Insult of the Week: “…these bungling imitators”

In Chapter 11 of Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui, the narrator and Lady Geraldine go for a leisurely stroll around the ornamental buildings in the grounds at Ormsby Villa. On their travels, they happen upon Mrs. O’Connor, Lady Kilrush and “a troop of hoyden young ladies” and are promptly invited to view “a poetical inscription of Lady Kilrush’s,…

The Art of Beauty: To rouge or not to rouge

Throughout our corpus of nineteenth-century novels, there are numerous references to the transformative power of cosmetics. As well as striving to survive the noxious levels of lead and arsenic in your potions and pastes, you are also tasked with achieving socially acceptable levels of rouging. According to Madam Lola Montez’s 1858 book The Art of Beauty or…

Insult of the Week: an ass and her panniers

The terminally bored aristocrat Lady Delacour, of Maria Edgeworth’s 1800 novel Belinda, declares in chapter 4 that the only reason she has made it through the last few years is her cherished enmity with her foewoman, Mrs. Luttridge: I cannot count the number of extravagant things I have done on purpose to eclipse her. We…

An injured body: novelists disapproving of novels

In chapter 5 of Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen starts off by describing the activities of Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe, but gets sidetracked rather quickly, and spends almost the entire second half in a delightful rant about the hypocrisy of novelists who deride their own genre: I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom…

Wot larx: men in ladies’ clothing edition

While characters in some of our novels adopt the typical clothing of the opposite sex for serious purposes (for example, the title character in Katherine Cecil Thurston’s Max), others – especially gentlemen – disguise themselves solely for the lolz. Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester famously dresses up as a fortune-teller in order to spy on his…

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…

Insult of the Week: Walk off, ye canting hag

This week’s insult comes courtesy of Maria Edgeworth’s The Absentee. The Widow O’Neill attempts to renew the lease on her property, but local rogue agent Nicholas Garraghty (known to the tenants as Old Nick)  won’t humour her request. ‘Take those leases off the table; I never will sign them. Walk off; ye canting hag; it’s an…

All the toads and serpents

Sir James Brooke, of The Absentee, does not relish the prospect of the return of Lady Dashfort and her daughter to these shores: ‘…one worthless woman, especially one worthless Englishwoman of rank, does incalculable mischief in a country like this, which looks up to the sister country for fashion. For my own part, as a…

Out for a jaunt

Around the turn of the 19th century, if you wanted to get around in Ireland, it seems that a jaunting-car was the main way to go.  These light two-wheeled carriages (which come in “inside” and “outside” varieties) make a number of appearances in our novel collection, and can also be found illustrating a number of…

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…

Image of the Week: Zounds!

In The Absentee, by Maria Edgeworth (1812), the lads go to visit Count O’Halloran and are ushered into his study where he has some sort of menagerie, as you do. Colonel Heathcock cries ‘Zounds! what’s all this live lumber?’ and the goat and eagle attack him, probably for speaking so foppishly. After the ensuing pratfall…