Ask me about the 19th Century

Discussion in 'Research' started by Corwynn, Dec 20, 2017.

  1. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    When it comes to discussions among fantasy writers and enthusiasts, there is no shortage of resources for those interested in a Medieval setting. If you want to learn exactly how to use a broadsword, or learn the names of all the pieces of a suit of armour, there is no shortage of forum posts and Youtube videos that can tell you all you need to know. There are plenty of resources on the Middle Ages, but what about other eras?

    My interest has always been in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and I have read many books on the subject. The constructed universe I have in mind for my stories draws more from the Victorian Era than any other period (although there are others). If this is the case for you as well, or you are simply interested in the world of the 19th century, then feel free to ask me any questions about the period, and how aspects of it can be incorporated into your worlds. If you want to know how a steam engine works, or details of everyday life like what people ate or wore, feel free to ask me. I may also do a monthly feature post covering a topic that I think would be of importance or interest, but since I’m a horrible procrastinator, I’ll make no promises.
     
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  2. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    How did British and French fashion differ? Most resources I've found suggest Regency was this ubiquitous blob. But then like, Alsatian women had steadily growing bows in their head since 1839.

    I ask despite my work being set in 21st century, cause a MC here and then is born in the 1800s. (Reincarnation, not really that old.) Post Decapitation Stress Disorder.
     
  3. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    The differences between British and French fashion were subtle, but definitely present if you know what to look for. From what I can gather, French fashion was generally lighter and more frilly, whereas British fashion was more plain (relatively-speaking) and heavier. This is a vast oversimplification of course. I recall Hippolyte Taine, a Frenchman who visited England in the Victorian Era, commented that the shoes worn by English women were as large and sturdy as those worn by men, likely on account of Britain's colder and wetter climate. For the men, the spike beard and moustache were popular in Second Empire France because it was the style worn by Emperor Napoleon III, but British men favoured thicker facial hair styles like muttonchops. Another difference was a greater emphasis in France on formality, elegance, and artificiality. For example, the French Garden (developed in the 17th and 18th centuries) is essentially a formal salon in the open air, with neat, geometrically-ordered rows of hedges and flowerbeds. In contrast, the English Garden (which was originally inspired by Chinese gardens) more resembles a natural landscape, but with artfully arranged naturalistic features like ponds and grottoes.

    I'm not sure what you mean by Regency fashion being a "ubiquitous blob". If you mean it was shapeless-looking, perhaps it was (I prefer more complex garments myself). Women's dresses of the era were inspired by Ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian clothing (provoked by new archaeological discoveries during the period), which had simple, draped lines, and muted colours. If you mean it was uniform across national lines, perhaps it was, but there were likely some differences all the same. For example, French women were willing to show more decolletage, whereas English dresses had a slight bulge over the abdomen to make the wearer look slightly pregnant (although this may not have been unique to Britain).

    You also mentioned Alsatian folk dress. An interesting thing to note is that most "traditional" European peasant dress only dates from the 19th century. Before the advent of mass-produced textiles and cheap synthetic dyes, lower-class people could not have worn such elaborate and colourful outfits. These costumes were concocted out of an interest in history and a rising sense of nationalism at the time. Even in those days, folk dress wasn't exactly everyday wear, certainly not when doing hard labour in the fields, although they may have worn more toned-down versions of the same.
     
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  4. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    I didn't know this, thanks.

    Anna-Marie Boeglin was 17 around 1838, and committed her murders around 1837.

    I'm a real sucker for French True Crime.
     
  5. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    Have you read the Auguste Dupin detective stories by Edgar Allan Poe? They're fictional stories, but I think they would be right up your alley.

    If you prefer true stories, you might look up Eugene Vidocq. He was a criminal turned police investigator, and he established many modern crime-fighting techniques. He served as the inspiration for Dupin and (either directly or indirectly) Sherlock Holmes.
     
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  6. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    If there is any serial killer women, hit me up! Will check them out.
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Corwynn, do y0u have a source for this? Inquiring minds want to know more.
     
  8. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    I've gleaned my information from various sources, but this Wikipedia page ( Folk costume - Wikipedia ), summarizes my main points, as well as providing links to examples of traditional costume from around the world.

    To be clear, there were formal versions of peasant wear, which were and are reserved for festivals and other special occasions, and utilitarian clothing. The former (in Europe) was largely (but not completely) a 19th century invention. The latter was a natural evolution of older peasant clothing increasingly influenced by international fashions.

    New inventions in textile-making technology such as the spinning jenny and the Jacquard loom (the latter of which was programmed using punched cards) allowed greater quantities of cloth with more elaborate patterns to be produced. Synthetic dyes developed in the mid-19th century, like mauveine, provided cheaper and easier-to-come-by alternatives to natural dyes, as well as enabling a wider variety of hues than was previously possible. This enabled more people to afford brightly-coloured and elaborately-patterned clothing, and the upgraded formal wardrobe of 19th century peasants became identified as the traditional costume of European nations and regions.

    One example of "traditional" European folk dress that is actually a modern invention is the Scottish family tartan. While plaid predates the industrial revolution by many years, the notion that specific patterns and colour schemes were associated with particular clans is an invention of the Victorian Era. This was the result of a vogue for Scottish Highland culture inspired by the works of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. For a time, even some Englishmen would dress up in Highland garb on special occasions. Lowland Scots also got in on the act, identifying themselves with Highland culture, even though they wouldn't have been caught dead wearing a kilt a hundred years previous. In fact, for a time, Highland dress was actually illegal, as punishment for the Jacobite Rebellion (1745-1746) in which many Highland clans attempted to overthrow the Hanover King of Great Britain and restore the ousted House of Stuart.
     
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  9. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    I think where I get confused, weren't wooden shoes (but that I mean shoes made entirely of wood, not just boots with wooden soles) I used to here about all the time. In fact, Balzac used to discuss those who wore wooden shoes, or otherwise went barefoot as far back as the early 1800s. I have a difficult time imagining poor people wearing rich people's footwear during the mid to late 1800s.

    And according to my own research, the oldest found in Europe was left over from the 1200s, around the dark ages. So what exactly are we speaking of when we say formal?

    Except for like this one place in Europe where they didn't get them until the 1890s (which was in Eastern Europe), clogs go a ways a back.

    Is it differing images of peasant dress? I'm thinking of ragtag torn garmets and wooden shoes, not necessarily fancy dyes. Maybe a basket of bread if they're lucky.

    It's one of the reasons I'm wondering if Anna-Marie Boeglin (I study serial killer girls), really wore that silly looking bow, or if that's purely a modern invention. It's unclear what even the average hair color was, as at the time ... I don't think, France was yet an imperialist super power.

     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2017
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Hm, that Wikipedia article has only a couple of paragraphs, says nothing about 19thc, and has a note that it needs verification of sources. I am well out of my depth in the 19thc, and may well be writing something set in that era, so I'm curious on this score. I know there are acres of sources for 19thc costuming, both rural and urban; I can do my own research there. I'm specifically curious about the proposition that colorful costumes only (or mostly) appear in that century.
     
  11. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    I think I'm getting out of my depth myself. What I meant was that elaborate and colourful outfits were more accessible for the peasantry of Europe after the industrial revolution than before, not that they didn't have them at all, they most certainly did. The difference was merely a matter of quality and quantity. I apologize for not providing more sources. There were a few others I had in mind, but I either can't remember their names, or they are no longer accessible to me. There is one book I have in mind that was in my university library, but I can't remember the name of it, and the part of the library where it was kept has undergone extensive renovations, so it may not be there anymore. After winter break is over I'll see if I can find it for you. There are also 19th century French paintings that document French peasant wear. One particularly famous one is The Gleaners (I forget the name of the artist), and Paul Gaugin did some paintings of Breton women.

    You're probably right about peasant footwear (or lack thereof). In the cities, there was a brisk trade in second-hand clothing which was sold off by the middle and upper classes when they started to wear out, and which were bought by the poor at a discount. However, with lower and more scattered populations in the countryside, that wouldn't have been a viable business model, and so peasants would have had to make other arrangements.

    Your image of peasant garb isn't too far off, especially for earlier periods, but one shouldn't go too far to the opposite extreme and assume all peasants wore filthy burlap rags 24/7. Working wear has always needed to be straightforward and utilitarian, so no fancy lace or rich fabrics that can be torn or stained. Even so, when making their own clothes, as the lower classes often did both during and before the industrial revolution, they would make some effort to make them presentable, within limits. In addition, unless they were completely destitute, a poor person would usually have a suit of Sunday Best clothing for going to church and special occasions. It is the latter which is usually stereotyped as "traditional costume".

    As for Anna-Marie Boeglin, I'm afraid I can't help you, since I don't know anything about her. If she was Alsatian, she was probably as much German, culturally and ethnically, as French. Alsace shares a border with (and was at times a part of) Germany, and the local language, Alsacienne, is actually a dialect of German. Reading up on the Rhineland region of Germany might help. There is also a map of European hair and eye colours here: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/AcpLt-K3M91J6D1Mt5tnLar_v93sOEaWP3VywZpBdnzbwghkWwkgdpE/. It shows modern distributions, but since large-scale immigration into France only started in the late 20th century, I don't think much has changed since the 1830s. French people in general tend towards black or brown hair, but Alsatians are more likely to have red or blonde hair due to their German heritage.
     
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  12. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    Ah goodie, I wasnt to far off then. I had kind of assumed Boeglin was blond based on this as well.

     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Thanks, Corwynn. Clothing is a gigantic topic, heavily researched by folkorist historians of the late 19th and early 20thcs, and researched anew by SCA-types. It's a real rabbit hole, though fascinating.

