Archives

Victorians Enjoying Indian Food

One of the most entertaining Victorian cookbooks I’ve read so far is called “Culinary Jottings: A Treatise in Thirty Chapters on Reformed Cookery for Anglo-Indian Exiles, Based Upon Modern English, and Continental Principles, with Thirty Menus for Little Dinners Worked Out in Detail, and an Essay on Our Kitchens in India.

This fun book was first published in 1878 and written by Col. Arthur Robert Kenney-Herbert under the pen-name Wyvern. You can find the book online here:

https://archive.org/stream/culinaryjottings00kenn#page/306/mode/2up

The Colonel arrived in India in 1859, when the ‘old ways’ of the British East India Company still held sway. In the days of the Company, the Anglo-Indians, or British-born people who had made India their home, adopted many Indian customs including eating mostly Indian food. He fondly remembered a “kind-hearted old veteran” who would “give ‘tiffin’ parties at which he prided himself on sending round eight or nine varieties of curries, with divers platters of freshly-made chutneys, grilled ham, preserved roes of fishes, &c.”

He goes on to add, “[t]he discussion of the “course”—a little banquet in itself—used to occupy at least half an hour, for it was the correct thing to taste each curry, and to call for those that specially gratified you a second time.”

But it seems that this mingling of customs ended when India became part of the British Empire. By 1878 when the Colonel wrote his book, Britons and Indians existed in strictly separate spheres, with the British people striving to live in every way as if they were still in England. Britons in India might well enjoy curries for breakfast or luncheon at home, but formal dinners had to feature English- or French-style dishes.

As a result, the Colonel lamented, cooks had lost their understanding of how to make a good curry using fresh spices and pastes and ended up relying upon packaged spice mixes that made the finished dish a lackluster affair. He strongly advocates the use of fresh and local ingredients for all dishes, instead of imported foods out of tins. His explanations are fun to read, despite some cringe-worthy comments about the typical Indian cook, whom he calls Ramasamy.

However, leaving that part aside, the Colonel does give some excellent recipes for curry and for Mulligatunny, which he says comes from the words molegoo (pepper) and tunnee (water).

Unlike other recipes that I’ve seen for Mulligatawny, his recipe involves a paste of chilis, garlic, mustard seed, peppercorns and fenugreek, together with leaves of karay-pauk (curry-leaves), added to water and brought to a boil. Onions are sauteed onions and added to the broth, which is then served over rice.

If you enjoy cookbooks from history, then (with the proviso mentioned above) this is definitely a book for you!

 

Book Review: The Art of the English Murder

What is it that makes a murder mystery so satisfying to read about? In her book The Art of the English Murder, Lucy Worsley tracks the history of English literature devoted to murder, mayhem and true crime.

I’ve already commented on the book, but now I want to do a complete review (And, since W.S. Gilbert often finds his way into my thoughts, there is a reference to one of his works below).

Beginning with Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions of an Opium Eater” and “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” this entertaining book traces the development of popular taste in sensational murders from the 18th-century broadsheets printed with murderer’s confessions which were sold at public hangings, to the bloodless, upper-class “puzzle mysteries” of the Golden Age in the 1920s and 1930s.

Here are a few of the questions that are answered in the pages of this book:

  1. When did England gain its first paid professional police force? (In 1749, magistrate Henry Fielding created the Bow Street Runners, which began as six trained parish constables; in 1829, the patchwork of local constables in London was replaced by the Metropolitan Police Force, and in 1842 the Detective Branch was established to actually solve crimes, not just apprehend criminals.)
  2. Before then, who was responsible for tracking down the guilty and seeing justice done? (Before the advent of a professional paid police force, people of means had to hire a “thief-taker” to find stolen goods or finger a criminal.)
  3. What was the official name of Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors? (The “Other Chamber” – although in 1860 it was renamed the “Chamber of Comparative Physiognomy,” in deference to the then-popular pseudo-science of phrenology)
  4. Before reading became a widespread pastime, how did people learn about celebrated crimes and criminals? (Through “street patterers,” plays and puppet shows. Street patterers were sellers of newspapers, confessional broadsheets and booklets describing a sensational crime. Some of them would team up with a second patterer and act out the most sensational moments of a crime to attract the attention of the crowds. Melodramatic plays also re-enacted well-known murders. The Victoria and Albert Museum has marionettes of murder victim Maria Marten and her killer, William Corder, which were used in a travelling puppet show.)
  5. Who created the first fictional detectives? (Charles Dickens is credited with the first detective, Inspector Bucket, who is a character in Bleak House (1852). Willkie Collins added a police detective, Sergeant Cuff, to The Moonstone (1868).
  6. Who created the first female detective? (One of the first amateur female sleuths is maidservant Susan Hopley, who appears in The Adventures of Susan Hopley, or Circumstantial Evidence, by Catherine Crowe, in 1841. Andrew Forrester wrote The Female Detective around 1864, featuring his character Mrs Gladden, a paid private investigator who sometimes goes undercover in disguise to gather her clues. Like W.S. Hayward’s female detective Mrs. Paschal, introduced in The Mysterious Countess at about the same time, she was a strong-willed woman dedicated to crime-solving, with a brain both “vigorous and subtle.”)

Nowadays it seems that the cozy mystery is less popular than the thriller. Like its predecessor the “sensation novel,” the thriller aims to arouse strong emotion in the reader—quicken the heartbeat, bate the breath, and make the reader turn the pages.

The sensation novel was so popular that W.S. Gilbert even wrote a play parodying the style, in which the novel’s characters come to life and criticize the beleaguered playwright’s plot. You can learn more about this little gem here at the Gilbert and Sullivan archive http://gsarchive.net/gilbert/plays/sensation/index.html

For those of us devoted to mysteries and to history, Worsley’s book is a fun exploration of changing attitudes and trends in mystery literature. It’s definitely worth a read.

 

Cover Reveal: A Romantic Tale of Christmas in Venice

Hello, all! My dear friend Caroline Warfield has a treat in store for you — her delightful novella of unexpected love blossoming during a winter in Venice.  Take a look at the beautiful cover of Caroline Warfield’s 2017 Christmas Novella and don’t miss this opportunity to pre-order the book.

Love is the best medicine and the sweetest things in life are worth the wait, especially at Christmastime in Venice for a stranded English Lady and a dedicated doctor.

 

About the Book

Lady Charlotte Tyree clings to one dream—to see the splendor of Rome before settling for life as the spinster sister of an earl. But now her feckless brother forces her to wait again, stranded in Venice when he falls ill, halfway to the place of her dreams. She finds the city damp, moldy, and riddled with disease.

As a physician, Salvatore Caresini well knows the danger of putrid fever. He lost his young wife to it, leaving him alone to care for their rambunctious children. He isn’t about to let the lovely English lady risk her life nursing her brother.

But Christmas is coming, that season of miracles, and with it, perhaps, lessons for two lonely people: that love heals the deepest wounds and sometimes the deepest dreams aren’t what we expect.

Pre-order it as an Amazon e-book here.
Pre-order it from Smashwords here.

 

About the Author

Caroline Warfield – Author

 

Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—award winning and Amazon best-selling author Caroline Warfield has been many things (even a nun), but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to adventures while she nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart. She is enamored of history, owls, and gardens (but not the actual act of gardening). She is also a regular contributor to History Imagined, a blog at the intersection of history and fiction, and (on a much lighter note) The Teatime Tattler, a blog in the shape of a fictional nineteenth century gossip rag.

Her current series, Children of Empire, set in the late Georgian/early Victorian period, focuses on three cousins, driven apart by lies and deceit, who must find their way back from the distant reaches of the empire.

Click here to find out more.

 

Best wishes to all!

I’m Back!

For a while, I wasn’t able to access this blog — I don’t know why, but nothing worked. Anyway, now I’m able to get back to posting things. Hooray!

I will start by adding a new post tomorrow. See you all then!

Gilbert at Law

W. S. Gilbert

The first complete Gilbert and Sullivan work that we have today is Trial by Jury, a one-act comic opera that takes place in a courtroom – a venue that Gilbert knew well.

Although Gilbert had been writing plays since he was a boy (the earliest ones were performed by his mother and two younger sisters, who were all interested in amateur dramatics), as a young man he didn’t see play-writing as a career option.

But what was he to do? He got a job as an assistant clerk in the newly-formed Education Department, but loathed every minute of “the detestable thralldom of this baleful office,” as he put it.

As an antidote to the boredom, he joined a volunteer militia, first as an Ensign with the Fifth West Yorkshire Militia, and then switched to the Civil Service Rifle Volunteers where he soon rose to become Lieutenant of the Second Company.

But then in 1861, he received a legacy of £300 from his great-aunt and godmother, Mary Schwenk. It changed his life.

Gilbert wrote: “On the happiest day of my life I sent in my resignation. With £100 I paid my call to the Bar (I had previously entered myself as a student at the Inner Temple), with another £100 I obtained access to a conveyancer’s chambers, and with the third £100 I furnished a set of chambers of my own, and began life afresh as a barrister-at-law.”

But life as a brand-new barrister-at-law proved difficult. His few clients included a number of entertaining characters.

His first appearance as a barrister was at Liverpool, where he had to deal with an Irish woman who was charged with stealing a coat. According to Gilbert, the moment he rose to his feet the woman began to yell.

“Ah, ye devil, sit down!” she shouted. “Don’t listen to him, yer honner! He’s known in all the slums of Liverpool! Sit down, ye spalpeen! He’s as drunk as a lord, yer honner, begging yer lordship’s pardon!”

Every time Gilbert tried to speak, she drowned him out with her insults. The Recorder of the court was laughing too hard to stop her.

Another client was an excitable Frenchman who, when Gilbert won his case for him, embraced him in open court and kissed him on both cheeks.

It was with a third client that Gilbert learned the danger of assuming too much about the person one is defending. This client was a very religious woman on her way to a prayer meeting, when she was accused of pickpocketing by a fellow traveler. Sure enough, the traveler’s purse was found in her pocket. The woman told Gilbert that she always carried her hymn-book in that pocket, so she didn’t realize anything else had been put in there.  As a result, Gilbert assumed the purse was planted on this poor devout woman by some evildoer.

Hesketh Pearson, in Gilbert and Sullivan, reported that the young barrister cross-examined the arresting policeman as follows:

“You say you found the purse in her pocket, my man?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you find anything else?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What?”

“Two other purses, a watch with the bow broken, three handkerchiefs, two silver pencil-cases, and a hymn-book.”

The items in question were produced as exhibits amid roars of laughter.

Then, when Gilbert called the witnesses he’d asked to appear in court to testify to his client’s good character, exactly none of them were present.

When the judge handed down a sentence of 18 months’ hard labor, the woman pulled off one of her heavy boots and threw it at Gilbert’s head. He ducked. The boot missed him, and hit a reporter in a sensitive spot, which may have been the reason for the tone of the news report that appeared the next day, criticizing Gilbert’s handling of the case.

But on a brighter note, Gilbert’s experience in the courts of law helped him create Trial by Jury, one of the funniest and most original comic operas ever to be set in a courtroom.

Performances of Trial by Jury may be viewed on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuPwTdRLLLY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq4ftBaRuwY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRYuNIlB7yI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbIncUh9IF8

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

W.S. Gilbert and P.G. Wodehouse

W.S. Gilbert’s comic operas with Arthur Sullivan inspired generations of artists to come, including Pelham Greville Wodehouse, the creator of Bertie Wooster and his peerless butler, Jeeves.

P.G. Wodehouse

(If you haven’t read the Jeeves and Wooster books yet, you are in for a treat! You can find them in print, as audiobooks and also as a fabulous television series featuring Hugh Laurie as Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. Check your library, Amazon, or Netflix.)

P.G. Wodehouse, known to friends and family as “Plum,” was born in 1881, when Gilbert was nearing the height of his popularity. The two only met once, when Plum was a boy. Unfortunately, their meeting didn’t produce the fondest of memories!

It happened like this:

In his youth, P.G. Wodehouse was taken to lunch at Grims Dyke, W.S. Gilbert’s handsome home in Harrow Weald in northwest London.
Hesketh Pearson, in Gilbert: His Life and Strife, reported that “…halfway through the meal, Gilbert started to tell the sort of yarn that begins dully and ends brightly.”

Wodehouse confessed, in David A Jasen’s biography, A Portrait of a Master:

“I had a rather distinctive laugh in those days, something like the last bit of water going down the waste pipe in a bath. Infectious, I suppose you would call it.”

So there the young man sat quietly, listening to a story told by his idol, W.S. Gilbert – and if W.S. Gilbert told a story, it must be funny. But this story, in Plum’s opinion, was dull. What’s a young fan to do?

Plum decided he couldn’t let his host down. So, when W.S. paused in telling the story, the young man thought the story was complete. He let loose his loud, distinctive laugh.

Wrong move! The pause was just for dramatic effect, and Plum had spoiled the whole story by laughing before Gilbert got to the punch line. The other guests, seeming a little puzzled, as if they had expected something better from the author of the Mikado, all laughed politely, and conversation became general. Thanks to Plum, the whole story fell flat.

W. S. Gilbert

Pearson quotes Wodehouse:

“It was at this point that I caught my host’s eye, and I shall always remember the glare of pure hatred which I saw in it. If you have seen photographs of Gilbert, you will be aware that even in repose his face was inclined to be formidable and his eye not the sort of eye you would willingly catch. And now his face was far from being in repose. His eyes, beneath their beetling brows, seared me like a flame.
In order to get away from them, I averted my gaze and found myself encountering that of the butler. His eyes were shining with a doglike devotion. I had made his day. I suppose he had heard that story rumbled to its conclusion at least twenty times, probably more, and I had killed it.”

(P.G. Wodehouse once claimed that butlers were always gloomy because so many of their employers were sparkling raconteurs – and butlers were the ones who heard the same sparkling stories told the exact same way, over and over and over again. So the only one who was happy about the boy’s faux pas was the butler!)

In A Life in Letters, a collection of his correspondence, Wodehouse mentioned this story again.

In a letter in August 13, 1964 addressed to a Mr. Schreyer in Remsenburg, New York, Wodehouse said,

Dear Mr. Schreyer,

Thank you so much for your letter. I am delighted that you have enjoyed my books.

When I was your age, my two idols were WS Gilbert, the Savoy opera man, and Conan Doyle – with a slight edge in favor of the latter because I knew him through playing cricket with him, whereas Gilbert was a sort of remote godlike character to me. (I did meet him once. A mutual friend took me to lunch at his (Gilbert’s) house and I killed one of G’s best stories by laughing in the wrong place!)

Yours sincerely

PG Woodhouse

 

Nowadays, a few brave souls have shared their Awkward Celebrity Encounters. I’d say that Wodehouse’s encounter with Gilbert qualifies as very awkward!

What do you think?

When Gilbert Met Sullivan

Conventional wisdom has it that W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan first met in July of 1870. Their mutual friend Fred Clay formally introduced them at a rehearsal for one of Gilbert’s early plays, Ages Ago.

Gilbert immediately challenged Sullivan with the following question of musical theory: Would the result be the same, he asked, whether one chose to play upon the simple tetrachord of Mercury, that knew no diatonic interval, or the elaborate dis-diapason (four tetrachords, and one redundant note), embracing in its perfect consonance all simple, double and inverted chords?

Apparently, this is a very elaborate piece of nonsense – something that Sullivan recognized right away (Gilbert once said of Sullivan that he always understood a joke immediately and never needed an explanation).

Sullivan thought about it for a moment, then told Gilbert, basically, that it was a very nice question and that he’d have to think about it before giving him a definite answer.  (A typically smooth and diplomatic Sullivan response, I think!)

But was this the first time Gilbert and Sullivan had ever met? Probably not.

Ellen Terry, as The Watchman (c) National Trust, Smallhythe Place; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As a young writer and artist in 1860s London, W S Gilbert had an active social life which included parties, masquerades, impromptu theatricals, and balls. At the same time, the rising young composer Arthur Sullivan also enjoyed an active social life that included parties, amateur theatricals, and musical entertainments.

William and Arthur traveled in many of the same circles of London’s Bohemia – pre-Raphaelite artists, poets and playwrights, actors, singers and musicians, many of whom achieved great fame in their time.

So it seems very likely that they at least knew of one another; In 1867 Gilbert, as theater critic for Fun magazine, attended the first public performance of Cox and Box, for which Sullivan had written the music. In his review, Gilbert commented that “Mr. Sullivan’s music is, in many places, of too high a class for the grotesquely absurd plot to which it is wedded.”

Furthermore, their paths may have crossed very close indeed – the great Victorian actress Ellen Terry, in her autobiography The Story of My Life, has this to say:

Most people know that Tom Taylor was one of the leading playwrights of the sixties as well as the dramatic critic of the Times, editor of Punch, and a distinguished civil servant, but to us he was more than this – he was an institution! I simply cannot remember when I did not know him… Their house in Lavender Sweep was lovely ….

[Taylor] was an enthusiastic amateur actor, his favorite part being Adam in As You Like It, perhaps because tradition says this was a part Shakespeare played; at any rate, he was very good in it. Gilbert and Sullivan, in very far-off days, used to be concerned in these amateur theatricals. Their names were not associated then, but [my sister] Kate and I established a prophetic link by carrying on a mild flirtation, I with Arthur Sullivan, Kate with Mr. Gilbert!

So there you have it – before Gilbert and Sullivan became Gilbert and Sullivan, they came close enough to flirt with two sisters at the same amateur theatricals. It must have been a small world, where all the creatives knew everyone else.

Kate Terry, who flirted with W S Gilbert at amateur theatricals (pictured here posing as Andromeda. Photo by Lewis Carroll)

 

 

 

I’m Guest Blogging!

Today, your humble correspondent is guest blogging over at the Bluestocking Belles! This entertaining group of ladies write stories and blog together because history is fun and love is worth working for.

In today’s article, I have interviewed my fictional version of W. S. Gilbert, who plays a part in my upcoming historical mystery novel, A SHORT SHARP SHOCK.

CLICK HERE to go to the Bluestocking Belles’ TeaTime Tattler to find out more about Mr. Gilbert, Lucy Turner, and the blasted country house party.

I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy my interview with The Passionate Mr. Gilbert!

 

W.S. Gilbert’s Childhood Family Drama

W. S. Gilbert

Children abducted, children hidden, children mixed up by their caretakers—in William S. Gilbert’s librettos, childhood was a dangerous time.

In H. M. S. Pinafore, two babies were mixed up by a careless “baby farmer” (day care provider). In The Pirates of Penzance, the young hero’s silly nursemaid apprenticed the boy to a pirate instead of a pilot, dooming him to a life of crime. In Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor doesn’t know that he even has a son, much less that his child is the half-mortal, half-fairy Strephon. In The Gondoliers, the infant heir to the throne of Barataria was stolen by the Grand Inquisitor and raised in Venice as a gondolier.

Even though the “secret baby” trope is used in many story genres, Gilbert actually experienced scenes of family drama, revolving around child custody and kidnapping.

As discussed in this earlier blog post, Gilbert himself claimed to have been abducted by brigands in Naples when he was two years old. Although the truth of this story has been questioned (he was only a toddler at the time, so how could he remember it so clearly?), it still seems to have been part of their family’s storytelling.

And it seems that in January of 1845, when Gilbert was only 8 years old, he witnessed another tumultuous family scene involving the forcible separation of a parent from their children. It happened like this:

Gilbert’s drawing of the baby’s abduction in The Gondoliers.

W.S. Gilbert’s father, William senior, had a brother named Joseph. Joseph married Catherine, and they had two sons. By 1841, Joseph had developed tuberculosis and died. His will made his wife, Catherine, the guardian of their children – and a few months before his death, Joseph added a codicil to appoint William Gilbert Senior as the second guardian of the boys. The codicil was not drawn up by the lawyers—it was undated and witnessed not by a solicitor but by William Gilbert’s two servants.

Why? Most likely because Catherine, still in her twenties, might want to marry again. Childhood mortality rates were very high in Victorian days. Catherine’s boys stood to inherit money from their grandfather, and without the codicil, their inheritance would go to Catherine and her new husband instead of to William senior.

At Christmas 1844 Catherine and her two surviving sons, Francis, age 7, and Joseph, age 5, came to stay with the William Gilberts through the new year. At this time, the young widow had become emotionally involved with a Captain Harman Baillie Hopper, and intended to marry him. So in January 1845, Catherine and the Captain left the boys with the Gilberts and went on a little vacation together.

While the couple were away, the boys told their Uncle William (and another relative, John Schwenck) about how they had seen Captain Hopper rubbing ointment on their mother’s leg. That, apparently, made the Captain very tired, and the two of them lay on her bed together talking.

Well, that was a shocker! William senior was so disturbed by this account that when Catherine came back on January 16 to pick up her children, John Schwenck and William Gilbert refused to hand them over.

Undaunted, Catherine came back the next day with her brother, John Francis, and a Bow Street officer. After an angry and tearful scene, she still wasn’t able to get her sons back.  William senior insisted that she had created an “immoral environment” which was unhealthy for her sons. The whole sordid thing wound up in the newspapers. Catherine applied for a writ of habeas corpus on January 20, and got her boys back in March 1845, having apparently proven that she was a fit mother after all.

Was young William S. Gilbert aware of all this drama? It’s likely that he knew about the unhappy situation, even if he might not have actually witnessed the struggle between the widowed sister-in-law and the judgmental and forbidding William senior.

As Andrew Crowther says in Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan: His Life and Character:

“Where is the warmth and affection that one would like to see in Gilbert’s family background? Gilbert himself tells us precious little in the way of reminiscence about his family: a sketch of a grandfather, a few passing comments about his father, practically nothing about his mother and sisters. We are left only with a vague feeling of coldness, darkness and isolation. Little wonder, then, that Gilbert looked instead towards the fantasy world of theatre to provide light, warmth and joy.”

Although there is no way to be sure that this ugly event from Gilbert’s childhood affected the stories he wrote as an adult, it’s possible that they might have been twisted and transmuted into the topsy-turvy scenarios he wrote later on. What do you think? Do the events of our childhood leave us, or do they become part of our “core story” as grownups?

Let me know in the comments!

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe

 

Cover of Ivanhoe CD

Which has more artistic merit: Drama or Comedy?

I bet most people would say that Drama, being more serious, sheds more light on the human condition. They might add that Comedy is more entertaining but less illuminating.

This was the question Sir Arthur Sullivan faced around 1888 to 1891: Should England’s most highly lauded composer continue to write comic operas with W.S. Gilbert (the musical equivalent, one might say, of being a graphic novel illustrator who provides images that suit someone else’s story), or should he devote his time to Serious Music in the form of a grand opera (perhaps comparable to creating an original oil painting worthy of being hung in a museum)?

Despite the success of the more romantic and dramatic Yeomen of the Guard, by 1888 Sir Arthur Sullivan was ready to move on from comic opera. He was helped along the road to Serious Music by The Times’ review of his incidental music to Henry Irving’s production of Macbeth.

The Times wrote, a bit sniffily, “Self-restraint, subordination, and assimilation to a higher purpose become, in such circumstances, almost as important as creative genius; and these virtues Sir Arthur Sullivan has had every opportunity of practicing during his long association with Mr. Gilbert.”

This apparently was an extremely sore spot with Sullivan – the idea that, in his collaboration with Gilbert, the beauty of the music had to take a back seat to Gilbert’s topsy-turvy stories. Sure, audiences loved the words, but maybe any tune would do.

That really hurt.

So Sullivan decided that he was going to write a grand opera. Gilbert declined to provide a libretto, saying that if he were to try it, his work “would be, deservedly or otherwise, generally poo-poohed.” He suggested that Julian Sturgis was the best serious librettist of the day, and when Sturgis accepted the job, work on Ivanhoe began.

The climactic battle between Ivanhoe and Brian de Bois-Guilbert

What could be more English than Sir Walter Scott’s tale of the disinherited Saxon knight, Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, brave Crusader and loyal follower of Richard the Lionhearted? Scott’s story also is the basis for our popular idea of Robin Hood, who appears in the story along with his band of “merry men.” Victorian audiences would have known this story by heart – but it may be less well-known today, which is a pity since it’s a tremendous tale with chivalrous knights, beautiful damsels, villainous noblemen, jousting, archery, a witch trial and a daring rescue from a burning castle.

Between bouts of illness, Sullivan worked on Ivanhoe, which was finished in December 1890 and premiered on January 31, 1891.

Premiere program

The opening night was well attended by royalty including the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, and the cream of London society. Queen Victoria was at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, but her daughter Princess Louise wrote to Sullivan to congratulate him, saying that the Queen was particularly pleased since she believed that “it [was] owing to her own instigation that you undertook this great work.” The Queen had indeed suggested to Sir Arthur that he write a grand opera after she heard The Golden Legend.

Sullivan wrote back saying that it had indeed been the Queen’s encouragement to him that had inspired him to write the opera, and asked to be allowed to dedicate the opera to Queen Victoria. “If Her Majesty would graciously accept this tribute of my devotion and respect, I should look upon it as the crowning point of my career.”

Even W.S. Gilbert, who was in the middle of an extended quarrel with Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte at the time, went to see Ivanhoe and reported that he was not bored by it (“the highest compliment I ever paid a grand opera”).

Sullivan’s Ivanhoe ran for a total of 161 performances – a huge success for a grand opera, but nowhere near the popularity of H.M.S. Pinafore, which had 571 performances, The Gondoliers, performed 554 times, or The Mikado, which ran for an astonishing 672 performances.

At least in terms of enduring popularity, it seems that Comedy has won out over Drama in this case – but maybe it’s time to revisit Sullivan’s grand opera and decide for ourselves.

What do you think? Do you prefer Comedy or Drama? Let me know in the comments.

Sketches of scenes from the opera

 

References: Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger; Gilbert and Sullivan by Hesketh Pearson

Images:

PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21340300

PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11713638