Welcome to this my blog - a record of my life with books and pictures

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Weekly Portrait: Winter in Berwick Church

Still reeling from our visit to Berwick Church, this week's portrait is the lovely "winter" from Duncan Grant's Four Seasons mural which can be found on the chancel screen where it was painted on in 1944. I wonder which local people posed for this?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Capuchin and Comyns in concert!

This post is brought to you by a very excited blogger. Excited because one of my favourite books, The Juniper Tree, by one of my favourite authors, Barbara Comyns, is being republished by one of my favourite publishers, the excellent Capuchin Classics Press. With a foreword by Margaret Drabble and a cover illustrated with an intriguing image redolent of the tale (and surely partly based on Barbara Comyns’ own image), I can hardly contain myself. Only 9 months to wait...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Celebrating my bloggy birthday: a shortish and fumbling speech and a giveaway of My Cousin Rachel

It is one year to the day that I sat down at my computer in France and posted on my blog for the first time. I had been umming and arring and generally procrastinating about it for ages but finally did it and pressed “post” on my review of George Eliot’s novella The Lifted Veil. How glad I am that I did. Since then, we have travelled about a bit and moved back to London. I have written half a book and gone back to work. I have read and posted reviews of 52 books together with ramblings about my travels and images that take my fancy. I have found other blogs which I love and read everyday. The thoughts of other bloggers and of people who read my blog have come into my life and become a rich part of it. I have even had the great pleasure to meet other bloggers. In short this blog, other blogs and their authors and readers have become a constant in my life and a source of inspiration and joy. So, basically, thank you.

Now for the celebration bit: I have a brand spanking new copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (read and reviewed by moi back in November) to give away to a lucky reader in celebration of a year of happy blogging. If you would like a chance to win just leave a comment and I will find a hat and draw a name from it. This is a blog without borders and this contest is open to all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mars and Venus... according to Fanny by Gaslight

Although I did not give Michael Sadleir’s 1940 novel Fanny by Gaslight the most glowing review, it does have its moments. The following is one of my favourites. Step forward Fanny Hooper, woman of the world:

“This experience of males in the rough taught me an invaluable lesson, thanks to which I have always been able to make friends with any man I have wanted to be friends with. It taught me never to disapprove on principle, and to prefer a man to behave in my presence as he naturally behaves when he is happy. If that involves swearing and getting drunk, then let him swear and drink. You can always tell when a man is talking dirt and drinking too much in order to show off, or to nerve himself for something, or because he despises you and is purposely bad-mannered in order to underline his contempt. I have known that sort of thing only too often, and very disagreeable it is. But most men have some genuine and individual line of relaxation, and a woman, if she likes a man well enough, does well to let him follow it”.

(From Part 1 Chapter 3)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Berwick Church: Bloomsbury Baby!

If any readers of this blog ever find themselves meandering about in East Sussex they could do a lot worse than to visit the wonderful Bloomsburyfied church at Berwick. This is where we were only last week and as well as having splendid views of the South Downs, the inside of the church is literally plastered in the bold, beautiful and thoughtful work of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Quentin Bell.

Like nearby Charleston House, where the artists lived, there is hardly a scrap of blank space that goes unpainted. Regular readers may remember that I am fascinated by the so-called Bloomsbury interiors – that is to say the unconventional things which members of the Bloomsbury group did with the inside of their houses. This is also a Bloomsbury interior – but a public one and a religious one which shows these artists to be even more inventive and remarkable than I thought before. Grant and Bell were not at all religious, of course, but they did not belittle their religious subjects. They really knew how to use space and how to adapt and co-exist with the world around them.

As far as I can tell, Duncan Grant did most of the painting and in particular, he is the creator of the depiction of “Christ in Glory” on the chancel arch. He combined religious images with local landscapes to powerful effect. Thus, below Christ and the angels rolls the Sussex countryside and the scenes and faces of local life are all around the church. The murals were painted during World War II and below Christ and the angels sit, on the left three local servicemen in their uniforms (one of whom died before the war was out), and on the right the Bishop and the Rector who commissioned and supported the murals. Painting patrons into pictures was of course a strong feature of Italian renaissance art and the Italian influence on these murals was what struck me immediately. They feature so much that is English but in some ways, they are very foreign. They seem to be two things at once, without losing the essence of either.

Vanessa Bell followed Duncan Grant’s lead in her depiction of the Annunciation in which Mary and the angel Gabriel (posed, incidentally by the writer Angelica Garnett and Chattie Salaman) sit against a backdrop inspired by the gardens at Charleston House. Again, the familiar and the foreign, the sacred and profane, the timeless and the contemporary are placed within one frame and the result is startling. As you will see from this post, I got a bit overexcited with my picture taking....

And if that was not enough excitement for one day, my husband (who is himself becoming something of a master grave-finder having, only last year found Diana, Unity, Pamela and Nancy Mitford) spotted the grave of Cyril Connolly, which rather inspires me to finally read his book Enemies of Promise, itself a long term resident of my TBR pile. For another, more misanthropic day methinks...

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Weekly Portrait: Golden Face

Because I am still pondering our lovely visit to Hampton Court Palace, and because sometimes, you can't beat a bit of bling.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A paperback in the family

There is much excitement here at Stoneham Towers and hearty congratulations are due to my very clever mother in law Eleanor Stoneham whose first book, Healing this Wounded Earth with Compassion, Spirit and the Power of Hope, has just been published by O Books. A powerful foreword is written by Dr Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. This is a handbook for the restoration of the earth and society to sustainable health and a brave response to environmental damage, violence and reckless profit seeking. Eleanor examines the strength giving elements of vulnerability and the possibilities of personal responsibility and new ways of living in society, economy, medicine, art and faith.

For those who look at the world and find it wanting but who are not hidebound by cynicism, this may be just the read for you. It can be found on Amazon or at O Books. Eleanor’s website can be found here and her excellent blog is here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fanny by Gaslight: enough said.

The booky detective in me has been on fire of late. It all started when I was re-reading Barbara Comyns’ almost completely forgotten memoir Out of the Red into the Blue and found the following passage about the author’s arrival in Ibiza in 1956:

“among them I saw something that I couldn’t believe was true. It was a little girl of about ten dressed like a woman, her face heavily made-up. She was walking with some respectable looking black-clad women. Then I distinctly saw a little boy of about the same age dressed as a woman. His cheeks were all rouged and he was holding a parasol over his head, while a stout pair of boots were showing below his flounced skirt. I wished I had never read Michael Dadler’s Forlorn Sunset, and turned to my companion in horror”.

I had never heard of Forlorn Sunset but that was nothing that a quick google could not cure and I soon discovered that the author was in fact called Michael Sadler. If there was some confusion about his name, he had only him self to blame, since he had apparently changed it from Sadler to Sadleir in order to distinguish himself from his father, who was also an author. As regular readers of this blog may remember, I sought out Forlorn Sunset and raved at length about it.

The preface to Forlorn Sunset mentioned another book by the same author, the amusingly titled Fanny by Gaslight and so my Michael Sadleir mission continued. A quick spot of research reveals that Fanny was first published in 1940, made into a film in 1944 and enjoyed a renaissance in 1981 when it was the subject of a TV miniseries starring Chloe Salaman in the title role.

The cannon of popular and remembered literature is a funny old thing. Both of these novels are now almost completely lost to the reading public but I think that of the two, it was Fanny by Gaslight rather than Forlorn Sunset which has enjoyed the most acclaim and publicity in the past. The reason that I think this odd is that Forlorn Sunset is a much better novel than Fanny.

Fanny by Gaslight is the tragic life story of a young girl born to two lovers and brought up in the seediest possible corner of Victorian London. Her early life as well as her adulthood is littered with pimps, prostitutes, drunkards and schemers but she herself stands apart from the degeneracy around her. She does not judge but she is very separate. Sadleir has set up a series of binary opposites which he explores in the story. Firstly, and most prominently, there is the opposition between honesty and hypocrisy. Fanny is an honest girl as are both of her parents and all of the various allies she picks up in her life. However “low” they may seem to the outside world, they are honest about themselves and to others. They contrast sharply and are oft injured by the battalion of hypocrites in the tale. The aristocratic drunkard who dabbles in paedophilia; the glamorous society lady who meets her lovers in a high class brothel; the list is endless.

In this polarised world “sex” is part of the “honest” section and “marriage” is presented as a deeply hypocritical state. As Fanny’s father comments: “I have some reason for not regarding marriage as the element of a love affair that is made in heaven. Heaven comes at an earlier stage if it comes at all”. Fanny herself identifies with this non conformity and refuses to marry the man that she loves, a steadfastness for which she pays in heavy coin. I understood her best when she says to her lover: “I am an outside person. I always have been, and I am too proud to come inside – at any rate at present”.

It is all very anti-Victorian to an extent which I find rather patronising and simplified and somehow imbued with snobbery. Fanny is dated without being charming and I think that maybe my Sadleir sojourn ends here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy new year Hampton Courting

It turns out that Hampton Court Palace is the place to be on the first Sunday of the year. We were caught somewhere in the post-Christmas, post-New Year, pre-going-back-to-work and not quite knowing what to do with oneself slumber familiar to many and decided to tackle the problem in time honoured fashion: by wandering around an old building and talking about history. On this occassion, I was chief talker, as although my husband knows more about most subjects that I do, I am our resident Tudor specialist owing to an obsession for the six wives of Henry VIII which I developed in primary school. Not having forgotten absolutely everything and still retaining some of my old enthusiasm, I was off. A perfectly sound basis for a tour guide I am sure you will agree. Fortunately I did not spend the whole time gabbling but also took some pictures, and here they are: