10 Things That Turn a Character Bad

10 Things That Turn a Character Bad

10 Things that turn a character bad

All great stories have baddies. Baddies or antagonists are the characters who get in your hero or heroine’s way. They create conflict and problems – all the things readers love. Evil villains help create a story that is exciting and sometimes even scary.  Evil is up there with Love, Death, Beauty, Friendship, and Fate. Sooner or later we encounter at least a few of them in a good story. Here are 10 ways you can turn a character bad as a writer.

1. Bad Parents

When King Minos became king of Crete he challenged his brother to a dual. He prayed to Poseidon, the sea god for some help. Poseidon sent him a snow-white bull. The deal was that the king had to kill the bull to show honour to the gods, but he decided to keep it and kill one of his own bulls. To punish Minos, Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos’s wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. She was so in love that she had craftsman Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, then she climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. Pasiphaë nursed him, and as he grew he became ferocious and started to eat people. Minos went to the oracle at Delphi for advice on how to handle his monstrous son. He had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur under the palace.

Deviant parents give a character a bad start in life as the Greeks knew all too well!

American author Ray Bradbury gave the theme a modern twist with his short story The Veldt in 1950.

The Hadley family live in an automated house called “The Happylife Home,” filled with machines that do every task. The two children, Peter and Wendy, become fascinated with the “nursery,” a virtual reality room able to reproduce any place they imagine.

The parents, George and Lydia, begin to wonder if there is something wrong with their way of life.

Lydia tells George, “That’s just it. I feel like I don’t belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can? I cannot.”

They are also perplexed and confused as to why the nursery is stuck on an African setting, with lions in the distance, eating a dead figure. There they also find recreations of their personal belongings and hear strangely familiar screams. Wondering why their children are so concerned with this scene of death, they decide to call a psychologist.

The psychologist, David McClean, suggests they turn off the house, move to the country, and learn to be more self-sufficient.

The children, feeling reliant on the nursery, beg their parents to let them have one last visit. Their parents agree and when they come to fetch them, the children lock George and Lydia into the nursery with the pride of lions. Shortly after, it is implied that the lions eat George and Lydia.

When the psychologist comes by to look for George and Lydia, he finds the children enjoying lunch on the veldt and sees the lions eating figures in the distance – George and Lydia, the reader is lead to presume.

2. Favouritism

 

Favouritism is a commonly used trope in Fiction Land. Bad enough when you’re an only child, but if you’re among a pack of siblings, this particular trope is nearly guaranteed to raise its head at some point in order to make life even more difficult.
Parental Favouritism is just what it sounds like — one child is given preference over their siblings.

Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve in the biblical Book of Genesis. Cain, the firstborn, tilled the soil, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favoured Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. Cain murdered Abel.

God punished Cain with a life of wandering and set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. Cain then dwelt in the land of Nod where he built a city and fathered the line of descendants beginning with Enoch. The narrative never explicitly states Cain’s motive though it does describe him as being wrathful, and his motive is traditionally assumed to be envy.

This biblical story and archetype of brothers locked in dual for their father’s affection is the basis for many a story and many a baddie. Sibling rivalry, envy, and wrath can motivate a character to a lot of very bad behaviour.

Favourites come in a number of varieties: Birth Order, Gender, Personality, Biological versus Adopted or Step Children – just think of all those fairy stories!

3. Lust

 

Way back in Ancient Greece King Tereus of Trace takes his wife Procne and her sister Philomela to visit their father in Athens. On the way, he lusts after Philomela. One night he rapes her. To stop her telling his wife he cuts out her tongue.

Those Greeks sure knew how to do baddies. Here sexual desire, power, and guilt are the key motivators along with a good dollop of misogyny.

4. Revenge

Continuing the story of the now mute Philomela; she weaves a tapestry that tells her story. When her sister finds out what has happened she kills her son by Tereus; boils him up and serves him up to his father for dinner. Philomela is turned into a Nightingale and given a beautiful voice by the gods to make amends for her terrible ordeal.

Yes, this is an extreme case and the origin of the expression revenge is a dish best served cold. Your characters don’t have to murder children to get their revenge putting rotting shrimps in the air conditioning ducts of his nice new apartment might be enough revenge for a women spurned.

 

5. Greed

Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth couldn’t just be happy with her Scottish castle and thanedom, could she?

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. (1.5.15-20)

After reading the letter from her husband which recounts the witches’ prophesy, Lady Macbeth’s thoughts immediately turn to murder. Problem: Her husband Macbeth has ambition, but he doesn’t have the nerve to see it through. Luckily Lady Macbeth is man enough for both of them.

The novel, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, begins when the knockout Miss Wonderly walks into Spade’s office. It turns out she’s a knockout with money. And she wants to hire the services of a private detective to find her missing sister, who supposedly ran off with a crook named Thursby. Neither Spade nor his partner Miles Archer, buy her story. But with the money she’s paying, who cares? When Archer and then Thursby are murdered, Spade realizes that he’s getting more than he bargained for. In fact, just about everyone around Sam Spade dies trying to get their hands on a bird figurine worth…$10,000.

Is the love of money the root of all evil? Charles Dickens thought so. Unlike Hammet he saves his character Scrooge from his lonely fate when the author shows him what happens to greedy and selfish men – that it when the author isn’t bumping them off at a rate of knots!

6. Rejection

 

This terribly sad true-life story shows just what can happen when someone feels rejected. Rejection is painful. Being made to look worthless is a frightening experience so rejection can be a powerful motivation for baddies. Children rejected by their parents are often lonely, angry and hostile to a world they perceive does not love them.

Because being left out can be so painful for children, researchers have spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why some children are rejected. About half of rejected boys are aggressive. They hit, kick, or shove more than other boys, and they also tend to be more disruptive and argumentative. However, not all rejected boys are aggressive. Another 13-20% are shy and withdrawn. Still, others are socially awkward. Their odd, disruptive, or immature behaviour is off-putting to peers.

The son of a Hollywood assistant director went on a shooting rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus slaying 6 people and engaging in a shootout with police which left him dead. The young man was 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, the son of Hunger Games second unit director Peter Rodger. Prior to the rampage, Rodger submitted recordings to Youtube, chronicling his catastrophic emotional state after admittedly being rejected by women for eight years.

 

7. Feeling Invisible

In 1917, “Baby Jane” Hudson is an adored yet ill-tempered vaudevillian child star while her older sister Blanche lives in her shadow. By 1935, their fortunes have reversed: Blanche is a successful film actress and Jane lives in obscurity, her films having failed.

One night, Jane mocks Blanche at a party, prompting Blanche to run away in tears. That same night, Blanche is paralysed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor.

In 1962 a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in Blanche’s mansion, purchased with Blanche’s movie earnings. By now, Jane has descended into alcoholism and mental illness and treats Blanche with cruelty to punish her for stealing her spotlight.

Later, when Blanche informs Jane she may be selling the house, Jane’s mental health begins to deteriorate further. During an argument, she removes the telephone from Blanche’s bedroom, cutting Blanche off from the outside world.

Jane begins denying Blanche food, until she serves Blanche her dead parakeet on a platter—and, at a later meal, a rat that she killed in the cellar. Jane kills Blanche’s carer and then drives to the beach where she finally goes bonkers as the police arrive to arrest her for the carer’s death and Blanche dies.

This is a powerful case of sibling rivalry, ambition, and ego. The story of these sisters shows just how powerful these motivators can be in the hands of a great writer. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller–horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.

8. Being Thwarted

 

Varys & Petyr Baelish Speak – Game of Thrones

Lord Varys: Thwarting you has never been my primary ambition, I promise you. Although, who doesn’t like to see their friends fail now and then.

Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish: You’re so right. For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells, if I’m going, to be honest, I did feel an unmistakable sense of enjoyment there. Game of Thrones (TV Series), The Climb (2013)

Varys and Littlefinger may seem to be minor players — but the maneuverings of the noble families of Westeros often seem to come back to their ongoing chess game. Varys and Littlefinger articulate two very different philosophies. Lord Petyr Baelish, popularly called Littlefinger, was the Master of Coin on the Small Council under King Robert Baratheon and King Joffrey Baratheon. He was a skilled manipulator and used his ownership of brothels in King’s Landing to both accrue intelligence on political rivals and acquire vast wealth. Baelish’s spy network is eclipsed only by that of his arch-rival Varys.

Love them or hate them, Littlefinger and Varys are the series’ real game changers. They also take the reality TV show approach to competition, forming alliances, lying, and manipulating. Basically, they aren’t here to make friends. They are here to win. But, winning means different things to the two characters and the more they can thwart the other the better.

 

9. Lies and Betrayal

In the song made famous by Tom Jones the price for lies is death – ‘I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more, why, why Delilah?’  The biblical Delilah was approached by the lords of the Philistines, to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. She was offered eleven hundred pieces of silver for her pains. Three times she asked Samson for the secret of his strength but each time he gave her a false answer. On the fourth occasion, he gave her the true reason: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God. When he was asleep she allowed his enemies to cut off his hair. They took him, put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters. Later, of course, he took his revenge by bringing the whole house down on his foes.

Betrayal destroys trust. If a loved one betrays us it crushes our faith in ourselves and others. The world and everyone in it can become an ugly place to live in. Betrayal is a particularly effective emotion-filled type of conflict that we can use in fiction to create long-lasting problems for our characters.

10. Being a Psychopath

Characteristics of a psychopath: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of “revocation of conditional release” (i.e. broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour.

A recent study suggests that 1-4% of the population is on the psychopathic scale. This means that we’ll probably all meet at least one psychopath in our lives.

Psychopaths love themselves. Even if nobody else loves them. They’ll think they’re the best at whatever it is that they do, even if they suck at it. It’s entirely possible they’ll take credit for other people’s success too – they live vicariously and will work how a way to feel they contributed to it somehow. Ultimately, their world revolves around them and no one else. Psychopaths are great characters to write as they give you so much scope for upsetting others and it’s so rewarding when, as an author, you can give them their comeuppance.

About the author: Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her debut novel Sinclair is available worldwide on Amazon.

Sinclair/TalesofTooleyStreet

 

 

18th Century Smuggling Fact and Fiction

18th Century Smuggling Fact and Fiction

Pirates and Smuggling Fact and Fiction

In the 18th century, the British government collected a good deal of its income from customs duties – tax paid on the import of goods such as tea, cloth, wine, and spirits.

The tax on imported goods could be up to 30% so smuggled goods were a lot cheaper than those bought through official channels. Smugglers operated all around the coasts of Britain. They worked in aggressive, well-organised gangs along the south coast, only a night’s sail from France. The gangs were often too big for the Customs officials to deal with as with the death penalty was a certainty if they were caught so the smugglers were prepared to use violence.

Many ordinary people approved of smuggling or took part in it. Labourers could earn more in a night’s work carrying brandy barrels up from the beach than they could in a month’s hard work in the fields. Others left their barns or cellars unlocked and didn’t ask questions about what was put in there.

Quite respectable people were involved: sometimes for money, sometimes because they didn’t regard smuggling as a crime.

Britain’s most infamous smuggler

Born in 1778 Britain’s most famous smuggler was a man called Rattenbury. He started his life at sea as a fisherman but soon progressed to the more interesting and lucrative trade of defrauding the king.

When he was fifteen he was part of the crew of a privateer but was captured and was taken prisoner by the French, and thrown into gaol. Rattenbury escaped and got back to England.

Rattenbury’s journal recounts many adventures including one where he tricked his drunken French captures into believing they were heading back to France when all the time he was steering the ship to England. As they approached the coast he made his escape by diving into the sea and swimming into Swanage harbour. Once ashore, he raised the alarm and notified the customs authorities that there was a hostile French ship in the harbour!

When Prime Minister William Pitt lowered duties in the 1780s, smuggling became less profitable and gradually the trade began to fall away. Further removal of duties in the 19th century put an end to the kind of smuggling which went on so openly in the 18th century. It seems to be the case that smuggling is always with us. Whenever governments try to stop, or tax, the movement of goods people really want, smugglers will move in no matter how high the stakes.

Fictional Smugglers

Smuggling and smugglers have been a vast source of inspiration for fiction writers. Perhaps the most famous fictional smuggler being, The Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn by Russell Thorndike. The idea for the novel came from smuggling in the 18th century Romney Marsh, where brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France. Minor battles were fought between gangs of smugglers, such as the Hawkhurst Gang and the Revenue, supported by the army and local militias in South Kent and West Sussex.

The first book, Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh was published in 1915.  Three film adaptations have been made of Dr. Syn’s exploits.Doctor Syn (1937) featured noted actor George Arliss. Captain Clegg (1962) known as Night Creatures in the U. S., was produced by Hammer Film Productions with actor Peter Cushing in the lead role; and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the title role.

Modern Smuggling

Smuggling today is probably just as risky as it was in the past, if not more so. Smugglers today use their bodies as a vehicle for drugs and put their own lives on the line in the same way as the smugglers of old.

The number of swallowed drug packages recovered by customs officers at Heathrow airport is usually between 80 and 150 a year. The drugs are wrapped in condoms, balloons or cling-film, forming neat packages about the size of a large grape, and swallowed with syrup to make them more palatable. Couriers take a constipating agent before they embark and tend not to eat during the flight.

In March 2015 the Daily Telegraph online reported on a strange case of modern smuggling. A man was caught trying to enter Spain through Madrid airport with a suspiciously large bulge between his legs in much the same vein as the fictional Derek Smalls played by Harry Shearer in the film Spinal Tap. In this case, the hidden appendage turned out to be half a kilo of cocaine whereas Smalls’ turned out to be cucumber if I remember it rightly.

 

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The Extra-ordinary life of opera singer Gertrude Mara

The Extra-ordinary life of opera singer Gertrude Mara

Gertrude was one of the greatest singers of the Georgian Period. She was born at Kassel, Germany in February 1749. Her mother died soon after the birth. Her father was a poor musician, named Schmeling. Undernourished from birth she always suffered from ill health. Schmeling contrived to increase his income by mending musical instruments. One day little Gertrude got hold of a violin and started to play it. Her father punished her severely for touching other people’s property but the little girl was hooked and played with the violins he was mending whenever her father’s back was turned.

Soon she had mastered a scale and her father was forced to acknowledge her genius and arranged lessons for the child. Although she was five her legs had no strength and her father was forced to carry her everywhere including to small gatherings where she would give performances. After a performance in Frankfort, a public subscription was raised to get gifted little Gertrude some education. By the time she was nine, her health had improved and she was in Vienna giving concerts to the Queen and her friends who petted and admired her and persuaded her to give up the violin because it was an unfeminine instrument and sing instead. Her voice was already resonant and clear, but she had, of course, had no instruction. Schmeling, with the help of benefactors, then placed the young Gertrude under the tuition of the musico Paradisi where she made rapid progress.

Returning to Cassel, Schmeling hoped to get Gertrude a place at Court but the King would only employ Italian singers so they moved to Leipzig and the music school of Joesph Hiller where Gertrude stayed until  1771. She made her début in an opera of Basse’s at Dresden. Her success led her to an audience with the King,  Frederick II, who on hearing her was persuaded to engaged her for life to sing at his Court, despite her not being Italian! At last, she and her father had a secure income.

Whilst at the Court she met and married the violoncellist, Mara despite her friends’ advice. She soon discovered her folly; Mara was a wonton womaniser and the King’s demands were excessive too. On one occasion, she was physically brought from her bed, by his orders and forced to sing at the Opera, even though she was ill. When she had had enough of her unhappy life at Court she tried to escape but was detained by the Prussian ambassador at Frederick’s request.

By 1780 Frederick had lost his interest in music and Gertrude and she was free at last to return to Vienna where she procured at a letter of introduction from the Empress to her daughter Marie-Antoinette. She passed through Munich where Mozart heard her but was not favourably impressed. She reached Paris in 1782 where audiences pitted her talent again the celebrated Todi.

Two years later, in the spring of 1784, Mara made her first appearance in London, where her greatest successes awaited her. She was engaged to sing six nights at the Pantheon. Owing to the general election, she sang to small audiences, and her merits were not recognised until she sang at Westminster Abbey, in the Handel Commemoration, when she was heard with delight by nearly 1000 people. She sang in the repeated Commemoration in 1785, and in 1786 made her first appearance on the London stage in a serious pasticcio, ‘Didone Abbandonata,’ the success of which was due entirely to her singing.

