Friday, April 29, 2011


I just heard two correspondents on CNN analyze Prince William and Kate Middleton's two quick kisses after today's wedding ceremony.  Seriously, who cares?  Just be happy for their marriage!

I apologize for the lack of good posts this week.  There has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster running off the tracks here, culminating in an emotional explosion last night.  I hesitate to get more detailed, as I really hate sharing personal details on this blog.  But I think it deals with many things that are relevant to this blog, including: depression, suicide, societal exile, and evil rats whose true nature comes out at the big showdown atop Big Ben.

Now I've probably got most you thoroughly confused.  What the fuck am I talking about?

I have a Victorian bogeyman who literally haunts most of my current nightmares.  I carry pictures of him around in my wallet.  Every time I share a nightmare with the counselor I see for my depression I show her one of three forms that the bogeyman has taken within my subconscious:

image source: The Disney Wiki

image source: Wickedpedia

image source: Wickedpedia
Yes, I know that picture one and two are essentially the same.  But I get different emotions when I look at them, oddly enough.
    How did this all start?

    Flashback to 1992.  I am five years old.  I watch The Great Mouse Detective in a movie theater with my grandmother, uncle, and two of my three sisters (the third had not been born yet.)  Months later I am sick with a high fever.  I dream that the bogeyman, in the form he takes in the third picture, is chasing me across the rooftops of Victorian London .  He finally catches me in a moonlight-bathed bedroom, rips me apart body part by body part, and leaves the pieces of me lying on the floor as he departs.

    There are no more nightmares in my youth, but as a protection against the bogeyman I develop an obsession with defeating him.  At first they are the basis of stories in my head.  By the time I am fifteen I try my hand at putting the stories onto a Word Document on my parents' computer and start publishing them on online fanfiction websites.  He represents power, passion, possession, insanity, and unadulterated evil beneath a veneer of suave gentlemanly civility.  I have written about twelve odd stories depicting this conflict.  The last of these stories, written when I was eighteen and being forced by my family to sacrifice my own happiness for the happiness of one of my sisters (or risk being rejected by said family if I didn't) has culminated into the novel that I have been trying to edit for the past five years.

    What I don't realize is that this bogeyman has become a huge part of my association with control and being taken advantage of by others.  For the first time since 1992 he's made guest appearances in my nightmares, and I've only just recently come to realize why.  The qualities he possesses in my subconscious are the same that one member of my family in particular has displayed to me over and over again, especially because I refuse to be in her control.  To not be in her control, however, makes me an outcast to my immediate family.  And who wants to be rejected by their family, especially a family that doesn't seem all that bad to the outside world?

    When I was working on defeating the bogeyman in my writing the nightmares didn't happen.  Now that I am not writing as much I think he's popping up again in my brain to remind me that there is unfinished business in my daily life.  But I don't like the form he's taking at all- the first two forms.  He's hiding the evil through false impressions.  He says he has the best intentions for me, but he's really just violating me and my rights to be my own person.  He has physically tied me down in my subconscious to prevent me from even killing myself in one of my dreams, which I tried to do so he couldn't use me anymore.

    I wonder if my suicidal thoughts come from this desire to end the controlling nature of the relationships that I have with my family members.  Any thoughts?

    Despite his unwelcome role in my psyche, Professor Ratigan must be credited more so than anything else with my obsession with the Victorian era.  When I started writing the stories fighting him I determined to do it on his turf- the polluted air and dingy streets of seedy 1890s London.  Thus began my extensive researches into the Victorian era.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    photos from "a game of shadows"

    Partially because I don't want to write extensively after the hour of rush-hour traffic I just sat through after dropping a friend off at the airport, and partially because I am impatient to see what Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) will look like (i.e. I need to see a trailer!) here are some photos from the sequel to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009): 

    image source: Daemon's Movies

    image source: Filmofilia
    image source: Flicks and Bits

    image source: Flicks and Bits

    image source: Obsessed with Film
    My only hope for this film is that Jared Harris plays a Professor Moriarty worthy of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock.

    Monday, April 25, 2011

    victorian dress paired up with the stuff it influences

    The Northumberland Gazette had an interesting Victorian and neo-Victorian related fashion article in today's online edition of the newspaper.

    As part of its Palace of the Modern Magician exhibit, Cragside, a country house in Northumberland belonging to Victorian inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong , will be displaying a recreation of a dress that Princess Alexandra wore on a visit to Cragside in 1884.

    The dress, made last summer before tourists' eyes using the same materials and sewing and cutting methods employed 100 years ago to make the original, is finally on display in its entirety.

    image source: Northunberland Gazette
    As a bonus feature to the exhibit, a neo-Victorian piece inspired by Alexandra's dress and other Victorian fashions will be on display with the dress:

    An 18th and 19th century inspired creation designed by 22-year-old Harriet Ferris will be on display until May 2.

    Also exhibited will be digital images showing how Luca’s dress is put together while visitors will be able to see Harriet’s sketch books alongside a stunning lace and ruffle Victorian-style collar she designed earlier this year.
    I wish we could see what Ferris's collar looks like.  Guess the only option is to visit Cragside to see it.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    versatile blogger award

    Much thanks to Ms. Lou at The Neo-Victorian Parlour, who has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award!

