Articles, Historical Tidbits, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Victorian Cleanliness (1872 Style)

“In the beginning of the present century (19th), it was thought proper for a gentleman to change his undergarment three times a day, and the washing bill of a beau comprised seventy shirts, thirty cravats, and pocket handkerchiefs à discretion.” (The Habits of Good Society 1872)

The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen,” continues on the subject Pears'Soap02of particular interest mostly because of the stories I’ve read about the poor hygiene in centuries past. However, when it came to the Regency and Victorian era, the upper class deemed it important as a sign of good character. Not only cleanliness was a duty for the sake of health and being agreeable to one’s neighbor, but it also went hand-in-hand with obeying the scriptures as a means of exemplifying purity. Poor personal habits by an individual who neglected his body was a sure sign of weak character.

The Victorians in 1872, however, thought Beau Brummell’s idea of taking two hours to dress was a bit ludicrous. However, if you dressed in ten minutes time, surely you’ve neglected the important matters of the toilet through your speedy actions.

The bath, recommended after waking in the morning, focused on the type one took. There were a variety of baths at varying temperatures. The most cleansing bath came from warm water of 96° to 100°. If you were filthy, 108° was better, as it expanded the pores, increased circulation, and did a better job.  Then there was the cold bath of 60° to 70° that should be avoided by persons who cannot tolerate it and is extremely dangerous after eating. A tepid bath of 85° to 95° is the safest. Shower baths were frowned upon because they did not focus on the health of the individual. Then there is the sponge bath as the last means of cleansing that could adequately do the job if a regular bath was unavailable.

The next duty of the Victorian is to clean the teeth, as there is nothing so terrible as being near an individual with poor breath and black teeth – especially a woman. The usual recommendation of avoiding sweets and smoking were taught be dentists. The writer recommends hard bristle toothbrushes with tooth powder. A little water, with a good lather, will do the job. (I guess by this time, we’ve progressed beyond the twigs and chalk of the Regency era.) The mouth should be rinsed seven times with cold water, and one should brush several times a day. After all, a woman can tell when a man has been drinking and smoking, which was deemed offensive in the opposite sex. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how attractive the man appears — if he has foul breath it is unforgiving. At least now when you read historical romance in the Victorian era, you can be assured that the hero’s kiss upon the lips of the heroine didn’t include a mouthful of bad breath.

The advice continues with grooming for the nails, hair, beards, makeup, and other matters regarding the lady’s toilet. Stay tuned for the next installment of cleanliness in 1872.

 

Articles, Period Clothing, Victorian Era, Victorian Fashion

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Source: Ladies’ Period Clothing at Historical Emporium

 

Articles, Historical Tidbits, Victorian Era

Dancing 1872 Style – Notes on the Waltz

“A lady – beautiful word! — is a delicate creature, one who should be reverenced and delicately treated. It is therefore unpardonable to rush about in a quadrille, to catch hold of the lady’s hand as if she were a door-handle, or to drag her furiously across the room, as if you were Bluebeard…”  (The Habits of Good Society: By Unknown Author, originally published 1872. Copyright 2012 Forgotten Books).

Recently on my author Facebook page, I’ve been posting videos of period dramas with romantic scenes of waltzes. Some of my favorites are from The Young Victoria, War & Peace (2016), Cinderella, and Crimson Peak. They look so romantic with women in gorgeous gowns being swung around the room by handsome men.

According to The Habits of Good Society, there were rules to be followed if you were considered to be an “accomplished” individual on the dance floor. The introduction above focuses on how men should gently treat the lady. Apparently, if a man is too brusque with a woman while dancing, it may be an indication of how he is in his personal life.

A man should always smile when taking a lady’s hand, and bowing should still be in style.

“To squeeze it, on the other hand, is a gross familiarity, for which you would deserve to be kicked out of the room.”

I’m sorry, but it’s difficult not to laugh over at that rule. Even though the quadrille is a bit outdated in 1872, it is still danced albeit a bit slowly. Too slowly it becomes ridiculous.

The waltz, of course, is the preferred dance of this time period. In fact, the writer of this book wishes he could rave about it for days. He begins by explaining that position is the first importance, as well as the placement of the man’s hand where it should be – at the center of the lady’s waist. The lady should turn her head a little to the left. Oh, and it’s considered atrocious for a lady to lay her head upon a man’s shoulder! Position, therefore, is of utmost importance.

These points are fascinating:

  • In Germany the waltz is rapid but it slackens the pace every now and then.
  • The Russian waltz men perform like the Austrians and will dance around the room with a glass of champagne in the left hand without spilling a drop. This reminded me of the scene in Crimson Peak where the waltz was done with a candle in the man’s hand that remained burning throughout.
  • To be graceful in England, one must waltz with the sliding step. It’s up to the gentleman to steer, keep his eyes open, and watch where they are going to avoid collisions in a crowded ballroom.
  • Violent dancing (too fast and reckless) can cause injury. The author apparently had seen an occasion where the gentleman broke his ankle and the lady gashed her head.

There are quite a few more references to various dances, including the Polka. Instructions are detailed. The overall sense, of course, is skill, ability, and following the social norms of treating the female with respect.

Ah, the waltz. Let’s watch one from my favorites.

 

Articles, Historical Tidbits, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Balls in the Victorian Era – Vicki Hopkins, Author

vladimir-pervunensky-a-ball-20051-e1269940274323“The advantage of the ball in the upper classes is, that it brings young people together for a sensible and innocent recreation, and takes them away from the silly, if not bad ones; that it gives them exercise, and that the general effect of the beauty, elegance, and brilliance of a ball is to elevate rather than deprave the mind.”

The quote above comes from my favorite discovery, which is a book entitled, “The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen” by an unknown author, originally published 1872. Frankly, it’s a hoot to read, filled with, “thoughts, hints, and anecdotes concerning social observances, nice points of taste and good manners, and the art of making one’s self-agreeable.

Because of the information about life in Victorian times, I thought that I would occasionally write a post about the tidbits found between its pages. If you’re interested in purchasing the book, it is available on Amazon, but I’ll warn you that it’s a bit of a task to read. It’s been reviewed by one person – me. For authors, it’s wealth of information.

The chapter on balls humorously begins with the following. “Balls are the paradise of daughters, the purgatory of chaperons, and the pandemonium of paterfamilias.” They are a father’s nightmare, because daughters need new dresses and the brougham won’t be available the night of the affair. Of course, there is always the hope one’s daughter might returned engaged. Balls are apparently better entertainment for young men rather than drinking and gambling and a form of good exercise. There are differences in attending a ball and giving a ball.

In order to give a ball during the season, one must be sure to have a big enough room. Overcrowding is not good for comfortable dancing. One hundred or more attendees constitute a large ball, and below that number it is simply a ball. Under fifty, and you’re only attending a dance. Numbers must be proportionate to the size of the rooms, as one must be able to move around in order to meet new acquaintances. The standards for an agreeable ball are good ventilation, good arrangement, a good floor to dance upon, good music, a good supper, and good company. Remember that the beauty of the dresses worn by the young ladies is only enhanced with good lighting.

As far as music, here are the recommendations. Four musicians are enough for a private ball. A piano and violin are the mainstay. Dances should be arranged beforehand, as well as pre-printed dance cards for the ladies. A small pencil should be attached to the end of each card. Out of twenty-one dances, seven should be quadrilles, three of which may be lancers, along with seven waltzes, four galops, a polka, and some sort of other dance.

Of course, every ball has its wallflower. A young lady, even a plain one, may be a good dancer and should always have some partners. The right of introduction rests on the lady and gentleman of the house, but a chaperon may introduce a gentleman to her charge. How a lady refuses a dance must be done carefully. One should not lie that she has a headache to get out of dancing with a partner. A man should never press her to dance after one refusal. A man should ask by saying, “May I have the pleasure of dancing this waltz with you?” Just because she dances with you at a ball, it does not mean that she cares to have a relationship. On the Continent, a man should never dance twice with the same lady if she is unmarried. In England, men may choose one or two partners and dance with them through the evening without expecting to commit to marriage. And this part, I really love:

“The well-bred and amiable man will sacrifice himself to those plain, ill-dressed, dull-looking beings who cling to the wall, unsought and despairing. After all, he will not regret his good nature.”

Wallflowers receiving an invitation to dance usually give the best conversation, dance the best, and show great gratitude for the attention. At the end of every dance, a man offers his right arm to his partner, walks the room with her, and asks if she will take refreshment.

There is quite a bit more about holding a ball, attending a ball, eating at a ball, and the proper manners desired. I hope you enjoyed this peek into 1872. Now close your eyes and imagine that handsome man in the cravat coming your way. Will you accept his invitation to dance or politely turn him down? Since I’m the wallflower type, no doubt I’ll do my best to make an impression. However, I don’t know how to do the quadrille or galop. Any idea?

 

Book Review, Joan Perkin, Victorian Era, Victorian Women

"Victorian Women" by Joan Perkin – Review

 

  • “Victorian Women”

Joan Perkin 1993 John Murray Publishers Ltd. UK 

5

While writing my new novella, Whitefield Hall, I started to Google a few terms—one of which was gambling in the 19th century. Victorian Women by Joan Perkin came up in the search results, so I clicked on the link. Though it had very little regarding the subject, I started to look at the book and realized that it was a treasure chest of information about the Victorian era and the challenges Victorian women faced.

Studying the contents has been an eye-opening experience. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in moving beyond the romance of the era and into reality. What is unique about the book, is that it contains text from women who lived during that time period, expressing what it was like to be a woman in a man’s world. Joan Perkins includes the lives of all women, in the upper class, middle class, and working-class, to give the reader a complete picture. To be a woman in the Victorian era was frankly unromantic. Here are a few of the many items that I found very interesting:

