Lingerie Dress

Lingerie dress
White linen, hand and machine sewn
14.5" across shoulders, 30" around waist, 15" from back of neck to waist, 32" long skirt, 45.5" from neck to hem
1910-1915, probably American
No inscriptions

Description

White linen lingerie dress. Squared sailor collar on a square neckline; neckline over center front panel and collar edged in a narrow band of scalloped lace; collar is embroidered with white floral motifs at front corners. Bodice is constructed with a center front panel which is sewn to the bodice on its right side; left edge holds a placket with four hand-stitched buttonholes for the front closure; panel is also embroidered with white floral motifs. None of the buttons on the bodice match. Set in, gusseted sleeves are elbow length with a gently curved fold-up cuff; cuffs are edged with same narrow, scalloped lace and embroidered with two white floral motifs each. The bodice gathers to cotton waistband at natural waist. Waistband overlaps at proper left for 6.5" and closes with three snaps; closure continues down the 10" skirt opening with five more snaps. The ankle-length unshaped skirt is also gathered to the waistband and has a 4" deep hand-stitched hem. Pin holes in vertical rows at top of skirt indicate remodeling. Above the hem are embroidered white floral motifs. These motifs are symmetrical at center front and center back but otherwise not. All embroidery is carried out in stem and satin stitches, and French knots.

Cultural Context

The lingerie dress arose as an informal wardrobe staple around the turn of the twentieth century. Lingerie dresses were lighter than other clothing, made from cotton or linen, and often featured lace yokes and collars, decorative tucks, and whitework embroidery. While the style showed dirt easily and required frequent laundering, sheer white fabric and crocheted or machine-made lace could be acquired cheaply, making the lingerie dress a fashion for all classes and income levels.

This dress shows the lines typical of the period between the Edwardians and World War One. At that point, most women were no longer wearing the dramatically curved S-bend corsets, and some were going without any corsets at all, as shown in Paul Poiret's 1811 collection. At that point, however, skirts were still fairly narrow and straight, and fashion would not adopt fuller ones until women took up more strenuous labor during the war.

Comparanda

Correct afternoon summer frocks (1911)
[Woman in green dress sitting beside tulips] (1912)
La Soirée Toscane (1913)
Le Secret Jolie (1913)
Knox Ladies Hats (1913)
[Women in dresses] (1915)

Candace Wheeler: the Mother of American Interior Design

Candace Thurber Wheeler was born in 1827 in rural Delhi, New York. She and her siblings grew up as "not only traditional, but actual Puritans, repeating in 1828 the lives of our pioneer New England forefathers a hundred years before" – Abner and Lucy Thurber were strictly religious, raising their children according to Biblical precepts and disallowing them from reading fiction. Living on a farm in the early nineteenth century, the family was required to craft many of their necessities, such as cheese, butter, candles, preserves, cured meats, sausages, pickles, and clothing, but beyond this, Abner's abolitionist sympathies caused him to ban items created with slave labor from the house (and to help fugitive slaves north to Canada). Instead of buying white sugar, the Thurbers tapped maple trees and boiled the sap to make maple sugar; rather than purchase cotton fabric, they grew and processed their own flax, and spun and wove it into linen cloth.

Wheeler had a love of beauty from an early age, from the time when she overheard herself described as beautiful. Despite the strictures of her upbringing, there were many opportunities for her to find beauty – the family sang light and sacred music together in five-part harmony, and nature provided lovely flowers that she delighted in drawing.

