Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Long Live Great Bardfield - Review

Thanks to Persephone for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Eileen 'Tirzah' Garwood was born in 1908 and from  1925-8 she went to the Eastbourne School of Art where she was taught wood engraving by Eric Ravilious who she married in 1930.
She began this biography whilst recovering from breast cancer, looking back at her childhood and teenage years and then their life among some of the artists of the time who gravitated away from cities to live in Great Bardfield, and neighbouring Essex villages. Much of the book focuses on the love life of the various couples who seem to fall in and out of love with other members of the group all the time.
Her descriptions of all the people - friends, family, villagers are so good, as are the details of the places she visits with Eric when he is commissioned to paint landscapes or murals. Of Morecombe she writes" We should have to wait a whole week in this sad town that was only meant for visitors in the proper seasons; now it lay like a sluttish prostitute who hadn't yet bothered to get out of bed and paint her face". 
Eric and Tirzah had their first son - John- in 1935 and from that time Tirzah did very little in the way of wood prints or painting as she struggled to look after the children, James arrived in 1939 and Anne in 1941 and to keep house - often in very primitive conditions.
When war broke out Eric became an official war artist and was lost presumed dead while on a plane journey over Iceland in 1942. At the same time she was diagnosed with breast cancer and began an informal biography for her future grandchildren while recovering. The biography finishes in 1943 and the story of the rest of her life is told through letters and memories by her daughter Anne. Tirzah married Henry Swanzy, a BBC producer in 1946 and died when her cancer spread in 1951
The book is illustrated with black and white photos and Tirzah's engravings.

I enjoyed this book although there are so many people mentioned throughout  that I sometimes took a while to work out who was who!

It was only previously published in a limited edition hardback in 2012, so well done to Persephone Books for bringing it to a wider audience.

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