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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Dishing The Lady of Shalott (Maurice Baring: The Camelot Jousts)


The Lady of Shalott: John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), 1888 (Tate Gallery)

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Outside the isle a shallow boat
Beneath a willow lay afloat,
Below the carven stern she wrote,
The Lady of Shalott.

A cloudwhite crown of pearl she dight,
All raimented in snowy white
That loosely flew (her zone in sight
Clasp'd with one blinding diamond bright)
Her wide eyes fix'd on Camelot,
Though the squally east-wind keenly
Blew, with folded arms serenely
By the water stood the queenly
Lady of Shalott.

With a steady stony glance--
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Beholding all his own mischance,
Mute, with a glassy countenance--
She look'd down to Camelot.
It was the closing of the day:
She loos'd the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

As when to sailors while they roam,
By creeks and outfalls far from home,
Rising and dropping with the foam,
From dying swans wild warblings come,
Blown shoreward; so to Camelot
Still as the boathead wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her chanting her deathsong,
The Lady of Shalott.

A longdrawn carol, mournful, holy,
She chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her eyes were darken'd wholly,
And her smooth face sharpen'd slowly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot:
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott (1833), from Part the Fourth

Guinevere to King Arthur

CAMELOT, Monday.

Dearest Arthur,
I am feeling a little better. Merlin, who came over the other day from Broceliande, advised me to drink a glass of tepid water before breakfast every day and not to eat brown bread. This treatment has really done me good. I will see that everything is ready for the Jousts. They are getting on with the lists, but they have painted the outside paling red instead of green, which is very provoking. I think we must send the Under Seneschal away at Lady Day. He forgets everything.
I have asked Yniol to stay at the castle for the Jousts, and the Lord of Astolat and one of his sons. (We can't be expected to ask the whole family.) I thought it was no use asking poor little Elaine because she never goes anywhere now and hates the Jousts. Do you think we must ask Merlin this year? We asked him last year and I don't see that we need to ask him every year. He has become so cross and crotchety, and Vivien complained that when he was here last year he behaved disgracefully to her and was quite impossible. Of course, I will do exactly as you like. I have asked Sir Valence, Sir Sagramore, Sir Percevale, Sir Pelleas, and Sir Modred. I won't have Melissande, she is so peevish and complaining.
Then there is King Mark. Shall I ask him? Without Iseult, of course. He can't expect us to ask her after all that has happened. I hear the King of Orkney asked them both and that he now expects her to be asked, but nothing shall induce me to receive her. If you think it is impossible to ask him alone we had better leave it, and ask neither of them.
Oh! I quite forgot. There's Lancelot. Shall we ask him to stay? He's been so often, so if you would rather not have him we can quite well leave him out this time. I don't want him to think he's indispensable to you.
The weather has been fine and the hedges are a mass of primroses. Vivi the cat (I christened her after dear Vivien) caught a mouse yesterday. Do come back quickly.

Your loving

A Tale from the Decameron: John William Waterhouse, 1916 (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool)

King Arthur to Guinevere

CARLEON, March 20.

My dearest Guinevere,
I was delighted to hear from you. I am glad that you are recovering, but I must beg you to take care of yourself. These east winds are very trying and the March sun most treacherous. We shall arrive two or three days before Whitsuntide. I will let you know the exact day. We have had a most successful and satisfactory time in every way. We rescued six damsels and captured two wizards and one heathen King. The knights behaved admirably.
With regard to the Jousts I do not wish to seem inhospitable, but are you sure that there is room for every one you mention? Merlin must, of course, be asked. He would be very much hurt if we left him out.
As to King Mark, we must ask him also with the Queen. They are now completely and officially reconciled, and Tristram is engaged to be married to a Princess in Brittany. Therefore, since King Mark has magnanimously forgiven and forgotten, it would not be seemly for us to cast any insidious slight upon them. To ask neither of them would be a slight, but to ask the King without the Queen would be a deliberate outrage. Besides, apart from our private feelings, the public good must be considered. We cannot afford to risk a war with Tintagel at this moment. I shall, of course, ask Lancelot. He is with me now. I cannot see any possible objection to his coming, and I have the greatest regard for him.
Please wrap up well when you go out. I am, with much love,

Your devoted husband,

Ophelia: John William Waterhouse, 1889

Sir Lancelot to Guinevere

March 21.

The King has asked me to stay for the Jousts. From what he said about your health I gather you do not want me to come, so I said my old wound would not allow me to take part in the Jousts. Perhaps it is better that I should stay away. People are beginning to talk. Burn.


The Lady of Shalott Looking at Lancelot: John William Waterhouse, 1894

Guinevere to King Arthur

CAMELOT, Friday.

Dearest Arthur,
Of course you know best. I entirely give in about Merlin and Lancelot, although I do think Merlin is trying, and that it makes the others jealous to ask him so often. But it is rather hard on me to be obliged to receive Iseult.
Of course with your noble nature you only see the good side of everything and everybody, but in Iseult's case the scandal was so public and the things they did so extraordinary that it is difficult to behave to her just as if it had never happened.
I like Iseult personally. I always liked her, but I do think it is trying that she should put on airs of virtue and insist on being respected. However, I have asked her and Mark. If they have any sense of decency they will refuse. I am quite well now. Merlin really did me good. We are having delicious weather, and I miss you all very much. Sir Galahad stopped here on his way West yesterday, but never said a word. I have ordered a new gown for the Jousts, but it is not finished yet. The weavers are too tiresome. The lists are getting on. If possible, bring me back six-and-a-half yards of the best green Samite, double width, from Carleon. The same shade as I had before. They can't match the shade here. I am so glad everything went off well. It seem [sic] centuries to Whitsuntide.

Your loving

File:Waterhouse, John William - Saint Cecilia - 1895 .jpg

Saint Cecelia: John William Waterhouse, 1895 (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)

Guinevere to Lancelot


I am sending this by P——, who is entirely to be trusted. You were wrong. It is most necessary that you should come to the Jousts. Your absence would be far more noticed than your presence. It is a pity you told that foolish lie. It is a great mistake ever to tell unnecessary lies. However, now it's done, the best thing you can do is to come disguised as an unknown knight. Then when you reveal yourself at the end— for I suppose there is no chance of your not winning?— you can say you thought your name gave you an unfair advantage, and that you wished to meet the knights on equal terms. The King will be pleased at this. It is an idea after his own heart.
Iseult is coming with King Mark. At first I thought this dangerous, but there was nothing to be done, and she will be quite safe as her one idea now is to be thought respectable, only we must be most careful. Iseult is a cat.
I dare not write more.


Miranda -- The Tempest
: John William Waterhouse, 1916

Guinevere to Iseult

CAMELOT, April 21.

Darling Iseult,
I am overjoyed that you can both come. It will be too delightful to see you again. It is ages since we have met, isn't it? I do hope that the King is quite well and that his lumbago is not troubling him. Merlin will be here, and he will be sure to do him good. He might also do something for his deafness.
Arthur will be delighted to hear you are coming. He is devoted to the King. It will be a tiny party, of course— only Merlin, Yniol, Orkneys, Astolats, and a few of the knights. We will try to make you comfortable; but Camelot isn't Tintagel, and we have nothing to compare with your wonderful woods.
Good-bye, darling, give my best regards to the King.

Your loving

P.S.—Sir Kay Hedius has just come back from Brittany. He was at our old friend Sir Tristram's wedding. He said it was glorious, and that she— Iseult the Lily-handed— was a dream of beauty. Tristram was looking very well and in tearing spirits. He's grown quite fat. Isn't it funny?

Tristan and Isolde with the Potion: John William Waterhouse, 1911 (collection Fred and Sherry Ross)

Iseult to Guinevere


Darling Guinevere,
Thank you so much for your most kind letter. I am afraid that after all I shall not be able to come to the Jousts. It is too tiresome. But I have not been at all well lately and the physicians say I must have a change of air. I am ordered to the French coast and the King has got some cousins who live in a charming little house on the coast of Normandy. I am starting to-morrow, and I shall probably stay there during the whole month of May. It is too tiresome to miss the Jousts, and you cannot imagine how disappointed I am. The King will, of course, come without me.
I hear that Sir Lancelot of the Lake is not going to compete this year for the Diamond on account of his health. I am so sorry. The people here say he is afraid of being beaten, and that there is a wonderful new knight called Lamorack who is better than everybody. Isn't it absurd? People are so spiteful. How you must miss the dear King, and you must be so lonely at Camelot without any of the knights.
By the way, is it true that Sir Lancelot is engaged to Elaine, the daughter of the Lord of Astolat? She is quite lovely, but I never thought that Lancelot cared for young girls. I think she is only sixteen.

