Tag Archives: Julia Ried

Tableaux: Bringing Pictures to Life

28 Feb

Long before last year’s mannequin challenge went viral on social media, Isabella Alden and her contemporaries struck poses like statues. Tableaux vivant (which means, literally, “living pictures”) was a very popular form of entertainment in late 19th century America.

The premise was simple. People donned costumes and recreated famous scenes from literature, art, and historic events.

A 1903 photo of a woman posing as Margaret in Faust.

A 1903 photo of a woman posing as Margaret in Faust.

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On a small scale, people performed tableaux in parlors. They selected a famous scene from history or literature, donned make-shift costumes, and struck poses while other guests observed.

Isabella Alden was very familiar with tableaux. In Julia Ried Isabella described how guests at a party …

made very free use of the wraps in the dressing-room for our impromptu charades and tableaux, and shawls, cloaks, hoods and rubbers were in inextricable confusion.

Woman in Elizabethan costume, 1903.

Woman in Elizabethan costume, 1903.

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On a large scale, churches, women’s clubs and fraternal organizations staged more elaborate tableaux on stages with scenery and props.

There were many books available to help performers turn out their best statue-like performances.

School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah L. Stocking gave step-by-step instructions for young performers.

From School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah Stocking

From School and Parlour Tableaux by Sarah Stocking

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While The Book of Tableaux and Shadow Pantomimes by Sarah Annie Frost featured performances with themes more suitable for adults.

Part of the table of contents for The Book of Tableaux and Pantomimes, with detailed instructions for enacting each tableau

Part of the table of contents for The Book of Tableaux and Pantomimes, with detailed instructions for enacting each tableau

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In his book, Parlor Tableaux and Amateur Theatricals, William Gill promoted tableaux as “a simple and elegant amusement,” and “a favorite entertainment of persons with taste.” He recommended that music—vocal or instrumental—be played between representations so the audience would not grow restless and to help heighten the suspense as the audience waited for the curtain to rise on the next scene.

Isabella wrote often enough about tableaux to indicate she was very familiar with the pastime. In her novel A Dozen of Them, young Joseph participated in a simple New Year’s Eve tableau party where he …

… dressed in an extraordinary manner—like a youthful musician of the olden time. Mrs. Calland had managed—nobody but she knew how—to arrange for him a most remarkable wig of soft curling hair. The mustache part was easy; a little burnt cork settled that.

Cover_Julia RiedOn a larger scale, Julia Ried (heroine in the book of the same name) helped put together a grand tableau of several re-enactments that required weeks of preparation:

I remember an animated discussion that ensued concerning the getting up of tableaux for a certain festival, which was to be held about Christmas time. Mrs. Tyndall gave minute descriptions of the style of dress needed to personate certain characters, and I suddenly became an object of importance, because I had not only seen, but participated in one of the tableaux mentioned, and could give accurate information as to whether the young lady who personated religion should dress in white or black.

Hand-painted 1905 photo of a woman in Old Testament costume

Hand-painted 1905 photo of a woman in Old Testament costume for a religious tableau.

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Rehearsals and sewing costumes consumed Julia’s days. She helped make costumes for characters portraying Religion, Queen Vashti, Quakers, and a Turkish sultan. Some of the elaborate scenes challenged Julia, because she was convinced they weren’t suitable for Christian women to enact.

Society ladies and a gentleman perform as Bacchantes, 1909.

Society ladies and a gentleman perform as Bacchantes, 1909.

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Some of the most common themes for tableaux were religious and patriotic scenes. The scenes below, performed by a church in 1920, depict the story of Jesus’s life, from the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary through his early childhood:

bethlehem-tableau-1920-scene-1

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bethlehem-tableau-1920-scene-3

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bethlehem-tableau-1920-scene-4

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bethlehem-tableau-1920-scene-5

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bethlehem-tableau-1920-scene-12

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Tableaux featuring Greek aesthetics were also popular, because the draped costumes and classical poses were considered to be the epitome of grace and beauty.

A woman in a classic Greek pose, 1903.

A woman in a classic Greek pose, 1903.

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If you’ve ever seen The Music Man you’ll remember that the mayor’s wife was devoted to performing Greek tableaux.

Even the famous Mrs. Astor, leader of New York Society, staged an evening of tableaux for charity in 1909.

mrs-astor-1908

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Women attending Mrs. Astor's society tableau in 1908.

Women attending Mrs. Astor’s society tableau in 1908.

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National organizations also dove into the tableau craze. To publicize their organization, the Red Cross staged tableaux on the south front of the Treasury Building in Washington DC in 1917:

red-cross-demonstration-with-tableaux-on-south-front-of-treasury-building-washington-dc-1917

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red-cross-demonstration_on-guard_1917

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red-cross-demonstration_where-columbia-leads-1917.

It’s possible that Isabella participated in a few tableaux herself. She was certainly able to describe the entertainment with some affection and a good deal of detail in several of her books and stories.

