If my life is indeed a picnic, like the cliche says, I’d argue that it’s specifically a late-1800s picnic – stressful, frequently overpacked, and requiring me to wake up a lot earlier than I’d like.

At least, that’s how these “relaxing” Victorian outings often were for the women stuck with food preparation. 1883’s Practical Housekeeping demands that, when picnicking, women “be up ‘at five o’clock in the morning’ to have the chicken, biscuits, etc., freshly baked.” Mrs. Owens’ Complete Cookbook and New Household Manual, meanwhile, lists several types of foods that should be brought, from baked beans to canned deviled ham – and she also notes that “Bouillon tablets are just the thing, provided there is hot water.” Because one thing that is totally not a pain in the butt to eat at a picnic is soup broth. And oh, we haven’t even gotten to the other picnic… More…

In Camera Lucida, his mediation on the history and nature of photographs, Roland Barthes wonders about the medium’s “essential feature” that distinguishes it from “the community of images,” from paintings, drawings, or etchings, for example. Barthes writes:

To see oneself (differently from in a mirror): on the scale of History, this action is recent, the painted, drawn, or miniaturized portrait having been, until the spread of Photography, a limited possession, intended moreover to advertise a social and financial status — and in any case, a painted portrait, however close the resemblance. . . is not a photograph. Odd that no one has thought of the disturbance (to civilization) which this new action causes.

I’ve always been struck by this word “disturbance” Barthes uses to describe those early encounters with photographic portraits. The word evokes not only a cultural ripple in the history of image making, but also conjures a psychology of… More…

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Two hundred years is a long time, and much of the appeal of Jane Austen lies in how long ago she wrote. Every year the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) meets in a major city and stages a series of events that recreate that long lost world. There’s a bonnet-making workshop and a Regency-style ball, and everyone marches around in archaic fancy dress. All of this strikes an appealing note to those of us who find the modern world chaotic and unmannerly, who wish that we could take tea at the right hour (if only someone could brew a proper cup) and think we would all look much better in Empire gowns.

 

By the same token, much of the appeal of… More…