Tag Archives: aubrey beardsley

Sleeping Dragons

Tintagel Castle is a hothouse of legend and unlikely histories.  With a silvery childlike name, it stands rooted in the Celtic Sea, close to the curving turquoise grottos and the melting veils of salt.  In winter the waves beat across the tumbled granite like fists; in summer they hiss like dragons, asleep in the hidden, subterranean caves.

Water Fall and Flowers

A gray skeleton crumbling into the grass, its wounded remains shiver in the Cornish air…the noble bones of arches and turrets.   Once it crawled up the coast:   a granite community born in the Dark Ages, when priests made forests into sanctuaries, when serpents patrolled the ends of the oceans – looking for the painted, foolish ships.

Many Storied

Ten miles away from his castle, called Terrabil, there was, in the castle Tintagil Igraine of Cornwall, that King Uther liked and loved well, for she was a good and fair lady, and passing wise.”

During the Middle Ages, myth and fact either fought like two caged lions – or they would curl lovingly about each other to create stories that would last forever.  Between the years of 1135-38, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the “Historia Regum Britanniae”,  which he described as an ‘ancient book in the British language that told in orderly fashion the deeds of all the kings of Britain’.  Included in that pantheon was King Arthur.

Geoffrey wrote of Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon – a cruel name that spoke of an antediluvian world of towering men and hidden women – and his love for Igraine.   His desperation drove him to go to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, and Igraine’s husband.  Before the two armies thundered into each other across the earth that still vibrates with their ferocity, Gorlois placed Igraine within his most secure castle, Tintagel.

Uther was told by a friend that Tintagel was fearless and could not be taken, for ‘it is right by the sea, and surrounded by the sea on all sides; and there is no other way into it, except that provided by a narrow rocky passage–and there, three armed warriors could forbid all entry, even if you took up your stand with the whole of Britain behind you.’ 

The wizard Merlin was summoned to create an alchemy of magic and potions to change Uther’s outward appearance to that of Gorlois’.  Unfairly disguised, he walked up that perilous passage, and ‘in that night was the most famous of men, Arthur, conceived’ – just as Gorlois was killed in the field.

Birth of a Legend

‘Sir,’ said she, ‘the same night my lord was dead, there came into my castle of Tintagel a man like my lord in speech and countenance; and thus, as I shall answer unto God, this child was begotten’.

There is another legend that has filtered through the crushed walls and prehistoric windows:  the complex tragedy of Tristan and Iseult. 

“As King Mark came down to greet Iseult upon the shore, Tristan took her hand and led her to the King and the King took seizin of her, taking her hand. He led her in great pomp to his castle of Tintagel, and as she came in hall amid the vassals her beauty shone so that the walls were lit as they are lit at dawn.”

This story of elixirs, adultery, banishment, blood and beauty weaves through Tintagel like an embroidery of  sorrow.   The castle was the possession of King Mark, the betrothed of Iseult, the Irish princess whose loveliness scintillated the dour walls of his defense by the sea.

But as was the case of many arranged marriages back then, and quite a sensible solution too, actually, a love potion was prepared – to ease the two over the hurdles of pre-nuptial shyness and suspicion.  Mark’s nephew, Tristan, sailed to Ireland to retrieve the future bride.  However, due to circumstances never quite revealed in neither song nor poetry,  Tristan and Iseult accidentally drink the potion and fall dangerously in love.  Their affair ends only when Mark banishes Tristan from Cornwall.

Love Gone Wrong

Some stories say that the two do not meet until Tristan is on his death-bed.  When in Brittany, Tristan suffers a wound that only Iseult, the lady who kept her tonics on ivory shelves laced with ebony, could cure.  But she does not arrive in time; grief-stricken, she collapses by her lover’s side and dies.  Others say that Tristan does return to Cornwall, only to be stabbed in the back by the King when he is found playing a harp outside of Iseult’s bower.   

I visited Tintagel Castle years ago.  I climbed the stairs – 180 steep, panting steps – that Gorlois’ warriors guarded.  I placed my hands on the walls that once blushed at the sight of the most beautiful girl in the world.   I happy tossed the real world over the precipice into the rock-pierced ocean, to be spirited away by the sleeping dragons’ breath.

The Sea On All Sides


Aubrey’s Christmas

Aubrey Beardsley and a few other select souls began The Savoy magazine in 1896, shortly after the artistic demise of the Yellow Book (physically, it continued – naughty in color only – until 1897).  Aubrey had been summarily released from his artistic duties in 1895, after the debacle of Wilde vs. Queensberry.  Having used his depraved and blessed talent to illustrate Wilde’s play ‘Salome’ – there was born in the public’s febrile imagination an artistic friendship between the two (actually, they rather disliked each other).   Society’s ignorance had made sure that Oscar Wilde was safely out of the way at Reading Gaol, and that Aubrey Beardsley was out of a job.  The new, yellow literature had been deserted; the season of scandal had ended.

Aubrey Beardsley drowned 19th century aesthetics in decadence, in the hothouse breathlessness of a corrupt garden.  He had two years to live and the thick, debauched creativity ran like an urgent river through his tubercular blood.  The Savoy was born out of this resentment and panic – but lived for only one year.  He drew each of the covers – perfect, shocking – with the premiere issue that indicated his state of mind:  it featured a tiny, nude putto  preparing to urinate on a copy of The Yellow Book.  (it was edited out immediately, but this Aubrey always found it quite marvelous)

Hidden inside of issue number 1 was a delicate gift; a greeting – a welcome.  It was a Christmas card designed by Beardsley, an illustration that lifted the Mother and Child from their poverty and shepherds and transported them to a forest chilly with the verdant shadows of centaurs and druids.  Her robe did not glow with crescent moons and lilies; rather it was rich with emblems of the earth – leaves and flowers – and beheld a curving hem trimmed with fur.  She had become a pre-Raphaelite maiden with loose, immodest hair – sitting in a cold, green world:  lost in a flourishing land.

Pretty Greetings

Was Arthur Symons, the publisher, pleased with Beardsley’s portrait of this spiritual family?  Or did the Virgin’s androgeny and low-cut gown disturb him?  Did he only recognize the seductive history of the roses that breathed so close to her – or was he aware of her other name, ‘The Mystic Rose’?  Did he think it right that the Child wore a Victorian gentleman’s shirt?

I have a pretty good idea of what his opinion was.  But it matters not.  Because this Aubrey finds it quite marvelous.

Happy Christmas, my marvelous, ethereal, unknown friends.

Book Group

Many years ago – when I no longer felt obligated to join such things, yet before I had lost complete interest and therefore chose to indulge that lack, I joined a book group.  I can’t tell specifically why I did such a thing; all I know is that when the leader announced to us that this was to be a Ladies Only group, I felt rather thwarted.  

At our inaugural meeting, we were instructed to choose three titles.  These titles were written on separate scraps of paper, which were then placed to simmer in a clay teapot.  This object – of mysterious origin – had a dour patina, dull and dark.  We each scratched our initials on this former haven for leaves and sympathy.

At each subsequent meeting we would discuss our chosen book, before we were positively weary of the thing and decided it was time to take another dip in the pot for our next book.  I always hoped it would be something about dragons or kings, but there was a strict law against non-fiction.

Aubrey Reads

Now, I am an infamous re-reader.  It takes a lot for me to actually step up and ask a stranger to dance.  So my choices were ones I had already read, albeit some time ago.   As for the other members’ choices, I was fairly sure that I would dislike each one (I recall wanting to use ‘Jitterbug Perfume’ for skeet-shooting – that was my offical review). And unwanted books are so tragic.  I had no desire to start an anthology of misery. 

We met every few weeks.  None of us were quick readers.  And none of the these books had pictures.  We read ‘Lolita’, ‘Perfume’, ‘The English Patient’, ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’, ‘Dictionary of Khazars’ (I quite liked this one, and actually kept it in my collection for some years)…many others.  Two of my books were chosen, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Vile Bodies’.

In time, our interest waned.  Some of our members got married. (I went to one of these marriages – we were encouraged to attend in fancy dress; man and wife were joined by a priest dressed in an 18th century white mask and black domino.) Work for others got increasingly possessive: one’s husband was going to New Zealand to provide tech work on something called The Lord of the Rings.  (he hoped it would be a success)

Now, I have recently been cleaning my apartment.  Stray piles of Unwanted Things are occurring everywhere, like small, stationary tornadoes.  One evening, as I was waist-deep in the oddities of one of my closets, I found our teapot – if possible, even duller and darker than I remembered.

