Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Review of The Magus of Mortlake or The Arch-Conjuror of England John Dee by Glyn Parry


• Hardcover: 384 pages
• Publisher: Yale University Press (3 Jan 2012)
• Language English
• ISBN-10: 0300117191
• ISBN-13: 978-0300117196

Product Description
Outlandish alchemist and magician, political intelligencer, apocalyptic prophet, and converser with angels, John Dee (1527-1609) was one of the most colourful and controversial figures of the Tudor world. In this fascinating book - the first full-length biography of Dee based on primary historical sources - Glyn Parry explores Dee's vast array of political, magical, and scientific writings and finds that they cast significant new light on policy struggles in the Elizabethan court, conservative attacks on magic, and Europe's religious wars. John Dee was more than just a fringe magus, Parry shows: he was a major figure of the Reformation and Renaissance.

About the Author
Glyn Parry is a senior lecturer in history, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He graduated from the University of Cambridge with a PhD in History.

‘I have from my youth up, desired and prayed unto thee for pure and sound wisdom and understanding of some of thy truths natural and artificial, hidden in the frame of the world’ ~ John Dee

John Dee lived during a time when boundaries between magic and science were still completely unformed; when religion and politics were sometimes viewed as being one and the same. Dee was deeply involved in the court and international politics of his time. Roland Dee, John Dee’s father, was an important figure in Henry VIII’s court. He made and lost a fortune through the operation of a City tax and involvement in political plots concerning the royal succession. He supported plotters who planned to put Jane Gray on the throne.

John Dee’s loyalties were more than flexible during the reign of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Parry makes it clear that although John Dee could be viewed as an opportunist, he used not only a policy of survival but of religious ambiguity during a period of great turmoil. For instance, many will discover that Dee was actually a consecrated Catholic priest and not a loyal Protestant cleric. He was taken through all the necessary processes in just one day.

John Dee’s inevitable position in the Elizabethan court was more important than his image as the purely intellectual ‘Magus of Mortlake’. Like all courtiers he would be in and out of favor to varying extent throughout his life. Elizabeth I was always supportive of his alchemical and navigational works and would offer him help during the lowest periods of his life.

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of Dee’s life was his relationship with his ‘scryer’ or medium, Edward Kelley who was employed by most magical practitioners of the period. Dee’s belief in Kelley’s visions would have been considered controversial and it seems that Kelley himself believed his angelic messages. Parry even mentions Kelley’s role in the infamous ‘wife swapping’ episode. Something I could have done without knowing!

After Dee’s return from Europe, when Kelley stayed behind in Bohemia, his notoriety matched that of Dee. Back in England, Elizabeth sought news of Kelley from Dee about his own work; to the extent that Elizabeth was involved in practical alchemy, maintaining laboratories at Hampton Court where she would work alongside her own alchemists.

During John Dee’s final years he gradually removed himself from court life heading to Manchester as Warden of the Collegiate Church. This was another position where his grasp of political intrigue worked against him. He spent as much time at his home in Mortlake as he would in Manchester. The accession of James I/VI meant Dee’s final act as a public figure.

‘He lived in John Pontois’s house in Bishopsgate Street, a frail, white haired figure of eighty-five, surrounded by manuscripts and books that overflowed the shelves of a large study and spilled out of numerous trunks. They included the Arabic book he called Soyga, which combined angel magic with alchemy and astrology, and a valuable manuscript of Paracelsus. His astrological clock survived, together with some precious mathematical instruments. His cedar chest with its hidden compartment still protected his secrets – his olive wood rosary and cross, his angelic manuscripts, his own writings. Pontois believed implicitly in the angels, and long afterwards he kept the chest, the Holy Table and a certain round flat stone like Crystal. Dee died amongst these remnants of his long life of learning at 3 a.m. on 26 March 1609’. ~ The Arch-Conjuror of England, John Dee

Glyn Parry has used many of the original sources in writing Dee’s life through the course of Elizabethan religious politics. There is an extensive Notes section or list of references to source documents that can baffle the general reader even one with a fair knowledge of the Elizabethan Era. However, Parry has uncovered ‘new’ material especially pertaining to John Dee’s Ordination and imprisonment.

I read ‘The Arch-Conjuror of England’ by Glyn Parry in hopes of getting better acquainted with Dr. John Dee a man I find quite interesting who lived through and witnessed one of the most intriguing periods in history. I enjoyed reading the chapters pertaining to John Dee’s youth, his life in the Tudor court, his teachings and knowledge of Angels I believe as truth for personal reasons. However, I struggled reading through the chapters detailing Astrology and Mathematics because I was not emotionally grasping who John Dee truly was.

I would highly recommend this biography to any open-minded truth and knowledge seeker!

NOTE: The Arch-Conjuror of England John Dee will be published in the United States in April 2012. For now, it is a U.K. and Europe publication.

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson A Review

Title: The Lantern
Author: Deborah Lawrenson
Pages: 383
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: August 9, 2011 (hardcover); February 28, 2012 (paperback)

When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les Genevriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the south of France. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive. But as verdant summer fades to golden autumn, the grand house's strange and troubling mysteries begin to unfold—and Eve now must uncover its every secret . . . before dark history can repeat itself.

The first chapter of The Lantern begins...
The rocks glow red above the sea, embers of the day’s heat below our balcony at the Hotel Marie.
Down here, on the southern rim of the country, out of the mistral’s slipstream, the evening drops like viscous liquid: slow and heavy and silent. When we first arrived, the stifling sultriness made sleep impossible; night closed in like the lid of a tomb
.


Readers have referred to this writing style as ‘evocative’ and ‘lush’. Yes it’s descriptive and very pretty. However, 383 pages of image driven scent inducing flowery prose makes me use a word I rarely use when reviewing…overwritten! Early on as I read, I quickly started worrying if I would be turned off by Deborah Lawrenson’s overly-descriptive writing style. Once the mystery took off, I went with it!

The Lantern is a combination of two storylines that run conclusively together in alternating chapters. So is the story:
The modern day storyline is told in the first person by the female protagonist who remains unnamed throughout the book. She is only referred to as ‘Eve’ by her ‘secretive’ husband Dom. He calls her Eve as a Garden of Eden reference because they met in a maze on Lake Geneva. They meet early on at the Hotel Marie in the South of France after some unidentified calamity has occurred, exiling ‘Eve’ and her then lover Dom. I suppose there are worse places to be exiled at least you won’t be alone because you’ll meet a handsome stranger! After spending a short time together and upon Dom’s insistence, they move into a ramshackle Provencal cottage which they call Les Genevriers to begin their life of isolated bliss together! Anyone else sensing a nod to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca yet?

Paradise never lasts forever as we find out at Les Genevriers with Dom’s strong negative reaction to any mention of his former wife, Rachel. Then there’s Sabine, a local who knows Dom (though he claims not to know her) who also knew Rachel. Dom and Eve begin to hear strange reports of local girls gone missing and their home itself is quite old and apparently…haunted…

The second storyline is where the confusion and doubt creep in for the reader. At least this one. Flashback chapters telling the story of prior occupants of Les Genevriers, Benedicte Lincel who grew up there and lived her entire adult life in that house. As her story unravels, the reader finds out that she is an old woman living alone beset by what she believes are ghosts. She sees her first ghost, her brother Pierre, who is described as a bit of a ‘wild boy’ who tormented Benedicte as she grew up. Soon the entire ghostly family appears making the reader feel almost as if they need a score card just to keep track of occurrences.

Dom’s first wife Rachel we find out is not quite as fascinating in the same way as Dom and Eve are but she is a compelling character. One annoyance I found with Eve’s character was how she kept asking Dom questions about who Rachel was, about their life together, etc. I do understand,as a woman,the curiosity about the mysterious first wife your current husband and lover will not talk about under any circumstances. Even after Dom tells Eve not to question him, she does so, at every possible chance she gets. This was so annoying and very off putting! I wanted to shake Eve and tell her to knock it off!

The Lantern is supposed to be a Gothic romance; another nod to Rebecca with tinges of the orphaned Jane Eyre. Even though the romantic relationship between Dom and Eve is central to the Gothic plot,this requires the heroine to remain mostly passive towards Dom leaving her in such a state of denial most of the time. Dom however grows vague and very distant towards Eve very early on in their ‘romantic’ relationship thus capturing that brooding, mysterious Olivier/Maxim and Rebecca homage again! Leaving the reader having a hard time understanding the real nature of their romantic connection or maybe it was just me!

Without giving too much more away, as with dual storylines, you have a build up where the storylines tie together in a very grand way. This happens in spades! Actually a deafening crescendo that left me gob smacked and actually tearing up!
Overall, I enjoyed ‘The Lantern’ for Deborah Lawrenson’s attempts to capture the romance and ghost story so prevalent in Gothic literature! If you want a romantic beach read this might be a good choice. I still highly recommend Rebecca and Jane Eyre first though!

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Review of When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris


About the Author C.S. Harris
C.S. Harris is a historian who lives in New Orleans. Writing as Candice Proctor, she is the author of seven award winning historical romances. Under the name C.S. Graham, she authors contemporary thrillers with her husband, former intelligence officer Steven Harris. She has two daughters.

Description of When Maidens Mourn
Tales of King Arthur and the Lady of Shalott provide inspiration for this latest gripping installment in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series when, just four days wed, the aristocratic investigator and his fiercely independent bride, Hero Jarvis, find themselves caught up in a twisted intrigue of ancient legends and a deadly family curse.

Regency England, August 1812: Sebastian’s plans to escape the heat of London for a honeymoon are shattered when the murdered body of Hero’s good friend, Gabrielle Tennyson, is discovered drifting in a battered boat at the site of a long-vanished castle known as Camlet Moat. A beautiful young antiquarian, Miss Tennyson had recently provoked an uproar with her controversial identification of the island as the location of Camelot. Missing and presumed also dead are Gabrielle’s two young cousins, nine-year-old George and three-year-old Alfred.

Still struggling to define the nature of their new marriage, Sebastian and Hero find themselves occasionally working at cross-purposes as their investigation leads from London’s medieval Inns of Court to its seedy back alleys, and from grand country homes to rural enclaves where ancient Celtic beliefs still hold sway. As he probes deeper, Sebastian also discovers dark secrets at the heart of the Tennyson family, and an enigmatic young French lieutenant with a dangerous, mysterious secret of his own.

Racing to unmask a ruthless killer and unravel the puzzle of the missing children, Sebastian and Hero soon find both their lives and their growing love for each other at risk as their investigation leads to Hero’s father, who is also Sebastian’s long-time nemesis… and to a tall, dark stranger who may hold the key to Sebastian’s own parentage.


My Thoughts about When Maidens Mourn
'When Maidens Mourn' is the seventh installment in the series. However, this is my first book I've read by C.S. Harris. The book cover immediately attracted me. It's beautiful isn't it with its obvious lure of 'The Lady of Shalott'.

Well, I am very pleasantly surprised by 'When Maidens Mourn'. Yes, the author spins a tale, a mystery really, based upon Alfred Tennyson's epic poem, 'The Lady of Shalott' peppered with Arthurian references that help build the suspense and provide ample allure to the plot.

C.S. Harris has definitely researched the life of Alfred Tennyson. She bases characters and settings on his life and accomplishments which if the reader pays close attention, will bring him or her to some very 'interesting' twists, turns, and some surprises to the mystery.

This is a well written story descriptive in tone and almost poetic in places with humorous dialogue and there's romance with the newly married couple. However, don't forget this is Regency England so no bodice ripping content thankfully just the appropriate glances and kisses and a bit more...

I cannot go into much detail about the mystery because the reader must pay attention to the historical and literary references in hopes of enjoying 'When Maidens Mourn' thoroughly. Just know that there is more than one murder, many suspects and a few red herrings along the way!

If I had one complaint it would be a pet peeve, really! As 'When Maidens Mourn' progresses, the author introduces so many new characters that it becomes a bit confusing as to who is a Lord, who is a Lady, who is related to whom, who is married to whom, who is happy, who is in love...oh you get the idea!

I was happy to read the Author's Note at the end where C.S. Harris provides necessary answers to her research on The Tennyson's and The Arthurian Legend.

If you would like to read an engrossing, funny, historical mystery with a different slant to it, then When Maidens Mourn might just be for you! I am hard to please and I read it in one sitting...smiling, laughing and pleasantly surprised.

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Review of The Meaning of Night A Confession by Michael Cox


BOOK DESCRIPTION
 The atmosphere of Bleak House, the sensuous thrill of Perfume, and the mystery of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell all combine in a story of murder, deceit, love, and revenge in Victorian England...

