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)