Burke or De Condorcet, who was the true king of Universalism?

Two men from very different backgrounds, with very different ideas on implementing their ideas, but with the same common core: universalism.

Edmund Burke

In one corner you have Edmund Burke, the Irish Whig politician, whom Sarah Palin (though not always the best backer, as seen through her Trump backing) once praised as one of the greatest conservatives, and who was involved within British politics.

Image of Sarah Palin

In the other corner you have one of France’s finest philosophers Nicolas de Condorcet, whom was a radical liberal, thoroughly behind the French Revolution, and the American one.

De Condorcet

Two people with different backgrounds, yet they agree on one thing: for universalism to be implemented within the British and French colonies across the globe. For Burke, he saw first hand how British rule was being changed in India by various different people to be harsh on the indigenous people. De Condorcet felt that the British had in the past been too unfair on their colonies, and wanted a change overall. Both wanted this change, but both wanted it in different ways. So who then is the true king of universalism?

Universalism of course is a modern-day term that would not have been used by both Burke and De Condorcet, but their work hints to what would be modern-day universalism. Burke by many historians is dubbed as the King of Universalism, that it was his views which helped pave the way towards it being a reality. As a politician, he saw the ugly side of the British Empire, whilst working in India.

Flag of the East India Company

The East India Trading Company carried the flag of the British Empire, not only showing the glory of the mass trade links that they had, but sadly highlighting the corruption that can come within an Imperial Empire. Warren Hasting’s in particular was a problem, taking the law into his own hands whilst in Bengal, and Burke knew that change was needed. The people within the colonies needed equal rights to the colonisers, they needed to be able to keep their cultural beliefs and religions but also be taught the British way. Rather than completely overthrow the British system, as had been done in France and America, Burke wanted slight changes carried out which would positively portray the British to their colonies. It was only one man wanting slight change, but it was the beginnings of the universal thought.

Image of Warren Hastings, a man who helped tarnish the Empire’s image

I realise whilst writing this post that the British Empire was not all tea and merriness, but was in many cases repressive and horrid, as was the Second French Colonial Empire in some cases. But the thoughts of a few people were aiming to get equal rights for the people within these colonies, to make the mother countries more respected, and to benefit the colonies more.

Similarly, Marquis de Condorcet, who was a French philosopher of the Enlightenment and was an advocate for Educational reforms and women’s equality. Like Burke, he wanted a universal set of languages, teachings and rights for everybody. However unlike Burke, his opinions changed just as much as the leadership of France. Living through the revolution created a very liberal viewpoint for Condorcet, who would happily overthrow the system if it meant that change could be made. Unlike Burke he viewed the French Revolution and American revolution as positive, seeing them as necessary. However he was similar to Burke in the belief that not only was it the big country’s duty to colonise these countries, but the people within the colonies had to benefit , that the big countries had to do it right.

Liberty Leading the People, one of the most famous French revolution images

When it comes to comparing the two, they both had the same sort of ideas when it came to universal thought. Burke was more vocal perhaps in his beliefs, writing up documents which would lead to Hastings getting tried, although not convicted. Condorcet also had the views that Burke did, though because of the revolution they often changed. However when it comes down to who is the true king of Universalism, the crown does have to go to Edmund Burke, who was happy to slightly tweak the system in order for the indigenous people within the colonies to benefit.

Collett, Wenche and Holberg: Figures of Norwegian Socialism

Please allow me to say that Oslo is a very artistic city and it is full of statues. Now I think I would have to spend a life time to take a picture of every single one. However, the city has commemorated in fine bronze casting some of the most influential cultural figures of Norwegian history, and I felt it my duty to dedicate this blog to three figures who I feel deserve recognition, and whose statues compelled me to photograph them. So today goes to these Norwegians who throve and worked towards making their society a better place.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royl Palace grounds in Oslo.
Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royal Palace grounds in Oslo.

The history of Norway comes across as one deeply influenced by artists and writers, at least in modern times. This woman, however was not only a famous and influential writer; she is often considered as the first Norwegian feminist. Camilla came from  family with a huge artistic background: one of her brothers Henrik Wergeland was a famous author, and her father Nicolai Wergeland was a theologian but also a composer. After marrying to Peter Jonas Collett, who was not only a politician but also a literary critic, she found the support she required to start publishing her work. Her pieces were echoes of political and social criticism and realism, where she addressed the difficulties of being a woman in modern society. She was a polemic author, who wrote in a fairly casual tone, which many of her readers appreciated and empathise with. However, Camilla’s story ends on a sad note. After her husband died suddenly, her sons were sent away to be taken care of by their relatives, she was forced to sell their house and suffered severe financial difficulty until her death in 1895. Despite all the stigma and hardship that she undertook, her work has not been forgotten, and it certainly helped waking up the minds of many in the era Nationalism and Romanticism. Camilla was a pioneer, and like many she was and still somehow is undermined – hence why I could not stop myself from bringing her to the spot light.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.
Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Another special woman in the history of the Norwegian arts – the beloved actress Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Stang (5 December 1917 – 28 March 2011). This woman rocked the stage, television, and any place where she could act. The piece that brought such a star to the centre of the Norwegian arts was her performance in To Tråder by Carl Erik Soya. Since then she became a regular of the National Theatre, with almost constant appearances from 1952 onwards. Foss was also gifted with a great voice, which expanded her shores performing in operettas, as well as doing soe voice acting in her later life – Foss was the voice for the animated character Enkefru Stengelføhn-Glad. But the reason why the Norwegians always have a soft spot for this woman is due to her activism and social support. Foss was mother to a child with Down Syndrome who unfortunately died, and in 1971 she suffered from breast cancer and endured it. She did not let these traumatic experiences to bring her down: she became an active supporter of raising awareness for the disabled members of society, to the point of founding the holiday resort Solgården (Alicante, Spain). After her experience with cancer she spoke publicly about this once again to raise awareness and to give hope to those who may share her fate. Moreover, Foss was supportive of gay rights and gay marriage and often confronted the Christian Democratic Party for their position against homosexuals. This remarkable woman earned in his life the title of Star of the Order of St. Olav (1988) as one of the few civilians who received this knightly title from the king, as well as a number of other awards for her artistic and personal contributions. Her death brought so much grief to the Norwegian population that she was granted an honoured funeral at the expense of this state – making her the firth woman in Norwegian history to receive such privilege. Her funeral was broadcasted on national television and attended by the king, queen and prime minister of the country.

I want to end this post on a completely different note though, because I have a lot of respect for this man, and as a historian, I could not miss him.

Ludvig Holberg - by the National Theatre.
Ludvig Holberg – by the National Theatre.

Holberg, the man who bridges my Norwegian and Danish adventure together. Baron Holberg, born in Bergen in 1684 shined in so many areas I could write endless posts about him, so I will try to keep it brief, but interesting. Holberg started as a theologian and then diverged into the fields of law, linguistic and history out of his own curiosity. What original made him famous, however and the importance of his statue at Oslo, was his contribution to Norwegian and Danish literature with his emblematic series of comedies. Ditching his theological background, he made it to the university of Copenhagen to develop his study in law. Holberg was a great student and soon his knowledge elevated him to the position of assistant professor for the law school, and shortly after  moving to metaphysics, rhetoric and Latin, and finally history – which he seemed to have valued most amongst his acquired disciplines. Nonetheless it was his satiric pieces that brought him to fame, and which he wrote in the period between 1719 to 1731. However, the great fire of Copenhagen of 1728 changed the mood of his audience – a public ridden by misery and despair was not all that keen on is comedies, so he moved onto writing philosophy and history again. Holberg was deeply influences by Humanism and Enlightenment, and devoted his work to urge people to build a better society, awaken their minds and educate themselves accordingly. Despite his wealth and fame he was a man who lived in a moderate manner and did not indulge in the eccentricity of Baroque society. He was a practical man and thought his money would be better of invested. This is best reflected in his physical legacy, for he did not marry or had children: Sorø Academy. Holberg bought this estate to create this institution for the education of the children of the nobility. it was this donation that earned him the title of baron, and the reason for which the king excluded him from paying taxes as his donation was far larger than he could ever pay in taxes.

And thus my brief biographical triptych of Oslo’s statues ends. I hope you join us on the next update 🙂 .

Oslo’s Artistic Highlights: featuring Vigeland and Munch

Welcome to a post inspired by our recent trip to Oslo! Just like a few months back after my expedition to Denmark, we will be featuring a series of blog posts created from the material collected from the trip – And I say we as Alex was my partner in crime this time. I have decided to open with this post as it was one of the features of this Norwegian capital that striked me most. Oslo is full, ridden almost with art galleries and collections of all sorts! In the short span of time we had, there was only so much we could see  (and as you all know Alex and art are not an expected combo). However, I could not leave without seeing works on these 2 iconic artists. From one side of the city to the other – quite literally – I bring you this post, including photos of my own, a couple of videos (excuse my terrible pulse!) as well as reviews when appropriate. I hope you enjoy it!

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park - at the Monolith
Vigeland Park – at the Monolith

Originally known as Frogner park, this site now is the living work of Gustav Vigeland, dare I say one of the most influential (if not the most) Norwegian sculptors of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries. Vigeland’s amazing creativity birthed hundreds of creations, including the design for the Nobel Peace Prize. We ought the existence of the park in it current due to the demolishing of Vigeland’s house by the city of Olso in 1921 – after the confrontation between the artist and the city council they provided him with a new building where to work and live. In exchanged he promised that he will donate all his works from there on to the city. Shortly afterwards, Vigeland decided to relocate to the borough of Frogner, where he envisioned the perfect spot for his fountain. He had been thinking for a while on the exhibition of his work in public and out in the open, and so his wishes were granted.

Vigeland's fountain at the centre of the park
Vigeland’s fountain at the centre of the park


However his installation at Frogner was perhaps his most controversial piece of work. Many of his contemporaries compared his work to that of the Nazis monumental art and aesthetic Arian values. It probably did not help that he did proclaim himself quite happy of the Nazi puppet government in Oslo during the Third Reich.

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

His old studio and apartment became the Vigeland museum – right next to the park – at the time of his death. That was, after all, the agreement he had reached with the City of Oslo. If you are in Oslo, at any point, the park is really worth a visit – this is just a sample of my pictures there, it is truly otherworldly and such a feat – if I did not know better, I’d say it’s the work of giants.

Nasjonalgalleriet – ascending to Vigeland and Munch

This stop is compulsory – you must visit the National Gallery at Oslo. The National Gallery is part of the huge complex known as the Nasjonalmuseet, which encompasses several buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, all part of the concept behind the National Museum. The permanent exhibition at the National Gallery is called the Dance of Life (after Munch’s work), and also it is not massive, it includes pieces that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, I would like to say that the conceptualization of the pieces was very well achieved, just like I felt at the National Gallery in Copenhagen. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections: art from the antiquity to the baroque, Romanticism, from impressionism to Munch, culminating with modernism until the 1950s. I will give you a brief look of the pieces I found that I appreciated most – after all, art is personal.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutly beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutely beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Compulsory multiple shots at the “Masters Room” – this are all the pieces donated to the gallery by Christian Langaard, who was an important art collector without whose contribution, the gallery would have not been able to obtain some of these pieces. He died in 1922, and the room was constitutes in 1924.

Tapestry from the master tapestry makers of this time period – the Gobelins (France).


I would recognise this anywhere even possibly with my eyes closed – if it’s something I appreciate of my Spanish heritage is the great art produced in Iberia, and this is from El Greco (or someone in his school). Produced 1541-164. Jesus Christ Stripped of his Garments. The art style is something unique, and difficult to reproduce – the man had an issue with his eye sight so his paintings are certainly quirky.

Moving on to the Romanticism, here is a selection of my photographs.
You may recognised this guy from my trip to Denmark - Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
You may recognise this guy from my trip to Denmark – Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
IMAG1721_BURST002 Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857): the hero of Norwegian painting. He was the first Norwegian painter to reach international fame for his work. The smaller piece really got me – the cracks in the paint kind of add to the somber, gothic landscape, like if it was intentional. Age has only helped this painting even more. Dresden by Moonlight (1838).

Now, on to Impressionism and Modernism.

I brought a print of the painting on the right home - it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
I brought a print of the painting on the right home – it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
This requires no words of course – it is what I came for.

This is a short video at Munch’s room – I know the comment is rather superfluous but it was so quiet, I felt bad just talking normally.

Leaving the museum, I could not skip the Picasso’s and abstract paintings…

Picasso - Guitar and glass 1911.
Picasso – Guitar and glass 1911.


Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction - cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.
Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction – cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

 Munch Museum

It saddens me to say that this was the most disappointing visit of the entire trip. And I will explain you why. As you have seen above, the National Gallery is in ownership of Munch’s most famous pieces – he did after all leave all his work to the city of Oslo as part of his testament, so it is the city’s right to dis play the pieces as they may. But Munch was a very prolific artists. He did not only paint, but also practiced wood carvings, print making, and indulged in sketching. He also experimented with photography. So I was aware, there would be a repository for all the rest, at Munch museum. However it appears that the way the gallery there works is the following: they use Munch’s pieces as permanent exhibit, and display them usually in correlation to another artist, highlighting thematic, concepts and evolution – which is wonderful. However, it seems I was unlucky, for the composition during my visit was Mapplethorpe + Munch. Unfortunately for Mr Mapplethorpe, I am not a huge fan, and although I appreciate his work, I failed to agree with the comparisons produced by the gallery. They tried to compare a 1980s photographer with a serious agenda on sexuality, and more precisely homosexuality, with a man who talked about life, and the world around us, and people – and of course touched on the subject of nudity, bodies and sexuality, but nowhere near in the same degree or with the same intention! To my disappointment there was a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, and little Munch in contrast – Mapplethorpe as a photographer has a huge portfolio, regardless of how many Munch pieces exist. But it was not all bad. I got to see some very interesting pieces – see the photos and video below.

Dance of Death - Munch's lithograph, 1916.
Dance of Death – Munch’s lithograph, 1916.


Munch - Mystical Shore print (1897).
Munch – Mystical Shore print (1897).

*I am afraid the video is interrupted as my phone run out of battery! However I thought you ought to see what I could film*

One last thing to show you before I sign off, is the last pieces of Munch’s art which I was hoping to see here. Munch made a series of monumental friezes for the University of Oslo. I thought they would be exposed out in the open – what was my surprised that I had to get in and out of the exhibition twice to realise they were locked behind doors in a conference room! But, in any case, I managed to take a couple of pictures – despite there is a bit of reflection, they are so worth it.

Alma Mater
Alma Mater


The Sun - like nothing I've ever seen before.
The Sun – like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I tried hard to take a good shot of History, but from that angle is was very difficult. I suspect the reason why they are locked has to do with preservation issues, which is a shame because those beauties deserve an entire audience just for themselves.

And with this we come to an end of this first piece on Oslo’s interesting history and heritage. Drop by for some more shortly!

The Irish Potato Famine: Genocide?

The Irish potato famine of 1845-1849 is often seen as a turning point in Irish history with many Irish historians referring to Irish history as pre-famine and post-famine. The famine killed almost 1 million and a further 2 million emigrated to escape the lack of food and lack of work. Not only did it led to a significant decrease of the population (estimated around 25%) but it has also been seen as a prominent factor in the desire for Irish independence. While it was a strain of Phytophthora infestans that caused the potato blight, destroying the crops that much of the Irish population relied on, the British government has often been held responsible for the horrific consequences that followed. Without a doubt, the British government was responsible for worsening the conditions of the famine, with their refusal to stop food exports and the slow move to repeal the Corn Laws which kept the price of bread artificially high. This left many Irish people to starve despite the fact there was food being produced in the country and surplus food was leaving the country. With the fall of Peel’s Conservative government, the new Whig Government’s laissez-faire policies worsened the situation; limiting food relief and scrapping work programs in favour for far more limited work programs and placing strict and often unworkable rules on food relief. But can these actions actually be labelled as a case of genocide against the Irish people?

The major issue with labelling the Irish potato famine genocide is dependent on the definition of the term genocide. Definitions of genocide are another debate entirely. The UN definition is as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The British government did not directly kill Irish citizens nor were there direct attempts at preventing births or forcing Irish children away from their families. However types of acts b and c are more complicated. The British government did not cause the famine; therefore it is arguable that they did not cause either harm or inflict conditions of life to destroy the population. However the lack of aid and the commandeering of Irish resources (the lack of land in Irish hands which caused many to lose their homes when they became unable to pay their rent and also resources produced by the Irish such as corn which continued to be exported) could be seen as acts of both b and c.

The other issue with this definition, and many other definitions, is that of intent. Did the British government actually intend to destroy the Irish? There certainly is no clear evidence, such as with the Holocaust, that there was an actual intention to fully wipe out the Irish population. Cormac Ó Gráda has argued that because of this it was not genocide but neglect. However the British government must have known such actions could, if not would (as they did), cause starvation, poverty, disease and death. Therefore it could be argued that the British government’s actions can be seen as intent.

The genocide question will always be hard to determine unless clearer parameters are set over the definition of genocide, as currently the focus is heavily on that of intent. Regardless of whether the Irish Potato famine was genocide or not, the role of the British government in the outcome of the famine did cost far more lives than the famine would have alone.

Winchester’s Forgotten Train Station

The city of Winchester has a very rich history full of changes. As you know we have done a walk-about of Winchester, exploring its development through different centuries. Well, I thought I hadn’t talked about lovely Winchester much for a while and I remembered I spent a few hours at the records office (a few years back) investigating some of the cities properties for a university assignment. To my surprise, here I found that for being such a quaint little town, once we actually had two train stations! This was in the area nowadays occupied by the Chesil Street multi-storey car park. The reason why I would like to share this story with you is because I think it represents the changes that many British cities suffered since the industrial revolution. Moreover, it shows how crucial rail networks were, and how this kept the country going in more than one ways. So, for you only, here I present you Winchester’s forgotten train station.

One of the first evidence that are found about this station is that in Bridge Street there was a place called Railway Coffee Tavern, named after the opening of the station in 1885. The company Didcot and Newbury was then involved in the project of establishing rail connections in the south of England. Winchester was chosen as a stop in their line due to its history. Didcot and Newbury made a deal with another company to proceed with the project, and found a partner in the Great Western Railway. With their support the trains could run to Shawford and link with Southampton. Nonetheless, things did not go particularly well for this little enterprise. There was a strong rivalry between the G.W.R and the South Railway, therefore they had to swap trains and locomotives before arriving the station.

Nevertheless, the line did well, and in fact played a crucial role in the transport of military troops. The book Winchester Voices records the memories of Austin Laverty who remembered seen the men coming from the Boer Wars using the line that stopped in Chesil’s station. During the Great War, the train line experienced higher transit as a larger number of soldiers needed to be dispatched. However, this service stated to fall into decay with the nationalisation of British railways, which impacted negatively the businesses of the G.W.R. Cancellations of daytime services started to become something common until March 1960 when the station closed to the public. Eventually it would be used for minor services, especially in summers to help reducing the congestion of the diesel service of the Southampton line. After its definitive closure in 1968, the order of demolition was declared in 1972.

But what this shows to us about Winchester, the fluctuation of the economy and, in general, what was happening in Hampshire and the country? I believe the Old Chesil Station is a product of the Victorian revival, not only of the country as a whole, but particularly of Winchester as the city had been run down, pretty much since the English Civil War. There was a big growth in population and a period of prosperity. The railway was spreading quickly everywhere; tourism increased, and as Winchester was such an attractive place for tourists due to its history, there was a need for better connection with different places.  Even the decadence of the railway is giving valuable information of economic development and competition amongst similar business such as the G.WR and the South Railway.  And, almost in a poetic way, I think the decline of this line, and the decrease of train usage in general, links in with the current use of this plot of land: a car park necessary for the current preferred method of transport.

So, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this often forgotten site of Winchester, and that next time you see a car park, you think to yourself: “it’s likely that, underneath that structure there are the forgotten bones of an English king…or perhaps an old railway station”


P.S: If you are desperate to know more about local railways, check some of the works that helped me with my research:

Robertson, K., The Railways of Winchester (1988).

Oppitz, L., Lost Railways of Hampshire (2001).

W/G1/1223 (Contract for demolition of Chesil Station, Cowdrey Lodge Hotel, Gladstone Arms, 1-17 Gladstone Street, Winchester; letter only) – archived at the Hampshire Record Office

or check https://davidturnerrailway.wordpress.com/ – David Turner is great, he knows loads about trains, and posts some very interesting things in his blog and twitter account –  we know this because we have been reading his stuff since 2010!!

Angel in the castle? Queen Victoria and female sexuality in the nineteenth century.

‘How repressed were the Victorians?’ asks a recent article for The British Library. Writing a convincing case for a reassessment of Victorian sexuality, Dr Holly Furneaux challenges our assumptions about Victorian attitudes to sex, while considering the many ways in which theorists such as Michel Foucault have provided ‘new ways of understanding sex and sexuality in the period.’

‘Not so long ago,’ writes Furneaux in her fascinating article for The British Library, ‘it might have come as a surprise to see Queen Victoria described as “Britain’s sexiest Royal,”’ (quote taken from an Empire review of The Young Victoria). However, ‘Now,’ she suggests, ‘It seems we no longer only think of “straitlaced patriarchs making their wives and children miserable […], whaleboned women shrouding the piano legs for decency’s sake, then lying back and thinking of England.”’ (Matthew Sweet, ix). She goes on to write that such stereotypes of high prudery were famously critiqued by Michel Foucault as the ‘repressive hypothesis: the idea that Victorians could not mention sex.’ Foucault points out that, far from being silenced, sex was discussed everywhere in the 19th century in a wide range of contexts. Including, though not limited to, the law, medicine, religion, and education. Furneaux also goes on to write that ‘Much academic and popular work since has considered the many ways in which Victorians did experience and speak of desire.’

Queen Victoria herself, for instance, is known to have doted on her ‘dearest Albert’s’ physical perfections in her journal:

 ‘11th October, 1839

Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist.’

Angel in the Castle?: Queen Victoria and the 'quite charming' Prince Albert, 1854.
Angel in the Castle? Queen Victoria and the ‘quite charming’ Prince Albert, 1854.

‘Victoria’s frank expression of her desire cuts across another received view of the period;’ writes Furneaux, ‘that the enjoyment of sex was an exclusively male prerogative.’ One proponent of such a belief was William Acton, a gynaecological doctor. He wrote in his The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1857) that ‘The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feelings of any king.’ Though Furneaux writes that Acton’s beliefs were so extreme that they ‘cannot be taken as representative,’ she acknowledges that similar views are ‘Almost certainly discernible in the virginal ideal of the “Angel in the House,” a term inaugurated by Coventry Patmore in his 1854 poem of that name.’ The poem which laid out the model of the domestic goddess, who apparently retained her chastity even as a wife and mother. Paraphrasing John Ruskin, Furneaux writes that ‘In her purity and capacity for “sweet ordering” […] the angel in the house was to sanctify the home as a refuge for her menfolk from the trouble of public life.’

The Male Gaze: A man pretends to be reading as a woman looks for books. Image taken from The Exquisite.

Furthermore, Furneaux poses that ‘Gendered ideals of the sexual purity of the respectable woman, though never unchallenged, helped to enshrine a sexual double-standard.’ She believes that this ‘double-standard’ is all too apparent in the legislation of the time, with the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 infamous for having set in law that women could only be divorced on the grounds of their adultery alone. In contrast, it had to be proved that men had ‘exacerbated adultery with other offences.’  Similarly, Furneaux offers the further example of the Contagious Diseases Act of the 1860s. The act has become somewhat notorious as it aimed to deal with the rife spread of sexually transmitted infections through the forcible medical examination of female prostitutes in garrison towns, yet made no suggestion of examining the male sufferers.

Furneaux also explores the cultural fascination with the opposite of the ‘angel in the house’, the ‘fallen woman.’ In the Victorian era, this was a broad term, which encompassed any woman who had, or appeared to have had, sexual experience outside of marriage, including adulteresses and prostitutes. The archetype of the ‘fallen woman’ appears as a common trope in so much Victorian literature and art. Furneaux writes that ‘Advice literature presented a woman’s “moral influence” as a result of her “natural and instinctive habits,” but then was forced to lay out these supposedly innate characteristics.’ She offers an example by Peter Gaskell, writing in 1833 that ‘Her love, her tenderness, her affectionate solicitude for his [her husband’s] comfort and enjoyment, her devotedness, her unwearyingly care.’ Furneaux responds, ‘All the energy that went into writing conduct books telling women how to behave shows that “proper” feminine behaviour was far from natural, and had to be taught.’

fallen woman
The Fallen Woman: A client is entertained in a brothel, 1849.

However, Furneaux believes that while recent work may have done a lot to complicate overly simplistic views of Victorian purity, ‘The idea of Victorian sexual repression lingers.’ She writes that this has ‘powerful roots’ in the prominently anti-Victorianist stance of Modernist writers, most notably Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. Strachey, for instance, sought in Eminent Victorians (1918) to ‘liberate’ his generation from the ‘Perceived reticence and ignorance, especially in sexual matters, of their pre-Freudian fathers and grandfathers.’ While similarly, Steven Marcus’s The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth Century England (1966), he elaborates on the views of Strachey by presenting the Victorians as ‘Sexual hypocrites, maintaining a veneer of respectability over an underbelly of prostitution and pornography.’ Furneaux dismisses the views of Strachey and Marcus, instead adhering to the belief Foucault sets out in The History of Sexuality (1976). That is to say that ‘Far from silencing sex as a taboo subject, the Victorians inaugurated many of the discourses- legal, medical and sexological […] that allowed sex to become a legitimate subject for investigation and discussion.’

The Victorian period was, after all, a key moment in the history of sexuality. Furneaux writes that ‘It is the era in which the modern terminologies we use to structure the ways we think and talk about sexuality were invented.’ She examines the roles of sexologists during the fin de siècle, where pioneers such as Richard von Kraft-Ebind and Havelock Ellis analysed and categorised human sexuality. They created terms such as ‘homosexual,’ ‘heterosexual’ and ‘nymphomaniac.’ An advancement which Furneaux believes was ‘valuable to the history of female sexuality.’ This is not to say, however, that she views the Victorian era as being entirely tolerant towards female or hetero-divergent sexuality. Indeed, she goes to great pains to remark upon the limitations of accommodation; seen most clearly perhaps with the trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895. Furneaux also comments upon the lack of discussion regarding lesbian relationships in the Victorian era, and sides with literary scholar Terry Castle in her hostility to the suggestion that there were ‘No lesbians before 1900.’ Instead she acknowledges that while the Victorian era was tolerant of female sexuality in many ways, arguably more so than is often thought, there were undoubtedly limitations to this tolerance, limitations which are most visible in Victorian interactions with the Other- whether queer, sex worker or another form of ‘fallen woman.’

Dr Holly Furneaux’s article on gender and sexuality in the Victorian era may be read in full here. Further articles by this author may be found here.


A word like many other words that have been adopted into the English language from India like the words ‘bangle’ and ‘bungalow’. Although today the spelling is quite different and is more recognised to the eye as ‘thug’, to mean a violent person/criminal. The definition however has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The term ‘thugee’ is defined as the robbery and murder practiced by a group in India in accordance to their rituals of worship. Another way that people might know about the Thuggee is they have been referenced in popular media, most notably in the Indiana Jones Franchise. In the second movie Jones and company arrive in India and stumble upon Thuggee practices taking place at an underground palace, in spite of them being told by a palace operative and a British officer that the Thuggee practice had been quashed previously. The film although questionable in how they portrayed them (child labour taking place {no evidence to support this}, hearts being ripped out {again no evidence to support this}). However it did show that the cult was nonetheless violent.

The earliest documentation of the Thuggee was said to have been in the fourteenth century and they were said to have derived from seven Muslim tribes in spite of them claiming to be formed from the sweat of Kali (a Hindu God of worship). What is interesting to note is the practice is hereditary being that the life of a thug was passed on from father to son in most cases. However this is not the only way to become a thug. Other ways of membership included; in some cases to take the children (if any) of their victims, train to become one with a guru or to hope that if you got to know a thug well you may be recruited as one yourself (similar to how a fraternity would work). In spite of all these ways of becoming a thug it is unclear if women undertook the activities of a thug.

The victims of the Thuggee were usually travellers as they appeared to be easy victims for their activities. Traditionally they would usually appear to help people on their travels in the areas that they occupied as a way to gain their trust. After the Thugs gained the trust of travellers they would strike at a time when their victims would at least suspect it by strangling them with either a noose or handkerchief around the neck. Usually after this act they would rob the victims of any valuables and dispose of the body. These killings usually took place in remote spots away from prying eyes near river banks for instance and at times of the day when they were less likely to come into contact with anyone, usually at night.

As of yet it is not known exactly what the death toll was from the thuggee practice. However some estimates have been made into how many killings took place during the nineteenth century when the cult was still active. The British historian Mike Dash states that approximately 2 000 000 people were killed, yet some disagree with this amount saying it was too high. David Rapoport states that 500 000 people were killed, implying that even in recent history it is extremely difficult to state accurately how many deaths took place.

During the British Raj the Thuggee became notorious and as a result the British set out to suppress and eventually eradicate the practice of the Thuggee from the 1830s. It became clear from very early on that the British soon found an effective way to overcome the techniques of the Thuggee. In spite of general policing being in its infancy in Britain, they adopted very clever ways of warning travellers coming to India of the dangers, regarding the Thuggee at border points. This proved to be a success as more and more travellers became aware of the dangers and prepared themselves accordingly by productive counter measures. Secondly an official department was set up to help quash the threat of the Thuggee. This proved to be very useful as it enabled people to know about where the locations of the attacks happened, likely targets and what time of the day they would attack. Soon the Thuggee realised they had met their match and found that they could no longer keep up with the constant surveillance of the movements. Eventually the Thuggee way of life became extinct by the 1870s.


Karjala – In search of Karelia

Let me take you away to the white taiga of the north of Europe today. Where lakes cover the land, and the tundra approaches on the horizon. Okay, it may not be Lapland with all its mythos, but this border region has been a very contested area of influence up in Scandinavia. Swedes, Finns and Russians, all want to possess the beautiful and wild Karelia. You would then think, what have I got lost all that way to the east, being this a different type of Scandinavian territory? Well, Karelia and I have a different type of bond. Karelia is where all the cool quirky things come from – folk music and symphonic metal delivered by the great Varttina and Nightwish…Karelia is also Tolkien land, for the Kalevala tells its story and that of all Finland.

So what or where is Karelia, you will be thinking? And so the problem begins. Karelia has been traditionally referred to the territory comprised between the White Sea and south-eastern Finland colliding with the Russian border. The area passes through the Lake Onega, Lake Ladoga and finally down to the Gulf of Finland. However, for the Russians Karelian has always been the eastern side of the region, the piece of the puzzle they got after the Winter War (1939-1940).  The called it the Republic of Karelia, becoming then a Russian federal subject. Nowadays, for the Finnish, Karelia is majorly the territory still within their borders – north and south Karelia, traditionally speaking, although sometimes they also include the area of Kymenlaakso and southern Savonia. In essence…Too many ideas of one Karelia. And this is part of the problem currently. The Karelian identity is so lost in the tensions of nationalism and geopolitics that it is difficult to understand what there is left of its people and its culture.

Just so you get an idea, the entire history of Karelia – or the known big history –  is all about how this provide changed hands and master over and over. We begin with the early Finno-Ugrian tribes, attracted to this land due to the abundance of cooper mines and the natural geological formations of the relief that constituted viable refuges for the people inhabiting the area after the Ice Age. Mining became the main resource for these people from the year 1 AD up until the year 1000. This agglomeration of hunter/gatherers was composed by Korela, Sum, Ves and a few Saami people at the north (otherwise referred as Pol). After the year 1000 AD, groups of Slavs started to come into the territory from and through the areas surrounding the White Sea. Karelia became part of the Kievan Rus around the 9th century. With the decline of Kievan power, the Novgorod Republic took over in the 13th century. Nevertheless, Karelia remained fairly independent. its main town and administrative center was the town of Korela (currently known as Priosersk). However, the crusading campaign of the German and Scandinavian states of the end of the 13th century would bring more changes to the puzzle. Here commences the conflict known as the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars. The ever-growing tension between the Swedes and the inhabitants of the Rus had been apparent since the Viking Age. As Sweden grew stronger, their desire to control the Gulf of Finland increased as this would improve their commerce by seizing trading routes from the Rus to Byzantium. However, this was the economic-political niche of the Novgorod Republic. And thus the quarrel begun. After a series of fights, everything resumed with the Treaty of Noteborg (1323). The result? Karelia is split in 2. The Swedes established their capital in Viborg.

Swedish control was not something the Karelians appreciated much. So little by little the exodus begun. By 1617 Sweden acquired more territories in what then was Russian Karelia. The culture clash and discomfort of the inhabitants meant that a great portion of the population fled to the East, into Russia’s territory. However, the Russians were not to be undermined, for the prowess of the Swedish Military Revolution eventually had to come to an end. Therefore, some 100 years later, in 1721, in a sudden turn of events, the Swedes found themselves on the losing side of the argument, resulting in the Russians taking for themselves most of Karelia, thanks to the Treaty of Nystad. This opened the door to the never-stopping imperial power of Russia: with nothing and no one stopping them, the intruded into Finland. By 1809 Suomi was effectively yet another Russian Province.

Despite Russian rule would only last another 100 years, Karelia did not return to its Finnish mother. After the rise of Bolshevism, Karelia became an ASSR (Autonomous republic of the Soviet Union) in 1923. The few pieces of Karelia still left in Finland became Russian in 1940, after the events of the Winter War and thanks to the Moscow Peace Treaty. Further commotion spread across the region, with thousands inhabitants having to be relocated. Bitterness grew in the hearts of the Finns as their land was taken away alongside with its second biggest city: Viipuri, the old Swedish Viborg, which was then a center for Finnish industry. Moreover, Karelia became the only SRR to be degraded to an ASSR within the Soviet Union. It is assumed this is due to the increasing minority of Russian population by the 1940s in the area, which lead to believe this could result in secession – and this was not in the plans of Mother Russia. Therefore, by demoting Karelia to a merely administrative republic, with no rights of its own, the Russians were saving face in case their most feared outcome turned into reality.

And of course, these are just the political consequences and tensions over the area…But, have I mentioned the religious issue? Well, you see this is the problem when you find yourself in a contested border: different nations can equal different religions. Since the Reformation, Scandinavia became primarily of Lutheran or Protestant affiliation. Nevertheless, we all know that on the other side of the border, the Orthodox Church was an important pillar of Russian prowess…And this is without to mention the pre-Christian, pagan roots and vestiges of native cults in the area, predominantly now represented by the Saami minority…Karelia, oh broken Karjala…Ah, of course I was forgetting…Language, another diverging point. Of course, at heart Karelia’s native tongue is of Finnish ascendency. But what is Karelian language? Depends on who you ask. For some linguists Karelian is just a dialect of Finnish, but for others it is a linguistic entity of its own with strong ties to Suomi. Just to make things more complicated, and assuming that Karelian is a language on its own, I must inform you know that there is no standardisation of the lingo. Therefore each author would speak and write Karelian according to their own local accent and dialect…However three main trends have been established. There is the Latin based alphabet, and used in the territories of the north as well as the territories of the Lakes Onega and Ladoga (Olonets Karelian). And then, we have the Tver Karelian, for the Russian sympathisers, which uses the Cyrillic script…And let’s not forget about that time during the 1940s that due to the centralisation of the USSR, the Republic of Karelia spoke Karelian but written in Cyrillic…

As you can see the situation is quite complicated, and particularly mesmerising to get your head around, so I shall not go into this much further. I think the message is clear: the only Karelia that remains one piece is the ecologic region. Now, I thought after the dissolution of the USSR, perhaps the cultural identity of Karelia had been restored somehow somewhat…It will appear that some attempts have been done through history. The Fennoman movement in Finland during the 19th century, which emerged from the nationalisms and romanticisms of this time, vouched for the incorporation of Karelia as a Finnish territory, and inspired many of the reconciliation attempts with Eastern Karelia in the 20th century. Of course, one cannot forget Karelianism – the movement inspired by the Kalevala, Finnish national epic, mostly composed of traditional Karelian poems.

However, the complications are many, and Karelia is always in the nationalistic political agenda of Finland. Perhaps it would not be so bad it the collapse of the Soviet Union would not have been so brutal for the region. This effectively supposed a huge economic recession in the area, to such an extreme that the inhabitants of diverse  Karelian territories even abandoned their homeland and relocated in Finland; a few going East as well. The urban decay of this territory has only contributed to the disappearance of a unique culture, as all the refugees mingle with Finns or Russians…and this leaves me no choice but to conclude my update of today. What is Karelia? I am still uncertain. Only time can tell if the once wild and independent Karjala will rise again.




Jane Eyre as a historical source for Tuberculosis? Contains minor spoilers if you still haven’t read Jane Eyre!

Jane Eyre was published in 1847 by Charlotte Bronte and is perhaps one of the most celebrated works in English Literature today. This post will explore the novel Jane Eyre as a historical source, primarily during Jane’s childhood. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the novel towards the beginning Jane is an orphan living with her Aunt and her household in Georgian England. Soon enough Jane was sent to spend a considerable amount of time at Lowood School, a boarding school for orphaned girls. It was at this school that this post will be paying close attention to the conditions of this institution through health, sanctions and general day-to-day activities and its likeness to institutions at the time.

It is interesting to note that although by no means Charlotte Bronte was a historian, as a novelist she did shed light onto these issues. The novel itself can be considered as semi-autobiographical, particularly during Jane’s Lowood years as Charlotte herself was sent by her father to a school, Cowan Bridge. Cowan Bridge was a school that admitted daughters of clergyman. Charlotte herself made frequent comments about her time at the school and the poor conditions she and fellow students had to live with. Her two sisters Maria and Elizabeth Bronte both died at Cowan Bridge in 1825. In actual fact in the Jane Eyre she expressed these similar views within her writing of Lowood School.

In schools like Lowood, all across England disease was evident and became rife. Disease such as; Cholera, Typhoid, Dysentery and Tuberculosis (called Consumption before the 1820s) were common. Firstly I would like to draw attention to the character of Helen Burns, a fellow student at Lowood School who had befriended Jane who contracted Tuberculosis and died as a result. In the novel there was a Tuberculosis break out at Lowood and Helen died as a result of this disease. The conditions at Lowood no doubt help to explain why a disease like this would spread to the pupils so quickly. What do we know about Tuberculosis? We know it is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and attacks respiratory system, in some cases symptoms are not always present but coughing (sometimes including blood), sneezing fits, fever and sweating. At an institution like Lowood if a disease like Tuberculous affected just one pupil it is easy to see how it would spread and cause death at an alarming rate. The girls were kept in damp, cramp and small rooms after hours with no proper facilities for sanitation. Disease like this thrive on these types of environment.

When applying Charlotte’s writing of disease to reality in nineteenth century Britain, there are many similarities. As with Lowood, Tuberculosis spread very fast in Britain and the death toll was high. In 1815 death due to Tuberculosis affected much of the population. Approximately one in four deaths occurred as a result of Tuberculosis. Again for similar reasons depicted by Charlotte in Jane Eyre the environment that people lived in was not ideal. An environment reminiscent of Lowood School and many cases some were even worse was a major factor as for why Tuberculosis was rife in Britain. The population was rising rapidly in the nineteenth century as living conditions did not. Too many people were living in cramped, poorly sanitised and ventilated conditions.

It is also important to remember that Charlotte Bronte was writing at a time when the spread of Tuberculosis in particular was not fully understood. As modern readers looking over Jane Eyre it is useful to note how accurate her knowledge of spread of disease affected the pupils at Lowood School, perhaps when she did not realise this knowledge herself. This could in a way be applied to what was happening in reality, when in actual fact there was very little understanding over it until later in the century. In a society that was predominately patriarchal it can be argued that Charlotte Bronte was a perceptive and curious woman, when it came to what was happening around her.

Somerset House (London): One Morning, 2 Exhibitions

Hello again. Here I come to tell you some more about my trip to London during the August bank holiday weekend, packed with culture. So on Saturday 29th me and my dad stopped by Somerset House, a nice Neoclassical building on the Strand in London – just crossing the river from Waterloo train station. As it happens, Somerset house is free, and as we had never stopped by, we decided to go and see what it could offer. Turns out that week they had several temporary exhibitions going – the building is generally speaking an arts center and it works as a gallery/museum. As we were a bit short of time, we focused on 2 of the collections they were presenting- Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited, and Out of Chaos. Both of them I would recommend if you have the chance or come across them (the first one ended on August 31, but Out of Chaos should be there until December 13 2015). I will not go in too much details or give too much of a long overview, as both of them were based on art works, I swear I could spend ages on each piece…So I will try to give you a general idea of what both exhibitions presented and why they are worth while.

Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited

Exhibition Cover Image including one of the re-enactment drummers at Waterloo
Exhibition Cover Image including one of the re-enactment drummers at Waterloo

Obviously, you will remember earlier on this year Michael did a post in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo 1815. However, this exhibition is not so much about the actual conflict, but the representation of itself. This is a collection of portraits produced by the artist Sam Faulker. He has been travelling to the site of the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium since 2009 and taken pictures of the people taking part in the event. A few details about the photographer may come in handy. Sam Faulkner grew up in Norwich and graduated with a philosophy degree from king’s College london in 1994. He then became a reporter and photographer, which has driven a lot of his work to be related to warfare – he was in Afghanistan. Effectively, Faulkner has replaced the traditional artist drawing portraits of the soldiers on the spot, by taking pictures of these in full historical custom. These garments are created by the individuals, as accurately as possible from period paintings available and known to the public. In total, the exhibition presents 70 images, which are displayed on walls covered by Hainsworth fabric: the red woollen cloth that they used to dress the “red-coat” soldiers in 1815. ( And the cloth that still nowadays creates the garments of the Royal Guards). I thought this was a very nice detail; as all the pictures are portraits with a black background the red makes a nice visual break, and contextualises all the images in an actual physical way. The portraits include a variety of soldiers from different nationalities (British, French, German, Prussian, Dutch), including different regiments and ranks-from grenadiers to dragons, drum players and marechals. It truly brings alive the diversity amongst the troops and the kind of people who would take part in the war. It is a very original way of exploring warfare and its human face, while using modern techniques! Fresh and innovative.


Another example of the profiles this photographer was looking at and creating.
Another example of the profiles this photographer was looking at and creating.

Out of Chaos“Exploring a century of émigré history in London through the hidden treasures of the Ben Uri Collections”

Exhibition leaflet
Exhibition leaflet


They are currently holding this in the Indigo rooms, so the exhibition entrance is at the top and the you go downs the stairs for the display. This is also an art exhibition, so you will find paintings, portraits, but also carvings, and even more modern media – posters, film, etc. The exhibition is constituted of a main hall as you go in, followed by a brief introduction of what the project is about, a history timeline regarding Jewish movement and migration, then the topic of immigration in general, with a focus on the Jewish community, and finally the archive section at the end of the hall. In addition, there are 5 lateral rooms where the specific themed discussions take place.  The first room on the left discussed integration and introduction, so this is developed through the art works of the Yiddish artists settling in the East End of London and how they incorporated themselves to British society. The work displayed includes several artists such as Simeon Solomon, Lily Delissa and Alfred Wolmark. Then we move into the second room which goes through the time of conflict – First World War- and how this affected the Yiddish community. This is the section where they speak about the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, and their contribution to British modernism, with the works of David Bomberg, Mark Gertler and Isaac Rosenberg amongst others.

The third room drop us into the issues of Jewish identity and the rise of the Nazi regime. It also explores the subsequent movement of people from central/easter Europe into the western areas of the continent, particularly the UK. The works display are from Max Liebermann, Josef Herman and Emmanuel Levy and a few more. The fourth room on out left still covers the Yiddish community in the post-war period and its artistic development. This is a period for the bloom of abstract and conceptual work, and some of the pieces, I found quite interesting, perhaps even naive in a way. Look out for Leon Kossoff, Eva Frankfurther and Bernard Cohen. Finally the last room, (5) is at the end of the corridor on the right hand side. It is entirely dedicated on the new art, particularly since the recent turn of century. They also play a film about Ben Uri as a way of contextualising the room, the exhibition and what they believe to be the future of Yiddish art and its community in the UK.

What I thought was great of this exhibition, which perhaps the other one lacked, was the degree of interaction with the information displayed. I mean, you cannot interact a lot with a painting – apart from looking at it…- but they had incorporated some digital devices as well where you could explore further paintings in context of the ones in display, or where you could look into the artists with a bit more of detail. I thought that was useful. They also had several books around for the same purpose that you could used as a reference. In addition, we missed it but they did have talks and tours around the gallery, and evening events, so it was quite a dynamic environment.

One thing I found incredibly disappointing was the amount of people visiting either of these exhibitions. Morning/Lunch time on a saturday, bank holiday weekend, with bad weather, the city plagued with people everywhere, and I am sure we were alone at stages, at least in the Waterloo portraits, and with not much more company in the Ben Uri gallery. Considering that they were both free, small so not overwhelming at all, I thought they would deserve more attention! But in any case, they were enjoyable. If this has instigated you to go have a look, I will at least be pleased.