So begins the story of Edward Glyver, booklover, scholar, and murderer. As a young boy, Glyver always believed he was destined for greatness. A chance discovery convinces him that he was right: greatness does await him, along with immense wealth and influence. Overwhelmed by his discovery, he will stop at nothing to win back a prize that he knows is rightfully his.

Glyver's path to reclaim his prize leads him from the depths of Victorian London, with its foggy streets, brothels, and opium dens, to Evenwood, one of England's most beautiful and enchanting country houses, and finally to a consuming love for the beautiful but enigmatic Emily Carteret. His is a story of betrayal and treachery, of death and delusion, of ruthless obsession and ambition. And at every turn, driving Glyver irresistibly onward, is his deadly rival: the poet-criminal Phoebus Rainsford Daunt.

 
My Thoughts on The Meaning of Night
 ‘The Meaning of Night’ is a first person confession of a murderer who takes you on a journey through the foggy streets of Victorian London while he sets out on his murder rampage during the year 1854.

“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” 
This is the opening sentence of the first page spoken by protagonist and narrator, Edward Glyver.  He is really quite a horrible person.  He is a murderer. He changes his surname and uses pseudonyms per murder of which there are numerous. He cheats on the woman who loves him, develops an obsession with his enemy, Phoebus Rainsford Daunt  and becomes increasingly dependent on opium, making him an amusing narrator at times.

The plot is familiar to anyone who has read Victorian fiction.  ‘The Meaning of Night’ is a story of love, betrayal and deceit, revolving around a lost inheritance and a childhood rivalry. A vast country estate, a beautiful, mysterious heroine, and the dark, foggy streets of 19th century London combine to make this a clever imitation of the Victorian sensation novel. A guilty passion of mine and one that I indulge in at every possible moment! 

Michael Cox uses footnotes throughout 'The Meaning of Night' in homage to Wilkie Collins’s'The Woman in White'; an obvious influence on his writing style and characterization. The footnotes in 'The Woman in White' add a dimension of believability providing readers with fascinating character and place anecdotes. However, when Michael Cox uses footnotes, they seem to add very little purpose other than an attempt to provide a more genuine Victorian authenticity. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not! 

 Yes, there are multi-plots, twists and turns, and the ending is open-ended leaving room for a sequel second novel, ‘The Glass of Time’. I should have hated 'The Meaning of Night'. I should have lost patience with its obviousness in tone, dialogue and content but I didn’t. 

This is not a Victorian thriller where you have to solve the murder to find out who the murderer is and why it happened. This is a story cleverly told and beautifully written; where you know who the murderer is, who the victims are and some of the how and why they happened! So, why keep reading? It’s a manuscript format remember…clues are provided…the reader solves a puzzle chapter by chapter, piece by piece. 

 Michael Cox brilliantly flips the archetype of Victorian fiction so the answers his character provides, makes the reader ‘need’ to discover if their questions are correct!  Have I lost you yet? Trust me on this one, if you are looking for an intelligent cohesive story set in Victorian London with humor than this one just might be for you! Remember, there is a second novel following so the ending of 'The Meaning of Night' leaves you guessing and wanting to know more…especially about his female obsession…

An excerpt of a poem, 'From the Persian' printed in Daunt's Rosa Mundi and other Poems, 1854, is included in 'The Meaning of Night' and I'd like to end my review with it. 

 
The Night has come upon me,
No more the breaking day,
No more the noontide's glare
No more the evenings ray
Soft as lover's sighs. 


For Dearth is the Meaning Of Night;
The eternal shadow,
Into which all lives must fall,
All hope's expire. 
Please feel free to leave any comments,



Monday, March 12, 2012

A City Dweller Reviews: In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson


Author, Kim Wilson
Kim Wilson is a writer, editor, and gardener who lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and is a longtime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She is the author of Tea with Jane Austen.

Forward by Celia Simpson
Celia Simpson is Head Gardener at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.



“Jane Austen loved a garden. She took a keen interest in flower gardening and kitchen gardening alike. The Austens grew their own food whenever they could and had flower gardens wherever they lived, at their parsonage at Steventon in Hampshire, their town gardens at Bath and Southampton, and when they returned to Hampshire, at their cottage garden at Chawton. In Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra, we see her planning the details of these family gardens, discussing the planting of fruit, flowers, and trees with enthusiasm. In the course of her life, she also had the opportunity to visit many of the grander gardens of England: her brother’s two estates at Chawton and Godmersham, the manor houses of friends and family, and probably even the great estate at Chatsworth, assumed by many to be the inspiration for Pemberley” From the introduction of In the Garden with Jane Austen

Kim Wilson takes us on a visual journey through various gardens Jane Austen would have created for herself, visited, or imagined in her novels, all interspersed with gorgeous photographs, quotes from her works and letters, and vignettes of engravings and poetry from her contemporaries.

We begin at Chawton Cottage, Austen’s home from 1809-1817, and the setting of the cottage and kitchen gardens that she wrote about so lovingly… “You cannot imagine – it is not Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the orchard” [31 May 1811], and then references to farm and parsonage gardens, which we see in Emma (Robert Martin’s summer house in his farm garden), and who can forget Mr. Collins day-long labors in his garden, much to Mrs. Collins’s satisfaction!

Jane Austen’s life in the cities of her times was confining, and one of her joys was the City Gardens. Wilson travels through the gardens of Georgian Bath, a variety of London’s garden squares Henry Austen (Jane’s brother) lived in several places in London and the areas surrounding these show up in her novels as the London homes of her characters: Brunswick Square in Emma, Hanover Square and Portman Square in S&S, the garden at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (where Austen’s characters visited, if not Jane herself), and the small town garden the Austens had in Southampton.

One of my favorite ‘walks’ that Jane Austen goes on is around ‘The Crescent’ or ‘The Royal Crescent’ which was "built between 1767 and 1775 by John Wood the Younger, the Royal Crescent was the first such curved terrace in Great Britain. Instantly fashionable, the thirty houses in the Crescent, some of the more expensive houses in Bath, were snapped up by the upper crust of society. The Duke of York, the second son of George III, lived at No. 16, which boasted a huge rear garden complete with a coach house and stables large enough for sixteen horses. No. 16, combined with No. 15, is now the site of The Royal Crescent Hotel. Jane Austen's aunt and uncle, the Coopers, lived for a time at No. 12, which is now divided into flats, as are most of the houses in the Crescent. No. 1 lacks a garden but the interior has been restored to Georgian splendor and is now a museum open to the public."

Jane Austen mentions the Royal Crescent in Northanger Abbey and mentions the Crescent twice in letters: In 1801 to her sister Cassandra, she says, 'On Sunday we went to church twice, and after evening service walked a little in the Crescent fields, but found it too cold to stay long', and in 1805, 'Miss Irvine invited us, when I met her in the Crescent, to drink tea with them...We did not walk long in the Crescent...It was hot and not crowded enough; so we went into the field.' That field is now Victoria Park.

The Royal Crescent

Jane Austen was a self-described “desperate walker” much as she imagined Elizabeth Bennet, so her love of Public Gardens & Parks is apparent in her novels and letters: Kensington Gardens, St. James and Hyde Park in London, Sydney Gardens and Alexandra Park at Beechen Cliff in Bath, Box Hill (made famous in Emma), and the tours of the picturesque (as Elizabeth’s tour through Derbyshire in P&P), and Netley Abbey near Southampton.

Kensington Gardens

The chapter on Mansion and Manor House Gardens takes us to Chawton House, Austen’s brother Edward’s estates in Kent and Hampshire, Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth, and Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire and the Vyne where “every park has its beauty and its prospects” where “one likes to get out into a shrubbery,” and we are reminded of Mr. Rushworth and his “improvements,” and the settings of Pemberley, Rosings, Mansfield Park, and in Emma, where the garden is nearly the heroine’s only place for solace, and Fanny with her own geraniums in her room (but she cuts roses for Mrs. Norris! …and a nice touch here …

Blenheim Palace

“Recipes for Mrs. Norris’s Dried Roses”)

Fine scented Wash-ball.
TAKE of the best White Soap, half a pound, and shave it into thin slices with a knife; then take two ounces and a half of Florentine Orrice, three quarters of an ounce of Calamus Aromaticus, and: the same quantity of Elder Flowers; of Cloves, and dried Rose Leaves, each half an ounce; Coriander-seed’s, Lavender, and Bay Leaves, of each a drachum, with three drachums of Storax. Reduce the whole to fine Powder, which knead into a Paste with, the Soap; adding a few grains of Musk or Ambergrise. When you make this Paste into Wash-balls, soften it with a little Oil of Almonds to render the composition more lenient. Too much, cannot be said in favour of this Wash-ball, with regard to its cleansing and cosmetic property.

Bags to scent Linen.
TAKE Rose Leaves dried in the shade, Cloves beat to a gross powder, and Mace scraped; Mix them together and put the composition into little bags.
Taken from The Toilet of Flora, 1779

Towards the end of 'In the Garden with Jane Austen', you will find a chapter where the author tells you how to recreate a Jane Austen themed garden of your very own. There is also a closing chapter on the gardens from Jane Austen films, some of which belong to various real life houses and gardens that are open to visitors!

The bibliography in the back of the book is one that should not be missed. Especially if you are interested in a list of eighteenth and nineteenth gardening manuals and publications!

Jane Austen's home, Chawton House, and gardens

“Our Garden is putting in order, by a Man who bears a remarkably good character, has a very fine complexion & asks something less than the first. The shrubs which border the gravel walk he says are only sweetbriar & roses, & the latter of an indifferent sort;–we mean to get a few of a better kind therefore, & at my own particular desire he procures us some Syringas. I could not do without a Syringa, for the sake of Cowper’s Line.–We talk also of a Laburnam.–The Border under the Terrace Wall, is clearing away to receive Currants & Gooseberry Bushes, & a spot is found very proper for raspberries.” Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, February 8, 1807

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Review of The Crimson Bed by Loretta Proctor


Author, Loretta Proctor explains the inspiration behind, ‘The Crimson Bed:’ ‘The Crimson Bed’ was inspired long ago by an unusual pencil drawing by D.G. Rossetti called ‘How They Met Themselves’. It shows an idealized couple (himself and Lizzie Siddal) meeting their ‘doppelganger’ in a dark wood. Rossetti drew this on their honeymoon, a strange foreboding of Lizzie’s eventual suicide'.

D.G. Rossetti's How They Met Themselves, 1864 (The Rossetti Archive)

This picture has always held great fascination for Loretta. She doesn’t read it as a sinister ‘doppelganger’ but rather in the Jungian sense of the meeting within of the male and female, spiritual and carnal sides of human nature, often reflected in real life by two couples who become friends then are contrasted with one another. In ‘The Crimson Bed,' she seeks to show how her characters ‘met themselves’ through the contrasting relationships of Fred and Ellie and Henry and Tippy’.

Carl Jung called sexual secrets and feelings people hide out of shame or a fear of tarnishing their image that they present to the world, the Shadow side of our natures. 'The Crimson Bed' deals with such secrets and feelings. Yet this dark, non-manifested part of us is often where creativity and depth of character is stored.

Synopsis
Frederic Ashton Thorpe and his best friend, Henry Winstone, are artists immersed in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, with its yearning for romantic escape from the materialism of Victorian society. Seeing a half-finished portrait of the beautiful Eleanor Farnham at Henry's studio, Fred is fascinated and returns in order to meet her. He and Ellie fall in love and are married. But every heart hides a secret and both Fred and Ellie have put certain events behind them. Events that, if exposed, could threaten their blissful new life. After her mother's death, Ellie inherits the Crimson Bed, a family heirloom passed down through the female line since Elizabethan times. With the bed come ancestral secrets that will eventually affect Ellie as much as the unhappy memories from her own past. Meanwhile, Fred is haunted by shameful memories of his own, that lead him into the darkness of the London slums and a very different world to that of his peaceful home. As a brilliant and talented artist, Henry is beginning to experience success and fame, but his life is haunted by tragedy and loss. Despite their own problems, Ellie and Fred watch in despair as he sinks slowly into drink, illness and decline. Passions escalate as Fred becomes increasingly jealous of Ellie's closeness to her handsome godfather, Lord Percy Dillinger, and when shocking truths finally come to light their lives will never again be the same!

