Monday, November 30, 2009

"the turn of the century [and my sister] called..."

I wasn't going to update today.  I have followed Andrew Sullivan's advice for blogging pretty much ever since he gave it to me in mid-October, only missing one update.  Due to my current level of stress and work overload I was going to give myself a little break today, and more breaks between the Emilie Autumn concert on Thursday and the end of finals week in three weeks.

My twin sister, however, began harping me about the lack of an update today before I had even taken off my coat after coming back from my blogging class.  I had an appropriately sisterly response: I made fun of her for being concerned about my blog.  She told me that it bothered her that I managed to update every single day in November up until now, but was going to throw in the towel on the very last day.  Her OCD wasn't going to allow only 29 updates out of a possible 30, so I had to update before midnight ruined her self-imposed goal for my blog.

I made dinner instead, and when I came back up to the bedroom we share she demanded to know if I had updated. 

"No Leigh, I haven't."

"What are you waiting for?  POST SOMETHING.  RIGHT. NOW."

She's worse than an editor, breathing down my neck like that and imposing a deadline on me.  That comparison is sure to at least irritate her, because she doesn't even like editors.  Except she's been doing nothing but edit her fiction novel for the past few days, so that must have warped her brain somehow.

Anyway, on to the point of this blog post.  We received free copies of GQ in our blogging class tonight (I got the Clint Eastwood cover!)  While flipping through the Style section I came across a very relevant article to this blog.  One that Joel failed to tell me about.  Thanks Joel.

Mike Albo's article, "The Turn of the Century Called..." is about the explosion of Victorian-styled fashions in 2009.  It's a terrific article. The writer mentions that fashion designers have been borrowing styles from the Victorian era for several years now, but that this trend has hit particularly hard this year: 2009 it reached an apex that put it right up there with disco and grunge.
So have military jackets, ruffled blouses, waxed mustaches and cameo necklaces hit a full, era-defining rebirth like bell-bottoms and platform shoes? Albo suggests it is more of a white collar reinventing of the self as a reaction to the current, downward-spiraling economic situation:
All that distinguished facial hair and sober clothing hark back to another notable time America reached for the reset button.  The country slid from the Gilded Age (the late nineteenth century) toward a massive financial crisis (the Panic of 1893), and the public became outraged over the riches of railroad monopolists and bank barons (sound familiar?)
If that correlation is correct, then we might be able to associate the Victorians with not only economic depressions, but also mental ones.  Of course that is what Emilie Autumn already is doing.  And, come to think of it, so does the heroine of my historical fiction novel.  The Victorians must be the definition of depressing.

What I can say for the article as a whole is: either the author has been paying as much attention to the Victorian fashions as I have in the last four years (which I noticed were becoming increasingly popular while looking at Fall 2005 fashions in ELLE) or he got a useful hint about this trend from somewhere.  I'd like to think it was my blog that gave that hint, as I might have a better chance of getting recognized by GQ than most.  But my ego must admit that I don't actually cover fashion as much as other aspects of neo-Victorian culture, such as music and films.  And certainly not any men's fashion trends.

Besides, the idea is just plain preposterous. *sigh*  Keep dreaming, silly blogger.

I'd link to the article, but it's not on their website.  So you'll have to buy GQ, because I refuse to scan it and post it here for ethical reasons (and selfish ones... I'd like to not fail my blogging class, thank you very much.)

Instead, here's some 19th century-esque eye candy:

image source: Ace Showbiz
And Leigh, if you can see this: I UPDATED!!!!!!!!!!

Now stop yelling at me from across the room and let me finish my other schoolwork.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

tymoshenko: the modern victorian politician

I came across these photos of Ukranian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko purely by accident in an Google image search, and was blown away by this Victorian-inspired outfit she wore in 2005:

image taken from Debutante Clothing
image source: Robot Guy
I did some more image searches on this Ukrainian politician for more recent photos of her fashion choices:

image source: BryanBoy

image source: BryanBoy

 image source: Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
After much jaw-dropping (and a quick peek out the window for a glimpse of any flying pigs) I have determined the following:
  1. Female politicians don't have to look like men in order to be powerful, and can in fact be quite stylish.
  2. They can choose their own unique style to wear.
  3. Victorian-esque clothes work in politics.
Tymoshenko wears quite a lot of "quirky"  outfits for the political world, albeit usually in traditional colors such as black, gray and white.  Her large brooches match her outfits and still give that idea of strictness to her outfit by closing off the tops of her outfits, while the lace she wears covers her skin and is very sexy at the same time.  Her hairstyle is reportedly inspired by renowned Ukranian writer and political activist Lesya Ukrania, giving a nationalistic aspect to her appearance.  The high collars, form-fitting clothes and somber tones of neo-Victorian fashion, along with Tymoshenko's over-the-head braided hairstyle, creates the impression of a take-charge, no-nonsense, intelligent and put-together woman entirely capable of dealing appropriately with other politicians in the cut-throat world of running countries.

Way to make fashion work for your political aims, Yulia!

By the way, the puffed sleeves in some of her outfits are totally Victorian as well.  I think they were all the rage in the late 1890s:

image source: Thread for Thought

image source: Debutante Clothing

Saturday, November 28, 2009

the incomparable holmes

I just saw this great trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Rachel McAdams.

I wasn't too keen on seeing this movie with the first trailer, but this trailer seems more loyal to the character of Sherlock Holmes.  If anyone has ever read the books, he was definitely not refined or proper.  As a master of disguises he commonly cross-dressed, he was messy, he did practice his violin in the early hours of the morning, as the trailer suggests, and he once shot a "patriotic V" into the walls of his flat when he was bored.  Before I was not seriously debating seeing the movie--I was almost certain I'd pass it up.  Now you can expect to see me the day after Christmas, braving the crowds of teeny boppers waiting to watch the showdown between Edward and Jacob, all to see some Victorian action.  And watch Holmes and Watson "flirt," as Irene Adler so delicately put it.

You can view a clearer video of the same trailer here.  I didn't post it because it couldn't embed.

As an aside, while reading one of my textbooks for my Ottoman Empire class this afternoon, I found out that Sultan Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1908) "enjoyed nothing more than having the detective adventures of Sherlock Holmes read to him before going to bed."

Since my history concentration is Middle Eastern history but I absolutely love studying Victorian England, it was sweet to see two of my favorite historical topics mix so unexpectedly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

breaking loose on turkey day

Thanks to AnnaNigma for alerting me to this blogger's post about Thanksgiving's previous Festival-of-Fools-esque trappings.  Apparently it was a holiday that guys used to act like frat boys.  They'd get drunk, run around in women's clothes or other costumes, and make fun of public authority figures.  So this now family-focused holiday, as AnnaNigma suggests, was probably a reaction against the rowdiness outside.

No wonder I and everyone else I asked about this yesterday had no idea this previous way of celebrating Thanksgiving ever existed.  The Victorians were good managing to get rid of things they found distasteful.  I can just imagine legions of angry American women during the Victorian era holding protests similar to this one in order to stop the cross-dressing and knavery of their men:

image source: RCgroups
In all honesty, who would give up drinking for the "privilege" of kissing one of these hags?

By the end of the 19th century the debauchery ended, replaced by its current, family-oriented counterpart.  St. Paddy's Day and Halloween became the new American holidays for such activities as cross-dressing and excessive drinking.  If you think about it, this Thanksgiving's gluttonous food-stuffing tradition is probably the only trace we have in modern times of its historical past as a day of mischief and breaking rules.

That and the famous annual Thanksgiving's Day Parade in NYC.  According to an article cited in William Shepard Walsh's "Curiosities of popular customs and of rites, ceremonies, observances," Social Science (1897), taken from the aforementioned blogger's post:

Fantastic processions burst out all over the town in unusual abundance and filled the popular eye with a panorama that looked like a crazy-quilt show grown crazy and filled the popular ear with the din of thumping drums and blaring trumpets. Thirty-six companies of fantastics had permits to march around making an uproar, and they did it with great success. Local statesmen went around.with the down-town paraders and helped them whoop things up. There were lots and lots of fantastics who hadn't any permit, and who didn't care either. They were the thousands and thousands of small boys who put on their sisters' old dresses, smeared paint on their faces, pulled on red, yellow, brown, black, and indiscriminate wigs, and pranced round their own particular streets, without the least fear of police interference.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thanksgiving: a victorian tradition

image source: Strawberry Lane

Although Thanksgiving has been celebrated in America on and off since the first recognized one at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, the holiday did not become an annual tradition until 1863, according to Victoria's Jewelry Box. Many of our current Thanksgiving traditions were established in the Victorian Era (in America, not Britain):

The Thanksgiving turkey was served as a nod to the early Pilgrims and settlers who relied on wild turkey as one of their primary sources of food when they arrived in the new world. The earliest recipes for turkey dinners usually included traditional dressing (or stuffing) ingredients like stale bread, corn meal, and seasonings.

During the Victorian era, however, cooks became more creative. Thanksgiving turkey might be stuffed with chestnuts and dried cranberries, oysters, sausage, or various fruits. Since refrigeration of any kind was still a luxury few had, stuffing tended to vary depending upon what was locally fresh.

Victorians always enjoyed a lavish banquet, but they were also frugal. After the Thanksgiving turkey dinner had been eaten– they ate plenty of leftovers, just like we do today. Victorian cookbooks and magazines contained recipes such as “Deviled Turkey,” “Turkey in Savory Jelly,” and “Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie” for dressing up the remains of the Thanksgiving meal to be served on Friday.
So dig in, and be thankful for the Victorians for making turkey and pumpkin pie a staple of this national holiday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

comedic relief

And now for something entirely... erm, somewhat relevant: Victorian humor!

Caroline Rance, author of a blog called Writing and All That, looked through tons of lousy Victorian jokes and found the real nuggets, the best of the best, for the blogosphere's enjoyment.  So, being a particularly lazy college student about to start a Thanksgiving  break full of work and holiday stress, I lifted all of the jokes and have posted them for your viewing pleasure.  Go ahead, judge me.  Bet you'll thank me after reading the last joke.
Dyspepsia specialist (irritably): But madam, you must chew your food. What were your teeth given you for?—
Female Patient (calmly): They weren’t given to me; I bought ‘em.
“Well,” announced Mr. Perkabie to his wife “John and Mary have taken the first step toward divorce.”
“You don’t mean to say so! What on earth is the matter?”
“They have got married.”
Smith: “Were you ever in a railway disaster?”
Brown: “Yes, I once kissed the wrong girl in a tunnel.”
Fortune teller: “In the configurations on your palm, lady, I can trace your future husband.”
Lady: “Dear me! Perhaps you can also trace my present one, for I can’t!”
She: Then you believe in nothing?
He: I believe in what I can understand.
She: That’s what I mean!
Wife: It does seem hard that when a woman marries, she has to take her husband’s name.
He: Well, she takes everything else he’s got – why leave that out?
The Lover: For love of you, I could become anything! I could become a poet! I—
The Loved: Become a millionaire.
Life is short; only four letters in it. Three quarters of it is a “lie” and half of it is an “if.”
Lady: Here is sixpence; I hope you won’t waste any of it.
Beggar: No, lady, not a drop.
Doctor: Your mother-in-law must go immediately to a warm climate.
Man: Dear doctor, will you perform the operation?
“Grandmother is dead, you know, and her parrot died the very next day.”
“Very strange! The poor bird died of grief, I suppose?”
“No, I killed it with a poker.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

pro-birth control or anti-marriage?

image source: Wikipedia
Hell, who cares?  Bloody brilliant Victorian postcard that says so little yet expresses so much.

Monday, November 23, 2009

19th century coiffures

When it comes to hair, I am pretty diligent with keeping it styled.  Getting it cut is another matter.  I like my hair long, I don't dye it or have highlights, so there is no pressing need to go to the hair stylist every few weeks to maintain a certain style.  And, being a poor college student and all, paying for something as simple as a trim can cost up to $30.  So often, due to laziness and lack of funds, I wait months to get my hair cut.  Usually until I have split ends.  I try to make up for that by getting two inches cut off my hair.

[image source: The Coveted]
Today, for the first time since April, I am getting my hair cut.  As I was looking up hair cuts for my oblong facial features, I began to wonder whether Victorian women got their hair cut.  I knew they often curled their hair and pinned it up in elaborate updos, but I thought that they might be able to get away with not getting their hair cut or trimmed at all.

After some research, I assume that Victorian women did have their hair cut.  This website claims that they never cut their hair:

So important was long hair, that it was never cut. Curly hair was thought to indicate a sweet temperament, while straight-haired girls were considered reserved. Reaching the age when the hair could be tied up was an important moment in a girl’s life and was considered a coming of age event.

 But this website convinces me that they did, indeed, cut their hair; otherwise, this now common hair style could have never been maintained:
 Bangs or "Fringe" as it was often called started appearing in the 1870's and many ladies wore them by the 1880's.
I never knew this was when bangs came about.  The Victorians also used hot irons, crimping irons, ribbons, flowers and ornamental hairpins and combs to decorate their hair.  The style changed from tight, orderly buns to neat curls to longer, more natural looking hairstyles that was still partially pulled up.

As for me, I think I'll stay away from the Victorian way of doing coiffures: Victorian times women’s hair was often badly damaged by early hot irons and with baths in short supply, was often heavily perfumed to hide unpleasant odors.
Except for the bangs.  Sideswept or wispy bangs work great with oblong faces like mine.  Thank you for that addition to hairstyles, 19th century.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

did i mention i hate rats?

While checking out a not-so-recent update from Emilie Autumn's MySpace page (seriously, I am not going to obsessively check on a page that is never updated- thanks EA for making me look silly in the blogosphere!) I found out why I had no idea there was a Pittsburgh tour date for her concert until last week:

Dearest Muffins,

Most you you undoubtedly know that, due to the massive success of the N. American tour dates, a second leg of the tour has been added. We have YOU to thank for this continuation of the adventure, because it is not due to press nor scandal that we have packed venues across N. America, but due entirely to YOUR spreading the Plague. I hope you are as proud of yourselves as I am of you!!
And what to expect from the much anticipated event:
Now, just in case you need it more incentive to come to the greatest show on Earth, here you go:

1. New and thrilling show elements, including still more kissing, fighting (Victorian Jerry Springer), and blasphemy
2. New songs added to the already awesome set list
3. New, never before performed by EA song sung to you LIVE at the VIP sessions
4. Lady's bras (several have been thrown at Veronica on stage every night -- we are not sure why, but the next bra thrown could be YOURS!)
5. New Merch available
6. More glitter

This is indeed a once in a lifetime experience. If you've never been to an Asylum Show before, now is your chance to join the Asylum Army and fight alongside us. If you've been to an Asylum Show before, come again, and help me train our new recruits!

And seriously, Live Rats on stage? Now THAT is rock and roll, motherfuckers...
  1. Bras? Thrown onstage? Don't think my twin sister, the only other Emilie Autumn fan I know, will like that.  Still, if she doesn't find out until she's actually at the concert, she can't object to going...
  2. Rats? RATS?!  I hate rats!  Not that there's a likely chance they'll get anywhere near me, but still... they're RATS!
  3. I have absolutely no glitter in my cosmetics collection.  Any donations would be greatly appreciated.  Either that or I will be forced to break into a 13-year-old girl's bedroom and filch some.  And you don't want me to make a 13-year-old girl cry.  They cry enough as it is over Jacob and Edward from the Twilight series.
  4. The VIP event, as mentioned before, is SOLD OUT!  STOP TEASING ME, EMILIE AUTUMN!
  5. Regarding the blasphemy... I did mention Mr. Small's Theater is actually an out-of-commission church, right?  God, please don't smite us...
FYI: The Bloody Crumpets are the members of EA's band. Veronica is one of the members.  This video may explain why she has bras thrown at her every concert:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

steampunk guitar

So I came across this steampunk guitar that was sold on eBay two years ago: 

image source: Boing Boing
While the sale of this guitar is not recent news, this instrument still an impressive piece of work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the asylum's principle inmate

image source:
I will attempt to respond to Kayla's comment yesterday asking me to talk more about Emilie Autumn.  And I won't cheat by pointing you to her Wikipedia article (although the link is here, just in case someone really wants to read it.)

Emilie Autumn is an American violin prodigy who started playing at the age of four.  She ended up in various preforming and music schools, but left one particularly prestigious school (Indiana University School of Music) when she clashed with university officials over her unconventional fashion and music tastes.

She performed in a baroque ensemble called Ravensong in the 90s and put out a classical violin CD in 2000 called On a Day....  Two years later her "fantasy rock" CD, Enchant, was released.  During this period she had a very edgy Elizabethan/fantasy image, wearing fairy wings that she had made herself with combat boots (see how she made those wings here.)

 In 2003 she was a performing violinist for Courtney Love's debut solo album and toured in a band with Love called The Chelsea.  When the band stopped touring she began to work on her next CD, Opheliac, which specializes in the victorianindustrial genre for which she is currently known. "Opheliac" has been the basis of all her tours and promotions up to the present, even though she has come out with several additional albums and singles (mostly a continuation of the victorianindustrial genre) and releases of previous material since the CD came out in 2006.

She has toured mostly in Europe since then, as her music has made a big impact on the German music scene over there.  Hey, the Germans are more hard-core goths than Americans, and they're more risky with their music choices.  But Autumn's popularity has apparently swelled enough to justify a North American tour this fall, much to my delight.  Okay, I jumped up and down screaming when I got the news, prompting several people close to me to inquire whether I had actually landed a career-type job.

One thing that is not mentioned in any biography information I have come across is Autumn's personal life, which is strange, considering that Autumn actually spent time in a mental health institute.  I don't know when that happened, but it inspired her book, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, which comes out on December 15, 2009. In this interview with Evi Hoste, Autumn says that she suffers from bipolar disorder.  In my personal opinion I believe her illness and experiences in a lunatic asylum influenced much of her "Opheliac" album, especially due to her claim that she suffered from PTSD when she was released from the asylum.  In that same interview she also says that she thinks her image as a performer who wore fairy wings changed to the lost Victorian girl one probably due to the changes in her mental state.  I am assuming her stay at the asylum happened sometime between 2002 and 2005, since the change in her image as a solo artist switched in that time period.

I came across Emilie Autumn in the spring of 2008 purely by accident on YouTube by clicking through videos at random.  The first I listened to was "Rose Red," a song from her Enchant album.  I liked it, especially the violin playing, so I clicked on another song, "Marry Me," from the Opheliac album.  This song had the most ironic lyrics making fun of arranged marriages and the institution of marriage, especially to a rich asshole, as a security blanket for women. The more I listened to songs from the Opheliac album, the more ironic lyrics I came across and the more I fell in love with it.  Her use of the harpsichord and violin along with synthesizers in many songs was also a plus to me, as a musician.  They seemed like such odd instruments to put together, yet worked so well in her created genre. 

Autumn is very experimental with music and specializes in improvisation, another skill I also heavily admire.  Improv is hard to do.  I used to do it all the time as an alto saxophonist in a jazz band.  Six years later I was decent for an amateur, but definitely not good by professional standards.  Autumn blows me away by her skill with improv:

If anyone has any questions or information to add, don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

a freewrite

Although I like to write fiction in my free time, I never wanted this blog to be a display of that writing.  I have another website I go to for self-publishing purposes.

image source: WAG Screen

Still, I wasn't planning on actually publishing this freewrite, created during a meeting of a local writing group. For any aspiring writers out there, freewrites are great exercises for spinning ideas.  All you do is set a timer for half an hour or 45 minutes and just write about anything that pops into your head until the timer stops.  Don't worry about extensive editing or whether something is good enough- that comes after you've read it aloud and decide whether or not you like your idea enough to develop it into something further.

Music is a huge inspiration to me in my fiction writing- if I am writing a comical scene I try to play some sort of music with funny lyrics, or at least ironic ones.  Natural settings seem to go best with Celtic music.  Jazz works perfectly for barroom scenes.  I think I wrote my fiction novel listening to almost nothing but Evanescence.  100,000 points if you can guess the topic of the novel.

When I do freewrites, I often just pick a song or a genre of music and try to let that music guide my writing.  It's odd, but I think it's worked rather well.

When I wrote this freewrite I just picked a song that had a lot of emotion: Emilie Autumn's "Shalott."  As I wrote, my aim was to capture the Lady's isolation in the tower.  Since I am also notoriously bad at writing descriptions, most of my writing in the past year or so has focused more on setting a scene, which is why this short story has more physical details than action.

Let me know what you think:

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven.

Eleven steps.  She paced the room, counting out the steps as she walked the length of the circular room.   A cool breeze blew in with the rain outside, caressing her skin.  She continued her slow, measured steps, trying to gather her thoughts.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Her bare feet fell upon the soft carpet of embroidered cloth on the stone floor.  She had made the carpet herself with her own hands, its purpose to keep out the cold which seeped in through the moist stone.  The colorful scenes of lovers in their bed, farmers gathering crops in the bright sunlight, a wedding celebration, fishermen upon the sea muffled the patter of her feet.

Five. Six. Seven.

Her feet fell upon an embroidered wood – oak, maple, willow, birch, rowan, alder- all created with care by her own hands.

Eight. Nine. Ten.

She lifted her hands to her eyes.  They had been smooth and graceful once.  Now they were tired, worn hands, not from age, but from hard work.  Her fingers were dotted with small puncture wounds from the slip of her grip on a needle, and thin, red lines from the twisting of thread about her fingers.


Her eyes rose to the stone wall in front of her.  A tapestry of a brilliant sunrise rose before her eyes.  She closed her eyes and touched the wall, as if trying to derive comfort from the coldness which permeated through the cloth.

She remained in that position for several moments, her lips pursed together, her hand tightening over the rose, gold and deep purple threads on which her hand rested.  A gust of wind blew around her, rattling the tapestry on its wooden rod and brushing her plain white linen skirt.

Her eyes sprang open as she pivoted on her heel. She began to cross the length of the room once more.

One. Two. Three. Four.

There lay the wool with which she spun her thread—various shades of black gray, white, and off-white speckled with brown.

Five. Six. Seven.

To the right stood a wooden loom.  There stood travelers on a road—merchants carrying their silks and spices to market, farmers leading oxen pulling wagons filled with carrots, leeks, turnips, and potatoes, horsemen back from long journeys over the mountains and through the valleys, all on their way back to the blessed city of the king.  The tapestry was nearly finished. 

Eight. Nine. Ten.

There stood her spinning wheel, the spindle already filled with the silvery grey thread of a knight’s armour.  Other spindles lay in a basket next to the wheel—scarlet and gold for the king’s standard, light straw yellow for the horses’ feed, shades of light and deep blue for the river which flowed to the great city.


She stopped, staring at not another tapestry, but at a large gilded mirror.  Her own pale face looked out—weak brown eyes which squinted at the reflected light from the window, long, brown hair bound loosely with a discarded piece of white thread, her mouth turned downward, her face expressionless, but bearing the signs of fatigue.  Behind her the rainy, overcast sky reflected itself clearly from the sky.  Beyond that a muddy road with deep puddles in the ruts created by hundreds of wagon wheels was abandoned except for a lone horseman, heading toward the stone wall guarding a village and a stone citadel on the heights.  She sighed. Taking a step backward, she sank into her little stool by the spinning wheel.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

between the threads

Coming across this steampunk picture by digital illustrator Melanie Delon, I was suddenly reminded of the Lady of Shalott:

This image shows a (cracked?) mirror that looks into another world, separate from that of the woman sewing.  Thread is wrapped around between her legs, entwining her.  If she stood up and tried to walk right now, she'd trip and fall on her face like a cartoon character, and we'd all laugh heartily at her expense.  So why does this remind me of the Lady of Shalott?

Because I strongly suspect that Delon got her inspiration for this piece from two Victorian painters who depicted the Lady of Shalott in a similar fashion.

First take John William Waterhouse's 1894 painting The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot:

This scene captures the Lady at the fatal moment when she turns to look at Lancelot and her mirror cracks, bringing the curse upon her.  Golden thread is wrapped around her legs as well, making me ponder momentarily how she managed to fully turn to look at Lancelot without falling like Elmer Fudd.  She is caught in the world of her own making, symbolized by her weaving and the numerous balls of thread around her.  But the freedom she gains in the act of looking at Lancelot will soon free her from the restrains of the thread.

Waterhouse painted two other Shalott scenes, including the Lady in her boat (which I posted when I first began talking about the Lady of Shalott two days ago.)

Then there's William Holman Hunt's Lady of Shalott, painted in 1860:

This one is by far the weirdest, yet most fascinating, at least in my opinion.  The painting depicts the Lady, apparently after she has looked at Lancelot, for the mirror seems to be cracked.  Her hair is literally flying upwards, as if it was not bound by the laws of gravity.  The threads of her weaving reality, however, are wrapped so tightly around her and she appears to be trying to pull them off to no avail.  According to a Wikipedia article on The Lady of Shalott:

...[Tennyson] took Hunt to task for depicting the Lady caught in the threads of her tapestry, something which is not described in the poem. Hunt explained that he wanted to sum up the whole poem in a single image, and that the entrapment by the threads suggested her "weird fate".

Monday, November 16, 2009

emilie autumn in the 'burgh

image source: peta2
I'm still reeling from the news: As part of her first ever North American tour, Emilie Autumn will be performing at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale, PA, on December 3.

I was not expecting that at all. I had been looking about two months ago for inexpensive ways to get to NYC to see her in mid-October, because most of her venues were on the West Coast or Canada, and New York was the closest one.

The rest of the tour dates were established sometime in those two months, and on December 3 I will be in attendance. Tickets are pretty cheap- about $15 a pop. There was a special VIP package deal being offered to the first 25 people who signed up- they'd receive a copy of Emilie Autumn's new coffee book, The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, a signed poster, and the opportunity to attend a meet and greet with Emilie Autumn before the concert. Those tickets had sold out by the time I registered, but were way too expensive for me at $68 a pop.

Millvale is about 15 minutes away from my apartment. Sure, I should probably go to my Thursday evening Advanced Reporting class instead, but why would I sit through that class when I could be livin' it up with burlesque Victorian girls who are probably certifiably insane? Besides, I've always wanted an excuse to go to a show at Mr. Small's- the theater is a Roman Catholic church-turned-music venue.

Now I must settle a most pressing issue: which one of my corsets do I wear to this event?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"i'm half-sick of shadows"

John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott, 1888. 

There is something incredibly beautiful and yet heart-wrenching about the story of The Lady of Shalott.

Some of you are probably wondering:
  1. Who the hell is The Lady of Shalott?
  2. Why should I care when I've got numerous other things to worry about, such as how I am going to procrastinate before writing that English paper or working on my chemistry homework?
Patience. This post may give you a topic to explore for that English paper. That is, if your English paper focuses on any aspect of the Victorian era.

The Lady of Shalott was a creation of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, based loosely on the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat. In Tennyson's poem"The Lady of Shalott" the title character is some sort of fairy-woman locked in a castle. She sits and weaves at a loom in one of the towers, looking out at the world through a mirror that reflects the view out her window, the road to Camelot and its travelers. She knows that she cannot look out into the real world except through the mirror or else she will unleash a curse upon her, although she doesn't know what that curse will be.

One day she sees Sir Lancelot in the mirror. She goes to the window to get a better view of him, the mirror cracks and she realizes the curse is upon her. So she leaves the tower, finds a boat, writes her name all over it, and sails off down the river toward Camelot. Her blood freezes and she dies, while the boat sails into Camelot like a funeral bier. The people gather around the body and Lancelot says eh has a lovely face.

Read the poem in its entirety here.

The sad poem always struck me as being overwhelmingly tragic, because the poor Lady of Shalott never had a chance. She was trapped in that tower, seemed content to be there, and the one instant she wants to get out she ends up dying. I always thought it was silly that it was Lancelot, of all people, who would be the reason for her downfall, but then again I am not a hopeless romantic. I am a cynic when it comes to love, especially the thought of love at first sight.

That's why I love Emilie Autumn's interpretation of the story in her song "Shalott." She focuses more on the isolation of the lady in the tower, separated from the outside world and yearning to be a part of it. She knows there is a world beyond the tower, one that everyone but she can be a part of:
She sits down to her colored thread
She knows lovers waking up in their beds
She says, "How long can I live this way
Is there someone I can pay to let me go
'Cause I'm half sick of shadows
I want to see the sky
Everyone else can watch as the sun goes down
So why can't I?
There doesn't seem to be any love for Lancelot in this poem, at least not at first. She sees him in the mirror, but she doesn't actually believe that he could ever love her back. Lancelot is presented more as a convenient excuse for her to get that freedom rather than the main cause of wanting that freedom:
She says, "This man's gonna be my death
'Cause he's all I ever wanted in my life
And I know he doesn't know my name
And that all the girls are all the same to him
But still I've got to get out of this place
'Cause I don't think I can face another night"
It's when she makes the conscious decision to look out the window and bring on the curse that she gains her real freedom:
"But there's willow trees
And little breezes, waves, and walls, and flowers
And there's moonlight every single night
As I'm locked in these towers
So I'll meet my death
But with my last breath I'll sing to him I love
And he'll see my face in another place,"
And with that the glass above

Her cracked into a million bits
And she cried out, "So the story fits
But then I could have guessed it all along
'Cause now some drama queen is gonna write a song for me."
It's a beautiful song. According to this Emilie Autumn interview (25 minutes into it), the audience at every one of her venues know the lyrics by heart. The theme of isolation and wanting to be like everyone else, even if it means death, is obviously one that is relevant to so many of her fans. If that's the case, then it must relate to the general population at large.

One must wonder why that is. Why do we feel so alone, and consider doing anything to belong with anyone else?

Listen and judge for yourself:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

creation trailer

I just came across a trailer for this movie on Charles Darwin. It stars Paul Bettany as Darwin, a perfect choice considering he played a great doctor and naturalist in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). Jennifer Connelly also stars as Darwin's wife.

You can see the trailer below:

Friday, November 13, 2009

watching movies 20,000 leagues under

This submarine-styled home theater influenced by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was posted on Steampunk Fashion yesterday, and I could not resist reposting it here:

For a construction details, check out this article here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

jack the ripper was a yinzer?

Candy alerted me to this article, "Pittsburgh Handwriting Expert Shares Theories on Jack the Ripper" by Michael A. Fuoco, posted yesterday on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's website:

There will be a dual Pittsburgh connection tonight when the History Channel premieres "MysteryQuest -- Jack the Ripper."

Appearing in the 10 p.m. broadcast is Pittsburgh handwriting expert Michelle Dresbold, who concludes Jack the Ripper was Francis Tumblety, an "Indian herb doctor," and abortionist from Rochester, N.Y., who once lived in Pittsburgh among other American cities before moving to England.

"If my theory is right, Jack the Ripper definitely lived here," Ms. Dresbold said. "I guess that's one person we're glad left the city."

Another theory the show explores is that Jack the Ripper was actually a woman.

Dr. Tumblety long has been included in a group of men suspected of being the serial killer who brutally murdered and mutilated five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888.

In her 2006 book, "Sex, Lies and Handwriting," Ms. Dresbold wrote she found a match between Dr. Tumblety's handwriting samples from years before and after the killings with that of the famous "Letter From Hell" many believe to have been written by Jack the Ripper.

Since then, she's even more certain after examining additional samples of Dr. Tumblety's handwriting that the History Channel procured for her from a London museum. The samples were of more value for comparison with the "Letter From Hell" because they were written around the same time.

"A person's handwriting can change over a period of time," said Ms. Dresbold, a nationally known handwriting expert whose local clients have included Pittsburgh police and the Allegheny County district attorney's office. "I found a few letters much closer to 1888 and I could see his handwriting changing, getting crazier and crazier.

"The ones closer to the dates of the crimes in the fall of 1888 were most like the Letter From Hell."

So named because "From Hell" was written at the top, the letter was sent to the chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee with a piece of a human kidney. The writer said he ate the rest of the kidney and signed it "Catch me when you can."

A pathologist said the kidney came from a person who was about 45 who had advanced Bright's Disease. One of the mutilated victims, Kate Eddowes, was 43, had advanced Bright's Disease and her uterus and left kidney were missing.

I have been interested in Jack the Ripper since I was 13. My junior high gave us laptops in the hopes that we'd be a more computer-savvy student body who would get high-paying jobs with computer skills. Because I was a diligent student, all of my homework was completed the night before assignments were due, so then I'd have nothing to do during my first period study hall. So I used that laptop to connect to the internet and try to do "research" on any topic that came to mind.

Jack the Ripper soon became a favorite partially because the websites were better than the awful Geocities websites I ran into whenever I researched dolphins or the Redwall series of books or some other topic that garnered my fancy at that point. Yes, I have read all the letters believed to have been sent by Jack the Ripper or Jack the Ripper copycats, looked at the photographs of horribly mutilated prostitutes and speculated on the identity of the killer, all before the second semester of seventh grade.

The interest waned when I had looked at most of the good websites online up until that point, but I still watch TV specials on the topic every so often. I even sat through From Hell (2001) which is saying a lot. I probably liked that movie better than most, but it wasn't all that great either (Really? Can't we come up with a better answer for the Whitechapel murders than yet another Freemason conspiracy?)

So you can imagine my internal conflict when I read that a program on the Ripper would be on the History Channel last night, especially one with a theory that the infamous serial killer may have lived in Pittsburgh at one point. I had two options:
  1. Watch the program for my own sick interest (and for this blog, of course) and take an one-hour break from schoolwork, or ...
  2. Finish up my article on a grad student fighting depression (due today) and study for my Ottoman Empire exam (also taking place today).
I copied my seventh grade self. I chose being a good student over the former obsession and its possible Pittsburgh connection. I hate priorities sometimes.

Maybe the program will be on again tonight?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the victorian matrix

Scott showed me this oddity yesterday. It's six minutes long, and definitely worth watching. There are English subtitles for viewers like me who can't read Russian:

I wonder if there are any more of these types of videos...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

the sophie hatter collection

Victoriana breeds creativity, just like this fashion set based on the heroine of Howl's Moving Castle:
image source: fedorasparkles' account at Polydore
I hated Sophie's clothes in the movie- they were too plain and boring. But this set has me wishing I could dress like Sophie now.

Check out Polydore- it's a fashion website where subscribers create their own matching outfit sets based on a mash-up of online catalogs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

who knew a walking scrap metal heap could be so awesome?

image source: Crazy little planet called Earth
Yesterday afternoon, when I should have been working on my 15-page paper on Judaism, death and the afterlife, or studying for my Ottoman Empire exam, I decided to watch a movie. I settled on Hayao Miyazaki’s film Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve seen it before, and knew that the characters- the females especially- dressed in Victorian-esque clothing even though the story takes place in a fictional time and place. The soldiers, however, wear uniforms more reminiscent of WWI military uniforms. After I posted about Steamboy a while back, however, Barbara told me that Howl’s Moving Castle had many steampunk elements in it. I had never really made the connection, even though I only saw it for the first time shortly before I started this blog. Blame it on the hair color.

Especially considering that I found the movie bloody confusing the first time around because I worked on something else while I watched it, so did not pick up on the nuances of the story, I thought it’d be worth a second viewing.

I wasn’t disappointed. This movie is excellent. It tells the story of Sophie, a shy, timid, humble girl who gets mixed up in the romantic troubles of the wizard Howl and is transformed into an old hag by the Witch of the Waste, a former rejected lover of Howl’s. She travels to the Waste to find a way to break the spell on her and ends up in Howl’s castle, a giant industrial-looking clunker of a walking castle powered from steam created by Calcifer, the fire demon who lives in the hearth of the castle. Sophie strikes a deal with Calcifer: if she can find out a way to break the pact that ties Calcifer to Howl, then he’ll help her break her old age spell. She agrees and takes up residence in the castle, becoming Howl’s cleaning woman. A series of events ensue in which the immaturity and cowardice of Howl, especially in running away from his troubles and avoiding responsibility, are demonstrated in the backdrop of a total war between two of the kingdoms.

The war that becomes one of the major conflicts of the movie (no pun intended) and introduces the viewer to many fantastic machines, especially huge flying battleships and smaller planes for the quick transportation of a person or two. In the streets of the fictional cities of Kingsbury and Porthaven are steam-powered automobiles, omnibuses and trains. Howl’s castle emits steam whenever it has to move as well from its operation, walking on what appears to be chicken legs.

The storyline is terrific. There are memorable characters, magic, beautiful scenes and animation throughout, and an unlikely heroine who is neither particularly attractive, brave or witty, but she's intelligent and is able to kindle the affections of the characters around her as she is, as well as the viewer.

The buildings in the cities look like Alsatian buildings. Wikipedia says that the French /German border town of Colmar provided the inspiration for the buildings. That excites me because I’ve actually been to Colmar, about 4 years ago.

 Compare a movie still from Twenty-Sided to one of my photos of Colmar:

Next time you’re looking for a story with a rather complicated plot, memorable characters and wonderful animation, check this film out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

the poppins

Ah, that's how she did it.

Title: Mary Poppins
Artist: Daniel Cestari

Next mystery to solve: how she managed to fit so much stuff in her handbag.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

another vsf blog

Many thanks to Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. for directing my attention to another VSF wargaming blog, Victoria's Boys in Red. This site has some great pictures of the contributors' current painting projects, such as British colonials, flying Martians and Frogmen from Venus. The left-hand column of the blog also has some great links to other blogs or websites either related to wargaming or the Victorian Era or both. A sampling of the links:
  • Basement Generals' VSF site- a site filled with pictures of the miniatures used in VSF wargaming and full table-top battles in action.
  • Dirigibles and Dreadnoughts- a blog on airships.
  • Campaigns of General William Augustus Pettigree- a serialized historical fiction novelette in pictures using miniatures to depict the actions of the novelette (in other words, a really long, detailed battle report of a Victorian-Era wargame.)
  • Steam Noir- a site showcasing the Victorian and VSF miniature machine models of William Wardrop. He makes amazingly detailed airships, submarines, rockets and trains.

Friday, November 6, 2009

vsf blogs

I found an entire blog devoted to the ongoing Victorian Science Fiction wargames of a couple of enthusiasts called VSF and 15 mm Sci-Fi Wargaming. It's quite a detailed blog with three years worth of information, containing maps, pictures of tanks and troops and uniforms for all sorts of nationalities, and photos of the bloggers' ongoing campaigns. It's also labeled and divided up into sections such as: Military History; Mad Scientist and Inventions; and Romp About the Red Planet. I'd check it out if you wanted any information at all on any aspect of VSF wargaming- the site is so comprehensive it probably can answer almost any question or thought you may have on the topic.

Then there's Yours in a White Wine Sauce! It has a more conversational tone than the former blog with less of a focus on wargaming alone. Another detailed blog with blimps and airship photos. The layout of the blog is far from aestetically pleasing, though. It appears that the fellows from the former blog collaborate with the fellows from the latter one.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

space 1889

In the continuing series on Victorian Science Fiction wargaming, I present to you another find of Scott Perry's over at Pictors Studio: Space 1889.

What, exactly, is Space 1889? According to Heliograph (the official, if outdated website for the game):

Role-Playing In A More Civilized Time. Everything Jules Verne should have written. Everything H. G. Wells could have written. Everything A. Conan Doyle thought of, but never published because it was too fantastic. Everything you need for adventures of the century! The Space 1889 role-playing game covers the exciting background of Victorian science fiction: ether flyers and Martian cloudships, the canals and ancient civilizations of the red planet, Venus' swamps and dinosaurs, the honeycombed interior of Luna, and the thrills of inventions and inventors: the driving force behind Victoria's multiworld empire!

image source: Heliograph
It's essentially another alternative history wargame, this time based on the idea that the Victorians created a multiplanet empire by the end of the 19th century. Instead of British soldiers fighting the Zulus of South Africa or the Mahdist rebels in the Sudan, they battle dinosaur-like creatures on Venus or winged Martian beast-men on Mars. Other nations have colonies on Venus and Mars, but Britain appears to be the strongest presence, and even has a scientific base on Mercury (the other planets have not been explored or colonized at this point.) The idea behind the technology of this game apparently comes from disproven scientific ideas of the 19th century about outer space that the author treats as if these ideas actually worked. This concept may explain why the Victorian explorers don't need oxygen masks and travel to planets in ships powered by ether propellers invented by Thomas Edison.

The game first came out about 20 years ago, and the rulebooks were reprinted about eight years ago. But it appears that there are no longer any serious sales of these figs, at least from what I've been able to find.

I'm not sure that I'd like to play this game. I like historical gaming in familiar settings against familiar enemies more so than bizarre ones found in fantasy or science fiction wargaming, as impressive as they often are. But for those interested in the scientific, or want to find a new use for those late-19th century 28 mm British soldiers in their collection, they might want to consider purchasing a few Martian natives for an entirely new type of 19th century battle or skirmish.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

victorian wargaming

Thought I'd post some pictures of my Victorian wargaming minis. These aren't necessarily Victorian Science Fiction, although they could be adapted for that purpose easily.

What would a good Victorian game be without Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. John H. Watson (left):

You can't have a great Victorian hero without a villain of equal caliber, such as Holmes' nemesis Professor James Moriarty (right) and his right-hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran (left):

Don't forget the infamous Jack the Ripper, surrounded by his street-walking victims:

As the Bobbies rush onto the scene:

All figs painted by Pictors Studio, with the exception of the Bobbies, painted by yours truly with some help.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

smog 1888

Thanks to my friend Scott for bringing my attention to this Victorian Science Fiction wargame, Smog 1888.

First I should probably explain what wargaming is. Essentially it's usually a bunch of guys (and sometimes a girl or two) who play war with miniature figures on miniature battlefields (see photo on left.) From an unpublished article on a wargaming store I wrote for a journalism class:
Wargaming involves small-scale battles with strategy and a roll of the dice. This ancient hobby has drawn legions of enthusiasts to spend much money and time in reconstructing armies of plastic and lead figures as small as 6mm and battlefields with hills cut from insulation and covered with paint and fake grass. The “gamers” play with their “minis” (an abbreviation of “miniatures”) on mats in aircraft carriers, on elaborate gaming tables in gaming stores, or in their basements at home.
image source: Pictors Studio
If that still doesn't help, think Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer 40,000. Or read this Wikipedia article, which gives a decent overview. If that still doesn't help, please leave a comment or ask me. I've wargamed for about four years at this point, albeit on a sporadic basis, so I'll either be able to explain it to you in better detail or direct your questions to Scott, who owns his own business painting wargaming miniatures called Pictors Studio. He's much more knowledgeable about it than I will ever be.

Now, back to the original subject of this post...

Imagine a London that's every crevice and crack is penetrated with a thick smog; where zombies work the factories; where deformed freaks reign in London's criminal underworld and factions based on necromancy, opium trafficking and magic threaten the Empire; technological advances such as subways and zeppelins make their appearances decades earlier than in our recorded histories; British scientists conduct experiments on an alien race that landed near Stonehenge; Queen Victoria is protected in the court of the fairies from assassination attempts; palace guards are automatons; Charles Darwin writes "On the Origin of Fairies" and Jack the Ripper is a robot made from clock parts. That is Smog 1888.

The wargame is essentially a London where street warfare is as common as the technological and magical advances become too much for the British Empire to handle. Smog 1888's website is bloody difficult to navigate and doesn't really explain the game very well either. The pluses to this site, however, is the intricate backstory to the actual wargame. You can read about any of the factions, the numerous murders of Jack the Ripper and other 19th-century news stories, and a chronology of the alternative Victorian history created by SmartMax, the company that owns the game.

Shame there are actually no pictures of the game, but Maelstrom Games is selling a range of miniatures for Smog 1888.

Below is Jeremiah Crow, a Necromancer. Very steampunk- a gas mask and everything. And look at the detail of that paint job. Amazing:

 image source: Battlefield Berlin

Monday, November 2, 2009

general miscellany

Considering that I've been up since about 5:30 this morning, have done a ton since then, and will do a good deal more hence, I am currently in no position to spend time writing a long blog post. So I present to you the miscellaneous post: tidbits I have found relating to my blog that don't really deserve a single post all to themselves.

In today's installment of my favorite webcomic, Questionable Content, I came across a mention of steampunk. Jimbo's novel sounds like a mix between Twilight and Waterworld (1995) with some Victorian clothes and British accents thrown in. He's also drawn characters in full-blown Victorian costume before, most notably during bouts of drinking.

Speaking of airships, I just remembered Disney's animated TV series "Talespin" (1990-91) created many memorable villains, including the Air Pirates. Led by the infamous Don Karnage, the Air Pirates try to shoot down or capture cargo planes from their mothership, the Iron Vulture. While the idea of pirates flying the skies instead of sailing around is usually associated with the steampunk genre (The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello, steampunk band Abney Park and even Disney's Victorian criminal Professor Ratigan), Disney managed to take this idea and fit it into the time period of the show, the 1930s or 1940s. By the way, the 2-hour premiere episode of that series, "Plunder and Lightning," is arguably one of the best episodes of any animated series. Ever.

And a few music videos that take place in the Victorian era. The first is Within Temptation's "Frozen." This video has female repression written all over it, as well as the loss of innocence. I am not sure if the father in this video actually molests his daughter, but that sure seems to be what the video implies. Once again, I must ask: why does child molestation seem to fit so well into the Victorian Era? WHAT GIVES? My research for this blog is beginning to give me the idea that either the Victorians were sick pedophiles, or that our modern society somehow thinks that the Victorians were sick pedophiles. I'd blame Lewis Carroll, but that just seems too easy.

The next song is E Nomine's "Mitternacht" ("Midnight.") The video is essentially a story involving a Victorian man who is apparently into curiosities- either studying the natural world (note the plethora of dead scorpions mounted on the wall and stuffed birds in his study), or death and occult-like things (judging from the skull on his desk and his hunt for the female ghost.) The ghost leaves something to be desired, though, as she looks completely fake in a cheesy way.

And, just to solidify my point about pirating pilots:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the costume

As promised, a description of the Halloween steampunk experiment in pictures.

I came up with the idea to make a steampunk-related costume about two weeks ago. I was just looking at costume ideas on eBay for the purposes of this blog when I began to think, "Hey, I could do that."

So I ordered a corset top and skirt from eBay. The primary colors of steampunk costumes appear to be shades of tan and brown, so I ordered a steampunk skirt in that color and a corset top in what I thought was a tan color (it ended up being gold.) I already had a pair of brown boots and bronze colored earrings to wear with the costume. The costume cost no more than $40. Here's the skirt and corset-very frilly and Victorian:

I also wanted guns to go with my costume, to give the pretty Victorian girl idea an edge. So I took two neon dart guns I had at home, some black spray paint, some bronze spray paint, gray acrylic paint, and gold furniture paint to make my steam-powered guns:

I started by spray-painting the neon guns black. Why? If any of the top layers of paint chipped, the black would show through instead of the neon colors:

Then I was able to spray-paint the guns bronze. I applied two coats of the bronze paint:

After that I outlined the trim of the guns in the gray and gold. The gray acrylic paint was a bad idea. It barely stayed on, even after three coats. The gold worked marvelously- I only have to apply one coat:

I think the guns turned out rather well. The supplies to make them were no more than $5 put together, and only took maybe two, three hours max out of my time to make, with the spray painting taking no more than several minutes for each coat. It was the touch-ups that really took the most time.

My roommate Candy helped me with my hair. I curled it and then she put in in a low ponytail at the nape of my neck. Taking bobby pins, she took half the ponytail and pinned the curled ends above the ponytail (I forgot to take a picture of that.) The rest of the ponytail hung down my back in one long curl.

The entire ensemble, next to Andy as Rorschach from Watchmen:

The costume went over well, except no one had any idea what I was. A few people knew I was a Victorian woman of some sort at least. And while Candy and I looked good in our costumes (she was a Greek muse) Andy got the most attention. Just walking down Forbes Avenue in Oakland on Friday night most of the male pedestrians called out, "Hey Rorschach!" constantly. He was way too pleased with himself.

A good Halloween all around.