Those Innovative, Fun-loving Victorians

When people hear the word, “Victorian”, a myriad of images and thoughts often come to mind: quaint, old-fashioned, gaslights, lace, crinoline, velvet,  severe husbands and prudish wives.

Oh, and let’s not forget: “stodgy”.

For anyone who has studied the 19th century- the image  of Victorians as stodgy is laughable.

Brilliant minds invented the steam locomotive, batteries, photography, Coca-Cola, soda fountain, stethoscope, microphone, typewriter, braille printing,  sewing machine, telegraph, Morse code, bicycles, facsimile, pasteurisation, antiseptics,   washing machines, elevators, telephone, phonographs,  motorcyles,  mechanical cash registers, and the first motion pictures.

Intellectual debates sprung from Darwin’s, “On the Origin of Species”.   The Suffrage Movement and Abolitionism began.   Health movements by Sylvester Graham and J.H. Kellog advocated vegeterianism.  Thomas Young and Jean Francois Champollion’s deciphering of The Rosetta Stone issued in Egyptology.  New ideas sprang up: Spiritualism, Free Love, American Transcendentalism, and Theosophy.

The Victorians were dazzled by the world around them.   Poor and rich alike visited cabinets of curiosities to view collections  pertaining to  natural history, archeology,  arts and antiquities.  These encyclopedic  collections included fossils, plants, sealife specimens, to human skulls and torture devices, to fabricated wonders such as feejee mermaids and shrunken heads.

But what did they do for entertainment when they weren’t studying shrunken heads?

When they weren’t inventing amusement parks and riding the first rollercoasters- they enjoyed magic lantern shows, waxwork shows, and freak shows.  Hypnotists,  fortune tellers, acrobats, magicians, and pantomimes.

Daredevils such as Blondin (Jean Francois Gravelet), performed stunts which have never been equalled.   In June 1859, Blondin, armed with only a balancing pole, walked across Niagra Falls from the American side to Canada on a two-inch rope.  Two weeks later he performed the stunt walking backwards and returned pushing a wheelbarrow.  He would later repeat the stunt on stilts, blindfolded, and riding a bicycle.  Twenty thousand spectators watched  Selina Young (the “female Blondin”)  complete a daring highrope walk across the Thames from Battersea Bridge to the Cremorne Gardens.  Tragically, in 1862, she was left permanently disabled after a fall.

Those stodgy Victorians devoured Sensation novels of murder and sex by William Black, Mary Braddon, Ellen Price, and the unforgettable Wilkie Collins.  His Woman in White inspired perfume, cloaks, bonnets, and waltzes.

Prudes?  Statistics regarding the number of babies born very, very quickly after marriage indicate people were as lusty as ever in the 19th century.  A group of moralists (mostly belonging to the middle class) did wish to portray a false image of perfection.  (or what they deemed to be perfection)  But what polite society discussed in public and what went on in the privacy of peoples’ homes was quite different.   Wives may have been advised to “lie back and think of England” during sex- but it is comical to suppose they actually did.

All the same -it is too easy to romanticize the past.   For all its many wonders, the 19th century was rife with poverty and crime.   Sanitation was almost non-existant in many places.  City streets were strewn with manure and garbage.  Without modern conveniences- cooking, cleaning, and laundry were laborous, backbreaking ordeals. It is not surprising the Victorians sought pleasure wherever they could.

Who wouldn’t want to watch Blondin sit down on that two-inch rope in the middle of Niagra Falls and cook an omelette with a portable stove he’d secured to his back?

Blondin walking across Niagra Falls on June 30, 1859

Emily Bronte-Through Her Poetry


“Often rebuked, yet always back returning

To those first feelings that were born with me,

And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning

For idle dreams of things which cannot be:


To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;

Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;

And visions rising, legion after legion,

Bring the unreal world too strangely near.


I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,

And not in paths of high morality,

And not among the half-distinguished faces,

The clouded forms of long-past history.


I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

It vexes me to choose another guide:

Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;

where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.


What have these lonely mountains worth revealing?

More glory and more grief than I can tell:

The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling

Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.”


