I have just finished my third reading of Sick Heart River by John Buchan, published as Mountain Meadow in America (always read it in winter!). The first time through, I thought it was one of the strangest and oddly powerful novels I'd ever encountered. I still do. The second time, I looked forward with relish to its strong evocations of bitter cold and the harsh beauty of the Canadian wilderness. It delivered. This third reading brought out for me its structure and a consequent narrative technique.
Picturing a World
How have we fared in the nor'easter, you ask? Not bad here in the Berkshires, a few inches of snow. It's windy and cold (6°), but sunshine predicted for tomorrow.
A nor'easter predicted for the East Coast this weekend makes a 16th C image of a snowstorm in MIlan snow timely. It's supposed to be grim, but isn't it lovely? The Augsburger Book of Miracles in which it appears records that "in the year A.D. 1162 snow fell twelve times in succession upon Milan, so that the people fell into despair and no one was able to go and see anyone else." (Sounds like the effect of the pandemic, too!) Well, I'm stocked up on groceries and have begun rereading The Idea of North by Peter Davidson. Good luck to any of you caught in the worst of the storm!
I have just reread Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret in the 2002 paperback edition with Charles Vess's perfect cover (a favorite author, favorite illustrator). What fun, then, to find this preliminary sketch with Vess's notation, "Irene—I like this idea: the hotel lobby w/ s/f con people (as well as our principle [sic] characters) checking in as Rob the centaur bursts from air. This is a pure white background w/ design elements a la Saturday Evening Post. Charles"
Blog post alert: As if to prove yesterday's point that colored glass might prove a vector into historical fiction (or simply an object of admiration), up pops the discovery of a pristine n eighteen-hundred-year-old Roman bowl. Cool.
Blog post alert and website links: Yea! Women continue to make gorgeous stained glass. Spitalfield Life's post on windows depicting champions made for an Oxford Street pub led me to artist Ann Southeran's website. A Google search then quickly turned up Stained Glass Ceilings: 5 Women Artists Working In Glass That You Should Know.
Blog post alert: James Gurney's technical comments on Vasily Polenov's watercolor of a 19th C woman artist at work are interesting. But a correction: the subject is not N. Yakunchikova. Rather she is Maria Yakunchikova whose sister Elena (also an artist) married Polenov in the year this portrait was painted. Maria studied for a year at the Académie Julian with under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Tony Robert-Fleury (as does my fictional Jeanette). For more of Maria's work, click here. And for an article about her at Musings on Art, A Platform for Women Artists, click here.
The solid black silhouette startled me first when I saw a stick figure in a 14th C bas-de-page illustration. I can't remember ever seeing anything like it in a medieval manuscript. Then I realized it was a mouse. A mouse with a catapult! A mouse attacking a castle! A castle held by a cat? Turn the page and there's more. It's really like a cartoon strip running along the bottom of eight pages of this 14th Book of Hours. The sense of humor is recognizable from the period; so is a narrative sequence in these decorations. But those black mice! Something for fantasy or historical fiction, for doggerel verse or a children's book (provided, I suppose, that you brought the cat back to life), or, for that matter, a little serious historical research.
Blog post alert: Isn't this a great portrait of the princess who would become Queen Elizabeth? I love the jewelry, the damask, the gold braid, her natural coloring (no white lead paint!), and especially her holding her place in a book with a finger. Of course, it's posed; but in a story, that last touch could be such a good hint in characterizing a particular kind of person when she is interrupted. The image comes from a British Library post, Portraits of Elizabeth I, about a current exhibition.
My husband drew my attention to an article, How our ancestors used to sleep, which included an image of this window. I already knew that people went to bed at sundown and generally slept in two nightly stages (I've come across the phrases "first sleep" and "second sleep" as early as Chaucer and as late as Emily Brontë). What interested me here were a dog sleeping on the beds with its people and stained glass.