18th century clothing, 19th century clothing, authenticity, British Museum, Charlotte Smith, common dress, common people, early novels, maids, Research, watercolors
I was looking for images of maids in 1800, and came across this in the British Museum. Having no idea what Maria Temple meant by Vide Young Philosopher, I went searching. Turns out the answer is surprisingly easy: It’s a novel published in 1798 by Charlotte Smith. So it seems that what Maria Caroline Temple did was to draw a scene from a novel she’d read. I was delighted by this, as something I used to do a long time ago was to draw scenes from books I had read and loved.
With a publication date of 1798, I think we can feel pretty confident in the British Museum’s ca. 1800 date; what I was looking for was a non-satirical illustration of a maid in 1800: what did she wear, how did she comport herself? not because I haven’t been a maid in 1800 before, but because I need to be a better maid in 1800.
The things to love in this image, aside from the clothes, are the checked slipcover and window drape, the brass lock on the heavy wooden door, and the view through those wavy panes of glass. I don’t love the wallpaper, but I appreciate the evidence of it– but not as much as I appreciate the hint of drape matching that raucous slipcover.
Now I just need to hunt down an affordable copy of this clearly dramatic and romantic work of early fiction, and to find out exactly what books were being read in 1800 Rhode Island.
Finding out what kinds of books were read in 1800s Rhode Island sounds fascinating. I’d love to see a list if you find one. Maybe the Athenaeums (Athenaea?) can help.
It can be both simple and complicated. The Redwood was founded in 1747, and has been a lending library ever since, http://www.redwoodlibrary.org/history while the Athenaeum was formed officially in 1836, but amalgamated earlier libraries, including the Providence Library Company, founded in 1751. http://www.providenceathenaeum.org/history/history.html Private citizens of means also lent books to their friends and acquaintances, including the Brown family of Providence. Some of their holdings can be seen in this tumblr http://jbhbibliography.tumblr.com/ The complicated part is figuring out what people of lesser means read, though I think Julia Bowen gives us clues in her diary. Were people reading The Young Philosopher? Neither the Athenaeum nor the Redwood hold a copy, but that’s not to say their collections weren’t weeded at some point, or that early editions weren’t replaced with later ones as books wore out. Going through newspaper ads would be a good way to get at what books were being sold, and that has been fruitful for some folks in the past. Trying to imagine the culture of the past is a fascinating thing.
I’ve had some surprising luck with Google Books in the past, so I tried that . . . not sure if it’s the same one, but looks promising . . .
What a remarkable picture! The style is really fresh and different…note the expression on the maid’s face, for instance. Sure wish we knew more about the artist, other than that she was female.
Other things to note about the picture: how sharply the maid’s cap rises in front, and for the young woman, the shagged hair — a good way to see how the styles were rooted in cut; her frilled long “cloak” thrown aside, and what appears to be a menswear-styled hat (very popular), and the cut of her morning dress. Fantastic.
Had you looked at Ms. Temple’s other drawing? It’s as interesting. Lots of workwomen outdoors.
These are images to file in the memory bank!