Photo credit: Lisa Oliphant Brown. Used with permission.
Maybe it was my mother’s fault.Long before I had any clue of what the
Victorian era was or where it fit into history, she bought me a ‘punch-out
book’ of people and buildings, basically everything you needed to make a
Victorian town in winter. (Do they even make punch-out books anymore? For the
initiated, a punch-out book is made of pages of stiff card-stock, and you very
carefully punch out along the scored edges and fold where it tells you to fold
and insert taps into holes according to instruction and you end up with little
figures, buildings, et cetera that you can arrange and make up stories about.
I’m not as old as this makes me sound. Really.)
The punch-out book was from a catalogue, or maybe one of
those Scholastic Books order forms that you bring home from school.The thing is, I can’t really remember wanting
it when I first saw it listed. I think we were ordering some other books I
wanted and my mother asked if I thought I would like that, too, and I kind of
said ‘sure’. But I remember when I got it and had it set up, it seemed like the
coolest thing ever. All these
interesting houses, like nothing I’d seen in our neighborhood, and all covered
in snow, with cheery lights in the windows. Men with tall, elegant hats and
women wearing strange clothes with bustles
and muffs. (New words my mother
taught me when explaining that people dressed like that back in the olden days)
I can’t even tell you how old I was when I got the punch-outs,
or whatever became of them. But it was the first time I can recall brushing
against the magical world of Victorian England.
Or maybe it was the fault of my sisters, who insisted on
watching some version or other of A
Christmas Carol on television each year, with all the lovely language and
fine sentiments and (again) those strange and elegant clothes.
Or you could blame Albert, who brought what most of the
English-speaking world now thinks of as Christmas traditions to Victorian
England, where they spread like wildfire, becoming synonymous with the biggest
winter celebration in the culture I grew up with.
For whatever reason, no matter what I know about the darker
realities of the Victorian era, winter always makes me nostalgic for a time I
never knew, a time of horse-drawn sleighs with harnesses a-jingle, holly and
caroling and snow softly falling on gaslit cobblestones.
What about you? What associations do you have with this time
Shawna Reppert is an award-winning author of fantasy and steampunk. You can find out more about her at www.Shawna-Reppert.com