Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Life of Charlotte Bronte Remembered: Was She Jane Eyre?

Who would have ever thought a novel published in 1847 by a woman would be a most treasured novel and still be made into movies! I'm guessing not the authoress herself! The latest 2011 version of Jane Eyre to grace screens worldwide. I have seen it, it is fantastic, much more Gothic but don't worry the romance is still there!

Charlotte Bronte was born in Thornton, Yorkshire in 1816, the third of six children, to Maria (née Branwell) and her husband Patrick Brontë (formerly surnamed Brunty or Prunty), an Irish Anglican clergyman. In 1820, the family moved a few miles to Haworth, where Patrick had been appointed Perpetual Curate. Mrs. Brontë died of cancer on 15 September 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to be taken care of by her aunt Elizabeth Branwell. In August 1824, Charlotte was sent with three of her sisters, Emily, Maria, and Elizabeth, to the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire (which she would describe as Lowood School in Jane Eyre). Its poor conditions, Charlotte maintained, permanently affected her health and physical development and hastened the deaths of her two elder sisters, Maria (born 1814) and Elizabeth (born 1815), who died of tuberculosis in June 1825. Soon after their father removed them from the school.

At home in Haworth Parsonage, a small rectory close to the graveyard of a bleak, windswept village on the Yorkshire moors, Charlotte acted as 'the motherly friend and guardian of her younger sisters'. She and the other surviving children: Branwell, Emily, and Anne began chronicling the lives and struggles of the inhabitants of their imaginary kingdoms. Charlotte and Branwell wrote Byronesque stories about their country Angria, and Emily and Anne wrote articles and poems about theirs Gondal. The sagas were elaborate and convoluted (and still exist in partial manuscripts) and provided them with an obsessive interest during childhood and early adolescence, which prepared them for their literary vocations into adulthood.

Charlotte continued her education at Roe Head, Mirfield, from 1831 to 32, where she met her lifelong friends and correspondents, Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor. During this period, she wrote her novella The Green Dwarf (1833) under the name of Wellesley. Charlotte returned as a teacher from 1835 to 1838. In 1839, she took up the first of many positions as governess to various families in Yorkshire, a career she pursued until 1841. Politically a Tory, she preached tolerance rather than revolution. She held high moral principles, and, despite her shyness in company, she was always prepared to argue her beliefs.

In 1842 she and Emily travelled to Brussels to enroll in a boarding school run by Constantin Heger (1809–96) and his wife Claire Zoé Parent Heger (1814–91). In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music. Their time at the boarding school was cut short when Elizabeth Branwell, their aunt who joined the family after the death of their mother to look after the children, died of internal obstruction in October 1842. Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the boarding school. Her second stay at the boarding school was not a happy one; she became lonely, homesick and deeply attached to Constantin Heger. She finally returned to Haworth in January 1844 and later used her time at the boarding school as the inspiration for some of The Professor and Villette.

In May 1846, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Although only two copies were sold, the sisters continued writing for publication and began their first novels. Charlotte used "Currer Bell" when she published her first two novels. Of this, Brontë later wrote:

Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because—without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.
Indeed, her novels were deemed coarse by the critics. There was speculation about the identity of Currer Bell, and whether Bell was a man or a woman.

Charlotte's brother, Branwell, the only son of the family, died of chronic bronchitis and marasmus exacerbated by heavy drinking in September 1848, although Charlotte believed his death was due to tuberculosis. Branwell was also a suspected "opium eater", (i.e. a laudanum addict). Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively.
Charlotte and her father were now left alone together. In view of the enormous success of Jane Eyre, she was persuaded by her publisher to visit London occasionally, where she revealed her true identity and began to move in a more exalted social circle, becoming friends with Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Makepeace Thackeray and G. H. Lewes. Her book had sparked a movement in regards to feminism in literature. The main character, Jane Eyre, in her novel Jane Eyre, was a parallel to herself, a woman who was strong. However, she never left Haworth for more than a few weeks at a time as she did not want to leave her aging father's side.

Thackeray’s daughter, the writer Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie recalled a visit to her father by Charlotte Brontë:
two gentlemen come in, leading a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, with fair straight hair, and steady eyes. She may be a little over thirty; she is dressed in a little barège dress with a pattern of faint green moss. She enters in mittens, in silence, in seriousness; our hearts are beating with wild excitement. This then is the authoress, the unknown power whose books have set all London talking, reading, speculating; some people even say our father wrote the books – the wonderful books… The moment is so breathless that dinner comes as a relief to the solemnity of the occasion, and we all smile as my father stoops to offer his arm; for, genius though she may be, Miss Brontë can barely reach his elbow. My own personal impressions are that she is somewhat grave and stern, specially to forward little girls who wish to chatter… Every one waited for the brilliant conversation which never began at all. Miss Brontë retired to the sofa in the study, and murmured a low word now and then to our kind governess… the conversation grew dimmer and more dim, the ladies sat round still expectant, my father was too much perturbed by the gloom and the silence to be able to cope with it at all… after Miss Brontë had left, I was surprised to see my father opening the front door with his hat on. He put his fingers to his lips, walked out into the darkness, and shut the door quietly behind him… long afterwards… Mrs. Procter asked me if I knew what had happened… It was one of the dullest evenings [Mrs Procter] had ever spent in her life… the ladies who had all come expecting so much delightful conversation, and the gloom and the constraint, and how finally, overwhelmed by the situation, my father had quietly left the room, left the house, and gone off to his club.

In June 1854, Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father's curate, and became pregnant soon thereafter. Her health declined rapidly during this time, and according to Gaskell, her earliest biographer, she was attacked by "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness." Charlotte died, along with her unborn child, on 31 March 1855, at the young age of 38. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as phthisis (tuberculosis), but many biographers suggest she may have died from dehydration and malnourishment, caused by excessive vomiting from severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. There is also evidence to suggest that Charlotte died from typhus she may have caught from Tabitha Ackroyd, the Brontë household's oldest servant, who died shortly before her. Charlotte was interred in the family vault in The Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England.

The Life of Charlotte Brontë, the posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë by Gaskell, was the first of many biographies about Charlotte to be published. Though frank in places, Gaskell suppressed details of Charlotte's love for Heger, a married man, as being too much of an affront to contemporary morals and as a possible source of distress to Charlotte's still-living friends, father and husband. Gaskell also provided doubtful and inaccurate information about Patrick Brontë, claiming, for example, that he did not allow his children to eat meat. This is refuted by one of Emily Brontë's diary papers, in which she describes the preparation of meat and potatoes for dinner at the parsonage, as Juliet Barker points out in her recent biography, The Brontës.

Posthumously, her first-written novel was published in 1857, the fragment she worked on in her last years in 1860 (twice completed by recent authors, the more famous version being Emma Brown: A Novel from the Unfinished Manuscript by Charlotte Brontë by Clare Boylan, 2003.

Jane Eyre & Gender relations
A particularly important theme in the novel is the depiction of a patriarchal society. Jane attempts to assert her own identity within male-dominated society. Three of the main male characters, Mr. Brocklehurst, Mr. Rochester and St. John, try to keep Jane in a subordinate position and prevent her from expressing her own thoughts and feelings. Jane escapes Mr. Brocklehurst and rejects St. John, and she only marries Mr. Rochester once she is sure that their marriage is one between equals. Through Jane, Brontë opposes Victorian stereotypes about women, articulating her own feminist philosophy:
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex. (Chapter XII)

Love and Passion
Jane Eyre touches on a number of important themes while telling a compelling story, and critics have argued about what comprises the main theme of Jane Eyre; there can be little doubt that love and passion together form a major thematic element of the novel.
At its simplest, Jane Eyre is a love story. The love between the orphaned and initially impoverished Jane and the wealthy but tormented Mr. Rochester is at its heart. The obstacles to the fulfilment of this love provide the main dramatic conflict in the work. However, the novel explores other types of love as well. Helen Burns, for example, exemplifies the selfless love of a friend. We also see some of the consequences of the absence of love, as in the relationship between Jane and Mrs. Reed, in the selfish relations among the Reed children, and in the mocking marriage of Mr. Rochester and Bertha. Jane realizes that the absence of love between herself and St. John Rivers would make their marriage a living death, too.

Throughout the work, Brontë suggests that a life that is not lived passionately is not lived fully. Jane undoubtedly is the central passionate character; her nature is shot through with passion. Early on, she refuses to live by Mrs. Reed's rules, which would restrict all passion. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first, but by no means her last, passionate act. Her passion for Mr. Rochester is all consuming. Significantly, however, it is not the only force that governs her life. She leaves Mr. Rochester because her moral reason tells her that it would be wrong to live with him as his mistress: "Laws and principles are not for the time when there is no temptation," she tells Mr. Rochester; "they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise against their rigour."

Jane Eyre is not only a love story; it is also a plea for the recognition of the individual's worth. Throughout the book, Jane demands to be treated as an independent human being, a person with her own needs and talents. Early on, she is unjustly punished, precisely for being herself — first by Mrs. Reed and John Reed, and subsequently by Mr. Brocklehurst. Her defiance of Mrs. Reed is her first active declaration of independence in the novel, but not her last. Helen Burns and Miss Temple are the first characters to acknowledge her as an individual; they love her for herself, in spite of her obscurity. Mr. Rochester too loves her for herself; the fact that she is a governess and therefore his servant does not negatively affect his perception of her. Mr. Rochester confesses that his ideal woman is intellectual, faithful, and loving — qualities that Jane embodies. Her marriage to Mr. Rochester, by contrast, is the marriage of two independent beings. It is because of their independence, Brontë suggests, that they acknowledge their dependence on each other and are able to live happily ever after.


