Guest post – Nobody Of Any Importance: A Foot Soldier’s Memoir Of World War I

Dad's book EBOOK COVER-POSTERToday I am really pleased to welcome another guest blogger to No wriggling out of writing. Phil Sutcliffe has published a wonderful memoir written by his father, Sam Sutcliffe who served in the First World War and whose words offer a genuine sense of what it was like to be a serving soldier at Gallipoli, the Somme and Arras. It resonated strongly with me as one of the most fascinating aspects of research for my book, Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health, was reading the real-life stories of those  who experienced the warfare. ‘Nobody of Any Importance’  is the title Sam gave his own record of his war time experience, recalled in the 1970s, and as you read his words it quickly becomes clear that as one of the brave chaps who served on all Fronts between 1914 and 1918 he is far from unimportant….

Thanks to Suzie Grogan for giving FootSoldierSam – my father – Lance Corporal Signaller Sam Sutcliffe, the chance to reach some different people with a few snippets from his WW1 autobiography Nobody Of Any Importance: A Foot Soldier’s Memoir of World War 1 (all proceeds go to the British Red Cross).

We got e-chatting because Suzie’s a Keats fan and one of her @keatsbabe tweets came up just as I was working on an FB from Sam’s early chapters about his childhood in Edmonton where he described walking past the apothecary’s shop where the poet served an apprenticeship.

Well, Sam does offer a lot of vivid pictures from his experience of growing up poor in north London in the 1900s. Here’s the quack doctor who performed daily miracles in the market place:

“Doctor Brown was a fine figure of a man clad in proper morning dress: a cutaway black coat, striped trousers, patent leather shoes and a tall silk hat on his head his fair moustache waxed to two long points… and the tale he told about the pills he sold, that was part of the weekend entertainment… He gave value for money in pills, potions, and perorations and did very well indeed.”

Sam & Ted

Sam with his brother, Ted

Sam was born on July 6 1898 (he died at 88, I was born when he was 49) and left school at 14, worked as an office boy near Liverpool Street for a couple of years… then went to war, lying about his age so that he could stick with his brother Ted, 18. After lengthy training in Malta, his 2/1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers landed at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, in September, 1915, the fag end of that disastrous campaign. Their first battlefield:

“[as they approached Suvla]… on land, rifles fired continuously and artillery lit up the blackness, each flash followed by a bang, a shriek or a strange whine which often increased in volume then ended up in a big explosion. Guns were being fired with intent to kill… and here was my first experience of warfare…’

“[then, on the beach under rifle and shell fire]… We hugged the ground, of course, to let the bullets pass harmlessly above us, but one of those wretched things broke that rule. When one move forward started, young Nibs, more of a boy even than I was, didn’t get up. The Captain was told, all paused again, and the shocking news came along that he was dead, shot through the head… Our first casualty, I thought, young Nibs, the cheerful Cockney…”

Talking about the Memoir, I realise, I tend to focus on the terrible events which raise fundamental moral questions. But here’s a lighter moment, the immediate aftermath of the Suvla Bay evacuation, December, 1915:

“Soon, out of sight of the explosions, some singing started up, our first for many a day. And then we really gave vent to the joy and relief we felt. A youngster who had obliged at concerts back in Malta… sang a quickly improvised parody of that popular song, Moonlight Bay: ‘We were sailing away from Suvla Bay/We can hear the Turks a-singing/’Please don’t go away/You are breaking our hearts/So please do stay’/‘Not bloody likely, boys/Goodbye to Suvla Bay’. All joined in, inventing their own versions as we sang along…”

The Somme COVER FINAL versionStill, for the last few excerpts of this blog Sam’s back on the battlefield. The Somme now, Gommecourt sector. He’d transferred to the Kensingtons by then. First, … thinking of Suzie’s work – from July 1 itself, an evident observation of shell-shock:

“Nothing was gained in our sector. Many good men were lost. Many normally strong fellows were reduced to trembling, inarticulate old-looking men… I saw a Scot who, though not wounded, just sat and shook. His head nodded, his arms flailed feebly, his legs sort of throbbed, his eyes obviously saw nothing… One of our usually most happy and physically strong men was crying non-stop while violently protesting about something. He’d been buried up to his shoulders in earth and, even in that inferno, men nearby had paused in their advance to free him, yet he had this strange grievance… ”

Sam’s Battalion got two or three days semi-rest a mile or so back, before returning to the front line and spending their nights in No Man’s Land – retrieving the dead:

“While working in bright moonlight on search work, I looked down into a length of communication trench… and saw the rather large face of a very good chap I had worked with for a while in Egypt… And here he was, long dead, eyes blank, but still the features unmistakable and formerly so familiar to me…

As soon as possible, I guided two of the men doing recovery work to Charlie. I recalled then, as I do now, his special qualities. He was completely honest, stubborn about things in dispute, but usually found to be right about them in the end; Cockney in speech to an extent which, on first acquaintance led one to expect illiteracy, he soon made you realise your error…

Of the many men whose poor bodies we found and saw cared for that night, Charlie was the only one whom I had known well in life. He had been one of us, and thus special to us, during our first experience of Army life… Recollection of Charlie calls forth a mental picture of him walking away from me… large head, broad shoulders, sturdy trunk, strong, slightly bowed legs… Goodbye, Charlie.”

Following Sam’s story, you can see how military training worked all the way through to terrible reality – for example, from rifle training in Malta to three years later, 1918, at the Front near Arras. His Battalion (Essex Regiment by then) had been ordered to fight to the last bullet to cover a strategic retreat. Lines of German soldiers are crossing No Man’s Land in front of his trench:

“…  intensive training… had achieved its purpose; when the situation required it, I became a rifle-firing automaton… One target I dealt with was a man running not towards me but across my line of fire, about 50 yards distant. ‘Snap-shooting at a moving target’ on the firing range; back come the instructions, ‘Maintain normal aim, moving with the target, then increase movement of rifle till daylight appears between target and rifle then “Fire”’. The soldier fell… a comrade ran several yards to help him, appeared at the tip of my rifle fore-sight after I had rapidly reloaded, and I squeezed the trigger. As he too fell, the utter automatic callousness of my action registered somewhere in my brain and doubt nagged then and forever after about there being any plausible excuse for such murderous conduct.”

And yet, an hour or so later, this was how his “active service” came to an end and a grinding eight-months as a POW began. His Battalion had run out of ammunition. For no reason he could put into words, exhausted by the toil and the terror of it all, he climbs out on top of the trench and stands there:

“Looking forward, I saw Germans, hundreds of them. A glance to the right made me abandon all hope of surviving. A line of Germans was charging in my direction, bayonets fixed on rifles, the job assigned to them, obviously, the destruction of any remaining opposition… As the galloping line came closer I could see their faces, their features. Most of them boys like me… I just stood there and waited for it to happen – the hoped-for clean bayonet thrust and goodbye… At about two yards, I stared at two boys, one of whom would have to do the dirty work. Fresh, healthy faces which made veteran me feel quite old. Now. It must happen now. I concentrated on the nearest boy. All in a split second, he smiled, swung a little aside, his comrade did likewise, and they were all gone, bless the lovely lads.”

All the best

My sincere thanks to Phil Sutcliffe, writing on behalf of Sam, for these fascinating insights into his father’s life. For full details of how you can find out more, and buy the book (remembering that the proceeds go to the marvellous Red Cross), see below.

Nobody Of Any Importance: A Foot Soldier’s Memoir Of World War I, by Sam Sutcliffe, edited by Phil Sutcliffe – paperback and e-book available thru blog here (including audio excerpts and reader reviews) or direct from philsutcliffe47@gmail.com, or thru Amazon here. Buy £1 e-book episodes from the full Memoir – Gallipoli: A Foot Soldier’s First Battle and The Somme: Through The Eyes Of A Foot Soldier Who Survived The Battlefield  – direct as above or through Amazon here and here respectively. Twitter @FootSoldierSam Follow FootSoldierSam on Facebook here (all author/editor proceeds to the British Red Cross)

Posted in Book, Books, Family History, First World War, History, Reading, Shell Shocked Britain, War, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 years on the radio! Time flies when you’re ‘Talking Books’…

I am not sure how many of my readers know this, but I host a fortnightly radio show, and I have just realised that this month marks the third anniversary of my first ever broadcast. I don’t have the sexy tones of Mariella Frostrup or the wit of Stuart Maconie, so at the time, I wasn’t even sure if ‘Talking Books’ on 10Radio would get to a third show, let alone a third year. So I have decided it is something I should be really proud of. (I am making decisions like that now. Reflection can be good for the soul).

I think guests like coming on the show. I am certainly booked up a long way ahead – shows are planned in  to June this year and some guests have been on more than once, so I hope it is an experience that is not as scary as some first fear. Talking Books is, I hope, an interesting mix of informal chat and interesting discussion about poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – basically a celebration of wonderful words across all genres, written and spoken. I have been entertained by many of the guests, so I hope listeners have too, especially as I have covered everything from romantic fiction to steampunk, via crime, biography, baking, babies , the First World War, festivals and on and on as far as erotica. I am not sure I can go much further than that…….

Anyway, I thought, by way of a celebration of the show’s success, I would mention a few of the guests that have made an impression over the years. So many writers have been willing to give up their time to chat to me about their work (and special thanks here to Julie Munckton, for the first two years my resident book expert) that I would love to mention them all, but here are just a few to give you a flavour of the work I have featured on the show, with a couple of links to recordings of the show. It may be local radio but it is available worldwide via the 10Radio website. I know for certain I have one listener in Liechtenstein…..

For her wonderful work about the Bristol Suffragettes, and her new series of detective stories featuring Dan Foster, Bow Street Runner, check out Lucienne Boyce 

 

For their wonderful poetry, and thoughts on links between poetry and art, Paul Tobin at and Paul Mortimer 

 

 

My old Reading Matters mate Rod Miller, alias artist and author Rivenrod,

You seek her here…but which name will you find her under today? Jenny Kane, romantic novelist and organiser of Tiverton Lit Fest or Kay Jaybee, award winning author of erotic fiction? You will never look at a delivery man in the same way again…. 

My first ever outside broadcast  at the fabulous Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street, for the launch of The Real Sherlock Holmes by Angela Buckley 

 

 

Great supporter of indie writers and author of terrific short stories, Debbie Young, who is Commissioning Editor of the  Self-Publishing Advice blog for The Alliance of Independent Authors.

 

Inspirational writers for children, and encouragers of young writers themselves, Angie Sage  and Beth Webb , along with Tonya Mears of Little Creative Days 

Crime writer Clare Donoghue, whose series of 21st century, gritty crime novels starring  DI Mike Lockyer has me gripped. Her new title, Trust No One is out this month.

A Talking Books regular, Bethany Askew, who writes contemporary women’s fiction and is publishing some moving letters from WW2 

And my fellow Pen & Sword First World War author, David Venner who has written the fascinating Despatch Rider on the Western Front 1915–1918 

 

 

Anyway, do listen in if you can – every other Friday on 105.3 fm or online at www. 10Radio.org. I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Book, Books, Literature, Poetry, Radio Show, Reading, Talking Books, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Journey into the Unknown- a Homage to a Holocaust Survivor

51jq4GzQ4jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_As many of my readers will know (because I have, frankly, gone on about it enough) I have spent much of the past three or four years immersed in the trauma that resulted from the horrors of the Great War. My book, Shell Shocked Britain, was published by Pen and Sword nearly 18 months ago now, and I am still working hard to market it, giving talks and keeping in touch with the continued commemoration of the First World War. I am also project co-ordinator of a Heritage Lottery Fund project in my local area, focusing on the children of the Great War. So I have been firmly rooted in the history of the early part of the twentieth century for some time now.

However, over the past few months I have been commissioned to edit the English version of a book, called Journey Into the Unknown: Homage to a Holocaust Survivor first published in German by Ruth Kaufmann.  Ruth follows the life of her father Bertl Kaufmann, a survivor of the persecution which Jews were subjected to during the Nazi rule. It is now available in paperback and on Kindle and I have found it a deeply moving project to be involved with. A second book, following Adele, a young girl who didn’t survive the Holocaust, will be published later this year and I am pleased to say I will be working on that one too. Journey into the Unknown was published to mark the opening of Austria’s Holocaust Museum in Graz, focusing on the Jewish experience of the horrors.

The book is written in the form of a diary, a picture built up by Ruth during many conversations with her father, Bertl Kaufmann, who has only recently passed away. Like many of the men I researched for Shell Shocked Britain, Bertl could not speak of the horrors he witnessed for decades, and for me it reinforced the research I have read into trans-generation trauma and the point I was making in Shell Shocked Britain – that the impact these experiences can have on a family go across and down the generations.It makes supporting the mental health of today’s war veterans and civilian victims of war trauma vital, and if society neglects the issue it will cost many, many lives.

Journey into the Unknown: Homage to a Holocaust Survivor is out now in paperback and on Kindle. It is a short read, but perfect for adults and young adults who want to travel with a teenager into adulthood through one of the most shocking periods of modern history.

Posted in Book, Books, Family History, First World War, History, Religion, War, World War Two, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Old Meg, Old Moira and the Prophetic Power of Poetry

I loved this post by Moira Lake, about her early relationship with the Keats poem ‘Meg Merillees’ (which was written by Keats on his walking tour of 1818, in a letter to his young sister).

Moira asks us what our own favourite childhood poem was, and I can honestly say that the first poem I remember as having a real impact on me was, at the age of 12, Keats’s ‘When I have fears…’ and yes Moira, it does I think give a hint of who I have become!

Do take a look at Moira’s post on her blog, which is full of wise words, and let us know which poem made an impact on you as a child, and why – we would love to know your favourites.

Moira Lake

megm1Greetings. I hope you like this photo of me striding across Dartmoor. It’s a selfie I took the other day while I was wandering about up there. In my fierce distracted way I was thinking that the poems and stories we love in early childhood seem sometimes to contain some essence of who we will become. Years ago when I used to teach astrology, I used to get students to remember their favourite fairy stories, then we looked at their birth charts and the correlations were wonderfully close. You could say the chart told the story, or the story found expression in the chart. Certainly each reflected the other.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship with the early John Keats poem, Meg Merrilies. It was the first poem I ever knew, and I would have been hearing it since I was a baby, as my mother had learned it…

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It isn’t all roses & chocolates: the love of ‘La Belle Dame…’

John_William_Waterhouse_-_La_Belle_Dame_sans_Merci_(1893)

John William Waterhouse – La Belle Dame sans Merci 1893

I have written a number of posts highlighting some of the world’s most beautiful love poetry.  Many are under the banner of ‘Love Songs you wish you had written…’, a meme I took from the wonderful Dad Poet, David J Beauman. Some of the poems I have chosen in the past are full of longing, or are wistful. Some are simply dedicated to a chosen one, or highlight the very simplicity and ordinariness of life in a comfortable, loving relationship. I am in one such, so it has been, I suppose, more natural to choose poems that praise something most of us search for, more or less successfully, throughout our lives. A few have been more cynical, or tempered with the sense of an ending, but I don’t think any have focused on the unhappy or even destructive consequences of a disastrous affair and I thought it might be time to redress the balance a little. After all, St Valentine’s Day is not for everyone. The poem I have chosen today might convert many to the joys of singledom, for example……

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats  (published version, 1820)

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery’s child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery’s song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz’d and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes–
So kiss’d to sleep.

And there we slumber’d on the moss,
And there I dream’d, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry’d–“La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

This is one of John Keats’s most famous poems, subject to a myriad interpretations, linked to his love for Fanny Brawne, his fears about the destructive nature of passion (particularly on his poetic ambitions) and his incipient decline into the latter stages of the tuberculosis that was to kill him in 1821. It can be read as full of ‘double entendres’ – sitting a woman on his ‘pacing steed’, garlanding a ‘fragrant zone’ and enjoying much sighing and moaning, suggestive of a night of passion. Or you can read it as a gothic tale of a cruel “beautiful lady without mercy” as the French translation of the title suggests. In any event, it is, in my opinion, a brilliant, tightly structured ballad that creates intense atmosphere and offers a clear warning to those beguiled by passion and romance –  if only our nameless knight had seen the kings and princes already abandoned by their cruel lover- ‘I saw their starved lips in the gloam,/With horrid warning gapèd wide,’.

I have written about how Keats has influenced artists through the ages – from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , through to graphic novelists, comic-book  writers and contemporary film-makers, but to day it may be seen as one for those who are rather sick of the hearts, flowers and sickly sentimental commercialism that often seems to accompany St Valentine’s Day. Have a good day anyway……

 

 

 

Posted in Art, Books, Keats, Literature, love the universe and everything, Poetry, Reading, Romanticism, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Millais – A compassionate portrait of Opheilia – a guest post by Pamela Davenport

Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Ophelia 1851-2 Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Today on No Wriggling I am thrilled to host a guest piece by Pamela Davenport, a fellow lover of all things art and literature and, like me, an author on The Wordsworth Trust blog. Find out more about her at the end of the post, and let us know how you feel about this painting and the work of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. We would love to hear from you.

While at University in the mid-1980s, I made regular visits to Manchester City Art Gallery and became fascinated with the ‘boy band’, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. So many questions came to mind, amongst them – where did they get their vision, creativity, insight and most of all inspiration? I soon discovered that literature was an important aspect of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, taking their inspiration from the Romantic Poets, including Keats as well as Ovid and Shakespeare. The three original members of the group, the charismatic Rossetti, the serious theorist Hunt and Millais with his prodigious talent, become known as The Young Ones who wanted to modernise art.  Led by Rossetti this unique band became known for their pranks, midnight jaunts around London’s streets and pleasure gardens and late night drinking sessions.

MilliasThis Band of Brothers, with their “military” action against the art establishment, was brought together with the intention of painting serious subjects taking inspiration from the artists of the middle ages and the great works of literature. This revolutionary artistic group was to be faithful to nature and paint outdoors, and in this Shakespeare’s plays offered ideal subject matter. Not only does Shakespeare describe beautiful natural scenes, but he writes scenes of emotional and moral complexity. This juxtaposition of art and literature totally captivated me.

It was his fascination with the females in Shakespeare’s plays that is obvious in Millais’ work. From the beautiful, rich and intelligent Portia, in the Merchant of Venice to the witty, fun, loyal, ingenious and decisive Rosalind, in As You Like It, Millais clearly adds depth and character to his compositions. But it was the image and the story of Ophelia which took my breath away when I first saw the painting in the Tate.

Initially I was drawn to Arthur Hughes’ interpretation of Ophelia’s contemplating death. This delicate pale young girl, with long fair hair, with a crown of reeds and flowers on her head and dressed in white drapery intrigued me. With her deep sorrowful expression Ophelia is seated in the centre of the painting in a dark, swampy woodland setting. But nothing could compare to Millais representation of this Shakespearean heroine. It was like stepping out into sunlight, with the clarity of colour and heartfelt emotion that made my heart skip a beat.

I have seen various productions of Hamlet and what has always struck me is that  through his poetry and prose, Shakespeare with his universality, and his realism, can  create drama from human emotion. This is particularly apparent in Hamlet. Ophelia’s portrayal is a passive, sexually vulnerable posture, linking to Hamlet’s association of “woman” with “fragility” and Laertes calling Ophelia a “document in madness”.

In his book, Madness and Civilisation, Foucault considers the links between water and madness. He discusses how drowning was associated with the feminine, female fluidity rather than male aridity.  If the drowning of Ophelia is considered, it represents the truly feminine death which is represented in many dramas of literature, art and life. Thus water becomes symbolic of the liquid woman whose eyes are drowned in tears as her body is slowly deprived of life.

It is Shakespeare’s representation of his female characters that is both interesting and thought provoking, especially in the way in which he represents Ophelia. As the character evolves it appears that she is defined by and wholly at the mercy of the male figures in her life. Although Hamlet is not totally to blame for the tragedy of the play, his innocence must be questioned if we consider the death of Ophelia. Hamlet’s attitude towards Ophelia swings from undying love and cruelty, as in Act 3 scene 1 “You should not have believed me, for virtue cannot so inoculate our old shock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not”. This suggests that Hamlet used Ophelia as part of his revenge plan. In Act IV Scene v it becomes apparent that Ophelia can no longer cope with the dilemma and conflict she has had to endure. “Look at my flowers, there’s rosemary, that’s for remembering….pansies…. they’re for thoughts…..”, as melancholy descends.

Although we never get to see Ophelia in the stream we do have Gertrude’s description to Laertes of the drowned Ophelia in Act IV Scene VII in the brook, “There with fantastic garlands did she come, Of crow-flowers, nettles, daises and long purples……When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook, her clothes spread wide….”

In his representation of Ophelia Millais clearly conveys her ethereal beauty. Millais’ painting is almost frighteningly realistic, with vivid colours of nature, her billowing dress and chaotically floating hair and flowers. This is how I always visualised Ophelia’s tragic death, in my imagination this work of art perfectly complements Gertrude’s description. Ophelia is shown holding her arms out in the shape of a cross, with the ivy in the painting symbolising Ophelia’s melancholy and decay.

Millais places Ophelia in exotic surroundings which are enhanced by bright colours and thick brush strokes to paint trees. Apart from the inert passivity of Ophelia, a closer look at her posture and face conveys the moment of death as an almost orgasmic ecstasy. The painting shows a clever use of symbolism and colour clearly represents Ophelia’s descent into madness and the tragic loss of her life, as she lies “Mermaid-like awhile they bore her up…… As one incapable of her own distress,…Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pulled the poor wretch from her melodies lay to muddy death”.

I have returned to this painting many times and see something new each time. The way in which Millais interprets and captures Ophelia’s expression as she is retreating into her madness, lying motionless and emotionless obvious of her fate, is pure understated drama. The painting is regulated in a way to highlight the natural details of the scene. The grassy water plants and the bed of weeds in which she floats look almost like a piece of exquisite embroidery. Driven insane by the murder of her father by Hamlet, Ophelia is portrayed singing in her madness as she drowns. To me this truly captures Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s death.

When I first introduced my daughter to this wonderful picture she was drawn to the flowers and the wild life. Most of the flowers are included because they are mentioned in the play or are symbolic. Millais began the background in July 1851 at Ewell, Surrey with the main aim of close observation of nature. Millais observed these flowers growing wild over a period of five months, hence there are flowers that bloom at different times of the year. Looking closely at the painting there is a robin in the branches of the willow tree, which refers back to the line, “For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy”, which Ophelia sings as she loses her mind in Act IV Scene V. Birds are symbolic of the spirit. It could be a reference to Ophelia floating down the river and her spirit flying away. A poignant and beautiful creative work, a timeless tribute to Ophelia.

Once the background was completed Millais moved into his studio, where his model Lizzie Siddall was required to pose in a bathtub, with the water begin kept warm by lamps underneath, over a 4 month period. My daughter was fascinated by the story, and this started her own  fascination with English Literature as well as a love for art.

0a9a86fPamela Davenport is an experienced Higher and Further Education teacher, who has substantial experience working with children and young people in social care, community and educational settings. Pamela has undertaken 8 European visits, to Germany, Belgium, Spain and Finland, as part of the British Council’s Erasmus/Socrates Teacher Mobility Project. Writer on Social Care Values in Practice, Human Development Across The Lifespan, Working in a Multi-cultural Society, The Invisible Child, The Rights of Children and co-author for Teacher’s Handbook for HUGS Charity. She is a passionate lover of art and literature, in particular Shakespeare, the Romantics, the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, The Impressionists and Picasso.
Join her on twitter @pameladav3 and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pameladav
Posted in Art, Guest posts, History, Keats, Literature, Poetry, Reading, Romanticism, Victorian History, Victorians, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘From the Womb to the Tomb’ – at last a title. Now to get writing…

 

Early 19th C Apothecary and apprentice

Early 19th C Apothecary and apprentice

Last year I wrote about my next commission – a book about early 19th century medicine, focusing on the medical life of a surgeon apothecary. I added a note to the piece, asking for ideas for a title, as I was at that point unsure that the working title – Death Disease & Dissection – properly described the subject matter. I love a bit of gruesome anatomy as much as the next person, but actually dissection was only a small part of the surgeon-apothecary’s training, and I could imagine the flood of complaints from those expecting pages dripping with blood, as tales of resurrectionists filled the chapters. There will be a bit of that, but the men (and they were all men) working in the field at the time were more like present day GPs. In fact that is what makes researching this history so interesting – like Shell Shocked Britain, this too offers comparisons across the centuries.

Anyway, back to the title. People offered some great ideas, but the one that struck me as being sufficiently descriptive to please the publisher, and interesting enough to keep me writing, came from across the Atlantic. Wonderful poetic friend David J Beauman suggested ‘From the Womb to the Tomb, which felt like a Gothic homage to the NHS principle of ‘cradle to grave’ care (which service, apothecary surgeons of early 19th century communities were already offering – at a price). I pitched the title to Pen and Sword and, with the addition of the subtitle ‘The medical life of the 19th century surgeon apothecary‘ I have at last got the title agreed. Hooray! Now all I have to do is write the book.

I describe more about the subject in that previous post, and also admit to enjoying the excuse to write about the training poet John Keats received before he turned his back on medicine to pursue poetry. I am rather hoping people who love the poetry, letters and life of that great man will find much to delight them in my book. We know little about Keats’s time as an apprentice, or the days he spent on the wards of Guy’s Hospital, and I am finding research into the lives of his contemporaries fascinating. His life couldn’t have been so very different, outwardly at least, and there is little doubt that his experiences, and the horrors he witnessed in the operating theatre (one of his tasks was to hold down the unanesthetised patients) informed his poetry and letters.

So over the coming weeks you might find more posts about my research and, as the book takes shape, snippets of information that don’t make the cut, but which I find interesting for their own sake.

So with thanks to David J Beauman I now have no excuse to procrastinate. I must start writing up the research asap. It’s about time….

Posted in Book, Health, History, Keats, Medicine, Reading, Writing | 3 Comments