Candlelight Christmas Tour

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I was lucky to go to the Glessner House’s Candlelight Christmas Tour on Saturday. Located on the famed Prairie Avenue, where Chicago’s elite lived 100 years ago or so, the Glessner House is a museum housed in a 18th century home that looks like a fortress. Mr. Glessner made his fortune as an executive for International Harvester.

This holiday season, the museum is decked out for Christmas. They have charming Christmas trees, vintage cards and books as well as holly, garlands and ribbons.

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Gifts wrapped in wallpaper

For the evening tour, there were docents in each room who explained about the home’s history and how the Victorians celebrated Christmas. A few nuggets I picked up are:

  • Victorians used to put a small bough of holly over ancestors’ portraits to remember them.
  • Holiday wrapping paper wasn’t invented and used till 1910. Before that people wrapped gifts with wallpaper.
  • As you may know, people lit their Christmas trees with candles. What I learned was that the Glessners (and probably other families) only lit their Christmas tree candles for 10 minutes. According to Mrs. Glessner’s diary, the family gathered at 10  am to see the tree lit. They’d have a bucket of sand and water on hand in case of fire and they only had the candles lit for 10 minutes because of the fire danger.

The tour was informative and so well organized. The docents were approachable and knowledgeable. At the end of the tour, which cost $15, we were offered hot apple cider, water and cookies from Trader Joe’s in the coach house.

The house will be decorated till December 31st and it’s free on Wednesdays.

Today the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan wrote about this gem, Glessner House.

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A Whisper to a Newly-Married Pair, Part 1

From Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1860
A Whisper To The Husband On Expenditure

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“You give your wife a certain sum of money … I really cannot see the necessity of obliging her to account to you for the exact manner in which she has laid it out. Pray, do allow her the power of buying a yard of muslin, or a few pennyworth of pins, without consulting the august tribunal of your judgment whether they shall be quaker-pins or minikins. ”

“In pecuniary matters, do not be penurious, or too particular. Your wife has an equal right with yourself to all your worldly possessions. “With all my worldly goods I thee endow,” was one of the most solemn vows that ever escaped your lips; and if she be a woman of prudence, she will in all her expenses be reasonable and economical; what more can you desire? Besides, really, a woman has innumerable trifling demands on her purse, innumerable little wants, which it is not necessary for a man to be informed of, and which, if he even went to the trouble of investigating, he would hardly understand.”

“You give your wife a certain sum of money. If she be a woman of prudence, if your table be comfortably kept, and your household managed with economy and regularity, I really cannot see the necessity of obliging her to account to you for the exact manner in which she has laid it out. Pray, do allow her the power of buying a yard of muslin, or a few pennyworth of pins, without consulting the august tribunal of your judgment whether they shall be quaker-pins or minikins. ”

“How often is a woman grieved by the foolish extravagance of her husband! Among other absurdities, will he not sometimes give for a horse, or a dog, or spend at a tavern or a club, a sum of money absolutely wanted for the necessary comforts of his family; thus squandering, in a moment of simple folly, what perhaps has cost his wife many a hard effort to save.

“When once a man has entered the marriage state, he should look on his property as belonging to his family, and act and economize accordingly. I remember being acquainted with a gentleman who was constantly saying, “It is true, my property is large, but then it belongs not to myself alone, but also to my children: and I must act as a frugal agent for them. To my wife, as well as these children, I feel accountable either for economy or extravagance.” Another gentleman of my acquaintance, who was in stinted circumstances, was constantly debarring himself of a thousand little comforts, even a glass of wine after dinner, sooner that infringe on what he used to call his children’ birthright.”
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The Paradise

Denise at The Paradise

Country girl, Denise Lovette comes to the big city hoping to work for her uncle. His dressmaking business is struggling as the competition from the shining, novel department store The Paradise has captured his old customers. Despite her uncle’s disappointment, Denise takes a job at the only store hiring, The Paradise. Soon she’s in her element, an elegant women’s department headed by Miss Audrey with new colleagues, some friendly and others envious and vengeful. What keeps Denise going is the world of fashion and commerce. She’s a natural marketer. Ideas on boosting sales come to her in torrents.

Moray and Katerine

Moray and Katerine

The Paradise is owned by John Moray, a widower who’s courting Katherine, a wealthy, spoiled banker’s daughter. Moray’s wife died under suspicious circumstances, known only to an equally suspicious character who lurks in the corners of The Paradise noting secrets in his little black book. Moray and Katherine’s rocky relationship is further disrupted by Denise, whose beauty, loyalty, innocence and sales acumen are mighty attractive.

Denise and rival Clara

I highly recommend this series, which you can watch on PBS.org till December 17th. It’ll tide you over till the January premiere of Downton Abbey‘s 5th season. I’m caught up in the store and the complexities of the era. The series begins in 1875 or so and shows the excitement of new businesses popping up along with new opportunities for women in the work world. It also shows the downside, how dedicated craftsmen must fight to survive. It’s a Darwinian competition draped in silk and lace.

I plan to read Emil Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise as soon as I get back to the states. Evidently, the BBC’s adaptation whitewashes some of the real problems, economic and social, for workers at this time. Since I’m an Upton Sinclair fan, I’ll probably enjoy the darker novel.

Great Expectations

This month’s book club selection was Great Expectations. I admit I haven’t read much Dickens. Dickens is the sort of writer who’s works are so well known that even if you’ve never read any, you know his stories and characters.

I expected to like Great Expectations and found I liked the travails of Pip, a young boy growing up blessed or cursed by an anonymous patron’s wealth, more than expected. I loved the characters of Joe, Pip’s brother-in-law, who’s down to earth blacksmith and Biddy, a girl who tutors Pip in the early chapters. Miss Havisham and her dark,neglected mansion spooked me while Estella annoyed me. How can Pip not see through her? Not see how cold and egotistical she’ll always be? (I realize Freud was just starting up and hadn’t had the popularity he now does so Pip wouldn’t examine his relationships in light of psychology’s findings.)

Dickens wrote two endings for this novel, a sad and a happy one. He first went with the happy one, which got him loads of criticism from fellow writers like Shaw. Lately, books publish both endings. My ebook had the sad ending and it does fit better, I think.

The story offered so much more suspense and intrigue than I expected. Each page was a treat. Later this fall there’s to be a new film version. Will they get it right?

Daniel Deronda

Adapted from a George Eliot novel, the BBC production of Daniel Deronda will quench any Anglophile’s thirst for drama and romance. The series opens with a head strong, vivacious beauty, a Victorian Scarlett O’Hara, winning and quickly losing big at a German gaming table. It seems her laughing off the loss doesn’t ring true. Maybe she isn’t as well off as she appears.

Soon we learn the captivating woman is Gwendolyn, whose family isn’t well off (in fact they lose everything by the end of episode 1). The title character, Daniel, sees Gwendolyn lose all her winnings and as a professional guardian angel, retrieves the lost necklace Gwendolyn had to hock. While few words pass between the two, we can see that they’re both smitten.

Daniel has no idea who his real parents are. Most his life a rather stodgy, yet kind man has taken him in and acted as a father. He plays the part so well that most people assume the man is Daniel’s father. In any event Daniel has had the upbringing of a gentleman without the solid footing of one. Like any good hero, he’s very handsome and very kind.

One day he rescues a young woman, Mira, who tries to drown herself. He takes her to some friends and oversees her care and her budding singing career. There’s some warmth between Daniel and Mira, but it simmers in the first three episodes. They would make a good couple, but she is Jewish and while Daniel is open minded for the era, he doesn’t seem ready to chance marrying Mira. Still he doesn’t like it when his best friend expresses a desire to marry Mira either.

While Daniel and Mira are getting acquainted and Daniel’s helping Mira find her long lost relations and learning more and more about Jewish culture in a corner of Victorian England, I’ve never seen, Gwendolyn’s family has hit hard times. It’s impossible for them to keep her in silk and satin. (She always got the best horses, clothes, etc. while her non-blonde-haired siblings got table scraps it seems.) Her uncle can get her a position as a governess.

A governess? Are you kidding? Gwendolyn has always wanted the finer things and she’ll do anything to get them, anything including a cold man with money, whom she knows has neglected a mistress and three children.

The story is absorbing. The relationships are all in a knot and no one’s where they should be. To make matters more complicated, you have to ask yourself whether you’d root for Gwendolyn and Daniel since she’s so self-absorbed. The most redeeming aspect of Gwendolyn’s character is that she doesn’t pretend to be generous or kind. She’s quite open about her faults, which she sees as assets, rather like Cynthia in Wives and Daughters. If a villain knows her faults, she’s on the path to heroism.

After seeing Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey it’s hard to imagine him as a cad, or worse, but in Daniel Deronda he’s a scoundrel. He enjoys subjugating Gwendolyn and that is why he married this stunningly beautiful, albeit selfish and frivolous young woman. My, a lot of women need rescuing here and there’s only one Daniel in the village.

Tomorrow I’ll finish episode 4.