Book Reviews Uncategorized

A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, Chatto & Windus, 2010 by Michael Holroyd

Picture the crowded atelier of the renowned sculptor, Rodin or perhaps the dimly lit corridor’s of Lord Grimthorpe’s mansion. Perhaps you might prefer to frequent the brightly lit splendour of the balconies of the coastal villa at Cimbrione above the magnificent Gulf of Salerno. The inhabitants of such places led their tangled lives, sometimes enduring painful losses or by contrast, energetically inspired to passionate love affairs. In these stimulating environments we catch glimpses of the famous, like E.M.Forster, Virginia Woolf, sometimes accompanied by her close confidante, Vita Sackville West and then there was that tempestuous iconoclast, D.H.Lawrence. Many such lives were inspired by both landscape and lust, fashioned by each other’s creative energies and endowed with artistic talents of all kinds. Here we learn of talents and beauty that inspires artistic endeavour, like the many charms of Eve Fairfax. She, who after brief affairs was gradually forced into a stoic suspension which she recorded with thoughts from her friends in the pages of annotated diaries which became “A Book of Secrets”.

Michael Holroyd
Michael Holroyd

The Becketts were Yorkshire bankers and MPs who over several generations owned a series of estates and Gothic brickwork mansions. Ernest William, the second Lord Grimthorpe, was sent to Eton and by nature appears to have been, as Holroyd ironically remarks, a schoolboy that in some ways never quite grew up, though he did arrive at TrinityCollege, Cambridge in May 1875. Much about him is surrounded in mystery but his prowess with women soon became almost notorious soon after he reached London, a fact recorded by the writer George Moore describing him as ‘London’s greatest lover’. Ernest was to take the tours customary for young gentlemen around Europe on which he pursued in succession Eve Fairfax who was briefly his fiancée and then met his wife, Luie, a rich American whose story forms an intriguing digression, in Rome. After her most unfortunate death in childbirth, Ernest Beckett was to end up in the arms of Alice Keppel who was to embark upon a dalliance, as is well known, with the Prince of Wales. Besides these, there was a voluptuous Spanish American lady in Rome whom Ernest conveniently installed in Bayswater.

It was the melancholy beauty of the classical features of Eve Fairfax that also sent Auguste Rodin into raptures. Seeing her bronze head in the V&A, actually cast in 1909, first inspired Michael Holroyd to write this book, “The Book of Secrets”, referring to the elaborate memoir which Eve kept throughout her later life whilst attempting to come to terms with her past. In this she recorded her thoughts on mortality, occasional verses whilst frequently pondering the significance of those earlier amorous encounters with Ernest Beckett. Holroyd deploys his fluent elegant prose in describing Eve, her friends and this Edwardian tome, an eclectic and unique personal calendar, and also the letters which she received from various and unsuitable admirers. These appear to have included Rupert, Ernest’s younger brother, hence she concluded ‘All Becketts make bad husbands’.

Portrait of Violet Trefussis by Sir John Lavery 1919
Portrait of Violet Trefussis by Sir John Lavery 1919

Following through complex family trees, helpfully supplied, Michael Holroyd arrives at the passionate love affair between Alice Keppel’s daughter, who later became Violet Trefussis and Harold Nicholson’s wife, Vita Sackville West. Both had severe, imposing mothers and as children chased together around the corridors of Knole. Vita loved this place with its grand towers, high battlements and long gallery surrounded by spacious parks. Vita then came to stay at Violet’s castle at Duntreath in Stirlingshire. Vita was proud, independent, bi-sexual and fascinated by gardening; Violet appears more naïve, wayward and focussed strongly on her ruthless pursuit of Vita, the latter having had several lovers and relationships which were to include Virginia Woolf. These passions inspired Woolf to write of pageant and androgyny in ”Orlando.” From a literary viewpoint, both Vita and Violet were highly productive. Vita wrote ”The Edwardians”, ”All Passion Spent” and ”Challenge”. Violet wrote around a dozen works, several in French; she loved Paris. Holroyd talks about rediscovering these works and he shares this interest with Violet’s young Italian biographer, Tiziana at Cimbrone who charms Michael and so becomes an important figure in this layered narrative. Along with his description of the supportive care of Holroyd’s wife, Margaret Drabble, the author brings the reader into the present. The biography becomes a heart-felt personal memoir.


The Guardian reported recently, “Biography is a genre in crisis, according to perhaps Britain’s best-known biographer, the author of highly acclaimed works on Lytton Strachey, Augustus John and George Bernard Shaw.” In particular literary biography, he feels has been superseded by the myriad forms of the internet and other popular entertainments.

