A romp through the Isle of Wight’s literary connections and associations, by author and novelist, Fidelis Morgan, who lives in Cowes.
|…. come to the Isle of Wight:
Where, far from the noise of smoke and town,
I watch the twilight falling brown
All around a careless ordered garden,
Close to the ridge of a noble down.
You’ll have no scandal while you dine,
But honest talk and wholesome wine.
And only hear the magpie gossip
Garrulous under a roof of pine:
For groves of pine on either hand,
To break the blast of winter stand;
And further on the hoary Channel
Tumbles a billow on chalk and sand . Tennyson 1834
“Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight” sang Paul McCartney in 1967. In fiction the Island is a popular destination. Recently Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, left, could be seen battling it out on stage supposedly in a local cottage (David Hare’s The Breath of Life) while in Julian Barnes’ England, England the Island is turned into a giant theme park.
Before emigrating to Australia, Portsmouth based Neville Shute, left, wrote two novels set on the Island. In The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham made the Island the only triffid-free area in Britain. Helen Corke’s Freshwater Diaries were the basis of DH Lawrence’s, right, The Trespasser. The smuggling yarn Moonfleet by James Faulkner, features a section in various coaching inns in Newport and in Carisbrooke Castle. The Victorian sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret also has a chapter set in the remarkable clifftop cemetery at Ventnor.
The schoolmaster in Tom Brown Schooldays was based upon Dr Thomas Arnold. A terracotta plaque marks his old home in Birmingham Road, Cowes. Thomas Arnold’s son was the poet Matthew Arnold.
William Makepeace Thackeray’s daughter, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, wrote a short story From An Island about Lewis Carroll at Farringford House. And here the realms of fact and fiction meet. Recently Lynne Truss satirised the same Island residence and Victorian celebrities in a novel: Tennyson’s Gift.
And so we pass from the fictional Isle of Wight to the real one which started I think (though I cannot be sure) with Nicholas Udall, precursor of Shakespeare, one-time Vicar of Calbourne, who wrote the first English comedy, a lively, sexy romp – Ralph Roister Doister (c.1553).
In the seventeenth century both Celia Fiennes and Daniel Defoe visited the Island in the compilation of their travel memoirs.