Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Marriage, Over the Anvil

It's been a long time! Too long. I am now a year into to my expat life in Switzerland. My daughter has started kindergarten, and suddenly I can find time to blog once more! Yeah! I'm not sure what my frequency will be for a time - I'm trying to finish writing all the books I abandoned a year and a half ago - but I have to start somewhere.

That somewhere is Scotland. I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow to reunite with dear family and have an all around excellent time. I haven't been there since I was fourteen, an age at which I did not yet see Austen associations everywhere, but my adult self feels the need to mark my journey with a discussion of the infamous Gretna Green marriages over the anvil, which three of Austen's novels utilize as a plot device.
"We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin's maid betrayed us. I was banished to the house of a relation far distant, and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement, till my father's point was gained." - Colonel Brandon, Sense & Sensibility 
"I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel." - Lydia Bennet, Pride & Prejudice
Why Gretna? Anywhere in Scotland might do, and several other border towns were well known for performing runaway marriages. The Marriage Act of 1753, aimed at curtailing underage marriages and those without parental consent, declared that the banns (an official wedding announcement) be read on three Sundays during Sunday services in the home parishes of both bride and groom. This gave anyone objecting to the marriage an opportunity to stop it. Faster marriages could take place by special license, but if the bride or groom were under twenty-one they required parental consent. So what's your Regency Era Romeo and Juliet supposed to do? Make a run for the border, of course.
"You may not have heard of the last blow--Julia's elopement; she is gone to Scotland with Yates." Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park
It was called marriage over the anvil because Scottish wedding ceremonies did not have to be performed by a clergyman, and often the first person available to perform a ceremony would be the blacksmith, stationed in proximity to the coaching inn. Only two witnesses were required to make the marriage legal. The practice continued unabated until 1856, when Scottish law was changed to require a twenty-one day residency before a ceremony could take place.

Gretna remains a popular wedding destination, and tourists flock to the old smithy to touch the historic anvil, which is supposed to convey luck in love. I won't make it there this trip, but it would be delightful to visit someday, perhaps renew some marriage vows. An elopement to Scotland sounds romantic, but as countless Regency heroines have learned the hard way, it really wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Still, the aura of romance persists, and I feel the lure.
"... Sophia and I experienced the satisfaction of seeing them depart for Gretna-Green, which they chose for the celebration of their Nuptials, in preference to any other place although it was at a considerable distance from Macdonald-Hall." - Laura, Love and Friendship

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Catwalk - An Amazing Fashion Exhibit at the Rijksmuseum

Here are some pictures from my latest post at Austen Authors. Read the complete post: http://austenauthors.net/catwalk-an-amazing-exhibit-of-historical-costumes-at-the-rijksmuseum/

I was fortunate to be in Amsterdam this week and see Catwalka glorious exhibit of clothing from the 17th through mid-19th centuries at the Rijksmuseum. Oh my goodness! It was the most impressive display of clothing of any sort, let alone historical pieces, I have ever seen. Take away the clothes and the display and mannequins are themselves works of art. Add the clothing ... I have no words. I cried. Yes, beautiful clothing apparently has the power to turn me into a watering pot.
I cannot do a comprehensive review of the entire exhibit, but I want to share a few gowns of interest from Jane Austen's era. Keep in mind, these are from The Netherlands and France, not England. Forgive my photography. I did as best I could while being overwhelmed and teary eyed. Descriptions are copied from the exhibit.


Dress (Mantua) with Train, c. 1759
"On her wedding day in 1759 Helena Slicher wore this gown with a skirt no less than two-meters wide! The skirt is supported by large panniers, side hoops around the hips. Unusually, this dress combines two different types of court dress. The bodice with a 'tail' follows the English court dress. a mantua, while the loose train was popular primarily on the Continent."
Note that the wallpaper in the room where this gown is displayed mimics the embroidery pattern of the gown.

Redingote or Great-Coat Dress, c. 1786-1789
"The origin of the redingote lies in long men's coats with a cutaway front, the riding coat.It is a striking example of the influence men's fashion exerted on women's fashion. A redingote for ladies consisted of an overcoat or gown, and a loose skirt in a contrasting colour, which enhanced the coat-like effect. Olive green and pale pink were a popular combination at the end of the 18th century."

Gown, c. 1790-1810
"At the end of the 18th century the wide skirts became narrower, and the waistline was raised to under the bosom. The narrow sleeved were so long that they extended to the middle of the hand. They were set in far at the back to a typical lozenge-shaped panel, the shape of which is emphasized by ornamental stitching in a colour that contrasts with the red silk of the dress."

FullEveningDressBackFullEveningDressTrainDetailFull Evening Dress with Train, c. 1808-1812
"Cornelia Johanna van Nellesteyn-Steengracht may have worn this evening dress to a reception given by King Louis Napoleon at the Palace on Amsterdam Square. The embroidery pattern of the skirt makes on think of gowns worn at the court of Napoleon I. This dress, however, is not embroidered with gold, but rather gilt-brass thread - which would have been looked down upon in France."


Wedding Gown with Train and Rosettes, 1812
"Margaretha Johanna Weddik Wendel wore this gown when she married Baron Hieronymus Nicolaas van Slingelandt on 25 November 1812. It follows the early 19th-century fashion of full evening and court gowns, which usually had a tulle ruffle at the neckline and sleeves, and a decorated hem. The decoration consists of a satin border, pleated ribbon, roses, and loose petals."

    Ball Dress of Blonde Lace, c. 1815-1820
"Lace had been out of fashion since the French revolution. However, it regained its popularity when Napoleon decreed it should be worn at court in 1804. This dress is made of hand-made silk bobbin lace known as 'blonde'. The name is derived from the often light colour of the silk from which it was often made. The material is very fragile, and dresses made of it are exceedingly rare."


Wadded Coat (douillette), c. 1820
"In French douillette means soft, smooth, and comfortable. These wadded coats became fashionable in the Netherlands from the 1820s. This one had a matching ornamented belt at the back. The origins of the puffed sleeves, filled and gathered by means of vertical bands, is found in the 16th century."

Riding Habit, c. 1826
"The tailoring of the wide skirt of this riding habit takes account of the fact that women rode side-saddle. The skirt was extra long because the legs, naturally, had to stay covered while riding. Sewn along the inside hem are fabric loops, with which the skirt could be pulled up to facilitate walking. The tight-fitting jacket offered little freedom of movement."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

I'm Here!

My poor neglected blog!

I seem to have written those words far too often. Sigh.

Big changes in my life. I now live in Switzerland. That's my prime excuse for the terribly long silence.

I'm supposed to be writing a blog post for Austen Authors right now. It goes live tomorrow! But I have been beset by terrible writing blockage. All my stated goals for the year fell apart in face of The Move. Being Mrs. Bennet still has no ending, The Prodigal Husband is in limbo, I offered you, dear readers, no Twisted Austen this Halloween, and NaNoWriMo is a no go this year. I really hoped I would get inspired and at least write something, even if not the full 50,000 words, but between my in-laws arriving next Wednesday and a trip to London for Thanksgiving, my heart just isn't in it, let alone my head.

Anyway, maybe resurrecting my blog from near death will inspire me with a fabulous post notion for AA. If nothing else, I've been meaning to check in, offer my apologies, and pledge to come back to my writing soon. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Emergency review! I was so certain I had already written a review for Bride & Prejudice, until I started looking for the darn thing to use in my next Austen Authors post, due out in less than 12 hours. What else to do but hurry up and rewatch this delightful take of Austen's most beloved novel? I think this is the forth time I have seen it, and I like better each time. It really is a well done adaptation. That being said, it's not a great Bollywood film, and I do love my Bollywood. Maybe that's because it isn't really a proper Bollywood film but a Hollywood take on one, packed with some of the most recognizable Indian faces for a western audience. It is ironic (or perhaps self-aware) that the film puts a post-imperialist message at it's core, providing the barriers to romance that socio-economics play in the novel.

Lalita: You said yourself you are used to the best. I'm sure you think India is beneath you.

Darcy: If I really thought that, then why would I be thinking of buying this place.

Lalita: You think this is India? (indicates her surroundings, a luxury hotel swimming pool)

Darcy: Don't you want to see more investment? More jobs?

Lalita: Yes, but who does it really benefit? You want people to come to India without having to deal with Indians.

Darcy: Oh, that's good. Remind me to add that to the tourism brochure.

Lalita: Isn't that what all tourists want here? Five star comfort with a bit of culture thrown in? Well I don't want you turning India into a theme park. I thought we got rid of Imperialists like you.

Darcy: I'm not British. I'm American.

Lalita: Exactly.

The choice of Aishwarya Rai to play Austen heroines continues to astound me. This is, after all, one of the most beautiful women on the planet, let alone Bollywood royalty. Yet you forget that she is far too pretty to be an Austen heroine as she makes each role entirely her own, proving her acting ability well surpasses even her startling beauty. Let's think about this from a western perspective: how do you cast Angelina Jolie to play anyone's less attractive younger sister? Crazy, right? But Aishwarya is awesome as both Lalita Bakshi (and let's face, who else has such fine eyes?) and as the Marianne Dashwood character, Meenakshi, in 2000's Kondukondain Kondukondain (read my review here), Meenakshi.

The film is mostly really well cast. Anupam Kher has made a career out of portraying fathers, and his Mr. Bennet/Chaman Bakshi is thoroughly lovable (sorry, but I can't mention him without noting he played Shah Ruck Kahn's father in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenga, one of the most beloved Bollywood films ever and a personal favorite). More in keeping with Austen's original characters is Nadira Babbar as Mrs. Bennet, or Manorama Bakshi. Maybe one of my favorite characterization, however, is Caroline Bingley, or Kiran, played by Indira Varma (who might be more immediately recognizable to readers as Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones). Kiran is a much gentler Miss. Bingley. As she does not suffer the same social insecurity as the original, she is not desperate to trap Darcy in marriage. Jealousy for Lalita does not dominate (or even define) her character. Rather she comes off as a extremely spoiled party girl. Yes, she's an ice queen, but she is actually rather fun at a party. I enjoyed this less catty interpretation, despite the departure from canon.

There are only four Bakshi sisters (poor Kitty was once again overlooked). One of the funniest scenes is the Mary figure's performance of "the cobra dance" (played by Meghna Kothari), and one of the most uncomfortable scenes is a song and dance number performed by the sisters called No Life Without Wife, a weird cross between a 60's dance fad and Matchmaker Matchmaker Make me a Match. It is the worst of many bad songs in the film, but it immediately precedes a fun dream sequence that helps Lalita begin to understand her feelings for Darcy.

Now let's speak about William Darcy, an american hotel tycoon, played by Martin Henderson. I have heard other Janeites proclaim him their very favorite Darcy (even better than Mr. Firth!), but I am afraid I do not quite buy it. First of all, he is blond. A blond Darcy. It just doesn't work for me. Further, his portrayal comes off as pretty passive. The Wickham figure is actually staying in Lalita's house, and he doesn't have the gumption to warn her about him. He finally cuts the cord from his overbearing mummy and does the right thing, but it isn't enough for me. I want to like him better in the role, but I just can't. It's too awkward.

One more word on the music. I listen to a lot of Indian music, both from films and also kirtan music, and while I love it all, I have found it much more enjoyable when I do not know the translation. Perhaps it is then not unexpected that the English lyrics to the score of Bride and Prejudice are embarrassingly insipid. The numbers in Hindi are far more enjoyable, letting the audience get lost in the massive choreography and fabulous costumes, but oh! the pain of the English songs! So very, very bad.

All and all, Bride and Prejudice has a lot to offer the Janeite but maybe not so much for the Bollywood fan. A fun and silly adaptation. Take it for what it is and enjoy the absence of subtitles.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Neglecting the blog

Sigh. So much for my strong blogging start to the year. I don't know how three weeks went by since my last, laughably short post. Wait - yes I do! I'm moving to Switzerland! Yeah, thats right! And I can think of almost nothing else. The first few months of the year are always sluggish for me in the best of circumstances, but now I'm finding it nearly impossible to keep my mind on the things I am supposed to be accomplishing. Fortunately, there are some kind souls out there looking out for me, even as I lag. First off, I need to extend great thanks and appreciation to any and all those who voted Mr. Darcy's Christmas Present, the best finished story on A Happy Assembly in December. Three months in a row I made the top 5 at jaffrecs.com! No hope for forth, as the Swiss thing totally killed any hope I had of finishing Being Mrs. Bennet last month. There is little hope for this month. Sigh again.