Your loving

'I am half-sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott: John William Waterhouse, 1916

Guinevere to Lancelot


The King has just told me whose sleeve it was you wore to-day. I now understand everything, and I must say I did not suspect you of playing this kind of double game. I do hate lies and liars, and, above all, stupid liars. It is, of course, very humiliating to make such a mistake about a man. But I hope you will be happy with Elaine, and I pray Heaven she may never find you out.


Windswept: John William Waterhouse, 1902

Maurice Baring (1874-1945): The Camelot Jousts, 1910 (via The Camelot Project)

Elaine of Astolat, as Malory and Tennyson (et al.) tell, is a maiden who dies of unrequited love for Lancelot and floats in a barge to Camelot with a letter for him clutched in her limp and lifeless hand.


Anonymous said...

Haha. Though it was written first, this reminds me of The Twelve Days Of Christmas, A Correspondence, by John Julius Norwich.

It's funny to think of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and that nearly a decade later Waterhouse was painting A Tale from the Decameron. After having attended our art history classes in Modernism it's easy to overlook things like that.

Michael Peverett said...

Oh that's funny! I didn't know about it before.
Makes me want to give up my life and spend the next month reading Chretien Maleorre Tennyson T.H.White Gottfried Wolfram AndrewLang Layamon Wace Geoffrey of Monmouth the Mabinogion Gawain-poet and all the anonymous arthurians, the more obscure the better...

TC said...


For some years now I have been reading Malory as comedy. After all, what else would one write in prison. I once tried (well, embarrassingly enough, actually went so far as to write) a mock-Arthurian tale set in the American backwoods, with a a wandering-eyed hillbilly named Big Jesus as my Lancelot. But of course it came out not one-tenth as funny as Malory.

Artur, the Norwich spoof of the Twelve Days of Christmas, very much in the Baring vein, induced laughs-out-loud:

4th January

This is the last straw. You know I detest bagpipes.

The place has now become something between a menagerie and a

We did get a great rise out of the the Baring. The brightness and rightness of the undercutting humour some twenty years or more before Waugh or Mitford.

TC said...

I suppose if anyone should dare write about such matters, they had better be in Burke's Peerage.

"Major Hon. Maurice Baring was born on 27 April 1874. He was the son of Edward Charles Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke of Membland and Louisa Emily Charlotte Bulteel. He died on 16 December 1945 at age 71, unmarried.
"Major Hon. Maurice Baring was educated at Eton College, Eton, Berkshire, England. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. He was in the Diplomatic Service between 1897 and 1904. He wrote the book Hildesheim and Quatre Pastices, published 1899. He wrote the book The Black Prince, published 1902. He wrote the book Gaston de Foix, published 1903. He was a foreign correspondent for the Morning Post, reporting from Manchuria, Russia and Constantinople between 1904 and 1909. He wrote the book Mahasena, published 1905. He wrote the book With the Russians in Manchuria, published 1905. He wrote the book Desiderio, published 1906. He wrote the book Thoughts on Art and Leonardo da Vinci, published 1906, translator. He wrote the book Sonnets and Short Poems, published 1906.He wrote the book A Year in Russia, published 1907. He wrote the book Prosperpine, published 1908. He wrote the book Russian Essays and Stories, published 1909.He wrote the book The Story of Forget Me Not and Lily of the Valley, published 1909. He wrote the book Orpheus in Mayfair, published 1909.He wrote the book Landmarks in Russian Literature, published 1910.He wrote the book Diminutive Dramas, published 1910. He wrote the book The Grey Stocking and Other Plays, published 1911. He wrote the book Collected Poems, published 1911. He wrote the book The Russian People, published 1911."

TC said...