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Monday, March 28, 2011

Virginia Woolf: A Life Remembered: 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941

Virginia Woolf's real name was Adeline Virginia Stephen born in London in 1882. Her mother was a renowned beauty, Julia Prinsep Stephen (1846–1895), was born in India to Dr. John and Maria Pattle Jackson and later moved to England with her mother, where she served as a model for Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer. He was the editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work which would influence Virginia Woolf's later biographies. The young Virginia was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed.Consequently, the household contained the children from three marriages.
There was a family history of mental illness, one daughter, Laura Makepeace Stephen, was declared mentally disabled and lived with the family until she was institutionalized in 1891.
Virginia's father, Sir Leslie Stephen's known as an editor, critic, and biographer, with his connection to William Thackeray (he was the widower of Thackeray's youngest daughter), meant that his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society: Henry James, George Henry Lewes, Julia Margaret Cameron (an aunt of Julia Stephen), and James Russell Lowell, who was made Virginia's honorary godfather. They were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. Descended from an attendant of Marie Antoinette, she came from a family of renowned beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers. Virginia and Vanessa were taught the classics and English literature. Unlike the girls, Adrian and Thoby were formally educated and sent to Cambridge, a difference which Virginia would regret. The sisters did, however, benefit indirectly from their brothers' Cambridge contacts, as the boys brought their new intellectual friends home to the Stephens' drawing room.

According to Woolf's memoirs, her most vivid childhood memories, however, were not of London but of St. Ives in Cornwall, where the family spent every summer until 1895. The Stephens' summer home, Talland House, looked out over Porthminster Bay, and is still standing today, though somewhat altered. Memories of these family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction Woolf wrote in later years, most notably To the Lighthouse.
'I am waking up "To the Lighthouse" - the sea is to be heard all through it' Inspired by the lost bliss of her childhood summers in Cornwall, Virginia Woolf produced one of the masterworks of English literature in To the Lighthouse. It concerns the Ramsay family and their summer guests on the Isle of Skye before and after the First World War. As children play and adults paint, talk, muse and explore, relationships shift and mutate. A captivating fusion of elegy, autobiography, socio-political critique and visionary thrust, it is the most accomplished of all Woolf's novels. On completing it, she thought she had exorcised the ghosts of her imposing parents, but she had also brought form to a book every bit as vivid and intense as the work of Lily Briscoe, the indomitable artist at the centre of the novel.

The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia's several nervous breakdowns. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901, and this brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education such as Clara Pater, George Warr and Lilian Faithfull. Her sister Vanessa also studied Latin, Italian, art and architecture at King’s Ladies’ Department.
The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse and she was briefly institutionalized. Her breakdowns and recurring periods of depression, modern scholars suggest, occurred because of the sexual abuse she and Vanessa were subjected to by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate).
Throughout her life, Woolf was plagued by periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks through her life.


Virginia Woolf began writing professionally in 1900, initially for the Times Literary Supplement with a journalistic piece about Haworth, home of the Brontë family.
Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 by her half-brother's imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. This novel was originally entitled Melymbrosia, but she repeatedly changed the draft. An earlier version of The Voyage Out has been reconstructed by Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo. DeSalvo argues that many of the changes Woolf made in the text were in response to changes in her own life.

Virginia Woolf's peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: Woolf is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted and sometimes almost dissolved in the characters' receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions.
The intensity of Virginia Woolf's poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings often wartime environments of most of her novels. For example, Mrs Dalloway (1925) centers on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organize a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars.

To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centers around the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind. It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.

Orlando (1928) is one of Virginia Woolf's lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without aging much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed in order for it to be mocked.

The Waves (1931) presents a group of six friends whose reflections, which are closer to recitatives than to interior monologues proper, create a wave-like atmosphere that is more akin to a prose poem than to a plot-centered novel.

Her last work, Between the Acts (1941) sums up and magnifies Woolf's chief preoccupations: the transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and meditation on the themes of flux of time and life, presented simultaneously as corrosion and rejuvenation all set in a highly imaginative and symbolic narrative encompassing almost all of English history. This book is the most lyrical of all her works, not only in feeling but in style, being mainly written in verse. While Woolf's work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with Bloomsbury, particularly its tendency towards rationalism, it is not a simple recapitulation of the group's ideals. Her works have been translated into over 50 languages.

After completing the manuscript of her last novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell into a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work. On 28 March 1941, Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned. Woolf's body was not found until 18 April 1941. Her husband buried her cremated remains under an elm in the garden of Monk's House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex.

In her last note to her husband she wrote:
“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Remembrance of Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

On 24 March 1603, Four Hundred and Eight years ago today, Elizabeth I,Queen Regnant of England and Ireland, passed away quietly in her chambers at Richmond Palace between two and three in the morning. Elizabeth's coffin was carried downriver at night to Whitehall Palace, on a barge lit with torches. At her funeral on 28 April, the coffin was taken to Westminster Abbey on a hearse drawn by four horses hung with black velvet. In the words of the chronicler John Stow:
Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man

Back in 2009 I wrote an article for a blog contest that I would like to share in honor of a woman who I find inspirational and in my own words here is why...

The Legacy of Elizabeth I

“It would please me best if, at the last, a marble stone shall record that this Queen having lived such and such a time, lived and died a virgin”.

I admire Elizabeth I as a woman who grew up for the most part a motherless child. She was born to a father who became one of the longest reigning Kings of England. Constantly having to prove herself more than able and worthy of being Queen of England; juxtaposed with having to fight the stigma of Anne Boleyn and what it meant to be her daughter. She carried the legacy of the Tudor dynasty on her shoulders during her forty-five year reign (1558-1603) and seventy year old life (1533-1603). What that must have been like one can only speculate.
One can only assume growing up with Henry VIII as a father who during his reign marries six wives, divorces one, beheads two, including your own mother, does not make one eager for marriage. Even though, Elizabeth I understood how important marriage was to her reign as Queen of England, she chose never to marry. Hence, one of her titles the virgin queen’. Saying to Parliament, ‘I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England’. You have to admire her forthrightness and courage to stand her ground as a female first and foremost. Ah, she is her mother’s daughter after all!
Throughout her reign, Parliament petitioned her to marry or nominate an heir to prevent civil war upon her death. She refused to do either. She kept this question open using it as a diplomatic ploy. Instead saying in 1563, “If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married".
As a result, Parliament viewed her failure to marry as irresponsibility on her part. However, Elizabeth's silence strengthened her own political security. She understood that if she named an heir, her throne would then be vulnerable to a coup.
The romantic in me believes that the love of her life will always be childhood friend Robert Dudley. They became good friends when Elizabeth was just a princess during the year 1557-1558. She was so fond of him she gave him his first title, ‘Master of the Horse’ or ‘Horsemen’. In 1558, upon the passing of her half-sister Mary Tudor, she became Queen of England. A year later, in April 1559, one of her first royal duties was to give Robert Dudley the second title of ‘Knight of the Garter’ or ‘knightood’. This was a way to keep the now Lord Robert Dudley near her even though he was a not so happily married man. They could be together romantically but still maintain the charade of friendship. Their intimacy soon was talk in court, country and abroad. Even though she promised to marry him, during two of his marriages’, she never did; fearing a political uprising. Robert Dudley forever kept a special place in her heart. After Elizabeth's death, a note from him was found amongst her most personal belongings, marked "his last letter" in her own handwriting. Robert Dudley died in 1588 shortly after the Spanish Armada.
The Elizabethan Era is associated with Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603) and is often considered to be the golden age in English history. It was the height of the English Renaissance which saw the abundance of English poetry, theatre, music and literature. For example, The Faerie Queene by poet Edmund Spenser was written in praise of Queen Elizabeth I. She appears most prominently as Gloriana or the Faerie Queene herself. Largely symbolic, the poem follows several knights in an examination of several virtues. It hints at a connection between the Tudor dynasty and King Arthur.
Elizabeth I was the first Tudor to recognise that a monarch ruled by popular consent. She worked with Parliament and advisers she could trust to tell her the truth in a way that her Stuart successors failed to follow. Some historians have called her lucky in that she believed that God was protecting her. Referring to herself as being "mere English", she trusted in God, honest advice, and the love of her subjects for the success of her rule. In a prayer, she offered thanks to God saying, “when wars and seditions with grievous persecutions have vexed almost all kings and countries round about me, my reign hath been peacable, and my realm a receptacle to thy afflicted Church. The love of my people hath appeared firm, and the devices of my enemies frustrate”.
Above all, Elizabeth I loved her mother whom she lost so tragically at the age of two and a half. She always wore a bejewelled locket ring on the finger of her left hand. When she died, her men removed and inspected her jewels. When the locket ring was opened, two miniature portraits were painted on either side: one of her mother Anne Boleyn and one of herself.

By Kimberly Eve

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Death of a Chimney Sweep by MC Beaton

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (February 25, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780446547390
ISBN-13: 978-0446547390
ASIN: 0446547395
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches

I am an avid fan of author, MC Beaton. 'Death of a Chimney Sweep' is the twenty-sixth novel in her Hamish Macbeth series. I have read them all. So, with the recent publication of her latest novel, I couldn't wait to settle in on the sofa with my pot of tea and get reading!
What I discovered this time around, is that instead of one main character murdered off and Police Constable Hamish Macbeth running around the small sea faring highland town of Lochdubh to solve the murder; there are atleast four murders and just as many suspects!

