Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cyber Launch Party: Celebrating A New Release For Susanne Saville

Cyber Launch Party: Celebrating A New Release For Susanne Saville: "Today we're celebrating the release of Susanne Saville's HIDDEN HISTORY OF SALEM.Susanne enjoys caffeine - especially in coffee and tea, tra..."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Vampires are...rapey?

As a vampire romance author,

I find this clip from Supernatural ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS!!!

I think you will, too. :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony Curtis and Pugs

This is my absolute favorite Tony Curtis movie. It's a classic, with adventure and laughs and romance and ... pugs!

Unfortunately, Tony Curtis doesn't get to interact with the pugs - that job fell to Jack Lemmon.  And it is hysterical.  Those pugs completely steal the scenes they're in, and some of Lemmon's grumbling comments have the quality of ad libs.  It's like he can feel the scene getting away from him.

A classic movie of a type they just don't make anymore.  Go watch it!

The Great Race

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Publishing Industry Is Your Friend

Do you follow Writer BewareIf you're a writer, it's an invaluable source of information.

However (you just knew that was coming, right?) I have been following the recent posts about the process of getting published and am...not disgruntled...but my gruntle is vaguely irritated in that way where you want it to stop but don't want to get up off the couch. You know what I mean?

The gist of the posts is contained in the title of the first: Getting Published Is Not A Crap Shoot

My question is not about whether or not it is a crap shoot, but why are we even discussing it?

Because whether it is or is not doesn't affect how writers approach it. You do your best. You submit your work. The end.

That has to happen regardless of whether publishing is an equal-opportunity-completely-not-white-male-dominated-seeker-of-Quality-over-commercial-profits industry or whether publishers only accept manuscripts submitted on Tuesdays that were mailed while the author wore a purple jumper (Tip: remember not to wear your tinfoil hat that day so they can see you!).

So...write on.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Uncalled for Misogyny

I just Netflix-ed Clash of the Titans. The new one. This one:

On the cover there, our hero is holding up Medusa's head. You can't tell what her face looks like (the snakes obscure it). Which is good since she's dead. Also good because she's a Gorgon. And scary looking.

Or at least she should be.

In the original Clash of the Titans she was appropriately terrifying. Or that's how I remember her. 

In this new version she looks like a beautiful woman until she switches on her turn-you-to-stone powers. And that's a brief on-off switch.

Which means we are watching a group of men pursue a beautiful woman with the intent to decapitate her. 

Add in the fact that we're told she was a rape victim just before this, and instead of Medusa being a terrifying force to be reckoned with, we now are watching a beautiful woman who has already been victimized once by a man, get attacked by a gang of men, and murdered. 

What were they thinking??

Okay, yes, she does take, what, three men with her? But it's self-defense. 

And that reminds me. The men were willing to befriend that weird tree-desert creature - a male creature - but they couldn't try asking Medusa to cooperate? I know that's not really how the myth goes but, hey, practically nothing about this movie goes according to myth so I don't see a problem with that type of re-write.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I write like...

I ran a chapter of mine through this analyzer and got this result:

I write like
Anne Rice
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I'm sort of ... stunned.

Especially because it was Captain Devlin's Captive, not Vampire Close.

So then I ran a chapter from a non-fiction book I'm working on

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!


I could only hope to write like him.  That would be so cool.

So, if you try it, let me know in the comments what you get!!!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Titanic Disaster ... Fun??

May 23, 1914
Luna Park on Coney Island opens its summer season with a "spectacular" depiction of the Titanic Disaster "in three amazing acts."

Note the people falling off the end of the ship.  And the heads bobbing in the water.

Way to keep it classy, Coney Island of 1914.  World War I is just around the corner. Wonder what you can do with that....

Monday, July 12, 2010

Save Two-Thirds

I'm under deadline, so I've been away (I apologize).

Found this during research, though, and had to share.

Can you imagine what being a doctor was like when the possibility of saving two-thirds of your patients was the best, most exciting thing an advertisement could say about its medicine?

So basically, you knew you would always lose a third of the people you saw, and probably more like half.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chibi Me


It's like Mini Me, only better! lol

This is my new avatar over on Facebook (and GoodReads too, for that matter).
The art is done by the truly talented @nursethalia.

Feel free to "like" it on Facebook.  :)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Supernatural Cheer

I found this on YouTube and thought it was sweet, so to tide us over until next season, take it away, boys!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Salem - Brilliant Wickedness

"If, instead of charging Salem with dullness, Mr. James had accused it of brilliant wickedness, he would have come nearer the mark…

Imagine a community in which abound young men, rich, well educated, having free run whether for business or pleasure among all the savage tribes and oriental nations of the world, and you see that they must quickly become eminent saints or conspicuous sinners, and so they did."  - Rev. George Batchelor (on early 19th century Salem)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Salem preferred over Washington DC

"I had rather sit under my own "vine and fig tree" in Salem, than in the most stately edifice in Washington." - Nathaniel Silsbee, 1817 (Massachusetts Representative to United States Congress)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Haarlem Oil - Health Insurance in a Jar

Today in Salem History:
On April 24, 1792, Abraham Solis advertised "Haerlaemer Oil" with "Dutch explanations of its use" in the Salem Gazette.

This was probably Haarlem Oil, a diuretic made in Holland since 1672 and still in demand in the early 20th century.

So popular was this remedy, practically every drugstore in America made their own blend. In 1906 it was estimated that "ten bottles of substitute are sold to one of the genuine."

Thackeray mentions it. Louis and Clark never went anywhere without it. So what was it?

In a time with few powerful medicines and no health insurance, Haarlem Oil was your basic safety blanket. It was said to ward off contagious diseases. It strengthened the eyes. It helped your kidneys, bladder, and stomach. It was good for your nerves. In fact, it was good for just about anything, according to its faithful consumers.

Speaking of faith, the "Dutch instructions" bore the Latin legend:  Medicamentum Gratia Probatum which was translated as "remedy approved by Grace." This wasn't any potion derived from black magic or superstition. Haarlem Oil was Approved. Consumers were encouraged to have faith in its ability to heal them, whatever their hurt.

You might be wondering, what did the Oil contain?

The recipe for genuine Haarlem Oil was a close-kept secret. However, the American knock-offs tended to be mostly made up of balsam of sulfur and oil of turpentine.

I suppose if you were strong enough to survive the remedy, you were bound to get better.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spaced, the final frontier

In my role as pop culture maven, I am here to explain to you why so many of your friends are wishing you a happy 420 today.

Your friends aren't saying that?  It's just mine?  Well, whatever.

Four-twenty as a denotation of belonging to the "cannabis subculture" began, according to Wikipedia, with a group of marijuana smokers at San Rafael High School who would meet at 4:20pm.

Since 4/20 is April 20th (in the way the US writes dates), April 20th became a sort of "counterculture holiday."

"Up to 2,000 UC Santa Cruz students celebrated '420' on Friday by smoking marijuana on Porter Meadow as law enforcement officers stood by." - 2007 Santa Cruz Sentinel article

This was after my time at UCSC but I can totally imagine this on the Porter Meadow. Especially as Porter is home to the Flying IUD.

UCSC has some really odd sculpture. Don't get me started on the Increasingly Disgustingly Morbid Dead Goat at Cowell.

But I digress. For those of you who can't imagine it, here is a photo.

So there you have it. April 20 is a marijuana-themed holiday, and as such it is also associated with the legalization movement.

Which is probably why this story ran today in Des Moines, Iowa:

Iowa Medical Group Gives Medical Pot Thumbs Up

Yes, Iowa, folks. The Heartland.

Although Iowa has always been a fairly cool midwestern state.

Wasn't Captain James T Kirk born there?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Women - Know Your Place

Scarily enough, there really was a time when people truly believed that too much education would drive a female insane.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An 1801 Whodunnit

Say you're on a jury in 1801 Massachusetts.

On trial is a young man accused of killing his sweetheart. Her family did not approve of their connection.

On the day in question, he had told two witnesses he passed on the road that he was on his way to her house to rape her (and thus force the family into letting him marry her).

Her body was found in the field beside her house with multiple stab wounds in the arm, side, breast, neck, and back. The accused stood nearby with blood on his clothing and holding a knife that was later matched to the wounds.

The accused said he was Not Guilty because ... the girl had done it to herself.

Her motive was shame over her ruined reputation - he had told her he bragged to several other men that he had been having sex with her, and in response she had committed suicide.

It was well known that the accused did not have the use of one of his arms, due to a frozen elbow joint since childhood.  How could he have stabbed her successfully all those times using only his other arm?

