Victorian Scandals – Olga Nethersole

As we tip toe closer and closer to the publication of ‘The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and other Victorian Scandals’, I thought I’d share a few articles about the writing of the book and what you can expect to find inside. Here’s the first and more will come later…

One of my favourite scandals involves a famous Victorian/Edwardian actress called Olga Nethersole. It’s a really long story, but in a nutshell, the scandal involved her appearance in a play called Sapho. The production had been fine while it appeared in the UK, but the moment Olga and her company reached New York, all hell broke loose. Apparently there were complaints that the play was immoral and within days, poor Olga was hauled into court and prosecuted for her part in it. The fight was extremely stressful and the actress’s health suffered as a result.

Did she win the case? You’ll have to read the book to find out! But I can tell you that Olga recovered significantly enough to serve as a nurse during WWI and later she created The People’s League of Health. Thanks to her work in this area, Olga received a CBE in the 1930s.

During and after the writing of Olga’s scandal, I became absolutely fascinated by her. To that extent I managed to find two letters that she wrote ten years before the Sapho incident, both to her dressmaker, Madame Lili. The first note is in reply to an invoice Olga had just received from the costumier…

“Dear Madame Lili, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter. I have been waiting for the account to be corrected, which was sent to me three month’s ago. I returned it at the same time asking you to have it corrected, which has not been done. Will you kindly see to it, and I will forward a cheque by return. With kind regards. Yours sincerely, Olga Nethersole.”

Another undated note was written from the Garrick theatre and expresses Olga’s desire to bring her friend to visit Madame Lili at an appointed time. Incidentally, poor Madame Lili passed away in 1894 after battling an illness. As she lay dying, another patron – Mrs Rudyard Kipling – sent her a bitter letter:

“Mrs Rudyard Kipling is much annoyed at the failure of Madame Lili to send her hat – as promised last Monday evening. Mrs Kipling would be glad to have the matter given immediate attention.”

I must wonder how Kipling felt on discovering that the poor dressmaker passed away just days later – and did she ever receive her hat?!

You can read all about Olga Nethersole and her Sapho scandal, in The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and other Victorian Scandals, when it is published on 12 April. Please head to the Little, Brown website for more information and pre-order links.

Until next time,

Michelle x


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