A tableau for women's suffrage on the front steps of the Treasury Building in Washington DC, 1913.

A tableau for women’s suffrage on the front steps of the Treasury Building in Washington DC, 1913.

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Did you know there are still organizations practicing the art of tableaux vivant today? One such organization is the New Orleans Tableaux Vivant Society. Click here to visit their site, where you’ll find news of upcoming performances and photos of past events.

If you know of any other tableau events coming up, please share by posting a comment below.


The idea for this post was suggested by Karen, a regular reader of this blog. If you have any questions about Isabella Alden or would like to learn more about something you read in one of her books, please leave a comment below.

Julia’s Occupation

20 Sep

Cover_Julia RiedIsabella Alden’s series of books about the Ried family were her most popular novels. In Julia Ried, book 2 of the series, the Ried family falls on hard times, and daughter Julia decides to strike out on her own. She takes a job as a bookkeeper in a paper box factory in the neighboring town of Newton.

In choosing Julia’s career, Isabella was on solid ground. She was able to write convincingly about Julia’s job and work environment, because Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald, operated a paper box factory in Gloversville, New York.

Page from an 1870 Fulton County New York Business Directory.

Page from an 1870 Fulton County New York Business Directory.

Gloversville, the little village where Isabella grew up, was celebrated for its glove-making industry.

A 1908 postcard of Gloversville showing the intersection of Main Street, with its many retail glove shops, and Fulton Street where Isaac Macdonald's box factory was located.

A 1908 postcard of Gloversville showing the intersection of Main Street, with its many retail glove shops, and Fulton Street, where Isaac Macdonald’s box factory was located.

Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville supplied nearly 90 percent of all gloves sold in the United States.

1913 paper glove box; from Pinterest.

1913 paper glove box; from Pinterest.

Besides the many “skin mills” and glove manufacturing business in the little village, the industry spawned a host of supporting businesses, such as box makers, tool and die manufacturers, and dealers in buttons and threads.

Box for Silkateen brand ladies gloves. From Etsy.

Box for Silkateen brand ladies gloves. From Etsy.

Isabella’s father, Isaac Macdonald owned one of four or five box-making factories in Gloversville. While there’s no record that Isabella ever worked in her father’s factory, she had a good grasp of the working conditions, and she conveyed her thorough knowledge of the business in Julia Ried.

Women workers at a box factory, about 1890.

Women workers at a box factory, about 1890.

In Julia Ried, Isabella gave lively descriptions of the “shop-girls” who folded and pasted the cardboard boxes together. According to Frank Hooper, one of those shop-girls in the book, they worked ten hours a day, six days a week.

A 14-year-old girl at work in a paper box factory. From National Archives.

A 14-year-old girl at work in a paper box factory. From National Archives.

Pasting cardboard boxes together was a sticky, messy, exhausting job; but it was a job that was often performed by women and children.

A young girl working alongside a woman in a paper box factory, 1912. From National Archives.

A young girl working alongside a woman in a paper box factory, 1912. From National Archives.

Small boxes especially—like those that contained gloves for ladies and children—needed to be assembled and pasted by women or children with small hands.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, March 12, 1900.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, March 12, 1900.

Yet in the glove-making industry—and its supporting businesses—women and girls earned half as much as men.

The work could be dangerous. Accidents were common, and some injuries could be severe.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, May 12, 1898.

From the Gloversville Daily Leader, May 12, 1898.

 

A young box factory worker after an accident with a veneering saw; 1907.

A young box factory worker after an accident with a veneering saw; 1907.

Isabella drew on her knowledge of the box-making business to create some of her most beloved characters. The characters of Frank Hooper and Jerome Sayles (whose father co-owned the box factory in the story) made return appearances in other books in the Ester Ried Series.

Women and girls working in a box factory, 1910.

Women and girls working in a box factory, 1910.

You can learn more about Gloversville, Isabella’s home town, by reading these related posts:

Helena’s Alexandre Gloves

Deerville, My Home Town

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The Trouble with Paper Dolls

31 Aug

In Isabella’s book Ester Ried, Ester’s youngest sister Julia found herself in trouble, all because of paper dolls.

Ester had charged Julia with taking an important letter to the post-office. Julia obediently started out, immaculate in white apron and white stockings, but then she met temptation in the form of a little girl playing with her paper dolls.

Mascot Bread_Many Lands ed

While Julia was admiring them, the letter “had the meanness to slip out of her hand into the mud!”

Horrified, Julia and the little girl put their wise young heads together, and decided to give the muddy letter a thorough washing in the creek. But no sooner were they standing ankle deep in the mud, vigorously carrying their idea into effect, than “the vicious little letter hopped out of Julia’s hand, and sailed merrily away, downstream!”

Baby in Rocking Cradle

It’s understandable that Julia was a little bewitched by her friend’s paper dolls. Paper dolls were colorful and beautifully detailed little works of art, usually depicting handsome men, beautiful women, and charming children. Paper dolls of fairy tale characters were popular, too, like this set of Tom the Piper’s Son:

Tom Tom the Pipers Son

And this fanciful set from 1912 depicts characters from the story of Aladdin.

Aladdin fairy tale 1912

Because every respectable paper doll needed a suitable paper home in which to live, children could collect paper doll furniture pieces, too. Here’s a cabinet suitable for a paper doll’s fashionable drawing room:

Drawing room cabinet

Paper dolls even had lovely chairs and settees on which to sit.

Drawing room chairs

 

Drawing room settee
No paper doll drawing room would be complete without a grandfather clock and a decorative screen to block out cold drafts.

Grandfather clock

Drawing room screen

Here’s a paper doll house accessory that Isabella might have liked for herself: a pot of colorful pansies.

Pansies

Pansies instructions

You can click on any of the paper doll images in this post to open a larger version to print and assemble for yourself.

And click here to see a previous post about paper dolls

Fan Mail and Ester Ried

9 Aug

At the height of her popularity, Isabella Alden was one of the most widely-read authors in the world. One of the things that made her so popular—and unique—was the varying ages of her readers: she had just as many children who were dedicated fans of her books as she had adult fans. And they all wrote letters to her.

She received letters by the thousands, addressed to her publisher, to her home, and to the offices of her magazine, The Pansy. And she answered them all!

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.

Isabella Alden in an undated photograph.

Some fans wrote to request her autograph and a photo. Others asked for advice on how to become a great author or they sent their own manuscripts and asked for her opinion.

Some asked for advice on other topics, from how to get a good husband to the best way to stop fingernail biting. One fan even asked for pieces of her best dress so they could be sewn into a patchwork quilt the fan was sewing!

An early cover for Ester Ried

An early cover for Ester Ried

But the fan mail Isabella received most often was about her book Ester RiedEster Ried was incredibly popular and prompted scores of readers to send Isabella letters thanking her for the book’s message.

New cover for the 2016 release of Ester Ried

New cover for the 2016 release of Ester Ried

Fans wrote to Isabella about how they saw themselves in Ester’s struggles and her impatience with life’s daily annoyances. But mostly, readers identified with the lessons Ester learned; they took to heart the promise that God would bring peace and happiness to their lives, if only they trusted in Him.

What started as a single book soon blossomed into an ongoing series. The Ester Ried series gave fans of the original book glimpses into the lives of the characters they loved. Readers grabbed up each new story about the Ried family members and their trials as they grew up, married, and learned to trust God to help them through a sometimes difficult world.

Cover_Julia Ried

Two years after Ester Ried was published came Julia Ried, a sequel that focused on Ester’s younger sister Julia and the lessons she learns about faith in times of temptation. It also brought readers up to date on Abbie Ried’s story after the tragic turn her life took in Ester Ried.

Cover_The King's Daughter

The following year Isabella published the third book in the series, The King’s Daughter. In this book Isabella introduced the character of Miss Dell Bronson. Unlike Ester or Julia, Dell was rock solid in her faith and trusted God in her daily life, but she still had challenges to face. And she still had lessons to learn in Wise and Otherwise, the next book in the series.

Cover_Wise and Otherwise

Isabella commissioned her best friend Theodosia Foster to write book five. Echoing and Re-Echoing (written under Theodosia’s pen name Faye Huntington) centers around Ralph Ried, Abbie’s brother, who, as a new minister, struggles to reach his flock through his Sunday sermons.

Cover_Echoing and Re-echoing

Isabella’s fans particularly loved the sixth book in the series, Ester Ried Yet Speaking, because it included the character of Flossy Shipley. Flossy was originally introduced to readers in Four Girls at Chautauqua. In Ester Ried Yet Speaking readers got to find out what happened to Flossy after her marriage to Evan Roberts. They also met Dr. Everett, Hester Mason, and Joy Saunders, who were the main characters in Isabella’s later book, Workers Together; An Endless Chain.

Cover_Ester Ried Yet Speaking

Isabella waited nine years before she published Ester Ried’s Namesake. It was intended to be the last book in the series, but fans wrote to beg for more.

Cover_Ester Rieds Namesake

Even Isabella’s niece, Grace Livingston Hill, encouraged her to write “one more long story.” Grace suggested she write about Ester Ried’s granddaughter or great-granddaughter, and thereby reach an entirely new generation of readers with the original book’s message.

But by that time, Isabella was 86 years old and in failing health. One more “long story” was beyond her abilities, she told Grace. “You have altogether too high an opinion of me.”

Many fans of the series think the Ester Ried books are perfect, just as they are; the only difference is that today’s readers have the option to read the books electronically. A new generation of Ester Ried e-books is available on Amazon and other e-book retail sites.

Boxed set e-book cover for Ester Ried, the Complete Series.

Boxed set e-book cover for Ester Ried, the Complete Series.

Have you read the books in the Ester Ried Series? Which book is your favorite?

You can click on any of the book covers in this post to find out more about each title.

Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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