Victorian Gamer archive – October 1999
Welcome to the Victorian Gamer
Ezine for Role-playing in the Victorian Era
Table of Contents
Victorians and the Supernatural
From the Editor’s Desktop
Being October and the month of All Hallow’s Eve, it seemed appropriate to devote this issue to topics of horror and the supernatural. The Victorians had a great interest in the supernatural and were fond of ghost stories. Some of the greatest creatures of horror where invented by Victorian authors. This month’s Biography looks at one of those authors, Bram Stoker. There will be a few recipes that are particularly scary, including the not-particularly-Victorian, but very frightening Haggis. Bon Appetite!
|The Victorians were a strange people. On the one hand, they were practical, scientific and inventive; on the other hand, they were much enamored of mysteries and the supernatural. The Gothic novels that became popular during the eighteenth century carried over into the nineteenth, with most considering Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus to be the pinnacle of the genre. The Victorian world is an excellent place for horror. It is a culture of transition. England is a suitable setting for adventures of horror and the supernatural. London has its narrow, cobblestone streets, enshrouded in fog and darkness, lit by islands of flickering yellow gaslight, meandering through the rookeries and wharves and lonely parks. The countryside as well can be eerie, with isolated, vine-covered estates and the expansive moors.|
In 1848, a pair of sisters, Margarett and Catharine Fox became famous for their ability to communicate with this spirit of a former resident of their house. Their communications became a popular show, attracting large audiences. As the audience grew, the number of spirits willing to communicate grew, and they became more active, moving objects in the physical world. The Fox sisters gained such notoriety that P. T. Barnum took them to New York City and made them famous.
The Fox sisters formed a Spiritualist Society and led many other people to discover their talent for communicating with the dead. Mediums appeared all over the United States and in 1852 spiritualism was transported to England.
Spiritualist churches and home circles began appearing in Britain in 1865. After that, several Spiritualist organizations were founded; the Marylebone Spiritualist Association in 1872, the British National Association of Spiritualists in 1884 and the National Federation of Spiritualist Churches in 1890.
Despite the fact that many famous mediums, like D. D. Home and Henry Slate, were proven to be fakes, the movement survived with the support of such illustrious personages as Arthur Conan Doyle and Oliver Lodge.
|Spirit Writing was a popular technique for receiving communications from the dead. The medium would hold a pen, fall into a trance and the pen would “move itself” across the paper and a message from the spirit would appear. In 1889, the first Ouija board was produced in America. It was a simpler method for spirit writing. The ouija board consisted of a wooden board with the words “Yes” and “No” (ouija comes from the French and German words for yes), the alphabet and “Good-bye.” The medium and another person would place their hands on a planchette or small wooden pointer and the spirit would cause it to move in response to questions, pointed to letters to spell words. Some considered the ouija board simply a novelty. Other considered it the devil’s toy and there were reports of people who were driven insane through its use.|
Society for Psychical Research
In 1882, the Society for Psychical Research was founded. The core of the society was a group of wealthy men and women who deemed themselves “paranormal Investigators.” They were intelligent people of society who lent the idea credibility. Henry Sidgwick, Oliver Gurney, Frederick Myers, Lord Rayleigh, J.J.Thompson, and Oliver Lodge, Arthur Balfour, Arthur Conan Doyle, William James, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were all associated with it. The purpose of the society was to study a variety of spiritual and psychic phenomenons such as telepathy, clairvoyance, mesmerism and hypnotism, mediums, seances and telekinesis.
Two outlooks divided the Society. The Spiritualist side tended to believe in the possibility of spirits and psychic phenomenon, but the Rationalist side was driven more to debunk such events. These Victorian “X-files” investigations produced thousands of pages of documentation.
The original Society still exists and publishes a regular journal. Visit their website.
Creatures of Horror
The nineteenth century produced four of the most famous creatures of horror of all time; Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Mummy and Mr. Hyde. Although Frankenstein predates the Victorian era, it portrays some very Victorian concepts. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, like Frankenstein, while intent on exploring the nature of humanity, shows some of the fear of science that was present among the Victorians, people noted for their great technological creativity.
Bram Stoker (1847 – 1912)
|Abraham Stoker was born just north of Ireland in 1847. As a young boy, he suffered from a multitude of childhood diseases that kept him bedridden. He developed a fondness for reading, which prepared him for his future literary career. By the time Bram entered Trinity College, however, he had gotten over his illnesses and became an athlete, also showing a talent in mathematics.
Stoker left college and took a job as a clerk in Dublin, but he also began putting together stories. In 1872, he published The Crystal Cup. In 1875, The Primrose Path was published as a serial. The story of an alcoholic carpenter, who murders his wife, it set a pattern for Stoker’s work combining horror and romance, as did another serial, Chain of Destiny.
Stoker had befriended an actor named Henry Irving. About 1878, Irving had acquired a theater in London, the Lyceum, and asked Stoker to manage it. Stoker quite his job, married his nineteen-year old fiancee, Florence Balcombe. Within a year, Florence had given birth to a son, Noel.
