The Pre-Eminent Victorian: A Study of Tennyson

By Joanna Richardson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
THE APPARITION IN RED VELVET

IN the spring of 1860 Emily wrote happily to Woolner that the new gardener 'allows A. to dig, a delight forbidden by Merwood, and to be told that you are doing a great deal of good instead of mischief is a pleasant change indeed!' The oleanders were re-potted, the potatoes dug, the red and white thorn and laburnums were admired; and the Laureate, in his kitchen garden, rubbing rosemary leaves through his fingers, recalled that 'where rosemary flourishes, there the woman ruled in the house', and if all women ruled like Emily he could wish every garden in England filled with it.

That year the Georgic peace of Farringford was abruptly shattered. There irrupted upon the scene, in a trailing red robe, badly stained with chemicals, a plain, irrepressible, gifted eccentric of forty-five: Julia Cameron, the photographer, from Putney Heath. She was seized with the desire to be permanently near her friends, the Tennysons; and since (in the words of Henry Taylor) she had 'a power of loving which I have never seen exceeded, and an equal determination to be beloved', since she played the game of life with vivid courage and complete disregard for ordinary rules, she bought two cottages at Freshwater Bay, built a tower in between, embowered the whole with roses, garlanded it with ivy, and christened it Dimbola after one of her husband's estates in Ceylon. Henceforward the whole neighbourhood was conscious of 'the scent of the sweetbriar, the odd acrid flavour of collodium, the door that was never shut, the parcels on the lawn, the echo of the mistress's voice calling to her maids'; and life seemed to him like some big wheel round the Cameron household, so that it was impossible for the place to become sleepy.

Impossible indeed; for Mrs Cameron, née Pattle, 'born and bred in the best Anglo-Indian society', inherited the imperious manner of that now extinct elite and all the vivacity of her French

-120-

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