Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Evelina Group Read

Hello my dears! I'm very excited to be done with my coursework- not only for the semester but, in theory, forever- as I have just passed my qualifying exams. What a relief it is! Not only have my scientific peers approved my candidacy for the PhD, but now I have more time for blogging and reenacting and sewing. Huzzah!

One thing I always told myself I would do once I was done with my coursework is catch up on my 18th century research and my pleasure reading. As it turns out, the lovely Duchess of Devonshire has been so kind as to provide an opportunity for me to do both. She is assembling an online book club- what a marvelous modern age we live in!- for the purposing of discussing Fanny Burnley's Evelina. As I have been wanting to add this book to my repertoire for some time, and I now have the time, I'm glad to be joining in on the discussion, and I urge you all, dear readers, to do the same.

I just started reading last night and I am having great difficulty putting it down. Perhaps when I have finished this one I can finally tackle Tom Jones again. (Apparently all the ladies want to tackle Tom Jones...)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Remember the Ladies

Greetings, my dears. Some of you may know that my birthday just passed on March 31. I shall refrain from revealing my age, though it is fair to say that I am fast approaching what one might call "maturity." However, I had a lovely celebration with good friends, presents, and of course, a delicious cake prepared by yours truly.

I was very excited to discover this morning that a famous and oft-quoted letter from Abigail Adams to her husband John was written on my birthday in 1776. Abigail and John kept a long correspondence through his years as Congressman in Philadelphia, and John often sought his wife's advice on many matters. As marriages go, theirs was, I believe, one to be envied even by today's standards. The love and friendship they felt for each other is all too apparent in their letters to each other. I am certain her passing, eight years before John's, was very difficult for him to bear.

In the letter in question Abigail makes certain recommendations to her husband (and the Continental Congress as whole) on the treatment of women by this budding American republic. Abigail writes as a woman of the 18th century; she does not argue the idea that females are the weaker sex and require the protection of men. However, she points out that if men abuse their position as protector, the ladies will surely "foment a Rebelion"- and a rebellion in stays would most assuredly be a very sexy one.

Below is an excerpt from the letter:

"I long to hear that you have declared an independancy--and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

"That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness."

[You may note there are some spelling errors in her letter. Keep in mind that there was no standardized spelling in those days, and rest assured that Abigail was an educated, intelligent woman.]

It is often disputed whether Abigail could be considered an early feminist (ah, the hideous F-word). I would argue that, for her time, she most certainly was. It is all too easy to impose modern standards or definitions on events and people of the past, but it is important to ever remember context. Yes, Abigail accepted her societal role as requiring the protection of her husband. However, she went so far as to recommend that men treat their wives as friends (and dare I say, almost equals), rather than "vassals of your Sex." A bold assertion for a woman of her time, and one which, to be honest, we women still assert today. Of course Mrs. Adams was certainly no shining ideal for the feminist movement (I doubt few, if any, women could fill such a role), but she is a figure in American history who had at least the beginnings of the right idea.

I hope you all enjoyed these words from the incomparable Abigail Adams. I'm resolved to write more about her, and her husband, as they are two of my most favorite figures in American history, and I am currently plodding (thanks to grad school, not lack of interest) through David McCullough's biography on John, which is excellently written. For now, I will leave you with a clip of John and Abigail from one of my favorite period films, "1776." While it's far from accurate- the ladies' costumes make me cringe a little, and I doubt very much that John Adams was much of a singer- the songs do in fact take their lyrics from actual letters between John and Abigail. (The line about "Cupid's Grove," however, was actually taken from a diary entry about the girl John courted before Abigail, Hannah Quincy. Ooof. Perhaps it was a favorite turn of phrase for John. I imagine in a age where so much romance was conducted with the written word, one must recycle one's cleverer bits occasionally.) Just as John and Abigail ended their letters, their duets end with the words "Til then."

For those of you who have never seen "1776," there will be a review coming one of these days. And yes, that is Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) of "Boy Meets World" singing his heart out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ladies of Pleasure: Marquise Elle Reviews "Fanny Hill" and "Moll Flanders"

I know, I know- over a year and no posts? It's simply unforgivable. But grad school is indeed a cruel mistress who will spank you with a spiked paddle if you don't behave.

And on that note, here is my review of the BBC series "Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure," which for some reason was only two episodes long. I'd like to preface this review by saying that I haven't yet read the novel, written by John Cleland in 1748 (it's on my long list of 18th century novels to read). From what I can tell, the series follows the book fairly closely but actually cleans up the story considerably- rather the opposite of what you might expect, but make no mistake, the 18th century novel is dirtier than the 21st century adaptation. Those of you who like to think that the 1700s were a time of delicate sensibilities (in other words, if you look at the 18th century through a 19th century glass), may want to read that last statement over a few more times and let it sink in before we proceed.

First of all, I'm not sure if the language of the series reflects the language of the book, but at times it was downright corny. Maybe it's because it was made in England (no offense to any of my English readers), but there was this stifling yet hilarious attempt to say dirty things in an "18th century" way, rather than just come right out with a dirty word (as, say, a prostitute might have done). Example: Fanny refers to one man's rather impressive member as "a positive maypole." For all I know, this language was taken directly from the book, so perhaps it was simply the actress's delivery of the lines which made it sound so ridiculous. Either way it was fairly distracting. Also, Fanny's introduction to sex seemed a bit rushed and unrealistic- her first sexual encounter (with another girl, Phoebe) was so silly that my flatmate ended up leaving the room in disgust. This is, however, straight out of the book (and probably cleaned up), so it's difficult for me, having not read the novel, to know who to blame.

Plot aside, I both loved and hated the costumes. Many of them were absolutely lovely, particularly the finer clothes, but there were several glaring inaccuracies, the most annoying being Fanny's inability to tuck her hair up under her cap properly. I get it, she's a loose woman, etc., but if you're trying to get that point across, why bother putting her in a cap at all? (Or at least have her cover her hair before she becomes a prostitute, then let it hang down once she's embraced her vocation.) There was also an abundance of caps that resembled shower caps, and a few shifts with full-length sleeves- in other words, the kinds of mistakes you see at reenactments, which should be inexcusable in a well-researched series or film (and really, inexcusable at reenactments as well, thanks to the internet). The series also suffers from PotC-syndrome (also known as "what part of the 18th century is this again?" disorder). For example, in one scene Fanny is wearing a zone gown that wouldn't have been seen until thirty or forty years after the novel takes place, which is sort of like seeing bell-bottomed jeans, platforms, and an Afro on a character in a 1930s film noir. There are also examples where the costume designer started out on the right track, but then stopped just short of the mark: if I may draw your attention to the picture at the left, you may notice that Miss Hill's stays are accurately constructed, but aren't laced properly (and call me crazy, but I think her shift is made out of that imitation linen they sell at Jo-ann Fabrics). In short, we have evidence of a lazy costume designer: one who started out by looking at period clothing, but in the end made certain choices based on what would look correct or attractive to a 21st century viewer.

There was one glaring anachronism in the series that I would be amiss not to point out. Fanny claims that Mrs. Coles's motto is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." First of all, this was the maxim of one Aleister Crowley, famous/infamous occultist who was born in 1875, over 100 years after the publication of "Fanny Hill." More importantly, however, its use in the context of the series completely subverts its meaning. By "will," Crowley was referring to one's "true will," or intended path in life, not "whatever strikes your fancy." I might excuse this misuse of the motto, and chalk it up to some scriptwriter being a fan of Crowley's, but surely a fan would know the true meaning behind the statement? Perhaps, being a fan of Crowley's myself, I'm just splitting hairs here, but ascribing the words of the Great Beast to the owner of a small-time bawdy house- and using the quotation out of context!- is just too too much.

Silly euphemisms and poor costuming choices aside, I did enjoy "Fanny Hill" overall. It has your typical 18th century bawdy novel plot: virtuous people are sinful, sinful people are virtuous (though some sinful people are just plain jerks), there are a few highly improbable coincidences, and all's well in the end. Huzzah.

Now on to "Moll Flanders," another adaptation of an 18th century novel I haven't read. I was going to make this a separate blog entry but I don't have very much to say about it. The film takes one element from the novel- the fact that Moll was born in a prison- and then the plot takes a left at Improbable Avenue and Bananas Boulevard. In short, it has nothing to do with the 18th century novel. As a stand-alone film it's not that groundbreaking, either. I love Robin Wright Penn (as a long-time fan of "The Princess Bride"), but I don't think any actress, no matter how talented, could have made the character of Moll Flanders believable. As in many period films, the female lead character of this one is headstrong, quirky, and unafraid to follow her passions- in a way that seems totally out of place for the time period. Unlike Glenn Close's Marquise de Merteuil (I swear I will review "Dangerous Liaisons" one of these days), who becomes a liberated woman by making the system work for her, Moll seems unaware that there is a system at all. In other words, she is your typical empowered yet two-dimensional 21st century female character who has somehow been dropped into the 18th century (or any other century) by mistake. I could list characters like these until I turn blue: Anne Howard in "The Patriot," Veronica Franco in "Dangerous Beauty," any character played by Keira Knightley...

The film is, on the whole, pretty anemic. The plot is ludicrous and predictable, the costumes and makeup are schizophrenic, and while there are a few notable quotes much of the dialogue is desperately trying to sound poetic but in the end only comes up as forced (much like in "Dangerous Beauty"... food for thought). The writer/producer/director, Pen Densham, also wrote/produced "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" with Kevin Kostner, if that tells you anything (and it should). In short, this movie has only one saving grace: Morgan Freeman.

As strange as it felt to have Morgan Freeman running around 18th century England, I can't express what a joy it was to see. First off, the combination of early-18th century flowing frock coat and cocked hat with long braids transformed the quiet, solid Morgan Freeman of "Shawshank Redemption" and "Se7en" into Morgan Freeman: Gentleman Adventurer of the High Seas. My favorite scene in the entire film, hands down, was watching Freeman cold clock a man on the street for making a racist comment. Not even his wandering accent could detract from the sheer awesomeness of 18th century Morgan Freeman. I think he even out-shone his own bad-assery in "Red." So to sum up, Morgan Freeman has the ability to be a shining beacon of awesome in any bad or mediocre movie: "Robin Hood," "Brice Almighty," and now this. Well, done, M.F. I guess we know what your initials really stand for.

So that sums up my reviews of "Fanny Hill" and "Moll Flanders": two women of pleasure who brought me very little. Stay tuned, my lovelies, for your marquise is back with a vengeance!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Marquise Elle Reviews "A Harlot's Progress"

What a naughty marquise I've been this past month! How naughty, you ask? Why, terribly so- I've neglected to write to you! (Whatever did you think I meant?)

I just viewed the 2006 film "A Harlot's Progress," starring Toby Jones as William Hogarth. As you may have guessed, the film follows Hogarth's famous series of engravings with the same title. If you are unfamiliar with the work, do look it up; it is an invaluable snapshot of 1730s London, at once charming and repugnant. Wikipedia has a lovely write-up about it with detailed descriptions of each scene:

Go on, take a look. I'll wait.


Wonderful, wasn't it? I highly recommend his other pieces as well ("A Rake's Progress," which I mentioned in a past post, and "Marriage a la Mode" are wonderful).

Now, back to the business at hand. The film implies that the harlot in question was indeed a real person, and that Hogarth shared an intimate relationship with her (well, if one instance of rather awkward sex counts as intimate- but I suppose what I'm getting at is more of an emotional intimacy). It follows the events of Hogarth's series, interwoven with Hogarth's personal life and his relationship with Mary the "harlot." We even get a few glimpses of Henry Fielding, a good friend and admirer of Hogarth's, mostly being a party animal (though what more could you expect from the author of Tom Jones?).

All in all, I thought the film was splendid. The filming reminded me of "Barry Lyndon"- which I simply must review in full at some point- in that it had the same flat, painting-like character where everything is in sharp focus, making it difficult to determine depth. The engravings are incorporated seamlessly into the film, as well as reproductions of the paintings (I assume they are reproductions, as the originals were sadly lost in a fire in 1755). The casting was excellent, as if the characters had stepped out of the engravings and into the film. There were also elements in the production which reminded me of "From Hell" and "Sweeny Todd," in the rapid camera work and choice of ambient music, that gave the London of the past a dingy, squalid, claustrophobic feel. The story itself was captivating and very believable. I also appreciated the captions at the bottom of the screen, inserted here and there with background information of all sorts, giving an even greater impression of the Zeitgeist of the time and place.

And did I mention the costumes? Invariably when I watch a period film, particularly one set in the 18th century, I am very attentive to the costume choices, and very vocal about any mistakes I notice. ("Are those buttons running down the front of his shirt?" "Why aren't these women wearing caps?" "Is that a back-laced dress on a grown woman?" "SHOWER CAP!") But while watching this film, all I could do was stare in awe of the amazingly accurate costume design. It even gave me a few ideas for my own sewing! The opulent garments of the wealthy were stunning, yet at the same time the costumes of the poor were incredibly convincing- dirty, tattered, worn. Even the choices for different age groups were spot-on: older men wore the larger coats and ponderous wigs that were more fashionable in their youth, while Hogarth and pals wore more "modern" styles. Of course, much of this was probably gleaned from the engravings themselves, but it was wonderful to see the incredible attention to detail. Of course this attention was not only seen in the costumes- the entire film was Hogarth's work come to life.

I don't generally gush about period films- I tend to be overly critical of them if anything- but I was more than impressed with this film. I highly recommend it, Netflix has it, go forth and see it for yourself!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Shape in Neat Stays

Beauty and Fashion

Then of late, you're so fickle that few people mind you;
For my part, I can never tell where to find you;
Now drest in a cap, now naked in none,
Now loose in a mob, now close in a Joan;
Without handkerchief now, and now buried in ruff,
Now plain as a Quaker, now all of a puff;
Now a shape in neat stays, now a slattern in jumps,
Now high in French heels, now low in your pumps;
Now monstr'ous in hoop, now trapish, and walking
With your petticoats clung to your heels, like a maulkin;
Like the cock on the tower, that shews you the weather,
You are hardly the same for two days together.

-London Magazine, 1762

Stays (the English word for "corset" in the 18th century) are a wonderful garment that I personally wish had never gone out of style. They support the back, promote good posture, and give women of every size a gorgeous shape. (Not to mention what they do for the girls- is there anything more appealing than a pushed-up bust?) It is a personal pet peeve of mine (and of many reenactresses) when I hear descriptions of how uncomfortable, unhealthy, and impractical 18th century corsets were- and this often from people who are supposed to be in the know! It is one thing for the writers of "Pirates of the Caribbean" to be misinformed on the subject (afterall, they can't even seem to decide what year the movie takes place in- the Golden Age of Piracy was 1690-1720, and yet the costumes of the movie drift idly from 1740 to 1780), but it really puts my knickers in a twist when supposedly reputable educational sources start bashing the practice of wearing stays (as in this article). So, here I hope to argue against some of the more popular misconceptions regarding an item of clothing that I take great joy in wearing, and perhaps I will convince more than one lady out there with an antiquated sense of fashion to give them a try.

1. Stays are uncomfortable. This is the big one. Let me start by saying right now that I have been wearing corsets of the 18th century and 19th century style (and yes, there is a difference! see #5) for the past few years, and provided that the garment fits you properly, you should NOT feel any discomfort. But as Hamlet would say, there's the rub- it is very difficult to find a corset that fits you without having it made specifically to your measurements. (The great burlesque artist Dita von Teese knows this, and in this
interview she says she never wears a corset that hasn't been custom made to fit her. Incidentally, she can get her waist down to a remarkable 16"!) The reason for this is simple: stays and corsets are garments that are meant to fit and support your body exactly. Imagine wearing a bra that was entirely the wrong size, or jeans that were too tight and too short. You wouldn't be very comfortable, would you?

2. Stays make it so you can't move/breathe.
"I think I'm going to faint!" I'm sick to death of that old chestnut. (Except when Aunt Pittypat does it in "Gone with the Wind"- then it's positively droll.) First of all, the frail damsel fainting dead away is one of those remnants of the Victorian mindset, when an attractive, well-bred woman was supposed to be delicate and easily distressed. It's amazing how much of history is STILL being viewed through the Victorian-tinted glass. (The Golden Age of Piracy being one victim of Victorian sensibility- I'm looking at YOU again, PotC!) But let's forget about that for a moment and get practical. Stays were not strictly an upper class garment. Stays were worn by everyone. That includes the lower class, servants, and working women. (Whether slaves here in America wore them often is not yet known, but I believe there is evidence that at least some of them- house slaves perhaps- did.) Stays were meant to be lived in, worked in- they supported the body. In fact, stays were considered so necessary for a woman's well-being that there were charities formed with the sole purpose of providing stays to poor women. Now, if stays restrict your movements and suppress your breathing, how exactly are you supposed to work effectively? I would argue that if anything, stays facilitate the kind of work that women had to do around the house. For lifting heavy objects like firewood and pails of water, and supporting your back when sitting on a backless stool, there really is nothing better than a well-made set of stays.

But I'd hate to make some sort of supposition about working women wearing stays without backing it up with some hard evidence. Luckily, this past weekend I picked up a copy of "The Servants Directory, Improved; or House-Keepers Companion," by H. Glass, published in 1762. Mr. Glass advises house maids to "be up very early in the morning, as indeed you are first wanted; lace on your stays, and pin your things tight about you, or you never can do work well." Well said, Mr. Glass.

3. Stays were made with whalebone. This is only partly true. The "boning" in stays was actually made from baleen, the plates in whale's mouths that they use to filter plankton out of the water for food, which are made of keratin (the same stuff that makes hair, fingernails, and horns). If you've ever handled dry bones before, or anything carved from bone, you'll know that bone is either very brittle, or very strong and inflexible, neither of which would make for good stays. Baleen, on the other hand, is quite flexible- in fact, many historical clothing makers swear that plastic is the next best thing to baleen for making stays. Steel boning didn't come into use until the 19th century, but it is less flexible than baleen and doesn't breathe as well, which is probably why all those Victorian ladies were fainting left and right. (I kid.)

4. Tight-lacing was widely practiced in the 18th century. What a joke! That's like saying everyone today wears a girdle, because it's fashionable to be skinny! Not to mention everything we went over in point #2- it's simply wouldn't be practical for most women to tight-lace. In fact, tight-lacing was widely looked down upon as being unhealthy (which evidence seems to support, although some modern women swear that it's not provided you properly train your body for it), not to mention vain. There are a number of very funny extent cartoons on the subject, including the one I put in my first post.

5. 18th century stays and 19th century corsets are the same. Not so! When most people think of corsets they think of the "hourglass" or "wasp-waist" figure. The hourglass ideal didn't come into being until the Victorian era, after the straight lines of the high-waisted era (think Jane Austen) went out of vogue. In the eighteenth century, the fashionable shape was more like an ice cream cone with a flat front. (For those of us with a narrow bust, like me, it may come out more like a cylinder. Sigh.)



In fact, stays so alter the shape of one's torso, that a gown that fits you when you're wearing stays probably won't fit if you're not wearing them. In my experience, this is because the stays compress the bust and push it upwards; without the stays, the bust sticks out too far to fit in the gown. Overall, 18th century stays tend to compress the body less than the 19th century corset, in that the former molds to your body and holds it in place, while the latter compresses the lower torso and waist to create the desired shape. Even so, I've worn corsets in the 19th century style, and I can honestly say that as long as you wear one that fits and you don't try to lace it too tightly, it can be quite comfortable.

In short, there are a lot of myths and notions out there about stays that simply aren't true. I personally love to wear stays, and I know I'm not alone in this sentiment. They're wonderfully supportive, surprisingly comfortable, and so flattering! But don't take my word for it- ask Glenn, Uma, and Kirsten. Just don't ask Keira.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Crewel Mistress: The Pretty Pocket

One of many things I love about the 18th century- or really any period dominated by handmade/ homemade items- is how much beauty was incorporated into everyday objects. Of course if you were wealthy, you wanted to show that off by having elaborate or lavish things, but even those of modest means took the time to embellish their everyday items by carving, painting, and other methods.

Even items that weren't normally meant to be seen in public were often very intricately decorated. No, I'm not talking about unmentionables- the only real "underwear" a woman had in the 18th century was her shift, and as far as I know those were not embellished, except maybe with ruffles at the neck or cuffs, which would have shown at the edges of the gown anyway. (The lack of decoration on a shift was probably a practical consideration. It was the closest thing to your skin and got dirtied by sweat/body soil sooner than anything else you wore, and so needed to be laundered relatively frequently. Laundry practices were harsh in those days, and a shift needed to be able to stand up to a considerable amount of abuse.) But there are many extant examples of gorgeously decorated pockets.

Women's pockets in the 18th century were not sewn into clothes as they were on men's garments; they were more like a bag that you tied around your waist. There may have been a number of reasons for this, which I won't go into here. Whatever the reasons, it is generally agreed upon that pockets were meant to be worn under the petticoat(s), and accessed via pocket slits in the petticoat (and sometimes the gown). Whenever you see a visible pocket in 18th century art, it's usually because the woman wearing it is in a state of undress. I've also heard of examples of merchant women wearing them on the outside, presumably for easy access, but I've never seen any.

Now, because the pocket was never seen except by the woman wearing it (and the man undressing her, but I'm sure he wasn't looking at her pockets), some find it puzzling that there are so many extant examples of finely decorated pockets in museums and private collections. There are even those that say that these fancy pockets prove that sometimes a woman would wear her pockets on the outside to show them off. I don't really agree with this viewpoint. First and most importantly because there isn't really any evidence to support it, but also because it doesn't make much sense from a practical standpoint. Pockets couldn't be closed like a purse, and wearing them on the outside would only increase the chances of having something fall out or get stolen. Plus, it would throw the whole silhouette off, having bulges at your hips outside of your skirts. I can't say for certain that it was NEVER done ("never" and "always" are dangerous words when discussing history) but I do think it was unlikely.

The prettiest pockets, in my opinion, are the ones that have been decorated with crewel work: designs worked in two-ply wool thread in various (usually bright) colors. The most common theme seems to have been the natural world- birds, leaves, flowers, anything that lent itself to a gracefully curving shape. Remember the Rococo love of natural curves! Crewel work was done on other items as well, but I really love to see it on pockets. It's like wearing a really cute pair of panties- it's your own adorable little secret. And there's something quaint and homey about it. It lacks the pomp and expense of silk, and instead looks like something your grandma would make for you, something special and personal.

I'm dying to learn how to do crewel work myself (one of many hobbies I plan to pick up eventually), and since I love it so much, you can imagine how thrilled I was to find it in- of all places- IKEA. I saw this lovely pillow and just about fainted from the excitement. "It looks just like an 18th century pocket!" I said, and the urge to buy a truckload of them was almost too strong to withstand. But, I told myself, I have plenty of throw pillows, and I certainly don't need to spend $25 on another one. But then, I came across this and I was determined to make it mine. Unfortunately they appeared to be out of the large ones, but I found one last little one on display and got a very nice employee to take it down for me and find its item number. Well, I needed a lamp for the new nightstand I was buying anyway. But I drew the line at the toile de jouy sheets (I can't find a link, but I assure you, they are divine), which shows that I have some restraint, afterall.

I can't tell you how much I adore IKEA, and after finding these little snatches of my favorite century there, I love it all the more. And I can't wait to build my new nightstand, so I can embellish it with my new, lovely lamp, and bring a little beauty into the everyday, 18th century-style.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An 18th Century Mood

Greetings, my little pink-cheeked cherubs! I've been away, but I have not forgotten our sweet moments together, here in my cozy little lair, tucked safely into my corner of the World Wide Web. And I have brought you gifts! Delicious tidbits and sweetmeats for the mind to savour!

Today, I wish to share with you the concept of the 18th century ambiance. Like all things romantic, ambiance is fickle and tricky, yet flows easily when the mood is right. In our fast-paced, electric world full of modern conveniences, we want to recreate a more natural, more hand-made world, that still has an opulent feel. How do we achieve this?

