In September we holidayed in England: we travelled north-west to Stratford (and saw a wonderful production of The Roaring Girl, a play about Mary Frith, an astonishing sixteenth-century woman who lived and dressed as a man, partly in defiance of her times to give herself freedom, partly so she could act as pimp, procurer and cutpurse). Then we travelled north from Stratford: our northernmost destination was Hadrian’s Wall at Housesteads just north of Hexham, but my favourite place was Haworth Parsonage in West Yorkshire. My skin tingled as I stood in the Brontës’ dining/writing room and listened to a curator telling me how Charlotte, Emily and Anne would walk round the small table reading their work to each other (and how, after Anne and Emily died, Charlotte continued to walk and read aloud, and how sad that made their housekeeper). The curator also told me that her particular Brontë hero was not the writers, nor the errant Branwell, but Patrick, their father, because he encouraged his daughters to read anything and everything: he never proscribed a single book, a rare thing for a father of daughters in the early nineteenth century.
I have yet to read Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North but I’m already looking forward to it because of the things Flanagan said in his 2014 acceptance speech for the prize: the bit about novels in particular:
‘Novels are [not] … a mirror to life or an explanation of life or a guide to life. Novels are life, or they are nothing.’
And the thing(s) I’d love to have made this month, in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible, are Anselm Keifer‘s paintings and sculptures. There’s a room of paintings in his exhibition at the Royal Academy in London (which ends on 14 December) – I think it’s the third room – where, as soon as I walked into it, I felt a deep sadness. I can’t tell you how Kiefer transmits these feelings or what it is about his paintings that makes that happen, but it happens and I urge you to go to the exhibition if you can. There’s another room where the paintings glow sunnily yellow and as soon as I walked in to that room I felt joyful. And another where three small and one large painting sparkle with stars in a night sky (or jewels, or ideas that excite). I didn’t love every painting but the ones that touched me, touched me deeply. There’s also this: a leaden-winged pile of books called The Language of Birds: how could I not love it?