Friday, August 26, 2011

May and Amy: A True Story of Family, Forbidden Love, and the Secret Lives of May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (CA); Reprint edition (28 Mar 2006)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0307335895
ISBN-13: 978-0307335890

Always intrigued by Edward Burne-Jones’s portrait of her great-aunt, Amy Gaskell, Josceline Dimbleby’s chance meeting with the painting’s current owner encouraged her to explore the mystery of her own family’s past and the life and death of her beautiful great-aunt.

In her search, Dimbleby uncovered a passionate correspondence between Burne-Jones and her great-grandmother, May Gaskell, Amy’s mother, which continued throughout the last six years of the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s life.

As she delved deeper into their engrossing lives, questions emerged. What was the deep secret May had confided to Edward? And what was the tragic truth behind Amy’s wayward, wandering life, her strange marriage, and her unexplained early death?

Weaving together the threads of this tale, Dimbleby takes us through a turbulent period in English history and visits the most far-flung corners of the Empire. William Morris, Rudyard Kipling, William Gladstone, and prominent members of the Souls also play a part in this sweeping, often funny, and sometimes tragic story. Richly detailed and exquisitely told, May and Amy is a stunning account of hidden love and family secrets.

The portrait that started it all...As a special present for May Gaskell, Burne-Jones painted this portrait of her favorite daughter Amy, aged nineteen, 1893

Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones was married to Georgiana Macdonald during his many friendships with sculptor Maria Zambaco which did become a full blown affair and May Gaskell.
This novel lovingly and respectfully, through family correspondence, tells the life stories of the author's family members: great grandmother May Gaskell, great aunt Amy Gaskell.
According to the author, Georgiana either looked the other way during Burne-Jones' many dalliances or simply 'put up with it' since this information is told by Burne-Jones himself!

Burne-Jones letter to May Gaskell's daughter Amy mentions Georgie. This is well into the friendship between May and Burne-Jones, "Georgie is a brick about troubles and sorrows and as wise as the Delphi Sybil. Georgie loves damsels and is the best company in the world for them-you will write to her won't you. I want her to feel you have some friendship for her, and would trust Amy to her-she shall not have a dull time either-Phil(BurneJones son) and I will take her to amusements and the days shall not depress her. And somehow I will get a little of her confidence (Dimbleby, Page 132)

Burne-Jones writes further to May about Georgie saying, "It makes me so happy that Georgie welcomes you-some day come to see her for her own sake-she is the wittiest company, and very pious-I say pious because all things are serious to her-only she is bitter upon folly-she is not a Christian any more and yet she hates to be approached except on bended knees(Dimbleby, page 105)

Burne-Jones' wife Georgie - seen here in a portrait painted by her husband. Their children, Phil and Margaret are in the background. 


His first portrait of Maria Zambaco

The Beguiling Of Merlin, the most recognizable painting of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. He paints her as the sorceress Nimue.

Here she is in The Tree of Forgiveness which Burne-Jones painted towards the end of the affair.
The dynamics between the men and women in these two paintings just about says it all doesn't it?

As his model, Maria Zambaco's dramatic Greek looks had inspired Burne-Jones to produce some of the best paintings and drawings he had ever done. The affair resulted in inevitable pain and misery and with Maria's volatile temperament, in a public drama. There was rumor of a suicide pact and then she did indeed attempt suicide. The affair shook Burne-Jones deeply and permanently changed his relationship with his wife, Georgie, although she was to stand by him devotedly, even if at times somewhat sternly, to the end.
Burne-Jones alludes to this affair in a letter to May,

"the one who hurt me was not wicked a bit-it was a hard life to lead and she broke down-that's all-she minded so much and so much feared to hurt that it drove her to cheat-she thought I couldn't like her if I knew she was passionate so she hid it always-but I should have liked it all the more you see, for it is the one thing that is beautiful to me, and pardons all-but there it was-for the first years it must have been an unbearable life to her-it was to me-who can be a wicked hell of passion if I let go-and I never forget hearing of her crying all night or walking about in rain outside the house when I was ill, for hours(Dimbleby page105)

May Gaskell met Edward Burne Jones at the start of the 1890s. He was nearly fifty-nine years old. She was just thirty-nine. Burne-Jones, both in his painting and in his life, had always searched for perfection and beauty, most often in female form. Later he was to explain to May:(Dimbleby, P.89)

'I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be — in a light better than any that ever shone — in a land no-one can define or remember, only desire'

Portrait of Helen Mary Gaskell(May)
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1893

Last drawing of May Gaskell by Edward Burne Jones, 1898
Helen Mary Gaskell (May) was the great grandmother to author Josceline Dimbleby
NOTE: Lily of the Valley pinned to her blouse over her bosom. Lily of the Valley symbolizes a return to happiness, purity of heart, sweetness, you've made my life complete, humility, love's good fortune (Language and Meaning of Flowers)

The first letter Burne-Jones wrote to May Gaskell says it all really...
O my God how I love you-it's terrible that one creature should have such power over any other-and I lie under your feet-and have no will or strength against you. Why did I leave you today-I left all my happiness with you-a poor thing came back here, a poor shell, and my heart was away-my heart nestles under your feet, so tread softly...I shall lie and think of you and wake and think of you and of the sweet comfort we shall be to each other over our life days-you are not to mind if I have been hurt-it is such sweet pain and it's all for you (Dimbleby, page 8).

