THE WEDGWOOD MEDALLION
By Emily Beatrix Coursolles Jones, Published in London by Chatto & Windus, 1922
Scouting the internet one day, I found this little volume on eBay from a Welsh seller. He was honest that it wasn’t in the best condition, but it is hard-bound and the pages are all intact. Having no pre-conceived idea of its content or subject really, I dug right in. It takes a number of chapters to arrive at the first mention of the Wedgwood medallions collected by the father of some of the main characters. The symbolism comes out as he gives the medallions away to the fiancée of one of his nephews. The book is a love story, very Victorian in style, very much a “coming of age” story. Sweet, innocent people leading sweet, innocent lives. The main character, a young girl living a cloistered life with her mother & sisters on the Devon coast of England, discovers love when a group of young men vacation near her home one summer. She meets one of them and falls in love, but in her own way loves all of them. In the end things change, but the circle remains intact. Her maturation from child frolicking on the beach to young Englishwoman living on her own in London is traced through the adventures of her new-found friends, their loves, lives, tribulations and family ties and her own discovery of the meaning of love.
The Wedgwood medallions owned by her uncle-in-law-to-be mesmerize her and many others in the family. Her fiancée’s sister has already married into the family and has been given a doublet made from two of the small medallions, sometimes called cameos in today’s world. The owner of the medallions sees them as small works of art, not different from many Wedgwood collectors even today. The star of the story is named Sophie which will help clarify the following quote:
‘Come here, little Sophie,' said Mr. Watergate with a lightening of his solemnity, as he took out a large, flat jewel-case, 'and you shall see your prototype.’
She rose;...to her host’s side. He displayed his treasures-a double row of little Wedgwood medallions, some round, some square; and one blank space,in the puckered velvet of their bed. ‘Here were Euterpe and Terpsichore you see; Enid has them as a locket. And here is the lady tying her sandal, and her companion.’
Sophie, fascinated, leaning closer, saw, on the background of clear, definite, yet delicate blue, the tiny white figure of the Grecian Sophie and on the reverse of the medallion that of a young man, standing upright, with both arms raised to tie the fillet round his head.
‘Here, you see’, he pursued after a moment, 'is another pair; Hebe and Hermes, cup-bearer and messenger to the gods of Greece-and, subsequently, of Rome. That finishes the pairs; the rest are single.’
‘I think they are perfectly lovely....they are so complete. Aren’t they? That, little Sophie, is Art. Completion. You recognize, and yet you are startled...shall I give you that fillet-holding swain, and the lady whose sandal he is not worthy to unloose?’
Further along in the story we hear a commentary by one of his sons:
“Yes; those Wedgwood plaques, for instance-father admires them, of course; but half the excitement about them is because he inherited them from his father, with a lot of the Hepplewhite and Chippendale and William-and-Mary furniture. It’s not so much as works of art that he worships them as because they are heirlooms, and symbols of his solid position in society- honest back-bone of England, patron of the arts, father of a family, and so on”
There is more symbolism, but I’ll let each reader come to his or her own conclusion. Don’t expect a rousing adventure story here, if it were made into a movie, it would definitely be called a “chick flick”!
This book can presently be found in a few libraries around the country, to wit: Chicago Univ., Northwestern, Miami U, Ohio, Cincinnati Pub Library, Milwaukee Co. Library Sys., Western Mich U., Ohio State, UAB Sterne Library, Birmingham, U Michigan, Minneapolis Pub Lib, Atlanta Pub Lib, Cleveland State U Lib, Cleveland Pub Lib, Texas A & M, Smith, Cal State, Duke U, Los Angeles Public Library, Whittier College, CA.
It’s a small compact volume, of course bound in a slate blue color. Enjoy!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
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