Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Digest of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (Broadbridge Heath, Sussex, West England, 4th August 1792 - Livorno, Italy, 8th  July 1822)

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley, icon of romantic literature. 

Shelley has appeared at the Guide on several occasions and so, to mark the anniversary, I thought I would revisit some of those posts today.

Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1819
Percy Bysshe Shelley by Alfred Clint, 1819

"I have drunken deep of Joy": The life of Shelley...
"Grief returns with the revolving year": The death of Shelley...
The Necessity of Atheism: A scandalous literary ends Shelley's Oxford career...

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A Digest of Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (Dublin, Ireland, 30th October 1751 – London, England, 7th July 1816)

by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Richard Brinsley Sheridan is one of my Georgian idols and, since today marks the anniversary of his death, I thought I would assemble a digest of Sheridan posts; I do hope you find something to enjoy...

"The very pineapple of politeness!" 
The remarkable life of Sheridan.  

"Death's a debt"
The sad death of Sheridan.  

Fire at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Sheridan's fortune goes up in smoke! 

The Bittersweet Life of Thomas Linley the Elder
Sheridan duels for the hand of his sweetheart.  

The Malapropism
RenĂ©e Reynolds investigates the infamous Mrs Malaprop! 

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Salon Digest

After a warm week in the salon, it's my pleasure to once again present the digest of the week just passed!

Travel, Vicariously or Otherwise
How Stephanie Cowell fell in love with England and its history...

Johnson, Addison, Austen, Wilde and More
News of an exciting free course on the country house in English literature from Sheffield University!

Rags to Riches: The Gunning Sisters
Grace Elliot shares a cautionary Georgian tale...

Friday, 3 July 2015

Rags to Riches: The true story of Elizabeth and Maria Gunning

Today I welcome my good friend, Grace Elliot, with the remarkable rags to riches story of the Gunning sisters!

I shall see you on 6th July... a theatrical weekend awaits!


Rags to Riches: The true story of Elizabeth and Maria Gunning

In 18th century Georgian high society, a well to-do-lady aspired to catch herself a titled husband. With fierce competition from other, equally ambitious debutantes to attract the eye of an eligible bachelor, interlopers were discouraged and frozen out of society. Which makes the story of the Gunning sisters, Maria and Elizabeth all the more unusual.

Elizabeth Gunning, after her marriage 
The two sisters were genteel nobodies: the daughters of an Irishman with neither money nor connections, and yet they did have one attribute in abundance – they were great beauties. When they were old enough, they worked in a Dublin theatre to help boost the family income. This was a potentially disastrous move for their reputations because most actresses were considered harlots. However, they survived the risk and were invited to a ball at Dublin castle.

The story goes that they had no money for ball gowns. But the theatre manager, Tom Sheridan, came to the rescue and leant them the Juliette and Lady Macbeth costumes to wear. Once at the ball they made such an impression on the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland that he granted their mother a reasonable pension.

Elizabeth Gunning

Mrs Gunning used the money to take her daughters to England, and their house in Huntingdon. They attended local assemblies, and created such a sensation that word of them spread ahead to London.

With a reputation akin to that of a modern celebrity, the sisters entered London society feted as beauties – and took it by storm. This was unusual for the day, where manners, breeding, grace, and connections dictated how ‘beautiful’ a lady was. But more than that, they did the unthinkable and completed a rags to riches story by snagging aristocrats for husbands.

Elizabeth again

In 1752, after a whirlwind romance, Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton, and went on to bear three children. When he died in 1758, she still attracted noble interest and remarried a Marques, who then inherited a dukedom. Elizabeth was a favourite at court and became a lady for the bedchamber for Queen Charlotte, during George III’s reign. She died at the age of 57, quietly in her bed.

Maria Gunning

Her sister, Maria, was more controversial. She was renowned as being tactless, but for some reason this amused the haut ton and it added to her popularity. Also in 1752, Maria married the Earl of Coventry, but it seems he quickly tried to clip her wings. Whilst on honeymoon in Paris, he reportedly publically wiped her face with a handkerchief, when she wore rouge at dinner after he had forbidden it.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

However, his aversion to Maria wearing cosmetics was strangely prophetic. A woman famed for beauty, she did everything she could to preserve that image. This meant wearing the heavy makeup that was fashionable in some quarters. But unfortunately that makeup contained lead and arsenic which slowly poisoned her. She was caught in a vicious circle, because the symptoms of poisoning included skin breakouts and redness, which undoubtedly meant she applied yet thicker layers of cosmetics.

Maria's mirror.
It was this very mirror Maria looked in to apply her makeup

Her continued use of makeup signed Maria’s death warrant and she died at the tender age of 27. A rags to riches story, which unlike Cinderella has a sad ending.

This post copyright © Grace Elliot, 2015.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Johnson, Addison, Austen, Wilde and More

Once again I welcome regular visitor Dr Adam Smith, who brings news of an exciting online (free) course, Literature of the English Country House!


Meet Johnson, Addison, Austen, Wilde and Many More on ‘Literature of the English Country House’!

By Dr Adam James Smith, Co-Lead Educator on the Literature of the English Country House

The School of English at the University of Sheffield have just launched ‘TheLiterature of the English Country House’, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tracing the literary history of the English country house through over 450 years of writing. This free course explores the literature of some of our most celebrated authors. These include famous authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, as well as writers you might be less familiar with, like Joseph Addison and Georgina Duchess of Devonshire. It has been written and presented by a team of researchers in the School of English, and we’ll all be taking part in online videos, discussions and live-broadcasts over the next six weeks.

The course first ran in 2014, but this time round we’ve been able to add a wealth of new material. Last time, the emphasis on the course was firmly on developing skills in literary analysis. This time we also want to demonstrate some of the ways you can build on this initial interpretation. Each week we’ll be exploring a different ‘Research Approach.’ We’ll also be regularly consulting material in the University Library Special Collections Archive to find out what this literature looked like when it was first published (click here to get a closer look at these Special Collection).

Beginning our journey in the sixteenth century, we first approach the country house from the perspective of the tenants, learning that the country house at this time was more than a building. We’ll then consider the country house from the contrasting perspectives of servants, travelling players and residents: a task which requires learners to examine less familiar forms of literature, such as play-texts, manuscripts and literary letters.

It is likely the third week (starting 13th July), however, that will most excite guests at Madame Gilflurt’s Salon. We’ll be stepping outside of the country house to explore the world that it occupied and discovering what it was that the aristocracy was reading at the dawn of the 18th century. We learn all about the politeness, politics and sociability that dominated the coffee houses of the city and trace their influence back to the country house through the writing of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. On the 16th July there will a special live broadcast during  you’ll have the opportunity to pose questions to both Professor Susan Fitzamaurice and myself on the subject of politeness and sociability in the 18th-century country house (bookmark this page if you’d like to join us).

From there we’ll see how the periodical and serialised print of eighteenth-century London informed the emergence of a new kind of literature: the novel. We’ll spend a week with Jane Austen, exploring the role of the country house in Pride and Prejudice. An appreciation of Austen’s use of intertextuality will lead us to Ann Radcliffe and the Gothic novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, where we’ll find the country house and its malevolent owner taking on a more sinister aspect. Likewise, in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations we’ll meet met the haunting Miss Havisham, whose insistence on stasis won’t hide the fact that rot has begun to set in at the English Country House. Antiquated and in decline, we’ll finally see the country house become host to an actual haunting in Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost.

If you like reading and discussing literature and you have an interest in the fascinating literary history of the English country house then this is doubtlessly the course for you, I look forward to meeting you on the platform!

This post copyright © Adam Smith, 2015.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Travel, Vicariously or Otherwise

It's my pleasure and privilege to welcome Debra Brown and Stephanie Cowell of EHFA to the salon today. Do read on to learn more of Castles, Customs and Kings, and how one author fell in love with England.


Travel, Vicariously or Otherwise

Debra Brown

If summer means travel for you, and you have not yet toured the Emerald Isles, let me tempt you as to a destination. If summer means kicking back with an iced drink and a good book to while away the hot afternoons, I have something for you, too. Following is the introductory article in a book of many more, an anthology of British history posts from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, edited by myself and M.M. Bennetts, is now available in digital, print, and audio book format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, and iTunes. Be sure to finish the tome over the summer as Volume II is slated for release in September!

Falling in Love with England and Its History
It began when I was very young; I felt I did not belong in New York City where I was born but somewhere across the sea in that land called England. But what was England to me? Any place for which we long is formed from fragments which mysteriously arrive and become part of us.

My first sense of England was literature, of course: Sara Crewe in A Little Princess and Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden in beautifully illustrated editions. I read them until the words almost wore away. I was Sara coming from her attic to be discovered at last as the little girl everyone had been looking for. I was Mary exploring the deserted rooms of the manor house on the moors. In my early teens it was the poetry (all of Shakespeare) and the great Victorian novels. I told myself, “That is where I belong; that is where I must be.” England had formed in my mind as the place where I could find my true self.

I painted a picture of “this earth, this realm, this England,” as Shakespeare calls it. It was a mixture of lovers running over the moors, a beautiful young queen, London attics, hot milky tea and servants always on hand to make it, and a great mysterious line of kings described as “the Unready” or “the Confessor” and queens who always looked ready to have their portraits painted and who each possessed a far more glamorous wardrobe than that within my schoolgirl closet; tombstones, ancient churches, an orderly way of being and doing things. (I was looking for the orderly; I passed by Henry VIII and his disorderly coterie of marriages. I am glad others felt differently! What would we do without Anne Boleyn?)

And so I saved and saved and finally went to England, and the England I expected was waiting for me. I walked all over London. I visited the Tower on an overcast day when it was not crowded and was properly awed by the tiny rooms and thick walls. Still, the heart of my England was literature not royalty even though I love the stability and ceremony of a monarch, a world in which everyone had their place.

I looked for writers—the new Globe had not been built, but I walked where Shakespeare had walked and found the old streets he had known: Cheapside, Love Lane. I visited Dickens’ House. I found and touched what was left of the London City Walls.

I went to Haworth and walked in the parlor where Charlotte Bronte had walked with her sisters. I climbed about the moors and heard the wind wuthering. I went to Oxford where my great heroes had studied and heard the choirboys sing in the little cathedral as they had done for hundreds of years. I longed for medieval houses, for London fog, for wonderful names of villages. (I shall not forget my first bus ride to Yorkshire and passing the signs for the town of Giggleswick.)

I was looking for something that I felt had been waiting for me. I believe it was.

My husband came with me as I visited the places I love. When we stood in the old city, though, he saw the tall financial buildings and I saw the long-gone, half-timbered houses. Upon taking a tour bus, I became increasingly emotional at every sight, and when we finally passed Temple Bar where Fleet Street, City of London, becomes the Strand, Westminster, and where the City of London traditionally erected a barrier to regulate trade into the city (and traditionally the Lord Mayor of London must meet and allow entry to the monarch), I burst into a flood of tears. My husband was patient, comforting, and bewildered; he has often repeated this story to friends of how his wife could cry because someone walked a street in London three hundred years ago.

All of us who write on this blog or read it are English or have longed for England so intensely that we have made it a major part of our creative and emotional lives. Its present and past are rooted in us in a way we cannot fully explain; it calls to each of us in a slightly different way. How has it called you and for what reasons?

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle…
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
Richard II (Shakespeare)

Debra Brown is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire.

Stephanie Cowell has numerous releases HERE.

This post copyright © Debra Brown and Stephanie Cowell, 2015.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Salon's Second Birthday!

Today I celebrate two years since the salon threw open its doors, and what a two years it has been!

In that time I have welcomed more than half a million visitors to the site, been fortunate to make some wonderful friends and meet so many lovely readers and fans of all things 18th century. Not only that, but I've also been honoured to announce two forthcoming books from Pen and Sword Books, Life in the Georgian Court and Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey.

The Grand Theatre and fireworks erected on the water near Court at the Hague, on occasion of the general peace concluded at Aix la Chapelle on 18 October 1784. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Grand Theatre and fireworks erected on the water near Court at the Hague, on occasion of the general peace concluded at Aix la Chapelle on 18 October 1784. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To celebrate, I thought I would revisit the salon's most popular posts; I had anticipated much Marie Antoinette but I was surprised to find that wasn't the case at all!

The Marriage of Napoleon and Marie Louise
A second try for the French emperor...

The Scandalous Matter of La Reine en Gaulle
A portrait of Marie Antoinette sets tongues wagging...

Jenner, Phipps and the Smallpox Vaccination
The tale of a medical innovation...

A Twist of Fate for Dick Turpin
How a trip to the post office proved fatal for a legendary highwayman...

Floating to Jamaica: Matthew "Monk" Lewis is (Not Quite) Buried at Sea
What became of the corpse of a Gothic icon?

The salon will open again on 1st July... see you then!