Friday, September 28, 2007

Victorian Notables: Mata Hari

[Although she technically falls a *bit* outside the traditional “Victorian” time frame, Mata Hari is certainly one of the best known personages (her name is immediatly recognizable to most), and a famous spy (of which much has been written about her). Therefore, in recognition of the ladies involved with the “cloak and daggers” adventures of SL Victoriana… ]

Mata Hari
Born 1876; Died 1917
Age 35; A beautiful, dark haired woman, about 58″ and 130 lbs, wearing either bangles (when performing) or a fashionable dress.
Advantages: Beautiful; Comfortable wealth; Reputation (“Mysterious Indian Princess”, in Parisian society)
Disadvantages: Secret (Dutch, not really “exotic”), Secret (Spy for Germany), Social Stigma (Deminondaine)
Quirks: Loves the excitement of being a spy; Prefers soldiers as lovers; “Unabashed” and more liberated than women of her time

Mata Hari always performs in scanty outfits covered with bangles, and little else. Otherwise, she wears fashionable dresses (with fashion changing about as often as it does in the 1990s). She owns several pieces of jewlery, some with hidden compartments for carrying small documents.

This represents Mata Hari at the high point of her world tour. She is moderatly shrewd and manipulative rather than smart, but she has survived well enough on her wits and looks for several years. While some accounts have suggested she was framed and was never even a spy, it seems more likely that she possessed and used some very basic espionage skills. (In that case, she used codes, but would not have had formal training in cryptography). She was not an interrogator in the usual sense; the skill used here to reflect her ability to get someone to talk through “pillow talk”, involving some judgement as to what another person knows and might be willing to say.

In 1905, a sensation swept across Paris. Mata Hari, (“Eye of the Dawn” in Malay), the daughter of a Brahmin and initiate into the rites and rituals of Kandaswami dance, had taken to the stage. Paris loved her. She packed the halls from America to Russia, telling her tails and performing ritual dances.

Or so it was said. Actually, “Mata Hari” was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, in Leewarden, Holland on August 7, 1876. She knew virtually nothing about ritual dance, but she was clever, strikingly attractive, and very willing to prance on stage in next to nothing. As a teenager, Margaretha answered an advertisement to join a colonial officer in the Dutch East Indies. She ended up marrying Captain Rudolph Macleod and setteled in East Java. They had two children, but after one was poisoned, the couple soon returned to Holland, fearing for the safety of their remaining child. Macleod soon turned to alcoholism and flagrant womanizing; Margaretha was granted a divorce and set off for Paris.

With no money and no real skills, she had a hard time at first, and tried several jobs, including artists model. Being unsuccessful in her earlier endevors, she made use of what she could recall of native dances of Java, adding her memento collection of bangles and bracelets to create her mythical oriental priestess.

She was always taken with men in uniform, and she danced her way into the hearts (and wallets) of many soliders and statesmen during her tours. Somewhere in this time period, she began to spy for Germany, passing “pillow talk” along to her controllers. As World War I dawned, she was placed under survailance. No hard evidence of spying was ever found, but she was exiled to Holland in 1916. There, a trap was set, as the French offered to have her carry information for them as well. In 1917, when she seemed to refer to herself as agent “H-21” in a message to a German courier in a code the French knew, she was arrested, tried, and executed for espionage. Since the Germans already know that code was compromised, it is highly likely they sold her out after discovering her double-agent status.

The pattern of an encounter with Mata Hari will depend heavly on what the indivduals are after or how they appear. She will probably latch on to any soldier or soldierly-looking man, especially if they are of high rank. She is foremost an adventuress, a thrill-seeker, buring her candle at both ends while acting as a double agent.

Further Reading
Erika Ostrovsky: Eye of Dawn: The Rise and Fall of Mata Hari
Mata Hari, the Seductive Spy (video), A&E Biography series.

Walker, D. (1999) – Gurps Who’s Who I, pg. 116-117, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Masquerade Project – Steamed

I stumbled across this by mistake… it appears to be made in New Babbage, but not quite sure of the author (listed as a “xotmid”). Nonetheless, quite well done – kudos! If anyone has further information regarding this bit of cinema, please leave a note about such – ty.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Victorian Notables: Emperor Norton I

Emperor Norton I posing for in full regalia

Continuing with intriguing Victorian-era personages, as a one-time resident of the “City by the Bay”, I present its most colorful resident of the 19th century, Emperor Norton I!

Emperor Norton
Born 1818; Died 1880
Age 54; 59″, 150-160 lbs. A slightly pudgy, balding man with a thick mustache and a beard which does not extend onto his cheeks, wearing a military uniform with large gold epaulets and a plumed hat; generally carries a cavalry saber and a walking stick.
Advantages: Patron (the people of San Francisco), Reputation (City “mascot”)
Disadvantages: Age, Dead Broke, Severe Delusion (“I am the emperor of the United States”)
Quirks: Doesnt like his city to be referred to as “Frisco”; Doesnt drink alcohol (or very infrequently); Shy around women

Emperor Norton generally has the cavalry saber mentioned above, although its sharpness and effectiveness as a weapon (are questionable). He may also have a cane or walking stick. He carries at all times his own 50 cent bonds, redeemable at 7% interest in the year 1880, which he will sign and sell to anyone interested in purchasing one. In cash, he carries perhaps $5 at any given time.

This is Emperor Norton in 1875, at the peak of his “career”. Before 1870, he will not have bonds to sell and will be significantly thinner and weaker without this source of income. During the Civil War period, his uniform may be either Union or Confederate; he took neither side in the matter (since both sides were part of his empire), and wore both colors to demonstrate this.

Emperor Norton I seated with his walking stick

Emperor Norton was born Joshua Abraham Norton of London in 1818. His family moved to the Cape of Good Hope when he was two, and he lived there until he inherited his fathers property at the age of 30. Norton then sailed to San Francisco to seek his fortune through real estate speculation and commodities trading. At the height of his fortune, he is estimated to have been worth about $250,000, which translates to about two and a half million 1999 dollars.
In 1852, Norton risked almost all of his liquid assets attempting to corner San Franciscos rice market. Luck turned against him, and the loss, combined with the failure of certain investments and an economic depression, forced him into bankruptcy by 1856. There is little record of his activities for the next three years, but it is believed that he survived by continuing his business on a much small scale.

On September 17, 1859, Joshua Norton submitted an announcement to the San Francisco Bulletin, which the editor printed for its amusement value. In it, he declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States. Subsequent proclamations disbanded Congress, dissolved the Republic, and added the title “Protector of Mexico” in response to Napoleons III invasion of Mexico. There were also many false proclamations printed in various city newspapers as their staff humorists tried to get in on the joke.

As emperor, Norton was able to survive by eating at free lunch counters and “taxing” his Masonic brothers for the cost of his lodging. He spent his time walking around San Francisco, reading about scientific discoveries and playing chess at the Mechanics Institute, and occasionally travelling to other California towns for various ceremonies. He quickly became a local celebrity, and business owners found that they had to treat him with respect in order to stay in the peoples good graces. Thus, His Majesty received free tickets to a private box at all theater openings, was able to travel on railroads, streetcars, and ferries at no expense, and was occasionally presented with a new hat, stick, or uniform by various persons and organizations.

One of Emepror Norton I’s bonds

In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was complete, and tourists began coming to California. Norton was already well-known across the United States, the legend of the beggar emperor having spread via newspapers. Seeing a chance to capitalize on the tourist industry, he began selling bonds bearing his signature for fifty cents, redeemable in 1880 at 7% interest. These bonds were treasured souvenirs, and their sale allowed Norton to vastly improve his standard of living.

For 10 years, Norton enjoyed a fair degree of comfort and even respect. He was still a beggar, but policemen and soldiers saluted him, and wealthy bankers invited him to eat lunch with them. Norton always acted the part of an emperor, behaving with regal dignity and precisely following standards of etiquette.

On January 8, 1880, he dropped dead in the street of a stroke. Ten thousand people turned out to view his body as it lay in state, and he was buried with full ceremony, his funeral paid for by donations from the citys millionaires.

Image of Emperor Norton I presiding of the funeral of his dog, with himself dressed as the Pope

Historical accounts of Norton describe him as very gentle but firm. He will gladly sell bonds if asked, but he will not offer them that would demonstrate a need for money, which is improper for an emperor. He has a wide (though incomplete) knowledge of science, and can provide reasonably correct opinions on any topic that a gentleman would be expected to know about. He will be unfailingly polite to women, and will observe all proprieties when dealing with anyone of elevated rank.

In general, apart form his insistence on being called “Your Majesty”, and his potential to become irate at anyone demeaning his imperial city with the name “Frisco”, anyone meeting Emperor Norton should come away with a feeling that the man might not be as daft as people claim.

Stoddard, W. (1999) – Gurps Who’s Who I, pg. 102-103, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

[Note – to this day, the use of the term “Frisco” will generate irritation from any resident of San Fran!]

Further reading:
Drury, William: Norton I, Emperor of the United States
Gaiman, Neil: “Three Septembers and a January”, collected in Sandman: Fables and Reflections

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Magnificent Machine

Bit of a weekend filler, but it is entertaining (lol)!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Elizabeth The Golden Age LONG Exclusive Trailer

I know it isn’t “Victorian”, but anything with the Spanish Armada, massive sea battles, and pirates, has to be a “must see”!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Steampunk Media: Dr. Julius L. Roundbottom

In my continual plagiarism of Miss Tinkergirl’s extraordinary efforts to research new and intriguing Steampunk locations on the aethernet, she found Dr. Julius L. Roundbottom’s academic work. It contains the research and discoveries of the aforementioned Doctor, which are, quite frankly, amazing. To investigate his efforts further , please refer to:
And of course, the source of all nouveaux items Steampunk, Miss Tinkergirl’s Steampunk page at:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Victorian Notables: Lola Montez

As SL Victoriana has many women with independent streaks, perhaps the forerunner of celebrity of the 19th century would be appropriate…

Lola Montez
Born 1820; Died 1861
Age 27, 56″, An attractive woman with black hair, blue eyes, and light skin, usually provocatively dressed with tobacco-stained fingers.
Quirks: Claims her enemies are tools of the Jesuits; Fond of dogs; Likes to flirt

Montez commonly has a knife and a pistol concealed in her clothing.
Montezs wealth was a gift to her from her patron, Ludwig I of Bavaria; her fortunes rose and fell throughout her life, helped with her inability to resist spending money or going into debt. While she performed on stage, her personality and mannerisms seem to have been more important than her skill as a dancer, which critical audiences never felt to be up to professional standards. This version makes her more attractive than photographs taken in her 30s, but less so then her admirers thought; their judgement may have been weakened by her seductiveness and intense personality.

Lola Montez was the assumed name of Eliza Gilbert, the daughter of an English army officer and an Irish girl of 14. Her parents went to India when her father gained reassignment there, though he died the very day he reported to his new regiment. Her mother soon remarried, and in 1826, Eliza was sent back to school in England. At 17, she married Lieutenant Thomas James and went back to India with him, but returned to England in 1841, where she became involved with other men and studied for a theatrical career. Her husband sued for separate maintenance (called divorce, but they could not legally remarry) and was granted it in 1842.

Lacking talent for stage acting, Mrs. James went to Spain to study dance and returned calling herself “Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez” “Lola Montez”. Under that name, she traveled to many European cities, performing on the stage and encouraging men to support her, though her lack of self-control repeatedly led to scandals that forced her to move on. She had a brief liaison with Franz Liszt in 1844, and he still admired her years later.

In 1846, she visited Munich, the capital of Bavaria, hoping to perform during Octoberfest. The request brought her to the attention of Ludwig I, then 60 years old. Ludwig was hardworking, stingy, and autocratic, with a strict sense of duty, and socially awkward because of his poor hearing, but he was also a romantic who wrote poetry and insisted that his wife permit him to be involved with other women. Montezs beauty, her violent emotions, and her claims to an exotic Spanish background fascinated him, and she became his final great love.

The relationship quickly generated scandal, both because of Montezs lack of propriety and because she was thought to be interfering in Bavarian politics. Ludwig believed everything “Lolitta” said, dismissing ministers who critized her and install more liberal ones; he even made her a countess. But in 1847, public protests drove her out of Bavaria, and in 1848, as a wave of revolution swept through Europe, Luwdig abdicated rather than rule as a constitutional monarch. He and Montez lived apart, but he contined to support her in luxry for some time.
Subsequently, Montez emigrated to the United States, where she became popular lecturer, writing much of her own material. Her speaking tours of took her to California, Australia, Ireland, and England. A stroke left her partially paralyzed in 1860, but she was recovering when she caught pneumonia, from which she died in early 1861.

Lola in History.
Montez was the prototype of the professional celebrity; she had only moderate talent, but attracted large audiences by the force of her personality and the fascination of her scandalous life. She helped break down the old restrictions on women by her fame for ignoring them which is rather ironic, given her own generally romantic-conservative views.

Further Reading
Seymor, Bruce: Lola Montez: A Life
Varley James, F.: Lola Montez, The California Adventures of Europes Notorious Courtesan.
Stoddard, W. (1999) – Gurps Who’s Who I, pg. 104-105, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]

Monday, September 17, 2007

Talk like a Pirate

As Wednesday is “Talk like a pirate day”, I had to add this “old school” video for the occasion – enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Four Seas Ball

The Pirate Queen escaping to plague Antiquity another day

An update on Antiquity’s Four Seas Ball, and the ensuing confrontation with the Scourge of Antiquity, have been posted at the Antiquity Gazette…

