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Showing posts from January, 2018

Victoria & Friends: Ira Aldridge and Ada Lovelace

The second season of Victoria , the BBC mini-series on the life of Queen Victoria, is currently airing on Masterpiece (PBS) in the U.S. It’s a wonderful production, enriched by the performances of Jenna Coleman as the young Victoria, and Tom Hughes as her great love and husband, Prince Albert. Regency fans are very aware that Victoria’s story starts in the Regency (she was born in 1819) and continued to involve people and events from that time period. After all, Victoria herself was the niece of King George IV (aka the Prince Regent or Prinny) and if it hadn’t been for the death of George’s daughter Charlotte in childbirth, and the reluctance and/or inability of George’s royal brothers to beget legitimate heirs, she may never have ascended the throne. Imagine – no Victoria, no Victorian Age. What a loss for Great Britain and the world that would have been! In the second season of Victoria, there's an episode where we see the young queen and her husband encouraging

Friday Follies: The art of the circus

"The Circus" by George Seurat, painted in 1891 With its bright colors, nonstop action and death-defying stunts, the circus is an irresistible draw for artists and audiences alike. You can find circuses in movies, books, paintings and even music. Just this past holiday season, The Greatest Showman , with Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, and Zendaya, debuted on the big screen. The film is a fictionalized account of the life of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum, who among his many diverse accomplishments established a traveling circus. But The Greatest Showman is only one of many circus-themed films that have graced the cinema. In 1952, The Greatest Show on Earth , starring Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, and Betty Hutton, was a big hit, winning an Oscar for Best Picture at the 1953 Academy Awards.   Burt Lancaster, who as a young man worked as a circus acrobat, starred in 1956’s Trapeze , along with Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida. And a bit more

Astley's Royal Amphitheatre: the first circus

Astley's Royal Amphitheatre in London around 1808 “Damn everything but the circus!” e.e.cummings famously exclaimed during a series of “non-lectures” he gave at Harvard in the early 1950s. Few in Regency England would’ve quibbled with that viewpoint if it’d been expressed over a century earlier. Because for visitors to London in the late 18th or early 19th century, a visit to Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre to see the circus was an absolute must. Philip Astley (1742-1814) was an expert horseman and riding teacher. Six feet tall, he learned how to ride when he was a cavalry officer in the British army. Astley decided to teach riding, and he also wanted the show off the tricks he and his horses could do. So he opened a riding school in Lambeth (located on the southern outskirts of London just across the Westminster Bridge) in 1768. He taught in the morning and did tricks with his horses in the afternoon. His wife Patty provided musical accompaniment for the action on the fie

Friday Follies: Best and Worst Pride and Prejudice Film Adaptations As I promised in my last post, today I’m going to review a few of the many versions of Pride and Prejudice modifed for the screen. The Internet Movie Database ( ) lists seven television mini-series, going back as far as 1952, a short movie made for TV in 1938 by the BBC (yes, I’m as surprised by the date as you are), and at least three full-length feature films with that exact title. But that number doesn’t begin to cover the many movies that have used Jane’s story and title either as a basis or a starting point for something quite different, or the scores of TV shows that feature a “pride-and-prejudice” themed episode. Clearly, Jane’s tale of love and marriage has struck an enduring chord. Which brings me to today’s Friday Folly: my very own, admittedly opinionated take on the best and worst adaptations of Jane Austen’s classic tale. Let’s get the worst out of the way first: 1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) Sorry, horror fa

The debut of Pride and Prejudice

A watercolor portrait of Jane Austen, done in 1804 by her sister Cassandra January is a banner month for Jane Austen fans like me – and if you’re reading this blog, I suspect you’re one of us, too. Towards the end of January 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published to the everlasting delight of millions of future readers. Of course, it was published anonymously, but that wasn't unusual for women writers then. There were a few published female authors (Maria Edgeworth, author of  Castle Rackrent , Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein , to name two) around this time, but literature, like most other intellectual pursuits, was a predominantly male domain. And, I suspect it took critics a while to consider Jane Austen the literary heavyweight she is, and fully appreciate her work. In fact, when I was a college student some years ago, Austen didn’t make it into the 2-volume Norton Anthology of English Literature (3 rd edition) I had to study as part of my English majo

Friday Follies: Five Famous Romances

My post earlier this week on Emma Hamilton got me thinking about famous romances, especially those of real-life couples, which I find much more interesting than storybook lovers like Romeo and Juliet. So, in keeping with my focus on British history, I’ve compiled a list of five famous couples from the 19 th  and 20 th  centuries. All but Napoleon and Josephine are English, and I included the Emperor because he's so closely tied to the Regency period and in many ways a mirror image of Nelson, his contemporary and foe.  1. Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton Admiral Nelson and Emma in Naples, as seen in this German painting, done in the first half of the 19th century I went into detail on the love affair of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in my post on January 10. But no mere account of their romance can explain the hold it has had on the popular imagination over the last two centuries. Emma herself, and her love affair with Nelson, has inspired painters, novelists, m

Emma Hamilton

Emma as the temptress Circe, by George Romney, 1782 This month marks the sad end of one the most famous love stories of the Regency era – that of Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson. Now, I find Emma fascinating for a number of reasons. She was a bright spark of a girl, born in poverty but soon able to use her good l ooks and vivacious personality to get ahead in life. She was fortunate to find a kind man to marry her and a great man to love her. But she was unable to secure the affection of her children, and by the end of her life lost everything, perhaps because she never developed the strength of mind and character that's often needed to deal with life's vicissitudes.  See what you think. Here are some biographical facts about Emma: Emma Hamilton was born as Amy (some sources say Emily) Lyon to an illiterate blacksmith and his wife in a Cheshire country village in 1765. At some point early in her life, she changed her name to Emma. Her mother also changed