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