Tag Archive | Victorian

A Guide to Buying Pretty Books (Mostly Classics)

Hello, readers,

If you love beauty, reading, and old-fashioned charm/elegance, then you likely have dreamed of having your own beautiful library one day. I’ve wanted a collection of awesome, wonderful books that would stretch from floor to ceiling in a room of my house (preferably a tower room) since I first learned to read. It’s been a dream of mine throughout my life, even as my tastes have grown or changed.

However, I’ve also been horribly disappointed by the quality of books I’ve owned. Having taken many literature classes in college, I bought used copies of the books I would need for that semester. Functionally, this worked out fine, but it was aesthetically taxing to see all the crummy paperbacks on my bookshelves. After college, I wanted to keep some of the books for the contents, but having to look at their ugliness made me not want to read anything on the same shelf as them. Then there are the struggles of actually reading paperback books: the books resist being opened all the way and are also hard to hold open, so reading them is uncomfortable for me; the spines crack while you read them, so they start looking unappealing partway through the first reading; and worst of all is that they’re liable to have chunks of pages fall out when the glue gets dried out.

What I want for my personal library now is books that are decent quality and a delight to look at and feel. I also want to focus on keeping the costs reasonable, so I’m working on collecting what I’m going to call “semi-fine” editions: books that are a step or two above the standard hardback, trade paperback, or regular paperback versions.

This post is not a guide into the world of fine presses, like Easton Press or the Folio Society. Many internet threads have commentors who say to just buy used editions from those presses instead of buying these “semi-fine” editions. You can make that decision for yourself. I am not a serious book collector, so spending my time scouring for good deals on the limited books I’d want is not how I want to employ myself.

Conditions for inclusion on this list:

  • hardcover
  • price in the ballpark of $25 USD per book
  • currently available for sale

Before we get started, here are a few more of my biases.

  • A sewn binding is my standard. Glued binding are inferior.
  • I hate dust jackets.
  • I don’t like white paper; I prefer cream paper for reading.
  • I really like multiple-novels-in-one-book, collections, and omnibus editions. I think that they save space vs. having all the collected contents separately bound, and they makes things simpler. Some omnibus editions are terrible — print that’s too small to read normally, pages that are too thin — but on the whole I’m in favor of them.
  • I’m unqualified to say if paper is acid-free or not, so I’ve made no mention of that concern below. (Paper that isn’t acid-free yellows and turns brittle with age, sometimes as soon as after a year or two. Archival quality paper is acid-free.)

If you want to learn more about how to spot the differences between glued bindings and sewn bindings, you can watch the video below:

* * *

Barnes and Noble Collectible Editions (hardcovers only)

(Bonded) leather covers, ribbon bookmarks, gilding on all three page edges (sometimes silver, sometimes gold, very occasionally something different)

Pros

  • They have books beyond the traditional fairy tales, mythology, and 19th-and-early-20th century classics. (The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park/The Lost World, the first three novels of The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, the US Constitution, etc.)
  • Some of the books have introductions.
  • Sewn bindings
  • They have lots of multi-novel/omnibus editions and a few genre collections.
  • Many of the books have internal illustrations (black and white or colored) and feature colored plates.
  • Amazing, stand-out editions include: Aesop’s Illustrated Fables, The Arabian Nights (Richard Burton translation, though…), The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (out of print), and Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Longfellow translation, 135 full-page reproductions of Doré’s engravings).
  • These books come in shrink wrap, so the price/sale stickers won’t damage the gilding on the covers, and they hopefully won’t get dirty in shipping. In the stores, there are often unwrapped copies with the others so you can see inside the books.
  • If you’re collecting Canterbury Classics (see below), then these will fit nicely together on your bookshelf, as the books from both lines have very similar exterior dimensions. (Barnes and Noble Collectible Editions are a smidgen taller.)
  • Over 50 books in the catalog. (It’s very hard to get an accurate count of these since the site includes the smaller, flexi-bound volumes in the collectible editions category and some of the hardback volumes go in and out of print.)

The Secret Garden at 1:59 is not part of the line I’m focusing on. I think that it’s part of the $10 children’s chapter books by Barnes and Noble, which are different sizes from the “adult bindings.”

Cons

  • Very few copies have annotations (the only one I’m aware of having any extra/scholarly content is H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fictions). This makes me feel that their older texts like the Complete Shakespeare or Dante’s Divine Comedy will be reference bricks instead of reading copies.
  • The books are pretty large, ~ 6.25 x 9.40 in (~15.8 x 23.9 cm). It’s not comfortable to read from these while snuggled in bed, unless you read on your stomach and can lay them flat.
  • Barnes and Noble change the covers on these fairly often, but the inner text block is apparently identical between versions. I would be worried to buy online in case I got a cover I hadn’t wanted.
  • Their editions of works that were not originally published in English use old, pre-1923 translations that are generally considered to be inferior to more modern translations. It is also very hard to find information about the translations used online. (I’ve done my best to fill in what I know here.)
  • They’re a Barnes and Noble exclusive line, so people outside the US can’t see the books in person before ordering online.
  • I’ve seen people online complain about these books having microprint issues. Honestly, it varies. The Complete Shakespeare is hard to read, and the print in Jane Austen: Seven Novels is unpleasantly small, but I don’t find any difficulty reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes. Aesop’s Illustrated Fables has very generous sized print and lots of pleasing white space. The Ultimate Hitchhiker ‘s Guide to the Galaxy has a great, readable font size.
  • The children’s picture books — The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh (Accurately named, as it only contains the first two Pooh books; it doesn’t include the two books of poetry A.A. Milne wrote that feature Pooh.), The Complete Adventures of Curious George (It’s not complete at all, even if they were just including the original stories by H.A. and Margaret Rey. Very confusing.), The Complete Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (only complaint I have here is that I don’t like the name of the collection), and A Madeline Treasury by Ludwig Bemelmans (The description says it’s her complete adventures, but I haven’t checked up on that.)  — are all physically taller and wider than the “adult bindings” in the line, so they look like they’re from a separate collection.
  • Some reviewers have complained about OCR errors or typos. I haven’t run across any myself, though.
  • Some of the front covers include a sticker in the design. Sometimes the stickers are recessed, which is okay, but sometimes they are non-recessed.
  • Some editions to be careful about include: Jules Verne: Seven Novels (crummy translations, and the book block seems to like to separate from the covers during shipping), Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park/The Lost World (The red ink on the cover can smear into the white.), and The Iliad and the Odyssey (which uses the Samuel Butler prose translation).
  • The biggest con for me is that the line is inconsistent with itself. Some are fantastic, and some are just not good. If you want to actually read your pretty books instead of just using them as shelf candy, it makes buying something from this line complicated.
barnes and noble and canterbury classics

Barnes and Noble, Canterbury Classics, Barnes and Noble, Barnes and Noble, Canterbury Classics, Barnes and Noble, Canterbury Classics
Pay attention to the top 2/3 of the spines only. Many of these were borrowed from the public library.

Canterbury Classics (Leather-bound Classics)

(Bonded) leather covers, ribbon bookmarks, gold gilding on all three page edges

Pros

  • They publish some multi-novel editions, as well as genre collections (Horror, Westerns, and Science Fiction).
  • Their editions have introductions.
  • Sewn bindings
  • Hans Christian Andersen’s Complete Fairy Tales has the recently discovered story “The Tallow Candle.”
  • If you’re collecting Barnes and Noble Collectible Editions (see above), then these will fit nicely together on your bookshelf, as the books from both lines have very similar exterior dimensions. (Canterbury Classics are just a smidgen shorter.)

Most of the Canterbury Classics catalog is represented here.

Cons

  • Only 25 books in their catalog so far
  • They’re sticking pretty closely to “classics,” besides their genre collections, US Constitution, and Art of War.
  • The Iliad and the Odyssey uses the Samuel Butler prose translation.
  • The books are pretty large, ~ 6.25 x 9.3 in (~15.8 x 23.6 cm). It’s not comfortable to read from these while snuggled in bed, unless you read on your stomach and can lay them flat.
  • The font size varies between books. (I’ve noticed that Hans Christian Andersen’s Complete Fairy Tales and H.G. Wells: Six Novels have smaller-than-medium text, but it’s not yet microprint.)
  • The cover/spine designs of the books are a bit inconsistent. You can see from their catalog that some have lovely covers, and some are plain and look a bit clip-art-y. For me, the annoying thing is that their spine design isn’t always the best. The spines are the plainest part of the editions I’ve seen.
  • No interior illustrations

Knickerbocker Classics (slipcase editions)

Cloth covers, ribbon bookmarks, no special page edges

Pros

  • The books come in very sturdy slipcases.
  • Sewn bindings
  • They publish mostly omnibus editions in their hardcover, slipcase line.
  • The slipcase editions have introductions and other extras, like suggested reading, chronologies of the author’s life, etc.
  • The slipcases feature the author’s signature on the “front cover,” and there is a portrait of the author as the frontispiece of most of their books. I think those are nice details.
  • Some of the books are illustrated.
  • The cloth Knickerbocker Classics uses feels satiny and smooth, unlike any book-cloth I’ve felt before. It’s nice to touch. Also, the words/designs on the covers are integrated into the fabric, not printed on top as a separate layer.

Knickerbocker Classics in their slipcases. (These are a little worn and have weird stickers because they were borrowed from the public library.)

Cons

  • There are only 15 “slipcase books” in their catalog.
  • It is hard to determine on the website which books are one of their bigger, slipcase editions and which are part of the smaller, flexible classics line. I had to click on each book and scan for “paperback” or “hardback” to distinguish between them for sure.
  • These are very large, very heavy books, measuring ~ 6.75 x 9.5 in (~17.1 x 24.1 cm). It’s not comfortable to read from these while snuggled in bed, unless you read on your stomach and can lay them flat.
  • The Iliad and the Odyssey uses the Samuel Butler prose translation.
  • They’re sticking pretty faithfully to the classics/out-of-copyright texts.
  • MSRP of $30 or $35 USD. The books can be gotten for less on Amazon, but that isn’t the point.

