Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: A Shriek In The Midnight Tower

{N.B. - A few minutes ago I received via email a post from 4 years ago. I have no idea what Blogger is doing. Perhaps it was following the instructions my eyeglasses gave when they slid off my nose and landed on my keyboard.}

A Shriek In The Midnight Tower - A Queen-Size Gothic
by Katheryn Kimbrough (aka John Kimbro)
published by The Popular Library

Alright, so generally this is a knitting blog, with additional old-timey stuff on occasion. However, I'm at sixes and sevens right now in regard to my knitting (perhaps it's the warm weather) but getting everything blocked and photographed (much less completing nearly-finished items) is a bit more than I'm inclined to do. Mostly I'm just futzing around with some small crochet projects.
So why am I reviewing a book that has no knitting content and does not meet my criteria of old timey? Well, this book is... a treasure. No, that's not quite right... an oddity. Yes, it's definitely an oddity, a curiosity.
I read my first grown-up novel when I was 9 or 10; it was The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt. It completely warped my sensibilities; in 1970 there was no Goth movement such as came a decade or so later. But Gothic novels were a decent market back then, and Mme Holt opened the door to that market for this young reader. For the next five years I read every Gothic novel I could persuade anyone to buy me. Warped is probably an understatement, now that I think on it.
Anyhow, in recent years I've been revisiting some of the influences of my youth - music, books, films - to see how they've held up, to see what they might have offered me back in the day, whether those things can be of any relevance or significance to me now. The problem is, once in college, I divested myself of all the trashy fiction that I had acquired up to the age of 20. I no longer had any of those Gothic novels that I'd read back in the day.
Never fear, though - old ladies to the rescue. The clinic my mother goes to for her doctor's visits has a book rack - 25 cents for paperbacks. And bless those old ladies that go there (someone, please bless them!), they've been dumping collections of old romances, including some awesome 1970s Gothic novels. $1 gets you four, of course, so I found four and gave them my dollar. Thus A Shriek In The Midnight Tower found its way into my library, and is unlikely to exit it any time soon.
The magic of this book isn't the plot; sure, the plot has a 'shocking' twist like all Gothic mysteries of the time did, and the plot twist is a bit twisted, but the author left us with more than that to discuss. All you need to know is that a murder has taken place at Le Chat Noir, an old bayou chateau built by one of Jean Lafitte's lieutenants. (Yes, the house is named 'The Black Cat'.) The detective assigned to the murder case invites himself to stay there whilst investigating; after all, Le Chat Noir is 35 miles away from the nearest anything, and 70-mile round trips on a south Louisiana road is more than anyone should be expected to make every day, believe me.
More important, and of greater interest, is the list of characters.
  • Marietta Ingram - 12-yr-old orphaned heiress, precocious in a Freudian kind of way, in love with her attorney and waiting until she’s of age (this is set in the early 1970s), an “invalid” (she can walk, a little she claims).
  • Nora Elias - 20-something companion to Marietta; she’s beautiful, unconsciously very aware of handsome men and ogles them as much as she can. Orphaned in her early teens, she ended up in a convent, running away at 17 to hitch around the country with Jimmy - sex, drugs, artists, occultists and spiritualists. She has secretsssss. 
  • Patrick Carruthers - Sheriff investigating the death of Abner. Attractive in a middle-aged redneck kind of way. 
  • Abner Grouse - Estate handyman found dead, stabbed in the greenhouse. Actually, stabbed in the heart whilst in the greenhouse.
  • Dandelion Snodgrass - Cook, from New Orleans.
  • Barrett Young - an artist. Is obsessed with painting clowns & anything circus-themed.
  • Lucien Gaspar - Butler/houseman/whatever. Married and has one developmentally disabled son.
  • Hortense Gaspar - Not quite a Mrs Danvers-type, but is surly and has her secrets.
  • Carlos Gaspar – Son of Lucien & Hortense. He’s likes to watch (he actually says that). But perhaps he didn’t like watching Abner.
  • Mark Becker - The playboy attorney. He ended up with Marietta as a client when his boss, Maxwell Sprowl, was killed in a boat explosion. He makes love (in the 19th cent. sense of the word) to Marietta, but can’t keep his eyes off Nora. 
Yes, there is someone named 'Max Sprowl' in the book, as well as someone named 'Fedora Cuddington'.

In spite of all the circus-related content, this novel does not take place in a circus. It takes place in this southern mansion. Where almost everyone involved ends up having some sort of circus connection. It was as if the author were writing a novel based on comedy improv choices - "Kimbro, your fans have chosen 'Southern Gothic Mansion' and 'Circus' as the themes for your next book!"

What it does have is a shift in narrative that calls full attention to itself, with no attempt to dress it up or even put a robe on; a blatant self-reference to the author; and some of the most entertaining dialog I've ever read in one of these things. I'm not sure if the latter is intentional or not; I'm uncertain about a lot of things regarding this book. I regret that the author is deceased and that I can't just shoot him an email. So for the rest of this review I'm simply going to post some of the better dialog bits from the first part of the book; I'm leaving plenty unquoted so that, if you're curious enough to read this yourself, you won't have all the fun spoiled for you. Here goes:
(Marietta the precocious child to Mark the sleazy attorney) "Even if I did think Mr Carruthers was better looking than you, I would never be so foolish as to entertain thoughts about a cop."
"I should hope not," Mark returned with easy laughter... "Were anyone to know the deep feeling I had for you, they might well consider me some sort of child-molesting pervert, or suggest that I was plagued with some other peculiar fetish... We all have our idiosyncrasies, haven't we?" (pg. 27)
 When I got to this part of the story, I checked the cover to make sure I hadn't mistakenly grabbed some other kind of book, but it still said "A Queen-Size Gothic" on the cover.
"Murder? Murder? Murder?" Mark exclaimed. "Have you actually reached the conclusion that murder was committed and that Abner Grouse didn't meet an accidental death?"
 "No, I can't say that I have established that fact as yet," Carruthers returned patiently, a large smile wreathing his face. His eyes twitched. "But in my humble opinion a man does not accidentally puncture himself in the heart with a dull rusty instrument, stagger some distance and drop dead. Even if such were possible, there is no indication of a murder weapon, no rusty projections of lethal proportions, nothing. What other conclusion could be reached than that Abner Grouse had some sort of assistance in going to his final reward?"  (pg. 41)
 (Nora, speaking to Mark, Carruthers and Marietta) "I was very fond of my father, and I knew his happiness depended a large part on Helen (Nora's stepmother). I wished that I could make him equally as happy, but physically that would have been sinful." She blushed.
"Physically? Did you have such thoughts about your father?" questioned Carruthers, repositioning himself in his chair and picking up interest. (pg. 43)
No comment.

And hey, need to switch from a first-person narrative to a third? The book begins in the first person, narrated by Marietta. However, come Chapter Six, we need something different, so the author gives us this: 
Because certain events have been related to me later, such as situations at which I had not been present but later received the details, I will include them now to establish the continuity of the story. (Pg. 58)
No need to expend effort on, say, diary entries or a complex narrative structure to accommodate multiple voices, or even hearsay. Nosireebob, we're not gonna gussy up this tale with sophisticated narrative tricks - we've already used one narrative trick (which I won't reveal), ain't gonna waste no time on any others.

Oh, Mr Kimbro - I wish I had a fraction of your writing chutzpa!

And if you like a story with deep psychological insight, this tale has it aplenty! For instance, here's Barrett the painter:
"I suppose many a boy has had a secret urge to be a circus clown--someone who makes the world laugh even when he is hurting on the inside." (pg. 74)

The next - and last - couple of quotes are from the amazing dinner scene which begins on pg. 76. The first quote is how the author inserts himself and his work into the dialog:
(Barrett) ..."Would you believe I have a perfectly marvelous contract to paint covers for original Gothic romance novels. I turn out as many as four a month just for bread and butter money. They're kinda fun, drawing those spooky old houses, or should I say mansions with sinister elements dripping from them."
"Do people actually read those things?"
Again Barrett laughed. "I met a person once whose initials are K.K. who has been writing the things for years and making a nice living out of it." (pg. 79)
 What's a little self-promotion, after all? Not by name, which I'm sure even a drunken, barely attentive editor would have noticed. Just the initials. Nice work, John Kimbro.

