Saturday, May 31, 2014

My review of That Summer by Lauren Willig

2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn’t been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six (and gave her nightmares that have lasted into adulthood). But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a Pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house’s shrouded history begins to open…

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur’s collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion. 
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by St. Martin's Press 
I received an early review copy of That Summer by Lauren Willig from St. Martin's Press in exchange for my honest review.  
That Summer is so much more than a 'beach read!' A time-slip novel between 2009 and 1849 where both story lines deal with love, loss, and the beauty of art! In 1849 you have a sad married woman who is no longer appreciated by her husband until her portrait is painted and in 2009 a family home, a family death, unwrap secrets thought long hidden and buried in a wardrobe in the guise of an unidentified portrait!

If you love Pre-Raphaelite art and artists, the love stories of Victorian England and Poetry then you will love That Summer. I could not put it down. I had to keep reading. I finished it in one sitting. Something rare happened; I was able to keep my interest in the characters encompassing both story lines! The dialogues discussing painters such as Rossetti, Millais and their now famous paintings set against a discussion of such Victorian masters as Tennyson and his Mariana and Arthurian tales head is still swimming in romantic imagery!

This is must read for art, literature and romance lovers because the characters are engaging and well thought out. Even though, the plot appears to be obvious, it isn't!  There is much more to both story lines than disappointed love, spurned lovers and family secrets. It is not easy at all to keep the reader's attention and believability in the characters and context of the plot. For me, I was hooked. Give me the rambling family home in the heart of rural England, the large family complete with family dynamics and strife, throw in some poetry, some struggling artists and beautiful women and you have a winner as long as the writing is good. I don't know how Lauren Willig did it, but she has managed to write a novel that I absolutely enjoyed from start to finish.  

I found Julia's relationship with her father honest and touching in its sincerity and strength. I liked Julia very much and could identify with her hard work ethic and yearning for that 'special' relationship and true connection with a man given more to just a one night stand. Will she find her true love and what is the connection she has to Imogen in the 1849 storyline. What does it have to do with paintings and artists?  Oh, you must read That Summer to find out.  

This is intelligent writing with strong family dynamics wielding one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Art, poetry, love and loss are at the heart of That Summer. It will leave you asking questions throughout, thinking you have the answers but when you reach the end, they will not be obvious answers but heartwarming and vivid in nature. 
That Summer by Lauren Willig will be published on June 3rd, 2014 in the U.S. and the U.K. in hardcover and kindle. Links below:

For more information about That Summer from its publication page,  St. Martins Press Macmillan

For more information about the author and her novels,  Lauren Willig

To purchase That Summer in the U.S.,  Amazon  and in the U.K.,  Amazon

Monday, May 26, 2014

Eleonora Giulia Amalia Duse (October 3, 1858-April 21, 1924)

She was superb in Ghosts, and in The Lady from the Sea she was perfection. There is none like her, none!’ Dame Ellen Terry speaking on her friend Eleonora Duse, A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their remarkable families by Michael Holyroyd, Chatto & Windus, Great Britain, 2008

Duse created characters with simplicity-no gesticulating or declaiming. Small and unprepossessing, she had a soft voice but played tortured and betrayed women.” Oscar Wilde speaking about Eleonora Duse, Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius by Barbara Belford, Random House, 2000
Eleonora was born to a traveling troupe of Italian actors called, the Duse-Lagunaz troupe including her parents Alessandro and Angelica Duse who found a room at the Inn of the Golden Cannon where she was born at two in the morning on Sunday, October 3, 1858.  Although, her father, Alessandro longed to be a painter he didn’t pursue that lifestyle; instead, marrying Angelica who was already acting with the troupe throughout Vigevano, Lombardy, Italy. Their first child, a son, died in childbirth leaving Angelica with an ache that never healed. She was very protective of young Eleonora and knew instantly that her daughter had the talent to become an actress. She recognized that spark and told her daughter she was meant to become a great actress one day! 

