Friday, 3 February 2012

Sister of the artist

Above is Fanny Mendelssohn (1805–47), sister of the composer Felix, as sketched by her husband Wilhelm Hensel and as pinned to his study wall and photographed on a sunny day by Dai Vaughan. Fanny, no less than her brother, had musical ability as both composer and performer. But she happened to be a woman. In 1820 her father wrote to her that while music was likely to beome Felix’s profession, ‘for you it can and must be only an ornament’. Her brother was supportive, but not to the point of encouraging her to publish under her own name: ‘She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this.’

Dai Vaughan’s Sister of the artist, set in the early 19th century, is a parallel fiction concerning a sister and brother, both talented artists. Interwoven with their story are fragments of other narratives – folk tales, let’s call them – concerning siblings, language, creativity, the obstructions these come up against.

Dai Vaughan – born in 1933, author of fiction, poetry and books on documentary film, the field in which he has spent most of his working life – is not in the best of health; so I’m pleased and proud to say that this book has jumped the queue and is available from the CBe website NOW. (And if you press a certain button at the foot of the Books page, you can get both this and the Miha Mazzini novel for £13.50.)

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