Saturday, 25 May 2013

HSF Challenge 10 - Literature. Part 1: Inspiration and Thoughts what followed

The Challenge: #10: Literature - due May 20. In this challenge make something inspired by literature: whether you recreate a garment or accessory mentioned in a book, poem or play, or dress your favourite historical literary character as you imagine them.

To be all honest, I am not very good with these challenges. I usually tend to follow my own schedule, and even if I manage to finish a challenge, I either lack pictures, or miss the timeframe to post them or loose the interest posting them. 
The Literature Challenge though was a challenge I was keen to enter, as I love to read. But what to make? What character, what dress? In the end, it's not as simple as that, as there is much more to women's life than just Mr. Darcy.

I've recently read the Memoirs of Hortense de Beauharnais (Daughter of Joséphine Bonaparte, Hortense implies to me the romantic image of the early 19th century, this mixture of good education, taste and melancholia. But if you read about her marriage, you can actually understand her) - and it struck me - she lost her father, when she was but a teenager (guillotined), she lost one of her children at a very young age. And the thought started forming: How many women, in literature but also real women suffered severe losses in the Period between the Directoire and the Restauration?
Nearly every woman would have suffered a loss - a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a child, a husband. The line between life and death was so small, and so easily crossed. Let's remember Elinor & Marianne:
"Mr Harris was punctual in his second visit; - but he came to be disappointed in his hopes of what the last would produce. His medicines had failed; - the fever was unabated; and Marianne only more quiet - not more herself - remained in an heavy stupor. Elinor, catching all and more than all, his fears in a moment, proposed to call in farther advice. But he judged it unnecessary; he had still something more to try, some fresh application, of whose success he was almost as confident as the last, and his visit concluded with encouraging assurances with reached the ear, but could not enter the heart, of Miss Dashwood. She was calm, except when she thought of her mother, but she was almost hopeless; and in this state she continued till noon, scarcely stirring from her sisters's bed, her thoughts wandering from one image of grief, one suffering friend to another, and her spirits oppressed to the utmost by the conversation of Mrs Jennings, who scrupled no to attribute the severity and danger of this attack, to the many weeks of previous indisposition which Marianne's disappointment had brought on." Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility
We all know that Marianne recover. But what we most of the time forget: Elinor was in risk of losing a beloved sister, only months of having lost a father. The loss of a close relative is a simple matter of fact in the literature of the time, I concentrate here on Austen, because she's best known to most participants of the HSF - think of Anne Elliott's mother. Of the threat of losing Mr Bennett, of Emma Woodhouse's mother - but also remember that Kleist's Marquise von O lost her husband. 
If we venture a bit further into the 19th century, we have Tolstoy looking back - and again - it's the red line - by the end of the book Natascha Rostova would have lost a brother (Petja), her ex-fiance and love Andrej - both during the war - even her father. Maria Bolkonskaya lost her sister in law (childbirth), her brother (war) and her father. 

Closer to home - at Wildegg the writer of the château's records, Sophie von Erlach, a very sophisticated and learned lady, lost a friend Marie Louise Saint-Simon Montléart in 1804 who was buried in the woods behind the château. And until this day, each evening music is played each evening (nowadays of course from a tape) out there in the forest, where amidst trees and sprouting life a young woman was laid to rest, and sweetly remembered by her writing friend for many decades to come. 
As we can see, in this period of classicists ideals, we have romanticism preparing. We're only a couple of years away from painters as Caspar David Friedrichs wonderful paintings full of longing and melancholia, or this wonderful work by Carl Gustav Carus: 

I simply asked myself - how can I render homage to all the women who's stories, fictional and real inspire us, and how to be close to the thousands of women who's stories remained untold? The black dress would be the link, and while it's not all "mourning" I could still use it in a more fashionable context. (Another advantage in my eyes: Ink-stains will never show...)

The custom of mourning wasn't yet so strictly observed yet as it's in Victorian England, but most women would have had to wear black for a couple of months, and if misfortune prevailed, more often than they would have liked to. When I started with the colour boards on Pinterest, I sorted black into its own category. (By now the colour boards are a team-effort, several friends are contributing and the database is growing steadily). And while some paintings are clearly depicting a state of mourning, others were very fashionable, daring even. 

Comtesse Vilain XIIII (1780-1853), wife of Philippe Vilain XIIII, who was ennobled by Napoleon in 1811. She was lady-in-waiting to the Empress Marie-Louise. After the fall of Napoleon she had to escape to Brussels, where David, also in exile, fulfilled the portrait. In the portrait the Comtesse is with her five-year-old daughter, Louise. Her husband was still alive, when this painting was commissioned.

Portrait of Ann Penington, by Gilbert Stuart, 1805. The silhouette in her hands is some how saying: It's not just me, there would have been another girl in this picture, if only... 

But I also encountered some remarkable ladies, what gave me the impression "Live goes on, mourning doesn't last forever" - and had my interest in stark colour contrast spiked (I love strong contrasts. White with red. White with dark blue. White with black. Why not black with Red and white?)

Zacarías González Velázquez (Spanish, 1763-1834) Portrait of a Lady with a Fan (Retrato de dama con abanico), c.1805-10 Oil on canvas

Fabric:  fine black linen
Pattern:  my own
Year:  1796-98
Notions: black yarn, some ribbon for the coulisses.
How historically accurate is it?:  I think quite accurate, At least accurate enough that it would not fall out of everyday life if transported back in time. The dress is hand-sewn, with appropriate stitches for the time, the fabric cut into period width panels before starting to cut them, the thread-count quite the norm for period weaves.
Hours to complete:  not that many, actually. I can't really say, as I worked on and off for about 6 days, it was just some sort of "lazy" project when I didn't want to think.
First worn:  May 25, 2013 at the Gheidkreuz near Olten for the pictures. 
Total cost:  As I only had to buy the linen, I dare say about EUR 40.-? 
Props for the photoshoot:  Ewald Christian von Kleist "Sämtliche Werke" - edition of 1790 (no, not the same Kleist as the one with the Marquise von O), some handwritten letters from my correspondents. The earrings are not real coral, but from the 1950's (the weight is close to real coral, and they are facetted, but I don't like buying new coral as they are endangered, and period one cost an arm and a leg. The necklace is period coral see-pearls though, the re-threading took about 3hrs per strand. The embroidered veil is from the first half of the 20th century, the silk shawl a simple bit of plumetis-silk.

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