1. Lighting
Many a great film director knows of the power of good (or bad) lighting, and no one in my mind has used it to better effect than Stanley Kubrick in his film adaptation of The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. Like many others, when I first saw "Barry Lyndon," I thought it was drawn out and a tad dull. But something kept bringing me back to it, enticing me to try again. Well, I am certainly glad I did.

The film as a visual work is breath-taking. Many (but not all, contrary to myth) of the scenes were shot without any use of artificial light- some indoor evening scenes were shot only by candlelight!

"Does this lighting make me look pale? Wonderful!"

Kubrick also used special lenses to make the picture flat, so that the entire film would resemble a moving painting. Arty!

The take home message here is-
natural lighting. Flickering candles, the warm glow of a crackling fire, the ghostly cast of a tin lamp. Nervous about fire? There are some truly wonderful electric candles out there that can give an effect that's almost as good (my grandmother used to keep some in the windows of the sun porch, and turn them on every night).
If you're feeling particularly lavish, go for a crystal chandelier.

2. Music

The most obvious choice is, of course, period music, and classical seems to be the most logical. Bach, Handel, Haydn, Vivaldi, and of course, Mozart.

Of course, this is hardly the only music that was available during the Age of Enlightenment. What about the popular ballads of the day? What about music for English country dance? If you're feeling bawdy, how about a drinking song? has a wonderful collection for your perusal:

Still, we're looking for a mood here, and not necessarily something that's strictly period. In that vein, I'd like to recommend the following albums:

a. The Decemberists - Hazards of Love
I'll admit it, I adore absolutely anything that Colin Meloy creates. The man has a way of capturing an antiquated feel in all his music. But the Decemberists' latest concept album, Hazards of Love has a particularly rococo feel to it (there's even a song all about a rake- A Rake's Progress, perhaps?) and yet, it's totally modern. A love story, a rock opera, and a very progressive bit of music in it's own right. And it's absolutely gorgeous!

b. Loreena McKennitt - The Book of Secrets
A beautiful album with a really mystical feel. It even contains a musical adaptation of Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman."

c. the Braid soundtrack
I just finished this game today (it's only $15- download it to your Mac or PC immediately, or play it on XBox Live!) and I was completely blown away by it. Apart from being a very challenging and unique puzzle game, it is visually STUNNING. But of course, we're here to talk about music. Creator Jonathan Blow used licensed music from Magmatune artists to cut down on production costs, and the results are remarkable. Each piece has a beautiful, timeless feel that fits the mood of the game perfectly, but also, of course, fits the 18th century just as well. The full soundtrack is available for download from Magmatune.

If you're feeling more upbeat and funky, why not follow Sophia Coppola's example in "Marie Antoinette" and bust out the '80s New Wave and post-punk? Anachronistic, certainly. But it captures the opulent feel of the Rococo period just the same.

3. Decor
What fabulous chateau would be complete without the correct decorations? The perfect chaise, the sumptuous drapes, the plush rug, the tasteful paintings? But how do we get this-

in a modern flat?

We start with color choices. The Rococo was a period of light, fluffy colors. Ditch the dark rugs and drapes (or save them for when you're feeling more Victorian). Think pastel- white, cream, pink, baby blue. And don't forget gold! A gilded mirror or picture frame can add the perfect touch.

Also, surround yourself with art. Paintings, engravings, statues, even a cute little miniature! Of course we can't all afford the originals, but that, my dears, is what is for! Don't forget the gilded frame!

But don't let yourself get too cluttered. Notice how open the room above looks? (Open, but not empty- a delicate balance.) Be smart with your space and keep a good amount of the floor open. You never know what you might need it for!

Of course you can't have a completely bare room full of artwork. What about furniture? As with everything else, think light-hearted. Curvy, winding shapes that put one in mind of twisting foliage, or waves on the sea. When it comes to upholstery, go for brocades or printed pastoral scenes. Get some fancy throw pillows or an elegant rug. And of course, a canopy bed. (Oh la la...)

Finally, if you're feeling really daring and DIY, check out Nama Rococo. They have the most beautiful Rococo-themed wallpaper you can imagine, with a modern twist of course. It's delightfully chic!

Well my darlings, that is all I have time for. Keep your eyes peeled (ew!) for my next post, where I shall delve into the dangerous world of fashion!