Ellen Terry and her glorious gown of beetle wings

The Virtual Victorian (“Peer back into the mists of time — for facts, fancies and fabrications about the Victorian era”) has just published a lovely post about Ellen Terry’s gown made of beetle wings. As Carrollians, the occasion was too good not to mention her friendship with Charles Dodgson.

The post by the Virtual Victorian mainly reports the actress’career and love life and presents the restoration of the garment, now at Smallhythe Place where Terry died in 1928.

As far as Dodgson is concerned, he photographed the Terry family (including Ellen, whose complete name was “Alice Ellen” — yet another Alice) more than once. A few of those photographs are available online (Ellen Terry and her mother, alone 1 & 2, and Kate Terry as Andromeda).

Not only did he photograph her and her family, but he attended with great enthusiasm the plays in which she performed, with subsequent praise:

“The gem of the piece is Olivia herself, acted by Ellen Terry with a sweetness and pathos that moved some of the audience (nearly including myself) to tears. Her leave-taking was exquisite; and when, in her exile, she hears that her little brother had cried at the mention of her name, her exclamation ‘Pet!’ was tenderness itself. Altogether, I have not had a greater dramatic treat for a long time.” (LC quoted in Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, 1899. 192)

“You gave me a treat on Saturday such as I have seldom  had in my life. You must be weary by this time of hearing your own praise, so I will only say that Portia was all I could have imagined and more.” (idem, 182.)

Ellen Terry [wearing the gown] as Lady Macbeth by John Sargent, oil on canvas, 1889.

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