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The Queen of Hearts

July 19, 2008


I came across a copy of an old, old children’s picture book the other day, The Queen of Hearts. The only text in it is the Children’s nursery rhyme, but the Randolph Caldecott pictures are just lovely, and, as you know, I love book illustrations with fashion interest.

Intriguingly enough, the book has no publication date in it. So what’s a reader to do but try and date it from the women’s fashion (fantastical fashion though it may be?)

What do you think? The high waistline of this flowing number I had down as a post-Edwardian circa 1912-ish does Pre-raphaelite:

But then the sloping shoulders and skirt shape of the Queen of Clubs in the right of this picture is all late 1860s/1870s Victorian:

But surely the square neckline plus frill of this number worn by the Queen of Hearts is more 1880s?

Anyway, after a bit of strategic googling I came across the website of the Randolph Caldecott Society:

Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) transformed the world of children’s books in the Victorian era. Children eagerly awaited the two books illustrated by him, priced at a shilling each, which came out each Christmas for eight years.

It gives the original publication date of the Queen of Hearts at 1881. (Although my edition is apparently a later one, although the pictures wouldn’t have changed).

While I’m on the subject, I remember reading something Victorian about a similar Queen of Hearts costume. Um. Excuse me while I just google frantically. Ah yes. It’s from the Costumer’s Manifesto, a scan of a copy of Demorest’s magazine for 1879:

Novel Fancy Costume
A very novel fancy costume, worn by a lady of rank at a late entertainment abroad, is a white satin, having a cuirasse waist embroidered to represent the figure cards of a pack. The groteque figures in vivid black, red and yellow, were outlined in chenille, and filled in with floss, made more brilliant with gold thread. The deep basque thus appeared attached to a deeper draping, while the sleeves, a mere band near the shoulder, had a repetition of the same embroidery, but much narrower. A long train was divided into sections, black, red and white, similarly embroidered. The headdress was the utterly indescribable gear which decorates “the Queen of Hearts”, while the jewelry was of consistent eccentricity in style and mounting. The general effect is said to have been excellent. The wearer was a brilliant brunette.

Although the general effect was said to be excellent, do you get the tiniest impression that the writer thought the costume was all very eccentric and a little bit over the top? If I was going to go to a fancy dress party as the Queen of Hearts, I think I’d go as the Queen of Hearts depicted in this painting by Percy Gossop, done in 1901:

Isn’t that gorgeous? Look at the sleeves! And the heart shaped backplate which her hair loops through!

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