Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Cameron's Clique and the 'Catty Pattles'


Well today was another flurry of Half-term visitors to Dimbola, all in good humour as the Bay sparkles in the very welcome sunshine.

A lady came in with her family and commented on the Mannequin we have dressed up as Julia- " I should wear that on Monday". When I asked what for- she told me she was going to her Mothers funeral, and that Mum had honeymooned at Dimbola in 1940. "It's such a lovely, happy-house " she said. At the Bookshop I met someone recently who spent her Honeymoon there in 1960- it's great to hear first-hand histories and memories.

Now then, my little proof-reader, back to business. We left off yesterday at Chapter two- the one where I introduce the Tennyson clan, and how Dodgson fell from grace with them ( you know the next bit- I do the character un-masking then- over the next two pages accompanied by my colouring-in. )

So, we've introduced Dodgson staying at the Bay in 1864, and catalogued his previous visits too. We've introduced his original prey, and now we move on to the force of nature that was our own Julia Margaret Cameron...

Chapter Three

'The Julia Margaret Cameron Effect'

For the purposes of this little book, and the limits of space, let us assume that the reader knows a little about this extraordinary Woman. Tennysons fame and legacy is easier to precis, whilst focussing on Carroll's writings, but a word or two about Julia's dynamic and forceful, somewhat overbearing presence is in order to set the tone of the relationship.
The fact alone that Julia ( from 1863 onwards ) became a pioneering blue-stocking Photographer was probably enough to set Charles Dodgson's niggling inferiority/superiority complex off- but that this came after he had 'assisted' her photographic education; and wormed his way into her coterie- yet was habitually 'sent home for lunch', and that Julia had a hand in persuading Emily Tennyson that Dodgsons portraits made her look haggard, similarly his portrait of a young Una Taylor was likened by her to a 'sick sea-monster', made her a prime target for Dodgsons 'Grotesque Cariacature Revenge'.

So, to set the scene. Dodgson befriended Julia at Dimbola in Freshwater Bay during his 1862 visit. They had met originally in London- Julia's Brother-in-Law Lord Somers had been head of the Photographic Society for a year, and had been teaching Julia, along with Dodgson, his good friend Robert Southey, and Oscar Reijlander, in the ways of their collective pioneering skills.

Somers- then seconded into Parliament by the elderly Lord Landsdowne, saw fit to forget he did anything 'arty' and history is left without proof of many of his works- often ascribed to Somers or Dodgson- inconclusively.

During the Spring of 1862 visit, Dodgson would have predominantly witnessed a female driven melee- a gaggle of squabbling chaotic social whirls- of maids praised for their beauty rather than their domesticity, a constant stream of visiting eminences, ( Henry Taylor- a Poet admired by Cameron- was also a Civil Servant, whose visit to stay en famille at Dimbola was heralded by Julia commanding the building of a bay window- just for him to enjoy during his visit. ) Benjamin Jowett ( Master of Balliol at Oxford ) was burning the mid-night oil at the other end of 'The Terrace' translating Plato, and the Thackeray girls and soldiers from Redoubt Fort came and went.

Most annoyingly probably to Dodgson, was that Julia had the gall to set up home, slap-bang next door to Tennyson and was brazenly creating a Salon akin to those now becoming fashionable in London Society- those that Dodgson had not been invited into.

Little Holland House ( in Holland Park West London ) was Julia's former stomping ground. Hosted by her sister Sara Prinsep, with pet artist G.F Watts in residence- the exclusion of Dodgson was further insensced by Watts courting of one of Charles child-friends, the actress Ellen Terry.

The Duchess of Argyll ( also feted by Tennyson ) had also adopted the previously French Fashion of the 'Literary Salon', and now Julia Margaret Cameron was fast becoming the 'Madame de L'Etang' of the Bay, with Tennyson as her 'Chateaubriand'. More-over- Dodgson was not invited to table!

His visit in 1864- as 'Alice' was getting the finishing touches begore being sent to print, found him person non grata with Tennyson, and at Julia's house- the Woman was now a 'Photographer'!

To cap it all- Watts had married Dodgson's fair maiden Ellen Terry in January that year- she aged 16, he twenty years older.

Ellen passed difficult days at Freshwater, not feeling the love of the older set; she preferred to run amok with the Tennyson boys, climbing trees and play-fighting. Ultimately, Watts sent her back to her parents, advised by Julia's sisters ( the 'Catty Pattle sisters' as unkindly named. )

Julia and her sisters were very well known in Society. Famed for their artistry in society,( Sara ) their beauty ( Virginia ) and talent ( Julia- also called the 'Bas-bleu'-Blue-stocking ) they also came in for un-kind gossip about their heritage.

Granny had lived at Versailles, the daughter of a man widely supposed to be Madame de Pompadours lover. Julia and her siblings spent much of their formative years there. More-over, the girls dark skin, and predilection for chattering together in Hindi and French, wearing brightly coloured self-made Bohemian velvet garb that eschewed the fashionable Crinoline- gave spite to gossip that the 'Pattle' surname was merely a got-up version of the common 'Patel' low caste one.

These ladies could not have been more unlike Dodgson's own mild-mannered un-married ( except for one ) sisters.

The way they strode through society, seemingly unheeding of the strategies Dodgson had to negotiate at Oxford, must have rankled with our snobbish Mathematician.

They charmed, and included who-so-ever they liked! But, Dodgson was sent home for supper...

So, let us now see how Dodgson composited these experiences in 'Through The Looking Glass'

Em, here follows four pages of un-masking. Tomorrow we are on the Edward Lear bit.

Enough for now, sleep tight.

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx

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