Book Review and Sunday Painting: Mariana and Amity

Monica Dickens

First, the literary review: Spirited English girl comes of age. Enjoyable, somewhat cozy, romantic tale.

Bernard Fleetwood-Walker

Now for the painting(s): I’ll be truthful. I ordered this Persephone because of the cover. I love the standard gray Persephone covers, but they have done such a great job choosing paintings for their Classics editions that they are hard to resist. And two of them, Mariana and Cheerful Weather for the Wedding had images too compelling to pass up. (Thankfully I enjoyed Mariana much more than Cheerful Weather.) The cover painting on Mariana is called Amity and was painted by Bernard Fleetwood-Walker in 1933. I am drawn to it not only for the bright colors and the idyllic scene depicted, but I am also fascinated because there is something slightly subversive in the painting. Stylistically, the painting is almost illustration-like in the vein of American Norman Rockwell, but it also has a bit of an ironic twist like toned down John Currin.

Whatever Fleetwood-Walker’s intent, the two figures look as if they are related and there seems to be something going on below the surface that hints at an “innocent” incest in the same way the relationship between the cousins in Mariana does. And although the painting seems to be the epitome of wholesome sweetness at first glance there is something highly sexual about it as well. There seems to be a hint of Balthus-like perversion and more than a little of Cadmus’ cartoonish sexuality thrown in. The female figure recumbent, lazily offering up her flower with a basket of (perhaps forbidden) fruit. The male figure slightly erect with his muscular but fleshy head thrust forward. They look bored by whatever it is they are watching (other members of the party perhaps) but they also look as if things may have been interrupted just before they got going and are now just biding their time until they are alone again. .

Do you think the folks at Persephone had these things in mind when they chose this painting? Caustic Cover Critic points out that Penguin also used the painting for Colette’s The Ripening Seed. If Penguin chose the same painting for Colette’s tale of sexual awakening, I guess my take on the painting isn’t as far fetched as I may have initially thought.

Fleetwood-Walker’s Amity:

Like a combo of Norman Rockwell…

and toned down John Currin…

Heartless, 1997
John Currin

with hints of perverted Balthus…

Theresa, 1938

and sexual Paul Cadmus

Jerry, 1931
Paul Cadmus

7 thoughts on “Book Review and Sunday Painting: Mariana and Amity

  1. Ti December 27, 2009 / 11:52 pm

    Not sure if it's the power of suggestion or not but I do see all of the things you noted. In addition, the bare knees and the red shoes seem rather scandalous and you'll notice that they did not make the cover of Mariana.


  2. savidgereads December 28, 2009 / 8:52 am

    Interesting post and what a wonderful selection of pictures. I dont think about the cover art on books enough and where it came from.


  3. Thomas at My Porch December 28, 2009 / 9:37 am

    Ti: You are so right about the bare legs. They actually do show up on the spine of the book, but their absence on the cover does take away some of the heat of the original painting.

    Simon S: I figured so many others have and will review the book that I would review the cover. And it worked out perfectly with my weekly Sunday Painting feature.


  4. Paperback Reader December 28, 2009 / 6:04 pm

    I happen to have that edition of The Ripening Seed as well as Mariana; I am sure that it is the only instance where I have two different books with the one cover image.

    Speaking of Persephone Classics covers, I love the forthcoming one you found for The Home-Maker and I wonder whether I can wait until late 2010 to buy/read it…


  5. Thomas at My Porch December 28, 2009 / 11:11 pm

    Paperback: I do love the Classics cover of Home-Maker. Turns out its a Norman Rockwell painting.

    So far, Home-Maker is my favorite Persephone (thanks).


  6. columnist December 29, 2009 / 6:25 am

    The picture of “Jerry” is very reminiscent of Lucien Freud's work.


  7. Vintage Reading December 31, 2009 / 7:59 pm

    Nice post. I'm suprised more book covers don't use Norman Rockwell paintings, they're fabulous.


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