A Victorian Halloween Party

Snap-Apple Night by Daniel Maclise, 1833.

Despite their reputation for straight-laced sobriety, the Victorians celebrated Halloween with great enthusiasm—and often with outright abandon.  Victorian Halloween parties were filled with fun, games, and spooky rituals, some of which still feature at Halloween parties today.  Many of the games had origins in pagan religion or medieval superstition.  Others were merely a means of making merry with one’s friends.  Regardless, Halloween parties of the 19th century were an occasion for indulging in what author Hugh Miller describes in his 1876 book Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland as:

“….a multitude of wild mischievous games which were tolerated at no other season.”

[…]Continue Reading

Jane Eyre and the Legendary Gytrash

Snarling dog from Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)
Snarling dog from Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, 1872.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

According to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, a Gytrash is a goblin or spirit which takes the form of a horse, mule, or large dog.  Typically found in the North of England, the Gytrash “haunted solitary ways” and often surprised unwary travelers as they journeyed alone in the dusk.  Jane Eyre herself encounters what she believes to be a Gytrash one bleak, January evening as she is walking from Thornfield Hall to post a letter in the nearby village of Hay.  Alerted to its arrival by a loud, clattering noise, Jane observes:[…]Continue Reading

Aphrodisiacs, Elixirs, and Dr. Brodum’s Restorative Nervous Cordial

Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.(Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust)
Quack Doctor Open for Business by G.M. Woodward, 1802.
(Image Courtesy of The Wellcome Library, CC BY 4.0.)

During the 18th and 19th century, patent medicines were everywhere.  These various powders, potions, elixirs, and cordials were primarily peddled by quacks, some of whom purported to be doctors from respected universities like St. Andrews in Scotland.  The claims they made on behalf of their products were extraordinary.  According to advertisements of the era, a restorative cordial or tonic could do practically anything, from curing dropsy in children to curing impotence in men and hysteria in women.  Some even proclaimed that they could cure a fellow of the desire to engage in that “solitary, melancholy practice” so common to the male sex (i.e. Masturbation).[…]Continue Reading

The Care and Kenneling of 19th Century Foxhounds and Sporting Dogs

“If the stable and stable management are important considerations to the turf man, the kennel and the general treatment of dogs must be equally so to the field man.”
(An Encyclopedia of Rural Sports, 1870.)

Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.
Foxhunting: Encouraging Hounds by John Frederick Herring, 1839.

Outdoor sports like foxhunting, coursing, and shooting were popular pastimes of the 19th century country gentleman.  As such, the care and maintenance of one’s hunting dogs was always a subject ripe for debate and discussion.  What was the best feed to give a foxhound?  How did one treat an outbreak of worms?  And, most importantly, what was the ideal design and construction of a kennel?  Sporting books and articles of the era give varying answers to these questions.  Some of them fall in line with our knowledge of dogs today.  Some of them are outright medieval.  Either way, a bit of research reveals that, though his quarters may at times have been magnificent, the 19th century sporting dog was no pampered pet.[…]Continue Reading

The Beauty Rituals of 19th Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Born in Munich on December 24, 1837, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of sixteen.  Though now widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women of 19th century Europe, Sisi, as she was known to her intimates, was not considered a great beauty in her youth.  Some biographers have even referred to her as sturdy and boyish with a “round peasant face.”  Highly sensitive to any perceived deficiencies in her appearance, Sisi embarked on a lifetime of starvation diets and extreme beauty rituals which have since become the stuff of legend. […]Continue Reading

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