Charles Dickens, 1812-1879. Somebody’s Luggage – His Brown Paper-Parcel, 1862

HIS BROWN-PAPER PARCEL 

My works are well known. I am a young man in the Art line. You have seen my works many a time, though it’s fifty thousand to one if you have seen me. You say you don’t want to see me? You say your interest is in my works, and not in me? Don’t be too sure about that. Stop a bit. 

Let us have it down in black and white at the first go off, so that there may be no unpleasantness or wrangling afterwards. And this is looked over by a friend of mine, a ticket writer, that is up to literature. I am a young man in the Art line – in the Fine-Art line. You have seen my works over and over again, and you have been curious about me, and you think you have seen me. Now, as a safe rule, you never have seen me, and you never do see me, and you never will see me. I think that’s plainly put – and it’s what knocks me over. 

If there’s a blighted public character going, I am the party. 

It has been remarked by a certain (or an uncertain,) philosopher, that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. He might have put it plainer if he had thrown his eye in my direction. He might have put it, that while the world knows something of them that apparently go in and win, it knows nothing of them that really go in and don’t win. There it is again in another form – and that’s what knocks me over. 

Not that it’s only myself that suffers from injustice, but that I am more alive to my own injuries than to any other man’s. Being, as I have mentioned, in the Fine-Art line, and not the Philanthropic line, I openly admit it. As to company in injury, I have company enough. Who are you passing every day at your Competitive Excruciations? The fortunate candidates whose heads and livers you have turned upside down for life? Not you. You are really passing the Crammers and Coaches. If your principle is right, why don’t you turn out to-morrow morning with the keys of your cities on velvet cushions, your musicians playing, and your flags flying, and read addresses to the Crammers and Coaches on your bended knees, beseeching them to come out and govern you? Then, again, as to your public business of all sorts, your Financial statements and your Budgets; the Public knows much, truly, about the real doers of all that! Your Nobles and Right Honourables are first-rate men? Yes, and so is a goose a first-rate bird. But I’ll tell you this about the goose; – you’ll find his natural flavour disappointing, without stuffing. 

Perhaps I am soured by not being popular? But suppose I AM popular. Suppose my works never fail to attract. Suppose that, whether they are exhibited by natural light or by artificial, they invariably draw the public. Then no doubt they are preserved in some Collection? No, they are not; they are not preserved in any Collection. Copyright? No, nor yet copyright. Anyhow they must be somewhere? Wrong again, for they are often nowhere. 

Says you, “At all events, you are in a moody state of mind, my friend.” My answer is, I have described myself as a public character with a blight upon him – which fully accounts for the curdling of the milk in THAT cocoa-nut. 

Those that are acquainted with London are aware of a locality on the Surrey side of the river Thames, called the Obelisk, or, more generally, the Obstacle. Those that are not acquainted with London will also be aware of it, now that I have named it. My lodging is not far from that locality. I am a young man of that easy disposition, that I lie abed till it’s absolutely necessary to get up and earn something, and then I lie abed again till I have spent it. 

It was on an occasion when I had had to turn to with a view to victuals, that I found myself walking along the Waterloo Road, one evening after dark, accompanied by an acquaintance and fellow-lodger in the gas-fitting way of life. He is very good company, having worked at the theatres, and, indeed, he has a theatrical turn himself, and wishes to be brought out in the character of Othello; but whether on account of his regular work always blacking his face and hands more or less, I cannot say. 

“Tom,” he says, “what a mystery hangs over you!” 

“Yes, Mr. Click” – the rest of the house generally give him his name, as being first, front, carpeted all over, his own furniture, and if not mahogany, an out-and-out imitation – “yes, Mr. Click, a mystery does hang over me.” 

“Makes you low, you see, don’t it?” says he, eyeing me sideways. 

“Why, yes, Mr. Click, there are circumstances connected with it that have,” I yielded to a sigh, “a lowering effect.” 

“Gives you a touch of the misanthrope too, don’t it?” says he. “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I was you, I’d shake it of.” 

“If I was you, I would, Mr. Click; but, if you was me, you wouldn’t.” 

“Ah!” says he, “there’s something in that.” 

When we had walked a little further, he took it up again by touching me on the chest. 

“You see, Tom, it seems to me as if, in the words of the poet who wrote the domestic drama of The Stranger, you had a silent sorrow there.” 

“I have, Mr. Click.” 

“I hope, Tom,” lowering his voice in a friendly way, “it isn’t coining, or smashing?” 

“No, Mr. Click. Don’t be uneasy.” 

“Nor yet forg- ” Mr. Click checked himself, and added, “counterfeiting anything, for instance?” 

“No, Mr. Click. I am lawfully in the Art line – Fine-Art line – but I can say no more.” 

“Ah! Under a species of star? A kind of malignant spell? A sort of a gloomy destiny? A cankerworm pegging away at your vitals in secret, as well as I make it out?” said Mr. Click, eyeing me with some admiration. 

I told Mr. Click that was about it, if we came to particulars; and I thought he appeared rather proud of me. 

Our conversation had brought us to a crowd of people, the greater part struggling for a front place from which to see something on the pavement, which proved to be various designs executed in coloured chalks on the pavement stones, lighted by two candles stuck in mud sconces. The subjects consisted of a fine fresh salmon’s head and shoulders, supposed to have been recently sent home from the fishmonger’s; a moonlight night at sea (in a circle); dead game; scroll-work; the head of a hoary hermit engaged in devout contemplation; the head of a pointer smoking a pipe; and a cherubim, his flesh creased as in infancy, going on a horizontal errand against the wind. All these subjects appeared to me to be exquisitely done. 

On his knees on one side of this gallery, a shabby person of modest appearance who shivered dreadfully (though it wasn’t at all cold), was engaged in blowing the chalk-dust off the moon, toning the outline of the back of the hermit’s head with a bit of leather, and fattening the down-stroke of a letter or two in the writing. I have forgotten to mention that writing formed a part of the composition, and that it also – as it appeared to me – was exquisitely done. It ran as follows, in fine round characters: “An honest man is the noblest work of God. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0. Pounds s. d. Employment in an office is humbly requested. Honour the Queen. Hunger is a 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 sharp thorn. Chip chop, cherry chop, fol de rol de ri do. Astronomy and mathematics. I do this to support my family.” 

Murmurs of admiration at the exceeding beauty of this performance went about among the crowd. The artist, having finished his touching (and having spoilt those places), took his seat on the pavement, with his knees crouched up very nigh his chin; and halfpence began to rattle in. 

“A pity to see a man of that talent brought so low; ain’t it?” said one of the crowd to me. 

“What he might have done in the coach-painting, or housedecorating!” said another man, who took up the first speaker because I did not. 

“Why, he writes – alone – like the Lord Chancellor!” said another man. 

“Better,” said another. “I know his writing. He couldn’t support his family this way.” 

Then, a woman noticed the natural fluffiness of the hermit’s hair, and another woman, her friend, mentioned of the salmon’s gills that you could almost see him gasp. Then, an elderly country gentleman stepped forward and asked the modest man how he executed his work? And the modest man took some scraps of brown paper with colours in ’em out of his pockets, and showed them. Then a fair-complexioned donkey, with sandy hair and spectacles, asked if the hermit was a portrait? To which the modest man, casting a sorrowful glance upon it, replied that it was, to a certain extent, a recollection of his father. This caused a boy to yelp out, “Is the Pinter a smoking the pipe your mother?” who was immediately shoved out of view by a sympathetic carpenter with his basket of tools at his back. 

