Friday, 19 October 2012

Agatha Brazen and the Mystery of the Missing Pages.

Dearest Em'ly,

In your Grandmother GiGi's research for her new book, she has come across a little 'Mystery'...

Consequently she has come over all third person singular, in likening it fancifully to a detective story-blog, akin to Agatha Christie, but more in sympathy with Agatha Raisin in the fabulous M.C.Beaton series. However, GiGi's detection isn't about a murder - but it is about dead people.

Victorian dead people, five in particular;

1. Julia Margaret Cameron- Victorian pioneering blue-stocking photographer.
2. Edward Lear- Limerick dude, also accomplished landscape artist, BF of Emily T.
3. Annie Thackeray- Daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, and good mate of JMC.
4. Emily Tennyson- Wife of Alf the poet laureate, profligate diarist.
5. Charles Dodgson ( aka Lewis Carroll. )

Now Em's, what got GiGi going here was whilst she was researching something else to do with this mob ( as they all lived and or frequented Freshwater Bay ) it seems that something they ALL have in common, are missing records during 1859.

It was high old decade for the Victorian artistic avant-garde.

Contrary to popular belief, the mid-century was not just all about 'genteel', crooked fingers when drinking tea, and piety for breakfast, luncheon and supper. Writing poetry, or creating Art, didn't just bring kudos- it was a lucrative position for those who became known. Whigs created pensions of about £400 a year ( half of what it was deemed socially acceptable to marry and keep 5 servants with, add a dowry and you are quids in. )
If born into a 'middle class' family at the upper end in an age where hitherto birth was everything; the aspirational could take orders and obtain income as a Reverend of course. Or try for a Governance situation abroad for a lucrative return for the Upper Middle Classes. Or have a go at painting, writing a novel or hatching some poems.

Tennyson did rather well at the poetry bit; following a pension, he was able to marry Emily, rented a rather nice gaff here in Freshwater, and then three years later was able to buy it with the proceeds of 'Maud' a poem that was inspired by his first love. Nice work if you can get it.

Julia Margaret Cameron did write- a bit. She translated some German poetry and had it illustrated and published and following a sterling amount of charity fund raising for the Irish; but when her invalid husband was unable to secure a Governance position abroad and his Coffee plantations were dwindling, Julia set out to carve her niche in the new-fangled art of photography.
Women didn't generally follow careers at this time, so she was at great pains to not be seen as a 'Commercial photographer'. She became rather well known for her efforts which must have gone quite a long way in funding her large extended family, with her renowned generosity to be catered for also. Julia 'ran after' the Tennysons in November 1857, to accompany them back to Freshwater, and just over two years later established herself as nearby neighbour at Dimbola Lodge, throwing herself wholeheartedly into her new home, salon and studio.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in a Reverends home. Charles senior was described as the 'perpetual Curate', and after several miserable years at Rugby school, Dodgson and lifelong friend Thomas Vere Bane ( son of Fathers friend of same name ) established themselves at Oxford. Dodgson lectured in Mathematics, but quickly sought the 'Photographic' opportunity of social mobilisation, which gave him the entree he desired. Socially it didn't go as well as he would have liked, but history has deemed that Lewis Carroll ended up historically with questionably the wildest success.
His soujourn into writing included poetry and limerick-  'Alice in Wonderland', has never since been out of print. The stammering, awkward, irritating Charles' legacy has become bigger than the sum of all of his efforts...

GiGi's interest is in the characters that lived, visited and worked in the immediate vicinity of where she now lives. In researching the history of the house she inhabits, there is much to explore. Alice Dodgson ( descendant ) lived there; Horatio Tennyson,  ( brother of Alf ) ended his days there as a philanthropist, and Professor Jowett, Master of Balliol spent a month each year translating Plato at the house.

Lots to explore, especially if you work in an antiquarian bookshop. And especially if when reading diaries and accounts, there are some missing entries in common...

Starting from GiGi's hunch that Julia Margaret Cameron was the 'Muse' for the Red and White Queen in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass', an 'Agatha Brazen' style bit of Victorian detective work sounds like quite a lot of fun...

Your ever-loving Grandmother GiGi xxx

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