Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday!

Famous Victorians, Literature

Today marks the 212th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday (January 19, 1809)! 🎉 The beloved American writer is best known for his gothic poems and short stories full of mystery, lost love, and macabre. He is also considered to be the father of detective fiction and contributed to the popularization of science fiction. 🦇

While his convoluted and tragic love life is often discussed, Poe’s early life was plagued by other misfortunes as well. Orphanated by the age of two, he was taken in by John and Frances Allan. Edgar and Allan didn’t see eye to eye and often quarreled, especially over money. Feeling unsupported by the foster father, Edgar turned to gambling to pay for his education at the University of Virginia. This plan however backfired, leaving Poe with serious debts. After begging John for money, clothes, and basic necessities numerous times, he finally had to resign from the university and joined the army under an assumed name. He was only 18 at the time.

Victorian Hair Jewelry

Fashion, mourning

Bored with your old trinkets? Want to surprise your coworkers during the next Zoom meeting? Well, look no further, because Victorians have what you need – hair jewelry! 💇‍♀️And we don’t mean hair accessories, we’re talking about jewelry pieces made of actual human hair. Earrings, rings, necklaces, brooches, you name it – everything can be woven out of hair or at least contain locks of hair.

The practice was prevalent throughout the Victorian era, with higher classes adopting the trend first thanks to goldsmiths and other artisans offering high-quality jewelry that could be personalized by adding a beloved person’s hair and precious materials. Such mementos could not only be a way to keep your family and friends close, but also objects of mourning. The mourning hair jewelry became especially common after the death of Prince Albert, when Queen Victoria decided to wear a locket of Albert’s hair around her neck, thus popularizing this way of showing love for the deceased. Around the same time, hair work became a common pastime for women of lower classes. Ladies would learn how to create these intricate items from each other or could use patterns printed in women’s magazines.

The topic of this week’s comic was suggested by IG @sewing_ducky, who also became one of the characters! If you would also like to become a character in one of the future comics, check out the Anatomist membership level on VeinityFair Patreon or try your luck in the next giveaways

Madame X

art, Famous Victorians, Fashion

“Madame X” was an infamous portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, painted by John Singer Sargent. In the painting, Virginie, a Parisian socialite known for her beauty, is wearing a sleek black dress. She has perfectly styled hair, and the paleness of her skin beautifully contrasts with the dark background. It seemed that the piece would become a great success for both the artist and the model.

And yet, the portrait was met with a very controversial reception at the 1884 Paris Salon. The viewers commented on the revealing dress cut, the shoulder strap inappropriately falling down on the shoulder, the weird position of the model, and her morbid paleness. How could it be? After all, it was still the society that applauded the sickly look caused by romanticized tuberculosis. What is more, the dress design wasn’t more revealing than other popular evening gowns at the time. It seems that a large part of the scandal was … gossip.

The 1884 Salon was a particularly mundane exhibition with almost no notable paintings. Moreover, visitors had to go through many rooms to see “Madame X”, which could have altered their moods. Besides, the majority of the patrons belonged to the bourgeoisie and could have been more critical of the aristocratic Madame Gautreau flaunting her jeweled straps and high fashion. It was also enough for a few respected people to openly describe the piece of art as ‘immoral’ to create an atmosphere in which anyone who disagrees could be seen as ‘immoral’ as well. The newspapers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing the painting, Madame Gautreau, and Sargent. They even printed caricatures! As you can imagine, at that point, new Salon visitors were already expecting to see something scandalous, even before seeing the painting themselves!

The scandal was so blown up out of proportion that Virginie’s mother threatened Sargent with a duel, and Sargent himself moved to Britain (after repainting the unfortunate strap, as can be seen in the portrait today.). After the initial backlash, the lives of Gautreau and Sargent went back to normal. The first remained a fashionable Paris figure, and the latter became a highly sought-after artist.  

Check out this video by Karolina Żebrowska to find out more on the history of Madame X!

First Foot!

Holidays

We made it! 2020 is officially over, and I hope you spent the last hours of that year in a joyful atmosphere. 🎉🎉 But have you paid attention to who crossed your threshold first this year? Your whole 2021 may depend on it! According to an old Scottish tradition, called ‘First Foot’, the first person who enters your household after midnight fortells the fortune for the new year. The best candidates are dark-haired men bearing small gifts, as they are a sign of prosperity and good luck. Fair-haired men are not as good apparently, and seen as a bad omen. 😱

While the tradition can still be observed today, it was especially popular in the Victorian era, as the Queen was in love with everything Scottish and popularized Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) traditions among her subjects. During the time, the midnight guests were expected to bring such symbolic gifts as whiskey, coal, shortbread, spices, and black bun. 🥃🍪