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A monocle is a type of corrective lens used to correct the vision in only one eye. It consists of a circular lens, generally with a wire ring around the circumference that can be attached to a string. The other end of the string is then connected to the wearer's clothing to avoid losing the monocle. The connoisseur of antiquities Philipp von Stosch wore a monocle in Rome in the 1720s, in order to closely examine engravings and antique engraved gems, but the monocle did not become an article of gentlemen's apparel until the nineteenth century. It was introduced by the dandy's quizzing glass of the 1790s.

Styles

There are three styles of monocle. The first style consists of a simple loop of metal with a lens which was slotted into the eye orbit. These were the first monocles worn in England and could be found from the 1830s onwards. The second style, which was developed in the 1890s, was the most elaborate, consisting of a frame with a raised edge-like extension known as the gallery. The gallery was designed to help secure the monocle in place by raising it out of the eye orbit slightly, so that the eyelashes could not jar it. Monocles with galleries were often the most expensive. The very wealthy would have the frames custom-made to fit their own eye sockets. A sub-category of the galleried monocle was the "sprung gallery", where the gallery was replaced by an incomplete circle of flattened, ridged wire supported by three posts. The ends were pulled together, the monocle was placed in the eye orbit, and the ends released, causing the gallery to spring out and keep the monocle in place.The third style of monocle was frameless. This consisted of a cut piece of glass, with a serrated edge to provide a grip, and sometimes a hole drilled into one side for a cord. Often the frameless monocle had no cord and would be worn freely. This style was popular at the beginning of the 20th century as they could be cut to fit any shape eye orbit cheaply, without the cost of a customized frame.

It is a myth that monocles were uncomfortable to wear. If they were customised then they could be worn securely with no effort, though periodic adjustment is a fact of life for monocle wearers to keep the monocle from popping, as can be seen in films featuring Erich Von Stroheim. Often only the rich could afford to have them custom-manufactured and the poor had to settle for poorly-fitted monocles that were less comfortable and less secure. The popular perception was (and still is) that a monocle could easily fall off with the wrong facial expression. This is true to an extent, as raising the eyebrow too far will allow the monocle to fall. A once-standard comedic device exploits this: an upper-class gentleman makes a shocked expression in response to some event, and his monocle falls into his drink, smashes into pieces on the floor, etc. In visual media, the monocle might also be illustrated, or visually captured mid-flight, with some slack to the string as the glass travels downward.

The quizzing glass is a sort of monocle held to one's eye with a long handle, in a similar fashion to a lorgnette.

Wearers



A monocle was generally associated with rich upper-class men. Combined with a morning coat and top-hat, it completed the costume of the stereotypical 1890s capitalist. Monocles were also stereotypical accessories of German military officers from this period, especially from the First World War, where the stereotypical German Oberst would plot the demise of enemy forces with monocle in place to examine attack charts. German officers who actually wore a monocle include Werner von Fritsch, Erich Ludendorff, Walter Model, Walter von Reichenau, Hans von Seeckt and Hugo Sperrle.

Monocles were most prevalent in the late 19th century but are rarely worn today. This is due in large part to advances in optometry which allow for better measurement of refractive error, so that glasses and contact lenses can be prescribed with different strengths in each eye, and also in reaction to the stereotypes that became associated with them. Another significant contribution to the decline of the monocle is that some health organisations (specifically Britain's National Health Service, but possibly others, in their local contexts) would not fund prescriptions for monocles, even when the prescribing optometrist recommended a monocle.

The monocle did, however, garner a following in the stylish lesbian circles of the earlier 20th century, with lesbians donning a monocle for effect. Such women included Una Lady Troubridge, Radclyffe Hall, and Weimar German reporter Sylvia von Harden (the painting Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden by German expressionist painter Otto Dix depicts its subject sporting a monocle).

Some famous figures who wore a monocle include the British politicians, Joseph Chamberlain, his son Austen and Henry Chaplin. Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Portuguese President António de Spínola, filmmakers Fritz Lang and Erich Von Stroheim, prominent 19th century Portuguese writer Eça de Queiroz, actor Conrad Veidt, Dadaists Tristan Tzara and Raoul Hausmann, esotericist Julius Evola, French collaborationist politician Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, criminal Percy Toplis, Poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson, singer Richard Tauber, diplomat Christopher Ewart-Biggs, Major Johnnie Cradock, actor Ralph Lynn, and Karl Marx. In another vein G. E. M. Anscombe was one of only a few noted women who occasionally wore a monocle. Famous wearers today include astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, former boxer Chris Eubank and King Taufa'ahau Tupou V of Tongamarker. Abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman wore a monocle mainly for getting a closer look at artworks. Richard Tauber wore a monocle to mask a squint in one eye.

A monocle is a distinctive part of the costume of at least three Gilbert & Sullivan characters: Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance, Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore, and Reginald Bunthorne in Patience, and composer Sullivan used one himself. In some variant productions numerous other characters sport the distinctive eye-wear, and some noted performers of the "G&S" repertoire also have worn a monocle.

Famous fictional wearers include Wilkins Micawber, Mr. Peanut, Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy, Batman's nemesis The Penguin, Colonel Klink (played by actor Werner Klemperer, who once admitted his was held in place with spirit gum), most incarnations of Colonel Mustard from the game Cluedo/Clue, Marvel Comics villain Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, and the Magic Kaito manga gentleman thief Kaitou Kid. The fictional Lord Peter Wimsey, an amateur detective from an upper-class background, possessed a set of detecting tools disguised as more gentlemanly accessories, including a powerful magnifying glass disguised as a monocle. Amelia Bones from the Harry Potter series is also seen sporting a monocle at Harry's trial in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The DC Comics supervillain The Monocle gains his powers from a mystic version of his namesake. P.G. Wodehouse characters Psmith and Galahad Threepwood also have a well-documented fondness for the monocle. Wodehouse's most famous creation, Bertie Wooster, has been portrayed as wearing a monocle on several book jackets and audio book covers, though this is a choice on the part of the artist, since the eye wear is not canonical. In the series Dark Shadows, Prof. T. Eliot Stokes played by actor Thayer David wore a monocle to read with. In the late night animated series Space Ghost Coast to Coast, episode 70 ("Snatch"), the main character states, "Bring me my monocle. I want to look rich." He is seen later in the episode wearing a monocle.Count Olaf, the leader of the villains in A Series of Unfortunate Events, wore a monocle as part of his disguise as "Gunther" in book six, The Ersatz Elevator.

See also



References

  1. Guardian Unlimited | Archive Search



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