Within that month of Persephone reading in January I think I will be compelled to have a Tirzah Garwood week on here, because, having just turned the final page of 500, I think Long Live Great Bardfield : The Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood will be one of my best non-fiction reads of the year. If that world of womens' lives, loves and their art through the first half of the twentieth century, and the conflicts they encounter, are of interest to you, and you would enjoy reading of it through the eyes of a talented woman who has the most endearing, quietly objective and selfless voice, then etch this one on the Christmas list pronto.
Tirzah Garwood, artist, wood engraver, first student and then wife of Eric Ravilious, mother of three children and a more resilient, self-aware, modest and determined woman you would be hard-pushed to find. It is hard to countenance that all of Tirzah's wood engravings were completed in her very early twenties and prior to her marriage to Eric Ravilious at the age of twenty-two.
Since finishing the book I have been reading around Tirzah Garwood's life because, having emerged with what I felt was an accurate sense of the person she was I wanted to check it out. I rarely read autobiography because so often they can seem self-serving and self-aggrandizing and I start to question their truth....yet I felt none of that with Long Live Great Bardfield. In fact the book seemed shot through with a searing honesty and humility balanced with a light and humorous touch. Can there be a more beguiling combination.
'...but she was christened Eileen and, curiously, this was as expressive of one aspect of her character as Tirzah was of the sense of adventure, of rare distinction and of faint, intriguing aloofness felt in her company...'
Olive Cook goes on to describe her friend, still vivid in her mind some forty years on from her untimely death...
'Light boned and quick moving, she had the figure of a Boticelli angel, a pale, mobile, rather long face framed in wavy brown hair, a wide mouth and dark vivid eyes, shining with intelligence and full of half mocking humour.'
And her qualities...
'Her sharp awareness and relish of human oddities and foibles, the caustic wit and occasional dottiness which delighted her friends were combined with qualities more characteristic of Eileen than of Tirzah the most disarming simple heartedness, absolute integrity and a surprising regard for propriety. It was not altogether surprising to learn that this enchanting creature had been head girl at West Hill School, Eastbourne.'
It is Olive Cook who suggests that perhaps marriage and children made the art of wood engraving
'too exacting to combine with domestic chores which she [Tirzah] never found easy or congenial'
but I was relieved to discover that making marbled pattern papers, mentioned in the book, became Tirzah Garwood's forte and a welcome outlet for her creativity.
This has been an inspiring and stimulating read which has opened countless other reading and visual trails and thus I commend it to the house. More about Long Live Great Bardfield and Tirzah Garwood to come.