OPERATION PIED PIPER – Guest Post by Alix Rickloff

OPERATION PIED PIPER                

WWII was declared on September 1st 1939, and by the end of that month over 800,000 London school children had been evacuated to the countryside ahead of the expected German bombardment.

Planning for Operation Pied Piper, as it was known, began years earlier. The bombing casualties sustained during WWI had frightened the British government badly. Taking into account advances in technology, they were certain that should war break out with a remilitarized Germany, any bombing campaign would result in catastrophic loss of civilian life.

As war grew closer, the government divided the country into zones of “evacuation” “neutral” or “reception”, compiled lists of available housing, and began an all-out crusade to convince the public of the necessity of evacuation. Posters and pamphlets were used successfully to persuade parents that their children would be safest far from the inner cities, especially London. Teachers, local authorities, railway staff, and over 17,000 WVS (Womens’ Volunteer Service) volunteers were brought on board to assist with the planning and implementation.


To prepare for evacuation, parents were given a list of items each child needed to take with them which included a gas mask, sandwiches for the journey, and a small bag containing such essentials as a change of underclothes, pajamas, slippers, toothbrush, comb, washcloth, and a warm coat. Yardly Jones recalls preparing before his evacuation:

“We went down Wavertree Road and bought an enamel cup, a knife, fork, and spoon from a list we had. I guess we bought clothing as well, I don’t remember, but I do know I was a little upset since I knew we weren’t that well off and I knew my mother couldn’t afford to go out and buy these things.”

The day of departure, children assembled at their local school where labels were attached to their collars with name, home address, school, and destination. After tearful farewells, teachers and volunteers marched the children to the station where trains waited to take them to such far-flung destinations as Devon, Cornwall, and Wales. Teacher L.A.M. Brech recalls:

“All you could hear was the feet of the children and a kind of murmur because the children were too afraid to talk. Mothers weren’t allowed with us but they came along behind. When we got to the station we knew which platform to go to, the train was ready, we hadn’t the slightest idea where we were going and we put the children on the train and the gates closed behind us. The mothers pressed against the iron gates calling, ‘Goodbye darling.’ I never see those gates at Waterloo that I don’t get a lump in my throat.”


Upon arrival, billeting officers arranged for housing. In many instances, this meant nothing more than lining the children up against a wall and allowing families to choose as Beryl Hewitson recounts:

“I noticed boys of about 12 went very quickly—perhaps to help on the farm? Eventually only my friend Nancy and myself were left—two plain, straight-haired little girls wearing glasses, now rather tearful.”

And Irene Brownhill remembers her own arrival in the country:

“…next to us a little thin girl sobbing and very upset and wanting her mother. I put her in the middle of my sister and me and she stopped crying. The people coming around to choose kept saying they would take my sister and me but they did not want three girls only two…”

It was common for the young evacuees to have trouble adjusting to country life. Some had never seen a farm animal before or eaten a fresh vegetable. Others were bored by the lack of entertainments outside of the city. Jean Chartrand remembers two boys billeted with her relatives:

“…one boy had put the pail under the cow’s udders and was holding it there whilst the other boy was using the cow’s tail like a pump handle…”

Evacuee John Wills said his biggest shock was the fresh air: “Nearly knocked us off our feet.” Later he and a friend decided to return to London. “We walked home on the thumb with the odd lift. I much preferred to take my chances in the air raids.”

Host families could be equally surprised by the children they were housing. Because the majority of children came from the poorer sections of cities, there was an idea that they would be undisciplined and dirty. And while this was sometimes the case, more often than not their fears were founded on bias and preconceived notions.

“How I wish the prevalent view of evacuees could be changed. We were not all raised on a diet of fish and chips eaten from newspaper and many of us are quite familiar with the origins of milk. It was just as traumatic for a clean and fairly well educated child to find itself in a grubby semi-slum as vice versa,” Jean McCulloch explained.

By the end of 1939 when the expected bombing didn’t materialize, parents were quick to bring their children back home. And by January of 1940, nearly half of those children sent away in the first weeks had returned to their families. But these were to be short-term homecomings. When France fell in June 1940 and again in the fall of 1940 at the start of the London Blitz, additional evacuations were set in motion. And this time, children would not see their families again until the end of the war almost five years later.

