Paralipo-what? January 31, 2018

I learned a new word the other day: paralipomena. It means things left out, usually from a piece of writing, which are used in something later on. Recycled outtakes, more or less.

Playwright Alan Bennett introduced me to the word in one of the essays collected in Writing Home, a miscellaneous book that includes The Lady in the Van, his memoir about the woman who lived in a series of vans parked in his London driveway for seventeen years. (Maggie Smith plays her in the movie, and is magnificent.)

Bennett uses the word to launch his essay Kafka at Las Vegas, giving himself an excuse to publish leftover bits of research behind his two plays about Franz Kafka.

I liked learning it not least because I last blogged about a character I left out of my novel, Mad Richard. This was William Price of Llantrisant, a Victoria proto-hippie I researched but never wrote about— an unconscious bit of paralimpona-ing on my part. (I don’t think that’s really a word.)

Now, as I get back to blogging, I thought I’d start with a couple of other factoids I came across while researching Mad Richard, which is set in Victoria times. Both are from the biography Queen Victoria, Born to Succeed written by Elizabeth Longford in 1964.

There are recent biographies of Queen Victoria with more up-to-date research including—outtake—the fact that modern doctors now believe that her husband, Prince Albert, died of either stomach cancer or uncontrolled Crohn’s disease. At the time it was thought he’d died of typhoid. He was 42, and his death plunged Queen Victoria into years of mourning.

This is Prince Albert the British consort, not Prince Albert the genital piercing defined by Wikipedia as “a ring-style piercing that extends along the underside of the glans from the urethral opening to where the glans meets the shaft of the penis.” The piercing was the first hit that came up one time when I googled Prince Albert, although neither piercing nor prince made it into the novel.

Urban legend, by the way, says that Albert invented the piercing so he could minimize the prominence of his large penis in skin-tight Victorian trousers, presumably tethering it to his groin. Scholars have found no evidence this is true—certainly not the long-lived aristocrat Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford (1904-2002), who used the pen name Elizabeth Longford when writing her books.

What I enjoy most about Longford’s biographies are the details burbling through her long chatty paragraphs: gold for a novelist looking for period details.

One delightful burble I never found a use for involved the real Prince Albert, who in 1841 was “the champion skater on Frogmore pond.” Longford tells us that the prince had an elegant swan’s head soldered to the tip of each skate.  “When he slipped down playing ice-hockey (Victoria) was amazed at the agility with which he sprang to his feet again.”

I like to picture the very proper Prince Albert playing hockey (as I did this morning) and want those swan’s heads for my skates. Miniature hood ornaments?

Yet Albert’s hood ornaments aren’t as good as my favorite image from the biography: a description of the day in 1877 when Queen Victoria, her daughter Princess Beatrice and a lady-in-waiting were seen “blithely smoking cigarettes on a picnic at Balmoral to keep the midges away.”

I’ve kept picturing Queen Victoria with a cigarette in her mouth ever since.