Richard Burton and Mrs Prodgers

I first heard this story on an episode of QI (series J, episode “Journeys”).

Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton (who, as an impressive side note, spoke 29 languages) was famous for being crotchety and not liking very many people. His family was always surprised, then, for his odd fondness for a lady named Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, who was . . . a difficult woman. In particular, she had a life vendetta against taxis and taxi drivers that was so well-known she was always in the papers. But more on that below.

From what I understand, there was nothing romantic about their relationship; but what these two grumpy people could see in each other, I’m sure I don’t know. According to one of his family members:

“At the club he was never at home to anybody except a certain Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers […] she concentrated all her spleen on cab-drivers […] and having a profound respect for Burton’s judgment, she often went to him about these cab disputes, and, oddly enough, though nobody else could get at him, he was always at the service of Mrs. Prodgers, and good-naturedly gave her the benefit of his wisdom. To the London magistrates the good lady was a perpetual terror, and Frederick Burton, a diligent newspaper reader, took a pleasure in following her experiences.”

Anyway, the real story is about Mrs Prodgers and taxi drivers, which she hated with a passion second to none. Taxi fares were calculated in the Victorian era by exact distances (now I believe it is calculated by distance, time, and–in some places–the difficulty of the journey, which may lead to extra wear and tear on a vehicle).

Mrs Prodgers had a sixth sense about taxi journeys and knew down to the exact foot how far she had traveled and how far a taxi would be able to take her for only one shilling. She always stopped the taxi within yards of the boundary that would allow them to charge her more than a shilling. If there was any dispute with the cabbie over the price, she would take them to court–and she almost always won.

She went to court over 50 times for cab fares alone; one judge inquired why she didn’t just keep a carriage and driver of her own, as it would surely be cheaper than to keep returning to court.

Her reputation became so ludicrous that whenever she arrived at King’s Cross train station, she summoned five porters (three to carry her luggage and two to carry her children) and would go to the line of cabs waiting outside. She was known to most London taxi drivers by sight, so the first cabbie to spot her would yell, “MRS PRODGERS!” and all of the rest would flee. On Bonfight Night in 1876, London cabbies burnt her in effigy; there are also music hall songs about her and several unflattering caricatures in newspapers:

It wasn’t just cabbies she took to court, either. She took the publisher of a major newspaper, her own cook, and her husband. After ten years of marriage to Austrian naval captain  Giovanni Battista Giacometti, Mrs Prodgers (who retained her own last name in the marriage) decided she had had it with him. As she was by FAR the wealthier spouse, their court case set certain legal precedents in terms of protecting a wife’s money.

In order to win her case, Mrs Prodgers was happy to tarnish her own reputation; she doubted the paternity of her children with Captain Giacometti in order to deny him any rights or access to her family’s fortune. As he had given up his career to be with her, she owed him alimony upon their divorce (which was very unusual for the time). She, of course, refused to pay and he took her to court.

She also brought her cook to court because, upon dismissal, the cook apparently refused to leave and kept on “singing about the place“.

Once she thought she was going to be mentioned in a newspaper, but refused to bay the full penny for an issue of the paper. This led to a physical altercation with the newspaper publisher, who accidentally tore her dress in the scuffle. She, of course, took him to court.

She also sued a watchmaker for accidentally returning the wrong watch to her home.

She was rude, as well as litigious. Once when she was traveling aboard a ship, another passenger offered her a cup of tea. She replied, “I have only had afternoon tea once in my life, and that was with the Duke of Sutherland.”

When she died in 1890, a newspaper ran a brief and unimpressed obituary, reading, “Mrs Giacometti Prodgers, the terror of London cabmen, is dead. Her habit was to drive the fullest possible distance for the money, pay the exact legal fare, and then cause the arrest of the cabman for expressing his feelings.”

Seems about right.

 

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Hot Cockles

I first heard this story on an episode of QI (series O, episode “O Christmas”).

The holiday season is a time for family to gather together, be merry, and play parlor games. One game that has sadly fallen out of fashion was a Georgian pastime called “Hot Cockles”.

You play hot cockles by burrowing your head into another person’s lap, and a third person comes around and kicks you in the ass. You then have to guess who kicked you. Presumably you need more than three people to play:

Slightly later, there was a popular Regency game called “Bullet Pudding“, which was an early nineteenth-century game of Jenga. You pile up a mound of flour on a plate, and stick a bullet on the very top of the wee flour mountain. Everyone would take turns removing some of the flour with a knife, until the bullet finally fell. The person who made the bullet fall had to get the bullet out of the flour with their teeth.

Finally, there was an immensely dangerous-sounding game called “Snapdragon“, which I first learned about in an episode of Poirot, WHERE THEY LET CHILDREN PLAY IT.

What you do with Snapdragon is pour a bunch of brandy into a wide, shallow bowl or tray. You scatter raisins in the brandy, set the brandy on fire, and then quickly stick your hand in to retrieve the flaming raisins to eat, while attempting not to burn yourself. I am sure more than one Christmas has ended up at the emergency room due to Snapdragon-related injuries:

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Party Like It’s 1873

I’m reading a fun book right now called The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy (2017) and found this truly ridiculous story of conspicuous consumption (it can be found on page 15).

In 1873, a wealthy importer named Edward Luckmeyer received a $10,000 rebate from the government on taxes he had overpaid. Rather than do something sensible with this money, he decided to blow it all on a high society party. Keep in mind that each dollar in 1873 is now worth about $25, so in today’s money, this party would have cost $250,000.

He decided to host the party at Delmonico’s, easily the most fashionable restaurant in New York. He held it in their biggest dining room, which had a table that could seat 75 people. It was also large enough that they were able to construct a 30-foot lake in the middle of the table, surrounded by exotic plants and shrubs.

