story and photos by Brittany Ransom
A little snow didn't keep lovers of classic literary works away on Saturday (Feb. 8) afternoon as the Clayton House in Fort Smith hosted a special Valentine-themed Victorian tea party.
The intimate gathering was reminiscent of an early 20th century social, complete with guests sipping on tea and dining on finger sandwiches and desserts. Tables, adorned with Valentine decor and petit fours from Creative Kitchen, filled the room, as did string music from harpist Hollye Dickinson.
Victorian-era poetry was the central focus of the afternoon program. Guest poet Sue Ann Hamiter Frizzell shared a brief history about the influence of the art form in Victorian culture, explaining that love, birth, death, nature, and domestic life were among the most common literary themes from the time period. She also discussed the important role that women played as emerging writers during the era.
"The English language is a poetic treasure chest of words," noted Frizzell. "Female poets of that day were really finding their voice and tended to experiment with the language and various styles of verse."
Frizzell shared excerpts from several poems, including the infamous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "How do I love thee?"
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace…"
Frizzell recited the remainder of Browning's poem, along with several other selections from notable poets Charlotte Bronte, Christina Rossetti and numerous others. She also read one of her own original works written in honor of grandparents.
"My love of poetry started at an early age," said Frizzell. "My grandmother, who was born in 1895, studied poetry and passed along her love of it to my family."
Following the presentation, Frizzell took questions from the audience and encouraged visitors to utilize their talents to write their own poetry.
The tea was held in the historic home's community room, which recently underwent a mini-remodel. The room was refurnished with new chairs and tables, which were provided by a grant through the Fort Smith Area Community Foundation.
"The Giving Tree Grant gave us this capability to better serve the community and therefore strengthen the long-term existence of this historic treasure," said Julie Moncrief, Clayton House Executive Director. "We are so grateful to have received the grant."
The Clayton House alternates between hosting monthly educational lecture series entitled "Clayton Conversations," and themed afternoon teas. The next program will be held in March and will focus on notable women in history. It will include special guest speakers Sheryl Flanagan and Sue Robinson. To reserve a spot or for more information, contact the Clayton House at 783-3000.