"He was a Times special correspondent in the Balkans in 1912. He wrote the book Lost Diaries, published 1913.1He wrote the book Letters From the Near East, published 1913.He wrote the book Palamon and Arcite, published 1913.He wrote the book What I Saw in Russia, published 1913.He fought in the First World War, where he was mentioned in despatches.He gained the rank of Temporary Lieutenant in 1914 in the service of the Intelligence Corps, and Royal Flying Corps, British Expeditionary Force. He wrote the book The Mainsprings of Russia, published 1914. He wrote the book Round the World in Any Number of Days, published 1914. He wrote the book An Outline of Russian Literature, published 1914. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in September 1915.He gained the rank of Captain in October 1915. He wrote the book English Landscape: an anthology, published 1916. He wrote the book Translations by S. C., published 1916. He gained the rank of Major in 1917.He wrote the book Poems, 1914-17, published 1918. He was invested as a Officer, Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in 1918.He gained the rank of Staff Officer between May 1918 and December 1918 in the service of the Indian Air Force. He wrote the book Translations Ancient and Modern, published 1919. He wrote the book R.F.C.H.Q. 1914-18, published 1920.He wrote the book Poems, 1914-19, published 1921. He wrote the book Passing By, published 1921. He wrote the book The Puppet Show of Memory, published 1922. He wrote the book Overlooked, published 1922. He wrote the book His Majesty's Embassy, published 1923. He wrote the book A Triangle, published 1923. He wrote the book C., published 1924. He wrote the book Punch and Judy and Other Essays, published 1924. He wrote the book Collected Poems, published 1925. He wrote the book Cat's Cradle, published 1925. He wrote the book Translations with Originals, published 1925. He wrote the book Half a Minute's Silence, published 1925. He gained the rank of Honorary Wing Commander in 1925 in the service of the Reserve of Air Force Officers.1He wrote the book Daphne Adeane, published 1926. He wrote the book Last Days at Tsarskoe Selo, published 1926, translator. He wrote the book Tinker's Leave, published 1927.1 He wrote the book Algae, published 1928. He wrote the book Comfortless Memory, published 1928. He wrote the book The Boat Without Seam, published 1929. He wrote the book Fantastic, published 1929, translator. He wrote the book Robert Peckham, published 1930. He was invested as a Fellow, Royal Society of Literature (F.R.S.L.). He wrote the book In the End is my Beginning, published 1931. He wrote the book Friday's Business, published 1932. He wrote the book Lost Lectures, published 1932. He wrote the book Sarah Bernhardt, published 1933. He wrote the book The Lonely Lady of Dulwich, published 1934. He wrote the book Darby and Joan, published 1935. He wrote the book Unreliable History, published 1935.1He was decorated with the award of Officer, Legion of Honour in 1935. He wrote the book Have you anything to declare?, published 1936. He wrote the book Russian Lyrics, published 1942."

TC said...

Here he sits, in somewhat rumpled state, with Belloc and Chesterton, for Sir James Gunn.

A bit more light in spirit is this silhouette, with crown.

TC said...

Artur, about the Waterhouses, they're very... odd, in a way.

In that top image of the Lady in her boat, for example, though ostensibly distraught, half-mad and about to drown herself, she has this... well, odd... look in the corner of her eye.

I read from it something like:

"Are they watching yet?"

Ed Baker said...

these images everyone
AND that poem

[especially the (single) line] :

"Through the squally east-wind keenly"

"made" me the poet/artist that I am today


Oh to be that dinghy or in it cleanly ... I just might get into another book !

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed these letters immensely. Guinevere could not be more manipulative! I had never pictured her that way. I love the story of the Lady of Shalott and certainly find Tennyson's verses delightful. I used to have the picture captioned "'I am half-sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott: John William Waterhouse, 1916" as my profile picture when I just started with my blog. I sometimes feel like Elaine, you know? Watching the world through a mirror safe up in my tower...

Lovely post, Tom.

TC said...

Google sometimes has these inexplicable moods, as perhaps did Elaine of Astolat, The Lady of Shalott... though with friends like hers Elaine would at least had a had a proper excuse, which Google certainly does not.

In any case, Google, which obviously neither requires excuses for what it does, nor stands on ceremony, has gobbled up a comment that is very much worth keeping; and since the commenter has been kind enough to send it along "through channels", I am going to atttempt to Defy the Corporation by putting it up myself.

Here goes, then:

A BAD GUIDE [i.e., Artur] SAID:

"Are they watching yet?"

Yes, exactly! They all have expressions like that.

If you google Ophelia Millais (I did so because I was going to say how similar Millais' Ophelia is to all these), google actually shows the Waterhouse Lady Of Shallot. I don't know enough about the pre-Raphaelites to know why they kept repeating these images.

I don't know if you remember when Barings went bust, a few years ago. The man responsible went to prison, but he subsequently did quite well out of it: he wrote a book and it was made into a film that I saw on tv.

I wonder if our Baring knew T.E. Lawrence. I like the repetition of the phrase "he wrote the book...he wrote the book"; it's like "begat" in the Bible, and although it's hard to cast your eye over you get the impression that he worked hard for many years.

TC said...


It seems that Millais and Rossetti had made the drowned/drowning Ophelia a sort of wet gold standard of painting success in the era. And in that as in other matters of style, Waterhouse followed along. That Ophelia of his which I have used -- prostrate there in the meadow grass -- won him entry to the Royal Academy. Five years later he did another, this time a bit less soggy. And of course not to stop there, he also did a third... though in some sense, the paintings are all just one Ophelia after another, with the name and the garb and sometimes the posture (thank heavens) changing.

I don't suppose it matters much to Google who did the Pre-Raphaelite paintings as long as they were done by certified P-Rs. Though in that (chronology) department, Waterhouse was a bit of a late entry. But he seems to have outlasted the pack and been to large extent awarded the lion's share of the spoils. Or would it be more correct to say the industrious vulture's share of what the comparatively indolent lions had left over?

(It always looks to me as though there were a tiny bit too much lead in his paint, or perhaps his soul, presuming those latter things to exist?)

The Barings Bank story is fascinating, the film likewise. A sort of parable really. Quietly relieving your employer of 927 million quid and then (after being caught out) "earning" the government another 200 m in recovered taxes would seem quite a feat, no matter how you slice it. And then getting let out of prison on compassionate grounds as you are apparently terminally ill... and then not dying.

I did particularly like this line, which tells so much about the actual (human) workings of the "rarefied" world of high finance:

"People at the London end of Barings were all so know-all that nobody dared ask a stupid question in case they looked silly in front of everyone else."

—Nick Leeson, Rogue Trader (1996)

As to the triumphantly minimal (or "crisp", shall we say) prose of Burke's Peerage, it's perhaps the best example I know of the writing rule, "Never use a word too many".

I seem to recall de Brett's having much the same "just-the-facts-ma'am" style.

That's what the tough guy cop, sergeant Friday, played by the most laconic, or perhaps worst, actor of all time, Jack Webb, used to say, on the popular Fifties tv show about LA police, Dragnet.

Interesting that over all those centuries Maurice was one of only five Barings to make the peerage. Heaven knows what Sgt. Friday would have thought of that, or in fact of any of the above.

TC said...


That would be a boat ride well worth the price of the ticket.

Perhaps a good idea to bring along a tube of epoxy... the problems we're currently having with this old house would make me very wary of leaks in any hundred-year old (or shall I say hundreds of years old) dinghy that's been stored in a wet climate.

(What's worse than a wet book, with all the pages wadded together... could it be that Prospero vowed to drown his book because it had anyway been water-damaged, what with all that unpredictable island weather?)

TC said...

Lucy, Yes, I think it's brilliant the way Baring has transported the point of view and "tone" of Guinivere (and the other "correspondents" here) into something so instantly recognizable as "real" that we went to say, "Ah, it was ever thus"!

And even better, the magnificent consistency of that tone, kept up throughout the piece... one almost hold one's breath, as when watching a high-wire walker. But he never loses control for a minute. (Any lesser writer would be unable to keep from relishing his own genius while exercising it, an error which, with parody, always seems to spoil the effect.)

TC said...

By the by, Artur, I neglected to mention that that 1894 Waterhouse Ophelia (the non-soggy one, which I did not post but have linked to, above) is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who possesses the world's grandest private collection of late Victorian period art -- or, as the Guardian termed it in considering a 2003 exhibition of a large part of Lloyd Webber's inventory, of colossally bad art.

(Though perhaps the standard qualification "to each his own" might apply here. When one has more money than one knows what to do with, probably almost anything one does do with it, unless that something is brilliantly contrived to assist one's less-well-off fellow creatures, might, if the amount in question is colossally large, be considered colossally bad.)

Anonymous said...

On the water theme, I see that the stream in the background is actually running through the lady's heart in the last picture, Windswept, but for a climax you can't really beat the scene from The Tempest with the crashing waves and blowing red hair.

For whatever reason I often find myself disagreeing with that Guardian writer, Jonathan Jones. I think he has a terrible eye. I remember him saying that his favourite artist is William Blake. I don't see why he would then hate the Pre-Raphaelites, except that that's been the standard reaction in the London art world for about a century now - this meant that forty years ago, one of my neighbours was able to buy a huge Burne Jones pastel drawing in a marvelous arts & crafts gold frame for about £5.

TC said...

And what's more, Artur, the scene from The Tempest with the crashing waves and blowing red hair gets even better -- or is it worse? -- when the waves start to move.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty impressive. I'm tempted to try it.