Thursday, 20 October 2011

Victorian Faerie History - Part I

I thought I'd just point out, for those who have never considered the matter, that 'the Victorians' were the people who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).  Here in Britain, the scope of her Empire at the time was such that they tend to refer to the Victorian era as a world wide phenomenon.  Thinking back, I never heard much in US history referred to as 'Victorian', except perhaps when - was it the 1980s? - Victoria magazine became popular; I confess I was also a fan.  Be that as it may, if someone refers to 'Victorian', they are roughly talking about the 1800s - more often referred to as 'the Gilded Age' in the US. 

Anyhow, the Victorians were really in love with faeries.  I worked that out just from the sheer number of authors and illustrators who fell during this time period.  A little investigation comes up with a fairly obvious answer about why:  industrialisation.  Faeries are always in some way linked to nature and a lot of nature was being transformed into horrific industrial complexes.  Also linked to industrialisation is the growth of a wealthy middle class that had money for books. 

Finally, the way society viewed children and childhood began to change in Victorian times and there was not only an increased interest in the well-being of children but also a fascination with childhood itself.  Of course faerie stories are also linked with childhood.  I'm thinking a large number of gentlemen with money decided they never wanted to leave their childhood and faerie stories gave them a way to do this and make money - brilliant!  Of course child welfare was more for the middle classes, as working class children were still labouring in factories and fields under the 'Dickensian' (ie 'squalid and poverty stricken') conditions of the day.

Brothers Dalziel - George (1815-1902); Edward (1817-1905); Thomas (1823-1906); and John (?) were, I was excited to read, from Wooler, in Northumberland!  They were the 'pre-eminent engravers' of their time and worked extensively with Lewis Carroll and others of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  (More about them later).

Engraved by the Brothers Dalziel

I know it's not a particularly sophisticated reaction, but one of the things I love about this engraving is that it makes me want to go out and buy some fine pointed markers with which to colour it in.  I got a Peter Max colouring poster for Christmas one year and I think it marked me for life.

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was the author of The Water Babies.   I've always heard of this story, but never read it (the link is to the book on Project Gutenburg).  According to Wikipedia, it is a moral story to do with Christian redemption.   Not surprising, as he was a priest in the Church of England.  On the other hand he was sympathetic to Charles Darwin's theories, which were quite shocking in their day.

Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith

Richard 'Dickie' Doyle (1824-1883) was an illustrator most well known for his work for Punch magazine, for which he designed the masthead and drew the first cover.   He signed his work with a little 'dickie bird' perched on top of his initials, RD.  This reminded me of the saying 'haven't heard a dickie bird' and as simple as the answer is, I never did know where the phrase originated.  Turns out it's Cockney rhyming slang ('haven't heard a word', rhymes with 'dickie bird'), which turns out is also Victorian in origin.

This illustration by Richard Dickie Doyle is of a fairy-ring.  For more information about fairy-rings, read here.  Another interesting thing about this man is that he had a nephew named Arthur Conan Doyle who was also a bit of a faerie-fancier it seems.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish author (poet, and Christian minister) who inspired and influenced many other writers, including W. H. Auden, J.R.R.  Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and even Mark Twain.   C. S.  Lewis' name doesn't appear on my list from the museum exhibit, but his book, The Chronicles of Narnia, is on my reading list for the near future.  George MacDonald's best known works are  fantasy novels:  Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, and Lilith; and faerie stories including   "The Light Princess", "The Golden Key", and "The Wise Woman".

Sadly, I've never heard of him or any of his stories.  I guess Walt Disney wasn't impressed by his work?  MacDonald is quoted at the museum exhibit has having written: 

I write, not for children but for the child-like, whether they be of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.

Wikipedia attributes these words to Lewis Carroll, whom MacDonald also mentored.

Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825-1916) was an English artist and author, considered the most important female illustrator of the 1860s.  This is pretty impressive considering that her social position restricted her from exhibiting her work; when she did show it, she used her initials.  Her husband was a younger son of an earl, a rector, and later chaplain to Queen Victoria. 

Her Wikipedia entry provided me with several new - and challenging - vocabulary words.  Apparently, one of her books, an aid to meditation which combines poetry with her art, 'provides an example of the eschatological thrust of her work'.  That word made me think of Escher, but apparently eschatology is interested in the end of history, the destiny of humanity, the 'last four things:  death, judgement, heaven and hell.'  This faerie stuff wasn't taken up with people who took things lightly, it seems.

Also, EVB was interested in garden design and wrote several books on the subject, the last of which is titled The Peacock's Pleasaunce  which is a collection of belles-lettresA writer of belles-lettres is called bellatrist(I am resisting the temptation to ask if that isn't strange.).  So, a sentence please, using one of these new words...

Beauty and the Beast by E.V.B.

Right, I'm stopping here as it's time to get ready for the running club.  Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about the Pre-Raphaelites and tell you why I think they are fascinating!

1 comment:

Anna at the Doll House said...

I remember The Water Babies from my childhood. The story and the illustrations were hauntingly beautiful but rather scary too but one character has stayed with me all my life: DoasYouwouldBeDoneby.