Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Bustles, Drama & Dickens: Victorian-set Films

I tried to put together a list of films set in the Victorian era. It's not exhaustive, and I'm not saying they're all good (or even that I saw them all) but it's a start for getting your Victorian fix, anyway.

Please suggest additional Victorian movies by commenting or emailing me and I'll add them to the Entertainment page!

A Christmas Carol (1999)
A Little Princess (1995) 
A Midsummer's Night Dream (1999)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984)
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Amistad (1997)
An Ideal Husband (1999)
Andersonville (1996)
Anna and the King (1999)
Anna Karenina (1997)
Anna Karenina (2012)
Anne of Green Gables (1985)
As You Like It (2006)
Bleak House (2005)
The Buccaneers (1995)
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Cold Mountain (2003)
The Conspirator (2010)
Cousin Bette (1998)
Cranford (2007)
The Crimson Petal and the White (2011)
Daniel Deronda (2002)
David Copperfield (1999)
Desperate Romantics (2009)
Dorian Gray (2009)
Dracula (1992)
Elvira Madigan (1967)
Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble (2000)
Ethan Frome (1993)
Far from the Madding Crowd (1998)
Fingersmith (2005)
The Forsyte Saga (2002)
The Four Feathers (2002)
The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)
From Hell (2001)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Gettysburg (1993)
The Glass Virgin (1995)
The Governess (1998)
Glory (1989)
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Great Expectations (2012)
Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)
Hamlet (1996)
Hans Christian Anderson: My Life as Fairy Tale (2001)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1999)
The Illusionist (2006)
The Importance of Being Earnest (2002)
The Impressionists (2006)
Jane Eyre (2011)
Jane Eyre (2006)
The Jungle Book (1994)
The Last Samurai (2003)
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
Les Misérables (2012)
Lagaan: Once upon a Time in India (2001)
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1982, 2001)
Lillie (1978)
Lincoln (2012)
Little Dorrit (2008)
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1995)
Little Women (1994)
Madame Bovary (2000)
The Man Who Would be King (1975)
The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003)
The Mill on the Floss (1997)
The Miracle Worker (2000)
The Missing (2003)
The Moonstone (1997)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)
Martin Chuzzlewit (1994)
Middlemarch (1994)
Millie (1997)
Miss Julie (1999)
Miss Potter (2006)
Moby Dick (1998)
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999)
Moulin Rouge (2001)
Mountains of the Moon (1990)
Mrs. Brown (1997)
Ned Kelly (2004)
Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
North and South (2004)
The Old Curiosity Shop (2007)
Oliver Twist (2007)
Onegin (1999)
Original Sin (2001)
Our Mutual Friend (1998)
Peter Pan (2003)
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
The Piano (1993)
The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
Possession (2002)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987)
The Ripper (1997)
The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey (2005)
The Prestige (2006)
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
The Secret Garden (1993)
The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton (2006)
The Sign of Four (2001)
Silk (2007)
Sommersby (1993)
The Song of the Lark (2000)
Tess of the D'Urbevilles (2008)
The Tempest (1998))
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996) )
The Time Machine (2002
Tipping the Velvet (2002)
Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (2013)
Topsy Turvy (1999)
True Grit (2010)
True Women (1997)
The Turn of the Screw (2009)
Twelfth Night (1996)
Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)
Victoria and Albert (2001) 
The Way We Live Now (2001)
Wilde (1997)
Wives and Daughters (1999)
The Woman in White (1997)
Wuthering Heights (2011)
The Wyvern Mystery (2000)
Yentl (1983)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
The Young Victoria (2009)

Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: The Ruling Caste by David Gilmour

Full title: The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj (non-fiction) 
Writer: David Gilmour
First published: 2005
Available: digitally on Amazon and possibly in a library near you (I used both options as the pictures and extremely helpful sketch over the organisation of the Indian administration wasn't included in the Kindle version)

Quote: "Their ethos is portrayed in Kipling's story 'The Head of the District' in the persons of Orde, who on his deathbed by the Indus remembers that four villages need a remission of rent because their crops have been poor, and of Tallantire, who defeats a tribal rebellion and brings order to the district after the Indian Civilian has run away."

The Ruling Caste is an ambitious book. Gilmour states in the preface that his aim is to show how the senior Civil servants of Victorian India lived from chota hazri to sundown and to portray not only their careers but their thoughts and beliefs and domestic arrangements. Somehow, he actually manages that rather well, which is a feat in only 300 pages. I have seen several reviews that complain that too many details make it a sluggish read, and certainly, there isn't a page that is not loaded with information, facts and footnotes. However, to me it read fairly easily all the same – I admit that I may not be the typical reader being both obscenely interested in the Victorian world and having a good deal of bureaucratic experience myself which probably made it easier for all those administrative proceedings to leap to life for me  – and the focus is always rather up-close and personal.

Gilmour uses a rather fixed set of characters as the focus of his narrative – we meet and get acquainted with Henry Cotton, Alfred Lyall, Henry Lawrence among others – and mixes personal accounts and letters with official accounts of the India Civil Service in the late 19th century. Therein lies one of my reservations against this book; reading it, as I was, for the express purpose of research, it was a little annoying to have the dates occasionally obfuscated, especially since Gilmour also points out that the organisation and attitudes of the ICS was not static but evolving over the period. Despite that, there are sections where accounts as far apart as 50 years are treated side-by-side and the time-gap is only visible if you actually check the footnotes. Also, you may quirk an eyebrow at finding quotes etc. from the teens and 20s in a book that has "Victorian" in the title, but seeing as I do the same thing here, I'm not really at liberty to criticise a slightly wider interpretation of the Victorian era.

It is a fascinating world Gilmour describes; utterly different from the modern bureaucracy and yet strangely familiar. His Civilians work, dream, win promotions and marry until, finally, most of them slip into oblivion as pensioners reminiscing about "the good old days" in a rather suburban atmosphere in South Kensington. The book is a treasure trove for a novelist, because it tells you so much about the mundane life and attitudes of the British Raj precisely because of it's obsessive unfolding of details, and David Gilmour's love for his subject shines through on every page. While making for an entertaining read, that fondness is also the reason for my second big reservation about this book – there is a strong bias pro-ICS/Britain that sometimes shines through. While mostly providing a rather sober look at the British Civilian, there are places when Gilmour leaps to the defence of the ICS in a rather jarring way (he clearly loathes A Passage To India, for example). It's a pity, because these almost chauvinistic little outbursts mar an otherwise brilliant and detailed study, and makes me question if there is an underlying bias that tilts the entire narrative. That nagging doubt makes me a little wary about trusting it too much, which detracts a little from its usefulness.

Nevertheless, it is still a fascinating read and recommended for anyone interested in the subject.

I gave it 4/5 on Goodreads.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Life in the Khyber: The Warrior, His Mother & Her Husband

Peshawar street scene, 19th century
"Strange events occur in the history of these frontier tribes. Outsiders will hardly credit some of the stories told, but numbers of reliable witnesses can testify to the veracity of the following one. Amongst Afridis and Pathans the disposal of a widow lies in the hands of the nearest relation to her deceased husband. If the son is of age, of course he is first consulted; but an Afridi mother with a grown son is not often of much cash value in the Khyber market. If, on the other hand, the woman is attractive and the son very young, the deceased husband's bother, should he be the guardian, either marries her himself or sells her to someone else. The widow of a Zakha Khel Afridi at Karamna in the Bazir Valley, found herself in this unhappy predicament;she had a young son, and an exceedingly objectionable brother of her husband to claim her in marriage or to dispose of her for cash. She therefore took the matter into her own hands, and fled to the country of the Mullagoris, and married a man of her own choice. /.../

[T] he Mullagori who married the widow from Karamna had no idea that she had left a young son on going to him, or, if he had, the recollection had passed out of his mind. The son, on the other hand, grew up, and nourishing his wrath, looked forward to a meeting with his stepfather, having taken care to make himself acquainted with his appearance. He was in the Khyber Jazailchies at Landi Kotal when one day he saw the man who had married his mother, and he followed him rifle in hand. The Mullagori, seeing that he was followed,a sked the young man where he was going, and in reply the latter pointed to the Shinwari village not very far away. The older man was put off his guard, and as he was passing some rough ground the younger individual knelt down and fired his piece at him, inflicting a slight flesh wound. Drawing out his long Afridi knife the wounded man chased the treacherous lad, who was unable to reload, into the Shinwari village, whose residents ecured both persons and prevented further damage being done. The Mullagori complained that, without any just cause or reason the young man had tried to murder him close to the Shinwari village. Having heard the charge the Zakha Khel shouted "No cause or reason! Did you not wed my mother without my permission?"

The Shinwaris took care to let one depart a good time before the other so as to prevent any further attempts on the life of the stepfather by his angry stepson."

Eighteen Years in the Khyber, by Sir Robert Warburton, 1899

Thursday, 17 January 2013

On the Importance of Being Organised

In one of my lovely (Swedish) books on householding there is an essay called "Cleaning and Laundry" ("Städning och tvätt"), written by a Mrs Gertrud Norden. It's found in The Housewife's Golden Book (Husmoderns gyllene bok), a series of books containing everything that a woman was deemed to have to know in 1925, from legal rules on inheritence and marriage to cooking and etiquette.

The date, 1925, puts it slightly later than the time frame for this blog, but it reads as fairly conservative. The essay in question instructs the housewife on how to organise her household work in a very precise manner; not only what is to be done, but how and when. It's obviously primarily written for a household where the mother or wife of the family either does all work on her own, or where she does so with the help of a single maid.
A picture of Mrs Norden from the book

Firstly, Mrs Norden recommends setting of a fixed schedule, consisting of both both daily and weekly tasks.
"It is best if one can separate and fit in both the daily and weekly chores so that they are accomplished little by little without upsetting the smooth course of the day. This is unequivocally to be preferred if one can choose. But at many times one has no choice; one simply must deal with them in an irregular manner.


From that should not be deduced that it is pointless to plan a daily schedule and to systematically organise the one's work. On the contrary, just because it might at times be impossible to follow a certain schedule, one should, insofar one can, predict and organise the work by evaluating one's normal day, week or month and try to fit the chores which may be predicted into the time slots usually at your disposal."

So how should one go about organising the work? Mrs Norden recommends using the meals as fixed points and planning around them. You then make a list of the chores that must be performed daily, and another one of the chores that must be accomplished every week or with greater intervalls. Thus, you get a list that looks something like this:

   Daily chores                            Weekly chores
Polish shoes                            Weekly shopping
Daily shopping                       Washing children's clothing and wool
Cleaning bedroom                 Ironing 
   >>        nursery                      Mending
   >>        dining room            Cleaning suits
   >>        drawing room         Baking
   >>        kitchen                     Weekly cleaning of all rooms
Washing up                             Cleaning of the hall and stairs
and so forth                             and so forth

Now you find out how much time you have at your disposal for cleaning and other necessary chores between each meal after deducting the time necessary for cooking and fit in all th tasks you listed above. Ideally, you should avoid cramming all the cleaning into a single day. It only turns the whole house topsy-turvy and you end up exhausted. Instead, you should plan each day so that you manage both the necessary daily chores plus one or two weekly chores.

To illustrate this idea, Mrs Norden presents a very basic example of a house schedule based on those principles:

At  0         Clean dining room, lay the table, make breakfast
>> 8          ----Breakfast---
>> 0          Make an inventory of the pantry & larder, order for the day
>> 0          Daily cleaning of bedroom, nursery and drawing room
>> 0          Weekly chore
>> 0          Cook second meal and lay the table
>> 12.30   ---Second meal---
>> 0         Wash up after both meals. Clean kitchen.
>> 0         Rest and short coffeebreak
>> 0         Lighter weekly chore and unforeseen tasks
>> 0         Cook third meal. Lay the table
>> 5.30    ---Third meal---
>> 0        Wash up and so forth

