|Bradley Headstone & Charley Hexam|
During my recent re-enactment of sickbed scenes from La Bohème—with less fatal results, in that I did not, actually, die—I whiled away the time reading, among other things, Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, his last complete novel and one of my favorites.
Seeking an edition for my eBook reader led me to a review claiming Dickens had been paid by the word. This concept makes sense to people who (a) never read a reputable biography of Dickens, (b) never had to read Victorian literature in general, and/or (c) can’t imagine a world in which television and radio—let alone the Internet—didn’t exist, and where entertainment was something you read, heard read, went to see/hear, or made for yourself.
Some people have trouble with Victorian writing because it’s …wordy. It had to be. People needed detail. Many had never seen the scenes or people novelists described. Many lived in a world so small we can’t imagine it. There were Londoners who’d never seen the sea and knew next to nothing about places outside their immediate neighborhoods.
They probably knew what a hair-guard was, though.
“Bradley Headstone,* in his decent black coat and waistcoat, and decent white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent pantaloons of pepper and salt, with his decent silver watch in his pocket and its decent hair-guard round his neck, looked a thoroughly decent young man of six-and-twenty.” —Our Mutual Friend
Though I’ve studied fashion, the finer points of Victorian male attire are not in my repertoire. Hair-guard? Try Googling it. Yikes.
The Dickens Index said: “superfine neck-cord made of hair for ensuring the safety of pocket watches, spectacles, etc.” Having found occasional mistakes in this book, I proceeded to Google. Filtering to 19th C Books led me to many examples, (here, here, here, here, here - item 71- and here) whose context offered clues, i.e., it is a sort of chain or rope. But changing my search terms showed me it wasn't necessarily "superfine," as this page of examples demonstrates.
Now we all know.
*Pictured above, courtesy The Victorian Web. Please click on the caption for a larger image in which the hair-guard is easier to see, and to learn more about the image.
The Doré illustration, "The Organ in the Court," of street children's entertainment, is scanned from my copy of Doré's London, edited by Valerie Purton.