Live swans swam in the lake in the middle of the table while people ate; to keep the swans from escaping, Tiffany’s constructed a huge, golden mesh cage that surrounded the entire lake and stretch up to the ceiling.

The event became known as the “Swan Dinner”, not least of all because the swans created an absolute ruckus during the meal: they spent the entire evening fighting and mating in the middle of the table.

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Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Little Women

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Little Women (1994). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friends @VictorianMasc and Dr Douglas Small, so we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

The Raven (2012)

Titanic (1997)

Fievel Goes West (1991)

Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing

For the record, I’ve seen this film roughly 600 times growing up and I think it’s a delight and Winona Ryder deserved her Oscar nomination and, frankly, should have won. This is a good-natured snarking done with all the love in the world.

Also, the opening credits say the magic words:

AWWWWW YEAAAAAAAH

Fans of this blog will know that I have a fairly sizable crush on Gabriel Byrne. This is his third (and easily hunkiest appearance) in this particular series, and I’m only 85% sure that my blog won’t slowly morph into an unofficial Gabriel Byrne website.

It’s Christmas in New England, 1860 (I think Massachusetts? But we can forgive them that because it’s quaint as all get-out):

Yeah, that’s right, I’m already slinging New England shade and we’re not even 3 minutes in.

We open on the voice of our protagonist, Jo March, talking about how that winter fucking sucked, but her family was awesome. Jo is kind of the Lizzie Bennet of the March family, but even more of a baller, because she’s a writer and a tomboy, and her resting bitch face is truly exceptional.

Her elder sister, Meg, is the Jane Bennet of the family but with a much bigger stick up her butt:

Yep, that stick is present and palpable.

Then there’s Beth March, Meg and Jo’s younger sister, who almost definitely has some sort of undiagnosed anxiety disorder. She’s the Mary Bennet of the family, right down to the obnoxious piano playing:

She is played by Claire Danes and her Quiver Chin. If you enjoy seeing Claire Danes do an ugly crying face, then this is not the film for you, because she never fully unleashes it.

The youngest sister is Amy, who I kind of have a soft spot for, because I was a prissy little snot just like her when I was growing up. If I had to describe Amy in modern parlance, I would say that she’s . . . Extra. With a capital E.

Amy also reveals over the course of the film that she needs to buy a fucking dictionary, and that the education in 1860s Massachusetts is a broke-ass system (“Isn’t bread divinity?” “One periwinkle sash has been abscondated from the wash-line.” “I’m so degraditated.”)

And they live with their improbably named “Marmie”, who raises her four daughters with an overt feminist agenda. If you dislike feminist agendas, this is not the film for you. Or book. Or blog, really.

The girls huddle up like chinchillas and read a letter from their father, who is off fighting in the American Civil War and is probably terrorizing Scarlett O’Hara and burning Twelve Oaks to the ground at this very moment.

You can tell this house is full of radicals because they BELIEVE IN THINGS, like charity work and abolition and temperance and gender equality, and also they’re (*gasp*) half-Jewish!

We learn that Jo likes to stay up late writing, wearing a dope-ass velvet night cap like a foxy Ebenezer Scrooge. She says that she’s full of stories and characters she needs to write down. “I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.”

Douglas: Please tell me she means some sort of Kafka-esque transformation. I already think this film could use a healthy dose of David Cronenberg bug horror.

The next day is Christmas, and they prepare a feast “just like the old days”, before they got all lame and poor. Beth decides to wake up the entire house by blasting something in a major chord, like a dick.

Entire Room, and also Jo: SHUT THE FUCK UP, BETH

The March girls have an Irish housekeeper named Hannah, who has a proper ethno-feud with some Germans named the Hummels, who live nearby on Skid Row. Hannah is surly because Marmie went out to take care of the Hummels and cure them of their scabies or something. I don’t really know what’s wrong with them, apart from poverty.

Hannah informs everyone–with massive attitude–that the Hummels don’t speak a word of English, the father of the family is gone, and there are six children, and the mother is about to “issue another”.

In an alternate universe where Hannah is immortal, she would go on to work for the Daily Mail or Fox News.

The girls quickly decide to bring over their entire Christmas breakfast to the Hummels. This is Amy’s reaction to that idea:

HOLD ON TO THAT FUCKING ORANGE, AMY. You are poor, as well, and probably on the verge of scurvy. Don’t allow that racist hag to guilt-trip you.

Eventually, Amy complies. This leads to a weird close-up shot, and (being academics) we had to pause the film to discuss if this was symbolism or not, and if so, OF WHAT?

As the girls carry the food over, we are introduced to their next door neighbors: Old Mr Moneybags, and his grandson, Laurie. Old Moneybags tut-tuts about how far the Marches have fallen on the socio-economic ladder.

Jo tips her coffee pot to Laurie which, in the nineteenth century, is practically a sexual invitation. And thus Laurie’s decade-long crush is born!

He goes from zero-to-creeper pretty quickly, spending that night staring up at Jo’s window.

The oblivious girls, meanwhile, are playing Pickwick Club:

VictorianMasculinity: It goes without saying that the first rule of Pickwick Club is never to talk about Pickwick Club.

Douglas: I would give anything for this to cut to a scene of Beth just punching the absolute hell out of Meg.

They start speculating about Laurie next door. Jo heard that he was raised in Italy, probably amongst “artists and vagrants”, which makes him 100% sexier to her.

Meg , who is not only a boner killer at every conceivable angle but also the real villain of the film, sniffs that Laurie has had no proper upbringing at all.

The girls all wish they they could be rich again (except for Beth, who is of a dainty constitution and probably just wishes for some morphine). Jo vows to write books and become rich for them all.