And two neighbor girls had been outside that day, and had heard shouting, but not such that they thought someone was being murdered.

Were they lying because they didn't want to admit they had heard such screams and done nothing?

But if the girl had done it to herself, how did she manage to stab herself in the back?

And if he loved her, what was he doing in that field in any case, since according to either explanation of events it meant physical or emotional harm to the girl?

Would you find him Guilty or Not Guilty?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


BBC Review

Finds Barrowman on the sort of form to guarantee a hit.
Adrian Edwards 2010-02-22
John Barrowman’s new album captures him on peak form. His strong vocal technique, intelligent choice of songs, sympathetically arranged, guarantees that this new album is going to be a hit.
The breezy opener When I Get My Name in Lights comes from The Boy from Oz, Australia’s first musical to hit Broadway. It featured a Tony Award-winning performance from actor Hugh Jackman in the role of singer-songwriter Peter Allen, a part that would seem tailor-made for the magnetic Barrowman.
One Night Only offers a showcase for this singer’s enviable ability to sustain a long note, float the voice into falsetto and empathise with the narrative of a song. When the tempo picks up, he’s joined by an all-girl backing group paying homage to the song’s source in Dreamgirls, the film based on the career of The Supremes. Copacabana comes up fresh as daisy through Barrowman’s sassy vocal, with piano and brass breaks emphasising the flashy nightclub setting. Thoughtful love song Unusual Way, from Nine, is marked by loving attention to detail, sustained by a seamless vocal line and an arrangement where one feels singer and orchestra are breathing as one. The warm string chart recalls the glory days of arranger Gordon  Jenkins’ collaborations with Nat King Cole.
Barrowman’s simple treatment of two unsophisticated songs, My Eyes Adored You and Don’t Cry Out Loud, fall easily on the ear, though he can’t rescue The Kid Inside (from the show Is There Life After High School?, which ran for just 14 performances on Broadway back in 1982). Jodie Prenger duets with Barrowman on So Close, a song from the Disney film Enchanted, though without making any lasting impression.
It’s in the very familiar repertoire that Barrowman works wonders. Singer and orchestra relish the second build up of You’ll Never Walk Alone, but the initial presentation of the refrain is simply beautifully sung and the ending shaded off exquisitely, as it’s written in the vocal score of Carousel. I Won’t Send Roses is another touching interpretation, with a well-paced climax and a dream of a long soft note held at the end. Memory sweeps along with marvellous phrasing, an intelligent reading of the words and an arrangement that adds colour to his fresh interpretation.
All through this collection we are aware of singer and arranger-conductor Matt Brind working as a team. They are to be congratulated for their work.
Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you choose to use this review on your site please link back to this page.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Trial of Margaret Douglass

From American State Trials:
"A Southern lady (Margaret Douglass) living with a daughter in Norfolk, Virginia sixty-six years ago (1853) and being greatly interested in the religious and moral instruction of colored children and finding that the Sunday school where they were allowed to attend was not sufficient, invited them to come to her house, where in a back room upstairs she and her daughter taught them to read and write.

She knew that it was against the law to teach slaves, and so she was careful to take none in her school but free colored children.

One day a couple of city constables entered with a warrant and marched the two teachers and the children to the Mayor's office, where she was charged with teaching them to read, contrary to law. She explained that none of the children were slaves and that she had no idea that a child could not be taught to read simply because it was black.

But the Mayor told her that this was the law, but as she had acted in good faith he would dismiss the case.

But the Grand Jury heard of it and indicted her.

At the next term of court she was tried for a violation of the Virginia code which provided that ... every assemblage of negroes for instruction in reading and writing ... was unlawful, and if a white person assembled with negroes to instruct them to read and write, he should be fined and imprisoned.

She refused the services of a lawyer and defended herself, and though she called several witnesses to show that the same thing had been done for years in the Sunday schools in the city, the jury convicted her, but placed the penalty at a fine of only one dollar.

But this was overruled by the judge:

"The Court is not called on to vindicate the policy of the law in question, for so long as it remains upon the statute book, and unrepealed, public and private justice and morality require that it should be respected and sustained.

There are persons, I believe, in our community, opposed to the policy of the law in question.

They profess to believe that universal intellectual culture is necessary to religious instruction and education, and that such culture is suitable to a state of slavery; and there can be no misapprehension as to your opinions on this subject, judging from the indiscreet freedom with which you spoke of your regard for the colored race in general.

Such opinions in the present state of our society I regard as manifestly mischievous.

... I exceedingly regret, that in being called on for the first time to act under the law in question, it becomes my duty to impose the required punishment upon a female, apparently of fair and respectable standing in the community.

The only mitigating circumstance in your case, if in truth there be any, according to my best reason and understanding of it, is that to which I have just referred, namely, you being a female.

Under the circumstances of this case, if you were of a different sex, I should regard the full punishment of six months' imprisonment as eminently just and proper.... As an example to all others in like cases disposed to offend, and in vindication of the policy and justness of our laws, which every individual should be taught to respect, the judgment of the Court is, in addition to the proper fine and costs, that you be imprisoned for the period of one month in the jail of this city.""

So there ya go, a trial with a side of sexism accompanying the main course of racism.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Girl's Two Paths

Here is another interesting historical document. Again with a feminist theme. Or anti-feminist. Also anti-romance.
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to read Sappho.
Who actually wrote poems, not a novel.

Unless they mean this....
They probably meant this.  (It was first published in 1888.)

Yet again, romance will lead you down the path to perdition. (sigh)

Going back to our two paths - I like how Virtue doesn't Flirt.  How does Virtue get a man's attention then?  Did men back then just wander door-to-door, searching for virtuous women like Diogenes with his lamp?

And apparently that baby arrived by stork. (No "murmuring how delicious it is"! Bad woman!)

By the way, this warning to women was also distributed with a white character. I suppose we should be happy the people behind it were equal-opportunity party-poopers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tech Support Barbie

I worked tech support once. Briefly.

Nobody dressed like that.

And that perfect hair is gone after the first customer call.  :)

By the way, although I like the message that a girl can be smart and pretty at the same time, I do object to that old glasses = intelligence coding.

Yes, this is a real Barbie doll. I got the pic from the BBC. If you can't trust them, whom can you trust?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Woman To Woman

This is an interesting historical document - it's using Sisterhood to forward the abolitionist cause.  Not surprising in the North, since abolition was taken up by many churches and church work was one of the few acceptable public spheres in which women could participate. And, of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin was written by a woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
However, there is research coming out now that this broadsheet might have played well to the white female audience of the South, too.

Seems as long as you were female, The Man was keeping you down, regardless of color.

I've listed some books you might be interested in below.

I also want to read Gary Gallagher's book on how Hollywood has shaped our perceptions of the Civil War. Because, maybe it's just me, but I think of images from Gone With The Wind before I think of those black & white photos of the war dead. (Which on the one hand is a good thing, because those photographs are very gruesome.)

So there ya go.  Some things to think about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lizzie Borden Not Guilty - Her Period Did It

This is the bedroom where Lizzie Borden allegedly took a hatchet to her step-mother.

(And you can actually stay here in this room - the house is a bed & breakfast now.)

I've long known about the infamous axe murder of her parents and the fact that Lizzie was generally thought to have done it even though she was acquitted at trial.

Someone was certainly after them, as they had suffered from suspicious food poisoning. And Lizzie had bought poison at the drugstore.

So why a hatchet?

Well, according to The History of Murder and A Private Disgrace, Lizzie's father had recently chopped off the heads of her pet pigeons with a hatchet. (Makes ya wonder what was going on in that house - what a sick, cruel thing for a father to do.)  And she may have been thinking about that when she had a petit mal epileptic seizure. These are also known as absence seizures. Basically, the person suffering from the seizure can walk and talk and function but isn't conscious of their actions. Such seizures can happen during one's menstruation.

And it is a recorded fact that Lizzie Borden was menstruating on the day her parents were killed.

This was mentioned in Flow, that Lizzie committed the murders during - and due to - her period, and I was like, what? Seriously?

So I looked it up in The History of Murder and, sure enough, there it is. No wonder men are so afraid of a female with access to nuclear weapons. It's not just the PMS you have to worry about. It's the period during the period itself, as well. So that's, what, two weeks each month where women could be indiscriminately violent. As opposed to men....

Anyway, this theory was first put forth by Victoria Lincoln in A Private Disgrace, which I have yet to read. The theory about Lizzie and her period, that is, not the theory about man-fear. Obviously. Just checking that you were still reading attentively.  ;)

On top of the pigeon massacre, there were also some financial dealings with which Lizzie took issue. So money was a motive as well. And then the menstruation-instigated seizure caused her to act out her feelings.

It's an interesting solution to the crime.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Romantic Times Faery Ball 2010

This is the logo for the 2010 Faery Ball which will be held at the Romantic Times Convention in Columbus Ohio at the Hyatt Regency (350 North High St.) on Thursday April 29 at 8pm.

It's a costume dinner/dance ball, and the theme is the Elements - Earth, Fire, Water, Air.
I'm going as a Water sprite. :)
Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tenth Doctor Cover Yumminess

This is SUCH a sexy cover!  I want this as a poster.  Over my bed.  :)  And so far the book is fantastic, too!  Trevor B has really captured the Tenth Doctor - I can totally visualize this as an episode.

I also like how he is handling the Daleks. And the other characters are very well drawn and sympathetic.  And there was a Blake's 7 reference.  So I'm a happy camper.

I really liked Judgement of the Judoon, too.  Loved how Colin B gave three dimensions to the Judoon commander.  Fun read - and this one had a Tintin reference.

I'm also working on The Slitheen Excursion. This one has a bunch of in-jokes for Classics majors. If you know your Greek mythology, your Heroic Age, or even your Mary Renault, you'll get more out of this.  :)

Oh, and just in case you thought I was joking - there really are posters of Ten.  Just not of this particular artwork.  :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wuthering About HeathKitty

funny pictures of cats with captionsI saw a new-to-me version of Wuthering Heights on Netflix last night and now I'm wondering if I should watch it or not.

You see, I don't like Wuthering Heights.
Love Jane Eyre.
Really don't like Wuthering Heights. Yes, I get that Heathcliff is a classic romantic doomed hero.

But Cathy married another man!

So, instead of being HeathKitty, he should have moved on. Why did he even like her to begin with? She was mean to him, selfish and annoying.

And she married another man!

How's that going to work in the afterlife? Remember, there's that thing about how Cathy and Heathcliff are ghosts together at the end--but what's-his-name is going to be there, too, right? I mean, they're buried all in a row. Are they going to have a threesome?

But I've seen several of the other adaptations - including the Timothy Dalton (yum!) version, so I should probably watch this other one just to complete the set.

What do y'all think? Are there some Wuthering Heights fans out there who disagree with my assessment?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trial for Bastardy - 1808

Place: New York City
Time: August 1808

On Trial: Alexander Whistelo, "a black coachman"

The Story:
"Adam-colored" Lucy Williams and her black lover Alexander Whistelo had a child together, a child whom Whistelo accepted as his own until his friends (possibly named Iago?) "put it into his head that it was not his." He then refused to maintain the child, and Lucy was forced to go to the Alms-House for support.

The Alms-House objected to the community being made to support a child when the mother could name its father, and thus went after the father via the court system to make him, basically, pay child support.

Lucy swore she had always remained faithful to Alexander, so why was there confusion over the child's parentage?

Because the child was "unusually fair" with light, straight hair.

Evidence at trial centered on whether such a child could have a black father.  If it weren't for the level of obnoxiousness and bigotry, I suppose one might feel sorry for the medical "experts" called to testify, as they clearly hadn't a clue. For example:

Dr. Kissam: Black persons are almost white at their birth, but change soon after; the change is generally complete, and their true color decided in about eight or nine months; within the year it is complete.

But that wasn't all of the trial testimony - much of it revolved around Lucy's supposed sex life. Consequently, the men - doctors and lawyers - behaved like schoolboys and indulged in quite a bit of levity:

ProsecutionThe woman's testimony in one view was meritorious—it went to discharge the community from the burden of supporting a bastard child, and to oblige the true father to maintain it.

Defense (in reply): It is said her evidence was meritorious, and for the good of the community, charitable, and for the good of the Almshouse. I never before heard of such pious and patriotic fornication.

There are many different layers to this trial. One is the construction of race. Another is how illegitimacy, sex, and charity were viewed in America during the Federalist period.

And on the women's history front, we have here surfacing of a bit of ancient and troublesome, but commonly-held, folk belief - that a woman cannot get pregnant if she doesn't enjoy or consent to the sex. Yes, at one time it was considered proof that rape had not been committed if the woman became pregnant from the attack.

