Monday, 25 March 2013

'Hilda-gate'. Granny's in bother Emily!

Dearest Emily,

This little Tale from the Bookroom, was certainly not on my agenda! I've been a bit quiet on the post-front I know-  well my dear- it's all because I made fun about someone who didn't exist.

I know Emily, that doesn't make sense, and I shall try at the end of this little tale, to draw a useful moral from it for you.

So this is how it goes...

I'm genning up on Anne Thackeray-Ritchie currently, as you know. Since my interest became a focus on Julia's style and her direct influence here on Bloomsbury and its' set, Anny has become a key-player. The more I read about her- the more I feel this- and focussing on her, reflects back on getting more of a sense of who Julia was in a funny sort of way.

Just today, I read a little piece in this book 'The Hidden Houses of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell' by Vanessa Curtis. It was about Anny and how Julia took some responsibility for predicting her Brother-In -Law- Leslie Stephen's romantic attachment with Julia's niece Julia Duckworth. Apparently Julia put it about that they met at a Ball at Dimbola. This is amusing, as an insight into Julia- who more than once felt she was solely responsible for romantic unions, and also that she called such a gathering a 'Ball, held in the panelled Ball-room at Dimbola'. Unless the gallery where the shop is now located was once panelled ( we shall have to investigate more, ) then the room referred to is the Entrance Hall, which as a Ballroom wouldn't have had a lot of space for dancing! Anyhow, all food for thought.

So, back to my bother. I had begun the last blog-post with Anny's famous quote-

'Is there no one who is commonplace here? Is everybody either a poet, or a genius, or a painter, or peculiar in some way?'

It struck me then, as it strikes me again particularly over the last week that some things don't change!

I made the quote into a Poster for the Tearoom as my Chairman requested, and that should have been that really.

But it wasn't.

Amongst my emails were a thread that had been sent as a 'round-Robin' by someone locally. I don't always get round to reading these I'm ashamed to say, though I mean to, but saw my name come up in some of the text. So, I opened it, and read that I was allegedly 'looking for Hilda Norris'. Oh hec, I thought ( explanation later ) how did that happen? Then, I read further- aghast to see that not only had I been flagged up as looking for someone- but that 'apparently, she was the only 'commonplace' woman ever to enter Dimbola'. Followed to my dismay, by a series of people suggesting families of that name who had resided in Freshwater!  Oeer...

I thought back- and can only surmise this.. After I've put up a blog-post, the link goes to my own facebook page- which is locked down to my friends only. 
I received a comment after the last one- containing a jesting bit of banter about a spoof bit of research someone had done about one- Hilda Norris 'allegedly the only commonplace woman to enter Dimbola', to which I had jokingly responded that this fellow should come along to Lynn Truss' talk and see if she knew anything about her. Lynn's fabulous Novel Tennysons-Gift is a suggestion of how characters might have related to each other, and very much the spirit of the tradition of the lampoon, the satire, spoof and humorous conjecture that Dodgson himself championed.

So, light-hearted banter ended there- but grew into a right little monster for me in this email thread. I interjected quite innocently at the time- to say it was not serious. Then, all of a sudden, I became the Hell-Monstress who had 'wasted people's time, and obviously wasn't a Founder Member of the JMCT'.
Oh my, Emily- I hadn't seen that one coming! Apparently, the fellow who had the gall to make her up is now being sought out for a flogging too...

Red-rag to Freshwater Bull, now it seems, that quite without my help or hindrance, the lovely Hilda has begun to take on a life of her own. Her name keeps cropping up here and there, with anecdote and rumour. The Board gave her several 'asides' last week at their meeting. Several volunteers now give her regular mention- and a member of Staff suggested that the family here-abouts by the name of Norris might like to join in the fun.

So, Emily- time to draw some sort of moral for my little Grandaughter with the supposed wisdom I have gleaned over the years. Maybe I should start theorising to you about not putting your head above any parapets. Or, that the Evil Facebook is to be eschewed for all time. Or, that you should take life a little more seriously than your feckless Grandmother has done.

But Emily, looking at your little mischievous face, and flattering myself that I know something about your essence of character, I say this...

Do you think Hilda was a Gardener- and she spent most of her time in this little potting shed?

After all Emily, she has certainly sewn a few seeds around hereabouts.

And Emily, don't you think perhaps that her alleged illegitimate Great-Great-Grandaughter whose 'autograph' my dear friend Bob found in a book inside cover today for me...

might have been the Lady who said...

" There isn't anyone who is commonplace here. Everybody is either a poet, or a painter, or peculiar in some way ".

( Though Em, apparently, allegedly, she only said that to counter the slur on her Great-Great-Grand-Mother's commonplace-ness, and has been heard to mention somewhat agressiveley at times- after all she now resides at the Nook nursing home- that her Great-Great-Grandmother's autobiographical 'Tales from the Potting Shed' were- contrary to popular belief, not all burned by the family. )

I do know that your Great-Grandad would have approved, if he had been lucky enough to be here still and know you.

That's good-enough for me.

A tout-a l'heure Emily!

Your ever-loving Grand-mother GiGi xxx

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Linking Freshwater to Bloomsbury- Anne Thackeray Ritchie

Dearest Emily,

A sixteen year old girl came to visit the Isle of Wight in 1853. She was the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, the Author of many Victorian novels including 'Vanity Fair'. Mr Makepeace like Julia, had been born in India, and came to England, his family suffering financial losses- which appeared to drive him to write as much as possible- as family poverty had also driven Dickens.
Anne Thackeray spent most of her childhood in Paris, living with her Grandparents ( her Mother had been suicidal and when she tried to drown Anny's sister Minny in the bath, she was institutionalised. )
Papa Thackeray's fortunes rose, and the girls were once more able to live with him.

Anny remarked on her first visit...

And just over a decade later, in January 1864, following their Father's untimely death, she and her sister were brought down into the protective bosom of the Freshwater Circle under Julia Margaret Cameron and Tennyson's wings.
They stayed a few months, though were unlikely to have been around when Dodgson visited that year. They would probably have been aware of each other even if they did not actually meet- I have not come across any mention of CLD or his works in Anny's correspondences.
Anny and Minny were to become a part of the truth of her casual teenage remark in 1853, though quite how big an influence comes much later in her life and the way her descendents intertwined and inspired each other.
In the period of our focus, Anny was becoming a writer in her own right and she published "The End of a Long Day's Work," in the Cornhill Magazine in August of this year.
Anny was very fond of her 'adopted family' at Freshwater and spoke of Julia's kindness towards her. She also worshipped Tennyson, and even wrote a novel very scarcely veiled on the Circle entitled 'From an Island' in 1877.
Julia as we would expect, photographed her;

This photograph of Anne was taken by Julia in May 1870. 

It is later, when Mr and Mrs Cameron had upped sticks,  and left for Ceylon (along with two coffins an a cow)  that Anny's influence on the Bloomsbury group becomes intertwined with Julia and her own Bohemian legacy. Julia's sister Maria, had a daughter Julia who was first married to Herbert Duckworth, who died suddenly when Maria's children were still infants. Julia was her aunt's favourite model, and for me here is an example of one of her best early successes.

Anny's sister Minny was married to Leslie Stephen, and Minny died suddenly aged just 35. In time a friendship between the widow Julia and the widower Leslie Stephen deepened and they married. They had four children of their own- of which one Virginia Woolf is notable for our links.
Virginia is said to have been heavily influenced by the inspiration of Anne Thackeray, who in 1877 became Anne Thackeray Ritchie when she married her cousin Richmond. They had a house in Freshwater close to Dimbola called 'The Porch'.

Anny is described as absent-minded and with a good sense of humour. My interest in the Mid-Victorians- particularly the Freshwater Circle, and how the Bloombsury set were inspired by them - uses Anny as a key player by family links alone. Her literary accomplishments flesh this out further.

One day, last Autumn when I was putting together a little post about Thomas Hood who was a favourite comic poet amongst the mid-vics, I came across this particular volume of his works;

I decided this was one that I needed to buy, and so worked for virtually nothing that day. Nothing new there, Emily- books have a habit of becoming a habit.

Reading it later at home, I noticed the inscription;

This does look rather like Julia Margaret Cameron's writing! And Anny was at Freshwater on that date. The only thing that's amiss- is tat it says 'Annie' not Anny. A mistake on Julia's part perhaps-she could be careless, or it could be a different Annie, and a different Julia. But it might be Emily, and I shall treasure it anyhow!

Signing off,

Your ever-loving Grand-mother, GiGi xxx

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

After a Fashion

Dearest Emily,

Since we put your little book to bed so to speak, I started turning my attention to matters Dimbola once more. We ( the Committee for Building and Decor ) were discussing plans for 2015, which is Julia's Bi-centenary and we want to mark it well.

A problem that I perceive, is that we keep coming up with Mid-Victorian references for decor ( naturally ) and Indian ones, and French because that is Julia's path- but nothing actually 'fits'. Pugin was too heavy for Julia's tastes, Arts and Crafts as it was then- neither aristocratic enough for Mrs C, or at the time 'Bohemian enough' for her. She and her sisters did not adopt the Crinoline which was 'de rigeur' for the day- she did embrace the birth of anilyne dyes that produced garishly bright colours ( something the pre-Raphs abhorred. ) She loved light- that is central to her- and her house reflects that love. She put windows facing the sun everywhere in developing the two houses, and in her 'Glass-House' ( a former Chicken-Coup ) draped fabrics and shawls a-plenty to work with the effects of light and subject.

As a Woman who was forever trying to 'arrest beauty' through her lens, she cared not for her own appearance unduly, and there are not many photographs of her for study. Not considered a 'Beauty' though her sisters were very much famed for theirs- this seemed inconsequential to her, and in turn I think, generally people did not know quite how to pigeon-hole this rather remarkable lady.

Julia Margaret Cameron was certainly not what we would call 'Cool' in the eyes of the well-dressed Victorian Ladies. Harpers magazine would not have featured her and her sisters off-beat style of making their own brightly coloured dresses, waisted with curtain sash-cords- or rated her trailing red shawls or flailing bonnet strings as she rushed hither and thither creating her next project. Nor would they understand the hastily prepared meals ( it seems mostly of bacon and eggs! ) that were flung together for a last minute gathering at the end of a busy day. These meals were attended by an envied clique of poets, artists, writers and philosophers. Vibrant and heated discussion continued into the night, the Ball-room became a whirl of impromptu gaiety and this in summer evenings often spilled out onto the Down, where young couples let down their hair and ran and danced, whilst their elders sat and re-invented the philosophical wheel of the time.

How different from the rigid conformist socially aspiring scene of the time. It was expected that one dressed just like everyone else. It was expected that one held particular suppers for particular people- and Julia did- she idolised Eminent Victoria Men. But- not in the same way. Described as 'slightly comic' Julia was so much her own woman, that she defied definition. Her sisters came in for a lot of spiteful gossip for their beauty alone, and Julia was sniped at for her opinions and bookishness.

But actually Emily, what strikes me, and is setting me off at another tangent- is where I came in to all this. When I first visited Juila's house, something seemed very familiar indeed. I had always been fascinated with the Bloomsbury set, yet had not come across the connection between Julia and Virginia Woolf ( she was her Great-Aunt. )

More and more, I understand how this group was influenced by Julia herself- how these particular Victorians inspired the next generation artistically and style-wise. Julia unwittingly was the epicentre of what I shall now call- 'The Pre-Bloomsbury Sisterhood' as a jumping off point...

Theatrical, left of field, hard to define and very very much it's own particular style.

Here is a photograph that Julia took of her Daughter-In-Law that very much sums up my train of thought today.

More another time...

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxx

Monday, 11 March 2013

Curiouser and Curiouser...

Dearest Emily,

Well, you never know when you are going to get your next nugget of information.
I just popped up to the Post Office as I had been told that they had a Victorian engraving of Plumbly's Hotel that I might be interested in for the book. Here it is!

That was a treat in itself- and as I'm editing the layout this afternoon round at Bob's, I shall add it in to the manuscript, and we are almost done. But, Em- that isn't the exciting bit- do you remember me telling you that there was a lady with the surname Dodgson who lived in Gigi's house until she died in 2001? It may have been subconsciously another of the triggers that set me off on my quest. Anyhow- beyond the fact that she served at St Agnes Church, and allegedly witnessed the Arch Rock falling down in the Bay in 1992- I have failed to get any more info on her- try as I might. Until today that is.

I do have a theory about her, but I shall save that until I've got all my 'ducks in a row'.

Back to this morning. So, I paid for the lovely engraving, and the chap behind the counter says,

" Did you know that there was a Lady who used to live in the Bay, who claimed to be a relative of Charles Dodgson? "

I did.

I did not know how helpful this little chat was going to be. Apparently she used to clean for the Post Office family, and a picture of her is currently being looked for. More-over her name was not Anne- as previously thought; but actually Helen Anne Dodgson. Whilst I was then queuing to send off my Ebay parcels, David was carrying out some investigations on what turns out to be a favourite hobby- Family History.

He calls me back over to his counter- and produces her date and place of birth- and her mothers surname. Five minutes later and we had struck gold- at least in my 'investigation-rock'.

Anne was a name that carried through the Dodgson-line. Margaret Anne was the name of one Charles sisters, and the name Anne is carried through the line way back to the 1600's.

Helen Anne Dodgson was born in Paddington in 1922. Her Mother's surname was Roper.

There's a Margaret Dodgson ( possibly sister ? ) born September 1920 in Richmond.

Five minutes later- he has found John Charles Dodgson who died in the 1940's and was married to Harriet Helen Roper. What interests me most about this is that they lived at the time of his death in Eastbourne, which was another of Charles Dodgsons stomping grounds...

More as I find it Em- think they could be descendents of Charles' brother Wilfred who married Alice Jane Donkin, first photographed below by Charles on 9th October 1862 ( he married her in 1871 )

Until next time,

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxx

Friday, 8 March 2013

Teasing about Teeth

Dearest Emily,

Now you have all your first teeth, ( I don't want to worry you about this- it's quite normal! ) in a few years, new bigger teeth will grow to replace them. In the mean-time, you may be left for a while without a couple- as your Grand-mother was aged six. Names like 'Gappy' may be given to you by your parents, and a thtrange kind of liwthp may take over your previously well handled speech manner.
If you are like GiGi, your favourite doll will forever be known as 'Libaluft' instead of her carefully chosen 'Elisabeth' and things may become a bit annoying for a while.
Don't worry, with new nashers in place, life will soon return to normal, and you may next go through a phase of shutting your eyes and thinking no-one can see you. It's a nice thought Emily, and sometimes even now I wish it were true ( like for example the other day at a board meeting when I carefully pressed the lid of a cafetiere down to serve everyone coffee, and it spilt all over the chairmans new book and all his papers! ) But it isn't my darling girl- they can still see you, and I might as well heads you up on this one...

Anyway, back to teeth. Alice our heroine, was at around the tooth losing age,  when our Dodgson would accompany her, her siblings and Miss Prickett the governess to the little 'Sweet Shop' just over the road from the Deanery.

It is still there, and here is a picture of it, from 1950.

It is well-known that this was the original inspiration for the 'Sheep-Shop' in 'Through the Looking Glass', and its not a great leap of faith to imagine little Alifsth, with her front teeth mitthing, coming in for thome thtick for calling it the Theep Thop!

I think we should go there together one day, what say you Emily?

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi xxxx

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Of Cheshire Cats and Colouring-in.

Dear Emily,

Look at the early morning sea-mist today, beautiful colours in the sky, as the sun wakes up to gently heat up the air and burn off the fog.

Well I've finished the manuscript for your picture-book, and stuck it up on Amazon for a bit so I can get a but of feedback and tweak it about before the print-run. So let's have a bit of play-time Em- all about colours, and colouring-in.

On Sunday, Grumpa and I had to go and look at a plumbing job. Well, Grumpa did, and I went with him.

The Chap whose house it was is a book-dealer ( now you see why I went too! ) He specialises in Mervyn Peake and had just spent all his pennies tracking down the rarest of the rare of the rarism in his subject. The story Em, sounded like one of those Arabian tales of myth and legend, where the hero has to swim across shark-infested seas, climb mountains in the hinterlands, extract one strand of the Blue-Mammoth's tail on a Sunday at full-moon when there's an r in the month- you know the kind of thing.
Which actually, I quite like to hear- makes me feel good.

Anyhow Em, once he had told me the story and showed me the treasured prize book, and we acknowledged a mutual martyrdom as he now needs to eat baked beans for the rest of his life to pay for it- he then said...
" I bet you have never seen this particular piece of 'Carrollania' ".

I hadn't, though I'd heard about it- but was concentrating on earlier works and was a bit purist about my favourite illustrator-Tenniel with all his clues and what-not.

'Carroll wrote a number of letters to the post office and other organisations relating to letter writing and the postal service. These covered subjects such as a special design of a cape to protect letters whilst being delivered and comments on the rules for registering letters and parcels.
In 1890 he devised The Wonderland Postage Stamp Case, a folded piece of cloth-reinforced card containing pockets into which postage stamps could be kept. This was held in a card slipcase of around 10.5cm x 8cm. Both parts were illustrated by coloured adaptations of Tenniel, producing a transformation effect: Alice with the baby becomes Alice with the pig and The Cheshire Cat fades away. The item was published by Emberlin and Son and was sold, in a printed envelope, together with a small booklet written by Carroll titled Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing
In 1891, Carroll discovered that the rules for commissions chargeable on overdue postal orders, as defined in the Post Office Guide were ambiguous. He published a questionnaire in an attempt to solicit various opinions on the meaning of the rules. A supplement was produced in the same year.'

Honestly Em, he just couldn't let anything lie could he-here he is telling the Post Office what is best!

Well Emily, even though the illustration isn't by my beloved Tenniel, look at the colouring in!
Apparently for Carrollian nerds, this edition and the colouring of this particular product is a bibliography nightmare ( we won't go there. )

But- what we are chatting about here is the quiet and rather lovely art of 'colouring-in' other peoples works. This is something that Map- colourers ( don't know if it has a proper term ) have done for centuries, then in Victorian times- photographs were hand-tinted too.
Your Granny is very guilty of this practise- look at your 'Nursery Peter Pan' and the scribbles all over the Mabel Lucie Atwell pictures ( oops... ) that I did when I was six. Don't do as Granny did Em!

I have to say though, that as a Grown-up, I find it a delightful pastime. It irritates Grumpa, who thinks I should be doing something more useful, which is always good- and I find it both relaxing and satisfying.
There's something quite magical about re-animating old works in black-and-white. You have to think and feel your way in to what it is, was and what was around it. You get quite a sense of who the artist was too. Ask Daddy who learned so much about colour when he went through his 'Modigiani' phase.

Here's a lovely postcard of the Bay in Victorian times;

Look at the couple nearly getting blown over the Cliff-top!
And here's one from about 1910, that's been 'coloured-in'...

You can see GiGi's house peeking out through the trees towards the top-right, ask Mummy to show you.

Last of all, here is a hand-tinted photograph of your Great-Grandma-Nina, aged four. Your Great-Great Granny- Elsie used to think she looked like Shirley Temple- and set her hair in rags every night! It must have been rather uncomfortable.

The other day, your Mummy put up a piccie of you on Facebook with the caption below;

Shirley.. I mean Emily

You really are rather a little chip off the old block Emily!

Ta-ta for now,

Your ever-loving Grandmother, GiGi, xxx