Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lady Jane Grey

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833), by Paul Delaroche.

An image like this fills my mind. I can't escape it. It works in me, arresting me with its cold horror until abstraction is lost and all I can imagine is the reality of those last moments. It's an over-charged human sympathy: an inability to extricate myself or to enjoy any sense of detachment. It activates inside and tightens into a knot that makes me feel ill; it casts a shadow over the world. The delicacy of this particular image is tormenting. It's the last whispers, the slow reluctance, the inevitable swing. No one involved seems to want this act to happen. And yet it will happen. It's a moment in history. History removes, the lines blur, the human moves further away. Lady Jane Grey, queen of England for a little over a week, was executed by beheading in the Tower of London because she was protestant. She was either sixteen or seventeen years old. History slouches through the blood of individuals and personal moments of horror and sorrow.

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