26/05/2010

FLESHMARKET: BY NICOLA MORGAN




Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan is published by Hodder Children's Books. A story of pain and loss, and the compulsion for revenge, it is set in Victorian Edinburgh and is based on the activities of the serial murderers Burke and Hare - the two Irish immigrants who, for just under a year, between the November of 1827 and the October of 1828, sold the corpses of their sixteen victims to Dr Robert Knox, a lecturer in Anatomy at Edinburgh Medical College. 
Dr Robert Knox

Nicola Morgan's story begins by alluding to a true event, learned about when she took a tour around Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh. We read how a young woman with a cancerous growth had the tumour surgically removed by the anatomist, Dr. Robert Knox, the operation being performed before the days of anaesthetic relief. The scene is harrowing and gruesomely described, with the ‘victim’s young son, Robbie, cowering in an adjoining room, forced to endure the horrible sounds of his mother’s screaming agony.  
Outside the room, her son, only eight years old, clenched his ears between his hands. He crouched in a ball and rocked and rocked and rocked, to lull the sound of his mother’s scream. She saw him from above and reached out for him, held him in her heart, flew with him, floating free together, and then, suddenly, simply, she let him fall. She dropped him. Something closed inside her and she let him go. As he fell alone, a part of her cried out for him but did not properly feel the crying. She knew there was a reason for crying but she could not grasp what it was before it had gone. Now she was in a place where nothing seemed as strange as it should.
The fictional part of Nicola’s novel is when she moves on to those events which follow Robbie’s mother's death, when the family is torn apart, faced with homelessness and poverty and, when abandoned by his father, Robbie is left to care for his much younger sister, Essie. As his own situation declines, Robbie becomes involved with the criminals Burke and Hare, helping to transport their victims to a certain Dr Knox, initially unaware that the anatomist is in fact the very same man who Robbie still blames for causing his mother’s death – and on whom he seeks to exact revenge.
Fleshmarket is a thrilling novel  aimed at the teenage market - but that should not put any adults off. It does not flinch from describing  scenes of squalor and poverty whilst giving an accurate portrayal of medical practices at the time. It is also a sensitive story of the love between two siblings and the strength of the human spirit to endure against adversity and, ultimately, to forgive.

For more information regarding Nicola Morgan's writing, please visit her wesbite: Nicolamorgan.com
You may also like to know that Nicola writes a regular blog based on the business of writing. The brilliantly named Help! I need a publisher! is a must read for any aspiring writers. It is full of humour, warmth and common sense. I highly recommend it - not least because, only recently, Nicola interviewed the VV - yet another Essie - regarding the writing and forthcoming publication of her own novel, The Somnambulist.


15/05/2010

REMEMBERING EMILY DICKINSON ...

Emily Dickinson 1830-1886

The life of Emily Dickinson was complex and often mysterious and demands a more thorough investigation than that the VV presents today. But as May 15th is the anniversary of her death, it seems the perfect opportunity to remember her poignant poetry.

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me:
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
At wrestling in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

PART FOUR:TIME AND ETERNITY













  
        
        
  
        
  

13/05/2010

THE QUEEN, HER PRIME MINISTER, AND THE KISSING OF HANDS...

Prime Ministers of Queen Victoria's reign

With every contemporary UK election, the head of the winning party then goes to Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen - whose legal prerogative it is to appoint him her Prime Minister. Before this, she will have formally questioned if he will form a government, and he will have formally answered 'yes'. The Court Circular will then have recorded that 'the Prime Minister Kissed Hands on Appointment' ~ though actually in this day and age they are more likely to have shaken hands.

William Lamb, Lord Melbourne. Prime Minister: 1834, 1835-1841

It may be that during Victoria's reign some gentlemen would have kissed her hand - particularly her first appointee, who came to the role in late middle age when the young queen was only eighteen years. It was soon apparent to all that the older man used his experience and charm to gain great influence with her. A special relationship was formed that only really came to an end when Victoria fell in love with Prince Albert. 

Many feared that her feelings for Melbourne were sexual, even though she referred to him as a father - a father who was given a room at Windsor Castle in which he often stayed. He would also regularly spend hours a day in the company of his Queen ~ until her advisers finally warned that such conduct was unbecoming. There was also the problem that Melbourne was a man with a scandalous past.

Lady Caroline Lamb

In 1812, his wife, Lady Caroline Lamb, had had an affair with Lord Byron, after which she famously coined the phrase that the poet was 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know.'

Caroline Norton

Another scandal involved Melbourne himself and threatened to bring the government down when, in 1836, he became involved with an author by the name of Caroline Norton. Norton's husband had also attempted to extract £1400 in damages when accusing his wife of adultery. He even went so far as to claim that the lovers had both taken part in undignified spanking sessions, with such behaviour carried on with Melbourne's other aristocratic friends - not to mention the orphaned little girls who were charitably brought into his house and then disciplined with a whipping.

There is certainly no evidence that Melbourne and Queen Victoria ever partook in any such fun and games. The diarist Charles Greville wrote: 'He treats her with unbounded respect...consults her tastes and wishes and puts her at her ease by his frank and natural manners...his quaint, queer, epigrammatic turn of mind, and his varied knowledge upon all subjects.'

Lady Flora Hastings

But such 'varied knowledge' was fallible. When Flora hastings, one of Victoria's ladies-in-waiting who happened to be a spinster, was dying of liver cancer, Melbourne chose to persuade his Queen that the woman's swollen belly must be the proof that she carried a bastard child. Victoria's quickness to condemn resulted in much animosity. When attending Flora's funeral the Queen's carriage was stoned by onlookers. She was also booed when on trips to the theatre. And once, at an outing to Ascot, she was heckled as 'Mrs Melbourne'.

The time for affection and the kissing hands had already gone on for far too long. It was only by marrying Albert that Victoria turned the tide of spite and managed to beguile the land with the fairy tale wedding that followed on.

05/05/2010

THE FIGHT FOR A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO VOTE...



In 1897, still in the Victorian era, the philosopher J. S. Mill campaigned for women to receive the vote. When he failed, Millicent Fawcett began her lifetime’s work. Founding the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, she advocated peaceful and persuasive debate, during which she maintained that if a woman could hold a position of social responsibility and pay taxes on any monies earned, then surely she should be trusted to vote in an election. 

The following year, Richard Pankhurst MP failed in his own bid for electoral reform, after which his wife and daughter, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, decided to take up the fight.
Emmeline Pankhurst

When Christabel and Annie Kenney broke into a political meeting they were charged with obstruction and assault. Afterwards, rather than paying a fine, they chose to go to prison, hoping the ensuing publicity would serve to aid their protest. At this time Emmeline was to write: “This was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter in any other country...we interrupted a great many meetings...and were violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.”

Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested

It was only the start. Where lawful petitions failed, those strongly in favour of reform felt they were left with little choice but to resort to civil disobedience. So, when opposed by the Church of England, the Suffragettes burned several churches. They fire bombed the homes of MPs. They rioted in Oxford Street, chained themselves to the railings of Buckingham Palace, and hired a boat to sail up the Thames, shouting abuse through loud hailers when they passed by the Houses of Parliament.

 

The outcome of such behaviour resulted in more incarcerations. Some women went on hunger strike causing a national outrage when they were forcibly fed; treated as if they were lunatics. The government of Asquith responded, not by backing down, but by passing the Cat and Mouse Act which allowed a woman on hunger strike to practically starve herself to death before being released from prison. By then, she might either die at home or remain in such a weakened state that, until her health had been restored, she was unlikely to cause any trouble.


At this stage different tactics were employed. In the June of 1913, Emily Wilding Davison went to the Derby races and threw herself in front of the king’s horse. Emily was to die, becoming the first Suffragette martyr. But, even then, the government argued that if so-called educated women could behave in such an unstable way, then how could they be ever be trusted to make a rational vote.
The government’s mind was only changed following the end of the First World War. During that terrible time, along with many other women, the Suffragettes withheld their political protest and contributed selflessly to work in what had previously been exclusively male occupations. At enormous cost, their point was finally driven home and, in 1918, the historic Representation of the People’s Act was passed.

Women working in an armaments factory


The VV urges everyone to recall the enormous sacrifice made by those women who fought hard and long, and sometimes even went on to die, because of their fervently held belief that a woman should have equal rights to a man and be able to cast her own personal vote.



Thanks to History Today Magazine for commenting below and for supplying links to futher information regarding Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst - this article from the magazine's archives throws a great deal more light on the subject.