April 3, 2020

#OA Reads - What's On Our Reading List

Dear OA Family,

We’ve heard from a number of you asking how we are finding our enforced break from the OA office and studio now that St. Lawrence Hall is officially closed down – and how we’re spending our time. 

I’m happy to report that every day begins with a virtual staff meeting, during which we all report on our respective projects, and business progresses remarkably efficiently. 

Thanks to Zach Bruman, OA’s Director of Production, Jeannette and I have a computer installed in our home for the first time in the history of this eccentric old house, and I am able to dictate emails to the irreplaceable, unflappable Kevin Vuong – our Office Assistant whose efficiency is surpassed only by his excellent manners, good humour and perfect spelling. 

All this being said, there is still plenty of time for books, and over the past thirty-five years, Jeannette and I have amassed a very large personal library – but we are always game to explore authors we have underestimated or overlooked. Anthony Trollope is a perfect example.

Jeannette and I are both huge fans of Henry Fielding, Jane Austen and Thackeray – but Trollope never spoke to us in the same way as these witty, ironic and ruthless observers of the foibles of society. 

I mentioned this a number of months ago to OA patron and dear friend Greig Dunn who, once he had finished gasping for air, assured me we were missing one of life’s great pleasures and encouraged Jeannette and me to take another run at Trollope. We’ve taken Greig’s advice and feel as though we have entered a new, thrilling world which had been waiting for us to discover all these years. 

I have raced through Trollope’s six Barsetshire novels with Jeannette just one novel behind me, and am now on volume 3 of the Palliser series. His characters are so real – so perfectly realized that I can’t imagine a world without them! Clearly, Trollope was clearly influenced by our favourite novelists, and we in turn, would never have had that great genius of 20th century comic satire, Barbara Pym without him. I’m told Trollope wrote 40 novels and I’m scouring eBay and ABE for a complete set to add to our already groaning shelves. 

Greig, we can never thank you enough for your heads up, and just in time to enliven our forced isolation. Greig, by the way, has just begun Jane Austen’s Emma, Jeannette’s favourite novel, and certainly in my list of Top 10! We both envy anyone reading Emma for the first time. 

As I write this, I am halfway through Trollope’s Phineas Redux and Jeannette is giving herself a “palate cleanser” with Jane Glover’s marvelous Handel in London. She is enjoying it immensely and it is giving her plenty of ideas for future OA productions. 

I always like to imagine friends, or individuals from a painting or a photograph as the characters described by any author I happen to be reading. In Anthony Trollope’s novel Phineas Redux (1874 - #4 of the Palliser Series) he describes the fascinating Madame Goesler in great detail. For me, the beautiful Christina Spartali (model for the Pre-Raphaelites and for James McNeill Whistler) is a dead ringer! Whistler captured Spartali’s extraordinary allure in his famous painting Princess from the Land of Porcelain (1864).

The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, James McNeill Whistler (1864)

I can’t imagine a better likeness for the handsome Irishman Phineas Finn - than English sculptor and poet Thomas Woolner, seen here in a drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1852).

Thomas Woolner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1852)

Jane Austen's description of Emma Woodhouse (the eponymous heroine of her novel) is perfectly realized in Romney's ravishing portrait of the infamous Lady Emma Hamilton - seen here radiating the innocence, health and beauty that made her one of the "supermodels" of the late 18th and early 19th century.

Lady Hamilton as Nature, George Romney (1782)

Jane Glover's history of Handel in London leaps off the page. The cover of her superb biography captures all of the excitement of Handel's world.

Cover of Jane Glover's Handel in London (2018)


Feel free to share with us what is on your reading list these days, as we wait for things to return to normal!

Best wishes to all of you from both of us,

Marshall and Jeannette