Beatrice Groves – Highgate Cemetery and The Ink Black Heart

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: Highgate Cemetery and The Ink Black Heart. Join me after the jump for Prof. Groves’ quick look at what J. K. Rowling’s new Twitter Header can mean for The Ink Black Heart.


Today Rowling has put up a new cryptic Twitter header – an image of Highgate cemetery, foregrounding the ‘empty chair’ memorial of Mary Emden, née Marie Augusta Antoinette Basquerville (1853-72). Rowan Lennon’s blogpost on this memorial gives some fascinating detail about Emden’s life:

One of the most photographed memorials in Highgate Cemetery West is the Empty Chair, a charming tribute to a young bride married only a year. The monument, a Gothic tower covering a seat draped with a cloth, echoes the Roman practice of draped cremation urns so often depicted on Victorian graves, with the cloth representing the escape of the soul. While its inscription has long since been lost, the chair is reminiscent of a stage set, an appropriate homage to a young soprano whose promising career was cut short by her death aged just 19.

Mary Emden was the wife of Walter Emden, a young architect with a distinguished career designing many English theatres including the Duke of York, The Garrick and The Royal Court in London.

Marie likely began as a chorister and is mentioned as one of the singers celebrating St Clare’s Feast day in Dublin on 15 August 1868 singing Saverio Mercadante’s Mass… and that December, aged 15, Marie debuted as a performer at the Theatre Royal Dublin in Little Red Riding Hood and Little Boy Blue.  A review in the Dublin Evening Mail reported that ‘Miss Basquerville, a pupil of Mr Granby’s, made her debut as Little Red Riding Hood, and considering the novelty of the position of so young a lady, she acquitted herself with ease and skill.  No doubt in this instance practice will be followed by perfection’.
She reached the peak of her career arriving at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to appear in The Dragon of Wantley in December 1870, which was the theatre’s prestigious Christmas pantomime… and until her death in December 1872 she lived in London and was recorded on the 1871 census as lodging in Hampstead.

This is a unique example of Rowling posting different images of the same place a year apart. Today’s change in header (on 17 June 22) comes just over a year after her previous posting from Highgate Cemetery: an image of Nero the lion, which she put up in May 2021 (and which I wrote about here). In that post and in a previous discussion with the Strike and Ellacott Files hosts (when they invited Nick Jeffery and me onto their podcast to talk epigraphs and Ink Black Heart) I thought that Nero would be Fantastic Beasts related. But today’s header has made me change my mind. Firstly, we’ve no evidence that FB4 is being written at the moment so it seems unlikely, but secondly because Emden’s story does seem to fit rather well with pretty much the only thing we know about Ink Black Heart.

Nick has created two incredible blogs detailing Rowling’s headers. The first gives each header in order  and the second matches them up systematically with what we know of what she was working on at the time. These posts confirm that most of teaser-headers that we can confidently match up with her work, align with something she is either writing or editing (although she does also use headers – usually immediately prior to the announcement of the publication or publication date – to reveal an up-coming work). So that would fit with the May 2021 Highgate post going up when she was writing Ink Black Heart and this one (just about) being part of the pre-publication advertising (as it being released August 30th).

Emden’s tragic story of a young life cut short fits with the youthful topic of Ink Black Heart. Emden’s story is that of a flourishing and newly married young artist dying at just 19, and – presumably – deeply mourned by her famous architect of a husband, who gave her this strikingly evocative tomb. Rowling told the crime novelist Mark Billingham on 8 October, 2020 that Strike 6 would be ‘very, very different from Troubled Blood’ and that it would feature characters from ‘a far younger demographic’ who would lead Strike and Robin into ‘a very different kind of investigation.’ If, as I fear, this involves a younger victim likewise, then Robin may find herself musing on the story of Emden’s demise, or the poignant fact that her name is no longer legible on her monument, as she wanders round Highgate cemetery…

As we wait impatiently for August 30th trying to glean hints from Rowling’s Twitter crumbs – I leave you with two pieces of Twitter evidence for her love for writing in black ink! No doubt a coincidence, but I like to think that this predilection may have some input into Ink Black Heart….

[Rowling replied to a tweet about five things you’d need to place in a circle to summon her with things that were clearly part of her regular writing life, her favourite breed of dog and least favourite politician]



  1. Louise Freeman says

    Very interesting, thank you Bea! I must admit, the first thing I did was revisit my “5-6 flip” hypothesis, that I first pondered in a comment here: on one of the Marilyn Manson speculation posts:
    Namely, that Troubled Blood (with its flooding waters and the mysterious old book that is Bill Talbot’s notebook) was originally meant as the 6th book in the series: the albedo. and corresponding to Half-Blood Prince and The Silkworm. That would leave room for a 5th book during the year-long gap between Lethal White and Troubled Blood, which was then re-designed as the Ink-Black Heart. Certainly the title sounds more like nigredo than albedo.
    If there is going to be a reference to a famous architect with a very young wife, it makes me think of Francis Rattenbury, whose story, as we know, was the basis for Career of Evil. The name of the Chiswell terrier told us that much:
    Add in the possibility of Marilyn Manson lyrics: and evn a generous gift of roses, as Robin got from the Flobberworm in CoE, and I seeing a book that might well have worked as the 5th in the series.
    There’s a lot more to think about this; so I’ll plan on a future post.

  2. Thanks Louise – glad its got the creative cogs turning! Header speculation is always fun, and I’m so pleased she appears to be carrying on with this mode of crumb dropping. Crossed fingers for an epigraph drop akin to the Faerie Queene header – that was my favourite one: a jolt of joy in the midst of deepest lockdown. I have a clear memory of the rush of first seeing it! Would be great if something Shakespearean appeared in the next month or two… If Highgate is a literary clue (unlikely) I’d put George Eliot as the frontrunner. And Christina Rosetti – author of her first Strike epigraph – is to be found here, of course.

  3. All very interesting. I’ve not delved into this nearly as deeply, nor am I well versed in the larger JKR universe, but just to add to the mix of possible references at Highgate cemetery – Elizabeth Siddal is also buried there (though her grave is far less prominent.)

    She was a poet, artist and noted haunting beauty – she modeled for several Pre-Raphaelite painters (e.g., Millais’ famous painting of Ophelia.) She married Dante Gabriel Rossetti and became his constant muse/model (in fact, he was quite obsessed with her.) Worth noting – in one of his better known drawings of her, ‘The Queen of Hearts,’ his signature appears in the upper right corner…in the form of a black heart.
    Their marriage was rather intense and Elizabeth suffered with several health problems, a stillbirth and depression. She died quite young of an opioid overdose, with circumstances around her death remaining somewhat unresolved.

    I’m not sure how any of this might relate to IBH, but if speculation is true that Leda’s death might somehow figure into the narrative, maybe there’s some relevance? When I saw Elizabeth linked to Highgate, it brought to mind some parallels with Leda, specifically her difficult life, role as model/muse and tragic drug-related death (and questions surrounding it.) And perhaps a lesser nod to Robin’s struggle to establish her own identity – first in Matthew’s stultifying/possessive shadow, and now as she evolves into a true equal in the world she shares with Strike.

    (Apropos, we know JKR is familiar with Pre-Raphaelite poetry/art – Dante Rossetti’s sister was Christina Rossetti, whose poem prefaces Cuckoo’s Calling.)

    Again, no idea if any of this is more than mere coincidence – even the actual black heart in Elizabeth’s portrait. Her grave isn’t specifically shown in that photo, so perhaps it’s too big a reach, but figured I’d throw it out there in case there’s any relevance.

  4. Louise Freeman says

    Wow, Amy, that is potentially a great find! Thanks!

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Tangentially, how frequently does Highgate Cemetery feature in fiction (in whatever media)? Its English Wikipedia article includes 15 specific examples, ending with “The movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) features scenes towards the end of the film in the cemetery before the famous Cedar tree was removed” (!) (though “This section needs additional citations for verification”).

  6. Louise Freeman says

    I read that Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is buried there. It would be neat if Robin or Strike noticed his grave. There is a tradition for fans to leave pens there. Maybe one of them will leave one with black ink.

  7. Adam Worth, the criminal mastermind thought to have inspired Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty, is buried at Highgate:
    Another great literary PI saga, likely unrelated, but Highgate sure sparks the imagination.

  8. Fascinating finds Amy!
    I knew that Highgate had been used as a stand-in for PÈRE LACHAISE – see – though I doubt Rowling was visiting the filming – but maybe she did and it sparked something?!
    And yes, Louise, I’d love that too! I certainly think she’s a fan…

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