Friday, 27 June 2014
Although the Ladies wished to live in "delightful retirement" - reading, writing, drawing and gardening - the fashionable world soon beat a path to their cottage door. Their visitors included the Duke of Wellington, Lady Caroline Lamb, Josiah Wedgwood, William Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey, Prince Paul Esterhazy and the Duke of Gloucester; their pen-friends included Queen Charlotte, Lord Byron and Louis XVI's aunt. There were many days when the Ladies had up to 20 visitors in relays, entertaining literally morning, noon and night.
Why did two country spinsters become so famous? It is hard to imagine today how sensational it was in the 18th century for unmarried ladies to live independently, whether singly or together. In addition, the circumstances of Eleanor and Sarah's elopement were positively melodramatic.
Eleanor was the youngest daughter of the de jure Earl of Ormonde, of Kilkenny Castle (his titles were attainted, like those of other devoutly Catholic Irish peers). Eleanor's brother, Robert, paved the way for restoration of the Ormonde earldom by converting to Protestantism, and he made a brilliant marriage. Eleanor's sisters married well, too.
But for Eleanor - clever, bookish, satirical and already 39 - there was no such hope. What better way, then, to make amends to God for brother Robert's apostasy, than by putting Eleanor in a nunnery? It would be a cheap way to dispose of her, too.
Twelve miles away, at the mansion of Woodstock, her orphaned 23-year-old friend Sarah Ponsonby was suffering the unwanted attentions of her middle-aged guardian, Sir William Fownes. His wife, Betty, whom Sarah dearly loved, was still alive, but her health was failing and Sir William over-eagerly anticipated the day when he could take pretty Sarah as the second Lady Fownes.
Both women felt trapped in an unbearable situation. Clandestine correspondence flew back and forth between Kilkenny Castle and Woodstock, and they decided to elope to England together (elope did not have the same marital connotation that it does today, it just meant run away). Dressed as men, carrying a pistol and Sarah's dog Frisk, they rode through the night to catch the ferry at Waterford, but it did not sail and they were forced to hide in a barn. They were caught and taken home.
Sarah fell seriously ill with a fever, but Eleanor, faced with imminent incarceration in a French convent, ran away again - this time to Woodstock, where she hid in Sarah's bedroom and a housemaid, Mary Carryll, smuggled food in to her. When this was discovered, the Ormondes declined to collect their errant daughter and after 10 days the Fownes family caved in. Sarah and Eleanor were free to go.
No melodrama, however, would be complete without retribution - while Eleanor, Sarah and their maid, Mary, were touring Wales in search of a home, Sir William was struck down with "strangulation of the stomach", followed by a stroke, and after a fortnight of barbaric treatments - "blistered and glistered and physick'd" - he died in agony.
The nature of Sarah and Eleanor's "romantic friendship" has naturally excited curiosity over the years. They referred to each other as "My Beloved" (or "My B"), then later as "My Better Half"; were certainly as devoted as any married couple; slept in the same bed; cropped their hair into short curls and habitually wore riding habits with mannish beaver hats.
So they were lesbians - or were they? Few who visited them thought so. The word romantic simply meant fanciful or eccentric in the 18th century. And it was the fashion for friends - male as well as female - to write and speak to each other in language which we now reserve for sexual partners.
Nor was it uncommon to share a bed with a sister or friend. The Ladies' hairstyles and hats followed a French fashion - besides, they were practical for the country - and they spent their money on books and home improvements, not on frivolous clothes.
My guess, from reading Elizabeth Mavor's excellent biography, is that Eleanor was a lesbian, whether she realised it or not (likely not, as it was unheard-of until an outbreak of "sapphism" at the French court brought it to English society's notice in 1789); but that Sarah - if she had not met Eleanor at the impressionable age of 13, and if she had not needed to escape from her guardian - might have settled down just as happily with a husband.
As it was, she settled down, for 50 years, with Eleanor. They took a five-roomed stone cottage on a hillside above Llangollen, renamed it Plas Newydd (New Hall) and began to extend and embellish it. Windows were gothicised and old stained glass panels inserted into them. A library was filled with finely bound books and curiosities of all kinds, including a lock of Mary Queen of Scots' hair.
They developed a passion for old, carved wood - whether from medieval churches or broken-up Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. The staircase hall was lined with it, and a bizarre trio of canopies built on to the door and windows. The front porch incorporates, inter alia, carvings of the four evangelists, Latin inscriptions, 17th-century bedposts and lions donated by the Duke of Wellington (visitors soon learnt that to appear with gifts of carvings ensured a welcome).
The grounds became similarly elaborate as time went on and acres were added. Passing through a "ruined" Gothic archway, visitors could cross the rushing stream in its miniature ravine on rustic bridges; visit Lady Eleanor's Bower, overhanging the ravine, and a temple complete with a font stolen from Valle Crucis Abbey's ruins; see butter being made in the circular model dairy; admire peaches, nectarines and melons growing in the ornate glasshouse; and read poetic quotations on boards tacked to tree trunks.
It was all highly, fashionably Picturesque; it was also highly expensive. The Ladies never did learn to manage on a small income. Despite their family allowances and state pensions, they were often in debt - and when this happened, to cheer themselves up, they embarked on new improvements. They drank the best wine and kept several servants, including the faithful Mary Carryll as their housekeeper.
Mary was uncouth and formidable (her Irish nickname had been Molly the Bruiser), but the Ladies were touchingly devoted to her, and she to them. When she died, they erected an elaborate stone monument, under which they later joined her; and she bequeathed them an additional field, bought with her life savings.
After their deaths, Plas Newydd had several owners, including one, General John Yorke, who left an indelible mark on the house. Following their enthusiasm for old, carved oak, he elaborately lined their kitchen to form the present-day Oak Room, where all that remains from the Ladies' time is their initials carved into the mantelpiece.
General Yorke also half-timbered the house facade in black and white, with curious, carved decorations between the beams; and he crammed the interiors with oddities, including mementoes of the Ladies and such esoterica as the skeletal head of a sea-serpent.
In 1932 the house was taken over by Llangollen Urban District Council, and it opened to the public a year later. The house is well-maintained but the garden's remaining features are in sad need of restoration - for which a National Lottery Fund grant is awaited.
Plas Newydd is in Llangollen, Clwyd (signposted from the town centre) (01978 861314). Open daily until end October, 10am-5pm (last admission to house 4.15pm). Admission £2.50 adult, £1.25 child.
Elizabeth Mavor's biography, `The Ladies of Llangollen' (Penguin, £4.99), is on sale at the house.
Also available at as an eread at Amazon UK and Amazon US
The article is from The Daily Telegraph, 4th May 2002
by Anne Campbell Dixon
I was lucky enough to visit Plas Newydd only this week, with my friend Francis Potts -- it is wonderful and I felt privileged to briefly the ladies home. The journals are there for visitors to read -- steeped in love, an all consuming powerful love. It really doesn't matter one way or another whether Sarah and Eleanor were lesbians or not-- that they loved one another was enough; quite enough.
Plas Newydd is set in peaceful gardens surrounded by trees and includes the font from the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey.
The house is now a museum run by Denbighshire County Council. The circle of stones, in the grounds of Plas Newydd was used for the 1908 Llangollen National Eisteddfod.
Open Easter to October 10.00-17.00
Telephone +44 1978 861314
Friday, 20 June 2014
My name is Ed: Part 2
For the past 35 years or so, since before I could do anything about it, I have been drawn to the mystery and magic of dominant women. There are millions of men just like me, though relatively few discuss it openly. In fact, many overcompensate with a macho pose that reminds me of teen boys who think smoking makes them look cool. You know the type: they pinch a cigarette with a pinky jutting out that has no other place to go at the moment. Holding a smoke in an inexperienced hand, the kid announces to the world his nervous foray into manhood, or at least an awkward semblance of it.
