Monday, February 27, 2012

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova...Dracul...Not Dracula...A Review!


 "To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history...."

 Late one night, exploring her father's library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to "My dear and unfortunate successor," and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of—a labyrinth where the secrets of her father's past and her mother's mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.

The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known—and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself—to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.

What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed—and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler's dark reign—and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages.

Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions—and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers—one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful—and utterly unforgettable.


 Reading The Historian is like meeting the offspring of Dan Brown and Bram Stoker! Let me explain…
 Vlad III Dracul (Vlad the Impaler)

At the beginning of The Historian, none of the characters believe in vampires. Even though the characters are rational people: historians and academics!  Slowly, as they dig deeper into the history of Vlad the Impaler, what they find is that Bram Stoker may have just gotten the facts a little bit wrong.  And this is when we all start to get just a little frightened. 

What if Vlad the Impaler knew how to cheat death but took the answer with him to his grave? 

 His Order of the Dragon held the Ottoman Turks at bay when no one could. Vlad held power in Wallachia (modern day Romania), several times during the course of his life. Elizabeth Kostova presents the history of his life in a way that seems to be true; including the discrepancy about his final resting place. What if his descendents were secretly marked with a dragon tattoo? Thus preserving his lineage for some dark purpose?

The nameless female narrator looks back on her adventures as a budding young historian unraveling the mysterious history of Vlad the Impaler. He is the one widely credited as the true life inspiration for the Dracula legend that Bram Stoker popularized. When the narrator shows a strange book she has found to her historian father, he quickly reveals that he has some knowledge of it, and that it relates directly to Dracula.

Her father’s secret obsession with Vlad the Impaler began decades earlier. He and his academic adviser also had some very strange experiences. Then his adviser disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Leaving her father to disappear as well; not before putting pen to paper and recording his own quest to uncover the truth about Dracula. So the narrator sets off with another historian buddy to find her father, while reading his story of journeying to find his adviser decades before.

Who’s following whom? How many foreign countries do they travel to and what happens to them? There is quite a lot of intrigue, drama, history and familial love to keep the reader engaged. Not to mention Elizabeth Kostova’s very impressive writing. You are immediately compelled to travel with these interesting people to see what in the world is going on and how many vampires will I meet along the way? 

I was very impressed with Kostova’s cogent writing of the Turkish and Romanian Dracul (dragon) family history of Vlad the Impaler juxtaposed against Bram Stoker’s fictional world of his vampire Dracula. It was very refreshing reading.  A knowledge of international history is not needed to read The Historian. However, it does help to get the jokes the author provides! Also, the positive and loving father daughter relationship that Kostova weaves throughout the novel to support the various plots and intrigue just made me want to read on!

I highly recommend a different take on not only the cinema Dracula we have been used to but Vlad the Impaler is quite the man! If you want a fun time, don’t hesitate to pick this one up!

Please feel free to leave any comments,


Saturday, February 25, 2012

My review of Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

 As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame that she maintains he deserved.

It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand?

Back in 1888, the young, art-loving Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes - leading to a notorious criminal trial - the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disintegrate into mystery and deception. 

 I have to begin by saying narrator of this nineteenth century Scottish Victorian story of 'friendship,' Harriet Baxter is not the easiest woman to warm up to! She is that dreaded 'S' word, most commonly found in Victorian era fiction...SPINSTER...Harriet Baxter describes herself as 'not a comely' sort of girl, proud of being self-taught, independent and aware of her shortcomings. As predicted she is considerably wealthy and in an attempt to save off her guilt she does 'good deeds'. This is her saving grace. It makes her a likeable character along with the fact that Harriet is a good friend to those she cares about. 

As 'Gillespie and I' begins, we discover that Harriet saves the life of a respectably dressed woman who faints dead away on a crowded Glaswegian street. She cannot breathe because her dentures are literally choking her! Harriet  has just saved the life of the mother of the young Scottish artist Ned Gillespie whom she describes as her 'dear friend and soul mate!'

Spinster, Harriet Baxter becomes friends with the Gillespie family. There's Ned, his wife Annie, his mother Elspeth (whom Harriet saved), and two daughters, Sybil (aged 7) and Rose her baby sister. Harriet tags along when the family goes for walks in the park, she showers their children with gifts and she befriends their other friends all to be near Ned Gillespie!  The Gillespies' start to accept her in their lives partly because they feel indebted to her and partly because she is good with their children. 

It could be said that Harriet's presence and friendship is what triggers Sybil's 'odd behaviour!'
At first it's 'bratty' acting out to get Ned's attention and what you think is typical sibling rivalry and competition establishing itself are the red herrings set out by Jane Harris . Let's just say the eldest daughter is named 'Sybil' for a reason!  The writing is quite good and once the doubt is established, questions arise, and the reader feels the need to backtrack and re-read the 'red herring' sections! I won't go into much detail because it will spoil the plot! 

This is not a romance but a friendship between a painter and a spinster. It is refreshing to note that the artist Ned Gillespie is a man of good standing who loves his wife and family. There are many different storylines and plots going on which I really enjoyed.  If you are looking for a romantic Victorian artist and muse story, this is not for you. If you enjoy a story about various types of friendships i.e. between husband and wife and artist and patron then you might enjoy Gillespie and I. There are haunting psychological undercurrents which made up for some dragging chapters!

I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters where Harriet reminisces about her friendship with Ned Gillespie and their conversations about the art world and various museums in nineteenth century Scotland, 'We were connected through the most intimate of friendships, so profound was our rapport that I was, on occasion, the first to behold his completed paintings, sometimes before his wife Annie had cast her gaze upon them.'

 Jane Harris is quite good at descriptive writing and she knows how to set the scene.
If you are looking for a different take on the Victorian Era why not give Gillespie and I a try! 

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cornwall Calling Daphne du Maurier

Mine is the silence

And the quiet gloom
Of a clock ticking
In an empty room,
The scratch of a pen,
Ink-pot and paper,
And the patter of the rain.
Nothing but this as long as I am able,
Firelight - and a chair, and a table.

Not for me the shadow of a smile,

Nor the life that has gone,
Nor the love that has fled,
But the thread of the spider who spins on the wall,
Who is lost, who is dead, who is nothing at all. 

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, England, in 1907. The du Mauriers were a privileged and prosperous family. Her father, Gerald, was a well-known actor and theater manager whose own father, George, had been an artist for Punch magazine and a published author of three bestselling novels. Her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress until the birth of her third child in 1911. Du Maurier had both an older sister, Angela, and a younger sister, Jeanne.

Gerald du Maurier was a devoted and affectionate father, especially to Daphne. His longing for a son prompted her to dress like a boy, cut her hair short, and adopt an alter ego she named "Eric Avon." As a member of a theatrical family, she found that such imaginative flights of fancy met with encouragement rather than resistance. Upon reaching puberty, however, du Maurier put "Eric" aside. She later referred to this repressed side of herself as "the boy-in-the-box."

Du Maurier was privately educated at home by governesses. Several served as role models for the young girl and tried to make up for her rather cool and distant biological mother. An avid reader from early childhood, du Maurier was especially fond of the works of Walter Scott, W.M. Thackeray, the Bronte sisters, and Oscar Wilde. Other authors who strongly influenced her include R.L. Stevenson, Katherine Mansfield, Guy de Maupassant, and Somerset Maugham. Du Maurier herself began writing during her adolescence as a way to escape reality and in the process discovered more about herself and what she wanted in life.

After finishing at a school near Paris, she moved into the family home, Ferryside, in the harbor town of Fowey on the Cornish coast. Later she rented a local estate, Menabilly, located nearby, which became one of the models for Manderley. For most of her adult life she resided primarily in the area around Fowey (except when she left to travel with her husband, F.A.M. (Boy) Browning, who was a professional soldier) and set a number of her novels, including Rebecca, in that area.

Du Maurier was blessed with an active imagination and made up stories to act out with her two sisters as they were growing up. Often based on the fiction she was reading, these stories of adventure and romance set the tone for her later best-selling fiction. She began writing short stories in the late 1920s. Her first publication, "And Now to God the Father," appeared in the May 8th issue of The Bystander, edited by her uncle Willie Beaumont, her mother’s brother. As she later would write in her autobiography, Myself When Young (1977), "I went self-consciously into the W.H. Smith’s [the booksellers] in Fowey and bought a copy, hoping the girl behind the counter did not know why I was getting it." Du Maurier’s self-effacing reaction to her first publication was characteristic of her response to her later fame as well. She remained leery of self-promotion and publicity throughout her professional life.

Although she sold a number of other short stories to The Bystander, she quickly realized that if she was going to reach financial independence as a writer, she would have to turn her hand to longer works. During the autumn of 1929 she began her first novel, The Loving Spirit, which became the first of her many books inspired by her life in Cornwall. In The Loving Spirit, du Maurier first put to use the combination of romance, adventure, history, and a sense of atmosphere that would characterize all of her later fiction. It was a winning combination. Over the next fifty years she turned out a couple of dozen books, half of which—and the most memorable—were set in Cornwall. One of the most famous, Jamaica Inn, was suggested in part by a stay in the old coaching inn, long associated in local history with the Cornwall smuggling trade.

Although her first novels, The Loving Spirit (1931), I’ll Never Be Young Again (1932), The Progress of Julius (1933), and Jamaica Inn (1936), sold well and established her as an author in Great Britain, it was the publication of Rebecca in 1938 that brought Daphne du Maurier international recognition.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while, I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkept, not the drive that we had known. At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realised what had happened.

The novel Rebecca is a curious hybrid—a mixture of romance, murder mystery, and the gothic. The romance, of course, was brought to life by Hitchcock and Hollywood through Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, but it is at the core of the novel as well. A naive young woman—interestingly never named in either the novel or the film—is alone in the world (a paid companion to an older, coarser, social-climbing woman) until she meets the handsome, wealthy, and recently widowed Maxim de Winter. He had been married, we are told early on, to the accomplished, beautiful Rebecca who tragically died in a boating accident off the south coast of Cornwall near the de Winter family estate of Manderley. An older, distraught wealthy man meets a younger, callow impoverished woman whom he decides to marry in order to restore his mental health—the plot is common to any number of traditional English romantic novels, most obviously Jane Eyre.

The mystery evolves slowly and involves the death of Rebecca around which du Maurier deftly creates a plot twist. Up to the time of the accidental discovery of Rebecca’s body, both the reader and the heroine have been led to believe that Maxim still loves his first wife. However, at this point in the novel Maxim reveals that he had never loved Rebecca, that in fact he had despised her, eventually developing toward her a loathing so powerful that it had led him to kill her. In the film version, Rebecca’s death is portrayed as accidental.

The gothic elements revolve around the house itself—Manderley—and its menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, one of the eeriest figures in fiction who, in her own particular way, terrorizes her new mistress. Although du Maurier forgoes the usual trappings of gothic writing—hidden staircases, floating ghosts, and the like—the atmosphere of the house is so pervaded by the memory of Rebecca that the marriage of the romantic couple is nearly destroyed and the young bride, believing her marriage a failure, nearly commits suicide—with the encouragement of Mrs. Danvers. It is Mrs. Danvers who destroys Manderley in the end by setting it on fire before disappearing from the novel. In the Hollywood version, she is destroyed along with the house which she has set ablaze.

Despite the fact that the film is fairly true to du Maurier’s original, there are other significant differences which affect the tone as well, such as those between the respective closing scenes. At the film’s conclusion, Maxim and his wife meet during the burning of Manderley and embrace in front of the flames of the house, a typical Hollywood happy ending. In the novel, however, after the destruction of Manderley, Maxim and his wife are described as living in self-imposed exile somewhere on the European continent. There they lead a quiet, placid life, skirting carefully around subjects that might rekindle memories of Rebecca and Manderley and "that sense of fear, of furtive unrest." The ending of the book, therefore, is much darker than that of the film. By the end of the novel, the dream-like opening has taken on a more nightmarish quality, one that more accurately reflects the way the past still haunts the lives of Maxim and his second wife.

Daphne du Maurier continued actively writing for almost forty years after she wrote Rebecca. In 1969 she was made a Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, and in the same year she finally left her beloved Menabilly. In 1977 she was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and in 1982 she published her last books, The Rendezvous and Other Stories and, appropriately enough, The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories. She died in1989 in Cornwall at the age of 82. Throughout her life the fame of Rebecca, both in print and in film, provided her with a constant bond to the past.

But if I must go wandering in Time and seek the source of my life force,

Lend me your sable wings, that as I fall beyond recall,
The sober stars may tumble in my wake, for Jesus' sake.

The Rebecca Notebook & Other Memories by Daphne du Maurier, Virago (2005) 
Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier, Virago (2004)

Both poems can be found in The Rebecca Notebook  & Other Memories

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Moments In Time with Virginia Woolf

“I met your mother, in a gloom happily encircled by the firelight, and peopled with legs and skirts. We drifted together like ships in an immense ocean and she asked me whether black cats had tails. And I answered that they had not, after a pause in which her question seemed to drop echoing down vast abysses, hitherto silent.” Virginia Woolf describing older sister Vanessa Bell

A series of untimely family deaths affected Virgina Woolf in such a way to cause her first mental breakdown at age 13. Her mother died in 1895, her step-sister Stella in 1897. In 1904 her father died, and then her beloved brother Toby died in 1906. It was shortly after her father’s death that her older step-brother George Duckworth, bullied and sexually abused Virginia.

Adeline Virginia Woolf was a true survivor. She was an astute observer of human nature. A woman with keen insights on life, death, suffering, disease, loneliness, art and love. She turned to writing essays then novels as a way of proving to her parents, siblings, and herself that she was essentially a person of self-worth.

Her only autobiographical work, Moments of Being, was published after her death. A series of five pieces, it reveals a woman of considerable range and introspection. This is Woolf at her finest, in her own authentic style. Originally a manuscript she called, A Sketch of the Past, Woolf treds carefully reflecting back on her life but then before the reader knows it dives deep beneath the surface to explore hidden depths.

Woolf is exploring the nature of consciousness when she says, ”From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is a hidden pattern; that we – I mean all human beings- are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”

When discussing her writing as a means of self-discovery she says, "But whatever the reason may be, I find that scene making is my natural way of marking the past. A scene always comes to the top; arranged; representative. This confirms me in my instinctive notion–it is irrational; it will not stand argument–that we are sealed vessels afloat upon what it is convenient to call reality; at some moments, without reason, without an effort, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality; that is a scene…”

What Virginia Woolf has done in writing these series of essays as her autobiography is open the floodgates and let it all spill out on the page. This takes great courage to reveal one’s self and it took its toll on her through her many bouts of depression. Even in a fragile emotional state, her mind was genius and she shared with us all the aspects of being human.

We must remember that the legacy of Virginia Woolf is immense as was the woman. She was a woman who was loved by her extended biological family and later her husband Leonard, her lover-friend Vita Sackville-West, her close associates, the Strachys, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry — and her beloved older sister, Vanessa Bell.

I urge anyone who is curious to learn more about this intriguing woman, to read her autobiography and also her novels. I think she was one of the bravest truest souls who ever put pen to paper. For her legacy is one of great beauty!
Thank you Adeline Virginia Woolf.

Moments Of Being A Collection of Autobiographical Writing by Virginia Woolf, Edited by Jeanne Schulkind, 1985, Harcourt Press, USA

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Review of Marie Antoinette The Journey by Antonia Fraser

France's iconic queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous 'Let them eat cake," was alternately revered and reviled during her lifetime.
For centuries since, she has been the object of debate, speculation, and the fascination so often accorded illustrious figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted child was thrust onto the royal stage and commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in European history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait excites compassion and regard for all aspects of the queen, immersing the reader not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but in the culture of an unparalleled time and place.

So, who was Marie Antoinette, born Maria Antonia of Austria, married at fourteen and executed at the guillotine at age 38, at the height of the French Revolution?
Was she a lioness or a lamb? A sexually promiscuous harpy or an undereducated, over-privileged girl of the upper-most upper class, put into a marriage and a political alliance that she was ill-equipped to handle, who grew into maturity with motherhood, only to have her life cut short?

Antonia Fraser tells us it is the latter. The book begins with Maria Antonia's, or, as her family called her, Antoine's birth, the last daughter of the imperious Maria Teresa, Empress of Austria-Hungary. So dedicated a leader that she continued to sign royal papers shortly following the delivery of her "small archduchess".
Antonia Fraser describes Antoine's childhood as a mixture of pampered neglect and fierce obedience, right up to her marriage to the French dauphin. The alliance was political; Maria Teresa parceled off her children to various European capitals, with Antoine winding up in France, where there was no great love for Austria. Fraser describes her as lacking the education and maturity to fulfill her political role, and it would be some years before she fulfilled her biological role as a mother. In the meantime the young girl, now Marie Antoinette, indulged herself with clothes, music, friends and parties.

'Marie Antoinette The Journey' held my attention when Antonia Fraser discussed the French royal family and their relationships. However, once the family of Marie Antoinette, the King Louis XIV and their two surviving children have to leave their home at Versailles and live at the Tuileries in Paris, their situation takes on real poignancy. Fraser does a great job of making the reader feel the tragedy of what happens to this family, to show how they suffer, the cruel ironies of their dashed hopes and foiled plans, as well as the indifference of other European royals to their plight.

Antonia Fraser explains that Marie Antoinette's excessive living i.e. her dress bills, hair dressing, furniture and gambling debts fit her lifestyle. Especially the expenses involved in maintaining a royal household!

Fraser tries to clear Antoinette's name concerning the infamous Affair of the Diamond Necklace, and refutes charges that she was insensitive to the plight of the poor, especially as France's economy worsened. She also argues that Antoinette was a loving and attentive mother, and, her love affair with the Swedish Count Fersen an exception, a faithful wife.

I'd recommend Marie Antoinette: The Journey to anyone interested in learning more about this puzzling, contradictory woman and the troubled times in which she lived and died. Although, Antonia Fraser's writing style is a bit dry at times, even humorless, her duty in representing such a compelling biography of one of the French Revolution's most misunderstood women, is quite a fascinating tale! You will find footnotes and an extensive bibliography helpful as well!

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ellen Terry: Much Ado About Something

“I hold very strongly that a child’s earliest impressions mould its character perhaps more than either heredity or education”

She was born in Coventry on 27 February, 1848, to actor parents of Irish descent. She had few childhood recollections that stood out and suffered from what she called, ‘A bad memory’! She described one fond memory of falling asleep nightly holding her father’s hand and said she was, ‘her father’s pet’ or family favorite! Being a sibling of nine children, I could see as that would stand out in a person’s memory.

When it came to her mother, Terry described a woman who did not shrink from her duties, who worked hard at her profession and raised her children to be healthy, happy, and theatre-minded! When her parents were performing on stage, her mother would bring them to the theatre with her wrapped up in a shawl and let them sleep in the dressing room. So, you could say the theatre and the need to perform on stage was in her blood! For instance, her first childhood stage performance was in a pantomime, ‘Spirit of the mustard-pot’. She was chosen because they needed a small child who could literally sit in a pot and was small enough to fit inside it.

Upon meeting George Frederick Watts at his studio at Little Holland House in 1862/3 to sit for the painting, ‘The Sisters’, a fourteen year old Terry accompanied by her sister, Kate and family friend, Tom Taylor walked through the studio door. Terry had just met her first husband, who was forty five years old,

I was just dreaming of and aspiring after another world, a world full of pictures and music and gentle artistic people with quiet voices and elegant manners

Two years later, in 1864, Ellen Terry and G.F. Watts were married. Terry was now sixteen and Watts was forty seven. Although, young in age she insists that she had her parents blessing, ‘It all seems now like a dream – not a clear dream, but a fitful one, which in the morning one tries in vain to tell’. It is interesting to note, that she records crying for most of her wedding day; so much so, that Watts himself told her, ‘Don’t cry. It makes your nose swell’.

The weather was quite cold the day of her wedding and the list of attendees at Little Holland House reads as a who’s who of the nineteenth century: The entire Terry clan, The trio of sisters – Mrs. Prinsep – (mother of the painter), Lady Somers, Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Dalrymple, Gladstone, Disraeli and Browning!

It is said that Pre-Raphaelite painter Mr. Holman Hunt himself designed her wedding dress – a brown silk gown and a quilted white bonnet with a sprig of orange blossom (symbolism- not rosemary?) and an Indian shawl wrapped around her (I wonder if her mother or Mrs. Cameron gave her the shawl).

Years later when reminiscing of her marriage to Mr. Watts, she says, ‘I sat, shrinking and timid, in a corner – the girl-wife of a famous painter. I was, if I were anything at all, more of a curiousity, a side-show, than hostess to our distinguished writers’.

After the wedding it was off to their honeymoon at a place called ‘Freshwater’ where she would meet amongst others a man named, ‘Tennyson’.

Tennyson was more to me than a magic-lantern shape, flitting across the blank of my young experience, never to return’.

Terry recalls the first time she saw him. He was sitting at the table in his library, and Mrs. Tennyson, her very slender hands hidden by thick gloves, was standing on a step-ladder handing him down some heavy books. She was very frail, and looked like a faint tea-rose. Terry only saw her one other time lying on a sofa (re: my Emily Tennyson article for the lying on sofa explanation).

It was in the evenings that Terry went walking with Tennyson over the fields. He would point out to her the differences in the flight of different birds, and tell her to watch their solid phalanxes turning against the sunset, the compact wedge suddenly narrowing sharply into a thin line. He taught her to recognize the barks of trees and to call wild flowers by their names. He picked her first pimpernel she ever noticed. She was always at ease with him because he was a simple man. Terry remembers fondly wearing a brown straw mushroom hat with a dull red feather round it that was tied under chin and she wore her hair down.

It was easy enough for such a young Ellen Terry Watts fondly nicknamed ‘Nelly Watts’ to believe that Tennyson was a poet. He showed it in everything he did. Especially impressive were his poetry readings. Fondly she remembers Tennyson reading Browning’s ‘Ride from Ghent to Aix’ better than anything of his own, except, perhaps, ‘The Northern Farmer’. He used to preserve the monotonous rhythm of the galloping horses in Browning’s poem, and made the words come out sharply like hoofs upon a road. It was a little comic until one got used to it. It was the right way and the fine way to read this particular poem and Ellen Terry never forgot it!

What I have learned outside my own profession I have learned from my environment. Perhaps it is this which makes me think environment more valuable than a set education, and a stronger agent in forming character even than heredity

She describes meeting distinguished people at every turn and taking no notice of them. Admittedly, while still so young during her time at Freshwater, she preferred playing Indians and Knights of the Round Table with Tennyson’s sons, Hallam and Lionel and the young Camerons, to sitting indoors noticing what the poet did and said. She was proud when she learned how to prepare Tennyson’s daily pipe for him. It was a long churchwarden, and he liked the stem to be steeped in a solution of sal volatile, or something of that kind, so that it did not stick to his lips.

She recalls some years after her Freshwater days but before the production of ‘The Cup’ that she saw Tennyson again. He was sitting in his carriage outside a jeweler’s shop in Bond Street. “How very nice you look in the daytime,” he said. “Not like an actress!” She told him in reply that she thought actresses looked very nice in the daytime.

Ellen Terry’s final recollection of Alfred Tennyson came in February 1881 discussing the production of Tennyson’s, ‘The Cup’ being performed at The Lyceum with lead roles by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. By now, an adult, Terry would be a leading stage actress in Britain, married at least three times with a son and a daughter and Tennyson would have eleven years left on this earth.

Tennyson read the play to us at Eaton Place. There were present: Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, William Terriss, Mr. Knowles who arranged the reading and Terry’s daughter ‘Edy’ Edith, nine years old, Tennyson’s son Hallam and a dog named Charlie.

Tennyson read in his monotone, rumbling on a low note in much the same way Shelley is said to have screamed in a high one. For the women’s parts he changed his voice suddenly, climbed up into a key which he could not sustain. As this was going on, Edy was sitting on Henry’s knee, looking over his shoulder at young Hallam and laughing. No one seemed to mind and Tennyson read on. Afterwards, there was much discussion about what the play should be called, and whether the names “Synorix” and “Sinnatus” would be confused. Tennyson wanted to call the play “The Senator’s Wife” at first then thought of “Sinnatus and Synorix” before agreeing on “The Cup” being the best and simplest title to go with.

