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Picturing a World

Nature, Design

Yesterday, I spotted a plant about to bloom in a neighbor's herbaceous border, knew I knew what it was, and couldn't come up with the name. Well, it was a Crown Imperial. This morning, a post at Gurney Journey sent me to Eugène Grasset's La Plante et ses Applications ornementales (1896). Grasset offers floral studies of plants followed by abstract designs derived from them; and there was my flower.
 
As it happened, yesterday I also attended a reading of a new play, an historical drama. It fell short of its topic. Looking at Grasset's illustrations today, I'm not sure whether the play failed because it lacked sufficient historical depth or because it did not transmute fact into something different from reportage. (I know it lacked complex characters!)
 
What's worth remembering in our own work is that the same material can be handled many ways. We need to explore them, impose our own structures and approaches, and then scrutinize the results ruthlessly.

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Book buying

Before settling in to work on my fantasy novella this morning, I made the mistake of skimming the news. After that, I needed a better picture in my mind's eye, for sure, so I visited Terry Windling's Dartmoor Mythic Arts page, which, in turn, took me to Virginia Lee's home page and this mysterious landscape. I allowed myself to poke around at her website and found her illustrated edition of The Frog Bride by Antonia Barber, one of my favorite children's book authors. At Better World Books, I found a copy and ordered it. If you don't know that venue, its profits go to literacy programs, and it provides a carbon offset feature for shipping (at the grand cost of $0.04 in this case!). It's much more worth supporting than the behemoth Amazon. Sales of used books do not profit authors (don't I know!), but they do help circulate work on the budgets that so many of us book lovers can afford.

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Tower of London

This etching of the Tower of London, ca. 1884, appears in a recent post, Ernest George's Old London, at Spitalsfield Life. It's one of those images helpful to an historical novelist in imagining a monument that felt old in Victorian times but not spic-and-span touristy. The steps up from the water are a reminder of how the River Thames was used for transportation, and the trees hint at a more dishevelled place than the Tower today. They are even a faint echo of the fruit orchard that grew on the hillside in the Middle Ages. Teresa McLean, in her Medieval English Gardens (1980), reports that in 1275, the royal gardener there planted 100 cherry trees, 500 osier willows, 4 quince trees, 3 peach trees, gooseberry bushes, and a quart of lily bulbs (pp, 235–236). Check out Ernest George's other etchings and see what they suggest to you.

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Image seller stumbles

Blog post alert: Once you notice something, you start seeing examples everywhere. The street-seller of plaster images was new to me a few weeks ago—now here's one from Spitalsfield Life.

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Cicada

Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artist-authors—brilliant, sly, offbeat, insightful. When I saw an advanced review of Cicada, I pre-ordered it from a local independent bookstore on the assumption that anything Tan did would be wonderful. I picked it up. Read it. Reread daily. Feel throb. Laugh out loud. Tok tok tok. My advice? Seek it out!

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Hanging wallpaper

Blog post tip: On October 15, 2014, Rodama: a blog of 18thC & Revolutionary French Culture posted a series of six rare drawings of 18thC techniques for manufacturing and hanging wallpaper. They were probably intended as submissions for Diderot's Encyclopédie. For the historical fiction writer, can't they stimulate the imagination from the point of view of either the workers or the householder who ordered new decoration?

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New look

My website is hosted by the Author's Guild, which this month revamped its design templates, the better to fit cellphones and other screens. To celebrate the new, I'm posting a glimpse of the past. For a writer of historical fiction, a magazine cover from the year about which she is writing, which itself illustrates an earlier period, seems about right. Besides, I love textiles.

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Twelfth Night, or what you Will

I don’t much like 19th C caricatures, but I love the punch drinker’s salute to William Shakespeare’s bust here. As you probably know, the play Twelfth Night was written by Shakespeare in the winter of 1601–1602 (the first recorded performance was on Candlemas Night,  Read More 

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Edwardian Christmas morning

An Edwardian Christmas by John S. Goodall is a gentle treat, an indulgence in nostalgia that can surely be forgiven in unsettling times. I bought a used copy a few years ago and happily turn its wordless pages every December.

For this and other images from the book, click here.

And Merry Christmas! Read More 

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Christmas commerce and celebration

I was looking for a seasonal image and found this “Christmas gifts” issue of Vogue for 1918. A hundred years later, it reminds us of the joyous and tattered end of World War I. And it’s by an American woman artist! Helen Dryden. Born in Baltimore in 1882, she moved to New York in 1909 to sell artwork to magazines—just about the time that ANONYMITY’s Mattie would have known her. Perfect. Read More 

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