Archive | March 2016

Legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – in the Movies

GilbertAndSullivanGilbert and Sullivan’s delightful comic operas were first performed in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, but their influence is still felt in Western culture.

Both American and British musical theater traditions owe a great debt to the duo. Fans of G&S include P.G. Wodehouse, Irving Berlin, Ivor Novello, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even today, Gilbert and Sullivan’s works pop up in the most unlikely places.

The legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan still endures today. As it turns out, it’s so extensive that I got worn out just chasing down all the references to their works that can be found in books, songs, plays, musical theater, children’s shows, movies, television programs, and video games (in the games Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, the lizard-like alien character Dr. Mordin Solus sings a short pastiche version of the Major-General’s song: “I am the very model of a scientist Salarian”.

So for this post, here is a partial list of the references, pastiches and parodies of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works that have appeared in the movies:

I was going to include television shows, too, since there have been references to Gilbert and Sullivan in everything from Doctor Who, to Blackadder, House, The West Wing, The Simpsons and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but I will save those for later posts.

What other movies can you think of that have Gilbert and Sullivan references? Leave me a comment and let me know!


The Real Lucy Turner

Why Lucy Turner?

Why, you might ask, if I am such a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, would I choose Lucy Turner as my amateur sleuth?

Because, as Gilbert’s wife, Lucy had a ring-side seat when it came to nearly everything that Gilbert and Sullivan did during the twenty-odd years of their working partnership. And because she isn’t as well-known to history as the two men, she might well have had certain adventures that are unknown to history!

What sort of a person was Lucy?

Her direct and piercing gaze

Her direct and piercing gaze

As history tells us, Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on November 14, 1847. Her astrological sign was Scorpio.  To paraphrase Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, Scorpios have a crackling, electric vitality about their presence, iron self-control, and an intense and piercing gaze. Well-aware of their own worth, they are unmoved by either insults or flattery.  Passionate, loyal, secretive, suspicious, and sometimes vengeful, Scorpio natives are, Goodman says, “deeply interested in religion, intensely curious about all phases of life and death, passionately concerned with sex and violently drawn by a desire to reform.”

Such a personality would be perfectly suited to crime-solving! Not even the rigid decorum of the Victorian era would be enough to discourage a woman who felt an overwhelming need to know the truth of what happened to a murder victim and to see justice done.

Goodman adds, “Most Scorpios have darkish hair and eyes, but don’t discount the frosty blonde types, of which Grace Kelly and Billy Graham are excellent examples. Frosty on the outside, that is. The poised surface calm of the Pluto character is carefully designed to hide the boiling inner nature.” To those two frosty blonde examples, I would add Lucy Turner – and William S. Gilbert (born November 18, 1836) as well.


Lucy, according to Gilbert’s biographers

The following selections have been taken from different biographical accounts. They shed a certain amount of light on Lucy’s family history and on other people’s impression of her personality.

  • From Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger

“Lucy’s mother and father had married in India. Her mother, Herbertina Compton, was the daughter of Sir Herbert Compton, lord chief justice of Bombay; her father, Thomas Metcalfe Blois Turner, was a captain in the Bombay Engineers in the East India Company Service.  They had two other children, Grace and Samuel Compton Turner, and we expecting their third child when, on 7 July 1847, Captain Thomas Turner died suddenly, at the age of thirty-seven. At that point the Turner family took over. Herbertina’s brother-in-law, Captain Henry Blois Turner, was granted extended leave to take his brother’s family home to England.

“In the house called “The Grove” in the village of Yoxford, (in Suffolk) Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on 14 November 1847.”

“By 1852, before Lucy was 5, Mrs. Turner moved back to London… and they settled into 4 Marlborough Villas, in Victoria Road, Kensington.  With little recollection of her Suffolk days, Lucy grew up a true Kensington girl.”

“Gilbert found in marriage a security that he had never known. After his marriage to Lucy, there followed a creative outburst. Only four Bab Ballads had appeared in the first half of the year; twenty more would appear before the end. … Most of the Bab Ballads, and nearly all the famous ones, were written after Gilbert’s marriage, at 28 Eldon Road (their home at the time) and not in his lawyer’s chambers at Clement’s Inn.”


  • From Gilbert: His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson

The daughter of an Indian army officer, she (Lucy) was eleven years younger than Gilbert and his counterpart in temperament. With fair hair, blue eyes, a neat figure and lively manner, she was an attractive girl, and everyone voted Gilbert and lucky man when the two were married at St. Mary Abbot’s church in Kensington on August 6th, 1867.

