Guest Post by Bea Groves: Leda and the Swan Mural at the Ritz: A Clue to the Opening of Strike 6? Part 1

Fasten your seatbelts for a fabulous two-part adventure from our brilliant guest contributor Bea Groves! Here is the first installment of a wonderful analysis of the murals that adorn Strike settings and may provide complex and captivating clues for what is to come! Enjoy part one, and stay tuned for part two tomorrow!

In Shakespeare and Jane Austen (two of J.K. Rowling’s greatest literary loves) there is a failsafe clue about whether two characters are in love without knowing it themselves. Which is that they pay attention when the other person speaks. And Strike has been listening to Robin. When Strike takes Robin to the Ritz for champagne at the end of Troubled Blood, he is not just giving a true present (something that appeals to the recipient not the giver), he is also remembering something she had once said:

            ‘I want you to give me something to eat and a strong drink.’

‘You’ve got it,’ said Strike, glad to have a chance to make repa­rations. ‘Will a takeaway do?’

‘No,’ said Robin sarcastically, pointing at her rapidly blackening eyes, ‘I’d like to go to the Ritz, please.’

Strike started to laugh but cut himself off, appalled at the state of her face.

(Chap 58, p.719)

At the end of the novel Strike turns Robin’s joke into reality:

‘So where—?’ asked Robin.

‘I’m taking you to the Ritz for champagne,’ said Strike…

‘Thanks, Strike. This really means a lot.’

And that, thought her partner, as the two of them headed away toward the Ritz in the golden glow of the early evening, really was well worth sixty quid and a bit of an effort…                                                                                     (Chap 73, p.926-27)

When I first read this passage, I assumed that Strike was taking Robin to the Ritz not for a glass of champagne, but for the Ritz’s famous ‘champagne tea.’ This was partly, perhaps, because of the mention of something to eat as well as alcohol in Robin’s original joke, and mostly, no doubt, because if this were my birthday treat, I’d much prefer champagne accompanied by finger sandwiches, warm baked scones with ‘Cornish clotted cream’ (no less) and ‘a delectable selection of cakes and pastries, which will be replenished on request.’

However, there is in fact no mention of ‘tea,’ only champagne – and the expense of the trip fits much better with a glass or two of bubbly than with the whole ‘champagne tea at the Ritz’ shebang. As of writing, the latter comes in at £76 a head, and hence could reasonably have been around £60 in 2014. But that, of course, would mean that Strike would be spending £120 not £60 (you are not allowed to simply sit watching while your companion scoffs all those delectable cakes by herself). Currently, however, a glass of house champagne is £21 (Bollinger is £26) – so five years ago, three or four glasses between them would be about right for the ‘sixty quid’ he plans on spending.

Why on earth am I doing the maths you may wonder? Well, due to a fabulous find by @zsenyasq, posted on Twitter last week, and kindly brought to my attention by Strike Fan. This find means that we now know that the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz is decorated with a plaque of Leda and the Swan:

If, as I had assumed, Strike is taking Robin for a champagne tea, they will be enjoying themselves in these light and airy surroundings:

If, on the other hand, it is just champagne, they are likely to go to what the Ritz describes as its ‘intimate cocktail lounge’ – the Rivoli Bar – which boasts a very different aesthetic:

The art deco design is modelled on the slightly claustrophobic opulence of the Orient Express, and the image of Leda and the SFile:Leda et le cygne par Paolo Veronese 1.jpg - Wikimedia Commonswan is likewise a high culture reference with an undercurrent of edgy decadence.   @zsenyasq’s find has been discussed on reddit, with many commenting that this mural would be a peculiarly uncomfortable image for Robin to sit under during what is meant to be a relaxing birthday treat. But while the encounter between Leda and the swan is indubitably a rape in its most famous English rewriting (Yeats’s sonnet, discussed here in relation to Strike), traditLeda and the Swan (Rubens) - Wikipediaionally, at least, visual artists have rarely treated it as one. Artists have reveled instead in the licence afforded by the classical subject matter to depict the beautiful nude and the beautiful bird in an act of transgressive sensuality. I would argue that this is the interpretation taken in this depiction – Leda’s hand, resting on the swan’s neck, is caressing not resisting.

File:Leda and the Swan 1510-1515.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

A visit to the Rivoli Bar, nonetheless, might get both Robin and Strike thinking uncomfortable thoughts. It would be impossible for Strike to sit beneath this image of Leda and the Swan without thinking of his mother and the circumstances of his own conception. I have long thought that the name Leda pointed to their being more to learn about this event, for (as noted back in 2018) the classical Leda’s children have deeply complex paternity. She sleeps with her husband on the same day as Zeus and so the resulting children – Helen, Clytemnestra, Castor, and Pollux – might have either a god or Tyndareus, King of Sparta, as their father. (And to compound the confusion, different versions of the myth disagree about the best way to resolve the question  ). Troubled Blood spent an astonishing amount of time on the Rokeby sub-plot given that he and Strike never even meet up. It is an amount time which is only justified if Rokeby is to play a major role in Strike 6 and I think we can reasonably assume that Rokeby has information crucial to Strike if Strike ever stops being angry long enough to hear it…

This image of Leda at the Ritz certainly seems too much of a coincidence for it not to have been in Rowling’s mind when she chose to sign off Troubled Blood with Robin and Strike setting off through the sunset towards the famous hotel. This means that @zsenyasq’s find adds weight to the idea that, with Strike 6, we can expect a Lethal White-style immediate follow-on. It makes it highly plausible that the next novel will either start at the Ritz, or at the very least, there will be reminisces about this birthday champagne.

But there is also an additional reason to think that Rowling may have been paying attention to the mythic scene on this drinking establishment’s walls. Which is that she has done it before and – oddly enough – that was also a mural linked to sexual relations between women and beasts.

To Be Continued in Part 2!

Comments

  1. Joanne Gray says

    Wonderful post–can’t wait for part2! I very much agree about Rokeby playing a big and important part in book 6. I believe Strike will honor Aunt Joan’s request and “talk to his father”. Rokeby will be the one to give Strike the “pieces of the real Leda” (i.e., information about Leda as echoes of the horcruxes from HP6: Half-Blood Prince) so that Cormoran can finally begin to solve Leda’s murder.

    I really hope that book 6 starts where book 5 was heading, with Cormoran and Robin at the Ritz. Although, I remember Rowling’s first Twitter hint about book 6 was her comment to a fan’s inquiry about book 6 and her reply was that, “I’m here right now with Strike at a busy London pub” and added that the year was 2015. [That’s not to say there can’t be a time jump to get to 2015, if she were to start book 6 where book 5 ended.]

    I agree if we can’t have the “immediate follow-on” then I really hope we have them both reminiscing about what took place at the Ritz, a

  2. zsenyasq/HB says

    I’m so glad you chose to write on this and expand on it. I found it fascinating when I noticed it and find it too much of a coincidence to be disregarded. I am holding out some sort of hope that Strike will ultimately listen to Rokeby long enough so that we at least receive some more insight on Leda and what she was like as a person. Rokeby’s no saint, but his comments about there being “two sides” is intriguing. Looking forward to part II!

  3. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks both and really glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for sharing your find zsenyasq!

    And I love the idea of finding a Leda ‘key’ in Book 6, like the Horcruxes – the key to solving her murder, rather than to being able to kill her (as they were).

  4. Karol Jay says

    There is more than one Leda and swan artwork in the bar. At the opposite end, facing the one described in this post, is another piece by the same artist depicting the swan pursuing Leda. And she looks none too happy about it. I’m not sure sure how to interpret the differing depictions.

    Also, I notice there are a lot of bewitchments and love potions in Swan Lake, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in HP, with a lot of couples being tricked into relationships and out of others. Could this be significant?

  5. Thank you for sharing this!

    I also think it is too much of a coincidence not to be important later…

    I have a half-baked theory about Rokeby that parallels Snape. As: maybe Rokeby is responsible in some way for Leda’s death, even though he may not have been the one to directly administer the overdose, like Snape was indirectly responsible for Lily’s death. And also, book 6, we’ll end up thinking that he is responsible for a death (like Snape-Dumbledore) only to finally discover that he is “good” (the quotes are intentional, because I don’t think that Snape was a good person, like I don’t think that Rokeby treated Strike well). We may see Robin and Strike having a baby and naming him Jonny? lol

    As for the 60 quid and the effort mentioned at the book’s end, I have always taken the 60 quid to be the price of the perfume he bought Robin and the effort, the fact that he remembered what she said about the Ritz .

  6. Joanne Gray says

    Beth,
    I agree with your explanation about what the 60 quid and Strike’s efforts to make Robin’s birthday everything it should be. I also agree with your thoughts that something that Rokeby may have inadvertently done could have triggered the event that finally led to Leda’s death. But I also wonder if Leda’s actions weren’t as much to blame. That maybe it was Leda’s claim that Cormoran was the result of their one-time together and she was the one who had initiated that one time union—in a very public place. Jonny could have, in hindsight, very easily thought she was already pregnant and set it up to trap him as proof that he was the father. I’m not saying she did this—but that Jonny may have believed that and it led to his doubts about Cormoran’s being his son.

    There is still the fact that the blood test given to prove his paternity wasn’t yet the definitive DNA test that it became later—but at this point, it is the stated result of the test that Jonny is the father.

    I hope Jonny will be giving to Cormoran those pieces of the real Leda that Aunt Joan believes he can give so Cormoran can finally start his journey to solve Leda’s murder. I wish I knew how to put these story images (Leda and the Swan) into that final solution to the Leda puzzle.

  7. Bonni Crawford says

    This is brilliant, thank you Beatrice! Like Beth and Joanne, I took the 60 quid to be the cost of the perfume though, rather than the cost of the whole trip or the cost of the treat at the Ritz. White bottles of Narciso currently cost between £71 and £98 from Liberty of London, so approx £60 for a bottle in 2014 seems plausible.

  8. Joanne,

    Thank you for your answer. I hadn’t thought about the possibility you mention that Rokeby may have thought that Leda was already pregnant, although I have my suspicions that he may not be really Rokeby’s son because they always make the effort to say how litle physical resemblance there is between the two of them. I really, really would like for Strike to finally listen to Rokeby so that, at least, he can have a little bit more piece of mind and a better lead towards solving Leda’s death.

  9. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you Bonni! Really glad you enjoyed – and interesting to hear about the other Leda mural, Karol. I don’t think it invalidates my reading of the second mural, but it certainly changes the tone. And yes, the perfume costing £60 also makes sense – I read it as the Ritz because the response he is is responding to (!) is clearly to the announcement of the Ritz trip, much more than to the perfume, but the perfume reading does make just as much sense. Still crossing my fingers for the Rivoli bar however!

Speak Your Mind

*