December 9, 2013

Female Poetesses from the 19th Century

The 19th century saw an influx of many wonderful writers and poets such as Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen in England and Nathanial Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Harriet Beecher Stowe in America. While men dominated the writing scene, many women were producing works that displayed their wit and intelligence effectively, thus securing their own places in the annals of history. Their works paved the way for recognition of women’s literary abilities and in some cases helped free women from the bonds of their traditional places in society.

Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, an English writer who is most famous for her novel Wuthering Heights, was an avid writer of poetry. One reason her poems are still celebrated today is because the language is clear, direct, and not full of vague forms like most poetry of her day. After her mother died when she was 3 years old, she and her siblings spent much of their time reading and inventing imaginary worlds to escape from the present, which may have paved the way for their literary success. Emily died when she was only 30. One of her more famous poems is “Death, that struck when I was most confiding”, an excerpt from which is below:

Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening’s gently air may still restore-
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish-
Time, for me, must never blossom more!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Another English writer, Elizabeth Browning, had a lot of time to write on her hands thanks to never fully recovering from falling off a horse when she was 15 year old. She received wide critical acclaim and was speculated at one point to be the successor to Wordsworth as Poet Laureate. When she was young, her father forbade any of his children to marry, so she married her husband Robert Browning in private, secretly departing her home to live in Italy. Her liaison with Robert contributed to an improvement in her health. Because of her own sufferings, she is seen as the champion of suffering and oppressed people, and she was a huge supporter of the anti-slavery movement. She wrote a very famous poem titled “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43); the first verse is below.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

Christina Rossetti

A third well known English poetess is Christina Rossetti. Very religious, she was known to be incredibly self-sacrificing: she gave up chess because she enjoyed winning so much, pasted strips over antireligious parts of poems that she otherwise enjoyed, and refused to participate in anything celebrating pagan mythology such as Wagner’s Parsifal. She additionally declined to marry the man she was in love with because she found out he was not a Christian, and she earlier rejected another suitor because he was a Roman Catholic. After her rejection of her second proposal, she mostly lived at home, although she had acquaintances in the form of her brother Dante’s friends. She suffered on and off from poor health and ultimately died of cancer. “Goblin Market” is one of her most well-known works, and through it, one can see her appreciation for being self-denying. An excerpt can be found below:

“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”

Emily Dickinson

America was not without its successful female poets, and one of the most famous is Emily Dickinson. After living a mostly normal life that included friends, parties, and church, she became increasingly reclusive in her late 20s until ultimately withdrawing from society and choosing to rarely leave home. She kept up a correspondence with friends, but she would not see them. Most of her poems were discovered after her death; she only published a handful while still alive. Originally looked down on by scholars as a romantic who turned her back on the world after suffering heartbreak rather than a serious poet, she has come to be read with much acclaim. She is the author of my favorite poem, “Heart, We Will Forget Him”, the first verse of which is below:

Heart, we will forget him!
You and I- tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave-
I will forget the light.”
Sarojini Naidu

Meanwhile, in India, the jewel of the British Empire, another female poet was leaving her mark. Sarojini Naidu was an Indian independence activist and poet. She was admitted to Madras University at the age of 12, which garnered her fame throughout her country. At the age of 16 she was sent to England against her will to separate her from her love interest, who was in a different caste from her. Three years later, she returned to India because of poor health and married the same man, which caused a scandal throughout India. At the age of 37 she met Gandhi and devoted her time to traveling the country, fighting for freedom. She is said to be responsible for the “awakening of women” throughout in India. Below is a piece of one of her poems, “Alabaster”:

Like this alabaster box whose heart
Is frail as a cassis-flower, is my heart,
Carven with delicate dreams and wrought
With many a subtle and exquisite thought.

Thérèse of Lisieux
Finally, it would be a shame to leave out a poetess from France whose life and works have inspired so many people that she was sainted in the 20th century. Saint Therese of Lisieux was a French Carmelite nun. Very pious, she was drawn to God from an early age. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux at the very early age of 15, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1925. Her work, originally intended for her sisters at the convent, only became known after her death, due to her wish to remain anonymous. Her theme for her poetry and her life was “Thou, O Lord, hast been the only object of my songs in the place of my pilgrimage.”

Kristin Burlingame is a publishing student at UH-Victoria in Texas. When not working as an intern for Aurora Regency, doing classwork, or working at her full-time job, Kristin enjoys riding horses and reading any books she can get her hands on.

December 2, 2013

Superstitions from the 19th Century

Writer’s note: While thinking of a topic for today’s blog post, I started thinking about idiosyncrasies in the modern world that might have been similar back during the Regency era. For instance: I have a paralyzing fear of scorpions; did these creatures also terrorize the people of the 1800s? And what superstitions existed in general? This might have been a better post for the week of Halloween, but I think it’s always a fun topic to read about!

We tend to think of ourselves in this day and age as extremely civilized, far away from the quirks of previous centuries. Some of the superstitions from the 1800s we find silly today, and yet they were just as natural to the people of their time as some of our current practices. That's right- there are still some old wives' tales part of our everyday life that we don’t even think about that either had their origins in the 1800s or were added to during that time. I have listed several, both current and obsolete, below by category- how many of these have you stumbled upon in your readings?


* If you rocked an empty cradle, you would be inviting another child into your family

Photo credit to Cory Marchand

 * May Day: rise early without talking to anyone else, go outside, and wash your face with the morning dew. If this was done while thinking of a boy that a girl was infatuated with, he would become smitten with her. And if he didn’t, the process had another effect anyway: it would rid the face of freckles.

* The first butterfly seen during spring told you what type of bread you would eat for the rest of the year. A white butterfly signified white bread, while a brown butterfly signified brown bread.

* English men did not eat salads if they wanted to have children. This was because a book on plants suggested that lettuce was a sterile plant, and as such, it would make the eater also sterile.


* If a cat washed its face by passing its left paw over its left ear, a stranger would call that night

* If you killed a cat, it was sure that some of your cattle would die

* Sacrificing a healthy calf or cow was thought to spare the rest of the herd from cattle plague

Related to death and sickness:

* If a dog howled, it was a foreboding of evil. His master was dying or would soon be dead

* If someone saw a hearse, they would be the next to die. During Victorian times, a way to ward off death was to carry a button. Some people thought this was not enough, and they would carry their button until they spied a bird.

Photo credit to Albert Edwin Roberts

 * After a death, mirrors were covered with black fabric or turned to the wall. Superstition had it that the next person to see their reflection would die.

* One could catch cholera simply because one was afraid of it.

Superstitions that exist in modern times:

* The habit of taking a pinch of spilled salt and throwing it with your right hand over your left shoulder may stem from a time when salt was rare and precious (and therefore wasting it was a bad thing to do). This action is taken to blind the devil that sits on your left shoulder. 

Photo credit to Jorge Royan

* The saying “Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll break you mother’s back” has racist roots from the late 19th century. During a time when inter-racial marriages were heavily frowned upon, the original saying meant that if you stepped on a crack, you would marry someone of the opposite race and have a mixed race child. 

* The phrase “God bless you” that people utter after someone sneezes came from believing that the devil would jump immediately into the sneezer’s body. Saying the phrase kept the person from being possessed. Holding a hand over your mouth when you yawned was supposed to accomplish the same purpose. This poem dates back to the 1800s and describes what you can expect from sneezing on certain days of the week:

Sneeze on Monday, sneeze for danger.
Sneeze on Tuesday, kiss a stranger.
Sneeze on Wednesday, sneeze for a letter.
Sneeze on Thursday, something better.
Sneeze on Friday, sneeze for woe.
Sneeze on Saturday, a journey to go.
Sneeze on Sunday, your safety seek- for Satan will have you for the rest of the week!

* Fear of Friday the 13th apparently originated in the 1800s; it is, however, a conglomeration of two older superstitions. Friday was already considered an unlucky day, because according to tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday. The number 13 was also considered unlucky because Judas was the 13th apostle to arrive at the last supper.

As it turns out, the only scorpions native to the United Kingdom are not very venomous, so it is unlikely that they would have caused much of a stir (other to creep people out by their appearance). So, while we may scoff at some of the things our ancestors believed 200 years ago, it is obvious that we have our own habits and phobias that probably won't be going anywhere any time soon. Saying "bless you", for instance, has become the polite thing to do; not saying it almost feels like an insult. What other things do we do traditionally that may have their roots from superstition?

Kristin Burlingame is a publishing student at UH-Victoria in Texas. When not working as an intern for Aurora Regency, doing classwork, or working at her full-time job, Kristin enjoys riding horses and reading any books she can get her hands on.

November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving in the 19th Century

Harvest festivals, where villages praised God for providing a good crop yield, go back as far in history as the practice of harvesting crops. Feasting and merriment generally accompanied these displays of gratitude. The festivals, however, were not usually yearly traditions, and how they were celebrated depended on the people involved.

The "First Thanksgiving"
While the first Thanksgiving similar to the modern day celebration was observed in October of 1621 by about 50 English colonists and around 90 Wampanoag men, Thanksgiving as a tradition did not start until 1841. At that time, a Boston publisher printed Edward Winslow (leader of the Plymouth colony)’s 1621 account of the “First Thanksgiving”, a first-hand description that had been lost in the two hundred years preceding its publication.

According to the account, there were no plans for that fateful first gathering to become a tradition; the usual custom of thanksgiving did not even include a meal at the time, as it was an occasion for fasting. The legendary feast was mostly a celebration of the bountiful harvest that year.

Photo credit Ben Franske
Nevertheless, the idea of a national celebration of thanks grew in popularity, and President Abraham Lincoln declared two Thanksgiving holidays in 1863- one on August 6th to celebrate the victory at Gettysburg and the other on the last Thursday in November. Thanksgiving was still not officially a yearly event at this point; the president still had to proclaim Thanksgiving every year up until 1941, when it was decided that it would be celebrated on the second to last Thursday of November every year.

The typical menu for Thanksgivings today is based on New England harvest festivals. Local cooks in the 1800s modified thanksgiving feast menus as they wanted, based on what they liked to eat and had available. On the menu was usually a plethora of vegetables, wild game, fish, and several choices of pies. Pumpkin pie appeared in the early 1800s and became so linked with the Thanksgiving tradition that in 1869 it, and turkey, became classified as “inevitable” Thanksgiving dishes by the Connecticut Courant. 

Thanksgiving Day, courtesy of the Boston Public Library
It may seem like Thanksgiving has become more unified in the years since the 19th century, with its typical turkey, yams, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, but even today different areas of the United States include items in their meals that may surprise you. In the southwest, it is common to use chilies in stuffing; on the east coast, crab is typically an appetizer or incorporated into dressing. Minnesotans might stuff turkey with wild rice, while in Indiana persimmon pudding might be featured with the dessert pies. Even though some of these choices may seem odd, Regency-period cooks would probably appreciate the throwback to a time when Thanksgiving consisted of family time with a meal made only from locally available produce and proteins.

Kristin Burlingame is a publishing student at UH-Victoria in Texas. When not working as an intern for Aurora Regency, doing classwork, or working at her full-time job, Kristin enjoys riding horses and reading any books she can get her hands on.