Jane Austen: Lydia Bennet’s role

I’ve been thinking about Lydia’s role in Pride and Prejudice and I’ve come to the conclusion that she is far more important to the plot than it might seem at first sight. Lydia is entirely self-centred. She’s never sorry for anyone else, or ever considers anybody else’s point of view. She is concerned only with herself.

Basket of Fruit

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The Strand Magazine: Educating the Blind

2020 is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, an act set up to create a level playing field to enable all, no matter what their disability, to live a full life with the same opportunities as everyone else. The fight has been a long one, and it’s not over yet.

Dr Francis Campbell top left, the Royal Normal College for the Blind on the right Continue reading The Strand Magazine: Educating the Blind

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Bible Stories: Samson and Delilah

Last week, when writing my blog on Girls’ First Names, I discovered that Delilah was no. 76 in the top 100 girls’ names for 2019 – which surprised me. Did the parents of all those baby Delilahs know that the original Delilah was a high class courtesan who managed to wangle the secret of Samson’s superhuman strength out of him and then betray him to his enemies, for which she was paid a huge amount of money?

From Cecil B de Mille’s Samson and Delilah, 1949. Hedy Lamarr as Delilah, Victor Mature as Samson.

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The Strand Magazine: child acrobats and stage dancers

The Strand Magazine (1891-1950) was one of the most popular magazines of the late Victorian Age; it came out monthly and I have my Great-Grandfather’s copy of the first hardback edition of The Strand Magazine, Jan-June, 1891. It contained short stories, some translated from foreign languages; e.g. Russian (A. Pushkin); and French (Victor Hugo), together with articles of general interest. It was fully illustrated and targeted a middle-brow, middle-class readership; with something for everyone. The list of authors who wrote for The Strand Magazine was impressive and included Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, and P. G Wodehouse. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were serialized in The Strand Magazine, where Sidney Paget’s illustrations defined what Holmes looked like so perfectly that it’s now impossible to visualize him any other way. The magazine was phenomenally successful and, until the Second World War, it regularly sold 500,000 copies a month.

Strand Magazine bound copy January-June 1891

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The Extraordinary Water Theatre at the Villa Aldobrandini

The Villa Aldobrandini, a superb example of Baroque architecture, stands in a dramatic and commanding position above the ancient town of Frascati, looking towards St Peter’s in Rome. It was built between 1598 and 1603 for Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini as a gift from Pope Clement VIII. Popes weren’t allowed to own property, so Pope Clement’s gift of this magnificent villa to his nephew ensured that it remained in the Aldobrandini family.

The Villa Aldobrandini dominates the town of Frascati

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The inspirational Margaret Llewelyn Davies

Margaret Llewelyn Davies (1861-1944) was, from the 1890s to the 1930s, an inspirational campaigner for women’s causes who has, quite undeservedly, been allowed to slip almost into oblivion. Fortunately, a new book, Margaret Llewelyn Davies: with Women for a New World by Ruth Cohen, has just been published which sets the record straight. So what did Margaret do that we should remember her?

Margaret as a young woman: attractive, energetic, persuasive and with a great deal of charm; her friend Virginia Woolf remarked that she could ‘compel a steamroller to dance.’ 

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Writing Tips: avoiding an emotional vacuum

I wrote six novels between the age of ten and sixteen and the stories just poured out but, every now and then, I’d stop and think about a particularly grown-up word I wanted to use and feel pleased with myself when I found it. Naturally, I always looked forward to the next Big Scene – like the love scenes – and I have to confess that the occasional renunciation love scene always left me in tears.

Port Carnow Cove, Cornwall, from print in E. Hawksley’s collection

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The Parthenon Frieze

A day or so ago I visited the British Museum – the first time for months. Of course, I had to book a timed slot, wear a mask, make sure I used the hand gel and so on; and we were only allowed on the ground floor, so I had a choice of things Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, or Middle-Eastern. I decided to take a look at the Parthenon Frieze. I was particularly interested in the south frieze reliefs depicting a sacred procession with priests leading heifers to be sacrificed. One relief in particular, shown below, is supposed to have inspired the poet, John Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn.

 

The south frieze with the heifer

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Mid-Victorian artists’ fascination with ‘Oriental Ladies in Harems’

A few days ago, I went to see The Enchanted Interior at the Guildhall Art Gallery, curated and developed by the Laing Art Gallery and Madeleine Kennedy, and adapted by the Guildford Art Gallery. It examined the fascination Oriental art and life in the Middle East held for Mid-Victorian to early 20th century British artists. What appears to have attracted them most was the allure of beautiful women hidden away in harems, living in a ‘gilded cage’. The exhibition is full of pictures of exotic Oriental interiors – usually in Constantinople (Istanbul) or Cairo, or somewhere similar. There are elaborately ornamental wooden grilles to keep the women safe from prying eyes; exotic, colourful Oriental carpets; maids bringing in food and drink; and – probably most the important – the women lounging on the carpets or ottomans all seem perfectly contented.

John Frederick, Life in the Harem, Cairo. 1858. The lady lounges on an ottoman, she has flowers in her lap. A female servant enters with refreshments. A eunuch follows her.

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Inspired by Kenwood House: Take a Heroine

If you need inspiration for a novel, you could do a lot worse than visit your nearest stately home. The magnificent Kenwood House, built in the 1760s by Robert Adam for the Earl of Mansfield, is not too far from where I live. It struck me that what novelists sometimes need is not an in depth knowledge of a stately home’s architectural highlights but a record of some of the everyday objects which a heroine would come across.

Rear of Kenwood House, showing the Orangerie

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