    So it looks like the rules to this chain award are as follows:

    1. Thank and link the person who nominated you.
    2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
    3. Pass the award onto fifteen of your favorite bloggers.
    4. Contact your nominees to let them know about the award.
    Okay, here goes for seven random facts about myself:

    1. I want to live in England.  My boyfriend was born in England but has not lived there since he was two years old and doesn't want to move back.  So much for that plan.  :-P
    2. I am a sugar addict.  I legitimately start shaking if I don't have foods that are high in sugar each day.  Sometimes I suck on sugar cubes to get my "fix."
    3. My twin sister and I are going to Lithuania in September to visit the land of my great-grandparents.  After doing some research of Kaunas, the city which they were from, and the time that they left the country- around 1915-1916, I strongly suspect that they left due to the German takeover of Kaunas during WWI. That city switched hands so many times from WWI to the early 1990s that I doubt I can find any record of any relatives that may still be in the area, but it will be cool to see some of my roots.
    4. My playlist includes Disney animated movie soundtracks like Aladdin and Mulan.  I probably know most of the lyrics to most 1990s Disney animated movie songs.
    5. Old cemeteries are so beautiful to me, especially Catholic ones with lots of weeping angels and mansion-like mausoleums.  
    6. I'm a grammar Nazi.  I will smite all those who misuse the English language with odd spellings, word usages, strange grammar and odd capitalizations.  I love editing and perfecting writing so much that I even freelance edit people's work on the side.  Despite this I am notorious for overusing commas.
    7. I once spent the night in an 18th century replica log cabin all by myself, using only a candle for light and sleeping on the uneven wooden floor.  The sleeping situation and the deer stepping on every stick in the surrounding woods made for an interesting, if not restful night.
    As fifteen bloggers to nominate seems too much like a chain letter.... maybe five?

    1. Amy at The Ultimate Goth Guide- Amy just received this award, but I'll mention her anyway.  She's the definition of versatile!
    2. Emily Mullin at Emily Mullin- One writer's attempt at documenting life through a lens
    3. Black_Lilly at Clockwork Mice and Toy Spiders
    4. Amy at Juliet's Lace
    5. Lauren at Wearing History

      Thursday, April 21, 2011

      to tighten the wallet as much as the corset

      As I was browsing Clockwork Couture the other night I came across a beautiful corset:


      Does this corset look familiar to any regular reader of this blog?  It should, as I wore it to both Emilie Autumn concerts at Mr. Small's Theater in 2009 and 2011, and as part of my Halloween steampunk outfit in October 2009:

      Me + fake weapons = ridiculousness
      This steel-boned corset has served me well in my neo-Victorian escapades.  It was quite a find for me at a time when I was just starting to learn about steampunk fashion and could only seem to find suitable steampunkesque apparel on eBay.

      Clockwork Couture's price for this outfit, however, staggers me.  It's $60 more than what I paid for mine.  I understand that they have to make a profit and I probably directly ordered from the supplier, but really.  It's a mass-produced piece- it doesn't cost that much per corset to make it.  Sure, Clockwork Couture also has to pay for a website to advertise their goods, and the benefit of going to a website like theirs is so you don't have to search the web for hours looking for steampunk clothes- they've done the footwork for you and should be paid extra for it.  But $84 for a corset that cost me $22 on eBay?!  I consider that to be a rip-off.

      I officially take back this post I wrote last July raving about Clockwork Couture's clothing being cheap.  Now that this item has been outrageously priced I have doubts on their other merchandise being such good deals as well.

      Wednesday, April 20, 2011

      the mayhew files: pickpockets

      A continuation of Scott's research on Mayhew's London.

      image source: Victorian London

      Mayhew seemed to regard pickpockets with some respect. He expresses a sense of almost admiration for their skill and dexterity.

      He gives an overview of the whole class of them, talking about how they managed their craft at different times and mentions their appearance, or rather the range of their appearances. He discusses how they generally rose from rags to near riches, at least in their dress. The skilled pickpocket was capable of pulling in 20-30 quid a day, a princely sum in those days.

      Most of the pickpockets came from parents who were criminals themselves. Some came into this line of work from more honest family structures.

      The low class neighborhoods, not surprisingly, produced the most pickpockets. Some started as young as five or six. Many found their way by themselves, stealing handkerchiefs out of the pockets of men as they walked by and working their way up, learning their craft through their own intellect. Others were picked up off the street by a trainer who taught them how to pick pockets (Note: think Fagin in Oliver Twist).

      Sometimes this training consisted of a coat hung on a wall with a bell attached.  Boys had to take turns trying to reach into the pocket without ringing the bell. At other times the trainer would walk up and down the room with a coat on and the boys had to try and get the goods from the pocket without him noticing.

      These young thieves wandered around the streets looking for crimes of opportunity. They were usually the least skilled of the thieves and they were certainly the most poorly dressed. It was difficult for them to infiltrate into the company of the wealthy due to their rough dress.

      They usually worked in teams of three to steal handkerchiefs. One of the boys tailed the other two who were themselves just walking behind an elderly gentleman. The rear boy was on lookout for police. One of the two other boys picked out the handkerchief while the other one screened him with his body so other passersby cannot see what they are up to.

      If noticed the thief would hand off the handkerchief to the screen and both would run for it. The third boy would point out a different direction to the victim, saying he saw them run that way.

      It was difficult for these boys to earn their keep solely as pickpockets. Many of them either acted as accomplices for more advanced pickpockets or turn various other scams.

      According to Mayhew, at about 14 years of age these thieves started to take a more careful view of their appearance. They began to acquire the clothes that will enable them to appear higher in class than they are. When dressed like their victims they did not arouse as much suspicion when in close proximity to them.  This closeness, of course, allows them to more effectively carry out their crime. 

      Neither the thieves nor the trainers of thieves were always male. Many of the most successful pickpockets were women, especially those who stole from other women-- they were not as noticeable when they stood close next to them.

      Not only was being close to a victim important, but so was not being caught afterward.  One way of doing this was for the pickpocket to carry out his craft in a part of town where he was not recognized.  He also had to find a fence to sell the goods he acquired, as it would seem odd for someone of their low status to be always pawning other people's pocket books and watches.

      Another way people picked pockets was to attempt to snatch a watch out of a vest pocket. This crime was
       usually accomplished by a pair of pick pockets. One would stand close to the victim with his arms folded in such a way that his right hand was hanging out the side and under his left arm. This stance provided cover in two ways:
      1. The hand doing the stealing is concealed by the left arm. 
      2. Standing with one's arms folded does not appear that one is doing anything with one's hands to the casual observer. 
      When the picker is in place the other partner would cause a distraction by bumping the man or showing him something.

      Often these crimes were carried out at public spectacles such as fireworks or acrobatic displays. Police officers, sometimes in plain clothes, would work at these displays and scan the crowd for pickpockets. (Note: Scott claims that pickpockets would be easy to see in this situation because they would probably be the only ones in the crowd of spectators not looking up.)

      Another favorite object of the thieves were scarf pins. These were stolen in a variety of ways. Sometimes the thief “stumbled” into the person, placing their hands onto the victim’s chest as if to catch themselves. As they pulled away they snatched the pin off, asked if they have hurt the victim, apologized and left the scene of the crime before the victim knew what had happened.

      Trouser pockets were picked, but rarely.  This crime was often committed by cutting the trouser pocket and
      increasing the size of the opening, as it was difficult to get one’s hands in without detection.  Other times two thieves had mock fights with each other, during the course of which they slammed into the victim and riffled his pockets while he was recovering from the collision.

      Other people were skilled enough to engage the victim in conversation and, during the course of the talk, carefully pluck the watch out of one of the victim’s vest pockets.

      Stealing women’s purses was more profitable than stealing men’s watches, even though watches were more valuable.  The reason for that was a purse could be emptied of its contents and thrown away, while the watch would take some time to fence. Five to six purses could be stolen in the time it took to fence a watch.

      Picking women’s pockets is another matter entirely. Usually this was effected by walking beside the woman and slipping a hand into her dress pocket. It was easier to do if the person was dressed nicely and easier still if it was a nicely dressed woman doing the stealing.

      Mayhew describes how women's pockets were often picked when they sstood in front of shop windows  gazing, almost entranced, by some of the objects inside.  In this state of awe they would allow almost anything to happen to them.  (Note: Scott finds this description a little unbelievable and playing on certain stereotypes that probably did not exist in this extreme. He describes the woman all aflutter with emotion looking at some object while window shopping.  But of course he wasn't there, so who's to know for sure?)

      There are three distinct types of pickpockets, according to Mayhew:
      1. omnibus pickpocket 
      2. railway pickpocket 
      3. shoplifter

      The omnibus pickpockets plied their trade on an omnibus. Generally they were well-dressed, respectable looking women who picked the pockets of other women. They stood on the omnibus until other women passengers got on.  When a wealthy-looking victim entered the pickpocket would sit down next to her, throwing part of her shawl over the woman. She would then slip her hand under the shawl and either cut the dress pocket open with scissors or a knife or reach into it.

      After the victim’s purse has been withdrawn the thief immediately departed the bus. Sometimes they were caught after arousing the driver's suspicion by paying more than the fare or not waiting for change and hurrying off. At this point the cagey drivers would ask if anyone was missing anything and, if so, tear off after the thief.

      Male pickpockets will also do this on omnibuses to male victims.

      Railway pickpockets were easily discernible to the trained eye because they wandered around the station not seemingly looking for a train table or waiting for a particular train. These were much the same people as average pickpockets and it is not clear why Mayhew has created a separate class of them.

      A wealthier class of pickpocket would board the train and pick pockets while riding the rails. These thieves were usually usually involve a couple, the female typically picking the pockets and handing the purse off to the male who then discreetly removed the cash and dropped the purse from the train or hid it in the WC.

      Shoplifters were usually women who went into a store and bothered the keeper to look at various merchandise.  Eventually a pile of items grows on the counter.  As the clerk turns to get one more requested item the thief pockets some of the merchandise sitting on the counter.  These thieves generally have an extra lining sewn into their skirt for such a purpose.

      Sometimes they worked in pairs, sometimes alone. They were usually fairly well dressed to allay suspicion. They would often pick the pockets of other customers while in the shops.

      Men shoplifted in a similar manner to women, but they often took the expedient of leaving a small deposit on one of the items they were not stealing to dispel suspicion.

      Sometimes the thieves would examine the items in the shop window and then make a facsimile of items such as jewelry out of a cheaper metal. Then, while examining the genuine article, they would switch it with the forgery and steal it that way.

      Tuesday, April 19, 2011

      lolita fashion in the wake of the quake

      There is a reason I avoided any mention of the earthquake that hit Japan on March 11- mainly because I didn't actually see the relevance to this blog   As you all know, I rarely cover current events on this blogs that aren't culturally related to neo-Victorianism, and I was pretty sure that the quake wouldn't affect anything Japanese-related on this blog-- I am not an adherent nor a fan of Lolita fashion, and all Japanese music and movies I listen to/see have, more often than not, been out for years before I discover them. To put it more simply, modern Japanese culture is just not something I run into a lot in my daily life, and not something I actively seek out.  And I didn't expect the magnitude of this earthquake to be as serious as it was at first.

      When our office ran into an issue ordering black toner for our Japanese copier machine because of the earthquake, however I started to wonder what else would be affected.  So two weeks ago I began searching the web for any articles on the earthquake and its potential effects on Lolita fashion.  Fortunately for any Lolitas out there, I found little to help me.  There was one article where a Lolita in the U.S. was interviewed about her take on the effects of Lolita fashion on the quake, but I stupidly didn't bookmark it and can't seem to find the article again.  The gist of the article was a prediction on the Lolita's part that the earthquake would result in an emergence of a new kind of counter-culture created by the devastation of the earthquake, much as Japanese culture today is part of the cultural movement that sprang out of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb disasters that ended WWII.

      One thing seems certain for any Lolitas out there who want to help Japan with recovering from this tragedy- keep buying Lolita goods.  There may be delays in receiving the items, but the important thing is the keep the Japanese economy afloat so they can continue to produce the items that Lolitas love.

      Caption and photo taken from: Totally Cool Pix.
      A shop attendant dressed in lolita fashion poses at Marui One, a branch of department store group Marui Co. Ltd., in Tokyo's Shinjuku district March 2, 2009. Suffering under tough economic conditions, Japanese department stores have been shutting stores and merging to survive. But department store group Marui Co. Ltd. is using a different strategy. They are remodelling their Shinjuku ward shops to target even narrower niche customer groups, beginning with their Marui One store. Within Marui One, which opened last month, there are more than 30 boutiques catering to consumers of Gothic, Lolita, Punk, Street and modern Asian brands. REUTERS/Issei Kato
      Japan deserves so much praise.  It has not begged for help from other countries and is working its arse off to contain the nuclear power plants in the process of meltdown and clean up the mess.  Such dedication and resourcefulness in the face of such a major crisis is extraordinary.  It actually inspired me to check out the goods in Kawaii Gifts on Walnut Street in the Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh the other day. 

      To help with the Japanese relief effort through the American Red Cross, text 90999 to donate $10.  For more information, click here.

      Monday, April 18, 2011

      "but i was first!"

      Thank you Gracie Gru for sharing this image with me regarding both my favorite childhood movie and my current favorite movie.
      image source: Fuck Yeah, The Great Mouse Detective!
      Yes Basil, although you did it first, Robert Downey Jr. did make being an antisocial know-it-all detective cool.  And mainstream, which you never managed to pull off.  Is that why you're going with a hipster look in this pic?

      The fact that there is a blog out there called Fuck Yeah, The Great Mouse Detective! has just made my day.  I predict it holds much future fodder for this blog- scanning through the archives I already see an interview with Vincent Price and some YouTube videos that look promising.

      Sunday, April 17, 2011

      being a victorian woman sucked

      I came across an informative article on Victorian expectations and views towards women the other day on The Ravena News-Herald's website.

      The article presents a summary of a lecture by Bronck Museum manager and curator Shelby Mattice.  The lecturer compares the lives of two seemingly different women of the 19th century- Theresa Sickles, the wife of a politician, and prostitute Helen Jewett.  Why are these two women, at opposite ends of the social spectrum, so similar in Mattice's eyes?

      Because they were involved in scandals with men that resulted in harm to themselves, but apparently no real problems for the men who created the scandals.

      Jewett was murdered by a young man in 1836, but justice was never served due to the woman's profession and unimportance in society due to her gender:

      A jury acquitted him within half an hour after the judge ordered them to disregard the testimony of the witnesses, most of whom were prostitutes.

      Considered a seductress Jewett, according to nineteenth century standards, deserved her fate.

      It was more important to protect a well-connected, nice looking young man than the woman he had murdered.

      An Albany newspaper carried an account of the trial and called Robinson a "valuable member of the community" who should not be punished because of an insignificant person.
      If that last graf doesn't make you sick, then I don't know what will.  Poor Helen Jewett- reduced to the status of an "insignificant person"  because of her profession and, possibly, her gender.

      Sickles, meanwhile, found herself caught between a rock and a hard place when her husband shot her lover, making her infidelity a public scandal:

      After Sickles leaked letters between his wife and [her lover] to the press, Theresa's reputation suffered enormously and she lived the rest of her life in virtual seclusion.
      That's consistent with how Victorians interacted with each other, especially at the top of the social and economic totem pole. Association with a "fallen woman" would have brought shame to yourself and a detailed societal analysis (a.k.a. "gossip" or "rumors") of the modesty of your own conduct.  Mattice, however, argues that Theresa Sickles' suffering was directly related to her husband's behavior rather than her own because he was acquitted on a plea of temporary insanity and did not suffer any legal ramifications for his actions. She, meanwhile, was banned from polite society, which could probably be likened to being forced into exile to a woman back then.

      It's hard to say whether Mattice has a point.  No information is given about whether Theresa's husband suffered in his personal life or political career after his "temporary insanity plea."  Besides, the poor guy did have to deal with his wife cheating on him.  Now if he was cheating as well that would change my perspective on his actions, but I do have some compassion for a spouse that suffers infidelity.  The woman isn't as innocent a victim as Mattice seems to indicate.
      While I think that Mattice stretches the point a bit with the Sickles case I did learn a few things about Victorian views on women from the article, such as this:

      Newspapers printed articles about the roles of successful wives, including tips like never contradicting your husband, never wounding his vanity, never prying into his concerns and never forgetting that a wife owed all her importance to him.
      And this tidbit (which I did know, but still sends chills down my spine):

       Invisible except for the status conferred by a husband or a father, there was no legal redress for spousal abuse and no legal consequences unless the father pursued the matter in court as damages done to him.
      This part of the article introduced an idea that I had never really considered before: women had greater liberty before the Victorian Era.

      "Wives worked side by side with their husbands," Mattice said, "When the men were gone they kept the farms and the businesses together. As long as they were a significant part of the economy women had more power."

      But the 1800s brought the rise of urban areas, the influence of the Industrial Revolution and a new social model which called for men going off to work and women staying at home.
      From the 1700s to the 1800s education for women suffered as well:

      Mattice said that while the percentage of women during the American Revolution who could write their name was 40 percent, by the Victorian era it had dropped to 20 percent.
      I would not have guessed that the Victorian Era's ideas of gender roles would have affected the literacy rate that drastically.  What exactly happened?  I'm not sure industrialization is the full explanation for this illiteracy phenomenon in Victorian women.

      It appears to me from the article that Mattice doesn't make it clear in her lecture how, exactly, Theresa Sickles and Helen Jewett were the "property" of the men who created the scandals that hurt them.  But the information dispersed in between the real-life examples are pretty appalling to say the least, and consistent with experiences I have read of many women during this time period.

      Once again, I do not want to be a Victorian woman.  Ever. 

      Saturday, April 16, 2011

      to abuse the meaning of "steampunk"

      If you ask me, the following office set goes under the "NOT REMOTELY STEAMPUNK" category.  Then why has Fast Company's senior editor Suzanne Labarre, responsible for this article, labeled it "steampunk"?
      image source: Fast Company
      Where are the Victorian/sci-fi/mechanical/technologically advanced/antique influences in this piece? Where is the brass? 

      image source: Fast Company
      Oh, there. Okee... so just because there's a friggin' brass lever on a table means it's steampunk?! Either that or Labarre interpreted secret passages as the essence of steampunk culture.  You know, because secret passages apparently don't occur outside of a steampunk mindset.
      Unlike people on Etsy or eBay who label non-steampunk items as steampunk to generate more hits, I doubt that Suzanne Labarre was trying to fool anyone to sell an item.  I think she was just trying to be cutesy in her description of this office set.  It just bothers me because the label is wrong. Although steampunk has a loose definition at best, I don't think that this office set qualifies as "steampunk" in any way, shape, or form.

      Writers, please- understand what you are referring to before you start using labels to describe items.  Otherwise you're just being lazy.

      Friday, April 15, 2011

      the victoriana of plasticland

      Example of one of the Victorian-inspired
      tops at Forever 21 this season.
      Many readers seem to be most interested in learning more about where to get modern Victorian-inspired fashion pieces.  While neo-Victorian fashion was more mainstream in clothing when I started this blog in Fall 2009, there are still a few hangers-on of Victorian fashion in the stores that I can at least easily access from my location in Pittsburgh, most notably Forever 21.  I cannot say enough how much I love that store for its variety of fashion styles within its walls.  It would be more beneficial if they wouldn't jam the racks with said fashion because I often have to use a lot of upper arm strength that I don't have just to look at the clothes.

      Overall, most neo-Victorian fashion pieces are to be found online.  One such place that has some excellent everyday Victorian-influenced items is Plasticland.

      Plasticland is an online site for unique items with such influences as rockabilly, goth, cartoon, Japanese, and--you guessed it--Victorian.  They have everything from Victorian-styled shoes to clothes with hints of Victorian fashion to household items such as teacups and wall hangings that look straight out of a 19th century housewife's magazine.

      Such as these cute shoes:
      image source: Plasticland
      Wall decorations to steampunk your bedroom or living room:
      image source: Plasticland
      And this dress:

      image source: Plasticland
      ...which looks very similar to this dress worn by former Ukrainian prime minister and neo-Victorian fashionista Yulia Tymoshenko:

      My favorite item on this site, which is so popular that it's currently on backorder, is this gothic-influenced Victorian cameo tea set.  They're even dishwasher safe:
      image source: Plasticland
       My birthday will be coming up in three months or so.  You know, just in case anyone needs any ideas.

      Wednesday, April 13, 2011

      the mayhew files: forgers

       Recently my boyfriend gave me a copy of a book I've been eager to read since he read it nearly five years ago- Mayhew's London.  The book is an abridged version of London Labour and the London Poor, a compilation of newspaper articles for the Morning Chronicle written by Henry Mayhew about the various types of lower class peoples who populated the city of London in the mid-19th century.

      Mayhew is notable as a co-founder and editor of the satirical Punch magazine.  For London Labour and the London Poor, Mayhew took to the streets and interviewed everyone he could- beggars, prostitutes, thieves, labourers, and many others to reveal the lives of the "dregs" of society.  It's considered to be an excellent first-hand social history of the lower classes during the Victorian era.

      The book first caught Scott's interest five years ago, when I was first beginning to edit my Victorian historical fiction novel.  One of my major problems with the editing process was my lack of knowledge about the Victorian criminal underworld.  He read up on the various criminal classes described in detail in Mayhew's book and then would send me emails with the Cliff Notes version of each type of criminal profession and what they did.

      Since Mayhew's London is next on my queue, I think it is only appropriate to post Scott's notes on the criminal classes of Victorian London.  For the next several weeks Scott will be "guest blogging," so to speak, on Henry Mayhew and his London.

      This week we'll open up with Mayhew's take on forgers.


      Forgery is the act of making an official document false in some way.  There are a number of types of forgery.  Sometimes it involves creating a new document from scratch.  Other times it entails altering existing details on the document.  Sometimes it involves paper documents and at other times metal ones.  We’ll talk about the metal ones first.

      Coining has probably been going on since electrolysis was first invented.  It provided a fairly reasonable return on one’s investment, at least in the day when money was not only backed up with valuable metals but was made from it. The criminal made his wares this way:

      He would first scour the coin that was to be copied clean.  This was essential so that the coin would create an accurate mold from which to make the copies. 

      He would then make a plaster of Paris mold of the coin by pouring the plaster into a container of some sort, putting the coin in and then pouring more plaster over the top.  The mold was cut in half and the coin (or, more likely, coins) were removed.

      A mixture of metals were then poured into the plaster, but it had to be dry.  If it was not dry the water would be heated up to gas and cause the mold to explode.  Once the metal hardened and cooled the mold was pulled apart.  The coins were then deburred, which is the process of removing mold lines and pieces of the mold channel from the coin.

      The coin was then electro-plated with silver to make it look like the entire coin was made from that material.  Finally the criminal rubbed a mixture of lampblack and oil on the coin so that it looks like it has been in circulation.

      Coiners came from all kinds of different types of working poor.  Generally the work was done by two or more people.  It was possible to do it alone but not so easy.  Ofttimes they would also have a crow (Victorian slang for "lookout") on the lookout for police.

      When police did know of the whereabouts of a coiner they generally rushed the place as quickly as possible to prevent the coiners from destroying the evidence.  They would knock open the door with a sledgehammer.  Once discovered the coiners would break the mold and throw the coins into the molten metal pot.  Sometimes the coiners would throw the molten metal and the acids used in electro-plating at the police to slow them down while they either destroyed more evidence or made their escape.

      The coiners rarely used their own coin, preferring to sell them to intermediaries who then sold them along to others.  This method prevented the person using the coin as currency from actually knowing the coiner.  The coiner generally received only 1d (abbreviation for "penny") for each shilling he sold.

