Part Two Scene 1 Gregorio Franchi, a Lisbon choirboy, introduces himself. He will be our story teller for Part II. He tells how he first met Beckford at the age of 17 and was at once attracted to him. He joined his staff and returned with him to England. Here he finds that the whole of society and even the local parson and villagers ostracise his master. But Beckford has found an occupation which is so enthralling that he's able to forget this. He's building a vast wall round the estate, to keep out foxhunters and 'prying eyes'. He's briefing his architect, Wyatt, to construct what will be the Gothick Revival's most splendid monument, Fonthill Abbey, to be built on an escarpment above Fonthill Splendens. Polite society is closed to him. The company he keeps is unusual, including a dwarf or two. Gregorio, for whom he has bought a Portuguese title, acts as estate manager and occasional pimp. Our sexual delirium theme is now used for particularly dramatic moments in the building of Fonthill Abbey and especially, of course, for mentions of the height and splendour of the tower, which will be the tallest in the West Country. Scene 2 We encounter the various stages in the building including the unexpected collapse of the tower at one point, and the vagaries of the architect and workmen, some of whom are also employed by the King at Windsor Castle. Scene 3 Beckford destroys the old Fonthill Splendens and puts on an extraordinary entertainment for Nelson and Emma Hamilton his mistress, involving bands, cannon, 'vapours', and general exoticism. It's not unlike the earlier Christmas festivities except that the ingredient of strange sexuality is not present and it all seems maybe a bit tacky. Emma, five years Beckford's junior, is like him a social outcast, because of her relationship with Nelson. Flirtatiously, she pretends to know less than she does and, after Nelson has dropped off, snoring, asks Beckford, 'Haven't you got a wife? What is this Abbey you've brought us to? Don't you find it all a bit draughty? I thought abbeys were for worship not habitation!' And, above all, doesn't he think of putting his talents to the service of his country, like Nelson, rather than living the aesthetes life here on his own? Beckford is evasive in some of his replies but of one thing he is clear; Fonthill Abbey is to be the finest building of its age. This is his gift to England, thus he serves his country and surely she has heard that the tower is the highest in ... (sexual delirium theme). Emma thinks something may be about to happen between her and Beckford, but nothing happens. Scene 4 The voices of Beckford's advisers break in with the news that the price of sugar has dropped and Beckford's building activities have ruined him. There is only one way out ... Fonthill must be sold. Scene 5 And sold it is, to a man even more nouveau riche than Beckford. And Gregorio, who has now become ill, is pensioned off, not invited to join his master in his new house in Bath. Beckford is summoned to the deathbed of the master builder who confesses the great tower was built without foundations. It could fall at any moment. Scene 6 Gregorio tells us how Beckford goes to warn the new owner, who says he reckons it will last his time. Scene 7 Gregorio's last appeal to his former master and lover. Please come to see him. His request is not granted. Scene 8 There are crackles, bangs, a fissure appears, and (sexual delirium theme) the Great Tower at Fonthill falls, bringing much of the rest of the Abbey with it, never to rise again. Scene 9 As the dust settles and the sounds die away, two comments are heard. Firstly, an estate worker with a strong Wiltshire accent asks, 'What was it all about anyway? Why did he want to build a tower so high in the first place, the silly bugger?' Scene 10 Secondly, we hear Beckford in a stanza from a poem of his that we've already heard. Asking, with dignity in this moment of disaster, in a 'suppliant voice'; 'Like the low murmer of the secret stream Which through dark alders winds its shaded way My suppliant voice is heard - O do not deem That on vain toys I throw my life away.'
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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