Sunday, February 22, 2015

Currently Running Play: The Countess by Gregory Murphy

Just a quick post for anyone in the United States, specifically North Carolina, interested in The Pre-Raphaelites and Effie Gray this might interest you!

“The Countess,” written by Gregory Murphy, explores the nature of art, beauty and truth. Based on actual events, the play follows the story of Effie Ruskin and her husband, famed British art critic John Ruskin, as well as famed Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais, on an 1853 holiday in Scotland. As the stormy Highland weather forces the company inside a cramped cabin, hidden tensions and hypocrisies are exposed, leaving Effie with a difficult choice to make.

A quote from John Ruskin serves as inspiration for the production: “The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see.” University News Appalachian State University

Ticket prices start at just $9 for Appalachian students and $16 for adults. For more information visit, or call the box office at 828-262-4046, or the toll-free number 800-841-ARTS (2787). There will be a talkback conversation with the director, cast and production team immediately following the opening night performance on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

To purchase tickets and or more information,  Appalachian State University

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse Reviewed!

Sussex, 1912. 

In a churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk. Here, where the estuary leads out to the sea, superstitions still hold sway. 

Standing alone is the taxidermist's daughter. At twenty-two, Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house: it contains all that is left of Gifford's once world-famous museum of taxidermy. The stuffed birds that used to grace every parlour are out of fashion, leaving Gifford a disgraced and bitter man. The string of events that led to the museum's closure are never spoken of and an accident has robbed Connie of any memory of those days.

The bell begins to toll and all eyes are fixed on the church. No one sees the gloved hands holding a garotte. As the last notes fade into the dark, a woman lies dead. While the village braces itself against rising waters and the highest tide of the season, Connie struggles to discover who is responsible - and why the incident is causing memories to surface from her own vanished years. Does she know the figure she sees watching from the marshes? Who is the mysterious caller that leaves a note without being seen? And what is the secret that lies at the heart of Blackthorn House, hidden among the bell jars of her father's workshop?

The Taxidermist's Daughter opens with one of the most chilling, gripping, and eerily written prologues I've read! Gothicly submlime you could say in every way encompassing a crime that opens the story. A woman's corpse gutted with chicken wire is found outside Blackthorn House, where Connie is attempting to stuff a jackdaw (a raven). Can it be the woman nicknamed "Birdie" by villagers?

Blood, Skin, Bone...

You can count on Kate Mosse to give you the Gothic elements of suspense, juxtaposed against the underlying themes of illness, death, mourning, and grief. Loss and grief serve an underlying purpose for father and daughter within the secret they hold. If only Constantia could remember? Tragedy usually triggers a memory loss because it is often too painful to remember. It is the minds way of protecting the body; ones-self from the gutwrenching truth that they just cannot face. Constantia's father is no help; instead of grieving he is lost in alcohol and isolation. In order to help the family, Constantia carries on the family trade of taxidermy; in this case on jackdaws, crows, ravens...creepy stuff in and of itself.  Murders seem to happen around Constantia or is it her memory trapped inside trying to come out? The presence of a handsome stranger coming to town distracts her for a while and brings an even more interesting element to this story.

I knew absolutely nothing about taxidermy when I began reading this novel. I must warn you that the descriptive writing of the cutting into bird skin, blood, guts, feathers, is not for the weak stomached.  How fascinating to have the plot hinged upon such an unusual job by today's standards. However, during the nineteenth-century, taxidermy was considered a skill that one trained for and was a quite normal job to have! I still say, yuck...

As I became engrossed in the storyline, the characters came alive and I so urgently wanted to know this father's secret locked away not so hidden in his workshop. How did Constantia fit in with the secret? Her memory loss was an interesting catalyst for some incredible flashback death scenes.  I couldn't believe taxidermy didn't put me off reading this novel but if anything it compelled me further on. I wanted to learn about taxidermy and if it was so prevalent during the nineteenth century?

A highlight to, 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' is the intricately placed section quotations taken from a taxidermy journal dating back to 1820. The author has done her research and once again shines in her storytelling.  The layers of this tale are gently pulled back as the novel progresses and not every element is predictable. I am such an avid fan of Kate Mosse's writing and how she uses loss and grief as subject matter in her characters and novels that perhaps, she can do no wrong in my eyes. I did not find, 'The Taxidermist's Daughter' slow going in the beginning. I found it different and compelling learning about the father and daughter relationship, the maternal aspect and the presence of taxidermy. I hope anyone who is familiar with her 'Carcassone' trilogy will give The Taxidermist's Daughter a try for a different type of deathly read! 

The Taxidermist's Daughter is not available for purchase in the U.S. yet.
To purchase it in the U.K. it was published in September of 2014,  AmazonUK

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day (I'll Meet You on the Turret Stairs)

‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ is one of the better-known works of Frederic William Burton. The theme comes from a medieval Danish ballad which describes how Hellelil fell in love with Hildebrand, Prince of Engelland, one of her twelve personal guards. Her father orders his seven sons to kill him.

 They stood at the door with spear and shield:
 ‘Up Lord Hildebrand! out and yield!’ 
He kissed me then mine eyes above:-
 ‘Say never my name, thou darling love’ 
Out of the door Lord Hildebrand sprang; 
Around his head the sword he swang. 

Hildebrand kills her father and six brothers before Hellelil intercedes to save the youngest. Hildebrand dies of his wounds and Hellelil herself dies shortly afterwards.

 Burton did not choose a violent episode and instead freely interpreted the story, placing their farewell on the turret stairs and leaving the reason for it to the imagination. His invention of the kiss on the woman's outstretched arm and the lack of eye contact adds to the poignancy of the painting., National Gallery of Ireland

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An Interview with Kris Lundberg discussing her play Muse and Remembering Elizabeth Siddal

On this day in 1862, Mrs. Dante Gabriel Rossetti passed away. Her name was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (25 July 1829 – 11 February 1862) an artist's muse who dreamed of becoming an artist herself and she was well on her way until well we all know how it ended. So,  I wanted to do something different to honor such an enigmatic woman. Besides, the blog biography article with Pre-Raphaelite centered Rossetti Siddal 'Muse' association; I thought of my friend Kris Lundberg and the idea of interviewing her! What better day to post an interview than today? Well, I must explain that I came home from work last night, dog tired when I remembered today's anniversary and thought what could I do differently...So, my wholehearted, complete gratitude to Kris Lundberg for answering my interview questions not only in less than my short not so 24 hour request but her answers are straight from the heart with love and dedication to Lizzie and of course her Gabriel...

Here we go...get ready and wherever you are, Mrs. Rossetti nee Siddal, Lizzie, I hope you have found peace in your heart and are together with your parents and siblings and your Gabriel.  Enough of my rambling on and on...

Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal Resting, Holding a Parasol by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, 1828 - 1882)
Dated 1852-55,  Pen and brown ink with light brown and gray wash 
Private Collection (England) [sold, Christie's, London, December 12, 1992, lot 78] The J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles, California
Dante Gabriel Rossetti sharply foreshortened Elizabeth Siddal's sleeping body, allowing her voluminous skirt to dominate the drawing's foreground while her torso and head, more faintly drawn, recede in the background. Siddal began sitting for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists in 1849, when she was about fifteen. By 1852 she was working exclusively for painter-poet Rossetti and became his lover and his pupil. Rossetti made more than sixty intimate drawings of her in the 1850s, in which she usually appeared in some type of repose.

