This pretty lady is Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (11 April 1749 – 24 April 1803),and this is called Self Portrait with Two Pupils. You can find some links to more of her paintingshere. I wonder if she ever got paint onto her beautiful (and beautifully painted) satin dress. I know I would.
You may remember me going on about Margery Allingham before. One of the four so called Queens of crime in the mid-20th century, she certainly my particular favourite (the others being Christie, Sayers and Marsh). I've loved her novels since my early teens and, even though I don't always remember whether I've read a particular novel before till I get stuck into it, this doesn't matter a jot to me as I love them just as much on a second read.
This one, which I got from my local library recently, is only the second of her long series featuring her celebrated detective Albert Campion. Said to have been created as a sort of spoof of Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert in these early novels is rather a foolish young man, or so he appears to most of the world. Of course this is a facade, as underneath this whimsical exterior is concealed a terrifically sharp intelligence and a great deal of useful knowledge. He has certain eccentricities, one of them being his manservant Lugg, an ex-criminal who fusses around him like a mother hen. As the years went by, Allingham allowed Albert to mature, and by the later novels he has dropped his "silly ass" mannerisms and become a more serious minded, though still extremely likeable character.
In this novel, Albert meets an American family on board a liner travelling to England from New York. The father, Judge Lobbett, is in some kind of deep trouble -- several attempts have been made on his life. Albert undertakes to find a place of safety for him and his two grown-up children, Marlowe and Isopel.He takes them to a secluded manor house in Suffolk, owned by an pair of impoverished young twins. All seems to be well, but then, soon after their arrival, Judge Lobbett mysteriously disappears while exploring an old maze in the grounds. A search gets under way, but soon everyone is in grave danger.
So much for the blurb. The plot is quite exciting, and though Allingham's novels are sometimes said to be adventure stories rather than whodunnits, I didn't guess the identity of the real criminal until it was revealed. But in any case that hardly matters because the writing is so stylish, the atmosphere created so brilliant, and the characters so likeable. Here's what was said about Allingham in a literary dictionary some time ago (sorry, I've lost the link!):
The novels and
stories ... are among the most distinguished in
the genre – vivacious, stylish, observant, shapely,
intricate and witty. They are unfailingly intelligent and
imaginative, even when they do not wholly succeed
Allingham regarded the mystery novel as a box with four sides
- "a Killing, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an
element of satisfaction in it." Once inside the box, she
felt secure: the genre gave her the discipline she felt she
needed, while allowing her imagination full play to provide the
"Element of Satisfaction." This she abundantly did from
her first crime novel in 1928 to her last in 1968.
To see the most amazing interactive panorama of a most beautiful library, just click right here [THIS IS A NEW LINK AS ORIGINAL ONE WAS BROKEN]. You move round it just by moving the cursor. If anyone knows where this library is, please say!
This comes from a site called Papervision.org -- I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I think it must be a software development company. You can see some more of their demos here, and clicking here will produce a fabulous undersea panorama complete with fishes which is also interactive (if it isn't, click on the little fish in the bottom right corner, where you can also make it full screen by clicking the rectangle).
Many thanks to Adele Geras for this link, which appeared originally on normblog
You may or may not know that this year is the centenary of Elizabeth Taylor's birth, and various things are happening to celebrate it. You can find out more about this over on Musings, where you will see a list of twelve novels and some links to who is hosting reviews/discussions of each one month by month. This month it is the turn of A Game of Hide and Seek, which is being hosted at Buried in Print, and if you click that link you will find an introduction to the novel and more info. As I read it fairly recently -- well, just over two years ago, actually (how scarily does time fly) -- I am simply reprising my review. If I'd had the novel to hand I'd have tried to update it a bit, but as I haven't, this will have to suffice. It's a bit skimpy, I'm afraid, and I do wish I'd put in those quotes.
When I read Simon's review of this novel a couple of weeks ago I really wanted to read it, and now I have. And it wasn't just because the leading character is called Harriet. I have read a few of ET's novels -- the usual suspects, Angel and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, and her last novel, Blaming -- and quite recently Nicola Beauman's biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor, which I blogged about here. Having read that fine book, which revealed among many other things that ET had a long-standing love affair while she was married, I was interested that to find that this novel is a sort of variation on that same theme. Only a sort of variation, though, as Harriet and Vesey's relationship is much more tentative and frustrating than Elizabeth and Ray Russell's seems to have been. In fact, though the workings out of the plot here are quite different, I was reminded at times of that wonderful film Brief Encounter, which is actually referred to in the novel at one point -- it had come out just a few years before. But the encounter in this novel could hardly be said to be brief.
Harriet falls in love with Vesey when they are both eighteen, and a significant part of the process is indeed a game of hide and seek in which they both end up hiding from the younger children in a hayloft. But their extreme shyness and inexperience prevents anything happening, though both clearly yearn for some development which never actually takes place. But it's not just this game that gives the book its title -- the game is also a metaphor for the nature of the relationship between these two people for many years to come. Vesey disappears to Oxford -- Harriet marries kindly but unexciting Charles -- Vesey, now an unsuccessful actor, comes back into Harriet's life when her daughter Betsy is a teenager herself. Life comes to consist of snatched meetings, lies, hidden, unspoken feelings. You can probably see now why Brief Encounter sprang to mind, and indeed the film does spring to the mind of Vesey's cynical ex-actress mother Julia, whose careless, selfish upbringing of her son clearly is at the root of his problems as an adult. Because Vesey, for my money, was a bit of a mess. It was hard for me to see what Harriet saw in him, but perhaps that was the point -- her feelings were a legacy of that childhood passion, exacerbated by the passionlessness of her marriage. The progress of their affair is so unfulfilling, so largely unconsummated, that it seems only explicable on the basis of an obsession left over from her teenage years.
