sexy edwardian


You know how groany and eyeball-rolly I get at unthinking, automated disparagements of romance from those who really should know better. I’ve heard it all – had my work called chicklit by a feminist (!), been told my work suffers from too much sentiment, been asked, a bit too often, when I’m going to write something serious.

Because love – and the need to laugh, to sing, to heal, to be joyful, to be insane with it and smashed by it – is not serious business? Not worthy of examination? Not stuff to be shared in any intellectual sense? Not fairly vital to being alive, like air and food? And never a vehicle for significant thought? As if love and curiosity are mutually exclusive things – as if, say, I couldn’t donate a kidney to my husband because I love him desperately and because I expected the experience would lead me to deeper existential truths.

I tend not to engage with critics and other writers who hold these sorts of wearingly narrow views. As they say in the classics, don’t get mad, get down and get lovin’ – and that’s what I prefer to do.

I’ve done it liberally in my next novel, Jewel Sea. It’s a fictional telling of the tale of the Koombana, a luxurious steamship lost off the West Australian coast in 1912 – a small but no less tragic Titanic. From the moment I first read about the wreck and its haunting mystery in Annie Boyd’s history of the ship, I knew I’d have to write about it myself. And as soon as I learned that the detail on the fingerplates of the first-class saloon doors was a little Grecian urn, I knew I’d be cranking my love engine to full throttle.

What more perfect symbol of both enduring passion and enduring mystery than Keats’ ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’? And damn sexy, too.  The poem swirls through my story like smoke, and mingles with images from his most decadent, indulgent ‘Endymion’.

Keats, the king of romance. But hey, we all know it’s so much better when a man does it, hm? Whatever, his explorations of high and wild emotion are curled permanently around my heart – along with Beethoven’s vaulting symphonies and Turner’s violent seas, with Eliot’s burnt-out ends and Elgar’s melancholy cello mourning the death of love as the guns on the Western Front rolled in.

Romance – I doubt I could write a word without it.

And Keats’ timeless, yearning ‘Urn’ will outlive and out love all this, too:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Find out more about Jewel Sea here :

Jewel Sea Preliminary for Kim_Page_2