Sir Thomas Beecham and the Importance of Starting, and Finishing, Together

 

April 29, 1879 – March 8, 1961

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between. Sir Thomas Beecham

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Sir Thomas Beecham by Emu in 1919

Beecham’s grandfather, also Thomas Beecham, was the rich industrialist who owned Beecham’s Powders, a laxative and cure-all for headache and stiffness of the joints.

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In 1899, Hans Richter, due to conduct the Hallé Orchestra in a concert in St Helen’s, fell ill; Thomas’s father, Joseph Beecham, who was the mayor of St Helen’s, declared that his prodigiously talented 20-year-old son should step in. From there, the young conductor – entirely self-taught – moved on in leaps and bounds.

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Thomas Beecham in 1910

Sir Thomas, who was extraordinarily handsome and possessed of a stupendous ego, bankrolled his Beecham Symphony Orchestra in 1909 and the Beecham Opera Company in 1915. He was also the impresario of His Majesty’s Theatre and the director of the Royal Opera House.

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Thomas Beecham with Maud, Lady Cunard, the fundraising Britannia of Covent Garden and his mistress

Musically gifted though he was, he was perhaps more famous for his rapier wit. Once he described the sound of the harpsichord as “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”; on another occasion he declared that “the British may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes”. His pointed goatee beard, his proud and portly stature and, most of all, that dry, acerbic wit have passed into musical mythology.

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Sir Thomas Beecham in middle age –giving it his all.

But Sir Thomas demanded the very highest standards from his players. He once noticed that his leading cellist was not striving for the perfection required of her. He brought the music to a halt and said to her, in front of the entire orchestra, “Now, madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of bringing pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it!”

Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away.

Sir Thomas, Lady Cunard’s lover for many years, was often unfaithful to her as he was so irresistible to women. When his wife died after many years into their marriage Lady Cunard confidently expected Sir Thomas to marry her, but he abandoned her in favor of a much younger woman.

Death Sits Down to Dinner

Although “Sir Thom” as he is referred to by Lord and Montfort in DEATH SITS DOWN TO DINNER only has a walk on part –with no lines — they enjoy telling stories about some of his more eccentric adventures with Lady Cunard.

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Mrs. Jackson and the Lancashire Witches

Lancashire Jack o lantern

On All Hallows’ Eve downstairs in the servants’ hall at Iyntwood the maids light their turnip jack o’ lanterns and settle down with their cider and toasted nuts casting hopeful looks at the housekeeper to see if she is in the mood to tell them a story.  And Mrs. Jackson –who comes from Lancashire –does not disappoint, because natives of that county know a thing or two about witches and have learned the hard way that it is best to be polite if they come across one of them.

Lancashire witches moonlight

“Are you sitting quite comfortably?” she asks the youngest housemaids in her soft Lancs accent, meaning they must not fidget . “Then I will begin. Long, long ago there were three covens of wild witches scattered throughout the moors and woodlands of Lancashire: the Pendleton, Demdike and Hedgerow witches they were called. Four times a year, these three witch families got together to celebrate the festivals of Samhain, Beltane, Imboc and Lammas on Malkin Hill in an ancient stone tower on the edge of the Lancashire moors.

They had a fine old time of it, they swapped recipes for their best spells, drank a lot of good strong cider, Scrumpy is another name for it, and once they even managed to conjure up a strange looking beast that bore a passing resemblance to a goat with long black shaggy hair that walked on two legs.

Lancashire witches hell scene

The villagers in the area feared and respected these witches, who should not be confused with wise-women and herbalists –what we sometimes call White Witches –any more than you would confuse a tabby cat with a tiger if you ever came across one. Their magic was fearfully strong and if someone from a nearby farm or village were was stupid enough to cross a witch, and I mean literally to make the sign of a cross if they saw one, then woe betide them. For everything they possessed from their sheep dog to their prize heifer would perish. But witches like to keep to themselves so all was peaceable enough for the most part.

Lancashire Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Then came the dark days of Oliver Cromwell, Old Ironsides as he was affectionately referred to. He split the country in two, executed the king and appointed himself Lord Protector of England. His rule was a strict one; he took a dim view of singing, dancing, theater and witches both tame and wild, and he was determined to rid England of magic once and for all. As is usual in the ways of mankind it turned out to be a thoroughly botched job. Many decent women, herb-wives or lonely half-mad old widows, were condemned to die as witches in those terrible times. And inevitably the day came when the whole witch-hunting business took a nasty turn for the worse.

Lancashire witches

Billy Norris was herding his sheep to market when he came across a common or garden Hedgerow witch. She was down in a ditch gathering Deadly Nightshade berries to make flying ointment for the winter. Each coven had its own recipe for flying ointment and every autumn they made masses of the stuff to last them through the winter.

Lancashire witch cursing

Billy Norris stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the witch standing knee deep in stinging nettles. He tried to sidle past her, but he was so nervous he scared one of the sheep across the lane and without his dog, who was cowering behind a tree, to nip it back into the herd it trampled the basket of berries at the old girl’s feet. She swore at Billy using quite appalling language and what was left of his nerve deserted him completely. He lost his head and made the sign of the cross. The witch, her name was Batty Heller, lifted an extraordinarily long middle finger and pointed straight and true and then melted into the hawthorn hedge and disappeared.

Lancashire witches graves

The next day every one of Billy’s sheep died. Two days after that his dog had a fit and died and as Billywas standing at the pump filling a pail of water he fell to the ground paralyzed, his hair stark white. Two days later a villager stumbled on Batty Heller in a graveyard cutting down branches of hemlock, and the day after she was seen digging up Monkshood roots in someone’s garden. The villagers decided that they had had enough.

Lancashire Mathew Hopkins Withc finder General

Mathew Hopkins Witch Finder General interrogating witches and their familiars.

They went to the local constable who got on his horse and rode into Lancaster to report that there was a dangerous witch at large down Demdike way. Without hesitating the chief constable sent for  Mathew Hopkins, the Witch Finder General and this is when things got out of hand. The Witch Finder arrived within the week with a large force of men carefully trained to search out witches.

They herded up nearly forty women, most of them innocent old crones, but among them was a particular ugly old boot whose name was Alizon Caxxon. There were plenty of villagers ready to swear that they had seen Alizon flying over the moors, upside down, on a great brown toad. And poor old Alizon was put to the question.

The things they did to Alizon Caxxon are too terrible to relate. And with you young girls already so scared I will just leave you to imagine the worst and when you have, double it and still you won’t come up with the sort of cruel things they did to the poor wretch.

Lancashire witch trils

She confessed to witchcraft of the worst kind, to curses and conjuring, and finally broken she admitted to disturbing Christian graves. With a bit more ‘questioning’, she coughed up the names of Gertie Gallavantz, Batty Heller, the beautiful Esmeralda and Square Betty, and finally she gave them Old Demdike.

Lancashire Malkin Tower

The Witchfinder General sent his men to lie in wait at Malkin tower at the next full-moon and the following morning they brought all five women in and stowed them away in the dungeons at Lancaster Prison. When they found Old Demdike her familiar Marmaduke, a large and particularly angry black cat, scratched and bit three men before he ran yowling into the night as they wrestled the old dame to the ground. Thanks to Marmaduke’s long yellow teeth their bites turned septic giving further proof that the old lady was a witch.

Word went out that for once six real witches were to be burnt at the stake on the next market day in Lancaster. The people poured in from every village around. They bit into toffee apples, scoffed down hot apple fritters and drank cider, for it was October and the day before All Hallows’ Eve. Then a great mob of them waited for the witches to be trundled out in chains from the prison, dragged up onto the towering bonfires and tied to stakes.

Lancashire watches

The fires were lit and the flames leapt into the night sky making it as bright as day in the town square. The witches began to shriek and the simple country folk jeered and threw whatever they could lay their hands on at them. Then Old Demdike lifted up her voice over the roar of the flames and cried out a long and complicated backwards blessing –what witches sometimes call a curse.

Lancashire witches lightning

It was a blood chilling sound and in that moment the square went completely dark and the night became bitterly cold. Seconds passed, the night grew blacker still, and the crowd crouched low to the ground, whimpering in fear. Still blacker and no one could see a hand in front of their face, but they could certainly hear Old Demdike as she screamed out her curse over the crackle of flames the people could no longer see: Ouy peek dna ouy ssleb drol eht yam, ouy nopu enish ot ecaf sih ekam dna (which you might understand if you hold this up to a mirror)

When her voice and those of her sisters became silent the darkness faded and the flames rekindled and leapt up higher and brighter than before as cloud after cloud of bats lifted up out of the fires and flapped up into the night sky.

lancashire swarm of bats

 

For the next three days and nights the skies poured rain thick with soot, a plague of toads climbed out of village pumps and wells until the ground was covered with them, cattle stopped eating and died, and no one dare leave their cottage after dark because of the terrifying apparitions that raced across the night skies. And when all was over and the bravest of witch finders climbed Malkin Hill they found that the tower had been split in two by a great bolt of lightning.

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And the rest of the Lancashire witches lucky to avoid capture? They disappeared, driven deeper into the moors and the forests and were only glimpsed on All Hallows’ Eve as they flew through the night sky to Malkin Tower. And if you are foolish enough to be out after sunset on this night and look up and see a witch flying upside down on a toad whatever you do, look down!”

Note: Lancashire had more witch trials than any other county in England during the Witch Finder General’ time. I stole the witches’ name from Lancashire folk lore. But Mrs. Jackson swears that every word of this story is true!

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Maud, Lady Cunard and the Wounding Repartee

Maud Cunard photo

American socialite Maud Alice Burke, later Lady Cunard, known as Emerald

 

‘Let me introduce you to the man who killed Rasputin,’ Maud Cunard said to guests attending her large dinner party for the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Pavlovich and his friend Prince Felix Yasupov were indeed the men who had taken hours to kill the Mad Monk, Rasputin, the favorite of the Tsarina who resisting poison, bludgeoning on the head, and stabbing was finally chased from the house to be killed by a bullet in the head and then thrown into the river. Mortified at Maud Cunard’s outrageous introduction the Grand Duke Pavlovich turned on his heel and left her house, never to return.

 

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Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia was one of the few Romanovs to escape murder by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution.

 

She was the American wife of Bache Cunard, the fabulously rich grandson of shipping magnate Samuel Cunard, who founded the Cunard Line. It was a marriage that she found so unforgivably boring that she abandoned Bache and went to live in London where she assumed the more interesting first name of Emerald. The couple was to legally separate, but Bache Cunard financially supported his independent wife for the rest of his life.

 

Bache Cunard

Sir Bache Cunard, born in New York in 1851, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Cunard – shipping magnate

 

Lady Cunard was probably the most lavish hostess of her day and entertained fashionable London society at countless scintillating dinners, innumerable extravagant balls, and invitations to ultrasophisticated country-house parties at her husband’s country seat at Neville-Holt Hall.. Her celebrated London salon was a center for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, and writers, as well as politicians (anyone was invited as long as he or she was famous or interesting), but nerves of iron were necessary to withstand Maud’s quicksilver repartee and wounding tongue.

 

Neville Holt Hall

Nevill Holt Hall in Leicestershire. The Cunard shipping family owned the estate from 1876 to 1912

 

Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, considered her a dangerous woman, because although she was not greatly interested in politics, she beguiled senior politicians into revealing state information at her dinner table. Maud was renowned for serving up her guests’ frailties at dinner after the fish course. However, there was one occasion when Maud Cunard met her equal in the hands of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead,  a skilled orator, and close friend of Winston Churchill, who was noted for his staunch opposition to Irish Nationalism,  pugnacious views, and hard living.

 

F.E. Smith 1st Lord Birkenhead

F. E. Smith M.P. depicted in Vanity Fair, January 1907

 

Do you mind if I smoke?” Lord Birkenhead asked Lady Cunard long before dinner was over.

“Do you mind if we eat?” Lady Cunard responded sweetly.

“Not if you do it quietly,” retorted his lordship.

by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928

Maud Cunard by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928

 

At a time when discreet infidelity was an acceptable pursuit among the aristocracy, Maud was the longtime mistress of Sir Thomas Beecham. The anecdote related by Lady Shackleton in Death Sits Down to Dinner about the window-cleaner spotting Lady Cunard in bed with Sir Thomas is actually true, and nearly cost Lady Cunard her powerful place in society.

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Mrs. Jackson and the Golden Rules

It was between the wars that the whodunit murder mystery reached its greatest popularity. We call them cozies today, because they contain a minimum of violence –although the murder can be gruesome –and there is no sex whatsoever; even romance is kept firmly under control. The most well known writers of this time were Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh all known as the Queens of Crime, John Knox and  G.K. Chesterton, .

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Most Golden Age mysteries were set in a contained environment such as an English country house or a London Gentleman’s Club, on board a luxury ocean liner or the exotic Orient Express, or temporarily marooned on a lonely island. They had one thing in common: more often than  not, suspects were isolated until the denouement. Anywhere that the rich and the privileged gathered to be exclusive was a perfect setting for murder.

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Sleuths were usually amateur and ranged from the eccentric: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, a fastidious Belgian with tiny feet, waxed moustaches and a sweet tooth, to the staid, dowdy and inoffensive spinster, such as Miss Marple, living quietly in her picture-book English village.

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Quite often the amateur sleuth was an aristocrat who used the assistance of either a sympathetic member of Scotland Yard, or the unswerving loyalty of his manservant. One always suspected that Dorothy L. Sayers might have been a little in love with her urbane and sophisticated protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey.

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Sometimes there is an aura of mystery about the sleuth himself. It might be suggested that he comes from an aristocratic family, is educated and well-connected, but he is a mild mannered, inoffensive character who displays none of the arrogant self-assurance of the aristocracy and is so affable and bland that he is welcome everywhere and privy to all secrets, as in Marjory Allingham’s Albert Campion.

Most of the suspects are rich, famous or from the aristocracy or the upper classes, even if the characters are not British – they follow the societal manners and behavior of British society – Ngaio Marsh and Inspector Alleyn’s suspects are usually from the ‘toff’ class even though the writer was from New Zealand. Suspects like the world they lived in were usually people who enjoyed lives that most of us dream of!

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Writing a murder mystery was considered to be a game for both author and reader. The elements of the mystery must be clearly presented but in such a way as to arouse curiosity, to entice the reader to try and guess the outcome and if they were as clever as the author, to guess it before the denouement. To achieve this fair play was essential.

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Today cozy mysteries cross genres to include historical settings, women sleuths and sometimes more than just a dash of romance. Nevertheless most of them, if they are any good, observe the rules.

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Here are John Knox’s Ten Commandments or rules for achieving a murder mystery that contained all the elements of fair play a la the Golden Age.

Sherlock

 

The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.

 

All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

 

Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

 

No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

 

No Chinaman must figure in the story*.

 

No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

 

The detective himself must not commit the crime.

 

The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.

 

The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

 

Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

*For those of us with 21st century sensibilities the ‘Chinamen’ was excluded from the Ten Commandments because at the time there were scores of novels, written hastily and badly that usually contained a Chinamen or an opium den – this was determined by the Queens of Crime to be a serious cop-out and therefore a no-no.

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Why does the Britain of the early 1900s intrigue and delight so many of us?

ChatsworthToday the great houses of Britain’s landed aristocracy with their vast, exquisite interiors and views of sweeping parkland attest to the power of rank and wealth of a bygone age. They also provide a stunning backdrop for elegantly clothed men and women with gracious manners who star in numerous costume dramas acquired for Masterpiece Theatre from the mother-lode of British television. We are presently enraptured by the first two decades of the 1900s.

 

Imagine you have been invited for a Saturday-to-Monday, as the Edwardians called a weekend, to one of their glorious country houses. Here is a little advice to bear in mind for your short stay, after all you might want to be invited back!

 

JeevesWhatever you do don’t alienate the servants: It is important not to underestimate how the Edwardians related to those who ensured their comfort and provided them with flawless and devoted service. Servants employed in the great houses were part of the family, but not of it; a sizeable distinction because it relies on generations of subtle understanding of the polite, but offhand tact, used by the uppers when they addressed the lower orders. Butlers, footmen and personal maids will be extraordinarily unforgiving if you wear incorrect attire for the country, and cruelly punishing if you are either patronizingly familiar or arrogantly dismissive. So beware! The butler and the housekeeper will be far more intimidating than the charmingly eccentric dowager duchess or that affable old colonel you will be seated next to when you arrive in time for tea.

 

sargent17Your Edwardian great-grandmother would have been able to give you some good advice. Huge pointers for your comportment this weekend would be restraint, restraint, and more restraint in a way we can’t begin to imagine today. Your great-grandmother would be the first to remind you to lower your voice to a well-modulated murmur, that it is rude to interrupt, or even be too enthusiastic. Do not comment on your surroundings, the magnificence of the house, or marvel at the deliciousness of your dinner. You are not on a ‘girls’ night out’, no matter how confiding and wickedly risqué your new Edwardian girlfriends appear to be, or how many glasses of wine the footman pours for you at dinner. So sorry I meant to say self-restraint – just place your hand palm down over your wine glass to indicate no thank you, when you feel a delighted shriek start to emerge.

 

This was a time when women were treated like goddesses . . . then they married and were kept at home to incubate an heir and a spare. While the men at your country house weekend enjoy shooting and mathew and whatseerfacefishing, you encouraged to watch and applaud, but not join to in. When they sit back to their port and a cigar after dinner your hostess will beckon you away with the other women – important that you go with them. Despite the luxurious existence of the early 1900s, most women today would find it impossible to live the hidebound, restricted life of early 20th century women. So after you have lugged in the groceries after a hard day at the office, made dinner and then helped the kids with their homework before putting them to bed, just in time to collapse on the sofa to catch an episode of Downton, try not to sigh too deeply when Mathew Crawley goes down on one knee in the swirling snow to propose to Lady Mary. Most of us would have been Ivy slogging away in the scullery and not Lady Grantham reading a novel in the drawing room!

 

aaaaDid the Edwardian Shangri-La portrayed in Downton Abbey really exist at all even for the upper classes? The short answer is ‘Yes’ if you were Lord Grantham and not his valet. If you have a problem not seeking to right the inequities of life, then don’t get on that train at London’s Marylebone station for the country. Certainly there were drunken, abusive husbands, negligent and thoughtless parents, spendthrifts and philanderers in the Edwardian age . . . and wronged wives looked the other way. The trick to coping with the darker side of human nature, if you were of society, was that it must never be referred to, never confided and most definitely never publicly acknowledged. However if you are an egalitarian at heart and social ostracism doesn’t bother you too much, you might join Mrs. Pankhurst’s suffragettes and militantly proclaim your opinions. I have heard that Holloway Prison was equipped with a special wing for militant members of the WSPU

 

bbbbThe third housemaid will unpack your trunk for you – five changes of clothes a day for three days need an awful lot of tissue paper. Here’s a titillating scrap of fresh society gossip to share with the company – gossip was the spice of Edwardian life. Gladys, the Marchioness of Ripon, an ultra-sophisticate with a ‘past’ was a wonderful example of the Edwardian double-standard and loved to gossip with her close coterie of friends. Alone in her lover’s house one day she discovered a pile of rivetingly indiscrete love letters written to him by one of her social adversaries, Lady Londonderry. Gladys swiped the lot and generously shared the juicy bits – read aloud after dinner – with her closest friends. After the fun was over she honorably returned the letters to their author at Londonderry House ─ when she knew husband and wife were dining alone. The butler approached his Lordship and handed over the ribbon-bound bundle. After studying the contents, in silence, Lord Londonderry directed him to carry the letters to the other end of the dining table. Silence still reigned as Lady Londonderry came to terms with her awful predicament, a silence that was never broken between the two of them again. Far worse than having an affair, Lady Londonderry had ‘Let down the side.’ Adultery was a fact of life, indiscretion unforgiveable; to be the subject of common gossip shameful and the scandal of divorce out of the question. Lord Londonderry never spoke to his wife in private again, and maintained a distant, cold courtesy to her in public for the rest of their long marriage – so much more entertaining than a splashy tabloid divorce!

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Daisy Brook and the Imprudent Letter

 

Daisy Brook, who later became Daisy Greville, the Countess of Warwick, was one of the early Edwardian era’s great beauties and the center of it’s many scandals.

Daisy_Greville2She featured in DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN as an example of imprudence and reckless behavior. “I will not be used as an example of indiscretion for generations of silly girls, like poor Daisy Brook,” cried one of Clementine’s friends when discovered to be involved in an illicit affair that might become public.

 

Daisy was called the Babbling Brook because her many clandestine affairs were well known in Society, usually leaked inadvertently by Daisy. It was quite fashionable for a married woman to take lovers – but very unfashionable to be indiscrete.

Lord_Charles_Beresford_-_in_Naval_Uniform_late_1880s_02In her early marriage to Lord Brook Daisy fell in love with Lord Charles Beresford – a serial lady killer with a long-suffering, plain wife who was also extremely rich. Daisy was so in infatuated with Lord Charles that she burst into Lady Charles’s bedroom at a country house party and announced that she and Lord Charles were passionately in love and were  going to elope. Lady Charles put up with a lot from her husband, but this sort of dangerous impetuosity from his mistress would not be tolerated. Rich wives have a lot of clout with their husbands, Lady Charles didn’t say a word to Daisy, but collected her husband and took him off home.

Inevitably this incident cooled Lord Charles’s ardor for the reckless Daisy, and he abandoned her to concentrate his energies on women who did not specialize in dramatics. But during the interim Lady Charles became pregnant. Daisy outraged that her lover had been unfaithful to her – with his wife – and convinced that the baby was legitimate as no one, in Daisy’s opinion,  could possibly be interested in the very unattractive Lady Charles, wrote a letter to Lord Charles.  It was quite a graphic piece of writing apparently. In it Daisy proclaimed her outrage at how he could have gone from her to the very unattractive Lady Charles, and for good measure reminisced about certain details of their physical love. Somehow or other, in the way letters rashly written in the heat of the moment often do, it was delivered to Lady Charles instead of to her husband. Who not only opened the letter and read it, but consulted her solicitor.

Prince of WalesIn a panic Daisy realized that the letter in the wrong hands and coupled with legal advice might very well be her downfall in Society went to her dear friend Bertie the Prince of Wales – who was to become King Edward VII. It was during this tearful scene with the gorgeous Daisy begging for help that Bertie fell in love with her.

Bertie was the consummate gallant, and completely besotted by Daisy went into action immediately. At 2 a.m. on a rainy morning he rousted the unfortunate solicitor from his bed and demanded to see the letter. Once read Bertie knew the dreadful thing must never come to light. The solicitor would not hand the letter over, so Bertie went to Lady Charles, who refused to return the letter to Daisy, unless Daisy was willing to take herself off to the Continent for the rest of the season.

Daisy 1904_1905_countess_of_warwiBertie was not a man to threaten; he told Lady Charles that if she used the letter in any way whatsoever it might be her who would be ostracized by Society. Again Lady Charles refused to part with the letter. To the complete delight of London Society, who were fully aware of what was going on, Bertie made sure the Brooks were invited everywhere and assiduously cut Lady Charles from any function that involved him. Angry that his friend the Prince of Wales was snubbing his wife,  Lord Charles stormed over to Marlborough House and in a set to with the prince unfortunately gave him a shove and threatened to knock his block off! Luckily, Lord Charles was called away to sea in the service of the Royal Navy before he could do any more damage to his relationship with the future King, leaving his wife to stew on the sidelines of the London Season until she finally agreed to destroy Daisy’s letter.

And Daisy Brook? Well, she went on to become the extraordinarily rich Countess of Warwick and Bertie’s long term mistress.

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Eric Horne and What the Butler Saw

Any novel, movie or TV series about the British aristocracy in the early 1900s never fails to emphasize the tremendous loyalty displayed by the servant classes for their masters.  And particularly the devotion of butlers and valets.

For single men about town their valets also performed the task of butlering. They styled themselves as  gentleman’s gentleman. In larger establishments and country houses the master of the house usually had a butler and a valet, though some butlers also valeted their masters.

 

Without his gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s life would be a mess. In P.G. Wodehouse’s delightful stories Jeeves shows his devotion to Bertie by doing his thinking for him.

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Bertie Wooster: Jeeves, I have to make one thing crystal clear.

Jeeves: Yes, sir?

Bertie Wooster: I am not one of those fellows who become absolute slaves to their valets.

Jeeves: [as if shocked] No, sir.

Bertie Wooster: Just as long as we understand each other.

Jeeves: Perfectly, sir.

 

In Downton Abbey there are times when one almost feels that Lord Grantham has a better relationship with his butler and his valet than he does with his own family and Carson’s devotion is as unquestioning as his lordship’s Labrador:

Carson GRantham cricket

Carson: I couldn’t work for a man that I don’t respect. And I certainly couldn’t leave Downton for him.

Lord Grantham: I shall take that as a compliment. For myself and for my house.

 

 

Dorothy L Sayer’s elegant and aristocrat detective Lord Peter Wimsey is remarkably off-hand, almost flippant, about the devoted service he receives from his man, Bunter who is also Wimsey’s humble ‘Watson’ in his sleuthing hobby:

Wimsey

Bunter: My old mother always used to say, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you stare them in the face hard enough, they generally run away

Lord Peter Wimsey: Your mother, Bunter? Oh, I never knew you had one. I always thought you just sort of came along already-made, so it were.

 

 

I searched for a manservant who did not offer the sort of slavish loyalty that butlers of fiction seem to provide, but treated the job as just that; a means of earning a living without being a cringing toady, and here he is.

 

Eric Horne was butlering at the end of the 19th century well into the 20th and he wrote a wonderful book called What the Butler Winked At from his private diary when he retired. Eric saw it all: indiscretions, infidelities, eccentricities, the penny-pinching of the exceedingly rich toward the people who looked after their welfare, drunken cooks, the tremendous snobbery that existed between upper and lower servants,. He remained unimpressed – especially by the gentry, and rarely Butler wined atkept a post for longer than two years. Eric enjoyed change.

He was intelligent and understood the personal service business so well he had his pick of butlering jobs. One of the most interesting was a seven month stint to a fabulously rich Indian Prince, a close friend of George V. Eric found the Prince to be a man of splendid disposition ‘sharp as a needle with intelligence that far surpassed that of any Englishman’ he had met. He set up the Prince’s large London establishment in a West End mansion rented for the Season where the Prince entertained society on lavish scale and, on the QT, a stream of pretty actresses.

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During the shooting month of August the Prince rented a substantial castle in Scotland and Eric was there to ensure smooth sailing for the many guests. There was a railway strike and the scotch ran out, but this problem was solved instantly by Eric who had befriended a local merchant. As the castle’s major domo Eric chose the menu for twelve course dinners and played his violin during the meal.  Haggis as well as fresh local oysters were to be served at every dinner, by order of the Prince, and Eric had to nursemaid a guest who won a competition to see how many oysters he could eat washed down with a jeroboam of champagne.

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Toward the end of his stay the Prince received phone call from Balmoral that the King and Queen would be motoring over to visit him the day before he returned to London. All preparations were made for a sumptuous luncheon, but there was no sign of the royal party or word from Balmoral. The Prince was mystified but too polite to telephone to find out what had happened. He departed the following morning leaving Eric to pack up the house before taking the train down to London. And of course there had been a mix-up in dates and at lunch time the King and Queen arrived and it was up to Eric to entertain them. He made the old Scottish castle as welcoming as he could; his skills as the perfect butler made him an admirable host. He conducted the royal couple around the principal rooms of the castle, with a little potted history to go with. Gave them a delicious luncheon put together from an emergency picnic, and discussed the season’s grouse coverts with the King. He might have given them a tune or two on his violin!

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Dame Nellie Melba and the Silver Voice with a Brass Tongue

At the name of Melba… crowned heads would nod respectful acknowledgment, noble lords and ladies would open their doors, newspaper editors would clear space for headlines, theatre managers would turn pale, and the house would be full.

 

Melba Phelia in 1889

Melba as Ophelia in 1889

 

Her voice was pure and pitch perfect she never slid up to her High C but merely produced it with effortless spot-on perfection.  The Tsar paid tribute; Paris, Monte Carlo and Brussels were as crowns strewn in her path. Italy was duly impressed but could not quite warm to the lady, they felt that she could not act and her voice was too cold. Germany, where they were rather more musical, was not too keen at all – she did not have what it took for Wagner.

 

Melba as Violette in La traviata 1900

Melba’s costume for Violette in La Traviata 1900s

 

At Covent Garden, where space backstage was at a premium, a dressing-room marked ‘Melba’ was always exclusively hers. At the Metropolitan her name in the roll of honor led all the rest. Escoffier named a peach and ice-cream dessert, Peach Melba, in her honor for the Coronation year of 1911.

 

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Peach Melba – Escoffier for the 1911 Coronation of George V

 

Nellie Melba was not only one of the greatest voices of the Golden Age she was its greatest personality. Quick witted, outspoken and unpredictable she held her ground at center stage against rival sopranos, male colleagues and conductors. The silvery quality of her voice was the legend of the era. For fifteen years on both sides of the turn of the century she was renowned as the world’s greatest soprano. So was her tongue. The public adored her, musicians tended not to, but they praised her. Her tempestuous relationship with Puccini made any rehearsal a nightmare. On one occasion after Puccini had made her re-sing an entire aria, he threw down his baton and shrieked: “No, no, no. You sing my music. You don’t sing Melba-Puccini.” They had to wait for several days before Melba would agree to continue with rehearsals.

 

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The cloak worn by Melba in Lohengrin 1920

 

“…the voice, pure and limpid, with an adorable timbre and perfect accuracy, emerges with the greatest ease.” Arthur Pougin, said of her in Paris. But she was so unspeakably rude to everyone that it took the intervention of Lady de Grey (later the Marchioness of Ripon) to prevent her from being fired from the opera house in Brussels and it was only with the support of the British nobility and particularly the Marchioness of Ripon that Melba made her break through to become a world superstar.

 

Melba State Performance covent garden May 1914 for Georgwe V

Melba’s state performance at Covent Garden May 1914 for George V

 

The more famous she became the more outrageous her behavior became. She insulted the press, journalists and anyone who disagreed with her, and got away with it. She invariably would finish her concerts with ‘Home, sweet home’, leaving everyone misty eyed and begging for more. And when it was announced (not before time, some thought) that the diva might soon retire to her native Australia, the editor of The Musical Times wrote under the headline THE DIVA TO GO HOME: ‘And by all means why not? As the Diva has melodiously declared (only too often), there’s no place like it.’

 

Melba as Desdemona 1924

Melba as Desdemona in 1924

 

 

 

 

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The Lodger by Louisa Treger – A story of Dorothy Richardson

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If ever there was a redoubtable Edwardian Dorothy Richardson most certainly was. A major writer of the twentieth century and an important figure in the emergence of modernist prose fiction, Dorothy published her first novel Pointed Roofs in 1915, the first complete stream of consciousness novel published in English. Dorothy, however, preferred the term interior monologue

But how did Dorothy Richardson not only find herself as a writer, but as an independent woman with very developed opinions of her own?

Dorothy is the central character of Louisa Treger’s debut novel: THE LODGER, to be released by St. Martin’s Press on October 14th, 2014. This blog is part review of THE LODGER and interview with its talented author.

Dorothy Richardson

Dorothy Richardson

Women in Britain had been demanding the right to vote since 1872 but by 1905 the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Suffragettes, had become actively and often aggressively militant in their fight for emancipation. Women also began to seek careers as doctors and not nurses, leaders and not home-makers, but they were unusual. Most women from the middle and upper-middle classes married young and settled into a life of domestic bliss.

At the beginning of THE LODGER, Dorothy’s father has declared bankruptcy and her mother after years of depression commits suicide. In pre-WWI Britain young women of middle-class backgrounds without family money to support and protect them became governesses or paid companions and lived respectably within the confines of their employer’s house. But Dorothy suffering deeply from the shock at her mother’s death seeks the solace of independence and moves to London to become a working woman; earning subsistence wages as a secretary to a Harley Street dentist.

As Dorothy tries to accustom herself to the considerable hardships of a precariat existence she struggles with loneliness, inadequate food and the discomfort of a dilapidated boarding house. Then she receives an invitation from an old school friend who lives with her new husband, the writer H.G. Wells (Bertie), in a comfortable house in the country. Dorothy is desperately lonely and is grateful for an opportunity to connect with her old friend; she catches a train into the country to stay with them for a weekend.

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H.G. Wells in 1890

Bertie is a compelling character: dynamic, by turns generous and astonishingly selfish, but completely charming with a voracious appetite for life and a growing interest in the sympathetic and intelligent Dorothy. The inevitable development of their relationship from good friends to lovers suits Bertie who is immensely attracted to Dorothy, but she is far from enthralled with the physical side of their relationship. Her attitude to Bertie seems to change from friendship and romantic infatuation to that of sexual generosity to the man she has fallen in love with.

As Dorothy continues to cope with the harsh realities of being a member of the working poor, she enjoys many aspects of her new life in London. Some of the book’s most delightful passages describe Dorothy on her bicycle as she pedals her way around London, keenly observant of the daily lives of those around her; details she enjoys relating to Bertie who urges her to consider writing about her experiences.

At her boarding house Dorothy is drawn into friendship with her fellow lodgers. Veronica, a vital and captivating young woman, is fascinated by the courage and determination displayed by the militant suffragette movement. Veronica and Dorothy become passionately involved in a love affair. As Veronica is drawn further into the dangers of the Women’s Social and Political Union – and the inevitable path to imprisonment and the horrors of forcible feeding and Dorothy goes through her own transformation toward emancipation. As she ends her constricting relationship with Bertie, and avoids marriage as the only opportunity to lead a protected and more stable life, Dorothy turns to writing and it is through her work that she discovers herself.

 

Louisa Treger tells Dorothy Richardson’s story of her early life, before she became a recognized writer, with strength and honesty. Her deft portrayal of Dorothy’s most intimate feelings as she struggles with issues entirely in context with the time in which she lives is beautifully written with sympathy and understanding and give the reader a tremendous sense of place and time.

So, the first question I have for Louisa is:

How did you discover Dorothy Richardson? She is hardly a well-known literary figure today, unlike Virginia Woolf. What was it about her personality, her life and her circumstances that drew you to her?

I discovered Dorothy completely by accident while researching Virginia Woolf for my PhD thesis. I found a review by Virginia about a writer whose name I did not recognize:

“There is no one word, such as romance or realism, to cover, even roughly, the works of Miss Dorothy Richardson. She has invented a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender. It is of a more elastic fibre than the old, capable of stretching to the extreme, of suspending the frailest particles, of enveloping the vaguest shapes”

As soon as I read this, I had to know more about Dorothy Richardson. Who was she? How had she come to re-invent the English language, in order to record the experience of being a woman? The more I found out about her, the more I was drawn to her. Dorothy’s literary achievements were remarkable – she forged a new style of fiction that became known as stream of consciousness. Her desire to find a narrative form that would render the texture of consciousness really resonated with me, for I too was striving to capture in words life’s minute to minute quality. I was as captivated by Dorothy’s life as I was by her work: she was deeply unconventional in both, smashing just about every boundary and taboo going – social, sexual, and literary.

Louisa

Louisa Treger author of THE LODGER

How much of our early life’s experiences shape who we become, or choose to become? Do you think Dorothy’s sense of alienation from the rigid social conventions of the day are an indirect result of her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy?

I believe that our early life experiences have a profound effect on who we become. Actually, Dorothy’s sense of alienation from the social conventions of the day predated her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy. Her father called her his ‘son’ from an early age because she was the third of four daughters, not the longed-for heir. He admired and encouraged her intellect; her ineptitude for domestic chores was tolerated, even indulged, by him and the rest of the family. Dorothy grew up torn between admiration of him and resentment at the way he dominated her mother – she was keenly aware of the inequality of the sexes.

Dorothy’s father was the son of tradespeople, yet he aspired to be a gentleman. He sold the family business and invested the proceeds unwisely: there were years spent struggling to cling to solvency even before the final crash. So Dorothy was displaced from her class and confused about her gender early in life – her mother’s suicide and her father’s bankruptcy were contributing factors in a process of alienation that was already in motion.

Dorothy falls in love with her oldest friend Jane’s new husband and willingly becomes his mistress. She knows this causes Jane deep hurt, but she does not deny herself. How did you approach this aspect of Dorothy’s character so that the reader does not feel antipathy towards her?

It wasn’t easy, and no doubt some readers will condemn Dorothy’s behavior. I tried to portray several things about her character – foremost, her vulnerability and isolation when she meets Bertie. She is reeling from her mother’s death, and is less able to withstand his charm than she might have been if she was more robust in herself. Also, Dorothy is fully aware how wrong it is to become involved with a married man and betray her oldest friend. She genuinely suffers and feels remorseful, but the attraction is stronger than she is. Finally, I tried to show – I hope without being judgmental – that no one is the winner in this situation. Ultimately Dorothy, Bertie and Jane all get hurt.

Many of the issues Dorothy faces such as living a precariat existence, a low-paying dismal job, her decision not to marry and deal with the insecurity of living alone in a big city are similar to those young women face today. How much has changed since the early 1900s, and do you think women’s lot has really improved?

I totally agree that these issues are still relevant to women today. In many respects, Dorothy was a modern figure beset by modern dilemmas.

In certain ways, things haven’t changed that much. The gap that still exists between women’s and men’s earnings has been well-documented, as has the fact that women lose out through taking time off to have children, often forfeiting promotions, training opportunities and job progression. Of course, women’s lot has improved in other ways: we have more freedom now, more choices. But this brings its own complications. We’re told that we can have it all, but I rarely meet a woman who is completely satisfied by her particular life balance. Full-time career women tend to feel they’re missing out on time with their families, full-time mothers feel that they have no identity outside their homes and families, while the part timers believe they don’t do anything properly.

You describe Dorothy’s path to writing as she struggles to find voice and expression as a writer. What about you, when did you first start writing? Was the research and writing of THE LODGER your first experience as a writer, and what were the struggles you encountered both as a writer and in your path to publication?

For most of my life, I kept diaries and scribbled short stories – I think the desire to write was always there. I originally trained as a classical violinist, but was forced to take a year out due to illness. It was possibly the best thing that could have happened, because it gave me the opportunity to rethink my life: I realized that I wanted to work with words, not music.

THE LODGER is my second novel – there’s an apprentice novel hidden away in my bottom drawer! But I don’t look on my first attempt as a waste because I learnt so much whilst working on it.

I decided to follow the traditional path to publication: it was long and littered with rejection letters from both agents and publishers. At times, it seemed I would never get published and I thought about giving up, but I couldn’t stop writing; it was part of who I was. I’m a living example that persistence pays off.

Signing up with my present agent, David Haviland, was a turning point. He has an exceptional editorial eye and really transformed THE LODGER, shaping it into something that publishers were willing to consider. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel that my struggle has ended with publication of THE LODGER. I am always striving to be a better writer – my writing is never good enough!

Thank you, Louisa. You have written a stunning book, Dorothy is a compelling woman and her story and the way you have told it is fascinating, I felt honored to be allowed to read THE LODGER and to have the opportunity of talking to you about this remarkable account of a distinctly independent Edwardian!

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The Goddess of the Hunt and Riding Aside

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Princess Mary painted by Alfred Munnings

 

Fox-hunting – the great pastime of the English countryman, conjures up vivid images. But women riders –  sitting beautifully upright on their great glossy horses, flowing habits cascading, top hats fixed firmly over neatly coiled and netted hair, veils secured across haughty faces, all galloping along at great speed and daringly taking all  obstacles have all my admiration. The Dianas of the hunting field. What courage! What style! How on earth did they stay on their horses?

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Jules Pellier invented a saddle with two pommels to hold the rider more securely in place so she could gallop and jump in the hunting field.

Here is a perfect illustration to demonstrate exactly how perching on her horse like the fearless huntress she was, with no apparent effort or aids to stay on the horses back was achieved. Underneath the flowing skirt of her navy worsted habit was the strangest saddle imaginable. It looked lop-sided and bulky because it was. It involved two pommels a fixed head and a leaping head.  One supported the right thigh, and the second one held her left thigh secure between pommel and stirrup.When she was ready to gallop across the field and take a five barred gate she pressed her left thigh up against the leaping pommel and her right thigh downward and there was no toppling!

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Master of Foxhounds – Alfred Munning

The greatest danger to a rider seated aside in the hunting field was that she was very much locked into position on her horse. Men seated astride in their small hunt saddles were thrown free if their horse fell, but riders aside were trapped in place. Imagine a 1200 pound horse falling over with you trapped in place on its side. Also because of the height of the fixed head, it was also very difficult for a rider aside to drop her hands effectively to stop her horse

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The long right side of the skirt could be lifted up and buttoned behind in the small of the back. But when the rider was seated aside on her horse, the skirt fell evenly to cover her legs completely.

The riding habit worn in the early 1900s had what was called a pocket for the right leg, which sat higher on the horse and would have lifted the hem up so you could see part of the rider’s leg. So the right hand side of the skirt was diagonally longer and when the rider was seated aside on her horse the skirt fell equally to the edge of her boots, completely concealing her legs. When she was walking around this elongated right side of her skirt was lifted and buttoned up in the small of her back giving her habit a lovely line.

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Riding jodhpurs with a modesty apron

In the 1900s women started to ride astride, giving them greater freedom and more contacts with their mount. They wore riding jodphurs, and over these were wrapped an apron skirt modestly covering her parted thighs! Hugely frowned on and forbidden by some hunts women nevertheless prevailed and by the 1920s it was quite acceptable for women to wear jodhpurs and ride like men.  Queen Mary most strongly objected to women riding astride, in 1913 she made a royal decree forbidding women to ride astride along Rotten Row in Hyde Park.

 

 

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