Fearless Women in History: Charlotte Brontë

On this day in history, Charlotte Brontë  declined a marriage offer from Reverend Henry Nussey on the grounds that she was too “romantic and eccentric” and not suited to be a clergyman’s wife. In the mid-19th century, women didn’t have many options when it came to providing for themselves, so turning down a marriage proposal could be considered a risky move.

Instead, Charlotte worked as a teacher and governess to support her brother’s literary aspirations. Unfortunately, Branwell Brontë succumbed to alcohol and opium abuse and later died when he accidentally set fire to his bed.

Charlotte went on to publish under the pen name Currer Bell, releasing Jane Eyre in 1847.

Although fearless and independent, Charlotte did not go on to have a happy life. She survived her five siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, who died very young, Branwell, Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame), and Anne (author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), cared for her father, and went on to marry his curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, a year after publishing Villette. She died while pregnant after being married for only nine months. Charlotte Bronte was just short of her 39th birthday.

It’s interesting to consider what might have happened had Charlotte accepted Reverend Nussey’s proposal. Would she have gone on to publish in an age when such options were limited for women or been lost to mediocrity for the sake of security and social acceptance?

 

Source:  This Day in History – Charlotte Brontë declines marriage

Pocket Politics

Life without pockets is HARD, and that is just one way that women have been discriminated against across centuries. I have lived pocketless over large stretches of my life, conforming to fashion.

No more. Now that I spend my days in front of a computer and rarely see people except on Skype, I have spent this winter with all of my soft, fuzzy sweaters tucked away in a drawer because… wait for it… they have no pockets.

So, I’ve spent this winter wearing short-sleeved T-shirts and fleece jackets that have lovely deep pockets for cell phone, Kleenex, and anything else I might need to cart around. Not sure what I’m going to do when summer temperatures hit…

This fascinating video clip gives you a history of the pocket, the difference between men’s and women’s pockets, and how women are finally coming into their own as far as pockets are concerned.

 

The Codpiece Conundrum

“Portrait of Alessandro Farnese,” by Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531). Antonis Mor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As an author of historical romance, I can assure you the devil is in the details. Readers are well educated and do not hesitate to call out an author when questioning the authenticity or accuracy of a story element, no matter how trivial.

That makes it even more important to do one’s research and do it well. It’s my experience that some aspects of history are more fun to dive into than others. I greatly enjoy studying architecture and music, but if fashion is your fancy, let me share a bit of trivia about the codpiece.

First, the origins of this fifteenth century wardrobe staple.

In the 15th century men’s dress comprised doublet or tunic (worn on the top half of the body), hose (bottom half) with a mantle or cloak (worn over the outfit). Hose were two separate wool or linen leggings that fastened into the doublet, rather in the style of fisherman’s waders. As doublets became shorter, and the length of mantles also decreased, the tell-tale bulge (or more) of gentlemen’s privy parts became evident beneath their under-shirts.

…evidence suggests that the early codpiece was constructed from a triangular shaped piece of cloth called a ‘braye’. The bottom tip of the triangle was stitched to the hose and the remaining corners fastened to the doublet to form a kind of gusset. This soft triangular flap was superseded by a stuffed and padded shape designed to hold what Montaigne coyly called “our secret parts” and John Florio’s Italian-English dictionary lists as “pillcocke or pricke”.

(Source:  What goes up must come down: a brief history of the codpiece)

Other historians theorize that codpieces were a sort of protective device, used to contain the messy poultices and concoctions applied for treatment of syphilis and prevent staining of one’s garments. The soft cloth codpiece eventually evolved into a boxy, ostentatious accessory, some even embroidered and bejewelled.

(Source:  A Brief History of the Codpiece, the Personal Protection for Renaissance Equipment)

By the sixteenth century, codpieces were no longer in vogue. Their quick rise and fall, so to speak, as fifteenth century high fashion has not diminished our fascination with a garment intended to preserve modesty, not provoke our curiosity about what lay beneath it.