Vita Sackville-West 1924
Vita Sackville-West 1924

Holroyd says that this is his last book. However, here he is once again energised by the whole process of searching archives and reconstructs the cultivated, privileged and mostly civilised society back to the early Edwardians. In measured, wry and sympathetic tones he takes the reader into the luxuriant and variegated gardens of the past. He finds time to discuss the role of imagination in the art of biography. In this finely written book he carefully spreads enlightenment as he carefully distinguishes between guesswork, probability and established facts.

There is a related posting at

Literature Poetry Uncategorized

The Home is the Word Itself;Rose Ausländer 1901-1988




Wort an Wort


Wir wohnen

Wort an Wort


Sag mir

dein liebstes



meines heißt


Kirsten Krick-Aigner  of the Jewish Women’s Archive  writes of Rose Ausländer, “a German-speaking Jewish poet from Czernowitz/Bukovina who spent much of her life in exile in the United States and Germany, wrote that her true home was the word itself.”

There is a very useful biography at Her poems are short, aphoristic and beautiful. There is some more about her life at and also in German at and in considerable detail at


Das Schönste

Ich flüchte

in dein Zauberzelt


Im atmenden Wald

wo Grasspitzen

sich verneigen


es nichts Schöneres gibt

Which might be very freely translated thus:-

The very best thing

I seek the protection of your magic tent my love,

Beneath the whispering forest,

Where the springy grass bows under us;

Nothing is more beautiful……



überfluten mich

Von Tropfen aufgesogen

in die Wolken geschwemmt

ich regne

in den offenen


des Mohns


Are overwhelming me

So that absorbed into droplets

into the floating clouds

I rain

into the open mouth of the scarlet poppy                                                            

It is worth pausing at this point to view some old postcards of the elegant, fascinating city of Czernowitz, Rose’s home city and also that of the celebrated poet Paul Celan. These are on You Tube at

Czernowitz before the Second World War

Peaceful hill town
encircled by beech woods

Willows along the Pruth
rafts and swimmers

Maytime profusion of lilac

About the lanterns
May bugs dance
their death

Four languages
Speak to each other
enrich the air

The town
breathed happily
till bombs fell

Rose Ausländer translated by Vincent Homolka

Czernowitz vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Friedliche Hügelstadt
von Buchenwäldern umschlossen

Weiden entlang dem Pruth
Flösse und Schwimmer


um die Lanterner
tanzen Maikäfer
ihren Tod

Vier Sprachen
verständigen sich
verwöhnen die Luft

Bis Bomben fielen
atmete glücklich
die Stadt

This translation comes from a Poetry in Translation website where there are further engaging comments on Rose Ausländer at

Manchmal spricht ein Baum …

Manchmal spricht ein Baum

durch das Fenster mir Mut zu

Manchmal leuchtet ein Buch

als Stern auf meinem Himmel

manchmal ein Mensch,

den ich nicht kenne,

der meine Worte erkennt.

Sometimes a tree speaks…….

Sometimes a tree speaks

to me through the window courage which

Sometimes lights a book

like a star in my sky, and

Sometimes a person

whom I do not know,

recognises my words.

Loneliness I

My pores suck it up
until it’s evenly distributed
throughout my body

Days ceaselessly tattoo
lines upon my cheeks
signs none but the sibyl
can interpret

My friends are sewn up
their breath inaccessible
upon their lips there hangs a colourless flag:
a frosty smile

When I turn around
I see footprints
trailing away in the sand

The windmill on the horizon
moves its sails in time
to a lullaby
It’s time
to put an end to solitude
with bed and sleep

Rose Ausländer    (translation by Vincent Homolka)

Einsamkeit I

Die Poren saugen sie auf
bis sie im ganzen Körper
gleichmäßig verteilt ist

Tage tätowieren
unablässig Linien
in die Wange
Zeichen die nur die Sibylle
deuten kann

Die Freunde sind zugenäht
man kommt nicht heran an ihren Atem
auf ihren Lippen hängt eine farblose Fahne:
frostiges Lächeln

Wenn man sich umwendet
sieht man Fußspuren die
sich verlaufen im Sand

Die Mühle am Horizont
bewegt die Arme nach dem Pulsschlag eines
Es ist Zeit
dem Alleinsein ein Ende zu bereiten
und schlafen zu gehn

Czernowitz is situated in the area known as Bukovnia and its complex history is quite remarkable; once part of Poland-Lithuania, as Galicia, Moldavia it has an extremely varied population. For example, at we read that in the late Eighteenth Century,” The Austrian Empire occupied Bukovina in October 1774. Following the first partition of Poland in 1772, the Austrians claimed that they needed it for a road between Galicia and Transylvania. Bukovina was formally annexed in January 1775. On 2 July 1776, at Palamutka, Austrians and Ottomans signed a border convention, Austrians giving back 59 of the previously occupied villages, and remaining with 278 villages.”

Tensions over identity, unsurprisingly, following the difficult history remain:-

“The fact that Romanians and Moldovans were presented as separate categories in the census results, has been criticized by the Romanian Community of Ukraine – Interregional Union, which complains that this old Soviet-era practice, results in the Romanian population being undercounted, as being divided between Romanians and Moldovans.”


Mit fremden Augen

Mit fremden Augen

kommt der Morgen

mit den vertrauten Augen

der Fremde

kommt der Mittag

mächtig sein Licht

die Fremde mächtig

morgens mittags

und abends

melden sich Stimmen

mit dunklem Klang

der Fremde

altbekanntem Klang

Der Mond lodert rot

auf den Lippen

des Fiebernden

Hörst nachts

das Echo

wenn deine Stimme schläft

erkennst den Körper

die schwarze Wange

aus blauen Poren

fremd vertraut



The Elegance of a Bygone Era-Tea Dances

Tea Dances are back in fashion

Popular in the interwar period, if not before, the tea dance must have been a gentle affair that offered an opportunity to relax with friends and with the possibility of meeting new partners. The recreational space around an outdoor bandstand had afforded a similar opportunity in the Edwardian era. This is discussed in  People’s Parks by Hazel Conway and in a review by Susan Hill in the LRB she commented, ” At the same time, forms of design and architecture peculiar to the parks grew up – bandstands, pagodas and winter gardens, floral clocks and tea houses were the popular art of the parks.” There is a website that specialises in images of bandstands at

Mabel Frances Layng (English artist, 1881–1937) Tea Dancing circa 1920
Polish pottery made in Boleslawiec with moulds.

The indoor space of the tea dance was more intimate than the park and it is interesting to note that the spectacle apparently evolved from the French colonisation of Morocco, hence the correct term, thé dansant.. Morocco became a protectorate of France in 1912 after the Agadir crisis. In any event the tea dance had reached England by 1880 and appears to have become popular in the suburbs rather than London, in garrison towns and no doubt was popular amongst with the ascendancy of the Raj as well. Tea dances frequently followed upon afternoon summer garden parties. More details are to be found on in an article by Jane Pettigrew.

An old postcard from the Morrab Gardens in Penzance

Tea dances must have become more popular in the Jazz era and dances like the Tango and the Charleston would have added extra fun; the invention of the gramophone although records could easily be scratched might have added variety if a dance band was not available or affordable. It also seems that as well as the event itself, tea dance dresses too have once again become popular.


There is a very entertaining and informative website at has paintings by the Peruvian artist, Albert Lynch 1851-1912 and the English Artist Mabel Frances Laying, 1881-1937. In addition there are some beautiful teapots and details of eighteenth century coffee houses and the splendid Baltimore Tea Gardens. For some recent interpretations try:-

Albert Lynch (Peruvian artist, 1851-1912) Young Woman in Straw Hat
Albert Lynch (Peruvian artist, 1851-1912) Young Woman in Green Hat
Literature Poetry

Autumn and Rilke, Keats usw.

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke



Rilke’s poem seems apt for the time of the year, although the recent summer might be difficult to describe exactly as  groß.


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war seht groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

One translation may be found at

The phrase “picture-poems” is suggestive of imagism and Pound and Wyndham Lewis somehow seem to be current in the zeitgeist with the excellent production of Parade’s End on BBC2 adapted by Tom Stoppard in currently much in vogue. There are certainly lines which capture the visual imagination such as,” auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.” Although time and season are obviously central to the poem. This dynamic is reinforced in the second stanza with,” Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin…..” Befiehlen here probably being an invocation so as to arrange, allow or ordain matters so that the fruits attain full ripeness.

The wind, frequently and beautifully referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets, also connected with time for example Sonnet 54 as wanton, (” As the perfumed tincture of the roses,

Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly

When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:”) adds to the unruly, random, dégringole quality and to the sadness, possibly of the poet himself, in the final stanza.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Of course, most English readers will immediately be reminded in this poem of Keats’s Ode to Autumn.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Keats wrote in 1819, ‘How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now.”

John Keats

For an insightful and a radical and political reading of Keats’s poem, it is worth looking at A Poetry Primer, The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin (

in which the poppies are associated with the repressive/reactionary use of the Redcoats of the British Army and the grim reaper’s sickle with the cavalryman’s sword. If Rilke knew of Keats’s Ode as one imagines he did, he is unlikely to have been aware of such associations.

