Pop Open the Champagne!

By Tilar Mazzeo, Ph.D.
Colby College

The BBC reported this summer that the owner of a castle in Scotland discovered a bottle of unopened 1893 Veuve Clicquot champagne, the oldest known to exist. The lucky laird gave the bottle to the champagne house, where it is now on display as part of their historical exhibit.

And since much of the value in this special bottle is the fact that it was preserved unopened, chances are slim that this bubbly will ever find its way to a glass. But if it were poured, what would nineteenth-century champagne look and taste like?
Veuve Clicquot champagne started using its trademark yellow label sometime in the mid-1860s, and, since it was used exclusively in the beginning to advertise a drier style of champagne to the English market, chances are the wine in this newly discovered bottle is brut champagne.

The term is a bit relative. Today, brut champagne is a dry wine. But, in the nineteenth century, folks drank their bubbly cold and sweet. An average bottle of champagne for the Russian market, for example, had as much as 300 grams of residual sugar—which is about twice what we find today in sweet dessert wines.

And since champagne then was almost always a dessert wine and not an aperitif, that makes sense. Most champagne at the time was made in the style known as blanc de noirs—a white wine make with a mixture of red and wine grapes. But, in fact, calling this bottle a white wine is probably something of a misnomer. Imbibers expected their champagne to have a rosy tinge, something a quick trip to the Oxford English Dictionary will confirm.

There are early records showing that bubbly was often served as something resembling frozen slush, with that same viscosity that comes after a good bottle of vodka has been sitting the freezer for weeks. So we’d try it cold, something that’s not ideal for bubbles, of course. On the other hand, champagne then didn’t have the same sort of aggressive bubbles we find today in commercially produced sparkling wine either. The quality of the glassware wasn’t strong enough to withstand the intense pressure created by strongly carbonated wines.

We’d probably serve it in those shallow champagne goblets known as coupes and modeled, or so the legend goes, on the much-admired breasts of Madame de Pompadour. Until the Widow Clicquot discovered remuage—a system for efficiently clearing champagne of the yeasty debris that is a by-product of those bubbles—sparkling wine was often served in small, opaque V-shaped pilsner glasses, meant to disguise the floating sediment. By the middle of the century, champagne was reliably clear, and, although flutes existed, the preference was for coupes well into the mid-twentieth century.

Even if someone opens this newly discovered rarity, we won’t be among the lucky few to taste a drop. But what good historian doesn’t want to imagine this kind of first-hand research?

Tilar J. Mazzeo is the author of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It (HarperCollins 2008) and the forthcoming travel guide to The Back-Lane Wineries of Sonoma (The Little Bookroom / Random House 2009). She teaches English at Colby College.

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Witches and Midwives

by Bronwyn Backstrom (Vanderbilt University)

The ideas of witches and witchcraft have been around for centuries and were hot topics. Witches were typically identified as older single women of lower class. Throughout history, there has been a stereotype that only women, specifically midwives and other women-healers, were witches. Women were targets because of the tradition of misogyny; women's participation in folk-healing; and changes in the awareness of female nature, their family and economic roles, and ideas of women's social behavior.

Female witches were accused of three main things: female sexuality (this included every sexual crime against men), organization, and having magical powers (both good and bad) that affected one's health. Witchcraft was considered to go against the Catholic Church. It was considered a threat to God's holy order because it was not based on scripture or religion. In addition, all witchcraft was considered based off of carnal lust, or strong sexual desires, with evil spirits.

The Malleus Maleficarum, meaning "Hammer of Witches," was written in 1484 by two reverends: Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book contains everything one needs to know about witches and witchcraft at the time, from what defines a witch and how they become one, to the sentences they would receive because of their participation in witchcraft. It also contains information on witch-midwives.

According to Malleus Maleficarum, witch-midwives were considered the most wicked and dangerous witches, who inflicted the greatest injuries. This is because they dealt with the health of others and had easy access to newborn children, who were used in offerings for the evil spirits. Witch-midwives were accused of causing miscarriages; however, if they allowed a child to be born, they would allegedly either feast on the child or offer it to the evil spirits, allowing the witches to infect the child and turn it into a witch.

The evil spirits called the witch-midwives to offer them newborn children for several reasons. One was for their pride. Another was to disguise the act of infidelity as a virtue. By associating children with the evil spirits, the witches drew in more innocent people, making it easier for them to turn into witches. Finally, they used the children to fill their ranks. When the evil spirits infected children at an early age, turning them to witches, they could set them aside to be used in the future as needed.

There was a decline in accusations against women as witches between the 17th and 18th centuries because of the increase in male midwives. Men began to replace women, resulting in fewer women in the field who could be accused of witchcraft.

Image: Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum, 1669. (Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.)

Brauner, Sigrid. Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. Old Westbury: Feminist Press, 1973.

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum. Trans. Reverend Montague Summers. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2007.

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Book of the Week: Caribbean Rum

I love to profile the books of fellow academics...especially when they write on compelling topics, like Frederick H. Smith has. Professor Smith--who also goes by Fred, depending on whether or not you're his student--is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary.

Here's a descriptive bit about his Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History: "Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the New World on his second voyage. By 1520 commercial sugar production was underway in the Caribbean, along with the perfection of methods to ferment and distill alcohol from sugarcane to produce a new beverage that would have dramatic impact on the region. Caribbean Rum presents the fascinating cultural, economic, and ethnographic history of rum in the Caribbean from the colonial period to the present"

On Thursday, we'll be treated to a description of how Professor Smith uncovered (literally!) his research subject. And here I was thinking that it had something to do with a love for good booze. In this case, it seems, his passion for rum came from a few fascinating items he found during an archeological dig.

It's New Year's Eve this week. Rum is just the perfect topic for Wonders & Marvels, don't you think?

To put your name in for a copy of Caribbean Rum, click HERE.

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Men in the Birthroom

by Danielle Kruglak (Vanderbilt University)

Seventeenth-century France saw a rise of the prestige of the male midwife, or the chirurgien accoucheur. Two French male midwives who helped the male midwife secure a place in the traditionally female world of childbirth were Jacques Guillemeau and Francois Mauriceau. Their obstetrical treatises open the eye to midwifery practices, beliefs, and conflicts of the time (1).

Guillemeau, who lived from about 1550 to 1613, wrote De l'heureux accouchement des femmes, which was published in French in 1609. His text was broken up into three sections: illnesses and remedies during pregnancy, midwife conduct, and illnesses and remedies after childbirth. Throughout his text, Guillemeau provides references to the methods of the ancients, and he also heavily follows Galenic theory (2).

As a male midwife, Guillemeau was not fond of his female counterpart, and distanced himself from what he considered to be a lesser profession. According to him, female midwives were cunning, not knowledgeable, and would commit errors. They mainly had three jobs: 1) to see if a husband and wife were compatible, 2) to be present at delivery and birth, and 3) to tell if a woman was pregnant (2).

Mauriceau, who lived from 1637 to 1709, wrote two main obstetrical treatises: Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchees (1668) and Observations sur la grossesse et l'accouchement des femmes (1694). Similar to Guillemeau, Mauriceau followed Galenic theory, including the one-sex model. Much can be attributed to this famous male midwife, such as his tire-tete forceps, which pulled dead children from the womb, and the semi-recumbent or "French" birthing position. Mauriceau also did not approve of female midwives, and he blamed them for causing problems during difficult deliveries (3).

As with many things in life, there were also conflicts within the field of midwifery. One of the largest fights broke out between Mauriceau and Philippe Peu, another well-known male midwife at the time. Through their manuals, treatises, and conflicts, Guillemeau and Mauriceau offer invaluble insight into early-modern French midwifery and culture (1).

Image: Fores, Samuel W. "A Male Midwife," 1793. Wellcome Library.

(1) McTavish, Lianne. Childbirth and the Display of Authority in Early Modern France. Boston: Ashgate Company, 2005.

(2) Guillemeau, Jacques. Childbirth, or, The Happy Delivery of Women. London, 1612.

(3) Mauriceau, Francois. Des maladies des femmes grosses et accouchees. Paris: Jean Henault, 1668.

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Bone Magic

Guest post by Sandra Gulland

Bone Magic was a ritual used in the 17th century to tame unruly horses. George Ewart Evans details the procedure in The Days That We Have Seen:

1) Kill a frog or toad.
2) Leave it on a whitethorn bush overnight.
3) Bury in an anthill.
4) Under the light of the full moon, dig it up and--watching it very carefully, never glancing away, take the skeleton to a running stream. Throw it into the water, and watch it go upstream, then wait for the crotch bone to float back, against the current. ("The Devil is there with you then," it was said."
5) When dry, crush the bone into a powder and mix with oil.
6) Dip your finger in it and wipe it on the horse's tongue, his nostrils, his chin and chest.

The bone powder was believed to give the possessor "magic" (i.e., diabolical) control over horses. "Then the horse is your servant, and you can do what you like with him."

Bone Magic continued to be used even into the last century. "It gives you that confidence. You can trust yourself to it. There's nothing that will get away from me." Some of the men who practiced Bone Magic were reported to go mad, become "unhinged." It was said that they had "been to the river," "been round rivers and streams." One man claimed that his stallion stood beside his bed at night. His wife told him, "You have to do something. Nothing bakes right; I don't feel right. And you, awake all night and your horse coming to the side of your bed." To get rid of the curse, he dug a hole in clay, filled the tin of bone powder with milk and vinegar, and buried it in the hole. He could sleep then, but he couldn't control horses as well, he said, having to use "circus cords" to keep them under control.

Image: Anthony van Dyck, "Charles I on Horseback," 1635. (Windsor Castle Royal Collection)
Source: Evans, George Ewart. The Days That We Have Seen. London: Faber and Faber, 1975.

Sandra Gulland's most recent novel, Mistress of the Sun, is set in the 17th century court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. She is also the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte, now published in 14 countries. She has two blogs, one on writing and one on 17th century research. For more information, see her author website.

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Of Art and Anatomy

by Samantha Breakstone (Vanderbilt University)

Leonardo da Vinci wrote, "I counsel you not to cumber yourself with words unless you are speaking to the in words can you describe this heart without filling a whole book? Yet the more detail you write concerning it, the more you will confuse the mind of the hearer" (Richter). Understanding that many of the earliest writings on human anatomy did not include illustrations, da Vinci brought potent insight into the value of medical illustration. Da Vinci accurately identifies that visual material has the power to both transcend technical terminology and provoke interest that dry textual accounts cannot. Never wavering in its importance, medical illustration has undergone various evolutions throughout its history. However, the two most important influences on this evolution have been the gradual acceptance of human dissection and the advent of the printing press in the 15th century (Tsafrir).

Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 B.C.E.) is recognized by historians as the first to illustrate human anatomy based on legitimate scientific study (Singer). However, Aristotle's illustrations were inferences on human anatomy based upon the dissection of animals (Tsafrir). Since Greek religion problaimed that the corpse was a sacred entity related to the soul, human dissection was prohibited; as a result, Aristotle's theories on human anatomy were fatally flawed (Matuk). This is evidence of the crucial role that human dissection plays in the history of medical illustration.

When Alexander the Great finally sanctioned human dissection in Hellenic Alexandria, Hippocrates's theories of humors drove medicine and were believe to have a more holistic scope that didn't necessitate physical proof (Calkins). Dissection was therefore driven by spiritual and aesthetic motivations rather than scientific, as the Greeks saw the body as nature's masterpiece, each part held to define perfection in form and purpose (Matuk).

This treatment of the human body as an objective form of interest was reawakened by the same humanistic ideas that gave birth to the Renaissance (Roberts). Artists of the 15th century became increasingly interested in the human form for artistic purposes; meanwhile, the emerging spirit of critical inquiry also inspired scientific revolution in the field of human anatomy as anatomists hungered to dissect cadavers in order to investigate the structures of the human body (Sappol). Both art and science held claims on the human form, and neither could completely understand it without assistance from the other. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the first artist to consider anatomy for reasons beyond its artistic applications (Tsafrir). He studied structure and function in depth through observation and careful dissection--completing approximately 30 within his lifetime (Smith). Da Vinci was unique in that he could dissect and illustrate from his own observations. Human dissections in the name of art were more respected in the public than those in the name of science; thus, most anatomists after da Vinci looked to accomplished artists to illustrate their dissections (Roberts). As a result, the boundary between art and science during the early modern era was permeable; medical illustrations emerged as a unique balance of accuracy, beauty, and entertainment such as those in Vesailius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) (Sappol).

Matuk, Camillia. "Seeing the Body: The Divergence of Ancient Chinese and Western Medical Illustration." Journal of Biomedical Communications (32:1) 2006.

Richter, Ian. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Oxford: OUP, 1952.

Roberts, K. B., and J. D. W. Tomlinson. The Fabric of the Body: European Medical Traditions of Anatomical Illustration. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

Sappol, Michael. Dream Anatomy. NIH publication.

Smith, Sean. "From Ars to Scientia: The Revolution of Anatomical Illustration." Clinical Anatomy (19) 2006.

Tsafrir, Jenni, and Avi Ohry. "Medical Illustrations: From Caves to Cyberspace." Health and Information Libraries Journal (18:2) 2001.

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Book of the Week: Mistress of the Sun

Sandra and I "met" quite by serendipity a few months ago. It's not often that you run into someone outside of academe who shares a fascination for the court of Louis XIV. I was intrigued by her blog, Baroque Explorations. And it seems she had also just recently stumbled on Marvels & Tales.

We've since been in regular contact and by phone. It was so much fun to scan our respective bookshelves for good reference works on the 17th century, particularly for those small details that can transport a reader back in time. We had a number of shared favorites. Joan DeJean's The Essence of Style was one of them. I was also delighted to tell her about Martin Lister's
Journey to Paris (1698). Lister noted every little tidbit of Parisian life, clothing, customs, and food he could squeeze onto the page. It's a marvel to read!

Speaking of marvels to read...I can promise you that
Mistress of the Sun is a treat for anyone who loves historical fiction. I suspect that this means most of the Wonders and Marvels readers!

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18th Century Marriage Customs

Guest post by Stephanie Cowell

Mozart married at the age of twenty-five in Vienna's Stephansdom Cathedral, where you can still go today and kneel near the spot where he knelt with his bride. He was a city man and sophisticated, so he may not have participated in some of these wedding customs...or perhaps he did. Nevertheless, he set to work at once to get his bride between the sheets, which was what mattered in his eyes. However....

For good fortune, the bride of the late eighteenth-century must not sew the last stitch of her wedding dress until it was time to leave for the church (we hope she remembered to remove the needle); once on her way, she must not look in a mirror. Brides on the way to marriage were considered susceptible to evil spirits. As they walked, her bridesmaids, often dressed in a similar way so that such spirits could not distinguish them from each other, clustered around her protectively. It was good luck to see a chimney sweep or a black cat. Wednesday was the most propitious day for marriages; Fridays and Saturdays were bad. If snow fell on her wedding day, it would bring fertility and wealth.

On leaving her house, the bride would step over piled of broken dishes. The night before the wedding was the Polterabend, where friends and family would smash all chipped crockery or glass for good luck and hurl them out the windows. (A girl was expected to be a virgin and, of course, to behave with utmost propriety, particularly after her engagement. Mozart was furious when his fiancee allowed a strange man to measure the calf of her leg with a ribbon.)

The wedding procession was led by a fiddler, and on the wedding morning the bride was sent a morgen-gabe--a morning gift--from her groom. She in turn sent him a shirt she had sewn for the wedding day, which he would keep all his life.

The bride's dress was often white, which stood for joy, not purity; she often wore a blue band at her hem, representing purity. Her veil was another way to hide her from the spirits until safely in her husband's care. But the first one to buy anything after the marriage would dominate the relationship; brides sometimes arranged to buy a pin from a bridesmaid. (This was before you could place an order by cell phone while walking back up the aisle.)

During the reception, the bride danced the wreath dance, sometimes called "dancing off the bridal crown," the wreath which symbolized her maidenhood. Married women danced about her until their circle was broken by their fatigue or roughly intruding groomsmen, who then stole the wreath. Guests tried to take home a part of the broken wreath, which mean they would be married within the year. The bride then put a matron's cap on her likely disheveled hair.

After the wedding, the best man would often steal the bride, leaving the groom to find her. Events could turn bawdy. That was not as bad as life on the manor of a lord. There, the lord had the right (and sometimes insisted on it) to help himself to the bride's virginity on her wedding night. In Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro, a young engaged couple create a clever plot to avoid this and still keep their jobs.

After marriage, a woman's life would consist of kinder, kleider, kirche, and kuche--children, clothes, church, and cooking. Of course, for many women there was much more than that, but that is another story. Though Mozart and his wife were often poor, their marriage was a joyful one. His love letters to her during their married life are tender, bawdy, and filled with the greatest love.

Stephanie Cowell is the author of Marrying Mozart from Viking Penguin.

Image: Jean-Baptiste Greuze, "The Marriage Contract," 1761 (Louvre, Paris)

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The Trial of Jacqueline Felicie: A Female Physician

by Jade Morales (Vanderbilt University)

The trial of Jacqueline Felicie, though not considered a monument in the history of medicine, is historically significant enough that many textbooks include an in-depth analysis of her 1322 Parisian trial. Jacqueline Felicie, referred to as Jacoba Felicie in the Charlutarium Universitarias Parisiensis, was accused by the Medical Faculty of Paris of practicing as a physician without a license. Felicie's trial is intriguing because it provides an insider view into the Parisian medical marketplace, into how women's roles were perceived within that marketplace, and into the university's power to effect medical culture (Barrett 10).

The trial itself was documented in the Charter of the University of Paris, and it includes arguments for and against Felicie. Felicie's accusers claim that she visited several patients, examined them, and claimed to cure them, despite being warned against practicing without a license. Along with the Medical Faculty, the Archbishop also expressed concerns that practicing without a license could result in the mortal sin of murder, which was punishable by excommunication. For this reason, her accusers claimed that preventing her from practicing was in the interest of her soul. Felicie's defense brought forth 6 witnesses that all attested to her experience and skill in curing them, even after many received unsuccessful treatment from well-known licensed physicians. So the natural question is: what were the motivations of the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris? Was the health of Parisians their main concern, or was this trail an attempt to slowly reduce the competition to university-trained physicians? (Green 15).

Non-university trained traditional healers, like Felicie, were the predominant practitioners of early 14th century Paris. Many women who were skilled through apprenticeship or practice acted as healers for lay people. Because women weren't admitted to the University, they were unable to obtain the licenses that the Medical Faculty mandated. Thus, academically trained physicians were all male, and women were at a disadvantage when the university began to regulate medical practice. Parisian medicine requiring university-training and licenses occurred at the expense of female traditional healers (Minkowski 4-5).

Felicie, though considered very wise and skilled by her patients, was found guilty. Her sentencing included excommunication and a fine of 60 Parisian pounds. It is not known with certainty whether Felicie continued to practice in secret or whether she moved away. What historians do know is that traditional healers continued to cure when academically-trained physicians could not. The population of Paris was bigger than the licensed physicians could accommodate, so the likelihood of Felicie staying in business was high. Her trial is not only an example of the attempt to regulate the Parisian medical marketplace; it also allows us to question the motivations of academic institutions.

Image: "Medicin examinant les dents d'un patient." Manuscrits occidentaux (1350). (Bibliotheque Paris)
Barrett-Graves, Debra, Jo E. Carney, and Gwynne Kennedy. Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Green, Monica H. "Women's Medical Practice and Health Care in Medieval Europe." Journal of Women in Culture and Society (14) 1988-89.

Minkowski, William. "Physicians' Motives in Banning Medieval Traditional Healers." Journal of Women and Health (1:2) April 1994.

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Book of the Week: Marrying Mozart

It's once again my pleasure to introduce the Wonders and Marvel's book of the week.

Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell

Stephanie is author of several historical novels: The Player: A Novel of Young Shakespeare and the Nicolas Crooke series about the seventeenth-century London physician.

I "met" Stephanie by chance through an online discussion about historical fiction. She is a lovely correspondent--and an engaging writer. You'll find more information about Stephanie over at the Hoydens and Firebrands website and her new spiffy website

Stay tuned on Thursday for Stephanie's guest post about marriage customs in the time of Mozart.

And be sure to register for a chance to win a signed copy of her book! Just
click here.

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When in Paris...

I regaled you awhile back with a tale about my library research in Rome--complete with an overly "enthusiastic" librarian.

While I'm mentioning great places to research, you should definitely put Paris Museum of Art and Industry on your "to do" list. It is my favorite museum on this planet--and it's where I fell in love with early science.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit its massive, truly massive, collections storage area. Can you only imagine what it was like to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of centuries of scientific experimentation?

The off site storage center is in a suburb of Paris and is about the size of a medium shopping mall. There are rows and rows of shelves as far as the eye. The sections are perfectly grouped and catalogued. A football field's worth of early telescopes here. Enough telephones and telegraph equipment to fill a small house. And don't forget all of the weights, pulleys, vacuums, and various bottles of every shape and size imaginable. Truly, the world's most extraordinary Cabinet of Curiosities in existence!

If you read French, here's more information about the Museum's storage facilities.

The geek world is so full of marvels. I have some other stories to tell about French libraries, and a library in Dublin that claims to have a ghost! Stay tuned.

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Realism in Dissection

by Mary Coleman (Vanderbilt University)

During the scientific revolution and particularly the 17th century, anatomical dissections and representations took on a new element of "realism." Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo's 1689 anatomical manual, Anatomia Humani Corporis, and the controversy surrounding its illustrations highlight the manner in which such realism was a product of the times.

The manual's hauntingly precise illustrations, drawn by Dutch artist Gerard de Lairesse, were central to the success of the work and proved so in later allegations of plagiarism. When William Cowper published an anatomical manual in 1698 using the same plates drawn by de Lairesse, he gave no credit to the artist or the anatomist. Although Cowper wrote an entirely original English text to accompany the plates, his status as a plagiarist remains. Author and historian William Cobb considers the importance of illustrations in 17th century medical publishing: "Precise anatomical descriptions were a key part of the scientific revolution's attempt to provide a material account of the universe" (163).

Why were such illustrations so imperative to the livelihood of 17th century anatomists? The invention and development of the microscope in the Netherlands during the early 17th century brought medical and public attention to the uncharted realm of minute structures. With the enhanced observational power of the microscope, realism and even hyperrealism became vital to the success of anatomical illustration. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, the Netherlands really was the center of scientific and artistic innovation, producing such celebrated artists as realist painter Jan Vermeer and Rembrandt, certainly a master draftsman. During this "golden" era, distinguished artists and scientists mingled in the universities and public spheres.

Medical education during the century increasingly included observation of dissection in "anatomical theatres." Professors performed dissections while dictating anatomical lessons to students, and public dissections were put on display for a fee. As interested parties became well versed in the drama of dissection and anatomical macro-structure, anatomists were pressed to deliver cutting-edge observations with precision.

Govard Bidloo's text and the controversy surrounding its publication demonstrate the beginnings of an emphasis on exacting observation that continues today in medical experimentation.

Image: Gerard de Lairesse, "Structure of Head" (1685).
Bidloo, Govard. Anatomia Humani Corporis, 1685.

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Anaesthesia's Dark Side

Guest post by Stephanie Snow

Rape, abductions, and murders are horrific crimes. But what have they to do with the history of anaesthesia? The connection is chloroform, the most popular anaesthetic of the nineteenth century and the Jekyll and Hyde of the drug market. Its anaesthetic powers cocooned patients in oblivion, protecting them from the pain of operations. But chloroform also became popular with criminals, as it provided an easy way of overpowering victims, and sometimes of killing them.

In 1857 Sir William Wilde (father of Oscar) was accused of rape under chloroform by his patient, Mary Travers. Although Mary eventually admitted in court that her accusation was false, she explained that she had chosen chloroform because it had such a "treacherous" reputation.

Certainly the appearance of chloroform in one of London's most notorious murder trials--the Pimlico Mystery in 1886 settled it in the public's imagination as one of the most dangerous drugs around. Adelaide Bartlett was accused of murdering her husband, Edwin Bartlett, with chloroform. During the trial, a picture emerged of the Bartletts' most extraordinary menage a trois with George Dyson, a Methodist minister. Edwin had apparently encouraged Adelaide and Dyson to form a relationship, in the expectation that Adelaide would marry Dyson after Edwin's death. (Edwin had a history of ill-health.) At Edwin's autopsy, scientific investigations revealed the presence of chloroform in his mouth or oesophogus. This confirmed that Edwin must have been upright and able to swallow when he took the chloroform. Adelaide admitted having chloroform in the house, but claimed it was simply to fend Edwin away if he became amorous. Was Adelaide a murderess or an innocent victim? The jury was gravely suspicious but could not convict for lack of evidence. "Now that it is all over, she should tell us, in the interest of science, how she did it," said surgeon Sir James Paget at the end of the trial. But she never did, and the case remains unsolved to this day.

Nor has the danger of chloroform faded into history. In 1994, a doctor was tried and convicted in Liverpool, UK for adbucting and raping a young woman, allegedly using chloroform, and in September of this year, the team investigating the disappearance of 3 year old Caylee Marie Anthony in Orlando, USA suspected that chloroform may have been used to abduct the child. The dark side continues...

To enter the drawing for a copy of Dr. Snow's book, click here.

Stephanie Snow is the author of Blessed Days of Anaesthesia and Operations Without Pain. She is a historian at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Manchester, UK.

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Gerard van Swieten

by Julie Ann Fenstermaker (Vanderbilt University)

In 1740, when Maria Theresa inherited the Habsburg Empire, Austria was about 200 years behind its European neighbors in the medical realm. Maria Theresa acted fast and recruited knowledgeable people to her court. Gerard van Swieten was one of the most important people she brought to Vienna, Austria.

Van Swieten was educated at the Leiden University; he studied under Herman Boerhaave and became a well-respected physician. He actually compiled his notes from Boerhaave's lectures into a 15 volume set. In Austria, van Swieten was appointed as the Chief Physician, which meant he not only cared for the royal family, but he also managed the entire medical staff as well. He was also named the Director of the Imperial Library. As President of the Censorship Committee, van Swieten had access to all the new books being published. He documented the list of books that the committee read in Supplementum Librorum Prohibitorum. This record of 3,120 works, 595 of which were banned, provides insight to historians on the social and political sentiments of the time.

Van Swieten's legacy is in his reform movement. In 1749, he proposed a plan to completely reorganize the faculty of medicine. Maria Theresa agreed to this plan and provided funding to establish the Vienna School of Medicine. Van Swieten added professorships of botany, chemistry, and surgery to the university and personally taught a two year lecture series on the functioning of the human body and the pathology of diseases. He also reformed pharmacy inspections to make the apothecaries more accountable.

In his book Diseases Incident to Armies, van Swieten describes a cure for syphilis. The concoction of mercury sublimate was called Liquor Swietenii. It was not invented by van Swieten, but he was the one who administered it on a large scale; therefore it was credited to him for over 100 years.

Van Swieten's efforts of reform made a powerful impact in Austria. The Vienna School of Medicine became a highly respected institution of learning, and he was able to recruit impressive physicians and scientists to Vienna. Van Swieten was commemorated on the Euro in 2007 and can also be found on the Maria Theresa statue near the Hofburg in Vienna.

Brechka, Frank T. Gerard van Swieten and his World, 1700-1772. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1970.

Kidd, Mark, and Irvin M. Modlin. "Van Swieten and the Renaissance of the Vienna Medical School." World Journal of Surgery (25:4) 2001: 444-50.

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Book of the Week: Blessed Days of Anaesthesia

Anesthesia is a relative newcomer to medicine. Up until the 19th century, surgeries were done without effective pain management. The best bet for pain was loads of alcohol and a variety of herbal concoctions. One well-used herb: the mandrake. The little forked root made famous by Harry Potter's time at Hogwarts.

Stephanie Snow's book tells the charged story of chloroform, ether, politics, and murder in the 19th century. A smart book, a fascinating read. Dr. Snow is a Research Associate at the Center for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Manchester.

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Men and Women in Midwifery

by Allison Nelson (Vanderbilt University)

In the early modern period, midwifery began to change from a female art into a male occupation. The shift was not a smooth one. Indeed, it began in 1522, when Dr. Wertt of Hamburg dressed up as a woman in order to observe midwives and learn about childbirth. When he was discovered as a man, Wertt was burned alive. Later in the mid-sixteenth century, however, the renowned surgeon Pare laid a more solid foundation for men's work in the birthing room; he did this by aiding in delivery by pulling babies out of the womb by their feet during difficult births.

A contributing factor in this shift of gender roles was Louis XIV's use of male midwives to deliver his illegitimate children. As men delivered his mistresses babies, male midwives gained popularity. A rapid population boom in Europe further encouraged these social changes; as the population grew and universities increased their study of reproduction and anatomy, childbirth became a medicalized and, thus, masculinized domain. Case studies, rather than oral tradition, became the preferred method for educating individuals about childbirth (1).

There existed three recognized distinctions between male and female midwives. First, the men held a monopoly over medical tools, which women were disallowed from owning. Second, the male midwives were more formally educated in universities; there they dissected bodies, read case-studies, and learned about classical theories. Women, on the other hand, were taught through experience; they apprenticed and learned through women's household manuals. Third, male and female midwives viewed patients differently. While women's manuals emphasize individual relationships and take a maternal tone, men's manuals stressed quantitative practices and medical causality (2).

Even as male midwives gained popularity, their acceptance was not unanimous. Some people believed that men did not belong in the birthing room; since men could never experience childbirth, some believed it was beyond the realm of male expertise. Such critics often cited the Bible, claiming the absence of men at recorded births. Other critics viewed male midwives as interlopers into other men's domestic territory. In a space where the husband or father was absent, the male midwife's presence stood out as inappropriate; it raised questions about the male midwives' potentially inappropriate behavior toward vulnerable female bodies. Thus issues of female modesty and male property emerged, and opponents called upon husbands to bar male midwives from their homes (3).

While gender issues caused debate, so too did suspicion about scientific instruments and their over-use in the birthing room. Frequently, male midwives used tools even in "normal" births that might not necessitate them -- and the tools posed additional risks. Not only did the tools threaten additional infections, but their misuse could harm the baby or its mother. Renowned female midwife Sarah Stone, for example, claimed that in her career she had only seen four cases that could have been safer through the use of tools (4).

Image: Fores, Samuel William. "A Man-Mid-Wife." From Man-Midwifery Dissected. London, 1793. (Wellcome Library, London)

(1) Schnorrenberg. "Is Childbirth Any Place for a Woman? The Decline of Midwifery in Eighteenth-Century England." Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture (10) 1981: 393.

(2)Fife, Ernelle. "Gender and Professionalism in Eighteenth-Century Culture." Women's Writing (11:2) 2004: 185-200.

(3)Blunt, John. "Man-Midwifery Dissected: or, The Obstetric Family Instructor." 1793.

(4) Stone, Sarah. "A Complete Practice of Midwifery." 1737.

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The Party that Changed the World

by David King

Wouldn't it be nice to have a clock that would slow down in times of pleasure and speed up in times of trial? That was once a wish of Austrian Emperor Francis I, who could certainly have used such a device in the autumn of 1814 when he opened his palace to a veritable royal mob who would never seem to agree, or leave. The occasion was the Congress of Vienna, a glittering peace conference at the end of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

For a time, Vienna became the capital of Europe, the site of a massive victory celebration, and home to the most glamorous gathering since the fall of the Roman Empire. Never before have more kings, queens, and princes lived in the same place for such a long period of time.

Catering to the whims of these houseguests would sometimes be exasperating. Vienna wits soon poked fun at the early impressions made by the crowned heads who would so readily accept Emperor Francis's generosity:

The Emperor of Russia: He makes love for everyone.
The King of Prussia: He thinks for everyone.
The King of Denmark: He speaks for everyone.
The King of Bavaria: He eats for everyone.
The King of Württemberg: He eats for everyone.
The Emperor of Austria: He pays for everyone.

In the end, after nine months of negotiations, celebrations, and intrigues, the Congress of Vienna would finally wrap up, drastically reconfiguring the balance of power and ushering in a modern age.

David King is author of Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna and Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness, and an Extraordinary Quest for a Lost World.

Image source

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Hoydens and Firebrands

A great group of historical fiction writers who all publish on topics related to the 17th century found each other--and decided to join forces.

Do be sure to take a peek. And subscribe too! Hoydens and Firebrands

Oh, what's a Hoyden? Here you go.

Hoyden: a girl or woman of saucy, boisterous, or carefree behavior.

Etymology: perhaps from obsolete Dutch heiden (country lout), from Middle Dutch, heathen; akin to Old English haethen (heathen).

Approximate date of first usage: 1676

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Silence and the Scold's Bridle

Guest post by Miranda Garno Nesler (Vanderbilt University)

In early modern England, a woman's speech was recognized as one of her most dangerous attributes. By using her voice freely, a woman revealed her agency and, thus, uncovered the myth of complete patriarchal control; she also blurred gender lines by entering into the public exchange of knowledge. For this reason, conduct literature writers strongly advised women against talking, claiming that "the woman of modesty openeth not her mouth" (1).

Yet the trouble with conduct guidelines as social controls is that they rely on women's acquiescence; therefore they tacitly acknowledge the very agency they attempt to deny. Anxious men needed a way to physicalize and externalize social control--to have a visible sign of their ability to control female speech. Enter the Scold's Bridle, an instrument "used almost exclusively for the punishment of women" (2). Composed of a metal cage to control the head and an iron gag bit to flatten and constrain the tongue, the Scold's Bridle was the ultimate weapon in silencing women. Invented in the mid-sixteenth century, Englishmen employed it as a disciplinary tool until the mid-eighteenth century.

Numerous examples of the Bridles survive throughout England. Some possess flat bits, while others' bits are spiked and roughened to increase the wearer's discomfort. One infamous Scold's Bridle, dated 1633, continues to be housed and displayed at a church in Walter-on-Thames (3). A gift from one parish to another, the Bridle is embroidered with the following rhyme:

"Chester presents Walton with a bridle
To curb women's tongues that talk so idle" (3).

Silenced, the tongues of women posed a less overt threat. Thus women's speech, when absent, could be construed as "idle" rather than threatening.

Miranda Garno Nesler is a Ph.D. Candidate in Vanderbilt University's English department.
Image: Gardiner, Ralph. England's Grievance Discovered. London, 1655. (Bodleian Library)

(1) Riche, Barnabe. The Excellency of Good Women. London, 1613.
(2) Pettifer, Ernest B. Punishments of Former Days. Sherfield: Waterside Press, 1992.
(3) Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. London: W. R. Chambers, 1864.

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Book of the Week: Vienna 1814

If you're ever planning a trip to Nashville, be sure to schedule it for the Southern Festival of Books weekend. It's a book-lover's feast!

While at the festival last month, I attended a talk by David King who presented his new book: Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna. David is an engaging speaker and seems like a genuinely nice guy. Plus, he's been in the academic trenches as well, just north of here, at the University of Kentucky.

Most important of all...topic is simply fascinating.

What stories are there to tell when ever major world leader descends on Vienna to draw up a peace treaty? The answer: some mighty good ones.

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When in Rome...

Ok, I have to make a confession...

You've been reading some incredible guest posts from my history of medicine students. And while you've been doing that, I've been in Rome. Roma.

I was doing detective work on a few of the Italian surgeons who make an appearance in my next book. And, I'd better come clean on this one too: I brought my husband and daughter with me. Hey, with all of the amazing trattorie, I needed some dinner company! We explored the city together over the weekend and made some amazing memories. More on that another time.

I spent the bulk of my days in the Biblioteca Casanatensa.
The library was founded by Cardinal Girolamo Casanate in the late 17th century, with the purpose of serving public readers. However, the soaring ceilings,the detailed frescos, and wealth of the collections do make me wonder just who would have had access to this magnificent library.

Now, I'm no newbie to pouring over old--very old--books. I'm actually something of a junkie in that regard. But there is something so humbling about being cloistered away in reading rooms that are older than the 350 year-old books. Each book has its own story, each folio its own identity.

This time around, I was focusing on pamphlets published in the 1660s. These publications were ephemeral and usually circulated unbound, something like a newspaper. Readers would collect a group of about 15 pamphlets or so and then eventually have them bound in vellum. So, it's not unusual to find a hodgepodge of texts in these "vol. misc.": illustrations and descriptions of Roman emperors, debates on the eucharist, and then a random treatise on whether dogs can get kidney stones. (The verdict: they can.)

Some pamphlets look like they had never been opened; their pages creaked and crackled as I opened them delicately. Others looked like they had been soaked in dirty water and were as soft as flannel bedsheets.

Each text represented something of a victory. To get access to the early printed books, you have to pass the inquisition. In some libraries, it is a grueling process that requires documents of all sorts. In my early years at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, I had to present a letter signed by the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin. It was full of flowery French prose accompanied by a seal and ribbon. In recent years, they've either relaxed things a bit--or I just seem more trustworthy and knowledgeable now. (Or, ok, I'll admit it...maybe it's because I look about, well, about 15 years older than I did back then.) Either way, you have to be prepared to make a convincing case about why you should be allowed access to their bibliographical sanctum.

I've worked at libraries in Paris, London, Dublin, and many places in between. But this is the first time I've had to do things in Italian. Believe me, I was sweating bullets when I was brought to the office of the head librarian. She looked at me with her steely eyes over the top of her glasses, perched on her nose. She examined the texts that I had requested. She breathed deeply and with sadness as she noted a loose folio--and then looked me over to be sure that I meant her baby no further harm. She asked in staccato what my research was about and why I wanted to look at these texts in particular. Never did I have a harder time finding the words I wanted. And for those of you who know me well, this doesn't happen often!

Now, this probably had something to do with the fact that--yes--all of this was in Italian. I can read Italian no problem. Undergraduate studies and my grad reading exams help with that. But speaking? Not on your life!

Somehow I passed the test. I was even granted a reader card for manuscripts. Now that's a badge of honor for a real academic. But I do have to say that I was less than thrilled by the, err, affectionate goodbye that one of the guards tried to give me as I was leaving the library. Maybe I made some horrific error as I was muttering semi-comprehensible things in Italian?

Old books are a heck of a lot easier to deal with than men!

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Once Upon a Time...

by Sandra Beckett

“Little Red Riding Hood” is the world’s most popular fairy tale and a childhood favorite, but it was once a ribald, grisly tale, whose bawdy tone and course language is not the stuff of nursery tales.

In oral versions of the tale, such as “The Story of Grandmother,” a young girl, with no distinctive red cap or hood, generally meets a bzou" or werewolf en route to Granny’s. He poses a seemingly nonsensical question, asking the girl if she is taking the path of needles or the path of pins. It is now widely believed that the path of pins symbolizes a girl’s coming of age, while the path of needles implies sexual maturity, as threading the eye of a needle was a sexual symbol in the folklore of seamstresses. By choosing the path of needles, as the heroine does in some variants, the young girl appears to assume prematurely the sexuality of an older woman.

At the grandmother’s, the wolf offers the little girl the flesh and blood of the old lady, in a cannibalistic meal that becomes a rite of passage in this initiation tale. In many versions, an animal calls the girl a “slut” for her cannibalistic act. Whereas the wolf devours the grandmother raw, the girl generally eats her cooked. Sometimes the little girl drinks the blood as wine, but often it is added to the cut-up meat to create a grandmother fricassee.

The meal is followed by a lengthy, ritualistic striptease, in which the little girl removes her clothing one item at a time and throws them into the fire, before climbing into bed with the wolf. A more risqué climactic dialogue begins with the girl asking about the wolf’s hairy body, to which the wolf sometimes replies: “It’s from old age.” The confusion of granny with the wolf is explained by equating the postmenopausal woman with a hairy male.

Realizing her danger, the girl tricks the wolf by pretending she has to go outside to relieve herself, a scatological scene that has numerous variations. The wolf often ties a woolen thread to the girl’s foot, and when she doesn’t return, he asks her repeatedly if she is “making a load”. Unlike her helpless successors in the classic Perrault and Grimms’ tales, the heroine generally escapes by running away, seeking help, or courageously confronting the wolf.

Sandra L. Beckett is the author of numerous books including Recycling Red Riding Hood For All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts (just out), Recycling Red Riding Hood, and Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives (also just out).

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Syphilis in Early Modern Europe

by Jamie Whittenberg (Vanderbilt University)

Syphilis, a highly infectious sexually transmitted disease, sparked fear among the early Europeans. And for good reason.

Syphilis has three stages, the last being deadly and untreatable if advanced enough. First recognized as an outbreak in 1494 in Naples among the French mercenary troops, it quickly spread to all parts of Europe. Faced with such a contagious and disfiguring disease, the early Europeans quickly blamed one another or attributed it to external forces such as interspecies sex, the planets, or witchcraft (1).

Often, the men were most often depicted as victims of syphilis. The course of the disease: a woman, the carrier of death. The case of Bellina Loredana exemplifies this attitude. She was accused of inflicting the disease on a prostitute through witchcraft, until she was (partly) exonerated due to the prostitute's obviously promiscuous behavior. Still, the idea that women spread the disease by seducing men was prevalent (2).

As the disease spread, early modern Europeans began to turn to more naturalistic causes for syphilis. This evolved into two theories: Pre-Columbian and Post-Columbian. The former operated on the belief that syphilis was always present in Europe, possibly misdiagnosed as leprosy. Although the surge may have been noticed after contact with the New World, this theory states that it is just a coincidence. The Post-Columbian theory suggests that syphilis was a disease brought over from the Indians and that no European country was to blame, no matter how much they bickered among each other (1).

No consensus was reached on who was correct in this matter. Many seemed to offer contradictory views on the subject, such as John Smith. He at once called syphilis the "French pockes" as well as the "Indian disease" within one sentence. Both theories are present in his statement. Even looking retrospectively, bio-archaeologists have found it impossible to determine which theory is correct. They studied for syphilitic lesions on the bones in pre-contact Europe and America (1). Although they did find evidence of syphilis in early America, it does not have the characteristic dental pathology that is typical with syphilis. Therefore, it is still undetermined to this day whether syphilis came over from the New World, or if syphilis exploded into a potent form during the siege in Naples in 1494 (1).

Image: Gilman, Sander L. "AIDS and Syphilis: The Iconography of Disease." October (1987): (43) 87-107.

(1) Qualitiere, Louis F. & William Slights. "Contagion and Blame in Early Modern England: The Case of the French Pox." Literature and Medicine (2003): (22) 1, 1-24.

(2) McGough, Laura J. "Demons, Nature, or God? Witchcraft Accusations and the French Disease in Early Modern Venice." Bulletin of the History of Medicine (2006): (80) 2, 219-246.

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Book of the Week: Recycling Red Riding Hood

Our book this week is on a subject near and dear to my heart: the history of early fairy tales.
My first book was on the childbirth and the fairy tale (
Pregnant Fictions), and I've actually taught a semester-long course on tales several times. It's a lot of fun--but students are always so surprised how complicated the tales are, and how intense the course is.

Recycling Red Riding Hood for All Ages: A Fairy-Tale Icon in Cross-Cultural Contexts is a beautiful book, with eye-popping illustrations. By way of disclosure, I had a chance at an early copy of the book because I sit on the editorial board for the series. It's a great gig to have!

Here's some book jacket prose for you:

Red Riding Hood for All Ages
investigates the modern recasting of one of the world’s most beloved and frequently told tales. Author Sandra L. Beckett examines an international selection of contemporary fiction for children, adolescents, and adults to find a wide range of narrative and interpretive perspectives in the tale and its revisions. Beckett shows how authors and illustrators from around the globe have renewed the age-old tale in a range of multilayered, sophisticated, and complex textual and visual Red Riding Hood narratives.

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