Having long nurtured a deep fascination with mermaids and all things watery, the VV was delighted when she was recommended the work of an author called Michelle Lovric.

Lovric’s debut, The Undrowned Child, is marketed as a Young Adult novel, but the elegant depiction of Victorian Venice along with a complex and thrilling plot in which characters seem to step out of the page, is suitable for any age – particularly those who enjoy a good yarn, part historical, part fairy tale, and all spiced up with a liberal dose of ‘baddened magic’, and vampire eels, and ‘salty tongued’ mermaids who love to eat curry while running a subversive printing press – not to mention the ghastly villain, Bajamonte Tiepolo, who Teo – our novel's heroine – is prohecised to overcome destroy when he seeks to destroy the city she loves.

Having so enjoyed The Undrowned Child, the VV was eager to read its sequel entitled The Mourning Emporium. Here, once again, Teo must face Tiepolo – but first, she and Renzo, The Studious Son, find themselves leaving Venice for London while trapped on a floating orphanage, converted into a pirate ship on a mission to aid Harold Hoskins, the pretender to Queen Victoria’s throne.

Teo, Renzo and their Venetian friends are set against daunting enemies, such as ghost convicts from the Hooroo, and the beautiful Miss Uish; a truly memorable character with her vile and sadistic nature. In fact, the cruelty of some scenes is almost too heartbreaking to bear.

Once again, there is humour to lighten the mood, and that mostly stems from those pages where the Venetian mermaids appear, now in league with their London counterparts who are far more lanquid nowhere near as feisty, having become reliant on an array of quack powders and potions – referencing such remedies as Dr Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People (Go to the very cause of the Mischief), and Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound (Only a woman can understand another woman’s ills), both of which were actually once sold on the streets of Victorian London.

Once again, Lovric’s sparkling characters and plots are set in historically accurate scenes of nineteenth century London and Venice.  But, for the VV – and perhaps this is predictable – the book really seems to come alive when the story moves to the London docks, where a truly Dickenson band of young orphans curl up to sleep inside children’s coffins in a gothic mourning emporium –

The Family Mourning Emporium
Of Tristesse and Ganorus
All Vestments of Sorrow supplied and made to order
Offers Advantages 
to the Nobility
And Families of the Highest Rank
Also to Those of Limited Means

Here, business is growing brisk due to Queen Victoria’s impending death and all of the preparations made for her spectacular funeral. The talking bulldog, TurtleDove, who loyally cares for the orphans, reminded the VV of Nana the nurse dog in Peter Pan – not to say that this book is derivative, for Lovric’s world is all her own. Beautifully written and skilfully told, this story succeeds on most every level. It will make you laugh, and cry, and flinch. It will leave you entirely satisfied.

For a review of The Book of Human Skin, one of Michelle Lovric's adult historical novels - which are  brilliant - please see this review from Lucy Inglis of Georgian London, who first introduced me to Lovric's work. Thank you, Lucy!

And now, to whet your appetite more, there is a trailer available to watch on Youtube. 



Charles Mengin - Sappho (1877)

Channel 4 in the UK is currently screening a series called The Genius of British Art. Each episode is introduced by a different presenter, and last night was the turn of Howard Jacobson - the very same gentleman who recently won this year's Booker Prize for his novel, The Finkler Question.
John William Waterhouse - Hylas and the Nymphs (1896)

Jacobson has a passion for Victorian art or, to be more precise, the way in which nineteenth century artists depicted their visions of sex and desire, and how such unrepressed and provocative imagery appears to stir more embarrassment today than it ever did when first created.
Etty - Candaules King of Lydia shews his wife to Gyges

We may caricature the Victorians as being prudish, self-righteous and hypocritical, but many of the erotic paintings discussed in the programme prove that they were anything but. Even Queen Victoria commissioned some of Etty's paintings as presents for Prince Albert. And, although some of the artists' works may now be considered as 'cliched', this is surely a repercussion of their very popularity - or dare the VV surmise, 'over exposure'?
Alma Tadema - The Tepidarium 

You can watch Jacobson's entertaining analysis of Victorian erotic art here
Some content is of a sexual nature. 



The VV is delighted to have seen Orion's hardback cover design for her debut novel, The Somnambulist. And not just one cover, but two - to be published simultaneously.

Which do you prefer?

There won't be a dust jacket. The design will be printed and embossed directly onto laminated board. Below is a view of the spine and back - although with a different strap line which was changed in favour of the one above, but otherwise as the book will appear -



The Maharajah Duleep Singh of Lahore

The Koh-i-nor is an enormous and  priceless Indian diamond that was gifted to Queen Victoria
as ransom at the end of the second Anglo Sikh war in 1849.  
The Koh-i-nor, illustrated from various angles

The victorious British army partitioned the Indian Punjab, taking the kingdom's holy sovereign symbol - and also its boy maharajah, a small child by the name of Duleep Singh. Duleep was dragged from his mother's arms, converted to Christianity and then brought to live in England where he was raised as a 'gentleman' aristocrat - well away from those in his homeland who might seek to use Dukeep as a political pawn when rebelling against the British troops.

Portrait of Duleep by Queen Victoria

In England, 'Prince' Duleep developed a complex relationship with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen doted on her 'beautiful boy' and though he was raised in the family of an army officer, Duleep became close to Victoria's children and spent time with the family at Osborne - their holiday home on the Isle of Wight.

Portrait of Duleep Singh by Winterhalter

But there must have been an element of guilt on the part of the queen who had stolen the Maharajah's throne. Perhaps that explains the incident that occurred at Buckingham Palace when the teenage Duleep was posing for a portrait by Victoria's favourite artist, Winterhalter.  

Victoria entered the room with her hands behind her back. She told Duleep to close his eyes and hold out his hands and then placed the Koh-i-nor diamond in one. When Duleep opened his eyes and looked down, he realised what he was holding at once and claims to have been deeply confused - even tempted to throw the stone out of the window. But he realised that this was a test of his loyalty - for if he were to keep the diamond that would be a declaration of war, symbolising his wish to reclaim the Punjab. So, he offered it back to the Queen and said, "It is to me, Ma'am, the greatest pleasure thus to have the opportunity, as a loyal subject of myself tendering to my sovereign, the Koh-i-nor."

Thus, Victoria's guilt was assuaged and Duleep retained his liberty and privileged lifestyle in England although, as time went on, he found himself more restricted. When hoping to study at Cambridge, Duleep was disappointed. The powers that be preferred to send him to various country estates, indulging his love of hunting and women - well away from those intellectuals who might corrupt his loyalty and lure him into rebellious ways. And, when Duleep fell in love and wished to wed an English girl - the daughter of his foster father - this was also frowned upon, such a mingling of races considered as quite unsuitable.

In his twenties, when his mother died, following a protracted campaign of letters in the Times, Duleep was finally allowed to visit India again, there to scatter her last remains. 

While on his travels, he visited a Christian mission in Cairo, and there he chose a bride. Bamba - which means 'pink' was the bastard daughter of an African slave and a German banker, but Duleep was quite besotted, and returning to England with his new wife, the exotic couple became quite the toast of society London.
Elvedon Hall

For many years they lived in great splendour in Elvedon Hall in Norfolk. Their first child died very soon after birth, but the second was a healthy boy and Queen Victoria took on the role of godmother when Prince Victor was christened at Windsor Castle, after which she wrote in her diaries: "I never beheld a lovelier child,  a plump little darling with the most splendid dark eyes, but not very dark skin."

But, his father's skin remained dark and beneath it his soul remained Indian, and as time went by Duleep was indeed influenced by the views of Russian and Irish dissidents who hoped to use him for their own political ends. Reminded of all that he had lost, Duleep was increasingly dissatisfied, even taking to writing to Victoria requesting the return of the Koh-i-nor, complaining that the East India Company had failed to make sufficient recompense for the loss of his wealth and sovereignty. He renounced his Christian faith, re-embracing his native Sikh beliefs. He plotted a 'holy rebellion', intending to lead an army into India by route of Russia and Afghanistan.
Duleep as a mature man

However, all such efforts were doomed to failure. Duleep's intentions were exposed resulting in his exile from both England and India. With Bamba and their children remaining in England, Duleep took a mistress and lived out his last days on the continent where he was forced to endure levels of poverty that he had never known before. However, before his premature death  from a stroke at the age of fifty-six, he met with Victoria again when she visited the French town of Grasse. There, against the wishes of her advisers, she privately pardoned the bloated bald prince who had once been her cherished beautiful boy. And soon after that, when she heard of his death, she had his remains brought back 'home' where she gave him a Christian burial. In death, she reclaimed her prodigal son.

As to the Koh-i-nor, the diamond which to this day remains with the crown jewels in the Tower of London, is thought to have mystical properties - and also to be cursed. 

One myth surrounding the stone was that if it were ever returned to its homeland, all foriegn invaders would be cast out - which was why Duleep wanted to repossess it when plotting to reclaim his throne. Another says only a queen may hold the stone - which is somewhat ironic for, having placed in Duleep's hand, it is almost as if Victoria ensured the prophecy that any man who touches it will be doomed to see his line 'disappear from the light'. Despite Duleep fathering several children, every one of them died without progeny.

The legend that any queen who possessed diamond would go on to rule the world was certainly true for Victoria - the queen who commanded an Empire and was later crowned Empress of India.