Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wondrous Word Wednesday 6

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

This week has been pretty hectic.  I have been spending my evenings grading papers and writing homework exercises, so I haven't been particularly active this week. I like this meme though, so I want to have some fun this week.

I read Soulless by Gail Carriger over the weekend. Carriger's books are always full of neat words.

"She had to give credit to his valet, who must be a particularly tolerant claviger." 

noun \ˈklavə̇jə(r)\
:  one that keeps the key or keys  
Origin of CLAVIGER
L, fr. clavi- 1clavi- + -ger bearing, bearer

In the book this term is used for the people who are human caretakers of the werewolves, presumably because they are responsible for locking them up during 'the change.' Neat re-purposing of a word.

I am not sure why she does this to me in each book so far, but the author comes up with a dessert that I have to look up. So this time ... 

"The French maid vanished and moments later reappeared pushing a fully laden tea trolley, complete with cucumber sandwiches, pickled gherkins, candied lemon peel, and Battenberg." 

Right so Battenberg cake ... is a light sponge cake. The cake is covered in marzipan and, when cut into slices, displays a distinctive two-by-two checkered pattern alternately colored pink and yellow. Apricot jam also appears to be a common ingredient (to hold things together). Wait ... there doesn't appear to be any big argument about this dessert ... well that's a first. Every other time there has been some controversy. Wow.

Ah ha! This time the controversy is not over the general recipe for the cake, but the origin of the name.  The myth is that British pastry cooks wanted to show off the skills they adopted from the Germans at the wedding of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse-Darmstadt to Price Louis of Battenberg in 1884. In reality, at roughly the same time, recipes for very similar cakes show up with the names Gateau à la Domino (Domino cake), Napoleon Roll and Chapel Window. 

This site has a lovely writeup: http://foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com/2012/04/battenburg-cake-history-again.html plus a picture of the bride's cake from the second 'Battenberg' marriage, when Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Beatrice, married Henry, Louis's brother in 1885.

"All its many layers of green trim, picked to the height of fashion in lightening shades to compliment the cuirasse bodice, were being crushed into oblivion under her weight." 

According to Wikipedia, a cuirasse (/kwɨˈræs/; French: cuirasse, Latin: coriaceus) is a piece of armor, formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material, which covers the front of the torso. This was apparently the inspiration for our bodice.

The cuirasse bodice appears to be have come into vogue during a brief period of time (1875-1883) when gowns with a very slender and fitted silhouette were popular and the bustle was greatly reduced in size - the so-called "Natural Form." It fit like a long, tight jacket that was smooth to the hip and often came to a point in the front. A cuirass corset was a long, tightly fitted corset that smoothed the body from upper torso to hip was worn under the bodice. By 1883 bustles returned, but the cuirasse bodice remained popular into the 20th century.

The bodice could sport a high neck for day wear (see Fashion Plate below) or could have a low-cut square or scooped neckline for evening. 

Fashion Plate- Peterson's Magazine
May, 1880 (source: http://www.maggiemayfashions.com/firstbustle.html )

Ahh - now the following dress is gorgeous ! See - now you understand why the covers of her books have been driving me nuts! (Up at the top look at that cover - is that woman's back broken? If you have the proper undergarments you couldn't even bend like that. Okay, okay, I will stop now.)

This dress is at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art
It is French dress from 1879 but has the very slender top silhouette of the cuirass bodice with a bustle.


  1. Great pics of the cuirasse bodice. New words for me :) I have come across Battenburg but it's not a cake I like as I'm not big on marzipan, pretty though.

  2. Those are new words to me. Now I want some of that cake!!

  3. In my world, battenberg is a kind of lace, I had not heard of it as a dessert. Yum! Secondly, thankfully I was not born into the 1800's, I would not been a happy girl to have to have worn a cuirass bodice or a bustle. (ha ha, blogger thinks I spelled cuirass wrong, it want to make is Jurassic!!! )

    1. I have only had to wear the whole chemise, corset, bodice, petticoats, overskirt deal briefly when I was in the theater and I am constantly glad that I didn't live during a period of time when such clothing was required. Good grief - the number of hours they spent simply getting dressed and undressed must have been astonishing.
      Jurassic! I love that!


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