Robert Southey and the Cats of Greta Hall

Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.
Greta Hall in Keswick by Johann Jacob Weber, 1843.

Born of humble origins in 1774, Robert Southey went on to become Poet Laureate of England from 1813 until his death in 1843.  A contemporary of 19th century Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was an incredibly prolific writer, both of poetry and of prose.  He was also a great lover of cats, as evidenced in his vast correspondence with friends and family.[…]Continue Reading

Fashionable Caps for 19th Century Matrons both Young and Old

Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, early 19th century.
Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, early 19th century.

The 19th century cap was a modest necessity.  Worn by spinsters and matrons both young and old, it neatly covered a lady’s hair while she was at home and abroad.  At face value, such a basic article of clothing seems to have changed little throughout the century.  However, a closer look at the fashionable caps of women of the 1800s reveals that styles did in fact subtly evolve.  Through lace, ribbons, and trimmings, ladies of the age continually reinvented the cap, transforming it from what might otherwise have been a merely utilitarian scrap of fabric into a fashionable, feminine confection that said as much about a woman’s personal style as her French bonnets, cashmere shawls, and India muslin gowns.[…]Continue Reading

Shawls and Wraps in 19th Century Art, Literature, and Fashion History

(Portrait of Olimpia Łosiowa, 1818-1820.)
Portrait of Olimpia Losiowa, 1818-1820.

From the Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl.  Available in all weights of fabrics, including silk, lace, muslin, and cashmere wool, and priced for all budgets, shawls graced the shoulders of women in every strata of society.  They were no less well-represented in art and literature of the day.  Shawls were referenced in the novels of such literary luminaries as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.  They were also featured in countless portrait paintings, draping the figures of fashionable 19th century ladies of every age.[…]Continue Reading

Art and Inspiration: The Paintings of Auguste Toulmouche

The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863.
The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863.

Fashionable 19th century Parisian painter Auguste Toulmouche is best known for his depictions of richly clad women set against the backdrop of luxurious interiors.  His paintings have been called “elegant trifles” and the ladies who feature in them have been referred to as “Toulmouche’s delicious dolls.”  One critic even compared the interiors of a Toulmouche painting to daintily decorated jewel boxes.  Unsurprisingly, the 19th century public had a great appetite for these visual treats.  Toulmouche’s paintings were popular, both with the upper and middle classes, and even with post-Civil War Americans.[…]Continue Reading

Elizabeth Bennet, La Belle Assemblée, and Early 19th Century Fashion

“Votaries and observers of fashion, but not her slaves, we follow her through her versatile path; catch her varied attractions, and present her changes to our readers as they pass before us in gay succession.” La Belle Assemblée, 1812.

Portrait of Elizabeth, Mrs Horsley Palmer, by Thomas Lawrence, early 19th century.
Portrait of Elizabeth, Mrs Horsley Palmer, by Thomas Lawrence, early 19th century.

Somehow, I cannot picture Elizabeth Bennet reclining on the drawing room sofa, idly flipping through the pages of the latest issue of La Belle Assemblée or The Lady’s Magazine.  And yet, if she had indulged in a bit of frivolous fashion magazine perusal, what advice might she have read there and what images might she have seen?

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813.  The story itself begins in the year 1811 and concludes at the close of 1812.  In June of 1812, Elizabeth Bennet is home at Longbourn, anxiously awaiting the July arrival of her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, who are to take her travelling in Derbyshire.  Whenever Mrs. Gardiner visits Longbourn, she delivers to her country relatives “an account of the present fashions” in London.[…]Continue Reading

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