At seventeen, she married Thomas Wheeler, the cousin of a local minister, and moved with him to New York City. Although one cannot know her exact feelings at the time, in her autobiography she questions the social system which pressured young women into marriage at such early ages: to not marry was to be seen as defective and to be an old maid and an object of pity or contempt, as women were unable to support themselves. (Despite the misgivings about marriage in general that she expressed in her autobiography, her own appears to have been happy, and Thomas was supportive of all her artistic and business efforts.) She was already proficient in the domestic arts by the time she married, having learned housekeeping from her mother and "maternal duties" from her younger siblings, but marriage opened an entirely new world to her. She began to read Shakespeare, Dante, and other classic literature, and to mix with artistic and literary figures at Artists' Receptions held in Manhattan galleries. During the winter, Candace and Thomas would travel to Europe and continue to move in these circles. The painters of the Hudson River School, several of the Pre-Raphaelites, Mark Twain, Washington Irving, and William Cullen Bryant numbered among their acquaintances. Some of these friends traveled to the Wheelers' home, Nestledown, in Jamaica and taught her to paint.

The Wheelers attended the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, where the Kensington School of Art showed an exhibition of women's needlework. The School was connected to the Arts & Crafts movement, which intended to revive "the medieval arts" and was raising embroidery into a legitimate art form, and which offered employment for women without money to live on who were also too middle-class to take up domestic work. Wheeler applauded the idea – embroidery, she thought, required less skill than other forms of art – but was not impressed by the actual work put out by the Kensington needleworkers. Wheeler decided that an American version of the School should be started, and enlisted the help of Mrs. David Lane, the president of the Sanitary Commission of New York and a woman known for taking control of projects. Wheeler made Mrs. Lane president to allow herself free time and a free hand in creating "associate societies" around the country, and in 1877 the New York Society of Decorative Arts was begun.

The Society was intended to encourage women to develop artistic talents and to help them sell artwork to dealers. Wheeler also assembled a board of professional artists of her acquaintance to judge which contributions were of high enough quality to be sold, and it was the question of what constituted saleable art that caused her to leave the Society. Many submissions which were "good in their way" were considered too commonplace to be art, such as a decorated coal scuttle, and there was a certain amount of argument over "art versus utility", a problem which the Kensington School had escaped by taking a narrower definition of art. A solution was quickly found: Wheeler and Mrs. William Choate split off to create the Woman's Exchange, which accepted anything that a woman made and attempted to sell it. The Society had helped many women to increase their artistic education, including Wheeler's daughter, Dora, and a lifelong friend and colleague, Rosina Emmett, but the Exchange satisfied her philosophy of egalitarian feminism, although she did not do much with it after she helped it get started.

In 1879, Wheeler resigned from the Society of Decorative Arts, along with Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was more interested in doing his own work. The two formed Tiffany & Wheeler, a decorating firm in which he oversaw furniture and fixtures and she took charge of textiles and embroidery. One of their first commissions was to create a curtain for the Madison Square Theater, which unfortunately burned down soon after the curtain was installed. Another was to do several rooms in the Namouna, a yacht owned by the publisher of the New York Herald; pictures of the main saloon show a textile on the wall in the Metropolitan Museum of Art which combines Wheeler's floral motifs with Tiffany's geometric design sense. The Veterans' Room at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue was another commission, and is still extant. Tiffany & Wheeler combined with L. C. Tiffany & Co. Furniture and brought in more designers in 1881 to form Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists; they were commissioned to decorate Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut. Before the group dissolved in 1883 (the Associated Artists became their own firm, under Wheeler's direction), Wheeler entered a wallpaper competition held by Warren & Fuller intended to promote good design. She won the $1,000 prize with her "bees and clover" pattern, and the other three prizes were won by three other women in the group: Dora Wheeler, Ida Clarke, and a Miss Townshend.

Although Wheeler liked her life in New York, she and her brother, who also worked in the city, missed the "hill country" of their childhood. While visiting Onteora in the Catskill Mountains, they determined to buy a plot of land there and build two houses, Pennyroyal and Lotus Land. Their families intended to enjoy Onteora as a quiet retreat, but invited so many of their friends that they soon decided the property might as well be turned into an artistic retreat. By 1888, they had formed the Catskill Mountain Camp and Cottage Co. and built a "hostelry" to house more people.

Wheeler was chosen to be the director of the Woman's Building in the Columbian Exposition of 1892. There had been a Woman's Building at the fair in 1876, but it had been seen as less important than the rest of the exposition, while that of 1892 was considered a major exhibit. There was some argument that the best of the women's artwork should be displayed alongside the men's to show that they were comparably skilled, but it was the opinion of Wheeler and many others that it was better to show all of the women's artwork together to fully display their abilities.

After the Columbian Exposition, Wheeler retreated from commercial work. She began to edit other people's publications and to write her own books: educational works on crafts, fairy tales for her grandchildren, and autobiographical works, such as Yesterdays in a Busy Life. In 1923, a few years after publishing her last work, a history of American embroidery, she died.

While part of Wheeler's fall into obscurity was no doubt due to the fact that she was female and in a field that has been traditionally disregarded in the study of decorative arts, another part is that her design sensibilities were fundamentally representative and historically-based, two qualities which were not highly valued after the turn of the century, with the rise of styles like Art Deco, Modernism, Cubism, and Futurism. It is to be hoped that her name will rise out of the mists of time to be recognized as an important figure in textile and women's histories.

Late Eighteenth Century Shirt

(also known as the Lefferts shirt)

Back in the summer of 2010, when I had my internship at Lefferts Historic House in Brooklyn, I was setting up a small exhibition called Fabrics of Life, about the fibers and fabrics in colonial America. They had put in a tall display case that was meant to hold a late eighteenth century shirt, but when we took the shirt out of its box, we discovered that this was not meant to be. The shirt is mostly cotton, with linen ruffles, and cellulosic (plant) fibers require buffered tissue to counteract their acidity - however, the shirt had been repacked in unbuffered tissue at some point. The shirt had remained a fresh white for years and years, but within the last decade it had turned a crispy brown. Fortunately, a young girl's linen chemise in excellent condition had recently been donated to Lefferts (along with more than a dozen other textile artifacts, including two very delicate whiteworked collars, an infant's gown, and a length of undyed twill linen with a note stating that the flax had been grown before the Revolution), and we were able to hang that in the case in the meantime. Of course, I hadn't taken my course in mannequin dressing and pattern-taking/sketching by that point, but I had scaled up several gridded patterns on my own, and I said that I could make my own pattern and sew a reproduction, which I've been working on ever since then.

The original shirt was probably worn by a teenage boy: the collar is about 15" around, the shoulders are fairly narrow, and the armscyes are also small. The second, long ruffle around the collar and down the front of the shirt would make wearing any kind of cravat impossible, so it makes sense that it would be found on the shirt of someone considered too young for fully adult dress. Earlier in the century, a boy would have worn the same thing as his father, scaled down to his size, but by the end of it adults and children had separate clothing conventions.

The body of the original shirt is made of a very light, thinly-striped white cotton, with ruffles of a very fine linen. My reproduction is in a plain muslin sheeting, although I have still used a light handkerchief linen for the ruffles. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the original in about eight months and I only took very bad pictures, but I believe the original ruffles were cut to use the selvedge as one long edge, with the other caught up in very regular whipped gathers at exactly the right distance to produce an effect of tiny pleats. Selveges being what they are these days, I used a rolled hem on one long edge and whipped gathers on the other (not as regularly as on the original).

Here is the pattern I made and used: [scan]

NB: It is important to note that the ruffle lengths given here only work if you can achieve a perfect 2" plain:1" gathered ratio. It is best to practice first, then decide how long to cut your ruffles based on the size of your gathering stitches.

Things I Have Learned From This Project:
- How to do whipped gathers and rolled hems. (Links go to brilliant tutorials.) I never had occasion to do them before!

- If you do two rows of gathering stitches when setting a sleeve into an armscye or a collar on the top of a shirt, everything comes out so much better than when you just do one. hey, I didn't say Revolutionary Things I Have Learned. My instinct is always to do something more quickly, but I think the quality difference here is worth taking more time.

- It is very difficult to combine a big sewing project like this with getting a Master's degree. This isn't the biggest project ever, I'm not peacockdress, but with the amount of figuring-out-on-my-own that I did, it was a bit overwhelming. I should really have budgeted my time better - I could have finished months ago.

Tidbits of History from eBay

Browsing around eBay, I realized there are a host of things people don't commonly know about historical fashion. Some of the issues that keep seeming to come up are:

- Wedding dresses. Before the Victorian era, it was common for women of all ranks in society to wear a dress of any color for their wedding, and keep it as a good evening dress afterward. With the rise of cotton fabrics at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, white became a fashionable color for day and evening dresses, especially for young women. Queen Victoria married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840 in a white gown, setting the precedent that is still followed today. However, many women (especially those in the middle and working classes) still did not wear white wedding gowns, though they might wear white, off-white, or ivory evening gowns: not all whitish evening gowns are wedding dresses. From the middle of the 1890s and into the 1920s, wealthy women began wearing light muslin dresses with lots of lace insertion and broderie anglaise (eyelet embroidery) in the morning and afternoon; these are called lingerie dresses. These were casual, and specific examples are unlikely to have been worn as wedding dresses.

- Jackets. Many items on eBay are labeled "jackets", but these are usually bodices from dresses. The practice of making dresses in two separate pieces (still considered one dress) dates back to the middle of the 17th century at least. Often, these bodices survive without their accompanying skirts, as the large skirt panels could be reused in another garment.


To be continued when next I browse through eBay!

Corsets 1790-1810

That Corset Paper

Throughout the eighteenth century, the female body was compressed by whalebone corsets into conical shapes, but within the next few decades, as the silhouette became more high-waisted, corsetry changed drastically. The extant corsets of the early nineteenth century are slim columns of linen, embellished with quilting, cording, and embroidery. This change is intriguing: obviously, it did not happen overnight, but it was still unprecedented in the history of fashion in terms of its extreme degree of difference in such a short time. For the purpose of simplicity, I have elected to refer to all of the transitional undergarments discussed here as "corsets." (NB: this version is heavily abbreviated from my original paper.)

- Corset at the Kyoto Costume Institute (AC4197 82-5-5; page 129): circa 1790. Back is only lightly boned, with flared tab at center back. About waist-length.
- Corset from Corsets and Crinolines (page 43): circa 1793. Fully boned and rather long in the front; bottom is untabbed. Very short in the back, with boned and laced tabs at center back.

These two appear similar in shape and style to the conical stays of the earlier 18th century, and probably had the same effect on the bust. However, the lack of tabs at the bottom edge implies that they would not compress the waist at all.

- Busk from Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery: 1783. 14.3 inches long.
- Busk from Canadian Museum of Civilization: 1796. 10.4 inches long
- Report from The Times, 1795, in C&C: that women wore "corsettes about six inches long."

This implies that the front of the corset had become noticeably shorter. The male writers may have been exaggerating the shortness for effect, but women's habits of movement may have changed in response to having a smaller length of whalebone in the front, alerting male viewers to the difference in foundation garments.

- Fashion plate, from Heideloff, The Gallery of Fashion (May 1794, figure 7): Woman in profile holding a small bouquet shows a smooth, straight line from the bust to the waist.
- Fashion plate, from Heideloff, The Gallery of Fashion (February 1796, figure 87): 1796. Woman in profile with a red shawl shows a kind of hyperbolic curve at the bust, which is closer to the waist than the previous.
- Fashion plate, from Heideloff, The Gallery of Fashion (Dresses 1799, figures 215-16): Women show clearly defined, rounded breasts.

- Corset from Kent State Museum (KSUM CHS 1963.42.4): 1795-1810 (given date). Fully boned with cups for the breasts. I believe this is from earlier in that period, the missing link between the conical stays and corsets with separated breasts.

At this point, it becomes very difficult to find corsets with specific dates. The long linen corsets from 1800 through the 1820s, when the hourglass figure became popular, tend to be labeled "early nineteenth century" in museum collections.

- The Book of Costume by a Lady of Rank (Mary Margaret Stanley Egerton Wilton; page 248): The author cites "a French lady of [the Revolutionary period]” to describe 'a simple piece of linen, slightly laced before, while it leaves the waist uncompressed [...]'"
- Ackermann's Repository of Arts (January 1811, in C&C): complains that at one point “ladies not only abandoned [corsets], but, without dresses, without fichus, they went about practically in their chemises.”

It seems likely to me that corsets were at their lightest and flimsiest from about 1795-1810, although the second quote is probably an exaggeration and even then most likely refers to the most fashionable of women.

- Corset from the Costume Institute (2006.545): 1790-1810. Two layers of linen, laces up the front with metal rings. Support and definition achieved by gathering below the bust.
- Museum of Fine Arts (49.904): early 19th century. Bust gores and some cording under the breasts.
- Museum of Fine Arts (49.904): early 19th century. Shaped panels for bust support, no cording. I believe these three are all from close to but after the turn of the century.
- The Domestic Encyclopedia (Anthony Florian Madinger Willich, 1804, page 39) describes stays as "supported by whalebone and laced behind […] such absurd casements are still retained by the most numerous class of women, who lace themselves in whale-bone, to the great detriment of their constitution."
- Monthly Review (Ralph Griffiths, Vol. XXIV, 1797, page 15): states that “a wise fashion of wearing no stiff stays, which adds so much to the beauty of young ladies, has commenced since the above was written; and long may it continue!”
- The Literary Magazine and American Register (Charles Borckden Brown, Vol III, 1805, page 228): celebrated “the discontinuance of stays” as a modern improvement.

I assume from this that though the new, light style was available, many women wore the old, boned style. It must have taken some time for the new style to disseminate among women, as the unboned corsets do not seem to have been made before the turn of the century and it would have been impossible for all women to begin wearing them at once. Women of the middle or working classes would have taken longer not just because of the trickle-down effect of fashion, but because of the expense of purchasing a new corset.

- Corset from the Kyoto Costume Institute (AC21877 77-11-58AB, page 131): early 19th century. Wooden busk, full cups, cording and embroidery.
- Corset from the University of Albert Museum (1974.9.9): 1810-1815. Deep gussets ad gores to produce a curved silhouette, heavily quilted, straight lacing edges.

The corsets from circa 1810 are sturdier and would prevent a lot of movement, especially bending forward. While they control the body more than the earlier short corsets, they aren't as curved as corsets of the 1820s, which feature shaped edges along the lacing eyelets. By this point in my research, I had convinced myself about earlier and later corsets, but there was a gap from about 1800-1810 in my chronology.

La Belle Assemblée, April 1807, "Letter on Dress" (page 227):
Do not be displeased that I fulfil not your commission for the long stay. Believe, Julia, your slender form, gently and simply rounded by nature, needs not this unnatural compression; they can only be requisite for such females as exceed the embonpoint, to others they give a most ungraceful stiffness; and, I should think, must be as uneasy as they are inelegant and unnatural. Besides, dear Julia, if we consult the painter and the sculpturist, we shall find that the natural beauty of a form consists in a moderate roundness, not in contracted flatness. [...] Continue, therefore, your simple corset; and do not, with your plump cheek, and round arms, exhibit the body of a caged skeleton.


I believe this indicates that the long corsets existed contemporaneously with a type of short one, with ideological as well as physical reasons behind the choice – a woman wearing the "simple corset" would need to have confidence that her body did not need compression, but it might also have been attractive to someone who believed that a rounded and "natural" form was preferable to a constricted one.

- Fashion plate, C&C (page 146): 1803. Young women frolic in a meadow. They have rounded bellies and do not seem to be wearing long, busked corsets.
- Fashion late, C&C (page 131): 1804. A young woman wearing a "corset elastique," which ends above the natural waistline.

I believe the women in the first fashion plate are wearing some kind of soft corset which only supported the breasts, but did not extend below the waist of the dress. Unfortunately, few short corsets exist today.

- "Brassiere" from the Kyoto Costume Institute (AC21077 77-11-50AB; page 130) (as well as a similar pair sold at Christie's called "shape makers"): Two pieces which wrap around the chest.

While I think this sort of undergarment would have been worn during the same time as the short corset, I would not give it that label.

- Corset from Corsets (Jill Salen, page 102): 1790. Very minimally boned, with vestigial tabs and small gussets at the bust.
- Fashion plate from The Book of English Trades (Souter, page 222): 1818. The corset looks very much like Salen's, with light tabs and a high waist.
- Short corset, : 1803.
- Short corset, : 1822.

Salen's corset is essentially what I believe many women wore 1800-1810. (It seems to be misdated – 1790 is too early for a corset to be this short and flimsy.) A corset of this type with gussets adjusted for bust size, as I know from personal experience, can produce the supported and separated bust shape seen in the clothed fashion plates. The 1818 plate may be out of my date range, but as it was used into the 1820s, I believe it indicates a continuity through the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Based on the statistics of surviving corsets, it would appear that long corsets were extremely popular and short ones hardly ever worn, but I believe that there is a reason for the lack of short corsets, early long corsets, and shape makers. These were all lightly boned at most, based on extant corsets and descriptions, and the latter two do not seem to have been made with expensive materials or extensive embellishment. Therefore when these corsets wore out or became unfashionable, the wearers would have been more likely to reuse the fabric or simply throw them away; corsets with heavy whaleboning or beautiful silk outer layers could represent much more money to the owners, prompting them to store older corsets once they were unfashionable. Another possibility (not mutually exclusive with the first) is that the earlier and later corsets were considered more aesthetically appealing in the long run, being made from more attractive materials and having more applied decoration (embroidery, quilting, cording). The more intensely structured silhouettes of these corsets may have also made them more appealing to later generations, which clearly valued an artificial shape to the torso and might have considered the lighter corsets lumpy and unattractive.

The Magicians

Okay for serious this is the best book I've read in a long, long time. I'm just starting out this way because people NEED TO KNOW THIS. It is the perfect book for someone who started reading Harry Potter at the beginning of their adolescence and are in college or grad school or has just left the same and is now a totally different person than when they started reading it and sort of have been wanting something that would make them feel the way they did the first time they read Sorcerer's Stone as a kid. This sounds completely insane, but that's because this book is INSANELY GOOD.

This review is going to be full of tangents, mostly to Harry Potter and Narnia. Just so you know.

A rough summary would go something like this: Quentin is generally unhappy at his Brooklyn school, gets the opportunity to take an entrance exam at a magic college, passes, attends, graduates, drifts about with friends, visits Narnia, has hellish experience in Narnia, returns to non-magical world. It's not a very long book, but the plot makes it seem like it is, in a very good way.

The very beginning was deliberately misleading, and I loved that. Quentin, James, and Julia all were funneled together by the school system, as they're quite smart. Quentin had a crush on Julia, and she knew but was with James, who is such a Main Character - it seems obvious that they're going to go to magic school together and all. But when the invitation comes (James and Quentin are together at the time) James ignores his; Julia gets to the test, but fails it, although Quentin doesn't learn that until later. Quentin goes to Brakebills College alone.

All of the students at Brakebills are very smart, the tops of their classes before coming there. The characterization is spot on, too - the way they can be great friends and yet also intensely competitive was very, very familiar to me. The magic system takes a lot of memorization and study, and Grossman strikes a very good balance between "then they just did magic" and "[made up language words] [exact detailed explanation]". At first, Brakebills's seeming to be taken directly from an Evelyn Waugh story made perfect sense, but then just at the very moment I started getting annoyed with it - the plush study rooms, the nicknames for everything, the sort-of house system - Quentin becomes fed up with the ridiculousness of it. And while you of course want to have gone to college there, it's much more rigorous than any magic school I've ever read.

Then there's Narnia. Well, Fillory, as it's called here, but it's quite obviously based on Narnia, with two rams standing in for Aslan. It's there from the very beginning as a popular nerdish book that Quentin always loved, but then it comes back after Quentin and his cohort graduate. Actually, let me step back -

The first classmate Quentin meets is Eliot, who is more of an Evelyn Waugh character than an Evelyn Waugh character and so fits in perfectly with Brakebills. In fact, he and Janet - essentially the female Eliot - are almost impossible to read without an English accent. Alice is a painfully shy nerd and Quentin's best friend (until she becomes his girlfriend); her parents are magicians, and show how out of it adult magicians become as they don;t have to do anything (no restrictions against creating food with magic here). Penny is a punk. It seems for a bit that Penny, Alice, and Quentin are going to be a trio, but when they all try to test into the next class up, Penny fails and drops off the radar for a while. I don't know if the not!triads were intentionally not!paralleling HP, but they could very well have been.

So, Fillory. It turns out that Penny dropped out of Brakebills before graduation, and after a bit of moping around he gets ahold of a button which is essentially the same as the rings from The Magician's Nephew. However, instead of the creepy, silent wood between the worlds, he comes to a creepy, silent dead city between the worlds - there's a sort of hint that the city was built over the forest, or that the city will fall down and become the forest; Janet is allergic to the place, and it's even creepier because it's never explained why this is - and from there goes to Fillory. When the others go back with him, it's pretty much like a darker, more frightening and dangerous and dark version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and there isn't the same feeling that the characters can save Fillory. I don't have as much to say on the topic of what happens there, and that's really the big spoiler area, so I'll leave that to my dear readers.

What really strikes me is the ending - now this is also a spoiler spoiler spoiler so you may want to skip this whole paragraph, but it's also related to a general sort of fantasy discussion, so maybe you'll chance it. At first, Quentin decides - due to the Fillory adventure and Alice's parents - that magic is inherently immature. To be honest, Quentin felt superior to anybody who still messed around with magic. They could delude themselves if they liked, those self-indulgent magical mandarins, but he'd outgrown that stuff. He wasn't a magician anymore, he was a man, and a man took responsibility for his actions. It made me jump a bit, because that's pretty much what that guy said on Ferretbrain about Harry Potter that made me so annoyed. But within pages, he's met someone else who felt the same way, and realizes that it's too easy to blame things on magic. And then Eliot and Janet show up, and they go back to Fillory, because what magic's really about is being able to do things, and once you have magic you can't just ignore it.

I was so relieved that, while the book is necessarily a response to HP, it never seems to scorn that series. It's respectful, when it could have sneered at all sorts of different things as childish. Neither fits very well with the end of Campbell's Journey: HP, I've decided, does more than one might think, because Hogwarts is the underworld and the real world is the real world - Harry is in the real world after Hogwarts; just because he has a wand and dragons exist doesn't mean he doesn't spend loads of time on taxes and paperwork and looking after his children and grocery shopping, although I will admit that it's muddled because at first the magical world is presented as fundamentally different from the boring/bad normal world. The Magicians is even more difficult to fit into the mold past the 3/4 point (and I'm not saying that either has to - I just find it an interesting practice). The magical world can't be the real world there, because adult magicians basically do not do anything. What it comes down to is that if you got to use magic, no matter how dangerous it was, you ought to use it because it's awesome, and your real life is whatever you choose to do with your life. It is a very good thing I was never an English, Philosophy, or Comp Lit major, because I would have been terrible at it.

A more generalized review can be found here; I generally agree with it, but not with this:
Perhaps a fantasy novel meant for adults can’t help being a strange mess of effects. It’s similar to inviting everyone to a rave for your 40th-birthday party. Sounds like fun, but aren’t we a little old for this?


Harry Potter is, going by the majority of the series, Young Adult fiction, although it's treated as children's literature. (I personally feel that it steps into YA with PoA, which is earlier than most people seem to go with - if anyone wants to discuss this, just put "so what are you on about with PoA, then?" in a comment and I'll blather there, but this parenthesis is long enough already.) The Magicians is billed as adult fiction, but in my opinion and, clearly, Michael Agger's, it really fits in somewhere between YA and adult. Not Quite Adult? I see it as for people who, like me, know that they're meant to be adults (their parents keep telling them so) but aren't ready to call themselves adults just yet.

A Mary Quinn Mystery: The Agency: A Spy in the House

I'm not entirely sure about the title of this book. The cover says "A Mary Quinn Mystery: The Agency: A Spy in the House". So if "The Agency" is the series name, why "A Mary Quinn Mystery"? Is Mary Quinn in non-Agency mysteries? Anyway. The cover is pretty good - the model looks like Mary is supposed to look, and the 1860s dress looks like an 1860s dress, so hey-ho.

While I applaud the premise - women run a girl's charity school and an agency of female spies - but there's something about the delivery that's kind of eh.

- Mary tells the spymasters her life story, and it is crap, basically textbook angsty Victorian poor childhood. It's relevant later, but surely there would have been a better way of delivering the information.

- Mary gets inserted into a house as a paid companion to a young lady, Angelica Thorold. This is great, fiction does not have enough companions.

- At first I was very excited that it seemed she was going to have a romance with Mr. Thorold's secretary, which appeals to me very very much - paid companion and secretary are in an odd position in a household, neither being servants nor family; non-servant employees. Then also, it could be secret, awesome spy/mild-mannered secretary and I don't think I need to explain how great that would be?

- However, very soon after this a different guy got a PoV and didn't get on with Mary, so I was like drat, this is obviously the romance. The different guy is an engineer or something, and he turns out to be a year younger than her and yet still pushes her around, so that's obnoxious.

- Equally obnoxious is the constant, "oh you have such dark hair and eyes, are you really English?" All British people are not Anglo-Saxons. This goes somewhere, but still.

- The point of the spying is that Mr. Thorold seems to be smuggling antiquities from India and they want proof. I have a very hard time believing anyone would give a damn about that in the 1860s, and anyway Mary doesn't seem to get anything done about it.

Hex Hall

I picked up Hex Hall mainly because of the cover - there's a girl in a school uniform with a black cat (clearly someone didn't read the book, there are no cats at all), and her reflection has her hair down and is wearing a really nice green retro dress (still with the cat, though). Sophie, whose father is a warlock and mother is a Muggle, does some poorly-thought-out magic at her latest high school and is sent to magic reform school, Hecate (Hex) Hall. Her roommate is Jenna, the only vampire (as vampires are generally ostracized) and the only person less popular than she is; the local Mean Girls are three witches who want her in their coven so they can have a fourth (and not because they think she's powerful or interesting).

The good:

- Lord Byron was bitten by a vampire when he was dying in Italy and teaches Magical Literature, basically to give him something to do to keep him busy as he'd be too recognizable IRL. And he Lord Byrons it up.

- There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of girl-and-girl conversations that aren't about boys. The coven is all about getting power, and Jenna and Sophie talk about all sorts of things. I actually thought the book was going to involve a romance between them, at first.

- Jenna is a lesbian, and a great character, and she doesn't die.

- Sophie's feelings for the guy aren't that important for most of the book, and even when it does come to the foreground it's not all-consuming.

- Apart from witches, there are shapeshifters (both werewolves and other) and fairies. The fairies are hilarious and don't really do anything. One of them is all, "I'm the niece of the king of the Seelie Court, and when I tell him about this you're toast!" and her roommate gets pissed off that she's scrying in the middle of the night, generating light with her "pool thing", and the fairy gets all snotty about how her basin is filled with dew gathered under the full moon, etc. Well, I found it funny.

- There are some srs innuendos, most of them made by Sophie. It felt more real to me.

The bad:

- The romantic interest guy turns out to be, gasp shock, from the evil organization dedicated to getting rid of all magical people. I am so tired of the big obstacle being a sort of Romeo & Juliet thing. WHY.

- There's a lot of "oh we are monsters" from Sophie, and I can understand why someone might feel that way but it's so obnoxious.

... That might be it for the bad, really. Overall it was quite good and I read it very quickly.