Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ESCAPE FROM THE BOOKDROP OF DOOM™: Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught

[Editor's Note: There's just ONE WEEK LEFT to submit entries for the JohnEats.com Win A T-Shirt You Probably Won't Feel Comfortable Wearing In Public Contest -- so get your butts in gear and send something in if you want a chance at the glorious t-shirt prize (And in case you're skeptical, the t-shirts are real. We're like totally serious about this). Anyway, we've got another entry today from none other than Eels, who is obviously desperate to claim that John On John™ Women's Cap Sleeve T-Shirt for her very own. So put your hands together for an entry that can undoubtedly claim victory in the race to the highest word count...]

Take it away, Eels:

I first began working at the library in an assignment that had recently been vacated by none other than our beloved webmaster and editor in chief, JohnEats. One of the duties of the job I currently hold (admittedly not yet with the effortless aplomb of my predecessor) is to spend each Sunday supervising the student workers who are assigned to brave the front lines of patron assaults at the circulation desk. The tasks left to the supervisor are usually enough to fill, at best, two of these lonely weekend hours when the majority of students do their best to be anywhere but the library. This leaves five and a half hours in which I struggle to occupy myself by any means necessary... quite often through the perusal of books recently returned by patrons.

The very first book that caught my attention in this way was Victorian Studio Photographs: Biographical Portraits of Eminent Victorians by Bevis Hillier. Struck by the rich orange of the cover, so handsomely framing the gender-bending portrait of Lady Randolph Churchill, I took the volume aside to peruse at my leisure.

Little did I know what wonder was in store.

I casually paged through the volume, passing by stuffy photographs of writers, artists, politicians, royalty and other notables (a fluttering pause for Oscar Wilde -- oh be still my dandy-loving heart!) and, of course, Queen Victoria herself. The name and title, birth and death dates, and an enlightening biographical sketch of each sitter is framed on the left-hand page, opposite a plate of the portrait which (we are assured by the book jacket blurb) "offers a fascinating insight into the way the eminent Victorians chose to view themselves: each portrait, carefully composed, lit, executed and finally granted the sitter's approval, is a finished copy of the subject's public personality."

How was I to react, when suddenly I found myself confronted with this portrait of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught?

How indeed, dear reader, do you find yourself reacting?

I recommend that you take a moment to breathe slowly and deliberately now, so as best to maintain your composure as you take it all in... Click on the small version of the portrait to the right, in order to see the full-size image and witness for yourself:

• The powerful crush of royal fist against table, the piercing crystal eyes, the plush yet carefully waxed and pointed mustache -- evidence of such majestic authority!

• The tantalizing brush of fringe against slender yet muscular leg, encased in (one can only assume) the finest of silk stockings; the decorative embroidery and lace at wrist and throat; the magnificent puff of satin at the jauntily pointed elbow -- touches of such elegant refinement!!

• The post-mortem hug of the mighty leopard, whose life was given up gladly so that its pelt could be immortalized embracing the well-corseted form of the "third son and seventh child of Queen Victoria, Arthur William Patrick Albert -- in fancy dress"!!!

Oh, it gives me pause even now, despite having had the joy of gazing upon a copy of this photo every day at work for the past year and a half. It is framed in the cover pocket of the all-purpose binder on my desk in which I keep my notes, guidesheets, and informative papers. It is to this binder, and therefore to Prince Arthur, that I turn whenever I am in doubt on a policy or in need of a contact number.

I shall tell you now of my reaction at the moment I first laid eyes on this portrait, mes Dames et Messieurs, and you ought not be surprised in the least! Such a powerful swoon came upon me that I slumped in my office chair and rolled helplessly back, clasping the volume of photographs to me even as I lost consciousness. Luck would have it that I was brought quickly to again by the slam of my head against the bookshelf behind me. When I had recovered enough to open the book once again to pages 100 and 101, I did not allow myself (alas!) to feast my eyes too long immediately again upon the dizzying details of the portrait itself, but rather began to read the accompanying text.

Some morsels of this biography I now pass along to you, gentle reader, so that you will begin to understand, as I have, a good deal more about the illustrious life and character of our magnificently illustrated subject:
... Victoria soon came to regard him as her favourite child. 'Darling Arthur', he became, and she would write of how much she 'adored our little Arthur from the day of his birth. He has never given us a day's sorrow or trouble... but has ever been like a ray of sunshine in the house.' He was, indeed, 'dearer than any of the others put together.'"

"... Queen Victoria remarked, 'I rejoice in having a son who has devoted his life to the Army, and who I am confident will ever prove worthy the name of a British soldier.' Given command of a bicycle regiment, he is reported to have fallen off and to have become intricately entangled with the mechanism of his machine while attempting to return a soldier's salute."

"... Even into old age, Arthur was deeply involved in diplomatic and military affairs, in the Boy Scout movement and in Freemasonry, serving as Grand Master of England. He died in 1942 at the age of 91, the oldest surving child of Queen Victoria."

Of course I was driven on to further research. Sadly, I must report that most other photos I have found of this real-life Prince Charming are disappointingly conservative, at least at first glance. It should be pointed out, however, that he did continue to meticulously keep up that fabulous mustache until the very end of his days. Even when wearing his military and royal garb, the Prince shewed flourishes of an irrepressibly flamboyant style that (I dare say) likely influenced late-20th-century fop Adam Ant.

For those of you who, like myself, simply cannot get enough of His Royal Highness Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn and Earl of Sussex (1850-1942), I present this elegant desktop portrait on a fittingly tasteful lavender marble background:


7 Comments:

Anonymous "A" said...

I like his mary janes.

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Eels said...

They're velvet, you know!
If only I knew what the colors were!

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Perilous Cheryl said...

That's the great thing about colorization...you can make it up!

Check Adam Ant's wardrobe...maybe he has something similar.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Psychictoad said...

"he is reported to have fallen off and to have become intricately entangled with the mechanism of his machine while attempting to return a soldier's salute"

Damn those military men know how to impress a guy. Didn't this same thing happen in that porn masterpiece "You Ask and I'll Tell"?

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Eels said...

This 36"x46" poster hangs in the entryway to my apartment.
I'm just sayin'...

11:59 PM  
Blogger Zoe said...

I definitely see the Adam Ant connection! And I always wondered where he got his fabulous sense of style!

My first reaction to that photo was extreme as well, settling in with a sigh of contentment over the fact that there MUST have been gender-bending in those days as well... *sigh* :D

6:02 PM  
Blogger Zoe said...

I definitely see the Adam Ant connection! And I always wondered where he got his fabulous sense of style!

My first reaction to that photo was extreme as well, settling in with a sigh of contentment over the fact that there MUST have been gender-bending in those days as well... *sigh* :D

6:05 PM  

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