Darcy 2711

November 28, 2014 at 11:41 am (entertainment, jane austen) (, )

I had a WHOLLY different blog post planned for today – then a friend with whom I was discussing “Black Friday”, and asking if there WAS such a thing in the U.K. (in the U.S. it designates the Friday after Thanksgiving — when most people, having the day off, would “begin” Christmas shopping), sent me notice of 20% off at the Jane Austen Giftshop (Bath).

But MORE IMPORTANTLY is this hook for the weekend of a FREE gift with a purchase over £10:

A Mr Darcy keyring!

darcy2711

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Lovers’ Vows in performance (a review)

November 26, 2014 at 1:32 pm (books, entertainment, history, news) (, , , , , )

It is RARE that one hears about performances of the “play within the novel” — used by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park — of Mrs Inchbald’s Lovers’ Vows – and I’ve a treat for Two Teens Readers: a member of its recent audience who was enthusiastic about writing a short review!

Contact information for the performing group – Artifice – is included in the links. Now: On with the Show…

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Lovers’ Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald, 1798
Performed by Artifice at Groundlings Theatre, Portsea [Hampshire, England]
13 November 2014

This was a bustling, engaging production, the action spilling from stage to auditorium, and every door fair game for an exit or entrance.

Frederick, an impoverished junior officer, returns to his village after five years’ absence to obtain his birth certificate, without which he cannot obtain promotion. His mother, Agatha, who brought him up alone, tells him in great distress that he has no certificate because he is illegitimate. Her lover vowed to marry her, and at his request she promised not to name him as the father of their unborn child. He broke his vow to her, but she kept hers to him and was disowned by all who knew her. Frederick insists on knowing who his father is, and Agatha reveals that he is the present Baron Wildenhaim.

Frederick is bitter about Wildenhaim’s treatment of Agatha, who is now destitute through ill health, and by mischance the two men clash without knowing each other’s identity. Tragedy seems inevitable, but Frederick and Wildenhaim eventually avoid it by exercising forgiveness and good will, and they embrace as father and son.

There’s no escaping Jane Austen’s Northamptonshire Novel, which Artifice acknowledges through the hair and dress of Wildenhaim’s daughter, the only character who doesn’t wear uniform or occupational costume. But forget the Mansfield Park prism.

Lovers’ Vows is not a frothy romance. With a versifying butler to delay the plot and ratchet up the tension, Inchbald trumps Shakespeare’s tedious porter in Macbeth. And the denouement’s requirement that social distinctions give way to fairness was a dangerous proposition for 1798.

Artifice’s motto is ‘Classical plays in beautiful places’, and this production was perfect for Groundlings’ distinctive eighteenth-century venue – the Beneficial School, or the Old Benny as it is known locally. Where else would the barman come out from behind the bar to treat his patrons to a lively, pre-performance history of the theatre, ghosts and all? Artifice, come back soon.

Charlotte Frost
author, Sir William Knighton

Lovers' Vows [Artifice]

Amelia [Mairi-Clare Murphy] visiting Frederick in prison.

artifice

 

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Letters from Harrow

November 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm (a day in the life, books, diaries, history, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , )

When is being inundated with letters and transcribing an especial blessing – when it brings a new voice into the mix!

Over the eight years I’ve dug and scraped to bring more primary materials under my umbrella, I’ve found what mainly belonged to the women of the Smith & Gosling family: Mary’s travels, Emma’s diaries, Mamma’s letters. Even when I’ve known about some “manly writings”, I’ve given them a bit of a backseat position. Doesn’t help when some of it is so sketchy – both in terms of content AND in terms of the hasty scrawl employed… (Yes, Sir Charles Smith, I’m talking about you!!)

But I’m currently in the midst of transcribing schoolboy / young man SPENCER SMITH letters – and am quite enchanted with them.

Drummond Smith, the youngest of the three brothers [Sir Charles (born 1800) – Spencer (born 1806) – Drummond (born 1812)] has long had a “sisterly following” due to his early death, aged only 20. In fact, a journal of his writings was sold at auction at the firm DOMINIC WINTER in July 2013:

  • 294 Grand Tour. A manuscript fair hand journal of a European
    Grand Tour undertaken by Drummond Smith in 1832, 286 pp.,
    travelling [from Tring, Hertfordshire] through France, Germany, Italy
    and with most time spent in Sicily, a total of seven weeks, partly in
    the company of Mr Odell and Lord Ossory, the latter half containing
    copy letters sent home, all in a neat and uniform hand written up
    soon after (paper watermarked 1832), contemp. morocco gilt, lacks
    upper cover, 4to     (1) £200-300

I am familiar with an alternate copy of this same journal – how I WISH I had heard back from the auctioneer’s, or the current owner! I have so much to offer regarding the “history” of Drummond Smith and especially this “last” journey.

