Francine Shapiro (1948-2019)

From today’s obituary in The Times:

“Francine Shapiro was walking through a park in 1987 when she stumbled across the therapy that would make her name. “I realised that I was reliving some painful memories and as I did so I was moving my eyes back and forward,” she said. “When I replayed those memories, the emotional response was less powerful.”

Over the coming months she developed her ideas into what is now known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)…

…She was a senior research fellow at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, and lived with her husband, Bob Welch, a former research psychologist for NASA who survives her, on the coast at Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco.

The jury is still out on whether Shapiro was selling snake oil or had stumbled across a legitimate cure for dealing with past traumas. Despite the many claims for EMDR, which some recipients have compared to hypnosis, even Shapiro admitted that she did not know how it worked, nor could she quantify its effectiveness.

However, many people are convinced by EMDR…The writer Patrick Strudwick described in The Times in 2010 how it had helped him to overcome the trauma of an attack in Manchester 13 years earlier. “What distinguished EMDR from other therapies – aside from the crucial eye movements – was, for me, the simple act of reliving what happened in silence,” he wrote. “Describing verbally what happened, as I’d done in conventional therapy, actually prevented me from accessing my feelings.”

The American Seat

Today’s subject is Tod Sloan – not Professor (Emeritus) Tod Sloan, who, incidentally, acted from 2001-5 as the national coordinator for Psychologists for Social Responsibility, in Washington, DC – rather, we turn to Tod Sloan (1874-1933), the American thoroughbred horse racing jockey.

Robyn Asleson, Assistant Curator of Prints at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, also in Washington, describes him as “the country’s first international sports superstar”. Such were Sloan’s abilities that in 1896 he won nearly 30% of all his races, increasing to 37% in 1897 and 46% in 1898.

(The Los Angeles Herald of 18th September, 1899, carried an article headlined “TOD SLOAN’S WILFUL SISTER He Has Asked Her to Leave the Stage but She Won’t Do It”. His sister Molly commented: “…I prefer independence. He doesn’t think much of the vaudeville life, but for that matter I don’t think much of the turf, either.”.)

Sloan popularised the forward seat, short stirrup style of riding when he first rode in England in 1897. Initially laughed at, his style revolutionised the sport worldwide. It should be noted that Willie Simms, the African American jockey, had ridden in this style two years earlier, when he won the Crawfurd Plate at Newmarket, racing against England’s finest bolt upright riders.

This was the preferred riding style of Native Americans. The “American Seat” of crouching over the horse’s neck and withers, reducing the drag on the horse, was used in the colonies as far back as the Quarter Horse dashes along tracks cut in the wilderness.

Sloan’s first name was adopted into Cockney rhyming slang – hence, someone “on his Tod” is alone.

Sloan’s life story inspired George M Cohan’s musical “Little Johnny Jones” (1904), featuring the patriotic song “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy”:

“A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam

Born on the Fourth of July”.

The capacity for empathy

In an interview with the Nashville Review in July 2017, Meg Wolitzer, author of “The Wife” (2003), commented:

“That study about fiction increasing the capacity for empathy- that felt right to me.”

She was referring to the research study by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, described in a report in Science (October 2013): “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind”. (Reading about this in turn led me to the blog of Dr Raphael Lyne: What Literature Knows About Your Brain: literary criticism listens to cognitive science and talks back too.)

Theory of mind concerns our ability to infer and understand others’ thoughts and feelings. It has been discussed in philosophy at least since Descartes. In the late 1960s, the associated concept of mentalisation emerged in psychoanalytic literature. The field diversified in the 1990s with the work of, amongst others, Simon Baron Cohen and Peter Fonagy.

In 2017, Kidd and Castano published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts their paper, “Different stories: How levels of familiarity with literary and genre fiction relate to mentalising”.

In their original study, Kidd and Castano included in the tests which they ran on participants the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” assessment tool developed by Professor Baron Cohen (notwithstanding Thomas Carlyle’s observation that “The secret of Man’s being is still like the Sphinx’s secret: a riddle that he cannot rede…”).

