Swans: A Collection

The swan, arriving unseen, stayed so until late in the morning when the fog shifted and began to roll down the hillside, leaving the crown of the hill standing in an uncertain light. Children, coming out to play on the common, saw what their fathers bicycling to the work could not have seen. They crowded the edge of the pond and one boy threw a stick at the  swan, trying to make it fly. That was the first and last unkindness the bird ever suffered in the village. The children discovered that more response came when food was thrown, and soon the pond and the trodden grass around was littered with crusts of bread and bacon-rinds, orange-peel and apple-cores. Even in its charity the village was backward and untidy, yet the swan, coming in out of the fog and remaining as it did, stirred its imagination and pride. On the market bus and in the pub and post office it was the subject of conjecture and theory. Whence had it flown, they wondered, and in what direction? Was it maimed and could fly no further? Flattered as they were, the villagers could not believe that the muddy pond had ever been its true objective, heart’s desire. They talked about the swan and worried over it. The Vicar referred to it in his sermon on the Mysterious Ways of the Lord.

From ‘Swan-Moving’ by Elizabeth Taylor 

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Woodcut by Carl Thiemann 

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For the next few days, which happened to be very fine, Beth revelled out of doors. Everything was a wonder and a joy to her in this fertile land, the trees especially, after the bleak, wild wastes to which she had been accustomed in the one stormy corner of Ireland she knew. Leaves and blossoms were just bursting out, and one day, wandering alone in the grounds, she happened unawares upon an orchard in full bloom, and fairly gasped, utterly overcome by the first shock of its beauty. For a while she stood and gazed in silent awe at the white froth of flowers on the pear-trees, the tinted almond blossom, and the pink-tipped apple. She had never dreamed of such heavenly loveliness. But enthusiasm succeeded to awe at last, and, in a wild burst of delight, she suddenly threw her arms around a gnarled tree-trunk and clasped it close.

There was a large piece of artificial water in the grounds, in which were three green islands covered with trees and shrubs. Beth was standing on the bank one morning in a contemplative mood, admiring the water, and yearning for a boat to get to the islands, when round one of them, unexpectedly, a white wonder of a swan came gliding towards her in the sunshine.

“Oh, oh! Mildred! Mildred! Oh, the beautiful, beautiful thing!” she cried. Mildred came running up.

“Why, Beth, you idiot,” she exclaimed in derision, “it’s only a swan. I really thought it was something.”

“Is that a swan?” Beth said slowly; then, after a moment, she added, in sorrowful reproach: “O Mildred! you had seen it and you never told me.”

Alas, poor Mildred! she had not seen it, and never would see it, in Beth’s sense of the word.

From ‘The Beth Book’ by Sarah Grand

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Lalique – Pendant Deux Cygnes Bleus

* * * * * * *

The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ by William Butler Yeats

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‘Swans’ by Frank Brangwyn

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She looked across the saltings to where the sea was and as she lifted her face, rosy with the steady smoothing of the cold wind, the sun darted a bright gold beam across the marshes……she heard a strangely thrilling noise….nearer and nearer it came, until suddenly there swept over her head a flock of wild swans, rushing on white gold wings into the sunset.  Laughing with excitement, she ran down the track the follow their flight but the sunset, and tears, dazzled her and she could not see.

They were so beautiful….wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could always feel like she had felt when they thundered over her head, not wanting anyone, happy to be quite alone and looking at something as beautiful as those swans?

But the sun had gone behind the clouds again and the wind was getting up, it was nearly half past three and the last bus left at four.

From ‘Nightingale Wood’ by Stella Gibbons

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* * * * * * *

Molly urged me, ‘Talk to Binkie.’ ‘Go for a walk with Binkie.’ She felt that it was important to expose us children to  such people so that some of their starriness might rub off on us. I remember one walk at Woodroofe with him. I have no memory of our conversation, which I expect was stilted on both sides. I was struck by his lovely flamboyant clothes, elegantly cut in soft fabrics which seemed extraordinary to a wartime Irish child dressed in scratchy tweed dungarees. Binkie exuded a waft of discreet, delicious perfume. We stepped across mud and peered through the reeds at a swan nesting on the lake. She hissed, flattening out her neck, lengthening it towards us like a white snake. Suddenly the male glided into view. There was a splash as he changed from his graceful float to an ungainly foothold in the mud. Immediately we knew he was rushing us, his wings extended to deal us blows. Binkie took my hand and began to run. His Basque beret blew off, We did not retrieve it. We could hear the wind-like energy of the swan behind us. I fell, and Binkie stopped to put me on my feet, and we sped on. I can still remember the sensation of running much faster than I was really capable of. The defensive husband gave up the chase eventually. Molly was slightly less keen after this incident to send us out on country walks with town people, no matter how sophisticated or famous they might be.

From ‘Molly Keane: a Life’ by Sally Phipps

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‘The Swans’ by Mary Potter

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Portents accompany the death of monarchs. A white horse trots slowly along the avenue, a woman in streaming wet garments is seen to enter the throne room, vanishes, and leaves wet footmarks; red mice are caught in palace mousetraps. For several weeks five black swans had circled incessantly above the castle of Elfhame. It was ninety decades since their last appearance; then there were four of them, waiting for Queen Tiphaine’s predecessor. Now they were five, and waited for Tiphaine. Mute as a shell cast up on the beach, she lay in her chamber watching the antics of her pet monkey.

From ‘Five Black Swans’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner 

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Decorative Panels by Mary Golay

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The swans are by the shore, drifting bright as paper cut-outs against waves blurred by dusk. They spend the night murmuring oboe harmonies to each other, a woodwind of reassurance. Ordinary swans, the Queen’s swans on the river where we feed the ducks at home, have faces apparently afflicted by some medieval disease, and sleep standing on one leg, heads under their wings like child-free passengers on long-haul flights who can summon night with a nylon blindfold.

These sea swans seem to stay awake all night, sailing through the fading light like ships bound for far countries, and they have faces as smooth and neutral as the corps de ballet, faces that can’t communicate any level of grief or pain. Perhaps this is an asset in species that mate for life. I glance back at the house. Its façade, dark as the cliff-face at the other end of the island, turns away from the after-light shining over the sea, from where America is coming up for a new day as we turn away from the sun. One of the swans stretches towards the sky and cries out, wings threshing the water in sudden agitation like that of someone who has just remembered that a friend is dead. I saw a goose dying, once, a Canada goose that had flown all the way from the Arctic to end its life on the hard shoulder of the M40, and although one wing was still beating as if to music while the other lay across the rumble-strip, its face was impassive. I stood on the footbridge, watching, joggling the pram in which the baby would sleep only for as long as we kept moving, until some lorry driver, merciful or inattentive, left a flurry of feathers and red jam on the road. Our swans are safe from that, here. For a season. Like us, they will go south in the autumn, but for now there are no cars, no roads. No bridges, either. The stars are coming out in the darkening sky over the hill. I shiver; not cold, exactly, but time to go in.

From ‘Night Waking’by Sarah Moss

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A Visit to the Virago Art Gallery

Sometime in the autumn of 2015 a painting caught my eye, and I realised that I recognised it because it was on the cover of one of my collection of green Virago Modern Classics. I picked up my book to find out the name of the artist and the artwork, and that sparked an idea.

The book 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.

I put together a post to celebrate the books and the art that was carefully chosen to adorn them.

It was very well received and so I did another and another and another ….

The more I look through my collection, the more interesting artists and artwork I find; and so here is another little exhibition.

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I don’t think I could have cropped this image

‘At The Dressing Table’ by Harold Harvey

&

‘Chatterton Square by E. H. Young (#242)

Fastidious Mr. Blackett rules his home in Upper Radstowe with a gloomy and niggardly spirit, and his wife Bertha and their three daughters succumb to his dictates unquestioningly — until the arrival next door of the Fraser family ‘with no apparent male chieftain at the head of it’. The delightful, unconventional Rosamund presides over this unruly household with shocking tolerance and good humour, and Herbert Blackett is both fascinated and repelled by his sensuous and ‘unprincipled’ neighbour. But whilst he struts in the background, allegiances form between Rosamund and Bertha and their children, bringing changes to Chatterton Square which, in the months leading up to the Second World War, are intensified by the certainty that nothing can be taken for granted.

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The lesser known sequel to a rather famous book

‘Waiting’ by Gordon Coutts

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My Career Goes Bung’ by Miles Franklin (#52)

In this, Miles Franklin’s sequel to her famous novel My Brilliant Career, once again we encounter the enchanting Sybylla Melvyn. She’s a little older now, catapulted from bush obscurity into sudden fame with the publication of her autobiography. Meekly attired in white muslin and cashmere stockings, she goes to fashionable Sydney to become a literary lioness, but her patrons, her critics and her innumerable suitors meet more than they bargained for in the irrepressible Sybylla. When Sybylla complains of her lot as a woman, Ma has always said “You’ll have to get used to it, there is no sense in acting like one possessed of a devil.” But Sybylla is, she clamours for LIFE, and refuses to tolerate anything which stands in her way. She recounts her experiences, most particularly her love affairs, with the same spirit, sensitivity and forthright attack which characterised her first volume of memoirs and emerges once again undaunted: the most exceptional fictional heroine of her time, and ours.

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One of a number of similar paintings – I had to look carefully to be sure I had the right one

‘Wild Flowers With The Mussenden Temple In View’ by Andrew Nicholl

&

‘In a Summer Season’ by Elizabeth Taylor (#112)

Kate Heron is a wealthy charming widow who marries a man ten years her junior: the attractive, feckless Dermot. They live in commuter country, an hour from London. Theirs is an unconventional marriage, but a happy one. Their special love arms them against the disapproval of conservative friends and neighbors – until the return of Kate’s old friend Charles, intelligent, kind, now widowed with a beautiful daughter. Happily, she watches as their two families are drawn together, finding his presence reassuringly familiar. But then one night she dreams a strange and sensual dream: a dream that disturbs the calm surface of their friendship – foreshadowing dramas fate holds in store for them all.

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Maureen Lipman chose this paiting as a her favourite for Country Life. She said: ‘Its alabaster stillness, like a dream caught in time, appealed to my middle-class imagination’

‘A Game of Patience’ by Meredith Frampton

&

‘Year Before Last’ by Kay Boyle (#225)

Hannah leaves her husband to be with the brilliant writer and editor, Martin, in a chateau on the French Riviera. He had planned to buy lobster in celebration of her arrival, but there are unpaid bills and they must live hand to mouth. Drifting through these sensuous early days, they are pursued by Hannah’s memories and the more vigilant shadow of Eve, Martin’s rich and possessive aunt. And as their relationship develops life becomes a tangle of hotel rooms and prying eyes, caught between the luxuriance of love and Eve’s malicious jealousy. This richly-textured novel, first published in 1932, reveals Kay Boyle’s strength as an innovative Modernist writer. Exploring love – and the death of love – it is delicate, precise and lyrical.

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Another book that I still haven’t read ….

‘Lupins & Cactus’ by Paul Nash

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‘The Grain of Truth’ by Nina Bawden (#387)

Emma’s anxious and manipulative plea, ‘Someone listen to me’, opens – and closes – this deliciously uncomfortable novel in which Nina Bawden explores myriad emotional disguises with her characteristeric acuity. When Emma’s father-in-law falls down the stairs to his death, she is convinced she pushed him in an act of wish-fulfulment. To her husband Henry and her close friend Holly, this is unthinkable. Guilt is simply Emma’s obsession in a humdrum domestic existence enlivened by romantic fantasy. For Holly, who successfully fields a string of love affairs, sexual pleasures are more easily attainable, whereas Henry, a divorce lawyer, prides himself on being a realist. Each tells their story in turn, illuminating and distorting their separate versions of the truth. As they do so, an intricate jigsaw of the private deceits with which they shore up daily life emerges.

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The unfinished final book in a trilogy that was to be a quartet

‘Glitter’ by William McGregor Paxton

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‘Cousin Rosamund’ by Rebecca West (#303)

Cousin Rosamund unfolds the final chapters of the saga that began with The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West’s acknowleged masterpiece, and continued with This Real Night. As the glitter of the 1920s gives way to the Depression, Rose and Mary find themselves feted and successful pianists. But their happiness is diminished by their cousin’s unfathomable marriage to a man they perceive as grotesque.Lacking her cousin Rosamund’s intuitive understanding, Rose looks to the surrogate wisdom of Mr Morpurgo, while quiet days with Aunt Lily and the Darcys at their pub on the Thames offer respite from the tensions of foreign concert tours. With approaching middle age Rose gains in perspective. Yet the most exciting development still awaits her: the discovery of and delight in her own sexuality.

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A cover from the colletcion of the Imperial War Museum

‘Spitfires attacking Flying Bombs 1944’ by Thomas Monnington

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‘On the Side of the Angels’ by Betty Miller (#197)

Honor Carmichael and her two young children are uprooted to Lanfield, where her husband Colin, a dapper, small-town doctor, is stationed at the RAMC hospital. She is visited by her sister Claudia, whose friend, Andrew, waits to be invalided out of the Army. Whilst Andrew dismisses himsely as “damaged goods”, Colin beomes absorbed by the petty feuds and power games of uniformed life – most particulary with the arrival of Captain Herriot, a commando and the C.O.’s current favourite. Apparantly peripheral to this “male pirouetting”, Honor and Claudia are nevertheless deeply affected by this war. For its threat to notions of masculinity forces both women to reassess the roles they’ve always played.

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That’s the last painting in this exhibition; but there will be more collections to see as the seasons change, because I still have paintings and illustrations waiting in the wings …

A Seasonal Collection: Raspberries

What a splendid day!” said Anne, drawing a long breath. “Isn’t it good just to be alive on a day like this? I pity the people who aren’t born yet for missing it. They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one. And it’s splendider still to have such a lovely way to go to school by, isn’t it?”

“It’s a lot nicer than going round by the road; that is so dusty and hot,” said Diana practically, peeping into her dinner basket and mentally calculating if the three juicy, toothsome, raspberry tarts reposing there were divided among ten girls how many bites each girl would have.

The little girls of Avonlea school always pooled their lunches, and to eat three raspberry tarts all alone or even to share them only with one’s best chum would have forever and ever branded as “awful mean” the girl who did it. And yet, when the tarts were divided among ten girls you just got enough to tantalize you.

