Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A Fascination with Hair

I've been, pondering the Victorians' obsession with hair, particularly women's hair. If you have JSTOR access, I'd really recommend you check out The Power of Women's Hair in the Victorian Imagination. Like most academic reading, though, it requires effort. Hence I've not read all that much of it!

Pictures are much more suited to my mood in these post-dissertation days. Check out The Seven Sunderland Sisters. That is some impressive hair. There seems to be an element of the freak show about them - not necessarily in a negative way: there's money to be made if you can make yourself worth staring at. Hair could also be considered erotic, of course (it still is, in many cultures, hence the obligatory headscarves and whatnot), which I suppose must have had something to do with why it was usually tied up. In some of those pictures, the Sunderland sisters get as close to suggestive as can be expected of the time.

One can't neglect to mention, of course, mourning jewellery, made from the deceased's hair. Most people are grossed out by it. I'm not, particularly, though I can appreciate why people are. It has been cut off a corpse. Even so, why is a corpse itself revolting before it has even begun to decay? Victorian attitudes must have been different to this kind of thing. More accustomed to death, I suppose. Why would they want the deceased's hair? If it were simply a reminder, surely anything would serve? It seems to be a way of holding on to, literally, a little part of someone, a little part that can be immortal.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Still Alive (just)

I know, I know, it's been a long time. Busyness and laziness are a deadly combination. I've set myself a target for a blog post (in any blog) per week, and I think that's do-able. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I've finally said goodbye to LJ entirely - Candyfloss and Medicine is now joining its friends on Blogger. Here I am.

Victoriana will resume... sometime.

Sunday, 24 August 2008


Celia's latest acquisition is a fully-functioning 1890's governess cart. She naturally intends to use it. Her pony, Dusty, is great with carts, actually. I'm travelling up to Maidenhead in a couple of weeks - we're going to plot some Medieval field maps - so I'll be sure to get a photo of the cart then.

Take a look at this painting by Redgrave:

Says a lot, doesn't it? Painted by a man, of course, but still.

This is by Rebecca Solomon:

It must have been a funny position: above the servants but below the family. Always with the family yet entirely excluded. Aways there and yet invisible. All the labour of a tutor's work without the respect.

Jane Eyre, of course, is about a governess, but, although it's wonderful and I wouldn't change a thing, it isn't the most realistic novel I've ever read. I got a far better insight from Anne Bronte's much-underrated Agnes Grey.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


A little picspam:

Credit to rockabillyvixen at Dark Victoria for the images.

And a few observations:

It seems to me that, actual blatant pornography aside, these images are pretty racy by Victorian standards. I've gathered a few photos for a future post which are actually supposed to be erotic, and they're surprisingly similar to these. Of course, the sexualisation of female singers/dancers/actresses is nothing new and is still going on merrily today, along with the sexualisation of just about everything else. But we have, thankfully, lost the idea of women on stage being somehow disreputable and the link with prostitution. Actually, I don't think we have lost it: I think it just slid, along with so much else, into the collective subconscious.

Another thing that struck me was how astonishingly healthy these girls look, in comparison with modern ballerinas. The third one perhaps excepted, these women display the female form in all its curvacous glory. They wouldn't last five minutes in modern ballet.

Natalia Sologub in the title role of Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella

I rest my case. I mean, look at her arms. Ech.

So why the change in the ballerina's physique? Is ballet more demanding? If so, why does that mean that ballerinas have to be skeletal as opposed to just having more muscle? Are the male ballet dancers not strong enough to lift a normal-sized woman? Did the Victorians have more respect for the female form? Apparently not, when you look at what some corsets did to people. And yet, isn't that just appreciation for curves with an additional dose of insanity?

I should probably do research and then fill the blog with information as well as discussion and a million questions. I'm really just thinking on my feet - or my fingers, as the case may be. I actually know very little about the Victorians, so this blog was an interesting idea. I'm hoping to learn. Check back as research happens.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

An Insight

My friend, Celia, makes driving whips for a living. She keeps them all in the kitchen area. I was staying with her the other week and, one day, I stood admiring one in particular.

"It's Victorian," she said. "What do you think it's made of?"

It was a creamy colour and a little like bone, only more flexible. I had no idea what it was made of so I listed every material I could think of and then gave up.

"I'll give you a clue," said Celia. "Men would present these whips to their betrothed on their engagement."

I pushed images of Victorian S&M as far out of my mind as possible.

The whip turned out to be made out of a bull's penis.

The little joke/coded message there is obvious: "I'm hung like a bull!" says our Victorian gentleman. Good for him. Men never change, do they?

I can't help wondering, though, what the lucky recipient of the bull's-cock-turned-driving-whip would have felt. Amused? Embarrassed? Erotic excitement? Supposing she was a virgin, would it not have been a little terrifying, to be presented with this thing, three feet long, with the unspoken assurance that your intended plans to rip you in half? It's hardly romantic, really.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Forgotten Faces

I'm leaving for Mozambique on Saturday, so I won't be around for another month, but I want to make a quick post on this shiny new blog before I go. Basically, I want to announce my latest Crackpot Idea: I'm going to make a Victorian photo album. I'm not making the album itself - I'm just starting a collection of photos of Victorian women, bought off eBay. And I received my first acquisitions yesterday.

They're from a German photography studio. I must go some research into these studios, and my ones in particular, so I can make an educated guess at where my women lived.