I’m such a demanding reader

Back in 2010-11, while working my way through 500+ pages of tiny print (I’ve just counted — 48 lines per page), I complained a bit about the lack of illustrations in some other books. I’m amused now that I never had that thought regarding Proust, and even now I can’t imagine how it might be illustrated without interrupting the experience of reading.

At any rate, my complaints paid off with a useful tip from a reader, as you’ll find out. This post was originally titled, “Why aren’t there more illustrations?”

Charles Ephrussi, by Jean Patricot, 1905

Charles Ephrussi, by Jean Patricot, 1905, courtesy Wikipedia

When I first moved to NYC, in the mid-1970s, a neighbor pulled out a recently published edition of The American Heritage Dictionary and asked me what its one drawback was. I’ve always loved how the editors had designed that dictionary, and I could see nothing wrong with it: etymologies, definitions, usage guidance, breakdown of shades of meaning among synonyms (example: break, crack, fracturerupture, burst, split, splinter, shatter, shiver, smash, and crush, all carefully delineated in a brief paragraph). So much information in one book. It seemed perfect to me.

My friend’s complaint? Not enough pictures. The margins of a page could hold as many of four photos or diagrams, but many have only one and too many have none at all.

I can’t look at a dictionary now without thinking of my erstwhile neighbor, and a non-fiction book with a stingy few illustrations makes me wonder why more weren’t included.

Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes is one such book. I’m loving it, although as the netsuke de Waal is following move to Vienna we have to leave Charles Swann/Ephrussi in Paris, and I was so enjoying all those overlaps.

Towards the end of the chapter on Charles, de Waal describes Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and says that the top-hatted man at the rear, with his back to us, is his great uncle Charles Ephrussi! Well, Edmund? Why didn’t you include a reproduction? Why must I go through my art books hoping that one would have included it? (I was lucky and found one.)

Titian, Woman with a Mirror

Titian, Woman with a Mirror

Yes, yes, I know. Illustrations add to the expense of a book and better images than most books can produce are just a few clicks away on the web. If I could be more satisfied with each author’s descriptions of these pictures, I’d be a happier reader all around. But my mind wants to “see”, and so I pause in my reading to look something up.

Now, as I read Proust, I’ll be able to see Charles Ephrussi (and imagine Louise Cahen D’Anvers, for I’ve been unable to find any online drawing or painting of her; the closest available is Titian’s Woman with a Mirror).

L Cahen d'Anvers, by Bonnat, Courtesy Chapitre.com

L Cahen d’Anvers, by Bonnat, Courtesy Chapitre.com

BTW: the Getty Museum blog has a post about de Waal’s memoir.

And then, thanks to a follower, I was able to find a portrait of Louise Cahen d’Anvers, one possible model for Mme Swann. Oh, Odette, you look so very sweet here. Is this the image Marcel (and the Narrator) carried of you for so long? Does this innocent profile mask a colorful and notorious history?

Renoir, Portrait of Irene Cahen dAn

Renoir, Little Irene

But wait. There’s much more information these days on the internet (it’s impossible to keep up). Louise and her husband Louis commissioned Renoir to paint a portrait of their daughter, Irène. Evidently, her parents were so unhappy with the painting that they hung it in the servants’ quarters and paid only 1500 francs. Renoir called the family “stingy”. If you’re curious, you can learn more about Louise and Irene hereI’m satisfied that this portrait reveals Gilberte, its background of shrubbery dappled with light looking like the gardens where Marcel first met Mme Swann’s daughter.

About Lizzie Ross

in no particular order: author, teacher, cyclist, world traveler, single parent. oh, and i read. a lot.
This entry was posted in 2016 Goals and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to I’m such a demanding reader

  1. calmgrove says:

    Demand away, Lizzie! We all know what Alice thought of books without pictures. I’ve now discarded an out of date 1980s illustrated dictionary which had many useful maps, diagrams, photos other illustrations, but only because I can get more accurate and up to date stuff online.

    I’ve long believed there’s a hierarchy of communication where tradition is concerned, when many took their hint from the Bible. “In the Beginning was the Word,” and it was spoken. The it was written down (level 2). Next come images (level 3, the naughty level) against which the Almighty of course inveighed: “no graven images!” We’re still suffering the fallout now, millennia later.

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