ON THE SHELF: REVIEW OF EMMA HAMILTON: SEDUCTION & CELEBRITY

By Guest Blogger Jo Manning

This sumptuous accompaniment – replete with gorgeous full-color and some black and white images — to the exhibition currently showing at The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (until April 17th) comprises essays by Quintin Colville; Vic Gatrell; Christine Riding; Jason M. Kelly; Gillian Russell; Margarette Lincoln; Hannah Greig; and Kate Williams on different aspects of the controversial Emma Hamilton’s life, legend, and times.

I’ve been to two previous art shows that featured Emma Hamilton and other Georgian celebrities:  Joshua Reynolds And The Creation of Celebrity (at the Tate Britain in 2005), and the George Romney exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in 2002. Both were exemplary, dedicated to these superb portraitists and their famous subjects. These sitters became instant celebrities owing to the prints of the portraits becoming widely disseminated. (These prints generated a bit of nice income for the painters, as well.) The caricaturist Gillray illustrated the popularity of these prints in his well-known “Very Slippy Weather,”showing Londoners entranced by the latest prints for sale at stationers’ shops.
Emma Hamilton (born 1765-died 1815) was also variously known as Amy/Amey/Emy/Emily Lyon and Emma Hart until she married Sir William Hamilton, British envoy (ambassador) to the Court of Naples, thus becoming Lady Hamilton. She was one of the most controversial – and, yes, notorious — women of her time. Much has been written about her but there remains a good deal of speculation, as well. (Among the best-written biographies and novels of her, in my opinion, are these:  Williams, Kate, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, 2006; Fraser, FloraBeloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton, 2004; and Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover: A Romance, 1992.)

For starters, she was an unqualified beauty: a perfect oval of a face; thick, wavy, cascading auburn tresses; big-eyed; a rosebud mouth; and a complexion described by one besotted writer as a “velvet skin of lilies and roses”.  Surprisingly tall, with good, square shoulders and a substantial bosom, she defied the “pocket Venus” model prized by prevailing18th century aesthetic standards. A killer combination, this, that pouting baby face and a curvy, womanly figure. Who would not want to paint her? More to the point, who would not want to be her lover?

Emma Hart as a Bacchante, circa 1785
Biographies and other writings on Emma find more ample material in the second and last third of her life than in the first. Yes, she grew up poor; yes, she worked in menial positions as a young teen; yes, she moved to London at one point; yes, men began to notice her. What is uncertain is when and how she became a sex worker. Did her mother actually pimp her out at the age of fourteen? Did she work the streets or was she in a brothel? At any rate, we are on more solid ground when she is taken up by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh (this name is pronounced “Fanshawe”), a wealthy, dissolute rake who nonetheless has her take up the ladylike sport of horse-riding (“To hounds!”) and teaches her more genteel manners.  (She was said to have a vulgar speaking voice and bad diction; her spelling, from letters that remain, show her bad spelling, but many people then were bad spellers.)
He dumps her, however, when she becomes pregnant. She is about sixteen when she is sent away – and the record is not clear whether or not this child was Fetherstonhaugh’s or Greville’s or another man in their set, Jack Payne — and gives birth to a girl, said to be named Emma Carew. (She was also known as Emma Hartley; after years as a teacher/governess she died alone in Florence and is buried in the English Cemetery. It appears she’d had a sad life.)
After giving birth, she left the child to be raised by a relative in the country and took up with this man in Fetherstonhaugh’s set, Charles Greville, who refused to have another to do with the baby and further set about further “improving” Emma in manners, diction, et cetera. Greville,
who was the nephew of the very wealthy Lord Hamilton, but not well-off himself, was a bit of a control freak, from all I have read about him and which these essays confirm. It was Greville who introduced her to the portrait painter George Romney….and thereby hangs quite a tale.  And here is Romney looking his moodiest, in an unfinished self-portrait (circa 1781/2):
I myself have researched and written about Romney’s obsession with Emma, whom he painted at least sixty times and sketched many more times. At his death, notebooks were found filled with drawings – many unfinished — of his muse Emma Hart – as she was then known. Romney was a strange old cuss. Extremely talented – he became one of the most renowned portraitists in England – but he was prone to serious bouts of depression (it apparently ran in his family). He was a very moody man. Emma Hart enriched his life, and when she was gone from it, he went even more downhill mentally. 
Emma Hart In A Straw Hat
The only quibble I have with the uniformly excellent essays making up this book is in the Christine Riding piece. Emma Hart sat for George Romney some nine years. Nowhere in all the background reading and research I did for my guest blog for Number One London did I find any evidence that there was anyone else in that studio save Romney and Emma. I never saw mention of a “chaperone” nor of any friends/acquaintances of Greville or Emma dropping in. And this is telling, because sittings for artists were social occasions; observers sat and gossiped and were served tea, etc. This was the norm. One sitting could take up to an hour; these sittings were longer. Again, never, ever, did I find any of this normal way of conducting sittings followed by Romney with Emma. Greville, to my knowledge, simply would not allow this.
Emma Hart as Circe, painted by George Romney c1782… Exquisite!
Charles Greville was an extremely jealous and controlling man, possessive to a rather sickening degree, in my opinion. Emma Hart was his possession; he did not want to share her with anyone, even in the benign setting of sitting for a portrait. All I read led me to believe that those two, artist and subject, were alone…together. For NINE years! And I wondered, did they become lovers? It’s tantalizing to imagine this, but there is no solid proof. What seems to be evident, however, is that Emma opened up to Romney as she was posing and entertained him by singing and dancing and having fun. (I reckon she did not have much fun in her relationship with Greville, given his rigid personality.)
And, although over the years people have made fun of Emma and her “Attitudes” – i.e., the dramatic poses she struck to entertain guests – there needs to be, I think, an objective re-examination of her talents, both with these poses and with her singing. (She did hang out with theatre people when she was younger and may even have appeared onstage.) Apparently she wasn’t as untalented as so many reported over the years. I found that re-appraisal fascinating…and it confirmed to me that so much of what was written at the time and subsequently thereafter – much of it simply repeating the same anecdotes — was not to be trusted. (I found this to be true when I was writing the biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, My Lady Scandalous. There is a lot of misinformation/misinterpretation out there and one has to be cautious.)
Perhaps my favorite portrait of Emma Hart by George Romney
When Emma Hart was given to Lord Hamilton by his nephew (yes, she was a gift, as she was, after all, his possession), she was eagerly received. Greville was reportedly tired of her and, assiduously searching for a wealthy woman to marry, Emma was in his way. By sending her to Naples on a ruse (oh, yeah, go on ahead, I’ll be joining you directly!), he accomplished his purpose. The much older, lonely man, besotted by her beauty, took her in and eventually proposed marriage to her. (She was 21 when Greville rid himself of her; Hamilton was about 56. They married when Hamilton was 61 years old; his first wife, an heiress, had died before Emma appeared on the scene and he’d been alone for some years.)
Gillray caricature making fun of Lord Hamilton’s interest in Classical antiquities and volcanoes (he was a renowned amateur volcanologist), with images of Emma and Lord Nelson in the upper left corner, indicating he’d been made a cuckold
Most of you may know the rest of this celebrated story. Emma – now Lady Hamilton and ensconced in luxury far beyond her imagination whe
n she was walking the London streets and/or working in a brothel – met Lord Nelson, the famed British admiral and hero of Trafalgar, and Lord Hamilton – bless his heart – was toast.
The details can be found in the essays, but a last word about Emma’s child(ren) with Nelson is perhaps appropriate here. She had Horatia, who lived to a ripe old age, the wife of a minister and the mother of a slew of children, whose maternity Emma never acknowledged publicly, and possibly one or two other children, one of whom was said to have died very young or at birth.  One or two sources I read in my research implied that there were twin girls, one of whom was sent to an orphanage, the other having died or disappeared. Sadly, it did not appear that Emma was much of a mother (though some sources said she was close to Emma Carew, her first daughter), but there is not much to go on to substantiate what happened to these later, mysterious twins…if they indeed ever existed at all, poor lost babes.
Lord Nelson, Hero of the Battle of the Nile and of Trafalgar
This is quite a wonderful compilation with superb illustrations, fast reading, and an excellent introduction to the life and loves of a singular woman. Enjoy the reading and perhaps shed a tear or two for Emma Hamilton’s last tawdry years. So many women like her wound up in France, dying there, forgotten. (My biography subject died there, as did the actress mistress of King William IV, Dorothy Jordan, along with other discarded women.) Nelson wanted Emma taken care of by the country he’d served so well; well, she wasn’t.
And, if you can, visit the exhibit at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London before it closes. As you can tell from the few sample images here, it is a feast for the eyes.
Quinton Colville’s introductory essay, “Re-imagining Emma Hamilton,” gives an excellent overview of the mythology and reality surrounding this woman; he is the Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum in London. There are six full and informative articles in this companion to the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, starting with historian Vic Gattrell, who teaches at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge; his essay is “Sexual Exploitation And The Lure Of London,” a subject on which he has written extensively. Christine Riding holds the position of Head of Arts and Curator of the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum; she was previously at the Tate Britain, where she curated 18th and 19thcentury British art; her essay is “Romney’s Muse: A Creative Partnership In Portraiture”.
Jason M. Kelly takes us to the middle part of Emma Hamilton’s career, to Naples, where, as the wife of the British ambassador, she moves in very different circles and we take a look at “A Classical Education: Naples And The Heart of European Culture.” Kelly is an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue and directs the Arts and Humanities Institute there. Gillian Russell penned “International Celebrity: An Artist On Her Own Terms”; Russell writes on fashionable women and on theatre in Georgian London.
Rounding out these essays are Margarette Lincoln (“Emma And Nelson: Icon And Mistress Of The Nation’s Hero” and Hannah Grieg on Emma’s last sad years with “Decline And Fall: Social Insecurity And Financial Ruin.” ) Lincoln is a specialist in English naval history and served as Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum for several years; she is now a visiting professor at the University of London. Grieg is an academic who is now at the University of York, lecturing on 18thcentury British social, cultural, and political history; much of her research centers on the lives of the elite class in that society.
A special treat at the end of this fascinating book is biographer Kate Williams’ take on “Emma Hamilton In Fiction And Film.” Williams is a professor of history at the University of Reading and author of England’s Mistress.
Poster for Vivien Leigh/Laurence Oliver biopic That Hamilton Woman!

EMMA HAMILTON:  SEDUCTION & CELEBRITY, edited by Quintin Colville with Kate Williams, Thames & Hudson/Royal Museums Greenwich, 2016, 280 pages

ON THE SHELF: IN TEARING HASTE

You would think that after having read the massive The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters I’d have gotten my fill of all things Mitford, but not so. In fact, the book only fueled my passion for the Sisters, so I went directly afterwards to reading In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. Here’s a brief synopsis:
From Amazon BooksIn the spring of 1956, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, youngest of the six legendary Mitford sisters, invited the writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor to visit Lismore Castle, the Devonshires’ house in Ireland. The halcyon visit sparked a deep friendship and a lifelong exchange of highly entertaining correspondence. When something caught their interest and they knew the other would be amused, they sent off a letter—there are glimpses of President Kennedy’s inauguration, weekends at Sandringham, filming with Errol Flynn, the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and, above all, life at Chatsworth, the great house that Debo spent much of her life restoring, and of Paddy in the house that he and his wife designed and built on the southernmost peninsula of Greece.

Deborah (Mitford), Duchess of Devonshire

Of course, this description does nothing to impart the flavour of the letters themselves, or their authors. Here are a few extracts:

Deborah to Paddy – 14 July 1975

“Darling (Paddy) Whack,
   No news, except bumpkin stuff. The Council of the Royal Smithfield Club – top farmers and butchers from all over the British Isles, every accent from Devon to Aberdeen via Wales & Norfolk – met here on Thurs. Fifty of them. So the only room I could think of was the nursery, and there they sat good as gold on hard chairs. I offered the rocking horse, but they eschewed it, ditto high chairs and Snakes and Ladders.
   I really love those men, and it’s my last year as president. I shall miss it and them.
   Then they had lunch, then the wives were let in (so typical of England that they had to hang about till lunch was over) and of course they wanted to see the house. I said ‘I’ll meet you at the end of the tour.’ The first butcher was out in six minutes. I reminded him of Art Buchwald’s lovely article on How to do the Louvre in Six Minutes – but he’d never heard of Art Buchwald or the Louvre so I chucked it and took him to see some cattle, which he had heard of. A really good fellow.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor

   While Deborah’s heart was always in her home and with her country pursuits, she often had to leave Chastsworth in order to attend to her duties as the Duchess of Devonshire, many of which brought her into contact with Royals and other members of the nobility:

Deborah to Paddy – 18 January 1980

“Darling Paddy –
   . . . . . . Last night I went to AN OPERA. The second in my life. It was a plan of Andrew’s (Duke of Devonshire) in aid of the Putney Hosp for Incurables and good Cake (the Queen Mother) came and turned it into a gala. One forgets between seeing her what a star she is and what incredible and wicked charm she has got. The Swiss conductor panicked and struck up `God Save The Queen’ when she was still walking round the back to get to her box and I heard her say Oh God and she flew the last few steps dropping her old white fox cape and didn’t turn round to see what would happen to it.
   She does a wonderful sort of super shooting-lunch dinner, brought from Clarence House and handed round by her beautiful footmen in royal kit, between the acts, the cheeriest thing. We were a bit stumped though because when she’d gone home we had to go to the Savoy and have a second grand dinner with the organisers. It was a bit of a test forcing down sole after Cake’s richest choc mousse. It’s tough at the top, I can tell you . . . .”

Paddy to Deborah – 23 October 1995

“Darling Debo –
   . . . . . Ages ago, I went to a party given by Brig. West. Everyone was tightish. Daph(ne Fielding), still Bath, was curled up in a ball next to a chair where Duff C(ooper) was sitting, covered in medals and decorations. Daph was wearing a tiara, as they’d all been to a Court ball. Daph was so rapt in talk and laughter that she didn’t even notice or pause when Henry (Bath), on the point of buzzing off with Virginia, said, `I think I’d better take that,’ neatly uncoiled the bauble from Daph’s hair, and slipped it into the pocket in the tail of his tail coat, and walked away. Daph was amazed a bit later by its absence, until we reassured her. I thought for a moment that it might have been later on the same night when I came and collected you from a ball at the Savoy and took you on to another in Chelsea – whose? – a lovely evening.
   No more for the moment.
   Lots of love – Paddy
   Was the ball at the Savoy given by someone called Christie-Miller? A yearly event? One year, they say, David Cecil was hastening to it along the Strand, when a tart stopped him and said, `Woud you like to come home with me, dear?’ and he answered, ‘I can’t possibly. I’m going to the Christie-Millers.'”

Deborah and Patrick 

Who knew that the tails of tail coats had pockets? More importantly, these breezy, entertaining and endearing letters serve to lend an insight
into the lives and hearts of their authors. Whether it’s Deborah’s slightly wicked sense of humour or Paddy’s love of and descriptions of travel, there is something for everyone here. A must read for fans of all things Mitford.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BOOKS KRISTINE SAW ALONG THE WAY

Having just returned from England on Number One London Tour business, I can tell you that great things are in store – stay tuned for complete details of the tours we’ll be offering in Spring/Summer/Fall 2017. In the meantime,  I thought I’d share with you a few of the interesting book titles I saw along the way. Click on the text links for more info on each title.

ON THE SHELF: DO YOU GET BOOKS? PART TWO




I’m happy to report that the built-in bookshelves are done and painted and my library is back where it belongs. Although most books can now be found on the internet, I’m never parting with my core library, consisting primarily of books on London, Wellington, Brummell, period diaries and letters and Queen Victoria. For those of you who have expressed an interest in browsing my bookshelves, here’s a good representation of what they hold.












ON THE SHELF: AT HOME WITH JANE AUSTEN BY KIM WILSON

At Home With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, 2014

Victoria here, enjoying the wonderful pictures and copy of this new book by my friend and colleague, Kim Wilson. Don’t expect anything negative in this “review,” because I love everything Kim does unreservedly. I am sure you will agree that all her books — especially this beautiful edition from Abbeville Press — deserve all the praise I can muster.

Kim and Victoria giving a talk at the 2014 Montreal JASNA-AGM

Kim’s lively account of Jane Austen’s life is complemented with wonderful photographs and reproductions of period prints. Many of the pictures were commissioned from Gavin Kingcome, who portrays even the most familiar of views with an artist’s eye.  Other photos are taken by Kim herself.

From the very beginning, you will be charmed by the pictures and prose, perfect for enjoying cover to cover or for dipping into briefly during a comforting tea break.

In the foreword by the curator of of Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire, Mary Guyatt writes, “This book cannot fail to encourage your own further exploration…” This is true for a dedicated devotee — like myself — or for a newcomer to Austen’s life and work.

Adlestrop Park, Gloucestershire

Our journey with Jane Austen begins at her childhood home in Steventon, Hampshire, where she lived with her parents and sister Cassandra and her many brothers as well as some boarding students Mr. Austen taught in preparation for college. And we accompany her on the many visits she made in rural villages, sophisticated cities, and stately country mansions. Along the way, we learn about her many friends and relatives through her own words from her letters to her sister Cassandra.

Bath, 1806

On the many travels around England, we also encounter the settings for Austen’s novels, in Bath, Lyme Regis, and London.  And we discover clues about the imagined settings she used, such as the estates of Pemberley and Donwell Abbey.

Chawton Cottage

Gardening, fashion, balls, literature, and the theatre – all pursuits Jane Austen enjoyed – are covered, as well as the personal activities in which she excelled, e.g. playing the piano and writing.

Indulge your Janeite friends, others who need to be initiated into the delights of Austen, and above all yourself — with a gift of this gorgeous volume by Kim Wilson from Abbeville Press: At Home with Jane Austen.

Kim Wilson’s previous titles, still available, are Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen.