Autism is a poorly-understood neurological disorder that can impair an individual’s ability to engage in various social interactions. But little 5-year-old Iris Grace in the UK is an excellent example of the unexpected gifts that autism can also grant – her exceptional focus and attention to detail have helped her create incredibly beautiful paintings that many of her fans (and buyers) have likened to Monet’s works.
Little Iris is slowly learning to speak, whereas most children have already begun to speak at least a few words by age 2. Along with speech therapy, her parents gradually introduced her to painting, which is when they discovered her amazing talent.
“We have been encouraging Iris to paint to help with speech therapy, joint attention and turn taking,” her mother, Arabella Carter-Johnson, explains on her website. “Then we realised that she is actually really talented and has an incredible concentration span of around 2 hours each time she paints. Her autism has created a style of painting which I have never seen in a child of her age, she has an understanding of colours and how they interact with each other.”
I’ve recently read an article by John Colapinto about the supposed influence that Edith Wharton’s American masterpiece “The Age of Innocence ” had on Virginia Woolf, and of Wolf’s disparaging of American authors. It was interesting.
I’m a fan of both Wharton and Woolf; in every library I visit I regularly scan the bottom shelf of the “Classics” section in order to find books by one or other- failure to do so leads me to condemn said library as a failure (what can I say? I’m a harsh critic). It wasn’t until now, after reading that article (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/virginia-woolfs-anxiety-influence) that I’ve ever really considered the two authors side by side.
I’m no great literary critic- I find more pleasure in reading and enjoying than dissection and analysis - but now I’m considering their work critically. Can they be compared? Wharton and Woolf were contemporaries of a kind- publishing novels in the same decades- but what else, bar gender, do they share? I’ve always considered Wharton a social commentator, much in the same line (although undoubtedly without the wit) of Jane Austen. Wharton’s bread-and-butter was the “old moneyed” American aristocrat, who lived in fashionable places and moved in fashionable circles. Her novels are intelligent, insightful works; the reader feels that they are sitting apart in some secluded niche, observing with a keen eye and sympathetically interpreting without judgement. Writing from her vantage-point in the early 20th century, Wharton’s novels are nostalgic - they document a time that many could remember, but that had ceased to exist. Perhaps the rapidly changing world in which she wrote inspired Wharton’s nostalgia; perhaps she saw and sought to draw parallels between the world that was dying and the new that was being born. Wharton was, I think, a “traditional” writer, inasmuch as she sought to tell stories and did so, however well, rather formulaically. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that and there is no doubt that Wharton was a writer of considerable talent. However, it never occurs to me to see her as an innovative writer, or one who pushed the boundaries of literature. It is possible that the fault lies with my interpretation of her works- a fact which, from my viewpoint, is just as permissable as Wharton lacking originality.
Woolf, on the other hand, influenced or not by other American authors, was an innovator. She sought to restructure the novel, to bring alternating viewpoints and to glorify the mundane and every day. In her works I find a celebration of small, insignificant things and I revel in the details and sidelined musings. Woolf was no great detailer like Wharton. I find in Woolf’s works a picture painted with the broad, bold brushstrokes of an Impressionist. I see colour and hear sounds until my senses become jumbled. Woolf sees a mirror reflecting an empty room and ponders the abstract; Wharton sees a cold, mausoleum-like room and inserts two figures who speak with restraint about a maid who cannot pull the blinds level in the windows. Ultimately it’s about viewpoints. We all have eyes to see; what you or I choose to see will be as different, perhaps, as the way we see it, and indeed the methods we utilise to express what we see. Woolf, to me, experiments. She gives the sense of a deeply questioning mind. She criticises and considers. Her novels do not contain events, sometimes, any more than they do logical timelines. She finds the story in a mark on the wall, or sees a great World War partially from the viewpoint of some objects in a china cabinet.
I can see little between the two women to consider much similarity. In their individual ways, Woolf and Wharton told stories, and did so well and quite free from the taint of anger or indignation that Woolf warns female authors to guard against in their work. Both were women and both were serious, professional novelists at a time that has given us few female writers of note. Woolf did not, it seems, think highly of American novelists… She is allowed her opinion like the rest of us. She thought that Wharton had nothing new to give, perhaps forgetting that we do not always need to find something new in order to do something well. Let us strive for originality, but let us also master an art entirely.
'Stand unshod upon it, for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed. '
It seems unlikely that Woolf would have failed to read “The Age of Innocence,” or that she would have failed to recognize its startling originality.
Rad article on V and Wharton
'Remember, sister, that the passions are the seeds of vices as well as of virtues, from which either may spring, accordingly as they are nurtured.'
'Surely,' said she, 'there is some magic in wealth, which can thus make persons pay their court to it, when it does not even benefit themselves. How strange it is, that a fool or a knave with riches should be treated with more respect by the world, than a good man, or a wise man in poverty!'
She laughed at the ludicrous absurdity she observed, till, recollecting, that the hands which had wove it were, like the poet, whose thoughts of fire they had attempted to express, long since mouldered into dust […]
The hills all round were beautiful; bright and beautiful as Purity, but also as cold as Purity without the warmth of Love.
Vera Brittain, “Chronicle of Youth”
As it’s the centenary of the outbreak of the “Great War”, I’m re-reading Vera Brittain’s war diary. I think it is important that we remember that wars don’t just affect the soldiers who fight them. Women have always had an interesting perspective when it comes to war because traditionally they stayed at home and waited. Vera Brittain was a wealthy, privileged young woman at the outbreak of war and a grieving, world-weary nurse by the end of it. We must remember all of the people who sacrificed themselves for the pursuit of peace. I may not agree with war, but I agree with humanity.