  • The importance of class and gender in the Victorian era played a large role in a woman’s life. A quotation from Alexander Walker, a physiologist, in the mid-1800s had this to say about women. “It is evident that the man, possessing reasoning faculties, muscular power, and courage to employ it, is qualified for being a protector: the woman, being little capable of reasoning, feeble, and timid, requires protection. Under such circumstances, the man naturally governs; the woman as naturally obeys.” The general male opinion regarding the female sex was void of respect. Women, however, as general, didn’t buy into the fact that they were inferior to the male species. Wives who only gave birth to girls were considered failures in their marriages. A male child was considered far better not only to produce an heir for the upper class, but to produce workers for the family of the working-class.
  • No formal schooling existed for children until the 1880’s. Upper class women were taught at home by governesses and tutors. The middle upper class taught their children at home, or paid for private schooling or boarding school. The lower class women were self-taught or remained illiterate. I am astonished from my own ancestry research on my family in the Manchester, UK area from the 1800s to 1890s how many of my ancestors put an “X” as their mark on documents such as marriage certificates.
  • On one spectrum, the Victorian era was one of prudish ideals. Sex, menstruation, and masturbation were never discussed in the upper and middle classes. Most women entered marriage completely ignorant regarding sexual relations or the female reproduction system. Sex was a considered a marital duty in order to produce children and should never be a pleasurable experience for a woman. Ignorance was a means used to keep daughters pure until marriage.
  • Up until the age of 21, men and women needed parental consent to marry. Marriage for the upper classes, of course, were arranged for wealth and power. Charlotte Bronte thought that romantic awakening was romantic folly. Women shouldn’t fall in love till the offer of marriage had been given, the wedding ceremony over, and the first half year of marriage had passed. Middle-class women married men that received their parents’ approval. Finding a husband could be difficult. In 1851, there were 500,000 more women than men in England, and by 1911, the number rose to a 1.5 million.
  • The lower-class women lived entirely different lives. In the 19th century over a third of women were pregnant when they got married. The farming community, “indulged freely in fornication and adultery.”
  • A double standard existed in all three classes. Men were not criticized for fornication or illicit sex before or during marriage, but women were held to different rules.
  • The mortality rates were astounding in childbirth. One in 200 women died giving birth. Most women had an average of nine children. There were crude and ineffective means of birth control, and abortion was a crime. Many poor women, however, attempted to abort babies and died in the process.
  • Once married, a woman’s property belonged to a man. Any wages a woman earned during the marriage belonged to her husband. It wasn’t until 1882 that an Act of Parliament finally gave a married woman the right to her property at the time of marriage or earned during the marriage.
  • Underpants were not worn before 1840s. Now you know.
  • There are interesting chapters regarding what women did during the Victorian era regarding entertainment and domestic life for all classes.
  • We romanticize the Victorian era far too much. A wife was the property of the husband. Once again, the double standard held where he could be unfaithful, but the wife could not. Divorce came by Private Acts of Parliament before 1857 and were very costly and difficult to obtain. Men could divorce their wife for adultery; women could not divorce only on the grounds of adultery, but it had to be accompanied by either physical cruelty, bigamy or incest. Custody of children went to the fathers, and the rights to see the children after a divorce could be curtailed or forbidden for the mother.
  • The husband had the right to “to give moderate correction” if she did not obey. (Early version of 50 Shades of Grey spanking, I guess, and wives living with dom husbands.) Wife abuse occurred in all classes of society. Women had very little recourse against husbands who beat them and leaving was often not an option. Not until 1878 were women able to separate from abusive husbands and receive some type of maintenance from their spouses.Because divorce was difficult to obtain, married partners would often separate and go their way. Alternatives would be living with another lover out of wedlock or committing bigamy.
  • Most women outlived their husbands by many years, and widowhood for women in all classes could be a devastating and difficult time. One in four individuals over 65 were consider paupers and ended up their lives in workhouses or asylums. Unless they had family members who could afford to care for them, widows needed to turn to other means in order to support themselves. If they were savvy enough, they may take in boarders, clean houses, or find other menial jobs in order to survive.
  • There were a growing number of women who preferred spinsterhood rather than marriage because they were free to handle their money, make their decisions, and keep their illegitimate children. Middle-class women had more opportunities to pursue skilled jobs, but they were paid a pittance in comparison to their male counterparts. Lower-class women often worked long hours in factories and other jobs, and sometimes resorted to prostitution.
The book is filled with many true details from women of the past that will shock you regarding the hardships and inequality they faced. However, there are truly inspirational stories, too, about those women who worked to bring about equality and change for women.

You can order the book in paperback only at Amazon. I purchased a used copy for $6.00. When it arrived, it was an old library copy, and a bit worn. However, I didn’t mind because it’s received my pink highlighter throughout the text.

As an author, I realize that I am guilty of writing about an era and purposely ignoring the hardships that Victorian women endured. Perhaps as modern ladies we are merely enamored by men in ascots who look dashing, rich, and handsome. We love our dukes and titled men, the fancy houses, and the lavish lifestyles and fashions. These are the fantasy men we have chosen to fall in love with between the pages, and the lovers we have given our heroines. For some reason, they appeal to us more than a modern-day gentleman in sneakers and shorts.

However, the aristocracy of England during the Victorian era only accounted for 2% of the population. Another small percentage included the upper middle-class, which consisted of 15% of the population. These were families such as businessmen and tradesmen, who could adequately support their families.

To write about the other 83% of the population would be depressing to most readers. Frankly, I do not think that women care to read about suffering women in romance books. I know when I wrote about the hardships of one poor French woman in 1870 in my first book, The Price of Innocence, I was severely criticized in reviews for writing a “miserable story.” However, let’s be honest with ourselves. Lives for women during that time period were for the most part miserable.

Purchase Here
Victorian Women