Thursday, August 21, 2014

A scent of 1908

"Four hours of research for two lines of text" is my oft-repeated joke. And sometimes an evening spent doing research ends in a scene abandoned on the cutting room floor, so to speak. I share both my research into Edwardian perfume and its related outtake here.

Jicky perfume was created by the house of Guerlaine in 1889, and was one of the first perfumes to contain synthetic essences. As described by a variety of sources, Jicky's notes included lavender, citrus, and rose over a base of civet (a scandalous scent!) and vanilla. Legend has it the perfume was named for a woman named Jacqueline with whom Aimé Guerlain fell unrequitedly in love, but more likely it was named after his nephew Jacques. It was marketed as a women's scent, but proved equally if not more popular with men.

Jicky is still available- in fact, it's the oldest perfume in continuous production. While I'm tempted to try some for myself, I know that classic fragrances have mostly been modified for modern preferences, and I wouldn't have the same experience with it as do Vivian and James in this brief scene from The Stowaway, which takes place shortly after their arrival at the Savoy Hotel in London.

*  *  *

Deep in my brown leather trunk I discovered an unfamiliar green velvet bag. “And what might this be, Lord Jim?”

“A gift for you, compliments of 'Becca. It seems she enjoys outfitting her new customer. Also I told her in my last letter about our unpleasant experience with the lavender, and she offered to send along something we would like better.”

From the bag I withdrew a small, light-green velvet box. I traced the looped House of Guerlain emblem printed in gold upon the lid before I opened it, drawing out the moment. “Jicky perfume!" Any aspirations I may have had of appearing sophisticated were handily overcome by the sight of the beveled glass bottle in the box.

Jicky in its 1908 bottle

If James liked to see me happily surprised, this must have been all he could ask for. He leaned over my shoulder, one long ringlet brushing my cheek, as I held the bottle gingerly in both hands. “'Tis only proper to warn you, It has a lavender note, but 'Becca promises it will not remind us of our mothers. And we can both wear it, if the lady doesn't object.”

“I would be honored to share a scent with you, sir.” I turned my beaming face to his. “James, how did she know? I've always wished for a bottle of this.”

“Good. You can wear it tomorrow, and at least something worthwhile will have come of the day.”

“Let's try it tonight and make sure we do like it, shall we?” I unscrewed the top and sniffed. “Oh, I don't think that will be difficult at all.”

I learned ever more about Jicky and the House of Guerlain researching for this post. Some sources:
Fragrantica, Monsieur-Guerlain, Now Smell This. And there are some interesting first-hand accounts of people's experiences with Jicky on the web as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Vivian Drew may have felt isolated in her home of Pinbury Down, Devon, but she had access to the London Illustrated News--if not the most recent editions--with occasional expeditions to the city of Plymouth so that she was not entirely remote from the trends of the day. A common form of entertainment for the Edwardians was singing popular songs, and sheet music was readily available.

"Daisy Bell" (known better as "A Bicycle Built fur Two") is one of those songs, and also one I like to sing, particularly to a cat of my acquaintance named Daisy. I at first considered mentioning it in The Stowaway, but it's so commonly known I don't think it provides much period flavor. So I delved into Edwardian popular music and decided that "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside," written in 1907 by John A. Glover-Kind, would be a perfect choice for Vivian to spontaneously sing on board the Jolly Roger, to the surprise and delight of the Captain. He's not one to frequent music halls or to shop for sheet music when he's in port, and this song provides a window into a world he is only tangentially a part of.

Mark Sheridan's 1909 performance

As it turns out, "Seaside" is probably at least as well known in the UK as "Daisy" is in the States. (UK readers, can you back me up on this?) as demonstrated by the number of covers I've found. For example, it makes appearances in two songs by Queen ("Brighton Rock" and "Seven Seas of Rhye") and two episodes of "Dr. Who." And it hops the pond to appear in the 7:18 episode of "Navy: NCIS." YouTube has many versions of the song, including this strangely adorable cover from "Thomas the Quarry Engine."

The popularity of the song means I don't need to take up space in an already-crowded manuscript to includ the lyrics, but I shall do so here:

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea!
I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!
Where the brass bands play:
So just let me be beside the seaside
I'll be beside myself with glee
And there's lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside!
Beside the sea!

And here is Basil Rathbone, in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (please ignore the fact that the movie is set fifteen years before the song was written). This version is the most appropriate under the circumstances as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the most competent member of J.M. Barrie's struggling Allahakbarries cricket team.

Now I'm going to sing this song for the rest of day. Perhaps you will too.