Friday, December 12, 2014

Father's Plan

It's one thing to explore other publications and another to move completely to another, especially when it's from the familiar pages of Ackermann's Repository in the Regency era to the unknown world of America in the 1920s. A girl could get in all sorts of predicaments! Father decides it's the best thing for Dolly to go along with Minerva, as well as their little niece Iffy. There's nothing like dragging along a 10-year-old child to keep you out of trouble.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Willard Asks For Minerva's Hand

After a long rest within a closed book, the Ackermann girls are back in action!  Willard Henley has proposed to Minerva and now calls on Father to ask for his blessing. Willard has a promising future in the men's shirt industry, but his future is quite far into the future. Will it prove to be too much for Minerva to adapt to? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Proposal

Minerva Ackermann and Willard Henley are in love! For Minerva, it's a blissful dream come true, but painful choices lurk behind the moonlit verandahs and fragrant arbors where she and Willard meet. Could she leave the gracious world of Ackermann's Respository to join Willard in a strange and unfamiliar publication? Certainly, The New Yorker was jam-packed full of up-to-the minute information and advice for the trendy set, but it was a life Minerva feared she could never be part of.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Day At The Lake

The gang goes swimming today! Doris and Mabel organized a swimming party at the lake, even installing some sturdy floating docks, which the young fellows wasted no time in using for diving and general horseplay. Although the Arrow sisters showed off their smart new bathing attire, Dolly, Minerva, and Delphine continued to honor Father Ackermann's admonition to avoid the fashions imposed on them. Dolly and Delphine came across as somewhat out-of-date, but poor Minerva had chosen a costume that was hopelessly antiquated. Did it dampen the ardor of Willard Henley? Not a whit! A romantic smile came over his face, and he was heard to be whistling the tune of "I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad."

My grandparents met on a New York City beach around1910. In those days, thick ropes were attached to the piers for non-swimmers to hold on to as the waves came in. My grandfather noticed a pretty girl holding on a rope, but still getting knocked down by every wave, coming up spluttering. He offered to teach her to swim, saying that her death would be on his conscience if he didn't. And here we are today!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Minerva's Way With Dogs

Minerva has a special way with dogs. She charms them, and soon the adoring creatures are willing to do anything she pleases with them. Several of the local dogs have acquired odd tricks such as "stacking" and "posing", which is a great source of amusement for the dogs' owners. 

Dolly, Minerva, and Delphine are visiting Held Manor for the day, and Mr. Arrow is acting as chaperone. Several of Minerva's dog pupils have followed her, so the girls have decided that an impromptu show would be quite entertaining. The posing spaniels made a comic impression, except that Flash kept trying to play fetch with his flute. The dog stack was a hit with little Digger, dressed up in a sailor suit removed from a doll, topping the pyramid. For Willard, this is just one more confirmation that Minerva Ackermann is the most amazing girl in the world. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Young Man's Fancy

In the days that followed the party at Held Manor, it became obvious to everyone that Willard Henley was completely smitten by Minerva Ackermann. Obvious to everyone except Minerva, at first, but after a gushing conversation with Doris and Mabel in their bedroom, Minerva was set  straight. What a dilemma! 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Elegant Party

The young men have suggested a dance party and Mrs. Arrow has enthusiasticly agreed. Our girls have been invited, of course! Mrs. A. promised that it would be an elegant affair, conducted with great decorum and none of that embarrassing nonsense that occured at the last party. Mother and Father gave their permissions for Dolly and Minerva to attend, but insisted that they wear their own clothes. What could they wear? After hours of staring into the wardrobe, they hit upon the idea of wearing the oriental costumes they had worn to a fancy dress ball. Garbed in their exotic flowing robes they set off for Held Manor.

And what a party! Mabel was at her best, working her way through the guests as they arrived. Doris was closely followed by a Mr. Sleevebrace from the Arrow Company and she seemed to be relishing the attention. Mabel appeared to be unconcerned by the lack of an escort, but Dolly and Minerva had suspicions that her nonchalance was due to the serious conversation between Mr. Arrow and the earnest young Mr. Millwork in the lounge. Harold was crooning a rendition of "It Had To Be You" at the piano, winking meaningfully at the pretty redheaded pianist whenever he came to the words, "for all your faults, I love you still". Mr. Arrow Sr., an amiable old gentleman, chuckled and nodded.  

Mrs. Arrow had introduced the girls to each of the guests, and Minerva, despite her awkwardness in this unfamiliar setting, could not help but note that Mr. Willard Henley was watching her every move throughout the evening. The redhead at the piano began playing "Stardust".

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Arrival of Mr. Arrow and His Handsome Colleagues.

Chastened by the admonitions of their parents, Dolly and Minerva have promised not to be taken in by the temptations of the Arrow family at Held Manor. They are allowed to socialize with them, but not to dress in their style. However, there is much to tempt them at the moment, because Doris and Mabel's father has arrived. Mr. Arrow is a big name in the men's clothing industry and he has brought along several of his underlings. 

"I declare!" exclaims Minerva. "I have never seen such a gathering of handsome, well-dressed young men in one place!".  Not only blessed with classic profiles, they were a bright and energetic group, obviously bent on proving themselves in the business world. 

Dolly agreed, but added, "I'm sure I should have nothing to add to their conversations. Their health seems excellent, and the weather seems to be of little interest to them."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Margaret Hogarth Changed Her Publication

Mother, as you may know, has roamed various publications in her younger days. She was born in a Hogarth Print, namely Gin Lane, and although it was all misery to her and her family, she had the satisfaction of knowing that her image inspired a national thrill of horror and the beginnings of a movement to save children from the mire of drunken poverty. The image was crudely copied in a religious tract, self-published by Reverend Jabez Drinkwater, which circulated widely in the 1790s. This diatribe against gin among the desperately poor was often paired with its co-publication, Gin and Gentry, based on Hogarth's prints of members of the upper class who drink and gamble away their fortunes, health, and reputations. 

For young Margaret, this was an opportunity to move into the more comfortable world of the ton, but for all the luxury, she had to be constantly on her guard against the advances of inebriated rakes. It was on a pleasant May morning on the estate of Sir Wilmot (Wild Will) Slyde. Margaret had wandered to the fields to view the progress on the construction of expanded pleasure gardens. Surrounded by marble terraces, a placid pool reflected the classical folly. Tall yew hedges enclosed the whole. How beautiful it would be when finished, she thought, all lit by torches, lively music playing, the scent of roses or lilacs drifting in the air. But all spoiled by the crude bacchanal that was Sir Wilmot's idea of a party.

No sooner than that thought went through her mind did Margaret hear a stumbling footstep -- arms, and the stench of whiskey, wrapped around her. Sir Wilmot! He must have seen her going to the secluded grove and seen his opportunity to accost her unseen. Margaret cried out for help, and kind Fortune smiled, for, as Sir Wilmot did not remember, the groundskeepers and landscape architect were close at hand. The young architect, a specialist in classical outdoor structures, was in the midst of giving instructions to a stonemason when he heard Margaret's alarm. In a flash, he disengaged Sir Wilmot from the trembling girl and gave him a tongue-lashing only a sodden drunk could ignore. Unfortunately, Sir Wilmot was a sodden drunk, and it took a well-placed kick in the pants to explain the situation to that miserable creature. 

The upshot of it all was that James Ackermann lost his employment, Sir Wilmot's garden was left unfinished, and a young couple fell in love. Margaret joined James in Ackermann's Repository, and they lived happily ever after.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Violating the Prime Directive

Mother and Father have decided to have a serious discussion with Dolly and Minerva about the Arrow family. "They seem to be fine people and very amusing," says Father, "but there are boundaries that should not be crossed.  Most of us in the world of publications travel a bit and experience life from a different perspective. I have no problem with this. I, myself, have divided much of my time between periodicals, and if it were not for that, I would not have met your dear mother."

Mother smiled. "What a good move it was, dear James! I could have spent my whole life in that morbid religious tract, a sad victim of the Gin Craze. But there you were, and you welcomed me into the lovely world of Ackermann's Repository."

"I could have settled you into Vetusta Monumenta,my dear, " replied Father, "but there are so few women there! And Ackermann's Repository is the best life one could ask for. But back to the subject," he turned to the girls, "the one hard and fast rule, the Prime Directive, is that we do not bring our world into another publication. We do not interfere or even identify ourselves. That is what the Arrows have done, without any regard for the effect on the Space-Time Continuum. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well-intentioned that interference may be, the results are inevitably disastrous."

Dolly and Minerva looked down in shamed silence. They had been such willing victims.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fashion Review

Dolly and Minerva have decided to wear some of the Arrow sisters' dresses home, to see what Mother's reaction will be. As it happens, Delphine has dropped by to borrow some sheet music and Geneviève is paying a call to Mother. After a long, long moment of heavy silence and stone-faced stares at exposed legs, they begin pitching in their impressions. Being well-brought-up ladies, they are loathe to make negative remarks, but are hard-pressed to find compliments. In general, the fabrics are admired, but even with an extra 18" in length, the styles are just too bizarre. Geneviève gamely tries to equate them with the outlandish get-ups of French youth after the Revolution, a radical "anti-style", which resulted in the young men being called "Incroyables" and the girls, "Merveilleuses". Basically translated, "weirdos" and "freaks".

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Trying on New Styles

Dolly and Minerva are spending more and more time with the Arrow sisters, Doris and Mabel. Everything they do seems so interesting and fun to the Ackermann girls. Their world seems so much more daring and innovative than what exists between the covers of Ackermann's Repository of the Arts

Today, Doris and Mabel have decided that our girls must have a makeover. Upstairs in their bedroom, they have pulled out several fashionable frocks, silk hose, shoes, hats, and assorted undergarments. After some hairdressing and makeup, Dolly and Minerva are outfitted to the last detail. The underwear comes as a shock -- so little of it! And those stockings! Why wear something that is made to look as if you aren't wearing it? Short skirts and almost bare legs will take some getting used to. All it takes is a little impromptu Charleston lesson to make the girls realize that short skirts are so much fun! And Minerva shows a unique talent for doing the Shimmy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mah Jong Party

The next week, Dolly and Minerva were invited to the Arrow home for a Mah Jong Party. "It's so much fun!" exclaimed Doris. "It's like a card game, but played with little tiles." "It's a Chinese game," added Mabel. 

Dolly and Minerva still could not imagine what Mah Jong would be like, but their new friends' enthusiasm was so infectious, they agreed to come. The next week, they arrived at Held Manor and a loud clickety-clacking noise was audible from the drive. The girls entered a room done up in a manner quite reminiscent of the Chinese apartments of the Brighton Pavilion. Seated on the floor around a low table were Doris and Mabel with four friends, all decked out in the most gaudy robes of silk brocade. "I love dress-up!" declared Dolly. "This will be fun!".

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sitting in the Lap of Luxury

Dolly asks Mrs. Arrow if she may "wash her hands" and is shown to the bathroom. And what a bathroom it is. Dolly immediately called for Minerva to witness this palatial version of a most basic convenience. Mrs. A. instructed her on the use of the toilet bowl and discreetly left her alone for a few moments. Upon their return, Mrs. A. gave the girls a detailed tour of the room, explaining the functions of each fixture. Of course, they were mesmerized, as any female would be. They happily ran hot and cold water from every tap and stared, hypnotised by the whirlpool in the flushing toilet bowl. As an added treat, Mrs. A. allowed them to borrow all the gorgeously-coloured brochures from the plumbing fixture companies.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Modern Temptations

Dolly and Minerva cannot talk enough about the marvellous kitchen at Held Manor. Of course, they only speak of it to Mother. Mrs. Arrow has asked that details be a secret between them, but Mother can be trusted on such matters.  Before this revelation, Dolly and Minerva scarcely knew where the kitchen was in their own home, much less what skills or labour went into the preparation of daily necessities. Now they described the amazing devices and innovations that made housework actually pleasant. Miss Mabel had chatted cheerfully while she quickly ironed a rack of frocks, without a single black smudge. Miss Doris quickly mopped the floor to a gleaming shine. It was "linoleum", she informed them. So easy to keep clean, and always wax-bright. Mrs. Held had served cold fizzy drinks for the young ladies from an "ice box", while she made tea on a a miraculous stove that shot out a little ring of flame right under the kettle.

Mother was fascinated by every detail, but warned her daughters that these things belonged to the Arrows and would only last as long as that family remained in the neighbourhood. "I might have a chat with Mr. Rudolph Ackermann, though," she added. "Just a few ideas. He does enjoy his contraptions."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Labour-Saving Devices

In the days following the party at Held Manor, Dolly and Minerva had very mixed feelings about any further contact with the new people lodged there. However, after several days, a note arrived from Mrs. Arrow, expressing her thanks for their attendance and her deepest regrets about the indecorous behaviour of a number of her guests. A cousin from Life magazine had brought along some friends, whom, he said, were prominent cover subjects, widely considered "the bee's knees" by the popular set. From Mrs. Arrow's words, Dolly and Minerva deduced that "the bee's knees" (whatever that meant) were not what was expected. Mrs. A. begged her neighbours to put this episode behind them and feel free to call at any time. 

Encouraged, Dolly and Minerva set out the next day to leave calling cards. Arriving at the front door, the girls dropped the massive door knocker several times without response. Finding the door unlatched, they crept into the dim reception hall and deposited their cards on the sideboard. From the rear of the house floated the sounds of laughter and female chatter. With unaccustomed daring, Dolly and Minerva followed the noise to a large sunny room where they found Mrs. Arrow and the two Misses Arrow cheerfully doing what resembled housework.

"My dear girls," chirped Mrs. Arrow, "don't look so shocked! We couldn't possibly have left New York without our labour-saving devices! They do save so much money on hiring servants and besides, they make the drudgery of household tasks a pure joy to do!"

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Publication Tramps

Recently, news went around that nearby Held Manor had been rented for the summer, and better yet, a jolly crowd of young, well-off people would be gathering frequently at the baronial hall. What entertaining parties were anticipated by the local residents! What opportunities to meet eligible men! 

Dolly and Minerva were so pleased to receive an invitation to a dance at the Manor immediately after the moving-in, despite a few reports of loud and raucous laughter and something that could scarcely be called music issuing from the old hall at hours when no decent person should be awake. Arriving at the door with a lovely garden pedestal as a gift, Dolly and Minerva are confronted with a sight they are at a complete loss to understand. What is that noise? What are those people wearing? Why are they leaping about in that frantic manner? Suddenly it dawns on them.

Publication tramps. Been there, done that.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Girls Go Shopping

How nice to be back in London and shopping at Ackermann's! Dolly and Minerva have purchased a most ingenious combination table; just the kind of thing Rudolph Ackermann specializes in. It has a board on top for a game of chess or draughts which slides out to reveal a backgammon board and convenient compartments for holding game pieces. Underneath all is a silk-lined sewing basket. Something for everyone! Mr. Ackermann smiles approvingly.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Visit With Geneviève.

Back at home from her honeymoon with Louis, Cousin Geneviève pays a call to Dolly and Minerva. After describing all the interesting details of their travels, the conversation turns to (ahem!) information the girls have not found in Ackermann's Repository. Goodness! This puts their social lives in a whole new light.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Old friends and new.

Mother has arranged an afternoon party for Dolly and Minerva to welcome them back from their travels. Cousin Geneviève is back from her honeymoon and looking very stylish in her gowns from the Continent. Delphine is so taken by the music of a string trio that she simply must float about on the terrace. Two new young ladies have been invited. One, a pretty girl from the almost unknown publication The Reflector, tends to stare aimlessly. Minerva feels that their acquaintance will be short-lived. Miss Eustacia Bee, of the literary magazine of the same name, seems a bright and adept conversationalist. 

I leave for a 10-day trip to England tomorrow, certain that, in the meanwhile, Dolly and Minerva will be occupied with many interesting diversions.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Old Familiar Routine

Dolly and Minerva soon fall back into the familiar pattern of daily life. Today, there is trouble with Mr. Bumble, the new butler. Bumble seems to have little patience with the demands of small children, especially when it comes to wasting food. He and little Horatio have come to loggerheads over Kitty's love of cream in vast quantities.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ackermann's, Sweet Ackermann's.

The girls are home again, and oh, how sweet it is! Father is padding about in his slippers and old banyan, savoring a cup of tea, Mother is perched on the alcove sofa with an instructive book, and Cousin Delphine has dropped in with Duchess to hear all the details of their adventure. Where to start describing the very odd events while visiting the Curriers? Perhaps it's just better to relax in the tasteful comfort of Ackermann's Respository and share profitable memories as they come up. At any rate, this has been an insight into some of Mother's quirks. It's a revelation to Minerva that she will now have quirks of her own.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Age of Steam

The early 19th century saw the practical applications of the steam engine to transportation. Steam-powered locomotives pulled lines of rail cars from factories to ports where goods were loaded onto ships bound for other ports. Boats that had been pulled up canals by horse or mule were now steam-driven. Despite the immense benefits steam engines provided, they contributed greatly to air and noise pollution. Just a look at the picture below will give you an idea how filthy passengers in the coach car could become.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Farewell Party at John I's.

In the mid-1800's, Snedecker's Roadhouse in Brooklyn, NY was the place to go. Next to the Union Race Track, it attracted the lively racing crowd. The big draw to Snedecker's, or John I's, as its devotees called it, was during the winter sleighing season. According to this article, fresh snowfall was a signal to the sleighing crowd to make the 8-mile trip from the city to enjoy the winter ride and a fun party at Snedecker's. It's hard to imagine the landscape at that time -- open fields and scattered farms. This article chronicles the downward slide of the site, ending with a photo of a 1770 farmhouse that was demolished in the 1920s.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fraternal Societies in the 1800s

The 19th century was an active time when it came to fraternal societies, those clubs which incorporated men's night out with social activism and a large dose of all the arcane ritual of boys who are allowed in the tree house. Being in a family with dedicated Freemasons, I am often reminded of Tom Sawyer, who could never do anything without incorporating a framework of symbolic meaning, incantations, and literary inspiration. Fraternal societies have dwindled in number and membership over the last century, as modern entertainment and demands on free time have rendered them almost obsolete. My aged dad belongs to a rural lodge that meets on or before the full moon of every month. Musing about this, I asked him if there was any ritual significance connected with the lunar cycle, or was it just so that farmers using horses and wagons would have a bright moon to light their ways home. He laughed and said it was definitely the latter, and more practical, option. 

Dolly and Minerva return to the Currier home where the quadruple twins are beginning to give them an uneasy feeling.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On The Right Track.

Walking home from the gallery, Dolly and Minerva pass by Lover's Lane, and spy courting couples strolling and gazing calf-eyed into each other's faces. Obviously, this is a precursor to the happy family they hope to have one day, but it does seem rather forward to follow these young lovers around until children start appearing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Behind the Times

Dolly and Minerva are beginning to feel that their travels through other publications are not very enlightening. A visit to Harper's Weekly Magazine makes them realize just how far away from home they are.

Amazing, isn't it, how when fashions change, we look back in horror at what we we once wore with such confidence! I like to think, however, that with so many well-made movies of other times coming out, we have an appreciation of the beauty of past fashions. If actors are dressed well, not as caricatures of style, we see their clothes as people in those times did. My grandmother turned 20 in 1913, a beautiful era of fashion. Today, everyone is aware of that through the gorgeous costumes of Titanic and Downton Abbey. My grandmother grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City, a neighborhood of poor immigrants, but she had the luck of being the only child of a skilled custom tailor who ran his own business. When she married in 1912 (the year of the Titanic sinking), she couldn't afford a fancy wedding dress. A stroke of good fortune arose - a woman had commissioned a very pretty dress, paid for the materials, but never returned to collect the dress or pay for the labor. It was a pale blue dress of layers, with the semi-sheer overlay embroidered in a floral pattern made of hundreds of French knots. And it fit my grandmother perfectly. Where this dress ever went, I don't know, as I've never seen it or even a picture of it, but it must have been beautiful. I look at pictures of dresses like this and think it must have been similar.

Then my mother turned 20 in 1946. When I was a child, I'd be fascinated by her descriptions of how she rolled up her hair in those amazing styles, padded out with long hair switches. She made a lot of her own clothes and would bring left over material to a hat maker, who would whip up jaunty hats to match her outfits. Mom worked in NYC and studied voice at Juilliard School of Music, hoping for a career in opera. Her publicity photos were so gorgeous, and I looked forward to the day when I was 20 and looking like a million bucks.

Fast forward to 1972. I turned 20. And it was 1972. Good Lord...seen that..., worn that..., wondered about that. There was a big "Unisex" thing going on then. I guess someone had a bee in her bonnet about gender equality, but when you go unisex, one or both of the sexes is going to come off looking not quite right. I hear people say that everyone thinks the fashions of their own day look great and the opposite sex looks great. Not true, just not true. That's when a whole generation pulled on a pair of jeans and an old shirt and just said no.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sugar On Snow.

