Picturing a World
First off, apologies to Su Blackwell: I've lost the citation for this piece, but it's just too emblematic not to use. I'm nearing the end of the first draft of a short story. I'll come out of the woods soon, but I'm not sure whether what I'm bringing with me will ever be truly satisfactory.
In my work-in-slow-progress, "Anonymity," I have given my main character, Mattie, an apartment near 110th Street in New York and sent her walking through Morningside and Central Parks. In order to do so, I've looked at lots of historic photographs of the area, which was being built up in the first decades of the 20th C. It looked raw. By contrast, this postcard by Rachael Robinson Elmer makes it look lush and glamorous in a very urban way.
Jeanette Palmer, the central character in Where the Light Falls, is from Circleville, Ohio. One of my readers was surprised to hear that Circleville is a real place. It is and, as far as I can tell, lives up to its perfect name as the quintessential Midwestern small town. A paragraph in a 1909 diary I'm reading describes a late-June storm in Circleville so dark that fireflies came out at 5:00 p.m. The diarist and the people she is visiting play bridge, escort another visitor to the streetcar, "and then took in the picture show but declined to go with the crowd to see Hargus Creek out of bounds."
When I ran across this image at Costume History last September, it jumped out at me for three reasons: First, the real Jeanette worked at McCall's Magazine in her later life. Second, my work-in-progress, ANONYMITY, is set in 1908. And third, I'm always on the lookout for pictures I can use for this blog. Naturally, I saved it. So Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
Now that I've re-opened it, however, I'm also struck by its ambiguity. What is that pensive woman thinking?
Blog post alert: I had a subplot about a theatrical company in the novella I'm working on now. A reader of an early partial draft said, "I like your actors, but I don't see where you are going with this." Neither did I really, so I removed most of it. Am ever I tempted to reinstate it, though, after seeing this image in the British Library's post, The Show Must Go On!
I took this image from a Sketch by Sketch blog post, which gives no source and no date for it. For my purposes, that doesn't matter. I don't even need confirmation that this really is Nell Brinkley. What electrified me when I saw it was the way it feeds into a character I have invented for my work-in-progress: a young, talented, ambitious, and reckless writer. I've given her Willa Cather's dedication to her work combined with Edna St. Vincent Millay's dangerous boozing and partying. This image gives me a face, an expression, and maybe the hair to spark a visualization. Or maybe she'll suggest a giddy, funny friend. I don't know yet, but hurrah for anything that sparks imagination!
What a difference a decade can make! Contrast Nell Brinkley's Dimples in 1928, daydreaming of becoming President, to yesterday's stalwart defender of Labor. (And, Kamala Harris, get a load of the pantsuit!) Yep, my copy of Trina Robbins's The Flapper Queens arrived, and it's terrific. I'm tickled to learn that Brinkley came to New York in 1907, so sure enough I can add a break-out female cartoonist to the publishing world my Mattie inhabits. Mostly, though, I'm getting a kick out of the visual energy and cheekiness of Brinkley's art work.
'Nuff said? Not quite: a special Labor Day thanks to the essential workers who have put their lives on the lines for the rest of us during the pandemic. They should be paid what they are worth. (One other message this year: vote.)
Via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Who knew?!? Maybe you did, but I sure didn't know that J.P. Morgan's private librarian and eventual first director of the great Morgan Library in New York was a woman. Not only that—a woman of African-American descent. Belle da Costa Greene. I have just run across her in what might seem an unlikely source, Christopher de Hamel's endlessly entertaining and deeply informative Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. The connection, of course, is a manuscript in the Morgan Library. But that's another story for another day.