It is that way with men I have known for many years; also men I have met only recently are the same regarding their sexuality. They talk about women as though they understand them and appreciate and ultimately conquer them with a rakish style and heady cologne of swagger. They fool some of their mates who try to keep up the charade but they don't fool me. Never have. I have been submissive to exotic and commanding women since before many of these chintzy peacocks were born. And what have I discovered? Exactly this: any lady with a healthy dose of self-esteem and cultivated air of authority, practiced daily with self-determination, will bring any man to his knees whenever she pleases.
Even when being coyly submissive, she is in control of herself, the situation and the overheated male who is blind to his own complicity in her plans for whatever seduction she has in mind. It probably has been like this forever. If there indeed was a Garden of Eden, it was Eve after all that wielded the apple, plunged Adam from his perch of grace and blamed it all on a lying snake. That she also was banished from Paradise only authenticates her humanity, else countless men would be tempted over and over again by her sweet, swaying sorcery. Heaven would never be rid of us.
Yet don't we men clumsily forget that essential fact, her very powerful humanity, as applied to the domination of males throughout the ages? If Woman was Divine and not mortal, where would be the glory in her triumph? Goddesses at play are a provocative Myth; the power of Womanhood is tangibly real. In the fever swamp of Lust, up to our eyes in desire, we men surrender our tenuous grip on good sense, common enough but maddeningly ephemeral, and we fall to our knees and worship the source of our physical being. No price is too high or any sacrifice so exorbitant that we can resist saying "Yes" meekly when "No" shouts stern insistent warnings to rouse our self-respect. And then we jump madly, all primally enchanted fools, into the pink folds of a lady's fatal snare, the ultimate trap, a honey-moistened delta of destruction awaiting our swollen Egos.
And if that lady is at all clever in her erotic wickedness, she will have us begging for more. In the inescapable clutch of her talons, our pride bleeds away as our seed splashes into the Void. Thus Yin encloses and conquers the Yang and the archetypal Femme Fatale is celebrated, adored and obeyed by the very victims that would greedily have held her for ransom had they been conceived with the pluck to outwit Mother Nature.
I do not know a man alive or dead (starting with myself!) who would not play out this eternal drama to infinity, Sisyphus grunting and pushing his damnable rock, so long as occasionally, as might satisfy our women rulers, her gates of Heaven opened, however sparingly, admitting unworthy me, that is we, all of us simple salty males, to enjoy however fleetingly the ecstasy of release, madly shooting spasms of our essence through her portal to the stars.
Men are proud beggars, an irony of hard muscle and weak will. Women who grasp this verity are fit to rule their men, from affairs of the boudoir to the politics of the planet. It is the next Great Awakening.
Friday, 13 June 2014
How far can you go?
Incest and bestiality are illegal, at least in the UK, but the boundaries aren’t clear. Full sex with my brother clearly counts as incest, and fucking a donkey counts as bestiality, but what about heavy petting, for example?
In Ginger, the toothless cat enjoys licking and chewing Gladys’s ‘thingy’. It’s his favourite, and he prefers it even to mashed sardines. Does that count as bestiality? Gladys enjoys it too, but it isn’t actual sex. A cat licking sardines off a finger is obviously okay, but what about the same cat licking fish sauce off an elderly woman’s ‘boobies’? She tries the sauce on her arm first, to see if the cat likes it, and that’s presumably okay. If I had infinite patience, I could write different versions of the story, with the cat licking a different bit of Gladys in each one, and see where on the scale of finger to thingy Amazon decides to ban it.
If I share a bed with my brother, or my sister, and we just sleep, that’s probably fine. If we kiss each other goodnight, that’s probably also fine. Maybe we can have a bit of a cuddle if it’s cold. However, somewhere along that line we reach the point at which Amazon starts banning things.
Am I allowed to wank my brother with my hand? There’s no penetration involved. What about fingering my sister? Is clit play okay, or do I have to limit myself to kissing her boobs? What about kissing my brother’s chest? He hasn’t got boobs, so that’s presumably all fine, and if I can kiss his chest, surely I can kiss my sister’s chest.
In Butcher And Baker, the brother sticks his finger in his sister’s arse, to see if she likes it. She doesn’t, so it presumably doesn’t count as sex, in which case it isn’t incest. If he were a proctologist, he could be checking her out as a favour, and that wouldn’t be incest. If she likes it, though, does it become incest, or do they have to go further than that? Supposing he were only her half brother? Would he be allowed to go that little bit further before it becomes incest, or are the lines in the same place?
In the UK, first cousin marriages are legal, even if the cousins are ‘double cousins’, who share 25% of their genes. If I had a half brother, though, I wouldn’t be allowed to have sex with him, because we would be too closely related, with 25% of our genes in common.
According to Wikipedia, consensual incest is legal between adults in Spain and the Netherlands, and I haven’t noticed society falling apart in either country. Maybe I should just translate Butcher And Baker into Spanish, and put it on amazon.es, where it presumably wouldn’t be banned, since the brother and sister are both in their fifties, and they want to do it, thereby sitting solidly within the law.
In the circumstances, it’s a lucky thing I don’t fancy either my brother or my sister, and I haven’t got a donkey, or even a cat. Life's complicated enough.
Butcher and Baker
Post Mortem (UK)
Milk Amazon(UK) and Amazon US
Billy and Rosie; a Tale of Innocence and Taboo is here.
Rose is @rosew007 on Twitter and her blog is http://roseworms.blogspot.co.uk/
Friday, 6 June 2014
Recently, my blog featured a post about porn and erotica. I featured works of art that, it seemed to me, could fall into either category. And I was chastised. A fellow Tweeter asked why hadn’t I mentioned Gay porn, Gay erotica? Does my omission mean that I think that all alluring images of male erotica are pornographic? Absolutely not! I hope that this new post about homoerotica redresses the balance. I cannot remember your Twitter name – the guy who made the point. I hope that you read my post and let me know what you think.
Homoerotica has a long, long history. For many years, a lot of women, and a lot of men too, have looked at, studied and lusted after the male form. These days we look at eroticised photographs, we surf the web, we can look at the art of Tom of Finland. In long centuries ago, Artists and Sculptors, such as Caravaggio and Michelangelo, eroticised the male form through the medium of Biblical and mythological stories. Retelling the tales created opportunities for a subtext.
Perhaps the male form has always been fetishised -- whether the viewer has a predilection for the male erection, shoulders, groins, pectorals, abdomens, buttocks or all of the above, painters and sculptors have delivered. The pleasure is for the viewer -- a male in the prime of his life -- muscles and limbs, stretched out, on display.
Caravaggio; The Flagellation of Our Lord.
A poet of dramatic stimulation, Caravaggio was fascinated by the intrusion of the divine into the mundane world; in canvas after canvas he used shifting planes of light and dark to fashion a moment of spiritual anagnorisis, that moment of perception that precipitates the reversal of the action in Greek drama.
Is Caravaggio’s painting as it seems, or is the Artist giving us a subtext? Is there a story within a story? Is Caravaggio telling the story of the Passion of Christ, or does he have a different agenda? There’s a dark moodiness about the painting. A sort of what happens next? Is there going to be a rape or a life snuffed out?
During the Baroque period of the 16th century Guido Reni painted the image of the martyred Saint Sebastian. Sebastian’s story tells of the saint’s refusal to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods and his absolute refusal to reject Christianity. For his crimes Sebastian was stripped, taken to a field and shot until his body was full of arrows. The story has been told many times over the centuries by many different artists. The image of Sebastian pierced by arrows has regularly been described as homoerotic.
And again -- a photographic interpretation. Saint Sebastian. Yukio Mishima 1970
The Biblical tale is well known. The youth, David, defeats the gigantic Philistine Goliath, with a single shot; a pebble from a homemade sling.
Sculpted from 1501 to 1504, David is a masterpiece of Renaissance art and one of Michelangelo's two greatest works of sculpture, the other being his Pietà. It is the David alone that almost certainly holds the title of the most recognizable statue in the history of art. It has become regarded as a symbol both of strength and youthful human beauty. The 5.17 meter (17 ft) marble statue portrays the Biblical David at the moment that he is to do battle with Goliath.'
THE SWIMMING HOLE
“The Swimming Hole (also known as Swimming and The Old Swimming Hole) is an 1884–85 painting by the American artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) Executed in oil on canvas, it depicts six men swimming naked in a lake, and is considered a masterpiece of American painting.
In this work, Eakins took advantage of an exception to the generally prudish Victorian attitude to nudity: swimming naked was widely accepted, and for males was seen as normal, even in public spaces. Eakins was the first American artist to portray one of the few occasions in 19th century life when nudity was on display. The Swimming Hole develops themes raised in his earlier work, in particular his treatment of buttocks and his ambiguous treatment of the human form; in some cases it is uncertain as to whether the forms portrayed are male or female. Although the theme of male bathers was familiar in Western art, having been explored by artists from Michelangelo to Daumier, Eakins' treatment was novel in American art at the time. The Swimming Hole has been "widely cited as a prime example of homoeroticism in American art".
The art critic, Tom Lubbock described Eakins' work as:
‘a classic of American painting. It shows a scene of healthy, manly, outdoor activity: a group of young fellows having stripped off for a dip. It is based on the swimming excursions that were enjoyed by the artist and his students. Eakins himself appears in the water at bottom right – in signature position, so to speak.’
Let’s have a look at some contemporary, photographic images by Robert Mapplethorpe. His images are beautiful, some are beautifully erotic, some are beautifully pornographic.
Mapplethorpe chronicles real life, albeit in a world most of us never inhabit. Whenever the argument of art versus pornography arises, Mapplethorpe's name is always thrown into the debate, with as many supporters as detractors. Yet few would dispute the quality of his work and materials and even those who find his images unpalatable rarely argue that his intention was to titillate in the way of pornography.
The image speaks of grace; elegance. A celebration of the vitality of the male form. As does this photograph below.
What about this one from his Calla Lilies series. It’s just a lovely flower – or is it?
“Touko Laaksonen, best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland (8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991) was a Finnish artist notable for his stylised androerotic and fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.
Over the course of four decades he produced some 3,500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits: heavily muscled torsos, limbs, and buttocks, and large penises. Tight or partially removed clothing showed off these traits, with the penis often visible as a bulge in tight trousers or prominently displayed for the viewer. His drawings frequently feature two or more men either immediately preceding or during explicit sexual activity. Nearly all of his characters were versatile and obviously enjoyed the bottom as well as the top role during sex.
I am unable to post any images from Tom of Finland. The images are fiercely protected by tight copyright laws. But here is a video which features some of his Art.
And here’s a link to Robert Mapplethorpe’s pornographic photographs.
Finally, a piece of literary homoerotica, from The Go-Between, by L.P.Hartley
“ Believing himself to be unseen by the other bathers he gave himself up to being alone with his body. He wriggled his toes, breathed hard through his nose, twisted his brown moustache where some drops of water still clung, and looked himself critically all over. The scrutiny seemed to satisfy him, as well it might. I whose only acquaintance was with bodies and minds developing, was suddenly confronted by maturity in its most undeniable form; and I wondered, what it must feel like to be him, master of those limbs which have passed beyond the need of gym and playing field, and exist for their own strength and beauty? What can they do, I thought, to be conscious of themselves?
Now he had a plantain stalk in his left hand and was rubbing it gently along the hairs of his right forearm; they glinted in the sun and were paler than his arms, which were mahogany coloured to above the elbow. Then he stretched both arms high above his chest, which was so white it might have belonged to another person, except below his neck where the sun had burnt a copper breastplate; and he smiled to himself, an intimate, pleased smile, that would have looked childish or imbecile on most people, but on him had the effect of a feather on a tiger -- it pointed to a contrast, and all to his advantage.”
This blog post has been compiled using my own ideas, backed up by sources from the Web.