Friday, June 22, 2012

We're All Mad Here...The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace: My Review

Product Details 
Hardcover: 400 pages 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK; First Edition edition (24 May 2012) Language: English 
ISBN-10: 0857209272 
ISBN-13: 978-0857209276

Book Description

Just outside London, behind a high stone wall, lies Lake House, a private asylum for genteel women of a delicate nature. In the winter of 1859, Anna Palmer becomes its newest patient, tricked by her husband and incarcerated against her will.

Anna sets out to prove her sanity, but her freedom will not be won easily. As the weeks pass, she finds some surprising allies: Lucas St Clair, a physician who believes the new medium of photography may reveal the state of a patient's mind:  Talitha Batt, a longtime inhabitant who seems, to Anna's surprise, to be as sane as she is; and the proprietor's highly strung daughter. Yet the longer Anna remains at Lake House, the more she realises that - like the ethereal bridge over the asylum's lake - no one and nothing is quite as it appears. Not her fellow patients, her husband, her family - not even herself.

Ravaged by the treatments of the time, Anna may discover the answers and the freedom she seeks, or plunge so far into the recesses of her mind that she might never escape.

Set in Victorian England, this elegant, emotionally suspenseful novel is a search for the truth in a world where the line between madness and sanity seems perilously fine.

About the Author, Wendy Wallace,

I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember.

I grew up in Kent  and later graduated in Media Studies from what was then Central London Polytechnic. I worked first as a photographer, and then for many years as a feature writer, before turning to fiction.
My journalism, on Sudan and later on schools for the Times Educational Supplement and others, led to my two non-fiction books - Daughter of Dust (Simon & Schuster 2009) and Oranges and Lemons (Routledge 2005). In 2001, I was Education Journalist of the Year.

In the last couple of years, I have turned from journalism to writing fiction full-time.
I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in Kent  and later graduated in Media Studies from what was then Central London Polytechnic. I worked first as a photographer, and then for many years as a feature writer,  before turning to fiction.
My journalism, on Sudan and later on schools for the Times Educational Supplement and others, led to my two non-fiction books - Daughter of Dust (Simon & Schuster 2009) and Oranges and Lemons (Routledge 2005). In 2001, I was Education Journalist of theYear.
In the last couple of years, I have turned from journalism to writing fiction full-time.
I’ve been reading and writing for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in Kent  and later graduated in Media Studies from what was then Central London Polytechnic. I worked first as a photographer, and then for many years as a feature writer,  before turning to fiction.
My journalism, on Sudan and later on schools for the Times Educational Supplement and others, led to my two non-fiction books - Daughter of Dust (Simon & Schuster 2009) and Oranges and Lemons (Routledge 2005). In 2001, I was Education Journalist of theYear.
In the last couple of years, I have turned from journalism to writing fiction full-time.


 My Thoughts
 In The Painted Bridge the words flow like wine in a steady stream of detailed beauty. The first half of The Painted Bridge introduces you to physician and 'asylum photographer' Lucas St Clair and his belief of just how this new medium and science of photography will provide answers to the varying degrees of a patient's mental illness.

He inhaled the sweetish smell of ether as he lifted the plate out of the dark slide and lowered it into a bath of water. He would clean it off, reuse it another time. By the orange gloom of the safe light he prepared a new plate, gripping it between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, using the other to pour the collodion, tilting the surface backwards and forwards, watching as the gummy tide rolled over the glass, then draining the surplus from one corner, drop by drop, back into the neck of the flask. 

 He threw the cloth over the back of the camera and stepped under it. Anna didn't know what she looked like, what he saw. Should she stare straight at the camera? Gaze into the distance, as if she saw nothing? She couldn't think what a rational face looked like. Arranging her face in a rigid composition eyebrows slightly raised, mouth unsmiling, she tried to empty her mind. 

'Do I look rational?

Lucas St Clair poked his head out from the back of the cloth. 'The face contains muscles of expression. If the mind is troubled, so are the features.

"Does it mean one is a lunatic, if the mind is unquiet? 'No, no, . . . I don't believe it does." He had disappeared again; the glass eye on the front of the camera was shifting backwards and forwards in tiny movements. 'But the face is the mind unveiled. It is the best aid to diagnosis we have, in my opinion.'

