By Tilar Mazzeo, Ph.D.
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.
By Tilar Mazzeo, Ph.D.
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.
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!
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.
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.
To enter the drawing for a copy of Dr. Snow's book, click here.
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.
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.
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
"Chester presents Walton with a bridle
Silenced, the tongues of women posed a less overt threat. Thus women's speech, when absent, could be construed as "idle" rather than threatening.
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.
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!
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).
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.