Swinburne and the Monkey

I was chatting to my friend @DrDouglasSmall the other day who brought up a truly odd story I’d never heard before. And I thought I had heard them all (or at least all the ones of this magnitude).

So . . . Algernon Charles Swinburne:

He was a fin de siecle Decadent writer and critic, most notable for writing about some real kinky shit. He also had a reputation for trying to be as gross and outlandish as possible to give himself some real Decadence street cred, although most of his antics were things he just made up and told people.

I guess he and Oscar Wilde had a bit of a feud, as Wilde said that Swinburne was “a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser.”

One of his more notorious rumored escapades was something that Swinburne most likely spread himself: which is that he had sex with, and then ate, a monkey.

According to an article in the Public Domain Review, the French author Guy de Maupassant once received a lunch invitation to Swinburne’s house; the lunch was undermined by the presence of Swinburne’s raucous pet monkey who kept shoving Maupassant’s face into glasses. Swinburne and his other guests rounded out the lunch by bringing out homosexual pornography to show his guests at the table, as one does. That is definitely my preferred way to end a dinner party with a person I don’t know that well.

According to the article, “Maupassant described his visit to the cottage on three separate occasions: orally to Flaubert, Alphonse Daudet and Edmond de Goncourt in February 1875, an account that Goncourt transcribed into his Journal; in a newspaper article of November 1882 for Le Gaulois (“L’Anglais d’Etretat”); and in his introduction to the French translation of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads in 1891. Though the versions overlap and at times contradict one another, the main story line would have been enough to send the honest burghers of the Isle of Wight scaring up the libel lawyers.”

Despite this incredibly off-putting meal, Maupassant was fascinated with Swinburne and described him as existing as a sort of living fever dream. He therefore accepted a second lunch invitation shortly thereafter.

It got off to a truly harrowing start: Maupassant arrived to find the pet monkey dead, hanged from a tree by one of Swinburne’s irate servants (more on that in a moment). Swinburne fed his guests mystery meat, which is strongly implied in many versions to have been the monkey. Maupassant was then practically force-fed hard liquor by Swinburne and friends, which almost caused Maupassant to pass out. He recovered his senses enough to flee and take sanctuary in his hotel.

Incredibly, Maupassant came back for another lunch a few days after that, “in the course of which he drew attention to the inscription above their door. It read: Chaumière de Dolmancé (Dolmancé’s Cottage). Maupassant asked the Englishmen if they knew who Dolmancé was (the hero and homosexual corrupter of Sade’s La Philosophie dans le Boudoir). They said that indeed they did. ‘Then that is the sign of the house?’ Maupassant asked. ‘If you like,’ they replied, ‘with terrifying expressions on their faces.’ The Frenchman again fled, avoiding Swinburne […] thereafter.”

My dude, my baby, my cookie, my honey, I do not think this is your tribe. Maybe don’t come back.

Maupassant recounted the following in his writing, although many versions today have this bit censored out. He wrote of Swinburne and his friend Powell:

“Yes, they lived there together, satisfying themselves with monkeys or with young servant lads of fourteen or fifteen, sent out to Powell from England every three months or so: little servant boys of exquisite cleanness and freshness. The monkey that slept in Powell’s bed and shat in it every night was hanged by the servant boy, partly out of jealousy but also out of annoyance at having to change the sheets all the time.”

Powell, by the way, bought a block of marble to make the monkey a giant tomb. It is highly debated whether or not the monkey story actually happened. Maupassant was, above all things, a fiction writer, and Swinburne’s rumors about himself were not known to shrink in the telling.

It is very possible that this is entirely fabricated by Maupassant, something made up by Swinburne and told to Maupassant who believed him, or some combination of fear, liquor, and time clouding Maupassant’s memory (he wrote this well after the fact).

Whatever the truth of the matter, Swinburne was a weird guy and a truly unpleasant host, and I cannot believe I–who have a PhD in Victorian WTF-ery–am only just hearing this story for the first time.

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Leopold II of Belgium’s Bad Weekend

I found this amusing story from Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York (2017).

For those who don’t know Leopold II of Belgium, he was a notoriously cruel imperialism who committed unspeakable atrocities in his various colonies, especially in the Congo. Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness as a particular indictment of Belgium colonisation. So, considering that I only know Leopold in this one context, it’s nice to know that the son of a bitch at least had ONE bad weekend, if absolutely nothing else.

In 1905, Edward VII threw a house party for his fashionable friends. Among the invitees, he included Leopold II, who showed up. The Countess de Grey, who wrote about the event to her brother, said:

“We had a very pleasant weekend at Chatsworth last week. The old King of the Belgians [Leopold II was 70 years old at this point] . . . made propositions to all the ladies, and even non-plussed Ettie who is pretty clever at warding off awkward requests! But he had no success with anyone. Hugo walked into his [Leopold II’s] bedroom by mistake one evening, & said he [Hugo] was only made aware of what he had done by hearing a bitter groan of disappointment from the bed” (44-45).

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Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

It’s time for another installment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). 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)

Little Women (1994)

Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing

TRIGGER WARNING FOR KIDNAPPING AND STOCKHOLM SYNDROME (I’m aware I’m quite flippant about this, but it’s only because this film is so tone deaf that one can’t help but laugh at the intense absurdity that it even got made)

For those who are unaware, this musical is a wholesome, family film that re-writes the Rape of the Sabine Women. Because MGM Technicolor musicals mean never having to say you’re kidding.

We open on OREGON, 1850, and let me tell you, friends, this film does not waste any time. The soundtrack is as fucking bombastic as anything I’ve ever heard. And not just bombastic. Jauntily bombastic.

If there were an Oscar for “most beautiful but least realistic sound stage flats“, this film would have won it every year for the rest of time.

Howard Keel (who was in pretty much every musical of the 1950s that needed He-Man virility and someone wearing an absurdly large codpiece) plays Adam Pontipee. Adam is a buckskin wearin’, shaggy-ass backwoodsman who drives his wagon into town to deliver grain and animal pelts.

Also, he’s decided it’s time to get married, but he doesn’t know any girls. He wishes he could just get a wife in trade for some of his grain, because early frontier sexism wasn’t terribly subtle.

He pervs on some young women

before revealing to the audience that he has at least SOME standards–not just any vagina will do! He lays out his standards in a song called (wine give me strength) “Bless Yore Beautiful Hide“. Let’s listen, shall we?

Douglas: Does that disembodied banjo just follow him around?

VictorianMasc: I think Douglas has just discovered the concept of musicals.

Then we had to pause the film for a while to consider what a better piece of art this film would be if Adam were played by Brian Blessed circa 1975, instead of Howard Keel.

God, I would pay such good money to see that film.

As seen in the song, Adam objectifies every woman in town, including a mannequin:

(“I can’t fuck this woman! She’s made of wood!”)

VictorianMasc: God, is no woman good enough? He’s like Goldicocks.

At long last (a minute and a half into the song–an eternity in musical theatre), he discovers Milly: she’s cute, she’s tough, and she can cook. Literally what else do you need a woman for except those three things?

Douglas: He talks about women in the same way the Ferengi on Star Trek do. I feel like Adam is a heartbeat away from calling them “females” at any given moment.

We also had to stop the film to laugh at the extremely Freudian “Saddle for Sale” sign behind them.

I would love to think that someone on the set of this film was that self-aware, but–much like with the strangely classical hairdos recalling the Sabine Women connection–we are probably just giving this film far too much credit.

Adam proposes to Milly over a cow:

And she inexplicably accepts. I think Milly is a few cabbages short of an allotment.

Douglas: “Dear Cow, I met the strangest man today.”

Adam shaves and takes what’s probably the first bath of his life, and runs to the preacher (who is understandably fucking perplexed).

Milly explains that loads of dudes propose to her all the time, and whenever she accepts their proposals, she always gets a terrible sinking feeling. But since that hasn’t happened in the fifteen minutes since she met and became engaged to Adam, she’s decided that this is an excellent basis upon which to enter into a legally binding socio-economic contract TIL DEATH.

They wed, and I have never seen any woman so desperately in need of a Sassy Gay Friend (wow, 2010 called and it wants its reference back).

The town goes ape-shit because there are simply not enough boobs to go around in Oregon Territory. The newlyweds go for a romantic drive back to the farm (the only route is apparently in front of the world’s clunkiest green screen).

Adam very, very specifically forgets to mention to his wife that he lives with his six bullshit brothers, and she’s going to have to cook and clean for ALL of them.

Milly, meanwhile, thinks she’s going off to some sort of Edenic log cabin where she can finally make use of her dowry: her dead parents left her some seeds for a garden, and a copy of Plutarch’s Lives.

VictorianMasc: I would laugh so hard of Adam just flung Plutarch’s Lives out of the carriage when she showed it to him. “No woman of mine is going to read.”

Adam mentions that they are driving through ECHO PASS, WHERE THE AVALANCHES HAPPEN IN WINTER.

Douglas: Chekov’s avalanche duly loaded, I guess.

Milly then stops to sing a very warbly song:

VictorianMasculinity: She spends a lot of time running in this number. Maybe the reptilian part of her brain senses danger and is telling her to desperately find a way out of this sound stage.

Douglas: Yeah, meanwhile Adam is just sitting there like, “Hmm. ‘Warble warble,’ you say? Is this some sort of woman thing?”

They finally make it up to Adam’s derelict cabin, where shit duly hits the fan. Ten thousand unwashed ginger brothers start spilling out of every conceivable location.


Douglas: What’s that yellow thang in blue? Is that a woman? We heard tell of these fabled creatures, and I’ll be dagged, they’re real!

Milly goes inside to see some sort of Miss Havisham fucking hellscape, meets even MORE brothers, and–in a desperate attempt to find something to be positive about– compliments the size of the room:

Well, to be fair, they need a lot of space to hold all their toxic masculinity.

For the record, the brothers are: Adam (the most misogynistic), Benjamin (the hot one who is a bit soulful), Caleb (no personality, but he’ll be the one with the goatee, eventually), Ephraim (no personality, don’t worry about it), Daniel (no personality, don’t worry about him either), Frank (full name ‘Frankincense’, and he is verytouchyabout. it.) and Gideon (li’l baby face, whom all the other brothers use as a cook and maid, because he’s the youngest and therefore the least deserving of respect–like a woman).

Anyway, they all get into a huge brawl, because testosterone is apparently an excuse for acting yourself a damn fool:

While Milly suffers the early stages of PTSD, Adam tells her she better get to work cooking and mending and cleaning his shit-pit of a house, and also she better ring the dinner bell real loud when she’s done, there’s a good wifey-poo.

Douglas: I guarantee you that Adam intends on using that as a sex bell, too.

Milly heroically (perversely?) rolls up her sleeves until everything in the hovel sparkles. Also, she cooks them a far better meal than they deserve. If that had been me, everyone would have gotten a dead raccoon stuffed with poison, but hey.

Milly gets pissed when the brothers don’t wait to say grace, and also because they are fucking man-children-pigs.

She flips the table, ruining all the food. Milly, I don’t know what you’re so smug about. It’s not like they’re going to clean up the mess.

Adam, meanwhile, knows he’s in the doghouse, and lurks around in the living room smoking a very manly pipe and hoping his brothers will go to bed before he does, in case Milly rejects him sexually.

VictorianMasculinity: Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe. And sometimes it’s not.

He eventually summons the balls to face his magnificently pissed-off wife, who is rocking in a rocking chair so fast and so hard we’re convinced she’s about to take off at any moment.

VictorianMasculinity: *quietly squeals* She’s rocking so fast it’s making me uncomfortable.

Adam says, “Shall I . . . turn down the covers?” and Milly responds with, “If you like.”

Douglas: Careful Adam. This is a trap.

Sho’ nuff, the trap springs closed and Milly goes on a glorious tirade about how Adam doesn’t want a real wife–he wants a maid. But maids have a right to collect a fucking salary and sleep on their own. He may have cheated her out of a salary, but she is not going to sleep with him, by god.

Douglas: All I can wonder is, what sort of machinations did it take for him to get a bedroom on his own? The other six brothers have to share a single room.

Well, to be fair, Howard Keel is the dick-swangin’est of all 1950s actors, so.

Adam, embarrassed that she saw through his paltry seduction attempts (but not wanting his brothers to know it), decides to climb out the bedroom window and sleep in a tree like a possum:

He tells Milly he thinks she’s real purdy, even if she won’t sleep with him. So she warbles another song and forgives him. This quickly sets the bar real low for all of Adam’s future behavior.

Douglas: I would laugh so hard if when she finished singing, the camera pans back out to reveal Adam just sitting naked in that tree.

VictorianMasculinity: I actually have a really hard time watching these old films, because that blank face that one actor has to give while another actor finishes up their song is the exact face I get from students who are bored during my lectures.

She’s not wrong.

Anyway, Milly lets Adam come back inside where they presumably have lacklustre, fumbling sex.

The next morning, Milly wakes up all the brothers with a feast. BUT, in a very strange and kinky turn of events, she reveals that she’s stolen all their clothes while they all slept (HOW?) and now she’s after their underpants, and they’re all going to get washed and shaved, or by god the food will go to the pigs:

The 1950s equivalent of a 1990s makeover montage (where you remove someone’s glasses and suddenly they’re attractive) is slightly more complex here (in that it involves removing 25 years’-worth of lice), but the principle is the same. The Pontipee brothers are total beefcakes:

In the space of one bath, Milly’s also managed to teach them the basics of human manners and Christianity. The brothers say please and thank you and pass food around delicately. They also wait for Milly to say grace before they begin eating.

Douglas: Wow, that is one savvy power play by Milly: “Say you’ve all been very bad boys and you’ll never do it again, and pray that we all keep Portland safe from hipsters always, O Lord.”

Things go well for a few days until Milly and the brothers go into town for some supplies and the brothers run into other womenfolk. They offer the women chewing tobacco, as they have no idea what sorts of things might appeal to these strange, bosom-ed creatures. It does not go well. The women are insulted and some Townie dick-holes decide to start throwing punches:

Gideon sees the boys fighting from inside a shop and screams, “Hey! It’s us!”, because I guess he hasn’t gotten to the stage of toddler development where he recognizes that he’s distinct as an individual. Someone gets punched through a window and the Pontipee family barely makes it back to the cabin alive.

Milly decides she’s got to socialize these assholes like they’re fucking puppies who need to behave well at the park. She teaches the basics: talking to women, dancing, flirting. She probably should have started with things like not punching every person in the world, but okay. Mating potential is more important.

Milly: When you meet a girl, don’t grab her like she’s a flapjack!

Douglas: Yeah! Court her like she’s bacon!

This eventually leads to a song and dance number talking about the basic human respect desired by women:

VictorianMasculinity: Quick question–why is she holding a pine branch?

Douglas: This scene is absolutely superb for a porn parody. If there isn’t a scene somewhere on the internet where Milly teaches them about cunnilingus, I’ll eat my hat!

VictorianMasculinity: My god, the syllable count would even be the same. You wouldn’t have to change the rhythm of the “Goin’ Courtin'” tune to “Cunnilingus”. This film really is softballing ’em in to the porn industry, isn’t it?

We were too nervous to check, by the way, because the internet is a terrifying place.

In the space of one song, the brothers are now fully mature members of society. We can tell because their nails are clean and they have new clothes, indicating their transformation is complete.

VictorianMasculinity: Wow. Look at that rainbow of 1950s heterosexuality.

The family is going into town for a real ole fashioned Pacific northwest shindig: a barn raisin’! They arrive with everyone standing up in the moving wagon, because 1.) they’re all thick as two short planks, and 2.) this film apparently did not have an historical consultant or a health and safety expert.

All the women in the town get super lustful over these brightly colored, large-chested dudes, which isn’t really surprising considering that all the Townie men look like knock-off Walt Disneys:

Milly quickly pairs off all the brothers with her female friends under the pretense of “hey, boys, help the little women carry food over to the picnic tables”. It works.

VictorianMasculinity: Wow, Milly is surprisingly good at this. She’s like the Machiavelli of sex.

Douglas: Yes, she’s known around these parts at the Prairie Fox.

Then everyone dances, because we haven’t had a song in four and a half minutes. It begins as so many great tunes at the club do: with a guy hitting an anvil.

Douglas: Adam’s like, “Aww, they’re playing our song.”

Wow, the world would be such a better place if all disputes were settled by competitive ax gymnastics and elaborately choreographed Michael Kidd numbers.

We also had to mute the film at parts to do a Darwinian reading and pretend we were David Attenborough.

VictorianMasculinity: Here we see the males preening and performing feats of strength for the available females. As we can tell, the females are immediately more attracted to the males with brighter plumage.

Douglas: I hope whoever’s barn they’re supposed to be building is tapping his foot angrily in the corner, like, “No this is fine. Daylight’s wasting, winter is coming on, and my herd might starve. But you guys dance out your sexual aggression, by all means.”

Eventually the dudes get down to business, especially because the barn owner adds in an element of competition: whichever team of builders gets their wall up first will win a cow.

Look, it was a simpler time.

Adam signs up the brothers as one team, and the Bad Walt Disney Cohort signs up as another team.

There are two other teams, of course, but we know they’re not going to win because none of them is currently trying to fuck anything, so they have zero stakes in this scene.

The Pontipee brothers get their side up first, which only further enrages the Townies. So they get revenge in a more directly Darwinian way: attempted murder.

They hit brothers with boards and drop hammers on them.

Apparently no one in the huge crowd notices or cares about grievous bodily harm. Like a Dothraki wedding, it’s not a fun party unless at least like 5 people die, so.

One of the dumber Townies didn’t get the memo not to mess with Adam, though, and when he gets thwacked with a board, all hell breaks loose:

The brothers band together and jump in to save him (because who wouldn’t want to protect your verbally and physically abusive older brother? Oh my god, has Adam given everyone in this film Stockholm Syndrome?) They start an enormous brawl which ends in the barn being torn down to its very foundations:

There is so much punching and rough housing in this scene that I honestly despair at the idea of ever having a son.

Meanwhile, the barn’s owner is having a full-on nervous breakdown (although no one else in the scene seems to be that bothered?)


But it’s okay, I guess, because Adam and the boys are having the time of their short and horrible lives:

They put their hands on their hips, throw back their heads, and laugh manfully. MANFULLY, I SAY.

At home, Milly tends to their wounds and presumably starts plotting her Phyllis Dietrichson scheme to just murder fucking everyone in her family.

The boys don’t understand what’s wrong. I mean, this is basically just how they lived every day before Milly came along. So why do they feel so terrible? Is it guilt?

No. It’s love.

Gideon starts reminiscing about the girl he met at the party and tells Milly he feels “awful strange–what is it?

Douglas: It’s an erection, Gideon. Just an erection.

Gideon goes out to talk to Adam about love stuff. Adam sings the reprise of Milly’s warble-warble tree-sex song:

VictorianMasc: Hear me out on this–I think Howard Keel would be fantastic at that Mongolian throat singing thing. He missed his real calling.

Milly gets all teared up hearing Adam talk about love. Until he says, “If you don’t get this girl, another one will come along. One woman is pretty much like the next. Let’s go feed the stock.”


But Adam’s advice doesn’t take, and as winter sets in, the boys are all plagued with the saddest and most persistent erections of their lives. This leads to–and I wish I were joking even the slightest about this–a sad farm equipment ballet to a song called “I’m a Lonesome Polecat.”

Just . . . just watch it.

Honestly, there is nothing I can even say about this scene. It speaks for itself. One of the lyrics is honestly: “A man can’t sleep when he sleeps with sheep.” Because sheep are nymphos. They just want it ALL THE TIME.

Anyway, shit really starts to go south when one of the brothers starts contemplating freedom. Milly visits Hot Benjamin up in the loft while he’s moodily pitchforking some hay (that’s probably not a euphemism). He reveals he’s fed up and he’s going to leave the farm.

VictorianMasc: I finally figured it out. Benjamin is Sam Gamgee’s studly older brother.

Milly runs and tells Adam, who develops a cunning plan, which he learned from them thar Romans in that thar book. Kidnapping women is the way to domestic bliss. This leads to the JAUNTIEST, CATCHIEST RAPE MUSIC IN THE HISTORY OF THE WESTERN WORLD. It’s called (*long pause to shake head*) “Sobbin’ Women”.

You read that correctly.

VictorianMasc and I then had to pause the film to discuss the fact that we’re both attracted to Howard Keel in this song despite every atom of our bodies being simultaneously repulsed by him. Buckskin pants hide a multitude of predatory sins.

Douglas: That pose he takes at the end just screams, “Coats on and cocks out, lads!

They drive into town and steal women in increasingly absurd ways–whisking them out of windows, interrupting their dates with other dudes, and by pretending to be kitties (seriously, Gideon meows hysterically outside a girl’s house until she comes out to see what the problem is).

This leads to a chase scene, where terrified fathers and brothers try to catch up with Adam, who laughs heroically while making off with their screaming, fighting daughters:

This scene always astounds me. I am honestly shocked that this film got made.

Of course, the chase goes through Echo Pass, and Chekov’s avalanche goes off. It’s actually pretty impressive:


Douglas: Ain’t no party like a Donner Party.

They drive back home and Milly comes out like, “WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?”

She orders Adam to bring back the girls immediately, but he can’t because 1.) the avalanche closed the pass until the snow melts, and also 2.) because the boys are in luuurv and does she want the boys to be sad?

VictorianMasc: Yeah, Milly. The situation’s already gotten a bit out of hand, what with the sex slavery.

Then Gideon figures out that in the excitement, they forgot to kidnap a parson. Oh no! They can’t forcibly marry the girls until spring!

For some reason, this is the last straw for Milly, who exiles the boys to the barn for the entire winter. Adam grumbles about getting kicked out of his own house over just a few small felonies, so he fucks off up to his other cabin even farther back in the woods.

Of course he would have a bachelor cabin.

THEN BEGIN THE COURTSHIP SHENANIGANS. The girls throw cold water on the boys in the freezing cold, and pelt them with snowballs filled with rocks.

Apparently that vents their anger enough, because the girls are able to go back being all dreamy-eyed over their hillbilly stalkers.

Dorcas, one of the kidnapped girls, figures out that they’re probably sleeping in what was once the boys’ bedroom, and which of the boys slept in her bed, do you suppose? The other girls are shocked, but I like Dorcas because she isn’t a prude.

Yeah, Dorcas definitely knows her way ’round a dick.

Then, in a scene written 100% by a man, the women strip down to their underwear, slut-shame each other for liking boys, and then get into a massive cat fight.

Milly breaks up the fight by revealing she’s pregnant (although I WISH she broke up the fight by throwing copies of Virginia Woolf’s chapter “If Chloe Liked Olivia” at those brats). Ovaries before brovaries, you guys.

The girls chill their collective tits, ooh and aah over the idea of a baby, and agree to all stop being such fucking hypocrites: they’ve fallen in love with their kidnappers and are going to marry them. They do a delightful pantaloon Stockholm Syndrome ballet:

Then the seasons pass and everyone frolics like no crimes have been committed:

Then Milly gives birth! To a girl baby!

Gideon rides up to the bachelor pad cabin to tell Adam (who has apparently worn one shirt for the last six months).

Adam is DISGUSTED that his manful loins could produce something so weak as a girl. It’s clearly just one of Milly’s womanly tricks to try to win him back. Gideon gets in a good punch, tells Adam to kindly go fuck himself, and rides back home:

Pontipee men can only think with their fists or through someone else’s, so this totally works. Gideon’s fist shakes something loose in Adam’s caveman brain, and Adam decides to come home.

VictorianMasc: Wow, Milly looks like waiting room wallpaper.

Adam reveals that the snow has melted, the pass is open, and it’s time to bring the girls home. Otherwise, their menfolk will be there to collect them soon, and things will turn ugly. He tells the boys to get the horses ready.

When he’s alone with Milly, he reveals his real reason for coming home. He got thinking about having a daughter, and how he’d feel if someone came around and stole her. We all collectively paused to remember and admire this tweet:

Douglas: After 6 months alone with the wolves, I learned that rape is wrong.

Adam plays with the baby and Milly reveals that she hasn’t named her yet. She was thinking either Hagar or Hepzibah. Fucking Hagar or Hepzibah.




Hagar or Hepzibah.

Mercifully, they settle on “Hannah” instead. Adam reveals that he not only begun his first, pathetic leanings toward feminism (in that he now recognizes that women he personally knows just might be human beings), but also that he’s been thinking about Milly a lot. He might actually love her.

Adam: I thought about you up there.

I mean, he only had the wolves to masturbate to, so this isn’t really surprising.

The boys get ready to bring the girls home, but the girls STAUNCHLY REFUSE–they hide and run away, and the boys try to wrangle them into the wagon in a perverse inversion of the kidnapping scene:

Unfortunately, the fathers and brothers of the girls are already on their way. They are in a rather lynching mood.

It is not helped by the fact that the fathers and brothers walk in on the Pontipee farm in what looks like fucking bacchanalian chaos, with women screaming and hiding and being man-handled:

It’s okay, though! What these fathers assumed was a violent, mass-raping was just a hilarious, wholesome, 1950s misunderstanding, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA



I’m so sorry.

That was a laugh that slowly turned into a scream.

Anywho, the fathers start throwing nooses over trees, until they hear the baby crying in the house. Everyone pauses and does some mental math. Oh fuck. One of our daughters could have theoretically given birth. Guess you gotta marry your rapist now, new mother!

One of the fathers asks whose baby it is. The girls, like they’re in some sort of cult, get glassy-eyed and respond as one: “MINE.”

Cut to a shotgun wedding:

It also ends with the most inappropriately happy music, and a 1950s-style kiss that almost definitely required the women to develop an opioid addiction to deal with their neck pain:

And it was the happiest kidnapping-turned-almost-lynching-turned-septuple-wedding that ever was! THE END!

Two thoughts: 1.) I give it until the week is out before Milly kicks Adam back up to the wolf cabin, and 2.) considering there are only two bedrooms in this house, this is going to lead to one hell of an awkward wedding night.

We also discovered in the credits that the guy playing Ephraim was loaned by the NYC ballet:

Douglas: Do you think the New York City ballet has to make a dark sacrifice every year to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer?

Yes, Douglas. Yes, I do.



We are currently arranging our next movie-watching extravaganza, although no films have formally been selected. I was dimly contemplating the CBC Anne of Green Gables, but we’ll see how the trip pans out. Happy to take suggestions.

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Mrs Leiter and the Vicereine of India

I found the following story in Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York (2017).

At some point I’d like to do a whole post on Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston (who was also the Vicereine of India), as she led a really interesting life. She was an American debutante from a ‘new money’ family, even though her family wasn’t particularly monied. Through her own beauty, intelligence, and grace, she was able to make an extremely (almost absurdly) advantageous marriage to Lord Curzon.

However, today I’d rather talk about Mary Leiter’s mother, Mary Theresa Leiter, who was a bit of a dork and an embarrassment. It’s kind of amazing that Mary was able to make such a good marriage considering how much her mother probably hampered her.

First a few words on young Mary:

“Mary Leiter, the daughter of Joseph Levi Leiter, was the supreme example of the belle who swept all before her. She was a tall girl wit ha curvy figure, large grey eyes, glossy chestnut-brown hair and small, elegant hands and feet; almost as important was her poise, charming manner and air of distinction. Her family was neither old-established nor, originally, particularly wealthy. Her father had begun life as a clerk in a dry-goods company and then made the most of his fortune in real estate; as a self-made man with wealth of such recent origin, and without benefit of any connection to the New York elite, neither Leiter nor his wife would have had any hope of a welcome from them. But Mary’s beauty, presence and accomplishment – she had learnt dancing, singing, music, French and art at home from tutors and a French governess, history arithmetic and chemistry from a Columbia professor– took her effortlessly over these hurdles. Her grace and polish charmed everyone including, later, her future husband George Curzon. She finished up a marchioness and Vicereine of India” (27).

“American parents were usually too far away to embarrass [for debutantes who married into the British aristocracy]. ‘The American mother is a tedious person,’ wrote Oscar Wilde. He could have been speaking of Mrs Leiter, mother of the beautiful Mary, whose malapropisms were a byword.

“She expressed admiration for a sharp-witter person’s quickness at ‘repertoire‘; when she received someone in her negligee she begged their pardon for appearing in her ‘nom de plume’; and when told by someone at Newport that Mary looked too delicate to sit on the porch in the evening, replied: ‘You are mistaken, my daughter is one of the most indelicate girls you ever knew‘ (34-35).

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Ward McAllister

I’m reading Anne de Courcy’s The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York (2017), and discovered a character from mid-century New York high society I’d never heard of before: Ward McAllister.

McAllister had been extremely hunky in his youth, was connected by birth to some extremely prestigious New York society families, and married an heiress in 1852. In short, he had the time, money, family, and skills to become obsessed with matters of high society, and set out to become New York’s ultimate patriarch.

He “travelled extensively in Europe, where he soaked up everything he could about court and aristocratic customs. On his return to America he determined to become the self-appointed arbiter of its society and the customs it should follow” (19).

“Every afternoon at the same hour he would walk up Fifth Avenue with a fresh flower in his buttonhole, his moustache and imperial brushed to the correct courtly point, greeting those he was prepared to recognise and cutting dead those outside the [social] perimeter. An ordinary business acquaintance, whom he would greet affably in his downtown office, he would pass with a cold stare on his walk to the Union Club. He declared that he would not recognise plebeian people on Fifth Avenue” (22).

“So well known had McAllister become that his comments on matters social had the force of canon law:

“‘A gentleman can afford to walk; he cannot afford to have a shabby equipage [carriage].’

“‘If you want to be fashionable, be always in the company of fashionable people.’

“‘If you see a fossil of a man, shabbily dressed, relying solely on his pedigree, dating back to time immemorial, who has the aspirations of a duke and the fortune of a footman, do not cut him; it is better to cross the street and avoid meeting him.’

“‘The value of a pleasant manner is impossible to estimate.’

“‘When you entertain, do it in an easy natural way as if it was an everyday occurrence, not the event of your life.’

“‘A dinner made up wholly of young people is generally stupid.’

“‘If you are going to refuse, do so at once, but remember that a dinner once accepted is a sacred obligation. If you die before the dinner takes place, your executor must attend the dinner.’

He solidified his position for decades through his friendship with Caroline Astor, who was the queen of New York society. Unfortunately, in his attempt to stay relevant as the years went on, he courted media attention, which did very little to endear him to his social circle. The worst came in 1890 when he published a book of memoirs called Society as I Have Found It.

He died alone and disgrace while eating at his club, but I suppose he would have been happy that so many members of society attended his funeral.

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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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