‘how different is the home life of our own dear Queen’

MEANING OF HOW DIFFERENT IS THE HOME LIFE OF OUR OWN DEAR QUEEN

 

The exclamative phrase how different is the home life of our own dear Queen and its variants are used to denote a break with traditional values.

For example, in the Sunday Independent (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of 24th December 1995, Emer O’Kelly presented children’s reactions to a pantomime entitled Aladdin:

They all adored So-Shy (June Rodgers) as a right Dublin gurrier lady-in-waiting whose language was in no way reminiscent of the Home Life of Our Own Dear Queen, and if imitated, is going to bring down the wrath of two sets of parents on my head.

Nicholas Lezard punned on the phrase in his review of Roman Nights and Other Stories (London: Quartet Books, 1994), by the Italian film director and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), translated by John Shepley—review published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Tuesday 6th September 1994:

A ruthless selection from Pasolini’s 1965 Al dagli occhi azzuri, but enough to give the flavour of the man’s writings. Groundbreakingly frank in their depiction of low-life, rough-trade homosexuality, especially given that the earliest dates from 1950. Sulky boys with duck’s-arse haircuts ask wealthy slummers the time, and they nip off up an alley in Trastevere. How like the home life of our own dear queens, as a gay friend once put it.

 

ORIGIN OF HOW DIFFERENT IS THE HOME LIFE OF OUR OWN DEAR QUEEN

 

Of British-English origin, the phrase how different is the home life of our own dear Queen and its variants refer to the story of a Victorian British lady who, reacting to a performance of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, contrasted the domestic life of Queen Victoria [note 1] to that of Cleopatra [note 2]. I have not been able to determine whether this story is fictitious or based, even partially, on a true incident.

The earliest version of this story that I have found is from Notes by the Way, published in the Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, Hampshire, England) of Wednesday 17th October 1900—the author presents the purported incident as “recent”:

Mr. F. R. Benson [note 3], the celebrated Shakespearian actor and scholar, is, I believe, a Wintonian, and he is also well-known in Southampton. During his recent season at the Lyceum he produced, among other plays, “Anthony and Cleopatra.” It will be remembered in the second act, at the palace of Cleopatra, certain revels are held, which were the ordinary entertainments in the days of Egypt’s Queen, but which are somewhat bacchanalian for the present day. At one of the performances an elderly lady and gentleman sat in the stalls of the Lyceum. They watched the dancing of the gauzy-robed maidens of the East; they saw the slaves swinging the burning censers, and the fair Cleopatra making passionate love to her warrior hero. For some moments they gazed in open-mouthed astonishment. At last the wife turned to her husband, and in tones more in sorrow than anger said “Dear! dear! what a contrast to the home life of our own dear Queen.”

The second-earliest relation of the anecdote that I have found is from Circular Notes, by ‘Rapier’, published in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News for Town and Country (London, England) of Saturday 7th January 1905—‘Rapier’ writes that the alleged incident took place “a few years ago”:

I told last week the story—a true one, though the truth or otherwise of stories does not add in the least to their point or interest—of a dear, nice, kind, innocent lady who thought that Peter Pan seemed “so very improbable”—and of course if it comes to that, she is right: it is quite unusual for Newfoundland dogs to bath children, turn on the hot and cold water, and the electric light, put the young ones to bed, and so on. But I hear a similar story of another old lady—unless it be the same!—who, with due reverence for Shakespeare—went to see Antony and Cleopatra. It would be impossible for the best friend of Cleopatra to deny that she did “carry on” in a manner which would not be adequately [misprint for ‘inadequately’?] described as reckless. So it was that this dear old lady, convinced that a play by Shakespeare must be “nice,” “clever,” “pretty,” and so forth, went a few years ago, as a charming actress tells me, to see the drama, and having been staggered by some of the more lurid passages, confided her impression of the Queen of Egypt to a friend as they left the theatre. “How pleasant it is,” she said, “to think that the home life of our own dear Queen is so very different from that!” So true, too!

The next account of the story that I have found occurs in a quotation from A Story of the Stage (London: F.V. White & Co. Ltd., 1905), a novel by the English journalist and author C. Ranger Gull (Guy Thorne – 1875-1923)—I have found this quotation in the review of this book, published in The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper (London, England) of Saturday 22nd April 1905:

“The dear old Marchioness of Dampshire and her daughters,” Storm said, holding Basil’s hand, as the hansom came rattling up. “She hardly ever goes to the play, poor old thing, but I sent her a box for the first night of ‘Cleopatra’ last year. When I saw her after the performance, she said, ‘Oh. Mr Storm, how different from the home life of our own dear Queen! Good-bye, my boy. Work! Work! Work!’”

The story also appeared in The Western Daily Press (Bristol, England) of Saturday 2nd February 1907—the author writes that a “critic recalls actually hearing [the lady] some fifteen years ago”:

The question how far Shakspere [note 4] is really known even by “educated” people is difficult to decide. Canon Ainger’s story of the good lady in the pit who, with weeping eyes, remarked in watching the last act of the tragedy, “Them Hamlets had a deal of trouble in the family,” is hardly applicable, as the speaker was evidently uneducated, but the ‘St. James’s Gazette’ vouches for the correctness of the story of what happened when Mr Bourchier’s [note 5] scholarly production of “Macbeth” was drawing good audiences to the matinées at the Garrick Theatre last week. On one occasion when in the last act Macbeth makes to fall on his sword, and exclaims, “Why should I play the Roman fool?” this tickled a young fellow in the stalls immensely, and he whispered audibly to his companion, “That’s a jolly good gag of Bourchier’s. You know he is as jealous as he can be of Beerbohm Tree [note 6].” Another critic recalls actually hearing during a production of “Antony and Cleopatra” some fifteen years ago, a lady in the stalls remark to a neighbour apropos of Cleopatra’s “goings on,” “Oh, how different from the home life of our own dear Queen.” Is it possible to excel this in fatuity?

The earliest American-English version that I have found is from The Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) of 22nd June 1912:

An Odious Comparison

Will Irwin [note 7] has a friend who went abroad while Victoria was still on the throne, and in London saw Bernhardt [note 8] play Cleopatra.
The scene came where Cleopatra receives news of Mark Antony’s defeat at Actium. Bernhardt was at her best as Egypt’s fiery queen that night. She stabbed the unfortunate slave who had borne the tidings to her, stormed, raved, frothed at the mouth, wrecked the palace and finally, as the curtain fell, dropped in a shuddering, convulsive heap in the wreckage.
Amid the thunderous applause Irwin’s friend heard a middle-aged British matron in the next seat remarking to herself in tones of satisfaction:
How different—how very different from the home life of our own dear queen!”

This photograph was published in The Sketch (London, England) of Wednesday 30th August 1899:

Victoria, Prince of Wales, Duke of York, and Prince Edward of York - The Sketch (London, England) - 30 August 1899

The Queen, Prince of Wales, Duke of York, and Prince Edward of York.
Taken at Osborne on Aug. 5 by Chancellor and Son, of Dublin.

 

NOTES

 

1 Victoria (24th May 1819 – 22nd January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20th June 1837 until her death, and Empress of India from 1st May 1876 until her death.

2 Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC) was Queen of Egypt from 47 BC until her death.

3 Francis Robert Benson (1858-1939) was an English actor-manager.

4 Shakspere is one of the spellings of the Swan of Avon’s surname that have existed in the course of time.

5 Arthur Bourchier (1863-1927) was an English actor and theatre manager.

6 Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) was an English actor and theatre manager.

7 This probably refers to the U.S. journalist and author William Henry Irwin (1873-1948).

8 Sarah Bernhardt (Henriette Rosine Bernard – 1844-1923) was a French actress.

 

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