Oh, joy! Spring allergies are here again. To celebrate, I spent yesterday incapacitated on the couch watching K-dramas, including re-watching episodes of one of my newer favorites Mr. Queen.
All of this reminds me that I must continue my series on women in late Joseon Korea, as excerpted from Louise Jordan Miln’s book Quaint Korea, published in 1895. Today I’ve posted passages about Korean geishas known as Kisaeng. These women, usually between 16 and 22 years of age, were formally trained for their profession and regulated by the Korean government. Miln refers to these women as geisha. I’ve replaced these references with the Korean word Kisaeng. If you’re interested in learning more about Kisaeng, the Wikipedia entry for the Kisaeng is great.
As I caveated in my previous post on Joseon women, this excerpt is only one American woman’s observation of her experiences in Korea. You are welcome to politely correct or add more information (or suggest really good K-dramas!)
The word geisha is a Japanese word, and it signifies “accomplished person.” The Korean word for the class of women of whom I am writing is ki-saing.
And as the women of the Korean gentry are more secluded than those of any other Asian gentry, so are the Kisaeng girls of Chosön more interesting, more fascinating…Women seem to be an indispensable element of society after all. Social enjoyment without them is more or less a failure, at least in any very prolonged form
The Kisaeng girls have names of their own, but then the Kisaeng have individuality; live lives, if not moral, why still, not colourless, and mix with men, if not on an equality, at least with a good deal of familiarity; and it would be rather awkward if the men who are dependent upon them for female society … had no name by which to call them. The “Fragrant Iris” was the name of a Kisaeng girl whose acquaintance Mr. Lowell tells us he made in Korea, and four of her companions were called “Peach Blossom,” “Plum Flower,” “Rose,” and “Moonbeam.”
To please, to amuse, to understand, and to companion men, mentally and socially, is their chief duty, their chief occupation, and their most earnest study. The Kisaeng girl is, as a rule, rather better educated than the concubine, better educated, quite possibly, than the wife; for the Kisaeng must make her way, and hold any position she gains, solely by personal talent, personal attractiveness, and personal attainments. Not for her to lay at the man’s feet a son who may worship him into the most desirable corner of the Korean heaven; only for her to please him while she is with him, to touch for him odd instruments and sing to them soft, weird songs, to shake the soft perfume of her hair across his cheek and the perfume of the flowers she wears upon the bowl of food, or of fish, or fruit she humbly places before him; only for her to laugh at his humour, flat howsoever it may be; only for her to applaud his ambitions, urge on his hopes, charm away his fears; only for her to please; never for her, save by accident, to be pleased.
In proportion to the populations of the two countries there are far fewer Geisha in Korea than in Japan, but this is solely, I think, because Korea is so much poorer than Japan; for nowhere are women of their profession more appreciated, more esteemed, and treated by men more on an equality than they are in Chosön. The Korean Kisaeng is systematically and carefully trained for her intended profession. Several years are occupied by her education, and not until she is proficient in singing, in dancing, in reciting, in the playing of many instruments, in repartee, in the pouring of wine, in the filling and lighting of pipes, in making herself generally useful at feasts and festivals, and above all, in being good-natured, is she allowed to ply her trade. In or near every large Korean city are picturesque little buildings called “pleasure-houses.” They are very like the tea-houses of Japan. They are usually built in some secluded spot, and are surrounded by the brilliance of flowers, and half hidden beneath the shadow of trees. They are scantily but artistically furnished, and are running over with tea and sweetmeats and girls.
The Kisaeng of the King are, of course, the flower of the profession, and are dressed even more elaborately than the ordinary Kisaeng, which is quite superfluous.
Most Asian dances are slow. Probably the slowest of them all is the dance of the Korean Kisaeng. The Kisaeng herself is covered and covered from throat to ankle. It would be imprudent to say how many dresses she usually wears at once. She dresses in silk and in glimmering tissues. Before dancing she usually takes off two or three of her gowns, and tucks up the trains of the robes she still wears, but even so she is very much dressed, and a thoroughly well-clad person. In winter she wears bands of costly fur on her jaunty little cap, and an edge of the same fur about her delightful little jacket of fine cashmere, or of silk. She wears most brilliant colours, and all her garments are perfumed and exquisitely clean. Indeed, cleanliness must be her ideal of godliness.
Her parents are poor, always very poor, and she is pretty, always very pretty. It is this prettiness which causes her almost from her babyhood to be destined for the amusement profession. It makes her suitable for that profession, and ensures her probable success in it. Her parents gladly set her aside from the toilers of the family, and she is given every possible advantage of mind and person. So she is insured a life of ease, and even of comparative luxury. She is a blooming, gladsome thing, with gleaming eyes, and laughing lips, and happy dancing feet. She looks like some marvelous human flower when you meet her in the streets of Söul, and forms an indescribable contrast to the draggled crowds that draw apart to let her pass as she goes on her laughing way to her well-paid work.
Kisaengs are greatly in demand for picnics, and in the summer often spend days in the cool, fragrant woods, playing for, reciting to, and feasting with some merry party of pleasure-makers. If their services are required at a Korean feast they usually slip in one by one when the meal is more than half done. The host and his guests make room for them, and each girl seats herself near to a man whose attendant she thus becomes for the entire evening. They pour wine for the men, and see that all their wants and creature comforts are well looked after. They do not eat unless the men voluntarily feed them. To feed them is to give them a great mark of favour, and it would be the worst of bad form for them to refuse any morsel so offered. After the feast they sing and dance in turn and together. They recite love stories and ballads, and strum industriously away upon Korean instruments. Their singing is very plaintive: as sad as any earthly music, but it is not sweet nor pleasing to European ears. To introduce them for an evening into the most respectable family circle is regarded as the best of good taste. Some of these girls live together, many of them live, nominally at least, in the homes of their own childhood. They form strange contrasts to their sisters of approximately the same age, whose lives have been lives of virtue and incessant work.
Kisaengs never by any chance become familiar with, or are treated familiarly by the women of the households into which they are occasionally introduced, and yet some of them are not unchaste in their personal lives. This, however, is of course very exceptional. Occasionally the Kisaeng becomes the concubine of a man of position, or the personal attendant of a man of wealth.
William Wells Brown, the child of a slave and slave owner, grew up in St. Louis in the early nineteenth century. He was sold many times before he escaped slavery in 1834. He adopted the name Wells Brown after the Quaker who helped him as a runaway. Having no formal education, Wells Brown taught himself to read and went on to become the first African American to publish a novel, play, and a travel guide. He wrote Three Years in Europe: Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met while lecturing on abolitionism in Europe. I’ve excerpted his description of The Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, which was the first world’s fair.
A Day in the Crystal Palace.
London, June 27th, 1851.
Presuming that you will expect from me some account of the great World’s Fair, I take my pen to give you my own impressions, although I am afraid that anything which I may say about this “Lion of the day,” will fall far short of a description. On Monday last, I quitted my lodgings at an early hour, and started for the Crystal Palace. This day was fine, such as we seldom experience in London, with a clear sky, and invigorating air, whose vitality was as rousing to the spirits as a blast from the “horn of Astolpho.” Although it was not yet 10 o’clock when I entered Piccadilly, every omnibus was full, inside and out, and the street was lined with one living stream, as far as the eye could reach, all wending their way to the “Glass-House.” No metropolis in the world presents such facilities as London for the reception of the Great Exhibition, now collected within its walls. Throughout its myriads of veins, the stream of industry and toil pulses with sleepless energy. Everyone seems to feel that this great Capital of the world, is the fittest place wherein they might offer homage to the dignity of toil. I had already begun to feel fatigued by my pedestrian excursion as I passed “Apsley House,” the residence of the Duke of Wellington, and emerged into Hyde Park.
I had hoped that on getting into the Park, I would be out of the crowd that seemed to press so heavily in the street. But in this I was mistaken. I here found myself surrounded by and moving with an overwhelming mass, such as I had never before witnessed. And, away in the distance, I beheld a dense crowd, and above every other object, was seen the lofty summit of the Crystal Palace. The drive in the Park was lined with princely-looking vehicles of every description. The drivers in their bright red and gold uniforms, the pages and footmen in their blue trousers and white silk stockings, and the horses dressed up in their neat, silver-mounted harness, made the scene altogether one of great splendour. I was soon at the door, paid my shilling, and entered the building at the south end of the Transept. For the first ten or twenty minutes I was so lost in astonishment, and absorbed in pleasing wonder, that I could do nothing but gaze up and down the vista of the noble building. The Crystal Palace resembles in some respects, the interior of the cathedrals of this country. One long avenue from east to west is intersected by a transept, which divides the building into two nearly equal parts. This is the greatest building the world ever saw, before which the Pyramids of Egypt, and the Colossus of Rhodes must hide their diminished heads. The palace was not full at any time during the day, there being only 64,000 persons present. Those who love to study the human countenance in all its infinite varieties, can find ample scope for the indulgence of their taste, by a visit to the World’s Fair. All countries are there represented—Europeans, Asians, Americans and Africans, with their numerous subdivisions… Of all places of curious costumes and different fashions, none has ever yet presented such a variety as this Exhibition.
There is a great deal of freedom in the Exhibition. The servant who walks behind his mistress through the Park feels that he can crowd against her in the Exhibition. The Queen and the day labourer, the Prince and the merchant, the peer and the pauper… all meet here upon terms of perfect equality. This amalgamation of rank, this kindly blending of interests, and forgetfulness of the cold formalities of ranks and grades, cannot but be attended with the very best results. I was pleased to see such a goodly sprinkling of my own countrymen in the Exhibition—I mean Black men and women—well-dressed, and moving about with their fairer brethren. This, some of our pro-slavery Americans did not seem to relish very well. There was no help for it. As I walked through the American part of the Crystal Palace, some of our Virginian neighbours eyed me closely and with jealous looks, especially as an English lady was leaning on my arm. But their sneering looks did not disturb me in the least. I remained the longer in their department, and criticised the bad appearance of their goods the more.
In so vast a place as the Great Exhibition one scarcely knows what to visit first, or what to look upon last. After wandering about through the building for five hours, I sat down in one of the galleries and looked at the fine marble statue of Virginius, with the knife in his hand and about to take the life of his beloved and beautiful daughter, to save her from the hands of Appius Claudius. The admirer of genius will linger for hours among the great variety of statues in the long avenue. Large statues of Lords Eldon and Stowell, carved out of solid marble, each weighing above twenty tons, are among the most gigantic in the building.
Among the many things in the Crystal Palace, there are some which receive greater attention than others, around which may always be seen large groups of the visitors. The first of these is the Koh-i-noor, the “Mountain of Light.” This is the largest and most valuable diamond in the world, said to be worth £2,000,000 sterling. It is indeed a great source of attraction to those who go to the Exhibition for the first time, but it is doubtful whether it obtains such admiration afterwards. We saw more than one spectator turn away with the idea that after all it was only a piece of glass. After some jamming, I got a look at the precious jewel, and although in a brass-grated cage, strong enough to hold a lion, I found it to be no larger than the third of a hen’s egg. Two policemen remain by its side day and night.
The finest thing in the Exhibition, is the “Veiled Vestal,” a statue of a woman carved in marble, with a veil over her face, and so neatly done, that it looks as if it had been thrown over after it was finished. The Exhibition presents many things which appeal to the eye and touch the heart, and altogether, it is so decorated and furnished, as to excite the dullest mind, and satisfy the most fastidious.
My Dearest Reader—Do you sit glumly at your writing desk, your quill poised as you stare at your blank Valentine’s Day card? Do you not possess the flowery prose to express your ardent, undying, and very proper love for another? Never fear! The Parlour Letter-writer And Secretary’s Assistant, published in 1845, can help. This volume is overflowing with sappy expressions of adoration that are perfect for almost any Victorian romantic relationship. I have excerpted a few letters for your reading pleasure. I am, gentle reader, Yours most sincerely.
To a Lady.
My dearest Harriet—Ever since the fatal or auspicious evening that I was introduced to your endearing presence, my heart has been riveted to the lovely image of her, who must become the arbitress of my future happiness or misery; that the latter will be the case, will not endure a moment’s reflection, for independent of my own feelings, it would be cruel to suppose that a bosom formed of virtues most sensitive and tender, could ever consign a heart touched with those very virtues to become the victim of aspiring delusion. No, my dear Harriet, you will never overwhelm me with such a fatal reply, and thus annihilate all those endearing prospects of future felicity, which I have so ardently cherished; as an alleviation, then, to those fond feelings, which are at present severely agitated by suspense, permit me, my dear girl, to address your respected parents, for a formal recognition of my visits and attentions to a concession from my Harriet, will relieve me from a state of inexpressible anxiety, and in part secure to me a glowing tranquility, which is only in the power of you, my love, to bestow. Anxiously expecting a favourable reply, I am, dearest Harriet, yours sincerely.
Sir—In answer to your flattering letter, I must beg leave to remind you, that in giving you the permission of addressing my beloved parents upon the subject of your attachment to me, such permission must be understood as implying a reciprocity of feeling; which indeed, in a point involving all the consequences of my future happiness, is no ordinary speculation; however, that I may not incur the charge of cruelty from one whom, I must acknowledge, I at present value with no ordinary esteem, I shall, with the permission of my parents, feel much pleasure in a continuation of your society; but with regard to the success of your present enterprise, time and circumstances alone must determine. Begging you to receive my best acknowledgments for the honour conferred, I remain, sir, with sincere regard, Your affectionate friend.
From a Gentleman to a Widow.
Madam—Since our first introduction, I have no longer been master of my own heart; your wit, beauty, and numerous good qualities, have enslaved it, and thus I offer it to your acceptance.
I will not condescend to employ flattery, for your own excellent understanding would condemn it; neither will I attempt to draw any romantic pictures of conjugal happiness; you are aware of what may be expected from the marriage state, from a man, I trust, of liberal ideas, and who is tenderly devoted to you. You have known me a sufficient time to be a judge of my merits (if I possess any); I shall therefore content myself with making you an offer of my hand and heart, which I trust you will accept. My circumstances, also, you are intimately acquainted with; it will, therefore, be needless for me to enter upon them. Suffice it to say, I can insure you every real comfort in life. Anxiously waiting for a reply to this letter, I remain, dear madam, Your devoted lover.
Sir—The very short time we have been acquainted, prevents my answering your letter in the decisive manner your professions seem to desire. Having already trod the path of conjugal happiness, it is a duty incumbent on me, not to mar my present widowed comforts by any delusive engagement; my former union having contributed to give me more correct views of life, requires that, previous to forming a second engagement, I should use a more matured discretion than may be expected from our sex in our tender years. Upon a better acquaintance, our views may be more congenial; until then, your regard for me will, I trust, spare me a reconsideration of your proposal. With the greatest respect for your kind attentions and esteem, I remain, sir, Yours most sincerely.
From an Officer to a Lady.
My adored Girl—Your beloved society was to me a source of the purest delight. You may me judge, therefore, from your own sentiments, how miserable the order for my removal from you made me. Driven almost to despair, I reprobated the service, and would have given worlds to have resigned my commission, but it fortunately came into my mind that I might still pour out the warm feelings of my heart to you, my beloved, by means of my pen; this soothed my grief, and supported me under our painful separation.
The amusements of this place afford no pleasure to me, it being impossible for me to enjoy that in which you do not partake: no, my beloved, my only happiness consists in fancying scenes of ideal bliss which can never be accomplished till you are mine forever.
You are aware, Julia, that I was fearful of making your father acquainted with our mutual attachment, otherwise than by letter. The enclosed is for him; it contains a declaration of my affection for you; yet, acquainted as I am with his goodness, I am induced to hope for the most flattering result. Expecting to hear from you by return of post, am, my beloved Julia, Your faithful and affectionate lover.
The Lady’s Answer.
Dear Orlando—Your own feelings will explain to you how welcome your dear letter was to your own affectionate Julia, and how grieved I was to learn that you were compelled to tear yourself away from me, even for a short time; but, my dear Orlando, be assured that whether together or absent, your Julia is, and will be, eternally and affectionately your own. Should any obstruction arise, it must spring from yourself alone, as my happiness or misery in this world depends entirely upon your conduct; my very existence being interwoven with your well-being and general prosperity. My father has directed me to transmit you the enclosed. I have every reason to suppose it will prove agreeable, though I can assure you I am totally ignorant of its contents, and can only surmise them, by our last night’s conversation, when he hoped I should be as happy as he wished me. I must acknowledge my pride is not a little gratified at your statement, “that you can enjoy no pleasures in which I do not share.” It is an avowal, dear Orlando, which thrills my heart with unfeigned joy, and never shall you have, on my part, the smallest reason to think otherwise. Anxiously expecting to hear from you soon, I am, dear Orlando, Inviolably yours.
From a Rich Gentleman to a Lady, with a Proposal of Marriage.
Madam—You will, perhaps, be surprised at receiving a letter from me; but as I have written it with the most honourable motives, I trust I may expect your pardon should the contents not be perfectly congenial to your views. However, I have every reason to conclude that in making you a proposal consistent with the passion I bear you, that I am not trespassing on a heart already bestowed on some favoured object. I therefore flatter myself that I may not be altogether unsuccessful in arriving at the happy preference to which I ardently aspire. My circumstances and station of life you are fully aware of, and I am happy to say that although there may be a disparity in point of fortune, nevertheless the very amiable qualities of your heart, and accomplishments of person, which have truly riveted my affections on you, have made such an impression on my family, that I can assure you, it would afford them the highest pleasure imaginable to reckon you in the number of their relations. Having prefaced, my dear madam, thus far, permit me to entreat a favourable reception of my attentions; and believe me that your consent will make me the happiest of my sex; on the contrary, madam, a refusal will render me the most miserable of beings; and I feel confident that a heart so truly amiable, will never give a moment’s pain to one who is truly fascinated with your charms, unless some fatal obstacle should exist, of which I am wholly unconscious. Anxiously expecting an answer, which may allay the unsettled feelings which at present agitate a heart wholly yours, I am, dear madam, Your sincere and affectionate admirer.
The Lady’s Answer.
I am truly sensible of the honour you have conferred on me, by the proposal which your letter contains, and can assure you I should be doing an injustice to my own feelings, were I to express sentiments in reply, otherwise than agreeable to your professed wish; the main difficulty to a concession on my part, is fully and agreeably removed, by the very flattering estimation in which you represent me to be held by your amiable and beloved family; had not that been the case, it would have been with much reluctance (supposing it to have been possible) that you would have elicited a consent from me, as I am too well aware of the unhappiness which generally ensues, from the protracted scorn and contempt of haughty relatives, where marriages are formed upon a disparity of fortune. But as I feel convinced that the merits of your family are not to be estimated by any ordinary standard, and that their most ardent wish is to promote your comfort and happiness, believe me, dear sir, I feel highly gratified at the honour of being considered by them worthy of being elevated to the most prominent station, as a contributor to it. You will have the goodness to present my most dutiful respects to them, and accept the sincere and tender affection Of your respectful and honoured.
From a Sailor to his Intended Wife.
Dearest Mary—An order has just arrived for our ship to sail immediately for the East Indies, where it is probable we shall remain for three years; but notwithstanding this, my dear girl, be assured that neither time nor absence will make any alteration in the affectionate heart of your devoted sailor. Keep up your spirits, then, my dear, and fear not on account of your lover, for
“There’s a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,
To watch for the life of poor Jack.”
And be assured that whatever may be our course, you will be the pole towards which the needle of my affections will constantly turn. I have got my half of the sixpence which we broke between us, and will preserve it as a sacred deposit; and should I fall among the glorious dead, it shall accompany me to my watery grave. Remember me, dearest Mary, and I trust that Fortune with her smile will soon enable me to return with wealth and honour, to lay them at your feet. May fair winds and a prosperous voyage attend you through life; and, in expectation of an early answer, I am, dearest, lovely Mary, Your affectionate lover.
My dearest John—Your kind letter, my dearest soul, has made me very unhappy. Indeed, it is cruel that we must part just at the moment when I expected we should be married. However, God’s will be done!
Be careful of yourself, my dear John, and remember that if any misfortune happens to you, I shall not long survive it. I am too happy in knowing how truly you love me, which causes me the more sorrow at the thought of parting from you. I have sent you, by the mail-coach, a few articles, which I am sure you will value for the sake of the giver; and be assured, whenever it shall please God for your return, you will find me Your still constant, faithful, and affectionate true love.
From a Jealous Lover to his Intended Wife.
October 20th, 18—. My dear Selina— Ah! my Selina, for I cannot entertain the dreadful thought for a moment that you are not mine, how can you be so cruel as to harrow my feelings by a pointed display of your attentions to young men, who, but for your apparent solicitude for their compliments, would have had no pretext for wounding a heart by their assiduity to acknowledge the marked distinction with which you treated them ; I had fondly hoped that the vows of mutual fidelity, and reciprocal love, with which we had pledged each other, would never have been erased from your tender bosom, but alas! what have I not to fear from the agonized feelings I experienced yesterday evening. If, my lovely Selina, you have the smallest respect for your vows, or the least spark of that attractive flame, which once seemed to glow for your now desponding Alfred, you will, by returning me a consolatory answer, heal the wounds you have so cruelly inflicted on a heart so devotedly your own : oh! Selina, let me but once again believe you are mine, and you will banish a load of misery from a heart tenderly and sincerely devoted to you. I am, cruel Selina, Your truly unhappy.
The Lady’s Answer.
My dear Alfred—Who could have supposed that you, who have made such ardent professions of tenderness, could have charged me, your own Selina, with cruelty? Were it not that I have, in compassion to your present feelings, condescended to attribute the charge to an over-sensitive heart, you would not have received any consolatory explanation of the circumstances which seem deep-ly to have affected you; the young men of whom you appear to be so nonsensically jealous, have been from children most intimately connected with our family, and not having had the pleasure of a visit from them for some years, and the particular marks of attention and respect with which I have been invariably treated by their respective families, might have caused that assiduity which they have a right to expect, and my own conscious feelings could not have refused; sorry should I be, my dear Alfred, to cause you a moment’s uneasiness; but since the whole affair has been purely accidental, I cannot but say that I am pleased in some measure with the result, since it has convinced me that your professions of love were genuine, and that I have no occasion to despair of a continuation of those affections, over which I appear to have some control, provided you will be equally alive to the exercise of your own good sense, in suppressing timely such ridiculous paroxysms of jealousy. I am, my dear Alfred, Yours affectionately.
From a Gentleman to a Lady greatly his Superior in Rank and Fortune.
Madam—I have no excuse to offer for my presumption in addressing this letter to a lady so greatly my superior, except my ardent love and admiration, which will be sufficient, I hope, to plead my pardon, and to procure me your pity. I have long tenderly loved you with the utmost fondness, but, till this moment, could never resolve to make a disclosure of my passion, on account of the inequality of our situations. Say then, madam, will you permit me to make you an offer of my hand and heart? Will you suffer me to indulge the pleasing expectation of receiving from you a return of mutual love? I can only add, that I am duly sensible of my temerity, but should you condescend to accept my proposal, and by uniting your destiny with mine, make me the happiest of men, then shall my life be devoted to the constant promotion of your happiness. I am, dear madam, Ever yours.
Sir—As from the whole tenor of your conduct, I have long flattered myself with the possession of your heart, I will confess that I was not much surprised at the receipt of your letter. Believe me, sir, I consider the mere distinction arising from birth or wealth, as idle things. With this impression upon my mind, I feel no hesitation in avowing that I have long loved you with a mutual warmth of affection. Consequently, I can offer no objection to the proposal you have honoured me with; and I consider myself highly distinguished in being selected by you as the female worthy of becoming your wife. Having made this confession, I shall not endeavour to restrain your happiness by any false affectation of reserve, but content myself with stating that I am ready to become your wife; for which purpose I leave the necessary arrangements to you. I am, dear sir, Yours faithfully.
Are you thinking about time traveling to Victorian London for the Season? Have you considered where you will stay, where you will go, and, most importantly, where you will dine? Luckily, there’sLondon Of To-day: An Illustrated Handbook For The Season to be your time-traveling tourist guidebook. The author, Charles Eyre Pascoe, recommends many dining establishments–from taverns to tearooms. Let’s start with excerpts from the 1885 edition of his book.
Of all the dining-places in London, small or spacious, ancient or modern, highly ornate or very dingy, few supply “the joint” in greater perfection than the Albion, in Russell Street, Covent Garden. It is an unpretentious tavern, “all of the olden time,” the dining-room partitioned off into stiff-backed “boxes,” so that a party of half a dozen may dine and chat in reasonable privacy without being disturbed by casual comers. At one time it enjoyed a considerable reputation as a place of resort for literary men and actors. Its smoking-room was once the pleasantest place of the kind in London, outside the clubs, and harboured such genial spirits as the late Charles Dickens, Douglas Jerrold, Albert Smith, Shirley Brooks, Robert Brough, E. A. Sothern, J. L. Toole, Charles Lamb Kenney, and the rest. The punch concocted in that smoking-room was good; the water sent up boiling hot in an old-fashioned pewter jug, the glass with an old-fashioned silver toddy-ladle, and the spirit in an equally old-fashioned fat little pewter measure. Those were the days when the Albion had the privilege of keeping open till three o’clock in the morning, and its smoking-room was the rendezvous of journalists, authors, actors, and other good men and true, after the closing of the theatres. After five o’clock a fresh joint is served in the dining-room of this tavern every half-hour—saddle or haunch of mutton, ribs or sirloin of beef, roast fowls, boiled round of beef, rumpsteak-puddings, and so on. Fish is served in the same order—salmon, turbot, brill, haddock, &c. The dish you elect to dine from is wheeled up to your table, and the carver serves you with as much and as often as you please. The Albion provides its customers with a thoroughly home-like English dinner, which costs, with a moderate quantity of light wine or ale, from three shillings to five shillings. It is to be noted that this dining-room is never honoured with the presence of ladies.
The chief rivals of the Albion (not to be confounded with its namesake in Aldersgate Street) in the West and Central districts are “Blanchard’s,” in Beak Street, Regent Street; “Simpson’s,” in the Strand; the Rainbow, near the Middle Temple Gate; the St. James’s Restaurant, in Piccadilly. The dinners supplied at these places are to be commended. A better roasted saddle or haunch of mutton than “Simpson’s” serves, or used to serve daily, is not to be had in London. The Rainbow is largely patronized by the lawyers. “Blanchard’s” is largely frequented by civil service officials, and the wealthier west-end tradesmen. The St. James’s is a good place for luncheon, particularly during the season.
Half-a-dozen years ago the best French restaurant to be found in all London was a little place in Church Street, Soho, quite away from the beaten track, kept by one M. Kettner. The rooms were small and ill-ventilated, and the place and its surroundings were stuffy and uninviting; but the dinners sent up from M. Kettner’s kitchen were delicious.
Among the French restaurants of greater note in London, Verrey’s is entitled to the front place. It stands on the west side of Regent Street, at the corner of Hanover Street. We advise anyone who during the season has a very special luncheon, or dinner, in contemplation, to seek out Verrey’s… It does not make much show (all the better for that, perhaps), and its cookery and wines are excellent. Verrey’s was, we believe, the first French restaurant opened in London. The original Verrey was a Swiss, who, long ago, gained a reputation for sweetmeats… He was in a flourishing condition forty or fifty years ago; and in the Great Exhibition year, Verrey’s restaurant became the rendezvous of the more aristocratic foreign visitors to London, who flocked thither to eat pistachio ices, and other delicate morsels.
At Verrey’s, as in Paris, one can call for any of the well-known dishes in la haute cuisine; the “carte” is simply a guide to the uninitiated. The portions served are usually sufficient for two covers. The wine-card shows that the cellar contains the famous vintages, ’69 Lafites (tirage du chateau), for example, Romanée Conti, ’74 Pommery, &c. The list of vintage champagnes, indeed, is unequalled.
