Saturday, 18 August 2007

Tennyson's "Dream of Fair Women"

I purchased this postcard photo some time ago on eBay because it is from the studio of Frederick J. Boyes (of 22 & 24 Osmaston Road, Derby). However, it is also of interest for the reason that it is from a rather different genre from the usual contributions that I receive. It is a standard postcard format picture. The reverse is of a very ordinary design, with no studio name printed; as was common with Boyes' later postcard portraits, the studio name and details are blind stamped onto the lower right hand corner of the front of the card.

Tennyson's "Dream of Fair Women"

It is inscribed in pen on the reverse, "Tennyson's 'Dream of Fair Women'" - nothing else. I wasn't familiar with this poem, but the full text may be found here. It was an early poem written by Tennyson in 1833, but it was strongly criticized by reviewers, and "made little impression on the Victorian public which had lost its taste for poetry and was devoted mainly to prose fiction." [Source: Modern English Books of Power, by G.H. Fitch, 1912] Millais provided an illustration for an 1857 publication of the work:

Illustration for Tennyson's "A Dream of Fair Women", by John Everett Millais, 1857, engraved by W.J. Linton

The popularity of the work appears to have undergone something of a revival in the Edwardian era. The art noveaux period brought this work in the romantic genre by Emma Florence Harrison, probably from shortly before the Great War. A film of that name was also produced in 1920

"A Dream of Fair Women", by British artist Emma Florence Harrison

Unfortunately, the identity of the cast members of this performance of "A Dream of Fair Women" has not been preserved along with the photo. As I purchased it on eBay, the provenance is also lost. However, there must, somewhere, be records of the poem-play being performed in Derby. I presume it was in Derby, as Boyes was unlikely to have travelled very far afield. It looks as though it has been taken in a suburban garden, but there are few clues as to where. My guess is that it dates from between 1905 and 1925, but it's difficult to be more accurate than that, because the costumes are, after all, costumes.

Perhaps there is a reader out there who can offer some more insights into when and where the performance may have taken place, and who the actors were?

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