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Dartmouth - An Enchanted Place by Joslin Fiennes
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Dartmouth - An Enchanted Place by Joslin Fiennes
On the 16th August, a new book exploring the extraordinary history of Dartmouth is launched. The book is a richly illustrated addition to anyone’s coffee table and is researched and authored by Joslin Fiennes who has already been interviewed by this magazine (see May 2013 issue) about her illustrious international career as an economist. Painting and sculpture, poetry and adventure, the present and the past, the local and the cosmopolitan; all belong to this exploration of the Dartmouth area. Although Joslin’s career has focused on international economics, the book is a return to writing for her. Early jobs included a stint as sub-editor for Punch and assistant editor for The Journal of Modern African Studies, when living in Tanzania. While in Botswana she published short stories, principally about Africa. In this exclusive interview, she talks to Phil Scoble about how the book came about and what discoveries the reader will make.
It’s about seeing what you are looking at – I mean really seeing.” Joslin Fiennes’ eyes light up with excitement as she takes me through her new book, Dartmouth: An Enchanted Place, which is published this month by the Antiques Collectors Club in association with Richard Webb. “We all look at the town and the area around it and see a beautiful, historical place, but when you dig down into the history and, perhaps more importantly, find the people who made and kept it, then what you see is far richer and much more entertaining.”
Joslin has spent 18 months painstakingly bringing together her story of the art, writing and entrepreneurship that has been inspired by Dartmouth and its river.
She shows me a magnificent image of a face carved rather crudely into a pillar of St Clements church.
“This is a mason who helped build this church and it’s centuries old,” she says. “It was probably a self portrait. It is still here because generation after generation of Dartmouth people decided they wanted to keep it. Why? Who knows? But for us, it’s a link with somebody here who built this church and a connection with all the later generations who cared enough about his carving to keep it. That is what we have here today: what people have chosen to preserve. The town and its surrounding area are a living embodiment of what is now and what went before.”
Joslin has immersed herself in the modern scene and its social and political history – and clearly has a passion for what she has discovered. She tells not only the story of modern artists and writers and those who have lived and worked here, but of the merchants, inventors, smugglers, Royals and the military.
“It brings the people home, shows what they are and how they thought and lived,” she says. “I was going to just write about the art and the writing, but found during my research that there was so many more interesting people to look at and stories to tell. The thing is you can’t really separate these things out – all of the changes to the town have influenced the people who came here and produced so many amazing things and built the town to what it is today.”
You can read it as both an artistic and social story. Within each chapter, the images are mostly contemporary to the period of the text, whether modern or historical. So the stunning book, which uses its large pages to full effect, not only creates a visual story of the area via the art it has inspired, but also tells about the change of art style over the centuries. This idea is used in the new hanging of the galleries at Tate Britain.
“Through the artists inspired by this area, you can see art developing,” she says. “JMW Turner came here - and drew some amazing sketches, but also was inspired by the landscape to create a colour wash which shows just why he was such an influence on the impressionists – he started them off really. During my research, I found a number of sketches he had done of the area which had never been published and I’m delighted that they are in the book. Over a hundred years later, Lucien Pissarro was here, and his paintings showed how the last of the impressionists chose to see the area. So we see it through the first and last artists of an international movement.”
Joslin has travelled far and wide during her research and managed to unearth new, alongside well-known, treasures.
The book features not only the artists inspired by the Dart and their work, but also the novelists, writers and poets who have worked or written about the town.
Some surprising names instantly jump off the page: apart from the widely known Agatha Christie and Flora Thompson, there is also Nevil Shute and Robert Graves – both of whom wrote some of their most acclaimed work either about Dartmouth or whilst they were staying on the river.
“Graves wrote several books while he stayed in Galmpton,” she says. “This includes The White Goddess, a major work on myth. Nevil Shute based much of Most Secret here, and it was so accurate it was censored until after the war! Flora Thompson lived here for more than ten years. She found her voice here, writing Lark Rise and starting Over to Candelford; she chose to be buried here, alongside her son, who was killed in the war.”
“I’m especially pleased to have a chapter on three living poets who write about and come from the area: Alice Oswald, Brian Patten and Kevin Pyne. These poets are very different, but are all inspired by, and involved in, their communities a huge amount. I think the book benefits massively from their presence.”
Joslin has also managed to include many stories from the Victorian inventors to medieval pirates. “We have harrowing accounts of men being taken as slaves ” she says. “And we also have a picture of Kat Ashley – Governess to Queen Elizabeth the first – who was also a Champernowne of Modbury and Dartington. She introduced her relatives Humphrey Gilbert and Walter Raleigh to the Queen and helped them start their glittering careers. They helped our local John Davis, who discovered the Falkland Islands and searched for the north-west passage to the east, sailing there on the first expedition of the Dutch via the south. It took me months to source the right image of this little picture and I’m delighted. This woman helped shape not only her own family’s fortunes, but also the history of the Tudor times!”
The book features beautiful photography of the Dartmouth area. Joslin says she was delighted with the way the book looks.
“They have done a fantastic job with both the images of the town and the art. Valerie Wills and Nigel Evans have provided a lot of the images and the large format of the book allows their work to be shown off magnificently. I’m hopeful the book will be well received.”
‘Dartmouth: An Enchanted Place’ is published on August 17th by the Antique Collectors Club in association with Richard Webb and will cost £35. It is available for sale exclusively in Dartmouth prior to national publication from the Dartmouth Community Bookshop (01803 839571) and White Sails Gallery (01803 832272).
First Published August 2013 By the Dart