Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Isle of Wight Literary Scene or an Excuse to Buy More Books. . .

One of the pleasant surprises of staying at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, was discovering that an interesting circle of artists and writers including Lord Alfred Tennyson, Holman Hunt, G.F. Watts and Ellen Terry, Lewis Carroll and the famous photography pioneer (and great-aunt of Virginia Woolf), Julia Margaret Cameron all had homes and/or visited each other regularly just steps from where we were staying.  I suppose if I had recalled Woolf's play Freshwater, I would have anticipated this, but to be frank, it's not one of Woolf's more memorable works.

So on our day off from the walks, I had to explore the area. First quest was to find Farringford House, where Tennyson lived with his family for forty years, trying to gain some privacy from his many intrusive fans.  A ten minute walk took me to Green Lane and a little gate in the wall that led to the grounds at the back of the house.  Unfortunately, this is what it looks like at the moment.

You can see a little more from the front.  It all looks a little more modern than I'd expected.  Behind it are nondescript holiday cottages for rent. 

Still, he had a lovely view from the grounds and the beautiful down named after him is less than a twenty minutes walk away. 

Of greater interest was Dimbola Lodge, the home of Julia Margaret Cameron which is now a museum devoted not only to her own life and work, but also showcases more contemporary photography exhibits.  It was literally across the field from the house I was staying in.

Among the original photos that are exhibited is this stunning one of a young Ellen Terry. It doesn't look Victorian at all, does it?

A lot of the furnishings aren't original but recreated to give a sense of what her house might have looked like when she lived there.

But on display is a scrap of the original William Morris wallpaper.

And in the rest of the house were exhibits featuring female rock stars photographed by women, and a room devoted to the Isle of Wight Music Festival.  Jimi Hendrix headlined the first one in 1970 shortly before his death, and that's why there's a statue of him just outside the museum. I was delighted to see that it had recently been yarnbombed. 

The museum also had a gift shop and just through it, at the far end of the building is Cameron House Books, a tiny used bookshop but a real browsers' delight.  I can never help myself when travelling; I always want a literary souvenir.  The day before, walking the Tennyson Way, we saw in the distance this beautiful, majestic home.  It's Brook Hill House and was the home of the writer J.B. Priestley (the photo is a bit fuzzy - I had to zoom in quite a lot.)

I've read/seen several of his plays (An Inspector Calls, Time and the Conways, Dangerous Corner) but I have yet to tackle one of his novels.  The bookstore had a shelf of his work and I chose one at random, mainly for the title, I must admit.  They Walk in the City was published in 1936 and seems to take place in Yorkshire.  That was good enough for me.  In the gift shop, I picked up an earlier work by Lynne Truss.  Several years before writing her bestseller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, she wrote Tennyson's Gift, a novel set in 1864, featuring Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron. 

I love what she has to say about this novel on her website:

. . . Tennyson's Gift is, of all my books, my darling, and I won't hear a word said against it. It lifted my heart and it still does. I loved the research and I loved the writing - which I did almost entirely in situ at Freshwater Bay over three long holidays in the mid 1990s. In Tennyson's Maud, there is a chokingly beautiful life - "And the soul of the rose went into her blood" - and I feel that this special little English bay with its sparkling sea and bracing cliffs got into my blood as I wrote the book, and I still shed tears whenever, after the briefest stay on the island, I board the ferry that takes me back to the mainland.

You can't get a better souvenir than that can you?  I can't wait to read it.  Will have to dig out Maud too. 

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