Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Most Beautiful Name in the World"

"Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century."
-- George Bernard Shaw

Today is the birthday of the actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928) and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography marks the occasion by making her its "Life of the Day."

As the acting partner of Henry Irving at London's Lyceum Theatre, Terry achieved her greatest distinction in Shakespeare, especially in Shakespearian comedy, although she also excelled in other roles. Her portrayal of Queen Henrietta Maria in W.G. Wills's drama Charles I (1879) so entranced Oscar Wilde that he wrote the following sonnet in her honor:

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,
She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War's ruin, and the wreck of chivalry
To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.
O Hair of Gold! O Crimson Lips! O Face
Made for the luring and the love of man!
With thee I do forget the toil and stress,
The loveless road that knows no resting place,
Time's straitened pulse, the soul's dread weariness,
My freedom, and my life republican!

They don't write fan mail like that anymore.

Shown here: John Singer Sargeant, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889; Tate Britain (read more about this painting)

Related links:

The Henry Irving Archive: Digital Resouces for Scholars and Students This comprehensive site has a number of biographical sources for Terry and a large image gallery.

Online exhibition: Ellen Terry at the Family Records Centre, London
The documents that make up this online exhibition help untangle a complicated life story that included three marriages and a further relationship that produced two children.

Smallhythe Place
Ellen Terry's house in Tenterden, Kent, is a National Trust property open to visitors from March to October.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Have a Seat

Got an extra £385,000 ($753,000) burning a hole in your pocket?

That's the asking price for half of a box at the Royal Albert Hall for sale by Harrods Estates. For the price, the buyer gets an 861-year lease for five seats in box No. 15 on the grand tier, within shouting distance of the queen's box. The new owner will have to pay an annual service charge of about £450 ($880) and a premium for some events. Oh, and he or she will have to share the box with the owner of its other five seats.

The Royal Albert Hall (shown here) was built in 1871 according to plans initially devised by Albert, Victoria's prince consort, who wished to build a Great Hall on the model of the spectacular Roman amphitheatres. He envisioned an oval-shaped auditorium that would accommodate 30,000; after his death in 1861 the plans were scaled back and today the capacity of the hall is just one-sixth of that.

About 1,200 of the seats in the hall are privately owned, having been sold off in the nineteenth century to help pay for the building’s construction. At that time, 999-year leases on 1,300 seats went for a mere £100 each.

Related book: The Royal Albert Hall: A Victorian Masterpiece for the 21st Century (Art Books International, 2003)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Victorian Cover-Up

An exhibition scheduled to open in October at the Barbican in London is apparently so risqué that no one under 18 will be admitted. It also promises to capture certain aspects of the Victorians' conflicted attitudes toward sex.

"Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now" will chart more than 2,000 years of sex in art via 250 objects, from ancient Greek pottery to works by Jeff Koons. "We think we live in a very liberal climate," says Kate Bush, Barbican's head of galleries, "but this exhibition will reveal how contingent on time and place is our attitude to sex."

The Victorians will be well covered (er...uncovered) in the exhibition, which is thought to be the first-ever survey of the visual representation of the sexual act. Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley and examples of nineteenth-century pornography are included, as is a 20-inch plaster cast fig leaf (shown here) commissioned to hide the private parts of a copy of Michelangelo's David presented to Queen Victoria in 1857 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. (The story goes that on her first encounter with the David, the queen was so shocked by its nudity that the proportionally accurate fig leaf was quickly made for it.) The sinuous and deeply veined leaf could be attached to the relevant part of David's anatomy by means of two metal hooks (yeow!) Both casts are now part of the Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum; the fig leaf is so famous in its own right that it has its own web page.

Another section of the exhibition will focus on the sexual lives of nineteenth-century painters and sculptors, including Auguste Rodin and JMW Turner, who filled his private notebooks with explicit sketches of individuals engaged in sexual acts--drawings that one "would never immediately associate with the artist's other work," according to co-curator Marina Wallace.

"Presenting a powerful sensory experience, the exhibition highlights the relationship between viewer and artwork and provides the historical and cultural framework for us to question our own boundaries," say the curators. "Where does art stop and pornography begin? Is an explicit painting from an ancient Pompeian brothel acceptable (hallowed by time), while its modern equivalent is not? Because something can claim 'aesthetic merit' can it be exempted from charges of obscenity?"

Good questions for us, and questions that preoccupied many thinking Victorians. More on this in the months ahead...

Related link:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Update #2: "The Young Victoria" Film

From the February 21 issue of Playback (Canada):

"Vallée 'Fascinated' by Victoria"
By Patricia Bailey

For Jean-Marc Vallée, making his next film with Martin Scorsese is the chance of a lifetime.

"I'm so excited. It's such a unique project, and such amazing people are involved. I feel very privileged," an ebullient Vallée told Playback Daily.

The Young Victoria is written by Academy Award-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and follows the life of the British monarch in the years immediately after she ascended to the throne in 1837, at age 18.

"I'm fascinated by a woman who assumed such great responsibility at such a young age," says Vallée. "She basically said, 'You watch me, I'm going to be a great queen.' And she was."

The Young Victoria, which will also look at the queen's intense romance with her husband, Prince Albert, is co-produced by Graham King (Gangs of New York), Scorsese and -- both fittingly and curiously -- the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson.

Vallée, who recently spent two weeks in London working on the script with Fellowes, says he read dozens of scripts before The Young Victoria. "I read it right through. I finally found something I liked. She is such an incredible character. I was captivated."

Vallée believes he was chosen to direct the film because of the unique approach he took with C.R.A.Z.Y. "C.R.A.Z.Y. is a classic story with elements of fantasy. I want to do the same thing with this story. I want to give it an edge and push the envelope."

Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, a period when Quebec (then Lower Canada) was very much under the thumb of the then-powerful British Empire. But Vallée doesn't find it odd that a French-speaking Quebecer is making a film about one of the most powerful symbols of British imperialism.

"This has nothing to do with politics. I'm there because I know how to tell a story," he says. The film will be shot in London; no date has yet been set.
---End of Playback article---

For previous posts on this topic, see February 11: New Film on Queen Victoria's Early Life in the Works and February 16: Update #1: "The Young Victoria" Film. For a later post on this topic, see March 4: Update #3:"The Young Victoria" Film.

Shown here: Queen Victoria at 24 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Victorians for Sale in King Street

Next week Christie's will hold a sale of Victorian drawings, paintings, and decorative arts from the collection of renowned dealer and scholar Christopher Wood.

Approximately 300 lots will feature works by some of the most significant artists of the nineteenth century, including Sir Edward Burne-Jones; John Atkinson Grimshaw; Frederic, Lord Leighton; Sir John Everett Millais; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and John William Waterhouse.

Scanning through the online sales catalogue of “Christopher Wood: A Very Victorian Eye,” one is lulled into a glassy-eyed stupor by the sheer banality of much of Victorian still life and landscape painting (an exception are William Fraser Garden’s quiet woodland scenes), then jolted awake by the beauty of a single nude sketched from life in chalk.

A few narrative paintings are included in the sale, including a version of The Crossing Sweeper by William Powell Frith, R.A. (1819-1909), shown here (read more about this painting). Wood's biography of Frith, William Powell Frith: A Painter and His World, was published last autumn by Sutton Publishing.

Frith is, coincidentally, the subject of a major exhibition through March 4 at the Guildhall Art Gallery, making this a very good time indeed for Londoners to see a range of Victorian artistic endeavor. The Guildhall exhibit is accompanied by another new book on the artist, William Powell Frith: Painting the Victorian Age, edited by Mark Bills and Vivien Knight and published by Yale University Press.

The Christie's sale is previewed in an article in the February 17 issue of The Economist, which also notes Christopher Wood's steadfast faith in the enduring cultural value of nineteenth-century British art and manufacture.

The results of this auction are the subject of a later post (March 4, 2007).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Return of the SS Osborne to Portsmouth

Noted with interest, from the February 16 Portsmouth News:

"One Would Be So Amused"
By Jon Rosamond

One of Queen Victoria's steamboats is set to return home to Portsmouth.

The steam cutter, the SS Osborne, was built in Cowes in 1896 for the Queen's personal use, and was maintained in the naval base when not on royal duty.

But the boat has languished in a museum outbuilding on the royal estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. However the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, which manages the historic dockyard, has arranged to take the cutter on long-term loan from owners English Heritage. Eventually she will go on display in the Victorian-era Boathouse No 7 – next to the cafe – where she was kept at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Peter Goodship, the trust's chief executive, said: "I went to see Osborne at Sandringham two years ago and it was love at first sight. She is a beautiful little boat and we're delighted that she will be coming home to the south coast. It's fitting that her permanent residence will be Boathouse No 7, where she and hundreds of other small naval boats were built and maintained from 1875 until the 1970s."

Sold in the 1930s to private owners, the immaculately-restored cutter was a frequent sight in the Solent from 1979 until 1999 when she was acquired by English Heritage. Officials hoped the boat would form part of a small exhibition at Osborne House, Victoria's rural retreat on the Isle of Wight, but the project was abandoned due to lack of cash.

She was supposed to move to the historic dockyard last week, but the operation was called off at the last moment. The low-loader that was hired to transport the 31ft-long vessel found the snow-covered roads of East Anglia impassable.

Lorraine Carpenter, of the trust, said: "People think she looks like a fish out of water at Sandringham, which is in the middle of the countryside. The snow was quite bad up there last week and they missed a slot with the carrier. We don't yet know when she'll be coming down."

---end of Portsmouth News article--

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Reluctant Rebel of 1857: Bahadur Shah Zafar II

An interesting review of William Dalrymple's latest book, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 appeared last week on Time.com (the book is available now from amazon.co.uk and will be available in late March from amazon.com). I'm a big fan of Dalrymple's; two years ago at Heathrow his White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India made the three hours between checking in for and boarding my international flight not only bearable but exceptionally entertaining. His richly contextualized narratives are models of clarity and concision that other nonfiction writers would do well to emulate; his eye for the telling detail and his careful pacing mean that, as Adiga notes below in the Time.com review, his panoramic books read like the best fiction. Dalrymple divides his time between homes in London and Delhi (the photo here is of the Red Fort in Delhi), which gives this meticulously researched book a grounding and color that others on the same subject have lacked. Highly recommended.

"The Tale of India's Last Mughal"
By Aravind Adiga

At the age of 81, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the Mughal Emperor of India, led an enviable existence. He no longer hunted, as he once loved to do, but he still read and wrote poetry, flew his kites, talked to his numerous sons and grandsons, and, from his residence in the Red Fort, enjoyed the views of his beloved city, Delhi. The city was all that was left of Zafar's dominion, but even there he wasn't really in charge; the year was 1857, and the British East India Company ruled Delhi and most of the rest of India. Then, in the course of a single day, Zafar was torn from his poetry and kites, and found himself leading the biggest mutiny ever undertaken against the British Empire.

The story of Zafar's extraordinary final days is the subject of William Dalrymple's new book, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857. Fans of Dalrymple know him as an author of crisply written works of non-fiction drawn from his travels and historical research, books so full of drama and memorable characters they read like novels. His latest work won't disappoint them.

The Last Mughal may be set a century and a half ago, but it revolves around a contemporary theme: the clash of civilizations. The spirit of evangelical Christianity had begun to infect the Englishmen in India in the 1850s. Many believed that they had been granted the Empire in order to convert Hindus and Muslims to the "true faith." On the other side, a growing number of India's Muslims were turning to a more orthodox form of Islam and dreaming of declaring jihad against the British. In May 1857, thousands of sepoys (Indian soldiers) serving in the British army mutinied, mainly due to fears that the British were out to corrupt Islam and Hinduism. The revolt may have been inevitable, but what was wholly unexpected was that the mutineers, in their search for a leader, would turn to an institution that had been all but defunct for over a century: the Mughal Empire. As one contemporary report put it, the soldiers "announced that they had released themselves from the service of the East India Company, and were about to become enrolled as subjects of the King of Delhi." They poured into the capital, drove the British out, and bullied the reluctant Zafar into becoming their leader.

Although Zafar's life binds the narrative together, the real subject of The Last Mughal is Delhi itself. Dalrymple wants to prove that, far from being decadent and in terminal decline as is often thought, late Mughal Delhi was a thriving city, full of poets, artists and traders. Religiously eclectic, Delhi culture freely blended Hindu and Muslim influences. Although Indian nationalist memory glorifies cities along the Ganges like Kanpur as the centers of the revolt, Dalrymple suggests that Delhi was the true locus of the 1857 uprising. Drawing on contemporary accounts from the Indian and British sides, he paints a vivid portrait of a city under siege, giddy with the thrill of being independent, but faced with food shortages, anarchy, and the imminent likelihood of a British counterattack.

The story ends badly for Zafar and Delhi. After a bitter siege, the British retake the capital, the citizens are massacred, and the old Emperor is exiled to Burma, where he dies, neglected and forgotten. Yet despite his flaws—Zafar was indecisive and easily manipulated by bad advisers—he still emerges as something of a hero in Dalrymple's narrative. Throughout the British siege, he obstinately refuses to alienate the Hindus by giving in to demands of Muslim fanatics among the rebels.

The Last Mughal argues that the destruction of Zafar's court and the religiously tolerant culture of Mughal Delhi exacerbated divisions between Hindus and Muslims and fueled the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the subcontinent. Without Zafar, Dalrymple writes, "it would be almost impossible to imagine that Hindu sepoys could ever have rallied to the Red Fort and the standard of a Muslim leader, joining with their Muslim brothers in an attempt to revive the Mughal Empire." By invoking the memory of the last Emperor, Dalrymple reminds Indians of a time when such religious harmony was easy to come by.

---end of Time.com article---


Related link: New York Sun book review, "The End of an Empire," March 21, 2007

Update #1: "The Young Victoria" Film

From the Daily Mail, February 16:

"Emily is Crowned Queen"
By Baz Bamigboye

The fast-rising London actress Emily Blunt is in discusssions to portray Queen Victoria in a film about how the monarch fell in love with Prince Albert. The 23-year-old actress has seen her career take off since she held her own opposite Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. One prominent critic hailed her performance as "a minor tour de force of smiling hostility."

Emily's skills were honed on stage, working with directors such as Peter Hall and Richard Eyre and thespians including Judi Dench. Ms Blunt has told me that working with Judi, in The Royal Family, was "like a masterclass." She and producer Graham King have talked several times to discuss the possibility of her portraying Queen Victoria and she has studied early drafts of the screenplay by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes.

King, who also produced Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated film The Departed, has hired Jean-Marc Valle to direct the film, which should begin production late this summer or early in the autumn. Regular readers of this column will recall (I hope!) that I first told you about this movie last year. I also revealed it was Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who was the one who suggested to King that he should look into the idea of doing a film about the friendship, courtship and marriage of Victoria and Albert.

"The film will be full of the joys of young love," King said, adding: "There was a lot of passion in that relationship. I mean, they did have nine children!"

Scorsese will be a producer on the project and the Duchess of York will most likely receive an executive producer credit. King refused to comment on the casting, but told me he was "impressed" with Blunt.

It's no secret that whatever we may think of them, movie audiences are fascinated by our monarchy.

Victoria's great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II has been sublimely portrayed by Helen Mirren in The Queen, which has garnered six Academy Award nominations, including those for best actress and best picture - the two categories which it won at last weekend's Orange Baftas.


---end of Daily Mail article---

For a previous post on this topic, see February 11: New Film on Queen Victoria's Early Life in the Works; for a later post on this topic, see February 23: Update #2: "The Young Victoria" Film

Friday, February 16, 2007

Group Revives Victorian Custom of Post-Mortem Portraiture to Help Grieving Parents

A Colorado nonprofit organization has revived a grieving custom widely practiced in the nineteenth century, particularly in Britain and the United States: the making of photographic portraits of the dead, or "memento mori."

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep specializes in infant bereavement photography. Co-founded in 2005 by Cheryl Haggard, whose fourth child died just six days after his birth, and photographer Sandy Puc, the group connects a network of photographers who provide their services free of charge with parents grieving the loss of a new child.

The photos, some of which can be seen on the group's website, are beautiful: softly lit, in velvet tones of black, white, and grey. They are the somber, private opposite of the bright commercial flower-children photographs of Anne Geddes. Amazingly serene moments are captured; tiny bodies are cradled gently and held close. By no stretch of the imagination are they morbid.

The origins of memento mori photographs can be traced back nearly to the beginning of photography itself. During the nineteenth century, post-mortem portraits were used to acknowledge and mourn the death of a loved one, especially a baby or child. All social classes engaged in the practice, which became more widespread after the introduction of the daguerrotype in 1839. The subjects of the photos were generally arranged to appear as if peacefully asleep, all their earthly suffering ended. Displayed prominently in the household alongside other family photographs, the portraits helped heal grieving hearts by preserving some trace of the deceased.

And they still do.

Compare this statement, made in 1870:

"What a comfort it is to possess the image of those who are removed from our sight. We may raise an image of them in our minds but that has not the tangibility of one we can see with our bodily eyes" (from Death, The Last Taboo: The Victorian Era)

with this one, made by a family using the services of the Colorado organization:

"Our cherished photographs show the love we shared and gave to our son... They show he was here and that he will forever be a part of our lives—no matter how brief his stay on earth was. This is our way of honoring and remembering our precious baby boy.” (from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep)

Post-mortem photography gradually fell out of favor in the twentieth century as it came to be seen as psychologically unhealthy. The pendulum now seems to be swinging the other way.

One of the most touching photographs I've ever seen, and one squarely in the Victorian memento mori tradition, is Annie Leibovitz's post-mortem portrait of her partner, Susan Sontag, which was published recently as part of a new collection of her work, A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 (Random House, 2006).

Related links:

Haunted When It Rains: "Book of the Dead" Victorian Post-Mortem Photography

FLICKR photos of Victorian tombstones in Highgate Cemetery, London

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

Today marks the 198th birthday of Charles Darwin, and somewhere he must be smiling.

Over the weekend, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City opened a new permanent exhibition on human origins, bringing together the sciences of paleontology and genetics to describe the physical and behavorial evolution of modern man from primates and proto-humans. The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins will address the same questions that preoccupied Darwin: where did we come from, who are we now, and what is in store for the future of our species.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in Wales, work proceeds apace on plans to build a working replica of HMS Beagle, which will set sail in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. The replica, crewed by scientists and sailors, will retrace the 1831-36 voyage of the original Beagle. Like that other vehicle of wonder, exploration, and education, the space shuttle, the replica Beagle will be equipped with cameras for distributing streaming video of the voyage and onboard scientific experiments to classrooms around the world via a dedicated website. After her return to Wales, the replica ship will be used as a sailing classroom and laboratory.

(What about the original Beagle? According to Peter McGrath of the Beagle Project, "the ship that singleboatedly changed intellectual history almost certainly lies under five metres of mud, mud, glorious mud in the River Crouch near Paglesham in the English County -- and once Kingdom -- of Essex.")

Related links:
Charles Darwin Online
Darwin Day
The Beagle Project

Did You Know? Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day: February 12, 1809. Darwin posited that Homo sapiens had evolved from earlier primates; Lincoln was frequently compared to a monkey, an ape, and an "ape baboon."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Film on Queen Victoria's Early Life in the Works

Martin Scorsese has announced plans to produce a film based on the early life of Queen Victoria. Scorsese will team up with producers Graham King and Tim Headington; Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair) will pen the script. Jean-Marc Vallée is slated to direct.

Reports say the story will focus on the turbulent early years of Victoria's reign after she ascended to the throne in 1837, aged 18, and her storied romance and marriage to Prince Albert. The idea for the film, tentatively titled The Young Victoria, apparently came from Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, whose former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, is Queen Victoria's great-great granddaughter.

Says Graham King: "We all think we know Queen Victoria from the latter part of her life, but in fact she was an amazing, dynamic, romantic personality from a very early age that is largely unknown. I had been searching for a British project for many years so I am just thrilled to bring her story to life."

"Largely unknown"? Perhaps. I thought the lavishly produced 2001 BBC television drama Victoria and Albert did a good job of capturing the queen's high spirits as a young woman before and during her marriage. It certainly had an excellent ensemble cast, including Victoria Hamilton and Jonathan (stop-calling-me-the-younger-brother-of-Colin) Firth as the royal pair and the wonderful Diana Rigg as Baroness Lehzen. Not to mention Peter Ustinov, Nigel Hawthorne, and David Suchet...

We can only hope that the historical consultants for this film (Mr. Scorsese: call me, I'm available) will make fewer errors of fact (or win more arguments on set) than those who worked on John Madden's Mrs. Brown. For a list of the howlers in that movie, read Miriam Burstein's extensive compilation (scroll down a bit).

The big question: which young It-actress of the moment will score the title role?

For details: Variety

The photo here shows a marble bust of the young Victoria by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey (1839).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

My Funny (Victorian) Valentine

The Scrap Album, a small but exquisite website run by Malcolm Warrington devoted to the history of greeting cards and other paper ephemera, features a collection of not-so-nice Victorian valentines:

"In mid-Victorian England the custom of sending daintily printed valentines, overflowing with hearts, cupids, and poetical posies was generally understood to consist of an exchange of missives between special loving friends. Yet beneath the sweet exterior and tender words of these lace-paper beauties lurked something far more sinister - the comic valentine! These scurrilous printed sheets entered into the humour of the common and middle classes ... fun and mischief were their elements. In reality they were masterpieces of the grotesque, venomous in humour, spiteful and rude, expressing anything but love."

Malcolm's website includes many delightful images of these very unsentimental valentines and equally delightful excerpts from the periodicals of the day.


Related link: "A Flowering of Affection: Victorian Valentine Cards at the Lilly Library" (online exhibition, Indiana University; interactive feature allows you to send a Victorian e-valentine)

Friday, February 9, 2007

Doyle Digs Dissed

From London today comes news that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has rejected pleas from the Victorian Society and Sherlock Holmes aficionados to safeguard the future of Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built near Hindhead in Surrey. In refusing to give the house Grade I status, which would make it eligible for certain repair and refurbishing funds, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell asserted that Doyle lacks a "significant enough position in the nation's consciousness."

Huh?

Last August, a government-funded project called Icons readily enough added Sherlock Holmes to its list of things that capture the essence of English culture. In fact, Icons was commissioned by Culture Online, which is part of Jowell's own department.

The Guardian notes that it was at Undershaw that Doyle "wrote the Hound of the Baskervilles and a patriot defence of Britain's Boer war; resurrected Sherlock Holmes, having previously thrown him off the Reichenbach Falls; campaigned for justice for the falsely accused solicitor George Edalji, and attempted to learn the banjo." Anyone who has read Julian Barnes's magnificent novel Arthur & George will feel that they know every inch of this house (shown here). Perhaps the worldwide network of societies devoted to Doyle and his immortal creation, Holmes, will be able to rally private support to rescue the house from developers who wish to carve it up into flats. Further details are provided by the BBC and by MSNBC.

On a tangentially related note, I'd like to mark the death last night of the great actor Ian Richardson, who portrayed Sherlock Holmes in television versions of both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. He also portrayed Dr. Joseph Bell, the pioneering forensic detective who served as Doyle's model for Holmes, in the television series The Murder Rooms. Also on his impressive résumé: roles in television adaptations of Bleak House and The Woman in White, and in the film adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, From Hell. Was he one of Britain's most distinguished actors in Victorian-period films? You may very well think that ... I couldn't possibly comment.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Video Victorians

UKTV, a ten-channel British television network co-sponsored by the BBC, offers a series of programs called "What the ... Did For Us," in which the "..." is a particular historical group--the Egyptians or the Tudors, say. The Victorians, of course, got the "..." treatment, as did the Industrial Revolution that reached its apogee during their era. Presenter Adam Hart-Davis (here, in decidedly un-Victorian glasses) has taken the brunt of critical carping about the "dumbing down" of the BBC, but as far as I'm concerned, more power to those who can provoke viewers into cracking open a book or going online to learn more. You wouldn't want Mr. Hart-Davis to be your only source of information about the Victorian period, but for those unlikely to become interested any other way (and let's face it...that's a huge percentage of the population), I say "hurrah" to the court jester.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

True Heroes

Here's one of those "side visits" I mentioned in my post of February 6: The New York Times today describes the absolutely heroic work being undertaken by Saad Eskander, the director of Iraq's National Library and Archive in Baghdad, and his staff, to preserve what remains of the priceless material there. The British Library website is hosting Eskander's online diary, in which he describes trying to function in the face of assassinations, kidnappings, death threats, and car bombs. The photo above, by Reuters, shows the looted and burned National Library and Archive in Baghdad in April 2003, a week after U.S. forces seized the capital.

Welcome

Welcome to my blog, which is devoted to the amazing (and sometimes appalling) age of the Victorians (1837-1901). In the course of my research on Victorian theatre and cultural history, I often come across things that are irrelevant to the work at hand but too interesting to ignore. This blog will be a repository of the miscellaneous fantastic--a sort of salmagundi, if you like--and will also note the profound ways in which the Victorians continue to shape our world. Because libraries, archives, and theatres play such an important role in my life, I will sometimes pay side visits to issues affecting them, as well. The blog is begun today in celebration of the 169th birthday of one of my favorite Victorians, the actor-manager Sir Henry Irving. Enjoy!
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