            Weekly chores

Monday      morning: Wash the children's clothing
                   afternoon: Unforeseen tasks
Tuesday     morning: Weekly cleaning of nursery
                   afternoon: Polish brass etc.
Wednesday morning: Weekly cleaning of bedroom. Iron the children's clothes.
                   afternoon: unforeseen tasks
Thursday   morning: Weekly cleaning of drawing room etc.
                   afternoon: Mend children's clothes
Friday        morning: Weekly cleaning of kitchen and pantry
                   afternoon: Unforeseen tasks
Saturday    morning: extra work according to circumstance
                   afternoon: Baking and cooking for Sunday
A household schedule is, Mrs Norden underlines, a strictly personal matter. It must be adapted to the circumstances under which one lives, such as the size of the family, the ages of the members of the household, what kind of house you live in etc.

Either way, however, she suggests that one always adheres to the following principles:

1) you should get the daily cleaning done as soon as possible,
2) one of the heavier weekly chores should be dealt with every day,
3) the heaviest and most tiring chores should be doen early in the day when your energy is high, and consign "the chores that afford certain relaxation to the latter part of the day,"
4) you should avoid scheduling a specific day for cleaning the house "but instead try to spread it over the days of the week as invisibly as possible without upsetting the natural course of the workday,"
5) it's best if the person working may focus on one thing at a time and not let her time be wasted on a myriad of smaller tasks; "either by division of labour, so that the housewife frees the servant from such that might distract, or, in the cases where one person manages the work on her own, by putting off all the small brief tasks until the most important chores of the day are completed,"
6) you should set clear and precise boundaries between work and rest and respect both.


Husmoderns gyllene bok, Stockholm, 1925  (all the quotes above have been translated into English by me)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Review: Greenmantle by John Buchan

Full title: Greenmantle (novel) 
Writer: John Buchan 
First published: 1916 
Available: digitally on Project Gutenberg; in print on Amazon 

Quote: "There could never be a Superman. But there might be a Superwoman..."

I have never read The Thirty-Nine Steps, I'm ashamed to say, so Greenmantle was my first acquaintance with Buchan's hero Richard Hannay. I called him a prat on Twitter after about 1/4 of the book and he is, sometimes. First of all, you do sometimes want to kick him in his seating area for being a South African of his time (I'm sure you get what that means without me spelling it out). Second, he's obviously intended to be a forthright, brave and sympathetic chap and like all such heroes, he suffers a bit from what I like to call the "Harry Potter Syndrome", meaning that you have a main character who, while clearly beloved by the author, is irrefutably the most boring character in the book.

What more is, he tends to describe everything in detail. "Tell don't show", seems to be Mr Buchan's motto. In fact, it's a little like an old-fashioned school paper at times. Like an "What I Did For My Holiday: Went to Erzerum"-essay by Richard Hannay, age 12. "First we went to Lisbon and the weather was narsty. I had clams for dinner. They were good."

You get the picture, right?

That aside, it's still a page turner. I admit Mr Buchan makes a little too much use of coincidence – whenever someone walks out onto the street or crawl down a hole, they meet someone they know, be it London, Lisbon or Constantinople. Still, I'm willing to overlook that as he also does a good job of entertaining you (if you only learn to skim Hannay's step-by-step account of everything but his toilet visits).

The story is written right after the events described – the main historical event in it is the siege and capture of Erzerum and since it was published already in 1916, Buchan must have written it right after it happened. The main plot is based on Germany's attempt to start a jihad in the Middle East and Central Asia, and isn't all that far-fetched, if you're familiar with the factual background. In fact, Buchan is remarkably well-informed (but then he was very well-connected).

The villain is a villainess in the fine old tradition of megalomaniac bad guys and gals. The sad truth is that she comes across as much less of a female stereotype than most modern female villains, most likely due to the sex-lessness of the Good Old Boys-style of writing (the characters probably exist between the waist and their knees, but I think they're smooth and plastic, kinda like Barbie and Ken).

Hannay is the main character, but I would argue that the hero is Sandy Arbuthnot, who knows everyone in every bar from here to Kabul and goes undercover in a skin cap and stained eyebrows, and commands a whole band of awesome dancing Turkish gypsies (yes, I know. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't have to; it's a swashbuckling adventure!). However, maybe I'm paranoid, but I was so strongly reminded of Francis Crawford (Lymond of Dorothy Dunnett's books) by sensitive, genius, polyglot, madcap, ballad-quoting and most assuredly Scottish Sandy that I think it simply cannot be a coincidence. DD, I'm onto you!

Right, to sum up this rambling attempt at a review: fun, swashbuckling adventure with extraordinary period flavour that should be avoided if you can't overlook period-typical imperialistic-swine attitudes.

I gave it 4/5 on Goodreads.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Learning Punjabi, or, An Englishman's Adventure in the Raj

Public domain image from Library of Congress,  Flickr Commons

In 1883, John Murray published a "Handbook of the Panjáb, Western Rajpútáná, Kashimír and Upper Sind". Not only is the potential traveller given useful information such as not to pit his tent in Bagh (let's just say there was a reason it was named for "tiger") and the truth about Kashmiris ("false, ready with a lie and given to deceit"), but he is also equipped with a short vocabulary and list of useful phrases in Punjabi and Sindhi.

First, the Englishman as taught to count and name the days and months. Encouraged by his newly found linguistic ability he immediately seems to want to address more complicated topics, because he is taught the words for "atom", "ancestor" and "whirlpool". Being English, he will naturally want to talk about the weather and so he's taught to exclaim: "fog!" and "hail!" (likely followed by the appropriate hand gestures; something that will surely make him a social success not only in Punjab but in Kashmir and Upper Sind as well). He is also taught to explain that he has indigestion (always a problem when travelling in the tropics) and if it gets worse, he may draw attention to his condition by shouting "cholera!" On the other hand, if his delicate English bowels manage the shock of being confronted with a whole new continent, he can now order a wide selection of foodstuff; from a meagre "broth" to a full "feast".

However, it isn't until the list of phrases we really see what sort of man we're dealing with.

No sooner has he decided to disembark the P&O ship before he starts:

"I want to go ashore. Is this your boat? Will you take me ashore? What will you charge? These boxes are all mine. Put them in the boat. Is the surf high today? Is there much current? How long will it take to land? I want a palanquin. Take me to the hotel. Which is the best hotel? Take up the palki. Put it down. Put it in the shade."

You get the picture. Apparently, this Englishman never shuts up. He's a walking, talking list of demands. Just listen to him having his tea:

"I like it strong. This is not sweet enough. I like it weaker. Put plenty of milk in. Don't bring cow's milk but buffalo's milk. Do you call this milk? There is more water than milk. Don't smoke the milk."

His thirst quenched, Mr Englishman complacently goes on:

"I want bearers to Allahabad. What must I pay? Must I give largesse? Tell the bearers their payment depends on their conduct. If they go quickly they shall be well-paid. Have done with your smoking and go on. As you value your place there will be a torchbearer at each set. Make sure he has an abundance of oil for each stage."

That last one confused me and I admit I leapt to all sorts of unsavoury conclusions (nudge, nudge) until I read in David Gilmour's The Ruling Caste that back in the day when you travelled by palanquin, there would be a torchbearer running ahead of you with a torch fuelled by coconut oil. Now, if he ran out of coconut oil, you'd obviously all be stuck somewhere in the deep Indian night without any source of light whatsoever, so I'm guessing Mr Englishman is trying to prevent that, because, you know, the torchbearer himself wouldn't think of this. He's only a professional torchbearer and all, but, gee, he cannot be expected to have the razor-sharp mind of an Englishman on his first visit to India.

Source: via Yoshay on Pinterest

As a paternally-minded colonial officer, our Englishman also takes a profound interest in the health of his household. Therefore, he learns to ask - possibly the torchbearer, who knows - things that any good employer needs to know about his hirelings:

"Are your bowels regular? When were your bowels moved?"

What, your boss never asked that? He must not be taking his responsibilities seriously!

Anyway, the cheerful Englishman slash Amateur Physician is now ready to make a diagnosis of his poor servant's condition. Guessing wildly, he tosses out: "Gout. Hunger. Indigestion. Inflammation. Asthma. Jaundice. Madness. Measles. Ophtalmia."

Never mind which really, because the Englishman only knows the word for two treatments anyway: "emetic" and "amputation". If the one doesn't work, I suppose he shall have to try the other.

At the end of this trying day, we can imagine our Englishman sitting down to relax over a glass of wine. It starts innocently enough:

"Give me a glass of wine. Is there red wine or white wine?"

But before long he is once more furiously taking charge of the situation:

"Don't fill the glass so full. That is enough. Bring me a tumbler of water. Cool the wine with salpetre. Ice the water and the soda water."

Even retiring, he keeps up his endless chatter: "Is the bed clean? Has any sick person slept on this bed lately? What was his ailment? Is this a healthy place? Are there any bugs, fleas or other insects? Is there any epidemic in the village? Is there smallpox, cholera or fever?"

I don't know what he suggests to do if there is, since he apparently doesn't react to the answers. One shall have to assume that our Englishman isn't so much worried about disease as he is merely talkative.

Finally, silence reigns over Mr Englishman's surroundings. He is snoring; his huge moustaches moving gently with each rumbling sound while he sleeps the deep sleep of the righteous, safe in the knowledge that surely his servants must be in awe of his his wonderful linguistic skills and that his continued journey through the Panjáb, Western Rajpútáná, Kashimír and Upper Sind will indeed be a pleasant one.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sex, Lies and Death: The Story of the Yngsjö Murder

Yngsjö is a small and rather insignificant municipality in the southernmost county of Sweden. It's the sort of place most people wouldn't have heard of unless it had been the centre of one of the most publicised murders in the history of Sweden.

Anna Månsdotter
Where it all began is debatable, but a good starting point for the story seems to be the marriage of one Anna Månsdotter to a Nils Nilsson, 13 years her senior, around 1860. It seems that it was very much a marriage of convenience rather than infatuation and Anna had counted on a financially stable and secure future. In reality, however, they ended up poor and debt-ridden. The relationship between husband and wife was strained, and Anna sought comfort in their son Per, the only of her three children to survive into adulthood.

Per Nilsson
At some point - it's not entirely clear when, but likely when Per was still a child - Anna started sexually molesting her son who grew increasingly dependent on her. It's not clear if Nils ever suspected anything - inquiries were made into the cause of his death after the incidents of 1889 but nothing conclusive that pointed to foul play could be found. Either way, after his death in 1883, when Per was 21, the relationship could carry on without outside interference. However, nothing can long be kept a secret in a small community, and soon tongues started wagging about the unnaturally close relationship between mother and son (judging by the number of people who could later testify that it had been their habit to sleep in the same bed, they weren't exactly discreet either). This may have been the reason why Anna persuaded Per to get married in 1888.

Hanna Johansdotter
The young bride was one Hanna Johansdotter, 21 years of age and the daughter of a respected pillar of society, lay judge and church usher Johan Olsson. The idea was that Anna would then move in with her own mother, but when push came to shove, she stalled and she soon came into conflict with her daughter-in-law. The relationship between the two women was one of intense rivalry over the rather vague and quite frankly weak-willed Per, and Anna resented having to share her son with his wife, despite the marriage originally being her idea.

Meanwhile, Hanna, who was genuinely fond of Per, felt she was treated as an outsider and complained of Per's treatment of her to her family. She even tried to get her father to intervene and force Anna to move out, and he promised to help buy her out and build her a new house. However, Hanna soon realised that their future happiness depended on their removal from Anna's presence altogether, and she pushed for selling the family farm and moving. According to witnesses, Hanna had told them that she and Per had never lain together. She also expressed fear of her mother-in-law both verbally and in writing. The day before she died, she is said to have cried and told a neighbour that:

"I am so afraid of Anna Månsdotter that it feels like someone stuck a knife in my breast whenever I see her. As soon as she comes home lately, she and Per shut themselves up in the stable, where they keep conferences. This happened today too. I think they are conspiring against me. I simply don't dare to go home! I even want to scream - because I am thinking of something wicked." 

Her last letter to her parents, seven days before her death ends: "I will not remain in Yngsjö. I have told Per so."

Exactly what happened next isn't known as the only people who could have told were either dead, or constantly changing their accounts. Most likely Hanna had begun to suspect the true nature of her husband's relationship with his mother, or she might even have discovered them in flagrante. Anna would later claim that Hanna had confronted her and told her that she knew everything. Either way, someone - most likely Anna - decided she had to die.

On the morning of 28 March, 1889, a neighbour visited and couldn't find Hanna anywhere. Upon returning a few hours later, he found Per who said she'd likely gone out. The neighbour was sceptical and persuaded Per to look for her. They found the trapdoor to the basement open and Per peeked down and said - quite without any real emotion: " Oh, here she lies, dead from the fall. Oh no, woe me!"

The neighbour started screaming and more people soon arrived. When they helped lift Hanna up the stairs, they nothed a deep red groove around her neck, as if after a noose. One of the local women also notced that she wasn't completely dressed - she wore a shift and stays, but no dress bodice. No one thought to notify the police, though. Instead, they turned to the local vicar and told him of their suspicions. He then notified the authorities and the district doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that there could be no doubt that she had been murdered.

Both the victim's father and several other locals began pressuring Per and his mother, trying to get them to confess. After five days, Per finally relented but refused to implicate his mother. It wasn't until after Per's confession that the police was notified and the first real interrogations were held. The general view was that Anna wasn't just involved, but the instigator of the whole affair, and most of the inevstigation was aimed at proving that fact.

While the exact hows were never fully established beyond the fact that Hanna was killed, either by Anna or by Per and Anna in collaboration and that mother and son helped each other to cover up the foul deed, the "why" seems pretty straight-forward. Hanna had come between mother and son and she did not intend to yield. She had some knowledge, or anyway a well-founded suspicion, of a criminal relationship between them, and so she had to die.

Both mother and son were sentenced to prison for the illicit sexual affair and they both received the death penalty for their share in the murder of Hanna Johansdotter. Anna was beheaded (with an axe) in August 1890, but Per, who had appleaed to His Majesty the King for mercy, had his sentence transformed into a prison sentence. Virtually all their neighbours supported his appeal and when he was finally released after 23 years, they welcomed him into the community with open arms. He finally died from a disease of the lungs in 1918, and is said to have expressed relief at his upcoming demise.

Anna Månsdotter, moments before her execution
Even today, and even internationally, the murder in Yngsjö 1889 stands out as a sort of bizarre, 19th century Freudian tragedy. It's hardly surprising that the case has been the subject of several books as well as being filmed several times. Anna Månsdotter was also the last woman in Sweden to be executed, and as such, she is the object of some interest. Sadly, but perhaps typically, I noted that while both she and Per has an entry each on the Swedish Wikipedia, Hanna, their victim, does not.  I think she deserves better than to be a footnote in her murderers' story.


Main source is Yngsjömordet by Yngve Lyttkens, Stockholm, 1951

The images are all in the public domain and full information can be found:

1. Anna Månsdotter
2. Per Nilsson
3. Hanna Johansdotter
4. Execution of Anna Månsdotter

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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New,

In Sweden, since 1895 (with shorter breaks), the countdown to the new year has been accompanied by the reading of the Swedish translation of Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It is usually read from the outdoor museum Skansen, and is broadcasted live. It's an honour to be asked to do the reading - for many years it was Swedish legendary actor Anders de Wahl, and the current reader is actor Jan Malmsjö. It's a tradition on many New Year's parties to turn on the tv and listen as the old year is rung out and the new one welcomed.

Published in 1850, the poem slightly predates the period for this blog, but as it was clearly read throughout the era, I thought it would be nice to share that tradition with you here by posting the original poem.

May its hope for the future be fulfilled for all of you in the new year!

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850
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