Tennyson was not pleased with Henry Irving’s performance as Synorix and Terry wrote to Hallam after the first night expressing her concern that she thought Tennyson would be delighted with Henry Irving’s performance but disappointed in hers. However, Hallam Tennyson's letter I’m sure soothed her worries,

‘Dear Camma, he answered, I have given your messages to my father, but believe me, who am not ‘common report,’ that he will thoroughly appreciate your noble, most beautiful and imaginative rendering of ‘Camma.’ My father and myself hope to see you soon, but not while this detestable cold weather lasts. We trust that you are not now really the worse for that night of nights.

With all our best wishes,
Yours ever sincerely,
Hallam Tennyson.
I quite agree with you as to H. I’s Sinorix.”

Her autobiography covers the years 1848-1901. She chose to write more about her life in the theatre than her life outside it. She passed away on 21 July 1928 from a brain hemorrhage while living at her home at Smallhythe Place in Kent, England.

If I have not revealed myself to you, or succeeded in giving a faithful picture of an actor’s life, perhaps I have shown what years of practice and labour are needed for the attainment of a permanent position on the stage. To quote Mrs. Nancy Oldfield, art needs all that we can bring to her, I assure you.

The Story of My Life By Ellen Terry with Illustrations, London: Hutchinson & Co, 1908

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Famous Love Letters on Valentines Day

 Just wanted to share a few of my favorite romantic love letters from famous composers and writers on such a romantic day!

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) a portion of a letter sent to his wife Constanze 

Mainz October 17, 1790 

PS.--while I was writing the last page, tear after tear fell on the paper. But I must cheer up -- catch! -- An astonishing number of kisses are flying about --- The deuce!-- I see a whole crowd of them! Ha! Ha!...I have just caught three-- They are delicious!-- You can still answer this letter, but you must address your reply to Linz, Poste Restante-- That is the safest course. As I do not yet know for certain whether I shall go to Regensburg, I can't tell you anything definite. Just write on the cover that the letter is to be kept until called for. 

Adieu--Dearest, most beloved little wife-- Take care of your health-- and don't think of walking into town. Do write and tell me how you like our new quarters-- Adieu. I kiss you millions of times.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Upon his death, a love letter was found among his possessions. It was written to an unknown woman who Beethoven simply called his *Immortal Beloved.*

The world may never put a face with this mysterious woman or know the circumstances of their affair and his letters are all that is left of a love as intensely passionate as the music for which Beethoven became famous. Compositions such as the Moonlight Sonata as well as Beethoven's many symphonies express eloquently the tragedy of a relationship never publicly realized.

July 6, 1806

My angel, my all, my very self -- only a few words today and at that with your pencil -- not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon -- what a useless waste of time. Why this deep sorrow where necessity speaks -- can our love endure except through sacrifices -- except through not demanding everything -- can you change it that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine?

Oh, God! look out into the beauties of nature and comfort yourself with that which must be -- love demands everything and that very justly -- that it is with me so far as you are concerned, and you with me. If we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I!

Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other; moreover, I cannot communicate to you the observations I have made during the last few days touching my own life -- if our hearts were always close together I would make none of the kind. My heart is full of many things to say to you - Ah! -- there are moments when I feel that speech is nothing after all -- cheer up -- remain my true, only treasure, my all as I am yours; the gods must send us the rest that which shall be best for us.

Your faithful,

Napolean Bonaparte (1763 - 1821) was a prolific writer of letters. He reportedly wrote as many as 75,000 letters in his lifetime, many of them to his beautiful wife, Josephine, both before and during their marriage. This letter, written just prior to their 1796 wedding, shows surprising tenderness and emotion from the future emperor.

Paris, December 1795

I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! Are you angry? Do I see you looking sad? Are you worried?... My soul aches with sorrow, and there can be no rest for you lover; but is there still more in store for me when, yielding to the profound feelings which overwhelm me, I draw from your lips, from your heart a love which consumes me with fire? Ah! it was last night that I fully realized how false an image of you your portrait gives!

You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours.

Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) During 1818-23, years spent with Teresa Guiccioli, he wrote three cantos of Don Juan, a satirical romance, the Prophecy of Dante, and four poetic dramas. 

25 August, 1819

My dearest Teresa,

I have read this book in your garden;--my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the writer was a friend of mine. You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them,--which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian. But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours--Amor mio--is comprised my existence here and hereafter. I feel I exist here, and I feel I shall exist hereafter,--to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I love you, and you love me,--at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events.
But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, --but they never will, unless you wish it.

 Honore de Balzac, French writer, to Evelina Hanska, a Polish countess, June 1836.
 Sunday 19th

My beloved angel,

I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them.

I can no longer think of anything but you.  In spite of myself, my imagination carries me to you.  I grasp you, I kiss you, I caress you, a thousand of the most amorous caresses take possession of me.

As for my heart, there you will always be - very much so.  I have a delicious sense of you there.  But my God, what is to become of me, if you have deprived me of my reason?  This is a monomania which, this morning, terrifies me.

I rise up every moment saying to myself, "Come, I am going there!" Then I sit down again, moved by the sense of my obligations.  There is a frightful conflict.  This is not life.  I have never before been like that.  You have devoured everything.

I feel foolish and happy as soon as I think of you.  I whirl round in a delicious dream in which in one instant I live a thousand years. What a horrible situation!

Overcome with love, feeling love in every pore, living only for love, and seeing oneself consumed by griefs, and caught in a thousand spiders' threads.

O, my darling Eva, you did not know it.  I picked up your card.  It is there before me, and I talk to you as if you were there.  I see you, as I did yesterday, beautiful, astonishingly beautiful.

Yesterday, during the whole evening, I said to myself "she is mine!" Ah!  The angels are not as happy in Paradise as I was yesterday!

F Scott Fitzgerald from Zelda - Spring 1919

Please, please don't be so depressed -- We'll be married soon, and then these lonesome nights will be over forever -- and until we are, I am loving, loving every tiny minute of the day and night -- Maybe you won't understand this, but sometimes when I miss you most, it's hardest to write -- and you always know when I make myself -- Just the ache of it all -- and I can't tell you. If we were together, you'd feel how strong it is -- you're so sweet when you're melancholy. I love your sad tenderness -- when I've hurt you -- That's one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels -- and they bothered you so -- Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget --

Scott -- there's nothing in all the world I want but you -- and your precious love -- All the material things are nothing. I'd just hate to live a sordid, colorless existence -- because you'd soon love me less -- and less -- and I'd do anything -- anything -- to keep your heart for my own -- I don't want to live -- I want to love first, and live incidentally -- Why don't you feel that I'm waiting -- I'll come to you, Lover, when you're ready -- Don't don't ever think of the things you can't give me -- You've trusted me with the dearest heart of all -- and it's so damn much more than anybody else in all the world has ever had --

How can you think deliberately of life without me -- If you should die -- O Darling -- darling Scott -- It'd be like going blind. I know I would, too, -- I'd have no purpose in life -- just a pretty -- decoration. Don't you think I was made for you? I feel like you had me ordered -- and I was delivered to you -- to be worn -- I want you to wear me, like a watch -- charm or a button hole boquet -- to the world. And then, when we're alone, I want to help -- to know that you can't do anything without me.

Gustave Flaubert, famous French writer, to his wife Louise Colet.

 August 15, 1846

I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy.  I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die.  I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports...  When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.

Elizabeth Moulton Barrett (1806-61) poet to Robert Browning,  (1812-89) a great Victorian poet

January 10, 1846 
Do you know, when you have told me to think of you, I have been feeling ashamed of thinking of you so much, of thinking of only you--which is too much, perhaps. Shall I tell you? It seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me--the fulness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy...and only I know what was behind--the long wilderness without the blossoming rose...and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve--not you--but my own fate? 
Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do? And you love me more, you say?--Shall I thank you or God? Both,--indeed--and there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may.. and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? How will you ever see it as I feel it? I ask myself in vain. Have so much faith in me, my only beloved, as to use me simply for your own advantage and happiness, and to your own ends without a thought of any others--that is all I could ask you without any disquiet as to the granting of it--May God bless you! -- Your B.A


John Keats (1795 - 1821) led a short but brilliant life. At the age of 23 he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, literally the girl next door. Tragically, doctors had already diagnosed the tuberculosis which would eventually kill him, so their marriage became an impossibility. This letter, written from Rome less than one year before his death, displays Keats' intense and unwavering love for her.

March 1820

Sweetest Fanny,

You fear, sometimes, I do not love you so much as you wish? My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve. The more I have known you the more have I lov'd. In every way - even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you. I have vex'd you too much. But for Love! Can I help it? You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass'd my window home yesterday, I was fill'd with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time. You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov'd your Beauty. Have I nothing else then to love in you but that? Do not I see a heart naturally furnish'd with wings imprison itself with me? No ill prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me. This perhaps should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy - but I will not talk of that. Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you: how much more deeply then must I feel for you knowing you love me. My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it. I never felt my Mind repose upon anything with complete and undistracted enjoyment - upon no person but you. When you are in the room my thoughts never fly out of window: you always concentrate my whole senses. The anxiety shown about our Love in your last note is an immense pleasure to me; however you must not suffer such speculations to molest you any more: not will I any more believe you can have the least pique against me. Brown is gone out -- but here is Mrs Wylie -- when she is gone I shall be awake for you. -- Remembrances to your Mother.

