Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Red Hair in the Works of George Orwell

I recently finished reading George Orwell's famed novel 1984 - a quite brilliant, but somewhat frightening work.

Anyway, towards the end of the book there was a passing reference to red hair. The reference was quite inconsequential, with red hair simply being used in passing to make a general point about the particulars of the Newspeak language which is a staple of the book.
For example, All mans are equal was a possible Newspeak sentence, but only in the same sense in which All men are redhaired is a possible Oldspeak sentence.
No doubt an odd sentence to anyone who hasn't read the book.

I was quite pleased to find a mention of red hair in such an important work of fiction, even if it was an arbitrary one, and it inspired me to look for mentions of red hair in his other works.

I found a few. The first one comes in the work The Road to Wigan Pier. In the book he charts the appalling living conditions of the working class people living in the industrialised north of England. In one passage he describes a sight he encountered.
There are scenes that stand out vividly in my memory. The almost bare living-room of a cottage in a little mining village, where the whole family was out of work and everyone seemed to be underfed; and the big family of grown-up sons and daughters sprawling aimlessly about, all strangely alike with red hair, splendid bones, and pinched faces ruined by malnutrition and idleness; and one tall son sitting by the fire-place, too listless even to notice the entry of a stranger, and slowly peeling a sticky sock from a bare foot.
The second mention comes in his work Down and Out in Paris and London. In Chapter 3 he describes his experiences of poverty whilst living in Paris.
...I used to sell a few of my clothes, smuggling them out of the hotel in small packets and taking them to a secondhand shop in the rue de la Montagne St Geneviève. The shopman was a red-haired Jew, an extraordinary disagreeable man, who used to fall into furious rages at the sight of a client. From his manner one would have supposed that we had done him some injury by coming to him. ‘Merde!’ he used to shout, ‘you here again? What do you think this is? A soup kitchen?’ And he paid incredibly low prices.
This is interesting as it can be taken as another account of a red-haired Jewish figure in literature. Although the book is a real life account and not a work of fiction it does fall into the habit of portraying a red-haired Jewish character in a familiar unflattering light. Complete with disagreeable manners and an interest in financial gain.

It's not very common these days to encounter red-haired Jewish people, so this encounter with a red-haired Jewish shopkeep seems like quite an unfamiliar scenario to the eyes of any modern reader. (Though the old-fashioned role of the shopkeep in general has somewhat went extinct in our modern age of high street chains.)

One wonders just how different population demographics were in previous times. Were things quite so different? Or was Orwell maybe taking liberties with the truth?

It'll be interesting to see if any further references to red hair pop up in his other works.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hairy Magdalene - Red Hair, Sasquatch Style

A common trope on here is that Mary Magdalene had red hair, and we're used to seeing images such as the one below showing the penitent Mary with long flowing reddish hair covering her modesty.

Penitent Mary Magdalene by Francesco Gessi

These images tap into the medieval legend that Mary spent a period of time living as a hermit in repentance of her life of sin. Her story was often confused and conflated with that of Mary of Egypt - a 4th century penitent Mary who was said to have spent time living as a hermit in the desert, where her clothes wore out and she was forced to live naked with nothing but her hair to cover her.

Later depictions of the Penitent Mary generally show her nakedness covered by her long flowing hair, however, earlier depictions often show her covered with thick body hair o_O - generally looking not unlike a Bigfoot or Sasquatch. It's quite an odd tradition, and quite out of keeping with the view we generally have of Mary.

Some of these depictions can be seen below. Some, quite fittingly for this blog, show her with reddish hair, in others it's more of a blond or brownish colour.

Mary Magdalene Raised by Angels (Gdansk) - circa 1430.

A carved depiction of Mary Magdalene

Santa Maria Magdalena

St. Mary Magdalene circa 1385-1390

The Ascension of Mary Magdalene by Antonio Vivarini

The carved image in particular is reminiscent of the wodewose or wild man carvings that are often seen on medieval churches.

I'll finish with a more traditional image of Mary Magdalene which I came across whilst looking into this. I think this one looks quite cool.

Saint Mary Magdalene

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Red-Haired Bianca and Six of Her Children - Lavinia Fontana (1552 - 1614)

I think I'll finish today's series of posts with the following painting. It's by the painter Lavinia Fontana, said to be the first female artist to work out in the male-dominated art world outside of a court or convent. The painting shows Bianca degli Utili Maselli along with six of her children. They all look decidedly redheaded, even the dog looks a little ginger :)

Red Hair & The Red Knight

Interestingly red hair pops up in relation to the medieval Parzival romance, written by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach. Perhaps unsurprisingly in comes in the form of the Red Knight, a prominent character in the epic.

All dazzling red was his armour, the eye from its glow gleamed red:
Red was his horse swift-footed, and the plumes that should deck his head,
Of samite red its covering, redder than flame his shield;
Fair-fashioned and red his surcoat; and the spear that his hand would wield
Was red, yea, the shaft and the iron; and red at the knight's desire
Was his sword, yet the blade's fair keenness was not dimmed by the raging fire.
And the King of Cumberland, stately, in his mailed hand did hold
A goblet, with skill engraven, and wrought of the good red gold-
From the Table Round he had reft it - All red was his shining hair
Yet white was his skin...
The Ninth Century and the Holy Grail

In the book Parzival A Knightly Epic Volume 1 (of 2) (English Edition) this redness of hair and its possible relation to the Angevin royal line is commented upon (we've mentioned before on this blog the fact that many of the Plantagenet royals were said to have had red hair);
Red hair was a distinguishing characteristic of the Angevin Counts. Fulk I. derived his name of Rufus from this peculiarity, which was inherited by many of his descendants, among them Fulk V., his son Geoffrey Plantagenet, and his grandson Henry Fitz-Empress. The writer of the Parzival strongly insists on Ither's red hair [Ither von Gahevies was the name of the Red Knight].
Whilst looking into this I also came across another interesting mention of red hair. In the book The Grail Legend it mentions a tale concerning the apostle Thomas;
Another legend which was widely known and very popular in those days and which contained a similar description of a wonderful temple palace was that of Prester John which bore many resemblances to the story of Alexander. In it the temple-tomb in India where Thomas the Apostle was buried is described as a magnificent palace of gold and precious stones, illuminated by two carbuncles. The Apostle himself, with red hair and beard, lay in the tomb uncorrupted and as fresh in appearance as if he were asleep, occasionally moving his hand when devout worshippers brought offerings.

The Red-Haired Arthur Campbell

A long, long time ago I shared the following little piece of information about the peculiar frequency of red hair amidst the Virginians during the days of the American Revolution.
"Red hair was another peculiarity of the Virginians. One who saw the Virginia troops pass through Petersburg on their way to join the army of Greene, told my informant that two-thirds of the officers had red hair. Jefferson, Campbell, the hero of King's Mountain, Arthur Campbell, John Taylor of Caroline, many of the valiant race of Green, had red hair."

Anyway, we now have some confirmation that another one of those mentioned in this passage was indeed a redhead. Arthur Campbell is described as thus in the following work;
Physically he seems to have been most attractive. He had red hair, stood nearly six feet tall, and walked erect.

Campbell was a soldier as well as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Campbell County, Tennessee was named after him.

We also have a reference to red-haired Irish soldiers that fought in the US-Mexican War which may be worth sharing here. From the following webpage (http://www.irlandeses.org/1003racine.htm) it states;
Mexicans fondly recall the famous Saint Patrick’s Battalion (known as the Batallón San Patricio), which fought in five major battles during the United States-Mexican War (1846-1848), and whose experiences have gone on to inspire romantic novels, films, songs, poems and, more recently, serious historical scholarship. The unit began as a small group called the San Patricio Company, jokingly called the ‘Red Guards’ or colorados, a reference to their red hair.

Malcolm X and Redd Foxx

Malcolm X is quite famous for having reddish hair and often gets mentioned in the lists of famous redheads that appear online. He was nicknamed "Detroit Red" because of it.

What I wasn't aware of was that his friend the American comedian Redd Foxx was likewise red-haired.

Wikipedia states;
In the 1940s, he was an associate of Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X. In Malcolm's autobiography, Foxx is referred to as "Chicago Red, the funniest dishwasher on this earth." He earned the nickname because of his reddish hair and complexion.

Savonarola, Marat and Blake

A few miscellaneous redheads now.

This first one is an interesting one if true; Girolamo Savonarola.

Savonarola was the Italian friar who inspired the destruction of secular art and cultural objects (the famed bonfires of the vanities) with his prophetic preaching.

The book; A Crown of Fire, gives the following description of him;
We are now in the summer of 1472. Girolamo is twenty years of age. From this time we have a somewhat sketchy but not wholly inadequate descriptive portrait of the young man. It is by one of his contempories, Francesco Pico della Mirandola, the uncle of the great humanist.
Pico shows Girolamo to have been a person of average height. He had a habit of walking very erect, his head and shoulders thrown back, and vigorously swinging his arms. He was of a genial disposition, of ready wit and even jocose at times. His eyelashes were of a peculiar color, ruddy, dark orange-like, but much lighter than his eyebrows. He wore his dark red hair in curls falling to his shoulders. He had a strong aquiline nose, a large mouth, and a slightly receding forehead.
Moving forward in time to revolutionary France we also have the radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Pictured below in the now iconic painting The Death of Marat.

The references to him having red hair are a little tentative. The first is from a web article that asks;

Did he have red hair, as well as Carlyle alludes to him as "red-headed?"

The second comes in a book titled Killer Doctors: The Ultimate Betrayal of Trust. It contains the following description;
By the age of 16 Marat had reached his full adult height of precisely five feet and he was slight of build to boot. Jean-Paul had a nose like the beak of a hawk, was cross-eyed, had a mouth to match his nose and a shock of red hair that would make him instantly recognisable in the years ahead.
The final possible redhead to add to this short list is the poet and painter William Blake. The reference to him possibly having red hair coming in the book William Blake: A New Kind of Man.
To judge from his later physique, Blake must have been a thick-set, tough little boy with ruddy limbs, a broad face, snub nose and a shock of golden-red hair.

This seems a little bit like guess work, but I've seen him mentioned in lists of red-haired people elsewhere online so it may be the case.

Abstinence sows sand all over
The ruddy limbs & flaming hair
But Desire Gratified
Plants fruits & beauty there.