Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dan Cruickshank: Edinburgh Book Festival 15 August 2010

We saw Dan Cruickshank in the Book Festival a couple of years ago (review here) and much of my description of that talk could just be cut and pasted in here (the hand-waving, general Patrick Moore-like demeanour, inability to stick to a timetable...). This time he was talking about his book The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital. Georgian London wasn't planned like Edinburgh's New Town, but was thrown up piecemeal by speculative builders. And a lot of the money which funded it came from the sex trade, which was much more open and socially accepted than it would become in Victorian times. It was possible for a former prostitute to become the mistress and even the wife of someone of the highest social standing. Dan had plenty of Hogarth cartoons to show as well as portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds (ones he painted to keep rather than to sell) of some famous high-class hookers.

While he was every bit as enthusuastic as last time, and still fascinating, Hilary and I both felt his talk had too much of an unplanned feel about it: that this time he'd digressed down byways which might actually not all have been more interesting than the bits of his main narrrative he didn't get round to presenting.

Easily his best anecdote, though, concerned Lavinia Fenton, the actress who played Polly Peachum in the original production of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. She caught the eye of the Duke of Bolton, who became infatuated with her, kept her as his mistress and when his wife died, married her. Dan had rung up the current Lord Bolton (not a Duke any more - downrated by the aristocratic version of S&P) and got his wife on he phone. He explained that he was ringing about Lavinia Fenton, the former Duchess, and was absolutley floored when the current Lady Bolton said "But I'm Lavinia Fenton too"! Apparently she had been born Lavinia fenton, read about her famous namesake, found that Lord Bolton lived not too far away, went and knocked on his door for a chat....and ended up marrying him. Sometimes life really is weirder than anything you could imagine.


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