My Thoughts
‘The Crimson Bed’ is written in a very easy writing style that keeps the reader interested in the story line and characters. I was very impressed with Loretta Proctor’s knowledge of the Victorian era and the artistic techniques used by the Pre-Raphaelites. She really creates a vibrant Victorian world; especially if you enjoy reading Henry James or Edith Wharton. The author never preaches to you or over explains details with mind numbing explanations. She simply knows how to flesh out her characters.

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Barrett Browning


I just wanted to commemorate the birthday of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in my own way! 



SONNET XLIII

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, -I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

 Here is just a sample of a letter from Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett,

January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett, -- and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write, --whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me -- for in the first flush of delight I though I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration -- perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter! -- but nothing comes of it all -- so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew ... oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at bottom, and shut up and put away ... and the book called a 'Flora', besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought -- but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogher. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart -- and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "would you like to see Miss Barrett?" -- then he went to announce me, -- then he returned ... you were too unwell -- and now it is years ago -- and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels -- as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel on crypt, ... only a screen to push and I might have entered -- but there was some slight ... so it now seems ... slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!

Well, these Poems were to be -- and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself. 

Yours ever faithfully
Robert Browning


The next day, Barrett wrote to a friend that Browning's letter 'threw me into ecstasies'." Now that is romantic!!

Also, Robert used a signet ring bearing a seal of the Browning crest and motto, a lion rampant upon a shield above the word "Virtue.' Elizabeth's seal contained her 'pet' name, 'Ba.'


BIOGRAPHY

Elizabeth Barrett was born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England. The Barrett family consisted of twelve children with Elizabeth being the eldest. They were part Creole, lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Elizabeth's father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, chose to raise his family in England, while his fortune grew in Jamaica. Educated at home, Elizabeth apparently had read passages from Paradise Lost and a number of Shakespearean plays, among other great works, before the age of ten. By the time she turned twelve, she had written her first "epic" poem, which consisted of four books of rhyming couplets. Two years later, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. 

In 1826 Elizabeth anonymously published her collection An Essay on Mind and Other Poems. Two years later, her mother passed away. Due to the slow abolition of slavery in England and mismanagement of the plantations, the Barrett's income was soon depleted.

 In 1832, Elizabeth's father sold his rural estate at a public auction. He moved his family to a coastal town and rented cottages for the next three years, before settling permanently in London. While living on the sea coast, Elizabeth published her translation of Prometheus Bound (1833), by the Greek dramatist Aeschylus.

Gaining notoriety for her work in the 1830s, Elizabeth continued to live in her father's London house under his tyrannical rule. He began sending Elizabeth's younger siblings to Jamaica to help with the family's estates. Elizabeth bitterly opposed slavery and did not want her siblings sent away. During this time, she wrote The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838), expressing Christian sentiments in the form of classical Greek tragedy. 
Due to her weakening disposition she was forced to spend a year at the sea of Torquay accompanied by her brother Edward, whom she referred to as "Bro." He drowned later that year while sailing at Torquay and Elizabeth returned home emotionally broken, becoming an invalid and a recluse. She spent the next five years in her bedroom at her father's home. She continued writing, however, and in 1844 produced a collection entitled simply Poems. This volume gained the attention of poet Robert Browning, whose work Elizabeth had praised in one of her poems, and he wrote her a letter.

Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters over the next twenty months. Their romance was bitterly opposed by her father, who did not want any of his children to marry. In 1846, the couple eloped and settled in Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth's health improved and she bore a son, Robert Wideman Browning. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth's Sonnets from the Portuguese, dedicated to her husband and written in secret before her marriage, was published in 1850. Critics generally consider the Sonnets  one of the most widely known collections of love lyrics in English to be her best work. Admirers have compared her imagery to Shakespeare and her use of the Italian form to Petrarch.

Political and social themes embody Elizabeth's later work. She expressed her intense sympathy for the struggle for the unification of Italy in Casa Guidi Windows (1848-51) and Poems Before Congress (1860). In 1857 Browning published her verse novel Aurora Leigh, which portrays male domination of a woman. In her poetry she also addressed the oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, the child labor mines and mills of England, and slavery, among other social injustices. Although this decreased her popularity, Elizabeth was heard and recognized around Europe. She is considered the poet of the Romantic Movement.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence on June 29, 1861.


SOURCE
 Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion by Michelle Lovric

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