Penguin Clothbound Classics

Cloth covers stamped with foil, ribbon bookmarks,  no special page edges

Pros

  • These books have introductions and annotations included.
  • For a line that focuses mostly on well-known 19th century American and British classics, there are some strange 20th century surprises lurking in the catalog like William S. Burroughs’s The Naked Lunch and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (and it is very cool to be able to have a matched pair of that book and Jane Eyre).
  • The typeface is different in each book, and they have a note about why they chose the particular typeface they did for each book. I think that’s a very cute detail.
  • The cover/spine designs of the books are all different, but they are consistently stunning and look like they’re from the same line/designer.
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey use the E. V. Rieu translations, which are also prose translations, but are at least different than the many Samuel Butler reprints published in these semi-fine collections.
  • Over 40 books in the catalog. More books are being added to the line consistently.

Cons

  • The foil stamping is rather delicate. Rough handling (carrying it around in a backpack or purse) or damp/clammy hands will remove the foil. There is also an unfortunately placed sticker on the back cover that will damage the foil when removed.
  • The bindings are glued, not sewn.
  • The annotations in The Hound of the Baskervilles contained spoilers for the mystery!!! I haven’t had that problem with the notes in the other books I’ve read from this line, but that’s something that would put me off the other Sherlock Holmes editions.
  • They do not do multi-novel editions. Each book is individually bound.
  • They’ve only published Dante’s Inferno, and not the rest of The Divine Comedy (so far).

Puffin in Bloom

Paper covers, no ribbon bookmark, no special page edges

Pros

  • MSRP of $16 per book
  • Some interior black and white illustrations
  • All the books come with themed extras at the end, geared towards child readers, but appreciated nonetheless.

Cons

  • There are only four books in the collection. An edition of Alice in Wonderland by the same designer does not match the rest of the set (too tall, but with interior colored illustrations).
  • Glued bindings
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott seems to have too many pages for the compact size. The spine gets bent/deformed when read.
  • The ISBN information printed on the back cover is in a stark white box that doesn’t suit the rest of the design.
  • Only one of the Anne Shirley books is included, Anne of Green Gables, which makes sense thematically but will make a larger collection of Anne Shirley books mismatched if you start here.

Penguin Drop Caps

Paper covers with opaque foil designs, no ribbon bookmark, all three page edges are color-stained to match the covers

Pros

  • This collection contains books beyond the typical 19th century classics, like Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World.
  • The books come in shrink wrap, so hopefully they will be protected from dirt during the shipping process.
  • Collecting all the books will form a lovely rainbow gradient when stacked together.

Cons

  • There are only 26 books in the catalog (one for every letter of the English alphabet). It would be very cool if they did a second wave of these, but I don’t expect it.
  • Glued bindings
  • The spines/covers fade quickly in indirect sunlight.

Library of America

Cloth covers (with paper dust jacket), ribbon bookmark, no special page edges

Pros

  • Sewn bindings
  • They publish collections and complete editions of authors.
  • The books have annotations and chronologies.
  • The color of the cloth bindings vary, but the cloth colors stay consistent for each specific author. The cloth colors for the past ten-ish years have been chosen deliberately in order to avoid having huge swaths of one color if a large number of LoA books are organized on your shelf alphabetically by author’s last name.
  • They have several nonfiction books for offer, including compilations like Reporting Vietnam and American Sermons : The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as speeches, essays, etc. from their featured authors.
  • They do not limit their offerings to just out-of-copyright material, although their focus on cementing “great American writing” as canonical classics does skew towards things that have been around for a while. An original publication date of the late 1970s/early 1980s was the most recent thing I found in their catalog (scanning quickly).
  • Library of America is a non-profit organization, which I think is pretty cool.
  • They offer a subscription service that will send you slipcased versions of their books rather than the normal black dust jacket version.
  • If you are also collecting Everyman’s Library editions (see below), these will fit together very reasonably on a shelf, as the books from both lines have very similar exterior dimensions. (Library of America books are a smidgen shorter.)
  • Over 300 books in their catalog

Here’s a sneak peak at what the Library of America books look like without their dust jackets. (This is a public library book, so I did not want to unfasten the dust jacket that they’d taped on.)

Cons

  • I hate their dust jackets. Their graphic design makes it hard for me to read the jacket, and yet they are also simultaneously plain. They are a glossy paper, which shows fingerprints and reflects light in a distracting way.
  • Unjacketed, the books are the plainest on this list, with only a few details on the spine and nothing on the front or back covers. Again, you might think they look classy or unpretentious.
  • The boards used to make the front and back covers are flexible, and this weirds me out. Perhaps it’s something meant to increase reading comfort?
  • No internal illustrations, generally
  • They only publish books by American authors.
  • The price is around $32 USD per book, but certain books are more expensive.

Everyman’s Library, Library of America, Everyman’s Library (contemporary classic), Library of America, Everyman’s Library (unjacketed and beat up)
Please try to not let the state of the dust jackets distract you from the height comparisons. All but one of these books were borrowed from the public library.

Everyman’s Library (not including Children’s Classics)

Cloth covers (with paper dust jackets), ribbon bookmarks, no special page edges

Pros

  • They publish “contemporary classics,” which include a range of things like The Diary of Anne Frank, Phillup Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and two Toni Morrison novels in addition to the expected Ernest Hemingways and James Joyces.
  • The typeface is different in each book, and the last page of each book gives a brief history of the typeface (in the triangle-shaped block of text). I think that’s a very cute detail.
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey use Robert Fitzgerald verse translations, although The Iliad does not have numbered lines for some bizarre reason.
  • If you are also collecting Library of America editions (see above), these will fit together very reasonably on a shelf, as the books from both lines have very similar exterior dimensions. (Everyman’s Library books are a smidgen taller.)
  • Huge catalog of books

Comparison between the Everyman’s Library dust jacket and the unjacketed book underneath.

Cons

  • In 2013 or so, the company experimented with using glued binding to cut costs. Their customers were very upset, and the experiment was a failure. They’ve gone back to sewn bindings, but you might (especially if buying online) buy some stock from 2013 with a glued binding, and there is no way to tell them apart (like via ISBN) without inspecting the book in person.
  • I dislike their dust jackets. The look alright in a big cluster on a shelf, but spread out look plain and unappealing.
  • Under their jackets, the books are not as pretty as some others on this list, but you may find them to be classier.
  • The color of the cloth for each book is determined by what genre/period the publisher puts it in. This is very annoying if you don’t agree with the choices (Jane Austen’s novels are dark green, so they’ll stick out from what I consider their 19th century fellows.) and also if you want a colorful, varied bookshelf but find yourself drawn to only one of those categories (burgundy for me, with a splash of scarlet).
    • Scarlet = Contemporary Classics
    • Navy = 20th Century
    • Burgundy = Victorian Literature/19th Century
    • Dark Green = Pre-Victorian/Romantic/18th Century
    • Light Blue = 17th Century and Earlier
    • Celadon Green = Non-Western Classics
    • Mauve = Ancient Classics
    • Sand = Poetry
  • The title, author, and publisher information is printed on the spine (and some specific books have the information printed on the front cover, too), but this is a bit delicate and liable to rub off. I would not carry one around in a backpack or purse without its dust jacket.

Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics

Cloth covers, ribbon bookmark, no special page edges

Pros

  • Sewn bindings
  • While a large portion of the collection consists of fairy tales, there are also some unexpected books included that I wouldn’t think of as being “for children,” like Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense. Check out the catalog; it might surprise you, too.
  • The spines of these books are very pretty, and they have gold foil designs in a diamond pattern that mimics the end pages.
  • Internal illustrations
  • The prices for most of the books are between $15 and $20 USD.
  • The colors of the cloth used for the covers are much more varied than the “more grown up” Everyman’s Library editions. If it bothers you, however, know that the colors are not the same among multiple different books by the same author.
  • Over 50 books in the catalog

Cons

  • The front covers of the books use (non-recessed) rectangular stickers as their illustrations.
  • Their version of Don Quixote is abridged and has been adapted for children. Boo! I haven’t been able to find out if any of the other books have been abridged.
  • The details printed on the cloth (like the pretty spine) are a bit delicate and will get scratched off with rough handling.
  • The books are the same height as the Everyman’s Library books, but they’re wider (~6.3 x 8.25 in (~16.1 x 21 cm)). If you have a very shallow bookcase, then these might stick out a bit from the rest of the “standard book shape” books.
  • Only one of the Anne Shirley books is included, Anne of Green Gables, which will make a larger collection of Anne Shirley books mismatched if you start here.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the only Oz book in the catalog, again troublesome if you wanted a larger collection.

Macmillan Collector’s Library

Cloth covers, ribbon bookmark, gold gilding on all three page edges

Pros

  • Sewn bindings
  • Some books have internal illustrations.
  • These editions come with introductions or afterwords.
  • The front covers have a debossed design, which really makes the books look and feel lovely.
  • The books are very compact, measuring ~4 x 6.2 in (~10 x 15.7 cm). I find this a great size since I have smaller hands. If you have larger hands, this may be a very big detractor, though.
  • There are some cool nonfiction additions, like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, to their mostly classics catalog. There are also a few books from the 20th century that I’ve never seen on any “classic literature” list, which is fantastic.
  • MSRP is around $15 USD or less.
  • Under the dust jacket, the author, title, and publisher information is printed on the spine in gold.
  • Over 200 books in their catalog… sort of (see the Con about the Collector’s Library).

Macmillan Collector’s Library (These were borrowed from the public library, hence the stickers and plastic-covered dust jackets. These dust jackets are generally matte, with a slight satin sheen to them.)

Cons

  • White paper
  • Dust jackets, although these ones don’t annoy me nearly as much as the other dust jackets I’ve mentioned.
  • Some books are abridged, some are not. You’ll have to research each book individually if having an unabridged text is important to you.
  • As might be expected with books this physically small, the font size varies in the line. For small books, like Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the font is medium or even a little larger than medium (although that could be an optical illusion brought on by all the white space on those pages). As the books get thicker/larger, the font size used decreased. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray uses a small font, but it’s still easy to read for me.
  • All the Macmillian Collector’s Library editions are bound in cloth that is a beautiful dusty, pastel blue, and come with a ribbon bookmark that matches the cover color. The gilding is gold, and the dust jackets reflect this color scheme, as well. This presentation works very well for books like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, but feels totally incongruous some titles like Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe and The Communist Manifesto.
  • The Collector’s Library was a small publisher focusing on classics before being scooped up by Pan Macmillan. The books originally published by the Collector’s Library look different from those published by the Macmillan Collector’s Library. Macmillan Collector’s Library has reissued some of the books in the original Collector’s Library catalog, but not all. (On the bright side, I’ve heard the new Macmillan Collector’s Library is of better quality than the old Collector’s Library.)
  • They do not publish omnibus editions, although they sometimes combine two novellas into one book.

* * *

I hope this guide helps you navigate the sometimes tricky waters of building a personal library. In any case, it certainly helped me organize my thoughts about all the collections I listed. Readers, do you know of any other publishers, imprints, or special lines that would fit the “semi-fine” category? Please share them in the comments below!

Stay readers,

Raven

Advertisements

Lifestyle Lessons: Victorian Slang

Hello, readers,

Here’s a point about the lolita lifestyle that I’ve always seen as controversial. If you want to live a lolita lifestyle, do you have to “speak like a lady?” There are lots of other ways to word this sort of idea. Sometimes I just see people saying that lolitas shouldn’t swear or talk about “crude things” like sex or alcohol (even outside of meets), and sometimes I see people suggesting that everyone speak with a contrived lady-of-the-manor vocabulary.

Personally, I don’t think either approach makes practical sense. (Especially the first one. Don’t ever feel like your lifestyle is restricting your life.) However, I am a big proponent of finding and incorporating old-fashioned things into my own life. Specifically, I am interested in Victorian England.

Without further ado, I present you with the fabulous book! It is a dictionary of Victorian slang and colloquial phrases.

(You can try and read this book while on my blog, but I recommend you just go to the book on Archive.org. It will be a lot easier to read. Curse you, limited embedding functionality!)

There is a pretty, modern reprint that’s known as Ware’s Victorian Dictionary of Slang and Phrase, but its original title was Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Hererodox English, Slang, and Phrase. You could buy a physical copy of this book if you wanted to (I’m sure it would look fantastic on any bookshelf), but you can read the whole thing online for free thanks to Archive.org. There is also a less expensive, less pretty paperback reprint just called The Victorian Dictionary of Slang & Phrase.

From what I’ve casually read about the author, it seems that James Redding Ware was a journalist that tried to record all the lovely slang he remembered being in use during the 19th century before it disappeared forever. I, for one, am very grateful for his efforts. This book was first published in 1909, so it’s probably safe to assume that most of this slang was in use during the mid- to late-Victorian era. Potentially, some of these words and phrases were already obsolete by the time this dictionary was published.

I like going through this book and seeing if there are any expressions that I’d like to take up again. There is a lot of combing that you have to do to find really good ones (I think “basket of oranges” is very funny), but it’s also possible to find some slang terms that we still use today. Some notable ones located in the B section are “bad egg,” “to back down,” “to badger,” and “bark up the wrong tree.” A lot of those were originally American phrases, and they are still in use here. Also, If you look up “Tom,” it’s easy to see how we got tomboy. How cool is that!

Anyway, I just wanted to write up this quick little post to share something amazing with all of you. I hope you go through it and find something wonderful.

Stay bricky,

Raven

A Special Nursery Rhyme

Hello, readers,

I love English nursery rhymes, particularly because I didn’t really grow up with them. (My parents read Aesop’s Fables to me as a child.) I heard of some nursery rhymes from my friends in elementary school, and I’ve noticed their presence in the world around me more as I’ve grown older. My love for nursery rhymes and fairy tales sometimes leads me to spend hours reading them, mostly online.

By chance, I recently found a nursery rhyme that really resonated with me.

Curly Locks (Nursery Songs and Rhymes of England (1895) – Winifred Smith)

Curly locks, curly locks,

Will you be mine?

You shall not wash dishes,

Nor feed the swine,

But sit on a cushion,

And sew a fine seam,

And feed upon strawberries,

Sugar,

And cream.

How many of you had heard this one before?

It’s just silly how closely this rhyme matches up with my life. Curly hair, an extreme aversion to doing dishes, a love of sewing, a fondness for fruit, sweets, and dairy products… If you replace “feeding swine” with “manual outdoor labor” and expand “sit on a cushion” to include general soft furnishings, then this rhyme is a perfect match. (My boyfriend suggested changing swine to feline, but I don’t think it’s as funny with the change because I have no qualms about feeding our cat.)

I would love to be able to incorporate this rhyme into my life in a more meaningful way than just knowing that it exists. The obvious solution, to me, is to use it as the inspiration for a coord. That’s easier said than done. If I liked to wear sweet or country, then I could easily use something like this Meta JSK as the base for an outfit.

As it stands, any Curly Locks-inspired coord that I would feel comfortable wearing would probably use more subtle elements like this:

Maybe some socks with a strawberry print/pattern would also work with the theme without making me feel like I was wearing something inauthentic to myself. Ideally, I would have some sort of handmade element in the coord, too, for the “sew a fine seam” part…

People in my life have always joked that I was the princess from The Princess and the Pea, but I think Curly Locks fits much better. Have you ever found a rhyme or fairy tale that you felt reflected your life in a special way? If so, please share it in the comments.

Stay fine,

Raven

If you like nursery rhymes and you want to look through more illustrations of this style, check out the source book on archive.org.

Lifestyle Lessons: The Language of Flowers

Hello, readers,

In honor of the first day of spring, here’s another post about how you can fill your day with lolita-esque things. This time, I’m going to talk about the Victorian language of flowers, or floriography. This version of the secret meanings behind flowers was introduced to Europe in the 18th century from the court of Constantinople of Ottoman Turkey, but the craze really took off in England and America in the 19th century.

I have a reprint of the 1884 version of Kate Greenaway’s The Language of Flowers that functions like a little translation dictionary, with one half the book being organized by flower and the other half being organized by meaning. This last half is particularly fun to play with. Want to know what flower to give to someone to convey remorse? Just flip to the back and find out you should get them some raspberry. My favorite flower meaning belongs to the delightfully snarky Japan rose: beauty is your only attraction. (My housemate and I refer to pretty but pointless/stupid/bad movies as Japan roses.)

While every lolita can learn and use the language of flowers in regular life, lolitas who live in spaces that have a country/rustic or classic lolita vibe probably will be able to use it the most. A big vase of yellow roses or acacia might be wonderful to have (in terms of sentiment) in every home, but they probably wouldn’t go with every decor scheme. (Keep reading to find out what they mean and what they look like.) Back in the days when more people knew the language of flowers, it even came in to play when choosing a perfume, as the scent of a flower still carried the meaning, which I just think is absolutely fascinating.

* * *

Similar to how my book is set up, I’m going to have two sections. The first will be based on flowers I picked because they appear on lolita prints or in lolita accessories. The second section will be a list of meanings particularly suited to lolita matched with the corresponding flowers.

Flowers

Roses

  • Love, generally, but they are very nuanced
  • White rose – I am worthy of you, innocence
  • Burgundy rose – Unconscious beauty
  • Yellow rose – Jealousy, declining love; other sources say friendship (Make up your minds, interpreters of flowers!)
  • Pink rose – Appreciation, admiration
  • Peach rose – Sincerity, gratitude

Violets

  • Blue violets – Faithfulness
  • Yellow violets – Rural happiness
  • Sweet violets – Modesty

Daisies

  • Innocence

Hydrangeas

  • A boaster, heartlessness
  • I also found sources online saying they can also mean heartfelt emotions or gratitude for being understood.

Tulip

  • Fame
  • Red tulip – Declaration of love
  • Variegated tulip – Beautiful eyes
  • Yellow tulip – Hopeless love

*

Sentiments

Fantastic extravagance – Scarlet poppy

You are radiant with charms – Rannunculus

Courage – Black poplar

The perfection of female loveliness – Justicia

Ill-natured beauty – Citron (Chinese/Buddhist symbolism says that this flower stands for luck and happiness.)

Rudeness – Clotbur, Xanthium

Reconciliation – Filbert, Hazel

Betrayed – White catchfly

Disappointment – Carolina Syringa

Misanthropy – Aconite/Wolf’s Bane, Fuller’s Teasel

Wolf’s Bane (Wiki Commons)

Fuller’s Teasel (Wiki Commons)

Horror – Mandrake, dragonswort (My book and other online sources say that snakesfoot also signifies horror, but I absolutely cannot find pictures of the snakesfoot plant or any hint as to what the modern common name might be. If anyone knows this, please tell me!)

Dragonswort, Dracunculus valgaris Jörg Hempel, Creative Commons

Friendship – Acacia, yellow rose (Yellow roses are tricky. See above.)

Yellow rose

Elegance and grace – Yellow jasmine

Modesty – Sweet violets

* * *

I hope you all liked this fun little post. Maybe next time you want to get flowers (or fake flowers) to decorate, you can make the decision in terms of sentiment instead of looks. Maybe if you buy perfume, you’ll pick a floral perfume and be conscious of its meaning. Maybe now you’ll coordinate your garden to have only happy, well-meaning flowers. Maybe you won’t ever do anything with this knowledge, which is fine, too. I just really like learning this sort of thing, and hopefully some of you do, too.

Stay sincere,

Raven

Lifestyle Lessons: Sports and Physical Activities

Hello, readers,

In no way is this post meant to ever imply that “real lolitas” do not play basketball, rugby, or whatever other sport, or that you are in some way less of a lolita if you do roller derby, rock climbing, or whatever other sport. This is just a fun post where I talk about sports or physical activities that are lolita-appropriate, i.e., those that can easily be done in lolita (specialty shoes notwithstanding).

* * *

Sometimes, you want to dress up in lolita and have a day full of adventures. However, I’ve found that I think of lolita as limiting. The sorts of things I want to do while I happen to be wearing lolita are not necessarily the sorts of things I would want to do if I were not wearing lolita (like painting, for example). I’ve also found that my concern for my clothes and does nothing to discourage my sedentary lifestyle.

So, for those of you who would like something (anything!) to do when you’re all frilled up, here are some physical activities that you can do while wearing lolita. Some of these would also be fun activities for meet ups.

Outdoor Sports

These, being meant to be done outdoors, are all heavily dependent on the weather, and they’re probably best done in summer and early fall (if you live around the 40th parallel or a temperate zone).

Croquet

If croquet is too impractical for you, mini-golf or putt putt is another option. Still, for those of you that can get a croquet set, this is the most picturesque lolita sport to do. (Alice in Wonderland, anyone?) It can get very competitive, but you don’t need to break a sweat while playing. If you have a yard, you can set a game up there, but if you don’t have a yard, or if you’re trying to play croquet as part of a meet, try going to a local park and setting up your match there. The rules are fairly simple, and you can find out how to play online. Croquet would also be a great game to add some variety to a picnic or to a lazy day of lounging. If the ground is dry and firm, you should be able to wear whatever shoes you’d like, too.

*

Kite Flying

This is something I’ve always seen as being super Romantic and nostalgic, and it has the added “lifestyle lolita” benefit of being crafty. You could always buy your own kite or borrow someone else’s, but kites are very easy to make. There are all sorts of templates and instructions on the internet to help you make your own, and then the benefit is that you can customize them. If your local community has a kite-flying meet up, part of the meet could be everyone crafting their own kite before setting out to fly them. That way, all the kites could be decorated to match everyone’s coordinates! Of course, you could always match your kite to your coord as a solo lolita as well. Regardless, you’re probably going to have to find a park or a large city square in order to fly your kite, though, as most yards are too close to trees, power lines, or other buildings and are thus not conducive to kite flying. Since you only need to run a little bit to get the kite going and most leisurely kite flying is spent standing around with your kite in the air, you can feel pretty confident in wearing whatever shoes you’re comfortable standing in.

*

Badminton

Now, I personally am not really a fan of this game, but other people seem to have fun playing this, and it’s certainly something you could easily play while in lolita. I’ve seen people set up games in their backyard with just a clothesline set up instead of a full net, so that’s always an option if you want to set up your own game. I think that this one would be another great thing to play at a meet, with lolitas on both sides of the net. Because of how much jumping and landing is involved, I would think twice before wearing most lolita shoes while playing, but flat shoes like tea parties or low-heeled boots should be fine. Don’t put yourself at risk for twisting an ankle! Keep in mind that every time you jump up to hit the birdie, your petticoat and skirt will inflate and puff out on the way down, so make sure you wear some bloomers if you’re planning on playing badminton!

* * *

Indoor/Outdoor

I had a hard time trying to figure out what to call this category, so I settled on “Indoor/Outdoor” because these are activities that can be done inside, even if they need special facilities.

Ice Skating

Unlike all the summer sports elsewhere on this list, ice skating is meant for winter. The most picturesque way to ice skate is to do it outdoors, but outdoor rinks are pretty rare (at least in my experience) and skating over frozen ponds is often very dangerous (also, that ice tends to be really bumpy). I’m lucky, and I currently live in a city that has a seasonal outdoor rink downtown in which they set up a massive Christmas tree, but going to an indoor ice skating is also a lot of fun. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to skating rinks, in which case I’m sorry. Still, for those of you who can ice skate, I think it’s a great way to spend a day. If you’ve never gone ice skating, though, here are a few warnings: even indoor rinks are really cold, and you will probably end up bruised by the end of everything. I always get bruises from the skates around my shins and calves, but you’ll probably bruise if you fall, too. A side effect of the cold means that you probably won’t feel these until the next morning. Unless you’ve been ice skating before and are confident in your abilities, I also wouldn’t wear your very best and most expensive dress. It isn’t like people skating by will skate over your dress and cut it to shreds, but you will most likely fall at some point, especially if you’re new at skating, and I wouldn’t want my best dress subjected to that. Have I made ice skating sound dangerous and terrible? I really hope not, because it is so much fun and it’s very easy to do in lolita. The extra layers of lolita even help keep you warmer than just a pair of jeans would. It doesn’t matter what shoes you wear since you will replace them with ice skates.

*

Giant Outdoor Chess… or just Chess

Okay, so this is a bit of an oddball. Chess is a sport, but it’s not very active and I’m clearly stretching here. Still, I love chess and I wish I were better at it. Plus, playing giant outdoor chess is a nice alternative outdoor thing you can still do even if you’re tired or not feeling your best. If you or a friend/family member like bigger DIY projects, then you could totally make your own set of pieces (even standing floor signs with pictures of the pieces painted on would work) and use extra floor tiles to make your own board on your lawn (or at a park). Otherwise, there are some outdoor sets that you might be able to find. A local outdoor shopping center near me has one, so you might be surprised where they could be. Of course, my favorite variation of giant outdoor chess is where you you have people playing as some of the pieces. Imagine how perfect it would be if you had enough people at a meet playing this where you could have lolitas in shiro and the lighter color ways of sweet and classic playing on the white side and have lolitas in kuro, gothic, and the darker color ways of classic and sweet on the black side.

One variation of this suggestion is to just go to a park with chess tables and play a regular-sized game outdoors. This is probably a lot easier to manage than the giant version. Also, probably the easiest variation to actually do is to just play regular-sized chess indoors, but that seems almost dull by comparison.

*

Bowling

I think bowling is a lot of fun to do, even if you’re very bad at it. (I should know, I was on the bowling team at my high school and I was terrible.) The rental shoes are always hideous, but other than that, bowling is pretty lolita-friendly. For one, there’s a lot of sitting time so you don’t need to be physically fit to play for a long time. Secondly, there isn’t a lot of movement when you do actually bowl, so wearing lolita won’t get in the way. If you’re planning to go bowling in lolita with some non-lolita friends, or if your comm is having a bowling meet, I wouldn’t have fake nails, gloves or rings on. You can take off rings and gloves, yes, but I’ve seen too many people break their fake nails off while bowling. You should also be careful if you have very long nails, but most people should be fine. If you’re worried about alley grease, which does sometimes get on the balls, just bring an old kitchen towel and wipe off your ball before bringing it close to your clothes. (Bowling balls just need a quick wipe, so you shouldn’t have to worry about seeming too fussy in front of non-lolita friends.) Make sure you wear bloomers, though! Your legs and butt are liable to get into some weird positions while bowling, and there will definitely be panty-flashes if you don’t have bloomers.

* * *

Dancing

This is a fairly specific category, but these dances have the advantage that they are designed to be performed while wearing a dress or costume. Obviously, lolita doesn’t fit the general aesthetic of the tango and lolita is not a ballet stage costume, but these dance styles can still be done for fun in lolita without the clothes getting in the way.

Ballet

You’ll need special shoes! You’ll also need a fair amount of physical strength and flexibility, but you can’t just instantly acquire those. While the other dance forms I talk about have basic steps that can be learned in a few minutes and you can start dancing almost immediately, ballet takes a lot of dedication. If you are not already a ballerina, then you probably don’t have serious aspirations to be a professional ballet dancer and you can approach ballet with a more relaxed outlook. Still, ballet is absolutely gorgeous, and it does not require a partner the way the dances below do. If you’re looking to learn a new skill and want to take lessons, consider taking ballet. Alternatively, if you’re looking for motivation to (continue to) go to the gym and work on strength, learning ballet might be a great way to give your training a more concrete focus.

*

Ballroom

While you don’t need special shoes precisely, trying to do anything involving footwork and balance in Rocking Horse Shoes is probably a bad idea for both you and your partner. Some lolita-appropriate shoes will work just fine, but others are too intense. Just use common sense, and you should be fine. Modern ballroom dances include tango, waltz, foxtrot, swing, Latin dances, and polka. I’m in a ballroom dance class this semester, and I can tell you that the basic steps to all these dances are fairly easy to pick up. Of course, I’m learning American style ballroom dance, so I can’t say how easy it is to pick up international style. Ballroom dance requires you to have a partner, someone to lead and someone to follow, so this probably rules out most comms from having ballroom dance meets. Assuming you have a partner who is also willing to learn these dances, ballroom dance is a super fun thing to do while wearing lolita.

*

Period/Historical

Just like with ballroom dance, just exercise common sense in regards to shoes. Also, I don’t really think that you’ll need to worry about period-specific shoes if you are in a full lolita coord. This might be a bit harder than the other dance styles to learn because not a lot of people still dance things like the cotillion and the minuet, but there are resources on the internet that you can use to learn. These sorts of dances were done by women wearing clothing that was much more impractical than lolita, so wearing lolita shouldn’t pose a problem for you if you would like to do the sorts of historical dances you would see in a movie adaptation of Jane Austen.

* * *

What do you think of my list? Do any of you like to do some phsyical actictity while in lolita? Are there some pastimes I missed that you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Stay sensible,

Raven