Tag Archives: 18th Century

Peach and Persimmon

Craving fresh peaches this time of year is dangerous.  Fortunately, persimmons are available through the rest of February, but these peaches and persimmons (including one dapper duke with cheetah cuffs) are tasty all year long.

Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere – Alexander Roslin  (1756)

 Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Fiodorovna - Alexander Roslin  (1777)

Princess Anna Alexandrovna Galitzin - Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun  (1797)

Johann Joachim Winckelmann – Anton von Maron (1768)

 Varvara Ladomirsky – Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun

 Madame Bouret as Diana – Jean Marc Nattier (1745)

 Victor de Rochechouart, Duc de Mortemart – Jean-Marc Nattier (1756)

Portrait of a Woman, possibly Madame Claude Lambert de Thorigny – Nicolas de Largillierre (1696)

 Grand Prince Pavel Petrovich - Virgilius Erichsen

 Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante - George Romney (1784)

If This Were The 18th Century: Madonna’s Superbowl Half-Time Performance

I was planning on featuring this Madonna performance in an entirely different post, but it’s too tempting now that she performed “Vogue” at the Superbowl.  She’s stunningly perfect with her platinum pouf, darkened brows, and beauty patch near the eye (signifying passion).  Very Madame Pompadour.  And like Madonna at her best, she makes it all look naughty.

Curious about patches?  See To Patch or Not to Patch

Ban and Mary: A Lover’s Wager

For a fellow who had earned the nickname “Bloody Ban”, Banastre Tarleton was quite the ladies’ man.  Although not a large man, his compelling physical presence belied his short stature.  He was strong and athletic with reddish hair and dark eyes.  It was his arrogant charm, however, that tantalized the ladies as much as (if not more than) his handsome features and his heroism.

Mary Robinson as Perdita, John Hoppner, 1782

One of the most desirable women in England at the time, the actress Mary Robinson, better known as Perdita, met him through the Prince Regent.  Upon his return to England, Tarleton was hailed as a hero, an honor which granted him membership into Prinny’s exclusive set.  Mary Robinson had been one of Prinny’s many mistresses and had lately found a new protector in Lord Malden.  Much like Tarleton, Malden was convinced of his sexual prowess.  He bet that Mary would remain faithful to him even if Tarleton attempted to woo her away from him.  An account of the bet in the salacious Memoirs of Perdita claimed Tarleton “would not only win her from Malden, but also jilt her.”

Nice guy.

Ever the gambling man, Tarleton’s wager was well placed.  Several weeks after the planned seduction, Mary was in Tarleton’s bed and Lord Malden was astonished.  Up until this point, the three had been a mischievous trio, amusing themselves by playing tricks on Mary’s admirers and would-be suitors.  Now they had a fracture.

Ban in his green coat uniform

Mary was furious when she discovered herself the victim of their scheme.  As his hubris had made him a grand fool, Lord Malden relinquished his role as Mary’s protector, though he did settle upon her an annuity and also a house in Berkley Square.  Tarleton, never truly ruffled by anything, weathered the storm.  He was at Mary’s side in June when she suffered a traffic accident in Hyde Park and this dilligence in attending to her awarded him her forgiveness.

Although their passionate affair evolved into one of increasing strife and reconciliation, Tarleton remained Mary’s lover for 15 years.  They were the celebrity couple of their time.  Wherever they went—to balls, operas, political gatherings—people whispered.

Considered the most fashionably dressed in any room, the young couple made a beautiful pair and the papers loved them for it.  The war hero and actress were fodder for the insatiable public, appearing in the papers with as much frequency as celebrities in today’s supermarket newsrags.  James Gillray, a fledgling cartoonist at the time, published his scathing cartoon, “The Thunderer” (subtitled “Vide; Every Man in his Humour, alter’d from Ben Johnson”) in 1792.

