Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Lived in Julia's House by Joan Brading Grayer

In this charming little book Joan Grayer tells us of her childhood memories living at Dimbola, the former home of the pioneer Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. She describes in detail all the rooms, many with the original furniture and Julia's photographs, and the beautiful gardens.

We hear of Joan and her sister, Beryl, watching in horror from a window as a bomb drops yards from Dimbola destroying The Porch, built by Julia and the home for many years of Anne Thackeray Ritchie-immortalised in her last book From the Porch.

  • Paperback: 27 pages
  • Publisher: Julia Margaret Cameron Trust; 2nd Revised edition edition (March 1, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0954523342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954523343
Memories, like time, fly away and can be forgotten forever, and realising that our family was the last to occupy Dimbola during the twenty years before the military requisitioned it in 1942, I feel somewhat responsible to place on record a description of this much visited residence as it was in its former condition. 

Dear to me are the memories of the house and garden of Julia Margaret Cameron, that colourful and charming lady, who lived and practised the art of enlarged photography at Freshwater Bay, on the Isle of Wight in the mid nineteenth century. Such memories of the fragrance she left behind in her house and in her garden I gladly record, to add to the small store of knowledge of her personality, and her Victorian associates written before my time by those who actually knew her, and were acquainted with her friends and relatives.  (Brading Grayer, pg. 3)
The Drawing Room in 1924, showing a Cameron photograph above the oil lamp, gas had just been installed.

The picture of Julia Margaret's drawing room may have been almost as she left it, for I believe the previous owners had changed it but little. Note the archway to an alcove, with a small glass porch leading to the lawn where the studio or glass house once stood. A very fine kneehole desk stood in the alcove, with letter scales, paper weights, and letter openers, plus an enormous pencil, which I still keep on my desk, and sometimes wonder whose hands had written famous lines or messages with it. (Brading Grayer, pg.7)

 The Drawing Room a few years later with electric light installed, showing Julia's original rush matting and persian rugs.

Here in this room it is said the Mr. Cameron, who owned coffee estates in Ceylon, would walk up and down reciting Homer aloud, possibly on the same rush matting, with Persian rugs distributed around. Yes indeed, if only these walls could speak! What did Darwin, Ruskin, Herschel, Holman Hunt, Millais, Robert Browning, Carlyle, Jowett, Lecky, Sir Henry Taylor, Aubrey de Vere, Herr Jochim, the Emperor Frederick of Germany, Edward Lear or Thackeray say to each other, or to Julia and her husband on a still summer night after dinner? None have kept those secrets so well as the Dimbola walls, with their blue and white William Morris wallpaper.  (Brading Grayer, pg.7)

The only lighting when we went there was by candles and oil lamps. A fine example of the latter can be seen in this picture - this my mother lovingly refurbished with a peach silk lamp shade, and trimmed it with peach colour roses. It looked beautiful on its shining copper stand. My father had gas lighting put in, and about two years later, electricity was brought to the village. Some of Mrs. Cameron's photographs can clearly be seen above the oil lamp; an inlaid other-of-pearl table stands in the centre. (Brading Grayer, pg. 7)

 The Drawing Room today is now Dimbola Cafe located inside Dimbola Lodge.
Similarities abound structurally. You can notice the right cupboards today painted red
in 1924 and later painted white but still in the same place!

Julia's garden-a corner of the flower garden

The cabbage patch, which Julia hastily transformed into a nicely turfed lawn when expecting an honoured guest, later became the flower garden. Mrs. Brading restored this as near to Julia's pattern as possible. A long, high, red brick wall was the boundary line between this garden and the lane behind, along which Lord Tennyson would make this entrance through, of what later became known as "The Tennyson Door". (Brading Grayer, pg. 11)

We found traces of Julia's love of perfume. Honeysuckle and roses were trained along this rustic bridge, and every kind of spring flower was present. A tall fir tree which was used by little red squirrels. Beneath the bridge was the pathway leading from the flower garden to the tennis court, flanked by very high poplar trees, again banked up and planted with daffodils and primroses. Thence round the trees to the Tennyson Door, where a large red peony would greet all who entered there. (Brading Grayer, pg. 12) 

The Putting Lawn (what is that white house on the far right)?

