Tag Archives: Victorian Age

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

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

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.

Addictive Research

I recently stumbled across an Ebay auction of a double volume of THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS. Of course, I had heard of that newspaper before (after all, my current academic research focuses on Victorian periodicals), but I hadn’t realised what a gem it was. But the person selling his copy on Ebay kindly provided pictures. OH MY! Where are my smelling salts?!?!?!?

That volume on Ebay was in a bad shape and the price was already quite high when I discovered the page, so I decided not to bid on it. The volume that I ended up buying (because, hey, it’s for research, right? and I can use it for both my academic work and my creative work — awesome! it’s like “Buy one get one free”!!!) arrived today. In a word: it’s gorgeous!

So far I’ve just leafed through it and took pictures of some of the highlights, e.g.

  • intriguing bits of paper pasted into the newspaper (pic on upper right)
  • prize cattle
  • masses of people emigrating to the New World
  • the construction of the Crystal Palace for the Grand Exhibition in 1851
  • the new railway station in Newcastle upon Tyne (pic on upper left)
  • some sheet music
  • the Assyrian sculptures from Nimrod at the British Museum*
  • Stamp Duty in action

* I yelled “Wheeee!” when I came across that particular picture because DEVIL’S RETURN deals with the excavations in Nimrod in the mid-1840s. 🙂

Traffic Woes in Victorian London

If you think that complaints about pot-holed roads, traffic jams, and incomprehensible bus routes are merely a phenomenon of our modern age, you couldn’t be more wrong. Traffic, the state of the roads, and public transport caused already the Victorians countless woes. Londoners were well acquainted with traffic jams as the following picture shows:

Partly, this problem was caused by the sheer numbers of carriages, carts, buses and cabs that drove about London’s streets each. In addition, the problem was exacerbated by obstructions that were erected and blocked roads, e.g. in Fleet Street in 1846.

 The thoroughfares in particular were so busy and so stuffed with vehicles that getting on and off the bus could present a problem, which is why Punch joked that omnibuses should be outfitted with emergency ladders:

 Omnibuses had been a common sight in London since 1829, when George Shillibeer’s first two horse-drawn buses took up their service. Thanks to Shillibeer’s success, other companies followed and within two decades serval bus services and routes had been established in London. Bus drivers and passengers were the butt of the joke in many Punch cartoons – and many points that the magazine ridiculed are certainly familiar to modern users of public transport. The following cartoon and article, for example, satirise the organisation of bus routes:

 The traffic problem in London was not helped by the state of the roads, as the next cartoon shows. Roads were often full of holes, which made navigating them difficult.(Naturally, this doesn’t mean that they were quite as bad that – the cartoon below once again highly exaggerates the situation.)