The Case of the “Noble Torso”

July 2, 2015 at 11:30 am (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , )

Research can be exhilarating…

Research can be frustrating….

And some days, there’s a little bit of BOTH the ‘high’ and the ‘low’!

bright star_letter

When a letter was delivered, it was all nice and tight in its “wrapper”. By the time it’s gotten into an archive (perhaps after being at auction, or in the hands of some seller not family), envelopes are opened, letters are categorized, and sometimes… separated. Thus: the Noble Torso, as I am now calling such little widows and orphans.

As a for-instance: letters in a folder marked “Unidentified writers” => which can be due to illegible signatures or missing signatures. In here I found an interesting letter, all about the Smith’s LAST VISIT (in 1835 – puzzlingly; that was a good 7 or 8 months after they moved to Mapledurham House!) to Tring Park. I transcribed, relishing the tale of the garden (seen in May, and quite flourishing). Then – bang! – it ended in what seemed mid-thought.

I dipped into another folder, for there were two to choose from: one “dated” and another “undated”. I wasn’t having much luck “dipping”. So I decided: GIVE UP! Just start transcribing from the Beginning! and I opened the first image I had photographed in a “dated” file: and there IT was: the Noble Torso that finished a highly interesting story of a Young Buck, out shooting Rooks, whose shot (or shots?) was rather wild and wide off the mark: Poor Maria (Emma’s youngest sister) wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to shoot her!

FINALLY: a united LETTER!! (though, as a new “find” I still have to contact the archive, so physically, they are still apart…).

I then looked for the widow of yet another orphaned Noble Torso: and THERE its companion was (though not as *dramatic* a moment as that first “find”).

I must confess here, that in England I grew rather fond of Emma and (especially!!!) Mamma = for theirs were the letters (and diaries) I brought home in 2007 (and have worked with since). Fanny, the middle sister, I was giving a lecture on that summer, so she too I grew to know more about — yet it was different to being immersed in her thoughts and feelings via letters. Now, with an influx of more correspondence – and from the likes of Fanny (or to her) and Maria and even dear Spencer – I feel as if I’m getting to know each of them. A tight family unit, and yet still individuals, with quirks & foibles, passions & set-backs, all their own.

Frustrating … and … EXHILARATING!

 

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Recreating Austen’s Silk Pelisse

June 13, 2015 at 7:40 pm (fashion, history, jane austen, news, research) (, , , )

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve read as fascinating an article as Hilary Davidson’s “Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812-1814″ (available thru her Academia.edu account)

Originally published in Costume (vol. 49, no. 2, 2015), her uploaded articles includes all the illustrations under discussion in the article, and is a thorough piece of investigative writing. Taking into consideration not only the Jane Austen provenance (a indelicately-worded letter helped cast the shadow…), but also insights into construction and sewing, cost and “fashion”, the article should interest readers who want more information on

  • Jane Austen
  • Regency fashion
  • English fashion & textiles
  • costume construction
  • conservation & recreation strategies for museum pieces

And a TON of other topics.  In short, HIGHLY recommended!

fashion 1819

Seen only in photographs, I’ve never been super impressed with the Austen garment. After reading about it in a fair amount of depth – it perhaps does suffer “age and infirmity”. It just looks so crumpled.

Their reproduction, reinstating some closures the original must have had (but doesn’t any more), has a much greater stiffness – and is well served by a tall, exceptionally-thin young woman.

The Austen Pelisse is considered in conjunction with several theoretical and actual garments – including Barbara Johnson’s excellent “book” of fabrics and fashions (reproduced in commercial book form as A Lady of Fashion) and a lovely garment from the V&A.

_I_ was quite surprised to see that the original garment has been sewn using “nine stitches to the inch” – which seemed a surprisingly low number (when hand-quilting and piecing is considered…; a reason I used to stay away from hand-sewing or quilting!).

And how interesting to read about the shift in costs: in Austen’s day the labor was nothing… nowadays a greater consideration. But, read the chart (p. 217) and you will see along with me how pitiful the wages of someone making less than 8 shillings! (For, unless you owned the business, the money did not go solely to the sewer — rather like a car mechanic today [ie, expensive labor rates!].) £300 was the labor cost for their replica. A far cry from the 2008 “equivalent” of 8 shillings: £20.

austen pelisse

I don’t know what else to say about this incredibly-informative article – other than: READ IT for yourself.

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Is Anybody There???

June 11, 2015 at 9:37 am (history, news, research) (, , )

Have been transcribing letters – little “holes” in the narratives of Sir Charles Joshua Smith, for one. The last letter of his transcribed, late last night, is a short one to “Aunt” (Judith Smith, Charles Smith senior’s only remaining sister). Charles is thanking her for the gift of a pencil (of all things!). Could it be a birthday gift? He was born at the end of May. If so, which birthday? The letter is undated.

Only one postal mark and that for PLACE (Chigwell) rather than a date (though a postal historian might be able to say “only in use during the years blah-to-blah”). My gut tells me it is earlier rather than later. Why? Because it’s address to Miss J. Smith / The Grove / Stratford rather than Mrs. J. Smith / Stratford / Essex – like a couple of later letters that I CAN date.

That’s my theory, anyway… (hint: Aunt never married, but at some point, like Cassandra Austen, took on “brevet rank” [to use Cassandra’s words].)

One other letter, newly transcribed (for I had got some images last December thanks to Emily), is precious: Charles’ reactions to the newly-announced engagement of Emma with Edward Austen!!

Austen_Emma

It’s tough – I read letters that delicately sprinkle FABULOUS news, like a light, refreshing summer shower. I put an un-ID’ed face next to one that HAS its identification and find more images of the same person, sometimes (thank, you, God) throughout a lifetime. Looking through pictures last night, it DAWNED on me: “Addie and Johnson” wasn’t a photography of Adela Smith with a child named Johnson; ADDIE WAS THE CHILD! and “Johnson” the nursemaid! So I had therefore pictures of Addie from about the age of 3 and up.

Wunderbar!

Except: WHO is around to share my excitement? It’s tough.

And that is where the “title” of this blog comes into play.

Most of my “contacts” are in England; I am in New England. People from work never write. My mother has sighed and rolled the eyes enough that I no longer tell her my finds, little or BIG. My father has taken to constantly asking, “Where the Book?” (Got three chapters, Daddy, but also a LOT of letters to go through.)

Chatting on Sunday (my talk for JASNA-Vermont, on Emma’s Aunt Emma), with Kirk – he mentioned enjoying my blog! I was honest: Truly, (I said), I’m never sure…

And he asked, “Have you ever heard 1776?”

I knew it WAS a film, but one I’ve never seen; never seen it on stage either. And Kirk then told me something which niggled at me the rest of the evening, until I looked it up (thank, you, YouTube!) next morning. “Is Anybody There?” sings John Adams, “Does anybody Care? Does anybody see what I see??” A sobering series of thoughts. Listen for yourself, to singer Randal Keith.

is anybody

Randal Keith

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Miss Mary A. Leigh

June 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings)

Janeite Kelly:

TWO years ago – and I *finally* got CONFIRMATION => in the shape of a companion photo, in an ALBUM, with an ID.

IT’S HER!!!!

Originally posted on Two Teens in the Time of Austen:

mary augusta austen leighs

As mentioned a few days ago, Paul Frecker’s website includes a photo by Camille Silvy of a woman identified as “Miss Mary A. Leigh” — my immediate thought: Mary Augusta Austen Leigh?

Truthfully: I just don’t know!

On the left is Frecker’s sitter, ID’ed as sitting number 10,508 taking place on 10 July 1862 – which puts her in Silvy’s Daybook 8. The National Portrait Gallery has an extensive “gallery” of the Daybooks. They, however, are not exceptionally enlightening on this young lady.

Mary Augusta Austen Leigh (right) was a younger daughter of Emma Smith and Edward Austen Leigh (see their portraits); she was born on 2 February 1838, her aunt Mary’s 38th birthday! It is a curious fact that Emma’s diaries all have pages cut out whenever she delivers a child. 1838 is no different. These pages are missing, and a small notation in pencil “2d Mary Augusta…

View original 358 more words

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Macklin & Aunt Emma

June 8, 2015 at 12:19 pm (books, diaries, history, jane austen, jasna, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , )

I want to thank JASNA-Vermont for inviting me to speak at their June gathering yesterday – and for dipping with me in the waters of RESEARCH into the family of the Austens. So little time, so MUCH information! My illustrated talk entitled “The Mystery of Emma Austen’s Aunt Emma” was an “interactive” presentation – and people really spoke up, made observations, added comments, asked questions. It was GREAT! Later, one audience member even told me my “research reads like a thrilling mystery!” Heartening words, indeed. No one can ever guess the “desert” a writer *feels* to be stranded in, when the research is this intensive and taking years to produce something substantive.

pen and letters

I figure I’m closing in on a THOUSAND letters and several HUNDRED diaries – and more turns up. I just returned (after midnight, last friday…) from a research jaunt to New York City.

Very helpful staff at NYU, where I spent most of the day, every day, Monday through Friday morning. And I am just *bowled over* by the staff of the Morgan Library – from the security guide near the door, to the gentleman who brought me up to the third floor reading room; and the library people – especially the ladies in the reading room = helpful – chatty – friendly. Just an exceptionally pleasant experience. Pity I ran out of time. BUT: I saw my LONG-AWAITED letter from Humphry Repton to Papa Smith => an even BETTER read than I had hoped. Repton was thanking Papa for paying him…, but also writing in SUCH a friendly manner, and even including Mamma in his thoughts. Pure GOLD!

repton

Now if only his RED BOOK for Suttons would turn up!

Then I turned my eyes to the special editions of Walter Scott works. My memory is that they were presented — by Compton and his sister Lady Elizabeth — to LORD Northampton; but I swear at least one of the volumes said LADY Northampton! Will have to revisit the Morgan’s catalogue, and also my notes. AND revisit the Morgan – for I ran out of time before I ran out of volumes.

The Scott works were not only specially bound for the Marquess / Marchioness, they included pen and ink drawings done by Lord Compton – his fiancée and then wife Margaret Maclean Clephane / Lady Compton – and Lady Elizabeth Compton. One volume, The Lady of Lake, included a “letter” (for lack of a better description) in which Compton (I think it was his handwriting) outlined ALL the drawings – and also who they were drawn by, as well as their source (if applicable). Imagine my SURPRISE to see that THREE were listed to have as a source “William Gosling, Esq”!!!

At first, glancing at the paper, I thought it said it INCLUDED drawings by William Gosling. ARGH! that that was NOT the case. But: this helps with a mini-mystery about William (described as “the banker of Fleet Street” in the citation I unearthed) drawing STOWE in circa 1814. These volumes for the Northamptons are of a similar period, and just the fact that the Compton children included the word “esquire” in his name indicates to me that they are saying drawings of the father rather than William Ellis Gosling, the son (though William Ellis Gosling of an age with Compton & Elizabeth, he was still at College in 1814).

The especially LOVED to illustrate Lake Katrine!

Lady of Lake

In one short word: WOW! is all I can say about having another clue that William Gosling (Mary’s Papa) was an accomplished artist – for if he was mediocre, the Comptons would not have wanted to “copy” his work, surely. And their own work is…. ASTOUNDING! such meticulous strokes; interesting compositions; accurate representation of things like crumbling castles.

I should perhaps remind readers that Margaret, Lady Compton, was a ward (along with her two younger sisters – altogether often referred to as the Clephane Sisters of Torloisk) of Walter Scott. Even Edward Austen Leigh adored the works of Sir Walter.

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Old Sir John’s young love

May 29, 2015 at 5:22 pm (diaries, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , )

A year later, and I am still transcribing letters from last spring, last fall. While other items wait, and more items come in.

Gotta LOVE it and HATE it.

So, a few days ago, I was back to transcribing letters from a collection in New York; late letters of Mamma (Mrs. Augusta Smith, Emma’s mother). I am trying to write about the 1810s and here am I immersed in the 1840s. BUT this news is too good not to share!

It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher.

Mamma’s youngest daughter, Maria, I already knew was the object of pursuit by her brother-in-law’s brother. The Rev. Richard Seymour wrote in his diary that his elder brother the Rev. Sir John Culme-Seymour had begun making inquiries about young Maria Smith. I wrote about Richard’s diary entries for The Chronicle (publication of the Berkhamstead Local History & Museum Society) last year:

“Letter from Dora in w:h she tells me that J: had divulged to her his g:t admiration of & strong penchant for M – and leaves me to act upon her information.”

Of course _I_ knew – from history, as well as Richard’s diary, that Maria accepted Sir John’s proposal. There were already two Seymour in-laws; Sir John made the third! Maria (born in 1814) accepted Sir John in the fall of 1843. He was a widower whose wife had died in 1841, leaving him with three children. It was Richard’s use of the word “penchant” which has always made me sit up and take notice.

And now this undated letter of Mamma’s…

Mrs Smith wrote in terms of “he” and “she” and at first I was guessing the name of the couple she described. Could it be…??? Surely it was some one else.

“I ought almost to apologize for not having written sooner… I had nothing to tell but conjectures”. “He was in high spirits & talked a good deal…. After that, he became a little graver & she perceived it, & told me her suspicions. She was still in a doubtful state; could think of his age, &c.”

Mamma, ready to let the “she” decide for herself, then plays with her audience, like a cat plays with a mouse – describing minute changes in attitude, attention, spirits, in both “she” and “he”.

“I am told he was dreadfully nervous, could not sleep, & was almost desponding.”

Then, she reports: “in the most respectful & timid manner he made known his attachment, dreading her answer”. The expected outcome is chronicled, but with an odd interjection: “When he had obtained her consent, he was indeed happy: his Family say, he never was in love before. He had been fearing me; & when they came home… you may be sure I received him most kindly… his age & his grey hair are no objections to me: it was the same case with my own dear Husband”.

Finally, she divulges the “she”: MARIA!

Maria Culme-Seymour2

So it IS Sir John who had the grey hair and a great age (he was closing in on 43). Mrs. Smith’s memories of her own youthful marriage to a widower tore at my heart – but back up even more and you’ll see the sentence that causes me concern: “his Family say, he never was in love before.” How can a widower’s family EVER so blot out a first wife??? And who makes up this “family”? — the in-laws (mother, sisters) of the very person Mrs. Smith is writing: her own daughter Fanny Seymour!

Thoughts now crowd into my head that had never been there before – about Sir John; about his first marriage to Elizabeth Culme (he took her name, with his own, by special license); about his penchant for little Maria Smith. Clearly, Sir John — who tackled Mrs. Smith when his brother Richard was looking to marry Fanny (a proposal by proxy) — was a man with a lot to offer, and yet had not the confidence to directly pursue his aims. But what is the meaning behind the words Mamma says came from his own womenfolk? Only time will tell. One source would have been Richard’s diary – but pages and passages are missing in the early years; and these passages may have covered the betrothal of John to Elizabeth.

At least Richard’s diaries are already transcribed… Now I just have to find the time to re-read them, with an eye to deciphering the past and future of Sir John Culme-Seymour.

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I’m a Single Lady!

May 23, 2015 at 6:40 pm (chutes of the vyne, diaries, history, jane austen, jasna, news, people, research) (, , , , )

In the post a few days ago: the latest edition of JASNA News – alas without my article on James Edward Austen and Tring. (Humphhh….)

Lots about the upcoming Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Louisville, on “Living in Jane Austen’s World”. (official website) VERY thrilling to hear the topic Amanda Vickery is expected to speak on: “No Happy Ending? At Home with Miss Bates in Georgian England”. The gist of the talk is “female-only households in Austen’s world, particularly those of declining status [like dear Miss Bates] and modest means.”

My research has several “female-only households” – from the top tier, with Lady Frances Compton (Lady Northampton’s sister-in-law) through to “Aunt,” Charles Smith’s (“Papa”) only living sister.

Then there was Mamma’s bachelorette sister: Emma Smith of Glenville — my Emma’s “Aunt Emma”.

Aunt Emma is at the heart of my upcoming talk for JASNA-Vermont — and if you’re in the neighborhood on Sunday, June 7th please come join us!

The Mystery of Emma Austen’s Aunt Emma
an interactive presentation

Sunday, 7 June 2015
1:00 PM

Champlain College
“Morgan Room”, Aiken Hall
(83 Summit Street)
Burlington, Vermont

PowerPoint slides will illustrate with images of the people & places you’ll never see on this blog – and YOU will help (re)solve the “mystery” surrounding Emma Smith. Is it a “scandal” or “much ado about nothing”? Evidence suggests class-economic-religious tensions, or a past well-hidden for two hundred years. Help us decide! Like Austen’s Sanditon or Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood, this mini-mystery relies on its audience to provide a sense of closure.

Letters provide our only clues! (This one written by Aunt Emma.)

BTW: Prior knowledge of JANE AUSTEN or her NOVELS are not necessary for taking part – the slides will help introduce Emma Austen and the family. Aunt Emma lived 1774-1858, her later life spent in Hampshire; we’ll cover the years (approximately) 1812 to 1843.

FREE and open to the public
parking on the street – and light refreshments

Want to come extra “prepared”? Email me (smithandgosling at gmail dot com) for a full Smith & Gosling family tree which you can then bring with you!

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Family of Benjamin Sharpe

April 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm (goslings and sharpe, history, news, people, portraits and paintings) (, , )

There are some AMAZING items in auctions. Some past ones have unearthed miniatures, letters, even a copy of Drummond Smith’s Sicily diary. Some auction houses are helpful; others are totally dismissive. Which is a great pity. Still, the images are free! And although the original image from the auction house was rather poor, I found an alternative site – and wanted to give everyone the opportunity of seeing what I found just last night.

The original auction took place in early 2013. These are silhouettes of the SHARPE family, which included William Gosling’s banking partner, Benjamin Sharpe — taken circa 1819! He was the “Sharpe” in the banking firm of Goslings & Sharpe.

sharpe family

Here’s the description:

  • “A collection of ten silhouettes relating to the Sharpe family of London bankers and comprising: Mrs Isabella Beetham [artist] – Oval portrait of a young woman wearing a lace bonnet, verso with Mrs Beetham’s trade label….and faintly inscribed Mrs Sharpe.”
  • “another of a young boy or girl with long hair”
  • “Attributed to Mrs Bull [artist] – Oval portrait of Mrs Sharpe wearing an elaborate hat, verso inscribed and dated 1788″
  • “two oval portraits of gentlemen, one inscribed to verso J.R. Sharpe”
  • “A group of four portraits of the children of Benjamin and Ann Sharpe, each with white highlights to their blue coloured clothing, each verso dated March 1823 and with respective script, Benjamin Sharpe aged 10 Years 4 Months born 16 November 1812, Elizabeth Isabella Sharpe aged 8 Years 3 Months born 9 December 1814, William Francis Sharpe aged 6 Years 7 Months born 31st August 1816 and John Charles Sharpe aged 4 Years 8 Months born 14 July 1818″
  • “Portrait of Benjamin Sharpe, inscribed to verso Gosling and Sharp (sic), B. Sharpe 1819
  • “an oval pencil miniature of Ann Sharpe, wife of Benjamin Sharpe”

sharpe family_backsides

IMAGINE: people Mary and her family actually knew!! So fascinating a find!

Estimate was £1000 to £1500; results only go back as far as September 2013, so I do not know for what price they actually sold.

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Torquay: Jane Austen letter from 1799

December 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm (jane austen, news, research) (, , )

The Mail Online has a complete transcription and (small) image of the letter, written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra in January 1799. In Deirdre Le Faye’s Jane Austen’s Letters it is letter No. 17; images appear in Jo Modert’s facsimile edition as F29.1 thru F29.4. The letter was gifted to the Torquay Museum by Hester Pengelly (Mrs Hester Forbes-Julian), daughter of one of the museum’s founders.

The BAD News is the museum hopes to SELL the letter at auction, undoubtedly the reason behind the current press release. More disappointing, however, is the notion that the letter was a “discovery” and “previously unseen”. Its rediscovery – for it was gifted in the 1930s – happened in 1989! And the museum’s own website claims that it “possible to view items by request” from this very collection [see link below].

NPG D1007; Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen

NB: note the comment that a word transcribed as “Moneydower” is MANYDOWN. What other transcription errors there may be is anyone’s guess. Read it in Le Faye or Modert instead.

Must confess the “headlines hoopla” leaves me as disappointed as the blogger at “Late Modern English Letters“. I thought it was truly a NEW discovery, until I spotted the SAME opening sentence in Le Faye. For I do believe that some day more Austen letters WILL come to light – “lost” in an archive, or a dusty attic, closet or trunk.

By the way, the other three letters Mrs Forbes-Julian donated are written by John Keats, Charlotte Brontë and Abraham Lincoln. I hope EACH of them goes to a facility where they are “gathered into the fold”, in the case of Austen’s – it would be nice to see the Hampshire Record Office, Chawton Cottage, or the Morgan Library put in a bid. (according to THIS link, it is a combined estimate, not solely the Austen holograph, that suggests a valuation of £200,000; of course this does NOT account for the current feeding frenzy of Anything Austen)

Still, rather sad to hear the fundraising potential of selling rather than having these items in their collection at the Torquay Museum. And really rather distasteful if the lady’s will specifically prohibited (strongly or by implication) a future sale of her gift. At the very least, it could be a move to rouse enough outcry that the Museum obtains funding while retaining their Hester Forbes-Julian Letter Collection (which the museum puts at “sixteen albums”) in toto.

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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…

* * *

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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