The lasting effects of the evacuation ran the gamut. Some had idyllic experiences with caring families who maintained close ties long after the war ended like Michael Clark:

“We could not understand these strange people who for some reason we were sent to live with, but as the years have gone by I realize just what diamonds they were”

Others, like Gloria McNeill, homesick and unhappy, recall the forced separation and sometimes squalid and violent conditions these children found themselves in.

“Every time I hear Vera Lynn sing “Goodnight children everywhere’ I see a forlorn 11-year old curled up in a corner of a strange bedroom, hiding tears behind the pages of The Blue Fairy Book.”

Operation Pied Piper officially ended in 1946 bringing to a close one of the largest organized movements of civilian population during wartime and one of the most heartbreaking and inspiring chapters of British history.


Dwight Jon Zimmerman. “Operation Pied Piper: The Evacuation of English Children During World War II.” www.DefenseMediaNetwork.com

Laura Clouting. “The Evacuated Children of the Second World War.” www.iwm.org.uk

“Primary History World War 2: Evacuation” www.bbc.uk

Ben Wicks. No Time to Wave Goodbye (Stoddart Publishing, 1988)


From the author of Secrets of Nanreath Hall comes this gripping, beautifully written historical fiction novel set during World War II—the unforgettable story of a young woman who must leave Singapore and forge a new life in England.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, impetuous and overindulged, Lucy Stanhope, the granddaughter of an earl, is living a life of pampered luxury in Singapore until one reckless act will change her life forever. 

Exiled to England to stay with an aunt she barely remembers, Lucy never dreamed that she would be one of the last people to escape Singapore before war engulfs the entire island, and that her parents would disappear in the devastating aftermath. Now grief stricken and all alone, she must cope with the realities of a grim, battle-weary England.

Then she meets Bill, a young evacuee sent to the country to escape the Blitz, and in a moment of weakness, Lucy agrees to help him find his mother in London. The unlikely runaways take off on a seemingly simple journey across the country, but her world becomes even more complicated when she is reunited with an invalided soldier she knew in Singapore.

Now Lucy will be forced to finally confront the choices she has made if she ever hopes to have the future she yearns for.


Author Bio:

Critically acclaimed author of historical and paranormal romance, Alix Rickloff’s family tree includes a knight who fought during the Wars of the Roses (his brass rubbing hangs in her dining room) and a soldier who sided with Charles I during the English Civil War (hence the family’s hasty emigration to America). With inspiration like that, what else could she do but start writing her own stories? She lives in Maryland in a house that’s seen its own share of history so when she’s not writing, she can usually be found trying to keep it from falling down.



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James Boswell by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1785


James Boswell is best known as the biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson, but he was also 9th Laird of Auchinleck, in Scotland, with the family seat being Auchinleck House, in Ayershire, below, since it was built circa 1760. Boswell visited often and he and Dr. Johnson stayed here together in 1773 during their return from the Hebrides. As it turns out, a small group of lucky travelers will be staying here and we’ll have the entire estate to ourselves during Number One London’s 2018 Scottish Writer’s Retreat in September. Can there be a more perfect location for a writer’s retreat than the home of the author commonly said to have written the greatest biography in the English language – or the man who spent nine years working on The Dictionary of the English Language?

In light of my upcoming stay, I thought it would only be fitting for me to brush up on my Boswell/Johnson knowledge by re-reading Boswell’s Journals and Christopher Hibbert’s excellent biography, The Personal History of Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Johnson by Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1772

Also on my reading list is Adam Sisman’s book, Bowell’s Presumptuous Task, which garnered this review by Bibliomane01 on Amazon:

