Saturday, 21 June 2014

HORACE WALPOLE AND STRAWBERRY HILL




Strawberry Hill, the Twickenham retreat of Horace Walpole.

"Heaven nor hell shall impede my designs," said Manfred, advancing again to seize the princess. At that instant the portrait of his grandfather ... uttered a deep sigh and heaved its breast. ... Manfred ... saw it quit its panel, and descend on the floor with a grave and melancholy air. “   Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764.)
Challenging heaven and hell, preparing for damnation, seizing innocent young girls, receiving messages from the grave, floating pictures and a mood of melancholy. In this short passage Horace Walpole encapsulates all that we have come to understand as, Gothic Horror. Otranto, is regarded as being the first Gothic novel and a book that influenced the writing of Gothic novelists such Ann Radcliffe who wrote and published The Mysteries of Udolpho  (1794). Ann Radcliffe in turn was an influence on Jane Austen who wrote Northanger Abbey. Austen of course makes fun of the genre but she includes all the Gothic horror elements that Horace Walpole promoted in Otranto. The concept of all things Gothic is encapsulated in Horace Walpole’s building, Strawberry Hill that consists of light and dark, mystery and intrigue and all shades between
Horace Walpole was a novelist but more importantly he was a letter writer and it is his letters that give so much information about people, events and places. He was an insatiable recorder of his times. His letters covered, politics, antiquarianism, literature and the social life of the time. He had a close group of correspondents. Each received letters covering a different theme. Walpole’s old school fellow, George Montagu received letters about social anecdotes. Sir Horace Mann, Britain’s representative in Florence, received letters about politics. The letters are, alongside Strawberry Hill House, his most important legacy. His letters are renowned for detailed opinionated description of places and people. He caused controversy amongst his close correspondents because of his often unflattering and all too realistic descriptions of famous and important people. He showed their inadequacies and unsavoury habits as well as recalling their talents and achievements.


Horace Walpole

Here is a description of Versailles in a letter to his friend Richard West, dated Paris, 1739. Horace Walpole was touring Europe with his school friend from Eton days, Thomas Grey, the poet.
“They say, we did not see it to advantage, that we ran through the apartments, saw the garden en passant, and slubbered over Trianon. I say, we saw nothing. However, we had time to see that the great front is a lumber of littleness, composed of black brick, stuck full of bad old busts, and fringed with gold rails. The rooms are all small, except the great gallery, which is noble, but totally wainscoted with looking-glass. The garden is littered with statues and fountains, each of which has its tutelary deity. In particular, the elementary god of fire solaces himself in one. In another, Enceladus, in lieu of a mountain, is overwhelmed with many waters. There are avenues of water-pots, who disport themselves much in squirting up cascadelins. In short, 'tis a garden for a great child. Such was Louis Quatorze, who is here seen in his proper colours, where he commanded in person, unassisted by his armies and his generals, left to the pursuit of his own puerile ideas of glory.”
This is not only a deprecating description of Versailles but also a character analysis of Louis XIV (le Roi Soleil) in not too flattering terms.
Walpole’s style is personal and conversational. You get a strong sense of his interest, humour and enthusiasm; his feelings and thoughts are expressed vivdly in his letter writing. His personality comes to the fore.




The Letters of Horace Walpole.

Horace Walpole’s grand Gothic creation, Strawberry Hill House at Twickenham, could be said to encapsulate in brick and stone its creator’s personality too. I had the great privilege of walking around the rooms of Strawberry Hill House recently and so in the spirit of Horace Walpole here is my description of that visit.


Strawberry Hill

“Marilyn and I drove Emily to work. She has just completed her degree in International Business Studies at Cardiff Metropolitan University and has been taken on at Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s house, in the role of an internship. We arrived early on Sunday morning, the skies cloudless and blue. As we swept into the car park to the left of the house through the heavy oak framed gates with their deep dark red painted delicate filigree work in iron, of leaves and branches, the bright white walls of the castellated, turreted,  and perpendicular style of the Gothic windows met our gaze. It was breath-taking, awe inspiring. The glowing bright whiteness of the walls dazzled. Our imaginations soared. An air of fantasy, mystery, and whispers of a dark medieval, spiritual past pervades the whole. We entered the house on the ground floor at the back through archways reminiscent of an abbey’s cloistered arches and alcoves overlooking wide and distant stretching lawns. 


Gloomy and mysterious corridors and landings.

Emily lead us in single file through dim and narrow corridors to steep and winding stairs leading to a small landing with gothic arched doors leading to rooms. The shape of this small lobby with its asymmetry, sharp corners, niches and doors set at angles, disorientated, created a sense of mystery and even unease. The creator of a place like this must have enjoyed mysteries, playing with the subconscious and plumbing the darker depths of our personality, creating wonder and unease in equal measures.


Blue plaque

The first room we entered, emerging from this gloomy, moody, confined chamber was, The Gallery. If Walpole , with his dim , dark, mysterious corridors wanted to supress all expectations and put us in a gloomy state of mind  before revealing something fantastic and overwhelming, he couldn’t have done a better job. Entering, The Gallery, we emerged into light and space over canopied by a three dimensional ceiling of intricate shimmering golden webs. The ceiling is fan vaulted like the roof of Kings College Cambridge Chapel, the fantastic roof of Bath Abbey and the vaulted roofs of many chapter houses in medieval cathedrals across Britain. The gold is so bright, so shiny, so intricate, it astounds and lifts the spirits from the depths of gloom with such a rush we actually gasped. It is a long gallery and has three deep set alcoves interspersed evenly along its length. The centre alcove is also a fireplace. Each alcove is comprised of a canopy consisting of an intricate web of gold echoing the ceiling of the room. The alcoves also comprise mirrors and brightly painted portraits of Walpole’s family and friends. The ceiling is created with papier mache and the walls are hung with a rich crimson Norwich damask. The combination of the bright shimmering golden ceiling, the golden alcoves and the deep bright red wall covering creates a rich and emotional experience. The red almost creates its own warmth. Red is blood, anger, rage. Gold is wealth, power, a heavenly thing. All these overt messages were coming at us with such power and force.  We felt as though we were inside a Gothic dream and indeed we were.



The Long Gallery

From The Long gallery we walked from one breath-taking room to the next. Each room pulsated with its own power and emotions. The Tribune, was very special to Horace Walpole. It was the room where he kept his most precious objet d’art. He only allowed his closest friends to enter here. It is now empty of all Walpole’s artefacts but the decoration has been replaced and renovated. The shape of the room creates the feeling that it is round but it is not. A wide curved window recess in front of us as we entered immediately gives one the feeling that the room is round and equally wide and curved recesses to the right and left of this small room add to its round effect. However these recesses, although dominating the shape of the room are the sides of a square. The room is based on a square. It has a roof reminiscent of the domed octagonal shape of a cathedral chapter house which also adds to the round effect. At the apex of the domed ceiling is a glass flower shaped window, a sky light, with sixteen equal edges to its form. A hexadecagon flower.


The Tribune

There is an actual round room called, The Round Room, which is carpeted in crimson and also with the crimson Norwich damask wallpaper on its walls. It has a magnificent scagliola fireplace consisting of a creamy stone overlaid with green, brown and red branch and leaf motifs. The point that draws your eye in this room though is the window. It is set in a curved bay and has medieval motifs in stone and glass throughout it. Medieval kings look out from their glass badges. Coats of arms in stained glass are set between intricate and slender stone mullions.
Other rooms that we visited briefly included The Library which once again is full of medieval religious motifs. The Great North bedchamber and the Holbein Chamber.
We had entered the house from the back. Horace Walpole allowed people to visit his house and issued tickets on application to that effect. The visitor in Walpole’s time and nowadays also enter by the front door. This is an unusual entrance. Marilyn and I entered this way at the end of our visit. A large door is set in a white painted, stone, crenelated arch and meets the visitor first of all. High stone walls to the left and right of this entrance create a barrier that gives the sense that these walls are there to protect the house behind them, much as a castle’s outer walls protected the inner keep of the castle. 


The front door.

Once through this first door, we are lead down a narrow passageway with tall white walls either side. To the right, a narrow, cramped pathway, walled by the house on the left and the outer protective wall to the right, leads to, “the monastery garden,” set behind a delicately arched frieze. A small stone cell reminiscent of a monk’s cell or even a castle prison cell acts as a sort of sentry box before you reach the main door. A statue of a tonsured monk is placed on a pedestal inside this small stone room. The front door is an oak iron studded medieval facsimile above which a perpendicular arched window, leaded, with stained glass surmounts the entrance. The first surprise for a visitor would be once they enter the house. The entrance hall has subdued lighting. The walls look like medieval wood panelling but this is a wallpaper designed to give a three dimensional effect and look like carved oak. A grand staircase twist up to the floors above with a large metal stained glass lantern hanging from the top of the high stair well. It has red, yellow and blue glass in it and the three lions of England emblazoned in gold on one of its facets. We sombrely walked up this medieval extravagance of a staircase and saw how our tour should have started if Horace himself was our guide.


The staircase.

The last  word about our tour of his house should be provided by Horace Walpole himself.
At the door, before you enter, is a wooden lectern with Horace Walpoles instructions displayed. They read....." Mr Walpole is very ready to oblige........"


                                                             Horace Walpole instructs.   

And of course , here is your ticket.



Horace Walpole (1717- 1797) the 4th Earl of Orford was the seventh son of Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Britain who first came into power under George Ist. Robert was a Whig politician who believed in more power for parliament and in a limited extension of the franchise. He also believed in the promotion of talent over birth. In a way the Whigs were the forerunners of the Liberal party. Although he was never called a Prime Minister, Robert Walpole effectively became the prime minister when he was given the posts of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He dominated British politics for nearly thirty years. He was embroiled in political intrigue and accused of bribery and corruption. His own party, The Whigs, managed to get him to resign in 1742. He became The first Earl of Orford. Before leaving office Walpole managed to acquire various incomes for his offspring including some lucrative sinecure posts for his youngest son Horace, who never needed to work and earn money because of these lucrative endowments his father had provided. Horace was the Comptroller of the Pipe and Clerk of the Estreats. In his twentieth year he became the Usher of The Exchequer. He also had a share in the collectorship of customs. Altogether his income was nearly £3000 per year. He had to do absolutely nothing to obtain this income and he was provided with it for life. Horace Walpole was therefore able to pursue all his interests, including going into politics as the Member of Parliament for Kings Lynn, which had been in his family through his father’s connections. It was a was termed a, ”rotten borough.” A rotten borough was a borough in control of a local politician or member of the gentry. It had few and in the case of, Old Sarum, in Wiltshire virtually no voters. The Member of Parliament for a rotten borough was not elected as such. The parliamentary seat was given to somebody to gain influence. Horace Walpole was never at the centre of government but he knew all the powerful people. He was able to give a good account, in his letters to friends, of the political intrigues of the time. He especially was very good at describing the great and good detailing their personalities, habits and eccentricities. Things history does not often record.
Horace Walpole was an historian, collector, social commentator and a writer. His fascination with history led him to collect Renaissance Maiolica.  Maiolica, was a refined, white-glazed pottery of the Italian Renaissance and was adapted to all objects that were traditionally ceramic such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes. It was also used as a medium for sculpture and sculptural reliefs, as well as floor and ceiling tiles. The latter were rectangular, laid side by side across specially adapted joists. Maiolica is distinguished by its white, opaque glaze, due to the presence of tin-oxide, a powdery white ash. Walpole also collected Holbein drawings, arms and armour and works by contemporary 18th century artists such as Joshua Reynolds.
Over a period of forty years (1747 – 1790) Walpole turned a 17th century house in Twickenham into a Gothic masterpiece. It was named Strawberry Hill. In Walpole’s life it became a famous tourist attraction. Walpole designed the house, the interiors and the gardens himself with the help of friends such as Richard Bentley and John Adam, the architect.


A room in Strawberry Hill.

Strawberry Hill was built in stages between the late 1740’s to the 1790’s. It was used for entertaining and as a private retreat. The first phase of Starwberry Hill consisted of stone coloured Gothic interiors with old stained glass in the windows. The library built in 1754 encapsulated many Gothic principles. It was the centre of Walpoles Gothic ideas and the centre of Walpole’s antiquarian and scholarly endeavours. John Chute designed the bookcases based on a door in Old St Pauls Cathedral. The chimney piece drew ideas from tombs in Westminster Abbey. The rooms in the State Apartment provided large formal spaces for entertaining.  There were significant medieval influences but the overall decoration reflected modern state rooms in the classical style.
For Walpole, physical objects were doorways to the past. Walpole's collection of ceramics was the largest and most varied in England. It ranged from ancient Greek pots, Renaissance Maiolica, and modern porcelain.
Walpole believed that his collection of enamels and miniatures was the, 'largest and finest in any country'. By 1797, he owned around 130 miniatures, painted in watercolour on vellum or ivory, and nearly forty enamels.
The monastery garden.
From the 1770s, Strawberry Hill became famous for 'Works of Genius … by Persons of Rank and Gentlemen not artists', including amongst them the painter and designer Lady Diana Beauclerk and the sculptor Anne Damer.
Horace Walpole's ,”Anecdotes of Painting in England, “published by the Strawberry Hill Press between 1762 and 1780, was the first history of English art. The Anecdotes included sections on sculptors, architects and engravers, and an 'Essay on Modern Gardening'.

Emily, with Marilyn in the background as we toured Strawberry Hill.

Horace Walpole died in 1797. He left Strawberry Hill to Anne Damer, a sculptress who was his cousin’s daughter. In 1811 it passed to his great niece Elizabeth Waldegrave. In 1839 her grandson John inherited the house . He married Frances Braham, the daughter of a famous opera singer. He, however died within a year of the marriage. Frances then married John’s brother, the seventh Earl Waldegrave. He was sent to prison by the Twickenham magistrate’s bench for riotous behaviour. When he was released he felt so annoyed with Twickenham that he decided to sell Walpoles collection in what was termed The Great Sale. He then let Strawberry Hill rot and decay. The Earl died in 1846. Frances married twice more. During her third marriage to Granville Harcourt she expanded Strawberry Hill. She enlarged the hall, added a new floor. She created the horse shoe entrance at the front of the house and pushed the main road back away from the house. She added a drawing room, dining room, billiard room and further accommodation for guests. She raised the tower and added Tudor style chimney pots in the style of Hampton Court. 

Link:   http://www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk/

Saturday, 17 May 2014

THEATRICALS AT MANSFIELD PARK




Penguin Classics, Mansfield Park (Penguin New Zealand)

The novel, Mansfield Park, is a portrayal of three conflicting social forces, the genteel, aristocratic world of Mansfield Park, the lowly life of Portsmouth and the corrupt life of London. These three forces interact, especially in the concept of family. Sir Thomas Bertram, the head of the family, is removed from the scene when he departs for Antigua to visit his plantations. The cornerstone of the family is absent. This unbalancing of Mansfield Park’s world enables some of these moral conflicts to be unleashed. The theatricals that are proposed and introduced at Mansfield Park by Henry Crawford, Mary Crawford and Tom Bertram’s friend, Mr Yates, are the vehicle for these moral conflicts.
Penny Gay, from the department of English at Sydney University explains Mansfield Park in terms of a medieval morality play, encapsulating characters representing different moral positions. Tony Tanner, a Fellow of Kings College Cambridge, who wrote the introduction for the first Penguin Classic edition of Mansfield Park in 1966, stated, that Jane Austen used the theatricals in Mansfield Park,
“as a vehicle to explore the profound implications of, “acting,” and “role playing,” for the individual and society.”
Katheryn Sutherland, Professor Fellow in English Literature at St Anne’s College Oxford, explains in the most recent (1996) introduction to the Penguin Classics edition,
“…the play poses questions which can only be construed as subversive of settled values and order.”
Penny Gay, describes the characters in Mansfield Park as characters in a Medieval Morality Play.
“we are encouraged to think, at least on one level of our reading, of the Crawford’s as the World and the Flesh (and possibly the Devil) the Bertram family as Pride (Sir Thomas), Sloth (Lady Bertram), Avarice (Mrs Norris, also Self Conceit),Lust (Maria), Envy (Julia, also Anger). (The minor character, Dr Grant is the incarnation of the least heinous deadly sin, Gluttony.) Tom Bertram embodies Dissipation…… Edmund or Everyman, who consciously tries to do good but is tempted and falls… and Fanny, the steadfast woman.”
Morality play characters.
Reproduced in H.W. Mabie, William Shakespeare (1900).

 The morality play is one of the three main types of vernacular drama produced during the Middle Ages together with the mystery play and the miracle play The action of the morality play centres on a hero, such as Mankind, whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth). It is easy to connect the name Mansfield with Mankind.
Drama and theatre is really a much more positive and affirmative experience than Austen portrays it in Mansfield Park. In Mansfield Park she takes only one possible set of consequences. We know that Jane Austen and her family loved home theatricals. She also loved to go to the theatre when staying with her brother, Henry, at his address in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. She wrote enthusiastically in her letters to Cassandra about her visits to Covent Garden theatre. To act, a person is taking on a role, trying out situations, emotions and characterisations which might be alien to them. Love, hate, murder, aggression, humour, fear, wealth, poverty and the whole gamut of human experience can be play acted. Educationalists and psychiatrists think this a good thing. Theatre can be used to explore moral and life issues in a safe environment. People can confront mental issues and it can help them to recover. Children at school can explore moral and life issues safely which helps them to mature and develop as human beings.

Middlethorpe Hall   (My idea of what the house in Mansfield Park might look like.)
(Published in the Middlethorpe House website: http://www.middlethorpe.com/)

Henry and Mary Crawford have been described as possessing loose morals. In morality play terms they are the seven deadly sins, a form of evil. The root cause of their dissolute attitude to life is suggested because of their damaged childhood and upbringing. They are left as orphans to be brought up by their libertine uncle, Admiral Crawford. As a result they have been open to many unsavoury influences. They have experienced the debauched social life found in London.  Henry seduces, Maria Bertram who is betrothed to the ineffectual Mr Rushworth. He flirts with Julia Bertram and then makes her life a misery with his rebuttals. He makes a concerted effort indeed for Fanny, who is unattainable to him and therefore the greater conquest if achieved. Mary Crawford plays the temptress to Edmund and almost achieves her goal. Their social skills may be described as play acting. It is no coincidence that Henry is described by Austen as the best actor in Mansfield Park and he himself exuberantly expresses his love of acting. Henry Crawford tells everybody that he loves acting.
“I really believe,” said he, “I could be fool enough at this moment to undertake any character that ever was written, from Shylock or Richard III down to the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. I feel as if I could be anything or every thing, as if I could rant or storm, or sigh, or cut capers in any tragedy or comedy in the English language.
This is an impassioned declaration. We, the reader, are aware that he is the consummate actor. His whole life is an act. His pursuit of Maria, Julia and eventually Fanny, and then returning to Maria is a game to him, all an act. Richard III suave, sleazy, lizard like, cunning, highly intelligent, is Henry Crawford, isn’t he?

King Richard III, by Unknown artist, late 16th century (late 15th century) - NPG 148 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Richard III  (The National Portrait Gallery)

Fanny, and at first Edmund, only see wickedness and disaster in the whole prospect of the play. In Mansfield Park, the theatricals are used as a subversive element, not a positive thing. Austen reduces the theatrical experience to something detrimental for the sake of the novel. The characters and plot of Lovers Vows is unsuitable on a number of levels. The play is not merely going to allow them to enact hypothetical situations. The parts are closely allied to their own lives and secret and subconscious desires and so becomes subversive. 

Various forms of reasoning and persuasion, by first, Tom and his friend Mr Yates, followed soon after by the Crawfords, encourage and persuade different characters to take part. Edmund uses reason to counteract their arguments, referencing what he thinks his father’s reaction might be. In a way he takes on the head of the household role. The role Tom should take with his father away.  Edmund believes that they are going to desecrate his father’s house. Maria Bertram, at first argues, when Edmund suggests that she declines to take part in the acting,
” I really cannot undertake to harangue all the rest upon a subject of this kind.-There would be the greatest indecorum I think.”
But later she says, and shows her real base instincts. Her reasoning spectacularly loses all its moral high ground
 “If I were to decline the part, “said Maria, “Julia would certainly take it.”
Jealousy, one upmanship, the fear of not acting intimately with Henry Crawford, Julia being with Henry instead, come to the fore in this last desperate unguarded statement. She no longer argues on the high ground.
The greatest threat from the forces of persuasion are when the whole group, including now Edmund, target poor Fanny, the last remaining person without a part and who still does not agree to the play being staged. Even Fanny gets to the point where she is about to capitulate. In a way this is a foreboding of what is to come for Fanny. It is practice for the greater danger she has to face later; the powerful persuasive forces of Henry Crawford who attempts to marry her.

The Mansfield theatre (Wikapaedia)

 In retrospect, the future course of each character is so strongly set, the eventual failure to perform the play merely delays the inevitable or even highlights what is inevitable.
Lucy Morrison, Professor of English at Salisbury University, points out Austen’s more general use of  drama, playwriting and acting in her novels. For instance, she states,  Emma was derived from a drama based on the German playwright Kotzebue’s play, Reconciliation (1799). She mentions the strong links between the characters and the moral and social themes of the play and Austen’s novel. So it seems plays can be central to Austen’s stories.
Lovers Vows, is a play by Mrs Inchbald, a celebrated 18th century female playwright who adapted, Das Kind der Liebe (Child of Love) by Kotzbue. It was first performed in England in 1798. The play relates the story of a character called Frederick. A local baron, Baron Wildenheim who seduced and abandoned a chambermaid, Agatha Friburg in his youth. The play begins with Agatha living in poverty when her illegitimate son, Frederick, a soldier, returns from war. She tells him his father is the Baron. Frederick goes out to beg so that he can help his mother. In desperation he attempts to rob the baron who he meets on the road. At first he doesn’t realise who his victim is. Frederick is arrested. While in prison he reveals his identity to the Baron and tells the Baron that his mother is still alive. With the aid of the pastor, Anhalt, he persuades the Baron, who is widowed, to marry his mother Agatha. Meanwhile the Baron’s daughter, Amelia, who is betrothed to Count Cassel a brainless fop, has fallen in love with Anhalt and wants to marry him. The Baron consents to his daughter’s marriage with Anhalt.


The Georgian Theatre in Bugle Street Southampton during Jane Austen's time in Southampton.

Some of the shocking aspects of this play which affect Fanny and Edmund, are firstly the illegitimacy of Frederick. This suggests lust and inappropriate behaviours on the part of the Baron and Agatha in the past. Also there is the weakening of social barriers which might be disapproved of. The Baron marrying Agatha and Anhalt, a mere clergyman marrying the Baron’s daughter, Amelia are relationships which cross the social divides between the aristocracy and the serving classes. The fact that Mansfield Park house is actually being transformed into a theatre and being physically changed is also a visual metaphor for social and moral disruption. Mansfield Park is no longer an ordinary home with ordinary values, all be it a wealthy home with a rich lifestyle. It is now a theatre where everything becomes unreal and social experiments of all kind can take place.
 Maria Bertram was to play the part of Agatha and Henry Crawford to play the part of Frederick. They have some intimate and emotional moments between mother and son which suggests a strange sort of role play for these two. They also have many scenes together. Baron Wildenheim was to be played by Mr Yates, Amelia by Mary Crawford , Anhalt, by Edmund  and Count Cassel by Mr Rushworth. The part of the Count for Mr Rushworth, ineffectual and slow to understand is obvious type casting. The parts of Amelia and Anhalt reflect Maria Crawford’s and Edmunds situation too. They have to act out their love scene using dialogue heavy with meaning which would provide more opportunities for Mary Crawford to entice and seduce Edmund. The fact that they both ask Fanny to help them rehearse their parts, Fanny taking the opposite part each time, has its psychological undertones.
The whole acting affair comes to a dramatic end and turns almost into farce when Julia Bertram enters,
“….the door of the room was thrown open and Julia appearing at it, with a face aghast, exclaimed, “My father is come! He is in the hall at this moment.” 


A theatre poster for the production of Douglas  in Southampton.

When the participants in this ,”drama,” are debating which play to choose and not being able to decide on any,  a few of Shakespeare plays are suggested, Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet. Other plays popular at the time Mansfield Park was being written were suggested too, such as, Douglas, The Gamester, The Rivals and The School for Scandal. It is evident that Jane Austen suggested these plays for a purpose. Imagine if they decided on Macbeth, the murders, the killing. Do any of them have thoughts and feelings about murder and dark satanic powers? It is almost an exaggerated suggestion. Hamlet might be a closer fit but then there is the killing too. Othello, involves subterfuge and betrayal. Who amongst the Mansfield players could be an Iago or a Desdemona? We might have our suggestions.  Is Jane Austen making a wicked joke about some deep psychological level the characters in Mansfield Park are not aware of?
The play Austen mentions after listing the three Shakespeare plays is, Douglas. It was written by John Home who was a Scottish minister and writer. The plot includes the abandoned child of the nobility brought up by a lowly shepherd called Norval whose name the growing child takes. There is betrayal, suicide and murder involved along the way. There are some similarities with Lovers Vows but without the love element.
The famed actress, Sarah Siddons, played Lady Randolph in Douglas.
 Douglas, incidently, was staged at the theatre in, Bugle Street, Southampton, near Jane’s Castle Square house. A theatre poster for the production states that on Friday evening of the 31st May 1811, Douglas was performed by the pupils of Dr Whittaker at the Theatre, Southampton, to  raise funds for, “The British Prisoners in France.”
The two plays, The Rivals and The School for Scandal by Sheridan, have titles that at first would seem to offer an insight into the goings on at Mansfield Park,  even more so than Lovers Vows. The Rivals and the School for Scandal , are comedies that undermine the social mores of Georgian society. But, to tell the truth, Lovers Vows fits much more closely the scenarios being enacted in the characters real lives than any of these other plays. However, it would have been fun to see some of the others Austen lists, as the chosen production. To fit as closely the action, Macbeth would require Austens plot to be entirely different and if examined, the other plays, to be the right choice for Mansfield Park would also require a different story to be set as the , “the play within the play.” Austen is really having a joke with us all.


Mansfield rehearsals.
However, is Mansfield Park even closer to Shakespeare than just the mention of some of his plays in the suggested list? Is the story of Mansfield Park really a reformed, Midsummers Night’s Dream? It has been thought that Jane Austen’s novels centre on  dialogue. Jane Austen’s writing appears to be very close to play writing. We learn about her characters through what they say and how they interact and all the action is in the dialogue.






Monday, 21 April 2014

CHARLOTTE BRONTE

Charlotte Bronte was born 198 years ago today.

Jayne Eyre is one of my favourite books.

Charlotte Bronte, writing through the persona of Jayne Eyre:


“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” 
― Charlotte BrontëJane Eyre

and,on life in general.


“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” 
― Charlotte BrontëJane Eyre

The Bronte sisters at Haworth


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

VIKINGS: LIFE AND LEGEND



Exhibition poster displayed in the portico of The British Museum.

Recently my brother Michael and I, who incidentally lives near Aarhus on Jutland, went to see the new Viking exhibition at The British Museum called, “Vikings Life And Legend.” My brother went to the first exhibition about the Vikings at the British Museum thirty years ago. He was interested this time to see how our view and knowledge of the Vikings and the Viking world has developed and changed. There have been many new discoveries, mostly through archaeological excavations, that have  developed our knowledge and informed our understating. The exhibition has been organised and curated by experts at three of Europe’s main centres for the study of the Vikings. Michael Eissenhauer at the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, Neil MaGregor at the The British Museum in London and Per Krisitian Madsen of The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen have all participated in producing this exhibiton. The exhibiton covers a number of themes, Warfare and Military Expansion, Power and Aristocracy, Belief and Ritual and Ships and the Viking.

The entrance to the new Sainsbury Exhibition Centre in the British Museum where the Viking exhibition is located.

When the name, Viking, is mentioned many people still have a preconceived idea of a savage, ruthless raider attacking peaceful farming communities, stealing, murdering, burning and pillaging. The 1958 film, produced by Richard Fleischer, starring Kirk Douglas and based narrowly on some of the Old Norse Saga stories, is many peoples idea of what the Vikings were like and what they got up to. That was a part of what they did but they created new settlements and traded with other people. They also were farmers and developed religious beliefs and, what perhaps is more surprising to many and highlighted by this new exhibition, they learned and adapted from other cultures often taking on new ideas and ways of belief.  We know they also settled and set up new communities because we have so much evidence here in the British Isles. But it was a turbulent history that went along with that.
The Viking Age lasted roughly from the late 8th century to the late 11 th century. To put a more precise date on it, it lasted from about 800 Ad to 1066 Ad , in Britain anyway. 1066 was the year of the Norman Invasion in Britain and also the year of the last great Viking Invasion with an army under Harald Hadrada that was defeated by our last Saxon King, Harold Godwinson at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. Other countries might think of the Viking era extending beyond that period.


The Peterborough Chronicle. One of the versions of the Saxon Chronicle that gives evidence about the Vikings in Britain.

The word Viking itself is misleading. There was not a Viking country as such. The Vikings, or raiders,  came from an area of northern Europe which nowadays covers, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. These countries did not exist at the start of the Viking age. The word Viking comes from an old Norse word , vik, meaning inlet. The word viking or vikingr, means raiding party or even piracy. The Latin word , vicus, means a trading centre or emporium. An old English word, which can be found in place names today is ,wic, which might derive from the word Viking. We have places such as Norwich,  Keswick in The Lake District, and villages such as Scopwick in Norfolk. The English language has developed over more than a thousand years and includes Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Viking words, and French from the Normans. This rich development of our language has created some convoluted ways of spelling and ways of organising our grammar and so the history of Britain, including the period of the Viking invasions and settlements, can be found in names.

The Viking world

One of the main reasons for a somewhat biased view of the Vikings and an emphasis on their brutality has come down to us from the Anglo Saxon chronicles of the late 8th century. The monks of Lindisfarne were attacked and murdered, and the treasures in their church stolen by the ,”heathen,” hoards that came over from the north in their longships. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles, written later, were begun by King Alfred in Winchester during the late 9th century. Alfred wanted the history of England recorded. Various versions were written and distributed to a number of cathedrals around the country  to edit and keep up to date. The monks who wrote them show signs of prejudice , where a chronicle in one part of the country  mentions an event from one point of view, others might see it differently or decide to ignore it all together. The Saxon chronicles are therefore to be treated with an element of scepticism but also as a rich source of historical evidence. The chronicles are the first sources to mention the invasions and raids from the north.
"AD. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter."Entry for the year 793 in the Anglo Saxon chronicle.


A Viking axe head used for chopping wood and splitting skulls.


Six years before Lindisfarne was raided the Anglo Saxon Chronicle records for A.D. 787. states that 

"This year King Bertric took Edburga the daughter of Offa to wife. And in his days came first three ships of the Northmen from the land of robbers. The reve then rode thereto, and would drive them to the king's town; for he knew not what they were; and there was he slain. These were the first ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English nation."

Either this is the beginning of greater tribulation, or else the sins of the inhabitants have called it upon them. Truly it has not happened by chance, but it is a sign that it was well merited by someone. But now, you who are left, stand manfully, fight bravely, defend the camp of God."
Alcuin (735-804)

These Saxon extracts, are notable for a number of reasons. First they are written accounts by educated monks who saw their very existence and Christianity under attack. They show that there was a feeling of terror but also that they had a guilty conscience. Maybe they felt that they had done something wrong in the eyes of God to deserve this? These chronicles, are the first evidence in Britain for the Vikings. They are a biased account but as in all stories, whatever the source, there is truth too. It is understandable how a concept of savage heathens came to be the foremost opinion about the Vikings initially.


The site of Lindisfarne Abbey in Northumberland.

Michael and I walked into the exhibition amongst hundreds of other people. It is a very popular exhibition and as such this creates problems in viewing some of the exhibits. The archaeological evidence, after more than a thousand years, includes mostly metal objects, some wood, and of course ceramics, ivory and jewels. Many of the items are small and getting a good view amongst huddled onlookers, shouldering each other for space, was difficult at moments. The first displays showed artefacts belonging to children, women and men; brooches, axes, pins, and a sword hilt. These artefacts denoted wealth. To own any of them meant some level of success but the larger the item and the more intricate the designs displayed on them, showed increasingly greater wealth. So it appears size does matter, or amongst the Vikings anyway. I heard some muttered criticism as we went around that many artefacts appeared to be repeated. There were many sword hilts with various patterns and designs on them; there were numerous brooches, all of a similar shape and there were many shawl and kilt pins of a similar round design and pattern. However what was fascinating was that it appeared that these were not all the same. They came from different parts of the Viking sphere of influence which included all of  Europe,east into into Asia and stretched west to North America. They also came from different time periods. It was interesting to see that the overall construction and shape of these artefacts remained the same but the patterns differed extensively. There were Arab influences and Asian influences. These artefacts made it clear that the Vikings learned from and were influenced by other cultures. They were also evidence for the extent of Viking exploration.

A Viking shawl pin.

What enabled the Vikings to extend their range of influence across four continents were their long ships. The largest long ship ever excavated, Roskilde 6 (six longboats have been found in Roskilde harbour. They are of various sizes), takes pride of place in the large hall in the middle of the exhibition. It is thirty seven metres long and was excavated in Roskilde harbour in 1997 which is situated on Zealand, the main island of Denmark, not far from Copenhagen. Many of the keel planks are preserved. These preserved parts of the ship are displayed within a large steal cage  structure built in the shape of the original long ship. You can see that it was massive. What was important about these long ships was that they were designed with low keels so they could travel far inland along river systems which aided not only, their raiding parties but also more importantly their search  for trade. It also meant that if they wanted to establish a settlement in land they could  and not just be confined to the coast. The design of these ships, long and narrow, made them fast and they were also very manoeuvrable. We can tell this from the working reconstructions that have been built in recent years.


 Roskilde 6, in the exhibiton.The largest Viking long boat excavated so far.

“It held up to 100 warriors and would have been part of a 100-strong battle group that would have terrified enemies.
"This ship was a troop carrier," said Gareth Williams of the British Museum told the Guardian.
"There are records in the annals of fleets of hundreds of ships," Williams said.
"So you could be talking about an army of up to 10,000 men suddenly landing on your coast, highly trained, fit, capable of moving very fast on water or land."
The dates suggest Roskilde 6 may have been built for King Canute, who according to legend set his throne in the path of the incoming tide, to prove to his courtiers that even a monarch could not control the force of nature,”

Wrote Richard Alleyne in The Guardian.


Roskilde 6 being conserved in Roskilde.


The exhibition makes it clear that the Vikings , throughout their most active periods, were continuously extending their contacts and influence and they were interacting in many ways. One of the important ways  they interacted concerned religion. The Vikings began as pagans, or as the monks on Lindisfarne called them, heathens. They worshipped Odin, the father of their gods, and Thor, the god of war, but also Frey, the goddess of fertility and Freya the goddess of sex and Hel who ruled over the land of the dead. Most of the countries that bordered the lands that the Vikings came from were Christian and they started their contacts with these neighbours by killing Christians and burning their churches and monasteries but eventually even the Vikings turned to Christianity after three hundred years. This exhibition shows how the Vikings developed towards and finally embraced Christianity. It was a similar process to the Romans acceptance of Christianity. The Romans began to worship the Christian god alongside their other gods to begin with.  The Vikings followed a similar adaptive process.

Viking runes.

Apart from the written evidence recorded by the people they met, traded with or raided, there is not much written evidence from the Vikings themselves. There are many rune stones but these are mostly memorials to chieftains and their gods. As Christianity took hold some stones have prayers and crosses carved on them. They are not a record or history of the Viking times. The Vikings had an oral tradition of telling stories called sagas. They related stories about journeys and adventures, mainly focussing on one chieftain or important leader. These tell us some things about the Vikings and often give us hints about where they went. It is difficult to work out how much is fact and how much is fantasy. Although, runes, sagas and the chronicles of those peoples the Vikings met all give us insights and evidence about the Vikings It is down to artefacts and objects for solid evidence. This exhibition is full of solid evidence grouped and set out in an interpretation that is formed from the latest research and archaeology. If there is another exhibition in a further thirty years it will be interesting to find out how much more our understanding has moved on. When it comes to the Vikings it seems we will always be learning something new and adding to and adapting our understanding.


Remains from a Viking ship burial.

The Vikings still cause strong controversy and often our views of them are formed by geopolitical theories. Because of the long reach of the Vikings it is not true to say that they represent just the Scandinavian countries. They were Aryans and Hitler used them as an example of the strong, thrusting spirit of the Aryan race. Another name for the Vikings  in the eastern part of Europe were the Rus. Russia today gets its name from the Vikings who settled and traded there, but the present day Russians deny vigorously this northern European legacy. It undermines their view that they see themselves as a Slavic race.
Gareth Williams , the  curator who curated the  British Museum version of the exhibition  writes in the  the exhibition book,

“Interpretation of the past is inevitably informed by the character of the society making the interpretation…..”

He does go on to say, with some hope,

 and the academic view of the Viking phenomenon since the late twentieth century has been less narrow for a number of reasons.”


Viking axe head found in Russia.


Other forms of research are being followed. The Vikings are generally not associated with a system of money. They traded using a system of barter and exchange. The use of coins was minimal. If the people who they traded with wanted some sort of monetary assurance then the Vikings would use gold or other precious things in exchange. However, as the Viking period progressed the exhibition shows they did form a monetary system. A study of numismatics therefore, helps us develop our view of the Vikings. Viking treasure hordes have been discovered with coins in them. Some coins from trading contacts were turned into jewellery, especially necklaces.  Place names and language help map where the Vikings settled and here in Britain, especially in the north of England where there was a Danish Kingdom that drove out the Saxons for a while, have many place names with a Viking origin. Advances in the detecting of DNA and the historic links that DNA provides shows the extent of the Viking urge to settle. Through DNA scientists can map the Viking world.
Viking hoard discovered in York. There are some coins of Slavic origin amongst these.


The exhibit that fascinated me the most was the reconstruction of a Viking ship burial. The conservators and curators have reassembled the artefacts and evidence exactly as they were found in one such burial. The shape of the boat was indented into the soil. The wood had disappeared because of age and the geological composition of the ground but all the iron rivets from the original boat still remained and these are laid out as they had been when they were excavated. The personal artefacts of the warrior are also laid in the position they had been found. A sword to one side, buckles and brooches placed in their exact positions. and a metal jar, positioned where the feet of the warrior would have reached with coins and other precious things inside. I got a sense of a Viking life.

A mass burial of Vikings on the south coast near Weymouth. DNA testing has shown that these were young Viking men who had been decapitated.


People wonder when the Viking period actually came to an end. This exhibition makes it clear that it didn’t really end as such. A couple of things happened. The states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were formed. Instead of being a series heterogeneous groups of scattered and very loosely connected communities, they became homogeneous, forming clear identities under one rule  like the other so called civilised countries around them. They also became Christians.

The exhibition is excellent. If you are thinking of going I would suggest you book on line in advance. There a very few tickets available on the day and this exhibition is popular.
It runs from 6th March until 22nd June.

Here is a link to the British Museum booking facility.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/vikings/tickets.aspx

A video link . Be afraid, be very afraid!!!!!!

http://bri.mu/1dvqqwW


and 

http://bri.mu/1gGEZAJ

As a postscript, here are the brochures my brother Michael bought 34 years ago at the British Museums exhibition The Vikings and also the brochures he bought when  he went to see the Danish version of the same exhibiton in Copenhagen.

My brother Michael, e-mailed me to say:

"By the way, there's a joke her in DK that roughly goes that the reason for so many beautiful women in Denmark is because the Vikings stole all the good looking women from England."

Yes, the Danes have a sense of humour!!!!!!!!!!!!