Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lampblacked and Straitlaced

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

That's my brain right now. Why? Because of what was supposed to be the opening sentence of this post: Whatever else defined the old west, it is a product of the Victorian era. 

The idea has taken hold and won't let go. The trouble is, instead of a cohesive article, all I can come with are fragments that illustrate the Victorian influence in American culture and the western genre.

Victorian Britain was at the height of it's political and economic power. Post Civil War America was at the beginning of its rise. The war had sped up industrialization. Some got rich. Many got poorer. In Britain, there were opportunities for adventure, wealth or just a fresh start, in the far-flung corners of the Empire. In America, there was The West.

Hard work and self-restraint were highly valued. In fiction, the adventure hero took readers, whose world was becoming increasingly urbanized, to wild places where determination and common sense won the day. The British "stiff upper lip" isn't so different from the laconic western hero who dismisses the pain of a bullet wound as "jest a nick."

Women were supposed to be modest and chaste. Makeup, which had once been worn by men and women of fashion, had fallen out of favor. Queen Victoria decreed that makeup was only respectable when worn for the stage. Off stage, women who looked heavily made up were considered vulgar.

Painted ladies were found in saloons and whore houses. Respectable matrons would use creams and lotions to maintain their "natural" beauty. Young ladies might enhance their eyelashes with lampblack or use a little berry juice on their lips. Mostly, they were advised to pinch their cheeks and bite their lips in lieu of blush and lipstick.

Queen Victoria was famous for maintaining and enforcing a strict moral code. The Victorian era is famous for repressed sexuality. Women were supposed to be modest, maternal and not given to lustful feelings or behavior. The term Victorian is synonymous with straitlaced. And yet young Victoria writes about her wedding night:
"He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! ... to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief!"
Victoria experienced passion just as Marly does in Under A Texas Star:
Careful not to pull her hand free of his, she stood and straddled his lap. With her other hand, she reached up and touched his cheek. Then, with only a moment of hesitation, she kissed him.
Surprised, Jase pulled back. But something in her eyes must have melted the last bit of his resolve. He drew her into his arms and kissed her hard and deep.
Marly was in heaven.
As I said, not my most cohesive article. But at least it has a Happily Ever After ending. 


The Walrus and the Carpenter, Louis Carroll


Lyn Horner said...

Alison, I'd never seen that quote from Victoria before. Quite revealing! She did love her prince!

Thanks for your interesting info about Victorian ladies and how they regarded makeup.

Devon Matthews said...

Alison, I have a reference book here titled "Timeless Beauty--Advice to Ladies & Gentlemen" by Lola Montez. I thought it would be a great reference because Lola Montez actually lived in the old west. She give beauty tips and advice on social behavior between the sexes. Let me just say, it is bizarre.

Paty Jager said...

Fun post! I didn't realize makeup was decreed unfit by Queen Victoria. I always learn something here!

Alison E. Bruce said...

I was looking for references to what Amabelle Egan might do. She's the town belle who almost falls for Marly Landers when she thinks Marly is a boy. Turns out I didn't use any of my research directly, but it came in handy as you see.

Alison E. Bruce said...

There was another tidbit from her daughter, who was entrusted with transcribing and editing her mother's journals after the Queen died. Evidently, Victoria never said "We are not amused." In fact, she often was amused to the point of uproarious laughter.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I'll have to look for that. I have this back-story brewing for Marly's Aunt Adele that might need some of that information.

Ron Scheer said...

Good post. A paragraph or two about Lily Langtry would fit into the argument nicely.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thanks Ron. Don't suppose you'd like to provide that paragraph or two, would you?

Jacquie Rogers said...

Victorian attitudes definitely influenced behavior, especially back East. Here's a case where point of view is ever so important because a woman raised in New York who emigrated to Colorado would have a whole lot different outlook than one born and raised in Colorado.

And I agree, bring on Lily Langtry! A whole article, actually. :)