Hence this exchange:
Defense Attorney:  Had you not a white man in bed with you?

Lucy Williams: I had a scuffle with one once ... such a person had been in bed with me; he had turned the black man out with a pistol, and taken his place. We had a connexion but I am sure we had made no young one, for we [fought] all the while.

Lucy is certain the child is Alexander's because 1) she loves him, and 2) she fought the rapist. Therefore it simply can't be his.

This bit of personal tragedy isn't seen by the men in court, who apparently believe even being raped at gun-point is good for a laugh:

Defense Attorney: As it appears, the black man could not have got the child because it is white, nor the white man because of the fighting, it would be good to see whether the pistol-barrel could have got it?

The doctor of whom he asked the jocular question rejoins that he doesn't indulge in kinky pistol sex:
Sir James Jay, MD: Then, sir, you must inquire elsewhere, touching that matter. I have found the old practice good enough for me, and have made no experiments in the way you allude to.

In his summation, the defense attorney again dwells on the rape:
If a white man can say to a black one, get out of that bed, you black devil, till I do this thing—by division of labor, trade will be advanced—you must do your part of the duty and I mine—I will get the child and you shall father it—there will be in this manner employment for us both. Can that, may it please your Honors, be the law?

And in response to the prosecution's criticism of his experts:
What do they know, he says, more than other men? But that is not all, he goes farther and levels a shaft at your Honors on the bench, and says you have as much experience in such matters as any doctors or any persons whatsoever. Some gentlemen have a happy knack at saying anything. If I had even suspected any of your Honors of any such experience, or at all to have dipped into such matters, even from curiosity, I never should have ventured to hint at it.

The defense's tactics were successful. Despite the word of the mother traditionally being legally sufficient, the Court decided Lucy could not prove her case and Alexander was discharged from all responsibility.

It is worth pointing out again that Alexander had accepted the child as his originally.  Perhaps this trial really should have been about the so-called friends who broke up that little family.

They were true bastards.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Contest Runs Until 31 January

Don't forget to stop by Over The Edge Book Reviews, read my lovely interview and enter the contest/giveaway!  You have until 31 January....

Monday, January 25, 2010


Have you ever wondered why Americans switch hands to eat with their fork, but Europeans don't?

Yes you have. You lie awake at night, in the cold early morning, pondering life, the universe, the number 42, and why Americans eat with a zig-zag fork pattern. Admit it.

Well, now there will be one less thing to ponder in the bitter existentialist dawn because I am here to share the answer with you:

If you're American, you know the proper way to hold your dining utensils is:  fork in left hand, knife in right. After you cut your food, you release the knife and switch your fork to your right hand. Then you eat right-handed with the fork.

If you're British, you know the proper way to hold your dining utensils is: fork in left hand, knife in right. Full stop. Period.  After you cut your food, you eat left-handed with the fork.  No switching occurs.

Why the difference?

Time was, your average fork possessed two narrow tines, spaced apart, and was absolutely flat.  Sort of like a carving fork, which was basically what it was. You used it to hold the food still while you cut with your knife, then you lifted the food to your mouth with your knife's wide, flat blade.  (Remember, this was considered far more genteel than eating with your fingers.)

The technology for making utensils changed over the 1700s so by the early 1800s flatware was financially within reach of more people and, to establish your place in high society, the idea of having whole matching sets came into vogue.

At which point, etiquette moved from use-your-knife-not-your-fingers to use-your-fork-not-your-knife.

"Where, excepting among savages, shall we find any who at present eat with other than a French fork?" - The laws of etiquette, 1836

Forks weren't French, but Americans associated them with good manners, and the French were our arbiters of taste (remember, we'd fought the British twice at this point). At this time, the French ate in the zig-zag pattern, so the US did, too.

The British invented the fork-stays-in-left-hand method.

Other Europeans saw this as a "simplification" of table manners - always a good thing in an age where there was etiquette for everything - so a German etiquette book recommended the "English method" in 1832 and a French manual recommended it in 1853.

Meanwhile, patriotic Americans did not wish to be "influenced by imported manners" (Mrs. Farrar, 1830s).  So we kept to the zig-zag. And ended up being the only country that did.

Now you know. Go forth and amaze your friends at the water cooler. :)

Research from:
Ambitious Appetites: Dining, Behavior, and Patterns of Consumption in Federal Washington (Octagon Research Series)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Always On A Monday

I am going to make the attempt to post here regularly every Monday.  I figure Monday needs something to recommend it, right? :)  I'll still be posting randomly, of course. But this way you know definitely when to look for stuff. I'm told that's the way to run a blog. So we'll give it a go. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Nude That Launched a Thousand..well, One Trial

Meet Narcissus.

The original of this statue of him was discovered in Pompeii in 1862 and housed in the Naples Museum.

In 1873, an enterprising art dealer of New Bedford Massachusetts, one Charles Hazeltine, purchased a replica of this very Narcissus in Boston and displayed it in the front window of his shop.

Now, this particular shop window opened onto a very busy public street, normally a boon for a business.  However,

"the good people of this New England town were not used to nude figures, either in marble, bronze, or plaster, and very soon the sidewalk was crowded with young and old, gazing at the unaccustomed sight."

The marshal ordered Hazeltine to remove the statue from his window and when he refused, Hazeltine was arrested.  He went on trial for "exhibiting a lewd and lascivious statue."

Many citizens testified on Hazeltine's behalf, saying that of course they'd allow this statue in their homes, trying to explain that this was Art.  Perhaps they were embarrassed at how this case was making their town seem like a mad, prudish backwater.  One testified that the only reason not to have one in the house would be, "if I had a daughter of an unfortunate turn of mind."

[ah, yes, got to protect the womenfolk from seeing tiny, relaxed representations of normal body parts]

The prosecution denied that "that botch" was Art and furthermore, "if such instruments as that are necessary to teach art, then we don't want any art taught.  We have got along very well without it in New England for many years, and we can in years to come."

On the stand, Hazeltine admitted to the court, "The image is entirely nude, a male youth; the sexual organs are represented." But his defense attorney argued that anyone who could "look on this figure with anything but the loftiest sentiment must be already corrupt."

You might think he had a good point, but no, this was a slippery slope.  The anguished prosecutor protested, "If he is allowed to go on, will he not fill his window with sexual organs in all positions?"

Besides, the prosecution added, along with corrupting the populace, the statue had been causing a public scene and obstructing the thoroughfare.

To which the defense replied:
"Narcissus did not obstruct the sidewalk. He asked nobody to stop and look at him. If the street was obstructed, the marshal ought to have arrested the boys and girls who obstructed it."

The jury deliberated 9 hours, balloting 22 times, but could not come to an unanimous decision.  Charles Hazeltine was released.

What Narcissus thought about all this is unknown.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Erotic Diaries of a Victorian Seafarer in the US Navy

An American Seafarer in the Age of Sail: The Erotic Diaries of Philip C. Van Buskirk, 1851-1870 An American Seafarer in the Age of Sail: The Erotic Diaries of Philip C. Van Buskirk, 1851-1870 by Barry Richard Burg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is not what you think it's about. :)

Philip C Van Buskirk was an educated young man whose family fell on hard times. Consequently:

1) He is an outsider to the world in which he now must live. For example, although he is a common drummer boy/sailor/marine he has more in common with the officers.

2) He has beautifully clear handwriting.

His urge to record his internal life is amazing - he kept diaries for *years*. And they're mostly about his private hopes, disappointments, and thoughts - not about the places he went (China, Japan) nor the Civil War he fought in.

This is a very different record of shipboard life, and of interest to anyone who likes the Age of Sail.

The reason the title has "erotic" in it is because Van Buskirk - a moral, if not Puritan, middle-class boy - is seriously appalled at the frequency of male/male relations between other crew members. Apparently unlike the British navy, the American navy accepted these liaisons as a matter of necessity and as long as it didn't interfere with your duties all's well that ends well.

Because there was little privacy on board, Van Buskirk's diaries were often read by others. Sometimes people objected to what he wrote. Interestingly, his descriptions of male/male erotic behavior were NOT objected to, which furthers the idea that this was normative behavior.

Van Buskirk is a complex, not to say seriously messed-up, person. When he grows up, he has difficulty forming friendships with adults his own age. And thanks to Victorian America's obsession with masturbation as a direct road to death and Hell, he keeps meticulous track of his bodily fluids and constantly writes of how he despises himself.

As a narrator, you may not like him, but this window into a male mind of the mid-to-late 19th century is priceless.

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