Raving over Ravilious…

I have recently been exploring the world of artist Eric Ravilious who was an early to mid-century English painter. I think he came across my radar through one of the large museums in London (or somewhere) having a big retrospective and various bloggers had seen it and mentioned him. I have seen his work elsewhere, but hadn’t connected it with the same guy, and I am just in love with it. Very charming, very *English*, it seems to me. Some may argue that they seem a bit trite, but I love them. They simply remind me of quiet afternoons in the English countryside rambling through the fields or sitting by the river when I was younger. A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, if you ask me.

This photo (above) seems rather unlike what his biographers say about him (nice and gentle, optimistic etc.) so perhaps he was doing his best “moody artist” pose for this one…

And an interesting article about Eric Ravilious from the Guardian.

He was also an Official War Artist during WWII (and the only one who was KIA), and yet his pictures from that period have been described as domestic more than war-like.

Here is a link taking you to an exhibition from that time.

And then, to keep this post slightly bookish in nature, I am also reading this one about him:

Lovely color plates in this one to drool over…

The Gentle Art of Domesticity – Jane Brocket (2008)

For those of you who know me in RL, I am certain that you have a shocked look on your face that I would actually read, let alone enjoy, a book on being domesticated. For all those years at BHS, I fought and neglected (with disdain, I might add) any signs of being domestic, and if I remember rightly, being a housefrau was not actually even mentioned as a career option (apart from the dreadful cookery and sewing lessons). So – it has been with some surprise for myself that I find myself picking up and enjoying this paean to home-making.

Written by Jane Brocket (whose blog yarnstorms I adore), this is a detailed look at the various aspects of the “domestic arts” as she calls them. And if I told any of you that a book describing the joys of making bread, knitting, crocheting et al was anything but boring, I am not convinced that you would believe me. However, Brocket does an admirable job of making these activities interesting and potentially enjoyable. (I wish she would work the same magic on vaccuming the house.) This is all helped by the truly good photographs she has in the book (and on her blog).

This is not really a how-to book and if you pick it up hoping for directions, you will be sorely disappointed. There are a few recipes strewn here and there (and a very tempting one of making bread), but mostly it’s a meditation on the joys of crafting and baking. It’s not an organization book, it’s not a cookery book, it’s not a sewing book. It’s more of a collection of enthusiastic thoughts from an English woman (with nearly a Ph.D., I might add) about all things domestic.

I seem to have a yearning for this topic at this time of year. I don’t know why: it’s almost Spring in Texas, it’s mostly sunny outside, and yet I am reading blogs and books about snuggling up with skeins of wool and various recipes of mostly unhealthy food. Perhaps it’s a hibernation thing. It might also be linked to a time deprivation thing as well: there is no way that I would have the inclination to be a full-time housefrau, but reading about these domestic arts makes me happy, filling me with the illusion that if I did that full-time, my house would be filled with the smell of fresh-baked bread when actually, it’s more likely that it would smell of the last Steamer I microwaved whilst I was reading my book all day. (Aah, but one can dream….)

What I like about Brocket is that she is realistic: she is not the “perfect maven” of Martha Stewart who I find intimidating. Brocket comes across as someone who you pop in to have a cup of tea with (and not only because she will probably have some delicious home-baked treat for you to eat). She seems very approachable to me, and willingly admits that she is not perfect and makes mistakes. (You know, like a normal person.)

I think that the combination of gorgeous writing with the beautiful photography adds up to making the domestic world seem attractive, and if Brocket can make domesticity attractive to me (one of the least domestic people in the world), then imagine if you were an enthusiast already! I may not do all these activities (or even know how to for some), but it’s fun to read about them and look at pretty pictures.

This is one of my favorite books of this description, and is the only one of its type on my bookshelves. (I am not sure who tracked it down or on which blog, but it is a lovely gentle read about a quiet gentle group of arts.) Me likey lots.

The Sea – John Banville

A short but intense novel about Max, a middle-aged man who goes back to his childhood holiday home when his wife dies of cancer.  The protagonist wants to revisit his childhood memories by staying in the house where a very influential family lived when he was a kid. The family had two twin children, a boy and a girl, who were absolutely hideous in how they behaved with Max on holiday, and this book explores his memories of how he felt treated by the family.

Lyrically written, it’s a slow read and Banville had a different style of writing, employing long sentences with numerous comma splices (grammar nerd alert), but once you got used to his lengthy sentences, they worked well.

The actual plot was well arranged: the twins with whom Max makes friends (only to find out that they are really awful when together), the mother of the twins (with whom Max falls in adolescent love), the father in the family. Plus there is a really good twist at the end with a few characters which I did not see coming. (Love that when it works.)

Lovely descriptions of the seaside, but more of a psychological description really – how it all felt, how the characters felt. Not too much physical description.

Stunning vocabulary range, although I would probably dread having a conversation with him if he knows this many words. Some of words I needed to look up: cerements, rufous, rubescent, craquelured, groynes, blench, coevals, horrent, cinereal, anabasis, vituperation, prelapsarian, anaglypta, glair, ovine, homunculus, soughing, plangent, apercus, crepitant, refection, casuistry, mephitic, caducous, congeries, crepitant… Phew. I thought I was quite well read, but I have not heard of many of these words. Smackdown.

This enormous vocabulary did start to smell of showing off after a while, and it really slowed down the reading of the book, plot-wise, as I pondered the definition and meaning of the more unusual words (which were not always clear from context).

Another bonus: it’s a book about twins (except these two are really horrible).

More of a broccoli book than anything; hard work to complete, but done with satisfaction.

Man Booker Prize winner in 2005.