But first, Reader, I will give you a word of warning. This is a foot-off-the-ground novel that came by the left hand…. And if you are a foot-on-the-ground person, this book will be for you a desert of weariness and exasperation. So put it down. Leave it alone. It was a mistake that you made to get this book. You could not know. (Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper)
Today I’ve been thinking about feet in Edward Lear‘s illustrations.
Stevie Smith once claimed not to read any modern poetry. Whether or not that’s true, she certainly got most of her echoes from older writers: Tennyson, Euripides and the (now perhaps largely forgotten) contents of the Palgrave Treasury.
I think she was also deeply influenced by the Romantics.
Most of the letters by Stevie Smith I’ve seen, so far, have been written in the 50s and 60s. My research has turned up a lot of back-and-forth about publication rights, translation, performances at festivals – and very little about her actual writing.
Which is why yesterday’s visit to Trinity College, Oxford, was so exciting.
Trinity has three letters from Smith, all addressed to Robert Nichols. All are dated 1936, immediately after the publication of Novel on Yellow Paper. Smith is thanking Nichols for his interest in the book – and sharing insights into her work, at the same time.