‘What would you do about that?’: Stevie Smith and James Thurber

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.

Thurber drawing - 'Two best falls out of three - Okay, Mr Montague?'
Note: tilted backs and arms; unevenly thick legs; one sketchy, flopping lock of hair…

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‘Art’: The Mystery of the Bathing Boys

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)

Fra Filippo Lippi, 'Seven Saints', c. 1450-3, National Gallery
Fra Filippo Lippi, ‘Seven Saints’, c. 1450-3, National Gallery. See the ‘little hedge of herbs’?

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Postcards from Virago Press: Stevie Smith’s ‘Me Again’

What I like about post cards is that even if in an envelope, they are made to circulate like an open but illegible letter… (Derrida, The Post Card)

Last week, I blogged about the new edition of Novel on Yellow Paper, of which Virago Books very kindly sent me a copy.

To heap joy on joy, the parcel included two sets of vintage postcards. Continue reading