My Journey of Continual Education

My current reads and for the next few years, my main reading focus is nonfiction and studying diverse cultures-how they evolve in-depth- government entities, world history and economics.

I’ve studied and read quite a few books on American history (particular 19th Century) but lately I’ve discovered so much I’ve sorely missed out on. That said, one’s education should be a life long journey. I’m looking forward to reading and studying these books.

The Americans, Vol 1: The Colonial Experience

(The Americans #1) by Daniel J. Boorstin

Winner of the Bancroft Prize. “A superb panorama of life in America from the first settlements on through the white-hot days of the Revolution.” – Bruce Lancaster, Saturday Review

The Americans, Vol 2: The National Experience Paperback – by Daniel J. Boorstin

This second volume in “The Americans” trilogy deals with the crucial period of American history from the Revolution to the Civil War. Here we meet the people who shaped, and were shaped by, the American experience—the versatile New Englanders, the Transients and the Boosters.  Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize.

The Americans, Vol 3: The Democratic Experience Paperback by Daniel J. Boorstin

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A study of the last 100 years of American history.

A History of the American People by Paul Johnson

“The creation of the United States of America is the greatest of all human adventures,” begins Paul Johnson. “No other national story holds such tremendous lessons, for the American people themselves and for the rest of mankind.”

In his prize-winning classic, Johnson presents an in-depth portrait of American history from the first colonial settlements to the Clinton administration. This is the story of the men and women who shaped and led the nation and the ordinary people who collectively created its unique character. Littered with letters, diaries, and recorded conversations, it details the origins of their struggles for independence and nationhood, their heroic efforts and sacrifices to deal with the ‘organic sin’ of slavery and the preservation of the Union to its explosive economic growth and emergence as a world power. Johnson discusses contemporary topics such as the politics of racism, education, the power of the press, political correctness, the growth of litigation, and the influence of women throughout history. He sees Americans as a problem-solving people and the story of their country as “essentially one of difficulties being overcome by intelligence and skill, by faith and strength of purpose, by courage and persistence… Looking back on its past, and forward to its future, the auguries are that it will not disappoint humanity.”

Sometimes controversial and always provocative, A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE is one author’s challenging and unique interpretation of American history. Johnson’s views of individuals, events, themes, and issues are original, critical, and in the end admiring, for he is, above all, a strong believer in the history and the destiny of the American people.

Other recent relevant posts:

Cultural Nonfiction Books

A Better Understanding of Political and Social Controversies of Our Times

I’m looking forward to sharing more books I’ve discovered and as I read them, I will be writing down my thoughts on them in future posts.

Stephanie Hopkins

Cultural Nonfiction Books

I recently read Educated by Tara Westover and I must say, I have quite a bit to say about the story. I was debating on how to break down my thoughts but after I talked it over with a friend, she encouraged me to focus what topic in the story that was important to me and what would, basically make an impact. Not her words but that was the gest of the conversation. The memoir did strike a chord with me to focus more of my attention to social and cultural issues of our time and throughout recent history.

In my last post, I shared-on a small scale-about what I’m currently reading, and about my experience with Thomas Sowell’s’ work thus far. This particular journey has me wanting to study further in-depth cultural societies, economics and government entities around the world. Perhaps, you may have titles to recommend me to read.

Stephanie Hopkins

Confucius Never Said by Helen Raleigh

This book is a four-generation family journey from repression and poverty in China to freedom and prosperity in the United States. Their lives overlap with many significant historical events taking place in China, such as the founding of Communist China in 1949, the Great Chinese Famine from 1958-1960, the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976 and the Economic Reform starting from 1980.The author recounts the enormous suffering her family had to endure under Communist China’s radical social experiment. Her great-grandfather was denounced by the Chinese Communist Party and his neighbors simply because he owned land. He died in poverty, and his dying wish was never granted. Her grandfather loaned his fishing boat to the Communist Party, and ended up losing his independence and becoming a janitor. Her father escaped his village to get educated and thus survived the Great Famine. He became highly educated, but never joined the Communist Party . . . and was sent to a re-education labor camp because of it. The author herself grew up in China and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She sought freedom and the American Dream, and found both. This book is about freedom-and about what happens when we let people take our freedom away. 

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.

Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies by M. Stanton Evans

Accused of creating a bogus Red Scare and smearing countless innocent victims in a five-year reign of terror, Senator Joseph McCarthy is universally remembered as a demagogue, a bully, and a liar. History has judged him such a loathsome figure that even today, a half century after his death, his name remains synonymous with witch hunts.
But that conventional image is all wrong, as veteran journalist and author M. Stanton Evans reveals in this groundbreaking book. The long-awaited “Blacklisted by History,” based on six years of intensive research, dismantles the myths surrounding Joe McCarthy and his campaign to unmask Communists, Soviet agents, and flagrant loyalty risks working within the U.S. government. Evans’s revelations completely overturn our understanding of McCarthy, McCarthyism, and the Cold War.

Drawing on primary sources–including never-before-published government records and FBI files, as well as recent research gleaned from Soviet archives and intercepted transmissions between Moscow spymasters and their agents in the United States–Evans presents irrefutable evidence of a relentless Communist drive to penetrate our government, influence its policies, and steal its secrets. Most shocking of all, he shows that U.S. officials supposedly guarding against this danger not only let it happen but actively covered up the penetration. All of this was precisely as Joe McCarthy contended.

“Blacklisted by History” shows, for instance, that the FBI knew as early as 1942 that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the atomic bomb project, had been identified by Communist leaders as a party member; that high-level U.S. officials were warned that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy almost a decade before the Hiss case became a public scandal; that a cabal of White House, Justice Department, and State Department officials lied about and covered up the Amerasia spy case; and that the State Department had been heavily penetrated by Communists and Soviet agents before McCarthy came on the scene.
Evans also shows that practically everything we’ve been told about McCarthy is false, including conventional treatment of the famous 1950 speech at Wheeling, West Virginia, that launched the McCarthy era (“I have here in my hand . . .”), the Senate hearings that casually dismissed his charges, the matter of leading McCarthy suspect Owen Lattimore, the Annie Lee Moss case, the Army-McCarthy hearings, and much more.

In the end, Senator McCarthy was censured by his colleagues and condemned by the press and historians. But as Evans writes, “The real Joe McCarthy has vanished into the mists of fable and recycled error, so that it takes the equivalent of a dragnet search to find him.” “Blacklisted by History” provides the first accurate account of what McCarthy did and, more broadly, what happened to America during the Cold War. It is a revealing expose of the forces that distorted our national policy in that conflict and our understanding of its history since. 

A Better Understanding of Political and Social Controversies of Our Times

I’ve known about Thomas Sowell for a few years now and have listened to many of his interviews’ and recently started listening to his audio books on YouTube. I first became interested in his work on two scores. The first, his research on the history of slavery and two, his journey with Marxism in his twenties. His clear cut, intellectual thoughts are enlightening to say the least. He reacts on information rather than feelings. Sowell’s writings should be mandatory study in the school system.

His lectures on the history of slavery validated a passage I read on the subject over fifteen years ago. I was over at a friend’s house, scrap-booking and mentioned what I had read about slavery in Africa and the said “friend” proceeded to shut me down and was appalled at what I had stated. I was taken back by her reaction and to my dismay, I dropped the subject entirely. It is as if she thought I had some sort of agenda in what I said and refused to have an objective conversation. Though, I dare say, she did not have an intelligent response at anytime. In hindsight, I should have asked her about her sources and why she is dismissing my discovering.

I’m currently re-reading, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx & Engels (which is pure propaganda in my opinion but an important to read) and have just started, The Naked Communist by W. Cleaon Skousen. After I read those books and finish listening to Sowell’s audio books, I want to purchase a few of his physical books for further study.

Here are the titles I want to acquire by Sowell:

Intellectuals and Society

Economic Facts and Fallacies

The Housing Boom and Bust

A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles

Black Rednecks and White Liberals

The Quest for Cosmic Justice

Bio:

Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social commentator, and author of dozens of books. He often writes from an economically laissez-faire perspective. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science.

Sowell was born in North Carolina, where, he recounted in his autobiography, A Personal Odyssey, his encounters with Caucasians were so limited he didn’t believe that “yellow” was a hair color. He moved to Harlem, New York City with his mother’s sister (whom he believed was his mother); his father had died before he was born. Sowell went to Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out at 17 because of financial difficulties and a deteriorating home environment. He worked at various jobs to support himself, including in a machine shop and as a delivery man for Western Union. He applied to enter the Civil Service and was eventually accepted, moving to Washington DC. He was drafted in 1951, during the Korean War, and assigned to the US Marine Corps. Due to prior experience in photography, he worked in a photography unit.

After his discharge, Sowell passed the GED examination and enrolled at Howard University. He transferred to Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He received a Master of Arts in Economics from Columbia University, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from the University of Chicago. Sowell initially chose Columbia University because he wanted to study under George Stigler. After arriving at Columbia and learning that Stigler had moved to Chicago, he followed him there.

Sowell has taught Economics at Howard University, Cornell University, Brandeis University, and UCLA. Since 1980 he has been a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he holds a fellowship named after Rose and Milton Friedman.

Bio and picture used from goodreads

Exploration of Journal Making

A page in my new fall journal I’m currently working in. I’ll show the whole journal once it’s completed. I really enjoyed putting this page together and the bookmark I made for the book. The bookmark is made from an image out of a magazine, scrapbook paper and a piece of left-over fabric.

The journal page is simple with a touch of paper collage, postcard and a authentic 1940s photo of a group of ladies. I’ll add a journal label to the bottom left of the page. The actual page I’m working on is from my 12” x 12” scrap-booking paper stash from the early 2000s and what a great way to use those big sizes of paper! I wonder who those ladies are and what their story is or was.

Journaling fills one’s soul with gratitude and healing calmness. It’s an appreciation for the old and the newness of life’s journey.

Happy crafty Friday!

Stephanie Hopkins
Mixed Media Artist/Abstract Painter/Book Maker/Book Blogger

Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris

I want to share something with you about C.S. Harris’s story Good Time Coming. I still think about the story and my interview with her. I went over to Amazon so I can order a physical copy of her book to add to my collections of books I most admire. I read the reviews and I feel people are misunderstanding the story by saying it’s one-sided and this and that. It is far from that and she wrote a story that is rarely or if at all talked about. If these readers truly appreciated and studied history and were avid historical fiction readers of the period, they would know this. We need more stories about civilians’ experiences in the south. I also feel that she wasn’t conveying that all union soldiers are bad like what one reviewer stated. I did not get that impression at all when I read the book. I wish people would leave their modern-day sensibilities out of history so that they can truly learn history in its raw form. Harris beautifully and heart wrenchingly portrayed how horrible the war was for the women left unprotected, while their men and sons were off fighting and dying by the hundreds of thousands. Nothing wrong in giving a southern view of the experience. I wish people would be more objective and open to hearing all sides because you cannot learn or teach history without it. We need to take the good, the bad and ugly and discuss it openly without prejudice. To blame a wrong solely on a group of people is counterproductive and causes further divide. After-all, honest talk is only how we will learn human experiences and heal as a community. So please, stop bringing political correctness into everything. It is polarizing, damaging and complete utter nonsense!

“The army that marched against the South was the same army that perpetrated the massacres of Native American women and children at Sacramento River and Harvey and countless other sites, a well-understood reality that terrified Southern civilians.” – C.S. Harris

The link to my interview with C.S. Harris will give readers a better sense of what the author was conveying with Good Time Coming. I highly recommend reading the book and to read the interview in full. One of the best civil war related stories I’ve read and that says a lot because this period in our countries history, interest me the most.

-Stephanie

About the book:

It’s the beginning of the American Civil War, and the Union army is sailing down the Mississippi, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

The graceful river town of St. Francisville, Louisiana, has known little of the hardships, death, and destruction of the War. But with the fall of New Orleans, all changes. A Federal fleet appears on the Mississippi, and it isn’t long before the depredations and attacks begin.

For one Southern family the dark blue uniform of the Union army is not the only thing they fear. A young girl stops a vicious attack on her mother and the town must pull together to keep each other safe. But a cryptic message casts doubt amongst the townsfolk. Is there a traitor in the town and can anybody be trusted?

Twelve-year-old Amrie and her family have never felt entirely accepted by their neighbors, due to their vocal abolitionist beliefs. But when Federal forces lay siege to the nearby strongholds of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the women and children of St. Francisville find themselves living in a no mans land between two warring armies. Realizing they must overcome their differences and work together to survive, they soon discover strengths and abilities they never knew they possessed, and forge unexpected friendships.

As the violence in the area intensifies, Amrie comes to terms with her own capacity for violence and realizes that the capacity for evil exists within all of us. And when the discovery of a closely guarded secret brings the wrath of the Federal army down on St. Francisville, the women of St. Francisville, with whom Amrie and her mother have shared the war years many deprivations and traumas, now unite and risk their own lives to save them.

Cover Crush: The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer

About the Cover: Firstly, I have to confess that it wasn’t the cover that directed my attention to this book, but the title. If I were designing the layout, I’m not entirely sure I would have chosen the shade of blue to contrast the Mona Lisa painting. Nonetheless, if you look closely, you will see the cracks in the painting carrying over to the right side of the cover. I thought that was a nice touch and the pealing of the upper left corner and tears in the image represents age.

About the Book: The Mona Lisa is a famous portrait painting by artist Leonardo da Vinci and is, without a doubt, the most talked about painting in history. I remember as a young child learning about the Mona Lisa and the artist. I have to admit, throughout most of my life, shockingly, the painting didn’t leave an impression on me as one would expect. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood that I developed an appreciation for the painting and the history. Maybe, it’s because of its artist and depiction in various forms and media that sparked an interest in me to learn more about its creation.

I’ve added The Last Mona Lisa by Jonathan Santlofer to my book pile and look forward to reading the story. – Stephanie Hopkins

Book Description:

Published August 17th 2021 by Sourcebooks Landmark

August, 1911: The Mona Lisa is stolen by Vincent Peruggia. Exactly what happens in the two years before its recovery is a mystery. Many replicas of the Mona Lisa exist, and more than one historian has wondered if the painting now in the Louvre is a fake, switched in 1911.

Present day: Art professor Luke Perrone digs for the truth behind his most famous ancestor: Peruggia. His search attracts an Interpol detective with something to prove and an unfamiliar but curiously helpful woman. Soon, Luke tumbles deep into the world of art and forgery, a land of obsession and danger.

A gripping novel exploring the 1911 theft and the present underbelly of the art world, The Last Mona Lisa is a suspenseful tale, tapping into our universal fascination with da Vinci’s enigma, why people are driven to possess certain works of art, and our fascination with the authentic and the fake.

The Dust Needs to Settle

We had quite the storm this past Saturday evening of heavy rain, strong wind and lightning. On the back screened porch Sunday morning, everything was damp and the southern humidity didn’t help matters. At least the birds were in song and the coffee was strong. I was sitting on the back porch, not sure how long that was going to last, to write letters, organize to-do lists and to jot down thoughts about, The Four Winds by Kristen Hannah. In the picture, you see John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, you say. “Where’s, The Four Winds?” I bought this copy of The Grapes of Wrath back in 92′ and yes, it’s still in great condition. Gosh, saying that makes me feel old.

To answer your question, assuming you’re asking it, I’m re-visiting The Grapes of Wrath because The Four Winds is a good companion and the stories are still relevant today. They both give you a fountain of information to think about and I have so much to say about both of them. The Four Winds is resting on one of my bookshelves. I will be un-shelving the book soon to gather some marked passages and discuss both books with its contrasts and similarities.

This will be a rather ongoing project and perhaps will share in bits and pieces at Layered Pages. Each post will be linked, so you many keep up with this project, if you wish.

Stephanie Hopkins

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Published April 10th 2014 by Viking (first published April 14th 1939)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression, a book that galvanized—and sometimes outraged—millions of readers.

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Published February 2nd 2021 by St. Martin’s Press

Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

New Book Release: The Nine by Gwen Strauss

Congrats to Gwen Strauss’s book publication of, “The Nine”

(The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany!”)

About the book:

St. Martin’s Press

History

Pub Date 04 May 2021

“This haunting account provides yet more evidence not only of the power of female friendship but that the often-unrecorded courage and resilience of ordinary women must be honoured and celebrated. It’s a most inspiring read…Utterly gripping.” —Anne Sebba, author of Les Parisiennes

The Nine follows the true story of the author’s great aunt Helene Podliasky, who led a band of nine female resistance fighters as they escaped a German forced labor camp and made a ten-day journey across the front lines of WWII from Germany back to Paris.

The nine women were all under thirty when they joined the resistance. They smuggled arms through Europe, harbored parachuting agents, coordinated communications between regional sectors, trekked escape routes to Spain and hid Jewish children in scattered apartments. They were arrested by French police, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. They were subjected to a series of French prisons and deported to Germany. The group formed along the way, meeting at different points, in prison, in transit, and at Ravensbrück. By the time they were enslaved at the labor camp in Leipzig, they were a close-knit group of friends. During the final days of the war, forced onto a death march, the nine chose their moment and made a daring escape.

Drawing on incredible research, this powerful, heart-stopping narrative is a moving tribute to the power of humanity and friendship in the darkest of times.

Book Review: Finding Napoleon by Margaret Rodenberg

Published April 6th 2021 by She Writes Press

Margaret Rodenberg brings us a story of Emperor Napoleon’s defeat and his exile on the Island of Helena in what is still, consider to this day, one of the most remote Island on earth. Finding Napoleon is about his final years and his plot to escape the Island and rescue his son. While on the Island, trust in the people surrounding him is quite the skill to say the least.

In the beginning, I felt as if the characters were moving parts in a play. Told where to stand, what to say and when to say it. I’m not sure that makes much sense but, in better words, I felt very little for them and that very well may be the point. Napoleon was using them and they were using him. We aren’t meant to have warm and fuzzy feelings for these people. They weren’t exactly pillars of society in terms of being moral and honest people. In my opinion, they were opportunist. As for the people of the Island, Tobyson, Hercules and Betsy were good people and despite Napoleon’s faults, they held him in high regard.

While Napoloen’s love affair with Albine wasn’t particularly “romantic”, I felt the author’s portrayal of their relationship realistic. That said, I still haven’t completely decided how I feel about Albine or her relations with Napoleon for that matter. Afterall, she was a married woman and I don’t say this with naivety. I’m well aware of the culture during that time. Maybe she felt she had to do what she did for survival.

Albine is a complex woman and people considered her a liar and a loose woman. Though many of the very people who said those things about her, were no better. In the end, she made good on a promise to Napoleon and I had to admire her for that. I would like to believe that leaving that Island and her changed circumstances in life, made her a better person in the end.

I feel Rosenberg depicted Napoleon’s ego as how I have always imagined it to be. Napoleon is intelligent and he very well knows it. He is always scheming and, in my opinion, using people for his own purpose and pleasures. He is a master manipulator. Despite his thirst for his own glory or survival-if you will-I found his interest in the world and how things worked intriguing to read about. He is a good listener and you do see a softer side to him in this story but I remain-rightfully so- suspicious of his motives.

I’ve read many novels about Napoleon but very little of his time on St. Helena or the end of his life in-depth such as this one. Nor was I familiar with the fact he began to write a story that was unfinished. That was exciting to learn and it intrigued me enough to read this book and wanting to know the author’s take on the history. I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been life if he had chosen a different path. He could have possibly done so much good with his intellect and charismatic personality.

You are reading two different stories with Finding Napoleon and how Rosenberg beautifully weaves Napoleon’s writing efforts into the time line and expanding on the story, is close to brilliant.

I appreciate the author’s obvious fascination with Napoleon. He is definitely a hot topic for discussion and this fact certainly shows in this book.

I recommend Finding Napoleon to readers who are already familiar with Napoleon’s life before his stay on the Island.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

More about the book:

With its delightful adaptation of Napoleon Bonaparte’s real attempt to write a novel, Finding Napoleon offers a fresh take on Europe’s most powerful man after he’s lost everything. A forgotten woman of history–Napoleon’s last love, the audacious Albine de Montholon–narrates their tale of intrigue, passion, and betrayal.

After the defeated Emperor Napoleon goes into exile on tiny St. Helena Island in the remote South Atlantic, he and his lover, Albine de Montholon, plot to escape and rescue his young son. Banding together African slaves, British sympathizers, a Jewish merchant, a Corsican rogue, and French followers, they confront British opposition–as well as treachery within their own ranks–with sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always desperate action.
When Napoleon and Albine break faith with one another, ambition and Albine’s husband threaten their reconciliation. To succeed, Napoleon must learn whom to trust. To survive, Albine must decide whom to betray.

Two hundred years after Napoleon’s death, this elegant, richly researched novel reveals a relationship history conceals.

Weird Wednesday: An Exploration of Our Quirky World

Strange Traditions and Practices of the Victorians

We are delighted to welcome you to “Weird Wednesday,” a joint series, partnered with our friends at before the second sleep, that explores the quirky side of our universe.

We live in an extraordinary quirky world that often times we forget to pause in our busy lives to notice. During these times many cannot venture outside-another great reason to pick up a book-so we are bringing our explorations to you. Today, I’m exploring a bit about the strange traditions, and practices of the Victorians.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

During the Victorian era, how a person died was important to them. Especially one’s last words on this earth. Those words were thought to be believed because they were about to meet their maker. A “truth-detector” of the heart-if you will. This was a lesson for the living and for the love one’s gathered around the death bed. Afterall, why would the dying bear false witness? Those last moments were critical for the persons spiritual state. Still applies today, really.

It was important for the dying to be surrounded by their love ones in the last moments of their life. Imagine a soldier dying on the battle fields without that opportunity. How alone and scared they must have felt.  Many of the soldiers during the American Civil War were young boys crying out to their mothers.

In general, Victorians had a high mortality rate. Not only due to war but the spread of disease, living in poor conditions and lack of proper hygiene and sanitation, one might say. Also, arsenic and white lead were used in many Victorian papers as dyes which lead to widespread health issues for the workers in the industry and possibly for people in the homes.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

One of the remaining artifacts from Victorians is photographs of their dead. It may sound morbid to us in today’s society but it brought their love ones’ comfort and it gave them a sense of closeness to their deceased love ones. During the first half of the 19th century, photography was a new medium, and it was an exciting way to capture life’s moments. Alas, many did not have immediate access to photography or the money, so they had to make it count. Usually during that time, only people with means could afford such luxury. I can’t imagine the task of staging a deceased person’s body for such an event of taking a photo. Especially because child mortality rates were so high during the Victorian age. This led to the practice of post-mortem photography and I’ve come across a lot of this subject. Though sad, and at times seen as morbid, these photos were the only way to record a love one’s existence. However, I hear it was easier because in those times, a person had to remain very still due to the slow shutter speed of the cameras.

Did you know that the Victorians also made “death mask” to remember the dead? They took death very seriously if they wanted to be surrounded by such mementos. According to the 19th-century collector Laurence Hutton, a death mask “must, of necessity, be absolutely true to nature.” The Victorians were not the first to use this practice of remembering people. Ancient civilizations made mask as well. The Egyptian masks are a prime example.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia)

I don’t think I will go into how the Victorians made their mask, at the moment. My stomach can’t take it. Let’s take a quick look at other strange-like practices the Victorians did. You’ll notice that many of them are still done in today’s world.

One of my favorite things to do living in the South is to tour Victorian Homes, Plantations and Halls. I’ve learned about so much history and how people lived, through this experience. One of the things I’ve noticed is that you’ll see picture frames with hair. The hair is often arranged in a wreath style manner. The first time I ever saw one, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about this practice. This was another way to commemorate the deceased. Women would also keep clippings of their friend’s hair in scrapbooks and men would wear “watch fobs” made of their wives’ hair. Victorians made all sorts of decorative pieces often from their love ones.

Other examples:

Hats made from taxidermied birds and other animals.

Obsession with stuffing animals.

Hosting mummy unwrapping parties. Okay…

Made and sent strange Christmas cards. (Check out Pinterest for card images)

Body Snatching-In the name of science? This practice became so wide spread that relatives would watch over the graves of the recently deceased.

And so on…

Thank you for exploring this interesting time in history with me!

Stephanie Hopkins

Other Weird Wednesday Posts:  

Weird Wednesday: An Exploration of Our Quirky World

Weird Wednesday: Butterflies

Weird Wednesday: Facts of Daily Life in the 19th-Century England.

And check out Lisl’s  WW at before the Second Sleep!

Sources:

This republic of Suffering (Death and the American Civil War) by Drew Gilpin Faust

Category:Post-mortem photography

and other independent research…