Anne Enright’s seventh novel Actress is a richly absorbing treat. Her story begins in Dublin, in the Bohemian household of Katherine O’Dell and her daughter Norah. Katherine is the stunningly beautiful actress of the title, as seen by the constantly scrutinising eye of her daughter. In the course of this intricately woven tale, we see Norah grow up and Katherine slowly descend from the peak of public adoration to fall into a pit of mental illness and public shame. But when she was in her prime none could touch her. Continue reading Actress-Anne Enright
At a recent family wedding we needed a poem for a nine year old boy to read on behalf of the groom. The Gert who is a Poet had the inspired idea of this poem by the punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, which hit exactly the right note. The performance was a resounding success. Continue reading John Cooper Clarke
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Here is a glorious little book, two essays really, that is deeply cheering about the capacity of humans to be makers and to learn new skills throughout their lives.
A S Byatt says she ‘can’t hear music’ and all the passion and sensual pleasure many of us take from music she gets from colour and form. The artists and creators she writes about are William Morris and Mariano Fortuny. Reading this made me want to rush off to Kelmscott House to see the works of William Morris and to Venice to see the Fortuny museum.
Byatt has loved the work of William Morris for a long time. She has Morris wallpaper in her kitchen, Morris tea-towels, and even sits on a Morris cushion. But she also gives poignant glimpses into Morris’ life. His wife, Janey, taken over by Rosetti, Morris himself, his plumpness made fun of by Burne-Jones in little sketches, his voyaging in Iceland when his life at Kelmscott House become too difficult with the relationship between Rosetti and Janey. But Morris grew to love Iceland. He learned Icelandic and translated some of the Sagas. His life is devoted to learning and developing his skills in design. He taught his daughter May to embroider by unpicking ancient tapestries to see how they were made. His colour and patterning are quite beautiful, and his designs still sold as fabrics and wallpaper.
Fortuny, whose work was new to Byatt, had the same inexhaustible flow of ideas and capacity to work. His wife Henriette was a dressmaker and worked with him on every aspect of his production. His passion for textiles began when he was a child and used to rummage through his mother’s collection of ancient textiles. here is a description of her collection in a book by Henri de Regnier, quoted by Byatt,
She made her first purchase in Spain: a blood-red piece of old velvet, embellished with pomegranates… A fine piece of dark blue velvet made in the fifteenth century, goffered with stylish arabesques. The shade is strange, deep and pure, like the colour of night.
Fortuny designed dresses with a pleat that was unique to his work. It is still not clear how these fine permanent pleats were made. (I couldn’t help thinking that this is where Issy Miyake got his idea for his ‘pleats please’ collection.) Famous women and aristocrats wore his light diaphanous dresses based on Greek sculpture, but the most famous wearer of Fortuny was Albertine in Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. here is a description of her Fortuny cloak,
It swarmed with Arabic ornaments, like Venice, like the Venetian palaces hidden like sultan’s wives behind a screen of pierced stone, like the bindings in the Ambrosian library, like the columns from which the oriental birds that symbolised alternately life and death were repeated in the mirror of the fabric, of an intense blue which, as my gaze extended over it, was changed into a malleable gold, by those same transmutations which, before the advancing gondola, change into flaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal. And the sleeves were lined with a cherry pink, which is so peculiarly Venetian that it is called Tiepolo pink.
A celebration of colour and creativity manifested by two quite different sensibilities. This little book is a must read for those who love such things.
A recent delightful review on the blog His Futile Preoccupations of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s book Getting it Right gives us glimpses into the life of Gavin, the sweet natured, imposed upon, protagonist who also happens to be a hairdresser. We see the missed lunches, the arrogant and lazy salon owner, the clients who vary from pitiable to rudely demanding, and the toll it takes on Gavin to remain calm under all these pressures. (The fact that he lives with his parents who also have to be tip-toed around does not help.) Continue reading The Matisse Stories- A S Byatt
Everyone’s talking about the coronavirus, but life was much more dangerous in the past…. Continue reading Jawfaln, Lethargie and Tissick
Once I bought a house with a roof terrace from where I would be able to observe the sea, and ships passing by. Continue reading Pigeons