The lawns to the west side, now built upon, and where her "Glass House" and studio once stood, provided us with an excellent putting lawn of nine holes, (or 18 round the house). The tall cupressus trees and sycamores cast fantastic shadows on the lawn and are beautifully captured by the camera. (Brading Grayer, pg. 13)

It was here, states Mrs. Cameron, "I turned my coal house into a dark-room, and a glazed fowl house, which I had given to my children, became my Glass House, and the society of hens and chickens was soon changed into that of poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens". In a little cupboard behind the drawing room, were many little bottles and pans, almost obliterated by cobwebs, containing various dried up chemicals and glass slides. They remained there for many years until we decided to turn that part into staff rooms. If only we hadn't cleared them all away! (Brading Grayer, pg. 13)

These are just some excerpts from this charming booklet, I Lived in Julia's House now out of print. You might find a copy on Abebooks though!  The photographs can be found within the booklet as well except for the one of the drawing room today. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Strawberry Girl by Lisa Stromme: A Review!

It's summer 1893, and the Norwegian fishing village of Åsgårdstrand is preparing for the arrival of well-to-do guests and bohemian artists from the city. Local girl Johanne Lien dutifully gathers berries for tourists and poses barefoot for painters as 'The Strawberry Girl'.

Johanne becomes a maid for the wealthy Ihlen family, whose wayward daughter, Tullik, recruits her as a go-between in her pursuit of the controversial painter Edvard Munch.

Before long, Johanne is drawn into the raw emotion of Munch's art and his secret liaison with Tullik. But when she is asked to hide more than just secrets, Johanne must decide whether to take the risk....

Lisa Stromme brings alive the tumultuous love affair that inspired one of the most famous paintings of all time in a vivid and bewitching story of innocence, creativity and desire.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher:  Chatto & Windus (7 April 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784740586
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784740580 
Munch and I had met many times before: along the lanes, on the beach and in the forest where I searched for fruit and herbs from morning to night. I trailed him, shy and gawky, intrigued by the paintings he left out in the open, the way they spoke to me. Sometimes he'd see me sketching close by and come and offer words of advice. he never sounded like the other adults, though. He spoke as an artist, of shadow and light, colour and perspective, and he expected me to understand.
Strawberry Girl by Hans Olaf Heyerdahl (1857-1913)
1887, oil on canvas, private collection

What makes Lisa Stromme's novel, 'The Strawberry Girl' different from other artist and muse love stories is the fact that the story is told through nature, the beauty of nature and through paintings itself. Narrated from protagonist, Johanne Lien's perspective is a young girl growing up in Norway during the late nineteenth-century whose poor family lives near painter Edvard Munch. When she was younger, still a child, running around the town in a dress with flowing blonde ringlets he painted her holding a bowl of strawberries. She was therefore called The Strawberry Girl by friends and neighbors. She and Munch had an artistic almost altruistic connection in nature. She loved to draw, sketch and eventually paint. It was her only real creative freedom. As their friendship grew, he tried to develop her innate talent. 

Of course, around the village, he lived alone, he drank, whether or not he kept the company of 'loose' women was topic of every nosey neighbor. He was thought to be 'mad' and people shunned him. As a teenager, Johanne's mother gets her a job working as a maid in a wealthy family in a nearby village where she becomes friends with Tullik Ihlen; a wild girl!  Everything would change when out walking one day these two young girls meet up with Munch. A friendship develops between all three with an obvious attraction between Munch and Tullik. Who was to know that once Tullik's family found out, everything would change. As their relationship grew, many lives would be emotionally destroyed. 

What I really enjoyed about, ' The Strawberry Girl' was how creatively Lisa Stromme used several of Edvard Munch's now famous paintings to depict and represent various stages in both the friendship between Johanne and Munch and the affair between Tullik and Munch. Juxtaposed against Munch's paintings Lisa Stromme uses quotations from Theory of Colours by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to solidify both girl's feelings.

This is not your typical artist and muse love story filled with assignations in stuffy studios or an unrequited love story. Actually, The Strawberry Girl demonstrates how a young girl's infatuation can lead to devastating inner demons just by an older man's attention. Secrets abound in this tale; some based upon events in Edvard Munch's life and some let's say were embellished a bit!  There is a very interesting Epilogue and Afteword where Lisa Stromme clarifies fact from fiction.  

This debut novel, 'The Strawberry Girl' is beautifully written and I was captured by how the author used nature and art infused with loneliness and attraction. Nineteenth-century religious beliefs and ideology in the Norwegian culture is mentioned throughout but not heavily. Tullik is not the only girl struggling with a love affair. Johanne has a love interest herself and I liked Thomas quite a lot.
The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

Tullik screamed on. Throat rasping. Convulsing. Tiny, whimpering pleas repeating his name:  Edvard, Edvard, Edvard. The brutality of it repulsed me. Like an animal at the slaughter. She raged forward, charging at some imaginary evil, the beast that had stolen her soul. Then howling.  I thought it would never end. She shook and writhed with wretched desperation. All the fire of her soul blazed livid as the scream that possessed her, tortured her, erupted into being. Waves of sound. Piercing and sick. Jagged blades and serrated edges. Savage. Ferocious Barbarous and insane. 

When it finally began to recede, Tullik slumped to her knees devoid of energy...

 The Strawberry Girl by Lisa Stromme is due for U.S. publication in July of this year. It may be diffficult to pre-order in the U.S. 

Out now throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. To purchase a copy, Amazon UK

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A birthday between friends: Ellen Nussey (20 April 1817–26 November 1897) and Charlotte Bronte (21 April 1816–31 March 1855)

 “Friendship, however, is a plant which cannot be forced. True friendship is no gourd, springing in a night and withering in a day. When first I saw Ellen I did not care for her; we were school fellows. In course of time we learned each other’s faults and good points. We were contrasts still we suited. Affection was first a germ, then a sapling, then a strong tree. Now, no new friend, however lofty or profound in intellect not even Miss Martineau herself could be to me what Ellen is: yet she is no more than a conscientious, observant, calm, well-bred Yorkshire girl. She is without romance.” Charlotte Bronte describing her friendship with Ellen Nussey in a letter to Mr. Williams dated January 3, 1850.


Portrait of a young woman looking over her right shoulder towards the viewer: head held high; broad, open features, large almond-shaped brown eyes, high arched eyebrows, long nose, full highly colored pink cheeks and lips: glossy brown shoulder-length ringlets cover her head, part of a bow visible at back right; bare shoulders with a ribbon around neck. It is said to be a portrait of Ellen Nussey by Charlotte Bronte. This drawing was found amongst Ellen Nussey’s effects between May 18-19, 1898. It is now housed at the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

Does anyone else see that Ellen Nussey and Charlotte Bronte were born one day and one year apart? How have I never come to realize that fact before? On April 21, 1816 Maria Bronte nee Branwell gave birth to Charlotte  Bronte in Thornton in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England. Twelve months later, on 20 April, 1817 Ellen Nussey nee Wade (1771-1857)  gave birth to Ellen Nussey also in West Riding of Yorkshire, England in a small house on Smithies Moore Lane.The youngest of twelve siblings, her father John Nussey (1760-1826) was a cloth merchant of Birstall Smithies. Upon his death in 1826, their mother Ellen Wade Nussey moved her twelve children into their Grand Uncle Richard Walker's home called  Rydings. Years later, Ellen Nussey's old friend Charlotte Bronte would name a grand house Thornfield in Jane Eyre. Rydings is believed to be used as the model for it. 

 Young woman at table by Charlotte Bronte, 1838
owned by Ellen Nussey
Bronte Parsonage Museum
Ellen Nussey’s education was varied. For instance, at a young age she first attended a small local school before entering into Gomersal Moravian Ladies’ Academy. Finally, on 25 January 1831 Ellen Nussey walked into  Margaret Wooler’s school at Roe Head. It was here a fourteen year old Ellen met fifteen year old Charlotte Bronte. In 1836, Ellen Wade moved her family to Brookroyd in Birstall into a much smaller house than Rydings.  So begins the lifelong friendship between two young girls from Yorkshire England.

Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond

Ellen Nussey would visit Charlotte at Haworth often eventually becoming fast friends with her sisters Emily and Anne. She even earned the approval of their father, Rev. Patrick Bronte. Ellen was always present or nearby during all of the Bronte sisters life events good and bad. She would be a good friend to the three sisters but there was that bond between she and Charlotte, especially. Their friendship even survived Charlotte's rejection of a marriage proposal from Ellen brother's Henry. Now, that's true friendship. Come on girls didn't you fight sometimes? Go days or months without speaking because of a huge row?