I agree with Simon -- ET writes beautifully. There are many passages I could quote to prove this, but perhaps you should find out for yourself. I actually found the most enjoyable part of the novel to be the account of the early years -- the teenage angst, the paralysing shyness, the inability to act on one's feelings -- all very well done and entirely recognisable. But ET brilliantly conveys subtle shades of feeling all the way through -- I think she is justly being recognised now as a really important novelist.
Regular visitors to this blog will know that I have been showing paintings on Saturdays -- not every Saturday, but as often as I can -- and that I have focused mainly on pictures of women reading or women writing. I've now got really interested in women artists, and though I have a small collection of self-portraits lined up, some of the ones I put up in the coming weeks may be BY women but not necessarily OF women. This one, though, is a self-portrait by the Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (July 8, 1593–ca. 1656). You might have heard of her before, as there is a biography and a film, neither of which I am familiar with yet, though I am about to order the DVD from my rental service. I shall show some more of her work in the coming weeks.
Not, as you might imagine from the title, a book about cats, but the latest offering from that excellent travel writer and historian of India William Dalrymple. I have read and greatly enjoyed his White Mughals and have dipped in to several of his other works. This one was a Christmas present and I only started it a few days ago. It is in fact a series of essays -- nine of them, of course -- each one devoted to the life of someone who is pursuing a spiritual path in modern India. A hundred, or even fifty, years ago this would have been a normal and acceptable thing to do on the Indian sub-continent, where many religions have coexisted in relative harmony for centuries. But India, as everyone knows, is changing with incredible rapidity, and as it changes, the old beliefs and traditions are coming under threat. So, though in many ways inspiring and fascinating, these life stories almost invariably end sadly. The maker of sacred statues for Hindu temples, whose family has been following the craft for over seven hundred years, has taught his son the Sanskrit rituals and the modelling skills needed to follow the trade, but the boy wants to go to Bangalore and be a computer technician. The Tibetan monk has been forced to throw off his robes and fight the Chinese despite his vows of non-violence. The temple prostitute, dedicated to the goddess at thirteen, plies her trade in the backstreets, has lost two daughters to AIDS and is herself HIV positive. And so it goes on.
Each of these life stories is a fascinating blend of biography and history, and though I thought i knew quite a lot about India and Indian religions, I have learned a great deal more. William Dalrymple, who lives in India with his wife and family, writes wonderfully well about his adopted country. Good stuff.
Well,it is Valentine's Day -- not a day I tend to observe and indeed one I rather deprecatefor the ridiculous amount of money that is wasted on slushy cards. However, I thought it would be a good excuse for a poem, and here is one I am very fond of. But is it a love poem? It appears to be the opposite, or at least it is obviously a poem about breaking off a love affair. But read it carefully before you make a final judgement. I have to say it used to defeat most of my students, who got completely sidetracked by the personification in the second half. Something to think about, anyway, once you have opened all those delightful red-hearted cards I am sure you are all deluged with this morning.
Sonnet LXI: Since There's No Help
Since there's no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have giv'n him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.
How many women painters can you name? Probably very few, unless you happen to have studied art history and are interested in this branch of it. But here is one who deserves to be famous, though in fact her work was not really appreciated until the late 19th century -- Judith Leyster. Born in Holland in 1609, and died in 1660, she may have been a pupil of the great Dutch painter Frans Hals. Wikipedia says most of her work was done before she had children -- that figures! She does look delightful in this self portrait, doesn't she.
I read this for a book group -- one that meets face to face rather than an online one. We met last night, but only three of us had read it and our responses were pretty mixed. Simon was quite enthusiastic -- you can read his review of it here -- I was rather lukewarm, and the third reader said he'd been enjoying it but had stopped reading before the end. Sadly the one member who had really liked it was not able to come, and so the discussion was a bit truncated.
I have never read anything by Milan Kundera before and knew very little about him apart from the fact that he was Czech and lived in Paris and wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I don't know much more now, but at least I have a handle on the sort of thing he writes. "Philosophical", "experimental", "post-modern" are some of the terms that get bandied about in relation to his work and you can certainly see why. Immortality has a fractured narrative, uses irony and black humour, is metafictional (ie the author intrudes and draws attention to the process of writing), and no doubt makes use of many other devices that come under that useful umbrella of po-mo.
I think, to be honest, I was too lazy to really take it all on board and appreciate it. I ended up skipping bits of the novel, something the writer clearly anticipates that his readers will do and reprimands them for towards the end. But in spite of all that, I have been left with a sort of fascinated after-taste, if you can imagine that sort of thing. The story that runs through the novel, of Alice the lute-player and her sister Laura, their various lovers, and the man who marries both of them (not at the same time, of course) is in fact rather enthralling and some of the connections that are made are startling and ultimately satisfying. So, rather to my surprise, I find myself wanting to read another of MK's novels, though perhaps not straight away.