I’ve learned to pay attention when serendipity strikes. Last night, I watched another episode of Netflix’s new series, “The Crown.” The story begins on VE-“Victory in Europe”-Day, May 8, 1945, when Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret celebrate incognito on the streets of London. Two years later, Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II of England, but that night, she danced with commoners and partied like any other nineteen-year-old.
Back up almost exactly ten years to May 12, 1937, when Elizabeth’s father, the Duke of York, became King George VI. The abdication of his brother to marry Wallis Simpson focused everyone’s attention on England, including Emilie Loring, who wrote her England story, High of Heart, that year and published it the next.
In 1940, when she wrote Where Beauty Dwells, Europe was fully engaged in World War II, but it would be another year before Pearl Harbor was bombed. New England was still a haven of peace and beauty–where beauty dwells.
It was grand to be back in New England… He had returned because with Europe in flames the United States needed every one of her citizens.
Throughout the story is a sense of dread for what may follow.
“No matter what I am doing, all the time in the back of my mind I hear the beat of drums of war. One can’t ignore it in the life of today…”
Americans love England, perhaps especially in Boston, which never let go of its English customs and genealogical interest. It’s no accident that tea was important enough there to cause a row before the Revolution–or that it would remain an essential part of the day for Bostonians like Emilie with English heritage. (See Terrace Teas with the Owen Sisters) When England was at war, Americans felt it keenly.
Emilie’s friends gave her more immediate connections to England. Her friend Beth Kerley still had family there. Louise and Lizzy Hallet lived long stretches in London’s Goring Hotel. And the remaining Owen sister, Minnie, still had first cousins in England with whom she had visited and still corresponded.
Here is the household at “Oakley” in Tettenhall Wood, Wolverhampton, England, where Minnie, Bessie, and Carrie Owen visited in 1902. Second from the left is first cousin Priscilla (Owen) Williams; second from the right is their grandmother, Sophia Owen, and the little tyke on the far left is Myfanwy, also known as “Poppy.” We’ll learn more about her in a minute.
I have wondered how Emilie was able to describe the English home and grounds so well in High of Heart. Do you think “Oakley” might have been the original Trentmere Towers, described to her in detail by the Owen sisters?
Now is when serendipity comes in. After watching “The Crown” last night, I received another message this morning from Angie in the U.K., sending photos and an accompanying story that pulled these thoughts together.
Go back one more decade to 1927. Minnie Owen’s cousin Alban is an officer on the British Naval ship Renown which takes the Duke and Duchess of York on a “Royal Cruise” to Australia, stopping at Caribbean Islands, the Panama Canal, Pacific Islands, and New Zealand on the way. Minnie’s cousin “Poppy”–pictured above–wrote to family in Tasmania about a letter she’d received:
“Alban… says how charming they are, especially the Duchess, nearly every evening they come up on deck & join the dancing & he had a great time teaching her the Charleston.
“He says they took it in turns to invite the officers to dinner in their own State Rooms. When it came to his time he was terrified, but the Duchess, in fact both of them, were so natural & so friendly & soon put him at his ease. He said it was the most pleasant evening he had ever spent.”
That’s right. Minnie Owen’s cousin taught the future Queen how to dance the Charleston. I thought of the dancing scene in “The Crown” and how well Princess Elizabeth’s mother would have understood.
The royal family and Duke of York are mentioned in Where Beauty Dwells.
A slim man of medium height with a face which reminded him of the Dukes of Great Britain’s reigning family…
She had brought the idea from England where the then Duke of York had initiated the erection of village signs of symbolic or historic interest. Where Beauty Dwells
I have to remind myself that these references were obvious when Emilie Loring’s books were published. It’s not necessary to know them to follow the action and romance, but knowing the history makes the story richer.
The next installment on Where Beauty Dwells will provide context for the story’s boundary dispute, Trudy’s real-life identity, and sister Merry’s disability. Until then, let’s read it again, so we have it fresh in our minds.
Attribution: photo of “The Crown” is from Netflix