Tag: 19th century

The Etiquette of Broken Betrothals: Victorian Advice on Ending an Engagement

Jilted by Briton Riviere, 1887.
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

In the Victorian era, a broken engagement was no small matter. If a gentleman jilted his fiancée, he risked doing untold damage to both her reputation and his own. Even so, if an engaged couple discovered that they were incompatible, Victorian era marriage manuals and books on etiquette strongly advised breaking the engagement rather than embarking on what would surely be a miserable marriage. As The New York Fashion Bazar Book of Etiquette (1887) explains:[…]Continue Reading

The Curious Case of Miss Schwich: A Victorian Girl in Boy’s Clothing

Illustrated Police News, 30 October 1886.
(© British Library Board)

In October of 1886, at the Marlborough Street Police Court in London, a young woman dressed in boy’s clothing was charged with stealing from her employer. Her name was Lois Schwich (sometimes spelled Schwick). She was twenty-one years old and had been wearing male attire since the age of seventeen. According to a 29 October 1886 report in the Herts & Cambs Reporter & Royston Crow:

“[Miss Schwich] had made every effort to obtain employment as a girl but had failed, and in desperation to support her starving mother, who had a young family, she assumed the garb of a boy, and succeeded in obtaining a situation.”

[…]Continue Reading

Mermaids Sightings in the 19th Century

Illustration of a Mermaid, The Brown Fairy Book by H. J. Ford, 1904.

According to historians, tales of mermaids and mermen can be traced back to the Babylonian sea deities Oannes and Atargatis in 1000 BCE. Since then, mermaid folklore has appeared in every era and every culture, from ancient Greece to Victorian England. But mermaid lore was not limited to the realm of folklore and mythology. During the nineteenth century, mermaids appeared with some regularity in art, literature, and music. They also featured in the nineteenth century news, with both sailors and coastal residents reporting real life sightings of mermaids well into the Victorian era.[…]Continue Reading

How Much Scent is Too Much?—Victorian Advice for Ladies and Gentlemen

La Mode, 1836.
(Met Museum)

In the Victorian era, perfumed products abounded. In addition to perfume, cologne, and toilet water, there were scented soaps, scented pomades, and even scented mouth waters and dentifrices for the teeth. But how much scent could a lady or a gentleman wear without being offensive? It’s a question many of us puzzle over even today. Fortunately for the Victorians, books and articles on proper etiquette offered plenty of advice to guide the unwary.[…]Continue Reading

The Dangers of the Victorian Pleasure Garden

The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864.

When thinking of nineteenth century pleasure gardens, most of us instantly conjure up images of Vauxhall. But those in the Georgian era weren’t the only ones to enjoy a pleasure garden in London. In 1830 Cremorne Gardens was opened in Chelsea. Over the decades that followed, it offered concerts, circuses, dancing, and fireworks. It also offered military exhibitions and feats of dangerous daring, including high-wire acts and balloon ascents. Though many of these feats were successful, earning acclaim for various wire-walkers and aeronauts, still others ended in tragedy. Gruesome injuries and even fatalities occurred with some regularity—in full view of the Victorian public.[…]Continue Reading