So, if you are like me and love reading and trying to solve a good murder, pick up this novel and just try to follow along and keep score! MC Beaton throws in more twists and turns in almost every chapter. She sets the scene beautifully. If you ever wanted to escape to the Scottish Highlands, have yourself a read of 'Death of a Chimney Sweep' you won't be disappointed. It is a true British Cozy in every sense of the word!

In 'Death of a Chimney Sweep' Police Constable Hamish Macbeth sets out to solve 'several' murders and clear the name of a friend. When Captain Henry Davenport’s body is found stuffed into his own chimney, his wife Milly calls Lochdubh’s police station. Hamish speeds to the nearby town of Prim, and discovers Milly Davenport weeping. Captain Davenport had told Milly he was going for a walk and to call the local chimney sweep, kindhearted Pete Ray, to clean the chimney that morning. When Pete’s body is found on the moor, Hamish has two murders on his hands, and a fragile and slightly crazed Milly to deal with.

With a rollicking round of strange characters: Superintendent Daviot, Hamish’s boss, Detective Jimmy Anderson, and nasty Detective Inspector Blair, Hamish’s nemesis, Hamish tries to solve his crime in spite of his superiors. Then there are the inimitable townspeople: Priscilla-Halburton Smythe, Hamish’s ex-fiancé, and the usual round of Lockdubh eccentrics. MC Beaton assures us of a myriad of crimes and romantic fumbles and tumbles through the grounds of the beautiful Scottish moors. Angela Brodie’s madcap novel with Hamish as the love slung adulterer brings him nothing but trouble. Angela and Dr. Brody are happily married and Hamish gets off the hook! Throw in Betty Close, Elspeth, Lugs, the brute of a dog and Sonsie the wild cat, and you have a mystery novel that resembles a tumbled skein of wool!

When widowed Milly falls for a fast talking, fast paced, funny reporter named Tam, the novel becomes intriguing and unputdownable with Hamish trundling across the moors and nearby towns as more murders pop up. He discovers that four men (Ferdinand Castle, Thomas Bromley, John Sanders and Charles Prosser) have been badly scammed by the con-artist Captain Davenport, and he follows Prosser directly to the murders.
Do make it a point to read the Epilogue because there is another murder albeit not a surprise but a wonderful death scene nonetheless!

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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Imprisonment of Princess Elizabeth

Princess Elizabeth Tudor miniature by Nicholas Hilliard

On 18 March 1554 Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in The Bell Tower at The Tower of London by order of her half sister and ruling Queen of England, Mary I (Tudor) or (Bloody Mary) and as a result of The Wyatt Rebellion. Mary was determined to turn back the clock on twenty years of religious reform and make England a Catholic nation again. Elizabeth conformed outwardly to the Catholic faith. But she could not distance herself too much from her Protestant supporters. When Sir Thomas Wyatt led a rebellion in January 1554, matters came to an unpleasant impasse. Wyatt had written to Elizabeth that he intended to overthrow Mary but his letter was intercepted, as was a letter from de Noailles to the king of France. His letter implied that Elizabeth knew of the revolt in advance, and repeated rumors that she was off gathering armed supporters. The government was able to suppress the rebellion before it spread very far and Wyatt was arrested. Mary's council could find no real proof that de Noailles's suppositions were true but they decided to summon Elizabeth back to London for questioning. She was understandably frightened and ill; she sent word that she could not travel. Two of Mary's personal physicians were sent to evaluate her condition. They diagnosed 'watery humors' and perhaps an inflammation of the kidneys. She was ill, they reported, but not too ill to travel the 30 miles to London in the queen's own litter. Three of the queen's councilors - Howard, Hastings, and Cornwallis, all of whom were friendly with Elizabeth - escorted her back to London. They traveled quite slowly, covering just six miles a day.

Elizabeth kept the curtains of the litter pulled back as she entered the city, and the citizens were able to see her pale, frightened face. She had good cause for her fear; the heads and corpses of Wyatt and his supporters were thrust upon spikes and gibbets throughout the city. The queen waited for her at Whitehall but they did not meet immediately. First, Elizabeth's household was dismissed and she was told that she must undergo close interrogation about her activities. She was questioned by the unfriendly bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, but she was not intimidated. She denied any involvement in the rebellion and repeatedly asked to see the queen. But she was told that Mary was leaving for Oxford where she would hold a Parliament. Elizabeth would be leaving Whitehall as well, though at first the council could not decide where to send her. No councilor wanted the responsibility of keeping her in close confinement at their homes; it was too unpleasant and potentially dangerous. And so Gardiner and Renard had their way and she went to the Tower of London. The earl of Sussex and the marquess of Winchester were sent to escort her from Whitehall.

Elizabeth was terrified. The mere mention of the Tower was enough to shatter her already fragile nerves. She begged to be allowed to write to her sister, and the men agreed. Written on 17 March 1554, the letter was long, rambling, and repetitious but proof of her fear and trepidation: It is known as The Tides Letter:

If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath’, I most humbly beseech your majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your Council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved.

I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person any way, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause.

Let conscience move your highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew. Which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your majesty, yet I pray God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known.

Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to blow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French king, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death. Your highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end, Elizabeth I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself

After finishing, she carefully drew lines throughout the rest of the blank sheet so no forgeries could be added, and she signed it 'I humbly crave but one word of answer from yourself. Your Highness's most faithful subject that hath been from the beginning and will be to my end, Elizabeth'.

The letter had taken too long to write; they had missed the tide. They could wait a few hours and take her to the Tower in the darkest part of night, but the council disagreed. There could be an attempt to rescue her under cover of darkness. They decided to wait until the next morning, Palm Sunday, when the streets would be nearly deserted since everyone would be in church. Meanwhile, her letter was sent to Mary who received it angrily and refused to read it through. She had not given permission for it to be written or sent, and she rebuked her councilors fiercely.

The next morning, 18 March 1554, arrived cold and grey; there was a steady rain. At 9 o'clock in the morning, Elizabeth was taken from her rooms and through the garden to where the barge waited. She was accompanied by six of her ladies and two gentleman-attendants. She waited under a canopy until the barge began to slow; she then saw that they would enter beneath Traitor's Gate, beneath St Thomas's Tower. This was the traditional entrance for prisoners returned to their cells after trial at Westminster. The sight terrified her and she begged to be allowed entry by any other gate. Her request was refused. She was offered a cloak to protect her from the rain but she pushed it aside angrily. Upon stepping onto the landing, she declared, 'Here landeth as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, do I speak it, having no other friend but Thee alone.' She then noticed the yeoman warders gathered to receive her beyond the gate. 'Oh Lord,' she said loudly, 'I never thought to have come in here as a prisoner, and I pray you all bear me witness that I come in as no traitor but as true a woman to the Queen's Majesty as any as is now living.' Several of the warders stepped forward and bowed before her, and one called out, 'God preserve your Grace.'

She still refused to enter the Tower. After the warder's declaration, she sat upon a stone and would not move. The Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Brydges, said to her, 'You had best come in, Madame, for here you sit unwholesomely.' Elizabeth replied with feeling, 'Better sit here, than in a worse place, for God knoweth where you will bring me.' And so she sat until one of her attendants burst into tears. She was taken to the Bell Tower, a small corner tower beside Brydges's own lodgings. Her room was on the first floor, and had a large fireplace with three small windows. Down the passageway from the door were three latrines which hung over the moat. It was not as destitute or uncomfortable as she had feared, but it was still the Tower of London and she was a prisoner. This was the beginning of one of the most trying times of her life.

Elizabeth spent just two months in the Tower of London, but she had no idea that her stay would be so brief - and it did not feel particularly brief. She truly believed some harm would come to her and she dwelt most upon the possibility of poison. She knew Mary hated her and that many of her councilors constantly spoke ill of her, encouraging either her imprisonment or execution.

It was abundantly clear to Elizabeth that her position was precarious and dangerous. During the first weeks of her imprisonment, she was allowed to take exercise along the Tower walls but when a small child began to give her flowers and other gifts, Brydges was told to keep her indoors. Elizabeth had always been active, both physically and mentally. She chafed at her confinement and its boring routine. She was occasionally interrogated by members of Mary's council, but she held firm to her innocence. She had faced such interrogations during Thomas Seymour's fall from grace, and could not be easily intimidated. Still, the stress - which she handled with outward aplomb - took its toll on her physical health. She lost weight, and became prone to headaches and stomach problems.

Elizabeth and Sir Henry Bedingfield - the new Constable of the Tower
First Elizabeth is placed in close confinement in the Bell Tower, then Sir Thomas Wyatt is executed and a final blow is struck when the Constable of the Tower Sir John Gage is replaced by Sir Henry Bedingfield (1509 - 1583) on 5 May 1554. Many of Mary's supporters were still looking for the death of Elizabeth. Mary had attempted to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession, but Parliament would not allow it. Mary had reluctantly signed the Death warrant of Lady Jane Grey and although she disliked her sister she did not want to be responsible for her death. Sir Henry Bedingfield was a staunch Catholic and one of the powerful men who were instrumental in putting Queen Mary on the throne of England. Mary trusted Bedingfield and had rewarded his loyalty by giving him an annual pension of £100 out of the forfeited estates of the hapless Sir Thomas Wyatt. Elizabeth had never met Sir Henry Bedingfield and knew of the man only by his reputation. Elizabeth was terrified that he had been sent as her 'jailer' in order to arrange her murder. This was not paranoia on Elizabeth's part. She had heard the rumor that staunch Catholic members of Mary's council had sent a warrant for her execution to the Tower without Mary's signature. The warrant had been delivered to the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir John Brydges. He had checked the warrant, saw it was incomplete and would not act upon it because it lacked the Queen's signature. Sir John Brydges had saved the life of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is released from the Tower of London
Elizabeth had no idea what was going to happen to her. But she believed that she was going to die. She knew that Catholic members of the Privy Council were plotting against her. What she did not know was that she also had and extremely powerful ally. The ally was, of all people, King Philip II of Spain. The Catholic husband of her half-sister Mary! Philip was about to arrive in England. He was politically astute and realised that English were extremely wary of the new, Spanish, Catholic husband of their Queen. He realised that if anything happened to Elizabeth it would be his influence on Mary that would be blamed! Better that Elizabeth was kept alive but closely watched and eventually married off to one of his relatives! He advised Mary to release Elizabeth from the Tower. And Mary, who was besotted with Philip, obeyed. On Saturday 19 May Elizabeth was released from the Tower of London. But she was to be placed under the equivalent of House Arrest at the palace at Woodstock.

