Wednesday, April 15, 2015

History Is Twistery: The Folly

Doric Temple, Battletson Hill, by Colin Smith via wikimedai commons

Welcome toads and April-laboring poets--hedgewitch here. So, what exactly is this Folly of which I speak--not to be confused with just plain folly, which most of us know all too well?

Wikipedia defines it as  "...a building constructed primarily for decoration, but either suggesting through its appearance some other purpose, or merely appearing to be so extravagant that it transcends the normal range of garden ornaments or the class of building to which it belongs."

Today we're going to explore the concept of building something decorative, eccentric, extravagant, and maybe even transcending the normal range of (Imaginary) Garden ornaments, if we're lucky.

To get us started, we're going to look at a man and his Folly.

If you'd like to skip to the meat of the challenge without all my verbose backstory, scroll down to the boldface type below.

Awhile back, my ever-wandering internet eye was caught by an article in the UK's Daily Mail about Witley Park,  the  bizarre Victorian fantasy-mansion of a 19th century conman named J. Whittaker Wright, and I have chosen it for our subject today.

In this age where we seem to be surrounded by corruption, by avarice and greed triumphing over worth and honesty, sometimes it's good to see that what goes around does indeed come around, as it plainly did in the case in point.

J. Whitaker Wright (1846-1904) made and lost several vast fortunes by swindling the credulous of their cash, then took his own life when his malfeasance eventually caught up with him. But before it did so, he built Witley Park.

Witley Park, via The Daily Mail: "Packed with treasures: The 32-room mansion Wright built contained items from across the globe. However it was gutted by fire in 1952 and no longer survives"

After building his personal temple to Mammon (and ruining hundreds of investors) Wright lost all his ill-gotten gains and ate a cyanide pill to avoid life in prison.

This prompt is not just about con-men and poetic justice however; but about Wright's Folly, because I believe we all have our own versions of a Folly in our lives, or have been impacted by them in others' lives, or because the idea of them strikes a spark in our imaginations.

Neptune, atop Wright's underwater Folly via wikimedia commons

At the peak of his success, Wright chose to gratify his grandiose ambitions by knocking down hills, bulldozing ancient and venerable forest, finally digging out and flooding the local landscape to create three lakes, beneath one of which he built a singular domed chamber--his take on a Folly. 

Beneath the vaulted underwater ceiling, invisible from shore, Wright placed a billiards table, and no doubt entertained and lived the large life in the wavering light passing through the lake above while a statue of Neptune crowning the dome appeared to stand alone upon the water, looking out over his domain. Less than ten years later, Wright was disgraced and dead.

It was truly a Folly to end all Follies.

Inside looking out the dome of the Folly, via Daily Mail

The Challenge: 

So, toads and readers, it's time to build a Folly. 

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Write about something in your life into which you've put large amounts of your resources, something silly but decorative and pleasing, or something purely eccentric, even bizarre.

  • Possibly you have experienced someone elses' Folly in a way that was significant to you, for good or ill.

  • There could also be something darker in this concept: something dishonest, arrogant, wasteful, submerged as Wright's Folly was under a murky veneer of wealth and respectability. Go for it.

  • Perhaps you'd like to dig a little deeper into that classic snake-oil salesman J Whittaker Wright himself; his mind, his life or death, his scams or his fall from grace.

  • Your Folly might also be an historical parallel, or a more contemporary or general one. ( Both Bernie Madoff and politics come to mind.) 

  • You might want to write from the point of view of an onlooker, a swindled investor, Wright himself, or even Neptune. 

There are plenty of Follies to go around.

These are just suggestions to get you started on your little DIY project. The challenge is broad--we are in the middle of April,  and I don't intend to be picky about minor details. As long as your poem or prose poem is influenced in some way by the concepts discussed here, please feel free to run with it as your Muse takes you.

Whichever direction you take, just link in below. I will be looking forward to reading your interpretations of the theme. If you desire to include any of the photos here, feel free, but as always, please provide attribution as given in the captioned areas.


Anonymous said...

A most excellent folly of a challenge, Hedge! Only now I have so little time to get around and read. Apologies, I'll do so yet ... Wright sure got it wrong, didn't he? Stealing to earn a profit, tearing down a world to build a testament. He must have seemed the very devil, cracking billiard balls beneath the wave. Well, history is twistery, and every fool receives his due. Somewhere. (Maybe the joke is on us with the Cheneys and Rick Scotts and Ted Cruzes of the world.)

Fireblossom said...

What a great challenge! I have to hurry off to work now, but will come back to this tonight. If i have the strinth, I will certainly write something for this!

Outlawyer said...

Hey Joy, a very clever challenge. I jotted down something rather obvious but also had something else I thought of. I'll see what actually gets typed. Thanks for the work that went into putting this together. K.

Marian said...

Wonderful! This will require some thought. Who has time for that?! I will entertain & come back.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks, everyone--there's something about that submerged room that just hooked me--there's all the rest of the month to write to this, and I understand it may take some time to let it percolate, so no hurry. Enjoy exploring the topic, and I will check back for at least the next week. Happy April! We are almost half done!

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Hello everyone :D
Hope you like my poem!

Thank you Hedgewitch for this wonderful opportunity! Much love


Outlawyer said...

Hey Hedge--I went with obvious--I have a song in mind, but I don't know that I can get it together==esp today. Anyway, thanks for cool post and loved yours--such an interesting phenomenon--that keeps happening again and again! Hail Ponzi! k .

Susan said...

I'm going to give this challenge a try. In teh meantime, I thought you might enjoy this, Joy--It's a Folly competition. For real!

hedgewitch said...

That's quite a competition, Susan.

Buddah Moskowitz said...

Here's my take on the folly poem. Thanks for the prompt!

Hannah said...

Thank you, Hedge! Your post is wonderful...I was drawn right in but then my mind went with inspiration from your opening image so some of the other matters didn't get tended to but...I wrote a poem...hope you'll like it. :)

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Cool. I finished a poem somewhat on this topic for Susan's prompt at Mid Week Motif and am thrilled I can hit two prompts with a single poem. LOL. I did not have to dig very deep for this one, my life abounds in folly.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Cool. I finished a poem somewhat on this topic for Susan's prompt at Mid Week Motif and am thrilled I can hit two prompts with a single poem. LOL. I did not have to dig very deep for this one, my life abounds in folly.

Other Mary said...

Oh, this is good but I'm struggling with it. Right now I think my blog might be considered a "folly"!

Margaret said...

Way cool. Loved the history. Came back from spring break and my kids got sick so this week I'm not really able to write but I will be sure to read and comment on this challenge.

hedgewitch said...

Thanks everyone who managed to find some hidden words for this, and hope you enjoyed it as much as I have. I will keep checking back for late efforts--it's a looooong month. ;_)

Susie Clevenger said...

Love the challenge! I am off to read what everyone wrote!

Ella said...

A lame attempt, but I had fun with it~ I want to try this again, when I have more time~ Thanks, Hedge!

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

Many kinds of folly, many kinds of constructs. I'm my own subject for this one.

Gillena Cox said...

this one was a difficult prompt for me, so i'm late in posting

happy to have tried

much love...

Susan said...

Finally! I did it! I'll be back to read if it takes me a year.