Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Tony Grant’

Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers, Tony Grant from London Calling has contributed yet another wonderful article. Inspired by my visit to Williamsburg a few weeks ago, he decided to research some of the buildings in more depth.

The Sir Christopher Wren building at the William and Mary College in Virginia is the oldest academic building in the United States. It was built between 1695 and 1700. However its origins began long before that and a long and tortuous path was followed before the construction of the college could be  begun.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

1700s view of William & Mary college with Wren building. @All Posters. Click on image to go to the site.

In 1618 The Virginia Company of London ordered the construction of a university at Henrico, a few miles south of the present day city of Richmond. By 1619 Sir Edwyn Sandys the treasurer of The Virginia Company reported that £1,500 had been collected and also that every bishop in England had been asked to collect money from their parishioners for the construction of the university. In July 1619, workmen were sent  from England to construct the university. In 1622 an Indian uprising destroyed Henrico. In 1624 Virginia became a Royal Colony and the licence of The Virginia Company was revoked. This removed the charter allowing the building of the university. In 1661 The General Assembly authorised the purchase of land for the building of a college. Nothing happened until 1690 when the Church of England clergy in Virginia put forward propositions for the construction of a college. The reverend James Blair was sent to England in 1691 to petition the new King and Queen, Willam and Mary, to grant a charter to establish a college. The King provided £1,985 14s 10d for the construction of a college to be named William and Mary. There was also a 1d tax placed on all tobacco sold to other countries apart from Britain to raise money. In 1693 a tract of land was purchased for £170 from Captain Thomas Ballard. In May 1694 The Royal College of Arms, which is situated beside St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, created a coat of arms for the college. In 1695 the first bricks were laid of the foundation of the college.

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren

This original building of the college is thought to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren. There is no documentary evidence to prove this but there are some arguments in favour of Wren being the architect. Wren was the King’s chief architect and William and Mary authorised the construction of the college. The Church of England used Wren as their chief architect in London and it was the Church of England ministers in Virginia who instigated the building of the college. Wren was also responsible for many other important buildings throughout Britain. Wren was the architect who virtually rebuilt London after the Great Fire in 1666.

Detail of a Wren window

Detail of a Wren window

Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist and mathematician and became one of England’s most famous architects. He was responsible for designing and building over fifty London churches and he was the builder of St Paul’s cathedral in the city. He was born on October 20th 1632 in East Knoyle, a village in Wiltshire in Southern England. His father was the local rector. His father later moved to Windsor and Christopher went to Westminster School, situated next to Westminster Abbey and then went on to Oxford University. He had a talent for mathematics and also inventing things. In 1657 Wren was appointed as the professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London and four years later he became the professor of astronomy at Oxford.

he Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for William and Mary College was created. Image @Tony Grant

The Royal College of Arms next to St Pauls where the coat of arms for the College of William and Mary was created. Image @Tony Grant

In 1662 he was one of the founding members of The Royal Society along with other great mathematicians and scientists. From his interest in physics and mathematics he developed an interest in architecture. In 1664 and 1665 he was commissioned to build the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and also the chapel of Pembroke College Cambridge. Architecture then became his main interest. He visited Paris and became interested in the baroque style. In 1666 The Great Fire of London destroyed much of the old city. This provided a great opportunity for Wren. He drew up designs for a grand new city. However, many of his ideas did not come to fruition because the owners of different parcels of land, in the city, did not want to sell. Wren was able, though, to design fifty-one churches and St Paul’s Cathedral.

Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons

Returning to the possibility of Wren designing the William and Mary College in Virginia, it is interesting to compare Wren’s known buildings with the college to see what similarities in style there might be. I referred to the efforts to raise the finances to build the college and maybe there was a difficulty here. When you compare what Wren built here in England with William and Mary College there are many discrepancies. William and Mary College looks to be a very downmarket version of Wren’s classic buildings.

Wren Building. @William & Mary's website. Click on image to see the source.

Wren Building. @William & Mary’s website. Click on image to see the source.

There are some similarities in design and proportion though. Whoever did design William and Mary College could at least have had Wren as an inspiration. Wren worked closely with designers such as Grindling Gibbons, the wood carver and John Groves, the plasterer.

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

Carving design by Grinling Gibbons

They both created the most ornate ceilings, wood panelling and facia stone carvings on Wrens buildings. These people were the most prominent and influential designers of their day. They would have charged a premium price for their talents and skills.From the pictures of William and Mary College these features are not present.

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

Details of wood work by Grinling Gibbons

William and Mary, who the college is named after, provide an insight into the turbulent history after the even more turbulent times of the English Civil War.

William Henry Stuart was born on November 14th 1650 in the Hague in the Netherlands. He was the son of William II of Orange. In 1672 William was appointed Stadholder(chief magistrate)and captain general of the Dutch forces  to resist a French invasion of the Netherlands. In 1677 he married his cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York who became James II of England. It was a diplomatic and politically inspired marriage intending to repair the rift between England and the Netherlands after the Anglo Dutch Wars. James II was a very unpopular monarch, not least because he was a catholic. The English Parliament tried to oppose James and wanted to reduce his powers. They secretly invited William and Mary to come to England and rule as joint monarchs. William landed at Torbay on 5th November 1688, a very nice Devon coastal resort these days, with an army of 14,000 troops. With local support this increased to 20,000 men. They advanced on London. This was called the Glorious Revolution. James fled to France and William and Mary were crowned as William III and Mary II. Parliament then passed the Bill of Rights which prevented a catholic taking the throne again and parliament also limited the powers of the monarch.

William and Mary

William and Mary

William and Mary did not like each other. William had a dour personality. He was asthmatic, twelve years older and several inches shorter than Mary and he was a homosexual by nature.

Sir Christopher Wren's addition to Hampton Court

Christopher Wren facade

If ever you visit Hampton Court you can walk around the 17th century part of the palace behind the old Tudor part which was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren as a present for William and Mary. It was  also intended as an enticement to bring William to England as our monarch. William and Mary liked Hampton Court and spent a lot of time there.

Visitors today can process through all the rooms of state. A palace was designed to a specific plan. The first rooms you enter were waiting rooms. Ambassadors from other countries would wait until ushered into the next set of rooms to have an audience with the King. Rooms following on from that would be for the Kings own ministers. Following on to the next set of rooms, the greatest of the aristocracy and personal friends of the King would be admitted. As you process through the rooms further only the monarchs most intimate friends, advisors and family would be permitted.

Baroque interior of the King's apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Baroque interior of the King’s apartments, Hampton Court. Click on image for source.

Finally you reach the Kings own personal rooms and, lastly, after all the grand state rooms, a small bedroom, lavishly decorated but very small, almost a closet, the kings own sleeping chamber. It is interesting to note that the room above the king’s bedroom was the room of his own personal manservant who was the only one who had access to the King in the night. His manservant could enter by way of a narrow staircase, which apparently, he often did. We can only surmise!

Read Full Post »

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Nelson Memorial. A slave in chains. Image courtesy @Tony Grant

Inquiring readers, this rather serious topic of British slave ownership plays a role in Jane Austen’s world and her novels. She addressed the issue in an indirect way in Mansfield Park and Emma, with the Bertram fortune resting on slave trade and Mrs. Elton’s merchant father situated in Bristol, one of three major slave-trading centers in Britain. I am sure that her two sailor brothers related vivid tales of their travels in their letters and when they returned home for a visit. Jane, who was well-read and participated in family conversations, was keenly aware of human trafficking and exploitation. Ironically, a few years after her death, Charles actively patrolled the seas against the slave trade. In this post, Tony Grant addresses the legacies of British slave ownership. The British, godbless’em, abolished slavery decades before the U.S. and in a more civilized and peaceful manner. (Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon, is a frequent contributor to Jane Austen’s World. Visit his other blogs at London Calling and The Novels of Virginia Woolf. He traces his ancestry to the slave trade. As for me, I was born a Dutch citizen. The shameful actions of the Dutch in transporting slaves from Africa and their role in the slave trade is well documented.)

Image @University of York

Catherine Hall, Image @University of York

(Researched at UCL (University College London) by Catherine Hall Professor of Modern British Social and Cultural History and her project team.)

The above title is an umbrella title which has been given to two projects, one called, “Tracing the impact of slave ownership on modern Britain,” and the other, “Legacies of British Slave Ownership.” These will lead to a further project entitled, “Structure and significance of British Caribbean slave ownership 1763 -1833.”

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

Clapham Church, Holy Trinity. Image @Tony Grant

In 1974, I was in my second year of teacher training. I was doing a three year teacher training course at Gypsy Hill teachers training college situated on Kingston Hill, about a mile from the centre of Kingston upon Thames. The college was eventually amalgamated with Kingston University. The new university education department did not retain it’s rather romantic sounding epithet, Gypsy Hill, unfortunately. My teaching practice during that second year was to spend six weeks teaching English at Henry Thornton’s Secondary School situated on the south side of Clapham Common. It was a tough place to go as a young teacher. Although Clapham is not quite classed as inner city the area was home to lot of disadvantaged families some of them ethnic minorities and many of them West Indian in origin. Henry Thornton would have been pleased about the ethnic mix in the school. My first English lesson, reading and discussing, Cider With Rosy,by Laurie Lee, was to be with a class of fifteen-year-olds. As soon as I walked into the classroom a large powerfully built West Indian lad, swaying back in his chair staring at me, trying to stare me out, nonchalantly raised his right fist and smashed it through the pain of glass in the window next to him overlooking the corridor. I think the blood must have drained rather quickly from my face and I asked another pupil to get the head of year who came rushing to my help immediately. Coming from Southampton, on the south coast, this was my first experience of Clapham.

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

Interior of Clapham Holy Trinity Church, image @ Tony Grant

However that experience has many connections with Britain’s past history in the slave trade and with what I am going to write about in this essay. Henry Thornton, was born in Clapham on the 10th March 1760. His father had been one of the early founders of the Evangelical movement in Britain. His father and his cousins were bankers. In fact his brother Samuel Thornton became The Governor of the Bank of England. Henry himself was a very successful banker. The bank – Down, Thornton and Free – became the most successful bank in London. Henry Thornton is credited with being the father of the modern central banking system. He was a great theorist and wrote books about banking.

Henry Thornton

Henry Thornton

Henry became the Member of Parliament for Southwark, which is situated just across London Bridge from The City. However, he was unlike other bankers of the time. Britain’s wealth was closely tied up with the slave trade, but Henry Thornton was an abolitionist. Henry Thornton was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, who incidentally met and worshiped together at Holy Trinity Church, which nowadays is directly opposite Henry Thornton’s school where I had my momentous teaching experience. He was foremost a campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. His close friend and cousin was William Wilberforce. The two men lived together with their families at Battersea Rise on the opposite side of Clapham Common to the church and where the school that uses his name is situated. Henry was the financier behind the Clapham Sect in their many campaigns.

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

William Wilbeforce. Image @Tony Grant

Catherine Hall and her project team are endeavouring to understand the extent and the limits of slavery’s role in shaping the history of Britain and its lasting legacy. They are focussing on various aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes, such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. How was slavery was involved in national and local politics? In Henry Thornton we see many of these aspects even if his actions and beliefs were contrary to the slave trade. He was a member of parliament who campaigned against slavery. He used his wealth to counteract slavery. I wonder if the West Indian lad who broke the window in my lesson realised that his destiny and the generations of his family before him were connected with the man whose name was on the school he was attending?

There is rather a surprising link and revelation about Henry Thornton in the research and data the UCL team has gathered. Kate Donnington, one of the PHD researchers on the team, has written a thesis about George Hibbert, one of the most influential characters and one of the major figures amongst West Indian merchants.

George Hibbett

George Hibbett

George Hibbert was a leading member of the pro slavery lobby and so one of the main adversaries of Henry Thornton over the slavery bill. However, Hibbert was a philanthropist and did many good works for charities. In 1824 he helped set up the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. Nowadays that has become the RNLI, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which saves the lives of many around our coasts to this day. He was also involved in creating The Royal Institute. The running and creation of the Royal institute for the arts and science also involved, Henry Thornton and his brother John. It seems that individuals could be absolutely opposed to each other over slavery but work together in other aspects of the nation’s life.

This project by UCL is of national and international importance, but it also has a very personal meaning. Another of the researchers in the project team, James Dawkins, is studying the slave owning presence of his own family, the Dawkins, through the data collected. This inspired me to look up my surname, Grant, to see who amongst the Grant clan from North East Scotland around the Spey Valley, was connected with slavery. I didn’t have any hopes for direct ancestors to myself being involved in slavery unless were crew on the slave ships; we were labourers in the fields and workers in the whisky distilleries. We owned no land as such and certainly had no wealth.

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

Slave Ship. Image @Liverpool Museum

I discovered there were many Grants involved in the slave trade and plantation ownership though. There were various Alexander Grants, not all the same person I am sure. Alexander, must have been a popular name amongst the Grants. In fact my son, Samuel, has Alexander as his second name. There is an Alice Grant, one of my daughters is called Alice, a Betty, and various Anne Grants. It quickly becomes evident that many women, perhaps through inheritances, were investors in and owners of slaves. The list of Grants goes on.There are one hundred and eighty five Grants listed. I have an uncle, John Grant. There are many John Grants in the list and my father is Robert and yes there are many Roberts in the list. My own family’s Christian names are amongst the most prevalent Christian names associated with Grants in the survey. But my surname Grant is one Scottish surname amongst hundreds. If my families name is mirrored in the survey by all the other Scottish clan names there must be an inordinate number of Scottish families connected with the slave trade.

"The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber's treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty."Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

“The abolition of the slave trade Or the inhumanity of dealers in human flesh exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s treatment of a young Negro girl of 15 for her virjen (sic) modesty.”
Shows an incident of an enslaved African girl whipped to death for refusing to dance naked on the deck of the slave ship Recovery, a slaver owned by Bristol merchants. Captain John Kimber was denounced before the House of Commons by William Wilberforce over the incident. In response to outrage by abolitionists, Captain Kimber was brought up on charges before the High Court of Admiralty in June 1792, but acquitted of all charges. Image @Wikimedia

I took one Grant to look at more specifically. Alexander Grant , the survey does not show when he was born but he was born at Abelour, Banffshire. He died on the 7th may 1854 He was a slave owner, planter and merchant on the island of Jamaica. He had Abelour House built for him in 1838. The house still exists today. His will left £300,000. His estates in Jamaica and Scotland were inherited by his niece, Margaret Gordon McPherson Grant.

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

Slaves in transit, Liverpool

An interesting character I discovered on the UCL website was Ann Katherine Storer (née Hill, 1785-1854) She was born in Jamaica, where she married Anthony Gilbert Storer. She inherited her husband’s estates after his death, which not only included his Jamaican estates but also Purley Park in Berkshire, England. Anthony Gilbert Storer died in June 1818 and Ann Katherine returned to Purley Park with her five surviving children. There were problems with large debts and disputes over recompense. A rather strange and disturbing story is related about Ann Katherine Storer. When she returned to England she brought some slaves with her to work at Purley House.

Slave ship

Slave ship

“In 1824, Ann Katherine Storer was accused of the maltreatment of Philip Thompson, a black servant who was bought as a slave in Jamaica and brought to England by the Storers. According to Philip Thompson’s testimony, “flogging was the usual punishment for any misdemeanour and he was often ill treated… One day in July 1824 Mrs Storer was already up when Philip rose at 6 am. Finding that he had not been up in time to clean the lobby she ordered him to be taken to the “whipping place”. After removing his coat, waistcoat and shirt, he then received about a dozen lashes from a hunting whip wielded by the butler so that the blood ran down his back… Mrs Storer was said to have been present and said [to Robert Stewart, the butler], “Well done, Robert, give him more”…

African slaves in Liverpool

African slaves in Liverpool

There is an element of sadism in this. She almost seems to take pleasure in the ill treatment of Philip. Ann was born and brought up on a slave plantation and was obviously used to dealing with slaves. This story made me wonder if this was a usual sort of treatment that was commonplace.

I mentioned above that the project team are focusing on aspects such as commerce, culture, history, the Empire, physical attributes such as the great houses and estates financed by slavery and also political aspects. Money from slavery was used to build Abelour House in Scotland as one example and the estate still exist today. George Hibbet was a philanthropist as well as a slave owner and he did many charitable works including setting up the forerunner to the RNLI as well as the London Institution, which was for the diffusion of useful knowledge in the arts and sciences. He acted as both its president and vice president between 1805 and 1830. He was a member of a number of learned societies and clubs including the Freemasons, the Linnean society and the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Hibbet collected books, prints and art. He also inherited a house with its estate called Munden in Hertfordshire. I am taking George Hibbet as an example, but the point is that this sort of philanthropy and range of interests in the arts, literature, science, charities and so on is replicated throughout the four thousand individuals of wealth and property identified by this research.

Slavery and it’s proceeds were and are bound up with the whole of society, good and bad, and we must still be benefiting from it today. Eric Williams, the historian who wrote, “Capitalism and Slavery,” believes that the slave trade and slavery, “provided not only essential demand for manufactures and supply of raw materials but also vital capital for the early phases of industrialisation. This has been partially substantiated through the histories of particular family firms.”

Shackles

Shackles

In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in Britain and it’s Empire. In 1833 slavery was abolished by the British Parliament in the British Caribbean, Mauritius and The Cape. These people in the survey have been identified as the recipients of compensation for the loss of wealth when slavery came to an end. However it is important to note that what replaced it was not much better. The great sugar, tea. cotton and coffee plantations were still there. The slaves got their freedom but were then signed up to what was called an apprentice scheme. This meant that they signed up for work on the estate for a minimum number of years. Life did not materially or actually change for them. In many ways, it is interesting to think about what slavery is and means. Slavery is obviously the worst sort of work contract but we all have to work. We all have no choice once we have signed a contract. The conditions of work are very favourable on the whole for us but there are legal and social requirements we have to fulfill. The jobs we have can in no way be compared to the plight of a slave but there are degrees. Is working for someone else and being contracted to work a type of benign slavery?

The research Catherine Hall and her team are doing is fantastic but it has had its critics. There have been concerns both in the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean that the project team is white. One argument in defence is that white people as well as black people were all part of the slave trade. By putting the emphasis in the study on individual slave owners there is a fear that the case for reparations to be made by the state could be weakened. There is also a concern for banks and legal firms founded in the 17th century or before who have continued to this day and who have inherited the benefits derived from slavery in the past. The UCL group has said they are prepared to share their empirical data with these firms but also the contextualisation of that evidence.