Douglas: Yes, Jo. Your way to financial security is to be a professional author.

The next day the girls are getting ready for a Christmas ball! Things quickly go south when Meg asks Jo to curl her hair.

In fairness, Jo has previous bad form with fire: she always scorches her ass standing too close to the fireplace.

Meg, looking in a mirror at her hair: You’ve ruined me!

Douglas: You know, I’ve seen worse ruination in nineteenth-century novels, Meg.

VictorianMasculinity: Yeah, somewhere Thomas Hardy is reading this, going, “Hold my beer.”

Anyway, they patch up Meg’s head and Jo’s ass into a semblance of respectability, and head over to the party. Jo deftly avoids an awkward-looking ginger intent on asking her to dance:

Jo crab-dances her way to safety, and bumps into Laurie. They quickly become friends and ditch the party to gossip and eat tapioca together in another room. Let me tell you, friends, that is MY kind of party. I would be the first one to grab six bottles of wine for me and my new friend and go hang out in the dumb waiter or a closet until everyone else leaves.

While Jo and Laurie are having the time of their lives, poor Meg gets stuck with the red-headed dweeb, who quickly ruins everything by gavotte-ing her so fast that she sprains her ankle:

We had to pause the film here again to discuss the redhead, because on the one hand, we’ve all been Meg March at some point in our lives. On the other hand, we feel kind of bad for the ginger. The boy just wants to dance! He’ll never get any better if he doesn’t practice!

Jo and Meg get sent home in Laurie’s carriage (Oooh, he’s got his own ride? He should be sex on wheels for a freedom-starved 16-year old like you, Jo). Alas, despite his romantic background, his own carriage, and his truly STELLAR ’90s floppy hair, Jo quickly says to her sisters, “He isn’t a boy. He’s Laurie.

VictorianMasculinity: Ouch. Friend-zoned.

The March girls become Laurie’s playmate. Laurie’s foppish tutor, Mr. Brook, is shocked–SHOCKED, I TELL YOU–to see how rambunctious these girls are.

Marmie quickly puts him in his place: girls are only weak and have fainting spells because we put them in corsets and make them do bullshit like needlework all day. Meanwhile, Meg is quietly begging for a quick death, going, “CONTROL YOUR FEMINISM AROUND STRANGERS, MARMIE”.

Douglas, innocently: I’m starting to think this film might have a feminist agenda, guys.

Then comes the Lime Subplot, which thoroughly confused Douglas. Amy begs some money off of Meg, because she “owes ever so many limes” at school.

Douglas: Wait, what? She owes . . . limes? Like the fruit? Are you sure “lime” isn’t a slang term for drugs?

VictorianMasculinity: Remember how she was clutching onto that orange for dear life? I told you: it’s because everyone in this godforsaken town has scurvy.

Jo works as a companion to her crabby, rich old Aunt March. Aunt March is a TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY and keeps telling Jo that she’ll take her to Europe one day if she behaves within the remit of conventional femininity!

One day at Aunt March’s house, Amy turns up in tears. The teacher caught her with some contraband limes and beat the crap out of her hand:

Marmie throws a shit-fit and pulls Amy out of school. God, the Marches aren’t okay with drinking or slavery, and now they’re not okay with corporal punishment? This family doesn’t like anything!

One day, the girls are rehearsing some fabulous melodrama in their attic, when Amy decides that she’s is fucking DONE always playing the boy part. She’s on the verge of puberty and she wants to play the girl parts, goddamn it.

Jo’s like, “We could ask Laurie to play the boy parts.” This suggestion is rejected by the quorum because, firstly Laurie might ridicule them, and secondly because when the girls are alone, they are free to “bare their souls and tell the most appalling secrets“.

Douglas: I would love it if Beth piped up in the background, “I once murdered a transient outside of Nashville.”

Jo, however, has made a textbook “sisters before misters” violation. She has hidden Laurie in the attic to spy on her sisters while they play dress-up, and he bursts out of a closet door like a stripper out of the lamest cake ever. Meg clutches her heart like Vincent Price, but in the end Laurie convinces them that he’ll never be an ass hat about their theatricals. So they let him join the March Family Players.

With this new intimacy formed, Laurie and his horrible tutor, Mr. Brook, decide to take Meg and Jo to the opera. Amy is petulant and wants to go with them. Jo refuses and, like all good big sisters, taunts Amy about it.

This is Amy’s supervillain origin moment: she turns and screams, “YOU’LL BE SORRY FOR THIS, JO MARCH.”

VictorianMasculinity: I know we should be focusing on Amy’s vow of revenge, but is their cat’s name ‘Evangeline’? Go big or go home, I guess.

Jo’s night gets even worse when, after the opera, Meg starts making eyes at Mr. Brook: The MOST Repressed Man.

Gross.

Jo interrupts them from having a first kiss and drags Meg in the house. Cock duly blocked, and we’re all grateful for it.

Her night gets considerably worse when she comes inside and discovers that Amy has burned the manuscript of Jo’s book. It’s a truly upsetting scene, Amy is proper cuntly, and we all wish that Jo got one good punch in before Marmie dragged her away.

This is some GOOD OLE FASHIONED NEW ENGLAND SISTER WRASSLIN’, except harrowing.

Amy spends the next few weeks trying to make it up to Jo. She follows Jo and Laurie ice skating, but neither Jo nor the audience are in a forgiving mood. When Amy plunges through some thin ice, Douglas suggests that Jo and Laurie beat Amy with the stick instead of using it to rescue her.

Alas, she is rescued, and all is forgiven.

