Through a woman’s eyes

Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

NPG D5655; Catharine Macaulay (nÈe Sawbridge) by Jonathan Spilsbury, published by John Spilsbury, after Katharine Read

Catharine Macaulay (née Sawbridge) mezzotint by Jonathan Spilsbury, published by John Spilsbury, after a painting by Katharine Read, published September 1764. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
The great political tradition of constitutional liberty that inspired Macaulay is contained in the books surrounding her. She leans on John Milton, the finest republican poet and polemicist in the English language; behind her are the Discourses concerning Government of Algernon Sydney, the first Whig martyr, executed in 1683 for his opposition to Stuart absolutism and all forms of government oppression.

The painter of the original portrait reproduced in this engraving was Katherine Read (1723 – 1778), a Scottish artist specialising in crayon who had a successful practice in London. Her well-connected, wealthy clients were mostly women and children, members of the royal family and aristocracy, prominent intellectuals and writers like Catharine Macaulay, and society beauties.

fitzroy - Copy

Lady Georgiana Fitzroy and George Henry Fitzroy, Earl…

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A PASSION FOR THEATRE

A memorial to Sarah Vernon compiled by her closest friends.

Sarah in 2008

Sarah Vernon had, to use her own phrase, “a passion for theatre”.

Like many actors’ children, she could never be sure if she would have gone into the entertainment industry if her parents, Richard Vernon and Benedicta Leigh, had not been in the profession.

It wasn’t an industry or a job for Sarah: it was a romance and a calling. Being an actor was her body and soul, an act of love uniting emotional longing with technical accomplishment, a child’s dream of perfection made real.

Her performing career was cut short by the progression of a rare autoimmune disease. Her contribution to promoting the importance, and fun, of theatre in everyday life was far more than a list of credits could represent.

She trained, and made lasting friendships, at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art from 1975-78. Her professional work was predominantly in Repertory and touring theatre, and on the London Fringe. She also gave characteristically intelligent and sensitive performances on television, such as Janet Nowt in Paradise Postponed, and Jean Gaunt in The Bill.

Studio headshot of Sarah Vernon c.1985-88

Her impressive height and voice, a beautifully modulated instrument, deep, rich and melodious, gave her authority and an aura of raffish grandeur, redolent of great players of the past, belying her vulnerability.

Her unaffected refinement, gentle, quizzical expression and understated emotion made her natural casting for period plays, though she had misgivings about her suitability for one part early in her career, as the passive victim in Gas Light.

As Sarah herself recounted: ‘“You would have called the gas board a long time before,” said my mother after seeing me as Bella Manningham…It was a piece of miscasting that could only have happened in weekly rep.’

Sarah claimed she was thankful when it was over, but she relished the challenges and spontaneity of weekly rep, the traditional apprenticeship of stage actors, especially her happy summer season at Folkestone in 1983, working in the Art Deco Leas Pavilion.

She was completely at ease in one of her last stage appearances, the sophisticated, fun-loving and witty Dona Lucia in Charley’s Aunt at The Shaw Theatre, in 1997.

Sarah – “this beautiful lady” and “amazing lady” recalled by her peers – was a lady in the classic sense, with impeccable manners on and off-stage, thoughtful and kind to other people, sharing her sense of humour in every company.

The written word was as important to her as the spoken word. She was an enthusiastic member and organizer of the Hammersmith Actors and Writers Group in the 1990s.

Sarah was proud to have been “born in a trunk”. She believed acting was her destiny. She grew up learning from her parents and other actors; by watching and listening and asking questions she became a discriminating critic of the best techniques and styles in her early teenage years, while she prepared for her vocation.

When limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis forced her to retire from stage work, she reinvented herself online as the custodian of great acting traditions which she believed should be passed on to new generations of performers. From 2001 she sacrificed time and money to her Rogues & Vagabonds website, a constantly updated online magazine about theatre and acting, publishing reviews, interviews and anecdotes.

She was a naturally gifted writer and scrupulous editor, who gave opportunities to many other aspiring writers as well as established authors and academics.

She was encouraging and exacting, charming everyone into producing their best work and coaxing talents out of other people that they didn’t know they had. Good writing delighted her; grammatical errors and untidy sentences upset her well-ordered mind.

