Posts Tagged ‘2003’

The People’s Music (book #96)

23 February 2011

Ian MacDonald, 2003.

I read this mainly for the Nick Drake essay, though the others are also interesting. Argues that Drake had read about Buddhism and had a naturally Buddhist sensibility, “boiled down to the linked recognition that life is a predicament and that the world is ultimately an irreducible mystery”. MacDonald reads “River Man” as a description of enlightenment versus everyday life: “The river is the realm of material life wherein the senses wander and the mind gets lost in the flow of time and thought”. The woman in the song, Betty, considers “leaving the everyday life for the life of detachment,” but decides against it. MacDonald thinks the final lines “Oh, how they come and go” are a reference to reincarnation. Have to say this all seems a stretch to me.

Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses, 1670-1830 (book #89)

27 December 2010

Rosemary Baird, 2003.

Baird is the Curator at Goodwood House. There’s an interview with her about this book here (RealPlayer).

Guardian review
Observer review.
Independent review.

All these reviews are mixed, a bit unfairly I thought, though amusingly a line is used on the back of the book from the Independent review wch is not meant terribly positively: “The information pours from her pen like water from the fountains of Versailles” – cutting the next line “There is material for a dozen books here, too much for one.”

Quotes Mary Delany: “This morning I have been busied with idle visitors … dull as cats and mute as fish” (ellipses in Baird).

I like Elizabeth Montagu’s letter to her friend Elizabeth Carter describing her architectural changes to Sandleford Priory, 1765:

Mr Adam, I assure you is an admirer of the Gothick, but he says it is too expensive for us, so my dear Athenian maid – you will be a la greque as you ought to be, & I assure you there is a stately owl who almost every night solemnly paces over the bowling green … Mr Adam will contrive us an admirable apartment below and two good apartments above the stairs. (ellipsis in Baird)

Because of the wall/1811 story, I’ve been a bit obsessed by eighteenth century wallpaper for a while. There are a couple of interesting mentions of aristocratic women taking thought for the wallpaper of servants’ rooms. Here’s Mary Blount, Duchess of Norfolk, making notes in 1766 for the ongoing rebuilding and redecoration of Worksop Manor (see links one and two):

The attics were a source of some urgency: housing the servants was an essential priority before visitors could even be countenanced. The Duchess always thought of the occupants and their different levels in the hierarchy: one garret was to be hung with tapestries, and ‘Her Grace’s woman’s Room’ was to have an ‘english paper green and white mock flock’ and to be ‘same colour with the furniture’. In the attics on the south side there were some especially pretty schemes, such as ‘yellow Indian paper flower’d’ matched by ‘Yellow Damask bed window curtains and chairs’.

And here’s Elizabeth Montagu again, writing to her surveyor, Leonard Smelt, about his apartment in the new Montagu House (the site of wch I lived near for a while), asking him what paper his wife would like in her room:

one of the same pattern [as the fabric that Elizabeth Montagu had chosen for the room] or a grey, or one with flowers on grey ground, some of that sort I have seen very pretty

– bearing in mind of course that Smelt, who had been a tutor for the royal children, was not precisely a servant. (I think this is him, though Elizabeth Montagu isn’t mentioned; and I think he is the person this ode is to. Odd, the number of owls I’ve come across in writing these notes.)

Found some interesting stuff about the restoration of Worksop Manor Lodge, wch is evidently a different building to Worksop Manor, though probably built at the same time by the same architect (see here). There’s a vivid Telegraph article about the state it was in in 2000. In 2002 it was bought on impulse (see here and here) by a couple who had grown up in council houses, and who planned to restore it. The couple evidently did some work on the house but sold it in 2007, and there was an arson attack later the same year. There’s a brief note on Derelict Places showing the level of disrepair it was in in 2008 or later. (/digression)

The index is not very good – for instance, there are references to servants throughout the book, but only one reference in the index, to a three-page section wch doesn’t in fact contain much about servants. But the notes and bibliography are good, and the book has pictures.

Another digression. In failing to find a good link for “a la greque” I found this pome:

Mushrooms a la Greque

Half-way through the washing-up
I wondered if I’d invented you.

All the places we made love
have been pulled down
or converted into something healthier.

I burnt your letters, lost the ring
and, you not being photogenic,
I own no out-of-focus Polaroids.

Even last night is down the drain.
The mushrooms a la greque
an irritation in the u-bend

or something stirring in the colon,
urgent for release.

Sarah Maguire, from the ‘Back in Print’ collection Spilt Milk.

I like the equation of the end of a relationship with a dodgy meal.

And that really is the end of today’s digressions. No wonder I’m behind with blogging.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (book #5)

5 January 2008

By Harriet Scott Chessman. This is the story of Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia, who is dying. The book describes the paintings Mary (May) did of Lydia in the four years before Lydia’s death.

I resisted this book at first. It’s written in a way which seems direct but the meaning tends to disappear when you look at it too closely: for instance, when Lydia says of talking to Degas and finding in his face “a sadness, maybe, or a sense of pain. It was as if I had rounded a corner, in a strange city, and had come upon a scene of terrible intimacy: a man weeping, a child ill. Yet, before I could think of something to say, the city rose up before me again, with its elegant avenues and public spaces, its overwhelming buildings, looming, sharp-edged. Also, Lydia and May use an awful lot of French words, “n’est-ce pas?,” which is irritating.

There are some good things in it, however. I liked this passage:

… I think to myself, with hesitant pride, yes, I am, I am quite a good model, and as soon as I think this, I chasten and mock myself, sending my thousand little bees to sting me, and sing their disdain. How could you think, the song always begins, and the thousand bees hum and mumble and murmur into my ear, adding new verses as they find new places to thrust their stingers in. All you’ve done is sit here, they hum, and you’re not even pretty, you’re pale as a ghost and a bag of bones too, and then the fiercer ones sing, She’s changed you into a figure of beuty, through oil and canvas, but how can you think she’s pictured you as you really are?     
   I’m used to these insects … They fatten on my clover and apple blossoms and honeysuckle, and they practice their songs in the warm sun on my meadow. So I can’t blame anyone but myself when they come to sting.

The exploration of what it feels like to be painted was interesting, as well, though I’m not sure it convinced me. Lydia looking forward and seeing herself “outside the picture,” as she will no longer be there is also arresting as a way in which one might think about death.

Interview with Harriet Scott Chessman.
dovegrayreader’s review.