Saturday, December 22, 2018

DAY 31: The Serpent in Jennie's Garden

1880s enamel and jeweled snake bracelet/necklace,
Snakes were everywhere in the Gilded Age. Just as edgy an ornament then as they feel today, serpents were embraced by Victorian women for the decorous reason that they symbolized eternal life--but in a far different manner, one assumes, than the devout image of an angel.

Women wore them most often as bracelets, twining up the arm, and they were as ubiquitous as the multi-pointed diamond stars Jennie so often wore in her hair and on her bodice. 

1870s woven gold snake bracelet,
Even Queen Alexandra, picture here at her son George's wedding to Princess May, has one plainly visible wrapped around her long left glove. What distinguished one snake from another was its costliness--those studded with diamonds and precious stones were cherished. 

1880s woven gold and jeweled serpent bracelet,
Snake hatpin, with diamonds and freshwater pearl.
Jennie took the fashion a step further: she is believed to have had her wrist tattooed with a twining serpent while voyaging in the Far East in 1894. No picture of her ink--supposedly an ouroboros, or serpent devouring its own tail, an ancient symbol of eternity--has survived; but its existence appears to have been common knowledge. Members of the Marlborough House Set followed the Prince of Wales's example--he had tattooed his chest with multiple Greek crosses while traveling the Empire, and his sons also acquired them on their Grand Tours. Jennie was enduring a protracted turning point in her life during her travels in 1894, as her husband was slowly dying, and may have found the tattoo a promise of hope for her unknown future. 

--Or at least, that's how I've chosen to depict the episode in That Churchill Woman.

I imagine Jennie's tattoo was discreet and elegant, circling her left wrist, and possible to disguise when she chose with a piece of actual jewelry. Here's a modern interpretation of the symbol, tattooed on a woman's wrist below.

For my own part, I'll stick with washable ink transfers, available on Etsy!

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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