Madame de Genlis and Jane Austen

Madame de Genlis
Miniature of Madame de Genlis by Pierre Noël Violet, Courtesy of Christie’s

Stéphanie Félicité du Crest de Saint-Aubin better known as Madame de Genlis was born on 25 January 1746. She was french writer and educator appointed to oversee the education of the children of Louis Philippe II, Duke of Chartres (later Duke of Orléans) and his wife Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon. The Duke appointed her gouverneur (not governess) of his sons in 1781. The position of gouverneur at the time was something given only to men, so the appointment caused a stir.

As gouverneur, Madame de Genlis was zealous to the point of being overbearing. Part of the problem was her educational techniques were uncommon. Moreover, all the other tutors quit because Madame de Genlis would not share her power and zealously implemented her ideas. (To learn more about her educational ideas and techniques, you can read my guest post at Naomi Clifford’s blog. It is titled Madame Genlis: A Most Unusual Educator). In addition, in order to popularize her educational ideas, Madame de Genlis included them in many of her novels, which amounted to over eighty. Continue reading

Victorian Event of the Season: 1897 Devonshire Costume Ball

Devonshire Costume Ball House
Devonshire House in 1896, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Devonshire Costume Ball was held 2 July 1897. Some people claimed the ball offered “unparalleled splendor” and others lauded it as one of the most elite events of the year. In fact, no expense was spared as it was considered one of the “great fancy-dress balls of the Victorian Era, competing in beauty, brilliancy, and … picturesqueness … [with] the fancy-dress balls the Queen and the Prince Consort used to give at Buckingham Palace.” One newspaper described the scene as “one of great animation, the variety of costume was dazzling, the richness in many cases…enormous, the colours were kaleidoscopic in their changes.” Continue reading

Richard Hoodless, The 19th Century Horse Swimmer

A Swimming Horse and Richard Hoodless
A Swimming Horse, Author’s Collection

There are all sort of heroes but one unusual hero was a nineteenth century farmer named Richard Hoodless who was living near the Grainthorpe coast of Lincolnshire. When he was not farming, he was “said to devote himself to the noble duty of saving human life.” His job was saving mariners from drowning, and he did so “without any of the usual apparatus for succoring ships in distress.” Rather, Hoodless accomplished his remarkable missions using nothing but courage and his horse.

Hoodless lived on a small piece of land that had been “rescued from the sea, and almost cut off from the adjacent country by the badness of the roads.” When stormy weather approached, it was a call for Hoodless to go to the top of his dwelling and peer through his telescope. There, whether it be night or day, he would watch approaching vessels, and when lifeboats could not be launched, he would come to the aid of those struggling at sea. Continue reading

Executed for Jealousy, Elizabeth Richardson

Elizabeth Richardson and Pilmott's Murder
Pilmott’s Murder, Public Domain

Elizabeth Richardson (alias Forrester) was seduced at an early age and when older, she subsisted on wages made from “casual prostitution.” It was her casual prostitution that allowed her to meet an attorney named William Pilmott (perhaps Pilmot or even Pimlot or Pimlott). His chambers were located at Symond’s Inn.

Their relationship seemed to be filled with passion, and Pilmott liked Richardson enough to keep her. It is unclear whether or not the pock-marked Richardson had cause for jealousy, but whether she did or not, she was intensely jealous of Pilmott. In fact, her jealousy drove her to regularly visit Pilmott at his chambers thinking she would find him engaged in some sort of compromising situation with another woman. Continue reading

Eccentricities of a Dog Lover: The Earl of Bridgewater

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author's Collection
Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author’s Collection

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th and last Earl of Bridgewater, (known as Francis Egerton until 1823), was a first-class British eccentric. One newspaper noted of him that “no one has higher claims to a distinguished place in … history than Mr. Egerton.” Part of their illustrious opinion of him may have had to do with the fact that an immense fortune enabled “him to gratify the most extravagant caprices that ever passed through the head of a rich Englishman.”

Examples of his eccentricities varied, but one rather memorable event involved a book he borrowed from a friend.

“He carried his politeness so far as to send it back, or rather have it [conducted] home in a carriage. He [gave] orders that two of his most stately steeds be caparisoned under one of his chariots, and the volume, reclining at ease in milord’s landau, [arrived] attended by four footmen in costly livery, at the door of its astounded owner.” Continue reading

Charlotte Charke: Actress, Novelist, and Transvestite

Charlotte Charke, Public Domain
Charlotte Charke, Public Domain

Charlotte Charke seemed to have a hard time defining her career and her sex. Born as a female to actor/playwright and poet laureate Colley Cibber and his wife, musician/actress Katherine Shore, Charlotte as they named her, at one point, began to call herself Charles Brown. As a young child, she also began to imitate the males around her and once reputedly “defended the house from an attack of thieves by firing pistols and blunderbusses out of the windows.” Moreover, from an early age she was said to enjoy male activities, such as sports, shooting, and horse racing, rather than female pursuits.

Her tendency towards everything male resulted in one writer noting that her “favourite resort was the stable, and although she could not use a needle she could handle a curry-comb most dexterously.” While she might have been handy with a curry comb, she was not successful in holding down any male occupation. Her failures were epic and numerous: She attempted to be a sausage maker, pastry chef, tavern owner, valet, and farmer. Continue reading

English Author Lucy Aikin (Mary Godolphin)

Dr. John Aikin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Dr. John Aikin, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Lucy Aikin was born on 6 November 1781, at the Warring Academy for Dissenters in Cheshire, England. She was born into a prominent Unitarian family that was also a literary family: her father, Dr. John Aikin, was an author and historian; her brother, Arthur Aikin, a scientific writer; and her aunt, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, a woman of letters who wrote poetry, children’s literature, and essays.

Although Aikin’s family had literary tendencies, she initially appeared to not even have the skills to learn to read. At least that’s what her grandmother thought when she attempted to teach her. Her grandmother’s attempts resulted in her grandmother referring to Aikin as the “little dunce.” It traumatized Aikin to the point she wrote, “the reproach sank deep, and its effect was certainly unfavourable; it did not rouse me to further exertion, for I had already done my utmost, and it filled me with a sense of incurable deficiency. How soon may the tender spirit of a child be broken, and its faculties permanently dulled by such treatment!” Continue reading

Daniel Dunglas Home – The Victorian Spiritualist

Daniel Dunglas Home, Author's Collection
Daniel Dunglas Home, Author’s Collection

Douglas Home, sometimes spelled Hume, and whose name was lengthened to Daniel Dunglas Home in 1855, was a famous eighteenth-century spiritualist born in 1833. As a youth, he immigrated to America and settled in Massachusetts, and while living there, he claimed he was surrounded by trivial noises. The noises he heard occurred when he was in bed and came from under tables when he was eating. However, perhaps, more surprising was his claims that there was also “animation in inert matter by which he was surrounded.”

Home’s friends dismissed his claims not believing that he saw inert matter move or that he heard unexplained noises. As Home was sickly and nervous, “they assured him that the marvels he heard were the mere effects of his disordered fancy.” This negativity caused Home to begin to wonder if he was indeed deluded, but it did not stop him from entertaining and amazing his friends with dancing chairs, roving tables, and turning chandeliers. Continue reading

Mary Linwood and the Linwood Collection

Mary Linwood c 1800, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Mary Linwood c 1800, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mary Linwood never married and devoted herself to needlework. Her needlework imitated those done by painting masters, such as Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and James Northcote. Linwood’s masterpieces bedazzled those who viewed them. They were created from worsted or crewel embroidery but said to be so “unique and exquisite … that it is absolutely impossible for the eye to detect the fact that it is gazing upon the production of the needle, and not of the pencil.” Moreover, her first picture was created when she was thirteen and her last one was finished when she was seventy-five.

Linwood’s needlepoint was accomplished in a unique way and appeared to be so much like a painting, people were shocked to learn the finished product was needlepoint and not a real painting. The English composer William Gardiner, best known for his hymns, once described Linwood’s technique as she worked. He noted:

“Miss Linwood’s mode is analogous to that of a painter; she first sketches the outline, then the parts in detail, and brings out the whole of the design by degrees. I once saw her at work accoutred as she was with pincushions all round her, stuck with needles, threaded with worsted of every colour, and after having touched the picture with a needle, instead a brush, she would recede five or six paces back to view the effect.” Continue reading

Madame Maria Teresa, the Amazing Corsican Fairy

Corsican Fairy Painted by William Hinks in 1774, Courtesy of The Royal College of Surgeons of England from the BBC
Corsican Fairy Painted by William Hinks in 1774, Courtesy of The Royal College of Surgeons of England

One of the smallest woman in the world was Madame Maria Teresa (sometimes spelled Teresia) who became known as the Corsican Fairy but usually billed herself as the “Amazing Corsican Fairy.” She was born in 1743 in Corsica at Stata Ota, and by the time she was in her twenties, she had attained a height of a mere 34 inches and weighed just 26 pounds.

People claimed the Amazing Corsican Fairy was an ideal miniature person. One newspaper described her as “being a beauty, her exact proportion and symmetry, may without the least falsehood, allow her to be called one of the most perfect and admirable productions of human nature in miniature.” The newspaper also noted that she spoke French and Italian with the “greatest vivacity,” and she was also described as vivacious, spirited, and intelligent. Continue reading