17 June 1898: Burne-Jones spent a quiet evening with Georgie. They played dominoes and then Georgie read aloud by lamplight, as she often did now that her husband's eyes were so bad. Finally, they went up to their separate bedrooms. Burne Jones undressed, settled himself on his bed into the position of King Arthur in his painting, and waited for sleep to come.
Between their bedrooms was a speaking tube. In the early hours of the morning, Georgie heard her husband cry out that he had a pain in his heart. She hurried to him. It was a fatal heart attack. The man with the scythe had finally come to him. Georgie could do nothing; within a very short while Sir Edward Burne-Jones was dead. He was sixty-five years old.
Burne-Jones had always felt his painting provided, like a transcendental experience, a link with another world. Dying as he did, after working all day on the death scene of King Arthur at Avalon, it was as if he had finally entered the world he loved most, the legendary world of his paintings (Dimbleby, page 178).

In closing, at the end of May Gaskell's life, she summed up her friendship with Burne Jones,
"His friendship to me was like a benediction through the storms of life--his love a safeguard--his influence a continual help to the present hour"(Dimbleby, page 7)

If you would like to get better acquainted with the man behind the glorious paintings, then I highly recommend this novel. It is available online worldwide.

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Review of Tudor biography Henry VIII by David Loades

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Amberley (July 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1848685327
ISBN-13: 978-1848685321

A major new biography of the most infamous king of England. 'Means to be God, and do as pleases himself', Martin Luther observed. It was a shrewd comment, not merely on the divorce in which the King was then embroiled, but upon his whole career. Henry VIII was self righteous, and convinced that he enjoyed a special relationship with the Almighty, which gave him a unique claim upon the obedience of his subjects. He subdued the church, sidelined the old nobility, and reorganized the government, all in the name of that Good Lordship which was his God-given responsibility.
As a youth, he was a magnificent specimen of manhood, and in age a gargantuan wreck, but even in his prime he was never the 'ladies man' of legend and his own imagination. Sexual insecurity undermined him and gave him an irascible edge - fatal to Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Several times he took out his frustrations in warfare, but succeeded only in spending vast sums of money. He dominated England during his life, and for many years thereafter, but his personality is as controversial today as it was then.
Professor David Loades has spent most of his life investigating the remains, literary, archival and archaeological, of Henry VIII, and this monumental new biography book is the result. His portrait of Henry is distinctive, he was neither a genius nor a tyrant, but a man' like any other', except for the extraordinary circumstances in which he found himself.

Eighteen year old King Henry VIII after his crowning in 1509

Pastime with good company   

For my pastance          
Hunt sing and dance                                  
My heart is set 
All goodly sport 
To my comfort 
Who shall me let? 

The best I sue
The worst eschew 
My Mind shall be 
Virtue to use 
Vice to refuse 

In order to understand the newly crowned, adolescent, King of England, Henry VIII, during this time,"The King was as avid for intellectual stimulus as he was for physical exercise, and he did not find that among his jousting companions. Above all, he was a talented and enthusiastic musician, who took his minstrels with him wherever he went; on progress, on campaign, even on hunting trips. Most of the evidence dates from later, but the 'king's musik' was noted for its excellence from the very beginning, and in 1516 he tempted the distinguished Venetian organist Dionisio Memo into his service. He played the lute and the virginals well, although he was less sure on the organ, and his greatest asset was his singing voice, which was strong and steady, although we do not know what his register was. Later in the reign one of his favourite occupations was part singing with the Gentelmen of his Privy Chamber, and he seems to have written such songs, perhaps even while he was still prince. One of the earliest was 'Pastime with good company', which expresses the whole philosophy of the young Henry" (Loades, Henry VIII, page67).

This is not the first Tudor biography I've read on Henry VIII but it is the first that I feel has been the most thorough and thoughtfully put together. I do understand that this is a reissue of an earlier biography David Loades has previously published with 'newer information' thrown in. That being said, Loades has done what Eric Ives has done with his Tudor biography of Anne Boleyn. Before having read this biography, my main source of reference on 'strict' biographies and not a fictionalized novel would have been Jack (JJ) Scarisbrick to which Loades agrees!
I have read David Starkey and Alison Weir's books of course and highly recommend them. However, the best source is always the plethera of available Letters and Papers found on online international library websites. The best feeling is the ability and freedom to read the original sixteenth century documents and letters by not only the kings and queens but their privy council members as well!

Not only did Historian, David Loades cover Henry's life and reign as King of England (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) but through Appendixes and Notes he summarized the historical events of the children of Henry VIII: Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I and Edward Tudor. He included, wives and husbands of said monarchs and threw in Mary Queen of Scots as well! What more do you want?

I highly recommend this Tudor biography. It is written in a style that is clever, humorous and informative without being pompous and dry. I never felt as if I was listening to a lecture or being reprimanded! I enjoy Tudor biographies when they are well written and humour is important. It should be fun after all. For me, I always am curious to know more about these men and women who not only ruled countries and counties but were mere mortals, flawed humans with immeasurable superegos and waning sexual prowess! Something I love to do when reading biographies is too go directly to the biography list at the back of the book to see how many sources I've also read and how many I want to read!


As I walked along
and mused on things
That have in my time
been done by great kings
I bethought me of abbeys
that sometime I saw
Which are now supressed
all by a law.
O Lord, (thought I then)
what occasion was here
To provide for learning
and make poverty clear.

The lands and the jewels
that hereby were had
Would have found godly preachers
which might well have led
The people aright
that now go astray
And have fed the poor
that famish every day.

Henry VIII by David Loades
Henry VIII by Jack (JJ) Scarisbrick

Henry VIII and Crowley, Selected Works

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Review Of Dracula In Love By Karen Essex

London, 1890. Mina Murray, the rosy-cheeked, quintessentially pure Victorian heroine, becomes Count Dracula’s object of desire. To preserve her chastity, five male “defenders” rush in to rescue her from the vampire’s evil clutches. This is the version of the story we've been told.

But now, from Mina’s own pen, we discover a tale more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have ever imagined. From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula’s eternal muse—the most famous woman in vampire lore—vividly recounts the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked her and the Count through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

He did not speak but I heard his voice in my head and recognized it as the voice from my dream.

The power is yours, Mina. I come to you when you call to me, when I feel your need or desire.
Every moment that has ever existed in time is still here, Mina--every thought, every memory, and every experience. You and I have gone by many names. It does not matter what we call each other. What matters is that you remember. Do you remember, Mina?
We are physically and psychically attuned, you and I. Everything that exists in this material world also exists on the other side of the veil. On the etheric plane, you and I are eternally united. You have read the philosopher Plato? You must do so sometime. What he said of the twin souls is not far from accurate. We are twin souls, so to speak. You know this, but it frightens you.

I am a romantic at heart. A fool for love. An all encompassing, heart pounding, breathless love. The kind one seems to find in Victorian Gothic novels where the men are not all cads and the women...well, let's get back to that shall we!

Dracula In Love reunites us with those star crossed lovers...NO, not Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray. Have you ever heard of Dracula? The vampire! Yes, he exists didn't you know!
He takes many forms albeit human or animal; whatever your imagination can conjure.
However, the real man, exists within these pages. He calls himself Count Vladimir Drakulya but that is all you get to know now. You must read the book to find out more.
For the tale Karen Essex weaves is more than Bram Stoker ever could have dreamed!

I grew up on Dracula you could say. I was weaned on Hammer Films, a child of the seventies!
For most of my childhood Christopher Lee was a vampire! While most children were being read fairy tales, I was being read Peter Rabbit and Ellery Queen watching Hound of the Baskervilles and wondering where The Moors were!

I read Bram Stoker's Dracula during my early adolescence and it scared me silly! I love that novel and have since 'devoured' a strict diet of Anne Rice. You will not find any Twilight love here! No teenage angst for me just good old fashioned Gothic suspense with some Victorian uptight, fragile women waxing on about love will do me fine!

Karen Essex has let Mina tell her story before and after meeting her husband Jonathan Harker. She doesn't quite understand who this man's voice is that calls to her in her dreams, visits her eliciting such desire! Once she discovers who this count is the real story begins!

Karen Essex's writing style is descriptive and compelling. The story is luscious and inviting. However, although the usual suspects and familiar faces are here...Mina's friend Lucy and Dr. Von Helsinger, I found myself losing some interest toward the last half of the novel.
Putting the romance aside, Karen Essex drives the base of the novel with an undercurrent of feminism that is unusually refreshing at first but too many weakened females being sent to asylums sent me over the edge! I found that part of the story predictable and it was too many chapters. Just when I was about to lose interest completely Mina and the story of who the Count truly was took off and the author enraptured me again!
Also, some readers might be put off by the erotic writing. Yes, it is graphic but I think beautifully written and only enhances the love story! Just let your imagination run wild and enjoy this escape...I did!

The novel is available at all bookstores and downloadable as well!

Please feel free to leave any comments,

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tales of Farringford on The Isle of Wight Home of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Farringford, Isle of Wight, Home of Alfred Tennyson

An original Victorian print dated March 22, 1884. This engraving shows Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, in his study on the Isle of Wight. From a series of prints entitled 'Celebrities of the Day

Tennyson first came to the Isle of Wight in 1846 with Edward Moxon to visit James White of Bonchurch.
On that occasion he rowed around the Needles, and found the view unforgettable. He returned to the island in 1849, and again in 1853 when he was on the lookout for a house. He heard of Farringford, and fell in love with the view from the drawing room, which persuaded him to make Farringford his home. He summoned his wife Emily from Twickenham. Her diary records her impressions of that fateful trip to see Farringford for the first time:

'The railway did not go further than Brockhurst then and the steamer, when there was one, from Lymington felt itself in no way bound to wait for the omnibus which brought as many of the passengers as it could from the train. We crossed in a rowing boat. It was a still November evening. One dark heron flew over the Solent backed by a daffodil sky... Next day we went to Farringford and looking from the drawing-room window I thought "I must have that view," and I said so to him when alone.' Tennyson himself said 'we will go no further, this must be our home.'

On 11 November, 1853, Tennyson agreed to rent Farringford, furnished, on a three-year lease for £2 a week. The lease came with an option to buy. On 25 November Alfred and Emily moved in and their staff which consisted of a housekeeper, butler, cook, page, lady's maid, parlour and kitchen maids, gardeners, grooms and a coachman. In March 1854 their second son, Lionel, was born in Farringford.

By 1856 Alfred Lord Tennyson's income from his writings was over £2,000 a year and he bought the house, park and farmland of Farringford for £6,900. During his time at Farringford he wrote many of his most famous works, including The Charge of the Light Brigade and Maud, while another, Crossing The Bar, was written on a voyage between the mainland and his home.

On 13 May, 1856, on the arrival of Tennyson's own furniture, pictures, boxes of books and other assorted ornaments and antiquities, Prince Albert called. Tennyson, flustered in the middle of arranging the unpacking, is reported to have forgotten to offer Prince Albert a chair. Despite this, Albert remained standing, talking pleasantly, and took a bunch of cowslips home for the Queen. Tennyson did not meet Queen Victoria herself until April 1863. Queen Victoria's diary described the event as follows: 'I went down to see Tennyson who is very peculiar-looking, tall, dark.'

Alfred Tennyson is reported to have been so emotional at the event that his eyes were filled with tears and he could not stand still. He was also unable to remember the Queen's words, and wrote 'I only remember what I said to the Queen - big fool that I was... Why, what an excellent king Prince Albert would have made.' Queen Victoria however was impressed and asked Tennyson to return and bring his family with him. Hallam Tennyson, then ten, wrote 'Observations: You must always say 'mam' when in Her Majesty's presence. You must stand until the Queen asks you to sit down. Her Majesty does not often tell you to sit down...'

From April 1862, Queen Victoria summoned him to court several times. In 1883 he finally accepted his barony title on Queen Victoria's insistence, having declined the invitation from Prime Ministers Disraeli and Gladstone. He became First Baron Tennyson of Aldworth And Freshwater, and first took his seat in the House of Lords in March 1884. Alfred, Lord Tennyson died on 6 October, 1892 at the age of 83 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Haunted Farringford
Few buildings of such historic age and importance escape tales of ghosts and hauntings, and Farringford is no exception. Perhaps through being a hotel, where guests are able to stay overnight within its haunted rooms, the chances of visitors to the site coming across something other-worldly are increased. Or perhaps its inspiring views and gothic appearance encourages the imaginations of those who sleep there to run wild in flights of frightening fancy. Perhaps we will never know for certain, but one thing we do know are the tales that those who stay there have told.

Alfred Tennyson, Wife Emily, and two children walking the grounds of Farringford

Chief among the tales of Haunted Farringford are those of Emily Tennyson, who is said to have loved life at Farringford so much that she remains there to this day. She is said to haunt the hotel bedroom that was her nursery, looking after and watching any children that stay, and rocking an invisible cradle.

Emily Tennyson is also supposed to have been seen walking on the lawn, and Alfred Lord Tennyson himself has been reported to have been seen smoking a pipe and relaxing in a chair in the library as well as walking on Tennyson Down, the nearby hill named after him.

Tennyson. Illustration from Cassell's Book of Knowledge (c 1910) by Dudley Tennant.

There are also tales of a phantom horse-drawn carriage seen around the grounds and the road outside Farringford...

Please feel free to leave any comments,

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...