Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 January 2013 “Breeching Boys and Tristram Shandy”

Up until the late 19th century, young boys wore dresses much like their sisters. And the state or occasion of “Breeching” boys (that is putting them into breeches, or trousers or pants depending on your own geographic term) was usually between age seven or eight. Though for royalty it could often happen a bit sooner, as much as age two. Some even then depicting swords or other battle implements to denote their status as male.

Here we see a painting by Van Dyck of the children of Charles the first. That happy little fellow with his hand on the dog is Charles the second. One can see he is as prettily dressed as his sister Mary in the center (of William and Mary) and his little brother James I on the far right also dressed in a lovely gown.


And later we see little Charlie now breeched though his younger brother is still in his gowns.


This was not only the practice of royalty but most classes, including the lower classes, often put little boys in dresses. Some felt it was the ease of potty training and relieving oneself, as trousers had more complexity to open having no zips. Some felt that you would not want to invest in the idea of your son and heir until he was past the age of baby-hood deaths. At a time when infant mortality was fairly common one almost thought of all babies as female until they reached a more mature and less likely to perish state. Not to say that they still did not face a sea of diseases.

Here we see an early painting of Boston children the left surely a boy the right, who can say?


Here is an English boy from 1871 with long curls and all.


And here is an American boy so donned in his dress as late as 1902:


There is much debate in the famous 18th century book “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” as to rather the hero, Tristram, should be breeched. This leads me to share this wonderful of fiction by laurence Sterne. Many think this work lead to the modern novel, as its ideals of plot, beginning and end are rather skewered. It rambles in and out of time and is told rather drolly by the main character Tristram. It is of course free and available HERE and will live happily in the Library under Fiction for future reference.

The great American sci-fi/genre writer Kurt Vonnegut has an interesting take on that sort of novel as Tristam Shandy in this quote from “Breakfast of Champions”.

(Storytellers) had joined hands to make people believe
that life had leading characters, minor characters, significant
details, that it had lessons to be learned, tests to be passed,
and a beginning, a middle, and an end."
There is no order in the world around us....
Let others bring order to chaos.
I will bring chaos to order"

-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

One would think this a rather modern idea but the order and planning we often think of as the past is really our own view of the ‘past’ which is often in fact the history of the Industrial Revolution. That age of the 19th century. Middle Class morality, order, and structure of the world and our lives was greatly formed during that 100 year period and continued to color the idea of life in general and the order of past present and future well into the 20th century. Even how we measure out our days in seconds and minutes were un heard of before the need of speed and continual work and improvement. And today in the business world the idea of continual growth would seem an odd animal in the 17th and 18th century.

I hope with the dawning of our new century that we can set out to make a new path, a new template if you will, of life’s patterns. And like Tristam in our work of fiction find the flaw in seeking riches but in that same passion find the more important desire of finding knowledge and truth:

But the desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it....
——Endless is the Search of Truth!


A few years back they did a funny interpretation of the Tristram work starring Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Stephen Fry three of my favorite actors/comedians. I love that the British actor seems happy to reside in any role, comedy, drama,  art films, while his American counterpart will forever be happy to be labeled and shelved like the endless products in a over filled large Chain store. One is a comedic actor or a leading man or a mega star. Though when they break these chains that bind comedians such as Will Farrell and Jim Carrey. Though they seem the exception to the rule.

Here is the first part and the rest can be found here on the charmofnotions channel under Films & Movies made from books.. I do give a warning thought, that some of my American followers might not wish to watch it with their children or even themselves. There is swearing, some nudity etc, so you may choose at your own discretion. Have a lovely day.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your new blog!! I read your other blog in the "past" (ha) and am really looking forward to your writings again!

    Welcome back!

    Kris, Neighbor Chick
    Neighbors About Town Blog