Against the Grain – 18th Century British Art

Against the Grain – 18th Century British Art

British art has always been slightly different from that of mainstream Europe. Perhaps it’s because we’re an island. European painting in the eighteenth century is generally conceived as radiating from Paris. There was a strong move during the course of the 18th century towards the development of a national school – a desire for academies of art where the latent English genius could be nurtured.

French Rococo portraits and decorative mythologies invaded Germany, the Scandinavian countries, and Russia and the French influence was powerful in Rome and Spain but as the French Revolution approached, France, in the person of Jacques Louis David, took over the leadership of the emerging Neoclassical style (which perhaps originated in Rome) and established its primacy killing the age of Rococo and the Baroque.

The two great centres of resistance to Neoclassicalism are generally held to be Britain and Venice. During the 18th and 19th centuries, young members of the British upper classes broadened their education with the Grand Tour of continental Europe. They encountered a sophisticated level of artistic achievement that influenced their tastes as art patrons. To ensure similarly high standards in Britain, the Royal Academy was founded in London in 1769. Its first president was Sir Joshua Reynolds, a brilliant painter as well as an influential teacher and author whose Discourses authoritatively addressed many aesthetic topics—including the preeminence of history painting.

Landscape and romanticism were two key themes of two masters, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Constable’s true-to-life views of the verdant English countryside emphasized the essential harmony and purity of nature. Turner, on the other hand, was a romantic who expressively dissolved forms in terms of light and atmosphere. With their fresh vision and powerfully original styles, Constable and Turner profoundly influenced the work not only of many subsequent British painters but of countless other American and European artists as well.

The death of court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1723 brought to an end the long dynasty of foreign artists who had dominated English painting for two hundred years. Kneller’s pupils and followers were conventional ‘portrait manufacturers’, whose work had neither life nor charm. It was left to his pupil and son-in-law, William Hogarth, to restore English fine art painting to dignity and honour.

The young artist William Hogarth broke the mould of Britsh art in the 1730s when he began his series of moral fables in paint. Hogarth’s earlier style, although strongly personal, is an English variation on the style of the French Rocco painter Watteau and his contemporaries but Hogarth’s moral fables fit in exactly with that climate of Enlightenment thought which was to produce Diderot and the Encyclopedists. William Hogarth dominates English art in the first half of the century. Scornful of portraiture, he single-handedly created a new genre, the ‘Modern Moral Subject’, and introduced the original practice of paintings and engravings in series, and of telling a visual story.

Hogarth is called a moralist and a genius and is acknowledged as the first great English painter of modern times, but in his own lifetime, he waged a perpetual struggle for recognition and patronage in a society indifferent to native talent. He was the son of a schoolmaster and literary hack and born at Ship Court, Old Bailey in 1697. About 1712 his father apprenticed him to Ellis Gamble, a silversmith in Cranbourne Alley, Leicester Fields, from whom he learned something of the processes of engraving. He took to drawing, it is said because he wished to record the humours of London life as he saw them. He devised a system of drawing from memory so that he could record in the evening the things he had seen during the day. This, he believed, was the only way ‘living art’ could be produced.

In 1733 Hogarth settled in Leicester Fields, where he remained for the rest of his life with the exception of a brief trip to France in 1748. His trip resulted in the picture of “Calais Gate”, now in the National Gallery but while making a sketch of the old gateway Hogarth was arrested on a charge of espionage and, though subsequently released, the incident had the effect of confirming his truculent insularity which finds full expression in this picture.

Towards the end of his life, Hogarth contrived to produce satirical engravings and paintings. He also painted a fairly large number of portraits, and a few pictures in the “grand historical style”, which are not on a level with his other work. Late in life, he published his “Analysis of Beauty”, in which he expressed his own aesthetic ideals, and endeavored to establish a definite canon of taste. In 1757 he received some official recognition in his appointment as serjeant-painter to the king, but he died on 26th October 1764, four years too early to become one of the foundation members of the Royal Academy.

 

Illustration: The Ladies Waldegrave. Reynolds was particularly skilled at choosing poses and actions which suggested a sitter’s character and which also created a strong composition. Here, three sisters, the daughters of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave, are shown collaboratively working on a piece of needlework. The joint activity links the girls together. On the left, the eldest, Lady Charlotte, holds a skein of silk, which the middle sister, Lady Elizabeth, winds onto a card. On the right, the youngest, Lady Anna, works a tambour frame, using a hook to make lace on a taut net.

Sources: Ellis Waterhouse, Tate Gallery, London  National Gallery Scotland.

http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/william-hogarth.htm

 

 

How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

Benjamin Franklin wrote a good love letter. In 1779, Benjamin Franklin fell in love with Anne Catherine Helvétius, the widow of the Swiss-French philosopher, Claude-Adrien Helvétius. He was serving as the U.S. envoy to France at the time.

Nicknamed “Minette”, Anne maintained a renowned salon in Paris using her dead husband’s accumulated wealth. Among its habitués were France’s leading politicians, philosophers, writers, and artists.

Courting her attention, Franklin sent her many letters expressing his love, admiration, and passion. In one, he claimed that he had dreamed that their dead spouses had married in heaven and that they should avenge their union by doing the same on earth!

He wrote In another passionate plea: “If that Lady likes to pass her Days with him, he, in turn, would like to pass his Nights with her; and as he has already given her many of his days…she appears ungrateful never to have given him a single one of her nights.”

Boris Pasternak gives his character Dr. Zhivago so pretty racy lines in his letters to his lover Lara.

Don’t be upset. Don’t listen to me. I only meant that I am jealous of a dark, unconscious element, something irrational, unfathomable. I am jealous of your toilet articles, of the drops of sweat on your skin, of the germs in the air you breathe which could get into your blood and poison you. And I am jealous of Komarovsky, as if he were an infectious disease. Someday he will take you away, just as certainly as death will someday separate us. I know this must seem obscure and confused, but I can’t say it more clearly. I love you madly, irrationally, infinitely.

I think you’ll agree that’s powerful stuff but how would you feel if you got a letter like that? Would it please you or make you run a mile? I think I’d make a run for it. So what should you write to your love? Well if want to woo your love successfully science has some tips for you.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory of love, suggests that the ideal love letter should include the following components—intimacy, passion, and commitment. To test this hypothesis Donelson Forsyth and Kelli Taylor constructed a number of letters and asked people what they thought of them.

They discovered that, when it comes to love letters, commitment conquered all. The letter that proclaimed, “I know we will be happy together for the rest of our lives” and “I couldn’t imagine a world without you in it,” was rated much higher, in terms of expressing love, than one that made no mention of commitment.

Adding language that spoke of closeness and caring increased the letter’s good impression with readers, but it was a commitment that left readers feeling loved and in love.

As to expressing passion in a letter; frisky letters, which went on for too long about the sender’s sexual passions, were viewed generally negatively by both genders; perhaps because they were more about lust than love.

They also discovered that a message of commitment need not be delivered in a traditional love letter or a card; a simple email will do which is lucky as so many of us have lost the art of putting pen to paper. However, research shows that people think that letters are more trustworthy, and a handwritten letter shows effort and care too.

Therefore, if you want your love letter to get results you need to write it yourself, show your commitment to the relationship and put it in an envelope. Call me old-fashioned but a bunch of flowers wouldn’t go amiss either.

 

For more see:
The Science of Love Letters
Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

 

Six Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

Six Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

Six Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Historical fiction is an umbrella term; though it is commonly used as a synonym for describing the historical novel. Historical fiction also occurs in other narrative formats – the performing and visual arts like theatre, opera, cinema, and television, as well as video games and graphic novels.

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the period depicted. Historical fiction writers frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.

Works of historical fiction are sometimes criticized for lack of authenticity because of readerly or genre expectations for accurate period details. This tension between historical authenticity, or historicity, and fiction frequently becomes a point of comment for readers and popular critics, while scholarly criticism frequently goes beyond this commentary, investigating the genre for its other thematic and critical interests.

When Wolf Hall won the Booker prize some commentators suggested that the term “historical fiction” was itself becoming a thing of the past. So many novels these days are set prior to the author’s lifetime that to label a novel “historical” is almost as meaningless as to call it “literary”.

1. Small details matter more than large ones. 

The art of fiction is, in large part, the art of small-scale illusions. Focus on the things that set the period and the character – the snap of a fan, the recoil of a rifle, the sound of the hurdy-gurdy playing in the street. In this quote from The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Moss we are whisked immediately back to the 15th or 16th century with the mention of the lute, viol, and citole, the title of the story tells us it is set at Christmas and the drinking and goose fat glistening on merry faces lets us know everyone is feasting.

‘It is my wedding day. I should be happy, and I am.

I am happy, yet I confess I am anxious too. My father’s friends of wild. Their cups clashing against one another and goose fat glistening on their cheeks and their voices raised. There has been so much wine drunk they are no longer themselves. There is lawlessness in a glint of their eyes, but they are not so far gone us to forget their breeding and manners. Their good cheer echoes around the old oak hall, so loud I can no longer hear the lute or viol, or citole s set out for our entertainment.’

2. Period characters require more than period clothes. 

Similarly, just as the exterior world requires research to establish believable, small details, the interior world of a character requires research as well. Good historical stories promise to not only transport readers to a historical setting but to reveal the interior life (the mind, heart and aspirations) of a character. For me, some of the large questions here had to do with interior perceptions: You need to find out how people viewed love and romance in your chosen period. What do your characters expect or want from life.

3. Use common names, not technical ones. 

It’s all very well knowing the technical terms for the clothes and accoutrements of the past but if your reader is going to have to Google everything you mention it will spoil the story for them. Remember you’re writing a story to entertain not a history textbook.  Let your characters engage with both historical details and their place in society. Not only have them interact with the politics or religion of the day – but allow them full use of their senses to recreate their environment, the smells, sounds and feel of their surroundings is just as important as having them know who was King at that time.

4. Immerse yourself in the culture. 

To write historical fiction of any kind – short stories or not – you need to be able to close your eyes and have the past blaze up around you. Always remember research takes time. Research is an investment; you draw on it when you need to. Use it like capital and keep most of it in the bank. Historical accuracy is like quicksand. Stay too long in the same place and it will suck you down and there will be no movement, no dynamism to the story. Too much attention to factual detail is undoubtedly an impediment to literary art. Adam Foulds’s The Quickening Maze is described on the Booker prize website as “historically accurate but beautifully imagined”, as if “historically accurate” implied a literary problem. In some respects it does. Ask a historical author: how do you stop that facts getting in the way of the story? And the novelist, driven by his or her imagination, will offer a wealth of answers. The historian will assure you that the facts are the story.

5. Find experts.

Have fun with research, but do your homework. Use reference books, watch films, read novels of the period. Make sure you’re comfortable with all aspects of the time from politics to illnesses, from food to fashion, from local geography to language (even if you choose not to use it.) Hand in hand with double-checking comes evaluating your sources. If something seems a bit improbable or sketchy, it probably is. Look for another source to back it up. Use the internet wisely. We are so blessed nowadays with the amount of information at our fingertips, the access we have to old maps and stats is amazing. But ALWAYS triple check your facts, be aware of false information and never rely solely on Wikipedia! Use a good mix of primary and secondary sources for both perspective and immediacy and double-check everything. Bad mistakes will reflect on your work even if it is the fault of your source.

 6. Historical facts are not the storyline. 

Anyone who has tried to make a story out of historical narrative will know it’s impossible. History is the context out of which fiction grows. Fiction is the examination of the human heart as individual characters move through scenes that test – or perhaps change – their souls. History is just the backdrop. Of course, if you’re writing about a real historical person it is necessary to stick to the facts.

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel

The dead are always present, says Hilary Mantel, they live with us in our memory, in our genes and in the legacy of their decisions and actions that shaped the world we live in today. In the words of St Augustine, she says, they are ‘invisible, they are not absent’. My inspiration for it Sinclair was family history.  Whoever we are we all have some sort of family and some sort of history, we could not have got here without it even if we do not know that history.

There is a poem by WH Auden, called “As I Walked Out One Evening”:

‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,

The desert sighs in the bed,

And the crack in the tea-cup opens

A lane to the land of the dead’

Like most people I come from a long line of very ordinary people; people who struggled most of their lives to make ends meet them to keep a roof over their head.  These are not the people we think of when we think of history. History was, until the last century, very much the domain of great men and great events. When we imagine the past in drama, in books, and, in films, the characters are always the movers and shakers of history; their decisions and actions change the world. Rarely do we think of the ordinary run of the mill people in the background who were most likely our ancestors.

My grandparents were born at the turn of the 19th century, they were Victorians.  They lived through great events, the Great War, the economic depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the post-war boom but they did not shape them.  They were lucky, they survived these huge historic events and so did their children; all of them living to ripe old age thanks to the introduction of the National Health Service in 1947. They were the first generation to live in Council Houses, proud tenants who always paid the rent on time. They worked hard and life was not easy but it was certainly better than it had been for their parents who had lived in overcrowded city-centre tenements with no interior sanitation. My Victorian ancestors worked hard, feared the workhouse, died young and were buried unceremoniously and as cheaply as possible.

My novel, Sinclair, is inspired by my husband’s family, the Leadams, who came from Walkington near the market town of Beverley and city of Hull. Christopher Leadam trained as a surgeon in York then moved to London sometime in the 1770s. I recently visited Walkington to look at the place he left to work at Guy’s Hospital. The contrast between this rural idle of the East Riding and the busy streets of Southwark could not be greater. Walkington is a beautiful place but as the 10th child in a family of farmers Christopher, who was clearly bright and adventurous, knew that if he was going to make a life for himself he had to leave the place of his birth.

Christopher died when he was relatively young, probably around 40. We know from the historical record that when he died he was the owner of an apothecary shop in Tooley Street and that he had a 14-year-old son and a wife. Christopher was not a great man of medicine but he was one of the cast of players who helped to heave medicine out of its medieval roots into the modern scientific age.

The Leadams of Tooley Street has led me on a journey into the 18th century and early 19th century. My novel begins in the aftermath of the disastrous American War and ends as France is about to throw the shackles of the ancient regime. Most historical romance is about aristocratic families, families with connections and status. My fiction is about a family too but this family has to make their own way in the world. They have no estate or inheritance to come into; they have to use their hands and their brains to make their way in the world. Men like the Leadams and the fictional Sinclair were men of the professions, industry, ideas, and commerce; they were the men for a new and enlightened age, the men who shaped the world we know today.

As a novelist, I want to tell the story of that change, of the development of the middle class if you like. The middle class is much maligned and forgotten in the pages of history and novels. Today middle-class values are under attack from libertarian capitalists who view government as a barrier to the unfettered accumulation of personal wealth, they do not believe in society or collective endeavour. In the historical novel, the middle class gets lost between the aristocratic splendour of the ballroom and the rags to riches stories of the poor.

‘The pursuit of the past makes you aware, whether you are novelist or historian, of the dangers of your own fallibility and inbuilt bias’ says Mantel. I agree I am the product of my own history. I am not the past I am now writing about the past in a language that is understood today. I am a writer of fiction but I am a historian too; an anachronism an oxymoron. The 19th-century historian Lord Macaulay said, “History has to be burned into the imagination before it can be received by the reason.” I burn with a passion for the past, but I also burn with a passion for the future, for a better future for my children and mankind. I’m biased and I don’t feel guilty about it; all history is biased, I am not perturbed about my desire to tell stories about people who live in townhouses and not country estates, people who value education for its own sake, people who want to engage in the political life of the nation because they want to improve the lives of others and build a better future.

Mantel says, “The historian and the biographer follow a trail of evidence, usually a paper trail. The novelist does that too, and then performs another act, puts the past back into the process, into action, frees the people from the archive and lets them run about, ignorant of their fates, with all their mistakes unmade.” Sinclair makes plenty of mistakes.

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:

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA

 

Writing about women in the past

Writing about women in the past

The position of women in the historical novel is problematic for authors. I am interested in exploring the strengths and weaknesses of my characters and how they cope with the historical world and I want to show women in a positive and realistic light. However, when it comes to writing about women in past I am confronted with some tricky problems. The main problem is that for most of history women were legally, socially and economically subject to the will of men.

In a strange way, poor women were the freest to be themselves as they worked even when they were married and had children. Poor women earned their own money. The problem for these women was that their earnings were always vastly inferior to men’s. A woman alone in the past was almost invariably a poor and exploited one.

It is true that in London and in other large towns where there was the possibility of social anonymity many women turned to prostitution as a more lucrative way of staying alive.

For women of the middling sort, I hesitate to use the word class here, as for most of history there was no middle class as we know today, financial dependence on men was the norm even into the middle of the last century. Of course, financial dependence on men has not gone away as women are still paid on average 16% less than men for the same work but women are thankfully no longer forced into financial servitude to men.

A single ‘free’ woman in the past was the exception. Any unmarried woman would almost certainly be viewed as unsuccessful.

Marriage and children were the markers of success for a woman in past. With no meaningful contraception, women were constantly burdened with pregnancy and subject to premature death in childbirth. They were responsible for almost all childcare unless a woman was wealthy enough to employ a nurse or nanny.

Of course marriage still an honourable estate for most men and women but more women are going it alone than ever before and are happy with their decision. For the majority of us who marry, it’s a struggle to manage a demanding career and a family no matter how successful we are in our chosen profession.

So how does the modern author go about creating their female historical characters?

Well, some authors focus their attention on the few women who broke the mould in the past while other abandon any sense of historical verisimilitude. Some use the Cinderella formula while others make their female characters masculine, sassy and ruthless. All of these forms can work if the story is good enough but they were not for me in the Tales of Tooley Street as the characters are inspired by actual people who lived and worked at 65 Tooley Street for three generations.

Approaches to representing female characters in the past:

Some argue that The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (commonly known simply as Moll Flanders) a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1722 is the prototype for a female character who by the end of the novel controls her own life and is financially independent. Moll achieves what many feminists call success.

Feminist writer Diana Del Vecchio says, “By the end of the book, Moll has completely appropriated the role of the husband, the provider, the masculine, the seeker, the adventurer, the leader, the thinker, and has figuratively donned the clothing of man, while keeping her nature as woman intact. She makes the final decision to enter and sign a legal contract with her son, where he manages her inherited land and gives her an annual compensation of the lands’ produce. When she returns to Jemy, it is she that supplies him with a dowry of a gold watch, a hundred pounds in silver, a deerskin purse, Spanish pistols, three horses with harnesses and saddles, some hogs, two cows, and other gifts for the farm. She enters this relationship with the fortune of her inheritance and the many accouterments that she has acquired and accumulated in her years as a thief. For the first time in her life, she forms a relationship with a man, where she is the one in control.”

The fact that Moll has to step outside the law to become independent is the problem for me but it is probably a realistic one as Defoe was fully aware of the way society worked in the early 18th century. Prostitution and thieving were rife in London in the 18th century but most women involved in the trade did not end up like Moll. Most ended in an early grave, at the end of a noose or transported for life if caught. My character is inspired by a respectable widow who raises her son to be a successful doctor so prostitution and thieving are not options for her.

Historian Lucy Worsley’s most recent BBC TV series on the Wives of Henry III offers an alternative approach to the female character and narrative in history.

In the series, Dr. Worsley looked at the events of Henry’s reign through the eyes of the women involved. She cleverly managed to breath new life into this overworked territory by showing Katherine of Aragon as a competent and popular queen not as the obsessively religious woman of traditional portrayals. She showed Katherine was intelligent, ambitious and for much of her 24-year marriage to Henry, she gave as good as she got. Anne Boleyn too was shown as a clever and ambitious woman betrayed by her husband and removed on trumped up charges of adultery. Jane Seymour was a young and tragic a woman fed to the old lecher of a king by her male relatives only to die in childbirth. Ann of Cleaves was a smart political operator who negotiated herself out of disaster and ended up one of the richest women in England. Catherine Howard was what we would call an abused child who did not know how to say no to powerful and determined men; and, Katherine Parr was a wily woman of great learning and intellect who used her position to promote the establishment of the ‘new religion’ Protestantism and managed to outmaneuver and outwit her enemies at court.

In my own writing, I have taken the Lucy Worsley approach. My heroine, Charlotte Leadam, the widow of the Tooley Street surgeon, Christopher Leadam, is intelligent and resourceful but she is an 18th-century woman living in 18th century London. She faces financial ruin when her husband dies. As a woman, she cannot run the apothecary shop she owns because she cannot hold an apothecary license as a woman but she must pay her husband’s debts. As a widow, she yearns for the return of the feeling of financial security and independence she enjoyed when she was married but she does not want to remarry.  Charlotte achieves her desires by complying with some social conventions of the day and by ignoring others but she’s always well within the law. Here’s an excerpt.

“You and John will stay here with us now that Christopher has gone,” her mother said, in a tone that indicated it was not a matter for discussion.

“That’s very kind of you and father, but Christopher has not gone, as you put it. He died; my husband is dead. I am a widow, not an abandoned child.”

“We know that, dearest. Your father and I comprehend the situation all too clearly,” she said, handing her daughter a fresh towel and a bar of soap. “You’re a woman without a husband and without an income. You cannot simply go back to your old life, Charlotte; it no longer exists. Your father and I have discussed the matter, and we have decided that it is best that you and John stay here where we can provide for you. That is until you marry again.”

The flame of ire burning in Charlotte’s chest was rekindled and refuelled. Whilst she could not dispute her mother’s analysis of the situation, she was nonetheless livid with her for expressing it so clearly. She bit her lip, held her tongue and breathed the long slow breaths that Christopher had taught her to use in such situations. Experience told her that this was not the time or the place to have an argument with her mother. Losing her temper never worked; she had to be more cunning than that. As calmly as she could she said, “Mother, I have no plans to remarry.”

“I’m not saying that you have to forget Christopher. I’m not that cruel and insensitive. ” She pointed to the bath. “Your father took this in lieu of payment from a whore in St James’s. The poor woman could not pay her rent either, so your father took the bath before the landlord did. My friend Mrs. Peacock says that bathing is of great benefit for the nerves, so I thought you might like to try it. I shall not be doing so: I’m too old to change the habits of a lifetime. Besides, they cost a fortune in hot water – which is all very well for Mrs. Peacock: her husband is a banker. And I can’t use poor Millie like this again; she is exhausted with carrying the pails from the kitchen.”

When her mother had gone Charlotte launched herself face down onto the bed and let out a long, low scream of frustration. How dare her mother decide what she was going to do with her life without even talking to her about it? And why had she told her about the whore? Was she trying to warn her what happens to women who are left on their own?

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 

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA