Together and separately, Sir W.S. Gilbert & Sir Arthur Sullivan dominated English Culture for much of the Victorian age: the former as journalist, dramatic, comic poet, the latter as composer of everything from symphonies and oratorios to songs, cantatas and ballet songs. Between them, they also wrote the best loved light operas of all time, characterised by Gilbert’s special brand of topsy-turveydom.
This anthology includes a selection of their Christmas creations, from Gilbert’s articles and stories, part fiction, part memoir, on the pantomime – the theatrical field which established him as a writer for the stage – and some of his festival bab-ballads, to a number of carols and seasonal songs which Sullivan set to music. In particular, it features extracts from their first collaboration, the ‘lost opera’ Thespis, written specifically for entertainment for the Christmas and New Year season.
Writings from some of their associates and contemporaries are also included: follow George and Weedon Grossmith’s Mr Pooter and family though their comic misadventures in extracts from the Diary of a Nobody; rekindle the joys of a Victorian childhood Christmas with Princess Marie of Edinburgh (the future Queen of Roumania); laugh as Francis Burnand, editor of Punch and one-time collaborator with Sullivan, gives his impression of a ‘Dickensian Christmas’; experience Kate Terry Gielgud’s Wonder at the glittering fairies in a magical performance of Iolanthe ( their starry headdresses were powered by tiny electric lamps); watch ‘Saki’s’Reginald enliven a dull night of the 25th; and enjoy seasonal writings from others including Tennyson, Swinburne and Trollope. All these elements combine to give a vivid impression of Christmas in Gilbert and Sullivans heyday.