This week I’ve been teaching George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-2) to my lovely group of first-years. One question that kept coming up centred on the narrator’s voice.
I’ve been back from Tulsa, where I was working in the Stevie Smith archive, for about three weeks now. It was a very rich trip, and I will take some time to process all the treasures I found there.
Today, though: some of the quirkier finds in the archive.
- A lock of Stevie Smith’s hair
Meanwhile, my first academic article has just come out! It’s an examination of how Stevie Smith’s ‘peculiarity’ is similar to the peculiarities of the artist M. C. Escher.
You can read it here. Comments welcomed!
In a review for the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post in 1958, John Betjeman wrote, ‘Stevie Smith is a delightful poet and writer; her sketchbook “Some Are More Human Than Others” (Gaberbocchus, 18s) owes much to Thurber.’
Betjeman wasn’t alone in comparing Smith’s doodle-art to James Thurber (1894-1961), who contributed stories and drawings to the New Yorker from 1930 to 1950. Like Smith, Thurber drew mobile, dynamic figures in pen and ink. His people are sketchy, distorted, holding themselves at insistent but unsettling angles.
In her essay ‘Art’, Smith follows a nun and her school-group round the National Gallery. ‘How do people see pictures?’ she wonders. ‘It was such a hot afternoon, the question is such a lazy one’. Smith eavesdrops; she lolls; she daydreams. She pores over the catalogue:
Catalogues, as you see, have a language of their own, terse and evocative: “S. John, centre, facing right, wearing a lavender-grey dress. Left: S. Francis, profile right, S. Lawrence, in grey, with rose orange collar… All seated full-length on a marble seat…along the bottom of the picture a little hedge of herbs…” (‘Art’ in London Guyed (London, 1938), p. 159)