Sunday, January 17, 2016

My review of two plays in one novel, The Sellwood Girls and When Queen Victoria Came to Tea by Margaret Crompton

'The Sellwood Girls': Emily, Anne and Louisa Sellwood were born and brought up in Horncastle, Lincolnshire. Their father was a solicitor. Their mother died soon after Louisa was born and an unmarried Franklin aunt came to care for the children. In 1827, the girls attended a boarding school in Brighton. Emily and Louisa married the Tennyson brothers Alfred and Charles, who grew up in Somersby in the Lincolnshire Wolds.  Anne married Charles Weld. Their stories are characterised by hope and anxiety, love and loss, delight and despair, illness, guilt and, eventually, reconciliation. These stories emerge throughout the play. Hallam Tennyson (son of Alfred and Emily) is completing a submission to a playwriting event at the University of The Wolds - 'Bring-along-a-script, ' In seeking to give a voice to his mother and aunts, he finds a voice for himself. Hallam imagines the 3 sisters together in the garden of their boarding school in Brighton, 1827. He becomes the involved narrator.  The girls reflect on their home life, then imagine future husbands (who appear silently to illustrate these visions). The girls are transformed into their adult selves and through narration, reflection and discussion, they review their lives. Eventually they address Hallam directly, so that he becomes not only writer and narrator but also involved in the interactions and emotional development.

'When Queen Victoria Came To Tea': Early autumn 1857. Emily and Alfred Tennyson are in residence at 'Farringford, ' their Isle of Wight retreat in Freshwater. This is not far from 'Osborne House, ' East Cowes, recently bought by Victoria and Albert. Events to which the play refers are actual, including Albert's unannounced visit in 1856, Victoria's never-realised intentions to visit, and her attitude to 'fun.' However, there is no evidence for the action which imagines secret, informal visits from Victoria to Emily, and Albert to Alfred, unique and precious opportunities for relaxation and revelation. Alfred is already Poet Laureate, and will not become 'Lord' until 1883. As far as possible, material is drawn from contemporary documents, including letters. 

Product Details
  • Paperback: 78 pages
  • Publisher: Magic Oxygen (November 5, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 191009434X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910094341
I just want to start by saying how much fun this was to read overall. Both authors did a wonderful job researching not only the well known poet and his immediate family but brother Charles Tennyson Turner and Emily's sisters Anne and Louisa Sellwood. Although, there were only one or two discrepancies I could find about The Tennyson's, it did not detract from how much I enjoyed reading both plays. How refreshing to read about various aspects of the lives and relatives of the most beloved poet of the nineteenth-century.  Having a grown Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson's first born narrate, 'The Sellwood Girls' is pure genius!  It made me want to learn more about Louisa and Charles Turner. 

On to Queen Victoria.  As noted above, throughout Tennyson's life he and his family were invited to Osborne House on two occasions that are well documented. In one visit Alfred went alone and in another visit, he, his wife and two boys went while the boys were still small. It is an enchanting visit to read about. There is also one documented visit of Prince Albert showing up at Farringford to see Alfred Tennyson without Queen Victoria. I have often wondered if Victoria herself did not summon a coach to drive her from Osborne House to Farringford House to speak with her beloved favorite poet and friend Alfred Tennyson. Especially, after Albert's death and her adoration for In Memoriam.  Well, imagine no more...Margaret Crompton has written a wonderfully humorous and engaging royal visit.  

I hope everyone who admires Queen Victoria and Alfred Tennyson will buy this novel and enjoy both plays.  The Sellwood Girls and When Queen Victoria Came to Tea is out now and was published on November 5, 2015.

Thank you very much to the author, Margaret Crompton and her husband co-author John Crompton along with publishing house Magic Oxygen for sending me a review copy.

To purchase your copy,  Amazon US  To purchase your copy, Amazon UK

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Author interview with Marion Dell discussing her latest book, Virginia Woolf's Influential Forebears Julia Margaret Cameron, Anny Thackeray Ritchie, Julia Prinsep Stephen

I am so thrilled and deeply honored to bring you an interview I conducted with Marion Dell. Thanks to  Pan Macmillan UK, I was able to reach out to her, introduce myself, tell her how much I enjoyed, 'Influential Forebears'. She could not have been more gracious and kind. Later on, to my delight, she also agreed to an interview. I sent her my questions concerning her focus on the novels of Virginia Woolf, and those related to and closely engaged in her circle. For instance, Julia Margaret Cameron, Anny Thackeray Ritchie, and Virginia Woolf's mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen.

