Regency and Victorian Life

What if child-rearing came with manuals?


You see I cannot take my child into the country. Work forbids it. With a child I could not find a place there…it will not be long before I come back. Will you keep my child for me?” 
–Fantine, Les Misérables

What Fantine experienced was commonplace in her time.  Of children born in 1875,  93,000 were abandoned, and one out of fourteen was illegitimate. There were hospices in every arrondissement in Paris, and the poor often could not afford their care, leaving children out on the streetsHomeless, Thomas Benjamin

Among the upper class, one would think life might have been a bit easier in terms of child-rearing, but often that was not the case.

For centuries children of the upper class were viewed as second-class citizens—property to be dressed and worked like adults. There were strict rules of conduct placed upon them. Upper-class children were afforded education, but that didn’t make their position in the family any higher. In aristocratic families, daughters learned their place in family and society from their mothers, and coldness and distance was the characteristic relationship between fathers and sons. A manual in 1886 titled, Well Brought Up Children instructed the children this way:

“When you have the honour to be admitted into the salons of your mothers, you must behave yourself in such a manner that they do not regret having accorded you this favour. You will, rightly, not dare present yourself in a salon without your gloves. Provincials are even more rigid observers of the etiquette than we.” Comtesse de Ferry, Les Enfants bein élevés- 1886

Its counterpart, a study titled Badly Brought Up Children, instructed that"Butterflies" by Frederick Steadway to be successful in child rearing was to be an authoritarian. “By the exercise of authority, one makes one’s sons respectful and men of duty.” This book argued that children had one instinct: a fear of being left to suffer.

On the opposite side of such literature, was Paul Janet who in 1861, praised intimacy in the family unit. He insisted this did not ruin the strength of a family but reinforced it. In years past children were neglected, respected only as far as roles of primogeniture. By Janet’s work, parents were seeking to win respect by love, not discipline (La Famille 1856). But like the above manual by Comtesse de Ferry, children remained an instrument for parental aspiration and social gain for years to come.

The transformation of the family began when children rose to a position of central importance in the home, after years of neglect and were accorded a basic right-of-life different from that of their parents—when children were allowed to be seen as children and not business tools. Before this shift, there was no social gain to being a good parent, or mar to being a bad one. The family was not a sentimental unit.

The increased attention families slowly took in their children did not mean overnight liberation from strict rules or preoccupied parents. Neglect was replaced with obsessive love (many of these manuals had opposing views) often resulting in increased demands on the children to act and behave as their parents desired. These manuals often were counterproductive. At first, it was preached that newborns should be purged, scheduled feedings were not needed, wet-nurses were preferred, and cold baths were a good thing. Then came the manual that said warmth was better, sex play, masturbation, and discovering their young bodies, bad.  Thumb sucking was a horrible thing. Heaven forbid you bite on anything while teething! Despite all this, a parent needed to show the child affection, but not too much! It would be wrong to overstimulate them. (Ryerson: Medical Advice on Rearing Children. 1550-1900)

There are many modern sources new parents use today. The “What to Expect” books, the “Happiest Baby Books,” and the millions of pamphlets given handed out by various childcare providers, doctors, teachers, organizations. However, I think there is a reason children shouldn’t come with manuals.

They will only eat the paper then demand a cookie chaser.

Bohemian Paris

Degenerates are not always criminals. Anarchist and pronounced lunatics; They are often authors and artists—Max Nordan, Degeneration.

I have spent the last several years in a dark and depressing world far below the Paris streets. I have been absorbed in researching the undergrounds of society to bring to life a man who was nota handsome Scotsman in a stunning a white half-mask as portrayed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s popular movie. Leroux’s Erik was a passionate and unstable gentleman who hid his murderously vengeful ways in the counter-culture of Paris.

Jean Béraud “La Lettre”

The Bohemian movement prevalent in late 19thcentury Paris was a counter-culture effort to reject the values of mainstream society and mock the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie. While the Bohemian moment isn’t something that was ubiquitous in Leroux’s original novel it was a culture that influenced Paris in the Victorian era—whether you were a journalist, lawyer, aristocrat or artist. Those involved were not the upper class or the deviants of the underground, but writers, students, and artists who contented themselves with ignoring the social ladder-climbing around them. The terms “Boheme” and “Bohemian” came to denote a generation who hated the idea of a work ethic. Bohemians were portrayed as vagabonds, misfits, drunks, philosophers, and narcissists—the lifestyle

associated with idleness. Public opinion of the Bohemian movement solidified after du Maurier’s 1894 best-selling novel of Bohemian culture: Tribly. This body of work was used by Gaston Leroux to craft the original story of Erik—the Phantom.

Bohemians lived by their own sets of rules; they were wanderers of the most extreme extent. Social values weren’t their concern. Their lives were carefree events filled with drink, merriment, arts, and sexual freedom. They usually didn’t work and instead poured themselves into living solely for the sake of art and literature. Renouncing private property made them glaringly different from the bourgeoisie, a class that desired to achieve the status of the aristocracy. Members of the Bohemian culture shared this lifestyle with others in communal camps, an area I have had great delight in exploring in my body of works. Who can resist a vagabond who carries all his wealth with him and hangs his hat wherever the road may take him? It’s been fabulous crafting how this sort of life has impacted my characters in the 4thbook in my series.

A snapshot of a daily routine for a Bohemian might be to rise and work on a painting or poem. But the goal was not to be productive, instead to interact and enjoy one’s company. The night was pure entertainment hanging out in salons or seeking the latest sexual encounter.  You could spot a Bohemian, if the long hair and pockets overflowing with all they owned didn’t give it away, by their out-of-date fashions and bright colored clothing.

Bohemians weren’t just men; women joined the movement too. These Grisettesbecame a source of inspiration for many Bohemians. Grisetteswere young women usually of the countryside who headed to Paris to find work—but Bohemia found them. The allure of freedom called to these women. Women of the bohemian mindset didn’t want to be ruled by marriage, and it took a great deal for them to leave behind the stability that such a life might have offered. It was harder to break the ties with their former lives because women were encouraged to be respectable and upstanding individuals. They were carefree and longed for the best of both worlds: the money of the upper class and the thrill of being considered an equal in the eyes of the Bohemian man.

I think it would be a fascinating culture to explore if one was able to time-travel. Though, I think there are plenty of types of Bohemian lifestyles found in the 21stcentury!

Your Mother Really Does Want A Medal: Médaille de la Famille française

If you really want to honor your mother today give her a medal.

Today, May 8th is Mother’s Day here in the States, but wait a few weeks and it will be Mother’s Day in France—May 29th.

Just like here, Mother’s Day, la Fête des Mères, is a day to honor your mother with something special. Children often create poems to read to their mothers or make them small gifts in school. Seems those pinch pots are universal. However the French take it one, small, (ahem) step further

France came about their Mother’s Day bit differently than the United States, where the holiday was created in 1915 by An Jarvis of Philadelphia. During the 19th Century France had a real concern—low birth rate. So they created the idea of celebrating large families. In 1908 la Ligue Populaire des Pères et Mères de Familles Nombreuses was created which honored parents of large families. The official holiday was established on May 20, 1920 with the Médaille de la Famille française a decoration by the government to mothers who successfully raised several well-brought up children and became a fixed date, the last Sunday in May in 1950.

The honor had three classes: the bronze medal for mothers raising four or five children, silver for six or seven and gold for those mothers with eight or more. For a mother to have this honor, they must be recommended to the local town hall. Next, an inquiry into the family would occur and, if favorable, a decision would be made as to if they deserved this honor. In 2013 the honor or getting the Médaille de la Famille française, was changed to require a family to have 4 or more children under 16.

It’s no surprise that it is one of France’s most popular holidays. The French have deep connections to their families and truly honor and respect what a gift being a mother is.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Child Rearing in 19th Century France

You see I cannot take my child into the country. Work forbids it. With a child I could not find a place there…it will not be long before I come back. Will you keep my child for me?” ~ Fantine, Les Misérables

Such was commonplace in 19th century France. Of children born in 1875, 93,000 were abandoned by their parents, and one out of fourteen was illegitimate. There were hospices in every arrondissement in Paris, and the poor often could not afford to work and care for their kin. Among the upper class, one would think life might have been a bit easier in terms of child rearing. But often that wasn’t the case.

Bonhams - John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) Portrait of a Child 22 x 16in

Ever wish parenthood came with a manual? Instead of plunging your lower body into the fiery pits of hell to push something the equivalent of alien out of your body, only to be told to to communicate with the mute pile of smiling wrinkles and enjoy it for the next eighteen years…

In 19th century France, apparently parenthood did.

For centuries, children were viewed as second class citizens–property to be dressed like adults and worked like adults. There were strict rules of conduct placed upon them. Upper class children were afforded education, but that did not make their position in the family any higher. Daughters were to learn their place in the family and society from their mothers, and coldness and distance was a characteristic relationship between some fathers and sons in aristocratic families.

A manual in 1886 titled Well Brought Up Children instructed children thusly:

When you have the honour to be admitted into the salons of your mothers, you must behave yourself in such a manner that they do not regret having accorded you this favour… You will, rightly, not dare present yourself in a salon without your gloves. Provincials are even more rigid observers of the etiquette than we.

Its counterpart, a study of Badly Brought Up Children, instructed the way to be successful in child rearing was to be an authoritarian. “By the exercise of authority, one makes one’s sons respectful and men of duty.” This book argued that children had one instinct–a fear of being left to suffer.

On the opposite side of such literature was Paul Janet who, in 1861, praised intimacy in the family unit. He insisted this did not ruin the strength of a family but reinforced it. In years past children were neglected, respected only as far as roles of primogeniture. By following Janet’s work, parents sought to win respect by love not discipline. But like the above manual by Comtesse de Ferry, children still remained an instrument for parental aspiration and social gain for years to come.

The transformation of the family began when children rose to a position of central importance in the home, after years of neglect, and were accorded a basic right of a life different from that of their parents–when children were allowed to be seen as children and not business tools. Before this shift, there was no social gain to being a good parent or a mar to being a bad one. The family wasn’t a sentimental unit. (Yet those manuals still were being published…)

The increase families slowly took in their children didn’t mean overnight liberation from strict rules or preoccupied parents. Neglect was replaced with obsessive love (many of these manual had opposing views), often resulting in increased demands on the children to act and behave as their parents desired. These manuals seemed counterproductive. According to Ryerson’s Medical Advice on Rearing Children 1550-1900, it was preached that newborns should be purged, scheduled feedings were not needed, wet-nurses were preferred and cold baths were a good thing. Then came the manual that said warmth was better, sex play, masturbation, and discovering their young bodies was bad and thumb-sucking was a horrible thing. Heaven forbid you bite on anything whilst teething! Despite all this, a parent needed to show the child affection–but not too much! It would be wrong to over stimulate them.

This author and  mom admits to buying in to the modern manuals. I had the What to Expect books, the Happiest Baby books, the millions of pamphlets provided by various doctors, teachers, and organizations. I think there’s a reason children don’t come with manuals.

They will only eat the paper and demand a cookie chaser.

 

 

originally posted by the author on Unusual Historicalsimage Bonhams:John Singer Sargent Portrait of a Child