Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wicked Company by Ciji Ware

wicked company

[From the back cover:] In 18th century London the glamorous Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres were all the rage, beckoning every young actor, actress, playwright, and performer with the lure of the stage lights. But competition and back-biting between theatre owners, patrons, actors, andwriters left aspiring playwrights with their work stolen, profits withheld, and reputations on the line. For a female, things were harder still, as the chances of a "petticoat playwright" getting past the government censor was slim.

In this exciting and cutthroat world, a young woman with a skill for writing and an ambition to see her work performed could rise to glory, or could lose all in the blink of an eye...

Once upon a time, the earth cooled.  Then Sophie encountered much sex and wickedness in Scotland as a young lass.  Then at some point I assume she goes to London to be an actress, although to be honest I didn't get that far.

The main reason I picked up this book was because I'm fascinated by the stage and celebrity in 18th-century England.  I actually wrote a paper about the painting on the cover of this book once; it's pretty interesting!  The painting is Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by Sir Joshua Reynolds, famous for his allegorical portraits.  The subject is the most fĂȘted tragic actress of her time, Sarah Siddons, in the guise of Melpomene (the tragic muse... ergo the title.  Why not just call it Sarah Siddons as Melpomene?  I really don't know).  Her career marked a shift in thinking of actresses as being part of the professional middle-class rather than courtesans. 

She made her first London debut in 1775, which failed dismally.  Undaunted, Siddons went to Bath to hone her skills, and it quickly became apparent that she had a talent for tragic roles.  As soon as Siddons made her second London debut as Isabella, she caused a sensation.  A SENSATION, I tells ye!  Hester Thrale wrote upon seeing her performance, “The Town has got a new Idol—Mrs. Siddons the Actress:  a leaden one She seems, but we shall make her a Golden one before ‘tis long.”  The public was so hungry for glimpses of “The Siddons” that without prints and miniatures, she would have been mobbed on the street, or even in her own home (in fact, she occasionally was); so she went out of her way to accommodate artists who wanted to paint her.  In 1783, Mary Hamilton reported that she’d spent the day devoted to “Siddonimania,” in which she and her friends visited a series of artists’ studios to look at Siddons’ portraits, and concluded the afternoon by seeing the real version up on stage. 

While the artists were free to display her portraits as they liked, Siddons took charge of the prints:  she had her own favored printmakers, and liked to distribute her prints to fans like a Hollywood star would dole out eight-by-ten glossies.

Siddons sat for Reynolds’ portrait in 1784, two years after her debut; and though she had established herself as a tragic actress, she had not yet become the Queen of Tragedy.  Indeed, in Siddonian literature, this portrait is repeatedly marked as a turning point--a metaphorical crowning of Siddons, after which she is the undisputed leader of the tragic stage.  According to Siddons' version of the portrait’s creation, Reynolds took her by the hand, gestured to the chair, and poetically stated, “Ascend your Undisputed throne, and graciously bestow upon me some grand Idea of The Tragic Muse;” at which Siddons seated herself in the chair and instantly assumed the pose which appears in the painting.

There are actually two versions of this work, one a copy probably made by one of Reynolds' studio assistants.  You're probably wondering how you can tell the difference--the one on the cover of the book is the original.  It's more luminous than the copy and the asymmetrical pearl necklaces are slightly different, as is Siddons' slightly lifted finger.

Anyway, I just bored all of you with that information because I found this book to be pretty boring.  To be entirely honest, it kept putting me to sleep.  And everything in it was INSANELY obvious (unlike the portrait of Mrs. Siddons, which takes a while to fully appreciate *extended metaphor high-five!*).

Take, for example, this passage from page 8:

"'Tis time, my dear, with all good cheer to Pay the Piper well..." he repeated in a soft, caressing voice, and Sophie found herself taking the measure of his enormous height, broad shoulders, tapering waist, and well-shaped thighs clad in tight red and navy tartan trews buckled at the knee....  When the charmer stopped in front of Sophie, their eyes locked and she found herself unable to pull away from his riveting gaze.

Gee, I wonder if this guy's going to be a love interest?  It's a good thing the author hit us over the head with it, since she probably wouldn't have had time in the course of the next 600 pages to develop that relationship organically.  Oh, and the creepy aristocrat/villain was also insanely obvious.  There's just really no subtlety or mystery going on with this book at all.  The back cover synopsis also makes me wonder whether or not there is a plot.

Wicked Company might deal with an interesting subject and be set in a fascinating time period, but the way the story was told wasn't for me.  I would disagree with every quote on the back of this book, most especially, "masterful storyteller." 

I can't recommend this novel except as a soporific.

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