WWI Wednesday: The Care of the Dead

Gardeners of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps tending British soldiers' graves in France, 1918

Gardeners of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps tending British soldiers’ graves in France, 1918

[The WAACs] look after the gallant dead, who are lying in the soil for which they fought. Between the pines and the gleaming river with its sandy shoals are the rows of crosses, sparkling, the ash grey wood of them, in the effulgence of the spring light, making hundreds of points of brightness above the earth still brown and bare, that soon, under the gardeners’ care, will blossom like the rose. Not a desert even now—for no place where fighters rest is a desert—but a place expectant, full of the promise of beauty to come, an outward beauty which is what it calls for as its right, because it is holy ground. Not only in the merely technical sense as the consecrated earth of quiet English cemeteries, where lie all, both those who lived well and those who lived basely, but holy as a place can only be when it is held by those who all died perfectly . . .

Here and there, among the earth-brown graves, stooping above them, are the earth-brown figures of the gardeners. Every grave is freshly raked, moulded between wooden frames to a flat, high surface where the flowers are to overflow, and above every raised dais of earth the bleached wood of the cross spreads its arms, throwing a shadow soft and blue like a dove’s feather, a shadow that curves over the mound and laps down its edge lightly as a benison. On each cross is the little white metal plate giving the name and regiment of the man who lies beneath and the letters R.I.P. Here and there is an ugly stiff wreath of artificial immortelles beneath a glass frame, the pathetic offering of those who came from England to lay it there.

Sometimes a wreath fresh and green shows that someone who loves the dead man has sent money with a request that flowers shall be bought and put upon his grave on the anniversary of his death. Sometimes, when they come over from England, these poor people break down and turn blindly, as people will for comfort, to the nearest sympathy, to the women gardeners who are showing them the grave they came to see. And a sudden note of that deep undercurrent which at times of stress always turns the members of either sex to their own sex for comfort sends the women mourners to the arms of the women who are working beside them. Sentiment, if you will—but a sentiment that is stirred up from the deep and which would scorn the apologies of the critical.

The Sword of Deborah: First-hand Impressions of the British Women’s Army in France by F. Tennyson Jesse (1919)

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia: Episode 2 – A Chance Encounter

Belgravia blog tour

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous giveaway contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever.


Episode 2

In the previous episode, we were introduced to the main players on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo: the Trenchard family–James, Anne, and their beautiful daughter Sophia–; and the family of Lord Bellasis, (fictional) nephew of the Duchess of Richmond. The duchess’s now-infamous ball, which was interrupted by the battle, is the setting of the high drama that sets off calamitous events that will tie the families together forever.

The tensions of class in the early years of Victoria’s reign tauten the events of episode two, where the Trenchards–now relatively wealthy after twenty-five years of James “The Magician” Trenchard’s nimble climb up the financial ladder–continue to hover on the fringes of High Society. We see the changes in England since Waterloo through Anne Trenchard’s eyes: the establishment of new aristocratic enclaves such as Belgravia; the invention of “afternoon tea”; the growing splendor of the aristocracy; and the hardening of etiquette rules:

“…the journey from Eaton Place to Belgrave Square was not worth taking out a carriage for and if she’d had her way, she would have walked. Of course in such matters, she did not have her way. Ever.”

Julian Fellowes’s light touch with social mores is evident in the opening scene of this episode, where he conveys the absurdities and anxieties of early Victorians about afternoon tea:

Anne saw an empty chair at the edge of the gathering and made for it, passing an old lady who started to lunge for a sandwich plate which was sliding away from her down her voluminous skirts when Anne caught it.
The stranger beamed. “Well saved.” She took a bite. “It is not that I dislike a light nuncheon of cakes and tea to carry one through to dinner, but why can’t we sit at a table?”

The hostess (and inventor) of the tea, the Duchess of Bedford, has only invited Anne under obligation from her family’s business dealings with James Trenchard, but she is summarily hoisted on her own petard when the old lady with the runaway plate turns out to be the Dowager Duchess of Richmond. Yes, that duchess. She remembers Anne’s attendance at her infamous ball, and if Belgravia were a television show, the Duchess of Bedford’s face would look like a gasping trout!

The reminisces of the duchess and Anne are quite visceral. I’ve read many novels and watched many period dramas either set during Waterloo or around the battle; however, reading the perspective of characters looking back is a stark reminder that it was not this heroic, valorous, and slightly glamorous event in history: much blood was shed and though time moved on, the survivors still lived with their losses.

This poignant memory binds Anne and the duchess–and her sister, the Countess of Brockenhurst, the mother of the late Lord Bellasis. It seems amazing that Lady Brockenhurst could hold onto bitterness over her son’s death and his relationship with Sophia after nearly thirty years, but she has. Snobbery, it seems, has been the only thing she’s clung to in her grief, and she loosens it on Anne.

“Please forgive my curiosity, but I have always heard tell of you both as the Duke of Wellington’s victualler and his wife. Seeing you here, I wondered if I was misinformed and your circumstance was rather different from the version I had been given.”

Anne dishes it back at her, unperturbed by the countess’s baiting, and then lobs a bombshell: Sophia Trenchard, the beautiful “nobody” the countess spent the past twenty-five years fuming about, was dead. She died not very long after Lord Bellasis was killed at Waterloo.

This revelation, and Anne’s cagey ruminations on her only daughter’s death, are so breathtaking, I’m almost frustrated when the plot pulls us back from the brink to a scene of the Trenchard’s surviving child, Oliver, and his tiresome wife, Susan. Oliver is the prototype of the Great Man’s son: he is content to live on the wealth his father labored to build. And yet, one cannot disagree with the Trenchard’s butler a delightful scene belowstairs:

“My sympathy is with Mr Oliver. They’ve brought him up as a gentleman, but now they seem to resent him for wanting to be one.” He had no problems with the social system then operating, only with his own place in it.”

So far, the servants do seem a tad like copies of the Downton Abbey characters we know and love, but I have hope they will grow into their own character types.

The unexpected meeting with Lady Brockenhurst contiues to weigh heavily on Anne’s mind, and we soon discover why: Sophia died in childbirth. Her pregnancy was the result of Lord Bellasis tricking her into a false marriage in order to bed her. The son she bore, Charles, is the last link to Lady Brockenhurst’s beloved dead son.

James is disturbed by Anne’s desire to inform Lady Brockenhurst of her grandson’s existence, blustering about it ruining his daughter’s name. I like to think it’s his lingering guilt over being so eager to climb the social ladder, he gladly–behind Anne’s back–gave Lord Bellasis his blessing to wed Sophia.

Anne’s agreement with James to keep the secret wars with her sympathy for Lady Brockenhurst’s anxieties over having no heir, or no children at all, to keep the memory of her alive. After a month, her sympathy wins out, and she arranges a meeting with the countess to inform her of the secret she’d carried for twenty-five years.

The unraveling of the events that occured in 1815 lay open wounds for both of the women. Lady Brockenhurst takes refuge in her rank, forcing Anne to wonder if this will be the undoing of them all.

“Will you keep our secret?” She hated to ask but she had to. “Can I have your word?”


BELGRAVIA APP:

The free app will be launched via the Belgravia website on April 14, 2016 and is also available via Googleplay and iTunes. The first episode, “Dancing into Battle” will be free to download. You can subscribe to the full 11-episode weekly serial for £9.99/US$13.99 (both text and audio) or purchase individual weekly episodes for £1.49/US$1.99 which will be delivered automatically to your device the moment they air every Thursday.

Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read or listen to the audio recording read by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to exclusive annotation available only through the app, including: historical facts, social context, biographies, fashion, architecture and politics that will frame the story while immersing you within the character’s sphere.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Belgravia Website | Grand Central Publishing | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Powell’s | Indiebound | Goodreads

AUTHOR BIO:

Educated at Ampleforth and Magdalene College, Cambridge, Julian Fellowes is a multi-award-winning actor, writer, director and producer. As creator, sole writer, and executive producer of the hit television series Downton Abbey, Fellowes has won three Emmy awards.

Fellowes received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Gosford Park (2002). His work was also honored by the Writer’s Guild of America, The New York Film Critics’ Circle and the National Society of Film Critics for Best Screenplay. Other writing credits for film include Piccadilly Jim (2004), Vanity Fair (2004), Young Victoria (2009), The Tourist (2010), Romeo & Juliet (2013), and the three-part drama Doctor Thorne for ITV. Fellowes also directed the award-winning films Separate Lies and From Time To Time. Fellowes wrote the books for the Tony-nominated stage production of Mary Poppins and School Of Rock – The Musical which opened on Broadway in December 2015, and is written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Fellowes has authored two novels: the international bestsellers Snobs (2005) and Past Imperfect (2008/2009).

Julian Fellowes became a life peer in 2010. He lives in Dorset and London with his wife, Emma.


BELGRAVIA PROGRESSIVE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

 April 14 – Austenprose.com: Episode 1: Dancing into Battle

April 14 – Edwardian Promenade: Episode 2: A Chance Encounter

April 21 – Fly High: Episode 3: Family Ties

April 28 – Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square

May 05 – Luxury Reading: Episode 5: The Assignation

May 12 – Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst

May 19 – Book Talk and More: Episode 7: A Man of Business

May 26 – Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life

June 02 – Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country

June 09 – Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back

June 16 – Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance

 GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

Giveaway Contest

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Austenprose.com June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

Shuffle Along: Sissle & Blake’s Broadway Hit

The Cast of Shuffle Along, 1921

The cast of Shuffle Along (© The Broadway Collection)

Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followe

Tickets are available for George C. Wolfe’s re-imagining of this groundbreaking musical comedy, titled Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, and starring Audra MacDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Brandon Victor Dixon, and Joshua Henry.