Faux-Victorian

by

There is a myth that even table legs had to be hidden in Victorian times. According to this Wikipedia entry, there was no evidence of that. The article even says:

Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views, such as those of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who wrote Eminent Victorians.

Yet, that attitude was, at least to some extent, adopted in America, even to the point that bare feet were considered shockingly vulgar, at least to city folk. This was during the time that, all over rural America, kids would regularly go barefoot to school.

I found evidence of this in the April 1936 issue of “Boy’s Life,” in an article by Dan Beard entitled “Leadership — A Rib-Tickling Story of Dan Beard’s Boyhood.” Interestingly, I’ve stayed in the “Dan Beard” cabin while camping with the Boy Scouts at Camp Oyo in Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. For about 10 years I always led my boys’ troop, barefoot of course, on the hike they did for their crossover scouts. Anyways, here’s a snippet of that article:

In the almost forgotten days, the happy days of the so called Victorian period, that is when Queen Victoria of England was the Emily Post, so to speak, of the world, I used to write and illustrate for that wonderful young folks’ paper, “The St. Nicholas’ Magazine,” edited by Mary Mapes Dodge, a magazine which could only be equaled by “Boys’ Life” of to-day.

People than and now made fun of both of these distinguished leaders but the good Queen Victoria kept society people respectable and Mary Mapes Dodge made the artists and writers for her publications toe the mark; so that not only nothing coarse or vulgar appeared in her magazine but nothing which was the least bit indelicate passed the watchful eyes of the Queen Victoria of American juvenile literature, Mary Mapes Dodge!

. . .

We were so extremely genteel in those days that Mrs. Doge, God bless her memory, made me cut the udders off of a picture of a cow that I had drawn for her, because forsooth it was most indecent for a cow to have such things, and for an artist to show them in a picture. I also was told to cut the feet off of a diagram of a woman kite for that too, was shamelessly immodest.

Oh, Me! Oh, My! We artists had a hard line to hoe in those days, but when I was commissioned by the same magazine to illustrate that delightful story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Abroad I was happy, because I thought that here at least was a story that was so clean there could be nothing wrong with the illustrations, but I was woefully mistaken. My first picture of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Nigger Jim came hurtling back to me with the terse command to put shoes on all three, that bare feet were shockingly vulgar!

So, he was forced to redraw the pictures for her. Here is the
picture that appeared not only in the magazine, but also in
many of the editions of the book.

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Jim: all shod

"Approved" illustration from "Tom Sawyer Abroad"

Abomination!

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: