19th Century and Onwards, Books, Technology

Masters of Doom

Now, normally a book about 1980s video games wouldn’t be something I’d cover on this site. However, the early days of home computers and video games has always been a particular interest of mine. In fact, it’s my stock answer for the “if you had a time machine” question – while I would love to visit all sorts of historical periods, I’d probably fare a bit better in the early ’80s as a very liberal, non-religious, mixed-race woman than I would in the Tudor era, for example!

Masters of Doom isn’t a new book by any means, but when I saw that a friend of my husband’s had sent it to him to read, I eagerly awaited my turn. While I didn’t play Doom or Quake or Wolfenstein 3D, I did grow up playing video games, and still play them today. So I was intensely curious to find out the story behind iD Software and the creation of its most famous, historically significant, games.

One reason I’m so interested in this early period of personal computers and video games is because of the sense of hope and possibility, using burgeoning technology to indulge in curiosity, explore new ideas that seem life-changing – the sorts of ideas we take for granted today:

As originally intended, the walls were anything but ninety degrees; they were octagonal, tiered, with steps leading from one room to the next. Carmack had also devised a way to create windows within walls, so a player could look from one room into another, though not know how to get inside. There were actual light sources in the games – strips of fluorescence on the floor or above.

I also like the image of a group of people getting together to investigate ideas they believe in, things that everyone else thinks can’t be done.

Carmack punched a few buttons on his keyboard and showed Tom his other new feat: side scrolling. The effect . . . made it appear as if the game world continued when a character moved toward either edge of a screen . . . Carmack had finally figured out how to simulate this movement on a PC.

. . .

As Tom immediately understood, this meant one thing: They could do Super Mario Brothers 3 on a PC! Nobody, no one, nowhere, had made the PC do this.

As someone who’s been writing online and making websites for twenty years, I guess I feel an affinity towards that sort of feeling. I certainly didn’t break any new ground with my particular thing, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for people who find a new technology to connect with, to try and make their own.

While Masters of Doom is of course non-fiction, there was a novelistic quality to it that made me think about it when I wasn’t reading. If you have even a passing interest in video games, I would recommend this book. Beware, though, if you’re susceptible to craving food based on repeat mentions in books – you may emerge from Masters of Doom with a sudden urge for pizza and Diet Coke!

You can find Masters of Doom on amazon.com and amazon.ca.

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19th Century and Onwards, Books, Historians, TV and Movies

Exercise for women in the 1910s

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Between my recent Instagram post about Gibson girls and revisiting a favourite article detailing how the ideal woman’s body has changed over the past hundred years, I’ve had the 1910s on the brain a little bit.

I’d remembered an episode of Edwardian Farm where Ruth and her daughter were demonstrating the calisthenic exercises that became popular for women during the late 19th century, so I thought I’d investigate other exercises that were suggested for women at the beginning of the 20th.

Margaret Mixter offers many exercises that are “beautifying,” such as exercises for the arms with very light weights. These claimed to make the arms “graceful and supple,” without overexercising the muscles. An interesting feat for a terrifying-sounding exercise – holding clubs at arms-length and swinging them in all directions around your head!

The book also claims that bending over and touching your toes, as well as stretching side to side, will slim the waist.

Before bed, the book recommends a couple of calisthenic exercises done in front of an open window, including:

[D]oubling the fists, placing them at the shoulders and then thrusting them out at arm’s length swiftly. Both arms may be used together and then alternately.

Mixter also writes that “housework is excellent exercise for a girl who wishes to develop a round, pretty figure, for sweeping, dusting, or even washing, if the latter is not too heavy to strain the muscles, helps to strengthen and beautify the body.” She recommends that standing up straight and sort of swaying as you sweep will “round” the arms and develop the hips. She also claims that a constant, firm grasp of a broom will round the arms.

Personal hygiene and physical training for women suggests that women can’t withstand “prolonged physical and mental strain,” and offers “all forms of dancing, calisthenics and light gymnastics, archery, lawn-tennis, swimming, field hockey, lacrosse, sprint running, bicycling, rowing, canoeing, golf, skating, fencing, basket-ball, and all gymnastic plays and games” as evidently less strenuous exercise that women can excel in.

Girl and Woman: A Book for Mothers and Daughters, tends to agree, claiming, “no girl can risk the strain of a match game without danger of suffering from it sooner or later, not only because of the extreme bodily effort, but because of the nervous tension arising from the excitement of competition together with the emotional disturbance inevitably attending success or defeat.”

There isn’t perfect consensus about the approved types of exercise for women (that won’t make their heads explode, apparently). Girl and woman speaks of bicycle riding as as a relic from the past, though it did have advantages as exercise. It “obliges such incessant attention to itself that enjoyment of scenery or agreeable conversation with a companion are impossible, and it rarely fails to develop a species of obsession which destroys all pleasure in any other variety of amusement.”

As an aside, one charming thing about the abovementioned book was how happy its author seemed about certain advances in exercise for girls and women. For example, “in our grandmothers’ time [ice-skating] was considered almost as indecorous as the flying trapeze.”

It’s neat to be able to chart certain items of progress that we tend to take for granted today – ice skating, and being able to play a competitive sport and lose without fear of it shattering our dainty nerves!

References:

  • Mixter, Margaret. Health and beauty hints. New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1910.
  • Dr Galbraith, Anna Mary. Personal hygiene and physical training for women. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1916.
  • Latimer, Caroline Wormeley. Girl and Woman: A Book for Mothers and Daughters. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1910.
19th Century and Onwards, Books

Etiquette of morning calls and visits of ceremony

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One of the reasons I love reading Victorian/Regency novels is that I get a glimpse of the everyday rituals, strange to us now, that were so important to the people performing them. One of those rituals that always seemed at once charming and terrifying to me was the obligation of the morning call 0r social visit. So much seemed to hinge on those visits!

For example, from Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

“Where shall we go?” said [Mary], when they were ready. “I suppose you will not like to call at the Great House before they have been to see you?”

“I have not the smallest objection on that account,” replied Anne. “I should never think of standing on such ceremony with people I know so well as Mrs and the Miss Musgroves.”

“Oh! but they ought to call upon you as soon as possible. They ought to feel what is due to you as my sister . . .”

And then there was the first call paid to Margaret and Mrs Hale by Mrs Thornton and her daughter in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Mrs Thornton’s son insisted that she pay this call, and she was not exactly thrilled about it:

As dinner-giving, and as criticising other people’s dinners, [Mrs Thornton] took satisfaction in it. But this going to make acquaintance with strangers was a very different thing. She was ill at ease, and looked more than usually stern and forbidding as she entered the Hales’ little drawing-room.

It ended up being a very tense visit for everyone involved, yet the Hales were still expected to pay a return call to Mrs Thornton.

Of course, obligations were obligations, at least to the people of certain social classes, and according to Daphne Dale, “the etiquette of visiting is not to be slighted.” Paying calls – whether visits of friendship, ceremony, condolence, or congratulation –  was a way to initiate and continue valuable social connections and friendships. They helped make introductions between newcomers to a neighbourhood and the people in the social class they would be expected to know. They were also “a kind of safeguard against any acquaintances which are thought to be undesirable,” in the words of Lady Colin Campbell.

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By 1922, “within the walls of society itself, the visit of formality [was] decreasing.” So it was odd for me to find a detailed section on visiting in my c.1938 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Morning calls, despite the name, were made after luncheon, between 3 and 5pm.
  • They were required “after dining at a friend’s house, or after a ball, picnic, or other party.”
  • The visits were expected to last only about 15-20 minutes.
  • Underdressing was preferable to overdressing.
  • Pets were not allowed to accompany you on visits, especially if the person you’re visiting also had a dog, because “anything may happen!”
  • “At Home” Days were special days set aside to receive visitors every week, fortnight, or month.
  • If you received a call that interrupted you in the middle of light needlework, you could keep at it during the visit. All other tasks had to be put aside.
  • Of course, it was on the visitor to gauge the situation and ensure they weren’t intruding on anything important such as a meal.
  • People were encouraged to keep “accounts” of visits given and returned. As expected, this was to help determine whether or not to bother with future visits.
  • Visiting cards with your name and address were left with a servant or in the front hall to act as an introduction, to note that a visit had been made to someone who was not at home, or to signify your condolences.

The rules for cards alone were . . . well, just read this:

In making a first call, if your acquaintance or friend be married, and her husband be alive, your own card and two of your husband’s should be left (your husband’s second card being intended for the husband of the lady visited). Should your acquaintance be unmarried, your own card and only one of your husband’s should be left, unless the father of brother of your friend be living in the same house; then another of your husband’s cards should be left for them.

There were also rules for when a lady stopped leaving two of her husband’s cards and started leaving only one, and what to do with your card if you’re in a “motor or carriage” (the servant will come to you and take it).

There was already so much etiquette in mind when paying the call itself – a lady can offer a gentleman her hand but doesn’t shake it, and she bows to unmarried men only – that I think keeping track of the visiting card rules would be my undoing. I would probably just fling cards down on a table and never be invited anywhere ever again!

References:

  • Austen, Jane. Persuasion. 1818. (Available on amazon.ca and amazon.com)
  • Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. 1855. (Available on amazon.ca and amazon.com)
  • Dale, Daphne. Our social customs. A practical guide to deportment, easy manners, and social etiquette. Chicago: W.B. Conkey Company, 1895.
  • Lady Colin Campbell. Etiquette of Good Society. London: Cassell and Company Limited, 1893.
  • Emily Post. Etiquette in society, in business, in politics and at home. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922.
  • Daisy Eyebright. A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1873.
  • Isabella Beeton. Mrs Beeton’s Household Management. London: Ward, Lock & Co. Limited, c.1938.
19th Century and Onwards, Books, Food

A Mrs Beeton recipe: Buttered Eggs, Indian Style

Note: This article originally appeared on my other, non-history blog on October 18, 2014. I’m moving it to this blog because it fits better here. And here’s my previous Mrs Beeton recipe: Tomatoes, Stuffed With Mushrooms.


A couple of months ago I stumbled upon my dream book in a secondhand book store.

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Despite the name, Mrs Beeton’s Household Management isn’t my dream book because I yearn for the upper echelons of hausfrauness. I discovered an older version of the book in 2008, and since then I’ve been interested by it from a historical perspective. It was the first book to present recipes in the format we know them today, rather than the ingredients and process all together in a long, linear paragraph. And it provides a fascinating snapshot (if nearly 1,700 pages can be considered a snapshot) of a time when people made morning calls, managed servants, and served beef tea to sick people.

A previous owner has written her name and the year 1944, but references to “The War,” and nothing written about rationing made me doubt this was the year it was published. The “Legal Memoranda” section has dates that make me believe it was published in 1938 or very early in 1939.

Following are a few photos I took while doing my first couple of flip-throughs. I think I’m going to need a few months to really appreciate everything!

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Another reason this is my dream book is that old recipes are a particular interest of mine. I love when they’re startlingly out of place with modern tastes and patience levels (there were a surprising amount of recipes involving sheep heads and brains, for example).

I couldn’t resist trying at least one recipe from this book. I chose to make “Buttered Eggs, Indian Style (Oeufs Brouillés à l’Indienne).” Here’s the recipe:

Buttered Eggs, Indian Style (Oeufs Brouillés à l’Indienne) – from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

Ingredients – 3 hard-boiled eggs, 2 raw eggs, 1/2 an oz. of butter, curry-powder, salt and pepper, browned breadcrumbs.

Method – Cut the hard-boiled eggs across into rather thick slices, place them in a well-buttered gratin dish, or china baking-dish, in which they may be served, and sprinkle over them about 1/2 a teaspoonful of curry-powder and a few grains of cayenne. Beat the raw eggs slightly, season with salt and pepper, and pour them into the dish. Cover the surface lightly with browned breadcrumbs, put bits of butter here and there, and bake in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. Serve as hot as possible.

Time – 10 minutes. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.

And here’s how it turned out (pardon the lighting; it’s no longer the good time of year for photographing your breakfast ):

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Despite the bad photo, it was actually pretty good! There was nothing very complicated to it, and it was different, but not as out there as Veal Olives, Baked Bullock’s Heart or Mushroom Ketchup.