Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Review of Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield


Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born. 

Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147671195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476711959

Bellman & Black is a story dealing with a boy making  the wrong choice at the wrong time and paying for it with a lifetime of punishment. It seems that the only 'macabre' aspect to this entire story is the business itself that the adult William Bellman goes into with Mr. Black. Although, this is tagged as a 'ghost story,' I didn't find it very haunting nor very telling, I'm sorry to say. You see, we meet little boy William Bellman immediately, his entire family, and most of 'Bellman & Black' pertains to the family business of running a mill in rural England. Far too much of this story centers around knowing every dull aspect of the family business.  I feel as if I've been on a lecture about running and working at a mill while meeting the entire Bellman Family. I know their struggles, their fears, their aspirations and how they all meet their end while poor, haunted, grief stricken William seems helpless to know how to stop it!  By the time the reader has met this 'figure' William sees, it isn't until far into part two and three of the book. I still know nothing about Mr. Black besides why he's been watching William Bellman all his life and we found that out in the very beginning. There are no real 'macabre' surprises or factors here and I was hoping for more of a better ghost story. There were some tinges of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol to William Bellman's ghost story, juxtaposed to some well written passages about grief and loss but other than that, Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe did it best and Bellman & Black came up short!  I got no chills running down my spine and I figured out what was going to happen far too soon. Also, annoying were the chapters with the '&' symbol interjected within regular chapters. All they did were give the reader a mythological background on the rook or crow or raven, whatever you should call it!  It did nothing for the plot of the story, interesting as it was. For me, all it did was give an indication that another death was coming, no real surprise there! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Author Interview with Bob Cotton and his book Julia Margaret Cameron & The Allure of Photography

Julia Margaret Cameron & The Allure of Photography (ebook)  
About This Edition:
ebook (iPad iBooks format), 135 pgs
Publish Date:

This book attempts to answer the questions: Why did Julia Margaret Cameron become so besotted with Photography? What did she bring to the art? Why is her work important? Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography is an introduction to, and an overview of Julia and her work, and provides the art historical and technological context for her work.

Author Biography

 Bob Cotton is a media historian. He is currently a visiting senior lecturer at Arts University Bournemouth, visiting practitioner professor at University of the West of England, co-director of the Visioneca Festival of Experimental Film, and a trustee and chair of the Development Committee of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust. He was recently Research Fellow at University of the Arts, London, and has written several books on the media arts, including Understanding Hypermedia (1993), The Cyberspace Lexicon (1994) and Futurecasting Digital Media (2002).

His media website, 

I am delighted to welcome, Author and Professor, Bob Cotton, to my corner of all things nineteenth-century and the Victorian era. I first met Bob, online, as he lives on the Isle of Wight and I am in New York City. He contacted me regarding my article I wrote on May Prinsep and a bit of it is quoted in one of the chapters in Julia Margaret Cameron & the allure of Photography.  Here's a sample page with my article quoted below. There are forty sample pages available on the book website Blurb where you can purchase it in ebook format, so don't worry, if you're cautious, you can read a sample first! I will link to Blurb at the end of this interview.

Why did you choose Julia Margaret Cameron as the subject of this book and how much of her life and work have you included in ‘Allure of Photography’?
First of all, I have been interested in the history (and current developments and future projections) of media for over twenty years. I was elected a trustee of Dimbola Museum and Galleries two years ago, and began to research Julia Margaret and early photography in much more detail than before. Like all research projects, the work was non-linear - some of the events that influenced the research were:  talking to the researcher/practitioner Karen Grainger about her wet collodion experiments, recreating the photographic processes that Julia used at Dimbola; talking to the JMC expert Colin Ford (the founder of the National Media Museum, Bradford,  lead researcher of JMC, author of catalog raisonne and other core volumes; Talking to Brian Hinton, chair of JMC Trust, who has written several pamphlets and booklets on JMC and the Freshwater Circle. Brian was one of the founder members of the Trust, responsible for saving Dimbola from demolition, and a fund of local knowledge; absorbing the life and atmosphere of Dimbola and the friends, trustees and volunteers working there; the attraction that Dimbola has for interesting people - students, researchers, fans - and my personal friends; reading Victoria Olsen’s biography of JMC - this helps enormously in building a picture of her as a woman, as a portrait photographer, as a mother and as a saloniere. Studying the archive prints we have at Dimbola, browsing the Dimbola library. All these components of research informed my task of developing a forward plan for the Trust. This forward plan focused on looking at the way in which we communicated our knowledge of JMC and her contemporaries (the ‘Freshwater Circle’), and it became obvious that there was a huge gap to be filled between our ‘local history pamphlets’ and the specialist academic volumes intended for the research and curatorial community. It also became apparent that we needed an overview - a work that would place JMC in context, place the technology she adopted in context, and that at least tried to describe the impact of photography on the world and especially upon the arts - and tried to describe the enormity of this impact.
In terms of how much of her life and work? - really, this book is an overview. About 40% of the book is directly about JMC, there are hardly any biographical details. The function of an overview in this case is to provide an introduction to JMC’s work - to answer the question of why she became so absorbed and inspired by photography - and to ‘situate’ her work in the cultural-aesthetic-technological continuum of the mid-19th century. It is also necessary to draw attention to the historical conditions of the time - sunlight the only useful light-source, water from the well the only solvent, (etc), and importantly to try to recreate the impact of this miraculous invention - the first automatic image-making machine in the world.
 How long was your research process and did you discover anything about Mrs. Cameron that surprised you? 
 The most interesting things that I discovered (for myself as it were), included: How much ‘photography’ JMC did before she was given her own camera (lessons and collaborations with Rejlander, Dodgson, Southey, Wilkie Wynfield etc); how Idylls of the King (1875 edition) was a real innovation - the first time photographs were used to illustrate a literary text; JMC’s use of contact prints of flowers as embellishments to some of her early work; her mammoth attempt at illustrating the 1874 edition of Idylls (and her disappointment with the product); her close friendship with John Herschel - and how he solved the problem of ‘fixing’ an exposed photograph as early as 1820; her range of friends, family and advisors from Little Holland House; the extent of her role as a saloniere at Dimbola; and the beauty and innovation in terms of variegated focus, posing and composition of her work.The book took three months or so, with a lot of time spent comparing and testing the various design tools for print and for ebook (InDesign for print version, Blurb ebook Creator for ebook). I had to process three different catches of the digital images, ready for desktop pdf, printer's high-res edition, and low-res online and ebook edition, Finding tools for annotations, indices, picture sources etc (still not properly interactive). I constructed the book as an illustrated pictorial essay, trying to develop a format that is readable for students and others who are frightened by long texts, - and a format suitable for web-reading. Ebooks will develop their own aesthetic and ergonomics, but this is still (like early interface design), still in its infancy. The ipad and similar tablets are an ideal vehicle for hands-on reading and looking. There's still a lot to do in the evolution of the ideal ebook. Bob Stein's Voyager 'Expanded Books' of the early 1990s were a great landmark in the evolution of ebooks.
As someone who has read ‘Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography’ and is quoted in a chapter, can you tell me what your impression is of her ? Has it changed once you wrote the book?
Building an image of JMC - her character, her manner, her sensibility is, as you know, a kind of non-linear process of absorbing and synthesizing  descriptions, comments, allusions, images, reminiscences, reported conversations, comments and anecdotes... and what has emerged for me (my own intuition about Julia) is of a hugely empathic, highly cultured, socially and interpersonally skilled lady who is a minor aristocrat, natural bohemian (her and her sisters, with their Calcutta, Versailles and Little Holland House upbringing - they used to converse together in Bengali, sported flowing multi-coloured saris and robes , they made a huge impact on the social cultured elite of the age. Julia’s personal enthusiasms and charm made it possible for her to draw-in and entrance even shy and socially-reticent scientists (thnk of John Herschel - who became a lifetime correspondent and friend), think of Darwin. She was the kind of charming, eccentric character who would stage-manage her soirees, engage her guests in amateur dramatics, tableaux-vivant, party games - yet also engineer brilliant dinner-party intellectual discourse (Taylor, Watts, Tennyson - as reported by Annie Thackeray). The image of her in purple robes, with silver-nitrate-blackened hands chasing after passersby (potential models) and nabbing and cajoling neighbor’s children to pose for her. Her bedroom overlooked the main road (Gate Lane) so she could espy likely sitters from her bay window. She was a character, an artist, socially adept but not always socially proper, setting styles in what became known as the aesthetic dress, a proto-modernist in her photographs, an innovator with her photographic illustrations, her albums, her hands-on practice, her theatricality, and her practicality.
Will you continue to write about Mrs. Cameron and those in the Freshwater Circle? What are you writing next? 
The next project will try to provide an overview of her work in the context of the Freshwater Circle - a kind of pictorial essay on the F.C.
You have a background in Film and Media and ‘Allure of Photography’ goes into great detail about the medium and history of photography and other photographers. This impressed me very much. Can you please speak about that aspect of the book?  
The research sector of Media History is still in a fledgling state, so one is carving out territory that is still mostly virgin. I’m especially interested in the role that technological innovation plays and the effects of technology upon the human sensorium - the development of an aesthetics of the machine age, and the effect of technologies like high-speed shutters, responsive photo-sensitive agents, multi-camera and multiple-exposure, immersive audio-visual environments (from The Phantasmagia of Philipdor and the Dioramas of Daguerre to modern Happenings and virtual realities) - and many more such instances . My longer term objective is a complete history or ‘back-story’ of our contemporary media - tracing all the media-arts-technology roots of 21st century media, and the ideas and innovations that inspired them.

Here is a link to Blurb where you can purchase the ebook of Julia Margaret Cameron and the Allure of Photography 

 You can also enquire about purchasing Bob's book at Dimbola Museum and Galleries, as proceeds from the book are a part of the Julia Margaret Cameron Trust.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jane Morris (Burden) photographs by Emery Walker from National Portrait Gallery

Here are a few photographs of Mrs. William Morris, Jane Burden Morris, wife of William Morris, mother of May and Jenny Morris.
National Portrait Gallery, London, has several photographs of Jane Morris taken two years after the death of her husband, William Morris, which I can only guess is the reason she is dressed in a black dress and what looks like mourning garb. Her friend Emery Walker is the photographer listed and it looks as if the house may be their home, Kelmscott Manor.

 Jane Morris (née Burden)
by Sir Emery Walker
whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG
This one just might be my favorite photograph of the series Jane Morris (née Burden)
by Sir Emery Walker
whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG
 Jane Morris (née Burden)
by Sir Emery Walker
whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG
  Jane Morris (née Burden)
by Sir Emery Walker
whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG
  Jane Morris (née Burden)
by Sir Emery Walker
whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG
 I'm sure I'm not the only one who looked at this and thought how similar it was to Evelyn De Morgan's study she painted for The Hour Glass later in 1904. Jane Morris (nee Burden), by Sir Emery Walker, whole-plate glass negative, May 1898, NPG

To see these photographs and more, go to National Portrait Gallery

Study for The Hour Glass by Evelyn De Morgan, 1898

The Hour Glass by Evelyn De Morgan, 1905 
My friend Hermes, has an interesting post about this particular painting over on his Jane Morris blog, The Hour Glass

Dimbola's Grande Dame comes to New York City: Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 Entrance wall to Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit

I have been researching the life of Alfred Lord Tennyson for two years now going on three and I have admired and been enthralled by the nineteenth century photographs of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. To me, she and Tennyson are enigmas; therefore, undefinable. Mere mortals who walked this earth over one hundred years ago. Yet, when you look at Cameron's distinctive portraits of her friends, Tennyson, Watts, Carlyle, Holman-Hunt, her husband Charles Hay Cameron, her personal staff, including her maid, Mary Hillier, her family members, May Prinsep and Julia Duckworth Stephens, all you notice is how distinctive and timeless they are. 

These men and women look as if they could be found today walking down the street. There is nothing significant about any aspect of their physical self except when dressed in Victorian era clothing or costume garb when posing as Shakespearean or mythic representations.  For me, they are as real today as they were in 1867!  Perhaps, because one of the things I love to do is attempt, through my research, to find out how they lived their lives, what was it about these men and women that Cameron saw as unique? Hopefully, I have discovered bits about Tennyson, Prinsep, Cameron, Julia Stephens, and Watts, that answered my questions. What I inevitably discovered was that they were as remarkably normal leading routine lives with their families but achieved greatness through Poetry, Prose, Painting and Photography.  

When I found out about this exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I couldn't believe it! Finally, I was going to be able to look at photographs of these artists who feel like long lost friends for the very first time. Adding to this sublime exhibit, I was very lucky and thrilled to go with friends and even meet new friends, Stephanie, Kris, and Lucy. How lucky am I! So, there we were, four women of various ages and backgrounds, prolific and poetic each in our own right, together walking through this small two room exhibit. I wanted to rush ahead in search of My Tennyson and step in front of my favorite photograph of him reading, (above). I want to know what book he's reading? Was it his poetry, or a friend's book? Tell me Alfred, Tell me!!  However, I took a deep breath and made  a left turn to see the wall sized face of a woman I researched named May Prinsep (featured above) whom Cameron captured forever recognizable as Beatrice and the Lily Maid of Astolat!  
After a few minutes in their presence and a few deep breaths, I realized the thematic set-up of the exhibit rooms. Broken up into categories, female portraits featuring Alice Liddell, of Alice in Wonderland fame, sixteen years old and dressed as Pomona, Mary Hillier as Sappho who was the servant or maid to Julia Margaret Cameron.