At every fresh question or remark the crowd leaned forward more eagerly, and dropped the halfpence more freely, and the modest man gathered them up more meekly. At last, another elderly gentleman came to the front, and gave the artist his card, to come to his office to-morrow, and get some copying to do. The card was accompanied by sixpence, and the artist was profoundly grateful, and, before he put the card in his hat, read it several times by the light of his candles to fix the address well in his mind, in case he should lose it. The crowd was deeply interested by this last incident, and a man in the second row with a gruff voice growled to the artist, “You’ve got a chance in life now, ain’t you?” The artist answered (sniffing in a very low-spirited way, however), “I’m thankful to hope so.” Upon which there was a general chorus of “You are all right,” and the halfpence slackened very decidedly. 

I felt myself pulled away by the arm, and Mr. Click and I stood alone at the corner of the next crossing. 

“Why, Tom,” said Mr. Click, “what a horrid expression of face you’ve got!” 

“Have I?” says I. 

“Have you?” says Mr. Click. “Why, you looked as if you would have his blood.” 

“Whose blood?” 

“The artist’s.” 

“The artist’s?” I repeated. And I laughed, frantically, wildly, gloomily, incoherently, disagreeably. I am sensible that I did. I know I did. 

Mr. Click stared at me in a scared sort of a way, but said nothing until we had walked a street’s length. He then stopped short, and said, with excitement on the part of his forefinger: 

“Thomas, I find it necessary to be plain with you. I don’t like the envious man. I have identified the cankerworm that’s pegging away at YOUR vitals, and it’s envy, Thomas.” 

“Is it?” says I. 

“Yes, it is,” says be. “Thomas, beware of envy. It is the greeneyed monster which never did and never will improve each shining hour, but quite the reverse. I dread the envious man, Thomas. I confess that I am afraid of the envious man, when he is so envious as you are. Whilst you contemplated the works of a gifted rival, and whilst you heard that rival’s praises, and especially whilst you met his humble glance as he put that card away, your countenance was so malevolent as to be terrific. Thomas, I have heard of the envy of them that follows the Fine-Art line, but I never believed it could be what yours is. I wish you well, but I take my leave of you. And if you should ever got into trouble through knifeing – or say, garotting – a brother artist, as I believe you will, don’t call me to character, Thomas, or I shall be forced to injure your case.” 

Mr. Click parted from me with those words, and we broke off our acquaintance. 

I became enamoured. Her name was Henrietta. Contending with my easy disposition, I frequently got up to go after her. She also dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Obstacle, and I did fondly hope that no other would interpose in the way of our union. 

To say that Henrietta was volatile is but to say that she was woman. To say that she was in the bonnet-trimming is feebly to express the taste which reigned predominant in her own. 

She consented to walk with me. Let me do her the justice to say that she did so upon trial. “I am not,” said Henrietta, “as yet prepared to regard you, Thomas, in any other light than as a friend; but as a friend I am willing to walk with you, on the understanding that softer sentiments may flow.” 

We walked. 

Under the influence of Henrietta’s beguilements, I now got out of bed daily. I pursued my calling with an industry before unknown, and it cannot fail to have been observed at that period, by those most familiar with the streets of London, that there was a larger supply. But hold! The time is not yet come! 

One evening in October I was walking with Henrietta, enjoying the cool breezes wafted over Vauxhall Bridge. After several slow turns, Henrietta gaped frequently (so inseparable from woman is the love of excitement), and said, “Let’s go home by Grosvenor Place, Piccadilly, and Waterloo” – localities, I may state for the information of the stranger and the foreigner, well known in London, and the last a Bridge. 

“No. Not by Piccadilly, Henrietta,” said I. 

“And why not Piccadilly, for goodness’ sake?” said Henrietta. 

Could I tell her? Could I confess to the gloomy presentiment that overshadowed me? Could I make myself intelligible to her? No. 

“I don’t like Piccadilly, Henrietta.” 

“But I do,” said she. “It’s dark now, and the long rows of lamps in Piccadilly after dark are beautiful. I WILL go to Piccadilly!” 

Of course we went. It was a pleasant night, and there were numbers of people in the streets. It was a brisk night, but not too cold, and not damp. Let me darkly observe, it was the best of all nights-FOR THE PURPOSE. 

As we passed the garden wall of the Royal Palace, going up Grosvenor Place, Henrietta murmured: 

“I wish I was a Queen!” 

“Why so, Henrietta?” 

“I would make YOU Something,” said she, and crossed her two hands on my arm, and turned away her head. 

Judging from this that the softer sentiments alluded to above had begun to flow, I adapted my conduct to that belief. Thus happily we passed on into the detested thoroughfare of Piccadilly. On the right of that thoroughfare is a row of trees, the railing of the Green Park, and a fine broad eligible piece of pavement. 

“Oh my!” cried Henrietta presently. “There’s been an accident!” 

I looked to the left, and said, “Where, Henrietta?” 

“Not there, stupid!” said she. “Over by the Park railings. Where the crowd is. Oh no, it’s not an accident, it’s something else to look at! What’s them lights?” 

She referred to two lights twinkling low amongst the legs of the assemblage: two candles on the pavement. 

“Oh, do come along!” cried Henrietta, skipping across the road with me. I hung back, but in vain. “Do let’s look!” 

Again, designs upon the pavement. Centre compartment, Mount Vesuvius going it (in a circle), supported by four oval compartments, severally representing a ship in heavy weather, a shoulder of mutton attended by two cucumbers, a golden harvest with distant cottage of proprietor, and a knife and fork after nature; above the centre compartment a bunch of grapes, and over the whole a rainbow. The whole, as it appeared to me, exquisitely done. 

The person in attendance on these works of art was in all respects, shabbiness excepted, unlike the former personage. His whole appearance and manner denoted briskness. Though threadbare, he expressed to the crowd that poverty had not subdued his spirit, or tinged with any sense of shame this honest effort to turn his talents to some account. The writing which formed a part of his composition was conceived in a similarly cheerful tone. It breathed the following sentiments: “The writer is poor, but not despondent. To a British 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Public he Pounds S. d. appeals. Honour to our brave Army! And also 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 to our gallant Navy. BRITONS STRIKE the A B C D E F G writer in common chalks would be grateful for any suitable employment HOME! HURRAH!” The whole of this writing appeared to me to be exquisitely done. 

But this man, in one respect like the last, though seemingly hard at it with a great show of brown paper and rubbers, was only really fattening the down-stroke of a letter here and there, or blowing the loose chalk off the rainbow, or toning the outside edge of the shoulder of mutton. Though he did this with the greatest confidence, he did it (as it struck me) in so ignorant a manner, and so spoilt everything he touched, that when he began upon the purple smoke from the chimney of the distant cottage of the proprietor of the golden harvest (which smoke was beautifully soft), I found myself saying aloud, without considering of it: 

“Let that alone, will you?” 

“Halloa!” said the man next me in the crowd, jerking me roughly from him with his elbow, “why didn’t you send a telegram? If we had known you was coming, we’d have provided something better for you. You understand the man’s work better than he does himself, don’t you? Have you made your will? You’re too clever to live long.” 

“Don’t be hard upon the gentleman, sir,” said the person in attendance on the works of art, with a twinkle in his eye as he looked at me; “he may chance to be an artist himself. If so, sir, he will have a fellow-feeling with me, sir, when I” – he adapted his action to his words as he went on, and gave a smart slap of his hands between each touch, working himself all the time about and about the composition – “when I lighten the bloom of my grapes – shade off the orange in my rainbow – dot the i of my Britons – throw a yellow light into my cow-cum-BER – insinuate another morsel of fat into my shoulder of mutton – dart another zigzag flash of lightning at my ship in distress!” 

He seemed to do this so neatly, and was so nimble about it, that the halfpence came flying in. 

“Thanks, generous public, thanks!” said the professor. “You will stimulate me to further exertions. My name will be found in the list of British Painters yet. I shall do better than this, with encouragement. I shall indeed.” 

“You never can do better than that bunch of grapes,” said Henrietta. “Oh, Thomas, them grapes!” 

“Not better than THAT, lady? I hope for the time when I shall paint anything but your own bright eyes and lips equal to life.” 

“(Thomas, did you ever?) But it must take a long time, sir,” said Henrietta, blushing, “to paint equal to that.” 

“I was prenticed to it, miss,” said the young man, smartly touching up the composition – “prenticed to it in the caves of Spain and Portingale, ever so long and two year over.” 

There was a laugh from the crowd; and a new man who had worked himself in next me, said, “He’s a smart chap, too; ain’t he?” 

“And what a eye!” exclaimed Henrietta softly. 

“Ah! He need have a eye,” said the man. 

“Ah! He just need,” was murmured among the crowd. 

“He couldn’t come that ‘ere burning mountain without a eye,” said the man. He had got himself accepted as an authority, somehow, and everybody looked at his finger as it pointed out Vesuvius. “To come that effect in a general illumination would require a eye; but to come it with two dips – why, it’s enough to blind him!” 

That impostor, pretending not to have heard what was said, now winked to any extent with both eyes at once, as if the strain upon his sight was too much, and threw back his long hair – it was very long – as if to cool his fevered brow. I was watching him doing it, when Henrietta suddenly whispered, “Oh, Thomas, how horrid you look!” and pulled me out by the arm. 

Remembering Mr. Click’s words, I was confused when I retorted, “What do you mean by horrid?” 

“Oh gracious! Why, you looked,” said Henrietta, “as if you would have his blood.” 

I was going to answer, “So I would, for twopence – from his nose,” when I checked myself and remained silent. 

We returned home in silence. Every step of the way, the softer sentiments that had flowed, ebbed twenty mile an hour. Adapting my conduct to the ebbing, as I had done to the flowing, I let my arm drop limp, so as she could scarcely keep hold of it, and I wished her such a cold good-night at parting, that I keep within the bounds of truth when I characterise it as a Rasper. 

In the course of the next day I received the following document: 

“Henrietta informs Thomas that my eyes are open to you. I must ever wish you well, but walking and us is separated by an unfarmable abyss. One so malignant to superiority – Oh that look at him! – can never never conduct 

HENRIETTA 

P.S. – To the altar.” 

Yielding to the easiness of my disposition, I went to bed for a week, after receiving this letter. During the whole of such time, London was bereft of the usual fruits of my labour. When I resumed it, I found that Henrietta was married to the artist of Piccadilly. 

Did I say to the artist? What fell words were those, expressive of what a galling hollowness, of what a bitter mockery! I – I – I – am the artist. I was the real artist of Piccadilly, I was the real artist of the Waterloo Road, I am the only artist of all those pavement-subjects which daily and nightly arouse your admiration. I do ’em, and I let ’em out. The man you behold with the papers of chalks and the rubbers, touching up the down-strokes of the writing and shading off the salmon, the man you give the credit to, the man you give the money to, hires – yes! and I live to tell it! – hires those works of art of me, and brings nothing to ’em but the candles. 

Such is genius in a commercial country. I am not up to the shivering, I am not up to the liveliness, I am not up to the wanting-employment-in-an-office move; I am only up to originating and executing the work. In consequence of which you never see me; you think you see me when you see somebody else, and that somebody else is a mere Commercial character. The one seen by self and Mr. Click in the Waterloo Road can only write a single word, and that I taught him, and it’s MULTIPLICATION – which you may see him execute upside down, because he can’t do it the natural way. The one seen by self and Henrietta by the Green Park railings can just smear into existence the two ends of a rainbow, with his cuff and a rubber – if very hard put upon making a show – but he could no more come the arch of the rainbow, to save his life, than he could come the moon-light, fish, volcano, shipwreck, mutton, hermit, or any of my most celebrated effects. 

To conclude as I began: if there’s a blighted public character going, I am the party. And often as you have seen, do see, and will see, my Works, it’s fifty thousand to one if you’ll ever see me, unless, when the candles are burnt down and the Commercial character is gone, you should happen to notice a neglected young man perseveringly rubbing out the last traces of the pictures, so that nobody can renew the same. That’s me.

Charles Dickens, 1812-1879. Somebody’s Luggage, Chapter III – His Brown Paper-Parcel, 1862

His Brown Paper Parcel is part of the series of short stories, ‘Somebody’s Luggage’, published in the extra Christmas number of ‘All the Year Round’, 1862.

Image: Edward G. Dalziel, A London Sidewalk ArtistWood engraving, 8.5 cm high by 6.5 cm wide. The image is an uncaptioned title-page vignette for Chapter III, ‘His Brown-Paper Parcel’, published in Christmas Stories, 1877.  

The pavement artist, referred to only as Tom or Thomas, is in the ‘Fine-Art line’. He creates chalk pictures of popular subjects, “Mount Vesuvius going it (in a circle), supported by four oval compartments, severally representing a ship in heavy weather, a shoulder of mutton attended by two cucumbers, a golden harvest with distant cottage of proprietor, and a knife and fork after nature; above the centre compartment a bunch of grapes, and over the whole a rainbow.”

The pavement art is located in Piccadilly and the Waterloo Road, South of the River Thames, Tom rents out his pavement exhibits to street artists with the appearance of poverty who are skilled in eliciting money from a crowd of spectators.  The slang for a pavement artist is Screever, an Elizabethan term c. 1560, derived from the word scrivener (a clerk, scribe or notary), describing the Copperplate penmanship and proverbs, presented alongside the pictures of London pavement artists. Tom bemoans the role of the genius artist in a commercial country, as unfitted for office work and regular hours, and “only up to originating and executing the work.” He describes himself as an idler: “I am a young man of that easy disposition, that I lie abed till it’s absolutely necessary to get up and earn something, and then I lie abed again till I have spent it.

Dickens describes artists in the following works: Nicholas Nickleby 1838-39; The Ghost of Art, 1850; Little Dorrit, 1857; The Portrait-Painter’s Story, 1861; Somebody’s Luggage: His Brown Paper-Parcel,1862.

Art in Fiction video: Oliver Goldsmith – The Vicar of Wakefield, 1766

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, written in 1761 and 1762, and published in 1766, became one of the most widely read books in English literature. The novel follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a Yorkshire vicar, Dr. Primrose, and his family.

Chapter 16. The family use art, which is opposed by still greater.

The narrative provides an unparalleled description of the commission of a family group portrait by an itinerant painter plying the artist’s trade in the English provinces in the mid 18th century. The excitement and discussion of the costume and composition is enjoyed by the whole village. The social cachet and class distinctions, or minor snobbery, of having a portrait painted are keenly understood. The Vicar of Wakefield, Dr Primrose, adopts a theological intellectual pose, while his wife Deborah and their six children choose to be depicted as Venus, cupids, a shepherdess and an Amazon. The local Squire Thornhill, was included as Alexander the Great. The painter, or travelling limner, who ‘took likenesses for fifteen shillings a head’ is not considered important enough to be named.

Chapter 20. The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty, but losing content.

The young Vicar of Wakefield, Dr Primrose, is instructed in the tricks of the art trade in Paris, and teacher on the Grand Tour of France and Italy. The narrative suggests that there was little confidence in the connoisseurship of the art dealer or in the role of guide on the Grand Tour. 

Art in Fiction video: Teju Cole -Open City, 2012. Chapter 12

Teju Cole, born in 1975, is an American writer, photographer, and art historian. Open City is a documentary novel that explores layers of urban history and migrant experience set in post 9/11 New York. The narrative is seen through the eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist who, in solitary walks, traverses and discovers New York.

He writes about the mental associations  that emerge through observation of the culture and architecture of the city and describes the thoughts of Julius as he thinks and reflects about art and memory and history and the crosscurrents of art, photography, music and literature – in short the human condition.

He has been described as an aesthetic cosmopolitan. The visual arts and visits to galleries and museums are integral to the book. Chapter 12 describes an exhibition of photographs by 20th century Hungarian photographer Martin Munkácsi at the International Center of Photography.

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Art in Fiction video: Teju Cole – Open City, 2012. Chapter 3

Teju Cole – Open City, 2012. Chapter 3

Teju Cole, born in 1975, is an American writer, photographer, and art historian. Open City is a documentary novel that explores layers of urban history and migrant experience set in post 9/11 New York. The narrative is seen through the eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist who, in solitary walks, traverses and discovers New York.

He writes about the mental associations  that emerge through observation of the culture and architecture of the city and describes the thoughts of Julius as he thinks and reflects about art and memory and history and the crosscurrents of art, photography, music and literature – in short the human condition.

He has been described as an aesthetic cosmopolitan. The visual arts, galleries and museums are integral to the book. There are discussions of Jan Van Eyck, medieval German wood sculptors, Diego Velázquez and Paul Claudel. There is an extended description of the colonial era painter John Brewster at the American Folk Art museum.

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Art in Fiction video: Alan Holmes – The Rebel, 1961

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Art in Fiction Video: Alan Holmes, The Rebel, 1961. Alan Holmes is a pen name – the initials A.H. are also those of the actor Anthony Hancock, and is a book based on the comic film of  The Rebel with screenplay by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson made in 1961. The film is an English satirical take on the Bohemian pretensions of the art world in Paris.  Tony Hancock is The Rebel who leaves the conformity of suburbia and routine office life and the daily commute on the 8.32 to the City. The Rebel arrives in Paris to become a Bohemian artist in smock and beret. He adopts a pantomime approach to the idea of the artist genius – He makes action paintings, that satirise Jackson Pollock, with titles – Exhaust Fumes on a Wet Thursday Night; and Sodium Light on a Left Buttock, and announces new art movements – the Infantile School and Shapist movement. He attends an Existentialist vernissage with long haired poets, girls with green and orange hair, green faces and  green lipstick.

Alan Holmes-The Rebel,1961

https://youtu.be/nmEroBFpyvI

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Art in Fiction Video – Will Self – Great Apes, 1997

Will Self – Great Apes, 1997

Set in a gallery opening in the YBA era of the 1990s – the artist wakes up in a world where chimps have evolved to be the dominant species with self-awareness, while humans are the equivalent of chimps in our world.

Thanks to The GAP Arts Project 100 Stories Deep for the invitation to take part in the 100 Stories project. Thanks to Haqi Ali – Director of Photography.

Art in Fiction Video – Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2011

Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2011.

Set in a museum of contemporary art, MoMA, New York, in a gallery displaying a series of fifteen paintings by Gerhard Richter – 18 October 1977 – showing the dead bodies of the leaders of the German revolutionary Baader-Meinhof group. The main activists in the group Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensllin and Andreas Baader were held at Stammheim prison, and all were found dead in the cells with their deaths attributed to suicide.

In Don DeLillo’s story a man and a woman have a conversation about the paintings which becomes an aesthetic engagement – a questioning of the subject matter and the motivations of the subjects – that emerges through the duration of looking at the paintings. The woman’s feelings for the paintings change from complicated emotions to confusion to love.

Thanks to Haqi Ali – Director of Photography

George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949

Nineteen Eighty-Four, BBC TV, 12 December 1954

Winston sat back against the window-sill. It was no use going on. He was about to buy some more beer when the old man suddenly got up and shuffled rapidly into the stinking urinal at the side of the room. The extra half-litre was already working on him. Winston sat for a minute or two gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out into the street again. Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the huge and simple question, ‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written records were falsified — when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested. 

At this moment his train of thought stopped abruptly. He halted and looked up. He was in a narrow street, with a few dark little shops, interspersed among dwelling-houses. Immediately above his head there hung three discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded. He seemed to know the place. Of course! He was standing outside the junk-shop where he had bought the diary. 

A twinge of fear went through him. It had been a sufficiently rash act to buy the book in the beginning, and he had sworn never to come near the place again. And yet the instant that he allowed his thoughts to wander, his feet had brought him back here of their own accord. It was precisely against suicidal impulses of this kind that he had hoped to guard himself by opening the diary. At the same time he noticed that although it was nearly twenty-one hours the shop was still open. With the feeling that he would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he stepped through the doorway. If questioned, he could plausibly say that he was trying to buy razor blades. 

The proprietor had just lighted a hanging oil lamp which gave off an unclean but friendly smell. He was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and bowed, with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick spectacles. His hair was almost white, but his eyebrows were bushy and still black. His spectacles, his gentle, fussy movements, and the fact that he was wearing an aged jacket of black velvet, gave him a vague air of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or perhaps a musician. His voice was soft, as though faded, and his accent less debased than that of the majority of proles. 

‘I recognized you on the pavement,’ he said immediately. ‘You’re the gentleman that bought the young lady’s keepsake album. That was a beautiful bit of paper, that was. Cream-laid, it used to be called. There’s been no paper like that made for — oh, I dare say fifty years.’ He peered at Winston over the top of his spectacles. ‘Is there anything special I can do for you? Or did you just want to look round?’ 

‘I was passing,’ said Winston vaguely. ‘I just looked in. I don’t want anything in particular.’ 

‘It’s just as well,’ said the other, ‘because I don’t suppose I could have satisfied you.’ He made an apologetic gesture with his softpalmed hand. ‘You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the antique trade’s just about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock either. Furniture, china, glass it’s all been broken up by degrees. And of course the metal stuff’s mostly been melted down. I haven’t seen a brass candlestick in years.’ 

