P is for Pissarro

L'Hermitage a Pontoise 1867, oil on canvas

 Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) was one of the French Impressionist painters. In 1866 he moved to Pontoise on the banks of the River Oise, on the outskirts of Paris and lived there until 1884. He loved the area and painted 300 or so paintings in that period. L’Hermitage à Pontoise, the painting above, is one of my favourites of his, painted in a realistic rather than an impressionist style, showing an idyllic village scene and the hills behind. I like all the detail and his use of light and shade drawing attention to the figures on the road and highlighting the houses.

Red Roofs, 1877, oil on canvas

Ten years later he painted Red Roofs showing a corner of the village in winter with the traditional 18th century houses viewed through the trees. I like the blend of colours with the differing tones of the red of the roofs, fields and earth in the foreground, contrasting with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. The twisting forms of the trees with their vertical trunks contrast sharply with the geometric shapes of the houses.

An ABC Wednesday post.

H is for Hardy

Thomas Hardy 001 (2018_05_20 15_18_26 UTC)

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors. He was born in 1840 at Upper Bockhampton near Dorchester. What I love most about Hardy’s books are his lyrical descriptions of nature and the countryside and all his books show his great love and knowledge of the countryside in all its aspects. They also show his almost pagan sense of fate and the struggle between man and an omnipotent and indifferent fate. Hardy was a pessimist – man’s fate is inevitable, affected by chance and coincidence. It cannot be changed, only accepted with dignity. This is illustrated in his poem – Hap, written in 1866:

If but some vengeful god would call to me

From up the sky, and laugh: ‘œThou suffering thing,

Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!’

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,      

Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I

Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

‘”Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan’¦.

These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain

The first book by Thomas Hardy that I read was The Trumpet Major – I think it was in the second year at secondary school. I remember very little about it, except that it was set during the Napoleonic Wars and I wasn’t too impressed. Then I read The Mayor of Casterbridge for A level GCE and thought it was wonderful.

Hardy Casterbridge

I still have my copy, with passages underlined and notes at the tops of pages – all in pencil.It’s full title is The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. It tells the tragic tale of Michael Henchard, a man of violent passions, proud, impulsive with a great need for love. It opens dramatically as he sells his wife and child to a sailor at a fair. By his own hard work over the years he eventually became the rich and respected Mayor of Casterbridge. But then the re-appearance of his wife and her daughter sets off a train of events finally bringing Henchard to ruin and degradation.

Because I enjoyed The Mayor over the years I’ve read more of Hardy’s books, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, both dramatic tragedies. In Jude Hardy attacked the Church and the marriage state, which received a mixed reception at the time – the Bishop of Wakefield burned his copy of the book and W H Smith withdrew it from their circulating library, but the public bought 20,000 copies, whether or not due to the scandal it aroused.  These books were considered masterpieces by some and scandalous by others.

Of the two I prefer Jude to Tess and having re-read them both more recently I still feel the same, but now I’m less impatient with the way Hardy presents Tess as a helpless victim than I had been before.  She is an innocent, raped by Angel Clare, the man she loves and Hardy highlights the hypocrisy of the times in condemning the ‘fallen woman’.

In Thomas Hardy, the Time-Torn Man Claire Tomalin writes not only about his life but also how he became a writer, poet and novelist. I began reading this book a few years ago and every now and then think I really must finish it. I stopped, as usual, overtaken by the desire to read other books- including more by Hardy himself.

The Thomas Hardy Society is an excellent source of information on the man and his works.

This is an ABC Wednesday post for the letter H.

ABC Wednesday – F is for …

… one of my favourite flowers:


Photos taken in my former garden.

A couple of commenters have asked is this a perennial. It’s a herbaceous perennial that flowers in the spring and summer and dies back in the winter. My next door neighbour grew them in profusion and I grew this one in our garden from a cutting off one of her plants.

An ABC Wednesday post for the letter F.


As a lover of history (as well as books) I love castles, particularly ruined castles – or as my grandson calls them smashed castles. Here are some photos of one near us.

This is Norham Castle, high above the south bank of the River Tweed, parts of it date back to the 12th century.

It was repeatedly attacked and besieged and was largely destroyed by James IV of Scotland in 1513 before the Battle of Flodden Field.

The photo below shows the remains of the huge Great Tower, where the Bishop of Durham  and his guests would stay when they visited the Castle.

J M W Turner painted several views of the ruined castle – they are in the Tate Collection. And I like this 1836 engraving of Moon Rise at Norham Castle by William Miller:

An ABC Wednesday post for the letter C.

B is for British Writers Since 1945

I saw this list on Books and Bicycles who  found it at Musings from the Sofa and My Porch. It’s the Sunday Times list of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945.‘ So I thought I’d see how many I’ve read and it would be good for ABC Wednesday – B, a good choice for a Book Lover on a Book Blog.

1. Philip Larkin – I must have read some of his poetry but right now I can’t think of any.
2. George Orwell – yes, Animal Farm.
3. William Golding – Lord of the Flies – at school.
4. Ted Hughes – some.
5. Doris Lessing – no.
6. J. R. R. Tolkien  ‘“ read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy.
7. V. S. Naipaul – no.
8. Muriel Spark – several novels, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
9. Kingsley Amis – no.
10. Angela Carter – no.
11. C. S. Lewis – the Narnia books, plus some of his nonfiction.
12. Iris Murdoch – yes, several including The Bell and The Sea, The Sea.
13. Salman Rushdie – No.
14. Ian Fleming – No, but I have Diamonds Are Forever in my tbr piles .
15. Jan Morris – No.
16. Roald Dahl – Yes.
17. Anthony Burgess – No.
18. Mervyn Peake – The Gormenghast trilogy.
19. Martin Amis – No.
20. Anthony Powell – started A Dance to the Music of Time, but didn’t finish.
21. Alan Sillitoe – No.
22. John Le Carré – Not yet – have Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy waiting to be read.
23. Penelope Fitzgerald – No.
24. Philippa Pearce – who?
25. Barbara Pym – read some.
26. Beryl Bainbridge – read Master Georgie and According to Queeney – preferred this one
27. J. G. Ballard -Yes, loved Empire of the Sun.
28. Alan Garner – read several years ago, most recent was The Owl Service.
29. Alasdair Gray – who?
30. John Fowles – read The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus – both really good.
31. Derek Walcott – Yes, for Open University course.
32. Kazuo Ishiguro – Yes – excellent, although I thought Never Let Me Go was so chilling.
33. Anita Brookner – Yes, years ago.
34. A. S. Byatt – Yes, but still haven’t read The Children’s Book.
35. Ian McEwan -Yes, love his books
36. Geoffrey Hill – Yes, for Open University course.
37. Hanif Kureishi – who?
38. Iain Banks -No – have The Wasp waiting to be read.
39. George Mackay Brown – who?
40. A. J. P. Taylor – No.
41. Isaiah Berlin – No.
42. J. K. Rowling – Yes.
43. Philip Pullman – Yes – great books.
44. Julian Barnes – Yes,  Arthur and George.
45. Colin Thubron – No.
46. Bruce Chatwin – Not yet, have On the Black Hill waiting to be read.
47. Alice Oswald – who?
48. Benjamin Zephaniah – who?
49. Rosemary Sutcliff – Yes, as a child.
50. Michael Moorcock – who?

I’ve read books by nearly half of these authors and haven’t heard of quite a few of them! Clearly there are loads of books out there I haven’t read, so plenty to choose from if I ever get through the books I own that I still haven’t read.

‘Young Man at the Window’ by Gustave Caillebotte

Young Man at Window by Caillebotte (1876)

File:G. Caillebotte - Jeune homme à la fenêtre.jpg

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

I’m quite surprised that Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) was a member of the French Impressionists as his paintings are much more realistic than the others’ paintings. He painted more modern subjects and his paintings are almost photographic in style.

His painting of a Young Man at Window shows Caillebotte’s brother standing at the window of a new apartment looking out on the scene below. I love the clarity and crispness of this painting, the detail of the stone balustrade, the back view of the young man – a ‘flaneur’ or man about town – and the contrast between the dark interior and bright view outside the window. In the 1870s Paris was being transformed into a modern metropolis under Napoleon III, with Baron Haussmann’s new boulevards and apartements and the rise of the bourgeoisie. The urban setting of this painting shows the tree-lined boulevard and horse drawn carriages.

Is the young man looking at the woman outside? Does he know her? What is the story behind the painting?

An ABC Wednesday post.

Work by Ford Madox Brown

Work by Ford Madox Brown (1852 – 1865)

Taking 13 years to complete, Work is Ford Madox Brown’s major achievement. After he finished it he exhibited it along with a detailed catalogue describing it and explaining its significance. Wikipedia has a detailed account, but put simply this painting is of workers of all descriptions, both physical and intellectual as well as non-workers – the unemployed and the leisure classes.

Work by Ford Madox Brown

The painting is oil on canvas, held at Manchester City Art Gallery. (Click on image to enlarge.) There is so much to see in this painting, so much activity and social comment!

An ABC Wednesday W post.