      Apparently one detective in the 50s and 60s was pretty Johnny-on-the-spot when it came to detecting coiners and had all manner of adventures apprehending them.  Most of these escapades involve the coiners going to desperate lengths to evade capture.  Sometimes the coiners beat the poor detective with iron bars, other times they jumped out of windows onto police below. One of the coiners even got a sentence of 30 years transportation for being such a pain in the tush.

      Forgeries of paper documents falls into five general categories: 
      • bank notes
      • cheques
      • acceptances
      • wills 
      • other documents.
      Bank notes were usually forged by highly skilled individuals, making it difficult for for the layman to detect the forgery without close inspection.  Although most bank officials detected the counterfeit right away, sometimes the notes passed from regional banks to the hub of the City before being discovered as fakes.

      Usually the notes forged were Bank of England notes as some of the provincial bank notes were harder to forge, having different colours on the paper and other such difficulties.  Usually the notes forged were for £5 or £10.

      To use these forged notes the criminal, usually not the same person who made them, would go to a outlying village or town and pass them off in the morning to a tradesman or to people at fairs or hotels at night.  This usually gave the felon the longest time possible to get away before those people went to the bank and discovered the forgery.

      Forged cheques were usually made from existing cheques.  The forgery is often just forging the signature or changing something in the payment category, such as making an eight into and eighty by the addition of a y and the 8 in the number section to match with the addition of a 0.

      Cheques were usually forged by clerks at banks.  It was rare for common criminals to forge cheques as they had little access to cheques to begin with.  Sometimes a robber would steal a cheque book and may make use of it, but the chances of being discovered were not usually worth the risk. 

      An acceptance was similar to a cheque except that a person would be drawing the money from a third person as the guarantor.  For example, if you wanted to borrow money from me, using your parents as the guarantor, you would give me a slip with a signature from your parents that would allow me to lend you the money and they would pay me back if you did not.

      The advantages for the common criminal in this are enormous--not necessarily in straight up theft but in access to money that they can use to make more money.  For example, if you know that you can make £20 with an investment of £10 but you don’t have £10, you can get an acceptance forge it in my name, get the £10, make the £20 and then pay back the £10 before anyone knows it is missing.  If you pay the £10 back in time I would never even be informed of the debt.

      Business men would take advantage of this system, as would bank clerks with gambling problems.

      If a common criminal got a hold of a book of acceptances he usually did not worry too much about meeting the payback deadline and then it was free money for as long as it would last.

      Wills were forged for obvious reasons.  Mayhew recommended that if someone you knew dies and you did not get anything from their will,, you should pay the shilling to have the will inspected in court.  Sometimes I think Mayhew is a little paranoid, but I guess you know what Nietzsche said (Note: I have no idea what Nietzsche said. Does anyone else?)

      Bills of sale as well as other documents were also forged.  When someone wanted to steal something and had a receipt they might alter the document so that it listed fewer goods than what were received.  Then they would abscond with the goods hidden about their person.

      Tuesday, April 12, 2011

      hot off the press

      Doing a Google News Search using such phrases as "steampunk" can give one some interesting articles.

      Such as this tidbit from the police blotter of the online Affton-Shrewsbury Patch:
      Steampunk Parts on the Theft Hot List?
      In a daring daylight heist, between noon and 3 p.m. March 30, a brass elevator gear was stolen from the parking lot of a business in Webster Groves.
      In Shrewsbury, around March 21, more than $600 worth of fabricated re-bar and more than $500 worth of metal pipe bollards were reported stolen from a construction site at Mackenzie Pointe.
      Scrap metal is a hot item for thieves, but probably so it can be melted and sold off rather than recycled for steampunk gear.  Two and a half years ago there were a string of sewer grate and manhole cover thefts in rural areas surrounding Pittsburgh, and more in Philadelphia (read about it here).

      In other news, Mesa, AZ. went Victorian sci-fi last Friday during Steampunk Street II, the theme for their April 2011 2nd Friday event.  Restaurants and shops stay open on 2nd Friday, which occurs the second Friday of every month, while street vendors, themed activities, and live entertainment take place on the streets of downtown Mesa. For more information check out their website here.

      images source: East Valley Tribune

      Monday, April 11, 2011

      another kind of g.a.s.l.i.g.h.t.

      Now on to the topic that reminded me to write about the movie Gaslight- the Victorian science fiction miniature gaming ruleset known as G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.

      G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T., or Glorious Adventures in Science Loosely Involving Generally Historical Times, is a set of rules for miniature gaming based on Victorian science fiction adventures.  According to Buck's Blog:

      Victorian Science Fiction (VSF) gaming is set in the world in which the predictions and visions of men like Jules Verne, HG Wells, and H. Ryder Haggard are true. In G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. Main Characters and Extras battle in a world of steam-powered vehicles, fantastic weapons, lost worlds, and terrible creatures. Pulp gaming pits steely-eyed, flint-jawed, barrel-chested, two-fisted, deadeye, tough as woodpecker lips, stud among studs, no kidding, stuff-of-legends hero-type guys against colorful, charismatic, egomaniacal, dastardly, nefarious villains and their mindless minions.
      image source: Buck's Blog
      In other words, G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. is steampunk meets miniature tabletop gaming.

      This rule set has been around for years, but a new book with updated and revamped rules and pointers will soon be available to wargamers everywhere.  With The G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. Compendium there are rules for creating characters, building Tesla-like weapons and vehicles such as dirigibles, and the creation and integration of sci-fi creatures.

      I've played few VSF games, but for the wargamer VSF is a pretty unique opportunity to mix the best of both the historical gaming and fantasy/science fiction gaming into one enjoyable experience.  I've never tried G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T., but I'll definitely see if I can give it a shot the next time my boyfriend and I are planning a wargamer.

      Bicyle battles anyone?

      image source: Victorian Adventure Enthusiast

      Saturday, April 9, 2011

      asylum-style beverage for the wayward victorian girl

      After my afternoon jog today I was pleasantly surprised by the contents of a nondescript envelope mixed in with my mail- a plastic bag filled with dried tea leaves.  Return address: Emilie Autumn, Chicago IL.

