The Reports Of The Death Of The Formal Portrait Are Greatly Exaggerated
Saturday, December 18, 2010
A friend who has my best interests at heart sent me a message, via email, about the fact that the formal portrait was dead and that someone had lifted a photograph of mine. Captain Beefheart, aka Don Van Vliet died today Friday. It is obvious that those who used my image (probably lifted from my blog here
) did not seek my permission. I am certainly not going to go after those who used it as I would have no chance of winning anything, getting any money or achieving any sort of satisfaction,
In fact I already have the satisfaction of knowing that when it came to find an image appropriate to honour a great old man, it was my image that was chosen.
At age 68, just a year younger than Captain Beefheart, I linger in self-doubt that what I do, as a portrait photographer, has any merit in this day and age of the candid snapshot. But I have to mention here, that when some notable person in Vancouver dies or, in a few cases also, someone from abroad, I have been asked to provide an image, and, many times this has been well paid in cash.
What it really means, and it does provide me with a great deal of pleasure, is to know that the formal portrait (what I like to do best) is not quite dead yet even if its use seems to be destined to illustrate obituaries.
A couple of years ago a very rude English student of mine at a photography class asked me in a most deadpan but insulting manner, “Alex, can you show us some magazines that you may have worked for, that are still in existence?” I did not have the heart to tell the rude young man what I was thinking, “In fact I have very few portraits that I can show you that are of people that are still alive.”
Glowing In The Dark - Not
Friday, December 17, 2010
Disclaimer: The photograph herein has no connection with today’s blog except to inject a bit of black humor into the theme. The subjects of the photograph are anesthesiologists Tony Boulton and Igor Brodkin whom I photographed at VGH in Sept of 1999. I achieved the effect by turning on the lights of my darkroom, momentarily, while the print was in the developer. The effect is called solarization.
When I found out that my wife Rosemary was going to be subjected to 20 days of radiation I made the joke that if we went for walks in the late afternoon (in these dark December afternoons) we would not need a flashlight as she would glow in the dark.
The fact is that few of us (or at least this blogger) know exactly what sort of radiation this may be. We were to find out that it consists of X-rays.
My wife had a lumpectomy a month and a half ago. It was sa small but cancerous lump. The surgeon, Noelle Davis (the very same that operated on Biff Naked
) informed us that the operation was not only a success but that the removal of a couple of lymph nodes from Rosemary’s right armpit had revealed not cancerous spread. Although Dr. Davis did not say it I imagined that she may have been thinking, “You are going to have to die of something else.”
I will now use photography as a way of explaining the purpose of Rosemary’s radiation treatment. When I remove a b+w print from the fixer or pour out the fixer from a tank containing developed b+w film I must perform an important task. The purpose of sodium thiosulphate (also called hypo as at one time it was sodium hyposulphate and discovered by astronomer John Herschel whose father, William, discovered Uranus) is to dissolve remaining silver salts in negatives and photographic prints. The fixer fixes the image and prevents the image from fading or deteriorating. But if any fixer is left in the negative or photograph these will also stain and deteriorate the image. So it is my duty to myself, if my negatives and photographs are to be archival to wash them well and remove all traces of fixer.
In the same way, radiation is used as a “and just in case” method to remove from the body any remaining traces of cancer if there are any.
Today Rosemary received her third treatment. For her first we were both met by extremely pleasant people with smiles and an easy way about them. They explained everything in a luxury of detail. Photons and electrons flew with these explanations and I was able to see Rosemary installed under a huge machine right out of a B science fiction film. Would this machine manipulate her brain or replace it with someone else’s?
The technicians ushered me out of the room (it had one huge and extremely thick lead door) and I watched the whole operation from a bank of computers and several monitors looking into Rosemary’s room. With smiles we left as if nothing had happened.
We have been warned that in her third week she might suffer a slight Can-Cun type sunburn but that she should not be concerned. And since the radiation is localized, Rosemary will have to keep washing her hair as she is not going to lose any of it.
While I waited in the comfortable waiting room which has a huge jig-saw puzzle being assembled in a middle table, there are magazines and books casually placed on tables, I noticed that most were watching a very large flat-screen TV. Today it was not the usual cooking channel but Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in The Road to Morocco
I didn’t get to see enough because Rosemary was soon back.
As we went to the nearby back alley where I had parked our Malibu (I have municipal plates that allow me to park, to unload [my wife?] and load [my wife?] for 30 minutes), the Rocket was gone. It seems an overzealous parking enforcer saw us leave the car at 9:15 and lingered. At 9:35 a ticket was slapped on the windshield and the car was towed away at 9:45.
It would seem to me that parking, not radiation is hazardous to one’s health. If anybody had seen me they would have noted that in an evening walk in the dark my face would have glowed as red as Rudolph’s nose!
Zantedeschia aethiopica & Friend
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Araceae are a family of monocotyledonous flowering plants in which flowers are borne on a type of inflorescence called a spadix. The spadix is usually accompanied by, and sometimes partially enclosed in, a spathe or leaf-like bract. Also known as the Arum family, members are often colloquially known as aroid. This family of 107 genera and over 3700 species is most diverse in the New World tropics, although also distributed in the Old World tropics and north temperate regions. The leaf below is from what is commonly known as a calla lily even though it is neither the one nor the other! Other members of the Araceae have particular features that make them unique in the plant kingdom. There are some aroids that are capable of raising the temperature of the spadix (the central finger-like protuberance in the flower or inflorescence) independently of the temperature of the outside environment. This allows the plant to dissipate an odour (usually similar to that of rotting meat) more freely that will attract insects such as flies. This puts a bit of problem on the uniqueness of warm-blooded mammals! Many other aroids choose their sex at random and some even choose not to emerge in the spring and simply wait for the next year, perhaps a better one.
A hosta is not a member of the Aroids but is more closely related to the lily to which the calla lily is not in the least. I have around 500 hostas in my gardens. Hosta 'Krossa Regal' has very thick, tall and stately leaves that are the colour of an American batttleship.
|Hosta 'Krossa Regal'|
John Sexton's Aspens They Are Not
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Today’s blog is really an extension of yesterday’s. These, are again not portraits but landscapes I took at VanDusen Botanical garden in the mid 90s using a German box camera of questionable sharpness and exposure control. But it does shoot a negative that is 6 by 8½ cm. This kind of photography is the kind that so many, particularly in the United Stages have pursued with 4x5 inch or even bigger cameras. They want to capture nature at its sharpest and want to produce prints that will have every shade of available gray with luminous whites and black blacks. Perhaps the most famous of the photographer who do this sort of thing is a photographer called John Sexton who is also well known for giving workshops on the use of the 4x5 camera in the landscape. One of his most famous images is one called Aspen Reflections
For many years when people urge me to take pictures of nature I simply retort that when I see a beautiful landscape I just might buy a postcard!
If anything the lack of brilliance (as in expertise) of these images helps to keep me humble with the idea that not every picture I take is a good one. Yet as I look at some of the prints I made from these negatives (as opposed to the scans you see here), they are nice and dark and they have a quality (on really good photographic paper) that simply cannot be gleaned from just looking at a monitor, no matter how good your monitor may be.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
In 1989 I met a pushy, aggressive American photographer, Robert Blake. But in the end he always meant well. He called me up one day (after I had given him a tour of my home and home darkroom) to tell me, “Alex, the Exposure Gallery on Beatty Street is having a show of nude photography. You have some nice ones on your darkroom wall. You should participate.” I must confess that until that moment I had never ever considered my photographs to be beyond technically okay. I never saw them as art. Even now I loathe the over-the-top “artist’s statement” that often accompanies shows of dubious content.
But I did participate in that show and then went on to participate in every group show that gallery had for something like 10 years.
I am one of those persons who if left to his own devices will procrastinate and do nothing. When I arrived in Vancouver 1n 1975 I vowed I would teach myself to print colour negatives and slides. I postponed for a couple of years until one day Rosemary told me she had signed me up for a colour printing course at Ampro Photo Workshops. I learned to print and that knowledge has served me well in being able to colour correct my digitized (via a scanner) colour negatives and slides.
The Exposure Gallery was like going to school where I was being assigned homework. Some of this homework was not to my liking but I did it nonetheless. The Exposure Gallery helped me hone my skills and give those very skills a depth of diversity. I am a portrait man but I shot landscapes. I am a heterosexual photographer but I participated in gay-themed shows. I am a stickler to sharp and well exposed photographs but I participated in shows where we had to use throw-away or primitive box cameras that had no focusing or exposure setting capabilities.
It had to be a pushy and aggressive American, Robert Blake who would introduce me into the fun world that he called art and which has provided me with so much fun through the years.
What you see here are pictures I took for an Exposure Gallery show in which we had to use a primitive camera. I shot them with a camera called a Bessa which used 120 roll film and took pictures that were 6x8 cm negatives. I used a technique called extended range night photography and snapped my house at f-5.6 for 35 seconds on Kodak Tri-X film.
On my own I would have never done anything like this. But thanks to Robert Blake and the Exposure Gallery I learned a few more techniques to put into my photographic recipe hat.
L'Origine du Monde
Monday, December 13, 2010
When my granddaughter Rebecca was 7 I took her to the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology. We lingered around Bill Reid’s carving The Raven and the First Men
. We sat in the fence-like round wall that surrounds it. Rebecca noticed something and looked at me. I had to explain to her that the particular part of a man’s genitalia that was showing was called a scrotum.
Just a few months later at Seattle’s SAM (Seattle Art Museum) we were looking at some ancient Greek vases. I was on one end of the room and Rebecca on the other when she loudly said, “Papi, come here you can see his scrotum on this vase.” There was suddenly lots of silence in the busy room.
About four years ago, in my class called The Contemporary Portrait Nude at Focal Point one of my students, a male student, left my class and never returned. I had asked my students that in the next shooting session in our studio I would like all to attempt the ultimate scrotum shot. It was then that I understood that scrotum is as unmentionable a word, a word that shocks in a present world that seems to be free of all shock, as that other one that describes that part of a female’s genitalia and that begins with a c.
Today’s blog is about that word that begins with a c.
In a roundabout way it all begins with a phone call I received around 1979. It went something like this:
Is this Alex Waterhouse-Hayward? My name is ….and I need to have some pictures taken. I am a fitness instructor at the YWCA and I want to be photographed in the nude. I have a great body and I want it recorded before nature takes it course.
Armed with two 35mm cameras, one loaded with Kodak b+w Infrared Film and the other with Kodak Technical Pan Film I met up with the YWCA fitness instructor on Wreck Beach. At the time I had no real studio in our Burnaby town house. For nature type photography in the raw nature’s best pointed at Wreck Beach.
The YWCA fitness instructor was pleased with her photographs. I never heard from her again and I have no recollection of her name.
While perusing the negatives (filed under YWCA Fitness Instructor) a few days ago I noticed a picture (above, left) which I have taken over and over through the years. It is a definite cliché.
In 1989 I purchased an excellent book, Image of the Body
by Michael Gill. The beautifully illustrated book (in b+w) is a series of long essays on the subject of the human body as seen from the Paleolithic age, through the Greek Classical period and to the present times. It includes an interesting chapter on the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and in particular his startling photographs of body builder Lisa Lyon.
But there was one image that shocked me. Even today I don’t think I could get away with placing it in this blog. The image in question is called L'Origine du monde
and it was painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866. It would be only recently that I finally saw the image on the web in its even more startling colour version. Of the painting, and another, author Michael Gill wrote:
What could not be viewed publicly [in the Paris salons] could be commissioned by a client with specialist tastes. In 1866 for Khalil Bey, the former Turkish ambassador to St. Petersburg, Courbet painted two naked women asleep on a bed, their limbs intertwined. Coubert said it should be called Laziness and Sensuality
[It ultimately is known as Sleep
]. The women are more comely than usual in his work and the whole picture, opulent with flowers, pearls, an enameled flask, breathes and atmosphere of satisfied desire. It must be one of the few major works of Western art dealing with lesbianism. Even more provocative was Courbet’s second picture for Khalil Bey. L'Origine du monde,
was a straightforward view of the female sexual parts. It vanished from Budapest at the end of the Second World War. The French critic Edmond de Goncourt said it was as beautiful as the flesh of a Corregio. Courbet was demonstrating, in his habitual blunt manner, the Romantic determination to make the most intimate subjects fit themes for art.
It wasn’t until I read Canadian author, Ross King’s (Bruneleschi's Dome
, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling
) The Judgement of Paris – The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism
that I heard a big click in my head.
I will be short in the explanation (I have re-read King's The Judgement of Paris
several times) but here is more or less how that click happened. The most famous painter (and the richest) in the 19 century was Ernest Meissonier. In 1814 he started with his The Campaign of France
a theme that included Napoleon on a horse in battle or on his way to one. Meissonier’s paintings were large (The Campaign of France was his smallest at 76.5 cm) and had incredible detail such as Napoleon’s sprouting beard, the veins on the horse and the dirty snow result of the trampling of an army.
|The Campaign of France, Ernest Meissonier, 1814|
This man held court in France and in most of the civilized Western world. But something happened in 1827 that was to change the direction of painting as art. In 1827 Nicéphore Niépce took a picture from his kitchen window that was the world’s first heliograph. By 1839 the French Academy of Sciences announced to the world the Daguerreotype process. Later in that year the English Henry Fox Talbot announced his calotype process.
Photography was to painting in the 1840s and on what the internet seems to be doing to print in our very own 21st century. The world was in an uproar. Photography could now reveal the minutest detail with ease. Meissonier was as obsolete as is the formal photographic portrait photographer now (and alas me!).
Édouard Manet and Claude Monet decided that they could not compete with photography and found Meissioner a tired old man of the rear guard. “If we cannot paint in great detail, we shall do the opposite,” they might have asserted. So that is how Impressionism was born. From real close you could see the detail of Napoleon’s beard on a Meissonier painting. At that distance in a Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
you would not see much. You had to stand back to see the painter’s intention.
With Impressionism in vogue the startlingly realistic L'Origine du monde
by Courbet was seen as tired as Meissonier. But art history has been kinder to Courbet than it has been to Meissonier. The former is still famous and the latter is mostly forgotten.
As a parallel to this, photographers got tired of recording detail so such pioneers as Alfred Stieglitz began a movement called Pictorialism in which photographs were hazy, blurry and painterly. By the late 1920s this movement began to weaken to be replaced by photographers who now wanted to shoot with consummate sharpness. This is how the Group f64
began headed by Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke.
Since then both photography and painting have gone back and forth between great detail and abstraction and have influenced each other.
Since then I have tracked down (after reading in The Image of the Body that Courbet’s infamous painting had been lost) L’Origine du monde
During World War II, the 1866 Courbet nude belonged to Hungarian collector Baron Ferenc Hatvany. Amid wartime looting in Hungary by the Red Army, Nazis and locals, the painting and others (including Courbet’s, 1962, Femme nue couchee
were stolen from the bank vault where the baron had put them for safekeeping. The baron, who was Jewish, survived the war but lost all his art, the largest collection in Hungary. Charles Goldstein, a lawyer for the Commission for Art Recovery, founded by the World Jewish Congress tracked down and bought back some of his lost works, including L'Origine du Monde.
I further found out that Hatvany put L'Origine du monde
in his bathroom, while the celebrated psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan bought it and hid it behind a panel that he uncovered for guests.
|Le Somneil, Gustav Courbet, 1866 |
Even further research led me to find out that the model for L'Origine du monde
and for one of The Sleepers was Joanna Hiffernan (Hiffernan is the woman in the foreground in le Somneil
), an Irish artist’s model who had flaming red hair. That the pubic hair in L'Origine du monde is dark is not at odds with the prevailing opinion that Hiffernan was indeed the model for the painting.
|Woman in White, Whistler|
Courbet met Hiffernan through his friend James McNeil Whistler. Joanna Hiffernan was Whistler’s favourite model, lover and subject of Whistler’s most famous, 1862, painting Symphony in White Number 1
but previously named The White Girl
. By 1866 Courbet was losing patience with Whistler who was shifting away from their shared realism. And it was at about this time that Hiffernan switched sides to become Courbet’s lover. Whistler got angry and left for the United States.
And the picture that starts this blog is my version (one of many that I have attempted since) of L'Origine du monde and my subject was the YWCA fitness instructor. It will be a while before I show any attempts at The Perfect Scrotum. And for those who might be curious about Gustave Coubert's L'Origine du Monde,
you will have to do your own searching.
|L'oeuf du YWCA, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
Mary Webb - Precious Bane
Sunday, December 12, 2010
In the late 80s, thanks to British Airways I was invited on a press tour of Shropshire and London that was dubbed a literary tour of England. The tour opened my eyes to the poems of Alfred Edward Houseman
, and gave me some insights (through locations) into D.H. Lawrence (his birthplace), Lord Byron (Newstead Abbey
he lived there briefly) and Oscar Wilde
(the Cadogan Hotel ,shortly after opening, the hotel became infamous for Wilde’s arrest in April 1895, in room no. 118. He was charged with “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons”). It was in room 118 that we were read John Betjeman’s famous poem The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel.
|Devil's Chair, Stiperstones|
But I must admit that I was keener in exploring Ellis Peter’s (the writer of the Brother Cadfael series of which I had read all) Shrewsbury and in noting the statue of Shresbury’s favourite son, Charles Darwin
. One of my fellow journalists was the British upper crust sounding (but thoroughly charming) Araminta Wordsworth (a columnist for the National Post) who would have never admitted to have read a single tome of Peters’ prose.
While being shown castles, abbeys and charming little towns there was one name I did not recognize. This happened when we visited the gloomy and gothic Stiperstones (the highest of them is called the Devil’s Chair). Our tour guides kept mentioning Mary Webb. I had never heard of her.
My first contact with Mary Webb was at VanDusen Botanical Gardens some 12 years ago when I spotted, in the yearly plant sale, an English Rose called Rosa
‘Mary Webb’. Christine Allen, a rose expert and volunteer told me, “Here is a myrrh fragrance English Rose you will surely want. It is pink.” She was wrong about the colour but she was right about the fragrance. Its fragrance is the strongest of all my English Rose myrrh scented roses. Its colour is a very pale yellow that reminds me of very thick and very good whipped cream. Alas the rose is difficult to grow and shy to bloom as I get at the most 6 (but extremely large) blooms per season. David Austin, its Shropshire creator de-listed the rose some yeas ago citing its poor growing charateristics.
My knowledge of Mary Webb ceased right there. It all changed two weeks ago.
After a pleasant lunch at the Railway Club with my friends, Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew, designer Ian Bateson and novelist/thespian and expert on sabers, swords and foils, C.C. Humphreys
, the latter and I walked over to the Vancouver Public Library. There was a sale in the atrium of books that had been de-listed (like Rosa
‘Mary Webb’?) or of books given to the library that the library did not want to keep. One of the books that I looked at (and which I subsequently purchased for a quarter) was Precious Bane
by Mary Webb. Humphreys (who received a very good education in the British public school system) was impressed and told me the book was famous and considered to be Webb’s finest work. I noted the beautiful illustrations in colour and in b+ w by one Rowland Hilder.
Since purchasing Precious Bane
, Rosemary and I have watched The Gathering Storm
(a DVD from the Vancouver Public Library) which is about the years in Winston Churchill’s (Albert Finney) life before the war when he was the only one who seemed to recognize Adolph Hitler for whom he was. At the time the Prime Minister was Stanley Baldwin who preceded Chamberlain’s (the prime minister after him) in his attempts to placate Hitler through Britain’s disarmament and while selling Rolls Royce Merlin engines to the Germans. Baldwin was played by Derek Jacobi, everybody’s favourite, and mine, player of Brother Cadfael in the TV series.
Baldwin crept up again in last week’s viewing of The King’s Speech
. To be frank I had not only never really heard of Mary Webb, but until recently Baldwin had no connecting synapses in my brain’s memory.
Imagine opening the lovely little green book and reading that the introduction to the book was The Rt Hon Stanley Baldwin. That produced not mental activity or any signs of recognition. It wasn’t until I finished reading the introduction that I noticed 10 Downing Street, S.W.1 October 1928 that my brain reacted!
Mary Meredith, the author of Precious Bane
, was born in the little village of Leighton near Cressage,under the Wreckin, on March 25th, 1881, and died at St. Leonards, October 8th, 1927, and was buried in Shrewsbury. She was the daughter of George Edward Meredith, a schoolmaster of Welsh descent, by his marriage with Sarah Alice Scott, daughter of an Edinburgh doctor of the clan of Sir Walter Scott. She was the eldest of six children and spent her early girlhood at The Grange, a small country house near Much Wenlock; form 12 to 21 she lived at Stanton-on-Hine-Heath, six miles north-east of Shrewsbury, and for the next ten years at the Old Mill, Meole Brace, a mile from Shrewsbury. In 1912 Mary Meredith married Mr. Henry Bertram Law Webb, a Cambridge graduate and native of Shropshire. After two years at Weston-super-Mare, where Mr. Webb had a post at in a school, Mr. and Mrs. Webb returned to Shropshire, living in Pontesbury and Lyth Hill, working as market gardeners and selling the produce at their own stall in Shrewsbury market. Mrs. Webb had written stories and poems from childhood, but it was at this period that she seriously turned her mind to writing novels. A volume of essays on nature, The Spring of Joy
, and three novels, The Golden Arrow, Gone to Earth
, and The House in Dormer Forest
, has been published before she came to live in London in 1921. Seven for a Secret followed in 1922, and Precious Bane
in 1924. It was awarded the ‘Femina Vie Heureuse’ Prize for 1924-5, given annually for the best work of imagination in prose or verse descriptive of English life by an author who had not attained sufficient recognition.
I am indebted for these biographical particulars to Mr. Webb, to whom Precious Bane is inscribed. I never met Mary Webb and knew nothing of her work until I read Precious Bane
at Christmas, 1926. I am glad to think that I was in time to send her a few words of appreciation.
The stupid urban view of the countryside as dull receives a fresh and crushing answer in the books of Mary Webb. All the novels except Precious Bane are set in the hill country of south-wets Shropshire, between the Clee Hills and the Breiddens, and between Shrewsbury and Ludlow. The scene of Precious Bane is the country of north Shropshire meres – the Ellesmere district, but the dialect is that of south Shropshire. In the country of the Severn lowlands and of isolated upland ridges where Celt and Saxon have met and mingled for centuries. For the passing traveller it is inhabited by an uncommunicative population dwelling among places with names like Stedmont and Squlver and Stiperstone, Nipstone and Nind. There are of course the old castles and timbered black and white houses for the motoring visitors. But to the imaginative child brought up among the plowlands and pools and dragon-flies there is ‘a richness of the world, so it looked what our parson used to call sumptuous.’ It is this richness which Mary Webb saw and felt as a girl and remembered with lyrical intensity as a woman.
She has interlaced with this natural beauty the tragic drama of a youth whose whole being is bent on the toil and thrift and worldly success only to find himself defeated on the morrow of the harvest by the firing of the cornricks by the father of his lover. The dour figure of Gideon Sarn is set against that of his gentle sister, Prudence, who tells the tale. She is a woman flawed with a hare-shotten lip and cursed in the eyes of the neighbours until her soul’s loveliness is discerned by Kester Woodseaves, the weaver. And so there comes to her at the end of the story the love which is ‘the peace to which all hearts do strive.’
The strength of the book is not in its insight into human character, though that is not lacking. Nor does it lie in the inevitability which with the drama is unfolded and the sin of an all-absorbing and selfish ambition punished. It lies in the fusion of the elements of nature and man, as observed in this remote countryside by a woman even more alive to the changing moods of nature than of man. Almost any page at random will furnish an illustration of the blending of human passion with the fields and skies.
‘So they rode away, and the sound of the people died till it was less than the hum of a midge, and there was nothing but a scent of rosemary, and warm sun, and the horse lengthening its stride towards the mountains, whence came the air of morning’ (p. 126).
One reviewer compared Precious Bane to a sampler stitched through long summertime evenings in the bay window ofa remote farmhouse. And sometimes writers of Welsh and Border origin, like William Morris, have had their work compared to old tapestries. But while these comparisons suggest something of the harmonies of colour they fail to convey the emotional force which glows in these pages. Nature to Mary Webb was not a pattern on a screen. Her sensibility is so acute and her power over words so sure and swift that one who reads some passages in Whitehall has almost the physical sense of being in Shropshire cornfields.
|Unintended multiple exposure somewhere in Shropshire|
Precious Bane is a revelation not of unearthly but of earthly beauty in one bit of the England of Waterloo, the Western edge, haunted in the shadows of superstition, the legendary lore and phantasy of neighbours on the Border, differing in blood and tongue. This mingling of peoples and traditions and turns of speech and proverbial wisdom is what Mary Webb saw with the eye of the mind as she stood at her stall in Shrewsbury market, fastened in her memory, and fashioned for us in the little parcel of novels which is her legacy to literature.
10 Downing Street, S.W.1
There is a moment in Precious Bane
by which our hare
-lipped heroine (stark naked) is pulled up a trap in a room where there is a pink light and smoke and the seated Squire who is there to see the raising of Venus that is as erotic a scene as I have ever read. I will not reveal any further details. But I would like to precede what to me is the better part of the quote above in Baldwin’s introduction:
I saw a great crowd of people beside the troubled water of Sarn. They were dressed in holiday colours, but their faces were evil. Then one came riding through them in a tall horse, and his face was the face of the weaver. A woman stood forth from the crowd. She had a necklace if green glass beads and green blazing eyes. She cried out- ‘My body, my body, for a ride in your saddle!” But he turned aside from her to one who stood hidden, in a torn, sad-coloured dress, with a hare-shotten lip. He stooped to her, saying – ‘Ah, my dear acquaintance!’
And she gave him a sprig of rosemary. She said no word and she supposed he would go by her. But he set his arms about her and gathered her up before him on the saddle, and his right arm was strong around her. So they rode away…
In my Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia
I found an interesting citation:
Cold Comfort Farm (1932) a novel By Stella Gibbons (1902- ) A brilliant parody of the novel rustic pessimism, such as those written by Mary Webb (see Precious Bane) and other writers in the Hardy tradition, it virtually put an end to a widely popular genre.
Also interesting is the fact that Thomas Hardy died in 1928, only a year after Mary Webb.
Shining a light on a forgotten poet
Rosa 'Mary Webb"