Friday, February 28, 2014

My day of research on Alfred Lord Tennyson including his family and friends - Part One

Alfred Tennyson engraving by F. Hollyer, Housed at The Morgan Library and Museum, NYC

I was absolutely filled with a nervous excitement that I almost forgot what it felt like to be this anxious. I never forget to be grateful when getting an opportunity to visit free of charge with the express intention of doing my own research on a man that I have grown to sincerely love, Alfred Lord Tennyson. I have been researching his life and works since 2011 and this was and is the first time I actually, physically looked upon and held in my own two hands his handwritten letters! My hands were shaking the entire time; hour after hour, I did not stop for a break, even though my stomach rumbled so loudly I thought for sure the two other people quite near me could hear me! I was so nervous I couldn't eat any food that morning. NOTHING...I tried toast but even with the rumbly in my tumbly it was  no use, I just couldn't hold it down! 

One of Alfred Tennyson's letters not kept at The Morgan Library but one I found online. 
I wanted to add it for fun and because of Tennyson's words he writes:

"I am much obliged to you, though sorry for the result of your research." Tennyson writes 
from Farringford House on the Isle of White to an unnamed person, dated October 11, 1860.

As I sat down the female employee brought out my list of eight items; the maximum number allowed. I focused on Alfred's letters mainly as well as his families letters as I said before. The first item listed was one of two books in Tennyson's possession. His 1853 Moxon Edition of Ode to Wellington. It was maroon colored leather bound with gold embossed letters on the front, back, and spine.

Did I fail to mention what makes this edition of Ode to Wellington so important? Tennyson gave it as a gift to his good friend and neighbor on the Isle of Wight, Julia Margaret Cameron! That's right.  When you open it, the first page on the top going across the page in  penciled handwriting is Mrs. Cameron's words, 'Hardinge Hay Cameron from his mother January 12, 48 (1848). Then down below it on the right side in dark ink reads, 

'Julia Cameron

Alfred Tennyson's inscription directly below Julia Margaret Camerons' there together as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I almost couldn't breathe and I turned page after page thinking, Mrs. Cameron held this book, treasured this book, passed it on to her son and it's inscribed by her dear friend, Alfred Lord Tennyson and I'm sitting in my hometown and not in Lincolnshire, England or on the Isle of Wight either!  

The next item I reserved was the notebook which looked very similar to the one posted above. It was a manuscript notebook hardbound in red leather with gold lettering on the side only reading, 'Tennyson Poems and Letters.'  There it was an item I had only read about in his numerous biographies both nineteenth-century and modern ones - one of Alfred Tennyson's own notebooks and inside it were ten pages of his poem Northern Farmer and one page containing a paragraph from Idylls of the King!  Also, a prominent item was the 'Dedication to Queen Victoria of The Laureate' published in Tennyson's Works.

1)  As I flipped through the pages of Tennyson's handwriting, one letter was included written to a man named Palgrave on plain paper and undated. A short but interesting letter:

My dear Palgrave,
I am for some days at Burlington House; if you can, you will come and see me.


2)  Another letter Tennyson wrote to his publisher, Edward Moxon was on the following notebook page just staring out at me undated on plain paper:
My dear Moxon,
I left a corrected sheet with greening which he does not seem to have acted upon, however I have put down in these the two or three lines I intended to insert 'sdeath' in side be printed not  'S deaths. 

I have written one or two papers for the greater clarinels twice over: don't let them print these twice over in their stupidity. surely I may depend on you or your brother without having the sheets resent to me. I see the old misprint of marbled stained is changed.  Yet I feel quite sure I corrected it. You shall have the poems in a day or two.
Ever yours,
A Tennyson

3)  Another letter in the notebook Tennyson wrote to a man named G.J. Whittier from his home Aldworth on same letterhead: 
Dear Mr. Whittier,
Your request has been forwarded to me and I herein send you an epitaph for Gordon in our Westminster Abbey i.e. for the cenotaph.

Warrin of God, man's friend-not here below, point somewhere dead for in the waste handon, Thou givest in all hearts, for all men know this earth has borne no simpler nobler man.

With best wishes
Yours very faithfully
May 4th 85  -  Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson's letter to Sir John Everett Millais, Pre-Raphaelite Painter and good friend of his. Here is a brief letter from Tennyson to Millais on Farringford House stationery: 

Isle of Wight

My dear Millais,

Very good of you to remember me. 
What splendidly - rambunctious kids! 

Nov. 17th - 89

Sir John Everett Millais  --->

The envelope was addressed to J.E. Millais:

Sir John E. Millais
Birnam Hall
Birnam, Perthshire, N.B.

This letter stands out to me because it was written by Hallam Tennyson; eldest son of Alfred and Emily Tennyson. In it he discusses Millais now famous portrait of his father. It is written on Farringford stationery:

Isle of Wight
May 17/81

Dear Mr. Millais,

Very many thanks for the letter. The testimony on all orders to the excellence of the portrait delights us. To tell you my secret I am sorry that it has not been purchased for a great public gallery of pictures, so that it might have become  a possession of or the nation. Indeed, I wish I had known the facts of its being repurchasable while we were in london, tho perhaps this sounds rather ungracious to the present purchaser whose signifigance in the purchase I fully admit. We are glad that it is probably to be engraved by Barlow, so that we can all hope to have so fine  a work.
With my kind remembrance I return the letter.

Yours very truly,
Hallam Tennyson 

Part Two will contain four more letters: One from Emily Tennyson and three more from Alfred Tennyson including a discussion about the photograph of himself with his sons taken by Julia Margaret Cameron and more with John Everett Millais...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Julia Margaret Cameron and her son Henry Herschel Hay

I just wanted to share a photograph of the nineteenth-century pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (nee Pattle) with her son, Henry Herschel Hay.

Full-length portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron and her son Henry Herschel Hay Cameron. Julia wears a long dark dress with matching jacket which have decorative ribbon trimmings and a dark fabric veil over her hair. Her son wears a medium-toned suit. They stand close together. Henry’s right arms is around Julia’s waist and her left and is at his right shoulder. There is a dark curtain on the left side of the background. 

 Mrs. Cameron & Her son Henry Herschel Hay by James Brading, photographer; Gernsheim, Helmut, 1913-1995, former owner. circa 1867,  albumen print on card mount, @ Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin 

 A close-up view

Now, I could be mistaken but to me the dress and jacket she is wearing looks very similar to the purple velour outfit featured at her home on the Isle of Wight, Dimbola Lodge. See for yourself in the photo below.

Julia Margaret Cameron's bedroom at Dimbola Lodge on the Isle of Wight. Photograph courtesy of Tennyson Celebrity Circle.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre still inspires ...

Currently running now at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre in England is what has been described by The Times as 'an improv approach' to a novel written by a young woman who published her story about a young orphaned girl in 1847 under a pen name 'Currer Bell' (CB) known forever as Charlotte Bronte.  Fast forward one hundred and sixty seven years later, where it is now being put on as a theatre production with musical accompaniment by musicians playing offstage. It is not being marketed as  a 'musical' but a theatre play with dialogue set to music. Here in New York City, whether it played on Broadway or Off-Broadway, it might be marketed as a musical.  Either way, it sounds like such a wonderfully produced piece of theatre and I cannot help but wonder what Ms. Bronte would make of all this fuss over her bit of writing!

The Bristol Old Vic's director Sally Cookson explains, "It's chaotic and very, very noisy. There is a medley of voices in different accents, an accordion, a guitar and a piano, flurries of arms and legs and people talking all at once."  It was a lifelong ambition of Sally Cookson to re-interpret the characters and the story of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre explored through a musical score.  Jane Eyre explores themes of individual freedom, accountability, the stigma of mental illness with the folk tradition of live music.

So, if you're in England between now and March, please head over to the Bristol Old Vic and go see this interpretation of Jane Eyre. I wish I could. It reminds me of the avant-garde theatre productions you would find in Greenwich Village here in New York City. 

Here is the theatre link for more information, Bristol Old Vic

Monday, February 17, 2014

Paris 1900 anyone?

If you happen to be going to Paris in April of this year don't tell me I will die of jealousy! Seriously, you must visit Musee des Beaux Arts for their upcoming exhibit, le Petit Palais-Paris 1900 - La Ville Spectacle from 2 April-August 17, 2014.

