— But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? — To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perserverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... — from Emma, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

January 14, 2018

'...am ever...your devotissimo'

Finally.  I was over the moon last fall when I heard that 'Henry James and American Painting,' an exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York, was about to open at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here.  Even though I've read several biographies of HJ and one of ISG, I don't remember reading that they were friends (it has been a while...); I didn't realize it until I found this book.  (I've also learned, now, that ISG and Edith Wharton were frenemies.)  I was lucky enough to get the usually unavailable library pass back in November, but I was sick when the day came. Undaunted, I snagged the pass on the only day it was available in all of December, only to drive over on a frigid day and see a line of 50 or 60 people - outside. I just couldn't do it, and I excuse myself for whining about this only because I think Henry would have, too. :)

But today, on almost the last chance, I got there,and got in, and it was so lovely. The museum's special exhibits are usually small, but they're so well done. The gist of this one was that HJ was part of a community of artists of all kinds, and saw all arts as one.  He met ISG in London, and insisted on introducing her to his friend John Singer Sargent, who would eventually paint portraits of both of them. (The docent who gave an excellent gallery talk explained that when Mrs. Gardner saw Sargent's scandalous painting of Madame Gautreau, she commissioned a similar portrait of herself.

The label notes that 'James drew on Gardner's limitless energies and penchant for feminine luxuries, such as her famous strands of pearls, for fictional characters.' (Mr. Gardner, on the other hand,  disliked the portrait so much that he refused to allow it to be exhibited in public during his lifetime.)  Since the objects in the museum don't have conventional museum labels, I didn't realize that this small painting by James McNeil Whistler that I've always liked is also a portrait commissioned by Mrs. Gardner...

There were about a dozen paintings in the exhibit, and lots of other wonderful things -- pages from Mrs. Gardner's photo albums, an early assessment from a publisher's reader panning the The Ambassadors, a page from the manuscript of What Maisie Knew, corrected by HJ...

and some letters, which were of course delightful; in one, HJ invites ISG to visit him at Lamb House, saying that he 'can put you up very decently & can even manage a maid if she isn't very haughty.'  And I learned (from the docent) that Henry studied (briefly, thank goodness) at Harvard Law School, where I work.

There was time, after, to visit some of my favorite rooms in the museum, to remember that Henry will always be there, in the Blue Room ...

and to be touched, as always, by what the museum has lost ...

and to be happy that it's orchid season in the courtyard.

January 7, 2018

The Word Detective

      Lexicography is pretty sharp-edged. There's no place for wobbly or brittle thinking. You see a problem and leap in to solve it; you don't wallow in it, indulging yourself in the beauties of the language. It's necessary to compare the usage you are addressing with hundreds of other examples from the same semantic area, to see what is special about your use. Or if you are trying to write or update a definition, you assume all of your source material is wrong until it proves itself not to be. You need a scientist's sense of distrust and a writer's sense of elegance.
      People often think lexicography is easy; it's not. It involves qualities most people don't have. Stamina, for one. There are times I think that's the most important quality for a lexicographer. ...
      ... Lexicography is slow and involved; the excitement comes as the fuse burns slowly toward the answer. But its not always climactic. ... We need slow-burning but explosive bursts of concentration. ...

I would always have high hopes for a memoir about working with words, and this one definitely fulfilled them.  In 1976, John Simpson joined the editorial staff working on a supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, which was originally published in installments between 1884 and 1928.  He  then managed a major, partly technological, process to meld the first edition and the four-volume supplement into the second edition.  It was fascinating to read that there was a strict policy that no changes or updates would be made at this point to the content from first edition, some of it almost a century old; there just wasn't time or resources enough.  Later, when he began overseeing the third edition, which brought the OED online, he decided to begin work in the middle of the alphabet, because the entries at the beginning of the alphabet were rougher and needed more work.

Part of the fun of reading this book was seeing how complex, and yet old-fashioned, the work was.  And I especially enjoyed the chapter near the end, when he describes the qualifications, and the process, for hiring lexicographers to work on the new edition. (Apparently, being left-handed is best, and saying sensitively on your resume that you're fond of walking and reading is sure to land you  in the reject pile. Oh, well.)

The stories he tells, and the author's voice, made this book very readable and engaging, And every few pages, there's a word -- like 'hone' or 'niche' -- in bold type, and then there's a sidebar that describes the etymology of the word and how it has changed, in usage or pronunciation or propriety, over time.

If nothing else, I'm a person who reads books about dictionaries, and I'm very happy about that. :)

The Word Detective:  searching for the meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary,
by John Simpson

Basic Books, 2016
Borrowed from the Boston Public Library

January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

{Borrowed from dovegreyreader, with thanks, but too beautiful not to save, and share again.}

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

— 'To The New Year,' by W.S. Merwin

December 30, 2017

My favorite books from 2017

Before I left work for winter break last week, I embarassed the women who rehired me last summer by telling them that they were a big part of why this year has ended so very, very much better than it started.  There are other reasons, and I'm grateful for all of them.  And so glad that reading, often with or because of you, is a constant and ongoing source of comfort and joy.  I'm looking forward to doing much more of that in the new year. :)

So, on that note, here's my list of favorite books from this year (in the order that I read them)...

Completely my cup of tea, and especially nice that I learned
about this book from bloggers.  :)

A more recently favorite author writing about an always favorite author. :)

I was bemoaning how long I owned this before I read it.  
I'm so glad I finally did.

This was a wonderful read in its own right, but even more so because
I stumbled upon it at the library, not having heard of it till then.

Also completely my cup of tea, and equally especially nice that I learned
about this book from bloggers. :)

I enjoyed this one so much that I listened to it right after I read it.

For the most part, the mysteries I read seemed all equally enjoyable,
but I'll choose this one because it's an author and a series new to me,
either one of which is always a special treat.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

And special mention (and thanks!) for Margaret Kennedy Day {with Jane} and our continuing #PalliserParty {with JoAnn).

I didn't, in the end, finish my bicentennial re-reading of Jane Austen {I spent most of this week finishing Emma, which was a gift it inself}, but, then again, not running out of Jane Austen is not such a bad thing.

Hmmm... comfort and joy might be a recurring theme. :)  I'm wishing you both, and all other kinds of happiness.  Happy New Year!

December 21, 2017

Anticipation (mysterious edition)

{just published}


Both of these series are great favorites of mine.  I'm especially happy about the second one, only because there was a long gap before the last one and I'm so so so happy that the series isn't over.

December 5, 2017

Old friend

[Miss Bates] enjoyed a most uncommon degree of popularity for a woman neither young, handsome, rich, nor married. ..She had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal good-will and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body's happiness, quick-sighted to every body's merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother, and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body, and a mine of felicity to herself. She was a great talker upon little matters ...full of trivial communications and harmless gossip.
from Emma, by Jane Austen

Still and always my favorite character, or one of them ... because I am sometimes like her, or because I would sometimes like to be?

November 20, 2017

How to feel better

. . . He had caught a violent cold, which fixed itself on his lungs and threw them into dire confusion. He had to give up work and apply, to the letter, the sorry injunction to take care of himself. At first, he slighted the task; it appeared to him it was not himself in the least he was taking care of, but an uninteresting and uninterested person with whom he had nothing in common. This person, however, improved on acquaintance, and Ralph grew at last to have a certain grudging tolerance, even an undemonstrative respect, for him. Misfortune makes strange bedfellows, and our young man, feeling that he had something at stake in the matter ... devoted to his graceless charge an amount of attention of which note was duly taken and which had at least the effect of keeping the poor fellow alive.

from The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James 

Huh. For my violent cold, my doctor just said to drink lots of fluids and call him if it got any worse. But noted for next time. :)

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