Category: 19th Century

A Cure for the Common Victorian Cold

“The abrupt violation of the decencies of social existence is one of the most annoying consequences of coughing and sneezing.” -Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1844.

The Invalid by William Powell Frith, 1890.

The cold that’s going around this season is intense. As of today, I’ve had it for two weeks. Between the coughing, congestion, and laryngitis, it’s been difficult to function. One wonders how our nineteenth century forbears managed in similar circumstances. Did they take to their beds and slowly succumb? Or were there plasters and potions to help them through it? In fact, Victorians had a multitude of (sometimes questionable) medicinals at their disposal.[…]Continue Reading

A Grave but Cordial Thank You: 19th Century Advice on Thanking Gentlemen Strangers

Der Beobachter, 1880.
(Met Museum)

Victorians had plenty of advice on how and when a lady should offer a word of gratitude, especially when that gratitude was in response to a service rendered by a gentleman stranger. Some believed that it wasn’t fashionable for ladies to thank strange gentlemen for small courtesies—e.g., holding doors for them or giving up their seats on a crowded public conveyance. To do so was considered unpolished and countrified. Better that ladies say nothing and accept such little services as their due.[…]Continue Reading

Tea and Sympathy: A Prescription for Nineteenth Century Invalids

A Convalescent by James Tissot, 1876.
(Sheffield City Art Galleries)

A cup of tea is the cure for any ill. And, in times of shock, the more sugar the better. This maxim was as true in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it is today. There was no illness, personal loss, or otherwise calamitous event to which tea could not be applied with sympathy—and vigor.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Christmas Decorating, featuring Frosted Branches and Gilded Acorns

Happy Christmas by Viggo Johansen, 1891.

There’s nothing more quintessentially Christmas than a Victorian Christmas, complete with mistletoe, tinsel, and candles on the tree. But there was more to Victorian holiday decorating than tinsel and candles. Just like us, many Victorians had a fondness for glitter and gold. In my new Victorian Christmas romance A Holiday By Gaslight, there’s a scene in which the guests at a country house party decorate for Christmas by gilding acorns and artificially frosting the tips of holly and ivy leaves with crystals. These Victorian decorating ideas didn’t originate in my fevered authorial brain. They were actual methods used to create glittering, gold-flaked, holiday cheer.[…]Continue Reading

Rolled Coiffures of the 1860s, featuring Rats, Cats, and Mice for the Hair

Rolled Hairstyles, Le Miroir Parisien, 1864.
(Met Museum)

During the 1860s, ladies often wore their hair rolled back at the sides and at the nape of their neck. These rolls were usually created using false hair or “rats.” A rat was a homemade hairpiece made from the hair collected from a lady’s brush each evening. It was used to pad out the rolls and to help them keep their shape. Since it was made from a lady’s own hair, it provided the best match in color and texture.[…]Continue Reading

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