 Emily Bronte was too sensitve to allow others into her private recesses.  Like mystics before- she was not comfortable with the outside world.  Yet it is erroneous to label her a misanthrope or even unkind.    Ellen Nussey (best friend of sister, Charlotte Bronte) stated, “Her extreme reserve seemed imprenetrable, yet she was intensely lovable; she invited confidence by her moral power.  Few people have the gift of smiling as she could look and smile.  One of her rare expressive looks was something to remember through life, there was such a depth of soul and feeling, and yet a shyness of revealing herself.”

Victorian society was of no interest to Emily.  Having taken a fancy to the romantic, gigot sleeves of the 1830s- she wore them long after they’d gone out of style.   On the other hand, she had no use for false embellishment.  While attending Madame Heger’s school in Brussels, she was teased by the fashionable girls for not wearing a corset.   Fellow pupil, Laetitia Wheelwright, recollected that Emily always answered their jokes with,  “I wish to be as God made me.”  

Around this time, she stated:

“Strong I stand, though I have borne

                                         Anger, hate, and bitter scorn;

                                         Strong I stand, and laugh to see

                                         How mankind have fought with me


Shade of mast’ry, I contemn

All the puny ways of men;

Free my heart, my spirit free;

Beckon, and I’ll follow thee.


False and foolish mortal know,

If you scorn the world’s disdain,

Your mean soul is far below

Other worms, however vain.


Think of Dust- with boundless pride,

Dare you take  me for a guide?

With the humble I will be;

Haughty men are naught to me.”


    Although Emily’s father was a clergyman, she rarely attended church.  When Emily did, she sat facing away from the pulpit.  Surprisingly, her father never insisted she conform.  He understood Emily found God within Nature.    

 The usually somber-looking girl transformed while roaming alone on her beloved Moors.   When neighbor, John Greenwood chanced upon her once, he said, “Her countenance was lit up with a divine light.   Had she been holding converse with Angels, it would not have shone brighter.  It appeared to me, holy, heavenly.”


  Here, she depicts a mystical experience:

“On a sunny brae alone I lay

One summer afternoon…

Methought the very breath I breathed

Was full of sparks divine,

And all my heather-couch was wreathed

By that celestial shine.

And while the wide Earth echoing rang

To their strange minstrelsy,

The little glittering spirits sang,

Or seemed to sing to me…”


       Yet it was only during the still hours of night that Emily felt truly free. She lay upon her bed gazing out at the stars. 

“I’m happiest when most away

I can bear my soul from its home of clay

On a windy night when the moon is bright

And the eye can wander through worlds of light-“


    During these quiet hours, Emily communed with a male personified Muse.   In this poem, He speaks to her: 

“I’ll come when thou art saddest,

Laid alone in the darkened room;

When the mad day’s mirth has vanished,

And the smile of joy is banished

From the evening’s chilly gloom.

I’ll come when the heart’s real feeling

Has entire, unbiased sway,

And my influence o’er thee stealing,

Grief deepening, joy congealing,

Shall bear thy soul away.

Listen, ’tis just the hour,

The awful time for thee;

Dost thou not feel upon thy soul,

A flood of strange sensations roll,

Forerunners of a sterner power,

Heralds of me?”

In “The Night Wind”- He asks:

“Have we not been from childhood friends?

Have I not loved thee long?

As long as thou hast loved the night

Whose silence wakes my song

And when thy heart is laid at rest

Beneath the churchyard stone

I shall have time enough to mourn,

And thou to be alone.”

When Emily found her creative powers waning, she awaited her Muse like a lover:

“What I love shall come like visitant of air,

Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;

Who loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,

Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.

Burn then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear-

Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air;

He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;

Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.”


The sun herald the return to the drudgery of housework and other banal reality.

“All through the night, your glorious eyes

Were gazing down in mine,

And with a full heart’s thankful sighs

I blessed that watch divine!


I was at peace, and drank your beams

As they were life to me

And revelled in my changeful dreams

Like petrel on the sea.


Thought followed thought- star followed star

Through boundless regions on,

While sweet influence, near and far,

Thrilled and proved us one.


Why did morning rise to break

So great, so pure a spell,

And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek

Where your cool radiance fell?


Blood red he rose, and arrow-straight

His fierce beams struck my brow;

The soul of Nature sprang elate,

But mine sank sad and low….


