Walking Through The Virago Art Gallery

I’ve always loved putting together collections of Virago cover art, and I thought it was time to put together another.

The more I look through my collection – and I’ve been looking through it a lot lately, thanks to the TBR Dare and the LibraryThing Monthly Virago Author Reads – the more interesting artists and artwork I find.

I’ve also been delighted to find some wonderfully thoughtful matches of book and cover.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings come alive when they are released from their green frames. I’ve learned that sometimes images have been cropped, or re-coloured, or altered a little in some other way to fit that frame. And that may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the work of these artists.

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I should love to be able to step into the cover of this book.

 Betty and Babbin by a Fountain by Mainie Jellett
Jenny Wren by E H Young (#177)

‘On their father’s death, Jenny and Dahlia Rendall, with their mother Louisa, move across the river to the heights of Upper Radstowe. Here they try to make a living by taking in lodgers. But their neighbours eye this all-female household with alarm and distrust — especially when a local farmer takes to calling on Louisa, now an attractive, if not entirely respectable widow. Dahlia takes it all with a pinch of salt; fastidious, conventional Jenny cannot. Embarrassed by her mother’s country ways, smarting at every slight, both real and imaginary, she longs for a different life. Then Jenny falls in love with a handsomne young squire — but certain of his prejudice and a prisoner of her pride, she dares not reveal her name …’

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An usual – but effective – choice of image.


Head of a Girl by Célestin Joseph  Blanc
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather (# 160)

‘At the end of the seventeenth century, on that “grey rock in the Canadian wilderness” known as Quebec, a French family, the Auclairs, begin a life very different from the one they knew in Paris. On her mother’s death ten-year-old Cécile is entrusted with the care of the household, and of her father, Euclid, the town’s apothecary. Two years later, in late October 1697, as the red-gold autumn sunlight pours over the rock “like a heavy southern wine”, Cécile and her father prepare for the long, difficult winter ahead with no word from home – news of events in the world they have left behind must wait until spring, when the annual boats from France are able to make their way up the St. Lawrence. For her father it will be a painful exile, but for the young Cécile life holds innumerable joys as old ties are relinquished and new ones are formed…’

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I think you might guess this author from the painting

The Reception

L’Ambitiuse by James Tissot
Old New York by Edith Wharton (#179)

‘The four novellas collected here, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘The Age of Innocence’, brilliantly capture New York of the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Originally published in 1924, this outstanding quartet includes ‘False Dawn’, about a rocky father/son relationship; ‘The Old Maid’, the best known of the four, in which a young woman’s hidden illegitimate child is adoted by her best friend, with devastating results; ‘The Spark’, involving a young man and his moral rehabilitation — “sparked” by a chance encounter with Walt Whitman; and ‘New Year’s Day’, an O. Henryesque tale of a married woman suspected of adultery. Each reveals the codes and customs that ruled society of the time, drawn with the perspicacious eye and style that is uniquely Edith Wharton’s.’

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The collection of short stories shares a cover artist with the long series of novels that I read with friends last year.

A Corner Of The Artist’s Room In Paris by Gwen John
Journey to Paradise by Dorothy Richardson (#321)

‘Published together for the first time are Dorothy Richardson’s short stories: delicate and slippery tales which range from the vast gardens of childhood and the anticipation of seaside holidays, to the shifts in perception as youth stutters towards maturity and on to the levelling experiences of old ages and death. Accompanying the range of fictional voices are her autobiographical sketches, offering insight into Dorothy Richardson’s life and the development of her creative talent.’

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I’ve spotted the brother of the last artist on covers of several Green Virago Modern Classics.

A French Fisherboy by Augustus John
Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner (#2)

‘The Reverend Timothy Fortune, ex-clerk of the Hornsey Branch of Lloyds Bank, has spent ten years as a South Seas Island missionary when a ‘maggot’ impels him to embark on what he describes as a ‘sort of pious escapade’ – an assignment to the even more remote island of Fanua, where a white man is a rarity.Mr Fortune is a good man, humble, earnest – he wishes to bring the joys of Christianity to the innocent heathen. But in his three years on Fanua he makes only one convert – the boy Lueli, who loves him. This love, and the sensuous freedom of the islanders produces in Mr Fortune a change of heart which is shattering…Beautifully imagined, the paradise island and its people are as vivid as a Gauguin painting. Told with the driest of wise humour, touching and droll by turns, its theme – that we can never love anything without messing it about – is only one of the delights of this enchanting book.’

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I have found very similar paintings of lilies on two covers: this is the lesser known of the pair


Calla Lilies by Hannah Gluckstein


A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall (#267)

‘Confronted with the news of her daughter’s naked dancing, Lady Shore is temporarily distracted from the Egyptian papers littering her desk. At three years old Sidonia could draw; a spate of morbid poetry followed, and now, at the age of seven, her Greek movement is superb. Having little comprehension of modern civilisation, Lady Shore asks her sharp and monocled friend Francis to guide this extraordinary child. As she grows older, Sidonia’s various and intuitive talents show no sign of abating. Increasingly precocious and superior, she moves on — from the frowsy atmosphere of a sculpture studio to singing lessons with the white-clad and extensive Ferrari family in Florence.’

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I wonder if the author might have read the magazine that provided an illustration for her book’s cover …
Illustration by Helen Dryden
Treasure Hunt by Molly Keane (#356)

‘When old Sir Roderick dies in the stately but crumbling Irish mansion, his family discover that he’s left nothing but debts. His brother Hercules and sister Consuelo cannot understand why they cannot continue their feckless, champagne-drinking ways. They are outraged when young Roderick and Veronica insist on stringent economies and taking in paying guests. Meanwhile dotty Aunt Anna Rose, ensconced in her sedan chair (which she fondly believes to be the Orient Express) has a Dark Secret and, just possibly some long-lost rubies…Originally a play, this 1952 novel sparkles with comedy, mystery and a gallery of eccentricities.’

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The complete painting is much lovelier than the cropped cover image.

The Language of Flowers by George Dunlop Leslie
The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden (#16)

‘Born the daughter of Lord Auckland in 1797, Emily Eden was a witty nineteenth-century aristocrat whose two delightful novels were first presented to an admiring world one hundred and fifty years ago. These matching masterpieces satirize the social world Eden knew, loved, and laughed at. Like Jane Austen she is concerned with love and marriage, money and manners. but her voice is distinct. Eden’s charm and humor – both above- and belowstairs — and her sharp social commentary make her work enduringly captivating.’

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That’s the last painting in this little exhibition.

Another one will be along in the summer.

I already have paintings and illustrations in mind …

Daffodils: A Seasonal Collection

My heart is a garden tired with autumn,
Heaped with bending asters and dahlias heavy and dark,
In the hazy sunshine, the garden remembers April,
The drench of rains and a snow-drop quick and clear as a spark;
Daffodils blowing in the cold wind of morning,
And golden tulips, goblets holding the rain—
The garden will be hushed with snow, forgotten soon, forgotten—
After the stillness, will spring come again?

‘The Garden’ by Sarah Teasdale

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Daffodil Dish by Della Robbia Pottery

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“I went outside mournful, and I hit pure air. The air was full of birdsong. I went outside expecting rain but it was sunny, it was so suddenly, so openly sunny, with so sharp a spring light coming off the river, that I went down the side of the riverbank and sat in among the daffodils.

From ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith

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‘Daffodils in the Inglenook’ by Stephen Darbishire

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She did not look at the daffodils.
They didn’t mean anything.
She looked at the daffodils.
She said, ‘Thank you for the daffodils

Hilda Doolittle

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“I never saw daffodils so beautiful. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway.”

Dorothy Wordsworth

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Undyed linen embroidered with silver and gilt-silver yarns and spangles in daffodil scroll pattern, trimmed with metallic lace. Reconstructed with non-matching linen ground.

Possibly worn by Grizell Wodehouse (d. 1635), the wife of Sir Philip Wodehouse. According to family legend, the jacket belonged to Queen Elizabeth and was given as a gift when she visited the Kimberly estate in 1578 for the knighting of Roger Wodehouse.

From The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

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‘Daffodil Hound’ by Rich Skipworth

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“I want to steal something.

In the hall the night-light’s on, the long space glows gently pink; I walk, one foot set carefully down, then the other, without creaking, along the runner, as if on a forest floor, sneaking, my heart quick, through the night house. I am out of place. This is entirely illegal.

Down past the fish-eye on the hall wall, 1 can see my white shape, of tented body, hair down my back like a mane, my eyes gleaming. I like this. I am doing something, on my own. The active, is it a tense?

Tensed. What I would like to steal is a knife, from the kitchen, but I’m not ready for that.
I reach the sitting room, door’s ajar, slip in, leave the door a little open. A squeak of wood, but who’s near enough to hear? I stand in the room, letting the pupils of my eyes dilute, like a cat’s or owl’s.

Old perfume, cloth dust fill my nostrils. There’s a slight mist of light, coming through the cracks around the closed drapes, from the searchlight outside, where two men doubtless patrol, I’ve seen them, from above, from behind my curtains, dark shapes, cut-outs.
Now I can see outlines, gleams: from the mirror, the bases of the lumps, the vases, the sofa looming like a cloud at dusk.

What should I take? Something that will not be missed. In the wood at midnight, a magic flower. A withered daffodil, not one from the dried arrangement. The daffodils will soon be thrown out, they’re beginning to smell. Along with Serena’s stale fumes, the stench of her knitting.

I grope, find an end table, feel. There’s a clink, I must have knocked something. I find the daffodils, crisp at the edges where they’ve dried, limp towards the stems, use my fingers to pinch. I will press this, somewhere. Under the mattress. Leave it there, for the next woman, the one who comes after me, to find.”

From ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

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Daffodil Cake by  Juliet Stalwood Cakes and Biscuits

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Thou yellow trumpeter of laggard Spring!
Thou herald of rich Summer’s myriad flowers!
The climbing sun with new recovered powers
Does warm thee into being, through the ring
Of rich, brown earth he woos thee, makes thee fling
Thy green shoots up, inheriting the dowers
Of bending sky and sudden, sweeping showers,
Till ripe and blossoming thou art a thing
To make all nature glad, thou art so gay;
To fill the lonely with a joy untold;
Nodding at every gust of wind to-day,
To-morrow jewelled with raindrops. Always bold
To stand erect, full in the dazzling play
Of April’s sun, for thou hast caught his gold.

‘To an Early Daffodil’ by Amy Lowell

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 Daffodil  (1910-12) a textile design by Franz von Zülow

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“As we all know, the only way to plant daffodils is to pile them onto a tray, and then to run out into the orchard and hurl the tray into the air, planting them exactly where they fall. There may be other, less orthodox methods; if so they should be spurned. The tray, the ecstatic gesture … that is the only sure road to success.”

 Beverley Nichols

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‘Daffodils and Violets’ by Mabel Tregaskis

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“In the forest, in the forest, silence had cast a spell over all things. She plucked a great bouquet of daffodils and snowdrops, and tenderly held them to her, and tenderly kissed their fresh spring faces. She did not sing at all, but sat silent, expectant, and wondering, till her flowers faded and withered in her hands.”

Katherine Mansfield

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A Collection: The Romance of the Railway

Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy, to the idea of the scene being symbolic, or encountered at one level while suggesting another even more alienating.

Once the train which had left them on the platform had drawn out, the man and the woman trod separately up and down, read time-tables in turn, were conscious of one another in the way that strangers are, when thrown together without a reason for conversation. A word or two would have put them at ease, but there were no words to say. The heat of the afternoon was beyond comment and could not draw them together as hailstones might have done. They had nothing to do, but to walk up and down or sit for a moment on the blisteringly-hot, slatted seat.

From ‘A Wreath of Roses’ by Elizabeth Taylor

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‘Through the Marshes’ by Stanhope Forbes

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Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

‘From a Railway Carriage’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

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‘Trainy Day’  by Franco Matticchio

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The novel begins in a railway station, a locomotive huffs, steam from a piston covers the opening of the chapter, a cloud of smoke hides part of the first paragraph. In the odour of the station there is a passing whiff of station café odour. There is someone looking through the befogged glass, he opens the glass door of the bar, everyting is misty, inside too, as if seen by near-sighted eyes, or eyes irritated by coal dust. The pages of the book are clouded like the windows of an old train, the cloud of smoke rests on the sentences.

From ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ by Italo Calvino

Translated by William Weaver

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* * * * * * *

When books are pow’rless to beguile
And papers only stir my bile,
For solace and relief I flee
To Bradshaw or the ABC
And find the best of recreations
In studying the names of stations.

‘Railway Rhymes’ by C L Graves

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‘The Station, 1930’ by Lilian Gladys Tickell

* * * * * * *

The train slows and lengthens, as we approach London, the centre, and my heart draws out too, in fear, in exaltation. I am about to meet–what? What extraordinary adventure awaits me, among these mail vans, these porters, these swarms of people calling taxis? I feel insignificant, lost, but exultant. With a soft shock we stop. I will let the others get before me. I will sit still one moment before I emerge into that chaos, that tumult. I will not anticipate what is to come. The huge uproar is in my ears. It sounds and resounds under this glass roof like the surge of a sea. We are cast down on the platform with our handbags. We are whirled asunder. My sense of self almost perishes; my contempt. I become drawn in, tossed down, thrown sky-high. I step on to the platform, grasping tightly all that I possess–one bag.

Virginia Woolf

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‘The Tube Train’ by Cecil E Power

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“Trains are relentless things, aren’t they, Monsieur Poirot? People are murdered and die, but they go on just the same. I am talking nonsense, but you know what I mean.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Life is like a train, Mademoiselle. It goes on. And it is a good thing that that is so.”


“Because the train gets to its journey’s end at last, and there is a proverb about that in your language, Mademoiselle.”

“‘Journey’s end in lovers meeting.'” Lenox laughed. “That is not going to be true for me.”

“Yes–yes, it is true. You are young, younger than you yourself know. Trust the train, Mademoiselle, for it is le bon Dieu who drives it.”

The whistle of the engine came again.

“Trust the train, Mademoiselle,” murmured Poirot again. “And trust Hercule Poirot. He knows.”

From ‘The Mystery of the Blue Train’ by Agatha Christie

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* * * * * * *

Outside the window, there slides past that unimaginable and deserted vastness where night is coming on, the sun declining in ghastly blood-streaked splendour like a public execution across, it would seem, half a continent, where live only bears and shooting stars and the wolves who lap congealing ice from water that holds within it the entire sky. All white with snow as if under dustsheets, as if laid away eternally as soon as brought back from the shop, never to be used or touched. Horrors! And, as on a cyclorama, this unnatural spectacle rolls past at twenty-odd miles an hour in a tidy frame of lace curtains only a little the worse for soot and drapes of a heavy velvet of dark, dusty blue

From ‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

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Poster produced for the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the Southern Railway (SR) to promote rail travel to Cornwall.

Artwork by Allinson.

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My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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A Collection: With Love for Christmas

One of the most beautiful of Church festivals comes in midwinter when nights are long and days are short, when the sun slants towards earth obliquely and snow mantles the fields: Christmas.

From ‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter

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‘Midnight Mass’ by Clarence Gagnon (1881–1942)

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I am very busy preparing for Christmas, but have often locked myself up in a room alone, shutting out my unfinished duties, to study the flower catalogues and make my lists of seeds and shrubs and trees for the spring. It is a fascinating occupation, and acquires an additional charm when you know you ought to be doing something else, that Christmas is at the door, that children and servants and farm hands depend on you for their pleasure, and that, if you don’t see to the decoration of the trees and house, and the buying of the presents, nobody else will. The hours fly by shut up with those catalogues and with Duty snarling on the other side of the door. I don’t like Duty—everything in the least disagreeable is always sure to be one’s duty. Why cannot it be my duty to make lists and plans for the dear garden? “And so it is,” I insisted to the Man of Wrath, when he protested against what he called wasting my time upstairs. “No,” he replied sagely; “your garden is not your duty, because it is your Pleasure.”

What a comfort it is to have such wells of wisdom constantly at my disposal! Anybody can have a husband, but to few is it given to have a sage, and the combination of both is as rare as it is useful. Indeed, in its practical utility the only thing I ever saw to equal it is a sofa my neighbour has bought as a Christmas surprise for her husband, and which she showed me the last time I called there—a beautiful invention, as she explained, combining a bedstead, a sofa, and a chest of drawers, and into which you put your clothes, and on top of which you put yourself, and if anybody calls in the middle of the night and you happen to be using the drawing-room as a bedroom, you just pop the bedclothes inside, and there you are discovered sitting on your sofa and looking for all the world as though you had been expecting visitors for hours.

From ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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‘Christmas Jewels’ by Sarah Sedwick

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At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just got seriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard from the fore-court without—sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences reached them—”Now, all in a line—hold the lantern up a bit, Tommy—clear your throats first—no coughing after I say one, two, three.—Where’s young Bill?—Here, come on, do, we’re all a-waiting—”

“What’s up?” inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

“I think it must be the field-mice,” replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. “They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They’re quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over—they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.”

“Let’s have a look at them!” cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door.

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the fore-court, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, “Now then, one, two, three!” and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide,
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet,
You by the fire and we in the street,
Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison,
Bliss to-morrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow,
Saw the star o’er a stable low;
Mary she might not further go,
Welcome thatch, and litter below!
Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell
“Who were the first to cry Nowell?
Animals all, as it befell,
In the stable where they did dwell!
Joy shall be theirs in the morning!”


The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded—but for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

“Very well sung, boys!” cried the Rat heartily. “And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!”

“Yes, come along, field-mice,” cried the Mole eagerly. “This is quite like old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle to the fire.”

From ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame

Illustration by E H Shepherd

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‘Winter Solstice’ by Jo March

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Hilda Effania always left notes for the girls, explaining where their Christmas present from Santa was. This practice began the first year Sassafrass had doubted that a fat white man came down the chimney to bring her anything. Hilda solved the problem by leaving notes from Santa Claus for all the children. That way they had to search the house, high and low, for their gifts. Santa had surely been there. Once school chums and reality interfered with this myth, Hilda continued the practice of leaving her presents hidden away. She liked the idea that each child experienced her gift in privacy. The special relationship she nurtured with each was protected from rivalries, jokes and Christmas confusions.  Hilda Effania loved thinking that she’s managed to give her daughters a moment of their own.

My Oldest Darling, Sassafrass,

In the back of the pantry is something from Santa. In a red box by the attic window is something your father would want you to have. Out by the shed in a bucket covered with straw is a gift from your Mama.

Love to you,


Darling Cypress,

Underneath my hat boxes in the 2nd floor closet is your present from Santa. Look behind the tomatoes I canned last year for what I got you in your Papa’s name. My own choice for you is under your bed.



Sweet little Indigo,

This is going to be very simple. Santa left you something outside your violin. I left you a gift by the outdoor stove on the right hand side. Put your coat on before you go out there. And the special something I got you from your Daddy is way up in the china cabinet. Please, be careful.

I love you so much,


From ‘Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo’ by Ntozake Shange

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* * * * * * *

Christmas Day passed very quietly. The men had a holiday from work and the children from school and the churchgoers attended special Christmas services. Mothers who had young children would buy them an orange each and a handful of nuts; but, except at the end house and the inn, there was no hanging up of stockings, and those who had no kind elder sister or aunt in service to send them parcels got no Christmas presents.

Still, they did manage to make a little festival of it. Every year the farmer killed an ox for the purpose and gave each of his men a joint of beef, which duly appeared on the Christmas dinner-table together with plum pudding – not Christmas pudding, but suet duff with a good sprinkling of raisins. Ivy and other evergreens (it was not holly country) were hung from the ceiling and over the pictures; a bottle of homemade wine was uncorked, a good fire was made up, and, with doors and windows closed against the keen, wintry weather, they all settled down by their own firesides for a kind of super-Sunday. There was little visiting of neighbours and there were no family reunions, for the girls in service could not be spared at that season, and the few boys who had gone out in the world were mostly serving abroad in the Army.

There were still bands of mummers in some of the larger villages, and village choirs went carol-singing about the countryside; but none of these came to the hamlet, for they knew the collection to be expected there would not make it worth their while. A few families, sitting by their own firesides, would sing carols and songs; that, and more and better food and a better fire that usual, made up their Christmas cheer.

 From ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ by Flora Thompson

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‘Christmas 1945’ by Annie French

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It began with the Christmas tree lights. They were candy-bright, mouth-size. She wanted to feel the lightness of them on her tongue, the spark on her tastebuds. Without him life was so dark, and all the holiday debris only made it worse. She promised herself she wouldn’t bite down.

From ‘The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales’ by Kirsty Logan

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‘Illuminated Tree’ by Josef Breitenbach (1896-1984)

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Sing hey for the moon and the starry sky,
The river, the wood and the sea,
For the fish and the birds and the animals all,
And the grass so green on the lea,
But most of all for the fair Christmas rose
And the lights on the candled tree.

Sing hey for the chimney and the roof-tree wide,
Sing hey for the walls and the floor,
For the warmth of fire on the glowing hearth
And the welcoming open door,
But most of all for the peace and goodwill
And the joy at our deep heart’s core.

Sing hey for the men, the hosts of this house,
Sing hey for the first and the last.
Sing hey for the guests who have gathered here,
Both tonight and in pages past.
And sing hey for the love between house and guest
That will hold them for ever fast.

Sing hey for the God who fashioned for us
This bountiful splendour of earth,
Sing hey for courage and wisdom and love,
For beauty and healing and mirth,
But most for the Child Who on Christmas Day
Took upon Him our human birth.

From ‘The Herb of Grace’ by Elizabeth Goudge

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Illustration for ‘Good Housekeeping’ by Jessie Willcox Smith

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A Walk Through the Virtual Virago Art Gallery

I have been picked up, shaken, spun around, and then dropped in a crumpled heap by life. That is the consequence of both those huge things that will affect the whole world, that I know you know about already; and of things that seem small to the world but enormous to me because are so very close to me.

I don’t know what the future might hold, but I think things might settle down for a while, and I’ve realised  that the best thing I can do is to dust myself down and carry on; celebrating the things that illuminate our lives. Books, art, crafts, nature, dogs ….

Let’s start with another celebration of the art that adorns the covers of some of my favourite books.

Because the covers are lovely, but the paintings really come alive when they are released from their green frames. Sometimes just a detail has been chosen, or the painting has been cropped because it wasn’t book-shaped.  That may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the art-work.

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It’s difficult to pick favourites, but I have to say that this is such a striking image.


‘L’infante égarée’ by Marion Elizabeth Adnams
‘Cassandra at the Wedding’ by Dorothy Baker (#67)

‘It is the hottest June 21st since 1912, and the longest day of the year. Casandra Edwards-tormented, intelligent, mordantly witty – leaves her doctoral thesis and her Berkeley flat to drive through the scorching heat to her family’s ranch. There they are all assembled: her philosopher father smelling so sweetly of five-star Hennessey, her kind, fussy grandmother, her beloved, her identical, her inseparable (soon to be separated) twin sister Judith. For the occasion is Judith’s marriage to a young Connecticut doctor; though it won’t be if Cassandra can help it …’

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This came before the better known television tie-in edition


‘Orchids, Passion Flowers and Hummingbird’ by Martin Johnson Heade

‘The Orchid House’ by Phyllis Shand Allfrey (#73)

‘Under the watchful gaze of their Black nurse Lally, three white Creole girls grow up at Maison Rose on the Island of Dominica, with its glades of glittering live trees , flaring hibiscus and milky-scented frangipani. But this drowsy heat-drenched lushness conceals decay, and the orchid house echoes with the strange whispered secrets of their enclosed world. To survive, the girls must abandon their island of disease and beauty for the cold northern lands of England and America. Lally watches as they leave, one by one, and waits for their return. As return they must – to their magic past, to the orchid house, and to the man whom all three sisters love…’

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The writer, the artist, the knitwear: all Scottish


‘The Fair Isle Jumper’ by Stanley Cursiter
‘The Camomile’ by Catherine Carswell (#261)

‘Ellen Carstairs has spent two glorious years as a student in Frankfurt. Returning to Glasgow to teach music, she begins a journal for her college friend Ruby. Here she pours out her observations, her ambition to write and her frustrations. For the oppressive and religious attitudes of her peers are a great contrast to Ellen’s own enlightened views about sex and independence. First published in 1922, this semi-autobiographical novel is a lively and sympathetic portrait of a young women’s ideals. Ellen’s engagement to Duncan, a young doctor, threatens to distance her from the freedom she seeks, but her friendship with a poor, ascetic scholar helps Ellen to realize that she must not be moulded by convention.’

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A painting from one side of the Atlantic and a story from the other


‘South of France’ by Duncan Grant
‘Death Comes for the Archbishop’ by Willa Cather (#58)

‘One summer evening in the year of 1848 three Cardinals and a missionary, dining in a villa near Rome, decide the fate of a simple parish priest, the Frenchman Jean Marie Latour. He is to go to New Mexico to win for Catholicism the South-West of America, a country where the Faith has slumbered for centuries. There, together with his old friend Father Vaillant, Latour makes his home. To the carnelian hills and ochre-yellow deserts of this almost pagan land he brings the refined traditions of French culture and Christian belief. Slowly, gently he reforms and revivifies, after forty years of love and service achieving a final reconciliation between his faith and the sensual peasant people of New Mexico: a harmony embodied in the realisation of his most cherished dream – a Romanesque cathedral, carved from the Mexican rock, gold as sunlight.’

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A good match of writer and artist – and a green cover for a green book


‘Joueuses de Cartes’ by Tamara de Lempicka
‘Smoke & Other Stories’ by Djuna Barnes (#167)

‘First published in New York newspapers between 1914 and 1916 these fourteen incisive tales wonderfully evoke Greenwich Village Bohemia of that time. Sketched with an exquisite and decadent pen are lovers and loners, schemers and dreamers, terrorists and cowards, and many, many more. There’s the terrible ‘Peacock’, a ‘slinky female with electrifying eyes and red hair’ whom all men pursue but cannot entice; Paprika Johnson softly playing her pawnshop banjo above Swingerhoger’s Beer Garden and Mamie Saloam the dancer who ‘became fire and felt hell’. There’s Clochetter Brin who ‘knew that love and lottery went together’, the silent Lena whose stolid appearance disguised her animal spirit and the cunning Madeleonette whose lovers enact the most dramatic rite of all.’

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An artist who can be fund on the covers of more than one Virago author


‘The Bay’ by Thea Proctor
‘Devoted Ladies’ by Molly Keane (#138)

‘It is 1933. Jessica and Jane have been living together for six months. They are devoted friends — or are they? Jessica, with her dark charm, has a vicious way with words and a temperament that inclines towards violence.  She loves her friend with the cruelty of total possessiveness; Jane with her geometric lines and blonde hair, is perfect – but for the thread of a scar by her mouth.  She is rich and silly and drinks rather too many brandy and sodas. Their friend Sylvester regrets that she should be ‘loved and bullied and perhaps even murdered by that frightful Jessica’, but decides it’s none of his business. However, when the Irish gentleman George Playfair meets Jane, he decides it’s very much his business.  He entices Jane to Ireland where the battle for her devotion begins. It will be a fight to the death. But who will win?’

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The only instance of writer and artist being one and the same, I think


‘And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur’ by Leonora Carrington
‘The Seventh Horse & Other Tales’ by Leonora Carrington (#326)

‘From the land of Grimm, Lewis Carroll and Lear, from a place of shadows and glistening jewels come these tales: hallucinatory, hilarious, peopled with wolves, hyenas and giant white poodles. Since the first appearance of Leonora Carrington’s stories in the late 1930s, a group of admirers has been tracking down the work which she herself, travelling continents and writing in three different languages, slougheed off like the skin of a snake. At last, her uncollected short fiction is bought together for the first time. Including such classics as “White Rabbits”, “The Neutral Man”, a story version of “The Stone Door”, tales published in Mexican literary magazines, or previously unpublished, and many early French stories discovered amongst the papers of Max Ernst after his death, this spellbinding collection is for the surreal corners of everyone’s heart.’

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A Cornish Collection: Staying Close to Home

“The scene grew wilder as the train swept on; trees and hedges were left behind; there were no more cornfields, nor cottages with bright flower gardens; the end was approaching, the Land’s End; and soon there would be nothing, except the granite and stunted gorse, and the foaming waste of sea. It was like a beautiful woman growing old; South Devon was youth; Eastern Cornwall her early married life; then at Truro middle age; and so on into the desolation and decay of old age. Burrough wondered whether he too had left behind the trees and flowers; whether he too had passed through the flowering woods and the luxuriant lanes; whether he might be coming, in more senses than one, to the untrodden wastes; to end at length among the cruel rocks and the stormy sea.

It was a waste which was not all a waste. Upon the magnesian soil grew the flesh-coloured Cornish heather, which no art short of witchcraft could induce to grow east of Truro. In the villages down below, accustomed to the roar of the sea, were semi-tropical plants ; and the hydrangeas were bushes and the fuschias were trees. The wide sweeps of treeless land were still beautiful, and so was the air. It was the air after all that was the best. It was fresh and pure, and so soft that to breathe it into tender lungs made all the wide difference between pleasure and pain.

Respectable people had not breakfasted when Burrough reached Penzance. He found it difficult to believe that when the hands of the clock had last stood at half-past seven he had been in his cottage by the gorge, and had  no idea of setting out upon a pilgrimage.”

From ‘A Pixy in Petticoats’ by John Trevenna

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The Terminus (Penzance Station) by Stanhope Forbes

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Early in the 18th century Davies Gilbert, poet and hymn-writer of St Erth, created a set of verses from Cornish place names, to celebrate the euphony of the Cornish tongue:

Vel an drukya, Cracka Cudna
Truzemenhall, Chun, Crows an Wra
Banns Burnuhal Brane Bosfrancan
Treeve Trewhidden Try Trembah

Carn Kanidgiac Castle Skudiac
Beagle Tuben Amalvear
Amalibria Amel whidden
Skilliwaden Trink Polpeor

Pellalith Pellalla-wortha
Buzza vean Chyponds Boswase
Ventongimps Roskestal Raftra
Hendra Grancan Treen Bostraze

Treghnebbris Embla Bridgia
Menadarva Treveneage
Tregaminion Fouge Trevidgia
Gwarnick Trewey Reskajeage

Luggans Vellane-vrane Treglisson
Gear Noon-gumpus Helan-gove
Carnequidden Brea Bojouean
Dryn Chykembra Dowran Trove

Menagwithers Castle-cotha
Carnon-greeze Trevespan-vean
Praze-an-Beeble Men Trebarva
Bone Trengwainten Lethargwean

Stable-hobba Bal-as whidden
Tringy Trannack Try Trenear
Fraddam Crowles Gwallan Crankan
Drift Bojedna Cayle Trebear

Haltergantic Carnaliezy
Gumford Brunion Nancekeage
Reen Trevasken Mevagizzy
Killow Carbus Carn Tretheage

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Brett, John; St Ives Bay; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/st-ives-bay-83317

St Ives Bay by John Brett

* * * * * * *

“Behind the headland that cushions Navax point and Godrevy Point, and behind Godrevy lighthouse, which was Virginia Woolf’s eponymous lighthouse and stands sentinel on its own island of rock, and beyond the long arc of bone-coloured sand, fuzzy with sea spray, hemming the semicircular bay beyond us, St Ives shines in the far distance, white and glimmering, like Jerusalem by the sea. The sea which is frantic and chaotic, driven directly ont the sharp rocks below by a hard, solid wind, leaving the water shredded and annihilated, every part of this surface a fizzing, furious bright mass of bubbles and froth and spume and spray. Those white horses which have cantered across the steppes of the Atlantic now race each other neck and neck over the last few furlongs, galloping and rising towards the finishing line and hammering into the wall of the coast, vaporising in glittery rainbows of molecules and light.”

From Walking Away by Simon Armitage

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Visiting Lanyon Quoit by Joan Gillchrest

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Cornish Hevva Cake

It is said that a cliff-top lookout, known as a  huer would shout ‘Hevva!, Hevva!’ to alert fishing boats to the location of  pilchard shoals. And that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the crews returned to land.

Makes 1 Thin Cake


200g plain flour
a pinch of salt
½ tsp ginger powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder
50g granulated sugar
100g salted butter (or lard)
100g currants
2-3 tbsp milk


Grease a large baking sheet and preheat the oven to 190C/170C(fan). Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, adding the salt, spices and sugar. Tip in the butter and work the mixture together with your fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Incorporate the currants and bring the mixture together into a stiff dough with milk – 2 or 3 tbsp should be enough. Transfer the dough onto a well floured surface and roll out until little over 1cm in thickness. Move the rolled out cake onto the prepared baking sheet and score the top so as to resemble a fishing net.Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown, sprinkle with a little more sugar and serve warm.

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Porthgwarra by Ernest Proctor

* * * * * * *

“I rode into Penzance and explored the town thoroughly … I found it a curious mixture of a place, the new gentility of the seaside town mellowing the ancient coarseness of the fishing port. The Metropole Hotel was part of the new gentility, a modern building that faced the sea and catered to visitors anxious to breathe the sea air in refined surroundings, but the town’s high street was far older than the esplanade and stood further inland to remind the visitor that a sea view had not always been considered desirable by the inhabitants. The mixture of old and new was emphasised, however by the new market house at the top of historical Market Jew Street and by the new public garden with their semi-tropical vegetation a stone’s throw from the narrow streets and cobbled alleys around the harbour. And beyond the harbour, reducing both the old and the new to insignificance, rose the fairy-tale castle of St Michael’s Mount …”

From ‘Penmarric’ by Susan Howatch

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“And to-night, ladies?” suggested the faithful Charles. “Wouldn’t you like to row round the Mount?—When you’ve had your tea, I’ll come back for you, and help you down to the shore—it’s rather rough, but nothing like what you have done, ma’am,” added he encouragingly. “And it will be bright moonlight, and the Mount will look so fine.”

So, the spirit of adventure conquering our weariness, we went. When I think how it looked next morning—the small, shallow bay, with its toy-castle in the centre, I am glad our first vision of it was under the glamour of moonlight, with the battlemented rock throwing dark shadows across the shimmering sea. In the mysterious beauty of that night row round the Mount, we could imagine anything; its earliest inhabitant, the giant Cormoran, killed by that “valiant Cornishman,” the illustrious Jack; the lovely St. Keyne, a king’s daughter, who came thither on pilgrimage; and, passing down from legend to history, Henry de la Pomeroy, who, being taken prisoner, caused himself to be bled to death in the Castle; Sir John Arundel, slain on the sands, and buried in the Chapel; Perkin Warbeck’s unfortunate wife, who took refuge at St. Michael’s shrine, but was dragged thence. And so on, and so on, through the centuries, to the family of St. Aubyn, who bought it in 1660, and have inhabited it ever since. “Very nice people,” we heard they were; who have received here the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and other royal personages. What a contrast to the legendary Cormoran!

Yet, looking up as we rowed under the gloomy rock, we could fancy his giant ghost sitting there, on the spot where he killed his wife, for bringing in her apron greenstone, instead of granite, to build the chapel with. Which being really built of greenstone the story must be true! What a pleasure it is to be able to believe anything!

Some of us could have stayed out half the night, floating along in the mild soft air and dreamy moonlight, which made even the commonplace little town look like a fairy scene, and exalted St. Michael’s Mount into a grand fortress, fit for its centuries of legendary lore—but others preferred going to bed.

So we landed, and retired. Not however without taking a long look out of the window upon the bay, which now, at high tide, was one sheet of rippling moon-lit water, with the grim old Mount, full of glimmering lights like eyes, sitting silent in the midst of the silent sea.”

From An Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall, by Dinah Maria Craik

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I Can Just Hear a Robin Above the Roar of the Stream. Cot Valley. February 2015.

Kurt Jackson

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“The Towans, as the sandhills or dunes on the north-east side of St. Ives Bay are called—that barren place mentioned in the last chapter where a horde of fugitive thrushes found snails enough to save them from starving—is a curiously attractive bit of country. It is plainly visible from St. Ives, looking east over the water—a stretch of yellow sands where the Hayle River empties itself in the Bay, and, behind it, a grey-green desert of hummocky or hilly earth, where the hills are like huge broken waves in “fluctuation fixed.” And in a sense they are waves, formed of sand which the ocean brings out of its depths and exposes at low water, to be swept up by the everlasting winds and heaped in hills along the sea-front; and no sooner are the hills built than the wind unbuilds them again, carrying the yellow dust further inland to build other hills and yet others, burying the green farm-lands and houses and entire villages in their desolating progress. This, they say, was the state of things no longer ago than the eighteenth century, when some wise person discovered or remembered that Nature herself has a remedy for this evil, a means of staying the wind-blown sands in their march. The common sea rush, Psomma arenaria, the long coarse grass which grows on the sand by the sea, was introduced—the roots or seed, I do not know which; and it grew and spread, and in a little while took complete possession of all that desolate strip of land, clothing the deep hollows and wave-like hills to their summits with its pale, sere-looking, grey-green tussocks. As you walk there, when the wind blows from the sea, the fine, dry, invisible particles rain on your face and sting your eyes; but all this travelling sand comes from the beach and can do no harm, for where it falls it must lie and serve as food for the conquering sea rush. If you examine the earth you will find it bound down with a matting of tough roots and rootlets, and that in the spaces between the tussocks the decaying rush has formed a thin mould and is covered with mosses and lichens, and in many places with a turf as on the chalk downs.”

From ‘The Land’s End’ by W H Hudson

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French Crabbers (in Newlyn Harbour) by Harold Harvey 

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“Cornwall is very primeval: great, black, jutting cliffs and rocks, like the original darkness, and a pale sea breaking in, like dawn.

It is like the beginning of the world, wonderful…”

D. H. Lawrence

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A Seasonal Collection: Strawberries

“Sometimes they took a lunch with them and went berrying–strawberries and blueberries. How pretty blueberries were–the dainty green of the unripe berries, the glossy pinks and scarlets of the half ripes, the misty blue of the fully matured! And Valancy learned the real flavour of the strawberry in its highest perfection. There was a certain sunlit dell on the banks of Mistawis along which white birches grew on one side and on the other still, changeless ranks of young spruces. There were long grasses at the roots of the birches, combed down by the winds and wet with morning dew late into the afternoons. Here they found berries that might have graced the banquets of Lucullus, great ambrosial sweetnesses hanging like rubies to long, rosy stalks. They lifted them by the stalk and ate them from it, uncrushed and virgin, tasting each berry by itself with all its wild fragrance ensphered therein. When Valancy carried any of these berries home that elusive essence escaped and they became nothing more than the common berries of the market-place–very kitchenly good indeed, but not as they would have been, eaten in their birch dell until her fingers were stained as pink as Aurora’s eyelids.”

From ‘The Blue Castle’ by L M Montgomery

* * * * * *

From 'Allen's Book of Berries'

From ‘Allen’s Book of Berries’

* * * * * *

There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

‘Strawberries’ by Edwin Morgan

* * * * * *


Strawberry and Elderflower Sorbet

1 pound organic strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 16 oz when pureed)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup elderflower cordial
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat as soon as the sugar has dissolved and set aside to let it cool to room temperature. In a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries with lemon juice. Add the cooled syrup to the strawberry puree and blend again for a minute. Stir in the elderflower cordial until thoroughly mixed. Pour the strawberry mixture into an ice cream machine and churn till frozen according to manufacturer’s instructions. The sorbet is best served immediately or can be kept in the freezer for up to 5 days.

From Beyond Sweet and Savoury

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‘Strawberry Bed’ by Eric Ravilious

* * * * * *

“Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking — strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of. — “The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”

From ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

* * * * * *


This 1830s day dress is made of challis printed with a realistic design of wild strawberries, bamboo, pinks and anemones. In the nineteenth century a fascination with flowers in printed textile design was nothing new, but during the 1830s it received a new impetus. Technical improvements to the printing process and advances in dye chemistry meant that floral prints could be mass-produced at low prices, and the repeal of excise duty on printed textiles in 1831 helped to reduce costs. Inspiration for floral designs came from a variety of sources, including botanical engravings, pattern books and plants grown in gardens and conservatories.

From V&A Collections

 * * * * * *

* * * * * *

“I told Helen my story and she went home and cried. In the evening her husband came to see me and brought some strawberries; he mended my bicycle, too, and was kind, but he needn’t have been, because it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now. I hardly dare admit it, even touching wood, but I’m so happy that when I wake in the morning I can’t believe it’s true.”

The first words of ‘Our Spoons Came from Woolworths’ by Barbara Comyns

* * * * * *


Strawberries Bella and Ida at the Table by Marc Chagall

* * * * * *

“Tess wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man was pressing, and she consented to accompany him.  He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.

“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”

“They are already here.”  D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.

“No–no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips.  “I would rather take it in my own hand.”

“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

They had spent some time wandering desultorily thus, Tess eating in a half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Urberville offered her.  When she could consume no more of the strawberries he filled her little basket with them; and then the two passed round to the rose-trees, whence he gathered blossoms and gave her to put in her bosom. She obeyed like one in a dream, and when she could affix no more he himself tucked a bud or two into her hat, and heaped her basket with others in the prodigality of his bounty.”

From ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy

* * * * * *


‘Strawberries Railway’ by Jacek Yerka

* * * * * *

“For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savours of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing – the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”

From ‘Housekeeping’ by Marilynne Robinson

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A Literary Collection: More Virago Cover Paintings

I loved putting together my first collection of Virago cover art, and now I’m going to put together my second.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings come alive when they are released from their green frames. I’ve learn that sometimes images have been cropped, or recoloured, or altered a little in some other way to fit that frame. And that may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the work of these artists.

I had ideas of making a bigger collection in some form, but as a number of images are inaccessible I can’t make the work as I would like. And so I’m going to carry on gathering together selections of images and matching them with ‘their” books ….

* * * * * * *

I’ve found Stanley Spencer’s work on the covers of three Virago authors now


‘Interior at Cookham with Spring Flowers’ by Stanley Spencer
‘Palladian’ by Elizabeth Taylor (#184)

“Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father had just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer – a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a ninteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr. Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric, domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northhanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.”

* * * * * * *

This book seemed impossible to find, until a reissue came along ….


‘Along the Shore’ by J E Southall
‘The Brontes Went to Woolworths’ by Rachel Ferguson (#279)

“Pre-war London, and the idea of growing up looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters. Deirdre, Katrine and young Sheil still cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys to their fulsomely imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington. But when Deirdre meets the judge’s real-life wife at a charity bazaar the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. Will they cast off the fantasies of childhood forever?”

* * * * * * *

My pick of Virago’s four Margaret Kennedy Covers

Dugdale, Thomas Cantrell, 1880-1952; The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior

‘The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London’ by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale
‘Together and Apart’ by Margaret Kennedy (#64)

“Betsy is married to Alec. They have three half-grown children, a Hampstead home, a holiday house in Wales and all the comforts of British middle-class life between the wars. It is 1936 and Betsy is thirty-seven. Alec, she discovers, has been having a desultory affair – one of no importance to him, and at first even Betsy is not too concerned about it. But where, Betsy feels, is the happiness which is her due? And she is tired; houses, servants, children mke eternal demands upon her, family and friends constantly interfere – in this instance just once too often, with startling results…”

* * * * * * *

A striking still life covers a collection of short stories

Gertler, Mark, 1891-1939; The Dutch Doll

The Dutch Doll by Mark Gertler
The Gipsy’s Baby and Other Stories by Rosamond Lehmann (#69)

“In these captivating short stories we find perfect miniatures of Rosamond Lehmann’s fictional world. Echoing the themes which permeate her finest fiction, here are delicate portrayals of the world of adults as seen through the eyes of curious children, fascination with different families – their otherness, the romance of separate worlds. Most moving are the stories set against the background of Britain at war: the world of women and children, the minutiae of daily life in rural England – all are recorded with unmatched sensitivity and precision.”

* * * * * * *

A thoughtful match of writer and artist


‘Woman with a Polish Shawl’ by Moise Kisling
Deborah by Esther Kreitman (#108)

“All the world has heard of the great Yiddish writer Isacc Bashevis Singer, and of his brother Israel Joshua. Few have heard of their sister Hinde Esther who lived in obscurity and also wrote novels. Published first in Yiddish in 1936 and translated by her son in 1946, Deborah is an autobiographical novel. It takes us back with cinematic immediacy to the world of Polish Jewry in the middle of Europe well before the First World War. Deborah is the daughter of a feckless, unworldy rabbi, Reb Avram Ber, and his wife, Raizela. She is fourteen years old, sensitive, intelligent and romantic; but the two things she longs for are denied her: education and marriage to the man of her choice – a dark-eyed Marzist she meets in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto. For Deborah is doubly oppressed: there is literally no hope for women in this society if the established order is not accepted. Propelled into an arranged marriage, she escapes her family and her country on the eve of the First World War to dream a terrifying dream of another – a portent of the horror that lay in store for millions of Jews in the decades to follow.”

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Another artist who can be found on the covers of more than one Virago author


‘Souvenirs’ by Thea Proctor
‘Painted Clay’ by Capel Boake (#231)

“Helen Somerset feels stifled by her loveless home with a repressive father who fears that, like her absent mother, she may be only “painted clay.” She wants to know life beyond the confines of Packington, a Melbourne suburb overlooking Port Phillip Bay. And when she is sixteen her father dies, releasing Helen to seek the affection and independence she has been denied. With a clerical job and a room in a lodging house Helen launches herself into the excitement of Bohemian life and free love–only to discover that this liberation has a double edge.”

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Lisa named this as a particular favourite last time around


‘A Pleasant Corner’ by John Callcott Horsley
‘The Perpetual Curate’ by Margaret Oliphant (#243)

“Frank Wentworth, Perpetual Curate of St Roque’s, has basked in the popularity of Carlingford, beloved in the gracious homes of Grange Lane and the slums of Wharfside alike. But there are some among the sober-minded citizens who would see him as a “dilettante Anglican, given over to floral ornaments and ecclesiastical upholstery” – a verdict shared by the new Rcctor who regards the presence of a young and energetic rival as an intolerable encumbrance. Imperceptibly, the tide starts turning against Frank Wentworth: his love for Lucy Wodehouse is threatened by his lack of prospects; his Evangelical aunts, in charge of a family living, disapprove of his high church ways, and rumours about a pretty shopgirl begin circulating. Slowly it dawns on Frank that he may well be doomed to a life of perpetual – and single – curacy. “

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That’s the last painting in this little exhibition.

Another one will be along, I hope, before too many months have gone by.

A Seasonal Collection: Tulips

“Contempt for flowers is an offence against God. The lovelier the flower, the greater the offence in despising it. The tulip is the loveliest of all flowers. So whoever despised the tulip offends God immeasurably.”

Alexandre Dumas

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‘Glas met vier tulpen’ by Ambrosius Bosschaert de Oude (1573-1621)

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Night, and beneath star-blazoned summer skies
Behold the Spirit of the musky South,
A creole with still-burning, languid eyes,
Voluptuous limbs and incense-breathing mouth:
Swathed in spun gauze is she,
From fibres of her own anana tree.

Within these sumptuous woods she lies at ease,
By rich night-breezes, dewy cool, caressed:
’Twixt cypresses and slim palmetto trees,
Like to the golden oriole’s hanging nest,
Her airy hammock swings,
And through the dark her mocking-bird yet sings.

How beautiful she is! A tulip-wreath
Twines round her shadowy, free-floating hair:
Young, weary, passionate, and sad as death,
Dark visions haunt for her the vacant air,
While noiselessly she lies
With lithe, lax, folded hands and heavy eyes.

Full well knows she how wide and fair extend
Her groves bright flowered, her tangled everglades,
Majestic streams that indolently wend
Through lush savanna or dense forest shades,
Where the brown buzzard flies
To broad bayous ’neath hazy-golden skies.

Hers is the savage splendor of the swamp,
With pomp of scarlet and of purple bloom,
Where blow warm, furtive breezes faint and damp,
Strange insects whir, and stalking bitterns boom—
Where from stale waters dead
Oft looms the great jawed alligator’s head.

Her wealth, her beauty, and the blight on these,—
Of all she is aware: luxuriant woods,
Fresh, living, sunlit, in her dream she sees;
And ever midst those verdant solitudes
The soldier’s wooden cross,
O’ergrown by creeping tendrils and rank moss.

Was hers a dream of empire? was it sin?
And is it well that all was borne in vain?
She knows no more than one who slow doth win,
After fierce fever, conscious life again,
Too tired, too weak, too sad,
By the new light to be or stirred or glad.

From rich sea-islands fringing her green shore,
From broad plantations where swart freemen bend
Bronzed backs in willing labor, from her store
Of golden fruit, from stream, from town, ascend
Life-currents of pure health:
Her aims shall be subserved with boundless wealth.

Yet now how listless and how still she lies,
Like some half-savage, dusky Indian queen,
Rocked in her hammock ’neath her native skies,
With the pathetic, passive, broken mien
Of one who, sorely proved,
Great-souled, hath suffered much and much hath loved!

But look! along the wide-branched, dewy glade
Glimmers the dawn: the light palmetto trees
And cypresses reissue from the shade,
And she hath wakened. Through clear air she sees
The pledge, the brightening ray,
And leaps from dreams to hail the coming day.

‘The South’ by Emma Lazarus

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 ‘Clouvre Tulip’ pattern  jug by  Clarice Cliff (c.1930)

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“I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace, and next to a hyacinth look like a wholesome, freshly tubbed young girl beside a stout lady whose every movement weighs down the air with patchouli. Their faint, delicate scent is refinement itself; and is there anything in the world more charming than the sprightly way they hold up their little faces to the sun. I have heard them called bold and flaunting, but to me they seem modest grace itself, only always on the alert to enjoy life as much as they can and not be afraid of looking the sun or anything else above them in the face.”

From ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

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‘The Tulip Pickers’ by Harold Harvey (1874-1941)

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A tulip, just opened, had offered to hold
A butterfly, gaudy and gay;
And, rocked in a cradle of crimson and gold,
The careless young slumberer lay.

For the butterfly slept, as such thoughtless ones will,
At ease, and reclining on flowers,
If ever they study, ’t is how they may kill
The best of their mid-summer hours.

And the butterfly dreamed, as is often the case
With indolent lovers of change,
Who, keeping the body at ease in its place,
Give fancy permission to range.

He dreamed that he saw, what he could but despise,
The swarm from a neighbouring hive;
Which, having come out for their winter supplies,
Had made the whole garden alive.

He looked with disgust, as the proud often do,
On the diligent movements of those,
Who, keeping both present and future in view,
Improve every hour as it goes.

As the brisk little alchymists passed to and fro,
With anger the butterfly swelled;
And called them mechanics – a rabble too low
To come near the station he held.

‘Away from my presence!’ said he, in his sleep,
‘Ye humbled plebeians! nor dare
Come here with your colorless winglets to sweep
The king of this brilliant parterre!’

He thought, at these words, that together they flew,
And, facing about, made a stand;
And then, to a terrible army they grew,
And fenced him on every hand.

Like hosts of huge giants, his numberless foes
Seemed spreading to measureless size:
Their wings with a mighty expansion arose,
And stretched like a veil o’er the skies.

Their eyes seemed like little volcanoes, for fire,—
Their hum, to a cannon-peal grown,—
Farina to bullets was rolled in their ire,
And, he thought, hurled at him and his throne.

He tried to cry quarter! his voice would not sound,
His head ached – his throne reeled and fell;
His enemy cheered, as he came to the ground,
And cried, ‘King Papilio, farewell!’

His fall chased the vision – the sleeper awoke,
The wonderful dream to expound;
The lightning’s bright flash from the thunder-cloud broke,
And hail-stones were rattling around.

He’d slumbered so long, that now, over his head,
The tempest’s artillery rolled;
The tulip was shattered – the whirl-blast had fled,
And borne off its crimson and gold.

’T is said, for the fall and the pelting, combined
With suppressed ebullitions of pride,
This vain son of summer no balsam could find,
But he crept under covert and died.

The Butterfly’s Dream by Hannah F Gould’

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“Have you ever seen the “Tulips, I thought, staring at the jumble of letters before me. Had the ancient Greeks known them under a different name, if they’d had tulips at all? The letter psi, in Greek, is shaped like a tulip. All of a sudden, in the dense alphabet forest of the page, little black tulips began to pop up in a quick, random pattern like falling raindrops.”

From ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

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Marie Laurencin-783424

Tulips by Marie Laurencin (1885 – 1956)

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The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

‘Tulips’ by Sylvia Plath

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Embroidery by May Morris (c 1890)

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“The tulips along the border are redder than ever, opening, no longer wine cups but chalices; thrusting themselves up, to what end? They are, after all, empty. When they are old they turn themselves inside out, explode slowly, the petals thrown like shards.”

From ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

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