Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Eva Trout Explores History in Pictures

Eva Trout, in Elizabeth Bowen's novel of the same name, undertakes to get in touch with her roots by a tour through the British National Portrait Gallery:

One made one's start with the Tudors ... . This had been the age in which ends were dire; she learned from small placards adjoining the gold frames  how very often,if not invariably, initiative, recalcitrance, ambition, ill-spent beauty or indomitability carried their possessors to the block, or, in cases of bishops, to the stake.  The over-clever had perished along with the over-brave,  not deterring others from doing likewise.  Brittle, bejewelled fingers and cobweb lace ornamented the surface only: one was in an internally maniacal, autocratic, dolichocephalic labyrinth.  Inexorable pupil-darkened eyes, fumily burning and set in high up and energetically compressed lips stabbed at her ...

She went through a doorway into the Stuart area of th betrayers and betrayed, of whom the majority, less taut than those in the rooms before, had a free-flowing lavishness and engagingness.  Their look of importance--for it was evident that important they were--was etherealized by a graceful, in some cases a glowing, in others a melancholic pensiveness, which made not the youths only appear young.  Fatal was to be the division between their fortunes, yet who could guess?
--Elizabeth Bowen, Evas Trout 194 (Vintage 1999)   .

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