Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Al fresco with Miss Austen ...

You find me struggling with the garden, not an hour since I was hacking back the ivy (which is going bonkers - or should that be growing bonkers?) and potting up some pansies.

But my mind and inward eye was on Jane Austen's shrubs and borders which are what's on my ancient drawing board (a venerable and battered piece of solid wood that dates from my first week at art school more years ago than I care to remember - I may upload a photo of it some time).

As you see, I am still at the piecing and plotting stage after laying in a crazy quilt-style lawn.
Here's my original doodle:

Jane Austen's great-niece said:

"I remember the garden well, a very high thick hedge divided it from the Winchester road and around it was a pleasant shrubbery walk, with a rough bench or two where, no doubt, Mrs Austen and Cassandra and Jane spent many a summer afternoon ..."

Well, I have departed a bit from the rough benches I know though who knows they may yet supercede the more elegant wrought iron furniture.
Anyway, this is the current state of play.
Anything - or then again nothing - may happen in the next 24 hours.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dickens in Doughty Street

Charles Dickens lived in this Georgian terrace in Holborn, at number 48,  from 1837 to 1839, with his wife Catherine and (possibly more artistically significantly) his sister-in-law Mary. Two of his novels, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby were written here and his career was taking off.

But in the midst of success came tragedy when 17-year-old Mary died suddenly after a night's illness, possibly of heart failure. Just how attracted the 25-year-old Dickens had been to Mary during life is debatable. After her death, in his arms Little Nell style, it became nothing short of what might be called an unhealthy obsession:

"From her lifeless fingers Charles took a ring which he was to wear in memory of her his entire life. He dreamt of her every night for months after her death."

As Dickens himself said:"She died in my arms, and the very last words she whispered were of me ..."

Mary Hogarth is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. On her headstone is inscribed the epitaph he composed: "God numbered her among his angels".

Mary was the prototype of the saintly and virginal (some might say insipid) young women who populate so many of the novels of Charles Dickens.

So here he is, in later life with one of his dogs, revisiting the scene of his early years, the place where the angelic Mary had lived and died and there in the window are his younger self and the object of his obsession...
I don't think it is a coincidence that it is very much a rose-coloured image - though I have refrained from giving Mr Dickens a pair of spectacles!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mary Shelley - in the Gulf of Melancholy

Mary in the Gulf of Melancholy
This little image had been kicking around in the back of my head for ages - it's a kind of follow-on from doing the sea storm in the picture of Shelley's Surrey birthplace last year. So I took a break between the houses of Dickens to do this imaginary portrait of Mary Shelley using magazine scraps, cuts from a photpcopy of pages from an old book about Byron and Claire Clairmont with nicely yellowed pages and an inked monoprint I pulled and then cut out

A widow aged just 26, she had experienced more life, joy and tragedy by that age than most of us in a lifetime. The rebellious daughter of a rebellious mother (feminist Mary Wolstonecraft), she had eloped with a married genius, buried three of their children and suffered several miscarriages. On the plus side, as you might say, she had written the definitive Gothic novel and an enduring masterpiece. Frankenstein has never been out of print since its publication.

Already plunged in a deep depression following a miscarriage, the death of Shelley in a sailing accident when his boat was engulfed by a storm, left her bereft and (more practically) rather less than penniless in a foreign land in what she described in her journal as "a gulph of melancholy".

So here she is in her gulph (I must say I prefer her spelling for some reason) and I can now turn my refreshed attention to Dickens's Doughty Street home.

Fiddly stuff which as you see requires lots of soothing cups of tea to aid the old concentration ...
Mary, meanwhile, is now in my online shop at www.etsy.com/shop/AmandaAWhite
(sorry the link defeats me!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

New year, new house

First of all the very best wishes to everybody for the year ahead and I hope it is a peaceful and creatively plentiful one for all of us, wherever we are.

And to celebrate the atart of a new year, what else but the completion of my new house? 2012 is definitely going to be the year of Charles Dickens, it being the bicentenary of his birth and already, here in the UK we have had, in the past few days, a TV adaptation of Great Expectations and a radio rendering of A Tale of Two Cities.
As it happens both books were written at Gad's Hill Place.

As you see, I strayed from that original intention of including lots of garden ... the memories of the shawl and that wonderful quilt exhibition at the V&A last year kind of took over. I loved those old bedcovers appliqued with little domestic shapes which held significance for the embroiderer and the embroiderer's family. Like this one, made around 1850 and donated by the West Kent Federation of Women's Institutes to the museum.

So I have put in hearts to indicate Dickens's love for his garden (certainly not, by 1856 when he purchased the property, his love for his long-suffering and mentally abused wife which by then amounted to pathological hatred). There are quill pens and books, teapots, cats and dogs (which were a particular feature of the successive Dickens homes) and glasses of port.

And here, as promised, is a photo of my beautiful cashmere Paisley shawl which dates from around the same time, bought by me in a junk shop for about 5 shillings (yes, it was THAT long ago) in a Croydon junk shop when I was an art student and a gang of us would comb the surrounding junk and charity shops during lunch hour.
In the good old days when real bargains and very old stuff could be bought for a song.