I give Mara a cameo appearance in my novel, Sinclair. The Vicar of St James’ Piccadilly has managed to secure the services of Miss Mara and Mr. Stephen Storace her accompanist and impresario for his fundraising concert in the Christmas of 1787. Reverend Walker says ;

“Now for the highlight of our evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to invite the celebrated German opera singer Miss Gertrude Mara and her accompanist, the composer and impresario Mr. Stephen Storace, to entertain you this evening.”

The audience gasped, then clapped and roared as the pair made their way to the piano. “Well done, Connie, they loved you,” said John.

“My goodness, I’m on the same bill as Gertrude Mara and Stephen Storace,” Connie exclaimed.

An hour later Connie and Mrs. Peacock were being introduced to the great soprano by a contented Mr. Walker, accompanied by his daughters Hannah and Harriet.

“Mr. Walker, why didn’t you tell me about Miss Mara and Mr. Storace?” demanded Connie when they had gone.

“I didn’t know they would come until the last minute, and I didn’t want to put you off.”

In March 1787 she appeared in Handel’s opera of ‘Giulio Cesare’ where she played Cleopatra.  It was so successful that it was constantly repeated during the season. Mara again took a leading part in the Festival in Westminster Abbey in 1787, and she remained connected with the opera in London till 1791, after which, though she sang occasionally on the stage, and even in English ballad operas, she was more frequently heard in concerts and oratorios.

In 1788 she was singing in the Carnival at Turin and the following year at Venice. She returned to London in 1790 and went to Venice again in 1791. Coming once more to London in the next season, she remained here for ten years. After this time, she found her voice losing strength, and she quitted England in 1802, after enjoying a splendid benefit of over £1000 at her farewell concert.

Her worthless husband, and her numerous lovers,—among whom the last was a flute-player named Florio,—had helped her to spend the immense sums which she had earned, until she found herself without means, and compelled to support herself by teaching. She worked as a singing teacher in Moscow until 1812 when her small school was burned down and was forced to start again at age 64. She then settled in Italy for a while until in 1819 she returned to London where she appeared at the King’s theatre, but like ?? her voice had gone and she never appeared again. She returned to Italy where she died in poverty aged  84.

Sources: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Music_and_Musicians/Mara,_Gertrude: A life of Mara, by G. C. Grosheim, published at Cassel in 1823.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The world’s first successful female composer – Barbara Strozzi

The world’s first successful female composer – Barbara Strozzi

Giulio Strozzi, a poet and librettist, recognised Barbara as his adopted daughter on 6 August 1619 when she was baptised in the church of Santa Sofia in the Cannaregio district (sestiere) of Venice. Barbara was most likely his illegitimate daughter by Isabella Garzoni, his long-time servant.

Barbara was lucky that, unlike most women, she was encouraged in her musical talents by her adopted father and introduced to Venice’s intellectual elite. Giulio used his connections in the intellectual world of Venice to showcase his daughter and to advance her career. He was a member of the Venetian circle of intellectuals known as the Accademia degli Incogniti (“Academy of the Unknowns”), which met to discuss and debate questions of literature, ethics, aesthetics, religion, and the arts. The Incogniti were early proponents of Venetian opera in the late 1630s and ’40s, and, although there were no professional musicians among their members, their discussions sometimes centred on music. In 1637 he formed a musical subset of the Incogniti, the Accademia degli Unisoni (“Academy of the Like-Minded,” also a pun on the musical term unison)—which did count musicians as members—over which Barbara presided, performing as a singer and suggesting topics of discussion. She was the dedicatee of a number of publications, beginning with two volumes of music by Nicolò Fontei (Bizzarrie poetiche [“Poetic Oddities”] of 1635 and 1636) and including Le veglie de’ Signori Unisoni (1638; “The Vigils of the Like-Minded Academicians”), which documents some of the activities of the academy.

Her role as hostess of the Unisoni and her very public involvement in music were satirized in an anonymous manuscript that may have been penned by a member of the Incogniti; the author equated her status as a musician with licentious behaviour, implying that she was a courtesan. Although it is unclear whether that accusation was true, a portrait of her by Bernardo Strozzi (not of the same family) has been interpreted as highlighting her activities both as a musician and as a courtesan. Although she never married, Strozzi had four children; her two daughters joined a convent, and one of her two sons became a monk.

Giulio Strozzi’s proto-feminist sensibilities garnered Barbara an opportunity that would be closed to most women composers for centuries: getting published. Barbara would eventually publish eight collections of her vocal works between 1644 and 1664, seven of which survive. She likely sang a number of her works at academic meetings at her father’s music school, the Accademia degli Unisoni, and in private performances and social gatherings at the family home among various members of the Venetian high society. Renowned for both her poetry and her music, Barbara Strozzi was a woman ahead of her time — far ahead of her time, as it would still be several centuries before most women could have serious careers as composers. Barbara died in 1677 leaving behind a body of work praised for its wit, linguistic virtuosity, and erotic imagery.

Click on the link to hear her haunting cantata – My Mourning sung by Pamela Lucciarini.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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The Landscaped Park

The Landscaped Park

The landscaped park was a British style which would influence gardens throughout Europe from the 18th century onwards.

The style at a glance:

  • Informal layout designed as a classical Arcadia
  • Lakes created to reflect the landscape as well as for recreation
  • Cascades add drama and animation to the scene
  • Temples, grottoes and follies doubled up as tea rooms, and viewing towers
  • Clumps and shelter belts to provide shelter and privacy to the park
  • Shrubberies planted with the newly introduced exotics from abroad
  • The Ha-ha, an invisible boundary to keep livestock away from the house
  • Circuit walks taking you on a tour around the park

It drew inspiration from paintings of landscapes by Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. The new style that became known as the English garden was invented by landscape designers William Kent and Charles Bridgeman, working for wealthy patrons, including Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and banker Henry Hoare; men who had large country estates, were members of the anti-royalist Whig Party, had classical educations, were patrons of the arts, and had taken the Grand Tour to Italy, where they had seen the Roman ruins and Italian landscapes they reproduced in their gardens.
William Kent (1685–1748) was an architect, painter and furniture designer who introduced Palladian style architecture to England. Kent’s inspiration came from Palladio’s buildings in the Veneto and the landscapes and ruins around Rome—he lived in Italy from 1709 to 1719, and brought back many drawings of antique architecture and landscapes. His gardens were designed to complement the Palladian architecture of the houses he built. Charles Bridgeman (1690–1738) was the son of a gardener and an experienced horticulturist, who became the Royal Gardener for Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, responsible for tending and redesigning the royal gardens at Windsor, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court, St. James’s Park and Hyde Park. He collaborated with Kent on several major gardens, providing the botanical expertise which allowed Kent to realise his architectural visions.

Kent created one of the first true English landscape gardens at Chiswick House for Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. The first gardens that he laid out between 1724 and 1733 had many formal elements of a Garden à la française, including alleys forming a trident and canals, but they also featured something novel: a picturesque recreation of an Ionic temple set in a theatre of trees. Between 1733 and 1736, he redesigned the garden, adding lawns sloping down to the edge of the river and a small cascade. For the first time the form of a garden was inspired not by architecture, but by an idealised version of nature.

Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, (1730–1738), was an even more radical departure from the formal French garden. In the early 18th century, Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, had commissioned Charles Bridgeman to design a formal garden, with architectural decorations by John Vanbrugh. Bridgeman’s design included an octagonal lake and a Rotunda (1720–21) designed by Vanbrugh Stowe is frequently used as a setting for TV dramas and films. Here are just a few scenes filmed at Stowe Park:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations: Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon (1975), Keira Knightly in Pride and Prejudice (2005),
Film director, Amma-Asante and Star Gugu Mbatha-Raw filming Belle (2013).

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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A Trip to the Theatre

A Trip to the Theatre

The 18th century saw an explosion of opera across Europe. Opera houses were built in all the major European cities and new operas were commissioned for each season. The King’s Theatre in London became the home of opera in the 18th and 19th centuries where operas were the main offering in the evening’s entertainment, usually interspersed with dances and sometimes a short play or farce as an afterpiece.

It was the music of Frederick Handel that really established the popularity of opera in London. Operas were composed for individual singers who were the great stars. The composer’s job was to produce music to show off the star’s voice and many composers could write an opera in just two or three weeks. These star singers had considerable freedom to improvise within the music. Indeed certain passages of ornamentation were left to the singer’s own inclination and would change from night to night.

Going to the opera was a social occasion in the 18th and 19th centuries. The rise in the popularity of theatre and opera reflected the growing leisure time and wealth of the upper middle classes. Theatres were noisy, chaotic places and the aim was to see and be seen. The stage and the auditorium were lit from great chandeliers that hung from the ceiling and the audience was as visible as the performers. Audiences would chat, walk around and play games. It wasn’t unknown for ladies to have a card table in the box for a game of cards during the performance.

The aisles in the pit were known as ‘Fops Alley’ and young men would cruise up and down flirting with the ladies. In addition there was standing room on stage for audience members which provided another distraction from the focus of the performance. Audiences stopped talking to listen to the aria which was the great show piece that everyone recognised. Then they would resume their conversation, card game or perusal of other members of the audience.

Here is a scene from my novel Sinclair which is based on the programme of an actual show in 1787.

“Frank Greenwood joined Sinclair and Bowman at the Sadler’s Wells theatre, buoyed up by the eight guineas in his pocket he had earned from Lord Wroxeter. The atmosphere was vibrant and expectant as the fashionably dressed audience took their seats. A pair of red velvet curtains hung across the gilded proscenium, hiding the delights to come, and in the pit there were two enormous A frames supporting a slack line that ran front to back, high above the audience’s heads, ready for a display of rope-walking.

“Goodness, I haven’t been to the theatre for years,” Greenwood gushed, taking his seat. “I’ve spent far too long in barracks or in the country chasing foxes. This is wonderful,” he rejoiced, gazing at the tiers of ornately gilded boxes opposite and admiring the young women playing coyly with their fans.

“As a married man I have no interest in the ladies,” said Bowman with happy resignation. “One woman is more than enough for me.”

“But looking is permitted,” said Sinclair, “and from what I can see is positively encouraged. I prefer it that way if I’m honest. I find that admiration from afar is often preferable to an actual encounter with the female of the species.”

“In your situation, Sinclair, it would be wise to stay well out of Cupid’s range. Wives have many delights and great benefits, but they’re fearfully expensive creatures to keep and you, my dear friend, are broke.” Bowman turned to Greenwood. “I blame Sinclair for my addiction to the theatre; he drags me out whenever he’s in town.”

“Aye,” Sinclair chuckled. “I’m making up for all those years of misery in Scotland.”

The drums rolled, and the Master of Ceremonies stepped in front of the curtain. “Tonight for your delight and delectation, ladies and gentlemen, we have a show featuring breathtaking rope-walking from Naples; death-defying tumbling, acrobats from China and the music of an angel, the virtuoso Madame de Chanson with her timeless songs of amour.” The three men roared their approval with the rest of the audience, the red curtains opened and the show began.

The friends watched open mouthed as Signor Romeo and Adriani walked the rope at the same time as they juggled with batons and hoops. The act finished with Signor Romeo performing the splits above the heads of the audience, who thundered their applause. The Joseph Brothers somersaulted and rotated across the stage at amazing heights in their yellow and red costumes, and the Chinese acrobats made a tower of human flesh ten men high. Finally, Madam de Chanson, a buxom woman dressed in white with flowers in her hair, played a golden harp and sang French songs with an exquisite and lilting voice that moved the audience so much that even the hardest hearted of them were forced to wipe a tear from their eyes.

When the performances were over, the friends made their way to the lobby feeling happy and relaxed, enjoying the jostling crowd with its smell of perfume and powder and the opportunities for surreptitious bodily contact with the ladies and girls as they made their way out onto the crowded street. Bowman managed to attract the attention of a driver with an empty cab, and soon they were on their way to Bread Street. “I’m sorry I can’t ask you in at the moment,” he apologised. “It’s just that Emma has banned Sinclair from the house for stealing one of her father’s patients.”

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.29  Also available on:

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