Friday, September 16, 2011

a raffish Rossetti

Beatrice, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Edith Nesbit

I've been reading Edith Nesbit -- noo, not The Railway Children -- but The Power of Darkness. Yes, Tales of Terror!! from the author renowned for her charming children's classics, which influenced the likes of C.S. Lewis, P.L. Travers, and J.K. Rowling.

So far all the stories have been wonderfully chilling -- imaginative and unsettling -- and often harsh and unhappy; quite unlike the buoyant cheerfulness of Ms Nesbit's children's tales. I finished reading one story entitled The Shadow, and it put me in mind of these verses in the book of Job (4:13-15, italics mine):

In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men,

Fear came upon me and trembling, which made all my bones shake.

Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of my flesh stood up!

Isn' t that just awesome literature? Written some time between the 6th and 4th century BC. But alright, back to Ms Nesbit. Ada Chesterton, wife of author G.K. Chesterton, described her thus: "[She] was always surrounded by adoring young men, dazzled by her vitality, amazing talent and the sheer magnificence of her appearance. She was a very tall woman, built on a grand scale, and on festive occasions wore a trailing gown of peacock blue satin with strings of beads and Indian bangles from the wrist to the elbow.

"Madame, as she was always called, smoked incessantly, and her long cigarette holder became an indissoluble part of the picture she suggested -- a raffish Rossetti, with a long full throat and dark luxuriant hair, smoothly parted.

"She was a wonderful woman, large-hearted, amazingly unconventional, but with such strange reversions to ultra-respectable standards. She could write unconcernedly in the midst of a crowd, smoking like a chimney all the while" (The Chestertons, 1941).

Can you just imagine? The turn of the century, and Ms Nesbit hosting these lavish parties at her home Well Hall, with literary friends like George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, as well as her political ones. The conversations and happenings at these gatherings must surely have been of the sort to which one might apply terms like "sparkling", "witty", "intellectual", "flamboyant", with sharp asides and bons mots every few seconds.

And the style... It got me thinking about what pieces were still wearable today, some 100 years later. Artistic, modern, feminine, haunting -- here's to raffish Rossettis, wonderful women, and stories that make the hair of your flesh stand up!


1 comment:

Beth Wade said...

Love it! Thanks so much for including my shop :)


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