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.

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What a difference when you see the whole painting!

Donna Sol Balcone by Ubaldo Oppi

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‘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.’

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

‘Portrait of a Midinette’ by Herbert James Gunn

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‘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.’

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An intriguing match of book and artwork

‘Hector and Andromache’ by Giorgio di Chirico

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‘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.’

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The author and the artist were worlds apart

‘Room in Brooklyn’ by Edward Hopper

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‘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… ‘

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I wish the book was as famous as the artist

‘Regina Cordium’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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‘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.’

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Such a different impression when you see the whole painting

‘Interior’ by Duncan Grant

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‘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.’

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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

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‘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.’

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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

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‘November Window, Reflecting’ by Victoria Crowe

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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

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‘Old Essex in November’ by Sir George Clausen

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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

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

* * * * * * *

Listen.
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

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‘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

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‘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

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Spiced Mocha Biscotti with Walnuts and Brazil Nuts

Take:

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

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‘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

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‘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

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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.

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

‘Breakfast Piece’ by Herbert Badham

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‘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

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‘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.

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‘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

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‘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

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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

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‘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

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‘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.’

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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

* * * * * * *

unguentaria

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
contained

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
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Old New York by Edith Wharton (#179)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Calla Lilies by Hannah Gluckstein

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A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall (#267)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the last painting in this little exhibition.

Another one will be along in the summer.

I already have paintings and illustrations in mind …

Daffodils: A Seasonal Collection

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

‘The Garden’ by Sarah Teasdale

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Daffodil Dish by Della Robbia Pottery

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

From ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith

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‘Daffodils in the Inglenook’ by Stephen Darbishire

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

Hilda Doolittle

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* * * * * * *

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

Dorothy Wordsworth

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

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

From The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

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‘Daffodil Hound’ by Rich Skipworth

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“I want to steal something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

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Daffodil Cake by  Juliet Stalwood Cakes and Biscuits

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

‘To an Early Daffodil’ by Amy Lowell

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

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

 Beverley Nichols

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‘Daffodils and Violets’ by Mabel Tregaskis

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

Katherine Mansfield

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A Collection: The Romance of the Railway

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

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

From ‘A Wreath of Roses’ by Elizabeth Taylor

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‘Through the Marshes’ by Stanhope Forbes

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

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

‘From a Railway Carriage’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

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‘Trainy Day’  by Franco Matticchio

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

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

Translated by William Weaver

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

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

‘Railway Rhymes’ by C L Graves

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‘The Station, 1930’ by Lilian Gladys Tickell

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

Virginia Woolf

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‘The Tube Train’ by Cecil E Power

* * * * * * *

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

The whistle of the engine came again.

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

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

* * * * * * *

* * * * * * *

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

From ‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

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

Artwork by Allinson.

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

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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A Collection: With Love for Christmas

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

From ‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter

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

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

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

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

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‘Christmas Jewels’ by Sarah Sedwick

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame

Illustration by E H Shepherd

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‘Winter Solstice’ by Jo March

* * * * * * *

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

My Oldest Darling, Sassafrass,

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

Love to you,

Mama

Darling Cypress,

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

XOXOX,

Mama

Sweet little Indigo,

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

I love you so much,

Mama

From ‘Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo’ by Ntozake Shange

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* * * * * * *

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

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

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

 From ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ by Flora Thompson

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‘Christmas 1945’ by Annie French

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

From ‘The Herb of Grace’ by Elizabeth Goudge

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Illustration for ‘Good Housekeeping’ by Jessie Willcox Smith

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A Walk Through the Virtual Virago Art Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

This came before the better known television tie-in edition

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

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

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

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The writer, the artist, the knitwear: all Scottish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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