Ellen Terry (1847-1928) appeared on stage for seventy years. During that time she married twice, managed a theater, toured the United States, taught and lectured, corresponded with George Bernard Shaw, was painted by John Singer Sargent, and wrote a very interesting memoir.
Most of the letters written to me I destroyed long ago, but the feeling of sweetness and light with which some of them filled me can never be destroyed. The task of reading and answering letters has been a heavy one all my life, but it would be ungrateful to complain of it. To some people expression is life itself. Half my letters begin: “I cannot help writing to tell you,” and I believe that this is the simple truth…
Here’s a letter she wrote to her daughter about appearing as Lady Macbeth:
I wish you could see my dresses. They are superb, especially the first one: green beetles on it, and such a cloak! The photographs give no idea of it at all, for it is in color that it is so splendid. The dark red hair is fine. The whole thing is Rossetti — rich stained-glass effects, I play some of it well, but, of course, I don’t do what I want to do yet. Meanwhile I shall not budge an inch in the reading of it, for that I know is right. Oh, it’s fun, but it’s precious hard work for I by no means make her a ‘gentle, lovable woman’ as some of ’em say. That’s all pickles. She was nothing of the sort, although she was not a fiend, and did love her husband. I have to what is vulgarly called ‘sweat at it,’ each night.
This is the painting Sargent created of Ellen Terry, as Lady Macbeth, that hangs in the Tate Gallery:
“Lady Macbeth seems to be an economical housekeeper and evidently patronizes local industries for her husband’s clothes and servant’s liveries, but she takes care to do all her own shopping in Byzantium.”
Now I wanted to get back to this “fearless, high-spirited, resolute and intelligent heroines” business. As I’ve mentioned before my friend has written a book (actually he’s written several) and in it, he has crafted a marvelous character, a woman of a certain age who once was a nanny to royalty, was too fond of her tipple, and was fired. Battling her demons she shipped out to Kabul with a church group to aid British soldiers, there she wrote a letter that was stolen instead of delivered, causing an international incident — and how she copes with that you’ll just have to read about…
Which leads me to something I love to talk about, and I hope you do too, who is your favorite female character in a novel?
Care to comment?