Sunday, 28 October 2012

How pleasant to know Mr Lear...

An illustrated limerick from 'The Book of Nonsense' by Edward Lear, first published 1846

Dear Emily,

Do you remember when I was telling you about the suspects in the 'Mystery of the Missing Pages'?
Number two on my list after Julia Margaret Cameron was a Parlour-singing painter and poetry dude called Edward Lear. He was born in 1812. The limerick and cartoon above are part of a collection of nonsense rhymes that he made up for the children of the 13th Earl of Derby.

Mr Lear was well-liked in society, and became a sort of 'family pet' at Knowsley, his patron Lord Derby's grand home. Lear was not fond of stuffy gatherings, and often de-camped to the Nursery, delighting the grandchildren, nephews and nieces with this rhymes, jokes and funny drawings.

'The Complete Book of Nonsense' was the result of four years kindergarten play, where Lear felt totally at ease  ( and could hop about on one leg as much as he pleased ! ) The book was very well received and subsequent editions followed up to this day, immortalising the affable Mr Lear. At the time, it was generally rumoured that there was no such person as Edward Lear, and that Lord Derby wrote the poems himself; and on one occasion Mr Lear over-hearing the fact that he did not exist in a railway carriage , felt obliged to introduce himself to the Gentleman talking about him and take off his hat to prove it, by showing him his name inside!

Disposed to fits of depression and epilepsy ( the morbids' as he coined them ), Lear was forever journeying to pastures new, travelling with companions. Friendship was taken very seriously by him, and he communicated regularly with his lifelong friends adopting the Victorian fervour for endless letter writing.

One of his dearest friends was Emily Tennyson, and he was a regular visitor at Farringford. Once he had settled in San Remo in Italy, he named his first home there 'Villa Emily'.

Lear was also an accomplished landscape and bird portraitist and he adopted himself as a son, into the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood. He called Millais 'Auntie', and frequently attended lessons with them all. He seems to have endeared himself to people wherever he went.

His manner was charming and humorous, he often introduced himself by his 'long name  "Chakonoton the Cozovex Dossi Fossi Sini Tomentilla Coronilla Polentilla Battledore & Shuttlecock Derry down Derry Dumps".
Lear's foray into nonsense was underpinned by popular Victorian themes of Parody, limerick and burlesque, but Lear was unique in his 'kindly nonsense', in that he never lowered himself to the satire, or lampooned anyone in his work. 

However- what GiGi finds a little strange, Emily is this...

Edward Lear was well-known following the publication of his book. Lewis Carroll too became well-known, a decade later. Both shared the style of 'nonsense', both works appealed to children, and both moved in the same circles.

Yet Emily Tennyson never mentions Carroll in her frequent letters to Mr Lear. Lear never mentions him flatteringly, or disparagingly ( though never unkind in print, Lear gave his opinions on whom he liked or didn't- for example Aubrey De Vere and Irish poet 'moodeth about moodily'. ) It has often appeared in my research as though Lewis Carroll or his real-life 'Dodgson' just did not count.

I wonder why.

Both characters were well-known. It seems one was popular and the other not.

Yet both Authors are still in print to this day, and some of the words used in both of their poems have made their way into the oxford Dictionary.

The character of Caroll's 'Alice', did not like 'lessons', yet she has become the subject of them for successive generations.

There is another difference too Emily as Mr Lear was consistently kindly in his work. I rather feel Lewis Carroll was not; and that his children's novels contain a whole body of sphinx-like satire and lampoon on those who did not embrace him into their hearts.

Carroll's legacy in my way of thinking, was to have the last laugh.

To be continued...

Much love from your Grand-mother GiGi xxx

Monday, 22 October 2012

The 'Literary Sphinx' and his Intertextuality.

Darling Milly,

Quite a title eh? 
Actually it's what my lovely friend Professor Bob has explained that GiGi's research is along the lines of. 
However Em's, I think that for now a bit of Doggerel may set the scene for us best..

