Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Victorian Fly-Cages

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Napomyza lateralis
Loretta reports:

From the Annals of Obscurity:
Mr. Bumble sat in the workhouse parlour, with his eyes moodily fixed on the cheerless grate, whence, as it was summer time, no brighter gleam proceeded, than the reflection of certain sickly rays of the sun, which were sent back from its cold and shining surface. A paper fly-cage dangled from the ceiling, to which he occasionally raised his eyes in gloomy thought; and, as the heedless insects hovered round the gaudy network, Mr. Bumble would heave a deep sigh, while a more gloomy shadow overspread his countenance. Mr. Bumble was meditating; it might be that the insects brought to mind, some painful passage in his own past life.—Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Behold me gazing ceilingward. Fly-cage? Paper fly-cage? Apparently, I’d happened upon one of those numerous 19th century articles, like ticket porters, that were once a necessity and part of everyday life, and now extinct. The fly-cage wasn't an easy thing to track down, and I'm grateful to Lonely Planet for guiding me.

According to the Dickensian these fly-cages "were usually made of coloured perforated paper folded into globular or bell-shaped forms suspended from the ceiling. They were not intended for "cages" but as places in which flies could settle so that their buzzing should not be an annoyance."—the Dickensian Vols 46-47; Dickens Fellowship, 1949
Apparently, however, it wasn’t just to stop the annoying buzzing, but the annoying fly specks on ceilings and walls.
Point Lace Fly-Cage
“Every cottager who has hung the gaudy-coloured paper “fly-cages” in his room, to prevent his clean whitewashed roof and walls from being dirtied by common house-flies, has practically availed himself of the attraction which bright colours have for even these non-flower-loving insects.”—John Ellor Taylor, Flowers: Their Origin, Shapes, Perfumes, and Colours 1878
Though I've so far found no lovely colored illustrations of the paper fly-cages, Cassell's Household Guide, Volume 2 1869 explains how to make one.

If you’d like something more elaborate (though some of us would wonder why), you can also crochet one. Yes, you read correctly. You can crochet your own fly-cage. Mrs Jane Weaver provides instructions in the Peterson Magazine of 1858.
Pendant Fly-Cage

Links to better illustrations of the paper fly-cage will be warmly welcomed.

Images: Napomyza lateralis; Point lace fly cage, from Cassell's household guide, Volume 2 1869; Pendant fly-cage from the Peterson Magazine, Volumes 33-34

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Lucy said...

For pure history nerdiness, this post is tops! I'm in love. While you're at it, here's another puzzle for you:

"The very looks and dresses of the three men were sufficient to let her into their different characters: the grave man ... was dressed in the plainest, though in the neatest manner.... The gentleman who sat next him was as dirty as if he had sat up two or three nights together in the same clothes he then had on. ... The spark who admired nothing but the ladies had his hair pinned up in blue papers," etc.

--Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple, 1744

So, in 1744, we have described here the (apparent) use of a person's own hair--which, contrary to popular resources that tout the universality of wigs, seems to appear in novels of the mid-18th century fairly regularly. And we have this hair pinned up in blue papers. Why blue? Pinned up for what? To curl it? In public?

If you find the answers, I'd love to see a post about it. :-)

Loretta Chase said...

Thank you, Lucy! I did think I'd surpassed myself in historical nerdiness. And thank you for the blue papers. At some point, Susan or i will follow it up.

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