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The Lady of Shallot

What an interesting weekend I have had. Full of creativity and activity. I also found a new muse within myself - The Lady of Shallot - and I have no idea where she came from, but it seems as though she's been waiting to be acknowledged for quite some time. I rather like Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade and In Memoriam, but I never read, as far as I'm aware, his Lady of Shallot. Ysterday, though, I was in Waterstones, mooching around the reference section, and looking down at me was a large OED, and on the cover was The Lady of Shallot, the Waterhouse image. The painting of the lady in the boat is something I'm very familiar with as I always make a bee-line for the pre-raph section in Tate Britain, but the other pictures in the series, especially 'I am half-sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shallot' is also highly significant. When I returned home I was continuing to read up on Jung and his notion of the archetypes, in particular that of the goddess, and I remembered the image and went to my book of Victorian verse and read through Tennyson's poem, and it felt so incredibly significant, on so many levels, especially because of its significance to women writers/artists needing their own space. Anyway. I'm putting it down to a number of things - it's where I'm at - I'm knee deep in trying to shine a light on the life of Mary Burns, who has remained thus far very much in the shadows, and thrashing about in the Victorian era so it makes sense that my subconscious would be playing with this stuff. It's also significant that I have recognised my own inner goddess, call it what you will, just this weekend, after what has been a half difficult week. Back to Mary Burns!

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

My PhD critical paper

I thought I'd upload the critical element of my PhD thesis. Hopefully, for those who are interested enough to read it, it will make sense despite the references to my creative work, which I can't upload as I'm seeking publication. And besides, at 68,000 words...

I'm also going to tweak section one of this three section critical paper with a view to journal publication because of the academic interest in the claims I make of Mary.

-Dedicated with love and respect to Dr Bruce Lloyd-

And in memory of my parents:
Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
Good people who taught me so much more than they realised


The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston Universi…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…