Black Butler: the film

Next in my exploration of the world of ‘Black Butler’ was the live action film version released in 2014.  There are differences from the manga but the parallel world (part Victorian or Edwardian) is still here and the central characters of butler and his master are in place.  Yet, the biggest surprise was that the master was not Ciel Phantomhive but Earl Kiyohara Genpu and, wait for it, he was a she!

The master served by the butler is a girl at the start of the film and, like the manga, she is involved in fighting the underworld but, once rescued from the hands of villains in the film’s opening scene, she appears as a boy.  For the rest of the film s/he is the master served by the butler.  Central to this film is the need to revenge the death of his/her parents and discover which forces are behind attempts to destroy him/her.

The action sequences are good showing the super human skill of the butler as he deals with all comers.  The master- servant relationship also works well as the power play between the two provides hints that this story is not yet over.  Hiro Mizushima plays Sebastian and Ayame Gouriki plays his master.

I haven’t reached the purist stage yet so the departure from the story line of the manga did not worry me.


Black Butler

I promised myself not to get involved in another manga series and yet here I am at the start of a trek through ‘Black Butler’ by Yana Toboso.  Of course, I could step off the track before the end or even refuse to take the next step but, having read the first volume, it seems I am hooked!

As ever with my hinterland, I was on the search for something else when I came across the character of Ciel Phantomhive and this led to the discovery that there is a ‘Black Butler’ manga, musical, film and anime.

This first manga introduces us to Ciel Phantomhive and his butler who has extraordinary gifts when serving his master.  Ciel is orphaned so is head of the Phantomhive family even though he is only thirteen years old.  He runs the company but also has a crime fighting role in the London underworld as the Queen’s Guardian.  This alternative universe appears Victorian and is intriguing because it is set in London but is Japanese in origin.

Sebastian Michaelis is the butler of the title.  He serves and protects his young master using skills that seem beyond the ordinary.   There is a household of servants supporting him but it is Sebastian who anticipates and serves his master’s every wish.  The young Phantomhive is enigmatic himself.  There are references to his parents’ death and strange circumstances that led to his position at the head of a crime fighting initiative.  The set up is enough to keep me going.  I am ready to move on to volume two!

Leighton House Museum is a Treasure House

In London, so I went to see the Leighton House Museum in the Holland Park area.  I have long been an admirer of the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton and wanted to see the oriental influences in the decoration of the house he lived, worked and died in.  I arrived just as the museum opened so had the place to myself (apart from the people who worked there, of course) for the first hour of my visit.  Other visitors started arriving as I finished.

Frederic Leighton commissioned George Aitchison to build him a house that could be both home and studio.  Additional parts were added in later years but the central feature was the Arab Hall with tiled walls, a dome and running water into a pool in the floor.  Since I was on my own I kept stepping both ways through a doorway in and out of the drawing room since it was a contrast of East and West.  Crossing between them seemed to be a good way of capturing the spirit of the British artist inspired by the East.  A Millais painting hangs in the drawing room and Islamic inspired tiles decorate the Arab Hall; the combination is a good evocation of the man.

Queen Victoria visited the man and his house but she probably had lots of retainers with her.  I was on my own!  The works on show here are interesting but his best known paintings and sculptures are elsewhere in the big national galleries.  Interestingly, there is a colour study for the painting ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence’, a painting in the National Gallery that I have to visit every time I am passing that way!

An interesting fact I picked up on this visit was that he did not have his peerage for very long.  He was made Baron Leighton in the 1896 New Year Honours List, making him the first artist to be honoured in this way, only to die the next day!


Osborne House is a Treasure House

The rooms may have been elegant, full of beautiful objects and of huge historical importance but I was most impressed by the corridors of Osborne House.  The bronze statues were great with Fredinand Barbedienne’s statue of Silenus and the infant Bacchus a favourite.  This was a gift from Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.

The head of Prince Alemayehu of Abyssinia fascinated me.  I read Elizabeth Laird’s fictionalised life of the young boy who was taken into exile by the British when the empire was at its height.  Yet again we have a young man, supposedly taken under the wing of the Queen when he should have been ruling in his own country.  In this case the bronze by Francis John Williamson was commissioned by Victoria after the death of the prince at a young age.

