Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle: review
Mrs Wilde was more than just a long-suffering wife. She matched Oscar in both intellect and ambition, says Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.
By Robert Douglas-Fairhurst 10 Jun 2011 in The Telegraph
Tragic heroines have an unfortunate habit of living up to their names. For Aeschylus, Helen of Troy was a “destroyer of ships, destroyer of men, destroyer of cities”, punning on the Greek root “hel” (“destroy”). In The Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens marks Little Nell’s death with a church bell ringing its “remorseless toll”, as if “Nell” had a ghostly extra “K” hovering around it. Their fate is written into their lives like the lettering through a stick of seaside rock. Nomen est omen.
Constance Wilde has usually been thought of the same way, as the long-suffering wife who remained loyal to her husband Oscar even after he was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency” (that is, consensual sex) with other men. Her contemporaries recognised as much, as when the actress Ellen Terry wrote to her as “Dearest Constancy” in the weeks before the trial.
The circulation of such stories indicated a widespread desire to establish Constance as something other than a wife crushed by rejection and betrayal. She was a marital martyr, the standard of loving constancy against which her husband’s errant ways should be judged.
Fortunately, the evidence of Franny Moyle’s fine biography, the first to draw on more than 300 of Constance’s unpublished letters, is that she was far more interesting than this. Like one of Wilde’s epigrams, in fact, Moyle takes pleasure in turning our assumptions on their heads.
In some ways Oscar and Constance were a good match. Both had troubled family histories: in his case a surgeon father accused by a former patient of raping her while she was anaesthetised, and in hers a grandfather who exposed himself by running around naked “in the sight of some nursemaids”, followed by a mother whose parenting techniques included “threatening with the fire-irons or having one’s head thumped against the wall”.
More importantly, both husband and wife were clever and ambitious, and for the first few years of their marriage their lives ran along parallel tracks. While he lectured on the need for women to abandon constricting corsets and dangerously flammable crinolines, she put the idea of “rational” dress into practice by wearing daringly baggy trousers and plenty of wool. His theories about the “house beautiful” were supported by her designs for their marital home in Chelsea, an ordinary red-brick villa that they transformed into a temple to aestheticism. Even Oscar’s disappearances into a hidden side of London’s nightlife found echoes in his wife’s experiments with the occult.
Seen with 20-20 hindsight, there were plenty of warnings that their marriage was built on sand. While Oscar had hoped to demonstrate “the pervading influence of art in matrimony”, from the start his love letters were suspiciously theatrical in tone, as if he couldn’t quite tell the difference between affection and affectation.
More dangerous was Constance’s agreement to take in a lodger, Robbie Ross, a precocious 17-year-old who was already, as Moyle quaintly puts it, “a practising homosexual”, and who promptly found someone else to practise with by seducing his host.
Finally, most serious of all, there was the trust she placed in Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, the pouting and grasping acolyte who soon learnt that he could twist Oscar around his little finger.
Eventually Constance rumbled “that BEAST”, but as late as 1895 she was prepared to attend the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest sandwiched between them, unwilling to believe that her husband, who had been accused by Bosie’s father of “posing as a somdomite” (sic), had in fact spent far longer posing as a happily married man.
Even after Oscar’s imprisonment, she continued to collect reviews and editions of his work, and only gave up hope of being reconciled when he chose to return to Bosie rather than to her.
Their children were often caught in the crossfire. Although she doted on their elder son, Cyril, she described the sickly younger Vyvyan as “sweet and affectionate” but also “extraordinarily wilful and wayward”. Clearly she worried about how much he took after his father.
Shortly after the final separation she died, following a botched operation in Genoa, and was buried under a tombstone that in 1963 received the inscription “Wife of Oscar Wilde”. Rarely has a simple statement of fact sounded more like a reproach from beyond the grave.
Though unapologetic about his sexual behaviour, Oscar’s treatment of his wife and children left him writhing with remorse. Moyle suggests his fairy tales may have been covert confessions of these feelings, given their emphasis on personal sacrifice, but she also helpfully points out that Constance was far from being merely a spurned wife. She, too, had an affair, writing slyly to her lover that he would make “an ideal husband”, and in some ways she was just as much of a pioneer, with her interests in socialism and pacifism, her involvement in women’s rights, and her enthusiasm for ventures such as Dorothy's Restaurant, where women could dine – and more shockingly smoke – alone.
She might even have raised a rueful smile at the historical irony that she once took Oscar along to meet a friend in Dorothy's. After all, it must have taken a certain comic resilience, as well as genuine sadness, for her to have written that it was pointless being jealous of the young men who were taking up so much of her husband’s time, “when I know that the one I am jealous of fills a place that I cannot fill”.
Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde
by Franny Moyle
384PP, John Murray
Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde, By Franny Moyle
The importance of being in earnest denial
REVIEWED BY LESLEY MCDOWELL SUNDAY 19 JUNE 2011 in The Independent
In her sympathetic and fascinating biography of Constance Wilde, Franny Moyle largely refrains from making judgements.
So it's something of a shock when she writes, on the start of Wilde's libel trial: "[Constance] was ... about to pay a high price for the streak of rebellion in her character that had led her into the arms of the man she now must have known was about to ruin her life."
Constance Lloyd was born into a well-to-do, upper-middle-class family in 1858, the second child of cold, distant parents. Her father died when she was 16 and her mother resented her only daughter's beauty; it wasn't long before bohemian Constance, favouring the loose, flowing dress of the Pre-Raphaelites, was attracting admirers. She preferred artistic types and fell passionately in love with the king of them all: Oscar Wilde. In spite of obstacles such as American heiresses and lengthy book tours, their relationship blossomed and he proposed. Wilde was then considered rather a ladies' man, Moyle notes, but already there were hints, by Constance's brother Otho, of more worrying tendencies.
Constance didn't want to know and it's hard not to like her stance and admire her brave challenge to society and determination to marry the man she wanted. Did she really "pay a high price" for that, as Moyle suggests? She was very happy for a long time – two children quickly followed the Wildes' marriage (Moyle hints that the second birth ended sexual relations between a couple which had, up until then, been passionate). But Constance wanted her life to be about more than a husband and babies, and she published children's stories (Moyle argues convincingly that she may have not simply transcribed Wilde's story, The Selfish Giant, but actually rewritten it), became involved with the women's suffrage movement, and studied spiritualism; this resulted in a very strange initiation ceremony which many believed she only did because Wilde wanted good material for a story.
As her husband's fame and fortune increased, so Constance became something of a celebrity in her own right. Is that why she ignored her husband's associations with handsome young men? It seems remarkable that she could have been unaware of his predilections, his nocturnal visits to opium dens and brothels. Moyle gives Constance the benefit of the doubt, but it seems a classic case of denial. Constance made too many trips away to friends' homes in the final years of their marriage for it to have been anything but running away from the truth. What cannot be denied, though, is that this brave, loyal woman lived up to her name, visiting her husband in prison and willing, even, to take him back. She died at the age of 40, after a botched operation. Constance lived a remarkable life, and, tragic though the end may have been, I wonder if she would have changed much of it.
Lesley McDowell is the author of Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers, published by Gerald Duckworth & Co, £16.99
Heartbreak, betrayal and the unimportance of being Mrs Oscar Wilde
CONSTANCE: THE TRAGIC AND SCANDALOUS LIFE OF MRS OSCAR WILDE BY FRANNY MOYLE (John Murray £20)
By BEL MOONEY 1 July 2011 in Daily Mail online
When Oscar Wilde first visited her in 1881 she was ‘shaking with fright’. Just over two years later Constance Lloyd wrote to her beloved brother: ‘Prepare yourself for an astounding piece of news. I’m engaged to Oscar Wilde and perfectly and insanely happy.’
Otho Lloyd congratulated his prospective brother-in-law by the next post: ‘If Constance makes as good a wife as she has been a good sister to me, your happiness is certain. She is staunch and true.’ And indeed she was.
But no one could possibly have imagined what future heartbreak and shame Oscar Wilde presented to his wife within the heart-shaped engagement ring he designed himself.
Last week I was sitting next to a distinguished historian at lunch who, on hearing that I was reviewing this book, quipped: ‘Oh, is there enough to make a whole book on Mrs Oscar Wilde?’
