Monday, April 27, 2015

Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

On April 18, 1941, twenty-two days after Virginia Woolf went for a walk near her weekend house in Sussex and never returned, her body was reclaimed from the River Ouse. Norah Vincent’s Adeline reimagines the events that brought Woolf to the riverbank, offering us a denouement worthy of its protagonist.

With poetic precision and psychological acuity, Vincent channels Virginia and Leonard Woolf, T. S. and Vivienne Eliot, Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, laying bare their genius and their blind spots, their achievements and their failings, from the inside out. And haunting every page is Adeline, the name given to Virginia Stephen at birth, which becomes the source of Virginia’s greatest consolation, and her greatest torment.

Intellectually and emotionally disarming, Adeline a vibrant portrait of Woolf and her social circle, the storied Bloomsbury group, and a window into the darkness that both inspired and doomed them all. 

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 7, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544470206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544470200

Virginia in her mother's dress published in Vanity Fair in 1924

 And so it would be in her rendering. The shadow play of memory and time, etched, as it was in life, in the dream language of light. The past is here now, she asserts, and I, this manifestation, am in the past. 

Yes, the past, she repeats, and Adeline, who is the girl that she once was, the bright Victorian girl shut behind dark paneled doors with her thirteen, fifteen, eighteen years of life and a Greek lexicon. She is the girl stopped in time who could not speak or feel at the side of her dead mother's bed. She keeps the cold, clear information of those days, unclouded by revision or the lies of age. She is there still, communicating, conjured by this strange Virginia, who is the woman she did not become.

Broken up into five acts, mythical Adeline, the protagonist, takes us through the years of Virignia Woolf's life beginning in the year 1925 including events leading to her suicide in 1941. The protagonist delves us into the troubled psyche of Virignia Woolf plagued with self-doubt as she writes her novels The Waves, The Years, The Voyage Out, to name just a few. Water plays the lead role, both symbolically and metaphorically, washing over both Adeline and Virginia as her life progresses through a series of life altering family events. We meet Virginia in a bathtub at the opening of the novel, her childhood memories in Cornwall at Talland House focus upon a lighthouse lead explanation into Virginia Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse.  

Leonard Woolf plays a key part as husband, friend, and creative partner to Mrs. Woolf. We meet them both early on and Norah Vincent brings them both lovingly and beautifully to life. I learned that he was a Cambridge Apostle as was Alfred, Lord Tennyson before him. I didn't know that about Leonard and I just love discovering new aspects of people's lives. We will meet 'Nessa' as Adeline calls her, how important their sisterly bond and relationship became to Virginia; almost as if she were an anchor keeping her afloat. Some other family members appear as the years progress. 

I truly loved the references to Julia (Prinsep) Stephen throughout the novel as well as the meeting of Virginia's father, Leslie who takes a pretty big role in the novel. True to form in personality and tone in relationship, author, Norah Vincent has done her research and kept the important familial characteristics in tact. 

The writing is stellar. Metaphorically driven but written with compassion and ardor, you will begin to empathize with Virginia Woolf in her struggles both creatively, domestically, familialy and within the publishing circle. The Bloombury Group are here as well in full chaotic glory!  They bring their nuances and indiscretions with them! 

If it is a bit of chaotic fun you seek, dear reader, wait until you read the chapters covering Vita Sackville-West and her sexual relationship with Viriginia Woolf!  As Adeline shines light on Virginia's thoughts, well, some surprises abound, and some laughter as well.  

Sadly, we know how the novel ends but Norah Vincent tackles it with passionate reverence sharing with the readers perhaps, her perspective on those twenty-four hours in 1941 when Mrs. Woolf left this earth.  

I truly enjoyed Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent for attempting to respectfully give a different perspective on the end of the life of a true literary great.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Meeting Lynn Truss talking Cat Out of Hell, Tennyson's Gift, and a certain Mrs. Cameron!

Upon the U.S. publication of Cat out of Hell by Lynn Truss last month, I finally got a rare chance to meet her and have a brief chat with her about her novels, a certain Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron. Her current novel, Cat out of Hell is a Gothic take on a story of a cat's nine lives and each interaction with its human (owner). Lynn, brilliantly, writes from the cat's perspective telling each life's story to his human and then switches chapters from the human character perspective who can't believe their 'pet' cat is speaking to them in English!  It is hilarious. However, there is a dark undertone on a serious note about death and grief but overall highly recommended.

I was one of a very small crowd sitting inside an Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC, Barnes and Noble, listening to Lynn Truss read a chapter or two from, 'Cat out of Hell' while taking a few questions. I knew right away I was one of the only people who knew who she was or who has read any of her previous novels. You see, in farness, Ms. Truss, has not been published here in ten years so Cat out of Hell is a pretty big deal. 

I had one surprise up my sleeve however. Tucked in my bag was the above book along with my paperback of my favorite farce novel, 'Tennyson's Gift' that I read back in 2011. It has not been published in the U.S. yet. As members of the crowd began to ask her questions, about why the cat perspective, why its tagged 'gothic' etc., it was my turn. I asked her a question related to Cat out of Hell asking her is she could speak a bit about the underlying tone of grief which she did. Then, I asked her about, 'Tennyson's Gift'!  You should have seen the surprised smile cross her face. I briefly told her how much I love it and how did she come to write it and research it etc.  She was very obliging, very intelligent and witty. 
 Lynn's inscription inside my above copy of Tennyson's Gift:  "For Kimberly, Have a wonderful trip to Freshwater! much love, Lynn Truss

As she began to answer my question, I was trying to hard to concentrate but my brain kept shouting, 'Lynn Truss is talking to you about Tennyson and Cameron! OMG!  Stop fan girling out!!  Too late!    Basically, she explained how she was vacationing on the Isle of Wight when during her research she was intrigued by the friendship between Tennyson and Cameron and wrote, Tennyson's Gift. Well, at least that's how I remember it at the time. You must understand I was star struck and trying hard to concentrate. Tennyson's Gift was one of the very first novels I read that humanized Tennyson for me and so to meet Lynn Truss in my home town city no less well, words fail. 

So, there we are time to sign books. When it was my time, I told her about my love of researching Cameron and Tennyson, my blog site, my previous review of Tennyson's Gift which she told me she would look up and read. Then I told her how much her novels mean to me, how much I derive from them personally, whether its for escapism or even my own research. I mentioned a friend's book on Julia Margaret Cameron which she did not know, and told her about my upcoming trip to the Isle of Wight which is why she inscribed my book thusly. Overall, she was wonderful to speak with and so grateful to every one who came. There was another woman who knew of her books and was so happy to speak with her but overall it was a very small crowd who had previously only known her for her puntuation book. Hopefully, that will change in the future. 

Here is my review of,  Tennyson's Gift

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My thoughts about The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and The Secret History of Wonderland by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

Following his acclaimed life of Dickens, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst illuminates the tangled history of two lives and two books. Drawing on numerous unpublished sources, he examines in detail the peculiar friendship between the Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the Alice stories, and analyzes how this relationship stirred Carroll’s imagination and influenced the creation of Wonderland. It also explains why Alice in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), took on an unstoppable cultural momentum in the Victorian era, and why one hundred fifty years later they continue to enthrall and delight us.

The Story of Alice reveals Carroll as both an innovator and stodgy traditionalist, entrenched in habits and routines. He had a keen double interest in keeping things moving and keeping them just as they are (in Looking-Glass Land, Alice must run faster and faster to stay in one place). Tracing the development of the Alice books through from their inception in 1865 to Alice’s death in 1934, Douglas-Fairhurst also provides a keyhole through which to observe a larger, shifting cultural landscape: the birth of photography, changing definitions of childhood, murky questions about sex and sexuality, and the relationship between the Alice books and other works of Victorian literature. In the movement from the Victorian to the modern world, he shows, Wonderland became a place in which the line between the actual and the possible could be repeatedly smudged.

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (2 April 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184655862X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846558627
What you will find within these pages is two-fold. Author, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst re-examines the complicated lives of two people Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell. Part of this re-examination is further analysis and opinion into both of Carroll’s works:  Alice in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871). Specifically, Douglas-Fairhurst researches how the cultural phenomenon of these two books has lasted in its fascination with children and adults era upon era.  

You will discover Dodgson’s early years and life before and after becoming author, Lewis Carroll, his taking up photography a full ten years or so before a Julia Margaret Cameron did. His days in Oxford are well documented as is Carroll’s life. While still interesting, the author has not included any surprising or unknown aspects. No big reveals here. You can find the same information in any previous Carroll biography. 

I am glad that the author did not end this duo biography with Dodgson’s death; instead he goes on focusing on interesting aspects of Alice Liddell who marries and becomes a Mrs. Alice Hargreaves, marrying a cricketer named Reginald Hargreaves in 1880. She passed away at the age of 80 in 1932. Some mentions of her travels over the years especially to Columbia University where she received a honorary doctorate degree in 1932, the year of the Lewis Carroll centennial celebrations.  

Personally, I wished there were more emphasis put on Alice Liddell and her friendship with Julia Margaret Cameron where she posed for numerous photographs along with her sisters during the 1860s. There were some passing mentions of those years on the Isle of Wight where The Tennyson’s were name dropped as well. I need to find out more. Other than that, it was a very enjoyable read and I would recommend it to those Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland fans. Just don’t expect too much ‘new’ information.  
 Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves in 1932

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand: A Review!

A tragedy that occurs in a hospital for the insane in Frankfurt, Germany, will have repercussions across decades and eras. Several weeks after the death of a female patient in a terrible fire, the poet Algernon Swinburne follows a mysterious woman through the shadows toward a remarkable event at once enthralling, stimulating, and terrifying beneath the streets of London. Years later, at the start of a new century, a struggling young artist, Radborne Comstock, is introduced to a ravishing beauty who immediately becomes his muse, his desire, and his greatest torment. It is a legacy of pleasure and madness that will be passed down to his grandson, the dilettante actor Valentine Comstock, who is plagued by disturbing and increasingly erotic visions. And in the present day a journalist named Daniel Rowlands is seduced by the bewitching and mercurial Larkin Meade, who holds the key to lost artistic masterpieces, and to secrets too devastating to imagine.

What connects these men -- and others whose grand destinies are to imagine and create -- is one woman. Eternal, unknowable, the very ideal of beauty and desirability, she exists somewhere beyond the boundaries of time, a sensuous dream of flesh and fantasy to inspire or destroy, an immortal lover ... or an angel of death.

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (June 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061051705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061051708

It was as though someone had given him a lens that could miraculously illuminate the sea. Within a green world, prismatic things flickered and flew and spun: rubescent, azure, luminous yellow, the pulsing indigo of a heart's hidden valves. All were so brilliant he could see nothing clearly, yet he sensed-no, he knew-that behind the wall was another world: he could hear it, cries like seabirds, a rhythmic roar of waves. He could smell it, too, an odor so fragrant and rich his mouth filled with sweet liquid. His eyes stung; he blinked back tears, pressed his face against the stone with tongue extended, trying to steal some sweetness from this rock.

What a beautiful novel. Gorgeous incandescent writing spiralling through three storylines spanning two decades and two generations. Two connecting storylines involve mad painters haunted by elusive fey women but are they the same woman? Within this four part novel, you enter into the world of Victorian England just as American born painter Radborne Comstock meets Evienne Upstone a woman who has modeled most recently for some of the painters in the much talked about Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her reputation includes driving fellow painter Jacobus Candell into a state of madness by which there is no return. 

When we meet Radborne's grandson, Valentine Comstock, a half century later, the reader soon discovers the connecting thread between the lives of grandfather and grandson and this theme of erotic dreams of a woman who may or may  not exist if only in their mind. It seems grandfather Radborne painted some very erotic paintings of Evienne that grandson Valentine keeps in his possession much like another young man we meet in another storyline taking place in the current day. For instance, in contemporary London an American writer, Daniel Rowlands is researching the legend of Tristan and Isolde resulting in his meeting Larkin Meade but is she real and does she exist anywhere besides inside his erotic dreams? The reader will have to wait until the end for answers to these artistic questions. 

'Mortal Love' contains traces of the eleventh and twelfth century poem/medieval tale of the tragic love story between knight Tristan and princess Isolde. Author, Elizabeth Hand, deftly incorporates the struggles of artists haunted by the desire to capture the elements of beauty and art within their muses. They become so obsessed that their muses, fey women, lovers, drive them to madness because capturing their essence on canvas is never enough to bring them true peace within themselves.  

I highly recommend 'Mortal Love' to anyone who enjoys painter/muse love story novels. What makes Mortal Love original in context and nature is how Elizabeth Hand weaves fairy tale elements of myth and Celtic lore juxtaposed against an almost science fiction novel. The Victorian England storyline contains real life Pre-Raphaelite poet, Algernon Swinburne whose reputation definitely preceeded him. He was elfin, drunken funny man who comes off likable when he could have easily been a character whom the reader dislikes and feels sorry for.  Also, I loved the mentions of paintings by Sir Edwarde Burne-Jones and poetry excerpts by Yeats and others. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Holy Grail Tapestries on view again! Run don't walk to see them...

Birmingham Museums, UK, will have The Holy Grail Tapestries on display again as part of the Love is Enough: William Morris and Andy Warhol exhibit.  They have been my favorite tapestries ever since I discovered the paintings of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. They are truly beautiful.

Quest for the Holy Grail Tapestries - Panel 1 -  Knights of the Round Table Summoned to the Quest by the Strange Damsel,
By Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, John Henry Dearle, 1898 – 1899

 Quest for the Holy Grail Tapestries -  Panel 2 - The Arming and Departure of the Knights, By Sir Edward Burne-Jones,  William Morris, John Henry Dearle, 1895 – 1896 

 Quest for the Holy Grail Tapestries - Panel 3 -  The Failure of Sir Gawaine; Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine at the Ruined Chapel,  By Sir Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, John Henry Dearle, 1895 – 1896

For more information about this exhibit,  Birmingham Museum 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Downward Spiral of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828-9 April 1882) or Upon the Death of Gabriel

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti by W. & D. Downey
albumen cabinet card, December 1862, NPG

We will never truly know what caused Gabriel’s mental destruction and physical deterioration. Was it a culmination of life experiences, i.e. the death of his wife, Lizzie Siddal, and Jane Morris leaving him ending their love affair? It is with sadness that I look upon the last ten years of his life wondering what happened?  Was he self-medicating to kill his grief and pain over lost loves? He was still painting and writing poetry, shedding light on his mental capacity to harness his creativity.  His friends observed his changing behavior and mannerisms not knowing what to do or how to help their friend. The word ‘madness’ was tossed about, physical incoherency and bouts of paranoia abound. Ex lover, Jane Morris observed, ‘when I found that he was ruining himself with chloral and that I could do nothing to prevent it I left off going to him on account of the children.’  Even though, Jane Morris would remain friends with Gabriel, he needed to always have women around him whether as a muse or to quell his loneliness and insecurities. Enter back in the frame, a woman who never truly left in spirit, Fanny Cornforth. 

We do know that Gabriel tried to fight his dependency on chloral hydrate with treatments consisting of night walking and hypnosis. Nothing helped. He started to believe there were people plotting against him. One surviving story describes Doctor John Marshall removing his testicles making him bed ridden for two months and convalescing at a seaside resort in Herne Bay. His mother and sister Christina stayed for twelve weeks in support. The sad thing is Gabriel’s Pre-Raphaelite circle of artist friends remained in his life even after his numerous attempts to push them away and isolate himself; a direct result of the drugs. He surrounded himself with his close friend Frederick Shield and G.F. Watts, Fanny Cornforth and his own family members. 

 Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
Fanny Cornforth and William Michael Rossetti (1863)

By 1879, Gabriel’s melancholy and drug dependency worsened and caused an overdose in October causing Fanny Cornforth to withdraw from him becoming involved with John Scott a recent widower. Thomas Hall Caine described Gabriel’s appearance, ‘corpulent body, full round face deathly pale, large black eyes, massive forehead, thinning hair and grey streaked beard with a weak and shaky gait’. He was only fifty-one years old but appeared much older. As if this were not enough, artistically, the demand for Rossetti’s paintings fell as his income dwindled. 

By the summer of 1881, Fanny Cornforth appeared back in Gabriel’s life, still addicted to chloral and he spent the night train’s journey to London discussing his remorse over Lizzie’s death and the opening of her grave. Even with a new publication of his poems and a sale of his largest painting to public collection, his brother observed, ‘no scintilla of pleasure or cheerfulness seemed to come from this double achievement; the curtains were drawn round his innermost self and the dusk was fast darkening into night.’ Instead of being treated with chloral he was now taking morphine resulting in opium dreams. William Bell Scott recorded a visit to Rossetti where he, ‘found him half dressed, twisted up on the sofa and attended by Fanny, emaciated and worn out. This is evidently the result of anxiety and deranged sensibility about the exhibition of his picture at Liverpool and his volume coming out at the same moment.’ Medically, today Dante Gabriel Rossetti would be diagnosed with renal failure, the malfunctioning of his kidneys slowly poisoning him. 
 W. B. Scott, John Ruskin, and D. G. Rossetti by William A. Downey
June 29, 1863, Albumen Print, NPG

Around February 1882, John Seddon, architect friend of Gabriel’s offered him a bungalow at Birchington on the Kent coast and along with Hall Caine, his mother, his brother William Michael, his nurse, and his sister Christina, he arrived. 
 The Rossetti familyby Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
albumen print, 7 October 186, NPG
 The Rossetti Bungalow where Dante Gabriel Rossetti passed away, 1910 photograph
Birchington-On-Sea, Kent, England

Diary entry 10 April, 1882, by his brother William Michael Rossetti from the bungalow, Birchington-on-Sea, Kent, England, the day after his brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti passed away, 

“Went in to Gabriel soon afterwards, and sat with him a considerable while the nurse Mrs. Abrey in and out of the room. His complexion was much more natural and less livid then the previous day, but the lips not a good colour; less wheezing than on Friday, and not more than on Saturday; eyes somewhat clearer. He talked but little at any time of the day. Did not seem extremely melancholy, but languid, and not roused to any serious effort of attention; utterance indistinct (same on two previous days). He said twice during the day to me, “I believe I shall die to-night,’ in a calm voice, not emotional. Also said, ‘Yesterday I wished to die, but to-day I must confess that I do not.’ I replied that he ought not to wish to die, but rather to continue working with energy, and producing fine things. Every now and then he would sit up and forward on the bed, and sometimes nurse rubbed his back with a circling motion of the hand. I was in and out of the room various times, with Leyland once or twice. Went up on the roof with Caine, to remedy the flapping of a tarpaulin which lay along there, being part of an awning which Martin had on previous day erected outside Gabriel’s window. I asked more than once to read to Gabriel (intending to propose Ecclesiastes), but he did not wish it; said, ‘Perhaps later.’ Towards 5 I assisted nurse to put on his loins a large linseed and mustard poultice, and his drawers were put on at same time both processes much against his will, as he disliked and dreaded the heat in bed. He often demanded to have both off; but this was wrong, and could not be granted. Nurse and I both reasoned with and coaxed him on the subject. I was called to dinner towards 7; and, lingering afterwards in talk with friends, did not re-enter Gabriel’s room till (say) 10 minutes to 9 my mother, Watts, and nurse, then with him. The poultice had by that time been renewed, but I was not aware of the fact.  He was drowsy, and not taking any particular part in what was going on. My mother having said that she was to leave the room at 10, and Christina to succeed her through the night, I said I would come at 10, and stay till 2, and then Christina could succeed me; and meanwhile I would lie down till 10. Entered drawing room just about 9, lay down on sofa, and pretty soon dozed. Was roused towards 9.20 by Shields rushing into the room, and loudly summoning me to come at once to Gabriel. Found him with head leaning over towards right, eyes starting but nearly closed, mouth open and twitching. He drew hard breaths at intervals. Shields ran for Dr. Harris, who came in towards 9:30. On entering he replied to our enquiries that Gabriel was still alive. He then proceeded to use the stethoscope, but it did not give the indication of breathing, and Harris pronounced Gabriel dead. Gabriel had, just before Shields entered the drawing-room for me, given two violent cries, and had a convulsive fit, very sharp and distorting the face, followed by collapse. All this passed without my personal cognizance. He died 9.31 p.m.; the others Watts, mother, Christina, and nurse, in room; Caine and Shields in and out; Watts at Gabriel’s right side, partly supporting him.”  -- William Michael Rossetti continues, “To these details painful to write, to remember, and to transcribe I am only disposed to add that on the evening of Good Friday my brother had, under the guidance of Mr. Watts, made his will, and I fancy he had never done the like before. He left all his property in equal shared between Christina and myself. Christina, being at once apprised of this, absolutely refused to have her name, rather than that of our mother, in the will. As to any money details arising out of the will, I limit myself to saying that, after paying off my brother’s debts and after the sales of his household and decorative effects and of his remaining works of art, there was a substantial sum divisible between the legatees. Two exhibitions of his paintings and designs, covering the whole of his career, were held, but not under the control of the family; one being at the Royal Academy’s winter exhibition of 1883, and the other at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in the same year; there was a third, a private speculation, called the Rossetti Gallery, in Bond Street.”   Dante Gabriel Rossetti His Family Letters with a Memoir By William Michael Rossetti, Volume 1, London, Ellis and Elvey, 1895

SOURCE:   Dante Gabriel Rossetti His Family Letters with a Memoir By William Michael Rossetti, Volume 1, London, Ellis and Elvey, 1895

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...