To be surrounded with such opulence must be an assault on the senses but maybe you stop seeing them after a while.

Osborne House is a Treasure House

In (or on) the Isle of Wight so I visited Osborne House for the first time in about thirty years.  I remember parts of my previous visit but did not remember the Durbar room, the most impressive addition to the house in Queen Victoria’s time!

BlogDuleepSinghpaintingI was on the lookout for the portrait of Duleep Singh having read the novel based on his life by Navtej Sarna.  The location of this painting by Winterhalter is significant as the boy Maharajah was taken under the wing of the Queen when he was taken away from the Punjab and his mother at the age of ten.

The painting was commissioned by Victoria using the services of German artist Franz Xaver Wintherhalter, a court painter who worked for European royalty.  This work is dated 1854.

Surrounding the portrait were other paintings of Indian people, mostly men, collected or commissioned by the Queen for her house. Her status as Empress of India is reflected by the fact that India came to her; she never visited India herself.   There are princes, military types and servants represented here with little differentiation by rank.  Their position is all due to ethnicity.

As is usual on visits such as this, I came away wanting to know more about the unsung parts of history.  The painting of the man with the long hair was intriguing because he was shared a name with Duleep Singh.  Victor Albert Jay Duleep Singh was his son and the godson of the Queen.  It was painted by Sydney Prior Hall and presented to the Queen by Duleep Singh at Christmas 1879.  Apparently, Her Majesty was much taken with the boy’s long hair but he had been given a short back and sides before attending school.  The painting was created with the help of a photograph that had been taken of him before his hair cut.


The Exile

I first heard about the life of Duleep Singh in a television documentary a few years ago.  I wanted to know more as this seemed to be another of those hidden stories about Empire which were best forgotten.

BlogTheExileThis novel by Navtej Sarna takes the historical facts but weaves a story told by the elderly Duleep Singh as he nears death and several of the figures he encountered in his life.  The young Duleep Singh became the maharaja of the Punjab but was outmanoeuvered by the British.  As a boy he was sent to Britain to be brought up as a young gentleman.  Queen Victoria was fond of him and he was placed in the care of Dr John Login, a deeply committed Christian who was delighted when his charge converted from Sikhism as a young man.

It is a story of power and manipulation.  The young maharaja was separated from his mother at a young age to prevent son or parent from trying to regain the throne.  While the British royal family included him, they did so on their terms; the British government was keen to ensure he could not return to India.

For much of his life he was content to live the life of a country gentleman. He had estates in Scotland and Suffolk.  Later, after being reunited with his mother, he regained an interest in Sikhism and sought to return to India.  The British Empire did not let anyone kick against it and the might of the state was used to ensure he did not reach his homeland.  He turned instead to Russia in the hope that their enmity with Britain would lead to him regaining the Punjab.  International politics being what they are, he was unsuccessful and he died in a mid-range Paris hotel.

The story is worth telling and the author leads us through quite complex history by providing us with the fictional thoughts of the dying man.   The novel is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?

The Fishing Fleet

BlogFishingFleetThis book by Anne de Courcy is a study of the British in India through the particular prism of the women who travelled out to the Raj to marry.  In some cases, the journey was made with the sole purpose of finding a husband.

The history of the Empire is well documented and what makes this book stand out is its focus on amazing women, many from the ruling classes, who supported husbands in their governing roles, often in trying circumstances; not all women lived in Government House!

The pressures on family life were seen most of all by the women.  An example of the difficulties they faced is seen through the difficult decision needed when their children go back ‘home’ for school.  Should they stay in England or leave them to return to husbands in India?  In such ways did the British show their stiff upper lips!

For some women, the bachelors of India (mostly running the Indian Civil Service) were ideal since their working lives precluded marriage until they turned 30.  The fleet also proved handy for families who decided their daughters were too plain or too clever or both.

The story of the British in India is an interesting one but has been well covered by other historians.  This book works so well by exploring the history from a different angle but also because voices that might otherwise be forgotten are aired.

‘The Fishing Fleet’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?