We meet Anna Palmer upon arrival at Lake House when she is 'left' there by her husband, Vincent (a John Ruskin type). He somehow persuades two doctors to sign certificates to confirm a diagnosis of insanity.  In the mid 19th century, Victorians deemed overly emotional women as hysterical. Thus, believing that there was a 'rational' link between 'Hysteria' and Insanity!.  A married woman was her husband's property, after all. He had the signed deed or marriage certificate, hadn't he? He had the power in marriage and in poor Anna Palmer's case, well, what happens next is quite sad...

In The Painted Bridge you will meet Mrs. Palmer who you want to understand, no, believe when she pleads for her freedom to a very indifferent asylum staff. As her story unfolds, you begin to doubt everything, because you see Anna has seen a vision! Yes, a vision so undeniably real to 'herself' that one night very early on in her marriage, she leaves the country in search of the child in her vision.  Anna Palmer believes she is in the right for leaving because she is on a mission to help the boy in trouble. So, when they 'stop off' at Lake House and he leaves her there 'for a rest' what happens to her and the rest of the characters living and working at this asylum, will leave you with tears, palpitations and even cries of joy! 

The second half of The Painted Bridge spins on its own axis filling characters with secrets, deep dark secrets that fester like puss filled wounds just waiting at the surface to be squeezed back to life.  You see, it is so difficult not to go into full detail about The Painted Bridge because it will spoil the many levels of the story for you.  Oh, and there are levels within The Painted Bridge. Lake House is filled with grief filled, abandoned, emotionally destroyed, hopeless women; most of whom have given up on life. How they were brought or arrived at Lake House, is not always the main concern, for what goes on within the halls of this asylum, is the true nature of ‘hysteria!’

Anna Palmer’s ‘vision’ of a boy at sea needing help is connected to her own family genetic mental history and trauma induced delusions. Secrets again, hold the key to the second half of The Painted Bridge. As the reader will conclude, not everyone is what they appear to be on the surface nor is everything as it should be within Lake House.  

Author, Wendy Wallace does not wrap everything up with a neat red bow because as with real life there is not always a happy ending, a solution; sometimes a person has to reach salvation and save themselves! 

I highly recommend The Painted Bridge for its intelligent and beautiful writing style, depth of characters, a true sense of time and place with psychological and sociological subject matter. 

Anna no longer felt sorrow. She didn’t feel anything. She was not there. She could smell sea air underneath the boiled cabbage and potatoes and feel the spray of surf sharp on her skin as she sat in the gloom of the day room.

In bed in the darkness, Anna prayed to Him to let her die properly. To allow her to depart her empty body.  She was nothing more than a body. An irregular heartbeat. A series of painfully drawn breath. She was a shell on the shore, the living creature inside gone. One night as she lay listening to her own breathing the hollow feeling gave way to a sense of enormity. Of a world inside herself that stretched backwards and forwards, that was impermeable, invulnerable.  She was whole, peerless. They could do nothing at all to her, not now and not ever.”

NOTE:  My copy of The Painted Bridge is an imported UK release, I purchased. For those in The United States, The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace will be published and available on Amazon and elsewhere on July 17, 2012. 

US Cover

Please feel free to leave any comments, 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and introducing the real Eliza Doolittle

c1910: Mrs Patrick Campbell is laid up in bed with her eyes closed and head to her right. A small dog [out of focus] also sits on the bed. Taken at 13 Kensington Square, London by GB Shaw


Mrs. Patrick Campbell, born Beatrice Stella Tanner (1865-1940) was a famous British actress who went by the name of her first husband, even after his death in the Boer War and her subsequent remarriage years later.  Affectionately known as Mrs. Pat, she is probably best known as the actress who first portrayed Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion although she was wildly popular for other roles as well.  She and Shaw maintained a very close relationship from that first appearance in Pygmalion that continued for the rest of their lives.

Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner Campbell (1865-1940) was a prominent British actress. She made her debut as Mrs. Patrick Campbell in 1888 playing in a string of minor successes until an 1893 role as Paula in The second Mrs. Tanqueray launched her career and garnered high praise in the press. Mrs. Patrick is particularly remembered for her role as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, a part written for her by George Bernard Shaw, who began correspondence with her in 1899. Though begun at the close of the previous century, the correspondence between Shaw and Mrs. Patrick did not truly bloom until 1912. At that time, Shaw, the noted playwright, Fabian socialist, journalist, dramatic and literary critic, who had been married to fellow Fabian suffragist Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend Shaw since 1898, pronounced himself to be "head over ears in love" with ‘Mrs. Pat’ as she was affectionately called. In 1914, when Mrs. Pat, a widow of almost 15 years, was to marry George Cornwallis-West, Shaw implored her not to marry "that George."  However, after her second marriage, their correspondence seemed to lessen in frequency until the 1920s when Mrs. Pat introduced the idea of publishing their collected letters in her autobiographical work, My life and some letters.

The correspondence, though less frequent through the years, continued to the end of Mrs. Pat's life.  Her will, written in 1934, stated her long-held desire that their correspondence be published in full. Shaw's will, dated the year of his death in 1950, granted long-withheld permission for the correspondence to be published to the financial benefit of Mrs. Pat's great-grandchildren.
The letters between Shaw and Mrs. Pat range widely, delving into the subjects of their active careers, family, health, emotions, travel, and their many significant theatrical and society acquaintances and friends including: James Barrie, W.B. Yeats, Dame Ellen Terry  are mentioned with casual frequency. Politics is a notably absent theme; Mrs. Pat was not particularly interested. 

The loveliest dedication on the inside page written by Mrs. Patrick Campbell reads as follows,

NOTE:  Mrs. Patrick Campbell called Shaw 'Joey'

 Mrs. Patrick Campbell in a scene from Pygmalion as Eliza Doolittle selling flowers as Professor Higgins looks on!



 Mrs. Patrick Campbell and her dog Pinky
New York was a different story.  She arrived there in January, 1902 with two servants and her constant companion, a little dog she called Pinky Panky Poo.  Pinky was described by a reporter for The Evening Journal as a “strange, inbred wild little creature” with a “wild, crazy, big-eyed snub-nosed face”.

In her memoir, My Life and Some Letters, Mrs. Patrick Campbell speaks of her impressions of New York,
 “As everyone knows, New York is built upon a rock.  During this visit of mine they were constructing the subway, and every inch of the tunnel had to blasted with dynamite. The din of New York-the rush, the tall buildings, and the strange-coloured people; Italians, Russians, Chinese–all sorts everywhere–the noise of the elevators, the nasal twang–black boys, bell boys, and the noise of the street cars–I do not want to be unkind, but to me it was demoniacal.”
Tanbark? Ever heard of it…Me neither and apparently neither had Mrs. Pat! She explains here in an excerpt from her memoir, ‘My Life and Some Letters,’ 

There is a very fearsome person in America called the “Press agent.”  It is his business to see that the newspapers talk about the “star”.  His power of invention, contrivance, and ingenuity is beyond conception to the normal mind. One night at the theatre, just before I was going on the stage in Beyond Human Power, the press agent (this particular man was German and his name was “Worms!”) put his head in my dressing room door and said:  “If anyone says ‘tanbark’, you know nothing.”  I called him back and asked him what “tanbark” was.  He looked delighted and answered:” I guess you’d better not know. That night the noise outside the theatre ceased.  The street cars have one kind of bell that jangles when they start, and another when they stop; and I think there were three sets of tram trails outside this theatre, but on this particular evening all was silent.

The next morning on January 25, 1902, an article appeared in the Evening Journal discussing the reasons why Tanbark would be necessary,
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the famous English actress, was going to play Beyond Human Power to-night at the Theatre Republic, and it was necessary that she had absolute quiet.

So it was that the streets were tanbarked, and various warnings were issued to various employees of the city and corporation, that quiet must be the order of day and night.  And, ‘Pinky Panky Poo’ was as happy as ever a genteel doggy could be.
It all began from a request from Mrs. Campbell’s manager to President Cantor, of the Borough of Manhattan, that the city spread tanbark in front of the theatre.  The manager explained there was so much noise because of the rumbling of wagon wheels and other vehicles that the beauties of the actress’s acting were partly lost upon the audience.   (As a result)


 Three carloads of Tanbark were dumped in front of the Theatre Republic on West Forty-second Street, just off Broadway, this morning.  An army of ‘White Wings’* were soon busy spreading it in even layers over the granite-blocked pavement.  As the street cars approached, the motor men jammed down the brakes and slowed up, and refrained from ringing the gongs.  The ill-mannered little boys who eke out an existence crying ‘Wuxtra!’  ’Wuxtra!’ were gagged.  The Italian organ-grinders were warned not to go further north than West Twenty-ninth Street.  The cries of babies on the block were stifled with paregoric.  Even the detectives from the Tenderloin Police Station wore gum shoes.  The patrol men conversed in whispers.  The bar-keepers over at the Metropole and Rossmore Cafe’s shook up the cocktails and gin fizzes with muffled ice.  All was still.  All was silent.  The man from Sullivan County, who came down to town in a straw hat and a fur-trimmed duster, asked if the Mayor was dead.  The peanut vendor at the corner, who had been cautioned to plug up the whistle of his roaster, or suffer banishment to ‘Little Italy,’ leaned over the kerbstone and whispered gently in the off ear of the man from Sullivan County.

* White Wings are the name of street cleaner and sweeper, who wear white linen coats.
There are some actors and actresses in America who say that my success was entirely due to “tanbark.”, Mrs. Patrick Campbell

January 25, 1902, the Evening Journal newspaper article
My Life and Some Letters, Mrs. Patrick Campbell
Mrs. Patrick Campbell Correspondence and Other Papers, 1901-1940 (MS Thr 372.1). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Review of The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd

NOTE: The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd was provided to me by Howard Books in exchange for my honest and fair review. Publication date is tomorrow, June 5, 2012 in paperback. 

 Product Details
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439183147 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439183144
What she sees in secret, she may not tell.

Mistress Juliana St. John is the lovely, forthright daughter of a prosperous knight’s family. Though all expect her to marry the son of her late father’s business partner, time and chance interrupt, sending her to the sumptuous but deceptive court of Henry VIII.

Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, returns to Wilthsire to conclude his affairs with Juliana’s father’s estate and chances upon her reading as lector in the local church. He sees instantly that she would fit into the household of the woman he loves and wants most to please, Kateryn Parr. Juliana’s mother agrees to have her placed with Parr for a season and Juliana goes, though reluctantly.

For she keeps a secret.

Juliana has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one vibrant vision she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of a highly born young woman, while it was still on her body, to perilous consequence. 

As Juliana accompanies Kateryn Parr to court, Henry’s devout sixth queen raises the stakes for all reformers. Support of firebrand Anne Askew puts the queen and her ladies in life-threatening jeopardy, as does the queen’s desire to influence her husband’s—and the realm’s—direction and beliefs. Later, without Henry’s strong arm, the court devolves to competition, duplicity, and betrayal. The risks could not be higher as Juliana must choose between love and honor, personal fulfillment and sacrifice. Ultimately, her course is driven by a final kept secret, one that undoes everything she thought she knew.

My Thoughts

God, the knower of secrets, can judge these words not to be only written with ink, but most truly impressed in the heart.  Kateryn the Queen, KP 
The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd is the second book in her Ladies in Waiting series focusing on the main character and protagonist Juliana St. John/Mistress St. John . She finds herself eventually forming a very close ‘motherly’ type of friendship with Queen Kateryn Parr who was the sixth wife to marry King Henry VIII of England.  The Secret Keeper begins in the year 1542 and goes through the year 1550; seeing the deaths of King Henry VIII, Queen Kateryn Parr including her secret marriage to Thomas Seymour, birth of daughter Mary Seymour and eventual death of Thomas Seymour.  All of the main Tudor figures are present including Lady Elizabeth, Kat Ashley, Anne Askew, even William Cecil and Thomas Wriothesley! 

As with Tudor stories, you do not need to have a strong familiarity or knowledge base to read The Secret Keeper.  Sandra Byrd’s captivating writing style brings the characters and events to life before your eyes. The reader cannot help but become enraptured with the tale being told through Juliana’s eyes.  I enjoyed Sandra Byrd’s use of language specifically in her dialogue scenes. She makes particular efforts to use a true sense of authenticity in tone as well as researching the Tudor era so precisely that you would swear you are actually present! 

Lady Elizabeth Tudor, still a child and not yet queen is included as one of the surrounding characters who is very close to Queen Kateryn Parr, Kate in the storyline. I enjoyed the scenes between Elizabeth and Kate as well as others. The love for sixteenth century history, mainly Tudor figures is obvious to the reader from the onset. Sandra Byrd has done her research and Kateryn  Parr is resurrected so lovingly and respectfully that reading her struggles to hide her love for Thomas Seymour when Henry VIII is in pursuit, a lady is not given much choice but to wed a king.  As we know, by the time Henry VIII married Kateryn Parr he was past it! Luckily for her, she gained Henry’s respect as queen and played her role well. Once he passed away, she found her love with Thomas Seymour amongst much turmoil. 

Was there to be a happy ending for Kateryn and Thomas? Well, history dictates the answer for us but amongst all this sixteenth century pomp and circumstance, is a young girl Juliana St. John who is harboring a secret!  What is this deep dark secret and how does Juliana end up in the Tudor court? You will have to read The Secret Keeper for yourself to find out!  

This is no ordinary Tudor story though. Sandra Byrd does two things differently: One, she layers Juliana’s secret, to be revealed at the story’s end, with such intrigue that the reader is surprised by the time they read what Juliana’s secret truly is. It is one of heartbreak and courage. Secondly, Sandra Byrd writes Christian fiction, so part of The Secret Keeper’s subject matter does contain quotes from Bible passages mentioned for the purposes of helping Juliana maintain her focus and inner strength during times of great struggle. I found this aspect refreshing because Sandra does not beat you over the head with religious ideology, she just writes beautiful stories. 

For more information visit Sandra Byrd's website,  Sandra Byrd



Friday, June 1, 2012

Happy Publication Anniversary of Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam: 1 June, 1850

On September 15, 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly at the age of twenty-two, while on a trip to Vienna. Although a promising poet and essayist, Hallam is chiefly remembered as the one eulogized in Tennyson's In Memoriam. The two first met at Cambridge, where they became members of the club, the "Apostles," and best friends. For sixteen years, after Hallam's death, Tennyson wrote his series of poems; though connected as stages of evolving grief.

On June 1, 1850 Moxon published a volume-length poem entitled In Memoriam AHH Obit MDCCCXXXIII.  Praise for the work was immediate, widespread, fervent, and lasting.  Tennyson was truly the major poet of his time. A few months later, when The Prelude was published following Wordsworth’s death in April, In Memoriam went through five editions and roughly 25,000 copies in a year and a half. After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria confided to Tennyson, “Next to the Bible, my comfort is In Memoriam.” 

In Memoriam is a series of 129 short poems of varying length, all composed in the same form. The lyrics may be read individually, rather like the entries in a journal, but the poem has an overall organization. It moves from grief through acceptance to joy. The poem combines private feeling with  confusion over the future of Christianity, which was a feeling many Victorians shared.

In Memoriam is often called one of the three great English elegies, joining Milton’s Lycidas and Shelley’s Adonais.  Tennyson says of In Memoriam, “it is a kind of Divina Commedia" spoken by "the voice of the human race" and expressing "my conviction that fear, doubt and suffering will find answer and relief only through Faith in a God of Love." Or as the poem's concluding lines express it, "One God, one law, one element, / And one far-off divine event / To which the whole creation moves."
For Tennyson, the poem was also about love won. Within two weeks of publication, he and Emily Sellwood married, she and her family now having overcome their own doubts about Tennyson's religious faith. On their honeymoon they visited Arthur Hallam's grave, "a kind of consecration" of their vows; in time they would name their first son "Hallam," and Tennyson would conclude that "The peace of God entered into my life when I married her."

Two of my favorite stanzas from In Memoriam featured below. I only hope after I am gone, my friends remember me with such deep abiding love.

Please feel free to leave any comments,

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