VictorianMasculinity: Maaan, Amy sure knows how to use her flair for the dramatic to get the audience on her side. Act like a spoiled brat over limes? Get visibly beaten by a misogynist. Burn what sounds like a Gothic masterpiece? Almost drown.

Douglas: Imagine what she’d do by way of sensational redemption if, say, she murdered a transient, like Beth.

In the spring, Meg goes to a FANCY SOCIETY PARTY and everyone is extremely excited because Meg is the oldest and needs to be the first to get married and might meet A MAN at the fancy party.

Aunt March gives Marmie a stern talking to. She says that the long-absent Mr. March is a fucking idiot with money, and the one hope for the family is “for Margaret to marry well. Although I don’t know who marries governesses.”

VictorianMasculinity: Uhh, Mr. Rochester, dumbass. Read a book once in a while.

Although Aunt March does have a point. If not Meg, then the family will have to wait several years for Amy to grow up and land a rich dude, because Jo and Beth are useless at flirting.

Meanwhile, at the fancy party:

Douglas: High society: we have all the rugs. All the rugs, they are ours.

Meg’s getting ready for the ball and is wearing the wrong thing. The other girls have an honest-to-god discussion about how Meg’s dress is inferior because not enough child laborers died while making it.

Sally Moffet, the Alpha Bitch (because there’s always one in every group), breaks the news surprisingly gently to Meg. She decides to make Meg her “pet” and gussy her up for the big shin-dig. It’s like that scene in Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock doesn’t know what lipstick is.

Sally brings her French maid over to assess the damage. The maid promptly grabs Meg’s boobs tells her she needs a corset to push those suckers up. That maid is either as gay or as French as I’ve ever seen. One of the two. Maybe both.

That night, Laurie runs into Meg at the ball and he is horrified by what he sees:

She’s had a glass of champagne, looks like a million bucks, is making charming small talk with men, and seems to be enjoying herself. IT’S A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH, THANK GOD LAURIE’S HERE TO SHAME HER OUT OF A PERFECTLY LOVELY EVENING.

Goddamn it, Laurie, this is why we can’t have nice things. Well, that and principles. I hope Amy gets up to some REAL debauched stuff when she gets older.

A few weeks later, the family is in for a big change: Laurie goes off to college. But before he goes, he drops a bombshell–“Hey, Jo, remember when Meg lost a glove ages back? She didn’t lose it. It was stolen by the resident creep, Mr. Brook, as a memento. He keeps it in his pocket.”.

Douglas: Aaaaaand he almost definitely masturbated into it.

Me: Well, we were all thinking it.

Jo is outraged. Unfortunately, Meg and Marmie and old racist Hannah are not disturbed by this AT ALL. I kind of want the film to go off the rails and have this turn into some sort of stalker thriller. But apparently absconding with a woman’s clothing is treated as romantic. Okay, then.

THEN MORE CHANGES: their father’s been wounded in the war and Marmie must dash off to Washington. But how on earth will they afford a ticket on that new-fangled contraption called a “railroad”? Quick, to the wig-makers! It’s time for Jo to pull a Fantine!

Then, MORE MORE CHANGES: It all starts when Beth brings those dirty Hummels some potatoes:

VictorianMasculinity: Don’t bring them potatoes! Bring them antibiotics!

Douglas: I don’t get it.

VictorianMasculinity: You will.

Beth shows up with the potatoes and discovers that the kids are sick. Even Beth doesn’t want to touch that ragged-ass baby:

This was the point where the room leaned in to worship Claire Danes’s quiver chin, but, alas, she holds it together and does not do the Ugly Cry at this time.

When Jo gets home, she discovers Beth slumped over her piano, because apparently scarlet fever has zero incubation time. BETH IS ON THE VERGE OF DEATH.

They send Amy away so she doesn’t catch it. Amy confides in Laurie that she’s worried she’ll die young, before she’s ever been kissed.

In a moment that is equal parts sweet and creepy, Laurie promises “to kiss her before she dies“.

VictorianMasculinityJust before. It’s my kink.

Marmie has to drag herself away from her wounded husband to tend to her ailing daughter. She gets there, starts giving Beth a foot massage, and says they need to draw Beth’s fever down from her head.

Douglas: What are you going to do? Jangle your keys at it? I don’t think that’s how fevers work.

But evidently Marmie knows the Conan the Barbarian healing ceremony, because Beth is okay. Terminally weakened, but okay. FOR NOW.

Finally, Mr. March comes home at Christmas, but if you’re expecting him to make any impact on the story whatsoever, or even have more than two lines for the rest of the film, you’re sorely mistaken:

No, the big news at Christmas is that Meg is going to marry Mr. Brook in about a thousand years when he’s able to scrape together enough money for a house. Jo is NOT happy about the engagement…

Douglas: Jo, you sexless cow.

… and also Beth gets a new piano, courtesy of Old Mr. Moneybags next door.

Do the Ugly Cry, you bitch. Do it.

(she does not do it)

NOW WE JUMP AHEAD FOUR YEARS

Amy has grown up hot and has become a talented artist, Beth’s really weak, Meg and Mr. Brook finally get married, and Jo is still pissed off about it. We open on some hippie bullshit where all the wedding guests hold hands and dance around Meg and Mr. Brook singing a song that could be straight out of The Wicker Man.

Jo’s internal monologue is, “Fuck you all. Die weird deaths.”

After the wedding, Laurie corners her in the woods and proposes marriage. They exchange a kiss (probably her first), and it is VERY. SPITTY.

Laurie tells her that he’s loved her ever since she awakened his sexual ardor by tipping that coffee pot to him five years ago, and also his grandfather, Ole Moneybags, is sending him to England to learn the family business and they could go party it up in Europe, like she always wanted.

VictorianMasculinity: Man, Jo would get on hella well with the Brontes. I mean, if they weren’t all dead by this point.

But even the promise of Europe isn’t enough to overcome the “I’m just not that into you” thing. Jo nopes out of there pretty fast.

Douglas: Jo, you sexless cow.

Jo goes home to cry, only to have Amy pull one last douchey move. You know, for old time’s sake:

Amy: Aunt March is going to Europe.

Jo: She promised to take me if I was her companion for all these years. Which I was. Europe, ahoy!

Amy: … yeah, she’s taking me, instead. I am very talented at painting insipid things on teacups, so I’m going to go study painting in Paris. Even if my landscapes do lack emotion.

VictorianMasculinity: I’m sorry, how exactly does a landscape have emotion?

Laurie spends the next week playing Wagner as angrily and loudly as possible, to show Jo that he is SAD. Jo can’t take all the German angst, so she moves to New York to become a writer (and definitely, definitely won’t immediately fall in love with an angsty German dude).

We are treated to BIG CITY MUSIC. You know, jaunty, with just a hint of crime in the bass clef.

VictorianMasculnity: Augh, and she took that fugly hat with her.

She moves into a boarding house and meets a fellow resident named Professor Bhaer. Now, if this film has taught us one thing, it’s that NOTHING GOOD comes from knowing German people. However, we can make an exception this one time because Professor Bhaer is played by Gabriel Byrne, and Jo and I are both all aquiver like Jell-O in a high wind.

Jo’s writing is rejected by publishers, largely because she has a vagina, and we all know that real men are allergic to words written by women. Professor Bhaer comforts Jo in his private quarters, which isn’t a euphemism, but it should be.

VictorianMasculinity: DON’T DRINK COFFEE WITH HIM ALONE IN HIS ROOM! That’s how Whosie-Whatsit from House of Mirth died! I mean, eventually.

Jo and Bhaer bond over books and philosophy as Jo goes through his library.

Jo: Aww, Shakespeare! Goethe! Walt Whitman!

Douglas: Fanny Hill!

They also bond over warding off scurvy:

And it’s all very sensual, BUT WHAT DO ORANGES IN THIS FILM REPRESENT??? THIS IS DRIVING ME BONKERS.

VictorianMasculinity: Wow, that is a sexual orange of sexual sexuality.

IS IT, THOUGH? I CAN’T TELL ANY MORE.

Jo starts publishing her amazing Gothic horror stories under a male name in The Daily Volcano, which is a great name for a newspaper, but an even better name for a volcano. She shows her published stories to Bhaer, and he gets pretty judgmental because apparently Gothic literature is beneath us all.

Bhaer: Lunatics. Vampires. This interests you?

UH, WHY WOULDN’T IT

He quickly apologizes for being a douche-canoe, but the damage is done and Jo’s heart is no longer into Gothic literature. The world is a sadder place for it.

He makes it up for it by taking her to the opera. Bhaer has some pretty slick moves. He’s able to confess his love to Jo under the pretense of translating the opera lyrics to her. This happens:

Douglas: Jo, you sexed-up cow.

Meanwhile, in Paris, everyone has a scrub-stache, including Laurie, who is drowning his sorrows in absinthe and bitches:

BE A FULL BEARD OR BE NOTHING.

He meets up with Amy, who is hard at work painting, and he behaves like a real whiplash-inducing shitweasel to her. He swigs from a hip-flask in the middle of the day, gives Amy jewelry, insults her artwork, asks her to marry him, call her a gold digger, and then says that he will marry ONE of the March sisters, by god, if it kills him.

I mean, that’s one way to propose to someone, I guess.

VictorianMasculinity: Wow, that beekeeper veil is fucking foul.

Douglas: Wait, is Laurie just pretending to be a dissolute playboy as a cover? Is he secretly the Dark Knight of the Third Republic?

Nah, he and Amy are going to go to Dorsia later.

He reminds Amy that he promised to kiss her before she died, which is a pretty creepy thing to say to a woman who is not under immediate threat of scarlet fever.

VictorianMasculinityJust before. It’s my kink. Remember?

Amy is significantly unimpressed and runs off. Laurie probably contracts syphilis from a French prostitute before going off to London to reform himself for Amy.

Jo is summoned back home because Beth is dying. To be honest, Beth probably heard that Laurie is proposing to every unmarried March girl, so she decided to die rather than face that shitshow of a proposal.

We discover upon Jo’s arrival that Meg is 47 months pregnant with a Brook baby. Gross.

Jo arrives just in time to reach Beth’s deathbed, where Beth makes a moving speech before croaking.

Douglas: Come now, Beth. Death is no excuse for not enunciating. Or for denying us Claire Danes Quiver Chin™.

Hannah sprinkles flower petals over everything in Beth’s room, including some creepy dolls. There is no way one of those dolls doesn’t possess Beth’s soul.

VictorianMasculinity: *sniffling as Hannah* At least she died not a German.

Jo decides to write a book about her life and her sisters. She mails it off to Professor Bhaer: Great Kisser, Snob, and Erstwhile Literary Critic:

Then Meg goes to the Red Tent and gives birth to not one but two horrible Baby Brooks.

Douglas: *as Hannah* And the best part is, neither one of them is German! I checked!

Laurie shows up with marginally better facial hair, and also a surprise wife! Amy has inexplicably married him!

Douglas: You settled for Amy? Hope you have the resources to cope with her crippling lime obsession.

Aunt March dies and leaves Jo her giant mansion, which–to be honest–is pretty good compensation for not taking her to Europe that time. Jo plans on turning it into a school.

Then Jo gets sent a copy of her book, which is apparently going to print. I would love it if this whole film was some elaborate con by Professor Bhaer to get Jo, a promising young writer, to trust him so he could steal her intellectual property and publish it under his own name.

Hannah tells Jo that some FOREIGN gentleman, some dirty German, dropped the book off earlier that day. But Hannah got rid of him by saying that Miss March and Mr. Laurie were married and living next door.

She’s no fool, that Hannah.

Jo runs after Bhaer, who is as sad as sad gets, and tells him it’s not her who’s married to Laurie, but rather her sister Amy.

Also, she has a school and needs teachers, does he want to be a teacher? She also has a bed and needs a boyfriend, does he want to be her boyfriend? He does, and it’s kinky because technically she’s his boss.

They make out in the rain and probably get to, like, second base that night.

THE END.

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Our next post will be around Valentine’s Day, in which we watch a SUPER romantic movie about kidnapping and livestock: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

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The Sampford Ghost

I am reblogging this from Geri Walton’s blog here.

“John Chave, his wife, and her brother, a Mr. Taylor, moved into a house owned by Mr. Talley. Before they moved in an agreement was reached between Chave and Talley that Talley would make necessary repairs to the house. (The repairs were detailed by Chave and included painting the house.) The house was in the village of Sampford Peverell and was not considered unusual. In fact, the house was described as being ‘very ordinary.’ It had ‘a shop and kitchen below, a single staircase, communicating with the upper story, and in the latter a small ante-room or landing, and two rooms one leading into the other.’

“Even though the house did not look haunted and even before Chave moved in, rumors began to circulate that the house was haunted. The ghostly activities reputedly began in April of 1810. Some of the ghostly activities reported came from a young apprentice who ‘declared he heard inexplicable noises at night,’ although unusual noises also occurred during daylight. Soon the inhabitants also claimed to be plagued by thunderous noises. Moreover, if anyone stamped on the floor, the stamping was imitated by some ‘mysterious agency, which caused the very flooring to vibrate and send up smart spurts of dust.’

“[…] For three years, the noises and happenings lasted, and, during this time, the spirits grew more daring, threatening, and malicious, and eventually they began attacking residents.

“These attacks were primarily instigated against the domestics — Mary Dennis (senior and junior), Martha Woodbury, Ann Mills, Mrs. Pitts and Sally Case. The domestics also claimed they were ‘beaten by invisible hands until they were black and blue.’ Mills noted that on one occasion she was the recipient of a huge bump, ‘as big as a turkey’s egg.’ She also swore an invisible hand beat her as she laid in bed. Dennis and Woodbury likewise claimed to have been beaten. In their case they saw no one and insisted that it must have been some invisible force. They reported they were ‘benumbed, and … sore for many days after.’

“Reverend Charles Caleb Colton, an eccentric English cleric, writer, and collector, who is probably best known for saying, ‘Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery,’ heard the rumors about the ghost at Sampford. He decided to investigate. He stayed six nights with the Chaves and interviewed several domestic servants who reported under oath ‘their night’s rest was invariably destroyed by violent blows from some invisible hand [….]’

Colton also had his own ghostly experiences. He reported about ongoing and ever-present noises. He also claimed his own bed curtains violently agitated, despite them being tied together. [….] According to Colton, he went into an ‘inner room and stood by the bed where the maids were [sleeping], and heard the blows rained on them. When he cried for a light, it was brought in, but no person could be seen by him who could have administered these blows.’

“Descriptions of those that had seen the ghost or apparition varied. One of the most oft-repeated descriptions was that the ghost resembled ‘a black rabbit, only wonderfully larger.’ Sometimes people had no description or claimed no ghost or monster was observed. For instance, one night, two domestics refused to sleep in their own room for fear of the ghost. They begged the Chaves to allow them to sleep in their bedroom. The Chaves agreed. Peace and quiet reigned for about a half hour, when all of a sudden ‘a large iron candlestick began walking rapidly about. … Chave, trying to ring the bell, then narrowly escaped being hit on the head by the candlestick, which came hurtling at him in the dark.’

“There were other stories. For example, there was also a version about a possessed mopstick with Talley being the victim of it. ‘Three different times … a ghost in the shape of a Mopstick … stuck to him like his shadow.’ Wherever he went, so did the mopstick. Several domestics also claimed to have seen some unusual and mysterious sights. One such sight was a white hand that unexpectedly appeared from under a bed. The white hand frightened one maid, and another domestic claimed to have ‘seen a livid arm hanging down from the ceiling.’

“After Colton’s experiences he sent a letter to the editor of the Taunton Courier detailing what he had witnessed. In the letter he noted, ‘I am utterly unable to account for any of the phenomena.’ Colton’s letter was published and reprinted in several other papers. His reports of bumpings, knockings, rattlings, thumpings, and buffetings created spectacular interest throughout England. This resulted in the Tauton Courier editor, a Mr. Marriott, examining Colton’s proof. Marriott, however, concluded Colton’s proof to be the result of a hoax.

“According to Marriott, ‘Mr. Colton and his friends had been too credulous.’ Marriott went on explaining that a dispute had occurred between Chave and a painter, whose bill was thought to be’excessive,’ and to get even the builder, ‘his workmen and agents … conspired to render the house uninhabitable, and proclaimed it haunted.’ Moreover, Chave had issues with Talley. Chave was ‘liable to ejectment, and desired to depreciate the property so as to hinder the incoming of a new tenant.’  Marriott also maintained a man was employed to strike the walls and ceilings with a mopstick and that the beatings of the maids was supposedly done by their own hands, as there was also a plot among them.

“Marriott’s blunt remarks and Colton’s unabashed belief kept the controversy alive. Marriott’s response to the hoax was titled Sampford Ghost!!! A Full Account of the Conspiracy at Sampford Peverell, near Tiverton; Containing the Particulars of the Pretended Visitations of the Monster. Colton responded with a pamphlet that had a title longer than his ghostly assertions: It was Sampford Peverell. A Plain and Authentic Narrative of those extraordinary occurrences, hitherto unaccounted for , which have lately taken place at the house of Mr. Chave, in the Village of Sampford Peverell.

“Colton followed that pamphlet up with a second pamphlet. It also had a long title: Sampford Ghost. Stubborn Facts against Vague Assertions, being an appendix to a plain and authentic narrative of those extraordinary circumstance, hitherto unaccounted for and still going on at the house of Mr. Chave, in the Village of Sampford.

“Despite Colton’s pamphlets supporting a ghost, the public sided with Marriott. They believed the whole thing was hoax. In fact, in 1811, there was an attack by a mob against Chave when he was recognized: The mob followed him home, broke his windows, and beat one of his employees. Chave and others inside the house fired upon the mob, and the result was one mob member died and another was seriously wounded and not expected to live.

“To counter the critics, Colton offered a reward of a hundred pounds if a human hoaxer could be caught. One attempt to claim the reward involved an excise officer named Mr. Sully. Sully stayed overnight to ascertain the cause of the maid’s beatings. He positioned Taylor and Chave, who were assisting him, at the bedroom windows. Sully then had a woman act as bait who slept in the bedroom.

“At length Sully heard someone or something coming upstairs. It entered the bedroom, and when it began to beat the woman violently about the hips and the legs:

[I]n the midst of these blows, while they were in the greatest height, [Sully] instantaneously drew the door fully open. The moon shone very bright directly into the apartment; had any thing material attempted to escape, he affirms he must have seen or heard it, as the window [was] very large (occupying two thirds of the breadth of the whole room).

“Sully reported that he was ‘quite positive that he heard and saw nothing escape, and that … Taylor and … Chave kept their positions at the window.’ In the end, no human hoaxer was caught, and the matter was never resolved one way or the other. Thus, Colton’s generous offer of one hundred pounds was never claimed.”

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Regency Slang – Sections H and I

We haven’t had much regency slang lately, so I’ll continue my series! As always, I found this list of on The Regency Assembly Press, here. I’m only picking a few excerpts, so visit their site for the full list.

Haberdasher Of Pronouns–A schoolmaster, or usher.

Hair Splitter–A man’s yard [i.e. penis].

Hand Basket Portion–A woman whose husband receives frequent presents from her father, or family, is said to have a hand-basket portion.

Hard at His Arse–Close after him.

Hash–To flash the hash; to vomit.

To Hazel Gild–To beat any one with a hazel stick.

Heart’s Ease–Gin.

Heaver–The breast.

Hedge Whore–An itinerant harlot, who bilks the bagnios and bawdy-houses, by disposing of her favours on the wayside, under a hedge; a low beggarly prostitute.

Hempen Widow–One whose husband was hanged.

Hen House–A house where the woman rules; called also a She House, and Hen Frigate: the latter a sea phrase, originally applied to a ship, the captain of which had his wife on board, supposed to command him.

Herring Pond–The sea–To cross the herring pond at the king’s expence; to be transported.

High In The Instep–Arrogant; snobbish; overly proud; haughty.

Hobberdehoy–Half a man and half a boy, a lad between both.

Hobnail–A country clodhopper: from the shoes of country farmers and ploughmen being commonly stuck full of hob-nails, and even often clouted, or tipped with iron–The Devil ran over his face with hobnails in his shoes; said of one pitted With the small pox.

Hoddy Doddy, All Arse and No Body–A short clumsy person, either male or female.

Hop-O-My-Thumb–A diminutive person, man or woman–She was such a-hop-o-my thumb, that a pigeon, sitting on her shoulder, might pick a pea out of her a-se.

Hopkins–Mr–Hopkins; a ludicrous address to a lame or limping man, being a pun on the word hop.

Hopper-Arsed–Having large projecting buttocks: from their resemblance to a small basket, called a hopper or hoppet, worn by husbandmen for containing seed corn, when they sow the land.

Horse Buss–A kiss with a loud smack.

Horse Godmother–A large masculine woman, a gentlemanlike kind of a lady.

Hot Stomach–He has so hot a stomach, that he burns all the clothes off his back; said of one who pawns his clothes to purchase liquor.

Huzza–Said to have been originally the cry of the huzzars or Hungarian light horse; but now the national shout of the English, both civil and military, in the sea phrase termed a cheer; to give three cheers being to huzza thrice.

Idea Pot–The head.

India Wipe–A silk handkerchief.

Incognitas–Higher class prostitutes.

Inexpressibles–A man’s very tight (and very revealing) trousers or breeches–Also called unmentionables.

Irish Beauty–A woman with two black eyes.

Island–He drank out of the bottle till he saw the island; the island is the rising bottom of a wine bottle, which appears like an island in the centre, before the bottle is quite empty.

Ivories–Teeth–How the swell flashed his ivories; how the gentleman shewed his teeth.

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Bad Book Covers – A Tale of Two Cities

It’s time for another installment of Bad Book Covers and today we’ll look at Charles Dickens’s A Tale of  Two Cities (1859).

Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The MoonstoneDracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and HydePamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green GablesVanity FairTurn of the ScrewShe,  The Jungle BookTess of the d’Urbervilles, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Usual disclaimers:

1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.

2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.

3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.

Plot Recap (SPOILERS)

The novel opens with the world’s most celebrated run-on sentence (actually, it’s grammatically correct and not a run-on, but it IS obnoxious): “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, etc. etc. ad nauseum. It’s 1775, and this dude named Alexandre Manette has been released from the Bastille after about 20 years, but unlike the Count of Monte Cristo, he does not go on a wild revenge rampage; instead, Alexandre Manette decides to make shoes. FOREVER.

He is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, who believed him to be dead all this time. She is golden haired and gentle and personality-less and is in NO WAY a vacuous sexual object, the masculine coveting of which drives most of the narrative.

Five years later, this hot French dude named Charles Darnay is on trial in Britain for treason. There are eye witnesses who say Darnay traded state secrets to the French, and they saw him do it, but Darnay gets acquitted because there is this lawyer dude named Sydney Carton who is the ever-so-slightly less hygienic and less hot doppleganger of Darnay, and the witnesses are discredited because they can’t tell the difference between them.

Darnay gets all the fucking breaks, let me tell you.

Darnay also happens to be the nephew of a wealthy French aristocrat, the Marquis St Evremonde, who is a real piece of work.  And by “a real piece of work”, I mean a raging psychopath who runs over children in the street. He probably also robs old people and murders hummingbirds and puts Baby in the corner and says things like “liberry”, because he’s the actual WORST.

Darnay tells his uncle to fuck right the fuck off, and that he’s changed his name so he won’t be associated with their messed up family any more (which, on the eve of the Revolution, is probably a good plan). After Darnay leaves, the Marquis is stabbed to death in his sleep by a guy whose child the Marquis killed by driving his carriage too fast.

Darnay goes back to England, where he meets up with the Manette family and Sydney Carton, and they all hang out for a while, and both Darnay and Carton fall head-over-penis in love with Lucie, but of course Lucie chooses Darnay, because she’s an idiot. They get married and have a daughter named Little Lucie, because there is so little personality among the three of them that two are forced to share a name.

The Revolution happens, and one of Darnay’s old servants is captured; the servant writes to Darnay begging for his help, so Darnay–now the new Marquis–GOES BACK TO FRANCE LIKE A DUMBASS to help. He is, unsurprisingly, instantly captured by the revolutionaries and put on trial.

Alexandre Manette, the weird shoe-maker, is touted as a hero of the revolution for having survived in the Bastille for 20 years. He uses his influence to testify on behalf of his son-in-law, saying, “Look, I know Darnay is an aristocratic pig, but he’s really not so bad. Also, could you please not make my daughter a widow please?”

But then these assholes named  the Defarges  dig up some old evidence from Manette’s cell in the Bastille. Manette had originally been imprisoned by Darnay’s douchebag uncle and father, and in his distress he wrote a letter in his cell saying that everyone from that family should be killed. The jury decided that a trauma-laden letter written 30 years ago is enough to overshadow Manette’s original testimony, so Darnay is sentenced to death on the following morning.

Sydney Carton overhears Mrs Defarge plan to have Lucie and Little Lucie condemned and beheaded, as well. Turns out the Defarges have a real blood-feud going on with Darnay’s bullshit relatives, so they are out to kill literally everyone even tangentially connected to that family. Picture the baptism/revenge scene from The Godfather, but with fewer guns and a lot more angry knitting.

Carton, who is really too good for this novel, breaks into Darnay’s prison, switches clothes with him, and decides to be executed in Darnay’s place, because reasons. Mrs Defarge gets killed in the ensuing struggle, Darnay and the Lucies escape back to England, and Carton gets his head chopped off.

Everyone’s happy, except for me.

And presumably Carton.

And Mrs Defarge.

And all the other people who get killed.

Okay, only the hot people are happy, and really, isn’t that the thing that matters?

THE END

Right, on to the book covers! I’m not going to bother putting up any “good” covers this time, purely because there were a ton of highly competent, thoughtful covers (lots of guillotines and knitting and people rioting) but none that particularly awed me. Plus, I know what y’all are really here for, and it’s not for good artwork.

Let’s start with an old favorite: WRONG TIME PERIOD

This is, without a doubt, one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen. I mean, technically, yes, that is one of the two cities in the title, but the London Eye was not built until 1999.

Then there are a whole host of almost-as-bad covers featuring the Eiffel Tower, which was not build until 1889:

To each of these, I say: No. Stop it. You’re the worst. I can’t believe no one in the art department thought to Google “Eiffel Tower” before slapping it on the cover.

Actually, given some of the covers I’ve shown on this blog, yes I can believe it.

There’s also this cover, in which Lucie is apparently from the 1860s. Dang, y’all. Get your shit together.

And finally, this cover, which is SO CLOSE and yet SO FAR. The picture featured in the background is, indeed, a representation of French rebellion. Unfortunately, it represented the 1830 French revolution, not the 1792 French revolution. The painting is Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

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There’s also another old standard: Put an Old Timey Dude on the Cover and Clock Out for Lunch

Yep, that sure is a dude.

Hey, that’s a dude in silhouette, so you know it’s got to be old fashioned.

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Then there’s a new category, called Surprisingly Gentle, Considering All Those Beheadings

The flowery overlay really balances out the rabid mob mentality.

I don’t understand. There are no children being trampled or vendetta lists being knitted into scarves or dudes being stabbed to death in their sleep. You guys have no idea how to Revolution at all, do you?

Please tell me that someone made A Tale of Two Cities into a shitty computer game in the late ’90s. Because if they did, this would be the cover on the big box you used to get computer games in.

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There’s also a category called So Baffling It Defies Categorization

What absolute Kafka-esque German impressionist hellscape is this? TAKE IT AWAY.

♪ AND HE’S BUYING THE STAIRWAY TO BEHEADING ♪

Who can forget the erotic Lucie Manette bath tub scene?

In which the Bastille was torn down by a rag-tag band of French pirates.

In which Carton and Darnay mercifully ditch Lucie to start a pop duo.

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Right, that’s all from me today! As always, suggestions welcome!

 

 

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