Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Review of The Chosen by Elizabeth Lowry

Who pays the price of a writer's fame ?

One Wednesday morning in November 1912, the aging Thomas Hardy, entombed by paper and books and increasingly estranged from his wife Emma, finds her dying in her bedroom. Between his speaking to her and taking her in his arms, she is gone.

In the aftermath of his shattering loss, he comes across a set of diaries that Emma had secretly kept about their life together and he discovers what she had truly felt about their marriage.

By turns tender, surprising, comic and true, The Chosen hauntingly searches the unknowable spaces between husband and wife and regret, life and art.  

Hardcover304 pages
Published April 14th 2022 by Riverrun - Quercus Books


Immediately, what I love about The Chosen is the cover. The woman on the cover is a portrait of the real first Mrs. Hardy, Emma Lavinia GIfford herself. A stroke of genius for a cover as ever I saw one.


He doesn't remember that time. I am an irrelevance, a clog on his real life. He forgets that I believed in his gift when no one else did, that I saw from the very first what he might be,

I expect nothing from him now & that is just as well - neither gratitude nor attention, love, nor justice. He belongs to the public & all my years of devotion count for nothing.


Emma Lavinia Gifford, aged 30, 1870

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Dorset County Museum.


The sad part of the novel, The Chosen, was the life that Emma had towards the end of their marriage. When they spoke to each other Emma was indifferent and hard headed with Thomas; to cope, he poured his love into writing his novels. Emma and Thomas Hardy should have went their separate ways years ago. If it were a different time and place, I'm sure they would have divorced. Then, perhaps Emma would have lived a fulfilling life or at least that is what I would like to think. 

Thomas Hardy is writing one of his best loved novels, Tess of the D' Urbervilles while dealing with his wife's death. Widowed and grieving Elizabeth Lowry gives Thomas a vehicle by which to say goodbye; maybe understand her better with the help of a diary/journal which he discovers in her bedroom.  It is the conversation they should have had face to face. 

As a reader, it was beautiful to feel the love that Thomas always had for his wife, Emmie. She inspired the women in his novels. Somewhere along the line after years of supporting him and possibly feeling invisible, coming in second, she closed herself off to life, entreating into her own world where she wrote her own novels and poetry.  

Thomas Hardy as we see in the novel goes on to have a second marriage with another woman by his side, a colleague who was besotted with him, Florence does indeed become the second Mrs. Hardy. There's was a marriage of mutual respect, friendship, companionship and love of a different ardor.  

I really enjoyed reading about a man grieving for his wife with the depth of his soul. it was so refreshing not to have the woman blubbing into a handkerchief.  The Chosen was well researched and beautifully written. Elizabeth Lowry lovingly and respectfully filled in the gaps between Emma and Thomas's broken silences.  I am so glad the author brought Emma Gifford out of the shadows and into the light. I truly enjoyed meeting her and seeing a human side to Thomas Hardy.

The Chosen is available worldwide at online bookstores.






Monday, May 2, 2022

Newly Discovered Charlotte Bronte mini book: A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Bronte - December 1829




The title page of A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Brontë. Images credit: James Cummins Bookseller.


The contents page of A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Brontë. Images credit: James Cummins Bookseller.

TAKEN FROM ANTIQUES TRADE GAZETTE website:

A Book of Ryhmes, a 15-page manuscript smaller than a playing card, is a collection of 10 poems written by Brontë at the age of 13, stitched in its original brown paper covers and dated December 1829.

The manuscript is well known in the world of Brontë scholarship: a mention appears in Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), from the transcription of Charlotte’s own handwritten catalogue of the books she wrote in 1829 and 1830. The titles of the 10 poems have been known, but the poems themselves have never been published, photographed, transcribed or even summarised.

Ann Dinsdale, principal curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said: “It is always emotional when an item belonging to the family is returned home and this final little book coming back to the place it was written when it had been thought lost is very special for us.”

The museum has an extensive collection of Brontë works and in 2019 it bought an 1830 autograph miniature manuscript by a 14-year-old Charlotte when it was auctioned at Aguttes in Paris.

Written in minute characters in imitation of print, the tiny hand-sewn book is one of a series of ‘magazines’ created by siblings Charlotte and Branwell Brontë from January 1829 to August 1830.








Sunday, April 3, 2022

Review: Little Wing by Freya North

 

The story of two families over three generations. A novel about resilience, forgiveness and the true meaning of family, about finding one's place in the world and discovering how we all belong somewhere and to someone.

Little Wing is the powerful story of two families over three generations.

In the 1960s, a pregnant 16-year-old is banished to one of the remotest parts of the UK. Years later, Nell and Dougie are both at critical moments in their lives when their paths cross. Between Camden, Colchester and the Outer Hebrides, the three story lines collide when secrets are uncovered and answers sought.

Little Wing is a novel about resilience, forgiveness and the true meaning of family, about finding one's place in the world and discovering how we all belong somewhere and to someone.

Publisher: Welbeck Publishing Group 
ISBN: 9781787397606 
Number of pages: 400 
Dimensions: 234 x 153 mm

Had her mother navigated the ankle twisting trudge along the tracks which clung, almost desperately, to the coastline? Had Florence stood, as Nell stood now, looking down on the swell of seaweed choke heaving in the inlets, gazing over the sea to Skye? Did her mother automatically sing 'Speed Bonny Boat' to herself, just as Nell was doing? Was this where I was born? In a brave little cottage like that - in this stone-hard lunar landscape?

To anyone who has ever felt like they don't belong anywhere or to anyone, I urge you to read Little Wing by Freya North. To anyone who has survived abandonment, been or is a caregiver to family and or loved ones, please read Little Wing. To anyone who has survived illness, death, any loss of any kind read Little Wing. 
I am not suggesting you have to have criteria to read this, obviously not. However, just the opposite. 

I hope that all 'us' sons and daughters who have survived family trauma, family wounds, who may be isolated or alone, please read Little Wing. I hope anyone who is broken, a wounded soul will find its way to reading Freya North's Little Wing. It is a novel of the greatest love story - the love of family transcends time. 

Freya North's writing is so evocative and beautifully transporting that I found myself not only crying but sobbing every time I would read Florence's words to her daughter.  A bond and connection that never ends. I loved Nell's sense of humor, her inner strength and steadfastness to never give up on her family. My heart broke into a thousand pieces for Florence but Nell's relationship with Dougie was especially touching. 

Little Wing is a story that will uplift you, make you laugh, make you cry and hopefully make you want to visit the Outer Hebrides as well.

NOTE:  
Little Wing by Freya North is not published in the United States. I bought my copy at Book Depository. I will link it below.  

To purchase the hardcover in the United States, Book Depository

To purchase on kindle or hardcover in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, Amazon UK


Monday, March 14, 2022

The funeral of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Remembrances (April 9 & 14, 1882)


Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet
He is not a prophet, but an artist; yet an artist who, by the very intensity of his artistic vision, and by some inborn bent toward symbol and mysticism, stands on the side of those who see in material things a spiritual significance, and utters words of universal meaning from the fullness of his own heart. (William Morris, Arts & Crafts Movement, describing Dante Gabriel Rossetti)



 


 

 


 






As Dante Gabriel Rossetti's health was declining, his brother William wanted a death mask made, so he asked a man from Brucciari's to come to Gabriel's bungalow in Birchington-On-Sea.  When William saw such a peaceful expression on his brother's face, he then asked Frederick Shields if he would draw Gabriel's face. He made one for William and one for their sister, Christina Rossetti - the poetess.  It was then time for William's daughter, Lucy, himself, and Christina to visit the Rectory to meet Mr. Alcock. They all walked to the churchyard to choose a spot for the grave.  Mr. Martin then made the funeral arrangements.  

Dear Mr. Scott - I think you will like to hear your dear friend Gabriel Rossetti was buried, so I will tell you- The church at Birchington stands back about three quarters of a mile from the sea on slightly rising ground which looks over the open land and the sea.  I thought simply; it is nicely kept, and to-day was full of Easter flowers. Close to Gabriel's grave there was a laurestinus and a lilac. 

At the gravesite, wonderful to say, was the old mother supported by William on one side and Christina on the other - a most pathetic sight. She was very calm, extraordinarily calm, but whether from self-command, or the passivity of age, I do not know - probably from both; but she followed all the proceedings with close interest.  Then around was a company of about fifteen or twenty, many of them friends of yours, and several of them whom I did not know. The service was well read by the vicar.  Then we all looked into the resting place of our friend, and thought and felt our last farewells - many flowers, azealas, and primrose, were thrown in. I saw William throw in his Lily of the Valley.

This is all I have to tell you.  Sad it was, very sad but simple and full of feeling and the fresh beauty of the day made itself felt with all the rest.  I shook hands with William and came home with Mr. Graham.  Dear Gabriel, I shall not forget him. (Vernon Lushington letter to William Bell Scott, 14 April, 1882)

The church in Birchington was a clifftop setting overlooking the sea.  It was the opposite to what you find at Highgate Cemetery in London which is exactly what Dante Gabriel Rossetti wanted. Separating his burial location from that of his family allowed Rossetti's achievements as a poet, translator, and artist to be commemorated by his dearest friends.  Colleague, Ford Maddox Brown, was asked by William Michael Rossetti if he would design a monument for his brother's grave and the cross was added. Walter Caine and Theodore Watts were the last to leave Birchington. Walter Caine describes his farewell visit to his friends grave, 

We walked one morning to the churchyard and found Gabriel's grave strewn with flowers. It was a quiet spring day, the birds were singing, and the yellow flowers were beginning to show. As we stood by the grave under the shadow of the quaint old church, with the broad sweep of landscape in front, so flat that the great dome of the sea appeared to lie on it, and with the sleepy rumble of the rolling waters borne to us from the shore, we could not but feel that little as we had thought to leave Rossetti there, no other place could be quite so fit. 

Three of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's closest friends wrote In Memoriam poems in his honor : one on the day of his death April 9 1882 and two poems on the day of his funeral April 14, 1882.  

 At the Grave of Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Mackenzie Bell

HERE of a truth the world’s extremes are met:
Amid the gray, the moss-grown tombs of those
Who led long lives obscure till came the close
When, their calm days being done, their suns were set—
Here stands a grave, all monumentless yet,        5
Wrapped like the others in a deep repose;
But while yon wakeful ocean ebbs and flows
It is a grave the world shall not forget,
This grave on which meek violets grow and thyme,
Summer’s fair heralds; and a stranger now        10
Pauses to see a poet’s resting-place,
But one of those who will in many a clime
On each return of this sad day avow
Fond love’s regret that ne’er they saw his face.
April 9th, 1882


A GRAVE BY THE SEA

I

Yon sightless poet [157] whom thou leav’st behind,
   Sightless and trembling like a storm-struck tree,
   Above the grave he feels but cannot see,
Save with the vision Sorrow lends the mind,
Is he indeed the loneliest of mankind?
   Ah no!—For all his sobs, he seems to me
   Less lonely standing there, and nearer thee,
Than I—less lonely, nearer—standing blind!

Free from the day, and piercing Life’s disguise
   That needs must partly enveil true heart from heart,
   His inner eyes may see thee as thou art
In Memory’s land—see thee beneath the skies
Lit by thy brow—by those beloved eyes,
   While I stand by him in a world apart.

II

I stand like her who on the glittering Rhine
   Saw that strange swan which drew a faëry boat
   Where shone a knight whose radiant forehead smote
Her soul with light and made her blue eyes shine
p. 158For many a day with sights that seemed divine,
   Till that false swan returned and arched his throat
   In pride, and called him, and she saw him float
Adown the stream: I stand like her and pine.

I stand like her, for she, and only she,
Might know my loneliness for want of thee.
   Light swam into her soul, she asked not whence,
Filled it with joy no clouds of life could smother,
   And then, departing like a vision thence,
Left her more lonely than the blind, my brother.

III

Last night Death whispered: ‘Death is but the name
   Man gives the Power which lends him life and light,
   And then, returning past the coast of night,
Takes what it lent to shores from whence it came.
What balm in knowing the dark doth but reclaim
   The sun it lent, if day hath taken flight?
   Art thou not vanished—vanished from my sight—
Though somewhere shining, vanished all the same?

With Nature dumb, save for the billows’ moan,
   Engirt by men I love, yet desolate—
Standing with brothers here, yet dazed and lone,
   King’d by my sorrow, made by grief so great
That man’s voice murmurs like an insect’s drone—
   What balm, I ask, in knowing that Death is Fate?

IV

Last night Death whispered: ‘Life’s purblind procession,
   Flickering with blazon of the human story—
   Time’s fen-flame over Death’s dark territory—
Will leave no trail, no sign of Life’s aggression.
Yon moon that strikes the pane, the stars in session,
   Are weak as Man they mock with fleeting glory.
   Since Life is only Death’s frail feudatory,
How shall love hold of Fate in true possession?’

p. 159I answered thus: ‘If Friendship’s isle of palm
   Is but a vision, every loveliest leaf,
Can Knowledge of its mockery soothe and calm
   This soul of mine in this most fiery grief?
   If Love but holds of Life through Death in fief,
What balm in knowing that Love is Death’s—what balm?’

V

Yea, thus I boldly answered Death—even I
   Who have for boon—who have for deathless dower—
   Thy love, dear friend, which broods, a magic power,
Filling with music earth and sea and sky:
‘O Death,’ I said, ‘not Love, but thou shalt die;
   For, this I know, though thine is now the hour,
   And thine these angry clouds of doom that lour,
Death striking Love but strikes to deify.’

Yet while I spoke I sighed in loneliness,
For strange seemed Man, and Life seemed comfortless,
   And night, whom we two loved, seemed strange and dumb;
And, waiting till the dawn the promised sign,
I watched—I listened for that voice of thine,
   Though Reason said: ‘Nor voice nor face can come.’

Birchington,
         Eastertide, 1882.



In Memoriam by Eugene Lee Hamilton

Marston, mourn not; Rossetti is not dead
Though chill as clay is now his shrouded brow
Nor grudge the grave the flesh it gathers now
The soul remains to live on earth instead.

And though that I was his friend if e'er I said 
A word in harshness, hear me disavow,
While such small wreath as I can wreathe I throw
Upon the stone that covers now his head.

The Wintry Breath of Azrael that swept 
A green leaf to the heap of bygone leaves
Where Alighieri and where Shakespeare lie.
Mourn not.  Each day some brother dies unwept,
But he for whom the distant stranger grieves
Outlives mere life; for men he doth not die. 
April 14, 1882

William Bell Scott; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; John Ruskin
albumen carte-de-visite, 29 June 1863, NPG-UK

Friday, February 25, 2022

A review of The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis (Rowan Coleman)

 The Brontë sisters' first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her former pupil Lydia Robinson.

Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry's life.

In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of . . . The Red Monarch.

Product information

I have to humbly and profusely thank the author, Bella Ellis aka Rowan Coleman for making sure I received an arc of The Red Monarch; especially, since it is not published in the United States. 



Have you ever had a fantasy of living in an actual theatre?  Well, in The Red Monarch, Bella Ellis the pen name for author Rowan Coleman has actor Harry Roxby and his wife, Lydia Roxby living in Covent Garden Theatre, Drury Lane, London, 1846. What a brilliant idea!  An empty theatre at night full of ghosts and goblins and in this case criminals.  Ah, there's nothing like it.  Lydia heavy with child thrilled to see her old teacher, Anne Bronte with her sisters Emily, Charlotte AND brother Branwell sober and waxing lyrical about Lydia's mother, his old flame.  Imagine that scene.  Harry has just been kidnapped by the criminal gang he has stolen a 'jewel' from -- with many surprises on that front.  

The Bronte sisters with brother have one week to solve a mystery within a mystery. I am telling you, The Red Monarch is the most exciting in this Bronte mystery detective series. It is a stand alone but the other previous ones are wonderfully enchanting as well.  If these famous sisters running around the bad parts of London meeting all sorts of terrible people getting into mischief isn't exciting for that alone then this book isn't for you. I mean come on Charlotte Bronte even meets Charles Dickens!!  That's right...

The Red Monarch has all the elements to keep you reading (hopefully). In my case, there's the siblings themselves where the humor and dialogue scenes are enough. There is the city of London in addition to beautiful Haworth and Yorkshire but nothing beats a good criminal gang in dirty old London town with a race against time where people's lives are at stake.   
 
This book is difficult to review because there are so many surprises that I can't fully explain the way I usually do. I want the readers to have that gobsmacked jaw opening breath intake moment that I had several times. I hope you will give The Red Monarch a try. 

To purchase worldwide,  Book Depository



Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Brand New Charlotte Bronte exhibition


DEFYING EXPECTATIONS: INSIDE CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S WARDROBE

BRONTE PARSONAGE MUSEUM

Wednesday 02 February 2022

February 02nd 2022 10:00am - January 01st 2023 05:00pm

This brand new exhibition,  co-curated with historical consultant Dr Eleanor Houghton, places focus on some of the remarkable garments and accessories worn by Charlotte Brontë. These brightly coloured, fashionable, even exotic items boldly challenge the preconception that Brontë and her famous protagonist Jane Eyre  were, at least in terms of dress, one and the same. The clothes draw attention to both Charlotte’s ordinary and extraordinary lives but also remind us that she was an active participant of the fast-changing mid-nineteenth century.

At the heart of ‘Defying Expectations’ is a striped evening dress, which has never been exhibited before. The dress was proved to be Charlotte’s during an extensive period of research conducted over the last six years by Dr Eleanor Houghton, the first scholar ever to have studied the clothing in the Brontë Society collection  in detail.  

The exhibition features more than twenty pieces of Charlotte’s clothing and accessories, and offers an intimate insight into both her domestic and literary lives.

Admission to the exhibition is free with entry to the Museum.

Below photo from The Yorkshire Post newspaper 



Thursday, December 30, 2021

A Review of Charlotte & Arthur by Pauline Clooney

 
But without our human senses to give meaning to this world and all its glories, without our emotions to take pleasure in nature, without our spirituality to give praise to the divine creator, what is it all but rock and water and air,' Arthur said.

How handsome he looked to her at that moment.  She had not expected such philosophy, if he could always surprise her in this manner, saying unexpected things, unveiling a mind, that might not be a literary one, but had the potential to match hers in depth and understanding of the human condition. A sensation coursed through her, she felt an eddy from her heart redden her cheeks and had she been more expert in these matters, she might have recognised it as the thrill of physical desire. 

In Pauline Clooney's debut novel, I feel as if I have met Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls for the first time. Arthur Bell Nicholls was a curate at the Parsonage with Reverend Bronte in Yorkshire, England. His wife, Mrs. Nicholls was the authoress of Jane Eyre,  Charlotte Bronte. He was working with her father and eventually through trial and tribulation they fell in love.  It wasn't an easy road but in June 1854 they were married at Haworth Parish Church. 

The novel, Charlotte & Arthur follow the happy couple on their honeymoon journeying from Yorkshire to Wales then throughout Ireland to meet her new in-laws, her husband's family, until returning to the  parsonage.   As the married couple traveled from place to place, it was wonderful to read the descriptions of how they were seated side by side in passenger cars looking out their window and commenting on the sights. When Charlotte grew tired, Arthur let her sleep and they were each written with a shared sense of humour that they each enjoyed. I was impressed with how the author included a few of Charlotte's letters in certain chapters as Charlotte would write to her friends sharing her experiences with 'Arthur' whom she now called instead of Mr. Nicholls and the protection she was getting used to from her husband. Gone was her preferred signature of CB replaced by Mrs. Nicholls.  I could feel her supreme happiness and am grateful she finally experienced wedded bliss. 

One of my favorite chapters and one I found most touching was chapter nine where Arthur and Charlotte both describe to each other the memory of the last time they saw or remember their mothers before both women died; Charlotte being only five years old and Arthur only being twelve years old.

Charlotte, as she spoke, was thinking of her own mother. She had so few memories to draw on being just five when she died. One, which might have been some fanciful imagining was of a young woman, a prettier version of Aunt, playing with Branwell in the parsonage parlour.  

My punishment, Charlotte, is an image that haunts me. It is of my mother sitting at a kitchen table, her fingers pressed to her eyes her mouth a grimace of pain. Arthur said, and as they both looked at each other, Charlotte felt a connection, like an invisible thread, pull her heart that bit closer to his.

We have both been very privileged to have women such as Aunt Harriette and Aunt Branwell in our lives, Arthur. Charlotte said, and as the movement of the boat increased, causing them both to sway from side to side, she wondered if it was the spirits of their mothers conjuring up the winds to rock their children one more time.  

Charlotte & Arthur is truly a beautifully written re-imagining of their very brief time together as husband and wife.  Gone is the competitive spinster Charlotte Bronte eager to be a published author living with her equally brilliant sisters and father.  Instead, a married woman emerges discovering the powerful result of the love of a good man.  

Available on kindle at  Amazon

Available direct from the publishing house in Ireland, merdog books


 

 

 

A Review of The Chosen by Elizabeth Lowry

Who pays the price of a writer's fame ? One Wednesday morning in November 1912, the aging Thomas Hardy, entombed by paper and books and ...