Good day ladies & gentlemen! I am very pleased to bring you some background information on the lovely setting of The Vespertine. I will be focusing on Victorian society in general & also commenting on Victorian society specifically in New England.
A young lady could aspire to no higher station than that of a dutiful wife & engaging mother. These ladies were expected to be well-bred, mild-mannered, capable in matters of the home, involved in charitable pursuits & virtuous. Women of stature were not to work outside of the home, but some of the middle class women would work as seamstresses or laundresses to made ends meet at home. As Lynn Abram reports, "...the ideal woman at this time was not the weak, passive creature of romantic fiction. Rather she was a busy, able and upright figure who drew strength from her moral superiority and whose virtue was manifested in the service of others."
At home, women were expected to maintain a tightly run household. Many affluent families filled their time with social dates, well-prepared meals (either made with their assistance or by the help), neatly groomed children & charity work. Maintaining a home was a full-time job in and of itself, so many women could still find themselves over-loaded with tasks. It's interesting to note that, "It is a fallacy that most middle-class women were able to afford sufficient servants to allow them to spend their lives in idle leisure. Most middle-class households had just one servant - sufficient to give the woman of the house a certain status, but insufficient to allow her to spend days doing embroidery and playing the piano."
Women were not "confined" to the home as many of us mistakenly think, they were actually quite active in the community. While "motherhood was idealized as the zenith of a woman's emotional and spiritual fulfillment," many women spend time visiting, not only with friends, but also with the less fortunate, volunteering with different organizations, & spending time with their church. One of the more fascinating parts of this custom was the need for calling cards. If you were to "call on" (go visit) someone, it was expected that you have a calling card to announce your intent. Your admittance would be conditional based upon your station & card.
In The Vespertine we watch the main characters emulate many of these specific patterns of behavior. Zora, Amelia, Sarah & Mattie all spend time practicing their etiquette at teas & balls, while expending their energy in the park with archery. I personally loved the scene where Zora & Amelia are choosing new calling card patterns & all the rules you hear in the shop. Thomas & Nathaniel are very representative of two very different societal classes with Thomas apprenticing his father in the medical field & Nathaniel making do on his own through art & sporadic side work. Zora's mother, Mrs. Stewart is seen working on embroidery & assisting her cooks to make her household run smoothly.
Baltimore was a fabulous setting for this book! As there is a harbor, this town was poised for change. While the Victorian age was rather strict & regimented, as the era came to a close and industry started to really grow, Baltimore would be one of the first places affected since it was a major port. New ideas, fashion, & people came through this area allowing for change & influence to transform the area. Mr. Stewart (Zora's father) was an impetus to this change as he wanted gas lighting in his home & his daughter to receive a co-educational experience! Quite a happening time period!
I hope you have enjoyed learning a little history about this setting & I hope it gives you a deeper appreciation for the novel. Don't forget to check back tomorrow for more happenings during The Vespertine week here at Tattooed Books!