Thank you for stopping by please feel free to leave any comments or questions!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lady of Hay 25th Anniversary Edition By Barbara Erskine

Upon the UK publishing of the 25th Anniversary Edition of my favorite Barbara Erskine novel, Lady of Hay, I ordered it immediately. A week later, I opened my AmazonUK package and just held the large paperback novel in my hot little hands. Having read it previously, several years ago, I was extremely tempted to flip to the end of the book and just read the short synopsis to find out what happened to these beloved characters all these years later...However, I did not!
I resisted temptation and took my time re-reading Lady of Hay again. This experience was better than a high school or college reunion. Trust me, I got reacquainted with some old friends, sat down, said hello and just enjoyed the feeling of getting lost in the present day and much treasured medieval history storylines once again.

So I will not be providing my usual book review. Instead, I am sharing my thoughts on the novel,the author, as well as the setting. I believe that giving a thorough review for Lady of Hay will ruin the experience for a first time reader! So, if you decide to give this book a go, just enjoy it!

Barbara Erskine
Barbara Erskine has a degree in mediaeval Scottish history from Edinburgh University.
A historian by training, Barbara Erskine is the author of twelve bestselling novels that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural, plus three collections of short stories. Her books have appeared in at least twenty-six languages. Her first novel, Lady of Hay, has sold over two million copies worldwide. She lives with her family in an ancient manor house near Colchester and in a cottage near Hay-on-Wye.

Book Synopsis
Jo Clifford, successful journalist, is all set to debunk the idea of past-life regression in her next magazine series. But when she herself submits to a simple hypnotic session, she suddenly finds herself reliving the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, the wife of a baron at the time of King John.

As she learns of Matilda's unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare and the brutal threats of death at the hands of King John, it becomes clear that Jo's past and present are hopelessly entwined and that, eight hundred years on, a story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to begin again...

This iconic book, after 25 years continuously in print and translation into some 30 or so languages, is re-issued in a 25th anniversary edition, including a new chapter which brings the story right up-to-date.

A tall tale about reincarnation upwards of 500 pages! Lady of Hay was published in paperback in 1987: Keep that in mind...(NO COMPUTERS AND NO MOBILE/CELL PHONES at the time! Calls come in to your home phone on an 'answering machine'! Remember the days of NOT being reached 24hrs, 7 days a week).

Lady of Hay was my introduction to Barbara Erskine novels. Whether you call them 'time travel, time slip, or supernatural/paranormal reincarnation novels, Barbara Erskine is one of the best writers out there! I have read and enjoyed all her novels. Up until this year, they were impossible to buy in the states. I have ordered them from AmazonUK. Over the years,I've scoured used bookstores all over the East Coast to no avail. I would truly be lost without imported mail!

A Barbara Erskine novel is always beautifully written; weaving well thought out multi-layered plots with complicated characters who live in luscious settings. As a reader, I get to escape to a town called Hay-on-Wye in Wales! Most Americans will never get there but I have to brag now and say that I have been to Wales, staying at The Hand Hotel in Llangollen!

The town of Hay-on-Wye is located in Powys, mid Wales. Hay's main attraction is a ruined castle, not on a distant hill, but right there in town. To look at it is to set the imagination going, and that is what happened to Barbara Erskine. Hay Castle, she found out on inquiry, was built by Matilda de Braose, a Welsh border baroness who died in 1211, thrown into an oubliette by bad King John, the one who had the Magna Carta forced on him. An oubliette, if you don't have the dictionary handy, is a dungeon cell with a trapdoor in the ceiling, where prisoners were left to be forgotten until they died of thirst and starvation.

In the story, the modern heroine, Jo Clifford, and her medieval other self, Matilda de Braose, are not the only characters linked by reincarnation. The present-day protagonist discovers that almost everybody she knows is also a transplant from the 12th Century. "One of the fascinating things about reincarnation," Barbara Erskine says, "is that we come back in groups. That's why we like or dislike certain people at first sight. If we keep coming back through enough centuries, we eventually have a chance to work out our relationships."

For more information on Hay Castle, some photos of the castle itself and the surrounding area, or just to read the town history, click the link,

“Combining the two periods seems to make the history more palatable and more accessible,” says Barbara, whose Lady of Hay broke new ground with its ‘time-slip’ construction.

“I’d like to think that Lady of Hay changed the climate,” she says now.

Each book takes Barbara an average of two years to complete, principally because of the amount of research and the fact that she is writing two stories.

“People have asked if I write one period first and then the other,” she explains. “But it doesn’t work like that. The two are so closely interlinked that when I’m writing it I’m totally in whichever bit I’m writing. I switch in and out because, if the links don’t work for me, they won’t work for the reader.”

Writing historical fiction clearly involves large amounts of research, but opting for the Celtic period allows plenty of room for a novelist to allow her imagination free rein: “I get everything right that I possibly can but in the medieval ones, there are a certain number of gaps and in the new book there were more than usual,” Barbara explains. “As a novelist you get to fill in the gaps, which is lovely.” (Quotes taken from Hereford Times Article, 07/10/08).

For more information about Barbara Erskine, check out her website,

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions!

Monday, March 7, 2011

To Defy A King By Elizabeth Chadwick

Pub. Date: March 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Format: Paperback , 544pp
Sales Rank: 39,354
ISBN-13: 9781402250897
ISBN: 1402250894


The privileged daughter of one of the most powerful men in England, Mahelt Marshal’s life changes dramatically when her father is suspected by King John. Her brothers become hostages and Mahelt is married to Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk. Adapting to her new life is hard, but Mahelt comes to love Hugh deeply; however, defying her father in law brings disgrace and heartbreak. When King John sets out to subdue the Bigods, Mahelt faces her worst fears alone, knowing neither she, nor her marriage are likely to survive the outcome. A story of huge emotional power set against the road to Magna Carta and the fight to bring a tyrant king to heel.

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my absolute favorite authors writing historical fiction of the Medieval Period. I have read all of her books. I usually order them when they are published in the UK. However, To Defy A King, marks the first US publication. So it was such a delight for me to walk to my local bookstore, see it proudly on the shelf, and actually purchase it without having to wait a week for it to arrive overseas! I read To Defy A King in 48 hours stopping only when my eyes burned and to sleep!

'To Defy A King' picks up the storyline where, 'The Time of Singing' leaves off.
Roger Bigod and Ida de Tosney are now older and their children are grown. Their eldest son and heir, Hugh, is in his early twenties and beginning to learn the ropes of running an earldom. Meanwhile, “the greatest knight”, William Marshall is contemplating marriage for his beloved eldest daughter Mahelt. Forging alliances with other powerful families, the two patriarchs agree to the marriage of their children.

Mahelt, William Marshall's beloved older daughter is betrothed at an early age to Hugh, the elder son of Roger Bigod who is considerably older than she. After the betrothal, she comes to live with her new family, mainly at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk. Mahelt is homesick at first, misses her wonderful father and finds it difficult to settle in a household ruled by an earl of much sterner stuff. Her rebellious ways almost bring disaster down on them all but she is lucky in her husband who, whilst anxious to curb her over-enthusiasms, understands her fears and frustration. Slowly and hesitantly, theirs matures into a good marriage, despite the best efforts of King John and war to destroy it.

Mahelt takes after her father – she is somewhat of a free spirit and prefers to spend her time running and organizing things as opposed to sitting still and sewing. She often doesn’t know when to hold her tongue, but she is always mindful of her place. Hugh loves her spirit and is afraid keeping too tight of a reign on her will break everything he loves about her. Their relationship is well developed but not without its problems and as events spiral out of control around them, it may become just another one of the casualties. Mahelt finds her loyalties divided as her husband toys with rebellion and her father vows to honor his oath to the king.

There were two male characters that I found really interesting.
William Longespee is Ida’s son by Henry II and therefore half brother to King John as well as half brother to Hugh. He is arrogant and sometimes his behavior is a little over the top. Eventhough, he has a tendency to look down his royal nose at his Bigod relatives, he eventually learns that his royal brother is not the trusthworthy one which changes everything.

I was delighted to find out how Roger Bigod fared over the years since Elizabeth Chadwick's last novel, 'The Time Of Singing' ended. However, time has hardened him into a grouchy, narrow minded bastard whose relationship with Ida is now rather strained. When tragedy strikes, the old Roger's spirit breaks and we see the young Roger emerge briefly as he privately grieves and I cried like a baby!

I am never disappointed by an Elizabeth Chadwick novel. As a reader I am inexorably drawn into the Medieval world where I know I will meet characters I love, characters I hate and events that keep me on the edge of my seat ignoring the rest of my duties!
'To Defy A King' left me breathless with anticipation and yearning for her next novel, 'Lady of the English' due out this June!

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions!

A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...