Sarah never stopped looking, learning and working. Every time she changed location, she embraced and contributed to the community. She was at home on islands, preferably in a warm climate, but she was always part of the main.

Sarah, at her happiest by the sea in a hot climate, while she was living on Crete, 2014

Sarah was proud of old-fashioned virtues, and her yearning to commune with the past was as strong as her passion for theatre. Her mind was too sharp, too inquiring, to dwell anywhere but in the present.

She was always well-informed about current events, and engaged with political and humanitarian causes. Her life’s work was to bring the best of the past to enlighten the present. “How can we improve our future if we don’t understand the past?” The current state of Britain angered and grieved her.

In her friendships she showed a similar, whole-hearted commitment to the truth. She was caring, affectionate and loyal, and, in the biggest demonstration of love, did not shrink from criticizing when necessary. Most of the time, she wanted to share “the joy of friendship”.

Photo of Sarah Vernon with her greatest friend, Helen Pearson, in the 1990s.
“We set the world to rights, gave each other advice,
lifted each other’s spirits and laughed…I can face the day”.
(Sarah Vernon commenting on Facebook, after a telephone conversation with Helen on 9 June 2017.)

She conquered social media with her humour, wit and visual flair. In the last decade of her life, the actress and writer turned herself into an equally dedicated and admired digital designer. Her taste was vintage; her techniques were modern. Defying her disabilities, she managed, edited and contributed to her First Night Design website, her three blogs and online newspapers devoted to “Art, Design, Theatre, Literature, History, Food, Laughter”.

Her focus on working, day and night, on her computer could appear obsessive to her friends and companions, concerned about her health; it is clear in retrospect that she was afraid she would run out of time.

She was haunted by her adolescence, as “a girl who’s been emotionally abandoned by her mother and whose father doesn’t know how to interact with his daughter and can’t be disturbed anyway because of learning lines.” (Sarah commenting on Facebook, 31 January, 2018.) The measure of Sarah was that instead of resenting her parents, she strove to understand them. She admired their achievements and honoured their memory.

Sarah, the child of the stage, could have been a casualty of the devil’s profession, but she was saved by self-determination. She cultivated her many literary and artistic talents and preserved her life-enhancing sense of humour. She addressed the past and present with equal intellectual force, she was computer and internet savvy, she was an entrepreneur, she was a sweet friend and she was brave, till the end.

She was still designing, still writing, during her last illness. Her mind could not stay still. She was inspired and burdened by heritage and history. She deplored bigotry and cruelty, and a mis-apostrophized word, as much as she loved laughter and beauty in an often painful life.

She died in hospital on the Isle of Wight on 13th January, 2021, aged sixty-four.

SARAH BENEDICTA VERNON
25th November 1956 – 13th January 2021

Bertel Thorvaldsen ‘Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy’, c. 1836,
Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen

 

Pippa Rathborne © 2021

Not what I wanted to blog about

I was thinking all night of the post I’d write about a clock, an 18th century clock. It started with the clock, anyway, and ended up being more about a mother and daughter.

It was going to be a post about self-isolation and self-improvement, about reason and tolerance defeating ignorance and greed, about women’s fight for equality and independence; about jealousy and love, egos and guillotines; about rebellion and restraint; about philosophy, education and religion; about gaiety, satire and burlesque – lyrics from Gypsy were going to be included (“Sing out, Louise”) – it was a mess, less than the sum of its parts.

The object still exists for you to look at. All you need from me is a link. No words. Everything has been said before. No more blogging, I say.

Instead, I’m copying and pasting a Tweet from the journalist John Crace, about today’s cause célèbre, the latest gobsmacking hypocrisy of the Vote Leave coup leaders who are turning the ancient democracy of Great Britain into a shoddy dictatorship, a tax haven for corrupt, nihilist capitalists, while the rest of us, if we survive the plague, will die from poverty and bitterness, and malnutrition from lowered food standards.

We will be deprived of freedom of movement to work and live and love where we want in Europe, our continent. For some of us, that freedom and that love are the meaning of life itself. We have been dispossessed. We are aliens in our own country.

Tick tock.

The rich will still be able to do what they want, just as Cummings, Great Britain’s eminence grise, did during lockdown, when, knowing he and his wife had COVID-19, he flouted government restrictions by travelling 260 miles to visit his elderly parents with his four year-old child.

Cummings, in his own mind the child of Machiavelli and Nietzsche, doesn’t care; the pastiche prime minister/world king manqué and his equally over-entitled, even creepier associates (who can’t wait to stab him in the back) don’t care; they know there will be no consequences for the shameless. They are unaccountable. They have called democracy’s bluff.

They prey on human frailty. They play on the ordinary person being as selfish and venal as they are. They taunt and tempt like the sleazy admen and dodgy goods’ salesmen they are.

Everything they offer you has fallen off the back of a lorry. They know most of us know. They don’t care. Look how we can spin! Aren’t we funny! More entertaining than the Opposition. Razzamatazz! (Theatre is dead, due to Coronavirus, showing off isn’t.) Bragging how you have twisted the truth impresses more, nowadays, than telling the truth.

If you weren’t as bad as them before, you will be soon.

Tick tock.

John Crace on Twitter:

According to @michaelgove
and other cabinet ministers,
those of us who didn’t break government guidelines
to drive 250 miles just didn’t love
our families and friends enough

Another Tweet, from Aditya Chakrabortty, sums up the depth of this government’s betrayal of a nation:

If only Number 10 had acted as quickly and forcefully on the pandemic in March as it has to save Dominic Cummings

And, because I can’t bear to leave you without something old and pretty, here’s the link to a relic from the Age of Enlightenment and Reason, a neoclassical feminist clock illustrating the power of solitude:

Mantel clock eMuseumPlusb
Mantel clock c. 1768 made for Madame Geoffrin (1699-1777) The Wallace Collection

“One must work with time and not against it.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

The moment Britain got back its dignity

Dominic Grieve

Dominic Grieve’s magisterial speech at The People’s Vote rally on 13 November was an historic moment to remember, whatever the outcome of the movement to save our disunited kingdom will be. All the speakers found new reserves of passion and determination, and, in some cases, even humility, exemplified by Gary Lineker, showing the time has come to put our country above all personal interests. This was patriotism, not nationalism.

Reunite or Self-Destruct

Second Brexit referendum has 16-point lead as half of Britons back new vote, opinion poll shows

Orpheusand EuridiceOrpheus and Euridice by G.F. Watts c. 1890

Humans are selfish by instinct, like all animals. We are narcissistic, like no other animal. We reason, like no other animal. We squander our natural gifts, like no other animal. We are cruel, like no other animal. We have more regrets than any other animal. We cannot bring the people we love back to life but we can make at least one sensible decision for the common good before we die. (Noelle Mackay)

We, the people, must demand another chance to let our true voice be heard, not the one manipulated last year by a reactionary, zenophobic, racist coup d’état.

We must be able to accept or reject the deal being negotiated to Leave the EU.

And, we must be able to reject Brexit entirely. No reasonable person could claim that the EU is perfect; no reasonable person could claim that leaving the EU under the present conditions is anything but catastrophic.

It is time to stop separating personal from universal destiny. We are all implicated.

Whether you voted Leave or Remain, this Brexit is a mess. I’d have written “a dog’s breakfast” for a cheap laugh if it wasn’t an insult to dogs. There are too many cheap laughs in this world at the expense of things we should value.   “Only connect”.

Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy circa 1777 by Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788
Gainsborough, Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy c 1777. © Tate Gallery.
Is there nothing else than the love of cute animals that can unite people?
Does humanity loathe itself so much that it will extinguish itself?

Only the delusional, or right-wing billionaires planning to turn Great Britain into Little Englanders’ Tax-Haven Ltd, could still want it. The hopes of idealistic Leavers have been betrayed, the worst fears of Remainers have been exceeded by reality.

It is still legally possible to reverse Brexit. Common sense and self-preservation demand it. “In a healthy political culture, this would be a moment for reappraisal” Ian Dunt.

The present Prime Minister has been too weak so far to turn us back from a suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade on a national scale.

horsedelacroixHorse Frightened by a Storm, watercolour by Eugene Delacroix, 1824. Image source: WGA

Our democracy should serve the national interest, not destroy it. If our representatives in Parliament don’t have the guts to revoke Article 50 themselves, we must advise them ourselves through another Referendum – not a second referendum, but the third since 1975.

Last year’s referendum was advisory. A responsible government would never have allowed the public a vote on an unfeasible option. No government is infallible. Nobody is infallible. History will condemn the political leadership of our times – that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook.

If history is about ordinary people, not who and what kings and queens had for breakfast, ordinary people must show the future what a human being should be.

Sovereignty lies in Parliament, not the “Will of the People”, a meaningless slogan unless it includes the right to change our minds. If anyone insists that the 2016 Referendum was binding, then they should consider that the 1975 Referendum to stay in the EU was also binding.

Never again should an elected representative of the people have to say, as Margaret Beckett did, “I believe this will be catastrophic for my constituents, but nonetheless I feel duty‑bound to vote for it.”

Nuts.

In future, recanting MPs might have to put one of their hands in the fire before they betray the interests of the people.

Our generation is seeing the British dream turned into a nightmare created by ourselves. STOP IT.  Brexit will be the worst mistake ever made by a modern democratic nation.

Let’s stop Brexit. 

Bored with Brexit? Tough. I’d have given up this blog, ranting at an audience of two, if it wasn’t for the biggest cause of in our lifetimes. It’s not just British lives that Brexit will ruin. The fate of nations is in our hands.

Stop Brexit, I’ll stop boring you.

girl withcageripplRippl-Rónai, Girl with Cage 1892 Oil on canvas
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest.
Image: WGA

Wanted: 24 Heroes and Heroines

IF YOUR’E A CONSERVATIVE MP
AND NOT NUTS,

SAVE BRITAIN NOW

“The Conservative party is the most successful party in the democratic world, precisely because their reputation is that they don’t go nuts and become ideologically zealous…..all it would take here is a couple of dozen brave Conservative MPs.”
(Nick Clegg in conversation with Richard Thaler, The Guardian)

Does the judgment of posterity matter nothing in the age of instant fame? Can’t the reluctant Mythical Tory Saviours be moved (I just deleted ‘bribed’) by sugar-coated promises of everlasting fame and glory? They can be put into an exclusive club, and have as many titles and honours and free canapes and wet towels and holidays on private islands and TV appearances as they want in return for saving Britain by saying “Sorry, I was Wrong”.

Why is it easier to lead millions of people into hell than admit you made a mistake?

“There are few, very few, that will own themselves in a mistake, though all the World sees them to be in downright nonsense”
Jonathan Swift, in The Tatler No. 63 (September 1709)

9 heroes and heroinesMaster of the Castello della Manta Nine Heroes and Nine Heroines (detail with seven figures) 1411-16 Fresco Sala Baronale, Castello della Manta, Saluzzo. Image source: WGA

FIGHT BREXIT – SAVE BRITAIN – STOP BREXIT

Brexit is NOT inevitable

The Cost of Leaving

triumphofpoverty

Lucas Vorsterman TRIUMPH OF POVERTY c. 1624 -30 Pen in brown, with gray and brown wash, black and red chalks, and white highlights, British Museum, London. Image source: WGA

The cost of Brexit since the Referendum (The Independent)

European Court of Justice protects workers rights endangered by Brexit  (The Independent)

It is still legally possible to
STOP BREXIT

take back control

if the people tell the Government to
STOP BREXIT

History will condemn this period

“My God. History will condemn this period. It will condemn those who’ve sat back and kept their view to themselves, who haven’t stood up and tried to stop all this nonsense.”

Read the full interview with Anna Soubry – a rare black swan in the dismal swamp of British “Brexit” politics – in The Observer.

“I am simply not prepared to stand back and watch my country fall off a cliff edge. If that means voting against my party, so be it.”

“It’s like the counter-revolutionary forces of Chairman Mao or Joe Stalin. It’s not enough that you went against everything you ever believed in; you have to sign up in blood. It’s like Orwell’s thought police and the reign of terror combined”

I’m not just a lonely Fringe Cassandra, after all…..My country needs saving. Nobody chancing to visit this seldom visited place should underestimate the severity of Britain’s self-inflicted wound by Withdrawing from the European Union. Britain is killing itself. HELP

Hamlet: ….why was he sent into England?

First Clown: Why, because ‘a was mad. ‘A shall recover his wits there;
or, if ‘a do not, ’tis no great matter there.

Hamlet: Why?

First Clown: ‘Twill not he seen in him there. There the men are as mad as
he.

STOP THE MADNESS

Sentience Protocol

“The Government’s refusal to accept this amendment [to EU Withdrawal Bill] is simply absurd – and their continued insistence that sentience is covered in Animal Welfare legislation is wrong. Britain been forward thinking animal welfare over the years, which is why ditching this provision would be such a backwards step. The UK Government led on introducing this EU protocol in the first place, and it’s only an obsession with refusing changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill that’s stopping Ministers adopting this amendment now.” Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

The Brexit Government, irrationally consumed with hatred of everything EU, is treating animal rights the same way it is treating the rights of EU Nationals living in Britain.

The Government should confirm their existing rights under EU law now.

Anthony_van_DyckFive_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_Van Dyck, The Five Eldest Children of Charles I 1637. Royal Collection.
Image: Wikipedia

The problem for a Government on the run screaming FAKE NEWS is the implicit acknowledgment that it’s at least partly true. As politics is all about presentation, anyway, using the FN plea is an admission of incompetence, at best.

In this meta-weary world, we have got used to the duality of Truth in the modern democratic State. The wonder of Trump is not that a lying, bullying, pussy-grabbing monster was elected, but that people don’t care that he lies, bullies, pussy-grabs.

The political hue and cry in the UK over animal sentience confirms that Fake News, not Real News, is the radar for Zeitgeist – it reveals the conscious and unconscious fears of both the public and its rulers.

The first indisputable fact is that MPs voted to exclude the clause regarding animal sentience from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The second fact is that, for a couple of days, Leavers and Remainers, including Conservative voters, were united in believing that the Brexit Government was capable of denying that animals feel pain and emotion. We were shocked, but not surprised. That’s not a vote of confidence in either the Government or Brexit.

The problem for Remainers is to prove the link between the incoherence of this incompetent Government’s policies and the unfeasability of Brexit itself.

Truthfully, Brexit must be stopped.

“Man is the reasoning animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal….His record is the fantastic record of a maniac.  I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that ….he blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot:
whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one.”
Mark Twain, The Lowest Animal, 1896

Continue reading

The Autonomous Woman

I’m still looking at her. I lied in the previous post about ambivalence. I know very well that she is informed, not defined, by other people’s abuse.  This post is too long for comfort, but if you want to see Artemisia Gentileschi meet Jane Austen, read on.

marymagdaleneArtemesiaG The Penitent Mary Magdalen 1620-25
Oil on canvas, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence. Image: WGA

“Till this moment I never knew myself”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

Of all women, why should the Magdalene repent? As a composite of erotic and spiritual love, a triumphant victim of patriarchy who earned her own living, became a player in global religion, and a legendary heroine of romance, we should be honest enough to celebrate, not patronize her.

Whatever the true source of her anguish, the distraught Magdalen is looking into the darkest shadows of her psyche. She is examining her own actions, thoughts and feelings, holding herself to account. We are looking at her at the moment she knows herself.

Gentileschi also cast Mary Magdalene, the sinning woman, as the personification of  Melancholy, an ambivalent attribute.

ArtemisiaGentileschiMaryMagdaleneMelancholy

Artemisia Gentileschi, Maria Maddalena come la Malinconia 1621 -25.
Oil on canvas. Museo del Soumaya, Mexico City. Image: Wikipedia.

The Renaissance began the modern cultivation of melancholy, or predisposition to depression, as a desirable creative condition, on the dubious premise that the more you suffer, the better your art. This has been proved true only in cases where there is pre-existing talent and a strong technique. Intensity of feeling alone never wrote a good book or painted a great picture. greatest struggle is to transmute personal experience into art

Gentileschi’s interpretation of a passive Temperament is characteristically unromantic: the sensual, dishevelled Magdalene is slumped in her chair, looking like a lethargic and sulky teenager, the opposite of her usually dynamic heroines.

Gentileschi (the daughter, not the father, the overshadowed Orazio, a dutiful father and fine painter in his own right) is a colussus straddling art and gender history. Continue reading