The tiny interior of the shop was in fact uncomfortably full, but there was almost nothing in it of the slightest value. The floorspace was very restricted, because all round the walls were stacked innumerable dusty picture-frames. In the window there were trays of nuts and bolts, worn-out chisels, penknives with broken blades, tarnished watches that did not even pretend to be in going order, and other miscellaneous rubbish. Only on a small table in the corner was there a litter of odds and ends — lacquered snuffboxes, agate brooches, and the like — which looked as though they might include something interesting. As Winston wandered towards the table his eye was caught by a round, smooth thing that gleamed softly in the lamplight, and he picked it up. 

It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anemone. 

‘What is it?’ said Winston, fascinated. 

‘That’s coral, that is,’ said the old man. ‘It must have come from the Indian Ocean. They used to kind of embed it in the glass. That wasn’t made less than a hundred years ago. More, by the look of it.’ 

‘It’s a beautiful thing,’ said Winston. 

‘It is a beautiful thing,’ said the other appreciatively. 

‘But there’s not many that’d say so nowadays.’ He coughed. ‘Now, if it so happened that you wanted to buy it, that’d cost you four dollars. I can remember when a thing like that would have fetched eight pounds, and eight pounds was — well, I can’t work it out, but it was a lot of money. But who cares about genuine antiques nowadays even the few that’s left?’ 

Winston immediately paid over the four dollars and slid the coveted thing into his pocket. What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one. The soft, rainwatery glass was not like any glass that he had ever seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been intended as a paperweight. It was very heavy in his pocket, but fortunately it did not make much of a bulge. It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect. The old man had grown noticeably more cheerful after receiving the four dollars. Winston realized that he would have accepted three or even two. 

‘There’s another room upstairs that you might care to take a look at,’ he said. ‘There’s not much in it. Just a few pieces. We’ll do with a light if we’re going upstairs.’ 

He lit another lamp, and, with bowed back, led the way slowly up the steep and worn stairs and along a tiny passage, into a room which did not give on the street but looked out on a cobbled yard and a forest of chimney-pots. Winston noticed that the furniture was still arranged as though the room were meant to be lived in. There was a strip of carpet on the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep, slatternly arm-chair drawn up to the fireplace. An old-fashioned glass clock with a twelve-hour face was ticking away on the mantelpiece. Under the window, and occupying nearly a quarter of the room, was an enormous bed with the mattress still on it. 

‘We lived here till my wife died,’ said the old man half apologetically. ‘I’m selling the furniture off by little and little. Now that’s a beautiful mahogany bed, or at least it would be if you could get the bugs out of it. But I dare say you’d find it a little bit cumbersome.’ 

He was holdlng the lamp high up, so as to illuminate the whole room, and in the warm dim light the place looked curiously inviting. The thought flitted through Winston’s mind that it would probably be quite easy to rent the room for a few dollars a week, if he dared to take the risk. It was a wild, impossible notion, to be abandoned as soon as thought of; but the room had awakened in him a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory. It seemed to him that he knew exactly what it felt like to sit in a room like this, in an arm-chair beside an open fire with your feet in the fender and a kettle on the hob; utterly alone, utterly secure, with nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock. 

‘There’s no telescreen!’ he could not help murmuring. 

‘Ah,’ said the old man, ‘I never had one of those things. Too expensive. And I never seemed to feel the need of it, somehow. Now that’s a nice gateleg table in the corner there. Though of course you’d have to put new hinges on it if you wanted to use the flaps.’ 

There was a small bookcase in the other corner, and Winston had already gravitated towards it. It contained nothing but rubbish. The hunting-down and destruction of books had been done with the same thoroughness in the prole quarters as everywhere else. It was very unlikely that there existed anywhere in Oceania a copy of a book printed earlier than 1960. The old man, still carrying the lamp, was standing in front of a picture in a rosewood frame which hung on the other side of the fireplace, opposite the bed. 

‘Now, if you happen to be interested in old prints at all-‘ he began delicately. 

Winston came across to examine the picture. It was a steel engraving of an oval building with rectangular windows, and a small tower in front. There was a railing running round the building, and at the rear end there was what appeared to be a statue. Winston gazed at it for some moments. It seemed vaguely familiar, though he did not remember the statue. 

‘The frame’s fixed to the wall,’ said the old man, ‘but I could unscrew it for you, I dare say.’ 

‘I know that building,’ said Winston finally. ‘It’s a ruin now. It’s in the middle of the street outside the Palace of Justice.’ 

‘That’s right. Outside the Law Courts. It was bombed in — oh, many years ago. It was a church at one time, St Clement Danes, its name was.’ He smiled apologetically, as though conscious of saying something slightly ridiculous, and added: ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s!’ 

‘What’s that?’ said Winston. 

‘Oh- “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s.” That was a rhyme we had when I was a little boy. How it goes on I don’t remember, but I do know it ended up, “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” It was a kind of a dance. They held out their arms for you to pass under, and when they came to “Here comes a chopper to chop off your head” they brought their arms down and caught you. It was just names of churches. All the London churches were in it — all the principal ones, that is.’ 

Winston wondered vaguely to what century the church belonged. It was always difficult to determine the age of a London building. Anything large and impressive, if it was reasonably new in appearance, was automatically claimed as having been built since the Revolution, while anything that was obviously of earlier date was ascribed to some dim period called the Middle Ages. The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets — anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered. 

‘I never knew it had been a church,’ he said. 

‘There’s a lot of them left, really,’ said the old man, ‘though they’ve been put to other uses. Now, how did that rhyme go? Ah! I’ve got it! 

“Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s, 

You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin’s — ” 

there, now, that’s as far as I can get. A farthing, that was a small copper coin, looked something like a cent.’ 

‘Where was St Martin’s?’ said Winston. 

‘St Martin’s? That’s still standing. It’s in Victory Square, alongside the picture gallery. A building with a kind of a triangular porch and pillars in front, and a big flight of steps.’ 

Winston knew the place well. It was a museum used for propaganda displays of various kinds — scale models of rocket bombs and Floating Fortresses, wax-work tableaux illustrating enemy atrocities, and the like. 

‘St Martin’s-in-the-Fields it used to be called,’ supplemented the old man, ‘though I don’t recollect any fields anywhere in those parts.’ 

Winston did not buy the picture. It would have been an even more incongruous possession than the glass paperweight, and impossible to carry home, unless it were taken out of its frame. But he lingered for some minutes more, talking to the old man, whose name, he discovered, was not Weeks — as one might have gathered from the inscription over the shop-front — but Charrington. Mr Charrington, it seemed, was a widower aged sixty-three and had inhabited this shop for thirty years. Throughout that time he had been intending to alter the name over the window, but had never quite got to the point of doing it. All the while that they were talking the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston’s head. Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin’s! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing. 

He got away from Mr Charrington and went down the stairs alone, so as not to let the old man see him reconnoitring the street before stepping out of the door. He had already made up his mind that after a suitable interval — a month, say — he would take the risk of visiting the shop again. It was perhaps not more dangerous than shirking an evening at the Centre. The serious piece of folly had been to come back here in the first place, after buying the diary and without knowing whether the proprietor of the shop could be trusted. However-! 

Yes, he thought again, he would come back. He would buy further scraps of beautiful rubbish. He would buy the engraving of St Clement Danes, take it out of its frame, and carry it home concealed under the jacket of his overalls. He would drag the rest of that poem out of Mr Charrington’s memory. Even the lunatic project of renting the room upstairs flashed momentarily through his mind again. For perhaps five seconds exaltation made him careless, and he stepped out on to the pavement without so much as a preliminary glance through the window. He had even started humming to an improvised tune — 

Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s, 

You owe me three farthings, say the — 

—–

George Orwell, 1903-1950: Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949. Part 1, Chapter 8. Published by Secker & Warburg, London 1949.

Winston Smith is venturing around an insalubrious ‘prole’ neighbourhood of London where people are described as squabbling and pugnacious. Wandering “into a sunken alley where a few stallholders were selling tired-looking vegetables” he recognises a junk-shop where he had bought a blank book with paper of rare quality, a penholder and a bottle of ink. He finds himself outside a dingy, unnamed pub and clandestinely hurries inside into a “hideous cheesy smell of sour beer” and “stinking urinal”. He engages in conversation with an old man, asking about the idea of freedom and the quality of life in an earlier age. The man reflects disconnectedly on the Revolution of 1925 and describes the inequalities between the capitalists (and a few lawyers and priests) and workers. Winston reflected that people “were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision.” The squalid street-life and mundane conversations of the proletarian city are contrasted with pleasure and purposeless of fragments of art, antiques and bric-a-brac decoration leftover from an earlier time as Winston steps inside the old junk-shop where he had bought the book which used as his diary. The appearance of the proprietor, a Mr Charrington, suggest a cultured intellectual man, maybe a literary type or musician. Winston is attracted by the remnants of beauty and impulsively buys a piece of coral in a glass paperweight. The conversation with the shop-owner arouses feelings in Winston of “a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral memory.” A print of a building is identified as what once had been the church of St Clement Danes. “The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets — anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.”  Mr Charrington mused about churches in London that had been destroyed or turned into museums and mentioned St Martins in Victory Square, which Winston knew “as a museum used for propaganda displays of various kinds — scale models of rocket bombs and Floating Fortresses, wax-work tableaux illustrating enemy atrocities, and the like.” Winston leaves the shop without buying the picture while resolving to return to buy the engraving of St Clement Danes and “further scraps of beautiful rubbish.”

Images: George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949. Published by Secker & Warburg, London 1949

Nineteen Eighty-Four, BBC TV, 12 December 1954. Adapted by Nigel Kneale; Directed by Rudolph Cartier; Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morrell, Yvonne Mitchell, Donald Pleasance

Maria Edgeworth – Belinda,1801.

paul-et-virginie-du-roman-aux-images-au-musee-leon-dierx.jpgChapter 14. The Exhibition

The next day, when they came to the exhibition, Lady Delacour had an opportunity of judging of Belinda’s real feelings. As they went up the stairs, they heard the voices of Sir Philip Baddely and Mr. Rochfort, who were standing upon the landing-place, leaning over the banisters, and running their little sticks along the iron rails, to try which could make the loudest noise.

“Have you been much pleased with the pictures, gentlemen?” said Lady Delacour, as she passed them.

“Oh, damme! no–’tis a cursed bore; and yet there are some fine pictures: one in particular–hey, Rochfort?–one damned fine picture!” said Sir Philip. And the two gentlemen laughing significantly, followed Lady Delacour and Belinda into the rooms.

“Ay, there’s one picture that’s worth all the rest, ‘pon honour!” repeated Rochfort; “and we’ll leave it to your ladyship’s and Miss Portman’s taste and judgment to find it out, mayn’t we, Sir Philip?”

“Oh, damme! yes,” said Sir Philip, “by all means.” But he was so impatient to direct her eyes, that he could not keep himself still an instant.

“Oh, curse it! Rochfort, we’d better tell the ladies at once, else they may be all day looking and looking!”

“Nay, Sir Philip, may not I be allowed to guess? Must I be told which is your fine picture?– This is not much in favour of my taste.”

“Oh, damn it! your ladyship has the best taste in the world, every body knows; and so has Miss Portman–and this picture will hit her taste particularly, I’m sure. It is Clarence Hervey’s fancy; but this is a dead secret–dead–Clary no more thinks that we know it, than the man in the moon.”

“Clarence Hervey’s fancy! Then I make no doubt of its being good for something,” said Lady Delacour, “if the painter have done justice to his imagination; for Clarence has really a fine imagination.”

“Oh, damme! ’tis not amongst the history pieces,” cried Sir Philip; “’tis a portrait.”

“And a history piece, too, ‘pon honour!” said Rochfort: “a family history piece, I take it, ‘pon honour! it will turn out,” said Rochfort; and both the gentlemen were, or affected to be, thrown into convulsions of laughter, as they repeated the words, “family history piece, ‘pon honour!–family history piece, damme!”

“I’ll take my oath as to the portrait’s being a devilish good likeness,” added Sir Philip; and as he spoke, he turned to Miss Portman: “Miss Portman has it! damme, Miss Portman has him!”

Belinda hastily withdrew her eyes from the picture at which she was looking. “A most beautiful creature!” exclaimed Lady Delacour.

“Oh, faith! yes; I always do Clary the justice to say, he has a damned good taste for beauty.”

“But this seems to be foreign beauty,” continued Lady Delacour, “if one may judge by her air, her dress, and the scenery about her–cocoa-trees, plantains: Miss Portman, what think you?”

“I think,” said Belinda, (but her voice faltered so much that she could hardly speak,) “that it is a scene from Paul and Virginia. I think the figure is St. Pierre’s Virginia.”

“Virginia St. Pierre! ma’am,” cried Mr. Rochfort, winking at Sir Philip. “No, no, damme! there you are wrong, Rochfort; say Hervey’s Virginia, and then you have it, damme! or, may be, Virginia Hervey–who knows?”

“This is a portrait,” whispered the baronet to Lady Delacour, “of Clarence’s mistress.” Whilst her ladyship leant her ear to this whisper, which was sufficiently audible, she fixed a seemingly careless, but most observing, inquisitive eye upon poor Belinda. Her confusion, for she heard the whisper, was excessive.

“She loves Clarence Hervey–she has no thoughts of Lord Delacour and his coronet: I have done her injustice,” thought Lady Delacour, and instantly she despatched Sir Philip out of the room, for a catalogue of the pictures, begged Mr. Rochfort to get her something else, and, drawing Miss Portman’s arm within hers, she said, in a low voice, “Lean upon me, my dearest Belinda: depend upon it, Clarence will never be such a fool as to marry the girl–Virginia Hervey she will never be!”

“And what will become of her? can Mr. Hervey desert her? she looks like innocence itself–and so young, too! Can he leave her for ever to sorrow, and vice, and infamy?” thought Belinda, as she kept her eyes fixed, in silent anguish, upon the picture of Virginia. “No, he cannot do this: if he could he would be unworthy of me, and I ought to think of him no more. No; he will marry her; and I must think of him no more.”

