Friday, 18 December 2015

Chapter 25 - Of Splendour Falls and Roleplaying

I am a roleplayer

It started when I was 12 in the early 90s with Dungeons and Dragons and now I spend my Wednesday evenings with friends rolling dice and pretending to be Vampires in a story one of them devised. One of my favourite games is Changeling The Dreaming by White Wolf Games and the title of the short story anthology to go with the game should be familuar to fans of Victorian Poetry.

The Splendour Falls comes from Alfred Tennyson's The Princess (1847). Inspired by a holiday he took in Ireland to visit fellow poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere, it makes up one of the many "songs" that interject the main narartive of the poem. 

The splendor falls on castle walls
    And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
    And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O, hark, O, hear! how thin and clear,
    And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O, sweet and far from cliff and scar
    The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugles; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
    They faint on hill or field or river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
    And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.
Sadly none of the stories in the collection are Victorian based (Changeling is game about Faeries set in Modern times) but this is a moment when two of my loves combine.

The book is long out of print but you can sill buy copies if you are a Faerie or Urband fantasy fan: US | UK

Also there is a Kickstarter for a new edition of the game. Check it out.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Chapter 24 - In the Bleak Midwinter

Another quick post due to PhD work.

Today is the 185th anniversay of the birth of Christina Rossetti, one of the best of all Victorian poets. 

Photo from PN Review
As many of you will know her posthumously published poem In the Bleak Midwinter has become a popular Christmas carol after being set to music by the English composer Gustav Holst.  To celebrate both Rossetti's birth and the festive season here is Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan performing her version of the carol (found on her 2006 festive album Wintersong). 

Buy Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan US | UK

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Chapter 23: Sir John Gielgud and Dame Ellen Terry

This is a quick entry as I am busy with PhD work, but the amazing Stephanie Graham Pina reminded me about this today when we were discussing the Victorian actress Dame Ellen Terry on Facebook.

Ellen Terry
Her great-nephew Sir John Gielgud, considered one of the greatest actors of the 20th Century, performed a wonderful version of part of Tennyson's Ulysses for a 1996 commercial for Union Bank of Switzerland.

I really like that it has the lines: "Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars, until I die" in it as they are perhaps my favourite lines in the history of poetry.  Gielgud's voice was perfect for a performance of the poem.

Terry herself perfomed Tennyson on stage in a number of his plays (Not as well known as his poetry but he did write a number of them). Most notability in the 1893 production of Becket (Photos of her in the role of  Rosamund can be found here and here)

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Chapter 22: How They Met Themselves

Happy #PRBday everyone. To celebrate here is a use of the Pre Raphaelites that inspired the creation of this very blog. 

When I  last looked at Neil Gaiman I spoke about the writers use of the "story behind the story" trope. This is where a fictionalized version of an established writer or artist' work is inspired by a event that happened to them in the fictionalized world of the story they appear in. This is another case of the trope in Gaiman's work, this time within his famous Sandman series.

How they Met Themselves by D.G.Rossetti

First published in the comics anthology Vertigo: Winter's Edge #3 (2000) The Sandman: How They Met Themselves imagines the story behind Rossetti's painting of 1860-1864 as being based on a jounrey that he, Lizzie Siddal and Algernon Charles Swinburne took. During this winter excursion they meet the personifiaction of Desire (Sister/Brother of Dream, the main character of the Sandman), leading to the events that inspire the painting.

From Absolute Sandman vol.3
Gaiman's use of the character is perfect, from Rossetti using the Guggums nickname for Lizzie and his brash egotistical characterization, Lizzie's jealously and fears over losing Rossetti and Swinburne's plee to Desire (Which I will not spoil, but people who know his history will get a kick out of it). The story is helped by the beautiful artwork of Michael Zulli, an artist with noticeable Pre Raphaelite infulences. His likenesses are beautiful. 

I wish I could say more about the story but I can't as that would spoil it. It is a narartive that needs you need to come to without much infomation because spoliers rob it of it's imapct. 

While you can still find copies of Winter's Edge cheeply, you could alternatively buy the much more expensive Absoulte Sandman Volume 3, if only to see Zulli's beautiful artwork in a larger format. 

Buy Vertigo: Winters Edge #3 US|UK
Buy Absolute Sandman vol.3 US|UK

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Chapter 21 - Happy Halloween from Crimson Peak

Happy Halloween everyone.

To celebrate I'm bending the rules of the blog a little bit to talk about a film that while set in the Victorian period doesn't feature any real life personalities or art but is still an excellent example of the tropes of the Gothic; Crimosn Peak.

As I mentioned in my post about Hellboy 2Guillermo del Toro is my favourite director and this, his ninth feature, is one of his best films. There may be some light spoliers in this review but I will try to keep them as vague as possible. 

The story concerns Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young American writer who falls in love with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleson), an English baronet who is seeking the investment of her industrialist father. After her father is murdered, Edith moves with Thomas, and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to Allerdale Hall, also known as Crimson Peak, the Sharpe's ancestral home in Cumbria, England. But the house is haunted and Edith has to investigate exactly what has happened there, 

Photo from playbuzz
To call this a ghost story is a misnomer though. It is not a Gothic Horror story but a Gothic Romance that harks back to the original Gothic traditions of  the Romantic and Victorian periods. The ghosts exist to aide Edith in her investigations not serve as menace. It draws on the works of writers like Ann RadcliffeSheridan Le Fanu, Henry James & Bram Stoker (the interest in new technology contrasting with old world mysteries reminds me a lot of Dracula) along with echos of Bluebeard and creates a story that would have not been out of place in 19th Century fiction. 

The acting is excellent. Jessica Chastain and  Mia Wasikowska in particular shine as the two female leads (It is a very feminine movie, suiting the Gothic traditions  it is drawing upon.)  Tom Hiddleson, one of my favourite actors, also impresses in his role as Thomas. 

Photo from digital trends
The costumes and sets are beautiful, It being a del Toro film means that a lot of care and attention has gone into everything from the elegance of the dresses worn by the ladies in the parties in America to the house itself which has to be one of the most amazing sets you will ever see in film.  The ghosts are for the most part practical effects rather than computer generated. As someone who grew up in the period before CGI, I appreciate this. 

del Toro on set with Jessica Chastain (photo from Los Angeles Magazine)

All in all this is an easy film to recommend and sits just behind Pan's Labyrinth as my favourite of the directors work. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Chapter 20 - Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch Mysteries is a Canadian crime drama currently in it's 9th season. Based on a series of novels written by Maureen Jennings it follows the adventures of late 19th Century (early 20th Century in later seasons) Toronto Detective William Murdoch (played by Yannick Bisson). 

While most of the crimes Murdoch solves involve ordinary criminals, several of his cases have involved teaming up with notable personalities of the era, including: Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. WellsEmma Goldman, Jack LondonAlexander Graham Bell, Prince Alfred of Edinburgh and, of course, a host of Canadian personalities. He has saved the life of Queen Victoria and captured Jack The Ripper. The show doesn't take itself too seriously with some Steampunk elements creeping into the show, including death rays and killer German robots but it is well written and it's fun to see all the historical characters mix it up with Bisson's Murdoch who is a likable and charismatic lead.  

I have to admit I haven't seen the show since the end of series 5 (The end of the 19th Century) so I can't comment on how well it covers the Edwardian period but for the early seasons are an easy recommendation for fans of Victorian Detectives.  

Buy Murdoch Mysteries Box sets:

Amazon US  | Amazon UK

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Chapter 19 - Virginia Clemm

I have a confession to make: I totally adore the Norwegian band Katzenjammer.  

Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo, Anne Marit Bregheim, and Turid Jørgensen (photo from Universal Germany)
It is hard to describe their style as the group consisting of Marianne Sveen, Solveig Heilo, Anne Marit Bregheim, and Turid Jørgensen play everything from folk and country to more punky and pop sounds with a multitude of different instruments. I love all three of their studio albums and the concert I went to earlier this  year was the best I've attended bar none. I am really looking forward to seeing them again next month.  

Today I just want to spotlight a song of theirs that has a connection to Victorian era literature from their first album: Virginia Clemm (Music by Helio with lyrics by Mats Rybø)

Virginia Clemm was the wife of Edgar Allan Poe who he married when she was 13 and he was 26. Their marriage was an unhappy one with Poe being involved in scandals with other women. She died of tuberculosis aged 24, leaving Poe to a number of poems involving a man outliving his wife, including The Raven.

Virginia Clemm (photo from wikipedia) 
The song, written from perceptive of the dead Clemm, is a haunting examination of the relationship between her and her husband and a message to Poe that she is his inspiration. A beautiful song from an excellent album.

Buy Le Pop by Katzenjammer

Monday, 19 October 2015

Chapter 18: The Ghost of a Murderer

Last week the new British crime drama River staring Stellan Skarsgård started on BBC One. The main character, D.I. River, solves crimes while being haunted by ghosts (real or imagined) of his dead partner, victims of the crimes he is solving and a villain who died because of him. I enjoyed the first episode for the acting and the Scandinavian style mood but I wasn't as sold on the story as much. I'm still looking forward to the rest of the series though.]

Along with the modern ghosts that haunt him, River is also visited by the manifestation of Victorian murderer Dr Thomas Neill Cream, otherwise known the Lambeth Poisoner (Played by Eddie Marsan, recently seen in the Napoleonic set, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell), whom he is reading a book about in the show. 

Marsen as Cream in the show (photo from The Guardian)
The real life Cream, a Canadian, is known to have killed five people  in both England and the United States. In 1881 he was imprisoned by the United States authorities for the murder of Daniel Stott in Chicago and released in 1891. He then moved to England where he killed four women before being captured and hanged for his crimes the following year. 

The Real Dr Cream (Photo from Wikipedia)
While I was not familiar with Cream's name initially, while looking over articles in preparation of this blog I did realize I had come across him before in this panel from From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell:

From Hell
Despite this confession Cream could have not possibly been the Ripper as he was a. not in the country when the Whitechapel killings took place and b. was in prison anyway. 

More information on Cream:
New York Daily News article

River continues on BBC One Tuesdays 9:00pm BST/GMT (First epsiode on iplayer for UK residents)

Buy From Hell

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Friday, 16 October 2015

Chapter 17: Tennyson in Hell(boy)

Gullermo del Toro is perhaps my favourite movie director and his new film, the Victorian based Gothic Horror Crimson Peak is out in cinemas today. 

I'm not going to be able to see the film until tomorrow but I did want to celebrate the release by showcasing his use of Tennyson's Im Memoriam in his 2008 film Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Here Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who has escaped the clutches of her brother, the main villain of the movie, discovers a volume of Tennyson in the Library of the B.P.R.D while being looked after by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). (0:16 - 0:44 for the Tennyson bits. video by youtube user Laura McGillicuddy)

Despite being a comic book based movie I think Hellboy II is well worth a watch for del Toro's amazing imagination and beautiful moments like this one. 

Buy Hellboy 2

DVD: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Blu-Ray: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Chapter 16: Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day early.

Ada Lovelace (Photo from wikipedia)
Tuesday is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual event celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It is named for Ada Lovelace, the daughter of romantic poet Lord Byron and the person who is recognized as the world's first computer programmer. I think this day is extremely important as women are marginalized in these areas in the 21st Century and we need reminding that that historically women have made extremely important contributions to STEM. Sadly I will be away on Tuesday but I wanted to post something in honor of this important date so you get it two days early. 

Picture from the official website. 
I first became aware of Sydney Padua's webcomic The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage through it being mentioned in Jeff Vandermeer and S.J.Chambers' the Steampunk Bible. It is the (mostly) true story of the first computer programmer and Charles Babbage, the man who invented the Difference Engine, the world's first computer who use science to fight crime in Victorian London, even though those crimes are mostly street music and poetry*. The strip is simply wonderful and while it is a "what if", it is extremely well researched and Padua's notes that accompany each installment are really good for people wanting to know more about the period. 

The two main characters are really well written and drawn. The pipe smoking, poetry-hating Ada has to be one of the best female characters in comics right now.  Other personalities of the time appear include, Victoria (natutally), The Duke of Wellington (with his horse, Copenhagen) and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (portrayed as a Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque, cigar chomping super engineer). One of my personal favourite moments is a poetry slam performed by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (complete with someone who looks a lot like Tennyson in attendance). I mean who wouldn't want to see that? :)

All-in-all this is an excellent webcomic (Perhaps my favourite along with Hark! A Vagrant and Nimona) and an excellent introduction to the world of science and technology of the day and of course the amazing personality that is Ada Lovelace. (Jump in here!) 

There is a book of the webcomic but I haven't read it yet... (Hoping I might find it under the Christmas tree this year) but you can buy it from Amazon US & Amazon UK.

*As a student of poetry, does that make me an accessory to crime? 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Chapter 15 - Nuclear Powered Victorians

I was 11 in 1993 and two things kick-started my interest in Steampunk. The first was a showing on British television of Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky and the second was seeing the cover and reading the description for Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter. I sadly didn't get to read the book until many years later but when I did I enjoyed the alternative 19th Century it presented (I also didn't get to see Castle in the Sky again till many years later, but that is not a story for here) 

I love alternative histories, it is always so much fun seeing what could have happened if things had gone differently. Anti-Ice asks what if the 19th Century British discovered a substance (the "Anti-Ice") that generates energy analogous to nuclear power. The answers are obvious: not only do they have technology far beyond the same period in our reality, including space travel, but also the Crimean War is ended by the atomic bombing of Sevastopol. Many real world personalities appear throughout novel: most notably William Gladstone and Otto Von Bismarck. Victoria herself is absent from this world as she chose to abdicate after Prince Albert's death, instead Edward VII has become king much earlier than in reality. The Franco-Prussian War is also featured in the novel,of course with a much different outcome. 

If people are looking for a good introduction to Steampunk fiction, this is a excellent book to pick up. I enjoyed Baxter's alternative history and the characters that fill it. Yes it has all the weird science that we expect of the genre but it seeing how the world is effected by this science is the main draw for me. 

The Book is OOP but you should be able to pick it up for a reasonable price on amazon (US | UK) or ebay.

There is also a short story anthology ebook entitled Newton's Aliens: Tales From the Anti-Ice Universe. (US | UK). I have yet to read this but when I do I will review it on the blog. 

PS: I now have a like page on facebook. Don't have facebook? Alternatively can follow me on twitter to keep up-to-date with all entries on the blog. :)

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Chapter 14: Quoth the Raven

On October 7th 1849, the American master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe died. As with many people of my generation I first encountered Poe not in books but through the medium of television. Yes, today I'm spotlighting The Simpsons version of The Raven from the 1990 episode Treehouse of Horror.

The wonderful thing about this version is while it retains much of the horror of the original poem it adds a commentary on the changing face of horror with Bart's comments. What terrified people in the 1840s, isn't as scary in the 1990s. I also adore James Earl Jones as the narrator and Dan Castellaneta's over the top performance as the terrified Homer. 

Buy The Simpsons Season 2

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Chapter 13: Crossing the Bar

On this day in 1892, Alfred, Lord Tennyson left this world aged 83. I feel that it is only appropriate to post this song version of Crossing the Bar (the poem he wanted to close all his collections) by British folk band False Lights 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Chapter 12: Mr Browning's Vertigo Days

To me Vertigo Comics has produced some the best comic books that I have read. From Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, through The Books of Magic and Sandman Mystery Theatre to The House of Secrets, the imprint of DC Comics fills my bookshelves. Which is part of the reason I have chosen to look at a use of Robert Browning in a 1994 "crossover series" published by the imprint entitled The Children's Crusade

The story, which unites The Sandman, Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, Doom Patrol, Animal Man and The Books of Magic, utilizes what I like to call the "story behind the story" trope. This is where a fictionalized version of an established writer or artist' work is inspired by a event that happened to them in the fictionalized world of the story they appear in, abet with a twist in this case. 

Here, Neil Gaiman as lead writer of the project uses Robert Browning's version of The Pied Piper of Hamelin (and the real life Children's Crusade of 1212) as a jumping on point to tell a story of children being stolen away to a magical land by nefarious forces. Browning himself is shown being told the "true version" of the tale several years after he has already written his poem. While the poet is not directly shown being inspired, it still presents the subject of his work as being based on a truth. 

Art by Chris Bachalo

The  "story behind the story" trope is one that we shall return to both in the work of Gaiman and others in the future. 

As an extra nod to Browning one of the sub-chapters is entitled 'Charles Rowland to the Dark Tower Came'. Combining the name of a character from the story and  Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

The series was recently collected, abet in a altered form, as a hardcover and comes recommended to anyone who loves fantasy.

Art by Mark Buckingham
Get it from:

Friday, 2 October 2015

Chapter 11: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Even before I knew who Tennyson was I knew the line ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'. After all who hasn't heard it? Originating in stanza 27 of In Memoriam A.H.H. it has become a cliché in modern speech. Today I want to spotlight two uses of the line in two of my favourite things ever.

The first is in episode 51 of the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale. The podcast is about the community radio station of a fictional town somewhere in the United States where Government Conspiracies are common, Lovecraftian monsters are worshiped and whose citizens include an intelligent Glow Cloud (all hail), several angels and a literal five headed dragon. Narrated by the amazing voice of Cecil Baldwin  Night Vale has become a must listen series for me and was really excited to hear a line by Tennyson used in the show. Skip to 14:27 for the line.

Alternatively there is a transcript here.

The second use of the line is from the 2013 video game The Cave developed by Double Fine Productions. Since childhood I have been a big adventure game fan and in particular I loved the work of Ron Gilbert at Lucasarts games (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island 1 & 2) so again it was really cool to hear a quotation of Tennyson in one of his games. The Cave is the story of a sentient cave and the people who enter it in search of the thing their heart  most desires. The line appears in the story of a Hillbilly and must count as the oddest use of Tennyson in history. Skip to 6:17 for the line. (Video by youtube user FluffyNinjaLlama)

Buy The Cave for PC from:
Steam | Humble 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Chapter 10: Google Doodles

Today's post was inspired by simply opening my browser today and seeing the really cool Google Doodle about water on Mars. So here, dear reader, are some awesome Victorian era based doodles for your viewing pleasure.You can find these and more in the doodle archive. :)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 208th Birthday (6th March 2014 - UK and Ireland only) 

Ada Lovelace's 197th Birthday (10 December 2013)
175th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp (1 May 2015)

Charles Dickens 200th Birthday (7 February 2012)
Birthday of H.G. Wells (21 September 2009)
Bram Stoker's 165th Birthday (8 November 2012)

Edvard  Grieg's 172th Birthday (15th June 2015 - Scandinavia only) 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Chapter 9: Snakes and Ladders

Alan Moore is widely recognized as one of the best writers working in the medium of comics. Personally I have mixed feelings about his work, I'm not a fan of his celebrated Wacthmen superhero graphic novel (art by Dave Gibbons) but think From Hell (art by Eddie Campbell), his graphic novel dealing with the Jack the Ripper murders to be one of my favourite works of fiction. I will be covering From Hell at some point in the future but today I want to look at a lesser known work of his that deals with the Pre-Raphaelites: Snakes and Ladders. 

Unlike his more famous works, Snakes & Ladders did not start life as as a comic but rather a spoken word performance. The death and disinterment of model, poet and artist Lizzie Siddal is connected with that of Oliver Cromwell along with the life and writing of Welsh author, Arthur Machen. Along with Siddal, her husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his friends William Morris, Edward Brune-Jones and John Ruskin also appear. One of notable and interesting aspects of much of Moore's work is connecting seemingly unconnected events and personalities from history and he succeeds here by creating a wonderfully dark and mysterious work. This is added by Moore's reading (he has the perfect voice) and the music by Tim Perkins       

When the performance was made available on CD in 2003, images of Siddal, Rossetti, Morris, Brune-Jones and Ruskin featured in the liner-notes.

There is also a comics adaptation (published in 2001) of the performance with art by Eddie Campbell that mixes the artist's excellent likenesses of the real life characters and use of existing art.  

You can find both the recording and the comic on (all images taken from the scans found there), however, those wishing to buy copies of the CD can comic can find them at:

CD: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Comic: Amazon US | Amazon UK  

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Chapter 8 - "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"

In 2012 the BBC put out an wonderful advert for their BBC 2 television station containing a Cento composed by Alison Chisolm and narrated by Peter Capaldi. In this poetic mash up she used lines from Victorian area poets: Henry Wadsworth LongfellowArthur O’Shaughnessy, Walter Savage Landor and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Along with John KeatsPercy Bysshe ShelleyJames Elroy Flecker and Chisoln herself)

If you are wondering who wrote what, this blog should help. ;)

But the final line "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". from Tennyson's 'Ulysses' was having quite the year in 2012. Not only was it memorably used in Skyfall but it was also the motto of the 2012 London Olympics.   

Photo from the Guardian