      The Victorianindustrial musician had finally made good on her promise to send all of the V.I.P.s of her February Pittsburgh concert the Asylum Tea that we were unable to sample at the V.I.P. event.  A call to my little sister confirmed that she had received her tea today as well.

      I waited until this evening to brew the tea. Once again I apologize for the poor quality of the photos.  I will have to purchase a digital camera one of these days instead of using the lousy built-in camera on my laptop.

      The verdict?

      Excellent.  It's an amber-colored tea, probably a weak black tea, with hints of spearmint in it.  In other words, a nice choice to give to fans who may have a wide variety of tastes in tea.  I wish I knew what the tea was called to advertise it further to readers, but the bag did not have a note of that sort and the "TEA" section of The Asylum Emporium does not have any tea products currently posted. 

      Thank you very much, Emilie Autumn and EA's manager, for making sure that the Pittsburgh V.I.P.s were able to enjoy Asylum Tea after all.

      Please excuse me while I self-medicate with the remainder of the tea in my tea pot.

      don't drink and drive a steam engine redux

      image source: Winning at Everything
      'Nuff said.

      Friday, April 8, 2011


      I apologize for the lack of posts over the past few days.  Things have been rather busy for me, but in a good way.  I'm a workaholic by nature, so it makes me ever so pleased to be able to keep busy and feel productive.

      Last night my boyfriend was trying to show me a Victorian sci-fi miniatures game called G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.  When he typed the acronymn into Google, however, the first page was filled with hits from a 1944 movie of the same name.  It struck me as odd that I had never thought to write about it.

      Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, is a wonderful thriller that takes a deep look at Victorian gender roles in the light of an unsolved murder and the mystery of the dimming gaslights in a Victorian home.  Ingrid Bergman plays Paula, a woman who returns to her childhood home with her new husband Gregory (Charles Boyer)  years after her aunt was murdered there.  But as the new couple settles into their new home, strange incidents happen to intrude on their happiness.  At first it seems like Paula has become absentminded when a brooch that her husband gave her goes missing.  But when pictures are misplaced and even her husband's pocket watch apparently taken from its chain and discovered in Paula's handbag as if taken in a kleptomaniac act, it appears to her that she is going mad.  With each incident her husband treats her more and more like a helpless child, to which she reacts by acting  more and more like one.

      And then there are those footsteps in the locked attic that no one else hears and the gaslight that dims at night that no one else seems to notice.  Are these just the fabrications of a madwoman, or is there a sinister plot in place meant to drive Paula to the point of hysteria and madness?

      This movie is an exaggerated example of extreme Victorian gender roles.  Gregory is a powerful, controlling male who appears perfectly rational and correct in all he does to his poor, tortured wife- the childlike woman who finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into madness with every suspicious look of her husband, every questioning of his acts, every time she tries to break free of his control over her.  Here's a clip from the movie that I think adequately shows how Paula's husband treats her like a child, and how she is so psychologically damaged by him that she no longer reacts to each problem as an adult woman normally would.

      I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who loves good thrillers.

      Monday, April 4, 2011

      1900 house

      Despite a serious attempt to get some actual fiction writing in yesterday, I was not feeling the writing vibe.  After half an hour of struggling I gave up, and decided to spend the rest of the stormy evening putting together a photo album that has been sitting in the corner with all of my old photos and newspaper articles for months now. Since the task itself did not involve much mental strain, I decided to watch a DVD while doing it.  That's when I remembered that I had yet to see 1900 House, the PBS series that places a modern-day family in a recreated middle-class Victorian house to see what it might have been like to live as the Victorians lived.

      So I sat down with my photos, my clippings, my scissor, and my acid-free paper and, for over three hours, immersed myself in the realities of a Victorian lifestyle.

      image source: TVrage
      This particular show came out before reality TV became the norm, and I must say that I am impressed with the amount of research and elbow grease that went into it to make the family live authentically.  Not only did contractors, interior designers, costume designers, and historical experts spend countless hours making sure that all of the original rooms, products, clothes and technology were in the renovated Victorian house in which the family would live, but the producers of the program also made sure that the family themselves were enthusiastic about making the experience as genuine as possible as well.  They even had the family take classes in doing Victorian housework to lessen the potential for accidents.

      It does make a difference that the family is on board with the project as a historical experiment rather than a farcical removal from the 20th century-- they have enough issues adjusting to corsets, the split in responsibilities between men and women, and even just trying to get enough hot water to take a bath, and were not always in the best of spirits.  Although various members of the family lose their cool from time to time, they do not display the dramatic freak-outs that, ten years later, have become the norm in the reality TV department.

      For a social history lesson I doubt one could get a clearer view of how women lived back then.  Due to the Victorians' obsession with excessive cleaning and the family's lower middle class status the mother, Joyce, spends most of the first few weeks doing just that.  All of the cleaning jobs I saw are pretty much done as Judith Flanders describes in her excellent book: Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England.  The twin daughters, Ruth and Hilary, take a day off school to help during laundry day, a 12-hour job in a period where detergents and spin cycles did not exist.  There's constant sweeping, dusting, vacuuming with an ineffective manual sweeper, dumping the contents of chamberpots into the outdoor WC and cleaning ashes from the fire in the grange to keep it going.

      image source: True Films
      Eventually, due to the amount of work Joyce has been doing, she hires a maid of all work.  Although I thought it was an excellent addition, as most lower middle class households of the time period had at least one servant, I was surprised that Joyce herself did not actually help her.  Flanders points out in her book that the mistress of the house in a lower-class position still would have had to help with the household chores even with a hired servant, although the particularly dirty and difficult jobs would have been left to the maid.  Elizabeth, the maid, was remarkable.  Not only did she put up with all of that heavy labor, she also researched Victorian cleaning techniques and delved into accounts of Victorian servants for her own interest.  She used a few tips that I have found in Judith Flanders' book, such as sprinkling dried tea leaves on the carpets before sweeping the dust off of them, which was effective according to Elizabeth.