 Elizabeth Siddal (Mrs. Dante Gabriel Rossetti), c. 1854
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Art Institute Chicago

If you would like to learn more about the romance between Lizzie and Rossetti, A Pre-Raphaelite Tale, Kimberly Eve Musings of a Writer 

Kris Lundberg has spent the past thirteen years advocating for educational advancement of students in New York City using a creative curriculum. 
 As a teacher, she teaches pre K-12 students, in addition to serving as a guest teaching artist at colleges.  As a community leader, Kris has stepped into the shelters and continues to teach her theater workshops to women in need, as well as serving as a mentor to Columbia University students with an interest in theater and education. As an actress, she's worked on the stage and screen and, as a writer, her plays have been produced in New York, London and the Carolinas.  Additionally, she is the author of children's book "Sniffy McSnifferson Meets the Beloved". 
Kris has trained classically with Julian Glover, Bill Homewood and Richard Ryan in London, UK and holds her Bachelor of Science and Professional Licensure in K-12 teaching in Theater Education from East Carolina University in North Carolina. She is a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, The Shakespeare's Society, SAG-AFTRA and the Actors’ Equity Association.  

1)   Elizabeth Siddal is known mainly as the ‘muse’ of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pre-Raphaelite Painter and the man who became her husband. Who is ‘Lizzie’ to you? Why bring her out of the shadows into the light? 

Lizzie a multi-talented, powerhouse of a woman.  Historically, people tend to remember her first as the model for John Millais’ painting “Ophelia” and second as the muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Her story is often told in tow of the Pre-Raphaelite men when she really deserves a playing space of her own.  She certainly is interesting enough.   She seemed talented beyond her years and it’s devastating that she cut her life short when her world was just ahead of her.   The pre-Raphs loved to paint the fallen woman which she played well.  It was also important for me to show the beautiful beacon of light she was and portray a Victorian woman as a symbol of strength.

2)      What inspired you to write, "Muse"? How did it come about?

When I lived in London, I fell in love with Pre-Raphaelite paintings and made frequent visits to the Tate Museum.  The first painting I saw there was of Elizabeth Siddal as “Ophelia”.  It was hauntingly beautiful and I was drawn to who this model was.  I spent years researching the Victorian era, the PRB history and Lizzie’s transition from growing up in the slums to becoming the 19th century’s Kate Moss.  In the Shakespeare’s Sister Company’s inaugural season of The Woolf Series, we premiered a performance reading of the full-length play which had informed a rewrite and focused specifically on the love story between Lizzie and Dante.  I premiered the one-act play at Theater For The New City this past year and am in the process of working on producing the fully developed, full-length production where the audience is introduced to new characters such as Hunt, Millais, Deverell and Mrs. Tozer.  I’m ecstatic to see the type of response this production will get.  It still remains a Victorian  non-fiction drama, but there will some twists which the audience won’t be expecting! 

3)   How did you decide what aspects of Elizabeth Siddal’s life to focus on in your play,   "Muse"?

It’s really tough because, in the one-act, I covered thirteen years of history in a seventy-five minute play.  Due to the excellent coverage in the books and websites of Lucinda Hawksley, Jan Marsh and Stephanie Pina (the Pre-Raph Trinity), I was able to gather what I needed to streamline Lizzie’s life events without major gaps.   Because the play is kind of like a ghost story from Rossetti’s memories of her, we got to see the muse through the artist’s eyes.  The majority of the play focuses on her early years of modeling to her death and ghostly memory.  However, it was really important for me to have Lizzie tell Rossetti about her family life and to show how rough it was for her in the slummier area of Southwark.  To show how her inner talents brought her out of poverty and escalated her to a rich, rewarding life that became larger than life.  Everyone in the Victorian era was enamored by the painting of “Ophelia” and, to this day, it’s such a famous painting that people may not know the name of the model, but they know her inescapable sorrow.  Elizabeth Siddal is one of the most, well-deserved empathized true figures in history who people just seem to love.

4)      In "Muse" you include Lizzie’s trip to France and John Ruskin coming into the frame during her relationship with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Could you talk a bit about about Lizzie’s time in France?

Yes, something which I plan to expand on in the full-length play.  There’s a rich and beautiful history of what happens in France that needs explaining.  Ruskin adored Lizzie and sent her to the South of France to recover from the pneumonia she suffered from posing for “Ophelia”.  While she enjoyed the South of France, this was the first time in her life Lizzie actually had money.  She could afford to go shopping and wanted to dress like the women in Paris.  She never wore corsets, but that didn’t stop her from buying some.  It was also around this time when Lizzie decided to invest in herself as an artist and see if she was really good.  She furthered her education by taking some art classes and perfecting her technique.  She was struggling though.  In a time when she should have been on top of the world, she was neglected by Rossetti who often painted and slept with other women while she was away. 

5)   What would you like to say about Lizzie that you haven’t already said? Do you think she would have been as interesting to Pre-Raphaelite art lovers if not for her connection to Rossetti?

What a great question.  Of course my immediate response is absolutely.  However, in the Victorian times and even to this day, the world still seems to feel more comfortable seeing a dude in driver’s seat.  Traditionally, that’s what we’ve been exposed to and it’s sad.  The rare times we see a woman taking the lead, she’s in some sort of distress needing a man to save her from herself or she’s a cookie cutter representing something evil that accents all of her physical features.  This is why more women are writing and producing to create art that step away from these archetypes and take a risk on creating great stories.  Elizabeth Siddal through her charm and nature, I believe, would have become this interesting, however I don’t think she would have become the iconic figure people see her as today without Rossetti’s endorsement. Rossetti was an incredibly charismatic gent who demanded attention when he entered a room, so for anyone to take their eyes off him to focus on Elizabeth, she has to be that much more captivating.  Historically, he created opportunities for her and introduced her to people.  He also became her mentor.  She in-kind complimented him as well, especially when it came to Ruskin.  They fit each other.  It’s devastating how it all turned out though.  My hope with “Muse” is that people will see this is a love story between artists, but, even more, it’s a tribute to the incredible person Lizzie was.    

 For more information about Actress, Writer, and Playwright,  Kris Lundberg

To discover more about her fabulous play, "Muse" to buy tickets, check out their calendar of events, and or just get involved,  Shakespeare's Sister Company

Sunday, February 8, 2015

My soon to be published Upcoming Reads and Reviews...

Here is just a quick post to give you an idea of what I will be reading and reviewing in the next few months. Nothing too heavy in subject matter just fun reads. I hope you will check them out for yourself and look for upcoming reviews as well.  

The UK release of, 'The Girl in the Photograph' by Kate Riordan is already published. If any of my UK followers and friends have already read it, please comment below and let me know your thoughts. It will soon be published in the U.S. under a different title, 'Fiercombe Manor' on March 17th, 2015.  The cover is equally as pretty. 

The Girl in the Photograph is a haunting and atmospheric novel that tells the tales of women in two different eras – the 1890’s and 1930’s – and how their lives seem to be entwined by fate. Kate Riordan’s novel is a beautifully dark and beguiling tale which will sweep you away. It will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.

Something isn't right.

Someone is watching.

There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth's life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.

Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 15th 2015 by Penguin Books
1405917423 (ISBN13: 9781405917421)
The U.S. Cover and Details:  
I'm getting two different release dates for, 'Fiercombe Manor' February 17, 2015 and March 17, 2015. The latter date might be a mistake. I will keep you posted just in case.
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 17, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062332945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062332943 
 My second choice is a favorite author of mine, Susanna Kearsley. She has used Scotland as part of her storyline again and I cannot wait to read this one! I was lucky enough to get an ARC - review copy, so I can read it before publication date. My review should post on publication date.

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.
Paperback, 528 pages
Expected publication: April 7th 2015 by Sourcebooks Landmark
1492602027 (ISBN13: 9781492602026)

My Review of Arresting Beauty by Heather Cooper

‘Beggars can’t be choosers. They really can’t.’ Based on true historical events,  Arresting Beauty  follows the extraordinary story of Mary ...