The handbag really came to the fore as a fashion item in the 1920s, when flappers ventured out into the social world without their mothers or male companions.
Little bags became essential. Originally an upper class necessity, the handbag quickly became a symbol of women’s independence. Griselda Pollock reminds us that ‘going out in public and the idea of disgrace were closely allied’ (Vision and Difference , 1988 p. 69).
The handbag announced self-sufficiency and mobility and offered some sort of protection from potential disgrace—it symbolically allowed the new woman to be wherever she wanted, unencumbered by chaperones….
Some of you will have noticed the current fashion for enormous handbags—it seems that the skinnier and more toned the celebrity the bigger and floppier and more elaborate her designer tote will be.
Perhaps as she is more and more exposed in the media her bag gets bigger and bigger to show that she retains some secrets.
And there is something taboo about the inside of someone’s bag—you shouldn’t go rummaging about in there if it’s not yours—Farid Chenoune, a curator of handbags at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, says that the similarity between an haute couture tote and a satchel belonging to an African witch is that both bags hold a secret of some sort: ‘what you put in your bag is very important to you. That makes a bag very personal, because in it you have a secret. A secret gives you some sort of power’.
Roddy Doyle: It’s a pure form of self- employment. I wake fairly early but I wait until about half-nine before I start work. I work all day – to six o’clock, usually. I divide the day into different projects. If I was writing a novel, two hours would be a good long time; I don’t think if I added another hour it would be any use. I tend to make a cup of coffee, or hang out the washing, or something really mundane, and then I do something else: a short story, or a book for children, or a screenplay…
I work a five-day week, usually – unless I’m up against it with a deadline. I was a teacher, and that was nine to five including corrections and stuff. When I started writing full-time I slipped easily into the office hours…
At the same time there was something telling me, you should be doing the Charles Bukowski thing with bottles of whiskey and so on. I attempted to write once after two pints of Guinness. I think I even missed the laptop. I was … happily vague. It doesn’t work.”
Ten of the best breakfasts in literature - here are two.
From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming James Bond’s breakfast, supposed to demonstrate his fine taste, is a memorable exercise in prissiness. Coffee from De Bry in New Oxford Street, toast with Norwegian heather honey from Fortnum’s, a single brown egg from a French Marans hen.
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon Pirate Prentice’s flat fills with “the fragile, musaceous odour of Breakfast, permeating, suprising, more than the color of winter sunlight”. He serves up banana waffles, banana croissants, banana kreplach and banana jam. In a giant crock he has bananas fermented with honey and Muscat raisins to make banana mead.
“Disappointed by Beethoven’s potty mouth (‘How very German,’ he muttered), Nietzsche was delighted to find himself seated next to Charlotte Brontë. She was all elegance and charm – even when it came to Jane Austen. Nietzsche declared Austen’s novels to be ‘proof that English women are actually French,’ and Brontë replied smilingly that Austen had very nice handwriting.”—
One must love Auden’s poetry to be able to speak this heresy, but I can’t help wondering what fun he might have had – we might have had – with, instead of the poem, a wartime novel in the vein of Henry Green or Elizabeth Bowen. In virtually the last words of the poem something is revealed: “[Malin] returned to duty, reclaimed by the actual world where time is real and in which, therefore, poetry can take no interest …” This points to the problem with “The Age of Anxiety”: time is real to real people. Abstractions can’t change, so they don’t listen. A lesser poet wrote a greater poem for the age of anxiety: in Louis MacNeice’s “Autumn Journal”, set in London on the brink of the war, a recognisably human voice is blown hither and thither by memories, lusts and terrifying headlines. Auden’s “The Age of Anxiety” isn’t even the best work of art called “The Age of Anxiety”: if I’m a junior minister in Auden’s world, I’m barely a tea-boy in that of Leonard Bernstein, but I’d accord that honour to his Symphony No 2. Bernstein found the poem “fascinating and hair-raising”.
“In his illuminating introductory essay, the curator of the MoMA show, Peter Galassi, writes: “Cartier-Bresson’s legacy… is a vast resource whose greatness would be sorely diminished if attention were paid only to its many perfect gems.” What intrigues most here, though, are the many perfect gems that never made it into his books.”—
The family archive contains many of Fitzgerald’s books. I wrote that sentence as flatly as I could, but in fact it makes my biographer’s pulse race wildly. This is the second time in my life I have been given access to such an extraordinary source of knowledge about my subject. I had the good fortune to look at all that remains of Edith Wharton’s magnificent collection, before her books went back to her American home, The Mount, and I made much use of them in my biography of her. Fitzgerald’s collection could not be more different. These are not beautiful, expensively bound, well-ordered books with high-flown dedications from famous fellow authors. No, they are the battered, treasured, much-used library of a working woman, mostly paperbacks, stuffed full of notes, marks, clippings and reviews, written all over from cover to cover in Fitzgerald’s clear, steady, italic handwriting. But these books are like Wharton’s much grander library in this respect: they provide the entry point to a remarkable writer’s reading life.
They also raise one of the key questions about this life story. Fitzgerald was an evasive character, extremely private, deliberately oblique in interviews. So there are a number of mysteries in her life, areas of silence and obscurity. One of these has to do with “lateness”. How much of a late starter, really, was she? She always said in interviews that she started writing her first novel (The Golden Child) to entertain her husband, Desmond Fitzgerald, when he was ill. But, like many of the things she told interviewers, there is something a little too simple about this. At least one story was published before that first novel, and her archive reveals how much was going on in her interior life before she started publishing.
Lee also mentions that ‘an incalculable slice of (F.’s) her life’s record went down with Grace, the Thames barge which inspired Offshore, when it sank in the early 1960s.’ Which does make some of it harder to trace, methinks.
“Hordes of artists throw their arms around their melancholy as though it were the very taproot of their creativity. Kierkegaard, for instance, referred to his melancholy as his best and most loyal friend. Cioran felt a similar attachment to his insomnia. While he cursed his nocturnal suffering and used morphine, among other things, to try and knock himself out, he ultimately understood his long journeys into the sickly morning light as both crushing him and yet shaping his sensibilities. After all, isn’t wakefulness good? And sleeplessness a sort of wakefulness? “What rich or strange idea,” asks Cioran, “was ever the work of a sleeper?”—
Have just about finished the Patrick White bio by David Marr, a landmark work in Australian letters by any account. Large chunks of the novels were written at night, after midnight and before early morning, when he would reward himself with a ramble in Centennial Park.