Website alert: I've just discovered Thornfield Hall, review after review of the kind of books I love. For instance, I'd been wondering whether to read Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry for the Future (2020). Now I will. And it's good to be reminded of older books. Rumer Godden's The Greengage Summer (1958) is on my shelf and just moved up on my to-reread list. Hooray!
Picturing a World
Double blog alert: A snazzy, modern, digitally recreated tour of ancient Rome's center and a lovely, still, 19th C watercolor of the Colosseum in ruins. By chance I came upon them one after the other, and what layers of period and media they encapsulate! First, I watched a trailer for Rome in 3D at the History Blog. Next came this 19th C watercolor of the ruined Colosseum at Gurney Journey's announcement The Rijksmuseum shares copyright-free images. Yeah, they link to time sinks, but also to a world of information and inspiration.
One more color post (and a little more political celebration). A recent Berkshire Eagle article, Adams native part of graphic design team behind Biden-Harris' 'victory gradient' fascinated me. Jessica Lucia helped develop the color combinations that in November delivered the message "We won!" To audiences accustomed to sophisticated computer images, plain old primary red, white, and blue just don't communicate the way they used to. In this case, I'd say in contrast to their opponent's bluster and intimidation, the subliminal message that comes across is elegance, restraint, and joyous confidence.
A day after hitting Rachel, what should I come across but "Isabella-coloured clothes." Back to the Oxford English Dictionary: "Greyish yellow; light buff," with a first citation to an inventory of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe in 1600. The word is now used mostly of dogs and horses, but the sample shown here is one tile in a chart by Tadelakt, a company that sells waterproof plaster. For an article on canine genetics that includes pictures of Isabella-colored dogs, click here. For the Wikipedia article on Isabella/Isabelline, click here. How to use it in fiction? Maybe as in-joke, a pair of cats named Rachel and Isabella.
Blog post alert: Tuesday's word of the day at the OED was rachel (or Rachel), defined as a "light tan colour (originally and chiefly as a shade of face powder)," with a first citation in 1880. Whoa! wait! what? A quick search landed me at Colour Cards. Bingo. The post has pictures of various 20th C color charts, including several for cosmetics, and a link to the website's own account of actress Rachel Félix, whose complexion reportedly gave the face powder its name. I suspect writers of historical romances have used Rachel poudre a-plenty, but it's new to me—and comes with a story. Yea.
A cache of old letters. Research to uncover a secret or reconstruct a life. Narration of the search itself. These are the familiar elements of fiction from Henry James's The Aspern Papers to modern novels like The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. Novelist, short-story writer, and poet, Elaine Fowler Palencia didn't invent such a story; she lived it. The result is On Rising Ground, her narrative of the life of one ordinary man and his experience as a private in the Confederate Army. Ostensibly narrow in focus, it is also wide in scope and written in response to the questions a novelist as well as a family historian would ask.
In November, I bought the new 25th Anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for its woodcut illustrations by Chris Wormell. The book was a Christmas present to myself, which I saved for reading after New Year's Day. I'm finding that it does indeed enhance the reading to turn the page to a spectacular illustration like the one shown here. (As it happens, Wormell's color palette is reflected in a fascinating post at Gurney Journey on Polar Stratospheric Clouds.)
Blog post alert: While the nation is going through hell (with hopes of better days to come, whether paradisiacal or merely purgatorial), it's a timely happenstance that the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has digitized a set of 16th C illustrations of all three books of Dante's Commedia. Read the History Blog's Rarely-seen Dante illustrations digitized for more information and links.
Blog post alert: In 2020, Drēma Drudge, author of a lively blog about fiction and art, published a novel, Victorine with Fleur-de-Lis Press, which brings out first books by writers who have been featured in The Louisville Review. This historical novel is based on the life of Victorine Meurent, one of Édouard Manet's models who was a painter herself. All the arts are now and always have been hard, but they are more than deeply rewarding—they are necessary. Thanks, Drema, for reminding us of the stories hidden in the past and for keeping them alive through your own creativity today.