The way Anne and Diana went to school was a pretty one. Anne thought those walks to and from school with Diana couldn’t be improved upon even by imagination. Going around by the main road would have been so unromantic; but to go by Lover’s Lane and Willowmere and Violet Vale and the Birch Path was romantic, if ever anything was.

Lover’s Lane opened out below the orchard at Green Gables and stretched far up into the woods to the end of the Cuthbert farm. It was the way by which the cows were taken to the back pasture and the wood hauled home in winter. Anne had named it Lover’s Lane before she had been a month at Green Gables.

“Not that lovers ever really walk there,” she explained to Marilla, “but Diana and I are reading a perfectly magnificent book and there’s a Lover’s Lane in it. So we want to have one, too. And it’s a very pretty name, don’t you think? So romantic! We can’t imagine the lovers into it, you know. I like that lane because you can think out loud there without people calling you crazy.”

From ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L M Montgomery

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‘Raspberries’ by Johan de Fre

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The raspberries
in my driveway
have always
been here
(for the whole eleven years
I have owned
but have not owned
this house),
yet
I have never
tasted them
before.

Always on a plane.
Always in the arms
of man, not God,
always too busy,
too fretful,
too worried
to see
that all along
my driveway
are red, red raspberries
for me to taste.

Shiny and red,
without hairs-
unlike the berries
from the market.
Little jewels-
I share them
with the birds!

On one perches
a tiny green insect.
I blow her off.
She flies!
I burst the raspberry
upon my tongue.

In my solitude
I commune
with raspberries,
with grasses,
with the world.

The world was always
there before,
but where
was I?

Ah raspberry-
if you are so beautiful
upon my ready tongue,
imagine
what wonders
lie in store for me!

‘The Raspberries in my Drive’ by Erica Jong

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‘Raspberry Leaves and Grass, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine’ by Eliot Porter

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Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is quality of thought, a state of mind. Of course we have our moments of depression; but there are other moments too, when time, unmeasured by the clock, runs on into eternity and, catching his smile, I know we are together, we march in unison, no clash of thought or of opinion makes a barrier between us. We have no secrets now from one another. All things are shared. Granted that our little hotel is dull, and the food indifferent, and that day after day dawns very much the same, yet we would not have it otherwise. We should meet too many of the people he knows in any of the big hotels. We both appreciate simplicity, and we are sometimes bored – well, boredom is a pleasing antidote to fear. We live very much by routine, and I – I have developed a genius for reading aloud. The only time I have known him show impatience is when the postman lags, for it means we must wait another day before the arrival of our English mail. We have tried wireless, but the noise is such an irritant, and we prefer to store up our excitement; the result of a cricket match played many days ago means much to us. Oh, the Test matches that have saved us from ennui, the boxing bouts, even the billiard scores. Finals of schoolboy sports, dog racing, strange little competitions in the remoter counties, all these are grist to our hungry mill. Sometimes old copies of the Field come my way, and I am transported from this indifferent island to the realities of an English spring. I read of chalk streams, of the mayfly, of sorrel growing in green meadows, of rooks circling above the woods as they used to do at Manderley. The smell of wet earth comes to me from those thumbed and tattered pages, the sour tang of moorland peat, the feel of soggy moss spattered white in places by a heron’s droppings. Once there was an article on wood pigeons, and as I read it aloud it seemed to me that once again I was in the deep woods at Manderley, with pigeons fluttering above my head. I heard their soft, complacent call, so comfortable and cool on a hot summer’s afternoon, and there would be no disturbing of their peace until Jasper came loping through the undergrowth to find me, his damp muzzle questing the ground. Like old ladies caught at their ablutions, the pigeons would flutter from their hiding-place, shocked into silly agitation, and, making a monstrous to-do with their wings, streak away from us above the tree-tops, and so out of sight and sound. When they were gone a new silence would come upon the place, and I – uneasy for no known reason – would realize that the sun no longer wove a pattern on the rustling leaves, that the branches had grown darker, the shadows longer; and back at the house there would be fresh raspberries for tea.

From ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier

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Front cover of ‘Green’s Nursery Co’ Catalogue 1910 with an illustration of ‘Syracuse New Hardy Raspberry.’

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I was picking raspberries, my head was in the canes,
And he came behind and kissed me, and I smacked him for his pains.
Says he, “You take it easy! That ain’t the way to do!
I love you hot as fire, my girl, and you know you know it too.
So won’t you name the day?”
But I said, “That I will not.”
And I pushed him away,
Out among the raspberries all on a summer day.
And I says, “You ask in winter, if your love’s so hot,
For it’s summer now, and sunny, and my hands is full,” says I,
“With the fair by and by,
And the village dance and all;
And the turkey poults is small,
And so’s the ducks and chicks,
And the hay not yet in ricks,
And the flower-show’ll be presently and hop-picking’s to come,
And the fruiting and the harvest home,
And my new white gown to make, and the jam all to be done.
Can’t you leave a girl alone?
Your love’s too hot for me!
Can’t you leave a girl be
Till the evenings do draw in,
Till the leaves be getting thin,
Till the fires be lighted early, and the curtains drawed for tea?
That’s the time to do your courting, if you come a-courting me!”

‘The Fire’ by Edith Nesbit

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Raspberry and ricotta cake

cq5dam.thumbnail.400.400

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Total time: 1 hour (60 minutes)

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
1 egg
185g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
250g ricotta
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon, grated zest
3 tbsp mixed cut peel
300g raspberries
3 tbsp icing sugar

Method

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl for 3–4 minutes until fluffy and smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir to combine. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, bring together into a smooth round, and divide in two. Wrap each half in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. In a bowl, beat together the ricotta, honey, vanilla and lemon zest, then fold in the mixed peel. Lightly grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Roll out each half of the dough to fit the base of the tin. Press one round into the tin and scatter half the raspberries on top, leaving a 1cm border around the edge. Spoon the ricotta mixture over the raspberries, then place the other round of dough on top and press the edges together.

Bake for 35 minutes until golden and set on top, then allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before removing. Serve topped with the remaining raspberries, a good dusting of icing sugar and some whipped cream on the side.

From Waitrose

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Rubus odoratus (Flowering Raspberry) – Paper collage by Mary Delany (1700-1788)

* * * * * * *

The way we can’t remember heat, forget
the sweat and how we wore a weightless
shirt on chafing skin, the way we lose
the taste of raspberries, each winter; but

know at once, come sharp July, the vein
burning in the curtain, and from that light
– the block of sun on hot crushed sheets –
the blazing world we’ll walk in,

was how it was, your touch. Nor the rest,
not how we left, the drunkenness, just
your half-stifled, clumsy, frightened reach,
my uncurled hand, our fingers, meshed,

-like the first dazzled flinch from heat
or between the teeth, pips, a metal taste.

‘Raspberries’ by Kate Clanchy

* * * * * * *

‘The Raspberry Thief’ by Hester Cox

* * * * * * *

Isabel jumped down from a stile and came sauntering placidly towards them, making a charming note of colour with her dress of faded blue cotton and hair of golden red.

“I take it I win,” she greeted them. “I hope you didn’t all think I was dead. I’ve been exploring the fields and hedges. Look what I’ve brought you.”

She held out a large dock-leaf containing about half a pound of small ripe raspberries.

“Wild ones. I found lots of them, and they’re delicious.”

She offered the leaf to Dr. Browning, who helped himself to two or three and asked:

“Where did you find these?”

“Oh, just in the next field.” She jerked her head vaguely over her shoulder. “Have some, Felix, and say you forgive me for having a better bicycle than you. I didn’t cheat. I swear I didn’t. And I never touched my brake. Did you?”

“Of course not,” murmured Felix, oblivious to the raspberries she held out to him in contemplation of her small shining head.

“Then you both deserve to be certified insane,” declared Dr. Browning severely. “It’s time we were pushing on if we’re to get home before supper time.”

From ‘Dead Man’s Quarry’ by Ianthe Jerrold

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‘Still Life with Raspberries’ by Levi Prentice

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A Seasonal Collection: May

April advanced to May: a bright serene May it was; days of blue sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration.  And now vegetation matured with vigour; Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became all green, all flowery; its great elm, ash, and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life; woodland plants sprang up profusely in its recesses; unnumbered varieties of moss filled its hollows, and it made a strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of its wild primrose plants: I have seen their pale gold gleam in overshadowed spots like scatterings of the sweetest lustre.  All this I enjoyed often and fully, free, unwatched, and almost alone: for this unwonted liberty and pleasure there was a cause, to which it now becomes my task to advert.

From ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte

* * * * * * *

‘Hyde Park in May’ by Mary Rose Barton

* * * * * * *

The next morning, when Thomasin withdrew the curtains of her bedroom window, there stood the Maypole in the middle of the green, its top cutting into the sky. It had sprung up in the night, or rather early morning, like Jack’s bean-stalk. She opened the casement to get a better view of the garlands and posies that adorned it. The sweet perfume of the flowers had already spread into the surrounding air, which, being free from every taint, conducted to her lips a full measure of the fragrance received from the spire of blossom in its midst. At the top of the pole were crossed hoops decked with small flowers; beneath these came a milk-white zone of Maybloom; then a zone of bluebells, then of cowslips, then of lilacs, then of ragged-robins, daffodils, and so on, till the lowest stage was reached. Thomasin noticed all these, and was delighted that the May revel was to be so near.

From ‘The Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy

* * * * * * *‘May Flower Fairy’ by Cicely Mary Barker

* * * * * * *

Into the scented woods we’ll go,
And see the blackthorn swim in snow.
High above, in the budding leaves,
A brooding dove awakes and grieves;
The glades with mingled music stir,
And wildly laughs the woodpecker.
When blackthorn petals pearl the breeze,
There are the twisted hawthorne trees
Thick-set with buds, as clear and pale
As golden water or green hail-
As if a storm of rain had stood
Enchanted in the thorny wood,
And, hearing fairy voices call,
Hung poised, forgetting how to fall.

‘Green Rain’ by Mary Webb

* * * * * * *

Illustration by Charles LeRoy

* * * * * * *

 May 28th, 1876

On coming in from our walk, I went to my room and sat in the window, It’s odd that nothing seems changed; it seems as if we were back in last year. The songs of Nice have never seemed so charming before; the croaking of the frogs, the murmur of a fountain, a sound of singing in the distance, are desecrated by the noise of a prosaic carriange.

I am reading Horace and Tibullus. The latter only speaks of love, and that suits me. And I have the French text open opposite the Latin to give me practice. If only all this talk of marriage, which I have thoughtlessly set going, won’t injure me. I fear it.

I ought not to have promised A_____ anything. I ought to have answered him.

“I thank you, monsieur, for the honour you do me; but I can promise you nothing before consulting my parents, Let your family confer with mine and we shall see. As for me,” I might have said to soften my reply, “I would have no objection to you.”

This answer, accompanied by one of my sweet smiles, with my hand given him to kiss, would have sufficed.

And I should not have been compromised, and there would have been no gossip in Rome, and all would have been well.

I think of clever things, but always too late. I should have done better, no doubt, to make a fine speech like the one you have just read, but I should have economised so much pleasure, and besides …. life is so short ! ….and besides, there is always a – besides.

I did wrong in not making the above answer, but I was really so much moved; sensible people will say certainly; and sentimental ones, no.

From ‘The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff’

* * * * * * *

‘Ringelreihen’ by Franz Van Stuck

* * * * * * *

IN the greenest growth of the Maytime,
I rode where the woods were wet,
Between the dawn and the daytime;
The spring was glad that we met.

There was something the season wanted,
Though the ways and the woods smelt sweet;
The breath at your lips that panted,
The pulse of the grass at your feet.

You came, and the sun came after,
And the green grew golden above;
And the flag-flowers lightened with laughter,
And the meadow-sweet shook with love.

Your feet in the full-grown grasses
Moved soft as a weak wind blows;
You passed me as April passes,
With face made out of a rose.

By the stream where the stems were slender,
Your bright foot paused at the sedge;
It might be to watch the tender
Light leaves in the springtime hedge,

On boughs that the sweet month blanches
With flowery frost of May:
It might be a bird in the branches,
It might be a thorn in the way.

I waited to watch you linger
With foot drawn back from the dew,
Till a sunbeam straight like a finger
Struck sharp through the leaves at you.

And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear.

I saw where the sun’s hand pointed,
I knew what the bird’s note said;
By the dawn and the dewfall anointed,
You were queen by the gold on your head.

As the glimpse of a burnt-out ember
Recalls a regret of the sun,
I remember, forget, and remember
What Love saw done and undone.

I remember the way we parted,
The day and the way we met;
You hoped we were both broken-hearted,
And knew we should both forget.

And May with her world in flower
Seemed still to murmur and smile
As you murmured and smiled for an hour;
I saw you turn at the stile.

A hand like a white wood-blossom
You lifted, and waved, and passed,
With head hung down to the bosom,
And pale, as it seemed, at last.

And the best and the worst of this is
That neither is most to blame
If you’ve forgotten my kisses
And I’ve forgotten your name.

‘The Interlude’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne

* * * * * * *

‘ …. and behind me cliffs are slipping and whispering. Penarth. May 2013’ by Kurt Jackson

* * * * * * *

Spring bloomed in all the dark houses, every rafter and every post were festooned with greenery. The girls wore wreaths of flowers in their hair, the men tucked flowers behind their ears and under their belts. They drank the May wine, perfumed with wild thyme and violets. And they went to dance and sing around the enormous gilded Maypole which each year was erected by St. Andrew’s church in Cornhill. So famous was this Maypole that it had given its name to the church, St. Andrew-under-shaft, at which some of the stricter clerics frowned, deeming the May frolics pagan things that lured the folk to licence. But most of the clergy thought no harm, and in the smiling ring of onlookers about the Maypole there was many a passing friar or parson, and even the black-garbed Benedictines stopped to watch. Ah, Katherine should have been May Queen, cried Hawise, for she was fairer than any other maiden! But the queen had been chosen long ago, and already sat on her flowery throne beside the dancing. The May Queen’s father was a goldsmith, and his metal seemed to shimmer in his daughter’s hair, while her eyes were round and blue as forget-me-nots, so that Katherine knew Hawise was but being kind in calling her the most fair. Still, this kindness warmed her, and added to the glory of the golden day the feeling that she had found a true friend.

From ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton

* * * * * * *

‘May Day’ by Walter Crane

* * * * * * *

Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I’ll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me. Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace.”

“Mind you do not get your feet damp,” said the Man of Wrath, removing his cigar.

It was the evening of May Day, and the spring had taken hold of me body and soul. The sky was full of stars, and the garden of scents, and the borders of wallflowers and sweet, sly pansies. All day there had been a breeze, and all day slow masses of white clouds had been sailing across the blue. Now it was so still, so motionless, so breathless, that it seemed as though a quiet hand had been laid on the garden, soothing and hushing it into silence.

From ‘The Solitary Summer’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

* * * * * * *

There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:–
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.

‘May and the Poets’ by Leigh Hunt

* * * * * * *

A Walk around the Virago Art Gallery

Here is 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.

Because art is one of the best things I have found to distract me from everything going on in the outside world.

And because even after three years of seasonal exhibitions, there are still a great many artworks waiting to be shown off.

* * * * * * *

The Cover Suggests that this Book is not set in the Author’s Usual Milieu

‘Studio Lunch’ by Henry Siddons Mowbray

&

‘The Fruit of the Tree’ by Edith Wharton (#145)

John Amherst, clever, idealistic and poor, is assistant manager of a cotton mill and has the makings of a working-class leader. While visiting a worker in hospital he encounters a young nurse, Justine, compassionate and principled, a woman who shares his aims and dreams. But Amherst is fatally distracted when he meets Bessy. A widow of great wealth, Bessy is charming, beautiful – and the new owner of the mill. The lives of all three become strangely interwoven as Amherst is forced to choose between sense and sentiment, between his care for the working classes and his infatuation with Bessy – a woman made for passion, but not for its aftermath.

* * * * * * *

A Rare Cover Portrait of a Man

‘Der Schieber’ (The Profiteer) by Heinrich Maria Davringhausen

&

‘A Little Tea, a Little Chat’ by Christina Stead (#59)

It is 1941 and war is imminent. Robert Grant is a man in his fifties, living on the seamier side of New York. Life is a game and he makes his own rules, whether trading in cotton, writing a best seller, or pursuing his only hobby – seduction (and betrayal). He searches for easy women – the cheaper the better, the more the merrier: always on the lookout for a new face, a new phone number, ‘a little tea, a little chat’. Enjoying his intrigues, he receives little pleasure – and gives none, until he encounters Barbara, the ‘blondine’ a big, handsome, sluttish woman of thirty-two. In Barbara, he meets his match.

* * * * * * *

A Book that has been Published by Both Virago and Persephone

‘The Birdcage’ by Henry Tonks

&

‘The Squire’ by Enid Bagnold (#246)

At the Manor House on the village green, the household waits in restless suspense. The master is in Bombay, the mistress, its temporary squire, is heavy with child and languorous. Her four young children distract her with their demands, her friend Caroline tells the squire of her latest lover, her restless adventuring a sharp contrast to the squire’s own mood. And watching and waiting for the birth, the squire contemplates the woman she was, “strutting about life for spoil” and the woman she is now, another being, “occupied with her knot of human lives”.

* * * * * * *

The Cover says Spring and the Book says Summer!

‘Spring Day at Boscastle’ by Charles Ginner

&

‘One Fine Day’ by Mollie Panter-Downes (#195)

It’s a summer’s day in 1946. The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without “those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings.” Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism.

* * * * * * *

A Painting from One Side of the Atlantic and a Story from the Other

‘Dorelia McNeill in the Garden at Alderney Manor’ by Augustus John

&

‘Barren Ground’ by Ellen Glasgow (#219)

Set in 1925, this is the story of Dorinda Oakley. As a young woman she works in a general store whilst her parents eke out their existence on the starved Virginian land. To Dorinda, Jason Greylock seems to offer an escape from this monotony and she falls in love with him. But Jason seduces and then abandons her. For years Dorinda strives to quieten the bitterness of rejection. Turning back to the land, she works the soil with the intensity of feeling she offered Jason and, as a middle-aged woman, emerges, triumphant, self-possessed. Described by Ellen Glasgow as a work by which she would like to be judged as a novelist, this is a strong and deterministic work. “For once in Southern fiction” she wrote, “the betrayed woman would become the victor instead of the victim.”

* * * * * * *

There are Four Figures in the Painting but Only Two on the Cover

‘A Portrait Group’ by James Cowie

&

‘Another Time Another Place’ by Jessie Kesson (#379)

In 1944 Italian prisoners of war are billeted in a tiny village in the far northeast of Scotland. Janie, who works the land and is married to a farm labourer fifteen years older than herself, is to look after three of them. While her neighbours regard the Italians with a mixture of resentment and indifference, Janie is intrigued by this glimpse of another, more romantic world – with almost inevitable consequences. Much more than a simple love story, Another Time, Another Place is also a vibrant portrait of a rural community enveloped by an untamed landscape.

* * * * * * *

The New Edition of the Book is Lovely, but I Still Love my Old, Green Copy

‘Gillian’ by Leslie Brockleburst

&

‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby (#273)

This, Winifred Holtby’s greatest work, is a rich and memorable evocation of the characters of the South Riding, their lives, loves and sorrow.  There is Sarah Burton, fiery young headmistress, inspired by educational ideas; Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall, a conservative councillor, tormented by his disastrous marriage; Jo Astell, a socialist fighting poverty and his own tuberculosis; Alf Huggins, haulage contractor and lay preacher of ‘too, too solid flesh’; Mrs. Beddows, the first woman Alderman of the district, and the obsequious Snaith.  These are the people who work together – and against one another – in council chambers and backroom caucuses.  Alongside them are the men, women and children affected by their decisions: Tom Sawdon, landlord of the Nag’s Head; the flamboyant Madame Hubbard of the local dancing school; young Lydia Holly, the scholarship girl from the shacks, is the most brilliant student Sarah has ever taught, and many more.

* * * * * * *

That’s the last painting in this exhibition.

Please tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions.

The Windows of the World: A Collection

‘Domenica’ by Barbara Balmer

* * * * * * *

On that first morning when the sky was blue again Mary wakened very early. The sun was pouring in slanting rays through the blinds and there was something so joyous in the sight of it that she jumped out of bed and ran to the window. She drew up the blinds and opened the window itself and a great waft of fresh, scented air blew in upon her. The moor was blue and the whole world looked as if something Magic had happened to it. There were tender little fluting sounds here and there and everywhere, as if scores of birds were beginning to tune up for a concert. Mary put her hand out of the window and held it in the sun.

“It’s warm—warm!” she said. “It will make the green points push up and up and up, and it will make the bulbs and roots work and struggle with all their might under the earth.”

She kneeled down and leaned out of the window as far as she could, breathing big breaths and sniffing the air until she laughed because she remembered what Dickon’s mother had said about the end of his nose quivering like a rabbit’s.

“It must be very early,” she said. “The little clouds are all pink and I’ve never seen the sky look like this. No one is up. I don’t even hear the stable boys.”

A sudden thought made her scramble to her feet.

“I can’t wait! I am going to see the garden!”

From ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

* * * * * * *

 ‘East Window of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge’ by Joseph Murray Ince 

* * * * * * *

Strangely, the cathedral is empty: not a tourist, not a priest, not a parishioner in sight. Suddenly, the place is his. We walk around at first, then he halts in his tracks. ‘Sit down, Catherine! No, not there … directly on the floor. You have to feel Chartres.’ I settle at his feet while he sits on a low velvet prayer stool, his hands on my shoulders. My bottom becomes icy and soon my legs are quite numb too, but only a part of me notices. ‘See that big round window? It’s called la rosace bleue. Do you know what stained-glass windows are made of?’

He takes a deep breath. He could be at the seaside.

‘They were made of precious stones, feathers, liqueur, twigs, women’s milk and birds’ blood. The secret is lost; nobody knows how to make them quite the same today. They have tried, of course, but it just doesn’t work.’

The enormous stone walls surrounding us have closed off the rest of the world. It just isn’t there anymore.

‘Listen to the music of the stained-glass windows, Catherine.’

We could be near a creek in a forest. Whenever we find one, Alexandre always has me kneel to drink its freezing water. In the same way, we listen to the fine-edged vibration of crazy blue, blood red, emerald green, bird’s-beak yellow.

‘The stained-glass windows, little one, create a luminous slope of light. Whatever the time of day, from dawn to dusk, the same dim glow is maintained within the church, whether it be bright sunshine or rain. That’s the stained-glass windows’ secret. Right now, they are sifting the bright afternoon glitter in the same way they will sift the pale light of dawn.’

From ‘Poum and Alexandre: A Paris Memoir’ by Catherine de Saint Phalle

* * * * * * *

Artwork by Edna Eicke

* * * * * * *

Lucy was nervous, and said what first came into her head, and had been saying things of this nature the whole journey down. She didn’t want to, she knew he didn’t like it, but she couldn’t stop.

They had just arrived, and were standing on the front steps while the servants unloaded the fly that had brought them from the station, and Wemyss was pointing out what he wished her to look at and admire from that raised-up place before taking her indoors. Lucy was glad of any excuse that delayed going indoors, that kept her on the west side of the house, furthest away from the terrace and the library window. Indoors would be the rooms, the unaltered rooms, the library past whose window…, the sitting-room at the top of the house out of whose window…, the bedroom she was going to sleep in with the very bed…. It was too miserably absurd, too unbalanced of her for anything but shame and self-contempt, how she couldn’t get away from the feeling that indoors waiting for her would be Vera.

From ‘Vera’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

* * * * * * *

‘The Studio’ by Frederick Cuming RA

* * * * * * *

Her new Saratoga trunk stood solid and gleaming in the firelight. To-morrow it would be taken away and she would be gone. The room would be altogether Harriett’s. It would never have its old look again. She evaded the thought and moved clumsily to the nearest window. The outline of the round bed and the shapes of the may-trees on either side of the bend of the drive were just visible. There was no escape for her thoughts in this direction. The sense of all she was leaving stirred uncontrollably as she stood looking down into the well-known garden.

Out in the road beyond the invisible lime-trees came the rumble of wheels. The gate creaked and the wheels crunched up the drive, slurring and stopping under the dining-room window.

It was the Thursday afternoon piano-organ, the one that was always in tune. It was early to-day.

She drew back from the window as the bass chords began thumping gently in the darkness. It was better that it should come now than later on, at dinner-time. She could get over it alone up here.

She went down the length of the room and knelt by the fireside with one hand on the mantel-shelf so that she could get up noiselessly and be lighting the gas if anyone came in.

The organ was playing “The Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

It had begun that tune during the last term at school, in the summer. It made her think of rounders in the hot school garden, singing-classes in the large green room, all the class shouting “Gather roses while ye may,” hot afternoons in the shady north room, the sound of turning pages, the hum of the garden beyond the sun-blinds, meetings in the sixth form study…. Lilla, with her black hair and the specks of bright amber in the brown of her eyes, talking about free-will.

She stirred the fire. The windows were quite dark. The flames shot up and shadows darted.

That summer, which still seemed near to her, was going to fade and desert her, leaving nothing behind. To-morrow it would belong to a world which would go on without her, taking no heed. There would still be blissful days. But she would not be in them.

From ‘Pointed Roofs’ by Dorothy Richardson

* * * * * * *

‘A Window in St John’s Wood’ by Harold Knight

* * * * * * *

The Murrays at Deuchar held out, and no one troubled unduly with them; but Catslack was a Scott stronghold and they burned that, though the man Andrew Kerr who had stopped to rummage at Tinnis came spluttering up with a parcel of relations to complain that the assault party had made away with a Kerr.

‘My dear friend.’ William Grey, thirteenth Baron of Wilton, had been fighting in Scotland for months and disliked the country, the climate and the natives, particularly those disaffected with whom he had to converse. ‘You are mistaken. Every man in this tower wore Scott livery.’

‘It wasna a man,’ said Andrew Kerr broadly. ‘T’was my aunty. I tellt ye. I’m no risking cauld steel in ma wame for a pittance, unless all that’s mine is well lookit after –’

‘An old lady,’ said Lord Grey with forbearance, ‘in curling papers and a palatial absence of teeth?’

‘My aunt Lizzie!’ said Andrew Kerr.

‘She has just,’ said Lord Grey austerely, ‘seriously injured one of my men.’

‘How?’ The old savage looked interested.

‘From an upper window. The castle was burning, and he was climbing a ladder to offer the lady her freedom. She cracked his head with a chamberpot,’ said Lord Grey distastefully, ‘and retired crying that she would have no need of a jurden in Heaven, as the good Lord had no doubt thought of more convenient methods after the seventh day, when He had had a good rest.’

From ‘The Disorderly Knights’ by Dorothy Dunnett

* * * * * * *

‘The Future’ by Madeleine Green

* * * * * * *

She’s staring out to sea now. My young wife. There she stands on the barren beach, all wrapped up in her long green coat, among the scuttle and clutter of pebbles and crabs. She stares out as the water nears her feet and draws back, and when that soft and insistent suck of the tide gets close enough to slurp at her toes she shuffles herself up the shore. Soon the beach will be reduced to a strip of narrow sand and she will be forced to retreat to the rocks; and then, I think, she’ll come back to me. In the meantime, I watch from the window, as she stares out to sea.

From ‘Orkney by Amy Sackville

* * * * * * *

‘La Cathédrale – Marc Chalmé’

* * * * * * *

Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them. For instance, they may remember to mention, a week after the event happened, that when they were in the wood they had met their dead father and had a game with him. It was in this casual way that Wendy one morning made a disquieting revelation. Some leaves of a tree had been found on the nursery floor, which certainly were not there when the children went to bed, and Mrs. Darling was puzzling over them when Wendy said with a tolerant smile:

“I do believe it is that Peter again!”

“Whatever do you mean, Wendy?”

“It is so naughty of him not to wipe his feet,” Wendy said, sighing. She was a tidy child.

She explained in quite a matter-of-fact way that she thought Peter sometimes came to the nursery in the night and sat on the foot of her bed and played on his pipes to her. Unfortunately she never woke, so she didn’t know how she knew, she just knew.

“What nonsense you talk, precious. No one can get into the house without knocking.”

“I think he comes in by the window,” she said.

“My love, it is three floors up.”

“Were not the leaves at the foot of the window, mother?”

It was quite true; the leaves had been found very near the window.

Mrs. Darling did not know what to think, for it all seemed so natural to Wendy that you could not dismiss it by saying she had been dreaming.

“My child,” the mother cried, “why did you not tell me of this before?”

“I forgot,” said Wendy lightly. She was in a hurry to get her breakfast.

Oh, surely she must have been dreaming.

But, on the other hand, there were the leaves. Mrs. Darling examined them very carefully; they were skeleton leaves, but she was sure they did not come from any tree that grew in England. She crawled about the floor, peering at it with a candle for marks of a strange foot. She rattled the poker up the chimney and tapped the walls. She let down a tape from the window to the pavement, and it was a sheer drop of thirty feet, without so much as a spout to climb up by.

Certainly Wendy had been dreaming.

From ‘Peter Pan’ by J. M. Barrie

* * * * * * *

‘Lumière’ by Franz van Holder

* * * * * * *

A Collection for Christmas

You do not go where the lark is high
But you find yourself under that part of the sky
Where he is singing

You do not look for the wind where it blows
Through the stems of the ivy woods over the snows
But you find yourself pressed against its breast
Where the cold storm is winging

You do not search where Christmas is keeping
Bright the flushed dreams of children sleeping
But you wander wherever the white bells are swinging

‘Over the Snows’ by Margiad Evans

* * * * * * *

Walter Crane’s Christmas Card (1888)

* * * * * * *

Christmas Eve was the day we liked best. The morning was a frenzied rush for last rehearsals, last posing of cards, last buying of presents. My father came home early, laden with parcels. The tea table was resplendant  with bon-bons (crackers), sweets, and surprise cakes with icing on the top and threepenny-bits inside. The usual ‘bread and butter first’ rule was set aside and we talked  and laughed to our heart’s content.

Then followed the solemn ascent to the study for the play. The boys had bprrowed chair from the bedrooms, and placed them in two rows: the front (stalls) for mother, father, and any aunt, uncle, or vistor who happened to be there, and the back (pits) for the serants, who attended with much gigglement.

Personally I was thankful when this nerve strain was over, and we all crowded down into the breakfast-parlour. Here, earlier in the day, mother and I had arranged the presents – a little pile for each, and we all fell upon them with delight. We were never fussed with a Christmas tree or stockings or make-believe about Santa Claus. Perhaps we were too hard-headed. Perhaps mother considered that waking up in the small hours to llok at stockings was a bad beginning for an exciting day. As it was, we had a nice time before bed for peeping into our new books and gloating over all the fresh treasures.

From ‘A London Child of the 1870s’ by Molly Hughes

* * * * * * *

‘My Ball of Twine’ By Jessie Willcox Smith

* * * * * * *

December 25th.—Last Christmas I was a bride, with a heart overflowing with present bliss, and full of ardent hopes for the future, though not unmingled with foreboding fears.  Now I am a wife: my bliss is sobered, but not destroyed; my hopes diminished, but not departed; my fears increased, but not yet thoroughly confirmed; and, thank heaven, I am a mother too.  God has sent me a soul to educate for heaven, and give me a new and calmer bliss, and stronger hopes to comfort me.

From ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte

 * * * * * * *

 * * * * * * *

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.

“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green—they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”

Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.

Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.

“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why—why—Anne, don’t you like it? Well now—well now.”

For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.

“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”

“Well, well, let us have breakfast,” interrupted Marilla. “I must say, Anne, I don’t think you needed the dress; but since Matthew has got it for you, see that you take good care of it. There’s a hair ribbon Mrs. Lynde left for you. It’s brown, to match the dress. Come now, sit in.”

“I don’t see how I’m going to eat breakfast,” said Anne rapturously. “Breakfast seems so commonplace at such an exciting moment. I’d rather feast my eyes on that dress. I’m so glad that puffed sleeves are still fashionable. It did seem to me that I’d never get over it if they went out before I had a dress with them. I’d never have felt quite satisfied, you see. It was lovely of Mrs. Lynde to give me the ribbon too. I feel that I ought to be a very good girl indeed. It’s at times like this I’m sorry I’m not a model little girl; and I always resolve that I will be in future. But somehow it’s hard to carry out your resolutions when irresistible temptations come. Still, I really will make an extra effort after this.”

From ‘Anne of Green Gables’  by L M Montgomery

* * * * * * *

‘Christmas Day’ by Vladimir Akinshin

* * * * * * *

I have seen a court, and a dozen courts,
And no court have I seen as gracious
As the court I love for its chieftain’s sake,
Not weak is my praise, like Celligwen:
Heaven’s bounty on earth in Bachelldref,
Where there is a revel each Christmas,
A crowd of kinsmen, a lake of liquor,
Bright the honour of Meurig’s homeland,
Many a minstel and merry fiddler,
And much the mirth on a polished floor,
And a sound of strigs, a deluge of drinks,
And the constant cadence of singing,
And a red-hued lance of Cadwaladr’s line,
A blood-gushing blade, promise of meat,
And minstrels’ swaying, and children chirping,
And the bustle of boys bringing food,
The cup-bearer weary, kitchen sore-tried,
And three kinds of wine for the thirsty.
Three customs there are, a merry country,
At Daffyd’s hight court, blameless boldness:
Whoever you are, whatever you sing,
And whatever the thing you’re known for,
Come whenever you wish, take what you see,
And once come, stay as long as you like.

‘A Christmas Revel’ by Dafydd Bach ap Madoc Wladaidd (1340-1390)

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‘Noël’ by Loïs Mailou Jones

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23:xii:1946

Dearest Alyse,

Usually one begins a thank-letter by some graceless comparison, by saying, I have never been given such a very scarlet muffler, or, This is the largest horse I have ever been sent for Christmas. But your matchbox is a nonpareil, for never in my life have I been given a matchbox. Stamps, yes, drawing-pins, yes, balls of string, yes, yes, menacingly too often; but never a matchbox. Now that it has happened I ask myself why it has never happened before. They are such charming things, neat as wrens, and what a deal of ingenuity and human artfulness has gone into their construction; for if they were like the ordinary box with a lid they would not be one half so convenient. This one though is especially neat, charming, and ingenious, and the tray slides in and out as though Chippendale had made it.

But what I like best of all about my matchbox is that it is an empty one. I have often thought how much I should enjoy being given an empty house in Norway, what pleasure it would be to walk into those bare wood-smelling chambers, walls, floor, ceiling, all wood, which is after all the natural shelter of man, or at any rate the most congenial. And when I opened your matchbox which is now my matchbox and saw that beautiful clean sweet-smelling empty rectangular expanse it was exactly as though my house in Norway had come true; with the added advantage of being just the right size to carry in my hand. I shut my imagination up in it instantly, and it is still sitting there, listening to the wind in the firwood outside. Sitting there in a couple of days time I shall hear the Lutheran bell calling me to go and sing Lutheran hymns while the pastor’s wife gazes abstractedly at her husband in a bower of evergreen while she wonders if she remembered to put pepper in the goose-stuffing; but I shan’t go, I shall be far too happy sitting in my house that Alyse gave me for Christmas.

Oh, I must tell you I have finished my book—begun in 1941 and a hundred times imperilled but finished at last. So I can give an undivided mind to enjoying my matchbox.

Sylvia Townsend Warner – From ‘More Letters of Note’

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‘Nativité’ by Georges de la Tour

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Down by the shore, just above the Bay of Orde, we suddenly had an impulse to foresake the car, alk a little way off and lean over the gate. And for a moment I had a passionate hatred for motor cars that could let me neither hear nor smell, but only see. The air and the turf and the seaweed smelt sweet and aromatic, and we heard the waves break in a long thin sound as though as though a line of glass were being very gently, very regularly, shattered a quarter of a mile away. And curlews were twittering and curving nearby, or perhaps they were smaller frienlier birds; and a few sheep with black faces grazed near the quiet grey stone sheds and barns. And the wind fluttered and sighed in the sun.

“Next Christmas,” I said to Paul, when I had rather more than I could bear of imagining myself, next Christmas, somewhere quite different perhaps, longing to be back in Skye and leaning over the gate just above Orde Bay looking across in solitude towards Rhum, looking my first, looking my last, on all things lovely. “Next Christmas,” I repeated, buff and hearty, and leaving out “perhaps” because I feared Paul was going to throw an attack of scepticism. But he said, to my amazement: “Yes, we’ll come here again next Christmas,” so that for the sake of D.V. and touch wood and all the rest of superstition I had to add quickly: ” We may not be able to, of course. It would be safer to stop here till Christmas of 1939.”

And then slowly and relactantly we climbed into the car, and backed, and made motoring noises which startled the whaups, and drove away. Slowly and reluctantly.

From ‘Another Part of the Forest’ by G. B. Stern

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A Virago Art Collection for Autumn

When I first put together a collection of the paintings that adorned the covers of green Virago Modern Classics, more than three years ago, I didn’t think that I would go on putting together more collections, or that I would be here now with many more paintings in the wings ready to be displayed in future collections.

Not all of the paintings are available but a great many of them are, and it is lovely to see them freed of the constraint of a green frame.

Sometimes just a detail has been chosen, or the painting has been cropped or adjusted insome way to suit its book. That may be the best way to make a good cover, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see work of the artists.

I do hope that you will enjoy looking at this season’s exhibits.

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The painting works well as a cover image, but it isn’t a good match for the book

‘The Mirror’ by William Orpen

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‘The House on Clewe Street’ by Mary Lavin (#266)

Theodore Coniffe, austere property owner in Castlerampart, looks forward to the birth of an heir when his third and youngest daughter, Lily marries. A son is born, but the father, Cornelius Galloway, is a spendthrift who dies young, leaving the child to the care of Lily and her sisters, Theresa and Sara. Their love for Gabriel is limited by religious propriety and his youth is both protected and restrained. At the age of twenty-one Gabriel runs away to Dublin with Onny, the kitchen maid. Here they tumble into bohemian life. But Gabriel is ill-suited to this makeshift freedom and finds the values of Clewe Street impossible to evade.

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The painting is of the same fair that my father visited as a boy

‘The Merry Go Round’ by Ernest Procter

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‘Devil by the Sea’ by Nina Bawden (#433)

“‘The first time the children saw the Devil, he was sitting next to them in the second row of deckchairs in the band-stand. He was biting his nails.’

So begins the horrifying story of a madman loose in a small seaside town – his prey the very young and the very old. Seen through the eyes of Hilary – a precocious, highly imaginative, lonely child – it is a chilling story about the perceptiveness of children, the blindness of parents and the allure of strangers. As the adults carry on with their own grown-up capers, Hilary is led further and further into the twilight world of one man’s terrifyingly warped view of normal life. But will she have the sense to resist it?”

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The subject’s expression seems to lighten when she is freed from her green frame

‘June’ by Ellen Day Hale

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‘The Brimming Cup’ by Dorothy Canfield (#254)

One day in 1920 Marise watches her youngest child depart for his first day at school and feels redundant. Absorbed in her role as wife and mother she has not been aware of the slow ebbing of her spirit, nor the way in which her marriage, though comfortable, and happy, has lost its passion. As the year progresses Marise continues as the pivot of the household, drawing new neighbors into the family circle and the Vermont community. Doing so, she reassesses her marriage and the values on which it is based, each day underlined by the questions she now asks herself — and sharpened by her increasing attraction to another man

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A Strikingly Different Choice of Cover Image

‘The Annunciation’ by Frederick Patrick Marriott

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‘The Land of Spices’ by Kate O’Brien (#287)

On an early October day in 1912 three postulants receive the veil at Compagnie de la Sainte Famille, a lakeside Irish convent. When Eileen O’Doherty, beautiful and adored, kneels before the Bishop, a wave of hysteria sweeps through the convent. Only two remain distanced: Reverend Mother and six-year old Anna Murphy. Between them an unspoken allegiance is formed that will sustain each through the years ahead as Mere Marie-Helene seeks to understand a childhood trauma, to recover the power to love and combat her growing spiritual aridity, and as Anna, clever, self-contained, develops the strength to overcome loss and to resist the conventional demands of her background.

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I have read other books by the author but not this one – yet

‘At the Piano’ by Harold Knight

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‘The Squire’s Daughter’ by F. M. Mayor (#260)

At the age of twenty-one Ron is witty and assured, delighting in the glamour of her London set and resisting her role as the Squire’s daughter. She is used to the adoration of men and, “busy in an existence that made deep feeling difficult”, is so far untouched by it. Now the Squire is faced with the necessity of selling Carne, the ancestoral home which symbolises so much for him, yet means little to his children. Whilst the older generation acknowledges change with pain and reluctance, Ron and her contemporaries are dismissive of the values their parents uphold. But Ron’s bravado is as impermanent as the privilege of her class and her life will be changed when she falls in love…

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The first of a number of Virago Editions of this book

‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’ by John Singer Sargent

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‘Sisters by a River’ by Barbara Comyns (#164)

The river is the Avon, and on its banks the five sisters are born. The river is frozen, the river is flooded, the sun shines on the water and moving lights are reflected on the walls of the house. It is Good Friday and the maids hang a hot cross bun from the kitchen ceiling. An earwig crawls into the sweep’s ear and stays there for ten years. Moths are resurrected from the dead and bats become entangled in young girls’ hair. Lessons are done in the greenish light under the ash-tree and always there is the sound of water swirling through the weir. A feeling of decay comes to the house, at first in a sudden puff down a dark passage and the damp smell of cellars, then ivy grows unchecked over the windows and angry shouts split the summer air, sour milk is in the larder and the father takes out his gun. The children see a dreadful snoring figure in a white nightshirt, then lot numbers appear on the furniture and the family is dispersed ..

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When I saw this image in its entirety I thought it would have worked rather well as a wrap-around dust jacket

‘Les Ailes dans le vent’ by Edouard André Marty

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‘The Knight of Cheerful Countenance’ by Molly Keane (#388)

To Ballinrath House, where purple bog gives way to slate-coloured mountains, comes Allan to visit his Irish cousins. No sooner has he arrived than he falls in love with Cousin Ann, though it seems she only has eyes for Captain Dennys St Lawrence. Cousin Sibyl is as swiftly and equally smitten – with Allan. As the summer gives way to misty autums days, the social round of dancing and hunting does little to untangle love’s misunderstandings. Here hearts – and reputations – threaten to be broken in the elusive pursuit of happiness.

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That’s the last painting in this collection, but there will be more art shows next year.

Please tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for those future exhibitions …