Events sometimes take place in a country that are of little interest to those abroad. Conversely there are others that people worldwide take notice of either in admiration or horror. One example of the latter is the slow disintegration of the house known as Undershaw in Hindhead, Surrey.
If, by some chance, you are ignorant of what Undershaw is, it is the house that was home to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from 1897 to 1907. He helped to design it and under its roof many of his important works were produced. Notably, it was in this house that he resurrected Sherlock Holmes from his watery grave.
Sherlock Holmes and, by extension, his creator have not enjoyed such fame as they do today since they first came to public attention in the 1890s. People throughout the world (and this is no exaggeration) are in love with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and consequently they are currently looking on in horror (mixed with contempt) as the local powers propose sanctioning the desecration of Sherlock’s place of re-birth.
Make no mistake. If someone proposed bulldozing or “redeveloping” the home of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens there would be uproar. Yet we, as a nation, appear to be standing by while the one-time home of one of our literary giants is carved up for profit. It seems to me sometimes as if we, collectively, have the attitude that we have so much history that we can afford to lose some. It is odd the way that nations with the least history guard it well and those with the most seem almost cavalier with it.
Now perhaps you don’t like Sherlock Holmes, perhaps you don’t care about literary heritage. Fair enough that’s up to you but you should at least care about the precedent. Perhaps right now what is at stake is something you don’t care about but one day it will be. If you’re sporty perhaps someone will want to bulldoze an old football stadium where a famous fixture took place. If you’re religious it could be a former place of worship. Believe me, when it is something you care about you will realise how important it is to stand in the way of those who would destroy our history for financial gain.
The latest (and perhaps last) round in the battle for Undershaw is being fought on May 23rd 2012 at the High Court. Spread the word, give your support in any way that you can and perhaps we can make the powers that be all too aware of the impact of what they are doing. Then maybe, just maybe, they will step back from cliff-edge.
I know I’m a bit late with this review but here goes. In Constance by Franny Moyle we have, as far as I know, the first attempt at a biography of Constance Wilde – the wife of Oscar. In the great performance that was Oscar’s life, Constance has always been little more than a supporting role (in every sense). Personally I always wanted to know more about how she dealt with her husband’s fall from grace and the stigma that attached itself to the family as a result of his conviction for, what was termed, gross indecency.
The book opens with the details of Constance’s early life. It gives us information on her parents and grandparents and shows us how she was a notable and noticed figure in society long before she met Oscar. This came as something of a surprise to me and a pleasant one at that.
However, within the book, as in life, as soon as Oscar appears on the scene he dominates our attention. Much of the book deals with how Constance reacted to events initiated by her husband rather than the other way around. We are shown how she followed her own path whenever she could but inevitably, like the moon, she was dragged back to being little more than Oscar’s satellite time and time again.
I don’t think this is a failing of Moyle’s book. I think the book accurately demonstrates how Constance’s own growth as a person was limited by Oscar and the demands of running a family that he began to slowly absent himself from. She is clearly shown to be a strong willed woman with many talents and interests but, at the same time, one that was doomed to experience restricted personal development due to the events surrounding her husband.
As Oscar explored his new found sexuality he and Constance started to spend more and more time apart. At these moments I found that the book benefitted as Constance got more of the stage (as it were) to herself and we could see how she dealt with her effective solitude by immersing herself first in occult societies (such as the Golden Dawn) and then religion.
The book taught me two things that I was not really aware of before. The first was Oscar’s apparent (and it seems total) selfishness with regards to his new found life. It seems that once he embarked upon his journey to destruction he seemed to care less and less about Constance and the strain he was imposing upon her and their sons.
The second thing I learned was the way that both Constance and Oscar showed blatant favouritism towards their first son and almost ignored their second. As a result of this the brothers spent huge amounts of time apart at a time when they clearly needed each other.
For me the book really came into its own when looking at Constance’s life after Oscar’s imprisonment. It was then that she started to shake Oscar’s influence off and really start looking out for herself and her sons. Her amazing strength and willpower truly amazed me. She endured circumstances that would have completely crushed most people.
The author is clearly on the side of Constance (which is as it should be I suppose) but I’m not entirely sure that her portrait of Oscar is entirely fair. My belief in this may stem from the fact that other books I have read have been more generous towards him and this one is quite different. Perhaps, therefore, we need this book as a counter-weight to the pro-Oscar works that exist.
In short I found this book very interesting and a worthwhile addition to all things Wildean. Oscar dominates a good fifty percent of the book but perhaps that may have helped and probably could not be avoided.
Well yesterday evening saw Roger Johnson, Jean Upton, Kristina Manente, myself (and others) interviewed by American broadcaster NBC in the vicinity of the Sherlock Holmes pub. The evening temperature was not exactly warm so I daresay whatever footage of yours truly that makes it into the final programme will make me look a good deal more terrified than I actually was (I was pretty terrified though).
Yours truly and Scott Swan of NBC
NBC were actually in London to film a variety of pieces in connection with the Olympics. I'm still not entirely sure where Sherlock Holmes fits into the Olympics but there you go. Hopefully the completed programme will make things clear.