A woman defined by war

“This is the true story of a woman whose life was defined by war. Like many of her generation, the freedoms that we take for granted were forged fitfully and painfully by their lives.
There were no guidelines for them.
They were modern women in a not yet modern age.”

from War Changes Everything by Melanie Hughes


In her new novel, Melanie Hughes gently lifts the barriers to our understanding of other people in other times, places and cultures, reminding us that in moments of crisis, the personal and political are indivisible. We have to choose how to respond; we are all witnesses, however differently we perceive events, whether we run from them or confront them. Sometimes we have to play a part.

Melanie Hughes writes traditional novels with a faultless sense of period and a modern consciousness of the impact of violence and prejudice on private lives from childhood to maturity.

The story of Nita and the great loves of her life spans continents, from London during the Second World War to the climax of Indian Independence in the ambitious sequel, Midnight Legacy, is told with the author’s boldness of vision and lifelong belief in equality, liberty and diversity.

I’ve known Melanie since I was sixteen; I’ve known her integrity, intelligence and passionate attachment to the people and ideals she loves. Her latest novels, War Changes Everything and Midnight Legacy, published by Patrician Press, are available in print and digital editions, which can be bought from Waterstones or Amazon.

Melanie is very modest, so I hope she forgives me posting in praise of her….

A Regency Romance (3)

revolutionary baloonFashion, Transport, Political and Sexual Revolution in on one balloon: a gentleman and lady, waving the tricolore with a perfectly true to Regency Romance “arch” expression on her face, in a fashion plate from Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1797. Image: Dames a la Mode

The real Regency was the most elegant time in history to be alive – if you were rich and fashionable.

It was also a time of violent psychological and social upheaval during almost constant continental war, revolution and counter-revolution, of increased national danger and private suicides, of intellectual and emotional struggle, of technological innovation and female emancipation, of radical changes in fashion and education, of mass consumerism and society scandals, of experiments in free love and drug abuse, of famine and rural poverty, of volcanic eruptions and climate change.

The sense of anxiety reached into the heart of middle England where Jane Austen’s heroines  were embarking on perilous journeys of self-examination, and where Marianne Dashwood fell into the emotional abyss.

Women’s Rights beyond the domestic sphere had been declared, but for most of the female sex of the middling and upper classes, the competitive marriage market, for all its humiliations and disappointments, was the lesser of two evils, the other being poverty.

The working poor woman had no elegant choice to make: she worked, she mated, she mothered, she cooked, she cleaned, she worked in a cycle of drudgery. Her alternative was destitution.

The rituals of polite society masked the sordid reality that women were being sold into a luxurious form of slavery, without rights to keep their own property and money when they wed. Men’s financial interest even more than gender discrimination kept women subservient.

At its best, making a good marriage was similar to modern film and theatre casting, decided by who’s related to whom, who’s got money, connections or the most powerful matchmaker/agent behind them, who’s good at manipulating opportunity, who cares enough to run the gauntlet.

Yet women were allowed the power of influence, some of them were acknowledged (by a brave minority) to be the equals, even on rare occasions the superiors, to men in their wit and intelligence, their literary, acting and artistic talents, their philanthropic work and housekeeping acumen.

Like her ancestresses, Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Beatrice and Congreve’s Millamant, the Regency Romance heroine outdazzles her beau with her wit, she wears the trousers metaphorically at least, even while she likes leaning on a strong masculine arm. Theirs is an essentially camp relationship.

There was more hypocrisy, but less compartmentalization, about sexuality and gender. It was the age of the dandy, after all, and when an actress (Siddons) and a princess (Charlotte) were notable for showing more positive masculine attributes than most men.

In many ways, Jane Austen was at odds with the Regency period in which her novels were published. She was torn between the self-expressive freedom of Romanticism and the moral patterns of the earlier Enlightenment, where the landscaped gardens and elegant columns of Pemberley belong.

Charlotte Brontë was born the year before Austen died and grew up to hate her books and everything they represented about the repression of female sexuality.

That was understandable but unfair, because Austen’s couples enjoy, after a struggle, realistically happy unions, while the Brontës’ creations, for all the blazing emancipated passion and voices calling across the moor, do not. Austen wrote prose, prosaically. For her, getting your man didn’t mean having to maim, blind and nurse him. He was allowed a past you didn’t know about, a club you weren’t allowed to enter – not an ideal modern marriage, but with more space than most.

Independence was not yet attainable, but a truce, even a peace, was within the art of the possible..

Jane Austen used irony as a tool with which to open a window on human life, not as a shield to hide behind.  Romantic infatuation was a trap, not an escape. Continue reading

A Regency Romance

What explains the enduring appeal of the Regency Romance?

Why has that period in history lent itself more than any other to our fantasies about courtship and social acceptance? The origins of its potency lie older and deeper than the comedies of manners written prolifically by Georgette Heyer, the doyenne of Regency Romance fiction, and the costume rom-coms of the film and movie industries of the last hundred years.

Regency Romance is written to a winning formula nowadays, some of it blissfully unconcerned with syntax or history, but millions of women had fallen in love with Classic Literature’s Mr Darcy for nearly two centuries before the BBC got him wet.  Members of all sexes have obsessed over the period’s dead poets with a sense of connection that felt stronger than many real relationships. Many a girl and boy have thrilled to Byron’s “mad, bad and dangerous” celebrity, or pined to be the one to soothe Keats’ fevered forehead, rather than inadequate Fanny Brawne.

We are all touched by the Regency, even those of us who have never read a romantic novel or would know a pelisse if it arrested us.

John_Arthur_Douglas_Bloomfield,_2nd_Baron_Bloomfield_by_Sir_Thomas_Lawrence

John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield, already a career diplomat at the age of seventeen, a pillar of the Establishment trying desperately to look like poet, libertarian political writer and social outcast Lord Byron, painted at full Romantic throttle by Thomas Lawrence, 1819. (National Portrait Gallery. Image: Wikipedia).
The Regency created its own romantically sexy myth long before it was appropriated by later generations.

The Regency period looks more modern to us than either the preceding 18th century age or the following Victorian age. The style of clothes and short hairstyles are still around – even the men’s tight-fitting trousers have been revived as jeggings.

Regency architecture, interior and garden design still provide some of the most elegant home improvement options available today.

EdmundBlairLeightonOntheThreshold
Edmund Leighton: On the Threshold (1900). Manchester Art Gallery. Image source: Wikipedia
Love the wrought iron and lead roofed porch. And his boots….

A late Victorian nostalgia for Regency style packaged the romance of consumerism, in which props and set dressing are more prominent than feelings. You’d never guess from later illustrations that there had been a war going on, in fact several wars, about ideology, trade, territory and ideas.

Women’s clothes in the neoclassical Regency period, for three decades after the French Revolution, were more comfortable, more symbolic of personal freedom, than later 19th and early 20th century fashions. By the late 1820s, tight lacing was back and got tighter. (Traditional stays had never really gone away for every woman in Regency times, and were superseded by the much-maligned corset which, correctly fitted, is far more comfortable and good for posture than its reputation allows. And some of us are comfortable and happier in high heels, just as some people have sea legs – but that’s for another battle at the Last Post.)

The female body of the following four generations was squeezed in and padded out, satisfying somebody or other’s fetishes, some of them as weird as Comic Con costumes.

At the time Edmund Leighton was turning out his chocolate box historical genre scenes, and C.E. Brock was producing his fairytale illustrations to Jane Austen, fashionable women’s bodies were trapped in S-shaped cages which they only started getting out of shortly before World War I. The Regency looked like a time of rationality and enlightenment in comparison.

Bingley&Jane. Brock

One of the later (1907) watercolour versions of C.E. Brock’s original 1895 illustrations to Pride and Prejudice: the sugary colours signal the export of Jane Austen’s “two inches of ivory” world to the arch land of Regency Romance.

to be continued

The AUDIO VERSION of THE CAPTAIN’S WALLFLOWER – A Regency Romance by Audrey Harrison, read by Pippa Rathborne – is available now on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

Vickie Lester’s Book at Bedtime

 audio serialization on BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD

happyreadingPhotograph by MARTIN HÜBSCHER PHOTOGRAPHY © 2015

Reblog of the original post on Vickie Lester’s BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD

Noir

“FOR MY PART I KNOW NOTHING WITH ANY CERTAINTY BUT THE SIGHT OF THE STARS MAKES ME DREAM” (Vincent van Gogh)

Pippa RathborneWoman reading Vickie Lester’s novel “It’s In His Kiss”  at night. Photo © Martin Hübscher

LISTEN TO THE FIRST CHAPTER OF It’s In His Kiss
on Vickie Lester’s brilliant blog
Beguiling Hollywood

on which each apparently effortless post strikes deep behind the razzle-dazzle to give insight into the design and inspiration, humour and human cost that go into creating the glamour of classic film-making.

All these qualities are evident in Vickie Lester’s fiction.

It is easy to dream when we look at a starlit sky, more difficult to represent it, even harder to understand how it was made.

“IT SHOULD BE CLEAR THAT PUTTING LITTLE WHITE DOTS
ON A BLUE-BLACK SURFACE IS NOT ENOUGH””
(Vincent van Gogh)

The most comprehensive and authoritative site I know about dramatic and comedic arts in all media, from historic to present times, is Sarah Vernon’s Rogues and Vagabonds, rich in articles and illustrations, edited by someone who understands theatre through and through.

Another recommended site dedicated to classic movies, combining charm with informed criticism, is Silver Screenings.

For down-to-earth reviews of popular films, I enjoy the wisdom of Pete Johnson (who is wise about everything) and Vinnieh.

“A life larger than the sentence” (2)

THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN: THE PERILOUS ORDER OF CAMELOT (Volume 1) by A. A. Attanasio is available as an audiobook on Audible, iTunes and Amazon

Pippa Rathborne

The audiobook of THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN: The Perilous Order of Camelot (Volume 1) by A. A. Attanasio, read by Pippa Rathborne,
is available for sale on Audible, Amazon and iTunes.

The Dragon and the Unicorn is a work of high fantasy which blends Arthurian myths and legends with philosophy, history, theology and science fiction. At the heart of the book is the story of Ygrane, who triumphs over adversity in multiple roles, as maiden-sacrifice, witch-queen, wife and mother, whose emotional life seems so vividly real to readers that she rises out of fantasy as a real woman, a once and future heroine.

The author, A. A. Attanasio, has described his delight that through the audio version his novel “now wholly partakes of the larger life of performance art”.

“I am mesmerized by the voice you’ve given this novel.”

“A tremendous dramatic experience”; “a virtuoso performance!”; “creative…

View original post 273 more words

“A life larger than the sentence” or The Audio Version

BeguilingofMerlinThe Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne Jones, 1874. Oil on canvas. Image source: Wikipedia
“You couldn’t even get my name right”, explained the Lady of the Lake to Merlin, as she started reading the audio version of his own spellbook to put him to sleep, imprisoned in a hawthorn tree, for eternity.

Who is the witch who binds us with other people’s stories? She, or he, beguiles us with their voice, conjuring characters, passions and landscapes as vividly as CGI while they read novels and manuals aloud. Try selling that to the teenager, or spouse, playing GTAV in the room next door.

The storyspelling power belongs to actors when they narrate audiobooks. Does it always work? Probably not. I turn off BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime as a barrier between me and imagination, and, sometimes, sanity.

Once upon a time there were a couple of actors whom I loved who enchanted me when they read to me in bed at night. That was long ago.

I loathe narration in movies, which, except when used ironically or to heighten emotional effect (Sunset Boulevard?) mitigates experience by explaining information to audiences which they or the film-makers are too stupid to share through images and dialogue.

It’s reassuring for me that Harrison Ford objected to the voice-over imposed by the studio on Blade Runner. As he said, “it was simply bad narration”.

But – “but” being the most important word in peaceful communication and the most laborious in fiction – there are other testimonies. When the spell works, you are transported to other worlds through your headphones:

Without fail, the time I spent in your storyspell upgraded the quality of my day. – A. A. Attanasio, author of The Dragon and the Unicorn, describing listening to the audio version of his novel.

Is the audiobook merely a modern convenience for assimilating information already available in print, or can it enhance the listener’s imaginative experience in a sensory way? Whose voice or voices do we hear when we read to ourselves?

I got to looking forward to the next installment, for the aesthetic rush of your performance that invariably left me feeling uplifted, strengthened. Somehow – magically! – your artistic élan brightened my own mundane history. That’s the authentic power of art! Thank you for bringing that power to my novel. –  A. A. Attanasio

Do we prefer the voices in our own heads, or the insistent voice of the witch trying to enthrall us?

I am mesmerized by the voice you have given this novel.

The siren’s magic works for some aurally sensitive people – but not for all of us, fed up of other people’s intrusive voice-overs when what we really want is to live in the moment ourselves. Do I really find the witch’s voice more enchanting than imaginary ones?

Can the witchiest of readers transport me away from my everyday dullness and anxieties to take part in “a life larger than the sentence?” (A. A. Attanasio again – he’s got a way of putting awesome concepts into words.)

Am I promoting an audiobook, or sabotaging it?

Am I for the witch, or against her?

Consider Merlin – a genius, a philosopher, a sage with superpowers who could see into the future. Look at him, in your mind’s eye or in Burne Jones’ painting, voluntarily surrendering to the nymph Nimue/Vivien/Ninianne  – hardly anyone in Arthurian legend knows for certain what they want to be called or spelled, as if they are resigned to their symbolic significance being more important than their individuality – whom he had foreseen would enchant him into eternal sleep by turning one of his own spells against him.

In the end, people gave up calling her by a name: we know her as the Lady of the Lake. He could have avoided her; he could have carried on reading the print edition of his spellbook to himself, as he had done for hundreds of prosaic years, but instead he gave himself up to the voluptuous blossoms and pleasurably piercing thorns of enchantment by choosing the audio version.

Words – those impish logoi – only carry the human spirit so far … and then not always where the writer intends; so, [the actor’s] narrative power, [their] skillful communion with those words, makes them live a life larger than the sentence. – A. A. Attanasio.

The Dragon and the Unicorn: The Perilous Order of Camelot (Volume 1) by A.A. Attanasio is now available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. The author blends Arthurian myths and legends with philosophy, history, theology and science fiction. At the heart of the book is the story of Ygrane, who triumphs over adversity in multiple roles, as maiden-sacrifice, witch-queen, wife and mother, whose emotional life seems so vividly real to readers that she rises out of fantasy as a real woman, a once and future heroine.

I feel privileged that my text now wholly partakes of the larger life of performance art through your talent.
A.A. Attanasio writing about the audio version of his monumental novel, read by Pippa Rathborne, on sale at Audible, Amazon and iTunes.