Monday, May 31, 2010

More Highlights from The Anne Boleyn Experience 2010

My lovely bedroom, also known as the Azalea Room. One thing about the Astor Wing, the doors were really tricky. They were thick wood, like an Tudor Door, so after you turned the key you had to work the latch to get into your room. Also there were a lot of corridors in the Wing, so in order to remember which way to go, I had to remember the Peter Lely painting of Nell Gwynn that marked one of the corridors. Otherwise I would get lost on my way to the dining room.

Our goody bag, with at least some of the books that we received on our first night at the castle. On top is our Anne Boleyn Files bag. You can just about see the two of the three Elizabeth Norton books that we received, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr, plus another biography of Catherine Parr. I've become very interested lately in Henry's last wife. You can just barely see at the top The Tudor Housewife.

The Henry VIII puppet show that took place on Tuesday afternoon, our first day at Hever, was one of the few things that I was not that fond of. I was in the minority, other people loved it. I'm sure that it goes over great with school groups and people who don't know the story of the 6 Wives of Henry VIII but I found it tedious at times, although I did like the actor who played Henry VIII.

This is the lovely Annika Hammerton, who played one of Jane Seymour's ladies in waiting in The Tudors. She's wearing one of Jane Boleyn's dresses from The Other Boleyn Girl. Interestingly, Annika told us that the costumes for The Tudors were rented from various costume houses instead of made for the production, which probably explains why they are all over the place. It was nice to know that 'Johnny' (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) as she calls him was really nice on the set.

Wednesday we headed out to Hampton Court Palace, where they were reenacting the wedding of Henry to Kateryn Parr (as they spelled her name). Part of the fun was helping Kateryn (on the left) and her sister, choose what she would wear for such an auspicious occasion. I think we did a good job.

Thomas Seymour, the rejected suitor, and future husband of Kateryn Parr, who came to make his respects to the happy couple. He doesn't look too pleased to lose his love to his sovereign.

This is Moira, the the first and so far only female Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London, with John our guide, pointing out the ER on her uniform. She joined The Guard in 2008. The Yeoman have to have served at least 20 years in the armed forces (which now includes the Royal Navy), have earned the good conduct medal and reached the rank of Staff Sergeant or higher.  They retire from The Tower at 65 but before then, they and their families actually live in The Tower, which made me think that someone should write a YA about a teenager living at The Tower, either historical or contemporary.

Michelle and Julissa, my fellow Anne Boleyn participants, wearing two of Bess Chilver's costumes, while posing out of what looks like the window overlooking the courtyard in the castle. But it couldn't be, right? The castle was closed for the night.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

All About Anne: Highlights of the 1st Anne Boleyn Experience

Last week, I had the joy of spending a week at Hever Castle for the first ever Anne Boleyn Experience. This amazing trip was put together by Claire Ridgway who has the most wonderful web-site called The Anne Boleyn Files. If you don't already know about the site, please do check it out. It's one of the best historical web-sites out there.  Over my years of traveling in England, I'd been to Hever Castle before, but staying there is an entirely different experience. I felt so close to Anne Boleyn, looking out my window in the morning, I could imagine her wandering the gardens, perhaps with her brother George, or with the King himself. When the final day came, I didn't want to leave. I'm sure there are scratch marks in the castle walls from where I clung for dear life.

Now that I've had a few days back in reality (I flew back to the States on Friday and spent the weekend in a jet-lagged coma watching the first series of Law and Order UK), I've had time to reflect on my time at Hever. Here are just a few highlights and photos from the trip. I'll have more when my pictures get developed. 

  • High up on the list has to be Claire and her husband Tim for putting together the trip which must have taken months of hard, hard work.
  • The staff at the Castle who couldn't have been nicer, especially Kevin on our last night there.
  • The Astor Wing of the Castle where we stayed which blends in so seemlessly with the castle that you wouldn't know that it was added when the Astor's bought the castle and restored it in 1903. There are 21 rooms of various sizes. I stayed in the Azalea Room which was a single.  My bed was adorable with a red canopy.
  • The food. Seems strange to be talking about the food but I can't tell you how many conferences I've been too where the vegetarians meals were barely edible. I've been given pasta slicked with oil and badly nuked vegetables or a badly nuked baked potato as my entrees.  The food was superb. My first night I had fresh ravioli with kale and spring peas. Another night we had the most delicious tomato soup, and then I had butternut squash risotto. I'm sorry that I didn't take pictures of the meals, especially the delicious desserts and the chocolates featuring Henry and his 6 wives. Every dinner was 3 courses, and wine was included.  Plus we were served breakfast every morning, and had vouchers for lunch for our days out.
  • Having dinner the second night in the Tudor Dining Room in the Castle. Yes, we ate in the Castle itself.

This was taken at dinner in the Tudor Dining Hall, I'm seated at the end of the table looking pensive

  • Being taken by the Chief Yeoman Warder into the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at The Tower of London, who let us behind the rope at the altar to see exactly where Anne Boleyn is supposed to be buried. Her plaque is underneath the altar cloth, where she is buried next to her cousin Katherine Howard, and Jane Boleyn. At the end of the row is Lady Jane Grey. Claire placed roses from us at the site. The Yeoman Warder also told us that every year red roses are delivered by taxi to be placed on Anne's grave but no one knows who they come from. They've tried to find out but the trail has been well-hidden. Rumors are that it is one of Mary Boleyn's descendants. We also got to go down into the crypt to see where Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher are buried, and to see where George Boleyn might be buried.

  • Being able to wander into Hever Castle while it was open with our handy ticket. We also had a private tour before it opened to the public for the day.
  • Our lovely guest speakers, historian Elizabeth Norton and costumer Bess Chilver. I disagree with Elizabeth's theory that Jane Seymour was Henry's true love. I just think she died before he could get bored with her. And she gave him a son. Thanks to Bess, I now know exactly when into what a Tudor woman of the court would wear, down to her underwear. Anyone who has seen the episode of The Tudors in Season 3 where Katherine Howard just drops her dress on the ground without even unlacing it , should know that could never happen. Also actress, Annika Hammerton, who played one of Jane Seymour's ladies came to talk to us about what it as like to film The Tudors. She brought along two costumes that she had bought from the production of The Other Boleyn Girl with Natalile Portman and Scarlet Johanssen.
  • Books! Our goody bag included 10 books, Henry VIII's Mistresses by Kelly Hart, 3 of Elizabeth Norton's books, How Fat Was Henry VIII among others.
  • Having our own guide to take us around Hampton Court Palace and The Tower of London.
  • The people that I met. Spending 5 days talking about Anne Boleyn with 20 other knowledgeable people was heaven. And no one thought I was crazy for a change.

There weren't really any other than the tour was too short and my shower didn't work for two days.

Claire and Henry VIII

The trip was truly one of those trips that I will remember for the rest of my life.  I can't wait for next year!

Please check out The Anne Boleyn Files for Claire's daily journal and more photos from the trip.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jo Manning on Sophia Catherine Musters

Some final thoughts on Sir Joshua Reynolds’ favorite female sitters…and on Sir Joshua himself… as we come to the last of Reynolds’ sitters who intrigued me, Sophia Catherine Musters, whose pose as Hebe, cupbearer to the gods, was exhibited by the Royal Academy two years later, in 1782.

It’s a rather more of Reynolds’ conventional society lady portraits than Lady Worsley’s, with milady as goddess/demi-goddess, garbed in diaphanous gossamer sheers and with the Olympian breeze blowing the fine wispy curls of her classical hairstyle, but there’s a story behind it that led the curators of the Reynolds exhibit at the Tate Britain (Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity), to place Mrs. Musters alongside the much more notorious Lady Worsley and not with her sisters the Aristocrats, into the room that held the Painted Women, the room graced so beautifully by the likes of Kitty Fisher, Nelly O’Brien, and Fanny Abington, whom I consider to be Sir Joshua’s favorite sitters.

Was Sophia Catherine Musters (1756-1819) painted more than once by Sir Joshua Reynolds? This was a criterion I considered when choosing this subjective list of his favorite models. Another criterion was, did Reynolds keep any of these portraits for himself? Yes, her husband, John Musters, paid for them all, but Reynolds had had one in his possession for years. There is rather more to this story, a tantalizing tale of perhaps-besotted artists, assuredly-covetous princes, strikingly-clueless husbands, and suddenly- errant wives, than is apparent at first.

Mrs. Musters as Hebe, Cupbearer to the Gods, 1782

Mrs. Musters was a conventionally well-bred woman of the class known as the landed gentry. Hers is hardly a household name and rarely, if at all, is she mentioned amongst the scandalous wives who bore the label Fashionable Impure. Yet, for a few years, she cut a notable swathe in that circle of naughty society ladies. Hebe, Cupbearer to the Gods, may be solid proof. This is Mrs. Musters as she was never before seen.
According to the catalog of the Tate Britain exhibit, Reynolds had painted one previous portrait, in 1777, for Sophia’s husband, but it he’d actually painted two portraits before the Hebe masterpiece, though viewers may find it hard to believe these three are of the same woman.

(Note: George Romney and John Hoppner also produced portraits of Mrs. Musters, making five in all of her, and George Stubbs painted her favorite spaniel, Fanny, as well. John Musters was a man who appeared to take pleasure in his wife’s beauty and was happy – how else to explain Fanny the spaniel’s portrait! – to make her happy. The very definition of uxorious -- excessively devoted to one’s wife -- was it not?
Here’s one of the other two, painted the year after the Musters were wed. (Note that this is a sepia engraving after Reynolds’ portrait, not his oil in full colors.) Still, it is rather ho-hum. Can this possibly be the same vibrant woman as the appealingly windswept Hebe, cupbearer to the gods, who here stands, sedate, a society matron in a subdued gown, her hairdo impossibly high, in a lovely garden, plucking blooms from a rosebush, looking off into the distance, whilst her spaniel gazes adoringly at her feet? Is this the free-spirited Hebe of the wild hair and flowing scarf who looks the viewer unabashedly in the eye, storm clouds swirling threateningly behind her?


Mrs. Musters, Colwick Hall, Nottinghamshire, 1777
But wait, there’s more!

Here is another portrait, a portrait bust of Sophia Catherine, painted at roughly the same time as the charming but altogether bucolic portrait. The hair is still that impossible looking updo, the hairline (not quite a widow’s peak) of the Hebe, the same rosy cheeks and dark eyes, but that’s a rather low cleavage, and the sitter looks full-on – though her expression is somewhat vapid -- at the viewer whilst daringly displaying her buxom charms. Yes, I would agree that these are all the same woman, but something has happened on the way to the masterpiece that is Hebe. Something has happened to Mrs. Musters.

Yet another painting of Mrs. Musters by Sir Joshua Reynolds, supposedly painted circa 1777-80

The facts of what happened was that Mrs. Musters had had three children in three years – in 1777, 1778, and 1779 – and the last baby, a girl, died within a month or two of her birth. My speculation is that three children one after the other, grief at the death of one of them, and perhaps the boredom of country life, might have had a negative impact upon the young woman’s health; she may well have been suffering from depression.

Fact: she went to the spa at Bath. Speculation: did her concerned husband send her there to take the healthful waters because of poor health? But the spa town of Bath was a fashionable watering-hole, too, where the crème de la crème of society gathered. And she caught the wandering eye of the Prince of Wales (whose future Pavilion would be built there). ‘Twas said she caught the wandering eye of many more men as well…

Sophia Catherine was an exceptionally fetching and beautiful woman, and, according to the chronicler Fanny Burney, she became “the reigning toast of the season.” From Bath, she went on to London, no doubt to break more hearts, whilst, ‘tis also said, her husband “pursued his interest in field sports…and remodeling his country house.” Alas, the typical English country gentleman...

The Prince coveted the woman, as he coveted the many beautiful women in his royal orbit, but Mrs. Musters’ Hebe portrait, it seems, would do just as well for him. (The future King George IV also loved collecting images of society’s beauties.) In 1779, he prevailed upon Sir Joshua to reclaim the painting from Mr. Musters, and the painter agreed, giving the excuse that he needed “to make some improvements to the composition.” The ploy worked – poor, gullible Mr. Musters! -- but Reynolds was put into an awkward position, as it turned out, when he passed Hebe on to the Prince. He soon realized he could not return it to Musters and he could not retrieve it from the Prince, and he wanted it, too.

What to do?

First, Reynolds returned Musters’ money, claiming the portrait had been stolen from his studio in Leicester Square, and so the Prince – probably somewhat of a voyeur himself – enjoyed the purloined portrait in the privacy of one of his many sumptuous palaces for several years. In the meantime, the couple had become publicly estranged, with Musters remaining in the country and Sophia still the toast of the town, and Reynolds went on to make a copy of Hebe for himself, which he exhibited in 1785 at the Royal Academy. (He probably took the chance realizing that Musters never came up to London and so would never know the portrait was on view and that he knew no one who’d inform him.) Eventually, however, Mr. and Mrs. Musters reconciled, and eventually, too, Hebe – either the copy or perhaps the original itself – went back to John Musters at Colwick Hall, Nottinghamshire.

Did Reynolds and Mrs. Musters have an affair?

No hard evidence, but it’s intriguing to know that he kept a copy of Hebe for his own pleasure. It does speak to the possible depth of feeling for her. She was acknowledged by many to be a very beautiful woman and this portrait exhibits the sensuality that one can clearly see Lady Worsley’s portrait sadly lacks and Reynolds’ favorite sitters so easily exude. So, an affair? Possibly. The portrait is beautiful…and Mrs. Musters did apparently have a number of amorous adventures, so why not with the artist who’d painted her thrice? Whatever, one can safely say Mrs. M. did make him happy, if not in her actual luscious flesh, at least in the sensuous painted flesh glowing in the painting’s two dimensions.

Fanny, the favorite spaniel, by George Stubbs, circa 1777

And, lest I forget, here is that adorable spaniel, Fanny, an animal worthy enough to have had its own portrait painted. One hopes that by the time Mrs. Musters returned home the dear pet was still romping about happily in Colwick Hall’s garden.

One last word, summing up the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds on portraiture in Britain, from Andrew Graham-Dixon, in his A History Of British Art (1999):
“Almost single-handedly, Reynolds raised the status of the painter in Britain from craftsman to artist. Before Reynolds, painters used the traditional tradesmen’s entrance. After him they were allowed – or at least some of them were – through the front door.”

I also like what Graham-Dixon had to say about Sir Joshua’s attitude towards his sitters, which I believe reinforces what I’ve said about his favorite models. And I also like that he uses Fanny Abington as his example:
“Reynolds … was such a fine observer of the struggles of others. In his portrait of Mrs. Abington, actress and courtesan, is a tremendously humane portrait of a girl who has pulled herself up into the higher reaches of society by sheer will and vitality. He painted her in the flirtatious role of Miss Prue, in William Congreve’s Restoration comedy Love For Love, and the way he did so suggests a subtle bond of sympathy between artist and sitter. Reynolds, himself a frequently theatrical artist and a little bit of a prostitute, if only of his own talents, shows us someone more complicated than the stock character of a wanton. He presents Mrs. Abington to us as she seemed to him, tough and beautiful. There is a mixture of artfulness and vulnerability in her eyes.”

You have to love Sir Joshua Reynolds, this complex man and artist.

To come: The incomparable “phizmonger” Thomas Gainsborough, the great rival – and friend – of Reynolds, whose artistic temperament and whose relationship to his sitters, could not have been more different from that of Sir Joshua....

Monday, May 17, 2010

Scandalous Women in Fiction: The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy

The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy (UK Title: The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy)
Publisher: Kensington (US)/Harper Collins (UK)

From the back cover:

Shy, plain Lady Jane Parker feels out of place in Henry VIII's courtly world of glamour and intrigue—until she meets the handsome George Boleyn. Overjoyed when their fathers arrange a match, her dreams of a loving union are waylaid when she meets George's sister, Anne. For George is completely devoted to his sister, and cold and indifferent to his bride. As Anne acquires a wide circle of admirers, including King Henry, Jane's resentment grows. But if becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England, it also makes her highly vulnerable. And as Henry, desperate for a male heir, begins to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal. Encompassing the reigns of four of Henry's wives, from the doomed Anne to the reckless Katherine Howard, The Boleyn Wife is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust, and jealousy, of the power of love to change the course of history, and of the terrible price of revenge.

I'm off to Hever Castle this afternoon for the first ever Anne Boleyn Experience put together by Claire of The Anne Boleyn Files. To continue to get into the mood I picked up a copy of The Tudor Wife here in England at W.H.Smith.  I'd written about Jane Boleyn before when I reviewed Julia Fox's biography of Jane Boleyn, so I was eager to read a fictional account of Jane Boleyn's life. I didn't find Fox's biography claiming Jane Boleyn's innocence to be convincing.

The book is filled with wonderful details about life at the Tudor Court, and vivid descriptions of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Wolsey and Anne Boleyn. Purdy does a masterful job of conveying Jane's journey from a woman madly in love with her husband to a woman consumed with hatred and jealousy for her sister-in-law because of her husband's devotion. The reader can't help but understand Jane's position, but Jane loses empathy by her actions. She spends a great deal of time spying on her husband George, and Anne. While some of the moments where Jane either overhears things or spies on Anne are credible, there are moments where it is not. For example, there is one scene where Jane hides in a wardrobe to spy on Anne and Henry after they are married. Jane ends up coming across as paranoid as well as a jealous shrew. At times, I found her hatred for Anne to be wearisome. I wanted her to grow some balls and just get on with it, accept that her husband was never going to love her.

Purdy adds an interesting subplot to the novel which I won't reveal here. While some readers may quibble with her decision, for me, it actually made sense and made Jane a much stronger character. One can understand why she makes the decision that she does, even if it gives the reader pause. The court room scenes where Anne, George, and the four men accused of committing adultery with the Queen, are exceptionally well done. I only wish that the court room scenes in Anne of the Thousand Days had been as well done.

Because Anne Boleyn so dominates the first 2/3's of the book, the last third of the book detailing Katherine Howard's short reign seems truncated. I also had a hard time believing that Jane was so reluctant to help Katherine. The final scenes in the book where Jane starts to lose it, and begins to see the ghosts of George and Anne in the Tower of London are where I finally started to feel a sense of empathy for Jane. It was sort of the chickens coming home to roost situation, where Jane begins to come to terms with what she'd done by confessing all that she had heard and seen to Cromwell, helping to send her husband to his death. Still even at the end with death awaiting her, Jane still blames Anne for George not loving her.

Despite the flaws in Jane's character, and my wanting to slap her upside the head, I found it hard to put the book down. Jane is at a distinct advantage in this book though because Anne will win out everytime, she's just that fascinating a character. Purdy gives it a good try and I enjoyed The Boleyn Wife much more than I did Julia Fox's biography. If you want another look at the story of Anne Boleyn, then pick up a copy of The Boleyn Wife.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Great Kate: A Celebration of Katherine Hepburn

'I disobey rules that I happen to think are silly, but I obey rules that are absolutely necessary to maintain a civilized standard of behavior'

Katherine Hepburn

Today the United States post office releases their new stamp honoring Katherine Hepburn on what would have been her 103rd birthday. Four time Academy Award winner, Katherine Hepburn was also once labeled 'box-office' poison during her long career. With a mind and a will of her own, Katherine Hepburn has become a role model to countless women all over the world. A four-time Academy Award winner, she was nominated twelve times. Only Meryl Streep has received more Academy Award nominations. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her as the greatest female star in the history of American cinema. Not bad for an actress that was once labeled 'box office poison'. Outspoken, Hepburn didn't play by Hollywood's rules. She wore no make-up, escaped to the East Coast whenever she could, she had affairs with married men, and refused to play nice with journalists.  All these qualities made her the best Jo March ever in Little Women.  Hepburn was also something of a health nut, she swam, played golf, and drank gallons of water everyday. When her career in Hollywood seemed over, Hepburn retreated to the theater, starring in the hit Broadway play The Philadelphia Story which was written for her by the playwright Philip Barry. With money borrowed from her former lover Howard Hughes, Hepburn bought the film rights to the play, and maneuvered a deal with MGM for her to star in the film.

But the radiant smile hid a tragic family history of depression and suicide (several uncles and her maternal grandfather had committed suicide). Katherine Houghton Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, the second of six children. Her father Tom Hepburn was a doctor (the family claimed descent from James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell), and her mother Katherine Houghton (Kit) came from a prominent New England family (Houghton Mifflin and Corning Glass works). At Bryn Mawr, Kit revealed a rebellious streak, running up outrageous bills, smoking cigarettes behind tombstones in the local cemetary, riding wildly around the neighborhood on horseback. Even marriage didn't slow her down, she became a vocal advocate for not only women's rights but she also became an advocate for birth control (she was a co-founder of Planned Parenthood), and later in life became a socialist. The Hepburns instilled in their children a sense of freedom, it wasn't unusual for Hepburn's parents to walk around in the nude, and her mother explained the facts of life to her at the age of four. According to family lore, young Kathy mulled the new information over and declared, 'Then I can have a baby without getting married. I don't want any man bossing my children!'

While her mother was out working on her various causes, Hepburn's young life was dominated by her older brother Tom and her father. Hepburn cut her hair short, dressed in her brother's clothes and called herself 'Jimmy' Hepburn grew up playing baseball, wrestling and gymnastics. A natural athelete, she later added golf, tennis, and swimming. Dr. Hepburn was a demanding parent who expected perfection from his children. Hepburn worked tirelessly to earn his approval. Unfortunately Hepburn's brother Tom suffered from chorea or St. Vitus Dance. As a physician, Dr. Hepburn should have been understanding, instead he treated his son's illness as a weakness. The constant pressure made him nervous and he had nightmares. On a trip to New York when Tom was fifteen, he locked himself in an attic room and hung himself.  The family refused to accept that he committed suicide, insisting that he had been trying out a trick that he had seen in a movie. There was no mourning, as Hepburn later said, 'What you do is to move along, get on with it, and be tough.'  To honor her brother, Hepburn took is birthdate of November 8 as her own. Suffering from depression, she withdrew from school, spending her teen years homeschooled.

From childhood Hepburn was fascinated with acting. Her aunt Edith had also contemplated an acting career. After graduating from Bryn Mawr with honors, Hepburn told her father about her plans. He was not impressed. As far as he was concerned, acting was silly, actors were egomaniacs, and the whole thing was nothing but showing off. Still Hepburn was determined to succeed, if only to prove her father wrong.  It's hard to believe that the woman who racked up 12 Academy Award nominations during her lifetime, was an abject failure during the first few years of her career. She was fired about as often as she was hired. Along the way, she married. Her husband Ludlow Ogden Smith was the opposite of her father, he was kind, patient, and loving, which meant that he didn't last long. Still, even after they split up, they stayed friends and it wasn't unusual for Smith to stay with her family at their summer home on the Long Island Sound.

By 1932, Hepburn was starring on Broadway as Antiope, an Amazon princess in The Warrior's Husband, where her entrace in a short costume, carrying a stag on her shoulders garnered her plenty of attention. Demanding $1,500 a week, Hepburn assumed that the studio would say 'thanks but no thanks.' To her surprise, they said yes even though the production head David O. Selznick insisted that she had absolutely no sex appeal. Hepburn scandalized the studio by showing up on the lot wearing jeans. This was in an era when stars never left the house without full hair and make-up.  When Hepburn's jeans disappeared from her dressing room, she threatened to walk around the lot in her underwear. When they didn't reappear, Hepburn made good on her threat. The jeans soon made their way back to Hepburn. Hepburn was no fashion plate. Journalist Adela Rogers St. John wrote that her clothes were 'the most appalling and incredible I have ever seen in my life. They looked like something.......for the Mexican army to go ski-jumping in.' More often then not, Hepburn's clothes were baggy and ill-fitting, comfortable for her lifestyle but not for Hollywood.

Although Hepburn never married again, preferring her independence, she seemed to be fatally attracted to dark and difficult men like Howard Hughes (suffered from OCD), John Ford and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn and Tracy were companions for almost thirty years. Hepburn had wanted Tracy to star in The Philadelphia Story with her, but the studio insisted on Cary Grant and James Stewart. Their first film was the romantic comedy Woman of the Year. The story is that when they met, Hepburn was wearing heels that made her considerably taller than Tracy.  Hepburn reportedly said, "I'm afraid I'm too tall for you, Mr. Tracy" to which director Joe Mankeiwicz is said to have replied, "Don't worry, he'll soon cut you down to size."

The two actors made 9 films together. When Tracy was an alcoholic who went on binges where he would drink steadily for two weeks straight. When Hepburn went away to make a film, he would either binge drink or indulge in affairs with other women. The two never lived together, but Hepburn would often sleep outside his room when he lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel, or in another room when he finally moved to a cottage at George Cukor's house. Hepburn worshipped Tracy, considering him the finest American actor on film. For five years, she didn't make a film, so that she could take care of him before their final film together, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. After his death, she didn't even attend the funeral, discreet to the end. It wasn't until years later in her autobiography that she definitively confirmed their relationship.

After his death, Hepburn moved back East and kept busy working in films and television. She starred as Coco Chanel in a Broadway musical and won two more Academy Awards for The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond. When most actresses were slowing down Hepburn was still working and doing interesting work.

Hepburn finally passed away at the age of 96 on June 29, 2003.  To honor her, a theater was built in Old Saybrook, CT where she spent many years called the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and Theater. Her alma mater, Bryn Mawr has also launged the Katherine Houghton Hepburn Center which is dedicated to both her and her mother.

Further Reading:

Me: Stories of My Life - Katherine Hepburn (1991) Knopf
Kate: Remembered - A. Scott Berg (2003) Putnam
Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir - Garson Kanin (1971), Viking

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Scandalous Women on Film: Anne of the Thousand Days

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
from the play by Maxwell Anderson
A Hal Wallis Production
directed by Charles Jarrett


Anne Boleyn - Genevieve Bujold
Henry VIII - Richard Burton
Katherine of Aragon - Irene Pappas
Cardinal Wolsey - Anthony Quayle
Thomas Cromwell - John Colicos
Thomas Boleyn - Michael Hordern
Duke of Norfolk - Peter Jeffrey
Mark Smeaton - Gary Bond
Henry Percy - Terence Rigsby

Synopsis (from IMDB): Anne of the Thousand Days  recounts the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold) who becomes the second wife of King Henry VIII (Richard Burton.) Engaged to Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland, Anne attempts to avoid to the king's attention and refuses to become his mistress, but her betrothal is broken-off by Cardinal Wolsey (Anthony Quayle.) Vowing vengeance, Anne returns to Court, where she soon becomes intoxicated with the power of having the King in love with her, using that power to undermine Wolsey. Still refusing to submit to the King's advances, Henry eventually proposes marriage and promises to divorce his wife, Katherine of Aragon(Irene Papas.). After several years of waiting for the divorce, she and Henry finally marry, but her world slowly begins to collapse when she fails to give birth to the son her husband so desperately wants and he falls for Jane Seymour. Henry asks Cromwell (John Colicos) to move against her, concocting a sensational set of lies to destroy her and they triumph in a brutally unfair show-trial which ends Anne's thousand-day reign as queen of England.

Fact vs. Fiction: Although the film for the most part follows the historical record, there are a few inaccuracies. For dramatic purposes in the film, Henry comes out of hiding at Anne's trial and forces Mark Smeaton to admit that he'd lied about committing adultery with Anne. Later on, Henry shows up in Anne's chambers at the Tower of London, and offers her a deal, if she agrees to an annulment of their marriage, she can take Elizabeth and go abroad. She refuses and Henry tells her that she must died. This also never happened. Henry never saw Anne again after he left the May Day joust the day before she was arrested. Archbishop Cranmer did visit Anne in the Tower to inform her that her marriage was being annulled which led Anne to hope that her life would be spared since Henry was now free to marry. The film also implies that Anne's sister Mary Boleyn gave birth to the King's child. Henry never claimed Mary's son Henry Carey as his, although historians now believe that he may have been the father. Anne's interest in the new religious ideas is not mentioned at all in the film. There is also no proof that Anne had a vendetta against Sir Thomas More and wanted him dead the way it is implied in the film.

My thoughts: Since I'm about to head off to England for the first ever Anne Boleyn experience, I decided to watch Anne of the Thousand Days to get me in the mood. I saw this film years ago and I remember being impressed by Genevieve Bujold's performance as Anne Boleyn (this was her first English language performance, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress).  This second time, I was still impressed by her performance, but not as much by the film. In the film, Anne is motivated by revenge against the King and Cardinal Wolsey for ruining her chance to marry Henry Percy. While I have no problem with that, what bothered me was her open anger towards the King. After Wolsey tells her that she cannot marry Percy, the King attempts to woo her. She viciously assaults him verbally, telling him that he is spoiled, his poetry is bad, and his attempts to write music worse, and that he's not a particularly good lover. Whoa! Despite Henry's lust and fascination for Anne, I can't imagine that he'd still be interested after that. She doesn't so much tease him, as hold him off with a battering ram.

What's missing from the early stages of their relationship is a sense of charm on Anne's part. It would have made more sense for her to hold her tongue, the historical Anne would have been smarter than that. Yes, Anne was known for being arrogant and for arguing with the King but that was later on when the divorce was dragging on for years, and she was tired of waiting. She is also openly disdainful of Wolsey at a time, when she would have been more subtle but that the fault of the screenplay not Bujold's performance. She certainly looks beautiful in the costumes, and is fiery and passionate particularly in the final scenes in the Tower where she has a monologue about her relationship with Henry where she tries to pinpoint the day that they were both in love before things changed and he began to hate her.

Richard Burton is of course excellent as Henry VIII. While Jonathan Rhys-Meyers tends to play Henry as just a petulant, spoiled, schoolboy, Burton's Henry is an athelete, musician, erudite, canny, arrogant, autocratic and vicious. He also has moments of extreme tenderness towards Anne. However, my favorite performance is John Colicos who played Thomas Cromwell as a wily, and crafty politician, willing to do anything to keep his hold on power including torturing an innocent man into confessing to adultery. Because the film is only a little more than two hours, Anne's relationship with her brother gets short shrift. In fact, I forgot which actor was playing the role since so many of the actors had dark hair. Interestingly Mary Boleyn is written as a bitter, bitter woman who warns Anne about getting involved with the King before she disappears from the film.

The film falls apart in the final third when Anne refuses to sleep with Henry unless all the men who oppose the Right of Succession die. The trial scene is a travesty, Anne would never have been allowed to cross-examine witnesses. For one thing, she was a woman. And Henry popping up serves absolutely no purpose at all. The scene between Henry and Anne, where he offers her an out and she refuses to take it, insisting that her Elizabeth will be Queen one day, and the greatest Queen is a little high-handed. The final image though is lovely as the little Princess Elizabeth plays in the garden and Anne is heard once again in a voice-over, telling the audience how Elizabeth will be a great Queen.

I give this film both a thumbs up and a thumbs down. It is sumptuously filmed, the costumes are gorgeous, good performances, but the script is uneven. The scene where Anne finally admits that she loves Henry, just before they sleep together for the first time, seemingly comes out of nowhere. Is she saying it because it's true or to hold her position? Or because she's just been given one of Wolsey's palaces? Still, if you are a lover of all things Tudor, you will want to own a copy of this film along with The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michel.

The film is available on DVD along with Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, Queen of Scots

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Winner of Eleanor the Queen Giveaway

I'm happy to announce that the winner of the May Day Giveaway, a copy of Norah Lofts, ELEANOR THE QUEEN is

Miss Kallie 2000

I will be emailing you shortly for your address so that I can send the book out.  I want to thank everyone who entered and I hope that you all keep following and reading the blog. There will be more giveaways hopefully in June.

Thanks again for making the giveaway such a success!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Author Faith L. Justice on Hypatia, Lady Philosopher of Alexandria

Hypatia as imagined by Raphael

The most scandalous thing about the famous mathematician and philosopher Hypatia was her brutal murder at the hands of a mob in AD 415. Why would a mob of any kind, much less one led by Christian monks, haul a 60-year-old scholarly woman from her chariot, hack her body apart with pieces of pottery, and burn the bits outside the walls of Alexandria? Historians, writers and poets have tried to solve that mystery throughout the ages.

What we actually know about Hypatia is sketchy, but well laid out in Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (1995 Harvard Press). Most of what we know comes from the surviving letters of one of her former students, Synesius (later Bishop of Ptolemais) who extravagantly admired his teacher and called her his "divine guide." Although known for her writing on mathematics and science, Hypatia's first love was a form of philosophy which required a strict moral code, extensive study, and meditation. She wasn't a "pagan" in the traditional sense, but taught her students philosophy as a kind of religious mystery—"the most ineffable of ineffable things"—using reason to seek eternal wisdom. Hypatia and her students didn't share these mysteries with people of lower social rank, regarding them as incapable of comprehending divine and cosmic matters.

The primary sources say Hypatia was a model of ethical courage, righteousness, truthfulness, civic devotion, and intellectual prowess. Students from wealthy and influential families (many of them Christian) in Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople came to Alexandria to study privately with her and formed a tight-knit community. Many of them later attained high posts in government and the Church. Civic leaders attended her lectures and sought her advice. Yet just 200 years after her death, John of Nikiu, in his Chronicle, accuses Hypatia of being devoted to occult practices such as astrology, black sorcery, and divination.

By the eighteenth century, Hypatia had mutated from esteemed elder scholar to young beautiful martyr. Her life and death became metaphors for what was wrong with the Catholic Church. Voltaire, Fielding, and Gibbon came to the defense of the "young lady of greatest beauty and merit." In the nineteenth century, Hypatia's death began to symbolize the passing of an age. She inspired French poets, Italian writers, and English historians to rhapsodize over her beauty, intelligence, and pureness of spirit. Hypatia's death marked the end of a golden age of Greek civility, culture, and learning. Hypatia's story underwent another change in the twentieth century, when feminists claimed her murder was a misogynist act—Hypatia, who advised governors and taught future bishops, was silenced because she was a woman.

In the twenty-first century, her story reflects modern themes of political divisiveness. The last three years of Hypatia's life were a highly charged, polarized time in Alexandria. Orestes, the imperial Prefect faced off with the Patriarch Cyril in a classic power struggle. The early Church was undergoing a violent birth as various Christian sects battled in the streets for the supremacy of their doctrines, then turned on pagans and Jews. Orestes was responsible for keeping the peace; and keeping the grain and taxes flowing to Constantinople. Hypatia tried to mediate in this conflict and came down on the side of traditional Greek values—discourse over violence, tolerance over bigotry, and secular over religious authority. Cyril faced a Prefect backed by an experienced woman with the courage of her convictions and extensive influence—including friends of the Emperor.

Cyril's supporters countered by skillfully spreading rumors that Hypatia was a black sorceress "devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music" and claimed she had cast a satanic spell on Orestes who "ceased attending church as had been his custom." These lies frightened and enraged the general populace. Churchmen, leading a mob, grabbed Hypatia out of her chariot and murdered her. Orestes gave up his struggle against the Patriarch and left Alexandria. The ecclesiastical faction effectively pacified the city and ruled with little or no interference from future imperial appointees. The murderers were never punished.
Why was she murdered—because she was a pagan, educated, a woman? I think Hypatia, a remarkable woman who willingly engaged in the politics of her time, ran afoul of others' personal ambitions. A rival party used fear-mongering lies to eliminate her as an asset to a political rival. Her tragic flaw was her
disengagement from the ordinary people of her city. Among elites, Hypatia was esteemed and influential; but, to the ordinary people of Alexandria, she was a scandalous woman.

Faith L. Justice is the author of Selene of Alexandria which features Hypatia as a major character. You can read more about Hypatia, as well as sample chapters, at Faith's website

Selected sources:
· Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska (Harvard Press, Boston, MA 1991)
· Alexandria in Late Antiquity by Christopher Haas (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 1997)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day Giveaway: Norah Loft's Eleanor the Queen

Happy May everyone! This year seems to be going by so fast! I'm pleased to giveaway a copy of Norah Lofts ELEANOR THE QUEEN, thanks to the lovely people at Simon and Schuster.

From the back cover:

Eleanor of Aquitaine rules as a modern heroine in the twelfth century, in this beloved classic of royal fiction from renowned author Norah Lofts. At a time when a woman’s value was measured solely by her wealth and the number of sons she bore, Eleanor was the high-spirited, stubborn, and intelligent heiress to the vast duchy of Aquitaine.

Her leadership inspired the loyalty of her people, but she was continually doubted and silenced by the men who ruled beside her—the less wise but far more powerful men of the church and court who were unwilling to lose power to a woman, regardless of her rank or ability.
Through marriages to two kings, two Crusades, and the births of ten children— including the future King Richard the Lionhearted—Eleanor solidified her place in history. In Eleanor the Queen, Norah Lofts brings to life a brave and complex woman who was centuries ahead of her time.

Here are the rules:  This giveaway is only available to American and Canadian readers.  The giveaway is open from today until 12 p.m. on Friday May 7th.

1) Just leave your name and email address in the comments if you wish to enter the giveaway
2) If you are not a follower and become one, you get an extra entry
3) If you tweet about it, you get an extra entry