Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Saturday, 12 April 2008


I've decided to change my profile picture to something a little more representative of me (if you look at the new picture sideways, through squinted eyes, it looks vaguely Mariam-like). But it is with regret that I say goodbye to Lady Colin Campbell.

A few years ago, I read a fascinating account of her notorious marriage and divorce to Lord Colin Campbell, the second son of the Duke of Argyll: Victorian 'Sex Goddess.' Lady Colin Campbell and the sensational divorce case of 1886 by G. H. Flemming. This very public divorce case enthralled the country and filled the pages of newspapers with salacious detail, containing as it did all the elements of a good scandal - sexually transmitted disease (syphilis), various infidelities, allegations of cruelty and endless other examples of the upper classes behaving badly.

Her husband accused Lady Colin of conducting affairs with some of the most eminent men in Victorian society, including George Spencer-Churchill and Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, Chief of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. Although found not guilty on these counts, she was nonetheless a intelligent and attractive woman who attracted many notable men, including George Bernard Shaw (who described her as a 'goddess') and the artist Whistler.

Born Gertrude Blood, Lady Colin stands out for many reasons unrelated to her sensational divorce. Her first article was published at the age of 14. Her first work of fiction (published when she was 21) went through seven printings. She was a singer who often gave recitals and her art was frequently exhibited. After her separation from Lord Colin (she was not granted a divorce, though it was accepted her husband had given her syphilis), Lady Colin survived on the proceeds of her writing, principally for newspaper articles and journals. She contributed to the Saturday Review and eventually became one of the first female editors of a London paper that was not for women (World).

Although I can't find any reference to it just now, I think she also wrote an impassioned defense of smoking, which is also kind of cool.

An astonishing, unconventional woman brought to life through a series of newspaper articles, transcripts, letters and reminiscences. In the words of one journalist, she posessed -
the unbridled lust of Messalina and the indelicate readiness of a common harlot.

I prefer to think of her as the kind of kick-ass Victorian I would like to see between the covers of more historicals, a bright, intelligent, unconventional figure who is no less admirable for all her flaws and foibles.


Tumperkin said...

Hey! You're back!

What's that - Gauguin? Your new gravatar, I mean.

Lady CC sounds fabulous. I've just started Ivory's Sleeping Beauty and it seems that Coco is going to be That Kind Of Victorian.

Carolyn Jean said...

That is very fascinating about Lady Colin. How cool that she supported herself through writing in that day. I always liked that picture, but I like your new one, too. So are we going to hear the verdict on Spymaster?

Sherry Thomas said...

Susan Johnson once wrote a book based on Daisy Warwick, who was a rebellious woman herself. I think the book is called Blaze.

Meriam said...

What's that - Gauguin?
Nope, Ingres. The painting is of one Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière and I might blog on it, because I read a very interesting article about the artist and his subject.

So are we going to hear the verdict on Spymaster?
Er... I took it on holiday, but I didn't read it! In my worst showing ever, I read only one book (My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond) and my views on it coincide so neatly with RfP's, there doesn't seem to be anything left to say.

In the meantime, the tbr pile grows daily.

Susan Johnson once wrote a book based on Daisy Warwick
Really? I'll have to look it up. Susan Johnson is an interesting case. I know lots of people who like her older work, but I never really warmed to it, not even Forbidden, which Sandy from AAR (I secretly love her; she's so crabby) has as a DIK. I'll keep trying, though.

Sherry Thomas said...

Regarding Susan Johnson, I don't know your tastes very well, but neither Forbidden nor Silver Flame is my fave.

I actually prefer Wicked, my first SJ. Because blew me away with its unabashed eroticism and because it was one of the first historical romances that I'd read that basically had no external plot--i.e., murder, suspense, treasure search, villain, what have you. After I read it, I said to myself, okay, then maybe a weak plotter like me can also swing a book. So I will always be fond of it, even though I'm not quite sure I completely buy the HEA.

Meriam said...

I haven't read Wicked, but you make a good sell. The Amazon reviews are reassuringly varied in their appreciation. Take this one:

I muddled through it till Serena got on the ship, and they jumped right,and I mean RIGHT into bed. Then, after another 10 pages or so of nothing but sex, and unimportant talk, and that whole cake scene, I just gave up. (...) Oh, please don't waste your time or money.

Oh, I'm going to waste my money, alright. If only to find out more about the cake scene!

Janine said...

Funnily enough I have this exact book on Lady Colin Campbell in the TBR mountain. I haven't read it yet and I don't know when I will. Mount TBR is in competition with Everest and K2 these days.

In my worst showing ever, I read only one book (My Life in Heavy Metal by Steve Almond) and my views on it coincide so neatly with RfP's, there doesn't seem to be anything left to say.

As much as I love RfP's blog, I would have liked to hear your thoughts on this book in your own words, Meriam. Maybe it would have tipped me over into buying it...

Re. Susan Johnson, for what it's worth, Wicked is my favorite of her books too. At least, of the ones I've read, whihc is far from all of them. While it wasn't quite a keeper, it was far from a waste of money...

Meriam said...

Hi Janine!

Funnily enough I have this exact book on Lady Colin Campbell in the TBR mountain.

I loved the little details. Like the popular society paper of the time and the description of households and what the servants did. Plus, the late 19th century is my favourite period, so I had to read it.

I've definitely got my sights on Wicked. It's just a case of how to buy it. I usually shop Amazon, but recent events have made me a little leery. And I confess, walking up to a counter with the naked and rippling torso of a man emblazoned across the front cover of a book doesn't appeal... that's pretty lame, isn't it?

As for reviewing, it's bloody hard to find the time, especially at the moment, when I've started to watch more TV than usual (loving Mad Men), and the football season is reaching its climax, and the weather is getting nicer...

Honestly, I don't know how you do it.