Champagne and the Performance of Femininity in Victorian Britain

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Graham Harding, whose recent book, Champagne in Britian 1800–1914: How the British Transformed a French Luxury, was just published by Bloomsbury Academic.

In nineteenth century Britain, champagne was gendered feminine. Poems were written to “My Lady Champagne” that described it as “wayward, soft, luscious and tender” [1]. Women went to fancy dress balls dressed as champagne bottles (the nearest male equivalent was to go as a bottle of Bass beer). The words used to describe champagne— “pretty,” “elegant,” “sparkling”—reflected a stereotypical Victorian view of femininity.

“Sparkling” is a key word here. It encapsulated what the Victorian novelist Amelia Barr called “the social friskiness—the afternoon wit—the great fun” that Society (my capital “S”) demanded of women, particularly young women [2].

Harding Title Card
Left: Woman wearing a champagne bottle dress in 1902; and a photo of a vintage champagne bottle dress. Images courtesy of the Fashion Museum of Bath.

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Don’t forget to go home: Rainald Goetz’s “Rave”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Peder Clark. Dr. Clark is a historian of modern Britain, with research interests in drugs, subcultures, health, everyday life, and visual culture. He completed his PhD in 2019 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and is currently a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde. 

“Meet girls. Take drugs. Listen to music.” These three short sentences function as the plot summary and the marketing blurb for Rainald Goetz’s 1998 novel Rave, newly translated into English by Adrian Nathan West. The “girls” are young, the “drugs” are strong, and the “music” is pounding. That much we know, but little else is clear. “Autofiction” before Karl Ove Knausgård or Rachel Cusk, Goetz’s protagonist “Rainald” drifts from club to industry shin-dig to Balearic island and back again, chugging beers, popping pills and chatting nonsense along the way.

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Cannabis in the 1950s British Tabloids

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Alex Brown. Brown researches and writes for the drug history podcast Hooked on History. He has a Master’s in Contemporary History from the University of Edinburgh.

It will likely surprise none of this blog’s readers that British tabloids have proved poor custodians of “drug” information. Evidence of their inflexible anti-drug stance was presented during the Leveson Inquiry in 2011. Ex-Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt told the inquiry: “If a scientist announces their research has found ecstasy to be safer than alcohol, I know my job as a tabloid reporter is to portray this man as a quack.”[1] Instead of offering accurate information, “drug” articles tend to act as conduits through which moral judgments and social anxieties can be expressed.

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