The Wikipedia entry begins thus: “Fidelia Bridges…was one of the small number of successful female artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Yes, there number was small, but their accomplishments were great. I’ve been reading about several of these women lately and gazing with wonder and admiration at their works. I shall be writing about them from time to time, in this space.
I’m starting with Fidelia Bridges, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1834. By the time she was fifteen, she had lost both her parents; she and her three siblings – two sisters and a brother – were left to shift for themselves. Fidelia became a live-in mother’s helper in the household of a prosperous merchant. The family moved to Brooklyn, and Fidelia moved with them. Her sister Eliza proceeded to open a school there.
As soon as she was able, Bridges struck out on her own, determined to achieve success as an artist. She felt she had a vocation, and she was right. Beginning with her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she honed her technique to a fine point. She was able to study abroad for a year, returning to the U.S. in 1868.
Having begun by working in oils, she switched almost exclusively to water colors.In 1874, she became the sole female member of The American Society of Painters in Watercolors. (Originally founded in 1866, this organization is now known as The American Watercolor Society.) Her paintings were shown in a variety of venues; she had achieved considerable success.
In 1892, she moved to a cottage in Canaan, Connecticut. It was blessed with a beautiful garden, providing the subject for many of her paintings.
I like this depiction of Bridges’s life in Canaan:
She soon became a familiar village figure, tall, elegant, beautiful even in her sixties, her hair swept back, her attire always formal, even when sketching in the fields or rider her bicycle through town. Her life was quiet and un-ostentatious, her friends unmarried ladies of refinement and of literary and artistic task who she joined for woodland picnics and afternoon teas.
From Notable American Women, 1607-1950, by Edward T James and Janice Wilson James, quoted in the Wikipedia entry
Yet an article in the Salem Patch paints a decidedly more melancholy picture:
Throughout her life, Fidelia was a frequent letter writer, especially to her Salem friend, Rebecca Northey. Her letters provide insights into her life, and often spoke of her loneliness. This sadness at being alone without someone to share her experiences with was constant in her life.
Fidelia Bridges had never married. She died in Canaan in 1923, just shy of her 89th birthday. I like the biographical essay entitled “The Voice of Nature” on the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center site. Still, I would like to know more about this somewhat enigmatic figure.
Paintings by Fidelia Bridges:
In quick succession, we are introduced to three sets of people: Mass Malthe, whose grown son Eddie is dependent on her; Bonnie Hayden and Simon, her five-year-old son; and Inspector Konrad Sejer, his second-in-command Jakob Skarre, and Sejer’s dog Frank, a somewhat somnolent Shar-Pei. Frank is the sole source of comic relief in this relentlessly bleak saga. I wish we’d seen more of him.
Karin Fossum has chosen an unusual way to construct her story. From the outset, you know who the victims are – or were. Yet the reader spends a good part of the novel getting to know them while they are still vibrantly alive and utterly heedless of the future – or the lack of a future – that awaits them. The identity of the perpetrator is no great mystery, either. The puzzle concerns the why of it. (With its evocation of dread, and the reader’s desperate desire to somehow avert the looming catastrophe, this novel reminds me of Ruth Rendell’s chilling masterpiece, A Judgement in Stone, with its famous tell-all first sentence.)
Hell Fire is nominally a police procedural, and I would have welcomed more of a police presence in the novel. Instead, we get a great deal of detail concerning the lives of Malthe mother and son and Hayden mother and son. I’m not saying that this material is dull. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is especially true of Bonnie Hayden’s work as a cleaner and home health care aid for the elderly. Her experiences with these individuals are carefully and empathetically described.
I think Karin Fossum is a terrific writer. I consider myself an advocate and an admirer of her crime fiction oeuvre, of which I’ve read some nine or ten titles. But this was one tough read. Recommended, but consider yourself cautioned.
This week’s New Yorker Magazine arrived on Tuesday and was in its usual place on the kitchen table when I unwrapped the Washington Post yesterday morning. I was somewhat bemused by the juxtaposition of these two images:
Who are the American Impressionists? Depends on who you ask. Wikipedia has a rather exhaustive list; the Art Encyclopedia‘s is similarly comprehensive. The Metropolitan Museum has a more select list, possibly weighted toward those artists represented in its collection.
