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The New Noblewoman: An Authentic Feminine Mystique For This Generation

If you’ve increasingly felt distanced from the superficial, politicized, less than intelligent propaganda that currently passes itself off as “literature and media for women” then welcome to a breath of fresh air, a place where the unique inner life of the feminine spirit and mind is nurtured and cultivated, prized and revered. Welcome to The New Noblewoman (TNN).

Amanda Millay Lanier, founder and editor of TNN has graciously agreed to be interviewed for one tiny violetAmanda has created something totally unique to fill a noticeable void in the realm of women’s magazines and her work is simply saturated with BEAUTY!  Of course,  I fell in love with her publication and wanted to share it with you here. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and spend some time with Amanda as she shares her thoughts on beauty, the essence of what it means to be a woman, her eye for fine art, and her plans for the future of The New Noblewoman, then pop right over and check out the magazine!

one tiny violet (otv): How did the idea for The New Noblewoman (TNN) come about? In what ways is it different from other women’s magazines today?

Amanda Millay Lanier (AML): The concept actually started as a book. I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially the images of daily life in well-done historical dramas. I’ve always wished I could “go back in time,” but rather than simply pine away for the old days, I decided to figure out how to incorporate those elements into my life today. I started researching and writing a book that would describe the houses, clothing, food, and customs of women throughout history, and talk about how women can live similarly in the modern world. But given how hard it can be to find a publisher, and how discouraging it would be to work on a project for years with no feedback, I decided to create a website instead.

The New Noblewoman is different from other women’s magazines in a couple of main areas. One is that the articles—whether on style or gardening—draw heavily from the past. Reading TNN is a combination of a regular women’s magazine and a history lesson.

Armand Point, "The Golden Legend," 1898

Another difference is the images that accompany the articles. The world is filled with incredible artwork—yet magazines always use these awful staged photographs of models or celebrities. So reading TNN is also a way to get an art education as well, and it’s much more visually appealing than the typical women’s magazine due to the artwork.

A third key difference is in the values the site promotes: TNN is for modern women who are dealing with real problems—whether it’s what clothing to buy, relating to your spouse, or keeping a New Year’s resolution. But TNN focuses on ways to address these issues with wisdom and values that are timeless and emphasize good character and honor (both things that are rarely addressed directly in the typical women’s magazine).

otv: What does it mean to be a “noblewoman” in today’s society? Is it simply one facet of being a woman, or does it encompass several aspects of women’s experience?

William Blake, "Jacob's Ladder" 1800

AML:I think any woman can choose to be a “noblewoman” today. In ancient Greek, the word aristocrat simply means “the best,” and any woman today can be the best type of woman she aspires to.

And being the best (i.e., being “a new noblewoman”) should be something that infuses every aspect of a woman’s being—the way she walks, how she dresses, what type of food she prepares, what she does in her leisure time.

Of course, there isn’t just one set script for any of these things. Although TNN discusses etiquette and classic style, I think being noble is primarily about discovering your true self and fully exploring your talents. The only required aspect to being noble today (which is the same as it was throughout history) involves seeking out the higher aspects of life rather than being caught up in the materialistic, consumer society that surrounds us and is propagandized to us every day. That higher aspect could be through a love of art, literature, philosophy, homemaking, mothering, politics, or religion.

otv: How do you imagine the reader of TNN and what can that reader expect when she visits TNN for the first time?

AML: The readership of TNN is very diverse. There are women readers from college-age to middle-age, and a number of men too! We have a slideshow that features some recent articles and most popular articles, which provides a showcase of featured artwork. A reader can explore the website by the latest articles, which start on the homepage, or browse by topic. Our categories are Beauty & Style, Home & Garden, A Woman Should Know, Relationships & Etiquette, Poetry, and Inspirationals (a selection of inspiring quotes).

otv: The tagline for TNN – “The Art of True Womanhood” – raises two interesting questions: What does it mean to be a true woman? And in what ways is being this true woman an art?

AML: One thing that all nobles in history have in common is their emphasis on religion—since it’s only recently that there have been societies that are completely secular.   Whether it was pagan Rome, Hindus in India, or Christianity throughout the Middle Ages, the nobility were supposed to be ruled by spiritual guidelines and submit to the authority of the priests. If they didn’t have religious guidelines to temper their hearts, it would be easy for people with so much power to rule badly and no longer be the protectors of the people (and we have countless examples in history of when this happened). So I think the deepest truth of what it means to be a woman relates to her life as a spiritual being.

Frank Cadogan Cowper, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," 1926

There’s a lot of debate about what constitutes an art—nowadays almost anything crafty or creative is called art, and I think we’ve become a little too generous in the definition. I think an art should be something that requires extensive practice, combined with skill, and also be something that impacts the core of one’s being. You can be a fabulous musician, but if there’s no feeling in it, then you’re merely a highly skilled technician rather than an artist. And being a woman is no different—it requires training, education, practice (and failure!), as well as the capacity to feel. Women have to switch between so many roles in one day—bring a nurturing mother, a sensual lover, a hard-minded businesswoman (even if it’s only a household budget), and a creative artist for her own projects—being a woman really does seem like a lifelong practice in mastering an art.

otv: You’ve worked as a journalist. How have your experiences in journalism and media shaped your vision for TNN?

AML: One thing that I love about the Internet is that it’s allowed so many great websites and blogs to flourish that never existed in the days of print journalism. It also allows for a greater variety of opinions, since not everyone on the Internet is beholden to the interests of their advertisers and owners. But one thing I don’t like about the Internet is how casual it’s made writing, due to attention spans getting shorter and the desire of audiences for quick, superficial blurbs of information. With TNN, I bring back more of an essay style for articles, and try to make every article actually worth reading. There are no catchy headlines that fail to deliver any substance.

My first job was at a newspaper, and as a print journalist you’re taught that the space you have for words is very valuable. It could be worth hundreds of dollars in advertising, so you have to make each sentence valuable. You’re also not allowed to delve into your own feelings and experiences like people do with blogs. But readers do like personal stories, so it’s been a challenge to add a little bit of personality to articles, while keeping it at the level of a magazine rather than a personal blog.

otv: In a recent article on TNN discussing the film Coco and Igor, you distinguish between the way the two female characters are presented in the film and posit the question as to which one offers the best model for women. The answer, you suggest, lies in women “maintaining a reverence and adherence to traditional customs and rites, combined with a modern self-determination to follow one’s dreams.” What do you see as the greatest difficulty women today have in achieving this balance? How do you see TNN helping today’s woman aspire to and achieve a balance between these two ideals?

AML: In the film Coco and Igor, the traditional lifestyle isn’t completely working for Stravinsky’s wife. Some parts do—like retaining some Russian décor and clothing—but she’s not able to function well in the changing world and is out-of-touch with her daughters. But Coco Chanel is a little too modern. She’s a little too hard-headed for her business and doesn’t respect the sacred rite of marriage.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Umbrellas," 1883

I think of traditions—whether religious, cultural, or familial—as living things that go beyond the mere external forms, but the external forms are important as well. For example, everyone knows that clothing doesn’t make the person—we don’t say a woman wearing pants is “less of a woman” than one in a long dress. But in a way, clothing does impact the person wearing it quite profoundly. Putting on an evening dress and fine jewelry causes us to act differently than when we’re wearing jean shorts; walking into Notre Dame Cathedral produces a type of spiritual awe that we don’t feel when walking into a church in an office building with TV screens everywhere.

I think about (and struggle with) the dichotomy between a traditional lifestyle and modern individuality every day, and many of the articles on TNN are inspired by my daily life. And these are questions that many women have. How do we dress in a way that’s inspired by the past, without looking like we’re in a Halloween costume? How do we adhere to traditional customs, even for simple things like serving tea, without seeming either pretentious or silly? How can we be traditional wives, while also protecting ourselves financially? I’ll be exploring all of these things as I reshape my own life to better fit my ideals, so readers can follow along on my journey and share their own experiences as well.

otv: One of the functions of TNN is as a virtual art gallery, which is unique. Can you tell us about some of your favorite artists? What message does their work convey about women and beauty that you feel is important today?

AML: My favorite painters are probably the Pre-Raphaelites, since their paintings are not only visually beautiful, but depict stories and myths that are very moving as well. Some of my favorites are John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

As for contemporary artists, I love the genre of pop surrealism, especially Nicoletta Ceccoli, Camille Rose Garcia, Joe Sorren, Marc Burckhardt, Ray Caesar, and Mark Ryden—all who draw from the old masters but with a modern flair.

Most of these artists present very idealized images of women, combined with aesthetics from the ancient world, Arthurian legend, or the world of European drawing rooms. These are worlds that, while not better than the present in every way, women long for and are inspired by. I think it’s important to showcase such images to demonstrate the level of beauty that is possible in a society. As the world continues to change, many readers of TNN will be involved in defining how we want our cities, neighborhoods, and homes to be, and considering the great wealth we have today and the advances we’ve made in technology, there’s no reason that we can’t aspire to revive or reinterpret the most beautiful examples from the past.

otv: How is the art you choose for the magazine reflective of the image you’d like to cultivate, both for the magazine and your readership?

AML: Nowadays art has been replaced by advertising. If you look in a magazine, you won’t find any art, just pages and pages of artistic ads. These advertisements are trying to sell you a product, by using an image of a better world. I’m trying to sell that better world itself, and to teach women how to create it for themselves.

otv: Tell us about some of the women who are or have been an inspiration to you. What influence have they had on your concept for TNN?

Frances Macdonald, "Spring," c. 1900-05

AML: There are so many to choose from. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of women who’ve struggled with having to choose between being an artist and being a wife and mother. These women often thought that women’s emancipation would have a great liberating effect for women, but I’m not convinced the situation is better for women today. Most women still have the same struggles, but with the added stress of working outside of the home added to the mix. In that genre, I’ve been inspired by the writers Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Philippa Burrell; the dancer Isadora Duncan; and the diarist and painter Marie Bashkirtseff.

otv: Many women today experience pressure to look, act, or dress a certain way that is not reflective of whom they are on the inside. What advice would you give to the woman who struggles to achieve a real sense of style or beauty in her daily life?

AML: That is so hard to do, and I struggle with it all the time. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced in the fashion arena is that shops today simply don’t offer the type of clothing I’d like to wear. To other women, I’d recommend spending some time reflecting on who you think you are as a woman (or who you want to become), and what type of clothing and lifestyle will help you feel that way.

I’m in the process of revamping my wardrobe (and plan to write about it soon). It involves getting rid of everything that doesn’t fit well or that doesn’t fit the image I want to cultivate for myself. By the time I’m finished, I’ll have much less in my closet, but it will only be the items I truly love—a better wardrobe overnight just by getting rid of things. I’ve found that I have to actually get rid of clothing or put it away, since otherwise I’d never put on a dress when it’s so much easier to throw on a pair of jeans.

As for other areas of life—Kierkegaard talked about how you can only go from one quality to another by a leap (a leap to faith). There are analogies to the type of spiritual despair he discussed even in unhappiness with style and beauty in one’s daily life. For women experiencing this, I think it takes one of these leaps to faith—to either becoming the person you truly think you should be or in freeing yourself of the image of what others think you should be. It takes a conscious decision to start living and thinking in a different way, combined with daily affirmations of the reasons why you’re changing (in order to keep at it until these changes become habits). Of course, this will only change you, and not any externals like having to work in an ugly cubicle or deal with unpleasant people, but eventually these external changes will start changing your spirit and the way you view and interact with the world too.

otv: The time-tested value of virtue and the practice of manners, of acting like ladies and gentlemen, has faded in popularity in today’s culture. How can mothers of young girls work to raise young women who know and value what it is to be a lady? Alternatively, how can mothers raise boys to be men who behave courteously and with a chivalric attitude towards young women?

AML: That is such a tough thing to teach these days! I was buying etiquette books when I was in elementary school, but the influences of other children and the television can make the work of the most devoted parent seem futile—even with a child like me, who had a natural inclination to these things.

Adam Emory Albright, "Children Playing With A Kite"

The most important advice is to get rid of cable TV, or at least screen what you let your kids watch. My husband and I use the money we save from not having TV to build a DVD library, and it works great. (Plus, forcing ourselves to wait until shows come out on DVD is good practice in not getting everything we want right away.)

For young girls, I’d advise finding books and movies that portray the values you want your daughters to have—art is very powerful in shaping ideals and values, especially of young people! Use what you can of their interests to guide them to better values: If they love Disney princesses, show them what princesses from fairy tales or from England are like, and help them to live like a princess in their life by doing volunteer work, respecting others, and being polite and tidy.

For young men, there are a lot of stories of knights and adventurers that can help them find chivalry interesting. Giving them chores and responsibilities that are described as “manly” can help them in their self-esteem, and instill in their minds that men and women are different, and that girls need a little more respect and care than their boy friends.

I’d also enroll both boys and girls in cotillion or dance classes around 4th to 8th grade (the age for these classes seems to vary by location). They’ll learn how to dance (which is one of the best ways to ensure your son will always be popular with the ladies!), will get used to wearing dresses or suits and interacting with the opposite sex in a more formal environment, and will learn a lot of social etiquette too.

I think it mostly comes down to determining what your standards are, sticking to them yourselves, and making your kids do those things too. Although it sounds petty, an explanation as simple and firm as “this is how our family does things,” can be enough to get kids to do something. After 20 years of having to write thank-you notes and make pleasant conversation during dinner, they’ll start bragging to their friends about their upbringing rather than complaining about it.

otv: What is your response to critics who say nobility is out of style or old-fashioned?

AML: There are several ways nobility can be interpreted. One is as “the best,” as I mentioned before. Another is as the rulers of a society. And another is as people of noble soul. And none of these will ever disappear. We will always have people considered “the best” in society and whom others try to emulate, and we will always have some kind of ruling class. Unfortunately, today these people are typically either celebrities or the capitalists who’ve made the most money. Part of the mission of The New Noblewoman is to change people’s perceptions back to what they were for most of history—that the best people are those of the best character, and that those are the ones who should be the leaders of society, whether in the political, artistic, or educational arenas.

otv: What made you decide to offer a free online platform for the magazine and is this platform crucial to TNN’s identity? Any plans for a print edition in the future?

AML: It would be great to have a print magazine in the future—but given the costs associated with printing, distributing, and managing a large staff of writers, designers, and a sales team—it’s not likely unless we receive a lot of investor interest.

I do have plans to do a series of books down the road—both free e-books and print books. Some will be original content, similar to the articles on the website. Others will be compilations of artwork, essays, and poetry. And there are some great books by women that are out of print (or in poor editions) that I’ve love to republish.

otv: Tell us some of your short- and long-term goals for the magazine as it grows.

AML: I’ll be starting a series on concert music, which will highlight some of the great classical recordings that can be seen for free on YouTube. I’ll also be doing more in the “Famous Lives” series and digging up some classic essays to reprint along with the poetry. Another new feature down the road will take readers through various museums and art galleries of the world, including some galleries of contemporary artists.

I’m also looking into starting a non-profit arm of The New Noblewoman. The response to the website so far has been amazing, and there are a lot of people interested in donating money but who need to have a tax write-off. Having a non-profit branch will allow TNN to be not only a website and publishing house, but to focus on outreach in order to start a bit of a cultural revolution among women.

Thank you, Amanda, for your gracious sharing and for the gift of The New Noblewoman — clearly a much-needed presence in women’s media. I encourage all of my one tiny violet readers to take a beauty break and visit The New Noblewoman regularly — it’s free! — to read all of the articles Amanda shares about here, and sign up to receive her weekly e-newsletter, which includes new content posted to the site.

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Beauty Break: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

I am fascinated by the process of art: how a fragment of a dream in the mind of an artist is conceived and brought to eventual fruition. So often, I think, we encounter great masterworks, whether they be paintings, musical pieces, or novels, and perhaps fail to take into account everything that had to happen for this work to come into being. It is a rare privilege to peek into the inner workings of the mind or eye of the artist, to see his hand at work in the process of creating beauty.

The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino is offering just such a rare peek into the work of creating waking dreams of beauty. The exhibit “Pre-Raphaelites and Their Followers: British and American Drawings From the Huntington’s Collection” is on view through September 26 and is worth a beauty break if you are in the area. Incidentally, if you are unfamiliar with the Pre-Raphaelites and their distinctive contribution to 19th century arts and letters, Stephanie Pina provides a brief but excellent overview, along with some helpful links, on her lovely website dedicated to all things Pre-Raphaelite.

One of the primary goals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), which included the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, was to renew British art and literature, in particular through the faithful observance of nature. Many people think their influence was limited to the United Kingdom; this exhbit dispels that idea, showing clearly how the theories, techniques, and philosophy of the PRB moved across the pond and found great sympathy among a group of American artists, architects, and geologists who formed their own group — The Society for the Advancement of Truth (SAT) — modeled after the PRB. 

Though tiny — only 37 drawings — the exhibit was a revelation. There were careful studies of larger, more well-known works by the British artists which revealed the detailed and painstaking processes involved in making the dreams in their minds come to life. Most of the American artists represented focused on landscape painting, everything from the domes of Yosemite in the Sierras, to the Hudson River Valley, and beyond to Florence. There were  also two small detailed landscape studies by Walter Crane. Several American Pre-Raphaelites in fact had a very close relationship with the British critic John Ruskin, an artist in his own right, who was credited with spreading the philosophy of Pre-Raphaelitism through his many writings and patronage. Two of these American Pre-Raphaelites, Henry Roderick Newman and Esther Frances (Francesca) Alexander, were represented in the exhbit. Ruskin’s own drawing of the crumbling castle walls of Kenilworth was on view as well.

Highlights included “Andromeda,” by Edward Burne-Jones as part of a study for his larger The Rock of Doom in his Perseus Cycle.  A head study of a woman by Rossetti and another series of studies by Frederick Sandys were significant. There were four gorgeous miniature studies for The Lady of Shallot, by William Holman Hunt. These in particular give a sense of how the artist tries to conceive of the image from different viewpoints. And many times, as in this case, the end result looks nothing like the original conceptualization. Finally, in juxtaposition, one of the few original existing copes of the first volume of the PRB’s journal The Germ: Thoughts Toward Nature in Poetry, Literature, and Art displayed next to its American sister SAT publication The New Path: A Monthly Art Journal.

It was hard to choose any one piece as a favorite, but I suppose there were three that absolutely stood out for me. Charles Allston Collins “Beati Mundo Corde” was almost photographic in its precision of the young nun’s facial features.

“Isabella Boccaccio,” by John Riley Wilmer alludes to the 14th century Italian poet Boccaccio’s The Decameron, a favorite of the Pre-Raphaelites. The piece might also be a reference to John Keats’ poem “Isabella and the Pot of Basil,” which is itself derived from The Decameron.  Incidentally, Holman Hunt painted his own Isabella. I tend to like the layered quality of the narrative paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites — every picture tells a thousand stories and there are so many details to linger over.

Finally, this “Head of a Girl,” a study in gold tip on prepared paper by John Southall is simply breathtaking. She is truly a glimpse of the ideal of Pre-Raphaelite beauty in every way.

On reflection, this small but important exhibit does what it set out to do and reflects the fulfillment of the Pre-Raphaelite vision in creative communities on both sides of the Atlantic in their effort to “see everything, small and large, with almost the same clearness.”

 

“Know once and for all, that a poet on canvas is exactly the same species as a poet in song….”  John Ruskin, Pre-Raphaelitism, 1851

Beauty Break Bonus: One gallery in the Huntington’s British Art Museum holds original furnishings, textiles, and ceramic tile pieces by William Morris and Co. Be sure to sneak a peek down the staircase at the end of the gallery for a floor to ceiling Morris stained glass, with art work by Edward Burne-Jones. I was unable to photograph this, but here is a link to a lovely photo taken by someone else. Gorgeous……..