    One story I like to tell comes from Eugen Weber's Peasants Into Frenchmen, which I've cited more than once on these forums. He talks about peasants making their own bread, the dark, heavy kind before the advent of bleached flour. One source he mentions tells of a peasant household where the visitor was able to pick up the loaf by the bits of straw sticking out from it. I like the story because we often assume a level of competence among the peasantry (I know I did), but if you think about it there had to have been people who were just plain not very good at weaving or baking or construction (there are stories of peasant houses falling down, too). Apropos of the present discussion, it made me imagine some colorfully embroidered peasant dress in which the designs look like a child's crayon drawing, with lines jagged and dangling thread. :)
     
  14. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Shadow Lord

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    To start I'd like to thank you for making this topic, OP. The 19th century is certainly an interesting era most commonly associated with steampunk. But my question to you is this: How did political machines work?
     
  15. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    Yikes. I too assumed a certain amount of competence among people of the past, but I suppose you're right about some people always being bad at certain skills. One of the advantages (or disadvantages depending on how you look at it) of mass production is that people can get away with not having practical skills like that.

    You're welcome. It is a fascinating era, and steampunk is perhaps my favourite speculative fiction genre.

    Unfortunately, I don't really know anything about political machines. I know about big picture things like landmark policies and international relations, but not so much about the gritty details of politics on the ground. I think what the issue was (and this is just an educated guess on my part) was that supposedly democratic and meritocratic political organizations became closed shops, only allowing people who met certain criteria (namely being wealthy and white) to join their clique, resulting in the political class becoming self-serving and divorced from the people they were meant to represent.
     
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  16. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    Sounds like the bread has plenty of fiber to me.

    Or as my mom says, we like our whole wheat.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2017
  17. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    I got one, other than cryptography, and early steganography such as Grille and Null Ciphers, what other characteristics made 19th century espionage different from modern day tradecraft?

    A lot of my work blends timelines, but I know NSA wasnt around until the 1940s.

    I know they didn't have this Double ADGVX cipher I've recently made.:p
     
  18. Russ

    Russ Istari

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    I don't know how good their websites are, but lots of the Habsburg and related museums in Vienna have great examples of ethnic garb from all over the empire from the 19th century, particularly the beginning of the reign of FJ. IIRC they were actually period examples, not repress. They covered a multitude of ethnic groups.

    Hair colour is a tricky thing. There were plenty of people in all of the Germanic countries who were non-blonde throughout recorded history.
     
  19. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Lore Master

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    Plus it doesn't include hair dying. Or dying hair. Poor hair.
     
  20. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

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    It turns out I was wrong about political machines. I did a bit of quick research, and it turns out that a political machine is when a single person, the boss, is the centre of gravity in a local political culture. The boss would pull strings and exert influence both in and out of official government channels. They would distribute favour and rewards within the government or organization based on member's abilies to drum up votes for the party, and their ability to get things done. The machine operated rather like an organized crime syndicate, only legitimate and without the crime (although that would depend on your definition of crime). Political machines were especially common in American cities during the Gilded Age (roughly 1877-1898).

    Political machines were of course corrupt and undemocratic, and yet they often yielded political reform and public works projects that the official government channels couldn't or wouldn't push through. This is especially true for immigrant communities, who were often able to gain representation through the machine in exchange for their votes.

    All in all, a political machine can go a long way towards adding some colour to a local setting, or opening up possibilities for storylines involving political intrigue. While political machines are not limited to a 19th century setting (or an invented world resembling it), they are unlikely to arise in countries that lack elected governments and which have an hereditary ruling class, since this would negate the need for such a thing; which is why they were so prevalent in the United States.

    Technology was of course more rudimentary, especially when it comes to encryption. For most of the period, only simple encryption methods like invisible ink and substitution ciphers were used. Intelligence agencies as we know them did not exist. Most spy rings were informal affairs operating either independently, or as part of a government ministry not exclusively devoted to intelligence. Even the few intelligence services that were founded during this time had very different purposes in the beginning. For example, the United States Secret Service, founded by President Ulysses S. Grant, was originally formed to catch counterfeiters. Lastly, until at least the 18th century, the rules of war prohibited spies from dressing up in enemy uniforms. However, I suspect this rule was frequently ignored at the time, and after the Napoleonic Wars people mostly stopped paying any attention to it.

    However, if we want to take things in a speculative direction (and really that's what we're all here for), you could add analytical engines to your setting. The analytical engine, and its predecessor the difference engine, was a mechanical computer devised by Charles Babbage in the 1840s to perform mathematical calculations. Like the Jacquard loom (mentioned above), and early computers, it would have been programmed using punch cards, and the difference engine could be considered the missing link between the two. Sadly, neither of these machines were actually built due to lack of funding. If it had been, then it is possible they could have been quickly turned to cryptography purposes, since that was what the earliest computers were used for, and functionally they were very similar.
     
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