Well apparently their friendship survived all three sisters novel publications and lives as authors. It wasn't until the engagement of Charlotte Bronte to her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls late in life that Ellen Nussey became jealous. She didn't communicate with Charlotte for a while. It couldn't have been very long because Ellen was one of two witnesses when Charlotte married Nicholls at Haworth in June of 1854. She was also Charlotte's only bridesmaid, so I guess they made up!  When Charlotte died in March 1855, Ellen dedicated herself to preserving her friend's memory.
Charlotte Bronte's life was filled with family, hearth and home. She worked for a year teaching at her old school Roe Head. She left because she was unhappy and unfulfilled. She was also a governess briefly. Her time in Brussels as a student ended up in heartbreak for her while her sister Emily thrived. She never stayed at one place for very long. Her one constant was her writing, sitting at the rounded table in that tiny room at Haworth. Through every upheaval and happy event she used her feelings, experiences and people she met in her novels: 
Jane Eyre 1847, Shirley 1849, Villette 1853, and The Professor 1857.

 I can understand Charlotte's restlessness, yearning for adventure while still keeping people at bay; only cherishing those she knows and loves. I am much like that myself.  One gets bored easily and seeks out fun and happy times but then has numerous interests it is easy to get overwhelmed by situations and people around you. Charlotte wanted romance but wouldn't admit it. She had three proposals during her lifetime. Marrying quite late in life to a man her father did not care for and a proposal she initially rejected. Lucky for her,  Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls persisted. Briefly, Charlotte became Mrs. Nicholls and their time together was her happiest. Sadly, pregnancy did not work out for her and it aided in her death in 1855.  
 Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1861

Charlotte Bronte left her legacy as did her sisters and brother. On the other side you have spinster Ellen Nussey who came from the same place, same time, a large enough family with demons of its own. Although, there is not much detail about her life aside from her well known friend Charlotte. She is the keeper of the flame as it were. She preserved her correspondence with Charlotte Bronte which thankfully provides a quite wonderful understanding of who Charlotte was as a friend. Through the Bronte family documentation we know who she was as sister, teacher, governess but only Ellen Nussey let us into her personal world so we could meet her friend of twenty four years (1831-1855).

 “The life of Charlotte Bronte, viewed apart from her high gifts and genius as an authoress, was a very unsensational life; for the most part it was a life of domestic duty, self-sacrifice, fidelity to whatever she believed to be right, fortitude in suffering, and patient resignation under all inevitable trials. What is said of Charlotte may, with almost equal truth, be said of Emily and Anne; thugh they differed greatly in many points of character and disposition, they were each and all on common ground if a principle had to be maintained or a sham to be detected. They were all jealous of anything hollow or unreal. All were resolutely single-minded, eminently courageous, eminently simple in their habits, and eminently tender-hearted. 

I could no longer refuse or delay to set about giving, as a tribute of justice to herself, a few more of her own words, the words of her heart and feelings, as they were elicited by the common accidents and incidents of daily life. The doing of this involves some sacrifice; but to shrink from possible annoyance or discomfort when duly called upon in defence of one we have loved, is indeed to be cowardly and craven-hearted, and unworthy of Charlotte Brontes faithful love and friendship.”  Ellen Nussey describing her friend Charlotte Bronte (and her sisters) in Scribner’s Monthly, May 1871.

Is that all Ellen Nussey has given us? I just find it a bit sad that although she lived to the age of eighty years old, what do we know about this woman? If it were not for meeting Charlotte at school and the Bronte family connection who would Ellen Nussey be? We would never have heard of her. How do you live such a long life and have not that much to show for it. Maybe she was content and think me foolish for such thoughts but she didn't marry? Was she proposed to? Did it matter to her?

 Ellen Nussey in old age 1895

On the morning of Friday, November 26, 1897 Miss Ellen Nussey passed away in her Yorshire home. She was the life-long friend of Charlotte Bronte, and the chief, if not sole, personal link existing in connection with that gifted family. Lady Morrison and Ellen Nussey were close friends for more than ten years, 

“In person Ellen Nussey was not striking, but she was sprightly, attractive coquettish, no doubt, in her younger days and intelligent; her manners charming; every word and gesture bearing emphatically the stamp of truth; while her voice, mellowed and modulated to a peculiarly gentle cadence, was exceedingly pleasant to hear. I have often sat beside her, and heard with unfeigned interest her sparkling talk about the Bronte family; have heard her relate incidents and anecdotes in the lives of the sisters, which seemed to me better than any information to be gathered from books. Miss Nussey told me that she considered Branwell, the brother, the cleverest, and most talented of the whole family, and, but for his misused powers, he could, had he chosen, have outstripped his sisters in literature. Many of the incidents which she related go far to prove that Charlotte Bronte was keenly alive to humor, her life, she was at all times open to, and rejoiced in, its gaiety and sunshine. That Ellen Nussey is the prototype of ‘Caroline Helstone’ in Shirley cannot for a moment be doubted. It may be remembered that in one part of the book Caroline was described as wearing a brown dress with a pink bow. When I inquired of Miss Nussey if this also was taken from herself, she said that she was wearing that particular kind of attire at the time Shirley was written. It is to Ellen Nussey that the public is, and will ever be, indebted for authentic information with regard to the Bronte family. But for her, no history of these remarkable people could have gone forth to the world in a truthful and reliable form.”  The Bookman, Volume VI, September, 1897-February, 1898


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper. Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection at Leighton House Museum

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper. Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection
Watch a glimpse of just what beautiful drawings are on exhibit
inside Leighton House Museum

If you happen to be in London at the moment, you are in for such a treat!  For the first time, Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings features over 100 drawings and sketches by the Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries: Edward Burne-Jones's study of The Wheel of Fortune (1883), John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (1874), Edward Poynter and Frederic Leighton himself.  Leighton is represented by five drawings including a study for Clytie, his last work, which was acquired by Leighton House in 2008. Also featured are works by Rossetti’s wife Lizzie Siddal and a study by William Morris for his only known easel painting La Belle Iseult (c.1857).  
Edward Burne-Jones's study of The Wheel of Fortune (1883)

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice (1874)

William Morris's  Study of La Belle Iseult (c.1857)
It is the first exhibition opening at Leighton House Museum this year. It presents an exceptional, privately assembled collection to the UK public for the first time. This outstanding collection, brought together over a 30-year period by Canadian Dr. Dennis T. Lanigan. The exhibition, organised by the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), expresses the richness and flair of British draughtsmanship during the Victorian era.

To buy tickets to the exhibition or for more information, Leighton House Museum  

Also, do not miss a special lecture taking place at Leighton House Museum with independent art historian and curator, Christopher Newall.
The Day-Dream of Painting: the Purposes of Drawing in Victorian England

Thursday 21 April 2016
With reference to the drawings on display in the exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites on Paper. Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection, independent art historian and curator Christopher Newall, will explore the various purposes for which drawings were made in the Victorian period; from works that were to be seen and sold to private meditations, personal to the artist.
Lecture starts at 7pm; doors open at 6:15pm for the chance to see the exhibition.
Special Ticket offer: £10; ticket price includes access to Leighton House Museum, complimentary drink and entry to the lecture
Enter PROMOTIONAL CODE SPECIAL10 when booking on  Eventbrite

Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings
Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ye Olde Cock Tavern and Alfred Tennyson

Here it is Ye Olde Cock Tavern 22 Fleet Street, London, England

This tavern dates back to 1549 and some of the greatest writers have dined here including Alfred Tennyson. Apparently, monthly he would meet his male friends here (all members of a secret club) including his good friend William Makepeace Thackeray. They all met, ate, drank and discussed well...goodness knows  while they smoked their pipes and drank their seems during one of these visits or meetings Alfred was influenced to write about a 'plump head-waiter' who waited on him and his friends. He used his amuseent to express himself in a very funny and quite telling poem, "Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue." 

The poem was first published in 1842 when Alfred was still a youngish man of thirty-three years old. It was believed to have been written backin 1837 with his brother Charles Tennyson-Turner.  Now most say the tavern was Ye Old Cock Tavern but at the time, close personal friend of Tennyson's, Edward Fitzgerald said, "The plump head waiter of the cock, by Temple Bar, famous for chop and porter, was rather offended when told of this poem. 'Had Mr. Tennyson dined oftener there, he would not have minded it so much, he said." At the time Temple Bar was located across fleet street opposite Ye Old Cock Tavern!  (The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Volume 1) 

Will Waterproof’s Lyrical Monologue
By Alfred Tennyson

  O plump head-waiter at The Cock,
  To which I most resort,
  How goes the time? 'Tis five o'clock.
  Go fetch a pint of port:
  But let it not be such as that
  You set before chance-comers,
  But such whose father-grape grew fat
  On Lusitanian summers.

  No vain libation to the Muse,
  But may she still be kind,
  And whisper lovely words, and use
  Her influence on the mind,
  To make me write my random rhymes,
  Ere they be half-forgotten;
  Nor add and alter, many times,
  Till all be ripe and rotten.

  I pledge her, and she comes and dips
  Her laurel in the wine,
  And lays it thrice upon my lips,
  These favour'd lips of mine;
  Until the charm have power to make
  New life-blood warm the bosom,
  And barren commonplaces break
  In full and kindly blossom.

  I pledge her silent at the board;
  Her gradual fingers steal
  And touch upon the master-chord
  Of all I felt and feel.
  Old wishes, ghosts of broken plans,
  And phantom hopes assemble;
  And that child's heart within the man's
  Begins to move and tremble.

  Thro' many an hour of summer suns
  By many pleasant ways,
  Against its fountain upward runs
  The current of my days: 
  I kiss the lips I once have kiss'd;
  The gas-light wavers dimmer;
  And softly, thro' a vinous mist,
  My college friendships glimmer.

  I grow in worth, and wit, and sense,
  Unboding critic-pen,
  Or that eternal want of pence,
  Which vexes public men,
  Who hold their hands to all, and cry
  For that which all deny them--
  Who sweep the crossings, wet or dry,
  And all the world go by them.

  Ah yet, tho' all the world forsake,
  Tho'fortune clip my wings,
  I will not cramp my heart, nor take
  Half-views of men and things.
  Let Whig and Tory stir their blood;
  There must be stormy weather;
  But for some true result of good
  All parties work together.

  Let there be thistles, there are grapes;
  If old things, there are new;
  Ten thousand broken lights and shapes,
  Yet glimpses of the true.
  Let raffs be rife in prose and rhyme,
  We lack not rhymes and reasons,
  As on this whirligig of Time 
  We circle with the seasons.

  This earth is rich in man and maid;
  With fair horizons bound:
  This whole wide earth of light and shade
  Comes out, a perfect round.
  High over roaring Temple-bar,
  And, set in Heaven's third story,
  I look at all things as they are,
  But thro' a kind of glory.

  Head-waiter, honour'd by the guest
  Half-mused, or reeling-ripe,
  The pint, you brought me, was the best
  That ever came from pipe.
  But tho'the port surpasses praise,
  My nerves have dealt with stiffer.
  Is there some magic in the place?
  Or do my peptics differ?

  For since I came to live and learn,
  No pint of white or red
  Had ever half the power to turn
  This wheel within my head,

  Which bears a season'd brain about,
  Unsubject to confusion,
  Tho'soak'd and saturate, out and out,
  Thro' every convolution.

  For I am of a numerous house,
  With many kinsmen gay,
  Where long and largely we carouse
  As who shall say me nay:
  Each month, a birthday coming on,
  We drink defying trouble,
  Or sometimes two would meet in one,
  And then we drank it double;

  Whether the vintage, yet unkept,
  Had relish, fiery-new,
  Or, elbow-deep in sawdust, slept,
  As old as Waterloo;
  Or stow'd (when classic Canning died)
  In musty bins and chambers,
  Had cast upon its crusty side
  The gloom of ten Decembers.

  The Muse, the jolly Muse, it is!
  She answer'd to my call,
  She changes with that mood or this,
  Is all-in-all to all:
  She lit the spark within my throat,
  To make my blood run quicker,
  Used all her fiery will, and smote
  Her life into the liquor.

  And hence this halo lives about
  The waiter's hands, that reach
  To each his perfect pint of stout,
  His proper chop to each.
  He looks not like the common breed
  That with the napkin dally;
  I think he came like Ganymede,
  From some delightful valley.

  The Cock was of a larger egg
  Than modern poultry drop,
  Stept forward on a firmer leg,
  And cramm'd a plumper crop;
  Upon an ampler dunghill trod,
  Crow'd lustier late and early,
  Sipt wine from silver, praising God,
  And raked in golden barley.

  A private life was all his joy,
  Till in a court he saw
  A something-pottle-bodied boy,
  That knuckled at the taw:
  He stoop'd and clutch'd him, fair and good,
  Flew over roof and casement:
  His brothers of the weather stood
  Stock-still for sheer amazement.

  But he, by farmstead, thorpe and spire,
  And follow'd with acclaims,
  A sign to many a staring shire,
  Came crowing over Thames.
  Right down by smoky Paul's they bore,
  Till, where the street grows straiter, 
  One fix'd for ever at the door,
  And one became head-waiter.

  But whither would my fancy go?
  How out of place she makes
  The violet of a legend blow
  Among the chops and steaks!
  'Tis but a steward of the can,
  One shade more plump than common;
  As just and mere a serving-man
  As any born of woman.

  I ranged too high: what draws me down
  Into the common day?
  Is it the weight of that half-crown,
  Which I shall have to pay?

  For, something duller than at first,
  Nor wholly comfortable,
  I sit (my empty glass reversed),
  And thrumming on the table:

  Half-fearful that, with self at strife
  I take myself to task;
  Lest of the fullness of my life
  I leave an empty flask:
  For I had hope, by something rare,
  To prove myself a poet;
  But, while I plan and plan, my hair
  Is gray before I know it.

  So fares it since the years began,
  Till they be gather'd up;
  The truth, that flies the flowing can,
  Will haunt the vacant cup:
  And others' follies teach us not,
  Nor much their wisdom teaches;
  And most, of sterling worth, is what
  Our own experience preaches.

  Ah, let the rusty theme alone!
  We know not what we know.
  But for my pleasant hour, 'tis gone,
  'Tis gone, and let it go.
  'Tis gone: a thousand such have slipt
  Away from my embraces,
  And fall'n into the dusty crypt
  Of darken'd forms and faces.

  Go, therefore, thou! thy betters went
  Long since, and came no more;
  With peals of genial clamour sent
  From many a tavern-door,
  With twisted quirks and happy hits,
  From misty men of letters;
  The tavern-hours of mighty wits--
  Thine elders and thy betters.

  Hours, when the Poet's words and looks
  Had yet their native glow:
  Not yet the fear of little books
  Had made him talk for show:
  But, all his vast heart sherris-warm'd,
  He flash'd his random speeches;
  Ere days, that deal in ana, swarm'd
  His literary leeches.

  So mix for ever with the past,
  Like all good things on earth!
  For should I prize thee, couldst thou last,
  At half thy real worth?
  I hold it good, good things should pass:
  With time I will not quarrel:
  It is but yonder empty glass
  That makes me maudlin-moral.

  Head-waiter of the chop-house here,
  To which I most resort,
  I too must part: I hold thee dear
  For this good pint of port.
  For this, thou shalt from all things suck
  Marrow of mirth and laughter;
  And, wheresoe'er thou move, good luck
  Shall fling her old shoe after.

  But thou wilt never move from hence,
  The sphere thy fate allots:
  Thy latter days increased with pence
  Go down among the pots:
  Thou battenest by the greasy gleam
  In haunts of hungry sinners,
  Old boxes, larded with the steam
  Of thirty thousand dinners.

  _We_ fret, _we_ fume, would shift our skins,
  Would quarrel with our lot;
  _Thy_ care is, under polish'd tins,
  To serve the hot-and-hot;
  To come and go, and come again,
  Returning like the pewit,
  And watch'd by silent gentlemen,
  That trifle with the cruet.

  Live long, ere from thy topmost head
  The thick-set hazel dies;
  Long, ere the hateful crow shall tread
  The corners of thine eyes:
  Live long, nor feel in head or chest
  Our changeful equinoxes,
  Till mellow Death, like some late guest,
  Shall call thee from the boxes.

  But when he calls, and thou shalt cease
  To pace the gritted floor,
  And, laying down an unctuous lease
  Of life, shalt earn no more;
  No carved cross-bones, the types of Death,
  Shall show thee past to Heaven:
  But carved cross-pipes, and, underneath,
  A pint-pot neatly graven.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My review of In Search of Anne Brontë by Nick Holland

Anne Brontë, the youngest and most enigmatic of the Brontë sisters, remains a bestselling author nearly two centuries after her death. The brilliance of her two novels and her poetry belies the quiet, truthful girl who often lived in the shadow of her more outgoing sisters. Yet her writing was the most revolutionary of all the Brontës, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable. 

This revealing new biography opens Anne’s most private life to a new audience, and shows the true nature of her relationship with her sister Charlotte.

Product details

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: The History Press (3 Mar. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0750965258
ISBN-13: 978-0750965255

 'Sunrise Over the Sea' by Anne Bronte, 1839. (Courtesy of the Bronte Society 
and In Search of Anne Brontë by Nick Holland). 

At night Anne listened to the sea roaring below her. Looking out of the window she could watch it crash against the rocks, throwing a white explosion of foam into the air. These were the nights that Anne liked best. There was something hypnotic about the sea, and the stormier and louder it was, the more she loved it. Men would come and go for millennia, as they always had, but this sea would still keep crashing against the rocks. It spoke of God's power, of hope and eternity. The sea would take on the same mysticism for Anne that the moors held for Emily, and she always longed to return to the coast when she was away from it, even in her very last days. (In Search of Anne Brontë by Nick Holland, pg. 140).

Once in a great long while a biography comes along that just sweeps you off your feet. When I started reading, In Search of  Anne Brontë by Nick Holland I didn't really know what to expect. I have read numerous biographies on the sisters as a whole and individually. Usually, the writing does not engage me and the subtext is dry and dull.  However, author Nick Holland has done something very different in writing this biography. He has taken chapter quotations from Anne Bronte's novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shedding light on her personal and professional life. Most biographers would have stopped there but Nick takes it a step further. Through older sister Charlotte Bronte's letters, a new perspective on family affairs and their struggle for publication is depicted with respect and empathy. All Bronte siblings, including brother Branwell, are written about  with such genuine curiousity that I found myself possibly understanding their family dynamic in a way that I have not thought about before. For instance, by  including and researching the religous culture of nineteenth-century England that the Bronte's lived in, as a reader I viewed the Bronte's through a new perspective that I didn't expect.

On the moors the girls were at one with the world, completely at ease with nature’s power in a way that they would never feel in the company of people. On one day in particular, they felt its strength in a way that would mark them forever. (In Search of Anne Brontë by Nick Holland, pg. 39)
 Jane Eyre with Joan Fontaine, 1944

Doesn't it always come back to the moors when you think of the Bronte's? Whether you are reading about one sister or the entire family, images of that gorgeous and rough landscape spring to mind. In Search of Anne Brontë takes you to the moors that the sisters loved, to Haworth parsonage, to all the secret places the sisters loved. This biography captures the love and symbiosis between not only the well known siblings: Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell but the two older siblings: First born Maria Bronte ( 23 April 1814-6 May 1825) and second born Elizabeth Bronte (1815-1825).  I just loved reading about the sibling's childhoods. Especially, upon the birth of youngest Anne Bronte. When her sister Charlotte sees an angel standing by her crib she runs to get her father, Patrick Bronte. By the time he gets to the room, Charlotte tells him the angel is gone! 

I have always wondered about Anne Bronte's life in Scarborough and why she was buried there. She loved being by the sea not only for its tranquility and beauty but as her health failed her 'invalids' often went to spas for their healing powers. Sadly, this didn't work for Anne but I now have a much better understanding of Anne Bronte's life. I hope you will too! 

I am so happy that lesser known Bronte sibling, Anne has been brought out of the shadows and into the light. Nick Holland has done an exceptional job researching and writing about Anne Bronte and her family. We think we know them well enough but we don't. I have learned so many new aspects of their lives thanks to Nick Holland and his enchanting and intelligent biography, In Search of Anne Brontë

Thank you for my review copy,  The History Press (UK)

To purchase In Search of Anne Bronte, out now in the UK, Amazon UK

To pre-order In Search of Anne Bronte, to be published in the U.S. June 1, 2016, Amazon US  

To follow author, Nick Holland's blog, Anne Bronte

Lastly, I love this song Scarborough Fair by Celtic Women. I kept hearing it in my head as I read the chapters about Anne Bronte's life in Scarborough.  Fitting I think to end here.

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...