Friday, January 24, 2014

Meet The Flamboyant Lady-Like Gentlemen of 1840

by Stephen J. Gertz

It's a scarce little sucker, a rarely seen Leech.

It's The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book and Beau Monde à La Française, Enriched with Numerous Highly Colored Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen. Published in London, 1840 by Chapman and Hall, the quarto features four hand-colored lithographed plates, each with multiple figures, by the great caricaturist, John Leech, accompanied by twelve pages of text by Percival Leigh (1813-1889), who often partnered with Leech, a close friend. The two were among the original contributors to Punch, which was established in 1841.

One of the rarest of all suites by Leech, OCLC notes only eight copies in institutional holdings worldwide, with ABPC recording only one copy at auction within the last sixty-five years, in 1949.

Here Leech skewers foppery, dandyism, and the eccentricities of "fashionable boobies" that are feminizing men in London and Paris, while Leigh takes comic aim at contemporary literary absurdities "consisting mainly of a thrilling story of brigand life, the blood-curdling tenor of which may be imagined from the title, Grabalotti the Bandit; or, The Emerald Monster of the Deep Dell" (Frith);  a parody of the popular novels of fashionable life,  and more. 

"It was one of Leech's special delights to caricature the absurd fashions of the day in dress, language, manners and literature" (Field). 

The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book was very well received upon publication.

"To use the words of the lively and gossiping Pepys, the sight of this jeu d'esprit delighted us mightily; it being a very clever satire on those contemptible fashionable boobies; who, with their frightful display of hairy protuberances, crawl like ursine sloths along the public streets of London and Paris, to the disgust of all rational and well-organized minds. It is to hold them up to the public contempt that the colored plates of the work are devoted, and however unearthly these exquisites may appear to a stranger, they must not be viewed as caricatures, for it is

'From real life these characters are drawn,'

and which may be evidenced wheresoever they are hourly met, many of them inhaling the blasting influence of the poisonous cigar, rendering their faces more like a mattery pustule than the frontispiece of a human being; but it is very doubtful whether creatures so constituted as to fall into such glaring inconsistencies are capable of feeling the bitter shaft of satire. However, the artist, author, and publisher, have done their part well, in thus bringing the subject before the public eye. The work is edited by the author of the 'Comic Latin Grammar,' and contains many witty burlesques on the announcements of some of our most prominent quacks and advertisers, with a pleasing variety of other reading...

"We must not omit to bear testimony to the rising genius of Mr. Leech. We have watched the progress of this gentleman, and we feel assured if he do but study from life, - persevere, - and work hard, he will very soon become one of our most talented artists. We wish him every success" (The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, No. 1033, November 21, 1840).

As I've earlier written:

The clothes-obsessed dandy and dandyism phenomenon first appeared in the 1790s, both in London and Paris. In period vernacular, a dandy was differentiated from a fop in that the dandy's dress was more refined and sober. But not for long.

During the Regency period in London, dandyism was a revolt against  the extravagance and ostentation of the previous generation, and of sympathy with the new mood of democracy. It became, however, a competitive sport  and this revolt against prior tradition became a revolting development.

Immaculate personal cleanliness, crisp and clean linen shirts with high collars, perfectly tied cravats, and exquisitely tailored plain dark coats (similar in many respects to the "macaroni" of the earlier eighteenth century) became the fashion, epitomized by George Bryan "Beau" Brummel (1778-1840). Imitators  followed  but  few possessed  Brummel's sense of panache. Many, if not most,  over-reached.

The style soon went over the top. What flowed naturally and unselfconsciously from Beau Brummel all too often became affectation and pretension in others and it was this class of dandies that became the subject of caricature and ridicule. 

George and Robert Cruikshank had a field day with the subject. But their caricatures of fops and dandies, as usual for the Cruikshanks, ridiculed with grotesquery. Leech, in contrast, caricatured them with a delicate refinement that took the phenomenon to its logical, absurd conclusion, men as women in male-drag. Think Georges Sand with a paste-on moustache. Indeed, the year The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book was published was the year that Beau Brummel died. His taste dying with him, foppery became a parody of itself and just plain silly.

It would be a mistake to associate this manner of male fashion with homosexuality. While the behavior certainly existed and had descriptive nouns for acts and practitioners, the concept had not yet evolved to require a word to describe a separate class of person and distinct culture. The word was coined and first used in 1869 by Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882), an Austro-Hungarian novelist, translator, and journalist in Das Gemeinschädliche des & 143 des preussischen Strafgesetzbuches vom 14. April 1851 und daher seine nothwendige Tilgung als [section sign]152 im Entwurfe eines Strafgesetzbuches für den Norddeutschen Bund, a seventy-five page pamphlet protesting against anti-sodomy laws in Prussia.

No, only their clothes were gay. Silly gay,  not gay gay.

[LEECH, John, illustrator]. [LEIGH, Percival, text].  The Fiddle Faddle Fashion Book, And Beau Monde à La Française enriched with Numerous Highly Colored Figures of Lady-Like Gentlemen. Edited by The Author of The Comic Latin Grammar. The Costumes and Other Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

First edition. Quarto (11 3/8 x 8 5/8 in; 290 mm). 12 pp. Four hand-colored lithographs imprinted 12 November 1840.

Field, p. 40.

Of Related Interest:

Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies.

The Mother of Political Satire, or Why Did Yankee Doodle Call His Hat Macaroni.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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