Saturday, July 14, 2012

Victorian Zebras and Reluctant Time Travelers: Saturday Links

Two Nerdy History Girls has a post up this week about Lord Rothschild, "the heir both to a title and to a legendary financial empire." He also happened to be a dedicated zoologist.
A shy man, he was still willing to create a sensation to demonstrate a point. Victorians regarded zebras as irredeemably wild animals, resistant to being tamed and made useful to man, an unforgivable sin to the Victorian mind. Walter believed otherwise, and to prove it drove his carriage drawn by a team of well-trained Buckingham Palace. (read more)

Very stylish, wouldn't you agree?

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Remember that ring of Jane Austen's that I mentioned a few weeks ago? It sold at auction for the tremendous price of £150,000, "more than five times its estimate." That's twice as expensive as my house! Just another indication that Austen-fever is alive and well in the twenty-first century. 

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Medieval Reader blogged recently about Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. She calls it a "lively introduction to the period," but notes that it is "punctuated by Mortimer’s apparent hostility towards what the author perceives as religious and moral ‘prudishness’." In the past, I had heard very high praise of this book, many historical authors citing it as a great source to provide background information for their novels. The review made me curious: is Mortimer's book "pop" history or is it serious stuff?

This week Spiegel featured an interview with Ian Mortimer where he answers questions about the book and about medieval life. I found some of his answers enlightening--although more enlightening about his attitude toward the Middle Ages than enlightening about the era itself.
SPIEGEL: Would people from that time period get along better in our time than we might in theirs? 
Mortimer: Absolutely not. People in the Middle Ages were utterly unfamiliar with change. They had no sense of what another time might be like. When they thought of the ancient Romans, they imagined them in medieval clothes. They would be completely at a loss here and wonder: "Where are we? This can't be the Earth!" 
Huh. By this argument people in the sixteenth and seventeenth century were utterly unfamiliar with change too, since all those Shakespearean actors performed Comedy of Errors in Elizabethan clothing.   
SPIEGEL: If a working time machine really existed, would you take a trip back to medieval England? 
Mortimer: Quite apart from the fact that, by my age, 44, I would probably have been carried off by some disease long ago, people in the Middle Ages were not exactly open-minded towards strangers, and they would have been quick to recognize my foreignness. They would not have been very nice to me. In short: No thanks!
Not exactly the response you'd expect from a tour guide. I understand that living in the dark and dirty Middle Ages doesn't appeal to everyone--but if Rick Steves told readers that he had no interest to going to any of the locations that he writes about, do you think readers would still buy his guide books?  


  1. Thanks again for remommending my post- and elaborating on it more.

    The interview is rather enlightening- though I rather think that the ignorance Mortimer accuses medieval people of could be levelled at modern people to. How many times do we see 'medieval' movies in which the characters have throughly modern values, standards and beliefs?

    As for the age issue, what about the Medieval poeople who lived into thier 60s, 70s or even beyond like Eleanor of Aquitaine?

    1. Great comment, as usual! I was actually going to bring up both of those points, but got a little rushed for time to get this post up.

      Sam Thomas had an article up last week on English Historical Fiction Authors where he said that 10% of people in this time period were over the age of 60. I asked him for a source on that, but haven't heard back yet.

    2. I dont think my comments are that great- I just say what I see- or think- and actually I found the article you turned uo very interesting.

      It did seem surprising that a trained Medievalist historian like Mortimer should make such statements which seem to suggest- well- dare I say a rather uninformed and generalised view of the Medieval period?

      I might now look up that other article too and knowing the sources would be good.
      My personal comments were only based really on figures I have read about myself- and there seem to have been quite a number who lived beyond 40- and those who didnt seem to have been victims of war or foul play more often then disease. Perhaps they were the expception rather than the rule though?

    3. Hi Rosanne

      I have only just today seen the link you gave me in a comment to the full Spiegel interview with Ian Mortimer. I have just read it right through, I an am sorely tempted to do a post (perhaps as a sort of 'response') to it on my blog.
      I certainly think this interviewers questions were rather leading.

    4. A response post would be fun! I will keep an eye out for it if you decide to put one up.

    5. Yes I think I will- my review of the BBC's latest version of Henry V will be first- but give it a couple of weeks God willing! I will keep you 'posted'


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