A Virago Art Collection for Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Mirror’ by William Orpen

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

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

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

‘The Merry Go Round’ by Ernest Procter

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

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

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

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

‘June’ by Ellen Day Hale

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

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

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A Strikingly Different Choice of Cover Image

‘The Annunciation’ by Frederick Patrick Marriott

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

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

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

‘At the Piano’ by Harold Knight

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

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

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The first of a number of Virago Editions of this book

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

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

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

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

‘Les Ailes dans le vent’ by Edouard André Marty

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

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

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

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

A Seasonal Collection: Apples

It all started with an apple. Trouble often does, I suppose, and this apple was a real troublemaker – a Pendragon, red-fleshed and sweet, that I stole from someone else’s orchard.

I don’t know why I chose that particular day to make my way over to the island. After years of staring longingly across the water, it suddenly seemed urgent that I make it there, that I put my foot on the shore. When I arrived I practically fell into the orchard, plucking the shiny red apple from the branch without a second thought. With the first bite of that apple I was lost.’

From ‘A Sky Painted Gold’ by Laura Wood

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‘Green Apples’ by Dorothy Johnstone

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A shower of apples fell down around her as she tested the first branch. But it was strong enough to hold her. She took a deep breath and swung up. The bark scraped and furrowed her shins and thighs and stomach as she threw herself into the gnarled arms of the tree.

She had to scramble painfully for every foothold and handhold. Once a branch broke with a groan under the trusting sole of her foot and she hung in agony by her hands, hung up between earth and heaven, kicking blindly for a safe, solid thing in a world all shifting leaves and shadows. Apples tumbled continually as she moved, and the waning moon blinked between leaves that thrust leathery hands spitefully into her eyes and into her gasping mouth.

From ‘The Magic Toyshop’ by Angela Carter

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‘Apple Tree Branch’ by Elizabeth Boott Duveneck (1883)

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But surely Adam can not be excused,
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame;
What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame,
For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

Who being framed by God’s eternal hand,
The perfectest man that ever breathed on earth;
And from God’s mouth received that straight command,
The breach whereof he knew was present death:
Yea having power to rule both Sea and Land,
Yet with one Apple won to loose that breath
Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.

From ‘Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women’ by Amelia Lanyer

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‘Apples’ by Clarice Cliff (Bookends c 1931)

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“And when I brought out the baked apples from the closet, and hoped our friends would be so very obliging as to take some, ‘Oh!’ said he, directly, ‘there is nothing in the way of fruit half so good, and these are the finest looking home-baked apples I ever saw in my life.’ That, you know, was so very — And I am sure, by his manner, it was no compliment. Indeed they are very delightful apples, and Mrs. Wallis does them full justice — only we do not have them baked more than twice, and Mr. Woodhouse made us promise to have them done three times — but Miss Woodhouse will be so good as not to mention it. The apples themselves are the very finest sort for baking, beyond a doubt; all from Donwell — some of Mr. Knightley’s most liberal supply. He sends us a sack every year; and certainly there never was such a keeping apple any where as one of his trees — I believe there is two of them. My mother says the orchard was always famous in her younger days. But I was really quite shocked the other day — for Mr. Knightley called one morning, and Jane was eating these apples, and we talked about them and said how much she enjoyed them, and he asked whether we were not got to the end of our stock. ‘I am sure you must be,’ said he, ‘and I will send you another supply; for I have a great many more than I can ever use. William Larkins let me keep a larger quantity than usual this year. I will send you some more, before they get good for nothing.’ So I begged he would not — for really as to ours being gone, I could not absolutely say that we had a great many left — it was but half a dozen indeed; but they should be all kept for Jane; and I could not at all bear that he should be sending us more, so liberal as he had been already; and Jane said the same. And when he was gone, she almost quarrelled with me — No, I should not say quarrelled, for we never had a quarrel in our lives; but she was quite distressed that I had owned the apples were so nearly gone; she wished I had made him believe we had a great many left. Oh! said I, my dear, I did say as much as I could. However, the very same evening William Larkins came over with a large basket of apples, the same sort of apples, a bushel at least, and I was very much obliged, and went down and spoke to William Larkins and said every thing, as you may suppose. William Larkins is such an old acquaintance! I am always glad to see him. But, however, I found afterwards from Patty, that William said it was all the apples of that sort his master had; he had brought them all — and now his master had not one left to bake or boil. William did not seem to mind it himself, he was so pleased to think his master had sold so many; for William, you know, thinks more of his master’s profit than any thing; but Mrs. Hodges, he said, was quite displeased at their being all sent away. She could not bear that her master should not be able to have another apple-tart this spring. He told Patty this, but bid her not mind it, and be sure not to say any thing to us about it, for Mrs. Hodges would be cross sometimes, and as long as so many sacks were sold, it did not signify who ate the remainder. And so Patty told me, and I was excessively shocked indeed! I would not have Mr. Knightley know any thing about it for the world! He would be so very — I wanted to keep it from Jane’s knowledge; but unluckily, I had mentioned it before I was aware.”

From ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

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Baked Apples with Spiced Oatmeal and Ginger Honey

10 apples
juice from 1/2 lemon

Apple Oatmeal
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup unfiltered and unsweetened apple juice/cider (or milk of choice or water)
1 1/2 cup water
2 tbsp almonds, finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground vanilla
3 tbsp butter (or coconut oil)
10-15 almonds, chopped

a large pinch salt

Serve
1 cup full-fat greek yogurt (or coconut yogurt)
Ginger Honey (simply stir lots of freshly grated ginger into honey over low heat)
10-15 almonds, chopped
ground cinnamon

Set the oven to 200°C / 400 °F. Prepare the apples by cutting off the top and then, using a sharp small knife or apple corer, scoop out the seeds and core in the center of each apple. Use a small spoon to scoop out enough apple flesh to make room for the porridge. (The flesh can be chopped and mixed into the oatmeal before filling the apples). Rub the inside of the apples with a little lemon juice and place them in a baking tray with high sides.

Add all the oatmeal ingredients except butter and to a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a boil while stirring. Lower the heat and cook until creamy. Stir in the butter (or coconut oil) and almonds towards the end and then fill the apples with the oatmeal, top with a pinch extra cinnamon and put the apple tops back on. Add 2 tbsp water to the bottom of the baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the apples are soft. Keep an eye on the oven as different apple varieties need different baking time.

Serve the apples on a plate, topped with a dollop yogurt, chopped almonds, cinnamon and a drizzle of ginger honey.

From Green Kitchen Stories

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‘Notes on an Empire’ by Sean Beavers

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 I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by William Butler Yeats

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The Silver Apples of the Moon’ by Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh

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There were two orchards belonging to the old house. One, that we called the “wild” orchard, lay beyond the vegetable garden; it was planted with bitter cherries and damsons and transparent yellow plums. For some reason it lay under a cloud; we never played there, we did not even trouble to pick up the fallen fruit; and there, every Monday morning, to the round open space in the middle, the servant girl and the washerwoman carried the wet linen – Grandmother’s nightdresses, Father’s striped shirts, the hired man’s cotton trousers and the servant girl’s “dreadfully vulgar” salmon-pink flannelette drawers jigged and slapped in horrid familiarity.

But the other orchard, far away and hidden from the house, lay at the foot of the little hill and stretched right over to the edge of the paddocks – to the clumps of wattles bobbing yellow in the bright sun and the blue gums with their streaming sickle-shaped leaves. There, under the fruit trees, the grass grew so thick and coarse that it tangled and knotted in your shoes as you walked, and even on the hottest day it was damp to the touch when you stopped and parted it this way and that, looking for windfalls – the apples marked with a bird’s beak, the bruised pears, the quinces, so good to eat with a pinch of salt, but so delicious that you could not bite for sniffing . . .

From ‘The Apple Tree’ by Katherine Mansfield

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‘The Golden Apples of the Sun’ by Edmond Dulac

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Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

From ‘The Painted Drum’ by Louise Erdrich

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A Seasonal Collection: Poppies

“Ask yourself my love whether you are not very cruel to have so entrammelled me, so destroyed my freedom. Will you confess this in the Letter you must write immediately, and do all you can to console me in it — make it rich as a draught of poppies to intoxicate me —write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been. For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair.”

John Keats

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‘Vase des Coquelicots’ by Odilon Redon

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They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy’s eyes.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” the girl asked, as she breathed in the spicy scent of the bright flowers.

“I suppose so,” answered the Scarecrow. “When I have brains, I shall probably like them better.”

“If I only had a heart, I should love them,” added the Tin Woodman.

“I always did like flowers,” said the Lion. “They seem so helpless and frail. But there are none in the forest so bright as these.”

They now came upon more and more of the big scarlet poppies, and fewer and fewer of the other flowers; and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever. But Dorothy did not know this, nor could she get away from the bright red flowers that were everywhere about; so presently her eyes grew heavy and she felt she must sit down to rest and to sleep.

But the Tin Woodman would not let her do this.

“We must hurry and get back to the road of yellow brick before dark,” he said; and the Scarecrow agreed with him. So they kept walking until Dorothy could stand no longer. Her eyes closed in spite of herself and she forgot where she was and fell among the poppies, fast asleep.

“What shall we do?” asked the Tin Woodman.

“If we leave her here she will die,” said the Lion. “The smell of the flowers is killing us all. I myself can scarcely keep my eyes open, and the dog is asleep already.”

It was true; Toto had fallen down beside his little mistress. But the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, not being made of flesh, were not troubled by the scent of the flowers.

“Run fast,” said the Scarecrow to the Lion, “and get out of this deadly flower bed as soon as you can. We will bring the little girl with us, but if you should fall asleep you are too big to be carried.”

So the Lion aroused himself and bounded forward as fast as he could go. In a moment he was out of sight.

“Let us make a chair with our hands and carry her,” said the Scarecrow. So they picked up Toto and put the dog in Dorothy’s lap, and then they made a chair with their hands for the seat and their arms for the arms and carried the sleeping girl between them through the flowers.

On and on they walked, and it seemed that the great carpet of deadly flowers that surrounded them would never end. They followed the bend of the river, and at last came upon their friend the Lion, lying fast asleep among the poppies. The flowers had been too strong for the huge beast and he had given up at last, and fallen only a short distance from the end of the poppy bed, where the sweet grass spread in beautiful green fields before them.

“We can do nothing for him,” said the Tin Woodman, sadly; “for he is much too heavy to lift. We must leave him here to sleep on forever, and perhaps he will dream that he has found courage at last.”

“I’m sorry,” said the Scarecrow. “The Lion was a very good comrade for one so cowardly. But let us go on.”

They carried the sleeping girl to a pretty spot beside the river, far enough from the poppy field to prevent her breathing any more of the poison of the flowers, and here they laid her gently on the soft grass and waited for the fresh breeze to waken her.

From ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ by L Frank Baum

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Rene Lalique Pendant Made Of Glass, Enamel And Gold

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“Fourteen months had passed, but Margaret still stopped at Howards End.  No better plan had occurred to her.  The meadow was being recut, the great red poppies were reopening in the garden.  July would follow with the little red poppies among the wheat, August with the cutting of the wheat.  These little events would become part of her year after year.  Every summer she would fear lest the well should give out, every winter lest the pipes should freeze; every westerly gale might blow the wych-elm down and bring the end of all things, and so she could not read or talk during a westerly gale.  The air was tranquil now.  She and her sister were sitting on the remains of Evie’s mockery, where the lawn merged into the field.”

From ‘Howards End’ by E M Forster

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Red Poppy (1927) by Georgia O’Keeffe

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Through halls of vanished pleasure,
And hold of vanished power,
And crypt of faith forgotten,
A came to Ludlow tower.

A-top of arch and stairway,
Of crypt and donjan cell,
Of council hall, and chamber,
Of wall, and ditch, and well,

High over grated turrets
Where clinging ivies run,
A thousand scarlet poppies
Enticed the rising sun,

Upon the topmost turret,
With death and damp below,–
Three hundred years of spoilage,–
The crimson poppies grow.

This hall it was that bred him,
These hills that knew him brave,
The gentlest English singer
That fills an English grave.

How have they heart to blossom
So cruel and gay and red,
When beauty so hath perished
And valour so hath sped?

When knights so fair are rotten,
And captains true asleep,
And singing lips are dust-stopped
Six English earth-feet deep?

When ages old remind me
How much hath gone for naught,
What wretched ghost remaineth
Of all that flesh hath wrought;

Of love and song and warring,
Of adventure and play,
Of art and comely building,
Of faith and form and fray–

I’ll mind the flowers of pleasure,
Of short-lived youth and sleep,
That drunk the sunny weather
A-top of Ludlow keep.

Through halls of vanished pleasure,
And hold of vanished power,
And crypt of faith forgotten,
A came to Ludlow tower.
A-top of arch and stairway,
Of crypt and donjan cell,
Of council hall, and chamber,
Of wall, and ditch, and well,

High over grated turrets
Where clinging ivies run,
A thousand scarlet poppies
Enticed the rising sun,

Upon the topmost turret,
With death and damp below,–
Three hundred years of spoilage,–
The crimson poppies grow.

This hall it was that bred him,
These hills that knew him brave,
The gentlest English singer
That fills an English grave.

How have they heart to blossom
So cruel and gay and red,
When beauty so hath perished
And valour so hath sped?

When knights so fair are rotten,
And captains true asleep,
And singing lips are dust-stopped
Six English earth-feet deep?

When ages old remind me
How much hath gone for naught,
What wretched ghost remaineth
Of all that flesh hath wrought;

Of love and song and warring,
Of adventure and play,
Of art and comely building,
Of faith and form and fray–

I’ll mind the flowers of pleasure,
Of short-lived youth and sleep,
That drunk the sunny weather

‘Poppies on Ludlow Castle’ by Willa Cather

* * * * * * *s-l1600‘Poppy’ from ‘Flora’s Retinue’ by Walter Crane

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“An amphitheater of mountains encloses one’s horizons and one’s footsteps. Today I climbed up to the eternal snows, and there found bright yellow poppies braving alike the glacier and the storm; and was ashamed before their courage… This is how one ought to feel, I am convinced. I contemplate young mountaineers hung with ropes and ice-axes, and think that they alone have understood how to live life… ”

Vita Sackville-West

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‘Red Poppies’ by Mary Cassatt

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“Night was nearly gone. All slept in the beautiful bright city of Osaka. The harsh cry of the sentinels, calling one to another on the ramparts, broke the silence, unruffled otherwise save for the distant murmur of the sea as it swept into the bay.

Above the great dark mass formed by the palace and gardens of the Shogun a star was fading slowly. Dawn trembled in the air, and the tree-tops were more plainly outlined against the sky, which grew bluer every moment. Soon a pale glimmer touched the highest branches, slipped between the boughs and their leaves, and filtered downward to the ground. Then, in the gardens of the Prince, alleys thick with brambles displayed their dim perspective; the grass resumed its emerald hue; a tuft of poppies renewed the splendor of its sumptuous flowers, and a snowy flight of steps was faintly visible through the mist, down a distant avenue.

At last, suddenly, the sky grew purple; arrows of light athwart the bushes made every drop of water on the leaves sparkle. A pheasant alighted heavily; a crane shook her white wings, and with a long cry flew slowly upwards; while the earth smoked like a caldron, and the birds loudly hailed the rising sun.”

From ‘The Usurper’ by Judith Gautier

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‘Poppyland’- Furnishing Fabric by Liberty & Co. Ltd. 

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“Lilia, holding a cup and saucer, wore cotton of an extinct blue, of a shade only less indolent than the sky’s – side-by-side on a stone bench, she and Antonia were under a twisted apple tree silvered over with lichen. Jane had found a bed inside a box-edged oval; and not far off stood the sundial, around which old poppies lolled, bees dozed on the yellow lupins. Below, the river had almost ceased to run; a nonchalant stillness hung over everywhere. It was thought to be about eleven o’clock.”

From ‘A World of Love’ by Elizabeth Bowen

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‘Poppies Prospect Cottage’ by Annie Soudaine

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“Scattered with poppies, the golden-green waves of the cornfields faded. The red sun seemed to tip one end of a pair of scales below the horizon, and simultaneously to lift an orange moon at the other. Only two days off the full, it rose behind a wood, swiftly losing its flush as it floated up, until the wheat loomed out of the twilight like a metallic and prickly sea.”

From ‘Between the Woods and the Water’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor

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A Seasonal Collection: June

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade?”

From ‘Gardens for Small Country Houses’ by Gertrude Jekyll

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‘Early Morning’ by Dod Proctor

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‘To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room—a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o’clock struck, when she wakened of herself “as sure as clockwork,” and left the household very little peace afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was full of sunny warmth and light.

On the drawers opposite to the little white dimity bed in which Molly Gibson lay, was a primitive kind of bonnet-stand on which was hung a bonnet, carefully covered over from any chance of dust with a large cotton handkerchief, of so heavy and serviceable a texture that if the thing underneath it had been a flimsy fabric of gauze and lace and flowers, it would have been altogether “scomfished” (again to quote from Betty’s vocabulary). But the bonnet was made of solid straw, and its only trimming was a plain white ribbon put over the crown, and forming the strings. Still, there was a neat little quilling inside, every plait of which Molly knew, for had she not made it herself the evening before, with infinite pains? and was there not a little blue bow in this quilling, the very first bit of such finery Molly had ever had the prospect of wearing?

Six o’clock now! the pleasant, brisk ringing of the church bells told that; calling every one to their daily work, as they had done for hundreds of years. Up jumped Molly, and ran with her bare little feet across the room, and lifted off the handkerchief and saw once again the bonnet; the pledge of the gay bright day to come. Then to the window, and after some tugging she opened the casement, and let in the sweet morning air. The dew was already off the flowers in the garden below, but still rising from the long hay-grass in the meadows directly beyond. At one side lay the little town of Hollingford, into a street of which Mr. Gibson’s front door opened; and delicate columns, and little puffs of smoke were already beginning to rise from many a cottage chimney where some housewife was already up, and preparing breakfast for the bread-winner of the family.’

From ‘Wives and Daughters’ by Elizabeth Gaskell’

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Illustration by Edmund DuLac for “Fairies I Have Met” by Maud Margaret Rodolph Stawell 

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“My second cousin and I came to London for ten days in the middle of last June, and we stayed there for three weeks, waiting for a fine day. We were Irish, and all the English with whom we had hitherto come in contact had impressed upon us that we should never know what fine weather was till we came to England. Perhaps we came at a bad moment, when the weather, like the shops, was having its cheap sales.

Things came to a climax one day when we had sat for three-quarters of an hour in a Hungarian bread shop in Regent Street, waiting for the rain to clear off enough to let us get down to the New Gallery. As the fifth party of moist ladies came in and propped their dripping umbrellas against the wall behind us, and remarked that they had never seen such rain, our resolution first began to take shape.

” Hansom ! ” said my second cousin.

” Home ! ” said I.

” England is no fit place for a lady to be in,” said my second cousin, as we drove away in our hansom with the glass down. “

I’d be ashamed to show such weather to a Connemara pig,” I replied.

Now Connemara is a sore subject with my second cousin, who lives within sight of its mountains, and, as is usually the case, has never explored the glories of her native country, which was why I mentioned Connemara. She generally changes the conversation on these occasions ; but this time she looked me steadily in the face and said,

” Well, let’s go to Connemara!”

From ‘Through Connemara in a Governess Cart’ by Somerville & Ross

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* * * * * * *

Ten o’clock: the broken moon
Hangs not yet a half hour high,
Yellow as a shield of brass,
In the dewy air of June,
Poised between the vaulted sky
And the ocean’s liquid glass.

Earth lies in the shadow still;
Low black bushes, trees, and lawn
Night’s ambrosial dews absorb;
Through the foliage creeps a thrill,
Whispering of yon spectral dawn
And the hidden climbing orb.

Higher, higher, gathering light,
Veiling with a golden gauze
All the trembling atmosphere,
See, the rayless disk grows white!
Hark, the glittering billows pause!

Faint, far sounds possess the ear.
Elves on such a night as this
Spin their rings upon the grass;
On the beach the water-fay
Greets her lover with a kiss;
Through the air swift spirits pass,
Laugh, caress, and float away.

Shut thy lids and thou shalt see
Angel faces wreathed with light,
Mystic forms long vanished hence.
Ah, too fine, too rare, they be
For the grosser mortal sight,
And they foil our waking sense.

Yet we feel them floating near,
Know that we are not alone,
Though our open eyes behold
Nothing save the moon’s bright sphere,
In the vacant heavens shown,
And the ocean’s path of gold.

‘A June Night’ by Emma Lazarus

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‘Spurge, Withyham , June 1909’ by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

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June 9th

“Life takes on entirely new aspect, owing to astonishing and unprecedented success of minute and unpretentious literary effort, published last December, and—incredibly—written by myself. Reactions of family and friends to this unforeseen state of affairs most interesting and varied. Dear Vicky and Robin more than appreciative although not allowed to read book, and compare me variously to Shakespeare, Dickens, author of the Dr. Dolittle books, and writer referred to by Vicky as Lambs’ Tails. Mademoiselle—who has read book—only says Ah, je m’en doutais bien! which makes me uneasy, although cannot exactly say why.

Robert says very little indeed, but sits with copy of book for several evenings, and turns over a page quite often. Eventually he shuts it and says Yes. I ask what he thinks of it, and after a long silence he says that It is Funny—but does not look amused. Later he refers to financial situation—as well he may, since it has been exceedingly grave for some time past—and we agree that this ought to Make a Difference.”

From ‘The Provincial Lady Goes Further’ by E M Delafield

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‘Boatyard June 1938’ by Eric Ravilious

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June puts bronze and crimson on many of her leaves. The maple-leaves and many of the leaves of thorn and bramble and dogwood are rosy; the hazel-leaves are rosy-brown; the herb-robert and parsley are rose-red; the leaves of ash and holly are dark lacquered. The copper beeches, opulently sombre under a faintly yellowed sky, seem to be the sacred trees of the thunder that broods above. Presently the colour of the threat is changed to blue, which soiled white clouds pervade until the whole sky is woolly white and grey and moving north. There is no wind, but there is a roar as of a hurricane in the trees far off; soon it is louder, in the trees not so remote; and in a minute the rain has traversed half-a-mile of woods, and the distant combined roar is swallowed up by the nearer pattering on roof and pane and leaf, the dance of leaves, the sway of branches, the trembling of whole trees under the flood. The rain falls straight upon the hard road, and each drop seems to leap upward from it barbed. Great drops dive among the motionless, dusty nettles. The thunder unloads its ponderous burden upon the resonant floor of the sky; but the sounds of the myriad leaves and grass-blades drinking all but drowns the boom, the splitting roar, and the echo in the hills. When it is over it has put a final sweetness into the blackbird’s voice and into the calm of the evening garden when the voice of a singer does but lay another tribute at the feet of the enormous silence. Frail is that voice as the ghost-moth dancing above the grass so faithfully that it seems a flower attached to a swaying stem, or as the one nettle-leaf that flutters in a draught of the hedge like a signalling hand while all the rest of the leaves are as if they could not move again, or as the full moon that is foundering on a white surf in the infinite violet sky. More large and more calm and emptier of familiar things grows the land as I pass through it, under the hoverings of the low-flying but swiftly-turning nightjar, until at midnight only a low white mist moves over the gentle desolation and warm silence. The mist wavers, and discloses a sky all strewn with white stars like the flowers of an immense jessamine. It closes up again, and day is born unawares in its pale arms, and earth is for the moment nothing but the tide of downs flowing west and the branch of red roses that hangs heavily laden and drowsed with its weight and beauty over my path, dipping Its last spray in the dew of the grass.

From ‘The South Country’ by Edward Thomas

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‘The Bride’ by Annie French

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‘It was a hot evening in June: the perfume of the lilac, now in fullest bloom, lay over squares and gardens like a suspended wave. The sun had gone down in a cloudless sky; an hour afterwards, the pavements were still warm to the touch, and the walls of the buildings radiated the heat they had absorbed. The high old houses in the inner town had all windows set open, and the occupants leaned out on their window-cushions, with continental nonchalance.

The big garden-cafes were filled to the last scat. In the woods, the midges buzzed round people’s heads in accompanying clouds; and streaks of treacherous white mist trailed, like fixed smoke, over the low-lying meadow-land.

Maurice and Louise had rowed to Connewitz; but so late in the evening that most of the variously shaped boats, with coloured lanterns at their bows, were returning when they started.

Louise herself had proposed it. When he went to her that afternoon, he found her stretched on the sofa. A theatre-ticket lay on the table—for she had taken him at his word, and shown him that she could do without him. But to-night she had no fancy for the theatre: it was too hot. She looked very slight and young in her white dress; but was moody and out of spirits.

On the way to Connewitz, they spoke no more than was necessary. Coming back, however, they had the river to themselves; and she no longer needed to steer. He placed cushions for her at the bottom of the boat; and there she lay, with her hands clasped under her neck, watching the starry strip of sky, which followed them, between the tops of the trees above, like a complement of the river below.

The solitude was unbroken; they might have gone down in the murky water, and no one would ever know how it had happened: a snag caught unawares; a clumsy movement in the light boat; half a minute, and all would be over.—Or, for the first and the last time in his life, he would take her in his arms, hold her to him, feel her cheek on his; he would kiss her, with kisses that were at once an initiation and a farewell; then, covering her eyes with his hands, he would gently, very gently, tilt the boat. A moment’s hesitation; it sought to right itself; rocked violently, and overturned: and beneath it, locked in each other’s arms, they found a common grave….

In fancy, he saw it all. Meanwhile, he rowed on, with long, leisurely strokes; and the lapping of the water round the oars was the only sound to be heard. ‘

From ‘Maurice Guest’ by Henry Handel Richardson

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‘Three Girls by a Rock Pool’ by William Stewart MacGeorge

* * * * * * *

‘June is always, as I see it, a time of sadness, it has the poignant beauty of a deep read rose, prefect to-day, widely open on the morrow, overblown on the next day, only to end in fallen petals.

In June the summer that we have so long awaited has come at last and nature has reached her peak of perfection. Since, however, hope is man’s dearest lifelong companion, he will always find more happiness in beginning than in completion; the powers that be, when denying him a continuously perfect world, spared him a twofold sorrow, the aching void of completion and the weariness of satiety.

We live like mountain climbers; our supreme moments are not when we stand at the summit, they come at some earlier stage of the journey while hope and endeavour are carrying us ever a little nearer to the sky.’

From ‘A Cornish Year’ by C. C. Vyvyan

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A Spring Exhibition at The Virago Art Gallery

Here is another celebration of the art that adorns the covers of some of my favourite books.

The 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 work of the artists.

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

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The new edition of the book is lovely, but I am very fond of my old, green copy

Lyme Regis by Richard Ernst Eurich

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A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (#245)

“Passions intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbor Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory’s best friend, writes successful and melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and appalled by Robert and Tory’s treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs. Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson and the self-deceiving Bertram … an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances.”

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This is so like a very old picture I have of my mother

Mary Lapsley Caughey by John Butler Yeats

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The Fly on the Wheel by Katherine Cecil Thurston (#265)

“Isabel Costello’s return to Waterford causes a stir in the Carey household when Stephen, an upstanding lawyer, hears that his impecunious brother has become engaged to her. Outraged by Frank’s attachment to a woman with few material prospects, Stephen intervenes. But his actions are the prelude to a far more devastating entanglement – he and Isabel fall in love. As a married man with children, Stephen faces the full weight of society’s moral and religious opprobrium. For Isabel the consequences are equally circumscribed: a beautiful and reckless woman with no inheritance has little freedom in turn-of-the-century Ireland. This vivid portrait of social behaviour among the Catholic middle classes, originally published in 1908, is also a moving story of illicit love.”

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When the painting caught my eye it felt so familiar

Spring Day at Boscastle by Charles Ginner

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

“The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without “those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings.” Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism. This subtle, finely wrought novel presents a memorable portrait of the aftermath of war, its effect upon a marriage, and the gradual but significant change in the nature of English middle-class life.”

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A book I should love to revisit

The Violet Kimono by Robert Reid

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Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth Von Arnim (#395)

“As WWI looms, Anna-Rose, and Anna-Felicitas, seventeen-year-old orphan twins, are thrust upon relatives. But Uncle Arthur, a blustering patriot, is a reluctant guardian: the twins are half-German and, who knows, they could be spying from the nursery window . . . Packed off to America they meet Mr Twist, a wealthy engineer with a tendency to motherliness, who befriends them on the voyage. However, he has failed to consider the pitfalls of taking such young and beautiful women under his wing, especially two who will continue to require his protection long after the ship has docked, and who are incapable of behaving with tact…”

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The cover is effective but I’m not convinced that it suits the book

Bank Holiday by William Strang

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The Misses Mallet by E H Young (#141)

“There are four Misses Mallett. Caroline and Sophia are large, jolly spinsters with recollections of a past glamour to sustain them as the years slip by. Then there is beautiful Rose. Much younger than her stepsisters, she calmly awaits the event — or the man — that will take her away from their life of small social successes in the city of Radstowe. But she is independent and fastidious; no man, not even the eligible Francis Sales, can entirely capture her heart. The fourth Miss Mallett is Henrietta, who comes to share the conventional home of her three aunts. With her Aunt Rose’s beauty and her own willful spirit, she devotes her energies to eluding spinsterhood. Encountering Francis (no longer so eligible), she falls under his spell. As Rose and Henrietta both circle ’round Francis, they are forced to decide between sense and sensibility — and each of them makes the perfect choice.”

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The cover is effective  the whole painting is so much more striking

Dreaming Head by John Armstrong

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Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (#8)

“Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices.”

* * * * * * *

I wonder what she is thinking …

The Blue Girl by Mainie Jellett

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Two Days in Aragon by M L Farrell (Molly Keane) (#193)

“The Georgian house of Aragon stands amongst rhododendrons and scented azaleas, a testament to centuries of gracious living. Here, with their mother, their dotty Aunt Pidgie and Nan O’Neill, the family nurse, live Grania and Sylvia Fox. Wild-blooded Grania is conducting a secret affair with Nan’s son, Foley, a wiley horse-breeder, whilst Sylvia who is “pretty in the right and accepted way” falls for the charms of Captain Purvis. Attending Aragon’s strawberry teas, the British Army Officers can almost forget the reason for their presence in Ireland. But the days of dignified calm at Aragon are numbered, for Foley is a member of Sinn Fein …”

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That’s the last painting in this collection and this is the last of four seasonal exhibitions, but there are many more paintings in the archive and I am sure that there will be more exhibitions in the feature.

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

As Tonight We Have a Full Moon: A Collection to Celebrate Moonlight

“Just to love! She did not ask to be loved. It was rapture enough just to sit there beside him in silence, alone in the summer night in the white splendor of moonshine, with the wind blowing down on them out of the pine woods.”

From ‘The Blue Castle’ by L M Montgomery

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‘Une enfance dans la lune’ by Peinture de Benoît Moraillon

* * * * * * *

“I laughed on the way home, and I laughed again for sheer satisfaction when we reached the garden and drove between the quiet trees to the pretty old house; for when I went into the library, with its four windows open to the moonlight and the scent, and looked round at the familiar bookshelves, and could hear no sounds but sounds of peace, and knew that here I might read or dream or idle exactly as I chose with never a creature to disturb me, how grateful I felt to the kindly Fate that has brought me here and given me a heart to understand my own blessedness, and rescued me from a life like that I had just seen — a life spent with the odours of other people’s dinners in one’s nostrils, and the noise of their wrangling servants in one’s years, and parties and tattle for all amusement.”

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

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‘Moonlight, Rye’ by Harry van der Weyden

* * * * * * *

“The road to Nice ran up in front of them, along the opposite slope of the valley. But they could only see a small portion of it, as it takes a sudden turn about half a mile from the bridge, and is lost to view among the wooded hills. On looking round they caught sight of the other end of the road, that which they had just traversed, and which leads in a direct line from Plassans to the Viorne. In the beautiful winter moonlight it looked like a long silver ribbon, with dark edgings traced by the rows of elms. On the right and left the ploughed hill-land showed like vast, grey, vague seas intersected by this ribbon, this roadway white with frost, and brilliant as with metallic lustre. Up above, on a level with the horizon, lights shone from a few windows in the Faubourg, resembling glowing sparks. By degrees Miette  and Silvere had walked fully a league. They gazed at the intervening road, full of silent admiration for the vast amphitheatre which rose to the verge of the heavens, and over which flowed bluish streams of light, as over the superposed rocks of a gigantic waterfall. The strange and colossal picture spread out amid deathlike stillness and silence. Nothing could have been of more sovereign grandeur.

Then the young people, having leant against the parapet of the bridge, gazed beneath them. The Viorne, swollen by the rains, flowed on with a dull, continuous sound. Up and down stream, despite the darkness which filled the hollows, they perceived the black lines of the trees growing on the banks; here and there glided the moonbeams, casting a trail of molten metal, as it were, over the water, which glittered and danced like rays of light on the scales of some live animal. The gleams darted with a mysterious charm along the gray torrent, betwixt the vague phantom-like foliage. You might have thought this an enchanted valley, some wondrous retreat where a community of shadows and gleams lived a fantastic life.”

From ‘The Fortune of the Rougons by Émile Zola

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* * * * * * *

“So, now I shall talk every night. To myself. To the moon. I shall walk, as I did tonight, jealous of my loneliness, in the blue-silver of the cold moon, shining brilliantly on the drifts of fresh-fallen snow, with the myriad sparkles. I talk to myself and look at the dark trees, blessedly neutral. So much easier than facing people, than having to look happy, invulnerable, clever. With masks down, I walk, talking to the moon, to the neutral impersonal force that does not hear, but merely accepts my being. And does not smite me down.”

Sylvia Plath

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‘Studio in Moonlight’ by Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe

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She was wearing coral taffeta trousers
Someone had bought her from Isfahan
And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms
And the coral-hafted feather fan,
But she ran down a Kentish line in the moonlight,
And skipped in the pool of moon as she ran.

She cared not a rap for all the big planets,
For Betelgeuse or Aldebaran,
And all the big planets cared nothing for her,
That small impertinent charlatan,
As she climbed on a Kentish stile in the moonlight,
And laughed at the sky through the sticks of her fan.

‘Full Moon’ by Vita Sackville-West

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‘Moon and Tree, Hay Bluff’ by David Inshaw

* * * * * * *

“Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, even upon a dreamer’s fancy. As I stood there, hushed and still, I could swear that the house was not an empty shell but lived and breathed as it had lived before. Light came from the windows, the curtains blew softly in the night air, and there, in the library, the door would stand half open as we had left it, with my handkerchief on the table beside the bowl of autumn roses.

The room would bear witness to our presence. The little heap of library books marked ready to return, and the discarded copy of The Times. Ash-trays, with the stub of a cigarette; cushions, with the imprint of our heads upon them, lolling in the chairs; the charred embers of our log fire still smouldering against the morning. And Jasper, dear Jasper, with his soulful eyes and great, sagging jowl, would be stretched upon the floor, his tail a-thump when he heard his master’s footsteps.

A cloud, hitherto unseen, came upon the moon, and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it, and the lights in the windows were extinguished. I looked upon a desolate shell, soulless at last, unhaunted, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls.

The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection. When I thought of Manderley in my waking hours I would not be bitter. I should think of it as it might have been, could I have lived there without fear. I should remember the rose-garden in summer, and the birds that sang at dawn. Tea under the chestnut tree, and the murmur of the sea coming up to us from the lawns below.”

From ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier

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‘Moonlit Sea’ by Robert Borlase Smart

* * * * * * *

“But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumns trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.

From ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf

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 ‘Ill Omen: Girl in the East Wind with Ravens Crossing the Moon’ by Frances MacDonald MacNair

* * * * * * *

“Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and on to these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself, which is why they don’t carry a distaff. They’re not Fates, or anything terrible; they don’t affect the lives of men; all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky. Night after night, you can see the moon getting less and less, the ball of light waning, while it grown on the spindles of the maidens. Then, at length, the moon is gone, and the world has darkness, and rest, and the creatures of the hillsides are safe from the hunter and the tides are still.

Then, on the darkest night, the maidens take their spindles down to the sea, to wash their wool. And the wool slips from the spindles into the water, and unravels in long ripples of light from the shore to the horizon, and there is the moon again, rising from the sea, just a thin curved thread, re-appearing in the sky. Only when all the wool is washed, and wound again into a white ball in the sky, can the moonspinners start their work once more, to make the night safe for hunted things . . .’

From ‘The Moonspinners’ by Mary Stewart

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‘Mare al chiaro di luna’ by Shoda Koho

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“I think of you often. Especially in the evenings, when I am on the balcony and it’s too dark to write or to do anything but wait for the stars. A time I love. One feels half disembodied, sitting like a shadow at the door of one’s being while the dark tide rises. Then comes the moon, marvellously serene, and small stars, very merry for some reason of their own. It is so easy to forget, in a worldly life, to attend to these miracles.”

Katherine Mansfield

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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.

 

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THE FIRST OF TWO LOVELY FIREPLACES – AND A BOOK THAT I HOPE TO BE READING QUITE SOON

Madame de Chauffe by John Callcott Horsely

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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…”

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A STRIKING IMAGE FROM THE END OF THE AGE OF GREEN COVERS

Portrait of the Reverend Robert Walker Skating by Sir Henry Raeburn

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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.”

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THE FIRST OF TWO LADIES PAINTED BY HER HUSBAND

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

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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.”

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I LOVE THIS MATCH OF BOOK AND ARTWORK

Costumes pour un ensemble by Bernard Boutet de Monvel

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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.”

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A THREE VIRAGO AUTHOR ARTIST!

The Angel, Cookham Churchyard by Stanley Spencer

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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.”

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ANOTHER ARTIST’S WIFE AND AN AUTHOR WHOSE BOOKS I AM SPREADING OUT BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE MANY LEFT

The Artist’s Wife Mornington Crescent by Spencer Gore

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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.”

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MY FAVOURITE OF THE TWO FIREPLACES AND ONE OF MY THICKEST GREEN BOOKS

At Home, a Portrait by Walter Crane

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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.”

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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

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‘Barn Owl’ by Jackie Morris

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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

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‘Soft Night Descending’ by Catherine Hyde

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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

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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”

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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

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‘Barn Owl Slipware Jug and Cup’ by Carole Glover

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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

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Whalebone Owl c 1960

(Canada, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Hudson Bay)

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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

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‘Barn Owl’ by Hester Cox

 

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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

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

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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

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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

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‘Cuisine des Anges’ by Eugene Grasset

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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

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‘Christmas ‘ by Thea Procter

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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

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Gustave Doré – La nuit de Noël (detail)

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‘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

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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

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‘The Village Church on Christmas Day’ by Steffi Kraus

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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

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‘Christmas Morning, 1944’ by Andrew Wyeth

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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

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‘The Nativity’ by Edward Burne-Jones

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