Friday, February 21, 2020

. . . And a Great War Corset, Week 2

So, it looks as though this project will span only two full weeks, which is nice. I should note that a lot of thought and planning took place before the actual work began.

If you want a full intro of the project, including the supplies I used and the cost, see my post about week 1. But just to summarize, I decided to make a mid-1910s corset, a "Great War" corset. The pattern is the Rilla corset from Scroop. It was a fabulous pattern to work with, so if you want to make yourself such a corset, this is the pattern to choose.

Now, in my last blog post I talked about some fitting issues. What I decided in the end was to add 3/8" to each edge of each panel at the bottom, to give more room for my hips. I did not create new pattern pieces because I figured it would be something of a waste of time. Instead of retracing and redrawing all the lines I'd used with the original pattern pieces, then adding the extra 3/8" and redrawing, then tracing that onto my fabric twice . . . well, instead of all that I just used the same pattern pieces, traced them directly onto the fabric, added the 3/8" right there, free-handed the new lines, and cut out those pieces. By "those pieces", I mean the pieces for the right side of the corset. I then flipped those pieces over and traced them onto the fabric so I had the panels for the left side of the corset. This way I was more sure to have very symmetrical panels, and I wasn't tracing and retracing and tracing and retracing.

I should also note that, per my fitting of the mock-up, I removed 2" from the bottom of every piece because the mock-up was too long. This meant that instead of having to fit the pieces onto my fabric like jigsaw pieces, I was able to line them up right next to one another and even had a bit of fabric left over. That would come in handy later...

You might think this took, oh, maybe two or three hours. NOPE. This was approximately a day-and-a-half worth of work. First, there was quite a bit of tracing, measuring, and free-handing of lines. After all, I had to completely redraw eight lines, then trace them for the opposite side of the corset and refine them so they were pretty and smooth. I also carefully drew lines 1.5 cm in from the edge to guide me in sewing the seams. (I don't ever use centimeters, but the pattern said the seam allowance was 1.5 cm and that using the measurement in inches would be less precise.) So that meant even more careful lines. There were also matching-points so all the panels met up properly at the seams, marks for the boning, and marks for the waist stay. Multiply this by 10 panels, and you might see why it took me a while. I'm admittedly a bit slow.

Anyway, here is the first side of the corset, cut out of the fabric:

As mentioned, I used these as pattern pieces for the left side. And also as mentioned, I added lines for where the seam should be. There I hit a problem. I started cutting, and instead of cutting along the cutting line, I cut along the seam line. There was much cursing. I couldn't scoot the piece left and redraw/recut, because it was at the edge of the fabric. I couldn't scoot it right because there was the next pattern piece (and the next one and the next one, all lines up in a row). Thankfully, because I took 2" off the bottom of every piece and was able to rearrange my placement of the pattern pieces on the fabric, I had some space left over, so I was able to redraw the shape there. I was supremely annoyed to have to go through that whole process of tracing and refining and adding all the necessary marks again, but I did.

In the end, this is all that was left of my fabric, so not much room for error:

With everything now prepared, it was pretty much all downhill from there. Before sewing all the panels together, I had to prepare the front and back panels with the closures. In the front, that meant the busk. In the back, that meant eyelets for the lacing.

First came the busk. In the picture below, you see the loop side inserted and the knob side sitting beside it. To insert the loop side, I carefully placed the busk (according to the pattern) and marked where the loops should poke out. As I sewed on the facing (which you can't see here, of course, because it's turned under and is on the other side of the fabric), I sewed a seam from the top of the panel down to where the first loop pokes out, sunk the needle, spun the fabric around, and sewed back up to the top in order to make a really strong seam. I did the same thing for the space between the first and second, second and third, and third and fourth loops (from there down I just sewed a straight seam). I now had gaps in the seam to poke my loops through, which I proceeded to do. I then hand-sewed the busk in place along its edges. I probably could've done it by machine if I had a zipper foot, but I don't have a zipper foot and, anyway, this is much more precise.$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

The other side, that is the wearer's left, I added the knob side. This time, I could sew in the facing with one straight seam. I then slipped the knob side between the facing and the front panel, lined everything up, and marked where the knobs needed to poke through the fabric to meet up with the loops. I then poked little holes int he fabric and pushed the knobs through. Again, I hand-sewed the piece in place so it wouldn't move up and down or side-to-side.

The result:

And then, diSASter. I spilled water all over my directions. Okay, so that's not much of a disaster. It was fine, but still. Oops.

The back panels came next. Alas, I didn't really get pictures of the process, but there isn't a whole lot to tell. I marked out where all the holes should go (many thanks to the handy-dandy diagram included in the pattern), poked holes as small as possible through the fabric for the eyelets to pass through, and put in the eyelets. This involved the eyelets themselves, an eyelet-setting tool, and a hammer. The hardest part was pushing the eyelets through the tiny holes, trying to keep as much of the fabric's integrity as I could. It made the tips of my fingers sore for a day or so.

With the eyelets in, I sewed together all the panels, which was maybe the least time-consuming part of the project. Then I put in the lacing. You'll notice the bow partway down. That's actually at the waist (this is an under-bust corset), and that's how you tighten it. You loosen the lacing, fasten the busk in front, give the laces a pull to tighten appropriately, and tie off the laces.

Again, I didn't get many good pictures, but there were still a number of steps left. I trimmed down the seam allowances and sewed in the boning channels. (I bought pre-made boning tape--not cheap, but saved me oodles of time. It's simple enough to make--it's just flattened tubes of fabric--but it's time-consuming.) I hand-sewed the center of each boning channel very precisely in place about 1/16" away from each seam towards the back of the corset. I did it by hand so I could make sure they all sat just right. It took about a day's worth of hand-sewing to do that, because every single stitch had to be carefully placed from both sides. Luckily, with that done so carefully, I was able to machine sew the two sides of each channel without much trouble, and that was a fairly quick process.

I took a bit of a break to visit Mount Vernon on Monday (Presidents Day), then came back to trim down all my "bones" (plastic zip ties), place them, sew them in at top and bottom, secure the waist stay (twill tape running around the waist beneath the boning channels), and then sew binding to the top and bottom (using purple thread, because purple). And it was . . . done!

Overall, I love it, and I'm really proud of the work I did here.

A few things to note. First, I had been a bit concerned about the weight of the fabric I chose. It seemed like the whole thing might end up being too flimsy. But with the boning channels in and the binding around the top and bottom, it felt much more secure, and I'm really pleased with the fabric choice. 

Second, the pattern calls for lace around the bust, but I didn't add that. I like it just fine as it is. 

Third, you'll notice the lacing isn't entirely even in the back. I think this is partially imperfect tightening technique--I think the space is there to pull tight where I need to pull tight. In spite of my best efforts, the fit might also not be perfect, but, hey, it's not bad for my first corset, methinks. You can see here that I pulled the lacing loops at the waist around to the front to tie it off. Trying to tie it at the back was difficult and awkward, and I just couldn't make the knot stay put. This method works just fine. Also worth noting: tightening the corset thusly took 1" off my waist. 

Fourth, I successfully solved that gap at the center front from the mock-up, so I'm pretty pleased about that. 

