This is a Victorian bridal wreath made of wax and cloth orange and myrtle flowers.

Dating back to ancient times, the fragrant white blooms of the myrtle plant were often viewed as sacred, representing not only love and desire, but also immortality. The plant was strongly associated with images of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of Greek and Roman love. The Three Graces who waited on Aphrodite, and who symbolised all femininity were often crowned with  myrtle wreaths. And, in Roman tradition, oils pressed from the leaves were used for healing and soothing wounds, as well as scenting the ritual baths taken by brides before they wed.

Osborne House from below the Terrace by W. L. Leitch

In Victorian times the myrtle flower was said to bring  luck and fidelity and, although her wedding bouquet was comprised solely of snowdrops, Queen Victoria had a myrtle plant of her own, grown along the terraced walls in the gardens of Osborne House, propagated from a sprig in a nosegay given by Prince Albert’s grandmother when the couple visited Germany in 1845.

The Wedding of Princess Victoria

Later, when Queen Victoria’s daughters wed, Victoria, Alice, Helena, Louise and Beatrice, all carried bouquets which contained blooms from that very plant in Osborne House – as did Katherine Middleton today, when she married Prince William in Westminster Abbey.



The Pier, Margate by James Webb (1868) - currently on show at the Turner Contemporary

This weekend the VV was lucky enough to take a trip to the seaside when she attended the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate. 

Though Margate was once a grand seaside town about which Lillie Langtry sang (listen to a sample here) and to which Victorian visitors flocked in their hundreds of thousands, nowadays it is somewhat in decline. But, it is hoped that this wonderful new gallery will inspire reinvestment and renovation - and Margate still has an undoubted charm, boasting some beautiful houses and one of the loveliest beaches and skylines that you could wish to see.

The Turner Contemporary (the second building from the left in this photograph) looks directly over the sea, and what's more it is built on the very spot where the artist J.M.W.Turner once used to stay in a guest house, where the favours of his more than accommodating landlady, Sophia Booth, may have enhanced the opinion written to the art critic John Ruskin that ‘…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe.’

The New Moon by JMW Turner

 Waves Breaking on Lee Shore by JMW Turner

Indeed, more than 100 of Turner’s paintings were inspired by the East Kent coast of which The New Moon and Waves Breaking on Lee Shore at Margate (both circa 1840) are very fine examples.

The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains in the island of St Vincent, based on a sketch by Hugh P. Keane.

For now the only work by Turner to adorn the new gallery's walls is The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains - shown above - but from January 2012 the Turner Contemporary will be hosting an extensive exhibition of watercolours and major paintings to be called Turner and the Elements, an event for which the VV is already planning another visit to Margate.

Self portrait by JMW Turner (1775-1851)



This week the BBC broadcast the first episode of its adaptation of Michael Faber's internationally renowned historical novel, The Crimson Petal and the White.

Romola Garai (above) plays Sugar, the brilliantly realised red-haired whore whose intelligence, wit and propensity to do anything a man may desire, renowned for 'never saying no', entrances William Rackham, (Chris O'Dowd) the egotistical industrialist magnate whose wife, the fair haired Agnes, is on the verge of a breakdown, unwilling to reciprocate her husband's advances whilst at the same time being abused by the sinister Doctor Curlew, who is played to perfection by Richard E Grant.

The book is true to its Victorian origins in that it is a sprawling beast with vivid and detailed descriptions woven into an intricate plot and a cast of characters from every spectrum of society. Where it differs to what Dickens offered is in its open treatment of sex which is unflinching and graphic at times, not to say decidedly uncomfortable - but then this is a novel about the life of a prostitute at a time in London when, for every twelve men, there was at least one woman who would do their bidding for a price.

Faber's writing is superb though many readers have found the content to be too dark, oppressive and disturbing. It is all of these things - and more. This is no pretty romantic tale and the VV must confess that when she came to the book's end she was left with a decidedly bad taste in her mouth - at the same being quite sure that that was precisely what Faber intended.

All in all the VV is reserving judgement after seeing just one episode of the BBC dramatisation. Admittedly, it must be very hard to condense such a lengthy novel into four one hourly episodes. Certain details are bound to be lost - but if, as the VV fears, the child of William and Agnes is not to be included, then she would be sorely disappointed - for, without giving anything away, the part Sugar plays in the fate of this girl is an essential part of the plot.

If you've read the book or seen this drama, the VV would love to know what you thought. The first episode is available to watch on iplayer now. This BBC page also has further details about the novel and its characters.



Today, like any good fairy, the VV comes bearing a free gift and is delighted to announce a competition. To win a proof copy of The Unseen by Katherine Webb, all you need do is reply to the following question, the answer to which can be found in The Virtual Victorian's previous post:  -

QUESTION: 'What was the name of Arthur Conan Doyle's uncle who painted 'Under the Dock Leaves'?

Please send your answers to virtualvictorian@gmail.com by Friday April 8th. The VV will then choose a name at random and contact the winner for their address. Good luck! The Unseen is an excellent read.

And now, Friday is here - and the winner is - drum roll while the VV puts on her blindfold and hovers a finger over the list of names...Deborah Riccio.

Congratulations Deborah!

ADDENDUM: Deborah has now read The Unseen and here is a link to her review - I think it's safe to say that she liked it!