I have the most interesting, keen-eyed friends a girl could ask for. A few days ago, my fellow Master of Arts (that’s what they said at our convocation: “Rise, Master of Arts!”) Jo Valin sent me this link to some photos of Smiling Victorians.
The photos are all borrowed from a Flickr group called – you guessed it – The Smiling Victorian, but Retronaut does a great job of explaining why the Victorians are so commonly stereotyped as stuffy and solemn: when being photographed, “subjects had to stand very still to avoid being blurred, and holding a smile for that period was tricky. As a result, we have a tendency to see our Victorian ancestors as even more formal and stern than they might have been.”
You guys, I ADORE this cache of photos. Not only are they cheeky and vivid and candid and moving, but they absolutely SHRED our preconceptions about the Victorians. Check out the body language! Women put their arms around men, they lay down on beaches, they sat on their (sketchy-looking) boyfriends’ laps!
This is precisely the kind of Victorian England I try to evoke in the Agency novels: pungent, gritty, vigorous. The stuff missed by canonical novels and etiquette books. The parts you might never glimpse, if you buy into the stereotype.
And there’s more: I’ve raved about the Dictionary of Victorian London before, but its editor, Lee Jackson, actually made me cackle out loud this week with a blog post about Victorian prudery – or its antithesis. The writer quoted is Francis Wey, a French tourist, so we should make allowances for exaggeration and a desire to caricature the English. But if even half of what Wey reports is true, the prim-and-proper stereotype is about to collapse like the toilet tents Wey describes. As he says, “When English people are not icicles, they are apt to become shameless.”
Finally, this week I’m the feature author at Nineteenteen, a really cool blog about “being a teen in the nineteenth century”. Yesterday, blogger and YA author Marissa Doyle interviewed me – and of course, as a fellow novelist and history fanatic, she asked very interesting questions. Check it out!