And finally I'm just pulling two paragraphs from the last part of the dinner conversation because... because...
(Carruthers) ..."But Abner Grouse was quite a big man, over six feet tall with a heavy frame, not always muscular." He glanced about, especially at me (Marietta's first-person narrative again) with a funny expression. "I saw the autopsy report. Grouse was not an ordinary person, certain parts of his anatomy were, well, overdeveloped, I suppose you might say."
"I know," Barrett said with a laugh, "he posed for me nude on two occasions. That's why I found it so laughable that he--I mean--I've heard preposterous tales but--" He fell into fits of laughter ultimately asking to be excused while he gained his composure. (pg. 83)
What’s better dinner conversation than to talk about a corpse’s oversized dong?
I'm going to end with two pieces of advice gained from reading A Shriek In The Midnight Tower:
  1. If you find a copy of this book, buy it and read it. It won't give you Gothic creepies or anything like that, but it's (intentially or unintentionally) postmodern gold. Skip Richard Yates. That was written for a bunch of snobs. Read this delightfully subversive genre-buster instead;
  2. Sometimes treasure will still only cost a quarter.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kinky Stockings!

Well, it’s fall. Oh, alright, technically not until 21 September, but leaves are starting to turn, die and fall off the trees (or turn, fall off the trees and die). Even here in Seattle, where it’s freaking 85 degrees and we’ve had only one day of rain since July 18th.

Those of you in the parade route of tropical storms are experiencing mid-monsoon season, from what I can gather. Hurricanes can show up through the end of, what, November? October? Nope, not gonna look it up. Sorry. But if you’re stuck at home, you might as well knit stockings.

I found these late summer stocking and sock patterns from the Australian Women’s Weekly dated 24 February 1965. (No, I’m not an idiot - their seasons are opposite of ours). The stocking patterns on page 18 are for some wonderfully lacy patterns. I haven’t knitted them - c’mon, if I waited to knit them before posting the patterns, we’d all be living in Keynes’ long run (i.e. dead). So I thought I’d post the patterns along with some other fun (!?!) stuff from that issue of AWW.

The cover shows a nice selection of stockings - none of them are actually included in the patterns to knit, but those brownish-stockings in the diamond pattern would be super-easy to make on ones own. All you need is a diamond pattern & you can make it garter or purl fabric. (Click to embiggen.)

More stocking/sock eye candy from this issue, and another diamond pattern that I like very much (Click to embiggen):

Now, I know everyone is anticipating the stocking patterns - but hold on. There’s some wonderful crap I found in this issue that I’m going to share. For example, there were labels and bookmarks for kids to put on their notebooks. Check out the first one - it has a proto lolcat photo. That cat looks like one surly drunk! The others pale in comparison to “Party Cat”. (I assume everyone understands to click on the photos to see a larger version - and you really do want to click on the next one.)

Here are some photos of the new ‘military look’ coming into fashion that year. I love the pointy plaid shoes, even though I’d never wear them. All that plaid... I don’t see anything exceptionally military by my definition, but I have no idea how the Australian military dressed in the early 1960s.

And some recipes - I love reading through old recipes. Sometimes they're almost Lovecraftian in the level of horror they can induce. This issue had a bunch of gingerbread recipes, some of them disturbing, and we all know I love to share disturbing.

The first page has some basic, decent-sounding recipes. The brandied-honey recipe sounds like a good idea and a nice thing for a chilly night.

The second has what I consider questionable entries. The coffee spice one, for example - coffee, chocolate and ginger... Or recipes that call for treacle (the Scotch gingerbread). And a pineapple upside down gingerbread - I don’t like anything pineapple upside down. Ugh.

I’m not sure about the lemon cheese pie, either - do people use gelatin in that way anymore? It’s made of hooves, you know.

Below is an interesting tale of Olde New Yorke, which sounded, well, rather like Olde New Yorke. No artisanal expensive crap in this story of the East Village. I liked the photos, too.

I love the description of the store on 14th; I always try to find stores like that. Big, sexy, rich cities like Seattle and Manhattan have done their best to eliminate those kind of businesses. Too bad - amazing treasures were to be had in that type of place.

Are you bored yet? Good. Here are the stocking patterns:

And finally, I want to make a product with the name “Dominex”. That’s a great name, whether it’s for pudding or personal ads (or both, I guess).

Seems wasted on a coat manufacturer, particularly since there are no leather straps and buckles and such.

Oh yeah, the Mary Elizabeth Braddon novel I was going to post is on Google now (in my defense, it wasn't 3 years ago when I last checked). So you can click on The Phantom Fortune if you wish to read it (this will take you to vol. 1 on Google books).

Blockage, plus inane ramblings

I finally got some stuff blocked - my friend Trixie asked me to block a shawl for her, so while I was in blocking mode I did a couple of other things:

Finally, the Hemlock Ring blanket completed in January 2009:

And I blocked  December Wind by Renee Leverington (purple confuses my camera - I don't know why - so the photos are extra crappy):

My mother liked this one even before it was blocked, so I gave it to her for her birthday. The yarn was from Susan at the Spinning Bunny, and was lovely to work with. Note that this is the first time my mother has ever liked anything I've knitted.
And then I blocked Dover Castle, which I'd knitted up in the lightweight version of Berroco's Ultra Alpace - that stuff is also really sweet to work with:

Meh. I have no idea what was confusing my camera. They've been tearing down the building just outside my kitchen window; when I take pix of the Leviathan that's eating the building, they turn out just fucking fine:

So perhaps I should just stick with photos of heavy equipment. Or perhaps I need to display my FOs on heavy equipment. I was going to make some snide remark about "forget those tastefully displayed items in beautiful settings", but since I don't put fuck-all effort into photographing my work such sarcasm would simply make folks spit out their coffee. And I don't want that.

I got an email yesterday, along with my other classmates, offering us temporary positions again with the CIA - since I can't live on the $800/month I'm currently getting on UI, I will be working again starting the 16th of this month. So I need to get a few things posted in the next few days. I mean, I've only had 5-1/2 months to do anything.

No surprise, I spent my last Friday night of freedom in a knitting workshop with Franklin Habit. Honestly, I'd recommend taking anything from him, even if it's a workshop on making mud pies. Smart, funny, and passionate about teh knitting. The class I took was Knitting from Antique Patterns, or some such title (you really expect me to move from my seat and look up the exact title? Really? Well, I'm practicing immobility in preparation of returning to work, so there). There was a woman who brought her grandmother's notebook of knitting patterns - I wish we'd had an hour to look through those babies, although perhaps my drooling on them wouldn't have been the best thing. Oh well, I'll satisfy myself with the 1884 Sampler Books (see link on left side bar) and Nancie Wiseman's "Lace in the Attic". In fact, I've a couple of wrister experiments in the wings using several of the 1884 Sampler Book edgings. Someday they'll be completed and posted... someday....

Friday, June 17, 2011

It's only been 10 months

Finally back on the interwebz, as they used to say somewhere at some point in time.

Apologies if you experience weirdness upon visiting the blog. I've been tinkering with a pre-designed template (because I'm too lazy to master html), but it came with some crap that I didn't want, and I haven't been able to disable it all yet. And I'm not entirely pleased with what I'm getting, but hopefully this is at least legible. Let us all pray to our various deities, or wish really hard (for those who eschew the gods) that I'll find it in me to fix it for once and for all.

The main reason for the long silence was that I was employed from September 2010 until April 2011. The job was a soul-consuming madness-inducing tribulation –but nonetheless I was working my ass off, in addition to the hellish commute (most of that time the round trip from the job was 2 hrs 40 minutes), simply trying to stay employed. All for naught, of course – everyone they hired in September they laid off just over six months later.

It’s taken me a few weeks to get things sorted, and to get in the knitting groove again. So I’ll have some things to post over the next while -- I've had more time to look through Australian newspapers for lots of old crap, er vintage & Victorian knitting patterns and the like, as well as  some 1930s stuff (‘cause that’s when the best designs were done if you ask me, or even if you didn’t).

'The like' consists of a novel written by Mrs Mary Elizabeth Braddon, author of "Lady Audley's Secret", one of my favorite Victorian novels, a rather lurid tale. Elizabeth Klett does a wonderful reading of it that you can access at Librivox. I know that some of the Librivox recordings are painful - in fact, some qualify as torture, but I assure you, Ms Klett does a fine job of reading this tale. It was a wonderful thing to listen to during a cold winter, knitting up shawls.

Good grief, have I digressed and in a most meandering fashion! The point is, I found an 1883 novel of Mrs Braddon's in one of the Australian newspapers, so I'll be posting it over the next few weeks. I haven't read it - it could be a real dog. If so, I'll be sharing the pain with y'all fine readers.

I have also knitted up a couple of lace patterns found in various fine down-under fish wrappers. One is from the Launceston Examiner dated 28 November 1893; it's from a ladies' column. It looks like shark fins more than anything else. Yes, yes, a variation on sawtooth edgings... but if you hold it with the points pointing upward, it looks like a line of baby shark fins.

A Young Reader: The following is an easy edging suitable for Shetland or other wool shawls. By Butterfly.

Cast on 3 sts.
Row 1: Sl 1, k 2.
Row 2 & every even row: Sl 1, knit across.
Row 3: Sl 1, yo, k2.
Row 5: Sl 1, yo, k3.
Row 7: Sl 1, yo, k4.
Row 9: Sl 1, yo, k5
Row 11: Sl 1, yo, k6
Row 13: Cast off 5, k2.

To continue in this way, do not knit a 'Row 14' but instead start again with Row 2. The instructions said to repeat from Row 2, but didn't include that last bit, so my first time around proved quite entertaining. The slipped stitches at the beginning of each row do not reduce the stretchiness of the edging - indeed, I cannot emphasize enough exactly how freaking stretchy this is. I chose to knit it in garter stitch - many olde timey edgings were, and of course that helped with the stretchy. Sample was knitted on US 6/4 mm needles with some fingering weight yarn. I blocked the bejeezus out of this edging.

The next is from the North Australian Supplement dated Saturday, 28 April 1888, and was found in the "Household" section.

Imitation English Thread Lace

Cast on 9 sts.
Row 1: K2, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k2.
Row 2: Knit plain.
Row 3: K2, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 4: Knit plain.
Row 5: K2, yo, k1, k2tog, yo x 3, sl 1, k2tog, psso, k1, yo, k2tog.
Row 6: K4, k1-p1-k1 in the 3 yos, knit plain the remaining sts.
Row 7: K1 ,k2tog, yo, k2tog, k3, k2tog, yo, k2.
Row 8: Knit plain.
Row 9: K1, k2tog, yo, k2tog, k1, i2tog, yo, k3.
Row 10:  Knit plain.
Row 11: K1, k2tog, yo, sl 1, k2tog, psso, yo, k4.
Row 12: Knit plain.

Again, I worked this in garter stitch for the sample. The pattern calls for 'knit plain', which I generally take to mean stockinette, but again, since I've seen many older edgings worked in garter, I decided to start with that. Sample is worked in Knit-Cro-Sheen (probably - unmarked thread, but the same weight) on US 3/3.25 mm needles for that extra-lace look. Actually because that was the first size that came to hand....

I thought this was an interesting lace - I've seen lots with big holes, but the thread/needle combination created something fairly impressive. And I have no idea which is the 'top' and 'bottom' edge of the lace; no illustration was provided, so I chose the side with the most shape as the 'bottom' edge. I didn't try to get a straight edge on both sides; I suppose one could use it as an insertion but since the pattern is different on the two edges I chose not to try that experiment.

I've also pulled some recipes from the Launceston Examiner, and hints for a woman about to be engaged from the North Australian Supplement in case someone out there is seeking personal advice from 1888.
Woman's World (by Butterfly.) Pudding Recipe.
I am told that the pudding you require is an Austrian (...); its name is Weichzel(?) strudel. The paste is made with egg and flour, and rolled out to the thinness of paper on a clean linen cloth. Have ready cherries (stoned), and spread them on the paste; sprinkle with fine sugar, nutmeg, and a little cinnamon. Then roll as for a "roley-poley" until the roll is between 2-1/2 in and 3 in thick; bend or twist it into a coil; place on a baking-tin well buttered, and put a little butter on the roll. This is often made with apples, sliced and cut into small pieces, when cherries are not in season.  {NB - the type was difficult to read at the beginning of the recipe, hence the parentheses.}
I suspect one could simply go to the grocery store and purchase some filo dough to use instead of experimenting with pastry recipes, but I haven't tried this one, so experiment at your own risk, folks!
Rice Waffles. - One cup of boiled rice, one pint milk, two eggs, butter the size of a walnut, half a teaspoonful of soda, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, one teaspoonful of salt, flour, sufficient to make a thin batter. Bake in waffle irons.
Chocolate Cake. - Beat up 1/4 lb castor sugar with two eggs, then add very gradually the yolks of six eggs, two small cakes of chocolate grated, a little lemon peel, 1/4 lb of ground almonds, the whites of six eggs previously whisked to a stiff froth and 1 oz of flour; pour the mixture into a buttered mould, and bake.
 I haven't cooked up these either - the chocolate cake recipe certainly isn't the typical modern chocolate cake; I'm certainly curious to make that one. As for the rice waffles - well, let me know how that one turns out, okay?

The advice for engaged women (jpeg on the right, bottom row) is rather long & fairly uninteresting unless you have a mind sufficiently dirty to render the phrase "with a servant behind" mildly entertaining.

Jpegs are included below in case you think I've made a typo (or in case I have made a typo).


Friday, August 27, 2010

I'll Bet This Is Highly Effective Birth Control


Includes instructions if a longer rubber is needed.

(Yes, I realize this is extremely sophomoric humor.)

This makes an excellent substitute for a sponge for children, and can be so easily kept nice and free from grease and so quickly renewed that it will be a favourite manner of knitting for the nursery.

Materials : Knitting cotton No. 6 (white only), two knitting needles, No. 10.

Cast on 78 stitches and knit 4 rows of plain knitting.

—1st row of pattern. Knit 3, *, make 1 by putting the thread in front, slip 1, knit 2 together, repeat from * 23 time* more, knit 3

—2nd row. Knit plain.

—3rd row. Knit 3, *, knit 2 together, slip 1, make 1, repeat from * 23 times more, knit 3.

—4th row. Knit plain.

Repeat these 4 rows 24 times (more if requiring a longer rubber), knit 4 rows (NB - I believe this refers to a garter st border); and to form a loop for hanging up the rubber cast off 33 stitches, knit 8, turn, cast off 4, and on the remaining 4 work 16 rows, place the 4 stitches to the first 4 stitches of the remaining 37, and cast off together, cast off the remainder of the row.

From The Queenslander, January 8, 1906

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Ha ha ha ha ha!

Okay, I confess, I don't get the joke, unless he's knitting them up out of steel wool, or knitting extra lumps into them...

It's from The Argus, Melbourne, Australia, 26 June 1941. Perhaps Australian humor is just different.

This cartoon, and the patterns below, are courtesy of the National Library of Australia. You can search out lovely patterns, and even correct the robotic translation if you're bored and anal. Apparently there's also some way to list these on Ravelry, but don't ask me for details. A Rarer Borealis posted in more detail about posting there. Me, I'm content to browse for myself only - but I am tagging articles "knit, knitting" in part because I tend to forget I've already looked at something.

If you're one of us obsessives who seek out patterns from any weird old newspaper, this is a real treasure trove.

I'm posting these as a sample of what I've found. They're not special in any way, really - just a sample of what you can find. These were published in the ladies' Sunday supplement. I guess it had gossip and crap like "Parade" magazine did (haven't read it in 35 years), but also nifty knitting patterns. "Parade" was never that awesome.

Meh, the print isn't quite as large on the pattern text as I'd like. I've saved the originals, which are large enough that even I can read them, so if you want them emailed to you just leave me a comment.

ETA: Of course,  clicking on the images will bring up larger versions. Just not as large as I'd hoped.

I'll post more as I root around on the site.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Victorian Knitted Stocking Tops - The Sequel

From the 1887 edition of The Belding Self-Instructor in Silk Knitting, Crocheting and Embroidery.  You can find the entire book at the Antique Pattern Library if you're so motivated.