Sunday, April 8, 2012

Aloysius and Other Bears of the Early 20th Century

"I knew Sebastian by sight long before I met him.  That was unavoidable for, from his first week, he was the most conspicuous man of his year by reason of his beauty, which was arresting, and his eccentricities of behavior which seemed to know no bounds.  My first sight of him was as we passed the door of Germer's, and, on that occasion, I was struck less by his looks than by the fact that he was carrying a large Teddy-bear." (Brideshead Revisited, p28)

Charles, the narrator in Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited introduces his readers to Aloysius (his friend Sebastian's bear) almost as soon as we meet Sebastian.  As I also took my bear to college, I found this particular eccentricity of Sebastian's quite endearing.  Following on my theme of picnics, I've had a recent desire to have a 'Teddy Bear Picnic' in honor of the song, which was first published in 1907 (although the lyrics weren't added until the 1930s) and because I just really love stuffed toys.
So I went on a search for pictures of bears from the early 20th century...and found this postcard:

While, given that this was a postcard, it is probably staged, I still love it.  Doesn't it remind you of Brideshead?  Which got me thinking some more about Waugh's novel.  Did you know that Waugh based Aloysius on a bear named Archibald Ormsby-Gore?  He belonged to John Betjeman, who brought Archibald to Oxford with him (along with his stuffed elephant Jumbo).  Betjeman and Waugh were friends while at university together.
Betjeman with his much-loved Archibald Ormsby-Gore and Jumbo the elephant
As a student who also has a bear with me at school, I think this is absolutely fantastic.  It also turns out that  another special bear appeared as Aloysius in the mini-series.

Here is the 1981 cast with their bear:
Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, and Delicatessen as Charles, Sebastian, and Aloysius
Aloysius was played by a bear named Delicatessen, who belonged to one of the designers.  He was made in 1907, about the time a childhood bear of Sebastian's would have been manufactured as the book is set in the '20s!
Delicatessen, produced c.1907
The next bear I adopt might have to be named Archibald, in honor of Betjeman's.  Click through to see more fabulous bears!

Here is a recording of the 1907 version of The Teddy Bears Picnic (originally called Teddy Bears Two-Step, hmm...) as accompaniment to this post.  Do you know the words?

If you don't, you can see them here!

The first Steiff bear was designed in 1902 and went into production in 1903, about the same time as the origin of the name 'Teddy Bear' thanks to President Theodore Roosevelt's famous failed hunting trip, when other members of the party brought him a bear cub to kill and he refused.  (You can read a more eloquent version of that story here.)  While I couldn't find a single image of Alice Roosevelt (the president's trend-setting daughter) with a bear, I did find this fantastic menu from the Theodore Roosevelt Center of a menu from 1910:
The bears are all carrying things to Roosevelt, who is at the table with his pith helmet at the bottom.  How darling!

And of course, I fell in love with quite a few bears.

Red Sox commemorative bear from the 1939 World Series

Actress Anna Held with bears, 1908

bears on a boat at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood

girl with bear in Connecticut, c.1900

one of the originally manufactured bears, National Museum of American History

Steiff bear with homemade Blackwatch tartan kilt, c.1904 (and gas mask, added in the 1940s!)

another celebrity bear: Winnie Pooh and friends (his first literary appearance was 1924)
I am so in love with these I am incapable of choosing a favorite!  Do you have a special bear like Sebastian?


  1. Horace, the Longfellow/Thorp bear!

    --Kate, from Junior Volunteers

    1. He was originally part of this post, but I couldn't find a picture of Horace, only the Steiff recreation! I'll keep looking though :)
      (and HI!)