Your affectionate, J. Keats


To Fanny Brawne:

I cannot exist without you - I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again - my life seems to stop there - I see no further. You have absorb'd me.
I have a sensation at the present moment as though I were dissolving ....I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion - I have shudder'd at it - I shudder no more - I could be martyr'd for my religion - love is my religion - I could die for that - I could die for you. My creed is love and you are its only tenet - you have ravish'd me away by a power I cannot resist.

- John Keats

Keat's health progressively declined and in a final effort to save his own life, he moved to Italy. In 1821, at the age of 25, he was laid to rest. Buried with him, close to his heart, was an unopened letter from Fanny.

Wednesday Morng. [Kentish Town, 1820]

My Dearest Girl,

I have been a walk this morning with a book in my hand, but as usual I have been occupied with nothing but you: I wish I could say in an agreeable manner. I am tormented day and night. They talk of my going to Italy. 'Tis certain I shall never recover if I am to be so long separate from you: yet with all this devotion to you I cannot persuade myself into any confidence of you....

You are to me an object intensely desirable -- the air I breathe in a room empty of you in unhealthy. I am not the same to you -- no -- you can wait -- you have a thousand activities -- you can be happy without me. Any party, anything to fill up the day has been enough.

How have you pass'd this month? Who have you smil'd with? All this may seem savage in me. You do no feel as I do -- you do not know what it is to love -- one day you may -- your time is not come....

I cannot live without you, and not only you but chaste you; virtuous you. The Sun rises and sets, the day passes, and you follow the bent of your inclination to a certain extent -- you have no conception of the quantity of miserable feeling that passes through me in a day -- Be serious! Love is not a plaything -- and again do not write unless you can do it with a crystal conscience. I would sooner die for want of you than ---

Yours for ever
J. Keats

Happy Valentines's Day! 

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Friday, February 3, 2012

My review of Queen Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn

In Orlando, Virginia Woolf describes the Elizabethan world as a place where colours were brighter and life was lived more intensely:

The age was the Elizabethan; their morals were not ours; not their poets; nor their climate; nor their vegetables even. Everything was different. The weather itself, the heat and cold of summer and winter, was, we may believe, of another temper altogether. The brilliant amorous day was divided as sheerly from the night as land from water. Sunsets were redder and more intense; dawns were whiter...
The rain fell vehemently, or not at all. The sun blazed or their was darkness.

Imagine a time when, to win a woman’s love, the ardent suitor had to create a garden more beautiful, more sensual, more unusual than his competition. Seen through Trea Martyn’s fascinating lens, the fate of England in the 16th century rested on just such a competition, waged by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Lord Treasurer. Cecil created his fabulous, strange gardens at his estate, Theobalds. Dudley spent the equivalent of millions of dollars on his gardens at Kenilworth Castle. Cecil was a constant, mild man; Dudley a bit of a hothead who longed to prove himself in battle. Endless songs and poems and puns about the competition were written for the Queen’s attention. Each spring, she would decamp from London with her court to visit friends and subjects — these trips were called the Queen’s progresses, and they very nearly bankrupted the hosts. The excess — the food, fireworks, fountains, plays, and myriad follies — were well documented, but Martyn brings these marvelous, strange parties and dinners to life. There is also a great deal of information here on the history of gardening (Italian gardens were all the rage during Elizabeth’s reign), the British infatuation with flowers, herbs, and plants from around the world, and the creation of herbal apothecaries (Elizabeth insisted on treating her ailments with herbal remedies). Great gardeners like Mountain Jennings, John Tradescant, Thomas Hill, John Gerard, and William Turner all make appearances in this capacious book. It is easier to root for Dudley, whose untimely death cut short his imaginative gardening — but Cecil was a worthy opponent, and Elizabeth played them both quite cruelly.

What makes this such a different and interesting non-fiction read, is how Trea Martyn brings Queen Elizabeth's love of gardens to life. Highlighting the gardens of Kenilworth Castle and Theobolds Place, her two favorite men: Robert Dudley and William Cecil, both love her differently and quite fervently. In a way of displaying their loyalty to her and love for her, they both decide to gather the best architects and gardeners of the day to build Elizabethan gardens fit for a queen! Cecil and Dudley, already rivals, set into motion a sixteenth century love triangle to marvel all love triangles!  

 As Dudley and Cecil's gardens are being designed and built, highlights of Elizabeth Tudor's reign come into play. Trea Martyn draws numerous correlations between the symbolism of herbs, gardens, and flowers and what they represent historically to the events of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Along with beautiful illustrations and an extensive notes and bibliography section in the back of the book. 

Many historical key players visit her majesty including an interesting horticultural discussion between Nicholas Hilliard and Elizabeth Tudor. Honorable mentions go to her men of the privy council and a newly favorite of mine, John Dee.

I highly recommend ‘Queen Elizabeth in the Garden’ to anyone who enjoys reading about one of the most inspiring and fascinating women in history and the men who she kept around her make for pretty entertaining reading as well.

Please feel free to leave any questions or 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...