But I digress.

Spencer Smith, heretofore, was seen solely through the eyes of his sisters and mother – I knew a few things about him, but rather the basics of where he was, or what he liked to do. I’d never “HEARD HIS VOICE”. And yes, as the only long-surviving member of the Smith family (later, his children use the surname of “Spencer-Smith”, which evolved into Hamilton-Spencer-Smith and back to Spencer-Smith again), there were impressions I had of him that I could not have of his brothers.

His letters are less joking, less consciously “witty” than those of young Drummond; more matter-of-fact – they are touching in their very quietude. Who knew the young man had such depth; certainly not from sisterly tales of his mis-placed gun or his newly-acquired horse! Or the image Mamma put in my brain of the lolling youth enjoying 6 Portland Place, London, on his own. The letters are mainly to his sister FANNY SMITH (Mrs Richard Seymour), some to his brother – especially when Drummond, following Spencer’s footsteps, was a student at Harrow.

Some Spencer letters were written from his tutor’s, at Iver; some from Harrow; a few from the abodes of later tutors – Mr Blount at Clare and Mr Boudier at Warwick; the ones I’m currently transcribing hail from Oxford (Balliol College).

All of this came at a most opportune moment: for I was thinking about girl versus boy education; home versus institution.

Finding – about six or seven years ago – Christopher Tyerman’s A HISTORY OF HARROW SCHOOL is how I came across a copy book of young Drummond’s letters: they were quoted in a chapter covering Butler’s regime (1820s). When I first found the citations there was just NO DOUBT it was the right family: Drummond’s correspondent was his sister, Fanny Smith.

tyerman_harrow

Due to Spencer Smith’s letters from Harrow, I recently re-read this particular chapter.

And I’m not sure I wouldn’t have preferred the “girl” route to education! My… what rowdy goings-on… among these boys. I invite you to read Tyerman’s History for yourself.

Unlike Drummond, who was in Dr. George Butler‘s house, Spencer Smith was at Hog Lane House, with Mr Evans. Mr Evans – Spencer tells us to pronounce the name “Ivins”, to differentiate him from another Evans “higher up in the town” – figures in Tyerman’s book: He was a rival candidate in the headmaster search that ultimate brought Butler into the position.

The Smith boys, of course, would never have envisioned that their Letters from Harrow could one day tell historians about little lost episodes in the school’s life – as well as in the lives of several “boys” resident therein during the 1810s and 1820s.

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“Jane, is that you?”

November 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm (history, people, portraits and paintings) (, , , , )

The “Jane” in question here is not Jane Austen but Jane Perceval, wife then widow of Spencer Perceval the British Prime Minister murdered in 1812.

Although my first volume of Smith & Gosling biography begins in 1814 – the history surrounding the PM’s death two years prior is vital: Spencer Perceval was a relative of Mamma Smith’s brother-in-law Charles, 1st Marquess of Northampton. The Marquess’s son, young Lord Compton, ended up in Parliament soon thereafter. Several letters discuss the Percevals — Jane and her children — during the immediate aftermath of the assassination.

One letter, written by Jane herself, has her on the defensive against an out-cry caused by the widow’s upcoming remarriage. Emma Smith mentions the fact of her marriage to “Sir H. Carr” (no embellishments) in her 1815 diary.

The woman, obviously distraught at the negativism, and combating an illness, was pleading her case at such length, that I simply had to find out more about her. And that’s when I came across this purported portrait on the blog PottoingAround. It went up for auction in May 2014.

janeperceval_vigee lebrun

A major  “anniversary” year in 2012 (200 years since the assassination), there started some thoughts on commemorating Perceval; at least one biography came out; some press articles &c. It is less his death than how the family responded and coped that interests me. I’ve read of similar backlash when Mrs Thrale (who made no bones about how unhappy Henry Thrale made her) married Mr. Piozzi. “Public opinion” as well as private sentiments were making themselves felt in this case, however — especially as Mrs Perceval had been granted a generous “pension”. This remains an area I’ll have to delve into a bit more, just out of curiosity.

This portrait, a pastel by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, dates to 1804. The French artist was resident in England at the time, so the fact of it being her work seems not in question. What IS questioned is the identification of the sitter.

It’s difficult to compare portraits – and say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on various representations looking like each other: there are too many portrait series where the sitter is KNOWN and the portraits look very little alike (I might, as a quick for instance, mention Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s several portraits).

For my purposes, I sure HOPE this is Jane Perceval. Hands-down, it would win my case; for I wish to call Jane Perceval, in May 1812, a ‘vibrant’ woman in her forties. No one viewing this portrait would be immune to the charms of this face just eight years later.

* * *

  • More info on Vigée Le Brun, the terrific Batguano site (this pastel is near the top of the page)
  • the “hidden in plain sight” family history of an MP
  • recent news on a Spencer Perceval memorial plaque

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Anne Rushout’s Sketchbook

November 20, 2014 at 11:40 am (diaries, entertainment, history, places, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , , )

One of the MANY (many….) people peppering the Smith & Gosling papers is Anne Rushout, a beauty painted several times, and an artist of some merit. I first wrote about her when a search turned up a rather extravagant gavel price for a portrait of Anne and her sisters – Regency “It” Girls – all three of whom figure tangentially in my research, depending on which family members one follows.

The eagle-eyes of author Charlotte Frost (Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician) spotted this new-ish blog (thanks, Charlotte!) under the delightful name of Wicked William – which has posted two series of Anne’s watercolors (click on photo).

While there, I also invite readers to also check-out WHY William was “wicked”….

Rushout_Mersey-towards-Toxteth-Park-1829

* Anne Rushout’s “Regency Tour“, from which comes the View of the Mersey (above)
* Anne Rushout’s Wanstead
* and a little background info on the Rushout sisters, especially Anne

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Behind the Scenes with Mrs Siddons

November 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm (books, diaries, entertainment) (, , )

I highly recommend the Journal of Emily Shore for anyone wishing to get inside the mid of a young and extremely inquisitive girl, covering 1830s England. Emily has a tangential relationship to the Smiths — in that her Great Aunt Susannah Smith (Mrs Thomas Smith, of Bersted Lodge) was also Emma’s Great Aunt (Thomas Smith being a brother of grandpapa Joshua Smith).

sarahsiddonsbanner

EXTRAS

At the point in time that Emily Shore is writing, it is 1836; she is staying with her aunt in Exeter. And one day, her diary remarks, the conversation turned to MRS SIDDONS – this immediately caught my eye because the Smith letters occasionally have mentioned seeing her act – including, if I’m not mistaken, in her famous role as Lady Macbeth; and I also am reading a biography of her niece, Fanny Kemble: A Reluctant Celebrity by Rebecca Jenkins – which (of course!) tells tales from behind the curtain.

But the little story which I relate here — (I invite you to read Emily Shore’s journal for the full Siddons-story), is so humorous that one sees a far different (off-stage) Mrs Siddons.

Emily’s Aunt Bell was staying with her aunts Mrs Smith and Lady Mayo — and the party was being entertained at the neighboring home of Lord Arran.

How I wish Emily had mentioned a date! for there are several mentions of Mrs Siddons in Smith family diaries. Without that I have only Emily’s recollection of someone else’s story – and it is perhaps in the retelling that the tale takes on a bit of mirth:

Mrs Siddons “was, of course, to be considered the queen of the party; but as there was not a woman in the house who did not by right rank above her, much manoeuvring was employed to raise her above them. When Aunt Bell dined there, she was curious to see how this object would be effected. A little before the company was summoned to dinner, Mrs. Siddons vanished; and while they entered the dining-room at one door, behold, she was seen entering like a queen by herself at the other.”

Emily had a few choice words to say about Lord Arran, but I only include here her anecdote that continues a visit of Mrs Siddons:

She sometimes read Shakespeare to the party, on which occasions Lord A. always took care to have a scenes ready, and was himself invariably prepared with tears and pocket-handkerchief.

Even with all the jockeying and histrionics, what I wouldn’t give for an evening’s front row seat to a Mrs Siddons recitation!

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