Category Archives: Research

The Illustrated London News

Victorian Life: The Joys of Primary Material

pictures of a large package with a book inside

Look what was waiting for me when I returned home yesterday evening!

There is something extremely satisfying about about receiving a large package containing a book (or more). The pleasure is even intensified when you’re a bit… eh… crazy about Victorian life & culture and you know that the book inside said package is a volume of a Victorian newspaper. In a recent blog post, Koenraad Claes draws attention to the importance of considering the material aspects of newspapers and magazines when studying Victorian periodicals. Thus, size, for example, is of great importance:

When you read the magazine in its excellent digitization by Adam Matthew Digital, it will of course always be as large as your screen. From this you cannot gauge how large or small this periodical actually was, and this is one of those rare cases where size does matter, because it not only affects the production costs, but also makes the magazine either look like its competitors or stand out amongst them.

But apart from such important considerations of the material side of Victorian periodicals, there is also the sheer joy and pleasure of leafing through a physical copy and studying the articles and ads and illustrations. When you’re working with digitized texts, you’re typically searching for specific things and only rarely do you look at an issue as a whole. When you’re leafing through a physical copy, by contrast, you get a much clearer picture of the curious conglomeration of various different topics that can be found in a large number of Victorian periodicals, especially those that are of a more general nature like the Illustrated London News.

The Illustrated London NewsThe aforementioned large package that was waiting for me when I returned home yesterday, contained a copy of the ILN from 1848, and as always I was enchanted when I leafed through the volume for the first time. The newspaper not only covered news from home and abroad…

"The Epitome of News"…London news…

20151125_084154…news about the Queen and the royal family…

"Court and Haut Ton"…theatre news, and information about the weather, the stock exchange, corn prices, etc., but it also contained sheet music, articles (and illustrations!) on design (see the little tea pot and candy spoon above), fashion plates…

Paris fashion for February 1848…puzzles and chess problems…

A chess problem…and even embroidery patterns (!!!).

embroidery pattern
But, of course, since this is 1848, the year of the revolutions in Europe, a lot of articles in the volume deal with the revolutions in France…

barricades in Paris

Barricades in Paris

…and Germany.

Barricades in Berlin

Barricades in Berlin

And I was tickled pink to find at the very end of the volume a picture of St. Paul’s in Frankfurt (my home town!), where the first German parliament met in 1848. 🙂

St. Paul's in Frankfurt

Victorian Life: At Home with the Authors: Samuel Rogers

Victorian Life: At home with Samuel Rogers
If you think that only people of the 20th and 21st centuries are interested in celebrity news, think again. Not only did Victorian periodicals include news about the day-to-day life of the royal family, but “At Home with” articles also became rather popular. In 1860, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine ran a series of articles called “Poets: Their Lives, Songs, and Homes”, which were accompanied by pictures of said homes. I was quite thrilled to find one article about Samuel Rogers, a member of the old Holland House circle which I researched for The Lily Brand. By now, Rogers’ work is more or less forgotten, but at the time of his life, he was well known (at least in London circles), though perhaps not necessary for his poetry as becomes clear in the following snippet from the article in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine:

“[…] it is rather as a lover of poetry, and the friend of literature, than a poet, that Rogers presents himself to the mind.

Certainly, ‘pleasing’ as his poetry no doubt is, we can scarcely imagine the want of it creating any considerable gap in English literature: he was neither the originator of a new school nor the expositor of novelty in thought, feeling, or expression, and his chief merit lies in being merely elegant and graceful. Taste and elegance, indeed, were his peculiar attributes; and we may almost say the former was so prominent a characteristic that his love for poetry, elegant poetry, was but a part of this idiosyncrasy. […]

In the history of literature, Rogers is the link connecting the age of Johnson and Goldsmith with the present. He was born on the 30th of July, 1763, nearly ten years before the death of the latter, and he lived until December 18th, 1855. He was alive when the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ ‘The Traveller,’ and ‘The Deserted Village’ were given to the world; and he lived to see Tennyson made poet-laureate, and to read ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘Pickwick.’ […]

Samuel Rogers was the third son of Thomas Rogers, a wealthy London banker, of Freeman’s-court, Cornhill, from which place he afterwards removed his business to 29, Clement’s-lane, Lombard-street. His private residence was Stoke Newington, and there the poet was born, in the first house on Newington-green, not far from Ball’s Pond. The family belonged to that wealthy class of Protestant Dissenters satirized by Mr. Thackeray in ‘The Newcomes,’ and in the quiet routine of such society our author lived until he emerged as a poet. […] [H]is first published poem, ‘Ode to Superstition,’ appeared when he was only in his twenty-sixth year, and we can scarcely imagine so polished a composition to have been his first effort.

In 1792, his best known work, ‘Pleasures of Memory,’ appeared, and established his reputation; it was also the means of introducing him to the distinguished statesman, Mr. Fox, for whom he contracted a friendship almost romantic in its warmth and tenderness, and lasting uninterruptedly until the latter’s death. It was in accordance with the wishes of this friend that Rogers changed his residence to St. James’s-place, and emerged from the society of the merchants and bankers, the magnates of the dissenting class, into the ranks of fashion and genius — in that day almost synonymous terms. […]

It is well for Rogers that he  was possessed of an ample independence; his writings never could have been remunerative; and it may be even questioned whether they would have ever attained the rank they hold, had they been unaccompanied by the prestige of the author’s celebrity as a man of taste, and a person of consequence in society, from his known wealth, and the rank and talent of his associates. […]

Rogers was kind and generous to all who crossed his path. His actual vanity as an author — and its was actual — never produced mean envy; his ambition, and he had much, never created jealousy in his kindly nature; even his keen sensibility to ridicule, though it might provoke retaliation  of a similar kind, was never suffered to influence him further. The author might give satire for satire, but the man was incapable of revenge or persecution. […]


On Newington-green, was we have seen, the poet was born, and here he remained still he was about thirty years of age. Then he had chambers in the Temple for some five years, and finally removed to his mansion, at 22, St. James’s-place. Here it was that he wrote nearly all his poems, with the exception of the ‘Pleasure of Memory,’ and here it was that he was visited by the most celebrated men of his time — and his time, as  has been shown, was beyond the usual age allotted to man. The front of his house overlooked the Green Park, possession, also, a gateway into it, and the interior was richly and picturesquely adorned with the highest productions of art, in all the varied forms of drawings, prints, miniatures, medallions, antique ornaments, paintings, and sculpture. The distinctive genius of every country, and every school, seemed there to find its fitting place. Happy was the man who was thus able to gratify< his love of the noble and the beautiful — happier still, that he was gifted with the sensibility to enjoy his precious possessions!”

Victorian Life: Autumn Fashions

Victorian Fashion: A fashion print from 1860
What did the fashionable lady wear in the autumn of 1860? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine has the answer! And because November has had such a mild start, I guess the dress for October will still do.

“This dress is made either in silk or mohair. If in the first, the colours most favoured are still nut-brown or a deep sea-green. The skirt is made in an economical style, having a deep flounce attached to a short skirt. This flounce is headed with a ruche either of its own material, a darker shade of the same colour, or of black silk, cut on the cross and pinked at each edge. The sleeve is long, having a second smaller one, which is cut up two-thirds of its length, both being trimmed round with the same ruche, and having a bow attached at the top of the opening. The body is full, and has a large bow with long ends at the front of the waist. These bows are all made of the same silk as the ruche, and are also pinked at each edge. It is a common thing for many ladies to have by them some quantity of black silk, in the shape of mantles, or other things which have fallen into disuse from change of shape, which may be made servicable  in this way without showing the least difference from new even to the most practised eye; and to such we recommend this application. When this dress is made of mohair, it may be either of a plain colur or a small check, either of which suits the style remarkably well.

As the autumn season brings with it many of the social parties which, while they put the balldress quite out of the question, yet demand a toilette of simple elegance, we will here mention one which is taking the lead in Paris on similar occasions. It consists of a muslin, either white or with a small pattern, or of  a barège made with a double skirt, the under one being trimmed with six narrow flounces, simply hemmed; the upper one with three. The sleeve consists of a large puff set into a band just large enough to pass over the hand and encircle the arm half way between the wrist and the elbow, and having a lace turned up over it. A fichu of net and lace covers the body, which is low. A broad ribbon bow, figured with bouqets, having long ends, is attached to the waist. Sometimes this bow is of black or coloured silk, pinked at each edge; but this is matter of taste.

For the promenade, the chief articles are jackets and mantles of striped cloth. The first of these are made large and simple, having a peculiarity in the sleeve, which is cut extremely wide, and put in large plaits into the arm-hole, from whence it falls quite unconfined. This jacket has also a small collar and pockets.”