Gilbert called his wife Kitten and always treated her with affectionate playfulness. They remained a devoted pair, their natures being complementary.

There were times when her acquiescent and conciliatory but alert nature had the effect of calming his anger when exacerbated by the behavior of others and lessening the violence of his explosions when stung by ingratitude or dishonesty…


  • From S Gilbert, A Classic Victorian and his Theatre by Jane W. Stedman

(In his letters to her, Gilbert signed himself) her “old Boy” when writing to her from camp and calling her Kitten, Kitty and (in letters) Dearest Kits.

She drew herself up to look tall

She drew herself up to look tall

She was … small and delicate, ‘dainty’ as contemporaries described her. Even in middle age, her arms and skin would still be lovely and youthful. Depending on who described her nose, it was ‘a little dab’ or a ‘dear little nose’. Her voice was gentle and quiet.

The newly married Kitten looks out at us from a photograph and from her husband’s pencil drawing with a level glance and a prettily determined chin. Elegantly dressed in later pictures, she gives a sense of dignity and erect carriage unusual in small women. “She pulled herself up to look tall,” her gardener’s daughter said of her in middle age.

…Kitty enjoyed riding; she and Willie frequently rode together, and sometimes she kept him on a short rein  … As Gilbert once remarked in Fun (17 June 1865) the soupcon of a will her own “makes fair girls still more adorable, because you had not supposed temper compatible with flaxen hair.”

…The Gilbert’s marriage was happy even if Kitty was not the subdued and submerged little person some biographers have imagined. As time passed, not only did she prove an excellent chatelaine of the ever-larger houses which her husband’s increasing income made possible, but she also became the centre of his happiness, indispensable to him, and the one person he trusted unchangingly. *

(*Stedman notes that these final sentiments were included in a letter from Mary Crawshay to “Dearest Kitty,” written just after Gilbert’s death.  The writer also says Gilbert told her he would kill himself “if anything happened” to his wife. Stedman adds: “Although this is a gushing letter and under the circumstances, likely to be exaggerative, it is undoubtedly sincere.”)


Lucy the sleuth

When I first contemplated writing mystery novels, I read that an amateur sleuth had to have two personal characteristics: A deep understanding of human nature, and a burning passion for justice. With a personality and history as described above, Lucy Turner Gilbert would make a terrific sleuth.

I hope you will agree with me, and join me as I tell of Lucy’s adventures in Victorian London, from respectable drawing-rooms to glittering theatrical performances!




30 Victorian Mystery Novel Series to Read Now!


Just let me finish this chapter

Just let me finish this chapter

The following books are some of the best Victorian-set historical mysteries that I know about. The books named are the first in each series – the sleuth named appears in all the books. Most are set in Victorian England, but a few are set in the USA and some others (particularly the Sherlock Holmes-related ones) spill over into the Edwardian period.

You can read more about them on Goodreads and Amazon. I’ll include links to Goodreads so you can find out more about the ones that interest you.  For even more historical mysteries, you can check out this amazingly comprehensive list (just watch out for the pop-ups):

Enjoy your armchair sleuthing!




Female Sleuths

  1. Elizabeth Peters – Amelia Peabody – Crocodile on the Sandbank
  2. Deanna Raybourn – Lady Julia Gray – Silent in the Grave
  3. Robin Paige – Kathryn Ardleigh – Death at Bishop’s Keep
  4. Nancy Herriman – Celia Davies – No Comfort for the Lost
  5. Tasha Alexander – Lady Emily – And Only To Deceive
  6. Emily Brightwell – Mrs. Jeffries –The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
  7. Martin Davies – Mrs. Hudson – Mrs. Hudson and the Spirit’s Curse
  8. Carole Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler – Good Night, Mr. Holmes
  9. Anne Perry – Charlotte and Thomas Pitt – The Cater Street Hangman
  10. Kate Parker – Georgia Fenchurch – The Vanishing Thief
  11. Ann Granger – Lizzie Martin – The Companion (aka A Rare Interest in Corpses)
  12. Susan Wittig Albert – Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Hill Top Farm
  13. Carol Carr – Madam India Black – India Black, Madam of Espionage
  14. Lee Jackson – Sarah Tanner – A Most Dangerous Woman
  15. Alanna Knight – Rose Quinn – The Inspector’s Daughter


Male Sleuths

  1. Barbara Hambly – Benjamin January – A Free Man of Color
  2. Gyles Brandreth – Oscar Wilde – Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance
  3. Oakley Hall – Ambrose Bierce – Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades
  4. Anne Perry – William Monk – The Face of a Stranger
  5. Peter Heck – Mark Twain – Death on the Mississippi
  6. Charles Finch – Charles Lenox – A Beautiful Blue Death
  7. David Ashton – Inspector MacLevy – Shadow of the Serpent
  8. Peter Lovesey – Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – Bertie and the Tinman
  9. Peter Lovesey – Inspector Cribb – Wobble to Death
  10. Edward Marston – Inspector Robert Colbeck –The Railway Detective
  11. Amy Myers – Chef Auguste Didier – Murder in Pug’s Parlour
  12. Francis Selwyn – Inspector Verity – Cracksman on Velvet
  13. Ray Harrison – Detective Sergeant Bragg – Why Kill Arthur Potter?
  14. Alanna Knight – Inspector Faro – Enter Second Murderer
  15. Joan Lock – Inspector Best – Dead Image


Have I missed any of your favorites? Please let me know in the comments.

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: A Book Review

MrsRobinsoncoverWhat I’m reading now: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, by Kate Summerscale.

This is a masterful reconstruction of the life and times of Isabella Walker Robinson, a well-educated upper-middle-class British woman married to a cold and difficult second husband.

No doubt many other women in the 1850s felt as lonely and frustrated as Isabella did – but she poured out her feelings in her diary. On its pages she confided her deepest secrets, including her hopeless passion for Dr. Edward Lane, a married man. Their two families were friendly, with the adults spending many long hours walking and talking together while their children played.

In 1857, the new Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce possible for middle-class Britons.

In 1858, Henry Robinson found and read his wife’s diary.

Outraged by the passionate outpourings of sensual desire that Isabella had written and convinced that they amounted to infidelity, Henry sued his wife for divorce under the new law. The trial was a public scandal and her diary was read out in court.

Mrs. Robinson’s diary threatened the Victorian ideals of womanhood. Was she a sign of the decline of the morals of a nation? How many other seemingly proper Victorian wives were secretly harboring lawless sexual fantasies and wicked cravings?

In this fascinating true story, one woman’s longing for passion, learning, and companionship rocked the very foundations of a society clinging to rigid ideas about the workings of the human brain, the rights of women, and the institution of marriage.

I picked this book up at my local library, because I have read—and enjoyed—Kate Summerscale’s bestselling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, about the creation of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Division and one of the first modern detectives, Mr. Whicher, who correctly solved a horrific murder mystery in the 1840s. I’m enjoying this book just as much, if not more.

Isabella Robinson was a poetess, whose social circle included such notables as author Charles Dickens, obstetrician and pioneer anesthetist James Young Simpson, publisher Richard Chambers, and phrenologist George Combe. Her first husband, Edward Dansey, died of a brain tumor, leaving her a widow with a young son after only five years of marriage. Two years later, she met Henry Robinson, whom she finally married after he proposed for the third time. In the book, the author quotes from a letter Isabella wrote: “I suffered my scruples & dislike to be talked away by others.” No doubt she wanted more out of life than the restricted society of her parents’ home – being married was the closest most Victorian women ever got to independent adulthood.

hebe 001

Herbertina Compton Turner, Lucy Turner’s mother. Born and raised in India and the daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of the Bombay Presidency, she remained a widow after her husband’s sudden death in 1847.

As a rule, during the Victorian era most unmarried or widowed women lived in a male relative’s house, if the family was of middle class or higher standing. In that regard, Lucy Turner’s mother Herbertina Compton Turner was unusual. Widowed suddenly in 1847 after ten years of marriage and with two children and a third on the way, Lucy’s then-32-year-old mother was brought from her native India to Suffolk, where the Turner family had a large farmhouse. But after five years of living under her in-laws’ roof, Herbertina Turner moved herself and her three children to Kensington. She bought a villa on Victoria Road, where she raised her children and spent the rest of her life as widow. She lived to the ripe old age of 98 and was widowed for 66 years, even longer than Queen Victoria herself. Mrs. Turner evidently made the right choice not to marry a second time. Lucy Turner was close to her mother all her life, and Mrs. Turner will help (and sometimes hinder!) Lucy’s fictional investigations.


I highly recommend Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady to anyone who wants to read a fascinating account of one woman’s life and struggles during the mid-Victorian era.




That singular anomaly, the lady novelist!

In The Mikado, “that singular anomaly, the lady novelist” was on Koko the Lord High Executioner’s “little list” of people who wouldn’t be missed – but although some male critics may have wished it so, lady novelists certainly weren’t singular anomalies during the Victorian era.


Lucy Turner Gibert

In fact, W.S. Gilbert himself was in love with one such “anomaly.” Before he met and married Lucy Turner, who was, as he later told a friend, “his centre of every bit of happiness he had, his only peace, his only safety, his guardian angel, the only person he trusted unchangingly”, Gilbert proposed to, and was rejected by, Miss Annie Hall Thomas.

Gilbert had many women friends throughout his life. He seemed to enjoy the company of intelligent females and worked with many women in the theatre. He sold his first ever burlesque script, Dulcamara, or The Big Quack and The Little Duck, to Miss Herbert, the lessee of the St. James’ Theatre. He was an intense, volatile man with a passionate hatred of injustice, and many of his plays and lyrics are designed to point out and satirize the unfairness, inequality, and hypocrisy that existed in society,  so it’s very likely that he intended “that singular anomaly” line to be understood ironically.

Annie Thomas, Gilbert’s first love, published her first novel at age 24 and went on to write more than one hundred more, as well as numerous articles, short stories, and verses. She was “a light-hearted girl, and a writer of bright, easy-reading fiction, of which she could write almost acres in a short time. But when she found time to write so much was often a puzzle to me, for she seemed always to be out and about. She was in a bright and merry set at the time, many of whom had ‘at homes,’ dinner parties, dances, and merry meetings of different kinds, including some theatre going,” according to William Tinsley, a publisher who was a friend of hers.

During the Victorian era, the role of women in British society was changing – the 1857 Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act gave a woman a limited right to seek a divorce, and the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act allowed married women to retain and control the income they earned. Novels written by Victorian women began to question the position of women in society, and their tales often served as a jumping-off point for discussions about the injustices that existed. Naturally, this rebellion gave rise to a considerable amount of push-back.

No doubt it was the prevailing Victorian attitude that women should remain ignorant of any unpleasant aspects of life that led a male critic to complain that Annie Thomas, like her friend Florence Marryat and other writing women, “appeared to know everything men knew,” and wrote about it so that their readers would then “attain an almost perfect knowledge of every vice that festers beneath the sun,” according to W.S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and his Theatre by Jane W. Stedman.

It is strange, then, that the “festering vice” the male critic complained of would have included subjects like the sexuality of young girls and illegitimate pregnancy – things that women would naturally know more about than men did, since they actually happened to women. An example of Annie’s handling of the subject of a woman with an illegitimate child is her 1868 novel False Colours, in which Mrs. Scorrier is a ‘fallen woman’ who was kinder and more virtuous than the proper society around her.

Annie Thomas seemed to like Gilbert well enough as a friend. She even made him the hero of one of her stories – W.S. Gilbert is generally thought to have inspired the character ofRoydon in her 1866 novel Played Out. Stedman, in the book cited above, described Roydon and compared the fictional version to the real one:

gilbert-plaid 002-sm

Gilbert in his military uniform, with plaid

Roydon is over 6 feet tall; unlike Gilbert he has had no military training but possesses a lounging grace and can arrange a plaid picturesquely over his shoulders (William transferred from the West Yorkshire Militia to the Aberdeenshire Militia the year before). Rather shy, Roy nevertheless has a dangerous knack of looking suddenly serious and a little hurt when he wants to appeal to a woman. Girls mistakenly think him “German looking” because he is fair, with tawny mustaches and blue eyes; although he is not handsome, he commands observation. Like Annie herself Roy loves horses and she sees him as a thoroughbred, bearing the mark of the governing classes even though he is only a third-class clerk, making 200 pounds a year at Somerset House.

Away from the office, Roydon belongs to journalistic Bohemia, where one of his highest ambitions at the moment is to have a burlesque produced. When Annie describes Roy as a writer, his identity is even more obvious for he has ‘the art of wording nonsense epigrammatically” and his phraseology is happy, tricky, and ear-catching. …

Prophetically, in the last volume he marries a beautiful, fresh blonde who appeals to his artist’s soul.

When Annie wrote him in July 1867 that she was going to marry the Reverend Pender Cudlip, Gilbert replied that he was happy for her and added that he was getting married himself – to Lucy Turner.

The courses of our love lives never do run as we expect !them to, do they?

From the descriptions above, do you think that Annie and William would have made a good couple, or were they better off as friends? Has there been a man or a woman in your life who you once thought would be a good match, but you later changed your mind about? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!