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Tag Archives: Victorian era

First of all: Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry I forgot to post yesterday! I was busy putting the finishing touches to Yuletide Truce, one of my Victorian holiday stories, which will be released later this year, so I’d be able to send it to my beta readers. I did send it to my beta readers last night (and of course, I’m now convinced they’ll hate me after reading the manuscript) (but hey, that’s a vast improvement over thinking my manuscript might prove fatal for my poor editor!!!)

Aigee, from Yuletide Truce, by Sandra SchwabAigee (short for Alan Garmond), one of the main characters in Yuletide Truce, has grown up in one of the poorest districts of London, before he was apprenticed to a bookseller at age eleven. He is torn between his new life and his old, and he often returns to his childhood haunts.

So, not surprisingly, for this story, I looked at some of the darker aspects of Victorian London, and one book in particular proved to be enormously helpful in finding out about the poorer population: Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

Mayhew was one of the co-founders of Punch (yes, we always come back to Punch, don’t we *grins*), though he severed the ties with the magazine only four years later. In 1849, the editors of another periodical, The Morning Chronicle, invited him to write a series about the working people of London under the title of “Labour and the Poor.” These articles formed the basis for an extended three-volume study, namely London Labour and the London Poor.

Henry Mayhew

Henry Mayhew, from Wikipedia

Mayhew’s work is in many ways ground-breaking — not just because he threw light on a class of people who were so often forgotten, but also because interviews made up the bulk of his articles. Through him we get to hear the voices of the streetsellers, the old-clothes dealers, the mudlarks, the omnibus drivers, and chimney sweeps. He let them talk about their jobs, their everyday lives, their hopes and dreams. One of the streetsellers Mayhew introduces is the muffin man:

“The street sellers of muffins and crumpets rank among the old street-tradesmen. It is difficult to estimate their numbers, but they were computed for me at 500, during the winter months. They are for the most part boys, young men, or old men, and some of them infirm. […]

I did not hear of any street seller who made the muffins or crumpets he vended. […] The muffins are bought of the bakers, and at prices to leave a profit of 4d. in 1s. […] The muffin-man carries his delicacies in a basket, wherein they are well sweathed in flanne, to retain the heat: ‘People like them war, sir,’ an old man told me, ‘to satisfy theym they’re fresh, and they almost always are fresh; but it can’t matter so much about their being warm, as they have to be toasted again: I only wish good butter as a sight cheaper, and that would make the muffins go. Butter’s half the battle.’

A sharp London lad of fourteen, whose father had been a journeyman baker, and whose mother (a widow) kept a small chandler’s shop, gave me the following account:

‘I turns out with muffins and crumpets, sir, in October, and continues until it gets well into the spring, according to the weather. I carries a fustrate article; werry much so. If you was to taste ’em, sir, you’d say the same. […] If there’s any unsold, a coffee-shop gets them cheap, and puts ’em off cheap again next morning. My best customers is genteel houses, ’cause I sells a genteel thing. I likes wet days best, ’cause there’s werry respectable ladies what don’t keep a servant, and they buys to save themselves going out. We’re a great conwenience to the ladies, sir — a great conwenience to them as likes a slap-up tea. […]'”

(Can somebody pass me a warm muffin, now, please?) (And we’re talking English muffins, of course, a type of small, flat, round bread, rather than the cake-like American muffins.)

A picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with a volume of PUNCH
My creative work has currently been interrupted – most pleasantly so, I might add! – by my academic work: I have been invited to contribute an essay about a background topic (“Themes of Medievalism in Punch“) to Cengage’s new digital Punch Historical Archive. For this I have also been given access to the archive itself, and it’s – oh my gosh! – fantastic! Not only can you do full text searches across all volumes of Punch from 1841 to 1992, but to make this even better, the large cuts (= the big political cartoons) and the social cuts (=smaller cartoons) have also been indexed. *swoons*

But it gets even better: one of my friends from Liverpool John Moores University, Clare Horrocks, is transcribing the contributors’ ledgers of Punch, and her findings will be incorporated into the archive. This is really important work because for much of the nineteenth century, writing for periodicals was done either anonymously or pseudonymously. So, as was pointed out in an article in a recent issue of American Libraries, Clare’s work helps us to solve questions of authorship and attribution:

Early findings from the project have revealed articles written by William Makepeace Thackeray and P. G. Wodehouse that were previously unattributed. And while Charles Dickens himself never wrote for the magazine, his son Charles Dickens Jr. is known to have contributed a number of articles, which this project expects to uncover.

Yet as awesome as the digital archive is, in certain points it cannot replace leafing through the actual volumes: smaller illustrations like initial letters have not been indexed (and I would imagine that this would actually be a rather impossible task given the vast numbers of itty-bitty illustrations in Punch). Moreover, leafing through volumes and looking at images can reveal certain themes that you would not notice otherwise.

I found this out when I checked initial letters in different volumes from the 1850s, 60s, and 70s (in search for medieval themes, of course!) (or rather, I wanted to pinpoint when medieval themes vanished from the initial letters). And while I was leafing through the 1873 volume, looking for itty-bitty knights, I suddenly noticed an abundance of pet dogs in the social cuts.

Now, it’s not as if dogs hadn’t appeared before 1873: Mr. Punch himself, after all, is accompanied by his dog Toby; in the 1840s Richard Doyle fell into the habit of adding little Toby-ish doggies to many of his drawings; and in social cuts dealing with country sports you can often find hunting dogs. But the many, many pet dogs of 1873 is not something that you see in the 1840s. Clearly, some of the artists who worked for Punch in the 1870s must have been dog lovers.

Like George du Maurier:

a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier(Or perhaps, he just wanted to poke fun at bourgeois ladies and their pet dogs.)

And then, there is GB, whose dogs are truly delightful:

a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers
And do you know what else is truly delightful about GB? GB is a woman!!! The initials stand for Georgina Bowers. In his History of Punch (1895) Spielmann calls her “[b]y far the most important lady artist who ever worked for Punch […],” and continues,

Miss Bowers was a humorist, with very clear and happy notions as to what fun should be, and how it should be transferred to a picture. Her long career began in 1866, and thenceforward, working with undiminished energy, she executed hundreds of initials and vignettes as well as “socials,” devoting herself in chief part to hunting and flirting subjects.

Of course, being a woman, she had to be shown the proper way of doing illustrations for the magazine *snort*: “It was John Leech [Punch‘s chief artist] who set her on the track; Mark Lemon [Punch‘s first editor], to whom she took her drawings, encouraged her, and with help from Mr. Swain [the engraver] she progressed.” (Oh, Mr. Spielmann! *shakes head sadly*)

Georgina worked for the magazine for ten years until differences with a new editor made her resign. But she seems to have continued to work as an illustrator for many more years.

Isn’t that a lovely find?

Yes, today is Queen Victoria’s birthday. She was born in 1819, the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. Apparently the Prince Regent threw a hissy fit about her christening because he didn’t like his brother and was upset, since the death of Princess Charlotte, that one of the Duke’s children might succeed him. So she wasn’t given one of the “traditional” family names–Charlotte, Elizabeth, Georgina or Augusta–and the Prince Regent decided she should be called Alexandrina Victoria (the Alexandrina in deference to her godfather by proxy, Russian Tsar Alexander). Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and ruled until her death in 1901.

Now the history lecture is over, I want you to take out your notebooks and…

Sometimes it seems that the Victorian and Regency ages overlap and sometimes they seem poles apart. Fashions changed radically. So did attitudes–or did they? The Regency era had the great infrastructure of the Royal Mail, and then a few decades later the railway changed the countryside and people’s perceptions of time and distance. The Victorians were prudes but Bowdler was busy cleaning up Shakespeare in the Regency.

What comes to your mind when you think of the Victorian Age? What do you like about the Victorian era that wasn’t around during the Regency?


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