She turned abruptly away from the picture, and she saw Clarence Hervey standing beside her.

“What do you think of this picture? is it not beautiful? We are quite enchanted with it; but you do not seem to be struck with it, as we were at the first glance,” said Lady Delacour.

“Because,” answered Clarence, gaily, “it is not the first glance I have had at that picture–I admired it yesterday, and admire it to-day.”

“But you are tired of admiring it, I see. Well, we shall not force you to be in raptures with it–shall we, Miss Portman? A man may be tired of the most beautiful face in the world, or the most beautiful picture; but really there is so much sweetness, so much innocence, such tender melancholy in this countenance, that, if I were a man, I should inevitably be in love with it, and in love for ever! Such beauty, if it were in nature, would certainly fix the most inconstant man upon earth.”

Belinda ventured to take her eyes for an instant from the picture, to see whether Clarence Hervey looked like the most inconstant man upon earth. He was intently gazing upon her; but as soon as she looked round, he suddenly exclaimed, as he turned to the picture–“A heavenly countenance, indeed!–the painter has done justice to the poet.”

“Poet!” repeated Lady Delacour: “the man’s in the clouds!”

“Pardon me,” said Clarence; “does not M. de St. Pierre deserve to be called a poet? Though he does not write in rhyme, surely he has a poetical imagination.”

“Certainly,” said Belinda; and from the composure with which Mr. Hervey now spoke, she was suddenly inclined to believe, or to hope, that all Sir Philip’s story was false. “M. de St. Pierre undoubtedly has a great deal of imagination, and deserves to be called a poet.”

“Very likely, good people!” said Lady Delacour; “but what has that to do with the present purpose?”

“Nay,” cried Clarence, “your ladyship certainly sees that this is St. Pierre’s Virginia?”

“St. Pierre’s Virginia! Oh, I know who it is, Clarence, as well as you do. I am not quite so blind, or so stupid, as you take me to be.” Then recollecting her promise, not to betray Sir Philip’s secret, she added, pointing to the landscape of the picture, “These cocoa trees, this fountain, and the words Fontaine de Virginie, inscribed on the rock–I must have been stupidity itself, if I had not found it out. I absolutely can read, Clarence, and spell, and put together. But here comes Sir Philip Baddely, who, I believe, cannot read, for I sent him an hour ago for a catalogue, and he pores over the book as if he had not yet made out the title.”

Sir Philip had purposely delayed, because he was afraid of rejoining Lady Delacour whilst Clarence Hervey was with her, and whilst they were talking of the picture of Virginia.

“Here’s the catalogue; here’s the picture your ladyship wants. St. Pierre’s Virginia: damme! I never heard of that fellow before–he is some new painter, damme! that is the reason I did not know the hand. Not a word of what I told you, Lady Delacour–you won’t blow us to Clary,” added he aside to her ladyship. “Rochfort keeps aloof; and so will I, damme!”

A gentleman at this instant beckoned to Mr Hervey with an air of great eagerness. Clarence went and spoke to him, then returned with an altered countenance, and apologized to Lady Delacour for not dining with her, as he had promised. Business, he said, of great importance required that he should leave town immediately. Helena had just taken Miss Portman into a little room, where Westall’s drawings were hung, to show her a group of Lady Anne Percival and her children; and Belinda was alone with the little girl, when Mr Hervey came to bid her adieu. He was in much agitation.

———————————————-

Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849

Title: Belinda,1801

Maria Edgworth, 1768-1849, was a British writer, associated with the Anglo-Irish Tory gentry, notable for her observations on social conventions through well-observed dialogue and challenging moral views on the politics, Catholic emancipation, agricultural reform, education, anti-semitism and the role of property and the injustices caused by English and Irish absentee landlords. Her major novels are Castle Rackrent1800; Belinda1801; Leonora, 1806; The Absentee1812; Patronage,1814; and Harrington, 1817; Ormond, 1817.

The novel Belinda, 1801, was considered controversial in its day, owing to its depiction of interracial marriage. In the 1810 publication, some characters were replaced and the interracial plot lines were omitted completely. In ‘The Exhibition’, chapter 14 of Belinda, during a visit by Lady Delacour to the picture gallery of Clarence Hervey, she is directed to a picture of ‘Paul and Virginie’ illustrating a scene from Jacques-Henri Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s novel ‘Paul et Virginie’, 1788 set on the French colony of Ile-de-France (Mauritius). The novel tells the story of two childhood friends who become lovers, and is an Enlightenment story of a child of nature whose moral views are corrupted by the false sentimentality of the French bourgeoisie and aristocracy on the eve of the French Revolution.  

Lady Delacour, who is a mercenary rival suitor to Belinda for the hand and estate of Clarence Hervey, is advised by Sir Phillip Baddely that the picture is of Mr Hervey’s ‘native’ mistress. As part of the intrigue, Mr Hervey warns Belinda as a friend that it is being rumoured that Belinda would marry Lord Delacour after his wife’s death. Belinda is a traditional courtship novel of the period where women might seek socially suitable fortune-hunting marriages. Belinda is a Romantic heroine who champions innocence,  love and feelings over marital duty and compatibility in a treatment of themes popularised by Jane Austen.

In Chapter XXV of her novel ‘Patronage’, 1814, Edgeworth portrays the importance of painting as a symbol of lineage and marriageability in the sentence, “A picture is no very dangerous rival, except in a modern novel.” 

The characters
Belinda Portman – the heroine
Mrs Stanhope – Belinda’s matchmaking aunt
Lady Delacour – the society hostess with whom Belinda stays in London
Lord Delacour – Lady Delacour’s dissolute husband
Clarence Hervey – Belinda’s suitor #1
Sir Philip Baddeley – one of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends and Belinda’s suitor #2
Mr Rochfort – another of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends
Mr Vincent – Belinda’s suitor #3 – a rich West Indian gentleman
Mr Henry Percival – a gentleman who once loved Lady Delacour, but who has found happiness in his second attachment
Lady Anne Percival – Mr Percival’s wife, seemingly the perfect wife and mother
Helena Delacour – Lady Delacour’s only surviving child
Margaret Delacour – Lord Delacour’s sister
Mrs Luttridge – Lady Delacour’s rival
Mrs Harriet Freke – once Lady Delacour’s friend, but now her bitterest enemy
Marriott – Lady Delacour’s maid
Champfort – Lord Delacour’s manservant
Virginia St Pierre – a young woman living under Mr Hervey’s protection
Mrs Ormond – Virginia’s companion
Mr Moreton – a clergyman who was badly treated by Harriet Freke but rewarded by Mr Hervey
Mr Hartley – Virginia’s father
A good summary of the novel / moral tale by Rachel Knowles can be found at: https://www.regencyhistory.net/2016/04/belinda-by-maria-edgeworth-regency.html
Images: 1. Maria Edgeworth – Belinda. Belinda at the exhibition. 1896
2. Paul et Virginie

Teju Cole – Open City, 2012

j brewster jr Francis O watts- Teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

The cluster of taxis at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South broke the illusion. After I had walked another quarter hour, by then thouroughly drenched. I stood under the eaves of a building on Fifty-third Street. When I turned around I saw that I was at the entryway of the American Folk Art Museum. Never having visited before, I went in.

The artifacts on display, most from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—weather vanes, ornaments, quilts, paintings—evoked the agrarian life of the new American country as well as the half-remembered traditions of the old European ones. It was the art of a country that had an aristocracy but did not have the patronage of courts: a simple open-faced, and awkward art. At the landing of the first flight of stairs, I saw an oll portrait of a young girl in a starchy red dress holding a white cat. A dog peeked out from under her chair. The detials were saccherine, but they could not obscure the force and beauty of the painting.

The artists featured in the museum were, in almost every case, working outside the elite tradition. They lacked formal training, but their work had soul. The sense of having wandered into the past was complete once I reached the third floor of the museum. The gallery had a row of slender white columns running through its middle, and the floors were polished cherrywood. These two elements echoed the colonial architecture of the New England and Middle Colonies.

That floor, as well as the one just below it, was given over to a special exhibition of the paintings of John Brewster. Brewster, the son of a New England doctor of the same name, had modest facility, but the scale of the exhibition made it clear that he had been much in demand as an artist. The gallery was quiet and calm and, save for the guard who stood in a corner, I was the only person there. This heightened the feeling of quietness I got from almost all the portraits. The stillness of the people depicted was certainly part of it, as was the sober colour palette of each panel, but there was something more, something harder to define: an air of hermeticism. Each of the portraits was a sealed-away world, visible from without, but impossible to enter. This was truest of Brewster’s many portraits of children, all of them self-possessed in their infantile bodies, and often with whimsical elements in their outfits, but with the faces, without exception, serious, more serious even than those of the adults, a gravity all out of keeping with their tender ages. Each child stood in a doll-like pose, and was brought to life by an incisive gaze. The effect was unsettling. The key, as I found out, was that John Brewster was profoundly deaf, and the same was true of many of the children he portrayed. Some of them were pupils at the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which had been founded in 1817 as the country’s first school for the deaf. Brewster was enrolled for three years there as an adult student, and it was while he was there that what later became known as American Sign Language was developed.

As I contemplated the silent world before me, I thought of the many romantic ideas attached to blindness. Ideas of unusual sensitivity and genius were evoked by the names of Milton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Borges, Ray Charles; to lose physical sight, it is thought, is to gain second sight. One door closes and another, greater one, opens. Homer’s blindness, many believe, is a kind of spiritual channel, a shortcut to the gifts of memory and of prophecy. When I was a child in Lagos, there was a blind, wandering bard, a man who was held in the greatest awe for his spiritual gifts. When he sang his songs, he left each person with the feeling that, in hearing him, they had somehow touched the numinous, or been touched by it. Once, in a crowded market at Ojuelegba, sometime in the early eighties, I saw him. It was from quite a distance, but I remember (or imagine that I remember) his large yellow eyes, calcified to a grey colour at the pupils, his frightening mien, and the big, dirty mantle he wore. He sang in a plaintive and high-pitched voice, in a deep, proverbial Yoruba that was impossible for me to follow. Afterward, I imagined that I had seen something like an aura around him, a spiritual apartness that moved all his hearers to reach into their purses and put something in the bowl his assistant boy carried around.

Such is the narrative around blindness. Not so with deafness, which, as in the case of one of my many great-uncles, was often seen as merely unfortunate. Many deaf people, it occurred to me just then, were treated as if they were mentally retarded; even the expression “deaf and dumb,” far from being a simple description of a physiological condition, had a pejororative sense.

Standing before Brewster’s portraits, my mind quiet, I saw the paintings as records of a silent transaction between artist and subject. A laden brush, in depositing paint on the panel or canvas, hardly registers a sound, and how great is the peace palpable in those great artists of stillness: Vermeer, Chardin, Hammershǿi. The silence was even more profound, I thought, as I stood alone in that gallery, when the private world of the artist was total in its quietness. Unlike those other painters, Brewster hadn’t resorted to indirect gazes or chiaroscuro to communicate the silence of his world. The faces were well lit and frontal, and yet they were quiet.

I stood at the window on the third floor and looked outside. The air had shifted from grey to dark blue, and afternoon had become late afternoon. One image drew me back in, a painting of a child holding a bird on a blue thread. The palette, as was usual for Brewster, was dominated by muted colours; the two exceptions were the electric blue of the thread, which coursed across the face of the painting like a bolt of electricity, and the child’s black shoes, which were deeper and blacker than almost anything else in the gallery. The bird represented the child’s soul, as it had in Goya’s portrait of the ill-fated three-year-old Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga. The child in the Brewster painting looked out with a serene and ethereal expression from the year 1805. He, unlike many of the others painted by Brewster, had his hearing intact. Was this portrait a talisman against death? One child in three at the time died before the age of twenty. Was it a magical wish that the child would hold on to life, as he held on to the string? Francis O. Watts, the subject of the painting, did live. He entered Harvard at fifteen and became a lawyer, married Caroline Goddard, who was from his hometown of Kennebunkport, Maine, and went on to become president of The Young Men’s Christian Association. He eventually died in 1860, fifty-five years after the portrait was made. But for the moment of the painting, and therefore, for all time, he is a little boy holding a bird by a blue string, clad in a white chemise with a carefully observed lace frill.

Brewster, born some ten years before the Declaration of Independence, lived his life as an itinerant artist, working all his way from Maine to his native Connecticut and to Eastern New York. He was almost ninety when he died. The elite Federalist milieu of his background had given him access to wealthy, serious-minded patrons (his own ancestors had been on the Mayflower in 1620) but his deafness made him an outsider, and his images were imbued with what that long silence had taught him: concentration, the suspension of time, an unobstrusive wit. In a painting titled One Shoe Off, which held me transfixed the moment I came before it, the neatly tied bow of a shoe on a little girl’s right foot echoed the asterisks of the floor pattern. The other shoe was in her hand, and red pentimenti were visible around the heel and the toes of the now unshod left foot. The child, as secure within her own being as were all of Brewster’s children, had an expression that dared the observer to be amused.

I lost all track of time before these images, fell deep into their world, as if all the time between them and me had somehow vanished, so that when the guard came up to me to say the museum was closing, I forgot how to speak and simply looked at him. When I eventually walked down the stairs and out of the museum, it was with the feeling of someone who had returned to the earth from a great distance.

J Brester jr one shoe off - teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Teju Cole,1975. Open City, 2012. Chapter 3. Published by Random House, January 17, 2012

Teju Cole, born 1975, is an American writer, photographer, and art historian. Open City is a documentary novel that explores layers of urban history and migrant experience set in post 9/11 New York. The narrative is seen through eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist who, in solitary walks, traverses and discovers New York. With the heightened sensitivity of the lone observer he muses on the people and random details of the city. He describes his experiences and encounters in a series of internalised contemplative and reflective emotional states that connect the transient thoughts and physical moments with his own life, and ideas of time and memory. The metaphorical associations of art, music and literature are integral to Julius’ fine-tuned stories of city life as he visits an exhibition of paintings by John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854, at the American Folk Art Museum, and an exhibition of photographs by Martin Munkácsi, 1896-1963, at the International Center of Photography, and makes references to Jan Van Eyck, Paul Claudel, Diego Velázquez in the text.

Images: John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.  Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York