"The exhibition "Paris 1900 , the City show" invites the public to relive the heyday of the French capital when it hosts the World Expo that opened in the 20th century fanfare . More than ever the city shines in the eyes of the world as the city of luxury and lifestyle . More than 600 works - paintings, art , costumes , posters, photographs , films, furniture, jewelry , sculptures objects ... - immerse visitors Petit Palais in Paris of the Belle Epoque. Technical innovations , cultural effervescence, the elegance of Paris will be staged as many mythologies of the Paris including literature and film have since ceased to convey the image around the world.
"In an inventive set design incorporating the new cinema over the course, the visitor is invited to a similar to the 51 million tourists who flocked to Paris in 1900 trip.The course organized around six " houses " begins with a section titled " Paris , showcasing the world," referring to the Universal Exhibition. On this occasion , the new Gare de Lyon , Musée d'Orsay and Invalides were built as the first line of "metropolitan" . Architectural projects , paintings , films but also quaint gift and decorative elements stored objects , remember this incredible event.Paris 1900 but cannot be reduced at the Universal Exposition: the City of Light proposed many other occasions of wonder and expenses. In luxury shops and art galleries , fans could discover the creations of the inventors of Art Nouveau , presented here in a second pavilion dedicated to the masterpieces of Gallé, Guimard, Majorelle, Mucha Lalique ...The third section devoted to Fine Arts demonstrates the centrality of the Paris art scene. At that time, all the talents converge on the capital for training in workshops, exhibit at trade fairs and sell through networks amounts of galleries. Paintings Edelfelt Finnish , Spanish or American Zuloaga Stewart, will discuss the international climate. But hooking also confronts the works of Cézanne , Monet , Renoir, Pissarro, Vuillard, with those of Gérôme, Bouguereau or Gervex glories acclaimed as the Academism as Impressionism finally recognized the Late Symbolism or figures more news like Maillol or Maurice Denis , while the triumph of art Rodin.
The visitor then discovers the creation of a triumphant Parisian fashion which showed its success upon the entry of the Universal whose monumental door was surmounted by a figure dressed by Jeanne Paquin Paris Exposition. Fashion houses in the Rue de la Paix attract a cosmopolitan and wealthy world , that imitate the working girls . The finest treasures of the Palais Galliera , such as the famous cape evening signed the couturier Worth, will be accompanied by large society portraits by La Gandara or Besnard , and evocation of the world of milliners and errand under the brush both Jean Beraud that Edgar Degas.

The last two pavilions offer an insight into the Paris entertainment : the triumphs of Sarah Bernhardt those of Yvette Guilbert, Pelléas et Mélisande at the Aiglon de Rostand , opera café- concert, circus the brothel . All illustrations bright and dark sides of a city that indulged besides in order to reinforce the idea that it remained the capital of the world and queen of pleasure. Mythical places like the Moulin Rouge or the Black Cat , become the favorite of artists such as Toulouse- Lautrec subjects. Large half- worldly Liane Pougy or the beautiful Otero hell of prostitution and drugs , the exhibition shows behind the scenes , themes that will prove to be carriers of aesthetic revolutions subjects.

If the myth of the Belle Epoque lasted until today , it is not only in contrast to the horror of the Great War who succeeded him, it is because it is based on a real cultural expansion which this exhibition wants to remind the unparalleled strength . Finest surviving architectural gem of the year 1900 in Paris , Petit Palais finally dedicated at that time leading a major exhibition , accompanied by a program of events and a complementary course in the permanent galleries of original paintings enriched collections : a fitting tribute as ever Paris had not yet proposed ." Musee des Beaux Arts 

Some of the paintings featured: 

En Soiree, Portrait of Madame Pascal Blanchard by Georges Desvallieres, 1903

Le Balcon by Rene Francois Xavier Prinet, 1905-6

 Un soir de grand prix au pavillion d'Armenonville by Henry Gervex, 1905

Bal Blanc by Joseph-Marius Avy, 1903 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin in film and biography: An impression of Victorianism

So, let me begin by saying how much I enjoyed the movie, 'The Invisible Woman.' It is a fabulous cast of characters based on mostly recognizable real life nineteenth-century figures. Most notably, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. When I first saw the movie, I went with a friend not having read Claire Tomalin's award winning biography beforehand. So many aspects of the Victorian era jumped out at me in terms of place, theme, sights, sounds, clothing, even smells if you believe it!  I am not wholeheartedly a lover of Mr. Dickens as the man he was but in terms of the writer and author well, he is one of the best. However, my heart lies with his friend Mr. Wilkie Collins. I put him first; move over just ever so slightly there Charlie and don't give me that glaring look-you love to be chided! 

At first I was at a loss as how to approach discussing this topic. I mean I don't want to just give my review of the movie because that would be incomplete, wouldn't it?  I waited until I read the biography but then all these discrepancies jumped out at me between what happened in real life between the so called lovers, 'Charles Dickens and 'Nelly' Ellen Ternan. Do I tell you about it because then it would spoil the movie experience for you and I don't want to do that. You should discover these aspects of the movie, novel, and real life situations for yourself; should you choose to!

So, for now, I will just include excerpt quotes from various sources I have read based upon the lives of Dickens, Collins, and Ternan. Let's go back in time shall we to the 1850s in England where an author of well-known authority, Charles Dickens is married to his wife Catherine, and has four or five children at this time, his author friend Wilkie Collins has written his play The Frozen Deep and is working with Dickens on editing, acting, and putting on a show for everyone. Lastly, there is a teenaged and naive theatre actress Ellen Ternan who has caught the very married and much much older Charles Dickens' eye!  I wonder what will happen...they apparently had an affair that lasted for years even after Charlie's divorce through until his death. Ellen later marries and has two children living out her days in England staying very close to her sister, Fanny.
 The old ladies, Nelly, (left) and Fanny in Southsea, where all three sisters settled together in their last years, and where they are buried. They were living here when Dickens's Birthplace Museum was set up in 1904; but Nelly never visited it and went to her grave in 1914 with her secret apparently safe from her children. Source: The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, London, England, 1991 edition.

I absolutely loved seeing the friendship acted out in the film, 'The Invisible Woman' between Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins acted by Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hollander who looked so much like Wilkie himself! Scenes including gathering together at Tavistock House to rehearse The Frozen Deep and dialogue discussing Dickens making editing suggestions with the Ternan sisters and their mother in tow! Just brilliant. 
Of course, Dickens and Collins during the year 1857 when the play was performed would have looked very much like the actors above:

Dickens to the left and Collins to the right...

Handbill for the play The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins performed at Tavistock House on his birthday on January 8, 1857. Also, the birthday of my friend and an author himself, Kevin!

“I think it was at this time that I first saw Dickens as an actor. He played the principal character in a piece called “The Frozen Deep,” written by my old friend Wilkie Collins, in a theatre erected in the garden of Tavistock House.  Carlyle says Dickens’s “real forte was acting, not writing.” Carlyle has said many wise things, and as he was human, he said some foolish ones; but none surely more foolish than that which I quote. I saw Dickens in all the characters he attempted, and I heard him read most of his works; and no one who has had a similar experience could be blind to the dramatic power with which he realized every character, either created by himself or others. That with training and experience he would have been a great actor there is no doubt. He would have been great in whatever career he might have pursued; but as a great actor stands to a great writer in about the same relation that a great engraver stands to a great painter, I submit that Carlyle was mistaken, unless he meant to imply that Dickens was not a great writer; in that case, like most of my fellow-creatures, I am at issue with him.” William Powell Frith, R.A., My Autobiography and Reminiscences, Volume 1, 1887, pg. 267

 Illustration of Tavistock House one of the homes of Charles Dickens where The Frozen Deep was rehearsed and put on for friends

Hans Christian Andersen visited Charles Dickens in 1857 at his residence Tavistock House in Tavistock Square along Upper Montague street, Woburn Square, Gordon Square on the upper end of which on the east side, Gordon Place leads into a spot cut off from traffic in a quiet neighbourhood. Dickens lived at Tavistock House from 1851 until 1860, with intervals at Gad’s Hill Place. Hans Christian Andersen describes it, “This beautiful house, which has eighteen rooms in it, is now the Jews’ College. The drawing-room on the first floor still contains a dais at one end, and it is said that at a recent public meeting held here, three hundred and fifty people were accommodated in it, which serves to show what ample quarters Dickens had to entertain his friends.  The strip of garden in front are shut out from the thoroughfare by an iron railing. A large garden with a grass-plat and high trees stretches behind the house, and gives it a countrified look, in the midst of this coal and gas steaming London. In the passage from street to garden hung pictures and engravings. Here stood a marble bust of Dickens, so like him, so youthful and handsome; and over a bedroom door were inserted the bas-reliefs of Night and Day, after Thorwaldsen. On the first floor was a rich library, with a fireplace and a writing-table, looking out on the garden; and here it was that in winter Dickens and his friends acted plays to the satisfaction of all parties. The kitchen was underground, and at the top of the house were the bedrooms. “  A Week’s Tramp in Dickens-Land by William R. Hughes, Illustrator F.G. Kitton,  published London: Chapman & Hall, Limited, 1891. 

SIDENOTE:  Apparently, Dickens himself corrected Andersen’s description by explaining that the plays were not put on in the library but “the stage was in the school-room at the back of the ground-floor, with a platform built outside the window for scenic purposes.”  A Week’s Tramp in Dickens-Land by William R. Hughes, Illustrator F.G. Kitton,  published London: Chapman & Hall, Limited, 1891. 

Rehearsal for The Frozen Deep 1857. From left to right: artist William Telbin, Mr. Evans, novelist Shirley Brooks, Mark Lemon Jr., printer W. Jones, publisher Frederick Evans, artist Marcus Stone, musician Francesco Berger, Punch editor Mark Lemon and artist Augustus Egg; (middle row) author Albert Smith, artist Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, Miss Evans, journalist Edward Smyth Pigott, Mrs Francis and artist John Luard; (bottom row) Charles Dickens Jr., Kate Dickens, Miss Hogarth, Mary Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Miss H. Hogarth. Charles Dickens is stretched out at the front of the group.  Source: Wilkie Collins A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett, 2014 UK hardcover edition. 
The Frozen Deep, a play by Wilkie Collins, Claire Tomalin describes in her award winning biography, ‘The Invisible Woman’ she says, “Maria (Ellen Ternan’s sister) at least found a better diversion. She got herself a ticket for the theatrical sensation of the summer. It was a melodrama called The Frozen Deep, got up by its author, Wilkie Collins, with his famous fellow writer Charles Dickens. Both men fancied themselves as amateur actors and were giving a few performances at the Gallery of Illustrations in Regent Street. All the cast were Dickens’s friends or members of his family, and they included his sisters-in-law and his two daughters; the whole thing had begun as a private entertainment, which had now burgeoned. The settings were spectacular, and the story was of a man who triumphs over his own murderous impulses; this part was played by Dickens, who died on stage to a specially written orchestral accompaniment. In the best theatrical tradition he rose again immediately to play the farce that concluded the entertainment. He did it again with great relish and much impromptu gagging; and in this he was partnered by his pretty seventeen-year old daughter Katey.  The Saturday Review said nothing else currently on the stage equaled it, and the Athenaeum declared that Dickens’s acting ‘might open a new era for the stage.’ The ladies in the cast were particularly commended. The Queen herself asked to see The Frozen Deep and was persuaded to come to the gallery of Illustrations by Dickens who said he preferred not to take his ladies to the palace ‘ in the quality of actresses.’ She came accompanied by Prince Leopold of Belgium and Prince Frederick of Prussia, and they all expressed themselves delighted. Dickens, summoned for a private word,refused the Queen not once but twice, on the grounds that he did not want to appear before her in his costume: a further triumph of his will over hers, for which she graciously and, under the circumstances, very sensibly forgave him. When Dickens chose to be unbudgeable, not even a queen could move him.” The Invisible Woman The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, London, England, 1991 edition, chapter 6, pgs, 71-2.

SIDENOTE:  Although, The Frozen Deep was performed at Dickens’ Tavistock House there were a few performances put on for the public at The Royal Gallery of Illustration then located at 14 Regent Street, London, England. It was a 500 seat theatre so you can just imagine the crowd! 

Actress Felicity Jones as Ellen Ternan in the movie and on the right the real Ellen Ternan (Nelly) Source, The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin

During the movie I saw a Victorian painting come to life before my eyes and acted out as well. It was Derby Day by William Powell Frith a nineteenth-century painter of the day who created masterpieces called paintings capturing the essence of the Victorian era on canvas. There is a scene in the movie where Dickens makes up a reason to his wife to travel to see a dog race with his friend Wilkie Collins. In reality, he went there because Nelly was acting in a play and it was an excuse to see her. It was still early on in their 'friendship' but where there's a will there's a way...

Take note of how Ralph Fiennes is dressed and Felicity Jones almost matching a close-up of the painting below.

The Derby Day by William Powell Frith, oil on canvas, 1856-8, Tate Gallery, England

“My first visit to Epsom was in the May of 1856-Blink Bonnie’s year. My first Derby had no interest for me as a race, but as giving me the opportunity of studying life and character, it is ever to be gratefully remembered.  The acrobats with every variety of performance, the n***** minstrels, gipsy fortune-telling, to say nothing of carriages filled with pretty women, together with the sporting element, seemed to offer abundant material for the line of art to which I felt obliged-in the absence of higher gifts-to devote myself; and the more I considered the kaleidoscopic aspect of the crowd on Epsom Downs, the more firm became my resolve to attempt to reproduce it. As the time for observation was too short to allow of sketching, I endeavoured to make such mental notes as should help me in my proposed work.  I arranged the general lines of the composition of the “Derby Day” in what I call a rough charcoal drawing, and after making numbers of studies from models for all the prominent figures, I went for my usual seaside holiday to Folkestone, and employed much of it very delightfully in preparing a small careful oil-sketch-with colour and effect finally planned-so that when I chose to begin the large picture, I found the “course clear” before me. “  William Powell Frith, R.A., My Autobiography and Reminiscences, Volume 1, 1887

William Powell Frith by Maull & Pollyblank, albumen carte-de-viste, 1864, NPG

William Powell Frith might have been depicted in the  movie as theatre cast during The Frozen Deep scene. He was a very close friend to Dickens and Collins at the time and he describes their friendship himself if you read his Autobiography and Reminiscences. I couldn't leave him out of this whatsoever.  Lastly, I wanted to include Frith discussing his process of painting a portrait of his friend Charles Dickens. Though, nothing to do with happening in the movie or the biography at all; I just read this bit and thought it important to include it. 

Charles Dickens, photograph by Herbert Watkins, 19th century. Museum no. PH.87-1982, V&A Museum, UK.

“John Forster called upon me to paint a portrait of his friend Dickens. I need scarcely say with what delight, mixed with fear, I heard of this commission-delight because of my veneration for the author, and my love for the man; fear that I might fail, as so many had done already. When Dickens had adopted the moustache-a hirsute appendage of which Forster had a great horror; and with reason, as regarded Dickens, for it partly covered, and certainly injured, a very handsome and characteristic mouth. We waited in vain. Indeed, we waited till the beard was allowed to grow upon the chin as well as upon the upper lip, so, fearing that if we waited longer there would be little of the face to be painted, if whiskers were to be added to the rest, the order was given and the portrait begun.  As I had heard that portrait-painters had often derived advantage from photography, I asked dickens to give me a meeting at Mr. Watkins’s, who was thought one of the best photographers of that day. Apropos of this arrangement came the following from Dickens:

I just love that part of the first portrait sitting occurred on my birthday, January 21, 1859. 

“Well, the truth is,” said Dickens, “I sat a great many times. At first the picture bore a strong resemblance to Ben Caunt ( a prize fighter of that day); then it changed into somebody else; and at last I thought it was time to give it up, for I had sat there and looked at the thing till I felt I was growing like it.” 

“The portrait had progressed to the time when it was necessary to consider what the background should be, and I thought it best to discard the common curtain and column arrangement, and substitute for these well-work properties the study in which the writer worked, with whatever accident of surrounding that might present itself. Accordingly I betook myself to Tavistock House, and was installed in a corner of the study from whence I had a view of Dickens as he sat writing  under the window, his desk and papers, with a framed address to him-from Birmingham, I think together with a bookcase, etc., making both back and fore ground. The first chapter of the “Tale of Two Cities,” or rather a small portion of it, lay on the desk. After what appeared to me a vast deal of trouble on the part of the writer, muttering to himself, walking about the room, pulling his beard, and making dreadful faces, he still seemed to fail to satisfy himself with his work.  However, I was amply compensated by the universal approval of all Dickens’s family and friends-Stone, Egg, Leech, Mark Lemon, and Shirley Brooks, etc., etc. who said, “At last we have the real man;” and best satisfied of all was John Forster. “ William Powell Frith, R.A., My Autobiography and Reminiscences, Volume 1, 1887

Charles Dickens, oil painting, William Powell Frith, 1859. Museum no. F.7, V&A Museum, UK.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A review of Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett

 Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson (12 Sep 2013)
 1868, and bestselling author Wilkie Collins is hard at work on a new detective novel, The Moonstone. But he is weighed down by a mountain of problems - his own sickness, the death of his mother, and, most pressing, the announcement by his live-in mistress that she has tired of his relationship with another woman and intends to marry someone else. His solution is to increase his industrial intake of opium and knuckle down to writing the book T. S. Eliot called the 'greatest' English detective novel.

Of Wilkie's domestic difficulties, not a word to the outside world: indeed, like his great friend Charles Dickens, he took pains to keep secret any detail of his ménage. There's no doubt that the arrangement was unusual and, for Wilkie, precarious, particularly since his own books focused on uncovering such deeply held family secrets. Indeed, he was the master of the Victorian sensation novel, fiction that left readers on the edge of their seats as mysteries and revelations abounded.

In this colourful investigative portrait, Andrew Lycett draws Wilkie Collins out from the shadow of Charles Dickens. Wilkie is revealed as a brilliant, witty, friendly, contrary and sensual man, deeply committed to his work. Here he is given his rightful place at the centre of the literary, artistic and historical movements of his age.

Part biography, part history, part intimate family saga, Wilkie Collins brings to life one of England's greatest writers against the backdrop of Victorian London and all its complexities. It is a truly sensational story.

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) in 1874 at the age of 50. Source: Wikipedia

Andrew Lycett will tell you in detail and well thought out painful research everything the reader wants to know about the life of ‘The Father of the Sensation Novel’ Wilkie Collins. He was born William Wilkie Collins to a well known painter father William Collins and his mother Harriet Geddes. They called him  Wilkie after his godfather David Wilkie, a Scottish painter.  He stood only 5ft 6ins in life which the author assures us was the average height of nineteenth-century men. He suffered from what today would be called,’rheumatoid arthritis’ but during the Victorian era it was called, ‘gout’ and all the best men suffered from it! This gout was genetically passed down to him by his father and would spread throughout his body including a later eye and vision problem. He physically took after his mother’s side of the family being short, dark featured and stout of body!  

Wilkie Collins wrote 12 novels, 2 plays, and 4 short stories during his lifetime. The stand-out theme in all his novels was the need to keep and hide a secret no matter the circumstances even the threat of death and murder.  ‘A Life of Sensation’ lays out for us the reasons why Wilkie Collins keeps secrets in the guise of two mistresses:  Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd by which he had a son named William Charles Collins Dawson.  

‘Nothing in this world is hidden for ever. The gold which had laid for centuries unsuspected on the ground, reveals itself one day on the surface. Sand turns traitor, and betrays the footstep that has passed over it, water gives back to the tell-tale surface the body that has been drowned. Fire itself leaves the confession, in ashes, of the substance consumed in it. Hate breaks its prison secrecy in the thoughts, through the doorway of the eyes; and Love finds the Judas who betrays it with a kiss. Look where we will, the inevitable law of revelation is one of the laws of nature: the lasting preservation of a secret is a miracle which the world has never yet seen.’  No Name, first scene, Chapter 4, opening quote in Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett

Andrew Lycett juxtaposes the life events of Wilkie Collins to his themes of every one of his novels including how they relate to storyline, characters and plot. It was so enjoyable for me to read an event in Wilkie’s life and then find out how it would transpose itself into one of his novels! For example, publicly Wilkie Collins lived the life of a true gentleman performing the plays he co-wrote with Charles Dickens even before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves. However, under the surface his secret life contained a true Bohemian lifestyle with similar artistic friends from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This could be a main reason  as to why Collins would never marry, choosing to live as man and wife with his first mistress, Caroline Graves and her son from her first marriage becoming widowed then meeting Collins soon afterwards. After ten years of bohemian bliss, she up and married a younger man and Collins attended but Dickens was away lecturing and sent a note afterwards upon his return!  His mate Wilkie filled him in I’m sure! It was while researching his novel, Armadale that Wilkie would meet his second and final love, Martha Rudd with whom he had three children. He kept two separate households living between the two. Author, Andrew Lycett explains how Collins and Caroline Graves maintained a friendship even after her marriage and he paid for various expenses until his death. 

Wilkie Collins was given the name, ‘Father of the Sensation Novel’ during his lifetime because around 1852 with the publication of his novel, ‘Basil’ he wanted to stir his readers and make them contemplate perception and the relationship between sensation, thoughts, and visions.  He wanted his readers to feel something physically and literally which I believe he has. Especially, with his two most popular works, ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘The Moonstone’.  

To me when I think of Wilkie Collins I think of him in terms of encapsulating every aspect of a Gothic writer. I would put him with Edgar Allan Poe and Daphne Du Maurier anyday!  It was interesting to learn that Collins is considered today by many to have started the detective novel  when he wrote The Moonstone. It is still used today as the template for a detective novel.  For Collins, he believed that it was Edgar Allan Poe who wrote detective and sensation novels first not himself and that he copied him! Either way, it is good to remember that when it comes to the British crime fiction of today it started with Poe and Collins long before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published Sherlock Holmes!

I just love this illustration of The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins. It could easily be himself with Caroline Graves. It was featured in The Graphic on 3 October, 1874. 

I highly recommend Wilkie Collins A Life of Sensation to everyone interested in discovering the man behind the mask of 'The Father of the Sensation Novel'.  You won't be disappointed. The entire biography is painfully researched and written with such love, respect and admiration for Wilkie Collins that I truly hope you all enjoy it!  The photographs and portrait paintings included are beautiful as well.  

Thank you to Hutchinson a division of Random House UK for providing me with a free copy. As soon as it is published in the United States I will let you know.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation by Andrew Lycett

I am currently reading, 'Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation' by Andrew Lycett. Just a quick update to let you know that you can expect a full review along with photographs and paintings of Wilkie Collins, his family members and friends including Charles Dickens and various Pre-Raphaelite friends!  I am very excited to meet Mr. Collins and find out more about his life as a man and perhaps the best Victorian era writer of all things Gothic! This is the man who wrote, 'The Woman in White' and 'Moonstone' after all!


1868, and bestselling author Wilkie Collins is hard at work on a new detective novel, The Moonstone. But he is weighed down by a mountain of problems – his own sickness, the death of his mother, and, most pressing, the announcement by his live-in mistress that she has tired of his relationship with another woman and intends to marry someone else. His solution is to increase his industrial intake of opium and knuckle down to writing the book T. S. Eliot called the ‘greatest’ English detective novel.

Of Wilkie’s domestic difficulties, not a word to the outside world: indeed, like his great friend Charles Dickens, he took pains to keep secret any detail of his ménage. There’s no doubt that the arrangement was unusual and, for Wilkie, precarious, particularly since his own books focused on uncovering such deeply held family secrets. Indeed, he was the master of the Victorian sensation novel, fiction that left readers on the edge of their seats as mysteries and revelations abounded.

In this colourful investigative portrait, Andrew Lycett draws Wilkie Collins out from the shadow of Charles Dickens. Wilkie is revealed as a brilliant, witty, friendly, contrary and sensual man, deeply committed to his work. Here he is given his rightful place at the centre of the literary, artistic and historical movements of his age.

Part biography, part history, part intimate family saga, Wilkie Collins brings to life one of England's greatest writers against the backdrop of Victorian London and all its complexities. It is a truly sensational story.

UK Hardcover, 544 pages
Published September 12th 2013 by Hutchinson
Thank you to Random House UK for my complimentary book in exchange for  a fair and accurate review. Although, 'Wilkie Collins: A Life of Sensation' is already out in the United Kingdom, it is yet to be released in U.S. hardcover.  
 Lastly, I have seen the movie The Invisible Woman about the relationship between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan played by Ralph Fiennes and Felicity Jones based upon the book of the same name by Claire Tomalin. Wilkie Collins is included in this movie and some aspects of his life are depicted as well. I will be giving my review of this movie soon as well!  

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