Fifth, this pattern also calls for garters, which attach the bottom of the corset to the stockings with a clip. However, I haven't added those yet. It should be a fairly easy thing to add sometime soon.

Lastly . . . yes, I know one stocking isn't pulled up as high as the other. What can I say? I'm a hot mess.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

. . . And a Great War Corset, Week 1

Introduction to the project:

I am working on putting together a full get-up from the time of the Great War (that's World War I to those of us who are aware that there was a second world war--which nobody knew at the time of the First World War). First, the underthings, and yes, the underthings are always necessary. They are maybe slightly less necessary with this era than, say, mid-Victorian. You can't do a mid-Victorian look without a hoop skirt, and you can't do a hoop skirt without a corset, and anyway the dresses won't fit right in the bodice if you wear--shudder--a modern bra with it.

The 1910s silhouette was very different. By this point, corsets had gone through some various shapes and had ended up being long and hip-slimming. Instead of creating an hour-glass shape like the mid-Victorian corset or an exaggerated S-bend shape like later Victorian corsets, the corsets of this era started below the bust and extended over the hips, to create a longer, more columnar shape. This presaged the even slimmer, more columnar shape of the '20s. Also, it's worth noting that at about this time, some women started ditching corsets for brassieres.

All of which is to say that while maybe (maybe, I emphasize doubtfully) I could get by without a corset, it simply wouldn't suit my artistic sensibilities or my sense of the rightness of things. If I'm going to go to the trouble of sewing all this sh!t, I'm going to do it right, 'kay?

So there is my justification for wanting a proper 1910s corset. (I often refer to it as Edwardian, but really it isn't; it's just easier to say that. See, the corset works for the middle of the 1910s, and King Edward died in 1910. However, because the Great War began in 1914, the "Edwardian Age" is usually extended just a bit to that year since the war was such a bright, clear dividing line between "then" and "now". This corset would work from slightly before the war to slightly after the war.)

You may be wondering what the heck made me think I could and should try to make my own corset. I'd been glancing over the costs of corset supplies, and when I added them all up, it was kind of expensive. The alternative was to buy one, but that's *very* expensive. Of course, paying someone to put in the time and effort--and to create something of professional quality--might be worth that money. But then I came across a few things. 

First, I came across a pillowcase that an old roommate had left behind. Just the single pillowcase. It had a cute design of grayish-blue flowers and was made of a sturdy cotton. I puzzled over what I could make out of it--a blouse of some kind?--and then it hit me: it could be material for a corset! It would probably be *just* enough. (Spoiler alert, it was *just enough*.)

Second, I found out that it is a legitimate costuming practice to use zip ties as boning. Zip ties are dirt cheap, which would save me some money, so I was all for this. And the ladies of American Duchess use zip ties, and they're hard-core, so I figured I was good to use them. Of course, there is synthetic boning, but it's . . . well, plastic. Just like zip ties. And you wanna know which is cheaper? It's zip ties. Zip ties are cheaper.

There's metal boning, too, but it's expensive and, as I understand it, plastic actually is more similar to the boning that was used back in the day. I should explain: while some boning was metal (steal), a lot of boning was made of baleen. This come from the cartilage of whales. For obvious reasons, actual baleen is no longer legal to use. Plastic is lightweight like baleen and will shape to your body with warmth, like baleen. So. Zip ties.

Thusly, my vague plan for a 1910s corset began to coalesce. The last step was to figure out how to make this mysterious, intimidating garment. It helped IMMENSELY to watch Bernadette Banner make a corset on YouTube, and I found a few blog posts talking about the process. With these examples came the realization that corsets are made by people, and I am a people. If other people can do it, why not me?

But how exactly would I figure out the right shapes in the right size? I found a diagram online that showed the proper shapes for the various panels, but that would have required a lot of adjusting and fitting, and I knew I wasn't up to that. Luckily, I found the Rilla Corset pattern by Scroop Patterns. It seemed to be just what I was looking for, with decent directions (it's always a bit hard to tell what, if any, instructions come with a turns out the directions were even better than I had hoped). On some of the Facebook groups I'm a part of, I found comments saying what a great pattern it is. I was sold. I bought the pattern, then went ahead and bought the items that I didn't already have:

Pattern: $12
Fabric: already had it
Twill tape for waist stay: already had it
Zip ties (bought at Home Depot): about $4
9" busk: about $15
Bone casing (because I wanted to save myself time, rather than make it myself): 6 yards at $3.50/yard= $21
Lacing: 8 yards at $0.69/yard= about $5
Eyelets and eyelet tool: about $7.50
Twill tape binding: 4 yards at $0.69/yard=$3

Grand total=$62.50.

That would be less if I hadn't been too lazy to make my own casing for the bones, but in this case it was worth the money not to have to do that difficult, tedious, time-consuming task.

Wanna know how much a professionally made corset will run you? It's well into the hundreds of dollars. Check out Red Threaded. I'm not saying those corsets aren't worth the money--they most certainly ARE. But I simply couldn't bring myself to spend that much. Hence . . .

WEEK 1: The Mock-Up

The first step is, always, to mock up the thing you're about to sew. This is probably doubly important for me, who is weirdly shaped. I'm 4'11", with oddly broad shoulders, a good-sized bust, and fairly narrow hips. Basically, nothing EVER fits right unless it's specifically a petite size, and even then it doesn't always fit all that well.

The weekend before last (that is, the weekend of the 1-2, Superbowl weekend), I got in the mail my order with all the stuff listed above, except for the fabric and zip ties (which I already had). I was giddy with delight. Along with my corset things, there were three different kinds of trim that I was excited to get in my goody bag (I mean, I paid for them, it wasn't, like, trick-or-treating). I was so excited that it took me a while to realize that something was missing: the busk. The busk is the front closure. And without the front closure, I couldn't really test the corset. Without the busk, I couldn't pull it snug and tight like it was meant to be, so how could I know how well it fit?

Hm. Something's missing....
Well, I had done exactly zero thus far, so I contacted customer service and got started in the meantime on a mock-up. Luckily, the directions for the Rilla** corset were fabulous. Each size was based on the bust measurement, but the directions also indicated the waist and hip measurements that each pattern size corresponded to. So the 38 pattern was based on a 38" bust, X waist, and Y hips. I used this to help me figure out what size(s) to use (not the 38"...). As it turned out, my bust was between two sizes, my waist was between two different sizes, and my hips were yet another size. So, my bust was between sizes A and B, my waist was between B and C, and my hips were size D.

Which was . . . awesome.

But first I needed to test something. I needed to be sure my pillowcase was going to have enough fabric. So I printed out my pattern pieces, taped them together, cut them out, and placed them on the pillowcase. And . . . it was close. I spent twenty minutes trying to make it work, but it just didn't. Then inspiration hit. The hem was very wide, so if I unpicked it, I would have about 10 or so more inches of useable fabric. Success! Proof of concept:

It fits!
Now I knew I didn't need to go buy fabric or rethink the whole project. And I should note that, yes, I know that this is a fairly sturdy cotton but it isn't really the sturdy fabric usually used in corsets, like coutil. I am okay with this. This will be for very occasional use, and I want it to be fairly light and breathable anyway.

Step one was to cut out new pattern pieces based on the sizes from the directions. I bought some tracing paper, taped it together, and traced the lines for the various sizes. Then I freehanded the lines between the respective sizes for my bust, hips, and waist and cut out the new pieces. Wisely, I actually cut the fabric using the largest of the sizes and just traced the smaller shapes onto those. That way, if I found it was too tight, I had a little leeway.

Tracing and reshaping.

The 12 pattern pieces for this corset. The two at the ends and the two in
the middle are facings.
I sewed all the panels together. For the back panels, I turned the facing inwards, then ran a line of stitching about 3/8" from the edge, a 1/2" in from that line, and then another 3/8" in from that line, thus creating three channels. The two on either side were for boning. The area in the middle wouldn't be used for boning at all but as the zone for eyelets for lacing up the back. Instead of wasting the time and the eyelets on a mock-up, I just cut little holes where the eyelets will go in the final version. I laced her up, and I taped on the zip ties, two at each seam (oh, and I slipped zip ties into those channels I'd just made in the back panels).

So, we had, roughly, a corset. Excitedly, I wrapped it around myself, and it almost magically unfolded itself two a floppy two-dimensional thing into a lovely three-dimensional shape that formed to my body. Well, mostly. At first glance, it looked awfully small. But of course, with a busk, I would be able to pull it all nice and snug.
All mocked up with no way to close...

But the busk was still in the mail. It didn't arrive until this past weekend, i.e. a week after everything else. Luckily, all the above steps took up most that week.

As soon as I got the busk, I got to work inserting it.

Now, there is a whole, proper way to insert the busk, but again this is a mock-up. So I just ripped the stitches in the center-front seam between the front panel and the facing. That is, I ripped those holes on the right center-front panel, so there were slots to poke those loops through. On the left side, I lined up the knobbed side of the busk, marked where the knobs needed to go, and ripped little holes to push the knobs through.

And like that, I had a mock-up. And it did fit. However, I realized I'd made a mistake. At some point long ago, I had measured my hips, and I used that measurement without re-measuring. This was a mistake, because that measurement was wrong, and I don't quite know why. It was off by 2". So I traced out more shapes, trying to do what I had done before by using the various sizes as a guide. But it didn't seem to be adding any actual width to the hips. So I abandoned that method and did the prudent thing: I kept the shapes I had but added about 3/8" to each side of each piece. Also, the mock-up was about two inches too long, so I pinned up the hem.

And the result:

This is overtop the combinations I recently made. Now, there are a few issues. It's a little wibbly-wobbly. That, I think, it largely due to the fact that the bones are taped in and the fabric isn't very sturdy (I'm really hoping this is solved by sewn-in bones and sturdier fabric). You can see the zip ties poking out the top because they aren't trimmed to size. I don't have a pic of the back, but the lacing is a little wonky, mostly because I need to learn how to tie it off well at the center. But the key is that the lacing IS even all the way down once everything is pulled in tight. You can also see that it still gaps open a tad at the center front. It looks like more than it is because I'm standing with my hips at an angle, and also a small gap is fine. Even so, for the final product I will be adding just a little width to the front panels.

**Just a note that the "Rilla" corset was just "meant to be", for multiple reasons. Aside from being a lovely pattern with good reviews, it also is clearly name after Rilla Blythe from Rilla of Ingelside, a novel I love that is set during the Great War. Seriously, go out and read this one if you haven't (and most people haven't). It's a sequel to Anne of Green Gables and is about her daughter, Rilla. But it's really about the war on the Canadian home front, and it's beautifully done.

Friday, January 31, 2020

...And a Pair of Edwardian Combinations

Materials: white cotton lawn, cotton lace, ribbon (yeah, yeah, cheap polyester ribbon; I don't care), three bone buttons
Pattern: Wearing History 1917 Combinations, plus a good deal of improvisation
Time to complete: about two weeks of off-and-on work.
Cost: including pattern and not including lace and buttons I already had hanging around: about $30-$35

Combinations are Edwardian underwear. They're the first layer and go under the corset and are made of cotton. I say "are" but maybe should say "were", since of course they aren't worn today except by costumers like myself. (I count myself a costumer, by the way.) They are "combinations" because they combine the chemise and drawers of the Victorian era. There are, of course, different styles of combinations. I didn't, until fairly recently, have much design on making myself combinations, and at some point I purchased this pattern from Wearing History with the vague idea that maybe at some point I would think about doing so: 1917 Combinations. Recently, in a flush of creative fervor, I decided to tackle this project. After some consideration, I decided the pattern wasn't quite what I wanted. It's basically a chemise, with the option of adding a tab that comes up between the legs and buttons in front.

I wanted something more like this:

From the Met Museum.
Okay, I don't have the skill to make something quite so frilly and lacy. But I thought about it and figured I could jury-rig something with the same basic shape. I could start with the pattern above, which gave me the basic shape I wanted on top. I just needed to figure a way to make a skirt into a pair of open drawers (which is what we have above). To help me out, I used the pattern for a pair of Victorian drawers that I had made and really liked. Looking at the pattern pieces helped me visualize how to make the shapes work.

I started with the 1917 Combinations pattern, cutting out the two simple pieces for front and back, sewing them together, sewing on the lace, and creating and adding straps. (The straps took forever, by the way! I created a narrow tube of my fabric and then had to turn it inside-out so the seam was on the inside, and that legit took an hour; then I had to press it flat, which took some time. It took half a day just to do that straps, and I hadn't bargained on that.)

The basic plan I came up with to alter this chemise-combinations thing was simple: slit the skirt at the center front and center back and add two strips connecting the front and back to go between the legs. I would therefore have two legs to step through and, well, an open crotch (this was how drawers were made in the Victorian and Edwardian age; and you better believe that I always wear modern underpants underneath when wearing split drawers). Because your back is longer than your front (due to, you know, your butt), the slit in the back would need to be longer than in the front. The fabric between the front and back would need to be straight along the bottom and curved along the top. Hence I came up with this shape, which I just free-handed:

You'll see that I shortened the width of this piece. I had pinned it in place and realized it sagged, which was weird, so I pinched it, pinned it, and sewed it in place; you can see the resulting seam there in the middle. Once I did that, I was happy with the shape and with the height of the slit in the front and back. It wasn't too high up in the front of too low in the back.

Next, I made a copy of this shape so I had one for each leg, then sewed them in place. I made it a wide, 1/2" seam because narrow little seams drive me nutters. The problem with that was the top of the slits I had cut. I now had a 1" wide gap, because of the 1/2" seam allowance at the top of each attached leg piece. So I added a placket (I suppose that's what you call it) to the right side of the cloth just above this gap, sewed a line just to either side of the center, then snipped along that center line. Then I could push through that placket from the right side to the wrong side of the garment, which left me with a nice finished edge on the right side of the garment.

I tried it on after all this and found that it looked good, except that there was a wee gap in the crotch-ular area that just wouldn't do at all. So I really quickly cut out a triangular patch and sewed it into place. Ta-da, problem solved!

Next, I switched out the blue ribbon at the neckline and waist with the same pale pink ribbon, rather than blue on top and white at the waist. This was straightforward: I just sewed the very ends of the ribbon together; as I pulled the old ribbon through the holes, it carried the new ribbon with it. I also secured the ends of the lace (though not the ribbon, which I used to tie the combinations closed) by hand-stitching them (machine-sewing wasn't quite precise enough for to finish it off, though I used it to do the bulk of the stitching).

Next, I wanted to add an opening to the center front at the top. This is a common aspect of combinations, and I like the look. I had to think pretty hard about how to create the placket and where to place it. It's too complicated for me to explain here, but suffice it to say that I did something similar to what I did above with the edge of the slits for the legs. One side of the placket I created was twice as wide as the other so that I could fold it over itself to create a sturdy base for buttons. The other side I folded back against the garment so it was, also, double-thickness to take buttonholes. I realized as I was doing this that I would have to unpick some of the hand-sewing I had done to the lace, because the slit for this placket would have to be off-center for reasons of geometry and math. So I unpicked that, then sewed the placket in place, put on the buttons (some bone buttons I had lying about), made buttonholes, and voila! Center-front opening!

The next step was to sew that lace back in place, then secure the ribbon on both sides of the opening. By securing the ribbon in place at the right length for my particular measurements, I wouldn't have to pulled the ribbon and tie it closed every time; I would just button it. (The waist I still pull tight and tie off; I step into the combinations, so it has to go over my hips.) I did leave some ribbon so I could tie a bow, just for the sake of having a bow rather than for the purpose of closing up the combinations.

The only step left was to add a ruffle along the bottom.

That was a fairly simple matter of cutting out a strip of my cotton lawn fabric about 3.5" wide. In retrospect, I wish I'd made it wider, or made two ruffles, but what I did works. In any case, I actually cut out three strips at 3.5" wide: two were the width of the fabric, and one was half the width of the fabric (which was 60"). I then sewed together those long strips and hemmed that new, very long strip (150") with a tiny hem. I cut the length in half so I had a strip for each leg. Then I ran two gathering stitches across the top, pausing at the halfway point of each strip. This way I wouldn't be gathering the whole length for each leg at once but rather one-half at a time. With that done, I sewed together the ends of both strips so I had two long loops. I pinned the top of the strips (the edge with the gathering stitches that ran from the seam to the midpoint of the circle) to the bottom of the legs: I pinned it at the side seam and the inside of the leg, then pulled the ends of my gathering threads until my ruffle was gathered to the right length. This sounds simple, but it took forever, and even so my ruffles aren't as even like I want them to be. I really just don't have the knack for making pretty gathers. You're supposed to stroke them, and I stroked them for all I was worth (wow, that sounds really dirty). Still, it turned out well enough; they look like ruffles, and gosh darn it, they are ruffles. So I'm satisfied.

And with that, the only thing left to do is to finish off the seams on the inside, which is too boring to chronicle here. But it will be done.

Overall, I'm extremely pleased with how this turned out, especially since I was pretty much making it up as I went along. It still reads more as a chemise and less as a pair of split-drawer combinations than I would like, but it's cute, and I'm pleased with it.

Next up: a corset! Now THAT will be an adventure.

A good look at the pale pink ribbon, placket, and buttons.

Hanging on my closet door from the "cat hook of destiny."

My combinations in action! Ignore the socks, if you can.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

. . . And 1917 (the Movie)

The movie 1917 has been getting a lot of buzz. It recently won the Golden Globe for best picture (drama) and is up for the best-picture Oscar. It is, somewhat uniquely, a big feature film about World War One, or the Great War as it was known at the time it happened (because they didn't know there would be a second such war). There simply aren't that many big pictures about that war, and there are a fairly limited number of miniseries about it. Especially in the United States, it's something of a forgotten war, which is a shame because I find it utterly fascinating.

I could go on a few rants at this point, about how my own interest in the Great War began and how I got to where I am today (that is, I know quite a bit about the time period and about general daily-life stuff, but I don't know much about the military movements or about such finer details as uniform, insignia, the exact structure of the armed forces, and so on), or about why the war is so little-known in the US, or on how the nature of the war led to its own obscurity.

But I won't do any such thing. Maybe some other day.

What I came here to talk about was the movie, and suffice it to say that I am not an expert on the Great War, and I'm not a movie critic. But what I do have is thoughts and opinions, so here we go.

1. This movie is excellent. That's the overarching message to take away.

2. The movie is visually stunning, with a rich and faintly unsettling mixture of grand, beautiful, horrifying, claustrophobic, and ugly images. There are spring fields; there are cherry blossoms; there are men being shot and stabbed, and corpses rotting in No Man's Land. There is an awe-inspiring visual of a town on fire, at once entrancing and overwhelming. The trenches are muddy and bleak and felt lived-in (I will note that there probably would have been more mud; it was sometimes knee-deep). Moving through all these spaces on our characters' shoulders as if it were all one long take really brings us into these spaces and let us see them with the eyes of the two young soldiers we follow. The juxtoposition of springtime coming into bloom with the muddy, blasted landscape of war was especially, viscerally affecting.

3. The attention to detail is incredible. Now, like I said, I'm no expert on things like exactly what sort of button someone from X Battalion should be wearing, so there could have been all kinds of errors there, but I somehow don't think so. It felt to me that the director and production designer(s) took the same kind of approach as Peter Jackson in the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old (highly recommended); that is, they made every effort to ensure every detail is as correct as possible. Certain things stood out to me, like the bandages that Schofield pulls from his pack at one point. Soldiers carried massive amounts of gear with them, including a small first-aid kit (later, he pulls out several cans of food that he's been lugging all this time; at one point they both break out their electric torches). I know that's not A Big Deal, but it shows an understanding of what a soldier's life was like and what he had with him and how he would use it.

4. No Man's Land was, I think, appropriately shown. Obviously, there was a reason it was called No Man's Land, and this movie gives a grim demonstration of why. It was an almost literal hellscape, blasted bare down to the mud and then littered with barbed wire, bits of broken things, and the corpses of animals and men (and the rats and flies who fed on them). Aside from being a horrific sludge of putrefying and pointy things, No Man's Land was intensely dangerous. Just sticking your head above the parapets was a risky proposition (hence the trench periscope that made a cameo). Going out into No Man's Land, as our boys do, was just shy of suicide. Men went "over the top" a lot--and often didn't come back, or came back with holes in them. 1917 does an excellent job of portraying on film something of what No Man's Land must have been like in reality.

5. The writing is excellent. For my money, it feels like the soldiers behave appropriately for how soldiers would have behaved in these situations. There is a lot of emotion on display (the anxious, almost panicked expression on Blake's face as they set out is notable), but our characters get on with things, and they aren't dumb (too many movies use character stupidity as a plot point, and it was nice to have the characters act like properly trained, competent human beings). I'm thinking of the point where Schofield shoots a sniper, and, quite properly, doesn't stop shooting just because he thinks he's shot the guy; he keeps shooting as he nears the building and then makes sure to shoot the other guy dead. Although the writing is intense and fairly dense, there is a delightful level of Britishness in the British soldiers, which I appreciated. It would've been easy to take it easy on the British-isms, but I'm glad they didn't. The mordant humor and world-weary nihilism expressed by some soldiers (specifically Andrew Scott's character) was bang-on, too. There is a richness to the dialogue, thanks to subtext (something else that a lot of movies fail at), and there is a complexity that belies the fact that . . .

6. ...There is no backstory. I was perfectly okay with that. I didn't feel the lack of it at all. All too often, movies will stop the action and insert, in some awkward way, a character's backstory. It's usually either an as-you-know-Bob moment or a really forced chunk of exposition. Most of the time, we don't even need that backstory. If the writing is good enough, the aforementioned subtext will tell you heaps more than a block of exposition. In this case, we have enough hints to put together a little about out two main characters, and anyway what's important is their personalities, their mission, and how they accomplish it (or don't). Especially in a war setting, what you did and who you were before the war and irrelevant.

7. The movie is incredibly tense, from beginning to end. Partly because of the "one-shot" conceit, partly because of the music, partly because of the writing and editing, 1917 keeps you on the edge of your seat from the moment our two main characters step into the dug-out and are given their orders. Blake, without hesitation, starts for the front line, with Schofield, somewhat reluctantly, following him. There's really no break or let-up until the very end of the movie. There's always a danger around the corner, or if not a danger something potentially devastating (I'm thinking of the very end of the movie, when the action is more or less over but one of the characters is looking for someone and thinks that person might be dead. There are a few places to make you jump or gasp--and I did both.

8. I do, in fact, have a few minor quibbles. I noticed that, while big artillery guns are show, broken and abandoned by the Germans, and while we see the light from artillery shells passing overhead (I'm assuming that's what the light is), we never hear the guns. A number of things characterized this war, and one of them was artillery. It was, in large part, a war of artillery. Reading the letters of Peter Llewelyn Davies, it becomes evident how omnipresent was the sound of those big guns. They could be heard in England, after all. That being said, I can understand why the constant boom of the artillery wasn't included. It would interfere with things like dialogue and music. So, I'll give them a pass on this.

9. I couldn't help but think that there is no way that such an important order would be sent by two men travelling together and only those two men. Surely, they would have sent another pair by another route, at the very least. In such dangerous territory, the chances of those two men getting killed are too high and the message too important to be entrusted to just them. You need insurance--multiple people by multiple routes. Although, as a friend noted, maybe they just told Blake and Schofield they were only ones, as a way of motivating them.

10. While humans are sometimes capable of remarkable things in extremis, I had a rather hard time believing all that our characters went through. Spoilers ahead! (Really, stop reading now if you don't want to know--you've been warned.) Schofield rips his hand open on barbed wire (tetanus, anyone?) and then puts that same hand into a rotting corpse (so much bacteria--there's no way that hand is not getting infected). He is buried in rubble, gets shot at multiple times, gets knocked down some stairs and hits his head badly enough that it bleeds copiously, is constantly running for his life, and nearly drowns as he's carried downriver. It's remarkable he doesn't collapsed in compete exhaustion, but after all that he sets off at a dead sprint, lifting his knees as he dashes across a bit of No Man's Land. It's hard to believe all that.

11. One last, lengthy thought. I was comparing this to the recent adaptation of Little Women, which I'm afraid I didn't like a whole lot. One reason was the terrible costumes and the lack of attention to or very deep understanding of the time period in question. They didn't take care in Little Women to ensure things were scrupulously correct. But they did in 1917. I realize this is, in part, due to the decisions of particular directors about particular projects, but it's still frustrating and is part of a trend. It seems to me that serious movies about serious things like war--featuring, naturally, men--are treated with utmost reverence. The buttons must be the correct buttons, to honor the soldiers (which, incidentally, is true, as far as I'm concerned). This kind of story does deserve that kind of care, and I applaud anyone who takes that care. What I want is for the same care to be taken for a movie about women on the home front or just in living their regular lives. These kinds of stories don't, apparently, deserve any kind of reverence, and there's no imperative to get the details right, it seems, because it's just women and/or it's just a domestic story. That's the underlying message and assumption.

It gets to a deeper message about who we're supposed to relate to/empathize with and how we're supposed to do so. We are expected to relate without any problem to these soldiers in their perfectly-correct uniforms with the correct buttons, but we can't be expected to relate to women in a domestic atmosphere unless they wear ludicrously incorrect costumes and spout some uncomfortably 21st-century ideas in decidedly 21st-century ways. Actual period dress is off-putting (apparently) if it's a woman, because the only way we can relate to women is if they read as "modern". I posit that we can, and should be asked to, relate to these women as they were, not as we today wish they might have been. Failing to do so defeats the purpose of fiction, which is, at its core, an act of empathy, of getting into and understanding someone else's mind. It does the audience a disservice, because it doesn't force them to examine their own assumptions and it feeds the old, deep-seated idea that different is bad, even when that "different" means "woman from a different time period".

Mostly, this is plain old laziness--"modern" is a crutch to make a character "relatable". The writer doesn't know how to elicit empathy for these characters who live in a different time than our own (usually because they have a very limited understanding of the time period in question), so they just give the character(s) an out-of-place 21st-century attitude because that's a shortcut to getting the audience to relate to that/those character(s). Most often, it's the female characters who are treated this way, particularly in the area of costume. If it's worthwhile to make the men's costumes properly, then it's worthwhile to make the women's costumes properly.

This was a pitfall that this film does not, mercifully, fall into, and overall it is an excellent film that you should all go see (in theaters--I doubt it would have the same effect in person). I hope that the buzz surrounding 1917 will lead to more Great War content in the near future, and I am still waiting for that Rilla of Ingleside adaptation (someone? anyone? Bueller?)

Monday, December 16, 2019

...And Photographs

I started my costuming journey about a year ago, from pretty much zero. It was a steep learning curve, but I'm proud of the work I've done. I think my best work is my lovely tan 1860's dress. I shared a little bit about its construction, and I was able to wear it (to great effect!) to the Historical Novel Society costume party this summer.

But I am greedy, and I wanted more: I wanted some really nice photos to show off my work. I considered going back to the Victorian Photography Studio in Gettysburg to have another tintype done, this time of me in my tan dress [I blogged about it here]. I decided to do something different though: I decided to hire a photographer to take pictures of me out and about in my dress.

First, I had to settle on a photographer. I found Sara Roney online, and it turned out to be a great choice. Spoiler alert: the photos turned out beautifully, and I had a great time getting them taken.

Second, I had to decide where to have the pictures taken. I'm a bit spoiled for choice around here (Northern Virginia). This place is littered with battlefields and old houses. I considered just finding a nice wooded park. I considered Antietam and Gettysburg. I considered Arlington Cemetery and Liberia Plantation. But I settled on the Manassas Battlefield because of the variety of locations we could use, and how close it is (about 40 minutes from me). It's actually a pretty big place, so I had to figure out where exactly to have the pictures taken. There's the Brawner Farm and the Stone Bridge and the Stone House and the houses on Henry Hill. I thought the best place might be the Brawner Farm, so that was where I said we should meet, with thoughts of driving over to the Stone Bridge and Stone House after taking pictures at the Brawner Farm.

The day I was meant to meet the photographer came, and I got ready (hair, underclothes, sweater over top; dress and hoop skirt in the back to be put on once I arrived, since I didn't feel comfortable trying to drive in the hoop skirt) and headed there. I waited, but no photographer. After a while, I gave her a call, and it turned out there had been a mix-up (on her part--but I wasn't really angry). We rescheduled for a few days later and agreed to just meet at the main Visitors Center.

So there was I, all dressed up but with no photographer. I got in the car and started driving, trying to decide what to do next. I didn't want to just go home. Should I go up to Antietam to get pictures of myself? Gettysburg? I actually called the Victorian Photography Studio, but they were booked for an event that day. I thought and I thought as I drove, and then it came to me. Just a few days earlier, I'd gone to a Halloween party at a cemetery in Alexandria. The party had been a bust because it was pouring rain. BUT, it occurred to me that it was a beautiful day that day and that cemetery would be a VERY autumnal and VERY Victorian kind of setting. So I headed over there, put on my dress, and started wandering amongst the headstones, looking for a good place for a picture. I propped up my phone against some gravestones and did some fun posing. I draped myself over a gravestone as if in great despair at the loss of a loved one. I sat against a gravestone's plinth and tossed leaves in the air. I touched the gravestones in a mournful manner. It was all delightfully fun.

I chuckle every time I look in particular at the picture of me collapsed mournfully against a gravestone. I have loved Huckleberry Finn since I was a little girl, and I couldn't help thinking of Emmeline Grangerford, the teenaged girl who'd written sickly mournful poetry about dead people, drawn over-the-top pictures about death, and then died young herself. Twain is sending up the Victorian fixation on mourning and death, particularly on romantic, picturesque death. Anyway, it's hilarious, and it's what I thought of as I was posing there.

After spending a happy hour and a half or so there, I went home with a smile on my face. So even though the professional photos had been postponed, I felt it all ended well.

Finally, the new date came. We were scheduled for 4:00, so I knocked off work a bit early to get ready and go. Now, the clocks had just been turned back for fall, so the sun was setting early, about 4:45. We had a one-hour session, so we would have to work fast to catch the light. Luckily, it was a beautiful afternoon: clear and cool but not cold, and perfectly comfortable in my dress. But, alas, DC traffic reared its ugly head, and the photographer was late. She didn't get there until about 20 minutes after 4:00. Which meant we were losing light fast.

We got right to work. We met at the Visitors Center there on the battlefield, and we started with an old oak tree just off the parking lot. Looking away from the parking lot, you could see the treeline and the sky with dusk setting in. There was a funny little pine cone basket there, left by who-knows-who. I picked it up and twirled around. I walked through the grass. I spun. I tried to look as if a friend were coming from the other direction. I sat against the tree with a book in my hands. I looked at the camera with a smile (a goofy smile, alas).

Now, I'm the first to admit I'm not much of a model. The more I try to look thoughtful or happy or animated, the more awkward I look. And in some of the pictures I do, admittedly, look awkward. But, hello, have you met me? I'm a little awkward. The great thing is that in a lot of the pictures I don't look awkward at all, and in some I look quite happy.

We moved along, taking pictures at a snake-rail fence. I stood on the first slat and looked towards the mountains in the distance. I walked beside it, running my hands along it (sort of--it's rough and I didn't want splinters). I walked up and down a path to get pictures of me coming a going. I stood and sat on the porch of the house there on Henry Hill. I pretended to read a book. I posed at a cannon, pretending to light it and then leaning against it.

Then we agreed to walk down to the Stone House on the corner. It was a bit of a hike, and people who don't know a lot about Victorian clothing might think it would be difficult for me to walk that far in a corset and hoop skirt, but it wasn't at all. It was perfectly fine. After all, our foremothers took long rambles all the time in hoop skirts and corsets--and they rode horses and played croquet and baked bread and all manner of things. Taking this walk was as comfortable as doing it in my modern clothes. The corset isn't heavy, and I don't tight-lace, so my breathing isn't at all constricted, and nor is my movement. The skirts are actually a few inches off the ground, so it was fine so long as I didn't get into the tall grass.

Anyway, down at the bottom of the hill is the famous Bull Run with a foot bridge over it. Just beyond it is a major intersection.

Alas, one thing that struck me as we were doing this photo shoot was just how encroached-upon the battlefield is. Manassas is very much a suburb of Washington DC these days. Just at the edge of the battlefield is a community college and a strip mall with a Kohl's, among other things. That's where the exit to I-66 is, as well. A huge volume of traffic rattles right through the battlefield everyday as workers make their way from DC to their suburban homes. That intersection is always very, very busy. It took us quite a while just to cross it because of the lengthy stop-light.

By the time we made it across, it was basically full dark. The light failed quickly, and the temperature began to plummet quickly, as well. We got a number of pictures of me standing in front of the house and coming around the corner. Then we did some fun shots with the flash. In one, I look like I'm dancing on light, and I love it. Last, I took a seat on the front steps and got some pics taken with the flash. If I look really tired in those shots, it's because I was really tired. Happy, but tired.

We walked back up to the Visitors Center--harder to do going up the hill than down. I was getting pretty chilled by this time, and we had to use my phone's light to see the path, but we made it back. I got out of my dress and hoop skirt, and we had to be let out because, uh, the park actually closed at sundown.

So it was a fabulous experience, and my thanks to RONEY FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for the pics!

Monday, November 11, 2019

. . . And Letters from the Western Front

Today is known as Armistice Day in the UK. In the US, it's known as Veterans Day. The holiday is on November 11 for a specific reason, which I assume a lot of the readers of this blog will know: the First World War (the Great War, as it was known then) ended with an armistice that was signed at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Of course, the peace didn't last, and it was not, alas, the war to end all wars.

The Great War is not as well-known and is less-studied here in the US than it is in Europe. It is still very much in the consciousness of the people of the UK, something I noticed while living there. Because of my research for my novel-writing, I've been getting more and more interested in the history of the Great War.

Today, on Armistice Day, I decided to work some more on transcribing the war letters of Peter Llewelyn Davies. If you've been following along at all, you know that Peter was the namesake of (and one of the inspirations for) Peter Pan. The Great War was a major disruption in his life. He was 17 when war broke out in summer 1914. He was about to start at Cambridge, but instead he enlisted alongside his older brother, George. (Their other brother Jack, who was, chronologically, between them, was a career Navy man and was already in service; their two younger brothers weren't old enough to serve, though Michael very nearly was, because he turned 18 in 1918 and the war ended the day before he was due to enlist.)

Peter spent what he considered to be too long in England, training and waiting. Even after George was killed in March 1915, he was eager to join the fight. When he got his wish at the very beginning of 1916, he found he didn't really like war after all. He quickly became sick of it (he said that while everyone hated the war to varying degrees, he and his like-minded friend had "reached the superlative" in their hatred of it). He wrote a bevy of really fabulous letters home to JMB, talking a lot about the conditions of the trenches. I'm still working through them, but you can see the grimness of the situation, and of his own mindset, coming through.

Peter was sent home with impetigo and shell shock (but mostly shell shock, I think) once during the war, then went back into the trenches, where he acquitted himself with distinction. For a stretch of several days, as his unit was retreating under heavy pressure, Peter was the commanding officer because all the more senior officers had been killed.He got the Military Cross for his service.