American and continental visitors chiefly patronize this restaurant about noon for the déjeuners à la fourchette; afterwards, from 12.30 to 3 p.m., many ladies “drop in” to lunch after shopping. The chef’s best efforts, however, are reserved for the evening.
In the neighbourhood of the Strand are one or two good dining places, chiefly, however, patronized by gentlemen, notably the Tivoli, Romano’s, and Gatti’s recently renovated Adelaide Cafe. At the first, German cookery, and, for a London restaurant, good German wines and beer are to be had. The prices, too, are moderate. Romano, whose charges are high, has a reputation for Italian and French cookery, and on the whole is not undeserving of it. Gatti’s appeals rather to the popular support; and a man (or woman) of slender resources and fair appetite may find a good dinner here for something less than 2s. There is more than one French cafe in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, which may be recommended for a French twelve o’clock breakfast
As a rule, ladies will find themselves restricted to a choice of half-a-dozen London restaurants or confectioner’s shops, in which they may lunch or dine with comfort. The chief of these are Verrey’s Cafe Restaurant, the Bristol, the Burlington in Regent Street, St. James’s, before mentioned, the Grosvenor Gallery Restaurant, the Grand, and the establishments of Spiers and Pond at the railway stations and elsewhere. The principal confectioners patronized by ladies are Charbonnel and Walker’s, 173, New Bond Street, who stand supreme; Marshall’s, opposite Charing Cross Railway Station; Thompson’s, 188, Regent Street; Simpson’s, 247, Oxford Street; Duclos’, near the Princess’s Theatre (178, Oxford Street); Buszard’s, 197, in the same street (south side).
Ladies, with proper escort, going to the theatres, will find both the Criterion and the Grand pleasant trysting-places for dinner between six and seven. So, also, St. James’s restaurant in Piccadilly.
On Sunday, if one should be compelled to dine away from his hotel or lodging, he must arrange to take his principal daily meal either between 1 and 3, or after 6 afternoon. The London restaurants are closed till 1, and between 3 and 6. Dining-places like Verrey’s, the Bristol, the Continental, and cafes of lesser degree are usually full on Sunday nights. The former are largely patronized by gentlemen who treat their wives and daughters to a mild dissipation to break the monotony of Sunday, or by more conscientious folk who dine out to give their servants a rest.
With respect to the railway terminal restaurants, it may be interesting to note, for sake of comparison, that the London and North-Western, London and South-Western, Great Northern, Great Western, and Midland Companies, manage their own refreshment bars, or rather have them managed by contractors. A traveller may secure a meal of hot roast meat and vegetables, the wing of a fowl, or a savoury pie, together with wine, beer, coffee, tea, or milk, at a reasonable price. Several of them are quite popular dining-rooms, notably the Mansion House Metropolitan Station refreshment room…The Holborn- viaduct establishment has of late become popular, and deservedly so.
Of chop-houses there are still a few remaining: the Cock Tavern, in Fleet Street, lives on its reputation acquired before the Griffin and the Law Courts stood where they now stand: The Cheshire Cheese, in the same thoroughfare, is of equal distinction among chop-houses, though, as it seems to us, not quite the Cheshire Cheese of twenty years ago; Stone’s, in Panton Street, in the Haymarket, is entitled to special notice as one of the oldest of this class of houses in London.
The following excerpts can be found in the 1890 edition of London Of To-day.
Try the Dorothy Restaurant in Oxford Street (near Orchard Street) if you are among the number of those who “detest to have men about the place.” Dorothy Restaurants admit no men. Such as cannot abear the smell of baked meats might try Bonthron’s and one or two confectioners in Regent Street, or the Aerated Bread Company’s dépôts (to be noticed in almost every leading thoroughfare) and find them to their liking. These last are good places, clean, and well-managed, supplying very fair coffee and tea, milk, and wholesome bread and butter, eggs, etc., at moderate prices —5d. for a cup of coffee and bread and butter.
Than Gunter’s, in Berkeley Square, there is no better place in London for ices.
Vegetarianism may be practised at a restaurant near Duke Street, Oxford Street; at the Arcadian in Queen Street, Cheapside; or at the Apple Tree in London Wall, within the City, and rather out of the track of ladies. Those, however, most curious in the matter of vegetarian diet might take a peep into the Central Vegetarian Dining and Tea Rooms (a rough-and-ready sort of place in St. Bride Street, near Ludgate Circus), and read the prices and items therein exhibited of “Diners a la carte” “the sixpenny tea-tray,” and “the ninepenny tea-tray”—a marvellous assortment of homely and wholesome dishes of vegetables and of meal served at a very cheap rate.
Of banquets not specially prepared for the few, but daily organized for the many, we know of none more likely to meet the requirements of the diner-about in London, and those to whom he proffers hospitality, than the table d’hote dinners of the Grand and Metropole hotels. Apart from the essential materials of the meal, which few, we think, will find cause to grumble at, the whole business of these daily banquets is well contrived and well carried out.
The dining-halls are well ventilated and spacious; the assembled company in the Season comprises not a few people of the first fashion staying in London; the tables are effectively arranged and decorated; a plenty of lights shows up the dresses of the ladies; and all is done in good taste, and with a view to the gratification of the eye, no less than the personal ease and contentment of the guests.
One has but to take his place at the appointed table, glance at the menu laid before him, and proceed to the business of the evening, without care for the service or thought for the kitchen: the fair recompense demanded by the management for a seat at table being the sum of five shillings: not an extravagant charge, as charges elsewhere in London rule, having regard to the many conveniences that such hotels as these provide, and especially where ladies are of the company. No restaurant in London that we know is so desirable in respect of accommodation. The reception-rooms are open to you for receiving your friends before dinner, and the drawing-rooms lor chatting with them after dinner.
