Monday, May 6, 2013

Grey Gardens and Good Books

The film "Jane Eyre," 2011
Photo via here

A couple of weeks ago it was grey and drizzly here in Los Angeles and my thoughts turned to books such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and other novels set in inclement climes where the characters are always putting on the kettle and making cups of tea. Poor Jane and all those grey and rainy days she endured. But she also enjoyed sunshine and flower-filled days when she was falling in love with Mr. Rochester. 

My garden on a grey day

"He strayed down a walk edged with box, with apple trees, pear trees, and cherry-trees on one side, and a border on the other full of all sorts of old-fashioned flowers, stocks, sweet-williams, primroses, pansies mingled with southernwood, sweet-briar, and various fragrant herbs. They were as fresh now as a succession of April showers and gleams, followed by a lovely spring morning could make them: the sun was just entering the dappled east, and his light illuminated the wreathed and dewy orchard-trees and shone down the quiet walks under them."
-- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre


But back to the weather here at home. Knowing that it will be hot soon enough, I couldn't help but welcome the grey skies that day. Everything outside looked beautiful and the misty weather combined with the green of the garden was a lovely sight. The greens take on a depth and richness on this kind of a day.  

My book club was meeting that morning and the drizzly weather was a perfect setting for the occasion. It was a great day to stay inside and talk about books. Our hostess has a lovely garden with old-fashioned and romantic elements such as climbing roses and wisteria, espaliered apple trees, fragrant herbs, vine covered arbors and a fountain. It looked beautiful on this misty day. (I could picture Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester walking through it.) We decided it was too cold to eat on the patio and so we sat around the kitchen table and had a delicious lunch. Afterwards we gathered in the family room in front of a fire in the fireplace. Outside a light rain was falling and we were cozily ensconced in the warm environment our hostess had created. Everyone was very happy to be together, glancing occasionally through the window at the garden. We had a riveting discussion of a wonderful new book. 

The beautiful garden at the home of our hostess

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver is a new novel inspired by the famous 1936 Dorothea Lange photo "Migrant Mother." You know the one -- a young woman with a weathered face staring into the distance, with two children clinging to her. It was a photo that had a powerful effect on this country's attitudes towards the poor during the depression.

The novel is told through the viewpoints of three characters:  Mary Coin, a native American migrant laborer and mother of seven, the subject of the famous photo; Vera Dare, a polio-stricken photographer who takes the photo; and Walker Dodge, a present-day cultural historian who is exploring his own family's history in central California. His family was a major landowner in California and employed migrant workers. I especially loved the story of Vera Dare, the photographer. She was a woman with many disadvantages, but lived a bohemian life and pursued her artistic vision at a time when not too many women were artists. She struggled to be a good mother.
This book is about many things: art, motherhood and survival, to name just a few. It is about the affect that a monumentally famous photograph can have on the lives of the subject and the photographer. For me, the most powerful feature of the book is Marisa Silver's lyrical prose and the way it captures the essence of the migrant movement. I was reminded of the way I felt when I first read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The plight of the poor during the Depression is rendered by Marisa Silver in a way that goes straight to the heart. Dorothea Lange's photo and Marisa Silver's words both paint a powerful portrait of an unforgettable time in American history. You don't want to miss this book. 

Grey skies, gardens, good books -- they all came together for an inspiring and magical day. 

Thanks to Flowers and Stripes for reminding me of the quote from "Jane Eyre"


  1. Sunday...your garden is gorgeous with the the palette in bloom so well planned!

    Love the little Cherubino!!

  2. Both gardens are breathtaking. I am experiencing grass envy as I enjoy the photographs. I am rather fond of grey days myself. Our summers are so hot and oppressive, I enjoy an occasional break from the summer's sun.

    Both books sound wonderful. I believe my own book group would enjoy "Mary Coin". We just had our last meeting until August, when we will put together another reading season's list. "Mary Coin" sounds perfect. I adored "The Age of Innocence" so many many years ago. Thanks for the reviews. Bonnie

  3. Pleasure, it was lovely toner read it again. We've had some glorious sunny spring days that I want to last forever.

  4. Your day sounds dreamy and your garden is so lovely. Mary Coin is going on my TBR.

  5. glorious!!

    hydrangeas and statuary!


    and yes, we had the same impulse on those rainy days here - the bookcase calls.

    popping the kettle on.

    listening to the patter of raindrops on glass.

    snuggled up inside under a voluminous quilt.

  6. Sunday, your garden is perfect, especially on a grey day. I agree with Bonnie above, I do not mind the grey days as soon it will be hot and steamy here.

    Both books sound excellent, I have them in my book now of TBR. By the way, do you know the mother in that photo is 32? When I heard that recently I could not believe it, but then again, the depression did much worse than prematurely age people.

    Have a great week Sunday!