Posts Tagged ‘1988’

Stevie Smith: A Critical Biography (book #127)

20 July 2014

Frances Spalding, 1988.

Smith provided an introduction and captions to Cats in Colour, a 1959 book of photographs of cats. She wrote “arch chatty captions, inferring human intent from the cat’s look or pose,” but wrote in the introduction

It is we who have made these little catsy-watsies so sweet, have dressed them and set up them up, in their cultivated coats and many markings, and thrown our own human love upon them and with it our own egocentricity and ambition … Really to look in an animal’s eyes is to be aware of stupidity, so blank and shining those eyes are, so cold. It is mind that lights the human eyes, but what mind have animals? We do not know, and as we do not like to know, we make up stories about them, give our own feelings and thoughts to our poor pets …

Read since I last posted:

The All You Can Dream Buffet, Barbara O’Neal
The Saxon Shore, Jessie Mothersole (which I shall blog)
Her Last Breath, Linda Castillo
Delusion in Death, J D Robb (re-read)
Seduction in Death, J D Robb (re-read)
Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain, Arthur Weigall (which I shall blog)
Catching Snowflakes, Nora Roberts (two novels, one of which was a re-read)
The Return of Rafe MacKade, Nora Roberts
Christmas Magic, Nora Roberts (two novels)
The Heir of the Castle, Scarlet Wilson

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Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (book #107)

21 June 2011

Perry Nodelman, 1988.

Most of the books he discusses are American, so there were a few I hadn’t heard of. One was Trina Schart Hyman, who – among other books – illustrated Snow White with romantic images, some of which are here. There is an interview here, and a bibliography and biography on the same site, wch also has information on other women illustrators of children’s books.

I also found the Sur La Lune Fairy Tales Blog when looking for this, wch is worth a read.

Another book I haven’t read he talks about is Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There – about a child stolen away by goblins and rescued by her older sister. The Amazon reviews describe it as dark and frightening. He says

Before she was two, my own daughter insisted that we read her Outside Over There again and again. She did not express the same obvious delight in it that she took in other books and could not be persuaded to discuss the book or her response to it, but she always listened to the story with great attentiveness and carried the book with her wherever she went for some weeks. While many adults find such books disturbingly difficult, they seem to speak to children directly, presumably to a part of them that is eventually numbed by experience of the world and that may exist only below consciousness in adults.

I like the imagined dialogue here – the writer saying to the two year-old, “now, discuss the book and your response to it”.

Interesting stuff about Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present, wch I have read and wch is also illustrated by Sendak. He says that

“as Mr Rabbit and the girl discuss different colors, the green of the landscape around them is suffused with light of the color they discuss. As they discuss red the woods behind them contain red foliage … but as they discuss yellow the woods are lit with yellow-orange, and they walk towards a brownish-yellow road”.

He thinks that this results in a “calm serenity [tautology] … because of the unified concord created by their suffusion with tones of one secondary color”. He also says that the impressionist style Sendak uses contributes to a “calm peace” [again with the tautology] that balances some of the negativity of the text –

“a slightly nasty snippishness in both Mr Rabbit and the girl … she always seems to be accusing him of being a little stupid, and he always seems to be just a little sarcastic about how of course her mother only likes birds in trees”.

In the same way, he analyses how the illustrations by Garth Williams for Charlotte’s Web counter the lack of action in the text; it is “a surprisingly inactive novel – in fact, it is about how violent action is prevented, and it is filled with poetic descriptions that retard the action”. Williams “shows just about every occasion in Charlotte’s Web where people or animals are swept off their feet – Lurvy toppling over Wilbur, Wilbur in midair as he tries to spin a web, Avery turning a handstand at the fair. Even in less frenetic moments … Mrs Arable clutches nervously at her purse … Fern’s hands always seem to imply a hyperactive clutching or grasping”.

I like his description of “the matter-of-fact tonelessness common in European fairy tales”.

Talks about different ways boys and girls are depicted. “Those who smile and invite the gaze of viewers are most often female, the others usually male” – as in Shirley Hughes’s Lucy and Tom’s Christmas: “Tom looks in his Christmas stocking while Lucy sits on the bed and smiles out at viewers”. Nodelman calls this complicity with our gaze the act of “willing victims”.

The book also discusses whether picture books use techniques from films, and finds that mostly they don’t – “most pictures in most picture books are middle-distance or long shots, showing full figures in settings, usually seen at eye level”.

Talks about some pictures requiring more “reading” than others, and quotes Lamb on Hogarth: “His graphic representations are indeed books: they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meanings of words. Other pictures we look at – his prints we read” (source here).

Mentions Richard Redgrave’s painting The Poor Teacher, wch I hadn’t come across before.

The book ends by quoting from Peter Rushforth’s novel about the Holocaust, Kindergarten, a description “of a picture in a fictional picture book: an illustration made by a character in the novel for the tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel'”:

The little boy, and the younger girl, stood hand in hand at the edge of an immense dark forest, towering high above them, dressed in the fashion of the 1930s, the little girl with an elaborately woven shawl around her shoulders. They filled most of the picture, standing in the centre of the scene. The girl was looking in front of her, into the forest, and seemed frightened. The boy was looking over his shoulder, back the way he had come, looking straight into the face of anyone looking at the picture. The details were as intensely-observed as in a Victorian genre-painting, and the boy’s open, unguarded face could be studied in a detailed way that one could only give a face to in a painting or a photograph, or the face of someone who was loved, and who returned that love.

Nodelman follows this by saying that “the joining together of the objective detachment of art and the vulnerability of love say more about what picture-book art offers children than I could say in many pages”.

No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting (book #94)

22 February 2011

Anne L Macdonald, 1988.

A fascinating book, though it needs more crochet references. And if it were written now it would be differently feminist, I think.

Here is Washington “conducting plantation affairs by correspondence with his manager”, in several letters.

Doll at the Ferry must be taught to Knit and MADE to do a sufficient day’s work of it, otherwise (if suffered to be idle) many more will walk in her steps. Lame Peter, if no body else will, must teach her, and she must be brought to the house for that purpose.

The deficiency of Stockings is another instance of the villainy of those I have about me, for, as you justly observe, it is impossible for that Lame Peter and Sarah’s work could amount to no more than 60 pair. The Gardener’s Wife must NOW see that there is a just return of all that is given out and taken in, and when the work is handed over by her, to you. I am persuaded it will be safe. Let the Gardener’s wife give work to, and receive it from Lame Peter, as well as others; and then the whole will come under one head. Their reports ought to be dated.

And can Lucy find sufficient employment in the Kitchen? It was expected her leisure hours, of which I conceive she must have very many from Cooking, would be employed in knitting, of which Peter and Sarah do too little.

The same attention ought to be given to Peter (and I suppose to Sarah likewise,) or the Stockings will be knit too small for those for whom they are intended; such being the idleness, and deceit of these people.

The book is dedicated to a Peter – I like to think that this is in recognition of Lame Peter.

Macdonald identifies knitting as part of war culture. For instance, she mentions songs about knitting from the Second World War, such as five separate songs called “Knittin’ from Britain” in 1941, “Knit One, Purl Two” recorded by Glenn Miller, “Knittin’ on a Mitten” and “Stick to Your Knittin’, Kitten”. She quotes two 1918 plays. The Knitting Club Meets or Just Back from France, in which Jane, “very slender [with] a spiritual face … dressed in a shabby tailor suit, somewhat out of date, but with neat hat, gloves, and shoes” tells the members of a knitting group about what she has seen in Red Cross camps in France, energising people like Lucy, “a rather silly person dressed in the height of fashion, [carrying] a magnificent knitting bag”. Another play from the same year is The Knitting Girls Count One.

And a silly bit for J – “famed golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias’s comment … “When I really want to blast one, I just loosen my girdle and let ‘er fly”.

The M helped me write this entry by reading bits out to me. The M says “I liked the pictures because they are black and white, not like normal pictures now, and there’s a picture of a little girl knitting with her grandma, and their swimming costumes are not like the swimming costumes we have now because they are knitted”.

Cartoon, about 1870, spoofing the Sorosis Society – an early women’s club.

Cartoon spoofing the Sorosis Society, c 1870.

The Winding of the Skein, 1868.

The Winding of the Skein, 1868.

Heel and Toe, 1873.

Heel and Toe

Winding Up the Yarn, 1897.

Winding Up the Yarn, 1897

Lines from “The New Woman and Her Grandam”, Nixon Waterman, 1897:

My grandam used to turn her wheel,
And spin the glistening tow;
Or knit a sock as she’d sit and rock
The cradle to and fro.
And when that sock was worn or town,
Oh, then with soft-spun yarn it
Was soon made new all through and through,
For my grandam she would darn it.

My grandam’s daughter’s (sic) spins
The wheel with her glistening toe,
The whole day long, for she isn’t strong,
So she daren’t work you know.
But when her wheel of polished steel,
With nothing to forewarn it,
Hits a snag kerplunk and gets a “punk,”
Why, she’s almost sure to “Darn it!”

(Judging by his book A Girl Wanted, Nixon Waterman was a pain in the neck.)