The 19th Century Confidence Man

A Confidence Trick by J.M. Staniforth, 1898
A Confidence Trick by J.M. Staniforth, 1898.

Though tricksters and con artists have existed throughout history, the 19th century confidence man was a creature that many Victorians considered to be uniquely American.  Not a thief in the traditional sense, he seduced his prey with silky words and fantastical promises until his victims willingly gave him their trust, their money, and, quite literally, their confidence.  This propensity for slick talk and tall tales does tend to put one in mind of a stereotypical American of that era.  But was the 19th century American confidence man more than just a Victorian stereotype?[…]Continue Reading

A Brief History of Victorian Goldfish Globes and Goldfish-Hawkers

The Goldfish Bowl by Charles Edward Perugini, 1870.
The Goldfish Bowl by Charles Edward Perugini, 1870.

Among fashionable Victorians, there was no parlor ornament so elegant—nor so diverting—as a clear glass globe filled with glittering goldfish.  It was considered to be educational for children who, according to author Charles Nash Page in his 1898 book Aquaria, could learn more in a few hours of observing the goldfish than in “many days spent with books.”  It was also believed to be beneficial for invalids since watching the goldfish swim was “health restoring” and “restful to the mind.”  By the middle of the 19th century, goldfish globes had become so popular that an entire class of street-sellers had risen up to fill the demand.  Operating in both London and the English countryside, these “goldfish-hawkers” were a common sight—especially in the vicinity of the homes of the wealthy and the well-to-do, where they preferred to ply their trade.

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Tommie, the Beloved Scotch Terrier of 19th Century Author Wilkie Collins

“…there are periods in a man’s life when he finds the society that walks on four feet a welcome relief from the society that walks on two.” The Fallen Leaves, 1879.

Vixen, a Thoroughbred Scotch Terrier, by Edwin Landseer, engraved by Thomas Landseer, 1853.
Vixen, a Thoroughbred Scotch Terrier, by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1853.

Victorian author Wilkie Collins is often referred to as the father of the detective story.  His novels, such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, are counted among the first mystery novels ever written and are still some of the finest examples of mystery fiction you can read today.  In addition to being a fantastically talented writer, Collins was also a great lover of animals.  His favorite pet was his dog, a Scotch terrier named Tommie.  Tommie featured prominently in many letters that Collins wrote to his friends.  He was also depicted in Collins’ 1879 book, My Lady’s Money, wherein one character explains the unique spelling of the little dog’s name:

“His name is Tommie.  We are obliged to call him by it, because he won’t answer to any other than the name he had when my Lady bought him.  But we spell it with an i e at the end, which makes it less vulgar than Tommy with a y.”  

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Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia: A New Novel by the Creator of Downton Abbey

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016As a general rule, I don’t accept books for review here at MimiMatthews.com.  However, when I was approached several months ago to participate in the Progressive Blog Tour for Julian Fellowes’ new novel, Belgravia, I simply could not refuse.  Many of you probably already know Julian Fellowes as the creator, writer, and executive producer of the popular television series Downton Abbey.  He also wrote the screenplay (and won an Oscar!) for one of my favorite movies, Gosford Park.  His other film, television, and print credits are too numerous to list.  Suffice to say that he has been entertaining those of us who love historical drama for a very long time.[…]Continue Reading

On Bluestockings and Beauty: 19th Century Advice for Educated Women

“Blue-stocking or not, every woman ought to make the best of herself inside and out.  To be healthy, handsome, and cheerful, is no disadvantage even in a learned professor.”
The Art of Beauty, 1883.

Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.(Brooklyn Museum)
Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.
(Brooklyn Museum)

Unlike the clever, witty bluestockings that populated the fashionable salons of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Victorian bluestocking was considered to be, as one 1876 publication puts it, “a stiff, stilted, queer literary woman of a dubious age.”  This unfortunate stereotype was so firmly entrenched that it even made its way into an 1883 edition of the Popular Encyclopedia, wherein a bluestocking is defined as a “pedantic female” who has sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning.[…]Continue Reading

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