Lanterns to Light the Summer Night

Many of the characters in Isabella’s books looked forward to spring, when days got longer and temperatures warmed. They planned their days around being outdoors as much as possible, taking their meals outside and even taking long “tramps” through fields and parks.

When the sun went down, they remained outdoors, and lit their lawns and gardens with “oriental lanterns.”

Asian goods began to make their way into American homes as far back as the Civil War, but only in relatively exclusive areas, such as Boston and New York.

But in the 1880s, more common Japanese goods, such as paper parasols, fans, and lanterns became readily available in American markets.

Two young girls stand in a field of grasses, roses, and tall lillies. Each girl holds a paper lantern they are lighting. Around them hang lanterns that are already lit.
John Singer Sargent’s famous 1886 painting, “Carnation Lily, Lily Rose.”

One import firm, Vantine’s, offered a fairyland of Japanese items in their New York showroom.

A corner of the store displaying wicker chairs and tables, ceramic vases, framed Japanese prints, pagodas and colorful lanterns.
A partial display of summer home furnishings at Vantine’s New York showroom.

You could see paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling on every floor of  A.A. Vantine’s multi-story establishment. It wasn’t long before Vantine’s was shipping paper lanterns to stores all over the eastern states.

Postcard showing a variety of lanterns, lamps, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Beneath are display cases with smaller items for sale.
Vantine’s of New York. A View of the main floor showroom from the balcony.

That’s about the time that Isabella began mentioning paper lanterns in her books.

In Making Fate (published in 1895) Marjorie Edmonds visited the Schuyler Farm and spent a lovely evening with friends:

She was out with many others on the lawn, which was brilliantly and fantastically lighted with many Chinese lanterns. It formed a place of special attraction on this lovely May evening, which was almost as warm as an evening in midsummer.

Illustration from about 1900 showing a young woman outside near several rose bushes, hanging red paper lanters on a tree. Behind is a field with a house on the horizon.

In The Browns at Mount Hermon (1908), several characters where concerned about a group of boys who planned to sneak off into the countryside to light a bonfire and spend the night gambling and smoking. Then, John Brown offered this suggestion:  

What if we could give up this evening to pure fun? Have a gathering on the Zayante lawn, which is far more attractive than the redwood grove across the way; decorate the trees and the porches and all other available places with Chinese lanterns, plan for the finest bonfire that our splendid brush heaps suggest, and serve unlimited sandwiches, cake, coffee, and anything else that could be gathered in haste, and is calculated to tempt the appetite of the average boy. Then we could send a deputation to meet the train and kidnap the crowd as our honored guests, meeting their spirit of frolic and good time at least half-way.

Old photograph of a woman about 1910 on a balcony. Overhead she has strung some string and is hanging lanterns of different shapes and colors. On the balcony railing are a bunch of roses and more lanterns to be hung.

One of Isabella’s most charming descriptions of paper lanterns was in The Hall in the Grove (1882), when Mr. Masters escorted Caroline Raynor and the Fentons to the opening assembly at Chautauqua:

On they hurried, striking at last into Simpson Avenue. Caroline came to a sudden halt, and gave an exclamation of delight. Away down the avenue as far as her eye could reach, on either side was one blaze of light; illuminated mottoes, flags, Chinese lanterns, flowers, ribbons—anything that could lend a glow of color to the bright scene had been displayed, and the whole effect was such as she will remember all her life.

Painting of three young women laying on the grass of a sloping hill. One woman holds a paper fan. Behind them two lighted paper lanters hang from the branches of a tree. Beyond, the night sky is filled with stars.
Daydreaming Under the Stars by Jacques Wagrez.

Paper lanterns became so popular, they were regularly incorporated into greeting card design like this one:

Greeting card with illustration of woman gathering pink roses from a bush while a pink paper lantern hangs from a branch of the tree behind her.

And in illustrated calendars:

Portion of an 1899 calendar showing January through March; each month is printed against a backdrop of a paper lantern. "Hours of Brightness" is printed across the top.

When you read Isabella’s books, you can tell she enjoyed the beauty of a light-filled summer night, and her descriptions of paper lanterns still have the power to warm our imaginations.

What do you think of Isabella’s descriptions?

Have you ever been to an outdoor event that was lit with candles or paper lanterns?

3 thoughts on “Lanterns to Light the Summer Night

  1. Makes me want some paper lanterns to display and show my grandkids! Lovely pictures as always. Such sweetness!!

  2. I just did a search on Amazon for a Chinese Lanterns and there are so many to choose from! 👏👏👏

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