Design – William Morris

William Morris (1834–1896) was a Victorian poet, novelist, designer and socialist closely associated with the pre-Raphaelite movement. I can’t remember when I first heard about his work, but I started becoming interested in it during my honours year, when I researched one of his contemporaries, the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Chances are that even if you’ve never heard of Morris you’ve come across some of his designs: they seem to be in vogue at the moment and are sold on all sorts of products – postcards, letter sets, mugs, notebooks, colouring books, calendars – at bookstores. If you happen to have seen them, you’ll know that they’re intricate patterns featuring natural imagery and that many of them are medieval in style. It’s hard to tell exactly how many there are, given the countless edited versions that exist online, but the Victoria and Albert Museum states that Morris created over 50 wallpapers, while other websites credit him with more than 600 textile, fabric and wallpaper designs (I’ll have to look into this some more).

Here are some of my favourite designs by Morris along with a few by J.H. Dearle that were published by Morris’s company:

strawberry-thief-1883‘Strawberry Thief’ (1883)

bluebell-columbine-claret-slash-gold-1876‘Bluebell’ (‘Columbine’) – Claret/Gold (1876)

pomegranate-fruit-1865-66‘Pomegranate’ (‘Fruit’) (1865-66)

blackthorn-designed-by-j-h-dearle-1892‘Blackthorn’ (J.H. Dearle, 1892)

garden-tulic-medway-1885‘Garden Tulip’ (‘Medway’) (1885)

wild-tulip-1884‘Wild Tulip’ (1884)

golden-lily-j-h-dearle-1899‘Golden Lily’ (J.H. Dearle, 1899)

morris-seaweed-cobalt-slash-thyme-designed-by-j-h-dearle-1901‘Morris Seaweed’ – Cobalt/Thyme (J. H. Dearle, 1901)

avon-1886‘Avon’ (1886)

evenlode-1883‘Evenlode’ (1883)

wey-ca-1883‘Wey’ (ca. 1883)

part-of-panel-of-tiles-designed-by-morris-for-membland-hall-1876Part of a tile panel designed by Morris
for Membland Hall (1876)

flowerpot-pot-of-flowers-1883‘Flowerpot’ (‘Pot of Flowers’) (1883)

kennet-1883‘Kennet’ (1883)

Images © the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and Morris & Co.


Fairy Tale Illustrators


Many of my early encounters with classic fairy tales were visual. I remember reading and being read stories like ‘Bluebeard’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Snow Queen’ from an illustrated children’s anthology, and I can still recall some of the images from that anthology today. When I was about six years old I was given a hidden object picture book called Fairy Dreams by Carol McLean-Carr, which isn’t a fairy tale per se, but belongs to the same fantastical tradition. I remember being so entranced by its exquisite imagery that I looked through it again and again and again, despite already knowing where all the objects – books, wands, eggs, shells, crystal balls – were located.

Nowadays I tend to turn to the internet rather than physical books for visual inspiration, not because I prefer to browse online, but because digital databases are so comprehensive and easy to access. Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to accumulate a pretty large (albeit badly organised) digital collection of fairy tale illustrations on my computer. This collection grows a little each time I discover a new artist or google an existing favourite, and because the illustrators whose work I love the most were so prolific I’m constantly coming across images of theirs I’ve never seen before.

I’ve included the illustrations of four of these artists below – Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, John Bauer and Kay Nielsen. I realised while compiling this post that they all lived and worked in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries, which seemed like a funny coincidence at first, but makes complete sense, given that, individually and collectively, they’ve had an enormous influence on the reception and representation of fairy tales. All of these artists were popular during their own time and continue to be celebrated and loved today. So I guess it’s only fitting that I dedicate this post to them before going on to talk about more contemporary images (which I’ll hopefully do in another post soon).

Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

arthur-rackham_the-old-woman-in-the-wood-suddenly-the-branches-twined-round-her-and-turned-into-two-arms-_little-brother-little-sister-and-other-tales-by-the-brothers-grimm-1917‘Suddenly the branches twined round her and turned into two arms.’
‘The Old Woman in the Wood’, Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1917)


arthur-rackham_-a-mad-tea-party_lewis-carrolls-alices-adventures-in-wonderland-1907‘A Mad Tea Party’, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)


arthur-rackham_-illustration-for-lewis-carrolls-alices-adventures-in-wonderland-1907Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)


arthur-rackham_the-frog-prince_the-fairy-tales-of-the-brothers-grimm-1909‘The Frog Prince’, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909)


arthur-rackham_rapunzel_-the-fairy-tales-of-the-brothers-grimm-1909‘Rapunzel’, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909)


arthur-rackham_the-little-peoples-presents_little-brother-little-sister-and-other-tales-by-the-brothers-grimm-1917‘The Little People’s Presents’: ‘What did she find there but real ripe strawberries.’
Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1917)


arthur-rackham_the-true-sweetheart_little-brother-little-sister-and-other-tales-by-the-brothers-grimm-1917‘The True Sweetheart’: ‘The third time, she wore the star-dress which sparkled at
every step.’ Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1917)


arthur-rackham_fitchers-bird_little-brother-little-sister-and-other-tales-by-the-brothers-grimm-1917‘Fitcher’s Bird’: ‘At last she met the bridegroom who was coming slowly back.’
Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1917)


arthur-rackham_frontispiece_little-brother-little-sister-and-other-tales-by-the-brothers-grimm-1917Frontispiece: ‘She took off her golden garter and put it round the roe-buck’s neck.’
Little Brother & Little Sister and Other Tales by the Brothers Grimm (1917)


Edmund Dulac (1882–1953)

edmund-dulac_illustration-for-perraults-fairy-tales-1912Perrault’s Fairy Tales (1912)


edmund-dulac_illustration-for-perraults-fairy-tales-1912_2Perrault’s Fairy Tales (1912)


edmund-dulac_the-snow-queen-flies-through-the-winters-night‘The Snow Queen Flies Through the Winter’s Night’, ‘The Snow Queen’,
Stories from Hans Anderson (1911)


edmund-dulac_the-merman-king_from-the-mermaid‘The Merman King’, ‘The Mermaid’, Stories from Hans Andersen (1911)


dulac_cloud-that-had-no-lining_from-my-day-with-the-fairies-1911‘Cloud That Had No Lining’, My Day With the Fairies (1911)


John Bauer (1882–1918)

john-bauer_annu-sitter-tuvstarr-kvar-och-ser-ner-i-vattnet-still-tuvstarr-sits-and-gazes-down-into-the-water_bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls‘Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet’
(‘Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water’)
Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls)


john-bauer_prinsessan-och-trollen-the-princess-and-the-trolls_bortbytingarna-the-changeling-in-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls-1913‘Prinsessan och trollen’ (‘The Princess and the Trolls’): ‘One evening around
midsummer, they went with Bianca Maria deep into the forest.’
‘Bortbytingarna’ (‘The Changeling’), Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls) (1913)


john-bauer_from-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trollsBland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls)


john-bauer_from-leap-the-elk-and-the-little-princess-cottongrass-in-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trollsfrom ‘Leap the Elk and the Little Princess Cottongrass’,
Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls)


john-bauer_from-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls_2‘”Look at them,” troll mother said. “Look at my sons! You won’t find more beautiful
trolls on this side of the moon.”‘ 
Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls)


john_bauer_bergaporten-1918‘Bergaporten’ (‘Mountain Gate’) (1918)


john-bauer_little-bianca-maria_bortbytingarna-the-changeling-in-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls-1913‘Little Bianca Maria’, ‘Bortbytingarna’ (‘The Changeling’),
Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls) (1913)


john-bauer_from-bortbytingarna-the-changeling-in-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls-1913from ‘Bortbytingarna’ (‘The Changeling’),
Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls) (1913)


john-bauer_from-bland-tomtar-och-troll-among-gnomes-and-trolls_4Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls)


Kay Nielsen (1886-1957)

kay-nielsen_east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon‘“Well, mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing
to fear,” said the Bear, so she rode a long, long way.’
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (1914)


kay-nielsen_moon_the-lassie-and-her-godmother_east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon‘She could not help setting the door a little ajar, just to peep in, when—Pop! out flew the Moon.’
The Lassie and Her GodmotherEast of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (1914)


kay-nielsen_the-three-princesses-of-whiteland_east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon‘You’ll come to three Princesses, whom you will see standing in the earth
up to their necks, with only their heads out.’ 
The Three Princesses of Whiteland,
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (1914)


kay-nielsen_wood_east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon‘And then she lay on a little green patch in the midst of the gloomy thick wood.’
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (1914)


kay-nielsen_rosebud-or-sleeping-beauty_fairy-tales-of-the-brothers-grimm‘Rosebud, or Sleeping Beauty’, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm


kay-nielsen_troll_the-three-princesses-in-the-blue-mountain_east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon‘The Troll was quite willing, and before long he fell asleep and began snoring.’
‘The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain’,
East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North (1914)


Header image: John Bauer

Death by Water


Those of you familiar with the work of Sir John Everett Millais and/or Shakespeare’s Hamlet will know that this is a painting of Ophelia singing before she drowns in a river (1851-2). 
I’m not sure why I find it, and other images like it, so fascinating. Yes, the painting is eye-catchingly vibrant, beautifully composed and exquisitely detailed. But I also think it has a kind of – for lack of a better word – poetic quality that derives largely from its subject matter, and I find this quality simultaneously intriguing and baffling (I’m very aware that I’m echoing Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ (1846) here).

Apparently I’m not the only one: Ophelia is one of the most acclaimed and imitated pre-Raphaelite paintings, and artistic representations of female death by drowning abound in both historical and contemporary contexts. What is it about the aestheticised spectacle of female death (a realistically grim and unpleasant topic) that holds our attention? As someone who is interested in photography, and particularly in what might be termed ‘conceptual’ or ‘narrative’ photography, which often borrows from literature, I’ve browsed through countless digital image repositories and come across a surprisingly large number of Ophelia-esque pictures. Here are just a few examples:

Monia Merlo
Monia Merlo

Monia Merlo 3
Monia Merlo 2

Monia Merlo 4
Monia Merlo 3

Carly Zinga Photography
Carly Zinga

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 2
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 3
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 2

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 3

Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 4
Overgrowth by Parker Fitzgerald and Riley Messina 4

Dorota Gorecka Fotografia
Dorota Górecka

Dorota Gorecka Fotografia 4
Dorota Górecka 2

Slevin Aaron Photography
Slevin Aaron

Tom Hunter
Tom Hunter

There are many more, all equally stunning (which I know is a bizarre word to apply to any representation of death). There are countless literary (not to mention filmic) references, too, made by authors ranging from Fyodor Dostoevsky to Arthur Rimbaud to T.S. Eliot to Margaret Atwood, who gave a lecture entitled ‘Ophelia Has a Lot to Answer For’ at the Stratford Festival in September, 1997.

Unsurprisingly, critics have long been engaged in debate about the aesthetic, symbolic and cultural implications of these sorts of images. In his essay ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ (1846), for example, Edgar Allan Poe argues controversially that ‘the death … of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world’ because it marks the moment at which death (the supremely ‘melancholy’ topic) ‘most closely allies itself to Beauty’. Elisabeth Bronfen both elaborates on and problematises this assertion in Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic, contending, in an argument that is far too sophisticated to outline here, that artistic representations of female death are often symptomatic of androcentrism.

‘Poetic’ or not, it’s clear that these depictions – especially those featuring water – hold a certain kind of (counter-intuitive) appeal. I’m still trying to figure out why, and hopefully in future I’ll be able to research and write a paper on this topic, but for now I’m quite happy to be stumbling across images online that suggest that many people share my interest.

Header image: Sir John Everett Millais, ‘Ophelia’ (1851-2). © Tate Britain. 

What I’ve been reading (July)

(Yes, I know it’s August, but I started writing this a while ago…)

At the start of this year, partly because I was about to start my Publishing Masters, and partly because I’d ironically had very little time to read for leisure throughout my literature degree, I made a determination to read more. I’m usually pretty bad at keeping resolutions, but this one was vague enough to be actually achievable: I only knew that I wanted to 1) read new releases, 2) read more widely, and 3) read some of those always-cited canonical novels I had somehow managed to miss.

I can’t say I’ve been tearing through contemporary novels this year, but I’ve definitely improved on last year’s tally. Here are my thoughts on a few of the texts I’ve picked up: 

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr9780007548699
I really enjoyed this novel and was pleasantly surprised by its readability. I’d wrongly assumed that, like some literary fiction, it would be dense and difficult to read in places, but it has thriller-like momentum that derives, I think, from its interweaving of various perspectives, its panoramic historical scope, and its incorporation of supernatural elements, which also lends it an endearing fable-like quality. Part war drama, part bildungsroman, part allegory, part fantasy, this novel defies generic expectations without ever lapsing into incoherence or parody. Doerr’s writing stands out; it’s so lyrical and seemingly effortless that at times it becomes almost transparent, which is a hallmark of good prose.

9781760111236The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
I read this book, to be frank, because it won the 2016 Stella Prize, and while it’s undoubtedly an important exploration of pressing contemporary issues like misogyny and corporate corruption, I have to say that I’m ambivalent about it. Wood’s writing is beautiful and brilliant in sections – particularly in the disorientingly phantasmagoric hunting/foraging passages towards the end – but the plot didn’t quite do it for me, and the whole thing was a bit too abstract, allusive and open-ended for my liking. Having finished the novel, I felt that I’d missed something important embedded in its symbolism, and maybe I’d glean much more from a second reading. I won’t be picking up The Natural Way of Things again anytime soon, but it’s definitely worth a read, if only for its intriguing premise and stunning prose.

Enduring Love – Ian McEwan 6870
McEwan might just be my favourite novelist (I’ve never been very decisive when it comes to authors, or anything else, really)
so I came to Enduring Love with high expectations, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed; which is not to say that I wasn’t surprised. For some reason I’d assumed – because of the title, I guess – that the novel depicted a conventional romance, so I was hazily anticipating a kind of Nicholas Sparks-type story (and should have known better, I suppose, given McEwan’s penchant for tragic plot twists, and the dark, confronting themes of his early short stories). I won’t say too much about the novel, but it quickly metamorphoses into a study of a relationship that’s far from ordinary: obsessive, disturbing and ultimately ruinous. McEwan’s ability to trace out the seismic interpersonal and psychological ripple effects of seemingly insignificant events (exemplified, famously, in Atonement) is incredible, to say nothing of his extraordinarily perceptive, meticulous and nuanced writing.