Tag Archives: Carrie Frye

Our Favorite Words Of 2016

Photo by Heather

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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In an earlier letter, I put out a call for favorite words you learned in 2016. I hoped they’d make a nice handful of marbles for us to have in our pockets for this new year, which only this week taught me the word ‘kompromat.’ :-(. Read more…

The Cat’s Meat Man, From Dickens To Jack The Ripper

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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Harriet Hardiman was ‘a cat’s meat man.’ That is, she went out most days with a handcart full of chopped meat on skewers to sell to cat owners. So, just to emphasize, meat for cats, not of cats. Specifically, horsemeat—gnarly leftovers collected from nearby slaughterhouses. In Victorian-era London, there were hundreds of cat’s meat men (and women and, sometimes, kids), with beats in poor neighborhoods as well as posh ones. Hardiman would have had regular routes, regular customers, as well as regular cats padding behind her as she made her rounds, attracted by the scent of her cart.

I know about Hardiman because she lived at 29 Hanbury Street in Spitalfields, and it was at 29 Hanbury Street where, early one morning, in 1888, the body of Jack the Ripper’s second victim, Annie Chapman, was discovered, lying against the steps at the house’s back entrance. Chapman didn’t live at the house—she lived at a lodging house nearby—but because of where her body was found, everyone at 29 Hanbury was interviewed and questioned. Seventeen people lived there in all. Hardiman occupied two rooms on the house’s ground floor with her 16-year-old son. Their front room served as a cat’s meat shop by day and as their bedroom at night. (The smell!) One side effect of reading about Jack the Ripper is learning about some of the people who lived in these crowded London neighborhoods, and who, because of the investigation and the ongoing fascination with the murders, have had their names, professions, and daily routines recorded and faithfully kept when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have been. “Cat’s meat man” is one of many now obsolete professions—like “sieve maker” and  “laborer in an indigo warehouse”—you’ll bump up against. Reading about the murders themselves gives me nightmares, but I do like this other part of it: that while we still don’t know who Jack the Ripper was (and I doubt we ever will!), we do know something of the people who lived at 29 Hanbury Street. I like especially the “two unmarried sisters who worked at a cigar factory” who lived in a back room on the second floor.

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The Notebooks of Harriet The Spy

Harriet the Spy
Cover illustration from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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A few months ago, my friend Maud was in town from New York, and one afternoon I met her and her stepdaughter at a teahouse downtown. The conversation turned to what we were each reading, and I mentioned that I was rereading Harriet the Spy. Within a minute, I noticed, we’d all grown extremely animated: three women in the corner of a dark tearoom, waving their arms around and exclaiming “Harriet the Spy! Harriet the Spy!!”

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In the Library with Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates. Photo via fordschool

Black Cardigan is a great newsletter by writer-editor Carrie Frye, who shares dispatches from her reading life. We’re thrilled to share some of them on Longreads. Go here to sign up for her latest updates.

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When I was in college I was pretty good at gadding around (sorry to boast!), and spring was my very best time for this. I wasn’t the only one. I was talking about it with a friend I went to school with and he described it as the “spring-in-the-asparagus valley-insouciance.” We all had it. Or most of us—there may have been some people studying somewhere on campus. Then finals time would come and we’d run around in a panicked sleepless haze for a couple weeks. In my memories of these semesters it’s almost always 8:00 p.m., the sky’s purple, the air is frictionless, and there’s still plenty of time before it’s actually night, real study-time night. One spring a friend of mine had a paper due for her History of Israel class, and I have a vivid memory of standing with her in the kitchen of her dorm passing a carton of ice cream back and forth, in a place of such deep procrastinators’ panic that to this day “History of Israel” pops into my head whenever I’m agitated about a deadline. (And it wasn’t even my paper!) Read more…

The Gothic Life and Times of Horace Walpole

Carrie Frye | Longreads | December 2014 | 16 minutes (4,064 words)

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As a child, Horace Walpole frequently heard it said of himself that surely he would die soon. Born in England in 1717, the last of his mother’s six children, he was fragile and prone to illness from birth. Two siblings before him had died in infancy, and so in the family order it went: three older children, loud, healthy and opinionated; two grave markers; and then young Horace toddling up behind—half child, half potential grave marker.

Naturally, his mother, Catherine, spoiled him. His father, Sir Robert Walpole, was the King’s prime minister. This often kept him away from home, as did a long-time mistress who acted, more than his wife did, as his hostess and companion. For her part Catherine had her own dalliances. It was that sort of marriage. The Walpoles of old had been middling country gentry—ancient name, quiet prosperity—before Robert had come along and, through a blend of shrewdness and charisma, wolf-halled his family into riches and the nobility. When Robert was young, the hope for him was that he might one day make a fine sheep-farmer; he died the first Earl of Orford, after a 20-year run as prime minister, a colossus of English history.

His son Horace worked himself into history another way. In his early 30s, he bought a box-shaped house—just an ordinary sort of house, sitting on a bit of hill in a fashionable country suburb—and decided to transform it into a Gothic castle. Room by room he went. Stained-glass window of a saint here, ancient suit of armor stowed in a wall recess there.

Then one summer, sitting in his castle’s library, he wrote a novel called The Castle of Otranto. Its setting was a medieval castle, not unlike his own mock-castle in many of its details, but grown, in the way of novels and dreams, into something grand and imposing. There the villainous Manfred schemes to block the return of the castle’s rightful heir, a young man named Theodore. Commonly pegged as the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto turns 250 this year. It’s a strange, great, terrible, campy novel, slim but with some paragraphs so long and dense that you have to slash your way through. If Gothic literature had a family tree, its twisted gnarled branches chock-full of imperiled, swooning heroines and mysterious monks, with ghosts who sit light on the branches, and Frankenstein’s monster who sits heavy, with troops of dwarves, and winking nuns, and stunted, mostly nonflammable babies, at its base would sit Horace Walpole’s Castle. (Presumably with some lightning flickering dangerously nearby.) Read more…