13 September 2012

W. H. Hudson in Hyde Park: London #28

On the other side of the Serpentine from Kensington Gardens is Hyde Park, which at the time we visited over two weeks ago was difficult to negotiate as it was full of Olympic Games nonsense, but we eventually found what we were looking for – the W. H. Hudson memorial.

'THIS SANCTUARY FOR BIRDS
IS DEDICATED
TO THE MEMORY OF
W. H. HUDSON,
WRITER & FIELD NATURALIST'
 
The sculpture is inaccessible because it is in an enclosure. On one side of the central portrait, in Roman numerals, is the year of Hudson's birth – 'MDCCCXLI' – and on the other the year of his death – 'MCMXXII'. In the middle is a representation from Hudson's most famous novel, Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1904). In the novel, Abel, a young adventurer from Venezuela, goes into the forests of Guyana and finds the mysterious Rima, a girl who can communicate with birds. Inevitably, they fall in love.

Jacob Epstein sculpted this beautiful memorial, which was unveiled in 1925 and resulted in quite an outcry. An avant garde creation in a public place was perhaps bound to cause something of a stir. But it was beyond any doubt the exposure of Rima's breasts and the sexual suggestion – that bird's upturned beak does look wonderfully phallic, for example – that more than anything offended the sensibilities of a public that still hadn't come to terms with the fact that the Victorian era was over.
 
Leap-frogging back in time to someone noted for sex scandals before the Victorian era, this statue of Lord Byron by Richard Claude Belt in 1880 – with his beloved dog Boatswain at his side – is just outside the entrance to Hyde Park. Unfortunately it is on a traffic island which was much too busy for me to even consider approaching, so I had to be content with this rather distant shot.

Below is a link to the full text of the novel.
 
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Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest, by W. H. Hudson

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