“In this magnificent work Mr Sisman describes the making of that greatest of all biographies, Boswell’s Life of Dr Johnson. To his contemporaries the task that Boswell had taken on was presumptuous indeed – to record the life of the greatest literary man of his age, while being dismissed himself as a frivolous and reprobate dilettante incapable of any serious activity. Well, the world knows that Bozzy succeeded in confounding his critics, but the tragic irony of his predicament was that he succeeded too well. While hailing the book as a masterpiece, the current and future literary establishment dismissed Boswell’s own role as little more than that of a stenographer. Macaulay’s damning essay on Boswell formed the opinion held by too many people for far too long. The true story of Boswell’s genius became well known to scholars in the 20th century; with this book, Mr. Sisman brings the story to a wider audience. It is a remarkable portrait of Boswell’s love for Johnson and the great struggles he endured to bring his hero to life in the pages of his biography. Battling drink, debauchery, depression and his own self-destructive nature, Boswell managed to pull off the one great sustained piece of effort of his life. In his book Johnson was brought to life once again, an image so convincing that it took over 150 years for people to discern the art behind the apparent ingenuousness of Boswell’s technique. Sisman does a good job of showing how the Johnson of the Life was as much a product of Boswell’s gift as the historical record (although I think readers would have benefited from a few examples of textual analysis to illustrate this). His final chapter on the gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers provides an exciting ending and his writing is clear and compelling. “Boswell’s Presumptuous Task” is nothing short of a triumph.”

The “gradual unearthing of the Boswell papers” mentioned above refers to a cache of Boswell’s private papers and journals found at Malahide Castle just outside of Dublin in the 1920’s. Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide sold the papers to American collector Ralph Isham and they now form part of the collection at Yale University. Having only just visited Malahide Castle in September, I’m looking forward to reading Sisman’s book soon.

If you’d like to join us on The Scottish Writer’s Retreat, you will find complete details herethere are only two places remaining!

Dickens: Bicentenary of his birth

Charles Dickens (1812-1870), painted by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)

Victoria here, reporting on my latest encounters with a favorite author of mine, Charles Dickens.  My local PBS station is rerunning the presentation of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations they first showed last winter.  I hope you have a chance to see them too.

Oliver Twist, played by William Miller

The PBS website, here, has lots of details about the BBC-Masterpiece production of Oliver Twist, including a synopsis, cast information and a Dickens timeline.

You can buy this DVD, as well as many other classics here.

I have to admit I remember the story from several of the dozens of films and television series rather than from the book, which I probably read in high school.  There have been many stage versions as well, including the very popular London production of Oliver, the Musical in 1960.

The musical also ran on Broadway for a long time, and has been successfully revived in Britain and the U.S. several times.  The film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1969.

I think the reason for the enduring popularity of the story is mainly attributable to the wonderful characters, the innocent young Oliver, the unforgettable Fagin, Artful Dodger, Nancy, and Bill Sikes — and the family that ultimately rescues Oliver and brings a happy ending.  As in all of Dickens, the details of the London scene are unmatched.

Personally, I prefer Oliver Twist to Great Expectations, probably because Miss Havisham meets such a tragic ending in the latter.  But nevertheless I will watch it. Again and again.  Like Oliver Twist’s, Pip’s story has been filmed many times, from silent movies to current miniseries, and has been adapted for stage as well.

One of the book groups I participate in is reading A Tale of Two Cities, another Dickens novel that has been often adapted. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” has to be one of the most famous opening lines in English literature. 

A Tale of Two Cities, published 1859
And to top off my Year of Dickens, I am reading Claire Tomalin’s biography Charles Dickens, published in 2011.  Like her previous biographies of Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and others, this account is eminently readable.  She deals with complex personalities in a realistic and engaging way.

I hope you are having your own Dickens Year in 2012…if not, you still have time!

Shakespeare's Sisters: Women Writers 1500-1700

At the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C., I recently visited a fascinating exhibition entitled Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voice of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700. The exhibition website is here.

The exhibition began with a famous passage from Virginia Woolf’s 1929 volume A Room of One’s Own: “(W)hat would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say…it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered…that she must have lost her health and sanity.”

In Woolf’s day, little was known about women who might have written — and even published — in Shakespeare’s day.  But recent scholarship has brought to light a number of such writers and some of their work is shown in this exhibition. 

Georgette de Montenay, Emblemes ou devises Chrestiennes, 1619
Folger Shakespeare Library Collection

Obviously, due to the age and fragility of the books shown, photographs of them were not allowed, and due to the low light level, my photographs of the text panels are sometimes rather dim.  Sorry about that, but I thought you’d rather see them as is than not.  Refer to the website for the texts.