There were still some scraps of paper inside.  Thirteen stories still waiting to be discussed, waiting for their plotlines to take to the air for their subtleties to be thrashed out, misunderstood, hated or applauded:

  • ‘The Golden Notebook’ – Doris Lessing
  • ‘Cakes and Ale’ – Somerset Maugham
  • ‘Travels with Charley:  In Search ofAmerica’ – John Steinbeck
  • ‘Love In The Time Of Cholera’ – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • ‘Gidget’ – Frederick Kohner
  • ‘Atonement’ – Ian McEwan
  • ‘Humboldt’s Gift’ – Saul Bellow
  • ‘The Crimson Petal and The Wine’ – Michael Faber
  • ‘EmpireFalls’ – Richard Russo
  • ‘Michael Connelly’s most recent’
  • ‘American Pastoral’ – Philip Roth
  • ‘Vida’ – Delacorta
  • ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’ – Joseph Conrad

Which of these titles was my final suggestion?

A Yellow Book and a Yellow Chair

Sanctuary and Depravity

A proud refugee from his cold and cloistered home, the abbe was free to wander a seductive road.  His femininity encouraged his billowing curls to flow down his back in a dangerous, romantic cascade; and willed his body to become soft and inviting.  His complexion was white, like a princess'.  His small head nestled between curls and cravat like a bird.

But he was still masculine enough to be proud.  In scorn he held his cane like a sword, cutting the air with its stiletto point.  Yet his grasp was pale and his hand tiny, like a starry moth.

His cape swept around his figure in sculpted, cold waves.  In the midst of the curves and froth, his face was cruel and profane – although the tassels hung from his sash like a priest's incense burners.

He stood, a portrait of conflicting sexuality, in darkness and glory.  Behind him there was an eruption of shadow and shape – a living brocade that moved with the sibilant, patterned grace of a snake.  Creatures – with a courtesan's sickly sweetness – reflected his daintiness and pretty decadence.

All – the crawling forest, the spotted and languid creatures, the moon looking in like a worried parent, the abbe himself – shared a common source.  Every living thing dissolved into inert lines, delicate, trembling streams that branched into pools of black discovery. And they all merged into five rivers:  fingers, thin and strong.  Then they moved through muscle and bone, revisiting nerve and flesh, up, up until they reached their birthplace:  a mind that was contorted and stunning, tormented by a shocking imagination.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

The Other Aubrey’s Birthday

"If I am not grotesque, I am nothing."

This is just a note, light and quick like a well-wisher's shadow, to wish my sickly, skinny boy a happy birthday.  He would be 137 today, dapper and milk-skinned, had tuberculosis not shot his lungs full of holes.  He died in 1898, unable to push his body to his 26th birthday – exhausted by the blood-lettings, and by his art that drove Victorian England to an insanity of fear.

It was a fear of the decadence, eroticism, lush beauty and unbridled richness – crawling under the skin like iridescent beetles – that ran through his drawings.  It was the fear of the terrifying life that beat behind the shadows and lived within the lines of those illustrations.

He was Oscar Wilde's 'monstrous orchid', in a gray suit and yellow gloves, effete and marvelous.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to meet him, yet I follow him always.

So happy birthday, Aubrey Beardsley.  I have never experienced such grotesque loveliness.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

The Peacock Room

On four walls he painted a glittering, gilded cacophony, golden feathers dripping down leather walls, wings that panted against the ceiling, multitudes of patterns that made a mockery of empty space.

Peacocks make human noises; they scream and cry in jagged, lonely tones.  But nature apologized to the male of the species for this atonality by providing him with iridescent rainbows that glistened and rippled as he moved, with an aurora borealis glowing from his feathers.  Painters, and all aficionados of color, love his betrayal of earthiness, his irresponsible exhibitionism.  He was seemingly made for negligence and beauty.

Beardsley drew skirts of peacock's tails that curled around the ankles, and clouds of feathers that breathed over Salome's shoulder:

Wilde made the peacock a symbol of languor and decadence; James MacNeil Whistler dedicated an entire room to this stunning bird with a cry like Lazarus waking in his tomb.

In 1876 Frederick R. Leyland commissioned Whistler to decorate his dining room.  Leyland's preferences were serious and symmetrical and he should have known better than to let such an artistic sprite into his home.

Using pots full of gold metallic leaf, he covered the ceiling and panels of the walls in a thin layer of liquid metal, the alloy that began humbly as grains rolling in the bellies of streams and rivers.  He then chose one color and investigated its darknesses, chosing its varied shadows as carefully as if they were the newest silks from Lyons.  This palette of blue – prussian, cobalt and indigo – was used to sew a textile of feathers that flowed with impatient currents, wings that were as lush and stiff as brocaded draperies, tiny aristocratic heads poised on necks a swan would envy.

Four peacocks were created: four golden tapestries embroidered into the walls; four gardens clipped into a manicured maze that branched into gilded tangles; four streams of light siphoned from the sun and diluting that bright star.  He called his glowing aviary:  "Harmony in Blue and Gold:  The Peacock Room".

In a creative thrill Whistler wrote to Leyland, telling him that his dining room was "really alive with beauty – brilliant and gorgeous while at the same time delicate and refined to the last degree".

Leyland hated it.  He hated the sunburst of feathers that blazed across his dark room like a sunset caught in a bottle.  He hated the tendrils of plumes that charted burnished rivers from wall to wall.  He hated the effete delicacy of the poised and posing birds.  He hated their inescapable loveliness.

He hated Whistler's price.

There was a violent quarrrel – not surprising with two such high examples of ego – and Leyland eventually agreed to pay…half of Whistler's stated amount.  He intensified the insult by paying in pounds instead of guineas.  Pounds were the currency of trade, not of artists and other professionals.  Furthermore, in the 1870's, a pound was worth twenty shillings, with the guinea twenty-one.  Whistler lost the arguement, lost money and lost face.

But he got the last laugh.

He gained access into the offending room and painted one more masterpiece.  It was a confrontation between two peacocks, frozen in the movements of an angry ballet: one standing with its feet straddling a pile of silver shillings, its throat a path of aggressive ruffles, alluding to Leyland's favored ruffled shirts.  The other peacock, recoiling before its rich and greedy rival, has a silver crest feather resembling the lock of white hair that curled above Whistler's forehead.  This altercation was called, "Art and Money, or, The Story of the Room." 

This was finished in 1877.  Whistler never stepped foot in the room again.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Aubrey Speaks With Aubrey

I can see your fingers – elongated, they cradle your arch, aquiline face.  Your wasted wrists are swimming inside your starched and buttoned shirt cuffs.  Your hands are muscular and alive with creative possibilities.  Fingers, wrists, hands…all with the ability to grasp a gilded pen annoited with ink and guide it along rich and threaded paper.  The slightest turn can make a line curl, thicken, weep, sculpt…and bring to life the shocking images cavorting in your brain.

Om 1896 you were in Paris, a pallid dandy.  You had no money.  Your lungs were shredded; and every cough threatened another delicate stream of your life's blood.  You experimented with hashish.  But you would drink only milk.

And still you were creating images that broke my heart:

Bursting from your pen I can see unbridled festoons of baroque madness.  Lines boiled within every fold of taffeta, every false extravagant curl, every floating gown, every statuesque feather.  Lines are gouged into the curtains like nails tearing into flesh.

Grotesques, fairies, eunuchs, angels and satanic familiars pour into one another in this underworld:  they confront, they argue, they leer…they give in to the basest instincts of the human spleen.  Some are sexless, some brandish their sexuality like weapons, and run roughshod over their opponents.  Thighs and bosoms are lush and white – but there are faces that are wizened and harsh, and profiles that are sharp and fierce.  Bodies are decorated, winged, veiled:  beautiful and horrible.

They all swim in a sea of drapery.  These are creatures that look like 18th century carvings brought to life by your whirlwind affectations.  They move beneath huge, jeweled tassels, beside rows of candles; they grow amongst poisonous flowers and threaten garnished urns. 

When I first saw your drawings, I had to look away – I had to hide.  It was because the purest beauty and perfection, lying inside me unanswered and unrealized, when brought to light will hurt like a white, unbearable heat.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Following Footsteps

When I go to London, I make it a point to visit certain places.  I go to the Cafe Royal, to see if I can still hear the discreet voices, long since hushed; glamorous and disgraced.  I go to Paxton & Whitfield to look at the cheese (fortunately, it's a cheese shop).  I go shopping at Fortnum and Mason – I get lavender oil for my mother and anchovy paste ('Gentleman's Relish') for my father.  I go to Liberty's of London, where I spend mad money on luscious scarves – burnt the color of autumn, or colored a dusky blue and edged in cream embroidery.

I also visit a street:  because it has a history, an isolated tragedy in the life of a man, in the world of art.  It is Vigo Street, and in 1887 a publishing house opened its doors to that street and to the artistic traffic of a Victorian London dripping with naughtiness and simply panting to be published.

This was the house of John Lane and Elkin Mathews and it was called The Bodley Head, after Sir Thomas Bodley, the founder of the Bodleian Library.  And in the two years spanning 1894/1895 its books became a byword for notoriety, scandal and beauty.  Leonard Smithers' fabled collections bound in human skin.  'The Happy Hypocrite', Max Beerbohm's fairytale of masks and redemption.  'Stella Maris', Arthur Symon's love poem to a prostitute ("I know/Your heart holds many a Romeo").  'Under The Hill' by Aubrey Beardsley – light, baroque, a minuet of Victorian pornography.  And 'The Yellow Book', the periodical colored like the French novels gentlemen read in secret (and ladies not at all) – a collection of essays, poems and illustrations:  new decadent, irresistible – a dirty pool in which the demi-monde could finally see its reflection.

The newspapers mocked, the critics were shocked:  everyone was happy until April 3, 1895.  Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor on that day, for "acts of gross indecency", despite his lucid wit, his moving speeches and the applause that followed him like his shadow.

On the following day, crowds gathered outside The Bodley Head – shiny toppers mixed with scruffy caps, frock coats intermingling with ragged shirts…for once the classes stood shoulder to shoulder, and it took a posture of ignorance to do it.  Curses were shouted, stones were thrown – heat and ugliness filled the air.  And it was all because of the irresponsible reasoning of the mob:  the decadence The Yellow Book would surely welcome criminals such as Wilde – wasn't his good friend Aubrey Beardsley (i.e. 'Awfully Weirdsley' – oh, Punch, stop; you're killing me!) its Art Editor?  And wasn't this the place where their evil words and tainted thoughts were printed?  Tear it down!  Tear it down!

No matter that Wilde and Beardsley hated each other, ever since the fiasco over 'Salome'.  Wilde wrote the play in French, and ignored Beardsley's offer to translate it into English.  Wilde was disappointed in Beardsley's illustrations:  they were "like the naughty scribbles a precocious boy makes on the margins of his copybooks."  Aubrey never forgave him.

No matter.  Oh April 4, the mob sought the source of this artistic dissipation and swarmed through Vigo Street, up to the windows of The Bodley Head, each person intent on casting the first stone.

So – I always walk across Vigo Street when I'm in London.  I imagine it without department stores, traffic cones, buses and walking directions painted on the asphalt.  I try instead to see it powdered with dust:  crowded with carriages, broughams, landaus and all manner of horse drawn conveniences.

I try to hear the tramp of feat, feel the anger in the air, see the shards of glass bursting from shattered windows.  I try to comprehend history's shame and the destruction of genius.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Kay Nielsen was born in Copenhagen in 1886.  The date is significant; as it means that his art reached its lofty heights during the dreamstate that was Europe before World War One.  It was a fairy-ring which surrounded a group of illustrators whose mythic colors and living textures would not be equaled, hard as the unfolding century might try.

His influences were many and varied:  Japanese woodcuts and watercolors, the natural asymmetry of Art Nouveau, the violent shadows and delicate yet immovable lines of Aubrey Beardsley.

But there was another influence at work…he painted frozen stars, snow-drenched landscapes, warm rugs and furs, hair that was thick and braided, with lines as delicate as the filigree cracks in melting ice.  There was a chilly Nordic inspiration running throughout his paintings:  black mountains, white skies, barefoot princesses, Iron Kings – even a pretty lassie's face is reflected in a pale and frigid pool.

In 1914 a selection of Norwegian folktales was published, under the collective name of 'East of the Sun and West of the Moon'.  The title speaks of undisclosed distances and of places beyond the knowledge of the ether, of clouds and planets.  These are stories of magic, blood, violence, love, religion and nature.  Nielsen provided the illustrations.

'The Blue Belt' tells of a beggar boy and his search for his love, the black-eyed princess of Arabia.  During the course of its telling there is transference of power, a morphing of identities, and the merging between man and nature.

This illustration from the story is one of my favorites.  In the princess' tall room, graced with a single jeweled lamp and a rich length of tapestry the lovers embrace, kneeling on a cushion stamped with a pattern of roses and tendrils.  The fabric is hypnotic, like leaning into a jungle of ferns.  Her tiny pink slippers are enticing.  The rich decorative passages are balanced against an unadorned wall of black lines.  The only warmth in the painting is in the bare arms and the young faces pressed against each other.

'The Lassie And Her Godmother' is Christianity's version of Pandora's Box…the Lassie is told by her foster-mother that she must leave but three rooms of her house alone.  But as there is no cure for curiosity, she peeped into each forbidden chamber, and there escaped a Star, the Moon and the Sun.

She was banished.

But she was very lovely, so that when a Prince saw her, he was determined that she would be his queen.

They rode away, their gowns curved and graceful, seeming to grow out of the ground and from the horse's carved musculature.  The forest is stylized:  they literally ride over a carpet of flowers.  The only flesh and blood to be seen is in the prince's shield – the eyes of the bronze face have just flickered open, and it gazes balefully at us, as a warning of the suffering to come.

In the fullness of time, she bears three children; but at each birth, the foster-mother comes to take them from her.

When the parents' dispair could be borne no longer, the foster-mother reappeared with the queen's babies, saying, "Here are your children; now you shall have them again.  I am the Virgin Mary, and so grieved as you have been, so grieved was I when you let out sun, and moon and star."

'The Three Princesses of Whiteland' is a tale populated with talking beasts, birds and fish; with swords, trolls, magic snowshoes and three kidnapped princesses buried up to their necks in the snow.

A brave lad rescues them, and marries the princess of his choice as his reward.  He loses her but finds his way back with the help of the North Wind and a pair of snowshoes which will carry its owner indefatigably in whatever direction the toes are pointed.

Here he is seen striding forcefully against a wind that is unseen, but still implied…the hero's long blond hair is blown back, the yellow filaments blending with the crimson and gold patterned cape that billows behind him.  The wind has piled the snowdrifts high, and his profile is determined, and pale from cold though his brow is dark and unflinching.  On one side he carries his sword clutched in one granite fist, on the other a gold shield rests at his shoulder, looking like a moon making its way to the heights of the evening sky.  His outfit is a madness of lines, circles, swirls – clasping together to form a spectacular embroidery.

Beauty and melancholy.  Cold daylight, Nordic twilight, arctic sunsets, midnight winds.  Creatures of legend and of the earth.  Rich patterns, empty skies, spaces whose emptiness both reveal and accentuate.  A delicate thread of line stitched into impossible textures. 

The decoration and details of these illustrations were created from the observation and love of the natural world; but they were also created from ideas imagined when listening in on the tales spun by the mind's whimsy, whispered on a cold winter's night.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Vox Hunt: Fictional Favorite: Aubrey For Me

Book: Show us one of your favorite works of fiction.

Like Queen Elizabeth I was reputed to have had, I have many favorites.  But this is the one that came to mind first:

I own this particular edition, published in 1913.  It's displayed on a marble (OK, imitation marble) pedastal by my desk.  Many times I'll leave off blogging for a moment to gaze at it fondly.

'Under The Hill' was written by a person I follow so devoutly that I own a book of his published letters (a sure sign of adulation!) – Aubrey Beardsley.  It was written in 1896, and is a delicate, naughty, baroque, surreal, erotic tale loosely based on the story of Tannenhauser:  the German knight who founded the home of Venus, 'under the hill', and spent a year there, to enjoy and to worship.  Honestly, I had to hoist my jaw off the ground at the end of each chapter.  Aubrey combined words in a way that couldn't be more delightful:  'slender voices', 'tender gloves', 'malicious breasts', 'golden embrace'…golly!

And this dovetails nicely with the Question of the Day.  What author of fiction would I want to write like?  Well, and believe me this does not come from vanity – a well I've never plumbed – but I would only want to write like myself.  Just like I would only want to look like myself.  If I woke up tomorrow with a face like Cleo de Merode's (you didn't really think I'd choose someone living, did you?) or the gentle writing skill of Max Beerbohm…I would be downcast indeed.  I have been working on creating my personality since Junior High School, when I realized it was my responsibility alone to build one.  I've worked too hard on this to want another's face or talents.

But, for the record, I would have been very joyous indeed to have written things like these:

"…there were buckles of very precious stones set in most strange and esoteric devices; there were ribbons tied and twisted into cunning forms; there were buttons so beautiful that the button-holes might have no pleasure till they closed upon them…"

"Gad Madam; sometimes I believe I have no talent in the world, but to-night I must confess to a touch of the vain mood."

"Would to heaven," he sighed "I might recieve the assurance of a looking-glass before I make my debut!"

One more thing about this book.  In addition to writing like this, there are the illustrations.  I remember seeing them for the first time:  I was so overwhelmed, I had to close the book and walk away.  I needed some quiet time, to come to terms with such mastery:


You're just not going to find anything like this book anywhere.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend