Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Review of The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

Some secrets are better left buried...'
When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton's Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel's reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London's East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire - a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths. In a gloriously gothic debut, Essie Fox weaves a spellbinding tale of guilt and deception, regret and lost love.
Every heart holds a secret...


The Somnambulist by John Everett Millais, 1871
 Millais’ painting was thought by some to be based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, but others presumed it was inspired by Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula

'The Somnambulist' has to do with sleepwalking. The subject of sleepwalking fascinated the Victorians and relates to their preoccupation with the occult. The Victorians became fascinated by contact with “the other world” through clairvoyance, séances, ghosts, poltergeists and with the phenomenon of sleepwalking. Here the woman is walking very close to the edge of a cliff and we as viewers are uncertain as to whether she may fall and possibly die, or whether she will keep to the path.

The subject matter of this beautiful Millais painting is crucial to Essie Fox's Victorian gothic mystery debut novel. 'The Somnambulist' is beautifully written broken into three parts as you would find in a play or maybe an opera...Yes, aspects of George Frideric Handel's operetta, 'Acis and Galatea' are weaved throughout 'The Somnambulist' with its themes of unrequited love, murder and betrayal! Especially, its chapter headings taken from the opera's libretto.

Add to this London 1881 setting, a sheltered seventeen year old main character Phoebe Turner who is painfully overshadowed by her religious mother Maud and her beautiful Aunt Cissy who sings on the stage of Wilton's Music Hall. A wonderful aspect of Victorian culture.

Two subplots concerning a mysterious dark, handsome older man who seems to not be such a stranger to Aunt Cissy or young Phoebe for that matter... a large mansion in Hertfordshire, family intrigue, ghostly happenings, lots of deaths and of course a laudanum addict...Come on it's the Victorian Era!

I don't want to reveal everything or go into much detail because it would ruin the fun for you!
I will say however, I was never disappointed reading 'The Somnambulist'. I enjoyed every minute of it and I took my time reading it because that rare feeling came upon me...
you know the one...it creeps up on you the longer you read chapters, get to know characters and settings seem familiar to you...you're not sure why, all you know is you have to keep reading to find out what the secrets are...you ask yourself questions and you must keep reading so you can discover if you are right or wrong...Let's just say I didn't always see the twists and turns that occurred but how I love any opportunity to return to Victorian, England.

A beautiful poem was featured in a chapter and I think it fitting to close with it. When you read 'The Somnambulist' you'll understand why I chose it...

To One in Paradise by Edgar Allan Poe

Thou wast that all to me, love,
   For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
   A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
   And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
   Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
   A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
   (Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
   The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
   (Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
   Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
   And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
   And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
   By what eternal streams.


Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Secret Marriage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Lettice Knollys

 
                

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex and Countess of Leicester, was an English noblewoman who was married twice. However, when for her second marriage, she decided to marry her close childhood friend, Elizabeth Tudor's, favorite Robert Dudley, she incurred Elizabeth's hatred. A small price to pay for love, right?
Well, sadly it did not end in happily ever after but let's concentrate on just their union shall we...
*One Interesting Sidenote: Lettice Knollys was a grandniece of Anne Boleyn.

The Secret Marriage
Lettice Knollys married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester on 21 September 1578 at around seven o'clock in the morning. Only six other people were present at the Earl's country house at Wanstead, Essex; among these were the bride's father and brother, Francis and Richard Knollys, the bridegroom's brother, Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and his two friends, the Earl of Pembroke and Lord North. The officiating chaplain Humphrey Tyndall later remarked that the bride wore a "loose gown" (an informal morning dress), which has triggered modern speculation that she was pregnant and that the ceremony happened under pressure from her father. The marriage was, however, in planning between Leicester and his wedding guests for almost a year. While Lettice Knollys may well have been pregnant, there is no further indication as to this. The marriage date coincided with the end of the customary two-years-mourning for a widow.
Leicester a widower since 1560 had for many years been in hope of marrying Elizabeth herself, "for whose sake he had hitherto forborne marriage", as he confessed to Lord North. He also feared Elizabeth's reaction and insisted that his marriage be kept a secret. It did not remain one for long, the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, reporting it only two months later.  When the Queen was told of the marriage the next year, she banished Lettice Dudley permanently from court; she never forgave her, nor could she ever accept the marriage. Even Lady Leicester's movements through London were resented by the Queen, let alone summer visits to Kenilworth by husband and wife. In 1583 Elizabeth asked a Scottish diplomat whether it was true that Leicester wanted to marry his younger stepdaughter Dorothy to James VI of Scotland; when the Scot denied this the Queen became so excited about it as to say that she would rather allow the King to take her crown away than to see him married to the daughter of such a she-wolf, and, if she could find no other way to repress her ambition and that of the traitor Leicester, she would proclaim her all over Christendom for the bad woman she was, and prove that her husband was a cuckold. She said much more to the same effect.

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy Birthday to Henry VIII's older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1503)

Three Children of K. Henry VII and Elizabeth his Queen. 1. Prince Henry. II. Prince Arthur. III. Ps. Margaret. From the Royal Collection at Kensington Palace. To his Grtace the most noble Thomas, Duke of Leeds, this is most humbly Inscribed by Geo: Vertue.
J.Maubeugius Pinxit cir. MCCCCXCVI. G.Vertue Lond: delin et Sculp. 1748.
Engraving. 570 x 485mm, 22½ x 19". Some wear to edges. Uncut sheet.
Arthur, as heir to the throne takes the centre seat, with his younger brother Henry (later Henry VIII) on the left. On the right is Margaret, grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. 


This engraving is by George Vertue from a no longer extant painting of 1496 that shows the three elder children: Arthur, Henry and Margaret sitting at a table and playing with two apples and some cherries. The picture is ornamented at the top with the portcullis (the Beaufort emblem) surmounted with roses. In reality, Henry had little to do with his older brother, who was educated at Ludlow in the Marches of Wales, while Henry remained with his sisters at Eltham Palace in Kent (Starkey, 24).

On this day in 1486, the eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was born at Swithun's Priory, Winchester. Arthur, Prince of Wales, was named after the mythical British King of Welsh descent, whom the Tudors claimed as an ancestor. In memory of Arthur, the baby prince was baptized in Winchester Cathedral, which some believed was the site of Camelot. When he was three years old, Arthur was dubbed a Knight of the Bath and invested as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, but, when six, he was packed off to Ludlow and had little further contact with his family.

Far more attention was paid to Arthur's education than that of his younger brother. He was first taught by John Rede (formerly headmaster of Winchester College) and then by the blind French poet, Bernard Andre. His death in 1503 was a cruel blow to his parents, but they tried to comfort each other for their loss. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral (Starkey, 38).
Prince Arthur, Collection of His Grace the Duke of Northumberland
This is one of only two authenticated portraits of the Prince. In his hand is a gillyflower, or carnation, a symbol of purity or royalty. 

SOURCES
David Starkey, Man & Monarch Henry VIII, Exhibition Catalogue, (London, 2009)
David Starkey, Henry; Virtuous Prince (London, 2008)
Maria Perry, The Sisters of Henry VIII: The Tumultuos Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France, (London, 1998)
Arthur, Prince of Wales, Oxford DNB

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Review of Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature By Linda Lear


Book Synopsis
Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), creator of the immortal Peter Rabbit, is known as an avid writer of comical illustrated letters to friends and as an assertive marketer of her illustrations, and this lively volume also captures her energetic participation in Victorian-era natural history research and conservation. Environmental historian Lear (Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature) relates that, as a child in an upper-middle-class family, Potter sketched flowers, dead animals and live lizards, insects and rodents that she brought home. "Rabbits were caught, tamed, sketched, painted" by young Beatrix and her brother, Bertram. In 1893, while traveling with her pet rabbit, Peter Piper, and seeking unusual fungi with self-taught mycologist Charles McIntosh, Potter jotted an illustrated note "about a disobedient young rabbit called 'Peter' " to an ailing child friend and sketched Peter's nemesis, a McIntosh–look-alike farmer called Mr. McGregor, creating "two fictional characters that one day would be world-famous." Lear judges Potter "a brilliant amateur" naturalist who expressed strong convictions about land preservation. Potter's witty journals, with their close observations of people, animals, objects and places, serve as the basis for Lear's engrossing account, which will appeal to ecologists, historians, child lit buffs and those who want to know the real Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Benjamin Bunny.

A PAGE OUT OF BEATRIX POTTER'S DIARY

For sixteen years Beatrix Potter kept a diary written in code and whose work dealt almost exclusively with the doings of small creatures whose fictional lives and homes were cunningly hidden in hedgerows, wainscots, woodlands, farmsteads and floorboards.

REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST
One of my earliest memories is snuggling with my grandma at the age of three years old listening to her read this book that she says I repeatedly requested. If she did not, I would burst into tears. It was Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. I remember laughing at Mr. Mcgregor even though he clearly wanted to harm Peter Rabbit for sneaking into his garden and eating all the vegetables until he got sick! Even Mrs. Mcgregor wanted her husband to catch Peter so she could put him in a pie! This certainly never scared me. I just thought it was funny! This is partly because my grandma would explain to me that it is a story or a tale and Peter really wouldn't get eaten in a pie but you shouldn't be 'naughty' and 'misbehave'. Apparently, I was worried about the rabbits getting cooked! I won't say anything about what happened when my mother and I went to see Fatal Attraction, years later...


Peter Rabbit, his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, and his mother are anthropomorphic rabbits who dress in human clothing and generally walk upright on their hind legs, though they live in a rabbit hole under a fir-tree. Mother Rabbit has forbidden her children to enter the garden of Mr. McGregor: it was there that their father met his untimely end and became the ingredient of a pie. However, while Mrs. Rabbit is shopping and the girls are collecting blackberries, Peter sneaks into the garden. There, he gorges on vegetables until he gets sick, and is then chased about by Mr. McGregor. When Peter loses his jacket and his shoes, Mr. McGregor uses them to dress a scarecrow. After several close encounters with Mr. McGregor, Peter escapes the garden and returns to his mother exhausted and ill. She puts him to bed with a dose of camomile tea while his sisters (who have been good little bunnies) enjoy bread and milk and blackberries for supper. In a 1904 sequel, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Peter returns to McGregor's garden to retrieve his lost clothes...The scene when Peter and Benjamin fall down a hole in the ground while Peter is carrying a sack full of 'those beastly onions' still makes me giggle until my stomachaches

ON TO MY THOUGHTS ABOUT BEATRIX POTTER: A LIFE IN NATURE
While biographer Linda Lear gives Beatrix Potter's life its full due, she's also aware that there were only five years out of 77 in a life lived productively and to the full. Lear is an environmental historian, and while she is an enthusiastic if uncritical appreciator of Potter's books for children and unabashedly writes of Potter in her private and her public life, her main interest is in Potter's aptitude and skill for science and natural history and the way it transformed her in her later years into an expert in land management and sustainable farming.

Partly through her books and partly through inheritance, Beatrix Potter Heelis was in her later years a very wealthy woman, and she became one of the largest landholders in the Lake District. Most of this land she managed and preserved with Britain's National Trust. Through what Lear calls "her passionate and imaginative stewardship of the land", she "created a singular moment in the recovery of nature in the 20th century: a paradigm of environmental awakening".

However, there are some long and impressive stretches that concentrate on Potter's life as a scientist and an artist, for the two were not separable in her work. Before the era of Peter Rabbit, Potter was already a trained artist, a skilled photographer and a gifted amateur naturalist, prolific and photographically accurate in her botanical drawings and profoundly knowledgeable about fungi.

For her biographer, the turning point in Potter's life was the late summer of 1893, when she was 27: "On 4 September, the very day after discovering and drawing the rare pine cone fungus, Beatrix sat down in the sunshine and wrote a picture letter about a disobedient young rabbit called Peter." The picture letter was to the older son of a former governess; fearing that his younger brother might feel left out, she then wrote one for him as well, about a frog called Jeremy Fisher: "In the space of two days she had found and painted a rare and important mycological specimen and created two fictional characters that one day would be world famous." In her picture letters to the various children she knew, Potter honed her storytelling skills; she experimented in them, says Lear, "with the intricacies of matching drawing to text, and with the structural elements of storytelling: they served as the medium for Potter's artistic transition between natural science and fantasy". She had considerable training as a child and teenager in drawing and painting, including some handy tips from her father's friend John Everett Millais, the most gifted of the Pre-Raphaelites.

There seems to have existed in Potter's parents a tendency to be repressive and controlling on the one hand, and generous and tolerant about Potter's love of drawing and of plants and animals on the other. As children, Beatrix and her younger brother Bertram had a permanent zoo in the family home, which seems to have been full of animals brought home - often smuggled - from country holidays.

The sense of Potter as a real, compelling artist in this book is very strong. At just 18 she wrote in her journal: "I cannot rest, I must draw, however poor the result, and when I have had a bad time come over me, it is a stronger desire than ever." At the other end of her life, now a north country farmer and sheep-breeder, she asked her manager to take up the next lamb that died, cut off its head and "skin it back to the shoulder". He did as asked, and the following day "he came to find the sheep's head pinned against a wall in the meadow and Beatrix sitting on a stone sketching it".

The great achievement of this book is the way it brings together Beatrix Potter's lifelong activities in art and science and shows how they are all part of an extraordinarily integrated life: how her feeling for plants and animals and her finely detailed observations of the natural world were the foundation stones of her children's books as well as her land management skills and environmental awareness. In the last year of her life, she wrote to her cousin Caroline: "As I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough lands, seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton grass where my old legs will never take me again.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Review of Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle

2009 UK Cover
         2011 US  Cover

BOOK SYNOPSIS
In conjunction with a major series for BBC2, this work presents the scandalous saga of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Their Bohemian lifestyle and intertwined love affairs shockingly broke 19th Century class barriers and bent the rules that governed the roles of the sexes. They became defined by love triangles, played out against the austere moral climate of Victorian England; they outraged their contemporaries with their loves, jealousies and betrayals, and they stunned society when their complex moral choices led to madness and suicide, or when their permissive experiments ended in addiction and death. The characters are huge and vivid and remain as compelling today as they were in their own time. The influential critic, writer and artist John Ruskin was their father figure and his apostles included the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the designer William Morris. They drew extraordinary women into their circle. In a move intended to raise eyebrows for its social audacity, they recruited the most ravishing models they could find from the gutters of Victorian slums. The saga is brought to life through the vivid letters and diaries kept by the group and the accounts written by their contemporaries. These real-life stories shed new light on the greatest nineteenth-century British art. This title intends to tie in with a major television series on BBC 2. It features colourful characters, intimate lives, and it reads like a novel. It teaches about a major British Art movement through the medium of a cracking story. It contains gorgeous colour pictures that bring the characters and their art alive, and, Franny Moyle reveals the surprising truth behind Ruskin's public persona. The Pre-Raphaelites were the infamous, bad-boy celebrities of the late Victorian era and this book shows they are as compelling today as they were then. It brings together class, sexuality and morality in a scandalous saga.

Pre-Raphaelite Models
Annie Miller

Alexa Wilding

Fanny Cornforth

Jane Burden Morris

Lizzie Siddal -- The Infamous Ophelia

William Michael Rossetti, (Dante's brother) years later, remembered what the Pre-Raphaelites had looked for in their models: living people who, by refinement of character and aspect, may be supposed to have some affinity with those personages (that the painter intends to portray) - and, when he has found such people...he ought, with substantial though not slavish fidelity, to represent them as they are (Moyle, 98).

I cannot read a Pre-Raph themed fiction or non-fiction book without the mention and accompanying photo of One of the most infamous paintings and models to grace the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, namely, John Everett Millais', 'Ophelia', 1851-2, modeled by Elizabeth Siddal (Lizzie).


Ophelia went on show in the summer of 1852 as part of the Royal Academy Exhibitition.
In the 22 May 1852 issue of Punch magazine, pp. 216-7, one critic writes,
Before two pictures of Mr. Millais I have spent the happiest hour that I have ever spent in the Royal Academy Exhibition. In those two pictures I find more loving observation of Nature, more mastery in the reproduction of her forms and colours, more insight into the sentiment of our greatest poet, a deeper feeling of human emotion, a happier choice of a point of interest, and a more truthful rendering of its appropriate expression, than in all the rest of those eight hundred squares of canvas put together...
Talk as you like, M'Gilp, eminent painter, to your friend Mr. Squench, eminent critic, about the needless elaboration of those water mosses, and the over making-out of the rose leaves, and the abominable finish of those river-side weeds matted with gossamer, which the field botanist may identify leaf by leaf. I tell you, I am aware of none of these. I see only that face of poor drowning Ophelia. My eye goes to that, and rests of that, and sees nothing else, till - buffoon as I am, mocker, joker, scurril-knave, streetjester by trade and nature - the tears blind me, and I am fain to turn from the face of the mad girl to the natural loveliness that makes her dying beautiful(Moyle, 99-100)


MY THOUGHTS
As someone who fell in love with Waterhouse, Burne-Jones, Rossetti and Millais' paintings, I have read as much correspondence as was available online, biographies written by so called 'experts' and finally recommended fiction. I wanted to find out what a painter's inspiration truly was? Was it their muse or model, was it their surroundings, upbringing, class status, education or just an excuse to have a nude woman pose for them?
So, what have I discovered...Well, underneath the gruff exterior of the men of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood lies the tortured lifestyle of an artist complete with the juxtaposition between a man's superego and crushing paranoia and insecurities! I quite like them these talented and neurotic painters, writers, and illustrators who have brought us some of the most realistic and painfully exquisite pieces of artwork based on poetry and literature of their day!
That is what you will find within the pages of Franny Moyle's 'Desperate Romantics' a tie in with a BBC television show of the same name!
Franny Moyle has written a sort of British Victorian soap opera. Yes, the painters and muses were real people who led interesting lives but because there is limited documentation throughout these artist's lives, we will never truly know every aspect of their inspirations for painting their subject's or why they pursued who they did! This is one of the weaknesses of 'Desperate Romantics'.
However, one of the strengths is the fact that it is well researched, well written and the pages are littered with lovely illustrations and excerpts of correspondence provide chapter examples.
So, I recommend it as pure enjoyment and escapism not part of your research. For that I would recommend Jan Marsh, Lucinda Hawksley, Josceline Dimbleby or Suzanne Fagence Cooper!

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Review of Tennyson's Gift by Lynne Truss



  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins Pb (May 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007355270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007355273

BOOK SYNOPSIS
From the bestselling author of 'Eats Shoots & Leaves', an unexpectedly moving, luminously wise and brilliantly funny novel about a Victorian Poet Laureate. In July 1864, a corner of the Isle of Wight is buzzing with literary and artistic creativity. A morose Tennyson is reciting 'Maud' to empty sofas; the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is white-washing the roses for visual effect and the mismatched couple, actress Ellen Terry and painter G. F. Watts, are thrown into the company of the remarkable Lorenzo Fowler, the American phrenologist, and his daughter Jessie. Enter mathematician Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), known to Jessie as the 'fiendish pedagogue', and Lynne Truss's wonderfully imaginative cocktail of Victorian seriousness and riotous farce begins to take flight.


TAKEN FROM LYNNE TRUSS' WEBSITE SHE SAYS

Madness seems to be a recurrent theme in my novels. The greatest influence onTennyson’s Gift is not the poet laureate, or even his wonderfully enthusiastic neighbour, slaving night and day for Art, Mrs Cameron. It is the great Victorian children’s writer Lewis Carroll (real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), who made a real visit to Freshwater in July 1864, and thus supplied a real date for the book’s entirely invented action. Tennyson’s Gift is about love, poetry, the beauty of girls with long hair, the questionable sagacity of men with beards, the language of flowers and the acquisition of famous heads; but it is mainly about the insane Carrollian egotism that accompanies energetic genius.
All the main characters are real people who were really regulars at Freshwater: the solemn painter G.F. Watts; the burgeoning young actress Ellen Terry; the two maids; the Tennyson boys; even the little girl Daisy. They can all be found in Mrs Cameron’s pictures from that year. The only imports to the scene are the rather splendid American phrenologist Lorenzo Niles Fowler and his precocious daughter Jessie, who cannot be placed historically at Freshwater in July 1864, but were touring England in the early 1860s, which was good enough for me.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE NOVEL
It is rare for me to simply love 'an entire novel' and not want to stop reading midway through or give up altogether in frustration! You do not have to know all that much about Alfred Tennyson or any of the other literary cast of characters. All you need is an open mind and a sense of humor! This novel is pure fun to read and farce in the true sense of the word!
It seems that I am now mainly reading novels albeit fiction or nonfiction for research or analytical reasons that I rarely read just for the pureness of the mental escape. Novels like this one are ones that I linger over because I don't want them to end.
Author, Lynne Truss, is someone I am unfamiliar with so Tennyson's Gift was a wonderful foray into her wacky and witty world! If you find yourself smiling and bursting into throwing your head back with laughter while reading, I would say this is a good sign of things to come!

SOME FAVORITE FUNNY BITS
Does anyone remember the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland? Well, if you're of my generation you grew up watching the movie as a little girl then reading the book by Lewis Carroll whose real name was Reverend Charles Dodgson who was a mathematician as well.

Well, according to the author in this novel it is implied that Reverend Dodgson who while visiting his friends Alfred Tennyson and photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron found her staff outside her home, Dimbola Lodge, painting her red roses that were growing on the bushes white...Remember the scene in Alice in Wonderland where the queen's staff 'mistakenly' paint the red roses white and upon the discovery she shouts, "Off With Her Head"...Could Reverend Dodson have written that scene after Julia Margaret Cameron? Was Julia 'the queen' from Alice in Wonderland? Chapter One opens with...
" A blazing dusty July afternoon at Freshwater Bay; and up at Dimbola Lodge, with a glorious loud to-do, the household of Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron is mostly out of doors, applying paint to the roses. They run around the garden in the sunshine, holding up skirts and aprons, and jostle on the paths. For reasons they dare not inquire, the red roses must be painted white. If anyone asked them to guess, they would probably say, 'Because it's Wednesday?'
'You're splashing me!'
'Look out!'
'We'll never get it done in time!'
'What if she comes and we're not finished?'
'It will be off with our heads!'
He pauses, tilts his head, and listens tot he commotion with a faraway, satisfied smile. If you knew him better, you would recognize this unattractive expression. It is the smirk of a clever dysfunctional thirty-two year old, middle aged before his time, whose own singular insights and private jokes are his constant reliable source of intellectual delight. 
'O-O-Off with our heads? he muses, and opens a small notebook produced with a parlour magician's flourish from an inside pocket.
'Off with our h---heads?' He makes a neat note with a tiny pencil. 
'H-H-H---Extraordinary.' 


 Have you ever wondered how to keep your poet laureate husband happy?
Here's what Emily Tennyson might have done...
At Farringford, Emily Tennyson sorted her husband's post. Thin and beady-eyed in her shiny black dress, she had the look of a blackbird picking through worms. She spotted immediately the handwriting of Tennyson's most insistent anonymous detractor and swiftly tucked it into her pocket.
Alfred was absurdly sensitive to criticism, and she had discovered that the secret of the quiet life was to let him believe what he wanted to believe -viz, that the world adored him without the faintest reservation or quibble. To this comfortable illusion of her husband's, in fact, she was steadily sacrificing her life. Emily had a large drawer of unopened letters in her bureau upstairs. She would never let Alfred know of their existence not while there was breath in her body, anyway.
She was pleased to reflect that she was well prepared for Alfred. As a matter of routine, he would ask three questions as he whirled dramatically through the door in his black cloak and sombrero, to which his wife's dutiful answers must always be the same.
'Did you check the boys for signs of madness, Emily?'
'Yes dear, I did.'
'Is there an apple pie baked for my dinner?'
'Yes. Cook has seen to it.'
'Is anyone after my head?'
'No, dear, nobody. As I have told you before, Alfred, that's all in your imagination.'


Ellen Terry, aged 17, photo by Julia Margaret Cameron
Portrait by Cameron of G.F. Watts, 1847


Lastly, one funny situation was a discussion between husband and wife G.F. Watts, painter (aged 47) and wife, actress Ellen Terry (aged 16)...that's right...During a dinner scene a conversation between the pair turned into a full blown argument. Watts, keeping calm, addresses Terry in a very direct tone saying, 'Stop being so dramatic'. Dramatic actress, Ellen Terry, loudly bellowing replies quoting Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to which Watts never losing a beat calmly tells her, 'My dear, if you continue with this, I shall have a headache'. I can just picture Watts sitting around his dinner table shoving food in his mouth while Ellen Terry does a scene from Shakespeare, exasperated by his calmness in full blown actress mode, standing before him draped in a lovely gown, too upset to eat! I just found it so funny and very realistic to human nature!


I find myself growing quite fond of Alfred Tennyson. Having read his works and his son's memoir and correspondence it paints a picture of a lovely, quiet, introspective, genius of a man who wants a simple life by the bay with his family. In closing is my favorite scene from Tennyson's Gift. It is Ellen Terry's view of the man after having a discussion with him while walking along the downs...
Alfred Tennyson photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron


Tennyson leaned into the wind. The thing about this man, she realized as she watched his cloak furl and crack behind him like a flag, was that he was rather like a cliff himself. His large white face looked down and shaped by centuries of rain and landslip; and all his life (even when it was quite unnecessary) he seemed to defy a gale, staunch on his stocky Lincolnshire legs, with his chest puffed out. Here was a man who would never discover a sheltered place in the world and then relax in it. Tennyson was a walking personification of the verb 'to buffet'. When Watts was cut up by a review, Ellen had observed that he would mend again by teatime. But Tennyson went all to tatters, and displayed his wounds perpetually, even to people who strenuously desired not to see them. Perhaps his Approbativeness needs looking at, thought Ellen. Tennyson's must be the size of a baby gnat.


Please feel free to leave any comments,




Thank you and Farewell

This will be my last and final blog post. Due to my work schedule and private life, I sadly must bring this blog to a close. It is no...