Glimpses of Victorian London

A sketch of Temple Bar
I’m currently inserting the copy edits for Devil’s Return into the file in order to make the novella ready for release this weekend. What has struck me as I was working through Chapter 2 is that writing the setting of a historical novel to some extent resembles archaeology: you’re trying to reconstruct something that, for the most part, is no longer there.

As has been noted in several reviews of my works, my stories tend to be filled with lush descriptions of the setting, for I simply love bringing a bygone world alive for my readers (I guess this is also one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching the history class in our British Studies program so much). Victorian London is no exception.

What would it have felt like to walk through the streets of London in the 1840s? What were sounds? What were the smells? These were all questions I asked myself when I was developing the idea for Allan’s Miscellany. Thus, to set the scene, in each novella the hero is introduced via a street scene and he is shown making his way to the editorial office of Allan’s.

The hero in Devil’s Return is Alex Crenshaw, who writes for Allan’s as Mr. Wodemarsh, Our Man Abroad. He spent the past years in far-away places, but now he has returned home to England:

Alex entered the City through Temple Bar, which had once been crowned by the heads of executed traitors. The only sightless heads staring down from it now where the two Charleses on their pedestals high up above the bustling street. Arrogantly, their stony eyes watched the efforts of carts, carriages, and pedestrians pressing through the gates. A bleating flock of sheep blocked the path of an omnibus, and the driver swore a blue streak, waving his fist at the woolly blusterers. Passengers were hanging out of the windows, complaining about the delay, while behind the bus a long line of carriages had formed. A hearse, going in the opposite direction to the Strand, tried to pass by and nearly ran down a boardman, sandwiched between advertisements of the latest fabric cleaner and hair water.

The din reminded Alex of an Eastern bazaar, but as for the smell—

He wrinkled his nose.

It would appear that today Fleet Street was permeated by the poignant aroma of eau de sewer.

And that’s what an Englishman calls civilization, he thought wryly. He stepped around a shoeblack, who huddled against a wall covered in advertising posters.

In the rise and flow of vehicles and pedestrians from all walks of life, nobody paid much attention to the tall, blond man walking down Fleet Street, his face deeply tanned by Eastern suns. But then, how could they have known that here walked Alexander Crenshaw, a man whose adventures in America and in the Far East many a reader had followed avidly. Indeed, to his own surprise, Alex had found that in the seven years he had spent away from England, he had become something of a celebrity. Society hostesses vied for his attention, invited him to their balls and parties, and men were eager to talk to him, to invite him to their clubs.

A great bother, all of it, really, yet if it ultimately helped to bring in additional funds for Layard’s excavations, Alex would not complain. He owed the man a lot, so the least he could do was to properly prepare for Layard’s arrival in a few months’ time and to get the newspapers interested in his findings. Writing that column for Allan’s magazine, it would appear, had done the trick.

Further down the street, across from St Dunstan’s, a muffin-man ran his bell vigorously and proclaimed his ware. As Alex walked past him, a whiff of warm muffins and crumpets rose from the street seller’s basket to tickle Alex’s nostrils.

His stomach rumbled and reminded him that it had been a long time since luncheon. For a moment he was tempted to hand over ½ d for a muffin – for surely even without butter, it would have pleased an empty stomach – but then remembered Allan’s warning about the very plentiful dinner that awaited those who attended the editorial meetings of Allan’s Miscellany.

It was strange to think, Alex mused, how long he had been writing letters and reports (to be ably illustrated by Robert Beaton) to the address in Pleydell Street without ever having actually visited that worthy establishment of Allan & Son, Printers & Publishers before.

And now you also know what’s up with that sketch at the top of this post. 🙂 (The sketch will go into the enhanced edition – I was thinking of including a few more sketches done by yours truly in the enhanced editions of both A Tangled Web and Devil’s Return.)

Now I better get back to my copy edits and leave you with a picture of my desk right now (with the Roman romance WIP in the background)

a picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with notebook & copy edits of DEVIL'S RETURN

The dreaded (dratted) copy edits

On the Dangers of Re-Reading Past Favourites

cover of Rosemary Sutcliff's Eage of the NinthWhen I was eight or nine years old, I read my first Rosemary Sutcliff novel, The Eagle of the Ninth – and fell in love with historical fiction and with the history of Great Britain. She has been one of my favourite authors ever since. Her writing is so vivid and her imagery so strong that I still remember scenes from books I read 25 years ago. And one of the last sentences in Blood Feud has such a great emotional impact that it has remained with me since I first read the book at age thirteen or fourteen:

I have been sitting here in the twilight, remembering, as old men remember the days when they were young, and the men who were young with them.

A few weeks ago, I picked up The Sword at Sunset, one of Sutcliff’s few historical novels for adults. It’s a retelling of the Arthurian legends, but it is more grounded in history than most other retellings. I hadn’t read Sutcliff for a couple of years, and reading her now was like coming home. There was this instant familiarity with her prose, an instant connection with her characters. It was wonderful! (However, I had to stop reading when Artos’s illegitimate son Medraut turned up because from that point on it’s basically all downhill – that’s one of the problems with retellings of Arthurian legends: they are so very depressing!)

I found reading this novel deeply nourishing, so naturally I picked up some of her other novels (most of them are now also available in digital formats…. *coughs* ….um….): Frontier Wolf and The Silver Branch (the sequel to The Eagle of the Ninth). Both of them are set in Roman Britain, and, indeed, I think Sutcliff particularly excelled at writing about Roman Britain. She brings history to life in a way I’ve seen it rarely achieved by other writers, and she makes you curious about history. Inevitably, you want to learn more about this time period.

And this is where things become problematic.

Especially when you are a writer.

So I was driving to university this morning, and I thought about how much fun it would be to write a romance set in Roman times.

In Roman Britain?

Well, not bad, but… hm…

The highway stretches along the edge of the Taunus, until eventually, you cross the river Rhine to reach Mainz – the old Roman camp Mongontiacum. And I’m reminded that this has once been the edge of the Roman empire, with the Limes, the large frontier wall, separating the empire from the lands of the barbarians.

And I thought, “Now, wouldn’t it be fun to write a romance set here, in the region where I live. And we have this wonderful reconstructed Roman frontier fort – what could be better for doing research?!?! And…. just think! It would be awesome!!!!”

Oh dear.

Thinking things like that is rather… um… dangerous because it leads me to online bookstores and…. um…. searches in online bookstores.  (Bad, bad things, searches!) And then I end up with something like this:

cover of The Complete Roman LegionsThe Complete Roman Legions.

Goes well with the map of imperial Rome that I’ve had for a couple of years.

And with the Roman games I bought at the Roman museum in Canterbury a few years ago. (Underground museum + I was the only person in the museum = SUPER-SCARY!!!!!!)


Game Laws & Country Sports in PUNCH

Over at the Risky Regencies, Carolyn has written a post about the Game Laws in the Regency period. When I mentioned that I have cartoons from PUNCH on the Game Laws (of course, I have cartoons from PUNCH on the Game Laws!!! *g*), she asked me to share them. 🙂

In the early Victorian Age PUNCH was extremely critical of the Game Laws, which together with the Poor Laws caused a lot of tension in rural areas. Shooting and hunting game was a special privilege of the landowners, and poaching was met with drastic punishments (even transportation!). The situation of rural workers, on the other hand, had gradually worsened since the Napoleonic Wars until many of them were practically starving in the 1840s. In the early 1840s the tensions erupted in the murders of several gamekeepers (this situation forms the background to FALLING FOR A SCOUNDREL: ALLAN’S MISCELLANY 1844: in the prologue the heroine finds the body of her father’s murdered gamekeeper).

cartoon The Game Laws by John Leech

“The Game Laws; or The Sacrifice of the Peasant to the Hare” by John Leech

In “The Game Laws; or, The Sacrifice of the Peasant to the Hare” the artist John Leech points out the miserable situation of the poor country folk: a poacher is about to be sacrificed to an idol statue of a hare, while in the background his wife and his children are walking towards the workhouse.

Moreover,  blood-sports were often associated with idleness and, in the case of politicians,  incompetence. This can be seen in the following illustrated border by Richard Doyle, which shows politicians on a shooting holiday: in the foreground we have Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington (the guy with the very pronounced, hooked nose!), at the top left is a young Disraeli, at the top right is Brougham on a horse on the way to his villa in Cannes.

Illustrated border by Richard Doyle

Illustrated border by Richard Doyle

Later in the century, financial difficulties in rural areas opened up country sports for middle-class amateur huntsmen, who happily paid for the pleasure of participating in a pastime that had once been reserved to the landed classes. Amateur sportsmen were made the butt of the joke in various PUNCH cartoons: they were generally depicted as extremely incompetent, shooting at each other, at their host, at the gamekeeper, or, indeed at nothing at all.

"A Hit! A Palable Hit!"

cartoon of amateur sportsman from PUNCH
You can read more about country sports in the nineteenth century on my website.