Five year old Eleonora Duse with her mother Angelica Cappelleto Duse in 1863

At the age of only four, in 1892, Eleonora tottled out on stage as Cossette in Les Miserables. Talk about an acting debut for such a little one. She was frightened but her father held her hand and said comforting words to her. She was expected to cry on cue but didn’t know how to at that age, so someone in the troupe hit her on her legs to make her cry. Her mother said, “Don’t be afraid. You know it’s only pretend.”  A year later and afterwards, through those early troupe years her name appeared on the handbills. The troupe traveled and acted throughout Italian villages even making it to Yugoslavia and Poland acting in such plays as The Count of Monte Cristo.

 Alessandro Duse, Eleanor's father, 1880s

Eleonora’s father, Alessandro, was distant and quiet spending time away from his family while traveling with the acting troupe. It was her mother who shaped the woman she would become as well as the actress. They bonded immediately deepening their mother daughter nurturing instinct. It was during the years when she was twelve years old that her mother began getting sick in and out of hospitals. Sadly, nobody seemed to know what her mother’s illness was.  To deal with her parent’s strained marriage, the pressure of acting and the worry and fear of her sick mother, she lost herself in acting becoming other people thus beginning a cycle of coping mechanisms when her life would become unpredictable.  

I can only suppose that it was this happy childhood memory that Eleonora flashed back to in her mind. It was May of 1873, at the age of 14, that she performed the role of Juliet from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet believing it was meant to be because of a charming story her father told her as a little girl. The story of how her parents met in a rural village near Verona, Italy. Alessandro wrote down in his notebook the first time he saw a dark haired, dark eyed beautiful woman taking care of the flowers in her window box. He wanted to go and talk to her but it took a long while for him to find the courage.  He walked that same path passing her on the road day after day for months until finally he walked up the stairs of her house that lead to the balcony. There he saw her and asked her to marry him. Her name was Angelica Cappelletto. Eleonora thought the name sounded so much like Capulet! Her parents were later married and the rest is family history I suppose! 

Four months later, in September of 1873, Eleanor’s mother was in hospital in Ancona on the Adriatic and Eleanor was in Tuscany when a knocking came at her door. Eleanor remembers, “Mama dead” were the words she read on a telegram. Her mother Angelica Duse died alone in her hospital room and Eleanor fell into grief, “A sound like something was broken in the air a silence, all an emptiness.” Her father grieved alone at the age of fifty-two. He did not understand his daughter’s depression and she had no girlfriends to talk to. She kept her mother’s picture with her always showing it to nobody.  Following Angelica’s death the acting Duse troupe disbanded. Her father acted in minor parts and Eleanor lived nomadically acting in supporting roles sporadically during 1874 to 1878.  

Without her mother she now truly felt alone. She had nobody waiting for her after her performances, nobody sought her company out and nobody wanted her or so she thought. She began acting again with the Ciotti-Belli-Blanes troupe where she met a director and actor named Giovanni Emmanuel. He was not romantically interested in her but professionally loved the way she acted and performed on stage, “She was an actress who gripped your heart an crushed it as if it were a handkerchief.”  Giovanni asked her to join his theatre production company as a leading actress and leave her acting troupe for good. The problem was she was contracted with the troupe but against her father’s wishes, now an independent adult, she joined Giovanni at his company. The troupe sued Eleonora, a battle which played out in the newspapers. Giovanni’s company countersued the troupe paying them 5,000 lire to be rid of them. All press is good press and in this case it worked in their favor. Eleonora Duse starred in fifteen different repertory plays at Teatro dei Fiorentini, Giovanni’s company in Naples. 


Eleonora Duse undated during her acting years. The photograph reminiscent of Julia Margaret Cameron 

Eleonora Duse played Electra in Oreste by Vittorio Alfieri on April 26, 1879. She wore a revealing tunic made of wool.  When she played Ophelia in Hamlet, she wore her thick dark hair in two braids over her lace collar of her white dress carrying a bouquet of flowers. Using flowers as a prop would become her signature in many of her roles. After Ophelia’s mad scenes during the fourth act, she received five curtain calls. The critics said, “An Electra to be sculpted. An Ophelia to be painted.”  Later that year, she was in Paris, France, to act in Alexandre Dumas’ Le Demi-Monde. She played Marcelle, an innocent young girl who after being dumped by her husband became a prostitute searching for another husband. This was the belief in French society since there were no divorce laws. For the author and playwright, Dumas wrote this pay after having an affair with a courtesan. According to Eleonora’s first biographer, Olga Signorelli, “Eleonora herself was also pure and virginal at this time.” Indeed, she was portraying a very sexualized prostitute and fighting off overly amorous young men at the stage door looking for a conquest.

Life was about to imitate art for Eleonora in meeting her first real female friend, Matilde Serao. She wrote stories and articles for local newspapers and worked in a telegraph office in Naples. Back in Italy, Matilde was very outgoing, very sexual and dated a lot. She took Eleonora out on the town and became her confidante. They had lots in common and it would be Matilde who would introduce Eleonora to the man who would become her first lover and husband, Martino Cafiero. She was just twenty years old and he was twenty years older than she. He was considered unattractive, with a receding hairline, bushy eyebrows, a sharp nose and a thick mustache. He worked for a local newspaper with Matilde where he organized concerts, festivals. 

Now no longer the doomed Desdemona she starred in Emile Zola’s new play Therese Raquin, adapted from his earlier novel.  It was July 1879 and Eleonora Duse was a hit according to critics starring as Therese in Zola’s play. Sadly, happiness was to come to an end for the actress known simply as Duse. Becoming pregnant with her lovers child, the acting company sponsoring the play fell into bankruptcy and Eleanor left Naples after her lover Cafiero told her he did not want to marry her. She begged and pleaded with him still deeply in love and carrying his child, “Save me from this frightening enemy that follows me and oppresses me. Save me from the solitude of my silent room.” She went to the town of Turin, in Italy still pregnant, showing, and still acting. She wrote letter upon letter to him all of which he ignored. It is said that Duse contemplated suicide as her baby moved inside her. With her pregnancy progressing she longed for her Martino asking herself 'is this what love truly is?'

They say God moves in mysterious ways well he sent an angel to Duse in the form of her long lost father, Alessandro. He saw her walking to the theatre, held his hands on his head and said, “So it’s true.” As her father he could have contacted Martino and demanded he do right by her and marry her but of course he didn’t. He did nothing. He asked her how many months she was and she answered seven. Later that month he moved to Pisa with a touring group. Eleanor was again left alone; another form of abandonment weaving a thread through her life but what did the fates exactly have in mind for her? It is not known exactly when but soon after she suffered a miscarriage. While recuperating and being looked after by her friend Matilde, she received a visit from Martino who wanted to have sex with her. She refused him and he left in a rage.  Abandoned by her father and her former lover, she suffered the same maternal loss and pain as her mother; the loss of a son. As she lay in bed she pressed two tiny rose leaves close to her heart taken from the ground where her son was buried. She kept them in a gold locket she wore underneath her dress along with a photograph of her mother. 

Tebaldo Checchi, husband of Eleonora Duse

By 1880 her health is recovered and she is back acting. Her father keeps tabs on her from afar. It is while acting with The Rossi Company that she meets fellow actor, Tebaldo Checchi. He courts her and they marry on September 7, 1881. She is already five months pregnant with their daughter, Enrichetta. He truly loves her but admits to having some sorrow for her previous treatment by Martino. He is never away from her side and loves her completely. For it is four months later on January 7, 1882, in Turin, Duse gives birth to Enrichetta. She writes her father, “It is today that I had my Enrichetta. At the moment I’m writing you the little one has left with her father for a small town nearby. Everything went well. I’m writing you from bed but I feel fine. My Enrichetta is darling and healthy as a flower and is my benediction-I ask your benediction-I asked her Grandmother Enrichetta to bless her and she did.” 
Eleonora Duse with her daughter, Enrichetta 1887

 As with any tale, nothing good lasts forever and in the case of Eleonora’s marriage their dynamic as a couple changed. They acted as the years went on, they doted on their daughter but Checchi travelled a lot and was rarely home. She acted all the time and he would not let her rest for long.  It was a accepted marriage by the end of it. She was bitter and neglected by him sexually, he was having open affairs and she finally snapped splitting from him upon finding him in bed with a fellow actress. She wanted him sexually but he for whatever reason no longer desired her once she had their child.  This is quite common now but during the nineteenth century was not discussed or was looked upon as solely the woman’s fault. 

 Eleonora Duse in Venice, Italy, 1894. Guiseppe Primoli photograph

Duse created her own company with actor, Flavio Ando, named compagnia della Citta di Roma. She had an affair with Arrigio Boito, a playwright. She and her daughter lived in Venice and over the years, she gained much recognition and was making a lot of money for the time. By 1892, she toured in major cities, such as New York and London. She met Gabriele d’Annunzio a poet and playwright in 1895 where she would perform one of her most well known roles as ‘La Citta morta’ The Dead City. When they broke up, he wrote a scandalous account of their relationship called The Flame il fuoco causing a great scandal. This did not affect her acting in any way although, it did start a rivalry with actress Sarah Bernhardt. In 1909 Duse retired. She was 46 and wanted to focus on her health and her daughter. 
During her retirement she took time off to co-write and star in a silent Italian film, ‘Cenere’ (Ashes) by Febo Mari in 1916. She played Rosario Derios an unmarried woman in a small village whose lover abandons her before the birth of their son. She gives full possession of her son to her one time lover believing she will not be able to take care of him. She gives the boy a sacred amulet before he leaves and when he grows up he tries to locate her haunted by her absence. 

It was not until 1921 that Eleanora Duse stepped onto a stage at the age of 63. Two years later, in 1923, she toured America with her last touring company.  Her final performance was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 5, 1924 but she took ill after the show.  Eleonora Duse died on April 21, 1924 of pneumonia in her hotel room at Hotel Schenley.

To anyone who wants to watch Eleonora Duse's 1916 silent Italian film it is online,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Circle of Sisters Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin by Judith Flanders

The Macdonald Sisters - Alice, Georgiana, Agnes and Louisa - started life among the ranks of the lower-middle classes, with little prospect of social advancement. But as wives and mothers they made a single family of the poet of Empire, Rudyard Kipling, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, Edward Poynter, President of the Royal Academy, and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. In telling their remarkable story, Judith Flanders displays the fluidity of Victorian society, and explores the life of the family in the nineteenth century. 

 The Macdonald Sisters:  From left: Alice Macdonald Kipling (mother of Rudyard) at 53, 1890; Georgiana Macdonald Burne-Jones, wife of the artist, in 1900 at the age of 60; Louisa Macdonald Baldwin, several years before her death in 1925 at 79 (she was Stanley Baldwin's mother); Agnes Macdonald Poynter in her 50's, sometime in the 1890's (her husband was director of the National Gallery).  Photos courtesy Helen Macdonald/National Portrait Gallery/From "Circle of Sisters"

'They were, in many ways, absentee wives and mothers; they accrued power to themselves by their fragility. They were vortexes around which family life whirled. No one could fail to be aware of them, but it was awareness of an absence, not a presence.'  Judith Flanders, A Circle of Sisters 
 The book cover of A Circle of Sisters is Green Summer by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1868.

Although, I have read two biographies on The Macdonald Sisters, it is this sweet novella about them that I loved most of all. Judith Flanders, retells the chronological life of not only the sisters and their families but includes their famous husbands to be! The presence of artists and the genius of creativity envelops every page. Perhaps, my most favorite aspect of, 'A Circle of Sisters' by Judith Flanders are the quotes of letters by Lady Burne-Jones, her husband Sir Edward Burne-Jones (Ned) and his famous Pre-Raphaelite mates William Morris, John Ruskin Dante Gabriel Rossetti, including Swinburne and The Prinseps.

How I wish I could crawl into the memories held within these pages. Not necessarily go back in time but let the words, the memories of these beautiful artists bring me to their world permanently.  Oh, to walk around the hallway of Rottingdean, Red House, and Kelmscott. To see little May and Jenny Morris tottle about the passages over creaky wooden floorboards disturbing Ned and Topsy in their studios! To see the wives, Georgie, Janey, and Lizzie, huddled together, seated in the kitchen or living room in their long dresses listening, talking, sewing catching up on their lives and how their rambunctious husbands are annoying them!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sotheby's 19th Century European Art: Paintings on View!

Sotheby's New York City location

May 9th, 2014 is the auction at Sotheby's for the Paintings of 19th Century European Art. I'm not going to the auction but I did stop by during viewing hours to cast my eyes upon some favorite paintings included in the lot. When you walk in, you are greeted by a uniformed employee at a desk available to direct you to various open galleries and answer questions. The exhibit I wanted to see was on the sixth floor. Up the escalators I went until I was surrounded by such beauty and grandeur. I didn't know where to look first. As I walked around, I could hear an auction going on down below as  a strong male voice shouted out large sums of money!!  It was a fantastic feeling. 

My eyes first settled upon one of Walter Crane's beauties...I immediately recognized it and walked right over with my trusty iphone at the ready. I did ask one of the employees if photography was allowed and they said yes!  Hurrah...I will share my photos here with you and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them and viewing them up close and personal.  

Morn, Noon, Eve, Night by Walter Crane, 1891

I went with the intent to see two paintings in particular:  J.W. Waterhouse's Fair Rosamund, 1916 and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Collector of paintings at the time of Augustus, 1867

  Fair Rosamund herself! 

 I took a close-up of Waterhouse's signature on the far right, dated 1916.

 Collector of paintings at the time of Augustus. Canvas by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1867

His signature is on the bottom right but even close-up it is very hard to read. It is amazing to behold, though!

  What happened next left me gobsmacked...truly, I tell you.  I turned left and looked up and from my periphery gazed upon the head of Jane Morris painted as Pandora by Dante Gabriel Rossetti!  What is she doing here, I thought to myself. I didn't know she would be here! I walked up to her as if being pulled by an unknown magnetic force. 

There I am 

standing next 








After these two photos above were taken by a lovely Sotheby's employee, I explained how I didn't realize Pandora would still be here; especially for viewing. She kindly explained that it would be returning to England soon but first it was off to Hong Kong next. I told her how thrilled I was to see it, how I couldn't believe I was gazing upon it. She asked me if I knew the history of the painting and I told her as much as I knew about Rossetti during the time it was painted. She listened intently smiling and when I was done she said that sounded about right!  I was in such a heady state but it is difficult to describe accurately the feeling of being able to take your time actually walking up to the physical painting itself, looking at the details first hand, the frame, the actual size of it. Truly a blessing to behold. I said my goodbye's to Mrs. Morris telling her how lovely it was to see her again as I continued on...

Next, two paintings by Edmund Blair Leighton.  You might not know his name but you definitely love his work. He is best remembered for these two favorites: 

The Accolade (1901)

<---  and 

God Speed (1900)


The two paintings of his that I saw were vastly different in theme and era but they were equally beautiful...

 A Picnic Party by Edmund Blair Leighton, Signed E.B.L. and dated 1921.


Yes or No by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1890

Another gentleman I love that I was fully unprepared to see was John Atkinson Grimshaw.

 A Golden Idyll' by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)



A book review of The Ghost Ship by Kate Mosse

New York Times  bestselling author Kate Mosse returns with  The Ghost Ship , a sweeping historical epic of adventure on the high seas. The B...