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).

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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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