The juxtaposition of crowded academic and social calendars at this time of year always makes me a bit grumpy. I try to contain (or hide) my scrooge-like sentiments, but I’m generally too tired to make that much of an effort, and consequently they pop out periodically. This year I am taking comfort in a book that I received from a thoughtful friend last year: The Twelve Terrors of Christmas, a 1993 collaboration between iconic illustrator Edward Gorey and John Updike. These terrors (a too heavily-laden Christmas tree, the threat of electrocution from all the electronic games under said tree, fears of not giving enough, not receiving enough, and returning all the stuff you did receive) are not quite my terrors (fatigue, rampant commercialism, over-consumption of food, drink, and stuff) but I like the overall sentiment, or lack thereof. And then there are the illustrations. “Christmas” and “Gorey” are not words that naturally go together, but he had tread that terrain previously–with a series of not-too-macabre Christmas cards for the Albondaconi Press and other publishers from the 1970s on–and the success of Terrors inspired a second holiday book: The Haunted Tea-Cosy. A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas Dispirited (1997), a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. All very merry images, in that distinctly Gorey style.
Tag Archives: illustration
Looking around for inspiration for our family Christmas card, which I desperately would like to evolve from the traditional “here we are in front of some natural (maritime or snowy) backdrop”, I have become quite taken–like many before me, and no doubt after–with the whimsical illustrations of Mela Koehler (1885-1960). Koehler was a conspicuous member of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), an artistic collaboration for artists, artisans, designers and architects inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Workshop became incredibly influential due to the fact that it emphasized both the artistic and the entrepreneurial: marketing was clearly a priority and the postcards produced by its members were the primary marketing tool. Mela Koehler created about 150 postcards for the Workshop: typically fantasy fashion images which served not as advertisements for actual clothes but as inspiration for women to experiment with their own attire. Add a tree or some holly, or a muff (clearly her favorite accessory), and you have a winter/Christmas postcard, offered up just at the moment that these merry missives were taking off. Original Koehler postcards are quite valuable, but most seem to have been acquired by Leonard Lauder as part of his massive collection (commenced when he was 6 years old), which has been generously donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The MFA featured an exhibition of a sample of the Lauder postcards last year, and many have been digitized, fortunately for us and for posterity–because as artistic as these little cards are, they are still (or were), in essence, ephemera.
I am not cooking this Thanksgiving (fortunately), but that did not stop me from browsing through cookbooks old and new (which is of course much easier than cooking). My recent dip into the history of molasses exposed me to a world of puddings, and I would like to make a least one over the holidays. Puddings of the past seem so interesting and textural, much unlike the smooth packaged puddings we have today. Pudding has become a rather generic word for desert in British English, but in the past, there were clearly variant types of puddings–savory and sweet, boiled, steamed, moulded, drippings, blood, bread, fruit, pastry, custard–with a wealth of amazing names: “Quaking Pudding”, “Hasty Pudding”, “Spotted Dick”, Cabinet, Bakewell, “Queen of Puddings”, Roly-Roly. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the popular Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published, the list of puddings had been whittled down some, but was still quite long.
Before the nineteenth century, puddings were both savory and sweet: the trend line is definitely towards the latter but it takes time. I’m looking through my neat little facsimile edition of The Second part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell (1597) and what puddings do I see? A pudding of “Calves Chaldron”, several recipes for that perennial Scottish favorite, Haggis pudding, a pudding of veal and spices, and a “pudding in a pot” with mutton or veal. No sweets. I consulted Joseph Cooper’s The art of cookery refin’d and augmented containing an abstract of some rare and rich unpublished receipts of cookery (1654) to gauge pudding developments in the seventeenth century, and found a mix of savory and sweet: rice puddings and bread puddings, “white puddings” and “black (blood) puddings”, oatmeal pudding, French barley pudding, “a hasty pudding in a bagge” and shaking and quaking puddings. Haggis was hanging in there too. For the eighteenth century, I looked at two cookbooks and found a diverse array of pudding recipes. Henry Howard’s England’s Newest way in all sorts of Cookery, Pastry and all Pickles that are fit to be Used (1708) offers up Green Pudding, Calves’ Foot Pudding, Puddings in which to boil chickens and/or pigeons, and cabbage pudding (yuck), along with a “Good Pudding” that looks like a mix of sweet and savory, while A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery (1734) has recipes for apple, orange and lemon puddings, along with liver pudding (yuck, yuck) and the soon-to-be classic plumb pudding.
The eighteenth century does seem to be the golden age of puddings, which were so important that they even became political. I found a Salem pudding story in the charming little book written by Marianne Cabot Silsbee, A Half-Century in Salem (1887): apparently the city’s Federalists and Democrats were divided not only in their politics but also their pudding-eating habits, with the former eating their pudding before the main courses, the latter after. Puddings were perfect symbols for satire and caricature across the Atlantic, as the plum(b) pudding came to be both quintessentially British and Christmas in the nineteenth century. It in this century that my favorite pudding (besides “Hasty Pudding”, which is transformed into “Indian Pudding” in America with the substitution of corn meal for oats) emerges: “Tipsy Pudding”, better known as Trifle. That’s pretty common now, so I want to go for something old/new in my own pudding experiments: I think I might try out the “Amber Pudding” (which is very old) and “Hedgehog Pudding” recipes in the wonder book of Victorian puddings, Puddings and Pastries à La Mode (1893) by a certain Mrs. DeSalis. Because right after Thanksgiving, it’s pudding time.
All Cookbook images: British Library; Puddings & Pastry here; George Cruikshank, “Pudding Time”, Plate 6 from Illustrations of Time (1827), British Museum.
On this day in 1555, two of the three “Oxford Martyrs’ were put to death for their manifest Protestant heresy by the government of her Catholic Majesty Queen Mary I, an event which went a long way in cementing her historical identity as “Bloody Mary” after Protestantism was re-established in England. Bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley did not leave the country with her accession, like many of their conspicuous co-religionists, and so they paid the ultimate price along with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who was sent to the flames several months later. In his passionate and polemical account, Actes and Monuments, John Foxe illustrated the onset of their valiant deaths–just before the flames were lit– and recorded Latimer”s final words: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; for we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
I thought I would take the occasion of this dark anniversary to explore a long-held connection between Mary’s most prominent martyrs and the children’s nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice. It seems like an odd pairing, but I have a distinct childhood memory of my mother telling me that Queen Mary was the mean farmer’s wife who cut off the tails of the three blind (-folded, apparently, or blinded by the light? or blinded by Protestantism?) mice/bishops/martyrs. Now she definitely had a Protestant bias, but she didn’t make this tale up–it’s been out there for a while, and the internet has done much to turn it into “fact” without much basis. Is there any? It sounds plausible, as seemingly-innocent nursery rhymes and fairy tales often have darker hidden meanings, but there are a few problems–and very little evidence–for any connection between the mice and the martyrs.
The most apparent problem is one of perspective: how could an account which portrays the Queen as a malicious woman (sometimes a miller’s wife, or a butcher’s wife, before she becomes exclusively the farmer’s wife) who carves off the tails of mice also portray those very same mice (bishops) as “blind”? It’s not clear whether there is an anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant bias here–certainly if it is the former the mice should be not only able to see the light but also enlightened: they are the light, according to Latimer’s quote. But the biggest problem is any kind of contemporary allusion: the first reference to the rhyme (or “round”) occurs in a little 1609 ballad book, Thomas Ravenscroft’s Deuteromelia, or, the Second Part of Musicks melodie, or melodius Musicke, of Pleasant Roundelaies; K. H. mirth, or Freemens Songs, and such delightfull Catches as nothing more than a little ditty–whether it reflects an earlier verse I do not know. When it reappears in the various Victorian nursery rhyme compilations, it’s pretty much the recognizable standard. Something either happened in the interim or we have yet another example of the Victorian “invention of tradition”. In any case, there is no obvious hint of a Marian subtext in its first appearance. And there are far too many “generally accepted” references in the scholarly literature–I’m coming to the conclusion that the mice were just mice and the farmer’s wife wanted them out of her kitchen.
Illustration credits: John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, 1563 edition; Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1918, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Joseph Moorat, Thirty Old-Time Nursery Songs, 1912 (Illustrated by Paul Vincent Woodroffe); Winslow Homer illustration from The Eventful History of Three Blind Mice, 1858; Paula Rego, Three Blind Mice, 1989, Victoria & Albert Museum
The British Library’s blockbuster Gothic exhibition, Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination opened yesterday across the pond, complete with a (rather suspect-looking) vampire-slaying kit. I like the title: that’s just what makes Gothic literature so compelling, the combination of fear and curiosity. Horror is something else entirely: it’s just repulsive. Gothic is humanistic; horror is not. I hope to see the exhibition myself but it has already inspired me to think about my favorite examples of American Gothic literature: I can’t go back to the eighteenth century, where Terror and Wonder begins with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, because I haven’t read anything by the man whom everyone identifies as the first Gothic author, Charles Brockden Brown, so my list begins with Edgar Allen Poe and then proceeds rather conventionally: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, The Yellow Wallpaper, the amazing short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which I read for the first time just last week, several stories by Ambrose Bierce, Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (I know–it’s very British but he was born American), anything by Flannery O’Connor (I know–southern Gothic deserves its own special categorization, but I’m only really familiar with Flannery, the namesake of my first cat), and also pretty much anything by Shirley Jackson: I particularly like We have always Lived in the Castle (1962). Just a short list as my fiction-reading has been limited, for the most part, to an earlier phase of my life, but I would love more suggestions for the years to come.
Harry Perkins illustration of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart (1923), from the “Terror and Wonder” Exhibition at the British Library; Francis Mosley illustration from the Folio Society’s edition of the House of the Seven Gables; Title Page of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson (Gilman), New England Magazine, 1892; Ambrose Bierce’s collection of short stories (1893); Penguin English Library edition of Henry James’ Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw; Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories; and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).
August is probably one of my least favorite months, but I’m trying to adopt a different attitude this year. As I’ve either been in school or teaching school for my entire life (except one year) it is generally the last, fleeting, month of freedom before the resumption of academic responsibilities (I know everyone is really feeling sorry for me now): the first part of the month is really hot and the last part is all about completing my syllabi. But since I’ve been chair of my department, my perspective has changed, because the administrative responsibilities lighten, but do not cease, in June and they definitely intensify in August. So there really is no going back; and consequently there is no fleeting end of the summer. Chairs also teach less, so there are fewer syllabi to complete and more time to enjoy September, which is truly one of the most glorious months of the year. While there is a general perception that August is a transitional “back to school” time for everyone today; this was not always the case. Calendar pages, seeking to characterize each month according to activities, originally focus on work (the ever-present scythe, threshing) and later on leisure (tennis, boating, wandering among the flowers) but always in a lush landscape. August, for the most part, is all about abundance, until we get to the more-stark present.
Illustrating August in three Renaissance Books of Hours ( The Hague KB 76 F 14, Paris, c. 1490-1500; The Hague KB 133 D 11, Liège, c. 1500-1525; Simon Bening, 1510-60, Victoria and Albert Museum); details from the August page of Robert Furber’s Twelve Months of Fruit, by John Clark et. al. after Peiter Casteels, 1732, Rooke Books; two art nouveau Augusts (Eugene Grasset, La Belle Jardiniere – August, 1896; Alphonse Maria Mucha, 1899, Mucha Foundation); modern Augusts–a bit more stark–by Harry Cimino and Dione Verulam
When I found the hand shadow trade card for Salem furrier T.N. Covell below I thought I had stumbled onto something unique, but it turns out that shadowgraphy, ombromanie, or “Ombres Chinoises” was just another Victorian fad, like phrenology, penny farthings, and mesmerism. It didn’t take long to find other examples, and other “animals”: the seal led to search for other shadow cards made in Boston and elsewhere, and the offerings of John Bufford, who was a very serious lithographer and businessman. So here we have a late nineteenth-century variation on the silhouette: more whimsical than documentary and more commercial than personal. An ephemeral art, as (electric) light was already too bright when it appeared, and very reflective of a much simpler time!
Victorian hand shadow trade cards and the December 15, 1869 edition of Chatterbox, Library of Congress; Illustrations from the Ombres chinoises, guignol, marionnettes, par Émile Lagarde , 1900, Bibliothèque nationale de France