Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Out of the 'Looking Glass' closet...

 Mr and Mrs Cameron.

Dearest Emily,

On today's post, let's start introducing the Characters. Above you will see Julia Margaret and Charles Hay. As you know, Julia lived at Dimbola Lodge and was a pioneering Victorian photographer. She first picked up a camera ( as legend goes ) when her daughter gave her one as a present, aged 48. Husband Charles had departed to check on his ailing Coffee plantations, and various children were being sent off to school.

Julia began what was to be her lifelong obsession at a time when few had mastered the process. Lord Somers ( her brother-in-law ) was respected for his efforts though he was to persue a parliamentary route. Oscar Reijlander and David Wylkie Winfield assisted Julia's practical learning of her craft- and her first supervised session was with Reginald Southey and Charles Dodgson in 1857 when they photographed the Tennyson boys. This particular photographic session was to lead to Dodgson feeling aggreived and insulted, but that I'll go into more in the book Emily. The purpose of this post is to start to show you who is who in 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'.

Julia was described as an energetic, eccentric, excitable and slightly comic. She had an 'unusual power of enjoying herself and making others do the same' Physically she was described as 'short and stout' with a loud low and husky voice. She was known for rushing around, running after people, hat-less and with shawls training. Her attitude to photography was to go at it like a 'bull in a china shop' in complete contrast to Dodgsons fastidious bachelor ways, creating pin-sharp images. Julia was not one to take criticism lying down, or to hold a grudge. She famously argued with Ruskin, and thumped him on the back, then ran after him red-bonnet flailing to continue the discussion. They later returned arm-in-arm.
Dodgson certainly did not care for her style of photography, though he did allow her to photograph him. She was always referred to as wearing long trailing shawls, held together by cameos.

In 'Through the Looking Glass' we meet the White Queen ( who at the end of the book morphs into both the Red and White Queen, which is explained later as the cat playing two parts ) she is introduced thus:-

'She caught the shawl as she another moment the White Queen came running wildly through the would have been better, as it seemed to Alice if she had got someone else to dress her,she was so dreadfully untidy.."It can't go straight if you pin it to one side"..."dear me, what a state your hair is in"...'

And the Red Queen:-

'it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place...."Speak in French when you ca'n't think of the English for the thing- turn out your toes as you walk- and remember who you are!"

Julia and her sisters were remarked upon as frequently lapsing into French in their conversations. 

John Tenniel, who had 'reluctantly agreed' to illustrate 'Looking Glass' said of himself that he only had to see a picture or person once in order to draw their cariacature.

Charles Hay Cameron ( described by Tennyson as 'A philosopher with his beard dipped in moonlight' ) was a semi-invalid by the time the Cameron's came to Freshwater. He spent most of his time either reading in the garden ( in his purple dressing gown ) or huddled up in blankets in a chair. The rest of the time he spent sleeping ( probably due to the effect of opiates that numbed his pains. ) A recluse, and Julia was known to bring people up to his bedroom and show them the sleeping Charles declaring " Behold, is that not the most beautiful old man you have ever seen?"

"It's only the red king snoring" said Tweedledee "Come and look at him...Isn't he a lovely sight"

And so my dear Emily, we begin to re-introduce the characters and who they were. More on Tweedledee, Tweedledum, and 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' next time.

Lots and lots of love,
GiGi xxx

( sources for reference include Colin Ford and Graham Ovenden and are credited fully in the manuscript of the book )

Monday, 26 November 2012

Elegant Economy...

Or- here's another tangent I've gone off on.

Dearest Emily,

Whilst setting about my currently pressing quest on the book-hatching front- this being why Charles Dodgson a.k.a Lewis Carroll felt so aggrieved towards many of his peers- I decided to investigate further  as to the social stratagems and matters economical during the time of my interest.

Et voila at the Bookroom, a volume takes my eye:-

" A hundred Glorious Years " by Mrs C.S Peel

Starting with 1820, this book travels the decades detailing the social and domestic life of a century.

What fascinates me today, is just how socially mobile the 1850's to 70's were in particular.

In the 1820's 'Birth' had been everything socially. The aristocracy still maintained a sharp social difference to great county families. However, the emergence of the 'Oxford Movement' and with a sworn religious up-bringing; the canny family could keep up the supremancy of the Fashion for convention ( i.e, that everyone must behave like everyone else ) whilst contriving and upwardly mobile

As example my chosen Mysterion- Mr Dodgson;

Charles' father was dubbed as the 'Eternal Curate'. The Rev C.Dodgson's home was fairly typical of what we are exploring.
A  Vicar could command an income that was deemed acceptable for marriage. £400 a year, plus an equivalent dowry from the wife, would keep five servants and therefore 'appearances' up.
Families, often with five or more children, would then struggle with constant planning, contriving and going without, in order to educate them and live in the society of their equals.

The advent of the railway popularised travels further afield than a twenty-five mile drive by carriage, and houses were expected to entertain for the total of one to two months a year. The cost was recouped by visiting others homes throughout the season.

This was done as lavishly as the familial purse allowed- 'Elegant Economy'.

Mrs Gaskell's ladies of 'Cranford' were prime examples of this maxim, their decanters filled with wines ( for guests, seldom touched otherwise.) Gooseberries and currants were gathered by the ladies of the house for syllabub, and wine that was left-over from a previous dinner party ( which may have been five months ago ) was examined, and if proven passable- added to a fresh bottle brought up from the cellar.

This kind of genteel exercise in 'not showing your slip' went on at all social levels.

One Lady of 'good birth' where means did not deem them to live in the same way as their fellows, throughout the season lived in Eaton Square, kept a carriage and gave dinners. In the summer the front windows were papered- the family went out of town.
In reality, they dismissed the servants, ceased to job a carriage and inhabited two or three rooms at the back of the house, were waited on by a charwoman and lived on toast, tea and poached eggs, their letters being forwarded from a country address.

Charles Dodgson was a child of parents who strove for a good education for him and his many siblings.
Extraordinairily gifted at mathematics, but not disposed to studying hard- he breezed Oxford and attained honours. He was offered a Lecturers position in Mathematics, which meant a salary of about £70 a year. At this time this was a popular choice ( comparable perhaps to a contemporary sabbatical ) whilst one decided one's path. Thomas Carlyle did the same in Edinburgh whilst he wrestled with his religious beliefs. )

A Fellowship was offered to Dodgson, upon condition that he did not marry, and took holy orders. This must have seemed financially attractive to the Reverend's son- though he too struggled with divinity- and a stammer that made him anxious about reading sermons.
However smart and admirable a clever Mathematics Fellow of Oxford may seem to us now, at the time it was Art that held lofty intellectual prowess.
Parliamentarians were seconded by Lord Lansdowne from poets, painters and writers. Lord Somers ( married to Julia Margaret Cameron's sister Virginia ) was 'press-ganged' by Lansdowne into government, so his career as a painter and photographer was put firmly on the shelf.

Mathmatical Dodgson didn't have much social cachet, and felt the need for another social string to his bow. What better way to get up close and personal with the peers he wished to impress, than to ingratiate them via the new-fangledart of photography?

In 1855, years before 'Alice in Wonderland' was written, he and Reginald Southey ( son of Robert am ex-poet laureate ) went together to Covent Garden where Dodgson bought his first camera for fifteen shillings. Of which, dear Emily, more another time.

What I have enjoyed most Em, in this little soujourn into 'Elegant Economy' is how the whole idea contrasts with todays 'Facebook-pretty', Twitter-friendly espoused aspiration or political or social exascerbation is set to attract the 'likes'- minded towards them.
It's all pretty socially democratic.
Unsettled attempts at re-settling in unsettled times.
But, uncertainty is an ally.
Just as it was for the Victorians with the scenery of Napoleonic and Crimean wars, the French revolution, economic paranoia, social upheaval and social conscience.
There's a lot for us to learn today from the previously considered 'stuffy' Victorians. But here, I may be prejudiced in seeing them in this way. It's a generational thing.

As a child of the 11 plus exam, by passing and going to a 'Grammar school' my achievement rather dampened any literary hunger or appreciation. Shakespeare had to be learned by 'rote' and poetry was an all too gloomy affair with 'modern-verse' often focussed upon the horror of the two world wars.

Though I chose English Literature for A-level, I dumped it within six months and headed for the fashion industry where my hunger fort learning was satiated throughout my twenties.

In my thirties, I was woken up to Shakespeare by the redoubtable Dorothea Alexander I have told you of previously. I was ordered to 'put away my spines' as she sat me down on a kneeler beside her whilst I read aloud. The penny dropped and the stories suddenly became alive and related to the world around me.

As do the Victorians for me now, and what we can learn from them...

I rather like 'Elegant Economy' Emily, I think it's rather truthful.

I have decided anyhow that my recycled dogs, car, bicycle, clothing and I'd better say 'upcycled' husband, should indeed qualify as an elegant economy!

Adoringly yours,

GiGi xxx

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thursday's child.

Dearest Em,

The photograph above is of Julia Margaret Cameron's home at around the time she lived in it. Mrs Cameron had not yet picked up a Camera, or so the story goes- though GiGi rather thinks she had- until a good three years after she moved here.

The building ( which is at the beginning of our Terrace ) was two houses, owned by a property speculating Fisherman named Jacob Long. Mrs C, had set her cap at following Tennyson and family down to Freshwater at every given opportunity beginning in 1855  and continuing throughout the late fifties ( excerpt from Emily Tennyson's diary in November 1857 " Mrs Cameron runs after us and comes with us ". ) The family had made several visits already that year, beginning in February for a month, then in April for Tennyson's brother Horatio's wedding to Charlotte Elwes at Bonchurch.

Julia bought the two houses ( possibly one was called 'Lingland' ) and whilst they were being joined together with the addition of the Tower in the middle, she staid at Ashburton Cottage in July 1859.

This was a year before plans were approved for the two roads in the picture- Terrace Lane and Gate Lane. Originally there were plans to run the main road ( Gate Lane ) up where our Terrace is and around the back of Farringford, but a helpful local Gent, Mr Cotton, offered the Tennysons half of the money needed to pay off the landowner of 'Starks' so that the road could by-pass the front of Farringford Hall.

Julia and co set up camp and named one half 'Dimbola' after her adored husband Charles Hay Cameron's Coffee plantations in Ceylon. Mr Cameron had been thus far unsuccessful at obtaining a Governance post anywhere, and Julia must have been beginning to worry about future finances. Charles was frequently yearning for Ceylon, and it's not too far-fetched to think that Julia had designs on keeping him nearby by giving them a home on a small Island near the sea. Charles however promptly became a scholarly invalid, rarely setting foot outside the grounds. He slept a lot by all accounts, and was often recorded as 'quoting classics' wearing a purple dressing gown with his long silver-grey hear and beard enhancing an unworldly appearance in the garden. Beards were all the rage in the early 1860's after poet friend of Julia's Henry Taylor grew one. Tennyson followed, Darwin too, and clean-shaven was not the thing. Acid purple dye had also recently become commercially viable, and Mrs C was fond of bright colours.

So that is how Julia Margaret Cameron came to Freshwater, and over the next decade she certainly made her mark. Her family ( The Pattles of Indian and French sophisticated society ) had long been used to the French 'Salon'. London houses were on the whole a bit small for this kind of entertaining, but Julia found Dimbola an excellent venue for hers. Her exhuberant personality and effusive friendship, made her a hard woman to refuse. This helped once she picked up a camera, and the legacy of Eminent Victorian portraits she gave us bears witness.

Your Grand-mother came across Dimbola this way...

Grumpa and GiGi had wandered down to the Isle of Wight one bank-holiday weekend in 2005. Making it a place we could call our own, we stayed regularly at a hotel in the Bay. It felt familiar to me particularly, and I recognised various paths, and landmarks, having forgotten that my father brought me here as a small child in the late 60's.

I had often felt a strong desire to turn right out of our hotel and explore. Grumpa didn't want to.

One day, when Grumpa had gone out with the children, I followed my instinct.

I walked up Gate Lane, and without knowing anything about Dimbola, went in.

This is the first picture I saw.

It didn't strike me as a Victorian photograph at all. Looked rather like Vincent Gallo. Then I saw a photograph of Julia Duckworth that reminded me of Virginia Woolf. I had long been fascinated by the Bloomsbury set, and now discovered that Julia was Virginias Aunt. The 'Bloomsbury set' came along a generation after this lot often referred to as the 'Cosmopolitan club'. I was smitten from this point. Dimbola felt familiar, and I was very pleased I had arrived there.

Seven years on, and a lot of things have changed. Here we are, living at a house in the same road as Dimbola, and still discovering more about the lady of the house, her friends and compatriots.

Your bedroom here is called 'Emily' after you. Horatio Tennyson lived here for some time as H.J.Jennings wrote to Tennysons son Hallam 'Horatio - seventh brother of the poet who is resident at 'The Terrace', close to Mrs Cameron, who is devoting his life to ministering among those in any ways afflicted in mind, body or estate' winning the wanderer back into the fold by showing them he still counts them his brethren in Christ.'

Horatio Tennyson.

Enough for now Emily, looking forwards to you coming here over Christmas and seeing how much you have grown!

Your ever-loving Grand-mother GiGi! xxx

Monday, 19 November 2012

Not high-brow, or low-brow, but always with an arched brow...

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -

Thomas Hood 1844

Dear Emily,

I don't expect you will feel quite the same as Mr Hood did about the month of November, as you don't live in a London that was at that time full of smog. Your central heating also helps.

Thomas Hood was a writer who was chiefly a humourist. Working in a time that as Thomas Carlyle espoused- all the great thinkers were 'in some sense a product of the force that the French revolution had induced'. Dickens took on the mantle of writer about social demographic and deprivation, Tennyson was given the Laureate-ship by Queen Victoria in an effort to lift the public morale and in his turn, Hood was at the birth of satire and pun into popularity via Punch, and before with his own Editorship at 'The Comic Times'.

It seems to me that at this point in history, satirists, parody-makers and even burlesques ( though these by definition had an attitude of aggression towards the quality of the original ) began to fall into two camps.

Hood was described by Henry Morley as having " the kindest wit and satire, jokes pound out incessantly from pen and pencil, supplying the needs of Hood's household, while in himself consumption was not slowly descending ". His socially commendable Song of the Shirt made it into an inaugural edition of Punch in 1843.
At this time, the weekly Art producer was Mr John Tenniel ( of 'Alice' fame.) Hood it seems was part of the same war as Thackeray ( a friend and admirer ) and Punch to lift society through humour. Edward Lear, as we have previously encountered, was nothing but kindly in his public 'nonsense'. 

Satire is complex. In 1858, 'Home Affections by the poets' written by Charles Mackay contains a collection of  the poetry of love in particular, including five poems by Hood and one in particular hommaging his sleeping children and Wife in an unsycophantic manner. Contrast Walter Jerrold's 'A Century of Parody and Imitation' ( @ 1912 ) which chronologises poems and their parodies by the Grandson of Hood's close friend Douglas Jerrold; which via earlier Shakespearian parody, talks us through the then 'modern' birth of this fancy for him originating on the stage with 'Rejected Adresses' by the naughty Horace and James Smith. The volume is an insight to those who leech for fun, and those who hide behind what satire has always 'pretended' to be about. " The end of satire is reformation"  and "sly hints" contribute to the satirists mask of self-protected obscurity. The fine-line was delved into in Victorian times, and still abounds today.

Back to Mr Hood. His early work included a translation of 'Paul and Virginia' by Jacques Henri Bernardin in 1787. Our own Julia Margaret Cameron photographed her version with Freddy Gould ( who lived at the cottage behind the Fellowship hotel visible out of GiGi's window ) and Elizabeth Keown.

Though he died in his forties, his notability secured his wife a pension from Robert Peel ( as did Tennyson. ) Later, in the critical ( for me ) 1860's, so did Tennyson, who often quoted Thomas Hood, and in particular his ' Epigrams'.

My volume for you little Emily, came into my possession from the Bookroom. I opened it, and found the inscription below...

The writing is very much Julia Margaret Cameron, and I like to think that it was given to Annie Thackeray, daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray- friend and admirer of Hood. Annie and Julia certainly were both here that month, their peers all celebrated Mr Hood, so it could just be...

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Dance of Inspiration...

Darling Emily,

This past week has been a bit of a pea-soup for me book-hatching-wise. Piles of notes scribbled randomly whilst I'm reading at the Bookroom, had to be collated sometime. A chore that needed catching up on- and whilst I was doing it- my task suddenly seemed endless. Everything I'm reading is fascinating, and gives me more insight into just where Dodgson sat in the scheme of things. The scheme of things has rather taken over lately, with a soujourn first into the immediate decades prior to the 1860's ( the critical period for my purposes ) so I got a sense of where they'd just 'been' so to speak. Then, as Tennyson and his Circle seem to me to be avantgarde catalysts for what came after, and following the Pre-Raph exhibition you went to- I'm knee deep in the late Victorian 'Back to the Land' movement. Interesting how the last time this held popular court was in the 70's and 80's- post uncertain economic times, and again it re-guises strongly now...

Anyhow I digress. Fascinating though this all is, and collating is as collating does- my concern this week has been that it feels as though I could go on researching... for ever... but that doeth not me-book make. Hmmph.

Writers-doubt rather than writers-block abounded. I get an email from a lovely lady who is writing a book herself. It is about my old Boss, Mr Galliano. Dana, the lovely lady has been here before to interview me about my time working with John, and following a bit of time-honoured fashion-biz reticence about telling her stuff; I realised through talking with her, exactly who she was and where she was coming from. We got on very well and it was interesting how much is there, stored in the memory bank.

That's your Grand-mother below-left with Mr Galliano after his first ever show, when we were literally swamped with orders, though all the clothes were still on their way back from the show- we took orders from drawings. It was rather crazy.

I LOVED working for John, I didn't know just how good he was until years later when I began Weardowney, and expected everyone could do music like Jeremy Healey. All students could create the way we created. All shows were as exciting...

My treasure, was that I got to climb inside his head. I had to- knitwear needed to pre-empt the rest of the collection. So I had to 'feel' where we were going and come up with stuff before Maestro and work it in seamlessly. I got quite good at it though I say it myself.

But, back to Dana Thomas and her book about Mr Galliano.

Dana's previous book 'Deluxe-How luxury lost its lustre' Lustre/dp/0141019670/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1 is a pull no punches, well researched insight into the Corporation of Fashion. This new book is set to tell it how it is. And what an Enigma with an unfinished drama to explore the unhappy marriage of corporate and creative through!

This time round, Dana and I sat and talked in the new 'Mad-Hatter Tea-Room' at Dimbola. Churning through the memories, I realise I'm now sitting amongst a different Geisha. I've swapped Fashion for this.

But, how they intersect. Dana inscribed her book to me as 'To Gail, who knows the secrets and the truth'.

The similarities struck us both. Dana is investigating people who are ( mostly ) still alive, in order to unravel the journey of her subject. My advice has always been to her that she needs to look at the work- it is all there.

I'm 'investigating' Dead People. But it's the same. It was Dodgson's work that I read, it gave me my insight...

And that dearest Em, is where I am back to. Alice Through The Looking Glass, was a satire on the Freshwater Circle. I had my clues, now they are bearing out in other's words...

Inspiration back on track, book back to hatching. Artists, writers, musicians et-all, cannot tell a lie in their work...

Your ever-loving Grand-mother,

GiGi xxx

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Alice and the 'Moral Dilemma'.

So my dear Emily, to set the scene for this little tale...

Having come over all 'Mad Hatter' in designing the new Tea-room at Dimbola, and then making a discovery about the connections throughout the 'Freshwater Circle' to Lewis Carroll and one work in particular- my bookshop days are pretty much taken up with research ( and knitting as all Grannies should. )

My book is coming on well now, and I'm immersed in Victorians up to my elbows.

And so it was this Tuesday, when I'd picked up a 'Complete Works of Lewis Carroll' and was delighted to find a random letter printed in it that backed up my theories and was missing from Dodgson's diaries of that year. Quite enough for GiGi for one days find.

I turned my mind to the new JMC Gift Shop that we are planning this month, and rang my boss to see if he could find me a nice edition of 'Alice' for our display.

Next thing I knew, in walks an elderly gent and hands me a book...

'Do you know if this is worth anything?'

I take the book from him. It's a bit shabby, red leather with gold writing...'Alice'.

I open it, and it says 'Alice in Wonderland', 1867, sixth thousand.


I'm just an apprentice in the bookshop right now, but I wanted that book a lot, without knowing much about the edition.

Devils horns started in my temples and I told the Gentleman I would like to buy it.

He left it with me.

I looked it up in a catalogue ( no internet here ) and realised that it was very probably an extremely scarce copy of the very first UK edition. Dodgson had recalled the very first edition in 1865, as both he and John Tenniel were not happy with the typography or the printing of the illustrations. Only twenty or so of those survived. The first Uk edition appeared in 1866, and 1867 of which this was a beautifully bound Macmillan leather covered copy.

My devil horns subsided.

It's not my bookshop, and my Boss has the dibs.

I told him about it when he rang late afternoon to find out about the days business.

" Oh well, it won't be a first edition" says he.

I leave the gentleman's number.

Following it up today, said Gent hasn't managed to make contact.

To be continued Emily, but I rather hope the Gent is satisfied with a sale, and somehow or other, my Boss might be happy for us to display it at the new Gift Shop, until some lucky person buys it, and I hope cherishes it! It is 145 years old, a book that has never been out of print.

Its Author is my current fascination 'Agatha Raisin' stylee, and whilst immersing myself in a plethora of  tomes written at that time describing the social strata, the literary glitterati, the Oxford Tractarians et-all, ooh it was nice to set eyes on that book, if only for a few hours.

Funny how things happen Ems.

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi X