Classical-style statue, probably of an actor, showing comedy/tragedy mask, Anglesey Abbey Gardens, Quy, near Cambridge
Why am I especially drawn to magical realism, ghost tales and fantasy at this time of year? Maybe because of the cold and the long, dark evenings.
This statue, which I photographed at Anglesey Abbey, has provided ideas for recent writing. (I even used it as a prompt for one of my writing groups – more winter’s tales for me to enjoy!)
My first ideas were loosely linked to a favourite narrative poem, My Last Duchess by Robert Browning, published in 1842. In it, the narrator of the monologue (The Duke of Ferrara) shows off the latest painting in his collection, of his late wife – and, in discussing it in courtly and polite company, his violent part in her untimely death becomes apparent. I’m also looking forward to reading Maggie O’Farrell’s novel The Marriage Portrait – inspired by this poem about this (real) painting of a (real) person. In my (micro) version, I imagine a husband showing off a statue of his late wife to potential new brides, whilst she, somehow imprisoned in the statue, is unable to lift the mask to warn them of the horror of the situation.
I’ve also been very immersed in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale which I’m directing for the Wivenhoe Open Air Shakespeare Company in June 2023. The ‘statue coming to life’ scene at the end is one I always find tremendously moving. (Once she speaks, Hermione says she ‘preserved herself’ to see the oracle come true, and to finally meet her abducted daughter, so we can assume she’s pretending to be a statue – a challenge for any actor!) I’ve been experimenting with writing a magical-realist version of this from the perspective of Perdita, her daughter.
Both pieces of writing are works-in-progress, for now.
The statue in my photo probably dates from the 18th Century when garden statuary became very popular, and is Classical Greek in style. The figure is of a young male actor holding a mask displaying an almost grotesque face. This seems somewhat removed from the traditional happy/sad theatre masks used in Greek theatre, and also as a symbol of theatre nowadays. These masks, ritually-used, enabled audience members to see the ‘correct’ facial expressions, with the added bonus of amplifying the actor’s voice.
What are your winter reading recommendations?