Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Tainting the Lily

Dearest Emily,

What a lovely weekend we had for Annabel's Christening. I shall admit to some small apprehension as to how you would rise to the occasion of not being the centre of attention. I say that without criticism- you are only three years old- and getting used to sharing Mummy and Daddy with your baby sister. You did yourself proud Emily, and behaved very well indeed. I watched you throughout the day- and it amuses me to conclude that your lovely existential free-spirit soul- found its outlet in 'twirling'. Whenever something was going on that you weren't expected to involve yourself with- you simply took yourself off for a twirl or two. This, I observed, was not for anybody's benefit, other than your own joy of twirling. You would emerge somewhat giddy- recover and join in what was the next thing you needed to be involved with. Mummy and Daddy talk to the Vicar with Annabel- cue for a twirl.

Which brings me to my own cue- about our extraordinary Victorians- with a rather less salutary viewpoint this time- and an appreciation that my own little Grand-daughters were not born during this time. Especially considering your own lovely free-spirit Em, I introduce you to another- Ellen Terry...

Alice Ellen Terry was born in 1847, one of eleven children (nine of which survived) who did not go to school but started work as an actress aged nine. Befriended by our own Charles Lutwidge Dodgson- who was to be a staunch supporter and friend for life, Ellen appeared at the London Princess's Theatre regularly until 1859, then with her sister Kate travelled the Country as strolling players.

After modelling with her sister Kate for G.F Watts in 1862, and with some interference from Julia Margaret Cameron's Pattle sisters- a marriage to Watts- 20 years her seniour was encouraged.

Visiting the Isle of Wight- newly wed Ellen celebrated her seventeenth birthday modelling for Mrs Cameron in the very beautiful photograph entitled 'Sadness'.

As a 'Carte de Visite' (the popular form of calling-card which was all the rage at the time) Ellen got a card, and Julia got a great shot. But looking at the shot in context of what was happening at the time- and what happened next- it's hard to decide who was zooming who here. The exhuberant young Ellen, cared not for sitting at Julia's table philosophising with her husband's cronies- Tennyson, Henry Taylor and the Pattle sisters. She ran off with Tennyson's wild children, across the Down and up to the fort, whooping and fighting with swords. Reprimanded by Julia's sisters time and again, and with an unconsummated marriage- she became a 'difficulty'. A whole ten months later- the sisters told Watts that she should be sent back to her parents...

Ok-ish, so far. A bad match- that didn't work out. Heigh-ho. Except that Watts refused to divorce the poor girl.... for the next THIRTEEN YEARS!

So- the young Ellen was not free to marry again. At 21 she met the man she is quoted as calling 'The only man she ever loved' and eloped with him, bearing him two children. The relationship was to last seven years, and cost her her reputation which estranged her from her family (had Mr Watts found the courtesy to divorce her she may not have been thus tainted.)

Ellen chose to go back to the stage- something Watts desired her to give up. The father of her children had fled when the bailiffs called, so it's a good job our Ellen was rather talented in this way. Her craft led her to become a Dame- and to become one of the first modern stars of the British Stage. Her legacy in her craft- along with her as a generous and free-spirited woman still follows her.

It can't have been easy for her Emily- but there is nothing I have come across from the prolific letter-writer that she was that betrays this. It would have been so much kinder and more Gentlemanly, for Watts to have divorced her. A girl, soon to become woman, sent home to her parents by a neurotic genius husband who made a mistake. Simples. But instead, he refused a divorce.

Dear Dodgson- fan, admirer, and friend- was also compromised. This devout Vicar's son, at odds with his own more Bohemian soul and also existential nature, does not reveal how dearly he revered her, and how wrong he felt the marriage, which can only be guessed at. I believe (as does Jo Elwyn Jones and J.Francis Gladstone in The Red Kings Dream) that she was cast as the Tiger-Lily, in The Garden of Live Flowers chapter in Through the Looking Glass. But this is not the subject of my post- other than a crude Victorian doll-esque 'colouring-in' that attempts to push the mesh of the cracked way she was portrayed by her immediate peers, alongside Dodgson's squibs en cariacature, and possibly her own hand as actress in portraying her own personal state in a photograph entitled 'Sadness.'

Dodgson was estranged from her for a while during her years with Godwin- the father of her children with whom she eloped- his sensibilities obliterating his own moral compass which was condemned to the absurd in his writings.

However, he got over his Victorian scruples, and remained a dedicated fan and friend and copious letter corresponder over the years.

She, like the fabulous Lou-lou de la Falaise (muse of Yves Saint-Laurent)- I both revered and latterly came to know- and will tell you about later- come under my own heading- that of  'Gentlewoman'. Their grace and stoical favour Emily, rather become them.

For yourself, I wish a less challenging path. You have it, free of stigma on many counts-BUT, let's see. No road less travelled has no bumps in it. Women have gained some things by your Great-Great-Grand-Mother's suffragette sensibilities. But that is by no means all. In a world where all question values and 'tolerance'- are we not just re-writing some rules?

Plus ca change-plus que c'est la meme chose.

Do what you do- and do it authentically!

Your ever-loving Grand-Mother, GiGi xxxx

Friday, 6 June 2014

Visiting Queens

Dearest Emily,

I really shouldn't keep buying books. I work in a bookroom, and can read any that I want to. The living room is wall to wall with 'em, so is the kitchen- even the dogs room is becoming a library. But it doesn't stop me. My favourite shelves are in my bedroom, where I sit and write in the evenings. Matters Carrollian dominate the shelves, along with treasures like your and Annabel's first edition's of Alice. Then there's all my old stuff on Bloomsbury that Daddy grew up with, and an ever expanding collection on the Freshwater Circle.

One of the latest accquisitions is a little unassuming paperback, written by Vita Sackville-West's husband Harold Nicolson, on Tennyson. It drew my interest because it was written by him- and my long-standing interest in matters Bloomsbury. I enjoy gathering bits and bobs about how these people were influenced as you know. Virginia Woolf (being the Great-Niece of Mrs Cameron) poked fun at her comedic Great-Aunt in her parlour-play 'Freshwater', but I suspect that her radical and eccentric relative injected more than a sense of generation reactive scorn.

Nicolson doesn't fail me here. He writes beautifully, as is his reputation, and regarding Tennyson, he gives opinion, and backs it up- but the whole tone of the book is kindly- and a slight humour flavours it all, about a man from a generation that was considered 'frumpish' to the next.

Two excerpts are the subject of my post today though Emily.

The first for its amusement value-

Nicolson has been describing three of Tennyson's closest friends at Freshwater- Sir John Simeon, W.G.Ward- and Mrs Cameron. He begins by explaining that Julia was one of the few people who were not in the least frightened of the Laureate, and talks of their bracing and irreverent banter. Then he goes on to relate an amusing scene...

It is recorded that one evening the Laureate entered the drawing-room at Farringford and, as was his wont, stood poised and magnificent for a moment in the doorway glowering across at a group of his family clustered around a seated figure in a bonnet and many shawls. Suddenly a look of startled reverence was observed to flash across his face. Bowing low, he hastened across the room towards  so unexpected, so miraculous a visitor. "This is indeed-" , he began.

But it was not Queen Victoria: it was only Mrs Cameron in an unfamiliar garb.

The second is about Queen Victoria- who threatened a visit to Farringford- heralded by a 'dropping-in' by Prince Albert that probably left the household constantly on Queen alert. Tennyson developed a close friendship with Victoria over the years- and this excerpt shows their familiarity and the Queen's consideration of her Laureate's words. Nicolson relates a translation of an article published in a Berlin periodical, citing the feel of a public legend concerning their relationship:-

Shortly after Enoch Arden had appeared, (QV) heard that Tennyson's enemies and enviers charged the poem with being immoral and a glorification of concubinage. She applied to an eminent clergyman, and learned from him that cases of bigamy, it was true, were not very rare, and those whom such a misfortune befell might, perhaps, be pardoned by the Lord on the day of judgement, for the mercy of the God of Heaven and Earth knows no bounds; but that it indicated an alarming confusion on the part of the poet to represent in a kind of halo a man who tolerated the continuance of such a sinful relationship between man and woman.

Further consultation censured the poem further- and Queen Victoria- whose moral conscience was never slight- decided to have a chat with Alfred about it...

She therefore extended her drive along the seashore that very afternoon beyond its usual length, and ordered the coachman to drive further west.

She soon after saw the poet's house, which lies in the middle of a small grove of pine and firs, peering forth between the verdure and foliage around it. The Queen was accompanied by two of her daughters. When she perceived Tennyson's form in the garden- his long hair and full beard caused her to recognise him at a glance- she entrusted her sketch-book and the metal box in which she gathered flowers and plants for her herbarium to the princesses, and walked alone to the low garden gate, whither Tennyson had already hastened to meet her. She did not want to enter his house, but, walking with him along the shore, she explained to him what disquited her in regard to his poem, on the beauties of which she dwelt with that refined appreciation which is said to be peculiar to her....
"Tell me, Mr Tennyson, what have you to reply to all those objections which I mentioned to you before?"
"Very little, Your Majesty."
"I should be sorry, Your Majesty, if the little girl yonder had to bear the stain of illegitimate descent."
"What little girl?"
"The little girl dissappearing just now behind the hawthorn hedge. Your Majesty; I mean the child carrying the bundle of faggots."
"And what has that girl to do with your poem?"
"A great deal, for if the Bishop of N. had had his way, little Anna, yonder, would be considered a child born in illicit wedlock."
The Queen had stood still.
"You do not mean to say, Mr Tennyson," she replied, that on our little island here an event such as you related in your Enoch Arden has really happened?"

"Your Majesty," said Tennyson, "there occur among the lowly and poor many traits of heroism, for which historians might envy the quiet observer of the people. Happy he who can contemplate and comprehend such traits with an unbiased mind, happy he who is able to relate them in his poems without spoiling their simple originality too much; happy above all, he of whom poets can tell such traits. His memory disseminates heavenly seed."
The Queen had walked across the lawn to the tombstone and laid her hand on its moss-grown edge. She stood there for a long while in silence, her eyes fixed on the spot where Enoch had found his last resting-place. At length she drew herself up, and, turning to go home, she said, "God bless him! He did right, after all."

Now Emily, just how this private interview came to be on public record in a German magazine is one thing that questions its verity, but my guess is that it is a story related by Tennyson himself- it sounds like his words, his sentiments, and his validation. If it is a likely story- I reckon Tennyson provided the transcript.

Anyhow- it amuses your Grand-mother to think of Tennyson mistaking Mrs Cameron for his Queen, and then to read that the Queen he was constantly awaiting, walking along to the Bay, past Mrs Cameron's house. Thank goodness Julia didn't spy her out of her window and demand a photo shoot.
Or, Em, would Mrs C have wanted to take her photograph? She admired great men, and fair women- but beyond intellect or beauty, didn't lionise if they didn't fit in with her brief.

Queen Julia of Freshwater Bay beat to her own drum. Queen Victoria was very much concerned with her own duty and conscientious responsilbility. Two interesting women Emily.

Enough for today, the sun is shining- hope you and Annabel are enjoying it. Looking forwards to seeing you both next weekend,

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx