A Walk Around the Winter Exhibition at the Virago Art Gallery

I’ve always loved putting together collections of Virago cover art and I thought that it was time to put together another, to celebrate the coldest season of the year.

There are lovely wintery images to be found in green frames.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings really come alive when they are released from those 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.


* * * * * * *


Madame de Chauffe by John Callcott Horsely


Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant (#228)

“Arthur Vincent, “fresh from Homerton, in the bloom of hope and intellectualism”, arrives in Carlingford to take up the reins as Dissenting minister of Salem Chapel. A mixture of hope and ignorance prompts him to imagine that he will take his place amongst the cream of Carlingford society. But a six-o’clock tea at the home of Mr. Tozer the butterman, senior deacon of the Chapel, throws cold water on the young man’s aspirations. For there he meets Mrs. Tozer and her daughter Phoebe, “pink, plump and full of dimples”, and his congregation of greengrocers, dealers in cheese and bacon, milkmen, dressmakers and teachers of day-schools. To add to his problems he falls head-over-heels in love with “a beautiful, dazzling creature”, Lady Western, only to find himself caught up in a crime most horrible to contemplate…”

* * * * * * *


Portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker Skating by Sir Henry Raeburn


The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner (#435)

“John Barnard, leading merchant at a Norfolk port, is a pillar of nineteenth-century rectitude. Though stern and aloof with his indolent, tippling wife and watchful children, he is undermined by helpless love for his pretty, cold-hearted daughter Mary. The Flint Anchor subverts the rules of the historical novel and shows how family history is made – which stories can be trusted, whose voices hold influence and whose are forgotten. Wit, charm and intelligence illuminate several decades of family life and the events of small town society in this tragi-comedy of manners, the last of the author’s seven novels.”

* * * * * * *


Froanna – Portrait of the Artist’s Wife by P Wyndham Lewis


I’m Not Complaining by Ruth Adam (#124)

“Madge Brigson is a teacher in a Nottinghamshire elementary school in England in the 1930s. Here, with her colleagues – the beautiful, “promiscuous” Jenny, the ardent communist Freda, and the kind, spinsterish Miss Jones – she battles with the trials and tribulations of their special world: abusive parents, eternal malnutrition, inspectors’ visits, staff quarrels and love affairs. To all this Madge presents an uncompromisingly intelligent and commonsensical face: laughter is never far away as she copes with her pupils, the harsh circumstances of life in the Depression, and her own love affair. For Madge is a true heroine: determined, perceptive, warm-hearted; she deals with life, and love, unflinchingly, and gets the most out of the best – and worst – of it.”

* * * * * * *


Costumes pour un ensemble by Bernard Boutet de Monvel


The Little Ottleys by Ruth Adam (#98)

“The heroine of the three novels collected here–Love’s Shadow, Tenterhooks, and Love at Second Sight–is the delightful Edith Ottley. As we follow Edith’s fortunes we enter the enchanting world of Edwardian London. We will be bewitched by the courtships, jealousies, and love affairs of Edith’s coterie–and indeed of Edith herself–and unfailingly amused by her husband, Bruce, one of the most tremendous–if attractive–bores in literature.”

* * * * * * *


The Angel, Cookham Churchyard by Stanley Spencer


The World, My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (#104)

“It is 1946, and the people of France and England are facing the aftermath of the Second World War. Barbara Deniston, seventeen, has grown up in the sunshine of Provence with her voluptuous, indolent but intelligent mother, allowed to run wild with the Maquis, experiencing collaboration, betrayal – and death. Banished by her mother to England, Barbara is thrown into the ordered formality of English life with her distinguished father and conventional stepmother. Confused and unhappy, she discovers one day the wrecked and flowering wastes around St. Paul’s. Here, in the bombed heart of London, she finds an echo of the wilderness of Provence and is forced to confront the wilderness within herself.”

* * * * * * *


The Artist’s Wife Mornington Crescent by Spencer Gore


Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby (#192)

“Caroline Denton-Smyth is an eccentric, remarkable for her vivid costumes trailing feathers, fancy beads and jingling lorgnettes. Sitting alone in her West Kensington bedsitter, she dreams of the Christian Cinema Company – her vehicle for reform. For Caroline sees herself as a pioneer, one who must risk everything in the “Cause of Right”. Her Board of Directors are a motley crew; Basil St. Denis, upper crust but impecunious; Joseph Isenbaum, aspiring to Society and Eton for his son; Eleanor de la Roux, Caroline’s independent, left-wing cousin from South Africa; Hugh Macafee, a curt Scottish film technician; young Father Mortimer, scarred from the First World War; and Clifton Johnson, seedy American scenario writer on the make.”

* * * * * * *


At Home, a Portrait by Walter Crane


Marcella by Mrs Humphrey Ward (#155)

“Marcella Boyce, a Pre-Raphaelite beauty of the 1880s, is passionately in love with the ideals of socialism. A 21-year-old art student, she lives in a Kensington boarding house until her father inherits the family estate, Mellor Park, in the Midlands. Leaving her studies, her philanthropic work in the East End, and the company of her Bohemian friends, she embarks on her new life at Mellor Park, determined to alleviate the poverty she sees around her. Then Aldous Raeburn, Tory candidate and heir to Lord Maxwell’s estate, falls in love with Marcella. But Marcella is torn between her longing to become mistress of Maxwell Court and her burning idealism. Before she can reconcile the two, Marcella must learn – through bitter experience – the real barriers that divide one human from another.”

* * * * * * *

That’s the last painting in this collection, but spring is not too far away and it will be bringing another seasonal art show.

Between now and then, please  tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions …

A Collection – or I should say a Parliament – of Owls

Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping arch, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

From ‘Titus Groan’ by Mervyn Peake

* * * * * * *


‘Barn Owl’ by Jackie Morris

* * * * * * *

The tawny owl dropped off the crag called Lovers’ Leap and released a tremulous cry. It sailed over the river and flopped down into the nettles and gripped the vole pinching the little creature’s scream into silence. Then it entered the darkness beneath the oaks and winged off to the Iron Age fort on the hilltop. A star left the milky way and slid across the sky.

From ‘A Black Fox Running’ by Brian Carter

* * * * * * *


‘Soft Night Descending’ by Catherine Hyde

* * * * * * *

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

‘White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field’ by Mary Oliver

* * * * * * *


George  Jack collaborated with his wife Annie on this fire-screen, which he designed and she embroidered. They have exploited the potential of different stitches to suggest textures. The inscription reads “Then nightly sings the staring Owl – tu whit wu who”

* * * * * * *

Sometimes I rode north to the big prairie-dog town to watch the brown earth-owls fly home in the late afternoon and go down to their nests underground with the dogs. Antonia  liked to go with me, and we used to wonder a great deal about these birds of subterranean habit. We had to be on our guard there, for rattlesnakes were always lurking about. They came to pick up an easy living among the dogs and owls, which were quite defenceless against them; took possession of their comfortable houses and ate the eggs and puppies. We felt sorry for the owls. It was always mournful to see them come flying home at sunset and disappear under the earth. But, after all, we felt, winged things who would live like that must be rather degraded creatures. The dog-town was a long way from any pond or creek. Otto Fuchs said he had seen populous dog-towns in the desert where there was no surface water for fifty miles; he insisted that some of the holes must go down to water—nearly two hundred feet, hereabouts. Antonia said she didn’t believe it; that the dogs probably lapped up the dew in the early morning, like the rabbits.

From ‘My Antonia’ by Willa Cather

* * * * * * * cea0fa2d6f23d4bcb441ae2a8e270f23

‘Barn Owl Slipware Jug and Cup’ by Carole Glover

* * * * * * *

DOWNHILL I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the north wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry.

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

‘The Owl’ by Edward Thomas

* * * * * * *


Whalebone Owl c 1960

(Canada, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Hudson Bay)

* * * * * * *

IN the spring of the year eighteen hundred and sixty-eight there lived, in a certain county of North Britain, two venerable White Owls.

The Owls inhabited a decayed and deserted summer-house. The summer-house stood in grounds attached to a country seat in Perthshire, known by the name of Windygates.

The situation of Windygates had been skillfully chosen in that part of the county where the fertile lowlands first begin to merge into the mountain region beyond. The mansion-house was intelligently laid out, and luxuriously furnished. The stables offered a model for ventilation and space; and the gardens and grounds were fit for a prince.

Possessed of these advantages, at starting, Windygates, nevertheless, went the road to ruin in due course of time. The curse of litigation fell on house and lands. For more than ten years an interminable lawsuit coiled itself closer and closer round the place, sequestering it from human habitation, and even from human approach. The mansion was closed. The garden became a wilderness of weeds. The summer-house was choked up by creeping plants; and the appearance of the creepers was followed by the appearance of the birds of night.

For years the Owls lived undisturbed on the property which they had acquired by the oldest of all existing rights—the right of taking. Throughout the day they sat peaceful and solemn, with closed eyes, in the cool darkness shed round them by the ivy. With the twilight they roused themselves softly to the business of life. In sage and silent companionship of two, they went flying, noiseless, along the quiet lanes in search of a meal. At one time they would beat a field like a setter dog, and drop down in an instant on a mouse unaware of them. At another time—moving spectral over the black surface of the water—they would try the lake for a change, and catch a perch as they had caught the mouse. Their catholic digestions were equally tolerant of a rat or an insect. And there were moments, proud moments, in their lives, when they were clever enough to snatch a small bird at roost off his perch. On those occasions the sense of superiority which the large bird feels every where over the small, warmed their cool blood, and set them screeching cheerfully in the stillness of the night.

So, for years, the Owls slept their happy sleep by day, and found their comfortable meal when darkness fell. They had come, with the creepers, into possession of the summer-house. Consequently, the creepers were a part of the constitution of the summer-house. And consequently the Owls were the guardians of the Constitution. There are some human owls who reason as they did, and who are, in this respect—as also in respect of snatching smaller birds off their roosts—wonderfully like them.

The constitution of the summer-house had lasted until the spring of the year eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, when the unhallowed footsteps of innovation passed that way; and the venerable privileges of the Owls were assailed, for the first time, from the world outside.

Two featherless beings appeared, uninvited, at the door of the summer-house, surveyed the constitutional creepers, and said, “These must come down”—looked around at the horrid light of noonday, and said, “That must come in”—went away, thereupon, and were heard, in the distance, agreeing together, “To-morrow it shall be done.”

And the Owls said, “Have we honored the summer-house by occupying it all these years—and is the horrid light of noonday to be let in on us at last? My lords and gentlemen, the Constitution is destroyed!”

They passed a resolution to that effect, as is the manner of their kind. And then they shut their eyes again, and felt that they had done their duty.

The same night, on their way to the fields, they observed with dismay a light in one of the windows of the house. What did the light mean?

It meant, in the first place, that the lawsuit was over at last. It meant, in the second place that the owner of Windygates, wanting money, had decided on letting the property. It meant, in the third place, that the property had found a tenant, and was to be renovated immediately out of doors and in. The Owls shrieked as they flapped along the lanes in the darkness, And that night they struck at a mouse—and missed him.

The next morning, the Owls—fast asleep in charge of the Constitution—were roused by voices of featherless beings all round them. They opened their eyes, under protest, and saw instruments of destruction attacking the creepers. Now in one direction, and now in another, those instruments let in on the summer-house the horrid light of day. But the Owls were equal to the occasion. They ruffled their feathers, and cried, “No surrender!” The featherless beings plied their work cheerfully, and answered, “Reform!” The creepers were torn down this way and that. The horrid daylight poured in brighter and brighter. The Owls had barely time to pass a new resolution, namely, “That we do stand by the Constitution,” when a ray of the outer sunlight flashed into their eyes, and sent them flying headlong to the nearest shade. There they sat winking, while the summer-house was cleared of the rank growth that had choked it up, while the rotten wood-work was renewed, while all the murky place was purified with air and light. And when the world saw it, and said, “Now we shall do!” the Owls shut their eyes in pious remembrance of the darkness, and answered, “My lords and gentlemen, the Constitution is destroyed!”

From ‘Man and Wife’ by Wilkie Collins

* * * * * * *


‘Barn Owl’ by Hester Cox


* * * * * * *

I am the heart of a murdered woman
who took the wrong way home
who was strangled in a vacant lot and not buried
who was shot with care beneath a tree
who was mutilated by a crisp knife.
There are many of us.

I grew feathers and tore my way out of her;
I am shaped like a feathered heart.
My mouth is a chisel, my hands
the crimes done by hands.

I sit in the forest talking of death
which is monotonous:
though there are many ways of dying
there is only one death song,
the colour of mist:
it says   Why   Why

I do not want revenge, I do not want expiation,
I only want to ask someone
how I was lost,
how I was lost

I am the lost heart of a murderer
who has not yet killed,
who does not yet know he wishes
to kill; who is still the same
as the others

I am looking for him,
he will have answers for me,
he will watch his step, he will be
cautious and violent, my claws
will grow through his hands
and become claws, he will not be caught.

‘Owl Song’ by Margaret Atwood

* * * * * * *


‘The Owl’ (c. 1863) by Valentine Cameron Prinsep

* * * * * * *

As the glow of the cabin windows turned to flickers through the trees and then to black, her eyes adjusted and the starlight alone on the pure white snow was enough to light her way. The cold scorched her cheeks and her lungs, but she was warm in her fox hat and wool. An owl swooped through the spruce boughs, a slow-flying shadow, but she was not frightened. She felt old and strong, like the mountains and the river. She would find her way home.

From ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

* * * * * * *

A Collection for Christmas

The parson visited an old friend in the town, a green-fingered man, and from his house and sheltered old garden had been given a few treasures for the altar of his church on Christmas Day: sprigs of scented geranium, Christmas roses and a few violets. As he walked home through the dusk, up Pack and Prime lane, he was holding these treasures carefully, rejoicing in them. The hair-cut had cost him coins he could ill afford, but it had been worth it to have the Christmas roses and the violets. Also he had wished to be particularly trim and tidy this Christmas. He wished to honour God in every way possible.

He wanted the church to look gay and beautiful as it had never looked before, the services to be memorable with prayers and hymns that were wholehearted in God’s praise. He wanted his people to remember this Christmas for he thought the time was coming when they might no longer be able to worship God in the way he had taught them, and which was natural to them, the way of beauty and gaiety of heart that was akin to the world about them, where birds sang and flowers and stars bloomed and shone, the way that he believed was God’s way, who had made all things bright and fair.

For Parson Hawthyn was not very optimistic about the future. He believed the King would fight great battles yet, would be victorious for a while, but he feared that the darkness that confronted him was like that of a mounting storm that will not pass until it has broken. Then it would pass, as all things pass, but that time might be a long way ahead, and Parson Hawthyn did not suppose he would live to see it.

But the times ahead were none of his business. His business was this Christmas that had been so miraculously given to him. By next Christmas, Robert, the patron of his living, might have driven him out of his church, but this Christmas, by God’s mercy, Robert was not here. For that, as he trudged along Pack and Prime lane, leaning on his stick, he gave thanks, speaking aloud as was his custom, and singing a little in his cracked voice.

From ‘The White Witch’ by Elizabeth Goudge

* * * * * * *

‘Cuisine des Anges’ by Eugene Grasset

* * * * * * *

It was late afternoon before they finished the Christmas tree, and it was growing dark. They lit the old red Chinese lantern and many candles so that they could see to work. There were no glaring electric bulbs on this tree. Mrs Oldknow had boxes of coloured glass ornaments, each wrapped separately in tissue paper and put carefully away from year to year. Some were very old and precious indeed. There were glass balls, stars, fir-cones, acorns and bells in all colours and all sizes. There were also silver medallions of angels. Of course the most beautiful star was fixed at the very top, with gold and silver suns and stars beneath and around it. Each glass treasure, as light as an eggshell and as brittle, was hung on a loop of black cotton that had to be coaxed over the prickly fingers of the tree. Tolly took them carefully out of their tissue paper and Mrs Oldknow hung them up. The tiny glass bell-clappers tinkled when a branch was touched. When it was all finished, there were no lights on the tree itself , but the candles in the room were reflected in each glass bauble on it, and seemed in those soft deep colours to be shining from an immense distance away, as if the tree were a cloudy night sky full of stars. They sat down together to look at their work. Tolly thought it so beautiful he could say nothing , he could hardly believe his eyes.

From ‘The Children of Green Knowe’ by Lucy M Boston

* * * * * * *

‘Christmas ‘ by Thea Procter

* * * * * * *

I have never seen Paris so charming as on this last Christmas Day. The weather put in a claim to a share in the fun, the sky was radiant and the air as soft and pure as a southern spring. It was a day to spend in the streets and all the world did so. I passed it strolling half over the city and wherever I turned I found the entertainment that a pedestrian relishes. What people love Paris for became almost absurdly obvious charm, beguilement, diversion were stamped upon everything. I confess that, privately, I kept thinking of Prince Bismarck and wishing he might take a turn upon the boulevards. Not that they would have flustered him much, I suppose, for, after all, the boulevards are not human, but the whole spectacle seemed a supreme reminder of the fact so constantly present at this time to the reflective mind–the amazing elasticity of France. Beaten and humiliated on a scale without precedent, despoiled, dishonored, bled to death financially — all this but yesterday — Paris is today in outward aspect as radiant, as prosperous, as instinct with her own peculiar genius as if her sky had never known a cloud. The friendly stranger cannot refuse an admiring glance to this mystery of wealth and thrift and energy and good spirits.

I don’t know how Berlin looked on Christmas Day, though Christmas-keeping is a German specialty, but I greatly doubt whether its aspect would have appealed so irresistibly to the sympathies of the impartial observer. With the approach of Christmas here the whole line of the boulevards is bordered on each side with a row of little booths for the sale — for the sale of everything conceivable. The width of the classic asphalt is so ample that they form no serious obstruction, and the scene, in the evening especially, presents a picturesque combination of the rustic fair and the highest Parisian civilization. You may buy anything in the line of trifles in the world, from a cotton nightcap to an orange neatly pricked in blue letters with the name of the young lady — Adele or Ernestine — to whom you may gallantly desire to present it. On the other side of the crowded channel the regular shops present their glittering portals, decorated for the occasion with the latest refinements of the trade. The confectioners in particular are amazing, the rows of marvelous bonbonnieres look like precious sixteenth-century caskets and reliquaries, chiseled by Florentine artists, in the glass cases of great museums. The bonbonniere, in its elaborate and impertinent uselessness, is certainly the consummate flower of material luxury; it seems to bloom, with its petals of satin and its pistils of gold, upon the very apex of the tree of civilization.

From ‘Paris, Christmas, 1876’ by Henry James

* * * * * * *

Gustave Doré – La nuit de Noël (detail)

* * * * * * *

‘The house was warm and quiet, tidy and decorated, as if waiting for the spirit of Christmas to descend and fill it. There was a tree glittering and sparkling at the dining-room-window where everyone passing in the street could see it, and a thick circle of glossy holly leaves and scarlet berries hung on the front door. Christmas cards, frosted, gleaming with fantastic angels or entwined with wreaths made from silvered shells and musical instruments were arranged on the chest in the hall. Dozens of unopened parcels were piled in the drawing-room. Myron’s radio in the kitchen was softly giving, “Stilly Night, Holy Night,” by the Dixie Chocolate Cookie Choir; the lovely tune crept wistfully up the well of the staircase, making her pause with her hand on the bannister to listen. From where she stood she could see the nursery with the crib, draped in white, glimmering through the dusk. One star, a huge star that seemed full of meaning and message, shone steadily through the window panes.’

From ‘My American’ by Stella Gibbons

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

Christmas at Bethanie was homely, the only word Lise could find for it – homelike, and simple, as suited the infant Christ. The house was decorated with holly and mistletoe, a crib made in the cloister.

Christmas Eve was a day of prayer with a vigil in the afternoon and, at Vespers, the martyrology was sung. ‘Even in the joy of the Nativity, we mustn’t forget the faith and endurance of the church,’ but just before midnight the Prioress took the statue of the holy child in her arms and went to the end of the cloister where she held him out as the nuns and all the household came in procession with lighted candles to kiss him and take hm to be laid in the manger in the crib, then Mass began, the long beautiful solemnity of the Christmas Mass. ‘Its words will stay in your heart,’ Soeur Theodore said rightly.

Afterwards, at the convent, at the strange house of one o’clock in the morning, came Reveillon, the Christmas wakening feast with hot chocolate, cake, crystallised fruit, strawberry jam eaten with a small spoon from saucers – Lise never ceased to wonder at the Sisters’ appetite for sweet things – and when they went to their rooms, on every pillowwas a small package from the Prioress. ‘Like children!’ Lise could imagine and outsider’s patronising tone. But how refreshing it is, she thought, to becaome a child again, with a child’s sense of wonder and joy.

On Christmas Day, Lauds was not until eight o’clock so that, for everyone, there was the luxury of an extra hour in bed. There was sung Mass to which many of the villagers came, most of them with gifts, provender, a carefully potted flower or cut chrysanthemums for the chapel. ‘And then there was a true Christmas dinner, said Lise. ‘Turkey, hot chestnuts, Buche de Noel – a cake shaped like a log and iced with chocolate – and wine. No wonder we needed a siesta after it,’ and they slept until they met in Chapel to sing the Vespers for Christmas Day.

From ‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rumer Godden

 * * * * * * *

‘The Village Church on Christmas Day’ by Steffi Kraus

 * * * * * * *

The day had seemed perfect to Lucinda in every detail. She and Oscar had set a table in the garden before they left for church. The jacaranda had lost its flowers and was now a feathery umbrella of cool green. A soft nor’easter came off the harbour. They placed their presents on the parlour hearth and walked through the embarrassing plenty of Whitfield’s Farm (all of New South Wales was in the grip of drought, and all the feed between Sydney and Bathhurst was eaten down to the roots), through all the golden grass to church. Oscar said the colours felt wrong for Christmas. Lucinda said the colours in Bethlehem must surely have been like this: this dazzling blue sky, this straw-gold earth, and not the cold and bracken-brown of pagan Britain.

From ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey

 * * * * * * *

‘Christmas Morning, 1944’ by Andrew Wyeth

 * * * * * * *

Some years, the holidays seem to bustle right past, and you’re hurled into the new year — flung onward by the gravity of time — before you know it. There are also years, and this is one, when darkness seems to pile up in drifts as the nights grow longer and the day goes down into its burrow earlier and earlier.

Even at its highest, the sun reclines low along the horizon — resting on its elbow, so to speak — and you can feel the coming of dusk as soon as the day slips past noon. This season, Christmas is the pivot of time, when the sun comes to its solstice and we come, too, to a place where our hearts can rest.

What should we feel today on this new morning?

That is the question Christmas always poses. But our feelings know no “should.” We feel what we feel, as one after another the Christmases go past. Over the years, it adds up to a medley of all our emotions, joy, gratitude, compassion, generosity, love, hospitality — and sometimes also loneliness, mistrust, miserliness and even despair.

This is the season for rejoicing at the hope of our own redemption, and yet rejoicing doesn’t always arrive on schedule, any more than hope or redemption do. The fact is that we make what we can of Christmas each year, and some years Christmas makes something entirely unexpected out of us.

Breakfast will come late this morning because we were up, most of us, late into the eve of this holiday, savoring how festive the darkness can be. And before breakfast is long over and the first toy has been broken, the first tears dried, dusk will be gathering outside again. That is the unfailing gift of this season — to comfort us with so much nightfall, to gather us together, and hold us close.

New York Times Editorial published December 24, 2009

 * * * * * * *

‘The Nativity’ by Edward Burne-Jones

* * * * * * *

A Late Visit to the Autumn Exhibition at 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.

Autumn has flown, but there is still time to look around the exhibits before this exhibition closes and the exhibits for the Christmas show are hung.

The colours of this season’s paintings really seem to sing when they are released from their green frames.

* * * * * * *
What a difference when you see the whole painting!

Donna Sol Balcone by Ubaldo Oppi


‘The Diviners’ by Margaret Laurence (#323)

‘Morag Dunn, now in her mid-forties, lives in a riverside farmhouse in Eastern Ontario. Through a series of flashbacks she looks at the painful and exhilarating moments of her earlier life: her childhood on the social margins of the small prairie town of Manawaka; her relationship with Jules Tonnerre which grows out of their shared alienation; her demeaning marriage and her escape from it into writing fiction, and her travels to England and Scotland and, finally, back to rural Canada, where she faces a different challenge – the necessity to understand, and let go of, the daughter she loves.’

* * * * * * *

Why Virago turned this painting black and white I shall never understand

‘Portrait of a Midinette’ by Herbert James Gunn


‘Good Daughters’ by Mary Hocking (#340)

‘Mary Hocking brings good humour and sympathy to her depiction of the Fairley sisters growing up in their close-knit West London neighbourhood before, during and after the war. Here, in the first novel of a trilogy, the girls are sheltered in a world whose traditions of hard work and frugality are upheld in their Methodist father, Stanley, and their strong quiet mother, Judith. But as love comes to Louise and adventures tempt Alice and her friend, unease lurks and terrible rumours travel from Germany – auguries of the catastrophe to come.’

* * * * * * *

An intriguing match of book and artwork

‘Hector and Andromache’ by Giorgio di Chirico


‘Life Before Man’ by Margaret Atwood (#68)

‘Life Before Man chronicles with ironic precision, in masterful prose, the tragicomedy we call love between the sexes. Elizabeth – monstrous yet pitiable, Nate her husband – a patchwork man, gentle, disillusioned, and Leslie his lover, a young woman prehistoric in her simplicity, form a sexual triangle whose encounter illuminate profound truths about contemporary experience.’

* * * * * * *

The author and the artist were worlds apart

‘Room in Brooklyn’ by Edward Hopper


‘None Turn Back’ by Storm Jameson (#132)

‘It is 6th May, the third day of the General Strike … This is the story of that harrowing week seen through the eyes of the women and men of London as they move through that unreal city. We meet those who gave their all for the strike -and a vision of a better world. We meet, too, those who fought to break it with every weapon they had: power, politics, money – or brute force. There are masters and workmen, fascists and communists, politicians and trade unionists, wives and mistresses, artists, writers and scientists, all caught up in the web of each other’s lives. But above all we follow the thread of Hervey Russell’s life as she is swept up by the political ferment around her, by the difficulties of a new marriage, and by her hopes and fears for the future… ‘

* * * * * * *

I wish the book was as famous as the artist

‘Regina Cordium’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


‘Red Pottage’ by Mary Cholmondeley (#187)

‘Rachel West and Hester Gresley have been friends since nursery days. Rachel, calm and practical, inherits a fortune after years of poverty in the East End of London but falls in love with a philanderer. Hester, imaginative and excitable, has published a successful novel, but her aunt’s death forces her to live in the stifling atmosphere of her clergyman brother’s house. This absorbing novel, first published in 1899, explores the ways in which two very different women search for fulfilment in a society bound by convention.’

* * * * * * *

Such a different impression when you see the whole painting

‘Interior’ by Duncan Grant


‘Rhapsody’ by Dorothy Edwards (#204)

‘Set in the leisurely world of country houses, rambling walks, afternoon teas and piano duets, these deceptively simple tales are of women and men who come together, sometimes ludicrously, often sadly – if at all. They tell of unrequited love and jealousy, of the separateness of one human being from another, all enacted beneath the smooth veneer of English life at its most civilized. The theme of music weaves in and out of this volume of enchanting stories, first published in 1927. Reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield in mood and texture, they are nevertheless the work of an absolutely individual talent.’

* * * * * * *

I’m reading another book by this author and I’d love to find a copy of this one

‘At the Window’ by Patricia O’Brien


‘Nobody’s Business’ by Penelope Gilliatt (#334)

‘An elderly writer of popular comedies and her liberal husband, a judge, are accosted in mid-swim by three crass archivists. In distracting their inquisitors, the couple show the greatest mannerliness while treading water. A famous cellist develops an unruly attachment to his bed. His accompanist suggests an analyst, but takes the sessions himself, lending a fond angle to the transference. A quiet, wise man watches his blustering City stepson take over his house and his being and has not the heart to see his usurping heir’s action as the pattern of push and shove. With assurance, acuity and her lucid wit, Penelope Gilliatt lays bare the non-utterances that are the crucial ellipses of the human temperament. Candid, resonant and always compassionate, these are unforgettable tales from a genius of the short story.’

* * * * * * *

That’s the last painting in this collection, but there will be a winter exhibition opening early next year, and a spring show after that ….

And in the meantime, do tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions.

A Seasonal Collection: November

‘November is the pearl-grey month, the changeling between warm crimson October and cold white December; the month when the leaves fall in slow drifting whirls and the shapes of the trees are revealed. When the earth imperceptibly wakes and stretches her bare limbs and displays her stubborn unconquerable strength before she settles uneasily into winter. November is secret and silent.’

Alison Uttley

* * * * * * *

‘November Window, Reflecting’ by Victoria Crowe

* * * * * * *

It was a sort of trick of the season, perhaps, that moment in November, and of the time of day, shortly before dusk. An effect of the particular atmosphere that day in late autumn, after an afternoon of intermittent drizzle—an array of colours so rich it was as if the whole mountain were dreaming them, colours so beautiful they made us afraid at the thought that we were going to climb up there, up the side of the mountain. Thirteen years have passed since then, yet the touching beauty of those leaves, on all the different trees, rises up before me as if I were there at this moment.

From The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue

* * * * * * *

‘Old Essex in November’ by Sir George Clausen

* * * * * * *

An hour’s complete leisure for such reflections as these, on a dark November day, a small thick rain almost blotting out the very few objects ever to be discerned from the windows, was enough to make the sound of Lady Russell’s carriage exceedingly welcome; and yet, though desirous to be gone, she could not quit the Mansion House, or look an adieu to the Cottage, with its black, dripping and comfortless veranda, or even notice through the misty glasses the last humble tenements of the village, without a saddened heart. Scenes had passed in Uppercross which made it precious. It stood the record of many sensations of pain, once severe, but now softened; and of some instances of relenting feeling, some breathings of friendship and reconciliation, which could never be looked for again, and which could never cease to be dear. She left it all behind her, all but the recollection that such things had been.

From ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen

* * * * * * *

From ‘Twelve Months Of Fruits’ by Robert Furber (c1674-1756)

* * * * * * *

With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d,
Break from the trees
And fall.

‘November Night’ by Adelaide Crapsey

* * * * * * *

‘Lighting a Firework’ by Charles Hewitt (1952)

* * * * * * *

When the grey November weather came, and hung its soft dark clouds low and unbroken over the brown of the ploughed fields and the vivid emerald of the stretches of winter corn, the heavy stillness weighed my heart down to a forlorn yearning after the pleasant things of childhood, the petting, the comforting, the warming faith in the unfailing wisdom of the elders. A great need of something to lean on, and a great weariness of independence and responsibility took possession of my soul; and looking round for support and comfort in that transitory mood, the emptiness of the present and the blankness of the future sent me back to the past with all its ghosts.

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

* * * * * * *

‘November’ by Benjamin William Leader

* * * * * * *

There is a wind where the rose was,
Cold rain where sweet grass was,
And clouds like sheep
Stream o’er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.

Nought warm where your hand was,
Nought gold where your hair was,
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.

Cold wind where your voice was,
Tears, tears where my heart was,
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.

Autumn/November’ by Walter de la Mare

* * * * * * *

Spiced Mocha Biscotti with Walnuts and Brazil Nuts


85g unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar
2 eggs beaten
250g buckwheat flour or plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp. cocoa powder
3 tbsp. coffee beans (or 2 tsp instant)
seeds from 3 star anise
1 tsp ground cinnamon or half a cinnamon stick
4 cloves (or 1/2 tsp ground cloves)
60g chocolate chips
60g chopped walnuts
40g chopped brazil nuts

Preheat the oven to 180c.

  • With a pestle and mortar, grind the coffee beans, anise seeds, cloves, cinnamon, then add the flour and baking powder together and add the cocoa and ground coffee/spices and set aside.
  • In a bowl, add the butter and sugar and beat together until creamy, then add the beaten eggs and beat in, finally add the dry ingredients and the nuts and chocolate chips.
  • Mix together well then line a cookie tray with baking paper and tip out the dough in a line and with floured hands make into a log shape. flatten it slightly then bake for 35 minutes.
  • Then remove from oven and turn it down to 170c and slice with a sharp knife at a slight angle and lay each slice flat and bake again for another 15 minutes until crisp.
  • Leave plain or drizzle with melted chocolate.

From Twigg Studios

* * * * * * *

‘November’ by Koloman Moser

* * * * * * *

Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds, of rainbow and granite, and stuffed them into a case, often of the most incongruous, for the poet has a butcher’s face and the butcher a poet’s; nature, who delights in muddle and mystery, so that even now (the first of November, 1927) we know not why we go upstairs, or why we come down again, our most daily movements are like the passage of a ship on an unknown sea, and the sailors at the mast-head ask, pointing their glasses to the horizon: Is there land or is there none? to which, if we are prophets, we make answer “Yes”; if we are truthful we say “No”; nature, who has so much to answer for besides the perhaps unwieldy length of this sentence, has further complicated her task and added to our confusion by providing not only a perfect ragbag of odds and ends within us—a piece of a policeman’s trousers lying cheek by jowl with Queen Alexandra’s wedding veil—but has contrived that the whole assortment shall be lightly stitched together by a single thread. Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind. Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights

From ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf

* * * * * * *

‘Ducks and Willows. Attenborough Reserve, November 2013’ by Kurt Jackson

* * * * * * *

The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It’s a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you’ve got in as many supplies as you can. It’s nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won’t find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.

From ‘Moominvalley in November’ by Tove Jansson

* * * * * * *

A Summer Exhibition at 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.

There really are so many lovely artworks to see.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings come alive when they are released from their green frames. I’ve learned that often images have had to be cropped, and that sometimes that have been re-coloured, or altered a little in some other way to fit that frame. 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.

This time around I thought that I should have a theme, and so I have chosen art that I think matches the season.

I hope that you will enjoy looking at them.

* * * * * * *

This whole painting is so much more effective than the cropped cover image

‘Breakfast Piece’ by Herbert Badham


‘The Little Company’ by Eleanor Dark (#191)

It is 1941 and the storm clouds of war gather over Australia. In the mountains outside Sydney the Massey family are reunited by their father’s death. Gilbert is a successful novelist, struggling with a writer’s block in middle age. A socialist and intellectual, he shares his political understanding – and fears – with his sister Marty and Marxist brother Nick. But he is locked in an unhappy marriage with a woman of little imagination and obsessive respectability, and their daughters, Prue and Virginia, are as incompatible as their parents. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour war becomes a reality. As Gilbert and his family are overtaken by the forces of history they must come to terms with their personal and public failures, and watch as the new generation inevitably mirrors the contradictions and turmoil of the old.’

* * * * * * *

I wonder what she is thinking …

‘Portrait Of Lady Markham’ by Edward John Poynter


‘The Clever Women of the Family’ by Charlotte Mary Yonge (#188)

‘At the age of twenty-five Rachel Curtis, daughter of the squire of the Homestead, considers herself ‘the clever woman of he family’. Rejecting the idea of marriage, she seeks, instead, a mission in life. An avid reader of popular tracts, Rachel’s dream is to mould young minds with her high educational ideals. But her theories are not tempered by experience, and in a long and painful lesson she comes to learn that her true mission is not the one she had imagined. First published in 1865, this is a compelling novel by Charlotte Yonge, one of the greatest story-tellers of her age. Upholding the traditions of Victorian England, it gives a fascinating insight into the ways in which middle-class women were denied personal ambition and taught that devotion and self-sacrifice were the highest virtues to which a woman should aspire.’

* * * * * * *

I know this painting from the cover of one VMC and the cover of a different cover of another VMC

‘Showing A Preference’ by John Calcott Horsley.


‘The Rector and The Doctor’s Family’ by Margaret Oliphant (#227)

‘These two short novels raise the curtain on an entrancing new world for all who love Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Trollope’s “Barsetshire Chronicles”. The cast ranges from tradesmen to aristocracy and clergy… The Rector opens as Carlingford awaits the arrival of their new rector. Will he be high church or low? And – for there are numerous unmarried ladies in Carlingsford – will he be a bachelor? After fifteen years at All Souls the Rector fancies himself immune to womanhood: he is yet to encounter the blue ribbons and dimples of Miss Lucy Wodehouse. The Doctor’s Family introduces us to the newly built quarter of Carlingford where young Dr Rider seeks his living. Already burdened by his improvident brother’s return from Australia, he is appalled when his brother’s family and sister-in-law follow him to Carlingford. But the susceptible doctor is yet to discover Nettie’s attractions – and her indomitable Australian will.’

* * * * * * *

This book is sitting on my bedside table, ready to be read very soon

Far Away Thoughts by John William Godward


‘Maurice Guest’ by Henry Handel Richardson (#49)

‘Maurice Guest comes to Leipzig, the music capital of Europe, to realize his dream of becoming a great pianist.  However, in its bohemian and heady atmosphere he encounters not exaltation and inspiration but coarseness, greed and ambition.  For his muse he turns to Louise Dufrayer, an exotic and languid pianist.  Louise has recently been deserted by her own obsessive love, the resident composer and reigning genius, Schilsky.  Now her capricious demands on Maurice’s time and energy destroy whatever slight chance he may have had at distinguishing himself. The more he slides into failure, the more striking the contrast between him and the absent Schilsky, who still holds first place in Louise’s thoughts and feeling.  The degradation of their relationship runs its full course until jealousy and hatred are its only vital forms.’

* * * * * * *

This cover image really said ‘summer’ to me

Vogue  Cover Art (June 1922) by Meserole


The Way Things Are’ by E M Delafield (#290)

‘Laura has been married for seven years. On those occasions when an after-dinner snooze behind The Times seems preferable to her riveting conversation about their two small sons, Laura dismisses the notion that Alfred does not understand her, reflecting instead that they are what is called happily married. At thirty-four, Laura wonders if she’s ever been in love–a ridiculous thing to ask oneself. Then Duke Ayland enters her life and that vexing question refuses to remain unanswered . . . With Laura, beset by perplexing decisions about the supper menu, the difficulties of appeasing Nurse, and the necessity of maintaining face within the small village of Quinnerton, E.M. Delafield created her first “Provincial Lady”. And in the poignancy of Laura’s doubts about her marriage, she presents a dilemma which many women will recognise.’

* * * * * * *

I can easily believe that the lady in this painting is the heroine of the novel

Summer by John Atkinson Grimshaw


‘Joanna Godden’ by Sheila Kaye-Smith (#115)

‘Joanna Godden is a “damn fine woman.” On the death of her father in 1897 all her neighbors expect her to marry, for someone–some man–must run Little Ansdore, the Sussex farm she inherits. But Joanna is a person of independent mind, and decides to run it herself. Her spirit is almost broken by her defiance of convention and the inexorable demands of the land itself. But nothing can finally defeat her: she bounces off the page triumphant, one of the most ebullient, most attractive heroines in literature.’

* * * * * * *

This was the obvious book to close this summer exhibition

‘Mrs Hone’ by William Orpen


‘The Last of Summer’ by Kate O’Brien (#349)

‘Travelling through Ireland, French actress Angele Maury abandons her group of friends and takes herself instead to picturesque Drumaninch, the birthplace of her dead father. She has come to make sense of her past, and is absorbed into the strange, idiosyncratic world of her cousins, the Kernahans. Self-conscious with her pale, exotic beauty, Angele finds herself seduced first by the beauty of Ireland and then by the love of two men, as history threatens to repeat itself in a perfectly structured psychological love story.’

* * * * * * *

That’s the last painting in this little exhibition, but I’m already dusting off more for an autumn show.

Do let me know if you have any particular favourite cover paintings, or any suggestions for future exhibitions.

Glass: A Collection

The two of us won’t share a glass together
Be it of water or of sweet red wine;
We won’t be kissing, in the morning either
Nor, late at night, enjoy an evening shine…
You breathe the sun, I breathe the moon; however
We are united by one love forever.

I always have with me my true soul mate,
You have with you your ever-merry girlfriend;
Yet I’m acquainted with your eye’s dismay
As you’re the reason of my lifelong ailment.
The length of our dates won’t be increased,
That’s how, it’s doomed, to honor our peace.

Yet, it’s my breath that flows in your rhymes
While in my rhymes your voice is singing clear;
Oh’ neither oblivion, nor fear
Will ever dare to touch this kind of flame.
I wish you knew how I am longing now
To feel your dry and rosy lips somehow.

Anna Akhmatova

* * * * * * *

‘Solitude Bowl’ by Celia Colman

* * * * * * *

“Part of her wanted simply to sit and stare out of the window, at the lawn, flaky with sodden leaves, and the branches with yellow leaves, or few, or none, she thought, taking pleasure at least in Shakespeare’s rhythm, but also feeling old. She took pleasure, too, in the inert solidity of glass panes and polished furniture and rows of ordered books around her, and the magic trees of life woven in glowing colours on the rugs at her feet.”

From ‘The Children’s Book’ by A S Byatt

* * * * * * *

‘Potions and Cure Alls’ by Victoria Appleyard

* * * * * * *

““While I dress it is my habit to read. Some book is propped up open against the looking-glass, and sometimes, for one’s eyes can’t be everywhere at once, my hooks in consequence don’t get quite satisfactorily fastened. Indeed I would be very neat if I could, but there are other things … “

From ‘In The Mountains’ by Elizabeth Von Arnim

* * * * * * *

Gothic Conservatory by Adale Rene

* * * * * * *

“I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don’t know how far you could really see. I think about all the people before eyeglasses were invented. It must have been weird because everyone was seeing in different ways according to how bad their eyes were. Now, eyeglasses standardize everyone’s vision to 20-20. That’s an example of everyone becoming more alike. Everyone could be seeing at different levels if it weren’t for glasses.”

Andy Warhol

* * * * * * *

‘Amber Cairns’ by David and Melanie Leppla

‘Cairns have held deep significance for millennia. These Cairns, born of glass in heat and light, capture a brief moment in time when the elements are in balance. Each unique composition represents accomplishments, knowledge and experience gained, difficulties overcome and guidance for pathways yet to be travelled.’

* * * * * * *

‘Blue Monday’ by Caleb Siemon

* * * * * * *


glass blown glass

colossal potteries made tiny bottles
spindle necked, ovoid bodied, long footed
for perfume to anoint the dead
they were buried with their contents
flattening into triangular shapes
though always a long neck
an elongated tear
and a tear

it’s possible
no one can say no

bottles were also bird shaped
break beak or tail to open
shells, shoes, snails
and little boats
even dates in amber
and the heads of gods and men

glass unguentarium
aqua green and yellow
stoppered with cork or wax
the perfume inside expensive
refined not distilled
thousands in a store room

this is  the first century
Bay of Naples
for roses, lilies, violets
from Eygypt and the east
bergamot, cinnamon, cloves
perfumiers  are named on Pompeii’s wall

first find
in an abandoned room
painfully thin and broken
so easily smashed
the wall of the vase
less than a millimetre through
beautiful blue glass
in fragments
grave goods

From ‘Tear Treasury Poems’ – collected by Clare Whistler

* * * * * * *

‘Marbles’ by Margaret Morrison

* * * * * * *

“The two women sat by the fire, tilting their glasses and drinking in small peaceful sips. The lamplight shone upon the tidy room and the polished table, lighting topaz in the dandelion wine, spilling pools of crimson through the flanks of the bottle of plum gin. It shone on the contented drinkers, and threw their large, close-at-hand shadows upon the wall. When Mrs Leak smoothed her apron the shadow solemnified the gesture as though she were moulding an universe. Laura’s nose and chin were defined as sharply as the peaks peaks on a holly leaf.”

From ‘Lolly Willowes’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

* * * * * * *

‘Oeillets Bowl’ by Rene Lalique (c 1932)

* * * * * * *

No, I did not swallow or inhale the glass piano.
It has grown inside me like a crystal in salt water
or an alien cell, accreting keys and string after string
until one day I reached the full eight octaves.
Some days I’m loud. I growl bass chords
or sigh chromatically from a to middle C,
play a waltz or gigue until notes hurtle form my skin.
Still, I keep my distance. Clasped or grasped I’ll shatter
endlessly with every lovely theme and variation.

‘The Glass Piano’ by Katharine Towers

(Inspired by the true story of Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria (b. 1826) who believed that her body contained a grand piano made of glass)

* * * * * * *

‘Looking for Squirrels’ by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson

* * * * * * *

“She kept her glass dreams from him, even whilst she appeared to talk about them. He was an admiring listener, but she only showed him the opaque skin of her dreams–window glass, the price of transporting it, the difficulties with builders who would not pay their bills inside six months. He imagined this was her business, and of course it was, but all the things she spoke of were a fog across its landscape which was filled with such soaring mountains she would be embarrassed to lay claim to them. Her true ambition, the one she would not confess to him, was to build something Extraordinary and Fine from glass and cast iron. A conservatory, but not a conservatory. Glass laced with steel, spun like a spider web–the idea danced around the periphery of her vision, never long enough to be clear. When she attempted to make a sketch, it became diminished, wooden, inelegant. Sometimes, in her dreams, she felt she had discovered its form, but if she had, it was like an improperly fixed photograph which fades when exposed to daylight. She was wise enough, or foolish enough, to believe this did not matter, that the form would present itself to her in the end.”

From ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“I hope, in years to come, I shall hold my heart up and it will be a pane of clear glass, through which I see all, but nothing is distorted.”

From ‘The Folded World’ by Catherynne M Valente

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.

* * * * * * *

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 …’

* * * * * * *

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…’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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.’

* * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * *


Daffodil Dish by Della Robbia Pottery

* * * * * * *

“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

* * * * * * *


‘Daffodils in the Inglenook’ by Stephen Darbishire

* * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

“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

* * * * * * *


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

* * * * * * *


‘Daffodil Hound’ by Rich Skipworth

* * * * * * *

“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

* * * * * * *


Daffodil Cake by  Juliet Stalwood Cakes and Biscuits

* * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * *


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

* * * * * * *

“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

* * * * * * *


‘Daffodils and Violets’ by Mabel Tregaskis

* * * * * * *

“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

* * * * * * *