There is an entertaining discussion of Rilke in Clive James’s splendid collection, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time.

There is a detailed website in German at

Another discussion of Keats’s Ode is at

Literature Uncategorized

Images from the Rape of Lucrece/Lucretia

In the dolorous, beautiful and heart-rending poem “The Rape of Lucrece”, Shakespeare writes these wonderful lines:-

To see sad sights moves more than to hear them told,

For then the eye interprets to the ear

The heavy motion that it doth behold,

When every part a part of woe doth bear.

‘Tis but a part of sorrow that we hear:

Deep sounds make lesser noise than shallow fords,

And sorrow ebbs being blown with wind of words.

The poem may be found on the Literature Network at

The work will be presented at the Edinburgh Festival this year and details may be found at

Lucretia, 1520/25 Oakwood 76 x 54 cm

The first painting, considered here, ofLucretia is that by Joos van Cleve, a Flemish artist dated 1525 (Oil on panel). The Rijksmuseum says,”Joos van Cleve was probably born in the town or province Kleve in Germany. He trained under a painter in Kalkar. Probably, he started working in Bruges in 1507. Later he moved to Antwerp, where he registered as a master painter in the painters guild. Van Cleve was one of the most influential painters in Antwerp. He received major commissions for portraits and altarpieces. In his paintings he combines a traditional approach with new elements. He was one of the first to paint broad landscapes in the background. In the north, painters began to show an interest in landscapes in the sixteenth century.” It is said that, that like Quentin Massys, a fellow artist of Antwerp, Joos van Cleve appropriated themes and techniques of Leonardo da Vinci.

Flora by Quentin Massys

Having recently seen Massys’s beautiful painting of Flora, 1559 in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, I can vouch for its entrancing effect which has spurred me to look too at his splendid and interesting oeuvre.

This may be further explored at

Detail from Lucretia

There are 9 images for The Rape of Lucrece in the Lessing Archive of which that of Joos van Cleve, in my view, is the most moving. This is due partly to the intense use of colour and partly because of the composition. Her head is slightly raised and there is a plaintive and doleful expression on the face which clearly evokes her immeasurable sense of violation. The gesture is expressive rather than realistic and conveys the sense of drama, emphasised in the picture by the diagonal composition. The swirling dishabille of her dress and attendant necklace, the lacing, the elegant sleeving and in particular the looping arc about her headdress adds to the emotional sense of dire confusion. Her royalty is conveyed by these fine robes. The red and black surrounding the more delicate flesh tones add to the sense of catastrophe. Such emphatic use of colour reminded me of Munch’s painting of The Madonna with which it is interesting to compare and contrast, since this second painting with its languorous quality is quite different in terms of the feelings communicated.

Edvard Munch Madonna 1894-1895

The second picture is by the renowned British print maker, Stanley William Hayter, whose magnificent work has appeared fairly recently at the Annex Galleries,, it is mentioned was, “A chemist by training, Stanley W. Hayter spent most of his life in Paris. He is often noted for his 1927 founding an experimental workshop for the graphic arts – Atelier 17-that played a central role in the 20th century revival of the print as an independent art form”. His knowledge of chemistry was obviously a great asset in his printmaking and a brief biography may be viewed at His etching from 1934 appears to be in MOMA and further detail can be obtained from

Rape of Lucretia (Viol de Lucréce) by Stanley William Hayter

The etching and engraving which in a twisted and troubled composition in black and tones of grey, dramatically suggests the violence of the rape itself in convoluted tubes with a sharp diagonal point, perhaps suggestive of Tarquin’s arm but surely demonstrates the violence of the crime itself. The lower figure seems distraught and crudely exposed to the upper figure which appears too as some sort of metamorphosised fly with the same stabbing structure seeming like some horrific proboscis. Also Armion according to Wikipedia remarks upon,” The association between the phallus and the blade later becomes quite clear when Tarquin enters Lucrece’s chamber and threatens the young woman with his sword”. Here the abstract forms fully express the extremity of the situation. At this time, it appears Hayter had just moved to No. 17, Rue Campagne-Première and was, a few years later to collaborate with Miro, Kandinsky and Picasso on artwork for the Republican cause in Spain. Perhaps this is reminiscent of the significant political result of these events, that Lucius Junius Brutus, nephew of the last Tarquin King led the rebellion against him and founded theRomanRepublic.

Hayter was influenced by the Polish printmaker Józef Hecht, who introduced him to copper engraving. Hecht’s own prints and paintings are both interesting and highly engaging.

Joseph Hecht
Noisy Street
oil on canvas, 80×100 cm.
Vendage by Joseph Hecht

 This is now playing in the Edinburgh Festival 2012, should be really interesting:-