The table d’hote dinner is daily served in each case from 6 to 8.30 p.m. For those later going to the opera or theatres, there are few better places in London, for the preliminary dinner. It is well in the busy season of summer, however, to order a table to be reserved beforehand.
The conveniences, we repeat, are many; the price fixed, and moderate; the dining-salons are spacious; everything is done in good taste; and the dinner is generally superior to that to be had in a restaurant for the same money, and is altogether better served.
It is of no little advantage to ladies coming to London, for the evening, from the suburbs or outlying districts to know of a place where they may dine in evening dress without seeming conspicuous, or intermingling with those whom they might be indisposed to meet. Either at the Grand Hotel or the Hotel Metropole they may be sure of the proprieties being very carefully observed.
The tables, for the most part, are reserved to family parties, and visitors staying in the hotel; and the service of the dinner is so arranged as to allow of a very fair margin of time for partaking of it without hurry and discomfort. “Our representative” of the Grand Hotel, hereinbefore referred to, has directed our attention to the following, as an example of the ordinary five-shilling table d’hote dinner there served:
I spent a great deal of time in 2018 through early 2020 laid up in bed, feeling lousy. Later, I learned I had been suffering from allergies that had grown more acute with age and my recent move. Stuck in bed, I was too fatigued to write or even read, but I could watch streaming videos on my iPad. As many of you know, I’m a romance writer, so I enjoy romantic stories. Sadly, the Hallmark channel wasn’t working for me and, somewhere along the way, I had burned out on the numerous remakes of Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. That was how I discovered the marvelous world of K-Dramas. The contemporary K-Dramas were quite accessible to me (although I’ve come to learn that I miss a lot of cultural subtleties.) However, the historical K-Dramas truly perplexed me because the traditions and cultural roles were so unfamiliar. Nonetheless, I was entranced.
Since my blog is mostly Georgian through Edwardian American and British history–because those are the settings of my writing–I thought I might add a little Korean history. Unfortunately, I have a serious Korean language barrier issue. Luckily, I found Quaint Korea, by Louise Jordan Miln, published in the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 to 1897.
Miln was an American actress who traveled with her husband’s theatrical company around the world. She penned several books and numerous articles on her experiences in Asia. After her husband’s death, she wrote romances set in China.
I’ve excerpted sections from Quaint Korea concerning women’s roles in society. There is so much information that I’m splitting it across multiple posts and weeks.
Of course, Miln only offers one Victorian woman’s observations of Joseon Korea (I’ve tried to edit out her opinions), and she may not be accurate. You are welcome to politely correct or add relevant information. Miln mostly documents poor and middle-class women, as well as Ki-saing (geisha.) But she didn’t write much information about court life, which many K-Dramas are set in.
I’ve included trailers for historical K-Dramas. Enjoy!
Socially and politically, in Korea, woman simply does not exist. She has not even a name. After marriage she is called by her husband’s name with the prefix of Mrs. Before marriage she has not even this pretence to a name.
Korean women are not uneducated, though they never go to schools; and books and materials for writing and painting are freely at their disposal.
Korean girls, long before they reach a marriageable age, live in the seclusion of the women’s quarters. After her betrothal a girl belongs not to her father but to her mother-in-law. Upon marriage she becomes the property of her husband, and is, in most cases, immediately taken to his dwelling. As in China, married sons live with their fathers. Sometimes three or four generations of one family occupy one home. But, unlike Chinese wives, each Korean wife has a room or rooms of her own. The only man who (in most families) ever enters them is her husband.
Korean girls are usually married between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two; and if married to a bachelor, he is almost invariably three or five, and often even eight, years their junior. But when a widower marries, or a man takes a second, or third, or fourth wife, he invariably selects a woman younger than himself.
In Söul, and in one other large city, children are commonly betrothed when the boy is seven or eight, but it is not so in the other parts of Korea. Korean widows must remain unmarried, or marry men who are the social inferiors of their dead husbands. And in Korea, as in China, a widow who re-marries is disgraced, and becomes more or less of a social outcast.
A Korean man cannot house his concubines or second-class wives under the roof that shelters his true or first wife, without her permission. Strangely enough, the first wife very rarely objects to living in rather close companionship with the other women of her husband’s household. Perhaps the longing for human companionship is stronger than jealousy in woman’s breast. And perhaps it is because the companionship of men is forbidden her, that a Korean wife comes to not only tolerate, but to enjoy the companionship of the women who share with her, her husband’s affection, attention, and support.
Korean women have not always lived in the strict seclusion in which they live now. Some of the older historians, Chinese and others, describe the appearance of the women and their manners without any hint that seeing them and knowing of them was anything unusual.
In every Korean house of any pretension the women’s apartments are in the most secluded part of the building. They open on to a garden, and never on to a street. The compound is walled, and no two families ever live upon the same compound.
The wives and daughters of well-to-do Koreans spend a great deal of time in their gardens, sharing naturally enough the intense love of their menkind for nature, and probably finding their peculiar lives more endurable among the trees and the birds and the lotus ponds, than they do in their queer little rooms, through the paper windows of which they cannot look unless they poke a hole with their fingers first—rooms in which there is little space and less furniture.
After the curfew rings it is illegal for a Korean man to leave his own house, unless under circumstances which I have stated in a previous chapter; then it becomes legal for Korean women to slip out and take the air and gossip freely.
As for Korean gentlewomen, they are skilled in Korean music, in Chinese and Korean literature. They are unsurpassed mistresses of the needle, more than able with the brush, and thoroughly acquainted with every detail of the complicated Korean etiquette. They are deft in the nice ceremonies of the toilet. They know the histories of Korea, of China, and perhaps of Japan. They are familiar with their own folklore, and can repeat it glibly and picturesquely. They are nurses and mothers and wives by nature, and wives, mothers, nurses, and accoucheuses [midwives] by training. Above all, they are taught (and they learn) to be amiable.
Among the poor all the household work is done by women, but among the rich the women have no domestic duties except those of nursing and sewing. All the garments of a Korean family are made by the women of the family. The purchase of a ready-made garment, or to hire it made, would be considered a disgrace to the family, and a deeper disgrace to its women.
I have spoken of the well-to-do Korean as having a plurality of wives. This is not so. And that such a misstatement has been made by writers of eminence, and ordinarily of great exactness, is no excuse for me. A Korean can have but one wife, one true and absolute wife, but … he may have as many concubines as he can afford, and their position, though not so high of rank, is as honourable, and as respectable as that of his wife.
As I have said, they are not on a social equality with the wife, but they are, to the best of my belief, on a moral equality with her, both in the eyes of law and in the eyes of morality itself.
A Korean’s concubines are almost as absolutely the handmaidens of his wife as of himself. They must serve her and do her bidding, and can only escape from this in the rare instance when one rises in the man’s eyes to higher favour than the wife.
The children of a concubine do not as a rule rank with the children of a wife, but they are neither despised nor shamed. They are born to a slightly lower rank, it is true, but that signifies little, for in Korea every man must carve out his own niche in the social rock, and they, the children of the handmaidens, have as fair a start in life, and as clean a name, as the children of the wife.
All must yield unquestioning obedience to the husband, and, in his absence, all the concubines must yield and do yield as implicit obedience to the wife. She in return is very apt to make them her playfellows and her bosom friends.
Though a Korean woman nominally counts for nothing in the ruling of her own household, and, as far as the workings of the State go, does not exist, she is invariably treated with the manner of respect; she is always addressed in what is called “honorific language;” to her the phraseology is used which is used to superiors, people of age, or of literary eminence. A Korean nobleman will step aside to let a Korean peasant woman pass him on the street. The rooms of a Korean woman are as sacred to her as a shrine is to its image. Indeed, the rooms of his wife or of his mother are the sanctuary of any Korean man who breaks the law. Unless for treason or for one other crime, he cannot be forced to leave those rooms, and so long as he remains under the protection of his wife, and his wife’s apartments, he is secure from the officers of the law, and from the penalties of his own misdemeanors.
There are very few crimes for which a Korean woman can be punished. Her husband is answerable for her conduct, and must suffer in her stead if she breaks any ordinary law.
Korea has had many remarkable women who have left their as yet indelible stamp upon the customs and the laws of their country, and upon the thought of their countrymen. Korea has had at least three great queens.
The present King of Korea owes his kingship, in large part at least, to his great-grandmother, Dowager Queen Cho, who adopted him, and in 1864 was largely instrumental in securing for him the throne to which the royal consul had elected him.
And until the breaking out of the Chino-Japanese war, the most powerful person in Korea was, and for twenty years had been, a woman, the king’s wife. Queen Min, for even she has no name, and is known only by the name of the race from which she has sprung, comes of one of the two great intellectual families of Korea; and the great family of Min has produced no cleverer woman or man than the wife of Li-Hsi.
A Korean once told me (he was a kinsman of Queen Min, a traveller, a linguist, and a man of—cosmopolitanly speaking—most considerable attainments) that his wife was more widely and more thoroughly versed in Chinese literature, modern and classic, than he. And Chinese literature is indisputably the greatest literature that Asia has ever produced.
The Queen of Korea is, with the possible exception of the Dowager Empress of China, as well educated as any royal lady in Asia.
The Queen is pale and delicate-looking. She has a remarkable forehead, low but strong, and a mouth charming in its colouring, in its outlines, in its femininity, in the pearls it discloses, and sweet with the music that slips through it when she speaks. She dresses plainly as a rule, and in dark but rich materials. In this she resembles the high-born matrons of Japan. And in cut her garments are more Japanese than those of other Korean women: she wears her hair parted in the middle, and drawn softly into a simple knot or coil of braid. She wears diamonds most often; not many, but of much price. They are her favourite gems. In this one particular she is almost alone among the women of the East; for pearls are the beloved jewels of almost every woman and girl-child that is born in the Orient.
Queen Min has been as assiduous as she has been powerful in advancing the interests of her family—the family of her birth I mean, for her marriage—unlike the marriages of other Korean women—has no whit divorced her from the people of her blood. All the desirable offices in Korea were held for years by her kinsmen.
Queen Min has not only been the power behind the Korean throne, but she has been, even more than the King, the all-seeing eye of Korea. Her spies have been everywhere, seen everything, reported everything.
She—the most powerful Korean in Korea—is content to be nameless; a sovereign with almost unlimited power, but without a nominal individuality; and to be called merely by the family name of her forefathers, and to be designated only as the daughter of her fathers, the wife of her husband, and the mother of her son.
It strikes an Occidental as even more strange that a woman so supremely powerful with her husband and king should be so graciously tolerant of the women of his harem. She not only tolerates them, she seems to like them, to take pride in them, and she is on the friendliest terms with Li-Hsi’s eldest son, who is also the son of a concubine. True her own son is the crown prince, but it is probable that his elder brother and not he will be Korea’s next king, if the present dynasty be destined to have another king. Li Hsia—Queen Min’s son—is not the imbecile he has been reported, but he has not the greatest mental strength, and less strength of body.
Susanna’s Note: Quaint Korea was published in 1895, the same year Queen Min was assassinated.