On a site called Emsworth: A Critical Eye for the Arts in Rochester, the blogger lists ten of his favorites, along with some captivating examples of their work, to wit:
There are several more, plus Emsworth appends some additional names at the end of the post. (These are beautiful; thank you, Emsworth!)
T.C. (Theodore Clement) Steele was a member of the Hoosier Group of Impressionist artists:
More of Steele’s art can be found at the Athenaeum.
Charles Ottis Adams was also a Hoosier artist:
I’ve just scratched the surface as far as these marvelous artists are concerned. More on this later.
I would like to dedicate this post to Eve, my friend and former colleague at the library. She appreciated beautiful things, and we appreciated her. Hail and farewell, Eve; we will miss you.
She seems like someone in her sixties, not in her early forties, as she’s purported to be. (Actually I get this observation. In my post on The Careful Use of Compliments, I said that I envision Isabel as a model for a dress of the mid-twentieth century. Here’s the image I selected: )
She keeps “bumping into herself” (love that locution!), trying to use reason to understand and control feelings, an effort that’s pretty much doomed to fail.
She’s judgmental. (I probably didn’t mind this characteristic because her judgments so often agree with mine.)
She’s pretentious and/or arrogant (two adjectives which I would not myself have thought to apply to her, so I was interested to learn that others found them apt, in the circumstances.)
Ann felt impatient with Isabel’s philosophizing; she felt that it got in the way of the plot. Others among us felt that the philosophical questions deeply enriched the novel.
In this passage, Isabel considers the importance of good manners:
It was so easy dealing with people who were well-mannered…. They knew how to exchange those courtesies which made life go smoothly, which was what manners were all about. They were intended to avoid friction between people, and they did this by regulating the contours of an encounter. If each party knew what the other should do, then conflict would be unlikely. And this worked at every level, from the most minor transaction between two people to dealings between nations. International law, after all, was simply a system of manners writ large.
How utterly shortsighted we had been to listen to those who thought that manners were a bourgeois affectation, an irrelevance, which need no longer be valued. A moral disaster had ensued, because manners were the basic building block of civil society. They were the method of transmitting the message of moral consideration. In this way an entire generation had lost a vital piece of the moral jigsaw, and now we saw the results: a society in which nobody would help, nobody would feel for others; a society in which aggressive language and insensitivity were the norm.
Our group more or less agreed with these sentiments. Yet Isabel admits that even thinking about such a thing makes her feel old.
We spent some time on the subject of judgment and the judging of others. Was Isabel, in fact, any more judgmental than most people? The reader spends a great deal of time inside Isabel’s head, as it were. She forms strong opinions in that confined space – don’t most of us do the same? – but does she act on them, or even speak them aloud, except in specific circumstances?
Isabel’s back story is crucial to an understanding of how she lives the life that we witness unfolding in The Sunday Philosophy Club. Her father was Scottish; her mother, American. Isabel herself has spent relatively little time in the U.S. (She makes frequent reference to “my sainted American mother,” an appellation whose origin is not clear, at least not to me.) She holds a doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University; we may take it as a given that she’s a intensely intellectual person.
As with many intellectuals, Isabel could also be passionate and impulsive. She was especially so in her youth, when such emotions are not uncommon. At Cambridge, she fell in love with John Liamor, an Irishman who seems to have had a high opinion of himself. Isabel married him and in short order was betrayed and deserted by him. The anguish caused by this episode has left a deep scar. It may be partly responsible for her seeming to be older than she actually is. Although she has numerous friends and associates in Edinburgh, she seems to have deliberately walled herself off from any intimacy that could cause her further pain. In this novel, however, we perceive her emerging, however tentatively, from this self-imposed isolation.
(We Suspects grappled with the question of whether Isabel still had feelings for John Liamor, and if so, what those feelings consisted of. Might she still even be in love with him? We reached no definite conclusion. McCall Smith is somewhat evasive on the question.)
Isabel’s tendency to involve herself in the affairs of others springs from several sources. She’s a naturally curious individual, and people excite that curiosity more than anything else. She wants to understand their motivations, their perception of the rightness and wrongness of their actions. (This is undoubtedly a large part of what impelled her to take up the study of moral philosophy, which has culminated in her becoming the editor of a small, specialized and highly respected journal, The Review of Applied Ethics.)
Also, she feels bound by the concept of moral proximity, which dictates that if you have a degree of closeness to another person, and that person is in some sort of trouble, then you are morally obliged to render aid in any way you can. This is one of the ways in which she justifies what others might term just plain nosiness, or even unwarranted interference in matters which are none of her concern.
But in the case of Mark Fraser, a young man who fatally falls “from the gods” – the British term for a theater’s upper balcony – Isabel feels obliged to look into the cause of his untimely demise. She had been at the concert where this terrible event occurred. She had witnessed the fall. There were some in our group who considered the ensuing mystery to be rather thin. I would concede that Isabel’s investigation does at times seem crowded out by other aspects of the novel. This is particularly true of her relationship with her niece Cat, a somewhat flighty young woman who runs a delicatessen not far from Isabel’s house. Cat runs through boyfriends at a pretty good clip. Jamie, one of her discarded lovers, has become a close friend of Isabel’s – and might be in the process of becoming more than a friend, even though he is still, to some extent, pining for Cat.
In the course of the novel, Isabel does solve the mystery of Mark Fraser’s death. His fatal fall was inadvertently precipitated by a disagreement that turned physical. When she has elicited a confession from the responsible party, Isabel proceeds to offer him absolution. This information, in other words, will go no further – certainly not as far as a revelation to law enforcement. Upon finishing the book, my immediate thought was, what right does she have to do this? The question came up in our group and prompted a discussion of who among the fictional crime solvers that we know of have done likewise? Agatha Christie was mentioned, as was Conan Doyle in certain of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
(As it happens, my husband and I recently watched one of the early Poirot films “The King of Clubs,” in which the famed Belgian sleuth and the loyal Captain Hastings agree to suppress the truth concerning an accidental death. I haven’t yet had the chance to read the short story that serves as the basis for this film, in order to see if this is a faithful recounting of the original text.)
Most members of our group had not read any further in the Isabel Dalhousie series. Frances and I, on the other hand, were faithful followers, and had read all of them. When queried as to whether there was a “character arc” where Isabel was concerned – does she, in other words, change as the novels progress – we responded in the affirmative, declining to reveal any more. I will say this much: having read the latest entry, The Novel Habit of Happiness, earlier this year, I was struck by how sad and solitary Isabel’s life seems at the beginning of this series, and how increasingly rich and full it becomes as the series goes forward. Small wonder that she becomes, in some ways at least, a changed woman!
End of Spoiler Alert
Our discussion touched briefly on Isabel’s wealth, the result of an inheritance from her mother. She lives in what seems to be a large and gracious abode in a good section of Edinburgh. She has the full time services of a housekeeper named Grace, also inherited, this time from her late father. (One might wonder how Grace keeps occupied, looking after a house inhabited by a sole adult. As it happens, she and Isabel spend a fair amount of time chatting to each other about various subjects of interest to them both.) Isabel is generous with money but also discreet.
Our discussion was skillfully led by Chris, who also graciously offered her premises for our meeting. In her follow-up email, Carol had this to say: “Although we did not all agree, we had a friendly and interesting exchange of observations and opinions.”
Although it was a pleasant spring evening, a stiff breeze had arisen and the clouds were scudding energetically across the sky, towards Norway. This was a northern light, the light of a city that belonged as much to the great, steely plains of the North Sea as it did to the soft hills of its hinterland. This was not Glasgow, with its soft, western light, and its proximity to Ireland and to the Gaeldom of the Highlands. This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.
I first read The Sunday Philosophy Club when it came out in 2004. I revisited it this time by listening to Davina Porter’s reading on audiobook. It is superb. The Scottish lilt that she commands is irresistible. I was so enraptured that I proceeded immediately to the second title in the series, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. I was unable to get this one on audio, so I read it the old fashioned way. It was the only book in the series that I had somehow previously missed. If anything, it is even better that The Sunday Philosophy Club. It, too, would be great for a book discussion.
For his felicitous prose, vivid imagination, and sly wit – don’t miss The Dog Who Came In from the Cold, featuring my favorite fictional canine, Freddie de la Hay – – I salute this author. He is one of my absolute favorites – brilliant!
I just have to share this serendipitous discovery with all my book loving friends: In the process of researching the phrase “the gods in theatrical parlance,” I came upon a Google Books result that truly stunned me: a facsimile of an 1867 edition of All the Year Round, a weekly magazine put out by Charles Dickens. I knew about this journal but had never thought to actually lay eyes upon it, albeit digitally speaking.
So many mysteries or thrillers or novels of suspense, especially the newly hot “domestic suspense” subgenre…
Let’s just say: So much crime fiction, so little time. We do want to get on with this post, after all!
Herewith, to get started: Brief reviews of four works of crime fiction recently read by Yours Truly:
I loved it – but when have I not loved a Peter Lovesey novel? (A lot of love there – and rightly so!) Another Peter Diamond investigation set in beautiful historic Bath and filled with the usual twists and turns – including the bizarre discovery of a cache of Fortuny gowns alluded to in a previous post. Lovesey’s signature wit and style are present in abundance. And there’s Diamond’s unexpectedly powerful reaction as he works to save the life of an elderly accident victim:
He stooped lower for more mouth-to-mouth. The first instinctive revulsion had gone. He cared, he really cared. Hot lips against cold. Two lungfuls of air.
Then back to the compressions. Already he felt the emotional bond that lifesaving creates. He couldn’t allow himself to think this might already be a corpse. He and his mate here were not letting go. There had to be life. Come on, old friend, he urged as he worked his aching shoulders, you and I can do this.
I read The Poacher’s Son, the first entry in this series, when it came out in 2010. It was immediately recognized by readers and reviewers as a superior first novel, and I could see why. For whatever reason, I didn’t return to the series until this year. That may be due to the unusually laudatory reviews it was receiving.
Well, this time around, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploits and tribulations of Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. His efforts to solve a difficult murder, his entanglement with authorities who seem bent on thwarting instead of helping him, his efforts to keep his relationship with his girlfriend, a wildlife biologist, from veering off course – I was happily engaged with all of these aspects of young Bowditch’s busy and often stressful life. He’s the kind of protagonist you root for wholeheartedly. And Paul Doiron‘s vivid descriptions of Maine in winter add a welcome texture to the novel.
Gosh…what was that? This novel begins with a poignant description of a widow coming to terms with her grief. making a life for herself at a house in the French countryside that should have been the retirement abode for both herself and her husband.
At the outset, the reader encounters some felicitous prose:
Buffeted and battered by a year of uncontainable sobs, her heart had at last steadied itself like the green bubble in a spirit level. There was no particular reason for this new-found calm, or rather, there were a thousand: it was May, the rain was beating against the windows, there was baroque music playing on France Musique; she was making her first vegetable jardinière of the season (fresh peas, lettuce hearts, carrots, potatoes, turnips, spring onions, and not forgetting the lardons!); the Colette biography she had picked up the day before at Meysse library was propped open at page 48 on the living-room table; she wasn’t expecting anyone, and no one was expecting her.
All these little things along with countless others meant that for the first time since Charles’s death she did not feel lonely in the house by herself, but one and indivisible.
The mood, while melancholy, is resolute. The pace is slow, even stately.
And then, all of a sudden – or at least, so it seems – chaos and threats of violence – followed by actual violence! It’s a disruption with multiple sources, one of which is literally right next door. And a grand passion emerges, right smack in the middle of it all.
Pascal Garnier has been compared to Simenon, but I’m not sure I see the likeness. Simenon’s books are blessedly short, as is this one, but to my mind the similarity ends there.
Did I like Too Close To the Edge? Let’s say I was intrigued by it – and at certain points shocked and amazed by it. Do I recommend it? If you’re feeling adventurous, and can stomach occasional extremes in language and in action, give it a try.
Yet another entertaining Harpur and Iles novel, replete with the highly stylized, piquant turn of phrase that has characterized this series from its beginning. For instance, there’s this exchange between two of my favorite series characters, Ralph ‘Panicking Ralphy’ Ember and Mansel ‘Manse’ Shale. Shale is explaining the nature of a revelatory experience he recently had in church:
‘That kind of closed-off, solid capsule in the pew was a first-class site for one deeply personal revelation to yours truly. Privileged. Divine-sourced? Who can tell? But, anyway, it arrived.’
‘Which name, Manse?’
‘Besmirched, Ralph,’ Shale replied.
‘A strong word, Manse. In which particular? You feel, felt, besmirched? How was that?’
‘Not so much self, Ralph.’
‘I’m glad. You deserve no such suffering.’
‘That name, suddenly brought to me in a sanctified setting – I felt it besmirched the very structure, fabric, atmosphere of a blameless church.’
‘You were obviously in a profound religious state at that time. I think of Cardinal Newman and “lead kindly light”, when an epiphany came to him to do with leaving the Protestant church.’
‘There are some first-rate epiphanies about, Ralph. Yes, profound is right. I believe if I had not been in that profound state I might not of received the name and how to deal with it.’
‘Ah, I didn’t realize you’d been advised how to deal with it.’
‘That’s the beauty of religion, Ralph. If you ever come across it you’ll discover that it recognizes there is rubbish in the world but it also tells you how to get rid of it. I saw during this specially delivered revelation in the church, like coming from my sub-conscious, that there’s an old film called Stranglers On A Train.’
‘I think it’s “Strangers”.’
‘Whatever. To do with death, anyway. To do with death and with that recently referred to mutuality and interweaving.’
‘It’s a crazy plot, couldn’t possibly be to do with real life.’
‘When I gets a vision in a church, Ralph, I think of it as being full of accuracy.’
‘But it had the name of the film wrong.’
‘Neither here nor there. Merely I made an error in the label. We know what its message is, don’t we? Its message is mutuality, interweaving and interdependence.’
And on it goes. What Manse is actually leading up to is a plan for taking revenge on the man he believes is responsible for the assassination of his wife and son. And Ralph is to play a key role in this plan – a plan derived from a famous Hitchcock film.
I’m told that the books comprising this series are an acquired taste. I acquired it long ago. I find them hugely entertaining, even at times brilliant.
More crime fiction reviews are coming, after a suitable art interlude.
Words seems inadequate, so I will just say, from Ron and me, from the bottom of our hearts: Happy Birthday, Beloved Little Boy!
What an amazing painting this is!
The Marriage at Cana was commissioned in 1562 by the Benedictine monks of the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Their requirements were spelled out in exacting detail:
The contract engaging Veronese in the undertaking of the Wedding Feast was extremely precise. The monks insisted that the work be monumental, in order to fill the entire end wall of the refectory. Hung at a height of 2.5 meters from the ground, it was designed to create an illusion of extended space. This work of 70 m² occupied Veronese for 15 months, most likely with the assistance of his brother Benedetto Caliari.
From the Louvre site (Those measurements in inches would be 267 by 391)
The painting was seized by Napoleon’s troops in 1797, cut in half(!), conveyed to Paris, and placed in the Louvre, where it resides to this day.
The Wikipedia entry contains extensive information about this work.
If you click on the image twice, it becomes greatly enlarged. It’s all I can do not to gasp in wonder every time I do that. All those people engaged in various activities – and animals too. And perhaps the most wondrous thing of all is Christ, seated at the table, in the center. He is in the scene, but not of it. He is not looking at anyone else in the painting; neither is he looking at the viewer. His gaze is abstracted, his expression unreadable. Already, he is elsewhere.
Where to begin…. Oh, I know:
This is the cover illustration for the book accompanying an exhibition entitled The Artist’s Garden:
I just got this book three days ago from Amazon – same day delivery! – and have spent much time since then lost in the beauty of this image.
More to come.