Friday, 19 September 2014

Scotland remains part of The Union.


The results of the independence election in Scotland gave the YES voters 45% and the NO voters 55%. Scotland is to remain in The Union.
Things, however, will never be the same. A whole batch of devolved powers have been promised Scotland. The three major parties, The Liberals, Labour and The Conservatives have made promises which now need to be enacted upon.

Gordon Brown, our last Labour Prime Minister, in an impassioned speech arguing for a NO vote,, before the voting began on Thursday stated,

"....the Scotland Act would establish a new rate of income tax, devolve stamp duty and create borrowing powers for the Scottish parliament."

He said he expected to see other tax-raising measures, benefit levels and powers over transport handed to Holyrood.

More powers have been promised The Welsh Assembly. Northern Ireland and its needs require attention too and now England itself, which has never before been thought of in terms of devolution needs to be considered as well. Our whole constitution will be examined and changes will be made.
Should powers  be devolved to cities and rural counties? Will this create economic and industrial power houses of our cities? The process will be long and arduous. It is not the responsibility of one political party or one section of society.

The discussion in Scotland and now the discussion in the rest of the United Kingdom is going to create a new constitution and a new union for the future. The United Kingdom is now in the process of recreating itself. This could be the boost needed to energise the UK and make it develop in innovative and creative ways. A very exciting time.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

THE UNITED KINGDOM

The Union Jack fluttering above the beach in Lyme Regis on the South Coast.
On Thursday 18th September in the year of 2014 the Scottish people are voting for independence.
They are voting to separate themselves from the rest of the United Kingdom and go it alone as a separate political and economic entity. They could of course vote to stay as part of the United Kingdom too. However, at this moment, two days before this momentous vote, the decision of the Scottish people hangs in the balance.

The people on these islands began to appear about 500.000 years ago and then the Ice Age came and they disappeared. About 12000 BC the climate warmed up and the ice melted. People returned. They could walk here because the land that later formed the British Isles was joined to Europe by a land mass. This land bridge, called Doggerland later disappeared under rising sea levels Evidence for hunter gathering has been found in the remains of bones and in cave drawings. To hunt, especially the larger animals like mammoths, bison,elk and  aurochs, people needed to group together. At this stage only small groups would be required to hunt and trap large animals. It is easy to see how small communities probably family sized communities  needed to work together and it is easy to understand that they would form traditions within families and also pass down family stories. The seasons and the weather patterns also ruled their lives.This early instinct to form small communities and work together developed through the centuries and millennia.

We can look back at the vast expanse of the history of these islands starting from hunter gatherers and the requirements of their lifestyle  to the appearance from Europe  of people who had started to  farm and so formed static permanent communities and built houses and huts. The Neolithic period or New Stone age was the time people formed themselves into tribes and became far more powerful because of their numbers. Vast building projects like the  stone circles at Avebury and Stone Henge and giant mounds like Silbury Hill in Wiltshire , the hill forts such as the vast Maiden Castle in Dorset, used for protection from neighbouring kingdoms, were built. They required great technological ingenuity and the development of tools. The coming together of tribes into kingdoms required leaders, holy men , traditions, rituals and beliefs. They created strong powerful and increasingly wealthy communities. Later, metals began to be smelted naming the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Celtic tribes moved here from Europe in about 500 BC and brought new traditions and technologies.

The Romans invaded in 43 BC, stayed a few hundred years and built  towns and roads and then left. Invaders from Europe came,. The Angles and Saxons and they formed Kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex. These kingdoms often fought each other. The Vikings came and invaded and took their part of the country mostly in the north in an area termed The Danelaw. The Saxons fought back under Alfred the Great and stemmed  the tide of Viking authority. William the Norman invaded in 1066  and took over a country  we could recognise today as England stretching from the South coast up to Northumberland and the borders of Scotland.

Between 1282 and 1283 Edward I invaded Wales and built massive castles at Caernarvon in the north and Pembroke in the south and a whole range of other castles throughout Wales to keep it subjugated and placed it under English rule. During the 1290’s he turned his attention to Scotland. He didn’t manage to subjugate Scotland. There were defeats as well as successes but war was an expensive undertaking and Edward I had problems with taxation. His son Edward II continued the Scottish campaign but was unsuccessful too.

Scotland began its joining with the United Kingdom when Elizabeth 1 died childless and the Tudor dynasty came to an end. Her cousin, James VII of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was invited to become King of England. He accepted and became James I of England.The crowns were united but the countries stayed separate until full union was achieved through the act of union in 1707. The forces of trade and influence within Empire brought us together. There was a need to be together for the greater good.

The Tudors had tried to subjugate and rule Ireland but had not proceeded much beyond Dublin and The Pale.After the English Civil war Cromwell sent armies to Ireland to subjugate them. The Irish had been royalist in sympathy and would have caused a problem if they were not controlled. It was a severe and brutal campaign and Cromwell is hated in Ireland to this day. Ireland's joining the union was a parallel coming together with Scotalnd. It achieved its act of union in 1800. Differing forces of religion and trade played their part. Also in both cases Scotland and Ireland were seen as routes to invasion from England's enemies. It was better for all, economically and militarily to be together.

The history of the United Kingdom, is therefore bloody and often cruel but it is also the history  of a coming together which enabled growth, industrial and agricultural revolutions, great art, music and literature.  This creative force occurred because of the forging together of four united countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland into a place that is so unique and special and has this deep shared history. It is in the gradual unifying of the whole that it has become an amazing and special place.

It is easy for nationalists in Scotland, or England, Wales and Ireland to want to separate from the others because of a deep sense of remembered hurt, pride and belief in their traditions but they are not looking at the whole picture. They are being selfish and ready to damage the whole for their narrow beliefs and so doing they are going to diminish the strength and power that comes from being together rather than apart. The British Isles, The United Kingdom, is going to be a smaller place not just in land mass if the YES vote wins on Thursday. The strength derived from being together will be weakened. We will not be quite so amazing.


Rather like those early hunter gatherers who needed each other to help bring down a woolly mammoth otherwise, as individuals they would not have been able to survive,  we all need each other now in our four countries to stay strong and grow. Within a group it is still possible to have individual traits, traditions and beliefs. Often strength and creativity is derived from the diversities within a whole. A synergy is formed. The history of our islands has been one of struggle, pain and war, but through the searing heat of that melding together it has made us unique and special.

A piper in Princes Street next to Scott's monument. I hope we can call this bit of land part of The United Kingdom come Thursday!!!!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A PENGUIN BOOK


A Penguin book using the original colour system.

Marilyn went off to her usual Saturday morning car boot sale in Raynes Park this morning. When she came back she brought me two presents. First, a bar of Belgium chocolate made from coffee beans from Madagascar, which sadly, exists no longer, and secondly a copy of Claire Tomlin’s Jane  Austen :A life, she picked up from a second hand book stall. This edition was one of a series of books chosen to be republished in Penguins original format  to commemorate Penguin being the publisher of the year in 2007. I already have the original Penguin paperback version of Jane Austen: A life, with the pale green cover, a print of Steventon Rectory in the background and prominently to the fore, Cassandra’s sketch of Jane. I also have an e-book version on my i-pad for when I take friends to Jane sites so I can easily find quotes from Claire about the place we are at.
This 2007 version of Tomlin’s biography of Jane is different from the 1997 edition. Penguins have used the cover system that they originated when Penguin was founded by Allen Lane in 1935. There are  many aspects of the style which are iconic. Penguin books and their distinctive covers were something I was used to when I was growing up in Southampton, so there is a strong element of nostalgia connected with this cover design. Penguin published only the very best in academic writing, in novel writing and writing of all types. They were also renowned for bringing on the best new writing talent and were never afraid to develop strange ideas and subjects. All this comes with feelings of comfort and memories of enjoying reading books from a youthful age. One of the key concepts that Allen Lane wanted to promote was the idea that the best writing should be accessed by the whole population. Penguins were first sold in places like Woolworths and W.H. Smiths for 6d.
The style of my,” new,” edition of Jane Austen; A Life, is simple. The cover is divided into three broad horizontal bands of colour, from top to bottom, navy blue, white and navy blue. The title and authors name are printed within the white band, in a simple black and white print , created as a modern type face in the 1930’s. Below this in the lower blue band is the iconic Penguin symbol. The story goes that Allen Lane wanted a logo and name that would be attractive to all. A secretary at 8 Vigo Street, just off Regent Street where Allen Lane had his office,, overheard a conversation about using an animal logo. She suggested a penguin. Everybody liked the idea and Edward Young, the illustrator, was sent off to London Zoo where he spent a day sketching penguins in all sorts of poses.

The colour bands were designed to denote what type of book they were.  The Claire Tomlin biography of Jane Austen is dark blue because biographys were dark blue. Green, was crime fiction, cerise, travel books, red, plays, yellow was used for that very important genre, miscellaneous, light purple were letters and essays and grey was world affairs. Allen Lane also developed his publishing house with brands called Pelicans and King Penguins.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Reading a paperback is far superior to reading a Kindle


Readers absorb text differently when they use ebooks

Apparently research shows that because of Kindles and e books our reading experience is becoming fragmented and superficial.We remember less  information or details of plot. We are  not so deeply engaged with the text.

This also opens up a whole aspect of the publishing world, revealing perhaps more interest in making a fast buck than in the content of the literature they spew out. E-books are bought and received instantly like a can of beans off a supermarket shelf. The process of choosing  a book to read has changed because of this. Many people choose reading material because they are influenced by blogs, twitter groups and so called facebook friends, especially if they also associate and communicate with the writers on a self publishing site; for example, a Jane fan fiction site. The quality of most Jane fan fiction that is churned out is questionable but because people want to  be seen as part of the group and have become, "friends," with the writers, they are inspired to make nice comments and of course buy immediately their e-copy.

Here is a link to the article in the Daily Telegraph.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/11048431/Kindles-inferior-to-paperbacks-for-memorable-stories.html

Post script.
 I have slept on the above comments. I have decided that all  you need to do is  watch somebody reading an e-book on a Kindle and then compare the occasion to  a time when you watched somebody read a paper back/hardback book.The difference  in how people engage and relate to  the two different written sources, is blatantly apparent, isn't it?   I don't think I have seen  anybody reading an e-book. Perhaps that says it all.

Post post script.
….and another thing or two.

The five star system that some blogs use to judge books by is awful. I wouldn’t judge a child’s writing on a five star system. Books are not hotels!!!!!! At least with hotels each star equates to a level of service and given expectations about the room. What does each star equate to in respect to a novel??
The publishing world has become a sort of, “wild west.” It is a lawless, or rather, quality less, state. Anything goes. At one time, somebody could only get published if they sent their script to a multitude of publishing houses and often,in the process, receive a string of rejection notes, a humbling and salutary process. An editor, if the author was lucky, would read it. A decision would be made about whether the writing was of good enough quality to be published. I am sure various other processes were gone through as well and to get published was extremely hard. You had to be good, very, very good to get published. There appears to be a two track publishing system now.The good writers get published, probably through a process similar to the old system.However, the greatest volume of what gets published nowadays has no standards, because people can unfortunately self-publish. This is not helped by sub standard and somewhat subservient reviewing. So called vanity writers foist their poor quality writing on a world, which often finds it difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.  I have got nothing against anybody wanting to write novels, poetry, songs, plays whatever they feel like and are inspired to do so. It would however be wise to do as Jane Austen did when she began writing, just tell your family.In her case she was a genius and by a circuitous route came to the notice of the world.




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, depicting leaves and branches, the bright white walls of the castellated, turreted,  and perpendicular Gothic extravagances 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 up a steep and winding staircase that lead 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 been more  successful. Entering, The Gallery, we emerged into light and space  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 a sense of difering 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 a round room called, The Round Room, which is carpeted in crimson which also has 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. We visited The Great North bedchamber and the Holbein Chamber too.
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  Strawberry 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  center  of Walpole's Gothic ideas and the  center of  Walpole's  antiquarian and scholarly 

endeavours. John Chute designed the bookcases based on a door in Old St Paul's 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