The interviewer from the Nashville Review asked Meg Wolitzer which books she had read when young which shaped her as a writer. She replied:

“Charlotte’s Web; A Wrinkle In Time; Jane Eyre – in that order, moving from spider/pig friendship to the mysteries of the universe to the search for love and a place in the world.”.

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle In Time, observed that “A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”.

“What does a woman want?”*

*Sigmund Freud to Princess Marie Bonaparte

“Tweet of the Day” on BBC Radio 4 recently featured Metopidius indicus, or bronze winged jacana, also known as the lily trotter. The presenter was Dr Stuart Butchart, Chief Scientist at BirdLife International. Following three years spent observing these birds from his canoe on Lake Vembanur in India, he published”Yelling for sex” in Animal Behaviour (1999), reporting that “…males in polyandrous harems may compete for sexual access to the female by giving a call, termed the “yell”, to attract her.”. In his broadcast he referred to their “amazing mating system: the roles of the sexes are reversed. Females are larger, dominant, and have harems of males, who carry out all the parental care.”.

Professor David M Buss, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, opens his 2003 paper for “Psychological Inquiry” – “Sexual Strategies: A Journey Into Controversy”, with these words:

“When I began my scientific exploration of human sexual strategies in 1981, I sensed that the work would be controversial.”.

On the fourth page of his nine page article, he asserts: “Each one of us is an evolutionary success story,” and continues:

“Thus, the topic of our desires in mating – what I had begun to study with the IMSP (International Mate Selection Project) – was merely the beginning, but it was an extremely important beginning. In my view, desires lie at the foundation of human mating. Desires determine the people to whom we are attracted, as well as those from whom we are repulsed. Fulfilling the desires of another is the key to successful mate attraction. Violation of desire is key to conflict between the sexes. Competition, conflict, harmony, and happiness can all be predicted, in part, from deep knowledge of what people desire.”.

Buss goes on to review his Sexual Strategies Theory, published in “Psychological Review” (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), commenting:

“Given our explicitness on this issue, when a critic describes the theory as proposing that “men are promiscuous, women are monogamous,” one can only wonder about the person’s scholarship, training, or eyesight.”.

Buss identifies three key areas in his 1993 “working draft of a theory” which he considers inadequate, naming the third as:

“…by focusing so heavily on sex differences, the theory slighted the many ways in which men’s and women’s mating strategies share commonalities. Many of these limitations have been rectified in various ways over the past decade, and our scientific understanding of human mating is vastly more complex and sophisticated than it was a decade ago (see Buss, 2003).”.

In his conclusion, Buss pays tribute to Charles Darwin as “the first evolutionary psychologist”, writing:

“All of my work on human mating strategies was part of a broader vision – to establish the foundations for a new science of the mind called evolutionary psychology (Buss, 1984, 1995, 2004)….It is an honour to have contributed in some small measure to the fulfilment of Darwin’s prophecy – the quest to discover where, as human beings, we came from, who we are, and the mechanisms of mind that define what it means to be human.”.

Between Persia and Paris

Sunday morning found me in Surbiton, Kingston-upon-Thames. St Raphael’s Church used to be considered Surrey’s only Italian Romanesque church, until, despite its postal address, it was brought within the boundaries of Greater London. Designed by the eminent architect Charles Parker, the building was commissioned in 1846 by Alexander Raphael, and completed two years later.

Raphael was born in Madras in 1775. His father was Edward Raphael, an Armenian Uniat Catholic merchant of Persian origin. The family had settled in India in 1745; in 1788, Edward was one of the co founders of the Carnatic Bank. Following the death of his wife Mary, Edward decided to take some of his children to England to complete their education. They set sail on the Prince William Henry; but before they reached England, Edward too had died, and his children were orphans.

By 1834, Alexander had been elected Sheriff of London, the first Roman Catholic to hold the post since the Reformation. (The Roman Catholic Relief Act had been passed in 1829.) Tradition says that in the mid 1840s, during a serious illness, Alexander made a vow to Our Lady that if he recovered he would build a church. Having recovered, he kept his word; however, the story goes that he refused to pay his physician, Dr Roots, on the grounds that the source of his recovery was non-medical. He was 75 when he died on 17th November, 1850. Despite Alexander’s attempts to delay the blessing of the church, for fear that completion would herald his death, Dr (later Cardinal) Wiseman obtained access to the church for the purpose in the months before Alexander Raphael’s demise.

In due course, the estate passed to his nephew Edward who, in accordance with Alexander’s wishes, opened the church to the public as the first Catholic place of worship in Kingston since the Reformation.

Emperor Napoleon III’s widow, the Empress Eugenie, lived at the sixty bedroomed Coombe Cottage (now apartments) in Coombe Lane West during 1881, and used St Raphael’s for worship while her new home in Farnborough was being prepared.

In 1968, the church came under threat of sale and probable demolition. Following a long campaign in the local and national press, the plans were abandoned in 1969. The church, regarded as one of the finest examples of Victorian Italianate architecture in the country, was given Grade II listing.

The church was dedicated and the altar consecrated in September 2012.

Philip Mansel writes in “A History of the French in London: liberty, equality, opportunity” (2013):

“In June 1800 Orleans and his brothers rented Highshot House in Twickenham (now destroyed), thus beginning their family’s long love affair with this London suburb, which lasted until the death there of Orleans’s descendant ex king Manuel of Portugal in 1932….in London Louis Philippe became half British and wholly counter revolutionary…Until after the Hundred Days he would send copies of his letters to Louis XVIII to the British foreign secretary…

…At Navarino in 1827 the French and British navies cooperated for the first time since the reign of Louis XIV…

…While “All the world” was said to be in Paris, in 1815-17 Orleans rented a house later known as Orleans House, in “dear old Twick”, to show his disapproval of Louis XVIII’s ultra royalist ministry in Paris. Since he had recovered his fortune in France, it was grander than Highshot House, with a garden on the Thames. His wife, Marie Amélie of Naples, found that London’s lack of monuments made it more like a large village than one of the first cities in Europe, but praised what she called the tranquillity of Twickenham, “far from the world and its intrigues”…

…Naturally Louis Philippe and his family chose England as their refuge after the revolution of 1848 in France. As “Comte de Neuilly”, he asked the Queen for the hospitality he had once enjoyed as Duc d’Orleans…

…He died on 26 August (1850)…

…Thereafter the widowed Queen Marie Amélie continued to live at Claremont (outside Esher)…

…The rest of her family and their households settled nearby in Richmond and Twickenham. They became the court suburb of the Orleans, as Chislehurst would be of the Bonapartes…

…In 1852 (the Duc d’Aumale) bought Orleans House…He gave fetes there to benefit the French Societe de Bienfaisance of London, and until his death in 1897 was president of the Twickenham Rowing Club…

…Marriages and funerals, for which hundreds specially crossed the Channel, helped the Orleans to remind France of their existence. The duchesse d’Orleans’s sons…were married…in St Raphael’s church, Kingston, in 1863 and 1864 respectively…(The Comte de Paris and his wife) settled in…York House, Richmond (now Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the only Orleans residence in the borough which has not been demolished)…On 24 August 1864 – the day before the feast of St Louis – the Comte and Comtesse de Paris made a grand entry into their new residence: the vicar read an address of welcome. There were flags, music, cheering schoolchildren, games, illuminations and fireworks.

The funeral of Marie Amélie on 3 April 1866 was far better attended than that of Louis Philippe in 1850…

…The Orleans returned to France when the laws of exile were repealed by Thiers’s government in 1871. Incredibly, they were passing through the corridor connecting Dover station and the Lord Warden Hotel, on 20 March, at exactly the moment that the ex-Emperor Napoleon III arrived there from his prison in Germany. The Empress Eugenie curtsied. The men passed by without a word, merely raising their hats. One exiled French court was going to London; another was leaving it.”.

Orleans House, Twickenham

Photograph: Fete Champetre at Orleans House in June 1864.

Orleans House was a Palladian Villa built in 1710 by the architect John James, one of Wren’s chief assistants, near the Thames at Twickenham, for the politician and diplomat James Johnston. He settled there at the end of his diplomatic career, in the latter part of which he worked in Germany to secure the Hanoverian succession. George I became a regular casual visitor to the house.

Johnston was one of the first to construct a home on the Thames in Twickenham in the 18th Century. He commissioned architect John James to plan and erect a mansion, a project which spanned thirty five years. In 1720-1 John James employed his fellow Scots architect, James Gibbs, to design a baroque octagonal room for the garden. It was planned as a setting in which to receive Caroline of Ansbach, George II’s future Queen Consort, who regarded Gibbs with great favour. In 1729 she dined in the Octagon Room with her children and Mrs Johnston, on such dishes as venison, vermicelli soup, chine of lamb, chicken with peaches, and capons with oysters.

Louis Philippe (1773-1850), son of the Duc d’Orleans, was King of the French from 1830-1848. He came to England during the “Hundred Days” – the period leading up to Napoleon I’s defeat at Waterloo in June 1815 – and had left again by 1818. His time at this house on the Twickenham Riverside led to its later being named after him.

Louis Philippe’s daughter, Princesse Francoise, was born on March 28th, 1816 and was baptised in St Mary’s parish church (which had been rebuilt in 1713 by John James). The life of Francoise was short; she died two years later in Neuilly sur Seine.

From 1827-45, Orleans House was the residence of Alexander Murray, MP. He had a vestibule built to connect the Octagon Room to the main house. In October 1844, Louis Philippe made a one day visit to the house as the French king, accompanied by Queen Victoria.

The 1848 Revolution in France led to the creation of the Second French Republic.

Two years after Louis Philippe’s death at Claremont in 1850, his widow Marie Amelie de Bourbon Sicile purchased Orleans House from the Earl of Kilmorey (1787-1880). From 1855 – 1877, the House was held by Marie Amelie’s son Henri, Duc d’Alumale, who built a gallery and library (since demolished) and a stables block (still stands) next to the house, bringing his extensive collection of masterpieces to site by river. Henri’s wife died in the house in 1869.

In March 1877, the house was bought by Sir John Dugdale Astley, who had the idea of creating a luxurious sports and social club there. The Orleans Club was not a great success, and in 1882 Astley sold the estate to William Cunard, the shipping magnate.

The Orleans family had its final link with the house when it provided the setting for the wedding breakfast of Princesse Helene d’Orleans, daughter of the Comte de Paris and great granddaughter of Louis Philippe, and the 2nd Duke of Aosta. They married at St Raphael’s Church, Kingston, on 25th June, 1895. The Princess’s hand in marriage had previously been sought by the respective heirs to the thrones of the United Kingdom and of the Russian Empire.

Fifty members of European royalty attended, and crowds lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the carriage procession from Orleans House to Kingston. Streets were decked with bunting in the colours of the different royal houses and three triumphal arches with “Welcome” on them were erected for the occasion at Kingston and Clattern Bridges and along Portsmouth Road. The Coronation Stone in Kingston was festooned with flowers. The railways ran extra trains from London to accommodate sightseers.

In 1899, the Duc de Guise married Isabelle Marie Laure d’Orleans at St Raphael’s.

Following William Cunard’s death in 1906, his widow lived in the house for another nine years. After World War I, the house stood empty for several years.

There was a sale of furniture and fitments at Orleans House in March 1926. The estate had been sold to the Crane River Sand and Ballast Company, who immediately set about the demolition of the house. Over 200 000 tons of sand and gravel was excavated from the site.

In 1927, the Hon Nellie Samuel, widow of Walter Henry Levy, purchased what remained of Orleans House, comprising the Octagon and adjacent wings, and the extensive stableblock to the rear. Three years later she married the architect Basil Ionides. They had one child, Adam, who died at the age of nine.

Nellie went on to purchase the adjacent Riverside House, becoming the joint occupier of both properties. Basil died in 1950, and Nelly in 1962. She bequeathed her riverside properties and her collection of paintings to Twickenham Borough Council, on condition that Orleans House should be used solely as a public art gallery.

In 1972, the Orleans House Gallery was opened. It is the venue for varied exhibitions, including displays of paintings from the Ionides collection.

Today there is a children’s party in the new stable block, the Stables Cafe is closed until they find a new supplier, and it’s “change over day in the Gallery – nothing to see.”

C’est la vie.

Barbara Comyns (1907-1992)

On 6th July 2013, The Spectator carried an essay by the writer Jane Gardam on visiting the author of “The Vet’s Daughter”:

“When I met Barbara Comyns for tea that day in her cheerful house in Twickenham (the house on Twickenham Green is pictured above) the sun was pouring in through all its bright windows.”

I have before me a reprint of the novel, first published in 1959, with an Introduction by the author which she provided in 1980. It begins:

“I was born in Warwickshire in a house on the banks of the Avon and was one of six children. Our father was a semi retired managing director of a Midland chemical firm. He was an impatient, violent man, alternatively spoiling and frightening us. Our mother was many years younger and lived the life of an invalid most of the time.”.

The date that Gardam introduced herself to Comyns is unknown, but something gave her the confidence to write:

“It seems reasonable to identify this setting (the Warwickshire countryside) as Barbara Comynss’ own, but the beastliness of the father and the cruelty of the impossible mother are less so, especially as Comyns’s own children do not remember their grandparents as anything of the sort.” – on which general subject, see “When Bad Parents Become Good Grandparents”, by Catherine Pearson writing for HuffPost US.

Gardam wonders if “The Vet’s Daughter” has somewhat faded from view “because the shock of the magical realism of its final chapter has been swamped by the tsunami of fantasy and magic…”.

The teenaged daughter Alice of the title leads a life in Edwardian Battersea of everyday misery. In Chapter 9, she is subjected to a violent sexual assault, and is given refuge overnight at a neighbour’s home, where she describes some form of out of body experience. (Rabeyron and Caussie have written on “Clinical aspects of out of body experiences: trauma, reflexivity and symbolisation”.)

In Chapter 13, Alice is sent to act as companion to an elderly widow. Exploring the house, she reaches the end of the hall:

“Beyond was the skeleton of a large glass less conservatory. It contained no flowers- just empty pots and dried looking grapevines that crawled over everything. There was another door leading into the garden.”.

Ursula Holden wrote in her obituary for Barbara Comyns:

“I first met her in 1980 when she lived in Richmond. I was struck by her wit and her lively interest in the arts and in young people, of whom she was never critical. “I like people to be happy,” she said. She loved gardening, and flowers always bloomed inside and around her home.”.

“Better than therapy”

Vicky Wilson, poet and educator, describes in “London’s Houses” the making of a plaster cast of Edith Evans by the Estonian-Jewish sculptor (born in Latvia), Dora Gordine:

“Gordine rarely worked from sketches but instead moved straight from metal armature to plaster, declaring that the process of making mistakes and reworking was vital to creation. Initially she would spend whole days talking or just being with her subjects so she could “imagine what they are like inside and bring out their inward feelings, and then put it in a form”.

Edith also modelled for a nude standing bronze:

“Evans was to say in interviews that modelling for Gordine was better than therapy: “Posing in the nude…has taken away all my inhibitions…It gave me a completely new idea of myself.” “.

The actor was then aged fifty and embarking on an affair with Michael Redgrave, twenty years her junior.

I am seeing Dorich House Museum, which sits in Kingston Vale. It was the original studio home of Gordine (1895-1991) and her husband the Hon Richard Hare (1907-1966). Now Grade II listed, the building was completed in 1936 to Gordine’s design, and is an exceptional example of a modern studio house created by and for a female artist. It’s a warm, breezy afternoon, perfect for finishing an astonishing visit with time on the roof terrace, spent listening to birdsong and the soughing of the wind in the canopy of branches.

Gordine first achieved critical acclaim in 1926; in 1938 she was hailed as “possibly the finest woman sculptor in the world” and remained a significant presence in European sculpture until the late 1960s. After settling in Kingston in 1936 she remained living and working at Dorich House until her death in 1991.

Richard Gilbert Hare developed a lifelong interest in the study and collection of Russian art and culture. In the postwar years, Hare became a Professor of Russian Literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at the University of London.

Following Gordine’s death, Dorich House was acquired and renovated by Kingston University. The Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Gordine’s work, which spans her artistic career.