I turned me to the pillow then

To call back Night, and see

Your worlds of solemn light, again

Throb within my heart and me!…


O Stars and Dreams and Gentle Night;

O Night and Stars Return!

And hide me from hostile light

That does not warm- but burn-“


 Emily struggled between love of home and her soul’s desire to free itself  from its hated clay.  In May 1841 she wrote:

“Few hearts to mortals given

On Earth so wildly pine;

Yet none would ask a Heaven

More like this Earth than thine…”


She wondered:

“Glad comforter, will I not brave

Unawed the darkness of the grave?

Nay, smile to hear Death’s billows rave,

My Guide, sustained by thee?

The more unjust seems present fate

The more my Spirit springs elate

Strong in thy strength, to anticipate

Rewarding Destiny!

Emily must have found peace within.  For in her last known poem, written before her untimely death at the age of thirty, she declared:

    “No coward soul is mine

No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere

I see Heaven’s glories shine

And faith shines equal arming me from Fear


O God within my breast

Almighty ever-present Deity

Life, that in me has rest

As I undying Life, have power in Thee


Vain are the thousand creeds

That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,

Worthless as withered weeds

Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one

Holding so fast by thy infinity

So surely anchored on

The steadfast rock of Immorality


With wide-embracing love

Thy spirit animates eternal years

Pervades and broods above,

Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears


Though Earth and moon were gone

And suns and universe ceased to be

And thou wert left alone

Every Existence would exist in thee


There is not room for Death

Nor atom that his might could render void

Since thou art Being and Breath

And what thou art may never be destroyed.”


Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 3:14 am  Comments (4)  
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Mad Writing Weekend

As I wrote in my last post, even though I didn’t finish the full chapter outline- I had to start writing again.  Once those fingers hit the keys, I was a  bird set free from its cage.

The one good thing about forcing myself not to write for that horrid week (so I could concentrate on going through earlier drafts and decide what was working and what wasn’t)-  is now I am filled with so much renewed enthusiasm.

Yup- I wrote like mad this weekend.  Rewrote four chapters.  About 40 pages.

   But it was maddening. 

   Saturday: Although I was filled with delicious energy- nothing would come out right.  All the wonderful images in my head refused to be released onto paper.  I wrote, I tried to write, I stalked about my living room, I drank tea and more tea, I tried to write more.  I forced myself to keep at it.  When I finally crawled into bed, though I was proud that I hadn’t given up that day- I still felt bluesy.  Totally mentally and emotionally exhausted from the effort.

Then Sunday came.  Sunday has always been my favorite day of the week.  Even more so, now that I live in Germany where everything is closed.  There is a special aura to the day- a beauiful silence. 

While I usually enjoy writing with the tv on in the background- yesterday I dwell in that stillness.  I began typing in the early morn and soon I was in that magical flow state.  Time didn’t exist.  I wrote and wrote.  The sun faded.  I finished Chapter Six.

And now it’s on to Chapter Seven…

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 11:51 am  Comments (3)  

Wednesday Writing Update

Time moves at a different speed when you’re stuck inside a novel.  The outside world has no significance in comparison with what’s going on in your head.   Olympics?  What Olympics?  Oh- the thingie on the television in the background.  For something totally off topic- I do think I’m the only person who enjoys synchronized swimming.   The ballet, artistry, and grace involved.  Okay, it is a bit creepy.  But still pretty fascinating.


Okay, back to my novel…

 I’ve been working like mad on my chapter outline.  The bad news is that I didn’t finish it in one day like I’d planned.  The good news is that I’ve made great progress.  The surreal Dali drafts are finally coming together.  And me, being the optimist that I am, is focusing on the latter.  🙂


Ideally, my novel would be about 50,000 to 55,000 words.  But I know very short novels can be even more difficult to shop around, so I am aiming for 60,000.  

Here’s my math:

Courier New Font: 250 w per page

240p X 250w= 60,000 words

My chapters tend to be rougly 10 pages.

Therefore, I need about 24 chapters

(I hate math, btw)

Thus far I’ve mapped out the first 15 chapters.   And I know how the novel ends.   (have the last couple of chapters in my head)  So  basically, I need to flesh out about 7 chapters between.

Naturally, I may not stick to such a rigid guide- but I’m finding it useful as a blueprint.

