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Archive for May, 2012

When Lady Caroline Lamb met Byron in 1812, the waltz was starting to gain traction with the more progressive elements of Society. This couples dance was considered rather racy in an age when stately group English country dances were the primary offerings at Almack’s.

Thomas Rowlandson’s image of the waltz in 1806

The vivacious and racy Lady Caroline Lamb met Lord Byron in 1812. She recalled that time in a letter she wrote 12 years later:

Devonshire House at that time was closed from my uncles death for one year – at Melbourne House where I lived the Waltzes and Quadrilles were being daily practised – Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, the Duke of Devonshire, Miss Milbank, and a number of foreigners coming here to learn…

You may imagine what forty or fifty people dancing from 12 in the morning until near dinner time all young gay & noisy were.
In the evenings we either had opposition suppers or went out to Balls and routs – Such was the life I then led when Moore and Rogers introduced Lord Byron to me… Caroline Lamb, 1824, in a letter to Captain Thomas Medwin

It is interesting to note that Caroline mentions Lady Jersey and Lady Cowper, two of the patronesses of Almack’s, where the waltz was banned. Eventually, however, the ultra exclusive Almack’s would cave in, and by 1814 the waltz was finally sanctioned. Young ladies would still need approval before a gentleman could clasp his arm around her waist, but the doors had been opened beyond the confines of the upper classes.

La Walze, Le Bon Genre, 1810. This caricature has a feeling of decadence.

By 1815, when Jane Austen’s Emma was published, the waltz has become so respectable that it would be danced in Highbury at the home of the Coles.

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.” - Emma

The waltz looks gentrified in this 1816 illustration.

More on the topic:

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As a blogger who is curious about all things in Jane Austen’s world and customs in her past that might have influenced her, I am still amazed at how one tiny clue points to another until I land on a series of sites that open up a whole new topic. While history foodies probably know about the elaborate lengths that pastry chefs took to please their patrons, the visual results of a full banquet are simply astounding. I can only assume that Georgian taste buds were equally pleased.

Modern chef and historian, Ivan Day, recreated a feast from the past using sugar structures and porcelain figures to arrange a fanciful garden centerpieces for the table.

I already knew about The Prince Regent’s elaborate 1811 dinner at Carlton House, which was described as thus:

“Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet.” – The Gentleman’s Magazine, describing the Prince Regent’s fete at Carlton House, June 19, 1811 in honor of the exiled French royal family.

The great kitchen at the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton could accommodate creating dishes for huge and fanciful banquets.

So great was the interest that the doors of Carlton House were opened for three days in a row. But instead of satisfying the curiosity of the masses, the result was ever-increasing crowds. Chaos ensued.

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039063/As-Queen-opens-Palace-Ballroom-public-story-decadent-royal-banquet-ever.html#ixzz1s7ijkAEv

Detail of the design for an elaborate garden centerpiece. These engravings were showcased in Le Cannameliste Français by famed confectionary chef, Joseph Gilliers, in the mid-18th century. View the entire centerpiece here: Click on this link.

The banquet featured a recreation of a landscape at its center. Such a method of decorating a table was not new, especially when it came to desserts. Elaborate set pieces with architectural French influence were created for tables using spun sugar and Sevres bisque figures to create fantasy landscapes. Before the Napoleonic Wars, travel over the English Channel between British and French courtiers and diplomats was common, and thus the French chef’s custom of creating these elaborate centerpieces became well-known in England. Upper class households vied for highly paid (and desired) French chefs, and by the 1820s these gentlemen had by and large invaded British upper class kitchens. Their ability to create dishes that feasted both the eyes and the stomach was unrivaled.

 SEVRES BISCUIT FIGURES CIRCA 1755, Modeled after François Boucher. Image @Christies.

This was an era when confectionary was considered as much a branch of the decorative arts as of cuisine, and porcelain for the table represented prestige as well as a demonstration of power. The combination of French chef, porcelain, and fanciful confectionary desserts served as symbols of prestige and wealth, for no ordinary household could offer such an extravagant display of food and panoply. (View this porcelain table centerpiece set.)

Detail of Gilliers’ templates for cut outs.

Most of the images of the banquets and figurines are copyrighted. I encourage you to click on the links to view the spectacular results of sugar and porcelain table centerpieces that mimic gardens, sculptures, and figures based on famous paintings. The fanciful recreation included redesigning tables as well.

Modern version of Gilliers table. Image @Simon Beer.

Gilliers’ 1751 sketch of the table, plus seating.

Amy Hauft, VCU sculpture department. Confectioner Joseph Gilliers conceived his 100-seat rococo fantasy for the serving of a single course — dessert — in a garden setting. The centerpiece atop the tailored white tablecloth was to be a sculpture made of sugar paste fortified with dried sturgeon bladder. There is no record that this table was ever built by Gilliers. Image@Richmond Times Dispatch

More on this fascinating topic:

Ivan Day’s  pavilion made from a “pastillage sugar paste for an exhibition at the Met in NYC two years ago. They were exact replicas of ones made for Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria in 1740. “

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Since the 18th century, satirists have had a fun time mocking dandies. In Hogarth to Cruickshank: social change in graphic satire, 1967, (Walker Publishing)  Mary Dorothy George classified 3 different kinds of print-shop dandies: 1.) the notorious dandy, 2) the effeminate dandy, and 3) dandies who were slavish in their imitation of  Beau Brummel.

Buckskin breeches, clawhammer coat, and riding boots. This ensemble from the Kyoto Costume Institute could well have been worn by Mr. Darcy as he toured the grounds of Pemberley.

I would add to those categories two more distinctions: the powerful dandy and the ridiculous dandy, or one who, from behavior or social standing, is a wholly ridiculous and insignificant creature. The latter exquisites, along with the slavish imitators and effeminate dandies, were fodder for cartoonists, especially Robert and Isaac Cruikshank, who took great glee in lampooning them in a series of hand colored engravings.

This exquisite was a wholly ridiculous creature, a true fashion victim.

According to Jane Rendell in a Pursuit of Pleasure, the word dandy may have originated from “jack-a-dandy”, a Scottish description of a person dressing up at a fair. The word dates back to the late 18th century/early 19th centuries. In the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1788, Francis Grose describes the dandy:

Dandy.  That’s the dandy;  i.e. the ton, the clever thing

Dandy.  grey Russet. A dirty brown. His coat’s dandy grey russet the colour of the Devil’s nutting bag.

Dandy. Prat. An insignificant or trifling fellow.

An effeminate dandy required a great deal of care. Cruikshank.

Much later, the word “dandy” is used to describe “Satinist” – Obs. rare”1, [f. Satin sb. + -ist.] A wearer of satin, a dandy. A new English dictionary on historical principles: founded mainly on the materials collected by the Philological Society, Volume 8, Part 2, 1914.

Beau Brummel’s influence in modifying men’s behavior and dress ranged far and wide, influencing the Prince Regent and his set.

Prinny’s set, or the Prince Regent’s friends, consisted of the Earl of Sefton, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Manners, “Poodle” Bing, and the Duke of Beaufort, serious dandies all. Somber and rich, these men epitomized the powerful, restrained dandy. Image @The Georgian Index

In Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England, Issue 33; Issue 61, Roger Sales identifies Henry Crawford and Tom Bertram of Mansfield Park as dandies: Tom because he is the quintessential Regency sports man, as well as rich and handsome; Henry, because of his mode of address, which shows a haughty attitude towards rural workers, and because he fashions his conversation “into exquisity little mirrors to reflect his own sense of superiority.” Henry makes elegant bows and frequently mocks others. His manners, like Beau Brummel’s, verge frequently on insolence – his stance is one of ennui and superiority at the same time. While Henry is not as handsome as Tom, he commands a room with his personality. I would classify Tom and Henry as notorious dandies, for both pushed the limits of what was considered proper behavior. The more modest Edmund Bertram would never behave like either man.

Hessian boots

John Thorpe of Northanger Abbey belongs in the category of the ridiculous dandy. He drives a gig, but imagines it to rival a phaeton, which is like comparing a toyota corrolla to a sleek jaguar. John uses cant, and one imagines that his clothes are too loud and his shirt points too high.

Great coat with numerous capes, a favorite menswear item described by romance writers.

As for Mr. Darcy, his looks and dress are effortlessly elegant. He doesn’t try to impress; he simply is a superior man. His arrogance, which Elizabeth Bennet found so off putting at first, comes naturally, for he is placed securely high in society. His inheritance and the cares, responsibilities and duties that great wealth bring exemplify the qualities of a gentleman who is a cut above the rest.  Beau Brummel, I imagine, would have found very little fault with Mr. Darcy.

Two dandies by Cruikshank dresssed to the nines. While exquisitely rigged out, they take tea in a mean hovel of a room. Note the ragged curtains and table cloth, the dishes on the floor and the wash hanging on the line overhead.

While the term dandy has come to mean many things, among my favorite cartoons of the Regency era are those that make sport of them. These caricatures must have been popular then, and are irresistible to view now.

A Dandy Fainting, or an Exquisite in Fits, Cruikshank. This scene at a private box at the opera gives one a sense of how similar it is to today’s private boxes at a stadium. Note the table with food and drink; the couch, and the curtain that allowed for privacy.

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I became acquainted with Lori Smith when she wrote her first book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Our association has continued with her new book, The Jane Austen Guide to Life. (Read my review here.) Please welcome Lori as I talk to her about her most recent writing experience. I hope to meet her, as well as many other Janeites, at the JASNA meeting in New York this fall:

Hi Lori! What were your reasons for writing this book as your follow up to A Walk With Jane Austen?

You know, I didn’t expect to write another Jane Austen book, so this book, which was actually my editor’s idea initially, came as a great gift and a surprise. It covers some of the same material as A Walk with Jane, but from a completely different viewpoint. While A Walk with Jane was so deeply personal and so much about my journey, this book steps back and looks at how Austen would advise women today if she could. I took everything we know about her life and all the wonderful stories she gave us, and tried to ferret out how she might guide us today.

Why will people regard the advice on romance and life from a 19th c. country spinster?

For those already members of the cult of Austen, this isn’t a tough sell, but I’m sure it will be for some. I mean, really, a woman who lived two hundred years ago, who wouldn’t understand modern dating, tweeting, texting—can she really have helpful advice?

But the thing is, we adore Austen for her lovely stories. She understood people, what motivated them, their faults and foibles. As one reviewer commented on Sense and Sensibility, she had “a great deal of good sense.” Her good sense is so welcome today, and still so useful. The issues she dealt with—fame, money, heartbreak—are the same ones we face today. I think she can help us bring back some of the graciousness of the time she lived in, help us imbue our own lives with grace and good sense.

What about today’s society would scandalize Jane Austen the most?

I’m sure it would be sex. There was plenty of raunchy behavior in Austen’s era, but it wasn’t on display the way it is now, in movies, TV shows, magazines. And it’s become so very casual. I don’t think she would know what to make of that.

What changes would she like most?

Well, she wrote in one letter about not knowing what to do about a new gown, and said “I wish such things were to be bought ready made.” (In Austen’s day, you had to buy fabric and then work with a dress-maker.) So I think she would love how easy and affordable fashion has become. (Not that she cared overly much about fashion.)

But I think she would be happiest that singleness has become a viable option for women, that women can work and earn their own keep and don’t have to be dependent on family or have to marry to survive. I think that would thrill her. She herself never married, and even with the income from her writing, was financially dependent upon her brothers.

On a personal level what advice from Jane meant most to you, and why?

This time around I really appreciated her perspective on the need to be thoughtful about romance—two concepts that don’t always go together in our world. And as someone who has lived with chronic Lyme disease for more than a decade, her own journey through a lengthy and mysterious disease touched me.

But every time I come back to Austen, more than anything else, I’m astounded by her joy. She celebrated the world, relished in it, brought so much energy to it. She laughed as much as possible, I’m sure, but her joy was deep as well, loved a quiet evening by the fire or sitting and watching the flow of the tide. If I could take one thing from Austen, it would be that joy and effervescence.

Bio:

As a child, Lori Smith’s mother had to pay her to read books. So it’s a bit ironic that she now gets paid to write them. Lori feels connections to Austen on many levels—as a writer, a single woman, an Anglican, and as someone struggling with a mysterious chronic illness. For her last book, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith, Lori spent a month in England tracing Austen’s life and works. Readers voted to give that book the Jane Austen Regency World Award for best nonfiction.

Her writing has also appeared in Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Beliefnet.com, Skirt!, and Today’s Christian Woman. Lori lives in Northern Virginia with her sweet but stubborn English lab, Bess.

Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVYt-QOJWO8
Blogs: http://www.writerlorismith.com, http://www.austenquotes.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writerlorismith
Twitter: @writerlorismith

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Portrait of Maria Edgeworth by John Downman (1807). Is it just wishful thinking on my part or does Jane Austen somewhat resemble this pretty, genteel author?

I’m sure others have been struck by this paragraph from Pride and Prejudice (see quote below), and wondered if perhaps it gives us a clue about how Cassandra was able to locate the many letters from Jane that she would destroy, for the majority of those that survived are innocuous and mundane. They reveal very little about the author’s observations and feelings about her family and friends, politics, and religion.

Cassandra, who outlived Jane by 26 years, kept her sister’s letters to reread during her lifetime. This gave her enough time to decide what to do with them. She burned most of Jane’s letters shortly before her death, redistributing the remaining few among friends and family.

Of the approximately 160 letters that survive from Jane, 95 were written to Cassandra. None of the letters Jane wrote to her parents survive, and very few to her brothers (none to Henry, her favorite brother). To be fair to Cassandra, who has been vilified by many for burning so many of Jane’s letters, it was the custom in those days to destroy such casual correspondence (much like we delete emails today).

A portion of Jane’s letter has been cut out. Image@Morgan Library

When they read their missives out loud to the family, the Austen sisters had a habit of censoring each other’s letters and leaving out sections that were meant to remain private.  Jane might have given us a clue in Pride and Prejudice on how Cassandra was able to go through thousands of letters and locate information that she was unwilling to pass down for posterity. In some instances Cassandra cut out the offending sentence, but generally she destroyed the entire letter. How did she know where to cut out only one sentence or passage?

This scene, in which Lydia has joined Colonel and Mrs. Foster in Brighton, gives us a clue:

When Lydia went away she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty, but her letters were always long expected and always very short. Those to her mother contained little else than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as made her quite wild; that she had a new gown or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs Forster called her and they were going to the camp; and from her correspondence with her sister there was still less to be learned, for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.

Reading out loud

Note how Kitty could not reveal the words and sentences that Lydia had underscored with lines, even to the family. Did Jane use such a system with Cassandra to keep her private thoughts only for her sister?  I’m curious to know.

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Inquiring readers, guest blogger Tony Grant is a marvelous photographer, as you might have discovered from the images that accompany his posts. A week or so ago he wrote a post about door knockers. He provided only two original images: the rest came from the web. Last weekend he rectified the situation, saying:

I drove into London to meet my daughter off the Cardiff coach at Victoria Coach Station today. I think I did an article on Belgravia once connected with the upstairs Downstairs series. Victoria is in Belgravia.To cut this story short, I had time to have a walk around Belgravia and along Eaton Square. The doors to those houses have a superfluity of Lion head door knockers.
What I have discovered taking these photographs is that  each lion head has it’s  own personality. They are all different which means they were all made individually, each from their own unique mould.

What struck me in viewing those photos is how beautifully painted the doors are. Tony is right – the lions all have their own personalities! Enjoy. Click on each image to view the larger photo.

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I’ve placed these gorgeous Ackermann fashion plates here  to wish my readers who are mothers a Happy Mother’s day. Aren’t these images precious?

1812 morning dress or domestic dress.

Click on images to enlarge.

1826 evening gowns, March.

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Jane Austen loved games and a good laugh. Had she lived today in the U.S.A., she would most likely have been a listener of NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” a talk show in which the weekly news is rehashed in a humorous format. Each week the radio show features a segment called Bluff the Listener, in which guest callers must guess which of three choices read to them is true. In this one the caller was told:

“The wisdom of the ages are found in the classic books of Western Civilization. The problem is, though, most of those important books are super boring. This week, we heard about an exciting adaptation of classic literature to a 21st Century form. Our panelists are going to tell you three stories. Guess that true story …”

Jane Austen tarot cards

The first story was about a deck building card game, featuring characters from classic literature:

CHARLIE PIERCE: The people behind “Magic: The Gathering” have spent a few years trying to find new frontiers of nerdery to which they can bring the youth of America, and they’ve come up with an idea for all dweebs, an adventure card game, starring the heroes of classic literature.

Each character, in what is going to be called The Dark Library, will be possessed of all the qualities developed for them by their original creators, plus a character-specific superpower bestowed by the makers of the game.

For example: Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo, the three harpooners from “Moby Dick” will each get you 125 marksmanship points. While Montresor, the dark villain of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Cask of Amontillado,” will carry with him 50 brooding points, capable of being overcome only by a greater number of optimism prime points, such as the combined one thousand OP points possessed by the Bennet sisters from “Pride and Prejudice.”

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: There will also be a special gold edged Mr. Darcy card, of which on five hundred will be made, that trumps every Jane Austen character, except Emma Woodhouse, whose archery skills will lay him low.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: “This is a field we’ve been itching to get into,” said Martha Willows Gausman, the company’s director of marketing. “The number of possibilities are absolutely limitless. And now that zombies have made Jane Austen cool again, the youth market is wide open.”

Alas, this card game was completely made up and was not the correct choice. To hear the entire Bluff the Listener game or to read the transcript, click on this link.

Regency card party

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The contest is open until May 15th. You have two chances of winning this book by leaving a comment. Click on image to enter.

Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is more popular than ever with publishers and readers. Many of her fans are attracted to her era, which they identify as one filled with grace, gentility, and good manners. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, author Lori Smith examines Jane Austen’s novels, letters, and life for insights that can help guide today’s woman through life’s passages. There is much good material to digest.

The most important thing is family. Jane was blessed with a large, supportive tribe. They encouraged her talents, reveling in her tales, giving her time to write, and enjoying her books as she was writing them. With much love and support she was able to pursue and develop her talent in an age when such a career was not easily open to women. When she began to write as a girl, Jane had no idea that she would ever make money from her talent, much less find the time to pursue her career.  Some lessons to extract from her persistence in writing are: Do what you would be willing to be poor for; temper your expectations; and share your gifts with the world.  Lucky for us Jane never gave up and weathered the dry giving for posterity six incomparable novels.

Lori Smith’s Guide moves from the essential to the romantic. Let me explain. It is hard to find true love if you don’t know what you want. So, Jane’s advice via Lori is: Be accepting of yourself. Be self-aware. And be sensible. If you’re never satisfied with yourself, then you can’t please others. It’s an axiom that Jane and her heroines followed:

Not only do Austen’s characters find love, they find themselves, and they improve themselves. They see their faults in ways they haven’t before. They realize what kinds of things they are capable of — and that at times they are capable of doing things badly — and this awareness spurs them to change.

Regarding romance, once a woman is open to changing her mind, she is receptive to so many possibilities – of the fact that she was wrong, of opening her eyes to others, of finding the right man. In Jane Austen’s era, a sense of community and belonging helped to guide a woman in the right direction. Jane’s characters (and the author herself) lived in a small, connected society, where friends and relatives knew many details about each other. This situation no longer exists for many of us today:

I think [Jane's] greatest advice to us would be to keep our eyes open and watch carefully, to not commit too quickly before we really understand a guy’s character.

Spoken like our wise mothers. The Guide continues to cover such topics as saving and spending, gratitude and enduring hardships. In the end, Jane shows us to live life to the fullest and to enjoy every moment. She was capable of making fun of herself and laugh even when things were not going her way.

Even the smaller things, that for most of us would only annoy us and lead to complaint, Jane approached with humor. She told Cassandra, “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”

In the end, no one can live our lives but ourselves. We can only follow our inner guide and the principles we have chosen to live by.

Lori Smith’s  The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman continues to inform us about our lives through the lessons that Jane Austen and her characters can teach us. Like her first book. A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori’s clear writing style is a delight to read. One can almost hear Jane speaking through her words. This book is a wonderful gift for mother’s day, for mothers to give to their daughters, and for men to understand the mind of a fine woman. It is also delightfully illustrated.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 regency tea cups.

Book Giveaway: To enter the book giveaway, click on this link. Contest is open until May 15th. Sadly, only those living in the US and Canada are eligible. Please leave a way to contact you in your comment.

Order the book in both hard cover and eBook format:

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: skirt! (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762773812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762773817

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I’ll admit it: The only thing that Jane Austen and Sherlock have in common, aside from their Britishness, is PBS and the BBC, who co-produce the many excellent film series and costume dramas that Jane Austen fans enjoy. That is my main excuse for reviewing a mystery set in the modern age. After watching Season One of Sherlock,  I eagerly looked forward to Season 2. I was not disappointed with the first episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. A number of viewers in the U.K., however, were outraged.

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, dominatrix

Parents who watched the Belgravia episode with their young children wrote to the BBC complaining about the plot – which revolved around a dominatrix – and the nudity. While no female parts were anatomically shown, a great deal of bare flesh was displayed for about 2-3 minutes. I seriously doubt that young children are able to understand the double entendres spoken by Sherlock and Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the woman whose craftiness and intelligence equals his. Much like a championship tennis game or chess match, it is great fun to watch these two characters connive, spar, tease and flirt in a game of mental and verbal one upmanship. And so, I surmise, that the irate parents were concerned about nudity, not subtext. Frankly, I’d be more angry about the explicit violence their children are exposed to in film and on television and try to put a halt to that, but what do I know?

Irene talks nonchalantly as the two men try not to react.

The plot in the first Season 2 episode is really is not so much about solving the mystery as about Sherlock finding himself  in thrall of Ms. Adler’s devious mind. A dominatrix who possesses incriminating photos of her sexual involvement with a British royal, she is able to do mental battle with Sherlock and hold her own. Upon first meeting her, Sherlock cannot make a “read” on her, for she reveals no clues about herself. How could she? She’s naked.  And so he finds her irresistibly intriguing.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson in Buckingham Palace. Unwilling to come, he refused to dress, a fact that barely surprised his roommie.

Some critics yawned at the plot, but I think they missed the point. This episode is all about Irene Adler tempting Sherlock out of his celibacy and distracting him with sexual thoughts. The episode was purportedly written to deflect any thoughts about Sherlock and Dr. Watson engaging in a homosexual relationship. I never had such a thought, but apparently many did.

Tit for tat. Cumberbatch gets to do a partial nude scene.

Once again Benedict Cumberbatch has done an outstanding job in portraying a man who, aside from his brilliant mind, is completely off his rocker. To me he is the definitive Sherlock. No other actor, past or present (even Robert Downey Jr) can match him in my eyes. By now, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), has grown accustomed to his strange roommie, and can anticipate how Sherlock will react at any given moment. The two odd friends have solidified into a smooth-working team.

Sherlock refuses to visit the crime scene, but is willing to study the site via WiFi. In this scene he is lecturing the inspector for suspecting the suspect.

Guest star, Lara Pulver, is one brave actress. Not only did she perform an important scene entirely in the nude, she was convincing as the woman who could outsmart Sherlock. I was highly captivated by their interplay.

Sherlock and Irene Adler discuss the crime in her sitting room. The camera zooms in on the actual scene as the two are solving the mystery. It’s these original touches that make this series so visually exciting.

If , after reading my take on the first episode, you still think the topic of A Scandal in Belgravia is too mature for your children, I suggest that you rent a movie for your offspring, trundle them off to a different room, then sit back and enjoy one of the more weirdly satisfying and witty mystery series on TV.

Sherlock will air tonight and on May 13th and May 20th for 1 1/2 hours at 9 PM EST (or check your local listing.) PBS has also arranged a twitter party during these events. Hash tag #SherlockPBS.

The episodes will stream online at PBSs website one day after the initial air date. Click here. 

Read my reviews of Sherlock Season One here.

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Elegancy and Decadence: The Age of the Regency is a BBC production hosted by Lucy Worsley, the author of If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. The video is one hour long. So, sit back and enjoy.

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Tony Grant has supplied us with yet another treat: a post about door knockers. After you have read it, you will want to hop on over to his blog, London Calling, in which he describes his trip to Venice. 

The quintessential door knocker in Georgian architecture is the brass lion head with a large brass ring gripped in its mouth. It has been used as a symbol of Great Britain for centuries. Trafalgar Square has four enormous bronze lions positioned on great granite plinths at the four corners of the base of Nelson’s Column. They are made from the melted down bronze from canons captured from French ships at The Battle of Trafalgar.

Lions at the base of Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square. Image @The Illustrated London News

All coats of arms relating to the monarchy have lions as a prominent feature of their design, usually rampant. Lions have been used symbolically since the Paleolithic period.

Egyptian lion sculpture carved out of limestone, Louvre

The Egyptians carved sphinxes, half man, half lion. They symbolise power and strength, courage and fortitude.

Heraldic lion

You can go to any part of London and you will come across Victorian or Georgian housing still with their original door furniture. Very often the door furniture will include a brass lion head door knocker. This could be a sign of Victorian and Georgian confidence. A sign for people of the greatest and largest empire the world has ever known. For the visitor it is their first contact with the house and a way of communicating their arrival by lifting the knocker and rapping it smartly against its back plate. The back plate to a lion head knocker is the lion’s head.

Lion door knocker. Image @Tony Grant

Knocking on a door does two things. First it makes the visitor take hold of the house. The hand grips the knocker. It is a like a handshake; a very English form of greeting. Secondly, through the sound of the knock it communicates to the occupants that somebody is visiting. The way the door is knocked can express other things too like haste, frustration, timidity or confidence.

Front door with lion knocker. Image @Tony Grant

The fact that many Georgian houses have door knockers that are the originals means that we today in the 21st century, who are still using these door knockers to gain entrance, have a palpable, physical connection to people from past generations and from all classes of a past society.

Downstairs to the servant's quarters, Bath. Image @Tony Grant

The servants belonging to the Georgian household would not have used the doorknocker of their own house. They would have slipped down the flight of stone steps near the front gate, to the servant’s quarters in the basement. However a footman or servant sent with a message or communication from another household would have used the front door knocker. The owners of the house would have knocked to alert their footman to open the door to them and their friends would have knocked to gain entrance too.

Door knocker made of brass. Image @Ruby Lane

A lot of door knockers are made from brass. Some are iron. Brass is a very special metal. It has a golden lustre when polished and expresses wealth, a friendly glow and a welcoming feel. Iron on the other hand can be aggressive and harsh. Iron against iron can cause a spark. It can rust and have unfriendly qualities. Brass on the other hand is benign. It is a malleable metal and has acoustic properties. In fact the brass door knocker on a Georgian front door can almost be regarded as a percussion instrument. The solid wooden door is the drum skin and the entrance hall behind it is the chamber within which the sound resonates and vibrates.

J. L. Settle door knocker at Portsmouth

Brass is used for many purposes, including bullet cases, artillery shell casings, horse accoutrements, locks, bearings, gears, musical instruments, horns and bells. It does not create a spark. It is low friction.

Brass is an alloy, which almost makes it a magical thing. It is an alloy of copper and zinc. The proportions can vary between the two metals to create different qualities in the brass. It is a substitutional alloy. This means that when the copper and zinc are melted together they replace some of each other’s atoms with their own atoms. Brass has been made since Roman times. You can imagine in the middle ages or earlier and perhaps even up to Georgian times people regarded blacksmiths and workers of metals almost as magicians being able to smelt ores and extract pure metals from their furnaces to make the most magical things. Brass is a difficult alloy to make, even more so than other alloys. Copper can be smelted easily but zinc cannot be smelted from it’s ore. Brass has to be created through what is called a cementation process. This is when smelted copper is mixed with the unsmelted zinc ore. This means that many impurities are included and the slag that is created has to be carefully separated during the alloy creating process. Zinc comes from rocks called hemimorphite and smithsonite. Lead is something that is also added to some brass alloys to create a different quality. However, sometimes, the lead leaches from the finished brass. Imagine that rubbing onto some unsuspecting visitors hands. Particles of lead unseen on the hands and transferred to the mouth and the digestive system.


That thought lends new credence to the famous scene in Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol when Scrooge returns home on a cold misty winters night,

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face.

Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

Another form of door knocker - that of a Roman god wearing a laurel wreath, Bath. Image@Tony Grant

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue.  But he put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and lighted his candle.”

Was it lead poisoning that was rotting Scrooges brain or just tiredness, misery, the cold and mist and darkness playing tricks with his imagination and senses?

Filing a door knocker. Image @History.org Foundation Journal

To make a lion head door knocker a few technical and difficult processes have to be carried out. A mould has to be made. A carver carves a lion head pattern out of wood. A mould maker uses a box filled with a mixture of sand and clay to make a fire-proof  mould. The wooden pattern is pressed into the sand and clay composite and a lion head knocker mould is thus created. The molten alloy of copper and zinc that creates the brass is then poured into the mould and left to cool and solidify. When cold the brass knocker can be extracted and filed and sanded down to get rid of any rough surfaces. In this process, craftsmen, metal workers geologists and miners would form a trail of work and economy. Finally the finished  door knocker would have been sold to a carpenter making a door to then be sold to a builder who would fix the door in the house he made for a new purchaser.

Door knocker at the Brighton dome at the Brighton Pavilion, early 19th c.

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