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Dear friends,

The little town in which I now reside happens to be home to one of the most fantastic and well-equipped public libraries I’ve encountered in my adult life. (It’s hard to judge and rank fairly the public libraries of my youth, because I think of them all with such nostalgic fondness!) Over the weekend – a pair of grey, dull, wet winter days – my husband and I stopped by the library’s annual book sale, where we found ample rewards for our braving the weather.

This biography of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1877, is now the most exciting book that I own. It is in deplorable condition – but considering I paid $1 for it and that it is 143 years old, I can’t complain! Acquiring this book (and another late Victorian volume of King Lear) may prove thrillingly useful for me: as throughout this past year of blog-neglecting, I have occupied myself with attempting to write a fantasy novel that involves some elements of nineteenth-century publishing.

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Have you seen the most recent Little Women film – and – a more important second question – were you also blown away by the jewel of a scene in which Jo watches eagerly as her words literally take physical form and become a gorgeous book? It is the splendor of this period of publishing that I want to understand as best I can, and this biography is a fine example. I wish I could download the typeface used for the cover text!

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Another even more relevant and fascinating aspect of these nineteenth-century books I hope to collect: personal annotations! Let us generously assume that in this case, ” ’78 ” refers to 1878, the year after this was published…

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The copy of King Lear from 1888 that I purchased lacks an elaborate cover, but I do enjoy the design and composition of the pages.

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To return to the theme of a few paragraphs ago – as someone who notoriously abandons half-finished novels and never finishes them, trying to stick with this draft has been one of the greatest challenges of my creative life. My “book” (how odd it seems to use that word to refer to an excessively large Word document!) is nearly 90,000 words long, and I would say that every thousand words or so I am tempted to jettison the whole thing altogether and start anew.

Perhaps I can channel that desire for novelty into writing new blog posts instead?

Sincerely,

Mailbox Mermaid

2018 in wandering

 

On the one hand, 2018 might have qualified as the most adventure-packed year of my life. As my husband (then-fiancé!) and I finished up our last few months of long-distance love, I visited the United Kingdom twice in six months – a new record for me! We enjoyed a brief period of quiet time in our new home after that final visit resulted in the happily-ever-after of a granted visa: and then the rest of the summer concluded with a trip to my home, our wedding, and a mini-honeymoon.

I always enjoy looking back over my various voyagings in a given year, so I hope you will indulge me as I post my virtual travelogue nearly a week into 2019!

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“come away, o human child!” my victorian fairy painting investigation

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If you’d told my child-aged self that one day I would embark on an academically sponsored research trip to Scotland to investigate fairies [and their representation in three paintings by a particular Scottish artist], she…probably would have shrugged and said “well, it’s not as good as finding a portal to a fay kingdom, but it will do.

As someone who grew up fascinated by fairy lore, I find Victorian fairy painting such a compelling and strange epoch of modern artistic production. For one relatively brief nineteenth-century moment, winged creatures of fantasy held centerstage in the world of fine art – occupying monumental canvases typically reserved for history painting. I won’t reveal too much about my particular research angle yet, but through a number of museum and library visits in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I’ve discovered some truly fantastic archival material to help me on my journey.

The experience of seeing these three J. N. Paton paintings in person after studying them for so long, of course, may be as close to real magic as I’ll ever get.

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mending walls

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The past week swirled by in a chaotic frenzy of planning: coordinating a research trip, wedding organization, freelancing, endless overthinking…

Some peace, however, emerged after a weekend of plants and the past. Though my work requires that I spend most of my time preoccupied with the mid- and late nineteenth century, I enjoyed visiting a historic “village” from a slightly earlier period – a site that’s also imbued with my own history, as I found it entrancing as a child!

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall

That wants it down. I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly…

– Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

Though the restored buildings in this village attract the most attention, I took pleasure in observing the artifacts of countryside life — rugged stone walls layered with encroaching grass, simple fences formed of rough wood, and tall wildflowers hiding from sheep and rabbits.

The experience reminded me, in a synesthetic way, of the rolling tones of the Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack.

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This dusty path stretched down to a covered bridge spanning a quiet river.

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As I learn more and more about the past, I delight in the constellation of knowledge that takes shape in my mind as I draw connections between people, places, and eras. Because of my travels, I won’t give any more tours until later in the summer – so in the meantime, I will take every opportunity to enrich my understanding of this particular period! (Starting by watching the gorgeous new Little Women adaptation…)

a very nineteenth-century stationery haul

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These past December days, I’ve felt most frustratingly filled with the holiday spirit – and completely unable to act upon my gift-giving urges!

A cloud of end-of-the-semester papers and grading looms over me, and, meteorologists suggest, will likely stick around for the next few weeks. As Christmas creeps closer, I’d love to devote my evenings to putting together my festive outgoing mail: perhaps some study breaks are in the distant future?

In any case, for convenience’s sake, I happen to work at a historic house museum with an extraordinary gift shop that’s proven a perfect place to finish my holiday shopping. I might not be able to make any envelopes out of that incredible William Morris paper yet – but at least I have it on hand!

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you have my hart, linlithgow

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I promised you castle photos–now, castle photos ye shall have!

Linlithgow Palace in Linlithgow, Scotland, isn’t quite the oldest castle you’ll ever encounter–though in a ruined state, it’s actually looking pretty good hundreds of years past its heyday in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Back then, it was a part-time royal residence, and today, it allows visitors (especially weird historians like me) to enjoy a thrilling opportunity to roam labyrinthine Renaissance halls and towers and dungeons completely unaccompanied. You can basically do whatever you want here, provided you respect the architecture! I even sang approximately three notes of a Palestrina motet to test the acoustics.

Most importantly, as the title suggests, there is a ridiculously adorable deer sculpture on its very ornate, extant, and functional fountain!

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wonderlust

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Because I studied abroad in Scotland during my college days, folks keep asking me if I was going back to Edinburgh to reunite with some faculty members or friends I’d met in 2013. (They underestimate how much of an extreme hermit I was while on my semester exchange.)

The best buddies I made during my first time in Edinburgh all live in the same place, which makes visiting convenient! They also all happen to be either fossils, ancient Celtic art objects, or other curiosities on view at the National Museum of Scotland. Oh, the company I keep!

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