on the only woman in the world who could give it to him, he was never satisfied with her.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  As Wendy Moore recounts in her delightful book, ‘How to Create The Perfect Wife,’ Thomas Day’s adventure begins with a harebrained idea, borne of dejection after a disastrous betrothal, to mold a child into his future wife.  He wanted his Sophie, the virtuous, frugal, and faithfully abiding wife to Rousseau’s Emile, and like Moore suggests, set about recreating Pygmalion’s Galatea.

Pygmalion and Galatea

Pygmalion and Galatea by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy Trioson (1819)

To accomplish his task, Day and a friend travel to a foundling hospital, select two sprightly candidates, Sabrina and Lucretia, and inform them of a future apprenticeship, kindly leaving out the true facts of the matter.  Day then concocts an educational program and, after a year, chooses Sabrina, the superior-minded and better behaved of the two girls, to be his future wife.  What follows is a hardening process in order to prepare Sabrina for asceticism which, in Day’s estimation, means a departure from fashionable society in order to live a life of scarcity.  His process is nothing short of psychological torture, freezing Sabrina, shooting at her, and generally wobbling the poor girl’s wits until she cracks.

Eventually, perhaps recognizing her imminent peril, Sabrina commits a willful indiscretion.  However minor, it signals a connubial death knell to Thomas Day and he casts her aside.   Most amazing about Sabrina’s ordeal is that the experiment wasn’t exactly commenced in secret.  A number of well-to-do Georgians witnessed Day’s attempt to carve an ideal from flesh and never made a peep.  So much for the Age of Enlightenment.  If there is a major pitfall among Georgian intellectuals in this story, it is the emotional detritus created by a strict adherence to logic and thus, the entire abandonment of heart for mind.

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright 1770

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright (1770)

Sabrina was just one casualty of the movement, though Day would argue any future with him was an improvement upon what the foundling hospital could provide.  ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ leaves readers to agree or disagree on that point, but Moore’s dry wit in portraying Day is undeniable.  For all that Day is exasperating in his treatment of women, he’s a fascinating fellow.  Through Day’s misadventures, Moore captures a philosophical culture that even its father, Rousseau, found lacking beyond theoretical bounds.  ‘How to Create the Perfect Wife’ is as compelling a social history as it is an arousing biography of an unusual man and for Georgian enthusiasts, it’s a must read.

Review of ‘Vicious’, Plus an Interview with the Author Patricia Beykrat

Vicious by Patricia Beykrat

I’d like to introduce you guys to the author of this gorgeous looking novella, ‘Vicious’.  Her name’s Patricia Beykrat, whom you may know as the blogger Madame de Pique.  Her novella is being released today (congratulations, Patricia!) and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book.  So here, for your delectation, is the interview, followed by my review of ‘Vicious: A Confession’, and lastly, the official book description.

Interview with the author

1. The setting for Vicious is the decadent Rome of nightclubs, 5 star hotels, upscale cars and country villas.  Which atmospheric qualities prompted you to choose this setting over other playgrounds of the rich?  Have you been to Rome yourself?

 

For a moribund character like Dante, Rome’s climate of eternity makes an irrefutable oxymoron to give prominence to his eventual death and actually reflect the inherent longing for immortality that more or less provoked it. Though I’ve never even set foot on Italian land, the idea of such a setting came natural to me after a period dedicated to musings which had my thoughts coagulate into coherent plans. There’s just something about Roman lifestyle as I encountered it in novels and memoirs, something so brisk and pensive, so full of vivid contrasts, that I was irrevocably convinced Dante would not gain verity in any other background. Call it a mere conjecture, but despite the city being scarcely depicted throughout ‘Vicious’, I felt mentions of it added a lot to the overall atmosphere. So Rome became a necessary presence.

 

2. Antiheroes are one of my favorite types of heroes and I think they can be harder to write than a moralistic, if flawed, hero.  Likeability factor is an issue, though I’m not sure Dante’s concerned with perception: he fully expects to be worshiped.  As the author, were you concerned readers wouldn’t like him in the conventional sense?  Or is he above this petty need because he considers himself superior?  

 

Dante’s what I see as the potential of all humankind for a plethora of reasons. He’s, to say, exponential for most men in the given circumstances, though his confessions are not meant to reassemble any ordinary ones while still succeeding to sound familiar. I projected him to incorporate a concept-being readers could abhor, hate or misunderstand at their own will but who could nonetheless exert some fascination. To what extent I fulfilled my goal only the audience can decide.

 

3. At his essence, Dante is an hedonic egoist.  Although he has no supernatural abilities, he reminded me of a Lestat or a Lucifer, a fallen angel who likens himself to a golden god. Except, unlike those characters, he has to deal with the trappings of mortality. What inspired you to write his story?

 

At the time ‘Vicious’ emerged as a distinct project, I had long been flirting with the idea of creating a character who can incorporate wealth, brilliance, beauty and tragedy in a less common manner. It was merely a matter of proper words to set it in a visible form and my ideal voice of a smart histrionic hero with an incurable penchant for drama developed a tone.

 

My Review of ‘Vicious’

The bucket list, the words pride or ignorance never allowed you to say, the cliched desiderata preceding THE END—these are a comfort to the dying.  But for Dante Serafino, a self-described “paradigm of the mythological narcissist,” comfort lies elsewhere.

As an hedonic ideal, he is a Byronic antihero, as primitive as he is urbane.  He is also infinitely superior to the lambs who smugly abide by social order; lambs, he later points out, who experience the chemical high of watching the modern day sinners of Gomorrah fall down.  And who, Dante begins to suggest, is immoral ?

The thing is though, Dante’s journey has very little to do with immorality because at the heart of ‘Vicious’ is deeper tangle: immortality in immorality versus mortality in morality.  Put simply: if you’re alive, you must dare to live in whichever manner ameliorates your inevitability.  Or at least that’s integral to Dante’s argument.  The account proffered is his alone, intimate and self-satisfied.  From his taunting introduction, the reader is invited to follow the exploits, past and present, leading to his last hurrah.  It is a story of spiraling, the bisexual playboy and young financial wunderkind forced to contemplate his existence when I suspect he’d rather be partying.  It’s Dante’s in memorium of the self.

By the end of his tale, you might not like him, you might even loathe him, but his uncommonness transfixes.  And liking him would be beside the point.  It’s the singularity of voice that makes ‘Vicious’ a riveting morsel of novella.  After journeying with him, I was eager to see how he’d bow out, and Ms. Beykrat did not disappoint. ‘Vicious’ has a raw quality about it; imbued within is an ability to both attract and repel a reader. As a psychological thriller, it focuses on the age-old theme of man against self. And perhaps man for himself. I definitely recommend it for readers who enjoy antiheroes, intimate narratives predominated by self-reflection, and dark themes.  If that sounds like your kind of thing . . .

Vicious is available at the following retailers:

Amazon

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Book Description

Dante blames his qualities for his flaws, envisions himself as a child of vice and plunges into a spiral of sex and alcohol (because humans are “so predictably clichéd”) only to forget he was willing to sacrifice everything for them. Young, rich and a prodigious genius, with a penchant for luxury… he ultimately dies, not before delivering his swan-song, a story of decay, sensuality and self-destruction meant to conquer immortality.