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Four Seas Ball in Antiquity Township on Saturday, the 15th of September

~~~~~Four Seas Ball~~~~~~

You are cordially invited to attend the Four Seas Ball in the Antiquity Ball Room on September 15 at 4:00pm SLT……

Come celebrate, in style, the formation of the new Antiquity Navy. Dance the night away in your best Victorian clothes and enjoy the period music played by well known SL DJ, Mitsu Figaro.
Victorian servicemembers from all branches and all sims, if attending, are requested to attend in full dress uniform

Friday, September 14, 2007

Victorian Notables: Horation Nelson

While unpacking some boxes during my rl transition, I discovered a cache old GURPS rpg books, specifically the “Whos Who” compendium. The purpose of these books were to provide players backgrounds on “famous/notable” individuals from the era that interested them. As such, Ive decided to intersperse a few personages from the Victorian era into the blog (which of course, could translate easily to Steampunk backgrounds). I will try to locate those who portrayed the essence or feel of the era, providing either potential inspiration for the Victorian theme or simply interesting reading.

Keep in mind that these descriptions tend to be a “snapshot” of a certain time in the individuals life, so there may be some differences between their earlier and later years. Also, I have once again watered down the game aspects of the descriptions, as they do not reasonably apply to SL. As there has been a growing interest in nautical aspects of Antiquity, Caledon, and New Babbage, choosing the greatest admiral of Victorian times seemed like a good starting point

Admiral Horcaio Nelson

Born: 1758; Died 1805
Age 39; 55″, 125 lbs. A small-boned man, with blue eyes (and a scar under the right eye), once sandy-hair turning white, dressed in a Royal Navy uniform according to his rank and occasionally sporting a gauze patch over his good left eye to protect it from the elements.

Advantages: Charisma, Military Rank, Reputation (Skilled commander, in the Navy and among Britons who follow war news), Wealthy

Disadvantages: Duty (to Royal Navy), One eye, Sense of Duty (to King and Country)

Quirks: Can be vain and snobbish about his accomplishments and acquaintances; Hates the French revolutionary regime and Napoleon; Obsessed with his failing health; Prefers action to inaction, prone to rashness; Somewhat susceptible to the opposite sex.

This represents Nelson after the victory of Cape St. Vincent, but before he loses his right arm at Tenerife (1797). His right eye is damaged in the Calvi action of 1794, after which he gains a markedly greater reputation in the Navy and beyond as Britains greatest admiral (especially after his “Grand Tour” of country towns in 1801), with his injuries and affections of dress making him recognizable to the masses. His status increases with ennoblement (as a baron in 1798 and as a viscount in 1801). From 1798, Lady Hamilton should count as a dependent; her high living drains his finances and she distracts him from his duty.

Nelson was, ironically, prone to seasickness, though this never seemed to disrupt his career; he also seemed to hate fast land travel (such as stagecoaches). Like many of his peers, he was brought up to hate the French, but he visited France to learn the language and even formed a brief romantic attachment with a Frenchwoman.

Viscount Nelson (fourth from the right) and Royal Navy Officers

Nelson was the sixth of 11 children of the rector of the village of Brunham Thorpe. At 12, he joined the navy as a midshipman under his maternal uncle, Captain Suckling, who sent him to the West Indies in a merchantman to learn seamanship. In 1773, he sailed on an unsuccessful Arctic expedition. He caught malaria in the East Indies and returned to England in 1776. After promotion to lieutenant in 1777, he fought in the American War of Independence in the West Indies, and was promoted to Post-Captain in 1779.

An unsuccessful flirtation with politics was followed by peacetime Caribbean service. His strict enforcement of mercantile laws and friendship with Prince William Henry earned him the displeasure of local merchants and the Admiralty. He married Fanny Nisbet in 1787. He was on half-pay until recalled to active duty in the Mediterranean in 1793 against France.

In 1797, Nelson, now a Commodore, transformed potential disaster into victory against the Spanish off Cape St. Vincent. Knighted and promoted to rear admiral, he virtually annihilated the French squadron supporting Napoleon at the Nile in 1799. He also fell in love with Lady Emma Hamilton, wife of the ambassador to Naples, who bore him a daughter, Horatia, two years later.

The Death of Nelson onboard the Victory

In 1801, Vice-Admiral Nelson led his squadron against the Danish flee at Copenhagen, compelling them to withdraw from a coalition against Britain. Estranged from Fanny, Nelson spent the subsequent armistice with Emma and her elderly ailing husband, Sir Gilbert.
When the war resumed in 1803, Nelson was given command of the Mediterranean fleet. On October 21st, 1805, he defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet off Trafalgar, but was killed by a French sniper.

The Victory today (moored in dry dock at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard)

Nelson in history
In his lifetime, Nelson was famed for success in battle, humanity, and the scandal of his private life. His death granted him mythic status, an appeal which remains even today, especially in the Royal Navy, which continues to commemorate Trafalgar.
Nelson delivered the Navy from a tactical straight jacket to a more imaginative, independent style. The Battle of the Nile ended Napoleons hopes of Eastern conquest, securing Britains vital links to India, while Trafalgar safeguarded Britain from sea-borne invasion; henceforth, Napoleon was constrained to land warfare, and his enemies were assured of an ally in Britain. Nelsons success also transformed an already formidable navy into a seemingly invincible force, establishing British sea power as supreme until the first World War.

Artistic rendering of the HMS Victory at Trafalgar

Socially, Nelsons vainglory expresses itself in accounts of military actions delivered in his Norfolk drawl. He is a genial, urbane host, and modest in his appetites. He will complain about his failing health, although such concerns will fade if given an opportunity to strike a blow against France. In military circles, he will often be found discussing strategy with like-minded captains in his squadron. He is sympathetic to officers and men, but unswerving in the maintenance of discipline. In times of crisis, he shows his preference for action, prefers honor and glory to pecuniary reward, and will not hesitate to place himself in the thick of battle.

Further Reading:
Bradford, Ernie: Nelson: The Essential Hero
Pocock, Tom: Horatio Nelson
Walder, Nelson: Nelson
Caldwell, N. (1999) – Gurps Who’s Who II, pg. 76-77, SJG:Austin
[edited for removal of game specific content]
Online Information:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

20000 Leauges Under the Sea – 1954 Trailer

One of the classic steampunk movies, it still maintains its charm and atmosphere for over 50 years.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poll Results…

The winner of the “Best Steampunk Movie of the last 15 years” goes to…

Out of 22 votes submitted, it garnered 31.8% of the votes (a total of seven), followed by a tie between the “Golden Compass” and the “City of Lost Children”, both with 18.2% of the submissions (4 votes each). Behind it was the “Wild Wild West”, with 13.6% (3 votes), and finally “Steamboy” and “Van Helsing” with 9.1% each (2 votes). A thank you to all who participated in this poll!

I consciously decided to limit this poll to the last 15 years, so that the next poll can encompass the vast quantity of classic Steampunk movies made between 1902 (Le Voyage dans la Lune) up until the mid 1990’s. As Mr. O’toole pointed out, an amazing number of fantastic steampunk movies were made before the term was coined, but I do have a dilemma concerning the movies to include… so this could be considered a “pre-poll” poll (lol)! If you have suggestions (Mssr. O’toole has provided a good number of movies – 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Master of the World, The Great Race, Those Magnificent Young Men in their Flying Machines, Around the World in 80 Days, A Journey to the Moon, and the Mysterious Island to name a few), please feel free to include them, and I’ll attempt to whittle the poll down to a manageable size!

Jane Austen features in the near future…

A continuation of Ms. Henry’s installment on Jane Austen… including a “choose your own adventure”, set in the era.

A sampling of the latest Austen-Themed Entertainments

– “Becoming Jane” Biopic staring Anne Hatahway and James McAvoy, now in theaters
– “The Jane Austen Book Club” Starring Lynn Redgrave and Maria Bello, among others; based on Karen Joy Flowers best-selling novel about an Austen-only bookclub; in limited release later this month.

PBS will air a four-month long Jane Austen marathon in early 2008, featuring new adaptations of “Sense and Sensibility”, “Mansfield Park”, “Northanger Abbey”, and “Persuasion”, as well as encore performances of “Emma”, starring Kate Beckinsdale and Jeremy Northam, and the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries (also known as the “Colin Firths Wet Shirt” edition).
Rounding out the extravaganza is “Miss Austen Regrets”, an original BBC series about the authors life

– “The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World,” by Margaret C. Sullivan (Quirk Books, April 2007, $16.95), in which it is revealed, among other gems, that Austen’s characters most likely did not wear underwear.
– “Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love,” by Patrice Hannon (Plume, June 2007, $12), written as a series of letters in Austen’s voice.
“Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict,” by Laurie Viera Rigler (Dutton Adult, August 2007, $24.95), a time-travel fantasy.
– “Austenland: A Novel,” by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury USA, May 2007, $19.95), in which a single woman vacations at an Austen-themed resort.
– “Me and Mr. Darcy,” by Alexandra Potter (Ballantine Books, June 2007, $12.95), about a single woman, an Austen-themed vacation and time travel.
– “Just Jane: A Novel of Jane Austen’s Life,” by Nancy Moser (Bethany House, September 2007, $13.99), a fictionalized version of the author’s journal.
– “Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Austen Adventure,” by Emma Campbell Webster (Riverhead Trade, August 2007, $14), in which the reader’s choices carry them from the plot and setting of one Austen novel to the next.
– “The Rules of Gentility,” a Regency-era (e.g., no time travel involved) romantic spoof by Janet Mullany (Avon A, July 2007, $13.95).

Monday, September 10, 2007

A TRIP TO THE MOON! Le Voyage Dans La Lune!

The original “science speculation” movie from the end of the Victorian age (1902), it is ironic that this silent movie has a narrative track. Nonetheless, it’s worth watching once – if only for the film’s artistic sake – enjoy!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Peak into a Steampunk Workshop

A visit to Mr. Datamancer’s workshop, provided by the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Article on Jane Austen’s works in the Tampa Tribune

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet.

Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet

As I enjoy my continual battles with my new wireless network (and loss of connectivity), I had the chance to spy this article in the Tampa Tribune, from the 4th of September. It is an interesting article, albeit a bit snarky… so if you are offended by it, please do not “kill the messenger!” – contact Miss Henry!

What Makes Jane So Becoming?
by Amanda Henry (Tacoma Tribune correspondent)

A flood of new movies, miniseries, books, and more is a reminder that Jane Austens appeal never seems to fade at least, not for long.
You have to feel bad for the makers of the 1998s “Jane Austens Mafia!”
The title of the “Godfather” parody was almost a good joke, appearing as it did on the heels of the last wave of Austen mania, largely formented by the 1995 “Pride & Prejudice” mini-series. But it would have made more sense to the average “Naked Gun” fan this year, when Austen-themed entertainment has claimed a greater market share than ever, with feature films and books galore, televised adaptations in the works, and even funky finger magnet.
The seesawing currency of Austens work may follow a random cycle a sort of literary El Nino. Or perhaps this passionate embrace of a subtle, centuries-old body of work is symptomatic of large cultural forces? Lets go with the latter explanation, since this would otherwise be a very short article indeed.

Here, then, are a few off-the-cuff diagnoses for an Austen-obsessed world:

1) The Bard is Hard

Once upon a time, Hollywood was all about the William, as in Shakespeare. But what with all the bodkins and contumely and other verbal roadblocks, his plays can be challenging for an industry and a public in which the text message is considered the height of wit.
Enter Austen, who is also British and venerable and likes a good romance but tends to write in a more recognizable strain of English prose, with no iambic pentameter in sight. As an added bonus, Austen novels are much less likely to end in a bloodbath, making them much more attractive to the crucial teenage girl market.

2) Empire Waists Rule

Theres a reason so many maternity outfits feature the Empire cut, in which the “waist” hovers in the general vicinity of the bosom (see the “muumuu” or “tent dress”). This is among the most forgiving of silhouettes, especially when paired with a voluminous, floor-skimming skirt. You can hide just about anything in that kind of outfit, so whos to say whether youre looking a svelte or have been hitting the pudding a little hard? Regency-era fashion is the equivalent of wearing sweat-pants with cleavage.

3) Leisure: Its not just for suits

Oh, to live in a time when your major concern was not getting too many freckles! With servants to see to your food and garb, and an inherited income, theres no need to drag yourself out of bed for a 9-to-5 grind. Instead, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, do a little reading, dabble at the piano or painting, and gossip with the neighbors. Write actual letters by hand. For variety, you might shop or attend the occasional ball.
Imagine a world with no deadlines, nor ringing phones, and not overstuffed inbox. Boredom: the ultimate luxury.

4) From Cliff Notes to Barbara Cartland

If youve only encounted Austen in movie or mini-series form, you may be laboring under the delusions that she wrote romance novels with comic undertones. In fact, the retiring ministers daughter was in incisive social satirist, flaying her characters for a variety of foibles, from hypocrisy and sentimentality to arrogance and pretension.
Far from a simple-minded bodice ripper, Austen posses a profound understanding of human nature and keen psychological insights. Just dont tell the swooning masses

5) Every guys crazy for a sharp tongued woman?

Aside from the few devoted masochists and successful subjects of hypnosis, have you ever met a man who rejoices in the biting comments of significant other? No. Thats why words like “shrew” and “harridan” arent terms of endearment. Maybe if we could flash-forward 15 years, Mr. Darcy would be sulking in the garage with his model cars after a particularly acute tongue-lashing from the Mrs. or yelling at her to stop nagging him about the lawn. Yet in the enchanted here and now of the novels, Austen heroines are celebrated for their vivacity and spunk in short, for telling it like it is. Now heres a fantasy that could only exist in fiction: a man who could handle the truth.

6) Al Gore is making everyone weird

Before he started saving the world, one celebrity-studded event at a time, the ex-vice president allegedly invented the internet. And I think we all know that the most dramatic effect on said World Wide Web has been to convince people with bizarre and often embarrassing predilections that they are perfectly normal because there is a chat room full of like-minded folk to share their extreme dorkiness.

In the days of yore, people who had difficulty accepting certain facets of reality such as the century in which they were born were relegated to Renaissance faires, role-playing games, and the odd gathering of re-enactors. No one would advertise the fact that they were so obsessed with, say, a work of fiction that their nominally adult lives had become little better than a game of make-believe. Now such eccentricities is a badge of honor on message boards and online forums, in which fandom is a competitive sport:

“I named my cat Mr. Darcy Well, I named my first born child Pemberly I love Jane Austen so much that Ive read the atrocious faux sequels, seen “Becoming Jane” 20 times, and plan to quit my job in November to watch the new British adaptations, because there was no such thing as TiVo in Janes time”

Ahem… the website is, and her name is Amanda Henry, a Tribune “correspondent” (as I duck the tomatos launched at me for re-publishing this piece!)