Even though I wasn’t going to do any real writing until my outline was complete- I’ve been going crazy.  I had to take out my laptop today and strike those keys.  I edited (again) the first two chapters.  The third chapter needs a total rewrite which I plan to attack tonight. 

 A week without writing has been torturous…

Published in: on August 20, 2008 at 5:04 pm  Comments (4)  

Writing Promise for Saturday

 It’s now 6:50 a.m.   I crawled out of bed at 2 am to watch the Sox vs Sox ballgame. (the wrong colored socks won, but that’s another story)  My fried brain tried to figure out how many drafts I’ve done of this novel.  Forget it.  Just thinking about it makes me need an aspirin.

In one of my posts, I wrote about ways to deal with writer’s block.  The funny thing is- I’ve never had writer’s block in my life.   I have the opposite problem.  So many ideas, thoughts, friggin characters floating in my head  it’s difficult for me to focus on one story at a time.  My mind works like some kind of Dali dream.  Great for the imagination.  Not so great for writing things done properly.  Thus, my drafts are a surreal mismash of ideas that must be brought together in coherent form.

I’ve come to the realization that I must outline.   Outlining is not for everyone.  Some people really find it stifles them.   However, since my brain is so wacky, I’ve realized if I personally don’t outline, I’m always going to be drowning in this work.  It’s going to continue to change and grow in so many more different ways- I’ll have even more stories to contend with!

So here’s the deal.  Today, I am resolved to outline my entire novel.  Each chapter.  To do so- I will go through my last few drafts to see what works/ what didn’t.  And figure out where each element should go.   I refuse to go to sleep today until my chapter outline is completed.     I want this draft to be the semi-final one.  All pretty and polished for when I submit to my beta readers.

Anyhow, I figure if I publically announce my goal for the day- I can’t back out of it.

Here’s to tons of tea and coffee! 🙂

Published in: on August 9, 2008 at 7:43 am  Comments (2)  

Are Writers Mediums?

Hi everyone,

this is a little snippet from the wonderful Isabel Allende’s website:

How does inspiration work?

A. I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don’t talk to anybody; I don’t answer the telephone. I’m just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I’m creating a world that is fiction but that doesn’t belong to me. I’m not God; I’m just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I’m not conscious of what I’m writing. It’s a strange process; as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.


I’ve been thinking of how Ms. Allende referred to herself as a medium.

Many famous authors have readily claimed their ideas came from outside themselves.  One,  Robert Louis Stevenson, said Brownies visited him at night and gave him story ideas. 

Do our stories come from within ourselves or are there other beings out there, searching for “sensitives” open enough to hear their tale and then tell it?  (There are many fictional works which have explored the latter)

It brings us to that classic question:  “Where do our stories come from?”

Why does a line of dialogue pop into my head when I’m walking down the street.  Or while answering phones at work?  If this only occured when I was in the midst of a WIP, (and concerned those characters and  situations related to it) then I would naturally sum it up as my subconscious.  But when such moments occur when I am not in the midst of a WIP or the thoughts have nothing at all to do with the current WIP- I do wonder.

I mean, when I’m walking home and suddenly in my mind I envision some middle-aged woman say, “I had to do it.  I hated her, you know.”  Of course I have to stop and think, “Uh-who are you? And uh- what did you have to do?  Did you kill her?  Why?  And why are you dressed in modern clothes?  I need to finish my 19th century ghost novel.  Sorry- I can’t do your story now!”

It does feel at times that several beings want me to tell their story all at once.

And every writer has many incidents of characters insisting they change their name.  Or, putting their foot down: “I refuse to do that!  You’d better change the story.”  Non-writers no doubt think writers are being silly or dramatic when we speak like this- but it’s true.  Very, very true.

Or is it just an overactive imagination?  It could also very well be our  subconscious telling us the original name we chose isn’t clicking.  Or, that we must change the story line because it simply won’t work.

I’m fascinated by this question.  I doubt we will ever know the answer.  My personal guess is that it is usually our  subconscious, but at rare times there really are other beings  who want us to tell their story. 

Who knows?  Maybe someone gets the idea to tell a story of a woman who killed herself because that spirit wants her story told.  She wants people to understand why she did it.

In the end- it doesn’t matter where the story comes from.  Only that it is told truthfully.

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 8:58 am  Comments (2)  
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