      On a budget of £4 a week I was surprised at what the family could afford to buy.  By the end of the third episode they had acquired a Kodak camera, a bicycle and bathing suits for the entire family.

      And talk about the amount of new knowledge I gathered from this program.  One of the major surprises was having the mother, Joyce, and the eldest daughter, Kathryn, explain how women in that time period dealt with their menstrual cycles.  I knew that women became recluses during "that time of the month," but I had always wondered what they used in place of pads or tampons.  Well, the 1900 House answered that mystery.  They just used cloth between the legs, secured with a cloth "belt" around the waist, which had the habit of leaking on the other side when fully saturated. (If I had been in the family's situation I think I would have demanded some modern feminine products).
      image source: True Films

      This show confirms my firm belief that it would not have been much fun living in the Victorian times.  I'm very happy for women's liberation, the ability to go out and socialize with guy friends without the presence of a chaperone, and freedom from hours of useless cleaning.  Thank heaven I never had to miss school to help with laundry and am educated enough to hold a full-time job with benefits so I don't have to depend on a husband to provide me with all of my monetary needs.  Thank goodness also that I didn't have to remain in my parents' house until marriage.

      I'm not saying that being what the Victorians would have considered to be a "New Woman," the type who held a job and rejected the notion that women could only marry, have kids, and run a household for their family, is what every woman today wants.  Many women I know would love to get married, quit their jobs, and raise a family.  But not only has the 20th and 21st centuries provided them with technology that cuts down housework work such as laundry from a 12-hour job to just the push of a few buttons and maybe an hour ironing, the passage of time has also given us options in careers and life paths that most Victorian women would not have even dared to dream of for fear of being ostracized from society.

      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      review: the elephant man

      Last night Scott took me to see the Ninth Wave's Saturday evening performance of The Elephant Man, the play by Bernard Pomerance that I mentioned in this post from last week, at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.

      We enter the lobby outside the theater and are greeted by a sideshow of sorts- a juggler who can also hammer a nail into his nose, a tightrope walker, a very flexible woman, a magician who can get himself out of a securely strapped straitjacket.  We pass the time watching the little performances around us with the other audience members, wondering what will happen next.

      Then a show man appears, advertising the amazingly freakish Elephant Man.  For a penny one can take a look at the half man, half elephant, inside the privacy of a tent that has been erected in the lobby. A Victorian gentleman tells the showman that it is impossible.  The showman invites him to take a look. 

      A hushed silence falls over the crowd as we wait for the result.  A few moments later the man comes out, stunned.  He slowly hands the showman a penny.  After a pause, he identifies himself as a doctor and asks if he could study the man further for the sake of medicine.  He gives the showman his card to give to the man inside the tent.

      After the doctor departs a policeman comes by and shuts the sideshow down as a public nuisance.  A man comes out of the tent covered in a heavy coat, burlap veil and hat.  The sideshow workers who had been entertaining us begin to harass the man, trying to get him to uncover himself to mock him further.  The policeman shoos them away, and then asks the covered man if he has a place to go.  He finds the doctor's card on him, and sends for him.

      Thus begins the play.  After Frederick Treves, the doctor, departs with the Elephant Man into the theater,  the audience is invited into the theater with a few appropriate Victorian warnings (such as "If you have corsets that are laced too tightly, we strongly suggest that you do not go in.")

      The play was a character play, its strength based on the feelings and developments of the few characters.  The actor who plays Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, does not wear a mask or outfit to emulate the deformities that afflicted the real Merrick, which include thick lips, a huge bone-like growth on his head, sagging cauliflower-like skin on the back of his neck, right arm, and both legs, and elephant-like extremities on all limbs except his left arm:

      image source: The Human Marvels
      Instead the actor, Patrick Curley, shapes himself into the twisted body that is Joseph Merrick, maintaining the his left foot permanently perched on the ball of the foot, the right arm mostly stiff and curled inward, and the mouth jutting to the left, the face expressionless.

      At first I thought that the lack of costume to mirror Joseph Merrick's deformities was a cop-out, but as the play went on it didn't matter to me.  The play was about depicting this "freak of nature" as human.  It was obvious, from the way Merrick moved, talked, and interacted with other characters, that he was set apart from the other people.  But he is human, and to put some stage costume or makeup on him would have either not been enough to create the desired effect or too much that it would have made both actor and character seem ridiculously clownish to the audience, which was not the point of the story.  This play wasn't meant to be another freak show, but a story of a man whose humanity is recognized by people such as Dr. Joseph Treves and Mrs. Madge Kendal.  And yet it is these same people who see his humanity that push him to conform to the inhuman conventions of Victorian society.

      It is this connection with society which ultimately kills him.  As he becomes more "normal" in their eyes his severe deformities worsen and his health deteriorates.  Although Merrick slept sitting up because of the weight of his head, one night he chooses to lie down to sleep like other people, with fatal consequences.

      Although Merrick is "protected" by the characters in the play, one still gets the sense that he is being "used" very much like he was in the tent as a freak show participant.  The chairman of the Royal London Hospital uses him to raise funds for the hospital.  Treves uses him to rise up in his profession, becoming personal surgeon to the Prince of Wales himself.  Others use Merrick to feel more "Christian."  The only genuinely sincere character is Mrs. Kendal, who, in one moment of liberation from the constrictions of Victorian society, gives Merrick a view of beauty he has never experienced before.  By the end, however, characters such as the chairman and Dr. Treves come to appreciate Merrick not for what they made him into, but for what he was.  At that point it is too late. 

      This play, not so much about physical deformities as about the freakish mental deformities present in society, is excellent commentary not only on the morally upright view of Victorian society that we hold today, but also on our own society, which still strives to make people conform to the "norm."

      There are three more performances in Pittsburgh next weekend before The Ninth Wave moves on to one major performance at The Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia on April 11.  I strongly recommend it to anyone who will be in Pittsburgh or Philly on those dates.