The exhibition is divided into several sections covering such subjects as Religious Writing, Love and Romance, and Families and Salons.  Below, a panel celebrating poetry.  In the center is Veronica Franco (1546-1591), a Venetian poet and courtesan.

The portrait of Franco is said to be by Tintoretto.  A biography, The Honest Courtesan, by Margaret F. Rosenthal, was the basis of a film about Franco’s life.

The film, titled in the U.S. Dangerous Beauty (1998) starred Catherine McCormick as Franco, Jacqueline Bisset and Rufus Sewell.  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the film’s story, but it does emphasize Franco’s writing talents as well as giving sumptuous views of 16th century Venice and its inhabitants.
To my knowledge, no one has filmed a life of Lady Anne Clifford, but her life would be good material for a creative screen writer and director. 
A reproduction of a triptych (attributed to Jan van Belcamp) showing Lady Anne Clifford on either side; in the center panel is Margaret Russell, Countess of Cumberland, and George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, with their two sons, is on display.
Here is a closer view of Lady Anne Clifford at age sixteen.
Lady Anne Clifford was raised in the Court of Elizabeth I; she married the Earl of Dorset and later of Pembroke.  Not only is she well known for her letters and diaries, she was also a dedicated patron of the arts and literature. She fought for her legal rights to the family estates for almost forty years before she gained success.  She was truly a Renaissance woman. Below, Lady Anne at age 56.


Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) wrote about Lady Anne in her study of her family and its great estate, Knole and the Sackvilles, published in 1922, and in introducing her works.
Vita Sackville-West
Sackville-West, close friend and colleague of Virginia Woolf, also wrote a biography of another of the exhibition’s subjects, Aphra Behn (1640-1689).  Best known as a playwright, Behn also wrote novels and poetry.  Her plays were very popular in the Restoration era theatre in England.
Aphra Behn by Mary Beale
Gravestone of Aphra Behn, in the Cloister of Westminster Abbey, London
The inscription: Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be 
Defense enough against Mortality

I recommend spending time on the exhibition’s website, Shakespeare’s Sisters, for many further insights into this fascinating topic: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700.

Below, the Folger Shop.

I would be remiss if I did not give the website of the Folger Shop which has wonderful books, catalogues, cards, and assorted items relating to the Woman Writers exhibition as well as to Shakespeare and his era.  I highly recommend a visit to the Folger when you come to Washington, D.C.  And what’s more: admission is free!

The Folger Shakespeare Library

Near the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,  stands the Folger Library, repository of 82 Shakespeare First Folios — the largest collection in the world by far of these precious volumes.

The Folger Library, 201 Capitol St. SE, was the gift to the United States of  Henry Clay Folger (1857-1930) and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger (1858-1936).  Mr. Folger and his wife were lifelong lovers of Shakespeare and collectors of his works, including First Folios, Quartos, artwork, mementos of performances, and additional material related to the Elizabethan Era and the theatre.

They planned the library as a repository of their collections and as a permanent institution in the U.S. for the scholarly study of Shakespeare and his era and the continuing appreciation of reading and performing his works.  Built at a cost of $2 million, the library opened in 1932 with an original endowment of $10 million. The Folger is administered by the Trustees of Amherst College in Massachusetts, alma mater of H. C. Folger.
On the day I visited in March, students were performing snippets of the Bard’s plays and having a hilarious time doing so, under the direction of a professional actress in Elizabethan costume, and before an audience of fellow students, parents and teachers.
Below, a view of the Folger’s theatre, without the gleeful group, but showing all its timbered glory.  The theatre is also used for fully staged productions, literary and theatrical awards ceremonies, performances of the Folger Consort, and other activities.
Folger Shakespeare Library, Elizabethan Theatre

The Folger presents many special exhibitions.  The one I visited, Shakespeare’s Sisters, was enlightening. I will blog about it soon.

