Thursday, March 31, 2011


Madame de Pompadour!

If you haven't guessed by my self-indulgent punning, this is a review of the excellent Doctor Who episode, "The Girl in the Fireplace." Now, granted, this episode of Doctor Who came out a few years ago, but the Amateur Historian has only gotten into the series relatively recently and, for a while, was too caught up in the epicness of David Tennant's Doctor to think, "Gee, this episode takes place during the 18th century, maybe I should review it!"

Now, for those of my Gentle Readers unfamiliar with this British invasion from outerspace, the Doctor is a Time Lord, a race of aliens who control time and travel through time and space as it suits them. The Doctor generally has human companions and generally goes around being a Big Damn Hero all the time. Well, most of the time.

He is in this episode, at least.

Now, the Doctor and his two companions, Rose and Mickey, find themselves on a spaceship in another galaxy in the very far future. Grimdark!sci-fi right? Wrong! There is an 18th-century French fireplace in the spaceship linked to the 18th century bedroom of Madame de Pompadour. The Doctor can't say no to such an intriguing anomaly and so leaps through the fireplace, where he meets a young Madame de Pompadour and notices the clock is broken.

Weird thing to notice really, but then one realizes that one still hears ticking.

Enter the clockwork robots dressed like Venetian masqueraders!

The Amateur Historian will not spoil the rest of the episode for her Gentle Readers, but the dialogue was witty and snappy, the plotting was excellent and the moral of the story is... bizarre in a very interesting way. I loved their portrayal of Madame de Pompadour as a confident, intelligent woman, every inch the Doctor's equal and am stunned at their apparently enormous costume budget. All those robes à la françaises? I really don't have a single snarky thing to say about this, which is... quite rare.

The Amateur Historian personally found the idea of clockwork droids terrifying and wickedly, awesomely period. During the 18th century, the aristocracy was all about the clockwork machines. (That was one thing Gothic actually got right. Huzzah for the Turkish mechanical woman credited on imdb!) At the Madame Tussaud's in London, one can even see a wax and clockwork reproduction of an 18th century court lady.

You can watch Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour get threatened by clockwork androids here. If you have a spare 45 minutes, I highly recommend clicking the link.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh Give Me a Home....

Where the buffalo roam!
And the parrots and crocodiles plaaaaaay....

Chateaubriand's North America is one which may not exactly correspond with the real North America. You know, the one where New Orleans is geographically distinct from Niagara Falls.

Chateaubriand is a French Romantic and aristocrat who wisely decided to go on a voyage of exploration in America just as the French Revolution broke out. He thus uses America as the setting for many of his novels. Some passages, such as the one that describes Niagara Falls, are so famous that they are still the subject of analytic essays in French high schools the world over. Others, such as the beginning of Atala, where Chateaubriand lovingly describes the palm trees that adorn the banks of the upper Mississippi, and the crocodiles that apparently wander over the state of Kentucky, are not quite so famous.

One can tell quite easily where Chateaubriand actually visited, and where he made things up because his French audience didn't know what, if anything, lived in Kentucky.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Gentle Readers, if you have not discovered the amazing webcomic, "Hark, a vagrant" here is some incentive to do so:

Raisin Brahms!

Yum, art!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thanks for the advice Talleyrand

Talleyrand, also known as the political chameleon of the 19th century, started his career as a priest. Since he was born into the nobility with a club foot, the army and navy were out as professions.

However, the laws of celibacy of the Catholic Church did not suit Talleyrand in the slightest. He was defrocked after being un-frocked with an equally undressed lover. Later on, Talleyrand explained his popularity with the ladies as such:

"For a woman, to have an abbé had a double advantage. The first was to be sure that your secret would be safe; the second was to be sure of receiving absolution."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Well That Was Dumb

As most people with some familiarity with European history know, the French Revolution was, in part, caused by unequal representation in taxation. France was divided up into three estates: the aristocracy, the clergy and the Third Estate.

Now, what is the Third Estate? "Everyone Else Who Isn't Noble or In the Church" or, according to Abbé Sieyes, it's everything! It's the nation!

Well, "the nation" excluding women, servants, vagrants, homeless people, people in the aristocracy and people in the church. Other than that it's everyone.

At any rate, the Third Estate was paying a lot of taxes to the state when the other two estates were not. However, the king could not raise taxes on any of the estates without the consent of the estates themselves. So, the question then arises, why was the Third Estate alone paying taxes?

Because during the Hundred Years War, the Third Estate consented to their current taxes (which mind you, were paying for a LARGE WAR) indefinitely.


Good job Third Estate, good job.