I'm reading The Fairest of Them All by Maria Tater (2020), and naturally the first thing I did was look at all the pictures. The blue-and-white vase in this one caught my eye because I have a friend who is an expert on blue-and-white china. It amuses us both to come across it in odd contexts—in this case, a picture of Snow White's stepmother by Katharine Cameron from Louey Chisholm's In Fairyland (1904). That date for a children's book puts it squarely in my character Mattie's world, and Cameron just might be someone for Amy Richardson to know if I decide to follow Amy's story.
Picturing a World
I'm working on a longer response to Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, but first I want to give a rousing cheer for Robin Stevens' Murder is Bad Manners (American title). An article in the Guardian led me to her Murder Most Unladylike series. I think it is going to help me endure this election season. You can't say better than that! Positively ripping.
A recent post at Spitalfields Life reproduces this picture and the pages it illustrates. In The Little Visitors, two girls visit a knowledgeable aunt in the English countryside. She teaches them many things and tells the story of how she once rescued a slave boy by purchasing him to give him his freedom. For us, the fraught layers of history, agency, privilege, etc., make this picture and its story complicated. But the idea of two clever girls in Regency England visiting a learned aunt? Now, that offers possibilities for flights of compositional fancy!
No, the Little Grey Men involved do not include Michael Bloomberg. They are gnomes invented in the 1940's by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, who wrote stories as B.B. and illustrated them under his own name. A post on Nature, gnomes, and the power of story at Terri Windling's blog, Myth and Moor, put me onto his novel for children, The Little Grey Men. Actually, I had already recently encountered the book in Philip Pullman's Daemon Voices, which handsomely reproduces one of the illustrations (p. 256).
Pullman says of "B.B.": "In some ways he was a limited writer, but the honesty and passion with which he talks about wild things and wild places suffuses his best passages with a love of landscape, and specifically the English landscape, that is irresistible." True!
I still have my childhood copy of Christmas in the Country. It was garish when it was new. Now it is foxed and stained, but I read it every year. Maybe it's why I've always loved to imagine animals observing Christmas in the barn. For grown-ups, here is Thomas Hardy's lovely, wistful version of the idea:
Although the contrast is supposedly between trains of 1837 and 1897, I love the way the speed of "Now" is transferred to the cartoonishly running passengers. Somehow it works visually to suggest surging energy from the oncoming (stationary) engine. And note the two classes of cars in Then, the Pullman car in the background of Now. The whole page might supply an older character's memory. Each vignette might yield a story or a plot point. Small details can add just the needed authentic touch. What would you do with it?
A propos of nothing—it's just that it tickled my fancy—I'm posting this image from an 1897 children's book. In a series of unrelated full-page illustrations, the book purports to depict England as it was when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 and as it was sixty years later. Interesting to see which inventions added up to the latest word in modernity in 1897 (also to see what books grown-ups bought for children). Via the superb blog, Art and Artists.
Blog post tip: Kathleen Jennings is one of my favorite illustrators working today and the late Diana Wynne Jones one of my favorite authors. Lovely to learn that Jennings has designed the cover for an Israeli edition of Jones's Power of Three. Check out Jennings' post for her preliminary sketches—it's always interesting to see how artists work.