Friday, 16 August 2013

The machine gun inventor who vanished

An absolutely fascinating story on the BBC website today. The mystery of William Cantelo. The sounds of rapid gunfire from the basement in a house in Southampton in the 1880s – an inventor called William Cantelo tells his sons that he has invented a new type of gun that will fire bullets in rapid succession. He packs it away and sets off – presumably to sell it. He vanishes into thin air.

A couple of decades later, another inventor, Sir William Maxim, is getting rich from an invention of his own – the Maxim gun, mowing down thousands of men in the First World War.

 But Maxim and Cantelo look uncannily alike. And Cantelo’s sons put a private detective on the case. They spot ‘Maxim’ at Waterloo Station and shout "Father"…but the elusive figure gets away. And money disappears from Cantelo’s account after he vanishes. Maxim meanwhile has a reputation for ‘brain-sucking’ – stealing people’s ideas. Were Maxim and Cantelo the same man? Did Maxim somehow steal Cantelo’s invention? Who knows? A murky Victorian melodrama? Read it here.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Dark Lady comes to light

I admit to having a slightly nerdy interest in Shakespeare. We know so little about him. His personality, his biography, his relationships - these are almost a blank. Yet we think we know so much through the rich, complex, evocative worlds that are the plays. It's so tempting to make connections between the man and the work, as it is for any writer. The plays and their inhabitants are so vivid, yet, as Shakespeare suggests, they’re all just unstable illusions, magnificent cloud structures conjured out of words. They die when the players depart the stage, leaving the master puppeteer invisible in the darkness beyond.

So from the fragmentary information that we do have, I'm absolutely fascinated when someone is able to find new hard data about his life. In today’s Guardian Saul Frampton makes a hugely convincing case based upon linguistic analysis, close study of contemporary writers and scrutiny of English parish records for having identified the Dark Lady, one of the addressees of his sonnets (‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’). It's a tale of sexual jealousy and literary revenge on Shakespeare by a man called John Florio that concerns his wife AD, Avis Danyell, baptised February 8 1556, died of the plague sometime around the end of the century. Absolutely fascinating. The wonder of dogged scholarship. If you're interested in the step by step process of patient deduction you can read it here.

That still leaves unresolved the equally fascinating issue of Shakespeare's relationship with a young man, Henry Wriothesley, and a possible love triangle...