Interview With Elisa De Carlo, Author Of The Abortionist's Daughter

Friday, 21 November 2014

Elisa DeCarlo is a lady of many talents. She’s been a working journalist, an audiobook abridger, magazine staff writer, and comic performer, and has also sold plus-size vintage clothing. Her knowledge of both showbiz and fashion history came in handy when she decided to pen her novel, The Abortionist's Daughter.

The Abortionist's Daughter is a is a coming of age story with a strong underlying feminist theme. In 1910, the young and naive Melanie Daniels becomes an outcast in her little town when her father accidentally kills a woman while performing an abortion. Her only choice is to remain a spinster or marry a man she doesn't love. That's until James comes along, and sweeps her away to New York. Once there, she meets Gladys, a Broadway actress who offers her help when James shows his true colours. Their lives become intertwined in ways neither of them could have expected.

Here Elisa talks about her inspiration for the novel, her plans for the future, and lots more:

1. What inspired you to write The Abortionist's Daughter?
My love of show business history, my love of vintage fashion, and the challenge of writing from Melanie’s POV. I wanted to tell the story from a sheltered, inexperienced and honest perspective. Some people don’t like the title character. But being human means you’re not always likeable. Some personal issues also drove me to write the first draft (not abortion, believe it or not). When I got sober, I had writer’s block for FIVE YEARS. I’m thankful to say it has gone away. Looking for something I could work on, I pulled out the manuscript and thought, “this would make a really good story!” The perspective of several decades helped round out the story and characters.

2. You are both a writer and an actress/performer who has appeared in many movies and shows. How did your acting experience influenced the story?
It influenced me tremendously! Every single one of those audition stories (the bad ones) actually happened to me! On a brighter note, I know how it feels to stare out at blinding lights, hear the applause, and do a show. And then want to run back out on stage and do the whole thing over again. Even though my solo shows involve playing multiple characters in off-off Broadway theaters and take a lot more work than what Melanie does! I’ve done small parts in television and films. That helped sketch in the scenes where Melanie is watching the director/producer and the rest of the cast.

3. The Abortionist's Daughter is a coming of age story with a strong underlying feminist theme. Melanie, at the beginning of the book, is naive, ignorant of sex and the ways of the world, and living in a small town where her shattered reputation terribly limits her future prospects. By the end, she becomes independent, embraces her sexuality, and owns her womanhood. Would she have described herself as feminist? And do you describe yourself so?
Yes, I am a feminist. Who doesn’t understand why it’s become a derogatory term. Part of what drove me to write this story was so that women of today, particularly young women, could understand what life is like when you have virtually no choices. Many of them are unaware that the lives they live are built on the foundation of many years of women’s struggles.

Melanie wouldn’t describe herself as a feminist--yet. She’s on the brink, but not independent enough at the point the story ends.

4. Have you made any fascinating discoveries into your research that didn't make it into the book?
To be honest, I can’t remember. I did research until my eyes bled. The story almost veered in a completely different direction, which I did NOT want. It meant researching the criminal justice system of the time. That was a big part of why I pulled Melanie’s story back on track.

5. What was most enjoyable, and what instead more difficult, about writing The Abortionist's Daughter?
The most enjoyable part was the research. I’m a research junkie. Also trying to write a “real” moment, in as clear English as I could. To read a scene and see it like a movie is a great feeling.

The most difficult was writing it. I write in short bursts of three or four hours and that’s it. The rest of the time I feel guilty because I’m not writing. Tormenting myself is one of my skill sets.

6. Do you prefer to perform or write?
I prefer to be onstage. It’s where I feel most alive. However, physical restrictions have kept me from it for several years. I am also a compulsive writer. In my life, I feel a need to write everything down. Creating worlds, whether in a play or a novel, brings me joy. That is, when I’m not staring at my monitor and the voice in my head is screaming at me that I can’t do it (and other things that are much worse).

7. If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you invite, and why?
I hate this question! My number one choice of all time is the late British comedian Peter Cook. He had a brilliant comic mind that is not sufficiently appreciated in America. Plus he was as sexy as anything.

Number two...this gets tough. I’d like to say Marilyn Monroe, but it’s more because I relate to her as a person, not that we would actually have anything to say to each other. Spike Milligan is another British comic genius I met a few times before he died. But he and Peter would probably keep trying to top each other at the dinner table, so, sorry Spike. Oh, God. One problem is that I know so much about my idols that I know who wouldn’t be stellar dinner companions! W. Somerset Maugham was nasty, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a maudlin drunk...huh. Maybe sober F. Scott Fitzgerald. He wrote marvelous underappreciated stories, such as the Pat Hobby series about an alcoholic screenwriter. So he’d be fun to have to talk about life and writing. My own sobriety has nothing to do with my choices. If a drunk is a fun drunk, why not?

Number three would be a woman. Lauren Bacall or Anne Sheridan, two great 40s “dames.” They’d tell hilarious, filthy stories and I’d make them talk about their film costumes when we were in the ladies’ room.


8. What's next for you?
Stumping for The Abortionist’s Daughter in whatever way I can. “Cervix With A Smile,” a collection of my comedy sketches and plays, is being published by the Exit Press in 2015. I am tremendously excited about that! For one thing, I’ll do readings, which is a way to get back into performing. And I’m editing a fan fiction fantasy epic novel. Damn, there goes my dignity. It’s not “50 Shades Of Grey.” I’m not willing to lose that much of my dignity, even for that insane amount of money!

Thank you Elisa!

You can buy The Abortionist's Daughter on Amazon. And don't forget to check out Elisa's website too!

Alicia Meynell, The First Woman Jockey In England

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The daughter of a Norwich watchmaker, Alicia Meynell was born in 1782. She had an older sister, who married William Flint of Yorkshire. It is likely through them that Alicia met her lover. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton was a dashing and respected neighbour of the Flints. Maybe they bonded over their shared love for horses and riding. Alicia owned three hunters and liked riding to hounds, something very few women did back then. Riding fast over uneven, unpredictable terrain wasn't easy in a side saddle, after all. But Alicia did it, and did it very well too.

William loved horses as well. One day, he went riding with Alicia and soon, the two started wondering which of their two horses was better. Was Vingarillo, a brute and her Thornton's favourite horse, better and faster than Thornville, Flint's brown hunter and favourite animal? Only a race could settle the argument. And so, off they rode. Twice. Both times, Alicia won. A sore loser, Flint challenged her to ride at a real race, namely the Newmarket Race Track. He also named a prize of 1,000 guineas, which, in today's money, is about $30.000!

If he thought she'd decline, he was disappointed. Alicia was all too eager to accept. News spread fast and, on the appointed day, a big crowd gathered to see a woman race. Now, that was a spectacle you didn't see every day! The crowd grew so big that the 6th Light Dragoons were called in to keep everyone under control. The crowd behaved. It was the bets that went crazy. Overall, more than 200 pounds (more than $6 millions in today's money) was betted!

Finally, the riders stepped forward. Alicia, with her spotted dress that resembled leopard skin, blue sleeves and cap, cut a striking figure. Her opponent, William, was soberly dressed in white from head to toe. His past defeats were still on his mind. He ordered Alicia to ride on a side of the track where she wouldn't be able to use her whip hand, and didn't allow anyone to ride alongside her and help her should her side saddle slip. Alicia didn't mind. When the race finally started, she soon jumped ahead. She kept her advantage till the very end, when Vingarillo suddenly faltered, allowing Thornville to surpass him. William had won the race.

Alicia didn't took it well. And she was even less happy of hearing everyone prais Flint for being such a gentleman to have raced with a woman in the first place. So, she took up her pen and wrote a letter to the Herald in which she denounced William and requested a rematch. But nothing came of it. Whether it was because he knew his success had been due more to luck than ability, or his resentment at Alicia's lover who refused to honour the bet, insisting it had all been a joke, William refused to race.

But a certain Mr Bromford challenged Alicia to ride at the next year's race. The prize? 2000 pounds and lots of French wine. Of course she agreed. But the race never took place. On the appointed day, Bromford suddenly left, so Alicia won by default. But she got to race against Buckle, one of the best paid jockeys of the time. Riding a mare named Louisa, "Mrs. Thornton, by the most excellent horsemanship, pushed forward and came in in a style far superior to anything of the kind we have ever witnessed, gaining her race by half a neck.”

Alicia's ability wasn't the only thing to attract everyone's attention at the race. William may have refused to race against her again, but he was at the event, and horsewhipped Thornton. He was quickly confined for assault. That wasn't the end of the feud, though. The two men battled it out in court for years, and eventually, Colonel Thornton won.

Shortly after the second race, Thornton and Alicia broke up. In 1806, she eloped with a soldier. But it's for her achievement, not her love life, that she is still remembered today. She remained the only woman listed in the records of England’s Jockey Club to have raced and won against a man until 1943.

A Quartet For A Razor!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Haydn reached London in the opening days of 1791. He passed his first night at the house of Bland, the music-publisher, at 45 High Holborn, which now, rebuilt, forms part of the First Avenue Hotel. Bland, it should have been mentioned before, had been sent over to Vienna by Salomon to coax Haydn into an engagement in 1787. When he was admitted on that occasion to Haydn's room, he found the composer in the act of shaving, complaining the while of the bluntness of his razor. "I would give my best quartet for a good razor," he exclaimed testily. The hint was enough for Bland, who immediately hurried off to his lodgings and fetched a more serviceable tool. Haydn was as good as his word: he presented Bland with his latest quartet, and the work is still familiarly known as the "Rasirmesser" (razor) Quartet.

Further reading:
Haydn by J. Cuthbert Hadden

Book Reviews: The Abortionist's Daughter, The Sharp Hook of Love, The Tudor Vendetta, & The Woman Who Would Be King

Tuesday, 18 November 2014
Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing three historical novels, and a biography of a great ancient female ruler. If you pick up these books, I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

The Abortionist's Daughter by Elisa DeCarlo
Melanie Daniels lives a quiet and boring life in a small American town. Her family is admired and loved by the community until one day her her father accidentally kills a woman while performing an abortion and is sent to jail. The small town is horrified, and shuns not just the doctor but his family too. Melanie's only hope for the future seems to be marriage to Paul, a nice and shy younger guy who doesn't make her heart flutter. That's until she meets James. Believing him to be an honourable gentleman, Melanie runs away with him to New York. Here James shows his true colours and abandons her. His mistress Gladys, a Broadway actress, comes to her rescue, leaving her in her debt. Their paths will meet again when Melanie discovers her calling is the stage too.
The Abortionist's Daughter is a coming of age story. At the start of the novel Melanie, who has lived a protected life in a small town, is very naive, completely ignorant in matters of sex, gullible, and selfish. She trusts the wrong people and make many mistakes, with awful consequences both for herself and those she loves. But she also tries to fix them, and learns a lot along the way. And she's determined to make something of her life. She doesn't just follow James to New York for love. She also follows him because she wants a better life for herself. For that, she's willing to defy conventions and the role society imposed upon women. In doing so, she becomes a better person and an independent woman.
DeCarlo beautifully describes life in 1910, from the quiet life in a small, quite-narrow minded community, to the glitz and glamour of Broadway, to the many restrictions placed on women, leaving them few options. The language used fits the theme period well, adding another layer of authenticity to the story. It's obvious DeCarlo did her research, and did it well.
The abortion topic is always a controversial one. But, despite what the title may imply, it's not even the main theme here. Yet, DeCarlo strongly conveys how dangerous abortions were at the time, and how desperate women felt to decide to have one. Regardless of what your opinion is, the book, by humanizing these women, does offer some interesting food for thought.
My only criticism is that the book starts quite slowly. It took me a couple of chapters to fully get into it, but once it picked up speed somewhat, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to readers who love coming of age stories and fans of this historical era.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Sharp Hook of Love: A Novel of Heloise and Abelard by Sherry Jones
Everyone knows the story of Abelard and Heloise. He was one of the greatest philosophers in France. She one of the best learned woman in the country. He was headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School. She was his student. He aspired to fame. She was destined for the convent. But when they met, their lives changed forever. Abelard and Heloise fell in love. Ambitious but naive, the two lovers believed they could defy the conventions of the time, established by men they considered to be their inferiors. In the end, they were forced to decide between love, duty, and ambition.
The Sharp Hook Of Love is a beautiful retelling of this ever famous love story. But a one sided one. Heloise is the narrator, and everything that happened is filtered through her eyes and her feelings for Abelard. At times, it is actually difficult to remember how well-educated and intelligent Heloise really is, as consumed and obsessed as she is by her feelings for her lover. But love is not rational, and, if you expect it to be, you're going to be very frustrated with Heloise. As much as she adores Abelard, though, he doesn't come across as a good and dashing romantic hero in this book. He treats her quite badly for most of their time together, being more interested in making sure their relationship doesn't ruin his career than anything else. Had the story had an omniscient narrator, and the reader able to see what was in his heart too, maybe he would have come across better.
But these drawbacks, if you can so call them, didn't bother me nor diminished my enjoyment in reading the novel. On the contrary, The Sharp Hook Of Love is one of the best novels I've read this year. Vividly written and poignant, the love and passion the couple felt for each other exudes from every page. But this isn't just a story about love. It's a story about sacrifice. A story about power and how it was wielded to both keep women in their place and destroy your enemies. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner
The Tudor Vendetta is the third and last volume in the Spymaster Chronicles. I have not read the first two (but I surely will now), so I was afraid I wouldn't be able to follow this story properly, but that wasn't the case. Although there are many references to events that happened in the first two books, these are clearly explained, leaving the reader always up to date and never feeling frustrated.
The story takes place right after Elizabeth I's accession to the throne. Spy-in-training Brendan Prescott returns to London from exile, hoping to keep working with Cecil and Walsingham to keep the Queen safe and to reconcile with his sweetheart, Kate, one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting. But the Queen has other plans. Her beloved Lady Parry has disappeared while on a visit to Vaughn Hall, her family home, and she needs Prescott to find out what happened to her. But the manor hides a secret that could destroy Elizabeth.
The Tudor Vendetta is full of twists and turns. When you think you have it all figured out, something unexpected happens. Although it starts slowly, and the beginning of the book seems to have little to do with the mystery Brendan is called to investigate, it soon picks up speed, forcing the reader to quickly turn the pages, unable to put the book down.
The world Gortner evokes is very vivid and realistic too. Although I didn't fully get the sense of urgency he was trying to create, I did get the sense of mystery. The scenes at Vaughn Hall, especially, evoked a somewhat gothic atmosphere that keeps the reader uneasy and intrigued. The characters are also well-developed, especially Brendan. He's quick, smart, confident, and loyal, yet with weaknesses and faults that make him human and easy to relate to. Although the trilogy has ended, I hope Gortner will keep writing about Brendan and his adventures.
Well-written and engaging, The Tudor Vendetta is a must read for all fans of the Tudors and of good mystery novels.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney
Reading The Woman Who Would Be King, a biography of Egyptian's female ruler Hatshepsut, is as fascinating as it is frustrating.
Fascinating because Hatshepsut was an incredible woman who has done the unthinkable. She became regent for her nephew when she was just a teenager and refused to relinquish it even when he became old enough to rule on his own. She bent the boundaries of gender to consolidate her power in a society where authority was synonym with masculinity. She brought prosperity to her country. Never before had a woman held so much power, and centuries would pass before it happened again.
And yet her images and legacy were destroyed, and largely forgotten, by her successors. Which brings me to the frustrating part. Very little information about Hatshepsut has survived. Despite her astonishing achievements, we know very little of what she did, and even less of what kind of person she was. Therefore, this biography is full of conjectures and hypothesis. Terms like "likely" and "possibly" abound in almost every page.
In telling her story, Cooney presents the historical evidence, backed by sources, and explores all possible sides of an argument or event, and then shares her own conclusions. But even she admits that her book is more speculation that real history, especially when she tries to image how Hatshepsut felt at different moments in her life. It's not her fault, though. Cooney did the best job she could with the information she had. Unless new evidence comes to light, it's impossible to write a more accurate story of this ruler and her reign. If Egyptologists, academicians, and historians will still criticize her for it, the casual reader will appreciate it more.
Although written in an academic style, Cooney brings the world in which Hatshepsut lived back to life. A lot of her theories aren't based only on fragments of old documents or what remains of her temples, but also on the beliefs and customs the Ancient Egyptians had. This gives us a better understanding of both the limitations imposed upon her and the opportunities she was given. If, by the end of the book, Hatshepsut still remains elusive, the Egyptian world she lived in will have revealed most of its secrets to you.
Well-researched, documented, and written, The Woman Who Would Be King is a wonderful read that will appeal to all fans of Ancient Egypt and powerful women.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Was Count Fersen Really Marie Antoinette's Lover?

Monday, 17 November 2014

He was a skilled Swedish statesman and diplomat. A soldier in the War for the American Independence. A devoted and fervent royalist who faithfully served both the Kings of Sweden and France. An innocent victim murdered by a ferocious mob for a crime he didn't commit. Yet, to most people, Axel von Fersen is just Queen Marie Antoinette's lover. Too bad he never was.

Yep, that's right. There is absolutely no proof that Marie Antoinette and Fersen were lovers. Even historians like Antonia Fraser, who believes they were, had to admit in her biography of the Queen, that the evidence just isn't there. Instead, everything we know about Marie Antoinette indicates that, regardless of what she may have felt for Fersen (and no one can truly say what is in someone's heart), she was never unfaithful to her husband.

A chaste woman and a devoted mother

Few women in history were slandered as horribly as Marie Antoinette was. And yet, those who knew her well often commented on her chaste nature. She was so modest and prudish that she even wore a long flannel gown, buttoned from top to button, when having a bath! But the Queen wasn't a saint. She was frivolous, squandered enormous sums at the gambling table, and loved balls. But her partying lifestyle, which never included lovers anyway, ended when she became a mother.

Marie Antoinette adored her children. She lived for them. She couldn't bear even the thought of being separated from them. And that's what would have happened if she had taken a lover. Although Louis XVI was no Harry VIII, adultery, when committed by a Queen, was treason in France too. If caught, Louis would have no choice but to divorce Marie Antoinette and banished her, probably to a convent. She would never have seen her children again. Marie Antoinette would never have taken that chance. Some suggested Louis knew about the affair and chose to ignore it, but that's just not possible. Louis was a deeply religious man and wouldn't have been able to just turn the other way. Not to mention that such an affair could have compromised the succession. He wouldn't have allowed that.

A faithful Queen

Marie Antoinette wasn't devoted only to her children. She was devoted to her husband too. Although historians have often written off Louis XVI as an ugly, awkward and weak man no woman could possibly ever have found attractive, the King was a gentle man, a caring husband, a loving father, always striving to do his best for both his family and his people. All qualities that would inspire affection, loyalty, and love, if not passion, in any woman. Although the couple was pretty much estranged during the first years of their marriage, they eventually got close and grew to love each other. She certainly loved him enough to die with him. During the revolution, the Queen refused many plans to escape, either alone or with her children, and leave Louis behind, preferring to stay by his side till the bloody end.

No privacy allowed

Even if Marie Antoinette had wanted, despite the possible horrible consequences, to have an affair, she didn't have the means to do so. Queens of France lacked any privacy at all. They lived their entire lives in the public eye. Marie Antoinette was never alone. Even at her beloved Petit Trianon, where she was able to relax the strict etiquette rules that regulated life at Versailles, the Queen was never left on her own. Some family members, friends, or servants, were always with her. It would have been impossible for her to conduct an affair without anyone noticing or the help of one, or more, accomplices (which would have also increased the risk of discovery).

Not to mention that foreign ambassadors had spies at court who reported to them every move the Queen made. No aspect of her life was too trivial not to be commented on. They even checked the Queen's bedsheets to know when she slept with her husband! The Austrian ambassador, who spied on behalf of Queen Marie Antoinette's mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, never mentioned Fersen in his letters, something he would have certainly done if there had been even the slightest hint of scandal about them.

Even more ridiculous are the rumours that Marie Antoinette and Fersen had a last night of passion while she was imprisoned at the Tuileries Palace. Fersen, when writing about that night in his diary, allegedly jotted down "Reste là", a term he used to indicate he had slept with a woman. But the phrase was erased from his diary, so no one knows for sure if that's what he had really written. Even if he had, it is unlikely it meant anything more than he had spent the night at the Palace. Marie Antoinette was even more closely guarded than usual at this time. There is no way no one would have noticed the Queen having sex with her lover! Besides, Marie Antoinette was now fearing for her life, and the lives of her children and her husband. It is unlikely that she would have been in the right state of mind to entertain a lover.

No mention at her trial

To me, the most convincing proof an affair never occurred was the fact that Fersen was mentioned at Marie Antoinette's trial only for the role he had in the flight to Varennes. The revolutionaries hated Marie Antoinette. They accused her of sleeping with everyone she knew and even many she didn't know, both male and female. They even accused her of having committed incest with her own son. Yet, they never accused her of having had an affair with Fersen, a foreigner and a devoted royalist who did everything he could to help the unfortunate French royal family. Why? Because no proof of their affair ever existed. If even the faintest hint of rumour had reached their ears, you can be sure they would have used it against her.

What about their letters?

The letters the Queen and Count Fersen wrote to each other have been perused by historians to find proof they had an affair. Although they don't reveal any, people often find what they want to find. Every word and every cancellation has been carefully examined and attributed whatever meaning best suited the researcher's hopes. So, even though the letters, which were written in a difficult cypher, showed their relationship to have been mainly a diplomatic one, many saw a lot more in them. Erased parts of the Queen's letters have  been said to contain her declarations of love to Fersen, when it is far more likely they concealed Marie Antoinette's disagreements with her brothers-in-law, or mentioned revolutionaries enemies or royalists friends. Leaving these references unblotted would have been too dangerous had the letters fallen into the wrong hands.

Some have also seen in the name Josephine, which Fersen used in some of his letters, an alias for Marie Antoinette. But Josephine was probably a maid working for his mistress Eleanor Sullivan, considering that in one of the letters, he gave her instructions about a stove. Antonia Fraser explains this discrepancy but saying that when Fersen talked about Josephine, he sometimes referred to Marie Antoinette, others to the maid. Needless to say, I don't find it a very convincing explanation, especially because she doesn't back it up with any proof. In any case, Eleanor is likely the woman Fersen passionately writes about in his letters to his sister Sophie. In those letters, he referred to her as "El" or "elle". When talking about the Queen, instead, he always used "Elle", with a capital E, so it is unlikely he was talking about the Queen in these letters. Especially, because the Queen, together with her family, was threatened by the revolution at this time, and would have had no time for love affairs.

Not every letter brought forth as proof has been authenticated either. In 1907, a certain Monsieur Lucien Maury published in Revue Bleue a fragment of a letter he claimed had been written by Marie Antoinette to Fersen. It said: "Farewell, the most loved and loving of men. I embrace you with my whole heart…." The letter, however, wasn't in the Queen's handwriting, but only in the cipher she used. The letter, could therefore, have been by anyone knowing the code. In any case, such effusive and exaggerated language was commonly used in letters written to friends at the time, and hardly proof of an extramarital affair.

Why is this myth so popular then?

Scandal sells. Goodness doesn't. Marie Antoinette wasn't a remarkable woman. Despite being a Queen, her life was, overall, kind of boring. No wonder many writers and film makers have decided to spice things up with a little affair. That was done so many times that people started believing there must have been at least some truth in the rumours. And, of course, people are more prone to believe the worst, rather than the best, of people.

This myth also appeals to our romantic sensibilities. Marie Antoinette lived most of her life in the heap of luxuries, yet she knew little happiness. She left her family at a young age to marry a stranger, found life at Versailles, with its lack of privacy and scheming courtiers, unbearable, was slandered by her subject because of her foreign birth, imprisoned with her family, separated from them children, and eventually murdered. In an era where romantic love is considered a panacea for all evils, I believe many of us hope that Marie Antoinette had an affair so that, for a few moments at least, she knew the joys of passionate love.

Our society is also obsessed by sex. While no one has a problem believing that two people, who are not in love, can have sex for pleasure, few think it possible that two people in love would abstain from sexual intercourse. And yet, that's something that happens more often than we think. Real love is not a tumble between the sheets, but unselfishness. An affair would have devastating consequences for Marie Antoinette. If Fersen had really been in love with the Queen, that alone should have prevented him from touching her. But were Fersen and Marie Antoinette really in love? He was entirely devoted to her, and she surely cared for him, but what they truly felt for one another, only they knew.

I'll end this post with the words of the Duchesse de FitzJames, a great-niece of Fersen:

I desire first of all to do away with the lying legend, based on a calumny, which distorted the relations between Marie-Antoinette and Fersen, relations consisting in absolute devotion, in complete abnegation on one side, and on the other in friendship, profound, trusting and grateful. People have wished to degrade to the vulgarities of a love novel, facts which were otherwise terrible, sentiments which were otherwise lofty.

Movie Review: Wuthering Heights (1939)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Although hailed as the best rendition of the classic Bronte novel, Wuthering Heights 1939 left me wanting for more. Not that I should have expected it. My main problem with this movie is how tame it is compared to the novel. Audiences in 1939 probably didn't want to see the extent of Heathcliff's cruelty, but barely showing his nasty side and focusing more on his humanity (even making up scenes and lines to make him more likeable) doesn't do the book justice, in my opinion.

Heathcliff's childhood was hard. Only Catherine and her father showed him some love, and when the latter died no other was left to protect him from his stepbrother Hindley, who had always considered him an intruder, and his friends. Heathcliff becomes more and more cruel. He's consumed by hate and unable to forgive. The only things he lives for are Catherine and revenge. But we don't get to see how far he went to hurt those who hurt him. The movie ends with Catherine's death, sparing the viewers the horrors of what comes next.

This movie reduces Wuthering Heights to a mere love story when the book isn't a love story at all. I know that many people think of it as one of the greatest love stories of all times, but I disagree. Yes, Catherine and Heathcliff love each other. Their relationship is passionate, wild, mutually dependent, at times even romantic, but, most of all, destructive. Their love doesn't make them better people, but just consumes them until death becomes the only possible resolution. That is not what real love is about.

Wuthering Heights is a story of horror and revenge, of how the wounds inflicted in childhood can fester and turn you into an unforgiving and heartless person who replicates and inflicts on others the abuses you suffered as a child. It's a story about the inability to move on from the past and the destruction that brings. It's a story of power, money, obsessions, societal wrongs, and death. But these themes are barely, if at all, touched in this movie.

The acting, though, is magnificent. Merle Oberon was a wonderful Catherine, perfectly portraying her fierceness and stubbornness. Laurence Oliver gave a brilliant performance as well. I just wish he had been allowed to impersonate the real Heathcliff, rather than this nicer version of him. The darkness inside him, though, could still be seen. Both actors had great chemistry. The love, permeated by desperation, Catherine and Heathcliff felt for each other is obvious throughout the movie. That's even more impressive when you consider how much Oberon and Oliver disliked each other in real life.

Although this version is not faithful to the book, I think this movie definitely deserves to be watched. For the brilliant acting, if nothing else. Just don't watch it in lieu of reading the book for a school assignment or you'll get a very low grade.

Susannah Arne Cibber

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Susannah Arne was born into a musically gifted family in Covent Garden, London, in 1714. Her father and grandfather were upholsterers, but her siblings and she excelled at musical studies and carved themselves successful careers in that business. The first Arne to be noticed was her older brother Thomas. Very skilled at composition, he attracted the attention of Michael Festing, a famous composer, who became his mentor.

Susannah, instead, was noticed for her beautiful voice. Initially a soprano, it soon lowered to that of a contralto. The young girl made her debut on the London stage in the title role of John Frederick Lampe's setting of Henry Carey's Amelia in 1732, and the following year she starred in Rosamund, her brother's play. She was a huge access. Although, as some critics pointed out, she lacked a polished technique, "by a natural pathos, and perfect conception of the words, she often penetrated the heart, when others, with infinitely greater voice and skill, could only reach the ear." Among her admirers was Handel, who wrote several parts for her, including a contralto aria in the Messiah and the role of Mica in Samson. Susannah couldn't read music, so Handel taught her her parts note by note.

But if her career was going well, her love life was a disaster. In 1734, Susannah married Theophilus Cibber, a talented actor who worked at the Drury Lane. At first, the marriage helped her career, as she became a regular performer at that theatre. Her father-in-law, recognizing her potential, also started training her to become a tragic actress, something that would serve her well in the future. But Thomas was making her miserable. He had a penchant for spending more than he earned and, to pay his debts, he sometimes sold some of his wife's belongings.

He also decided to take on a tenant, William Sloper. Soon, he and Susannah became lovers. At first, Theophilus seemed to encourage the relationship. But then, in 1738, he pressed crim con (adultery) charges against Sloper. A trial ensued. No one talked of nothing else, especially because this wasn't your usual crim con case, where a scorned husband looked for compensation and even divorce for an adultery tort. The evidence seemed to point to something more salacious: the three of them may have been involved in a menage a trois. Some rumours went even further and suggested that Cibber pointed a gun at Susannah to force her to have sex with Cibber. The jury wasn't impressed. Cibber was still awarded damages, but only £10. He had been expected £5.000.

When the trial was over, Susannah and William eloped, and had a child together. But they weren't free of Cibber just yet. Furious, he filed a counter-suit. This time, he was awarded £500, a more generous sum but a pittance compared to the £10000 he had expected. His reputation was completely in tatters too. Susannah's reputation had suffered as well, but she still enjoyed a successful career. She briefly moved to Dublin, where, waiting for the gossip to die down, she performed at the Aungier Street Theatre. She also sang in the premiere performance of Handel's Messiah on 13 April 1742. According to legend, Dr Patrick Delany, the chancellor of St Patrick's Cathedral, when hearing her sing, exclaimed: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!"

Later that year, she returned to London, where she was engaged by Handle for his oratorio season. But she also started adding many tragic roles to her repertoire and, in 1744, she was back at the Drury Lane, starring alongside David Garrick, one of the most talented British actors of all times. Susannah too became one of the most talented dramatic actresses of her time, and the best paid too. Around this time, she also took care of her young nephew, Michael Arne. Her brother Thomas was too busy with his career and his wife Cecilia too poorly to take proper care of him. With his aunt's help, Michael made his acting debut at Drury Lane, aged only 10 years. He would later become a composer, like his father. Susannah died in 1766 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. When he heard of her death, Garrick exclaimed: "Then tragedy dies with her".

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