The featherhead is none other than the Prince Regent (the triple feather was his father’s emblem).  Tarleton (with a noticeably large package in his breeches) is regaling Prinny with tales of war.  Mary is the whirligig above the door with a sign reading “A la mode beef, hot every night.”  Every man, we are to assume, gets to have a go at her.  The dialogue reads as follows:

Throughout his relationship with Mary, Tarleton was criticized for keeping around a loose woman who was nothing but a hindrance to him.  His family keenly disapproved, in part because while around Mary, he could not seem to live within his means.  From the previous post, we know this problem predates Mary, but perhaps they thought Mary a bad egg, worsening Tarleton’s profligacy through influence.  They would not be the first family to do so.

Tarleton’s lavish lifestyle with Mary eventually caught up with.  In 1783 his family offered to pay his most pressing debts, a total of £5,000, if he would leave for the continent without his lover.  In desperation, Mary borrowed to prevent this eventuality and chased after him.  She suffered a miscarriage on her journey and, as her biographer Paula Byrne has speculated, experienced partial paralysis of her lower limbs, possibly at the hands of a malpracticing midwife.  Tarleton was greatly aggrieved to hear the news and the couple swiftly reunited in France.

Mrs Mary Robinson – Perdita by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781

Mary’s condition seems to be of no impediment to their relationship.  Although they were on occassion known to be unfaithful, they lived together for many years after her health problems commenced and became known as “the wandering couple”, a reference to their travels while under pressure of debts.

Regarding one affair of signifcance, Tarleton simply shrugged off Mary’s liason with Charles James Fox, saying, “I shall ever applaud the Perdita for being the most generous woman on earth.”  Mary was not so equanimous when Tarleton diddled with another lady.  From the late 1780s, she was known to write poetry and novels portraying Tarleton as a villain and whatnot.

The details of their eventual breakup are not known, but we do know that Tarleton had political ambitions.  He first ran for parliament in 1784, but he didn’t win a seat until 1790.

Over the years, Mary, plagued by her condition, evolved into an independent woman of letters.  Her peers called her “The English Sappho”.  She wrote prolifically, producing numerous poems, six novels, two plays, and a feminist treaty a la A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Wollstonecraft.  She was also working on her unfinished memoirs.

Her liberal, feminist leanings did no favors for Tarleton’s political career.  Compared to his Tory brother (whom he actually ran against once), Tarleton did vote for parliamentary opposition as a Whig, but he was also well known for his support of the slave trade.  One can see how this would not go over well with Mary.

Contemplation, Mrs. Mary Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1783-1784 (Wallace Collection)

The couple eventually parted ways in 1797.  Mary was left with thousands of pounds of debt, presumably shared, but her relationship with Tarleton had been costly.  When he first ran for MP in 1784, creditors found the couple, living again in England, and took possession of a large majority of Mary’s property.

Tarleton, although a war hero and the author of the successful History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, had very little to live on, essentially half military pay of £341.  Mary also earned  income off her novels, but the numbers were dismal.  Over her writing career, she earned approxiately £460.  Given her and Tarleton’s financial disappointments, perhaps the same woman who published the poem Sappho and Phaon in 1796, a markedly different poem than her “Ode to Valour“, had reason to be bitter.

A year after their final breakup, Tarleton married Susan Priscilla Bertie, the illegitimate daughter of the 4th and last Duke of Ancaster.  They were married for 35 years, but had no children.

After  years of poor health, Mary died in 1800, but in an interesting twist of fates, Susan Tarleton befriended Mary’s only daughter, Mary Elizabeth Robinson.  When Mary Elizabeth, a novelist herself, published the anthology The Wild Wreath in 1804, the engravings were based on drawings of “Mrs. B. Tarleton”.  Their friendship is not entirely surpising given that Mary Elizabeth was raised around Tarleton.  Since she likely had an enduring connection to the  man who was father to her for over 15 years, it was even to be expected.

For more about Mary Robinson and Banastre Tarleton:

My previous post: Handsome Devil’s and their Deeds: Banastre Tarleton

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide: Tart of the Week: Mary “Perdita” Robinson

Perdita, a biography by Paula Byrne

Mary Robinson’s bio and links to her works from the University of Pennsylvania’s Celebration of Women Writers

Mary Robinson: A Life Lived Extraordinarily (Jane Austen Centre) 

A short article on Sappho and Phaon from The Guardian

The First Actresses Exhibition: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons

All for Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson by Amanda Elyot (a novel)

The Prince’s Mistress: Perdita, a life of Mary Robinson by Hester Davenport

For the numbers on Ban and Mary’s pay scale see, Mary Robinson: Select Poems, edited By Judith Pascoe

Handsome Devils and their Deeds: Banastre Tarleton

 

In the eternal bad guy versus good guy debate, Banastre Tarleton was the original Byronic hero before the actual Byron existed.  To the patriots of the American Revolution, he was a villain, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” in the truest sense.  Along with Benedict Arnold, no other soldier treading on American soil was more hated than Tarleton.  His youth and the robust traits that sprung for it–recklessness, daring, and outright aggression on the field–made the commander of the British Legion a formidable opponent.  So formidable, in fact, that Americans used him as propaganda.

“Join, or Die” by Benjamin Franklin, 1754 (otherise known as Join and Die to the likes of Tarleton)

“Join, or Die” was the motto of the revolutionaries.  Tarleton, an upstart in the eyes of his elder superiors, spawned a reply of his own.  “Tarleton’s quarter”, which ironically meant “give no quarter”, became the rallying cry for the Battle of Cowpens where the Americans gained a decisive victory against the British.  Capitalizing on Tarleton’s signature style of rushing brutal attacks, William Washington, the commander of the light dragoons, flanked the British troops and ushered in a defeat.  That he engaged in vicious hand to hand combat with the fleeing Tarleton earned him a silver medal and only served to bolster Tarleton’s reputation.  Ignominious, would be the word.

Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782

Tarleton was no gentleman’s war hero.  Although European convention dictated that acts of war occur strictly on the field, Tarleton took his cue from the guerilla fighters he opposed.  He fought dirty, burning down houses, razings crops and livestock.  Upon one occasion, he is reputed to have unearthed a widow’s husband from the grave—a hateful act presumably to terrorize the local populace and to illustrate that those resisting British rule would be punished by any means possible.  Later he dined at the widow’s table, undoubtedly enjoying his meal with gusto.  He was, after all, making a point.

Five years after sailing to America, the commander best known for massacring the surrendered patriots at Waxhaws was doing pretty well for himself.  In England, Tarleton had been the third eldest son of an upper middle class merchant and slaver from Liverpool.  As befit his station, he prepared for a perfectly staid career in law at Middle Temple in London and University College in Oxford.  His father’s death in 1773 changed all that.

With a £5,000 inheritance to burn, Tarleton squandered a small fortune on gaming and prostitutes.  By 1775, he was desperate for a change of pace.  Faced with penury and his family’s disapproval, he did what younger sons normally did: He joined the cavalry with the lowest purchased rank of cornet.  Despite his eventual rise to general in 1812, he never had to purchase another rank again.  The man who was hopeless to live within his means had finally found something he excelled at.

Engraving depicting fight against Tarleton’s cavalry

Tarleton, if anything, was an aggressive military strategist.  On a scouting trip, he captured General Charles Lee by threatening to burn down the tavern the general was staying in.  This feat was accomplished in 15 minutes, no less.  As the story goes,  the unlucky Lee was taken hatless in his dressing gown.  One for Team George!  (Boo, says this American)

Later, Tarleton would lead a raid to capture the then govenor Thomas Jefferson.  History might have played out differently if he had succeeded in more than disrupting the Virginia legislature.  Jefferson, alerted by Jack Jouette, the “Paul Revere of the South”, slipped quietly out of reach and that was the end of that.

Tarleton would evenutally write a book about his experiences during the American Revolution.  A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America was more than an eyewitness account, it was a self-congratulatory nod in the braggart’s favor.  Not that he needed any help in that department.  He killed with almost as much fanfare as he bedded women.

And did he have a favorite lady, you ask?  None other than Mrs. Robinson, the actress and woman of letters.   I’ll post their story tomorrow in anticipation of February, the month of romance blogging.  To those of you who scorn Valentine’s Day, not to worry; I’ve got something planned for you, too.   It’s called the anti-romance tag.

 

Follies: An 18th Century Fascination

My interest with follies began in the early summer of 2001.  I had hiked up a long, sloping hill in Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s Guell park, seeking to bask in the artist’s vision beneath a sweltering midday sun.

I knew what to expect.  I had seen the apartment he’d designed along the busy street far from El Carmel Hill; strolled through the perpetually-in-progress La Sagrada Familia.  In the light of his creations, I understood one thing: magic pervades his work.  The symmetry feels utterly foreign, as though you’ve stepped in Dali painting and are unsure whether you wish to find your way out.  His world is at times sinister, at others stricken with childish delights, but despite its fantastical elements, Gaudi’s buildings would not be considered follies.

 

The demarcation between fantasy and folly lies in the building’s intended use, though approaching the nineteenth century, follies were increasingly allocated to activities beyond titillating one’s family and friends.

A confusing and ambiguous definition, when you get down to it.

Essentially, the strict definition of a folly distills down to two components.  One: does the building’s express purpose lie in ornamentation?  Two: is the nature of the structure symbolically relevant in terms of ideals and/or values?  Answer yes to both and you have genuine folly on your hands.

Sir Thomas Tresham’s Rushton Triangular Lodge, built 1593-1597.  This is what gets built when you imprison a Roman Catholic for not converting to Protestantism.   Throughout the design, you’ll see symbols of the Holy Trinity with its enthusiam for threes.

In addition to being expensive and impractical, follies were imitative in desgin.  Art wanted to reproduce a life already lived.  Like most trends, the initial concept of follies started with the privileged and trickled down to all who could afford historical aspirations, including the actor David Garrick

Garrick’s Temple by Johan Zoffany, 1762.  As a Shakespearean actor, Garrick desired to commemorate the playwright with a temple in his honor. Located on the north bank of the Thames in Hampton, London on what was once land adjoining Garrick’s villa, it’s the only known tribute devoted entirely to Shakespeare.   

Aristocrats whose estates boasted authentic ruins were envied by peers who viewed their lands as aesthetically barren.  To honor the upper class dictate of do thy neighbor one better, the 18th century—the last great hurrah of the landed aristocracy—saw a renewal in folly construction, although the trend was born some two centuries before.

Conceit was the lifeblood of these fantasy constructions.  Roman and Doric temples illustrated a desire to emulate classical virtues.  Nods to faraway cultures gave way to Egyptian pyramids, Chinese temples, and Tatar tents.  Travelling abroad, one might say, without ever leaving home.

Désert de Retz near Chambourcy, France

Simple peasant virtues, like those expressed in Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, were somewhat rarer but appeared in the form of mills, cottages, and rustic villages.  As the eighteenth century progressed, exoticism surfaced much the same way Chinoiserie did in textiles and home décor in the early 1700s.  Chinese pagodas and Japanese bridges were favored in lieu of castles and ruins, furthering euphoria over displaying one’s wealth through useless landscape ornaments.

 Brizlee Tower, from A Description and Historical View of Alnwick, 1822

Many notable follies were built to commemorate a loved one, particularly a woman.  Brizlee Tower, located on Hulne park near Alnwick Castle, was commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, after Lady Elizabeth Seymour’s death in 1776.  In high gothic style, the tower sits atop a hill and rises 26 meters for a clear birdseye view from the north, east, and west.  As with a number of the tower follies, a beacon is surmounted at its heights.  When lit the fire can be seen for miles around.

Broadway Tower via Wiki Commons 

This is likewise the case with Broadway Tower.  Built in 1799 for Lady Coventry, the tower functioned as a sort of test to ascertain whether or not she could see its beacon from her house in Worcestershire, 22 miles away.  She could.

Stancombe Lake and Temple from The Temple

Among the most romantic examples of a folly is the temple at Stancombe Park in Gloucestershire.  Although its creator, the reverend David Purnell-Edwards, was newly married and more pointedly a reverend at the time, the temple was an ode to his secret lover. The legend surrounding its construction is something of an amusing tale.  Apparently, when Purnell-Edwards married, the dowry he received was as equally generous as the physical proportions of his bride.  We are left to imagine they didn’t take well together.  Mismatched personality, sizist attitude, no love lost–well, irrespective of the facts, Purnell-Edwards had a beautiful gyspy on the side and no suitable place to engage in trysts with her.

His solution?  Construct a romantic walk around a two acre lake, conceive a series of tunnels too narrow for the wifey to fit through (they measured just over three feet in width), and at the walk’s end, erect a temple outfitted with snuggling quarters and a boudoir.  The good news is that for £300  a night, the lover’s tryst is all yours to re-enact.  The bad news, however, is that considering it was once voted the most romantic place in Britain, that re-enactment has been set on repeat for quite some time now.

Happy 2012, readers, and thanks for being among the first visitors of the new year!  Your comments and faithful readership are very much appreciated!

Divorce and The French Revolution

Le Divorce by Le Sueur

 On September 20, 1792, the Legislative Assembly of the French Republic legalized divorce.  This was a first in the country’s history.  Under the Ancien Regime, the unshackling of partners was unthinkable–a move that would potentially crumble the foundation on which the First and Second Estates derived their power.

 In his Traité du contract de mariage of 1771, the French jurist Robert-Joseph Pothier wrote :

Gross adultery on the wife’s behalf and instances of extreme spousal abuse counted as rare exceptions for separation when annulment no longer remained a possibility.  In essence, marriages were immediately consummated for a reason and unless the petitioner produced testimony that might invalidate the original grounds for marriage, the couple was married until death do they part.

In cases where the law permited separation of any sort, two basic resolutions were recognized: séparation de corps et d’habitation, essentially of person/body and domicile, and less seldom, séparation de biens, or of financial accounts.  Consequently, an attitude of keeping families in their conjoined states prevailed.  As an additional argument against divorce, all children birthed during the marriage were rendered illegitimate upon the conclusion of formal legal proceedings.  Given the need for heirs, one can easily see how this could prove problematic.

Although the Enlightenment initially sparked the divorce debate, it was the French Revolution that succeeeded in secularizing family life.  Public institutions sought to invade the very private sentiments of individuals and turn them outward in service of the state.  In the first gasping breaths of the nineteenth century, a backlash developed against this transparency of state and individual, but for 24 years, marriage was viewed as a covenant which could be broken as all secular affairs could be torn down and if desired, rebuilt.  This resulted in 30,000 divorces between 1792 and 1803, the years when the divorce laws remained the most liberal.

The Morning after Marriage by James Gillray

In the centuries following the years wherein the divorce law of 1792 was active, married women and men were refused comparable rights to divorce until as late as 1975.  1884 saw the return of divorce in France, however limited.

Given its time, the law of 1792 was shockingly encompassing.  It allowed seven instances where legal proceedings were warranted:

  • “Insanity;
  • Conviction for crimes entailing corporal punishment or loss of civils rights;
  • Crimes, brutality, or grave injury inflicted by one partner on the other;
  • Notorious dissoluteness of morals;
  • Abandonment for at least two years;
  • Absence without news for at least five years; and,
  • Emigration (when taken as a sign of counterrevolutionary intentions.” 1

Note the oldest reason for marital dissolution–adultery–is nowhere to be found.

Increasingly, as the idealism of the French Revolution waned, restrictions were placed on the grounds warranting a divorce.  The Napoleonic Civil Code modified accessibilty to divorce, making it more difficult for a wife to leave her husband, as during the 1792 law, men and women enjoyed equal freedom to seek their happiness outside of marriage.  Instead of relying on grievances, Napoleon’s code initially proposed mutual incompatibility (later discarded) and/or mutual consent.  Smacks of his experience with Josephine, doesn’t it?  The formal reasons for divorce  written in the final code were: “adultery, infamous punishment of spouse, outrageous conduct, ill-usage, or grievous injury.”

If the history of divorce law during the French Revolution and/or the social circumstances warranting divorce interest you, there is a good wealth of literature out there, particularly in regard to a wife’s grievances.  Do see:

Works Cited for the Seven Grounds for Divorce

1  Aries, Philippe, and Georges Duby. “The Unstable Boundaries of the French Revolution.” A History of Private Life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1990. Print.

Napoleon’s Achy Breaky Heart: Milan, 27 November, 1796

Earlier this week I left you with Napoleon in Verona, depressed and a trifle desperate.  Today, he’s looking a little like this:

The Emperor Napoleon I by Vernet (*see note below if the fancy strikes you)

Josephine’s cavorting with Hippolyte Charles who incidentally does not have the makings of a weak chin.  I’m told this helps in the romance department.

To say the least, Monsieur Bonaparte is suspicious of his lady wife.  He’s gone from realizing his general awesomeness to seeing cracks reflected in his veneer.  And you see, it’s all Josephine’s fault.

The General Napoleon by Andrea Appiani

Our little bit of muslin is just too wonderful in her own right to pay attention to her new husband who, in addition to being short, is apparently “impecunious” and “irrepressible”.  Touché, darling.

Josephine Bonaparte de Beauharnais by Andrea Appiani, 1796

Years later on 19 December, 1805, Napoleon writes to her, “. . . I am still in Brüun.  The Russians have gone.  I have made a truce.  In a few days I shall see what I am going to be.   Deign, from the height of your grandeur, to trouble yourself a little about your slaves.”

On this day, however, this is what he has to say:

 (click to enlarge)

P.S.

*As a complete side note, the upside of the sad-faced painting by Vernet is that it comes in a melamine plate offered by the National Portrait Gallery.  It was also mentioned in December’s Oprah magainze, if that’s your thing.  The downside: it’s £12, double the price of the other melamine face plates.  But I suppose he was an Emperor and as such large and in charge so he has to have the biggest sized plate of the bunch.

Also

You’re going to have to forgive me about the ongoing post name in this series.  For some reason I had Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart in my head which is odd because a) not a fan of Billy Ray; and b) I hardly like country.  Hauntings of country songs past, I guess, but attributing Napoleon’s letters to Josephine a result of his achy, breaky heart has cured me of my problem.  Hopefully, I have not passed it on to all of you.

Queen of the Blues: Elizabeth Montagu’s Bluestockings

It all began with a gentleman who liked blue tights and intellectual women.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  The term “bluestockings” was used to categorize the elite female members of England’s smarty-pants club, and it was named after a pair of gams.

You see, once upon a time in the 1750s a lady named Elizabeth Montagu sought to make her home on Hill Street the intellectual capital of London.  She was to be England’s answer to the French salonnière, an aristocratic/upper bourgeosie hostess of late hour assemblies where men and women gathered on equal footing to discuss society’s fashionable arts.  From the written word to the painted embodiment, London’s distinguished came to discuss whatever was itching society at the present moment.  And unlike other club atmospheres of the day, it was a society undressed, the Georgian answer to casual attire and debate en famille.

For a club geared toward the intellectual expansion of women, its attendees were also prestigious.  On any given evening, one might encounter Samuel Johnson’s high-reaching troop including Oliver Goldsmith, Edward Gibbon, Sir Joseph Banks, David Garrick, Adam Smith, and many others.

Depiction of Samuel Johnson’s Literary Party – Joshua Reynolds, 1781

But there was only one man who wore blue stockings or so the legend says.  He was purportedly a philosopher who minded his economics over his fashion sense (ever an admirable trait among the enlightened).  Blue worsted stockings were cheap compared with bleached or black silk and he sported them on his frequent visits to Hill Street, flashing his legs at Montagu’s get-togethers whenever he was in the mood for a bit of high-minded chatting.

Michel Garnier – Elegant Lady at her Toilette (*modified)

As with many clubs, the bluestocking ladies were in constant transition, attending by the year and the inclination.  In the beginning they included Frances Boscawen, Elizabeth Carter, Catherine Talbot, Elizabeth Vesey, and of course, Elizabeth Montagu herself.

Although small in nature, the formation of the society was an achievement both applauded and criticized by society.  Horace Walpole called it “the first female club ever known,” and it probably was in the public sense.  Although feminine hunger for knowledge was admired and even encouraged in the highest circles of enlightened French society,  England still expected their women to uphold the traditional definition of “an accomplished lady.”  She would practice the delicate arts such as painting and playing the pianoforte, but she would not engage in criticism nor would she become a creator, much less of virtuoso.  That is not to say women failed to ascend to the heights of which many 18th century men considered the masculine landscape.  Richard Samuel’s 1779 painting, The Nine Great Living Muses of Great Britain, paid tribute to the torchbearers who led the weaker sex out of their darkened drawing rooms and into the public light.

From left to right: Elizabeth Carter, Anna Letitia Barbauld, Angelika Kauffmann, Elizabeth Linley, Catharine Macaulay, Elizabeth Montagu (our original bluestocking!), Elizabeth Griffith, Hannah More, and Charlotte Lennox.

Keep in mind the Bluestocking Society gathered some 40 years prior to Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women and Wollstonecraft was received as a radical, though for a variety of reasons, political, social, and personal.

Over time, particularly in the 19th century where the tightening of morals and social etiquette became the norm, the term “bluestocking” evolved in meaning.  As any romance novel reader knows, bluestockings were known to shake up the natural order.  They indulged in literature when society would rather relegate them to dancing or standing for gown fittings.  Instead of playing the shrinking violet or wallflower, they opined, debated, and asserted their intellectual independence over the common pitfalls of women: restrictive marriages, lack of economy and agency beyond household affairs.  Spinsterhood was uniquely suited to them, but many of the original bluestockings were married.  They were merely women who wanted an avenue of culture and contribution, women who espoused that the improvement of the female mind would benefit society at large.  They were bluestockings and yes readers, they were amazing.

Further Reading:

Reconsidering the Bluestocking – ten essays that “explore the Bluestockings’ social, economic, and intellectual achievements, including the publication of fiction and criticism, their plans for a utopian community, their charitable enterprises, and the management of a large coal-mining concern.”

Brilliant Women: 18th century bluestockings

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 2

Earlier last week I posted pics of 18th century fans, circa 1750 to be precise, from France and the Netherlands. After a few days lolling around Sarasota and wondering whether a series of postings to a) show additional pics of their C18-19 fan collection and b) extend my current Water for Elephants/Ringling Circus preoccupation would be appropriate for a site mostly devoted to Georgian England and Revolutionary France tidbits, I’ve decided that a week’s deviation from the usual topic might just be diverting.  You agree?  Good.  If not, I’ll see you next week!

The Fans

The left fan I must not have thought much of while at the museum because I have no picture of it in my possession.  Oops! The middle fan (2) caught my eye right away.

It’s of Napoleon and Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and Napoleon’s second wife.  The fan is circa 1810, made just prior to her becoming Empress in 1811.  I wonder if they were all the rage to carry or more of a promotional campaign on the Empire’s part?  My French isn’t exactly amazing; otherwise I would take the pains to translate the inscription on either side of the fans.  My guess without translation is that the fan commemorates the uniting of two empires, namely the French and the Austrian-Habsburg.  Oh, well look at that little bit of irony!  Vive la révolution!

 I find this fan visually pretty in a pale, ephemeral sort of way.  It’s the color of tea-stained rags with hints of relief in white and dove gray.  The scene presented to us is a wine festival with musicians and dancers, families and couples, all enjoying an evening out.  Odd color scheme for for what’s being staged, but it is an old fan dating to 1710.  It’s also Italian.  As with many fine fans, the paper is vellum and the sticks are ivory.  This contrasts with the Napoleon and Marie Louise fan whose sticks are wood.

The last fan in the bunch is another French one from 1750.  It’s typical of the period, ivory sticks, watercolor on paper leaf, and a tranquil peasant scene.

 The Making of Fans from the Ringling Museum

“The main components of a folding fan consist of two end sticks, called guards sticks, that protect the painted leaf within.  Typically, the painting was done in watercolor after which the shaped leaf was carefully scored and pleated, allowing the fan to unfold as it was opened.  The interior sticks and spine supporting the fans leaf,  made of materials as varied as elephant ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, exotics woods or bone, are joined at the base of the sticks with a single rivet.  The most expensive examples would then have gold or silver leaf applied to the carved decoration.  Handmade paper, woven silk, and vellum were all used to fashion the leaf.”

On tap for tomorrow:  Pictures of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling Family Mansion