January 2, 2020 (1)vintage book photos (2 of 8)vintage book photos (4 of 8)

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

outgoing mail: the golden age

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The most enjoyable aspect of studying eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art last semester was reveling in how downright nerdy many experimental European artists were–in one fascinating example, the German Romantic painters who called themselves the Brotherhood of St. Luke basically cosplayed as medieval monks, and would paint each other dressed up as romantic figures from a seemingly distant past. In Johann Friedrich Overbach’s Portrait of the Painter Franz Pforr, Overbach depicts his buddy in an anachronistic paradise–he even gives him a pious medieval babe for a wife in the background, though Pforr was unmarried!

Perhaps my own romanticized fixation with various aspects of the past — including as the nineteenth-century William Morris designs I transformed into my outgoing Christmas mail — becomes less strange when contextualized within each generation’s endless cycle of “golden age” nostalgia.

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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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