Like a lot of men, the stress of war seems to have gotten to Peter. He doesn't seem to have gone back to university. He was living with a married woman for a time, working in an antiques shop in Soho. Then JMB helped, with money and connections, to set up a publishing company for him ("Peter Davies Ltd.). Many decades later, in 1960, Peter committed suicide. Though there were a number of contributing factors (his health was bad, his wife was suffering from Huntington's disease, his finances were disordered), I think the trauma of the war stuck with him all his life.

Below is one of the letters I transcribed today. Peter makes an amusing [to me] reference to British versus American spelling and gives a vivid account of an aerial dogfight.

July 20th [1916; added later, by Peter, presumably]

Dear Uncle Jim,

The last few days have been marked by the total absence of dug-outs, washing, and p√Ęte de foie gras. That is to say, we have been roughing it considerably of late. One cuts bully-beef, one doesn't shave, the dirt remains untroubled on cheek and hands as well as the rest of the body, and one has to do without those delightful 20 foot deep refuges, which I as signalling officer have usually managed to frequent. I don't in the least enjoy lying in a little slit in the ground with or without a waterproof sheet over it while 5.9-inch high explosive shells are frightful all round. Nor do I much enjoy getting my wires broken at frequent intervals all day and night. In fact, [illegible] rather at sixes and sevens.

Which is also the title of one of the books by O. Henry which reached me two days ago. These are very good and just right for occasions such as the present. He is the leading American humourist, or rather humorist, of the day, I suppose.

The other day I heard that the 19th battalion was on our left, and walked over to them to find Pemberton, scarcely recognizable through mud and beard. He, I think, dislikes warfare as much as I do.

(Later) I have just witnessed an exciting but gloomy spectacle. [A] large fleet of about a dozen enemy aeroplanes suddenly appeared in the distance. Only one of ours was anywhere near, and this immediately attacked the leading German, either from sheer audacity, or because he couldn't see the others. There was a rattle of machine-guns, and the two wheeled and darted about with extra-ordinary rapidity. But after a few moments the rest of the Germans came up and several opened fire on ours, which very soon staggered and gave a lurch sideways, then came slowly and unsteadily downwards, finally dropping the last twenty feet like a stone. He fell in our lines, but I'm afraid there was no doubt about the result. It was exactly like a battle between birds.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

. . . And the Llewelyn Davies Family Papers

If you've been following along, you will know that the five Llewelyn Davies brothers (George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nico) were the inspiration for Peter Pan and that I recently completed a novel about them. And that I've been, oh, let's say "mildly obsessed" with them for a while, especially since taking on the project of writing a novel about them.

In any case, a few months back, I discovered that an extensive cache of Llewelyn Davies family papers are held at Yale University's Beinecke Library. They are, more or less, the extent of the extant material on the family, including extended family. It was, it seems, deposited there by Andrew Birkin, writer of my main source for my novel: J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Why the material went to Yale, I don't know, but it's lucky for me, since New Haven, Connecticut is a five-and-a-half-hour train ride away from me instead of an ocean away.

Now, to be clear, a whole lot of this material is in Birkin's book. So I wasn't expecting massive amounts of new material or any bombshells (except the artillery shells described in Peter and George's letters home from the trenches of WW1--see what I did there? bit of a joke). Spoiler alert: I didn't find anything earth-shattering. After all, I'd already finished writing the novel, so a bombshell would've been . . . problematic. But that wasn't really the point. The point was to see some of these things with my own eyes, hold them in my hands.

So I made my plans and headed up to New Haven on Sunday, ready to get my research started as soon as the library opened the next morning. I walked over to the Beinecke Library on Monday morning. I got there at opening (10 a.m.) and got myself all set up--I left most my belongings in a locker and went down to the reading room. The staff at the library, I must say, were really wonderful. They were much friendlier and more helpful than the staff at most other research institutions I've been to. Too often, the people working at these places are impatient and.or condescending when I don't automatically know their particular request system and protocols. But the staff at the Beinecke Rare Manuscript Library were helpful and thoughtful and a joy to work with.

In any case, the first box I got was actually box 10, which was an oversize box with only two items, certificates for Peter's marriage and for the birth of his son George (named for his brother George, of course). The second box was box 1, full of letters. There are some very moving letters from Arthur, the boys' father, to Michael and Peter at the time he was very ill with cancer. You can feel the protective love oozing from the letters--he's metaphorically smiling while knowing that his condition is very serious. On the back of one letter is MICHAEL in large, block letters. Most likely it was Michael himself who wrote the name on there, though it might have been Arthur (it does look more like a child's hand, but you never know). There was also a letter listed in the collection guide as from Nico to "George" in 1915. It's pretty clear that this is to his brother George (our George), not least of all because there's a drawing on the last page of a man labeled "Belgian". Well, at that point, George was in the fields of Flanders. I can't imagine 11-year-old Nico was writing some other George in Belgium.


Box 2 contained lots more letters. I was interested in particular in the letters between George and J.M. Barrie while George was in the trenches in 1915 (again, if you're keeping track, George and the other boys were Barrie's wards by this time because their parents had both passed away). I was interested because I've read the last letter Barrie sent George and that George sent Barrie (thanks to Birkin's book), and they're remarkable letters (if I recall, Birkin quotes bits of other letters the two sent each other, as well). It wasn't so much that I wanted to read those letters (since I had already done so), as that I wanted to see them in person, get to touch a bit of history. I also wanted to see if there was more to see--any letters that weren't in Birkin's book. As it turns out, there are three (if I recall correctly) letters from George to Barrie, and two coming the other direction. As I said, they're moving; George is clearly trying very hard to be upbeat, and he's talking about things in a general sense, and if he talks about the danger of being in the trenches, it's always to downplay it. At one point, he mentions that a man standing within a yard of him stuck his head slightly up over the top of the trench and had it blown off. Then (tellingly) he says that he really shouldn't have told Barrie that. Barrie's last letter is a real cri de coeur, full of his worry for George. He says he wishes George were a girl of 21 instead of a boy of 21, so that maybe they could talk about things more openly. He also says he has lost all notion he ever had of war being glorious. George's last letter back is, again, reassuring. He tells Barrie that if he's to stop a bullet, there's no reason it should be in a vital place. He tells Barrie to keep his spirits up. A few days later, he was shot by a sniper and instantly killed.

Peter's letters are no less harrowing, and maybe more so, though in a different way. Peter did survive the war. At the beginning, Peter expresses his desire to get into the action. Nearer the end, he says something about remembering a time when he was eager for the fight, and that he's been cured of all such desire now. He writes some really fabulous descriptions of artillery shellings and seems to have seen a kind of dark beauty in some things, although only at a surface level--and at the same time, it was clearly eating him alive. I was starting to run out of time after reading about half of Peter's letters (there are thirty or so), so I started taking pictures of them. I'll go back and read them as soon as I get a chance.

I should note that Peter's handwriting is the most legible of them all, and George's is, for the most part, legible. Michael's can get very sloppy, and JMB's is almost entirely illegible. Staring at some of his letters, I literally could make out one or two of every ten words. I have no idea how the people he wrote to had any idea of what he'd written.

This box also contained letter to and from the boys' nanny, Mary Hodgson. Again, time was not on my side, so I skipped all those letters, though I'm sure there was good stuff there, too. There were two letters from Daphne du Maurier (the boys' first cousin), which were, blessedly, typewritten. They were written in 1960 right after Peter's death. There is also a letter from Lord Tennyson's son, Aubrey, who was able to find out details on George's death and burial site. He relayed the information to Peter. There's also a polite little note from JMB to Lady Northbourne, mother of Nico's wife, saying how much he (JMB) enjoyed meeting Mary.

Box 3 was a bit lighter as far as what I wanted to see. There were a number of letters between extended family, but there was also a letter from the War Office informing JMB where George had been buried (which I believe he already knew from Aubrey Tennyson).

There followed a slight snafu, in that box 5 was ready but box 4 was not. I gave a shrug and took box 5, knowing that, given the time, I was going to have to stop with that box. (The library closes at 7:00, but I was hungry and tired and had been there since 10:00, so I cut myself off with this box, which ended up meaning I left a little after 6:00.)

Luckily, I was in for a treat to end my day. This box was photographs, which are always fun. Now, a lot of these photos are out there, online and/or in various books. I was, in fact, familiar with most of them in one form or another. There were a few group pictures--George and Jack and Peter at Black Lake as young boys (a wonderful picture of them in the clothes their mother sewed for them and in adorable little hats, wielding toy swords and axes), and Michael and Nico as teens. Pictures of Arthur and Sylvia, the boys' parents. And a folder of pictures of George. Here, I hit pay-dirt, so to speak. There were a bunch of pictures here that were FABULOUS and that I hadn't seen before. There was an AMAZING full-length picture of George in all white and a white cap, looking like Jay-effing-Gatsby (even though this was a full decade before Gatsby is set). It must have been 1913 or maybe early 1914, because he's a young man, and I suspect it is, in fact, a costume for a play, since he was in the Amateur Dramatic Club at Cambridge, and there are a few other pictures of him clearly in costume for a play. And he also seems to have mostly worn black suits, like most men at the time. A full-white get-up doesn't quite seem like him.

In fact, my favorite picture of the bunch was definitely a picture from a play: he's wearing a striped jacket with a high collar, knickers, shoes with big buckles, and an amazing hat, and it's clearly a costume from what I take to be the 1790's. I'm not all that precise on men's fashion, but it seems like a foppish look from about that time. It's just so delightful and charming, and I'd never seen it before.

I would LOVE to freely share these pictures. I did take pictures with my phone. But, well, there was a lot of glare because most the photos were in protective plastic covers that I wasn't allowed to remove. Also, a phone camera isn't going to give great-quality pictures. And last but definitely not least, I'm hazy on the copyright of all these materials, and I'm just going to play it safe and not share publically.

Well, with that delightful find to end to my day, I trundled off to get some dinner (Shake Shack), and head back to my AirBNB, where I watched some Netflix and chilled.

In the morning, I was up and at 'em, ready for more research at the Beinecke Library at 9:00. I only had until about 11:30, because I needed to check out of my AirBNB and then get to my train departing at 1:37 (actually, the train didn't leave until after 4:00 because of a delay, and it was a nightmare, and Amtrak treated me horribly, but that's a whole story unto itself).


The first box I got on day two was Box 4, which contained what Peter referred to wryly as The Morgue. This was a project he undertook in the '40's, to collect family papers and compile an annotated family history. It's not really clear whether the intent was to actually publish this. It is comprised of handwritten page after handwritten page, Peter copying out family letters and then adding his own comments. It's hundreds of pages long, and a lot of it is material that, frankly, I wasn't especially interested in. I certainly didn't have time to read it all or even photograph it to read it later. In this case, I had to content myself with skimming it. I wish I'd had a couple hours to examine it. After that handwritten book, there are two folders of typewritten pages, which seemed to be the manuscript, just typed up. If I'd known I didn't have to go on reading Peter's handwriting and could've read something type-written.... Oh well. (Peter's handwriting was okay, but still much harder to read than type.)

The next two boxes were more photos--of Jack and Nico and Michael and Peter. There was Peter in uniform with the little mustache he grew. And there's Michael at Eton, making a game attempt at his own little mustache. For Peter, the mustache stayed, but not for Michael. Jack looks very sharp in his naval uniforms. There are photos of JMB with Nico's daughter Laura in 1928. She wasn't the first of the "grandchildren"; Jack already had a child, but he wasn't as close to JMB, and I'm not sure JMB ever actually met Jack's children. There were some lovely drawings of Sylvia, and pictures of the family home in Berkhamsted (beautiful place with a lush, almost Eden-like garden), and JMB's flat in Adelphi Terrace House. There's also a photo of JMB's funeral in 1937, with Jack and Peter and their wives. There were also some pictures of Nico apparently in uniform during WWII, which surprised me, as I had had no idea he served--and I still have no idea in what capacity he may have served. I thought he would be too old, but I suppose he was about 35 when that war broke out.

The final box, box 8, had a collection of items. There were newspaper clippings, centered around Arthur's death, Michael's death, and Nico's wedding (the press would not shut up about how "Peter Pan" was best man at his brother's wedding--that must have driven poor Peter up the wall). I managed to miss a few things, like Arthur's notes, written after he had had a surgery to remove part of his jaw and was unable to speak easily, and Eton cricket match results. But at this point, time was really running low and I had to hit the highlights. There was a floorplan of the ground floor of the house the family lived in last, before some of the boys went off to college and Michael and Nico moved in with JMB. Amongst the items in this box was also a copy of two poems that Michael wrote while on holiday at Eilean Shona in Scotland with JMB, Nico, and other friends. One poem was crossed out, but he was apparently pleased with the other one, which is just titled Eilean Shona.

The very last items I viewed were locks of Michael's and Nico's hair. It's a little odd, I guess, but saving locks of hair used to be very common (to be clear, these locks were saved when Michael and Nico were little boys). Michael's hair came in two small ringlets. His hair was a rich brown, about the same shade as mine, actually, and, I take it, slightly curly if not cut short. Nico's hair was lighter and had a hint of red in it. I did not take pictures of the locks of hair. I gently tipped them to the edges of the envelopes they were in and touched each gently with the tip of my finger. I took a moment to let my mind be boggled. Then I slipped them back into the envelopes, returned everything, and ventured back outside. I gathered my things and made my way home (I didn't get home until 10:00 p.m., but, again, that's another story).

It was a very successful trip.

Detail of envelope for letter from George to JMB. The red stamp says
"Passed by censor" because this was coming from the trenches of WWI, so
all letters had to pass a censor to be sure no sensitive info was being passed on.
The round stamp is "Field Post Office", which seems pretty self-explanatory. The address
is "Sir James Barrie, Bart [Baronet], 3 Adelphi Terrace House, Strand, London, WC"

[PS, I'm a littler unclear about copyright and am wary of doing anything that
might violate any copyrights, so I'm not going to share any of the pictures I took of the pictures
and documents, though I very much would like to do so.]