          The Freshwater Circle, and what Dodgson found there...

There was a Mathematician called Dodgson,
Who desired to hobnob with Tennyson.
His Oxford peers he surmised,
Cut him down to size,
So he picked up a camera and shot 'em.

" I'll use Southey as my friend
 As a means to my end,
And practise the Art of Photography.
'Twil introduce me to society 
That hitherto sh-sh-shunned me,
And allow me my entree to rend! 

The young Agnes Weld
( Tennyson's niece I beheld )
I'll shoot the young relation of Horncastle.
The result of my whim,
Will sure me a way in,
To greet the Tennysons up at the Marshalls.

Emily my dear, please draw your boys near,
Place them here right in f-f-front of my lens.
A photograph you will see,
PIN-SHARP by degree,
And for this you will appreciate ME!"

Alas, they did not,
Emily thought the portrait was rot,
And wrote straight to Dodgson to burn them.
Dodgsons fire was insensced,
He deemed recompense,
To those who he thought 'High and Mighty.'

A phrenologial storm,
Now darkened Dodgson's self-esteemm-m-m-i-i-i-i-a-a-a
To-whit;  a new name must be worn;
One much more akin to 'Bohemia!'

"Lewis Carroll is here,
( Quite the Climber my dear )
...I must say I don't understand him.
He reminds me somewhat
Of that 'Dodgson' Queer-bot
Pray why is he hanging about?"

" Alice my dear;
While we punt, draw you near,
I have a secret to tell you.
I'll muse you for some stories,
That'll give me SUCH glory,
And earn me a place as a s-s-se'er."

To Freshwater went the Chameleon,
It's 'Artistic Circle', his prey.
Why with his eyes, his brain and his lens,
He'll surely be quite the Bohemian?

" Oh, there's Mr Lear..
( Why does he look at me so queer? )
As though his piggy eyes see right through me?

Even Alfred looks aloft,
Towards his Down, and his Flowers...
Though I came and played soft,
And showed him my photographs- For hours and hours and hours!

Julia Margaret Cameron,
That fuzzy-photograph creating wretch,
Trails shawls, sleepy husband,
And orders maids and maidens to fetch.

    I told her, one, two, three,                                        
But no matter to her,
Half-blind as she scurries and she whirrs.

I'll show this lofty lot,
Just who should be TOP
Lewis Carroll knows BEST
He will lampoon the REST."

Said Alice of Jabberwocky
"It sounds like something I know"
That is because it is, my dearest little one..
Fools cannot see where I cleave my blows.

The Cast-through my 'Looking Glass',
Satirised for posterity;
My revenge suitably sweet,
Against those who ignored my s-s-superiority. "

For Emily,
by your ever-loving
 GiGi xxx

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

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Of Hobbits and things...

Dear Emily,

I love this picture that Mummy posted on facebook of you and Daddy. I have to remark that you do rather resemble a 'hobbit'-like creature in this shot- in a good way of course...

Last week, a gentleman came into the bookshop and said:-

" Have you got any interesting books?"

I said "No!" and stood up,

" Unless" I said " You find a 1760's leather bound first edition of Worsley's 'History of the Isle of Wight' with hand-tinted map which was owned by Mr Dashwood of The Mount in Yarmouth which was demolished in 1965, interesting." He did.

" Or, a Culpepper's 'Complete Herbal', leather-bound and very nice condition, a 'Biggles Flies North', oh, or perhaps a first edition 'Hobbit'? "

He stopped me at this point and bought the lot.

He did drive a hard bargain though and made me throw in a free paperback Trollope.

In this cultural pea-soup I find myself in Emily, I realised ( after being asked to read some Dickens at a 'do' this month ) that I remembered more of the TV adaptations than the books themselves.

I had fancied reading out Mr Mikawber's financial advice, and could only see Bob Hoskins as the fabulously optimistic Wilkins. Anyhow, I picked up a copy and scanned it through for the relevant passage and ended up reading it all over again.

Well Emily, they say that you teach best what you most need to learn. I ended up doing just what my last post was all about- seeing things with fresh eyes at different stages in your life- and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

In particular I was struck by the way we are given David Copperfield's innermost thoughts; as he dwells upon the expectation of meeting new characters, the way he considers them when he meets them, and the tactful round up of compliments he delivers to them. ( i.e positively )

All this affectation of 'Genteel' Emily is just so refreshing! David Copperfield muses whilst listening to the odious Uriah Heep that he would really like to run a hot poker through him, yet mindful of the bigger picture and the sensibilities and well-being of others, his thoughtful retorts are a veritable lesson in diplomacy.

Also Emily, I hadn't remembered it being so funny! The pathos just drags you constantly into new and surprising smiles.

My wonderful acting teacher and Mentor Dorothea Alexander allowed me to find the humour in Checkov. I'm now having a Dickens LOL...

Here is a portrait of Dorothea painted by your Great-Uncle Glyn. I tried to give it to Dorothea once as a surprise present, but she dismissed it, saying it made her look old ( she was in her eighties. ) Upon sight of it, she sent me to Selfridges to buy two pots of Elizabeth Arden 'Visible Difference' night cream. So I kept it instead. I've always loved it. It was a picture of her in character as 'Frau Locker' in a series 'Touching Evil' some years ago.

Enough for now little Em. With love from your Grandma GiGi Xx

Thursday, 4 October 2012

I like this party, I do. I feel quite so Arty, don't you?

Dearest Emily,

Following your lead since you have already seen this and I hear your preference is for Rossetti, I thought I would take myself along to the Christie's Preview last night- which was nice.

Eight rooms dear girl, lots to see, and all themed- though I would have preferred it chronologically. I like seeing what came first, and how it all progressed best of all.

What strikes me seeing it all in 2012, is how wonderful it is to see a group of passionate people devoting their talents to a cause. I rather like the obsession with painting the beauty of the simplest of lives- and the romanticism they gave to this. It was clearly a novelty in an Empiric society.

Seeing all this work now makes me see it anew. My recollections of The Pre-Raphaelites date back to a time when GiGi was a teenager. As a keen Fashion Student of 1977, I had overdosed on what had gone just prior to the up-coming Punk scene. Pre-Raphaelite influence through Fashion had sent Henna hair dye sails soaring as the Titian Head of hair was all the rage. Biba had adopted the Pre-Raph colour-palette and Fleetwood Mac had set the stage akin to Tableaux. My school desk reeked of the Patchouli oil rubbed in by my Hippy predecessor, and to be frank dear Em, I was so over it all!

Art-rock just seemed so more me!

This overkill spilled over into the early eighties, with middle England lapping up the tapestry designs through Liberty, and Kaffe Fassett made his career out of it. By the time Christies had their last Pre-Raph sale in 1984 I think it had somewhat run its popularity course.

But seeing it all again now, I can see it with fresh eyes. It is particularly interesting to me how the Victorians reacted to a World that was fast-changing. The Economic climate, Industrialisation and the birth of the Railway. Many of these fast-changing aspects are so akin to the world we are in right now. Perhaps that is why they fascinate me so much at the moment.

I love the 'Back to the Land' attitude they favoured and it being the stimulus for beauty.

Any-how my lovely, the point your Granny is making is that the Zeit-geist is as the Zeit-geist does. It's reaction, and then reaction against after over-kill.

Plus ca change, plus que c'est la meme chose as that French-lot say ( them who in fact carried on more successfully with the Pre-Raph muse... )

GiGi's fave is Burne-Jones! His beauties somehow feel the most appreciated by the Artist.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


                                                           The morning rush-hour.

Dearest Emily,

I could try to tell you that it's a grind going to work, that the traffic is awful, it's boring and a drudge.
But that would be a bare-faced lie. A 20 minute cycle along a leafy old railway track, met 4 people along the way- all who said hello, and two dogs wagging tails like helicopters.

Bought my croissant, sent two Ebay packages in the Post Office without a queue, who tell me tips on the best way to send things and sang Happy Birthday to me last month. Opened up the shop, kettle on, coffee poured, knitting out and David Copperfield to read.

GiGi embraced Smug today, with both arms, twice...

First customer enquires as to whether we have a copy of 'Adolf Hitler, my part in his downfall' by Spike Milligan.

GiGi stands up, reaches left, and hands him a copy. Oh the joy! Customer happy, GiGi smug.

And again later;

Customer; " Have you got a copy of 'Diary of a Nobody?'

Me;           " Who is it by " ( as in Somebody )

Customer  " I don't know "

Me;           " I've seen it somewhere, but it'll help if we get the authors name.

Customer dutifully leaves to find a signal for his iphone and look up Nobody's name.

A few minutes later happy customer, happy seller, plus after reading the info on the fly-leaf who Nobody was- a Victorian Actor called Grossmith who wrote it and his brother illustrated it. Plus it was serialised in Punch.
My lovely customer also told me where he had heard about the book, which was in a serialised Radio 4 version of 'Dear Lupin' by Roger and Charlie Mortimer. I had heard this, and found it hilarious and touching. It's a letter memoir spanning 25 years from a Father to his wayward Son and it touched me how affectionate the letters always were, though the scrapes his son got into would vex and try the nerves of any parent. Apparently Roger Mortimer addressed the letther 'Dear Lupin' as he saw himself as 'Pootles' a character in the Gressinge book.

A few Gems for you in this my dear Em;

1. If GiGi had the internet at work ( she would like that ) BUT- her brain wouldn't know where the books were. Because my darling girl, something happens when you have to know where things are and time is a pressing- they find you somehow.

2. It is quite nice to feel smug occasionally.

3. When you find a book that's your customer's hearts desire, you inevitably find something for yourself.

So now, as I've sold the only copy I'm going to download it free here-

Who knows what leads where little Emily, but its all there and recorded through time and experience, for the future to enjoy.

More next week, got to see a man about a dog tomorrow...

Love GiGi xxx

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Bookroom...

'First Editions, Out of print, Collectables and Paperbacks', says the sign outside the door in a tucked away alley.
'Old- books', says the worn A-board.

The windows are small, and crammed with local fliers; 'Scunthorpe Male Voice Choir', 'River-boat trips down the Yar' and 'Brownies Table Top Sale'. You have to peer in the window to see the titles.

The Bookroom is hardly a shop clamouring for attention during the economic melt-down. The shop telephone doesn't even take messages. There are no up to date lists of stock, nor does it have any internet. It opens at 10.30 ( -ish ) and closes at 4.30 ( prompt. )

Yet invariably as I put the key in the door, switch on the lights and flick on 'Classic FM' there is someone waiting to come in. Even before I haul out the old A-board, fill the dog's water-bowl and the kettle, hoping to have time to pop out and buy a croissant to have with my morning coffee, there are people browsing. And so it is all day, every day come rain, shine, winter or summer. Such is the enduring allure of a Book.

Dearest Emily,

I rather suspect that as you grow, you will enjoy reading books.

I've seen your eager little face watching the pages turn, and you point at something you recognise, your lovely smile light up with pleasure.

Books are magical; they inspire and they teach. A book can lead you into another world- a place the brain can wander, relaxed and alert, guided by the text. Each new book has the potential for a rich personal journey taken by its reader in collaboration with the writer, culminating in a unique personal, yet shared experience.

Once finished, a book can leave an indelible mark, one that can be accessed from a purely personal point of view- for all of your life.

Whether you read on a Kindle, or pick up a book- or most likely a combination of the two- delight in its pages. The wealth of legacy that the writer throughout history has offered you by time dedicated to his pen. His wisdom, his imagination, his desire to tell you all about it offers you a glimpse into his imagination, and allows yours to take the story on...