The resolution formed in January lasted all of eleven days. I would read all the books piled in my room before any more joined them. No more purchases until I’d taken in Tolstoy and finished The Odyssey. The promise might have been kept had I not, nearly two weeks later, found that I had nothing to read for an imminent café visit. I get antsy without a book in my bag; I was forced to visit the nearby charity bookshop. My resolve was broken, but I was richer for it - leaving with and consequently gobbling up Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Passion’, plus ‘A Book of English Essays.’
Winterson may be best known for ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’ but her other novels are just as exhilarating. Reading ‘The Passion’ feels a little like witnessing light and images as they bounce off a mirror. It is pared back to the point that each word has weight, but is executed with a light and joyful touch, one of those texts that you know immediately will become ever better with each subsequent reading.
The essays, however, accompanied me to London and back on my last trip (the next for LFW is taking place shortly). William Hazlitt filled my tube journeys and G.K. Chesterton provided food for thought as I enjoyed breakfast at Workshop Coffee. I was privy to insights on walking, cold mornings, knowledge versus understanding, shyness, the pleasure of the dark, ambition and many other subjects. Each topic, often concerned with something taken for granted or overlooked, opened up another area to consider. Of course, having first been published in the forties (with essayists spanning from the 16th through to 20th Centuries) there were outdated attitudes and omissions, not least the lack of a single female essayist. No Virginia Woolf, despite her being the most likely candidate, and a certain propensity for all individuals to be treated as a ‘he’.
However, in the introduction the editor advised all prospective readers to turn to a particular essay on page 235 – Maurice Hewlett’s ‘The Maypole and the Column.’ I did just that. Hewlett begins by discussing the rural practice of adorning a maypole with streamers and flowers, before presenting the following:
“So they transfigured the thing signified, and turned a shaven tree-trunk from a very crude emblem into a thing of happy fantasy. That will serve me for a figure of how the poet deals with his little idea, or great one; and in his more sober mood it is open to the essayist so to deal with his, supposing he have one. He must hang his pole, or concept, not with rhyme but with wise or witty talk. He must turn it about and about, not to set the ornaments jingling, or little bells ringing; rather that you may see its shapeliness enhanced, its proportions emphasized, and in all the shifting lights and shadows of its ornamentation discern it still for the notion that it is.”
In my copy, I immediately underlined this paragraph in pencil. It expresses a little of what I aim to do with my blog. Each written piece doesn’t necessarily have to fall into the categories of ‘wise’ or ‘witty’, but I do hope to expand on, unpick or highlight particular ideas. It gives me the chance to discuss themes from feminism to the way we label clothes. Each week I enjoy talking about different subjects or engaging in debate.
Today the essay as a form has been largely replaced with the column, the book review and the memoir article. It still exists, but few now label themselves as 'essayist'. It’s a job title I'd like to aspire to in the future. Though in the meantime, this blog is my maypole, each post a ribbon, adding another set of clothes, photographs and words to those already there.
These are just a handful of photos from a shoot I did with the extremely delightful and talented Vanessa Jackman last summer in London. (These images, plus more were posted on her blog a few weeks ago). I'm sure that for many, Vanessa needs no introduction as a truly gifted photographer. She arrived early one morning with wonderful Jessica Mieja in tow, whose expert touch with hair and make-up is highly skilled. The clothes are all mine apart from the loaned white lace dress which is Alice by Temperly from My Wardrobe. So in keeping with my musings above, I suppose that this particular post is adorned with second hand lace, silk and satin - and a smattering of pale gold sunshine.