Thursday, December 2, 2010

Clementina Hawarden

In the early 1860s Lady Clementina Hawarden made this photographic study of Isabella Grace and Florence Elizabeth on the balcony of 5 Princes Garden in London. The corners are missing because the print was at once time preserved in an album, glued down by the corners. Often when people wanted to remove photographs or drawings from albums in careless olden times they would casually cut off the corners as the easiest way to free the picture. I have had the digital version of this image in my own collection for years because of what it demonstrates about Victorian fashion realities – that neither the clothing nor the bodies inside it looked anything like the Masterpiece Theatre or Merchant/Ivory-style updated filmic versions that are regularly presented to our eyes as veracious. And I was reminded of Lady Clementina Hawarden's picture recently when I took up a novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner called Summer Will Show.

This edition came out as a paperback in 2009, one of the reprints regularly issued by New York Review Books Classics. My daughter believes this is such a good series that she can feel safe reading a New York Review Books Classic even if she doesn't know anything else about it. I had read other novels by Sylvia Townsend Warner in my youth (long ago) but not this one, which was originally published in 1936. It tells of an aristocratic English woman, unhappy in her marriage, who to her own astonishment becomes a participant in the French Revolution of 1848 and embarks on a lesbian love affair. I am enjoying the whole thing extremely.