Sunday, January 15, 2017

Tracy Chevalier — Girl with a Pearl Earring Jan 13, 2017

First edition, London 1999

After early neglect Johannes Vermeer's ascendancy in the world of art has been rapid. He painted what are regarded as some of the most precious paintings of northern Europe. People admired his colours and his compositional technique which produced quiet genre paintings of women going about everyday tasks. Every painting draws the viewer in, yet does not yield its mystery no longer how long one views it.

Jan Vermeer van Delft from the figure at left in black beret of the painting ‘The Procuress’, which critics hold to be an authentic effigy of the young Vermeer

He remained poor all his working life and never left Delft, his hometown. He had but one major patron (Van Ruijven) who left his own daughter a legacy of 20 paintings by Vermeer. 

Vermeer had eleven children to feed and depended on rents brought in by his mother-in-law, Maria Thins, for pursuing his passion to paint. In the end a ruinous war destroyed the art market and a defensive measure by the Dutch to flood the lowlands by opening the dykes inundated his mother-in-law's rental houses. That brought on destitution for the Vermeer family; he descended into despondency and mania and died, leaving behind 34 works, now considered priceless.

Meera, KumKum, Zakia, Saras

Tracy Chevalier mentions she must have seen three of Vermeer's paintings at the National Gallery of Art growing up in Washington, D.C., but none evoked a response at the time. It was later when she saw a poster of the Girl with a Pearl Earring in her sister's apartment that she was stirred and got one for herself. 

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Vermeer

Slowly the idea grew to write the story behind the painting as a historical novel, rooted faithfully in the times. It was to be Ms Chevalier's second novel, the one that made her famous and got her a film contract in addition.

Sunil, Thommo, & Hemjit

The novel is not literary, but there are several quotes that stand out:
But what is the story in the painting? — Griet's father asks her
I would never stop working on a painting if I knew it was not complete.— Vermeer to Griet

During the session the women readers graciously posed in the way Vermeer had Griet pose for his famous painting, the GWAPE pose. Here is the first by Priya:

Priya in GWAPE pose with nose-ring

The readers gathered for a picture after the enjoyable session which concluded with Hemjit's spread of sandwiches and cutlets, to celebrate his birthday on Jan 16:

seated - Pamela, KumKum, Hemjit - standing Joe, Thommo, Zakia, Sunil, Saras, Meera

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poetry Session — Dec 2, 2016

There were nine of us at the reading of poems by an assortment of authors. Vikram Seth was the token Indian; the other poets were from England, America, Ireland, and France. Almost four centuries of poetry were covered.

KumKum, Saras, Sunil, Thommo, Priya enjoying sandwiches, cupcakes and coffee

We had no singing this time, but had Joe learnt to rap, his poet could have been rendered in her original voice. Pamela could not attend for some obligation she had to fulfil on behalf of her husband.

Sunil, Thommo, Priya, Hemjit, Shoba

It is unusual in modern times for poetry to be crafted to adhere to a form and structure. Unusually, we had a triolet, a sonnet, and an Alexandrine mixed with hymn meter, iambic tetrameters, and modern rap.

Sunil, Thommo, Priya, Hemjit

This was the last session of the year and a new set of novel selections has been made for 2017. We start off with Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier on Jan 13, and the following month Kavita has invited the crew with their dearly beloveds to her estate in Thodupuzha, about 2 hours journey by road. It will be poetry in a pastoral setting.

KumKum & Saras

Here we are at the end of the session, after enjoying cucumber and cheese sandwiches (KumKum) and cupcakes (Shoba).
Hemjit, Thommo, Priya, Saras, Shoba, KumKum, Sunil, Kavita, Joe

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited

It was the last novel of the year, Evelyn Waugh's languorous attempt to capture the nostalgia of youth. The deep friendship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, the son of an aristocratic family, is at the centre of the novel in the first half of the book; it leaves its shadowy bitter scent in the final section as Sebastian descends into incurable alcoholism.

 Castle Howard – location of Brideshead Revisited, the 1981 TV series with Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder

Meanwhile, Charles with an artistic bent goes off to study art in Paris and paints pictures, full of charm, for the English public. Later, he seeks adventure in the New World and returns in triumph to an exhibition of his exotic paintings of Mexico and S America, arranged by his wife, Celia. At about this time, Julia, the sister of Sebastian enters his life and both have an extramarital fling. The love is short-lived.

Brideshead Revisited (1981, ITV) is one of television’s greatest literary adaptations. It's utterly faithful to Evelyn Waugh's novel yet it's somehow more than that, too

All this takes place against the impending crisis of a war to come, and it is the billet of Charles’ battalion at Brideshead, the home of the Flytes he knew so well, that starts off the novel as a re-visit. It's impossible not to fall in love with the Oxford University described in the early scenes, although there is very little about studies and much more about escapades, dining, going for rides, encounters with women, and so on; the only don in the novel is venal and comic.

 Brideshead Revisited – Jeremy Irons (left) pictured as Charles Ryder, with Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte

There are many snatches of comedy in a satirical vein: Charles’ father Edward Ryder, Lord Marchmain in Venice, Rex Mottram taking Catholic instruction, the absurdity of an aristocratic Catholic family marooned in Anglican England, and so on. But above all it is Oxford we remember:
still a city of aquatint’,
her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days’,

exhaling the soft vapours of a thousand years of learning’.

Christchurch College, the setting of Evelyn Waugh’s 
Brideshead Revisited

Preeti, Priya, Hemjith, Saras, KumKum, Pamela, Zakia, Joe