Wednesday 17 March 2021

Specs Saved & A Theory

Josef Abel, The Young Franz Schubert, c. early C19th

In Elizabeth Von Arnim's excellent 1929 novel Expiation, newly widowed Millie is discovered to be a fallen woman, an Adulteress, and there is nervous speculation amongst her in-laws as to who the shadowy lover might be. Sister-in-law Mabel chews over one theory:

George? Her own brother-in-law? Oh, no - too shocking. Besides, George always wore enormous spectacles, and Mabel did think it must be impossible to commit - well, what Milly had committed, with someone who wore enormous spectacles.

Chikanobu Hashimoto woodcut of a True Beauty, 1897

Hers is an interesting idea and I'm inclined to agree, for I found that amongst my little stock of specs saved for the blogging rainy day, the agreeable young spectacle-wearers of both sexes favour the tiny over the enormous.

Julian Ashton, Study of Alice Muskett, 1893

Do boys make passes at girls who wear glasses?

Fetching Green D-Spectacles
Jeptha Homer Wade, Nathaniel Old, 1837

And thank you Jim at Road to Parnassus, for reminding me of dashing Nathaniel Old, with his 5 o'clock shadow and studiously tousled 'do, who throws himself into candidacy for a Millie-style Fall.

Image credits: 1: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; 2: Wikimedia Commons; 3: AGNSW via Flying With Hands; 4: Cleveland Museum of Art


  1. Hello Pipistrello, Don't forget this classic spectacle wearer from Cleveland:

    Note that in addition to being in the Cleveland Museum of Art, this painting and its painter have a special connection to the City of Cleveland and to the Museum itself!

  2. Answer to your question: No.
    I despise wearing glasses, but contacts were no longer working for me (varicose veins in the eyeballs!) and I didn't qualify for laser surgery. Very, very, very myopic.
    Of course, the alternative is no glasses, even less fun.

  3. My spectacles are middle-sized, I'd say. Hmm... what can that mean? (Probably nothing).

  4. Jim: Oh, yes, I do know the Nathaniel Old portrait, thank you for the reminder and I've added him to the line-up. I delved down the rabbit-hole of coloured spectacles some time back and there are interesting ideas about the nature of his spectacle style, variously billed as D-spectacles, railway-spectacles &c., but the Argand lamp theory is a most sensible explanation. I do love a good theory of any stripe!

    ToF: Oh, no! Your myopia and its consequences sound so very grim, poor you! You've come down quite emphatically into the No Camp, but on the other hand, spectacles can also play nicely in the Accessories Department :)

    Andrew: Middle-sized is middlingly rakish?

  5. I once did a post about wearing glasses and discovered that the earliest historical reference to magnification for the eyes dates back to 500 BC where Egyptian hieroglyphs depict a simple concave glass lens. The earliest written record of magnification was during the 1st century AD, when Seneca the Younger, a tutor to Emperor Nero of Rome, wrote: "Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water." Nero is apparently said to have watched gladiatorial games using an emerald as a corrective lens.
    I had a strange experience with my own eyes a couple of years ago, I used to wear glasses for driving, but suddenly discovered that I see much better without them. The Opician was very sceptical about my claim but then discovered that I was correct. I, in turn was delighted.

  6. Rosemary: I don't imagine many ladies' heads would be turned by the sight of a gentleman peering at them through a glass of water. I also read about Nero's emerald when I was exploring the coloured spectacles angle one day; very decadent if it was true! ... You are not alone in your experience! Mr. P has also stopped wearing glasses this year for driving and his new license reflects his glorious status as a non-spectacle wearer. The flip-side, of course, is that he now needs reading glasses:) Swings and roundabouts.

  7. Mr Old must have been very dashing in his day. His spex would even worthy a second look today.

  8. The Schubert portrait was painted just in good time, given the composer soon became sick, impoverished and depressed. And died tragically young. So I bet Schubert, while he was alive, must have loved the handsome, scholarly look created by Abel

  9. Cro: Yes, rather debonair!

    Hels: Alas, poor Schubert. But by golly, he was busy for his short life.

  10. The Chicken Farmer (via email) supplied some more Wisdom of the Elders:

    Boys seldom make passes
    At girls who wear glasses
    But safety pins and bassinets
    Come to the girl who fascinets

  11. mine are attached to string for on/off use all day long.

  12. I used to wear really small glasses but now have converted to bigger ones. I always wear contacts when leaving the house though because I can't walk or drive in the sun without sunglasses.

  13. Ur-spo: Which would lend you rather a genial air as a doctor, I think. Glasses on a cord have something endearing about them.

    Loree: And I have gone the other way. My first specs were 80s monsters and they've become smaller over the years. Of course, sunglasses would be essential around your bright island as they are here.

  14. My latest glasses are dark, big and round .... I always favoured John Lennon style which I’ve stuck with only they are on a larger scale now and my new prescription sunglasses are massive ..... It is de rigueur . XXXX

  15. Jackie: Big sunnies are very ... well, Jackie O! Bigger is always better for the dark shades. So soothing. I've gone many shapes for specs over the years, including bouncing back from cat's eyes most recently to something more sedate, but the true JL style never got a look in atop my nose. xx

  16. Thanks for introducing me to Nathaniel Old. A daring fellow indeed.

  17. Jenny: He's quite the Man, and his eyebrows deserve a fan page all of their own. Proper caterpillars!


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