Central to the Folger’s mission is scholarship.  Imagine how privileged one would be to receive a reader’s card and be able to conduct research here in the Reading Room.  When I visited, we were allowed only a peek at the premises, which are reserved for serious studies.  At the end of the room is the immense window depicting the Seven Ages of Man (from As You Like It).
The window, designed especially for the Folger, was executed by the Philadelphia stained glass studio of Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871-1954) in 1932.
Emily Jordan Folger by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
Henry Clay Folger, by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
On the exterior of the building, scenes from Shakespeare’s favorite plays are captured in white marble bas relief sculptures.  Above, a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Below, Richard III.
Though the Folger’s mission focuses on a writer from hundreds of yeara go and his world, the library’s resources and  techniques are decidedly up-to-date.  Their website (here) is excellent, worth hours of browsing.  Many parts of the collection are available digitally, as described here.  Hamnet is their free on-line catalogue.   The Folger has blogs, facebook pages, and can be found on itunes, youtube and twitter, among other sites.  The Conservation Lab is in the forefront of preserving fragile and delicate materials.
First Folio, Folger Shakespeare Library
In 2011, the Folger sponsored an exhibition “Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio,”   which told many stories of the creation, acquisition, sales and losses of these precious documents. Since the Folger has the world’s largest collection of First Folios (82 at present), it was the perfect venue to explore the topic.  First Folios, in case you have forgotten your college Shakespeare facts, are editions of the Bard’s plays published in 1623, which contained many plays never before published. In the world today, just over 230 First Folios are known to exist. 
One of many representations of Shakespeare at the Folger
 The Founder’s Room
Portrait of Elizabeth I, the “Sieve” portrait
by George Gower, 1579
in the Folger Collection
The above costume replicating the Elizabethan gown in the portrait was worn by actress Michael Learned in the 2003 Folger Theatre production of Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Adnerson (1888-1959).  Ms. Learned required the assistance of a dresser to put on the costume which weighed more than twenty pounds.
Washington’s warm March weather favored growth in the library’s Elizabethan Garden
Watch for our report on Shakespeare’s Sisters:
Voices of English and European Women Writers,
1500-1700, on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library to May 20, 2012

More Reminiscences of Captain Gronow

To say that Captain Gronow is not politically correct by today’s standards would be an understatement indeed. However, his comments no doubt reflect the prevailing view of his readers, however offensive we find his prejudices today.

Here are Gronow’s observations on author Matthew Lewis (1775-1818), known as Monk after the name of his renowned Gothick novel.

Matthew “Monk” Lewis by Pickersgill, 1809

One of the most agreeable men of the day was “Monk” Lewis.  As the author of the Monk and the Tales of Wonder, he not only found his way into the best circles, but had gained a high reputation in the literary world. His poetic talent was undoubted, and he was intimately connected with Walter Scott in his ballad researches.  His Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene was recited at the theatres, and wherever he went he found a welcome reception.  His West Indian fortune and connections, and his seat in Parliament, gave him access to all the aristocratic circles; from which, however, he was banished upon the appearance of the fourth and last dialogue of the Pursuits of Literature.  Had a thunderbolt fallen upon him, he could not have been more astonished than he was by the onslaught of Mr. Matthias, which led to his ostracism from fashionable society.

 It is not for me to appreciate the value of this satirical poem, which created such an extraordinary sensation, not only in the fashionable, but in the political world; I, however, remember that whilst at Canning’s, at the Bishop of London’s, and at Gifford’s, it was pronounced the most classical and spirited production that had ever issued from the press, it was held up at Lord Holland’s, at the Marquis of Lansdowne’s, and at Brookes’s, as one of the most spiteful and ill-natured satires that had ever disgraced the literary world; and one which no talent or classic lore could ever redeem.  Certain it is, that Matthias fell foul of poor “Monk” Lewis for his romance: obscenity and blasphemy were the charges laid at his door; he was acknowledged to be a man of genius and fancy, but this added only to his crime, to which was superadded that of being a very young man.  The charges brought against him cooled his friends and heated his enemies; the young ladies were forbidden to speak to him, matrons even feared him, and from being one of the idols of the world, he became one of the objects of its disdain. Even his father was led to believe that his son had abandoned the paths of virtue, and was on the high road to ruin.

 “Monk” Lewis, unable to stand against the outcry thus raised against him, determined to try the effects of absence, and took his departure for the island in which his property was; but unfortunately for those who dissented from the ferocious judgment that was passed upon him, and for those who had discrimination enough to know that after all there was nothing very objectionable in his romance, and felt assured that posterity would do him justice, this amiable and kind-hearted man died on his passage out; leaving a blank in one variety of literature which has never been filled up.

 The denunciation was not followed by any other severe criticism; but editors have, in compliance with the insinuations of Matthias, omitted the passages which he pointed out as objectionable, so that the original text is seldom met with.

“Monk” Lewis had a black servant, affectionately attached to his master; but so ridiculously did this servant repeat his master’s expressions, that he became the laughing-stock of all his master’s friends: Brummell used often to raise a hearty laugh at Carlton House by repeating witticisms which he pretended to have heard from Lewis’s servant.  Some of these were very stale; yet they were considered so good as to be repeated at the clubs, greatly adding to the reputation of the Beau as a teller of good things.  “On one occasion,” said Brummell, “I called to inquire after a young lady who had sprained her ancle; Lewis, on being asked how she was, had said in the black’s presence, ‘The doctor has seen her, put her legs straight, and the poor chicken is doing well.’ The servant, therefore, told me, with a mysterious and knowing look, ‘Oh, sir, the doctor has been here; she has laid eggs, and she and the chickens are doing well.'”

 Such extravagances in those days were received as the essence of wit, and to such stories did the public give a willing ear, repeating them with unwearying zest.  Even Sheridan’s wit partook of this character, making him the delight of the Prince, who ruled over the fashionable world, and whose approbation was sufficient to give currency to anything, however ludicrous and absurd.

Byron's Birthday, January 22, 1788

Byron by Richard Westall

To celebrate the birthday of George Gordon, Lord Byron, the renowned poet, we present an account of him by Captain Gronow, from his Reminiscences, published in 1862, written long after the events he describes.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was  a captain in the Welsh Grenadier Guards.

From Gronow’s Reminiscences:
I knew very little of Lord Byron personally, but lived much with two of his intimate friends, Scrope Davis and Wedderburn Webster; from whom I frequently heard many anecdotes of him.  I regret that I remember so few; and wish that I had written down those told me by poor Scrope Davis, one of the most agreeable men I ever met.
When Byron was at Cambridge, he was introduced to Scrope Davis by their mutual friend, Matthews, who was afterwards drowned in the river Cam. After Matthews’s death, Davis became Byron’s particular friend, and was admitted to his rooms at all hours.  Upon one occasion he found the poet in bed with his hair en papillote, upon which Scrope cried, “Ha, ha!  Byron, I have at last caught you acting the part of the Sleeping Beauty.”
Byron  by Thomas Philipps (1770-1845)
Byron, in a rage, exclaimed, “No, Scrope; the part of a d—-d fool, you should have said.”

“Well, then, anything you please; but you have succeeded admirably in deceiving your friends, for it was my conviction that your hair curled naturally.”

“Yes, naturally, every night,” returned the poet; “but do not, my dear Scrope, let the cat out of the bag, for I am as vain of my curls as a girl of sixteen.”
When in London, Byron used to go to Manton’s shooting-gallery, in Davis street, to try his hand, as he said, at a wafer.  Wedderburn Webster was present when the poet, intensely delighted with his own skill, boasted to Joe Manton that he considered himself the best shot in London. “No, my lord,” replied Manton, “not the best; but your shooting, to-day, was respectable;” upon which Byron waxed wroth, and left the shop in a violent passion.
Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, 12 miles north of Nottingham
Lords Byron, Yarmouth, Pollington, Mountjoy, Walliscourt, Blandford, Captain Burges, Jack Bouverie, and myself, were in 1814, and for several years afterwards, amongst the chief and most constant frequenters of this well-known shooting-gallery, and frequently shot at the wafer for considerable sums of money.  Manton was allowed to enter the betting list, and he generally backed me.  On one occasion, I hit the wafer nineteen times out of twenty.
Byron lived a great deal at Brighton, his house being opposite the Pavilion. He was fond of boating, and was generally accompanied by a lad, who was said to be a girl in boy’s clothes. This report was confirmed to me by Webster, who was then living at Brighton.  The vivid description of the page in Lara, no doubt, gave some plausibility to this often-told tale.  I myself witnessed the dexterous manner in  which Byron used to get into his boat; for, while standing on the beach, I once saw him vault into it with the agility of a harlequin, in spite of his lame foot.
On one occasion, whilst his lordship was dining with a few of his friends in Charles Street, Pall Mall, a letter was delivered to Scrope Davis, which required an immediate answer.  Scrope, after reading its contents, handed it to Lord Byron.  It was thus worded:–
“MY DEAR SCROPE,–Lend me 500L. for a few days; the funds are shut for the dividends, or I would not have made this request.  “G. BRUMMELL.”
The reply was:–
“My DEAR BRUMMELL,–All my money is locked up in the funds. “SCROPE DAVIS.”
This was just before Brummell’s escape to the Continent.
Dining Room Fireplace, Newstead Abbey
I have frequently asked Scrope Davis his private opinion of Lord Byron, and invariably received the same answer–that he considered Lord Byron very agreeable and clever, but vain, overbearing, conceited, suspicious, and jealous.  Byron hated Palmerston, but liked Peel, and thought that the whole world ought to be constantly employed in admiring his poetry and himself: he never could write a poem or a drama without making himself its hero, and he was always the subject of his own conversation.
Bust of Byron, Newstead Abbey
During one of Henry Hobhouse’s visits to Byron, at his villa near Genoa, and whilst they were walking in the garden, his lordship suddenly turned upon his guest, and, apropos of nothing, exclaimed, “Now, I know, Hobhouse, you are looking at my foot.”  Upon which Hobhouse kindly replied, “My dear Byron, nobody thinks of or looks at anything but your head.”
Abbey Ruins, Newstead Abbey

For a two-part filmed tour of Newstead Abbey, click here. Look for the Guided Tour on the right.

Happy Birthday, Lord Byron…

Catching Up on 2011

Victoria, here. In the early days of 2012, I find myself sorting some books I acquired in the last year and some I still have to find, many of them concerned with Jane Austen.  Gee, isn’t that a shock!

Two are short story collections.

I enjoyed many of the stories in these two collections and admired the creative ways in which Jane
Austen inspired these writers.  I recommend both.

My friend and consummate author, Carrie Bebris, published Deception at Lyme, or The Peril of Persuasion, the sixth in her Mr and Mrs. Darcy mystery series.   See her website here.  Elizabeth and Darcy have solved a number of puzzles since their first outing in  2004’s Pride and Prescience (or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged).  And more are in the works.

Here is a book I haven’t read yet, and have receive conflicting reports about: P.D. James version of Carrie’s idea of having the Darcys investigate murder: Death Comes to Pemberley.

Of course, Baroness James gets a great deal of attention from the media, and no one can say she has not had a distinguished career.  I have had many hours of delight from her books. But this one? Somehow, it smacks of jumping on the Austen bandwagon unnecessarily, but that could be unfair. I would love to hear from readers who have tried it out.  I have a copy waiting for me next month, I think, when I get to the sunny south of Florida.  I’ll report back. (Note from Kristine: Yes, it’s here waiting for you. I love James and so gave it a shot when Jo sent it to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past Chapter Two).

Another book I will read soon is The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford. I met Ms. Ashford at the JASNA-AGM in Fort Worth TX in October 2011, but I must have been extremely distracted since her authorship of this book, talked of widely at the AGM, escaped me when we met.

This book reportedly attributes the death of Jane Austen to arsenic poisoning.  In one of those coincidences that seem to happen every so often, shortly after meeting Ms. Ashford,  I attended a talk on poisons by Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning science reporter who teaches journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, actually a catchy title for a history of forensic science in crime investigation.

Ms. Blum commented on reviews of the Ashford book and the report that a lock of Jane Austen’s hair showed evidence of arsenic when tested.  Arsenic, in Austen’s day, was a common ingredient of many lotions and potions used to whiten complexion and for dozens of other uses. It did not surprise Blum to learn of the possibility of Austen having arsenic in her system as she probably used arsenic-laced skin  products.

I have heard several people say they enjoyed Mysterious Death, so I will read it soon.  (Note from Kristine – this, too, is here waiting for you. Haven’t read it yet – too distracted by Thirkell).

I haven’t kept track of all the Austen sequels and continuations that came out recently — and there are lots of them.  I know some of the authors and they are all hard-working, devoted people — success to all of you!  For more information, take a look at the website of Austen Authors

Two quite different but related genres to the sequels are the modern restructures of the novels and the JA-experience novels.  I read two of those this year, perhaps not quite on top of their publication dates.

 The Three Weissmanns of Westport came out in paperback, and I found it an engaging read, based loosely on the plot of Sense & Sensibility.  It is well done.

Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life is also worth your time and energy.  I resisted, because JA has done ANYTHING but ruined my life!  She has provided great pleasure and stimulation, great companionship and friends, and a lifetime of interesting research topics related to her life and times.  But a very well-respected friend loved it, and so did I. (Note from Kristine – I loved it, too!)

Finally, Stella Tillyard, author of The Aristocrats, Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, published a novel of the Peninsular War this year, another entry on my TBR list.

This is anything but an exhaustive list, but it looks like I’d better stop blogging and get reading if I am ever to catch up.  Here’s to a 2012 filled with wonderful books!

Prepare for The Year of Dickens

2012 brings the 200th Birthday of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the man who shaped our perception of Victorian England in his thousands of pages of delicious stories — not to mention his reporting and essays.

Dickens in 1858
Charles Dickens was born in 1812. His somewhat feckless parents caused him to have an alternately comfortable and difficult life as a child, including a stint working in a London blacking factory, where he experienced first hand the travails of the poor working class he so vividly portrayed in his stories.

Santa favored me with a copy of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens, a book that was on many “best” lists for 2011 and which received many glowing reviews.  Tomalin had already done considerable work on Dickens and his secret life.  Her book, Invisible Woman, was published in 1991, telling of his 13-year affair with Ellen Ternan at the end of his life.  He had previously married the boss’s daughter (or one of his bosses), Catherine Hogarth, whose father was the editor of the Evening Chronicle, for which Dickens wrote. They had ten children, but grew apart.

Claire Tomalin is an excellent biographer.  She has published the life stories of many famous writers, such as Katherine Mansfield (1989), Pepys (2003), and Thomas Hardy (2007). She has written about others, as well, particularly – from my bookshelf — Mrs. Jordan’s Profession (1994) — the story of London actress Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) and her long affair with Prince William, Duke of Clarence (1765-1837), with whom Dora had ten children.  He later succeeded his brother to become William IV, King of England 1830-1837.

Claire Tomalin
I suppose it will come as no surprise to occasional readers of this blog to learn that my favorite biography of Tomalin’s is her Jane Austen: A Life, an excellent study of the artist whose work is the source-point for all my interests in the long 18th Century, the Regency, the Georgians, the Victorians, and all things English/British.
But I digress… you will find no shortage of biographies and studies of the work of Charles Dickens in the upcoming months. Plays, movies, television programs — he will be everywhere.  We have just had, in many US cities and elsewhere, the traditional holiday season performances of A Christmas Carol, which one cannot see too many times, or so it seems to me.
Ebenezer Scrooge is only one of the hundreds of characters Dickens create which stay  in our memories forever. Who could ever forget the Artful Dodger?  Or Miss Havisham? Or Mr. Micawber or Uriah Heep? You can name dozens more, no doubt.
David Copperfield illustration

David Copperfield is said to be somewhat biographical. 

Dickens began publishing stories in 1833 when he was just 21 years old. He generally published his stories in magazines, in serial form, meaning that every few pages, there is a suspenseful moment, designed to bring the reader back next month to buy the next installment.  This method enhances the page-turner quality of all of his novels.  He was immensely popular in his day, engaging in many public readings around Britain as well as during two trips to the U.S.

Charles Dickens by Ary Scheffer, 1855; NPG, London

So in the next 12 months (and beyond), be self-indulgent, and read some of the long and enjoyable works of Charles Dickens. It is a pleasure you owe yourself!