Managing the theater was a full-time job, yet Stoker found time to produce a number of stories. In 1882, Stoker published his first book, Under the Sunset a collection of spooky fairy tales for children, though some said it was too horrifying for children. His first full-length novel was The Snake’s Pass, published in 1890. Stoker’s most noted work, Dracula came out in 1897.
The year after Dracula was published, a fire destroyed much of the Lyceum Theater’s property and with in two years it was closed. Five years after that, Sir Henry Irving, having become the first actor to be knighted, died. Stoker had become ill, possibly suffering from syphilis, and was relying on writing to support himself. Nothing else he wrote would ever quite compare with Dracula, which continuously reappears in new incarnations in all forms of media.
Stoker was 64 when he died in 1912.
Bram Stoker’s Works
|Blood transfusions have a surprisingly long history, dating back to 1665 when Richard Lower performed a blood transfusion on a dog in England. Lower is later able to successfully transfuse blood from a sheep into a human, as does Jean-Baptiste Denis of France. After that, transfusions from animals to humans were made illegal, effectively ending transfusion research until the nineteenth century.
The first successful human-to-human transfusion of blood occurred in 1818. James Blundell transfused blood from a husband to his wife by means of a syringe. Blundell performed 10 transfusions up to 1830, about half of which were successful. At this point, blood typing had not been developed and transfusions would be a risky endeavor. In the 1870’s, doctors began using milk, from cows, goats and humans, as a blood substitute, replacing that with a saline solution in the 1880’s.
|In Dracula Dr. Van Helsing performs a blood transfusion on Lucy Westenra, drawing blood from her fiancee Arthur Holmwood. The process was common enough by then that Bram Stoker takes little effort to describe it. There is still no system for typing and matching blood; it would be three more years before the blood types were identified by an Austrian physician and 1907 before it is suggested the matching of blood types should be done to ensure compatibility. The same year, the “universal” compatibility of O-type was recognized.
In 1908, a French surgeon, Alexis Carrel, devises a way of stitching the artery of the donor directly to the vein of the recipient. Impractical for transfusions, it led the way to organ transplanting.
Other inventions that help the process of blood transfusions and medical science in general were antiseptics, developed by Dr. Joseph Lister in 1865 and the hypodermic needle in 1853.
This month we present more of a campaign idea, rather than a specific adventure. The V-Files would be based on the Society for Psychical Research or a similar organization, the purpose of which is to investigate reports of strange phenomenon around the world. By steam, train or balloon, the intrepid investigators travel to exotic locations to seek out the truth.
At the Game Master’s discretion ghosts and spirits may be real, as may any number of psychic abilities or magic. Magic may be limited to witchdoctors hidden in the heart of Africa, shaman among the Indian tribes of North and South America and the fakirs of India, but forgotten by “civilized” cultures.
Whether it is werewolves in London, vampires in Transylvania, weretigers in India, yeti in Tibet or zombies in the West Indies, there are enough monsters available to satisfy the most avid hunter.
Players may blend skeptics and believers seeking to prove or disprove what they find, or they may simply be adventurers going along for the ride.
Recipes of the Month
This is derived from a Scottish recipe from the 1850’s. I have never eaten haggis, but if someone does, let me know.
1 cleaned sheep’s stomach
1 lb dry oatmeal
1 lb chopped suet
1 lb lamb or deer liver, boiled and chopped
the heart and lungs of a sheep, boiled and chopped
1 or 2 chopped onions
1 pint beef stock
1/2 tsp pepper, salt, cayenne pepper
Toast the oatmeal until it is crisp. Mix all the ingredients (except the stomach) into a dish or pan and add the stock. Fill the stomach halfway, squeeze out the air and sew it u with coarse thread. Poke holes into the stomach with a large needle, then place it into a large pot of boiling water. Boil it slowly for 4 to 5 hours. Use that time to drink lots of whiskey before attempting to eat it.
A couple of notes:
1 – The U. S. government has determined that sheep lungs are not fit for human consumption, so you cannot buy them in the U. S. You will have to butcher your own sheep.
2 – Suet is beef or mutton fat taken from around the kidneys. It finds its way into a lot of English puddings.
Clean and bone the eel. Do not skin it. Mix together salt, pepper, mace, allspice, thyme, marjoram, clove and parsley and stuff this mix into the eel. Roll up the eel and boil it in salted vinegar and water. When it is fully cooked, leave it to cool and keep in the vinegar and water mixture.
Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
|Buy this book today!|
In 1816, Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, John Polidori and a few other friends were spending the summer on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The eruption of an Indonesian volcano created terrible storms over Europe and this little gathering of poets and writers were stuck indoors much of the time. Lord Byron proposed that each of them write a ghost story. John Polidori wrote what would later be published as The Vampyre. Mary had difficulty coming up with an idea, but then she had a vision.
When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. . . . I saw–with shut eyes, but acute mental vision–I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world.
The result of this vision was a compelling story that her friends convinced her to flesh out into a novel, which was published in 1818. It blends Gothic horror with the best science at that time.
The full title of Shelley’s book is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus, in Greek and Roman mythology was a Titan who created man. He also taught man how to make fire, harness animals, plant and harvest and all the things that brought civilization to man. Victor Frankenstein is the modern Prometheus and the novel is more about him than his monster. Frankenstein represents all scientists who create without considering the consequences of their work, moral or otherwise. Frankenstein was written on the cusp of the change in society to scientific thinking. Science and technology was already making changes at a speed to which culture could not adapt. A few years before, the Luddite movement violently protested the degree to which technology was changing the workplace, replacing many unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Many feared that science was treading on ground that was the sole domain of God. Frankenstein is about the consequences of uncontrolled science and the dangers that it poses.
This novel can also be read as a tale of the relationship between the Creator and the Created. This was a time of turmoil in religion as science was beginning to push God further away from Man. Many felt that God, like Dr. Frankenstein, had created Man, only to abandon us to our own devises.
Frankenstein is a complex and deep novel, far more than a mere monster story. It is early science fiction and a fascinating look into a culture adapting to new ideas.
In last month’s issue, I mentioned in my discussion of Steampunk literature that Morlock Night was considered by some to be the first Steampunk book. At the time, I had not been able to find a copy and thus had not read it. I managed to find one on the Internet and paid dearly for it. Now that I have read it, I can say that it is not what I call Steampunk.
The novel is set as a sequel to H. G. Wells’ Time Machine. The protagonist is Edward Hocker, one of the gentlemen who listened to the Time Traveler’s story, and Morlock Night begins with Mr. Hocker walking home. He meets a stranger who discusses the Time Machine and the problems that might be caused if the Morlocks got ahold of it. Hocker then finds himself in a London under siege by the Morlocks in scenes that evoke World War II. His adventures are just getting started and the novel manages to pull in King Arthur, Merlin and Excaliber, Atlantis and a breed of rather intelligent Morlocks that do not seem to fit with Wells’ vision. The time machine is only used once, but there is lots of time travel by magical means.
The climax of the story did not come as a surprise by any means, and the denouement read like a rushed attempt to end the story in as few words as possible. There was little that was clever or remarkable. The story could be turned into a nice Castle Falkenstein adventure with a little work.
There were some good parts to the book. The protagonist was a very well developed Victorian gentleman, an ideal example of teh archetype. Jeter includes a “tosher” in the story and some information about the seamier side of London from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.
Overall, I would not recommend that anyone spend the time or money to get a copy of this unless you can find it cheap.
The Wicked Witch of Stonehenge
An Isolated Estate
Letters to the Editor
Your opinions, ideas and information are welcome. Feel free to send a message or donate and article. Send it to the Editor.
Checked your ‘zine. I didn’t go through the whole thing yet, but it looks interesting. Nicely laid out, although the background color isn’t really my cuppa. Noticed two minor typos, both in the game seed: ‘The were kept in’ – ‘They were kept in’, and ‘trakc’ – ‘track’. You write well.
If you haven’t read them, you might want to check out ‘Of Tangible Ghosts’ and ‘The Ghost of the Revelator’, by L. E. Modesit, Jr. They’re an alternate history based in the 1980’s Republic of Columbia (US), north of New France (Mexico). It has a distinctly Victorian feel, with Babbage difference engines (new electro-fluidic models, i.e. electronic computers), steamers (steamcars), etc. Ghosts, as you can probably tell from the titles, are prevalent. The ghosts help keep major wars in check. Who would want to take over a country by killing big hunks of the populace, when you would have to live with all those ghosts once you move in?
I’ll definitely pick up a copy of ‘The Difference Engine’.
Here is a little info about how I put this page together. I started HTML writing in Notepad and still do it that way, despite all the tools available. With so many great tools for programming, it is nice to do something the hard way, just to keep the skill. I tried spell-checking this in Word97 and when I saved it, it rewrote a bunch of my HTML and a whole cell out of a table disappeared. I will have to find something else to use.
We will come up with some better design ideas for the site as time goes by.
Jim – what happened to your attention to authenticity? You do know that the so-called “rememdy” (check your spelling) for carpal tunnel syndrome is a device used to exercise and prompt correct finger positioning while playing keyboard instruments. In later years it became the mechanical basis for Freddy’s instrument of choice in the Friday the Thirteenth films, followed by Luke Skywalkers artificial hand. Damn those Victorians were smart!!
Your site looks great! When I get my aspiring-authors.net site up, I’ll have to add a link to yours.
As far as my typos, see above. And you are right…you can see that the hand is poised over a keyboard, and, of course, the carpal tunnel is in the wrist and that device straps across the palm and supports the fingers. I thought it was funny caption, though, since my carpal was aching at the time. Anyone running a steampunk game with Babbage Engines needs to keep CTS in mind as a disadvantage. Imagine how much harder those keypunch machines would have been to use back then, especially trying to turn out the volume of code we produce today.