Thus are the wives of famous men consigned to the shadows. In the case of Oscar Wilde, popular belief sees the gay man marrying for convenience (and children) before reverting to his true sexuality. Even his work has been over-shadowed by the image of a precious, witty, man-about-town, sporting a green carnation.
No wonder his wife seems a mere cipher - an object of pity, but not a person in her own right. Franny Moyle’s terrific biography sets the record straight.
I have no doubt that Oscar Wilde genuinely loved her - at least, at first. And with good reason. Pretty, energetic, intelligent and talented, Constance Wilde is portrayed by her biographer as a thoroughly modern woman.
Rebelling against her dreadful mother and espousing radical causes - from supporting striking dockers to arguing that women should wear less cumbersome clothes - Constance was certainly somebody worth knowing.
She spoke French, read Italian, painted with skill and went to college to study Shelley.
An early feminist, she had bold, innovative ideas about fashion and interior design and wrote children’s stories, too. This young woman was perfectly equipped to become half of a celebrity couple.
Ironically, the author of The Importance Of Being Ernest, and so many other works of genius, was once thought to be rather a ladies’ man.
But that was before the green carnations, the monstrously egotistical affectations, the rent boys and Lord Alfred Douglas.
It would be wrong to think of Oscar’s marriage as a cover-up of his real self. Seven months after their wedding in 1884 he wrote to Constance from Scotland: ‘I feel your fingers in my hair and your cheeks brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours.’
So - love there was and frustration at the separations ‘that keep our lips from kissing’.
But this fashionable couple embarked on a dangerous path, believing in freedom and independence as much as any self-consciously ‘cool’ partnership of the Sixties in our own time. Right from the beginning they spent too much time apart. Then, just one year after writing the passionate letter above, Wilde confessed to a friend that the romantic feelings he once held for his wife had shifted into ‘a curious mixture of ardour and indifference’.
It is a strange experience to read this book, like watching a car crash in slow motion and longing to cry out: ‘Stop!’
Intelligent and imaginative as she undoubtedly was, Constance must have observed that her husband was inordinately fond of the company of young men. The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890) raised eyebrows because of its focus on male beauty, but Constance was (as Moyle puts it) ‘immune to the insinuations’.
By now she had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, travelled a lot, spent weeks at a time in Devon with an older woman friend, tried to juggle their perilous finances, but still delighted in her husband and took pride in his work. It is one of Franny Moyle’s missions to emphasise ‘the commitment the couple continued to have to one another in the first years of the 1890s’.
Nevertheless, I can only see Constance as a woman in denial, constantly on the move to avoid subconscious awareness of what her husband was up to and her own incipient depression.
She doted on her eldest son, neglected Vyvyan and ignored the chasm opening up within her marriage. Even her closest friend - perhaps scenting danger - told her to slow down.
Which is not to blame Constance in any way for the tragedy that befell her family. That was left to the poisonous Lord Alfred Douglas, who dragged Oscar Wilde into the depths and then (years later) had the insolence to reproach the wronged wife for what happened.
‘Bosie’ was a spoilt, effete young aristocrat who entered Wilde’s life as a fan and became his lover and destroyer. Wilde was smitten by the beautiful young man, but his passion turned into a fatal addiction.
On the one hand he frequented expensive hotels, lavishing money he didn’t have on Bosie, as well as entertaining ‘renters’ and behaving with increasing recklessness.
On the other hand, Constance’s ‘beloved Oscar’ could dedicate his second book of fairy tales to his wife in loving and uplifting language. Wilde was pulled in two directions, but it was the manipulative, demanding, greedy, selfish Bosie who won.
The facts of the notorious libel case against Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry and the subsequent trial of Oscar Wilde for gross indecency - resulting in two years’ hard labour - are well known.
But here we focus on poor Constance - well-named for all she tried to do for her husband, but forced in the end to flee abroad and change her name to Holland.
Later Vyvyan remembered his mother ‘in tears, poring over masses of press cuttings’. So-called celebrities caught in the spotlight today can’t even approach the public disgrace that was faced by anyone associated with Oscar Wilde - including his innocent wife.
The drama ended sadly, madly, badly. The love that once existed between Constance and Oscar was reduced to a fight over money and mutual recrimination.
Constance died a miserable death aged 39 after an operation in Genoa. Wilde followed her two years later, having visited her grave (then omitting his name) and writing sorrowfully: ‘Life is a terrible thing.’
As for the beastly Bosie, his judgement on Constance takes your breath away: ‘If she had treated him properly and stuck to him, after he had been in prison, as a really good wife would have done, he would have gone on loving her to the end of his life. Obviously, she suffered a good deal and deserves sympathy, but she fell woefully short of the height to which she might have risen.’
Franny Moyle does not gloss over Constance’s failures as a mother, nor her wilful blindness as a wife, but leaves us with a picture of a brave woman who married the wrong man - but loved him just the same.
Frank Smythson Ltd., more simply known as Smythson, of Bond Street is a British manufacturer of luxury stationery, leather goods, diaries, and fashion products based in London, England. Smythson opened his first shop on 29 September 1887 at 133, New Bond Street, London. The current flagship store is located at 40 New Bond Street, London. Clients have included the current Royal Family, Queen Victoria, Sir Edmund Hillary, Madonna, and Grace Kelly.
Smythson's can customise its products, particularly for weddings and parties. The highest-end stationery is often detailed with 24-carat gilded edges, hand-painted borders, custom-engraved motifs and monograms.
In 1908 the company created the first featherweight diary, enabling diaries to be carried about.
Smythson opened its first freestanding store in the United States on West 57th Street near Fifth Avenue in New York City. SawickiTarella Architecture Design designed the shop using simple lines and colours following the style of the store's products. Smythson products are also available at the high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman around the corner. The products are also sold in small boutique-style alcoves inside Harvey Nichols, Harrods, and Selfridges department stores in the United Kingdom.
In the 1950s, the John Menzies Group acquired Smythson, which was at the time also operating under the name "Pendragon". In 1998, Smythson's then managing director Sarah Elton led a management buyout backed by a private investor. Since then, the business has grown and the company is now operating six outlets in the UK and one in the U.S. In 2004, Smythson recorded £12m in sales revenues.
In early 2005, Smythson shareholders appointed Cavendish Corporate Finance Limited to advise on the disposal of their stake in the business. Besides maximizing value for themselves, the shareholders wanted to find a buyer who would protect the heritage of the brand and offer the management team the opportunity to continue to grow.
Kelso Place Asset Management and King Street Partners, backed by a consortium of high net worth individuals, were identified as the preferred bidders. Sarah Elton commented that she was satisfied with the deal.
In mid December 2009 the label was sold for £18m to Greenwill SA, the holding company for Tivoli Group, an Italian leather goods manufacturer. Jacques Bahbout has become Chief Executive and Chairman of Smythson.
For the Autumn/Winter 2010 Collection, Smythson collaborated with British designer Holly Fulton to produce a capsule collection of diaries and accessories.
An exhibition organized by the Kent State University Museum
Katharine Hepburn knew the importance of costume in defining character and drawing the audience into a story. She had a sure sense of what would work for her. Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen includes costumes Katharine Hepburn kept in her personal collection of performance clothes, wardrobe which she wore for publicity, and examples of “rebel chic” from her casual and rehearsal wear. Augmented with film still, posters and playbills, the exhibition spans her long career in theater, film and television. Wonderful costume designers are represented with stage costumes by Valentina, Howard Greer, Cecil Beaton, and Jane Greenwood, as well as film costumes by Walter Plunkett, Irene, Muriel King, and Margaret Furse. The Lincoln Center presentation will also include costume research, sketches and comments from Hepburn’s correspondence, scripts and notebooks in the Katharine Hepburn Papers, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
New York Public Library To Showcase Style Icon
By ULA ILNYTZKY 10/18/12 in http://www.huffingtonpost.com
NEW YORK — A new exhibition is hailing the fashion sense of Katharine Hepburn, whose trademark khakis and open-collar shirts were decidedly unconventional in the 1930s and 40s, when girdles and stockings were the order of the day.
The fiercely independent Hepburn famously once said: "Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say, `Try one. Try a skirt.'"
But skirts and dresses abound in "Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen" at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which opens Thursday.
Hepburn, who died in 2003 at age 96, saved almost all the costumes from her long career that included four Oscars and such memorable films as "The Philadelphia Story," "The African Queen," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "On Golden Pond." Forty are on view at the exhibition, which runs through Jan. 12.
One of the first things visitors will notice is how slender Hepburn was – she had a 20-inch waist – and a grouping of seven khaki pants artfully arranged on a pair of mannequin legs.
"The fact that she wore slacks and wanted to be comfortable influenced women's ready-to-wear in the United States," said Jean Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum, which was given 700 items from Hepburn's estate. Kent State was selected because it's one of the country's only museums of performance clothes.
"That image said to the American woman `Look you don't have to be in your girdle and stockings and tight dress. You can be comfortable. That was probably the first aspect of becoming a fashion icon," said Druesedow, a co-curator of the exhibition.
The strong-willed actress known for taking charge of her career worked closely with all her designers to decide her performing wardrobe.
"They understood what would help her characters, what she would feel comfortable wearing ... how it would support the story," Druesedow said.
Margaret Furse, an English designer who created Hepburn's wardrobes for "The Lion in Winter," "A Delicate Balance" and "Love Among the Ruins," went shopping with the star and talked extensively about what kinds of things would set the scene.
Among the highlights is a stunning satin and lace wedding gown created by Howard Greer for her role as Stella Surrege in "The Lake." The 1933 production was her first major Broadway role and also a huge flop. Writer and wit Dorothy Parker described her performance as running "the gamut of emotion from A to B." The experience taught Hepburn to have a bigger say in what roles she accepted, said Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, curator of exhibitions at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
When she really liked a costume she had copies made for herself, sometimes in a different color or fabric. A silk dress and coat by Norman Hartnell from "Suddenly, Last Summer" and a green raw silk jumpsuit by Valentina from "The Philadelphia Story" were among the pieces she had copied.
Comfort was paramount to Hepburn – being able to throw her leg over a chair or sit on the floor. She always wore her `uniform' – khakis and a shirt – to rehearsals and pant ensembles to publicity appearances.
A companion book, "Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic," describes how RKO executives hid Hepburn's trousers in an effort to persuade her to abandon them.
"Her response was to threaten to walk around the lot naked. Though she only stripped down as far as her silk underwear before stepping out of her dressing room, she made her point – and she got her trousers back," fashion writer Nancy MacDonell wrote in an essay for the book.
But comfort didn't mean sacrificing style – and she certainly knew how to be glamorous especially when a role called for it.
In her private life, she shopped at the major cutting-edge New York couturiers and worked with the best costume shops of the period, including Muriel King and Valentina, said Cohen-Stratyner.
"She really appreciated good fabric and good construction," she said. "Even her trousers are couture."
The exhibition is supplemented by film clips, movie posters, and archival photographs of Hepburn wearing the very costumes worn by the mannequins. Her false eyelashes, makeup trays and sensible shoes are also on display.
Jeeves wishes Fine and Dandy a good start ... and Merry Christmas
A week ago Saturday we quietly opened the doors of our new shop in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. I say "quietly" because we've considered it a soft opening with our official press opening/party in a few weeks. We wanted some time to work out the kinks before heavily promoting the shop. After an incredible week and a unanimously positive response from the folks in the neighborhood, we're ready to announce that we're open. So please come visit: 445 West 49th Street. Mon-Sat noon-8, Sun noon-7. (212) 247-4847. We're looking forward to seeing you in person!
NOVEMBER 13, 2012
Enrique and Matt, the proud shopkeepers, in front of Fine and Dandy at 445 West 49th Street, NYC
Photographs / iphone using instagram.by Rose Callahan in @rcallahanphoto / http://dandyportraits.blogspot.nl
George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (26 June 1866 – 5 April 1923) was an English aristocrat best known as the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Born at the family home, Highclere Castle, in Hampshire on 26 June 1866, George Herbert was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, succeeding to the Carnarvon title in 1890. On 26 June 1895, at St. Margaret's Church, Carnarvon married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell. daughter of Marie Wombwell née Boyer, the wife of Captain Frederick Charles Wombwell, but her real father was believed to be Alfred de Rothschild, the unmarried member of the prominent Rothschild banking family of England who made Lady Carnarvon his heiress.
Exceedingly wealthy, Lord Carnarvon was at first best known as an owner of racehorses and as a reckless driver of early automobiles, suffering - in 1901 - a serious motoring accident near Bad Schwalbach in Germany which left him significantly disabled.
In 1902, the 5th Earl established Highclere Stud to breed thoroughbred racehorses. In 1905, he was appointed one of the Stewards at the new Newbury Racecourse. His family has maintained the connection ever since. His grandson, Henry George Reginald Molyneux Herbert, 7th Earl of Carnarvon, was racing manager to Queen Elizabeth II from 1969, and one of Her Majesty's closest friends.
The 5th Earl was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, undertaking in 1907 to sponsor the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahri (Thebes). Howard Carter joined him as his assistant in the excavations. It is now established that it was Gaston Maspero, then Director of the Antiquities Department, who proposed Carter to Lord Carnarvon.
Lord Carnarvon received in 1914 the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings, in replacement of Theodore Davis who had resigned. It was in 1922 that they together opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, exposing treasures unsurpassed in the history of archaeology.
On 5 April 1923, Carnarvon died in the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo, in the Kingdom of Egypt. This led to the story of the "Curse of Tutankhamun", the "Mummy's Curse". His death is most probably explained by blood poisoning (progressing to pneumonia) after accidentally shaving a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas. His colleague and employee, Howard Carter, the man most responsible for revealing the tomb of the young king, lived safely for another sixteen years.
Carnarvon's tomb, appropriately for an archaeologist, is located within an ancient hill fort overlooking his family seat at Beacon Hill, Burghclere, Hampshire.
Carnarvon was survived by his wife Almina, who re-married, and their two children:
The curse of the pharaohs refers to the belief that any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh is placed under a curse.
There are occasional instances of curses appearing inside or on the facade of a tomb as in the case of the mastaba of Khentika Ikhekhi of the 6th dynasty at Saqqara. These appear to be more directed towards the ka priests to carefully protect the tomb and preserve ritual purity rather than a warning for potential robbers. Though there had been stories of curses going back to the nineteenth century, they multiplied in the aftermath of Howard Carter's discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. There was no actual curse found in the Pharaoh's tomb. The evidence for such curses relating to King Tutankhamun has been considered to be so meager that it is viewed as "unadulterated clap trap" by Donald B. Redford.
Curses relating to tombs are rare, perhaps through the idea of such desecration being unthinkable and dangerous to record in writing. They most frequently occur in private tombs of the Old Kingdom era. The tomb of Ankhtifi (9-10th dynasty) contains the warning: "any ruler who... shall do evil or wickedness to this coffin... may Hemen [a local deity] not accept any goods he offers, and may his heir not inherit". The tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi (9-10th dynasty) contains an inscription: "As for all men who shall enter this my tomb... impure... there will be judgment... an end shall be made for him... I shall seize his neck like a bird... I shall cast the fear of myself into him". Curses after the Old Kingdom era are less common though more severe in expression, sometimes invoking the ire of Thoth or the destruction of Sekhemet. Zahi Hawass quotes an example of a curse: "Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose."
Modern accounts of curses
Hieroglyphs were not deciphered until the beginning of the 19th century by Jean-François Champollion so any reports of curses prior to this are in the domain of perceived bad luck associated with the handling of mummies and other artifacts from tombs. Louis Penicher wrote an account in 1699 in which he records how a Polish traveler bought two mummies in Alexandria and embarked on a sea journey with the mummies in the cargo hold. He was alarmed by recurring visions of two specters and stormy seas that did not abate until the mummies were thrown overboard.
Zahi Hawass recalled that as a young archaeologist excavating at Kom Abu-Bellou he had to transport a number of artifacts from the Greco-Roman site. On the day he did so his cousin died, on the anniversary of that day his uncle died and on the third anniversary his aunt died. Years later when he excavated the tombs of the builders of the pyramids at Giza he encountered the curse: "All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it may the crocodile be against them in water, and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land." Though not superstitious, he decided not to disturb the mummies. However, he later was involved in the removal of two child mummies from Bahariya Oasis to a museum and subsequently reported how he was haunted by the children in his dreams. These phenomena did not stop until the mummy of the father was re-united with the children in the museum. He came to the conclusion that mummies should not be displayed though it was a lesser evil than allowing the general public into the tombs. Hawass also recorded an incident relating to a sick young boy who loved Ancient Egypt and was subject to a "miracle" cure in the Egyptian Museum when he looked into the eyes of the mummy of King Ahmose I. Thereafter the boy read everything he could find on Ancient Egypt, especially the Hyksos period.
The idea of a mummy's curse was developed in The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, an early work combining elements of science fiction and horror, written by Jane C. Loudon and published anonymously in 1827. Louisa May Alcott is thought to have been the first to use a "mummy curse" plot in her 1869 story "Lost in a Pyramid".
Opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb
The Anubis figure which guarded the entrance to Tutankhamun's treasury room.The belief in a curse was brought to many people's attention due to the deaths of the members of the team of Howard Carter, who opened the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) in 1922, launching the modern era of Egyptology.
The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted worked with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb. He reported how Carter sent a messenger on an errand to his house. On approaching his home he thought he heard a "faint, almost human cry". On reaching the entrance he saw the bird cage occupied by a cobra, the symbol of Egyptian monarchy. Carter's canary had died in its mouth and this fueled local rumors of a curse. Arthur Weigall, a previous Inspector-General of Antiquities to the Egyptian Government, reported that this was interpreted as Carter's house being broken into by the Royal Cobra, the same as that worn on the King's head to strike enemies (see Uraeus), on the very day the King's tomb was being broken into. An account of the incident was reported by the New York Times on the 22nd December 1922.
The death of Lord Carnarvon six weeks after the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb resulted in many curse stories in the pressThe first of the "mysterious" deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and later slashed the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted. Two weeks before Carnarvon died Marie Corelli wrote an imaginative letter which was published in the New York World magazine in which she quoted an obscure book that confidently asserted that "dire punishment" would follow an intrusion into a sealed tomb. A media frenzy followed with reports that a curse had been found in the King's tomb, but this was untrue. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested at the time that Lord Carnarvon's death had been caused by "elementals" created by Tutankhamun's priests to guard the royal tomb and this further fueled the media interest. Arthur Weigall reported that six weeks before Carnarvon's death he had watched the Earl laughing and joking as he entered the King's tomb and his saying to a nearby reporter (H. V. Morton), "I give him six weeks to live." The first autopsy carried out on the body of Tutankhamun by Dr Derry found a healed lesion on the left cheek, but as Carnarvon had been buried six months previously it was not possible to determine if the location of the wound on the King corresponded with the location of the fatal mosquito bite on Carnarvon.
In 1925, the anthropologist Henry Field, accompanied by Breasted, visited the tomb and recalled the kindness and friendliness of Carter. He also reported how a paperweight given to Carter's friend Sir Bruce Ingham was composed of a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence." Soon after receiving the gift, Ingram's house burned down, followed by a flood when it was rebuilt.
Howard Carter was entirely skeptical of such curses. He did report in his diary a "strange" account that in May 1926 he saw jackals of the same type as Anubis, the guardian of the dead, for the first time in over thirty-five years of working in the desert.
Skeptics have pointed out that many others who visited the tomb or helped to discover it lived long and healthy lives. A study showed that of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died within a dozen years. All the others were still alive, including Howard Carter, who later died of lymphoma at the age of 64 in 1939.
Arthur Conan Doyle speculated in the press regarding the death of Lord Carnarvon so soon after opening of Tutankhamun's tombSome have speculated that deadly fungus could have grown in the enclosed tombs and been released when they were open to the air. Arthur Conan Doyle favoured this idea, and speculated that the mold had been placed deliberately to punish grave robbers.
A newspaper report printed following Carnarvon's death is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King" – a phrase which does not actually appear among the hieroglyphs in KV62, even though it was said to appear in several different places.
While there is no evidence that such pathogens killed Lord Carnarvon, there is no doubt that dangerous materials can accumulate in old tombs. Recent studies of newly opened ancient Egyptian tombs that had not been exposed to modern contaminants found pathogenic bacteria of the Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas genera, and the moulds Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus. Additionally, newly opened tombs often become roosts for bats, and bat guano may harbour histoplasmosis. However, at the concentrations typically found, these pathogens are generally only dangerous to persons with weakened immune systems.
Air samples taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hole showed high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide; these gases are all toxic, but are easily detected by their strong odours. Hydrogen sulfide is detectable at low concentrations (Up to 100PPM) beyond which it acts as a nerve agent on the olfactory senses. At 1000ppm it will kill with a single inhalation.
Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. Built on an ancient site, the original house was recorded in the Domesday Book.
The present day Castle was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect also responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
The Castle’s history also includes a fascinating connection with ancient Egypt, as the 5th Earl, with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The Castle now houses an exhibition that commemorates this historic event, including some rare antiquities from the 5th Earl's earlier Egyptian excavations.
We welcome many visitors each year to view the Castle, the Egyptian Exhibition and the surrounding Grounds and Gardens.
This unique setting is also available for private events, corporate events and film locations. We welcome individual enquiries regarding weddings, parties and other celebrations.
We hope that the photographs, videos and information on our web site inspire you to visit us or to enquire about an event.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Castle.
Remembering The Egyptian Exhibition in 2009
Egyptian Exhibition opens at Lord Carnarvon's Highclere Castle
Submitted by Ann on Fri, 07/24/2009
Highclere Castle where since July the Egyptian Exhibition is open to the public. Photo by JBUCK PlanetLord Carnarvon, the man who funded the discovery of KV-62 - the tomb of Tutankhamun - and died five months later in mysterious circumstances before he could actually see the mummy's face, was a superstitious man who wore the same lucky bow tie all his life. Such anecdotes are part of the 'Egyptian Exhibition' at Highclere Castle.
Rising in the Berkshire Hampshire countryside south of Newbury, England, the castle kept many secrets on its own. As the old Earl did not want to talk about Egypt, the collection was hidden away until 1987. But the long-hidden collection of Egyptian antiquities is now presented in its full glory - bigger room, better lighting, new cabinets - in the cellars of the castle, along with hundreds of unpublished photographs taken by Lord Carnarvon between 1907 and 1914, photographs from the discovery in 1922 of the Tomb of Tutankhamun and letters, notes and drawings from Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter. They were discovered two years ago in the family archives by Fiona, the Eighth Countess of Carnarvon who recently published 'Egypt at Highclere' and has also written 'Carnarvon & Carter'.
"These pictures reveal the enormous scale of excavations that Lord Carnarvon and Carter carried in the decade before their most sensational finding. They tell the story of two amazing men, who have never been fully recognized in England for the discovery they have made," the Countess of Carnarvon told Discovery Channel News.
Among the antiquities on display, are a splendid 3,500-year-old painted coffin of a woman named Irtyru, from Deir el-Bahri, a calcite shabti showing the head of Amenhotep III, silver bracelets from the Delta, faience bowls, a 5,000-year-old calcite dish used in priestly offerings, coffin faces carved in wood and alabaster vessels found at the entrance to the tomb of King Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II and the razor that caused the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon's death.
Does the Highclere castle looks strangely familiar to you? Don't worry, this could be perfectly normal, as the castle's front was used for exteriors of the orgy scenes in the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut. We do advise to adhere the rules of proper and decent behaviour when visiting! ;)
Highclere Castle, it's Grounds, Gardens and the Egyptian Exhibition are open Sunday to Thursday each week the 3rd of September 2009. From 11am until 4.30pm. Last admission is at 3.30pm.
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon
Author and Expert on Ancient Egypt
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon is no ordinary peer. Born Fiona Aitken, she has already had a colourful career encompassing a number of positions and professions. She is married to George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon; thus making her the 8th Countess.
A former auditor at Coopers & Lybrand, Fiona is perfectly suited to running affairs at Highclere Castle, where she and her husband reside. Fiona has also runs her own fashion label, Azur, which operated in the States from 1995 to 2004. Fiona's guardianship of the estate extends to its grounds and gardens, events and the Egyptian Exhibition - around which she and her husband regularly take visitors.
Fiona has also written two books on the most famous character in her lineage - the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. The first, Carnarvon & Carter, examines the illustrious duo, their early work together and the extraordinary tale of their relationship and search for the hallowed tomb.