In maple country of North America, sugaring season is an important time. When the nights are freezing and the days are warm, the first fresh sap runs up through the maple trees. By drilling a hole through the bark and inserting a small spout, sugar makers are able to draw off large quantities of sap. The clear sap is then boiled until evaporated down to 1/40th of its volume, to a golden brown syrup. Boiling it further reduces it to a granular sugar. A traditional treat is to boil maple syrup to the "soft candy" stage and dribble it on a pan of fresh, clean snow, where it cools to blobs of sticky candy. It's extremely sweet, so it is always served with hot coffee, fried doughnuts, and pickles. 

Here, Dolly and Minerva have been invited to such a party. They didn't expect the rough setting, as you can tell by their choice of dress.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Day At The Races

Dolly and Minerva have had a winning day at the race track. Plopping down a modest sum on their favorite horses, they won an unexpected trifecta. When asked for their reasons for choosing these unlikely winners, they would only reply that they listened carefully to the song. Yes, folks, it's third place to Mother-in-Law, second to Louis, and the winner is Beetlebomb at 20 to 1!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

America's Pastime.

In their search to understand men, the girls find themselves following a great crowd of men to a sporting event in a large open field. It involves a man with a large stick who attempts to hit a small ball and run from point to point around a quadrilateral path and return to his original place before someone catches said ball and touches him with it. Which everyone in the field is keen on doing. Great excitement! 

Monday, February 10, 2014


Between 1854 and 1866, Currier and Ives released a series of prints on the subject of firefighters, those brave volunteers who leap up at any hour, haul out fascinating machines, and race off to protect life and property. The main action pictures, with stirring titles, are as follows:

"The Life of a Fireman. The Fire, 'Now then with a will- shake her up boys.'"
"The Life of a Fireman. The Metropolitan System."
"The Life of a Fireman. The new era. Steam and Muscle."
"The Life of a Fireman. The night alarm.-'Start her lively boys'."
"The Life of a Fireman. The Race,-'Jump her boys, jump her!'"
"The Life of a Fireman. The Ruins - Take up - Man your rope."

Other prints were included, showing less grand action, but more personal portraits of dedication and bravery. Dolly and Minerva are quite impressed with some local firefighters, as women will be far into the future.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Man's Life

Back at the house, Hiram and Homer begin recounting the day's adventures with Mr. Smith, while Horace cleans his fish in the kitchen. Mrs. Smith offers sage advice to Dolly and Minerva.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The American Wilderness

Abandoning their sleigh, Dolly and Minerva walk back to the grandparents' house to sit by the fire and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. On their way, they observe men engaged in rugged outdoor pursuits. American men seem to thrive on dangerous, life-threatening activities. For the rest of his long life, Hiram will tell the story of shooting that bear in the nick of time, while Homer proudly displays the jagged scars of his ordeal.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Jingle Bells

Dolly and Minerva had seen a jolly group in one-horse sleighs racing past the window, and in no time, they were seated in such a vehicle, flying over the snowy roads. This was a very popular past time in pre-automobile days and still is among the few who actually own a sleigh and a horse. But as the song goes, it's very easy to get "up-sot"! How many painful and/or fatal accidents must have happened because reckless young men felt more than up to a challenge. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Serendipity: or Going The Wrong Way, But Enjoying The Trip

Dolly and Minerva explore the Currier and Ives series, The Four Seasons of Life, in their search to find out how all these happy families, crammed with adorable children, came to be. It looks like they've wandered into Old Age, which depicts a contented elderly couple with a sweet little grand-daughter at their knees. Grandpa is regaling little Lizzie with tales of how things were in his day, while Grandma goes on about how handsome Grandpa was in his youth. Lizzie is swallowing very little of it. 

Minerva is ready to backtrack through the series when Dolly notices a jolly, jingling group of sleigh-riders pass by on the snowy road. This could be fun!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Visiting A Family

Dolly and Minerva are taking Mr. Ackermann's advice and broadening their horizons. Mother has suggested a trip to America to visit the Currier and Ives prints. They are having a pleasant stay with a happy family with four energetic children. Hopefully, they will get to the bottom of this baby business!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dolly and Minerva's birthday

Dolly and Minerva are curious about where babies come from and decide that the best way to start is to find out how they came into existence. Mother's story doesn't shed too much light on the problem. Somehow it seems like just another shopping trip to Ackermann's!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Those Curriers!

Dolly and Minerva are out walking when they pass Mr. Currier and his wife, the former Miss Ives. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Where Babies Come From

Ackermann's Repository is a wonderful magazine, full of all sorts of useful information, but it does have its limits.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Wedding of Geneviève and Louis

It turns out that Louis' parents were quite taken with Cousin Geneviève and began prodding their son in her direction. Of course, he acted like it was all their idea and everyone was happy. The wedding was a small but elegant affair; the French participants all decked out in court fashion, and Dolly, Minerva, and the bride wearing the latest gowns from Ackermann's Repository. Mrs. Nash, the bride's mother looked stately in a dark velvet gown with fur trim and a fine hat adorned with ostrich feathers, while Mr. Nash overcame his somewhat outdated garb by appearing the very picture of the jovial country gentleman. Mrs. Nash has been peering through her opera glasses, observing the motion of the chapel chandelier and ruminating about Foucault's Pendulum as the world turns.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How Geneviève Met Louis

As we know, Geneviève had already met Louis before the Blakeney party. It was during a trip to Paris that Geneviève attended a Bal des Victimes, a brief fad following the crash and burn of the French Revolution. It became quite fashionable for upper crust young people who had escaped the fate of Mme. Guillotine to wallow morbidly in their good fortune. One way was in fashion. The simple white tunic had been popularized by Marie Antoinette, but it really took off in the late 1790s. On one hand, it resembled the classic peplos worn by women in ancient Greece, and everyone was ancient history crazy at the time. Also, it brought to mind the prisoners being brought to execution in the crude tumbrels, stripped down to their white chemises. To accentuate this, women wore the costume à la victimewith long red ribbons around the neck, and often wrapped across their shoulders and down their arms, to suggest blood. Some women cut their hair short and ragged to complete the effect. The most gruesome touch was the habit of men to jerk their necks while bowing during introductions.

Strange parties were held by and for these folks, most famously at the Hôtel Thellusson. It was a psychologically difficult time for everyone, a phenomenon repeated again and again after devastating societal upheavals. I am reminded of the "Lost Generation" after World War I.

But for Geneviève and Louis, it was the beginning of a lovely romance.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Visit To Gin Lane

After the meeting with Uncle Digby, Mother takes Dolly and Minerva to the home of her parents. Poor baby Maggie! No wonder Mother is so aware of the huge inequalities of society!

In the first half of the 18th century, the distribution of cheap, flavored alcohol, called jenever, Geneva, or "gin", caused a situation called "The Gin Craze". The strong and extremely inexpensive liquor caused an epidemic of drunkenness among the very poor. The government tried various measures to curtail the production and sale of gin, with little effect. Gin was easy to produce and easy to sell. Gin dulled the miseries of life among the desperately poor, and as people would choose gin over food, it became obvious that their plight was becoming much worse. Drunken mothers gave birth to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, and quieted their babies and hungry children with gin. 

The Gin Act of 1751 saw the end of the Craze, as liquor vendors were required to have licenses to sell. Unlicensed distillers and vendors were shunned, as deadly versions of home-brew gin appeared. So much like the dangers of American Prohibition (1920-1933). Another similarity is that food prices rose, causing people to choose food over drink.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The World of William Hogarth

William Hogarth was a talented and versatile artist of the first three-quarters of the 18th century. An engraver by trade, he aspired to be a painter in the historical genre, but is most famous for his engraved prints. He is considered the father of the serial print, notably The Harlot's Progress, The Rake's Progress, Marriage a la Mode, and  Beer Street and Gin Lane. These moralizing works portrayed in gritty detail the dangers of contemporary life and the disastrous consequences of going the wrong way. 

Many of Hogarth's paintings show a free and personal style that make me wish he had been born a hundred years later. The Shrimp Girl (1740-1745) could have easily been part of the Impressionist movement. Although the painting of The Hogarth Family Servants (c. 1750) is more traditional in style, I appreciate that these good faces have been preserved.

Dolly and Minerva get an unexpected jolt when Mother takes them to a gathering of a family they had no knowledge of. They certainly were not mentioned in Ackermann's Repository!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Geneviève Breaks an Engagement

Dolly and Minerva go to the opera to hear the famous soprano Angelina Catalani sing the part of Susanna in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Cousin Geneviève was to accompany them, but bowed out at the last minute. What was so pressing, that she would miss this opportunity to hear the greatest opera singer of the era? Little do they know that she is in a nearby box!

Angelica Catalani's remarkable voice was discovered when she was a teenager in a convent school in Rome, and it was little time before she embarked on a sensational singing career. From the age of 16, when she had a leading role at La Fenice in Venice, she amazed audiences and critics for the next thirty years. While singing in Paris in 1805, she signed a contract to perform in London from 1806-1807. Napoleon, eager to keep her in France, refused her a passport to leave the country, but she managed to slip out, spending the next several years in London. It was her role as Susanna that helped popularize Mozart's operas. Although we have no idea what she sounded like, the critical reviews establish her as one of the greatest opera singers of all time. Combined with her lovely doe-like features, she was a total sensation. 

Most likely unrelated to Angelica Catalani is the opera composer Alfredo Catalani (1854–1893), a largely overlooked figure, who wrote one of the most beautiful arias, "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" in La Wally. Listen here to hear it sung by Maria Callas, who, like Angelica Catalani, combined beauty with the greatest singing voice of her age.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dolly and Iphigenia at the Theatre

Dolly has been a good aunt and taken her niece Iphigenia (called Iffy) to Covent Garden's Theatre Royal to see a play. For those of you who have high-spirited children, you know this can be tiring.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ballooning in France

The two Montgolfier brothers were born into a family of paper manufacturers, Observing how laundry suspended over a fire billowed up with the waves of heat, Joseph experimented with paper bags, until he and his brother Etienne eventually built the huge hot air-filled globes that could carry people long distances. Their first public demonstration was in June of 1783, with a balloon that traveled 2 km in 10 minutes, at an altitude of about 2,000 metres. This encouraged them to build a larger and beautiful balloon for a demonstration for the king and queen. With the assistance of Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, a wallpaper manufacturer, a gorgeous balloon was constructed. Aboard were a sheep called Montauciel ("Climb-to-the-sky"), a duck and a rooster.  The royal couple were totally impressed. 

The Montgolfier brothers were aware of the far-reaching implications of their invention, envisioning long-distance transportation and military possibilities. Other inventors soon jumped on the idea and balloon travel was the wave of the future. Here's a postcard from the late 1800s depicting "Airships in the Year 2000" while touting chocolate. 

A favorite poem in my family was "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American pilot serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII. He was killed in a training exercise in England in 1941, at the age of 19. His poem, written on the back of a letter to his parents, was published and has since become an inspirational standard.

Is that Cousin Geneviève and Louis?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Taking the Waters at Bath

Bath was famous for its mineral waters since Roman times, hence the name Bath. Drinking and bathing in the waters was, and still is, considered good for the health in many such spas around the world. At the mineral pools, people would don long gowns and wade about. I found a photo of a bathing gown used by Martha Washington during her visits to Warm Springs at Berkeley, West Virginia. The Washington family frequented the springs, mainly for the benefit of her daughter Patsy, who suffered from epilepsy. Martha's gown is made of a blue and white checked yarn-dyed linen, with small lead weights sewn into the hem to keep it from floating up. 

Poor Patsy (Martha Parke Custis), began having seizures when she was 11 and her condition grew worse as time went on. The Washingtons tried everything known to current medicine to help her, with no effect. In 1773, when she was 17, Patsy died during a severe seizure. George Washington was devastated by her death, having been her doting stepfather since she was a toddler. 

So much is made of Bath as a fashionable spa destination, where people went to see and be seen, but I often think of all the truly ill people hoped against hope that they could find relief. It reminds me of the desperate crowd around the Pools of Siloam and Bethesda in Jerusalem, described in the Gospel of John.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Tea Room at Bath

Bath is a famous seaside resort, mainly due to Jane Austen's novels. Austen frequented Bath and the town is a favorite destination for Austen fans today. Dolly and Minerva are having a cuppa at a quaint tea room, and while in the midst of one of their eccentric conversations, notice that other women are listening intently to what they have to say. Despite their love of current novels, they have no idea that the three women are, front left to right, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, and Maria Edgeworth.