Six Great 19th Century Novel Bakes

  There are 62 references to cake so far in our 19th- century corpus, ranging from Jane Eyre’s slightly depressing “oaten-cakes” (also found in Shelley’s Frankenstein) to the more lavish offerings of plum-cake, plum-pudding, tea-cake, sponge-cake, and cheese-cake that appear in works by Dickens, Le Fanu and others. Here are a few of the most famous – although…

Insult of the Week: may his head rot off

In chapter 15 of Bleak House, the narrator Esther Summerson and her guardian Mr. Jarndcye encounter Mr. Gridley, a passionate man from Shropshire, who is embroiled in a labyrinthine court case that has permanently soured his view of the legal system.  Although Esther (who is herself a ward in Chancery) and Mr. Jarndyce have not,…

Insult of the Week: A “stiff-necked, arrogant imbecile, pig-headed numskull”

This week’s insult is brought to you by Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. During an ongoing feud between Mr Lawrence Boythorn and Sir Leicester Dedlock over “the green pathway by the old parsonage-house” (that neither man actually seems to want), Boythorn explains their exchanges on the subject “The fellow, by his agent, or secretary, or somebody,…

Image of the Week: “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”

This week’s image is taken from Thomas Hood’s “Hood’s Own: or, Laughter from Year to Year” (1855) and aptly depicts the shenanigans of Fagin’s gang in Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838). In a humorous vignette in Chapter 10, The Artful Dodger and Charley Bates show off their pickpocketing prowess to an amused but naive  Oliver… “When the breakfast was…

Insult of the Week: “An extraordinary specimen of human fungus”

In chapter 26 of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1853), Mr. George Rouncewell and his assistant Phil Squod are busy preparing for a day of work in the shooting gallery when they are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Grandfather Smallweed and his granddaughter Judy. Mr. Smallweed describes their engagement of a hackney cab for the journey and…

Discerning drinkers?

While the Temperance Movement gained ground in the nineteenth century, authors writing about Ireland were sure to include references to drinking. In The Nun’s Curse, however, one of Charlotte Riddell’s characters is disappointed with her Guinness, while the locals are disappointed with her disappointment. Great effects spring, we know, from little causes; and had Miss Dickson, mourning…

Insult of the Week: Deftly chosen expressions of contempt, the maid edition

From our corpus it seems that even maids were subject to snarky comments about their appearance, often made by their employers. In chapter 1 of H. G Wells’ The Invisible Man, the narrator describes Mrs. Halls’ servant Millie as “her lymphatic maid”: “Mrs. Hall lit the fire and left him there while she went to prepare…

London language in 19th century novels

I pricked up my ears (figuratively speaking) at this intriguing post by Roger Pocock of the Windows into History blog, in which he discusses a list of local words from late 18th and early 19th-century London. This fascinating list was first published in 1803, in Samuel Pegge’s book Anecdotes of the English Language: Chiefly Regarding…

A tip for sobering up

In Great Expectations Pip, Joe and Mr Wopsle visit a tavern, where a few drinks are consumed. Joe’s sobering-up methods are somewhat unconventional but perhaps worth a try? Joe went all the way home with his mouth wide open, to rinse the rum out with as much air as possible. #wotlarx

Insult of the Week: Blockhead

It seems ‘blockhead’ was a popular insult in the nineteenth century. In our corpus Emma tops the league table of blockheads with three, but Austen also employs it in Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, where the caddish Willoughby proclaims: though I have been always a blockhead, I have not been always a rascal So…

Nineteenth-century lolz

In Great Expectations, Pip’s note-writing looks remarkably like a (drunk?) text message: MI DEER JO i OPE U R KR WITE WELL i OPE i SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF…