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

Sporting Cats in the 19th Century

The Shooting Party by William Powell Frith, (1819-1909).

When one thinks of a 19th century shooting party, one usually imagines well-to-do sportsmen in plus-fours and tweed caps, accompanied by their loaders, their beaters, and—of course—their sporting dogs.  However, according to an article in the October 29, 1880 edition of the Portsmouth Evening News, even the best spaniels and retrievers could not compete with the “great skill” of a sporting cat.  As the article explains:[…]Continue Reading

The Solitary Vice: Victorian Views on Masturbation

Woman's Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.(Tate Museum)
Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood by George Elgar Hicks, 1863.
(Tate Museum)

During the Victorian era, masturbation—also known as self-pollution, self-abuse, or onanism—was believed to be both a moral and a physical evil.  Medical manuals of the era address it in the most severe terms, blaming male masturbation, and the resulting depletion of the body’s vital humors, for every imaginable illness, from blindness, impotence, and epilepsy to chronic fatigue, mental derangement, and even premature death.  Many of these beliefs can be traced back to two 18th century books, the most significant of which was Samuel Tissot’s famous 1760 medical treatise On Onania: or A Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation, which asserts:[…]Continue Reading

The Peacock in Myth, Legend, and 19th Century History

Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.
Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.

In his 1836 book On the Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind, Reverend Thomas Dick calls the peacock “the most beautiful bird in the world.”  There are few that would dispute this description; however, throughout history, there has always been more to the peacock than its dazzling plumage.  At various times and in various cultures, it has served as a symbol of good and evil, death and resurrection, and of sinful pride and overweening vanity.  And much like its avian brethren, the crow and the raven, the peacock has figured heavily in folktales and fables, as well as in countless superstitions that still exist today.[…]Continue Reading

The Victorian Baby: 19th Century Advice on Motherhood and Maternity

First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe
First Born by Gustave Leonard de Jonghe, 1863.

During the 19th century, there were many sources of information on motherhood and maternity.  Some new mothers relied on the instructions of their nurse, midwife, or physician.  While others used the example set by their own mother as a guide for their conduct.  For all the questions remaining, there were motherhood and maternity manuals produced by hospitals, religious organizations, and advice experts.  These guides advised on everything from conception and pregnancy to nursery decoration, childrearing, and teenage rebellion.  […]Continue Reading

This website uses cookies for a better browsing experience and to analyze site traffic to improve site performance. Find out more about how cookies are used on this site and how you can manage cookies in your browser by reading the Cookie Policy