Friday, September 25, 2015

A review of The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

Know ye not then the Riddling of the Bards?
"Confusion, and illusion, and relation,
Elusion, and occasion, and evasion"?
 -Idylls of the King

The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings-including the legendary Arthur-as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different-the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends-beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 31st 2014 by Sand Hill Review Press 
ISBN 1937818284 (ISBN13: 9781937818289)

The Spoils of Avalon is a different type of historical mystery covering two separate eras with chapters jumping from sixteenth century Arthurian themed Tudor England to nineteenth century Victorian England. The difference lies in the use of dual narrators and main characters, real life artistic figures John Singer Sargent and his friend author Violet Paget.

Who could have ever imagined that the arrival of a letter could set into place a complex faith driven murder mystery that Sargent and Paget are determined to solve. In order to do this they must leave London for the north of England, to visit the letter’s author, her uncle, Mr. Crickley, a clergyman. His letter mentions an interesting find he has made but they will never know more than that for when they arrive he is found dead. Or was he murdered for what he has discovered?

The mystery unfolds between alternating chapters taking the reader on a spiritual and faith based journey where moral questions lie behind every corner and within every hand written scroll and ink well dipped pen to paper. The reader will be taken to the world of the legendary King Arthur involving holy relics during the dissolution of the monasteries and the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey by Henry VIIIs Tudor England. Also present is the brilliant use of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea who traveled to England after the death of Jesus Christ. You will meet Thomas Cromwell, so hold on to your hats my friends.

Come on this very different adventure. It will keep you guessing and wanting to read on.  I enjoyed the presence of the artists taking the lead to help solve this mystery. I thought it was a very good touch. The Spoils of Avalon is different but it is mostly Arthurian based where the sixteenth century storyline does take precedence. It is very religious in subtext and if you are more interested in the Victorian 1877 storyline, there aren’t that many chapters focused in the nineteenth century because the focus drifts back to the legend of King Arthur and the reasons for the uncle’s murder connected to Victorian England. I did enjoy very much the chapter headings of quotations taken largely from Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. 
If you live in the U.S., Amazon  and if you live in the U.K,  Amazon UK

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Photographs I found of Dimbola Lodge with The Camerons and Alfred, Lord Tennyson!

 Our dear Freshwater home by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (British, 1852-1911), Albumen silver print, 1875, Getty Museum,
 Los Angeles, CA, USA 

I couldn't believe I was looking at this photograph when I found it but it was taken by one of Julia Margaret Cameron's son's, Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, so it makes sense. However, another shocker, why has it not been shared online or on any JMC or Tennyson sites?  

Take a closer look at this photograph if you can...there are four people in it...two I can make out clearly enough as the pioneering photographer herself, Mrs.Cameron or Julia Margaret Cameron sitting in the window center upper floor. Can you see a woman's face wearing a shawl?  Well, there she is...Hard to see I know but to me its her!

 Perhaps, another of her son's photographs will help you,
Julia Margaret Cameron by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (later The Cameron Studio)
albumen print, circa 1873
Also, take a look to the right of the photograph, a long haired silver maned gentleman seated is Julia's husband, Charles Hay Cameron. I cannot make out who the the couple standing behind him are? However, that is Charles! 

It looks to be the back of Dimbola Lodge, is that their garden Charles is sitting next to? I noticed the stairs and balcony behind them or is that a deck? I don't think so. I think its the balcony where Julia used to stand to watch people walk by and where she would find her sitters. It's fun to speculate! 

 Charles Hay Cameron by Julia Margaret Cameron

 Now, I have also come across one photograph of Alfred Lord Tennyson and one painting of him. Sadly, I don't have any information to provide, so if anyone else knows about the painting, please let me know! 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson photographed by H.H. Cameron 
Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (British, 1852-1911)
Son of Julia Margaret Cameron 

 This is a painting of Lord Tennyson, no year provided, 
The painter is 'believed' to have been 
W.M. Chase, N.A. 
The whereabouts of this painting is unknown 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dimbola Lodge home of Julia Margaret Cameron in photographs

Julia Margaret Cameron with her two sons Charles and Henry (1859)
Photograph taken by Lewis Carroll

In 1859, Julia Margaret Cameron was holidaying with her three sons on the Isle of Wight while her husband Charles Hay Cameron was back home in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Julia Margaret liked what she saw of the Isle of Wight so much that she wrote this back home in a letter to her husband, 

This island might equal your island  now for richness of effects. The downs are covered with golden gorse & beneath them the blue hyacinth is so thickly opened that the valleys look as if the 'sky were upbreaking thro' the Earth...The trees too are luxuriant here - far more flourishing than they usually are by the sea - And Alfred Tennyson's wood may satisfy any forester.

 One of the few published and surviving photogrpahs of the home of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, 1871, unknown photographer, private collection. 

