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Charles Dance stars as Jack Wolfenden in this drama by Julian Mitchell which tells the human story behind the so-called Wolfenden report.

Fifty years ago, a Home Office committee chaired by Wolfenden, then vice-chancellor of Reading University, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality. But behind the scenes of what was to become a turning point in British social history, there was an even more extraordinary story. Jack’s son Jeremy, then a brilliant undergraduate at Oxford, was himself gay, something his father could not bring himself to acknowledge.

From the corridors of power in Whitehall to the squalid public toilets of a Reading park, this is a story of fathers and sons, ambition and prejudice, gentlemen and players. Also starring Sean Biggerstaff, Samantha Bond, Haydn Gwynne and Mel Smith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007y9gx/Consenting_Adults/ (sadly only available to the UK, but well worth seeking out on DVD.)

Consenting Adults is a BBC Production which was made in 2007, and for some reason I’ve completely missed until yesterday. Just over an hour long, it’s an absolute must for anyone who has any interest at all in gay history.

It’s a simple enough story–pretty much based entirely on true facts–which relates the reasons for the instigation of the famous “Wolfenden Report”  (more correctly known as “Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957″)

You’d think that a story of a dry committee, sitting for months and discussing this subject would be incredibly dry as televisual matter, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. As often happens, truth is stranger than fiction and the work done on the report is brought into sharp focus as we discover that Jeremy Wolfenden, the son of John Wolfenden who headed up the report, is homosexual. The relationship between father and son is hugely typical of that time and place – the young  man much more confident and striding (or at least on the outside) and desperate for father’s approval and attention–and neither man able even to touch each other in friendship. Wolfenden senior tells Jeremy that he’d better stay away from home while the enquiry is on.

I learned something too–like many many people I’d been pronouncing it homo (as in go go) when it should be pronounced homo (to rhyme with dom-oh) because it’s from the greek which means “same” and not the latin which means “man.” Coo, the things you learn off the telly, eh?

The Report had been commissioned to see if any changes in the law were required, not only in homosexual cases, but in the matter of prostitution, as street prostitution was increasing, causing more people to be arrested, which hit the newspapers, creating moral outrage. With homosexuality, more and more men were being arrested for sodomy, attempted sodomy, public indecency and other acts under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 –which had not been altered since the infamous Labouchere Amendment of 1885–making every homosexual act illegal, in private or no. The Labouchere Amendment had created “A Blackmailers Charter” and because men were turning each other in through fear, or, when they were arrested themselves, their phone books were finding many other men of the same inclination.

It seemed to the public at large that homosexuality was increasing in huge leaps and bounds, whereas it was simply the law, and enthusiastic police regimes which were causing the perceived growth. More and more public figures were thrown into the spotlight, having been arrested for “public indecency.”  Oscar Wilde was famously the first, but many others followed, and in the fifties, famous cases were splattered all over the headlines.

Sir John Gielgud

In 1953, Sir John Gielgud, was arrested after trying to pick up a man in a public toilet who turned out to be an undercover policeman. He was found guilty of “persistently importuning for immoral purposes.

In 1954, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then a 28-year-old socialite and the youngest peer in the House of Lords, was jailed for a year, on a charge he has always denied. He was convicted along with the Daily Mail journalist Peter Wildeblood and the Dorset landowner Michael Pitt-Rivers in a sensational case that made headlines around the world. It is thought today that these three arrests, following on from Geilgud’s cottaging scandal,

Peter Wildeblood

brought about the instigation of the Report.

(For additional viewing, the tale of Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu’s trial is told in a 2007 Channel 4 drama-documentary, A Very British Sex Scandal.)

What I found fascinating was the people who were elected to be on the Report’s Committee.  Certainly at first glance, these people seem to be the very worst of those that could have been chosen. MPs, the leader of the Girl Guides, Church leaders, psychiatrists and doctors. If you’d asked me to bet (were I to live in that time) I would certainly have said that the law would have been strengthened, not lessened, but perhaps it goes to show that even I shouldn’t take things on face value.

This committee, despite most of them being revolted by homosexuality, voted almost unanimously (James Adair, former Procurator-Fiscal for Glasgow being the only objectee) to change the law in England and Wales, that as long as homosexual behaviour was behind closed doors, between Consenting Adults (over 21 at the time, although the age of consent was eventually lowered to today’s 16) then it should not be an offence.  The law did not take into account the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, an oversight that has caused much grief, and one that was only righted very recently.

Sadly, and Laird’s reaction was an omen of this, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not take the crime of homosexuality off their statute books until 1980 and 1982 respectively. And it has to be said – even England did not race to take on board the recommendations of the Report, and it took a good ten years for the recommendations in the Report to become law with the new Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Wolfenden’s son, Jeremy, was a startlingly intelligent young man and was approached for recruitment as a spy by the Secret Intelligence Service whilst he was doing his National Service. It is stated in the film that they knew he was “queer” – and it’s more than probable that they did. He eventually accepted their offer and went to Moscow, but his drinking eventually killed him. He was found dead in his bath at the age of 31. It is suspected that he died of suspicious causes, particularly as was playing a dangerous double game between MI6 and the KGB, that he became friends with Guy Burgess (infamous defector and fellow homosexual) whilst in Russia, and that he had been a victim of attempted blackmail after pictures were taken of him in bed with a Russian man.

What is particuarly poignant about the film is that it does not shy away from the fact that prosecutions continued vigourously up to and after the Report. Sodomy could result in life imprisonment, attempted sodomy in ten years. There are two particular stories in the film which show how sad and desperate men’s lives were in the era. Highly recommended.

Published 1821 (this version) I think there were earlier ones.

Be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves.

AT GOOGLE BOOKS – full view – and available for download.

This is a quite fascinating book -and I love the idea that a parent would buy their son this book, shove it into his hands and probably consider that was their responsibility dealt with.

Here’s the contents. I don’t even know what some of this stuff MEANS.

GRAMMAR
Directions for Epistolary Correspondence…
HISTENOGRAPHY
ARITHMETIC
Reduction of Decimal Fractions
BOOKKEEPING
ALGEBRA
GEOMETRY and MENSURATION
DRAWING
GEOGRAPHY
CHRONOLOGY
IMPROVEMENT of the MEMORY
MISCELLANIES
Religion and Religious Sects
Behaviour and Manners
Heraldic Terms and English
Useful Receipts in Art
Miscellaneous Articles
I’m quite sure that there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found! Enjoy!
I was alerted to the book on the Inkspinners group, where one of the members, Joanna Waugh, converted some of the purchases to today’s money.  She says:

I took some time today and converted a few of the prices Kat shared with us from A Young Man’s Companion. I had to use 1830 values and a conversion date of 2008, but it still gives us an idea of the relative value of these items today. If I made any mistakes in the calculations, I apologize. I rechecked them before posting but I was never very good at math!

2 dozen of men’s 2-thread alted thread stockings…2. 8.0

£182.26/$338.02 or £7.60/$14.08 a pair

2 dozen of ditto 3-thread fine marble ditto… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 of £13.30/$24.65 a pair

9 six-thread superfine breeches, at 10s6d… 4.14.6

£358.82/$665.47 or approx £40/$74 a pair

6 four-thread superfine ditto, at 7s 6d…. 2. 5.0

£170.86/$316.88 or £28.48/$13.20 a pair

6 pair of silk ribbed stockings, stout at 14s… 4. 4.0

£318.95/$591.52 or £53.16/$98.59 a pair

6 pair of spun silk stockings at 5s6d…. 1.13

£125.30/$232.38 or £20.88/$38.73 a pair

15 yards of flowered ribband, at 2s…. 1.10.0

£113. 91/$211.26 or £7.59/$14.08 a yard

2 pair of chicken gloves, at 7s. 6d…. 0.15.0

£56.96/$105.64 or £28.48/$52.82 a pair

4 pair of fine lamb ditto, at 2s. 4d….. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £6.65/$12.33 a pair

2 fans, French mounts at 3s. 6d. …. 0. 7.0

£26.58/$49.30 or £13.29/$24.65 per fan

6 yards of Mechlin lace, at 12s …. 3.12.0

£273.38/$507.01 or £45.56/$84.50 per yard

1 Gauze cap and trimmings ….. 1. 2.0

£83.53/$154.91

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

 

I’ve been noticing recently that almost every historical to cross my path has a Regency or possibly Victorian setting. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this – those ages are more modern in their outlook, and are also very popular in costume dramas on the TV and the movies.

But there are other eras to choose from. Here’s a little list. In fact I grew exhausted by the end, so here is the start of a little list, and I’ll carry on with the Iron age in another post!

Stone Age

clip_image002

This is a long, long period of time, during which all sorts of exciting changes in human society occurred. Modern humans interacted with Neanderthals – there were two different kinds of human on the planet! Amazing. Agriculture was invented. America was discovered and colonised. Stonehenge was built.

How about a gay Clan of the Cave Bear? Lots of things to discover, invent or fight for the first time. Was there homophobia in the stone age? I suspect we really don’t know, so this might be a good place for a happy ever after. And men in leather, hunting mammoth for a living, can’t be a bad thing.

If you can’t live without a city, however, how about Çatalhöyük a stone age city in Turkey. It would make a change!

Wikipedia starter on the Stone Age

Bronze Age

clip_image004

In Britain, you have the mysterious Beaker people, who arrive and establish friendly relations with the indigenous stone age inhabitants. They ‘improve’ Stonehenge and build their own massive earth and stone circles. Classic stranger in a strange land territory; love across the divide of culture. This is also the age when textile production starts. Surely there’s a f/f story there somewhere?

In Mesopotamia you have the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Sumerians. But this is also the great age of ancient Egypt, which is a setting made for romance.

You’ve got Persians, Anatolians, the Canaanites, the Hittites. You’ve got the Minoans – bull dancers and minotaurs and carmine stained pillars in cool palaces on the Greek islands.

There’s the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon, where a mass migration of people from what is now Russia and China ends up leaving cultural and metallurgical traces in Finland. Surely there’s a story there!

There was an Indus Valley civilization in India, and Chinese civilization is going strong. There’s the fascinating Dong Son culture in Vietnam. There’s all sorts of stuff going on with the Tumulus people in central Europe, and in the Americas the Inca civilization developed bronze independently and simultaneously (or did they…? Might the knowledge have been brought over by a shipwrecked Cornishman in a Dover bronze age boat?)

Wikipedia starter on the Bronze Age

Iron Age

Now we’re really motoring!

This is a good age to be a Bantu-speaking native of East and South Africa, who discover iron and use it to drive out the stone-tool using hunter gatherer peoples they encounter on the Savannah. I’d like to read a story about that from either pov or both.

I have dibs on the Etruscans, my favourite not-quite-Romans, whose morals scandalized the ancient world:

A Greek historian’s account of the behaviour of Etruscan women.
Theopompus of
Chios, 4th cent. BCE (Histories Book 43)

Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.

The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.
When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.
They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.

And who have a very fine line in tomb-decoration:

clip_image006

Thanks to http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/theopompus/index.html

But I think they may deserve an entry of their own.

I’ve suddenly realized that this is a topic which is going to stretch on and on, so I’ll draw a line there and do part two another time!

I had been thinking about doing a historical novel based upon the life of Robert Schumann since 1990, when I discovered a translation of his letters in the public library in Seattle. I wrote several poems based upon what biographical material I could glean in those letters and other general biographies that were at that library, but beyond buying recordings of his piano and symphonic works and becoming a fan of his music, my hope of writing a book about this curious and tragic genius remained remote until I found a job working for the US Army as a contractor in the fall of 2001, became friends with a violinist in an orchestra in Darmstadt, who – like many career musicians, had a library of books about composers. It was here that my research began.

I was lucky, in that I had a day job that supported me more than adequately, allowed me weekends off as well as vacation time, and I was geographically situated near several spots where my research subject had lived – and most importantly, only 300 km from where he spent his final years, a private psychiatric hospital in Bonn which I found out – still stands.

I had already written three historical novels, and in each case, the actual places were too remote for me to venture to in person for a sense of place and for the kind of detail that would allow me to visualize my setting and character. The first book, which was about the Hunnic empire and Attila, took place in Asia Minor and what is now Hungary, and the only available sources I could find were some archeological studies, and the fragmentary work of the Roman senator Priscus, who had visited Attila in the early 5th century.

Due to a lack of research material, my planned trilogy languished, despite a plethora of maps from the time period, and assiduous study of the books I could get. Book study of an era and of a people were not quite enough for me to synthesize into a believable, coherent, and convincing historical novel.

I needed to be there. And in fact, still hanging on to my hope of finishing the Hun book, I set off in the late fall of 2001 thinking I would be able to draw enough from a day trip to Troyes, in eastern France, the site of Attila’s final battle, to renew my interest and give me enough sense of place to breathe life into my project again so I could finish it. I didn’t make it to Troyes – it was 4 hours away by car. But I did go to concerts, and I did go to Johannes Brahms’ house in Baden Baden, and to downtown Heidelberg, and in those historic towns, left intact by the ravages of WWII, I began to absorb the atmosphere and sense of place that would eventually get an historical novel off the ground – the book about Schumann.

 

Robert Schumann, 1839

Robert Schumann, 1839

Although it is not enough to simply go to a place that remains as it was a century before (or largely so), I have found that sense of place – its geography, its character, its smell, for want of a better word – is crucial for visualizing it in historic context, to make the people who lived then, breathe and move about enough for me to capture them. It provides specificity. One can read in a book that the baths of Baden Baden are situated in the woods, but to travel up the twists and turns of what was once a carriage road through the dense pines to a towering stone mansion mostly obscured on a high bluff, is to be able to picture it vividly and accurately. I took photos of the crumbling ruin of forts and castles that had been crumbling and in ruins when my protagonist saw them. Europe – the parts that survived the intense bombings, would be as he had seen them.

 

Heidelberger Schloss

Heidelberger Schloss

 

Heidelberg, where Schumann spent a year of university and first began to compose, was less than 15 miles from where I lived. I loved that city, and took hundreds of photos of the historic downtown, and the enormous ruin that hovered over it, Heidelberger Schloss. The views of the gardens of the Schloss are the most beautiful. One historical footnote is that by a curious coincidence of fate, both Hitler and the Allies had identified Heidelberg as a strategic goal for headquartering troops, so neither side bombed there – as a result, Heidelberg remained untouched by the war, while Mannheim to the northwest, was severely damaged, and is almost entirely rebuilt except for specific neighborhoods.

Gardens at Heidelberger Schloss

Gardens at Heidelberger Schloss

 

Besides touring the places my character lived, studied, and performed, I attended concerts, read books in German and English about the people and their times, got biographies of Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn that were published in the country that I would never have seen in the United States, which included photographs, daguerreotypes, facsimiles of manuscripts… and the motherlode of all primary sources: diaries. Fortunately for me, my subject, while he suffered from the scandal of being a suicide in the 19th century, was largely rehabilitated as a “great German composer” by the time Germany reunited and reconstruction began. The hospital in Bonn where he died, badly damaged during the bombing of Bonn, was reconstructed, as was the cemetery and his memorial, and made into a music library, not only of Schumann’s music and biography, but of all German music. I wasn’t able to take books out, but I was able to read their private collection at the library, and take notes. They also published and sold books that were only available in Germany, and here I found the detail I needed to be able to fashion a story. Despite the destruction of many personal letters between Schumann and his closest friend, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, there was enough remaining in his diaries and letters to reveal, however subtly, the details of a poetic and musical soul who fell in love easily with both men and women. The nearly-inscrutable, elaborate left-hand script. Where he took his walks, and what he thought about. His nightmares. His confinement and the visitors he had there. Perhaps ironically, the Staatsbibliotek holds regular chamber concerts in the library where Schumann spent his last days, wasting away from a depressive illness which had stolen his ability to compose music. Preserved in glass there, the final piece of music, entitled only “Theme”, a mere 9 bars of melody, left unfinished and marred by an inkblot.

 

Staatsbibliotek Bonn, formerly a private psychiatric hospital

Staatsbibliotek Bonn, formerly a private psychiatric hospital

I was about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel when I took a two-week trip to the former East Germany, to see Leipzig and Zwickau, Schumann’s childhood home, now also a museum and concert venue. The entire city has undergone reconstruction, and by the time I got there in June of 2003 for their annual concert festival (in Schumann’s honor), the 7 million euro renovation of his home was complete.

 

Geburtshaus Schumann (birthplace), Zwickau

Geburtshaus Schumann (birthplace), Zwickau

 

There, I found a wealth of new material, including published reviews he had made of other composers such as Chopin (whom he adored from afar), Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, who was both an intimate friend and benefactor, the originals of all of his extant portraits, and his own piano. I jotted down quotes, took photos of his visiting card. I listened to lectures by professors whose careers are devoted to discovering how and why the troublesome Third Symphony was edited as it was, whose only concern was what he produced – not what he was. I was looking for the man behind the composer. Seeing what he saw and understanding, with my developing fluency in the language, how he expressed himself. I finally had the level of specificity to write with confidence not only about the person, but about Zwickau, Bonn, and Heidelberg – I knew as much as I could know about what it was to experience life as he did, because the German federal government had pieced it all back together for me, put it in glass cases, published monographs and presented lectures, concerts and put on festivals to celebrate the culture that thrived before the Nazi era.

 

Kornmarkt, Zwickau

Kornmarkt, Zwickau

In fact, all of downtown Zwickau was renovated and refurbished – the entire cobblestoned Kornmarkt, the central mercantile square, had been rehabilitated and restored to as original condition as possible, with the occasional “new” shop or restaurant peeking out of a historic facade. In this picture of the Kornmarkt, which is taken from the point of view of Schumann’s house, you can see a Burger King beside the original facade.

I absorbed all that I could of the places I could reach, I read all the biographical material I could buy or borrow, but by far the best resource for me – and this applies equally to biographical figures as invented ones – is diaries. How long it took to travel by carriage from Zwickau to Heidelberg (2 weeks.) How frequently a devoted son writes his mother (daily.) How much it costs for a private room in a sanitarium (50 thalers a month.) The philosophy I emerged from this research amounts to this: it is not so much that people change throughout history, it is the specifics of how they live that change. The detail of everyday life in that specific time and place, and how that influences their outlooks. And, for those of us who write historical stories of nontraditional sexuality – how they expressed it, how they hid it, their view of themselves in a society that at best, silently ignored what was universally viewed as a disgusting perversion. There were precious few crumbs to sift through. One biographer theorized that whatever evidence of homosexuality was left behind in diary or letters that was not destroyed by Schumann’s wife or Mendelssohn’s executors, was systematically destroyed by Hitler’s government when he was elevated as an official cultural hero of the Third Reich. But they missed enough for me reconstruct (and to fill in where there were no facts to draw upon) a life lived at least half in shadow.

 

Over at The New York Times, there’s an article about an exhibition of 17thC embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center

Pair of Gloves

Pair of Gloves

 From the NYTimes article:

“The exhibition of embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center is both a revelation and great fun. Its subject is one of the most beloved, ancient and widely pursued art forms/crafts/hobbies on earth. Its focus is 17th-century England, the site of one of embroidery’s golden ages, it turns out.

A lot happened during this period, especially after 1642. Two civil wars culminated in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. Then came 10 years of the Cromwells and all that, followed by the Restoration (1660), the Great Plague of London (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), which did much to extinguish the Great Plague. Finally a fairly bloodless revolution (1688) was quickly followed by the formation of a constitutional monarchy (1689). Throughout, endless squabbling and plotting and frequent combat transpired between or among monarchs and parliaments; Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans; and Scots, Irish and English. It is a miracle that anybody had time for anything, much less great needlework. “

The Bard Center is in Manhattan so an in person visit isn’t likely for most Macaronis; however, the article is well worth a look, and Bard have a wonderfully distracting set of past exhibition catalogs too, so do beware as they are available via Yale UP.  

The article has a gorgeous slideshow that’s worth ogling. 

Here’s the Bard’s press release:

ENGLISH EMBROIDERY FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, ca. 1580-1700: ’TWIXT ART AND NATURE

December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009

From December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture is presenting English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature. This is the third exhibition resulting from a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA).*
The exhibition, a key component in the BGC’s History and Theory of Museums concentration, draws from the Metropolitan’s preeminent collection of embroidered objects made for secular use during the late Tudor and Stuart eras. These objects have usually been regarded as a discrete body of work, removed from any sense of their original settings and contexts. However, the embroideries were created and used by the gentry of England for personal adornment and to decorate their homes, and feature designs and patterns that reflect contemporary religious ideals, education concepts, and fashionable motifs. One of the principal goals of this exhibition is to give aesthetic and scholarly credence to these often technically complex, thematically rich, and compelling objects. The significance of the objects within the social and cultural economy of 17th-century domestic life is examined by juxtaposing them with contemporary prints, books, and decorative arts.
The project is co-curated by Melinda Watt, assistant curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, and Andrew Morrall, professor at the Bard Graduate Center; and is overseen by Deborah L. Krohn, associate professor and coordinator for History and Theory of Museums, and Nina Stritzler-Levine, director of exhibitions, both at the BGC.

The Exhibition
English Embroidery is composed of approximately 80 objects from the MMA’s collection of embroideries and comparative supplemental material from the museum and other institutions and private collectors. The exhibition is presented on three floors of the BGC and is organized in sections that explore thematic and typological characteristics of the embroideries. Original printed images and texts, combined with high-quality photo reproductions, help the viewer contextualize the embroideries in a way that has not been attempted previously. There is also a special animation component, consisting of three digital videos that demonstrate stitch techniques, to enhance visitors’ understanding of this art form.

The exhibition aims, therefore, to further historical understanding of the material by combining historical interpretation with the best in museum practice. The technical sections use macro- and x-ray photography to demonstrate the complexity of embroidery techniques and the variety of constituent materials in a manner never before realized in exhibition form. The adjoining displays of the stages of girlhood education demonstrate concretely the historical process by which these techniques were learned and developed. At the same time, each section illustrates the specific social and cultural meanings of the forms and subject matter, and shows how the themes employed in needlework reflected values of domestic harmony and new ideals of social grace and gentility.
The introductory section on the first floor is centered on the theme of royalty and serves to provide historical background for the visitor. It contains objects of courtly ceremonial and domestic pieces that reinforce the importance of the idea of monarchy to court and country throughout a period in which stable rule under the Tudors was followed by civil war, regicide, and the eventual restoration of monarchy under the Stuarts. Among the ceremonial objects in this section are a spectacular burse (purse) made to hold the Great Seal of England and a lavishly embroidered Bible associated with Archbishop Laud. A number of embroidered portraits are displayed, including a unique Elizabethan portrait of a woman, possibly Queen Elizabeth herself, and a finely worked “portrait miniature” of Charles I, based on engravings by Wenceslas Hollar. This latter work testifies to the deeply intimate nature of the cult of the Martyr King that arose after Charles’s execution. Another featured object is a beaded and embroidered basket with representations of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, made in celebration of the royal marriage and restored monarchy.
The overarching theme of the second-floor galleries is the use of embroidered objects within the domestic setting. There are three specific themes: the role of embroidery in the education of girls and young women, the survival of rare and precious accessories of dress, and the production and function of domestic furnishings. On display are several samplers representative of the types created in the mid-17th century, including a rare dated workbag created and initialed by a ten-year-old in 1669, as well as exemplary literature advocating needlework skills for the well-bred young woman and pattern books from which designs were taken. A display of techniques and materials complements the presentation of embroidery as an educational tool. Several objects, including a late 16th-century pair of gloves and a highly three-dimensional raised-work panel, have been chosen to illustrate the variety and quality of materials found in 17th-century embroidery.

The display of objects related to education and technique is followed by a display of fashion accessories from the early 17th century. One rare complete garment, an embroidered jacket from about 1616, is highlighted.
Continuing the theme of objects made for domestic use, the second floor concludes with domestic furnishings produced at both the amateur and professional levels. Decorated caskets (small boxes), mirror frames, and cushions all played a role in bringing comfort and color to the home at a time when many furnishings were still transported from one home to another and most upholstery was not fixed. Two of the Met’s most spectacular caskets, as well as two equally elaborate mirrors, are shown here.

The third floor installation explores in detail two of the most popular themes in the pictorial embroidery of the period: stories drawn from the Bible and the depiction of nature. The objects here depict the centrality of the Bible in contemporary domestic life and reflect the use of exemplary biblical heroines as models of virtuous behavior in the upbringing of young women. Finally, a selection of embroideries is used to highlight the importance of the natural world in the decorative conventions of the time.

The Catalogue
The accompanying publication, published and distributed by Yale University Press, has been edited by co-curators Melinda Watt and Andrew Morrall and contains a complete catalogue of the objects in the exhibition as well as six essays. It is the most extensive examination of embroidery from this period ever published in the United States. In addition to the curators, contributors include Kathleen Staples, author of British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1998), whose essay addresses the production and usage of embroidered furnishings; Susan North, curator of 17th and 18th century dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), who has written an essay on fashion accessories; Ruth Geuter, a leading expert on pictorial embroideries, who offers an essay on the social dimensions of the embroidered biblical narratives; and Cristina Carr, associate conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who presents an illustrated technical dictionary of materials unique to these objects .

Related Programs
An array of lectures, panels, and other offerings will be presented in conjunction with English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature . For further information, please call 212-501-3011 or e-mail programs@bgc.bard.edu.

Exhibition Tours
Group tours of English Embroidery are conducted Tuesdays through Fridays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on Thursdays until 7:00 p.m.  Reservations are required for all groups. For further information, please call the Bard Graduate Center Gallery at 212-501-3013 or TTY 212-501-3012, or e-mail gallery@bgc.bard.edu.gallery@bgc.bard.edu.

Location
The Bard Graduate Center is located at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, in New York City.  Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Admission is $3 general, $2 seniors and students (with valid ID), and free on Thursday evenings after 5:00 p.m.  For further information about the Bard Graduate Center and upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.bgc.bard.edu.

Support

‘English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: Twixt Art and Nature is made possible through generous grants from the Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Upcoming Exhibitions
  Fall-Winter 2009-2010 New Amsterdam in the Dutch Atlantic

For further information, please call 212-501-3000 or e-mail generalinfo@bgc.bard.edu.

*The BGC/MMA collaboration was inaugurated in 2001.  Prior to mounting each exhibition, the BGC, in conjunction with the MMA, holds a series of courses in which a small group of graduate students learn all aspects of researching, planning, designing, and installing exhibitions of decorative objects. Class sessions are held in the storerooms of the MMA, where curators lead scholarly discussions and students work intimately with the objects considered for display. Research in this course is ultimately utilized in the exhibition catalogue, exhibition labels, and/or gallery guides. Other classes are held at the BGC and examine topics related to general museum practice, including developing and proposing the exhibition concept; identifying and arranging for the borrowing of objects; writing a script, captions, text panels, and other interpretive materials; and accommodating transport, installation, and conservation requirements. This current academic initiative offers a unique opportunity to heighten awareness of and develop a critical understanding of textiles.

 

A Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800′s

A book that I’d bought for my Regency research, only to find that it is all about America in the 1800′s. However – it’s none the less fascinating for that!

1. Bang-up – An overcoat

1842: A gentleman dressed in a dark colored fashionable bang-up with a tight-bodied coat, neck-cloth, breast pin, hair and whiskers to match. Philadelphia Spirit of the Times, January 13 1842

“That gentlemanly looking man in the snuff-coloured bang-up: that’s Mayor Scott; he’s the very man.”

“How so?” cried a tall strapping fellow in in a white bang up. Philadelphia Spirit of the Times, January 28 1842

Not sure if this coat pictured is a “bang-up” but I’m guessing it’s close.

2. Turkey: eaten throughout the century.

1800turkey1890: The turkey should be cooped up and fed sometime before Christmas. (Well, that would be useful..Erastes) Three days before it is slaughtered, it should have an English walnut forced down its throat three times a day, and a glass of sherry once a day.  The meat will be deliciously tender, and have a fine nutty flavor. Mrs Stephen J Field, Statesman’s Dishes and How to Cook them.

What surprises me about this, is that to import English walnuts and real sherry would make this a really expensive dish.  Apparently, the marinade had not yet caught on!

3. F.F.V. First Families of Virginia, of which many claimed to be members to gain special treatment, but eventually used in jest.

1850: He was the first of his race to acknowledge that he was not an FFV – Odd Leaves p178

1857: Mr Floyd, as everybody kows, as an FFV and the sould of honor accordingly. Harper’s Weekly.

1861: They must do better down in Virginia than they have done, or FFV., Instead of standing for First Families of Virginia, will get to mean the Fast Flying Virginians. Oregon Argus August 10.

Ah. Influence, it never changes…

4, Bloke Buzzer. A pickpocket who specializes in picking the pockets of men only.  (Moll buzzer being one that specializes in women only)1800pickpocket

5. Xs and Vs – Ten and Five dollar bills. Fives were also called V-spots.

1837:My wallet was distded with Vs and Xs to its utmost capacity. Knickerbocker Magazine. January 1837

6. Hard Times Tokens: a broad category that includes Civil War tokens (copperheads) Jackson cents, merchants’ tokens or storecards etc from around 1830-1845 and again  during the  American Civil War, from 1860-1865, by private individuals and busiensses to help make up for the severe coin shortage due to hoardings. Most tokens were about the size of a lardge cente (an oversixed  copper cent) and made of copper. They largely served as cents, although they legally called not be so called.

7. Brogans: heavy ankle-high work shoes, available ready-made and mass produced from the 1830s on. Slave brogans were purchased by the barrelful by Southern plantations.

1860s: Experience soon demonstrated that boots were not agreeable on a long march. They were heavy and irksome…good strong brogues or brogans, with broad bottoms and big, flat heels, succeeded the boots, and were found much more comfortable and agreeable, easier put on and off, and altogether more sensible. Carlton McCarthy, Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life, p20

8. Squaw Horse: A cowboy term for a useless horse. (hey! UNPC Cowboys!!)

9. lamp posts: Civil War soldiers described artillery shells in flight as flying lamp posts because to the naked eye they looked like elongated blurs.

Yeah. I don’t get it, either.

10. Pea-jacket: a Short, heavy, seaman’s jacket.  (that’s seaMAN’S). Also worn by boys from 1850 onwards.

This post has been brought to you by the useless information brigade!

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