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Picturing a World

Whole world kin

Blog post alert: Terry Windling's Myth and Moor post on The Language of the Earth explores with Robin Wall Kimmerer the need for English to fashion language that recognizes the animacy of the world and integrates humans into the continuum of life instead of dividing "us" from "it." The post is illustrated with many images from Catherine Hyde's new almanac, The Hare and the Moon—which I have just ordered for myself.

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2020—Think Global, Act Local

A cold has given me permission to lie back and read for the last couple of weeks, which might otherwise have been filled with more holiday activities. Over the last few days, it's been Barry Lopez's deeply thoughtful Horizon alternating with Arthur Ransome's gloriously escapist Peter Duck. As we head into the fraught new year, we all have to decide how much of the world's weight we can bear individually, what we can do to make life better for life on earth, and how to refresh our spirits in order to be able to carry on. Funny how the same old advice is the basic wisdom we need: We can't all be worldwide witnesses like Lopez, but we can each choose a few issues that matter to us and try to make a difference locally. And we can recognize the necessity to nourish our spirits by occasional dips into whatever sends our imaginations soaring. Gird up, everybody. Think global, act local, read well, and Happy New Year!

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Barry Lopez, Horizon

A Christmas present to myself was Barry Lopez's meditative Horizon. Early in the book Lopez describes going to the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City to see the work of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, who painted in the Himalayas. In Remember, Lopez was struck by all that is implied about the immensity of the mountains and what is happening between the people shown. To my joy, his publisher had the goodness to reproduce the picture as endpapers (the colors are richer than in this image). Even in reproduction, it is as suggestive as Lopez says. For more of Roerich's work, click here. And do read Horizon.

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Christmas in the Country

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: 

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McCall's Christmas issue

I can't make out the name of the artist to supply any information. Please just take the image in the holiday spirit! The real Jeanette Smith was working at McCall's Magazine by the time it was published. Wish I had her copy.

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Chimbley sweepers

A Spitalsfield Life post on old London trade cards includes this image of a card for a "Chimbley Sweper." For an historical fiction writer, all the cards are worth looking at (who knew that chimneysweepers even had them?). But what struck me particularly about this one was the spelling chimbley. That pronunciation can signal lack of education; but like many non-standard pronunciations, it should instead raise interesting questions about regional dialects and word history. An article on "The Elizabethan Influence on the Ozark Dialect" notes that "[t]he Ozarker will often use an "l" sound instead of the "n" in chimney so that it sounds like chimley or chimbley. This is an old pronunciation, for Sir Walter Scott in Rob Roy refers to a "kirk with a chimley in it."

 

Aside from possible use in dialectical dialogue or historical fiction (and a loosening up of schoolmarmish value judgments), I find such old words good inspirations for rather Dickensian names. Nicodemus Chimbley, anyone? Maybe Nicodemus Chumbley?

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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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