I bought this book, Hearts and Masks, at the same estate sale as the chalkware horse. It was perfect timing, too, since my husband and I attended a masquerade wedding this past weekend!
From the author and screenplay writer Harold MacGrath (1871-1932), Hearts and Masks is a Victorian mystery with a little romance thrown in for good measure. It’s a fairly easy read, is only a 130 some pages, and is on Project Gutenberg. My copy looks thick only because it happens to be two of McGrath’s books in one: Hearts and Masks and The Princess Elopes-both published in 1905 and illustrated by Harrison Fisher, who is famous for his paintings of ‘Fisher Girls,’ similar to Charles Dana Gibson’s ‘Gibson Girls.’
Just as a quick side note about Fisher-when he died, and contemporary appraiser listed his work as ‘not resell-able,’ appraising over 200 illustrations just a little over $700. At his request, a relative burned almost all of his illustrations.
Back to Hearts and Masks: the entire book revolves around one invitation-only masquerade party. Our protagonist has not been formally invited, but plans to crash the party by producing an extra invitation, the ten of hearts. The use of cards supposedly keeps the anonymity of the invitation holder to everyone but the host. Since it’s a masquerade, and everyone must be in full costume, AND a mask, no one will know he’s an imposter until all guests have recorded their card. Unfortunately for him, three ten of hearts are recorded within the first half an hour, and ten thousand dollars worth of jewels adorning the guests go missing. Bad news for our protagonist, indeed. Of course, he finds a love interest in a blue domino costume (the woman pictured on the cover), who is also a party crasher, and they attempt to escape through the cellar before being found out. They run into the real thieves, who eventually escape, then they run into the police, who accuse them of the crimes, but all in all the real thieves eventually get found out. You’ll have to read the story to find out the twist!
I love the whole idea behind masquerade parties. The mystery of who’s who, plus the fancy costumes equal tons of fun. Flourishing in 18th century Italy, masquerades were meant to bring about a sense of intrigue, adventure, conspiracy, and mystery. Oftentimes, they were considered ‘carnivalesque,’ starting late at night and involving out of the norm activities, decorations, and music. Mardi Gras (‘carnival’ in French) today, is sort of a similar idea, utilizing the costumes, masks, and the merry-making seen in masquerades, but as a prelude to the Christian season of Lent.
History Channel. ‘Mardi Gras.’ A&E. 2013. Web. 14 September 2013 http://www.history.com/topics/mardi-gras
Unknown. ‘General Commonalities in the Masquerade.’ University of Michigan. n.d. Web. 13 September 2013 http://www.umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/masquerade/commonalities.html