Friday, January 24, 2014

Miss Hargreaves 

Mischief makers –– youthful –– on a lark ––
Initiate in spirit of burlesque
Something whimsical, endearing, yet grotesque,
Spirited, irrational –– often dark ––
Horrifying in its fascination ––
Also wistful, fey and sympathetic.
Ringing chords with dissonance splenetic
Granting spellbound hearers consternation
Railing on, imperious, yet eager ––
Engorged –– suffused –– with weird vitality ––
An ancient personage emerged from meager
Vision, and became Reality ––
Engaged her host-creators to beleaguer ––
Shrank then back to cosmicality.

~ FreeThinke (1/20/14)

Miss Hargreaves made her first appearance in 1940 as the central character in a novel with the same name  by Britain's Frank Baker, a most interesting, many-faceted character, himself. Mr. Baker enjoyed success not only as a novelist, but also as an organist, poet, actor, and musical director of theatrical productions. Miss Hargreaves was adapted as a play with Dame Margaret Rutherford (pictured above) in the title role. It was also produced by the BBC for television. I am most grateful to AOW for telling me about Frank Baker and his fantastic creation. The book is still available under the aegis of The Bloomsbury Group on in both print and Kindle editions.


  1. I've read a bit of Miss Hargreaves. Soon, I'll be reading more because I now have the Kindle edition. The few copies at the public library are in great demand!

    I also have Frank Baker's The Birds.

    PS: Excellent sonnet, FT.

  2. Frida Van der WienerJanuary 24, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    Excellent editorial choice with the photos. The top one especially. Brilliant choice employing a picture of Ducky to depict Miss Hargreaves

  3. Dear, AOW, have YOU to thank for putting me on to this fantastic writer and his unique creation. I enjoyed reading Miss Hargreaves very much -- enough to be moved to write a review of Mr. Baker's work in acrostic sonnet form on the name Miss Hargreaves, which happens to contain fourteen letters. If Mr. Baker were still alive, I would dare to submit it to him hoping he'd be glad I caught the whimsical-yet-darkly-mysterious quality of his work.

    I neglected to mention that a number of poems all purporting to be by "Miss Hargreaves," herself, appear in the body of the text and gathered at the end. All are enjoyable and comprehensible. That latter is most unusual in much poetry of the twentieth century. We must remember, of course, that Miss Hargreaves is very much a creature of an earlier time, which of course, accounts for a great deal of her peculiar charm.

  4. Now, Frida, surely you recognized Dame Margaret Rutherford who portrayed Miss Hargreaves at the Royal Court Theatre in London and on the BBC, didn't you?

    I am morally certain that our Ducky is not nearly that good looking, nor would he be capable of assuming an air of such lovably arrogant gentility.

    I wish I could get my hands on the videotape of Margaret Rutherford playing Miss Hargreaves. As I read the book, I envisioned her playing the role, deeply regretted, as I often do, that she was no longer with us, and then learned later -- to my surprise and delight -- that she HAD in fact played the role.

    Something to search for and look forward to, although I could almost swear that Mr. Baker MUST have had Dame Margaret in mind when he wrote Miss Hargreaves.

    Edna May Oliver, best known, perhaps, for her portrayal of David Copperfield's doughty, eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood and of Mr. Darcy's equally doughty, eccentric and imperious aunt in Pride and Prejudice, is the only other actress I could imagine doing justice to Miss Hargreaves.

  5. Claire Deluna Lipschitz said

    I don't know who you are, but I have read Miss Hargreaves (by the way I do wish you had reminded everyone that the names is pronounced Har-GRAVES not Har-GRIEVES; not everybody knows that in the USA), but you have captured the spirit and outlined the content of the book amazingly well in vivid, colorful language, and using an acrostic yet. I suppose you realize you have an astonishing talent, yourself, don't you? Are you famous, and just hiding from your public, or is demonstrating literary genius just a hobby with you? If Francis Baker were still alive I'm sure you and he would be fast friends.

    I liked your Manderely poem too. Keep up the good work. You're practically unique, you know.


  6. Frida Van der WienerJanuary 24, 2014 at 8:17 PM


    Mr. FreeThinke is a positive treasure! I warms my heart to see his considerable talents recognized by others.

  7. Fascinating post. I am left in awe, humbled and yet uplifted!

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  9. Claire and Frida,

    Since I am unused to receiving extravagantly enthusiastic praise, both of you have succeeded in making me blush -- a rare occurrence i assure you. But thank you both so much for your effusive expressions of approval and encouragement.

    My hope in writing this Book Review in Acrostic Sonnet form is that others will feel impelled read or reread the book, and form their own opinion of its singular characteristics.

  10. Thersites, Australian actor-comedian Barry Humphries, age 79, who may be better known as Dame Edna Everage undoubtedly comes from a very long line of British female impersonators.

    For some reason the British have always found the practice of female impersonation more than acceptable -- on the stage. I'm reasonably certain this practice extended all the way to the ancient world.

    All of Shakespeare's women were first portrayed by men. No one thought it thew least bizarre at the time. In fact OF what-we-regard-today-as-normal had occurred at the original Globe Theatre the production very likely would have been shut down by the authorities, and the company either jailed or run out of town.

    "Why is that?" you ask.

    Because it was considered an act of moral turpitude to allow females to perform in public, which is why to this day we have BOY CHOIRS singing the treble parts in most of the important churches and cathedrals in the UK.

    Male altos and countertenors (perfectly normal, fully developed men who sing solos and arias in voices we today consider natural to the distaff side) are still very much in evidence. Not all of them are homosexuals by a long shot.

    In opera the situation became reversed, when many so-called Trouser Roles" were specifically written for females (usually contraltos or mezzo sopranos). These parts represented adolescent males and very young men who aspired to win the affections of a very attractive older woman, neglected by a loutish older husband more interested in carousing and imbibing too much spiritous liquor than in attending to the needs of his wife.

    The tradition persisted well into the twentieth century even here in these rough-cut, provincial, relatively unsophisticated United States. The Princeton Triangle Club, for instance, was famous for writing and producing a brand new musical show each year in which all characters male and female alike were played by males. It was after all an all male academy.

    All that aside, I assure you that Miss Hargreaves, herself, eccentric, mannered and phantasmagorical as she may be -- and I can't help referring to her in the present tense after reading her story -- Miss Hargreaves, unlike your friend Edna Everage is all girl.

    By the way, Humphries, who has played Edna all over the world with great success, is married and the father of several children, so these outward appearances of sexual ambiguity may in fact be very deceptive indeed.

    As G&S famously said, "Things are seldom what they seem."

  11. Speaking of G&S, here's a memorable performance by Hinge and Brackett, a team of highly skilled female impersonators much beloved by the British public for decades.

    Cut and paste this link into Google, click and find out what it's all about. I had the privilege of spending an entire evening with these two as they strutted about and sang in a variety of skits on the London stage.

    The event cast such a spell it was virtually impossbe to believe that they were not exactly what they were pretending to be. The affection from the audience was palpable, and at the end, despite have inspired any number of giggles, belly laughs and titters, the whole thing -- like the fantastic antics of Miss Hargreaves -- turned out to be very touching.

    There is seriousness of purpose and awareness of tragedy at the heart of all really good comedy. Carol Burnett's portrayal of "Eunice" for instance never failed to make me feel sadly empathetic with that poor, ridiculous soul, and her impossibly clumsy, insensitive family. The relationship between Archie and Edith Bunker at times struck a similar note.

    Unfortunately, today we have come to conflate comedy with travesty. As a culture today, we seem to be losing depth almost hourly.

    I shudder to think at what is apt to happen once the ever-thinning, constantly evaporating surface of our cultural pond dries up completely.

    Meanwhile, enjoy and draw sustenance from the treasures of the past.

  12. Christian Crusader said

    This an insult to God. IF you think that's untrue, you are headed for an eternity of suffering, and there won't be any hope for you to escape. God has made it clear how He feels about worshipping idols and false gods. This Hargreeves woman is nothing but a spawn if the devil, a demon who must be exorcised. There is not amusing about her only deadly danger to your immortal soul.

  13. ____The Garden of Love ____

    I went to the Garden of Love,
    And saw what I never had seen:
    A Chapel was built in the midst,
    Where I used to play on the green.

    And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
    And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
    So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
    That so many sweet flowers bore.

    And I saw it was filled with graves,
    And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
    And Priests in black gowns,
    Were walking their rounds,
    And binding with briars,
    My joys and desires.

    ~ William Blake (1757–1827)

  14. I'm a huge Blake fan. His "Tales of Innocence and Experience" are the best!

  15. I agree, Thersites, although Auguries of Innocence would have to be my favorite.

    Do you have an opinion about his paintings and woodcuts? If so, I'd like to hear it.

    Caspar David Friedrich did a remarkable illustration of The Garden of Love. How I wish it were possible to transfer illustrations into our responses on these blogs, even though I'm sure it would open the door to all KINDS of mischief most of us would prefer not to have to deal with!

    Always the DEVILANGEL at work in all of us. I'm certainly no exception.

    HOWEVER, the only acceptable from of control is SELF-CONTROL.

    TYRANNY will forever hold sway till human beings learn to curb their worst instincts, THEMSELVES.

  16. No I don't. I believe that they fairly well stand on their own without illustration... although I am partial to the addition of musical accompaniment not in the original work.

  17. ..and one for those who crave objectivity out the ends of subjectivity... from a point de capiton... where innocence and experience paradoxically "meet".

  18. Clark Williams said

    I'm sorry, but I just don't get it.

  19. Like many things, You only get out what you are willing to put it.

  20. Clark Williams said

    Yeah, but what if I put it in and can't get it out? I've heard that happens sometimes with some of them.

  21. I doesn't sound like you've "tried" it yourself... only "heard".



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