 Let us walk on past the great cedar to the little green door which opens into the lane near the bridge. Tennyson passed this way very often to Dimbola, the house of his restless friend and neighbor, Mrs. Cameron, which stands by the roadside some half the way from Farringford to the sea. In the days between 1860 and 1878 when the Camerons left for Ceylon, Mrs. Cameron was almost as famous and well-known a figure in Freshwater as Tennyson himself. 

Around October of 1860 Mr. and Mrs. Cameron met a sailor and lodging-house keeper named Jacob Long who sold them two cottages. One they named Dimbola, after one of their coffee estates in Ceylon and the other one was named Sunnyside. They joined a center tower in the middle of the front of the house together on either side of it and the single house was then referred to as, Dimbola Lodge. This new home adjoined the property of Alfred Tennyson at the time and Tennyson cleared some trees that were in the way in order to make a road that reached down to the sea.

I wanted to provide a brief background of Dimbola Lodge in order to excitedly share with you here photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron's house, Dimbola Lodge, dating from 1913, taken by photogapher, Alvin Langdon Coburn. 

Here is my photograph above taken July 2015. You can see the center tower now the main entrance to Dimbola Lodge sign and blue plaque over the door. It is now a museum. Also, look in the 1913 photograph to the right of the tower between the two houses to the right is a small archway door that is now the main entrance to a local bookshop called Cameron Books. You can see the same archway in my photograph still there today. The only thing different is the wooden balcony above. Quite possibly the balcony where Mrs. Cameron stood to people watch and find her latest sitters!

 This is the right side of the house passed the center tower which today is the main entrance into Dimbola

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Search of Tennyson on the Isle of Wight: A Gathering of Friends

Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
  Dimbola Lodge, home of Julia Margaret Cameron, The front view

My first stop during my stay on the Isle of Wight, was to visit Dimbola Lodge; the home of nineteenth-century photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. It is an operating museum free of charge with a lovely café. It is located right off the main motorway with a view of Freshwater Bay. You can walk down to the water where you can enjoy the beach, surf or just sit and enjoy the view. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Dimbola several times during my stay. The first time, I remember simply walking up the front door steps, walking in, nodding hello to the woman at the small wooden front desk to the right of the entryway, the left was the café. No money required, I walked up the stained oak staircase complete with framed copies of Julia Margaret Cameron photographs on the walls. There is only the top floor to walk through. It has a sign outside Mrs. Cameron’s bedroom decorated in her style the way it was during her years she lived there 1860-1875.

Julia Margaret Cameron's bedroom
 As I walked further down the hall, I passed glass enclosed cases filled with some faded bits of original William Morris wallpaper that lined the walls of her bedroom. Still there were tiny glass bottles with chemical names on faded yellow labels which were the photographic chemicals she used to develop her wet collodion glass plate negative process as well as one glass plate negative image of Annie Chinery who was the wife of Ewen Cameron, Mrs. Cameron’s son. The next room was sunlit by one window with a standing sliding box camera; a copy of the camera Mrs. Cameron worked with. Still it was a fascinating experience to walk through this house. The creaking wooden floorboards, no other upstairs room is furnished in replica and the upper space seems to be presently used to line the walls with copy photographs by Mrs. Cameron. Two or three originals are housed under a glass stand.  You can walk through the home in under a half an hour without taking part in a guided tour. Although, I seemed to visit on days when there was no guide available which disappointed me. However, later in the week, I attended a party at Redoubt House next door to Dimbola Lodge, which happens to be the former house of the Keown Family; former friends and photographic sitters to Julia Margaret Cameron. There I was visiting my two friends who invited me to their home to attend a terrific weekend party where it turned out I met fellow friends whom I had been speaking with for years on social media. I chatted, sat and talked with a few lovely ladies from The Tennyson Society and then met a lovely man who volunteered at Dimbola. So, on my next visit to the house, I met him for lunch at the Dimbola Café along with two other terrific and fun gentlemen. During my ploughman’s lunch, after much conversation and laughter, I was excused from the table where I had the shock and privilege of my life! He shall remain nameless, here, but suffice it to say, I was shown a cabinet full of original Julia Margaret Cameron albumen prints! They are in a locked room inside Dimbola Lodge but I was let in with a key and permission. So, eternal thanks to you sir.

 Farringford House, front view from the driveway

Next visit included the home of my love, Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) where at Farringford House, he lived (1853-1892) with his wife and two sons Hallam and Lionel Tennyson. Again, I repeat myself, to say the unexplainable feeling to be standing in front of a home you have read and researched for several years. I strive and seek to discover a more personal side to the poet laureate; here I was standing on the house grounds. Farringford House is currently under construction/re-development and is being restored to its original nineteenth-century glory when The Tennyson’s lived there. It was a  beautiful sunny day as I walked freely around the house taking photographs as I tried in my head to find the various windows and doors where Lady Emily Tennyson would be pushed outside in her push chair by her husband and sons during her weaker and frail years. Was that the windows of Alfred’s library? Was that the kitchen, the back garden perhaps? There was so much scaffolding and workmen running in and out of the main front door, I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to scream out to them, ‘do you have any idea where you are? Do you understand the importance of this property, this home? What this building represents not just historically but personally? The poetry written there, the dinner parties housed there? The times when Alfred would carry his newborn sons up and down the stairs of the main floor while Emily rested?’ Oh, I was gutted every time that front door opened just a crack and I saw these men able to go in and out with such ease! Well, anyway, it was another breathtaking moment. For I could visualize in my mind, the boys standing and posing outside by the front white columns waiting for photographer friend, Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1875) to capture history in the making. I had to do it. I stood at the white column and took a selfie! Alright, a few selfies!  
 Lionel and Hallam Tennyson by Oscar Gustave Rejlander, 1862

I visited All Saints’ Church where the graves of Lady Tennyson, her sons, Alfred’s sister Matilda, and grandchildren, Harold Courtenay Tennyson are there. I also found the graves of Henry Thoby Prinsep and his wife Sarah Monckton. It is a beautiful place, very quiet and peaceful with such an interesting church to walk around and visit.

On the advice of my friends, fellow Pre-Raphaelite fans, I was told we should visit a small church that houses stained glass windows by William Morris and Sir Edward Burne-Jones, St. Lawrence Church

I am so grateful that they recommended this church. It is so quaint, so beautiful, and just a beauty to behold. We also made a stop to take a look at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse also located in nearby Ventnor. I can fully understand why this lighthouse was a favorite of Lady Tennyson. It’s on the water and as if the lighthouse wasn’t beautiful enough you have the lush green British hills to look at.
St. Catherine's Lighthouse, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

The Needles, Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight
We drove along the most stunning scenic roads one including the military road that takes you to a gorgeous upper cliff view of The Needles. I wanted to see The Needles so very badly. They are simply nature born chalk stacks jutting out of the bay but for me, I had to see them with my own eyes. Another connection to Tennyson and a better understanding as to why he fell in love with Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight.

 A part of Carisbrooke Castle

On my itinerary was a day outing with those party friends that live near Dimbola who very generously offered to visit Carisbrooke Castle and Osborne House; the home of Queen Victoria. Being a fan of British and Irish Celtic history, Arthurian legends, Medieval England, this castle dates back to the 12th century. I had crossed into the Celtic Otherworld and was with the spirits of the living and the dead. Carisbrooke Castle is surrounded by stone walls, stone steps, a garden labyrinth reminding me so much of Kate Mosse novels up to including a focus on Charles I.  I know I am repeating myself but we were blessed with beautiful weather and very few rainy or stormy days. We stopped to rest, to eat and keep hydrated. It is crucial here, whether or not you are a walker, trust me, you will walk your feet off but every step is more than worth it. I walked through an archway within the castle complete with black gate where I swore I was walking back in time and became a part of my favorite Edmund Blair-Leighton paintings. I even said so to my accompanying friends.
Osborne House, home of Queen Victoria

By the time we arrived at Osborne House we were rested and refreshed and ready to see where Queen Victoria lived during her visits to the Isle of Wight. What a beautiful and grand house filled with the finery of everything; china, porcelain, paintings, furniture, every aspect of a house was decorated with the best. We took the grand tour through every room and every floor of Osborne House. I have to say, one of the rooms that emotionally affected me was Victoria’s bedroom. A tiny room with a tiny bed against the wall just filled me with such sadness as I walked in, not sure why but I couldn’t stay inside that room for too long. The kitchens were located downstairs in a basement floor which was curious and really interesting to take a look at. I’ve always loved those black aga stoves. The property is so large, small vans are available to drive you from the house itself to the outside gardens, down to the beach front property where you can see her bathing machine and walk in her footsteps once again. My friends and I did enjoy our rest stop for a bit of lunch at their café where I drank a lot of ginger beer and again that ploughman sandwich and the bacon butty is so good and so bad for you! Yes, it’s really about the food isn’t it? Well, after you’ve walked around and visited all day, it turns out to be about nourishment and very good company.

I realized that I would be finally meeting up with my UK friends but never did it occur to me that one of them would choose to spend their Saturday driving hours to see me on the Isle of Wight. So, to you and your wife, I did not want to forget you or leave you out because getting to spend a few hours talking and walking around really is part of my visit I will not forget.

My unforgettable moments were shared with friends. So, a huge thank you again to everyone I finally met, hugged, ate, drank, chatted with. Thank you for taking me into your hearts and your homes, for sharing your personal life and your time with me. I truly am honored and grateful and I know it is only the beginning of my adventures!  You will see me again…


My Review of Arresting Beauty by Heather Cooper

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