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Triangular slave trade. Liverpool

Professor Hall and her colleagues suggest that there are some key questions and problems that remain to be addressed:

  • “What proportion of Britain’s nineteenth-century wealth was linked to slavery?
  • How significant was this injection of capital into the burgeoning industrial economy of the 1830s?
  • Was investment in other parts of the empire seen as desirable?
  • How did this capital contribute to consumer spending – on houses, gardens, books or paintings?
  • Did philanthropic institutions significantly benefit?
  • We have also been exploring the political activities of the slave owners – to follow them in parliament, to see what positions they took on domestic and imperial matters, how active they were in local politics or what contributions they made to cultural institutions.
  • We have also investigated the ways in which their writings represented the slave trade and slavery.”

The UCL website: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/

Read Full Post »

Gentle readers, in celebration of Pride and Prejudice’s 200 year anniversary, Jane Austen’s World will feature a regular article about Jane Austen’s most popular novel throughout 2013. We can count on frequent contributor Tony Grant from London Calling to provide us with a unique perspective. Enjoy!

All good films have a car chase. Some originate from well written, exciting, nail-biting, on the edge of your seats, breathless descriptions in a novel.

Steve McQueen in mustang

Steve McQueen in mustang

Let it not be said Pride and Prejudice doesn’t have it’s nail biter, it’s moment of burning rubber and screeching tyres that is right up there with Steve McQueen ripping up the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, hurling his Ford Mustang over the lips of hills and down daredevil slopes with a street fighters aggression or Michael Caine escaping the Italian police with wheels spitting gravel and door smashing bravado in his supercharged mini cooper GT along the Corniche, “not many people know that,” or John Thaw in The Sweeney, as gritty streetwise cop Jack Regan thundering through the Isle of Dogs in his 3 litre V6 Ford Consul GT. Mr Bennett has his contenders, but not, may I dare say, his equals, oh no.

Elizabeth Bennett, who is visiting Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, the Gardeners has received a letter from her sister Jane

Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you — be assured that we are all well. What I have to say relates to poor Lydia. An express came at twelve last night, just as we were all gone to bed, from Colonel Forster, to inform us that she was gone off to Scotland with one of his officers; to own the truth, with Wickham!”

Image of eloping couple. 1815

Image of eloping couple. 1815

This piece of information about Lydia sets in motion, literally, a series of coach journeys and desperate searchings that rivals anything Steve McQueen or Michael Caine partook of.

Michael Caine: Nuts to your watches! You just be at the Piazza at a quarter to..
Steve McQueen: Look, you work your side of the street, and I’ll work mine.
Det. Insp. Jack Regan: Remember, no guns unless they use ‘em.

Mr Gardner and Mr Bennett walking the streets of London, searching for Wickham and Lydia could well have used lines like those. What needs to be said, what needs to be done, never changes whatever century, don’t you think?

“…and all three being actuated by one spirit, every thing relating to their journey was speedily settled. They were to be off as soon as possible.”

Coach travel

Coach travel

And so Mr and Mrs Gardner and Lizzie Bennett sped south to Longbourn at the hair-raising speed of 10 miles per hour or more, on the occasion of increased velocity being achieved when long flat straight roads presented themselves; jolted and tossed about, no doubt, like three potatoes in a sack.

But Lydia and Wickham were as devious and cunning as any mafia on the streets of Naples, or ruthless bank robbers from the East End of London or murderous killers off the dangerous streets of San Francisco. Gretna Green was, dare I say, a red herring. They spread rumours, gasp, horror; they planned and they plotted, they predicted and they saw clearly with their crazed, devious minds thinking out brilliantly, their next move. They lived the heady adrenalin pumped life of criminals on the run.

Mr Bennett “… did trace them easily to Clapham, but no farther; for on entering that place they removed into a Hackney coach and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom.”

Oh gosh and golly, what subterfuge, what dastardly cunning. They actually changed from a chaise to a hackney coach.The evil mind games of those criminals. But they were hunted, yes, hunted, by Mr Bennett, he, a wily, ruthless backwoodsman who once he smelled the scent of his prey cannot, will not, be put off his quest. Mrs Bennett was right to be desperate in her concerns,

And now here’s Mr Bennett gone away and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?”.

Popeye Doyle himself could not compete with Mr Bennett surely in his ruthless endeavour

 The son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him.”

But our Mr Bennett in his utter, focused, desperate determination can but say,

“Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

Good gracious, the man is a titan of hot-blooded aggression. Surely nothing can prevail? Wickham has met his match.

epsom

Epsom Watch House & Clock c1840 from Dugdale’s England & Wales
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre

Elizabeth was desperate to know what lengths, what depths her father would go to retrieve his wayward daughter, her very own sister.

He meant, I believe,” replied Jane, “to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions, and try if anything could be made out from them. His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them from Clapham. “

Of course, a touch of sheer genius; find out the number of the Hackney Coach. That would do it. He would be sure to find them then.
And after all this searching, this animal desperation, this wolf like howl of anguish ripped from the primeval instinctive depths of Mr Bennett’s heart, what then? What could be the consequences? So after many letters flying backwards and forwards, if anything, P&P appears to hinge very often on the writing, sending and receiving of letters, Mr Gardner has appeared to pay Wickhams debts,, Mr Bennet has only to provide a paltry £100 a year, he can’t believ his luck and can’t quite work out the finances as if he ever could work out his finances. (Aside: we all know who really has settled the finances, don’t we?? Ha! Ha! It’s getting more like a pantomime all the time this. Mrs Bennnet as Widow Twanky and Mr Bennet as Baron Hardup.)

He had never before supposed that, could Wickham be prevailed on to marry his daughter, it would be done with so little inconvenience to himself as by the present arrangement. He would scarcely be ten pounds a year the loser, by the hundred that was to be paid them; for, what with her board and pocket allowance, and the continual presents in money which passed to her through her mother’s hands, Lydia’s expenses had been very little within that sum.

That it would be done with such trifling exertion on his side, too, was another very welcome surprise; for his chief wish at present was to have as little trouble in the business as possible. When the first transports of rage which had produced his activity in seeking her were over, he naturally returned to all his former indolence.”

Mr. Bennet

Mr. Bennet

So Wickham was to marry Lydia and Mrs Bennett was happy and all was well with Mr Bennett and he could return to his former state of,” indolence.” A sort of Popeye Doyle with carpet slippers smoking a pipe and reading his newspaper seated at his fireside; a Michael Caine reminiscing about his past, cold eyed and tough emotionless roles in Get Carter relaxing now in his easy chair or Steve McQueen sitting back on his ranch, his rocking chair gently calming his fevered brain and letting his motorbikes go rusty, crying into his beer, or, even a Jack Regan from The Sweeney who could at last ,” Shut it!” himself. Ah, all was well in the end. Colonel Forster could return too to Brighton, to the lesser dangers of defending our shores and leading his regiment against Napoleon knocking at the very shingle on Brighton Beach. Mr and Mrs Gardner could return to the hustle and bustle and shops and markets of Gracechurch Street in the city and Lizzie and Jane, yes, well, we know what becomes of Lizzie and Jane,

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs Bingley and talked of Mrs Darcy may be guessed.”

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham not so

Lydia in connubial bliss and Wickham apparently not so

So, in a novel dedicated to getting daughters married, a lot of horse and carriage mileage is accrued and many letters are written. We only hear of weddings, but we certainly know about how characters felt. Will, Lady Catherine ever get over being, “exceedingly angry” or will she just explode with high blood pressure?

Read Full Post »

Inquiring readers: Tony Grant from London Calling has been a frequent contributor to this blog, sending posts and images. He lives in Wimbledon and acts as a tour guide, taking visitors on tours to Jane Austen country, the Lakes region, and points of interest all around London and the U.K. Recently, Tony sent in his thoughts about Jane Austen and his wish to delve deeper into other authors and their lives. As an active guide, he knows whereof he speaks. I asked Susannah Fullerton, author, president of JASA, and also a tour guide, to give her response (with Tony’s approval).  Here, then, is their very interesting conversation. I intend to weigh in. Does anyone else have an opinion? If so, please feel free to comment. Meanwhile, to all my U.S. readers, Happy Thanksgiving! Drive safely and have a wonderful time with kith and kin.

“Good-Bye to All That,” is an autobiography by Robert Graves. Graves said, “It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.

I was reading a poem by Edward Thomas, (Philip Edward Thomas, 3rd March 1878 – 9th April 1917) recently, entitled, “The Brook.” In the poem Thomas is sitting by a stream and watching a child paddling in the brook. His senses are completely alert to the sights and sounds of insects, the sight of birds and the sounds of birds unseen, the play of sunlight, the rippling tinkling sounds of water and the memories of a past horseman and horse buried under a barrow on the heath nearby. The poem ends,

And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before,” is what she said.

It occurred to me that the child was right. Of course, probably, many people had been to that spot over years and decades. For each of us, however, when we go to a place for the first time that is pristine and natural and remains how it has always been we do experience something for the first time. It is as if nobody has been there or done that, or experienced that before us. We can experience things fresh and new for ourselves when we go somewhere like this, for the first time.

Signpost. Image @Tony Grant

Now lets take a visit to Chawton, Jane Austen’s last home before she died. I wonder if we can actually experience things fresh and new to us on a visit to Chawton and say,“No one’s been here before,” in the way the child in Edward Thomas’s poem did?

I remember standing at the crossroads in Chawton , years ago, for the first time. What I should have experienced, according to Jane Austen pilgrims to Chawton, is a sense of where she lived, a connection with Jane Austen – where she wrote, cooked, sewed, wrote letters, enjoyed the company of Cassandra, Martha, her mother and brothers and neighbours too. Indeed, Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) did all this over two hundred years ago. But can I or any of us get that feeling of, “No one’s been here before.” Do we really get an experience standing at Chawton crossroads next to that much photographed sign post put up in the 1930’s with pointers to the great house, the church and the cottage that it is the Chawton of Jane Austen? Do we really believe that we have a connection with Austen by being there? Isn’t it all in our imaginations because we want to believe?

Chawton Village street. Image @Tony Grant

Chawton high street is full of parked cars with Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Scandinavian makers emblems on them. The road is metalled and covered in tarmac. It has a pavement edged by slate and granite curb stones from Dartmoor. It has concrete and tarmac pavements. Houses surrounding the cottage have a mesh of telecommunication wires leading to each one. People who live in Chawton are all connected to the World Wide Web with broadband like the rest of us. Modern street lights light the streets at night. In the small park opposite the cottage there is a children’s playground with steal clambering structures and swings. The pub opposite, The Greyfriar, is a Fullers pub. They hold a quiz night once a week for locals that probably doesn’t include questions about Jane Austen. Fullers, by the way, is a London brewery situated on the Great West Road, leading out towards Heathrow Airport, close to where Hogarth had his country retreat. These very locals travel to Winchester, Southampton or even commute to London for work every day. Chawton C of E Primary School, just along the road, on the way to The Great House, is an ordinary primary school that teaches the national curriculum. The children are like children anywhere and this is where they live. The Jane Austen connection to them is by the by, not really pertinent to their lives. Although, I am sure, as the school is in Chawton the children will know a lot about Jane Austen, but she will really be just somebody else on their list of famous people and writers to know about. Those children play computer games on their Ipads at home. Chawton is an ordinary place where people live and get on with their ordinary lives, where Jane doesn’t loom much in their minds when they are peeling the potatoes or hoovering their carpets or watching the TV.

Chawton Cottage signs. Image @Tony Grant

Looking at the cottage from the outside, the Jane Austen societies have stuck large obtrusive signs on the walls facing the road. If you look at the structure of the building itself you begin to wonder what of it Jane would actually recognise if she were to come back today. Windows have obviously been bricked up. Was that a result of 18th century window taxes or because at one time the cottage was split into a group of smaller cottages? It has a variety of doors to enter by too which probably weren’t there or were in different locations in Jane’s day.

Staircase. Image @Tony Grant

When you go into the cottage you see modern radiators, electrical wiring, plug sockets and fire exit signs with the requisite fire extinguisher points. These are not subtly hidden or unobtrusive but are very prominent. Many of the display cases, especially upstairs, are bulky and obtrusive. They don’t look good. The staircase itself is not the staircase Jane Austen would have known in her time. The whole house has actually been restructured. The Austen’s might not recognise the place. It’s not really the place they knew.

The visitor’s entrance to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

I always come back to the books and her letters. That is where to find Jane Austen. That is where we are going to get glimpses of the real person if we are attentive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love reading Jane’s novels, her letters and the biographies written about her. However all these Jane Austen societies bother me. They worship and idolise her. They focus exclusively on her. They wring every bit of Janenness out of her. They make Chawton a false holy of holies. She was one writer for goodness sake. The world is a diverse and varied place full of great writers that we all need to read and not be partisan about. If I had my way I would get rid of all literary societies connected with all writers and say, just read. Reading develops us and helps us grow. Centering on one writer narrows us.

Penguin Classics

As a paraphrase of Robert Graves, this article “ (Is) my(not so) bitter leave-taking of (Austen) where I (have) recently broken a good many conventions”. We all need to stop squeezing the life out of Jane Austen and get on with real life and the rest of the real literary world. Returning to the essence of the Edward Thomas poem, I feel that my senses need to be open but to other writers without the weighty manufactured image of Jane Austen hovering over my shoulder.

Doesn’t anybody else feel that they would like to get out from underneath the weight of Austen and breath freely again?

Tony Grant

I am going to read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels after Christmas and post reviews. My mate Clive and I are going to do this in tandem. If you want an antidote to all things Jane, don’t stray!!!!!!! Clive and Tone are on their way.

Tony Grant, Wimbledon

Hi Tony,

I hope you are well. I enjoy reading your comments on Vic’s lovely website. Your photo of the Dolphin Hotel looks so nice in my new book, A Dance with Jane Austen. Thanks again for giving me permission to use it when we met.

I’m intrigued by your comments about Jane Austen societies, but don’t agree with you that they are in any way narrowing. My experience is quite the opposite. At JASA we’ve had talks on Jane Austen’s connections with / influence on many other writers – Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Byron, Radcliffe, the Brontes, etc. Such talks immediately send you hurrying off to get to know more about those other writers. We’ve had talks about Jane Austen and various historical figures, so you then want to learn more about them, and of course we’ve had talks and articles about the age in which she lived, so our members then explore music in her time, art and what paintings she knew, they learn about the church in that era, the navy and army, Georgian crime, fashion, food, travel, and the list goes on. I see JASA (and the other literary societies to which I belong) as a wonderful way of extending my reading and my knowledge, not limiting it.

And joining good literary societies is addictive. If you get great pleasure from learning more about one writer, you soon realise that you can do the same with another writer. It does not have to be exclusive – I’m extremely promiscuous indeed when it comes to joining literary groups! I’m part of an Anthony Trollope group (we have trouble knowing what to call our group – ‘The Trollopes’ has dubious connotations – I’d love to hear suggestions??) and we have been making our way through Trollope’s more than 40 novels with enormous pleasure. (Trollope, by the way, was a great admirer of Jane Austen). We have also read biographies of Trollope, biographies of his mother Frances, critical books about his writings, and books about the position of women in Victorian England. It’s a small group but we have all felt so enriched by it. Plus we have great fun, good food and wine, picnics (in places Trollope visited in Australia) and we have all made new friends.

And lastly a fabulous reason to join a literary society is for the social aspects. I have met some of my dearest friends through JASA and other Jane Austen connections. I can honestly say that joining JASA has totally changed my life – and all for the better – so there’s been nothing ‘narrowing’ about my passion for Jane Austen’s novels. Rather than ‘squeezing the life’ out of Jane Austen, my love of her writings has widened my knowledge, increased my appreciation of her books, life and historical era, has taken me around the world, given me new friends and given me intense happiness. The more I turn to her novels, the more I get from them; and the same goes for JASA – Jane Austen keeps giving and giving and I receive so very happily all she has to give in so many ways.

Am I waxing too lyrical??? I think you need to pay a visit to Australia, Tony, so that I can show you in person all you could get from a great literary society. Please come and visit any time!!!! JASA would love to welcome you to sunny Sydney.

Cheers,
Susannah

Read Full Post »

Drawing tonight for two Georgette Heyer books. Leave a comment at this link on Why I Love Georgette Heyer. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

Georgette Heyer in 1923, when she was 21 and lived in Ridgway Place. She had already written The Black Moth for her sick brother Boris.

Georgette Heyer was born 110 years ago (August 16, 1902) at 103 Woodside, a mere 500 yards from Wimbledon Library. She was named after her father George, a descendant of a Russian fur merchant who had immigrated to England during the mid-19th century. The family lived at Woodside from 1902 to 1906 before moving to 1 Courthope Road. Georgette’s family lived in several houses in Wimbledon, all middle class, all close to each other.

Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon and took the images of her childhood homes and neighborhood for this post, speculates that “Maybe her  father and mother  rented rather than bought. That might not sound  strange to  you  but it is  rare  for us. We generally buy our  houses [and] don’t move  that often.”

Georgette Heyer’s birthplace. Image @Tony Grant

Another view of her birthplace

He adds an interesting tidbit:  “People here don’t really appreciate her that much. They tend to think she was always trying to give them a history lesson. Things they knew anyway…But I can see how someone who  wanted to immerse themselves in the period would love her.”

Woodside, Wimbledon

Georgette Heyer came from a respectable background. She and her family lived  at various addresses in Wimbledon: 103 Woodside (1902-6), 1 Courthope Road (c.1907-9), 11 Homefield Road (1918) and 5 Ridgway Place (1923–5).

The Albany, Mayfair

She was married to George Ronald Rougier CBE QC, a mining engineer who later became a shopkeeper and then a barrister. For 24 years the couple lived in a rented space in Albany House in Mayfair, London, a swanky area where so many of her upper crust characters shopped and danced and found romance. They had one son, Richard. Georgette experienced great success during her lifetime, receiving excellent reviews and seeing the sales of her novels increase yearly. Almost 40 years after her death in 1974, her novels, especially her Regency romances, remain in print.
While Georgette was aware of the popularity of her Regency romances, she was unhappy that her more serious historical novels were not similarly embraced. On August 16th of this year, Tony reports that the Wimbledon Library will have no events to  remember her by. “I feel  quite sad now”, he added, “[She] probably needs a 150th anniversary to  get a mention!”

Read Full Post »

Gentle readers, frequent contributor Tony Grant has recently returned from visiting the Lake Country with his friend, Clive. (Visit his blog, London Calling, where he shares his experiences and wonderful images.) While there he was reminded of Wordsworth’s poem about Tintern Abbey and sent in his thoughts. Thank you, Tony, for making poetry come alive!

“Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, : 1798”

Wye Valley

This rather ungainly title is the precursor to a poem by William Wordsworth written in 1798, as the title shows, which lays out his philosophy about his understanding of the world and the effect it has on him.

First of all the title tells us about a revisiting of the Wye Valley. Wordsworth may well have been using the guide book written by William Gilpin about the Wye and Tintern Abbey. Gilpin was a fellow lover of nature, who was also born in Cumberland and The Lakes. In this poem Wordsworth is revisiting, recalling, adjusting his memory of a place and adding to the strength of its power over him.

Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.”

The Lakes. Image @Tony Grant

Wordsworth emphasises seclusion such as a hermit might experience.. This aloneness is an important aspect of this poem. When we meditate we find a secluded tranquil spot to be alone in.

The use of his senses is paramount to this process.

again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.”

And also,

Once again I see

These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines

Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke

Sent up,”

Foxgloves and dry stone wall. Image @Tony Grant.

Sound and sight come together to make an impression on his mind and feelings. But these are not short lived impressions. They have a deep and profound effect.

“oft, in lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;

And passing even into my purer mind,

With tranquil restoration: -feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As have no slight or trivial influence.”

Rocky outcrop, image @Tony Grant

Wordsworth is saying that remembering the sensations that nature has had on him can be recalled, relived at other times and in other places and help him overcome things such as weariness and other detrimental sensations.

how oft -

In darkness and amid the many shapes

Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir

Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,

Have hung upon the beatings of my heart -

How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,

Tintern Abbey

Memory, imagination, recalling good sensations, becomes a sort of force that Wordsworth can use. He describes it as being “felt in the blood” and “along the heart. “ These sound strange phrases to us. We might describe these experiences as affecting us deeply or having a psychological influence or even providing a spiritual experience.

Methods of meditation use memory and imagination in this way. Athletes and sportspeople use this method too. We are experiencing the Olympics at this moment. Athletes have described how they use imagination to help them perform to the best of their ability. A white water canoeist was interviewed yesterday morning and asked how she prepares for such a hazardous descent and how is she able to get the timing of her turns just right. She answered that she imagines the descent through the rough and tumbling waters again and again, living in her imagination every move, paddle stroke and turn she is going to make.

Wordsworth gives even more importance to the powers of nature when he says these experiences have an effect ,

On the best portion of a good man’s life,

His little, nameless, unremembered, acts

Of kindness and of love.”

He is saying our experience of nature has an actual effect on the way behave.

The chancel crossingot Tintern Abbey looking towards the east window, JWM Turner, 17942

Wordsworth takes his ideas to an even higher almost mystical religious level when he says,

that blessed mood,

In which the burthen of the mystery,

In which the heavy and the weary weight

Of all this unintelligible world,

Is lightened: -that serene and blessed mood,

In which the affections gently lead us on -

Until, the breath of this corporeal frame

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul;”

The effects last into the afterlife and affect our experience of heaven. This is serious stuff. Wordsworth is completely taken with this concept.

Banks of the Wye

Towards the end of the poem it becomes a letter, almost a love letter, to his sister Dorothy, who he sees as his soul mate. He includes her in his understanding of what he experiences,

all which we behold

Is full of blessings.”

What is interesting to consider is that in this poem Wordsworth describes how he uses his experience of nature through his senses to lighten and bring joy and spiritual pleasure to himself at other times. This revisit to the Wye Valley five years after his first visit appears to be an attempt to strengthen his experiences of nature and to replenish and strengthen his memories so he can use a stronger dose, so to speak, of his experiences in future. This begs the question , does Wordsworths poem, help the reader of the poem along this path of spiritual experience in anyway or is he just telling the reader, you must go and experience nature yourself to gain these effects?

Edward Dayes, Tintern Abbey from across the Wye 1795.

What the poem does for me is help me recall my own experiences of places that gave me pleasurable experiences through my senses. Wordsworth in his poem is triggering our memory of good things too. He suggests we find a secluded place ourselves, remember, imagine and discover our own benefits. Nature can provide a healing process,

when thy mind

Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,

Thy memory be as a dwelling place

For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,

If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,

Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts

Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,”

There is something ageless in Wordsworth’s theory which is the theory of Romanticism. It makes me think of Karma and the Buddhist approach to meditation.

Tintern Abbey. Postcard photo courtesy of Paradoxplace.com.

As an addenda to the William Gilpin (1724-1804) reference above: Wordsworth may have used Gilpin’s guide book in the Wye Valley. Gilpin also was an advocate of experiencing nature and drawing benefits from it , it’s hues and colours and it’s natural arrangement He wasn’t averse, however, to making suggestions about its arrangement. He might suggest in his writing the removal or addition of a tree or even the roughing up and creation of a more crumbling effect of Tintern Abbey to create a better aesthetic affect. It is suggested that Jane Austen made fun of this in Northanger Abbey.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Vintage book cover. The book had been purchased in the shop at Dove Cottage. Image @Grey Pony

Inquiring readers, frequent contributor, Tony Grant,  has done it again and brought the 19th century alive through his discussion of poetry. One can walk the paths along Grasmere in the Lake District with him and William Wordsworth, inhaling the clean crisp air and regarding the sad cautionary tale of Martha Ray, the woman in the scarlet cloak. Visit Tony’s blog at London Calling.

Saturday August 23rd 1798.

“ A very fine morning. Wm was composing all the morning. I shelled peas, gathered beans and worked in the garden till half past twelve. Then walked with William in the wood. The gleams of the sunshine, and the stirring trees, and gleaming boughs, cheerful lake, most delightful. After dinner we walked to Ambleside…”

Thus Dorothy Wordsworth describes the division of labour in the Wordsworth house hold at Dove Cottage, Grasmere in Cumbria. She did the labour and William her brother did the,” Romanticising.” But it shows the division of experience wasn’t as clear cut as might appear at first. Dorothy shows her emotional response to the world she inhabits too, as much as her esteemed brother does in his poetry.

Dorothy

Romanticism was a way of seeing and experiencing the world and which Wordsworth promoted in his poetry. It wasn’t necessarily about being romantic however. It was about an emotional response to the world that balanced a logical factual approach. It promoted the importance of feelings, myth, symbolism and intuition as well as taking into account the facts of a situation.

William Wordsworth by Henry Eldridge, 1807

”The Thorn,” written by William Wordsworth in 1789 is very melodramatic and tells the story of a solitary, rejected woman, Martha Ray, who’s baby has died and the mythology that builds around her.

Dove Cottage.

Wordsworth, in the opening stanzas introduces us immediately to the thorn describing it as , “so old and grey,” “stands erect,” “A wretched thing forlorn.” And takes the personification to a higher degree saying it is,” Not higher than a two year’s child.”

He is setting us up to respond to natural things in an emotional way.

Footpath around the lake. Image @A Year In the Lakes

He then balances this emotional approach with factual evidence as he gives us the thorns location ,”high on a mountains highest ridge,” and the minutest detail, telling us that three yards from the thorn is, “a muddy pond,” and close beside the thorn is,

“A beauteous heap, a hill of moss.
Just half a foot in height.”

A mixture of fact and emotion balanced.
Three things are described in close proximity and we wonder how they relate to each other.

Colour is very important. The mound of earth near the thorn has, “vermilion dye,” “lovely tints,” “olive green, “scarlet bright,” “green red and pearly white.” Vivid in our minds eye.

Then, “A woman in a scarlet cloak,” Martha Ray, is introduced into this setting and we are asked,

“Now wherefore, thus, by day and night,
In rain, in tempest, and in snow,
Thus to the dreary mountain top
Does this poor woman go?”

The question all the local villagers ponder too. Observation, and imagination create a myth. Many believe she has killed her baby and buried it next to the thorn but they don’t actually know that. Wordsworth keeps pulling us back to reality, tempering our emotional response, “I cannot tell; I wish I could; for the true reason no one knows.”

Cattle watering at Grasmere, near Ambleside, Cumbria, by John Glover.

Wordsworth also begins to use the personal pronoun. It is an egotistical device but we are with him. It is us as well as Wordsworth asking the same questions. He has got involved in this apparent tragedy and so have we.

Wordsworth relates to us the story of Martha Ray and what makes her mad.

“Full twenty years are past and gone
Since she (her name is Martha Ray)
Gave with a maidens true good will
Her company to Stephen Hill”

Stephen Hill, we are told, gets Martha pregnant but leaves her and marries somebody else. As result she has the baby but it is never seen by other people.

Then imagination intervenes again,

“For many a time and often were heard
Cries coming from the mountains head
Some plainly living voices were:
And other, I’ve heard many swear,
Were voices of the dead:
I cannot think, whate’er they say,
They had to do with Martha Ray.”

Wordsworth then draws us back to a cool scientific approach,

“But what’s the Thorn? And what the pond?
And what the hill of moss to her?”
And what the creeping breeze that comes
The little pond to stir?”

You can almost imagine Wordsworth and us being explorers into this mystery using investigative questions.
However, finally, myth is triumphant

“…but some will say
She hanged her baby on the tree
Some say she drowned it in the pond
Which is a little step beyond
But all and each one agree
The little babe was buried there
Beneath the hill of moss so fair.”

Fact, imagination, emotion, have combined to create a myth.

What use would this mythologizing be to those people in the hills and mountains of the Lake District? Would it help them make moral decisions? They wanted to bring Martha Ray to public justice based on what they thought and felt. Would it help them to create their own response to Martha’s predicament without having to experience it themselves? Is that the purpose of mythologizing? The purpose of fairy tales and myths have always been important to childhood and early emotional development and moral growth. Wordsworth has created an adult myth. So does the need for myths go beyond childhood and remain important to all?

……………………………………………………………………………………….

In a few weeks, a good friend of mine, Clive, is coming over from Canada for a reunion of old school friends. Some of us are reaching 60 this year and we are getting together for a celebration in Liverpool. Clive and I are going on further north into the Lake District for a couple of days. We will be staying in Ambleside, not far from Grasmere and Wordswoth’s Dove Cottage. We will visit Dove Cottage and I promise we will listen out for the cry of Martha Ray caught in the winds blowing about the peaks surrounding Grasmere and we will too be able to say,

“That I have heard her cry,
“Oh misery! Oh misery!
Oh woe is me! Oh misery!”

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Dear Readers, this article, written by Tony Grant, continues on his blog, London Calling. Tony recalls events that actually happened to his great grant uncle, William McGinn.

Arras British Cemetery

Graves at the Arras British cemetery. There are about three thousand graves here.

Tony Grant touches his great uncle's name

It took Marilyn, Alice, Emily, Abigail and myself well over an hour to find Williams name on the Lutyens monument. There are 35,000 names of the missing carved on this monument.Here I am reaching up to touch his name.

Lutyens monument

The entrance to Lutyens monument to the British dead who were killed in the fields around Arras.
A map, showing Aveluy Woods , south of Arras where my great uncle William McGinn was killed.

Aveluy Wood

This picture of soldiers working on the road that passed through Aveluy Woods was taken about a month before my uncle was killed.
A map showing the German advance during the last great Battle of the Somme. The last great battle of this terrible war on the Western Front.
My greatuncle William McGinn, taken in France.

Wimbledon camp where William trained

The military camp on Wimbledon Common where many rifle regiments trained before going to France. My uncles regiment, The Civil Service Rifles trained here.

William McGinn disembarked in Rouen, 1918

The last postcard my great uncle wrote from France. This is the port of Rouen a great embarkation point for Brtiish troops on their way to the Western Front.

This is what he wrote to my great Grandmother.
All the families of soldiers who died on the Western Front received a message from the King.

William McGinn at nineteen

William McGinn, before embarking for France. He was 19 years old. He survived in France for three weeks.

WORLD WAR I, AN OVERVIEW OF THE POLITICAL, THE HOME FRONT AND THE MILITARY.

World War I is coming to our screens through the medium of Downton Abbey. The series has reached the Summer of 1914, a time of shifting tectonic plates in the power of nations and Empires, very much like the time we live in now, brought on by the great financial crisis we are all living through. This present series is a reminder to us all.

My own family have been very much part of the terrible traumas of the past two world wars. Close members of my family have died in action in both wars. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, my maternal great grandmother and grandfather, Susie and William McGinn moved from County Limerick, in the South of Ireland, to Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England. The move was to enable my great grandfather to get work in the shipyard, Swan Hunters, on the Tyne. They lived in a three story house,a pigeon loft installed in the roof, at 12 Airey Terrace Walker, close to the River Tyne and Swan Hunter’s yard.

Their son, also called William, was a very bright lad and passed his civil service exams to get him a prized job with the civil service. At the age of 18 he returned to Ireland to work in the post office in Dublin as a clerk. It was the moment the IRA was preparing for the Easter Uprising against British rule in Ireland. Although my great uncle was a true Irishman, born in Ireland, but because he had emigrated to England and his parents were living in England, he and his family were regarded as traitors and he was threatened with the message, “Your next McGinn,” meaning the IRA would kill him. He wrote home and my Great-grandmother sent him the money to return to Newcastle.

To read the rest of the story, click on this link to London Calling.

Gentle Readers, please note that I make no money from my blog. The advertisement you see has been generated by WordPress, not by me.

Read Full Post »

Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor, Tony Grant from London Calling, has been on a hiatus. But he has returned with a vengeance. Please enjoy his observations about Hogarth’s breathtaking series, The Rake’s Progress, and the modern pictures he took as he went on a quest to search for The Rake’s London.

In 1733 William Hogarth began a new series of progress pictures. He had already created The Harlott’s Progress which had been very popular. He now began a series called The Rake’s Progress.

A Rake's Progress at the Sir John Soane's Museum

A rake was a stylised type of young man that had a literary tradition already before Hogarth began his series. He was generally regarded as a very impressionable young man, usually born and bred in the countryside to a wealthy father who had gained his riches by working hard and amassing a fortune which he had inevitably hoarded and not spent. The young man, cut off from society in the countryside during his childhood and not needing to work because of his inherited wealth, embarks on a dissolute life in the fleshpots of London. His fate usually includes the squandering of his fortune, venereal disease, prison and eventual death. Hogarth keeps to this format but also adds in a few other nuisances.

Anthony Andrews as the Scarlet Pimpernel, the quintessential 18th century fop.

Hogarth shows Tom Rakewell as aspiring to be cultured like a young well-educated aristocrat, commissioning and sponsoring poets and musicians with no idea about what has merit. He has no taste. He is not cultured or educated to any high standard. The popular name for this type of upstart in the 18th century was a ,”cit.” Tom also tries to create an outward show of elegance and sophistication. He is self deluded and fits the term “fop” exactly.

Fallstaff and Doll Tearsheet, Thomas Rowlandson. Image@Huntington Library

Tom’s surname, Rakewell, describes him. Hogarth is drawing again on a long comic and literary tradition. Many of Shakespeare’s lower class characters have names which describe them – ‘Doll Tearsheet’, in Henry IV part 1 and 2. ‘Bullcalf’, or somebody recruited by Falstaff in the same plays. Dickens often uses the same convention: Mould, the undertaker in Martin Chuzzlewit and Mr Choakumchild in Hard Times are prime examples. English comedians still play with these names to this day.

Inherited wealth is not so prevalent in the 21st century,  but these days the spoilt, glossy, manicured characters who seem to do no work and have as much money to squander as they wish, as portrayed in the docudrama series, E4’s “Made In Chelsea,” fit the rake, male and now, female version.

Scene 1.

We are introduced to Tom Rakewell standing in the dingy dark parlour of his inherited country house, a red-capped gentleman measuring him up for a new suit. We can be sure it will be made from the most expensive silks and have the most garish designs. His old steward looks furtive, hunched behind him, trying to fiddle the books and put some cash into his own pocket. A weeping pregnant girl, Sarah Young, is being rejected by Tom and he tries to pay off her mother with a desultory sum. Tom is breaking his mould. We can see the wrong he is doing immediately although Tom is oblivious of the road he has set out upon.

Brunswick House

There are many fine Georgian houses in the English Countryside. I found this one in Nine Elms on the South Bank opposite Vauxhall Tube Station and next to the great green glass edifice of MI5. It is called Brunswick House and it is the home of Lassco antique dealers. I thought this particular Georgian house fitted The Rake’s Progress nicely as standing in for Tom’s inherited home.The house would have been in the countryside on the outskirts of London during the 18th century. Today the house is a grade I listed building and a fine example of the Georgian Houses that used to be in Nine Elms. It stands alone now, surrounded by high rise modern flats and offices. The Nine Elms road junction is before it, awash with cars, buses and lorries at all times of the day, every day. It is an anomaly, as indeed Tom Rakewell’s life became an anomaly.

Scene 2.

In this scene Tom is still at his country house. He is adapting to his new lifestyle. This scene shows a levee taking place. A levee consisted of the Lord or Duke holding a meeting every morning, as he dressed in his bedchamber with local tradesmen showing their wares and the Lord purchasing his requirements. Here Tom is following this tradition, and beginning to spend his money.

Tom doesn’t realise what he is doing. The gentry who follow this fashion of the levee were very wealthy people who owned lands , trading ships and industries that were creating more and more wealth for them. They spent money within their means. Tom has inherited amount of money, which he has no intention or wherewithal to add to. He knows not what he does. He appears to be what we might term, rather stupid. He is a prodigal son.

Scene 3.

This is The Rose Tavern in Covent Garden. It was situated on the corner of Drury Lane just opposite The Drury Lane Theatre.

Rose Tavern site, corner of Drury Lane. Image @Tony Grant

What is happening in this picture is a scene of debauchery. Tom is sitting to the right, his clothing loosened and being administered to by two prostitutes. A girl is removing her stockings in the foreground. Eventually she will be naked. A male servant is bringing in a silver platter for her to dance on. The tradition for new members of the trade, presumably still virgins, was to strip naked and perform a lewd dance on a silver plate high on a table for the wealthy clientele to view. She and her virginity would go to the highest bidder. A virgin could bring a very high price.

Site of 18th century brothels. Image @Tony Grant

The reason many of the brothels were situated in and around Covent Garden was because it was there all the produce from the countryside was brought into London. With the farm carts young country lasses seeking their fortune would arrive in London too. The market was not just for fruit and vegetables. Old prostitutes, too old to ply their trade, would become madams. They would meet these young girls arriving in Covent Garden Market and befriend them, offering them warm lodgings and work. One such madam was called Elizabeth Needham. She features in Hogarths picture of Moll Flanders arriving in Covent Garden at the start of Daniel Defoe’s story.

Covent Garden. Image @Tony Grant

Many of the authorities and the public were so incensed by her activities she was put into the stocks and stoned to death. At the height of prostitution in the 18th century it was said that one in five women in London were prostitutes. London was the most licentious city in Europe. After these girls fresh from the countryside had settled in at the madams house, they soon found out what the work they were to do. The madam would start to ask for rent and the cost of food. Of course the girls had no other means of paying. They could be threatened with their lives. Many did have, on the surface, respectable trades. They might be taught to be seamstresses or servants in the pubs around Covent Garden. but they would also provide certain other services. It was attractive because they could earn a lot more money than the ordinary servant or maid. The down side was that they would get diseases, such as gonorea and syphilis, and their lives and careers could be short. The black dots shown on many portraits of these girls were placed there to cover the ravages of syphilis.

Drury Lane Theatre. Image @Tony Grant

Some of the establishments that were pubs cum brothels were owned by supposedly reputable people. The Nell Gwyn, which exists today, opposite The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. was partly owned at one time by Sherridan, the great playwright, who also owned and ran The Theatre Royal.

Nell Gwyn's hang out. Image @Tony Grant

It appears he had shares in the prostitution trade. Whether the Church of England owned brothels I am not sure. It was such a lucrative market and comprised a sizeable share of London’s economy, that I would not be surprised. The church needed money too.

There are shops on the site of The Rose Tavern today. Whether they are the original building I am not sure.

Scene 4.

This scene show’s St James’s Street. In the background is St James’s Palace on the corner with Pall Mall. Tom is being apprehended by a bailiff requesting payment of his debts. He is obviously bereft of finances at the precise moment he is about to achieve one of his pretentious ambitions, being presented at court. He is in his rich finery and being taken to St James’s Palace in a sedan chair. He doesn’t want to get his expensive shoes dirty. Sarah Young is there again willing and ready to pay his debts for him. It is a heartbreaking scene in many ways.

St. James's palace. Image@Tony Grant

I tried to get a photograph of the same scene from the position Hogarth aligned his picture. It meant I had to stand in the middle of the road with cars buses and vans roaring past.

Scene 5.

This is the interior of Marylebone Old Church. It was outside the city, towards Hyde Park. In the 18th century it became notorious for clandestine weddings. In this picture Hogarth shows Tom marrying an aging, overweight, one-eyed heiress undoubtedly for her money. He had to go to drastic lengths to pay his debtors and obtain more wealth. She may have lost her eye because of syphilis. Tom looks down on her as though she is a necessary evil, a bad smell under his nose that he must endure. She, undoubtedly, is looking forward to the wedding night. Two dogs show more love and affection than Tom shows for his bride. In the background a churchwarden refuses entry to Sarah Young and the child Tom has fathered with her.

Interior, Marylebone church. Image@Tony Grant

I cycled into London to try and find Marylebone Old Church. There are a number of elegant 18th-century and early Victorian churches in Marylebone. I thought it would be easy to find but I was mistaken. I spoke to two workmen decorating a church just off Old Marylebone Road. They hadn’t heard of it. One very kindly did an internet search on his i-phone for me and found it with a map attached. I was a mere half mile away, so off I peddled in the London traffic. Yes, I took my life in my hands for this project.

Marylebone church entrance. Image@Tony Grant

I found it!!! It was situated next to the park gates leading into Regent’s Park. It was beautifully ornate with balconies and a magnificent organ playing. The church organist was practicing. I discovered that Charles Dickens had lived in a house close by before he left his wife and family; he used to frequent St Marylebone Old Church. Then I found that this was not the church that Tom married his heiress in.

St. Marylebone parish church

The original had been demolished in the 1920’s. This church, near Regent’s Park, had taken over as the parish church of Marylebone. Anyway, it is a beautiful church and worth visiting and seeing.

Scene 6.

Here is Tom just having gambled away his second fortune provided by his new wife. He is railing against God and bad fortune. It is a shame he doesn’t realise it is his own fault. Smoke is spiralling up to show that the club is on fire but nobody notices they are so intent on gambling. This is symbolic of how they lead their lives. They don’t notice the destruction they are heaping on themselves. This is White’s Club. It was a place to drink the new sources of traded wealth, tea and chocolate. Many famous people at the time were members of White’s or one of the other well-known men’s clubs in the St James’s area.

White's club. Image@Tony Grant

St James is still full of gentleman’s clubs today. They are an 18th century invention but are still going strong. Many wealthy people, industrialists, famous actors,politicians, members of the Royal family and Lords and Dukes still frequent them. They are male preserves. They provide a room, servants, fine dining, a library very often, and a place to meet people of equal status in a social and friendly situation. Not anybody can join. You have to be invited by one of the members.You have to be right sort.

Betting book, 1817. Image @The Long Now Foundation

A couple of interesting points about White’s. The bow window at the front was the reserve of the most famous member of the club at one time. He was permitted to sit in the bay window for the world to see and for him to see the world. Beau Brummell, the great 18th century arbiter of fashion and master of ceremonies at Bath and Royal Tunbridge Wells was the first to sit there. You could almost bet on anything at White’s. The most famous bet being a wager on two rain drops falling down one of the pains of glass in the bow window. Which one would reach the bottom first? So it was here that Tom lost his second fortune.

Scene 7.

This scene leads to the finale. Tom is in The Fleet Prison in Farringdon Street because of his debts. It was named after The Fleet River which flowed into the Thames before it.

Fleet Prison

His now emaciated wife that was so plump at their wedding, shows the depths to which Tom has brought them. He has no money even for food. With his wig askew on top of his head Tom is attempting to write a play. He thinks he can make money this way. His delusion is now complete. Madness has come upon him.

One interesting piece of information about The Fleet is that it had a raquets court for the inmates to keep themselves presumably fit and occupied.

Scene 8.

And finally here is Tom in Bedlam. The Bethlehem Hospital for the insane in Moorefields, just north of St Pauls and The City. He lies there almost naked stripped of everything including his clothes and his sanity. Wealthy ladies from the aristocracy look on.

Bedlam

People were allowed to come and gawp at the strange antics of the inmates. Tom and the other people incarcerated are the entertainment. The people he aspired to be like and live like, are now mocking him. Sarah is there at the last, weeping.

Such a sad story.

More about this topic:

Read Full Post »

Gentle Readers, It may please you to know that frequent contributer, Tony Grant (London Calling), lives near Richmond Park, a wilderness that has kept its pristine nature for centuries. Enjoy these beautiful photographs.

Geese flying towards Pen Ponds

Richmond Park is situated 12 miles south west of St Pauls Cathedral in the city of London. It just happens to be two miles from where I live on the edge of Wimbledon and abuts Wimbledon Common that stretches for a few miles on the other side of the Kingston Road.

Deer at Richmond Park

The Kingston Road is a very old road running between Kingston upon Thames and the City of London. It bisects Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park on it’s way. Jane Austen would have travelled often along it on her way from Hampshire by way of Kingston upon Thames to her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street or to one of the other houses Henry owned at different times.

Deer under the trees

The park has always been an untouched piece of wilderness. It has never been adapted or changed by agriculture. It has always been as it is to this day. It covers 2,500 acres. King Edward I who lived from 1272 to 1307 and who was also called Longshanks and The Hammer of the Scots, formed the park in the Manor of Sheen beside the Thames outside of London, as a hunting park stocked with red and fallow deer.

There are six hundred deer in the park to this day. Under Henry VII, who built a palace at Sheen beside the river, the park and the local town was renamed, Richmond. There is a mound or small hill in the park called, Henry VIII’s Mound, where the Tudor king reputedly would spy out likely deer to be hunted. In 1625 Charles I removed the whole of his court to Richmond Palace because of the Black Plague raging through London.

He used the park for hunting too. In 1637 Charles had a wall built around the park, which is still there. The local people were obviously chagrined. Charles passed strict laws about the King’s deer being poached and the wall was an extra deterrent.

Stag by Pen Ponds

Richmond Park has a strong emotional connection for Marilyn and me. Not only does one of the campuses of Kingston University, where me met as undergraduates, back onto the park and on numerous occasions we scaled the brick wall between Kingston Hill Place, my halls of residence , to get into the park at night but it has great significance to the birth of all our children. Now I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong. By the way, Kingston Hill Place used to be the home of Lilly Langtry or Jersey Lill, as she was known, the mistress of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII.

Pen Ponds, Richmond Park

Getting back to the great significance to the birth of our four children. Well, it first happened with Sam, our eldest. The day he was due to be born, 1st July 1986, Marilyn showed no signs of going into labour. We sat around and sat around waiting for something to happen and obviously it wasn’t going to.

Pen Ponds

We decided to drive to Richmond Park and go for a walk beside Penn Ponds, two beautiful small lakes right in the middle of the park with reed beds and groves of massive ancient oak trees nearby. The ponds have a large variety of water birds, swans, mallards, Canada Geese, coots and many other varieties of ducks inhabiting them. They nest in the reed beds along the edge of the ponds. Richmond Park has been classified as SSSI status. That means it is a site of special scientific interest. Sam was born a week later on the 8th July.

Pen Ponds in the Rain

When Marilyn [Tony's wife] was pregnant with Alice we followed the same routine, a day beside Penn Ponds and then after that, we did the same with Emily and Abigail in later years.

Pen Ponds

All of our children were born late. You might think, weren’t you taking a chance? What if Marilyn had gone into labour on the predicted date? Ah well you see, Kingston Hospital is right next to Richmond Park. All we needed to do was climb over the wall. No sorry, let me get that right; drive a short distance to the maternity department.

My daughters outside the Royal Ballet School

There are a number of beautiful houses inside Richmond Park. White Lodge,in the centre, is the home of The Royal Ballet School. All our great ballet dancers train there from an early age. In the film Billly Elliott, that is where he went to train as a dancer. White Lodge is an elegant 18th century pile that used to be a country house belonging to Edward VII.

Outside the Royal Ballet school

Pembroke Lodge, situated on a high hill overlooking the River Thames and Kingston upon Thames is situated on the edge of the park. It used to be the home of Lord John Russell, a prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. He was the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher. Bertrand Russell spent much of his childhood at Pembroke Lodge.

Pembroke Lodge

Pembroke Lodge is now a café and restaurant. It is a great experience to sit on the terrace of Pembroke Lodge on a summers afternoon looking out over the Thames sipping Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong, and eating a scone with clotted cream or homemade strawberry jam.

Pembroke Lodge entrance

Richmond Park is wonderful to take long walks. There are many massive ancient oak trees. Some must be four or five hundred years old. A few have been scarred by lightning strikes.

Pembroke Lodge view

You will see deer grazing in amongst the vast areas of bracken. An unexpected sound and sight are the flocks of green parakeets that have inhabited parts of Richmond Park.

Pembroke Lodge

The story goes, whether myth or reality , is that in the 1940’s Treasure Island was being filmed at Pinewood Studios. They had parakeets on the film set and some escaped and began breeding in Richmond Park. A similar story centres around the making of The African Queen with Humphrey Bogard. It too was being filmed partly at Pinewood. Again the story goes that parakeets escaped from that film set too. I don’t know how much truth there is any of these stories but there is, without doubt, a colony of green parakeets living and breeding in Richmond Park. I have had a few land and rest in the branches of the apple trees in my own garden.

The Royal Ballet School

There are a number of plantations that are fenced off from the rest of the park so deer cannot eat the shrubs and trees growing in them.

Walk in the park

The Isabella Plantation is the most wonderful example of them all. It is a woodland garden at it’s best. In the spring when the bluebell woods are carpeted in blue it lifts the spirits and is a joy to behold. Many of the bushes and shrubs situated in glades and beside the sparkling stream that runs through the plantation create an emotional and spiritual experience.

Foot bridge

The Isabella Plantation is one of those places on earth that sooths the spirit and fills your eyes with beauty. To sit on the grass and listen to the birds and look at the camellias, magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons is wonderful. The plantation is run on organic principles and because of this it is home to a great variety of insects and mini beasts.

Wild corner

Here is a quote from the web site dedicated to the Isabella plantation.

“In spring, visitors can see camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells. From late April, the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower. In summer, there are displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. By autumn, guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees are loaded with berries and leaves on the acer trees are turning red. Even in winter, the gardens have scent and colour. There are early camellias and rhododendron, as well as mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and stinking hellebore.”

The present plantation was developed by George Thomson , the park superintendent from 1951-1971.

Woodland paths

Some recent news for you Hollywood A list watchers. My local paper had a small news item. Brad Pitt has been spotted taking pictures of the deer in Richmond Park recently. He is over here filming at the moment. He and Angelina are living in a house, a grand house I am sure, by the Thames at Richmond.

Woodland stream and flowers

Outside the Richmond gate is a large elegant brick building called The Star and Garter Hospital. It is a special hospital for aged military servicemen and women from all wars. They also have the poppy factory next to it. We celebrate the dead of our wars on November 11th every year which was the First World War Armistice Day. The fields of Picardy, in Northern France, where much of the terrible deadly trench warfare took place, were covered in wild poppies in the Spring. Somebody thought the poppies represented the drops of blood from the dead who lay in those fields so the poppy was taken as the British symbol to remember the dead.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. – John McRae

Poppies in Connaught Cemetery. Image @The Great War

Just down the hill from the park, in Richmond town, there is a house called Hogarth House. It was in this house that Virginia Woolf lived with her husband Leonard for many years and began The Hogarth Press, named after the house. Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, often mentions going for walks with Leonard and friends in Richmond Park.

Hogarth House, Richmond

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Gentle readers, strap on your seat belts. Tony Grant from London Calling sent in his review of “A Jane Austen Education: How six novels taught me about love, friendship and the things that really matter“by William Deresiewicz. Let’s just say this is a review by a bloke about a bloke’s book. There will be no teacup or regency fan ratings this time. 

Just recently a dear friend sent me a copy of A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz. I had read some of the reviews written on a few of the Jane blogs and my impression from those was that it must be a fresh, slightly different approach to engaging with Jane’s works. I sort of put the idea of reading it to one side, I must admit. I thought it would be just another quirky angle on Jane. Anything with Jane’s name attached to it sells, doesn’t it? However, now having a copy here in front of me I decided, at the very least, I should have a look, delve in, and see what I thought.

The front cover was at first a mystery and slightly off putting. A paper doll cut out suited gentleman, headless, to be placed over an inanimate cardboard cut out of a Regency, or did it look more early Victorian, gentleman, presumably wearing underwear, seemed an odd choice. One dimensional, stiff, inanimate, stuck in one pose, drinking tea, ah yes, there was the Jane connection. What did all this reveal about what I was about to discover between the sheets?

The contents page revealed a nice straightforward approach. Chapter 1 Emma, Every Day Matters, Chapter 2 Pride and Prejudice, Growing Up and so on through the six published novels, each providing William with a stepping stone along his journey of self discovery and growth. And to round it all off, a nice concluding chapter “The End of the story.” Yes, a well-ordered and neatly constructed narrative was bound to follow.

By the end of the first chapter I had our William sussed. Start with the personal stuff (my life was crap-type thing) – provide an overview of the novel, characters, and plot, and then follow through by laboriously comparing his life events with the characters and events in the book. And finally, relating how it had changed him for the best. I began to feel that I was about to hunker down for a tortuous time. But things were worse than that, William was depressed. Now I’m fine with depression and especially manic depression. All the great comedians profess to be depressives. We have had and have (some of them are dead by the way) Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and John Clease. All of them are professed manic depressives who used this depth of pain to create some of the greatest humour ever. Winston Churchill suffered from what he termed his ”black dog.” Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, both incredible writers who could bare their souls and take us to places in the human psyche we would never have dreamed of, both took their lives. Life was too unbearable.

However William writes,

Well it just sat there, that realisation, like a lump in my gut – sat there for weeks. I didn’t know what to do with it, how to get rid of it, how to dig myself out the hole I just discovered I was in. But I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore.”

This passage is a build up to telling his girlfriend at the time, that he thought they should part their ways. There was no depth to their relationship apparently. This level of depression is the equivalent of having a bad cold. In the hierarchy of depressive situations, William is not going to reach into our emotional depths and inspire us with what is a very common place situation. I was hoping things would get better, but no, he droned on in this flat slightly miserable way all through the first chapter. And what did he learn from Emma?

“Even I was beginning to realise what a real relationship looked like,” he droned.

Oh I see!!!!!!! Yes, I was really beginning to see.

I was getting the idea. I really do hope William gets his full share of the kudos that Jane’s name, applied to a title, provides. I was beginning to think, what else is there? What other value?

At one stage, I must say, I thought that the analysis part of each chapter had worth, William is an English literature lecturer at a university after all, but then I got bored with that too. He is far, far too contrived. Later in the book, here is William analysing Mansfield Park, my favourite Austen novel,

“What Austen recommended to us, she urged upon her nearest and dearest, too. Love means effort and self control – for the sake of others, and thus, ultimately, for your own.”

Oh God, this is beginning to sound so profound. Life’s hard lessons learned so emphatically, and by a writer so young too.

I squirmed a few times while reading this. Yes, I did persevere. The book was compelling in a ”how can it get worse?” sort of way.

But this is the real sneaky bit. Come on William, tell us the truth. What were you thinking when you wrote this stuff ?

We had jumped each other one night the previous summer, and though we had been together for over a year we had little in common and had never much progressed beyond the sex.”

Honesty, the baring of ones soul, telling it like it is — it’s all in this book. William repeats at discrete, well-paced intervals, lightly (and apparently carelessly), how bad he feels about superficial relationships and jumping into bed for hot steamy one night stands. Any bloke down my pub would laugh at him heartily and call him a …….!!! No I really can’t write what I know my mates would say. William might sue me. This book just ain’t for blokes, let’s put it that way.

It does beg the question who this little boy lost saga is for.

By the end of the book William tells us he has found true, deep, long-lasting love. He has found out at last what it means to be “intimate.” One of the most squirm-creating moments in this whole squirm-creating edifice was earlier in the book when William asks a girlfriend in a cafe what intimacy was and if they were being intimate at that time.

The book ends: (Warning: Spoiler alert.)

That first weekend she came to Brooklyn, the visit that sealed our fate, she brought along a book, just in case there was some downtime. [I’m trying to imagine what the downtime might entail and why and how there could be downtime.] She knew I was a graduate student by that point, but she had no idea what I studied or whom I was writing my dissertation about. It was just the thing she happened to be reading at the time.

The book was Pride and Prejudice.

Reader, I married her.”

So let me get this right. In the end, after all the soul searching, all those profound life lessons it boiled down to Pride and Prejudice?

We’ve been taken through the superficial relationships and I must admit, when I got to the end of the book, I discovered William’s photograph on the back of the fly sheet. It startled me. This bloke had superficial relationships!!!!! There has been the father who disapproved. There has been the depressive moments, mild depression by the way, boring and ordinary, that nothing but a good blow of the nose into a handkerchief wouldn’t have solved. There have been the life lessons learned. I’m sorry, I can’t get it out of my head: This young bloke has learned life’s lessons through Jane Austen already. Where does he go from there? My experience is nothing like that. Life creeps up on you imperceptibly. You adapt and grow slowly, often without noticing and sometimes you regress badly. Life and life’s lessons are nowhere near as easy to learn, as William makes out, by reading a set of novels. You can’t learn it in your head, you have to live life. Sometimes I think it’s impossibly to learn the so-called life lessons. Often we are just stuck, through no fault of our own, because we are who we are.

I am very reluctant to throw a book onto a fire, for echoes of the many evil political regimes that have done that sort of thing come to mind. What I’ll do, out of gratitude to my friend who sent me this copy, is put it on my bookshelf to gather dust. Then I’ll forget about it.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,363 other followers