Victorian Space Travel


With Space-X and Orbital ATK back on the launch pad after spectacular failures, Elon Musk giving marathon speeches about his slightly-nuts space-bus-to-Mars concept, Blue Origin announcing it’s New Glenn vehicle, and a bunch of other small start-ups doing new and cool things, PLUS the discovery of a slew of nearby (in the galactic sense) planets in their star’s habitable zone, it’s an exciting time for space enthusiasts.

This makes me ask the question, how did Victorians imagine space travel?  I wrote years ago about the 19th century theory of Martian canals, long since debunked of course.   But we’re talking about space travel, not astronomy.  How did Victorians imagine humans could get to space?


The most notable Victorian spaceship was that imagined by Jules Verne in his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon.  His idea was a giant black powder cannon that would shoot a house-sized bullet into space, with people inside the bullet.  This seems kind of crazy now, but in 1865, there was no such thing as a “rocket.”  It was decades before Konstantin Tsiolkovsky would publish his pioneering works in spaceflight and astronautics, proving the possibility of reaching orbit with a rocket.  It was even longer before Oberth and Goddard started actually building some.  I can see how a giant gun would be a logical conclusion for how to launch a projectile into space considering contemporary technology.  However, if Verne had done the math, he would have found that the acceleration on the bullet coming out of such a gun would be 1. impossible to attain and 2. deadly to the people on board.  But at this point, I don’t think anyone even knew how fast escape velocity was (I think that was Tsiolkovsky again – someone give that man a Google doodle!), so I’m not sure Verne could have done these calculations even if he’d wanted to.


Interestingly, Verne’s bullet-shaped manned capsule isn’t too far off from our current reality, though the reasoning behind it is backwards.  Verne’s projectile was bullet-shaped, I assume, for the same reason any bullet is bullet-shaped; that is, to reduce drag.  In Verne’s case, that is specifically during ascent through the atmosphere into space.  Reducing aerodynamic drag on the capsule in turn reduces the amount of energy needed to reach escape velocity.  Our modern manned capsules are similarly shaped, but for the opposite reason.  Manned capsules like the Soyuz or the old Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules re-enter pointy-side UP.  These capsules are designed to increase drag as much as possible by presenting a blunt end to the freestream.  Higher drag actually decreases aerodynamic heating, keeping the capsule cooler.  During re-entry, the capsules also need the slowing effect of aerodynamic drag, as they have to be subsonic before they can release parachutes.

So we can rule out the space cannon as a viable way to put Victorians in space.  Any other ideas?  Much later, in 1902, H.G.Wells imagined a spaceship made out of an imaginary gravity-defying material in The First Men in the Moon. Wells had a tendency to gloss over the technical details, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read that one, so I can’t say much for the design of that spacecraft.  Suffice it to say, it’s nothing like our current launch vehicles, and gravity-defying material not only doesn’t exist, it is completely nonsensical.  All massive objects exert a gravitational pull on one another.  There’s no such thing as defying gravity.  So how else to get there?

One possible option with Victorian technology might be a rail-gun, a projectile launcher that accelerates the projectile using electromagnetism induced by current flow through rails along which the projectile runs.  By the late 19th century, Maxwell (a major hottie) had figured out the connection between electricity and magnetism, so it’s conceivable Victorians could have launched projectiles using electromagnetic fields.  I doubt they could ever get enough current flow to reach any appreciable accelerations, though – certainly not escape velocity from Earth (though this has been studied by modern scientists as a cheaper launch method than rockets).  And again, the accelerations would be too great for humans to withstand, so no people on this flight either.

But back to those exoplanets!  Are you psyched to visit?  Don’t get too excited about taking your steampunk spaceship there just yet.  I did the math on this one, and it doesn’t look good.  The fastest manmade object ever will be NASA’s Solar Probe Plus that will launch in 2018.  Its top speed will be a blistering 450,000 mph.  But that’s only .067% of light speed.  Those exoplanets are 40 light-years away.  That means that at light speed, it would take 40 years to get there.  At .067% of light speed, it would take almost 60,000 years to get there.  We need another Tsiolkovsky to invent an entirely new way to travel before we can even dream of getting to those new worlds.  Perhaps in another 150 years, people will look back on modern rockets the same way I look back on Verne’s space cannon, as hopelessly inadequate for the real task of space travel and far inferior to current technologies.  Here’s hoping Gene Roddenberry’s vision proves more enduring than Verne’s.


Victorian Hotties of the Week: The Entire Professorial Staff of the Tuskegee Institute, Circa 1902



After our lengthy hiatus, we are long overdue for some Victorian hotties.  I know I owe you all, like, 125 weeks worth of hotties, so this week I bring you not one, not two, but…well, several.  Behold, the professorial staff (or some subset thereof) at Tuskegee Institute, circa 1902.  I found this while reading about George Washington Carver on Wikipedia earlier today.  He’s front row, center.


Yeah, I’m into most of the front row.  Far left and far right, I request your private tutelage.  Front row, second from left, I will be at your office hours every day.  I kind of can’t stop staring at Mr. Far Right.  The cheekbones! That smirk!  This is me in his class.


Can anyone identify any of the other men in this picture besides Carver?  Wikipedia didn’t have any links or references for anyone else in the photo.  I need names!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Mr. Jefferson, my 2-year-old thanks you.



Heather wrote a lovely post about our favorite Founding Foodie Thomas Jefferson a few years ago.  We’ve talked a lot about how amazing Mr. Jefferson was and how much we both admire him.  Somehow, I’ve managed to find a NEW reason to love Mr. Jefferson.  Thanks to him, there is always something on the kids’ menu my two-year-old daughter will eat.  Thank you, T.J., for macaroni and cheese!

Great Big Story Mac and Cheese

The linked video says that President Jefferson even served mac and cheese at a State dinner.  I love that idea!  I wanted to have BBQ at my wedding but thought maybe people would think it wasn’t “classy” enough.  But mac and cheese at a State dinner?  That’s another level.  Thank you, TJ!  As the video said, “Every time you reach for your favorite guilty pleasure cranky-child-placating-device, say a little thank you to Thomas Jefferson.”



Victorian Body Odor, also Happy Valentine’s Day?


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I covered Rufus Sewell’s charming portrayal of Lord Melbourne a few days ago. Let’s see him again, just for giggles.


I could cut myself slapping that face.

For all of you Vicbourne shippers out there (points at self), I have an article that might just ruin it for you. In case actual history hasn’t already ruined it for you (me).

There’s a new book out called “Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum” by Kathryn Hughes.  The book doesn’t focus specifically on Queen Victoria, but the tidbit the Daily Mail picks out is about her and Lord M.  Apparently, Lord Melbourne advised Victoria in more than just matters of state.  He suggested she bathe more often and eat less.  I dare a man to tell me to eat less.  Bathe more…ok, sure.

Here’s the article: Daily Mail says Victoria smelled

According to Hughes’s book, when Victoria started gaining weight, Lord M recommended that she only eat when she’s hungry.  He also suggested she bathe more frequently because apparently she smelled pretty funky [1].  So all those soulful looks Rufus Sewell gives Jenna Coleman in Victoria are really just him concentrating really hard on breathing through his mouth?  No wonder he keeps sending her flowers to wear.


Imma take a step back.

Here’s a review of the book in The Guardian.

[1] But didn’t everyone smell back then?  Who was bathing regularly in 1830’s England?  I’m doubt Melbourne smelled like Old Spice all day long.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hiddleston


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Just yesterday, Taffy Brodesser-Akner posted a wonderful profile of one Tom Hiddleston in GQ. It’s extremely delightful, just like its subject, and is highly recommended reading (his enthusiasm about the Bolognese made me grin). Today also just so happens to be his actual birthday! If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you might be aware that we’re rather fond of this charming, dashing, sincere gentleman. I personally had the utter pleasure and delight of meeting him at Wizard World Philadelphia in 2016 and I still haven’t recovered from the encounter. He was incredibly kind, gracious, and endearing; so many people turned out to see him and he stayed late into the night to make sure everyone got their autographs and pictures. He also donated the entirety of his convention paycheck to charity.

(And, yes, since I know you all are wondering: he is, in fact, heart-stoppingly gorgeous in person. I’ve done a decent job thus far maintaining my composure in the presence of some of my favorite celebrities at conventions, but he’s enough to make even my steely hands shake.)

I truly can’t say enough wonderful things about him; I was crazy about him before but seeing his generosity, enthusiasm, and warmth in person cemented things for me for perpetuity.

So, to honor his 36th birthday, I give you an indulgent post filled with pictures of his beautiful self wearing Victorian period clothing. Let’s start with Crimson Peak, shall we?

Continue reading


I received the cutest gift from my husband for Christmas.  It’s a manatee tea infuser! My favorite animal and my favorite hot beverage?  Yes, please!


The body of the manatee splits in half, and you fill his tail with tea leaves.  Then, you put him back together, and he sits in your mug.  It’s freaking adorable!  Now I can enjoy all the fancy loose-leaf tea that Heather brings me back from England at the office.  No teapot required.  I love him.


My Dear Lord M



I knew that one day, something would come along that would inspire me to such a degree that I would feel compelled to resurrect this blog, if only for the day.  That thing, that great font of inspiration has come.  I have seen it, and it is beautiful.


The Ruf is on fire.

Oh, my dear Lord M.  The ITV series “Victoria” is airing now in the US on PBS.  I missed the first two episodes on TV but caught up on Roku over the weekend before episode three last night.  I can’t say I have been totally amazed by Victoria so far.  It has been good but not great for me.  By far the best part of the show is Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne. Holy heck, Rufus Sewell.  This man is aging like fine wine classic literature a vampire.  I wish the show spent half the time on Rufus’s face that it spends on Jenna’s.  I mean, I get it, she has a beautiful, symmetric face.  I don’t need 30 minutes of close-ups.

I was a bit disappointed that by episode 3, we’re already watching Lord M retreat into the shadows while Albert takes his place in Victoria’s heart.  I am not a fan of this portrayal of Albert.  On a scale of 1 to Twilight, how emo is this guy?  Who wants angsty, dour, judgy, and floppy-haired after maybe age 15?  He reminds me of the new kid that showed up at my middle-school in 7th grade.  All the girls thought he was so DEEP because he was “serious” and had “thoughts” and “read books” (Oliver Twist?).  But within weeks, he was dating a beautiful, ditzy girl, and all the smart, normal-looking girls groaned inwardly.  But perhaps I digress?  Memories…


I can’t get over the Captain Von Trapp green jacket he wears in this scene.  How do you solve a problem like…unresolved sexual tension?  I’d like to climb every Melbourne.  Rufus Sewell is definitely one of my favorite things.  I’ll stop now.

Back to Melbourne!  My curiosity was piqued by the off-hand comment from Victoria about Melbourne’s wife running off with Lord Byron.  I’d never heard that story, so off I went to my Victorian Encyclopedia for some research.  Lady Caroline Lamb carried on a very indiscreet love affair with Lord Byron after meeting him at a ball, and devoted William defended and supported her for years, even after she was repeatedly spurned by Lord Byron, and after Caroline and William’s legal separation.  According to Wikipedia, Caroline was so crazy about Bryon that she attempted to cut her wrists with a broken wine glass in the middle of a ball because Byron publically insulted her.   No one needs that level of drama in their lives, M.  I feel for you.


I don’t know ya’ll, I know Byron is some kind of hotness archetype, but Mel is dishy for an old dude, and Byron seems like a jerk.

I am not sure how long I will keep up with Victoria once Sewell bows out.  I am just not that interested in the downstairs storyline, and there isn’t enough political or other court intrigue going on to create a larger story beyond Victoria and her romances.  We’ll see how the rest of the season shapes up.

Also, please listen to this interview with Rufus discussing the show and his character.  He’s utterly charming.




Victorian Hottie of the Week: US President Franklin Pierce


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I spent quite some time combing my new Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era looking for some hotties, but the search was disappointingly futile.  While there are many profiles of prominent male Victorians in the Encyclopedia, most of the portraits are from late in their lives and none really qualified as hotties by our usual standards.  So I turned to the old reliable History Crushes Tumblr blog for a little inspiration, and as usual, it delivered.  Enter US President Franklin Pierce.


Pierce was one of the middle-history presidents that nobody remembers much about.  Somehow in AP US History in 11th grade, I managed to miss the fact that he was pretty handsome.  Not sure how that could have happened.  Pierce was our 14th President, in office from 1853-1857.  Another thing I didn’t remember from APUSH was that he wasn’t such a great Prez.  Wikipedia says he’s considered one of the worst because he exacerbated regional tensions and failed to prevent the Civil War.  Seems kind of harsh to blame all that on one dude – that mess started way before Pierce came into office – but everyone knows Wikipedia never lies, so there it is.  But…he is hot.  And apparently, he was also very charming and had a deep voice.


Pierce was in the Senate the same time as one of my old faves from APUSH, John C. Calhoun.  For some reason, we always said his name as John C. Calhooooooon.  I can’t resist adding a few pics of Mr. Calhoun – not because he’s a hottie, but because he looks crazy.  The hair!  It’s too good.



But also, this!



AHHHHH!!!  Now I remember why we liked him so much.

NBC’s Dracula is cancelled NOOOOOOOooooooo! plus Wilde Friday




Moderation is a fatal thing.  Nothing succeeds like excess.

–Oscar Wilde

It looks like for once, Mr. Wilde was wrong.  NBC’s Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Myers certainly had its share of excess – excess cleavage, excess slo-mo action sequences, excess fake accents – but not even all that excess could save it.  Dracula has not been picked up for a second season.  So Heather, what are we live-blogging this fall?  Sleepy Hollow?

Jane Austen Tattoos


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This one is a tip-off from Lady Brett – Jane Austen temporary tattoos!

I love the “Imprudent” lower back tattoo, the “Elinor greatly esteems Edward” rose, and Mr. Darcy’s 10,000 pounds a year portrait.

I also kind of love this totally unrelated product: