My Sixpenny Book

IMG_0491

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.’

quote from I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

This belated genusrosa post finds us in the kitchen. Yes—I know. We are usually sharing a walk in the garden together, talking about a good book. And I have a lot of garden walks for us to catch up on!

But today I’m in the kitchen, thinking about pumpkin bread.

Even so, something from a book is at the ready. Shall I leaf through Elizabeth David, or the sublime M.F.K.? Sad to say, I google the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread and fall down the pinterest rabbit hole for two catatonic hours; (cream cheese swirl or chocolate chunk?? baked in a jar for that homespun look or the perfect giveaway gingham loaf pan?)—

Then Cassandra Mortmain [I Capture the Castle] and her delicious six penny writing book comes to mind. Those creative, brilliant Mortmains had simple bread and margarine and eggs for tea.

‘How odd it is to remember that “tea” once meant afternoon tea to us—little cakes and thin bread-and-butter in the drawing-room. Now it is as solid a meal as we can scrape together, as it has to last us until breakfast…Stephen is lighting the lamp. In a second now, the rosy glow will have gone from the kitchen. But lamplight is beautiful, too.’

Suddenly it is dusk and E.B. White and his Dusk in Fierce Pajamas looms into view… Owen Johnson ‘with his chafing dish’ is never far from my thoughts as I’m scrolling through page after page of awesome wonderfulness and gorgeous autumn inspiration…

‘They are perfect little crystals of being–static, precious.’ [E.B. White]

For now, to celebrate the lovely fall season, one doesn’t just make pumpkin bread; one is expected to make pumpkin bread from specially molded bakeware that mimics the shape of pumpkins, then drizzle them with a delicately spiced sugar glaze that has been colored orange (to suggest the color of pumpkins, I suspect) and then they are to be served on pretty little plates that have been hand-painted with autumn leaves in all the appropriate colors that one associates with fall. Because it is in the fall, you see, that we have pumpkins.

‘for it is dusk…’

IMG_0479

I’m not sure if pinterest is enlivening to the imagination, or enervating to it. Has it replaced, not only imagination, but the actual doing? There are just a few doing, forty five million are watching, scrolling, and dreaming. Have we pin-terested ourselves into a state of catatonic ineptitude? (some day I will yes I will create that super cute jewelry organizer created with a vintage ironing board and two wooden candleholders—how could I not?)

I don’t want to lose my imagination. I think I know what season I’m in. I can still find my jewelry. I can even make jewelry.

‘All I know of her is that she appeared one night at dinner, her beauty set off by the lustre of artificial satin and the watery fire of aquamarine…’

Somehow, with the riches, variety, and opportunities of blogdom; I am just not writing. It’s not ‘the age thing’. I protest that notion. I write in my head constantly. And I still read constantly. But I am not writing. Pen to paper; fluid, articulate shapes appearing. Ideas forming, rushing upon one…

IMG_0504

This lack of writing may not be bad for the world, per se, but it is not a situation I like for myself.

‘All I know of her is she appeared one night at dinner…’

Cassandra Mortmain’s story is told through a series of notebooks; journals, if you will. First, there is the sixpenny book that symbolized the humble reality of her circumstances; yet she made the most of every glint of light on shabby taffeta. Her improving fortunes, as the novel builds, are suggested by the upgrades in her notebooks: the sixpenny book is followed by the ‘schilling book’, followed by the ‘two-guinea book’. She painstakingly teaches herself to write—like her father did, once—by faithfully recording ordinary life as it was. Of course there was nothing ordinary about the Mortmains. (That being said, if this were today, Rose and Topaz would have been the pinterest addicts, and Cassandra the free spirited boho who ran an animal shelter.)

My new resolve, to be celebrated over a glass of white wine and—as it turns out, no pumpkin bread at all but some yummy butternut squash hummus that I intend to eat right out of the container—is to simplify. No more separate blogs for separate interests. This blog will suffice.

I actually kinda love it here.

It’s been quirky and unexpected, and I never know what is going to get the writing juices flowing. It could be a chance encounter with a new book, an odd word, a storied photograph, a curious shimmer of light on my fruit bowl (think Somerset Maugham), a comparison of Homer and Barbara Cartland…(can it be done?? let’s find out!) …you get the idea. Or, as in this post, I return to mine some favorite material.

It always comes back to words for me, whatever the subject. Other words from capable pens that still ring with perfect pitch, and still thrill me, or perhaps my own stumbling toward something elusive I can’t define. We can’t allow ourselves be stifled by the sheer amount of brilliance or choices out there, or feelings of having to fit into a certain ‘category’.

‘Father says the desire for self-expression is pathetic.’ [Cassandra Mortmain]

Ignoring Mr. Mortmain for the moment–but we’ll come back to him later in another post–some of the poetry and favorite quotes, photography, will be moved over from my Pollyanna Press to here. In time. I might write a post about my jewelry making enterprises. On occasion. The only blog to keep her Queen Bee status is my Margery Sharp blog. She–and her writing–has been a happy preoccupation of mine for many years now. Margery deserves her own blog and shall have it.

The genusrosa theme will be switched to a minimalist magazine layout. Well…not too minimalist…that’s just not me. But the idea is to organize the subjects for my readers a bit more efficiently (without the aid of a vintage ironing board and candleholders), so you can pick and choose your way.

However, if you’re looking for the perfect pumpkin bread recipe, I suggest pinterest. If you’re not back in five hours, we’ll come looking for you with our flickering lanterns and beeswax candles. The curiously gentle, ethereally beautiful Topaz might even be there, wearing her black rubber rain boots.

‘Topaz came downstairs just then, in her black oilskins, sou’wester hat and rubber boots, looking as if she were going to man the lifeboat.’

I love the world of I Capture the Castle. It was beautiful, inconsistent, tender, contradictory, achingly sad, heartbreakingly funny. Like life. It was also a reminder that worlds can be created beyond our own. Worlds that are real, nourishing, inspiring, and lovely. But only if we write.

We must keep writing…pen to paper…fluid, articulate shapes appearing. Ideas forming, rushing, rustling, breathing; ‘tamed and shabby tigers‘ spring to life once again.

‘It was…autumn, very gentle and golden. I loved the quiet-coloured fields of stubble and the hazy water meadows. Rose doesn’t like the flat country but I always did—flat country seems to give the sky such a chance. One evening, when there was a lovely sunset, we got lost…’

IMG_3025

**********************************

Additional notes:

Poetry reference also from I Capture the Castle:

‘Twould ring the bells of Heaven
The wildest peal for years,
If Parson lost his senses
And people came to theirs,
And he and they together
Knelt down with angry prayers
For tamed and shabby tigers
And dancing dogs and bears,
And wretched, blind pit ponies,
And little hunted hares.
[Ralph Hodgson]

My books:

A Garden for Allegra

Composing Molly

Someday…a sequel for those girls!

my desk

“Yes, Virginia, There Really Is A Bruce Buttfield Pouf”

 

Even while taking a break from blogging, I am always reading (or listening) to something of the written word. As the picture might hint at the current state of my desktop, both wooden and digital, I am often occupied with either writing, reading, or attempting to craft the perfect sentence. Failing the latter drives me to chocolate. Often I indulge in kitchen remodels in the middle of winter, which is now.

The connections of thought or sympathy I find with writers throughout all generations never ceases to amaze. Don’t you find that is true? This recently occurred with E.B. White, and Jane Austen, and suddenly it felt very familiar. Oh, yes, dear absent-minded blogger…you wrote about this before…get your nose out from underneath that stack of books…

So it seemed a very good opportunity to indulge in that luxury called ‘reblog’. I will no doubt be returning to this subject, but for now here is: ‘Yes, Virginia, There Really Is A Bruce Buttfield Pouf’.

September-1933-Vogue-14May13_bt

 ‘It has never been my desire to diminish by so much as a crumb of information the charming wonderment of a lady.’
[E. B. White; from a sketch published in The New Yorker]

(Thank you, E.B. White; that’s a relief. And thanks for calling my wonderment ‘charming’. Not that I am the lady who wrote in with a query about pigeons; nor am I even of your generation. Yet I have wondered for years about Bruce Buttfield and the pouf.)

Perhaps, if you have enjoyed White’s little masterpiece of writing Dusk In Fierce Pajamas, you’ve wondered about Bruce Buttfield and the pouf, as well.

E.B. White wrote the short sketch from his bed of illness, from his fierce pajamas, and straight away from his contemplation of the four perfect evenings of Mrs. Allen Ryan, Jr., busy socialite.

[‘They are perfect little crystals of being–static, precious.’]

Thanks to the perceptive irony of E.B. White, Mrs. Allen Ryan, Jr. and her preoccupations live on for us. As do Rose Hobart, the Harold Talbots, Monsieur Charles de Beistegui, and the knowledge that Mrs. Chester Burden uses only white in her table settings.

Dusk In Fierce Pajamas [published in the New Yorker, 1934] is a perfect gem in miniature. It is not just the humor of a bored convalescent, idly flipping through fashion magazines. It is irony, pathos, insight and satire of the best kind. It well illustrates how humor is a type of genius that not only Knows, but more importantly, Understands. It chronicles, even through the self-deprecating moments, the fierce desire to keep one’s mind alive and active through illness and isolation. A log is not a raft, a raft is not a boat, a boat is not a cruise liner, but they all float. They are all life preservers. The adornment of Rose Hobart while dining at the Waldorf might not have been the normal stuff of E.B. White’s cerebral preoccupations in his job as contributor at The New Yorker, but ‘the haunting dusk is shattered by the clean glint of jewels by Cartier’.

Even the attempt to describe what it is about a piece like Dusk In Fierce Pajamas that is affecting, feels as though I were serving it up as Mrs. Cecil Baker did her perfectly overwrought hard-boiled eggs, olives, celery and radishes all preciously compartmentalized on blue and white Spode china.

(‘No, that’s wrong. I am in chiffon, for it is the magic hour after bridge.’)

What White himself said about “durable humor”, though, is revealing:

“I find difficulty with the word “humor” and with the word “humorist” to peg a writer…. the durable humor in literature, I suspect, is not the contrived humor of a funnyman commenting on the news but the sly and almost imperceptible ingredient that sometimes gets into writing. I think of Jane Austen, a deeply humorous woman. I think of Thoreau, a man of some humor along with his bile.”  [E.B. White, interviewed in 1969, printed in ‘The Paris Review’]

That ‘sly and almost imperceptible ingredient’ —Humor— will never be completely understood. It has been described as one of the muses, a spark of genius, an art— and as such remains elusive. As Clifton Fadiman expressed it, humor

“[makes] quietly despairing men suddenly catch a vision of the surprisingness of life, the breakability of rules, the spirit-cleansing power of the irrelevant.”

It is significant that White gives Jane Austen the honor of a mention in his definition of humor. Jane Austen wrote one of her comic masterpieces, Sanditon, when she was at her most ill. She died before she could finish it. In creating her characters, and the hilarity of their various occupations, did she feel, as E.B. White expressed,

in them I found surcease from the world’s ugliness, from disarray, from all unattractive things.’?

Given E.B. White’s statement I included at the beginning of this post, he might forgive me for having put aside the enriching read of his Poems and Sketches and wasting an hour or so on the internet while I indulged in what he called a ‘charming wonderment’. The exact look of the ‘pouf’, by the way, is still in question.

As to Bruce Buttfield’s existence, my curiosity was readily satisfied. He was an interior designer to the rich and famous, and became rich and famous for his interiors.

What I really wanted was a picture of the Bruce Buttfield pouf, but it was not to be had. I suspect the use of pouf was a deliberate choice by White–a term richly suggestive of lack of substance rather than an actual description of a firm, upholstered stool for seating.

[‘It is dusk…I am with the Countess de Forceville over her bridge tables. She and I have just pushed the tables against the wall and taken a big bite of gazpacho.’]art-deco-circular-interior-design

Another curiosity, and one that kept me from getting back to ‘Owen Johnson over his chafing dish’, is that Wikipedia has a separate heading and comprehensive definition for both pouf and tuffet, with side trips over to ‘ottoman’ and ‘hassock’. There is also a helpful redirect in case you accidentally type in pouffe; this being a more accurate term to describe what Bruce Buttfield might have devised. But pouf is where E.B. White immortalized himself, and there we shall leave him. Sitting at dusk.

[‘For it is dusk.’}

There is an anthology of humor writing from The New Yorker entitled ‘Fierce Pajamas‘.

No Ordinary Doll Head

Kewpie with CarlyleThe DPChallenge is… Leftovers.

‘For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.’

You may wonder why I keep Kewpie around. But if laughter is good for the body, Kewpie’s head has done wonders for mine. I like to think of her as a leftover smile. True, she gets dusty, sitting on her shelf. (she prefers a spot next to Thomas Carlyle, as Sartor Resartus is her favorite book).

Sometimes she scares our dinner guests, who might be unsuspectingly browsing the library. But as so few people read Carlyle these days, Kewpie usually escapes detection.

I ask you, how can you throw out something that loves chocolate, fresh flowers, and warm hats?

IMG_8597

Kewpie

 

How can you throw out something that primps like a teenager?

IMG_6899

Sometimes she’s painfully aware that she resembles a butternut squash. And then we definitely don’t throw her out.

IMG_4237

Sometimes the smile fades a little. Just briefly. It’s hard to be the embodiment of mirth when you lack…well…everything but the mirth.

IMG_2931

Once, when relaxing by the fire, she looked very tempting, and was almost eaten.

IMG_2704

But other days she puts her Carmen Miranda on and sings without a care in the world.

IMG_2725

She’s notorious for trying to sneak a slice of zucchini bread when no one is looking.

IMG_0590

Life with Kewpie is never dull. How can you toss out a leftover smile?

IMG_0366