Wednesday 28 August 2019

Book News! Light and Love

This is the sort of post I adore writing because it is to do with a forthcoming book.  For a while now I have been working on my research on Mary Hillier, maid and model to Julia Margaret Cameron and the part that she played in Julia's photography.  I have also been fascinated with Julia's spirit, her attitude to life and her work, and so I am now delighted to announce that I will be publishing a biography of Julia and Mary in 2020, entitled Light and Love...

The Kiss of Peace (1869) Julia Margaret Cameron
I had intended to write a straightforward biography, but the more work I did, the more I found that Julia's life before Mary foreshadowed the impact that the two women would have on each other.  I wanted to explore the path that brought the two together and what happened when the two women parted.  As is ever the case with models, it has often been expressed that Mary's life only had interest when she was in front of the lens, but her life after the photographs was as eventful as the years she spent posing.  

Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
In my book I want to explore the tension of 'celebrity' in Freshwater, the impact of the influx of the mainland into the village and how royalty and money, as well as bankruptcy and criminality, followed.  Mary, barely into her teens, combined the role of domestic maid with being the epitome of beauty for an artist and became the face of the inception of the blending of art and photography.  What brought Julia to that point, what informed her ideals of beauty so that they could be fulfilled by a girl from an island village?

Mary Hillier (1860s) Julia Margaret Cameron
When Julia returned to Ceylon, what became of Mary?  What impact did her life in front of the lens have on her later life?  Mary Hillier's life after Julia demonstrates the creative process and its legacy in all it touches in both wonderful and tragic ways.  She lived long enough to see her face rediscovered for a new generation, healing after the First World War, and to have her life interpreted for the amusement of the Bloomsbury set. 

Light and Love (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
Lushly illustrated with Julia Margaret Cameron's beautiful photographs, this will be a book as beautiful as both women deserve.  This is the biography of two lives, clashing cultures, dangerous chemicals, triumph, tragedy and an awful lot of love.

Light and Love will be published by Unicorn in Autumn 2020.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Flappers Travel Fast

We'll begin today slightly earlier than normal, but then we finish up in the 1930s so it all balances out.  Anyway, today's ramble-y post starts in 1773, and Gottfried August Burger's poem Leonore...

Frank Kirchbach illustration for a translation of Leonore
I'm sure you are all very familiar with the tale, not to mention the many, many translations of the poem, including one by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but for those who need reminding, the storyline is thus:

An 1860s translation of Burger's ballad
Our sad ballad begins with lovely, pouty Leonore wondering where the heck her boyfriend William has got to.  He's been off, fighting in Prague (I blame all the stag weekends) and the rest of his soldier-friends have come home but William hasn't.  Instead of taking this fact quietly, Leonore decides to take it up with God who she blames entirely and points out how unfair it all is because she's been a good girl and everything.  Leonore's mother, hearing her daughter ranting at the Almighty, decides to put in a good word for the otherwise blameless Leonore with God because honestly, you really shouldn't be arguing with God, that sort of thing goes down badly with Him and gets you sent to Hell.  Also, I'm guessing being known as the mother of the woman who shouts at God isn't a great look either.  To make her daughter feel better, Leonore's mum says 'well, look, he might not be dead, he might have just shacked up with another woman.' Thanks Mum.

Leonore illustrated by Joseph Louis Leborne (1796-1865)

Anyway, one night there is a knock on the door and it's William!  Hurrah says Leonore and gleefully jumps on the back of his suspiciously large black horse ready to be carried off to her marriage bed.  They go awfully fast and Leonore begins to suspect that everything is not entirely right.  When they arrive at a cemetery, things begin to look even more unromantic.  Their marriage bed is in fact an open grave, already containing William (who indeed had not shacked up with another woman, Mum) and Leonore crumbles into the ground while God says 'That'll teach you.'

Whilst overblown and bonkers, this ballad was not only translated by a bevy of contemporary writers and a few since, but also influenced many writers with the tale of a lover rising from the grave to claim a partner and the general supernatural-ness of it all.  The phrase 'The dead travel fast' which is spoken by Dead William to Leonore as they gallop to the grave, cropped up in books such as Dracula and (after a fashion) A Christmas Carol.  My interest in the story came through Julia Margaret Cameron who published a translation of the tale in 1847.  Her version was illustrated by Daniel Maclise, who also provided some of the illustrations to the famous Moxon Tennyson, a decade later, including one of my favourites...

Extraordinarily camp King Arthur gets the sword of his dreams!
Anyway, Julia Margaret Cameron's translation is just that, a translation.  Being devote in her faith, she adheres to the tale of Divine retribution for cheeky daughters and being galloped to the grave.  As you might have gathered, and as I will explain in a forthcoming post, I am currently writing a book about Julia Margaret Cameron and so read her version of the tale with interest.  I also read this book...

For those that don't know who Lady Troubridge is, here's a reminder...

Laura Gurney (1872) Julia Margaret Cameron
Laura Troubridge, nee Gurney, was the grand-daughter of Sara Prinsep, sister of Julia Margaret Cameron.  

Alice Prinsep Gurney and her daughter, Laura
Her mother was Alice Prinsep, who married Charles Henry Gurney, but the marriage was not overly successful.  This led to little Laura and her sister Rachel being shipped back to Grandma Sara Prinsep and the excitement of Little Holland House.  Inevitably, this happened...

Rachel and Laura Gurney (1872) Julia Margaret Cameron

Not to mention this...

Rachel and Laura Gurney (c.1875) G F Watts
Laura married Sir Thomas Troubridge in 1893 and embarked on a career as a writer.  Her book Memories and Reflections is an absolute treat and it was while seeking a cheap copy of this memoir that I came across one of her novels called The Story of Leonora.  How could I resist?

My battered copy of Lady Troubridge's novel...

Lady Troubridge's novels are often dismissed as Mills and Boon-type stuff and on the face of it The Story of Leonora from 1930 doesn't exactly sound like an adaptation of a somewhat gothic poem. Quoting from the back cover:

In the 'eighties the power of the parents was supreme.  In marriage the giving or witholding 
of their consent was decisive.  The Story of Leonora is the story of a girl whose
 mother's passionate nature and insane jealousy could not bear the thought 
of her daughter's happiness with a former admirer of her own.  From this situation, 
pregnant with tragedy, Lady Troubridge traces the subsequent life of Leonora 
against a fascinating background of the vanished social conditions of the 
late Victorian and Edwardian eras

Well, blimey, that all sounds like an emotional roller-coaster.  Never one to say no to something 'pregnant with tragedy', I plunged right in...

Leonora Stanniford is a beautiful and privileged little girl with a nightmare of a mother.  From the beginning of the novel you are left in no doubt that Caroline 'Carrie' Stanniford will not be wasting any time pleading with God to spare her daughter from Hell as she is too busy having it away with most of the handsome gentlemen in 1880s London. Leonora has her cousin Theodora for company, who is as dark as fairy-like Leonora is fair and utters such brooding lines as 'Brunettes are always wicked'.  In fact on page 34 there is a complete run down on what men find attractive in a woman which is most helpful, thank you.  Apparently, don't be too smart, men don't like that, and don't be too 'forward and fast' because men really like that but have to pretend they don't.  That's cleared that up.

Anyway, Leo and Theo have a childhood in Versailles with various relatives that bears rather a resemblance to Julia Margaret Cameron and her sister's upbringing with their French Grandma, just round the corner from the palace of Versailles.  When Leo, now a pretty young woman returns, Carrie Stanniford is horrified to discover that she has grown up to be (gasp!) as pretty as her! But younger! The horror.

As a child, Leonora caught sight of a handsome young soldier that, oddly enough, Carrie hadn't slept with (even though he apparently wanted to) and fell in love with him.  When she reached the dizzy heights of 17 she meets him again and he falls in love with her (because she looks like her mother, but lets not dwell on that).  Lord Denzil Lynford, our dashing soldier with a frankly preposterous name, is apparently 'too soft for this wicked world' but Leonora's mother cannot bear to see them together so she hatches a plan to separate the lovers when Denzil is summoned off to the Sudan on a camel, for War reasons. When he does not return, Leonore begins to wonder...

Okay, so that's a bit round the houses, but it's loosely the plot for Leonore by Burger.  What Troubridge does is give us a version without galloping horses and with actual decisions.  Leonora has to marry someone apparently and she marries her mother's choice, a man with ambition and position.  Lord Matthew Carlingford could easily have been a panto baddie, crushing the hopes and dreams of little Leonora while she pines for her one true love, but actually, he's quite nice.  So what happened to Denzil?  Go on, find a copy of the book and find out. It's brilliant.

Laura Troubridge's childhood shines through the narrative.  We met with Lord Tennyson, who is described, I'm guessing, rather accurately, and is peppered with quotes from his poems.  I also loved details like how Leonora's hair is dressed (in a 'Langtry knot') and what you get to eat at a debutant's buffet.  It's romantic, a bit torrid, but Leonora's life, although rocky, has a much fairer ending than her namesake.  She's not dragged to Hell, rather she reclines on a bedstead in Mayfair.  Far more dignified.  While Laura Troubridge seemed to specialise in Victorian glamour, this balances the sensibilities of the modern age with the romance of the past.  Leonora strays off the appropriate, moral path but she isn't really damned for all eternity.  For all Troubridge's comments on what makes a good wife and a decent woman, she allows commentary on what the Victorians got wrong in terms of morals to slip into the story subtly.

If you are feeling romantic and wonder how the readers of Flapper-Lit would reimagine an eighteenth century ballad of Divine punishment, this is definitely the novel for you.  I really love the way that Laura Troubridge writes and so will now seek out her other novels.  And remember, as it says on page 63, 'to deceive your mother is surely the worst crime a girl can commit', even when your mother is Carrie Stanniford.

Saturday 17 August 2019

Dropping in on Tennyson (again) (properly this time)

Those of you who have read this blog for a while might be able to cast your minds back to 2014 (when we were all so young and beautiful) when I wrote a post on visiting Farringford, home to Alfred Lord Tennyson.  At that time the hotel was under a great deal of restoration and the such-like but in recent years a transformation has occurred and now common folk, like what I am, can pay their shilling and have a good old shufty around the majestic home of the Laureate.  So I had a damn good wash and got on a ferry...

When I visited half a decade ago I was tempted to lurk in a hedge like a Tennyson groupie, but this time you are directed to a nicely appointed car park at the other end of the garden.  Having got myself booked in to my tour (there are a few every day and I went for the lunchtime one) I got to potter around a beautiful garden where some bumble bees were getting lushed on giant thistles.

Bumble bee, getting plastered in pollen and rightly so

Making my way towards the house, I skirted round to find the Watts sundial.  Designed by Mary Seton Watts as either a gift and/or a memorial, it reminded me naturally of the chapel at Compton.

One side of the wonderful sundial...
Oh look, it's time for my tour!
Well, that's just splendid and nestles in a little cutting just off the main path to the house.  I was fortunate that the day I visited was hot and sunny (unlike the rest of the week) so I got to see the garden in all its glory, but onwards I tramped, up towards the house...

Massive important tree!
I had to wait a bit before being collected for the tour and so I made my way onto the lawn rolling down from the front of the house and visited the massive Wellingtonia tree opposite the front door which bears a very battered plaque...

When Giuseppi Garibaldi, illustrious military leader and biscuit, visited in 1864, he planted the tree and now it towers grandly out the front, well part of it anyway.  I got to have a bit of a lounge on the front lawn before being admitted to the house itself...

You are let in as part of a small group so that you are neither hurried nor crowded.  We were escorted through to a small room by the conservatory in order to collect our audio guide and be relieved of bags and coats.  There is no photography in the house, so the photos of the interior below come from Farringford's own site...

Tennyson's study, with two globes, one terrestrial and one celestial
Actually, it's a bit of a relief not to have a camera because you are not worrying about taking images, nor getting in the way of anyone taking their own snaps. You are free to just immerse yourself and have a good wallow because what has been achieved in the interior of the house is stunning.  The first room you visit on the tour is a room of such breath-taking blue that it is almost overwhelming.  Seriously, the price of entrance is worth it for that room alone. Around the top is the Parthenon frieze from Julia Margaret Cameron, a fragment of the original still clinging on for dear life.

Precious fragment of the classical frieze
The Tennyson family lived in the house from 1853, when they fled London and the interest from growing groups of celebrity hunters, until Tennyson breathed his last in 1892.  Within the walls poems such as Maud were penned, children grew up and friends were entertained.  While this is undoubtedly the house of one of the 19th century's most imposing figures, it is also the home of a family who weathered a fair few tragedies.

Maud (1875) Julia Margaret Cameron

You tour the house with a little audio guide which gives you a description of each room with the option for more information if you want it.  A team of lovely guides shepherds you discreetly from one room to the next, at your own pace and you are never hurried, which is a blessing as the walls are absolutely covered in art.  Paintings by G F Watts and photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron are everywhere, not to mention the furniture, books and details such as Tennyson's pipes and smoking hat (I do love a smoking hat).  The poet's famous billowing cloak and 'wide awake' hat (it has no nap) are tucked in a little nook that scared the life out of me as I caught sight of a figure out of the corner of my eye, stood in shadow.

Yes, but which of us hasn't sidled up to a hot chap only to discover it was only a hat and cloak?
After going up and down stairs and ending up in the most magnificent study, I really felt I had an insight into the home life of the Poet Laureate and his family and it was a rather sweet and lovely insight too.  Rather than being left with the impression of an imposing but distant establishment figure, Tennyson came across as a devoted husband, delighting in games with his sons and being joyfully bullied by his rambunctious neighbour.  The fact that he seemed to have been liked immensely by people who came to his house was also telling.  He also didn't overpower the narrative of the house either with Emily's story coming through clearly as well as that of Hallam and Lionel (poor Lionel), and Audrey, Hallam's first wife.  I was delighted to find May Prinsep represented strongly as well as Watts and Mrs Cameron.  This is a house not of a single man but a series of relationships, all fascinating.  It is also a house in which you feel welcome, something I also suspect the Tennyson family would have approved.

The house is open during the season from April to October and pre-booking is wise as it is popular.  Information can be found here and I can't recommend a visit enough.  I certainly shall be returning.