Wednesday 31 August 2011

That’ll do, Pygmalion

Again, I have been pondering the relationship between model and artist, and found myself looking at Edward Burne-Jones’ Pygmalion series, which struck me as an interesting example of how an artist sees the relationship between muse and maker. When Ned Burne-Jones met 23 year old Maria Zambaco he found his model, his pupil and his lover all rolled into one beautiful woman, but how far did her first role form the origin of her last, and what does Burne-Jones' work tell us of how he viewed the whole affair in retrospect?

Maria Zambaco (1870) Edward Burne-Jones
Some critics draw a parallel between Burne-Jones’ images of Maria and Rossetti’s paintings of Jane Morris, and certainly his portrait of her in 1870 resembles Rossetti’s works of the 1860/70s. Parallels are made between this work and images such as La Donna della Finestra (1879) or Water Willow (1871), and linger on the theme of dark romance threaded through each relationship. Equally, however, Burne-Jones’ portrait of Maria resembles Frederick Sandy’s work of the period, for example his portraits of Mary Sandys or Kitty Howell from the early 1870s, and there is nothing dark about his relationship with either of his models.

La Donna  della Finestra (1879) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Ned’s use of Maria’s image subsequent to the end of their relationship is interesting. His most famous images of her are definitely his later ones, possible tempered by self-knowledge and a dose of reality, so we are party to very honest images that reveal not only his feelings towards Maria, but also his opinion of his own behaviour. Very few artists are blessed with such honesty in their work and I find it the most appealing aspect of Burne-Jones’ paintings that the man is able to admit his faults so freely and with such perception.

Phyllis and Demophoon (1870) Edward Burne-Jones
Most people are familiar with Phyllis and Demophoon, and Maria’s likeness emerges from the tree to embrace her lover in what should be a happy reunion. Demophoon looks startled and not altogether comfortable with the surprise and Phyllis grasps him in a manner reminiscent of The Depths of the Sea (1886) as the tendrils of her dress bind him to her. I definitely get an impression that her wildness will hold onto her man whether he likes it or not, and Demophoon is unable to escape again, and is not much of a catch to start with.

The Beguiling of Merlin (1873-4) Edward Burne-Jones
O What's That in the Hollow E R Hughes
As Nimue in The Beguiling of Merlin, Burne-Jones shows us his lover as the ultimate femme fatale, with snakes in her hair, capturing her man through supernatural means. Again, there is an inability on the part of the man to escape and possibly to deserve his fate at the hands of his beautiful betrayer. I found Merlin’s capture in the tree to be interesting as it reminded me of the Briar Rose panels and Edward Hughes's O What's that…?, and also at some level, La Pia de Tolomei by Rossetti, where nature has concealed and captured, preserving and holding in some magical way. It is as if nature itself conspires against the ‘hero’ (or heroine) and acts as accomplice to the dark magic, taking possession of the victim in some sort of eternal limbo, waiting sometimes consciously, but powerless to free themselves until someone choses to free them. A strange mixture of this is Phyllis and Demophoon as Phyllis was the one captured as a tree but now she seizes Demophoon and the pose looks as if she is pulling him into her, whether he likes it or not.

The most telling sequence of paintings on the relationship between model and artist seems to be Pygmalion and the Image, started in 1867 with the final series of paintings realised between 1875 and 1878. It a series of self-reflexive works with an artist creating works of art about an artist creating works of art, but also it tells us something about ideas of attaining perfection and the insular world of the artist and his muse.  Like his ‘leader’ Rossetti, Burne-Jones chose a model with artistic ambition and under his guidance saw her talent grow. It could be argued that Ned watched the beautiful face he admired grow into an accomplished artist, possibly under his ‘shaping’. When she became a woman of beauty and accomplishment, they became lovers. Pygmalion also shaped his perfect woman in a more literal sense, before falling at her feet, smitten. However, his illustrations on the theme show cracks of honesty and realism which contradict the romance of the story.

I. The Heart Desires
As Pygmalion considers the Graces in his studio in The Heart Desires, two beautiful girls pass by outside, pale and lovely, but unheeded by the sculptor. In the shiny surfaces of the floor, the lower halves of the goddesses are reflected, just as the pose of the two girls outside mirror the poses of the goddesses on the far right. Reflection plays an interesting part in the sequence, as if to question the reality of what Pygmalion sees and wants, what is true and what is folly.

II. The Hand Refrains
In The Hand Refrains, Pygmalion pauses, viewing his blank-eyed beauty with a curious expression, both intense and wary, as if he fears the power of his creation upon him. Beyond his window, people conduct their lives, and a couple of women talk. This is the last time ‘real’ people are seen in the sequence, as if this is the last chance for Pygmalion to go outside and re-join the ‘real’ world. Within the studio, things have a strange diaphanous quality, calling into question what exists. The strips of fabric over the window sill are at once solid and vapour, fading in and out of existence. The jar in the doorway fades from view like a phantom, and the brush resting on the plinth of stone below the statue's feet seems ghostly. Reality seems to slip from Pygmalion as he prays for something impossible, something that is about him and his desire with no reference to the real world at all.

III. The Godhead Fires
The Godhead Fires provides solidity to the scene. The transparent fading of the previous scene vanishes, and a solidly carved pillar is joyously swathed in rich fabric. The diaphanous fabric of Venus’ draped robes, which appears to be water and dress combined, reveals solid flesh beneath as she brings life to Galatea. Oddly, Galatea and Venus mirror each other, their arms locking and Galatea moving to break the ‘goddess’ pose she held, now held by Venus.

IV. The Soul Attains
Pygmalion discovers Galatea in The Soul Attains and falls to his knees. Again, the outside world is glimpsed but not involved in the story, the sunlight and life contrasting with the shadows and swathed fabrics of their home.

Maria Zambaco
What do these images tell us of the artist and muse/creation and Ned and Maria? Although the story is classical and romantic, Burne-Jones infuses it with a level of fear and a sense of what the artist missed on his quest for perfection. We never see Pygmalion outside his dark room, forever seeking his perfect woman. It could be argued that Burne-Jones allows that the artist and muse relationship can only exist in isolation from others, and at its heart it is not real. The fleeting transparency of the vase and wraps give an impression of illusoriness, that although we are shown the story, we are simultaneously being shown the flaws in it, the untruth in the classical truth. Like Pygmalion, Burne-Jones experienced the fear and joy of kneeling before his perfection, but she exists only in that moment, untried by reality. I think the most painful intimation of the Pygmalion series is the suggestion of what is given up, what is sacrificed in the pursuit of perfection, and possibly in showing that point, these paintings are both an acknowledgement and an apology for artistic and personal folly.

Monday 29 August 2011

You Rang, M’Lord?

Both of my grandmothers were in service. Grandma Stonell did not last long after sneaking a bath when the mistress of the house went out and stinking the place out with hyacinth bath salts. Let’s just say service wasn’t for her. Grandma Daisy was in service at the time of the First World War and actually made the move from a small village in rural Wiltshire up to London, where she served with a family until she married in 1929. Daisy’s experiences in service must have been the very end of what was a very common occupation for Victorian and Edwardian girls. While researching for Stunner I was fairly horrified by Victorian service and how hard the life was. I wondered how many works of art showed life below stairs…

At the Employment Agency of the Domestic Service Hiring Office (1881) Fritz Paulsen
 Well, first of all you had to get below stairs. In this marvellous painting, M’Lady is picking a new maid from the bevy of hopefuls. Hmmm, well I’d go with the lass on the far left as she looks quiet, but with meaty enough forearms to cope with anything. The two next to her look far too chatty, they’d never get any work done and as for the one showing her ankles…that would never do. I’m slightly puzzled by the cherubic boy sitting by vegetable basket, but to be honest, you can never start your servants off too early.

Going into Service Richard Redgrave
 Far less fun, this image shows a girl being handed over to her new employer, an old woman. The mother acts as a link between the old widow and her Jane Eyre-esque daughter, who bows meekly against her mother. Although she seems be giving due deference to her new boss, she also seems to cower slightly to her mother’s side. Possibly the painter wanted to question if the girl is too young to go into service, maybe he just wanted to show a girl’s first steps into a life of servitude. Either way, I find the painting somewhat disquieting; maybe it’s the distance the young man is keeping. He is presumably the father of the young girl, but the deal seems to be between the mother and the new employer, with the father almost superfluous, which is an odd thing to say in such a patriarchal society. However in both of these pictures, the women seem to be sorting out business. Maybe it’s because the employment of female members of staff is the jurisdiction of Lady of the House, or perhaps the domestic affairs are definitely the concern of a woman. So are all paintings regarding maids purely female affairs? Well…

Did you ring, Sir? (1854) W P Frith

Sherry, Sir? (1853) W P Frith
Oh, hello… I’m relieved the first one isn’t called ‘Do you want me, Sir?’ because it is all rather open to interpretation. How nice to have a shiny ringletted girl bringing you sherry at the end of a hard day, but why exactly you would want a picture of that I’m not sure. Isn’t it interesting that her employer is not within the frame, but rather the subject looks directly at the audience. We are her master, which presumes that the intended purchaser of these paintings is a man. As previously covered, maids were normally the domain of the mistress of the house, but paintings of maids seem to be aimed at a male audience.

The Course of True Love Never Runs Smooth Paul Seignac
On the whole, maids and their employers don’t seem to crop up in paintings together. The above image is one of the exceptions to be rule. A young woman attempts to avoid her suitor for reasons unexplained, but stuck in the middle of their relationship issue is a girl sweeping the carpet with the longest handled broom I have ever seen. I think she has wandered in from another picture, as she seems oddly in the way of this one. Mind you, she may be a metaphor for the young woman’s state of mind as she sweeps the young man out of her life. With a really long broom. No, not a clue, no wonder servants and employers don’t tend to be mixed in pictures.

Maids of all Work (1864-65) John Finnie
Chatterboxes (1912) Thomas Kennington
Far more common are pictures of serving girls pausing in their daily chores and chatting, sharing stories. There appears to be a modicum of judgement passed on these women, the title ‘Chatterboxes’ is a little patronising and the 'maids of all work' don't seem to be doing any work. I particularly like the image of the two women sat, smiling and sharing a joke while one shells peas. See, being in service may be hard, but every day is a pastel-coloured smile-fest, or so the above canvases lead me to believe….

After the Party Frederick Hardy
Home Dreams (1869) Charles West
 I was surprised there were not more pictures of how hard service was, but I don’t think that the audience would like a daily reminder of the iniquity that existed under their own roof. There is a difference between the above pictures of exhausted workers and the desperation inherant in the paintings of slopworkers and seamstresses. Few would disagree that service was long hours and hard work, but the maids that doze off after a particularly long day are subject of affectionate humour, safe in the knowledge that she will have a roof over her head and a meal tomorrow. I thought the girl who dreamt of home was a seamstress to start with, as her pose is so reminiscent of the paintings mostly entitled ‘Oh, for one hour more, or I shall have to go on the game!’ or the such-like, but slopworkers worked from home, so I think she is a maid, darning late into the night, dreaming of her home after she dozes off. She probably has to be up in half an hour to start lighting fires in the family’s bedrooms.

So this was their life, until they married or until they died, and a hard life it seems to have been. Despite the number of pictures of nubile young maids, there didn’t seem to be many images of older female servants. Oh, except this one….

The Elderly Servant (1884) Leon Frederic
…and she’s only 23. Sherry, Sir?

Friday 26 August 2011

Millais and Me

When I was about seven years old, I received a jigsaw of Millais’ Cherry Ripe for Christmas from my maiden aunt.

Don't laugh, it was the 1970s
Nothing strange in that, that sort of thing happened a lot in the 1970s, before ChildLine existed. I look somewhat unimpressed, and that was before I’d opened the box and worked out exactly how many of the 500 pieces were brown (495 of them) and, after you’ve done the figure, how utterly soul-destroying it is.

Skip forward almost thirty years, and I was stood in the Tate Gallery, at the Millais exhibition a few Christmas’ ago, and what should I see?

Cherry Ripe (1879) John Everett Millais
Bloody Cherry Ripe. If any picture epitomises how much of a sell-out Millais was, it has to be bloody Cherry Ripe. Ripped gleefully from a Joshua Reynolds picture, after the little girl went to a fancy-dress party as Penelope Boothby and her father thought it was so darling he got Millais to paint her like that.

Penelope Boothby (1788) Joshua Reynolds
There are so many things wrong with that, I don’t know where to begin. Next time one of Lily-Rose’s friends has a fancy-dress party, I’ll send her as Penelope Boothby and see how quickly Social Services contact me.

As if to increase the level of nausea, the Tate had displayed the original ickle tiny shoes with Cherry Ripe. God preserve me, I thought. Then I realised something horribly depressing. Yes, Cherry Ripe is a revolting piece of saccharine commercialism, but bloody hell, it’s good. Unlike Sir Slosh’s fuzzy cuteness, you can see the curl of the hair on Cherry Ripe’s sleeves, and the lace of her gloves. The background is dull brown, but you can see random foliage, and cherries, together with some foxgloves symbolising youth (I have a weakness for foxgloves) and it only serves to draw your eye back to the sullen dumpling and her blushing cheeks. I wanted to loathe it, I really did…

One thing we are sure of, as Pre-Raphaelite fans, is that Millais went crap and commercial after the 1850s. While it can’t be argued that he made a shed-load of cash from his work, is that necessarily a reflection in a decrease of quality? Take this for example…

Leisure Hours - Portrait of Ann and Marion Pender, the daughters of Sir John Pender (1864) J E Millais
I saw this one at the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition on Millais portraits and I was blown away by the goldfish bowl. Yes, the girls are great, but look at how the image of the fish is slightly distorted by the water and the curve of the bowl. Then look at the reflection of the girl in the top of the bowl. Amazing. Try this one…

Cinderella (1881) J E Millais
It’s a quite odd image of Cinderella, a mixture of all parts of the story. She is wearing a rough grey dress that she rapidly seems to be growing out of, and her feet are bare. She holds a peacock feather and seems to have a tiny red cap on. She is holding onto her dream of one day having vanity rather than just an enormous broom. I began to wonder about the glass slippers – if they were pictured would we be able to see them as they are clear glass? Maybe she is already wearing them and one day the magic will kick in and she’ll realise they are there.

I feel like I’m asking for sympathy for the devil, but have a look at these images…

 It seems to be almost unforgivable to say that actually (whispering) Bubbles isn’t entirely without merit. Millais apparently used glass baubles to get the shape of the bubbles and the way the light hits them. Yes, I know, the poor child was forever known as ‘Bubbles’ even when he was an Admiral in the Royal Navy, but as a vanitas / momento mori image it’s pretty good. There is a lot of brown in the background again. Mind you, he does a good shoe.

I remember seeing Bubbles at the Tate and being horribly surprised at the quality, but that is the terrible thing about Millais. His style changed, but his ability to capture an expression never faltered. Look at this…

Sweetest Eyes Were Ever Seen J E Millais
Some of Millais’ girls are almost unbearably wistful, as if they are quietly desperate in their anticipation that something will happen, something good will come along and change their lives. Yes, she is a million miles away from The Blind Girl with its intricate detailing, but still the internal world of a pre-pubescent girl is just glimpsed in their expressions.

Little Speedwell's Darling Blue (1892) J E Millais
 As he was so prolific in his kiddie pictures, the sheer volume of them makes them easy to dismiss as Millais sell-out period. However, consider the white dresses and the vagueness of theme, and replace the adjective ‘crap’ with ‘aesthetic’ and see if you see them differently…

Dropped From the Nest J E Millais
Pomona (1882) J E Millais


To sum up my defence, Millais painted children, he liked children and a good many of them were related to him and his affection shows. Just look at some of Holman Hunt's pictures of his kids.

The King of Hearts (1862) William Holman Hunt
 They are terrifying and cute all at once, mainly terrifying. See the pictures in the flesh, then really look at the details – Bubble’s blue eyes waiting to see how long his bubble lasts, the shiny red apple in Pomona, Cinderella’s feather, and bloody Cherry Ripe’s exquisite hands.

Then again, I might have grown up funny if my Aunt had given me a jigsaw of Ophelia….

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Model, Muse and Marker

I have spent a goodly amount of time of late thinking about what it must have been like to be Alexa Wilding.  This is due to researching a book set around her life.  For this, I read Treffry Dunn’s account of Rossetti’s studio in the 1860s and Gale Pedrick’s No Peacocks Allowed which mirrors Dunn’s autobiography.  The wonderful thing about Alexa is that we don’t know much about her, and I was thinking about the many different ways that an artist and model seem to interact.  When we think of Rossetti and his models, it only seems to be a hop, skip and a tumble from sitting for him to his bed, but that isn’t true of all Rossetti’s muses, and certainly not true of all artists and their models.

I must have had the shortest modelling career in history.  In some ways, modern technology shortened it even more as all the artist needed to do was take a series of photographs of me, then I didn’t even need to be present after that.  As it turned out, he didn’t use me for any works but had the extraordinary good manners to remember me when he saw me again recently for the first time in 15 years.  Now, that is classy.

Here we go then, a little trot through different ways that artists and their models are pictured and what it all means…
The Fine Art Academy, Antwerp (1890) Dermod O’Brien
We’ll start with the fairly neutral picture of a life class.  This is an interesting, realistic picture of what it was like, and possibly a photograph wouldn’t have given you anything more.  Then why the painting of people painting?  It seems a little self-reflexive, a painting of people doing painting, but if you regard the above image as a still life, it makes more sense.  We are in the art class and that is what is in front of us.  Possibly it is intended that we, the student, should concentrate on the woman, but we are at a bit of a funny angle, so let’s do everyone.  It may be a life class, but who’s to say what part of life we must paint?

Self Portrait with a Model (1867) William Powell Frith
The king of self-reflexive painting seems to be Frith.  There are a few paintings of him painting, but they all seem straight-forward, especially this one.  The woman is as much of a prop to him as the suit of armour, which is an interesting addition as it is an inanimate object in the shape of a person, possibly how he sees the model…
The Sleepy Model (1853) William Powell Frith
He doesn’t even need her to be awake to paint her as such, as this painting shows.  You wonder why he needs her at all, as sometimes you get the impression that the model is just a place marker for the imagination of the artist.  They will fill the space occupied by the model with their own imagination.  The model is there for prosaic matters such as perspective.  I mean, what else are they good for…?

The Eton Boy (1880s) Frank Hyde
Oh, well, there is that of course…. Where else can a young gentleman hang out with nudie ladies?  As we all know, getting a girls clothes off is the hard part, and these girls take their clothes off for a living!  Goodness!  There is a thread of ‘Model as Hireable Floozy’ paintings, where the artist obviously enjoys his models charms in a more tangible way than just artistically.

The Artist’s Studio (1880s) Frank Hyde
For goodness sake.  You do get the impression that some people regarded the relationship between artist and model as shorthand for lovers, and it is true that a lot of artists had relationships with one of their models, but at the time it was a certain way of meeting an available woman and getting to know her without having to make the commitment to formally court them.  There were far less images of ‘Model as Sex Poppet’ than I expected as I guess that may have been a reality, if not a danger, for the working-class professional models.  Then again, it wouldn’t necessarily have been the image that artists wanted to cultivate.  Just the odd hint of ‘By the way, there are naked chicks at my studio, aren’t I cool?’ seems to be enough…

The Painter and His Model (1874) Jean Bertou
The Artist’s Studio (1840) William Mulready

There seem to be quite a few images of ‘the model as equal’ or ‘the model as co-worker’, which surprised me.  While some have the overtone of romance like Bertou or Mulready’s The Artist Studio, some show the model and artist on breaks, just being in each other’s company.

After the Pose Sven Richard Bergh
Idle Moments (1889) Dudley Hardy
How does this inform my thoughts on Rossetti’s relationship with Alexa Wilding?  Well, we know from the Kelmscott letters to Dunn that he often referred to her in the same breath as objects he needed to be brought for paintings, so he may have thought of her solely in terms of her beauty as a ‘thing’ he can paint.  His attitude to Alexa does seem markedly different to that of Elizabeth, Fanny or Jane, as if all he needs from her is the outside.  The money he paid to her regularly seems to be almost rent, to keep her available for his artistic purposes, without any interest in her as a person.  She is the human version of that damn pearl pin, adorning his canvas as a thing of beauty.  Maybe that is how the model-artist relationship should go, it does seem that it would be a damn sight less complicated and destructive if they were all like that.

As for me, I got to keep some amazing photographs of how huge my hair was when I was 24.  They are a comfort to me now I am a raddled old ruin…

Me, by David Inshaw, c.1997

Saturday 20 August 2011

The Most Fun You Can Have With Your Eyes Open

Ah, August. Summer has been a strange one in the Walker Household this year as we are experiencing the joys of being parents to a school-age child for the very first time. Carnation-Lily-Lily-Rose Walker (not her real name, we're not that cruel, but she is named after that painting) has just finished her first year at primary school/inner-city borstal, and our mission is to teach our beloved daughter to read and write better before she returns in September. It’s not only that we are overly-middle-class people and feel the need to press our child against learning whenever the chance arises, but also Miss Walker was born with a fun genetic condition which means she is visually impaired, so the whole literacy thing has been somewhat more challenging as she can’t see a piggin’ thing. However, being inner-city like what we is, frankly her problems are quite small compared to some of the poor little kiddiwinks she goes to school with, who simply don’t want to read, don’t see their parents reading, don’t have books around the home. Their priorities are things like having clean clothes, getting sleep, actually getting to school. Yikes.

Today’s post is therefore about the beauty and luxury of reading, because everyone needs a bit of luxury in their lives…

Girl Reading Alfred Stevens
Above is a picture of me, on a casual day, hence not one of my better dresses. Note the wool on the table next to me. That is a lot of dress for one little armchair, and I think the tiny foot resting on the velvety cushion tells you all you need to know. The ball of yarn on the floor next to the cushion made me think I should be looking for a kitten, but I wonder if it is a subtle dig at the girl. She could be doing something useful, like knitting, but instead she reads, her action equivalent to a kitten playing with yarn.

Lady Reading Joseph Soulacroix
Let me just up the luxury stakes, then. This is such a shiny picture, but given that she is reading in a dark Victorian house, maybe the light is reflected off her dress, chair and floor and helps her to be able to see the page. I adore the lacy fingerless gloves and that Chinese screen is preposterously fabulous. I am guessing it’s mandatory to have one unfeasibly small shoe poking out from under your skirt as you read…

 Caterina Reading a Book (1888) James Kerr-Lawson
Possibly my favourite so far, I thought this was a Tissot when I first saw her pale perfection, but you need to look further north than that. There is something in the sharpness of her face, hands and book that contrast beautifully with the looser handling of the rest of the scene. Kerr-Lawson gives us a pale, northern European rendering of the Soulacroix scene, but it is no less luxurious for it.

 Woman Reading Erik Werenskiold
Holding back on the luxury stakes, I find this image beautifully peaceful. The woman pauses her reading to gaze at her jug of flowers in an otherwise rather sparse room. She doesn’t look poor, her clothes are neat and the few things she has are not worn out. Possibly the picture speaks of small luxuries, the luxury of beauty being a necessity. Unlike our glamour girls above, this lady has chosen a vase of flowers and a book to enrich her life and they seem to be all she needs. It could also be that she looks at the flowers as their beauty is fleeting, but her book will last forever.

 Drinking Coffee and Reading in the Garden Edward Johnson
Don’t want to bring a jug of flowers into the house? Fine, move yourself into the garden. I don’t believe this woman could look fancier if she tried, holding her book back in a half stretch as she stirs her teeny tiny cup of coffee. I love the fact that the colours of her clothes compliment the flowers, as if she is part of the garden. Judging by the fact she’s sat on some more books, I’m guessing she intends to be out there as long as the sun keeps shining and the coffee keeps flowing.

 The Novel: A Lady in a Garden Reading a Book Frank Dicey
 You would not believe the number of sad images of women squinting by windows in order to read I had to work through when finding pictures for this. That may have been the reality, but that’s just depressing. I want glorious images of glamour girls lounging around enjoying their books. Mind you, considering the Victorian obsession with clutter and privacy, it’s unsurprising the house were so dark and I think I would have moved out into the garden too, if only to lie on a fur rug. How often do I get to lie on a fur rug these days? Not as often as I should, believe me.

My obsession with reading started early. My father tells a charming story of me shoplifting a book while still in a pushchair (only discovered when they returned home and I was there, gleefully clutching a novel in my chubby toddler hands). It’s probably why I write too, to provide myself with exactly what I want to read. There is nothing like reading something that moves you, being entirely isolated within the moment. Much like this young lady…

 Idle Tears Edward Hughes
 Oh, I’ve been there, although I’ve read very few books that made me cry. I’ve had books where I have screamed in the middle (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters) and books where I have been terrified out of my wits (Woman in Black by Susan Hill, really, the bit with the dog in the fog? God Almighty…) but one of my proudest moments has to be when my friend admitted she cried during a sad bit of a manuscript I wrote. I admit it, I want to make you cry so hard bubbles come out your nose.

It is a rare book indeed that I really, really can’t put down. These are the ones that get shoved between the mattress and the bedframe at night because I have fallen asleep reading them, the ones that get carried everywhere until they are finished.

Last Chapter Robert Braithwaite Martineau
Yes! You have to kneel by the dying embers of the fire late at night as you just can’t stop reading, you just have to know what happens next. My worry would be a spark hitting that rather glossy dress of hers but you have to wonder at what point she would notice and how long it would take her to stop reading. Just another paragraph…even though my corset is now on fire…

So, Lily-Rose will be a reader, she has no option, I’m afraid. Both her parents read obsessively (me when I’m not writing) and our house is stuffed with books. According to Freakanomics, a truly fascinating and revealing book, no matter how you try and get a child to read, unless your child sees you reading as part of your normal life, you’re on a hiding to nothing. Her albinism has made that job a little more challenging for her, but reading is just one of those things Lily-Rose wants to do. Thank God for that, as it is the most fun you can have with your eyes open.

Christina Rossetti reading
Lily-Rose 'reading' Christina Rossetti

Thanks for reading this…