An Invitation to Dance
Marion Urch’s most recent novel, An Invitation to Dance, is inspired by the life of Lola Montez, the most scandalous woman in the Victorian world.
‘I just wanted to congratulate you on producing such a gorgeous, spell-binding tale. It really did sweep me away. I read a lot of fiction and it’s rare for me to enjoy a novel quite this much.’
Sara O’Keefe. Senior commissioning editor – Orion
In 1842, a young Army officer’s wife left her husband. She was still clinging to the threads of her reputation when her husband issued divorce papers and charged a fellow officer with criminal conversation. The case was widely reported in the newspapers with much speculation about the exact nature of the criminal conversation. Corsets were mentioned, and unravelling stockings. Lieutenant George Lennox paid damages of £100, adultery was proven and Lieutenant Thomas James was granted a divorce a mensa et thoro, (of bed and board, effectively judicial separation.)
Mrs Eliza James was twenty years old. Her family were far away in India and she was ostracised from polite society. She had no rights to remarry and the only other acceptable options, taking a position as a lady’s companion or a governess, were now completely out of the question. She was ruined, destitute and alone. Every week, the bodies of similarly disgraced young women were fished out of the Thames.
What was to be done? Eliza could throw herself into the river or she could take to the stage. As the year drew to an end, she disappeared to Spain. The following spring, she made her debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London as the Spanish dancer, Doña Lola Montez.
Rather like its heroine, the novel is steadily making its way around the world offering up different representations. On the British and American book jackets, she is rather sultry and soulful; for the Russian edition, she has acquired a distinctly racy B movie image which focuses on the sensuality of her dancing. The German cover sets Lola firmly in royal Munich – an exotic, almost primal force against a backdrop of wealth and power. Here she is portrayed as an almost Indian Spanish dancer, reflecting both Lola’s Indian childhood and the roots of flamenco.
Lola Montez caused scandal and mayhem wherever she went, most notably in Bavaria, where the downfall of King Ludwig I was directly attributed to her. (The painting above, extreme right, is from his famous Gallery of Beauties.) She became a legend in her own lifetime, spawning countless imitators. More than fifty years after her death, burlesque pastiches of her life remained a popular entertainment in the music halls of America and Europe. (The image above, extreme left, is a French version from the end of the nineteenth century.)
Apprenticeships in Fiction
Marion Urch is director of the groundbreaking Apprenticeships in Fiction scheme. Now in its seventh year, the programme offers new writers the opportunity to be mentored by established authors. The scheme has enjoyed considerable success, with seven publications and thirteen writers now placed with literary agents.