<----Julia Margaret Cameron in 1860s

 ===> Anny Thackeray Ritchie in 1867 a photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Center below is the most recognizable face of the beautiful woman, Julia Prinsep Stephen. A photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1867.

 1) I love how your focus is on the family and the family connection. Can you explain why those three women: Julia Margaret Cameron, Anny Thackeray Ritchie, and Julia Prinsep Stephen? What makes them Influential Forebears?

They were all influential in helping to form Woolf as a woman and as a writer. Of course they were not the only influences. I chose them because they were strong influences right from her birth and because they were linked to her genealogically. They were part of her matrilineage.

2) You write about Virginia Woolf as creative spirit, as writer and author focusing on aspects of her two novels Night and Day and The Years. I was fascinated about your chapter on her worry of ‘the black Stephen madness’.  What surprised you most about this aspect of her life?

I think that she experienced periods of ‘blackness’ throughout her life. I think she was what would now be diagnosed as bi-polar. But of course the term did not exist then. In her opinion, and in her youth, any mental illness or disorder was considered something to be ashamed of and hidden. We no longer regard it this way. I think that for her, although it caused her heartache and sadness, it was predominantly a positive condition. In the manic phases she was at her most productive and creative. She would not have been the great writer she was without this energy and ambivalence in her personality.

3) We both share a love of researching family connections within nineteenth-century poets and artists. Again, in this book, your research is incredible. Please describe a bit of your research process when writing a book. How do you go about it?  Also, when is research enough before you say, ‘now I can write the book’? Or do you write and research at the same time as you go along in the process?

I do most of the research first. Then as I write I might find gaps which need to be plugged. It takes a long time. I have been researching the life of Julia Stephen, Woolf’s mother, for about ten years already, while also researching and writing other things. It is difficult because she left so little of herself in her own voice; no diary, no photograph album, few extant letters. But it is the part I most enjoy – especially going to relevant places and meeting people who are involved and interested. I also need time to try to make connections between things and to collect archive material such as photographs, magazine articles, or letters and diaries. Often the most interesting insights, and amazing pieces of information, come from serendipity; from chance meetings, from unexpected sources, or when I am looking for something else entirely.

4) Was there any aspect of these Influential Forebears: Julia Margaret Cameron, Anny Thackeray Ritchie and Julia Prinsep Stephen that surprised you when conducting your research? Have you learned new things about them that you didn’t perhaps know before? Any stories about them you could share? Funny anecdotes perhaps?

What I discovered, which I didn’t really know before I started this, was how inter-connected these three women were. I began with their individual connections with Woolf, but then found that the three of them formed a strong, mutually supportive, collaborative sisterhood of professional women. I like all the stories of how Cameron browbeat her subjects in order to make them sit for her. Virginia Woolf took lots of the funny anecdotes for her play Freshwater, which is hilarious, as well as somewhat unkind.

5) Has your opinion of Virginia Woolf changed in any way since writing a few books about her and her family now? In what way?

The more I read of Woolf’s work, both fiction and non-fiction, the more I am confirmed in my opinion that she is a great writer. Since doing my research I have become more aware of the sheer range of her work. Also of her strong sense of humour and of close observation.

6) Julia Prinsep Stephen is a fascinating woman with not much known about her life. Anything you could share that you love most about her or something that fascinated you perhaps?

This is still a work in progress, but I am finding a fun loving, vivacious, gossipy, lively woman, very much at odds with the image usually presented of her, dressed in black, in the gloomy photographs towards the end of her life.

Julia Stephen with Virginia on her lap, 1884
                                                                                                       by Henry H.H. Cameron, Smith College.

About the Author
Marion Dell is an Independent writer and lecturer based in the U.K. and has previously taught at the Open University. She is the co-author with (Marion Whybrow) of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: Remembering St. Ives (2003), and she is currently writing a biography of Julia Stephen.  

To purchase, Amazon US  and to purchase  Amazon UK

Sunday, January 10, 2016

On my To Be Read List is Sleeper's Castle by Barbara Erskine

One of my absolute favorite authors is Barbara Erskine. Ever since I read Lady of Hay in 1996 I was hooked. I have devoured every single book she's written since. Although, this is not specifically a nineteenth-century novel or Victorian era for that matter; I am including it here anyway. Isn't this a gorgeous cover!  I hope you will buy it upon its U.K. publication in June 2016.  Here are the details so far:

Two women, centuries apart. One endless nightmare tearing Wales apart – and only they can stop it.

Sunday Times bestselling author Barbara Erskine returns to Hay in the year that marks the 30th anniversary of her sensational debut bestseller, Lady of Hay.

Hay-On-Wye, 1400 – War is brewing in the Welsh borders, Catrin is on the brink of womanhood and falling in love for the first time. Her father is a soothsayer, playing a dangerous game playing on the mixed loyalties and furious rivalries between welsh princes and English lords. For two hundred years, the Welsh people have lain under the English yoke, dreaming of independence. And finally it looks as though the charismatic Owain Glyndwr may be the man legend tralks of. In the walls of Sleeper’s Castle, Catrin finds herself caught in the middle of a doomed war as she is called upon to foretell Wales’s destiny… And what she sees, is blood and war coming closer…

Hay, 2015. Miranda has moved to Sleeper’s Castle to escape and grieve. Slowly she feels herself coming to life in the solitude of the mountains. But every time she closes her eyes her dreams become more vivid. And she makes a connection with a young girl, who’s screaming, who’s reaching out… who only Miranda can help. Is she losing herself to time?

 Product Details  
ISBN: 9780007513185 
ISBN 10: 0007513186 
Imprint: Harper Collins 
On Sale: 30/06/2016 
Format: Ebook ePub edition 
Pages: 560 
List Price: £9.99
A historian by training, Barbara Erskine is the author of many bestselling novels that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural, plus three collections of short stories. Her books have appeared in at least twenty-six languages. Her first novel, Lady of Hay, has sold over three million copies worldwide. She lives with her family in Hay-on-Wye.

 If you would like to pre-order Sleeper's Castle in the U.K., Amazon UK

To my knowledge this is a European and United Kingdom published release. You can only purchase it in the U.S. as an import from the U.K. If anything changes, find out about it here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My review of Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith

Though he is now known primarily as the author of the Alice books, in his lifetime Lewis Carroll was interested at least as much in photography as in writing. Though he remains one of Victorian culture’s most prominent and compelling figures, few readers have had the chance to explore the extent of his passion for photography, a new technology that was gaining popularity during his lifetime. Lewis Carroll: Photography on the Move follows the journey of Carroll’s photography in tandem with his writing. Beginning in the glass studio Carroll had built above his college rooms at Christ Church, Oxford, this book traces his fascination for photographs through his visits to London theatres, his annual trips to the seaside town of Eastbourne and his extraordinary excursion to Russia in 1867. Many of the preoccupations that make Carroll’s writing so remarkable are also present in his photography, particularly his interest in the boundless imaginations of children. Carroll was also an avid collector of photographs and, on occasion, commissioned professional photographers to set up studio sittings. 

This engaging and beautifully illustrated book uncovers in depth a lesser-known side of the renowned writer. It gives a valuable and cogent account of Carroll’s visual and literary career.
288 pages
Publisher: Reaktion Books
90 illustrations, 55 in colour

Author, Lindsay Smith is Professor of English at the University of Sussex and co-director of its Centre for the Visual. Her books include Pre-Raphaelitism: Poetry and Painting (2013), The Politics of Focus: Women, Children and Nineteenth-century Photography (1998) and Victorian Photography, Painting and Poetry (1995).

 Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), [Self-portrait], 1875.
Albumen print, 7.5 x 6 inches.
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.
(This image is found on the back of the book cover)

In this age of social media and technology we can take digital photographs instantly with a touch of our fingertip on our phones no less! Think back to the nineteenth-century when cameras were made of wooden boxes balanced on stands. When taking one photographic image included deadly chemicals, glass slides, and hours to pose and photograph.  The photographer needed a dark room to develop the photographs and now our expectations are immediate and instantaneous. We control every aspect of digital photography. I wonder what our nineteenth-century photographers would think of us now?  

With the title Photography on the Move, Lindsay Smith takes an academic, psycho-social perspective when it comes to the subject of Lewis Carroll, his child sitters, and photography.  She explains how her term photography on the move is twofold. Firstly, in a literal sense of people having to write handwritten letters containing individual albumen prints, carte-de-visites within the letter and envelope itself. Just imagine if mailing letters and old fashioned correspondence was your only mode of communication?  Lewis Carroll would photograph his female child sitters, develop their photographs then mail them to the children's parents and even the girls themselves. For instance, in the introduction we meet a young girl named Dolly Draper who was photographed by Edmund Draper in 1875. She mailed Lewis Carroll a photograph of herself. He loved it so much that he not only wrote a letter in reply, he wrote another letter to her father Edward Draper  including a photograph he took.  Photographs were indeed on the move!  Secondly, photography on the move refers to different times in Carroll's life when, as  a photographer, he travelled with his camera to take photographs. The focus on the subject of photography becomes a literal geographical connection to its location and origin in terms of setting, place, and time. 

Some of my favorite chapters of, Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move deal with the life of Carroll as a photographer instead of author of children's stories. Explained in great researched detail you will gain a better understanding of the man behind the camera; from his first purchased camera on 18 March 1856 to his circle of friends i.e. Reginald Southey, Julia Margaret Cameron and how he followed the photographic method of Frederick Scott Archer in 1851.  
 Alice Liddell by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
albumen carte-de-visite, 25 June 1870

Alice Liddell is discussed in this book from a chronological and photographic perspective: ‘the beggar maid’ to Alice in Wonderland.  When Lewis Carroll photographed Alice Liddell on 25 June 1870 I wonder if he knew that it would be for the last time? She was then eighteen years old looking rather angry finally immortalized as a woman. The little girl gone forever as her expression and discomfort shows on her face.   My understanding was the correspondence between Alice and Carroll after 1870 was sparse to say the least; especially,after a falling out with her parents. The details are in the book but I will leave that subject up to the reader. It is not the primary focus of the author's book nor is it mine. 

The author does something rather special. She shares mentions of the grown Alice Liddell as subject of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Now, it is 1872  and a twenty year old Alice Liddell is in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight posing for photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. Her first subject was to portray goddess Alethea and in a second Cameron photograph Alice Liddell portrays goddess Pomona. When Lewis Carroll goes to the Deanery of Christ Church, Oxford, to visit Alice Liddell's father, Henry George Liddell the then current Dean it lifts the veil of mystery surrounding Lewis Carroll. This visit was on 24 April 1873 when Carroll found himself sitting in the Liddell Family drawing room with their mother, Lorina Liddell Senior and  Alice Liddell. Alice was twenty one years old and excitedly began showing him Cameron's large sized albumen prints. I can just picture the scene. The three of them squished together on the sofa, Alice handing him Cameron's prints smiling while she exchanges glances with her parents.  One thing is clear to me now, Lewis Carroll definitely not only kept up his correspondence with the Liddell Family he physically visited them and spent time with them. He shared such important aspects of Alice Liddell's life as a grown woman as well as her family. The only thing not mentioned further was Carroll's reaction or opinion upon seeing Cameron's photographs of a goddess like Alice Liddell...

Alice Liddell forever captured by 

Julia Margaret Cameron as 

Althea on the left and Pomona on

the right. 

 Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson). The Tennysons and the Marshalls, 1857
Another fascinating chapter covers photographer, Lewis Carroll on the move in the Lake District during 1857 at a house called Monk Coniston while new friends Alfred Tennyson was honeymooning with his wife, Emily Tennyson and their two sons Hallam and Lionel.I mention this because this chapter of the book directly correlates to one of my earlier articles I wrote about Tennyson's honeymoon trip, 1857 Tennyson mystery solved  

One interesting note about this Tennyson chapter is the fact that the author mentions how Lionel Tennyson, youngest son of Alfred Tennyson had a stammer. She concludes that one of the possible reasons for the falling out between Tennyson and Carroll was the fact that Carroll wrote to Tennyson mentioning how he should bring Lionel to see a doctor to help him with his sons stammer. Lewis Carroll grew up also having a bad stammer, so obviously could sympathize and I'm sure empathize with poor little Lionel's plight. Not mentioned in the book but I just wanted to explain further how The Tennyson's provided the best doctors and speech therapists for Lionel over the years as he grew up as evidenced in family letters. Lionel himself later explained how he had  a stammer well into his young adulthood.  

Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move is a wonderfully fascinating read.  I am so glad that Lindsay Smith has shared her research. I learned a lot about the man behind the camera. It was so refreshing to read about different aspects of his life and not just focus again on his nonsense writings, his Alice in Wonderland years, etc.

Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith is published in hardcover now, Amazon UK

 Lewis Carroll Photography on the Move by Lindsay Smith is published in two weeks, Amazon US

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...