In the other room faces of men, geniuses of the world of literature and science lined the wall. All Julia Margaret Cameron's friends and family members. Let's start with her husband, Charles Hay Cameron, twenty years her senior.  Try not to think Dumbledore when you see him. His friend Alfred Lord Tennyson said this about one of his facial features, 'a philosopher with his beard dipped in moonlight.' This photograph Julia took in their home Dimbola Lodge, then called, on the Isle of Wight, walking distance to The Tennyson's. Another friend is poet of the day Henry Taylor. I love this particular photograph for two reasons: it is out of focus and still included in the exhibit and just look at those I'm guessing clear gorgeous blue eyes!  Oh My...

The only Pre-Raphaelite painter featured and not exactly a photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron. You see, this is a photograph of  a series taken by photogapher and Cameron friend, David Wilkie Wynfield and the subject is painter, William Holman-Hunt.  

“I have had one lesson from the great Amateur photographer Mr. Wynfield. I consult him in correspondence whenever I am in difficulty. To my feeling about his beautiful Photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my successes,”  Julia Margaret Cameron said. 

Under glass were two books of Illustrations of Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King which he asked Julia Margaret Cameron to photograph and illustrate for him. What happened was magic, pure and simple. You have, Cameron's friends modelling as Tennyson's characters from 'Idylls' dressed in Arthurian robes and garb together with Cameron's handwritten descriptions of Tennyson's poetry. However, for this exhibit, the books opened to two photographs along with a letter written at her home, Dimbola, on the Isle of Wight. I cannot tell you how magnificent it was to look upon her handwriting! So, here are Lancelot and Guinevere, modelled by May Prinsep with one of the only two existing photographs taken with her then husband! Also, is Cameron's husband, Charles Hay Cameron portraying and dressed as Merlin and a woman identified as Agnes Mangles.

 Well, there you have it. For the most part, the important ones featured. If you have a chance to come to New York City, do not miss an opportunity to visit some of my favorite friends. The Julia Margaret Cameon exhibit runs through January 5, 2014. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Julia Margaret Cameron and The Signor 1857 Album

"The Signor 1857 album is the earliest of eight recorded photographic albums that Cameron compiled before she took up photography for herself. It contains work by several different photographers (some unattributed), including 15 unique images. It anticipates the photographs Cameron would later make for herself. In addition to portraits of the ‘great men’ of her acquaintance, Henry Taylor (no. 13), Alfred Tennyson (no. 15), George Frederic Watts (no. 1) and John Herschel (nos 12 & 31), it contains photographs of her children and her nephews and nieces; this mixing of the famous and the familial would become a hallmark of her photography. The album begins with a previously unrecorded and unattributed photographic portrait of Watts by Earl Brownlow followed by a sequence of photographic copies after portrait drawings Watts made during the 1850s, some of the originals for which are currently untraced. 

Signor 1857 photographic album is unique because of its ‘back to front’ sequence. When you turn the album upside down, there is a second sequence of photographs. Some of these include a photograph, almost certainly by Julia Margaret Cameron’s brother-in-law, Earl Somers. He was an important figure in the history of photography, until now, no photographs have been firmly attributed. This study photograph of Cameron with all six of her children is (unique to this album and previously unrecorded).
 Unattributed photographer, [Group portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron and her six children (Hardinge, Henry, Eugene, Julia, Charles, Ewen), seated on the trunk of a fallen tree], c. 1854, albumen print, 150 x 191mm, previously unrecorded.

  Here is the same photograph cropped and enlarged so you can see Julia Cameron with her six children much better...

  Cameron wrote cropping instructions in her own handwriting on the reverse of a couple of the prints in Signor 1857 album. There are also numbers written in pencil on the reverse of the prints which suggest that the photographs were inserted according to a pre-conceived sequence. The numbering is also in Cameron’s distinctive hand which seems to confirm that the album was authored by her."  (Joanne Lukitsh, ‘Before 1864: Julia Margaret Cameron’s Early Work in Photography’ in Julian Cox and Colin Ford, Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003).

Some more of the photographs taken from Signor 1857 album...
 James Mudd or Joseph Cundall (?), [Julia Margaret Cameron, seated, with Charles and Henry Cameron], 1857-8, albumen print, 190 x 154mm,[other copies: JHN, NPG, London, Wilson Centre for Photography, London,Hans P Kraus Jr Fine Photographs, New York, and others]

 James Mudd or Joseph Cundall (?), [Portrait of Mary Louisa Fisher and Julia Prinsep Stephen, both née Jackson], 1857-8, albumen print, 187 x 140mm, [other copies: Lansdowne ]

This photograph above shows an 11 year old Julia (Jackson) Prinsep Stephen with her sister Mary Louis Fisher. Julia Prinsep Stephen became the mother of author, Virginia Woolf, and an author in her own right. It is only my belief but this photograph from Signor 1857 might just be the earliest photograph taken of Julia. It is hard to see the handwriting (Camerons) at the bottom of the photograph, but she writes, 'Adeline and Julia.'  Adeline was the first name of Julia's daughter, Virginia Woolf and is the name Julia Margaret Cameron writes for Mary Louisa Fisher.  

To view the lot notes, the photographs, and a much more detailed description, visit this link, Sotheby's

Monday, August 19, 2013


Just a quick update letting you all know that I have been lucky enough to receive an ARC or advanced uncorrected proof of Diane Setterfield's novel, 'Bellman & Black!'  Known for her best loved novel, 'The Thirteenth Tale.'

Remember this:

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

Well, wait no more...
 US book cover by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

 As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.
UK Hardcover by Orion Publishing Company

US DEBUT on November 5th, 2013, Hardcover, 224 pages 

UK DEBUT on October 10th, 2013, Hardcover, 320 pages

stay tuned...

My review of The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace

 'The Egyptians had written their magic for the dead. But Harriet wanted assistance now. It was life she longed for.'

Harriet Heron's life is almost over before it has even begun. At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive. Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe. 

Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her god-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live. But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa's long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter. 

As Harriet journeys towards a destiny no one could have foreseen, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.

 "What's best for me is to go away from here, Mother. To a place where I can breathe." 

"The fog made everything so quiet, as if all of life was being lived secretly."

"Her books were her medicine. It was her books that kept her alive."

This review is going to be one of the most challenging I've written. You see there are three intertwining storylines progressing throughout, 'The Sacred River' concerning three women mentioned in the description above: protagonist, Harriet Heron, the young innocent, invalid, her mother Louisa Heron who keeps a dangerous secret, and her sister and Harriet's Aunt Yael, whose storyline was the least fleshed out and the most less focused on. A very clever tool done by author, Wendy Wallace.  

It is hard for me not to go into lots of detail about the female characters and the men surrounding them but for the sake of no spoilers and because I believe every reader should keep the element of surprise when reading books in the style of 'The Sacred River,'  I will try my best to capture your attention without ruining much for you. Half of the fun is reading chapter after chapter and having those hand over your mouth 'aha' moments!!  

First off, I can't stress this enough, I gravitate towards and surround my imagination with novels taking place in the nineteenth century of England or the United Kingdom in general; I do love Scotland! I feel my heart swelling with that feeling of familiarity and the deepest longing for the desire to walk the cobbled streets of Knightsbridge, the West End and the East End of London. To feel the mist rise underneath my leathered laced-up boots, as I walk along a dark street lit up by gaslight. Oh, I'm getting carried away, again. Apologies.

Alright, to focus on The Sacred River means I should let you know that since Harriet and Louisa are mother and daughter, their storylines are the main focus of the novel and Aunt Yael is there with them in the background as a shoulder of support for Harriet and as a sister figure for Louisa. Though, she has troubles and problems of her own, I felt that her complete story was not fleshed out and it isn't until the end that the reader understands why. 

There are a numerous cast of characters including, The Heron Family, a few doctors, understandably as Harriet is an invalid in search of travelling to Eygpt to improve her health condition. Think Wings of the Dove with an Egyptian flare and you've almost got it!  The Sacred River is partly a love story, a story of a young woman finding her way in the world, and a story of freedom and love at all costs. 

"I was a sickly child, Mrs. Cox. From a young age, I read books. The ancient Egyptians, their writings and pictures, have been my consolation. They were for me what fairly tales were for other girls.

 I found the running theme and the main connection between these three women was not necessarily purely a search for freedom but a search for varied aspects of love that comes with the freedom to experience it.   For Harriet love depends upon her relationship with her family and the question of her health. For her mother, Louisa, her love story began in her youth and in her buried past but is connected with her daughter Harriet. As for Yael, well, her search for love may depend upon who she meets as she travels through Egypt with her family. 

The men in The Sacred River are crucial to the subplot and I was pleasantly surprised to find two of the men were nineteenth century painters! I just love it when there is a male character or character's who happens to be a painter. There begins my painter and muse fantasy! Enough of that though, back to The Sacred River. I found myself, reading through most of the chapters that take place in Egypt: Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo, thinking about all those gorgeous paintings by Sir Alma-Tadema. Every time tall, red headed sickly Harriet walked through the arid streets of Luxor, in her long Victorian dress, carrying her red leather journal in search of tombs and hieroglyphs, images of Alma-Tadema women Greek, Roman, and some Egyptian ran through my head. To me, Harriet Heron looked like this: 
Posies by Sir Alma-Tadema

and for Louisa's story, I kept picturing a tall, beautiful, pale skinned, jet black haired 'gypsy' type woman who might have captured the attention of a very interesting character, a painter named 'Augustus!'  I kept thinking Augustus Egg? Could it be? I'm not saying but when two storylines and Victorian women are in the presence of young male painters well color me happy!  I pictured a younger Louisa Heron looking like this: 
Phedra by Alexandre Cabanel (Louisa would be the brunette draped on the reclining bed) 

"She did not know where, apart from the floor, to look. Around the walls of the studio, on the floor or balanced on chairs, there were pictures of women. Women as she had never seen women before. From the back, from the side, from the front. Standing, seated or reclined. Draped with gauzy silks and chiffons, wisps of cloud or ribbons of mist that accentuated their nakedness rather than hid it."

I could go on for days about how much I truly loved and enjoyed 'The Sacred River but in fear of already saying too much, just know that Wendy Wallace writes with such beautiful descriptions that you will be enthralled with the storylines, the characters, the settings, and you will want to know what happens, what happened and why!  

Thank you Wendy Wallace for such an engaging and passionate novel. I look forward to your next novel and await it anxiously.

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace was published in the United Kingdom on August 1, 2013. You can purchase it at AmazonUK

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A review of Wives and Stunners by Henrietta Garnett

With their sensual style, startling realism and ravishing depictions of feminine beauty, the Pre-Raphaelites -- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman-Hunt and John Everett Millais -- turned the conservative Victorian art establishment on its head. But it is the women who inspired their paintings who made their work truly 'romantic'. 

From Effie Gray, Lizzy Siddal and Janey Morris to later muses Georgie Burne-Jones and Mary Zambaco, their images were immortalized on canvas, while their extraordinary lives remained largely unexamined. Yet these 'stunners' and their artists wove a surprisingly modern web of friendships, romance, envy and betrayal. Alongside younger artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, their bohemian existence shocked and thrilled nineteenth-century England in equal measure, and the relationships they formed transformed British art for ever.

In the words of author, Henrietta Garnett, "a 'stunner' is a nineteenth-century slang coined by Gabriel Rossetti (DGR), generally referring to a woman of exceptional beauty, glamour, and charisma."

'Wives and Stunners' is a group biography concentrating on Effie Gray and her marriage to Ruskin and then Millais, Rossetti and Siddal and his affair with Jane Morris, the marriage of William and Jane Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Burne-Jones, as well as Pre-Raphaelite model Annie Miller's affair with painter, William Holman-Hunt.

Let's begin with John Ruskin and Effie Gray. The usual story of how Effie and Ruskin met is told here with some added dimension of both their childhoods. For instance, not knowing much about John Ruskin, it was fascinating to learn that he was an only child whose father, John James Ruskin, suffered from manic depression. I wonder if this trait was passed down to his son, John? The author, Henrietta Garnett, also says that Ruskin's parents were first cousins (its making sense now). Ruskin's mother, Margaret Cox Ruskin, was deeply religious teaching him the Bible through daily readings and memorization exercises young John would be made to take. He loved it and religion became a daily study and lifelong passion. However, Effie Gray's childhood was idyllic compared to young John's. She grew up in the Scottish Highlands with many siblings and for the most part had a stable upbringing with loving and supportive parents.

Of course, the author details the ups and downs of the troubled Ruskin marriage with no discrepancies that I came across. All the usual details about the terrible wedding night that was anything but sexual or romantic. Garnett gives the usual reasons for Ruskin not making love to his new bride on their wedding night i.e. her pubic hair, possible odor and even menstruating swollen body could have completely turned him off! It seems Ruskin had not exactly an idealized view of the female nude but he did expect a painted nude body type personified! Poor Effie. The divorce story is here as well, detailed again with precision although how factual is up to someone much more studied on the subject. Garnett does attribute Effie's wanting a divorce down to her meeting and falling in love with John Everett Millais and her keen intelligence on divorce proceedings!

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Henrietta Garnett approaches the subject of Lizzie Siddal without going into any acknowledgment of her childhood or family life. Instead, she focuses her chapters on her marriage to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who she refers to as Gabriel in the book. Of course, no mention of The Rossetti's would be worth reading without including the 'Ophelia' story which is here in glorious detail! Nothing new here really except for the obvious dislike for Lizzie Siddal. The author comes straight out with it, referring to Lizzie as a laudanum 'addict'!  A very ill woman which she believes begins with her catching cold in that bathtub while posing for Ophelia but we shall never know really!  This poor woman's short and sad life seems to capture so many people wanting to know more about her. I understand this, of course, but reading 'Wives and Stunners' I couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman that Garnett depicted.

When it came to tell the story of how Lizzie Siddal died, it's all here again in glorious detail. One thing fascinated me that I didn't remember reading in other biographies. For instance, Garnett mentions in a footnote how when Rossetti returns home from his night out supposedly at a men's club or with his lover, Fanny Cornforth, he finds a dead Lizzie in a sleeping position with a note pinned to her dress reading, 'look after Harry.' Harry Siddal was Lizzie's younger, disabled brother and when Rossetti died it was his brother William who continued to pay for Harry Siddal's regular allowance. Whether this allowance was to help with his upkeep given his disability, whether Harry was living with his parents or put in an asylum or 'home', the custom of the day, it is not known or explained any further. I would love to know, though!  

Garnett also describes Lizzie Siddal as being very jealous of any woman Rossetti would speak to, especially Annie Miller at the time. She and Rossetti were not yet married and she presents the case that Siddal believed marriage to Rossetti would keep her emotionally stable and somehow he would not look elsewhere for 'company!'  Poor Lizzie!!  Fascinating reading, though again how factual I don't know. It seems to me that Garnett connected Lizzie's problems to her taking of laudanum and her insecurities. It is good to read a more complete description of a young woman while not idealizing her so unnaturally that she becomes perfection. I still come back to the realization that nobody will ever know one person completely. We simply must do our own research and believe what we choose to about those figures that we find so intriguing!
My favorite chapters concerned Mr. and Mrs. Burne-Jones and William and Jane Morris. The stories of visits to The Morris's while living first at Red House then later Kelmscott Manor always make these amazing figures come so effervescently to life. I can see them walking around the house, the women Janey and Georgie cooking, talking, laughing, the kids running around the house their giggles echoing off the walls. What a scene it must have been! The men talking behind closed doors, inside jokes, winks, shoulder nudges. 

I never realized that Jane Morris's second daughter, Mary (known as May) Morris was born a few weeks after Lizzie Siddal died. May Morris came into the world on 25 March, 1862, at the beautiful Red House. Another adorable anecdote Garnett tells is how William Morris used to call his daughters, 'The Littles' because well they were!  

By the time The Morris's moved into Kelmscott Manor with 'The Littles', Jane Morris became quite the homemaker or so her husband thought. William Morris describes how Janey would lay out apples from the orchards on wooden trays and how lavender that she harvested hung on hooks from the whitewashed ceilings making the high rooms smell sweet.

One interesting anecdote, according to the author, was how the eldest daughter of William and Jane Morris, Jenny Morris, inherited epilepsy from her father who described him as having sudden and unpredictable mood swings which amused his friends. Jenny Morris was doing very well at school at the time; she was proficient in Latin and English literature and was expected to attend Girton, a new college for female students at Cambridge when diagnosed with epilepsy in 1876 at the age of fifteen years old. Who knows what she could have gone on to accomplish but not much is documented about her life. We have Jane Morris's letters briefly mentioning Jenny's illness and how it affected her family. 

It was good to read about the children of these famous 'Wives and Stunners' as well as getting the female perspective of author, Henrietta Garnett even if I didn't always agree with her conclusions. I did learn more about these fascinating figures of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and you can't expect more than that!  

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Lady of Shalott: The Immersion of Poetry and Painting

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, 1888, oil on canvas, Tate, London

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right
The leaves upon her falling light
Through the noises of the night
            She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
            The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
            Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
            The Lady of Shalott.
I’ve been meaning to write a piece about Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ for some time now while somehow working in John William Waterhouse’s beautiful painting. Well, it appears I’ve found my reason or catalyst.  Earlier this week, Waterhouse’s painting made the rounds online in a big way…

It seems that Art Everywhere has found  a very creative way of celebrating British art. ‘The Lady of Shalott’ was voted the most loved painting in the United Kingdom to be featured on billboards across the UK for at least the next two weeks or so!  Careful driving on the motorway, such beauty could cause major traffic accidents! 

Where to begin…’The Lady of Shalott’ began in the mind of Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1832 way before John William Waterhouse ever painted it!   Let’s take a trip back in time and find out a little about La Donna di Scalotta! Stay with me, folks its just getting good…

“The “Lady” (of Shalott) reads charmingly in print:  the more I read it, the more I like it. You were, indeed, happily inspired when the idea of that poem first rose in your imagination.” A letter from Arthur Hallam, After staying at Kitlands, Dorking, October 10th, 1832

 Alfred Tennyson by John Mayall, albumen photograph.
One of the only photographs of himself that Tennyson liked.

Alfred Tennyson, speaking about his poem, 'The Lady of Shalott' in this way, “the newborn love…for someone in the wide world from which she has been so long secluded, takes her out of the region of shadows into that of realities.” Alfred Tennyson, Art Journal, 1889, pg. 142
Tennyson’s poem Lady of Shalott was first published in 1832 and republished again in 1842 with Tennyson altering only the final lines having the poem end with Lancelot’s words, not with the Lady’s epitaph. This change can be forever felt in the heady moodiness of a doomed erotic awakening left unrequited. Now, Lancelot is viewed with somewhat of a compassionate nature for his betrayal. I wonder if that is what Tennyson was aiming for? Just some of the many questions that shall forever remain unanswered.  You must remember that in 1832 and before while he was writing this poem, he was still very much a young, single man in his youth, age twenty-three years old.  He was finished with Cambridge, still had good mates like Arthur Hallam and James Spedding. He was ‘supposedly’ more than friendly with a young Rosa Baring while still maintaining a deep ‘friendship’ with a young Emily Sellwood!  Emily Sellwood (Later Lady Tennyson) kept her only surviving copy of Lady of Shalott with her handwritten surname of Sellwood upon the pages; dated 1833 (Tennyson Research Centre, Lincolnshire, England)

 John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) by an unknown photographer taken in his studio at 10 Hall Road, St. John's Wood, London.
The second photograph on the right was by Ralph W. Robinson, 1891, housed at National Portrait Gallery, London. Curiously enough, the painting on the easel is another version of The Lady of Shalott!

J.W. Waterhouse painted nine subjects based upon various Tennysonian themes and poems including three different versions of The Lady of Shalott.  Waterhouse’s ‘Lady of Shalott’ exhibited during three separate years: summer exhibition in 1888, 1894 and again in 1916. Each exhibition would concentrate on a different aspect of the painting and excerpts of the poem were included in the catalogue. Now, there’s one I wish I had as a souvenir!  In 1888, The Royal Academy deemed Waterhouse an accommodation for his painting, ‘The Lady of Shalott.’ 

Waterhouse surely knew of the painters that made up the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and was aware of Rossetti’s version of his Lady of Shalott as well as Holman-Hunt’s illustration of the Lady of Shalott appearing in the Edward Moxon 1857 edition of Tennyson’s Poems. Not wanting to be outdone, he decided to paint the ultimate ‘Lady’ and boy did he ever!  

So, when Waterhouse began painting The Lady of Shalott in 1887, he depicted her inability to act upon the innate sensuality which drew her to the window as she hears Lancelot’s voice and sees him, thus changing her fate forever. The lady in the painting has a rosary to infer that she is bound for Heaven along with the glittering candles around her that are about to expire as she is.  Although, Tennyson does not describe the lady’s appearance in his poem only writing, ‘she is robed in snowy white,’ Waterhouse chose to show her red eyes from crying with puffy lips from ‘singing her last song.’ Her full breasts and belly could represent her fertility.  

In the end, Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott juxtaposed with J.W. Waterhouse’s painting, The Lady of Shalott both harken back to a time of chivalric knights, maidens locked in a tower, a time of Arthuriana and King Arthur’s Camelot. For on the island of Shalott, a Lady was deemed  a fairy by a peasant who hears her singing, she has been cursed for reasons neither she nor the reader understands only to weave a ‘magic web’ of scenes outside her window by looking at them not directly, but upon their reflections in a mirror.  
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
            Down to towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
            Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
            To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
            The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
            Winding down to Camelot: 
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the curly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
            Pass onward from Shalott.

Sadly, for us, Tennyson’s reaction upon seeing the painting is not known, none of his thoughts are recorded in letters or journals or friend’s reminiscences or perhaps they were and were burned keeping some secrets lost to the passage of time.

Loreena McKennitt singing The Lady of Shalott from Nights from the Alhambra in 2007

A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

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