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Old 02 April 2010, 11:22 PM
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Rebochan Rebochan is offline
 
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Default Victorians and naughty table legs

So on another board, somebody mentioned the old chestnut that people in Victorian England were so uptight that they covered table legs to keep even the furniture from appearing "immodest".

I know this is an urban legend, but I wanted to point them at something like an article here. I can't seem to find one on the main site and google is not being my friend.

Am I just hallucinating?
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  #2  
Old 02 April 2010, 11:36 PM
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I don't know if there was ever an article here that covered the legend. Jack Lynch discusses it in his book The Lexicographer's Dilemma. According to him, the only known contemporary evidence for the phenomenon of dressing up piano legs (or, rather, "limbs") is Diary in America, an 1839 book by the English writer Frederick Marryat. Marryat claimed that in his travels in the Niagra Falls area he entered a lady's seminary where he saw a piano with its "limbs" in frilly trousers. Even if Marryat's account is to be believed, it appears that covering up naked furniture was a weird habit of a single seminary rather than a fashion of the times.
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Old 03 April 2010, 12:19 AM
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I was going to say, the nearest I've read to this was in Martin Chuzzlewit (1843 - 44), in which Dickens makes fun of Americans. While Martin and Mark Tapley are visiting America, Mark uses the phrase "with the naked eye," which causes shock because the word "naked" is far too vulgar to be mentioned in what passes for polite company in the USA.

Dickens was writing satire, but presumably it was based on his own experiences in the States. So, again, it wouldn't have been an English but an American thing. Funny that it's since been applied to our side of the Atlantic.
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Old 04 April 2010, 12:29 AM
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I once read about this myth more than 36 years ago in a book on the "new morality" which compared the morals of the 1950s to the Victorian Age. This was largely because Hugh Hefner did so. I believed it then. But recently I began to doubt it.

The History Channel--a cable TV channel here in the US--had a series entitled "The History of Sex." In the episode on Victorianism, it showed a piano with what looked more like a skirt covering the legs half way down. This was not "trousers." It may be that only one lady put such a skirt on her piano, but this action caused people in later generations to believe that ALL Victorians did this.

Barb Rainey
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Old 04 April 2010, 02:28 AM
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Mike Holman's contribution on the topic, in the alt.folklore.urban repository, may be of interest:

http://tafkac.org/misc/victorian_legs.html

-- Bonnie
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  #6  
Old 05 April 2010, 04:38 PM
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It was--thanks.
The skirt on the piano mentioned earlier sounds more like a decorative thing.
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Old 08 April 2010, 12:53 PM
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I recall a segment of the BBC show QI which dealt with this myth. I can't find a clip at the moment but it must be out there on the Interwebs somewhere.

I think they speculated that if anybody did cover up unseemly furniture limbs it was likely to protect against/cover up dirt and damage, or to hide repair work to an otherwise grand social statement piece.
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Old 08 April 2010, 01:44 PM
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'Victorian Dad' from Viz frequently had issues with uncovered table legs, before administering his familiy's daily beating, and heading off to church for "three hours of hypocrisy in sub zero temperatures". In fact a piss-take of Puritanism, 'Victorian Dad' was so entitled to tie in with a popular myth, that of the Victorian era being puritanical when in fact it is largely acknowledged as being far from it.

"I will have respect from you, BY GOD I WILL!"
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  #9  
Old 08 April 2010, 01:51 PM
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For that matter, photographs of Victorian interiors are not hard to find. I have a number of books of these, and a cursory glance reveals lots of immodest tables. Even where table coverings are used, I have seen few examples where the tablecloth goes all the way to the floor, so nothing was really being "covered up." If this was at all widespread, there ought to be more photographic evidence of it.
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Old 08 April 2010, 09:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AzureLion View Post
For that matter, photographs of Victorian interiors are not hard to find. I have a number of books of these, and a cursory glance reveals lots of immodest tables. Even where table coverings are used, I have seen few examples where the tablecloth goes all the way to the floor, so nothing was really being "covered up." If this was at all widespread, there ought to be more photographic evidence of it.
Obviously you have uncovered furniture pornography from the era!


Ali "not a leg to stand on" Infree
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Old 11 April 2010, 02:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ali Infree View Post
Obviously you have uncovered furniture pornography from the era!


Ali "not a leg to stand on" Infree

In other words, a woody!
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  #12  
Old 13 April 2010, 04:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blatherskite View Post
I recall a segment of the BBC show QI which dealt with this myth. I can't find a clip at the moment but it must be out there on the Interwebs somewhere.
It's at the very end of this here... QI christmas! (Not wholly work or child-safe, but good and silly)

it's amusing if nothing else.
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  #13  
Old 21 August 2012, 02:28 PM
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I think it's a misconception that stems from the fact that the Victorians often covered up furniture and fittings with lots of frills and decoration, but they did it mainly to disguise cheap furnishings. For example, in Tressel's 'Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' (about 1910 I think, but still essentially in the Victorian era) one of the characters pawns all his furniture, but keeps an old crate in the window covered with a cloth and pot plant so that the neighbours will still think him 'respectable'.
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  #14  
Old 23 August 2012, 10:15 PM
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Chef

In the same way, I often heard that the terms "white meat" and "dark meat" were used by Victorians to spare them from having to offer or ask for a leg or breast. Hey, maybe they invented those little frilly leg covers!
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  #15  
Old 23 August 2012, 11:05 PM
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It's something people say, yet there doesn't seem to be much support for it other than rumor.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=meat
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  #16  
Old 28 January 2013, 12:51 AM
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I used to believe this was true, that people back in the 1800s covered the legs of the furniture. But it seems like it was an urban legend. Oh well...
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