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Sunday, 16 July 2017

"The Curse of the Elephant Man"

The 1980 film, 'The Elephant Man', starring John Hurt as the eponymous hero, was an excellent portrayal of the tragic life of Joseph Merrick who, tragically deformed by a medical condition, became an exhibit in a freak show before being taken into the care of the London Hospital, where he lived out the rest of his short life in relative comfort.

A more recent documentary, The Curse of the Elephant Man, is an attempt to discover the cause of his condition, and concludes with a wonderful reconstruction of how he would have appeared had he not been so afflicted.



 http://www.thiswasleicestershire.co.uk/2012/11/the-elephant-man-joseph-merrick.html

The tragic part of his story is that he was a gentle, intelligent and learned man, who did not respond with aggression to those who treated him aggressively, and whose true character was only revealed by Sir Frederick Treves - the surgeon who, incidentally, also safely removed Edward VII's appendix shortly before his coronation. Most people who saw Joseph until that time, judged him solely by appearance, and did not make the time to talk with him or to discover who he really was.

Nowadays, in our age of celebrity culture, where some people are famous purely for being famous, and being young(ish) and physically attractive seems sufficient to make a political leader worthy of praise, newspapers regularly publish stories of the doings of people whose sole claim to fame is their appearance, and it is bizarre that they gain a following on social media. Ironically,  Beauty and the Beast has made a big comeback, perhaps because we are tiring of the superficiality of judging solely by appearances and actually listening to what people have to say. Looking at the picture of what Joseph Merrick would have looked like were it not for his condition, it is tragic to think that behind those pensive eyes, was a man who was clearly more beautiful than all those who screamed on seeing him in the freak show. Who were the real freaks?

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Napoleon III - The Power of a Dream

One of the most remarkable facets of the French Emperor Napoleon III was his ability to hold fast to a dream even when the chances of it ever becoming a reality were incredibly remote. A nephew of the great Emperor Napoleon, he had little time to enjoy his privileged childhood before his uncle, following his final defeat at Waterloo, was exiled to St Helena and the entire Bonaparte family was banished from France.

Over the next couple of decades, while the French restored and ousted, then restored and ousted the monarchy, the young Napoleon III and his mother moved regularly from place to place, frequently being ordered to leave as few nations were happy to house Napoleon's heir. Short-legged and large-headed, Napoleon nonetheless dreamed of restoring the Bonapartes' power in France, much to the amusement of his contemporaries who not only mocked his appearance but also believed his ambition was nothing but a pipe-dream.  

"Did you ever know such a fool as that fellow is?” laughed one English statesman. “Why, he really believes he will yet be Emperor of France.”

 
Regardless of the jeers, Napoleon continued to foster his dream, and in October 1836, he launched a hare-brained scheme to seize the throne. Convinced that French people would welcome his return, he set out from England and arrived at the garrison in Strasbourg, where he urged the officers to follow him. As they hesitated, he walked into the town, crying, 'Vive l'Empereur!' but no one recognised him and when he declared that he was Napoleon's heir, he was arrested for assuming a false name. His punishment involved being taken around the country so that he would see how little attention he received, before being put on a ship bounds for America. The fiasco cost him a potentially happy marriage to his cousin Mathilde Bonaparte, whose father was so appalled by the escapade that he called off their engagement. 
 
Still, though, he continued to dream and in 1840 he returned to France to declare himself Emperor, but once again, few people recognised him and he was generally ignored. This time, though, when he was arrested, he was imprisoned in the Castle of Ham, but, rather than bewailing his fate, he used his time wisely, studying all manner of subjects and making plans for what he would achieve once he became Emperor. 

Eventually, he escaped from the castle and settled again in England, where he quietly followed events across the Channel, ever watchful for an opportunity to bring his dream to fruition. Not until 1848, with the fall of Louis Philippe did he finally succeeded in returning to France, after being elected to the National Assembly. Within a short time, he was declared President of the Assembly, and after two years, he organised acoup d'etat and declared himself Emperor.

Through exile, humiliation, banishment, failure and mockery, he had never lost sight of his dream - and although it was only a matter of time before the dream turned into a nightmare, his example of singleness of purpose and refusal to be swayed by others' opinions is surely worthy of praise. 
 
His complete story, as well as that of King Louis Philippe, is included in my forthcoming book:  Queen Victoria & The French Royal Families

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats

Here is a brief audioclip of Jack Wynters narrating 'Shattered Crowns: The Scapegoats'