Having seen some of Walter Sickert’s paintings at the Tate recently and convinced myself that the rumour of him being Jack The Ripper was not as far-fetched as it sounded, I was very keen indeed to read ‘Ripper’ by Patricia Cornwell the forensic scientist whose usual genre is Crime novels. I read the up-dated version which came out in 2017 (only available in hardback, luckily F. was away on holiday), Cornwell having spent somewhere between seven and eight million dollars trying to prove her theory. In essence it all came down to the writing paper. Not only did Sickert use the same brand as Jack The Ripper in his infamous letters, it turns out, but an expert has now demonstrated that their paper came from the very same pad.
“The Tate gallery suggested I use this paper expert, Peter Bower,’ Cornwell says. ‘I think they thought Peter would come in and show what nonsense this all was and they didn’t realise it was going to do the opposite. The paper stuff is just incredible. Peter examined three Sickert letters and two of the watermarked Ripper letters, The obsessive jealousy of a rich youn. Bit i.g American Adonis drives his Parisian wife to the extreme of retaliation. those five sheets of paper came from a batch run of only 24 that could have ever been made.” With persistent detailed forensic investigation Cornwell also ‘proved’ that Sickert’s movements could quite well tie in with the murders. Now a lot of people pour scorn on Cornwell’s obsession and pick up on various parts of her arguments, but as far as I am concerned case proved. I have to say you need a very strong stomach indeed for this book both for its descriptions and photos.
Really, before anything else, an artist who can come up with these paintings must have a twisted mind…..incidentally, as you would expect from a Crime writer, this is a book you don’t want to put down.
Wanting some bed-time reading that was different I dug out our 1961 edition of ‘Wonderful Clouds’ by Francoise Sagan. Now French writers really are an order-of-magnitude different from English language writers, and it is very interesting to consider why or how. But this is certainly not the place where any attempt at explanation will be attempted. She presents a disturbingly real picture of a neurotic marriage between Alan, a young American millionaire, and Jose, his sensitive French wife. His obsessive jealousy of her drives his wife to extremes of retaliation. The two are characters who can’t live with each other and can’t live apart…think Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. Sagan’s son portrays his mother as the literary Brigitte Bardot, an author who introduced a generation of women to eroticism and empowered them to take control of their bodies without fearing punishment from God or man. But he also described to The Times how she died amid debts and poverty that threatened to erase her oeuvre. a sad fate for a truly memorable novelist. A melancholy book with a strange ending…
Another book lifted from my shelves and not read since the Eighties is Godfrey Smith’s ‘The English Companion : An Idiosyncratic A – Z of England and Englishness’ I know why my mother gave it to me as I am a Godfrey Smith, and love anything to do with England and Englishness. Inscribed in the front too, a custom which I think has declined almost to nothing now. What did surprise me was how interesting it still is. It is the book you would expect from one of their own whom The Times described in a recent obituary as ‘the last of the great gentleman journalists, certainly one of the most amiable, talented and charming……’ The sort of thing you get varies from how English writers have a passion for flowers to a brief history of fish ‘n chips, through the attraction of Rupert Bear, Traitors, Lawns, Blackberries and many more idiosyncratic choices…amusing in small quantities.
I was really looking forward to this, ‘A Certain Justice’ by P D James after my last and satisfying read of hers. And for the first third of the book it was all I expected and more…… terrific stuff written in a language that her characters would certainly have used – in this case lawyers in one particular practice. Then the second third of the book drifted somewhat. But unforgivingly in the last part we were presented with sheer drivel, totally unbelievable, and seemingly ill thought through. How disappointing. So she is not the literary genius of Crime Fiction that I had thought her to be. And what is more, no more P D James for me, not for a while at any rate.
I have read other books in the last month or two which I can’t remember but as I haven’t put it away yet I know I have read Volume 1 of the 3 volume Folio edition of Vasari’s ‘Lives of The Artists’ Whilst it was moderately interesting to me who, only on retirement, have taken a great interest in Art, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I had thought that it would be a remarkable historic document…..an account of the people behind the paintings by someone who in Renaissance Italy was quite a good artist himself. However, other than the odd throw-away line concerning their lives, this was more a detailed record of what each artist had created….such a painting in such and such a chapel commissioned by such and such Pope or Prince. It didn’t begin to tell us what the artists were like of themselves. And Vasari had rigid views, he didn’t like what he saw as the recent trends of the past centuries, in particular German Art and Architecture. He only thought that Roman and Greek work was of the highest quality and he loved those artists who contributed to the renaissance or re-birth of classical forms. I’m afraid he was a bit of a bore, and I shall only dip into the other two volumes if I wish to know about the works of artists covered there. Disappointing.