I also received a wonderful review of The Madness of Mr. Darcy from Jody at A Spoonful of Happy Endings last weekend. Please do check it out. She has a lovely blog.

There are reviews to write and stories to complete. Hopefully, one or two of the former will shortly be making their appearance here. I also need to prepare my second Austen Authors post for the end of the month. Thinking about doing it on Arrack punch, of Vauxhall fame.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My First Post at Austen Authors!

How did so much time go by already? I was doing so well with posting at the beginning of the month. It was too soon for a lull in my new momentum.

The writer's block hit for a variety of reasons a bit over a week ago. I had already started my first Austen Authors post but could not seem to finish. I finally ended up writing about what was on my mind, which is rather momentous. Check out Catalogs and Confessions to learn more!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Vagabondia by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Last week I posted a short story of Burnett's, Racketty-Packetty House, in its entirety because: a) I find it delightful, b) it is out of copyright, and c) because it seemed a perfect introduction to today's review of Vagabondia, a romance novel. Both stories pit the bohemian against bourgeois. In Rackety-Packety House, the old fashioned, run down dolls make the best of their lot, even when their dear little old house is threatened to be disintegrated in flames. They dance and sing and have pretend feasts to buoy their spirits, in a manner much resembling the residents of "Vagabondia," which is what the Crewe family (apparently a favorite name of Burnett's) entitle their place in the world, living on the outskirts of society in impoverished gentility. Their parents being dead and the oldest son, Philip, being a struggling artist with a young family as well as his three sisters to support, the family maintains a carefree existence in their crumbling town home in an unfashionable area of London. At the center of the struggling vagabonds is our heroine, Dolly: an indomitable force of good cheer and industriousness, always up for a good fight with the "Philistines." Unfortunately, Dolly depends on one of this disapproving camp for her small salary, for she works as a governess for a distant relation. Lady Augusta thinks it inappropriate for Dolly to be so collected in her fallen circumstances, a sensation which costs the poor girl her job, early in the novel. No big deal for Dolly. She will have more time at home for her family and more time for Griffith Donne, her long time fiancee.

I adore Dolly, who has a great deal of an Elizabeth Bennet about her, as in this description:
It was a very fortunate thing for Dolly that she was not easily discomposed. Most girls entering a room full of people, evidently unemployed, and in consequence naturally prone to not too charitable criticism of new-comers, might have lost self-possession. Not so Dolly Crewe. Being announced, she came in neither with unnecessary hurry nor timidly, and with not the least atom of shrinking from the eyes turned toward her; and, simple and unassuming a young person as she appeared on first sight, more than one pair of eyes in question found themselves attracted by the white merino, the white shoulders, the elaborate tresses, and the serene, innocent-looking orbs.
Burnett introduces her in all her faults and glories, acknowledging her over indulgence of the vanity of the youngest sister, Molly, and her heartless flirtation with other men. This last vice is held accountable for Griffith's insecurities as he drudges his life in a thankless job, dreaming of the day he might afford to marry his love. My impression was that he was just a pea goose. I do not think Dolly's devotion to the man deserved or warranted. It becomes a flaw in her otherwise fascinating character. Unfortunately, the main romance is the worst part of this romance novel.

Much more fascinating are Dolly's attempts to maneuver her vulnerable family through a sometimes heartless world, particularly the adventures of the devastatingly beautiful and dangerously naive Molly and and middle sister Aimee, the only pragmatist is the family. I was hooked, turning page after page, hoping to see how the two older sisters would save Molly from what almost seems her inevitable fate. Vagabondia is an excellent exploration of class structure and character strength. I recommend reading it for Dolly's sake. She is a creature deserving of a better fate than that which her authoress subjects her, though the book does have a happy ending. It provided me with a similar sensation to that which I experience reading either Mansfield Park or Sense and Sesnisibility. The hero is unworthy of the heroine.