Patricia M Osborne’s latest pamphlet, The Montefiore Bride, published by Hedgehog Press, is a fictional exploration of the relationship between the real life Sir Francis Montefiore and his bride, Lady Marianne. Using a combination of poetry and prose Osborne presents us with a portfolio of texts, rather like an historian or researcher, from which we piece together an understanding of this curious marriage which lasted only a year.
The prose pieces are written from two different perspectives: initially from Mr Brown, the longest serving tenant on the Montefiore estate, and subsequently from Lady Marianne. Through Brown we understand the pleasure and excitement that the marriage brings to the community on the estate. ‘White and blue bunting shimmers in the autumn sun’ and ‘Villagers grip red flags’ in anticipation of the happy couple’s arrival. For Brown this is more than a celebration of a marriage, however, it is about continuity, the maintenance of a way of life. He is reassured that Sir Francis acts like his father and when he hands a penny to the servant girl who presents flowers to the bridal party, Brown describes it as ‘Just the sort of thing Sir Joseph, his father, would have done.’ This augurs well for the future: nothing significant has changed, like his ‘Pa before him… the Bart’s inherited’ the gift of generosity and care for his tenants. From Brown’s perspective there is a reassuring familiarity about the moments he observes: this is tradition in action.
However, this is not the marriage the community takes it to be. There are signs on their arrival that this is far from an ideal relationship. Brown describes Lady Marianne as a ‘child bride’. She is a ‘young gal ripped away from her Austrian family’ and there is a fragility and vulnerability about her: ‘Her wee face’ is ‘like pale porcelain’. Significantly she appears reticent and uncomfortable on her arrival at the estate. As Sir Francis greets the villagers: ‘Lady Marianne’s slim fingers slip from his palm.’ Later at the presentation her eyes will ‘glisten like glass’ and when presented with the silver cup by Brown ‘Lady M offers a half-smile, raises a slim hand to her face for a second before turning away.’ She is not a happy bride. This reality is juxtaposed with the idealised picture that Osborne establishes through her vivid description of the setting: ‘Crowds cheer and whistle, flags flap as couple pass. Geraniums, chrysanthemums, other bloom too, burnished reds, golds, pinks and whites form welcome floral arches.’ Such language conveys the hopes for this relationship but the signs are there that they will not be realised.
In the prose piece written from Lady Marianne’s perspective we acquire some insight into why this will be the case. Though she is attracted to Sir Francis (‘her pulse quickens’ when he looks at her), the marriage has not been consummated: ‘her bedroom door stays closed’. This is partly because she is homesick, (‘Worth Park was not such a long way from Mutter’) and partly because of Sir Francis’ mother’s constant disapproving presence that seems to stifle any opportunity for developing and acting upon her feelings for him: ‘She is everywhere. I sense her antipathy.’ She appears to make daughter-in-law feel that she is not good enough for ‘Mr Supreme’. We are not surprised, therefore, that after she and her husband visit Vienna to care for her ailing mother, Sir Francis comes home alone.
Interspersed with these prose pieces are poems. These serve the purpose of building and maintaining a sense of the appearance and reality of this marriage. The two haikus, The Approach and The Servants Ball, convey the excitement felt by the community and the fantasies it encourages. In the longer poem, ‘Light on the Lake’, the firework celebration is a symbolic representation of this relationship. Whilst beautiful with its array of colours ‘Sapphire//Emerald// Gold’ just like the marriage there is an artificiality: the rainbow of colours is ‘man-made’; and there is a sense of suffering too (‘shafts of colour/scream’ and ‘s p a r k s/fall like rain’. Though the ‘crowd gasp’ the entertainment will be short-lived.
The Montefiore Bride is an unusual and engaging pamphlet in which Osborne, an accomplished writer, uses poetry and prose in a fresh and original way to build a vivid sense of character, community and relationships. Take a look and help out Crawley Open House (a charity for the homeless) at the same time.
Patricia Osborne graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Merit) via the University of Brighton. She is a novelist, poet, and short story writer and an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies and magazine.
All proceeds from sales of signed copies or the pdf version purchased from her website go to Crawley Open House, a local homeless shelter. Order your signed copy here and help the homeless at the same time.
Next week read the Drop in by Lucy Dixcart, talking about a poem from her collection, ‘Fusion’