History’s Eyes on Soo

July 10, 2016 at 12:01 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , , )

On Broadway, she’s played, sung, “lived and breathed,” Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, now Phillipa Soo puts pen to paper – writing the foreword to a new book about the wife & widow of Alexander Hamilton.

Soo-Miranda_Hamilton

Woo-HOO! Right?

Alas, the projected bio is to be a children’s picture book: “Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton”, by Margaret McNamara (Schwartz & Wade, fall 2017).

Great for youthful readers (for whom, I guess, the “clean” Broadway cast album has been produced – since the play has become a hit with school teachers), but what about the rest of us?! _I_ cannot be the only reader interested in hearing more about “The Schuyler Sisters”: Angelica, Eliza – and Peggy.

Their history is particularly relevant to those of us in the north-east U.S., so close to the action of Albany, New York, where Philip J. Schuyler (a “Revolutionary War general, U.S. Senator, and business entrepreneur”) lived in a lovely mansion that still exists — and can be visited.

Schuyler Mansion NY State Historic Site

Schuyler Mansion – a New York State Historic Site

Described on the website as, “The Georgian structure, reflecting Schuyler’s English tastes – was built on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River,” the house is open from May through October. Cost (in 2016 dollars) is a very reasonable $5.00 ($4 Seniors & Students; free for children under 12) [for groups, see their rate sheet]

  • NB: Combined tickets can be had for Crailo, the Van Rensselaer mansion, across the river.

Of course the main topic targeted is the life of Philip and Catharine (Van Rensselaer) Schuyler. ALTHOUGH there is a *special* tour offered this year (on selected days), “When Alexander Hamilton called Albany Home”. Surely, among the moments recounted will be Alexander’s marriage to Elizabeth – which took place here in 1780. [NOTE: THIS focus-tour is by reservation only]

Schuyler_Mansion interior

Maybe next year the Schuyler mansion will highlight Eliza Schuyler instead of Alexander Hamilton. One news story, about Phillipa Soo, highlights one reason I find Hamilton such a compelling listen:

“As Eliza, she’s got a trip through the ringer as the shy middle child of the wealthy, covetable Schuyler sisters; by falling for Hamilton in the first place, her fate is already sealed for a whole spectrum of heartbreak, including infidelity and, of course, death. She emerged as a key reason for the show’s emotional resonance, most especially delivered in her final-scene solo, in which she recounts Eliza’s accomplishments after her husband’s death, redeeming a somewhat lost historical figure through tears. It was the most notable part of Hamilton, for me—that Lin-Manuel Miranda would end the show by righting the essential erasure of a woman who was key to the creation of America”

— Julianne Escobado Shepherd

History finally has its eyes on you, Eliza! The lyrics to “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is an astonishing move for a play about Alexander Hamilton, bringing Elizabeth Hamilton fully into the spotlight. It would be nice to page through 800-pages of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography in order to pluck out of it Eliza’s story – but here’s hoping some one takes the baton from Margaret McNamara and delves deeper into the lives of the Hamilton women. As Shepherd quotes Soo saying upon first working on Hamilton, “‘Oh, I don’t really know that much about Alexander Hamilton, and who is this Eliza person that I’ve never heard about?’”

“History waiting to be unlocked,” is Soo’s understated summation of her involvement in the play. “I think it just reminds us that women have such a huge place in history but their voices weren’t necessarily as loud.”

Anyone following Hamilton will know that three leads ended their performances last night (July 9th). The New York Theater website has a concise history for the trio on the occasion of the “original cast” breaking up, including a link to Facebook footage of the “final curtain call” – which already has well over a MILLION views.

Soo moves on to another new musical – based on the de-light-ful French film, Amelie!! (If you’ve never watched the movie, run to get a copy; you’ll be ready to book a flight to Paris soon afterwards…)

* * *

Two personal notes: _I_ just love how a history-slash-biography BOOK can make a name (and money) for its author a decade after its publication. Writers dream of film and/or TV – few would dream of their work being the basis for a stage musical. Still, Hamilton shows what FRESH ideas can do for any industry.

Also, I have my father to thank for a LOT of my interest in Hamilton. Last summer (June, 2015) I dragged him down to New York City. A three-month, temporary job had just ended and I had LONGED to visit two archives, which, indeed, have given me SO MUCH Smith & Gosling material.

Everything fell so perfectly into place – I got a seat in the archive for the entire week; and found a place to live, a new Air B&B listing in Weehawken, New Jersey – just a bus ride through the Lincoln Tunnel, which offered parking (for we drove down from Vermont).

Although not affecting me (except when walking from/to the subway stop), the rain was so bad that parts of nearby New Jersey sustained flood damage. Yet, the rain kept my father – who wasn’t inclined to visit Manhattan on his own – close to “home”.

NYC 1 June 2015

It was he who discovered, just around the corner, near THIS FABULOUS view of Manhattan, this historic marker:

hamilton-burr duel

July 11, 1804

The most famous duel in American History took place on this date at the dueling grounds in Weehawken, between political rivals, General Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice-President of the United States, Colonel Aaron Burr. Hamilton fell mortally wounded, and died the next day in New York City.

Tragically, Hamilton’s son Philip had also met his death here in a duel in 1801.

Dedicated on July 11, 2004, the 200th Anniversary of the Duel.

* * *

Just for fun:

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Simon Callow remarks on his Orson Welles biographies

January 10, 2016 at 1:04 pm (books) (, , )

After a quarter-century AND with a fourth volume projected for the series, actor/writer Simon Callow‘s comments, thoughts, frustrations, and triumphs are a revelation! Actually make ME FEEL GOOD about my own work (though can two unknown English girls compare to the world-famous Welles?).

SO MANY “bells” going off, as I read:

  • “Multi-volume biographies are by no means encouraged in the trade…” [_I_ LOVE them; and the BIGGER the better (as long as the bio is GOOD…)]
  • “I [Callow] was determined that, unlike the Laughton book – for which I had simply seen all the films, read all the available published sources and interviewed a few easily accessible people – the Welles biography would be a work of serious scholarship.” [my emphasis]
  • “I crossed the US plundering archives, libraries and museums, obsessively photocopying and microfiching, peering at blurred and fuzzy documents which took long and painful months to decipher; I went through the European collections, I tracked down obscure doctoral theses, again painstakingly photocopied – no internet, no email, back then, of course.” [1989 marked the inception of the project]
  • “If I had carried on, the book would have been hernia-inducingly heavy, and it would have been a gabble.” [Callow on WHY there’s to be a fourth volume]
  • “He [Welles] was fearless in his experiments, and he never did any of it for the money, just for the sheer joy of making films. Because of this, he has inspired more directors than any other film-maker, but he leaves no legacy” [that is a SAD thought to have about such an artist]

Click on book to read The Guardian‘s article

welles_callow

“Lives don’t have plots, they have
only movements and phases. The good biographer tries
to resist the rut of merely telling one thing after another…”
— reviewer, Anthony Quinn

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Poetry & Biography

December 5, 2015 at 8:01 pm (books) (, , )

Received notice in the mail of an upcoming (January 2016) biography:

lola ridge

Read more about the author, Terese Svoboda or the book,
Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet
click the cover photo

Lola Ridge was born in 1873 in Dublin; she emigrated first to New Zealand and then the U.S. Her first book of poetry, The Ghetto and Other Poems came out in 1918. Her papers are held at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.

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Georges Simenon & The Age of Aquarius

January 26, 2014 at 1:08 pm (books, history, news, research) (, , , , , )

suttons_Mary-silhouette2Mary Gosling (aka Lady Smith) and I are both born under the sign of Aquarius: Mary born February 2nd; me on February 4th. Although I have never had a horoscope cast, I am a keen reader of the generic tidbits that turn up in newspapers. These past several months there have been several that spoke to the writer in me. I cannot express how comforting these “predictions” feel. When no one “known” to me (as I call it, in my daily life) seems to care whether this project breathes life, or dies on the vine, I take courage from these Aquarian words of encouragement.

So imagine my opening the local paper 7 Days and finding this juicy morsel to chew upon this week:

“The Aquarian author Georges Simenon (13 Feb 1903 – 1989) wrote more than 200 novels under his own name and 300 more under pseudonyms. On average, he finished a new book every 11 days. Half a billion copies of his books are in print. I’m sorry to report that I don’t think you will ever be as prolific [me neither…] in your own chosen field as he was in his. However, your productivity could soar to a hefty fraction of Simenon-like levels in 2014 — if you’re willing to work your ass off. Your luxuriant fruitfulness won’t come as easily as his seemed to. But you should be overjoyed that you at least have the potential to be luxuriantly fruitful.”

I thought drafting a novel (still in first-draft mode, many years later) in a summer a feat of diligence. Eleven days? Yow! I’ve read Simenon (been a while though), and only in English of course. I do remember enjoying them; and, of course, got turned on to them via TV’s Maigret series (the French series also ran locally, from time to time).

Mary and I certainly ‘hoo-ray’ the idea of being ‘luxuriantly fruitful’ in getting ahead in our project. And here comes Emma, and even Mamma, to add their voices to the mix….

I’ve been finishing (not yet finished though) Book of Ages and was wonderfully surprised to see the fanaticism shown by Jared Sparks in hunting down, amassing, and even acquiring “original” Benjamin Franklin documents. I, too, have that fever! It rages, flames, and settles as embers, only to rage again as certain items come to light – a new batch of letters, an unknown portrait. It is exciting, but it takes T-I-M-E. Certainly more than eleven days.

Addendum: I knew I had mentioned Mr Darcy and Aquarius before; see also my October 2013 post.

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Now on Kindle = Two Teens in the Time of Austen: Random Jottings, 2008-2013

September 2, 2013 at 11:21 am (books, introduction, news, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

cover-twoteens

Smith&GoslingThe biography A Memoir of Jane Austen, compiled by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh, was first published in 1870 (2nd edition on google.books). In 1911, daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh wrote down Edward’s own life history. Two Teens in the Time of Austen dramatizes events in the lives of Edward’s beloved wife Emma Smith (1801-1876) and her friend and sister-in-law Mary Gosling (1800-1842).

It is Emma’s eventual connection to the Austens of Steventon which gives this project its very name!  (The fact that the diaries of both girls begin in the period that saw Austen’s publications, doesn’t hurt either.)  Celebrate with me five years of uncovering the lives of the Smiths & Goslings. You can even “click to Look Inside“. Lightly edited, and highly rearranged, “Random Jottings” (estimated at 170 pages) serves as an introduction to the world of my Two Teens from posts published since the start of their blog.

For a limited time, Random Jottings also includes the opening pages of their biography (volume 1, Two Teens in the Time of Austen) and *all new* images of Mary and Emma. Available only at Amazon [Amazon.co.uk; Amazon.ca; Amazon.de (alas, not auf deutsch)]

UPDATE: since Kindles don’t (yet) allow for image zooming, the two pedigrees:

 

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McCullough on 60 Minutes

July 1, 2013 at 8:55 am (books, history, travel) (, , , , , , , )

Spend a half-hour with historian David McCullough (and Morley Safer!). I love the segment filmed in Paris… Makes me want to BE THERE. And a bonus: Olivia de Havilland!

mccullough

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The Biographer’s Craft

May 10, 2013 at 11:00 am (books, diaries, history, jane austen, research) (, , , , , , , , )

Having joined (a few months ago) Biographers International Organization — BIO, for short of course! — I feel (momentarily, at least) among kindred spirits. In today’s email box a new edition of the Society’s Newsletter, The Biographer’s Craft. There are short news articles, a list of biographies just hitting the shelves, a member interview or two.

Until six years ago (almost to the day!), I worked as a staff member at a local college. Oh, how I wanted to rewrite my life! It’s been more like a re-run… Once the economy tanked… Well, I don’t expect I have to say more than that to you. But at the college (university-aged students, for those of you in the UK), I had a few kindreds: people who read books; people who travelled; people who did research, wrote, and published. Not that the professors thought of little ol’ me as far as research went! One prof thought I’d do well writing fiction (rather than history / biography). Another wanted to know, ‘Why is there so much material on these people?’ Luck of the draw, would be my answer to that unanswerable question. Her project? a diary that someone else had transcribed and left voluminous notes about – but she taught me how much can be deduced from so little primary material. I, on the other hand, do have diaries and letters, sketchbooks, printed biographies, &c, &c.

So reading the latest edition of The Biographer’s Craft, my mind was engaged by a couple of bits and pieces:

There’s an upcoming (in NYC) conference – among the roundtables, talks, lectures are two sessions, one entitled Diary of a Biographer: How Authors Lived Their Lives While Writing Someone Else’s and another called Almost Famous: Biographies of Wives, Sisters, Fathers, Lovers of the Famous. The second intrigues me; but I’ll mention the first first.

“Just starting out” means no one cares about my unearthing anything about Mary Gosling and Emma Smith; few know about the project (oh, you lucky few! those reading this post…); people who know me sometimes ask about it with the questioning tone in their voice that says, Are you still working on that?

smith-gosling_silhouette1

I think about these families, the Smiths and Goslings, day and night.

I travel with them — right now I’ve just ridden over the Simplon Pass on a mule, enjoyed the beauty of the tremendous mountain scenery, and quaked at the dangerous precipices. This comes from a diary I’m currently transcribing, dated 1827.

I moan over letters I know to be out there, but have remained (some time) unread.

I bemoan pictures and silhouettes and miniatures which may be out there, unattributed; and lament those I, again, know to exist but which haven’t been shared with me.

scenes from lifeWhen I bought my little copy of Scenes from Life at Suttons, a book of “poetry” in which the Smiths go about their daily business of reading, or having breakfast, because I know these people, from their letters, from their diaries, I could hear them speak. For others, however — those with glazing-over eyes who maybe never can share my passion, their lack of enthusiasm sometimes colors my day. So it’s nice to think of writers (some QUITE successful) inhabiting this world. I feel less alone when I read an issue of The Biographer’s Craft.

And I feel invigorated. Take the topic of Almost Famous. Although other materials exist in public archives, the vast majority of materials exist because of Emma’s connection to Jane Austen. I know that. I also know that Austen herself is the interest for the 99%. When I gave a lecture on letters, I asked for a show of hands: How many of my audience had read some of Austen’s Letters. Very few hands went up. More had read a biography of her.

I read biographies of the “almost famous” because of the circle of people they knew, the time period, and of course the connection to England. But we 1% are a GREAT minority in Austen Studies. It’s a small group for me to target — and yet if more Austen readers would find my Emma and Mary, they’d find a story not far removed from Austen’s novels. Will my books ever excite the attention of Jo Baker’s Longbourn… I have a feeling, probably not. Yet: It Should! My Two Teens led fabulous lives, so ordinary in some respects, so unusual in other respects. And the “times” they lived through: the Regency, political strife, war, a changing “welfare” state, the young Victoria ascending the throne. I always think of them as starting in the horse-age and proceeding through the steam-age into the age of trains.

I have long said that I would LOVE to see a volume (probably a set of books would be required) in which ALL the Austen family letters were published — Jane’s among them, all chronological, and of course highly annotated. But if 1% only want to buy such a book, it will never be published.

mozartA favorite book of mine on Mozart is Ruth Halliwell’s The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context; why can’t there be a book about Jane Austen that treats her entire family circle in such a manner?!? Again, if 99% buy Longbourn, who’s left to care about “lives in a social context”?

And yet, when I see a book on the “used” market which is scarce and hard to come by – quite often, unless I’m quick, another one-percenter snaps it up!

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Kirkus Reviews Real Jane Austen (Byrne)

January 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

Two weeks before publication, those of us without a subscription to Kirkus can read a book’s review. Hard to tell, really, whether the unnamed reviewer of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is enthusiastic or slightly bored.

real austenWhat makes me say that? The very first sentence: “For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae.”

Obsessives?!? {must say, I rather resent such a word}

Long stretches of minutiae?

I wrote of liking the progression through the life of Mary Delany in Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden (highly recommended!); and really appreciated the idea of a focus on objects as a way to talk about Austen’s life (granted, the “facts” are well-known).

That “she [Austen] was more worldly than many might suspect” elicits an ‘of course’ response from me. Even those stuck in a small village had news from the “outside” – via papers, letters, visitors.  But I must hold judgement in the value of Byrne’s supposition that “the author was ‘a very well-travelled woman’…” VERY well-travelled? Certainly not to the degree of the Smiths & Goslings, with their sometimes lengthy trips to the Continent, never mind frequent travel through much of southern England and several branchings-off into Wales. Young Edward Austen (Emma’s eventual husband, and son of James Austen – Jane’s eldest brother) does not seem to have had half the opportunity of young Emma to learn languages and travel abroad.

In general, how does Byrne measure “well-travelled”?

To comments culled from Byrne that Austen “‘very much enjoyed shopping'” and “was ‘a dedicated follower of fashion’…”, I can only add that I see the same evidence in my Two Teens.

Can’t wait to read more about the “phobia” Byrne saddles Austen with, when it comes to childbirth. I think women held no illusions 200-years ago about childbirth, and just the amount of deaths associated with it within one’s circle of acquaintance should have given any woman pause. But does it really come across in the book as a ‘phobia’? Time will tell, once I’ve read it!

Do _I_ expect revelations? Hardly. The primary materials currently in use typically recycle the same “facts”. A lot about Paula Byrne’s new biography will depend on presentation and writing.

I expect my copy in early February…

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Lady Morgan’s Memoirs

September 29, 2012 at 11:25 am (books, history, people) (, , , , , , , )

I first came across Lady Morgan through John Waldie. Waldie has a connect with Langham Christie and the online items from his diaries give a fascinating glimpse of the theatrical and musical world during the long nineteenth century.

Today I was pulling books off shelves and out of their floor piles to augment my much-neglected online bibliography. Found a few forgotten print-outs, and finally located some I’d been searching the house for: they are always in the LAST place you look, huh?!

So while trying to find the URL for one of my “is this where that had gotten to” items, I found online the two volumes of Lady Morgan’s Memoirs

Sydney Owenson lived a glittering life (c1776-1859); two of her travel book volumes are online as well.

  • Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, Diaries and Correspondence (1862): vol. I; vol. II
  • France in 1829-30 (1830) vol. I; vol. II {dedicated to General Lafayette!}
  • Lady Morgan’s fiction and other writings at Internet Archive

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Enter Stage Right: Sir William Knighton

April 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm (books, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , )

We are in conversation (part II) with biographer Charlotte Frost, about her new book Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician:

[NB: read part 1]

Q: Did you hope to find a certain story in Knighton’s life? Did what you uncover answer that initial thought, or were you constantly uncovering new and different twists?

Charlotte Frost: More a matter of what I hoped not to find. Had I discovered that Knighton had done something truly shameful I would have had to include it. That’s why I hesitated about contacting Knighton’s descendants. I didn’t want to be welcomed into their homes or be given copies of private family documents, only to publish a damning account of their forebear. And finding a dark, sinister side to Knighton would have wrecked my wonderful Word master plan for a sympathetic biography!

Q: In researching the career of Knighton, was there a particular question or historical conundrum you hoped to answer? Did the answer appear?

CF: I failed to identify why Knighton was sceptical about some of the medical education he received in London. New medical ideas were evolving in France, but I don’t know whether he was exposed to them.

Q: Was there any surprise in what you found out about Knighton, his career, his biography, his family?

CF: I was taken aback by discrepancies between the Memoir’s account of Knighton’s early years and the account suggested in primary sources. The explanation perhaps died with those who knew it, or it may survive in oblique references yet to be discovered.

Q: What about the period interested you the most?

CF: It was a gentler era than those that preceded it. When Knighton was accused of corruption he was satirised in a cartoon, not put on the rack. The cruellest forms of execution became unacceptable, and were abolished. Injustices still thrived, but they began to be seen for what they were.

Q: Where there other characters — those people whom Knighton knew or encountered — whom you wished to spend more time on?

CF: Knighton’s dealings with the poets and radicals in the 1810s needs more attention. Timely journal article seeks author!

Q: You list many books in your bibliography; was there any one or two books that you particularly would recommend to students of the period?

CF: For all its difficulties, I recommend the Memoir. The universal financial insecurity of the age is reflected in pleas for Knighton’s intervention from educated men too ill or old to continue their professions. His Seymour in-laws experienced the same difficulties as every naval family. Knighton was not the only man of his era to examine his soul in the light of Evangelical preaching. And his contempt for and alarm at popular protest is that of a generation that grew up in fear of revolution.

Q: The nature of primary research means that we find what still exists; is there any item(s) you wanted to find, or had hoped still existed?

CF: An unfinished portrait of Knighton’s wife, Dorothea, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. And miniatures of Knighton, Dorothea and their daughter that Knighton commissioned before he went to Spain.

Q: Have you any stories to pass along about doing primary research? (Gaining access to archives? transcriptions? old and fragile items? etc)

CF: I have some wonderful memories of research, but I’m haunted by the time, money and energy I’ve wasted. Reading a London street directory on microfilm, I mistook Knighton’s first London address for No 23 Argyll Street. Only after several years in search of corroborative evidence did I discover from a printed directory that he lived at No 28, which I was immediately able to confirm. I made numerous visits to The National Archives for information that was held at the Royal College of Surgeons, and I pestered the British Library for a copy of a print held at the British Museum.

Q: How did your family handle “living with the Knightons”?

CF: My significant other refers to Knighton as ‘the other man’, and is relieved to see him in print.

Q: Please describe for our readers former projects; future projects.

A: I have been a late learner, not taking my first degree until I was thirty, and not rediscovering a childhood love of history until I was in my forties. Until now my historical output has been researching and reporting in response to community history requests, giving occasional talks and submitting work for academic assessment. If I had to put a label on myself, I’d say ‘independent researcher’ but not ‘independent scholar’. My biography of Knighton marks my transition to author — someone who has found her voice. I don’t rule out further academically assessed study, but at present I feel ‘essayed out’. I want to do my own work, not what other people think I should do. But to stay fresh and sharp I need to keep in touch with academic life. I can’t bask in a post-publication comfort bubble.

I’ve started investigating loans that the Prince of Wales and his brothers incurred in a few short years in the late 1780s-early 1790s. Not biography, but the story behind each loan – who were the lenders, did they get their money back and, if not, how did they cope? I don’t yet know whether I’m revealing a gripping tale of suicide, assassination and missing diamonds, or wasting my time with two-hundred-year-old allegations that can be neither proved or disproved.

Find Sir William Knighton online:

 Charlotte Frost, Sir William Knighton: The Strange Career of a Regency Physician
info & purchase through Authors OnLine
the book’s page at Amazon.co.uk
Charlotte Frost’s author page at Amazon.co.uk

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