History of 18th Century Crazes

History of 18th Century Crazes

The craze for porcelain was not orchestrated – it was a by-product of another craze; the craze for drinking tea and to a lesser extent coffee. As tea drinking really took hold the East India Company’s imports rocketed. By 1750 around four million pounds of tea were being imported to Britain and the porcelain was used to pack around the tea chests as it added ballast to ships without tainting the flavour of the precious cargoes. Over half a million pieces were brought to London in 1713 and soon this affordable tableware, plain white or blue and white was an essentially middle-class item.

From the first journeys east in the 1600s the elites of Europe had indulged their passion for porcelain and tea. Queen Mary of Orange was an avid collector and spread the fashion when she came to Britain with her husband William in 1688, the Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin described the Princess’s country estate of Honselaersdyck (not far from the Hague), as “very richly furnished with Chinese work and pictures”. An inventory of her apartment at Kensington Palace in 1697 listed 7,800 porcelain items – figures, jars, porcelain dishes, plates, and cups.

The royal craze soon spread through the upper echelons of English society as can be seen in the inventories of the Antonie family at their estate at Colworth House in Bedfordshire. An inventory drawn up for a sale following the death of Marc Antonie in 1720 lists “cheany & Teatable” in the North Parlour, advertised for £ 6 14s, and in the Hall “10 little Cheany plates that sold for £ 1 5s, 6 large Cheany Dishes £ 1 15s, 4 Cheany Basons, Cheany mugs and Delf Dishes, Cheany Cassters and Cheany”.

Taste in the High Life

Contrary to the popular literature of the day that the passion for porcelain was almost entirely female men collected it too. Indeed William Hogarth’s satirical painting ‘Taste in High Life’, shows amongst many other things considered fashionable at the time a couple fawning over a china cup and saucer.

These exotic treasures from the east brought their owners connection with the wider world, a world most of them would never see, and probably gave them the thrill of owning and using something that had been bought so unimaginably far away.

In William Burnaby’s The Ladies’ Visiting Day dated 1701, the female character Lady Lovetoy laments over the impossibility of travel to the East for women and the purchase of exotic goods is presented as a replacement for the voyages she could not make, unlike one supposes the men she might have might have known:

Fulvia: I wonder your Ladyship, that has such a Passion for those Parts of the World, never had the Curiosity to see ‘em.
Lady Lovetoy: Alas! The Men have usurp’d all the Pleasures of Life, and made it not so decent for our Sex to Travel; but I manage it as Mahomet wou’d ha’ done his Mountain […] Every Morning the pretty Things of all these Countries are brought me, and I’m in love with every Thing I see.”

Between 1660 and 1689, tea sold in coffee houses was taxed in liquid form. Unbelievably, all the tea for the day would be brewed in the morning, taxed by a visiting excise officer, and then kept in barrels and reheated as necessary throughout the day, which is a truly horrific thought for a tea drinker today. The quality of the drink improved after 1689, when it was taxed in leaf form rather than as a liquid and people started to brew it at home.

Smuggling tea became an unofficial industry along the south coast of England with a brisk trade in illegal tea from English merchants based in France until 1785 when the government (under pressure from London tea merchants whose profits were being seriously undermined) slashed the duty making it not only cheaper for customers but also wiping out the illegal trade overnight.

The Strode Family

So while men tended to haunt the coffee houses, smoking, reading the newspapers and doing business their female relatives were at home brewing and drinking tea. All the equipment would be set up by the servants, and then the tea would be brewed by the hostess (aided by a servant on hand to bring hot water) and then served by her to her guests in dainty cups. Both green and black teas were popular, and sugar was frequently added but not milk.

William Hogarth’s painting, ‘The Strode Family’ depicts the wealthy city magnate William Strode seated at the tea table with his aristocratic wife Lady Anne Cecil, inviting Reverend Arthur Smith to quit his solitary reading to join the conversation over tea while the empty seat awaits Colonel Strode to complete the party. The effect of the tea table with its combination of tea and porcelain was to bring about a mini social revolution in Britain.

This afternoon break with refreshments was considered a good thing for the rich and middle classes but some commentators of the day set themselves against it for the lower orders as it would lower their productivity. Despite their protestations not only was teatime invented so was the workers tea-break!

Workers at the British Oil Cake Company, Manchester WW1.

I think it’s time for a cuppa after all this writing!

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Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

From 1846 to 1854, Gustave Flaubert, the creator of Madame Bovary, had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet. The relationship turned sour, however, and they broke up. Louise was allegedly so angered by her breakup with Flaubert, she wrote a novel, Lui,(Him) in an effort to target Flaubert. However, Colet’s book has failed to have the lasting significance of Madame Bovary. Flaubert’s dozens of long letters to her, in 1846–1847, then especially between 1851 and 1855, are one of the many joys of his correspondence. Many of them are a precious source of information on the progress of the writing of Madame Bovary. In many others, Flaubert gives lengthy appreciations and critical comments on the poems that Louise Colet sent to him for his judgement before offering them for publication. The most interesting of these comments show the vast differences between her and him on the matter of style and literary expression, she being a gushing Romanticist, he deeply convinced that the writer must abstain from gush and self-indulgence.

An extract from one of the letters is reproduced below. Flaubert never married and according to his biographer Émile Faguet, his affair with Louise Colet was his only serious romance. Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding “le mot juste” (“the right word”), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art. Does he find ‘le mot juste’ in this letter dated 1846?

“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you [sic] with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.”

In his novel he Flaubert gives expression to his thoughts on love to Emma;

Before her marriage she had thought that she had love within her grasp; but since the happiness which she had expected this love to bring her hadn’t come, she supposed she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to imagine just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “rapture” – words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”

“She was not happy–she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency in life–this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she leaned? But if there were somewhere a being strong and beautiful, a valiant nature, full at once of exaltation and refinement, a poet’s heart in an angel’s form, a lyre with sounding chords ringing out elegiac epithalamia to heaven, why, perchance, should she not find him? Ah! How impossible! Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.”

In choosing to lose his heart to Louise Colet Flaubert had chosen badly. In her twenties she married Hippolyte Colet, an academic musician, partly in order to escape provincial life and live in Paris, echoes of Emma Bovary here I’m sure. When the couple arrived in Paris, Colet began to submit her work for approval and publication and soon won a two-thousand-franc prize from the Académie française, the first of four prizes won from the Académie. Like many women of note she ran a salon that was frequented by many of the city’s literary crowd including Victor Hugo. In 1840 she gave birth to her daughter Henriette, but neither her husband nor her lover, Victor Cousin, would acknowledge paternity of the child. After her affair with Flaubert she took up with Alfred de Musset, then Abel Villemain.

She was a resourceful woman and after her husband died, she supported herself and her daughter with her writing. Her “dry bones” probably did not quiver when she thought about Flaubert in her old age, far more water passed under her bridge than it ever did under Flaubert’s.

Illustration: Louise Colet by James Tissot (1836-1902), Oil on canvas, 1861.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The Extra-ordinary life of opera singer Gertrude Mara

The Extra-ordinary life of opera singer Gertrude Mara

Gertrude was one of the greatest singers of the Georgian Period. She was born at Kassel, Germany in February 1749. Her mother died soon after the birth. Her father was a poor musician, named Schmeling. Undernourished from birth she always suffered from ill health. Schmeling contrived to increase his income by mending musical instruments. One day little Gertrude got hold of a violin and started to play it. Her father punished her severely for touching other people’s property but the little girl was hooked and played with the violins he was mending whenever her father’s back was turned.

Soon she had mastered a scale and her father was forced to acknowledge her genius and arranged lessons for the child. Although she was five her legs had no strength and her father was forced to carry her everywhere including to small gatherings where she would give performances. After a performance in Frankfort, a public subscription was raised to get gifted little Gertrude some education. By the time she was nine, her health had improved and she was in Vienna giving concerts to the Queen and her friends who petted and admired her and persuaded her to give up the violin because it was an unfeminine instrument and sing instead. Her voice was already resonant and clear, but she had, of course, had no instruction. Schmeling, with the help of benefactors, then placed the young Gertrude under the tuition of the musico Paradisi where she made rapid progress.

Returning to Cassel, Schmeling hoped to get Gertrude a place at Court but the King would only employ Italian singers so they moved to Leipzig and the music school of Joesph Hiller where Gertrude stayed until  1771. She made her début in an opera of Basse’s at Dresden. Her success led her to an audience with the King,  Frederick II, who on hearing her was persuaded to engaged her for life to sing at his Court, despite her not being Italian! At last, she and her father had a secure income.

Whilst at the Court she met and married the violoncellist, Mara despite her friends’ advice. She soon discovered her folly; Mara was a wonton womaniser and the King’s demands were excessive too. On one occasion, she was physically brought from her bed, by his orders and forced to sing at the Opera, even though she was ill. When she had had enough of her unhappy life at Court she tried to escape but was detained by the Prussian ambassador at Frederick’s request.

By 1780 Frederick had lost his interest in music and Gertrude and she was free at last to return to Vienna where she procured at a letter of introduction from the Empress to her daughter Marie-Antoinette. She passed through Munich where Mozart heard her but was not favourably impressed. She reached Paris in 1782 where audiences pitted her talent again the celebrated Todi.

Two years later, in the spring of 1784, Mara made her first appearance in London, where her greatest successes awaited her. She was engaged to sing six nights at the Pantheon. Owing to the general election, she sang to small audiences, and her merits were not recognised until she sang at Westminster Abbey, in the Handel Commemoration, when she was heard with delight by nearly 1000 people. She sang in the repeated Commemoration in 1785, and in 1786 made her first appearance on the London stage in a serious pasticcio, ‘Didone Abbandonata,’ the success of which was due entirely to her singing.

I give Mara a cameo appearance in my novel, Sinclair. The Vicar of St James’ Piccadilly has managed to secure the services of Miss Mara and Mr. Stephen Storace her accompanist and impresario for his fundraising concert in the Christmas of 1787. Reverend Walker says ;

“Now for the highlight of our evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to invite the celebrated German opera singer Miss Gertrude Mara and her accompanist, the composer and impresario Mr. Stephen Storace, to entertain you this evening.”

The audience gasped, then clapped and roared as the pair made their way to the piano. “Well done, Connie, they loved you,” said John.

“My goodness, I’m on the same bill as Gertrude Mara and Stephen Storace,” Connie exclaimed.

An hour later Connie and Mrs. Peacock were being introduced to the great soprano by a contented Mr. Walker, accompanied by his daughters Hannah and Harriet.

“Mr. Walker, why didn’t you tell me about Miss Mara and Mr. Storace?” demanded Connie when they had gone.

“I didn’t know they would come until the last minute, and I didn’t want to put you off.”

In March 1787 she appeared in Handel’s opera of ‘Giulio Cesare’ where she played Cleopatra.  It was so successful that it was constantly repeated during the season. Mara again took a leading part in the Festival in Westminster Abbey in 1787, and she remained connected with the opera in London till 1791, after which, though she sang occasionally on the stage, and even in English ballad operas, she was more frequently heard in concerts and oratorios.

In 1788 she was singing in the Carnival at Turin and the following year at Venice. She returned to London in 1790 and went to Venice again in 1791. Coming once more to London in the next season, she remained here for ten years. After this time, she found her voice losing strength, and she quitted England in 1802, after enjoying a splendid benefit of over £1000 at her farewell concert.

Her worthless husband, and her numerous lovers,—among whom the last was a flute-player named Florio,—had helped her to spend the immense sums which she had earned, until she found herself without means, and compelled to support herself by teaching. She worked as a singing teacher in Moscow until 1812 when her small school was burned down and was forced to start again at age 64. She then settled in Italy for a while until in 1819 she returned to London where she appeared at the King’s theatre, but like ?? her voice had gone and she never appeared again. She returned to Italy where she died in poverty aged  84.

Sources: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Music_and_Musicians/Mara,_Gertrude: A life of Mara, by G. C. Grosheim, published at Cassel in 1823.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

Coco, Blue Jeans and Fashion’s Glass Ceiling

The origins of Haute Couture are English!  Charles Frederick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris in 1858, championing exclusive luxury fashion for the upper-class woman and coining the term ‘fashion designer’ and upgrading himself from a basic dressmaker. Ten years later Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was first established as the safeguard of high-fashion. Designers were required to earn the right to label themselves a couture house according to certain specifications although at the time the requirements were rather vague but being male was certainly an essential part of the package

The phrase “haute couture” was used for the first time in 1908 and shortly afterward, in 1910, Gabrielle Chanel set up her milliner’s studio at 21 rue Cambon in Paris, and in 1913 she opened a boutique in Deauville devoted to hats and a small range of clothes, made predominantly from jersey. In 1915 she reached new heights when she opened her Maison de Couture in Biarritz, in the Villa Larralde just opposite the Casino.

From the gamine fashions of the 1920s, Coco Chanel progressed to the womanly fashions in the 1930s: evening-dress designs were characterised by an elongated feminine style, and summer dresses featured contrasts such as silver eyelets, and shoulder straps decorated with rhinestones – drawing from Renaissance style. In 1932, Chanel presented an exhibition of jewellery dedicated to the diamond as a fashion accessory; it featured the Comet and Fountain necklaces of diamonds, which were of such original design, that Chanel S.A. re-presented them in 1993. Moreover, by 1937, the House of Chanel had expanded the range of its clothes to more women and presented prêt-à-porter clothes designed and cut for the petite woman. Among fashion designers, only the clothes created by Elsa Schiaparelli could compete with the clothes of Chanel.  Schiaparelli’s designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. Her clients included the heiress Daisy Fellowes and actress Mae West. Schiaparelli did not adapt to the changes in fashion following World War II and her couture house closed in 1954. Her brand has recently been revived led by designer Bertrand Guyon.

It is now over a hundred years since Coco Channel challenged convention, the key feature of today’s fashion is gender neutrality but there is nothing neutral about who’s in charge in these bastions of fashion and wealth. “Who’s Who in Fashion,” a directory published by Fairchild Publications, is split 60-40 in favor of men, and “The Encyclopaedia of Clothing and Fashion,” published last year by Charles Scribner’s Sons, included entries on 36 female and 69 male designers. There is still a glass ceiling for women when it comes to the fashion industry.

With two films and several books about her life and legacy, Coco Chanel has become a style icon. In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were many female designers — Alix Grès, Elsa Schiaparelli and Chanel — but after World War II, the big names were male — Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin even though the number of women entering the profession is more than ten to one in favour of the girls they are not making the progress they should.

Karl Lagerfeld has been the artistic director of the House of Chanel since 1983. He said of the brand founder,” Coco did a lot, but not as much as people think – or as much she herself taught at the end of her career.  She wasn’t only a designer – she was a woman of her time.’ He said didn’t like women and that she made two great mistakes towards the end of her long career; that she believed men did not like to see women in miniskirts and she took against blue jeans.

Coco Chanel was certainly a talented and controversial character, she spent the Second World War in bed with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklagea at the Hotel Ritz. In 1939, she took revenge on her staff who had struck for fairer wages in 1936 by closing her shops making 4000 of her mainly female staff redundant and she was well known for her dislike of Jews believing them to be a threat to Europe because of the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union. I would say that not taking the blue jeans was the least of her mistakes.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The Indian Joan of Arc

The Indian Joan of Arc

Lakshmi bai, the Rani or Queen of Jhansi (1828-1858) was a remarkable woman and one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She has since become emblematic of Indian rebellion against the encroachment of British imperialism and is celebrated by her country and people as a woman who lived contrary to the perceived notions of nineteenth-century Indian feminine decorum.

Many contradictory stories have been written about Bai that depict her as either an honorable head of state or as a ruthless, deceitful, and cunning warrior. Likewise, physical descriptions of Bai vary; some describing her as possessing beautiful facial features, and others describing her as badly scarred by smallpox. Nevertheless, she is considered an Indian national hero for leading the Jahnsi army against the British and is sometimes referred to as “the Indian Joan of Arc.”

Lakshmi bai was born in Poona into a Marathi Brahmin family. Her birth name was Maninkarnika and the date of her birth is believed to be November 19, 1835. Nicknamed Manu she moved to the holy town of Varanasi in the northern portion of India. Her mother died when she was four. her mother died when she was of four years. She was brought up in the family of her father’s employer the Peshwa of Bithoor who treated her like his own daughter.

Lakshmi bai had an unusual upbringing for a Brahman girl. Growing up with the boys in the Peshwa’s court, she was trained in martial arts and became proficient in sword fighting and riding elephants and horses. Two of her childhood friends were Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope, both of whom were active participants in the Great Rebellion.

Lakshmi bai married the Maharaja of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao who was more than twice her age. She was soon widowed. The pair had no children so following established Hindu tradition, just before his death, the maharaja adopted a boy as his heir.

Lord Dalhousie, the British governor-general of India, refused to recognize their adopted heir and annexed Jhansi in accordance with the doctrine of lapse and an agent of the East India Company was posted in the small kingdom to look after administrative matters.

Lakshmi bai decided to go against the British. She was just 22-year-old when she refused to cede Jhansi to the British. This was shortly after the beginning of the mutiny in 1857, which broke out in Meerut. With rebellion already taking place in India, Lakshmi bai was proclaimed the regent of Jhansi and joined the uprising. She rapidly organised her troops and assumed charge of the rebels in the Bundelkhand region. She was so successful that mutineers in the neighbouring areas headed toward Jhansi to offer her support.

Lakshmibal ‘s opponents were fierce. General Hugh Rose, of the East India Company’s forces, began the counteroffensive in Bundelkhand in January 1858. Advancing from Mhow, Rose captured Saugor (now Sagar) in February and then turned toward Jhansi in March.

East India company forces surrounded the fort of Jhansi, and the battle ensued. Offering stiff resistance to the invading forces, Lakshmi bai did not surrender even after her troops were overwhelmed and the army of her childhood friend Tantia Tope was defeated at the Battle of Betwa.

Despite the defeat of her forces Lakshmi bai managed to escape from the fort with a small band of palace guards. She headed eastward, where other rebels joined her. Together Tantia Tope and Lakshmi Bai then mounted a successful assault on the city-fortress of Gwalior. The treasury and the arsenal were seized, and Nana Sahib, the local leader, was proclaimed as the Peshwa. After taking Gwalior, Lakshmi bai marched east with her troops to Morar to confront Rose again. This time Lakshmi bai dressed as a man; she fought a fierce battle but was killed in combat.

According to a memoir purported to have been written by her husband’s adopted son Damodar Rao; he was among his mother’s troops and household at the battle of Gwalior; he says there were 60 men riding camels and horses. After the battle he fled and lived in the forest for two years. In that two years, Damodar and his retinue were whittled down by starvation and encounters British forces. Finally, Damodar Rao surrendered himself to a British official. His memoir ends in May 1860 when he was retired with a pension of Rs. 10,000 and seven retainers and put under the guardianship of Munshi Dharmanarayan, a loyal British subject.

Illustration: Portrait of Lakshmibai, the Ranee of Jhansi, (the 1850s or 1860s). Probably done after her death (June 1858): she wears a valuable pearl necklace and a cavalrywoman’s uniform.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £0.99 Also available on:

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