Today at work I was looking for images of people reading, and while trolling Wikimedia Commons I was struck by how many paintings showed women relating in a sensual or almost sexual way to books. I bookmarked the search, thinking maybe someday it would be relevant to some blog business or other. And then this evening, six hours later, I came upon this very elegant piece from Book Patrol on Winslow Homer and the Women of “The New Novel.”
“The New Novel” captures the moment and encapsulates its cultural context. This is a young woman languidly lying down on her side, embracing a book as she might a lover, holding it close and dear, almost caressing its binding, her eyes half-lidded in dream-state transport. She is not engaged in “productive” activity at all; she is consumed within an inner life that leaves her unavailable to responsibilities, family, and potential suitors: She’s here but not here, gone into a world unavailable to those closest to her, that of her imagination, a dangerous place for a woman to be in the 1870s. Opening a woman’s mind to imagination was tantamount to opening Pandora’s Box.
I have nothing to add to Book Patrol’s post, which speaks nicely for itself, other than a few choice images:
Hermann Fenner-Behmer’s “Der Bücherwurm,” 1906
Franz Eybl’s “Lesendes Mädchen,” 1850
Max Koner’s “Allegorie auf den Frühling,” c. 1880
Theodore Roussel’s “The Reading Girl,” 1886
Antoine Wiertz’s extremely transported “The Reader of Novels,” 1853—note the devilish hand supplying her with literature.
And for a little literary afterglow, Ramon Casas’ “Jove Decadent.” Mmm hmm.