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Picturing a World

Candles in moonlight

Lighting at night before electricity or even gas is hard for a 21st C westerner to imagine. That's something writers must keep in mind both in visualizing a scene and enabling their readers to do so. I read somewhere that, in Jane Austen's day, evening parties were scheduled for when the moon was full to make it easier for guests to get home. This painting by Petrus van Schendel implies that candlelight on the night of a full moon would make it possible for market stalls to extend the selling day into at least early evening. Glad I ran across it—and glad to find that the Athenaeum has 37 additional works by the artist, many of them night scenes.

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Prévost’s panorama of Paris

Sketches in gouache and watercolor by Pierre Prévost for his panorama of Paris were auctioned on October 23, 2019, by Sotheby's. I love being able to zoom in on the catalogue essay for details like the one shown here. The location of the Académie Julian in Paris's Passage des Panoramas had sent me to 19th C panoramas years ago when I was researching Where the Light Falls. At that time, I had read about Prévost in The Painted Panorama by Bernard Comment (which has lots of fold-out pages). Now, as a stimulus to building a world in historical fiction, just look at the washing on the houseboat, the cabs, and the lamps strung across the bridge! Much, much more available at the Sotheby's site.

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First Christmas card

Blog tip: In 1843 (the year Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol), a civil servant named Henry Cole commissioned a card to be designed so that he could send greetings to friends and family. The rest is printing and commercial history. Read more at the History Blog's post, World's first Christmas card goes on display at Dickens Museum.

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Holsøe’s daydream

Carl Vilhelm Holsøe's painting is obviously not one of Jeanette's "portraits without people"; but it is an example of that stillness in a near empty room, interior recessions (in this case in the mirror), and the importance of a door that appeal to me and led me to invent the genre for her. Glimpses outward through a window are also always mysterious invitations. The October 23, 2019, Sotheby's catalogue calls this a "a tonal poetics of greys and blacks" and observes that "[t]he mirror imperceptibly reveals the imprints of a personality." It also refers to "the enigmatic effect of the silent atmosphere." Right. Can't you feel yourself becoming quieter just by looking at it?

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Krampus

The Krampus—a half-humorous counterpart to Saint Nicholas, who snatches bad children at Christmas—came to my attention via artist Kathleen Jennings' post on Krampus Krackers from the Tiny Owl Workshop. In 2014, the workshop produced a limited run of hand-made, letterpressed crackers for sale at chosen bookshops and cafés in Australia. Each contained an illustration and a grumpy flash fiction. Imagine a short story about clever, disgruntled twelve-year-olds who hear about them and decide to make their own to hand out to friends and family! It could be an antidote to icky sentimentality and over-commercialism at Christmas.

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Yellow silk jacket

Blog tip: Ordinarily, I like to showcase female artists, but this painting of a contemplative woman reader is so lovely, I refer you to the post on it at Lines and Colors. The artist, William McGregor Paxton (1869–1941), is yet another American who studied at the Académie Julian in Paris—and he, not only had the good taste to marry Elizabeth Vaughan Okie, but worked with her as part of the Boston School of painters. She may have posed for this picture. (And my fictional Mattie might have seen it!)
 

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Jackie Morris bonus

Blog tip: Just look! Another of Jackie Morris's Christmas fantasia designs, this one in supprt of the International Board for Books for Young People. Ladies who love to read, sigh with pleasure (and click on the image for an enlargement at her website).

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Jackie Morris: Gently Falling Snow

Mysterious, lovely pictures originally created as Christmas cards to support a musicians' charity, then published in book form with stories to go with them? An invitation to readers to explore further by making up their own tales? —How could I resist?!? I bought a copy and plan to savor it slowly.
 
For a quick look to stimulate your imagination, spend a minute with the publisher's trailer. And don't miss Jackie Morris's own blog post about making The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow. It shows an early sketch of the title picture and reminds all creative people how daily life and doubts accompany achievement.

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Bog berry pudding

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a web project of Curious Recipes and Hidden Histories taken from a book in the collection of London's Westminster Archives Centre, and for Thanksgiving (or the day after), what could be better than a pudding made with bog, i.e., cranberries? A transcription is given at A Bog Berry Pudding. Looks to me like mixing together whole sweetened cranberry sauce, egg yolks, pumpkin pie spices, rose water (if you can find it), sherry, lemon peel and a whole lot of butter, then baking it should do the trick of giving you a taste not unlike something that might have appeared on an18th C table. Even if you only describe it in an historical fiction story, you might have mouths watering. Happy Thanksgiving!

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When William Came

Cover, Saki, When William Came (1913)

In these fraught, puzzling, polarizing times, a what-if novel from before WWI is an oddly affecting picture of how citizens come to make peace with a new political order and their own violations of conscience. It offers shrewdly observed answers to the question, How could they?!? Set in an England that has been conquered after a one-week war with Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, it is the work of a novelist, H. H. Munro (Saki) who knows human behavior too well and writes too slyly to produce simple-minded propaganda. 

 

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