Summer fires

All in the golden afternoon
….
In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale…
“There will be nonsense in it!”‘
Lewis Carroll, preface to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

gainsboroughwoodedlandscapeThomas Gainsborough Landscape with a Woodcutter and Milkmaid 1755
Oil on canvas

“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present.
The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
Midnight in Paris, 2011, film written and directed by Woody Allen

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.”
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, Verse 10, King James Bible, 1611

constablebrightonJohn Constable (1776-1837) Coast Scene at Brighton: Evening, oil painting, ca. 1828
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

      “….colours from the sunset take:
From something of material sublime
Rather than shadow our own soul’s day-time
In the dark void of night.”
(Keats, Epistle to John Hamilton Reynolds)

“Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn”
attributed to John Wesley (1703-1791)

marsdenmoorfire1

“The people who started the moorlands fires are responsible for a catastrophe that has endangered an enormous number of people. People are having to evacuate their homes, livestock has been lost and natural beauty spots have been ravaged. Resources have been sent from fire and rescue services all across the country.” Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack speaking of the wildfires on Saddleworth Moor, Lancashire, England, which spread for 2 weeks during the heatwave of late June and July, 2018

“They never reached a golden age, or found El Dorado. ‘The journey, not the destination matters’, Rachael incanted, out of habit,
while they could see there was nothing left that glittered through the smoke ahead,
and the smell of burnt dirt did not stop rising from the ashes.
Philippa was in too sour a mood to stomach either irony or elegy and she snapped back:
‘Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn’.”
Noëlle Mackay Human Rites 

gainsboroughevening3Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) Wooded Landscape with Herdsman and Cattle

‘And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.’
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), preface to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

No Bed for the Cat


Peter Paul Rubens, Annunciation, c. 1628 Oil on canvas, Rubens House, Antwerp.
Image: WGA

It is the same astonishing moment as a thousand times before and after – the same winged and muscular messenger, with the same soft feminine face, the same long golden hair, wearing a yellow tunic, accompanied by a dove and flying babies, interrupting a girl reading while a cat sleeps in the corner – but in a different place, light years away.

This is no baby shower, like the time before. This time the stranger does not bring the pure white flowers of virginity to present to the girl from a deferential distance. There are already flowers in a bulbous glass vase on a round table; red and pink roses unfurling petals the colour of flesh, a red tulip protruding a licking tongue. The dive-bombing cherubs are about to pelt garlands of more roses, a lover’s gift, on the girl’s head.

It’s not the same girl, or she has changed. She reads the same book, but she is not self-composed like the girl kneeling in a room in Urbino, over twenty years earlier. There is no view of a white castle, the room is dark and the floor is made of wooden nailed planks.

There is no sign of the patriarchal puppeteer in the sky. There is no formality, no inhibition, only the visitor’s knowing smile as he alights, his left hand almost close enough to touch her, and her gasp of expectation. Even the watching cherubs are louche.

This time she is aroused by the visitor’s physical presence and does not attempt to hide her feelings. Illuminated by a beam of light, she rises to meet his passion with her own, her lips parted and her uplifted eyes rolling in ecstasy. She is almost drifting into a trance. Her longing for him is mixed with reproach. She is worried about consequences.

She is Psyche in love with Eros, who has flown in through her open window at night. He is beautiful and persuasive. His power will change her life.

She is not sure she wants him yet.

(Keats, Ode to Psyche, 1819)

It’s not the same cat, either. This one is a tabby, coiled tight in its own sensual world, indifferent to human desires, lying on the hard wooden floor beside a work basket because the girl has forgotten for the first time in their lives to make a cushioned bed for its sleep.

 

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.

The gap in time

“Truth is rightly named the daughter of time, not of authority.” Francis Bacon

 “The eternal silence of these spaces frightens me.” (“Le silence eternel des ces espaces infinis m’effraie.”) Pascal

timeovercomeby truth

Pietro Liberi (Venetian School) Time Being Overcome by Truth c. 1665 Private Collection. Image: WGA.
An exasperated woman puts the boot in.

How many damned anniversaries does each of us have to have?

Are we not reborn with each new experience, so much more important to us than a bloody, noisy, messy, weepy event that cost our mothers pain?

And that’s just the weddings.

And do not the most significant things happen in the unmarked gaps in time? The greatest passions are felt beneath the lines.

Our deepest thoughts are in silent crevices. We climb in and out of them before facing the world again.

I looked, I laughed, I loved, I hated, I remembered so I repeat. The reasons, the true histories, are unrecorded on the face of time – until someone writes a novel or a poem.

There’s an ugly word in the usually beautiful English language for those pregnant pauses and frightening spaces: interstices.

I once had to say it, trembling on the edge of its four syllables of plosive and sibilant gory, in a reading from a Thomas Hardy novel at a wedding, the ears of bride, groom and a hundred guests pricking at me.

They no longer speak to me.

Interstices. A nasty physical condition? Or a neglected classical Greek hero? “Achilles aimed his spear at his mysterious adversary, and raised his shield, but he was not prepared for the quicksilver cunning of Interstices.”

Continue reading

The poetry of art

The first thing you notice is the astonishing blue. It is a woman’s dress, with a luminous life of its own, a bright heart bursting out of a pale pink shell, made of the same colours as the blue sky, flushed pale carmine by the setting sun. Darkling, she “cannot see what flowers are at her feet, /Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs”. She has a woman’s head, but her body looks more like an exotic blue flower, a lady elf transforming from gordian to woman’s shape. Her dark curling hair might be part of a tree’s foliage.

gainsborough ladybate-dudley1787Lady Bate-Dudley, oil on canvas c.1787. © Tate. Her husband, Sir Henry, known as the Fighting Parson, was a loyal friend and supporter of Gainsborough; he also wrote comic operas. The Bate-Dudleys seem to have inhabited a surprisingly passionate landscape of their own.

Viewed as late 18th century society portraiture, Gainsborough’s painting of Lady Bate-Dudley is disconcerting, being far more about abstract colour and light than the status of the sitter; as poetry of art, it perfectly evokes states of mind painted in words by Keats.

Gainsborough was a poetic painter, Keats the most painterly of poets in an age inspired by unbounded imaginative affinities. Keats’ liquid imagery was as often in danger of dripping from his verse as Gainsborough’s oil-diluted colours from his palette. They Continue reading